"Give me a pot," said Jack,
standing up against the bar. He handed a ten dollar note to the
"How's tricks, Jacko?" asked
the barman handing Jack the glass of beer, and the change from
"Shithouse, of course," said
Jack pocketing his change then looking round into the
Jack decided to play safe and
to sit at a table at the back of the pub, away from the habitual
drunks propped up against the bar, away from the loud mouths
monopolising the three dilapidated billiard tables in the centre
of the pub.
"Watch out ya mug!" warned a
loud mouth, almost knocking the beer glass out of Jack's hand, as
Jack tried to sneak past the table, while the loud mouth was
"Sorry," said Jack. He
sidestepped the man to get to the table that he had
Jack was halfway through his
second pot of beer when it happened. It didn't seem to matter
how often he varied his pub, or his drinking hours, they always
seemed to be able to be able to sniff him out. It was almost as
though they had some sort of inbuilt radar powered by alcohol.
Bob Bennett had once joked that Jack seemed to have
dero-magnetism, but it was no joke to Jack.
"Mind if I sit here?" asked the
wino, staggering over to Jack's table.
"Yes!" said Jack.
"Ta," said the wino slumping
into the chair next to Jack. "Nothin' like takin' the weight
off your feet, is there?"
'Why me Lord, what have I ever
done?' thought Jack.
The wino was dressed in baggy
trousers, a dirty grey cotton shirt and a heavy khaki overcoat
that was stained almost black with filth. On his head he wore a
Collingwood beanie, on his left foot he wore a leather sandal, on
his right a heavy army-style boot.
"It's a great institution all
right," said the wino. "Just the other day I was sayin' to the
missus, 'The pubs have made this country what it is
"Oh come on, you can't blame
the pubs for all of it," said Jack. "The politicians have to
shoulder some of the blame."
"No, no, I meant greatness.
This country fought and died in two world wars to win the right
for two blokes to sit around together at the rubbedy, getting
sloshed to the gills, and reminiscing about the bad old days.
If it wasn't for the pubs this country would be in a right old
"Is that right?" asked Jack,
not really interested. He started looking round the pub im the
hope of seeing someone he knew, Jon Mayron, Bob Bennett, or his
brother Kevin, so he'd have an excuse to get up and
"Too bloody right it is. Look
at all of the hotel owners, barmaids and barmen, brewery hands,
and liquor delivery men who'd be out of a job if the pubs ever
closed down. As if there aren't enough people on the dole as it
is. Yes I tell you, grog is the health food of this nation, not
vegemite at all!"
"They could soon get work, if
they really wanted it," insisted Jack.
"Nah, nah," said the wino.
"Times are hard. I should know, I'm a bludger
"Well, I didn't want to have to
be the one to say it," said Jack.
"You too?" asked the wino.
"Yeah, I tell you, times are tough all right. Us bludgers have
got to stick together, particularly now that Howard is starting
to gear up for a big blitzkrieg on the unemployed. Slave-labour
for the dole."
"What's wrong with work for the
dole?" demanded Jack who had supported the Howard government at
the '96 election.
"In principle nothin'. But if
they can find hundreds of thousands of jobs for slave-labour
rates, why can't they find those same jobs for a proper wage?
Nah, I tell you work for the dole is just a Liberal plot to turn
us bludgers into a slave sub-class. It's about time we did
something about it. We oughta have our own bloody union to look
after our rights. We could call it the 'Bludgers and Layabouts
Federation'," He stopped to think for a moment, then said, "No.
no, that's been used already, but we could soon think of
"Look, don't lump me in with
you," said Jack.
"Nah, look, that's just what we
do have to do: band together to protect our rights. It ought to
be everyone's right to hold out until the perfect job comes
along. Why the hell should we have to settle for
"Because the perfect job might
never come along," said Jack.
"Well, we can't help that, can
we? That's just our bloody good luck," said the wino, laughing.
"Why should we even have to have a job at all if we don't want
one? Why the hell shouldn't we be allowed to collect the dole
for the rest of our lives, if that's what we want? Just because
bloody Fraser said that 'Life was not meant to be easy' doesn't
mean that we don't have the right to expect to have an easy life.
Fraser's not God! He's not even his right-hand man, although
he seems to bloody think he is. So what right does he have to
tell us how we're allowed to live our lives?
"After all. it's all right for
Howard, he was lucky enough to be born rich, he's never had to
worry about earning a livin'. So what right does he have to
tell us that we have to get a job? And that we have to accept
any job that comes along, because after all
"Well, he is the Prime
Minister," pointed out Jack.
"I didn't vote for him,"
countered the wino.
"Well...it's not Howard's money
that pays the dole, it's the taxpayers'."
"What?" asked the wino. He
laughed out loud: "Don't tell me that you've fallen for that one?
Listen, if they stopped paying the dole completely, the
government wouldn't reduce taxation one iota. They'd find
something else to spend it on. Most of it goes into the pockets
of the politicians anyway."
"Oh come on! I know that
they're a pack of no-hopers," said Jack. "But that's no reason
to bloody exaggerate."
"It's no bloody exaggeration!"
insisted the wino. "Or how else could they get through all of
that money. It's obvious they never spend it on anything that
we know about. Certainly not on housing. hospitals, the
prisons, the transport system, the armed services, or the roads.
So what else is there? Nah, I tell you, it has to be linin'
the pockets of the Politicians cause it sure as hell isn't going
on essential services."
"Listen mate, anyway, it's your
shout isn't it?" asked the wino.
"Bugger off!" said Jack. It
was bad enough having to listen to the wino, but Jack had no
intention of buying him a drink.
"Now you're learnin'." said the
wino. He patted Jack on the back, "Never pay for anything that
you can scrounge off of someone else. Just for that, I'll shout
The wino staggered to the front
of the pub and ordered, "Two beers pronto!" He banged his fist
upon the counter.
"The name's not Pronto," said
the barman from the other end of the counter. "That's the Lone
Ranger's horse you're thinking of."
"How about some service down
this end?" demanded the wino. He banged his fist upon the
wooden counter again.
"Hang on," said the barman
hurrying down the counter. On seeing who it was, he stopped and
said, "Sorry Bluey, but it's strictly cash on the barrel head.
No credit, you know the house rules as well as I do."
"Credit, be buggered," said
Bluey, taking an ancient alligator skin wallet from his shirt
pocket, "I've got cash."
"Look out," warned one of the
pool players. "Bluey Thompson is opening his wallet. Could be
a dust storm in there."
"Watch out for the vampire
moths," warned a second player.
"So that's what a twenty pound
note looks like," said the first player as Thompson slapped a
twenty-dollar note onto the counter.
"Why don't you two yobbos piss
off and leave a bloke in peace?" said Bluey.
"We'll leave you in pieces, if
you don't watch your bloody language," warned the first pool
player, brandishing his cue like a club.
"Watch out mate, or he'll
breathe on you," warned the second player.
"Bloody smart-arses," said
Bluey carrying the two small glasses of beer toward the table at
the end of the pub.
Seeing Jack had left during his
short absence, Bluey Thompson asked, "Now where the hell did he
He looked around the pub
slowly, then shrugged and said, "Oh well." He raised the first
glass of beer and emptied it down his throat in one long gulp.
Then sitting at the table he began to sip at the second