Folk Tales

The Lue General Store
Pages: 1 2

Don Hobbs, Preserving History
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

John Wooldrick, My Mudgee beginnings
Page: 1

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THE LUE GENERAL STORE P.1

John Honeysett
John Honeysett

By John Honeysett

After living in the western suburbs of Sydney for a few years I was always looking for an opportunity to get away. I was always gazing at those distant Blue Mountains and dreaming of what I knew was on the other side. I had a romantic notion of life in the ‘bush’; so too did my wife. We had both experienced it many times as children and had often been lured back on holidays, weekends and just about any chance we got we would head due west over those mysterious Blue Mountains.

We had both nurtured this love of the ‘bush’ within the hearts of each of our three daughters and we were always taking them somewhere. It was always somewhere I had been before in an earlier time in my life. This time we were in the Lue Hotel and I was talking to the publican.

“Bob!” I said “I can remember a day when I was in my uncle’ store, next door, and these ... well these two blokes came up the road out here in this old truck and well...” Before I could finish my sentence I could feel the smoothness of an old set of keys in my hand.

“John! would you like to have a look in the old shop mate?” said Bob, the publican. Before I knew it I was with my three daughters and I was putting the long silver key into the lock of the front door of my uncle’s old general store and turning it. Click, went the lock, as I pushed the door open and stepped inside the doorway. It was darker than I remembered and it was almost empty and there was a musty smell.
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Suddenly, my eyes fixated on the intricate patterns of the pressed metal ceiling. Gazing down the shelves I could see the familiar colours of the old Arnott’s biscuit tins arranged in alphabetical order. In bold lettering I could read ‘Arrowroot’, Iced Vo Vos’, ‘Monte Carlo’, and of course, the old favourite and most popular seller; the ever versatile and adaptable ‘Sao’. The wooden shelving seemed to stretch forever filled with all sorts of tinned fruit, corned beef, ‘Bushells’ and ‘Billy’ tea and boxes of Sunlight Soap. Momentarily, my attention was drawn to the beautifully fashioned wooden display cabinet, lavishly varnished, highlighting the gold lettering ‘Silko’ thread; behind the glass a kaleidoscope of colours neatly arranged, row upon row, as each wooden bobbin revealed its magical contents.

Across the room shelving from floor to ceiling, holding row upon row of boot boxes. The smell of leather was strong in the air and I could see leather bootlaces hanging over racks, like thick brown and black strands of hair. Broad brimmed ‘Akubra’ hats, and lots of heavy duty denim work pants and shirts were stacked upon the shelves that disappeared around the corner to a small office of partitioned timber.

Like a flash of lightning through the bush on a rainy winters night and without notice the silence and my engrossed state of observation was broken by the singular sound of a bell ringing. First once, then again, and then once more. My attention was drawn to an old Bakelite telephone mounted on the wall outside of the office. Suddenly, I heard footsteps across the broad wooden floorboards, as leather shoes rapidly made contact with the grey shiny boards. Seconds later I could see a short but stoutly built man standing in the doorway and at the same time the telephone stopped ringing.

I heard the familiar voice of my Uncle Ken, “Hello! ah yes, how are you mate? Good so the order will be on tomorrows train. Thanks very much for letting me know. Goodbye for now!” The telephone handpiece was firmly placed down upon the receiver and the man went back into the office and out of my immediate sight.

As I walked towards the front of the shop the light from outside started to penetrate the opening until the wood and glass doorway seemed huge and I walked out over the curved and well worn step onto the veranda. It was a hot summer’s day, the sky was just blue, nothing else, no clouds, just blue and the dry yellowing grass and the greenie/grey gum trees seemed to silhouette themselves against the sky as only gum trees and the blue of an Australian bush sky can do. As I looked across the dirty worn canvas of the fettlers tents spasmodically erected between the railway line and the rusty barbed wire fence, on the other side of the street, I could see the long platform and a small building erected in the traditional railway architectural style. I gazed along the platform and I could see a large wooden board on posts. On the board I could clearly read the letters emblazoned in black lettering, LUE. I was standing outside of my uncle’s general store. I was on school holidays, I was about 8 or 9 years old and it was January in the latter 1950’s.

As I looked out across the hills to my left a long dusty curtain seemed to curve its way through the paddocks. After a minute or so it disappeared out of sight, behind the wooden railway bridge, and then re-emerged at the end of the dusty street. An old blue table top truck rumbled its way up the dusty gravel road and came to a clattering halt right in front of me. As the dust cleared I could see two men climbing down from the cabin of the truck. Their battered and sweat stained hats and their creased and ragged shirts and pants gave way to sun hardened faces, tanned and wrinkled with squinting but sharply focused eyes. “Gooday young fella” said one of the men as they walked past me and through the doorway of the general store.

Suddenly, I could hear voices. I could hear the familiar voice of my uncle and then the voice of the man who only moments before had spoken to me.

“Johnny, Johnny can you unlock the petrol bowser and fix these coves up with some petrol for the truck?” called my uncle.

I turned and hurriedly went back into the shop. I could see the dangling bunch of keys hanging from a hook just inside the doorway. Without a thought I slipped the large roughly formed wire ring over the hook and walked to the petrol bowser. Within seconds I had opened the padlock and as I gazed up to the glass bowl at the top of the bowser I could read the words ‘imperial gallons’. There were several markings evenly graduated vertically along the glass.

One of the men walked out of the shop and said “You’d better put 10 ‘gals’, in the old beast young fella”.

In those days it was not so easy. Firstly, you had to pump with the handle until you had filled the bowl with the required quantity of petrol. One gallon, then two gallons and so on until the bowl was full. Place the nozzle into the petrol tank of the truck and release the petrol. Shear gravity took care of the rest and before I knew it the job was done.ore I knew it the job was done.ore I knew it the job was done.

“Ken, can you put that on the ‘tick’” said one of the men. “We are going into the pub to cash our cheques; we’ll be back presently, to pick up some tucker.”

After handing my uncle a creased and stained paper envelope with some, almost illegible, words listed on the back both the men disappeared out of sight and into the hallway of the next door pub. I was left standing by the truck and as I looked around the exterior of the body and the tray I could see that this piece machinery had seen many a hard day’s work. There was not a panel of the body of the truck that did not have a dent of some description. The faded blue colouring of the cabin frequently gave way to large expanses of rust, dust and caked on mud. The tray at the back of the truck was full of heavy chains, ropes, railway sleepers, axes and hand saws of various shapes and sizes. There were several drums of all sizes and all sorts of other steel wedges and hand tools strewn around the tray. This was a real truck, a working truck, a truck that had spent the majority of its life around bush camps and used by men that worked had with their hands and their backs.

I could feel myself being drawn closer to the truck. It was mesmerising, it was intriguing, it was interesting. It had a strange smell, many strange smells. Petrol, oil, dust, grease, the smell of freshly sawn timber and above all it smelt old and musty.

Just then I heard my uncle call me, “Johnny, best come into the shop and we’ll start getting some of this tucker together for these blokes, they’ll be a while yet but we might as well get a start on it presently”.

It wasn’t long before we had a couple of weather beaten crates up on the smooth pine shop counter.

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