Keep calm and eat your beans

Host: Kadaitcha Pastoral Company
Written by James Christian

Back in February 2006 I travelled out to Napperby Station from Sydney to visit my aunt and uncle and have a “working holiday” for two weeks. With the benefit of hindsight I’m now aware that meant they had to do their jobs plus make sure nothing killed the city boy. Consequently, I spent most of my time being the gate opener for the boreman, Bob.

Open the gate, wait, shut the gate. Sit in the Toyota. Ask questions. Listen to his answers which, I think, became less condescending as time went on and he realised I wasn’t just making conversation, rather he could see I was interested in what was going on out there in the wild west.

It was a foul time of year to visit, really. It was boiling hot and disgustingly humid at times, but February was just being February in the desert. “Argh! It’s forty-five degrees on the thermometer in the shade at the meat house!” squawked my aunt at lunch time one day, lending credence to everyone’s thoughts that yes, it was indeed hot.

A couple of years later I returned to the station to work for three months. Bob was still there, and after a few days of refresher courses with him I was allowed some autonomy, being dispatched here and there to perform whatever tasks I was told.

Bob the boreman was about 65. He was in the habit of dyeing his hair, waxing and oiling his chest (“the ladies love me more when I do this!”), and often ate a tin of beetroot and a Thermos of tea for lunch; it was hard to take him seriously sometimes. He was a friendly enough sort of bloke who’s date of birth caused him to be just falling into cantankerousness. If something upset him he’d stew on it, but it wouldn’t take long to draw him back out and soon enough he’d be right as rain again.

01-bob-copyBob catches up with one of his cobbers in a prickle bush.

The old bloke had the most amazing knack of being able to finish a job, regardless of what he was doing or where he was, and be back at the homestead in time to beat closing time at the store for his daily purchasing needs. “Five o’clock Bob” was a sight to see: scurrying and flurrying, a veritable hive of activity getting things sorted, then driving absolutely flat out across or through whatever was between him and his car spot at the workshop, where he would switch off at six o’clock on the dot.

After one of Bob’s lessons, he ran over a stick or a rock or something else designed to let the wind out of tyres as we screamed across the flat on the way home. Bob kept a tin of baked beans and a fork in his Toyota, wrapped up in a rag to stop them rattling around behind his seat as he bounced across the corrugated roads. While fishing for the jack and wheel brace to change flat tyre I spied the tin, and asked him what it was for.

“That’s for when I get bogged,” he said.
“Eh?” I replied, astounded that baked beans could help him being bogged.
“When I’m really bogged and can’t go anywhere, I sit down and eat my tin of beans. Then I’m ready to dig my way out.”
“Oh yeah? Righto,” I replied, while thinking something a little more along the lines of “pig’s arse mate”.

Before I go any further I think it’s time to qualify what being bogged means. There are two types of bogged: bogged so badly that you need to be towed out and must therefore pay the rescuer with a carton of beer; and bogged but you can get yourself out. I’d been bogged driving on the beach a few times when I was younger, a consequence of showing off my mad teenaged driving skills, or something equally sensational. Nothing really to write home about, as a few handfuls of sand scooped out of here or there plus a crunch into low box would have the car humming along again in no time. As has been my way of life, having been bogged on the beach I thought I knew all about it.

I was wrong.

Being bogged includes extreme circumstances where with enough ticker you can dig yourself out, chop down saplings to jam under the wheels to give yourself traction, discover just how many revs you can squeeze out of the car in low range as you try and get momentum up in your backwards/forwards/backwards/forwards padding, can read the casting numbers the diff has stamped in the mud; so bogged that is actually satisfying, because once you’re out you’ve conquered something mighty. I reckon if you don’t get a tow out, it shouldn’t go against you on the mishap tally sheet (spit tin) because you ended up solving the problem. And anyway, you’ll be the one to wash your vehicle, and the grader driver will fix the wheel ruts without even noticing.

02-scott-gets-bogged-copyNapperby Station head stockman Scott demonstrating more arse than class after taking a wrong turn.

It is this type of being bogged where a tin of beans comes in handy, old Bob was right. Launching in to unbogging yourself like you’re after a weaner that beat the branding cradle is often the wrong way to tackle the problem. The intent is undoubtedly on target, but the tactics will turn the ground to custard. Taking time to assess just how bogged you are, to see if there’s an easy way out, to curse yourself for being a fool for driving where you probably knew you shouldn’t, and to laugh at your predicament, could actually end up saving you time. Grab a milk crate from the back of the Toyota, set up your restaurant in the shade, rip the lid off your tin, and enjoy the serenity as you munch on the real-world equivalent of Popeye’s spinach.

03-survival-pack-copyOutback survival pack.

Sun-Tzu wrote in The Art of War:

Ground where mere survival requires a desperate struggle,
Where without a desperate struggle we perish,
That is death ground…
On death ground, fight.

He forgot to put in a bit about avoiding death ground to start with, and Heinz mustn’t have come through with the loot for a sly product placement.

Recently I drove into a bad situation I was smart enough to avoid on the way up the road, but on the way back I had the stereo up too loudly and was tapping away at the steering wheel before I realised I was one metre from disaster. Three hours later I was wet, filthy, I’d used all the saplings in sight and my spare star pickets were bent, I’d changed the colour of the dashboard from dull grey to crusty brown, I was hungry, but I was free. As I reached behind my seat to grab a mail bag to sit on for the sorry trip home I spotted my tin of beans and cursed.

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