The trouble with Barney was that he thought too much. Barney was a self made man, although exactly what that is supposed to mean I am not sure. Anyway that was how the town described Barney, as a self made man. I guess what they really meant was that Barney had started with very little and by a lot of hard work (and not a bit of native cunning) was now able to afford the things that most people in the town just dreamed about. Barney had a problem, he was in his mid forties and no longer had to worry about earning his dollars, he now had time to think and that is when his troubles started.
Bilunga was a nice town full of history and character, made affluent once again by the opening of the open cut mine on the site of the old gold mines. These mines had, some fifty years before, given birth to the town in a burst of frenetic and riotous activity. The old timers, reminiscing under the fan in a shady corner of the bar, claimed that someone was shot every week in a fight over the bar girls or a claim. Somehow I doubt if it was really quite as rough and wild as that but our town did have a colourful start to its history. And now the mines were back, but run by men in suits with disputes settled in court rather than with pick handles in the back yard of the pub.
From the open cut large quantities of low grade rock were trucked to the processing ponds which extracted chemically the minute amount of the gleaming metal hidden in each ton. The mine had opened up ten years ago and that was when Barney really started to do well, the mines needed every truck that they could lay their hands on and Barney was only too happy to sub contract to haul their rock. Not that Barney ripped them off, he gave good value and provided the mines with reliable and reasonably priced haulage rates so that after the first contract they have continued to use him ever since while other contractors have come and gone.
Barney worked very hard in those early years of the mine and I would not see him for months at a time. Now he has a manager in the office and a foreman in the workshop, and he had fallen into the habit of calling around once or twice a week for a chat and a beer. From time to time we would head off together for an extended weekend fishing down the coast or perhaps fossicking in the hills around Bilunga. Now Barney's wife was a country girl and a year or so back I began to detect a certain restlessness in Barney when his wife and family came under discussion. He finally confessed that on one of his trips down to Brisbane he had met an old flame and things were pretty serious. Barney is very much a straight shooter and is inclined to believe what people tell him until he has good reason not to, and this puts him at a decided disadvantage when it comes to dealing with women who prefer intrigue rather than clinical logic.
Barney thought that his refound female friend would be the cure for that certain restlessness that overcomes us all at forty but he was not sure and had been thinking a great deal about his problems.
The trouble was that she was married and he was married. She had children and he had children. He lived in Bilunga and she lived a thousand kilometers away in Brisbane. Bilunga was a nice town but it did not have any art galleries and the tallest building was the two stories of Shannon's pub. Bilunga was a quiet town and there were no coffee shops to go to after the theatre, come to think of it there was no theatre either unless you counted the Bilunga Players "Dial M for Murder" down at the School of Arts last year. Bilunga was a lawful town, if you could not sleep and went for a walk at two in the morning then your biggest danger was not a mugger but of being bitten by a dog bored enough to believe that it might be able to get away with claiming that you could have been a burglar. Bilunga was Barney's town and Brisbane was her town.
Barney, after his initial confession, talked to me at great length about his dilemma but I was smart enough to offer little advice beyond the caution to think it all out carefully before he made a decision. The only advice you can give another man about women is to be careful because you know that they will not listen anyway. If you do jump in and advise them then you just might lose a friend which is a lot harder to replace than a wife.
I am not sure what it was. Perhaps it was Barney realizing that he was financially secure or perhaps it was just that he was now forty or maybe it was just that, when he stopped for a moment and looked around, the world had changed without him noticing. What ever it was, Barney's restlessness started him reading as well. Barney's idea of reading used to be The Miners Weekly and the Dunn and Bradstreet Gazette but then he discovered a whole new vista that he had not known existed. First came the holistic health books, then about six months ago he started on the self actualisation self realisation books. These told him to have self confidence, to face up to his problems, to be decisive, not to look backwards, to take action and to march on with a positive attitude to a rosy future provided by the power of Positive Thought. Barney was very impressed by these ideas and had started on a mammoth five hundred page volume that he believed would lead him to the ultimate truth of life.
Barney was half way through the book when he decided to reorganise his life in line with his new found way of thinking. The first step was to move his wife and kids into their own house, clearing the decks so to speak. Now like many self made men Barney had one fault, if you could call it a fault, and that was that he still had the first dollar that he had made. He was accustomed to being careful with his money and despite the power of positive thought that habit did not change. Barney's long suffering wife may have been a country girl but she was a long way from dumb. That placid exterior covered a very shrewd and practical person. While not happy with Barney's reorganised life, she made the most of it and hoped that nature would take its course. In the mean time her move meant a new house, new furniture plus all the other bits and pieces like washers and driers, dish washers and TV. And of course a new car because, as she explained, her old one was not really reliable enough for a woman with kids living on her own.
I thought actually that Barney took all this very well. In fact he threw himself into what he called Stage One of his new life and money seemed to be of no consequence. Within a couple of weeks Stage One was completed although Barney confided that there had been a few snags. Bilunga was pretty dry most of the year and to keep the lawns and garden in good shape meant that you had to water each day, and there were other domestic chores too that seemed to take a great deal of time, but Barney was confident that these were minor irritations to be solved with Positive Attitude and Time Management.
Stage Two was to sort out the problems of his refound love and her family and I heard the results of Stage Two when he returned from Brisbane. Apparently after a week of traumatic discussions it seemed that she had assumed that Barney would move to Brisbane where she would continue to live with her husband (in name only, for the children’s sake she said) and they could meet as often as they liked and go to the theatre or go off for weekends.
Barney did not take this too well and I did not see him for a month, nor did any one else. Then he reappeared one evening quite his old self. He had had a long talk to his wife and she was moving back in. I already knew that anyway. Bilunga is a small town and the comings and goings of all are noted with interest by its citizens. Barney's domestic shufflings had roused both curiosity and amusement in the community and they probably knew before Barney that she was moving back. Anyway he had talked it over with his wife and they had both decided that it would be better ("for the kids") to move back.
Barney dropped over last night. He has been very busy and I have not seen him over the last few weeks. The wife and kids are back at home so he does not have to water the garden any more which is something. His garage is full of furniture, washers, driers and TVs, his of course since his wife made him move the old ones out of the house and replace them with the new ones he bought for her house. And he has got to find a tenant for her house or sell it if she will let him. When I asked him how the book was going he said that he was not going to finish it, the first half had cost him one hundred and eighty thousand dollars and at that price he could not afford to finish it. He tells me he has started a book on Zen Buddhism and went on to explain to me the power of the inner self which apparently can only be attained by meditation.
I liked the Power of Positive Thought better. I was going to ask him to lend me that book but in the end I decided that I had better not.