Ever hear how I bowled Victor Trumper for a duck ? he asked.
—No, I said.
—He was a beautiful bat, he said. He had wrists like steel and he moved like a panther. The ball sped from his bat as though fired by a cannon.
The three of us were sitting on the verandah of the pub at Yerranderie in the Burragorang Valley in the late afternoon. The sun fell full on the fourteen hundred foot sandstone cliff behind us but the rest of the valley was already dark. A road ran past the pub and the wheeltracks were eighteen inches deep in the hard summer-baked road.
—There was a batsman for you, he said.
He was a big fat man with a chin like a cucumber. He had worked in the silver mines at Yerranderie. The last had closed in 1928 and for a time he had worked in the coal mines further up the valley and then had retired on a pension and a half an inch of good lung left.
—Dust in my lungs, he said. All my own fault. The money was good. Do you know, if I tried to run a hundred yards I’d drop dead.
The second man was another retired miner but he had all his lungs. He had a hooked nose and had lost the forefinger and thumb of his right hand.
Before they became miners, they said, they had tried their hand at many jobs in the bush.
—Ever hear how I fought Les Darcy ? the big fat man asked.
—No, I said.
—He was the best fighter we have ever had in Australia. He was poetry in action. He had a left that moved like quicksilver.
—He was a great fighter, I said.
—He was like a Greek god, said the fat man reverently.
We sat watching the sun go down. Just before it dipped down beside the mountain it got larger and we could look straight at it. In no time it had gone.
—Ever hear how I got Vic. Trumper ?
—No, I said. Where did it happen ?
—It was in a match up at Bourke. Tibby Cotter was in the same team. There was a man for you. His fastest ball was like a thunderbolt. He was a bowler and a half.
—Yes, I. said.
—You could hardly see the ball after it left his hand. They put two lots of matting down when he came to Bourke so he wouldn’t kill anyone.
—I never saw him, I said, but my father says he was very fast.
—Fast ! says the fat man. He was so fast you never knew anything until you heard your wicket crash. In Bourke he split seven stumps and we had to borrow the school kids’ set.
It got cold and we went into the bar and ordered three rums which we drank with milk. The miner who had all his lungs said :
—I saw Tibby Cotter at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Englishmen were scared of him.
—He was like a tiger as he bounded up to bowl, said the big fat man. —He had even Ranji bluffed, said the other miner. Indians have special eyesight, but it wasn’t enough to play Tibby.
We all drank together and ordered again. It was my shout.
—Ever hear about the time I fought Les Darcy ? the big fat man asked me.
—No, I said.
—There wasn’t a man in his weight to touch him, said the miner who had all his lungs. When he moved his arm you could see the muscles ripple across his back.
—When he hit them you could hear the crack in the back row of the Stadium, said the fat man.
—They poisoned him in America, said the other miner.
—Never gave him a chance, said the fat man.
—Poisoned him like a dog, said the other.
—It was the only way they could beat him, said the fat man. There wasn’t a man at his weight that could live in the same ring as Les Darcy.
The barmaid filled our glasses up again and we drank a silent toast. Two men came in. One was carrying a hurricane lantern. The fat man said the two men always came in this night for a drink and that the tall man in the rain coat was the caretaker at one of the derelict mines.
—Ever hear about the kelpie bitch I had once ? said the fat man. She was as intelligent and wide awake as you are. She almost talked. It was when I was droving.
The fat miner paid this time.
—There isn’t a dog in the bush to touch a kelpie for brains, said the miner with the hooked nose and the fingers short.
—Kelpies can do almost anything but talk, said the fat man.
—Yes, I said. I have never had one but I have heard my father talk of one that was wonderful for working sheep.
—All kelpies are beautiful to watch working sheep but the best was a little bitch I had at Bourke, said the fat man. Ever hear how I bowled Victor Trumper for a duck ?
—No, I But what about this kelpie ?
—I could have got forty quid for her any time for the asking, said the fat miner. I could talk about her all day. Ever hear about the time I forgot the milk for her pups ? Sold each of the pups later for a tenner.
—You can always get a tenner for a good kelpie pup, said the miner who had all his lungs.
—What happened when you forgot the pups’ milk ? I said.
—It was in the bucket, the fat miner said, and the pups couldn’t reach it. I went into the kitchen and the bitch was dipping her tail in the milk bucket and then lowering it to the pups. You can believe that or not, as you like.
—I believe you, I said.
—I don’t, said the other miner.
—What, you don’t believe me ! cried the fat miner, turning to the other. Don’t you believe I bowled Victor Trumper for a duck ? Don’t you believe I fought Les Darcy ? Don’t you believe a kelpie could do that ?
—I believe you bowled Vic. Trumper for a duck, said the other. I believe you fought Les Darcy. I believe a kelpie would do that.
The fat miner said : You had me worried for a minute. I thought you didn’t believe I had a kelpie like that.
—That’s it, said the miner who had all his lungs. I don’t believe you had a kelpie like that.
—You tell me who had a kelpie like that if I didn’t, the fat miner.
—I’ll tell you, said the miner with the hooked nose. You never had a kelpie like that, but I You’ve heard me talk about that little bitch many times.
They started getting mad with each other then so I said :
—How did you get Vic. Trumper for a duck ?
—There was a batsman for you, said the fat man. He used a bat like a sword and he danced down the wicket like a panther.