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The Bootlegger from Botany Bay.

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Author Topic: The Bootlegger from Botany Bay.  (Read 180 times)
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« on: October 28, 2008, 11:01:57 am »

It was December 1953 beer was in short supply in Sydney, the pubs still shut at 6 pm.
I was down for a quick trip to Adelaide 2000 miles and back before Xmas.
 As I was about to leave the boss informed me that I was to pickup 50 dozen bottles of  West End  beer in Adelaide and deliver to our client President Refrigerators in Sydney, .in time for their  Xmas party. Beer in Sydney was strictly rationed and it was impossible to buy enough for an end of the year party. 600 large bottles of beer would be a good  gesture on the boss’s part. The client was paying for the beer but the boss was freighting it for free.
 It was unusual back in those days for any beer to be  consumed outside of the state  where it was brewed. All good beer drinkers thought that any beer outside of their state was “panthers ****’ and only good for washing the ‘missus hair’
 Never the less ‘needs must when the devil pushes’ and any beer under the circumstances  was acceptable. So I was going to be “Santa”. and perhaps one of his tricky elves.
 Now this was the era of permits being paid in advance of each trip carrying goods interstate and woe betide you if you were caught without the current permit when pulled over by the Transport Inspectors. Heavy fines and black marks against your name, on top of which you now became a “person of interest”. I was on the list long before this trip due to my truck being exceptionally fast, and the reputation for being ghost like. Sometimes doing two trips a week and therefore coming to the notice of various authorities in various states for various matters.
 The boss arranged for a hotel in Adelaide to load me and off I went.
 After unloading in Adelaide, I went to the pub and reversed  into its back yard  where they  loaded not 50 dozen but 60 dozen. 600 bottles for Santa and 120 for his elf.. It was all very hush hush and discreet.
I was supposed to return to Sydney with the beer only. The paper work said 50 cartons, but I had 60 cartons hidden under tarps.
It was common practice on a fast run to ‘back load’ a Dodge truck cab chassis. So to make it more difficult if I was stopped and checked  I decided to load a Dodge on top of the covered beer.
 I loaded the beer down the centre of the tray leaving plenty of room to crane a new Dodge cab/chassis from Chrysler Motors on top of the beer which I had covered with fridge covers and a tarpaulin, then tied down with plenty of ropes .The truck would straddle the beer and look as if that was all I had aboard, just the Dodge truck and empty covers.
I had one moment of panic as the crane lowered the Dodge onto my truck. It was swaying everywhere and I could see many dozens of beer cartons being crushed.
I ran around like a blue arsed fly grabbing men to jump up on the truck and guide it into place very very gently. The crane driver was amused at my antics and thought perhaps it was my first load. I played along with his amusement at me, not caring what he thought as long as the beer was safe.
“ Happy driver ? he called out.
“Yes…  thank you for being careful” I replied.
“You will get used to it after a couple of loads” he said.
I didn’t want to tell him I had taken back many dodge trucks to Sydney .. let him think  I was a new chum I didn’t care … the beer was safe under the truck under the tarp and under the fridge covers…. All the beer… and  especially mine.
Up over the Lofty Ranges out of Adelaide and away I went mentally adding up how much profit I would make for xmas. I kept altering the amounts up till I decided  on a reasonable price, which would make it all worth while.
Remarkable how mental arithmetic becomes so easy when its your money you are counting.
I decided I might become a  Bootlegger, that is if the beer shortage lasted for a while yet.
I zigzagged through the state of Victoria, very dangerous country for me. They had all sorts of warrants out looking for me.and hit the Hume Highway at Benalla  dashing for the border into N.S.W. without sighting the ‘enemy’. Ha  Ha  now just a little bit of luck through Gundagai Goulborn and Mittagong , they were dangerous check points and not running into any  patrolling inspectors and I will be home safe.
 With extra money in my pocket.
It was late at night, the long wooden bridge from Sth. Gundagai over to the main town across the Murrumbidgee River and the wide river flats was a heavy wooden  thing that rumbled with the loose planks like thunder, supposed to be the longest wooden bridge in Australia at that time. It was impossible to cross it quietly.
 If there were transport inspectors on duty, they knew they could wait at north end of the bridge and if they dozed off they could hear a truck coming up the hill in the main street going south and also grab the northbound coming off the bridge after it rattled its slow way across.
 I  went in off the black “ they were waiting for me, Damn their eyes…and ears.
I tried to go so slowly and quietly over the bloody noisy bridge but they were there waiting with open arms, two of them.. The spider web had caught a juicy fly.
 I decided to play it for all its worth and as they waved me to a stop , I called down
“I’ve only got a Dodge truck what do you want?”
“Just pull into the kerb driver, switch off and lets have a look at you.’ was the answer.
 Now the rule was if they untied a load they had to do it up again,
These pair were smarties. They just burrowed their arms under the Tarp and fridge covers
Stretching as far as their arms would reach. In towards the centre of the tray.
“You got anything like steel rods or sheet steel in there?”  Goods that needed a permit.
“Yeah I got a battleship in bits” I said cheekily.
The one on my side couldn’t feel anything and pulled his arm out
“Just fridge covers is it?”
“Yeah that’s all” I said with relief.
The next second there was a yell of triumph from the other side of the truck.
My inspector scurried around the back of the truck calling
“What have you found, what have you got?”
I heard one say to the other,
“Put your hand in there and tell me what you think it is?”
I knew the game was up, I climbed down from the cabin, well out the window anyway.
The door had been welded to the cabin, it kept falling out on the road.
“We thought you might have steel packed under there without a permit but we’ve hit the jackpot.”
 The second one had his arm in as far as it would go and you could hear the bottles rattling when he poked it with the end of his fingers.
“How much have you got in there?”
“Not many only a few dozen”
“ You  realize we can unload the whole truck “
“Yeah how you going to unload a Dodge truck?”
“Easy .. with a crane in the morning after you have spent the night here or in Jail.”
“Ok there’s  60 dozen bottles of beer.”
“ You know your illegally transporting beer and you are in a lot of trouble.”
“ I’m not doing anything illegal the beer is for a xmas party.”
“For a party? Probably yours.”
“Lock your truck and hop in the car we are taking you down to the Police Station.”
The Police Station was down a couple of blocks and they had to ring the night bell for a long while before a light went on and the door was opened by a sergeant in pj’s and dressing gown.”
He wasn’t very happy when Heckle and Jeckle told him the story. He brightened a little when told the load would have to come off and probably stored somewhere.
“We think he is running liquor interstate illegally. Sydney is in very short supply and coming up to Xmas there is a ready market even for interstate beer.”
It was about now that I was loosing interest in the game as I was getting tired and just wanted to get comfy and go to sleep.
 Time to prick their balloon.
“Sergeant  I know its late and these guys have hung drawn and quartered me but if you will ring this number in Sydney , its my boss… he will tell you this has all been arranged by the refrigerator manufacturers in Sydney who we are contracted to for delivery of their fridges.
The beer in question is from their Sth. Australian branch for the Sydney factory ‘s Xmas staff party.
There was dead silence. The Sergeant beckoned with his hand for the number, I handed it over, he rang, and after a short interval started to talk. He asked me my name and repeated it to the boss and after a few more questions nodded his head and hung up the phone.
Addressing heckle and Jeckle he said “ Everything is completely legal.. the driver is taking a free gift from a branch to the main factory. No money is involved. About the only thing you could have him for is not notifying the transport dept. of the Xmas gesture he has on board.
There was shuffling of feet a mumbled sorry to the Sergeant from Heckle and Jeckle. Glaring at me they promptly turned and made for the door . I could hear a truck grinding up the hill through town and so could they.
 I willed who ever it was to hurry over the bridge south and make them work for it. If he could get to little Billabong, the road was that winding and narrow  they might give up on him. They took off in the car.
“Sarge you know they ordered a few extra in case of breakage and I do believe a couple were broken near Gundagai.”
“I’ll walk back to the truck and see you outside in a couple of minutes.”
Climbing back into the truck I could see way over the river flats a set of head lights chasing a lot of sidelights twisting and turning on the way south.
“Give it to her boy” I said to the unknown truckie.
Down at the police station I pulled out 4 bottles of beer and handed them over to the Sergeant ..he smiled “ you better get going before they twig to ask how many cartons of beer you should have on board. According to your boss you seem to have more than the party asked for, good luck and merry Xmas.
I had an enjoyable Xmas that year ….
 More than enough beer and for an outlay in Adelaide more than enough money.
 The only breakage was 4 bottles around Gundagai somewhere, out of 60 dozen.
The beer shortage was overcome in the next couple of weeks damn it.
So The bootlegger from Botany Bay only made one trip but he beat the odds and made a profit.
Not being mean spirited he paid up some of the warrants,  just some mind you.
 Had to keep some excitement in his boring life.

From the book “My Way on the Highway”

  By     Ray Gilleland          Copyright 2005
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