Storm Clouds Over the Cooper Near Innamincka
by Malcolm R Hughes
Jack was born in 1927 near Port Augusta, South Australia. When he was about 5 years of age, the family moved out onto the Nullabor Plain — named for its treelessness, null-arbor. This gave him a chance to pick up knowledge of the Aboriginals’ lifestyle and their folklore.
Now age 89, he has since passed to many Aussies his appreciation of Aboriginal culture and his firsthand knowledge of the interior of Australia. That said, Jack had no formal education. I mean he never went to school.
You wouldn’t know it, watching his performances on TV. His knowledge is not second rate. He had, as they say, “a bush education,” learning on the job.
To the current generation he’s probably best known for the art shop he runs in Broken Hill which 100,00 people visit every year – and which has a beautiful display of opals. As a teenager, Jack gouged in the opal fields at Coober Pedy and apparently did quite well.
Back in 1949, at age 22, Absalom headed East toward Sydney but didn’t make it. He came across Broken Hill and never quite left. He settled down and married a local girl, Mary Wills (of Burke and Wills fame) and raised a family — two boys and three girls.
Jack worked in the mines, and became a kangaroo shooter. First the bounty was the skins but, later, ’roo meat was a lucrative business. While sleeping out during his ’roo-shooting career, Jack was known for pitching a tent with a carpet in it and also a chiller for the meat.
He was also a heavyweight boxer. He has always taken easily to hard work.
It was after going on a trip to the Flinders Ranges with four artists, that Absalom realised he had a natural ability to put paint to canvass of scenery of the outback.
He was taken into the group of artists who then incorporated the name “The Brushmen of the Bush.” A smart name, as it conjures up the two sides of these five fellows, and their artistic themes. That is, the brush of the painter, and “men of the bush.”
The other four artists were John Pickup, Eric Minchin, Hugh Schulz and Pro Hart. Together these fellows raised over a million dollars for charities.
I’m quoting now from his book “Paintings, 1972-1996,” in regard to Mootooroo pastoral station, far to the northeast of Adelaide.
One day I pulled up at this scene and decided to paint it. There was only one rabbit out when I first arrived, but because I kept quiet they gradually started to pop out of their burrows.
The rabbit has become a big problem for Australia. I have seen country devastated by them
I was coming down from Queensland, and when I got to where the dog-proof netting turns from the New South Wales/South Australian border, the rabbits were piled up against the fence in the corner up to two meters high. The last ones were hopping over the top of this “living wall.” They were moving South, as they do every November.
Jack has written books on survival in the Australian bush or outback, given lectures and had a TV show about Australiana. He has produced documentaries of Australia on video, including Aboriginal culture. Not bad for an uneducated rough and tumble bloke.
Here are names of bush recipes from his best-selling cookbook “Outdoor Cooking in the Camp Oven” (1982). Its co-author is his uncle Reg Absalom.
Barbecued emu, wild duck soup, roo shooter’s omelette, opal miner’s fish in white sauce, outback braised kangaroo tail, Balcanoona potato balls, cabbage – Mulyungarie style, Irishman’s bread sauce, Nullabor ginger roll, wild peach flan.
Would you like some yabbie kebabs? You need two dozen large yabbie tails and 6 slices of bacon. The cooking time will be 10 minutes.
Cut bacon in strips, half lengthwise. Wrap each yabbie tail in bacon, put on a skewer and grill over hot coals. Jack says:
“I always find that when I take children into the bush, I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching them make their own kebabs. They get a lot of fun out of making their rack to cook on, out of twigs, and doing the cooking themselves.”
— Mal Hughes, also known as Aussiemal, is constructing a series of short bio’s of Great Australians, and invites you to contribute to the series.