Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia

Chapter 13
Paul, Ty and the Very Extra Ultra Fine Example

© Jens Hültman

Port Hedland

Port Hedland

It is so depressing to drive into Port Hedland, a town supporting an industrial area. It has the look of a penal colony rather than a habitat for human beings. It is impossible to imagine how anyone can live here out of his or her own free will. It can easily compete for the title of " Grottiest Town in Australia".

It was so hot that I felt like sleeping in an air-conditioned room. I found a room at a combined guesthouse/hostel run by an English woman. She looked as if she had once travelled to the colonies in search of a new, bright future but instead had ended up here, at the end of the world. She could have stepped right out of a novel by Somerset Maugham or Joseph Conrad about people on the fringe of civilisation. Her patrons were mostly single males working at the industries or looking for a job. Then there was the odd tourist like me passing by on their way north.

Paul and Ty were sitting on the front porch drinking beer. Paul, with his long, curly hair and open face, looked like a young Steve Harris, the bass player in Iron Maiden. Ty had short, black hair. Their jeans were ripped. We pooled our beer supplies and started drinking together. They were looking for a job in Port Hedland, but had so far been unsuccessful. All of them were school-leavers. Ty had very little idea of the whereabouts of his family. Paul had done all kinds of odd jobs, among them working at backpacker hostels. He liked foreigners.

Ty told me about his youth, when his family had lived in a mining town out here in Western Australia. The mine had been shut down and the town had been literally removed. He had returned to the place of his childhood and found nothing but grass and bush, it was impossible to imagine that there had ever been a town there. Paul and Ty's problem was that the industries looked for skilled labour. No-one was interested in hiring unskilled workers like themselves. Ty wanted to return to South Australia, where dope, parties and sheilas were plentiful. Paul, the more ambitious one, wanted to give it a go for another week.

I fetched the cassettes. Paul chose Aggression, which we played loudly from their boom box. Judas Priest blasted out over the neighbourhood, followed by "Mouth of War" by Pantera. 'Killer riff, mate. It's a ripper.'

Darkness fell. I decided I needed some food. There are two hotels in Port Hedland, a rough one and a very, very rough one. Paul recommended the rough one. I went to their dining room, which was full of single males having dinner—or tea, as they probably would have put it. I sat down under the cosy light from the fluorescent tubes. The waiter looked like a combination of Generation X, grunge and punk. He had a nose ring. He had tattoos. He called me "Sir". This is something kids never did at Australian restaurants in the '80s. They could be annoying in other ways but at least they refrained from calling people "Sir".

'Why does he call people "Sir"?' I asked a skinny old man. He looked as if he had thrown away his life working in the local industries and was now on a minuscule pension that paid for the rent and tea at the hotel, and not much more.

'That's just his act, see', the old man explained.

I finished my roast pork, brown gravy and overcooked vegetables, and proceeded to the public bar. Port Hedland has a feel of desperation. People will do anything to earn money in this town. Two girls were working behind the bar. One of them, dressed in black underwear, was a very good-looking blonde. She could have been around twenty. She looked as comfortable as if she was on Scarborough beach in Perth dressed in a bikini, sunbathing and chatting with her schoolie girlfriends. Paul and Ty were playing pool. I shouted them a beer. Apparently, they had skipped dinner. The girl in the black underwear took a break and had her tea, a counter meal. For this social event, she put on her dress, a frock with flowers. She could have been at a tea party after church. Paul tried to go over and ' chat her up'. He got nowhere.

'See that girl?' said Ty in an admiring voice. 'She's a professional. The first male in town she went to bed with would ruin it all for her. No-one would leave her alone after that, work up here would be impossible for her.'

Who ever said that Perth girls are easy? She finished her meal, went backstage and took off her clothes. She looked as happy and comfortable as ever.

A Very Extra Ultra Fine Example challenged Paul and Ty for a game of pool. His hair was extremely short above his ears, and very, very long in the back. Sean Condon would have been abhorred and aghast if he had seen this one. The Very Extra Ultra Fine Example moved with the dignity of someone who thought he was ultra cool. It turned out that Paul and Ty won the game. The Very Extra Ultra Fine Example handed over a stash of hashish to them. Paul's face shone with gratitude.

'Let's go outside later and smoke this shit' he told Ty and me. They left to smoke the gift. I returned to the guesthouse. They turned up later, apparently high. The local cops had almost caught them but they had managed to escape. Luck had been on their side that night.

Chapter 14 →