|Overview of Chillagoe|
|Central Hotel (It was painted maroon when I was there in late 1989)|
|A Picture Paints a Thousand Words....|
|Two Views of Red Dome Mine|
“…the air pressure on the big rigs holds the brake shoe off of the brake drum. Some kind of safely device, I guess, in case the rig loses pressure the brakes will work to stop the truck. This is why you will hear an escapement of air when they stop -- releasing pressure, applying the brakes…”
Once again I comfortably settled in the passenger seat with not a worry in the world. Sprocket was back in his rightful position behind the wheel in control of the “beast”. (Meaning the Kenworth, not me)!
My brief moment in the sun as a prime mover of a prime mover was over and done with forever and a day. It had been my one and only opportunity to show my mettle as a big wheel in charge of a big wheeler.
A lesson sometimes learned through life is if one always plays it safe; if risks and challenges aren’t taken, one can miss out on so much. It is possible we can live to regret the chances we never took. It can be fun and exhilarating at times to jump into the deep end without a life-jacket…or seat belt!
Not long after my trip to Chillagoe with Sprocket another challenge was placed before me. It proved to be one I had no choice other than to accept because it was too exciting a challenge/adventure not to step out into the unknown and take a chance; but on this particularly balmy Saturday afternoon, the subject of this tale, I was blissfully unaware of what was in store for me. I was too wrapped up living in the moment.
The afternoon was sunny with a blue clear sky; pleasantly warm, not hot. The landscape, although stark, had a unique, breathtaking beauty. Lulled by the movement of the truck as it rolled smoothly along the bitumen, and by the deep, but not throaty rumble of its huge engine I drank in the visual resplendence of the countryside.
I was brought back to the reality of the moment when we cruised to a stop outside Chillagoe’s Post Office Hotel.
The pub is situated on the town’s main street, Queen Street. From what I saw the main street wasn’t the hub of a bustling metropolis, but that was more than half its charm. The town has two pubs, a general store and not much else; but that doesn’t diminish its appeal.
These small outback/country towns scattered throughout this vast land of ours hold many told and untold stories. They abound in history; and they exude an attraction difficult to define.
It is where the “real” people dwell. And these “real” people have some wonderful, real stories to tell; and they enjoy telling those stories. A lot of bull manure is spread around, too, but it spread with good humour, rarely with malice. It is part of who they are. They have an intangible essence that’s almost tangible, if that makes sense. They work hard; they battle the elements, and more times than not come off second best; but they grit their teeth, shake off the dust in preparation to fight another day; another drought; another bush fire or another flood. Rarely do they give up the fight. They are made of steel; they are admirable people. I discovered this in spades when I was relief manager for a brief period of three weeks at the Central Hotel in Normanton, out in the Gulf Country of north-western Queensland only a few months before my trip to Chillagoe. (I wrote about my Normanton adventure back in March, 2007).
Entering the pub I was surprised to see how quiet it was. The pub was almost empty. Other than Sprocket and me, there were about six other drinkers leaning on the bar pensively pondering upon the cold beers in front of them. They barely raised their heads as we walked in. It was obvious our entrance caused little interest.
Rather than sit at the bar, Sprocket and I chose a high table next to the front wall and windows of the pub. Perched up on a high bar stool with rum and Cokes at hand we were only there a short while when a bloke sauntered across to us and asked if we minded if he joined us a while.
We said, “No…of course not; join us! The more the merrier!”
His interest had been alerted when he saw the Kenworth pull in. As it turned out, he, too, was a truckie. His rig was parked further down the road. He introduced himself as “Dave”. Once the initial formalities were over (which didn’t take very long), we were chatting like long-lost mates.
We laughed when he told us the publican’s wife cried out in excitement upon seeing our rig pull to a stop outside the pub.
“Oh! Great!” She exclaimed. “The beer truck has arrived!”
She was a slight, short in stature, Filipino woman. I thought at the time she was probably a newcomer to the Aussie outback. Sprocket’s tanker did have some yellow and red colours painted on it, so to an untrained, unfamiliar eye, I guess, at a glance a mistake could be made…maybe…
I giggled to myself as I imagined Sprocket and I pumping beer from the tanker into the hotel’s kegs! If I’d tried to reverse the rig there, I might have taken out the pub!
As Dave, Sprocket and I conversed the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory soon came into play.
Dave, as it turned out, worked for a fellow named “Lennie Robinson” whom I’d met briefly years and years previously…in 1963 in Gympie….1,671.3 kms (1038 miles) and 27 years away!
Back then Len Robinson not only drove his own truck, but he operated a little trucking business between Gympie and Maryborough, as well. More importantly, however, his main claim to fame was he bought and owned the first E-type Jaguar in Queensland.
As fate would have it he was a friend of friends. When he was in town visiting family at one stage he took me for a ride in the E-type! Wow! That was a ride of my life, too!
Over the years, apparently from what Dave told us, Lennie’s business grew in leaps and bounds. He’d become a wealthy man from his trucking exploits. Dave was employed as one of his truckies. Also, Lennie, who, at that point operated out of Nambour, a town south of Gympie, from memory, collected jaguars of various models; sedans and E-types.
And to go further in the degrees of separation (perhaps closeness is more appropriate), when I moved back to Gympie to live and work in 1998, coincidentally, my neighbours on one side for the four years I lived there were the brother and sister-in-law of Len Robinson! Lennie, by that stage in time, lived in our nation’s capital, Canberra. He was still a collector of jaguars of the motorised kind.
The world, certainly at times, is a small place….
The afternoon drew to a close. Dusk turned into darkness.
Dave had gone on his way, as had, when we weren’t taking notice, all the rest of the drinkers, the whole six of them! Sprocket and I were left to our own devices. Periodically, a patron or two sauntered into the public bar, but not many more than that number.
The room off to the side of the public bar that housed a few dining tables, a jukebox and a couple of billiard tables was deathly quiet. The lack of fellow Saturday night revelers didn’t bother us. We were content within each others' company.
The publican asked if we wished to dine. Suddenly we realised we were hungry. Shortly thereafter, in time to catch the cook before he signed off for the night, we enjoyed a hearty pub meal at one of the tables. Two other tables were occupied; by a couple of people apiece. We lingered long over our meal. The leisurely ambience of the pub was contagious. There seemed no reason to be in a hurry. At dinner’s end we drifted back out to our original spot in the public bar where we discovered the crowd had grown to four. Our table and stools by the front window had remained vacant. The other drinkers in the public bar soon drifted off to greener or, perhaps, dustier pastures. Perhaps, they were on a promise.
Around about 9.30 pm the publican began shutting windows, doors and shutters. Sprocket and I looked at each other. We decided it was time for us to make a move. We had no intentions of driving anywhere. We were going to camp overnight in the cabin of the prime mover, and head out to Red Dome Mine to off-load the lime in the morning.
We began to stir; to make our departure. We told the publican as he leaned across to close the windows near where we were sitting that we’d be on our way; we’d get out of his hair. While thanking him for his hospitality we asked if he minded we leave the rig where it was parked, overnight. He said he didn’t mind in the least.
“Not at all!” He gushingly replied. “But you don’t have to leave yet. I’m not closing up. I’m not trying to shoo you off. Have another drink or two. There’s no hurry! Stay as long as you like.”
Subtly, Sprocket and I raised our eyebrows at each other.
The publican had closed all doors and windows…if that wasn’t closing up, what, in Chillagoe, at the Post Office Hotel, was classed as “closing up”?
The publican had not long further extended his hospitality and our visit when suddenly the world exploded around us. A crowd entered the pub from all directions, out of nowhere, it seemed. People were coming out of the woodwork! The pub erupted into life. The jukebox kicked into gear. Music blasted forth. The click of billiard balls rang through the air. Four-wheel drives, many rigged up for pig-shooting, arrived in droves. Fellows poured out of the vehicles and into the pub.
It became apparent night life in Chillagoe began after 10 pm! And boy! It started with a bang!
Employees from the surrounding mines had arrived, making their presence known. Suddenly there was a feeling of the “Wild West” about it all. The pub was bursting at the seams!
We stuck around for a while, but then finally decided to call it a night, leaving the night to the celebrators.
The noise emanating from the pub didn’t disturb us. The tightly-closed doors and windows dampened the volume. It was happy noise; and there is a difference between happiness and trouble, in my opinion. The laughter and music faded into the background as, effortlessly, slumber took over.
With the morning sun we, too, rose. The call of the road beckoned. It was impossible to ignore. We were on our way…to Red Dome Mine.
Once at the mine it didn’t take long to empty the tanker of its cargo. This time I stayed seated in the cabin on the passenger side; and quite happy to do so. I had no urgent desire to tempt fate again. To be honest, I wasn’t asked to assist in the operation.
Job done…we headed back to Mareeba where Sprocket and I bid each other farewell. He went his way, and I went mine. I jumped into my car that had remained safe and untouched overnight, parked where I’d left it opposite the Ant Hill Hotel.
Driving back to Clifton Beach I was absorbed in my thoughts of the previous 24 hours or so I’d just enjoyed. Everything that had happened had been unexpected and unplanned. My weekend had been spontaneous; full of surprises. It was an experience that has remained with me all these years.
I’m glad I took the chance...I'm glad I went for the ride....