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|Author:||Ciderman [ Fri Oct 05, 2018 5:17 am ]|
|Post subject:||Queensland 1961|
To go with the archives photos I posted
Boss of the Broom Millet
There was a lot of pushing and shoving going on at the pub, but that was
normal, so they told us. The Government labour people said,
“Yer’l never gedda job ‘less you godoun the pub!”
At the aforementioned watering hole, a big red faced bloke, belched through a
ginger moustache and pointed a big finger.
“Tabby! That’s the bloke you need to see”
‘Tabby’ Thompson had a bit of dirt about 4 miles out of Biloela, grew peanuts,
maize and broom millet and had a sad looking little wife who listened patiently to all
his dreams and schemes. The broom millet was his latest. This was the crop of the
future. This is what Australia was going to be known for the world over, the quality
of her broom millet.
“What is it? Do you eat it?” asked Tony, “Sounds like a bloody good thing
“No. No, “said Tabby, “You hackle the heads off, then dry ‘em, roll them up in
big bales, then sell them to the broom factory”
“The broom factory? What the hell does a broom factory…” I paused, “Wait a
minute! I get it! Broom’s the operative word, not millet! They make brooms out of the stuff,
“Right!” said Tabby, “Now, how many of the housewives of the emerging
nations have got vacuum cleaners? Answer me that , eh? And what percentage of
the world is made up of emerging nations? Bloody millions of ‘em”
I refrained from pointing out that all of the percentage only adds up to a hundred .
Tony, of course, got the salient point as usual. What we needed was a job, not an
argument about world commodities.
“Just like I said,” said Tony, “Bloody marvellous idea. Needs a man of vision
to see it though.”
The look Tony gave me while he said this, was like an adhesive to my lips, so I shut
“Now I’ve got 14 acres of crop and I’ll give you 40% and I keep 60% of
whatever we get from the agent. You do all the work and I’ll tell you how to do it,
We felt that it might be helpful to have some idea in terms of cash. We wouldn’t, of
course, hold him to an exact amount, but it would enable us to plan a bit.
“Naturally!” says Tabby, “Well, we would get about 5 tons to the acre and
about 190 quid a ton,” he scribbles all over the bar top as his wife looked on with
vague interest. “That’s 70 tons” , more scribbling and on the third attempt ,” That’s
13300 quid between us” onto the back of somebody’s bill, a long pause then, “
5320 for you and 7980 for me! Whaddya think of that then?”
What indeed! For the past months we had been subsisting on something
called Travellers Relief. 27/6d per week each as long as we hid the Landrover
somewhere when we went to collect it, (no assets allowed) in a different town each
week. This sum made us dizzy! So dizzy that we didn’t even query it!
Our battered Landrover followed his even more battered Holden ute back to
a typical back country house, the main architectural feature which was a large
corrugated iron water tank. In the kitchen over large mugs which could have been
old paint tins, we drank tea which consisted of 48% tea leaves and a liberal dose of
condensed milk. We explained that our cash reserves were precarious, in fact, non
existent. Tabby said he would foot the bill for our essential supplies and charge it
against our final payout. We didn’t know at the time that it was our friendly local
store that was carrying us, not our apparently magnanimous partner in agriculture!
“Come on I’ll show you to your quarters,” said Tabby, “Bring the truck”.
We followed him in first gear as he strode ahead of us towards a long low, wooden
building, in the side of which was door of garage proportions. He indicated that we
should drive in. We hadn’t really expected a place to put the Rover but drove in
anyway and parked between some bunks and a small woodstove. It was then that
we noticed we could have driven in anywhere except the wall with a door in it. The
roof had assorted posts holding it up, but as long as you missed those anywhere
We spent the rest of the evening investigating the various ‘mod cons’
available. A shower, consisting of that fine outback utility a kerosene tin with holes
in it. A toilet in the form of seven acres of maize. The larder , a cupboard full of
spiders and last but certainly not least the bedding, which was held over a smokey
fire until the stampede had subsided.
Our introduction to the art of ‘topping’ and ‘tabling’ was scheduled for the
next morning. Tabby turned up to show us the ropes at about 10 am, presumably
after a leisurely breakfast with more tea leaves and condensed milk. He jumped in
the back of our bedside vehicle and shouted “You drive! I’ll point.” He obviously
believed in the maxim of the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
No road or track was evident and we crossed several dry watercourses and two
fences lying flat on the ground before the full magnificence of a stand of broom
millet was brought to our notice.
Some quirk of nature had decreed that the only useful bit of this plant was some
three feet above our heads and the small knife that Tabby had supplied was two
foot six inches short of this requirement. He informed us that ‘tabling’ was
required. Whether this highly technical term was known to the rest of the world of
agriculture or whether he had just made it up, but it consisted of walking
backwards between two rows, grabbing armfuls first from the left , then from the
right and bending them over each other. This activity was obviously likely to bring
fear into the heart of any young New Zealander from that snakeless land!
Earthquakes and volcanoes, we take in our stride but slithery, legless, striped,
spotted denizens of broom millet was another thing!
The first days progress was slow, but none the less strenuous. Walking backwards
but facing the way you are going is an unnatural posture inclined to cause stresses
and strains without alleviating snake anxiety.
Water was something of a worry to Tabby so he supplied us with four gallons a day
in the ubiquitous kero tin. Four gallons between three lads with little self control, in
a hot climate, leaves none for washing or shaving so we didn’t! Luckily we all
smelled the same so it didn’t offend anyone and after a while even the snakes
Tabby had a little lad of 5 or 6, who, most mornings , would walk past our
shed with a small fox terrier. The young fellow would carry a length of number eight
wire about 3 feet long and the dog used to scurry about in the maize. Curiosity
finally overcame us and we followed at a distance. It seemed that the foxy would
find a snake and , after a bit of a flurry, grab the reptile behind the head whereupon
the other half of the team would whop it with the number eight wire until activity
ceased. This was the dogs breakfast! It was never fed, we found out later and on
days when snake hunting was poor, the dog could be seen crunching locusts and
assorted creepy crawlies . I should mention that he looked in the best of health!
Days in the broom millet ran into weeks and finally months. The grocery bill
got bigger and the tons per acre dropped to one. We ‘hackled’ off the seed heads,
Finally the great day arrived when the truck arrived to carry off the results of our
labours and the entire 14 acres had been reduced from eight feet high to four feet,
God knows what he was going to do with the leftovers but that was Tabby’s
problem. We felt such a personal involvement in helping third world housewives
that one of us went with the truck to help unload and also to bring us the good news
of what 14 tons of it was worth. After the grocery bill was paid , 124 pounds
between us! The princely weekly rate of 7 pounds per week ! We decided that it
had to be character building because it certainly wasn’t profitable!
As we were about to leave, Tabby said, “Look! I’ve got another 6 acres and
I’d be prepared to split 50/50.……..”
He took our reply in good heart, I expect he was used to adversity, after all
he’d buggered up a cotton crop, a peanut crop now a broom millet crop and shortly
a maize crop, so it was nothing new to him, he had plenty of experience to call on.
He was kind though, as we left he gave us half of his peanut crop. 3 sacks!
We ate bloody peanuts all over the continent!
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