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Many of the exciting things that have happened to me in my life were as a result of having two accomplished elder brothers.

However some of the stories that I tell were passed to me by my late eldest brother. We each spent some time with our paternal grandparents together and separately at different times.

This strange story came from the elder brother who spent time with Grandpa when he lived in a small town adjacent to the wheat belt areas of the state. Grandpa was slightly disabled, having one leg minus a knee from an accident involving a windmill.

In the yard next to the house he raised a whole flock of ducks and when he had a crop of young birds for market, he would set out for the next town 15 miles or so down the line and would literally drive them along the side of the road.

Although the ideal age to sell the ducks was when they were about 12 weeks old, they were too young to drive between towns. Grandpa would wait until they were twice that age before setting out. My brother had explained that the distance the ducks travelled got rid of most of the fat and the ducks were in high demand when sold.

The old drake who was father to them all went on the trip too but he was the only one who would have a return journey in Grandpa's leather Gladstone bag on the train.

They would all set off down the side of the road and cover the miles between towns in several days. The drake was both leader and watchdog, keeping four legged predators at bay with his fierce posturing, hissing and bugleing.

The only problem with this whole scene was that after a few miles, the ducks became footsore.

In typical 'Irish-Australian' fashion, Grandpa solved this problem before they set out.

He would 'shoe' the ducks.

This involved driving the ducks through a pool of tar and then a patch of river sand three or four times back and forth. This liberally coated their feet with sand and allowed them to traverse the distance with no great discomfort.

My brother described the scene - Grandpa limping along the road with his walking stick in one hand, and a long switch of 'Pussy-willow' in the other and his faithful drake and my brother following behind. Stretched out behind them was the long line of young ducks scurrying to keep up.

When Grandpa wanted a change of direction, he would strike his switch on the ground to one side and the ducks would all scamper to the other and follow him on to market.

I was absolutely enchanted by the concept of this scene and together with my personal memories of this unusual old man, this picture received from a long gone much loved brother, colours my understanding of these two great Australians.

Ignatius Writealot               

 

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