I met a man the other day. It was ever so fleeting. He told his story. I listened.
I will call him John, he looked like a John.
John is 75 years old. Forty of those years were spent shearing sheep across north west NSW. From Walgett to Walcha, from the Queensland border to the hills sweeping the Liverpool Plains. He had spent time in most of the shearing sheds in the district.
John was one of four boys born in Mungindi. Mungindi was different back then he reminisces. The lights in the town went out at midnight, until electricity comes through in the late 60’s. It is amazing how dark a town is without street lights he tells me. He remembers the town dances when all the farmers, wives and family would come together for good old fashion dances that would sometimes last for days. In amongst the dust of the drought or the mud when it rained they danced, laughed, shared their tales. It doesn’t happen like that anymore he wistfully sighs.
John lived in the city for a short time when he was young, it’s where he met his wife. They had a little house out Mascot way. He packed cartons for a living. He says it was ok, but not for the long term. When his son was born he looked around the busy streets, small yards and buildings for as far as you could see and decided their children needed to grow up in the wide open spaces. They moved back to the North West and he went shearing.
He went shearing for the next forty years. I look down at his hands. They were working hands. Gnarled and weathered, yet soft. They had dragged out too many sheep to remember. He scratches his nose and says with a wry smile “funny how your nose always got itchy when you were shearing a fly-blown sheep”. It makes me smile.
He mentions his wife with love and affection in his voice. She hasn’t been well so isn’t travelling him today. I asked where is he off to.
“I’m going to the city for a procedure. I go every 6 months for a checkup, fly down stay overnight in hospital and then back home again” he tells me
I know this is the norm for so many country folk – we need to travel many miles for treatment. I comment how rough a deal this is.
“Well it’s better than the alternative” he assures me “I have fought off prostate cancer, now growths in the esophagus, but I’m still here” he says with conviction.
Getting old is not for sooks he says. I will have to agree.
At 75 John is still able to get himself from the airport to the hospital. He says it will be a waiting game for the afternoon, so he was glad for the chat for now. He has to get his brother to pick him up from the hospital. “Those anesthetists are a precious bunch, they reckon I can’t travel the same day as my procedure, so my brother picks me up. We assure them I am staying with him, but he drops me back at the airport. I can’t be too long away from the wife, plus my brother has turned into a mad communist, I can’t stay with him that long.”
“Yep, too right. Hard to believe someone raised the same as me in Mungindi turns into one of them. Makes for fun family gatherings I can assure you!”
An article in the paper sparks a discussion about the environment. John is a bit the skeptic, which seems to be the norm for people this age. It makes him laugh, all this hoo haa about plastic bags. He has had plastic shopping bags that have disintegrated to nothing after a couple of months. He sees all these people walk into the supermarket with their arms full of those reusable bags, makes him chuckle. I wonder how long it will take them to break down? I make a mental note to research this, he makes a good point.
“Well Love, you have a good day” he says over his shoulder as he steps gently down the stairs, years of bending over sheep showing in his walk “been nice talking to you”
I met John the other day