THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Monday, 2 April

We claim morning chores (laundry, haircut, bullshit), so Ryan meets us at noon. We managed to do some serious wash in a nearby laundromat, which possessed a scary huge library of softer-than-Harlequin romance fiction, e.g, A Wish Fulfilled; Good Doctor, Good Lover, Good Dad; etc. It being Easter Monday, a lot of establishments are closed, like coffeehouses and barbers. I remain uncaffeinated and unshorn.

We rendezvous at the house on Pier Street and Ryan shepherds us to a café high overlooking Gladstone Harbour. Gladstone is a spigot through which all the natural resources of Queensland and the Northern Territory pass – coal, bauxite, timber, calcite, grain, electricity, LNG, crocodiles. Ships load and unload piles and stacks and tanks and silos. He takes us on a tour of Gladstone’s industrial infrastructure. Ryan works at a plant that makes ammonium nitrate. It has a blast radius. If it goes, it’ll take the whole of Gladstone with it. Most impressive is QAL – Queensland Alumina, Ltd., perhaps the largest plant of its kind in the world, dedicated to the refining of bauxite ore into alumina, the first step in the making of aluminum. It is a monstrous thing; a rust-colored Emerald City about twice the size of the entire Magic Kingdom. From a hilltop, we ask lots of questions, all the while snapping photos that do not accurately portray its mass or menace. Ryan explains other such sights and we are guest-curious.

He drops us back at the motel so we can rest before our dinner engagement at the Hog’s Breath Café with his mom and step-dad and kids. The Hog’s Breath is a chain of nouveau saloons with American signage and state license plates serving as décor. Ryan’s parents are engaging; she wears an eye-patch that goes unremarked upon. Belinda is crook, apparently, so she won’t be joining us. The waitstaff woman who takes our group photo bears the nametag – Strawberry.

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