Warren is west, can’t tell you exactly where, I can’t remember. I think I am excused, only went once, only stayed a week and it was the 80’s.
“You can make a shitload of money on the cotton” he said, not a mate of Wayne’s just someone my new lover knew from something or other. I can’t remember his name or his girlfriend’s. The two of them, however, became our travel companions. That is – they travelled in some kind of four-wheel-drive comfort while we happily bobbed along in Wayne’s no-frills but loyal blue van. We had absolutely nothing in common with them but the guy had the contacts so it was practical for us. We needed money.
We left Byron Bay early after packing and repacking the van with everything from wok to guitar. We headed west on the narrow Oxley Hway and by sundown finally staggered into Dulcies’ cotton farm office, come depot. I think her name was Dulcie. Our names were made up on the spot together with tax file numbers. We both wanted to do the right thing and pay tax but I lacked a working visa at the time and Wayne was on the dole. In the 80’s in the Great Southland, you could make things up as you went and get away with it. If Dulcie suspected foul play she apparently felt to play along.
We found a house to rent that same afternoon and I am pretty sure Dulcie had a hand in that pie. Dulcie may well have had her hand in all pies of Warren at that time. Dulcie is most likely long gone, dear intimidating Dulcie a blokey woman in checkered shirt and work boots who possibly chewed tobacco and most assuredly liked beer, a lot.
We were told the truck would pick us up 5am next morning. It was pitch black and we were both half asleep as we pulled on shorts, singlets, socks and sneakers. Hat was a must of course; a hat with the legendary corks hanging of strings along the brim would have been brilliant. The truck beeped and I followed Wayne out. On the back of the ute, a bunch of strangers hobbled together. Wayne jumped up before helping me who managed with less fluency. It felt as if everyone stared at me. A long legged blonde who’s ‘Hello’ made it clear to everyone that she was from another hemisphere or a different universe all together.
Wayne seemed at home within a couple of minutes chatting away with everyone. I felt extremely uncomfortable after my first awkward ‘Hello’, had no idea what to say next and had no idea what any one else was saying. My English in school was excellent but as I had learned since landing down under, my Australian was not. I had travelled a little along the east coast and had accepted jokes and platitudes forever flying high above my head. However I could hold conversations, understand and be understood. Here in Warren it was all too hard. It was broad and slow but fast at the same time. I gave up and just smiled and stared out over the landscape.
Our allocated job description was to walk mile after mile on cotton fields without end, chipping tiny, new to the world, weeds. In the morning it was always a chill in the air and quite pleasant after you got your body warmed up working. By 10 it was hot and flies filled the air. That’s when you wished for the hat with corks on strings. The flies were relentless in their landing attempts in ears and nostrils or the favoured destination inside your mouth. It was hard hours with only one 20min break – hot sandwiches with lukewarm water under a scorching sun, relentless bantering and me the awkward blonde chic.
With my Swedish work ethics I spent every day chipping away on my own since I couldn’t get the lingo or the jokes and was myself totally weird to the Warrenites.
Wayne, I didn’t see that much of. He fitted right in as per usual. He hung with the locals clustered around, being the star of the month, the exciting, handsome surfer from Byron with the gift of the gab and plenty of jokes up his sleeve.
After a week of hard yakka and feeling like a total outsider – with our first meager pay in my blistering hands – Wayne thought we should move on to something different all together. I was happy too keep living on a shoestring so we packed the van straight away and left Warren for a little place called Alectown which is another story.
Footnote: Since I wrote this memory down I have of course done a search online.
Warren is a town of rich pastures by Macquarie River, on Oxley Highway, 525k’s north west of Sydney. It had a population of around 1500 people in 2011. The area was occupied by Ngiyambaa tribe before the white settlers arrived in the early 1800’s. Warren station was established in 1845 and the town started taking off in the 1860’s with first a postoffice, then a shop, later a school and finally a railway at the end of that century. There are some buildings from that era still standing in town. The heritage listed, Macquarie marshes just north of Warren with a size of nearly 20,000 hectares is home to some 227 bird species including pelicans and in season 1000’s of galahs. Warren is the wool and cotton capital of NSW.