We were greeted by the Ombudsman as we climbed out the car, giving it a well deserved rest. Hands were shaken and greetings exchanged before we began the task of unloading the car. After that was done, we sat for a moment. I made a note to myself how the first thing on the ‘To Do’ list was complete: Find the Ombudsman alive. The next item was about to be crossed off as well, as our host asked if we wanted a tour of the school he was teaching at. Jumping at the opportunity to not just walk around, but examine the school that had dragged our friend so far away, we were out the house and walking the whole 100 metres to the school grounds. The school bus was there still – the bus that the principal had hoped the Ombudsman would drive some day (especially after asking him in the job interview if he had a bus license). It was parked in the driveway that we walked through – the gate having been left unlocked.
Looking at the school, I thought that it wasn’t as depressing as I had originally thought it would be. I had imagined, well, charred ruins and dead trees. I was later informed that the school had actually been burnt down once already, and that this was the only original building. Moving on, we were shown the area where all the students could assemble (roughly the same area as my backyard, probably smaller). My belief that this would be an immensely under-resourced school was quickly dispelled when we entered the ‘computer lab‘. The front door to this building, as a side note, had this sign taped on. In the lap, there were more computers there than I’ve seen at libraries, than I’ve seen at businesses, than I’ve seen at some schools. I wondered, then asked out-loud, how it was that with a computer for every Year 11 and 12 student, they weren’t getting some of the best marks in the state. Of course, I know how that question can be answered, but it was more of the shock that there were so many computers for so few kids and so many bad results occurring that forced me to ask. Here is the Ombudsman posing in the same room.
Adjoining this room was the Ombudsman’s office. He unlocked the door (which had this redeeming feature) and showed us the ten-foot by ten-foot cubical that he called home for the many hours of the day. It also has the school’s server hanging off the wall (and over his head before reorganisation), as you can see from the first photo for this paragraph. There are various sheets of paper hanging on the wall (none of his graduate certificates I noted), in an attempt to make his job seem busy. I won’t tell you how many hours of work the Ombudsman does because it would shock you to no end. Among those sheets of paper is this doosey. It is a sheet of paper with as many dashes as the Ombudsman has to work in Menindee before he can transfer. He had done somewhere around 5% of all his days when we had got there. I’ll ask him to give us all a more accurate figure next time we see him (tomorrow actually). Before we left his office, we got a prized photo: The 18 Cup in Menindee. This was after discussions on how to sleep during work hours, stare out windows and pretend to do work.
We walked around the school some more, peering into faculty rooms, and classrooms, of which Mr. Rabbit too an affinity to a certain student, going so far as to ‘adopt’ him. He was drawn to our attention after we saw the pictures he was capable of drawing – people walking around with guns. He is in kindergarten. This shocked me.
As we left the school, we noticed that there was a Menindee TAFE campus! Yes, you read that correctly – where students have the options of hair dressing and beauty (I think that was all). We looked at the building and noticed that it was Block N – where A – M had gone to no one knew. I suppose it’s like the question “What’s the sound of one hand clapping”. Probably makes as much sense too.
We headed home for a moment, only to drop off things as we continued the tour around town. The Ombudsman pointed out the aerials that were giving him hell (stories that our group has heard of before). In going home, we passed a train carriage with about one hundred metres of tracks to rest on. This was brought and couriered to Menindee at some ridiculous fee, and now sits gathering dust in the backyard of the principal’s.
We continued our exploration of Menindee, walking around the town, passing the police station (which was, really, someone’s house), a fire station (someone’s house with a large garage) and then the post office. Some students recognised the Ombudsman on our walk, but no trouble came of it. We walked as far as we could (which was easily shorter than I have to walk between classes at university, such is the largeness of Menindee), the turned back, afraid to go into the area that was apparently unsafe to go in if you weren’t of aboriginal descent. Also, we had the aboriginal-only bar pointed out to us, as well as the bar that we would be going to for tea – the Maidens Hotel.
We returned to the Ombudsman’s fantastic living quarters (I saw that in all honesty) and mulled around for a while before we headed out for dinner. As we left the compound, we noticed that, to Mr. Rabbit’s and my own glee, the principal (Bryan) was arriving home (we knew where his house was situated in relation to the Ombudsman’s). The Ombudsman said that we should go over and say hello – and we did. We were warmly greeted, and ushered inside for a quick drink and a ‘catchup’. Mr. Rabbit and myself had a beer, while the Ombudsman wasn’t offered so much as a glass of water. Mr. Rabbit and the principal engaged in deep conversations about rural teaching, the state of education, the history of Bryan himself, and other various topics. Having not eaten anything that day except a pie, I knew that one beer could be enough to loosen my tongue and say some things that should not be said. So I remained rather quiet, only venturing to answer Bryan’s question/demand that I vote Labour at the next election.
We left (after agreeing to meet him at the Saturday’s Christmas in August event at the town hall – an agreement that none of us remember making) and made for the Hotel, where we would all order cutlets (I think – I know that Mr. Rabbit and myself ordered those) with vegetables. I was suspicious about eating anything in Menindee, as well as drinking – after all, I had been cautious in Turkey and found myself with food poisoning by the end of my time there. The meal was adequate – Mr. Rabbit raved about it. Maybe he was expecting much less than I was, and because he didn’t die, he got what he wanted.
We walked home in the dark, and locked up for the night. We lamented the absence of St. Ives Correspondent, and then remarked that we even had room for him – here is his bed, and here is a chair for him when he comes with us next time. The Ombudsman says that they were laying outside his place when he got there, but I suspect they weren’t up to his tastes in furnishing.
After the five seconds thought we gave to St. Ives Correspondent, we turned our minds to cards. But not before we did something my mind had been dwelling on for some time. I got to fruit I had stolen from the rail tracks and plonked it on the counter. I got a knife and chopped my way through it. As soon as it was split, the room was filled with the smell of watermelon – so instantly we thought it to be an unripened watermelon. Thinking that the taste would still be there, I gave it a lick. That was a mistake. It tasted disgusting and very bitter. So of course I tried it again – to the same result. I threw it away, hoping to never have to taste something so awful.
The Ombudsman and myself are avid card players – Mr. Rabbit is not. The Ombudsman had been without a playing paying partner for some time now, and I was more than happy to play through to morning. However, the day of driving and exploring had taken its toll on Mr. Rabbit, and the busy day we had planned for Saturday seemed daunting to him and the Ombudsman both. The night was adjourned at around midnight after a few games of 500 and general discussions, as well as planning for the next day.
I had sort of blackmailed Mr. Rabbit into giving me the spare bed that the Ombudsman had. I had thought of this when we got into the room at Orange – there was a double bed and a single bed. I took the single bed without argument, expecting to use this as ammunition to stake my claim over the real bed in Menindee. My plan worked and I got a room and bed to myself. I climbed into my sleeping bag, laid down on the bed, and the last things I heard were the dull roars of Mr. Rabbit snoring and the murmurs of the Ombudsman conversing with his wife in the next room.