Saturday, November 05, 2011

Pubs, daughters & the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels

As someone fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of human life, I love the sometimes randomness of it all.

I have mentioned before that eldest works on a part time basis at the Newmarket, a hotel not far from where we used to live in Rosebery. Those who live in Sydney may well know the pub and the bowling alley next door - it's owned by the same people - because it's on the corner of two main drags, Botany and Gardeners Roads.

It's a very busy pub with a significant local clientele. The tour buses from the Blue Mountains and outer suburbs visiting the factory outlets that dot the area also call there for lunch, making for a very busy bistro. Helen has been working there for several years now, part time during term, more during holidays.

My work as a management consultant means that I have had to learn to watch and listen. To improve things, you really have to understand how things work in the first place. If, as is so often the case, you change things without really understanding what actually happens on the ground, then mess results.

   I don't spend a lot of time at the pub. However, I do sit at the bar sometimes when waiting for her.

Helen is one of the still small but growing number of urban young without a driver's license, put off by the time, cost and hassle now involved in getting one. This worries me from time to time, for absence of a license can be a significant problem in an emergency.

Monday night was a case in point.

Helen plays netball two nights a week. On Monday, one of her friends (Grace) took Helen to netball in her car. During the game, Grace fell heavily, so another girl drove Helen and Grace to hospital in Grace's car. Helen then rang her mum who drove across to Royal North Shore Hospital to stay with them until Grace could be seen and then bring Helen home. It turned out to be a late night. Then early the following morning, I drove Helen to Mosman to collect her mobile on the way to work. Grace's mobile battery was flat, so Helen had left the phone in case Grace needed to contact her parents.

A small story, but it does illustrate the importance of driver's licenses. Mind you, I don't mind driving Helen. It actually gives me at least the illusion of the usefulness I once had when the girls were still at school!

Sitting at the bar nursing a light beer with my management consulting hat on while Helen finishes up is quite interesting. Dear that girl's efficient. There is no wasted effort. It's not just a question of pouring a beer or serving another type of drink. Some customers pay in cash, some with EFTPOS. Most have membership cards that need to be swiped. These cards provide special benefits. All this is mixed with transactions from the Sportstab area.

From a pub viewpoint, turnover depends upon fast service. It also depends upon courteous service, especially to keep the regulars happy. 

Serving up to five people at a time, mostly regulars, Helen has the process down to an art form with no wasted effort.

I said that I was fascinated by the randomness of it all. Yesterday, I was due to pick Helen up at six. She rang me a bit after five to say that the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels were visiting the pub, and I might like to come and watch. She didn't have many details, but knew that I was interested in the history. I hopped in the car and drove off. In due course, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels appeared and danced.

Now there is a back story here that took me a little while to put together.

Most Australians know the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels as the Papuan villagers who helped the Australian troops in the often dreadful fighting against the Japanese along the Kokoda Track in 1942. One of the most iconic photos shows one of the Angels helping a wounded Australian soldier.

While the work of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels was well known in this country, it took a long time for the Australian Government to formally recognise their help. That recognition was aided by the growing interest in Australia in the story of Kokoda Track and the opening of the Trail to walkers. The terms Track and Trail are used interchangeably.

This year 3 November, the date in 1942 on which victory was unofficially declared on the Track, was officially dedicated as Kokoda Day. To mark the event, a group of dancers from Kokoda village plus one of the original Fuzzy Wuzzies, the son of a second,were brought to Australia with support from QANTAS. As part of their visit, they were also involved in the unveiling of a commemorative statue at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Rhodes in Sydney's Inner West.

It was this group that was to perform at the Newmarket. Now sitting at the bar, I had no idea of all this background. Indeed, I had no idea what to expect at all!

The main bar at the Newmarket has a small stage in the corner, with an open area in front. As I waited, chairs were place on the stage, and a group of dancers came out dressed in traditional costumes including bare breasted girls, accompanied by three Papuans in suits who sat on the stage.

The dances began, accompanied by hand held drums and singing. I was quite fascinated, as were most of the other patrons.

I hadn't seen Papuan dancing, nor heard Papuan singing. I suppose that I had expected it to be like the Aboriginal equivalent, but it had a more African feel because of the drums and rhythms.

I was also struck by the small stature of those involved.

The Papuan and New Guinea people I have known (a number started coming to my old school on scholarship as boarders during my last years at TAS) were generally shorter than some of the taller local students, but I have actually never been to PNG.

I suppose my eyes have been conditioned by the big boned Polynesians who have a significant presence in Australia and especially in Rugby Union.

At the end of the performance, the group leader introduced everybody and explained the significance of the visit. It was then that I realised the importance of the back story. Me being me, this led me to go off and check details, and then too write this story.

I still have no idea how the group came to perform at the Newmarket. Presumably someone knew someone. I do feel honoured and grateful to have been there.     


Legal Eagle said...

That's an awesome little story about the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. Hope Helen's friend Grace was okay after her fall.

Jim Belshaw said...

It was a nice story, LE. Grace is okay, but Dee was right to be worried. They were talking about letting her go once the physio had seen her. Dee felt otherwise. Turned out to be a fractured vertebrae and, I think, a crushed disk. Not as bad as it sounds, but she will be out of netball for ten weeks.