My train to Moree from Sydney was delayed by more than an hour and a half. So I telephoned the Gurley pub to tell them this and check that I could still get a lift in as I didn't want to be stranded in the back end of beyond. I finally rolled in to Moree around 9pm and two people were there to collect me - Mina, a Norwegian girl that I was replacing and Dave (who I initially mistook for the publican Al), who regularly stays at the pub whilst working nearby.
We drove the half hour back to Gurley and I was introduced to a couple of the regulars, then shown to my room and given a drink before I jumped the other side of the bar to start serving. To give me an indication of what I was to expect, one of the regulars, Link, played "Welcome to the Jungle" on the jukebox.
Truckies are a staple of life in Gurley. They tell you that you are gorgeous more times than you care to listen to. It's a narcissist's paradise, not that you can pay any attention to it given that they are truckies, and drunks, and the worst of all drunk truckies! And I have lost count of the amount of times I have been asked if I know someone in Herefordshire instead of Hertfordshire, or if Herts is close to Yorkshire or Manchester or if I generally know one of their friends that live in England. Its small, but it isn't that small! But I have to say despite their vast consumption of alcohol, racist rants and incessant chatting at an hour which you would like to go to bed, their hearts are in the right places. Although I cannot help but think that that sentence sounds a bit like "I'm not prejudice, but…". Of course some of them, like Brian, who despite my terrible skills became my pool partner, are truly genuine and lovely.
I wouldn't be able to write a blog post about Gurley without mentioning a couple of the local characters; Jack, a 63-year old with too-short shorts, bandaged hands, and inappropriate suggestions (he once told me he wished he was 20 years younger.. I suggested 40 and that he would still be out of luck); Rob McPherson, whom words cannot do justice; Bruce a rotund, cheeky faced little man, who I danced with as an initiation and whom reminds me of my parents' friend Ray (of Sheila and Ray). Then of course there is Trevor who has his own corner in the pub complete with brass plaque, as well as Michelle whom you hear before you see, but who is great fun, and then Rob's partners in crime Ralph and Link. No wonder Pearl Jam's "Alive" has become somewhat of a soundtrack to my time in Gurley.
The locals are all experts at pouring pints with a variety of different techniques and will all try to lecture you on the best way to pour one even though I would say I am pretty capable at it. They also prefer waving their glass at you, flicking the remainder of the beer in their bottle at you or miming dying of thirst above politely asking you for a top up. They are all very friendly though, but of course there are some exceptions; some overly so, some underwhelmingly so and some are just a little stuck in their ways and tiresome. I have often had to switch off as someone is moaning about some issue or another to avoid voicing my opinion and upsetting the balance. But I have to admit that on one occasion I couldn't help myself and dared to disagree with Steve who persistently moans about the state of the world, kids today, how city folks are all useless etc. etc. etc. and so finally I told him my point of view and suggested he stop being such a pessimist. Oops!
Not all 25 of the locals drink at the pub, the remaining few are church-goers and the subject of much ridicule, it seems, by the pub-goers (perhaps these comments come after a few Whiskeys - which by their own admissions seems to send the regulars loopy). Of the locals that do drink here most of them feature in "the book" a sort of 'I-Owe-You' system for what they drink. But at one stage some people's bill was over $900 (about £500). The pub is also the only smoke free pub I have ever been to where everyone still smokes inside! And where having one for the road or 'a roadie' literally means taking an alcoholic drink with you to drink whilst driving home drunk. Granted, the roads are pretty quiet around here, but having been bought up with the perils of drink driving drummed in to me, this is something that I have struggled with and have on occasion found myself driving them home instead. Another observation is the lack of teeth around here. You would probably find more teeth at an Age Concern convention.
I have been running in Gurley a couple of times since I have been here and everyone thought I was mad and told me that it was bad for me. Even the horses stopped chewing the grass to see what I was up to when I passed them. The first time I went, the locals timed me from the comfort of the wood stumps around the fire.
Our days working at the pub consisted of getting up at 10am to clean and set up the bar, and then mostly chilling outside in the sun with a book or a crossword before the locals start coming in in dribs and drabs for a drink or two or three… The pub officially closes at midnight, but unofficially until there is nothing left to drink pretty much. On a couple of days I have mixed things up a bit by chaperoning Rob in to either Moree or Narrabri the two towns on either side of Gurley, and been treated to lunch in return for driving him. And then I also joined Mina, Rob, Ralph, and Michelle for a day at Agquip (an Agricultural show in Gunnedah - incidentally, the hometown of Aussie supermodel and wife of Orlando Bloom, Miranda Kerr). It was more like Glastonbury with all the mud and instead of taking in the sights of the show, Mina, Michelle and I ended up mud fighting and heading to the bar. We returned home almost top to toe in mud. I also joined Karen and Brendan, and their daughter Katherine, as well as the lovely Desi and Morgan on a trivia night in Moree. These side trips have been a welcomed change from staring at the four walls of the pub, and are a prime example of just how inclusive the locals are.
My sanity during my time here has without a doubt been my co-workers. There were two fellow pommies, Babishe (or B or Bish) and her boyfriend Matt who are from just outside Milton Keynes no less. And my Norwegian roommate Mina, whom I was meant to replace but who has ended up staying on and is in fact joining me on the next part of my trip to New Zealand and Fiji. Matt is a singer/songwriter and penned a little song about Gurley which he played one night, and has probably provided some inspiration for this blog post. Although Laura and Grace, whom I met in the WhitSundays and who worked here before all of us are still talked about and loved in Gurley!
Kerry and Al, the publicans, are truly lovely people, with hearts of gold. They are keen to let us experience Gurley and encourage us to take time off to head out with the locals. I was told before I got here not to take any notice of what Al says to you, and I discovered that for myself when he told me I was in the running for "the worthless f*** award", but he truly doesn't mean anything by it. At least, I hope not…
Passers-through are few and far between but a welcomed relief as they break up the monotony of the familiar faces that you always see. They normally stop for food and a couple of drinks, but sometimes stay the night. One night we had two guys who were on their way to a music festival, they stopped for the night and whilst one proceeded to get blind drunk and fall off his chair, the other guy got his guitar out and him, Poppy Steve and Matt had a little jam session, and us Pommies were introduced to some well-known Aussie folk songs.
Despite all, and because of, the above I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Gurley and am glad I endured the 10 hour train journey to sample a little of the Aussie country life in a town with a grand population of 25 people. And of course I have also found myself a travelling buddy, with Mina joining me in New Zealand and Fiji.