Capricorn 44 grinds into gear and exits the street in a lazy cloud of dust. The driver has spent the past 15 minutes working hard to convince me that Donald Trump was going to set the world straight. I nod politely in all the correct spots. Whether he realises I was daydreaming about a small indonesian island as he spoke or just decides he has finished his sermon, he turns and saunters off across the road to his camper van, Capricorn 44 emblazoned at the rear. Another day kicks off at the General Store. They all have a story. Some tell, some fake it, some don’t breathe a word.The working day here has them all and I spend my day negotiating the ground around conversations and the contact. Most of the regulars are given a name. A nickname that sticks. This is rarely used to address them but quite often used to describe them. This is often shared between other staff. Names like ‘the riddler’ ‘stinky’ ‘the grog monster (or the G.M.)’ and ‘My Favourite Martian’ ‘the sacred hillbilly’ ‘the windy peacock’ and a personal favourite ‘Captain Risky’. These characters are all cast throughout my day. They drop in and out like sprites and rarely stay for longer than it takes to purchase their desire while offering up their speaking part. ‘Weather is shit, hey’ ‘Gee you get it easy. This place has aircon’ or ‘I dont smoke, these are for a friend’ . The Store has been a hub in the village since 1947. The bullnose awning shades the entrance to a world that has remained the same for many years. Everything in one form or another is available here. Fuel , Alcohol, Flyswats. The village was settled in 1881. It is a shadow of its former self. At its peak there were several hotels, butcher, baker even a brothel. The cobb and co coaches raised the dust here late in that century and the village catered for the passing parade. The bustle of early travellers has long gone. Today the village hosts a different cast of characters. The diversity is astounding, farmers, workers, woofers, hipsters. Surfers, with their boards stacked like pancakes, fueling up in anticipation the swell has arrived. Out of work baristas search the ragged notice board for a lead to the next coffee palace. Nut farmers quarrel over which species of macadamia is performing well this season. Coffee farmers just quarrel. We occasionally refer to them as the coffee wars. They are a ruthless bunch. Many of them coming to the coffee industry from the corporate world. They don’t mind to slag off at their opposition and, in fact, some have made it an art form. They can be as tart as the product they take to market. The small hamlet is slowly beating to a new tune. Some of the village stalwarts are being bought out. There is a sense of change floating through the air that was thick with the smell of a mix of blood and bone and macadamia insecticide. The developers had come to town. We now have curb and guttering. This transition has been subtle. The bakery has become a restaurant. The butchery has become an antique shop. The hall has become a wedding venue. A different crowd wanders the streets. Middle aged men dressed up to their blepharoplasty in city clothes. Disinterested women who queue for overpriced clothing on their way to a yoga class.
The door bonged. I could make out from the afternoon sun silhouette that my next customer was Sandy Edwards. Sandy was smooth. He always had correct change. If he didn’t he always announced proudly the change he was due. Today he was very chirpy. Like someone who had just stolen a car park and found a fifty cent piece on the ground as he climbed out of the largest 4wd in the street. Sandy was here for cigarettes. Always Styvies. Always twenties. But he would reserve the right to change packets if the vivid deterrent photographs of damaged souls on the packaging worried him. “No feet and no teeth” he mumbled as I shuffle through the packets to find one that met his standards. Like many of my customers, Sandy has moved to this area in recent years. One of the blow-ins as described by the long time locals. For several years now people from the larger southern cities have been arriving in ‘Gods own country’. With them has come the inflated property prices, expensive vehicles and hipsters. All three agitate the long time locals. Sandy wishes me well and turns on his heels and sprints out the door as though he is late for some important date. Sandy is wealthy and retired and spends his days watching the world go by.
As Sandy powers up the 4 x 4 and drives forward off the forecourt a blue sporty job cuts him off. They both stop and eye each other. Sandy gives a wave. The woman driving the dented blue celica gestures her hand toward the window. The other hand is holding her mobile phone and the look on her face reveals she is in deep conversation. Sandy drives off. The woman jumps out and does several laps of the forecourt while intensely offering up a speech into the mobile. She then climbs back into the car, starts it and moves forward, still chatting.
Michele is an exhausting character. She parks her blue car within coo-ee of the curb and rushes into the store like a girl on a mission. She always has a sense of urgency about her that is combined with a sweet heart. Her days are usually good but are sometimes ruled by her mental health. I can always gauge her urgency by the amount of laps she does around the shop before approaching the counter. Today she is good and quickly scoops up a chocolate bar and a sneaky read of the local paper. I could tell she was on edge about something. “Hi Michele, how you doin?”
“Not so good, did you hear about Derrick?” she asked. Derrick was an everyday customer of mine and a close neighbour for Michele. He arrived in the village in the early eighties after having purchased his property in 1976. He was an early blow-in. Up from Sydney’s northern beaches chasing the surf and a new lifestyle. Sydney had been a cruel mistress and he arrived at the end of a nasty heroine habit and debts owed to the wrong types. He soon found his place here but work was always scarce. Derrick worked mostly on dairy farms and enjoyed the wide open spaces. He had negotiated a monthly account here at the store and paid it like clockwork. Derrick attended the store everyday for a chat and his supply of rum. The rum, and a methadone program, replaced the smack. He loathed ‘the done’, as he called it. “Its like a ball and chain”. Derrick and I had a good thing going. He would drop by and chat for a short time and we would exchange a few life stories and as time went by we got know one another. He had a good soul.
“I havent caught up with Derrick yet” I replied. “He should be in soon”
“You’re not going to….his sister Narelle woke me this morning. She found Derrick sitting in front of his TV, a rum and a Chesterfield rollie beside him, and a smile on his face, he died last night” said Michele.
My first visit to the local catholic church was to see Derrick off. He had a large family, most of which travelled up from the city. Most of which didnt know the real Derrick.
“Gee its cold” is today’s catchcry. Temperature has plummeted to below 20c. The village has rugged up. The winter fashions are on parade and many of the crew are keen to show off their warm clothes. It has been a strange autumn for our district. Weather patterns are changing. Rainfall is inconsistent. Dry times are now wet and visa versa. The global warming debate is often brought to the counter along with the frozen peas or a polly waffle. Most of my visitors are very aware of the changes we are experiencing, some are complete deniers. One fellow, an old long term local, Monty McMoccon-Myer loves a stiff discussion on the local weather patterns. He tells all that nothing has changed, states the decade that “he has seen it all before” and quotes long passed on relatives if his argument is being overwhelmed by clear evidence. Monty is a man of habit and wanders into the store everyday before noon for a bite to eat and a local rag. His family have been in the district for generations and he grew up on one of the local dairy farms that operated for many years in the area. Dairy farms were the life blood of the valley before the city crops moved in. Avocado and Macadamia have since squeezed out the dairies. Coffee drove the final nails in, with the help of big business. These times find but a few operating dairies. An oddity. Monty recalls the early days like they happened yesterday. Some of his recollections are selective. Always careful not to mention when his family had fallen on difficult times. One of his wayward cousins, Reg, who spent a lot of his spare time drinking, found himself behind the wheel of a car when walking should have been the preferred mode of transport. He didnt get too far before it became obvious to other motorist that his driving was far from capable. The scene didnt go unnoticed by a local magistrate who was about 4 cars behind the action. When it was his turn to pass Reg’s car he maneuvered in front and slowed him down to a stop. He then called the police. The McMoccan-Myer family had generally been a law abiding bunch. Sadly Reg had previous alcohol matters pending and off to Grafton Gaol he went. He did not pass Go but he did collect the ire of other family members. The family rarely recalls their wayward cousins antics and a few no longer send him a Christmas card. He did his time and continues to drink his hours away.
“Money taints the clearest view. ” says Rick. He was quick to quip as he fumbled his tall beer into a brown paper bag. Ricks opinions were rooted in the lifestyle he had lived throughout the years. By day he built rock walls and in the dark hours he fronted a punk band. He is a very sort after tradesman and his work is beyond artistic. His music , on the other hand, is edgy and blunt. Lyrics attack the staus quo. The harmonies are not necessary and you are never left wondering. “The crew that run that place have no idea what ‘appens in the real world” Rick marches out as rigid as he had marched in and gives me his knowing smile as he sidesteps lolly cabinet. He has just finished work and rode into town on his smelly 2 stroke pushbike. As he passed the cafe up the road a motorist attempting to park out front nearly bowled him, and the screaming pushie, into next week. Rick has never been a fan of the cafe or its owners and customers. He believes they all have too much money and time on their hands. The cafe arrived in town a decade ago and has slowly built up a vast patronage of coffee drinkers and foodies. The cafe is really a restaurant but the customers who attend love to play out their cafe lifestyle in their gorgeous car with their gorgeous dog around the gorgeous village. The cafe has attracted lots of interest in recent years including movie stars and tax dodgers. The owners are wealthy. They have spent fortunes making it look old and quaint. The money has attracted money. The car park has had a passing parade of elite vehicles nosed in. Porsche, Jaguar,