After those stressful few days, everything thereafter was pretty much anti-climatic. And I didn’t complain. I’d had enough excitement to last me until Christmas!
The weekend was drawing closer. A lot of work had to be completed in readiness for the race meeting on Saturday afternoon, the “Bachelors and Spinsters’ Ball” on Saturday evening and the “recovery” on Sunday. Everyone was urging me to attend the ball, but I told each and every one of them. “I see enough of you lot in here every day, without having to spend a night out with you!” This, of course, was done in good Aussie humour with no ill will intended or received.
I had no intentions of attending the ball. It would have been a lot of fun, and perhaps I should have grabbed the opportunity to experience an outback “B & B”, but I knew it would be a wild, all-night affair and I had a hectic, busy Sunday to face thereafter. For once I made a sensible decision!
The truck arrived from Cairns loaded with pallets of booze. The store-room and cold rooms were well-stocked ready for the onslaught. People were coming into town for the races and the ball from far a field as Mount Isa and even a few from Camooweal on the Queensland-Northern Territory border. Few beef cattle station workers from the large holdings around the area were left to look after the properties. These were once a year events. Everyone was out and about looking for fun and games. The three pubs in town were gearing up for the influx, which was about to or already had begun to descend upon the town.
Saturday morning was upon us with barely a blink of an eye. I mentioned previously about having to quell a fight between two women down at the “Mango Lounge”. It was on this particular morning that the disruption occurred. I figured it wasn’t a good start to the weekend, so I had to dispel the warring factions as quickly as possible before a full-scale assault began. Fortunately, I was successful in my initiative and the two insurgents moved on up to the Purple Pub or elsewhere. Peace was restored. Peace, in its way, was to remain for the duration of the weekend.
Around noonone of my staff members who I had coerced into joining me at the races and I jumped into the pub “ute” to head out to the races. I didn’t want to go alone. She eagerly agreed to come with me. The race venue was filled with a merry crowd of punters, non-punters, those who just came for the party. Some of the ladies were fittingly dress for a city race meeting. Others were dressed in jeans, R.M. Williams' boots and their trusty Akubras. They were in the majority. I dressed half-way with the majority, not wishing to stand out as being a “city slicker”.
Mingling with the crowd and the other sponsors of the races, such as Power Breweries, I met Gene Miles, who at that time was working for Power Breweries in their sales/marketing division. Gene Miles, an ex-Bronco hero (Rugby League football for those of you in the northern hemisphere) was an impressive fellow. Very tall, very good-looking (think Tom Selleck) and pleasant to talk with. We only spoke a few minutes before both he and I moved on to place our bets. I had no idea about any of the horses that were racing, but being one who doesn’t like to miss out on a bit of a ‘flutter’ at the races, I donated some of my hard-earned dollars.
Once the “Central Hotel Handicap” was run and I’d presented the winning horse with its royal blue ribbon, it was time to return to the pub. After putting the “ute” back in the garage, I thought I’d carry on my social afternoon a little longer by visiting the Albion Hotel across the road. As I walked up to the bar, all eyes were upon me. I could feel them burning into my back as I approached the bar. Soft murmurings reached my ears. I ignored both. It was a normal reaction. The “new kid on the block” had entered their hallowed domain. Being female also added to their interest. They didn’t concern me. I perched myself on a stool at the bar and ordered a “Double Sars”, (sarsaparilla), a traditional Queensland soft drink. Double Sars with lots of ice is a very refreshing drink. Served in a tall glass, it’s made with a dash of sarsaparilla cordial over ice and filled to the brim with Sarsaparilla soft drink. With a very dour face, the barman, whom I recognized as the owner, informed me the pub didn’t have Sarsaparilla.
I thanked him for his information, saying pleasantly, “Oh! Okay, then…I’ll go back across the road and have one there!”
Turning on my heel, with my head held high, happily returned to “my pub”, smiling and nodding at the patrons on my way out. The Albion Hotel would have been the only outback/country pub in Queensland that didn’t stock Sarsparilla. It was their loss, not mine and I made a “Double Sars” for myself when I reached the public bar of the Central.
I was still being urged to attend the ball that evening and I still declined, saying I had to attend the pub as most of my staff would be out kicking up their heels. The crowd in the public bar increased in numbers as the afternoon progressed so it did in the “Black Bar”. The “Mango Lounge” was deserted. All “Mango Loungers” had migrated up to the Purple Pub, as they did most afternoons.
Around 7.30pm, two brothers, who were originally down from the Torres Strait Islands, entered the “Black Bar”. Both were fine-looking young men, tall, well-built and very good-mannered. Both dressed in similar light grey evening suits, front-pleated white dinner shirts, maroon bow ties and cumber-bands, they looked very handsome. I told them so and invited them into the public bar to have a drink before they headed off to the ball. They declined politely, saying they would prefer to stay in the “Black Bar”. I didn’t press them. It was their choice, but I was a little disappointed. Old habits (or rules) are hard to break.
The pub was fairly quiet for the rest of the evening. Just a few regulars, like Rooster hung around until closing time. Everyone else was out at the ball having a ball, no doubt. I was thankful for the respite as I knew Sunday was going to be non-stop. I had a chance to catch my breath and be ready for the onslaught. Both bars and kitchen were going to be very, very busy. I’d organized for simple fare to be served throughout the day, sausages and grilled onion on bread, burgers, steak sandwiches and, of course, the legendary Aussie meat pies. One can’t throw a “recovery’ party without juicy meat pies burning the roofs of the eaters’ mouths as the meat-filled gravy scalds their chins as it dribbles down onto their shirts, can one? No, of course not!
All too soon, Sunday morning arrived. Stragglers from the ball wandered up and down the streets, some still in their garb from the evening before, all eager for a cleansing, healing “hair of the dog”. I’d applied for and received special clearance from the Hotel Licensing Board to open the hotel earlier than its usual 10am opening time, as did the other two pubs in town. At 8am sharp, the doors of the Central Hotel swung open. Immediately with no urging, as if on cue, the bleary-eyed, late-night revelers flooded in to the bars, ready to commence their “recovery” party. The verandahs were deep with drinkers, all telling tall yarns from the previous evening, some true, no doubt, but many embellished to enhance the moment, I’m sure. I looked across the road and the Albion was inundated as well. I imagined the Purple Pub was in a similar position. The weekend had been a rip-roaring success for everybody concerned. I had heard no reports from the police of any trouble. By dusk, the crowds had dispersed, leaving only the locals left to lick their wounds.
It was peaceful in Normanton that Sunday night. Everyone, including me, went to bed early.
To be continued...the final chapter.