My Mate Murray - and the Australian Outback Holiday
FJ Holden Utility Pickup or "Holden Ute" in which we travelled the outback of NSW in 1953
Did I ever tell you about my mate, Murray?
Oscar Wilde once said ‘some people bring happiness wherever they go- others, when ever they go.
Did I ever tell you about my mate, Murray -who brought happiness wherever he went) and Norm -who defintely fell into the other category? Yes, and Norm’s gun dog, Bernie? Back in 1952 we four went on an ‘outback’ shooting holiday. Long time ago.
Miles and miles of this, then you hit the unsealed dirt roads
We thought we'd head off somewhere 'back of Bourke.;
I expect Murray, Norm, and Bernie the gun-dog have long ago ‘Gone to God.’ You see, Murray and Norm were both pushing sixty in 1952. I’m not sure how old Bernie the gun dog was. I was a pimply-faced seventeen year old who used to put his face out the window on acold night for a shave who spent most of his time thinking about sex. Not much has changed. Anyway, we all got into Norm’s brand new FJ Holden Ute and off we headed off to some place ‘back o’ Bourke.’
Australian Stockmen. They ride trail bikes now.
Murray and Norm had both been bushmen in their earlier days
Now, Murray and Norm were ex bushmen become city slackers, er slickers. They were ‘Thumb nails dipped in tar’ types. Tough. Hard. Strong. I’d swear Murray could put his right hand in his left hand hip pocket and hold himself out at arms length.
Murray and Norm were different as honey and vinegar. Murray, extroverted, outgoing, garrulous- talkative as a bored barber. Sort of bloke who regards free speech not so much as a right but an obligation.
Our Australian outback holiday took us to many a little hamlet.
Norm's favourite phrase was those two Australian words used when one doesn't believe you.
Norm, on the other hand, terse, taciturn, tight-lipped. A man of few words; ten-word vocabulary- his favorite phrase being. ‘Bull dust.’ (actually, he used a stronger word, but this will do here) This, generally in response to whatever statement Murray was making. A skeptic, Norm was the sort of bloke who never hurt anyone’s feelings -unintentionally. Who ever made that statement, ‘Love thy neighbour’ never had Norm for a neighbour.
Murray was one of those “I’ve been everywhere, mate, I’ve been every where,’ (you know the song) type. Norm, on the other hand, did not believe a word of it. A real skeptic. But an illiterate skeptic. Norm would have thought a polygon is a dead parrot.
The conversations in the ute went like this:
Typical property gate, though this looks very new.
The Australian outback holiday became almost a debate
“Tom. (I’m the reluctant catalyst; the ‘meat in the sandwich) “Did I ever tell you I was horse breaker back way out back o’ Bourke in ‘21?”
From Norm. “Bull dust!”
“Did I ever tell you about the time I drove cattle on the Darling Downs?”
“Did I ever tell you I was the gun shearer- yep, top man, shearing sheep out at Spring Plains in ‘24 -or was it 26?”
“Ridgy didge, Norman, I kid you not.”
“Yer all crap, Murray.”
We eventually come to a 60,000 acre sheep station: Spring Plains
Anyway, we bump and jar along many miles of unsealed road, way back behind the Great Dividing Range, where the dingoes howl at night, and the blowflies are as big as bumble bees. We’re heading out to our eventual destination, the 60,000 acre cattle and sheep station, Spring Plains, 50 miles west of Narrabri. All the time, Murray keeps up his patter.
“Did I ever tell you I’ve drunk beer and urinated in every town in from Gundagai to Goodooga. Yep...and Wilcania to Wauhope for that matter. Yep, and up in Queensland...”
Bullock wagon hauling bales of wool
"Yep. I was a bullocky back in the 1920s"
“All right. Did I ever tell you how I bogged the station’s bullock wagon at Spring Plains? Sixteen bullocks and she went down to the axles in the mud. Couldn’t get her out. That was in ‘26 just after the draught broke. Wagon’s probably still there.”
“Yeah? Bull dust!
This is what I saw in that June day in 1953.
Even when I witness a total eclipse of the sun, Murray wouldn't be outshone.
But Murray would not be stopped. One afternoon I witnessed a total eclipse of the sun at Spring Plains. Murray and Norm were in the shearers’ sheds sleeping at the time. When I told Murray about the eclipse, Murray wouldn’t be outshone. He said:
“Tom. Did I ever tell you about the big dust storm back ‘of Bourke in ‘25?
Dark for three days straight. An’ I’ll tell yer what else. The drought had gone on so long that when it finally rained a twelve year old girl broke out in hysterics. Never seen rain, ya see.”
-Father had to throw a bucket of dust over her to calm her down.”
Narrabri was a real cowboy town in 1953
Anyway, we drive into Narrabri. Horse troughs and hitching rails. Real cowboy town in 1952.
“Get yerself a milkshake, son, while me an Norm water the horses.” This happened in every little place we’d stopped at so far...and we stopped a lot of times.
A stranger’s voice calls from across the street. “Murray Potts yer old baskrat! Haven’t seen ya since were breaking ‘horses back in ‘21.” Norm puts his hands over his ears.
No, the bull horns weren't quite this big.
Late afternoon we drive through those massive gates
Late that afternoon we drive through massive timber gates. On a broad plank, crowned with the bleached long-horned skull mounted over the top, was a faded sign saying, Spring Plains Cattle Stud. From Norm, in sarcastic voice.
“Where’s the bullock wagon, Murray? I can’t see it. At the gate you said. Yer all bull.”
Murray: Well, mate, the gate’s bin moved. Back in 1924 it was.... just over there. Right near that wagon I told you about.”
Abandoned Bullock Wagon found on our Australian outback holiday
An there was that bullock waggon, still bogged to the axles.
And sure enough there is this huge, abandoned wagon, tall rear wheels, smaller front wheels, cemented solid in mud which had dried out thirty years earlier. We get out and take a look. I feel the hard ground with a finger. Norm’s pretending he can’t see anything. Or if he can he’s keeping quiet about it.
“Tell yer another thing, Tom. The squatter, the owner’s daughter, Nell, was keen on me when I was here. Loved me, I reckon. We used to spend a bit of time together in the hay loft, if yer know what I mean. But I was just a rouse about and...”
“Bull dust! You and the boss’s daughter! Now, I know yer all bull.” pipes in Norm.
An attractive woman with grey hair is standing there.
Our ute rattles up to the station house and stops in a cloud of red dust. Dogs are barking. A fly-wire door bangs open. There’s an attractive woman with grey hair standing there. She shields her eyes against the sun’s glare.
“Murray?” says she. “Not Murray Potts! Murray! You’re back! Oh, darling, You’ve come back!”
She races over and throws her arms around Murray. Giving him a kiss which was somewhat more than, er, platonic. I look at Norm but he won’t meet my gaze.
"Did I ever tell you I used to shoot dingoes for a living?"
We stayed a week at Spring Plains. Slept in the shearers’ quarters.
Murray kept up his patter. “Did I tell you the time I used to shoot dingoes for a living?”
“Aw, bull dust!”
On the drive back to Sydney it’s Norm’s turn hog the limelight. We’re driving past a billabong. A dozen wild ducks rise into the air. There are even more sitting on the water. Quick as a flash Norm pulls the ute in and these sixty-year-old teenagers break out the shot guns. Our gun dog, Bernie, is whining and sniffing, eagerly.
No, the baseball cap was not in fashion in Australia when Murray and Norm were duckshooting.
Now it's Norm's turn to hit the spotlight
Norm says. “Tom. Did I tell you that my dawg, Bernie, can tell how many ducks are in a thicket? Well. If Bernie knows there’s just one duck in there he barks softly, just once.”
Well, Bernie barks once. Points. Norm throws in a rock. Up goes the one duck. Bang! Falls in the pond. Bernie’s in there. Comes back dripping wet, the duck in his mouth.
We go a bit further. Bernie points, barks once, twice, three times.
“Three ducks, Murray. Get ready. Three ducks break from cover. As they fly over head- bam! bam! bam!- the boys bring down all three. Bernie fetches them all back. He’s got more brains than Disney’s dog, Pluto.
No matter how many ducks fall, the dog can only bring one back at a time.
Suddenly Bernie goes beserk!
We go on a bit further. There’s a river. Suddenly, Bernie goes berserk. He runs this way and that, barking wildly. Then he picks up a broken tree branch off the ground. He waggles his head this way and that, the branch in his mouth. Then he drops it.
From Murray. “All right. What’s ya dumb dog saying now, Norm?”
“What’s he saying, yer goat! He trying to tell you that across that river there are more ducks than you can poke a stick at.”
Murray was silent for a full minute. He just go to have the last word... Then he says, quietly. “What’d I tell ya, Tom. That dumb dog can’t count to more than three.”
I hope you enjoyed reading about my mate Murray and the Australian outback holiday.
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