When I left Newry Island to return to the mainland, I secured a position as chef with a catering company. The company concerned held the catering rights at the single-mens' canteen/mess in a newly-built town to service a new coal mine in the coal-rich Bowen Basin in north Queensland. The mining company requested the catering company to build a first-class motel, to include a first-rate restaurant, to service visiting mining clientele...i.e. financiers, bankers, company hierachy, top union officials (Yuck!), company representatives etc. The catering company by whom I was employed secured contracts in Cambodia, Somalia and are now under contract in Iraq. They had major dealings with the UN through their various contracts. Actually, the guy who originally set up the catering company and one of his sons, were murdered in Somalia a few years ago.
"Lorikeets" Restaurant, part of the Glenden Country Motor Inn was a modern, expensively-fitted out restaurant and the menu was in line with its opulence. I catered for many overseas coal buyers and prospective coal purchasers. Some of these stories I will relate at a later date. The story I want to tell today is about when I transferred within the company to another coal-mining town nearby, to become chef/manager of the single-mens' mess and quarters. Collinsville is a very old mining town in Queensland, north-west of Mackay, eighty-five kilometres inland from Bowen on the coast.
I was the first female manager to run the Collinsville Mess, the first in the company, actually. It was a very interesting time for me, to say the least, and probably as interesting for the men for whom I catered! I took no nonsense and they soon learned this fact.
Because of the company's involvement with the UN, after 'Glastnot', a select group of young people were selected from Russia to visit the free Western World to learn about capitalism and our way of business etc. Australia was one country amongst their selections.
A young man named Andrei Anisimov was one these young people. Only 20 were selected out of the thousands and thousands who had been nominated. So, from that, it meant he was special.
Andrei was allocated to the Brisbane office of "my" catering company. They didn't know what to do with him so they put him on the provisions' truck that visited Glenden and Collinsville weekly with our foodstocks etc. Andrei spent three days alone in Glenden. Nobody there bothered about him. Nobody had bothered about him in Brisbane, either.
Wednesday morning arrived and so did the truck to the back entrance of the Collinsville Mess. I was there, as usual, to greet it. From the passenger side of the cabin, a young man gingerly stepped down. I could see the confusion in his eyes. He'd just come across from Glenden, through the back "roads" to Collinsville. The 'back road' between the two towns is just a narrow, winding dirt track. It was very obvious to me that everything he would have experienced so far in his short time in Australia was totally remote and strange to what he was used to in his home country. I knew from the information I had been receiving by telephone from both Brisbane and Glenden, he had not been made to feel at home or at ease by anyone.
As his feet hit the ground, I immediately extended my hand in a warm greeting. His face lit up and his black eyes flashed. Andrei was from Eastern Siberia. I looked him straight in the eyes, and said.
"You have two options, Andrei...you can stay in one of the 'dongers' where there is only a single bed, an empty bar fridge and little else...or you can come and stay at my house. I have three bedrooms, a full-sized, stocked refrigerator, a brilliant stereo system, plus as much music as you like to choose from, a stocked pantry and a large television set. I have two cats and a cocker spaniel. I've a barbecue out the back and lots of room for you to move. They are your choices!"
His face opened up with a broad smile. He chose the latter option.
I finished up earlier than usual that day, organising for one of my staff to take over for me. My 'normal' day at the mess began around 5.30am and didn't finish until after 8.30pm.
After settling Andrei in to my home, showing him where everything was that he needed to know about, I grabbed some ice, a bottle of Bundaberg Rum, some coke, pumped up the stereo system and we went downstairs to my backyard where I had a shade-cloth erected over my barbecue area, table and chairs. There we sat for hours and hours, talking, laughing, enjoying the music. He loved music and told me he played the drums in a little band back home that he had formed with a couple of his friends. He told me so much about his life in Yakutsk, about his family and the lifestyle. His mother taught English at the university and he had studied English at school and university. His command of the language, therefore, was excellent. We had 'struck it off' immediately. Andrei had a wonderful sense of humour. We talked well into the night and into the wee small hours of the morning. The last vision I had of him before he went to bed was his chin resting on my kitchen counter, tears rolling down his face from laughter, while he told me he had fallen in love with Bundaberg Rum!
When I rose early next morning to go into work, he was still sleeping soundly in his bed. I left a note for him to ring me when he was ready to come into the Mess and that I would pick him up. This he did around 10.30am. I took him for a "tour" of Collinsville, which takes all of about five minutes and then I drove out to the mine. I'd organised for one of the foremen out at the mine to take us over the area. Andrei was interested in all that he saw. On the way back from the mine, I stopped off at the small supermarket and Andrei's eyes grew larger. He had never seen so many products on the shelves of a supermarket. And, as I said, Collinsville's supermarket was a relatively small supermarket as you can imagine. Everything was new and wonderful to him and I caught his enthusiasm. It all began to look new to me, too, as I saw things through his eyes.
I gave him a couple of small jobs to do when we arrived back at the mess but mainly I just continued talking with him. Sitting with me in my office, I said to him, "How about I take you to the coast for the weekend. There's nothing for you to do here in Collinsville and I'd like to show you more of the area...would you like to do that?"
Andrei readily agreed. Before I knew he was coming to Collinsville and he would be under my care, I had planned and booked my usual little cabin on the beachfront at Rose Bay, Bowen. I knew that this wouldn't be suitable for him as all I did when I went to the cabin was to sit out on the deck and savour the magnificent view of the ocean across to Gloucester Island. I wanted to show him more of the countryside so I decided to telephone a friend of mine in Airlie Beach to see if she could find us accommodation down there. Susie worked in the front office of the Coral Sea Resort at the time and I knew if anyone could find accommodation for me, she could.
I had excellent timing, not...it was the weekend of the Whitsunday Yacht Race and everyone and his dog and boat would be in town. There was not a room to be found, other than one single room.
I turned to young Andrei and said, "What do you think about sharing one room with an old, decrepit woman? There is a sofa, so I will take that and you can have the bed."
Andrei was receptive to anything I threw at him and once again, he readily agreed. So I promptly asked Susie to book the room, the one and only room left in the Whitsunday Resort and in Airlie Beach, for that matter.
This is turning into a lengthy tale, so I will call this the end of Chapter One. I will return for Chapter Two, later...probably tomorrow. Do come back!