Grey whiskered and check-shirted, the singer (above) strummed his guitar on an outdoor stage in the beer garden, with crude painted letters claiming “Reflections of the Aussie Spirit Show – 100% Outback Stralian”
The irony was not lost on our Americans Ed and Rita, especially when a few number’s later Col Kerley swung into Willie’s “Back On The Road Again”. But this was the colourful side of Australia our friends from San Diego enjoyed best when they came Down Under.
The beer was ice-cold, a mirrored disco ball dangled incongruously from the roof and the “Beer and Barra” buffet special was too good to resist.
Then there’s the donated personal stuff from all parts of the body – head to toe and all bits in between. The pub reckons it has the original thong tree. Signed caps hanging in the bar must now number in their thousands. T-shirts autographed in rough and witty language hang on rows of pegs. Hats and footie shirts cover more of the walls.
A few years back one girl grateful for a cold beer slung her bra over a rod near the ceiling. Now dozens of red, black, yellow and grimed white cups, AA to Double G, are up there.
A couple of girls more recently displayed even greater enthusiasm for their coldies and went a step further than tossing their bra off. A discreet ruffle of assorted knickers is also now growing above the bar.
The tradition of leaving something behind at Daly Waters was started about 80 years ago when Bill and Rita Pearce opened a Drovers’ Store to cater for the tough men shifting cattle in the Territory. Legend has it that drovers’ taking mobs to towns would leave behind some money on a post. If they blew their pay the way drovers were wont to do before heading home they could at least be assured of beer at the Daly Waters pub.
Explorer John McDouall Stuart named Daly Waters after the governor of South Australia, Dominic Daly, when he came across “the fourth chain of ponds” on June 10, 1861.
A smart service station now sits on the Stuart Highway at the junction of the Carpentaria Highway, 360km south of Katherine, but travellers in the know always slip five or six kilometres off the highway to soak up the character of the old pub.
In the winter months they arrive by the thousand, mainly to overnight at the caravan park and enjoy the buffet and ballads that run nightly. We want an unpowered site. The Irish and French girls in the bar send us 80m down the road to where the big Stop sign is at the gate.
Mike the caretaker, up from South Australia for the six-month season, is exasperated. The unpowered sites are at the overflow space across the road.
“We were told to come here,’ I say meekly.
“The girls didn’t radio through,” he says sternly. “They would send you to Tennant Creek if you didn’t watch them.”
He hops on a little motorbike and escorts us back up the road to the unpowered sites. It’s been hectic since April. He’s been putting hundreds on sites every night. “This is just starting to ease off a bit now.”
It doesn’t appear that way. Col in the beer garden sings again at night and says he’ll be heading back to South Australia soon. The regular singer, Chilli, had to go back home pretty early in the season so Col’s been filling in every night for months. The “100% Outback Stralian” proclamation is Chilli’s, which is why Col can shove American and anything else he damned well likes into his repertoire.