“You’ve got to be careful out here with nicknames,” Duck warned me last week. ‘They’ll stick to you like shit to a blanket.” He’s right. I wonder if anyone even remembers what Duck’s mum called him when he was a kid. His step-kid, Dave, is called Koala. He’s a protected species, apparently, and his mum is the Koala mum.
A quick flick through my little green phone book reveals a grand mix of Blueys, Woggies, Choggas and one bloke who even managed to hoodwink the rest of the town into calling him tractor. Apparently he’s known as tractor on the electoral roll, too. I love being thigh-deep in nickname territory. It makes life much more colourful.
Of course, it wasn’t long before I was given a bush christening. I missed a crucial joke about a bottle tree just after I’d told the tale about locking my keys in the wheel well. Frankly, I still don’t understand Duck’s original joke, but I’m Blondie now. The meaning is clearer than the crisp sunrises out here in Charleville.
I won’t deny that I’ve done a few blond things since I’ve moved to the Outback. Just yesterday I was trying to take a few snaps at the racecourse. My boss had informed me I’d be ok to jump the fence to get in and I was excited about the covert operation. Just as I was dangling my camera over the fence I spotted a man inside with a dog. “How’d you get in,” I called out, with one foot one the bottom rung. “Through the gate,” he said with that tone you adopt when explaining how to cross the road to a toddler.
It was Graham from the hardware store who’d found me trying to break into an open compound. He recognised me from my early morning visit to the store a few days ago, when I’d rocked up in my fluorescent pink running gear. I’d been looking for my dad’s glasses that he’d left next to the tech screws. Overall, I don’t think Graham thinks my family is too intelligent. So maybe Blondie will stick? It can’t be much worse than Pen Dog or PeeeeeNelope, right?
My favourite thing about these nicknames is the sense of community it creates. On the weekend I popped around the corner to Quilpie to watch the footy. It’s just a lazy two-hour drive. Meeting the locals in this part of the world is not a matter of giving your name and occupation, it’s involves sharing some very intimate details, usually. Like Fats, for instance, got his name because he was such a fat baby. Good to know, right. And even if you don’t care about whether he outgrew 000 before he was a week old, it’s still a funny story, a real conversation starter.
In fact, as I wrote this blog one of my more sophisticated pals dropped by to tell me he dubbed his mate ‘cliff shitter’ on the weekend. I bet there’s a nice yarn behind that one. And, as always, it’s the story that we’re after.