Coffee with Jack

A true man of the bush, painter and author Jack Absalom recently passed away at the ripe old age of 91. A long-time resident of Broken Hill with his well known art gallery located there, Jack was a very unique character and a very generous man raising millions of dollars for charity over his life. Our OTR contributor and journalist Steve Cooper wrote a short feature/interview on Jack in 2013 and we have decided to run that story again in honour of a great Australian and a true man of the outback.

Jack Absalom is older than I remembered, and smaller than he looked on the telly. Mind you, I was basing my expectations on a show I watched about 30 years ago.

Age is not a concept that Jack dwells upon. Records indicate he was born in 1927, but that was information Jack didn’t volunteer.

He is, however, the doyen of bush survivalists – the original bush tucker man who practised his outdoor creed as part of his everyday life as a kangaroo shooter, miner and, later, an acclaimed painter.

Jack was surviving in the bush at eight, and was digging opal at twelve. The only obvious signs of wear and tear, however, are burn scars on his forearms – souvenirs collected during his time as a blacksmith on the South Australian Railways.

Jack’s art gallery in Chapple St, Broken Hill, is magnificent – filled with his paintings, along with a huge collection of opal jewellery. His improbable adjustment from bushman to brushman has been written about ad nauseum, and I suspect he thought this was yet another interview about his art. But when I said I wanted to talk to him about outback travel, his eyes lit up and his demeanour changed.

Born at Port Augusta in South Australia, Jack moved with his family to the Nullarbor Plain when he was five, and it was there that a young Jack learned many of his bush skills from aborigines. Later, he served as a blacksmith’s apprentice, and during the World War II made a quid on the opal fields – making picks.

“The miners paid me five bob each for a pick because you couldn’t buy them during the war. Wages in those days were about a quid a week,” Jack said.

Jack has written a few books, including Outback Cooking in the Camp Oven. He co-wrote it with his uncle Reg Absalom, and it has sold thousands of copies a year for more than 30 years. My favourite is the out of print, Safe Outback Travel. But Jack says the mechanics in Safe Outback Travel no longer exist, so he pulled it off the market.

“It was relevant 30 years ago because you lifted the bonnet and you could do something. Today when you lift the bonnet on your car you don’t even know what you’re looking at,” he says.

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