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Plain Pies and Battered Saveloys

February 14, 2019

Penshurst Milk Bar
A few weeks ago I was guest of honour at the ArcanaCon RPG convention in Melbourne. The Brown Dirt Cowboy came with me, and we took advantage of this unique chance to travel Down Under to tack a roadtrip on after the con. The whole thing was an amazing experience: we’re both still digesting what we did, and our waking and dreaming hours are beset by flashbacks and daydreams. So, in no particular order…

On the Wednesday we were driving north from Warrnambool and the Tower Hill crater, heading towards Halls Gap in Gariwerd, the Grampian Mountains. Suddenly this wasn’t the Great Ocean Road anymore – the hills gave way to a wide open country, brown grass and eucalyptus, and few cars and even fewer houses. Signs warned of kangaroos, but there was not a one: instead, black cows dotted the landscape, right up to the far horizon.

It was hot. The dashboard said 37 degrees. We were running out of gas. After an hour or two we passed a sign saying we were entering a town, Penshurst. This wasn’t immediately apparent to a European: I guess there was more than one house visible at a time, and all within half a mile of the road. Maybe that’s a town.

But then a crossroads, and a post office, and a petrol stand. That’s more like it. We had a couple of postcards to post, and we were both hungry, so the post office seemed like a good place to find another human. We got out the car – a sudden wave of heat on the street – and I dropped the cards in the post box. At that point the postman drove up to collect.

“Hello!”
“G’day.”

That was an awesome accent. I expect mine was to him, too.

“Can you recommend anywhere to get a spot of lunch around here?”
“Right well there’s the milk bar over there. They’ll sort you out.”

Having no idea what a milk bar was, we thanked the postman and drove to the petrol stand. First things first.

The petrol stand was bare bones and a mystery. No attendants, two pumps, one credit card machine, no instructions. The machine declined all our cards except HSBC – thankfully that worked. It also worked for a hapless German couple who were at a loss in a classic VW camper. “If I give you cash, can you buy for us some petrol?”

Hell yeah. Solidarity amongst roadtrippers – you didn’t want to be running out of petrol in this heat and in what for us was basically the middle of nowhere.

When we parked up at the milk bar the tarmac was melting in the heat. An old-timer in a mobility scooter in the shade said g’day. Inside, there was air conditioning, and a menu straight out of the 1950s. The place was a general store-cum-greasy spoon. Slightly surreally, given the 38 degrees outside, I ordered a big mug of milky tea.

“What’s a ‘plain pie’?” got a nonplussed look from the woman at the counter.

“It’s a pie with nothing else in it.”

“Nothing else but – ?”

“Meat.”

There it was. “I’ll have a plain pie please.”

Best greasy spoon meat pie I’ve had for years. Accompanied with a strawberry milkshake alongside my mug of tea. We were both still feeling a bit crook with the lurgy we’d picked up on the Emirates flight from Dubai, and were craving milk, eggs, cheese. Chris had a battered saveloy and a glass of milk. I wanted to lick my plate. It kind of felt like finding an ice cream van in the Sahara. Something so familiar in an environment that was so, so strange.

We fired up the SUV and rolled stickily from the melted tarmac into the main street. In less than a minute we were in baking empty grasslands again, our thoughts taking flight. And still no kangaroos.

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