Stuck out on Tabletop

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


Out on an Easter expedition.

Submitted: August 31, 2018

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Submitted: August 31, 2018

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There was an old, redundant but serviceable hut that stood on Diamond Hill above the coal mine. It had been the mine office in its heyday and no doubt it could tell a tale or two, but it now it was vacant and forlorn. Mick, the bulldozer driver asked me if he could haul it out to the Glencoe Run to use as a hunting camp, his words, but in reality it would be more of a retreat. The sheeprun bounded the forest and Mick had already formed an access track onto Tabletop for the runholders in a sort of quid pro quo arrangement.

I helped Mick to level up the hut in a pleasant clearing among Kanuka trees overlooking the bush-clad Shepherd’s Creek. Mick had chosen the site well. Tabletop was a flat, tussock covered, swampy hill area of perhaps one hundred hectares, which is now under cultivation, but back in the day it was wild quite remote. Beyond was several thousand hectares of indigenous scrubland, mainly Kanuka with broadleaves in the gulleys. There were wild sheep, pigs and deer living there, the targets for Mick’s proposed hunting expeditions.

Mick and Merv spent time setting the hut, like a hunting lodge in their way of it, ferrying in old couches, a table and a sink to make it posh. They made some beds by stringing rabbit netting across frames of Kanuka poles, and covered the netting with fern and tussock to provide a little more comfort. Using a chainsaw, they cut a hole in a side wall to build a fireplace which had a roofing iron chimney. The open fire was to provide heat and doubled as a cooking fire.

It’s a tradition among hunters to be out at Easter hunting stags because it’s the mating season for deer, the time the stags advertise themselves by roaring! The idea behind it all is to bag a trophy head. But I’ve never seen a stag with a really good trophy head in the area, which is something to do locally with minerals in their diet. And anyway, who wants a stuffed deer’s head sporting huge antlers on their lounge wall? Bloody dust catchers if you ask me! Glassy eyes staring down at you in reproach! As far as Mick and his cronies were concerned, the Easter break involved more drinking and fry-ups than hunting, a bonding time for mates!

Mick and Merv pestered me to go with them that first Easter, but I could only spend the Saturday and Sunday nights with them because I had to be back for fire duty on Easter Monday. Besides, they were going through a sherry drinking phase and on the Monday after the previous weekend I had seen Mick’s purple face! Not a pretty sight and his fumes was would’ve knocked out an elephant! Sherry didn’t appeal to me one bit! But anyway, under a certain amount of duress, I went with them.

As arranged, Mick picked me up at the top of Saddle Road where I left my vehicle, because it wasn’t four-wheel drive. He was always changing vehicles and this time he had an old Willys Jeep, just like on M.A.S.H! Grinning from ear to ear, he drove up the track as fast as he dared, putting the vehicle through its paces, and waffling on as if it was a brand new Rolls Royce! He told me that so far they had been far too busy to go hunting. I noticed the purple complexion had returned.

Merv’s not here just now.’ Mick announced when we arrived at the hut. ‘He’ll turn up later.’

Sam had a brew ready for us and I introduced them to the gourmet delight of spreading sweetened condensed milk onto cabin bread – don’t knock it until you try it! Later, we heard the unholy roar that was Merv approaching. He was driving a big, ugly, square, four-wheel drive Dodge truck that had been modified using a cutting torch and welder. Merv had a touch of polio when he was young so couldn’t laugh properly but his shoulders were going up and down signifying he enjoyed our surprise! His Dodge was apparently a powerful machine with a non-standard engine. Petrol heads!

Sam suggested that we should wait for dark and use Mick’s Jeep to spotlight for deer on the bush edge flanking Tabletop. Give it a tryout. It was an excuse for a fry-up of bacon, eggs and chips, with peas for our health, plus of course, a generous portion of sherry from a half gallon flagon. I’m a bit like the Queen and can sit on a drink for hours! When darkness settled in, we set off in the Jeep, but soon we hit a swampy patch and although Mick revved the guts out of the Jeep, we became bogged! Mick tried the back and forth rocking thing but only succeeded in digging himself down deeper. So we tried pushing! There was only room for Merv and me at the back, because we were careful of the spray from the rear wheels, so Sam lent a shoulder to the driver’s side door. Inadvertently-on-purpose, Mick turned the wheel which generated a powerful shower of black, slimy mud, aimed directly at Sam! He had a perfect black stripe from head to foot! In the moonlight his eyes shone white and his mouth formed an O like Al Jolson singing Mammy! Now that was funny! Mind you, Sam didn’t see the funny side.

Merv was puffed up and all arms and legs in excitement about bringing his Dodge to the rescue! But a deep, narrow ditch was his undoing! To get to us, he had to bounce over it and thinking the large wheels would waggle through the ditch, he didn’t hesitate, but the front bumper caught on the edge of the ditch as the big beast flopped into the ditch, bellied and it too was stuck! Mick and I trudged back to bring the dozer. With nothing much to do while waiting, Merv strolled across to meet us and even though it was moonlight, Mick had difficulty seeing the track, so Merv marched in front flashing a torch. Trickster Mick kept the revs up, so poor old Merv had to walk quicker that was comfortable for him, forcing to jog and arse-up! I watched Mick, he was gipping his pipe between his teeth and grinning from ear to ear at Merv’s misfortune! Merv would find a way to get him back, no worries!

After the vehicles were safely parked around the hut and the idea of spotlighting shelved, and the three took to the sherry – they had several flagons of the stuff to wade through! They were too preoccupied yarning to notice my eight-ounce glass hadn’t lowered and I went to sleep stretched out on a comfy couch.

Up at sunrise the next morning to greet the sun, I spotted six deer in a clearing on the other side of Shepherd’s Creek, I considered rousing the guys but when I left the hut the air was thick and putrid so decided to let them fester in it. The sun glinted on the dew and golden on the soft tussock. The morning stillness was filled with whiffs from the Kanuka foliage as I sat there on a rock warming my back in the sun watching the deer peacefully but warily grazing. I didn’t stay long, I had to be back at headquarters to take the weather readings at nine o’clock and relay the figures by radio.

 

 


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