We had just driven through a large town when the police car pulled us over. I remember reading “Dubbo” on some sign and being a smart kid, worked out it was the name of the town. But it made me giggle a little. “Dubbo” was also what idiots were called back then. “You’re a bloody dubbo, mate!” I used to hear it all the time at school. But all I could hear as our convoy pulled to the side of the road in darkness (it was night-time again), was my father and Voya wondering what the cop, fuck his mother and his life, was pulling us over for.
Voya turned off the engine, and we all got out of the car. Actually, everyone got out of all three cars, and the only light was the revolving blue one on the police car – this was in the days before they acquired red lights as well as blue ones – and the lone policeman carrying a torch.
I noticed he was careful not to shine the torch into anyone’s face, and seemed to be fairly relaxed and genial, because he opened up with a simple “Good evening.”
The gathering of Serbs replied with variously accented versions of “Hello”, but other than that, none of them spoke any more. Strange, I remember thinking, they’ve been talking non-stop for the last 12 hours, now it’s like they were a platoon of mutes.
“Where you all off to?” the policeman asked. He didn’t ask anyone in particular, but it was my father who answered him.
“Vi go shootink,” he said, and raised his arm indicating the direction of travel. The policeman nodded and the torch played up to my father’s belly then back down to the ground. There was enough ambient light for us to all see each other, and the chain-smoking Serbs were all lighting cigarettes, and just looking on.
I don’t recall it being a menacing situation, and the cop clearly didn’t feel threatened. He was alone, in the dark, on the side of a quiet country road with a dozen men, some of whom were very large, but he appeared very much at ease.
“Good on youse!” he said. “Bloody feral pigs are a real problem up here. You have a property to shoot on, or are you spotlighting off the road?”
“Vi go property,” my father said. “Little bit here, not Carinda.”
“I have to check your Shooters Licenses, and I would like to see the guns. Hopefully it won’t take too long and you can be on your way.”
“You vont see guns?” my father asked.
“I do,” the policeman nodded. “And your Shooters Licenses. Shouldn’t take too long.”
“What cock is fucking him?” Voya mumbled to my father in Serbian. “Why does he want to see our guns?”
“I have no idea,” my father shrugged, then raised his voice so the others could hear him. “Take out your shooters licenses, and take out all your guns.”
The Serbs moved to comply, muttering among themselves, but not in a way I thought was threatening. I think they were just peeved they’d have to unload a whole bunch of stuff to get to their guns.
And they had quite a lot of guns. My father had taken seven weapons with him, and he was one of the lighter-armed men. These blokes loved guns, and some of them had brought ten or so with them, and corresponding amounts of ammunition. Of course, there were one or two blokes who only had two guns each, but when they started laying their weapons on the ground by the side of the road, even I was astonished at how many there were.
The cop was obviously gobsmacked. Between the twelve of us there were close to 65 rifles and shotguns arrayed on the side of the highway.
“Fuck me…” I heard the cop mutter.
“What did he say?” Voya asked Pane, whose English was better than Voaya’s.
“He wants us to fuck him,” Pane grinned, and he and Voya started laughing.
The policeman examined all the licenses with his torch there on the side of the road. He did not go back to his car and radio for assistance or ask that any of the names be checked. We were some 40km outside of Dubbo, so maybe he couldn’t. But he didn’t appear nervous – just blown away by the amount, and indeed the quality and calibre of the weapons – each atop its individual case – displayed for his inspection. There were lots of shotguns. Serbs love shotguns. And lots of rifles with calibres that started with four, lots that started with three, a few that began with two, but very few of the rifles had any scopes. Dad didn’t think scopes were very sporting, and that notion seemed common among his friends.
The policeman didn’t handle any of the guns. He just shone his torch on them as he walked slowly along a line of weaponry that could have done a fair job defending Belgrade against the SS troops of Das Reich. Now and again, he’d stop and actually admire a particular rifle. He was accompanied in this by Sima, our resident gunsmith – a small, wiry man who actually made rifles, was the deadest shot I had ever seen, and knew more about weapons than anyone really has any need to know. I’d vaguely heard allegations he’d killed metric fuck-tonnes of Germans during the war, but no-one ever seemed to talk in detail about it. And I was never going to pry.
“Is that a .300 Winchester?” the cop would ask.
“No,” Sima would intone. “Mauser. Better. German.”
“I have never seen that one, what is it?”
“Det is .400 Hollen en Hollen. Good. Stronk,” Sima informed him. “Dis vun is .416 Ruger. Also stronk. You vont try?”
“Try?” the cop blinked. “Shoot it, you mean?”
“Yes, yes!” Sima nodded with a big grin, gesturing at the gun on the ground. “You tryink.”
“No, mate, no,” the cop grinned back. “Thanks anyway, but maybe another time.”
Then he stood up, handed my father back the wad of Shooters Licenses he’d been holding, thanked everyone for their time, got in his car and drove away.
And if you did not grow up in the Sixties and Seventies, then you probably think I made all this up. Because no such thing could possibly occur in Australia today, in 2023. Should a policeman encounter three car-loads of grumble-voiced foreigners, all armed to the teeth, and reeking of rakija, onions, pork fat, chillies, and cigarettes, helicopters would have become quickly involved. And maybe tanks.
But this was Australian in the early Seventies. The police weren’t frightened bitches. The population did not despise them. And everyone pretty much went about their business in tolerant harmony.
I had encountered cops before. I was only eleven, but I knew about them, and harboured no ill-will towards them at all. The big friendly cop who oversaw the pedestrian crossing before and after my primary school in Glebe seemed very nice. The cops who came to our school to talk to us about road safety also seemed nice. And now and again you’d see one or two them walking the beat, or driving around, you know, just kind of being part of the community. They did indeed seem part of it, which is quite different to how they are today.
But I was many decades and police encounters away from today that evening. And my only concern was once again heaving that wretched orange crate full of inedible-by-me food onto my lap, getting back inside Voya’s arse-smelling car, and continuing on this endless journey to the killing fields.
So I did just that, after first helping the grown-ups replace everything they had had to take out for the weapons inspection. No, it wasn’t because I was a good kid. It was because I was a kid and that’s what kids did. Now and again, I’d stop my back-and-forth scurrying to wait until a truck had passed by, but not a single adult male there told me to be careful, or to stay off the road. It was assumed I was sentient enough to notice a semi-trailer bearing down on me and get out of its way. Had I been crushed by a truck my father’s shame would have been unending at having sired such an impossible fuckwit. So the family’s name and honour was always at stake.
About an hour later we turned onto a small dirt road and after another half-an-hour of bouncing along at a very slow speed, we stopped.
“Tu smo,” my father sighed, and levered himself out of the car.
So, according to that pronouncement, we had arrived. In the middle of the night, in the middle of the bush, under a such a canopy of stars my head swam each time I gawked upwards at them, and the construction of the camp immediately began.
All the work was carried out by me, Dragan, and three of the younger men. The older men, sat themselves down on camp-chairs, and issued directives, while chain-smoking, sipping coffee, which had been brewed on a fire I had built, which no-one had shown me how to build, but told me what needed to happen step by step, ie. “Get leaves and small sticks, cunt of your mother. No, smaller, yes, that. Break them up. More. More, fuck the moon above you! Now get bigger sticks. More. Get more. Are you deaf? More than that. Want some onion? Get more sticks. Bigger ones. Roll it if you can’t carry it. Get more. Now light this in there. Yes, good, you burned yourself. Good.” And so on. And none of this came from my father. Men I did not know, or barely knew, spoke of my mothers cunt and swore they’d fuck the stars above my head as they issued instructions.
It all sounds a bit weird to many of you. But that was how it was. That was how children were treated back then. I didn’t think it was weird, or was I in any way offended or intimidated. I just did as I was told by whatever smelly adult decided to tell me.
And when I eventually rolled myself up in my blankets (sleeping bags were not a thing for any of us back then), and lay down on a slab of very smelly and stained yellow foam – it actually looked a lot like a giant dish-sponge – my father had brought for me to sleep on, I sank into a very deep sleep.
My last waking thought was that I was finally among men. Doing man-things. Doubtlessly, tomorrow I would do more man-things, with guns no less. I could hardly wait…
PART FOUR IS ON ITS WAY…(PROMISE)
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.