I was having trouble with my ex about 6 years ago and figured I needed to get outside the situation; Quick.
Or I would end up 'inside'; Quick.
I had caught her kissing a bloke I knew one night as I was doing the rounds of pubs on closing time and being who I am I couldn't do what I wanted and settled for dropping her directly home.
This bloke turned up at my house one afternoon just prior to my little trip and called me out. He started yelling at me; "what's this you spreading rumours about me and your missus?" The anger rising, I figured then and there it was time for me to get some downtime.
I picked a cold beer up out of the esky next to me, (was working on my tinny motor) and handed it to him, telling him if he was gonna come round my house yelling he might need the beer before he left. He took it and looked at me oddly.
I was trying really hard to make sure every word and every action was chosen with dignity and he knew it. I told him pretty much that he had his head up his arse. My exact words as I best remember were, "you've got your head up your arse. I wasn't the only person in that car park the other night and if people are talking its cause they think you're a cunt, not cause I said anything."
This took a little self restraint and looking back I think he respected it. He said, "well what you gonna do about it".
I said, "I'm going bush a little while... Not cause of you, not because I've got the shits with the bitch upstairs... but because I am worried what I will do if I don't take some time to think. Now, you listen hard to me. If you think you got half a chance with that woman, take it and take it while I'm gone, because when I get back I will have finished being confused about this whole shit show. You best both be gone from town if that's what's going on. If not, if you're half of who I think you are, if your the man other people think you are, you'll leave her the fuck alone.
Whatever, I don't care.
You are not my problem, what's going on in my house is. I'll be back in a week, you can either bring a beer round to replace that one in your hands or you can get the fuck out of town."
He finished the beer and dropped the empty stubbie on my lawn, then left without saying another word.
I went upstairs got my wallet, took all the canned food from the pantry, went downstairs, threw the food, my swag and my fishing gear in the car and left.
I started driving West because there is a whole lot of space out there and you can make a sunset last for at least two straight hours if you keep driving. I had no idea where I was going but I knew who I was travelling with.... me.
It was funny driving into nowhere. The horizon is so big out there that there is plenty of room for the thoughts of a man. As far as you can see in any direction is sweet fuck-all but somehow you feel so cosy. Like you are in a safe place, a place where no-one wants anything and you are free. So many emotions followed me down that road but above them all was one which felt like skydiving. Like suddenly you are lifted up above the world and you float above all the drama and pain... an escape.
I left my home town of St George around 3pm, just time enough to tell the boss what I was up to and clue the ex up. It was a short conversation, I didn't trust myself to waffle on for very long. "I'm going bush, I'll be thinking, you should do the same." That kind of thing, I don't really remember well what I said, talking was such a waste of breath.
An hour later I stopped in Bollon to chat with a mate at the pub and pick up some travellers. He was good for a little perspective and a bit of chat. I headed off again and from there the kilometres sort of blend together.
Somewhere between Bollon and Cunnamulla I had to stop. I'd had the feeling that my eyes were playing tricks on me for about 15 minutes or more and I thought it best to stretch my legs and water the wildflowers. Stepping out of the Nissan I saw the strangest thing, not something I had ever seen before and something I probably wont be privy to again.
Giant cockroaches the size of my thumb were swarming across the road. Fair dink these things were fucking huge and there were millions of them. They made a river over my feet and looking back at the car while I hung the world's largest piss I saw the mess in the wheel arches. God it was like something straight out of The Exorcist. Yellow green guts all plastered all around the inside of the arches and all over the wheels. I had a moment when I thought I was flipping out and had to pick one of the buggers up to make sure I hadn't stepped into the twilight zone.
It was real enough, alright.
At about 6.30 I pulled into Cunnamulla, having driven the last 45 minutes through one of the world's most spectacular sunsets. It had been masterfully painted up there just for me I'm sure. The red dust out there does something really special to the sky that you will never see on the coast. There is even a sign on the outskirts of town urging you to stop and let the fine powdery bulldust drop from your rims (it always meant, "The bullshit stops here" to me). I could taste the first cold beer already.
A few mates had arranged a bed in the barracks for me and then filled me full of Fourex Gold beer. Rotten tasting shit that it is. "Geoscarthis Robusta", one bloke said, "When it rains this time of year they come up from the ground and head South to mate. Biggest fucken roaches you will ever see. I got one in a fish tank as a pet." Weird mob that lot. I still don't know if he was bullshitting about the name... (turns out he was, have a look at these: babies ).
It eventually came up in conversation, they asked where I was heading. I gave them a bit of the story and said I had a couple of mates in Thargomindah who I wouldn't mind looking up. I hadn't been there in 3 years and it was a long shot if they were even still about.
"You're fucked then. The Bulloo's up. Flooded. You won't get through from Eulo for another week," He said.
We had a look at a map, drunk a few dozen more beers and decided the only way to Thargo was to go north to Charleville, out through Quilpie, Eromanga, Noccundra and then back in to Thargo. A good 10+ hour drive to get to a place that was two and a half hours from where I was. I tidied up a dozen more beers and we made up some of the biggest stories blokes have ever told around a fire.
Lying in my strange squeaky hospital style bunk that night I realised that for the first time in years I felt alive. I had no timeframes, no deadlines, no expectations. It was just me and the road. I even thought I might go and stand in the corner... put a foot in three States of Australia at once. Life was weird, strangely free and mostly good. I still had no idea how to solve the problems back home but I think that was the whole point. Problems gain a whole different perspective when you decide not to own them.
Started off shithouse and went downhill from there. I got up with a hangover that would horrify a horse. Seriously, if I could get my cock to throb with that sort of rhythm and intensity I would be a hero with the ladies. I somehow managed to make a coffee,roll a smoke and drag my sorry arse outside into the sunshine.
The first thing I saw was the Nissan lilting oddly to one side. There were two or three of those confused hung-over, "am I really seeing that or am I still pissed?" moments... and then I saw the tyres. Both tyres on the left hand side were flat. Only on the bottom granted, but flat just the same. It was Cunnamulla though and I thought that the chances were one of the locals had thought it funny to let my tyres down.
I went to inspect the tyres. I finished my coffee and had a cigarette which made me feel quite crook in the guts at first though. When your head pounds with the beat of your feet its a long 10 meters to the car. No, no signs of tampering but what I did find was half a dozen Echidna quills sticking out the wall of the front tyre.
I had only put new rubber on the thing at a cost of 200 sheckles or there-abouts each, only a week before and once an Echidna sticks you the tyres are fucked. The spines break off and because they are bullet shaped they burrow inwards over time. Even if a diligent tyre dude pulls all the obvious ones out and tubes the bitch, you still get punctures some months later when the ones that had broken off inside the tread burrow straight through into the tube.
There was nothing for it but to get a couple more tyres. When the blokes were up I got some directions to the local tyre place and the fella there sold me a set of 'Itchypussy' or 'Handoncok' or somethings and around lunch time I took off again.
North from Cunnamulla to Charleville convinced me that cruise controls are a wastedand undeveloped notion. When you travel those sorts of roads you need a steering cruise control. Those roads are as straight as Peter Wherret... you know, straight but with the odd kink thrown in just to keep you from nodding off.
Charleville is a weird town, if you have never been there before. It's the bones of what was once a huge town and the local airport was even used by B-52's in the war years. They would stop over on there way down from Darwin, Alice Springs, Charleville eventually onto Adelaide, then god knows where. It's the largest inland air-strip I have ever seen in my life.
The locals reckon you could land a 747 on it, easy. I reckon they're right, I don't know shit about planes but I once saw a Lear Jet land there in the past. The town boasts a whole bunch of pubs, one of which in it's hey day boasted over a hundred rooms. My Grandad used to talk about Charleville from his home guard days and you can see the Barracks remnants.
Anyway, I grabbed some fuel and headed West again. If you have ever travelled out that way you know that you break your trip into legs. These legs are defined by how far you get untill 1/4 tank is left and how long it takes you drink a six pack of beer. I wasn't up to drinking yet so I stopped in Quilpie when the fuel gauge was just on half because Eromanga would be a bit of a stretch for the Nissan's 80 litre tank. I took off again and did some of the hardest miles I had ever done.
See, by then my brain had fought off most of the hangover and I had listened to all my tapes. Alone with yourself in a car can be a hard place sometimes... miles and miles of boring nothing and just my own imaginings of what was going on at home. Was she rooting him right now? In my head I saw them kissing and fucking and God I almost turned around more than once. I picked up the mobile phone thinking maybe I should call and thank God for my dignity's sake there was no service coverage.
I battled some of the darkest demons for the next three hours and it's ok to cry in the car on your own, apparently. You do feel kind of stupid when you're finished though. I made a bit of mileage on it all though, I was now well into "the bitch can do what she fucken wants, fuck up her life, her loss, but she's never hurting me again" territory.
I pulled into a little servo in Eromanga and from here I'd never seen the roads before so I thought I'd ask about conditions and such. The bloke at the servo said he'd only been in town a week (not something you expect in places that are full of people who look they are part of the landscape, born here, lived here, probably die here types.) He recommended dropping into the pub to get some advice, so I did.
The bloke at the pub told me the road turned to dirt a bit out of town and was usually good but to watch out for ruts where the semi's get bogged. "Don't do more than 90 and you'll be fine," he said. He furnished me with a few bourbon cans and I set off for the last of the day's legs toward Noccundra. I had been on the road for about 8-9 hours already and my 'hangover' had turned into 'damn tired'.
Now if you have never driven the channel country like me, you are in for a surprise. It had rained well in the last week for the first time in ages. What was once spinifex and red dirt was green... really green. Wildflowers stretched away for miles and it was dumbfounding. At one point I had to stop while a giant black python crossed the road, completely oblivious to my existance. I had come round a little corner and had seen what I thought was poly pipe running from one side of the road to the other, bloody huge snake.
Then the bitumen ran out.
I hit dirt and my first thoughts were that this isn't a dirt road, it's a four lane fucken dirt freeway. The road was an easy 20 metres wide and nicely graded. It didn't take long untill I was hooking along at 130 again. Pfft, silly publican. As I drove along I worked out why the road was so wide. Suddenly, in the centre appeared these huge bog tracks.
You know that advertisement on tv where they pull a completely submerged semi trailer out of the mud with a ute? These were the kind of ruts that one of those would leave. The road on either side was just where people had driven sideways to get round the ruts initially and had sort of turned into the unofficial road over time. I was looking at one of these huge bog marks when I hit a savage gully.
Where the channels had been piped under the bitumen, this time they had just dug a ditch right through the road. Yeah, you could cross it with a bit of a savage bump at around 70 or so but I was still doing 130, remember. The front hit hard then sprung straight up in the air and then the back hit and followed. I remember thinking, "woohoo, fuck, I'm gunna die, I'm airborne, ha-ha, oh shit" all at the same time. About a second later I hit the ground again and bounced straight back up off the shocks. A couple of bumps later I had the car settled and still pointing in the same direction. Good publican that one... knows his shit... might stick to 90 from now on.
I hit bitumen again about 2 hours later and drove into Noccundra just as the sunset was hitting the Wilson River. Pelicans and seagull, crows and kangaroos had gathered on the banks for the show and took off in crazy sheets of color as I pulled up outside the pub. I was wrecked, 12 hours on the road and my wild imaginings had left me emotionally and physically spent. I needed a beer.
Jesus, I was fucked. Exhausted mentally, physically and whatever other ally's I had. I got out of the sorry Nissan with its soon to be completely dicked tie-rod end (courtesy of my dukes of hazard driving style and fucked up relationships mind), looked across the dusty car park at the pub at sunset and thought, "I need a fucken shower, a cold beer and some human conversation."
I walked in the front doors and was pleasantly surprised that for the first time in my life, that I had to duck under the door frame. This place was originally built with dirt floors a long time back and when they did the joint up they did just that. The concrete floor was put in but the door frames never raised. I fronted the bar and the bloke behind it said, "You need a shower and a beer. Have the shower and I'll shout you the first three beers."
"You're on" I said and asked where the showers were.
Twenty minutes later I was a new man. I had on a set of jeans and some boots and the only clean shirt I had with me, my old blue wrestling jersey. I sat down and good to his word the barman put three beers on the bar, at once. I don't know what the fuck brand they were but they were wet and coldish and bloody fantastic.
It occurred to me I hadn't spoken for about 5 minutes or so and I kind of felt embarrassed so I stood and said, "Sorry mate, Pig," and stretched out a hand. The barman laughed and said, "I wondered if you were a rude cunt or what, call me 'Fred' (not his real name.)
We got to yarning and shit and after I finished the third beer he and I went out the front to look at my Pathfinder.
"Yeah, that tie rods fucked," he said, "I'm no mechanic but it's as close to fucked as fucked things get. The fellas will fix that in the morning if you get along with them alright tonight."
"Your joking?", I asked.
"Nah, they are fucken bushies but they'll get you home," He said.
"Good-O," I quipped and I followed him back into the bar.
There was still just the barman and myself in the bar so I drank a couple more beers and thought about getting some tea. At around 7 pm after I'd had the best mixed grill ever, there was a bit of noise outside. Vehicles were pulling up left right and centre and I swear to god the pub was crowded in no time.
"Wouldn't have thought you'd see that many people in a night," I said to the barkeep.
"State of Origin, mate," says the barman.
All the ringers from Noccatunga Station, a few Telecom crews and anyone else within 50 miles were in the pub by 7.30. And... I was the only bloke in the whole place not wearing a maroon jersey. In fact mine was blue.
By half time the suspense was killing me. Not one word had been spoken to me except by the barmaid; the only sheila in the place and a bit of a looker who's bloke stood at the end of the bar and shot death stares at every man who ordered a drink from her. Finally, one nasty, tall, angry looking bloke crossed the floor to stand in front of my stool and asked; "Hey blue... whatareya? Some-gind-a-tuff-gunt?"
I let it ride a moment and stared back. Didn't want him to think the silence and the 30 sets of eyes on me worried me (I was shitting big-time). I eventually got out, "nah mate, some kinda lost cunt, was looking for Thargo and had to go the long way. What are you, some kinda busted arse ringer?"
And then he laughed and said, "nah, I'm the Foreman" and pulled up a seat. A couple of beers later he stood up and said, "It's alright fellas he's not a blue cunt, he just can't wash clothes for shit." A bit of chuckle round the bar and in one of those truly reverse 'dusk till dawn' moments the pub went from somewhere where I felt like I was gonna get beaten and futtbucked to a place where I was suddenly part of the community.
Right about then I heard the most god awful sound overhead. It sounded like a chainsaw and a ride-on mower mating with a big-arse industrial fan. Next thing this bloke looking just like Chooka from the Mad Max movies, only uglier, walks in and yells, "whadimiss?" I looked out the front of the pub to find the cause of the kafuffle and saw a bloody great gyrocopter parked in the car park.
"Where the fuck am I?" I thought, "what was gonna happen next?"
It turned out he had been left behind at the station when the other fellas came to the pub so he grabbed the nearest gyro, (what they muster on out here) and flew that to the pub in pitch darkness.
"Had to drink half a square bear before I had the guts to fly in the dark," he said, ordering a jug of beer and sitting nearby. One beer blended nicely with the next and some time later the game was over and I was singing bad Garth Brooks and George Straight songs with half a dozen other blokes. The pub shut some time later and I stumbled out to the car. I rolled out the swag on the ground and tucked my happy half drunk arse in bed. As I watched the countless shooting stars, tracing great arcs through some rich tapestry of milky diamonds that seemed to go on forever I heard the gyrocopter again.
This time the fucken thing bit me.
Then another, then another. Fucken mozzies. Jesus, each one had a pilot and some were big enough to have a navigator as well. I pulled the canvas over my head but it was no good. Pissed off, I tried the car. I folded the seats down and rearranged my swag, closed all the doors and windows and sprayed a bit of fly spray inside. I stood and finished a ciggie to be thoroughly sure all the little bastards in the car were dead. All the time smoking and slapping like some demented Monty Pythonesque German fish slap jig.
I got in the car and into the swag. It wasn't 3 minutes and I could hear the buggers coming in through the air vents. This was just like the Alien movie but real... I was in a ship and they were coming to get me through the ventilation ducts. I got ready in advance and pulled on a pair of gloves, a balaclava, a set of jeans over my tracky dacks and put my boots and socks on.
Still they came.
They were biting me through my fucken jeans and jersey. The bastards must have had seismic drills for proboscis for fuck's sake.
I eventually worked out how to fuck them up though, I just had to set the heater controls to recirculate and sprayed a little more Mortein around. I slept, but only lightly. I could hear them... hungry, buzzing against the outside of the window all night. I knew they were coming.
I didn't get much sleep that night. The mozzies were really loud outside my window. Buzzing like an all-girls dorm room at lights out. In the circumstances I was really pleasantly surprised to find myself, just on dawn, in charge of the chain gang. Thirteen brunette hotties, swinging picks at rocks. Ding, ding, ding, their picks struck rock and I watched the hot morning sun wring sweat from their convict skin to trickle in little rivers down their perfect hard work and sun-tanned bodies, staining the grey of their prison issue bikini's to a curve enhancing black. I smiled as they begged me to release them in exchange for sexual favours. One of them approached me and reaching out she tapped on my chest. Tap, tap, tap, "Hey mate.... Hey... we need the keys."
I knew it before I woke up but I was still so disappointed. I forced my eyelids open and the ringer from the night before is tapping on the window. "Mate we need your keys, you gunna get up? Its almost fucken lunchtime."
I looked around and stretched my legs discovering the ringer and two of his offsiders had been busy for a while. One of his mates had some part of my vehicle in a portable forge on the back of a ute and the entire left wheel assembly including a whole bunch of stuff from under my car was spread out in the dirt. The bloke next to the ute pulled part of my front end glowing red from the forge and proceeded to hit it with a four pound sledge. So much for my chain gang.
The ringer handed me a cup of coffee and I sat smoking and talking shit for an hour or so while his two mates heated, bashed and bent all manner of things.
"Where did you find a mechanic?" I ventured.
"Oh he's the farrier. Nearest mechanic is Eromanga or Thargo. He's pretty skilled with steel though. When he's done that part wont let you down."
What confidence I had in the 'doctor dodgy doings' dropped a peg or two but I didn't have too many options as far as I saw things. Around 10.30 or so the car was back down off the jack and all that was required was a wheel alignment. This was accomplished by tying two 6 metre lengths of timber to the front wheels and a little tooling and a lot of measuring later I was right to go. I slipped fifty bucks to the ringer but he wouldn't take it so I went and put it on the bar. The publican said he knew what to do with it.
I lined up Thargomindah and set off. That stretch was new to me too and I couldn't help thinking it was a bit like the scenery you see in those American Wild West shows, except really flat. There was nothing but me, wildflowers, road kill and gravel plains. Along this stretch you come through the Grey Ranges and I had seen this on the map and was kind of looking forward to a little relief of the geographical kind (although after my dream that morning...).
It was a little of an anti-climax. The Grey Ranges are these barren eroded hillocks of what were once most likely mountains. They looked old and cold and lonely. As I passed them I could imagine the inland sea that once eroded them covering me and them and the underwater world that this country once was.
In these parts it was not uncommon for fossickers to find fossilised trilobites and such and I had heard a hundred stories of council workers picking up sapphires the size of ten cent pieces after graders had levelled the edges. A wild country inhabited by wild people, but some of the most real and down to earth people you could ever meet. Straight up kind of people who would call you for a cunt right to your face if they thought it and who would fight bloody fights for you if someone else called you for it. I found myself looking forward to the pub in Thargomindah. I had only been there once to see the annual rodeo about 6 years before with a friend at the time whose parents lived there. I wondered if I would remember anyone and if they would remember me. A lot had changed in my life since then.
It struck me as I saw Thargo approaching that I hadn't once thought about the front end. I don't know how good that bloke was with horses but he had done a great job on the car. Thinking about it, it actually felt better than when I had set off. As an aside, I took the Nissan for a service when I got home and they replaced the tie rod end and asked me where I had the engineering done. Apparently the pathfinders have a soft front end but what had been done to mine would outlive the car.
It was midday or there abouts and I knew I could camp down by the Bulloo River tonight but between now and then I had some drinking to do. I was feeling really happy, comfortable with my own company and if I had found one thing on the road so far it was a new friend - me.
I parked outside the pub, figuring it was the best place to start. In little towns like Thargo the pub is many things; a drinking spot, a community centre, a court room, an information centre and a lifeline. The last time I was at the pub was the night before the rodeo six years ago and they were happier times. I wondered what I would find inside and why I had returned here. What was I looking for? Chances were I would find an empty bar, a few people who were friendly enough but distant and that I would spend another cold night beneath the far away stars.
Take a tour of Thargo
(I have taken the liberty of using people's real names in this section. I thought about changing them for privacy reasons but it just didn't make sense. The people of Thargo are real. They are straight up, in your face examples of honesty and integrity. They stand in their truth even when they don't like it and they respect the truth in others. So I have used their real names. Anything else would probably shit them to tears. In doing so I may have misspelled some names or got them slightly wrong. My apologies in advance, call me for a cunt next time I am out that way and I'll shout you a rum or two to make up for it).
I took a stool at the bar and asked the dark haired lady behind the counter for a beer. She looked at me oddly. I'm not sure if it was half recognition or mostly suspicion, it was a "we don't get too many strangers in these here parts" kind of look. I asked about the road to Cunnamulla, wondering if it was open yet and she told me that the flood truck couldn't even get through. I sat and quietly finished my beer. I realised that I knew her somehow but wasn't quite sure from when or where, I am really quite shithouse with names... and faces sometimes.
The flood truck for those who haven't seen one, is a flat bed rigid with ramps and some big arse tyres. You drive your car up on the back and the truck drives through the flood water like a wheeled ferry. Necessity is the mother of invention. I was thinking about this strange little town and the way the people here overcome great isolation and a lack of infrastructure. For instance, the nearest Doctor is in Cunnamulla, there is a policeman, a nurse, a general store and not a whole lot else (or so I thought). I ordered another beer, well that's not true, I simply finished one beer and another one came.
I let my mind wander back six years ago and fell into profound state of deja-vu. I was sitting in this exact same stool with my first wife not far off and a good friend Fiona, drinking rum and talking shit. Fiona's mum Kerry lived here with her partner Rusty. They were a wild bunch who shamed me with their capacity for friendship and rum. Lost in reverie I didn't hear the door slide open and was a little startled by the appearance of an older woman who had just walked in. She stood and stared openly at me for a moment. She was by my guess in her late 60's or more and was somehow familiar.
A look of serious concentration gave way to recognition and she loudly proclaimed, "I know you, you cunt."
I smiled, half mirth, half embarrassed (not much else you can do when someone's Grandma swears at you). "Your Fiona's friend. The one with the cunt of a thing for a missus."
I laughed. Jesus, nothing changes. Wife number one actually was a c*nt of a thing, wife two was shaping up nicely as well.
The dark haired woman behind the bar smiled as it all made sense to her now and said, "I thought you looked familiar, I remember now, I'm Robyn. What are you doing in town?"
"Not much," I replied, "Just got some time off so I went for a bit of drive."
I explained that I was living in St George now and left out the shit about my wife. I said that I was going to camp down near the river for a bit and do a bit of fishing while the flood subsided. I asked a few questions about whether anyone would give a shit about me camping down there and where I could find a shower.
Robyn looked confused, like a Mum looks at a kid who's doing something really, really stupid. "What do you want to sleep in your car for, fuck that, I'll check with Dogger but there's heaps of room on our Veranda for a swag. The mozzies will eat you alive down at the river."
It still embarrasses me to this day the way that these people own you. Not embarrassing because I didn't like it, embarrassing because it shames me with the familiar ease that these people accept you and will go out of their way to extend hospitality, help and warmth. Once you are theirs by association, you are like family.
I spent another hour in the pub, drinking and catching up. Robyn filled me in on the town doings and her family's comings and goings. I decided I needed freshing up so I made some excuses and left the pub only after being told to be back by 3pm. Robyn was taking beer out to the shearers and I was getting a tour of a shearing shed.
I returned just before 3pm and Robyn was loading two cartons of 303 beer (the only beer for a 'gun' shearer) into the Landcruiser ute. I got up in the passenger side and off we went. It was a three beer trip to the shed and Robyn tried to hold a conversation over the whining of the Cruiser. For some reason she insisted on driving the whole way in fourth gear. I figured that the free beer and the conversation was good enough reason for me not to explain the box had an overdrive.
We arrived at the shearing shed and it was a hive of activity. Blokes in blue singlets left right and centre, shouting, sheep noises, whining of shears, dust, sweat and blood. Watching these blokes at work made me glad to be a cop. Fuck working like that, busting your balls all day for a living. Things wound down quickly when the men spotted Robyn and the beer.
Dogger... Jesus. I had met this man before but each time you see him you are struck by his immensity. He is huge, not purely in a physical sense. He has a definite presence about him too. He is loud, big, friendly and terrifying all at the same time. He wore that same look of confusion that Robyn had earlier in the pub until she introduced us. He broke into a smile as wide as the land he worked in and that settled it. I was fucked. You see this man likes rum. Not like I like beer, more like how a fish likes water.
Back to town we went. Some time and a few more beers later I was already half pissed and didn't realise it was just the beginning. Later that night through the haze of too many rums I proudly stood up and announced to the entire bar, "Right, that's it you cunts. Youse are all too fucken good for me, I can't keep up. I am going to crawl into my swag and put my sorry rum soaked arse to bed."
"Go on then Hogget, fuck off then," Dogger laughed. He had started calling me Hogget earlier because he reckoned for a cop I wasn't big enough to be a Pig. As I walked home it struck me that I was as pissed as twenty men and that I had only spent ten dollars. Bastard Dogger kept lining rums up, God Bless Him, the bastard.
I lay in my swag, twitching and shaking (not from the cold) and wondered how I could possibly feel more at home here than I did in my own town. It was an hour before I felt sleep overcome the rum.
Were a blur. A rummy haze of nice memories now. Robyn took on the role of tour guide. Dogger took on the role of apothecary, medicating me against my marital hurts.
I woke on the fourth morning rudely. Three shearers jumped upon my swag. One stuck his tongue in my ear and whispered how he was going to show me what men do out bush when the sheep are on their rags, one punched me liberally about the ribs and thighs and the last stood holding a breakfast beer, waiting for me to wake. Which I did in typically piggy fashion.
I have never been much of a boxer, preferring knees and elbows to fists and baggy pants. I also have two younger brothers and three younger sisters, so waking up was always a dangerous affair. The ear licker retired to a safer distance and professed his new found love of sheep and the puncher preferred a bear hug for the purpose of saving his mate. The beer holder cajoled me sweetly and won me from dreams.
Standing laughing not three feet away, Robyn and Dogger watched their squatter and when I finally had my sensibilities they greeted me. Apparently they had all been awake for hours and had discussed my plight at length. I was to hurry up and drink that first beer because the second one was in the cruiser with my name already on it and a busy morning planned. I inquired about the flood truck and whether it could get through yet but I wasn't awake and cant remember the answer except the bit about "just drink your beer." I rose and washed and dressed and feeling brand new I joined Robyn in the cruiser. Our first port of call was to be "Bulloo Built". I had no idea what the fuck that was but I was keen for any and all distractions.
Two beers later and 9 am we pulled up out the front of an old building and I stepped down into the dust. Robyn explained that the building itself was the old hospital. She introduced me to the people who lived there and like I have said before I am a bastard for names and can't remember theirs. They showed me proudly through their house - once hospital and I could imagine what it would have been like being crook in Thargo a century earlier. Fucken hard.
Then we moved on to the workshop and I was amazed what these people did with wood. All good last century timber, lovingly, skilfully crafted into new world collectables. Their pride at the time was a large framed map. To be more precise a rather ancient local map framed in local timbers and craftfully finished... the sort of thing you would pay thousands for. Robyn had some personal business that she attended to and I admired the art and craft, then it was a new beer and 11 am so we moved along.
As fate would have it, it was vitally important in our tour schedule that the next two hours involved the pub. I don't recall why but Dogger picked me up from there around 2pm and introduced me to two things that were to prove both my nemesis and my delight:
Home brew Rum and chilli pickled yabbies.
I had asked the day before about the local fishing and they had looked at me like I was the shady side of sunlit. Apparently fish aren't the thing out here, the yabbies are. Dogger threw a severed sheep's head in the Bulloo River and showed me a square bottle of honey coloured liquid. He said, "Hoggett I want you to meet home brew."
I seem to recall pulling in the sheep's head some time later and prying off a bucket full of fine fat yabbiesbut the rest of that day is lost on me. I know I was at the pub, I know I got home, I know Dogger showed me a bottle of pickled yabbie tails.
Some time the next day I worked out that I had eaten them. I woke around 8.30 or so to the usual ear-licking, punching stuff and my hand reached out of its own accord to accept the breakfast beer. Half way through the first mouthful I suddenly felt like my intestines were filled with a thousand Tom Thumb crackers. A gush of wind that would have shamed jet wash escaped my arse before the cramps hit. I dropped my beer on their nice wooden verandah floor and ran to the shitter.
Oh, my, God.
They were chilli yabbie tails too. I couldn't stand up for the next hour because my butt was burning like a deep heat enema or an F-111 stuck on afterburner. At some stage while I was sitting there Shane or one of Dogger's kids, I don't know who, poked a couple of yabbie tails under the door saying, "mate, you gotta try these yabbies". I'm thinking now it was Shane, he was probably the only one brave enough to chance the stench for the purpose of a laugh. it all came flooding back.
Dogger was telling me how I had missed it; The fishing in Thargo is shit, however the yabbies though are another thing. When the river started flowing and the flood starts coming down, the yabbies come up from the swamps. So thick that instead of using a sheep's head like we had the day before all the locals do is take a wheel barrow down to the river. As the yabbies, giant 10 inch long blue black jobs climb up over the road, they grab 'em rip their heads off and throw their tails in the wheel barrow. When the barrow is full they wheel it home, fill it with water and light a fire underneath it.
He had then shown me his specialty, somewhere around the second bottle of home brew rum, which I can honestly say tastes like rum just better, only it has the alcohol content of yellow coloured Metho. His speciality as it stands is Chilli pickled yabbies. You take the cooked yabbie tails and put them in a jar with chilli and vinegar, well that's the simple version of his recipe. God they had tasted nice the night before. I remember him cracking a jar and tentatively tasting one, declaring it the food of gods and promptly gorging myself... and how I paid the next day.
The days kind of blurred after that. Dogger kept the rum coming; he even took me to the races, which were actually his mates place, telly, phone TAB and two bottles of rum. I was still keen to catch up with Fiona's mum Kerry but I never seemed to get past lunch time with my sensibilities. I saw a bunch of stuff. I never imagined a little tiny dusty town would be so alive with history and rich in attractions. I saw photos of dust storms, sand dunes, cattle musters, brumbies, buildings belonging to other centuries, people like you will never see in a city. I asked diligently each morning how the road was, to be told, "Still up, you won't get through, still 2 feet, still 50 centimetres, etc, etc".
This part of my story has been really hard to write. Mostly because it is an anticlimax. My wild adventuring finding its natural conclusion without fireworks or great revelation.
I had begun to feel disappointed with myself. For one thing I had been drunk or drinking for a few days straight and felt like a bit of a bum. I was sitting in the pub on Saturday night, looking around at faces of friendly open people and it was like I saw me from outside for a moment. A man more at home in a sea of strangers, hiding in bottles and tiny towns from his problems at home. It was time to sober up and get my shit in order.
I knew I would try to get home tomorrow, even if I could not get through the flood water I would take the 10 hour roundabout back through Eromanga and Charleville. I stayed the night out, switching to coke so it looked to all the world like I was still drinking with them.
The pub closed and I made my way back to Robyn and Dogger's house. Dogger had gone to bed; his loud snoring testament to his contentment and Robyn was still awake. She offered me coffee and hedged into conversation, "Look it's not really any of my business..."
I told her my story, mostly out of respect for the hospitality and genuine concern she showed me. She listened then asked me what I was doing miles away when I had shit to sort out at home. She didn't understand my way of doing things and why would she, living in a town where trouble was tackled head on and people lived their lives out loud and in your face.
We had a port or two and I said I had made up my mind to head off in the morning; I needed to go and straighten the shit out at home. She nodded and said, "The water has started to go down, you should get through tomorrow", smiling strangely to herself. Before I found my swag I thanked her for all they had done for me and promised to send her a bottle of port sometime.
The next morning I woke with a sense of purpose and a clear head. I knew what needed to be done and just needed to get home and do it. I found my hosts at a town sausage sizzle. All the residents of the little town had gathered and were sharing Sunday breaky. Kerry, my friend Fiona's mum finally caught up with me and we chatted briefly before I said my Goodbyes and shook a few warm friendly hands.
Pointing the Pathfinder East again was easier than I thought. If Thargo had given me one thing it was courage, I might not like what I found but it was time to find it anyway and deal with it. Ten minutes later I was laughing out loud as I saw that the flood water had been gone for days. Looking at the road and the land around I realised that the morning ritual of asking about the road and being told the water was still up was going to be a story they told in that town for quite a while.
The road home was boring, not because the scenery was anything but spectacular, you have only to look left at Lake Bindegolly to know the stark contrasts of dry and wet, the extremes of nature that make that area beautiful. Here in the middle of nowhere as far as you can possibly get from any ocean is a body of water filled with sea birds and life. More than two hundred different species of bird make this lake home.
What made the scenery boring that day was the knowledge of what I was heading into.
I pulled into StGeorge around 4.30 pm and rang my home number. She spoke with a mix of happy to have me home and worried about what was going to happen. I told her to meet me at the RSL for tea, I had things to say and she said she did as well. Some time later sitting talking to her I realised that my "all in" or "all out" ultimatum with which she had frantically agreed had just been words. I heard her tell pretty lies and knew what she was saying was, "well I definitely won't get caught again." It was just a matter of time from then but I knew I hadn't really lost. I had finally become aware.
I scribbled this poem on the back of a coaster while I sat and listened... It wasn't for her.
It was for me and for the people of Thargomindah.
ps. It's 6 years later now and reading back over my story I feel like I have come a long way as a man. Some of what I did back then I wouldn't do again, some of it I would. If you liked my story and have the means, please do this thing for me. By a bottle of port and send it to Robyn and Dogger Dare, C/- Thargomindah Post Office, 4492, QLD along with a copy of this story. It will find them and I'll feel better cause I never did send Robyn that bottle I owed her.
pps. I only saw that bloke who busted my marriage once more and that was 6 years later on the coast, no idea why he shifted.