|Central Hotel, Normanton|
|Grand Hotel, Biggenden|
|One of Collinsville's Murals, honouring the coal-mining history of the town|
Every pub has its regulars. In pubs everywhere there are clones of Cliff and Norm, the pair who kept us entertained in the brilliant TV comedy “Cheers” sit at public bars.
A fixture at the bar, the regular holds court every day on “his” bar stool, not only is his butt imprinted on the stool, so too, invisibly is his name. The stool is firmly planted, always, in the same spot at the bar. Don’t move it an inch this way, or two inches that way, he will know; and he will let you know he knows. Woe beholds anyone who dares take his place and stool at the bar. Those who are so bold (read “stupid”) to do so, do it at their own peril - no prisoners taken; no quarter given!
In previous posts over the years I’ve written about my brief tenure, in the late Eighties, as relief manager at the Central Hotel, Normanton, a small outback town in Queensland’s Gulf Country.
Very quickly, within my first couple of days at the hotel, I learned who sat where at the pub’s public bar; who held pride of place and who the come-what-may-take-your-chances’ patrons were. The latter were of no less importance, but they had to know their place – at the bar.
Similar applied in the “Black Bar”...the bar some of the local Aboriginals, at their own choosing, claimed as their bar. Everyone, black, white, brindle, purple or pink were free to drink in either the public bar, but many Aboriginals who patronised the pub preferred the “Black Bar”. They had christened the bar accordingly.
If those who follow the “politically-correct” line; those who like to jump up and down about anything and everything (perhaps a trampoline would be the solution to their urges); who like to make mountains out of molehills when neither are necessary, or warranted...if they had their way...they'd probably be screaming for a name change, saying it was in bad taste. Get the facts first...
However, it was the local indigenous patrons, the pub's Aboriginal drinkers who named the bar accordingly, not the whites.
Some others opted to drink at the “Mango Lounge” only - that meant sitting in the red dirt under the mango trees in the pub’s yard. They never set foot into the hotel, not the public bar, nor the Black Bar. Again, where they drank their liquor was their choice and theirs alone. It was, perhaps not set in cement, but it was set in the red, savannah soil.
All the above I’ve described in previous posts. If my repetition annoys, and appears redundant, I apologise.
Without fail, every afternoon, around 5.05 pm, “Rooster”, a local butcher walked into the pub to claim his spot at the public bar. Miraculously, seconds before his arrival, “Rooster’s” place at the bar was cleared, free for him to take up residence. From there he held sway over his domain and loyal subjects.
Like many others in those remote areas, “Rooster” was a character; one I was glad I had the good fortune to meet. A nice fellow, probably in his mid to late fifties, it was hard to even hazard a guess – his life was etched on his face – “Rooster” was a gentleman of the first degree. With a dry sense of humour, he had many stories to tell, with a store of others he kept to himself, no doubt. I often wondered how he’d ended up in Normanton, miles and miles away from whence he’d originated. Such questions I kept within myself.
Everyone, or almost everyone, in areas similar to Normanton and its surrounds has an interesting story, or more to relate. There are some among them who prefer to keep their stories private and untold, for reasons known only to them.
For a few weeks in the early Eighties I assisted two friends who owned the Grand Hotel in Biggenden. Unexpectedly, their chef had scarpered overnight, leaving his job and the town without prior warning. An SOS was sent out to me.
Post haste, the very next day off to Biggenden I went.
The pub, too, had its regulars. Daily, they sat in their ‘reserved’ places. Some others, with their ladies in tow, preferred the beer garden to the public bar; but the public bar was most popular with the menfolk.
I’d been told intriguing stories about “Sully”, a stockman from a cattle station.
“Sully” returned to civilisation every six months or more. His visits were legendary. His presence so overpowering the regulars left their prized places at the bar. En masse they’d head to the other pub up the road to escape him. Enough was enough already, they figured.
“Sully” arrived in town determined to make up for his months off the grog.
Once his vocal chords were lubricated, and on the way to further lubrication, he wouldn’t shut up. That’s when the migration began.
When “Sully” realised he was left sitting solo at the bar, off he’d go to the other pub.
Upon his arrival, the exodus began again, in reverse.
The pedestrian traffic in Biggenden’s main street was busiest when “Sully” came to town. Back and forth from pub to pub, patrons, disgruntled regulars and “Sully” passed each other.
“Sully” came to town while I was cooking at the pub.
His unheralded visit made things interesting indeed because at that stage the pub in which I was cooking was the only pub in town. The other pub had burned to the ground a couple of months previously.
When "Sully" turned up at the Grand Hotel that day the drinkers immediately got a dose of indigestion. There was no escape...or so they thought!
Not one to blow my own trumpet, but, I will in this instance because it was I who came to their rescue and saved the day, or rather, saved the night!
No introduction was needed when “Sully” appeared at my kitchen door that memorable morning.
Not only had his reputation preceded him, his description had, too.
There was no mistaking who the tall, rangy, bandy, weather-beaten man, clad in dusty, well-worn R.M. Williams jeans and riding boots leaning nonchalantly against the door frame was.
His legs were bowed from his many years of being on horseback. Most of "Sully's" time was spent with his legs wrapped around the trunk of a horse, not often were they used for walking purposes.
“Sully” tipped his battered Akubra, and with a half-smile on his face was about to introduce himself, but before he did, I jumped the gun, and said: “G’day, Sully!”
The expression on his face showed the surprise he felt at my knowing who he was without introduction.
“Sully” didn’t have a regular spot at the bar. He was very fluid. Either he moved from one stool, one area to another, or the other patrons moved from one end of the bar, up and down, back and forth when they tired of him and his ramblings. However, they were a captive audience, and couldn’t move very far from his reach; and definitely not to the other pub, because it no longer existed.
Having ammunition to work with, I knew what needed to be done to solve the unfolding dilemma.
Noticing the mood in the bar was changing, and changing rapidly I loaded my imaginary shotgun, and walked down the short hallway to the doorway leading into the public bar. I called out to “Sully”, informing him his dinner was ready.
The first couple of times I gave him notice he waved me off, saying he’d be there in a moment. I knew that was never going to happen; that the "moment" would never arrive.
The third time I appeared at the doorway I knew “I’ll be there in a moment, dearie” wasn’t an option; not one I was going to accept, anyway.
Firmly, not loudly - not in the tones of a “fish wife”, nor those of a “screaming banshee” - but loud enough for “Sully” to hear...and understand the intonation...I demanded he come to the kitchen “now” to eat his dinner!
He was being given his third chance, and like the old joke about the horse and its three chances, there would not be a fourth chance!
With his tail between his legs, meekly “Sully” followed me back to the hotel’s kitchen, and sat down at the table without further ado.
It took all my power to smother the amusement I felt inside me. If he'd had the slightest inclination that I could see the funny side of what was going on before me, I would've lost him, there and then!
And there, at the kitchen table, he remained eating his dinner like a duly reprimanded contrite child. As soon as he finished eating, he rose, pushing back his chair. He thanked me very much, and retreated upstairs to his room, where he remained for the rest of the evening. Shortly after sun-up, “Sully” left town to head back to his workplace, on one of the surrounding cattle stations. I never saw him again.
The pub’s regulars were so thankful it was as if they were prepared to worship at my feet for my good deed; to crown me Queen of Biggenden. They found it difficult to believe I’d accomplished the almost-impossible feat the previous evening; but achieve it I had.
It had been “Sully’s” briefest visit to town ever...one day and one night. It had never been done before. History had been made. He’d always stayed two or three days...and nights. I learned, further down the line from my friends, that Sully didn't return to the pub for months!
The problem, in reality, was an easy one to solve. I didn't know how anyone hadn't come up with it long before that particular evening. Like most drinkers, "Sully" didn't like to drink on a full stomach, after eating a big meal...so the solution was - "feed the man!" And feed him a big meal I did!
Peace settled over the bar once again...all was well. The regulars sat at their regular spot without fear of having to move...and then move again....ad infinitum...
Pub regulars are an interesting lot.
When I was cooking at the “Town & Country Hotel-Motel” in Collinsville, the coal-mining town, back in the mid-90s, regulars had their regular spot at the bar, too.
Two of the pub’s most regular regulars reminded me of “Heckle and Jeckle”, the unforgettable pair of mischievous, talking magpies created by Terrytoon Animation Studio back in 1946. “Heckle and Jeckle” kept us kids entertained throughout the Fifties at the Saturday afternoon matinees.
The Collinsville “Heckle” and “Jeckle” arrived promptly at 10 am, each morning...at pub’s opening...without fail, and there they sat for a few hours. They were usually gone by 1 pm or, at the latest, 1.30 pm.
Each time I walked from the kitchen to one of the cold rooms to get whatever I needed for cooking purposes, I would see them at the far end of the hallway, across the bar. We’d nod, smile and give a wave each time.
Then panic hit the pub one morning! The clock struck 10, and to everyone’s surprise, only one of the old “magpies” turned up! Time passed and the missing bloke was still missing. It was something that had never happened before! Upon investigation, of “Jeckle” who had turned up as usual, he had no idea where his mate was; nothing to offer to shed light on the mystery.
A search party was being formed, but fortunately, the following morning “Heckle” returned to his place at the bar, at 10 am. Everyone descended upon him, firing question left, right and centre. There was no escaping the third degree. He’d had a doctor’s appointment in Bowen the previous day, and had forgotten to tell anyone!
A harsh lesson was learned by him that day...and he never repeated a similar misdemeanour again!
Regulars are part of a pub. Regulars become part of the woodwork; and if they don’t turn up for any reason, they are missed.
Regularity is a good thing. It’s better to be a regular than irregular.
Chicken & Prunes: Add 1 chopped onion and 1tbs chopped garlic to pot; sprinkle with1tbs each paprika, cumin, powdered ginger, salt and pepper. Add 200g pitted prunes, 3/4c natural yoghurt and 1c chick/veg stock; place about 1.5kg chicken leg quarters on top; spoon liquid over chicken. Bake uncovered, in 175C oven 1 to 1-1/2hrs. Baste chicken a few times during cooking. Skim off any fat, if required.
Pork-Prune Meatballs: Combine 455g pork mince, 2tbs finely chopped prunes, 2tsp finely chopped shallots, 1tsp chopped sage, 1/4tsp ground coriander, salt, pepper and 1tbs white while; knead until mixed. Chill 45mins or overnight. In 2tbs portions, roll pork mixture into smooth balls, about 1-1/4-inch diameter. Melt butter and a little olive oil in pan; sauté meatballs in pan, not touching, over med-heat; cook about 2mins. Decrease heat; turn over balls; cook 16-18mins. Add 2tbs white wine to pan; deglaze. Transfer meatballs to platter. Remove pan from heat; add 1-1/2c thick yoghurt; whisk; stir in 2tbs chopped fresh dill; pour sauce over meatballs.
Prune-Banana-Walnut Loaf : Preheat oven, 170C. Lightly grease and line loaf tin. Place 250g roughly-chopped pitted prunes, 1tbs golden syrup and 150ml water into saucepan; gently warm, mashing prunes with back of fork; cool. In bowl, beat together 75g unsalted butter and 75g caster sugar until pale and fluffy; add 2 eggs, beating well; fold in 3 mashed, ripe bananas, 150ml milk, 100g chopped walnuts, 1tsp ground all spice and prune mixture; combine well; sift in 175g S.R. flour; gently fold into batter; spoon into loaf tin; arrange walnut halves on top; bake 50-55mins. Brush with extra syrup when still warm.
Prune-Banana-Almond Smoothie: Blend until smooth, 2 ripe bananas, 1tbsl flax seed powder (meal), 5 almonds, 5 prunes and 1 cup chilled milk; then had a further cup of milk; blend to combine well. Other non-dairy milk can be substituted.