I have been to traditional British country side pubs, gastro pubs, Irish pubs in Bangkok and New Zealand, the smallest pub in England which is in Bury St. Edmunds, the oldest pub in Australia built in the early days of this British colony, just to mention some. My most memorable pub evening was however spent in the little gold mining town of Yalgoo about 3 hours drive inland from Perth in Western Australia.
To me a pub is more about the people and the characters that frequent it rather than what it looks like and what they have on offer. The pub in Yalgoo had it all. It was a Thursday. Unemployment benefit known as "the dull" arrived on Thursdays and this in turn meant that the pub was packed with happy drinkers. It was an extremely hot day, about 43 degrees in the shade and almost as hot in the bar. There is no air conditioning in places like this. The atmosphere was lively and great. The landlord provided nibbles in the form of yabbies (little creek crayfish) freshly cooked. It was very nice and the cans of lager were flowing. The extreme heat meant that the refrigerators behind the bar were no t sufficient to keep the beers cold. Instead a vast number of eskys (cooler bags) with ice kept the beverages at a nice and cool temperature. Then suddenly the beer truck arrived bringing supplies for the next week of drinking. There was this deal that everyone who helped unload the truck got a free drink (read beer). We all helped loading the beer into the cellar under the pub. Sweating together in the heat for 30 minutes was a nice, and informal way to get know the locals.
This pub was filled with characters. It was a mixture of unemployed cowboys, retired gold miners, black people, drunks, farmhands, old men, a few women and some younger boys. A little while later an aboriginal lady walked in with a little baby kangaroo in her arms. They had just shot its mother and they pulled the joey from its mothers pouch. A sad story but we all got to pat a kangaroo.
In the bar was a fellow called Dick. He was a Kiwi who managed one of the sheep stations near by. God knows why this Kiwi was now in the outback of Western Australia, but this was not a place where you asked to many questions. Dick made it his mission to make sure that we mingled with the locals. He said, "these guys have never been anywhere and not met that many people from other places. Talk to them. Ask them what they are doing. Tell them what you are doing. Get the conversation going". I found myself talking to the guy who drove the beer truck. Since I knew what his job was, I told him. "I'm at university, studying politics and economics". It was a killer. It very nearly killed the conversation. The beer truck driver and his brother eyed me up and down. Very sceptically the driver said, in a less polite, straight forward, outback kind of way, "why don't you go join the fucking idiots in fucking Canberra instead mate". Dicks idea of how to get conversations flowing in this little outback pub clearly had its limitations. Anxious to save the conversation I managed to steer the sceptical brothers into some small talk about sheep farming. I did after all grow up in the countryside. I also bought the brothers a beer. After that we sure were friends. The pub had a special feature in that the bar counter was shaped like a horse shoe creating two different sides of the interior. On one side were the aboriginals. We were on the other. I asked Dick why this was and if it was ok to go and meet the people on the other side. According to Dick this was just old tradition that it was that way and that he would introduce me to some of the people over on the other side. The two sides would get more mixed up later in the evening. They all knew each other.
Dick was working the floor like a professional mingler. If it had not been for the sheep station and his rugged persona, he would have made an excellent diplomat. It probably would have cost him the friendship of the beer truck driver though. Dick’s tactics was very simple. If you did not talk to a local Dick would grab you by the shoulders and put you in front of one of them. It was effective, but maybe a little to harsh for the diplomatic world. Suddenly I found myself on the other side of the bar talking to an old aboriginal man. We both spoke the Queens English but the old mans daughter had to interpret between us. The old mans outback English was difficult to follow. He told me about his life and family. It is not easy to get to speak to any of the Aboriginal people. The original Australians that you see in cities are often in a very poor state and some live in communities that you as a tourist will never come to. I felt very privileged to be drinking and talking to some of them this evening. Some time later we were even playing darts with some aboriginal ladies. They had done a lot of practising and the game was humiliating on our part. Despite the loss it was a great evening.
It is funny when you think of it. What is my best pub memory was for these guys just a normal Thursday at their local pub in Yalgoo.