The Jelly Bread Incident
By: Paul W. Wittmer

First published in The Tinosa Blatt, April 1981

I remember when we crossed the Australian desert on board a troop train. We were a contingent of Americans, commonly known as "YANKS" to our hosts of the Australian Army. We were fresh out of New London training and assigned to one of the two relief crews located on the West Coast of Australia at Freemantle near the city of Perth. We had crossed the USA on board troop trains and sailed across the Pacific on Liberty ships and whatever was going that way. The first landing was at Brisbane on, the East Coast.

After about a week or so at Brisbane we started out by boarding our first train, heading south along the lush hilly coastal regions. We crossed wooded and forested areas and saw sights such as kangaroos and giant termite hills as high as a man from the small compartments of this narrow gauge railroad. Our venture carried us on to the cities of Sydney and Melbourne and to the Southern coastal city of Adelaide. We would stopover for a night at various cities and I remember changing trains each time we entered another state, because the railroad gage was different in each state at that time.

The most elaborate trains were on the long run across the mid-continent. They were compartmentalized, like the European trains but there was no way of walking through the train; the compartments ran the full width of the cars. By opening the windows we had air conditioning, and soot and dust and the desert.

The Australian desert is huge and barren. The soil is a reddish dusty type and it would get into everything and onto everything before the trip was over. Vegetation was very sparse and water was a rarity. This was the land of the Aborigines.

The engineer would stop the train when it was time to eat, no matter where we were. There was a cooks car attached to the coaches and perhaps the engineer got his signal from here, whenever it was time to stop and chow down. We were issued Australian Army mess kits and told not to lose them. Now we knew why. There is something about the Australian Army and Australia itself; there is a lot of Mutton available and it is fed to all that travel this route three times a day, in various forms. There are Mutton pies, Mutton Stews and dishes I never heard of, all made of Mutton.

We would disembark and line up alongside the chow car with our hands holding a mess kit mug for the premixed milk and tea and the plate for the main dish. Into the dish was heaped the Mutton with gravy and potatoes, on top was a pudding for desert and on top of this was a large piece of jelly bread securely fastened into the desert.

Thus with our meals we would locate our dining buddies and find a comfortable place to sit in the red soil. The flies were everywhere. It seemed that no matter where the train stopped, there were native aborigines. I often thought they must have been riding on top of the cars. I remember one rather buxom woman with a sort of loose gown wrapped around her and a child carried on her back; both accompanied by a swarm of flies. The child had some sort of green ointment smeared about its ears and head and the woman was covered with the red dust. She was walking around this contingent of diners holding out her hand for food. I gave her my large piece of jelly bread with some dessert attached. She accepted and promptly stuffed it into her busom and proceeded to visit the next diner with outstretched hand.

Art work by Jack Monroe

To this day, whenever I see a buxom woman especially if she is wearing a loose gown my thoughts wander to "The Jelly Bread Incident."

On another one of these stops, we persuaded a native to show us how he would use his "WOM RAI', a spear thrower. This he did with pleasure. 0ur attempts to persuade him to display his talents with hurling his large hunting boomerang met with excited negative gestures. After considerable persuasion (and bribery) he consented and let fly the boomerang. The weapon sailed along close to the ground for a considerable distance, then it rose into the air and proceeded to make a mighty arc heading back to its point of origin. About this time the aborigine really got excited. We soon found out why. If that weapon had hit someone on its return, it may have had quite an impact on all concerned.

Further along on this trip, I remember the train stooping for a very short time (10 minutes or so) at the mining center of KALGOORLIE. This is where the largest gold nugget was recently discovered. Kalgoorlie is known for its OPALS. It is an area of unbearable heat during the day, so the residents - live underground, so I am told. My knowledge of Opals was very limited and due to an overly cautious nature, especially concerning offerings by a stranger while passing through their town, I refused to purchase some Opals for about 5 Australian pounds, (about $16. at the time). That was one of life's mistakes. Australian opals of good quality, today sell for over $2,000.00 each.

The end of the cross-country trek with the Aussies on a variety of trains was at Perth on the shores of the Indian Ocean. It was into a relief crew, on board the Pelius until Tinosa came along.