The wind has almost disappeared and it truly feels like summer. We take the back road past squat green hills to Gympie. “Matilda” the giant fibreglass kangaroo, a relic from past Commonwealth Games, greets us with her long black eyelashes as we pass by the service station.
We loop around Mary Street hunting for a carpark. Not only are the closest ones all taken, they are reverse-angle, requiring you to navigate your way in bum-first. I’m thankful I learnt to drive two states south where reverse parking at a 45 degree angle isn’t commonplace.
Between us and Mary Street is a large grassy park complete with oversized rotunda. Benches of different types are dotted about; park benches and picnic benches, as well as a circular rose garden though no roses are blooming. I almost expect to see a wedding going on but for the fact that it’s Tuesday.
The park is connected to Mary Street by a short alley with war memorials displayed on its brick walls. Fully hydrated by water and instant coffee, I duck into the council-managed public toilets. They smell of urine and industrial cleaning product.
The back door of my cubicle displays a warning to Sarah-someone who is apparently fucking the graffiti writer’s husband. The graffiti writer gets the last laugh though – seems her husband has AIDS.
Better luck next time, Sarah.
I shake my newly washed hands under the weak hand dryer and meet the group in the alley outside.
Gympie’s main street is quiet mid-morning. We make our way past the discount shops smelling of cheap plastic and the hippy shops smelling of cheap incense. About half the people wear masks on the street even though it’s not required. The mandate for masks in shops has been lifted today, but still remains for cafes, bars and restaurants.
A woman with leathery skin and the tattoo of a kookaburra on her shoulder-blade crosses in front of us as we search the shopfronts for a friendly-looking café.
The first cafe located next to the thrift store has dirty tables so we settle instead on The Little Brown Jug. The blackboard inside promises the availability of scones or pikelets with jam and cream.
I accompany Michael’s dad inside to place our order with the harried woman behind the counter. She hands out a caramel latte to a local tradesman who is stood waiting, even though his order was for a regular one.
He accepts it at first, politely content to overlook the error and takes a sip, wincing slightly at the flavour. Upon realizing, the woman offers to remake it, and after her third offer the tradie finally relents, “Yeah, all right, if you wouldn’t mind. Bit sweet for me that’s all.”
They are out of plain scones so I choose a rectangular vanilla slice instead knowing Michael won’t be too excited by the fruit ones. We wait outside for our coffees to be delivered. Michael’s parents’ order arrives first, the overfull cup of flat white spilling onto the saucer and soaking the paper napkin beneath.
The coffee is good and Michael pronounces the chai latte the best one of the trip so far.
We stack our plates when we’re finished and leave them on the table before continuing our walk down the street. We turn at the corner, peering briefly into the Royal Hotel with its bright yellow XXXX sign. According to the menu, tonight, Tuesday, is Rump Steak Night.
We decide to save the pub visit for tomorrow.