(C) Copyright 1970 Robert Gordon Delahoy
Speed - Woomelang
The air was sweet with the smell of damp earth, and plants revived by the
steady rain of the night before, as we came out onto the verandah after an
"Nice to see the dust laid for a bit," Harry said. "Ah well, better get on our way I suppose."
We brought Chester and Snowy in from the horse paddock for the jinker, and a hack for Bill.
"Well, hope you can get it alright," Harry said, touching the reins along the backs of the ponies. "See you tonight Bill."
We were off to Sea Lake to bring back the horses, and Bill was going across to Charlie McDougall's to ride in with him to Woomelang where Pat O'Leary was having a clearing sale on his farm. There was a fifteen row disc drill for sale, and it had only done a hundred acres of work.
With the defective drill returned, and one of our old ones loaned to Tom Burns, we had to do something about another before it was time to start work. We could not buy a new one as the contract we had signed when buying the defective one specified this, tying us to that company for the duration of the season, so we had no choice but to buy a second hand one.
Charlie McDougall was going to the clearing sale to see some horses they were offering, and as they rode Bill told him he was prepared to go to one hundred pounds for a good second hand disc drill, a new one being about £130 free on rail from Melbourne.
"Might get this one quite cheap, with a bit of luck Charlie."
They arrived on the farm at Woomelang well before the sale started, leaving time to have a look at the machinery and horses, and have a yarn to various friends and neighbours. It was a complete clearing sale, right down to the little heaps of broken files, bolts, hame hooks, hammer heads and all the other useless rubbish accumulating around farm sheds over the years, set on bags around the yard. But, useless or not, somehow someone always bid a few bob.
The drill turned out to be as good as Bill expected, and they both agreed it would be worth even a high bid, and followed the sale around until it was put on the block.
No-one would give the auctioneer a start until Bill bid £50, and from there it went up in fives against some other bidder they could not pick.
"Hell," Bill nudged Charlie. "It's getting a big high. Still, we've got to have it." He raised his voice. "One hundred and five."
The bidder they could not see went up another five, Bill called for one hundred and fifteen, and up it went again to £120.
Charlie had moved away from Bill, searching amongst the men for the other bidder. But no-one seemed to be making any signs to the auctioneer and Charlie suddenly realised what was happening and stepped back quickly.
"Tell them you're finished Bill."
"Tell them you're finished. They're running you."
Bill looked at Charlie a moment, then up at the auctioneer who was watching him expectantly.
The auctioneer looked surprised. "Come on sir. Don't back out now. Give me a hundred and twenty five."
Bill clamped his jaw tightly and turned his back, and the auctioneer made a half-hearted close to the bidding on the drill and moved on to the next.
"Ah hell!" Bill said bitterly, kicking the wheel of the drill. "We really needed it."
"Just hang on a tick," Charlie advised, and a few minutes later the auctioneer's clerk pushed through the crowd and came over to them.
"Excuse me sir, you can have that drill you were bidding on for £120. The successful gentleman didn't want to finalise."
Bill went to speak, but Charlie interrupted. "Look here. Mr Delahoy will give you £80 for the drill, but not a penny more. Take it or leave it."
The clerk looked at Bill, and Bill nodded.
"Well," the clerk shrugged. "I was only trying to do you a favour."
Charlie moved up close to him. "Favour? You listen to me. This was advertised as a genuine clearing sale, but you ran Mr Delahoy for that drill."
"Careful what you say " the clerk warned.
"I'll say it again if you like." Charlie was becoming angry, and the clerk took a step away.
"Trouble?" Mr Pat O'Leary asked, coming up. "Is there something wrong?" He looked from one to the other.
Charlie turned to him. "Well, it's like this Pat. When this kind of smart-alec starts to run people up at a sale, it's about time decent people started to object."
Pat looked at Charlie a moment, then at the clerk. "If that's the case .." He turned away abruptly and crossed to the auctioneer, spoke a few words, and came back, his jaw tight. "Mr Delahoy. I'm sorry. They did run you."
Bill shook his head, voice tight with anger. "Well you know what they can do with their drill "
"No, listen," said Pat. "Give me £80 and the drill is yours. And I'm sorry for what they did."
Bill looked at Charlie, and when he nodded Bill took out his cheque book and wrote out the cheque, handing the butt to Pat to sign as a receipt.
Pat scrawled his signature. "Come over to the shed. The least I can do is buy you a drink."
There were two eighteen gallon kegs with ice packed around their tops to keep them cool, and Pat O'Leary bought Bill and Charlie a couple of rounds by way of apology before he left them to go back to the sale.
But Bill was still rather hurt about the whole affair, and had a couple more drinks, which only added to his feelings of injustice.
"I'm going to go and have a bit of a talk to that auctioneer and his clerk, Charlie. They're just a couple of shysters."
"No Bill. Forget about it. We don't want any trouble."
But Bill caught sight of the auctioneer and his clerk walking towards their car, a T-model Ford tourer, one of the first in the district, and started towards them. "Hey! I want a word with you two gentlemen!"
He shook off Charlie's restraining hand and walked across to them. "I suppose you fellows think it's clever to run a man for a drill? Y'know, to me you're just a couple of crooks. In fact, you're that crooked you couldn't lie straight in bed."
The auctioneer fixed Bill with a haughty look. "I'll have you know, Mr Delahoy, that we are a reputable firm of auctioneers."
"Like hell you are. A couple of smart-alecs."
Charlie had followed, but before he could get to him Bill had dropped the auctioneer in the dust with a straight left.
Dropping his bag, the clerk leapt forward and threw a punch that caught Bill on the side of the jaw. And down Bill went.
But Bill came up again, and went for the clerk, the two of them swinging wildly, ending up on the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.
"What's going on here? I'll arrest the both of you for disturbing the peace!"
The local police Sergeant ordered them to their feet, snapped handcuffs on their wrists, and marched them off to be taken to the Woomelang lock-up. Charlie followed along behind with the horses and the bail money.
"Ah well," said Bill when they released him. "I reckon we better go and have a few more drinks Charlie."
"No damn fear! You're in enough trouble now. I'm taking you home."
On the way back it was a long time before Bill spoke. He was trying to sort things out, and as he sobered up it began to dawn on him that he was in a spot of bother.
"What'd they charge me with Charlie?"
"Fighting and disturbing the peace. I think they only laid the two. It depends now on whether the auctioneer lays a charge, but I don't think he will. He won't want the matter of running you for a drill aired in court."
We were just finishing tea when Bill arrived home. We had collected the draughts and brought them back from Sea Lake without incident.
Bill sat down to his tea and told us he had bought the drill for £80, but he didn't say anything else until the others had gone to bed and he was sitting out on the verandah with Harry and I.
"What I'm worried about is after I've been to court. It'll be in the papers, and that will upset Mother."
Harry was thoughtful, the solicitors clerk again. "I think when it comes up you should plead extreme provocation. They'll probably fine you three quid with thirty bob costs, and in the meantime I'll go into Woomelang and see what I can do about the paper."
"Jove, I hope you can manage something," Bill said hopefully, feeling rather sorry about the whole matter now. "If you can't I suppose I'll just have to grin and bear it."
"Perhaps we could lose the paper on that day?"
"Aw yes, but Ma Jennings'll want to talk about it to Mother alright."
"Well," said Harry, perhaps her paper can go astray too." He stood up. "Come on, let's off to bed. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
The whir of little wings made me look up. Hell! That's torn it. All the time we had been talking the willy wagtails had been flitting around above us.
I grinned to myself. That's the way secrets get around in the Mallee.
Chapter 7 | Contents | Chapter 9