Along with Alf Treloar and perhaps some others, Michael ‘Mick’ Popek was one of the most renowned livestock and land owners in Maldon.
Mick Popek was born somewhere in the Netherlands, probably in the twentieth century. I doubt very much he was born in the nineteenth century, but I can’t say for sure. What is certain is that he must have emigrated to Australia and settled in Maldon a long time ago. The laneway beside which he built his house came off Newstead Road and quite aptly came to be called ‘Popek’s Road’. Although Popek’s Road was asphalt for several hundred metres, it soon became an unsealed track which led down to Sandy Creek, and eventually emerged back out on Newstead Road just before Welshman’s Reef. Precisely when the laneway was officially named ‘Popek’s Road’ is unknown to me. I do know that another road coming off it, which was called Rowes Road (and which I lived beside for some sixteen years), was named after the town butcher.
Mick Popek owned quite a lot of land and livestock around the southern parts of Maldon. I was most familiar with his back paddock which in effect was my back paddock too. Our back fence was also Popek’s back fence, and, as it happened, it was also the official boundary between the township of Maldon and the forest of Muckleford. It bordered a large paddock, some three or four acres, containing a blackberry-ridden gully, a leech-infested dam, several dozen sheep, and a large faerie tree, dubbed ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ by the local kids. Brown snakes were known to inhabit the paddock and the top of the hill, and from time to time a grumpy and half-blind ram would impotently rage about the upper reaches.
Mick Popek had two sisters, although as I have never seen official verification of their familial status, it’s possible that they were not his sisters at all. They were certainly his lovers. They were old, and left the impression of having slightly humped backs, and of wearing cardigans. From time to time, they would sit on Popek’s unprepossessing front porch. Occasionally a black cat sat with them; it could have been living, or it could been painted terracotta.
Popek’s English was poor, and he was prone to misunderstanding people. Fortunately, his livelihood did not depend on good communication skills. He mistakenly referred to my own father as ‘John’ for his entire life, although perhaps he was having a quiet joke at my father’s expense. Popek was known to drive his white hi-lux along the roads lining his properties at a very slow speed. Once we came across one another on Rowes Road. He crawled to a gradual halt as we drew level.
‘Hey, you’re John’s son, right?’ he asked.
‘That’s right,’ I said.
‘How old are you now?’ he asked.
Popek looked surprised.
‘Twenty one, eh? Bloody hell. Well, all the best to you, my boy.’
And we continued on our respective ways.
Mick Popek died some years ago. The debauched ménage a trios came to an end, and the paddock containing the Magic Faraway Tree was divided into lots and sold.