Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 7

Gone to the Dogs

There are few of us who have never had a close encounter with a dog during our lifetime.

I was brought up on a farmlet and we had one dog that I can recall with clarity, Darkie. Darkie did not have a charming temperament, Darkie was prone to nipping anyone who unsuspectingly walked by, Darkie seldom obeyed his master’s commands, Darkie was not a household pet, but a working dog … when so inclined.

Vaguely I remember another older dog whose name escapes me. Either I was too young or this dog gave me no particular cause to keep him in my memory.

For a year or two we minded a friend’s bulldog-cross dog. These animal lovers had encountered problems with their neighbours as regards their pet. He had a profound liking of cats and other dogs and to show his feelings he chased them over his domain, around their domain, down the street and across the footpaths. Often he gripped them in a loving embrace, squeezing their throats until they ceased to breathe. This was not acceptable behaviour and complaints were made. To save the life of their pet he was transported to our place. Bags of dog nuts arrived weekly to ensure this animal did not starve. It was our considered opinion he would have done much better on a diet of bones and water.

Many years later one of my sons bought a Rottweiler pup that was endowed with the distinguished name of Clive. Clive was lovable, Clive chewed up several mats, shoes, items of clothing, and towels before reaching maturity, Clive had a wrinkly forehead that gave him the appearance of an old man worrying where his next plug of tobacco for his pipe was coming from, and Clive had his favourite people. I was high on that list.

For a few years my son, and Clive, lived down the street. Clive, bored with being home alone would wander along to me. Clive had been shut inside in the morning, but Clive quickly learned there were several exits that needed little persuading to open, especially if they had not been locked. I kept a piece of binder twine [the green twine the holds hay bales together] at the back door and whenever Clive visited I promptly tied it to his collar and marched him back home. I found the toilet a good place to leave him … lock in place! He was not without water in the toilet! One day Clive visited crawling on all fours along the footpath. I was horrified.

“ Poor Clive,” I crooned. “ Have you been hit by a car?” [We did live on a busy street with trucks, cars and buses frequently plying to and fro.]

Clive jumped up a look of relief on his face [oh yes, dogs have expressions], and raced towards me for a pat. Clive got a shock! I instantly grabbed the twine and returned him home.

The old saying that life goes in circles is true and once again dogs have entered my life. Here at the hotel there are dogs. Two dogs are in permanent residence and another visits during the day. I met these dogs on my first night. In the half-light of the late evening they welcomed me with barks, licks and jumping up. I did not look for them the next day! Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs, but I don’t like such an enthusiastic welcome.

Gradually I got to know the dogs. The senior citizen is called Wombat. I suspect Wombat receives more than his fair share of the kitchen scraps ... if he were human it would not be incorrect to call him obese, a candidate for a heart attack or a prospective diabetic. I have, carelessly called Wombat the 'fat one', and encountered raised eyebrows at that!

Then there is Bear, who is younger than Wombat. They are both lovely dogs, now that I have got to know their idiosyncrasies. There is a sign … "Beware of the Watchdogs". OK, they do watch, they even bark, but should anyone reach out to pat them I am positive they would lap that up.

And there is Tigger! Tigger is a ‘roo dog, which means he has been bred to chase kangaroos, not that I have seen evidence of him actually chasing anything. Tigger is a teenager! Tigger is a pest. He is part greyhound, tall, lanky, looks like a giraffe, though whoever named him thought otherwise … unless he looked like Tigger when he was a pup. Yesterday Tigger was in my bad books! Washing the tea towels is a task that falls to me. During a quiet spell cooking breakfasts, I hurried out to the washing machines loaded the tea towels in congratulating myself on multi-tasking.

Several breakfasts later, and after I cut up what seemed buckets of tears of onions, tidied the kitchen, and did the dishes, I headed out to hang the tea towels on the clothesline. Tigger came racing over. I had clean clothes on, and desiring them to last all day I admonished him for jumping up. I picked up pegs and began hanging up the tea towels that would dry quickly in the warming sun. Reaching for towel number three I noticed Tigger … too late!! There he was, legged cocked over the clothes-basket and with perfect aim, sent a steady straw coloured stream onto the just-laundered tea towels. I never swore, nor did I yell or stamp my feet. In fact I behaved like a perfect angel! Shock tends to stem all rational thought. I simply growled, picked up the washing and threw it back into the machine.

Later, when I pegged the tea towels out to dry, Tigger looked at me woefully from a safe distance. He never greeted me enthusiastically, he did not jump up nor lick my face, and for the rest of the day he continued to act like a perfect gentleman.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 6

We take for granted the gentle fall of rain on the earth … [it is twice blessed … Shakespeare?]. In Western Australia, hereafter known as WA as in the idiom of the locals, rain is welcome.

I came from a climate where rain was not so welcome. The rain fell, the river rose, and sometimes we were threatened with floodwaters. Some parts of the world have too much rain, some too little. Some have too much food and some too little, and in most cases rain and food are conjoined twins … essential to the other.

The sky in WA is blue … a wonderful azure blue, a blue that makes one feel good to be alive. Blue somehow raises one's spirits, whereas gray, and in particular gray skies, depress the soul.

On Friday the blue skies were almost obliterated by pale gray clouds cocooned in a scalloped edged blanket of white fluffy clouds moving sedately across the heavens. The smoothness of their path gave lie to strength of the wind buffeting at ground level, sending swirls of dust aloft. The wind dropped, allowing the trees adorning the middle of the main street a brief respite, before once again struggling to maintain an upright stance.

There was an excitement in the air; birds swooped and dived chattering excitedly; small birds chased Mr Crow flying drunkenly against the elements. Later I learned they were not chasing him away from their nest, but were pecking ticks from his plumage, doing him a favour, and in the process acquiring down for their nests. For several days a small bird has made regular forays into a tiny crevice between the red-dust covered corrugated iron verandah roof and the dark brown unpainted timber eaves of the hotel. Spring! Time for courting, mating and nesting. Time to go forth and multiply.

From my perch on the hotel balcony I had a bird's eye view of the flags on the Shire Office and the Police Station twisting and dancing to the conductor’s baton of an invisible orchestra … the wind. On the outskirts of town the large tattered white windsock billowed and swayed dementedly, caught in the tentacles of the bristling breeze.

It was time for me to go inside, to go to the kitchen, to begin work. The kitchen was a hive of industry. Large joints of meat in the oven roasting to assuage the hearty appetites of the diners, pots of vegetables on the hob, and a chocolate sauce pudding ready to be baked. Suddenly there was a crash of thunder directly overhead. Lights flickered and failed. Momentarily we were plunged into darkness, and although it was only 5.00pm the kitchen was dark. The windows have been painted over in a dark blue paint to keep out the heat, and in the case of power failure, not only is it the heat that is kept out, but also the light. A moment of surprise, then suddenly lights go on, and we breathed a sigh of relief. The hotel was fully booked that night. A power failure was not what we needed.

I heard another sound. Rain on the iron roof. It was loud, and welcome. I asked if perhaps the wildflowers might bloom with this rain. The reply was no, we need more than that.

The evening wore on. We served meals; I washed dishes, tidied up and mopped the floor before stumbling upstairs to bed.

In my room I have a fridge. It is noisy. It has a life of its own. On my first night in this Outback town the whistling of the fridge raised my hackles. It rattled! It goes clunk before settling down to a silent period of about five minutes. That first night, tired and weary from a daylong bus journey, of seeing my new abode in the dim evening light, I wondered if this hotel had a ghost. After an hour a pattern emerged and I knew that the noises emanated from the fridge.

I tumbled into bed this rainy night and a new sound penetrated my consciousness; rain falling on the iron roof. It was a welcome sound before, but now, in the quiet of the night this loud, persistent noise sounded liked a demented Highland Dancer who had forgotten some steps in a wild, crazy, fling. There were no bagpipes to play the tune, instead an unrhythmic beat on a drum attempted to thwart any attempt to sleep. But, as is the case with any persistent noise that is deemed safe, I managed to switch my ears off and sleep. One who begins work at 5.30am needs sleep!

Next morning I go downstairs to be greeted by a puddle under the bench. My day began mopping water up. And the wildflowers have not yet had had moisture to bloom. Today, the skies are once again blue. Maybe the rain will return, and hopefully the wildflowers will add a splash of colour to the red terrain.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 5

A Lazy Day

Traffic flows intermittently along the Great Northern Highway that bisects Cue situated almost halfway between Mt Magnet and Meekatharra.

4 x wheel drive vehicles towing a caravan creep through town, some stop at the caravan park, others are intent on covering the empty miles. Road trains carrying diverse cargoes rumble by … a truckload of goats heading south, their ultimate destination the lucrative Asian market. The feral goats, no longer a despised intruder on the red dirt stations, are now a dollar earner; these pastel gray coloured animals with their wide trusting eyes taking in the countryside as they go on their final journey are oblivious to their destination, or the reason for this trip. The delicate flavoured flesh of goat rivals the tender cut of spring lamb.

Road trains, many pulling three trailers with an uncountable number of wheels, transport equally massive loaders and other machinery; some are packed with sheets of metal to be used in the burgeoning mining industry, while others haul buildings to be used as workers accommodation on mine sites; truck decks carry tyres so immense they defy the imagination as to the exact proportions of the vehicles they will clad.

Ancient cars, pouring blue smoke from noisy exhausts cruise the main drag, and family sedans come to a halt outside the general store discharging an adult seeking Sunday newspapers and other forgotten essentials.

I spied, at the southern end of town, a truck carrying a giant- sized piece of yellow machinery. The truck was creeping along the main street, on the wrong side of the road, and ahead of it were two pilot vehicles, lights flashing as a warning! Out in front, a man clasping a pole lifted the criss-cross of overhead lines, as the load was too tall to navigate without man-made aid. Fascinated I stared as the entourage crept steadily closer. To my utmost amazement the top of that load was several meters higher than I, and I was on a second storey balcony! A second truck followed … it carried over-sized tyres for the preceding load. Attempting to picture this yellow monster working in the mines almost defied even my vivid imagination.

Earlier in the morning volunteers carrying orange plastic bags, and wearing old gardening gloves, unselfishly gave up a Sunday morning, moving briskly about their task of ridding the streets of rubbish … cigarette butts, beer bottles and cans carelessly tossed from moving vehicles under the cover of darkness, stray pieces of paper that found their way onto the streets and footpaths. In this small country town a definite sense of pride in one’s surroundings is profoundly evident, and I take my hat off to those who answered the call for cleaner’s-uppers on this particular Sunday. Later in the year this diligence was rewarded … Cue was awarded the title of Top Town, an accolade well deserved.

Small children, barefooted and intent on a ritual of their own making, walked and skipped from pole to pole, executing a complete circle at each pole. One who trailed slightly behind his peers, in attempting to catch up, omitted the essential swing around the pole, and after suitable admonishment from his seniors, this error was rectified.

A gentle breeze filled the flags flying on the Shire Office and adjacent War Memorial, while beneath the sheltered picnic tables a small coach disgorged a group of elderly travelers making a mid morning-tea stop and absorbed a semblance of small town life. Cameras clicked recording the ‘olde worlde’ charm of the Police Station and Post Office, captured the essence of a country hotel, and listened to the explanatory tale regaled by their leader. Few ventured across the street, none walked down the footpath to where historical records filled empty shop windows begged to be read and interpreted anew.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 4

Quiet Sunday

A week has passed since I travelled to this part of the world. Slowly, but surely, my working day has become familiar. Cue was established towards the end of the 19th century as a gold mining town, and the buildings are reminiscent of that era. Daily, tourists stop and take photos of the Post Office, a magnificent building, and the adjoining Police Station. I have visited the Post Office, and been greeted with the salutation, “Good morning, How can I do you today?” I have no intention of having the need to inspect the confines of the Police Station.

The Shire Office is partitioned into several areas, and the main one in my eyes, is the library where I have enrolled as a member. A small subscription was made, and that will be refunded when I depart this area. I suspect this subscription is essential as many who arrive in Cue are but ships in the night, arriving on the late bus and shipping out days or weeks later on the first offered ride.

Isolation worries many; the bright lights of the city are far, far away, and after a hot day, or a bad day, many it would seem, jump ship. I find plenty to amuse me! Sunday is my day off work and last Sunday, after essential chores were completed [no matter where one lives there are essential chores], I sat out on the balcony and watched the passing parade.

The major event of the day was the Australian Rules football game between the only two competing teams from Western Australia, all other teams in this series coming from the Eastern States. A large screen TV in the bar of our hotel proved the ideal place for viewing, as shown by the patrons who arrived up to an hour before the telecast. Some walked from nearby streets, some ambled over from the caravan park, others rode into town in beat-up old cars, blue smoke pouring from their exhausts and happy exuberant folks leaning their elbows out the red-dust covered windows, still others arrived in pick-up trucks, flash motor cars polished within an inch of their life and destined to need that washing and polishing again within hours, some cars sported balloons in the owner's favourite team colours, and still others dawdled in later.

I stayed upstairs watching, and later viewed the finale of the game on my TV. That the underdog won was a real victory! I had an excuse to rag some of the locals at breakfast the next day!

In the middle of the game a campervan drove into town. Sitting in my eyrie on the balcony I watched, un-noticed, the antics of its occupants. A young man, who I dubbed Son, bounced out of the driver's seat and made his way, rather full of his own importance, to the notice board that gives details of what is what in this town. He looked around. Obviously he was looking for something, but being new to town, I had no information to volunteer, so kept mum. His companion, who I dubbed, Mother, came over to see what was what. Nothing was what, but in an endeavour to do something he headed across the street to the bar, to the bar where over excited patrons were viewing The Game. Shouts, cheers, despair and utter disbelief echoed across the bar and poured out onto the street. No doubt Son wondered if he was actually in a civilised environment, and halfway across the green strip in the center of the wide roadway he made the decision that he was indeed in an uncivilised place. He stopped; he looked and listened, and hurriedly retraced his steps and urged Mother back into the van. They drove back down the block, he hopped out, took a photo or two of this hostile place, and left town … not in a cloud of dust as the roads are sealed, but had they not been I am sure one could have followed their progress until out of sight.

Of course all the above is only the result of assumption, and as a teacher of mine once said, to assume you make an ass out of u and me.

Those who prefer civilisation … cities and bright lights, people talking on mobile phones, movies and fast food shops, miss out on Life. Their view is clouded by what they wish to see, not what is right under their noses, and in my view, that which is right under our noses is the most interesting, should we take time to watch and wonder.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 3

A Day in the Life of
Slowly I am beginning to get the feel of this historical old hotel and have ventured across the street to view the shops … one hesitates to use the plural, though by stretching a point and adding the Emporium [that sells liquor, a minimal variety of groceries, pots and gold mining pans], the Shire Office with rooms displaying photos of 'the olden days' and which I have yet to explore … and to bask in the mild climate that is all part and parcel of this part of Western Australia. However my day is rather busy with work. Ha! Isn't it always so, except of course for those who have inherited a legacy that their parents or grandparents sweated blood and tears to gain?

My day begins at 5.30am when I stagger down a steep flight of dimly lit stairs, grope my way along a narrow corridor and using my mobile phone as a source of light, click on a switch giving me sufficient illumination to enable me to unlock doors before getting organised for those who need a breakfast cooked.

There are many advantages of working in a hotel in a small country town … the main one being that those who need a meal invariably like a little chatter to begin their day. That they torment me with threats of 200,000 coming for breakfast in the near future is but a sideline. By the way, to that idle comment I added my piece de resistance … I am leaving before then … just joking of course! The hungry masses are fed [masses meaning anything from three to seven]. Those preferring cereal or toast get their own. I do boil the kettle for tea or coffee, so my talents are not entirely wasted! I may wipe a cloth around a few spaces in between times … cleaning down the gas stove did take some moments! I have resorted to wearing rubber gloves in a delicate shade of pink, which enables me to keep some semblance of the lady-like hands that would otherwise denote me as a menial, or is it manual, worker.

As you may imagine, life in a small Australian Outback town miles from the fast pace of city life is unique. We do watch the NEWS on TV. I wonder why? It is always full of strife, real or something those in the powerhouses of the world would like us to believe, or of disasters of the weather variety, over which we have little control, except of course turning back the clock two hundred years.

At noon I take another turn down stairs … I may have spent some of my break out on the balcony watching the road trains [huge trucks towing three trailers behind, and having umpteen wheels that are impossible to count in the time they are in view] pass through town transporting produce, or machinery, or equipment, north or south … doing a little washing, and the other chores essential to life no matter where one resides. Two hours spent in the kitchen includes making pizzas [THE BEST IN THE WEST], preparing vegetables, and washing another basin of dishes. Lunch follows and invariably I partake of this on the balcony where the sun is shining. Wrap-around verandahs provide a little shade.

The evening shift begins at 4.00pm and I clamber up the stairs four or five hours later, tired and weary after the dining room is emptied, after we have eaten, after the dishes and chores are complete, to collapse into bed and listen to the fridge make its moaning noises. Having a fridge alongside one's bed has a decided advantage! A container of ice-cold water in a climate such as this is essential.

Making the day more interesting is the variety of people passing through … the regulars who stay for days that turn into weeks or months as their employment is extended, those who cannot find accommodation in the larger towns north or south, and those who are just taking a holiday. People have tales to tell, some are believable, some appear to need a substantial application of salt, but all are entertaining.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 2

The Outback

As I travelled over 600kms north of Perth to a job in the Mid-west, amazingly a sign informed me I was entering the Outback, and as that fact registered I fully realised the size of the step I was undertaking.

Leaving my son’s home at the break of day I travelled by coach for almost twelve hours, stopping for lunch at a roadhouse that caters not only for truck drivers, but coaches and others heading north, arriving after sunset at the hotel where I am to be employed as a kitchen hand.

The journey initially traversed through farmland, the wheat belt of Western Australia. Slowly but surely we headed into red dirt country with little sign of habitation, animals or people.

The sunset was glorious! Australia is a massive continent. Whilst looking out the coach window it was possible to see that the earth is round; so low in the distance was the horizon, and so high directly above was the sky. The golden glow of the setting sun towards the Indian Ocean contrasted the blue sky above, while in the east, the gray colour of the evening light on the shrubby trees appeared almost ghostly.

The hotel where I am working and living is very old, the people not so old; I think I am going to settle into this environment.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Serial

My Time in Cue
A New Chapter

I suppose I should begin with ‘Gidday Mate', but I honestly don't think I have been in Australia long enough to begin with that salutation. The weather in Australia is warmer than in my homeland of New Zealand, though not hot. There is no ice on the windows in the mornings and the daily high has reached 17C or 19C … a vast improvement on 4C or 6C.

The trip over the Tasman was uneventful, as we wish all air trips to be. Flying from Dunedin to Sydney, we had two nights, and a day, in which to see the sights. The Opera House is impressive making it easy to see why Australians are justifiably proud of this magnificent edifice perched on the edge of the harbour. The Harbour Bridge is [sorry about this] just a bridge. There are, in my opinion, more impressive bridges in the world; small stone bridges exuding a rustic character to render them timeless, crossing trickles of water. Oh yes, Sydney Harbour Bridge [note the capitals] is impressive, just not my cup of tea. However I appreciate why the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House have become icons of what is quintessentially Sydney.

To me Sydney appeared a bustling, hustling city consisting of folks not interacting with one another. A huge percentage of the population walked at a fast pace with those little plugs in their ears … no doubt they were listening to their own particular brand of music, or perhaps running the day's agenda over before reaching the office, or maybe they were listening to something altogether different. I did notice they were very intent on listening.

The other breeds of Sydney City Folk were the talkers. Not to me, nor to their fellow walkers on the pavement, but talkers into tiny plastic phones, which I am positive must have been super-glued to their ears. They too were concentrating on their talking, shutting out the rest of the world.

We rode to the top of Centrepoint tower, which gave a panoramic view of Sydney. Sydney is immense … a city of 4.25 million residents so we were informed by a knowledgeable and humorous young gentleman commentator. He had people skills and employed them extremely well. I approved of that Sydney.

We flew to Perth, the capital of Western Australia. Perth is laid back, a complete contrast to Sydney, and reminiscent of a series of settlements converging into each other. Or it could be that I am better acquainted with Perth having been a frequent visitor.

The family descended upon us! My grandchildren are no longer children; they are now young adults. I find it amusing to think that I, a woman who celebrates her 21st birthday with monotonous regularity, can be a grandmother to these young Australians. They speak so quickly with convolvulated vowels … vowels I will not try to imitate.

The bird life is different. Hanging out the washing earlier this day I found myself unable to identify any of the birds flitting from bough to bough, from bough to bough of trees I cannot identify. There are citrus trees growing in every back yard … oranges that would not come cheap in New Zealand green grocers are picked by the plastic shopping bag full to be juiced! Sacrilege! This morning I ate one for breakfast!

Bananas are scarce, and expensive. Recently Cyclone Larry hit the banana growing coast of Queensland devastating the crop. Admittedly other areas grow bananas, and because of the scarcity of these delectable fruit, the farmers are cashing in on the huge profits to be made. $1.57 for one banana!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Man Overboard

“I didn’t believe it when I first read it.” Taking a closer look at the newspaper I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. The headline said. 'Man lost overboard.' I read on. 'Yesterday a man was lost overboard from the inter-island ferry and fears are held for his safety. Storm conditions prevailed and the ferry sought shelter in Golden Bay only to be swamped by a rogue wave, which swept Jamieson Arnold McPherson overboard. Search and Rescue are waiting for conditions to improve before sending divers into the area.'

My elderly uncle, Jamieson Arnold McPherson, is married to Aunt Maggie and a shock like this might be enough to send her into her grave. Uncle and Aunt recently celebrated their Golden Wedding with family members arriving from near and far to join in celebrations of a significant anniversary. Childless, but with an abundance of nieces and nephews, their home was a holiday camp for the younger generation who begged to spend a week with their favourite relatives.

Cousin Milly, who lived close to Aunt and Uncle hadn’t mentioned that he was planning a trip to the North Island on the Ferry. That’s what I should do … I would phone Milly. Where was that address book with her phone number? It must be somewhere. I looked in the bookcase, but no luck. Nor was it in the little room I called my office where a computer and desk offered space to work in solitude. Bother! I had seen it just the other day.

I told myself to calm down and think. Getting into a stew and panicking helped no one. I remember … I left it by the telephone when I called home yesterday. My parents had lost the address of a neighbour who had moved town and guessed I would have it written down. Being the family member who writes things down has several drawbacks, the main one being remembering exactly where the relevant written down things are left. This was a prime example.

Poor Aunty. It suddenly struck me just how devastated she must be. The Strait is notorious for rough crossings, and many a time the Ferry sailing had been cancelled at the last minute because the Harbour Master considered conditions too risky. More than thirty years ago a Ferry had run aground with the loss of several lives. That rescue operation was immense. A Governmental inquiry had revealed little as to the cause … other than the weather, which of course, is out of our control. Each year the newspapers remind us of the disaster and annually my heart goes out to the families whose loved ones lost their lives.

Poor Aunty. I wouldn’t bother phoning Milly. It would be more considerate to phone Aunty direct. If she was sitting home alone and waiting on Uncle to return and hadn’t had the radio or TV on, nor read the evening newspaper, then she would be completely unaware of what was happening. Poor Aunty … and even worse, poor Uncle.

Such a lovely old gentleman he was. Over the summer holidays when I was about ten, Uncle taught me to fish. We hunted in the compost to fill our tin with worms, and carrying our rods and a net … to land our catch, we headed to the wharf where adults and children gathered in anticipation, their lines moving gently with the current. When a young boy caught a fish we rushed to watch him haul it in. That fish would have barely fed a cat, but what excitement amongst the fishermen! Those memories would stay with me and I could go and stay with Aunty and we could sit and reminisce. What a shame my holidays were months in the future.

The phone rang and I hurried to answer. It was cousin Milly … she must be psychic! She enquired if I had heard the news. Of course I was anxious to know the latest. She commented how strange the man overboard should have the same name as Uncle … it wasn’t a common name. The missing person was in fact a holidaymaker on a three-week tour of our country. She rushed on to say that as many thought it was Uncle, Aunty was receiving upsetting phone calls. I felt so relieved I forgot to mention I had almost telephoned Aunty myself.