SHORT STORY – Jan Napier


SHOW DAY – a memory by JAN NAPIER


            It was time to go. I tossed a towel over my shoulder, squeezed toothpaste onto the brush, and locked the van. I could hear Mick next door, muttering in his sleep as I stepped outside. Sliding sideways down the narrow passage way between two canvas joints, I walked out on to the grass street which runs betwixt Wittenoom Ave. and Cattle Street. Crossing Wittenoom, I walked up the footpath next to the Wild Mouse, then into the ablution block. Refreshed and ready for the day ahead, I retraced my steps. Dumping my gear in my room, I went and quietly cracked the door to the crew van.

            This was a twenty foot, four berth van in which the rest of Jack’s workers lived. Although it was their home, in practice we all shared the use of the facilities such as the stove and fridge. It was the place where we all ate, partied, and socialized.

For now, I just wanted breakfast – a coffee. If I could manage to boil the kettle without waking anyone up, I would be able to escape without having to make cuppas for everyone. I was in luck. The boys were still snoring.

            Hot drink in one hand and cigarette in the other, I went and sat carefully on the ball rack which fronted Jack’s basketball joint. I loved this time of the day. Everything was quiet and fresh. The sky was just turning blue, while the grounds were hushed and still. The big rides stood silent, freshly painted and gleaming in the weak morning sun. Music systems only needed to be plugged in. Ticket boxes furnished with a variety of tatty chairs awaited endless rolls of tickets, and change trays.  The joints, contents hidden behind their smothers, were all filled to bursting with plush. The twenty cent machines familiarly known as choppers slept under their individual canvas hoods. Shortly, sleepy bodies would begin to emerge from caravans, wander off to the showers, or in search of a cooked breakfast from the CWA ladies. For the moment however, it was all mine.

            It was the first day of the Royal Show. We (the crew) had to be on deck sober,  showered, and respectable, at eight o’clock sharp. Some of the boys removed the covers from the machines and took them around to the annexe by Jack’s van where they would be stored for the day.  They then helped the boss with the laborious business of loading the devices with coins.

Others started to take down storm ropes and fold up the smothers. When they had finished doing that, one of them grabbed the sledge hammer and knocked out the storm pegs securing the joints. I worked a dart joint and preferred to remove my own smother. Subsequently, I checked the stock then went to get the darts from Bev, the bosses’ wife. When everything had been done, it was back around to Jack’s van where Bev handed out waist bags which contained a small float. She called your name, gave you a bag, and assigned you to a particular joint. Jack employed a lot of casuals for this show. He would take them to their work stations and explain the job. They were put into a joint with a member of his permanent crew.  The experienced employee would keep an eye on the new recruit. I was permanent, so Bev gave me two bags then told one of the casuals to go with me.  

There was a few minutes to get organized, (find somewhere to put your water, cigarettes, throat lollies, learn each other’s names, etc), before officials opened the showground gates and the initial trickle of humanity began to filter down to the alley. I smiled at a family of four as they passed in front of the stall.

“Have a game. Four darts for two dollars,” I called, offering a handful of darts. They looked, grinned, and shook their heads. Never mind. My apprentice was staring at me in undisguised horror. “It’s OK, you just watch me for a while, then you can have a go,” I reassured her.

“ I’m not doing that. It’s too embarrassing,” she refused.

It didn’t get really busy till about lunchtime. Jack came across to ask how my helper was getting on.

“Pretty useless actually,” I told him sotto voice. “She won’t spruik, just stands there doing nothing.”

“ Give me a minute, I’ll swap her into a quieter joint,” Jack promised.

The next girl was fine. Frantically we counted scores, gave out prizes, avoided flying missiles, ducked shattering light globes, assured tearful tots that the teddy which they had just impaled wasn’t really hurt, changed money, and gathered up spent darts. As we worked, one of the crew who was acting as stock boy, would periodically enter the stall to replenish and tidy our supply of toys. He also carried some change, which meant that we didn’t have to wait for Jack. At set intervals, either he or Bev would appear with a fresh set of waist bags. This was called doing a collect. We handed over our full bags, and took the new ones.

 The meal breaks were half an hour. I went back to the crew van, made some lunch, then sat down. After being on my feet for hours, all I wanted was some time out and a chance to sit down somewhere quiet for a while.  For the first few days, most of the casuals rushed around buying showbags or going on rides, then complained that they hadn’t had time to eat and their feet hurt. Tough bikkies. Eventually they learned. If they lasted that long.

Nights were busy times too. The mums with young kids had gone home, but the teenagers and retail workers were out with their mates. The alley looked spectacular after dark. The rides and joints were all adorned with coloured lights which sparkled, flashed, dazzled, and twinkled. It was like working in fairyland, albeit a noisy one. Generators thudded away behind rides and joints supplying power for motors or lights, spruikers called, and every ride had its own music blasting out.

Eleven o’clock was knock off time. The showground gates shut at midnight. Jack came around to all his joints, took the last waistbags and told the casuals to finish up. I put the smother up on the darts, then turned off the lights. A bunch of temporary employees exited the annexe clutching their gate passes for tomorrow and swapping experiences. I walked over to the machine joint. The rest of the crew, with the exception of the fellow banging in the storm pegs, soon followed. There were two teenagers still playing on Freefall, so Jack unplugged the other choppers and we crowded around as he, and one of the boys emptied the cash from the other machines. Despite the fact that all the showmen were closing their rides and games, there were always a few odd individuals hanging around at the end of the evening looking for a bargain or perhaps an opportunity to steal.

At last, all the covers were back on the machines and the money had been  removed to Jack’s van. I shot off to grab my shower gear. The public facilities were miles away in the Silver Jubilee pavilion, and I wanted hot water not cold. Nor did I feel like standing in line half the night. Luckily, there was only one woman before me, so I was in and out pretty fast.

The next thing on my agenda was a couple of beers with the boys, then something to eat. However, when I walked into our crew van, I discovered that a couple of Jennie’s boys were visiting. Naturally, they had brought a carton. It would have been the height of bad manners to let the beer get hot. By the time that we had all compared notes about our respective day, it was half past one. I opted out and retired to my van. I certainly wasn’t going to take any rocking tonight. Well, one day down, seven to go.