Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Many Hands

‘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.’

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(and Val, there are more pics of people on the photo page!)

11 comments on “Many Hands

  1. Val Lord
    October 10, 2013

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Deb…..nearly had me in tears….so wish I could be at Pudds, chatting with the ladies as we work away. But this is the next best thing! 🙂 Funny how I could pick most of the hands as I was scrolling down before reading! And again Thank You also for the photo’s. I miss the ladies and the puddings!! You will have to let me know how many they end up making. Good work ladies! Thinking of you all!! xx

    Like

  2. debhuntinbrokenhill
    October 10, 2013

    Glad it conjured up good memories Val, I will pass on your best wishes when I go in again on Monday (and Jenny took pics for you as well) x

    Like

    • Val Lord
      October 10, 2013

      Now waiting for pudds to finish will be like waiting for Christmas to come……Love Christmas Love Pudds, can never get enough of both!! Thanks Deb xx

      Like

  3. Wendy Moore
    October 10, 2013

    Fantastic post Deb. Would love to make it some time! All those connections is one of the things I love about this place. See y soon! Wendy

    Like

  4. nantubre
    October 11, 2013

    Hey Deb, please explain to me what a pudding is in your country. In mine, I believe it’s a totally different thing. I loved the pics, by the way, as they helped me see the process. Cool!

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      October 11, 2013

      Hmm… how to explain a Christmas pudding. Well, it’s like a boiled fruit cake only much, much richer and we would normally only eat it at Christmas, served hot (sometimes flaming) with brandy butter or double cream. The very thought makes me want to go and boil up a pudding and eat it now!

      Like

  5. Adele Hughes
    October 11, 2013

    Wow what a mammoth cooking task! Fantastic way to fundraise for RFDS.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      October 11, 2013

      Hi Adele, hope you’re doing ok up in Queensland, sounds like you could do with some rain. I’ve got four more chapters of the memoir to edit then I can get on with the farming project! Best wishes to you and yours and I’ll be in touch soon, Deb

      Like

  6. rubytheblacklabrador
    October 11, 2013

    Thanks for reminding me – I have to make ours!!!

    Like

  7. Pingback: Women I love | Strawberries in the Desert

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I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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