Boggabilla is a small town just a few k’s south of the Queensland border.
Most people drive straight through, because despite its appealing name, there’s not much on offer in Boggabilla. Not on first glance. Take a second glance, and you’d put your foot on the gas and drive through even faster.
Which is why I stopped.
Boggabilla has a large aboriginal community. In fact, when my wife and I went for a walk we only saw two other white faces – both of them cops.
“What are you doing here,” one of the cops asked, suspiciously.
We didn’t look like locals. We looked like what we were, two relatively well-to-do borderline retirees looking for adventure in the Australian badlands.
“We’ve just come to take a look around,” I replied sweetly. It’s always wise to be sweet to cops, I’ve found. It confuses them. Especially if they’re stationed in Boggabilla.
The jaded and slightly bulging cop eyed my large Nikon camera, which would shortly be used with great dexterity to document my profound dining experience – the Boggabilla Shell Roadhouse mixed grill.
“Be careful,” the cop said. “They’ll know everything about you. Where you’re staying, what car you’re driving. I bet you’ve got an expensive car. I hope you got everything locked up.”
Expensive car. That’s relative. To a 1%-er, my car was not expensive. To a local living on welfare on the Boggabilla Aboriginal Mission, it probably was.
But I don’t scare easily. I’ve had quite a bit to do with aboriginal people in my time as a filmmaker, and I’ve always found them to be wonderful, spiritual people – unlike some lawyers and bankers I know, who have taken the art of thievery to an exalted level.
I pretended to make haste back to my motel. No doubt the cop thought I’d quickly pack up and move on to a less menacing town, or at the very least I’d stay awake all night in my motel room and guard my pile of worldly possessions with a plastic take-away fork, waiting for a horde of marauding Boggabilla locals to bust open the door and steal my iPhone.
In fact I walked off and found the pub.
The Boggabilla pub is famous. It’s called The Wobbly Boot Hotel. It’s been enshrined in song, and immortalized in folklore. It sits on a T intersection, so from every window you can see eighteen-wheelers drive by, crunching down through their copious gears, then crunching back up again as they make their inexorable way to the next town, Goondiwindi.
An aboriginal girl appeared in the doorway of the pub. She wasn’t allowed in, because she was under-age, but she wanted to buy an ice-cream and a packet of chips. She didn’t have enough money though – she was short twenty cents. The publican, Paula, let her have the ice-cream and chips anyway, telling her she could pay the twenty cents next time she stopped by.
After the girl left, I paid the twenty cents. I felt good about that.
Generosity is one of my strong points.
I sat at the bar with my wife, and we watched through the windows as the huge trucks lumbered by outside – and I wondered why more people didn’t stop here. They all went through to Goondiwindi.
Goondiwindi is a nice town. A pretty town. It straddles a pleasant river, and it has manicured parks and houses that are tidy and neat. Unlike Boggabilla, the front yards of the houses in Goondiwindi aren’t full of junk and decaying cars.
Goondiwindi also has decent places to eat. There are actual restaurants in Goondiwindi. Real restaurants. Boggabilla doesn’t have any real restaurants. Boggabilla has the Shell Roadhouse.
The Shell Roadhouse is segregated. Like the Deep South in the 50s. There’s the section for us white folk, then there’s the section for the truckies.
Yes, the truckies.
The truckies have their own lounge.
As I walked in I spied the sign – Truckies Only Lounge. I had to eat there. No way was I going to eat out in the regular roadhouse diner, with all the 4WD fraternity. 4WDs were pussies compared to eighteen wheelers.
I asked one of the staff if I could be given special dispensation to eat with the truckies. They told me the food in the lounge was the same as in the regular diner. I didn’t believe them. I just knew the food had to be better for the truckies. So I pleaded. It wasn’t pretty. But I didn’t care. I think the staff were scared I might start crying, so they reluctantly agreed to let me in.
I suspect they were reluctant because I didn’t meet the lounge’s dress code – I didn’t have any tatts.
Actually, I should have entered the lounge via the rear entrance. There’s a separate door for those truckies who park their huge rigs out the back. I walked out and counted twenty-one huge semi-trailers. Twenty-one.
Any place that has twenty-one trucks parked out back has to have something going for it. Better than Trip Advisor, is what I say. Better than any foodie guide. The truckies know where to eat. They don’t stop in real restaurants in Goondiwindi. They eat in the Boggabilla Shell Roadhouse. And they order the mixed grill.
So I ordered the famous mixed grill.
The lass serving me asked what I wanted with the mixed grill. I didn’t understand the question, even though I thought we were both speaking the same language.
“Salad and chips,” she explained patiently, “or veggies and chips, or eggs and chips.”
“Can I have chips and chips?” I asked brightly.
Her brow crinkled in a frown. She took me to be what I was – a blow-in smart-arse. I thought she might call the cops. I knew them. We’d bonded. I ordered the eggs and chips, because I figured I needed the protein.
The mixed grill wasn’t short on protein. It was a Noah’s Ark of food. It had two of everything. Two sausages, two chops, two steaks, two rissoles, two eggs. And it was even priced at twenty-two dollars.
I gulped it down and immediately felt like I needed two stomach pumps.
But it was a classic Australian truckie’s meal. You don’t get any more classic than a mixed grill from the Boggabilla Shell Roadhouse, eating it in the Truckies Only lounge.
So even though I walked out seriously considering converting to vegetarianism, I chalked it up as a memorable road-food experience. I went back to my motel and spent the night nervously guarding my worldly possessions, and in the morning I set off.
As I passed the Wobbly Boot Hotel and turned towards Goondiwind, I changed down gears and pretended for a moment I was a truckie…