540° to Port

Is that possible? Might be!

Half a lifetime ago, well in my case it is, I arrived in Sydney, why I really didn’t know or care I was the ‘Peripatetic Pom Personified’; after being transferred from Shay Gap in W.A. to  Nhulumby on the Gove Peninsular, Northern Territory by Poone Bros. tossing the job in, in pure disgust and moving over to Darwin, I got a bit bored and decided to start travelling again. I took a flight from Darwin to Mt Isa, took one look at the place and booked a sleeping berth ( apparently Queensland Rail have discontinued the sleeper service as from 2014 , the carriages were too old; probably the same ones they had when I made the trip) on the “Inlander to  Townsville. I’d had enough of mining towns at this stage.

Forty years ago Queensland was still in the 19th century under the guidance of one Johannes “Joh” Bjelke-Petersen who was possibly one of Australia’s most dubious, I was going to say corrupt politicians which didn’t stop him awarding himself a KCMG (as Bernard put it in “Yes Minister” ‘Kindly Call Me God’ a political knighthood  dished out in Great Britain to senior Public Servants) and becoming Sir Joh. so the 977 km overnight trip wasn’t the greatest experience. Passengers were allowed 2 cans of beer, purchased on board with their meal. Hard liquor and wine was not available. Anyway when the train pulled into Chartres Towers I slipped into the bar had a shot and bought a half bottle of whisky to keep me going through the night, which I managed to sneak on board.

The trip took quite a bit longer than normal as it was towards the end of the “Wet” season and the line had been washed out and temporary repairs whatever had been effected to keep the trains rolling but at much reduced speed. I didn’t care I had my sleeper and my sneaky bottle to keep me warm.       😀

I didn’t stay long I decided to head south by bus, I prefer trains to buses but with buses it was easier to hop off if any place took my fancy; but none of them did and before I knew it I’d lobbed into Sydney, and I’ve been here ever since. At the time I only had the intention of meeting up with my brother probably finishing up with a fight, and moving on with Perth WA sort of calling  me home.

What happened you may well ask, well I was having a very relaxed irresponsible time in ‘The Rocks’ area of Sydney that time started to get a way from me, I was moving here and there amongst all the pubs in ‘The Rocks’ thirteen of them at the time, working in a few of them without any responsibility, in truth I was having a great old-time. Self indulgent to the ‘nth degree!

I can’t recall exactly when it happened, I know where. It was when I was back working for Joe Hutchins at his Orient Hotel, I’d had a couple of stints with Joe, we’d finish up having a blue and I’d go work in one of the other pubs; for a while. I was living at the Orient, and got on well with Joe’s wife Margaret so I suppose that’s why he didn’t tell me to move out of his place.

Back then I was a right-wing Nutter, believed in private enterprise, and capitalism, Joe on the other hand was a left-wing Nutter. Being an arrogant sort of bloke I knew I was right and he was wrong and we’d argue and fight and I’d leave and go work for someone else then come on back; it took a few more years for me to realize that Joe was right all along, pity is he died before I could tell him. But being a good solid Catholic I’m sure he’s sitting on a cloud somewhere smirking. 

Good solid Catholic? Joe was an industrial chemist by trade/profession and he knew exactly what went into the beer he served at the Orient, so each week he’d make a full kilderkin of his own brew and slip it into a bank, nobody knew the difference. Cost him just a few dollars to make it. There was no tax and he made a nice old cop on 36 gallons of home brew every two weeks. As I said he was a good Catholic.       😀

It was while I was working that I noticed this little tiny blonde girl/woman, she’d come in very rarely with I suppose a couple of people she worked with, sometimes with a “Bull’ ; a detective from over in Philip Street; cops always stick out like a sore thumb in a pub! She wasn’t much of a drinker she’d sit on a half Scotch ice and water, she was there for the chat, she obviously liked talking with men, well I suppose she did as I never saw her with any females.

Sometime in ’75 it must have been the building where she worked, which happened to be attached to the Orient had some problems with the lavatories/toilets/bathrooms ( which covers everybody) so the arrangement was made for the staff to come use the facilities in the pub, whilst theirs were being renovated. I might point out here that all these buildings are pretty old most going back to the 19th century.

At this time besides working Joe’s bar I was also working in the hotels kitchen with his chef, a fair dinkum chef, George, he was Greek/Australian but mostly Greek and he was a great cook and that’s why I went to work under him. He’d been a chef at the Summit Restaurant at Australia Square but had left in disgust when a change of management insisted that he re-use food that had been left over on the plates of earlier diners. I learned a lot from George.

Now very rarely this young blonde would come in for lunch, and I’d be eyeing her off, actually I was somewhat bewitched, which greatly amused George, and he’d always let me know when she was coming into the pub to use the aforementioned facilities, “hey hey here come da girlfriend” and he’d find it amusing for some reason, the women in 75 were wearing these shoes that made a helluva lot of noise and he’d recognize the sound of hers.

I’d said the occasional g’day to her but I don’t think she took much notice of me, at that time I sported what I considered a great beard. Not a full beard, very similar to one sported by Edward S Curtis and I was extremely proud of mine, and kept it neat at all times, much good it was to do me.           😦

It took a while but eventually she came round and started chatting and then it developed into the casual drink now and then, always a half Scotch ice and water, (might just have well been drinking tap water) and we became quite friendly, so much so in fact that we’d meet away from the Orient and the prying eyes, everybody knew everybody and took a keen interest in everybody elses business, the word nosey comes to mind. We would walk on down to the Metropolitan  on the corner of Bridge and George Streets, and take up the corner window on the first floor, (second floor to the Yanks who class the ground floor as the first floor) and we could enjoy a good chat.

On reflection I know that this is the period in my life when I’d gone the 360º and was turning 180º to Port.

George naturally enough left the Orient and went on to bigger better things, he was wasted there, and Joe asked me if I wanted to take over the kitchen and I thought why not, I’d learned a lot working with George and naturally being full of myself I said no worries. So I became the new cook for the pub, And the beauty of it? We only served lunch.         😛

We were obviously now enjoying each others company but we were not exactly dating or romatically linked so much so that when she arrived early for work she changed her normal practice slightly. The norm was to buy a coffee and an iced finger bun from Mary’s sandwich shop which was next to Phillips Foot which was her breakfast after more than an hours bus ride down from Dee Why/Narraweena (up on the Northern Beaches which at the time I knew precious little about) which she would eat once in the office. Instead she would drop by and I’d let her in through the backdoor of the pub and she would join me in my kitchen eat her bun drink her coffee chat and generally check on what I was preparing for the lunchtime mob.

It’s fair to say that by this time I was completely bewitched not somewhat, although I wasn’t getting much encouragement.

Most mornings after alighting from her bus at the Wynyard Bus Terminal she’d slip through the Menzies Arcade and hop on a West Circular Quay bus down to the Argyle/George Street corner which saved a good ten/fifteen minutes walk and one morning she was a bit late and when she did arrive there was steam streaming from the top of her head and fire blazing in the eyes and I though uh oh what have I done but it wasn’t me or my doing it was the bus drivers..

Back in the 70’s the bus service along George Street Sydney down to The Rocks was generally referred to as the ‘Banana Service’ the buses always came along in bunches  there’d be 3,4 or 5 at a time all pretty well empty all coming down to The Rocks, some to East some to West Circular Quay, and this morning she happened to be the only passenger on the West Circular Quay bus.

The driver decided that he’d give the West a miss that morning and go straight around to the East which was the main terminus and finish his shift.

His problem was he hadn’t reckoned on the little blonde woman sitting without a doubt in the very middle of the very rear seat, possible having a quiet final puff on a cigarette. He announced “End of the road’ everybody out or whatever it is they do and say; but this little blonde woman just sat there. “End of the line lady’ says the bus driver.

“This is a West Circular Quay bus, I paid my fare to West Circular Quay and I will get off when I get there” or words to that effect. “Come on lady says he it’s just a nice walk across the Quay” (which it normally is) “and I’m finishing my shift”; “I paid to go to West Circular Quay and that’s where I want to go”; this apparently went on for a few minutes the bus driver trying to cajole her into taking a nice stroll and she steadfastly refusing insisting on being driven to her correct destination.

What was left for the, I suppose by now dishevelled, bus driver to do? He climbed back into his seat turned the bus around and drove the young lady the 2 or 3 hundred metres across to West Circular Quay and deposited her at her desired stop, I have no doubt she thanked him gracefully.

So back to the blazing eyes and steam pouring from the top of her head as she related the full story; what could I do? I laughed myself silly and grabbed her gave her a big hug and planted a big kiss full on her mouth, and believe it or not we’d wandered into my pantry when this occurred. What else could I do, it was delicious, ridiculous, hilarious and it was at that moment that I knew I’d met the right woman for me.

She admonished me and told me that if I ever wanted to try that trick again I’d better get rid of the beard, she couldn’t stand beards. After the poor bus driver who was I to argue!

The little tiny blonde? Her name was Kerry Clark, it got changed a bit later to Kerry Smith.

Kerry c1975
Kerry c1975

6 thoughts on “540° to Port

  1. Irena Kowalski 21/05/2015 — 08:17

    what a grand tale. It also brings back memories of Sydney in the 70s. Ira


    1. Glad you enjoyed it Ira, indeed Sydney was a greatplace to be back then.


  2. I concur; great story (and congratulations).

    . . . and many places were great places to be in the 70s. Less so, now.


    1. Thanks Emilio glad you enjoyed it.


  3. aww that’s a wonderful story to tell, I have said it before I think I would like Kerry very much if we were to ever meet.


    1. Thanks Lisa I’m sure you would. 🙂


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