Story telling from Australia
‘Jeez those blowies were thick.’
‘Did you make it to the funeral?’
‘Just tell ‘em you’ve got no clothes on, it works every time.’
‘Is Michael still at the coppers? It must be fifty degrees in there.’
Random snatches of conversation, gales of laughter and the sound of wet pudding mix slapping against the sides of a steel bowl could only mean one thing; it was the start of another day’s pudding production. Never mind that it was thirty-seven degrees outside and windy enough to blow the birds out of the trees, there were two thousand puddings to produce, by hand.
Pudding production has been happening in Broken Hill since 1956, come rain or shine (mostly shine since this is a mining town in the middle of the desert). Margaret called in to Coles last week to pick up the eggs she’d ordered and the manager wheeled out a supermarket trolley with thirty cartons of eggs, a dozen in each. ‘There you go,’ he said.
‘Where are the rest?’ Margaret asked.
‘You said 360. They’re all there, I counted them. Ordered them in specially.’
‘I said 360 dozen.’
That’s four thousand, three hundred and twenty eggs in case you’re wondering (and she got them, don’t ask me how). You know the sprinkle of spice you add to a Christmas pudding? These women get through four kilos of nutmeg, the same again of mixed spice and sixty litres of brandy. Jenny chopped up thirty-five kilos of almonds – seven bucket loads – and everyone helped wash and iron six hundred and sixty metres of calico before tearing it into squares the exact size and shape for a one kilo pudding.
What I love about pudding production is the sense that everyone’s in it together. We’re all connected in some way, to the community, to each other and to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which will be the ultimate beneficiary of the estimated $40,000 the puddings will raise.
Juarne was weighing ingredients (overseen by Val who’s been standing at those scales for decades) and she’s married to Luke whose mum Olwyn is a pudding stalwart. Juarne was airlifted by the RFDS when her first baby was born prematurely. He’s a cheeky three year old now.
Jack used to drive 250-tonne trucks over in Western Australia and he thought it would be fun to join pudding production in Broken Hill. It wasn’t so much fun as sweaty hard work but he must have loved it, he’s been back every year since 2008.
Pam has been there longer, forty-eight years to be exact. There are those who can’t bring themselves to call her anything other than Mrs Lord, and I can see why. She’s the most gracious woman you are ever likely to meet, immaculately attired and perfectly made up, her character as spotless as her perfectly clean pinny.
Pauline used to be the cook at Wilcannia Hospital when Clyde was the pilot on clinic runs. She showed me how to pleat and not a moment too soon; I’d been doing it wrong for three years. My apologies to anyone who’s ever thought their pudding looked a bit wonky. It was probably one of mine. June offered to take me cycling, Cynthia told me Terry could teach me lead lighting and his wife is going to Nepal with Wendy who taught me jewellery making. Connections everywhere you turn.
My favourite spot was next to Jenny Treloar, funny as a fit and full of stories. Her twelve-year-old grandson, Flynn, helped his dad for a couple of days when they were shearing, skirting the wool in return for a shed hand’s wages. ‘You’re doing a man’s job so you’ll get a man’s wages,’ his dad said. Flynn earned enough to buy a new pair of RM Williams boots then said, ‘It’s not much chop being an adult. I’d rather be at school.’
Jenny and Keith needed work done on their Flying Doctor clinic building so they got a quote from Gary Barlow. ‘Ten thousand dollars,’ he said, then changed his mind and offered to do it for free. ‘It’s for a good cause.’ The extension would have been bigger only Jenny wouldn’t let him chop down the tree. He and his workmates stayed in the shearing sheds and they brought all their own food to save Jenny the trouble of cooking. Her daughter works in the post office. I knew I’d seen her face somewhere before.
There were people I knew, names I recognised (Barbara, Julie, Marie, Maxine, June, Claire, Coral, Lynne, Mary and many I’ve forgotten…) and others sadly missing, like Dorothy O’Connor who passed away last year and Val Lord who lives in the Dominican Republic now, but Dot’s daughter-in-law Michelle was there and we welcomed Jamila, who’s still finding her feet in town. There’s no better way of doing that than by joining the pudding production team.
They say that happiness lies in helping others, in being part of a community, and I can bear witness to that. But if you want to get your hands on a pudding you’ll have to wait, they’ve sold out (and there’s still another eight hundred to make.)
Still, there’s always next year.
NB A big thank you to all those organisations that support pudding production, including Perilya, Sunbeam Foods, Coles, Coretray Company, Leroy Sims, Kip and Mary Laucke, Creative Cardboard, Drypac, Cabac, Hendon and Shannon Electrics, Steve & Marg Radford, Essential Energy, Barrier Daily Truth, Attard’s Transport, Australia Post, Epiphany Craft Guild, RFDS Staff, ANZ volunteers, everyone I’ve failed to mention and ALL those who donate their time to help produce the puddings.
(and Val, there are more pics of people on the photo page!)