Character Tuesday: Barrow Creek Pub Barman

 

I walked up to Barrow Creek Pub stuffing Tim Tams in my mouth. I saw a balding, middle-aged man in a casual T-shirt in front of me. I licked the melting chocolate off the finger of my right hand and held out the sleeve of biscuits in the other. “Do you want a Tim Tam?” I asked him. “No, thank you,” he said as he went inside the door.

On my way in, I said hello to two people in denim outfits sitting at the table outside, drinking cans of beer. There were dim neon lights bringing a subtle glow to the woman’s face, framed by a short box-cut hairdo. I noticed she was stocky and serious, her greeting was warm.  As I followed him in to find my friends, I saw him grab a can a beer. No Tim Tams necessary here. 

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Inside Barrow Creek Roadhouse

It was by accident that my travel mates and I made our way there. We needed gas and considering the isolation and uncertainty of the outback, considered it a safe bet to top up before the 88km it would take to reach Ti Tree. We joked that this was the time we were going to be brutally murdered in the outback, stopping at dusk in a town that was only as a big as its telegraph station. But as soon as I walked through the door of the roadhouse and scanned my eyes around the room, I realized that we were not going to get murdered here but instead be one of the thousands and thousands of tourists who are lucky to meet Michael. The man who refused my Tim Tams. (I guess if you’re Australian they’re not such a novelty…)

While I was out stuffing my face, he had already started to impress the German boys I was traveling with. Name dropping important German figures and spitting off soccer statistics and beating their knowledge of German history, my mates stood smiling, almost incredulous. He pointed to German paraphernalia and took out souvenirs that – after over 40 years of tourists gifting things the pub – had amassed into shelves and drawers of excess. He walked us over to the back of the pub, where above the doorway he hung a license plate from West Berlin.

©NaptimeWithYasmine. barrow creek

He finished talking to the Germans and asked where I was from. “How well do you know your presidents?” he followed up. I mentally covered my face in my hands because I knew this was going to be another time when I was shown up on my own country’s history by someone who’s never even visited. He spoke passionately and quickly about conspiracy theories involving JFK and Lincoln, the Freemasons and who’s really going to be on the face of the U.S. bank notes.

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It only took me five minutes of sauntering around the pub to judge him as the man who appears to hold endless knowledge. The man who is friends with everyone but sits alone behind you at trivia and answers questions like, “What was the second name of the platypus’s third cousin in the children’s book written in Boise, Idaho in 1957 but later remade into a one-hit wonder in 1988 and referenced in the most recent Tarentino movie?”

He stood behind the counter, taking coins and notes from different countries, quizzing me on what I knew about all 50 states. He was the only moving figure around a seeming trash dump of still memories – snakes in jars above the mantle, two panties from Nigerian women hanging off the wall, worn-down passport photos of tourists who probably look nothing like they once did when they passed through these doors.

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He works behind the same counter, day after day, year after year. He’s seen thousands of tourists. Yet still, he was full of energy, excitement and pride. He struck me as the person who doesn’t talk all the time, but when prompted, can give a spontaneous 20 minute monologue. Working behind that counter, his life is surrounded by cowboys, skippies (kangaroos) and cattle stations. He may stay in the physical confines of Barrow Creek, but he has the awareness of the entire world reverberating all around him.

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Read more about the Barrow Creek Pub and its history here.

Featured photo: The Barrow Creek Roadhouse view from the bathroom. Two locals listen to music and drink beer at the end of the day. 

This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

How To Get Your Feminist On As A Traveler in Melbourne

Instead of only visitng the must-see lists of each city, one of the most amazing things about traveling is experiencing what you’re passionate about in a new environment.

For example, my experience living in Buenos Aires was enriched by taking taking folk dance classes and volunteered at a human rights organization. Just imagine what might be memorable: a visit to a statue that you don’t have any inherent connection to, or going to a discussion night at a local NGO about the genocide in Guatemala and sitting silently in the back until you couldn’t hold in your tears any longer. No matter where you are, either if you’re studying abroad for a semester or just passing through for a few days, taking an afternoon to participate in something you care about can have a great impact on your trip.

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Geeking out in Melbourne at the QVWC.

For me during the months I spent living in Melbourne on a working holiday visa, I survived the mundane repetition of working at a salad bar by participating in feminist activism events. If learning more about the feminist struggles is one of your passions, here are seven ideas for you to broaden your understanding of it in Australia. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it can give you a starting point to delve deeper.

Queen Victoria Women’s Center

The QVWC is a building in the Melbourne CBD which houses offices for several nonprofits relating to women’s welfare. It also hosts speakers and events. To celebrate International Women’s Day the QVWC held lectures throughout the week of March 8th- they even involved complimentary wine. Check out their library or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.

Radical Women

Radical Women is a grassroots leftist feminist organization that started in the United States in the 1960s. Today in Melbourne the organization is present at political rallies and even hosts events at their Brunswick located library, called the Solidarity Salon, including feminist book clubs and speakers.

Melbourne Free University

While not inherently feminist, Melbourne Free University hosts lectures related to topics from technology to the FARC and gay rights movement in Colombia and often tackles the struggles of the global power imbalances including gender and women’s rights. The goal of the free uni is expand discussion and debate of important issues to all, and while lecturers often come from academia, participants come from all walks of life.

One Roof

A coworking space for women entrepreneurs located in Southbank, One Roof also hosts networking events and professional development workshops for women usually relating to business and leadership.

Miscellaneous Activist Events

Local grassroots political activist organizations organize rallies, lectures and discussions related to a variety of topics, and most of them often intersect with the feminist cause. For example, I subscribed to the Green Leftist Weekly’s activist calendar,  which advertises any number of events hosted by different organizations in different areas of the city, from the Socialist Alliance’s CBD office to Melbourne University.

Meet Ups

MeetUp.com, which connects people with others who share similar interests, lists several local feminist groups in Melbourne. Use these socials to network and learn more about activism in the city.

Volunteering

EthicalJobs.com  and Seek.com list open jobs and volunteering positions related to gender inequality (just make sure to use the right search terms). The possibility of volunteering is increased with the longer you might stay in Melbourne, especially when the work is regarding sensitive issues such as domestic violence.

Melbourne Feminist Action

Melbourne Feminist Action is Facebook group that helps organize feminist activists around pressing issues in the feminist movement. As of the time of writing this post, the page hasn’t been updated,  but you never know when they might become active again.

Featured photo taken at Hosier Lane in Melbourne. 

Not obsessed with the feminist cause? There’s still a lot to be discovered about Melbourne! Check out these five websites to tell you where. 

 

Photo Friday: Naughty Signs Of The Outback

Based on the attitudes and sass of the people I met on the outback, there should be more signs than just four. But given the remoteness of the roadhouses, gas stations and towns, four is a good number.

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Taken in Byron Bay.

This isn’t technically the outback, it’s Byron Bay. Regardless, it’s fitting because what sort of Beach Apartments advertise their vacancies via a threatening sign? You may recognize the picture from this post about the mine camp.

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Taken at Barrow Creek, Northern Territory.

If you’re naughty, they stick you in the cage. It’s like adult time out for public humiliation. You also may recognize this from this post about mine camps, where it was equally fitting.

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Photo Taken in Camooweal, Queensland.

Just like people all over Europe  and even in Southeast Asia love to draw penises everywhere, this sign taken just over the Queensland/Northern Territory border showed me that rural people of Australia also enjoy the sport. Instead of this sign communicating that here you are allowed to walk your dog, it also gives people permission to have boners while they’re doing it. Thanks!

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Taken at Mt. Surprise, Queensland.

Because every other form of making a burger now is messed up, as this sign insinuates. “Stuffed them up” means f*cked them up. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” can be said by any middle aged person about almost anything, so I am hesitant to ever believe its veracity.

Mine Camp Diaries: The Tables Have Turned

It’s like all hell has broken loose.

FIRE. Taking my “lunch break” at 5:00am yesterday with my workmate, we watched one of the toast ovens catch on fire. My workmate ran up to put it out and the only thing I could do was yell “Holy shit, there’s a fire!” She unplugged it and it simmered, solving the problem. She came back to where I was sitting and glancing around the room of miners, sparkies (electricians) and chippies (carpenters) lamented, “A room full of tradies and not one came up to help me with the fire.”

ANTS. Earlier that day, I had dropped a mixed nut on the floor. When I walked in my donga it was like someone had drawn miniature polka dots reaching from the infinitesimal crevices in the wall down circling my mini fridge, across the vast desert of the floor space into the bathroom and into my trash can. There was an ant infestation. I picked up the crumbs hoping that the ants would retreat to their hiding place without anything to snack on. But these weren’t regular ants, these were lazy ants. Instead of going back into their holes and finding another treasure and radioing all of their friends to come check it out, they just died where they were. So now in my room they are still all perfect placed in the soldier-like lines, only frozen in time. I tried to wipe some up of them up with toilet paper, but I’m still finding them stuck to the bottom of my feet.

FROGS. Then when I got back from dinner I went to (you guessed it) the toilet. Before I sat down I looked, and on the toilet seat sat a green, gooey frog. I tried to trap it with a bag to release outside, but it jumping into the toilet bowl. I flopped around a bit more and I couldn’t see it, so I figured it escaped. When I flushed the toilet I saw it whirling around, confused and helpless gasping for air.

SASSY WORKMATES. There was an actual fire in the dining room but back in the kitchen another fire is brewing, ready to explode. And that’s with my new workmate, the Thai chef. She is poker-faced, unamused and happy to have an issue with everything I do. Last night during my shift I sighed so loud and said to myself, she will be the death of you.

UNCERTAINTY. Apparently because I’m here through a recruitment agency (and I cost a lot more money) there’s a chance that after this “R&R” I won’t be flown back to this camp. I wish it was like prison where if I got out I could commit another crime to come back to the amenities and security I don’t have in the outside world.

WHINGING MINERS. Part of my night shift kitchen duties involves making snack lunches of sandwiches and salads for the miners who go directly from the plane to the mine and need some feed. I go out to the airport and pass them out as they arrive around 7:00am. The number of incoming flights depends on the day, sometimes one, sometimes three. By the time they rocked up I was awake and chipper after already having worked eight hours. They approached me for their snack packs with sleepy eyes and groggy faces. How were they? Grumpy, which meant they did not like the snack packs. Some looked in the bag, pulled things out and gave me a confused stare. “What is this?” they asked, “My banana is brown!”

After the bus driver took one plane full of miners to the site, he came back to wait for the second group. “Man, some f*ckers don’t know luck when they see it,” he shook his head, “They were whinging the whole ride. Miners are dumber than rocks.” Later that night, I went to the gym. I saw one of the miners from the morning. He caught my eye and said, “I was hungry today, ay. Not a great lunch.”

BLACK MARKETS. “A carton of beer?” my Maori friend said, “That sh*t is like gold out here, man!” This morning I passed her as I was heading to bed and she was working in housekeeping. She shared her brilliant plan. There’s only one place in town where you can get takeaway alcohol, and that’s the prestigious golf club. Why is that a problem? You have to be a member to buy from there, and you have to pay. She’ll go in on a membership and buy cartons of beer for people and charge them a fee to deliver it to their rooms via the housekeeping trolley. Then she changed the subject and told me a story about how she once gave fleas to a feral cat.

QUITTING EMPLOYEES. There is one adorable, bite-sized Asian woman who worked the last few nights in the kitchen. Yesterday, she quit during her shift, leaving the Chilean backpackers with all of her duties. I shoved apple crumble in my face as he sweated doing the dishes, running out to refill the crib food and wipe down tables. Rumor has it the main chef made her cry and she’d had enough. Gossip gets around fast, and unfortunately I’ve heard a lot of accusations and nasty remarks about her. The only good part of the story is that her name was so difficult to pronounce for everyone and even more impossible to remember, so people just call her “Z”. They’ll start the gossip by saying “Eh… you know that Asian woman… Z?”

Featured photo taken in Byron Bay. 

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.

Mine Camp Diaries: I Am A Bad Housekeeper And Workmates Are Redick

I was in housekeeping for two days. No surprise here: I despised it. I mean, there were good parts, namely that I could go to the toilet in all of the rooms before I cleaned them. Besides that bonus, there wasn’t much else I loved. I never got the hang of twisting the shower nozzle without first spraying it all over myself. I also seemed to get bleach all over my uniform so now it looks like a DIY tie-dye job. I accidentally woke up several people who work night shift, which is just the worst because who wants to be annoyed by some Yank with a key to your room screaming “HOUSEKEEPING” when we know we’re not even in the right outfit. We swap maid uniforms for neon tradie outfits (yeah, try cleaning a shower in this outfit).

You know that joke “How do you know if someone is [insert here political belief]? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you”? Yesterday I realized the same goes for housekeeping, as in how do you know someone’s worked in housekeeping? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. I also discovered that they’ll also walk past and tell you how they used to do it or what you need to do after you do x or that the best way to do x is by first doing y. After a while, it gets exhausting. And confusing. One woman followed us today as we defrosted freezers and starting correcting everything we were doing. She was on night shift and couldn’t sleep, so we’ll give her a break. She was bored.

My days in housekeeping were exhausting but short lived. They are already switching me to kitchen hand, which is great news…. except this means I have to work THE DREADED NIGHT SHIFT. I’ll be okay as long as I don’t end up an insomniac like the lady who followed us around today. If the night shift hits me hard I might even start to correct the groundskeepers, following them as they mow the lawn and tell them how I once saw some man doing it in an office parking lot and suggesting they follow my advice.

Because I’ve been cleaning rooms silently I haven’t overheard many interesting things, but two recent events that the new security guard hire and I can’t choose a favorite between:

1- Bold Questions

During a training session at the mine the other day our instructor finished showing us around the building where he explained where the supervisors’ offices were and where to head if there we went on ammonia alert. After his entire presentation, the instructor asked if anyone had questions, presumably referring to the information he gave us.

One of the sassiest members of the group raised his hand and asked, “How long ago was that photo taken?” All fifteen of us looked at the tiny photo on the instructor’s ID badge as he pointed to it. The photo was of a tan, slightly plumper man with brown hair and a clean shaven face. We looked up and evaluated his face, noticing the gray beard, the balding head and the reading glasses. “Ah, about ten years or so ago,” the instructor said, handling the question very well.

Without dwelling much on it, the instructor immediately led us down the stairs and we looked at each other, not believing our work mate’s audacity. The security guard burst out in laughing and said “Good on you!” to the guy who asked the question.

2- Outbursts at a meeting

One of my workmates is a guy who has been nicknamed “Croc Dundee” because he spent several years working on a crocodile farm and later went into the capturing business himself. He has a kind heart and has turned out to be a good friend of mine here, although I disagree with almost everything he says or believes.

Last week, after a two hour presentation from the HR director from corporate headquarters about bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination, a woman raised her hand and asked how many women are the perpetrators of this crime.

The HR director shared that surprisingly, most of the company’s cases are women harassing other women (they obviously didn’t listen to Marcela Lagarde!) In front of a crowd of around 25 people, Croc Dundee burst into hysterics. He started shaking his head and interrupted the speaker saying, “SEE? IT’S CHICKS, MAN! Like I walk into a party with my missus and my friend’s missus is wearing the same skirt and they hate each other and us blokes just chill back having a beer!”

I was so appalled that I actually said out loud “OH MY GOD” and I look over and the security guard is, again, bursting out laughing and slapping his hand on his knee.

Later, the security guard sat next to me at dinner. “Man, that Croc Dundee is hilarious,” he said, “I don’t know what’s better- his comments or that other dude asking about the instructor’s ID photo.”

Do you have a favorite of the two?

Featured photo taken in Brisbane, Australia.

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.

Mine Camp Diaries: Is This A Resort And What’s A Seven Course Aussie Meal

Another day at the mine, another bad choice of food (the dates are making me fart) and exercise (do not attempt to run in 35 degree heat in Northern Territory). I even got another marriage proposal, this one from a bite-sized East Timorese woman who says her son is very cute and also 24, and after all it might be nice to “stay home raising grandchildren instead of working at the mine.”

Now that I’m back in my room contemplating her marriage proposition I notice it has taken on a rancid body odor stench that will be impossible to remove, given our rooms don’t have windows. Airing out through the door is impossible. The minute I open it any number of vicious insects will be waiting to invade. The other day, my housekeeping partner and I were going from room to room, dragging the big royal blue housekeeping trolley down the sidewalk. She was griping about how precise our bosses want the bed making to be. “What do they think this is, a five star resort? We’re in the middle of the bush!” she quipped.

I guess I can say the same for the stench. What do I expect? This is a mining camp.

On the upside, I finally got a belt so now my pants don’t fall down as I’m lifting boxes. I even got a pair of protective sunglasses that make me look like your average suburban dad who has taken a liking to cycling in spandex.

These last couple of days have continued to be informative, especially regarding:

Language: Crib is the mining term for break room as well as the food you pack for lunch. Bubbly is the water fountain and the blower is a radio or phone. If you’re up shit creek you’re in big trouble.

Australian cuisine: “Do you know what a seven course Aussie meal is?” my workmate asked me at dinner last night. “I’m sure it involves beer,” I mused, knowing that anything of pride must include some sort of alcohol. “She’s onto it!” he yelled getting excited, “It’s a six pack and a meat pie!”

Sarcasm: I was walking towards a training classroom yesterday and I walked past a fish tank in the office. I saw some goldfish-sized blue fish swimming around, a few fake plants and some rocks.  On the top left hand corner, someone had placed a mini replica of the “beware of crocodile” signs seen around Australia. Careful that the goldfish don’t attack!

I’m also learning more and more about my coworkers. Besides the inappropriate workplace language and topic of conversation, I’ve also picked up on a strange thing my supervisor does. She will reference people in the company or workers in a competitor’s company that we, her group, have never heard of nor come into contact with. She will say something neutral about them, such as, “he went to the company meeting last year” then follow it by saying “but he’s actually a real cool guy, seriously guys, he’s a good dude” in a surprising tone, as if we were against her stance that he was a decent human being.

She’s not the only bicho raro around here. The other day I was “organizing boxes” (aka moving things around unnecessarily, but if they want me to I do it) in the maintenance shed when one of my workmates asked me if I had seen the maintenance boss. “No,” I said, “I don’t know who he is?” My workmate responded “He’s the dodgy one who looks like an alcoholic who’s just gotten sober for the morning. Seriously, you’ll know.”

A few minutes later we saw him outside the shed trolling around behind the wheel of the forklift, one hand on the controls and the other with a cup of coffee in his hand. My workmate looked at me and said, “See? F*cking dodgy.”

Featured photo taken on the Red Center Way. 

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.

Mine Camp Diaries: The Workplace Is A Laughing Matter

As I sit and stuff my face at breakfast and dinner and watch the news from the flat screens in the dining room, I can’t help but feel like I’m in this weird alternative universe where nothing happens. The world is happening outside the mine camp and I couldn’t be any further removed. People are getting shot while I’m scared shitless by the poisonous looking spider in the bathroom, the lizard falling from a light pole onto the floor in front of me and golf ball-sized flying insects hanging out in my hair.

Our biggest dramas are making sure that we get enough smoke-o’s during the day (15 minute periodic breaks) and if we’ve filled out our health and safety reports before doing each task. For management, their biggest concern is which ones of us have the bum runs (actual word used by my superiors in a meeting), because apparently the “city kids” aren’t used to the bush water and are having some squirts. Because I frequent the bathroom on account of my peanut-sized bladder, people have been suspiciously eyeballing me thinking, is she one of them?

Besides feeling the beginnings of isolation, I’ve also been feeling like this place is fulfilling my Australian stereotypes. There are curse words being thrown left and right, people yelling f*ck me dead and bury me pregnant, calling each other c*nts and telling each other to f*ck off. This is everyone, including management. The inappropriate banter came to a new level this morning when management introduced a new clocking in and clocking out system to replace the paper records. It’s a finger print scanner that connects to the computer. My supervisor refers to it as “fingering” and I’m beginning to think it’s on purpose.

At the meeting she said, “Don’t forget to finger when you come in and make sure to finger before you leave.” Someone chimed in, “Yeah, we finger and blow before we start work,” referring to the breathalyzers we have to blow into every morning before starting work. Someone else yelled something about doing a good job or you’ll have to start over. Then everyone had a good laugh and my supervisor went on with the meeting.

Following the discussion about fingering, the supervisor reminded everyone that we are a very multi-cultural team, including Americans, English, Scottish, Pilipino, East Timorese, Danish and aboriginal. She reminded us that especially considering the diversity, there should be no racism, bigotry and none of the boy/girl divisions. One of my work mates raised his hand and point to me and the Scottish lad. He said, “Does that mean we still take the piss out of the Scot and the Yank?”

Observation: It’s becoming more and more apparent that for at least my work mates, making connections means making fun of each other. The victim is supposed to just laugh it off and take it, knowing that this part of being in the group. It’s a strange concept for me – I make fun of my friends in a light way and they make fun of me – but this stage usually occurs far after establishing a connection. I’ve noticed that for my work group, connections are being made via ridicule and jokes.

Today in English language crisis: I don’t say toss it in the trash I say chuck it in the rubbish. It’s not all figured out, it’s sorted. I don’t jot down your name, I pop it down. It’s not right there, its just there. When I do something well, it’s not great, it’s too easy. I’m not going to the toilet right now, I’m going at the moment.  I never mess anything up, I stuff it up. Who have I become?

Featured photo taken at Barrow Creek Roadhouse in Northern Territory. 

Read other updates from life on the Mine Camp here.