Thinking Strange Thoughts - The Great Pensioner Riots Of 98

This story probably requires some explaining, not sure if you have Schoolies Week over there, its when the kids finish their last exams and are leaving school, they have a tradition of all going off somewhere together for a week of debauchery, and unfortunately our little town is one of the places that several thousand of them descend upon every November.. Pemberton, where we used to live, is a timber town surrounded by vast forests and the "Gloucester Tree” mentioned is a very high tree that you can climb up to a lookout at the top.

Are you sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin.

Well, I do not like to rush into things, but I think I can finally take out my earplugs, the last “schoolies” have gone home, we have picked up all of the empty cans and broken glass and the graffiti on the cat has nearly faded away. Mind you, as bad as ‘schoolies week” is, my wife and I do not get too stressed out by it. This is because before moving to Dunsborough, we lived in Pemberton, and whilst Pemberton does not have a problem with ‘schoolies” it does have the dreaded “pensioners week”, and as someone who survived the “great pensioner riots of 98”, schoolies week seems fairly tame. I still have nightmares about that infamous occasion, but after some time as now passed, I feel able to talk about it, perhaps it will be good therapy.

There was little indication of the carnage to come, as the coach load of pensioners headed towards Pemberton one Friday afternoon. They could have used their annual free pass to go anywhere, but some sick twist of fate made them choose our peaceful town. At the time, I suppose we generalized and blamed them all for the trouble, but looking back now , most were well behaved and just looking to “let off a bit of steam”. It was a bunch of older pensioners or “Poolies” as they became known who were the real troublemakers.

The first inkling that things could get out of hand began on the journey down south. Eighty six year old Albert Jenkins had only joined his more youthful companions on the trip, because, has he later told a shocked inquiry, “It seemed like a easy way to meet young chicks”. Flasks of tea and lamingtons had been passed around, but Albert wanted something stronger, and from his bowling bag, he produced a bottle of medicinal sherry. He attempted to use his charms on 72 year old Doris Higgins, and unfortunately it soon worked. She later stated, “He was a bit more mature than some of the boys on the bus, he knew a great deal about the Boer War but still had most of his own teeth”, she also admitted to consuming two large glasses of sherry and a thyroid tablet. Next thing all hell broke loose, and by the time the coach pulled into Pemberton, we could hear the raucous yelling of rebellious songs like “The white cliffs of Dover” and “There’s a hole in the bucket, Dear Lisa, dear Lisa”

The first night was not too bad, although the mob who rented the house next door to us, were still playing their Glen Millar record at 7.30 that evening, obviously they knew that they were playing it too loudly , but I was later informed that some of them, because of “peer pressure”, had actually removed the batteries from their hearing aids.

The next day was just chaotic, there was a mob mentality, despite warnings, Mavis Ramsbottom attempted to climb the “Gloucester Tree”, on the second rung her hip went and the fire brigade had to be called in to rescue her, luckily they were already in the area, because79year old Nellie Elkridge had got over excited during a game of bowls and spontaneously combusted.

The previous year, there had been comments by the pensioners , such as “we were bored” or “there was nothing to do”, so at great expense to the rate payers, we had laid on several activities, but they were just not interested. The bouncy castle and rock climbing wall were virtually unused. Admittedly , Agnes Giblet had broken the world record for staying on a mechanical bull, but that was mainly because her “Zimmer frame” got tangled up on one of the horns.

That evening, the out of control mob gathered in the town centre, Albert Jenkins, by now high on a combination of bronchitis syrup and arthritis tablets, was doing wheelies on his three wheel electric cart. As he sat on his lumbago support cushion, from a certain angle he looked like Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”. In the little basket on the front of his cart were two bottles of stout in a brown paper bag. Even though Albert knew that it was against the law , he refused to wear a helmet, instead he had a knotted handkerchief on his head with a skull and crossbones crudely drawn upon it. Suddenly, a police sergeant approached carrying a breathalyser, Albert immediately put his foot down and took off down the main street , there was a high speed chase, I’m not sure what sort of speed Albert reached, but I know the police sergeant had to walk fairly quickly to catch up with him. He was arrested and charged with being drunk in charge of an electric cart.

There were other arrests that night, including one unfortunate gentleman who forgot to put on his incontinence pants and was charged with urinating in public in his trousers. Of course most of the troublemakers had to return to their accommodation at six o’clock to watch the news, but some of the hard core element were still around at 7.30.

The next day, the pensioners piled back onto the coach, some were wearing t- shirts with “Pension Week 98” on the front and “We came We saw We Played Bingo” on the back. Then they were gone and we townsfolk were left to pick up the pieces and try to put our shattered lives back together. We began the big clean- up. In our back garden alone we found a walking stick, some dentures and a half empty jar of Vic’s Vapour Rub.

So there you have it, whenever you complain about schoolies, always remember, things could be so much, much worse.

Stephen Ainley

 

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