My friend and I had been in Australia for the grand total of three weeks when we decided it was time to leave cities like Sydney and Cairns behind and head out for an Outback adventure.
A local shop had a note up from a bar in Chillagoe – a town of 227 locals and 200 miners – that wanted two new barmaids.
The fact that we were fresh off the plane from Sweden without any experience whatsoever didn’t scare the bar owner off. On the contrary, natural blonde hair and a cute foreign accent turned out to be our greatest assets.
Our boss picked us up on one of his monthly trips to Cairns, where he stocked up on pretty much everything needed for the next four weeks, including two fresh-faced and slightly sceptical new barmaids. Three hours later we were dumping our bags in one of the roadhouse’s six rooms and heading to the bar.
It was like being thrown into a lion’s den – drunk miners as far as the eye could see. After a brief introduction on which taps had what beer and where the Bundy was, we were left to ourselves.
After closing, my overwhelmed and exhausted friend whispered to me: “We’ll give it two weeks, but if it stays this bad, let’s make a run for it!”
We needn’t have worried. After a few days we were well into the gist of it. The miners would get shit-faced pretty much every night of the week.
However, they had every 14th day off, and would spend most of the night before getting completely off their trees. That was good times for us, because they would tip us even more than normal.
Usually they would flick the coins we gave them as change back off the bar. Inexperienced and blue-eyed as we were, it took us a couple of nights to figure out they did this to make us bend over and pick the change up.
Tit for tat I guess. It didn’t bother us too much, after a couple of weeks we were used to the fact most men born between 1930 and 1992 were hitting on us.
However, small change wasn’t the only perk. One of my fondest memories is from when one of our nice regulars took me to work with him.
Nick lived at the pub from time to time, but worked as a cattle musterer. One day he took me out in his tiny, doorless helicopter to show me how they muster cattle on the big ranches. It was great fun, but I quickly learned that embarking on such a journey whilst still a bit hungover wasn’t my brightest idea.
Nick caught on after seeing the distinct tinge of green on my face, and decided to drop me off at a waterhole to get some fresh air while he finished off.
Stepping on ground felt like heaven, but as soon as the chopper took off I realised that it had been fanning away the distinct smell of cowdung that was thick in the air.
Somehow I managed to have a snooze in the shade, and when I woke up later, I was surrounded by curious wallabies who were checking out the odd newcomer. They were definitely more polite than the locals at our waterhole, that’s for sure!
Back at the pub we spent another week or so pouring beers, before we returned to Cairns.
A nice lady we had met at the pub gave us a ride and let us stay with her for a week, after which we all headed back again as it was Chillagoe’s biggest yearly event – the rodeo – and we weren’t about to miss out on the fun.
And great fun it was, being back at the bar, but on the right side of it this time, seeing two new, fresh-faced barmaids struggle for survival in new surroundings.