On the cheap. Lovely phrase, suggestive of inevitable drama to follow. Donny Gosling built his house on the cheap. For a start, he didn’t bother with a decent ladder. Back in the day, they were going for the piratical price of a hundred and twenty excessive bucks, and Donny was having none of that.
I’m having none of that, he announced while knocking up a sawhorse to go with the 200-litre drum which would support the other end of his ‘scaffold’ (wooden plank). He had ‘lashed out’ (free at the tip) on another drum, but it was busy serving as the water supply for mixing his bricklaying mortar. The heights of his two supports were discrepant, but allegedly near enough for the bush.
Donny built most of the house using that lopsided perch for a ladder, but some parts of the structure were about seven metres off the ground. Donny needed more elevation.
Elevation, that’s what I need.
He phoned his boon pal, Percy The Wise Guy Fawcett. Percy was also building his house on the cheap. A gimcrack pioneer, Perce was going with timber slab construction and rammed-earth floors, but at least he had a decent extension ladder.
I need elevation.
The Wise Guy was good that way.
So Donny borrowed the ladder from time to time.
The bubble in his trusty old spirit level was defaulting to some bubble-ish sweet spot between Wayward and Inscrutable ever since the bull sat on it, but it was too handy to throw away just yet. So Donny would get a reading on one side, flip the level, read the other side, extrapolate, split the difference and make the call. He referred to the procedure as sniffin’ the bubbly vibe. His Life Partner, Shasta, referred to it as, Idiot! Just get another bloody level. He didn’t. Donny was a proud man. And tight. And not un-stupid.
It’s true the completed house was somewhat level, and tending towards plumb, but all the bubbly vibe sniffing had added six months to the build time.
One day Donny was standing up on the rafters wondering whether to climb down and retrieve his tape measure, which had fallen to the ground again, or just sniff the length-y vibe by measuring in cubits. He’d just rolled up his sleeve to expose his cubit-measuring elbow when he noticed that two McTilley brothers, Toff and Clem, aged eleven and thirteen, had rocked up.
Howdy, men. What’s happening?
Mum told us to come and help you build your house.
Incredible! Come on up.
You’ll find a way. Oh, grab that tape on the ground there, will you?
This one? The numbers have worn off.
It’s still handy. You’ll get used to it.
Those boys worked like Trojans on that roof. And it was hot. Their Mum had packed them sandwiches for lunch and they were able to toast them on the tin. You can still see bits of melted cheese up there today.
The glare off the tin was savage, so Donny fetched young Toff his welding helmet to protect his eyes. That night at Bonalbo Pub old Turps Farrelly mumbled something about bushrangers building up on the hill, but his companions pronounced him madder than usual and just as drunk.
Those boys were born builders, and efficient with it. For example, they saved time by peeing off the roof. All day and into the night they toiled cheerfully. And only fell off a couple of times.
Although Donny was tempted to milk this golden goose until midnight, he called a halt at 6.30. And tight though he was, Donny could not let their work go unrewarded.
Thanks heaps, men. Here, let me pay you something.
Clem: Oh no, no, no! Mum wouldn’t like that. At all.
Toff: At all.
Clem: Why are you crying, Mr Donny?
Some big hearts in Bonalbo.
A lesson to us all.