Another extraordinary special about Darwin by a writer with the punting nom-de-plume, Shawtodds , who we suspect in the notorious Prohibition era in America would have been one speakeasy ahead of Eliot Ness of Untouchables fame. Nowadays he uses Bundy Rum as anti-freeze in New York’s way below zero weather.
Darwin's Qantas transit lounge 1963 looking surprising civilised. Posed snap for a tourist guide, no uncouth journalists evident.
I see some pretty funny things when I am out and about in Darwin's purveyors of fermented liquors - or if you prefer a more accurate description , hanging out in pubs and which I do considerably in those days when I am much younger and can chuck down a beer with enthusiasm - unless it is Swan, which I cannot abide, unless someone is shouting.
As I explain in a previous post on this fine blog, there is no shortage of joints to patronise and they are well known to the thirsty tipplers of the town at that time.
However there is one secret bar known to desperates as the only place to get a beer after the pubs pull stumps at 10 pm and they certainly are not spreading the word even in their cups. I learn of it from Jim Bowditch, editor of the NT News which employed, pound for pound, the thirstiest and most disreputable bunch of jokers in town if you don't count the bank johnnies who are renowned for getting on the grog because, like the journos, the few single sheilas available give them a major swerve.
Despite this, it seems to me such fine fellows are a desirable lot to hang out with which I do often. My opinion of such drinking companions is not shared by the local coppers, together with many upstanding members of the community, who regard them as uncouth toss-pots or something unpleasant they step in ,such as dog shit.
The secret after-hours boozer is at the Darwin airport, specifically the Qantas lounge which supposedly is open only to those good citizens who are meeting passengers on flights from various overseas destinations which in those days have to stop at Darwin to refuel before going on to Sydney. The bloke in charge of the bar is a good mate of Bowditch and overlooks the fact that most of the jokers present are there to just meet Messrs. Carlton and United - at least until he calls time gentlemen please around 3am, although when I am there I witness very few gentlemen present -just a mob of drunks.
EVA'S BESPOKE EATERY
If the Darwin coppers are doing their job and sweating on roisterers driving home from the Qantas lounge , they will have a hundred percent conviction record for DUI and this is in the days before the breath bag. As there is a good two-hour lapse between the pubs in town closing and the Qantas lounge opening, one and all usually decide to get a feed before saddling up for a late night at the airport boozer.
A most popular rendezvous for drunks seeking munchies after the pubs in town have closed is Eva's Grill Bar which is not as grand as the name suggests, but rather is a pie cart-like shack in a lane behind Smith Street. Eva who runs the joint hails from somewhere in eastern Europe and is not a sheila to fuck with unless you wish to be spoken to sternly by Eva herself, who is built like a brick shithouse and will brook no drunken shenanigans from the clientele, most of whom are stylishly dressed in Darwin Casual - blue singlet, shorts and thongs and who do not smell so good unless you like armpit BO paired with VB breath.
Eva does a great steak, snags or chops with or without onions and eggs but always with salad which is the real draw-card. Just crisp fresh lettuce and a few slices of tomato which does not sound like much but Eva's is the only joint in town where it is available. All fresh produce is trucked into town from the south and is feeling the heat very much by the time it lobs in Darwin. Where Eva gets her fresh lettuce and tomato is a source of much speculation and customers who ask her are usually told to mind their own bloody business. I hear some people speak disrespectfully of Eva regarding her appearance but she is not there to win any beauty contests, but to provide drunks with good tucker.
And once she takes a shine to you, Eva is a real pussycat, although I do not know of anybody that she actually takes a shine to. She is also a regular contributor to the Fannie Bay bookies and will no doubt do the same at the Winnellie dogs, except they are on Friday night when she is busier than a one-armed traffic cop as she gives the steak and eggs and salad business full attention at the grill bar .
JAPANESE ARE COMING
One night we are all at the Qantas bar wondering when the incoming plane will empty its weary passengers into the lounge. What we do know is that it carries a very high ranking Japanese cabinet minister and a planeload of Japanese journos who are covering his trip - only the second such visit by a top Jap since World War ll bombing raids knock the town around considerably .Why such a member of the ruling elite is lobbing in town, even for a brief layover, is a very touchy subject. It is fair to say very few locals would spread the welcoming mat and might even be inclined to chuck something at the cabinet minister when he sets foot in Oz.
Which is why the local journos are on hand in case the arrival goes hostile . At least that's their story, but I know they are getting shitfaced as usual and will not be capable of using a phone if a big story does breaks, much less writing a coherent account. The plane lands without incident, and the cabinet minister is ushered very quick into the VIP lounge , leaving the intoxicated rabble which is the local press having no chance to say hello and ask what are you doing in Australia anyway.
Suddenly a throng of young jokers burst out of the plane and into the lounge, bearing above their heads - rather like Vikings carrying a wounded warrior on their shields - one of their number who calls it a day from too much whiskey on the flight from Tokyo. It is the Japanese press contingent travelling with the cabinet minister and I must say I never see a drunker bunch of journos since I am at Lou Richards pub in Melbourne or the Evil Star and Shakespeare in Sydney. The Japanese press have their pots on in a big way and it is fair to say none of them are feeling any pain.
This does not stop them from hitting the bar with plenty of vigor and giving the whiskey with beer chasers a testing workout, having propped up their unconscious colleague in a chair where they regularly lift their glasses to him- even if he does not acknowledge their honourable gestures .
It is my first encounter with the gentlemen of the Nippon Press and it leaves me mightily impressed although in later years I learn that as a group they do not have to be persuaded to toss down a cold one or two and will give their Australian counterparts a run for their money on any day - even a hot one.
You can gather from this the Qantas lounge in those days is a jolly place for hard-working booze hounds to unwind after a hard day at the office.