DAY 247: Writing a murder ballad about Hamilton, then being nice to Nhill

5 May

I thought you'd prefer a picture of Victoria Hamilton than Hamilton, Victoria.

IF YOU can’t say anything nice you shouldn’t say anything at all… but there’s a town way out on the Glenelg Highway that just prompts an astonished outburst or two.

At first glance all the Colorbond fences in Hamilton lead you to believe it’s a sprawling green and orange home for the elderly, but then I go into the McDonald’s for a wash and there they all are, the real natives: hemmed in like the apocalypse has hit. Nobody walks – they shuffle. And everyone has a murderous look.

Struggling to find us some camping gear so early in the morning, the bush pirate and I circle the town and its infernal roundabout system for a good hour, taking in the disused wool sheds and careworn shop fronts with violent puns for names. Graffiti on the door of one of the public toilets says: “Fuck you I am going to kill you” in six-inch high letters, without even discriminating.

For many kays now, the bush pirate has been urging me to join him in the construction of a new Nick Cave murder ballad with a biblical bent. I’d been struck dumb by the need for coffee, but now my imagination is fired, and out comes the lurching tale of a bad son of Hamilton who slaughters people in their beds and then can’t escape himself because of woeful local signposting.

Many verses later I leave Hamilton invigorated, but the bush pirate is disquieted by my character assassination of the little town. I forget sometimes that such behaviour is considered unsporting in Australia.

In an effort to redress the balance, when we later pull into the western Victoria town of Nhill the bush pirate suggests we only say nice things.

He demonstrates by going into Coles and having a good ol’ chinwag with the checkout woman about the ridiculous price of avocados in Grampians compared to a sensible town like this. Soon enough, the elasticity returns to her face and she recounts the rigours and routines of her weekend.

Nhill is already famous.

Next it’s a stop at the bottle shop, and having overheard how lovely the bush pirate’s last conversation was, the woman behind the till is eager to have one too. Both women dig out some bargain beery buys for us, and when we leave it’s waves all round.

There are two pubs in town, and we choose the no-nonsense joint that refuses to bow and scrape to progress. The landlord seems surprised to see us – and not best pleased, as he’s watching Goodbye Mr Chips – but he rouses himself from his chair and pours us some drinks.

This pub was a snark-free zone.

Within minutes, the bush pirate’s honeyed his ear with talk of our journey and our good fortune for pulling into an honest knockabout like Nhill. Brightening, the landlord sticks money in the jukebox and picks out some Garth Brooks favourites, leaving the rest of the selection for us. The beers keep coming and the pool games are free.

We leave Nhill feeling proper restored. There’s no chance of feeling nhillistic in a town whose main employer is called Luv-a-Duck, anyway.

Keeper? Strictly speaking I was only nice-by-proxy, but now I know how it’s done I’ll give it a whirl.

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