LIKE so many in Archies Creek and surrounds we shared Old Joe as our own. He was always there when we needed him. He had one of the first beers we pulled at the Royal Mail, he was there at our inaugural evening when the kitchen finally opened, ran raffles, judged ‘Fashions on the Field’ on our Melbourne Cup Days, joined us at our Christmas Carols and bonfires out the back, hosted one of our car rallies and witnessed the making of a pizza so high you could hardly jump over it.
He loved the little oddments that we kept so we would not confuse our customers’ money on the bar. His was a fossil! We think he preferred his cap.
Joe appeared in a promotional campaign for home help services after he left the Peter Mac.
He encouraged us in our travels to help the less fortunate overseas and looked over our home when we were away, collecting mail, paying bills, and making sure every one of our various cats was fed. He made sure we knew about important matters. Our favourite was when he wrote a letter to us when we were in Kenya, photographed it and then sent it via the ipad that you had bought for him.
He kept an eye out for everyone. He was there with wise words when Matt had cancer and was there when a worried Liane came back from the hospital when Matt contracted malaria. He came with us to the hospital when Pommy Pete was slipping away just a few short months after sharing a last birthday party with him at his home.
He shared with us stories of his life, his love of his family and introduced many to the word ‘embuggerance’, which gave me the title for my book about the drinkers at the Royal Mail Hotel. (ėmbŭgg’erance, n. 1. a very minor problem – not the end of the world, but the world would be better without it, as (was off to have a few drinks at the pub tonight and spotted a pimple on the end of my nose. What an embuggerance!) Urban Dictionary)
This is what I wrote at the time:
POOR old Joe had another few bits carved from him the other day. He is suffering from cancer and every now and then he turns up in the bar with a swathe of bandages covering his head. Joe is quite bald and so we laughed when one of the locals worried that the skin grafts he received might have hair follicles that would grow in tufts. She was particularly concerned about the skin graft on his ear. Joe then told her, “Not to worry, they got the skin grafts from my groin!”
Who knows? He might have got the damage when he started his working life as a brickie’s labourer. He soon tired of that and fortunately was invited to join the public service, where he worked conscientiously and ended up as a senior official. He was instrumental in the microfiching of all the records of Victoria’s births, deaths and marriages. It took much conniving, and direct appealing to the government before he was able to demonstrate the consequences of not recording these precious documents. That is – disintegration.
Joe ended up in Archies Creek because of a perverted twist of fate that he calls luck – and others would say is frightening. Joe, on holidays with his wife in South Australia, found himself being sideswiped by a bus that resulted in his arm outside his car ending up in a very strange arrangement. He had many months of recuperation and never went back to work.
Joe is one of the kindest people you will meet. He moved to Archies Creek after many years with St Vincent de Paul (or Vinnies as we now know it). He was involved in the response to Cyclone Tracey on Christmas Day in 1974 and has tears in his eyes as he recounts the way that it wasn’t just St Vincent that helped people. It was local people like the service station owners in Tennant Creek who filled up the cars of the evacuees for free on their flight south away from the devastation. He continues to provide support and now, in his eighties, has a ‘twin’ relationship with two villages in India that he supports through cattle fattening and other projects.
Joe hopes to travel to Europe some time to visit the places such as Frommel and Gallipoli that his father fought in World War I. He repeats the stories told to him by his father. His father’s contingent was in Egypt and had donkeys to carry their goods. Because of the use of mustard gas, all the men were issued with gas masks. Unfortunately the gas masks were made of hemp and so whilst the donkeys enjoyed a special treat, the men were left without protection.
The result of the gassing meant that Joe often visited his father in the Heidleberg Repatriation Centre. Joe must have got his kindness from his father who used to insist Joe visit the other blokes because they hadn’t had a visitor that week.
As we met Joe, early on in our purchase of the hotel, we found that he was married to Marie. Sadly Marie suffered from leukaemia, and so Joe is now alone. Then again, never alone due to the respect of everyone in the community who pops in for a chat or a drink or a meal. We know we will always be welcome.
We worry about him a bit – and once asked him how he was sleeping. “Nude,” he said, “Marie used to quite enjoy it.”
Our lives are the richer for having known Joe. We will miss him.
Joe McCarthy died on April 5, 2016.