Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia
A Friday Night in Meekathara
© Jens Hültman
After breakfast with Nigel and his family and a short farewell that both sides tried to keep as unemotional as possible, I decided to look into whether I could get a 5000km service on Fidelity.
'Talk to Norm, jost down there', was the recommendation at the Shell service station.
I could not see anything that looked like a workshop, just some sheds. I walked up to a man in overalls and asked him if they serviced Landcruisers.
'For sure', he replied in an Irish accent. 'Talk to Norm in the office.'
I detected "the office" in one of the sheds and addressed a huge man with the looks of a sweaty and somewhat uncomfortable grizzly bear.
'I can't do it now, for Christ's sake, mate! You'll ''ave to wait until this arvo.
'I promised to be back at one o'clock. I checked in and set up camp at the local grotty caravan park, which featured extraordinarily sullen staff who took pride in bossing around their patrons.
I wrote a letter to the Rental Company and complained about the state of Fidelity's front diff. I discovered later that they did not read that letter. Neither did they take any notice whatsoever of my complaint. There was, after all, a 5000km warranty on the engine and the transmission—and the front diff is certainly part of the transmission.
After lunch I delivered Fidelity into the hands of Norm and his Irish employee. Three stinking hot hours later I returned. There Fidelity was, the keys dangling temptingly for any hoon just to grab her and drive her away. On the outside, she looked more or less the same as she had three hours earlier. I opened the bonnet. Obviously, something had happened to her. Her insides looked neat and clean. The bent old air filter had taken on a fresh new look. Norm was not around. I asked the Irishman if I could take the truck.
'Fer sure', he replied.
I asked him how much the service was. He was not trusted with money matters, so he could not tell. I was facing a dilemma. I wanted to pay, take Fidelity away and start packing my stuff again. The Irishman told me to take the car and return tomorrow morning, a Saturday, to pay Norm.
'Will he really be here tomorrow?' I asked.'
Fer sure', replied the Irishman.
I warmed Fidelity's engine, started her and drove her down to the caravan park. This could only happen in the bush. Who else would trust a stranger passing through town to come back the next day to pay his repair bill?
Meekathara will never be a tourist attraction where mobs of German, American and Japanese tourists would be heard oohing and aahing and "click click with ze kamera, ja". Never. Meekathara has three hotels. None of them are very strict with dress regulations. Singlet? Well, better not after six o'clock. What the heck, a customer is a customer. Soiled and dirty clothes? Well, the dirtier the T-shirt, the better. No-one complained about my everyday T-shirt. Thongs? No worries, mate. Shoes? They are optional.
As I walked into the Royal Hotel, I dropped my jaw. Behind the counter stood a girl with bleached hair dressed in only her underwear. What was the matter with this girl? Had she forgotten to put on her clothes, like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen's tale? No, obviously she was there for the entertainment of the predominantly male patrons.
I felt a bit embarrassed. How was I to behave? Perv her unashamedly like most of the other males in the bar, or try to pretend that I didn't notice how she was dressed? Our eyes met. My eyes must have said: 'My God girl! What on earth, are you doing here, dressed like that?'
For a fraction of a second, she looked embarrassed, as if the professional distance between the customers and her had been broken. It was easier for her when the patrons looked upon her like an object, not like a human being. She blushed slightly, then composed herself, and asked me what I wanted. I ordered that night's first can of the white ones, the Western Australian Emu Bitters. As I got my beer and paid for it, I decided not to embarrass her any more, but to perv her like the object she was paid to be. It was easier for everybody.
As the evening progressed, the miners dropped in. I got to talk to Glen The Hose Repair Man. Glen's mate had his own little company taking on subcontracting jobs, and Glen worked for him. Glen and his mate worked out on the gold mine in the scorching heat every week, mending and repairing hoses and tubes. He loved his lifestyle. He had not been able to settle down and raise a family, as he put it himself: 'You can hardly bring a missus out here, can you?'
We looked at the scenes of debauchery around us. It was not hard to see what he meant. He had a sister in Gothenburg, married to a Swedish electrician. He had been to Sweden and visited them. As other Australian visitors to Scandinavia, he was shocked by the price of alcohol in Sweden. I asked Glen about the girl in her underwear.
'They or called skimpies, mate.'
I thought they were called skippies because they were regarded as light-footed, jumping around like a kangaroo.
'No, skimpies, mate, s-k-i-m-p-y, mate, with an M.'
Glen had no clue about the origin of the word. He explained how this was a kind of living for unemployed girls or students at university in Perth who wanted to make some extra money over the weekend. They are flown out to the mining or industrial towns in outback Western Australia where they work as barmaids. Glen told me that some bars even had topless barmaids.
'See, you can't blame the guys. They 'ave been working their arse off for a whole week in temperatures that are often up to or over 40°C (102°F). When Friday night comes, all they want to do is to drink a cold beer and look at some female.'
Glen and I contemplated the situation. The fact that both of us were drinking cold beers and perving the girl after a stinking hot week did not stop us from distinguishing ourselves from the other crude brutes in the pub who were drinking cold beer and perving the girl after a stinking hot week.
As I showed considerable interest in this special aspect of Australian culture, my kind host continued to tell me about "The Street" in Kalgoorlie. The Street is world-famous in Australia and is often brought up in conversations with that special hypocritical mix of dissociation and keen interest that only Streets can arouse. I had been told about The Street before. I told Glen about the rumour I had heard. Some of the Ladies of The Street were no ladies originally at all, and that one of them was formerly a miner. The rumour says that this particular guy, er, Lady, is especially popular among his old mates.
'Can you imagine that?' I asked Glen. 'You've been sweating it out in the bush with your mate Greg or Ian or whatever. Then a few months later he's coming back, calling you Darling and is offering to go down on you?'
The look on the face of Glen the Hose Repairman said it all. He could not imagine such a nocturnal rendezvous. To tell you the truth, neither can I. I cannot think of a single one of my close male friends whom I would like to go down on me, sex change beforehand or not.
As I cruised around town between enterprising Western Australians who sold me hamburgers and other assorted junk food from caravans in the street and in and out of the other hotels in town, I spotted Norm again. He was leaning on a bar. He was still as huge and sweaty but looked more comfortable, a grizzly bear very content with life.
The police were busy. First, they picked up the Aborigines since they can't hold their drinks as well as the miners. The miners got more and more drunk—and when I say drunk I mean a life-threatening state of intoxication, not just a little tipsy. Some staggered home, some crawled, and the police carried some away. On the whole, it was not a bad night.
Next morning I got up with a slight headache. The morning's mission was to find Norm and pay him. A road train with an impatient truckie was standing outside Norm's workshop.
'Are you Norm?' he asked hopefully.
'No, I'm looking for him as well.'
'He was supposed to be here at nine. I 'ave been waiting since half past eight. I 'ave got to haul this load (he pointed with his thumb to three gargantuan trailers) down to Perth. And it's Saturday, and I 'ave been on the road the whole week and I want to come 'ome, and me boss is on me fucking back to deliver on time.'
He interrupted himself and stared hopelessly out toward the horizon.
'I saw Norm at the pubs last night', I told him.
' Bloody country people, just drinking, lazy bastards, can't trust 'em buggers', muttered the truckie.
He was a short, stocky man with tattoos and a football haircut. A " Fine Example" as Sean Condon would have put it. He continued to curse and swear about the inhabitants of the bush, until I finally offered to go searching for Norm. Meekathara only has 1400 inhabitants; it didn't take me that long to find Norm's house. Everything was silent. I cautiously knocked on the door. Not a sound was heard from the inside. I tried again. Something large and heavy started moving. The door flung open and a grizzly bear with a tremendous hangover appeared. His eyes were small, shiny and red.
'Wha'd'ya want, mate?' roared the newly awakened beast.
'You serviced my car yesterday...'
'What's the problem? Haven't you got your ute back?' Norm panted, irritated. He was in great pain.
'Well, I got it back all right, no worries. But I'd like to pay.'
'That'll be fifty dollars, mate.'
'Can I get a receipt? I need that to prove to the rental company that I've serviced the car.'
'For Christ's sake, I can't do business here at home. You 'ave to come to the office.'
'There's a truckie waiting for you as well. He's been there for an hour.'
'Tell him I'll be there in twenty minutes, I need a shower.'
He sure did need a refreshing shower—and a big bowl of strong, hot coffee. I returned to the fuming truckie.
'Where is that bastard of a bush mechanic?'
'He's having a shower. He'll be here in twenty minutes.'
'Bloody country people.'
Finally Norm turned up and fixed my bill.
'Don't run into any more of 'em trees, mate.'
His looks and manners might have been a bit rough on the edges, but he did a damn fine job on Fidelity. Fifty dollars for that servicing turned out to be the least of my expenses for vehicle repairs on the journey. To my frustration, the road out to Mount Augustus had been closed due to heavy rains in the previous week. I steered north towards the Hamersley Ranges and the Karijini and Millstream-Chichester National Parks.
Chapter 11 →