Wild West Without the Guns

The Gulf of Carpentaria is about as outback as you can get in Australia. We are just back from there. Janet has dubbed it ‘the wild west without the guns’.

Take an example.

We rocked up to the Burketown pub for a meal. The new pub. The old one didn’t survive the arson attack in 2012.

Inside the bar area, things were as rowdy as all get-out. Impossibly noisy. It was wall-to-wall men, with three exceptions: the long-suffering barmaid, Janet, and a middle-aged woman with a prosthetic leg. Most of the men were missing their front teeth and/or had a broken nose. B’Jesus, it looked rough. It looked like a war zone or a casualty ward. Going by the talk around town, I figured the fights would have been about women and/or horses.

We ate outside, al fresco, where it was quiet, and the visuals included a glorious outback sunset. For our entertainment, a swarm of tens of thousands of fruit bats, blackening the sky, set out to look for their evening meal. No fights in this community as far as I could ascertain. We ate great barramundi. I’m not sure what the fruit bats were able to find.

Take another example.

I refer you to the the notorious ‘animal bar’ at Karumba, a small town that sits right on the waters of the Gulf, a place where waves and salt-water crocodiles come ashore. The animal bar, part of the Karumba Lodge Hotel Motel, first came to the world’s attention in the lawless days before Karumba had a police station. Nowadays, with police in attendance, one might have assumed the animals had been tamed and the bar had lost its mojo. This was the line put about by the management of Karumba Lodge when it petitioned for the bar’s unflattering name to be retired.

But, a week or two before we hit town, a patron of the bar had had his ear bitten off in situ. The animals were still ascendant. The name stayed.

I figured the disputes here would have been about women and prawning leases.

Take yet another example.

The Albion pub in Normanton, one of three in the town, serves the best barramundi meal in the Gulf, and a wide variety of cold beers on tap, including Victoria Bitter. Here, Janet received a proposal of marriage from an old fart that, I assume, props up the bar in perpetuity. I wasn’t present at the time. I was out on the patio. Had I been present, and feeling mischievous, I might have asked him what his bride price was.

Now Janet, despite her years, is an attractive woman. Let’s be clear about that. But I couldn’t help but feel that the gender ratio in these Gulf towns is heavily weighted towards males. And that this sets the tone for what passes for social activity. And accounts for the fights.

When I was very much younger, and lived in Melbourne, we had a saying apropos of people who took an unnecessarily circuitous route from A to B. We would say, ‘Oh, he/she went via the Gulf of Carpentaria.’ For us, the Gulf epitomized remote out-of-the-way places. Now that, for Janet and I at any rate, the Gulf has been effectively demystified, how do we now describe someone who likes to take the scenic route?

As a person who went via Shangri La? Or the mountains of the moon?