It was only in the time after we left things seemed to piece together…our memories are strangley vague…almost dreamlike… and maybe we are wrong..maybe the exertion is getting to us…or maybe, sometimes, things cannot always be explained…
We often book accommodation ahead, especially when options were limited so when we spotted a hotel in Binnaway, saving us from a ridiculously epic day to Coonabarabran we were gave them a call earlier in the day.
A man picked up phone, sounding vaguely disgruntled it had rung…”do you have a room for tonight?” Laura asked.
A long pause which suggested the question wasn’t straightforward and a “nope, sorry”. Feeling persistent Laura asked if there was anywhere else.
A sacking of teeth and “there’s the railway barracks…” with wry chuckle. OK great thought Laura and got onto Google maps to track plan b down.
Unusually, nothing was apparent so she called back to get more information but only a telephone number was gleaned. Not to be put off a good night’s rest Laura made the call.
“Yes, yes” a friendly woman said ” it’s $100 a night just give us a call when you get there, but make sure it’s before dark and one of our volunteers will let you in!”
“Ok” said Laura “we’ll do our best!” Knowing that it was going to be a stretch to make the distance but not seeing another option.
“Yes, before dark! Yes…” said the lady and the line went dead. Well it’s better than nothing Laura said to Stevie with a shrug and we peddled on.
It was a long day and not far off dusking by the time we got to Binnaway and the wind whipped leaves around the streets as two adolescent girls rode undersized bikes in circles with speakers pumping put a dubious choice of music.
“Watch out for the magpie” they screamed and looking up there was a pied bird fixing us with intent gaze from the telegraph wire above. Before we could beat a hasty retreat in case it attacked Laura’s phone rang.
“Are you here yet dearie?” A voice crackled down the line.
” Yes we’re here” answered Laura feeling vaguely surprised-she hadn’t left a number earlier but it must have shown up on the phone. “I’ll meet you at the hotel” the lady said.
The hotel was in full swing having had a night of “money darts” and as we pulled up a trio of of locals rolled out of hotel. After asking the usual questions: where were we from? Where were we going? Where had we cycled from? Where was the motor? They asked where we were staying…
“The barracks?” One exclaimed ” you’ll not sleep well there! It haunted!”
“Yeah” his mate followed up with, whilst sloshing his pint into his shoe “some little girl. She like appears in the corridors…woooo” and bursts into giggles with his tipsy mates.
“Nope.” A voice says from the shadows under the eaves. A lighter sparks illuminating a gaunt weathered face lighting a cigarette “it’s the youngest of the three sisters. She never left.”
The lads go quiet and then shuffle back inside, ricocheted off the door posts and each of as they go but the gentleman follows in a more dignified manner leaving Laura and Steive alone on the suddenly quiet, dark, empty street. The wind picks up and rustles the leaves, creating shivers.
“Maybe we should try again for a room here” says Laura fearing their host may not arrive.
“Evening dearies” a voice suddenly says and they both jump, having not perceived anyone approach from down the street. A lady in a floral dress and piercing dark eyes peered at them. “You’ll be wanting your room no doubt?” She stated, rather than asked.
Not in the mood to question Australian country fashion sense on such a cold night we both agreed.
“Go back down the road, take a right then over the tracks then a left and I’ll leave the light on” she directed and strode off down the street. Mounting the tandem again and switching the lights on we thought we would catch her up but it was almost a mile to the Railway Barracks and we saw not track of her on the road but, true to what she said the light was I when we arrived. The front looked smart and recently done up but she quickly beckoned us to the rear of the building.
“Main door’s this way dearies” she said, unlocking it with a large mortice key. We wandered in and the lights came on revealed a great space- communal dining area, kitchen and 11 bedrooms. We were able to wheel the bike in too which was great.
“I’ll leave you to it then” said the lady “I’m Lila by the way, great to meet you”.
“What about payment?” Stevie asked. “That’s fine in the morning dearie”.
Trying to be efficient and stay on top of the record attempt Laura remembered the witness book just in time. “Would you mind signing it?” She asked, and for one moment the lady looked like she would say no but them with a shaky hand put her details in. Then bidding her goodbyes she swept out of the door leaving us to our own devices.
Wandering around our accommodation there was a communal dining area and kitchen and 11 individual bedrooms and 2 bathrooms laid put down a long corridor. The dining room had books and photos about the history of the barracks and the railway line which ran through Binnaway .
Old photos showed three sisters and their daughter who used to run the barracks and a seperate photo of the youngest daughter with a magpie perched on her shoulder. She was apparently a favourite amongst the railway workers, often helping out with the mechanical tasks.
We had neglected the issue of dinner somewhat and spotting a takeaway menu for the hotel tried to call for a takeaway. Despite a full bars of signal the line wouldn’t connect just making a crackling chugging noise. Of course there was no WiFi earlier or roaming Internet and we were completely isolated. Trying to make the best of matters we rustled up what we could from the food bags and we’re soon feeling tired after a long day. There was a strange chill inside despite the heaters being on and Laura’s wandered around wrapped in the blanket from the bed room.
“You look like an old lady like that!” Sevie said wearily. “I think we should change the chain tomorrow morning. I know it’s due but it won’t take long. Can you just get the new chain out please?”
We both went to bed, and inevitably Laura was sound asleep in no time having forgotten about the chain.
We were sleeping soundly but Stevie got up in the night to us the loo. On the way back he spotted Laura, wrapped in blankets again down the corridor.
“What are you doing down there?” He mumbled sleepily, ” go for a wee and come back to bed” and wandered back into the room to Laura’s soft snores thinking no more about it.
The next morning Stevie was first up to put the kettle on in the kitchen and found the new chain out in the kitchen. Laura must have got it out in the night when she was up.
A while later Laura emerged. “I can’t find the new chain anywhere! ” she complained. “It’s here, you got it out last night when you were wandering around ” Stevie said. “I didn’t get up in the night” said Laura confused.
“Well I saw you wandering about!” Said Stevie and eventually we had to agree to disagree as Laura was convinced she slept through and Stevie convinced he saw her up and the chain was out and ready.
We changed the chain, got breakfast and packed up. Trying the backdoor it was now firmly locked and the heavy kettle nowhere to be seen, only a small modern one which opened the front door.
While Stevie was finishing up Laura went for a wander outside and admired the new frontage and various artefacts from times gone by. A curious magpie followed her around.
We were just ready to leave and wondering what to do about payment when a ute pulls up with a yapping dog in the back.
“Oh so you did make it” and Aussie lady calls from the drivers seat “When it got dark I thought you’d stopped elsewhere and it was only when one of the neighbours said they saw lights on they saw lights on we realised you turned up. How’d you get in?”
“Another lady let us in” said Laura feeling a bit confused, “I forget her name now.”
“That’s strange… Carol and Sharon are out of town, no one else should have a key.” Laura paid up and the lady still looked uneasy.
“Did you see any magpies round here?” She asks warily.”Yeah, one was following me around all morning”
Without another word the lady wound the window up and drove off in a cloud of dust down the road. We both decided it was about time we got going too and headed back to the main road.
After a couple of hours we chatted through the whole experience and a lot of things didn’t add up. The call, how she got to the barracks ahead of us on foot, the back door, the chain being out… but all easily explainable. As we tried to figure put who she was Ste remembered “she signed the book! Check that!”
On getting the book out the signature was there, the date unclear but certainly not any of the volunteers the lady had names and the photo of the photo of Lila the youngest sister missing from Laura’s phone too…