We were in Gulargambone for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we intended to visit the Warrumbungle National Park, the site of some mighty fine pieces of geology. Secondly, a visit to the Siding Springs Observatory, home of the Anglo-Australian Telescope, had been a mission of mine for some years. But for now, we needed anaesthetic.
It turned out that the Gulargambone hotel/motel was the social centre for the town's inhabitants, and the hosts, Rob and Sue, a couple in their thirties, did an excellent job in food, beverage and company. I was talking to Sue, a vivacious blond, and one of the best multi-taskers I've ever seen - she was simultaneously cooking food for about twenty people, serving drinks, showing us around, and looking after two young kids and a baby - and mentioned that I was originally from Newcastle.
"Oh, me too," she replied. "Whereabouts?"
"Kotara. Grinsell Street, to be precise."
"Bugger me!" she exclaimed, "I lived in Grinsell Street until I was eighteen!"
Of course, that sealed the deal. We were immediately fast friends, and chatted away merrily with each other, while Leigh sat at another table, regaling the locals with outrageous stories (creatively embellished, of course) of our travels around the country. Every ten seconds or so, a great roar of laughter would erupt from the table. Leigh has this effect on everyone.
Apparently it was movie night at the pub. There being no cinema for a couple of hundred kilometres in any direction, mine hosts had taken it upon themselves to be the local culture vendors, and had set up a pretty nifty mini-theater in the back room. Rob and Sue were screening There Will be Blood on this occasion, so, after a great meal of swordfish cutlets, and with Sue sitting beside me, constantly replenishing my glass of red, we watched Daniel Day Lewis cover himself in oil and glory.
By about the eleventy-millionth glass, the screen was no longer in focus, so I bid all goodnight, and with a chorus of Good nights and Nice-meeting-yous ringing in my ears, I stumbled off to my room. What a great crew of people these dirt-poor, struggling farmers were. And the pub had become a lifeline (in some cases, I suspect, quite emphatically so) for a whole community ravaged by drought.
We left early the following morning, before anyone was up. We passed through a place that had nothing to distinguish itself whatsoever except for the sign that told you its name: Gummin Gummin'. Note the apostrophe? We stopped, and spent several useless minutes pondering the virtue of putting an apostrophe on the end of a double-barrelled place name, out in the middle of nowhere. It must have been a mistake, we thought, but when we checked our map, there was that cute little thing sticking out of Gummin Gummin''s name. More bizarre than crop circles, if you ask me.
We pulled into the National Parks Centre at the Warrumbungles, and went into the main office to register. A large group of tourists from Europe accompanied us. We got to the front door, and found that someone had creatively placed there a dirty big, perfectly taxidermified western grey kangaroo as some kind of ossified doorman. I took one look, and pounced on it.
I had the thing by the throat, and was giving it a good kicking to its nether regions, all the while yelling, in syncopation with the lethal blows to its protruding scrotum, "You - dir - ty - fuck - ing - cunt - of - a - thing!" This went on for some ten seconds or so, with the stuffed object rocking back and forth in time with my blows, before Leigh quite intelligently intervened.
"Ah, Loz," he said trepidatiously, putting a soothing hand on my arm, "it's already dead, mate."
I stopped, turned around, and found about twenty foreigners standing there, rather shell-shocked, and giving me the kind of look that I imagine those derelicts in the city who urinate in public litter receptacles get from passers-by.
I straightened up, threw my shoulders back and attempted to rescue my dignity. "Well, they are cunts of things. You might think they're all cute and adorable, but just wait until one of them decides to destroy your Volvo!"
I spun on my heels and marched up to the reception desk, and, I must say, was somewhat taken aback when I was unceremoniously thrown straight back out the door by a bloke who was probably three sizes too large for his shirt. What is it with people who wear epaulets?