Ah… Goondiwindi, Goondiwindi. How I love the

Trip Start Dec 26, 2009
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Trip End Apr 08, 2011


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Where I stayed
Queensland Hotel

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

That's me finished my 7 week stint in Goondiwindi where I worked a bit and partied a lot and laughed even more; where I met two amazing friends and future travel buddies and where the local people managed to astound me every day with their kindness.

After I got fired from my shitty job in the Brisbane hostel and getting casual, temporary work in Brisbane proved to be hopeless I decided to leave the city and head to the "Outback". A job club in another hostel had a few bar jobs for girls available and the Goondiwindi one seemed to pay the best. So I jumped on the first bus the next day and at around 1pm I was standing at a Caltex petrol station/country bus station in the middle of freaking nowhere waiting for someone from the pub to pick me up. I had fallen asleep on the bus before we’d even reached the outskirts of Brisbane which is green and lush and hilly. And I’d awoken a few hours later to a completely flat and barren landscape. Every once in a while you’d see a lone farmer and his Ute on an ashen and dry field and I kept wondering what kind of crops managed to grow here. I was desperate, too, to see my first kangaroo but it didn’t happen.

Anyway, so Claire, an English backpacker came and picked me up and I was glad that we turned off into a really cute little town. I’d been told by the job club lady and my Aussie roommate at the hostel that Goondiwindi wasn’t going to be too remote but I still had no idea what to expect. I actually went out and stocked up on a few bits and bobs (like tampons – haha!) before I left Brisbane. Goondiwindi is, of course, remote as hell but it’s got a population of 5,000 people and including the surrounding farms it goes up to 10,000. It’s got a McDonald’s and a Subway, two big supermarkets and even a Target (cheapo clothing chain). And it has a lot more to offer, as I was going to find out in my next few weeks. And Goondiwindi isn’t really the “outback” either  – you’d have to travel a lot further inland for that.

The pub I was to work in was part of a hotel – The Queensland Hotel (drumroll) – and apart from the hotel and the pub it boasted another bar adjoined by a restaurant, a huge drive-thru bottle shop (liquor store), a Pokies room (room with slot machines that gets serviced through the pub) and a small nightclub (that’s only getting used for private functions and special live performance nights at the mo). I was shown to my room upstairs – a small but cute room with twin beds with a stripy carpet and flowery bed covers that took a bit getting used to but which I learned to love. I had a small bedside table complete with bible, a cute white wardrobe and a little sink and mirror and there were three sets of shared showers and toilets outside in the hall.  I went back downstairs to discuss my working hours and conditions only to be told that neither the owners nor the manager were on site and why don’t I just have some lunch, anything on the menu, and meet with them at 5:30pm. My “phone interview” with Sully, the owner, the day before had been just as lax. Me: “So the job description says I get paid $18 an hour and $21 on the weekends and that I’m guaranteed at least 26hours a week. Is that correct?” Him: “Yeah, yeah, mate, just get down here and we’ll sort something out.” Me: “So is that the correct pay?” “Yeah, mate, we’ll find something for you to do. Yeah, mate.” The job club lady told me not to worry, that all the country folk were easy-going and relaxed like that. But for me, being down to like $100 in the bank, I really wanted to be guaranteed that this job was definitely the best-paid. And I’d heard enough stories of backpackers getting ripped off at jobs to be left a bit concerned. However I decided to eff it and go for it.

So I had some fish and chips for lunch and got to know the barmaid Kim and her best friend who was having lunch in the pub too and who happened to be the manager’s big sister and who was babysitting Kim’s toddler daughter at that moment.  (Cue: most people seem related and everyone knows everyone!) Kim is the biggest sweet-heart and I got asked a million questions about where I’m from and where I’ve been to in Australia and why my English was so good, because, goodness, the last two Dutch backpackers hardly spoke a word. I got the low-down on the hotel and on Goondiwindi and after lunch I went for a wander around town with Kim’s directions in hand.

Goondiwindi’s only claim to fame is a long deceased race horse and the information centre – yes, Goondy has a tourist information centre – is practically a shrine to him. And that’s about it. The town lies along a river which acts as the border between Queensland and New South Wales and the name derives from the Aboriginal word for “Resting Place” or “Watering Hole” or something like that. The big industry is cotton, with about 80% of the people I met being involved in that and it prides itself on its sport clubs. Almost everyone plays for or at least feverishly supports the town clubs. A few weeks into our stay we went to watch a friend’s rugby union game. It was a gorgeous day out and we watched the old dads play, then the C, B and then the A team.  The opposing teams were from a town about 8hours away – the games are played against teams from all over the state so it involves a lot of travelling at the weekends.  The whole thing is a family affair – with father, grown son and growing son playing, and sometimes they’ll coincide with the girls’ and mothers’ netball games so the whole family is there: playing, watching, supporting, eating steak sandwiches and getting drunk. I had no problem adapting as you can imagine.

My first shift at work threw me right in the middle of it. I was to do the evening shift in the public bar along with Kelsey, the other English backpacker. (Claire and Kelsey were leaving Goondiwindi on Monday and I was part of their replacement.) However, Kelsey had been working in the bottle shop all day and had a headache and 40min into the shift she asked me if I minded doing the shift alone. Sully, my new boss I’d just met 40min ago was at the bar himself, having a few drinks with the regulars and would keep me right and help me lock up at the end. So there I was trying to come to grips with how to work the draught pumps, how to pour the right beer (how much head), keeping up with the drink demand and what each individual patron was drinking, all the different beers and glass sizes and their respective names, how to work the till and how to order food … all under the watchful (if not somewhat bleary) eye of my new boss. The payment etiquette took a bit getting used to as well. When I’m in a bar I order my drink and pay the asked price. Here, patrons first of all usually sit directly at the bar. Then they leave their money on the bar and when you see their glass is empty, you get them a new one without them having to voice their order and then you take the amount from their pile of dough.  And I guess I’m not used to being trusted like that. Another “bar rule” is that when patrons have had enough to drink but are gonna stay and sit for a while they turn their empty glass sideways onto the counter. That took me a while to grasp as well; I thought the guys was just mucking about and I kept getting him a refill unitl he finally clued me in.

So the next few days saw me getting experience in the pub, the bar, the kitchen and the bottle shop. At the weekend I did a few cash-in-hand hours at the Rubgy League club in which Sullly my boss is very involved in. And that was like working in a really busy nightclub: serving drink after drink while hardly being able to hear what patrons were ordering because the music was so loud. The crowd was a total mix of ages and characters. Grandparents, parents and teens were all getting absolutely hammered together and dancing to the country band or the DJ. Drinking and partying and in general socializing is shared with all generations which I think is funny. First of all, public outlets are so limited you have to share. And then I guess, in a town so small nothing you do remains a secret so you might as well do embarrassing things with your family around.

So now for the most important part about my Goondiwindy stay: the arrival of Rieke and Katja, ma sistas from otha mistas! One of the hotel guests got chatting to me at the bar one night because he knew two other German backpackers that were looking for a job. A few days later, the day the English girls left, Katja and Rieke arrived and as they say, we have never looked back! J we hit it off straight away and because they lived in the hotel same as me meant that not only did I have two new colleagues, two new friends but two new “flatmates” as well. Because, really, we didn’t work all that much. Sometimes only 3-4hours a day so the rest of time it was great to have somebody to hang out with either in the room, or on the balcony or in town. Katja and Rieke are both from Hamburg (well, that’s where they’ve been living for the past years but they’re originally from other places in North Germany – in fact, Rieke is from Kiel, same as me!) and have been travelling in a van for the 2 months before they came to Goondy.

There are three other pubs in Goondiwindi, all of them hotel/restaurants/etc like we are. The Royal is the most popular one – it’s the only one with a “real” nightclub which stays open till 1am. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, 1am!! And not a minute longer!) It’s definitely the place to be seen on a Friday and Saturday night and we’ve had some great nights there! People in Goondy tend to work really hard, getting up at (or before) the crack of dawn, so everyone lets loose come the weekend. Unfortunately the club closes at 1am, right at the point where the Bundaberg rum really starts to kick in and the last thing you want to do is go home. So there’s always after parties at somebody’s house… or garden or garage. And we’ve had some even better fun at these.

On our second or third weekend we went to a B&S Ball. B&S stands for Bachelors and Spinsters and are drunken gatherings for the young and horny. Sorry to be so crude but it’s what these balls are and personally I think it’s a good way to mix up the gene pool of some of these remote areas. (I want to say I’m joking because I am but there is a slight truth to it.) Everyone at work went out of their way to swap and cover shifts so we could all have Saturday night and Sunday morning off because they all wanted us to go and experience it. It was held in Nindigully, a 2hour drive away from Goondy. The B&S Ball in Goondiwindi is apparently legendary with more than 2000 people attending, even Brisbane (city) folk! The Nidigully one was going to be a lot more country bumpkin but a lot of fun anyway, they assured us. So we scoured the charity shops for dresses to wear and found some real good deals, packed up Rieke and Katja’s van with lots of blankets and booze and after I finished my shift we drove to Nindigully, a “town” about 200km away. (P.S. on our drive there I saw my first kangaroo hop across the road!)

I say “town” because there’s basically a pub, a hotel and a phone booth. That. is. it. (And whole bunch of farms in the vicinity.) We arrived after dark and parked the van on a large grassy field in front of the hotel that was hosting the ball. There was tons of Utes already there and lots of fires going. People had come with actual sofa suites that were positioned around the fire which reminded me of my old shoddy neighbourhood in Aberdeen: Sandilands, where some of my neighbours would do that on a rare sunny day, haha! Colm (Dublin backpacker that had been staying in our hotel) and Pirate (aka John, a backpacking friend of Rieke and Katja’s that had come to Goondy for a visit) had come along as well and after a few quick drinks we went to Pub where I got my first shock. It was a tiny room with about 20 people in it, most of them old Cowboy-looking men, leather-skinned and bleary-eyed. On the bar sat a young girl in an old wedding dress, covered head-to-toe in green, blue and red food dye. Our work colleagues had warned us about the food dye which people spray you with (hence the charity shop clothes)but I hadn’t been prepared for a sight like her.

Anyway, this didn’t seem entirely like the right place but we were obviously close to the ball so we headed next door to the hotel which is where we saw the entrance. We paid for our tickets ($85), got our stamp, drink and food vouchers and goodie bag (including a Nindigully B&S Ball stubbie holder – hurray!) and headed into the lion’s den. The ball was in a small closed-off area in the garden or an outfield of the hotel. There was a big drink tent on one side and a small stage about 30m across the compound. There was a BBQ food stall to another side and lots of fire drums dotted all over the place where people were keeping warm.  It was absolutely baltic that night! (My stay in Goondiwindi was pretty chilly in general. The first thing I bought when I got paid was a pair of flannel pyjamas!) After being mesmerized by the whole bizarreness of this “ball” we were at we threw caution to the wind and got drunk. The country band was good with lots of sing-along classics, there was a “Best Butt Competition” for both men and women (and strangely siblings won the titles) and meeting randoms was very interesting.  I was talking to Matt, a friend from Goondiwindi, when an acquaintance of his, whom I’d never met before, turned up at my side, put his arm around my shoulder and murmured “Hello, Doll” into my ear. Even if I had been single and interested, when I turned to look at him, not only was he about 19,he smiled at me and all his front teeth were missing!! HAHAHA! He just totally fit my prejudiced stereotype of a country-bumpkin, it was too delicious!!

The official ball ended at around 3am and then the after campfire parties start. People had grouped their cars together in circles and built big campfires in the middle that were still burning when the ball finished. There were camping chairs out or people were sitting in their cars or in their boots that were cushioned up by their swags (Australian mattress and blanket combo for camping). Music was blaring from either soundsystems or someone’s instruments and lungs. The coolboxes (or Eskis as they’re called here) were opened and beer and rum and coke cans were handed out. It was basically like being at a festival campsite – it was great! We met a girl at our campfire afterparty that had driven 6 hours to get there and had not even bothered with the ball; she was just there for the campsite parties. In fact, we found out that most people had driven through to Nindigully on the Friday and that it was customary to spend the whole weekend at the campsites of B&S balls.

So that was the B&S ball, definitely good fun! I’m bit intrigued as to what the Goondiwindi one is like.  Oh, one more anecdote! When we woke the next day it was to the sounds of boys revving their engines and practicing donuts. New fires had been lit in old metal drums. People had changed out of their torn and food-coloured evening attire back into their jeans, checked shirts and cowboy hats. Dogs were running around. And amidst all that, the cowboy-clad boys and girls were practicing their whipping! I just thought it was fantastic, how more cowboy could it get?!

Another bit of an outing was Katja and my excursion to a cotton plantation with two of our regulars, Crossi and Buddha. Crossi had been meaning to take us along to show us the cotton farms for ages and then finally just before we left we got it organized. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to all get time off work so in the end it was only Katja and I that got to go. Rieke had to man the public bar. Crossi starts work at 4am which is obviously a no-go for us so Buddha was kind enough to spend his day off being our chauffeur. The cotton plantation and Crossi’s work itself wasn’t all too spectacular though it was interesting to see how massive machines pick the cotton. After riding the cotton picker for a few rounds Crossi got his 15-year old son and his mate from school to drive us around to see if we could spot some kangaroos.  They’d spend the long weekend camping next to the field Crossi was working on and had already spotted various herds and had even managed to do some “Roo-Shooting” (we are in cowboy country, remember!). So off we went, with the 15-year old driving us in the Ute and his mate on a quadbike (remember, cowboy country) tearing through the bush and farmfields. We did end up seeing a whole bunch of kangaroos, the most spectacular sighting being a herd coming up over a mound and hopping along a barren field while the sun setting in the background.

Unfortunately the two boys thought it was fun to chase the herds … also thinking that us tourists would appreciate a real close look at them. But Katja and I only squirmed in our seats, saying it was cruel, which only made the boys laugh. For locals, especially ones involved in farmwork, kangaroos are a crop-eating pest, hence the chasing and the roo-shooting. Just before heading back to Crossi and Buddha, quadbiking boy managed to race after a herd and instill such fear that a mommy kangaroo dropped her joey. The boy was able to seize it and neither Katja nor I could help run over and gawk at it and hold it!! The boys said the mother wouldn’t come back for it so we took it with us hoping to find a home for it. It was so cute! I got to hold it on the drive back to Crossi and Buddha. And … I.HELD.A.BABY.KANGAROO!!

Turns out the boys had their roo facts wrong – kangaroo mothers often drop their joeys when they are getting pursued in order to lighten their load and run faster, only to return later to retrieve their young. But since we’d touched it and gotten our smell on it there was no point returning it to the spot we’d picked it up because the mother probably wouldn’t take it back. (Still feel really guilty about this!) So we took the roo baby into town with us and were going to drop it off with one Crossi’s neighbours who is retired and would be happy to look after it but first we had to show Rieke, of course. Check out her face on the picture when she sees the “souvenir” we brought her isn’t cotton but a baby kangaroo that she got to hold in her arms!

And that was my time in Goondiwindi... in a very small nutshell! I absolutely loved it but was glad to leave and start my European journey! Katja and Rieke were meant to stay 2 weeks longer but decided to leave the same day as me so we all drove to Brisbane together and they are dropping me off at the airport tomorrow. One of the hotel guests, Craig, drove back with us and we are staying at his house. Got a bit of a party going on for the last State of Origin game (Rugby League) with lots of his and his brother’s mates coming round.

Next post will be from EUROPE!!
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Comments

Mira V on

hey all, as you can see I'm a bit behind on my entries. Got a bit of time on my hands so expect a whole bunch more. Hopefully I'll manage to catch up with the present soon!

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