My very first Aussie BBQ

Barry Edge’s latest memoir concerns a defining experience out in the Australian bush…

Barry Edge writes…

During a recent sabbatical to the dessert country I found myself reflecting on my very first BBQ in outback Australia. The terrain was similar to that shown in the above photograph but much further west near Mt Magnet, Western Australia. I’ll tell you more about the photograph later.

Surrounded by desert country I was totally mesmerized by it all and simply fell in love with my new home…

I love the desert country of Australia and remember exactly the where and when my conversion took place. It was early morning Friday 15th April 1960 when waking up to my first beautiful sunrise over Mt Magnet, and although surrounded by desert country I was totally mesmerized by it all and simply fell in love with my new home. In fact, it was to be a defining moment in time giving rise to a lifetime ‘Downunder.

Several of my family live in and around the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia which is surrounded by numerous ghost towns – some of them dating back to the 1890s. The morning after celebrating the engagement of our eldest niece’s eldest daughter I suggested to my lovely wife we drive out to one of the many ghost towns.

To the east of Kalgoorlie is the Great Victoria Desert – Australia’s largest – which stretches into South Australia. It is an ancient and timeless place occupied by a number of Aboriginal groups collectively known as ‘The Spinifex People’. This has been their ancestral home for 24 plus thousand years and like most dessert regions is stark yet beautiful, dangerous yet forgiving, vibrant yet tranquil.

One of the many ghost towns near Kalgoorlie and on the doorstep of the Great Victoria desert is Kanowna which once boasted a population of 12,000 plus. The last time we visited 20 years ago there were still strong reminders of the gold rush days – mainly a cemetery with its mute and chilling epitaphs – but as seen in the photograph above (taken October 2016) there is little left to mark the place where the town once stood. Most of the graves have been reclaimed with the few that are left being slowly swallowed up by this ancient land. A stranger passing through would not be aware that in this place all colonial enterprise was doomed to heartbreak and tears.

As I was taking the above photograph – standing roughly in what was once the centre of Kanowna – I found myself down memory lane thinking of my very first Australian BBQ.

It was mid May 1960 when I was invited by several of my workmates to join them in a ‘Bush BBQ’. My acceptance, given reservedly, was greeted with ‘Onya Mate’ and ‘We’ll pick you up 12 o’clock on Saturday’.

Saturday 12 o’clock came and went, but my workmates didn’t show, and I can remember thinking to myself that perhaps I was on the end of one of their practical jokes. Thing is, I could have gone and worked overtime at the Hill 50 gold mine and added an extra £7 to my weekly paycheck. Suffice it to I was not amused and decided to put it down to experience.

It was around midnight when I heard several small trucks pulling up outside our house in Hepburn Street, Mt Magnet and it was clear from the boisterous occupants it was going to be one heck of ‘Bush BBQ’. But hang about – what were the rifles for?! Before answers were forthcoming, and with a full moon high in the night, we sped off across barely recognisable bush tracks leaving Mt Magnet well and truly in our rear view mirrors.

What happened next would be another personal defining moment…

What happened next would be another personal defining moment.

We were approximately 20 miles east of town when out came the rifles to shoot at nocturnal fauna – with kangaroos being the favourite target. For me it was a sickening experience watching the wounded Kangaroos escape into the night to die in pain. All efforts for me to ‘have a go’ were flatly rejected and, not surprisingly, what I witnessed that night still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. To my workmates it was nothing to get excited about; to me it was absolutely senseless.

There was a ‘Bush BBQ’ with beef, pork and lamb cutlets cooked on an open fire, served with a salad and washed down with beer. But with all that had gone before I’d lost my appetite and, at that point in my life, I did not drink alcohol.

It goes without saying I never went on another of their ‘Bush BBQs.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
October 20, 2016

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