The Stick – By Ken Ramplin

Douglas Adams, author of ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Universe’, believed that all Australians, or for that matter, visitors to Australia, should carry with them, a stick.  The stick was meant to inflict injury or even death to the many dangers that were inherent on the continent of this Great Southland.  He also advised that one should never ever place one’s hand or arm down or into any hole. The dangers lurking there in nearly every hole were likely to be spiders of which species – the red back and funnel web spider are very common and to be avoided at all costs.  Snakes are many in Australia, a continent which has nine out of the ten most deadly snakes in the world.  So, be advised.  No hands down holes, always carry a stick!  I have a stick!

Australia’s first Nations People – the Aborigines, have many sticks. Firstly, the Spear, with a barb on one end,  six to eight feet long and used to hunt animals and fish for eating.  With the aid of another stick  – the Woomera, the spear could be dispatched with leverage, a great distance with high velocity and great accuracy.  The Nulla Nulla was a weapon of war!  A long stick with a gnarled, nobby end, it was used at times of disputation to beat the adversary into submission.

 For entertainment the Aborigine has two basic instruments.  The ‘Clap Sticks’.  Two sticks about 250mm long, they are used to create a steady beat to accompany the singing and dancing of the tribe.  The iconic Didijeridoo is a magnificent stick.  Of varying length and diameter, this stick is crafted from a hard wood which has had its innards feasted on by white ants.  So it is, in effect, a long hollowed out stick.  The player extracts a low throbbing beat with variations only limited by their imagination, skill, experience and understanding of the culture of their people.

The simple digging stick, as its name implies, is used for gathering various delicacies hidden below ground such as yams and other delicacies. The digging stick is also useful for extracting witchity grubs hiding behind the bark of the eucalypt tree.

So how did I form such a bond with my Bendy, Brownie Sticky thing?

Well, I inherited my stick from my Father after he died thirty two years ago.  I do remember him using it.  Especially when he made his holiday trip of a lifetime.  Dad had worked in a factory as a process worker for thirty eight years.  Many of his co-workers were women, mostly from Greece.  Dad had a dream of visiting Greece when he retired but dismissed these dreams after episodes of ill health and three minor strokes.  A slow recovery saw him able to move around a little better and family encouraged him to make the trip.  I’m sure his stick helped him so much on his journey.  He returned home a very contented man with stories to tell which made him so happy on re-telling that sometimes he had to stop the telling while he laughed so much at his adventures.

But what of this particular stick?  While visiting Darwin this year, I felt that I really needed some steadying device as I too now, am getting older and I am considered to be a ‘falls risk’.  My bendy, browny sticky thing has given me that re-assurance to  get out and enjoy the many delights of Darwin with more confidence.  Not only that, it has invited people to comment, it is a little different to the usual walking stick.  My bendy stick has become an opportunity to engage in conversation with so many people on my wanderings around Darwin and suburbs.  People of all ages, and backgrounds.  At the Mindil beach Markets an aborigine was sitting, playing his ‘clap sticks’.  He was heartily amused and laughed out loud when I invited him to clap a few beats on my walking stick.  First time ever I have seen an Aborigine laugh at all let alone with such vigour.  First time ever that I have been able to engage with an aborigine.  First time ever that I have been able to ‘eyeball’ an aborigine.  Not that I saw much.  An aborigine’s eyes are such a deep colour it is hard to imagine what those eyes may reveal to us.

 Someone suggested the fork at the top of my stick could steady my rifle as I took a pot shot at a rabbit.  I thought that was quite imaginative.  I will never know  – I don’t have a rifle and never intend getting one.  I do find it to be a useful device at times to hang my coles shopping bag from while I rummage round my ‘man bag’ for stuff I need.  A man bag!  Whoever would have thought that one day I would ever need or even use, a ‘man bag’!  Perhaps I could use my stick to pin down a fat, red bellied black snake!  Some one suggested I could use it as a frame for a sling shot – the suggestions just kept coming.  Use it as a water diviner another helpful person suggested.

Checking in at the Darwin Airport for our return home, I was amused to be asked to stand aside while my stick was checked for explosives!

Darwin is a culturally diverse City, many, many nations are settled here.  All seem to be interested in my stick.  The stick is obviously hand made.  How long ago?  Another mystery.  I can easily imagine it being ‘plucked’ from a tree somewhere in England perhaps?  And fashioned into this rough and useful appliance that  is still used today.  Did it belong previously to a farmer?  Or farm worker perhaps who felt better opportunities awaited him in this Great Southland.  Did it venture across the sea in a sailing ship?  What tales it might have locked away in its thin, delicate, but sturdy frame.

I sometimes think of the adventures I might have had if I had ventured along with my Dad and his stick through Europe and England.

I’ll just have to speculate on that because I’ll never, never know.

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