Rylstone Cowboy, horse racing while travelling

Have you ever given up on something?  As in say “WTF”?  I must admit, I have.  Sort of half way into the motorcycle safari at one of these ‘driver reviver’ stops, cold waters of despair washed over me.  The busy serving people,  from the local Lions Club, are concerned about budget cuts she said, and she made a cup of coffee with half a spoon of International Roast.  I was shocked, no I was devastated, half a spoon?  To really appreciate the roast, the deep hidden flavours of the coffee bean hidden in a cup of International Roast, you need at least two spoons, heaped ones that is.  I always make a $2 donation; those poor people work in their free time, all for a good cause; I was sadden when the elderly gentleman, in quite a stern voice, clearly disapproving of my request for a ‘strong’ cuppa said “Budget cuts mate, we get only half the coffee we used to get.”  Good heavens, I thought as I tried to appreciate the half spoon roasted coffee with fat free milk (if it is fat free, why is it more expensive than full cream?  Eish man) it seems the Global Financial Crisis finally hit Australia as well, in driver reviver coffees.


Aladdin, hiding there since the Global Financial Crises


someone once lived here…

As I got back on the motorcycle I decided to adjust my approach to seeking the best International Roast in this glorious land.  Budget cuts and all, the ‘driver reviver’ people are always very busy; showing lost grey nomads where north is on the map, the cleanest toilets in Scotland and other important stuff; they never have a moment free to chat.  Not unfriendly, it is just the nature of their job, busy busy.  The next best thing would be to seek a Coke Zero* in the local water hole, hopefully a small dark pub in an old dilapidated Royal / Imperial / King’s Hotel.  I started to fantasise about the bar lady, with one fluid swoop ripping a frosty glass out of the fridge, scoop a few blocks of ice into it, and then take a piece of lemon, squeeze the juices with her nicotine stained fingers into the glass, before pouring the Coke Zero into it.  You would taste the local air, water, and her nicotine fingers in the ice-cold cool drink.  Yes, that will be my new approach!


Not the best pump in town…

The twisty roads motorcyclist love, and their insurance companies hate, are well represented in the Central Highlands of NSW.  The riding there is fantastic; Bylong Valley Way (According to the bar lady, the sealing of the route was commenced in 1950 and completed in April 2009, quite quick for any government job she thought) is magnificent for motorcycles, the cornering tight, and the kangaroos suicidal.  Normal winter weather would make this heaven on earth, but this was mid summer, and the ambient temperature would make sinners reconsider.  I needed a glass of Coke Zero, a twist of lemon and a bathroom to wash the bugs out of my eyes.  The beautiful village, it is quite breathtaking, of Rylstone had several options for such pleasures.  I normally ride through a town, looking around, weighing my options, rather than parking right at the first waterhole.  The tree lines streets offer oasis in the summer heat.  Locals nodded their heads in greeting as I rode through the streets. Finally I parked opposite the Rylstone Hotel, an outdoor sign promising cold beers.


Russian Police recruit here

A greying bar lady with beared stark blue eyes behind her rimmed glasses, stared at me as I walked in; another bloody biker she must have thought.  I asked for a Coke Zero, she looked at me coldly and said “Diet Coke will do!”  “OK, no problem!”  A clear winner in the Russian Police friendliness contest, that is for sure.  Horse-racing was the feature on local TV, and the sole customer was an elderly gentleman, sporting a tweed jacket and an Akubra hat, looking a bit under the weather; lost a bit on horses the bar lady said, and is now afraid to go home.  I tried to strike up conversation with her, but it never got on the way.  Finally the horse-racing man looked up from his much loved beer.  “I am a local businessman here, I know the area, watch out for them bloody kangaroos, they are everywhere.  Are you German?”  Quite surprised by the statement and assumption I said; “No, no I am from Rockhampton, Central Queensland.”  “They sure speak funny there…” The bar lady, clearly not in the mood for horsing around, asked where I was from originally, and surprise surprise; their local (visiting) vet is a South African.  She don’t like him much, thinks he is a smart Alec.


Open for business, a cut above the rest



On my way to Rylstone, NSW

The man, fumbling his pockets, I presumed for a smoke or some money to buy another beer looked at the bar lady.  “Did you take it?”  She stared at him, spin his car keys around her finger, “Yes I did”.  “I am a local businessman here, and she takes my keys.  God forbid.  I know this area.  Bloody kangaroos.”  She rolled her eyes, filling my glass with the rest of the Diet Coke.  I turned to the guy and ask how long will it take me to reach Bathurst, where I want to spend the night.  Haven’t been there for years he said, don’t like it much.  The road is full of them bloody kangaroos; I need to be very careful on a motorcycle he said.  I paid up, took my gear, and greeted them; the gentleman looked at me over the rim of his beer glass, then tipped his Akubra hat and said “I am a local businessman, I know this area, beware of them bloody kangaroos, they are everywhere mate!”

*I have long ago given up on asking for coffee in a pub/bar. People think you are an escapee from the asylum. Coke Zero is quite an acceptable drink in the days of RBT’s.

6 January 2013


‘The piano has been drinking, not me’ (Tom Waits, 1977)

Most people who frequent with me, at work or during play, will know I am a pretty casual and forgiving person; open and free about my points of view, ideas and opinions.  My Nigeria MOPOL* policeman and guardian, God forgive me, I forgot his name always said, “My master is not very economical with his mouth”.  Back then I was not sure what to make of it; him a devout Muslim, and always had fiery debates with Maurice my driver, an equally devout Christian; I had to prevent violent civil strife erupting between them in some godforsaken part of Nigeria.  So, tonight, here from a quiet motel room in “The Kidman Wayside Inn”, I have a few confessions to make.


Confession time…. I am ready to spill the beans. Are you?

No, I am not gay or have not joined the Greens, but sadly and much to my own disappointment, I cannot sing.  Not for the life of me.  My father was gifted with a golden voice (as Leonard Cohen sings); he always encouraged us to sing, but I got some other talents, like serviette folding, or drying dishes, from the talent queue.  I vividly recall during a primary school concert, we re-enacted the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.  All the little kids, who did not get on of the divine roles** as either Joseph, Maria, the three Wise Men, the Inn keeper, the Angels or the donkey (it was a prestigious role, to play the donkey), sang in the choir.  My three cousins, my brother, and I were all in that choir.  One day, during practice, the dear old teacher Mrs Molly de Wet walked passed the Barnard cousins and stopped.  She looked traumatised; with respect she said, “The boys who do not want to sing, do not have to sing” I became a palm tree, waving my leafy green arms in the wind next to the crib resting the Baby Jesus.  It traumatised me for decades.  As a consolation however, many years later, I am learning to play piano.  Not very well, only just as a matter of fact I can dance with the ebony and ivory, much better than singing the praise of the Lord.


The only place where ‘Australia’s got talent’ where willing to audition me.  Kings Plains.

People with golden voices aside for the moment, I always admired people who can walk into a room, break into conversation with anyone, and minutes later, arms around the shoulder, chat like old friends.  Since I live in Australia I really struggle to do that; I can happily talk to people I know, but with strange people, uh-oh…  Fear grips my tongue, ties it in a knot, and makes words come out wrong.  Riding long quiet stretches on the motorcycle today I dissected the possible reasons; It was either palm tree next to the Baby Jesus’ crib, or it has to do with my Japie*** accent and English being my second language.  Many people simply do not understand me when I am sober.  Combined with that, is my deep-seated fear of being rejected, so I will never ask strange people if I can take a photograph of them, even after a hearty discussion, and much pleasantness.  A specific goal of this motorcycle safari was to address both these fears in one shot.  Let my record of this journey be the judge.


In a room filled with strange people, I feel like this wind pump near Wombat, pass Young.

Leaving Bathurst early on my way to Wagga Wagga allowed me time to consider the ideal spot of a relaxing breakfast or lunch while on safari.  I always have these romantic ideas of stopping at a small cafe, with white chairs and colourful cushions under willow trees, a cute waitress, serving me small French croissants filled with vanilla cream; when accepting my payment throws her arms around my neck, asks me to steal her away on my magical journey; alas, I keep dreaming.


Kelly (not her real name), from Estonia working away her babalaas, on her short-stay student visa, and loving Australia

Riding south on the Olympic Highway is a pleasurable journey; plenty of small villages and towns for a stop, stretch the legs and my regular twenty push-ups next to the motorcycle, stunning the unfortunate locals.  The best place to meet interesting people will always be the corner pub, or hotel.  It will most certainly sport the name of the village, or be a Royal, Kings, or Railway Hotel, just like in Africa, where the colonial times are only remembered in the hotel names.  Down a slight hill into Mandurama placed a curse on my thirst, there was only one place.  The Royal Hotel, promising cold beers, hot meals, and POKIES.  I stopped, put out the side stand, and walked in.  A few regulars, all older men tired and run down after years of slog and disappointments, actively betted on horses and did not even look up.  (I did not even know you get a horse and greyhound race betting vending machine in pubs and bars, connected to the Internet, on which you can place bets!  An absolute bloody disgrace, but then, I do hate gambling.  If Australia has a curse, it is not drink or “illegal maritime arrivals” as Minister Bob Carr and other Labor politicians now calls boat people, the curse is gambling, it is a cancer).  Err sorry, my bitch for the day.


The Royal Hotel, Mandurama, kitchen closed, but the beers go with Baileys, if you play the horses.


Pink in her hair, and her car. Pink is her colour.

In The Royal Hotel Mandurama, the bar lady with pink hair, had black stripes put in for Christmas, just for fun, for a laugh, pours me a Coke Zero in a frosty glass filled with ice.  The resident horse expert, a dwarf, sits in his special high chair, drinking beer and Baileys Irish Cream, fresh from a 500ml bottle.  The barmaid laughs, says it is pint sized like the dwarf, a late Christmas gift from the other punters, “he is only a tiny guy, pint size”, and all laughed in a really nice manner.  She tells me; she has only been at The Royal in Mandurama for a year; she move up from The Royal Hotel in Lyndhurst, when it closed down.  She likes the new joint, it is jolly as she put it, and she has found a man here.  Just before I could gather enough courage to ask if I can take a photograph of her, the dwarf fell from his chair, the Baileys’ kicked like a horse.  The pink haired lady rushed around the bar counter; lifting the dwarf with great care and compassion; it suddenly struck me who the man she found was.


The piano has been drinking, not me (Tom Waits, 1977). Cafe Royale promises it all…

Lyndhurst, for those who care to study maps, is a mere 6km south from Mandurama on the way to Cowra.  The Royal Hotel, still beaming some former glory is now being turned into a backpackers and holiday accommodation venture, where they will serve wood fired pizzas and Mexican foods in Cafe Royale, but apparently no bar so the bar lady left for a new life, 6km northwards.  My presence in this three-surname town, daring to aim a camera at the Cafe Royale sparked frenzy under the residents.  I swear I could hear curtains being ripped open, then closed, and within a few seconds the owner, with thick glasses and a Harley Davidson style moustache arrived.  His well-used Isuzu UTE’s tray was filled with plumbing and carpenter gear, pieces of wood, copper piping and electrical tools.


Charlie Brown: “Every boy should start the day with 30 push-ups”, so I do. He was a wise man that Charlie Brown.

He clearly meant business, friendly enough, and quite a talkative man in his mid sixties, with a severe nerve disorder.  He reminded me of a taxi-driver with similar condition I once had in Kuala Lumpur; the owner of Cafe Royale lifted his shoulders, blinked twice, touched his left ear, then his nose (both with his left hand), pushed up his thick glasses, sniffed, then pulled the glasses down with his right hand, and repeated.  Shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down.  He explained, his brother and him had a similar Royal Hotel in South Australia, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, glasses up, sniff sniff, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, and later one in Victoria, but the economy was bad, and they bought this one, after studying tourism trends.  Shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, glasses up, sniff sniff, right hand glasses down, shoulders down.  He politely declined to have his photograph taken, he just does not trust this Gillard government, spies everywhere, and with the Internet and digital cameras, his image can be on the Prime Minister’s desk in seconds.


Following the secret spy internet line to Canberra. This is where all my digital photographs go. Be careful he said, you do not know who to trust these days…

He invited me inside; it was quite a stately structure, with an amazing array of furniture, carpets, bar equipment, electrical fans of every conceivable form and function, tall ones, short ones, think stemmed ones, and fridges some stocked with food, others with cool drinks, humming away.  I immediately liked the place; in contrast with the Royal Hotel in Mandurama, it had an ambiance, and some mystery of crooked deals, gold nuggets in tobacco satchels, feather clad prostitutes, and rough men drinking glasses of straight bourbon.  He explained, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, this is all their goods and equipment, salvaged from their other Royal Hotel ventures, and some left-over stuff from the closure of this Royal Hotel.  In the corner stood a white, upright piano, I walked over and opened the lid.  The owner, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, said “not sure what to do with that, sell it?  Do you play?”  “Not much, I haven’t played in a few years.”  My right hand’s fingers rolled over the black and white keys; it sounded all right to me.  “Play something,” the man asked.  Now what the hell would I play I panicked, stage fright! I remember the one tune I can play, an Afrikaans children’s folk song ‘Bobbejaan klim die berg’, translated ‘baboon climbs the mountain’.  I started playing the tune with my right hand only, he, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, looked pleased.  The piano was in quite a good nick, not even one key out of tune.  He pushed a chair towards me; I sat down, played (not without a few false notes and errors, but it flowed), and sang along.  The hall filled with the sound of ‘bobbejaan klim die berg, so haastig en so lastig’, translated something like ‘baboon climbs the mountain, in a hurry in a haste’.  I played and sang as much of the song I could remember.  He smiled, shoulders up, blink blink, left hand, left ear, nose, sniff sniff, glasses up, right hand glasses down, shoulders down, and say “It will stay right here then” and gave me an ice cold Solo from the fridge.


I was once told, that if an angel sins, she turns into a rock, and plummets to the earth. This must be a very bad place then.

*MOPOL, short for “Mobile Police” is a paramilitary arm of the Nigerian Police force, also renting out their protection services to foreigners, business owners and VIP’s.  Small advice is to always befriend your MOPOL, and gain his trust.

**The role of Jesus the Baby was never given to any kid, it was always a nice healthy looking baby doll, wrapped in a white blanket.

***Japie is the casual reference to Afrikaans speaking migrants to Australia.

(2 January 2013)