Image source: Shannon McKeogh
The first thing I did when we got to Broome was plunge into the frothy waves of Cable Beach.
We had travelled from Darwin, over 1,900 kilometres, and because we had camped at free spots I hadn’t showered in three days.
In keeping with my current (and sometimes smelly) backpacker lifestyle, the second thing I did in Broome was get a job in hospitality. Like my one-page hospitality resume I decided not to mention to my new work-mates that I have a degree in writing. I wasn’t ashamed that I have an Arts degree and was taking orders from holidaying middle-age folk on tour groups like ‘Fun for Over-Fifties’ - hospitality in WA pays really well, and hey petrol ain’t cheap these days! It’s more that I preferred that my fellow colleagues weren’t paranoid that I would write about them, because I have and I do.
I preferred to watch them (in the least creepy way possible) with their wrists heavy with gravy splattered plates, wearing the same black shirt for the fourth day in a row, feet dragging from their second job. There was Karen, the mother-hen with her purple apron, hands on her hips, lecturing on the importance of well-placed cutlery. Lucas, the German who wrapped up a used tea-bag to save for later and raised his eyebrows while suggesting we meet in the back room to stroke each other with menus. Tyler, who swapped his baby blue police uniform to travel around Australia and work in pubs. It’s been two years and he hasn’t travelled outside of his home state of Western Australia yet.
As a work-mate pours a Margaret River drop they also pour out their life tribulations and hopes. There’s Sam who also works as a scenic flight pilot, getting paid $15 an hour to fly over the Horizontal Falls in the Kimberelys. One day when he has enough flight hours he wants to work for the Flying Doctors or for African relief. His hospitality job literally supplements his dreams and pays the bills.
I want my work-mates to trust me and not think that I’ll be scrawling it all down in my journal later. Or, god forbid, mention them in an article…
It’s best we keep the writing/spy thing a secret, yeah?
Because it’s the people in Broome that turn me on, writing wise.
I could write about the scenery: the red earth and too blue sky and that stunning Cable Beach with white sand that never feels that same under your feet; sometimes it’s like mousse. Sometimes it’s like crème brulee or Nesquick.
There are camels with their sloppy grins and turtles that bob up and down and sometimes you might just see a whale which makes you feel warm and fuzzy, because who didn’t love Free Willy?
And the weather is a perfect January during the day for a bikini and a perfect April at night for a doona.
But when it comes down to a place like Broome it’s really all about the people. It’s a tourist town and they run the joint. Some people come to get some ‘Broome-time’, plod along the beach, relax and splurge on some rainbow threads. Backpackers in their Gumtree-bought vans play cards and get pissed on the beach and work on their caramel tans. People do fly-in, fly-out jobs off-shore at the oil-rig, or work in the hotels or pubs. This ever-changing population makes Broome feel strange. There is no sense of continuity, with people coming and going, and the community is a hidden one that I haven’t found yet.
I went to a workshop on travel blogging as a part of Broome’s Writers’ Festival. It was a free event at the library and I wedged between a lady in her 60’s surrounded by her technological devices and a nine-year-old girl. Out of the thirty, only three of us had blogs. I can’t help but compare the audience to that of a Melbourne Writers’ Festival - unlike MWF, this workshop had a diverse range of ages from very young to quite old with more of an indigenous representation. The similarities were obvious, we all were keen on writing and we all were donning a pair of thongs. Travelling has made me recognise that there’s not a single face for a writer and that everyone is interesting and has a story.
I was at work when the Staircase to the Moon was on, a monthly event where the moon rise glitters over Town Beach, and the reflection is a ladder to the moon. It is an event that has inspired many poets and writers. But it is the customers who tell me about it and I see the beauty of the moon, an orb of light floating on the surface. When it’s not busy, and I’m not running around like a headless chook, I get a chance to talk to the customers more. They tell me their stories, their perspective on Broome, politics and whether they liked the oven-baked snapper. The older ladies tell me about their pearl purchase of $4,000, a couple ask me about the crocodile situation and a man tells me to keep the James Boags coming for his back pain. And sometimes I tell them that I write.
Shannon McKeogh is a freelance writer currently travelling around Australia with a tent and a 4WD named Whoopi. She is currently in the Pilbara of Western Australia. She blogs at freedomtights.wordpress.com
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.