OVER THE YEARS there have been occasions when I abandon my usual tour leader work wear to don some other clothes.
Now, you must understand that this kind of dressing up has never been my idea – my wife Brenda dreams up various costumes, organises them, and tells me that wearing them will be a good idea. Being both easily influenced and a husband, I have fronted the tour group wearing variously a Superman costume, a tuxedo in the middle of the desert, and a ghastly-looking rubber head mask. But none of these eclipsed the Bob Marley get-up I was cajoled to wear at the Timber Creek Roadhouse.
After alerting the counter staff that I’d be back looking a little different, I snuck out to get changed in the adjacent shower block. My "manager" had gone to quite some trouble to get this outfit together: there was a harlequin hat sporting long dreadlocks; strings and strings of wooden and glass beads down to waist level; a black polo top with a fusion of colours on the front; a creamy string vest; somewhere she had found a pair of balloon-legged joker’s trousers; an assortment of bangles and small-rimmed tortoise-shell sunglasses to validate the Marley look. For an added touch of authenticity, all of my exposed skin had a generous helping of black shoe polish rubbed across it. In the dimly-lit shower room, the figure I saw in the mirror had zero resemblance to the tour operator my group knew.
If there was ever a time in my life I felt severe regret for what I had done, it occurred as I prepared to leave that shower block. Suddenly, against the failing light, the silhouette of a giant appeared in the doorway and strode toward me. It was the tallest, biggest, most powerful looking Aboriginal man that I had ever seen. Inside I went cold, and a thought went through my mind: “You are about to be smacked by a modern-day giant, and you probably deserve it.”
The giant kept coming, and I do believe I trembled in anticipation of being walloped. But either the dim light or else the authenticity of the camouflage saved the day. As he brushed past, he uttered the memorable words, “G’day, brother.” All I could do was use the same words in reply, and feel extremely relieved.
Inside the roadhouse, I could sense every eye fixed on me as I sauntered up to the counter. I clicked my fingers as I swaggered along, southern-states style (we’ve lived in southern USA, so I know the gait). I arrrskt fuh carrfay (ordered a caffeinated beverage) in practised southern drawl and sat at a long table before my tour group. A teenage girl whizzed suddenly to the far end of the table, clearly troubled by the Marley figure.
After 10 to 15 minutes of going about their business, a few began to realise that they didn’t have an addition to the travel group. They were looking at a familiar chap in new clothes.
Was it fun? Yes – to watch the amazed onlookers, all of whom I knew, and not be recognised. And, no – not only had I feared for my safety at one point, I went through agony getting all the shoe polish off.