You’ll notice the ants first, unable to walk without disturbing a swarm. You’ll notice the mullets second, for the same reason. Western Australian mining towns, which offer a backpacker some of the highest wages in the country, also boast the largest deposits of iron ore, six-legged insects, and horrible haircuts.
It’s the kind of place where every head swivels when you enter a bar, because, without a beard, Southern Cross tattoo or neon work suit, you stand out like a cow on the highway. Most of the miners work on a fly-in, fly-out schedule from Perth. With too many changing faces, I quickly learned to address everyone by adding the typical Aussie “azza” to the end of names. If that failed, they’d always respond to a hearty “Mate!” I, in turn, became “The New Backpacker” or “Darlin'”.
They used the first name when sober, and the second name when they’d had too many JDs. Most of my shifts were spent behind a bar: first in Paraburdoo (pop. 2,000), then in Newman (so big it had a Subway). Because alternative nightlife options were mostly non-existent, I, the person pouring the pint, should have held a position of power.
But, if I grabbed a local anything other than their “usual” drink, their respect was gone. One particularly cantankerous customer, Angus, refused to pick up his Fosters if I faced the can in the wrong direction. He could pout and push it away, but he couldn’t use his fingers to turn it around. “Do you want me to spill it all over myself?” he’d moan.
After that comment, I sure did. But I kept my mouth shut most of the time, especially at the end of a rowdy Friday night, because the mining crewmen paid with a pile of bills and coins, tapping their pile to indicate where I should take the change from, a fight could break out over a missing $10. Within minutes, best friends would be swinging punches like sworn enemies.
Within a week of starting my job in Paraburdoo, I quit wearing makeup. Why lather on foundation, when no one else made an effort in the dry, dirty heat? Most of the men (and a few brave women) sauntered into the bar for a post-shift pint, still in their work boots and a layer of orange silt.
For a while I thought they were simply very tanned from the 40Â°C-plus sun. The only accessories visible were inked on: most of the men ran a list of children’s names on one shoulder, and an Australia flag or native animal on the other. Ex-girlfriend’s names were guiltily covered up by long sleeves.
Rarely did I understand what anyone said; nodding and smiling was the only response to requests that contained more slang than a modern dictionary. Not only do Western Aussies abbreviate most words – even the shortest ones – but they don’t breath between them, either.
“Bundyncola, mate,” someone would ask, “andtoperrightup!” If I had the gumption to question this, I was shot with an amused glare. “Bloodyyanks, don’tyespeakEnglish?” You’ll soon hear that bottles, coolers, pitchers and pints have turned into stubbies, eskies, jugs and tall ones – and real men drink Emu Bitter and Toohey’s Old.
“Noneathatcheapissforme, mate!” Big, friendly, and loud, the people in Western Australia are a breed of their own. And serving them gives definition to the term “diamond in the rough”.
But if you’re looking for work out West, take this as a warning: bring bug spray, and a pair of scissors.