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
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
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
Legend has it that further up the
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
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....