“There’s a great divide, across this land
Like a Berlin Wall, made of salt and sand
A congregation’s trapped inside
As years goes by” (Country Life, Meagher, Jenkins, Baker, 2002)
Dennis was in Alice with 200 stalwarts from the BarmyArmy. [Ed. Alice Springs… Northern Territory… it’s a town!]
“I didn’t realise Alice is so isolated. Deserted in the day like Paris and thumping like Canberra at night. Is Tennant Creek like that?”
“I’m glad you feel at home,” The Prof replied. (He had dialled me in on conference.)
“A few of the boys came along. They’re hiding in the shade now with a few locals and four-legged wanderers. The only thing green is the cricket oval. The rest is a corrugated sun-dried straight-lined tank top wearers dust bowl. Worse than India… in the old days…”
The line was bad. I stubbed my toe and sharpie over the fast flowing adjectives.
“And Chef, Jimmy ….”
“Just what the doctor ordered,” Dennis continued. “Refreshed and ready. I’ll send some pics.”
“Did you go to Uluru?”
“Jimmy, Broad, Swanny, a few others and me.” Dennis rattled off their names with the overly familiar bonhomie a finance shark borrows to greet a brand new client. “Not Chef or KP”, he said. “It was weird.”
Then Dennis told us the whole story. Apparently, they walked around the rock, not up it. Jimmy is as good with heights as he is with throat balls. He said it was about respect. It was hot and sticky. The sun was burning a hole in their heads and shaving their hairless calves. [Ed. Many Barmy also ride expensive skinny tire pushies] The sunscreen trickled down their inside legs like the first shower after a long dry spell.
“Stop. I’ve been in Alice once before. Never like this.” Swanny sucked down a berry juice and made towards a shady rock crevice.
“Finding a slice of shade is like waiting for a decent Aussie sledge.”
“And parsimonious when it comes,” laughed Broad, pushing his bushman’s hat above his brow.
They walked, and walked. Jimmy said he saw a brown snake.
“No way. It’s a stick.”
Swanny and Dennis went to inspect it. “No, it’s a bloody loooong brown snake!” It and a few other sticks slithered in their direction.
“You silly twit. Why did you go so close?” Jimmy replied. “Even Clarke didn’t get that close!”
“For God’s sake. Run! Leg it! Ruun!”
Broad turned to look. He saw a bunch of naked skeleton men throwing sticks “Run, faster..”
Swanny turned to look. The snakes had transformed into zombie cricketers on skis, led by a three-headed ginger haired zombie carrying a surfboard that looked like Hollywood or Mr G, followed by another in a maroon suit and yellow tie yelling and sparking flaming fingers at him. He looked at his hands and feet that were swirling in his gaze. The sun was beating hard on his brow and off the old weathered rock of Uluru. “I’ve turned into a rufous hare-wallaby*.” Bugger. He looked up squinting. Giant snakes. Again.
“HELP. HEEELLLLPP! I’m too old for this. I should retire. Wait Jimmy! Waaaaittt!”
He couldn’t run fast enough, until at maximum speed [Ed. No faster than an A380 pushing back from Heathrow] he tripped over two writhing bodies and ate dust. He thought he was being eaten by a land crocodile.
And then a great shadow embraced them.
“No, no. Murder. Help!”
“Are you all right mate?” a voice said. His face was dark.
“Minyma-ngku tjitji nya-ngu.**”, a softer calmer voice muttered.
“Are you training with us, mate?” asked an excited voice.
“We are English,” Broad replied. As Swanny repeated “Burke? Wills?” into the dust.
“No, mate. Pure Indigenous Anangu black fella,” a third young voice stated proudly.
“Mate, I thought you had the ball so I called ‘ruck’,” the second voice replied. Jimmy’s vision returned. “All Blacks? Thank heavens.”
“No, no. Anangu mate,” the voice whispered, in that horse whispering way some horses hear.
Broad took a clip over the head. He was laughing disrespectfully.
“It’s me, Andy. You’re safe now Jimmy. It’s ok. I told them to stop.”
“The Captain, Puff, Mr G, Hollywood. Wicky. The Freak. I told all of them, on TV, that it wasn’t on. It’s ok.” Andy said soothingly laughing. “Seriously, I told them to stop.”
Jimmy, Swanny and Broad didn’t laugh.
“I was worried about you three. Whether you could handle the lower order.”
“What!” (A tiny bit of cursing followed.)
“Whether you can sledge and score off Tatts at the same time. Chef wasn’t sure. He read this article by Martin Crowe about face masks [Ed. I think he means blue (English) helmets] crushing the real cricketer underneath a weight of concrete respectability. He got worried. Playing the piano didn’t help so he came to me, Father Andy.”
“But we’re ok,” the three comrades said in unison. It could have been a slow “Good Morning, Mr Flower” but this was in the middle of nowhere next to a huge rock most people sensibly fly over fast at 35,000 feet.
“There, there. Just get under their skin, any way you can.”
“Andy, Andy…” Their words trailed over the ground striking nothing except a few burnt sticks which refused to move.
“What was that all about?” Jimmy said.
“Don’t know”, Swanny replied.
Broad thought and then suggested. “Nothing. Delayed heat stroke, maybe from the Gabba.”
The sun was folding its way to the horizon when they arrived back at the minibus.
Dennis said he didn’t know what happened to them or why they took so long. He said he was sweating like a thoroughbred when he returned to the coach. He said could have brushed the foam from his drooping flanks like Wensleydale curd. A Melbourne Cup field of dusty hoof prints lay behind him and a few paw prints from the rufous hare-wallabies.
The team doctor diagnosed some sort of dreamtime haze brought on by sponsor’s berry juice and a lunchtime wagu beef and pinenut salad. Chef got the write-up and told each of them in the end of day team meeting and quoted Damien Ryan, the Alice Mayor as saying, “It’s bloody beautiful here.. mate… it’s never too hot. It can get a bit warm…” [Ed. I checked the quote. Chef butchered it like a fresh red roo in the morning] “Tomorrow we face a fourth string outfit, like Essex. Winning, and the spirit of game for the piano playing public. is all that matters.”
*The rufous hare-wallaby is endangered confined to the western strip of WA. It is bring re-introduced into central Australia with other fish
** Pitjantjatjara for “The woman saw the child”
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This work of fiction is © 2013 Dave Cornford, Jeremy Pooley & Jock Macneish