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

29 comments:

  1. What an adventure! Of course it probably looks much better from a distance. All that heat!
    Thanks for sharing, Lee, I really enjoyed a slice of life in the Outback.
    Regards
    jmb

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  2. I'm glad I was able to bring a bit of true blue Aussie to you...I hope I didn't make you feel too homesick. :)

    Thanks for enjoying my Normanton story, jmb.

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  3. Your a good writer, Lee. I feel like I can see that part of the country - how it really is. I enjoyed the story so much.

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  4. You have provided another entertaining story. Glad I found your site.

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  5. Corn Dog and SteveG...thank you both very much for your kind comments. Likewise goes out to you both. :)

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  6. Giddday Lee,
    Now that's the way to do it, read the whole 8 chapters in one sitting.
    A long story but a great read.
    Will the "Burke Peter and Wills Waaza's" trip across the outback
    be able to rival "My Normanton Adventures. Only time will tell.

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  7. Hi Wazza...glad you found the time to read the story, even if you had to read it all in one sitting. :)

    Now...how can two guys compete with one woman, I ask you? ;)

    Thanks for your time and your comment. :)

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  8. deslily5:07 AM

    you sure have a great memory ! I never could remember so many details like you do.

    what ever happened to Cathy Freeman? (sorry I had forgotten her name..nothing new for me though..I'm horrid with remembering names!) I do remember that great smile on her face though!

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  9. Great story Lee, you are an awesome writer. Thanks for the idea about the diary for my daughter I think she will love it and hopefully make journal time easier. Thanks again, Shelly

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  10. Hi Lee ~~ Another story ends, but I am sure you will think of another one soon. Thanks for your visit and comments about having a relaxed Sunday. Hell, I was VERY relaxed as I wrote on my last post. I hope you have a very enjoyable week. Take care, Love, Merle.

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  11. "Confined to the pub" almost seems like an oxymoron or something. My most popular blog (the one that has drawn the most visitors according to my sitemeter) has been one I wrote on a search for Creme de Grand Marnier. Did you stock that at your pub? Unfortunately, they don't make it anymore.

    I like how you created the atmosphere in your serial tale here. I could almost envision being at Donavan's Reef or some place like that.

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  12. I have got a good memory, Deslily...always have had...friends use me to remember their past! ;) Cathy Freeman made Australia and Queensland very proud. She was born and raised in Mackay, north Queensland. I'm not exactly sure what she's doing now but I think she helps in junior training camps etc., visits and works with a lot with young Aboriginal children in the outback to inspire them. She probably is on the talk circuit, too...though I'm not to certain about that as she is a shy person. I know she spent a fair bit of time overseas immediately after her retirement.

    Hey Shelly..good to see you...yep...I think the diary will open the floodgates for your little girl. Soon she'll be the best at journal writing...just you wait and see! :) I'm glas you think it's a good idea. Thanks for your comment.

    I had a very relaxed Sunday, too Merle. Did very little other than read and annoy the cats! ;)

    G'Day, Big Dave...no, there was no Creme de Grand Marnier. There wouldn't have been any call for it. I doubt many bought the original Grand Marnier, for that matter. We probably drank a vintage bottle that night!

    When I write a few more tales of my time on Newry Island you might see the similarity with Donovan's Reef, Dave! :)

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  13. lee,
    Your story proves the adage, 'There's no place like home."
    No matter how great a time you have in other venues, the time comes to savor a return to home.
    That's not to say I would give up my traveling ways. Maybe being away is what makes home so attractive.
    rel

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  14. There sure is proof in that adage, Rel. I'm always happy to be back home, whether it be from a shopping trip, a visit to friends or a walk around the property! ;)

    I'm a true Scorpio...I'm a home-body and can find much with which to entertain myself here at home. I was particularly glad to see "home" after my time in Normanton. I took the rest of the week off, after returning to Cairns. I needed the time to myself after being surrounded, virtually, non-stop by people and I need to catch up on some sleep. Early mornings and late nights were the norm in managing the pub, with no time for a break during the days, other than those I wrote about.

    I was replacing two people during my three weeks at the pub, plus having the responsibility of being there temporarily...I put pressure upon myself to make sure everything went smoothly...it did, except for the "lost dogs hiccup!"

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  15. Hi Lee

    What a wonderful story. I have thoroughly enjoyed every word of it. It's a pity it had to end...the story, that is. I can well believe you were glad to get home. I'm the some. Enjoy a holiday but get real excited about coming home again.

    Cheers and thanks for the great entertainment.

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  16. G'day Robyn...good to hear from you. I'm glad you enjoyed my Normanton story. Now I've got to put my thinking cap on and come up with another one!

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  17. Hi Lee,

    I loved reading your adventure, and it sounds like those people liked you too, and for you "There really is no place like home?"

    Janice~

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  18. Nice to see you, Janice...it was an interesting three weeks and I did have fun. I'm glad I was given the opportunity of going out there...and that I was smart enough to take up the offer! I'm not always that smart! ;)

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  19. Hi Lee, well that was a grand (marnier) tale and gave an insight to the gulf country not many would have had, well done.
    Re your comment about a Gympie Bypass there is nothing new as far as I know (I've been away remember) still the to-ing and fro-ing about where it will eventually be and who is complaining loudest about their property being resumed... much like the Traveston Dam, who would believe the number of GOOD reasons NOT to go ahead with this project.
    Due to a large part to the expansion of Centro place, as the BigW site is known there is a lot of roadworks on the go including a highway duplication near that site so sleepy ole Gympie has received a shot in the arm anyway.

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  20. Thanks for answering my question, Peter. Good to hear things are busy up that way.

    Glad you enjoyed the tales from the Gulf Country. :)

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  21. All the episodes have comprised a brilliant story, Lee , and thank you. I keep reading them over and over! I empathise with you re the hangover in the heat and can't imaging what it would be like to have to take a flight whilst suffering thus! - Well, I can, because you have described it as only you can, Lee. It was great that your staff did that for you but you deserved nothing less. Love from Sicily.

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  22. Lee,
    I subscribe to your blog on bloglines and a post appeared about your health food store. When I went to your blog it wasn't there. Did you take it down? Or?
    Regards
    jmb

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  23. It certainly was a hectic flight that one, Welsh! lol I was glad I didn't have to use, the paper bag during the flight home...I don't think there was one, anyway! ;)

    No, jmb...I've not removed any of my posts...perhaps it's in the previous month.

    Thanks Welsh and jmb for your comments. :)

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  24. Thanks for your story. It seems such stays were enjoyable to a point in time when the routine and home comforts with freedom soon beckon. I could imagine the warmth and creaky floors of the Pub, guarding its secrets yet exuding a certain atmosphere of homeliness. It was good to hear there was a lack of any racial discrimination.

    The aboriginal stockman enjoyed their affinity to the land, drastically curtailed when equal pay was granted as most Station owners ceased engagement.

    I am sure you can look back on those events and muse over so many interesting characters.

    Best wishes

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  25. I sure can, and do, Lindsay. I was thankful for the opportunity given to me to go out there and look after the pub. It was a quick and easy way to get to know the locals.

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  26. I was telling Stormy tonight (04/05 07) that we need to meet you one of these days.

    Happy Easter † God's blessings on you!

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  27. The place certainly has made itself a place in your heart, hasn't it? But I think the outback is a bit like that, people get close very quickly, must be something about the isolation and camaraderie (spl?) - or, much more likely the person you are, I reckon.

    Great tale, thanks Lee

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  28. Hi Marc...you never know what's around the corner, Marc! :)

    Della...places like Normanton do sneak up on you. The people are so different to city folk. There's an honesty and trust that one doesn't find easily in cities.

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