Friday, March 23, 2007

My Normanton Adventures...Chapter Three.

My first afternoon in Normanton flowed along smoothly. I introduced myself to the ‘regulars’ around the bar, explaining the role I was to play for the next three weeks, but their main concern was the imminent dart competition between our pub and the Albion across the road, a crucial match in which I had to be the “captain” of the Central’s team. At that stage, I’d not played darts since I was a kid, playing against my brother or uncle on a dart board set up on our front verandah! I didn’t know it at the time, but in a few months’ time, I would become a regular dart player when I went to live on Newry Island, but that’s another story for another day.

Around 4.30pm, I raced back to the unit to shower and change before “Happy Hour” and the commencement of the evening’s trade. Quickly feeding Duke and Duchess, I returned to the bar. By the time I returned, both the public bar and the “Black Bar” had filled with thirsty patrons, seeking cold, cold beers after their hot day. I jumped behind the bar to help out. This was to be my first meeting with “Rooster”, one of the local butchers.

“Rooster’s” battered face and bulbous, pitted nose spoke of a life lived harshly. Underneath his rough exterior was a gentle soul enhanced by a mischievous sense of humour. I wondered what had happened in his life that caused him to end up in Normanton, living his life alone, working by day in the butcher shop and spending a few hours each night at the pub. Every day he slipped down to the pub during his lunch hour for a couple of refreshing ales. His weekends were also spent at the pub. He wasn’t the only one who utilised his time this way. There were many others, but “Rooster” stood out. He had impeccable manners and was a joy to chat with, something I was to do each day of my stay in Normanton. Always dressed in a clean white singlet, jeans and a battered Akubra, the legendary, distinctive Australian wide-brimmed felt hat, “Rooster” presented himself freshly showered and shaved. It was difficult to say how old he was, but I figured he was somewhere in his mid-fifties.

Country and outback pubs in Australia are fascinating places. I hope we never lose them. They are filled with so many wonderful characters whose stories I’d love to learn and write about. The pubs have an unadorned charm and ambience all of their own. They are unique, full of character...and characters.

Eventually, I rounded up a team for the dart competition but I was shy of two and time was running out. I noticed a man and a young woman enter the dining room. They were obviously ‘house-guests’. I’d not booked them into the motel so I decided to introduce myself to them and welcome them to the town and the pub.

“I know you!” Said the man immediately.

“Me!” I exclaimed. “How on earth do you know me? I only arrived in town this morning. This is the first time I’ve been to Normanton.

“I do…you used to be on an island…Hinchinbrook Island…that’s where I know you from!” He replied.

“Yes…I managed the resort on Hinchbrook…”

“We’re with the coast guard…that’s how I know you,” he continued. “I visited the island often while you were there.”

“Oh! My God! Fancy that!” I declared. “I remember you now! You were always asking me to keep an eye out for any strange happenings out to sea.”

“Yep…that’s me. What are you doing way out here?” He smiled at me, as I sat down at the table.

“Well, I could ask you the same question. What the hell are you doing way out here in the middle of no where?”

“This is part of our territory. From the Townsville area north to the tip of the Cape…throughout the Gulf and all areas in between….the cattle stations….north, south, east and west,” he explained.

“Wow! That’s a huge area to cover,” I answered.

“It is…and that’s why we ask people for their input. We’re so short-staffed with such a massive area to cover. It’s almost an impossible feat.”

I shook my head. “I can understand that. Australia has such a vast coast line. Anybody could enter undetected, bringing in who knows what!”

We chatted along these lines for a few moments, before I asked him and the young woman with him if they would like to join my dart team. They readily agreed. So I had my numbers.

Promptly at seven, the Albion Hotel’s team strode into the public bar, full of confidence. I had already been ‘filled in’ about the Albion. They held themselves above everyone else in town. Aboriginals were not allowed to drink in their pub. I could see my team needed to bring them down a peg or two.

After a very short period milling around the bar buying drinks, the commencement of the tournament was announced. We tossed to see which team went first. The Central team lost the toss. Sadly, we also lost the game! However, we didn’t go down without a fight. We gave them a run for their money. It was a good-spirited match. I discovered the blouse I was wearing impeded my throw, so I promptly pulled it out from the hips of my jeans, to allow for a better flow. That still didn’t work for me, but I gave it my best shot, determined the next time we played the Albion we would beat the socks of them! And we did, the second time, but the third time they won. I guess one out of three ain’t bad, twisting the words of Meatloaf!

David, the pub roustabout, spent his days working around the pub doing maintenance, refuse

runs etc., and at night he went pig shooting. He was a pleasant fellow in his late twenties or early thirties. He asked me if I would like to go with him one night pig shooting but I declined. It probably would have been an interesting expedition but not one I felt I would enjoy. Instead I asked him to bring me back a set of tusks off one of the boars. One day he presented me with the jaw of a wild pig, tusks included. He told me he had found it in a crocodile’s nest a few months earlier. I still have it amongst all my many bits and pieces saved from my adventures in the North.

Every morning before the pub opened I rose around 5.30-6am to spend a couple of hours in the office in the unit, balancing the tills, organizing the floats for the coming day and planning stock orders. I rarely got out of the pub until 11pm or later each evening and by that stage all I was ready to do was fall into my bed. I’d let out Duke and Duchess for a run around the grounds of the pub. Being large dogs, I thought it unfair for them to be cooped up in the small compound and in the unit all the time. They loved their brief moments of freedom.

The “Mango Lounge” would come to life around 9am each morning as the Aboriginals who frequented it began to congregate for their morning session underneath the trees. I decided, seeing I was only going to be in Normanton for three weeks, it would be to my advantage to get to know them. I didn’t want any trouble while I was at the pub. I figured the best way to combat trouble was to befriend everyone. So, it became a morning habit of mine to sit or crouch down in the dust with the “Mango Lounge” patrons and chat with them. Without fail, they would try to coerce me into giving them free cigarettes, beer or wine.

I used to laugh at each new yarn they spun me every day to get a ‘freebie’ by telling them, “You know I’m only here for a couple of weeks and I can’t do that. I will get into trouble and I’m sure you don’t want that!”

“Aw, come on, Missie,” they would shoot back at me, their teeth glistening on their smiling black faces. “How about….” And off they would go on another tangent in an endeavour to sway me. They never did.

“I’ve already heard that story,” With regularity I replied. “You told me that one yesterday!” And we’d all laugh. They were cunning but I was even more cunning!

One morning, I lined them all up.

“Listen, you lot,” I started, with a smile. “How about you clean up around you? I want all this mess cleaned up, every day before you leave to go up to the Purple Pub. It will benefit us all. If you don’t keep it clean and tidy, I’ll have the police on my back, and then I will be on your backs…and then no one will be able to enjoy the “Mango Lounge”. You don’t want that to happen, do you? The police will crack down on us all and close it down. So what do you reckon…good idea?”

“Sure, Missie! We’ll do it. No problem, Missie!” They all jumped to attention and commenced busily cleaning up under the trees.

After my gentle persuasion, each day the “Mango Lounge” was left clean and tidy. Everyone was happy. The police left them alone and they left me alone. There was never any trouble in the “Mango Lounge” except one morning. Around 9.30am, two women decided they didn’t like the look of each other and a few blows were thrown. I quickly dispersed the trouble-makers and everything settled back to normal within minutes. My ploy of joining them each morning worked well. They expected and enjoyed the time I spent under the mango trees with them.

The Normanton Cup, an annual horse race meeting, was being held on the second Saturday of my stay in town, together with the “Bachelors and Spinsters’ Ball” on the Saturday night. I knew this was going to be a wild introduction for me to the outback! I’d been informed I had to attend the races as I was to put a ribbon on the winning horse of the “Central Hotel Handicap”.

Normanton was full of surprises for me! Some of which would happen before the weekend of the Normanton Cup!

To be continued…..


  1. Thanks for always being so comforting to me and I am really enjoying the story. Shelly

  2. You are more than welcome, Shelly. :)

    I hope you have a wonderful weekend...toss your worries to the wind and it will carry them all away!

    I'm glad you're enjoying the story...there will be more for you to read when you return home after a great weekend away with your husband and children. :)

  3. You've led the most interesting life, and write such wonderful stories about where you've been and what you've seen. I'll be looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Nice to see you, Serena...there are lots more to come yet...once I get my act together! ;)

  5. Hey Lee,
    This is a great story, the real Australia.
    I wore my Akubra yesterday in the pouring rain at Granville Island, just shook off the rain when I got home and it's dry today. I have three, one I bought there in person and two I bought online and had sent here. A black and a red Gymkhana and a green Pastoralist.

  6. Ahh...they're a great hat, jmb. I used to have a black one and beige coloured one...well, beige is not the correct description of the colour but it was similar, just a bit darker.

    Places like Normanton really are like the "heart" of Australia. I just fell in love with the characters...true blue Aussies...with no airs and graces.

  7. lee,
    I want to enjoy this three part story fully and not do a scan job. So I'll be back later to do it justice. ;-)
    Shopping, and income tax today!

  8. good thing i didn't walk in the pub to be asked to play darts! I couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with a dart! hahahaha..

    Rooster sounds like a good character for a book!!

  9. aah - the memories, how well you bring them all back... I spent about a year living in Tennant Creek, in 1963 when I was 18 years old. At that time, the population was 1200 people, the major industry was mining, and the friend I was travelling with was working at the mines.

    That very dry heat, with freezing cold nights, the pub scenes, the 'mango lounges', the characters - all of it ... all coming back.

    And, thank you for the good wishes on my blogiversary post, much appreciated...

  10. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Great story. Looking forward to the next part.

  11. Make sure you come back now, Rel! :) How's that cold of yours? I hope you're feeling better.

    Deslily, I probably did hit the broad side of a barn...across the road...and the rooster in the barn!;)

    Della...they certainly are interesting places, aren't they...I'm so glad I had the chance to go to Normanton and to spend time there,even if it was only three weeks.

    Hi there Steve...glad you like the story and popped in. It's always a pleasure to see you. :)

    Thanks everyone, for your comments. Hang in there...there is more! :)

  12. As always you continue the great story and I have truly enjoyed reading your story. Keep them coming.

  13. Thanks, Sandra...there's more to come yet! ;)

  14. Hi Lee, your tales get better and better, not sure if it's the locations improving or your story telling abilities, look forward to more.

  15. Let's hope it's my abilities! ;)

    Welcome home, Peter...I bet it was great walking through your front door after being away!

  16. Hi Lee ~~ Just finished catching up with your latest story and it is great as usual. You have had a very varied life with lots of interesting
    people and places, and you must have a good memory. You should put them into a book. Thanks for your visits
    and comments. Peter and I had a great few days together and I wish it had been longer. Have been catching up with my reading and comments.
    Take care, Lee, Love, Merle.

  17. I do have a good memory, Merle...always have had...not sure if that's good or bad! ;)

    Thanks for commenting. :)

  18. Hi Lee
    Great earlier pictures and an interesting story over your 3 posts. Some of the characters leap out at you; your story resembles the narrative style of “A fortunate Life”.

    Best wishes

  19. I'm really enjoying the story too and can't wait for the next episode. What a lovely bunch of charcters! Now I am sure you could write a novel about them!
    By the way, Lee, I accidentally rejected your last comment on my blog today - I thought I'd already published it and I hadn't. I can't retrieve it and I do apologise!

  20. Nice to see you, Lindsay...I loved "A Fortunate Life" it years ago and when I was living in Cairns or at the Northern Beaches of Cairns to be more exact, I met Facey's great-nephew, Bill. He was working at the Mountain View Hotel, at Little Mulgrave just west of Gordonvale, south of Cairns. He joined our table and when introductions had been made, I recognised his surname, which, naturally I followed up with questions etc.

    That's okay, Welsh. I've lost many things into cyber space, never to be seen again! :)