Pat (an earlier picture, from Sydney)
An early start – we’d promised that when we’d been allowed to camp. So our tent was down even before 7. Tea + toast for breakfast, during which we canvassed the truckies to see if they had room + were heading north. No luck that way, + once the toast was eaten, it was outside + busy with the thumbs. Or thumb. The Australian way is to point with the forefinger, + Val has adopted this method, while I, being of a more conservative + traditional nature, stay true to the good old thumb. We waited about half an hour out on the road, but then were picked up by an old guy. He’d taken the back seat out of his motor, but I was happy to take that berth, partly because the bloke suggested I should, but equally because I was more than happy to let Val handle the conversation. In fact he was, I believe, quite interesting, + had all sorts of tales to tell about the depression in Australia. I can’t say for sure since I’m afraid I slept for a good part of the journey. Obviously. I still hadn’t recovered from a succession of nights with very little sleep indeed, + being driven is very soporific. I think the bloke didn’t mind too much tho’ – he was happy to have Val for himself.
Dropped us in a pretty dreadful place, a few miles north of Fredericksville, or Freddo in the Australian argot, more or less in the middle of nowhere. We weren’t exactly worried, since it was still very early, but it didn’t exactly look promising. Still, not to worry, especially when a de Ville pulled up ahead of us – that’s the very top of the Holden range, + a very comfortable motor. It held just one small old man, who stowed our gear in the back, + then asked us where we were heading. When we said Grafton, he said “Oh, is that all?”, since he was on his way to north of Brisbane. Quite a nice chatty bloke, + we got on quite well. Stopped off in Coff’s Harbour for some lunch, but it was after that his worst aspects revealed themselves. Chiefly they could be summed up as an intolerance for the other person’s point of view. Not that we tested this proposition personally – when I disagree with someone giving me a ride, I tend simply to shut up, + this was the case today. He has adopted an aboriginal girl, + seems to think this gives him a greater knowledge of their problems than anyone else. Similarly, with the highly complex problems of ecology etc – his was an uncompromising laissez faire attitude, ie let big business (+ big agriculture come to that) rape the land. Still, on a personal + not political level he was a nice kind man. Tho’ on a personal + not political level, concentration camp guards were probably kind to their families.
He dropped us on the outskirts of South Grafton, so it was no trouble from there to discover the location of Skinner St, where Pat was practising. It was about a half-hour walk, but when we arrived at the surgery, there was a note on the door saying, “Visiting patient at home – back at 2.15.” It didn’t sound very plausible, but it wasn’t long before the appointed hour, so I sat down to guard the bags while Val went off to buy a cold drink – the day was a real roaster. Sure enough, Pat turned up very shortly, climbing out of a mini with 2 young ladies in nurses’ uniforms, all of them laden down with huge plants. Yes, it had been a cover story, to conceal the whole staff popping out to buy plants for the surgery. Typical.
We all had a cup of tea, + then Val + I left the others, (the girls’ names were Kim + Karen, both pleasant + pretty enough, but to me, a bit silly) to do their stuff, while Val + I strolled round S. Grafton. There really wasn’t very much to see, mostly pubs which looked attractive enough, but were, according to Pat, rough as all hell. We also spent a good deal of time in the Post Office, sending off a parcel of things we hadn’t had time, or had forgotten, to send from Sydney.
At 5, Pat took us first back to his digs, a dingy + depressing room in one of the pubs, noted for the dog turd in the hallway. But he paid $25 a week, when they could remember to collect it. Pat was rather hoping he’d been forgotten. We then walked to Grafton proper, the main metropolis across the river. It was a beautiful sunset, but Grafton itself was only slightly more exciting than its southerly neighbour. We went to a pub bistro, + had a fine meal, but I suspect that Pat was rather embarrassed by Val insisting on not eating, making do with my side salad instead. I’ve got used to her now, but I’m sure she can be disconcerting for others.
From there, back to South Grafton, + on to the RSL club, of which Pat is an honorary member. They are quite remarkable places, being financed almost entirely, in NSW at least, by the pokies. While we were there we were able to observe the zombies at work. Pat frequents the place quite a bit, since it offers TV, a bar, a restaurant, disco etc at very reasonable prices (courtesy pokies.) And South Grafton, being a small country RSL club, is very much the poor relation. We had a couple of games of snooker on a not very good table, making us realise how spoiled we were in Sydney, + a couple of pints – real pints! – of beer. I for one couldn’t get over how enormous the things were. And back home that’s a normal measure. Then back to the Great Northern Hotel, sneaking in to spend the night on Pat’s floor, taking care not to tread in the shit. One of the perils of the game.
Pat was another of my colleagues from John Bester, but he had quit before I did – he is a qualified dentist, so he went to take up a (far more lucrative) position as a locum in Grafton, a small town in northern NSW. He had been quite a pal – I had gone with him to a few Sydney Swans Aussie Rules football games, as well as other social occasions. One thing that quite a few of us from the office had got into pretty reguklarly was snooker, often at lunchtime.
Pokies, incidentally7, for the uninitiated, are poker machines, slot machines, what in my youth were called one-armed bandits.