Monday, 23 January 2012
They say Australia was built off the sheep’s back. Not Tennant. We were built off the back of a beer truck. It’s not the first thing you notice when you come to town. But spend enough time here and eventually you will realise there’s no creek in Tennant Creek.
The locals call it the Seven Mile, and for very practical reason. The highway crosses Tennant Creek about eleven kilometres, or seven miles in the old money, north of town where the old stone telegraph station still stands. It wasn’t the only building on the creek in those early days. This is golden country. Settled by pastoralists drawn by the swaying golden grasses, and desperate men gambling their last hope on the promise of endless golden riches hidden in that deep red earth.
Like all men working hard in the relentless heat and dust, our founding fathers were thirsty. It was a thirst that could only be quenched by that other kind of gold. Liquid gold they called it. Beer. It must have been a fateful day, that day the beer truck broke down just seven miles short of its destination.
Now, if you believe local legend, our founding fathers were also a resourceful lot. If the beer couldn’t come to town, then town would simply come to the beer. Today Tennant Creek still stands seven miles south of the crossing, the pub in the main street a fitting monument to that truck’s final resting place.
Gold, in all its forms, seems woven into the very fabric of this place. That first lucky strike wave passed, as it did in so many Australian towns, though men, seemingly less desperate now, still search for the next big find. The swaying golden pastures feed a thriving beef industry, and that liquid gold flows freely, though mostly through our blood too often spilled on the red earth in an angry drunken haze.
What do we do, in a place so intimately connected to the very thing that tears so many of us apart? How do we extract ourselves from our history, our blood? Someone please tell me – how do we quench that thirst that wasn’t earned through hot and dusty toil?