The Kimberley Hotel has two garden bars. One is out the back, beside the pool. On the sunny cooler days of the dry season, when there is no need for air conditioning, it is a popular place for patrons to sit and drink. There is an open passage past the restaurant dining room to the main bar. There, the pool tables are populated by players, who bet money, cigarettes or beer on the outcome of the games. In the front, there is a veranda with tables where bar meals are eaten and another garden bar where on Thursday nights the weekly trivia quiz is held.
This particular Saturday afternoon I was out on the veranda drinking my usual lemon lime and bitters. I was only there on the off chance of a conversation with someone interesting. My bike was parked outside and I was hoping to have a chat with any bikers passing through. I figured the best place to meet them would be the hotel.
The pub was noisy as usual with the buzz of conversation, the knock of billiard balls, and the occasional shout of victory, or a cry of “unlucky!” after a missed shot. On a high stool at the bar behind the pool tables, an old aboriginal gentleman sat quietly alone, sipping a beer. He stepped out onto the veranda for a few minutes to smoke a thin, carefully rolled cigarette. Then he returned to his stool with his beer. He was a handsome old man, with white hair and beard, bushy eyebrows and a weathered face from which his dark eyes twinkled with cheerful humour. He looked for all the world like a kindly old blackfeller Santa.
Outside, a tourist bus pulled up and disgorged its passengers. There seemed to be dozens of them, mostly retirees, by the look of it. They all made a rush for the bar and ordered enough beers and glasses of wine to keep the bar staff busy for a full fifteen minutes. Some also ordered meals and went to imbibe their drinks on the veranda as they waited for the food to arrive. The noise of conversation doubled. One of the tourists, an elderly Englishman with a northern accent, eyed the old Aboriginal gentleman for a while. He seemed to make up his mind about something. Picking up his beer he sidled over and sat on the next stool.
“G’day” he said. “Are you local?”
“Yep.” Said the old man.
“And you’re Aboriginal, right?”
The old man held his arm out beside the Englishman’s. His black skin was answer enough, but “yep” he said laconically.
“Can I ask you a favour then?” said the Pom. We’ve just come up the Tanami from Alice Springs. I bought a boomerang down there. I did not get a chance to ask anyone to show me how to throw it. And I’d like to get a few shots of a real indigenous person throwing a boomerang, to take home. Will you throw it for me?”
The old man looked dubious. “I don’t think so mate” he said.
“I’ll buy you a beer”.
“Alright then. Where’s the stick?”
The Englishman went out to the bus and returned in a few minutes with an enormous boomerang and a digital camera.
The old man took the boomerang and walked out past me to the edge of the veranda. He raised it and threw it towards the bus. Then he turned round and walked straight back to his stool by the bar. He finished his beer in a few swallows, in anticipation of the promised fresh one. The Englishman had started clicking with his camera as soon as the old chap stepped on to the veranda. He walked out, still clicking, following the boomerang with his lens as it veered left away from the bus, lifting and spinning through the air. Over the bus it flew, out over the road beyond and back around high over the trees beside the pub. He ran around behind it, trying to track it as it flew. Chasing it, he disappeared from my sight around the corner of the building. I expected the projectile would land in the pool. I waited to hear the splash, but I was surprised at what happened next.
The boomerang came flying down the passage from the back of the hotel and skittered past the old man’s feet, coming to a halt under the pool table, not more than two metres from where he sat. The pool players went silent looking at it, and at the old man sitting calmly on his stool. A few seconds later the tourist followed it, gushing with enthusiasm.
“That was incredible! That passage is only a few feet wide!” He took a few shots of the boomerang where it had landed and picked it up. Then he went over to the bar and bought the promised beer. “Could you do that again?” he asked. “For another beer? I didn’t get a shot of it flying around the back of the hotel”.
The old man shook his head. “I only do that once a year” he said. “Come back next year.”
The tourist looked disappointed, and for a moment seemed about to try to persuade the old fellow, but it was plain the old man was resolute, so with a sigh of resignation the tourist accepted the decision and patted the old man on the shoulder. “Thanks again. That was really amazing. Wait till I tell them about this back in Kettlewell.”
He went over and sat down with his fellow travellers. He showed them the pictures he had taken on the screen of his camera. There was a murmur of appreciation as he told the story of what they had missed. A few of them raised their drinks to the old man, but he was not looking their way.
After a minute or so the old gentleman rolled himself another cigarette, picked up his beer, and came out onto the veranda to light the rolly.
“That was a great throw” I said.
“Bugger that” he said. “I was taken away when I was eight. I was raised at the mission. That is the first time I’ve ever thrown a bloody boomerang”.