A Man Without Love
By Niven Dallas
Dinner at the Sandfire Pub
Ron thought the whole episode as rather funny, laughing as Peter spluttered and coughed in the billowing clouds of dry gravel dust.
'C'mon Peter; only an absolute idiot would stand in the middle of an out-back gravel road trying to flag down a car, especially one driven by Bill Gump.'
Ron then winding up the Datsun window in an attempt to reduce the intake of billowing dust. Peter opened wide the passenger door, filling the car with red gravel dust, and climbed in alongside Ron announcing in a shaky dry voice…
'I need a drink to wash down all this road dust, and to celebrate my good luck, surviving a murder attempt by my good friend Bill. Let's head across to the Sandfire Roadhouse.'
Ron had lapsed into deep thought so Peter poked him with his finger, which brought him back to life... Ron then offering what was on his mind.
'You know Pete, I was just thinking, if Bill had hit you I doubt that he would have even stopped. Not unless you damaged his radiator or something; and by then, he would most likely have been miles up the road.
By my reckoning Bill was doing well over a hundred miles an hour (Ron was still old school; everything was still in the old mile measurements.) and I don't think there would have been much left of you to send back home to your Mum.'
While Peter was pondering the vision of this last grim statement, Ron gently drove across the road to the Sandfire Roadhouse.
Well, this was a bit of a revelation for Pete and Ron. The bat-wing door's on the entry to the bar was the first notable difference. Ron burst through the door's bringing his hands up, fingers pointing like pistols, with Pete blundering through behind him.
All the noise in the bar abruptly stopped, and the many drinkers turned on their barstools to see who it was acting like a bloody idiot.
Pete and Ron froze at the entry, and took in the strange scene. The floor made from large flat rocks that looked well laid, although covered in cigarette butts.
The bar and all the liquor display cabinet shelves being all built in rough timber, made from various sorts of scrap wood. Being mostly old stacking pallets, railway sleepers, and packing crates, but well put together to form a very interesting sort of look.
What caught Ron's eye was an odd collection of faded business cards from all over Australia, and the world, displayed by rusty thumbtacks.
The cards were stuck to various parts of the timber fit-out, some displays totally covering the timber roof beams. Other areas had paper money from different parts of the world stuck to the walls in much the same manner.
One wall was covered in a display of various headgear firmly nailed to the wall. They ranged from sweaty, well-worn, cattle ringer's Akubra hats, to mining company hard-hats, and one lonely British world-war-two steel helmet with what looked like a bullet hole in the front. They all had some sort of name-tag or wording crudely scrawled alongside them. "Powder-monkey Irish Jack, blown into heaven by a careless fag, but we still have his hat."
The annoyed eyes stared back. Some blackfellas and some whitefella, some old Aboriginal Gins, and some pretty rough looking Jill-a-roos. Nobody was amused at this display of cowboy gun slinging through the bat-wing doors, as they had all seen it done too many times before.
In the corner of the bar stood an old blackfella ringer cowpoke, complete with salt-rimmed sweaty Akubra hat to his dirty checked shirt, and moleskin pants. His whole bushman image was perfect, being nicely finished off with a pair of well-worn RM Williams riding boots.
The hand-rolled cigarette wobbled up-and-down in the old ringer's mouth indicating that he was speaking...
'Well fucking come in or git out. You're letting in all the bleeding flies mate.'
Ron quickly glanced around, noticing all the other flies buzzing around, and the fact the bat-wing doors were only from knee to head height.
His eyes widened with genuine fear as the old ringer removed his cigarette from his mouth, eyes bulging in a hostile gesture. He then coughed-up a mouthful of high-grade phlegm then spat at the spittoon parked at the base of the crude wooden pillar that was holding up the roof... and missed.
A deep gravel voice grunted from behind the bar, and Ron's head rapidly rotated to face the voice. Attention was now quickly directed to a big old man clutching a dirty cloth, busy polishing a wet beer glass.
His face was dark, and heavily wrinkled from many years of exposure to the harsh Australian sun. The long straggly grey hair on his head, flowed into his equally unkempt long beard. It was like looking at a picture of an old-time dirt miner of the eighteen hundreds... This was Harry, the owner of Sandfire Roadhouse.
All of a sudden, he let out a bellowing shout...
'Hell, for Christ's sake Bluey. I told you before mate, if you can't improve yer fucking spit aim you're bloody-well out-o-here. You damn-well know we always like to keep this place bloody clean... that's yer last chance mate, then yer out.'
Then directing his attention to Ron and Pete, Harry changed his gruff manner in a fleeting instant, descending into a cheesy, wrinkled, and blackened tooth smile, crooning a tone of welcome...
'I'm Harry; I own this place, what will you two gentlemen like to drink. We have one kind of cold beer, Rum or Whisky; and I'll tell you blokes right now the water here is only fit fir washing, and putting out bloody bushfires.'
Ron's jaw was still in the fully dropped position, and therefore was not able to make an immediate and coherent reply, when from behind him Peter replied in a firm but clear voice...
'We'll have two large fucking cold beers thank you Harry.'
Peter had summed up the bar, the style, and language. Breaking the stiff and hostile atmosphere as the crowd now turned and resumed their normal drinking and talking. Just then, Ron noticed the sign at the end of the bar, next to the bundle of high-powered rifles stacked in the corner “order your food at the bar.” He then asked Harry what was on the menu for dinner as he was starving and could eat a horse.
Harry squinted as he inspected his glass cleaning effort, holding the glass up to the lonely dangling light bulb. He then grabbed another glass from the wooden shelf behind him. Then picking up the beer pistol he proceeded to fill both glasses while he expertly recited the food menu.
'We got eggs, bacon, baked beans, and the last meat sausage.'
Harry rumbled as he thumped down on the wet bar two large frothing beers, slopping them all over the bar. Ron was quick to notice...
'That's breakfast Harry; it has gone five o'clock in the afternoon, what's for dinner old chap?' cocking his head to one side, offering an ear for the reply.
Harry drew in a wheezy long sigh, leaned forward on the beer soaked bar and smiled, revealing his two remaining blackened teeth. Ron felt the waft of his bad breath, and smelt his stale nicotine and beer-stained grey beard as Harry explained the delicate food issue at hand...
'The fat Greek is our day cook mate, and he's out back, tits-up blind fucking drunk. I only cook breakfast so do you blokes want something to eat or bloody not?'
Peter saved the day again, as Ron was still staring at Harry wide-eyed in speechless amazement...
'We'll have the lot each Harry, with tomato sauce if you have any,'
Harry snapped back quickly, eyeing them both with a surprising amount of cunning and business shrewdness.
'What about that last sausage mate?'
Pete was just as quick.
'Just cut it in half Harry.' Harry's looked a bit confused.
'What, you only want half the bloody sausage?'
'No Harry, give the other half to my friend here who's choking on his beer.'
Ron was about to ruin everything by bursting out in loud laughter, when Harry had the last say...
'Coming up soon gentlemen, but the eggs could be a little off today being a couple of weeks old. I might have to swap the eggs for a chunk of horse steak... well ya did say yer could eat a horse.'
Harry quickly turned, then disappeared through a dirty curtain into the back room.
This was exciting stuff, a real out-back stockman's pub, full of real characters that could have all been stars in Banjo Paterson's Clancy of the Overflow. Pete and Ron were warming to this pub, just as they were halfway through their second beer Harry arrived with the food.
In a surprising move, the locals all quickly removed there beer glasses from the long bar, and lent back as Harry skidded the metal breakfast plates, one after the other along the length of the beer wet bar. Harry had obviously done this many times before as the two plates arrived at their intended destinations spot-on, then he remarked.
'Get that lot into ya mates, yer won't get a feed like that in the City.'
Pete surveyed his tin plate noting the greasy bacon and large horse steak, with the largest sausage he had ever seen; all covered in baked beans, swimming in fat. He glanced across at Ron's plate hoping he could at least pass on half the huge sausage, but was disappointed to see Ron had a similar pile of food, and a similar sized sausage... This was the half sausage.
Harry was right; you won't get a feed like this in Perth, as the local health authorities would have closed him down instantly for serving such crap food to the public. Then again, both Peter and Ron were hungry, and after all it did smell good.
'You've forgotten the tomato sauce Harry.' Pete commented.
'No worries mate, coming right up.'
The food and the third large beer were going down well, when Ron, felt in a chatty mood. He had noticed the only vacant bar stool was next to an old man smoking a well-worn pipe; deciding in his own advancing age of thirty-nine that he could do with a sit down.
Being a car salesman, talking came easy to Ron.
'Hi, my names Ron, we're from Perth City; we've just driven up to see your beautiful Australian outback. What do you do around here… err… mate?'
The old man shifted around a bit on his bar stool to look at Ron. His eyes were squinted almost shut in his wrinkled, burnt face. Ron had assumed this was because of his ever-present pipe smoke, as he had noticed the old man never removed the pipe from his mouth... not even to drink his beer with a rum chaser. His pipe was still in place as he replied in a threatening gruff voice.
'That's the Bull's stool yer on, nobody sits on Bull's bar-stool mate... not if you value yer fucking life that is.'
Ron was slowly absorbing this threat to his life at the same time removing his arse from the Bull's reserved stool. Looking up the bar noticing he had lost his previous place next to Pedro, Ron decided to stand and chat to the old squinting man. Clasping his pipe for effect, the old man continued talking.
'The names Deadeye, I'm a roo shooter mate, I been shooting roos fir a living for mor'in forty years now. Another thing I just saved your life mate, around here a man git's a thank-you beer fir less than that.'
Ron was not slow, and quickly attracted Harry to buy the next round of beer, asking Harry why were there a number of powerful looking sporting rifles stacked behind the bar?
'Yer bloody-well drinking with the reason mate, bastards like Deadeye here and his Kangaroo-shooter mates get drunk and start shooting the fucking place up.'
Harry looked up and Ron followed his line of sight. It was only then Ron noticed the many bullet holes in the rusty corrugated iron roof. Trying to fit in with atmosphere and hide his rising terror, Ron shakily replied.
'It must be a fuck when it rains.'
Harry rumbled a modest reply in disgust.
'Tell me about it mate, I've replaced that tin roof three bloody times in the past nine years I've been here. It's a lucky thing we don't get much rain around here.'
Just then, Peter ambled up looking for the gent's, three pints and he was now busting for a piss. The old man cocked his pipe in the direction of a sign hanging off the tin roof. It said in large letters “Piss Here” and someone had scrawled underneath “Best Grog in the West,” and an arrow pointing in the general direction of the bar. A closer look revealed that the word “out” now covered with two crumpled business cards. The “Piss out Here” sign pointed to a door at the rear of the pub. Peter followed the arrow out the back door.
With Pedros urgent business needs resolved, Ron turned his attention back to the old roo shooter, who for the first time had removed the pipe from his mouth. He held an expression of utter surprise, or was it terror on his face.
His eyes were now wide open revealing a black hole where his left eye should have been. Ron had thought that “Deadeye” was referring to the old man's skills and ability with a rifle, being a Kangaroo shooter that is. Ron was wrong, and then the old man muttered the one word... 'Bull...'
Ron turned around to see one of the biggest men he had ever seen in his life. The Bull was having a quiet chat, looking down on a group of ringers. He was casually hanging on to a roof truss with one massive hand, sort of like hanging onto a commuter train hold-strap, while swigging down a jug of beer with other. The four-litre jug looked like a normal size beer handle glass in his huge fist.
A frightening two mad glaring eyes stared out of a face of thick black, frizzy hair. Only his bottom lip seen moving through the beer-matted hair between swigs of his jug of beer. Ron, again thanked the old roo shooter for the warning about the bar stool, and had to ask what line of business was the Bull in? The old man had replaced his pipe so he could talk normal again.
'He's a bull catcher mate, one of the best. They say he's as mad and cranky as a randy breeding bull that's missed out on a day's fucking. I've never seen him in a happy mood so I don't think he gets much pussy either these days.'
Ron stared at the Bull in amazement trying to visualise the act of normal copulation with this gorilla-sized man... Peter had just returned from the loo with a look of puzzlement and fear on his face, distracting Ron from his strange fantasy thoughts. Peter burst out…
'I went out the back to find the men's toilet, and nearly fell into the bloody swimming pool. It's dark as a dog's guts out the back, there's only one little bulb dimly glowing over at the diesel power-generator hut.'
Ron looked genuinely worried, asking…
'What happened to you out there Peter?'
'Well I fumbled about in the dark and found a firm bit of concrete to stand on, then thought I might as well have a piss right here.
Everything was passing quite nicely as my eyes were gradually getting used to the dark, and then I looked down. I was standing right on the bloody edge of a big swimming pool, one more step and I would have been dead because it was empty, there was no water in it.'
Ron could see the stress in Peter's face. He had obviously had a very nasty shock. Then followed his eyes as he caught sight of the Bull. Peter's jaw dropping in amazement… whispering, 'would you look at the size of that bloke? Ron thought to calm Peter down a bit, by distracting him from any audible comment that might attract the Bull's attention.
'You need another beer Pete to steady your nerves. Any more of these close shaves with your life and you'll be dead before we get you to Kununurra. That's two near misses you've had in four hours.'
Just then the old ringer's pipe started wobbling up and down; the old roo shooter was talking again. They both leant forward to hear what he had to say.
'I tell ya, Harry didn't want the pool mate, but the government wouldn't give him this bit o land for a Roadhouse unless he provided some sleeping dongas; sort of what you city slickers call a “Motel.” He agreed to the dongas, but in the fine print he had to have that bloody big cement pond. Harry told them he barely had enough water out of the bore-hole for a wash let alone for a swimming pool.'
The old ringer paused to suck on his pipe, which needed urgent attention. It made a strange crackling and hissing sound, then glowed a little with a short puff of smoke, when happy and all was going well he continued his story.
'Charlie borrowed a back-hoe from the Main Roads Department, and about ninety cubic yards of concrete, and Harry threw on a pile of free booze. Three weeks later we had this almighty great cement pond.'
Harry was listening in on this story, deciding to tell the sad ending.
'We filled the fucker up with water, running my only water bore dry for a month in the process. Then all the blokes and the staff had a bloody great party to celebrate the finished job.
Some of these bastards had never had a dunk in water in years. Few if any of these bastards could even swim. Everybody was so pissed; it's a wonder mate that we never lost a few of em.'
Ron and Peter were listening in awe to this great story, and then Pete asked what happened to all the water in the pool? In a quick clean-up, Harry ran his dirty towel over the wet bar, sniffed loudly up his nose and continued his story.
'A couple things didn't go to the bloody plan mate. For starters, none of these shitheads had ever built a swimming pool before. The bloody pool wasn't even level, and the water just tipped out of one end. Then the worst fucking thing was these bastards had only worked on pouring concrete for storm-water culverts, yah know, for the main roads drainage.
Mate, it’s no surprise the pool leaked like that bloody colander and strainer I have in the kitchen. I filled the bloody pool up once more the day before the government inspection bloke arrived so I could get the land title. We've never had water in it since, cept in the wet season, and that was four years ago mate.'
An uncanny silence had fallen over the bar, all of whom were now listening in to Harry and his sad story. Harry had finished with a long pause, as everyone was quietly reminiscing about how the Sandfire Roadhouse was first born.
There was a scrape, and a loud squish and Ron turned around to see the Bull had taken-up residence, sitting on his reserved barstool. As Ron looked up at the Bull's massive head their eyes locked, Ron's in total terror as the Bull's mad staring eyes started to bore a hole into Ron's head.
The response and circumstances reminding him of the time he had teased a big male Gorilla for a bet at the Perth Zoo, except this time the Gorilla was not behind any bars.
Ron nervously looked away, then down at his watch, and then croaked in a trembling voice.
'Shit Peter, we had better get back on the road, it has gone seven o'clock.'
I want a red Mini Moke
On the Monday I had a chat with the staff trying to work-out why they had thought it was a good idea to race my hire vehicles. Pedro said he didn't know anything about it (I know nothing.) Bill Gump had thought it was one of my brilliant advertising ideas, and I had obviously known all about it.
The others said something along the same lines, so I guessed this was going to be the cover-my-arse story… I was not going to gain anything from further poking around, so I closed the matter.
I then called into my office, the hire car person who had been about to drive my Moke in last Saturdays stock-car race. It was disappointing as she was really quite good at her job. But I had decided this was the last straw… she had to go. The next story will explain why.
My mind went back only a month when this same employee was involved in another Moke hire saga. A hire client rang from Darwin requesting a Moke for an eight-day hire. He would be arriving on the Darwin flight tomorrow and ordered a red hire Moke. The red Moke hire was confirmed; a Vendal hire hostess would meet the Darwin client, delivering his Moke to the airport the following day.
Apparently, things started to go wrong when the client noticed the Moke was yellow. After all, he had ordered a red Moke. He then became further irrational when told this was the only Moke available, and that he stunk of booze; to which he promptly replied that a silly flight hostess had tipped half a bottle of scotch down the front of him.
Things started to get silly again when the client said he was allergic to the colour yellow, and red was his best colour. Could we paint the Moke red for him? This same Moke racing hostess then advised the client she could not change the colour, to which the client said would she mind if he did. The hire hostess thought he was joking, and after all it was now past six on a Friday night, replying it was okay by her.
Things started to happen rapidly after that. The next day I received a grumpy phone call from Frank, the owner of the Kununurra Hotel.
'Dallas there is a pissed-up bloke driving one of your Mokes around in my front workers bar. He said it was his Moke but your name is on the side, so get over here and fuck him off. I have refused to serve him.'
I thought, did I hear right? "In his workers bar." It's only nine o'clock in the morning. I jumped into my Toyota and drove over to the Hotel. Sure enough, there was my yellow Moke; driven through the double bar entry doors and up to the bar. Sitting on the bonnet were two skinny blokes leaning on the bar knocking back large cold beers. I let go of reality on witnessing this strange sight.
'What the fuck are you two doing?' then asking the client. 'Anyway, I thought Frank cut your booze off until you drove my Moke out of his workers bar?'
The bar manager looked on in interest. Big Bad Betty with a smile on her face was busy polishing a beer glass, watching and listening. The answer was pure gold…
'Well here I is hanging out for a drink when I notices there ain't no bleeding bar stools to sit on in this pub. So I asks this good looking young lady here' pointing to Big Bad Betty, 'why there ain't no stools for a man to sit on. The lady then tells me the owner has removed them all cause they were used to fight with every night. I starts thinking of me bad back, then I figure the Moke bonnet is about the same height as a bar-stool, an just drives it up to the bar.'
I thought to myself ingenious, I would have most probably done the same thing. Wanting to learn more I asked…
'What happened next?'
'Well, a few minutes later, this grumpy fat ding bloke comes up and tells me he is the owner of this fine establishment, and I won't get a drink until I reverse my Moke outa his workers bar. I told him there ain't no bloody bar stools to sit on mate. Then he just pissed off, an left me.'
I was fascinated, asking again…
'What happened next?'
'Another dry bloke came in. First thing he did was look for a stool to sit on. I told him there ain't any mate. Being a friendly kind-of-bloke myself, I offered him a seat at the bar. As a true gentleman, he kindly bought me a cold beer. Then you turns up. What can I do for you mate?'
Big Bad Bettys infectious smile was creeping across my face. We were both only a few seconds from all-out splitting laughter… then Frank arrived with a thunderous look wanting to know why this bloke was drinking at his bar.
I made my excuses and left. This was not my problem.
About a week later, I got a phone call at around four in the afternoon from the Kununurra Police station. The sergeant informed me they had just received a call from the Northern Territory Police. Apparently, they were holding a bloke in the Kathrine lock-up for being drunk and disorderly and driving a vehicle into a public bar. The bloke said he hired the red Moke in Kununurra, and he needed to return the vehicle today by six.
I told the local cops, even if the NT cops released him right now, he would never get back to Kununurra by six… it was a seven-hour drive. Our local cops were experts at shuffling Police work, stating that the driver of my Moke had done nothing wrong in Western Australia, and that was the extent of their jurisdiction. I added as an afterthought that the Moke in question was yellow, not red. The local Sergeant then gave me the direct unlisted phone number for the Kathrine NT Police. 'Ask for a Sergeant O'Malley'… I made the call; O'Malley's broad Irish accent answered my call.
'Katherine Police tis Sergeant O'Malley speaking.'
'Hi Sergeant, my name is Niven Dallas. I understand from the local Kununurra Police you have my yellow hire Moke and the driver…'
Before I could finish the sergeant interrupted me in full flow.
'Sir we don't hold that man now, he was released about half an hour ago. Another thing this Moke was red, are you sure this is the same vehicle sir?'
I was dumfounded… red, how could that be?
'And my Moke, where is my Mini Moke now?'
'We gave him his vehicle back. He had a signed contract stating he was the legal custodian. Apart from being held for ten hours for DD, tis man has committed no other offence sir.'
This was turning out to be a tricky business. So far, everything this NT cop has said was correct, except for the colour. I should try another tact.
'Have you any idea where this bloke might have gone sergeant?'
'I tink I can help you there sir. To be sure he's gone straight back down to the pub. He was all of the shakes when he left here. I would say he was there now.'
I thanked the NT sergeant for his help and hung up the phone. I spent the rest of the day figuring out how to get to Katherine, with no luck.The only option was Aladdin Transport. Marko was a hard working truck operator, with a regular freight run between Kununurra and Darwin. Marko agreed to bring my Moke top loading on his way back from Darwin. He would be in Katherine at around five tomorrow, I should have the vehicle ready for him to load.
My next call was to Sergeant O'Malley in Katherine, it was now just before three. The idea was to advise the Sergeant that Aladdin Transport would be in Katherine in about two hours. Was my Moke still in Katherine, could he tell me where it might be? The Sergeant was quite jovial…
'Yor in luck me lad, I have the Moke and the driver locked in the holding cells as we speak.'
I thought about that for a moment… The Irish Policeman has locked my Moke in the holding cells with the driver. Surly this must be some sort of simple misunderstanding, I thought best not to enquire along this line. No doubt, things will become clear in due course… asking…
'What was it this time sergeant, another DD charge?'
'Not quite' replied the happy Sergeant. 'We have added inciting a riot in a public place, engaging in animal blood sports with native animals, and illegal gambling.'
This had me intrigued, just what had this bloke been up too. In my evaluation of this bloke, he was just a happy, harmless piss-pot. The story the Sergeant told confirmed I should also add he was an idiot, and a top rated larrikin.
The Sergeant went on to say they had received an urgent call from the Katherine pub that a massive fight had broken out involving this bloke with the Moke. As the story goes, the Moke bloke overheard an old stockman in the pub tell about how ferocious his pet five-foot Goanna was, and could kill any snake in less than a minute.
The Moke man challenged him to a bet for a cartoon of beer, and a pack of cigs that his snake in the back of his Moke could kill the Goanna.
Soon the whole pub was taking bets on who would win. The Moke man went out and brought back an old flour sack with a huge snake in it.
He then went up to the old stockman at the bar, beat the sack several times against the bar and let out the biggest and meanest deadly King Brown snake anyone had ever seen; right in front of the stockman's pet Goanna.
The bar panicked in all directions, but not before the spooked five foot long Goanna in fright ran up the side of its owner; clawing and ripping its way to the highest place and sat on the old stockman's Akubra, which still happened to be on his head. Holding this firm elevated position, with its claws dug deep into his skull.
Three startled drinkers that were slow to get out of the Goannas way were badly mauled in the panic. This caused as the Goanna used its massive claws to run across the top of the onlooking spectators heads and shoulders.
Suddenly, the Goanna realised in its slow brain, this was just another snake. It then came in with lightning speed for the kill. Five other drinkers in the bar were badly trampled in the rush to get out of the fighting reptile's way. The hospital reported seventeen people were hurt in the ruckus, three quite badly.
The triumphant Goanna then ate the deadly King Brown snake. I had assumed that the Moke man lost his bet. According to the sergeant it was a no win outcome for both, as the Goanna owner was going to spend quite some time in hospital; and the Moke man was going to spend quite some time in his jail.
My Moke was a mess. The pissed hirer had attempted to spray it red with a few cans of cheap paint spray. Kununurra Paint & Panel Works who carried out the repairs said he would never get a job with them.
I guess things could have turned out worse. At the very least, I did get my Moke back in one piece.
I phoned Sergeant O'Malley again to thank him, but mainly to ask him a burning question. He must have read the hire contract, describing the Moke colour as yellow. Did he ask the driver why the vehicle was poorly sprayed with a red spray-pack can? The sergeant agreed it was a bit odd, and said yes he did ask.
He replied that he ordered a red Moke, and given a yellow one. When he complained, was told he could paint the Moke any colour he liked. He liked red so he painted the bloody thing red.
END OF SAMPLE