By Chris Thomson | posted on November 18, 2017
THERE must be something in the water out Elleker way, because two locals from around the small Great Southern town have just been named the best yarn spinners in the nation.
At the Australian Bush Poetry Championships which wound up in Toodyay last week, Peg Vickers of Old Elleker Road told the nation’s best yarn, while Peter Blyth of Elleker-proper was runner-up.
Peter describes Peg and himself as “the two biggest bull-dusters in town”, before volunteering a water-borne explanation for the pair’s poetic prowess.
“I’ll tell you what’s not in the water around here,” he says.
“It’s that chemical they put in it in the cities, because I’ve just got tank water, and so has Peg.
“It’s the clean water that keeps your mind working; that stuff they put in up in Perth will pickle your brain!”
Peg has lived in the Great Southern all her life.
She met Peter when she won a bush poetry competition he judged when he was a farmer at Salmon Gums in the neighbouring Goldfields-Esperance region.
Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps serendipity, Peter’s sister was living right next door to Peg on Old Elleker Road.
He took the opportunity to drop by and present Peg with a trophy for her poem – about an inedible shepherd’s pie nobody was game enough to criticise and hence whose baker dished up more and more.
Almost 15 years ago, Peter moved to Albany and, bush poetry circles being what they are, kept in touch with Peg, before relocating to his verdant hilly farm at Elleker.
A decade and a half later, beside the cottage garden that sprawls atop Peter’s green hill, Peg tells The Weekender that bush yarns cannot be contrived.
“You can’t sit down and just think of a topic,” she says.
“It’s just got to come in to your head and then you think ‘that’s a good idea’, so then you can write your poem or story.
“And then you’ve got to learn it.”
Peg’s award winner is a laugh-a-line lark about a tortuous emergency phone call to a “rapid response” police-recorded message service.
She confesses she’s not much of a performer, copping occasional critique from judges about the positioning of her hands or touching the mic.
“I didn’t start performing on stage until I was 60-odd years old, and I’m 85 now,” she says.
“I never thought I was going to get anywhere with this story, because we had all the eastern staters there, and I thought: ‘I’ve just got to make the buggers laugh’.
She says that when she won in Toodyay, everyone – from east, west, north and south – was so pleased for her.
“That meant just as much as winning,” she recalls.
“I just try to do the best I can and not be somebody I’m not.”
Peter’s runner-up yarn, titled Fly Drovers, is about how he and a mate herded 40 million flies from Albany to Denmark during a summer hike along Lower Denmark Road.
“We had a contract with the City of Albany to get them out of the place,” he winks.
At the championships, Peter came in third in the bush poetry competition.
Peg also won the unofficial “poets’ brawl”, a kind of battle rap for bush balladeers.
“You had to make up a story, and you had to write up a poem that took a minute to say,” she explains.
“You put your five dollars in the hat, and were given a line you had to include in the poem, and you were given a day and a half to work it out.”
Against some ornery-looking opposition, the octogenarian cleaned up and walked away with the $100 purse.
“I made out that I’d agreed to go out with this bloke, the boss of ‘Flexi Finance’, who was all over me because I wanted to get a loan so I could get my hands on some money,” she says of her racy rhyme.
“So I made myself look like a really bad person.
“But nobody else heard the poem. They only heard it up in Toodyay.”