In the rush and hustle of Centenary celebrations, however smoothly conducted, some little pin-pricks must here and there be felt, some bitter heart-burnings inevitably occur.
The other day it was my lot to sit here and listen, perforce, to at least one Centenary host complain bitterly against a tactless guest who, ere Tuesdays sun was set, had eaten down to Friday.
"Clean through Wensd'y he et," piped old Pete Paraday in his octogenarian treble; "clean through Thursd'y, an' clean down to Friday; all before the Dook arrove."
Old Pete Paraday is our exhibition old-age pensioner, and, incidentally, our oldest inhabitant in this part of the forest.
The average forest worker is rarely of the frugal, saving kind. When he grows old (and few deem themselves more than middle-aged this side of seventy), when they grow warped of limb through the cruelly heavy labor that falls to workers amid tall timbers, they reluctantly accept the pension and seek some modest hut close to settlement, or on some remote, abandoned sawmill site in lonely forest belts.
Here they spend their declining days, "doping for themselves", and fiercely resisting any kindly meant and tentative effort to tempt them to the comforts of some old people's home. Friends and family may go, all property save the barest essentials may vanish, even sight and hearing may almost fail them utterly.
But to the last shred of sturdy independence they cling with an almost savage ferocity, as other men in other scenes cling to cushioned comfort bought with gold.
Pete Paraday, a gregarious ancient, is fortunate in having his hut close to our tiny settlement. He is cleanly, sober, immensely self-respecting and rich in the knowledge of an old and honorable trade.
For, back in far days, when tradesmen took rare pride in their honorable avocations, and bakers baked bread fit for the tables of the gods, Pete was a master baker. Even today, scorning the miserable product of this effete age of substitutes and surrogates, he still bakes his own bread.
Old Dan Thum, who occupies a lonely and tumbledown shanty some three miles back in the bush, is, I grieve to state, all that Pete is not. He is careless, slovenly, taciturn and inclined too often to look upon the beer when it is brown.
Still, they are cronies, and, when it was arranged between them a while ago to pool their pensions and live together in Pete's hut for a week or two, Pete laid down the stern condition that it was to be a dry camp.
The idea was born of a kindly impulse on Pete's part; for, since neither was sufficiently affluent to journey to Melbourne, it was arranged that Dan should share Pete's opportunity to listen to the broadcast of the Centenary celebrations upon an obliging neighbor's wireless set, and see, with the mental eye, at least, all the pomp and pageantry of a Royal arrival, and join vicariously in the carnival of a centenary.
Yet, despite the rare treat, the prospect of a fortnight's drought proved too much for Dan, who, spending the bulk of a fortnight's pension on heady waters, proceeded on a lonely and unlovely jag.
Wherefore on Tuesday afternoon, when the owner was absent, a rather shaky Daniel arrived at Pete's hut, sober at last and ravenously hungry after many days lived mainly on alcohol.
Now ever Saturday, in a diminutive home-made oven miraculously constructed of water worn stones and garnered brick bats, Pete bakes his weekly bread supply. He bake sit in one abnormally long loaf deeply scored around its circumference with marks that divide it into seven segments, each representing a day's supply.
The hungry Dan, finding his centenary host away, proceeded to search the hut for sustenance. A good loaf of five segments lay in the bread box; a pot of dripping, pepper and salt was yielded by the Coolgardie safe. With a long sigh of greedy anticipation Dan seized a knife, sat down at the table and tucked in.
"Et right down to Friday," wailed the embittered Pete. "Me own gone stone cold, an' the Dook arrivin' a Thursday. The man ain't civilised. I'd a mind to kick him out, the ignerint, guzzlin' hatter!"
Two rather stale loaves of inferior modern bread pressed with some difficulty upon the angry host served to allay his indignation; and Peter trotted off to have it out with his uncouth guest and make final arrangements for the important ceremony of listening in.
In the hurly burly of a Centenary festival little hitches and heartburnings are bound to occur. But I trust no other of our guests will so far forget the social refinements as to eat down to Friday, with Tuesday not yet spent.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2004-05|