Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011/2 - First on the left, after the wooden bridge

‘They must think us city folk starve ourselves’ Ron chuckled, grinding the diff of the low-slung Falcon, as he eased his way out into the traffic heading east from the Bairnsdale Golden Fleece. He reflected that the station had seen better days.

For Ron and Moira, this was always a must-stop as they motored east, taking the coast road from Melbourne to Sydney. It had been this way since that fateful ’82 trip when their radiator blew coming into Sale, and then they lost grip on the gravel shoulder when the offside rear tyre blew, taking the winding bends into Eden, just over the border into New South Wales. Thinking that the hand of God strikes in threes, they had been particularly nervous winding their way along the rest of the Princes Highway into Sydney. That stretch of road had a horror reputation in those days, with much of it single-carriage. It was much improved nowadays, straighter and more passing lanes. Ron was grateful that the Golden Fleece had not changed its breakfast menu much.

It wasn’t a particularly promising location for a petrol station. ‘first on the left, after the wooden bridge’, but word of mouth travelled fast. Not about the quality or price of the petrol, as this was in the days before discounting, when the majors had their cartel firmly in place. What excited the hoi-polloi was the quality and quantity of the breakfast.

In the middle of ’82, just after the flooded Mitchell River had burst its banks and inundated the town for the third time in five years, the Golden Fleece was taken over by a couple who had spent the previous ten years scraping a living grazing Herefords in the lower reaches of the Fairy Dell State Forest under licence. The garage was battered and run down, making the asking price within the reach of the Morris’. Graeme ran the mechanical business, and Jackie was the boss of the cafe. It was the bacon and eggs that brought the crowds in.

She was a generous woman, was Jackie, generous in body and generous in character. She reckoned everyone who passed through her cafe needed a good solid start to their day, and what better way than with a couple of free-range eggs, sunny-side up, and a solid rasher of bacon, all washed down with a steaming hot mug of Lan-choo tea. Way led onto way, and pretty soon the business was doing a roaring trade, both in the kitchen and in the driveway.

Life chugged along in the fast lane for the next fifteen years, until late one Wednesday afternoon, Graeme suffered a massive heart attack flat on his back under the engine of an old ’55 Chevrolet. Nothing could be done for him, and Jackie lost her locus. She only lasted another 8 months in the kitchen before running off with a regular customer who drove interstate trucks and lived in Bright.

Driving through Bairnsdale, both Ron and Moira reminisce about the days of the starving city folk, and pretty soon they are starving and have to stop in at the next cafe en route. Nothing matches up to Jackie’s standard though.

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