After collecting Gemma from work last night, we drove to Kingston
, a nice suburb of our home-town of Canberra
, to Filthy McFaddens
, an Irish pub
At the midway point of our first pint (she a Murphy's Irish Red, me a Cascade Pale Ale), an old Digger walked in the door and practically right up to us.
Now, the term "Digger" is used for old ex-soldiers in Australia (and possibly New Zealand as well, if it be an ANZAC term). Old Diggers in Australia rarely have much money, the government paying only a pittance to those young men who went to fight a war in the last century.
Neither Gemma or I have any grandparents still alive, and we're both a long way from our families, so we're more likely than not to shout an old Digger a beer and ask him to tell us a yarn or two.
So this is what we did.
Old Tommy, born in the year 1920, fought in the Second World War for the ANZACs in the western desert in Egypt. "How many of your mates came back, Tommy?" we asked, after he'd settled in with his pint of Guiness.
Tommy reached into his jacket pocket (it was his best suit, he later told us, having come from a doctor's appointment earlier in the day), and showed us an old yellowed photograph, tatty on the corners and faded with years. "Three of us" he said, and jabbed his finger at three fresh, youthful faces, posing for a long-dead Egyptian cameraman, amongst a total of 18 young blokes in uniform.
It was a poignant moment. Tommy wasn't bitter, like the stereotypical old Digger, and he told us of his alcoholic wife, who died at the age of 40, his three month bender in London after he was demobbed at the conclusion of WW2, his work driving bulldozers to build the great Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, at the time the largest public works project in the world...
We shared another pint, Gemma and I answered his polite questions as to our work and lifestyle, and we left him with a half, a "packet of smokes", and a tenner in his pocket.
Later, as we were eating our dinner, outdoors, at a nice Italian restaurant around the corner, here came old Tommy, on his stick, at a top speed of perhaps 2 metres per minute. We called to him and he joined us for dinner, although the menu befuddled him, so we ordered him a nice basic steak and a Peroni. He thought it hilarious to be drinking "Eye-tie Beer" (Italian), as he'd "kicked their bums during the war". We enjoyed the moment.
We drove Tommy home to his little apartment, and then went home ourselves, feeling extremely appreciative of Tommy's -- and his long dead mates -- efforts for us all those decades ago.