Buttered Toast: Stories and Sketches
Published in 1999 by Turton & Armstrong Pty Ltd
The occasion was the centenary of Ned Kelly’s hanging. I sent father Brosnan, of North Coburg, the following steal from an Irish poet and set out with my wife for the Quinns in Nowra:
The world did gaze with deep amaze
At the fearless man and true,
Who bore the fight, the freedom’s light
Might shine through the foggy dew.
The Quinns, you say? Yes — descendants of Ned’s uncle Patrick on the mother’s side, including Mrs Dot Keft, Betty and Betty’s two daughters, one of whom lived next door in Kiama. From Nowra we drove to Calymea Creek followed by two helicopters from the Naval Base which gave us the silly idea we were being followed. On arrival at the farmhouse, a figure emerged from the woodheap and Dot proudly introduced the ‘tribal elder and medicine man’, Patrick William Vincent Quinn, and his two kelpie dogs. Paddy wore a neat leather snapbrim hat with Irish aplomb and looked like a horse-strapper. He told us that he’d been born in Kurri Kurri, or maybe Cessnock, on 6 April, 1905, and his father had lived around Scone.
“My grandfather was Patrick John Quinn. There was some controversy as to whether he actually married Nellie Gavin,” he said. “Grandad had a sheep station out west, but swallowed that. They gave him another place at Narrabri but he swallowed that too so he finished his days at Murrurundi.
“Born? I don’t know for sure, but I think six of the ten might have been born in Ireland.”
Well, thank God, Paddy didn’t swallow my misses and me. Instead Dot put on the kettle. Dot is a tall woman, a tireless dog—walker and well known to the Illawarra coursing fraternity. The Quinn women are physically lusty and close. Bump one and you bump the lot. Kate sits in grandma’s knee, then the girls pat each other’s tummies and compare notes, while Betty talks about the ballet and I talk about Ned burning the mortgages and the laughter outside the Glenrowan Inn on the morning before the battle.
Then there’s an ‘incident’ like you get in one of those movies when the priest raises his hand in benediction and the gangster bursts into tears and surrenders the sub—machine gun. When Dot pours the tea, Kate says she doesn’t like too much milk, and Dot replies smartly, “This is Quinn tea. It’s strong, there’s plenty of it and you’ll take what you get.”
And so we lifted our cups and drank a toast in Quinn tea to the sacred memory of Ned and Dan Kelly, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.
Oh, there’s not a dodge worth knowing,
Or showing, that’s going
But you’ll learn,
This isn’t blowing,
From the bold Kelly Gang.