She wasn’t remembered
for her industriousness though that had been apparent from the first week she arrived in the small Australian town and started
work on the mail run. It was something moreuncanny than that, but no one could
put their finger on what it was exactly.It had a family ring to it of sorts,
a communal connectedness.
Yet this appraisal defied all
logic when it was discussed because they all knew she was an outsider and no outsider had ever been accepted so readily into
their hearts before, not ever.She had them well and truly stumped, from beginning
Few could remember the exact day it was when she arrived in
their midst, the month, or even the year. She had settled in so well doing the mail run she had become the regular feature
of their daily lives. “She was one of us, was Pam,” said old Nick Evans as some form of justification for ignorance
before his anger took over.
“Pammie,” as the locals called her¾where had she come from exactly? They opened it up to wide discussion
in the pub two weeks after that fateful day when a disbelieving town was reduced to its knees and they all got their first
real glimpse of the real woman behind their contrived communal model of country perfection.
“She came here because she wanted the job,” said
postmaster Bill Evans, brother of Nick. “She had to put in a tender.”
“There wasn’t much
competition,” said Ted Wilson, the bartender, as he poured another draft beer.
“She got it because she was the cheapest,” said
“She didn’t care about money, anyway,” said
Margie Jones. “She only cared about people.”
“Yeh, sure,” they all scoffed. “She cared
so much she didn’t care. How could she have done that?”
“Didn’t have a conscience,” Old Nick put
in. The reality of what happened probably affected him the most as she had been his lover. When the truth struck home he resorted
to heavier than usual beer breath mutterings. “No conscience, I say.” They all ignored this last remark as they
were painfully aware he was right.
“Can we all stop being
so emotional about this!” shouted Jens Bursten. “Can’t we just begin to look at it logically with a little
bit of common sense so that we can try to understand it?”
“It’s alright for you to be so ‘okay’
and ‘separate’ and ‘detached’ from the whole business, Jens Bursten,” said Shirl Carruthers
using her fingers to wag out the words in inverted commas. “Nothing was taken from your life. Nothing that meant something
to you. I feel like, like,” she started to get very emotional, “like I was stripped of my clothes or
something, like I was standing there naked in the town street
with people around me like snarling circus bosses poking me with sticks and bits of twigs.”
“Really, Shirl,” cautioned Margie Jones. “I
wouldn’t go that far. She may have helped herself to our lives in one sense of the word, but she didn’t disgrace
us. I’d revise my images if I were you. You know about the power of visualisation.” She gave her a very stern
Shirl Carruthers immediately poked her tongue out at her.
“You always were a brat, Margie Jones. Trust you not to stick up for your friends when the going gets tough.”
The women moved their chairs away from each other, Shirl Carruthers
so put out that she turned her face to the wall and tipped her beer glass to vertical.
They all looked relieved when Tim Evans, Bill’s son
and Nick’s nephew, as well as the local senior constable, steered his way into the group past a table of head-heavy
regulars who only appeared related because of the colour of their noses.
“I should have known you’d all be here,”
Tim said. “I think we’re going to have to down a few more schooners to sort this one out.” He ordered a
draught Victoria Bitter which was served on the spot.
“Any luck, son?” asked Bill Evans. Tim just drank
and swallowed and shook his head in the anti-affirmative.
“Yeh,” echoed his uncle Nick. “Do we know
anything more about the little bitch who didn’t have one scrap of decency?”
“Shhh!” screamed Jens as if they were all to blame.
“Lay off the swearing. You really don’t have any right to call her that Nick. Not considering the circumstances.
And also because you were the one who seemed to get on with her the most?" He threw him an angry glare.
Old Nick talked over the top of him. “I’ll never
forgive her. We could have gone somewhere, me and her. But she had no conscience. One of the sexiest women I’ve ever
met. Mentally, all over the place like a mad woman’s breakfast. I shall miss that. But no conscience. None at all.”
Old Nick looked into the beer streaks left in his glass, then
put his glass forward on the bar. “Give us another one, Ted, will you, mate?”
“Sure,” answered Ted. “I wouldn’t
take it so hard, mate. You can’t turn back the clock.”
“Even if I did, wouldn’t do me any good, mate,”
replied Nick, “…didn’t know a thing.”
“None of us did, mate, none of us did,” said Ted
consolingly. The men and women all sat silently for awhile without talking. They sipped their beers ever so slowly.
Of course, being an outsider myself, I do understand some
of these issues. I sure as hell wouldn’t have lasted long here if I’d had the same outrageous gall to do what
Sitting here listening to these people, though, helps me start
piecing things together¾like what I think and what I’d like
to tell them. But I can’t, I’m a journalist. I’ve got to synthesise it first so it makes more sense, so
that it’s more logical. But, maybe if I can't talk to them, I can tell it to you? If you’re interested in hearing
an intriguing ‘truth is stranger’ sort of tale from a tanked journo.
But I better say goodbye to these folks first. “Bye,
“Bye, Dennis,” they all chorus back at me. Typically,
Old Nick has to get in the last word. “Hey, Dennis,” he calls out, “for a journo you’re a man of few
words!” They all look up at me and smile in wry appreciation. It’s another easily coined smartarse outsider joke.
I walk out a bit unsteady onto the main street of the quiet
sunny town, so thankful for the cool breeze at last. I find my nestling spot on a log underneath a sprawling jacaranda tree
and settle in the shade. On my lap I have a complete notebook of factual details and I have taped interviews from my past
two weeks here, ever since the quirky news broke. If I can but begin, I’ll tell you what I know so far about Pammie…
Pammie worked the mail run for three years solid, knew everyone
in the town, drank beer and played billiards with the guys in the pub, babysat the local kiddies from the
church and even baked batches of fairy cakes for the Country
Women’s Association’s fundraising rounds.It would be nice to think
she had some kind of background, which she didn’t¾or
at least no one knew about. All they knew was what she wanted them to.She frequently went to their houses, but curiously they were never invited back to hers.
Perhaps it would help if I read you some of the stuff from
my journal or you listened to my interviews. Mrs Solomon had an interesting angle. But I suppose it can be said that all busybodies
have interesting angles. Mrs Solomonthought Pammie was a tart who always dressed
like a tart except when she was in postal uniform¾but
she didn’t know where all of this tart gear came from.It wasn’t
sold in any of the town’s shops, she said, and Pammie never left the town or travelled to the city either by car or
This is interesting because Mrs Solomon lives next door to
Old Nick Evans:“(Pammie) … only pretended to be religious.
But I could see through her. She used to disappear
into Nick’s four or five times a week, all tarted up¾they weren’t church clothes.
“They’d stand on the verandah, him squeezing her
round the middle, and I'd watch the old dog zipping up his trousers, saying goodbye to her. He’d kiss her on the neck
till she got the giggles. Disgraceful conduct, especially for someone Nick Evan’s age.” Mrs Solomon was speechless.
But listen to Nanna insisting Pammie was kind… Where
is it on this tape?… Here we are… “Pammie was so concerned if anyone’s kid was sick. She used to go
to their house
and give them clothes, as presents. They were brand new kids
clothes¾don't know where she got them.” The clothes
come back as a recurring theme.
Nanna says Pammie was “a healthy looking girl for 43”¾who, “always wore her red hair in a bun when she was in uniform”¾and, “for a single woman she was always welcomed at the church.”
I guess she was trying to say that other women weren’t threatened by her, and by women’s standards she wasn’t
Two weeks ago Nick Evans took a complimentary view of the
illustrious postal Pammie, as well he might if Mrs Solomon’s observations are correct. “Well, she was my glowing
girl. She had a presence about her.” Well, that was two weeks ago, Nick!I’m
sure I don’t have to explain to any of you the view that he now megablasts¾you heard it in the pub.
Now romance always has a sad side. Ted Wilson shared with
me yesterday how Jens Bursten was the odd man out, another of Cupid's casualties.
Jens doesn’t comprehend why he missed out on the affections
of Pammie. Both single and of a similar age, Pammie was the first woman Jens had the courage to ask out since his wife died
six years ago.
On numerous occasions he took the postal princess to the Club
for a hot baked lamb, or out to the pictures. All he ever got for his efforts though was a smile, but the greatest smile ever¾like pure magic!
Ted confessed to me he’d never sufficiently learned
to deal with the broken hearted. “What could I tell Jens?” he said, “That she didn’t take him seriously
because she was slipping into Nick’s every other day¾or,
vice versa as the case was?”
Collecting this information has been a kind of ordeal for
me. I feel like I’ve been caught in everyone’s snare. The snare, that is, of their daily lives. It's exhausting.
Perhaps it would be easier now if I just talked to you¾encapsulations
of what went on and how Pammie came unstuck. The best versions of what occurred have surfaced from my conversations at the
pub.This is what happened…
One morning two weeks ago, Pammie didn’t show up for
work. That was odd because for about three years solid she'd been there ready to start at the sorting shed behind the post
office every morning at sharp.
Her boss Bill Evans was ready to send someone looking for
her. But while this was going on, a whole lot of residents from Harrisons Lane,
where Pammie lives, were making their way to her house as they’d all been woken up by loud screaming noises. The screams
weren’t coming from inside the house, but from a shoulder high space underneath the house.
Well, you can imagine how none of the town would have had
a clue as to what this screaming was all about. The screams didn’t stop. While some townies were trekking down the lane
at that ungodly hour, others were on the phone variously calling the police, the doctor, the ambulance driver, the hospital,
the minister and the Bush Fire
The first of the townspeople brave enough to go under the
house to investigate were Nick Evans and his constable nephew, Tim.They were
aghast at what they saw:
Pammie was collapsed in an emotional heap on the bare ground,
her face and clothes covered in dirt. She kept smearing herself with the stuff, like an almost deranged robot. Her screaming
continued high pitched and drum like in between some really pitiful sobs. One beaten and broken woman gone senseless and troppo,
What Nick and Tim couldn't make sense of however was what
lay around her, beside her and underneath her. Pammie was sitting on mail. Pammie was surrounded by mail¾of all kinds and descriptions, opened and unopened: parcels, boxes,
jiffy bags, padded bags, tough bags, postpaks, large letters, small letters, CD, video and photo mailers, cards, crumpled
wrapping paper, tissue paper, string, ribbons, colourful stick-on bows¾and tinsel.
On closer inspection, the tinsel gave it away.Both men were instantly struck with the realisation that Pammie had apparently suffered some sort of nervous
breakdown while opening Christmas presents. Only it wasn't Christmas and the Christmas presents she was opening were not even
her Christmas presents¾ they belonged to the town. The addressees
were all residents of the town, and the addressees were everyone but Pam.
Though still a bit dazed, Old Nick was fuelled with compassion.
He went forward to help her up with outstretched arm but she retaliated swiftly with a vicious swipe and contemptuous snarl.
He quickly backed off, feeling most rejected. Wherever Pammie was mentally, he assessed, she didn't want him.
Outside, the group of townsfolk gathering on the lane was
steadily growing. From this group and too scared to go underneath the house, the friends from early school days, Margie and
Shirl, stormtroopers on tip toes, walked up the stairs of the house and let themselves in for a good stickybeak around. Considering
no one went inside Pammie's house, their adventure had all the excitement of a sexual tryst. There was a woman under the house
screaming her lungs out, for godsakes!¾yet the two friends
got the giggles as they went.
But when they stepped into the lounge room, Margie and Shirl
gasped in horror. The room was filled everywhere with framed photos¾not of Pammie's family (whoever they were) but of everyone else in the town. Photographs of young and old, male and
female in group shots, studio portraits, and impromptu snaps covering all situations, happy and serious, casual and formal,
summer and winter, at home and abroad.
Snooping further, they found on Pammie's cluttered desk a
stack of mail order catalogues featuring sexy women's clothes and, in others, children's clothes. Three business card folders,
instead of holding business cards, contained an assortment of credit cards belonging to different townsfolk. There was also
a large folder full of photocopied signatures of the people in the town¾a practice page on the right hand side meant she had space to copy the signatures many times over.
The two women became increasingly upset as to what all this
meant. Locals had reported missing photographs and credit cards from time to time, but had always put it down to an inefficient
mail service being streamlined by a federal government for the sake of economic rationalism.
But it was what was in the bedroom that was the last straw
for Shirl Carruthers and the final assault on her feminine self. Two years ago, after experiencing problems in her marriage,
Shirl tracked down her high school lover and, unbeknown to her husband, the two had started corresponding. But then the letters
suddenly stopped. Her lover had announced he was going to send her a picture but she never heard from him again. When she
looked at the bed she was shocked to see a photograph of her paramour sitting framed on a table right beside Pammie's bed!¾decorated with flowers, candles and the words "I love you" embroidered
on a satin ribbon below it.
Margie asked what's up, but Shirl was drawn in a zombiesque
dance towards a folder on the table's lower shelf. She flipped it open fast as the disbelieving lumps in her throat got bigger
and bigger. Inside were hole punched letters from her dream man written to her, Shirl. In another section were copies of all
the letters written back to him by someone who had been signing the name, 'Shirl.' When she realised Pammie had actually done
this pretending to be her, to Margie's bewilderment Shirl ran crying out of the house and down the lane. The 30 or so townsfolk
gathered outside to listen and witness, thought 'this makes no sense' and agreed it was a crazy morning.
That's how the reaction of the town stayed for at least two
weeks. All their confectionery images of the idealised Pammie began to crumble like icing sugar avalanches. People were confused,
humiliated, while some felt emotionally destroyed. After Pammie was arrested and charged, Tim successfully got a court order
for all the people in the town to go into her place and collect their things; strictly supervised, of course. Broadcast on
local radio the day was organised chaos. This unusual communal activity attracted more excitement, crowds and traffic jams
than the annual Show.
But I'm losing my train of thought here. This town's losing
light, my tummy's grumbling, and it's almost time for the evening meal.
I walk more steadily this time back into the warm atmosphere
of the pub. Inside, Tim's talking: "Look, I know you're all in shock but there's no use getting upset. The magistrate will
sort her out. Credit card theft and tampering with the mail are serious offenses."
"Do we know anything more about her yet, Tim?" asks Ted Wilson
busily washing out glasses. "Do we know who she is?"
"Well, look, Ted," Tim says, "The truth about Pammie is she
could be anyone. She's had a history of homelessness, and non attachment to an area. She's lived in many places, usually for
not more than two years at a time. She liked our town more than the others," he sniggers. "We don't know who she is, or her
real name. The identity cards we found are so numerous: department store cards, credit cards, NRMA road service cards, petrol
cards. Stolen from people all over Australia¾different names, of course.Anyway,
sorry , got wife and kids waiting at home." Tim bids us farewell, dons his police cap, and leaves the pub.
the finest, the greatest mail carrier we ever had," says a lachrymose Old Nick who is feeling a little kinder towards her.
Jens agrees, "It's true. But she hated compliments. When anyone
told her how great she was at her job, she used to say, 'But all I do is sort and deliver. Any moron can do that."
Ted hands me my plate of steak and chips and I eat steadily
listening."Ever seen that movie, The Great Imposter?" Margie suggests.
"Oh, yeh,” they all groan. "Maybe."
Shirl is still feeling particularly bitter: "She was just
a clever deviant who kept the eye of the town¾and
especially the finger of the police¾off her."
But I've heard enough dribble for the day! I really have.
I put my utensils down. It's time to let them have it:
No, listen! You lot have got it all wrong! Completely wrong!
Know what I think? I think she was a drifting soul, the epitome of loneliness, with no real place to call home. She grew up
in an orphanage. She didn't have roots like you take for granted. Why do you think she had pictures of all you lot sitting
around her house?
Margie sniggers, "Because she stole them?"The rest are silent.
You mean you don't know? I persist. She was trying to create
a family! Tim told me a story about when he was alone with her at the hospital. She'd been formally charged and, sick of the
questioning, Tim decided to talk to her instead. She was all broken up and he took her hand. He said that she said, "There
were no big arms to hold me." And he said stroking her head, "What do you mean?" And she said, "What I mean is, when I was
a child, no one ever picked me up. I have no memory of adult arms." And that's when he held her in his arms. It's pretty damned sad. I want you to take note!
"Yeh, it's pretty damned sad," they all chorus, and drink
their beer as quiet as the other.So, are they sad? I think.
I'm coming to the realisation that maybe the Pammie saga is
over.I might actually be able to leave the weight of this town. But I suppose
I better thank them first. They made me feel welcome enough. I will finish my dinner first though.
"Hey Dennis!" Bill yells, as I'm walking out the door. "For
a journo, you're a man of few words!"
"Not as talkative as you, Bill," I say to him smiling, "But
'long as you say so."