“Water, water…. Nowhere and hardly a drop to drink.”
A true story of events about 1937-38 and a man known as ‘Yrrrsy’
It was the late 1940’s, and I was only 6 or so years old, my parents had bought a block of land about 2.5kms SW of Mittagong on the old Hume Hwy. It was just after the second world war and the got it for merely the Council rates that were owing on it. If I remember rightly it was £2/10/0 or two pounds, ten shillings or Five Dollars in today’s terms. That money was about two days wages for a working man, as my late father was.
Yes, it was ‘dirt cheap’ probably also because it was only about 200metres from the town tip. I think my parents had been given a ‘tip off’ (no pun intended – well not really anyway!) that the Council considered the tip to be full and were going to recite it and so it would close soon. The Council also owned the land by default that my parents were interested in (it was managed by another Council department and the workers in that section probably hadn’t heard of the forthcoming tip closure and so it was settled. My parents who were not well off at all actually had a block of land – of their own! A dream come true for many people in those days.
So, after about 2 years of holidaying in an old ex-army disposals tent, (you could pick them up for a song at that time), a ‘shed’ was built on the land. Dad, and uncles and some friends all helped to build it. My brother, cousins and I called it the ‘shack’ much to our parent’s disgust. Yes, it was built out of second-hand corrugated iron – roof and walls – and a couple of second-hand windows, and a very second-hand old fuel stove for cooking and heating, and no lining which meant that the condensation would drop on you of a morning in summer time but to Dad and Mum it was a palace. A little home of their own, no rent to pay like in Sydney where we lived. One room; beds, table and chairs for four people, an old (second hand – of course) wardrobe and ex-army boxes to store other things in. Not flash, just the opposite, but it was practical and not unlike a lot of the other houses scattered about that area in those days.
Our block fronted onto a very narrow track called ‘the Lane’, which after only a little rain would turn to mud and not infrequently bog our old 1928 Model ‘A’ Ford which meant shoveling, pushing and collecting stones to put into the bog holes after we had extricated the old Ford. Repeated requests to the local Council just seemed to fall on deaf ears for many years.
Never mind, we loved our little shack and had many very happy holidays and long weekends there.
But this story is really about an interesting old gent who lived bout 450 metres ‘up the street’ – well up the lane until a real street began and the about another 70 metres along there. All the local children, there were a few in the area which we got to know and would play with, called him “old Yrrrsy. His name was actually Mr…., well for the sake of relatives who may still be alive I’d better give him an alternate name. We’ll call him ‘Mr. Jones’.
Mr. Jones lived by himself in a little cottage with a little garden. We never knew whether he was a widower or a bachelor. My brother and I were ordered most strictly by our parents to call him ‘Mr. Jones’. But behind his back all the locals, both children and adults called him “Yrrrsy”. An unusual name that the locals had given him because old Mr. Jones had lived in that same little cottage for, well, ‘years and years’, nobody really knew how long but old Mr. Jones loved relating events and stories about his experiences from many yrrrs (as he would call them) past. He would go out collecting bits of wood for his fuel stove and if you happened to catch his eye he would always come over and have a yarn. Invariably about things that had happened to him “yrrrs and yrrrs” ago.
A kind, gentle and quiet old feller. That was old “Yrrrsy”.
Now it so happened, that, (I think it was about 1948 or ‘49,) that there was a great drought. Our ‘shack’ had a tank, very second hand which seemed to have more patches on it than original metal. So much so that my father and uncle would sometimes come up for the day about a month before the Christmas holidays with a can of special paint and lots of pieces of thick canvas to make into patches to put on the tank to try to stop water leaking form the latest holes. (All this is dinkum. I used to do it myself after my father died.) They would slap a lot of paint on one side of the canvas, then if there was only a small hole, screw in a metal screw with as large a head as possible till it was almost tight (the old tank was so rotten and rusty that the slightest bit of extra pressure would strip the thread that the screw had made which meant pulling it out and putting in a bigger one. This done, the metal was dried off as best as possible and the canvas patch was slapped on, wet paint side inwards and held for as long as possible or until a couple of pieces of rope could be passed around the tank, one in the corrugation below the leak and one piece of rope in the corrugation above the leak and tied tightly so as to hold the patch in place. Then I think everyone prayed while reasonably quick drying paint would dry and thus ‘glue’ the patch onto the tank and stop the leak. It was of course easy if the water had leaked out down to the level of the leak. Now you must remember that my family did not have a shilling to spare and paint was either bought one can at a time from disposal stores or partly filled tins scrounged from neighbours and friends who may have had some left over from another job. We had to make do with what we could get.
Water was precious ‘in them days’ and you never wasted a drop.
Well, as I said there was drought, and we had just finished patching some leaks when old Mr. “Yrrrsy” came by. Pleasantries were exchanged, of course, and then the conversation turned to the drought and the lack of water.
“Weeell, he drawled, “I remember ‘yrrrs’ and ‘yrrrs’ ago in the twenties we had a real bobby dazzler of a drought. Went on for almost three years. Everyone’s tank dried up, and we took to going down to the ‘crick’ with buckets and dippers to get water.”
“Weeell, after about two years even th’ crick dried up and one day I remember goin’ down there and coming back with one dipper full of slimy water. That was the last of it. No more.”
Silence. Obviously, the old chap was waiting for someone to ask him what happened then. So, we did.
“Weeell, I had to get water from somewhere. Other people had already called in the ‘Water Diviners’ who had gone all around the area. Some said dig here, others dig somewhere else, but no real supplies of water were found. I was getting desperate; I can tell you. Then I remembered that someone had told me about the Pankhursts”. (Again, for the sake of anonymity the real name has been changed.) “I was told that they had a well in their yard which had been giving water for many years and had never dried up. So, I decided to go and ask them would they sell me some water.”
Old Mrs. Pankhurst was an aunt of my aunt (by marriage) and we knew a little bit about them and knew that what old Mr. ‘Yrrrsy’ had said was right. The Pankhursts lived about 500 metres away from Mr. ‘Yrrrsy’, not far from a rocky outcrop that ran along the back of the few houses in that street. Perhaps there was an underground stream flowing under their land.
So, nothing daunted ‘Yrrrsy’ went to the Pankhursts with a ‘Dipper’ to see if they would sell him some water. (For those of a younger generation a ‘Dipper’ held around 6 litres and was used by most housewives to bail out the old copper boilers that were used instead of washing machines for cleaning clothes.) He was initially quite shattered when old Mrs. Pankhurst said ‘no, ’ she wouldn’t sell him any since it was really God’s water and not hers to sell, but his disappointment turned to joy when she said that if he wanted to come round the back to where the well was she would give him some.
“You know “Mr. ‘Yrrrsy’ continued, “that water probably saved my life and the lives of many others in the district. We ended up yrrrs and yrrrs of drought and that well never dried up. Me and a lot of other people would come up with a dipper or small bucket each day and get some water – they had to ration it because after a bucket or so was taken it’d take a little while for the water to trickle back into the well again bur it lasted us all till the next lot of rain and the breaking of the drought. It’s still going today and the water from it is beautiful. Cool sweet and, just right. Better than the stuff from tank… or yours too by the look of it. Weeell, I spose I’d better be gettin’ on.” And with that he hobbled away with his little barrow of wood and his old dog.
I never saw him again. Rumour has it that he was in the town one day and that just dropped dead. There is a good story and analogy here though. Let me share it with you….
The story of old ‘Yrrrsy’ is very similar to an incident in the New Testament in the Gospel of John, chapter 4 verses 4 -42, when Jesus met a woman who had come out to draw water from the only really reliable source in her area. It was a place called ‘Jacob’s Well’. It had been there for hundreds of years and had never gone dry. Jesus was there at the time and asked her to give him a drink. She was quite taken aback when he asked this because of racial issues where Jewish people like Jesus generally would have nothing to do with Samaritan people like she was.
But Jesus was no racist. He saw into this woman’s life and knew how mixed up and wretched she was. He also knew that she would be a prime candidate to receive mercy and forgiveness from God – for free!
Jesus offered her ‘living water’ – water, not the H2O variety, but life, if taken, that would last forever and never dry up. This was more than the poor woman could take in. She had a very sordid past and no one wanted to associate with her except men who were probably willing to ‘buy’ her favours. She could not understand for a while why Jesus was, in fact, offering her forgiveness, cleansing and a new start. But it was true. “Whoever drinks the water I will give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I will give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up to eternal life”.
It took a while for her to process that. Spiritual water. Water that would give and sustain forever, eternal life in those who received it. Almost, too good to be true. But she was no fool. She believed it, received it, and then went to call others to receive it too.
A lot like the narrative about old Mr. ‘Yrrrsy’ Jones. He was shown the source of the water, he received the water (without price), and he shared the good news about the water.
Okay, let’s get down to realities. You’ve heard my true stories – both of them. The only question is now, have you come to Jesus to drink of the ‘living water’ or is your thirst still unquenched and all your big life questions unanswered?
Just remember, you can’t go without water for too long. I’ve passed corpses in the bush that tried. But that’s another story for another ‘CROSSTRAX’.
Got any questions or want to talk about it further? Give me a call or send an email.
0408 216 401