pom on a hot tin roof

V’s home deserves the name “compound”. From the road it seems to be a big Queenslander bungalow house (though not on stilts), painted yellow and purple, with a neat little ute-roost garage space and huge covered verandah floored in part with wooden boards that conceal an empty swimming pool. The house is dark, and a bit grubby; only the kitchen and bathroom and show any signs of regular use. There are three empty bedrooms besides V’s, sporting tattered stickers and broken toys, one of which I’m currently occupying.

Unlike many of the other houses, where there’s a band of clearly cultivated garden around the house, a line of storm drains where the road starts, and an uncertain no-man’s-land of ant nests and scrubby green/red in between, V has neatly walled off a large square space south of the house with metal fences. The west wall is lined with flowerbeds, and an impressive little vegetable garden; on the southern side, there are big aviary cages and a little burgundy tool shed. The east has a neat lawn, under a spreading tree, and the southeast corner is the porch section I’ve been helping finish.

The whole compound was once grass, apparently, but a long time ago V dug up the centre, tiled and carpeted it and roofed the section over (though without walling it off.) He’s filled it with tables, barbecues, storage rooms, a birdcage, fridges, beds, a water cooler, a big TV, a bulletin board, a fan that belongs on a film set creating wave effects. There are big old photos of a much-younger V in front of huge lorries loaded with logs. He spends most of his time here in this open-walled house; it’s like an outdoor home as much as anything else, and much more inhabited-feeling than the actual house. A raised gatehouse-looking segment that looks out imposingly on the sawmill courtyard to the west compounds (a-ha) the fortified feeling, though all it contains is a storage room and a toilet.
The whole place gives the wonderful impression of having been built in stages, extension upon extension. It’s all intensely personalised, with little metal flamingos and fibreglass cockatoos, and V’s home-made signs, made of screws driven through bottle caps, showing TOILET HERE TIS and
LIL FELLAS ->
<- BIG FELLAS
add greatly to the character.
There are two dogs, and two small squawky many-coloured birds that amble around their cage on beaks and claws, fight on hot days and snuggle up together during storms, and look intently at you when you’re holding fruit.

Not content with letting me into his house, V has been giving me actual work (although much more in the first week than subsequently), most of it involving either plants or tiles. There are plenty of lawns around the sawmill, the empty house next door and V’s neat wood-panelled office (full of intricately made wooden toys and a beautifully painted outback scene on a big saw blade), and although the petrol mowers keep dying on me for various reasons (the starter cord snapped after a vigorous yank; after replacement, the handle at its end came off. Twice. Then the spark plug stopped firing) it’s simple, easy work. We’ve had a good batch of storms lately, and the grass grows well. V has also been building an open, breezeblock-walled barbecue porch in the corner of the compound, much of which is now finished. The tiles for another section were being laid down by a wonderful, characterful Spanish builder (“Manuel Fuentes? Espanol?”
“Si, senor.”
“:D”
“:D”)
but he’d bought a job-lot of second-hand tiles still striped with grotty, grouty adhesive, and in order to re-lay them the adhesive would have to go. That was a four-day job, as the estimates of the numbers of tiles required kept increasing. Chipping at the adhesive itself with a chisel was a mug’s game, and scraping vigorously at it with a steel brush only slightly better (although I think I’ve developed some actual muscle tone as a result of all the effort.) Soaking the tiles in a drum of water made the stuff marginally more yielding, and soaking them overnight in some strange petrochemical solution V had worked much better. On the third day, Manuel produced a power drill with a brush head, which was barely-controllable but tore the stuff off with a vengeance; it only had a short battery life, but that suited me fine, as Manuel had a charger and multiple spares, and the regular need to pull a battery pack free from the grip and slam another home made me feel all operator.
I also spent a fun day using a hosepipe, wooden stick and bare hands to cleaning out the gutters from all the seed pods, flower-petals and general mulch that had accumulated in them, although I was surprised at one point to find the swirling muck leaping out from under my fingers and resolving into a pair of fat green frogs, which looked at me reproachfully. It was pretty slow work, and my hand was covered in scrapes by the end; they build houses out of some sharp stuff in these parts.

Another day, we drove across town to a mobile slaughterhouse, a double lorry of steel sheds, and loaded vast crates of meat onto the back of the ute; it took two journeys to get it all back to Chez V, and several hours to pack all the various steaks, dollops of mince, and huge strings of beef sausages into freezer bags and the deep-freeze.
I’m only working about a third of the hours I’d like to be, but the hourly rate is good and it’s nice and relaxing here, sitting in the shade reading novels on the Kindle and writing my own in the evenings underneath a whirring fan. I’ve taken a stab at NaNoWriMo (write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November) and while I didn’t want to announce it ahead of time (or publicly post any work-in-progress writing, which is terribly indulgent), I’m well on target to finish properly. It’ll be a lot more work to have it in any properly readable/releasable state, but it feels like a good story.

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Once a jolly ranger rode out through the Hither-lands,
“I’m going to find what’s Beyond,” said he,
But he sang as the devils swooped down in their multitudes,
“Who’ll come exploring the Hinter with me?”

Up came the ranger, riding to the crater rim,
Down came the cliffside in a storm of scree,
And he sang as he dug his krad out of the mountainside,
“Who’ll come exploring the Hinter with me?”

Out rode the ranger, out into the wilderness,
There was no shelter, nor rock, nor tree,
And he sang as the cold wind snatched the clothes from off his back,
“Who’ll come exploring the Hinter with me?”

North went the ranger, seeking for a guiding star,
Drank from a stream by a sunless sea,
And he cursed as the poison ate him from the inside out,
“Who’ll come exploring the Hinter with me?”

Back came the ranger, dreaming of the Hither-lands,
Down ran his air-tanks, one, two, three…
And his ghost can be heard in the spin-wind and the engine-growl,
“Who’ll come exploring the Hinter with me?”

nullas anxietas

“So, C, I was wondering, am I a part-time or full-time employee for the purposes of the award?”
“Why are you asking?”
“I think I’m entitled to a few days of paid holiday.”
“Paid holiday? That’s not how it works here.”
“Really? I’ve seen the award G showed me, and legally, I’m pretty sure that is how it works.”
“How much are you being paid?”
“$16.85.” Which is, as everyone who’s asked has told me, is piss.
(He told me that due to immense amounts of dickering with lawyers in Rockhampton, they had a scheme by which this barely-above-minimum wage also covered my holiday allowance. I said that I didn’t think that was right. He insisted it was.)
“Oh. Well, no worries if that’s the case. Could I read the relevant paperwork, though?”
“What time is it?”
“Er… three minutes past eight.”
“Right, you’ll get paid until then, I’ll finish your shift.”
“Did… did you just fire me?”
“Fine you?”
“Fire.”
“Yeh.”

And thus end the Alpha Gateway status updates. This came on top of me having just transferred most of my money home to pay for Christmas presents and plane tickets to Melbourne, *and* on top of me having made several massive shopping trips to Emerald and thus having loads of food that needed refrigerating and eating. It could, in short, have come at a better time.

Since pretty much all the truckies and the various Poms who worked at the Gateway as backpackers before shacking up with an Aussie bloke and never coming back (of which there are three or four in this town – everyone seems to have worked here at some point, and almost none of them have a nice word to say about C) had warned me that C had a habit of fucking backpackers over with wild and gay abandon. Accordingly, I’d been planning a potential Operation Breakout in case shit hit fan and/or I got an offer of a better job out where Caroline is (which is some Aboriginal community even further from anywhere than here, and apparently rather Exciting – she’s been keeping an excellent blog about it here), so ten minutes after redundancy, I’d told my co-workers the news (to bleary “what the fuck”) and was ringing a bunch of phone numbers for places to crash. And an hour later, I’d returned Nola’s books, sold some of my frozen food to coworkers, had absolutely everything packed up and was being lifted by J to V’s, where I was put in an air-conditioned room and had my repeated offers of rent turned down.

I have several legal options, which my new hosts are strongly encouraging me to take, because apparently they do this sort of thing regularly and nobody’s had the balls/nous to take them down a peg over it. Additionally, it’s good legal practice and I’m rather annoyed at them. (I told G that I was concerned over their “deposit” bond a while ago and she told me extremely insistently that they weren’t the type to fuck their employees over. And now here we are.) So I’ve sent G a reasonable email asking for my outstanding pay and the return of the house deposit if they took it, on top of the reasonable email I sent last week asking for my late payslip. So far, I’ve had no response to either. If they aren’t forthcoming I intend to bring the full weight of Fair Work Australia down on their heads, starting with an unfair dismissal claim and finishing with a retroactive request for all the unpaid overtime at the start and end of each shift (for which I’ve got plenty of documentation.) What did they think was going to happen when they screwed over a wannabe lawyer, honestly?

For now, I need to see if V has enough work going to actually support me for the next few weeks (and if I can handle his fairly tough brand of physical labouring, which I don’t think will be a problem), and need to plan my way back down to Sydney for Christmas. Which I can now do entirely at my leisure.

This has all gone much less catastrophically than it could have, so far.

A Gateway Status Last Roundup:
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