Rumba’s father and mother were avid gardeners; his mother grew the most amazing carnations, snapdragons, roses and especially camellias, she was also a very good cook and cakes were her specialty. His father only grew things you could eat; fruit and vegetables with his tomatoes and citrus were the talk of the town. It is true about pissing on the citrus, it does make them grow.
The locals reckon the town has its own micro-climate. The weather for the region was different than the town where Rumba lived. The summers were cooler and the winters were wet. The town was nestled between a river and a mountain range, making the soils very rich in nutrients.
Another of Rumba’s father’s past-times was brewing his own beer and drinking copious amounts of it.
Each had their reasons for their successes and for their failures. The successes had to do with fertiliser and the failure was just bad luck.
As was the case in most small country towns, show day was an annual highlight where most of the men of the town went to get pissed, and the others went to have a good day, compete in the various bake offs, and other competitions – from the most yellow yolk to the tastiest tomato to the best crocheted rug.
The day started out well, there were egg and spoon races, three legged races, then the more important stuff started later in the afternoon. All of the products were lined up in a row and the judges were there, not necessarily for their prowess as experts in their fields, but because they were related to the mayor or captain of the footy club, or an organiser was having sex with one of them. At one time the captain was sleeping with the mayor.
So the judging begins.
Carl has an entry in the home brew section and the fresh produce (tomatoes this year). Tracey has a cake and a bunch of her best carnations of various colours.
Carl is tense because this year the two bottles of his home brew that he put aside for the show had mysteriously disappeared. He can’t remember drinking them; this was mainly because he drunk so much the night before he can’t remember anything. Luckily Carl had another batch on the go, but it really was a month off being fully brewed. It would do but it wasn’t the best. So the tomatoes are his best hope.
The judge is the local green grocer, a large man with a protruding stomach. He is one of those blokes who is clearly thinning on top, so much so that you can see more scalp than hair, but refuses to acknowledge his follicular predicament. He tries to hide his hair situation by using Vaseline to spike it up. Every morning the mirror lies to him and tells him no one will notice and the spiked hair is what all the young blokes are doing. He believes the mirror.
The green grocer walks in with a swagger, which he thinks compliments the hair, past the tomatoes, all cut in half then one half is cut again. The quarter is the piece that the judge eats. He walks up to Carl’s plate and nods.
‘Afternoon Mr Grey, how are you today?’
Mr Grey is wearing his standard green-grocer leather apron with a pocket in the front. He takes the quarter and then produces the flavour enhancer from the front pocket of the apron: a small salt-shaker. He taps the side of the salt-shaker gently, because too much salt will kill the flavour. He takes a bite and says to Carl, ‘Good as usual Carl’.
Carl replies ‘It’s the fertiliser.’
Mr Grey moves to the next plate without a further word. He takes the quarter, applies the salt, not too much, and then says exactly the same thing. Some people take the judging way too seriously.
Carl moves quickly to the home-brew tent where his next product is to be judged.
Over in the baked goods tent, Tracey is getting nervous as usual. She and Carl never have really fitted in with the town people; they were tolerated, more than accepted. Mostly this didn’t bother them. They were the only Aboriginal people in what was really a redneck town. All of the other ladies knew each other and knew of Carl and Tracey, because many a day was spent talking about the ‘Aboriginals’.
The baking judge, Mrs Farquhar, was allocated this position because of her eating habits more than anything else. She would have to be the largest lady in the town. She was a serial ‘Hi, how are you, I was in the area and thought I might drop in for some of those beautiful scones/cakes/fruit bread/cupcakes that you make’. Everyone felt awkward and really didn’t like her, but needed to stay on her good side because she was the cake judge after all.
So it begins. All of the cakes have been cut: two small wedges of cake next to the rest. Those more astute entrants have cut the wedges a bit larger, so as Mrs Farquhar might judge them on their generosity. Tracey wants no special treatment and has cut them to mouthful size.
Mrs Farquhar is a lady that wears clothes far too tight for her. The buttons on her blouse and zipper on her skirt protest by threatening to pop or unzip by themselves. There is a gap between each button which exposes her skin. She has enormous bosoms that also remonstrate with the buttons and zipper. She has red high heels on and is struggling to walk because the heels are sinking into the grass in the tent. She is unaware that people are talking about her and she is even more unaware that her clothes are too tight.
Mrs Farquhar gets to Tracey’s plate and looks at the wonderfully moist and glistening chocolate cake that Tracey has entered. She doesn’t acknowledge Tracey, like she did the other ladies, and tastes the cake. She offers no words of encouragement or compliments, just tries a small mouthful and moves to the next plate. To Tracey’s delight her extra soft and moist icing has left Mrs Farquhar with a brown line on either side of her mouth, similar to the Joker in Batman. Mrs Farquhar says hello to Mrs Jenkins who is next in line and Mrs Jenkins, does the ‘Uhum’ while touching the sides of her mouth. Mrs Jenkins is trying to indicate that she has cake on the corners of her mouth, but Mrs Farquhar is not getting it and just winks at her friend Mrs Jenkins.
Mrs Farquhar continues down the line with her new chocolate lines either side of her mouth, eating as much as is offered to her.
At the home-brew tent Carl is standing next to his standard issued glass. The glasses have to be issued since the cheating. Mr Donegal had lined the inside of his glass with carefully crushed castor sugar and then froze the glass. When the beer was poured it was unusually sweet and flavoursome. The frozen glass also meant the beer was colder than his competitors. He was found out when at the end of the beer tasting, tradition has it all competitors and friends should stand around in a circle and drink until drunk. On this occasion Mr Donegal decided not to drink from his glass, and left it on the table, as did some of the other competitors. After a few beers the men discovered that the ants had a preference for the Donegal glass and when one of the men went to discover why the glass was so popular, he found a sugary substance on the edge. To this day, out of embarrassment, Mr Donegal has not entered any more beer in the competition and has earned the nickname ‘Castor Sugar’.
So as usual the publican of the only pub in town was the judge for the home-brew competition. Quite fitting except that he had long since given up drinking beer, and was strictly a straight Scotch-on-the-rocks man. This was mainly due to the fact that he could slam down a Scotch while serving customers. He would be three sheets to the wind by eleven am and asleep by one. Then awake at about four, to do it all over again, until close. Then do it again the next day. He wasn’t aware of it, but there was a book going as to when he was going to die from cirrhosis of the liver.
So he says g’day to Carl as Carl pours his beer into the glass. Carl stops about half way and hands it to the judge, who, puts on quite a show. He lifts the glass to the light and looks through it, he then swirls the beer around in the glass and then puts the glass to his nose where he sniffs the beer. Then as the grand finale in his performance he takes a large mouthful and down it goes. There is a young lad with him who is carrying a bucket we all assume is a spittoon for the beer. Every year it is brought out and every year it is returned empty, the publican swallows every morsel offered to him much like the cake judge. As usual the publican lets out a sigh at the end, scratches his stomach and then says, as he says to everyone, ‘Good brew as usual, good luck’. He then moves to the next competitor with spittoon boy in tow.
The next entrant is Mr Downer. Mr Downer owns the local Post Office and has done so since he took over the business from his father. Mr Downer has a crazy comb-over. How come the only people who think that no one will notice the comb-over is the owner of the comb-over? On windy days the combed-over piece of hair sits straight up and he looks like he has a Mohawk. To top it off Mr Downer thinks he is a bit of a Casanova with the ladies who come into his Post Office. Trouble is, like his comb-over, he is the only one of this opinion. Mrs Downer was a lady that everyone thought was going to be left on the shelf. She didn’t marry a younger Mr Downer until she was thirty-five: an age when most women were talking about their varicose veins and how this pregnancy was different from the last two. The ladies who had boys said it must be a girl and the ladies who had girls said it must be a boy. The ones who had one of each couldn’t give a shit they just wanted the thing out so they could sleep on their stomachs again.
Mr Downer nods to the judge/publican, who politely nods back. The judge/publican goes through the ritual and swallows the beer to the annoyance of spittoon boy. Spittoon boy should be grateful, he is getting paid for carrying a bucket, could be worse, it could be half full of stale beer and spit.
As usual the publican lets out a sigh at the end, scratches his stomach and then repeats, ‘Good brew as usual, good luck’. He moves to the next person. This goes on twenty more times and by now he is half pissed, scribbles something down on a loose bit of paper and folds the paper and puts it in his top pocket. The paper has the names of the blokes whose beer he was tasting. He can’t remember by the end of the judging because he will be half drunk and the paper is to jog his memory as to who put an entry in this year.
The last person to be judged before the judge/publican put the paper in his pocket was Uncle Horrie who is the owner of the hardware shop. Uncle Horrie is not married and is called Uncle Horrie because he is Carl’s best mate. It’s one of those things where Carl and Horrie were mates since primary school and have only ever been apart when Carl and Tracey went on their honeymoon. Horrie even asked if he could come and visit them on the honeymoon, after all they were only going two hours up the road to Lake Drifter. He thought he might drop in for a few quiet beers. Tracey put her foot down and said no way. Uncle Horrie was at Carl and Tracey’s house at least three times a week…just for a few quiet ones. He would drop in after he shut the shop bringing three long necks, a packet of jellybeans for the kids and some biscuits for Tracey.
Uncle Horrie put a shiver up Tracey’s spine, there was just something about him that she did not like; he was, as she put it, ‘creepy’. She was only nice to him because he was Carl’s best mate and in a town where they lived, having friends visit was rare, for the ‘Aboriginal’ family.
Tracey knew how important it was to Carl and her boys to have people in their lives who wouldn’t push them away. She’d seen people cross to the other side of the road to avoid walking on the same footpath as her boys. And then there was the Grade Three birthday party that Seb was invited to. Tracey went shopping and bought a present and a card and some wrapping paper. She even bought Seb some new party clothes and broke the budget. They counted down the sleeps until it was time for the party. There were fifteen boys in the Grade Three class but the parents of the birthday boy decided that fourteen was a manageable number when they remembered the Aborigine boy. When the birthday boy told Seb, who was all prepared for the party, that he couldn’t come, he ran out of the school crying.
Tracey, Carl and the Police looked everywhere for Seb. He was eventually found under the town hall sobbing uncontrollably. It took several weeks before Tracey thought that Seb was back to being his old self but really, he never got over it, he just learned to mask his sadness.
Uncle Horrie winked at Carl when the judge had left him. Only Uncle Horrie and Carl knew that it was Carl’s beer and not Uncle Horrie’s home brew that was entered every year.
One year when Uncle Horrie won the beer competition he went through the whole process of explaining to the judges and connoisseurs how to get that right taste, yeast, temperature and even how he used special detergent to wash the bottles. Pretty good for someone who didn’t own a brew kit. Uncle Horrie was a liar which also sent shivers up Tracey’s spine.
This year was not Tracey’s, Uncle Horrie’s or Carl’s year to win. They were all told by the judges, as they were every year that this year was very hard to pick a winner because all were great entries. The thing was, the same bullshit was said and the truth was it is a random process.
The cakes were judged by proportion size dished up, the publican was so pissed by the end of the judging he usually chooses a haphazard name from his piece paper and the green grocer is the only one who chooses on merit.
As usual, as the sun goes down, the women decide it has been a long day and gather their respective children and talk of a bath, leftovers or something bought from the show, like home-made pasties or soup, for dinner, a cup of tea and an early night. The men decide they would stay on and see if they could drink all of the home brew and the beer they had in eskies in their cars as well.
So as the children were sleeping, the dogs were fed what the children didn’t eat, the street lights came on, the ladies were brewing tea and the men were laughing at the same jokes they had heard before the mopoke started calling its night time chant. Mopoke, mopoke mopoke.