Chook Feathers, the Sunday Roast and the Classic FJ Holden Car


The sharp axe, which my grandfather kept razor sharp, split the wood into easy to handle pieces and with an old newspaper as a base, I stacked the wood into the fire place in the backyard “boiler”, lit the match and the fire slowly started to burn the wood. It was now time to add the water from the old tank stand which filled from the roof guttering after regular rainfall. The bucket was a friendly to use, metal bucket that doubled up for many roles and one was to pick up the “chook” manure from the “chook” shed to use in my Grandfather’s vegetable patch.

I had my own ritual now to attend to. While keeping an eye on the boiler fire, I climbed the magnificent backyard mango tree to select the best, ripest mangos I could find and then it was into my Grandfathers small area of planted banana trees, which, for some reason always had ample ripe bananas any day of the week. With a hand saw I would chop a fresh ripe bunch of bananas to share with my soon to arrive cousins.

Close by, a huge macadamia nut tree continually dropped ripe macadamia nuts to the ground. I would gather these up and fill my pants pockets with them.

My Grandmother, who was usually looking at me from the back window that overlooked the huge combustion stove, where she cooked the best food I can ever remember eating as a young boy, called out “I have just made a cuppa, come and drink it while it is still hot and do you want some fresh toast with your Grandfather”.

“Yes please Nan” was my normal response and my return journey to the patio was a regular trail to pick up the banana bunch and the mangos and put them in the laundry, along with the macadamia nuts from my pockets.

My Grandfather, who was a World War 1 veteran, was only a slightly built man, was as tough as nails, an Irish sense of humour, and was once a coal miner on his return from Europe at wars’ end. “Hi Champ” as he would always greet me, with a hug and a friendly smile, “sit down with me and have your cuppa”.

The usual discussion at this time was which “chooks” we need to choose for the Sunday roast. It was normally the ones that were not good egg layers and today it my turn to choose the “chooks” for the chopping block which was an old 3 foot tree stump in the backyard that was used for chopping the firewood for the combustion stove.

On top of the chopping block, two very large nails were hammered into the stump about 2 inches apart with 2 inches of the nails rising above the stump. This was the spot where the chosen “chooks” met their end.

We finished the cuppa and with the razor sharp axe we headed for the chook yard. I always felt as a young kid that the chooks new it was Sunday and they would run wildly around the chook yard, attempting to escape what would be the end of their egg laying days.

With chook feathers flying and chooks squarking, my Grandfather and I, with a chook each, holding them by their legs with their heads down, we headed for the chopping block. A quick stretch of the chook’s neck, a slight hit with the hammer on each nail to form a V across the chook’s neck and with one quick blow with the axe, the headless chooks were released to run around the yard. They always seemed to chase me and I wondered how they could see me without their heads. No wonder my Grandfather always headed for the banana patch at this time laughing his head off.

In Australia, we have a saying about somebody busily running around and doing several things all at once. It’s “running around the place like a chook with its’ head cut off” and this is where the saying comes from.

In a few minutes, the chooks would stop their running and it was time to hang them by their feet with string tied to the back yard clothes hoist until the blood stopped falling.

This was followed by a quick dip into the boiling water from the backyard boiler (which I previously prepared) and then into the close by laundry for plucking and gutting.

I did not like this part of preparing the chooks for the Sunday roast, luckily it was always my Grandmother who seemed to get this role. It was now time for me to head for the vegetable patch where my Grandfather caringly grew, with great enthusiasm, a variety of in season vegetables. On occasion, he would supply the neighbours in the street with any excess he grew.

I loved digging the fresh potatoes from the sweet smelling soil, the silverbeet, the carrots, the eschallots, the sweet sugar cabbages, the big ripe pumpkins growing on the vines and the turnips. It was then off to the bean trellis where I would carefully select the beautiful fresh beans, peas and the chokos.

By this time the rest of the family would be arriving and my young cousins, along with their mums, would prepare the vegetables and the chooks for the oven.

On one particular Sunday, my Uncle arrived with his family, in their brand new FJ Holden Sedan. This was the first “new” car in the family and little did we know that this would be one of the Classic Holden Cars in years to come and would be immortalized by the Australian car buying community. I can still smell the aroma of the newness of the leather seating and the sound of the powerful 6 cylinder, 60 horse power grey motor, with its’ 3 speed column mounted gear shift.

The dining room table would be set by my Grandmother with the best silverware she would have, and everyone had a regular seating spot at the table, with no arguments, all enjoying the fresh food, the family all together enjoying each others company, the men drinking a nice cold beer from the lead lined ice chest, the women drinking tea and us kids drinking my Grandfathers famous home brewed horehound.

I am now a Grandfather myself and miss the old fashioned uncluttered lifestyle, the family Sunday roasts and the fun we had as kids and the enjoyment we had with our Uncles, Aunties and our cousins, all lunching together, on every Sunday. Life was simple then.

Today’s lifestyle has changed us all. The fast lane has eaten up our once valuable family resourse, time together. We have forgotten to say “relax, it’ll be right mate”.

At times, I forget, it was 1955 then, just 10 years after World War 2 finished.