Arriving in Winton I had no idea what was in store for me, I’d never pulled a pint before and with 4 X Gold signs on every pub front, it looked like I’d be getting a crash course in that at least. I’d arrived at 1pm on Saturday and was expected to start work at 2pm the next day, giving me just over 12 hours to complete my RSA. After completing the course in the lobby, I went and sat at the bar, figuring that was the best way to get to know my new colleagues and familiarise myself with my new workplace.
It had taken me 14 hours to get to Winton by bus and I felt very disorientated, a feeling which would lead to a very hectic first week. Whilst I was sitting at the bar on my first night, I got chatting to a local, he asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Winton. This was all very friendly, apart from the fact he was holding the conversation with my chest.
“Well,” he said as the conversation reached its natural conclusion, his gaze not leaving my chest, “you’ll have people queueing to see you.” He finished, looking me in the eyes briefly, he gave my chest a farewell nod, before leaving.
I was officially the new girl in town, and this was going to gain me much more attention than I’d anticipated.
The Trucker Couple
Two of my most memorable customers were a trucker couple passing through on their way to Alice Springs, they drank schooners of 4 X Gold before switching to rum and coke, striking up a friendship with Jimmy, my duty manager Jedi’s boyfriend. It had been a pretty chaotic first shift behind the bar, even though there weren’t that many customers, this was new territory for me.
At one point Reg, a local, started laughing to himself, “What are you laughing at?” I said. “You,” he said “you’re so confused,” he laughed, “well as long as you’re laughing with me and not at me Reg,” I said as he asked for a rum and coke in the glass he’d just drunk a beer out of. At this point I was beginning to think the punters were playing tricks on me to make my shift even harder, he insisted I use the same glass, which warranted a funny look from Jedi.
It took several schooners before the trucker couples began asking where I was from and what I was doing in the outback. “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you a backpacker?”said the Trucker’s wife, I thought this might lead to her launching into some kind of tirade about backpackers coming to Australia and ruining it with their drinking and touristy ways. Instead she asked if I had Facebook and said she’d find me a new job, at a truck stop.
Apparently if I wanted to experience true Australia working at a truck stop was the way to go, and would be less “confusing” as there were only three beer taps and a soft drinks fridge. I’d have to pump gas for people too, but it would be easier than working this bar.
Towards the end of the night and after several hours of being teased by Reg and the trucker couple, they joined forces and decided to offer some words of wisdom, as they began to sympathise with me on my first shift.
“You’re doing well,” the trucker said “The key to working, and living out here is to stay positive, just get on with the job, don’t whinge. There will be assholes,” He guffawed at this point, and earned a laugh from Reg, who nodded in agreement. “But that’s life, just stay positive.”
At the end of the night as I vacuumed the TAB room, the vacuum was suddenly turned off. I looked up, and there was the trucker’s wife. “Holly!” She exclaimed her arms outstretched, “so good to meet you, I will find you a new job, don’t you worry!” She said and hugged me. A very warm and unusual end to an interesting first night as an outback barmaid.
Casanova gets cut off
It was a few days before I worked the bar again, I’d been told I needed to be perkier behind the bar. I was too stuck in my British ways of being reserved and offering minimal small talk, so I came to the bar with a vengeance. Standing at the bar was a young guy, I thought he was around my age, which was interesting to me considering there aren’t many young people around. It turned out that his name was Gordon and he’d just turned 18, and was planning on going to Townsville in the near future with his brother. He drank rum and cokes, and on finding out I was a traveller, suggested I go with him, “I’m not going to lie,” he began, “I’m interested, you’re a very beautiful person. This could be a thing, like I’m talking a couple of years, don’t worry I’m a gentleman, I’ll pull your chair out for you.” Ten minutes after my shift started, and I was being chatted up by a local. Originally I thought it was funny, and I bantered with him for fun, but as the night went on, he got more drunk, the flirting persisted…
“Honestly, if you want hang out sometime, let me know,” he said, “Well it’d be nice to have someone show me around, as a friend, I need someone to show me what there is to do in around here.” I said, stupidly thinking he’d get the hint. “As a friend?” He said, “I couldn’t do that for long, you can let me down easy, it’s okay. I’ve been destroyed before.” At this point I made myself busy cleaning glasses, as he nursed his fourth rum and coke of the night. Before he left he wrote his number on a napkin, incase I wanted to hang out, he said I had the option to throw the napkin away, if I wanted to.
A while later he came and told me he was going to see his other friends at the pub down the road, and that if I didn’t want him to return because I found him annoying to tell him now. Ever the diplomat, I just brushed it off and told him not to worry. On his return to the bar, he thought Hans, one of my coworkers, was looking at him the wrong way. Hans was the most serious German I’d met so far on my travels, his face and manner were deadpan, he was aloof but harmless. After seeing Gordon square up to Hans, I’d told my duty manager Jedi* that I didn’t want to serve Gordon anymore drinks. Gordon couldn’t believe I’d cut him off, and asked if he drank the water I’d given him would he be okay for more drinks. No he was told, and even though I thought he’d leave, he hung around talking to another local guy whose sister he’d dated. It was extremely awkward but eventually he left and I tossed the napkin with his number on it in the bin, wondering if I was more wearied by his drunken state or his persistent charm offensive.
Welcome to the Outback
After a particularly stressful day I found myself at my wits end and desperate to escape the hotel for a couple of hours. I messaged Mad Dog*, my coworker, asking if she was free to hang out. “Yes,” she replied “bring bathers and a towel, you’re going to need them if everything goes to plan,” I was intrigued.
Later that evening Mad Dog and her friends came and collected me from the hotel, I’d bought a six pack of beer from the bottle shop and we set off. We drove out of Winton towards Opalton, passing through the vast outback plains. Mad Dog told me we were going to a gravel pit for a swim, as we drove on, a small kangaroo appeared at the side of the road. “Oi Skippy yer c***! Fuck off!” Yelled the girl who was driving, the kangaroo jumped back from the road as the car speeded along. In the back of the car I was laughing hysterically, ‘welcome to the outback’ I thought.
As the sun began to set we arrived at the gravel pit, we parked the car, cranked the volume on the radio and got the floaties out of the boot. The water was muddy brown, and the surroundings were swampy, I asked the most tourist of all questions “There aren’t any crocodiles here are there?” Mad Dog and her friends looked at me blankly and then started laughing, “Nah,” she said “the only thing in here will be Yabbies,” which are a species of freshwater prawn, “and beer bottles.” As she and her friends had come to this pit a lot, and during our swim she pulled a couple of bottles from the water.
Swimming in a gravel pit, drinking beers and making new friends was the perfect way to end a hectic day. Soon the sun disappeared completely, and Mad Dog and her friends were keen to return to Winton to catch the two hour Home And Away special. We raced our way back to town, and I made it back to the hotel just in time to get dinner, as I made my way back to my room I felt refreshed, I was starting to like the outback life.
The Outback Barmaid Diaries will continue with posts every other Wednesday. Thanks for reading!
*My lovely coworkers chose their own nicknames for this series, and names of local people have been changed out of respect. All stories told are from my point of view and are not intended to offend or upset anyone involved in these stories.