Recently I was startled awake by the raucous cawing of some crows, and as most crossword fans know, the correct term for a group of crows is a ‘Murder’; a word not far from my mind at that moment. It was 4.30 a.m., and as I lay in my bed thinking dark thoughts involving shotguns and flamethrowers, it struck me that I’d never heard crows calling out before dawn.
Amid the squawks came the distant clatter of a shunting coal train, and I recalled the first time I heard that particular noise in 1976, on our first night in Gladstone. My little brother and I had just drifted off to sleep when a nearby loco ploughed into a long line of empty coal wagons. As sonic booms shook our room, we shot from our beds, certain that the world had come to an end. Gazing out of our bedroom window we were amazed to see that all the houses in our street were still standing. Our father, woken by the train, or possibly our screaming, crammed us back into our beds where we lay gibbering until we fell asleep.
Throughout the night, along with the shunting, were the sounds of QAL hooters, and shiftworkers coming and going on their two-stroke scooters, plus the beeping horns of the ‘call out’ taxis. Taxis were sent out at all hours to wake up and deliver employees to the plant and considerate cabbies would merely hammer on the front door, as the woken worker stumbled about inside, frantically grabbing his work gear while yelling, “Stone the flamin’ crows! I’m coming!” Stupid cabbies though, would sit outside the house, honking their horns until someone either came out to go to work, or punch them about the head. Sometimes it was both.
Callouts were worth big bucks, and one old workmate told me that when his wife heard a taxi pull up next door during the night, she would lean out of their bedroom window and scream, “You hungry beggar!” Then she’d make him ring work and demand a callout as well. Callouts are extremely rare today, which means my mate, his suburb, and a battalion of cabbies, are getting a lot more sleep of a night.
The crows finally shut up as the sun rose, and I stumbled from my bed thinking, ‘Yep, Gladstone’s a bit quieter nowadays.’ Opening my curtains I saw that the crows had flipped open our bin lid and were pulling apart the garbage bags and spreading rubbish all over the street. History repeated itself as our street woke to my cries of, “You hungry beggars! I’ll murder the lot of you! Stone the flamin’ crows!”