Story telling from Australia
This week’s post is an unusually long one in response to Mark Dapin’s article on Broken Hill Bent not Broken that caused such a fuss when it appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser. This is my humorous (in other words please don’t sue) reply.
Hey Mark, I live in Broken Hill (Bent not Broken, remember?) and I’m bent all right. I’m bent right out of shape. If I were a man I’d ask you to slide off that bar stool you’ve spent too long sitting on and settle this the old fashioned way. I’ve heard you’re quite handy with your fists (believe it or not some of us used to read your column in that fancy Sydney paper). However, since I’m a middle aged woman from England—and you don’t get much further ‘Away’ than that—I’m inviting you to step outside and come for a walk. Come and see the Broken Hill I’ve grown to love. And Mark, if you’d done that in the first place instead of blathering to a couple of weekend drinkers who can’t see beyond the bottom of an empty schooner maybe you wouldn’t be in so much strife now. But I’m not blaming you you’re from Away, like me. Just finish your drink and join me (empty calories in booze anyway, makes you fat and we can’t have that can we?)
You made it as far as Al Fresco’s for a flat white (although why you would beats me; the food’s great but everyone knows The Silly Goat serves the best coffee in town) so why didn’t you cross the lights and keep going? Cathy would have invited you into the Regional Art Gallery. On Friday night openings you can enjoy a glass of wine and canapés (if you want cheeseslaw on crackers you can stay in the pub) and the whole town’s invited. There were two hundred of us at the last one. Badger Bates was there, brilliant artist and Paakantji elder who grew up in Broken Hill. Someone like you Mark, you’d have loved chatting to Badger. Anne Evers was there that night with Rick Ball, you’d have seen her woven baskets and his award winning painting. That woman in purple? Sue Kirby, researcher at the university, learning to play the ukulele. Lovely tall woman? Lisa (Medicare Local) who gets up at the crack of dawn each Saturday to cycle out in the desert with Sue (Maari Ma, used to work in Africa), Deidre (occupational therapist) and Denise (psychologist).
Jason couldn’t make it, he was tied up at Bell’s (don’t tell me you didn’t visit Bell’s Milk Bar it was on your way to the airport, turn left at Patton Street). Jason’s a filmmaker, businessman, and all round activist passionately committed to South Broken Hill. The Summer Vibes Festival was his idea. Wendy Moore, now she’s an interesting woman, polymer clay artist and jewellery designer (Matisse meets Gauguin in 3D) and champion of women’s rights in Nepal. She’s a FIFO, spends 8 months in The Hill and four in Nepal. Gillian’s another FIFO, retired corporate lawyer from London who came for a two-day visit 15 years ago and comes back every year for anything up to six months. All the med students were there of course, noisy bunch of galahs looking for a free feed but that’s med students for you. Professor David Lyle sends them cycling in the desert and Doctor Mal Moore ships them off for stints with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Did you spot the RFDS Base at the airport? HQ for the South Eastern Section, you can’t miss it (unless you’re hungover in which case you probably didn’t even notice the Nomad parked next to the passenger terminal.)
Riley Crampton, now he could tell you a story about the Flying Doctor. On Australia Day last year when most people were in the pub (I won’t ask where you were) thirteen year old Riley was helping his Pop muster goats on Loch Lilly Station. Another guy helping out had a heart attack and the only one with him at the time was Riley. That skinny lad dragged the man into the passenger seat of the Toyota he’d been driving, unhitched the seventeen foot long trailer full of goats, got behind the wheel (manual Mark, not automatic) and took off for the homestead 80 kilometers away so he could phone the Flying Doctor. Only reason that man’s alive today is because of Riley and the Flying Doctor. You’d have loved talking to Riley, shame he’s too young for the pub.
Mark, if you like dark spaces you should have gone to the cinema (Oxide Street, turn left at the lights, 450 seats with 3D technology) and John would have welcomed you with open arms and a choc top. What a guy. Dragged his limp body back to health after a spinal tumour left him paralysed and now sees it as nothing short of his civic duty to keep that cinema going. Want to see a film? John will get it. Hold a fundraiser? John’s your man.
Of course, when you fall off your bar stool in Broken Hill you won’t have far to go to hospital to get your head examined. If it were a Tuesday you’d be in for a treat, Pam Lord visits patients that day, has done for decades, never in less than full make up, hat, gloves, suit, stockings and court shoes. Think Gatsby goes to the desert. You certainly wouldn’t have met Pam at the pub. Come back in October though and you’re likely to meet her on pudding production.
You haven’t heard of puddings? Mark, mate, only one bloke has ever made it onto the permanent pudding team you could be next in line (and you’d be the youngest by far). The women are mostly in their 70s, 80s and 90s (they’re insured for up to 101 year olds so you’ve got time) and they could do with some muscle to help shift 300 kilos of flour and much the same again of fruit, butter, eggs and almonds (you’d have to keep your mitts off the 60 litres of brandy though). It’s hard work making two thousand Christmas puddings, takes the best part of two weeks to weigh, chop and mix the ingredients, pleat the calico, plunge the puddings into boiling coppers, haul the slippery parcels out, pat them dry, hang them, pack them, ship them…those women lift the equivalent of eight or ten thousand kilos in a fortnight (there’s a few you’d call big Mark but I wouldn’t advise it). It beats going to the gym any day and it raises money for the Flying Doctor.
If you can find her in the sweaty heat of that steaming kitchen you should talk to June Files, she ran a florist shop in Broken Hill until she retired, now she takes people on marathon cycle rides to raise money for the Flying Doctor, they went from Broken Hill to Darwin one year. The oldest rider, eighty-one-year-old Norm, has been on every ride June’s organized since 1996. So you can see why they don’t waste their time down the pub.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not that we don’t like a drink. A bunch of us drove out to a creek bed a couple of weekends ago, threw our swags on the sand and built a fire with fallen branches from the coolabah trees. A couple of bottles of red later we handed out copies of Julius Caesar and read the play out loud, from start to finish. There’s quite a tradition of play-acting in Broken Hill. Shame you never got a chance to meet Fred Greetings and Salutations Peter. He played the bagpipes when the Queen came to town in 1954. A big-hearted miner, teacher, poet, actor and all round decent bloke, Fred trod the boards to woo his sweetheart, Josephine, way back when people had sweethearts, and he auditioned for a play I wrote last year. He nailed the lead part, even though he hadn’t been on stage for 30 years then he won the Best Actor Award. Fred was felled by a massive stroke less than a fortnight later and three hundred people turned out for his funeral. You should hope for so many.
I’ve met some great people out here, from the Flying Padre and talented artists like Howard Steer and Albert Woodroffe to Joe who cuts the lawn, and don’t get me started on the incredible people who live out on stations…
Mark, there’s so much more to Broken Hill than a few weekend drinkers. Come back and see us another time, you might fall in love with the place. And the people. Just like I have.