A couple of weeks ago I was sat in the library using the computer and decided to give looking for regional work by placing an ad on Gumtree another go, I was sceptical about trying again as it had proved futile when I was in Sydney. Now that I was in the outback I thought I’d give it a shot, but I had already told most people that by April I’d be leaving Winton and heading to a working hostel in Tully hoping to gain my second year visa as a banana packer.
I typed a couple of paragraphs explaining where I was, what I was looking for and what I was doing in Winton and little bit about me, and posted it. Then I went back to sorting out my student finance proof of travel form, which was proving to be a complete nuisance to sort out in the outback.
“I couldn’t imagine doing what you’re doing.”
One night we had a couple of FOXTEL workers arrive late, they ordered dinner, and as they waited my manager Ben asked them to help fix our TV connection. I felt for them, they’d had a long day and now they were working again. They got a free beer out of it, and when their dinner arrived, one of them struck up a conversation with me, his name was CJ. “So did you come out here all by yourself?” He said, usually this topic sets of alarm bells ringing in my mind, I have had the conversation about my being a female solo traveller and how I feel, my experiences and whether or not I feel vulnerable, and usually this leads the guy I’m talking to (because it’s always a man who asks about it) to ask if I want to sleep with him. This warrants a whole blog post in itself, and it is coming, but this was different. “Yes, I’m travelling by myself, came out here and I’ve been working here for six weeks now and it’s been an experience.” I replied, “Wow, I couldn’t imagine doing what you’re doing, as a woman, coming to be a barmaid in the outback, don’t all the men come on to you?” CJ said, “Yeah it’s been annoying, but the worst is when the guy asks me how I feel about being a solo traveller, pulling this whole nice guy act and I respond honestly, and somehow they think that means they can ask for sex.” I replied, “Well you don’t have to worry about me, I have a girlfriend.” He said.
I spoke to them for the rest of my shift, I’d noticed they had a couple of six packs of Summer light lager, and I hoped they’d be out drinking on the balcony so I could join them after my shift. I was in lucky when I finally got off a few hours later, they were staying in the room next to mine, and I went and joined them on the balcony. CJ’s workmate was plastered and after a while he stumbled to bed, I sat and spoke with CJ, it was a clear night and the stars were shining. The hotel was quiet apart from the noise of bugs fluttering around, crickets chirping and the quiet hum of the speaker we were using for music. I sat and drank beers with CJ and it was just nice to chat to someone, for the past week none of mine or my coworkers shifts matched up so we could hang out together, Jed was always keen to go and see Jimmy, and Mad Dog enjoyed seeing her friends, my other friends were either camping in the bush for work or had moved to a property nearby. That night I stayed up till the small hours talking to CJ about things I hadn’t spoken about for ages, we chatted away until 4am and then retired to our respective rooms, I suppose I hadn’t realised how lonely I’d been feeling and so I was very grateful to have spent the night chatting and drinking with CJ and his friend.
Paddy came into the bar for his usual can of coke, in fact I think it may have been his second that morning, on the television was women’s football, every so often the camera would zoom in on them bending over. I hadn’t noticed that Paddy was paying attention to the to until I looked up and he was gazing at the screen. “Are you looking at their bums Paddy?” I asked “Yeah,” he said, “they’re nice, you don’t wanna get to close to them though.” “Why’s that?” I said, “they might be stinky!” Paddy exclaimed.
Paddy looks a little bit like my late grandfather, and so whenever he came in I used to like to make him smile as he has such a cheeky grin. During my last week in Winton, he kept trying to ask me out when my shifts finished, when this has happened with other men in town I used to freak out, but as I knew Paddy always went home at 4pm I knew he meant nothing by it, but it was funny to have him ask “When do you knock off?” And after I told him he’d say “Okay I’ll see you around later.”
One day I told him I finished at 3pm and he said “Oh well, I’ve got to go there, over there and around there, but I’ll see what I can do.” (Word for word that’s exactly what he said). The next day when he came in for his morning can of coke, I decided to play up that he’d stood me up, “Where were you Paddy? I was waiting for you!” He looked at me with an amused look on his face before saying “I told you, I had to go there, over there and around there.” I scolded him for “playing me around” and he looked pretty pleased with himself.
I’d told Paddy I was leaving to go to Julia Creek in a week, and even though I was sure he wouldn’t remember who I was or where I was going next week, I asked if he’d miss me when I leave. He took a moment before answering before saying “I probably will.”
“I hate backpackers”
“Now I’m going to say something, but you have to listen to all of what I’m going to say,” she’d as when we’d gone out for breakfast in the hotel café my second week working at the hotel. “I hate backpackers,” Mad Dog said, “because you come and then you just leave,”
Skip forward a couple of weeks and I was sitting across from Mad Dog crying as I’d just accepted a job as a cattle station cook, and I was so sad to be leaving Winton just as I’d settled in. “I told you I hate backpackers!” She said again coming over to give me a hug, “Come on Holly, if you leave then I’ll be the shortest barmaid in Winton!”
After that word quickly spread that I was moving on, and over the last couple of weeks we started to drift from each other, I barely got to see Jed before I left unless we were at work, and Mad Dog had to work the bar on my last night, which pleased her no end as my drinks were on the house it meant she could make me anything. I’m sad to say that since I left, both girls have left Winton too, for different reasons, and though I’m unsure I’ll see them again, I wish them both the best they made my stint as an outback barmaid an absolute blast, together we shared a lot of laughs, tears, and silly dance moves.
The Local Boy
He used to always come in and order a can of coke, despite being over 18 and able to drink. The night I first met him had been the night Gordon came on to me, and he’d helped me bring in the outside furniture. The local boy had a thick Australian accent, for how young he looked his voice made him seem so much older, and the way he spoke and the stories he told of his life and his childhood were like that of an old man talking about a completely different time. He’d been amazed that I didn’t know what a pig dog was (a dog used for pigging, like a hound in fox hunting or a sheep dog). He’d asked me questions about farming in England, whether we had properties, did we muster, how did it work, and when he asked me these questions I realised how much I didn’t know about England. He made me realise how sheltered my life had been, I had gone to school, to university, worked in a supermarket and then decided to come out to Australia to travel and to test myself. He had worked on stations since he was five, had gone to school, knew how to make explosives, went pigging, shot kangaroos. Our lives were so opposite, and this friendship humbled me, I didn’t know shit about what it was like to grow up in the outback and fend for yourself.
On one of my days off, I’d started to go crazy with cabin fever, I hadn’t left Winton, Elderslie street, in one month. The Age of Australian Dinosaur Museum was half an hour away, and I decided to finally annihilate my British hatred of asking a favour, by asking if he would take me to the museum. Luckily he was free, and more than happy to take me out, when we got to the museum it was only us and another family visiting, he asked questions of the museum assistants, how their current excavations were going, what they’d found, where she’d studied, and when we visited the lab he knew the guide there too and chatted away to him all through the tour. After we went to the lookout point and he easily spotted kangaroos, I couldn’t spot them at all, the men of the outback know their land, they know the trees whether they’re native, or a pest, if the timber is good, which animal eats them, they can smell cattle, follow tracks and know how to look for things amongst the trees. “Spotting that kangaroo, in all the woodland, is about as hard as it is for a chopper to spot cattle during a muster.” He said, when he wasn’t pointing things out to me, he spoke freely about his life, sometimes I worry I’m too quiet or seem disinterested when I don’t try and start conversations, every often this works in my favour when whoever I’m with begins to speak candidly to me, telling me about their life, their worst experiences, their hopes and aspirations, I live for those times.
After he took me to the Winton sign, and showed me the bore pump, and then to the Musical Fence, a local art installation made of scrap metal, there’s a drum kit and various improvised instruments that you can tap or hit with a selection of metal, wooden and plastic sticks. I was flattered by the time he’d taken to show me around Winton, this was all old to him, and he found Winton boring, but to me I enjoyed seeing the places in town I hadn’t visited yet.
Over my last two weeks in town, he had things going on at home, and his way of dealing with it was to come in and play pool for hours at a time. Sometimes he’d play by himself, others he’d play with my manager, occasionally he brought his brother, and the times I was off I’d play him and he’d try and teach me to play better. When I asked if he was coming to my leaving drinks, he said “nah.” I was surprised as he’d come in everyday that week, “it’s too hard to say goodbye eh?” I said.
“Good Golly Miss Holly”
I can remember unpacking my rucksack and putting it away in the wardrobe, and it feeling like a big deal, for now I thought I had hit pause on my travels, I had found a job and I didn’t really know what it would entail. I left packing my rucksack until the night before I left, and did most of it the morning I was due to leave, hung over, thankful for extra bags to accommodate the stuff I’d acquired from staying in one place.
It was the locals, the people of Winton who made my time there as glorious, eye-opening and as fun as it was. I loved being able to wander down Elderslie street, or around town and see familiar faces. My last week involved a couple of morning shifts on the bar, a couple of locals started to say “Good Golly Miss Holly” as I walked by from the bar to the bottleo to restock the eskie. On my last night my manager Ben ordered a round of wet pussy shots and raised a toast to me, “Miss Holly”, something everyone had started calling me. I was surrounded by the people I’d worked with for six weeks, and some of my favourite locals who had become dear friends of mine. I later said over a smoke with Brian, that Winton had come to feel like home, and I hadn’t expected it to feel like that, to find a place like this. I reminded me of when Megan and I went to Brasov on a whim, and I felt lucky to have gone there, to have walked around and taken it in, not many people go to Romania, and though I know I’m not the first and I’m not the last English backpacker to visit Winton, going there and the community I found there was like nothing I’d experienced before. I hope every traveller finds a place like Winton, a place that becomes their own, though your stay may not be long, what you discover and learn in that brief time is a gift. I hope I never forget my time in Winton, which is part of the reason why I’ve written so much about it. I hope the people I met there too know how much they inspired me, helped me and amazed me.
Thank you, a million times thank you.