Having finished the shows along the Great Dividing Range and moved further west I feel more relaxed knowing there will be few hills of any consequence until I return via Qld, NT and WA to Stanthorpe next January. Back out on the Western Plains not only the landscape changes but more noticeable the people, they seem to be more relaxed sorts of characters and regardless of being townsfolk or from stations they are keen to have a yarn and tell their story.
Betty Bunyan is one of those people.
I met Betty last year and again this year at the Dirranbandi show/rodeo and camp draft. She lives at the Ridge but the Dirran show is one event she rarely misses and is always dressed for the occasion. Whilst chatting to her this year another elderly lady stopped and joined the conversation. She said she remembers quite clearly the day Betty was born. She was seven years old and playing in the front yard when Mr Bunyan came past their home with his horse team and stopped to tell them, he just had a baby girl born and called her Betty. I worked that out to be around 1930.
For the first thirty years Betty lived in bush camps with her father and home was where ever the work was, be it delving bore drains, sinking dams or carting wool to the railhead by wagon. After a short unhappy marriage Betty moved on and began managing stations futher out west. Finally after many years she moved to Lightning Ridge where she still lives today. Betty is one of those wonderful characters you meet out this way and could be genuinely be described as, a women of the west.
After Dirranbandi I headed for Nindigully to cool my heels for a few days prior to the next show.Established in 1864 this place is steeped in History any many pics you see adorn the walls of this grand old pub. It's a free camp spot on the Moonie River however, at 4.30 sharp each afternoon a chap emerges from the hotel ringing a huge bell and bellows, HAPPY HOUR. People from the river bank camps obey the call and make their way across the flat to the pub for cool drinks and to listen to the live entertainment which is part of the deal. This is where the free site fees are paid by way of trading volumes of alcohol.
My closest camp neighbour was an older bloke with a very long grey beard.His name was Pete, he'd been a chippy in NZ for many years and in 2003 returned to bury his mum. As it happens, mum hung in there and is still alive today so Pete has been on the road ever since living off the land pretty much and enjoying the simple life. He explained that his slight limp and stiffness in his back resulted from several falls from scaffolding, one of which was over two stories down through a manhole flat on his back onto a rubble pile. No compo or work cover then of course, the same fall today would see him a millionaire.
At the bar one night Pete introduced me to a mate of his called Rowan Murphy. I liked this bloke right from the start; a good strong eye and a hand shake to match is always a fair indication the bloke has had a fair go at life regardless of his success. We yarned about all sorts of stuff that happens in the bush and among other things writing was one we had in common. The dust cover of his book was pinned on the notice board behind the bar so I purchased a copy and then slipped him a couple of books I'd read recently that I reckoned he'd enjoy and with that we parted company. Right now, I've got the drop on him as having read his book I know a fair bit about his life and the book proves he measures up in all departments and then some whereas Rowan will have to wait until mine goes to print, whenever that may be. The book is called "Dusty Paddocks", if you see it, buy it, a truly wonderful story about life in the bush packed full of interesting yarns and bush humour. Meanwhile, at the Ridge where I spent Easter, visitors were flocking into town and the van parks were bulging at the seams. I set up in the main street again on the vacant block between the Chemist and the Church.Many locals dropped in to welcome me back and fill me in on events as they happened through the year.
As I expected, floods gave them more grief than anything else and there were still families camped in town unable to reach their homesteads and many parts of their stations were still under water or roads cut so they couldn't check stock.
Circumstances as such are no longer newsworthy, only the towns are mentioned at the height of the flood whereas the people in the bush suffer for months on end and this was their third flood this past year. You may well say, oh, but they were given flood relief by the Government, but wait, there's a catch. Firstly, the money is only available for a short period of time. Then, one needs to photograph the damage and spend the money, if they have it. Then the invoice has to be sent with the application for flood relief money. Sadly, none of this can happen as they can't even reach their properties.
Looking towards the brighter side, they are happier with blue sky floods that arrive from up-country than drought but right now I reckon they could do with a dry spell.
The township of Lightning Ridge continues to thrive in its own way and they are proud of their achievements over the years.Before leaving this year I went on a tour bus run that my friend Peter operates. He is pretty handy with a whip and does a few repairs to saddlery and harness from time to time so we have a few things in common. Apart from that he's the genuine Australian larrikin and spinns a pretty good yarn for the tourists, all of which are true of course but the manner in which they are delivered is priceless. They are far to numerous to mention however, we did pull up on the track at one stage with a view to our left of a certain quantity of roofing iron, some vertical, some at other angles and with even a small amount of imagination you could tell this was a dwelling, they all look much the same. In the area outside the dwelling a vintage car was jacked up at various angles quietly rusting away.Peter announced, see that shadow under the car, well that's a red cattle dog who sleeps with one eye open and it has a pretty good reputation of keeping people away. Those who made it passed him on the odd occasion copped a hell of a mauling as they made their retreat and the bloke who owns this place is away a lot so the old red dog has done a bloody good job and had plenty of victories. After a few more gruesome stories of people being attacked one tourist finally said oh goodness, I wonder who owns this place. Peter said, I do.