Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pigs will fry, but not this time

I'VE already described in an earlier blog my young days on my uncles' cattle stations in the central west out around Springsure and I can't emphasise what great days they were in the mid-40s to the mid-60s.
They might have been tough days on the stations with lots of work mustering cattle and sheep, drafting in the cattle yards, fencing, branding and cutting timber, but they were fantastic. Those holidays were mainly spent at my grandfather's property, Vandyke, outside Springsure, and a couple of other stations in Central Queensland.
There was always plenty of work on Vandyke (left), but there was also always time for shooting, mainly wild pigs and 'roos and the occasional dingo, and the local shire council bounties for those kills was always more than enough to cover the cost of the holiday.
Remember, those were the days when animals like those were considered pests.
I loved those country holidays and if my old man, Martin Kavanagh, hadn't met my mum after he returned from the First World War, I would have been a filthy rich cattle baron today.
He was the eldest of the Kavanagh kids on Vandyke when he went to war with the oldest of his younger brothers, and he was badly wounded by a mortar bomb blast on The Somme and spent almost two years in an English hospital recovering (Martin, pictured right, while recovering in England).
When he returned to Queensland he met mum, an Emerald publican's daughter, they got married and he decided to move into the hotel trade.
They were fantastic days with great people and plenty of cousins to play with. And those great days lasted until I was 30 ... at which age I discovered surfboards and gave up the Outback for surfing for the next 42 years. But that's another story.
Of course when I first went to Vandyke aged about 10, I was too young to be allowed to muck around with rifles and horses, so I used to spend a lot of my time helping my great old grandad with jobs around the homestead and nearby paddocks.
One of those jobs was cutting down bloody Noogoora burr, which was almost covering the beautiful black soil flats around the creeks on Vandyke. The burr was useless imported junk that grew wild out that way.
Right after early breakfast each day, Aunt Lyla would cut us some cornbeef sandwiches for lunch, we'd collect a couple of mattocks from the tool shed, and off we'd march along cattle pads into the Noogoora burr, which a lot of the time was as thick as a brick wall and grew well overhead. By that time grandad was too old for horse riding and mustering so he always made himself useful doing other jobs around the station and when he had some spare time it was off with his mattock to dig out Noogoora burr.
Looking back it was a pretty useless operation because the burr was growing much faster that the rate at which a couple of people could cut it. But it kept grandad busy and that was all that mattered.
Anyway, one day when we were cutting burr about two miles from the homestead, a bloody great big boar came screaming down the cattle pad we were cutting burr on. We heard it crushing through the burr and knew it was trouble, so my cousin and I climbed a small tree by the pad and looked down, only to see grandad straddling the cattle pad with his mattock held high over his head waiting for the pig to crash through the burr and charge him.
Out it came and grandad (left) let it have the mattock, which hit its outer rib cage and slid off. The pig kept on charging, hitting grandad's legs and knocked him over. Luckily its large tusks missed his upper leg and he was able to get back up almost immediately. The pig had swung around and came charging back, but this time wasn't so lucky because grandad's mattock came crashing down on its skull.
It staggered along the pad for a couple of yards and collapsed kicking and squealing.
Grandad whipped out his knife and cut its throat.
Boy! What an experience for a town boy that was. Grandad was a bit shaken but apart from a few cuts was OK. It was late morning so we decided to have dinner then and there. (By the way "lunch" was "dinner" in those days and "dinner" was "tea", back when I was a country kid.)
I cut the pig's snout and tail off, with grandad's permission, because I could get a 2/6 pest bounty from the local shire council for them.
As we were eating our sandwiches I started thinking what a great waste of food it would be to leave that pig lying there for the dingoes to eat when we could be eating it back at the homestead.
I said so to grandad. He thought about it for a while and then said with a smile:
"That's a great idea, young fella. Why don't you cut off a hind leg and take it back to Aunt Lyla?"
So I finished my sandwich, grabbed my rusty old pocket knife and walked over to the boar and started hacking away through the filthy thick skin. About 20 minutes later I had it off, looking like it had been hacked off with a stone axe and with blow flies attacking it like Spitfires in the Battle of Britain. I put it down on the black soil beside the cattle pad and grandad remarked with a genuine smile what a great prize it would be for Aunt Lyla.
So we got stuck into another four hours of cutting burr and started for home about sundown. By this time the leg was not only covered with blow flies but millions of ants were also chewing into it. I shook it heavily and got rid of some of them, then put it in a hessian bag and off we went on the way home, me with a great smile on my dial and a very happy heart.  
Getting back we sat on the bottom stairway under the high homestead taking off out boots with grandad telling me how proud Aunt Lyla (right) would be of me and that I should take the prize up to her by myself so I could get all the praise.
And that's what I did. Off came the bag and there was the leg still covered in flies and ants.
When I got to the kitchen door Aunt Lyla was mixing some food in a giant bowl over the old wood stove preparing tea for the homestead of about eight people. So I put the leg on the kitchen table among some other dishes of food, and said beaming: "Excuse me Aunty Lyla, but look what I've got you for tea."
She looked around at me pointing to the filthy pig's leg on the table, turned her eyes to the table and started screaming.
"Get that filthy thing out of here. Get it out of my kitchen. Get it out of the homestead." She was furious.
I was astounded. What was up with her?
But I picked it up and trudged, shocked, back down the stairs.
And down there I was in for another shock. Grandad had had a heart attack, or at least that's what I thought, because he was laying on the dirt at the bottom of the stairs. I dropped the leg and ran over to him.
"Grandad? Are you OK?" I cried.
He could hardly talk ... because he was wetting his pants laughing.
"Didn't she want it," he gulped. "Well! I'll be blowed and you went to so much trouble. Well, we'll just have to give it to the dogs.
And that's what I did.
And you know something? They enjoyed it just as much as grandad, and I would have too if Aunt Lyla hadn't been so bloody fussy.
Vandyke homestead in 2004

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