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.


  1. I had to "cut and paste" this post as for reasons beyond my control and unknown to me the "comment" section disappeared from underneath my post.

    Belongum commented but when I c&P'd my post and began all again,unfortunately I lost his comment. Sorry, Belongum...I did appreciate your comment. :)

  2. Thanks, Vin...I appreciate your rapid response to my query in Blogger Help Group. As per my first comment, I deleted the whole thing and started again and all is now in good working order. Whether that solved my problem or you did something or it was a combination of both, I'm not sure. Either which way, thank you. :)

  3. I was reading someone else's blog and they said they had problems posting today too. Could be blogger?

    Sounds like a rip roaring good time down under. I'll be back for part 6. I'm still in a bit of catch up mode. I put a blog roll on my blog tonight. I have no had that up before.

  4. Hi Lee, I'm in catch up mode, too. I'm really enjoying the Normanton story...not enough to go and work there though. If I was a lot younger...maybe.

    I've heard the B & S outback balls can be a bit of a wild time, but most enjoyable. I would have loved to attended one, just to say I had.

    Great memories for you, Lee, and as usual, really well written.

  5. I had no problem posting, Corn was just the "comment" at the end of the post that didn't show, not allowing anyone to post. Anyway, all is well again. Thanks for popping in. :)

    Hiya Robyn...I agree with you. I wish I had attended one but it was more sensible for me not to go to that one in Normanton, as I knew it would be a very late night and I just had too much work on my plate the next day. Trying to cope with all of those in "recovery" mode and a hangover wasn't something I wanted to do! lol I think I amazed myself at making such a wise decision! ;) Thanks for your comment.

  6. I'll be sad when the story is over, you'll have to think up a new one to entertain us.
    Sarsaparilla, how long since I heard that? I had to check how to spell it. We used to chew the leaves when we were kids.

  7. Oh! Don't Despair , jmb! I have many stored away in my mind. ;)

    I still love sarsaparilla. It's a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day. Nice to see you, as always, jmb...thanks for popping by. :)

  8. Anonymous1:32 AM

    The fine story continues. Love it.

  9. Hey, Steve...still more to come. :) Thanks for commenting.

  10. Fancy missing a B & S Ball at Normanton Lee, you should be ashamed to admit it.

  11. Hi Lee ~~ Have enjoyed your story and just read the last 2 chapters. So glad the dogs turned out. Whew!!
    You were wise not to go to the B and B when you had to work and had the
    responsibility as well.
    I just love sarsaparilla, must get some. I usually only drink diet soft drinks, but would so love a sars!!
    Thanks for your visit. Take carey friend, Love Merle.

  12. I'm back. The good news is that I couldn't sleep and got up to catch up on your 'novel'.
    I read every word and found my self all keyed up trying to help find a couple of dogs. I think I was affected by the fact that we've run a boarding kennel here on the farm for over thirty years and a 'lost' dog would be a no-no and something we've always guarded against.
    You've given us a good look inside of the little town. I shall wait with patience for the end. Well done.
    Sorry I've been absent, a funeral and 3 days without internet got me behind.

  13. A fascinating tale so far of your life evolving around that Pub. You have dispelled the image of men only (perhaps a decade before in the late sixties?)shoulder to shoulder drinking in the public bar, with copious quantities of beer spilling on the floor but barely visible through the bluish shrouds of smoke; with women consigned to the "ladies' lounge".

    As you describe the patrons a mixed bag, some rough but nice who seem to treat “missy” like the lady she is. Presumably you also did not stand for any nonsense! Presumably some of the staff were itinerant workers or were they mostly locals you managed.

    You have captured a certain mood of that time, one that will not be repeated.

    Hence these are simple stories about happenings to keep as treasured reading for the future.

    best wishes

  14. I know, Peter! Shocking admission, isn't it? But "be sensible" mode won. I was smart for once! ;)

    I think I'll buy some sars when I'm out today, too, Merle. I usually keep a bottle or two in the cupboard. Glad you're enjoying the story. :)

    I read about your last few days in your blog, Cliff. It's very frustrating isn't when things go wrong with the Net and/or computers. You understand my panic about the dogs...with my being responsible for them made it 100% worse. They were under my care and I don't know what I would have done if something had happened to them!

    Hi staff were all locals, no transients. The Central has no ladies' lounge. I doubt if the other two pubs in town have either. Women joined the men in the public bars as is allowed everywhere these days. The clientele over all were a pretty good mob. I was at the pub in Oct/Nov, 1989.

    You're right, Lindsay...I didn't stand for or take any nonsense... I never do! ;)

  15. Fabulous story written by a master storyteller, Lee. I want one of those sarsaparilla [can't spell it!] things right now and much later an Aussie meat pie, which you make sound delicious! Get the next episode on fast - I'm hooked! Love from Sicily.

  16. I've just come home from the local supermarket, Welsh...and I bought a couple of bottles of Sarsaparilla (you spelled it correctly) and a bottle of Sars cordial. I've talked/written myself into making some! ;) And as for the pies, I bought a frozen pack of four meat pies to keep in my freezer for when the desire for one hits! There are lots of good pie makers around the mountain too...nothing like a fresh, hot meat pie (served with some mushy peas!)

  17. Mushey peas, Bleeagh!

    Give me small, new peas. Yum!

    We had mud bugs and alligator for din. If you ever get up here to Houston, I'll treat you to Repkas. Don't tell the LST'ers tho, they will take over the place.

    Lee, when we were at Carins, we had "shelf oysters" and I was instantly addicted. Tell me about them if you can. They have a completely different flavor that I love.

    I am going to buy a new camera soon. I am happy with my film camera, but the scanned negatives lack the resolution I need. I will buy a 10+ Mpx one soon. Yhen I will start my blog up again.

    Bed time now.

    As Stormy says, sand man is beating me to death. You probably never heard that before.

    TTFN Cutie.

  18. To be honest with you, Marc, I've never heard of "shelf" oysters. Perhaps it was just a name used at that particular restaurant in Cairns and the oysters came from a "shelf", being a sea shelf somewhere out from Cairns.

    The only oysters I know of here...are the "Black Lips", which are a very large oyster, preferrably more palatable cooked...such as in curries, batter, crumbed etc.

    Then there is the "Milky" which is a smaller, "creamier" oyster.

    The Sydney Rock Oysters and the Tasmanian Oysters are another two.

    And there are the Coffin Bay oysters, but I've never heard the term "shelf oysters" used in all my years in the hospitality industry and restaurants.

    I look forward to seeing your pictures once you get your new camera. Thanks for your comment, Marc. :)

    Then, of course there are the pearl oysters.

  19. Hi Lee, I shall be searching out some stunning views like this at the weekend, it's great to get away and have an adventure.

    I've just noticed I am on your blogroll, I shall now reciprocate. Many thanks.

  20. I hope you enjoyed your walking weekend, Ellee...thanks for commenting. :)