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Living in the real Outback of Australia is like confronting yourself with yourself. Seeing yourself for who you are. It is like meeting yourself as a stranger and wondering if you will like that person. 

It was back in the 1990's that I met Albert. A quiet man who had shunned the city and, after a trip to Brisbane in 1949, decided that the big lights were not for him. He returned to the Channel Country and never left again.

Albert was an older bloke who lived in my new hometown of 35 or so residents. It was a very very long way from the coast. 

I was a new arrival from the coast. Not someone you would associate with the bush, the outback, or anywhere remotely remote.

Yet I found myself in this place that was so isolated in the middle of nowhere. The back of beyond. The Channel Country. A place that was so far removed from what I thought was real life that it was not real. How wrong I was. It was the most raw, fundamentally REAL Australia that everything afterwards seemed somehow a sugar coated version of reality. 

Albert was 76 years old when I met him and he had a certain love of life that was quiet and it resonated with me. I warmed to his company and enjoyed his calm. 

We went on a series of trips to mark the graves of all of the men, women, and children who had died in that harsh and unforgiving land that we call the Outback of Australia.

I will never forget the days I spent with him.  On that red and foreign planet ( because to me it was another planet ) where he seemed to move between a rock and a tree and know exactly where he was. How he did it, I will never know. 

There was one place we visited where there was already a headstone for a life lost. It was at an abandoned homestead. Outside, there was an old tricycle. Sat strangely frozen in time, as though the child that had been riding it had popped inside for lunch and would soon be back. Inside the house, plates sat on the kitchen table and a book open ready for the reader to return soon and pick up the story that he or she had been reading. 

About 200 metres from the house, Albert showed me a gravestone. It recorded the birth and death of a baby. Just one week old. Christmas Day 1912 as I recollect. In the still hot dry air of that day, I wondered how that poor mother coped with the loss of her child all those years ago. Alone, only her husband to share her grief and he with her. The enormous pain that they must have endured in that lonely isolated place in the middle of nowhere as they buried their newborn babe.. 

One night, sitting with Albert, during our trip to mark those graves, we sat drinking Green Ginger Wine.  It was a cold and frosty Channel Country night, and we huddled in our swags, around the fire.

I will always remember sitting in my swag, under the vast and endless night sky and listening to his voice as he told me a story from his childhood. About one man whose grave had gone unmarked - a swagman who had died in an old shanty of tin. 

It was so quiet. There was no sound except his voice and this is my version of the tale he told me that night under the Southern Cross.

download 2020 09 03T104615.654

This is a true story as told to me by Albert. I have obviously used my imagination in some parts. 

download 2020 09 03T101411.161


It was back in the Great Depression 
When Australia was luckless and sad
And the Outback was full of Bagmen
Who owned nothing but a Swag.
They had come out from the coast to find it
The dream of a job and a quid
Just wanting a chance to work again -
They didn’t care what they did.
They followed the Warrego Highway 
And then they followed the Rail.
Knowing that to turn and head back home
would mean that their Dream had failed
Past Quilpie they came in their searching,
To the dry dusty land to the West
With nought but a proud heart to feed them
Or a pillow of dust for their rest.
download 2020 09 03T104833.752

One such was a Swaggie that came there
Known only as Daniel MacKay
Too weak from the searching and walking
He came into town just to die.
Now, not far from the town was a Shanty
A Ramshackle Shanty of Tin
With a door that swung loose on its hinges
It gave shelter from dust storms and wind.
And over the years it had offered
Many a Swaggie respite
Somewhere to boil up his billy
And lay down his swag for the night.

That Shanty, old Dan found abandoned
The door swung and swayed in the breeze
He was too hot and too tired to go further
Outside, it was fifty degrees.
“Come on in” said the breeze to the Swagman
“Come join us in the shade—come on in”
And the door of the shanty swung open
The Ramshackle Shanty of Tin.

In a dream, in a daze, he obeyed it
And found himself walk through the door
Inside he saw three gnarled old Swagmen
Who all sat cross legged on the floor.
“It’s good to have you with us, old Dan.
It’s good to have you home at last.
We’ve got a long time to catch up on the yarns
And all of the news of the past.”
“Who are you?” muttered Daniel Mackay
“Why did you invite me in?”
But no voice came to answer his question
No sound save the stir of the wind.

His body was found two days later 
And hastily they bore it away
To a spot fifty yards from the Shanty
And quickly they dug him a grave.
Dan found his rest by the river 
Along with the other three men
Who had died in the Ramshackle Shanty
The Ramshackle Shanty of Tin.

Now the months they slipped by and the Shanty
Lay empty, abandoned again.
And people had heard of the deaths there
And no one now ventured in.
One day, into town came a Tinker
Trying to sell Pots and Pans
“I need some help from someone who’s quick
With his mind and is also quite good with his hands”
He hired a young lad known as Albert
Who was twelve , bright and good with his hands
“I’ll take on your job” said young Albert
“Selling your pots and your pans!”

Photo is from 1950's. I couldn't find one from the Depression. Sorry guys. 

Later that day they departed
Albert left all of his Kin
And they rode past the Ramshackle Shanty
the Ramshackle Shanty of Tin.

But Storm Clouds had started to gather
And the black night was now closing in.
“I think that we’ll turn back and shelter
In that Ramshackle Shanty of Tin”
So yelled the Tinker to Albert
And Albert went weak at the knees
He had heard of the ghosts of the Swaggies
And their voices afloat on the breeze.

“Why don’t we find shelter by the river?
That Shanty is haunted you know-
We could camp by the trees—I’d understand
If you Sir, would rather not go”
So said Albert , quite bravely
To the Tinker—who laughed and replied
“I don’t think I’ll be beaten or set upon
By a Swaggie who’d rather not've died!”

So they spurred on the horse at a gallop
As the clouds full of thunder rolled in
And just as the rain fell they got there
To the Ramshackle Shanty of Tin.
Inside it was musty and dusty
Albert’s feet fixed to the floor
“I think I’ll sleep here where I am Sir,
Back here, where I stand, by the door.”

The Tinker just laughed and said to the lad
“I’m tired and I think I’ll turn in.
I’m not afraid of a ghost or a ghoul
That lives in a Shanty of Tin!”
The rain, it fell down with great gusto
And the tin on the shed banged and groaned
The Tinker he snored, and the wind blew
And Albert wished he was back home.

Suddenly, at the end of the Shanty,
Not far from the Tinker asleep
Albert could make out the dark shape
Of something that made his heart leap!
He sat up in his swag and he saw it again
This black shape with two yellow eyes
And Albert leapt up as he flew through the door
As the shape let out blood curdling cries.

“Ahhh!!!” yelled Albert , as he flew threw the air
“Ahhh!!!” yelled the black leaping shape
“Ahhh!!!” yelled the Tinker who now clawed at the walls
Trying to make his escape!
Outside , in the Moonlight, he saw it
The thing that was leaping and black
The ghost of the Swaggie was hot on his heels
….a terrified black feral cat!


But just as he made his discovery
The Tinker came bounding up too.
“I saw it! It just about had me!
I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you!”
The Tinker left town quite soon after
And never again left the Coast.
He’d had enough of the Channel Country Outback
And it’s Ramshackle Shanty’s and Ghosts.

And Albert , he never uttered a word
Of what had happened within
The walls of the Ramshackle Shanty
The Ramshackle Shanty of Tin.

The Cat saw them leave in a hurry
And it scampered back in through the door
And it purred as it climbed back onto the lap
Of the Swagman that sat on the floor.
“I’m glad that they packed up and left us
That snoring was making a din.
Thanks to the Cat, we’ll have no more of that
In our Ramshackle Shanty of Tin!”

And the four of them sat there and nodded
And they boiled up a Billy of Tea
And they told tales of the places they’d been to
Before coming home to the Shanty. 




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