(This is another of Uncle Doug's stories, taken from his life story writings. He was about twelve at the time.)
How Nino became an Aussie -
Kojanup is a typical friendly small town about two hundred kilometres South of the West Australian capital of Perth. The entire area is very suitable for sheep farming, however clearing the land of the heavy timber is necessary, and while modern methods with large machinery make it a fairly easy task, it was not so just after the Second World War.
The year of 1947 saw me living with my father in the small Perth suburb of East Cannington, enrolled in the little local school. My parents were recently divorced; another casualty of the war and my sister Patricia lived with my mother in Darwin NT.
The house we lived in was located close to the railway station and had belonged to my grandfather, who had passed away about two years earlier.
The kids at the E.Cannington School were a happy friendly group, while the two teachers did a great job with a class of about fifty kids each. My teacher was the headmaster Charles Biford, who ran his large class of three standards very well.
While I got on well with all the other kids, including the girls, my best mate was Malcolm who lived only about two hundred metres away from our home, and we enjoyed many happy hours, playing cricket, football, riding our bikes and giving the girls a little attention.
Mal’s parents owned a large, mainly uncleared sheep property not too far out of Kojanup and while they lived in E. Cannington, their two eldest boys, Bert and Alf lived in a typical bush hut on the farm. The two parents would travel to their property on a regular basis at least every month. Malcolm and I looked forward to going with them during some school holidays and helped where we could.
Both of the elder boys worked at various bush jobs, shearing, yard building, mustering, droving and anything else that came up. In between those seasonal jobs they worked hard clearing and preparing the farm for a growing herd of sheep.
A young Italian was employed to help with the many farm duties; Nino was a bright young man with a sunny disposition and was a quick learner. Since coming to our country as a prisoner of war only a few years earlier he had been sent to work on farming properties, like many other POW’s.
After the war those POW’s were required to be sent home despite the fact that many desired to stay. Nino at the age of seventeen was drafted into the Army, sent to North Africa and captured by the Australians shortly after, then sent to WA, where he eventually discovered a love for this large free land. Like many of his countrymen Nino went bush, with the help of sympathetic Aussie farmers when the authorities looked for him to send him back to Italy.
That was how the young man came to work with the two brothers in the beautiful Kojanup area.
Now both Alf and Bert, being genuine Aussie Bushies, were addicted to yarns, stories and practical jokes, while poor Nino in his youth and innocence was often the victim of their good natured pranks.
One day after a particularly hard week of tree felling using a mobile circular power saw, the three of them were enjoying a billy of tea, a good yarn, and the inevitable roll your own cigarette.
Young Nino, who had noticed that both Alf and Bert were minus an odd finger or two, asked how come?
Of course missing digits were fairly common among men who worked with razor sharp axes and uncovered circular saws.
Alf rose to the challenge and with a pained expression on a very solemn face, reluctantly told the following story:
“Well it’s like this Nino, you know that we are working hard to get the place going properly and we get very short of money to buy things we need. And well, when we get desperate for food, tobacco and the odd bottle of beer or rum we have to do something desperate, not very nice and a little painful.”
Nino came right in, thinking things like highway hold-ups and bank robbery or even worse crimes. “What for you do for money?” He fearfully asked.
Without a trace of humour crossing his stony face Alf told the story. “Nino I will tell you the truth if you promise not to tell anyone, it must remain a secret to the three of us only”. The young Italian crossed himself and swore he would never tell even under torture.
Alf was mightily impressed by the loyalty of their employee, and went straight to the story.
“Well mate it’s like this”, and picking up his razor sharp axe, he spread his fingers on a tree trunk, and made the motion of chopping.
Poor young Nino was horrified. “What for you chop finger off”. He cried in alarm.
Not a flicker of shame crossed Alf’s stony bearded face. “ We get good money from insurance company, enough to keep us going six months for just one finger“.
Nino believed the story and admired the strength and dedication of Alf and Bert even though it was terrible to contemplate. Another hard week went by and one day, after eating their lunchtime Vegemite and Golden Syrup sandwiches, Bert brought up the fact that they were running short of supplies, and really would have to make a trip to town.
“Yair that’s right we are nearly out of tucker and tobacco, and I sure would go for a nice cool beer or a nip or two of rum after a hard day,” Alf said, looking directly at his brother, who came out with, “Well that’s true enough, we are nearly out of all supplies and we should go to town for more. But what can we use for money? The Bank has been sending us very dirty letters asking to have our overdraft cut down. I can’t see us getting through until our wool cheque comes in about another two months or so at least. Unless”. And he looked hard and expectantly at Alf, who said very softly.
“So it has come to that again”. And reaching for his axe started to hone an already sharp edge.
Nino understood or rather misunderstood Alf’s intention and horrified, cried out “Oh no you poor boys please no”. He appealed and tears streamed down his compassionate face when he looked at the grim, determined pair. “Which one this time?” looking at them both with eyes like saucers.
“Nino you are a very good friend of ours and we both think of you as a brother, but look at our hands, Bert has three fingers missing and I have two and a half gone. Now it is your turn to help my little brother.” Alf smiled at the young lad grimly.
With both of those fine actors looking at him, Nino suddenly got the idea and intent. The young Italian was fast in making his move to get away, but Burt was like a striking black snake, and wrapped his long arms and legs about the lad.
Nino fought like a banshee to avoid a terrible mutilation, he screamed and swore in Italian, English, Australian and a mixture of all three and then some. He punched, scratched, kicked like a wild brumby and bit like a crocodile. All to no avail as Burt using all his great strength and skills as an unbeaten grass fighter, pinned the lad with a neberwazzi, the special hold used by gun shearers to overcome the greatly feared huge feral rams, and nearly everything else that walks, runs or crawls.
Alf had picked up a strong whippy green stick, like the old teachers cane, and while hiding it behind his back, picked up his razor sharp axe, and made sure the struggling Nino got a good look at what he held.
“Quickly now stretch his hand onto the log, it doesn’t matter if he wont stop struggling, if we get more than one it’s a lot more money” shouted Alf.
Burt complied and when Alf raised the gleaming axe, Nino nearly busted loose but the big shearer held on and turned the lad’s head. “It’s OK Nino it doesn’t hurt for long,” Alf called and dropped the axe and brought the green stick sharply on the stretched out fingers.
“I got two“ yelled Alf, as the terrified lad broke loose, screaming and not daring to look at the damage to his stinging left hand, he jammed his supposedly wounded hand under his armpit so he couldn’t see.
The hysterical victim bolted away from the two madmen who had burst into maniacal shrieks of laughter as they chased after the fleeing lad.
Thinking they were not through with him yet, the bolting Nino incredibly went into overdrive, jumping fences and large logs like a champion steeplechase racehorse. Still screaming like a demented Dervish and not daring to look at his hand poor Nino was intent on putting as much distance as possible between the two raving maniacs and himself. .
The two partners in crime, knowing they had no hope of catching their victim collapsed in a heap, out of breath, and blinded with tears of mirth.
It was on dusk before Nino turned up at their hut, and confronted the, by now sort of remorseful pair. Of course the culprits blamed each other and promised they would never do anything like it again. It took most of a bottle of OP Rum before the then inebriated Nino, who finally admitted it was so well done and acted, displayed the spirit of forgiving.
And that was when Nino became a fair dinkum Aussie with his own wicked sense of humour.
For many years that story was told in the bush pubs and shearing sheds around our great country and still is to this very day.