Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australian
In the Land of Steak, Eggs and Chips
© Jens Hültman
The road signs kept saying "Food, Accommodation, Fuel" for at least a hundred kilometres along a development road in northern Queensland in Australia. As I was running low on fuel, had no food except my emergency food that I did not want to touch anyway and needed somewhere to camp, the offer appeared to be more than interesting. The day was warm, in the low thirties (high 70s Fahrenheit]. I had left a most delightful camp at an outback cattle station, set next to a river among rolling hills. The dirt road from the outback station down to the development road offered fun driving in a 4WD. Driving on dirt roads in outback Australia is always interesting, often challenging and sometimes demanding. I crossed one river. The depth of the water was about half a metre. The river crossing was marked with little white flags to help you to stay on the track and not fall into any hidden holes on the river bottom. This is the outback style of road signs. The previous wet had molested the development road badly. During the monsoon rains, the mud surface had turned into a quagmire that then had dried into an uneven surface with treacherous pot-holes full of fine dust and sand. Innocence, my second Toyota Landcruiser that I rented on the journey bumped around on the rough road. I cursed, played the Blue Highway cassette, and drank plenty of water.
The turn-off to the previous cattle station turned into a tourist operation was well sign posted. The dirt road actually improved. I was looking forward to a relaxing evening, a few cold beers, and a nice meal. The beers turned out to be cold and plentiful. I drove up to the homestead that had the usual outback look of corrugated iron and improvised building technology. The place had a swimming pool, units constructed from containers and a large bar area where five men were residing. Little did I know that I was about to meet the least suitable persons for professional tourism that I ever encountered during my whole Big Red Tour.
The three individuals behind the bar were the establishment, Robbo, Trev, and Gav. The two guests turned out to be Snags and his mate. Dress codes appeared to be liberal. The gentlemen had dressed up in singlets and T-shirts promoting brands of beer. They wore shorts and Blundstone boots, the uniform of the outback worker. All had tattoos. All had very little hair except Gav who featured a football haircut. Gav had trimmed his hair above the ears. It was long in the neck. He was a Fine Example. Sean Condon has coined the term in his book Sean’s and David’s Long Drive. Trev and Snags’ mate had Eureka Stock Brigade beards. All were drinking beer. It was about half past three in the afternoon.
What ya after?’ Trev asked.
He was enthroned on a stool made out of an old log with two backs. The creation was something of the outback chair's equivalent to Jimmy Page’s guitars. The lower ranks sat on logs with only one back.
I replied to Trev in my finest Queen’s English that I was interested in all of the advertised food, accommodation and fuel. He assured me that they could sell diesel to me. ‘No worries, mate.’ Trev offered me a chance to camp down at the lake. As I was in desperate need of a shower, I declined the offer and opted for a camp at the homestead. I then pressed Trev on the subject of food. Trev looked bewildered and sought comfort and support with Robbo.
Or we cooking tonight?
’Might as well’, was Robbo’s laconic answer.
I commented that if they were not cooking, I could always whip up vegetarian pasta for myself with the leftovers in my vehicle. Trev looked as enthusiastic and approving of that idea as if I had proposed to have oral sex with all the present gentlemen in the bar.
Vegetarian pasta! You or not eating fucking shit like that, mate! We or cooking steaks, eggs, and chips tonight!’
He proceeded to assure me that yesterday had been something of a gourmet night, since "he had himself cooked fried rice for tea". I took a seat in the bar and tried to order a "green one", a Victoria Bitter. They had already drunk the green ones. Robbo assumed that I would not like a blue one, a Foster’s Lager. This was an assumption that was quite correct. The choice was between the yellow-labelled Castlemaine XXXX lights or heavies. I started with the first heavy of the day.
The afternoon proceeded with beer drinking. Robbo and Trev told me how much they loved the outback, since there were no cops. When they drove off to get more beer, they could drink all the way back to the outback station. No cops would bother them with such minor offences as driving drunk. Going all the way to Cairns to stock up was the best, since Cairns featured a number of bars with nude dancers and brothels. Snags and his mate could nothing but agree that this was how life should be enjoyed.
The outback station had ambitions to become a resort, since they featured adventure excursions led by Robbo. He was a pig hunter who hunted wild boars with dogs and knives. With pride, he showed his photo album of pig hunting. He told tall stories about big boars that had died by his hands. If it only had been the big bores of this world, but alas. They hunted the pigs with dogs. The dogs grab their victim by the ears and force the pig to lie down on the ground. The pig hunter then swiftly jumps in and cuts the pig’s throat with a knife or stabs it in the heart. Then a professional butcher slaughters the pigs properly. If the meat passes the health controls, it is exported to Germany and sold 'as venison', as Robbo put it.
Snags and his mate were impressed. They very much looked forward going out on a pig hunting the next day with Robbo.
Can I stab a pig, Robbo?’ Snags asked in a begging voice. ‘I would like to kill him. A kill would be fucking great, mate.’
If ya faster than me, then go for it’, Robbo replied, ‘but you gotta be damned fast to beat me. No one’s ever beaten me, but you or welcome to try.’
Trev complained that his 5-mm stubble made him look like a hippie. He stared angrily at Gav. Gav looked like a "girlie" with his football haircut, according to Trev. Gav ignored this stirring. Everybody was slowly getting drunk. The people in front of the bar were not necessarily more drunk than the people behind the bar. Service was theoretically excellent, since there was one bar staff for every guest in the bar. However, Gav's attention was slightly diverted. Being somewhat of an "intellectual", he was reading a cowboy novel. When Snags’ mate farted loudly, Gav woke up.
OOPS! What was that?’ Gav turned around and pretended to look surprised as he sniffed the air. ‘Do I smell some new French perfume?’
Everybody laughed, including me. A loud fart can break the ice on any social event. I excused myself, moved Innocence and took out my camping bed and sleeping bag. My camp for the night was ready. I returned to the bar. One of the other guests, something as rare as a single woman travelling on her own in the outback, had showed up. I guessed that she had been lured by the same promises about Food, Fuel and Accommodation along the development road as I had been. It was now 17:35. The generators were supposed to go on at 17:30 so that people interested in showers could have one. The woman looked like a schoolteacher. She addressed Trev in a voice fit for unruly schoolboys who had been interrupted when grasping the girls under their skirts.
Put on the power immediately!’ she told Trev.
Get on with it and start the fucking generator’, Trev ordered Robbo. Both had the unhappy look of an overage juvenile delinquent, caught in the act of committing a petty crime. The woman marched away in the direction of her tent and her beige Toyota Hilux.
'Bitch!’ murmured Trev. He had no choice but to let Robbo get on with it.
Aah, nothing is like a cold beer in the magnificent Australian sunset. By now, there had been a few of them. Alas, life was all work and no play for Robbo, Trev and Gav. Yet another guest, a fat jovial man with moustaches who travelled in an old Landrover, turned up at the bar and told Trev that he had seen a yellow vehicle at the other side of the lake.
Go get him!’ Trev roared at Robbo. ‘Take the trial bike and the gun. Put a bullet in each tyre if you find some sneaky bastard who tries to camp and fish for free.’
This was an interesting turn of events, since we were now twice as many guests as staff in the bar. Things almost started to get hectic for Trev with the arrival of an ex-army instructor, his wife and his son. The father featured the same array of tattoos and cropped hair as most of the other men in the bar. However, he was wearing a striped football shirt with black or dark blue, red and yellow colours.
This combination provoked Trev, who associated black, red and yellow with the flag of the Aboriginal rights movement. Trev stared in horror and abhorrence at the gunny.
You or not one of them fucking coon lovers?’, he exclaimed in a disgusted voice. ‘What’s that fucking shit you or wearing?’
The old gunny tried to assure him that he indeed was no "coon lover" and that he indeed was sporting a football shirt. Trev rested assured. Gav had suddenly turned social. The tension of the cowboy novel had proved to be too much for him. XXXX stubbies have idiotic, trivial sport questions and answers under their caps. Gav engaged in the social activities by reading aloud various trivial questions about who was the national soccer coach for the Australian national team in 1974 and so on. The answer was some Yugoslavian wog that no "fair dinkum what do ya reckon true blue" Aussie cared much for anyway. Snags and his mate thought that the questions were hilarious.
Trev had left the bar to play darts with the ex-army instructor’s son, as Tuesday had been proclaimed Darts’ Night on the blackboard. Snags’ mate went up to the blackboard and declared that since asking all the idiotic questions on the back of the XXXX’s caps had proven so much fun, then Wednesday night should be Trivia Night. He wrote "Trevea Night" at the blackboard with a chalk. Just the way God intended it to be pronounced. I could not help laughing and asked Snags’ mate if spelling it "trivia" would not be better.
Snags’ mate looked sourly at me and asked me if I 'had finished my fucking reading book in school?’ I had to admit that in fact I had finished my reading book in school. I did not feel like complicating the discussion by telling Snags’ mate that the reading book had been in another language. Snags got sick of these linguistic intricacies, swayed towards the blackboard and wrote:
"Tusdyn nite. Dronk again". Well, that said it all. End of intellectual discussions.
Robbo had returned from his mission without having found any wild campers, and challenged Trev for a game of pool. My screaming stomach urged me to press Trev for the promised steak and chips. Trev looked up from his game of pool with an irritated look that said:
"Here I am, trying to take care of everything and making everyone feel comfortable and now what?"
First, he had been drinking with Snags and his mate. And did they not do everything for the guests since Robbo, himself and Gav were drinking the blue shit while the guests drank the yellow ones? Then he had sent Robbo out to start the generators when the bitch wanted to have a shower. Then he had insulted the old gunny, played darts and pool with the gunny’s son and besides, of what avail were Robbo and Gav really, and now this Swede comes along and is requesting food? He could not be everywhere all the time, could he?
Somehow, he managed to become organised. He roared to Robbo to 'get on with the fucking chips’. He trotted out to the kitchen to fetch Scotch fillets and eggs. The barbie was fired up and the ritual desecration of the poor meat started. They say that hunger is the best sauce, and seldom have steak, chips and tomato sauce tasted so good.
The next morning was beautiful. All was silence, only the birds were singing. The woman with the teacher look packed up and left. I made breakfast. There was no sign of Robbo, Trev, or Gav, nor of Snags nor and his mate. Somehow you imagine that hunters are early birds, but not so today, apparently. After a couple of months in the bush, I had learnt that stress will take you nowhere in the outback. I had three litres of diesel in my tank. That would not take me the two hundred-kilometres to the next outback town. That fact meant that I had to enjoy the hospitality of Robbo, Trev, and Gav until they woke up.
Finally, Robbo came out of his unit. He did not look well. I approached him and offered him a business proposal of exchange of diesel for money. With the look of a tortured pit bull terrier, he accepted. As he was pumping diesel, he sighed.
See, the problem is that we were drinking Foster’s. They or no good for ya.
'That is what I have always said. The blue ones are full of chemicals. Stick to the green ones. That’s fair dinkum stuff, mate, what do ya reckon?'
So how did I end up with those rogues? To answer that urgent and important question we need to go back four months in time, to the Tullamarine airport in Melbourne.
Chapter 2 →