Food Safari 15: Colly bowlo

The place where I grew up in northern England was home to about 2,500 people, seven pubs and The Club. The pubs were all of a type: open fires, dartboards, lots of singing. It was the 1970s but, apart from the funny haircuts and decimal currency, a body from the 1870s would have felt totally at home.

The Club was different. It was attached to the shoe factory where my mam worked, as did everyone else’s mam. There were only two reasons why young folk went to The Club: (a) all the pubs were shut; or (b) there was a “do” on – a wedding reception, a birthday, a wake. There would be sandwiches in summer and, in winter, pie and peas or hotpot with slabs of black pudding.

I’m not much of a club person and each time I went through the doors of The Club I felt like I’d surrendered a little of my soul. The vampire glare of the strip lights, the dull chug of the fruit machine swallowing another pensioner’s loose change, the curling carpet tiles and sticky lino.

But clubs are where the teachers’ union holds its meetings, and so on Thursday I found myself and the rest of the Lightning Ridge branch driving down the corrugated dirt road to Colly. It was my idea, taking the back road, because it’s about 20 minutes faster than going the long way via the bitumen. Unfortunately this time-saving venture was not well received by the branch secretary  who sat – rattled, deafened and grim-faced – in the back of my Subaru “shit box”, occasionally barking “What?” and “I can’t bloody well hear you back here!” Oops.

[Photo taken from the Colly Club’s Facebook page.]

The inside of the club looked like a bazillion clubs the world over. Kino scrolling away in the background, Thursday night football on the (not so big) screen.

To the left was a dance area and stage and, oh lovely!, and old pianner at the side, next to the faded picture of a youthful QE II.

The Colly Club’s proper name is something like the Collarenebri War Memorial Bowling Club. There are several honour rolls to those who served in various conflicts. So many of them. Colly must have been quite the place back in the day.

Or maybe never. This 7-minute video by rail enthusiast IDU Curiosity tells the story of how Colly was dudded by Walgett over a century ago. The two towns were growing at similar rates, but there was a race on to see who could get the critical rail infrastructure first. Due to financial finagling, Colly’s railhead stopped nine miles short of town, while Walgett’s made it all the way in. Which is one of the reasons why Colly fell into decrepitude while Walgett went on to become the wealthy, bustling and successful metropolis that it is today.

The honour board stood in stark contrast to the awards cabinet. I’m guessing Colly hasn’t produced too many champion bowlers in recent years. Or maybe they were being polished?


We went to the meeting place, a glassed-off area next to the dance hall. It was hard to imagine exactly what this glassed off area would be used for; it was long and narrow so we were strung out like peas in a pod. But it did have the world’s funkiest seating.

The good folk at the Colly Club had opened up the kitchen just for us. They even brought out little pizzas while we settled and got the meeting under way.

Being the designated minutes-taker I deemed it necessary to have something substantial to see me through so I went for the lamb cutlets. They came with mash, chips and vegetables.

I wonder if the cutlets came from the Colly Butcher? I want to go there and blog about it one day as the butcher in Colly is legendary. At Christmas it produces eight trillion hams that get shipped out all over the Western Slopes. Why Colly should happen to have a globally famous butcher is beyond me, but they’re doing something right. The cutlets were grand.

As you can see from the picture above, the general colour scheme of the food was, like the club itself, brown and yellow. B went for the mixed grill. It would have nobbled me but he has a big frame and tackled it manfully. (This picture is deceptive. It was frighteningly bottomless: there were at least 3 metric tonnes of meat concealed beneath that steak. Each time he ate something, two new pieces of something else magically took its place.)

The most difficult blog posts to write are those about things like lamb cutlets at Colly bowlo. What am I trying to do or say, and why? I can be a rude and tactless person at time. I take pictures of things with my phone because they frame themselves and I feel compelled to capture them, but a picture like the one below can come across as some snarky piss-take.

Yes, it does make me smile. And ache at the same time. The honour board, the empty trophy cabinet, the Kino scrolling ever onwards like time itself regardless of those who come and go before it.

The Club in my home town, the one by the shoe factory, makes me heavy and warm at the same time in the same way. Is The Club my first port of call when I go back to Cumbria? No, it’s not even second or fifth or ninety-ninth. But I’ve made dozens of memories beneath its strip lights. It’s where we had the do after mam’s funeral, and dad’s too. A stranger would wander in there in see nothing but the vinyl chairs and curling carpet tiles and neglected honour board.

The Colly Club mightn’t be all it once was, when the keys on the piano were being hammered and the dance floor was full of the men and women whose now forgotten names appear on the honour board. But I was welcomed warmly there, and treated with the cheerful, egalitarian respect so rare in the modern world but so common in these parts. I’d gladly eat there again.

But, at the secretary’s silent insistence, I did take the bitumen route home.

Food Safari 7: Hon Doo, Walgett

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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?)

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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.

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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.