Any man who has the opportunity to get his light-rigid licence and fails to do so is a fool.
I went to the RTA to see Angie (RTA lady and newly crowned Opal Queen) and, at only the second go, passed my theory test. I can now (theoretically) lash an uneven load of timber and I know (in theory) how many rest breaks to take in a 72-hour period. Go me.
All I need to do now is learn how to actually drive a real light-rigid thing. Luckily, Bill and Naomi offered to sit in with me on the school’s Big Bus and we made a date for Saturday lunch in Hebel, with me driving. We hit the road at about half eleven one Saturday and headed north. The roads on either side were lush and green following the recent rains, so different from the dull khaki of a couple of months ago. The bus drives like a gigantic whale, wallowing and yawing on the outback roads. It was, in other words, neither light nor rigid.
We hit Hebel about 40 minutes later. On the eastern side of the highway was the shop, where Naomi wanted to get lunch. On the western side was the pub, where Bill wanted to go. We went west.
I’d been told about the Hebel pub and its famous sloping bar. It didn’t let me down.
It’s not very big, the Hebel pub, but it is very old. It was a Cobb & Co. staging house back in the 19th century, and hasn’t been painted since 1911. (One of these facts is true.) The walls are decked out with shearers’ singlets.
And stencils for wool bales. It’s all very old school.
The man behind the counter (I would say “the barman” but I’m not sure that he wasn’t just somebody from Hebel who happened to have a bit of time on his hands) poured us our drinks and directed us to the demountable hereafter referred to as “the bistro”.
Look, it’s too easy to take the piss out places like Hebel, especially when you’ve just blown in from the bustling megalopolis of Lightning Ridge. But, at the same time, some places just make it too easy. I mean, come on, guys!
We got chatting to an older couple who were heading to Winton on the Dinosaur Trail. The female of the pair did a circuit of the bistro’s “games room” and said that the bistro needed a woman’s touch. It occurred to me that this was a potentially sexist statement and that men are just as capable as women of making cosy, welcoming environments but I thought, what the hell, this is Hebel, so I nodded in agreement.
The menu was the usual pub fare. One of the mystery items was “finger bowl”, which set us all to wondering. Turns out it was not a dish of warmed water to accompany our prawns but a huge un-bowl-like plate of hot chips and dim sims. Queensland sure ain’t Kansas, Toto!
I went to get a second round in. The barman pointed out that there weren’t any more glasses left behind the bar so I went back and got our originals. It’s that kind of pub.
While our food was being drenched in scalding animal fat I went for a tour of the grounds. There was a dog that wanted you to kick a busted old footie. And an old lock-up, where I’m guessing many a shearer slept off a skinful back in the day. As I was taking this photo a notice that a man was having a piss up against the next building. I’ve cropped the picture to avoid causing distress to sensitive viewers.
After our delicious meal we took a turn around Hebel. There’s a lovely little school there with eight hardy souls enrolled. The grounds were very beautiful and well appointed. Those kids will, I hope, look back fondly on their years there.
We went past the shop opposite the pub, and Naomi pointed out the food that people were bringing out. It all looked much nicer than the finger bowl from the pub. Bill pretended not to notice.
We were drawn to a brown sign on a fence. It said, “Hebel Historical Circle”. The circle has a park for the kiddies and, next to it, a circle.
It’s a Bicentennial project, this circle. I felt a warm glow of nostalgia. I remember those days! There was a time when Australia was awash with Bicentennial money, and all kinds of daft and unlikely projects got government cash thrown at them. I was living in Alice Springs at the time and every weekend a group of sunburnt patriots would appear in town, pushing wheelbarrows or space-hoppering their way around Australia for the Bicentenary.
The circle is just that: a circle, with interpretive signs every few paces with moderately interesting facts about Hebel.
Did you know that:
- Dan Kelly and Steve Hart weren’t killed at Glenrowan, but escaped and hid out at Hebel.*
- When Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859, Hebel became an important site for customs duty collection? (Yes, youngsters, this was before Federation!)
- Major Thomas Mitchell camped out near Hebel in 1846.
- The pub didn’t have draught beer during the Second World War, only bottled beer. The pile of empties next to the pub was so big and glistened so brightly in the sun that it could be seen by aircraft and was used as a navigation aid for planes flying between Sydney and Hong Kong.
- Hebel is the birthplace Tom Dancey, an Aboriginal sprinter who won the Stawell Gift in 1910. His trainers, ever thoughtful of Dancey’s best interests, kept the £1,000 prize but did allow him to keep the blue ribbon and silver cup.
- Another Aboriginal sportsman born in Hebel is Tommy Chapman, Australian featherweight boxing champion in 1944.
- Tommy’s brother, Victor, was another Hebel-born legend. Victor was a fluent Yuwaalaraay speaker who went on to become Australia’s first Aboriginal school headmaster.
That is a pretty bloody impressive list!
There were some more recent signs too, such as the one about the big hailstorm that nearly wiped Hebel off the map. The sign has a picture of then Queensland Big Cheese Peter Beattie and a youthful Anna Bligh smiling at the camera.
I would say that, if you’re ever passing through Hebel, (a) stop and look at the Historical Circle and (b) eat at the shop, not the pub.
There was one last surprise for me as I was navigating the 20-seater whale across the highway: pet rabbits are illegal in Queensland! Brilliant!
Thank you, Hebel, for a grand afternoon.
* I think even people from Hebel don’t really believe this.