YarnsYarn spinning is the telling of Australian stories as per the idiom of our forebears from the city and the bush. They are often called tall stories.
Yarn spinning is not a connected line of jokes, nor is it rhyming verse.
Many bush poetry competitions have a yarn spinning category and it is a natural add-on for performers to develop in addition to their poetry performances.
A Pound for the Bull
© 2003 the late Frank Daniel Canowindra NSW
My father owned a ‘prized Hereford bull’. We never knew how prized he was because our bull had never been to an agricultural show or to any other livestock event whereby evidence of such importance could have been determined. Apart from an odd red, yellow or green ribbon for horse and pony events at the annual show, we had no blue ribbons hanging on nails in our slab-walled harness room boasting the existence of a bull of any substance.
In our little town some of the residents owned milking cows, probably as many as one in every third or fourth house. These town cows roamed the streets during daylight hours with their calves at foot, grazing the roadways, drains, railway paddocks, vacant lots, the Police horse paddock (that hadn’t seen a horse for more than twenty years), easily accessible back or front yards, and the odd garden or two where a gate had been left open.
A strong system of barter existed in our town. Residents were always swapping home grown products such as vegetables, eggs, bread, cakes, craftwork and hand-me-down clothing as well as meat, rabbits, ducks and geese – you name it. There was nothing that couldn’t be swapped – and if there was nothing coming in return, it was given away, knowing the recipient would be eternally grateful and would come equally as good with repayment some time in the future, not that anything was expected.
Fresh milk, cream and butter were always available. Ours was not a town serviced by a local dairy and, at that time, not a prospective town for a ‘milk-man’ to set up business.
In the evenings the kids from cow-owning families ritually went about their business of bringing their cow home to put the calf away for the night. This ensured that the cow could graze freely overnight while the calves, especially the younger ones, would bellow for a greater part of the night from their ‘calf-pens’.
By early mornings the cows would have returned to their respective addresses with large, tight, swaggering udders of milk waiting to be relieved of the built up pressure. Some cows were milked in a bail, some were tethered by a halter to a fence or a tree. Others just stood quietly without restraint until the job was done. The calves were then set free to give their mothers udders an unmerciful head-butting and sucking as they demanded breakfast to flow in copious quantities until their little bellies were fairly bursting. Then it was back to the streets to roam freely for another day.
Some cows ran on the town common. These were mostly dry cows waiting to calve. Residents were only allowed one cow per family, but a good count indicated that there was nearly enough cows on the common to have more than one for every house, considering some houses didn’t own a cow at all.
When the time came to get their cows in calf it was normal for the owners to take them to a nearby property where the services of a bull might be available. We lived in a wool-growing area, and even though cattle abounded, there were not many places close enough to town for the owners to be able to walk their cows to the bull. Our farm wasn’t too far out and suited most of the owners.
This is where our ‘prized bull’ gets back into the story.
Perhaps it was a part of father’s plan to have a ‘prized bull’. A prized bull would be more valuable – not like an ordinary ‘worthless’ bull – although our bull had a ‘worthless’ full-brother closer to town which looked every inch the prize-winner ours was supposed to be. It was surprising how many cows were walked twice the distance past this bull to get to our prize winner. Perhaps their owners valued his ‘prize’ progeny over the more common ‘worthless’ variety.
Father felt secure that he would be well within his rights to charge a service fee for the use of his ‘champion’, and for this the going rate was set at one pound. (One pound sterling — $2 today). That was a fair bit of money in those days, and it made father feel all the better for it if his bull was considered to be either worth the money or out of reach for the average cow owner -- which was most of them.
Father wasn’t as mean as it might sound because, on average, I can only remember a handful of service fees ever being paid. Quite often half a bag of spuds or some vegetables were exchanged as good will. Sometimes ‘I’ll buy you a beer when I see you in town’ was the only other offer, and if the truth was known, it would have been Dad who paid for the beer.
One day, when I was about twelve years old, I was busy in the workshop converting an old Cooper’s Sheep-Dip box into a billy-cart; banging six inch nails into half inch pine; when my father came along with a chipping-hoe over his shoulder and carrying a water-bag in his free hand. My brother Jimmy was tagging along behind with a hoe over his shoulder and a sad, sour look on his face.
“Listen, Joe!” Dad always asked me to listen before he said anything. “Me and Jimmy’s going up the paddock choppin’ burrs. I want you to stay around the place and keep an eye out for old mother Grady. She’ll be bringing that little Jersey of hers out to the bull this morning.”
I acknowledged without speaking — Dad hadn’t paused long enough for me to answer.
“Now listen! I don’t want you racing off on that pony of yours and forgetting what you’re to do. Now! When the old girl gets here, you go and take the peg out of the gate post, open the gate wide enough so the cow won’t hip herself on the post, let the little Jersey in with the bull, close the gate, and put the peg back in the post. Got it?”
I nodded – Dad hadn’t stopped.
“And when the bull has done his job, you pull the peg out of the post, open the gate, let the cow out, shut the gate and put the peg back in the post so the bull can’t get out — and then collect a quid from Mrs. Grady for the service fee.”
“Orright!” says I – I got that much in.
“And don’t make a mess of it!” And dad and Jimmy went choppin’ burrs.
I carried on with my manufacturing business completely forgetting Mrs. Grady until ‘Rowdy’, our aged border collie who slept most of his days, raised his head slightly and gave a hollow woof indicating the arrival of guests.
It was Daisy and Mrs. Grady.
I went across to the bull paddock, pulled the peg out of the gate post, swung the gate open to let the cow in, shut the gate behind her, put the peg back in the post and talked to Mrs. Grady for a couple of hours about things less interesting than the completion of my building project.
When the bull had done his job I pulled the peg out of the post, let the cow out, shut the gate, put the peg back in the post and collected a pound note from Mrs. Grady. It was the first payment she had made in five years, so I didn’t assume any guilt in taking her money. Dad always reckoned she had a ‘quid or two’ and could afford to pay, besides, we only wanted one of them. Then off she went back to town with a big grin on her face — the cow — not Mrs. Grady.
Back to the shed, and within an hour of Daisy’s departure, I was disturbed by the arrival of old Ma Walsh. As in all my stories, everyone was ‘old’ — this adjective had nothing to do with age.
‘Rowdy’ missed her approach. One warning a day was his limit.
Ma Walsh could have been a ‘missus’, I never knew — but she did have kids — and was forever known as Ma. She was a big framed woman, ‘plenty of meat on her’ as Dad used to say, with a reddish complexion and wild red hair that was ever in a large straggly bun. She had furious, piercing, green eyes that fixed un-movingly on her subjects as she talked.
Ma was almost exhausted, she had been pushing herself along with the aid of a long stout staff. She was puffing and panting, her cheeks were fuller and redder than ever I’d seen before, and her loose floral dress was ringing with sweat.
“Where’s ya Father, Joe?” She didn’t say gidday, just got straight to the point as always.
“He ain’t here!” I replied.
“Well, where’s ya brother, Jimmy?”
“He ain’t here either!” So far so good — never stuck for an answer, as Mum used to say.
“Well! it’s about that brother Jimmy of yours that’s forced me to take this rather long excursion on such a hot day!” Sounded fairly important on Jimmy’s behalf —
“He’s got my daughter, Mary, in the family way!”
“Ohhh!” says I. There seemed no cause for alarm and, as always, things never got overly important on our farm.
“She’s having a baby!” emphasized Ma Walsh.
“Ohhh-hh-h – yair-ya!”
‘Cripes!’ I thought. I could see that in Dad’s absence I had better come to a more business like conclusion.
“Well!’ says I. ‘In that case you will have to talk to Dad, ’cause it’s a pound for the bull, and I don’t know what he charges for Jimmy!”