Monday, January 16, 2017


Central Hotel, Normanton
The Purple Pub, Normanton
The Albion Hotel, Normanton

Outback Stockman

The stockman's face glistened under the torrid outback sun
Weather-beaten wiry and worn, his teeth tobacco-stained
Alone he rides o'er the dusty dry land his day never done
His love of the vast brown land remains forever ingrained

Parched by day the unforgiving copper luminary beyond
Unrelenting in its punishment upon all that wander below
As if obeying the devil's command it does eagerly respond
Silence is broken by bellowing cattle and the call of a crow

 (Graphite drawings and poem by me)

The heat and humidity we’re experiencing here at present is very oppressive.  The not so good news is from Wednesday or Thursday forth it’s going to get even hotter.   

Whoopee!  I can’t wait!  I might put the oven on in the meantime!!

These temperatures, of course, are nothing new.  It is summer down here in the Land gets hot in summer; every summer it's gotten hot as far back as I can remember.   

When I was younger, as it is with many other things when one is younger, the summer heat didn’t faze me; but now that I’m older and am growing older as each day comes and goes, my tolerance for heat is diminishing...rapidly.

Yesterday I was sharing similar sentiments with an empathetic young woman.  She was empathetic because she, too, was sweating like the proverbial “pig”. (The poor old pigs cop the blame, when the truth is, pigs don’t sweat much. The origin of the terms refers to pig iron...a form of smelting, which requires high heat...hence the link to sweltering, I guess).

The young woman told me she was from Canberra, to which I replied; 

“Canberra has been copping the heat lately, too...but, I guess, it’s a dry heat, not humid...” 

We conversed for a brief while as we almost melted into puddles on the car park bitumen. 

I’d shot out early, at 7 am, to our local supermarket and newsagency. Primarily to beat the heat, but also to be back home again in time for the commencement of the tennis, the Australian Open.  While this heat (and the tennis) sticks around when or if I need to go out again that is the time I’ll be venturing forth from my four walls.

After my chat with the friendly young stranger my mind, with a mind of its own, returned to the time in early November, 1989 when I was acting as relief manager at the Central Hotel in Normanton....out in Queensland’s Gulf Country...way up western Queensland. 

Normanton, having a tropical savannah climate, has two distinct seasons.  One is the very hot and very humid “wet season”; the season when the monsoon trough usually pays a visit from December to March, bringing with it the torrential downpours (or it should); and the other is the hot, dry heat through the “dry season” that runs from April through to November.

Temperatures in November are around 36C (98F); sometimes higher; sometimes not much lower.  Of course, as summer gets into full swing it becomes even hotter, and the humidity even more overbearing.   

During April to November it’s a “dry” heat. 

Normanton’s “cold” winters crash to a low of around 29C (84F) during mid-winter which is July.

When I was in Normaton in November I really didn’t need the use of a bath towel.  (Certainly a saving on the laundry bill)!  A moment after stepping out of the shower I was bone dry – no towel required!

After living in Normanton for a while, my eyes felt a little gritty because all moisture was not only absent from the hot, dry climate, but it had been sucked out of me, too!  I wasn’t used to the “dry heat”, having lived most of my life on or near coastal areas.  This was all very new to me.

At the end of my stay in Normanton I flew back to Cairns by light aircraft. As I saw tropical Cairns looming in the distance to the east, to my surprise, I found myself looking forward to the humidity!  I was sick to death of Normanton’s dry heat.

While managing the pub, I was also dog-sitter for the two golden retrievers, the dogs owned by the managers whose duties I'd stepped up to the plate to perform while they were away on holiday.  

Each day, after making sure the dogs had attended to their respective ablutions, I made sure they remained in my accommodation unit (the managers’ abode) in air-conditioning comfort.  When I returned in the afternoons to shower and change for the evening session, “Duke” and “Duchess” would be let out to do what they had to do before I brought them back inside again.  There they would remain until I returned home after I’d closed the pub later in the evening; and then they’d go through their routine once again before we all settled down for the night.   

Some habits become habitual.

My time at the pub in Normanton was an interesting, learning, fun adventure.  An adventure I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience. 

Almost half of Normanton’s population of around 1,460 (as at 2011) is Aboriginal - indigenous Australians; many of whom drank each day at the “Mango Lounge”.  The “Mango Lounge” was just off to the side from my abode.  A couple of large mango trees gave necessary, much-needed shade to the drinkers.  The majority of those, if not all, who drank at the “Mango Lounge” chose not to drink in the pub.  It was their pub “lounge”.

Each morning before I opened the pub I made a point of sitting down with my “Mango Lounge” regulars to have a chat with them.  They always put the “ hard word” on me for free drinks and cigarettes, but I never succumbed to their sweet talking. 

Laughingly I’d tell them:  “I didn’t come down in yesterday’s shower!” (even though no rain had fallen for months)! 

Or I’d say: “You guys had better come up with new stories; you told me that one yesterday – it didn’t work then; and it sure won’t work today...or tomorrow!” 

“Aww! Missy!” They’d chorus.  “Okay, Missy!”  And we’d all laugh.  I enjoyed those moments crouched down on the red soil, listening to their stories.  They were a happy lot.

I told them I didn’t mind them using the “Mango Lounge” as long as they kept the area clean and tidy; for them not to leave any litter around because I didn’t want the cops coming down on me; and, in turn, on them.  I said I was sure they didn’t want either to happen.  If that were to eventuate the “Lounge” would be shut down – forever made out of bounds to them.

They’d been using the area for years apparently. The police kept an eye on them, from afar.  The “cop shop” was just up the road a bit from the pub, within easy walking distance. 

There was never any trouble when I was at the pub, other than one time. But that was caused by a couple of interlopers one Saturday morningThe brawl that never really got off the ground started on the footpath up from the "Mango Lounge". It was quickly broken up by my "Mango Lounge" regulars.  I told the would-be brawlers to move on before the cops arrived. They did as asked, without a backward glance.  And the cops didn't arrive.

Pleasantly, each day I’d remind the group to keep the “lounge” tidy...that, by doing so, was to their own benefit.  Did they want the cops to draw the curtain  - shut the lounge down, and move them on?

 “Oh, no, Missy!” they'd reply in melodious unison.  

Clean and tidy they kept it. I could tell by their beaming smiles they were extremely proud of themselves for doing so...daily.  And almost daily, when I passed by, with wide smiles they would point to their handy work, to ensure I'd notice their handiwork!

On any normal day, by noon or thereabouts, the “Mango Lounge” was vacated...and no mess was left behind.

The Central Hotel had the main public bar, and it also had the “Black Bar”. 
There was no political-correctness back in 1989...and there was no need for it.  Political-correctness probably still doesn’t exist in Normanton. 

There was nothing derogatory, belittling or racist in the bar’s name.  The town’s Aboriginals themselves so christened it. 

Others who chose not to frequent the “Mango Lounge” drank in the “Black Bar”.   

Many chose the “Black Bar” over the public bar; preferring “their bar” to the public bar even though they were welcome to drink in the main bar. 

Some drank only in the “Black Bar”; others meandered between it and the public bar, depending on the day and who else was drinking in either or both. And some drank only in the public bar.  No whites drank in the "Black Bar", or the "Mango Lounge".  I probably was the only white who spent time in the latter.  I doubt very much the managers who I was relieving ever stopped there for a chat.

Normanton is surrounded by cattle stations.  Many Aboriginal stockmen worked on those stations.  They didn’t come to town often, but when they did, some drank at the Central Hotel, either in the “Black Bar, or in the public bar, never at the "Mango Lounge".

I’ve written about this before, but a special vision - a special moment - remains embedded in my mind. The day one of the most striking men, if not the most striking man I’ve ever seen, walked into the public bar of Normanton’s Central Hotel.

He was a tall, proud black man, probably in his 50s, at a guess. The stranger bore a pepper and salt, trimmed, pointed beard that suited his imposing stature and highlighted his high cheekbones. His back was as straight as a die.

I found myself mesmerised by the man.  He was oblivious to his impressive presence; but, to me, an aura appeared to surround him. 

I asked my staff who he was, but no one knew his name. They told me he was the head stockman on one of cattle stations. They also told me he didn’t visit the pub often. 

I only saw him once during my time in Normanton, but the image of that noble, dignified gentleman standing in the bar that one day has always remained with me.  He may have not stayed in the bar for long, but my memory of him has stayed.

There are three hotels in Normanton - The Central Hotel, the Purple Pub and The Albion Hotel.  

The situation may have altered now, but in those days of the late 1980s-early 1990s, the Purple Pub was the chosen hang-out of most the black community, rarely were any of its patron white; at the Central Hotel, blacks and whites were welcome.  The owners of the Purple Pub and I got along very well.

At the Albion Hotel, across the road from the Central Hotel, the then owner welcomed whites only. No Aboriginals were allowed in the Albion.  I had a couple of dealings with the guy who owned that pub...I didn't like him.  

There is a word that fittingly describes people like that fellow!


  1. It is hot in Canberra too. And we have had more humidity than usual as well.
    Love your poem and your drawing. And particularly love that the head stockman seemed to have everybodies respect - and certainly contradicted the too commonly held myths about our first people.

    1. Hey there, EC. I think I heard somewhere that it's going to be 39C in Adelaide no doubt River will be feeling the heat, too, down her way. Enough is enough, already!

      I'm glad you like my poem and drawings. Poem and sketches were done a few years ago. I bought a new set of pencils and pads last year...and both still remain untouched!!

      Thanks for coming by and for your comment. :)

  2. I like the look of the Purple Hotel, it has a shady upper story veranda and I've always liked those.
    Dry heat-humid heat? I prefer a dry heat, because I can't stand being sticky with sweat, but a humid heat is better if a person wants to plant a tropical rain forest style garden. So both have good points.
    We get humidity here in Adelaide, usually around February/March. We've had dry heat so far since before Christmas, about 39C today I think. Unfortunately I had to be out and about in it.

    1. Hi, River. Each are as bad as the other in my book these days.

      As I commented above to EC...I heard that you were going to cop it down your way today.

      Yes, the old Purple Pub is a good old style with the hotel rooms on the top level. The Central Hotel had a few motel rooms to the side of it...over from that tree in the front. The Central also had the local TAB attached.

      Thanks for coming by...stay cool. :)

  3. Hey, we have an Albion Hotel here and I'm here to tell you, it ain't hot here right now lol. Trade you for a couple o days.

    1. Okay, Ms Mumbles...heat is on its way up to you. If you hear knocking on your door...that will be it!

      Thanks for popping in. :)

  4. Nice snapshot of life in the outback and black and white relations. I remember being at Adelaide River in NT early in the morning and a group of aboriginal youth were hanging around in a group, which I found a bit unsettling. But it was explained to us they were waiting for transport to take them to work. Apparently it was taxpayer subsidised scheme and I thought well, it is giving them some structure to their lives. They have to be up early and functioning. Then not too much later, Howard abolished the scheme.

    1. It's a whole different world out there. The folk I met and had dealings with were genuine, good-humoured, decent folk, whites and blacks alike. It was a good experience. I had a fun time.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

    2. Typical politician, break what works.

  5. That's seriously dry heat.
    Would the cops have shut you down if the lounge wasn't neat and clean?

    1. Hi Sandra....the cops wouldn't have closed the pub down, but they certainly would've told the group not to drink there beneath the mango trees again...for them to move on. I didn't want discarded empty beer bottles, beer cans and wine casks etc., etc., laying around in the dirt beneath the trees. So those particular locals saw reason and kept "their" area tidy and free of litter.

      Thanks for coming by. :)

    2. I'm glad they picked up after themselves. People can be careless about litter at times.
      Sounds like it was another wonderful experience for you, Lee.
      Have a great one.

  6. That was such a pleasure reading about your time in Normanton. I have a broken arm but when it is mended and I am once again a two handed typist I must tell you about my adventure in Normanton in 1964, when I was a bright eyed innocent of 19. Meanwhile I will try to find the one and only photo I have of that trip, it might help me remember which hotel featured in my story. Did the council offices still have bat wing doors when you were there? I like your poem and drawings. You have many talents, girl.

    1. Hey Pauline! Wow! Sorry to hear about your broken arm! That's no good! I hope it's all mended and back into working order again very soon. I bet you will be, too!!

      I'll be very interested to learn about your Normanton adventure. You and I seem to share a lot of experiences in similar areas.

      I look forward to hearing about your trip. 1964 - I was still living and working in Gympie then. I moved to Brisbane in late July, 1965.

      I don't know anyone else who has been out that way. How great! I look forward to seeing your photo, too. I hope you can find it. I never got to the council offices, but I imagine they probably did still have the bat wing doors....nothing much changes in Normanton!

      Take good care...and thanks for coming by. "See" you soon! :)

    2. PS....When I was at the Central Hotel it was painted maroon, not the colour as shown in the photo above.

  7. Haven't been to Normanton probably won't get there now.
    We went somewhere a few years back and there was a white bar, a black bar - weird it was to us. We were told to come around to the white bar! As if we cared.
    Been watching the tennis occasionally and thank goodness it's not as hot down here as it has been up your way.
    Having my husbands Auntie to stay for a week at home here she has been ill with the heat in Brisbane and she now is 80.

    1. Hi Margaret...I found that the ones who cared most of all were the blacks. I invited one young fellow who was having a drink in the Black Bar before heading out to the Bachelors & Spinsters' Ball to come into the public bar for a drink. He looked terrific; and I told him so. He was dressed up to the nines in a lovely suit,cumerbund and bow tie - the works, but he wouldn't he chose to stay where he was, and I respected his choice.

      Every summer I swear I'm going to move to Tassie! :)

      Thanks for coming by. :)

  8. I wonder what the word is to describe the then manager of The Albion Hotel. "Discriminatory" perhaps?

    "Relief" and "relieving" are words that invite mischief but having been ticked off by you earlier this week, I shall not go there. The whiplash would be too painful.

    After living in sweltering Bangkok in 2011 and 2013, I very much enjoyed returning to northern England's chillier air. At least in chilly air you can function and think properly and going for a walk in the middle of the day is not a dumb thing to do.

    1. No..."arsehole" is the word, Yorkie! :)

      This may help you in your quandary and fear of being reprimanded further, Yorkie....

      I agree with you re the "chillier air". Winter can't arrive soon enough for me. Our winters are never very cold, though. Our winters are very my way of thinking and comfort, anyway. You can always "rug up" to get warm, but it's damn difficult trying to get cool!

      I hate this sticky, muggy heat! It may surprise you, but it makes me crankier than usual! ;)

      Thanks for coming by. :)

  9. beautiful memory.. love to read the story..

    Please visit:

    1. Hey there, Krishna...welcome to my blog.

      Thanks for popping in...don't be a stranger. :)

  10. I like it a little gloomy. :D

    1. I'm not sure what you mean, Lux. :)

  11. Really interesting insight into small town Australia!

    Poor you suffering the heat.
    As I write I sit with my feet on the radiator trying to get the blood circulating again!!!!

    1. Listen here, young man! Yes...poor me. I wish I was richer, Mr. Ad-Man then I would be able to afford a fan or air-conditioning...or a radiator for winter! Thanks for your sympathy. It's much appreciated! I hope you remembered to switch on the heater. If careful!....don't burn your feet! :)

      It was interesting spending that time in Normanton. When offered the chance to go there I jumped at the offer knowing I'd probably never have such an opportunity again.

      Thanks for coming by. Stay warm. :)