The Bookkeeper

Barry Edge recalls another memorable experience in the mid-1980s as his memoirs continue.

In a previous memoir I shared with you my 1984 Canine Cuisine experience.

Just to recap: It was mid afternoon Friday 7th December 1984: Port vale were back in the old 4th Division – having been relegated end of Season 1983-4; John Rudge was in his first full season as manager – charged with the task of rebuilding the squad; and my employers asked if I would go north to the Kimberley, Western Australia on a short secondment with the Kalumburu Aboriginal Corporation; by late afternoon Monday 10th December 1984 I was walking through the quiet streets of Wyndham Port nestled in the Cambridge Gulf.

Wyndham is 3,300 kilometres north of my home in Perth and on average is the hottest town in Western Australia.

My arrival in Wyndham had been known well in advance by its small community with the good folk of the town more than generous both in their welcome and overnight hospitality. To most I was known as ‘The Bookkeeper’ because they all knew via radio telephone that that was the reason I was being seconded to Kalumburu (Back in 1984 the radio telephone was the main communication used throughout the Kimberley which meant all and sundry could listen in on any or all conversations).

Wyndham’s isolation is not, in my opinion, harsh and unforgiving, but an idyllic place of natural beauty, tranquillity and freedom. Its townsfolk were friendly and evident everywhere was a strong sense of community coming together in the build-up preparations for the oncoming wet season.

So there I was in the genial company of my easy going hosts little realising I would be subject to a well planned but humorous ‘leg pulling’ of trying to make me believe something that was not true. The venue was the Wyndham Town Hotel in O’Donnell Street, Wyndham Port; my transport was provided by a gentleman who would accompany and introduce me to the Kalumburu Elders; and my dinner guests included a young Aboriginal couple – representatives of the local Aboriginal people.

Our meal was a set price smorgasbord of all you can eat with drinks extra. The conversation was mainly about the forthcoming wet season and the increasing number of crocodiles in and around the old Meat Works. As the night drew long the restaurant was closed and the bars quiet compared to earlier and one by one my guests had retreated to the main bar leaving me in the company of the young Aboriginal couple.

After a brief conversation about my secondment to Kalumburu the young Aboriginal man left the table and headed for and joined the others in the main bar, and thinking he had gone to get the drinks in I continued chatting to his wife.

What happened next was both puzzling and worrying at the same time – at least for me it was.

With closing time looming the ambience of the lounge was cosy with windows left open to allow the night breeze bring blessed relief from the stifling humidity. That’s when I noticed the bar taps had been covered with towels and that most of my guests were heading into the night – or so it seemed. The young Aboriginal man came over and put a bottle of port onto our table before he too made a hurried retreat from the hotel – his wife still sitting at our table. The bar staff were busy cleaning up the other tables but made no attempt to move us on.

There may have been low chatter between the bar staff as they went about their work, but the conversation on our table had fallen silent. Whilst I was wondering what the hell was going on the young Aboriginal lady just sat and smiled at me. After what seemed an eternity I asked if her husband was coming back for her. ‘No’ she answered. ‘How are you getting home?’ I asked. ‘With you’ she replied. ‘WHAT, WITH ME!’ I exclaimed in a strained voice heard throughout the hotel. ‘Yes’ she said in a soft voice further adding that taking the bottle of port and going back to my overnight accommodation with her was an extension of their hospitality to me and that there was a taxi outside waiting for us.

Although my eerie feelings were palpable beyond belief I remember thinking that there may have been a taxi waiting but it would only have one passenger, and in my struggle to find the politest way to say goodnight before taking my leave I almost knocked over the bottle of port. Undeterred the young lady followed as I headed for the one entrance still open – all other exits had been locked when the bar staff were cleaning up the lounge.

Waiting outside were all my dinner guests – including the young lady’s husband – smiling and apologising at the same time for ‘pulling my leg’ in such an audacious manner whilst begging forgiveness if I thought they had offended me.

Goodness me, was I relieved. With the bottle of port returned to the bar we exchanged fond goodbyes before going our separate ways.

See you later…

In hindsight I realised I was in safe company because of the close links between Aboriginal communities and the government department I worked for, plus the CEO recommending I should be seconded knew of my youth work with inner city Aboriginal children and their families and that my 3rd university major was Aboriginal Anthropology – all of which would have been communicated by radio telephone to the Kalumburu Elders.

Barry Edge
Western Australia
March 8, 2019

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