Tuesday, 24 August 2010

NO ROOM AT THE INN

From six miles up, the jigsaw-like wavy shapes in the upper right hand corner betray the
presence of one of the open cut coal mines which are a significant factor in the economy of Australia and a major reason for our escape from the GFC.

I drove past this one at last light on my way back to Tekani II at Mooloolaba, driving inland to avoid the overloaded coastal highway. A half mile long artificial mountain of fresh piled earth which had been removed to get at the black gold beneath was a head-turner as I drove into Clermont town just a few kilometers away looking for a bed for the night.

It soon became apparent that this was not an easy ask. One after another the motels all showed NO VACANCY signs. I lowered my expectations and started asking at the string of outback hotels dotted along what was once the relaxed and comfortable main street of a sleepy cattle town. Same answer..."Sorry...full up mate"

There was literally not a bed to be had anywhere in Clermont. Miners, contractors, tradesmen, drillers, modern-day carpet baggers and other harvesters of the torrent of money and opportunity generated by the two huge mines nearby were in semi-permanent residence.

Memories of another small town after the invasion of another mining army came flooding back...this was another Kieta, Same frantic rush and bustle; same crowds of thirsty miners: same cast of thousands of strangers thrown together by the lure of big money for anyone with two hands and plenty of muscle.

I tried the very last of the hotels and threw myself on the mercy of a bored receptionist.
"Are you sure there isn't even one single bed available ?"
"Well, there probably is but the rooms aren't serviced until tomorrow."
"I'll take one anyway"
"OK, but you'll need some clean sheets and a fresh towel, these guys are a bit grubby, you know"

I paid in advance at double the usual cost of a motel, collected the bed linen and a towel and located my room at the end of an unlit first floor corridor. No key needed, the lock was hanging askew from its moorings. The ancient air conditioner on the wall did not work, nor did the rusty overhead fan. Two unmade single beds, both showing signs of recent use and a broken chair completed the list of amenities.

I put the clean sheets to good use and went in search of a badly needed shower in the communal bathroom which was also without a working lock. The shower proved only 50 per cent effective. Plenty of cold water, but the hot tap had no handle, so I removed the handle from its cold neighbour and managed to get both working.

Time for a meal and I went down the creaking unlit stairs and found the dining room alongside the bar which was doing a roaring trade.

" A meal ! Too late mate. The cook's knocked off "

I settled for a large scotch and went back up the stairs to bed comforted by the thought that the never-to-be-forgotten Kieta Hotel is not lying in ruins on Bougainville. It's alive and kicking in Queensland.


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