So I’ve picked up Bill Bryson’s Down Under which converges with my own recollections straight away as he passes through the mining town Broken Hill, as I myself have reached that town in my recollections. Through Bryson I am now also getting a bit more background information about the country and its sights, but fear not, I shall not fill these pages with his observations, only recommend it to anyone, particularly to those who feel in need of some abdominal workout.
I do have to briefly veer off my journey’s track and dispel a rumor that has reached me here on the other side of the world. Apparently it was reported that I have been married and am traveling around Australia with my wife, when in fact I am not married and traveling around Australia with my 17 “girlfriends”! And after 52 days the honeymoon is still in full bloom…everyday I carry some of them over new thresholds, of pain that is, neck, back, knees etc..
Getting to Broken Hills from Mildura took us over the Darling River and into dry and arid country. All water around the town of Broken Hill is used for the mining, so not much grows here. And though small towns all look alike after awhile, it gives you a different sense of what makes a country function. Kalgoorlie, with the world’s largest goldmine and Broken Hill, which is still the home of the world’s largest mining company are both unassuming towns, sans frills, that help carry the country. Judging from the look of its inhabitants, Broken Hill could be the place where the freaks from the traveling circuses retire to; I have never seen a more eclectic group of characters and faces assembled in one place. Maybe it’s the lack of water, as most water is used in the mines? At any rate, it tasted very strange coming out of the tap, a bit like when you are in a spa in the hot mineral pool with a chili-sage-celery mask on and swallow a bit of the water as you doze off and slide down submerging your face under the water.
My lunch lady looked like she had done that a few times too many, and was moving with utmost caution in case she should lose consciousness again. Wearing an acrylic hounds tooth sweater, pulled down and belted to make a dress and possibly show the cleavage that she had had made when she left her policeman/drug dealer husband, at the age of 60. According to two guys we met, she had never been a looker in that way. If she had her head turned sideways you had to look at her feet to tell which was front on her, she used her (her ex’s?) money on a front, but was still single. Between buttering slices of bread for our sandwiches, she would shuffle around, wiping sporadically on any surface that came within reach. She preferred to keep her hands to herself, so the wiping didn’t venture far on said surfaces. Meanwhile her 4 employees stood silently, waiting for her to come back to make the sandwiches. Apparently they were not trained yet to do it themselves.
The above-mentioned guys were a rare blessing on the trip. After the show, we met them as we were looking for a place to have a drink. (Yes, so far nothing is ever open when we are around). They invited us home to their place, and I felt a pang of fear, images of gay bashing or gang rape passed through my head. Yes we were 5, but at least 4 of us would not even be able to swat a fly. In the end I was finally exposed to the Australian hospitality that I had heard about from friends at home. Admiring a print on the wall, I asked Ryan our host about it and it turned out to be a Norman Lindsay print. I had only a few days before on a coffee break from the bus, stumbled upon a book of this Australian artist’s work of fauns, satyrs, voluptuous ladies and fairy tale creatures and was ecstatic at seeing one in real life. Over some good wine and some bad wine we had a wonderful conversation about art, artists and I was surprised (happily so) to encounter a 20-something year old living in such a small town, far from big cities, that were as culturally minded as this guy was. My surprise only grew, when his roommate told us that he had never left Broken Hill. That turned out not to be true as Ryan assured us, he had moved to Sydney for 3 months once, so a complete country bumpkin he was not!
But we did have to leave Broken Hill, so after a fun evening, we parted ways, wondering if our paths will ever cross again. I sadly doubt I will be in Broken Hill anytime soon, or later for that matter.
The next morning as we tried to get comfortable on the bus, Duncan our bus driver and sometimes tour guide, suggested we took a look out the left windows. “If you look closely”, he said, “you will see nothing. If you look to the right, you will see more of nothing and that is what it will be like for the next 2000km if we keep going straight”. Luckily we didn’t have to go that far, only to Port Pirie, about 4 hours or so.
One of Port Pirie’s claims to fame is its war memorials. Where many towns have memorials to their fallen servicemen, Port Pirie was particularly devastated. In World War I, the town’s population was around 4000, of which they lost 234 young men. A beautiful park was laid out with various monuments, the strongest being a plaque listing fallen names, with only a very few surnames occurring only once. In a relatively short time, entire families were denied growth.
Another striking part of Port Pirie, was their gaming lounges, which is not rooms in which one hunt game, but merely wastes one’s money in the slot machines. Having coffee one morning at a café across from one of these hotel/casinos, I noticed a sign in the window advertising their happy hour. Now there’s usually nothing uncommon about a sign advertising happy hour, except this sign was right next to a street sign depicting a 24 hour ban on bottles on the block (much like a no parking sign). Made me wonder how they get their deliveries?