Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia
All Our Dogs Are Mongrels
© Jens Hültman
Bell Gorge, Fitzroy River, WA
The next morning, Cutie was eagerly waiting in Fidelity for another day of adventure. ‘Sorry girl’, I told her. ‘You can’t come in case you’d go missing in the bush.’ She looked most disappointed as I pushed her out of the truck. Michael, Larry and Lynn had flown in the aeroplane to Fitzroy Crossing to do some shopping. There are no roads south from the bush camp, so the aeroplane came in handy. I spent the day at Sir John Gorge along the Fitzroy River. I walked up through the bush for a while but soon returned. The day was too hot for bushwalking and climbing.
A big red kangaroo and I scared each other. Otherwise, I spent most of the day swimming and sunbathing. Turtles swam in the river. A big goanna came down to drink. It must have been one and a half metres long. On my way back to the Bush Camp, I saw the wild donkeys that the stockman had talked about.
The only other guest besides me was Jeff, a truck driver at Cairns Airport, and his wife. Jeff looked like an aging Elvis Presley. He quickly took on the role of the dominant male in the flock. Jeff led the ritual stirring and telling of bad jokes, though ultimately Larry’s turned out to be the worst. I was accepted after telling a stupid blonde joke. ‘What’s the difference between a blonde and a blue whale?’ ‘The blonde’s swallowed more seamen.’ I admit it’s a bad one, but Jeff thought it was quite acceptable and laughed loudly. However, he did not like the way I speak; it sounded too educated. ‘Get rid of that Queen’s English, son’, he told me. ‘You’ll never make it in this country with an accent like that.’
He showed me a book he was reading, written by an Italian migrant, Nino, who had arrived in Australia speaking educated English. He quickly got rid of that accent. ‘Nino spoke jost like you, son, when he came out here’, Jeff told me. ‘But now he speaks jost like everybody else.’ Speaking ‘jost like everybody else’ is very important in Australia. Speaking ‘jost like everybody else’ is even more important in the outback. I often watched two males at an outback pub beginning a conversation with one another. They reminded me of two fax machines or modems trying to connect. First they find out if they speak the same ‘true-blue-fair-dinkum-what-d’ya-reckon’ accent. Listening in at a distance, I heard the singsong, nasal voices going up and down the scale until they connected. If, to their relief, they find that they speak the same accent, they shift up one level of communication. They examine what kind of football the other one prefers and which teams they support. Then follows an exchange of views on Frogs, Wogs, Abos, Poms, Asians and Women. Then begins the ritual stirring. If both are fair dinkum, they stand a good chance of becoming mates. Trying to fake any of these levels is doomed to failure. The ‘true-blue-fair-dinkum-what-d’ya-reckon' bloke will see through you immediately.
Jeff was well aware that being familiar with the social codes of ritual stirring, the telling of racist and sexist jokes and the mateship is only the beginning of being accepted in Australian society. To be an initiated, full-blooded Australian, you need to master the accent and the slang. He was a kind man and meant well. That’s why he encouraged me to get rid of my ”Queen’s English”, as he put it. He saw hope of me becoming fair dinkum. I thought of Paul The Dane. He had tried and made it almost too well for his own good.
Jeff had returned to the camp with a big barramundi he had caught. He was proud and happy. A barra is a much sought after trophy for an Australian fisher. This one was over a metre. Jeff had not cared much for the beauty of Diamond Gorge, where he had not caught any big fish. But he thought that he was in heaven down at Sir John Gorge. Lynn and David caught a number of black bream to cook for tea. As we were having supper, Lynn and Larry told the rest of us about the visit to Fitzroy Crossing.
In the small towns of the Kimberley there are (proportionately) huge populations of Aborigines, more or less constantly drunk. The Kimberley is the only part of Australia where the Aborigines outnumber whites. Many used to work in the cattle industry as ringers, but as the cattle industry nowadays is heavily rationalised and mechanised, there is no more work for them. There is no going back to a traditional lifestyle either. It is impossible for an Aborigine to move away from his own area, his own land. They can’t break the connection with the land and the songlines that cross through it. So they linger on and spend their time drinking. An Aboriginal man had walked up to Larry and tried to tell him a joke. Larry grumbled that his accent had been so thick that he could hardly be understood, and besides, the joke was not even funny. I replied that this was like being in the bush camp. People with thick accents that tell you jokes that are not funny. Larry did not find this comparison between his own accent and jokes and this alcoholic Aborigine's accent and jokes amusing at all. ‘Ayh dount reckan ay of gout an accent’, interposed Lynn. Riiiight.
Lynn complained about the prices in Fitzroy Crossing. One reason country towns are so expensive is that they are far away and transportation of goods costs a lot. Another reason in the Kimberley is that the stores sell goods to the Aborigines who are on a pension from the State. The Aborigines have no choice but to buy extremely expensive items in these stores. It is an excellent example of recuperation of the income tax the Australians pay. The recouped money goes straight into the entrepreneurial pocket via the Aborigines’ pensions. Michael, who had been in the outback the year before, said nothing about the drunk Aborigines in Fitzroy. Larry and Lynn, the newcomers from the south, were more shocked. Jeff, with the authority of being the dominant male, concluded that as long as the Aborigines live in their outback communities, preserving and maintaining their traditional culture and stay away from alcohol, then they are all right. ‘The more they are in touch with European civilisation, the worse it is for most of them’, he opined.
Jeff’s wife, a tiny, bronzed, wrinkled woman had a sore on her leg. Lynn had bought Lux flakes in Fitzroy Crossing that were supposed to be good for disinfecting the wound. ‘Ayh dount know what’s in ‘em flakes, buot theay sure help’, she told Jeff’s wife. What medical science would say about this bush medicine would be interesting to hear. Lyn was in a good mood and made cups of tea and coffee for everybody.
I told Larry that Cutie had been waiting in Fidelity that morning. Cutie was pregnant. Larry told us about the romantic moment of conception. ‘There she was, locked up with some mongrel, before I could do anything about it, looking at me as if she could not understand why I was so angry with her’, he complained. Michael asked him if it really was a dog and not himself who was the father. Larry the old bachelor looked slightly insulted. Michael continued to stir him: ‘Just like a father with his daughters’, he laughed. ‘Better lock them up before some mongrel gets the opportunity to stick his dick into them.’ ‘Like father, like dog’, Michael continued to stir. ‘Why did you get a mongrel Larry?’ ‘All our dogs were mongrels’, commented Lynn in defence of the soft Larry who appeared to be retreating and was slightly defenceless. Her motherly instincts took over. I don’t know if she ever understood how funny she was. ‘Mongrels make the best dogs, I reckon’, stated Jeff.
That goes for people too, despite the opinions of Adolph Hitler and Pauline Hanson.
Chapter 21 →