Tales my father told

by Les

While I was growing up outside Sydney, Australia, my father often told me stories about his father.

My grandfather, Albert Eldred Denham, left home to make his own way back when the world was wide. Home was the selection on Brokenshaft Creek, west of Orange, New South Wales. Al had come with his family from Shanklin, Isle of Wight, at the age of seven. He was the fourth of six children, and the farm was getting pretty small by the time he turned twenty-one, in 1890.

Arid flat plains

Western Plains of NSW

He and his younger brother Bert put together a business which filled a small niche in the Colonial economy. They would travel the outback, the western plains of New South Wales, trading small amounts of goods, and working at any available jobs when there was nothing to be traded.

They secured a horse, a small cart, and enough flour to bake damper to keep them alive for a few weeks, and headed west. Gradually, the enterprise became a decent living for two young single men. The two of them traveled to a station (a ranch, in American eyes), and offered for sale small items used for everyday life which were not worth a trip into town to buy: needles, thread, pins, anything inexpensive, light, and easily packed. They offered to buy small quantities of items produced on the station too. What they bought most often was rabbit skins. When the boss needed a new fence built, or a shed repaired, they’d do that too.

With only one horse, they traveled at a walking pace, perhaps twenty miles per day. In those days the average land holding was measured in hundreds of thousands of acres, so from one homestead to the next might be a journey of two or more days.

One day the two men had walked past sunset until they reached a billabong they knew. It was almost too dark to see the track when they arrived at the waterhole. Bert started a camp fire and mixed a damper while Al unharnessed the horse. He had just finished hobbling the horse when an emu jumped up a few feet away and ran off into the darkness.

“What’s there, Al?”

“Emu,” Al said.

“Does it have any eggs?”

“Yes, Bert. Six of them.”

“Good oh! We’ll have an omelet for dinner instead of damper and cocky’s joy.”

Al stepped into the dim and flickering light of the fire, using the front of his shirt as a sack to hold the huge green eggs, as Bert unpacked the frying pan and threw a handful of dripping into it. Al carefully set the eggs down near the fire, cracked open one of them, and dumped the contents into the pan. Bert stirred the pan until the egg set, then tossed the omelet into the air and caught it in the pan.

“That’s just like a dozen chook’s eggs,” Bert said.

In ten minutes dinner was on their plates, and they ate the best meal they had tasted for weeks.

*****

In the clear dawn next morning the two men looked forward to another omelet. Bert scrubbed the pan with sand to clean it while Al gathered sticks for the fire. Before the sun had risen a handsbreadth above the eastern horizon, the fat had melted in the pan. Bert carefully cracked the a second emu egg and dumped the contents into the pan. They both stared at the embryonic emu lying in the pan along with the clear white and the blood-streaked yolk.

“Better try another one,” Al said. He dumped the contents of the pan onto a nearby clump of saltbush.

Bert tried another egg. It too held an emu embryo. So did all the others. Without a word Al put the billy on the fire while Bert unwrapped the damper left over from dinner and opened the tin of golden syrup. Damper and cocky’s joy for breakfast.

Whenever he told this story, Dad always finished up, “Wasn’t it remarkable luck they had the only egg without an emu in it for dinner?”

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