Stranger in the night

Stranger in the night

Barry’s days as a youth leader in Western Australia have yielded some interesting stories for onevalefan. But his one takes some beating.



Stranger in the Night
Busselton is approximately 230km, 3 hour drive south of our home in Perth. It was founded in 1832 by a family named Bussel who described the area as a paradise because of its long stretches of sandy beaches adjacent to a hinterland of immense farming and settler potential. In addition there was the very wide Geographe Bay that provided the fledging Swan Colony (Western Australia) with excellent port facilities to import and export produce from the area – particularly horses to India.

It has a Mediterranean climate with warm to hot summers and cool winters. For much of the year clear, blue skies prevail with a temperature range of 8-16ºc during winter and 17-30ºc in summer.

The town is said to have the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. Its construction started in 1865 and took over 95 years to build. The jetty stretches a remarkable 2 kilometres into the ocean and is a must see for tourists, fishermen and divers. The jetty did have a train running its entire length. The rail tracks have been left as a silent witness to what was once very busy port facility. In December 2003 an ‘Underwater Observatory’ was opened near the jetty which dives down to the ocean floor two kilometres out to sea and allows visitors to observe the colourful corals and fish that live around the jetty pylons – and all without getting wet! If ever you’re in the area it’s a must see on your itinerary.

These days Busselton is a busy tourist Mecca. But this story happened when it was a sleepy seaside town where the locals were happy to keep it that way.

As a youth leader in a national organisation one of my briefs was to provide a range of hiking, climbing and camping expeditions and I’ve mentioned some of these elsewhere on onevalefan. Our yearly outward bound calendar always ended with a week long summer camp to coincide with the beginning of the December school holidays. These summer camps were held as far away as Albany in the south to Port Hedland in the north – return trips upwards of 1600 kilometres. One of our summer camps was held in Busselton. But I’ll get tell you about that another day.

The leaders of the various branches of the organisation would get together at the end of the summer camps to review the year past, to plan the year ahead and to celebrate our membership – both collectively and individually. Hmmm, more about that later.

The leadership of our organisation was both male and female with responsibilities at the branch level similar to Scouts and ‘Guides. The camps too were separate with the girls’ camps being less robust. That is: boys’ expeditions were under canvas at all times; girls’ would be billeted in huts, homesteads or similar. However, whilst there were no mixed expeditions, there would always be a mix of male/female leadership. Hence the reason for our yearly reviews etc.

Our summer camp in 1965 was held in Geraldton – 400 kilometres north of Perth. But the bulk of preparations had been carried out on the weekend Liverpool won their first ever FA Cup. Yours truly and another leader from the same youth branch had booked overnight into a motel on the very same day Bill Shankly’s boys were fronting up to Leeds on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium. My co-leader was a Coventry City fan and would go on and on about how his team always seemed to get the better of Port Vale. Still, it was reasonably good banter.

It was winter ‘Downunder and the weather very cold and very wet. On our journey to Geraldton we had been listening to the game on the car radio and by the time we arrived at the motel at approximately 11.30pm Oz time the game was nearing full time and heading for a goalless draw. Just as we were checking into our room extra time had started and like a daft pair of brushes we scrunched a portion of newspaper into a small ball and began kicking it around the room. He was Leeds; yours truly Liverpool. When Roger Hunt scored for Liverpool I celebrated big time by leaping and yelling all over the place. But when Billy Bremner levelled for Leeds my mate did the same sort of thing. It was my turn again when Ian St John settled the game in Liverpool’s favour.

What’s that? Yes, of course we were in a motel. But I did say it was winter ‘Downunder and apart from a young honeymoon couple on the other side of the compound we were the only other overnight residents. So it seemed to us, all things being equal, that they wouldn’t be getting much sleep either.

Where was I? Oh yes, the 1965 end of year leader get together.

As a general rule such end of year reviews etc were held at the same location as the summer camp. But for reasons muddled we decided to convene in Busselton – some 630 kilometres south of Geraldton.

At the time I was courting a young lady from another youth branch and the decision to convene in Busselton suited nicely because it would afford her the chance to call and personally wish her grandparents ‘A Merry Christmas’. In fact, some of you will know of her from a previous ovf memoir called ‘Desert Dunnies, Redback Spiders & Willy Willies’

So there we were in Busselton. Our accommodation was the Esplanade Hotel, an old colonial style building near the beach and jetty. The bedrooms were very small with just enough room for a bed and single door wardrobe. Back in the 1960s most hotel bathrooms were communal. During winter places like the Esplanade were very cold buildings. But in summer they would be hot and airless.

With the leaders’ review etc done and dusted it was time to celebrate our membership and, in the words of ‘Bede and Tosh, fifteen pints and a pastie was about the size of the celebration.

It was early morning when we made our way back to the hotel. Inebriated, but very happy to be in each other’s company, we giggled as we stumbled up the stairs to our room and, as best as we could manage, partly undressed before collapsing into a heap onto the bed.

The room was spinning around and my brain was sending me urgent rest telegrammes. But my bladder was sending a different message to urgently pay a visit to the bathroom. Staggering, and using all the props my physical environment provided, I made it with seconds to spare. Relieved in more ways than one I made my way back to our room.

Or did I?

Somehow I remember thinking to myself that the door handle was on the opposite side when we first checked in. But it had been a long day and night and my brain was, to say the least, a little muddled. Anyway, I was far too tired to worry about it.

Stumbling into bed for the second time I sensed that something was a little out of kilter. Sure I was inebriated and tired. Sure the room was spinning. But somehow I managed to focus just enough to realise that I was probably in big trouble. Not only was the door handle on the wrong side. So too was the bed. Instead of climbing into bed on the right side next to the wall, I was climbing into bed on the left side next to the wall. Yes folks, I was in the wrong room and bed. On top of which (no pun intended) another man and women were in that bed too.

They just lay there in abject horror and must have wondered what the hell was going on. Don’t ask me how because to this day I cannot remember what I said to them. More than likely it was along the lines of ‘Oops, sorry, wrong room’ as I made a very clumsy retreat. When getting back to the right room my girlfriend wanted to know why I had taken so long and who was making such a ruckus down the hall.

The sun was out and I had just finished explaining what I thought had happened when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, that I had no other course of action but to go immediately and apologize to them. Well, after breakfast anyway.

We walked into the dining room to see one other young couple eating breakfast. Sitting down as far away as possible I looked across to see what kind of reaction I’d get. The young couple only had eyes for each other. Then I went to the hotel reception to enquire who was in residence. Hmm, believe it or not only two rooms had been occupied overnight.

After toying with my bacon and eggs without really eating I decided to go over to explain my nocturnal behaviour. You could see they knew I was approaching even though they pretended to be looking down at their food.

They said they understood. Wow! They even invited us to join them for dinner that night. I thanked them for their understanding. But I declined their invitation because we were leaving town that very morning. I did suggest a rain check and possible get together in Perth at a later date. Alas no, they were from the eastern states and were enjoying a travelling honeymoon.

Was it the Yuletide season? Was it because they were honeymooners and didn’t much care what else was happening around them? Did they perhaps think along the lines that Western Australians were a weird mob?

Who knows what it was. But phew, it was one heck of a close shave for yours truly.

As we journeyed home to Perth my girlfriend suggested we keep this little story to ourselves. She may have. But I haven’t. But if anybody asks, you didn’t get this from me.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
July 6, 2004

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