“Orange 56…orange 56 is the winnerwinnerchicken dinner!” yells the publican “last winner of the night…o-r-a-n-g-e-5-6”. The packed bar of drinkers heave a chorus of groans, many will be heading home empty-handed this Friday night.
A heavy set yet compact man walks slowly towards the bar. He is almost knocked from tired feet by two skittish boys as they raced around the corner, their mother trailing after them. They jump to their feet and dash away with barely a word of apology. The young mother, dressed in a thin oft mended frock stopped and peered remorsefully into the man’s eyes.
“I’m so sorry sir, the boys are getting a little skittish. We have been here for a while, just waiting for their dad to finish talking to a few of his mates.” There was a deep sadness to her features, he could tell this wasn’t the first time they had waited endlessly for their driver.
“That’s OK lass, no harm done. I’ll go round up that wayward husband of yours and see if we can get you home soon”
He didn’t wait for an answer, just set out to his regular seat at the bar.
“Willie! Do you have orange 56? We’re about to redraw if we cant find the owner”
“Hold your horses you impatient pack of…yep here it is, orange 56!”
“What are you going to do with that much meat Irish? There’s enough there for a whole family for a week”
“Don’t you worry about that, I’ll work something out” he grins. Irish Willie was renowned for his generosity. Every week he bought more tickets than anyone else yet he had no need for most of the prizes as he lived alone at the pub where meals were included in his board.
The publican catches Willie’s eye over the drinkers vying for another ‘roadie’ from the barmaid. He passes over the meat tray packed full of snags, chops, meat patties, a bit of bacon, a dozen eggs and even a few slithers of steak tucked to the side. It was a good win.
He downs the last of his beer and passes back the empty middy. “Pour me another Jim, I’ll be back in a wee moment”.
The Irishman heads out to the back of the pub his eyes darting for the young lady he had bumped into earlier. She is sitting over near the corner of the beer garden, eyes distant, shoulders hunched in despair, oblivious to the screaming children jumping around her probing for drink and food.
“Here Lassie” he quietly offers “I just won this hunk of meat and I aint got use for it. Wondering if you could take it off me hands?”
Her eyes glistened. Her mouth moved yet she couldn’t make a noise. She opened her arms and shoulders as he placed the prize in her lap. Her husband stumbles up behind Willie as he is leaving. “Ye best get this meat home before it goes off bet ya Tom”
Willie turned and walked back to his bar. Memories of another time in faraway Ireland churning his heart.
He was willing to leave his birthplace just outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland. There had never been enough food, his feet were always cold and bare on the cobblestone streets in the harshness of Irish winters.
When Barnados bought him to Australia in ’51 the warmth of the sun took away the deep chills of the northern hemisphere. He fell in love with his new home as he rose early to absorb the sunrise over the plains, the wide open spaces, fresh air and the sounds of Australia while he worked alongside the Ross family at Booloocooroo farm, just outside of Curlewis, NSW. The small town bought this Irishman into their homes, their lives. It was post war Australia and the fledgling country was accepting of so many new people from the remnants of the European wars.
He formed mates while drinking at Bert Campbell’s green pub, picking up casual farm work over those first few years. There were many a dance night with his adopted townsfolk. From Curlewis to Breeza, Nea and Piallaway he travelled and danced to the small hours of Sunday morning with his Aussie mates and their partners.
On the occasions that the rail water tanker brought the village water from Werris Creek he readily gave back to the community by delivering the water from the rail to their homes, taking no payment for the service.
He moved into Charlie’s pub one day around 1956 – they gave him the room called Flanagan’s Flat, though no-one knew who Flanagan was or why the flat was named after him.
Irish Willie lived out his days at that pub, his life taking on an easy flow of working at the shire during the day and perched at ‘his’ place near the eastern end of the bar in the evening. As the pub changed hands over time the bill of sale listed all the usual contents of the pub and included the words “and one Irishman”.
On the 29th March 1987 he peered out the window of his upstairs abode to check the shadows of what were his first glimpse of Australia in the distance while the Irish ballads of his childhood whispered on the Australian winds.
A mix of bloods from two different lands flowed through his veins no longer, his stories and spirit to live on long after his time.