I had come a long way, and just as sun hit the horizon, I made it to the town of Blackall, Queensland.
|Watching the sunset from the upper porch of the Barcoo Hotel in Blackall, Queensland. Don't know what XXXX Gold is, but I think I'll mosey downstairs and try some.|
As I ate, I watched the locals come and go. I'm pretty sure everyone in Blackall is either related or knows each other in some way. As each group came in, they all gave a hearty greeting, and if any kids were in tow, they got hugs all around. It was nice to watch, but it made me feel just a bit more uneasy, as it was obvious that I was the only stranger in the place. But the waitress was friendly and acted like there was nothing wrong with a stranger in their midst, so I ate and watched folks drink beer, chat and laugh, and bet on horse races and lotteries above the bar.
|Plenty of action in Blackall on a Saturday night.|
I felt right at home.
As I tested various species of the local drafts (the XXXX Gold is on their marquee for a reason), a couple of the screens were switched to a "football" game. Now I had tried to watch a couple of "football" games, but I couldn't get them straight...they seemed to be different games depending on where you were watching them. In New South Wales I had seen a bunch of guys named the Swans (really?) running around with a ball, and then kicking it wildly away whenever somebody got close to them. Sort of reminded me of the way my little brother played football in the front yard with me and the guys back in the day. But here in Blackall, the football game had a different look...one whole team lined up, and then the runner on the other team crashed headlong into them, until, bloodied and woozy, he gave up and passed the ball back to one of his mates. Now this, I liked.
But still, the action seemed random, and it never stopped, so I had a heck of a time figuring out what was going on. But I had just enough XXXX in me to muster up the courage to try to ask someone to give me a brief introduction to the game.
Well, there was one particular patron that night, a lady named Sally, who was so into the game that she kept shushing the folks around her so she could hear the game. She also had a jersey of one of the teams on, and seemed to be the only one who really cared what was going on. So in a break, I sidled over to her, apologized for being a dumb American, and asked what I thought might be an intelligent question about the game.
Without looking away from the screen, she said, "Pull up a stool, be quiet, and listen." And she proceeded to give me a running explanation of every facet of the game, play by play. We were rooting for the Broncos, and the other guys were the Cowboys. (Hmmm, sounded familiar.) This was a big playoff game, a semifinal in the championship of the Australian rugby football league, not to be confused with the Australian Football League, in which those sissy Swans played. And you know, the way she explained it, it started making some sense to me, and I actually started getting into the game. Just like two strangers at a Steelers' game, it was easy to relate to the action, especially when one of those darn Cowboys tried to rip the head off of one of our Bronco boys.
By halftime, the pub had inexplicably thinned out, and the bartender told us they were closing up for the night. No problem, explained Sally...there's another pub just down the road, within walking distance. Hmmmm...it was already past my bedtime, and I had to hit the road at sunrise the next morning, but I wanted to see the Broncos pull this one out, darn it. So I sallied forth with Sally.
We went down a block, turned right and began to walk through a neighborhood. It was dark, but the moon gave us a little light to see the street. I sure didn't see any pub ahead...the town seemed to be coming to a dead end. Sally explained the railroad used to run by this side of town, and the pub was next to where the railroad used to be. I began to have visions of headlines in State College that read something like "Professor's Remains found on Outskirts of Foreign Town" when suddenly there was a light in a window, we went in a little house-looking place, and there was a bar, and a TV.
And interestingly, the place was filled to standing room only...with the same crowd that I recognized from the last pub. By now, I was getting to feel like a regular.
Well, Sally kept explaining, but the game turned against the Broncos, which the rest of the pub seemed to like, since they were almost all rooting for the Cowboys. One of the bartenders came over to us, looked at me suspiciously, and asked, "What'll it be, Auntie?" Sally introduced me to her niece, who looked at me once more like I was an axe murderer after Aunt Sally's hidden treasure, but Sally assured her I was just a dumb American learning about rugby, the real football. Well, the young lady accepted that, but she kept an eye on me the rest of the night.
In the end, the Broncos lost, but Sally took it in stride. She explained to me that next week, she would be rooting for the Cowboys, because after all, they were a Queensland team going against a club from New South Wales. That seemed a little odd to me...I couldn't imagine the Steelers losing to the Eagles in a playoff game, and me rooting for the Eagles next week just because they were from Pennsylvania. But that's the Aussie way, I suppose.
Sally guided me back to the Barcoo, and we were good enough friends by now that a handshake seemed silly, so we hugged and I thanked her for a night of being a real Aussie. She laughed, gave me her card, and told me to look her up the next time I was passing through...since she was a writer for a local newspaper and they always need good stories. Because, well, you know, nothing interesting ever happens in those little country towns, even in the outback.
The next morning, I was up with the sun, taking in the sounds of the outback birds and road trains, before I headed out once again.