If I had been given the choice, I would not have meandered down to the Charleville bowls club on Sunday afternoon. If I was offered to choose between bowls and, say, staying home to clean the scum from behind the oven, I would have tossed a coin. If a cold beer was in the offing there would have been no chance of getting me on the green. I would have missed out.
The inherent beauty of my inseparable job/life combo is that I’m forced – and not in a torturous, shoving the broccoli in my mouth kinda way, like my mother did when I was a horrid fussy-eating kid – to attend events I would definitely sidestep if the story-hunting imperative was not present. And, I’m finding that these activities, bowls, for instance or visiting the historic house and chatting with a bush tucker expert, often leave me with a broad grin.
When my expectations and assumptions are pushed aside, there is a bounty of quirky stores waiting to bring cheer to my world.
Let’s start with bowls. Mick Molloy had a good dig at making the sport popular in 2002 with his Aussie film, Crackerjack. But, the sport has struggled to woo me as a spectator. It hasn’t been actively trying, I admit, as most bowlers and indeed anyone that spends their days rolling weirdly-weighted balls along freshly-rolled turf, are self-assured enough to dismiss pesky spectators.
As I walked to the bowls club, I spotted a few ladies resting their horses at the quieter end of the main street. I adore those country moments – they give me a great sense of adventurous pleasure.
The action hotted up when I strolled onto the bowling green. One bloke was walking onto the green, casually doing up his baggy white pants when his mate told him the local journo had popped around to take a photo of him. “Aw not now, I’ve got a burning ring of fire,” he announced to all and sundry. “Yeah, he bloody does,” his mate added. “I just heard him in the shithouse.”
For a moment I realised the similarities between the hostel bathrooms in Beijing and the Charleville bowls club. An excellent incongruity.
A few seconds later I was introduced to a bloke with a broken arm, who one of the cheeky lads informed me had injured himself in a masturbation-related incident. “Yeah, he was watching at the window,” the broken-armed man told me.
The dirty jokes continued. Most of the bowlers were rather merry by the time I arrived in the early afternoon, beers nestled firmly in their palms. A few even managed to lodge their cigarettes in their mouths while focusing on their bowling with the sort of concentration Steve Irwin used to employ when feeding crocs. I left the green about an hour later feeling like I’d been welcomed into a community of people I could definitely share a smutty joke with.
The journo job here is intense. It’s a lifestyle. The constant search for information, gossip and quirky tales permeates my consciousness and takes me to places I would normally never venture. It is incredibly rewarding.
The footy has become the highlight of my week. It’s a pants-wetting event in Charleville. For the record, I have loathed the sport with venom all of my life.
The colourful language that comes off the sideline is a show in itself. It’s littered with hyperbole and fuelled by a passionate love for the footy that I have come to grudgingly respect. Occasionally it’s so rude it makes me blush, and that’s not an activity I partake in often.
I’ve developed a Sunday ritual with one of my lovely mates out here where we yarn away about Saturday’s game. I reckon our analysis, which I heartily enjoy, would put most of my footy fiend mates to shame. It’s certainly a shift from the latte-swilling girly gossip sessions I used to take pleasure in in Brissy. And it’s a long way from the beaches of Cambodia where whisky and coffee was an accepted and celebrated breakfast tradition.
But, back to the game. I’m captivated by the tackles, the penalties and exceptionally disappointed when the teams manage to rein in their aggression and avoid brawling. Of course, I run up and down the sideline like an chicken in a goose’s cage, feeling desperately out of place and constantly asking the linesman, the coaches, the players on the bench, the loitering kids, anyone, what the bloody hell is going on. I love the action. The feeling of being out of my depth and learning a skerrick more each week is as rewarding as managing to make a block of chocolate last a whole week. By the way I have just made a block of chocolate last a whole week.
It’s not just sport that is blowing my expectations away. I will concede that I am a tad lonely out here, but the biggest surprise has been how much I enjoy living in a small community. Last week as I walked down the main drag I was stopped about four times by people wanting to have a yak. In fact, it’s rare that I don’t find someone to have a chat with anytime I leave my home.
I know the name of my neighbour and I’m on a first-name basis with the postie, who honks his horn and waves at me sometimes.
On the other hand the lack of anonymity is distressing at times. Yesterday, for instance, I thought I’d bite the bullet and get some worm tablets to deal with my digestive system’s Chinese hangover. Of course, the high school vice-captain was waiting to assist me. And the tablets were behind the counter, out of my grasp. I swallowed my embarrassment and asked for some worming medicine. Tracey helpfully told me the chocolate square were the best. She spelled out a few instructions to me as I stood there and indulged in a moment of small-town-gossip paranoia, wondering if she’d tell all of her friends at the high school.
Ah, she’s the least of my worries, I thought, realising that it’s going to be a bigger issue when summer comes around and my skinny dipping cravings kick in.
For now, I love that my life has changed extraordinarily in the last few months. I cherish the adventures every day. And I can tell more of my useless expectations and judgements will be smashed into tiny pieces of appreciation.