The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Mainly about Maya
Mainly about Maya.
I remember reading, when I was young and impressionable, an essay on mud. It made better reading than you'd think. The chap who wrote it knew all there is to know on the subject; and he worked in a lot of fancy stuff, about mud being one of the things the world couldn't do without, and so on. A clever sort of cove the was, name of Allen. Well, you can't have mud without water, and as 1 know more about that liquid than most people—I'm a teetotaller—I'll knock up an essay on it "for general information' .
When I hit Moascar for the first time, after a truck ride from Suez, I needed water pretty badly—to wash the dust off externally and t ear a peck of it out of my throat. In due course I got maya kitir, and it was good. "What sort of a place is this?", I asked a Tommy I met at the tap. "It aint a place at all", he replied, "they just dumped us here." But he was feeling fed up, or something had kinked his vision; besides, it was the time of Khamsin.
After the Isolation slip-rails were let down and our mob was able to roam round a bit, I found that Moascar was a very considerable place. The water supply system got me interested. Many a time I've rested in the shade of the big tank on ''legs", and blessed those Who put it there. And many's the time, afar in the Desert, I've longed for the waters of Moascar. A bloke could always have a dinkum wash there, at the troughs, though he might have to Wait some for a dish; and he could wash his socks and singlets too. The "ablution area" was the place to hear news and opinions on al things under the sun. It was like a barber's saloon for gossip and furphies, only there were no chairs to lounge in while one waited for "You're next". Everybody was happy there except the chaps on cook's fatigue, who didn't seem to appreciate the honour of carrying dixies full of the precious liquid across the sands of the Desert, while those sands were hot. But fatigue men are always like that: they fail to realise the nobility of honest graft.
At school I learned that a fantasy was "an idea or conception; a mental image, a phantom, a dream". In the Camel Corps I learned that it was a long, heavy cylinder to hold gallons of water, and be slung on one side of the saddle with a canvas bag full of dhurra balancing it on the other. Not much of the phantom or dream about it. Perhaps, though, the camel "fantasy" is a different species from the one I heard of at school; I believe the former is spelt fantassie. Anvhow, it's a solid fact—you learned that when you had to lump a full one about. And on a stunt, you had a sincere regard for the fantassie, for it held that which, in the Desert, is valued far above rubies.
I always pitied the transport camels, which carried those great portmanteau-shaped fantassies, and wondered that their humns could bear the burden—but they did, and I take off my hat to the hoosta every time. The camel can carry almost as much water inside as out. The first time you see one quenching a three or four days' thirst, vou get the wind up, expecting the beast to burst and involve you initsowndestruction.
By the way, there's a breed of frogs in Central Australia, which, for their size, beat even camels as water reservoirs. When a blackfellow out there is thirsty, he captures one of these croakers and—finish frog.
Before the Beersheba stunt, when we were camped at Sheikh Nuran, watering was pretty near a day's job: seven miles or so to the Wadi, a spell alter the camels had filled up, and seven miles back to camp, walk march all the way. Heat and dust and flies, an empty water-bottle perchance, far from home, and thirst.
Water is better than wine, or any other liquid, when you are gasping for a drink. And Nile water, filtered and iced as you get it in Cairo, is the best kind I've ever swal-loved. In its natural state, as the fellaheen drink it, this same maya is not for mine: I want to live a bit longer. Those wrinkled, aged men who cart water about in skin sacks, are the most picturesque figures in Egypt, as they toil along with bent back and a stout stick to supplement their legs. The Yankee poet who became sentimental over the "Man with a Hoe" could never have seen a Gyppo water-carrier, else he would have switched off on to him and made the pathetic old Woke immortal.
Fresh water has been the theme so far; I want to say a good word now for the salt variety. You can't drink it, of course, unless you want to go magnune or something; but when it comes to bathing, salt water beats fresh to a frazzle. Remember those days at Ma'ala and Marakeb! It was the very joy of life, after weeks in the Desert, to plunge into the blue Mediterranean, to dive and swim and ride on the waves, like sons of the Sea King at play. I'm no poet, but of those glorious hours I could write an epic with my left hand.