Every state has it's ghost towns. Weird places. very silent hill. Stranger still are those towns still clinging to life by the skin of their teeth, but most of them are just kidding themselves. It's refreshing, in a perverse way, to come into a dead town where the people know it, the animals know it, and even the buildings know it. You can see it in the way the paint peels, and the walls creak in the wind.
We pulled in that town by the bypass, the same one you drive past without a second glance. Poor old girl's day has been and gone, but she still slumps there, dejectedly, a few k down the road off the olympic highway. It looked bad when the main street could barely fit two cars across it, and the dust we kicked up in our hilux tasted like eighties hair gel. It was only seven or eight, but the place was quiet as a jew's savings withdrawal record. She was the 1985 tidy town winner, got a ceremony from the premier and all. But now it's quiet as fuck, once after five you can't find a feed like your arse in the dark. Potholed roads just as the locals like it, but a couple of nice spots on the outskirts. The only light was at the pub, and with a shrug of the shoulders we headed in for counter tucker. "Unlucky son." The barman told us. "The missus has gone off to bed. I can do a bowl of chips or some bread and butter." We looked at each other, ordered a round of skewies and a couple of LLBs for the driver, a bowl of chips to share. "Bar shuts at nine" he said, after I asked him
"A game of darts?" We asked the only other drinker in the place, an older bloke with worry lines that made a roadmap on his skin. Weatherbeaten and dry like an old leather couch that's been in a paddock for the best part of six months. He could see that we were blow-ins from the city, but were showing hospitality. We warmed soon enough when he chalked up a few points on the cork. He joked a bit as we worked our way through the drinks and bought the next round. He stammered once or twice, a little smashed but he could still stand so it seemed alright. He leaned over and asked if we were up for a challenge. "Test your talent, tell me a tale". We shrugged, not really thinking that our kind of tales would go down well here - It was me and three of my best mates from the old unit, and our main memories were those of pissing ourselves in the sand, under heavy fire from iraqi artillery and mortar teams while armor columns tracked up the path towards us. He shrugged again. "I'll start, then." I slurped my drink, slopped it down my front. Glad I wasn't driving, I ordered another. This old fella, he'd come into this town pretty early on. Tried his hand on the land, freight job with the state rail company. He said "This was a town of industry, so many years back. But brown years of drought and fire have left some fierce holes in the soil." He continued on, educating us to the trials and tribulations of this place. He says "You youngins probably don't wanna hear that. But I-" He stabs a thumb proudly towards his chest. "I served in Kokoda. Believe me son, we adapt." He all straightened up, intently listening now. This was a man who'd seen the worst kind of hell. "It's nothing to be sneered at, we all fought. This was a busy boom town, now become a back water. Because of the private sales, you see. It went Telstra, NAB then Australia post. But once that bypass went in-" he gestured vainly towards the direction of the main street leading out of town. "That was what killed us. We used to be a nice stop on the way into the city. But the big highway clamped our arteries nicely, didn't it just?" He sat back down into his seat and shut his eyes, falling asleep. The barman had heard this all before, pointed o the clock. Nine.
This whole area was once thick with outlaws and rough working men. I felt like a stranger. The air here, was thin and dry as the local newsrag that went around once a month. The days felt as long as the highway we came in from, the locals never thought they'd be so glad to see the diesel smoke whenever a semi came in on the freight route, stop-over for the night reminding them of the old days. They built a war memorial at the cemetery, after the great war. Locals aside, it's had two visits in the past century, by their local M.P who lives in the city. The traino's shut, the only way north is by one of the bi-weekly buses. The roadhouse has yellow postcards of roast lamb and peas, untouched by humajn hands since a long since retired waitress set them up on a rack twenty odd years ago.This fellow was jovial, and friendly. It won't be all over till the last beer's poured. Man, it's more than ceremonial. We gave one last cheers, raised the schooners in respect, downed our drinks and paid up. It was a full moon, and we had a long way to go before we got back to the city.