Saturday, March 31, 2007

Final...Chapter Eight...My Normanton Adventures

Normanton remained extremely hot and very dry. My laundry load decreased during my stay as there was no need of a towel to dry off after stepping out from a shower. The dryness of the air deleted that chore. Moisturizing creams must be the top-selling products at the local supermarket. My eyes felt gritty most of the time, from both the dust in the air and the dryness, I imagined.

After my trip to Karumba, I remained confined to the pub. Unfortunately, I didn’t have another opportunity to explore the area. I was leaving the following Tuesday, back to the greenery and sea breezes of home, but prior to then I had to carry out the monthly stock-take early on the Sunday morning in advance of opening the pub doors. No doubt, a stock-take had been conducted before my arrival and it is normal and accepted practice to have one done before the departure of a relieving manager. Being one who likes to be organized, in the days leading up to Sunday morning, I commenced tidying up the stock, putting it in its rightful spots and order. Also I did a count of stock that was slow-moving, instructing staff to make a note of any they removed. At the close of Saturday night trading, I remained in the pub for a couple of hours to break the backbone of the count, rather than having to face it all in the early morning. I like to be prepared for the unexpected and be ahead of the game.

The rest of my time at the pub continued smoothly. Nothing disrupted my days or nights. Three-quarters of me was eager to get home and the remainder was tinged with a little sadness. I had enjoyed talking with the locals and getting to know them. The staff at the pub was great. I’d formed a warm, friendly bond with them. I’d miss my morning chats with the “Mango Lounge” drinkers and their continued humorous wiles in their efforts to extract free beer, wine or cigarettes from me. I’d miss Duke and Duchess, who I’d forgiven for their worrying escapade. I’d miss the creaky, wooden floors in the pub where, in areas, the ground beneath could be seen, its walls, bars and the many stories they could tell; the legendary Purple Pub up the road, where its owners, Vinny and her husband welcomed the blacks with open arms. During my stay, I visited the Purple Pub to introduce myself to the publicans. They were very welcoming, nice folk. They invited me to join them at the work-worn kitchen table with a mug of tea and a friendly chat. Vinny gave me a couple of bottles of her special “Mango Chutney”, which I prized and took back to Cairns with me. I wasn’t going to miss the Albion Hotel with its unwelcoming attitude to both the Aborigines and me, and their lack of “Double Sars”! I was glad we beat them at darts, even if only in the one match. There was no racial discrimination in the town as far as I could see. It was only the troublemakers of any colour, race or creed that were officially banned, but it was only at the Albion Hotel that all blacks were banned. It is a fine line, I know. Whites introduced alcohol to the Aboriginal people. Alcohol is foreign to their culture, and the consequences have to be dealt with. The problem has grown throughout the years and it’s now a major problem. On the other hand, the problem of discrimination raises its ugly head. Aboriginal stock-men are well-known for their horsemanship. They are hard workers. They deserve a cold beer as much as the next man. Putting discrimination aside, everyone, whites and blacks alike, if they are not capable of “holding their liquor” they shouldn’t be allowed alcohol.

Yes, there were a few things I was going to miss about Normanton, like Rooster’s happy face behind the bar every day, greeting me with a cheeky, but innocent comment.

The pub closed at 6pm on Sundays. Unknown to me until just before closing, the staff had organized a barbecue in the hotel backyard as a farewell for me. They had made salads, hidden steaks and sausages in the cold room and prepared an open log fire with a hotplate on top. An esky filled with ice, beer, wine and mixes, accompanied by bottles of scotch and Bundy (Bundaberg) rum. They had it all prepared. The only thing I had to do was attend the planned celebration. Vinny from the Purple Pub had been invited and she had happily accepted the invitation. The only hotel patron to be invited was Rooster. He was a proud as proud as any man could be. He was over the moon at being the sole “outsider” invited. I thought it was wonderful of the staff to ask him to join us. Once we’d tidied up the bars, balanced the tills and locked the hotel, we hastened to the “camp fire” where we were to spend the rest of the evening sitting around the fire laughing, spinning yarns, some of them as tall as skyscrapers and generally have a great time. I felt very honoured that “my” staff did this for me. Halfway through the evening, they presented me with a gift and a card bearing all their signatures, even Jeanie’s. I have their gift still. The gift was two Normanton pottery canisters with thick cork stoppers. One is about six-inches high and the other four-inches in height. They have pride of place on my dining table.

Tired but happy, I woke to my final day in Normanton. At the end of her shift, Jeanie came down to the bar. She was with a pleasant-looking white man who looked to be in his early fifties. Introducing him to me as her “boyfriend”, she told me he was a pilot from one of the nearby cattle stations (ranch, to those in the US) and that he wanted to take her up for a flight. She said she was too scared and wouldn’t go.

"No…go up,” I urged her. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t take the opportunity. You will love it, Jeanie. You will see the countryside like you’ve never seen it before.”

We chatted at length. I don’t know if she did go for a flight, but I hope she did. Just before she left that day, she handed me a present. It was one of her vases filled with the brightly-coloured feather flowers. Tears filled my eyes as I thanked her. It was a wonderful, unexpected gesture. I treasured those flowers for a long time, but somewhere during one of my many moves, they were misplaced, sadly.

Late that Monday afternoon, the owner of the pub, my boss of the real estate firm from Cairns, arrived in town. Ross and I always got on well together, except the times we didn’t! He was, and still is, I imagine, a very nice fellow. He was tall, loud, gregarious and intelligent, and sometimes, hot-headed. He never concerned himself who was present when he let off steam. I gave him back as much as he handed out and for that, he liked me. It was a mutual admiration society. Originally, he was “off the land”. As a young man he had attended an agricultural college after which he was employed by Elders-Goldsborough Mort, a huge pastoral (stock and station agency) company at the time, before entering the real estate industry. We dined together in the evening, enjoying a “counter-meal” propped up at the public bar. That was Ross. He expected and demanded no special treatment. He was “one of us”.

Cathy, the lass behind the bar on my final evening, invited Ross, the architect who had traveled out with Ross on the flight and me to drinks back at her home after we closed the pub. Grabbing a bottle of Grand Marnier from my freshly-counted stock, Ross jumped at her suggestion. Off we went to Cathy’s home. She must have telephoned her husband to warn him of our impending, unexpected arrival as he greeted us at the door with a wide smile on his face. The Grand Marnier was rapidly demolished over animated conversation. I think I arrived back at my abode around 2-2.30am. I fell into bed, exhausted. The past couple of days and nights had been pretty hectic.

I rose with a hang-over the following morning, the morning of my departure.

There is nothing worse than a hang-over in 45-50 degrees Celsius. I lie, there is! Having a hang-over in those degrees and having to face a flight in a light aircraft that has no air-conditioning! I was driven out to the Normanton airstrip, along with the architect who was feeling similarly to me where the plane awaited us. Ross stayed on at the pub until the managers returned the following day. The pilot informed us we had to make a detour to Karumba. That information thrilled me no end! Landing at Karumba we had to wait on the airstrip for about twenty minutes. The reason has escaped me. The heat and the hang-over were rapidly becoming worse. The architect and I sat ourselves down on the ground underneath one of the aircraft’s wings, the wing shedding the only shade around for miles as we waited impatiently. Not a breeze gave us any respite from the relentless heat. My mouth was parched. As much as I love Grand Marnier, I was cursing it that morning!

Finally, we were on our way again. That’s when the pilot informed us he would have to fly higher to get some cold air into the plane. I didn’t care what he did at that point. All I wanted was some cold, cold water and home. As we flew over the Atherton Tablelands, I looked down at the lush green vista below. I swore to myself I would never again complain about the humidity on the coast. Of course, I have….many times.

Making its descent into Cairns airport, the plane flew over my house at Yorkey’s Knob, skirting the ocean after it did so. I couldn’t wait to get home, cuddle my cats, and have a lukewarm shower. And then, to sit out on my large, wide back deck overlooking cane fields down to the creek in the distance with a cold, cold beer in my hand. That is, of course, after I gulped down a tall glass of cold water.

The End

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Normanton Adventures October/November 1989...Chapter Seven

By Tuesday Normanton was back to its normal quiet self again. I continued with my practice of sitting with the blacks each morning at the “Mango Lounge”. Their stories kept coming thick and fast in the hope I would finally weaken and give out free grog and cigarettes. I responded good-humouredly and likewise, they accepted my refusals, with brevity.

I’d made myself known to the police the day after I’d arrived in town, informing them of the length of my stay and if there was anything I needed to know about any of my customers. The young police officers were very pleasant and easy-going. It was during the last week of my term that they came to me to advise that they suspected some under-age drinking was going on amongst the blacks, not in the pub, but in the streets and elsewhere. Of course, the “Mango Lounge” came under suspicion. I told them I would deal with it. I’d not seen any kids there, and if I had, I would have moved them on with a stern lecture. However, that didn’t mean alcohol wasn’t being passed onto them, out of sight, by older kids or adults, even.

Rejoining the mob under the mango trees, I told them of my concerns.

“The police just came to see me,” I told them. “They reckon some of your little kids, under-age kids, are drinking. They’re getting alcohol from somewhere. Now, you know this is not only illegal, but you’re putting your kids in danger.”

They all nodded at me, echoing each other. “Yeah, Missie!” “Not good, Missie.” “Wasn’t me, Missie!” “Me neither, Missie!”

“I’m not accusing anyone, but I’m sure you agree with me that this is not good. If you see this happening, you must promise me you put a stop to it. Come and tell me. You don’t want to get into trouble with the police. The police will come down on you. They will close the “Mango Lounge”. Then they'll come down on me. Hey! The pub could lose its license! Now, you don’t want that to happen, do you?” I continued, trying to plead to their sensibilities or their love for the shady mango trees that served as their bar.

The air was filled with, “No, Missie!” “Of course not, Missie!”

“Okay, then…you tell me if you see anyone doing this…okay?”

Immediately, one jumped up. He pointed to a kid, a teenager, walking along the road.

“Him, Missie…him!!” There is no honour amongst thieves, nor was there amongst drinkers, it appeared. “Him”, I’d never seen before and I doubted very much he was a guilty party. I told them to keep a close eye on the problem, that they must protect their children. There was little more I could say or do in the short time I had left, except hope, and to keep my eyes and ears open.

The Gulf Savannah is an interesting region to visit. I was pretty much confined to the hotel and its surrounds, but one afternoon during my final week, I decided to escape for a couple of hours. I grabbed the keys to the pub “ute” and set off for Karumba, situated on the mouth of the Norman River. Karumba is the centre of the Gulf’s prawning/shrimp industry, and mud crabs, I was to discover.

The road leading out of Normanton, after crossing the bridge over the Norman River, is surrounded by typical Savannah landscape with spindly trees and many huge anthills. This terrain goes on for about ten or so kilometers. Coming around a bend in the road, I couldn't believe my eyes at the sudden change in the landscape. It took my breath away. I wasn't prepared for it. Surrounding me on both sides of the road as as far as my eyes could see was a totally different environ…the flat wetlands, which extend inland for approximately thirty kilometers. The wetlands are a series of meandering saltwater, tidal estuaries. The Gulf wetlands are habitats for the saltwater crocodiles and a vast array of birds, some of which are pelicans, brolgas, sarus cranes, the tallest of the crane species. The area is a recognised internationally as the location for an estimated one-third of Australia’s migratory wading birds.The Sarus crane stands six-feet tall and is the tallest flying bird. They are very similar to brolgas. Brolgas are slightly smaller, standing five-feet tall. All cranes, including the sarus and the brolga dance. This behaviour includes bowing, jumping, running, stick or grass tossing and wings flapping. It’s mostly associated with courtship, but is thought, also, to be a way of relieving tension and strengthening the bond between pairs. Black swans are amongst the thousands of birds that flock to the wetlands after the monsoon season. The “wet season” was still a couple of months off, so I wouldn’t be in the area to see the wonderful array of birdlife, but I did pull the “ute” off to the side of the road. I watched as the sarus cranes performed. Especially for me, I told myself.

Arriving at Karumba, I drove down to the boat ramp. Up to my right as far as the eye could see were dense mangroves framing the wide expanse of waterways. The same vista was to the left of me. I started up a conversation with one of the local fishermen. His weather-beaten, brown face told many stories of his years at sea. He told me up amongst the mangroves many Vietnamese squatted. It was all Crown Land. This was early November, 1989. A few months later, the Vietnamese squatters made the front page of the “Sunday Mail”, but I heard or read nothing more about them after that one report. I’ve often wondered what happened to them.

As we were talking, a Vietnamese man in a small boat arrived at the ramp. He had on board a load of live mud crabs. I wandered down to him and asked how much he wanted for a crab. Well, it was more sign language than words. He smiled up at me pushing a large buck into my hands (it was tied up), indicating I could have it for nothing as it only had one claw. The one claw it did have was massive. I thanked him profusely for his generosity, waved and then walked back to my vehicle. I was going to call into the Karumba pub for a beer, but decided against doing so. I needed to get back to the Central. Time was running away from me. The tables in the Karumba Pub, both inside and out are cemented into the floors. The publicans decided to do that as there were too many fights breaking out and the tables were handy weapons!

Returning to the Central, I handed the mud crab to the cook who offered to cook it for my dinner that night.

I had to make a hasty trip up town to the bank. As I was pulling out of the yard, one of my “Mango Loungers” hailed me to stop. He wanted a lift up to the bus depot to book his trip back to Kowanyama the next day. I told him to hop in, which he did excitedly. I noticed as we drove through the main street, both on our trip “up town” and on the return, he kept shifting in his seat. He seemed to get higher and higher, and then I realized why. He wanted to be seen by his mates. He was driving with “Missie” in the pub “ute”! As we drove past the Purple Pub where its verandahs were crowded with Aboriginal customers, he got even higher in the seat. The same happened when we passed the Purple Pub on the return trip! I laughed to myself as we chatted along the way. He was as proud as Punch! Usually in the afternoon it was rare to see any of the blacks were still lingering in the “Mango Tree”, but that afternoon, fortunately for my passenger, about six were hovering around. My passenger was almost beside himself when we drove into the yard past the mango trees. Purposely, I didn’t let him off at the trees, but drove straight up to the garage. We both alighted together and strolled, still talking back down towards the pub. I felt great, because he felt great. It was a special moment, not only for him, but for me, too.

To be continued....(I lied...there will be one more short chapter to end this story...sorry!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Six

After those stressful few days, everything thereafter was pretty much anti-climatic. And I didn’t complain. I’d had enough excitement to last me until Christmas!

The weekend was drawing closer. A lot of work had to be completed in readiness for the race meeting on Saturday afternoon, the “Bachelors and Spinsters’ Ball” on Saturday evening and the “recovery” on Sunday. Everyone was urging me to attend the ball, but I told each and every one of them. “I see enough of you lot in here every day, without having to spend a night out with you!” This, of course, was done in good Aussie humour with no ill will intended or received.

I had no intentions of attending the ball. It would have been a lot of fun, and perhaps I should have grabbed the opportunity to experience an outback “B & B”, but I knew it would be a wild, all-night affair and I had a hectic, busy Sunday to face thereafter. For once I made a sensible decision!

The truck arrived from Cairns loaded with pallets of booze. The store-room and cold rooms were well-stocked ready for the onslaught. People were coming into town for the races and the ball from far a field as Mount Isa and even a few from Camooweal on the Queensland-Northern Territory border. Few beef cattle station workers from the large holdings around the area were left to look after the properties. These were once a year events. Everyone was out and about looking for fun and games. The three pubs in town were gearing up for the influx, which was about to or already had begun to descend upon the town.

Saturday morning was upon us with barely a blink of an eye. I mentioned previously about having to quell a fight between two women down at the “Mango Lounge”. It was on this particular morning that the disruption occurred. I figured it wasn’t a good start to the weekend, so I had to dispel the warring factions as quickly as possible before a full-scale assault began. Fortunately, I was successful in my initiative and the two insurgents moved on up to the Purple Pub or elsewhere. Peace was restored. Peace, in its way, was to remain for the duration of the weekend.

Around noonone of my staff members who I had coerced into joining me at the races and I jumped into the pub “ute” to head out to the races. I didn’t want to go alone. She eagerly agreed to come with me. The race venue was filled with a merry crowd of punters, non-punters, those who just came for the party. Some of the ladies were fittingly dress for a city race meeting. Others were dressed in jeans, R.M. Williams' boots and their trusty Akubras. They were in the majority. I dressed half-way with the majority, not wishing to stand out as being a “city slicker”.

Mingling with the crowd and the other sponsors of the races, such as Power Breweries, I met Gene Miles, who at that time was working for Power Breweries in their sales/marketing division. Gene Miles, an ex-Bronco hero (Rugby League football for those of you in the northern hemisphere) was an impressive fellow. Very tall, very good-looking (think Tom Selleck) and pleasant to talk with. We only spoke a few minutes before both he and I moved on to place our bets. I had no idea about any of the horses that were racing, but being one who doesn’t like to miss out on a bit of a ‘flutter’ at the races, I donated some of my hard-earned dollars.

Once the “Central Hotel Handicap” was run and I’d presented the winning horse with its royal blue ribbon, it was time to return to the pub. After putting the “ute” back in the garage, I thought I’d carry on my social afternoon a little longer by visiting the Albion Hotel across the road. As I walked up to the bar, all eyes were upon me. I could feel them burning into my back as I approached the bar. Soft murmurings reached my ears. I ignored both. It was a normal reaction. The “new kid on the block” had entered their hallowed domain. Being female also added to their interest. They didn’t concern me. I perched myself on a stool at the bar and ordered a “Double Sars”, (sarsaparilla), a traditional Queensland soft drink. Double Sars with lots of ice is a very refreshing drink. Served in a tall glass, it’s made with a dash of sarsaparilla cordial over ice and filled to the brim with Sarsaparilla soft drink. With a very dour face, the barman, whom I recognized as the owner, informed me the pub didn’t have Sarsaparilla.

I thanked him for his information, saying pleasantly, “Oh! Okay, then…I’ll go back across the road and have one there!”

Turning on my heel, with my head held high, happily returned to “my pub”, smiling and nodding at the patrons on my way out. The Albion Hotel would have been the only outback/country pub in Queensland that didn’t stock Sarsparilla. It was their loss, not mine and I made a “Double Sars” for myself when I reached the public bar of the Central.

I was still being urged to attend the ball that evening and I still declined, saying I had to attend the pub as most of my staff would be out kicking up their heels. The crowd in the public bar increased in numbers as the afternoon progressed so it did in the “Black Bar”. The “Mango Lounge” was deserted. All “Mango Loungers” had migrated up to the Purple Pub, as they did most afternoons.

Around 7.30pm, two brothers, who were originally down from the Torres Strait Islands, entered the “Black Bar”. Both were fine-looking young men, tall, well-built and very good-mannered. Both dressed in similar light grey evening suits, front-pleated white dinner shirts, maroon bow ties and cumber-bands, they looked very handsome. I told them so and invited them into the public bar to have a drink before they headed off to the ball. They declined politely, saying they would prefer to stay in the “Black Bar”. I didn’t press them. It was their choice, but I was a little disappointed. Old habits (or rules) are hard to break.

The pub was fairly quiet for the rest of the evening. Just a few regulars, like Rooster hung around until closing time. Everyone else was out at the ball having a ball, no doubt. I was thankful for the respite as I knew Sunday was going to be non-stop. I had a chance to catch my breath and be ready for the onslaught. Both bars and kitchen were going to be very, very busy. I’d organized for simple fare to be served throughout the day, sausages and grilled onion on bread, burgers, steak sandwiches and, of course, the legendary Aussie meat pies. One can’t throw a “recovery’ party without juicy meat pies burning the roofs of the eaters’ mouths as the meat-filled gravy scalds their chins as it dribbles down onto their shirts, can one? No, of course not!

All too soon, Sunday morning arrived. Stragglers from the ball wandered up and down the streets, some still in their garb from the evening before, all eager for a cleansing, healing “hair of the dog”. I’d applied for and received special clearance from the Hotel Licensing Board to open the hotel earlier than its usual 10am opening time, as did the other two pubs in town. At 8am sharp, the doors of the Central Hotel swung open. Immediately with no urging, as if on cue, the bleary-eyed, late-night revelers flooded in to the bars, ready to commence their “recovery” party. The verandahs were deep with drinkers, all telling tall yarns from the previous evening, some true, no doubt, but many embellished to enhance the moment, I’m sure. I looked across the road and the Albion was inundated as well. I imagined the Purple Pub was in a similar position. The weekend had been a rip-roaring success for everybody concerned. I had heard no reports from the police of any trouble. By dusk, the crowds had dispersed, leaving only the locals left to lick their wounds.

It was peaceful in Normanton that Sunday night. Everyone, including me, went to bed early.

To be continued...the final chapter.


Why I'm experiencing this problem with my posts, I have not a clue! The "comment" section has disappeared from the bottom of my last two posts!

Monday, March 26, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Five

As is its wont, the sun rose early the next morning. I had already risen, beating it by a few minutes or more. Throwing on a wrap, I wandered outside. All was deathly quiet and still; neither bird nor person could be seen or heard. Neither could I see any dogs, particularly two golden retrievers. Disconcerted, I showered and dressed for the day ahead, wondering what further disasters would unfold. So far, no telephone calls had come from the “Black Dahlia”. I hoped the status quo would remain for a few more hours, or days, if need be. Was I being a coward? Yes, I was. I had found myself in a very difficult position, a position I knew me and only me had to deal with whatever the outcome and consequences.

Gritting my teeth, I sat at the desk in the office. The paperwork wasn’t going to go away, though I would have swapped it readily without argument and let it run away in lieu of Duke and Duchess! My eyes misted over thinking of the possible fate of the dogs. If they’d gone down to the river, which was the most likely scenario being water dogs, I shuddered at the thought. Trying to blot gruesome images out of my mind, I did my utmost to concentrate of the work in front of me. It was difficult and almost impossible.

Out of the corner of my eye, through the window I noticed something moving at the gate leading into the enclosure. My heart lept. It pounded in my chest, the sound deafening. With what seemed like two strides, I was out the front door of the abode and through the gate. I may have jumped the fence for all I knew or cared. The only thing I could see was Duke, tail wagging furiously, a smile as wide as the Great Australian Bight on his face. He was covered in mud. His hair was matted, burrs all over him. I sat on the ground beside him, hugging him, tears of joy and frustration pouring down my face. His excitement was uncontainable. So was mine until I realized he was alone.

“Where’s Duchess, Duke?” I pleaded. “Where have you been? Where’s your lady?” In return he just licked my face, happy to be home after his grand adventure.

Grabbing his collar, I dragged Duke into the enclosure. He didn't put up a fight. It wouldn't have mattered if he did! In he was going and there he was going to remain.

“This is where you stay, fella!” I reprimanded him. “As long as I’m here there’ll be no more gallivanting around the countryside for you, my boy!”

I fed him. Gave him fresh water, but from his appearance he’d seen his fair share of water during his absence! I bathed him and then myself once again. All this happened before there was any other movement around the pub.

My joy at having Duke back home was clouded by the still absentee Duchess. She was no where to be seen. Duke didn’t seem concerned. Promptly after his bath, he curled up and went into an exhausted sleep. Lucky him! I was exhausted too, from worry. Sleep wasn’t on my agenda. A long day lay ahead. I still had one dog missing, a pregnant dog!

David was the first sign of human life I saw. He came down to the office immediately when he noticed Duke in the enclosure. He promised me that as soon as he completed his morning chores he would again go in search of the errant Duchess. There was little else we could do. I couldn’t leave the hotel for any length of time. The local blacks had passed the word around the previous day. The whole town was aware of my plight, I was certain.

The moment I dreaded came that afternoon.

I received a telephone call from the “Black Dahlia”, telling me she and her husband were having a wonderful time down in Gladstone and were driving on to Bundaberg the next day.

“Great,” I replied. “Make sure you enjoy yourselves and relax.”

“How is everything going up there?” She asked.

“Fine…fine…” I answered. Here it comes, I braced myself.

“How are the dogs?”

“Great…everything’s fine. It’s been very hot, but that’s to be expected. The “B & B” is on this Saturday and, of course, the races in the afternoon.” I continued, trying subtly to change the subject without getting myself into too much trouble, while trying not to lie.

“Don’t forget you’re going to be very busy on Sunday morning for the “recovery”. The 'recovery" is always a hectic day as everyone from all around and far removed, is in town," she advised.

“So I’ve been told,” I said. “I’ll be prepared.All the orders have been placed and I expect them in the morning.”

We chatted for a couple of minutes longer. No further mention of the dogs was made by either her or me. With a sigh of relief, I replaced the receiver and wandered out onto the pub verandah to contemplate my fate. The tall tree across the way still haunted me.

The day progressed into night with still no sign of Duchess. I’d locked Duke up in the air-conditioned unit at the appointed time as usual, fruitlessly questioning him as I did so, wishing I could speak “dog” and also understand their language. One does have such wild thoughts in certain situations.

Around 10pm, I went down to my quarters. I can’t remember for what reason, but in the filtered light I could see something moving. Running along the fence of the enclosure trying to get in was a bedraggled Duchess! My legs almost crumpled beneath me as I sprinted towards her. Swiftly, I ushered her into the unit, caring not that she was filthy dirty. I would worry about that the next day. The only important issue was Duchess and her unborn puppies were home again, safe and sound. Duke greeted her with much excitement. She reciprocated his joy. I guess, I did, too. I was overcome with relief. Never again would I allow them out for a run around the pub yard. From now on until the end of my time in Normanton they would remained confined to quarters. They had had enough freedom for my heart to stand.

Once back up at the bar, I shouted the late-night stragglers a drink. Cheers resounded throughout the pub. All was well again in the Central Hotel.

Two days later, I was told by one of the bar girls that a fellow wanted to see me in the “Black Bar”. Standing before me with a broad, gap-toothed smile of expectation on his face was one of my “Mango Loungers”.

“Found ya dog, Missie!” He gloated.

“I don’t think so,” I smiled back at him.

“Yeah, Missie…got ‘im outside. There ‘e is!”

“Sorry, mate…you’re a couple of days late. The dogs came back home a couple of days ago. That’s not my dog. I think you’d better return him to from wherever you got him,” I told him as gently as I could.

The poor fellow became crestfallen. He looked at me with huge, pleading eyes. I felt a pang of sympathy for him. His dream of getting a free carton of beer and a cask of wine had disappeared quickly from his reach.

“Sorry, mate,” I repeated. “Thank you for trying, though. I appreciate your help.” I gave him a pot of beer. I could see that one glass of beer didn’t make up for the loss of a carton and cask, but it was better than nothing.

I’ve always wondered where he found the poor scrawny mutt out on the verandah or to whom it belonged, and whether it was returned to from whence it was taken.

As for the tree across the road, each time I looked at it, I rubbed my neck and then saluted its sturdy trunk and strong branches.

To be continued...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Four.

The customers of the pub and the staff readily accepted me. Mainly, I think, because I mingled freely with them, not setting myself aside in a false “ivory tower”. I dressed casually both day and night. I was told by the staff that the “Black Dahlia” alienated herself from the pub customers. She spent her time either in the TAB or sitting perched up at the far end of the bar like “Lady Muck”. It's always been my belief this is not the way to get the locals on your side in areas like Normanton, or anywhere, for that matter.

The patrons of the hotel were made up of locals, men from nearby stations, stockmen, jackaroos, ringers, helicopter pilots, etc. Helicopters are frequently used in the mustering of the beef cattle, taking over these days on the majority of cattle stations from the horsemen. A few tourists passing through called into the pub during my tenure, however, not many. Gradually each day, I wore down Jeanie’s shy reserve. Jeanie went about her housemaid duties diligently and quietly. I made a point each morning of going to the motel rooms where she was cleaning to have a chat with her and to compliment her on her work. One morning I commented on some brightly-coloured flowers in vases on the coffee tables in each of the rooms. The blooms were made out of lost feathers of the Rainbow Lorikeets and wild budgerigars from around the area. I’m not particularly partial to feather flowers, but they did serve as an ice-breaker. And just as well I commented favourably on them, as Jeanie, her face opening up into a broad, proud smile, told me she made them.

A couple of days into my stay, I noticed after Jeanie finished her shift around midday, she came into the public bar for a drink, the same as the other staff did at the end of their shifts. Ordering lemonade or a beer, she handed her money to the girl behind the bar. It is common practice in the industry, that at the completion of his or her shift, the staff member is given a free “staff” drink. All the other pub employees enjoyed this benefit, but not Jeanie. All the staff members but Jeanie were white. It wasn’t fair nor was it right in my eyes. What’s good enough for one is good enough for everyone, and colour played no part in it, in my eyes. Jeanie was a hard worker and, as it turned out, never let me down once during my three weeks at the Central. I changed the rules and told Jeanie she was entitled to her staff drink along with the others. Whether it changed again after I left, I do not know, but while I was in the pub, Jeanie had her free drink, whether it be a soft drink or a beer. One could easily see that she was not an abuser of alcohol. Every day she only haf two drinks and a lot of those times, it would be lemonade or similar. I was happy and so was Jeanie. I noticed a change in her, whereas before this she would walk to the bar with a ‘hang-dogged” air about her, sitting quietly alone, hardly raising her eyes. When she was “recognized” in the same manner as the others and received similar benefits, no matter how small, she held her head high with her shoulders back. It’s the little things that mean and say a lot.

Walking into the public bar one morning, I stopped dead in my tracks. Across the bar, a couple of feet inside the front doors leading onto the verandah, stood an imposing, striking-looking man. Dappled shadows from the searing noon day sun played on his taut, inflexible back, his western shirt strained across his assertive shoulders. I tried not to stare, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His distinctive bearing, the strength of his wide, prominent forehead beneath his grey-streaked hair, which fell in loose, open curls to the top of his shirt collar, his trimmed grey and black-flecked beard and moustache below his broad cheek bones, the glow on his nut-brown skin, took my breath away. He fascinated me. I remember thinking at the time, and I still do, if I were a painter or a sculptor this tall, impressive black man would be the perfect model. He exuded nobility and moved with the grace of a panther. I asked a couple of people who he was, but all I learned about him was that he came from one of the cattle stations. This was one of his very rare visits to town. He stayed in the bar for a brief time, but his profound impression has remained firmly in my mind. Unfortunately, I never saw him again after that one short appearance.

Now, of course, I’d settled into the daily routine of running the pub. Each morning before opening the hotel, I let Duke and Duchess out for their run. Off they would gamble, happy to be free, around and around the backyard of the pub, their tails wagging, ears flapping and doggy smiles on their faces. They always galloped back to me when I called them to put them into the enclosure, except for one morning during my second week at the pub. I called and called their names. I whistled. I searched around the pub grounds. They were nowhere to be found. I looked up and down the main and side streets, still no sign of them.

“They’ll be back soon,” I told myself, half-heartedly.

Time was running out for me. I had to open the pub. As soon as the bar girl arrived to commence her shift, I could leave. I grabbed the keys to the hotel ute (tray-back) and hurriedly made my way to the hotel garage, my heart pumping wildly in my chest, my mind erratically spinning around with terrible, vivid thoughts of the Norman River, just down the road and its well-known inhabitants, crocodiles. Crocodiles love dogs! Golden Retrievers love water! It was a hot morning. It was becoming hotter up by the minute! And I was breaking out in cold sweats!

Duchess was carrying I don’t know how many puppies, puppies that were worth four hundred dollars or more a pup! I began to imagine myself being the victim of a lynching party, being hung from the highest tree in Normanton with the “Black Dahlia” below chanting curses upon my soul, as I swung in the torrid, Savannah zephyr.

I drove down to the river bank. I parked the vehicle and ran along the banks, over the bridge calling out the names of the dogs. A group of young kids, obviously playing “hooky” from school, broad grins flashing across their chocolate faces, their teeth glistening under the sun yelled out to me and waved. I asked them if they had noticed any dogs around the river that morning. They shook their heads, giggling as they chanted in unison, “No, Missie!” I warned them about crocodiles and for them to take care. They giggled. I figured they knew more about crocodiles than I did, were braver than I or, being young kids, had no fear. It was probably a combination of the three.

The hot sun bore into my back as I continued my search along the banks of the river. I had to get back to the pub, dogs or no dogs. Driving into the pub yard, the “Mango Lounge” was before me. An idea popped into my muddled brain. I jerked to a stop, pulled on the hand brake and jumped out of the ute.

“G’day, everyone!” I greeted the upturned smiling faces.

“G’day, Missie! G’day, Mate! ‘Ow ya goin’?” Echoed back at me.

“Not too good this morning,” I replied, crouching down in the dust with the “Mango Loungers”.

Fleeting concern flickered across their faces.

“You know the dogs here…you know, the big cream dogs…the ones that are in that enclosure there each morning,” I nodded my head towards the pen beside the unit. “The dogs…they belong to the managers of the pub. You must've noticed them. You know the dogs I mean?” I looked in askance at each face turned towards me.

“Yep!” “Yeah!” Heads nodded vaguely.

“Well,” I continued. “They’ve gone missing. Duke and Duchess…that’s their names…Duke and Duchess…they ran off this morning and they’ve not come back and I’m very worried about them. You know, with the river just down there, the crocs…I’m worried something might happen to them. They’re in my care while the managers are away, and now they’ve both run off. I’ve been searching for them down by the river, calling and calling out for them, but I can’t find them. I'm going to be in a hell of a lot of trouble if I don't find them!”

Again, they nodded and mumbled amongst themselves, showing little sincere interest in what I was saying because it was getting close to the time of the day they moved on up to the Purple Pub. Showed little interest, that is, until I divulged my idea.

“I’ll make you this offer…and then you can pass it around to all of your mates… whoever finds the two dogs, Duke and Duchess, and brings them back here to me or comes and tells me where they are so I can go and get them...well...there is a case of beer and a cask of wine in it for them.”

I had captured their interest now.

Off they went to the Purple Pub. I knew it would take very little time for the word to pass around the town from one local black to the other. The “bush telegraph” is a wonderful system. I'd have practically the whole town searching for Duke and Duchess!

After putting the ute into the garage, I went back into the pub. There was work to be done; however, I wasn’t feeling very good. My stomach was tied up in knots from worry about the two dogs, and, for my own welfare to be honest! I told David, the pub roustabout and Kathy, the bar girl, about my disastrous morning, swearing them to secrecy for the moment. I told them if the “Black Dahlia” or her husband rang they were not to bring up the subject of the dogs. Do not mention “dogs”! I didn’t ask them to lie. I wouldn’t and couldn’t do that. I just told them to talk about anything else but “dogs”, and if possible, to pass the telephone over to me. I would handle the situation. How I was going to do this and remain alive, I had not a clue at that stage. As I was always within reach at the hotel, it wouldn’t be a problem my taking any telephone call, if it were to come that day or the next or whenever. Up until that morning in my search for the dog, I hadn’t left the pub perimeters.

The day passed. Evening came and went. I arrived back at the unit around 11pm with still no sign of Duke and Duchess, or any word back from the “bush telegraph”. I slept very restlessly that night. For some reason, I had a lot on my mind....

To be continued....

Friday, March 23, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Three.

My first afternoon in Normanton flowed along smoothly. I introduced myself to the ‘regulars’ around the bar, explaining the role I was to play for the next three weeks, but their main concern was the imminent dart competition between our pub and the Albion across the road, a crucial match in which I had to be the “captain” of the Central’s team. At that stage, I’d not played darts since I was a kid, playing against my brother or uncle on a dart board set up on our front verandah! I didn’t know it at the time, but in a few months’ time, I would become a regular dart player when I went to live on Newry Island, but that’s another story for another day.

Around 4.30pm, I raced back to the unit to shower and change before “Happy Hour” and the commencement of the evening’s trade. Quickly feeding Duke and Duchess, I returned to the bar. By the time I returned, both the public bar and the “Black Bar” had filled with thirsty patrons, seeking cold, cold beers after their hot day. I jumped behind the bar to help out. This was to be my first meeting with “Rooster”, one of the local butchers.

“Rooster’s” battered face and bulbous, pitted nose spoke of a life lived harshly. Underneath his rough exterior was a gentle soul enhanced by a mischievous sense of humour. I wondered what had happened in his life that caused him to end up in Normanton, living his life alone, working by day in the butcher shop and spending a few hours each night at the pub. Every day he slipped down to the pub during his lunch hour for a couple of refreshing ales. His weekends were also spent at the pub. He wasn’t the only one who utilised his time this way. There were many others, but “Rooster” stood out. He had impeccable manners and was a joy to chat with, something I was to do each day of my stay in Normanton. Always dressed in a clean white singlet, jeans and a battered Akubra, the legendary, distinctive Australian wide-brimmed felt hat, “Rooster” presented himself freshly showered and shaved. It was difficult to say how old he was, but I figured he was somewhere in his mid-fifties.

Country and outback pubs in Australia are fascinating places. I hope we never lose them. They are filled with so many wonderful characters whose stories I’d love to learn and write about. The pubs have an unadorned charm and ambience all of their own. They are unique, full of character...and characters.

Eventually, I rounded up a team for the dart competition but I was shy of two and time was running out. I noticed a man and a young woman enter the dining room. They were obviously ‘house-guests’. I’d not booked them into the motel so I decided to introduce myself to them and welcome them to the town and the pub.

“I know you!” Said the man immediately.

“Me!” I exclaimed. “How on earth do you know me? I only arrived in town this morning. This is the first time I’ve been to Normanton.

“I do…you used to be on an island…Hinchinbrook Island…that’s where I know you from!” He replied.

“Yes…I managed the resort on Hinchbrook…”

“We’re with the coast guard…that’s how I know you,” he continued. “I visited the island often while you were there.”

“Oh! My God! Fancy that!” I declared. “I remember you now! You were always asking me to keep an eye out for any strange happenings out to sea.”

“Yep…that’s me. What are you doing way out here?” He smiled at me, as I sat down at the table.

“Well, I could ask you the same question. What the hell are you doing way out here in the middle of no where?”

“This is part of our territory. From the Townsville area north to the tip of the Cape…throughout the Gulf and all areas in between….the cattle stations….north, south, east and west,” he explained.

“Wow! That’s a huge area to cover,” I answered.

“It is…and that’s why we ask people for their input. We’re so short-staffed with such a massive area to cover. It’s almost an impossible feat.”

I shook my head. “I can understand that. Australia has such a vast coast line. Anybody could enter undetected, bringing in who knows what!”

We chatted along these lines for a few moments, before I asked him and the young woman with him if they would like to join my dart team. They readily agreed. So I had my numbers.

Promptly at seven, the Albion Hotel’s team strode into the public bar, full of confidence. I had already been ‘filled in’ about the Albion. They held themselves above everyone else in town. Aboriginals were not allowed to drink in their pub. I could see my team needed to bring them down a peg or two.

After a very short period milling around the bar buying drinks, the commencement of the tournament was announced. We tossed to see which team went first. The Central team lost the toss. Sadly, we also lost the game! However, we didn’t go down without a fight. We gave them a run for their money. It was a good-spirited match. I discovered the blouse I was wearing impeded my throw, so I promptly pulled it out from the hips of my jeans, to allow for a better flow. That still didn’t work for me, but I gave it my best shot, determined the next time we played the Albion we would beat the socks of them! And we did, the second time, but the third time they won. I guess one out of three ain’t bad, twisting the words of Meatloaf!

David, the pub roustabout, spent his days working around the pub doing maintenance, refuse

runs etc., and at night he went pig shooting. He was a pleasant fellow in his late twenties or early thirties. He asked me if I would like to go with him one night pig shooting but I declined. It probably would have been an interesting expedition but not one I felt I would enjoy. Instead I asked him to bring me back a set of tusks off one of the boars. One day he presented me with the jaw of a wild pig, tusks included. He told me he had found it in a crocodile’s nest a few months earlier. I still have it amongst all my many bits and pieces saved from my adventures in the North.

Every morning before the pub opened I rose around 5.30-6am to spend a couple of hours in the office in the unit, balancing the tills, organizing the floats for the coming day and planning stock orders. I rarely got out of the pub until 11pm or later each evening and by that stage all I was ready to do was fall into my bed. I’d let out Duke and Duchess for a run around the grounds of the pub. Being large dogs, I thought it unfair for them to be cooped up in the small compound and in the unit all the time. They loved their brief moments of freedom.

The “Mango Lounge” would come to life around 9am each morning as the Aboriginals who frequented it began to congregate for their morning session underneath the trees. I decided, seeing I was only going to be in Normanton for three weeks, it would be to my advantage to get to know them. I didn’t want any trouble while I was at the pub. I figured the best way to combat trouble was to befriend everyone. So, it became a morning habit of mine to sit or crouch down in the dust with the “Mango Lounge” patrons and chat with them. Without fail, they would try to coerce me into giving them free cigarettes, beer or wine.

I used to laugh at each new yarn they spun me every day to get a ‘freebie’ by telling them, “You know I’m only here for a couple of weeks and I can’t do that. I will get into trouble and I’m sure you don’t want that!”

“Aw, come on, Missie,” they would shoot back at me, their teeth glistening on their smiling black faces. “How about….” And off they would go on another tangent in an endeavour to sway me. They never did.

“I’ve already heard that story,” With regularity I replied. “You told me that one yesterday!” And we’d all laugh. They were cunning but I was even more cunning!

One morning, I lined them all up.

“Listen, you lot,” I started, with a smile. “How about you clean up around you? I want all this mess cleaned up, every day before you leave to go up to the Purple Pub. It will benefit us all. If you don’t keep it clean and tidy, I’ll have the police on my back, and then I will be on your backs…and then no one will be able to enjoy the “Mango Lounge”. You don’t want that to happen, do you? The police will crack down on us all and close it down. So what do you reckon…good idea?”

“Sure, Missie! We’ll do it. No problem, Missie!” They all jumped to attention and commenced busily cleaning up under the trees.

After my gentle persuasion, each day the “Mango Lounge” was left clean and tidy. Everyone was happy. The police left them alone and they left me alone. There was never any trouble in the “Mango Lounge” except one morning. Around 9.30am, two women decided they didn’t like the look of each other and a few blows were thrown. I quickly dispersed the trouble-makers and everything settled back to normal within minutes. My ploy of joining them each morning worked well. They expected and enjoyed the time I spent under the mango trees with them.

The Normanton Cup, an annual horse race meeting, was being held on the second Saturday of my stay in town, together with the “Bachelors and Spinsters’ Ball” on the Saturday night. I knew this was going to be a wild introduction for me to the outback! I’d been informed I had to attend the races as I was to put a ribbon on the winning horse of the “Central Hotel Handicap”.

Normanton was full of surprises for me! Some of which would happen before the weekend of the Normanton Cup!

To be continued…..

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Two!

After a few minutes traversing the wide, desolate back streets of Normanton, we reached our destination and what was to be my home for the next three weeks.

Normanton has a population of around 1,200. It’s the main centre that services surrounding cattle stations and the fishing/prawning hub which is Karumba, right on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Karumba to Normanton is just 70km. Normanton was once an important port with gold discoveries in the 1890s in nearby Croydon. It is said there were once 5000 gold mines in the Croydon area.

There are three pubs in Normanton. The Purple Pub, (pictured above) which is well-known throughout the country, The Albion (pictured above), which is unknown throughout the country and the pub I had now stepped into, The Central (not pictured above!), which was known about in a real estate office in Smithfield! I do have a photograph of the pub, but my scanner’s not working so I’m unable to show the photo to you. The Albion Hotel is diagonally across the road from the Central.

The Central Hotel is a one-level building made from timber, painted brick-red with an over-hanging tin roof covering an uneven verandah. I couldn’t put an age on the hotel. Suffice to say, it is a very old ‘outback’ pub, with many stories to tell amongst its uneven wooden floors and walls, if you listen closely enough. Eight or ten concrete-block motel rooms had been built adjacent to the pub. A similarly-built, air-conditioned (fortunately), one-bedroom managers’ residence, with a basic kitchen, lounge-room and small office, occupied land off to the side of four large mango trees at the lower edge of the property. These trees, I soon learned were called “The Mango Lounge”. I’ll explain ‘the Mango Lounge” to you as I go along.

The pub is on a corner of the very wide main street (pictured) opposite what was the old Burns Philip building, which is the large-roofed building in one of the river pictures above. The Norman River flows to the edge of town, just a few metres down the road from the pub. It is renowned for its barramundi (pictured above...and no, that's not me in the picture...I have no idea who the guy in the picture is!) and salt-water crocodiles!

Legend has it that further up the Normanton River, a few kilometres from the town, there was a mammoth crocodile. In July 1958, Krystina Pawloski, a woman of small build, but handy with the gun, shot a crocodile, which measured around nine metres. The replica of that crocodile, which the locals swear is true to size, now rests in the main street of Normanton. It is reported the actual skin was used for this statue as a 'mould' to make sure of correct size and proportions. The skin is still kept in the coastal city of Townsville, North Queensland.

The "Black Dahlia" led me to a room in the motel wherein I deposited my belongings. There I met Jeanie, a very shy Aboriginal woman, who was the motel housemaid. A few minutes later, I was taken to the managers’ unit to meet the “children”. I would be occupying the managers’ unit once they left for their holiday. I was informed by the "Black Dahlia" that she and her husband would be leaving the following day after I had been “shown the ropes”.

The “children” turned out to be two golden retrievers, aptly named “Duke” and “Duchess”. Duchess was in the well-advanced stages of pregnancy. I’d not been forewarned, but they, too, were to be in my care when their “Mummy” and “Daddy” were away! I was given strict instructions on their welfare and daily habits. No matter what I was doing or where I was, once the clock ticked over to 11am each morning, I was to bring Duke and Duchess into the unit and put the air-conditioner on because it was too hot out in the burning sun. For the duration of the day and night, they were to remain inside. I could understand this as there was not an ounce of shade in the confined, enclosed area to the side of the unit.

Once the introductions between the "children" and I were made, I was then taken up to the pub to meet the “Black Dahlia’s” husband, an ex-cop from the Northern Territory. He left the police force some years before after being shot in the foot. I’m not sure if he was the one who fired the errant bullet, but I had my suspicions! I also met the barmaid who was on shift at the time and the cook. A few likely-looking, obviously regular patrons were dotted around the main public bar. Out the corner of my eye, I noticed them looking me up and down in the way that it’s done when a newcomer hits a small town. I nodded and smiled when I caught their wandering eyes. Tentative nods and smiles I received in return.

The hotel had two bars….well, actually, three bars...the main public bar where the “whites” drank, together with some Aborigines who were “well-behaved”. These were mainly the ringers and jackaroos etc., from nearby stations. Then there was “The Black” bar, which ran along the left-hand side of the pub. This bar was exclusive to the Aborigines who chose to use it. Also, there was “The Mango Lounge”. “The Mango Lounge” was the four mango trees alongside the managers’ unit. There the local “blacks” and those visiting Normanton from areas like Kowanyama up in the Gulf, congregated each morning, sitting in the red Savannah dust, spinning yarns and drinking before moving on to the “Purple Pub” (pictured) further up along the main street.

At the completion of my guided tour, I was ushered into the dining room hidden away towards the back of the pub, for lunch. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I did as I was told. “ Mine Hosts” lingered a short while, only to soon excuse themselves, leaving me alone to partake in my salad and assess my surroundings. Finishing my brief lunch, I wandered back out into the pub. Upon enquiring on the whereabouts of “Mr. and Mrs. Black Dahlia”, I was informed that they had already left the premises and the town en route to their holiday! Not a word of “Good Bye” or “Good Luck” and they had not even spent a moment in “showing me the ropes”, other than to say that the TAB adjoining the pub would be looked after by one of the “girls”, a piece of information I welcomed gladly! They had certainly made a swift, silent get-away!

A “TAB”, for those of you not familiar with the term, is a Government-approved and secure service wherein you can place bets on horse racing.

“So much for that!” I grumbled to myself at the rudeness of the managers.

I hastened back up to my motel room to gather together my worldly possessions to transfer them down to the unit in which I would be living for the next three weeks. After patting Duke and Duchess on their respective heads and telling them I hope they had better manners than their “Mummy” and “Daddy”, I headed back to the pub. My employment in Normanton had commenced.

Upon immediate reflection, once I'd 'stepped back' from my annoyance and shock at their unheralded departure, I was happy the managers decided not to stay the extra twenty-four hours. I was better off left alone to do things "my way" without having them hovering over my shoulders.

Making myself known to a couple of the locals around the bar, one promptly asked me.

“You got a team together for our dart competition tonight, mate?”

Gulp! Yes, my working afternoon was already mapped out for me!

To be continued....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Adventures In The Gulf Country...Chapter One.

In a previous post I mentioned that I’d spent a short time in Normanton, way out in the Gulf Country of far north-western Queensland, so I thought I would elaborate a little on that time in my life.

When I ended my halcyon times on Hinchinbrook Island, I headed further north on the mainland to reside and work in Cairns. For a short period I worked at the Ramada Reef Resort, Palm Cove as Functions/Conventions/Conference Co-ordinator and as unofficial assistant to the Food and Beverage Manager. Due to circumstances within my control, I left the madness of Ramada and became employed as receptionist/secretary/property manager in a real estate office at Smithfield, a northern suburb of Cairns in tropical north Queensland. I decided I needed a break from the hospitality industry. Hence, I reverted back to a ‘normal’ nine-to-five work existence for a while. “A while” lasted about two and a half years before I ran away and became a pirate on Newry Island!

The company’s head office was situated in the Cairns CBD. Our branch office in the suburb of Smithfield, which is located inland below the mountains of the Great Dividing Range leading up to Kuranda in the hinterland beyond, serviced the Northern Beaches of Cairns and the inland suburbs of Carvonica, Lake Placid, Kamerunga, Stratford and Freshwater that run along the edge of the Barron River flood plain. The suburbs of Brinsmead and Whitfield were sometimes included in our territory. These outer suburbs of Cairns lie between Smithfield and the city and are situated to the west of the Captain Cook Highway. Smithfield serves as the main centre for the Northern Beach areas. The Northern Beach area extends from Machans Beach to the south, north to Holloways Beach, Yorkeys Knob, Trinity Park, Trinity Beach, Kewarra Beach, Clifton Beach, Palm Cove, Buchans Point and Ellis Beach. The area stretches more than 30kms. Further north still is Port Douglas, Mossman and the awesome Mossman Gorge.

During my three years in the Cairns area, I lived at Yorkeys Knob and then Clifton Beach. I never lived in Cairns proper, much preferring the beach suburbs.

My boss, the owner of the real estate agencies owned a hotel in Herberton in the Atherton Tablelands and also the Central Hotel in Normanton out in the Gulf Country.

The managers of the Central Hotel were going on holidays and because of my hospitality industry experience I was asked to be their ‘fill-in’ whilst they were away. I felt it too good of an opportunity and challenge to give up. I jumped at the chance. A lass from the city office was to be my replacement while I was out treading the dust in the Gulf Savannah region.

Early one Monday morning with suitcase packed, having bade a sad farewell to Pushkin and Rimsky, my two cats who were left at home being cat-sat, I boarded a light aircraft departing from Cairns Airport to later land at the airstrip at Normanton, 710kms away.

The Gulf Savannah region extends from the Great Dividing Range in the east to the Northern Territory border in the west. It is a safari country of golden savannah grasslands rich with Australian wildlife. (That doesn’t include me!)

Normanton was established on the Norman River by William Landsborough, a Scottish explorer who arrived in Australia as a young man. Landsborough had been commissioned to head the search for Burke and Wills, starting of in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The town of Landsborough, inland from Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast is named after him, but that’s another story! I’ll remain in the north for now, rather than confuse you!

Normanton became the port for the Croydon Gold Rush back in the 1880’-1890s. Intrepid early explorers, Burke and Wills’ most northerly camp was around 30kms south-west of Normanton. The distance of Normanton from Brisbane, Queensland’s state capital is 2,500 kilometres north.

Established on the Norman River by William Landsborough, Normanton was the port for the Croydon Rush and is a terminus of the Victorian architecture preserved in the Normanton Railway Station. The rail line was opened in 1891 to join Normanton to the rich, busy Croydon goldfields, 152kms away. To this day, the line remains unlinked to the main Queensland Rail network. This is very remote, inaccessible countryside with much diversity from wetlands and grasslands to the arid, harsh Savannah country.

So there I was, my feet planted firmly on the Normanton airstrip. It was 10am and the temperature was a searing 50 degrees Celsius! Where had the humidity of the coast disappeared to? The intense, burning white heat was dry, drawing every ounce of moisture from me.

Dressed in a cotton skirt, cotton t-shirt and sandals, I silently commended my good sense in choosing suitable clothing. A dark-coloured Toyota Land Cruiser screamed to a dusty halt. Out stepped a young woman of around my age dressed all in black. Black stockings covered her legs. Black patent-leather high-heeled shoes clad her manicured feet. (I imagine they were well-manicured, pedicured or whatever as she had flaming red, porcelain finger nails). The skirt of her black dress was fringed with broderie anglaise and had a ‘handerchief/scarf’ hemline. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

She threw my suitcase in the back of the vehicle. I jumped on board. The “Black Dahlia” reversed the Land Cruiser causing another dust storm and we were on our way into Normanton. I had been the only passenger to alight at Normanton “airport”. Casting side-ways glances at my driver with her hennaed coiffure, her red talons gripping the steering wheel viciously, I could remain silent no longer. Did she, in her absence, expect me to dress that way!

“I hope you don’t expect me to dress up,” I stated, looking at her. “I will be wearing cool, casual clothes during the day and will change into equally cool and relaxing clothes in the evenings.” Best to go in boots and all first up, I decided to myself! Already I could sense the next three weeks were certainly going to be interesting...and different.

To be continued...(click on maps to enlarge)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Everything's Back In Order!

I managed to put everything back into its rightful place without the help of a maid! Just as well, as I didn't win the Lotto! Other than cleaning up, I had a very, very lazy Sunday. For some reason or other, I was moving pretty slowly and even though I had a nap in the afternoon, I went to sleep very early last night! Must be something in the drinking water!

Now, I can revert back to my quiet, peaceful self and lifestyle and not see anyone for a while. I've done my bit for a while for the social set.

Still, today I'm feeling a little jaded. The calm after the storm, I suppose. Just before waking this morning I had a very frustrating dream in which everything I tried to do didn't work out. Upon waking, I felt frustrated and annoyed. I hate when that happens and then it continued into my waking morning. Why annoying dreams have to come true and not the good ones, I do not know or understand! Grrr...even the thought annoys me!

I've not posted any poems written by me for a while, so I'm letting myself off the hook in writing a lengthy post at this point in time and shall share with you a couple of my verses, instead. I hope you like them.

Faceted Love

A lover’s caress in a moment of despair

A friendly smile when none seem to care

Simple understanding to listen to share

Affectionate devotion a feeling so pure

A melodic inspiration forever to endure


A mother’s enchantment at baby’s first cry

Contentment profound as it suckles her breast

Its grasp of her hand as she lays it to rest

To witness a smile a trembling first step

First words to be spoken tears that are shed

Eagerness and anticipation of what lies ahead

Is a love so complete it can never be compared


The balmy showers of spring

Laying the dust as they pass

The scent of freshly cut grass

On a crisp clear summer’s morn

Tender green leaves proudly adorn

Tall trees stand patiently awaiting

Their debut at summer’s dawning

Gossamer clouds in skies of blue

Sparkling white sands are only a few

Of the loves of life that I pursue


The books have been written the poems have been read

There are no words to describe the moments we share

The warmth I feel knowing you are close by my side

Together we stand united in love ready to conquer

All obstacles as we explore the dark corridors of life

Your hand in mine your confident touch gives me strength

The power to be to understand who I am willing to give

Able to receive not feel uncertain to enjoy peace of mind

You are all that I desire you are the air that I breathe

You are life you are love I am life I am love…we are

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Morning After!

Wow! That was the wildest dinner party I've held for a while!

My two extra guests only stayed for champagne, margaritas and 'pickies', having to head off back to Brisbane to share farewell drinks with a friend who is leaving for Christchurch, New Zealand.

The party kicked off with a huge bang right from the beginning...5.30pm...everyone was in party mode. This morning my cabin looks like Cyclone Larry or Hurricane Katrina went through it! And I'm sure my appearance matches it! By midnight everyone, fearful of turning into pumpkins, departed the scene of destruction! I took one brief look at the debris and repeating the words of Scarlet O'Hara..."Tomorrow is another day", I threw myself into bed, pulling the covers over my head.

What a crazy, fun-filled evening it was! A noisy, boisterous bunch of revelers were we. The laughter, rowdy debates and general mayhem continued from drinks outside on the deck to around the dinner table. At one stage, I put on the soundtrack music from Michael Flatley's original "Riverdance". Lyndall and I performed a "Kath & Kim's" version of Irish dancing! I wish someone had filmed it. We could make a career out of this....not!

My landlords can't complain about the pandemonium as they were amongst the rowdiest! Fortunately, they could walk/stagger home. I think they made it back to their house, but as I've not yet checked, they may be floating in the pond between me and "The Manor"! My other guests live just around the corner not far from me and if they got into strife, Peter, the husband of Lyndall, is a barrister so he can bail himself out of prison! As for me, the cats aren't talking to me. They're an anti-social pair! They hate it when I have visitors and high-tail it to the nearest hiding spot, only to re-appear again when everyone has left.

So we celebrated St. Paddy's Day in flying colours! He would have been proud! It was a great evening and a wonderful time was had by all.

First, I'm going to read the Sunday paper, check to see if I won the Lotto and if I did, I'm going to hire a maid to come and clean up all this mess! Needless to say, it will be me who will being tackling the battlefield. By the look of the dishevelment, it may take me a week!

I've been to Bedlam and back again and can even spell its name!