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
Around , 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
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…
“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
“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.
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
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
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 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 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 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 , 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…..