Uncle jasper and the eig.., p.1
Uncle Jasper and the Eighty Acres, page 1
Uncle Jasper And The Eighty Acres
Copyright Lindsay Johannsen 2014
National Library Of Australia Cataloguing-in-publication data:
Author: Johannsen, Lindsay Andrew
Title: Uncle Jasper And The Eighty Acres
Cover art and design by the author.
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Uncle Jasper And The Eighty Acres
Did I ever tell you about my Uncle Jasper?
No? Well now, there was an interesting old coot – a bit eccentric; lived life as he pleased; did things his own way. He’s been gone a few years now, the old bugger, but he was interesting because interesting things happened to him, right from the day he was born.
Like at his baptism, for instance. Mum and Dad only ever referred to him as “Your Uncle Jasper”, but when I was about eight he confided to me that he’d actually been Christened Harold Francois MacHoolihan Caprionelli.
Apparently old Father Kelly’d had a habit of nipping into the confessional following each baptism service, as a means of fortifying himself for the next one. On this particular day things were running a bit late as per usual, and he’d emerged to find himself in the midst of a raging family argument.
His response had been to set about a quick abbreviated version. Names were garnered from the broad-ranging accusations and counterclaims filling the air, with the surname coming from the confidential whisperings of the confessional. None of it was heard above the din, however, due to his thin tremulous voice, and even the few non-combatants present were unaware of what was actually happening.
He’d then invited the next Christening party to help evict them. And, not surprisingly, the seventeen or so Hell’s Angels and their molls were more than happy to oblige.
By all accounts the baby had enjoyed the proceedings immensely, smiling and farting happily and kicking his legs the whole time. And through all the years I knew my Uncle Jasper he never once deviated from this same irreverent approach to life.
There were protests, of course. It was not the child’s intended name; Kelly should have refunded the gratuity. But “Heavens Joy” had come in last, and the business was done and dusted anyway and impossible to remedy immediately. It would have to be put to rights later.
In due course those steps were taken, though nothing much ever came of it. Such formalities took time and by then he was “Jasper” to all and sundry. And this was how it remained; Uncle Jasper only used his real name when he needed an alias.
My arrival on the scene came somewhat later, of course, so I only knew Uncle Jasper as “Uncle Jasper” – until he told me about his Christening, that is. Yet even at that early age I’d perceived (as only a child can) that he was different to the other grownups in my life, and different in a great many ways.
Technically, family scandals aside, Uncle Jasper was my mother’s younger half brother and very much her favourite sibling. As a result she would always stick up for him should the town gossip carry criticism.
“Jasper is his own man,” she’d state forcefully (whatever that might have meant). Others reckoned he just marched to the beat of a different drum – like one coming from Jupiter or somewhere. Yet in many respects they all were right. Certainly his slant on life was unlike anyone else I ever met.
Uncle Jasper lived by himself about four kilometres out of Ferrets Junction. “Granite Meadows” his farm was called. It was down the valley a bit, off the main road to Bungleup, not far upstream from where the river goes around that big loop and runs out onto the flats.
There were no neighbours or anything. You just followed this bush track along the south side of the ridge and when you came to a patch of level ground between the gulches and gullies at the end you were at Granite Meadows. Uncle Jasper was perfectly happy there, too, despite the property being eighty acres of rabbit, lantana and prickly pear infested rocks and gravel.
We lived back in “The Junction”; Dad was the Ferrets Junction Station Master. Our home was the big Station Master’s house on the other side of the tracks, right next to the Ferrets Junction footy ground. Four of us there were; Mum and Dad plus me and my little brother Gerald. —Five if you counted old Hercules, our ancient border collie.
My mother was President of the Bungleup and District Country Women’s Association, the local Red Cross Volunteers Association, Women for a Better Future Association and Equality Now! …along with a number of other committees and associations.
“A woman of immense stature in the community!” my Uncle Jasper would shout if I should mention her when relating some schoolboy story or family anecdote. I thought it was brotherly pride; later I realized it was his little family joke.
You see, Mum was one of those large and larger-than-life women whose great mission in life was to BE-IN-CHARGE. And she worked at it constantly, unable to help herself – organizing committees, managing fundraising events, whipping up charity drives and running everyone around her ragged at the same time. Like it or lump it, she was unstoppable.
Dad had an easier time of it, as being the Ferrets Junction Station Master was not a particularly demanding position. The only train that stopped there was the up and down passenger service from Bungleup to the city, six thirteen sharp, morning and evening – except when it was running late. All the others went straight through. But Ferrets Junction was where the Northern and the North Western Lines diverged, so they had to have a station master there to direct traffic.
In one respect Dad was like my Mum: he did like to keep busy. In between trains he kept the station platform and the house yard spick and span. And if he thought I was at a loose end I’d be kept busy as well.
“Put on some old clothes and help me paint the fence,” he’d say, or, “Look at all the leaves! Get the rake, boy; clean ‘em up. The place looks like a jungle.”
He was no slave driver, though. Most weekends I was free to ride my bike down to Uncle Jasper’s place – after the Saturday morning Junior footy game and if my mates and I had no other plans. Sometimes I’d even stay the night and ride home late Sunday afternoon. Longer during school holidays.
There was always plenty to be done on the farm, as well, so Mum and Dad approved of my visiting there. They knew Uncle Jasper would be keeping me busy, and fondly imagined the two of us labouring shoulder to shoulder clearing acres of prickly pear and lantana.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth of course, though they were right about the “keeping busy” part. Uncle Jasper let me help with all sorts of things, but rarely did they involve clearing any lantana or prickly pear.
Despite Uncle Jasper being her favourite, Mum disapproved mightily of what she could only regard as his “aimless existence”. Disapproval was tempered by sisterly concern, however, and because of this she insisted Dad keep an eye on how he was going.
“He could starve to death out there and be too proud to ask for help,” she’d say with more than a hint of anguish in her voice. Or, “The poor soul could be murdered in his bed and whoever would know?”
“Murdered for what?” Dad would mutter to himself. They didn’t know Uncle Jasper had his own security in place. He’d made a radio alarm for his gate out of an old transistor radio, after a couple of doubtful looking blokes turned up one day in a doubtful looking car with an even more doubtful sounding story. I’d helped put it together; if the gate was opened at night the trannie in his bedroom would howl unbelievably.
Later we’d set some dingo traps under his windows. “Don’t you go telling no bugger, me lad,” he’d said. “Nobody! Understand? Just forget everything about what we done here today.” …i
As I grew older my weekend bicycle trips to Granite Meadows became more regular, solving, by coincidence, the problem of my mother’s concerns – and in a manner by which Dad didn’t have to ask too many questions. On my return home he’d enquire if I’d had a good time, then would pretend to wonder idly how things were going out there. “…Purely by way of family interest, me boy,” he’d add. “I’m not trying to stick my nose into your Uncle Jasper’s affairs,
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