Unlikely Mates

When I was only 6 months old, my parents moved to a hippy commune near Elands in northern NSW.  Elands is an inland town south of Port Macquarie and is perhaps best known for the nearby Ellenborough Falls. At 200 metres, Ellenborough Falls is one of the longest single drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere and a popular tourist attraction.

xvjftWe lived at the commune together until I was around 16 years old, and it was an interesting place to grow up, with many interesting people but there is one man who I remember best.

He was a local farmer named Preston. His farm was near the commune so he was fairly well known to everyone at the commune.

Preston was not a very good farmer. He lived there with his elderly parents and was incredibly lazy.

He was the crustiest old bachelor you could imagine. He didn’t spend any time tending to farm maintenance and over time, grass grew long and fences rot and fell down. When the cows escaped he would send his Mother out to collect them.

The house too began falling apart and Preston did nothing to maintain or repair. It was literally falling down around them. Preston was a confirmed bachelor, never having a girlfriend and very few friends.  Eventually both his parents passed away and Preston was left to run the farm on his own.

Preston didn’t drive a car. He had a tractor. Once a week he would ride his tractor along the highway into town. The tractor was loud and slow, and at the commune we could hear him coming along the road for hours. One day, he drove his tractor into town, it took him 2 hours to get there. He bought his beer in town and began drinking it as he drove back home. Not far from home, he realized he had drunk all his beer so turned the tractor around and drove back to town to buy more beer! Needless to say, we heard his tractor chugging at a snails pace along the highway all day long.

One day a Frenchman named Jacques arrived at the commune. He was a long way from home, looking for a new home. He told everyone he was a builder and had fought in the French Resistance during WW2 and I don’t think anyone doubted this was true. He told how his job was to lay ambush mines for Germans soldiers. This was towards the end of the war when the German army were recruiting the Hitler Youth. On this one day, he saw that the German soldiers he was targeting were all 13 or 14 years old and he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger.

Jacques found a piece of land he liked and camped there. He soon decided it was a good place to build a small house and began building around his tent. He did not know that he was living on Preston’s property.

Now, because Preston was such a lazy farmer, it took him six months to realize Jacques was squatting on his property. By this time, Jacques house was half built!

Preston’s reaction on discovering Jacques was not as you might expect. Preston could see that Jacques was a decent builder and had an idea. He invited Jacques up to his house and made him a proposition.

He would allow Jacques to live on his land, and to finish building his own house if Jacques repaired and maintained Preston’s house. A deal was struck. No solicitors, no contracts, just a verbal agreement.

And so it was. For many years the two men shared the land and became unlikely friends and constant companions. In fact they lived together for decades until Jacques was put into a retirement home by his daughter Veronique.

Preston and Jacques, unlikely and lifelong mates.

by Brad Lucas.

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