By : Staff Writer Harvey Fewings.
Every Australia Day, 26 th January, they held a damper competition down the side of Tuggles Park by the river. It was close to the Pub and the billabong behind the Pub.
That was a good place to hold something like this, because you could pop off to the Pub for some refreshments during the hard yakka that had to be done to make a decent damper ; the kids could also play around in the park and have pub raspberries if they whinged enough and Councillor Wrenchpit’s mad sister, Marigold Wrenchpit who was in charge of these events, could park her ‘ puddle jumper ‘ Land Rover down the side of the park by the toilet which enabled her to bring all the stuff needed for a damper competition to the Park without too much fuss. The Council also trucked in a fair amount of dirt which was spread out by a Bobcat – this was place where they could safely light the fires to cook the dampers.
Actually, there was always a bit of a fuss with Marigold, because she kept on singing the aria from ‘Bizet’s Opera : Carmen ‘ , we know that – and we know that all the town dogs went up when she drove past singing – so we know that she was noisy unit, but we also know that she a fair demon at running committees and damper competitions needed committees, believe me, it bloody needed a committee !!
Damper competitions were about egos and there was fierce competition, as you would expect. The Council provided the ingredients to make dampers and all teams had to be registered 7 days before the competition – on Australia Day. The event attracted teams from the local stations, the town mob, sporting clubs, pubs, the local firies and a bikie mob from Cobar down in New South Wales, who always turned up for Australia Day.
There was only one rule in the competition, no team could use any ingredient other than those which had been supplied by the Council, and Marigold Wrenchpit’s ‘ Damper Police ‘ were sticklers for enforcing this rule, as teams had thrown in the odd bit of yeast over the years, trying to get bigger dampers, all they really got was a large ball of inedible dough and disqualified for life from the Damper Competition. Tough but fair ! And – No Appeal !!
This year there were eight teams, the local high school was the favourite, because they had been having damper classes in the last term, but there was some competition from the Wheat Foxes, the local girl band, their lead singer, Melanie, was quoted as saying “ We can knock up a hell of a bloody damper ! “
The event kicked off at 1100 hours, fires were lit and were burning down to make the right coals, the flour, salt and water plus a pinch of baking powder were mixed in enamel bowls. All the High School Team had flour up to their elbows and were licking the dough off their fingers when a black Labrador pup knocked over the Lions Club flour bowl and ran around barking white puffs ; the white flour on its face made it look like a racoon.
The judge for the day was a bloke who came out to the town every now and then ; he was picked because he had no real links to the town so he could be fair…he was supposed to have spoken to a bunyip along the river a few months ago, so he copped a bit over that and he had blue boots, which did not have much to do with anything really. He also had an Aboriginal bloke for a mate – and it was reckoned that this fellah was the real judge anyway.
The Council Band was playing ‘ damper ‘ music. Aussie flags were flying all over the place. Kids were running about all over, dogs were barking and a murder of crows squarked noisily from the big river gum on the bank of the billabong. It was all pretty good really, although it was a bit hot, but it was January so it was expected to be hot anyway.
The trick to making a proper damper was to make sure the dough was thick and spongy and there was plenty of flour on the outside of the blob, before it went into the ashes.
The local Lions Club were out of it because the Labrador pup had wrecked all their flour, no replacements were offered ; the Cobar Bikies had tipped some beer from a green can into their dough and had got sprung by Marigold, disqualified, but they decided to carry on anyway. One of the town teams had an internal blue about their dough and two of their ladies had walked out on the team, so they were struggling and the Wheat Foxes had blitzed the dough making job, got their fire right and were attracting a few side bets about taking the day from the High School. One of the Pub teams finished up in a flour fight with the other Pub team and had lost all interest in cooking what they had left !!
It was now clear that there really only three teams in it…the High School, the Backyard Mob from the local footy team and the Wheat Foxes. All had their dampers in the coals and were watching over their creations like mothers with new born babies.
All the spectators, which was the rest of the town, about twenty caravan people and the local firies, who had pulled out at the last minute, just in case they were called out, were milling around in the park, some were folk dancing to the damper music but it was a bit hot for too much of that and the three legged race had turned to be a dud because everyone fell over so the only thing left to do was to watch the Damper Teams as they lifted their dampers from the coals and placed them on the long table by the bandstand.
The High School Damper was large, round and had risen a fair bit. They had brushed the coals of it and it looked pretty good. The Wheat Foxes had an oval damper, it was flat and looked a bit like a burnt cow pat ! But, the big surprise was the Backyard Mob who had produced a ripper of a damper. Big, round, swollen and only a bit burnt when all the coals were brushed away.
The quality of dampers are judged by two main characteristics – sound and taste.
A finger flicked against the cooked damper should produce a clear, hollow sound ; if you got a dull thud…your damper was probably not cooked.
The judges, because there really were two of them, Blue Boots and his Aboriginal mate, flicked all the dampers, the Wheat Foxes came up with a dull thud but the other two sounded just like proper dampers so they now faced the taste test.
Most proper dampers are broken open over your knee and then torn up into smaller pieces. A hush had fallen over the mob as they waited for the judges to chew some pieces of each damper.
The High School Team looked at the ground and kicked the dirt around, the Backyard Mob were throwing “ high fives “ at each other whilst the judges looked at each other in amazement.
Never had they tasted such bloody good dampers – there was no difference between the two dampers and so they announced, for the first time in the history of the Council Damper Competition, that it was draw.
Two winners !! History had been made. Melanie from the Wheat Foxes said that if there were two winners that means that they had come second, which was OK with them.
Nobody wanted argue with that.
Somebody made a speech. The Band played “ Advance Australia Fair “. The Firies put the damper fires out. Two children and the Labrador/racoon pup jumped into the river and everyone said they would be back next year.
And that was good, because that was the right thing to do on Australia Day.