I wrote this story “The Blue Gum Gang” in 2013. It is loosely inspired by a series of Australian/British made “Smiley ” movies from the 1950’s (which I grew up watching) and my own childhood adventures.
The Blue Gum Gang
by John Hansen © 2013
“What a sweet melodic voice,” the music teacher, Mrs. Tripcony, cut in as the last notes of the song faded away. “Stuart McCauley you have the voice of an angel.”
Snowy McCauley fidgeted on stage as the other boys in the group sniggered. The girls were more accepting but Snowy didn’t really care what they thought, not yet anyway. His soprano voice and his almost white blonde hair gave him an angelic appearance, and he hated it.
“Oooh Stuart, you sung that song real beeootifool,” teased Nugget Anderson, poking a finger in Snowy’s chest, and rolling his eyes.
“Shut up Archibald!” Snowy snapped back at his best mate, “or I’ll do ya’.”
“You and who’s army?” Nugget retorted smiling. But it was drowned out by the frantic rush of 25, nine to eleven-year-olds as Mrs. Tripcony dismissed the class from school concert rehearsals. Snowy and Nugget were the first to race out the door of the Blue Gum Valley School Of Arts building, pushing and shoving as they ran up the street past Thompson’s Produce Store, and around the corner of the town’s Chemist shop.
As was their usual practice the two cobbers pretended to be their favourite storybook characters or superheroes. Nugget picked up a twig from the footpath and began waving it in the air like a sword, “A zee that stands for Zorro,” he shouted. “That’s zed in Australia ya’ drongo,” Snowy corrected, grabbing the twig from his surprised friend and whacking it against a paling fence as they continued down the main street. “The Phantom never sleeps, ” he cried as they ran.
“I wonder if old Giant Octopus has got any packets of broken biscuits he’ll let us have?” Nugget said as they approached the grocery store, his chubby frame evidence of his constant hunger. Snowy was just about to enter the shop when the old Greek grocer, Mr. Giannopoulos , appeared in the doorway with a ‘CLOSED FOR LUNCH’ sign in his hand.
The tall grocer knew only too well what the two boys were going to ask. They came around regularly on Saturdays after concert practice. As he hung the sign on the door he said in his heavy accent, “Ifa you boys wanna clean outa da backa shed, I giva you all da biscuits yousa can eat.”
“Can I help too, Mr. Giant Octopus” Please, can I help too?” a young voice pleaded, followed by a smaller female version of Snowy McCauley appearing at the top of the shop steps, and completely forgetting she was on an errand to find her brother.
Snowy immediately jumped into his sister’s path blocking the doorway. “No, you can’t Soggy Britches. Go home or I’ll do ya.” He lifted one fist threateningly, but the Phantom was no match for the five-year-old. “You aren’t allowed to call me that. I’ll tell Mum, and she won’t let you go to the pictures.”
Snowy and Nugget were big Superman fans. They had listened to the serial on the radio and took turns buying and sharing the comic book when it came out each month. Now it was finally coming to the Blue Gum Valley picture theatre. It was a 15 episode serial and the first three were to be shown at a movie matinee tomorrow.
Defeated by his little sister Lilly’s threat, Snowy jumped off the verandah, followed closely by Nugget. ‘Come on then,” he called to his sister, as they started walking around the back of the store to Mr. Giannopoulos’s shed. “And no whinging to go to the dunny all the time,” he warned, as Lilly trotted happily after them.
The young trio was doing a surprisingly good job, sorting and stacking boxes of various items neatly on benches and against the walls of the shed. Nugget stood on a small wooden stool as Snowy passed the last box up to him to stack on the very top of a pile.”We better get at least a whole box of Arnotts Assorted for doing all this w..o..r..k”, he started to say, when suddenly he lost his balance, “Crikey, look out!’ he cried as in an effort to stop himself from falling he let go of the box and grabbed onto a shelf. The box tumbled to the floor spilling its contents.
The box had been full of old clothing and shoes and stuff. Snowy and Lilly began to pick up the items that had fallen out. As Nugget jumped down, Snowy held up a large square of red fabric…. “Wouldya get a load of this?” he said smiling, ‘it’s a dead ringer for Superman’s cape,” he said proudly tossing it over his back and tying it around his neck. “And look what I found,” squealed Lilly, holding up a big pair of black gum boots. “That’s so cool”, said Snowy grabbing them off his little sister as well and pulling them on.
Superman raced out into the yard “faster than a speeding bullet”, with Nugget in close pursuit and Lilly taking up the rear and having trouble keeping up, “I’ll tell, I’ll tell,” she chanted after them.
“No you won’t, or we’ll throw you down Johnson’s old well,” threatened Snowy. At this, Lilly’s lower lip trembled as though she was going to cry, and she criss-crossed her chubby legs back and forth around each other nervously.
Snowy nimbly climbed up onto the shed roof, holding the cape outstretched at the bottom. He had become his favourite superhero, and with a blood-curdling scream of “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman!” he raised his hands like an Olympic diver, and catapulted off the roof, and straight through the chook house.
By the time old Mr. Giannopoulos had discovered that it wasn’t an atom bomb that had demolished his hen house and three of his best layers, a very sore and sorry Superman and his mate were hiding under the slatted verandah floor at the front of the grocery shop. Lilly, terrified and shaking was standing on the verandah directly above them, her legs twisted like barber’ poles.
The local policeman, Constable O’Malley, having just finished his lunch when he heard a loud crash, strolled down the street to investigate the noise. When he arrived at the grocery shop Mr. Giannopoulos was still checking on the state of his chooks so he was greeted by the sight of the terrified six-year-old girl. “Lilly looked up at his looming figure, and almost on the verge of tears, pleaded,”please Mr. Pleesman, don’t arrest my bruvver.” She started sobbing, unwinding her legs and forgetting herself completely.
Nugget Anderson, hiding directly beneath her, was to remember for the rest of his life, why Snowy McCauley called his little sister ‘Soggy Britches’.
A 15-part film serial based on the comic book character Superman was produced in 1948. It starred Kirk Alyn as Superman, and Noel Neill as Lois Lane. It was originally screened at movie matinées was one of the longest running productions of its time. The Superman-in-flight scenes were animations, mainly due to the small production budget.
Glossary of Australian Slang
Blue Gum : A species of Gum Tree (Eucalypt)
Chooks : chickens, hens, roosters, poultry.
Cobber : Best friend, mate, or pal
Do ya’ : Beat you up
Drongo : a silly or stupid person
Gumboots : galoshes, wellington boots
Crikey : Oh My God!, Wow!
Dunny : toilet, outhouse
Picture theatre : movie theatre, cinema.
After a lot of procrastinating I have finally self-published my first eBooks of poetry "I Laughed a Smile" and "On the Wings of Eagles" at Lulu.com.Now I find myself branching out and experimenting with short fiction.
I have also been fortunate to have two poems chosen to be made into songs and recorded. The first "On the Road to Kingdom Come" by Al Wordlaw, and the second, "If I Could Write a Love Poem" by award-winning Israeli/British singer Tally Koren.
I am also finding my services increasingly in demand as a freelance writer and I have ghost-written the text for a number of children's books and educational tutorials.
It has taken me many years of searching and restlessness to realise that my life's passion is to write. It saddens me that I wasted so many years not devoting to that, but thinking positively, the experiences gained over those years is now wonderful material for my stories and poems.
I want to try to bring a new focus on poetry and try to make it appealing to a new generation of young people and those who thought they never liked or understood it before.