BULLGOOSE: No use getting sulky, kids – but do buckle up

ABOVE: Photo from the Bullgoose archives.

Alice Piddens and the Sweeties are on the hunt for Wes.

There he is, girls.



Where’s the treasure, WesPop?


We’re detectoring for buried treasure. (Sweetie Sweetie and Sweetie Duderina brandish metal detector and trowel determinedly).

I see.

Where should they look, Wes?

Well, Sweeties, you might want to start at the old sulky shed.

Why is the shed sulking, WesPop? Does it have to go to its room to have a good think about the consequences of its actions?

Stop chortling, Wes, and explain it to them, demands Alice.

A sulky, Sweetie Duderina. A sulky was a two-wheeled cart pulled by a horse. Sort of an old-school hatchback.

Oh. Where’s the sulky shed?

It used to be over there, past those two apple gums, but it burned down. You might find some melted metal stuff.


Quite possibly.


It could happen, Allie.

Wes’s mind clicks back to yesteryear.

The sulky, Pop?

All right. But first, who wants pancakes?

Me. Me. Me. Me.

Good. Here you go.

Pop would chuckle, hand each kid a bucket and send them off to collect dry cow pats for the garden. They fell for the pancake scam every time.

Then he’d amble to the sulky shed, stand between the shafts of the old sulky like a horse and drag it up the hill, where he’d secure it to the house fence for the kids to play on.

It was a versatile sulky, doing duty as a tank, a getaway car, a paddy wagon, rocket ship, a speedboat, Cinderella’s coach and sometimes a sulky.

Bullgoose’s grandmother on the sulky.

They loved Pop. He was quiet and gently gruff. He sang Yip I Addy I Ay and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, then usually started all over again.

Wes remembered going down to the sea baths at Coogee Beach with him once. Ern was a WWI Digger and he’d developed a hernia from lugging artillery shells and skull-dragging bogged horses out of the Somme Valley mud. He wore an ‘appliance’: a truss.

Once they entered the open-air changing shed it seemed to Wes that all the other swimmers were Diggers with hernias too, because the walls were festooned with trusses hung on hooks like dingo scalps on a fence. The Diggers would shed their trusses before changing into their (often hired) swimming togs. The trusses looked identical. Were there ever any embarrassing mix-ups?

Also hireable were towels. The Diggers knew the horrors of ‘trench foot’ (tinea) and were fanatically drilled to dry every, and I mean every, part of their person. After the swim Wes stood, slack-jawed, watching the Diggers and Pop wielding those towels like demented shoeshine boys dragging, flipping, flapping, poking, rubbing, scrubbing and buffing. Those towels went some places, that’s for sure.

Wes decided to shake himself dry.

One hot day when Ern muscled up to the sulky shafts he popped a belt buckle.

Hey, Pop popped a buckle! Hoo hoo! the kids chortled.

Unperturbed, he tied up his duds with a bit of twine and lugged the sulky up the hill.

Late that night, while writing a letter to Wes’s Dad, Ern suffered a heart attack and died, his pen dropping mid-word (‘tomorr…’).

Kate took it hard. And she took it spiteful. She blamed that bloody sulky for her darling Old Mate’s death. She hated it. It was a widowmaker on wheels. It had to go. She’d have burned it herself, but she was too scared of the joe blakes in the sulky shed.

Lovey, burn that shed down.

What? What the? What?

Burn that shed down. That’s what killed Pop. Burn it.

Lovey would do anything for his mother in law, but not this.

I can’t. It’s wrong.

Tears and wailing.

It’s history.

Bugger the history, pardon my French, burn the bastard! Tears and wailing.

Oh, OK.

The shed, the sulky, harness, tools and several joe blakes went up in smoke like a Ganges funeral pyre.

Kate got some closure. The kids were horrified (Cool fire but).

WesPop! WesPop!

What is it, excited Sweeties?

Found something! Found something!

Yay for you! What did you find?

An ancient broken belt buckle. Probably Egyptian. Do you think it’s gold?

Oh, I think so, Sweeties, I think so.

A lesson to us all.


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