Everyone loves home-made blackberry jam. The pesky plants that can overrun a house in a few years bear, arguably, the most delicious of berries.
Over thirteen years ago, Connie Williams (nee Bolton of Snowy Plain) related this story of the time when she and sister Rachel joined the McGuffickes at Tom Groggin on the Murray River in the early 1950s. They led their pack horses loaded down with bags of sugar, empty kero tins and glass jars. The blackberries were fully ripe, and soon their tins were filled. The horses were reloaded and the boiler, filled to the gunwales with blackberries, was roped on top of the load carried by the grey mare.
Nankervis Hut, where they had intended to boil up their jam, was overflowing with a road gang camp engaged in pushing the road in from Victoria and as the stock were being moved up the hill, Connie and Rachel headed for Dead Horse Gap Hut, past the Pilot Lookout on what is today the Alpine Way.
A short stop was taken at Leather Barrel Creek to harvest the wild apples they knew were ready and ripe, Connie noticed that the grey mare was turning a brilliant shade of purple as the blackberries pulped and slopped juice out of the boiler. The mares colouration caused much comment over the next several months by locals and out- of -towners wanting to know what breed the lilac mare was, until her winter coat grew out the next summer.
At the hut at Dead Horse Gap, just above where Thredbo Village now stands they found the stove was choked with ash, stones and rubbish. The sisters cleaned it out, fired it up and had the first batch of jam at jellying stage when they heard singing and yelling. Into the clearing ˜rode an itinerant stockman, worse for the drink. Hed had a skinful of rum and was topping up from two bottles shoved down beside the saddle pommel.
He showed great interest in the jam-making, but declared he was desperate for a cuppa, insisting he would not disturb them at their work, but make it himself. Wobbling into the hut, he tripped on the hearth and almost fell into the fire, Rachel grabbing the seat of his pants in the nick of time. She made him tea and sat him in the corner.
Many cups of tea later didnt seem to have a sobering effect. It was then that Connie and Rachel realised his constant trips to check the horse was not improving his equilibrium, he was swigging rum from the bottles he had stashed in the saddlebags! Underfoot he kept wanting to help them, he was in danger of falling into the jam or the fire, or knocking the boiler off the stove or tipping it over himself.
Connie reached the end of her tether, either way there would be a loss, and there were too many wimmen hours gone into the picking. She went into the skillion where the brumby ropes hung, picked a suitable length and advanced towards the sweetly smiling drunk. I'll rope him to the tree Rachel, thatll slow him down!
He'll buck and bellow, warned Rachel.
Connie advanced on the drunken stockman saying "He can't make much more noise than hes makin' now." Just as the head stockman came through the trees, laughing at the scene in front of him, in time to whisk him out of harms way and being trussed like a Christmas turkey.
Blackberry and Apple Jam was successfully made and bottled without further ado or interference.
© Pauline Downing 2010
First published in the Snowy Times