Lazza The Valiant
Lazza the Valiant
I had never fired a gun in my life; when I was growing up in London no one I knew owned one or had one. I had fired a pellet gun at a fair ground a couple of times but, I didn’t really feel that counted. I told Nifty this as we drinking in the Cricket Club one evening, and he shook his head sadly.
“When you get back home, come up to Broken Hill, I’ll take you out roo shooting Lazza, and I’ll teach you to shoot.” He told me; genuinely concerned that part of my education was sadly missing. That exchange had taken place about three months earlier while we were both working on the island of Bougainville in New Guinea. We eventually completed our contracts up there and we both returned to Australia at about the same time; I had returned to Melbourne and Nifty had gone back to his home in Broken Hill, a mining town on the edge of the New South Wales outback.
I had been home for a few weeks and I had scored a job with a construction company up in Queensland and when I finally got the nod I decided to drive up there; I gave Nifty a call and told him that I heading north and if he was home I’d take him up on his offer to teach me to shoot. He was genuinely pleased to hear from me.
“My oath Lazza, get yer arse up here!” Which I assumed meant he’d be pleased to see me and I hung up looking forward to catching up with him again.
While I was back in Melbourne I had bought an XW Falcon ute with some of my earnings from New Guinea, it was a beautiful piece of equipment dark blue with black stripes with a 302 V8 and I was looking forward to putting it through its paces.
I had been staying with Alan and Fiona and I left just before I wore out my welcome. I had spent an interesting couple of weeks in Melbourne, I had bought the car and I’d also bought a unit in Thornbury, I had always felt an affinity for Melbourne and now with the unit I had a more tangible tie to the city, but I had spent a lot since I last drew a pay check, it was time to get back to work.
I left Melbourne early on the Saturday morning and I got to Mildura in time for lunch; I refuelled and had a bite to eat and drove into Broken Hill at just after four and found Nifty as promised propping up the bar at the Exchange Hotel on Argent Street. He looked like he might have been there for a few hours and he was holding court much like he had in the various bars in Bougainville.
Nifty was a big man, well over six feet tall and had played football when he was younger, most of the muscle he had put on was slowly softening, but I reckon he could still be a handful; he had a full head of sandy coloured hair, a permanent two day red growth that gave him a ruddy outdoor appearance, but he was a funny bugger who never let the truth ruin a good story and as I walked into the bar he greeted me like a long lost brother.
“Lazza!” He bellowed getting the attention of the entire bar and I immediately got the impression that if I was a friend of Nifty’s I was most welcome. I joined the throng sitting in a horseshoe around the bar and I was introduced to Robbo, Davo, Johno, Big Davo and Muzza; I bought a round and settled in to the group and after a couple of drinks it was like I had never been anywhere else.
Nifty and most of his mates were Eastern Suburbs supporters, and we remained in the pub until the East’s game was due to start and then we drove over to Robbo’s place and watched the game on his telly; Nifty had told me in Bougainville that he had had a run out with East’s under 19’s, but his mates, all of whom had known him for most of his life, couldn’t remember exactly when this had happened. We settled back and watched the game and somehow we managed to get through the best part of a couple of cartons before half time; so I nipped back to the pub and bought two more.
East’s ended up thumping the hapless Sea Eagles and the boys were convinced that they were heading for back to back premierships. After the game, at about ten, Nifty, Robbo, Muzza and meself jumped back into my ute, and headed out of town and out to Nifty’s place.
“This is me country retreat Lazza, I’ve got a place in town, but on a weekend me and the boys like to come out here, and relax.”
Christ, I thought; how much more relaxed could he get? After about fifteen minutes we had to stop for a piss break; we stopped the car and took a beer each.
“It’s as black as a dogs guts out here Lazza, look at them stars.” he said looking up and pissing on me leg. I looked up; there were a billion gems up there twinkling back at us.
“Just before you got to the pub this arvo a bloke came in and, very distraught he was,
“Give me a glass of you best whiskey,” he told Maureen the barmaid; she turned and put a shot of Chivas Regal in a glass.
“Better make it a double,” the bloke said, and Maureen repeated the measure. She handed it to him and he skulled it.
“Give me another,” he demanded and Maureen filled the glass with another double Chivas, and again he skulled it.
“Blimey mate,” I said, “I’ve never seen a bloke drink top shelf whiskey like that before.”
And he looked at me and said, “You do that when you’ve got what I’ve got,”
“And what have you got?” I asked.
And the bloke laughed and said, “sixty-eight cents!”
We burst out laughing, we all opened another can, got back in the car, and continued on our way.
We had one more piss stop before we made it to Nifty’s country estate. “Me old man bought it just after the war; him and his brother and another couple of blokes all put in a few bob and over the years we’ve added to it and, well it ain’t the flashist place in the world, but I like it.”
It was dark and I took his word for it. We unloaded the supplies which consisted of half a dozen cartons and we went in. It was surprisingly clean and tidy, there was a big open fire place and a pile of logs in the hearth, the whole of the inside of the house was open, and it was difficult to see where the kitchen started and the lounge ended, it had a rustic charm that I could understand Nifty liking. We had another couple of beers and then the boys got ready to go shooting.
They had an old Toyota Landcruiser, ute that had seen better days, but started with the first turn of the key, it been ‘chopped’ and ‘modified’ to suit the purpose and was dented and marked and wore the scars of many night like the one that was about to begin.
Nifty was behind the wheel, Robbo was ‘spotting from the passenger seat and Muzza and I were standing in the back, and there seemed to be guns everywhere!
The night was eventful, amusing and entertaining; I believe we drove nearly a hundred kilometres, over dark rough country, we were bogged once, and on more than a few occasions Muzza and I were nearly thrown into oblivion, and we consumed at least another carton of Tooheys, but as the morning sun started to brush the eastern horizon the kangaroo population of this part of New South Wales was safe for another day. This was rare, very rare, not a single roo had been seen and as we sat on the back of the ute pondering the nights events, and just before Nifty was going to call me a jinx a wild pig appeared from nowhere.
“Holy shit Lazza, look what we have here.” He pulled his 22 Winchester from its sheath, it was a lever action and he put a bullet in the chamber, he handed it to me. Uncertain, but not wanting to look like a complete tool I took careful aim, slowly squeezed the trigger and the gun exploded and a spurt of blood burst from the centre of the pigs head; it went down without a twitch. I walked towards my first ever kill. It was quite dead I had literally shot it right between the eyes.
“Holy fuck Lazza, that must be fifty, sixty meters.” He was impressed, but I wasn’t.They had a little ceremony, I was smeared with a bit of blood and we had the last of the beer and headed back to town.
By the time we returned to Nifty’s place, the sun was up, and I got a look at his country estate for the first time in daylight. There had obviously been no covenant or building permission required as it seemed to be built to no standard whatsoever, steel was used, timber, and brick, almost any building material that was handy, but I had to admit, it did have a rustic charm.
“I’m going to render the whole thing one day,” he said as if reading my mind.
“Yeah that’ll fix it.” I lied.
I showered and changed and Nifty and I set off back into town. Muzza had already gone to bed and Robbo looked like he wouldn’t be far away. The sun had been up for a couple of hours, it was only just after seven and already there was a bite to it.
We were still on the dirt about thirty k’s out of town when we approached a car broken down on the side of the road; there seemed to be a lot of people milling around and Nifty’s first reaction was to keep going.
“It’ll be Abbo’s Laz, they know how to look after ‘em selves; don’t stop.” And as we approached I was surprised by Nifty’s change of tack.
“Wow ‘ang on mate, that Thommo’s sister, and that’s Davo’s brothers Valiant.”
Of course it was. We stopped across the road from about five or six youngsters and an old. R Model Valiant that looked like it had been lovingly restored. Nifty got out and everyone seemed to know him.
“What’s the problem?” he asked.
“It just stopped,” someone said.
Nifty looked under the bonnet, but after a few minutes, he gave up. “You’ve got fuel,” he said, “but no spark could be any number of things and I need a few tools to tell you what it is. Come on he said we’ll give you a tow back into town.”
He turned to me and said, “this might be alright, I’m jumping in with Sharon, she’s not a bad sort, and I’ll get Carol to get in with you; you’ll like Carol.” And with that he scarpered.
I reversed the Falcon around until I was in front of the Valiant and a decent rope was pulled from the boot, it seemed like this might of happened before, but I have always found that people who live in the bush do travel with everything, and are usually prepared for the worst on the long lonely roads. We hooked up the cars and people jumped in the Valiant leaving Carol a cute dark haired girl of about nineteen looking a bit sheepish and lost.
“Jump in with me.” I suggested and she did, and the rest is history.
I took up the strain and pulled away, the 302 hardly noticed the added weight and I accelerated up to about 35 k’s an hour, fast enough I thought on the dirt road.
I glanced across at Carol, she was an attractive young woman shoulder length brunette hair, brown eyes and delicate facial features, she wore a denim shirt with pop-fasteners instead of buttons open low enough to allow me a good glimpse of her breasts, and very nice they looked too. My eyes returned to the road but, almost like a magnet they were drawn back to her breasts.
“D’you like ‘em? She asked catching me in mid-ogle.
“Absolutely!” I replied stating the obvious.
Then she done an amazing thing, she popped open the front of her shirt, and my foot sat a little heavier on the accelerator, then she up clipped the front of her bra and there they were, two perfect breasts; firm and young and oh so fucking suckable. I was now kind of flummoxed; what was I too do? And, as if reading my mind she completely unflummoxed me; her head dived into me lap like a compass to North, she fumbled with my zipper and in a few seconds was noshing on me dick, which surprisingly didn’t react as it should have done.
She was obviously used to working on blokes from Broken Hill and persevered, and slowly the old fellah came to life and before many minutes she bobbing up and down like a Schlumberger pump.
“HO, HO!” I said, or something similar as she really started to enjoy herself, and I wasn’t having a bad time either. I had been drinking I estimated for about thirteen hours and whether it was because of this or the complete surprise, the location; whatever it was, I seemed to have a lot more staying power than usual and I put my hand on the back of her head giving her a hand as she started to flag; and then the magic moment started to approach.
“Yes…yes…. OH YES!” I yelled banging on the steering wheel, my foot hard down and I felt the floor under the accelerator pedal for the first time since I’d owned the car. The euphoria was fleeting and lasted just a few seconds, I closed my eyes briefly then looked down at the speedo; I was doing 174 kilometres per hour!
I quickly glanced up to the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes; through the dust I noticed that the front of Valiant was completely sand blasted, there wasn’t a speck of yellow paint to be seen, the headlights were gone, the windscreen was gone, the radiator grill was gone, the chrome trim and mirrors all fucking gone, and Nifty was on the bonnet being held by his boots trying to cut the tow rope with his pen knife!
“HOLY FUCK!” I yelled, I slowed and pulled to the side of the road. I stopped and got out as Nifty slid off the bonnet of the Valiant and landed in a heap in the dust.
“YOU STUPID POMMY BAAAS…” He yelled as he chased me around my car but he stopped when he saw the front of the Valiant for the first time. “Holly shit!” he said and started to laugh as he took in the site of the car and six people in who looked both electrocuted and shell shocked at the same time; and his anger evaporated.
“Has anyone got a camera?” he asked
“I have.” Said Carol meekly, probably aware that this had all been her fault. And Nifty took four photos, three of the stunned crew in the car and someone took a photo of Nifty and I hamming it up in front of sandblasted Valiant he had his arm wrapped around my neck and his massive fist in my face. “Fuckin’ hell Lazza, that was fuckin’ interesting.” He typically understated.
After a few minutes and when the dust had literally settled we decided to continue into town and the rest of the trip was completely uneventful. Carol directed me to the home of the Valiant and six of us pushed it up the drive where we left it with the rear of the car facing the front door; the back of the car giving no indication of the carnage at the front. I would love to have been a fly on the fence when Davo’s brother, whoever he was, discovered that a bit of body work might be in order.
“Maybe he won’t notice.” Nifty said as we drove off.
I dropped Nifty off outside the Exchange Hotel. “You coming in for one?” he asked, I declined I knew one with Nifty would very quickly become two.
“No thanks mate, I’ve got to be heading off.”
He understood; we shook hands “Good luck mate. I’ll see you soon.” And he walked into the bar. “You never guess what just happened.” I heard him say to someone as I drove away.
I’d like to say that Nifty and I had a few more adventures over the years that followed but sadly that was the last time I ever saw him. I went up to Queensland and done a couple of jobs up there, I spent some time in the Territory and WA before heading overseas. I wrote to Nifty occasionally and got a couple of lines back from him once in a while, but as far as I know he never left Broken Hill. I spent the next twenty years travelling before returning with my family to Queensland where we settled on the Sunshine Coast an hour north of Brisbane. I phoned Nifty a couple of times and we both promised to catch up, but it never happened; then in 2004 my wife received a phone call from Sharon, Nifty’s girl friend, he was sick and he wanted to see me, unfortunately I was in Laos working and it was a fortnight later that I phoned up and got the news that he had died.
“He died last week Lazza, but the funeral is on Thursday, can you make it?” She asked.
“I’ll be there,” I promised.
I flew to Adelaide the next day and drove out to Broken Hill in time for the funeral, the church was full to overflowing it seemed most of Broken Hill had turned up to say goodbye.
The wake was held as expected at the Exchange Hotel, it was there that I finally met Sharon, not for the first time it would seem, it was the same Sharon that Nifty had latched onto that Sunday morning nearly 30 years earlier. Like all wakes it was a bit stiff at first, but the alcohol loosened everyone up and it became a pleasant afternoon, as pleasant as those occasions can be and at about six o’clock I decided it was time to make tracks and I looked for Sharon to say goodbye,
“Don’t leave just yet Laz, come with me I have a couple of things I want to show you.” The crowd had thinned and she made a promise to return to them shortly. The sun had dropped behind the houses on Oxide Street and the sky was turning a soft pink colour; it was a warm evening and Sharon looped her arm through mine as we walked the short distance to the home that she had shared with Nifty.
“Whatever happened to the ‘Country Estate?’ I asked.
She laughed, “When they put the road in to Menindee Lake it ran right past the front of it, and the council told them to either fix it up or tear it down; they did neither, and eventually the council bought it, he got quite a bit for it, but he either drank it or gambled it all away,” she said sadly.
Her home was just a five minute walk and when we got there she showed me in and led me though the house to a large living room at the back, it was almost dark in there and she turned the light on and I looked around the room at various pictures on the wall and there in the centre of the sideboard was the framed photo of Nifty and me; the one taken on that Sunday morning all those years ago in front of the sandblasted Valiant.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times he told that story,” she said smiling, “and every time it was funnier than the last.”
I picked it up and looked at the two of us, the photo had faded slightly, but the camera had caught both of us perfectly.
“I’ve got a few miles out of it too.” I truthfully confessed, returning the picture to its pride of place.
“Come on,” she said, “I’ve got something else to show you.” She led me through the kitchen and out to an old wooden garage at the back of the house she produced a key from her pocket and unlocked the big padlock and we dragged open the double doors, she flicked on the light and under the fluro’s gleamed a 1962 R Series Valiant.
“Is this the same car?” I asked knowing the answer.
She nodded, “Nifty bought it off of Thommo, not long after, for a couple of hundred bucks; he spent years restoring it.” I open the passenger door, it was in immaculate condition both inside and out; I ran my fingers over the highly polished bonnet, it really was in mint condition. I stood back and looked at its Classic lines then I noticed the registration plate: LAZZA!
She saw that I noticed.
“In Broken Hill Lazza, you are almost royalty!”