Writings => Showkid


shooting gallery

Crook Shots

The run started from Perenjori. That was on a Friday night. Mullewa was on a Saturday. And then Wednesday was Morawa and Thursday Dalwallinu and Friday Merredin. We used to arrive at a place about one in the morning, be up at six and set up the stalls, pull them down at night and set off again. Dalwallinu gradually fell by the way, because it was too hard.

It was quite dangerous really because we only had one truck which was heavily loaded, and usually five people in the front. And the roads were very narrow in those days and very bumpy.

The best things were when it wasn't travelling at night all the time. I remember the wildflowers around Bruce Rock and Northampton, a hill being one colour and then another hill a different colour, and I wondered how come the flowers knew to be that colour. Because it was hill by hill; it didn't seem to be random.

We got up early in the morning. You know that biting cold that comes with the frost that you get in springtime when it's clear sky. I can still hear the sound of the grit underneath the feet as you get out and pick up the cold iron bars and lay them on the ground and hop into it, oblivious.

On the nights when we were not travelling there would be a campfire and singalongs and yarns and jokes. The one that sticks in my mind is Morawa, on the Monday night. People didn't have caravans then, so they got together more: it was quite an event.

My Dad worked the darts stall. It was good for people who didn't usually see themselves as winners to be successful for once, especially if they were good darts players. There's not much you can do with darts outside a pub.

Even then I could see that entertainment was the key to understanding the show business. My Dad put a lot of energy into the pitch, which made people smile and feel that they had got something for their money, a bit of fun, a bit of attention.

These days the stalls are built into caravans or onto semitrailers, but at that time they were free-standing stalls, which had to be unloaded and then built, like a canvas city. My father told me the first time they did a show - in some little town - the wind came and blew the stall away right in the middle of the pitch, and he just had to close up for a minute while he chased after it.

Up until I was twelve I didn't work. Well, I used to drive the train at the show, the little kids train, and just generally muck about, have free shots, and then go and fantasise near the horses, squirt pigs up the nose with water pistols. I started work from when I was twelve.

Mr Arthur used to own the train. He sold it to my cousin, and he sold it my brother. He sold it to the fairy floss family. It had a Baby Austin engine in it, with a clutch that you wound in and out. There were pushrods connected to the wheels and airpumps like door-closers on them. They had whistles welded on the end, so that they whistled as the wheels went round, which was an attraction to people.

Mr Arthur used to do the train by himself. He was quite a master at marshalling young children to do it, because it wasn't possible to load and unload and set it up by yourself. Kids always wanted to help on the train. Local kids or show kids. It was a treat to do it, because he had a train conductor's cap that you got to wear. If you helped him set up you could be the conductor, the one that sat on the back.

The day that I lost the carriages at Dalwallinu, my cousin was in the back: he was the guard that time. There were a few things he used to say. One was 'Last train for Gidgiegannup!' That was what he always used to shout out. I had no idea then where Gidgiegannup was or what it was. He also used to tell the kids: 'Jump on! Mum'll pay!' Which the kids would do. It was a shilling a ride. The other saying was 'Get on the back carriage! You get a longer ride there.'

I was driving the train, and it was on a slope, so to get it up the hill you had to rev it up at the bottom. I was cavalierly driving up the hill one day, and I looked back and I saw the carriages bouncing all over the place, small kids being bounced everywhere.... The parents wouldn't let them back on.

As well as the train and the darts stall there was a merry-go-round and the clowns and the Speedway Races. That was a stall with little racing cars on a track and you had to pump a lever which would bung a ball into a hole which would make it go slow or fast and go up the track. The first one to the top won. It was a game of skill. My brothers and I practised during the winter and got good at it. Occasionally we had a try to win the prizes back when things were a bit slow. There had to be twelve people wanting to have a shot or you couldn't work it at all.

And there was the Penny Arcade. On some of the machines you put in a penny, pulled back a lever with a spring, and shot a steel ball up and over in a slot. If you got it in the right one, you could win a cigarette. They were Craven A and Capstan and cost a shilling for a packet of ten. Mr Arthur had the machines: he's still got them.

Working in the stalls, from an early age I remember the strange perspective people had, talking to you. But we also had a unique perspective on what the community was like. Dalwallinu, being in the school holidays, a lot of the private school boarders would come back, and they were always very aggressive and keen to put you down. Working the popguns was always unpleasant because the guns bring out aggression in people. I remember one guy coming along bringing his eight-year-old daughter to have a shot on the popguns. After spending ages telling her in front of me people like me were crooked and robbers and not to be trusted, and examining the guns to show that the barrels were all bent, he asked me to do a couple of things. He said to me that if I could shoot over a tin, they would have a shot. The other one was to pick a tin, and for me to give it to them to see if it was full of lead or not.

Whenever I was asked that, always used to pretend that I'd been sprung, and God how could they be so intelligent to figure it out all by themselves that we had nailed them down. Then after they'd felt superior for a while, I'd gently demonstrate in some offhand manner that they were wrong.

I remember when I only about as high as the counter, my Aunty was working the guns, and she was accosted by such a drip. I was just walking past, and she said 'I bet even that little boy could knock a tin over.' So I was in the firing line, because it was quite a heated argument. Normally we wouldn't bother. Anyway, I managed to knock over a tin at the right time, amidst great cheers from the family, and threats about what would have happened if I hadn't.

Some shows I used to keep a loaded popgun down at the my feet. The big thing was that when you were turning around to stack the tins up, some smartarse would shoot you. Someone shot my brother. He was twelve and I was about nine. I just happened to have one there, and I picked it up and held it to this guy's head. It was only a popgun but he didn't know that. There was only a cork in it, but I had it up to his temple. His face changed from being smart and grinning, and I'm sure he started sweating instantaneously. That sort of thing goes on all the time.

This guy with the young daughter - after having finished lecturing her in front of me about what crummy people we were, he decided to give her a shot. Not for fun, but so that she'd know how to shoot a rifle. He taught her how to aim. (Incidentally, I think I must have taught more people how to aim than the bloody army. It's incredible the number of people that shut the wrong eye looking down the barrel, and wondering why they miss. You don't need to have lead in the tins, because people are such crook shots.) So he had this little girl up there, and the instruction that he gave her was: 'Now wait, and when I say "Kill!", pull the trigger!' So there's this poor little kid sitting there at the fair, supposed to be having a good time, and this demented old father, this superior bastard, going 'Kill!', and this poor little girl popping and missing, and him saying, 'See, I told you the barrels were bent.'