Regardless of his dubious credentials
|The cook's galley|
The stacker glanced at the enamel plate piled high with boiled mutton and potatoes sliding along the wooden tabletop. “I’m so hungry I could eat a parboiled rock,” he grumbled.
“You don’t say,” quipped the straw walloper, struggling to retrieve his fork from a piece of mutton on his tin plate. “Tell me, what’s the difference between a parboiled rock and this lump of mutton? We’ve certainly got ourselves a b…d of a cook”.
“If you ask me,” put in the water Joey, “I wouldn’t call that b…d a cook!”
I don’t suppose there are too many men left these days, who worked on the threshing mills during the 1930s and 40s in
. Those that are still around will no doubt recall conversations drifting along those lines at the meal table, in many a threshing mill galley. Some may even recall the cooks’ reply, most of which will be totally unprintable. New Zealand
One reply which does spring to mind, however, it was a favourite of one cook who refused to be drawn, no matter how rough the praise. Taking a slight bow, he would smile to the grim faces lining either side of the long table in the galley and say, “Gentlemen! Gentlemen! I do humbly apologize for the lack of variety in your tucker,” his voice oozing sarcasm, “but as you are aware, I am at the mercy of a lot of lousy devils who emphatically appose gracious living!”
According to some of those men who worked the mills, cooks as a whole, were a grumpy lot. Yet as a kid, I never did see that side of the mill cook. To me, he was a happy old bloke and loved a chit chat with youngsters.
Vividly I recall the novelty of sitting in the galley, amongst the rest of the mill hands, chewing on a tough underdone mutton chop. Or, perhaps straining my jaw on a girdle scone, loaded with melted butter and apricot jam. Perhaps that’s why I have blocked arteries now!
Anyway, whatever those mill-hands thought of the cook, justified or otherwise, there is little doubt in my mind, some of those cooks deserved a medal.
Undoubtedly there were a few scoundrels, just as there are in all walks of life. Yet try to imagine if you will, a galley measuring just over two metres wide and less than five metres long, barely the size of a modern townhouse kitchen. Here the cook reigned supreme and woe betides any individual who encroached on his space without permission. In this small space, he worked his magic during the day and where he slept at night.
The galley that I remember, and I suppose most were of similar design, was unlined inside. In most cases, it was constructed of thin vertical board and battens timber walls, with an oiled canvas roof, curved and battened against the weather. Supported on four steel wheels, the galley, like the stinky and the mill, it was hauled from job to job behind the traction engine.
A stinky, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, was about the same size as the galley and where several men slept at night. Can you imagine those men smelling of stale sweat and never having had a bath for weeks on end? It could get pretty ripe in there.
A small platform at the entrance of the galley, just large enough to hold half a dozen small sacks of coal to fire the little stove. The centre of the galley was taken up with a long wooden table, where the men sat for their meals, crammed together on a long bench seat.
The small black iron stove, approximately half the size of a modern domestic coal range stood at one end, supported on four stubby legs, its tin flue extended through the roof. In the height of the grain-threshing season and in the hands of a cook, with sometimes quite dubious qualifications, that stove provided the means to cook meals for a number of men, with healthy appetites.
Almost opposite the stove and in the corner was the cook's bunk, its light timber base roughly fitted to one wall, and a strip of canvas stretched taught from either end. Here two sacks, stuffed with grain husks lay to form a mattress of sorts. As a kid, I thought these were a dream to sleep in, provided you didn’t mind the rattle of husks each time you moved. A ‘Sleepy Head’ model, ahead of its time.
Old Bill Searle, an old chap who lived up the Mt Nessing Road at Albury, used to reckon the cooks’ mattress harboured fleas the size of fox terriers and with a bite to match. He may have exaggerated just a little, don’t you think? Although it was a fact; some of those cooks were dirty rascals, their bunks smelt of stale booze and unwashed body odour. Yet the majority were unscrupulously clean and tidy.
Beneath the cook's bunk, among those other essentials, like whiskey and gin, the cook stored potatoes, apples, eggs and other foodstuffs. The staple diet conjured up by most cooks was as you’ve guessed already was mutton chops and eggs for breakfast, cold mutton and bread or scones for lunch, and boiled mutton and boiled spuds with an occasional vegetable pinched from some unsuspecting farmer’s garden, for the evening meal.
Not in all cases, but in a great many, the mill worker paid the cook for his service, plus the cost of the food. The mill boss usually deducted this from the worker's wages at the end of the season.
I don’t imagine many of us would like to return to those colourful, yet romantic days of the threshing mills, when they wandered from farm to farm along the country roads.
Life has perhaps become just a smidgen too luxurious by comparison, don’t you think?
Yet there is something nostalgic about the fumes of burning wood and coal, the hiss of steam, the smell of oil and grease, not to mention the pungent aroma wafting from the cooks’ galley, regardless of how dubious his credentials.