Cousin Bill: An Invitation to Dinner

By Pat Toomer

Houseboat on a river

‘He’s a bit of a character,’ they’d say.

‘He’s an old bugger,’ someone would be sure to reply.

Everyone who meets Bill has an opinion, usually at each end of the spectrum. So, let me describe Cousin Bill as he is today.

Bill stands about five foot eight, a nuggety build and pretty agile for his eighty-five or so years.  His weathered arms coloured and wrinkled by the sun. His face, equally weathered has settled into the wrinkles that surround one twinkling blue eye, and the laughter lines around his mouth. 

Bill wears a black leather patch over his left eye, the result of a fracas several years back. Trouble seems to follow Bill around, or some may say, he looks for it.

Well worn and comfortable King G pants, a nondescript equally worn top and a peaked cap with the legend ‘Captain’ written on the front that covers a head almost devoid of hair. The mouth that grins often, shows gaps, in the not so pearly whites.  

‘A wicked smile,’ they’d say. 

We found Bill, pottering around, watering his flower-pots on ‘The Gunbower.’ The small Houseboat that he’s called home for twenty years. After greetings, and a catchup, we asked if he’d like to come and have lunch at he local pub. He spruced himself up, put on his going out cap and off we went to The Royal Hotel in a small community on the NSW side of the River Murray. Here Bill regaled us with stories from his travels on the river.

In South Australia, it is apparently against the law to live on a houseboat, if one didn’t have a mooring. So, Bill spent years dodging the ‘Inspector’ who would issue him with ‘a bluey.’ A fine. I’m not sure Bill ever paid one of those fines, so he became quite well known to ‘the Inspector’ who could recognise his boat from a distance and seek him out. Occasionally his mobile would ring. 

‘Hello?’ He would say.

‘Better get a move-on Bill. The Inspector’s on his way.’ Someone would say.

‘Thanks Mate,’ he’d reply. Then immediately look for a small creek where he would take his boat and lay low until the danger had passed, cackling all the while.

People up and down the river, loved him, and often rang to warn him that the ‘Inspector’ was on the prowl. Occasionally, if there was no little creek or inlet in sight, the Inspector would catch up and issue him with yet another bluey and send him on his way.

‘He’s retired now you know,’ he said. ‘That Inspector. Retired a couple of years ago.’ His voice sounded almost wistful that his nemesis of so many years was no more. 

‘So how often do you take The Gunbower out now Bill?’   We asked

‘Oh well, I can’t drive it now. They reckon my eyesight’s not good enough to drive, so I just stay in the one place.’ His one good eye twinkled, and in a conspiratorial whisper said. ‘Officially I live in a cabin at the Caravan Park, but I just use that for storage. I actually live and sleep on the boat. It’s comfortable on the River, has everything I need. The water laps against the sides, and I can fish if I want to.’

He sighed a contented sigh, and we smiled with him, that became a laugh out loud. I wonder what that old ‘Inspector’ would make of it all.  

Lunch over, we took him back to his home, and said goodbye till our next visit. Bill has many stories so who knows, perhaps I’ll write some more about Cousin Bill’s reflections on his life another time.

Pat Toomer © 2020