australia day, how it works
A neighbour across the way puts together a big show every Australia Day. He’s a horse and cattle breeder, a wiry little bloke, weathered like a fence-post and decked out tonight in a new stetson styled lid and red shirt with stud pockets. This is the look I never had.
The first thing you see in the shed where the band is tooting up is a row of eskies, about a dozen, all sizes. They’re his, and they’re for us and the booze we bring. This is Wayne’s party, already a hundred people are in there and none of them go surfing. Men and women, kids all over the place. Five horses are looking over a fence at the racket. Yards and ramps, enclosures and breeding pens. Foreign country.
This is a west of Casino crowd, tan riding boots and $400 duds, English linen shirts, big bellies and dry-country suntans. Big hands, big money. Cattlemen. Horse breeders, two babes in little skirts are helping everyone fill their glasses and Wayne’s mum has fifteen nieces bringing down salads and curries from the top house kitchen. Dips and biscuits, oysters and prawns. He’s roasting two pigs and a calf on three spits, potatoes, pumpkin and greens in another, one that has revolving trays.
Wayne is one busy cattleman but over he comes for a g’day, gives the wife a kiss, introduces us to his partner Dave, who’s married to Alva. She has Italian everywhere, is five foot high and drives a double-bogy semiT because she likes to. She also talks all the time and Dave but listens. Not married but will one day. Whenever that comes up in conversation she knuckles him hard on the shoulder. Alva has a working man’s strength in her arms and wrists and big brown Mediterranean eyes, soft.
She also does pasta. Lucky Dave.
He’s a skinny little 60+ year-old with knuckles that almost reach his knees, he has an arse that only sits on horses and that’s why his arms are so long, because of what he does.
So while we’re talking, these people, mostly blokes, keep coming over and excusing themselves before sticking out their hand to shake Dave’s. Horning in but apologetic because he’s the guy they want to see today on Australia Day. Any other time he’s out of town but he always comes to Wayne’s for the annual shindig.
‘How are ya Dave? Great to see you, lovely day, how you doing.’ and if Dave doesn’t engage them – because he’s with us right now and listening to his little woman and she’s making everyone laugh – they just give a BIG smile and move off.
‘See you Dave, good to see you mate.’
I wait for a break and ask Alva if Dave is what I think he is; these people are treating him like we treat Kelly Slater when he descends from the clouds and reaches earth to walk amongst us, so I ask her, ‘What is Dave?’
‘Legend,’ she says, ‘for instance look at the belt buckle he’s wearing.’
It’s a big round inscribed silver oval on a thick leather belt that encircles a waist small enough to put your hands around. That’s what they give when you win five days of a professional horse-breaking competition over here in this place where waves don’t break. And Dave wins them all. One by one.
‘That’s just the latest,’ she says, ‘he’s got a drawer full at home.’
Just a little bloke with no shoulders and long arms, no teeth on the bottom row so he doesn’t like to talk too much, not pretty either.
Australia Day, it works ok for me.