TERRY: OF THE LATTER DAY CONVICTS . . .



© Gerry Walsh



Terry was a guy I worked with for 7 years back in the 70s. He came from Liverpool. By that I mean Liverpool on the Mersey, back yonder in England. He would have done better to come from the western Sydney suburb of the same name. He left school in about 1974. He saw not much future in the Old Dart . . . so boarded a plane to Australia to seek a better life. That is how I came to know Terry. I liked him. We always stirred him up and referred to him as “Terry of the Latter Day Convicts”. He took it like it was meant, an Aussie joke, and never failed to quip back at us.

Terry found out that I was one for going on bush walks and trips of orchid exploration at any opportunity. He had never been out of the asphalt jungle during his first years in Sydney and made noises that I should take him along for a “bush” experience some time. He was young, and despite his white skin and blackheads from never having had his shirt off in the English fog, I finally invited him away for a few days bush bashing.

He asked many questions regarding what we would eat and drink, are there any snakes, leeches, ticks . . . basically he was a pretty worried lad. But old mother Gerry assured him all would be well; nothing but babbling brooks and chirping birds I promised him. He was looking forward to a few days as Jungle Jim in Paradise.

The big day came and Terry caught a train out to my place with an overnight bag of clothes and a few necessities of life. We were to go down to a spot in the Illawarra I knew that had an old milking shed. It still had a sound roof despite having been abandoned for 3 decades. It only had two functioning walls but these sat on a cement slab that was dry.

Came time to blow up the airbeds and roll out the sleeping bags. To do this, we had to brush aside six inches of dried up cow dung, one dried up snake skin and the carcass of a dead and mummified fox or dog, not quite sure which.

Surprisingly, Terry had never slept on an airbed. He thought he might have spent the night in a sleeping bag when he was four but was not at all certain. Biggest shock for me was that he had never slept in a milking shed with six inches of cow dung, a snake skin and a mummified fox in it. He never told me this directly. I worked it out just by looking at him. Terry was a trooper and never complained about the accommodation. There were no alternative suites available anyhow.

Being mid afternoon, I suggested we go for a stroll into a nearby creek to have a look at the Orange Blossom orchids I knew were in there. Terry was still in his good clothes from the train trip. I told him he would be much more comfortable in shorts or loose trousers, as opposed to lovely tight blue jeans and snow white Reeboks.

Surprisingly, Terry reported he had no old clothes. Not just with him, he had no old clothes at all, not even back in England. I explained that it would not take long at all til his shoes would be wet and black, and his jeans would get wet and dirty and hard to walk in. Surprisingly, this revelation seemed to disturb Terry to some degree. But Terry was a trooper and onward we marched into the gully.

Well, let me tell you, for me it was like being stalked by a charging rhino with a hangover. I never thought it was a particularly hard walk. Just a few long steps, wild raspberry vines and some large and slippery logs to negotiate. But Terry seemed to lack much of an instinct on how to work his way forward. Surprisingly, he had not ever had to scramble around such obstacles to get into a rainforest creek back in England.

However, Terry was a trooper, and he never complained once. After a few minutes of sitting on a mossy rock in the creek, following his progress down the steep bank, I was relieved to see him emerge onto safe, rocky surrounds with no vines to impede his progress. His Reeboks were tan coloured by now. Terry was a bit dismayed about this but did not complain. Surprisingly, his lovely jeans only had one rip in them.

We were to go up creek. I have to say that this was not at all difficult. There were some long flat rock platforms to merely stroll along while taking in the beautiful red cedars festooned with orchids and ferns. The understorey was mainly giant birds nest ferns. It was a hell of a nice scene let me tell you. Terry was impressed with the whole outlook and I thought he would now relax a little and get past his dirty Reeboks. Surprisingly, he seemed more pre-occupied about the three leeches he had just noticed on those Reeboks then looking at the orange blossom orchids I was pointing out.

Eventually we came to a spot where we had to cross the tumbling creek. It was not a difficult crossing by any stretch of the imagination. Three simple jumps from flat boulder to flat boulder, with a metre between them. Over I stepped without incident. I was not watching out for Terry behind me, but the yelp he let out, followed by the huge splash, indicated to me that he had suffered a misadventure. Surprisingly, Terry had never crossed a mossy boulder-strewn creek back in England. Good news was that his Reeboks were once again whiter then white.

The sun rarely shines into this shady glen and the water was not at all warm, even on a lovely September day like this one was. But Terry was a trooper if nothing else, and after lamenting the sodden contents of his drowned wallet, we set off up the creek once again. He made some disgusting squelching and sloshing noises at first but soon dried out to some degree. He was now carrying the hand knitted sleeveless pullover his mum had given him because it was too heavy to wear wet.

Surprisingly, at the next crossing of the creek, Terry decided to go for another swim. This time he hurt his wrist on a boulder he crashed against. The hand knitted sleeveless pullover was not sufficiently thick to absorb the impact. So there he was rubbing his grazed wrist while standing in cold ankle deep water and wearing very clean white Reeboks. If only the boys back in Merseyside could be here to see him now, I did casually remark.

The writing was on the wall. Even though he was something of a trooper, Terry was in a spot of bother, and I actually felt sorry for him, even though he was a pommy. I decided that we should return to Camp Cow Dung, change clothes and have a beer and something to eat.

Surprisingly, Terry saw the wisdom in my suggestion, so the excursion was terminated. We exited the creek straight up the bank, keeping right away from the slippery rocks that Terry was now familiar with. His Reeboks got brown again, but what the hell . . .

While Terry pulled off his soaked lovely jeans, I went to work lighting a fire. You just have to have a fire when you are camped out. This took me a few minutes to arrange and after a time I wondered what had become of him. There he was pulling thistle thorns from his bare left foot, sitting on the car seat with the door open, all in his wet underpants. Surprisingly, he never knew what thistles looked like. But Terry doggedly plucked away at the invisible thorns. He was a real trooper, no doubting that. I would have thought that they had thistles back home in England.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw next. Terry was standing there, as snug as a bug in a rug as they say, in blue striped pyjamas. I barely managed to suppress my urge to scream with laughter . . . turns out he had no other dry clothes. This was just a one night stay and he never thought he would need more than white Reeboks, lovely blue jeans, blue striped pyjamas and one shirt, which was now soaked.

The fire was glowing nicely and Terry was now dry at least. Out come a can of soft drink or two and a bunch of sausages, which makes easy and filling tucker on one-night jaunts like this one. The stars were twinkling nicely as we started to scoff our sandwiches. Terrys trials were now forgotten and his drivers licence and bank notes were laid out to dry overnight. All was now right with the world and you would not be dead for quids, as they say.

Terry was standing up, back to the fire, beer in one hand, sandwich in the other. Suddenly there came a startling “BOOM”. I had lit the fire next to a big rock, as you do, but the heat over the two hours had caused it to blow apart. As I watched him fall back to earth, his eyes seemed as large as bread and butter plates. I was amazed. I had never before heard a man yodel through a mouth full of half chewed sausage sandwich. Surprisingly, Terry never knew he could do it either. I just had to laugh my head off, cruel though I was.

But he was not finished his floor show yet. Terry wore no shoes . . . his Reeboks were drying near the fire. His bare feet made contact with a whole bunch of red-hot pieces of rock that peppered the concrete slab of the old milking shed. I watched on; astonished. I had never before seen a man tap dance in blue striped pyjamas while eating a sausage sandwich. I was almost beside myself in hysterical laughter . . .

Poor Terry. Surprisingly, nothing like this had ever happened to him when he lived in England. Eventually he settled down. All the same, it took a fair while before he could see the funny side of it. But Terry was an absolute trooper. It took a little time, but I convinced him that the Battle of Britain was, by all accounts, far more dangerous then camping in an old milking shed in Australia.

After a time we both quietened down and calm returned to paradise. Terry got up to rearrange his jeans and Reeboks, and his only shirt. He did have spare socks and undies, thankfully. Just when you thought that the cabaret show had ended an hour before, Terry decided to put on one last curtain call . . .

As he picked up one of his Reeboks, the right one I think, he let out a holler that would wake the dead. I was gob-smacked. I had never before heard a man sing falsetto while peeling the half molten sole of a Reebok from one hand. It was the same hand with the bad wrist from earlier on. Surprisingly, Terry had a theatrical streak in him that no one at work had ever realised. Why did he cover up his talents?

When I dropped Terry off at his home the next day, I advised him to cover the burns on his thumb and two fingers. He promised he would. The drive home had been rather sombre but now we were there he seemed to spark up a bit. “Ahh! The safety of shag pile carpet” I offered him with a smirk. He managed a big grin and said he had a good time all the same. He was something of a trooper young Terry.

He stayed in Australia for a few more years but grew homesick for his family. So at the ripe old age of 28 he returned home to Liverpool. I often wonder if Terry thinks about that weekend as much as I do. Surprisingly, he never could make the time to do another trip with me. He had moved onto other interests like leatherwork and shoe making. I think he might have been a good cobbler in a previous life; he liked his shoes.

I have now lost contact with him and all that happened 30 years ago. I suppose I could look him up on Face Tube or one of those social network set-ups. But he might not want to contact me. Surprisingly, he disappeared without saying goodbye. I showed him the time of his life then nothing.

Perhaps he might be camping out in the Lakes District with a bunch of kids and a wife, way up on the Scottish border. Terry with five kids and camping! He would no doubt have a go at that . . . he was always a great trooper . . . and I can just picture him swimming in an icy lake with two kids on his back . . . his white Reeboks stashed neatly on the bank.

Post Script: I cannot help but wonder what excuse he spun to his mother with regards to the sleeveless pullover she had lovingly knitted him. So far as I know, it still sits at the bottom of that lovely creek . . .