The George, as it’s affectionately known by a younger generation with a penchant for abbreviation, is a good six hours’ drive from Brisbane; nestled a couple of hours from the Queensland/New South Wales border on the banks of the Balonne River. Six hours of an arrow-straight, flat road; camoflage khaki scrub rushing past on either side like crayon scribbles. Something about the epic journey to get there – best done in an old station wagon, solo, with lots of beef jerky and ten of your favourite albums sung along to at top volume – makes your eventual arrival into town somewhat surreal.
St George is so named because explorer Major Mitchell crossed the river and camped there on St George’s day in 1846. Back in the heady days of 1996 – it was all flannel and the intense crushes of twelve-year-olds and the ubiquitous novelty song “How Bizarre” – the town had a massive 150th birthday party and they reenacted the the George’s conception.
It’s a town of about 2,500 people, built on a big artesian bore. The town’s water is either dirty brown river water, rainwater collected in big tanks, or the salty bore water that bubbles hotly from deep within the earth with a unique sulphuric smell. You know you’ve been away a long time when you notice the smell of the bore water! Originally I think livestock and a bit of grain cropping were the main industries; more recently a lot of grape farms have popped up, and the town has grown rich and bummed out again on that devilishly thirsty and ecologically unsupportable crop, cotton.
When you visit the George, drop in and visit my folks. You can find our place because it’s right near the water tower, the tallest thing in the town. One new year’s we watched delightedly as some drunken idiot scaled the tower and danced on the top. Back when it belonged to my dissolute maternal grandfather, the house was the hangout for all the local boozers and deros – as such it is perfectly situated at the centre point of the town from which all the pubs fan out.
Mum’s clan were actually kind-of-big-deals in the town’s history… The bridge that crosses the river is named after her great grandfather. The story goes that her grandfather was the first to cross the bridge, because as they were about to perform the ribbon cutting the toddler raced away from his parents, crossing the threshold in just a nappy. (Mum, I know you’ll correct me if I’ve got this story wrong!)
I love trying to imagine what the George was like back in the 70s, when my mum and dad had left school at 15 and were cutting loose. Dad was apparently quite the party animal, known for antics such as eating live crickets and drinking two-stroke. When the river runs low, an island (“Turd Island”) emerges in the middle, and back in mum and dad’s heyday they held a party on Turd Island, ferrying eskies and supplies across in a tinny boat.
Ah, the George. If only it wasn’t so far away…. and if only easter wasn’t so far away, because I won’t get back there before then. One of the best things about making the trek is this lady:
My nanna. Oh sure, she seems demure and sweet as pie, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth etc. But produce a deck of cards and take her on at euchre and watch the trash-talk fly. I think my favourite nanna saying was when someone pulled out a trick and beat her, and she exclaimed “Oh… you little… SAUSAGE DOG!”