The Derby Dinner Dance

Today, Monday, we are beginning our next Travel Australia house-sitting assignment and our first in Tasmania. By lunchtime Neil and Liz have introduced us to our three hairy canine house mates for the next 35 days, save for Mika the cat who doesn’t do introductions.

We are actually living in what used to be the residence for the general store, shortly to be restored to its former role. Upon their return, the hard work in ‘restoring the store’ Anzac Day 2015 will see the birth of a new enterprise, coffee shop, takeaway and store combination.

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There are plans too for the small property next door which is home to some petrol bowsers and a small garage and this is where our elderly Nissan Urvan and trailer will live for the next month or so.

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We have an early dinner with our hosts and they head off to Launceston to be ready for an early flight in the morning. An overseas holiday beckons and they are keen to hit the road.

We are here, at last.

Tuesday morning dawned on Derby and upon us, clear as crystal, the sun pouring in through the old double sash windows. The air is crisp, very much like late autumn in more northern climes, the sun is warm and we seized the chance to sit on the verandah with a freshly brewed coffee and absorb our surroundings.

We are right on the main road, so traffic can be heavy, in peak sometimes up to 1 vehicle passes per minute.

This is Tasmania, only a quarter the size of our otherwise smallest state of Victoria and for us, the fulfillment of an unrequited desideratum for 20 years since our first fleeing visit when we could afford the time and cost of travel. A bantam sample of Europe in the southern hemisphere, more in common with the South Island of New Zealand than mainland Australia, this is like visiting another country and the strict regime of quarantine does nothing to dispel the notion.

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Across the road (mind the traffic) is the Federal Hotel and looking further down the street we see, well, not much actually. This has to be the prettiest village we have seen and certainly we’ve never had the chance to be ‘a local’ in such a place.

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Addressing a serious issue

We have been exceedingly lucky so far to have driven so many thousands of kilometres with steering that could not be described as in any way adequate. It was of great concern in Grafton and that was 2,000 kilometres ago.

The scary noises coming from the steering in some corners is creating a lot of tension and now, as if to reinforce the urgency, a strong vibration through the tail-shaft has made itself felt whenever the speed approaches 80 kilometres an hour. I feel fortunate we have a flat hard-stand available and possibly a friendly motor mechanic in the village to render some assistance or advice.

On Thursday morning I drove my faithful hard worker down to the local garage for an opinion. Johnathon said, “she looks pretty old and tired. Have you considered a trade-in?” I said, “I can’t do that, we’ve been married for 43 years”. He said “OK what about the campervan? The steering is shot and will cost a lot of money to fix, the clutch is probably glazed and will need to be replaced and the tail-shaft will need new universal joints. This is a big and expensive job.”

I was hoping he was going to tell me something else like “no worries, a few cheap parts, you can use my hoist and you’ll be done in no time”. He didn’t say that.

First, the dinner dance

The next day was Friday the 13th which nobody told me about and my thoughts were mainly about how I might be able to get a replacement clutch from Repco. All that was too hard to think about so we went across the road to the pub in the afternoon to get the low down on what we could expect tomorrow at the Derby Dinner Dance.

Some months prior to our arrival Liz asked us if we would like to attend the aforementioned event and as if seemed a good opportunity to meet a few locals, we agreed. Our expectations were not high, which is a very good way to approach a village dinner dance.

Saturday dawned a little over cast but that is of no consequence here apparently as one only needs to pop inside for a cuppa and return to an entirely different weather condition. In preparation for the big event we decided that a trip to the hairdressers was vital if we were to put our best foot forward. Less fortunately for me, Julie had acquired a barber set on-line and was enthused with the tantalizing  thought of learning a new skill.

We have three large dish-lickers in hand, two of them with long hair (Quinn and Kenzie) and Cormack, a short haired mutt about the size of a greyhound but thicker (in build if not intelligence). Of the two long hairs, one is very smart and brave, a lovely girl dog called Quinn and one is the opposite in every sense, a big boof-headed boy dog called Kenzie. Our short hair, friendly Cormack has boundless energy and running is his game. We’ve only known them for a couple of days but they are surprisingly good company, each dog being very affectionate and exceptionally well behaved.

Of the three, the standout is Quinn because of her uncanny intelligence. Every evening about 5.30 she would attract attention with a silent bark, something I have never seen before. She’d look you right in the eye and ‘mouth’ what could also be described as a polite request which it turns out is exactly what it is, but this is no ordinary request. Not for her, some common demand for food, she is asking if she could watch TV, for a little while, before dinner.

Her favourite shows are the cartoons but she likes the Simpsons too and also has her favourite movies. She also David Attenborough, or at least his subject matter, and Frost too, and shows about horses or dogs, anything really that runs.


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As I had not been cut (in the hirsute sense) for quite some time, Julie set up her barber pole in the anteroom beside the bathroom.

Both our long haired friends looked on with some interest (Cormack knew this did not apply to him) as I gingerly climbed upon the stool. All seemed to go well at the start until large clumps of white hair began to fall. Kenzie, despite being nearly all the same colour as me is however a big boof-head boy and didn’t quite get it but Quinn our four-legged black and white Einstein looked decidedly worried, obviously making the connection and concerned that same fate may await her.derby 15

Now I’m all for a bit of tantalization but I suspect that Quinn, like me, was having trouble understanding what may have been described as a cross between a brutal assault and a lap dance which is what it may looked like to a casual observer as well. My bellowing in pain may have added colour to the event as tufts of hair are gently pulled from their roots, caught up in the scissors hacking their way through the thick overburden that accumulates on the top of my head. Come to think of it, my well-worn brain was having trouble determining what was happening as well, alternating between what seemed a promise from the front and pain from the back, but eventually the snipper fell silent and I skulked off to wash what was left.

It was 6pm soon enough and we brought out the glad rags for an airing at the Derby Dinner Dance. The town hall was only 50 metres from the house but it was raining so we skipped along sharing a small pink umbrella. With a population of around 100 people and 4 dogs, three of which lived with us, we had few expectations of the Derby Dinner Dance. A handful of elderly ladies maybe, a few miserable men skull-dragged along listening patiently to three pensioners torturing an ancient piano summed up our expectations pretty well.derby 25

The video below will show you what we got (preferably see it full screen) and head phones will give you a better appreciation of the sound than will computer speakers.

The next day we did a lot of nothing and Monday somehow evaporated too. That’s been happening a lot lately.

Back to the problem

It’s St Patricks Day, which has no relevance whatsoever and I took the van (alone this time so there was no confusion) down to the garage for a discussion / inspection and talk about which steering parts Johnathon was going to order and which parts I should try to source. As it happened I had not long left when I got a call to say the Repco rep had arrived on his regular visit so I high-tailed it back down to meet him and suggest he consider getting me a new clutch, this time a heavy-duty version which culminated in a promise to do a mirror job. He would look into it.

There was nothing else for it so carefully, slowly, cautiously, (are you getting this?) drove in to Scottsdale to visit the supermarket, returning in the afternoon shaken but not stirred.

The rest of the week was spent arriving at the conclusion that cost effective help was not on the menu and that all the work that needed to be done was going to come from only one source, that dodgy and dubious lump of matter between my ears. The steering wasn’t the only source of scary noises, Repco had generously said they would replace the clutch, probably, and give me a refund on the old one, possibly, if I paid all the labour and triple the going rate for the heavy duty version.

By Friday I had downloaded several schematics, delved into the intricacies of steering mechanisms, called parts suppliers in major centres and talked myself into the purchase of new ball joints and steering arms, tie rods and assorted bits and pieces. Now I just needed to figure out how they all work.

With trembling hand, I took the wheel for one last drive, the 200 kilometre return journey to Launceston to pick up the parts I had ordered from Scott at Pabs Discount  Car Parts. This young bloke was my life saver, knowledgeable, friendly and most importantly, willing to share his experience.

We tackled the return journey with steely determination. Perhaps it was my imagination, perhaps we share the same imagination after all these years, but to say we were on edge the last 40 kilometres is an understatement. The scary noises were now horrific shrieks, the clunks were explosions and the vibrations were bone shaking, or so it seemed.

What ever the rational description, we arrived home safely before dark and satisfied with progress we toddled off down to the bottom pub (yes Derby has two pubs) where we met the publican.

Stewie is older than I, I’m pleased to report, because I get to use the phrase far less frequently than I used to. The atmosphere was warm, thick and acrid, which we generously assigned to the activity in the fire place but a few puffs on a rogue ciggy may have contributed. Our presence tripled the traffic and I could see a guilty looking Stewie was pleased by this apparently unexpected turn of events.

The conversation ranged far and wide, especially in view of our having spent the last three decades living three thousand kilometres to the north. The only other patron was Geoff, a local lad about middle age who had not shared an intimate space with a barber for a very long time, although I suspect he would be able to match it with the most voluble of the breed and which reminded me that the local hair butcher had broken his leg and was now becoming quite adept at cutting hair on crutches.

By the third round we were joined by a lady who seemed to be the publican-ess and possibly called into bar action to deal with the unexpected influx, us.

With both our eyes and pockets stinging, (I don’t drink liquids so much as swallow them wholesale so the cost per gulp is horrifying if one thinks about it, another reason for my almost monk-like, semi tee-total existence) we said our goodbyes and headed up the road toward home with a small diversion to the top pub.

Finally we got to meet Virginia, an attractive lady for whom middle age is still some way off and Sharon, who also fits that description and who had been minding the place when we first visited the previous week.

Here too we found just one customer, another of our generation (or is that degeneration) a local for the last 30 years of so. Peter has a strong interest in self-sufficiency, something of an expert and who hosts workshops on the subject at his property nearby.

He runs a company supplying seed for farming enterprises in both Tasmania and mainland states. With the assistance a glass of chateau-di-cardboard we almost immediately dived into the most illuminating conversation about botany, evolution, astronomy, anthropology and variations boundless.

Of course all this and more is addressed in scattered articles on another part of this blog site under the ‘Earth Science’ title and I resolved to create some business cards to make it easier for those with a curiosity for how things came  to be, to find the website. Maybe that will translate into selling a few posters too.

A most satisfactory end to our second week in this most aesthetically pleasing village. We really like this place and envy the locals their lifestyle.

Now, how am I going to fix the bloody camper without committing financial hara-kiri?

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