(This story won the Port Hedland 120 Story Writing Competition in 2016)
The easterly wind was howling as the rain pelted down with the continuous roar of thunder and lightning which brightened the dark shanty temporarily.
The two dogs outside were barking their heads off while the other two dogs inside cowered under the makeshift bed of iron piping and chipboard.
Jack Monday got off his makeshift bed and waddled across to the dirt red stained glass window of his ironclad shanty.
“This old hut has withstood some bad weather over the years been living off the land since I was twenty one come from England I’m eighty five now,” Jack said.
Jack didn’t look a day over sixty. “Look here,” Jack, said reaching down under the bed and extracting an envelope with a fresh English stamp on the upper right hand corner of the envelope.
“Got this from me brother the other day, look here this is me brother,” Jack said, pointing to an old black and white photograph on the mantelpiece.
“He wants me to go to England, he is dyen, but the old country is too bloody cold for me, besides Elizabeth is still going strong. Alby was fifty-three and I forty-three when that photo was taken, that was over forty years ago,” Jack said.
I glanced at the photograph on the mantelpiece; Jacks black beard nowadays was white and much longer. His brother bore no resemblance to Jack whatsoever.
The two dogs outside kept barking as the loose corrugated sheets of iron outside kept clanging with the wind howling. “Shut up will ya,” Jack yelled at the two dogs which resembled pure bred Dingoes.
“How long have you lived here Jack?” I asked, trying to keep my shorthand in order for my article to make the front page of the Sunday Times.
Pete, the photographer pushed the button on the camera, the camera clicked into life the flashes from the camera brightened the dark shanty just as the lightning had done a few minutes before.
“Would you chaps like a beer made it me self a bit of a bush brew, got the ingredients off me brother, he owns the brewery that me Dad left to him, quite rich me brother is, could’ve been rich me self, but I didn’t want the money off me Mum and Dad, that’s why I come to Australia spoilt kid I was had everything I ever wanted. It made me so miserable I’m happy here where I am.” Jack said.
I continued with my shorthand noting that Jack could’ve been quite rich and indeed as a child he was along with the fact that he could’ve owned a brewery with his brother in London but opted for the life of a loner.
“Jack, I don’t wish to pry but I can’t understand your reasoning for wanting to live like you do!” I said.
“Look lad, like I told you, me and me brother had everything and you know he is over ninety now and stills worries about that confounded brewery and that’s what’s Killen him if you ask me, I don’t want to have any worries, no kids, no money, no woman no worries,” Jack said, as he shuffled across to the yellow painted kitchenette that was several years old.
“See this letter, I’ve kept it for years let me tell you something about Elizabeth, she was only ever interested in the money, not love so I left England. Elizabeth then married Albert good luck to him.” Jack said, wiping a small tear from his right eye.
“I’m not going to no bloody medico they can come to me they only cut ya up leaving scars everywhere haven’t got a scar on me body and never come off a flamen horse in me life.” Jack declared, lifting up his dirty old white tee shirt to reveal his aged unscarred anatomy.
“Are you going to see your brother in England?” I asked, trying to get Jack talking more.
“Nope, happy where I am if it were me dyen he wouldn’t come to see me he disapproves of the way I live, when I could’ve lived like a King in England but I got jacked off with that lifestyle when I was twenty one, you don’t know what its like to have everything you ever wanted, well I do, I wasn’t cut out for that crap I’m happy the way I am, have been for over sixty years.” Jack said, as he rolled a cigarette placing it in the corner of his mouth, and having several attempts at lighting it with his old faded gold butane lighter. Once the cigarette was alight, Jack inhaled the smoke with deep breaths blowing the smoke towards the floor. Jack once again waddled across to the stained glass window gazing over the vast patch of red dirt littered with Spinifex and made worse by the howling wind.
“Yep Mitjitarra will be here soon comes about this time every Sundee rain hail or shine!” “What paper you blokes say ya from?” Jack asked.
“Oh we’re from the Sunday Times,” I said with a degree of enthusiasm. “Who’s Mitjitarra?” I asked
“Oh Mitjis me full blooded Aboriginal friend his from the Marapikurrinya tribe. brings me Kangaroo and snake every Sundee, we cook it up and have dinner together. You know we used to ride horses in our younger days, both stockmen we were, that’s what me and Mitji did. Mitji only give it away a cuppla years ago, he’s about ninety now but he doesn’t really know how old he is, and no I am not going to no confounded doctor in Darwin, they can come to me.” Jack repeated butting out his cigarette on the wooden windowsill and rubbing his sore hips.
“Look here comes Mitji now! Jack said with excitement pointing beyond the dustbowl that was some distance away. “Where is he?” I asked I couldn’t see anything but a haze of red dust and Spinifex being twirled across the land by strong prevailing winds.
Within half an hour Mitjitarra the full blood Aboriginal from the Marapikurrinya tribe waltzed into the shanty plonking a Kangaroo carcass and an old hessian bag on the floor. Neither Pete the photographer nor I could understand what these two old dudes were talking about but we assumed that it must be the local Marapikurrinya tribe Aboriginal language.
Mitjitarra was of medium build with long grey hair and grey beard wearing jeans and old green tee shirt, which he said he got from the Broome prison when he was locked up there for snotting some white bloke who called him some five letter offensive name starting with B and ending with G.
Mitjitarra continued to stare at me, “reporters huh?” he finally said. “Don’t like you blokes much treat our people like the guvment do we will tell you one story and the white man twists it to suit their story, nah got no time for you blokes or the guvment,” Mitji said as he picked up the Kangaroo and skilfully proceeded to carve it with great speed and accuracy, throwing the offal to the dogs outside.
“Got a beer there mate?” Mitji asked Jack as he pulled a dead brown snake from the hessian bag.
“Yeah in the old Kalgoorlie ice box!” Jack yelled back. I looked over my shoulders and there it was a huge green box with a dilapidated door and the flyscreen falling off and flapping in the breeze.
My parents would talk about these boxes when I was boy but this was the first time that I had ever laid eyes on one.
Mitji looked up at me, “You blokes from the big smoke huh bet ya from Perth can tell, both of ya never done a days hard work in ya life, have ya?” Mitji said which of course was true though very demeaning particularly when I considered university to be hard work, well at least mentally.
“You blokes like snake, that’s what me an Ole Jack are haven for tea tonight.” Mitji declared.
Night fell and the pot belly stove was well alight with the offerings of Kangaroo and snake cooking, Pete the photographer couldn’t stand the stench any longer he ran outside heaving up though I must admit he did have a fair share of ole Jacks home brew.
“How much longer do we have to be here? Pete asked. “As soon as the Royal Flying Doctor lands tomorrow we’ll be off but I tell you what snake tastes a bit like fish though the Kangaroo was a bit tough,” I said to Pete, who again rushed outside and began heaving up at the mention of bush tucker.
It was quite difficult to understand Jack and Mitjitarra for most of the night they continued to speak in the local Marapikurrinya tribe Aboriginal language.
Pete flaked out and I kept making notes about Jack and Mitjitarra until they went to bed somewhere around midnight, and awoke around four in the morning, and I woke Pete up around six. By the time we had washed and had breakfast it was eight o’clock.
Pete sat it in back seat of the rented Toyota landcruiser with his head out of the window still as crook as dog from the grog, as we headed for the the bush runway.
It wasn’t long before the Royal Flying Doctor Service plane taxied down the runway.
“Goodbye Jack Goodbye Mitji,” both Pete and I yelled at the same time.
Ole Jack was going to Darwin for that much needed hip operation.
We heard through the bush telegraph that Jacks operation on his hips was a success but he now uses a walking frame to get around. Mitji now lives with Jack permanently, though he still collects kangaroo and snake for Sunday night’s tea, and well the two dogs outside, well I guess they are still barking their heads off.
(c) Brian Hastie 2016