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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.