Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Two!

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 Gulf of Carpentaria. Karumba to Normanton is just 70km. Normanton was once an important port with gold discoveries in the 1890s in nearby Croydon. It is said there were once 5000 gold mines in the Croydon area.

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 Smithfield! I do have a photograph of the pub, but my scanner’s not working so I’m unable to show the photo to you. The Albion Hotel is diagonally across the road from the Central.

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 Norman River flows to the edge of town, just a few metres down the road from the pub. It is renowned for its barramundi (pictured above...and no, that's not me in the picture...I have no idea who the guy in the picture is!) and salt-water crocodiles!

Legend has it that further up the Normanton River, a few kilometres from the town, there was a mammoth crocodile. In July 1958, Krystina Pawloski, a woman of small build, but handy with the gun, shot a crocodile, which measured around nine metres. The replica of that crocodile, which the locals swear is true to size, now rests in the main street of Normanton. It is reported the actual skin was used for this statue as a 'mould' to make sure of correct size and proportions. The skin is still kept in the coastal city of Townsville, North Queensland.

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 Northern Territory. He left the police force some years before after being shot in the foot. I’m not sure if he was the one who fired the errant bullet, but I had my suspicions! I also met the barmaid who was on shift at the time and the cook. A few likely-looking, obviously regular patrons were dotted around the main public bar. Out the corner of my eye, I noticed them looking me up and down in the way that it’s done when a newcomer hits a small town. I nodded and smiled when I caught their wandering eyes. Tentative nods and smiles I received in return.

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....


  1. Great story as always. Can't wait for the next instalment.

  2. Thanks, Liz...I should have more tomorrow, I hope.

  3. I just love your writing, Lee. Hurry up with the next lot...:-) Apart from that, you have led a very interesting life...and have survived it.

    Bewdy reading!

  4. Ha...Robyn! Yes, some of it has been very interesting...I just hope I'm not boring people with it, though...that's why I'm writing it in short bursts! ;) Glad you're enjoying it. As for survival...well, it is a case of having to, to be able to tell the stories! ;)

  5. Anonymous1:15 PM

    Just pull me along with the interesting story. You know when to stop and keep me on the edge of my chair. Grin.

  6. Waiting, waiting, waiting and enjoying the tale.
    By golly that's some fish.

  7. Hey there Steve and won't have to wait much longer...patience, patience! :)

  8. hmmmm, i have suspicions about that pregnant dog! lol...3 weeks there huh? .. oh boy.

  9. Pubs with characters, gambling, intrigue . . . Y've got the makings of a good story here, mate.

    Mmmmmm, is okay to refer to a woman as mate down under there?

  10. Hi Deslily and Dave...great to see you joining me in Normanton. :)

  11. Hi, Lee. Oh, I enjoyed that story and am glad I saved it up for myself! Can't wait for the next bit... but please, please, don't let it be about anything bad happening to the dogs!!

  12. Next bit is up, Welsh...I hope you enjoy Chapter 3.

  13. And yes, Dave it's okay to call a female "mate" least this female. ;)

  14. :) A Tab, I was thinking my firefox tab. I am so glad you clarified the definition for me. I am moving on to the next. Great story.