“Lions.” Says Charlie.
“What about lions?”
But he doesn’t reply. He puts his magazine down and stares out the window. He looks sad.
The giggling late teens who were so chatty and rambunctious on the way to the festival have all passed out, mouths gaping. We’re heading back into Melbourne, work shifts over. I’m about to doze off myself when Charlie begins to speak. He opens his hands and stares at them as if assessing their worth.
“Last year I did this job for a reason. I did it to go to Canada. To take my kids on holiday to Canada, see their mum and do some skiing, spend some time together. You know…you can put the hours in, do any amount of shit when there’s a good reason. Do this chef, do that chef. Chop vegetables for 10 hours straight. No problem. Head down. Just get on with it. I can do that.”
He turns his hands over and inspects the backs.
“This year it’s just to survive.”
“You do this full time then?”
“Nah, but my other job don’t pay enough so it’s the kitchen for me. I used to enjoy it more, I mean, Christ, I’ve seen the world thanks to this profession. I jumped onboard Greg Norman’s yacht when I was 22 and went to Europe as his chef. Italy, the french Riviera…”
“Nah…from Perth. Different mentality back there…back then we could do anything. The whole can-do thing, you know, it’s who we are. Not like over here. The people over here just wait for hand outs. Give me this, give me that, I deserve it and so on. Fuckin’ whinging Aussies.
Not like back home.”
“So Perth’s different then?”
“Aw fuck yeah. People from Perth…we can do anything and we don’t need any help to do it. It makes me sick the amount of money this government give away. This country’s diseased to the core and all they do is give away what’s available to the whingers. I’ve never been given anything in my life. Had plenty taken away, but never asked for or got anything for free.”
“So what was the French riviera like in the 80’s?”
“Oh just crazy. I slept my way through European women: French, Italian, Portuguese….I was young, you know, had a ball. We were berthed in Nice for the season and I even worked on Bowie’s boat for a while. Cooked up grub for some famous types. Tried to get jobs on some of the French boats but it was always – ‘Are you French? No work ‘ere.’ Fuckin’ snobs they were.”
“So how long d’you do that for?”
“Aw…’bout three years then moved back and went in with a mate who had an idea about importing TVs from China”
“How did that work out?”
“We were kings of the fuckin’ universe for about a month, made a hundred grand with one shipment then lost it all on the next. We were green. Just kids. Got eaten alive.”
“You been cheffing ever since?”
“On and off, on and off. It keeps pulling me back in you know, and the pay’s good, the pay’s good sometimes. And it’s better than sittin’ on my arse with my hand out…”
Charlie is what’s known as an Aussie battler. I’d heard the term before and here was a living, breathing specimen. Right wing with a solid belief in working his way up through unfavourable odds, the Aussie battler shuns weakness and despises what he perceives as the ‘wingeing masses’ who believe the world owes them something. Personally I have a problem with this approach as it defines a successful life as one where you don’t complain about your own lot but do a lot of bitching about everyone else’s. Emotions are something else to be suppressed so I was surprised when he talked openly of his recently ended relationship.
“I still love her. My ex-girlfriend”
“Why did you split?”
“Everything was going so well you know. Twelve years we’d been together. Then she got this thing in her head that she wanted to raise lion cubs. Mad idea really.”
“So what happened?”
“She fell in love with the lion cubs and fell out of love with me.”