An Aussie Yarn
A Magical Trip to Ookmagluke
To see a man about a dog
When I was a kid, my father had two favourite phrases. He always used them in answer to one of two questions –
Question: “Dad, where are you going?”
Answer: “I’m off to Ookmagluke.”
Question: “Why are you going there?”
Answer: “I’m going to see a man about a dog!”
Sometimes, I received both barrels in one sentence.
Question: “Where are you going, Dad?”
Answer: “I’m off to Ookmagluke to see a man about a dog.”
You have probably already guessed that these off-handed answers were just a way of deflecting questions. In those days parents didn’t say, “I’m off to the pub to join the six o’clock, (closing time), swill.” The causal effect being, men rushed from work to swallow as much beer with their mates as was humanly possible before six in the evening. When the pub closed, the drinkers jumped into their vehicles to make it home just in time for dinner.
RBT was not a thing, and drink-driving was not that frowned upon unless a bloke was ‘legless’, which was difficult to achieve in only an hour or so after work. Some managed it, of course, but alcohol-fueled accidents were reasonably rare.
Folks rarely confided in their children about mortgage arrears, court dates, or torrid affairs with the neighbour’s spouse. So, pretend drives to Ookmagluke and innocuous business meetings involving a dog were handy outs for parents who simply wanted to escape without divulging details.
When I was about seven-years-old, and beginning to grow disillusioned, I asked my father, “How come you never bring a dog home? Doesn’t the man have any good ones?” My father stared at me as if I was the crazy child who might one day have to be hidden from public view.
By the time I was ten, the penny had well and truly dropped, and I understood the phrases to be subterfuge. There was no Ookmagluke, and there were no dog-men awaiting a business transaction with my father.
Imagine then, my complete surprise, when one day my father appeared in my bedroom doorway, telling me to pack for a two-week holiday.
“Where are we going?” I screeched, excitedly leaping up and down on my bed.
Dad grinned broadly. “We’re off to Ookmagluke, lass,” he replied jovially.
I stopped leaping in mid-bounce.
“Really?” I enquired, dubiously.
“There is no such place as Ookmagluke,” I insisted.
“There certainly is.” Dad frowned.
I shrugged, not wanting to be the object of a holiday renege. “Okay, so are we going to see a man about a dog?” My fingers were crossed behind my back.
“What is it with you, and men with dogs?” Dad shrugged impatiently and left the room. With a sudden afterthought, he added, “Don’t forget to pack for all weathers. Two weeks is quite a while. Fourteen pairs of undies, mind!”
At the age of ten, the mention of undies was an embarrassment, and the idea of packing fourteen pairs seemed ludicrous. I doubted that I even owned that many.
Pulling an old and dusty suitcase from beneath my bed, I began packing. I managed to scrape up seven pairs of undies and figured one to wear the correct way, and the next, inside out, would be fine. Excitement was stirring in the pit of my stomach — we were going to the mysterious Ookmagluke; a place that I was certain did not exist. I could hardly wait for the trip to begin!
The following morning, Mum explained that she had to travel to visit with her sick mother, which was why Dad and I were going on a trip without her.
I asked Dad why we were going away instead of staying home.
“Well,” he mused, scratching chin stubble, “I thought we could have some time together. If your mother was with us, I would have chosen a different holiday, but seeing as it is just the two of us, I thought I would show you Ookmagluke.”
“I thought Ookmagluke was a made-up town,” I replied, happy, as we turned from our road onto Main Street.
Dad cast his eyes at me with a deepening frown. “Of course, it’s real.”
“Okay.” I shrugged in acquiescence. “How long will it take to get there?”
“Dunno.” Dad scratched his head. “About eight hours, I imagine.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed, keeping to myself thoughts about my father’s past trips to Ookmagluke when he was rarely gone for a couple of hours. Either my knowledge of Ookmagluke was severely limited, or my father was full of it! I just hadn’t figured out what the situation truly was.
Dad drove hell for leather for about four hours before pulling into a country pub.
“Time for lunch, lass,” he announced. “Can you eat a sandwich?”
I nodded excitedly; store-bought food was a rare treat in those days. “And a fizzy drink?” I asked, hopefully.
My father appeared pleased that I had asked, and then I understood; buying a fizzy drink meant he would have an excuse to visit the bar.
“Okay, just this once. Wait here while I get our food.” Dad disappeared for three-quarters of an hour before returning with some soggy Vegemite and lettuce sandwiches, and a lukewarm orangeade. Even though our lunch was quite deplorable, I devoured it with a voraciousness only possible in a ten-year-old.
My father apologised for the lack-lustre meal, promising we would have a proper dinner when we stopped for the night.
Four hours later, I was completely fed up with driving. I suspected my dad was also tired of traversing bumpy country roads with the windows rolled down. We were travelling through Central Queensland with no air-conditioning, and, unfortunately, the open windows allowed choking dust to swamp us when we drove on unsealed roads. It was unpleasant, to say the least!
The hotel Dad stopped at was quite bizarre.
The three-storied façade had been painted with multiple primary colours, which were now bleached pale under the fierce Queensland sun. Exterior balconies had been jammed on here and there in what appeared to be random positioning. The building listed precariously to one side and even at my tender age, words like, ‘condemned’ and ‘death trap’, rattled through my brain. If someone had told me the pub had just been plucked from a children’s storybook and plonked beside the road, I would have believed it.
“This place looks weird,” I remarked as I manhandled my old case through the pub doorway. “Glad this is a one-night stopover. Anyhow, how long to Ookmagluke? We’ve been on the road eight hours!”
“Shh, girl,” my father admonished. “You talk too much. It shouldn’t be much longer now, I reckon. Probably almost there.”
Dad walked ahead to ring a dusty bell on an even dustier reception desk. The sound seemed to reverberate off the walls and mysteriously echoed from a million nooks and crannies.
“Can I ‘elp yah?” enquired a voice from below desk height.
I leapt involuntarily and clutched Dad’s arm. He shook me off impatiently, bending to look over the desk.
“Oh, there you are,” he remarked jovially. “I need two single rooms, please.”
“Only got a double with two beds,” called the voice.
Dad looked at me. I shrugged, more interested in the disembodied voice than in the bed situation.
“Okay,” said Dad. “That should be cheaper!” A statement, not a question.
Disembodied Voice replied, “Actually, it’s on the house seeing as it’s the last one.”
Dad nodded, looking pleased with himself. “Are meals available?”
“Only in your room — dining area needs a bloody good clean!” called the desk gnome.
Two fingers holding a room key appeared above the desk. I assumed there was an arm attached somewhere. “What’ll be your pleasure? Roast beef or roast lamb? With veg and gravy. Okay?
“Two lamb, thanks.”
I hadn’t been consulted, but as I would have chosen lamb anyway, I kept my mouth closed. Dad noticed and gave an appreciative nod in my direction.
As we climbed the wrinkled, carpeted stairs, I had to ask the question, “What did the guy behind the desk look like?”
“I dunno; like his voice, I suppose.” Which was a most unsatisfactory answer, but I resisted the urge to push further.
Following a surprisingly good meal, and a quick wash in the communal bathroom, Dad tucked me into one of the hotel beds.
“Will you be alright while I pop down for a drink or two?”
I was horrified at the idea of being left alone in a smelly, dusty hotel room.
“I guess,” I replied, bravely, but my father, not always a complete buffoon, read my distraught expression.
“Tell you what,” he patted my hand roughly, “I’ll get the gnome, (that’s what we had started calling him), to send a bottle to the room. Okay?”
I grinned in relief, and Dad muttered something about my being a good girl as he reached for the old phone in the corner.
When the beer arrived, my father reached for a book buried in the bottom of his suitcase. He settled onto his bed with a contented sigh and began to read under a dim bedside light.
I don’t know what time it was when we plummeted through the Ookmagluke vortex!
It seemed that Dad had just switched out his overhead light when a great chasm appeared beneath our beds and swallowed us whole. I saw our beds, our suitcases, and my father’s book twirl away from us as we were sucked forcefully through a blackened, star-dotted universe. My Dad’s hand reached out for mine — he made contact and dragged me closer to his side.
“Don’t be frightened, love!” he bellowed through the maelstrom. “We’re off to Ookmagluke. This is the only way in!”
My teeth were chattering in my head and I thought I might vomit, but my father’s words were strangely comforting. I clung to his side, closed my eyes, and waited for the gut-wrenching fall to be over.
We arrived in Ookmagluke, surprisingly gently, toppling at slow-motion into a haystack, in the middle of an open field. Dad laughingly plucked some straw from the corner of my mouth as he tried to gain his footing on the unstable surface.
“You have been here before!” I announced accusingly, finding my own feet to stand beside him.
“Of course. Haven’t I told you?” Dad looked genuinely confused.
A kangaroo, annoyed by our sudden entrance, quickly hopped away from the base of the haystack.
“Sure,” I remarked, anxious to avoid stupid conversations about quick trips, and men with dogs.
Dad, seemingly happy to sidestep the subject, grabbed my hand to help me off the haystack.
“Grab your bag, love! Ookmagluke, here we come!”
The Ookmaglukans took a bit of getting used to — they were friendly enough, but strange in appearance. Aussies would most likely refer to them as Yowies — funny furry creatures that resembled stumpy, squat men, but their kids were cute; fuzzy and tiny, with large brown eyes. I guessed that the receptionist back at the hotel was from Ook, manning the portal, so to speak, screening travellers passing through.
I quickly adjusted to the idea of holidaying in the quaint little town, with its cobbled streets and multiple pubs. There were pubs on every corner, with more scattered randomly down the street, and they were always open. Pubs, by far, were the most popular venues around! I sadly wondered if that was the attraction of Ookmagluke for my father.
Anyway, back to the kids. When Dad and I strolled into town, little Yowies appeared from everywhere, circling me, dragging at my hands, pawing at my clothes. I was a bit nervous at first, but I soon realised that they just wanted me to join them in their play.
Dad said I should go, and as I followed my new friends, skipping away down the cobbled lane, I saw my father walk off to greet a large Yowie who was sitting on a bench outside a pub. They hugged each other as if they were old friends, and I wondered once again, how many times Dad had been to Ookmagluke.
The little Yowies spoke perfect Aussie as they introduced themselves. The eldest two, Yimpie and Yompie, seemed to take charge of all the littlies, herding them back into the group if they strayed.
They walked me around the quaint town, and I was astonished to see rows of sweet cottages; dwellings surrounded by gum trees interspersed with the odd plum tree. Each home was the same as the one next door; each had a verandah furnished with an old rocking chair. Every pristine yard had a Hills Hoist clothesline out the back, with a couple of sheep grazing in the company of a small mob of kangaroos, and all the houses had identical corrugated iron roofs.
Yimpie, (or was it Yompie?), decided to show me a large area of bushland where the children often played, but the minute I mentioned finding a billabong for a quick dip, they flew into an agitated frenzy.
“No, no,” cried Yimpie, (or was it Yompie?). “It’s far too dangerous.”
“Surely,” I argued, “there are no crocs in the billabongs.”
One of the Y’s argued back, “Not crocodiles — Bunyips! They eat anyone that comes near! We must stay clear of any water. Except for the local pool. That’s safe.”
I didn’t want to argue the existence of Bunyips. After all, I was spending the afternoon in the company of very real Yowies. “Okay,” I acquiesced. “Maybe a visit to the pool later?”
That suggestion sent the little pack into flurries of great excitement. We barrelled back down the road to someone’s house, whose mother packed a delicious picnic lunch, and then we went to spend the afternoon at the local pool. It was so much fun. We tumbled and dove, and swam underwater holding our breath, then ate sandwiches on the grass.
It was the best holiday ever!
Dusk was falling. The Ys had escorted the littlies back to their homes and the three of us stood in the shadows of the town centre. Dad, I noticed, was still talking to the big Yowie across the street.
“Who is that bloke?” I asked my friends.
Yimpie spoke first. “That’s Duncan. He’s the town mayor.”
I was impressed. Dad appeared to be on very good terms with the local bigwig. “I’m just going to pop over and let my father know I’m back,” I called, quickly darting away from the Ys.
“Don’t be long,” yelled Yompie. “You need to be back for the show!”
“Hi Dad, I’m here,” I announced, skidding on the cobblestones to stop in front of the wooden bench.
“Oh, hello love, did you have fun? This is my mate, Duncan.”
The mayor nodded and treated me to a wide, quite unsettling smile.
“Hi,” I replied. Then, to my father, “I suppose you will be going in for a beer soon?”
Dad shook his head with vigour. “Guess not. I’d love to have a beer with Duncan, but all of the pubs in Ookmagluke are alcohol-free.”
I was astounded. “The pubs have no beer?” I queried, a little too loudly.
“Yep,” interjected Duncan. “This town is an example to all those who rely on booze to have fun. Do you see all the happy folks, pouring in and out of the pubs, in search of a fresh fruit drink, and some jovial conversation?”
I nodded. Duncan was right — Yowies of all shapes and sizes were crowding pub doorways, glasses in hand, engaging in what appeared to be friendly, animated conversation. I felt a sadness, wishing my father could be more like the people of Ookmagluke.
“It’s alright, love.” My father patted my arm. “Better pop back to your friends; the show is about to start.”
I walked slowly across the road, praying my dad would understand how much his drinking habits affected me and Mum.
“Hurry up, slowcoach!” called Yompie. “Show’s about to begin!”
It began with two flocks of noisy black and white cockatoos. Suddenly, appearing out of nowhere, they screeched through, flying low, almost deafening the people on the streets.
“Wow!” I declared; fingers jammed firmly in my ears.
“Look!” cried an excited Yimpie.
In the distance, lightning was cracking over cornfields; vivid yellow slashes through the darkened sky.
The Ys laughed in unison. “This is Australia!” they cried happily.
I was about to agree with them when a sight, both terrifying and amazing, greeted my eyes. Down the cobbled streets of Ook walked a fierce group of dingoes. They appeared to have an objective in mind; I was afraid it was Yowie and/or people dinner.
“Hold still,” warned Yompie. “They’re not interested in us. They’ve come to guard the pubs, to make sure there are no beer deliveries. This is the time the tankers used to arrive.”
Sure enough, as they drew closer, each dingo separated from the group and went to sit outside the door of a pub, sending the patrons scattering. As if on cue, the animals simultaneously looked up to the rising moon and let out an ear-piercing howl. It was the most terrifying sound; I had never, ever, heard so many wild dingoes call.
When the air fell silent, the animals regrouped and walked as a pack, back down the main street.
“Gosh,” I whispered to my friends, “this town is determined to keep the pubs beerless.”
“We can thank Duncan for that,” replied Yimpie. “He cleaned up the town some time ago. Folks were getting drunk before six o’clock, wandering out to the bushland and falling prey to the Bunyips. Never happens now.”
I nodded, watching as my dad bid the mayor goodbye. I was thinking we needed a Duncan back in Brisbane.
The rest of our holiday was much the same. Dad spent hours talking with Duncan, and I spent hours happily playing with my friends. Then, one day, my father announced that it was time to head off home. I was secretly pleased as I had turned my last pair of undies inside out that very morning.
When we exited our hotel, to my surprise, our car was waiting at the curb.
“Don’t we go back through the vortex?” I asked my father.
“Nope, we just drive home. Vortex in, drive out!” my dad seemed happy with the idea of returning home, and I supposed he had missed his beer.
When I broached the subject, my father laughed. “Nope, Duncan has set me on the right path. He is a counsellor, you know — for people who drink too much. Reckon you and mum will see a big change in me!”
I had never felt happier in my whole life!
Dad said we were about two hours from home when it happened!
We were driving down a dusty country road when, out of nowhere, a dog belted across the front of our car. Dad hit the brakes and swerved, but we heard a slight bumping sound before the car ground to a stop.
Swearing as he exited the car, my father rushed to where a lovely collie dog was sitting, half-dazed, in the tall grass beside the road.
I slowly got out of the car, afraid to see what might have happened.
“It’s okay, love,” called my dad over his shoulder. “He just seems to be a bit shocked. Look, he’s getting up and wagging his tail.”
The animal did appear to be okay, and he was soon snuffling into our hands, allowing us to pat his shiny black and white coat. Collie began whimpering, and I worried that we had missed an injury.
“Look!” called Dad, pointing across a sun-burned paddock.
Striding out across the field was a fierce-looking farmer; a shotgun hung loosely at his side. We could make out a rambling farmhouse behind him in the distance.
“Oi, you!” the farmer bellowed.
Collie whined and pawed at the car door.
“Get in the car, quick!” ordered my father. I did as I was told and was surprised to find that Collie had beaten me to the back seat. We sat huddled together as the farmer drew close to our vehicle.
“You,” screeched the farmer, “just ran over one of me best sheepdogs and that …” the farmer waved his rifle carelessly in the air, “…is bloody well gonna cost yah!”
Collie, by now, was on the floor of the car, cowering between the front and back seats. His body was wracked by nervous trembles.
Dad started to say that the dog was unhurt, but appeared to think better of it, firmly clamping his mouth shut. Instead, he dug his hand into his pocket and withdrew a battered old wallet.
“How much?” he calmly asked.
Our ears pricked up in the back seat. A small smile tried to stretch my lips. Collie was looking at me adoringly, with hope in his big brown eyes.
After an initial bout of haggling by both men, they finally reached a price. Dad quickly took his place behind the steering wheel, and as the farmer strode back across his parched paddock, my father turned to look at us. Collie was now cuddled beside me, head snuggled across my lap.
“You were in a spot of bother, weren’t you boy? Guess you were more interested in chasing sheep, than herding them for your mongrel boss. All set?” Dad grinned.
I stroked my new best friend’s silky ears and smiled contentedly.
Mum was waiting for us when we pulled into our driveway a few hours later.
“Hello, my loves,” she called brightly. “Where have you been all this time?”
Before I could answer, Dad replied, grinning widely, “We went to Ookmagluke, and saw a man about a dog!”