Normanton remained extremely hot and very dry. My laundry load decreased during my stay as there was no need of a towel to dry off after stepping out from a shower. The dryness of the air deleted that chore. Moisturizing creams must be the top-selling products at the local supermarket. My eyes felt gritty most of the time, from both the dust in the air and the dryness, I imagined.
After my trip to Karumba, I remained confined to the pub. Unfortunately, I didn’t have another opportunity to explore the area. I was leaving the following Tuesday, back to the greenery and sea breezes of home, but prior to then I had to carry out the monthly stock-take early on the Sunday morning in advance of opening the pub doors. No doubt, a stock-take had been conducted before my arrival and it is normal and accepted practice to have one done before the departure of a relieving manager. Being one who likes to be organized, in the days leading up to Sunday morning, I commenced tidying up the stock, putting it in its rightful spots and order. Also I did a count of stock that was slow-moving, instructing staff to make a note of any they removed. At the close of Saturday night trading, I remained in the pub for a couple of hours to break the backbone of the count, rather than having to face it all in the early morning. I like to be prepared for the unexpected and be ahead of the game.
The rest of my time at the pub continued smoothly. Nothing disrupted my days or nights. Three-quarters of me was eager to get home and the remainder was tinged with a little sadness. I had enjoyed talking with the locals and getting to know them. The staff at the pub was great. I’d formed a warm, friendly bond with them. I’d miss my morning chats with the “Mango Lounge” drinkers and their continued humorous wiles in their efforts to extract free beer, wine or cigarettes from me. I’d miss Duke and Duchess, who I’d forgiven for their worrying escapade. I’d miss the creaky, wooden floors in the pub where, in areas, the ground beneath could be seen, its walls, bars and the many stories they could tell; the legendary Purple Pub up the road, where its owners, Vinny and her husband welcomed the blacks with open arms. During my stay, I visited the Purple Pub to introduce myself to the publicans. They were very welcoming, nice folk. They invited me to join them at the work-worn kitchen table with a mug of tea and a friendly chat. Vinny gave me a couple of bottles of her special “Mango Chutney”, which I prized and took back to
Yes, there were a few things I was going to miss about Normanton, like Rooster’s happy face behind the bar every day, greeting me with a cheeky, but innocent comment.
The pub closed at on Sundays. Unknown to me until just before closing, the staff had organized a barbecue in the hotel backyard as a farewell for me. They had made salads, hidden steaks and sausages in the cold room and prepared an open log fire with a hotplate on top. An esky filled with ice, beer, wine and mixes, accompanied by bottles of scotch and Bundy (Bundaberg) rum. They had it all prepared. The only thing I had to do was attend the planned celebration. Vinny from the Purple Pub had been invited and she had happily accepted the invitation. The only hotel patron to be invited was Rooster. He was a proud as proud as any man could be. He was over the moon at being the sole “outsider” invited. I thought it was wonderful of the staff to ask him to join us. Once we’d tidied up the bars, balanced the tills and locked the hotel, we hastened to the “camp fire” where we were to spend the rest of the evening sitting around the fire laughing, spinning yarns, some of them as tall as skyscrapers and generally have a great time. I felt very honoured that “my” staff did this for me. Halfway through the evening, they presented me with a gift and a card bearing all their signatures, even Jeanie’s. I have their gift still. The gift was two Normanton pottery canisters with thick cork stoppers. One is about six-inches high and the other four-inches in height. They have pride of place on my dining table.
Tired but happy, I woke to my final day in Normanton. At the end of her shift, Jeanie came down to the bar. She was with a pleasant-looking white man who looked to be in his early fifties. Introducing him to me as her “boyfriend”, she told me he was a pilot from one of the nearby cattle stations (ranch, to those in the
"No…go up,” I urged her. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t take the opportunity. You will love it, Jeanie. You will see the countryside like you’ve never seen it before.”
We chatted at length. I don’t know if she did go for a flight, but I hope she did. Just before she left that day, she handed me a present. It was one of her vases filled with the brightly-coloured feather flowers. Tears filled my eyes as I thanked her. It was a wonderful, unexpected gesture. I treasured those flowers for a long time, but somewhere during one of my many moves, they were misplaced, sadly.
Late that Monday afternoon, the owner of the pub, my boss of the real estate firm from
Cathy, the lass behind the bar on my final evening, invited Ross, the architect who had traveled out with Ross on the flight and me to drinks back at her home after we closed the pub. Grabbing a bottle of Grand Marnier from my freshly-counted stock, Ross jumped at her suggestion. Off we went to Cathy’s home. She must have telephoned her husband to warn him of our impending, unexpected arrival as he greeted us at the door with a wide smile on his face. The Grand Marnier was rapidly demolished over animated conversation. I think I arrived back at my abode around . I fell into bed, exhausted. The past couple of days and nights had been pretty hectic.
I rose with a hang-over the following morning, the morning of my departure.
There is nothing worse than a hang-over in 45-50 degrees Celsius. I lie, there is! Having a hang-over in those degrees and having to face a flight in a light aircraft that has no air-conditioning! I was driven out to the Normanton airstrip, along with the architect who was feeling similarly to me where the plane awaited us. Ross stayed on at the pub until the managers returned the following day. The pilot informed us we had to make a detour to Karumba. That information thrilled me no end! Landing at Karumba we had to wait on the airstrip for about twenty minutes. The reason has escaped me. The heat and the hang-over were rapidly becoming worse. The architect and I sat ourselves down on the ground underneath one of the aircraft’s wings, the wing shedding the only shade around for miles as we waited impatiently. Not a breeze gave us any respite from the relentless heat. My mouth was parched. As much as I love Grand Marnier, I was cursing it that morning!
Finally, we were on our way again. That’s when the pilot informed us he would have to fly higher to get some cold air into the plane. I didn’t care what he did at that point. All I wanted was some cold, cold water and home. As we flew over the Atherton Tablelands, I looked down at the lush green vista below. I swore to myself I would never again complain about the humidity on the coast. Of course, I have….many times.
Making its descent into