The early morning sunlight beamed down on me as I dragged my doona through the red dust back to my ute. My filthy sneakers were in one hand and a pink pillow was tucked under my arm. A large grin was pasted on my face.
That’ll set the chins wagging, I thought, thoroughly satisfied with the night’s shenanigans.
Setting the small-town gossip vine on fire can be more satisfying than the result of an entire week off carbs. The trick is to do it on your terms. Own it.
I didn’t always think like that.
When I first arrived in Charleville, outback Queensland, I was a shell of my dancing-on-tables self. I had traded the liberal backpacking community for a town where people would gossip about a half-sucked mango. As the new journo in town my party style was seriously overshadowed by a sickening desperation to make a good impression, and some mates.
People stopped me in the cold section of the supermarket to ask if I was single. It was a dirty word. I reckon they thought I was a man-eater. One bloke even stopped me outside the cow-food store to find out whether I was gay. The attention was flattering, but I couldn’t shake the outsider feeling. People seemed suspicious.
A few Friday’s passed with quiet beverages, relaxing but ultimately dull aromatherapy baths and pillow snuggles.
I loved the town, the friendly postie who waved at me as he zipped down the street and the quiet gum trees on my morning jog. But it was stifling. The skinny-dipper, who was discreetly tucked away inside of me, was itching for some time in the moonlight.
The ultimate outback party, the Birdsville races, tapped my party spirit on the shoulder, making promises of 7000 people raging in a town that normally houses just a hundred citizens.
My flirty side, fed-up with the chaste lifestyle urged me to purchase a bottle of Jägermeister instead of a bottle of Bombay for the five-day festival.
It was time.
On the way to the races I was waylaid in Windorah, a small desert town that hosts a mean shindig, and I lost my swag. It’s an easy mistake to make when you’ve drunk all of the Pure Blonde in the bar and you’re not quite sure where the car was parked.
The adventure-starved voice told me it’d be fine to bunker down with the boys in a nearby camp who, ever so kindly, offered to share one of their swags with me. It was an innocent swag share, but the truth was never going to get in the way of the ribbing I was given by the boys I was tripping out with. Please note returning to camp at 5am is not a good way to keep a low profile.
That juicy piece of news made its way to my small town before I even arrived in Birdsville later that day.
But, strangely I no longer cared. I was thrilled to finally be having some fun. It felt right, honest, to be caught in a bind and have a laugh about it.
Other gossipy tidbits from my adventures during the Birdsville bash beat me home. I lapped it up and slipped in a few pearlers they may not have heard, hoping to fan the flames with a few slices of truth.
If the locals were going to discuss my bedfellows, and that’s almost a given in a small town, I’d hate for them to leave out the juicier details.
People have warmed to the new approach, I think. As I stumbled across the paddock on Sunday morning I could feel eyes boring into me. I dumped my doona and went straight across to have a yarn with the girls I’d met the night before.
“Where did you sleep,” one of them slyly asked me.
“Oh, it was a bit cold last night so I asked some guy if I could share his mattress with him,” I told her with a smile, feeling as cheeky as the clever partygoer who remembered to pack Gatorade for the morning after.
“Did you really,” her mouth popped open, shocked at either my honesty or audacity for bunking with a stranger.
“He was a bit handsy at first, but I told him off and it was fine,” I divulged, loving the attention. “Where did you sleep,” I asked her.
She’d shared a swag with a nice gentleman, also an innocent bed-sharing activity, so we sat on the tailgate and gossiped about that.
Finally, it was all out in the open.