The first Federation meeting of the year took us down the Castlereagh Highway in the bouncy bus, with the redoubtable Bill at the wheel, to the RSL at Walgett.
(I just had to look up “redoubtable”. When it came into my head it seemed like the right word to describe Bill. You know how when you think a word seems just right, but then someone asks you to define it and you don’t actually know what it means? That.)
We were sharing a room in the RSL with the Thursday night poker crew. I like playing cards but poker has always baffled me. It belongs in American films, the ones where the men wear those little clip things on their arms to hold their sleeves up, and green shades, and fat havanas hanging out of their gobs. It’s all a bit lairy and flashily intimidating. If I ever did play a single game I’d lose every penny in about ten minutes. This poker crowd seemed quite cheerfully Australian though and there wasn’t a fat havana amongst them, but I couldn’t be persuaded to have a crack. I’ll stick to old maid and gin rummy.
We had the meeting bit, the bit where people reluctantly get voted into positions on committees, then we had a bit more meeting where we got inflamed about the ethically-neutral buttknuckles in government who are busily tearing down every institution that several generations of Australians spent creating. Building a sandcastle on the beach is slow, hard work, and it’s huge fun to kick someone else’s to pieces. This is what if feels like now: the world is ruled by the gloating idiots, kicking down other people’s achievements and laughing as they do so.
The soothing click of poker chips. The low drone of raffle announcements (“this week’s Hot Cash winner is member 2391 in Narrabri”). The murmur of teachers avoiding being elected as secretary or women’s contact officer. And then we’re interrupted by The Ode for the Fallen; we stand and say, “Lest we forget”. A reminder of other kinds of sacrifice from the past.
With the meeting over it was time to hit Walgett’s world famous Hon Doo Restaurant, the venue for Food Safari #7. By this time I was absolutely starving.
It must be a tough gig, running the Chinese restaurant in a small regional town. No matter how good you are there will always be people who make snarky comments about dogs and cats, but I couldn’t resist snapping this picture on the menu. Is it really a Mongolian lamb? It looks more like a cross between a goat and a dachshund!
But here’s the good news: the food was great! A few people made that “Oh my gosh, the servings are so huge! I’ll never eat all that!” And then they did. (And luckily I’m thinking this in my head but not writing it down: it’s always women who say that. Oops. Did I really think that out loud?)
I had the chicken with sliced mushrooms, which is probably not even a Chinese meal. I don’t think anyone had the Mongolian lamb but everyone seemed very satisfied.
I had a conversation with a male colleague who, upon monstering his pork balls, uttered the exclamation “Yummo!” I cannot say this word. If I think of any word I think, firstly, “Can I imagine my father saying that?” It seems impossible for my dour Northern dad to ever have said that, and so I can’t either. My meal was … nice and tasty.
With the meal over we boarded the bouncy bus and the implacable Bill drove us out of Walgett, past the soldier standing guard atop the monument on the roundabout, past the servo, and back up the Castlereagh.
I don’t know if it was all these reminders of the past – the RSL, the Ode, the discussion around rights won and lost – but I had a memory of my dad. He was at his happiest when he had his grandchildren around him and they were scoffing their dinner, and would beam at them and say, “Yummo!”. I can’t believe that I’d forgotten that, or had chosen to.
Walgett gets slagged off for lots of things, and I don’t know how much of it’s true and how much rubbish. But I can give Hon Doo the Learning About Lightning tick of approval.
Hon Doo food is indeed (deep breath) yummo.