“Never a Ringer” – Jimmy Mead – Camfield Station, NT

Host: Kent Saddlery
Written by Helen Kent.

This story excerpt has been contributed by Lyle and Helen Kent of Kent Saddlery from their book “Stories of Australian Country People“.

“Well, I actually sorta grew up in the Territory and Kimberleys. I was born in 1933; I’m from Toowoomba in Queensland and I left school at 11. I was no good at school and I went working for dairy farmers. I decided there was better money driving tractors or getting amongst machinery and I wound up sinking tanks around Longreach and all through west Queensland, as well as working for Thiess Bros in Mt Isa”

Around 17, 18 years old, I came up here to Katherine (Jimmy calls it Katheryne); there were all dirt roads, corrugated, no bridges, and no four-wheel drives. When I first hit Darwin in the early 60’s, there weren’t many people around and they weren’t Territorians; everybody came from ‘somewhere’. At weekends when we weren’t working, we’d pop down to the wharf with a carton of beer and watch the Japs salvaging the ships they’d sunk during the war. They’d got the contract to clean the harbour up and I tell ya what, that was so interesting to watch ya know. You’d see a 100 Japs on this big barge and one Jap done in white with a white hard hat and a whistle and everybody worked off that whistle eh and they run with big bottles of gas. Then they had those little boats beside the big barge and they used to screw their helmets on and they’d go down under and set all the fuses around the parts of the ship and then up they’d come and away they’d float and next thing . . . BOOM . . . and you’d see great fish comin’ up, and floatin’ there. You’d just sit and watch those blokes work eh, and there’s no doubt about it I thought to meself, ‘Look at them little blokes and there were no big blokes among them! how they can work . . . ’ and they run with that whistle blowin’ all the time; you’d never hear a voice goin’! And that was a great experience, watchin’ that!”

When asked when did he first start working on stations, Jimmy responds: “Oh, that’s a hard story that one, because see, I used to never work on stations. I was never a ringer, but then, when you keep doin’ your licence thru, you know, drunk driving, which I never did, but somebody always dobs ya in and you know, the coppers didn’t even have breathalysers, but they could pick ya up and make ya walk around ya car and if ya had to hang onto that car . . . ah come on . . . and then see they just had a sorta kangaroo court and Bang! . . . “Ah, take it off him for six months!” Ya see, what I was going to tell ya was, when they keep taking ya licence off ya, ya wind up — they took it off me in the finish and that’s how I come to work on stations.”

“Anyhow I thought to meself, “Wet season comes and you know there was no dole offices or anything like that and what the hell, a man’s gotta start putting money in the bank, so when the wet comes he’s not sorta shootin’ kangaroos, or knockin’ beef down to get a feed.” That was with everybody, not just me. Up til I was 42, I didn’t realise there were banks, nobody went to banks.”

Lyle prompts Jimmy about a yarn we’d heard him tell at Delamere about going back to Queensland and only getting as far as the Dunmarra pub.

Jimmy laughs, “That’s true! Ya know, that’s where we’d leave a big mint job, ya know, plenty of money in our pockets and we’re off to Queensland ‘cos you see, a man’s always trying to get back to Queensland just to see his friends an’ that. An’ that old Noel Healy and Ma Healy, who owned the pub . . . we’d get there and ‘cos ya know she’d say “Well, people come in here, you can meet em’ here; why travel all the way? Some people come from Melbourne to here, some people come from Toowoomba and some people come from right where you were born to here! You meet ’em here Jim.” Yeah, well righto, there was about four of us there ya know, just goin’ through to Queensland in an old bomb. That’s where we’d wind up workin’ for her then, spent our money over a few months. Next thing, no more money. Well . . . pump petrol! You know the old bowser out the side and ‘Bernie, you get down in the kitchen, and Bluey, you do a bit of laundry and you wash some clothes around here!’ And there’s me mate, Bluey Morgan, he’s makin’ beds, and washin’ sheets – aw!”

“And yeah, the old hurricane lights, an’ she had the old gramaphone . . . it wasn’t old in them days . . . ya had to walk over, ‘cos whoever was on it singin’, he’d waaaaaaaaa (slow down) ‘Wind the gramaphone!’ and ya ya ya ya, and away the gramaphone would go again!”

And did he ever get back to Queensland? “Yeah, we eventually got back there; me brother Bernie and meself. Put it this way, I’m 75 in September and I was 56, 57 when I went home. I went down to Dalby to see me old man; after all them years I found out he’s still alive, so I said “We’ll go down and see him. So we met the old fella then. He was 82. After that he wrote to me pretty regular.”