Carnies Abound - Australia Part 1

In 2008, en route to Indonesia, I lived in Australia for eight months. It was such a great time in my life and I have so many stories from that year abroad.

I lived down under (Australia) for almost eight months in my early 20s. Actually this was the best time to go. I didn’t care about living in adverse conditions or having a lack of sleep. I started my trip in Sydney, Australia in April and by September I was living in Darwin out of my Nissan van with a pop top and kitchen / sleeper. I loved that the engine was under the passenger seat even if it made for uncomfortable summer like temps during the long days of driving.

Often, I would take on odd jobs just to make some extra money for my travels and Darwin was no exception. So when The Show (carnival) came to town, I was on board and ready to work.

As I enter the carnival grounds, I instantly notice that everyone is staring at me like I’m fresh meat. There are people that resemble the ZZ Top band mates; older ladies that could pass for the bearded lady; ride operators that appear to be stoned; and young kids that don’t look old enough to be wandering around alone. But what do they have in common with one another? They are Carnies!

“Has anyone seen Mac?” I ask. One little boy points in the direction of the ball toss. “Thank you very much,” I say showing my good Canadian upbringing. I met with Mac and 20 other transient workers that we were going to work The Show for Mac’s family. Mama Mac (Mac’s mother) owned and operated ten carnival games and two food trucks. She was a real slave driver and battle-axe. She paid a higher wage than most of the owner/operators but she worked people to death. I wouldn’t know this until the weekend ended. Mama Mac said, “As long as you work, you can have as much pop and non-alcoholic drinks as you like”

Every game has a trick to it and the ball toss is one of those games. Mac put me on the ball toss and truthfully I suck at the ball toss. You have to toss the ball in a slight upward movement, but not throw over hand, to get it to land in the basket. Every game has a way to win, you just have to have the patience and the money to figure it out. Nevertheless, I worked the ball toss for about four hours and then asked to be switched to another game.

Mac moved me to the pop the balloon with a dart game. I have no idea what it’s actually called, but you know what I’m talking about. Kids always win a prize no matter if they pop a balloon or not. That’s right up my alley because it’s fun. So how hard can it be to get people to part with their money? Actually it’s fairly hard. I am yelling,

“Win a prize every time”
“Two dollars a dart wins you a prize”

Try yelling that above the ever-flowing noises of the games and the people at a carnival. There is so much noise and so much visual stimulation that it is overwhelming. This day was exhausting. My contact lenses are so dry that I feel like fine sand has worked its way into my eyeballs. My feet hurt from being on them for eighteen hours. At the end of this day, I can’t believe I have two more days of this.

I am taking breaks with other carnies and transient workers as often as we are allowed.  Mama Mac has eyes everywhere and if you’re caught taking an unscheduled break, you are fired. I meet this guy named Matt.  He’s a nice guy, transient worker, kind of cute, but oh so nice. He is American. He stops in at my game as often as he has breaks and brings me drinks. I really think he’s sweet on me. I stop by his game too. His game is awesome.  It’s karaoke. If you manage to make it through a whole song without being booed you win a prize. The prizes are these goofy felt Mad Hatteresque hats. I really want one of those hats, but I sing like two cats fighting in a back alley…not very appealing and totally worthy of a booing.

I’m back at my game and Matt comes by with a gift for me…it’s a hat…from his game.  I asked him where he got it and he said he bought it for me. It was really a sweet gesture. Of course I took it. During my dinner break, I went to see Matt and thank him again, but he was gone. Mama Mac fired him for stealing. I instantly feel bad. I know that I didn’t make Matt steal the hat, but I felt bad nonetheless.  So I guess, Matt’s uxoriousness for me made him do it (this is a shout out to my 2nd year English Prof Christine Neufeld).

During this time, I am living on the Australian Aborigine land within Darwin proper. I am living out of my van and this is the only area in which the state police have no legal abilities to evict people for setting up camp illegally. I’ve found a loophole.  Each morning, I get up early with the sun and drive to the beach to use the showers. Often I watch the surfers as I drink my coffee with Bailey’s. My friends and travel mates that I’ve been cohabitating with since my arrival in Darwin decide that I am missing. They are now combing the beaches north of Mindil Beach to see if they can find me. Truthfully because of the chaos of working The Show, I am feeling antisocial and I need time away from people as I cannot talk anyway after losing my voice two days ago. And anyone who knows me, knows I love to talk.  Truthfully, as a cancer I need my shell time and I have never needed it as much as I need it now.

After three, eighteen to twenty hour days, I am over my limit. I take a day to rest at this beach and before I know it, my friends come looking for me and stop in for coffee.  My friend Caron thought I had been abducted by the Carnies to which I said, “

There’s a couple things I know about Carnies…they are very nice, hard working people, and they are misrepresented in society. If they did abduct me, I’d be way more than they bargained for and I could never survive their lifestyle.” 

~Jennifer Ward

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