Doing the Business
I’ve done a lot of work in Alice Springs with remote communities, the Northern Territory Education Department, NT Police, FaCSHIA and AFL and the NT AFL. I know the town well, including the odd hotel or two. The Todd River Tavern sits in the town centre in Alice Springs, just above the crossing over the Todd River. This story came from being in the Tavern one evening.
Many people see the Tavern as a rough place, and to some extent, it is. The main bar in particular has been home to many brawls. But it’s a place where a lot of Aboriginal people feel comfortable. Maybe it’s the pool tables down the far end, or the poker machines closer to the middle. There is always noise, and when brawls develop, loud noise.
There are stools around several high tables, a bar with lower stools and at the opposite end to the pool tables, a more genteel room.
I used to sit at a high table, watching people on the pokies or viewing action at the pool tables. One evening, after five o’clock, I sat with a pint watching the pool. An Aboriginal man came to me from one of the pool tables, drew up a stool and sat looking at my beer. He was dressed like a cowboy: check shirt, jeans, shin high boots and a stetson resting on his back, held by a chin strap. His hair was white, his face gnarled, wrinkled and covered in grey stubble but his eyes twinkled.
Without taking his eyes off my beer, he waved over his shoulder to the south, towards the Gap.
“Are you droving?”
He didn’t respond.
“Would you like a beer, old man?”
The eyes twinkled and a smile appeared, revealing a gap where a front tooth had once been.
When I placed a pint in front of him, I asked the usual, “Who’s your mob, old fella? Where you from?”
“Llyentye Apurta,” I said quietly.
“You know ‘im?”
“It means a clump of beefwood trees, that old lady told me.”
He took a large mouthful of his beer and considered me.
“The old woman who chairs the Council, ay?” I added.
He nodded as he swallowed.
“Why are you in town old boy?”
“So you’ve stayed here for little bit long time for more beers, ay?”
The eyes and the grin said it all.
“You been work big bit for whitefellas?” I inquired.
He shook his head. “No, little bit. Whitefella know bugger-all.”
“What do you mean, old man?”
“Whitefella meet ‘nother whitefella, shake hands, do business. If doin’ business make dollar, maybe they be friends, ay.”
“So what about blackfellas? How do they do business?”
He finished his beer and pointed at the empty glass. I knew an answer necessitated more action on my part.
When I returned with a beer and put it down, I got the same sparkle and grin.
“So, old man, how do blackfellas do business?”
He drank and wiped his lips on the sleeve of his shirt.
“Blackfellas meet, arks ‘who your mob, where you from’, and then we yarn, little bit long time so he know me and I know him. If we know each other proper way, then maybe we do business thing. But got to know peoples proper way first. Like us two do him, now.”