Stan Monday, a true character

An Aurukun Story: Stan Monday

Cape York Partnership’s Isaac McCarthy recounts meeting a true character, Stan Monday, on his trips to Aurukun.

The popular guidebook series Lonely Planet never reports on a destination without giving a list of top experiences. Uluru, for example, fittingly sits atop their recommendations for Australia.

On my visits to Aurukun, I have often wondered, should Lonely Planet write about the town, what would constitute its list of top experiences. Fishing at the landing, perusing the Akay Koo’oila Women’s Art Centre, playing street games with the local youth, a fly-over of the billabongs and hiking out to Oban beach for the chance to spot a drifting crocodile – Piku in Wik language – would surely sit toward the top.

If I was consulted for a list contribution, I would have no hesitation to add “a conversation with Stan Monday” – an experience that completed each of my trips.

Stan was born 65 years ago on a cattle station in Pormpuraaw, a coastal village south of Aurukun previously known as the Edward River Mission. He took to music as an adolescent, learning the guitar at school and even touring around Cape York towns with popular bands at the time.

A life dedicated to music went wanting though, as his mother did not wish to lose her only son to the foreign and disconcerting Australian music scene. Through various trades and experiences, life brought Stan to Aurukun instead.

At first appearance, Stan is a gentle character with a voice as hushed as an afternoon breeze but as raspy as sandpaper against broken concrete. His beard, at its bushiest, deceivingly enlarges his stature, and the lines of his aging face telegraph a storied life without him needing to speak. When Stan recognises you, he’ll cup a bony hand on your shoulder, place the other in your hand to shake it, and that’s where they’ll stay until the conversation has finished.

I remember standing on the street in conversation with Stan one day in November. The combination of blistering temperature, uninterrupted sunlight, and a strident wind made me feel like dough in a fan-forced oven. Stan did not seem to mind, nor care to notice that I was on the verge of combusting.

For ten minutes we stood there, Stan’s hand placed lightly in mine. He spoke and I strained to hear. The topic was Alefay Ninkama, one of Stan’s favourite human beings; someone that he calls “my brother”.

“I called Alefay the other day,” said Stan.

“He said to me, ‘how are you, Uncle Stan?’ and I said, ‘I’m good thanks, how’s yourself?’”

A seemingly light and superficial interaction. But I knew that the phone call, even if there were no more to it, would have had a profound and joyous impact on Stan’s day.

Alefay was Stan’s coach-consultant, or financial capability worker, at the Aurukun O-Hub. Stan would visit him daily, sometimes twice a day, often for nothing more than conversation and a quick check of his accounts. Alefay has since relocated to Brisbane.

“When you first meet Stan, you think he’s really quiet. He’s actually a comedian,” says Alefay.

“When I showed him my wedding photo, he said to me ‘that’s not you, it’s Lucky Dube’, and elbowed my ribs in jest.”

“I remember one day when Stan saw some kids in a scuffle, he came to tell me that Bruce Lee wannabes were in the street.”

    When you first meet Stan, you think he’s really quiet. He’s actually a comedian.

Alefay Ninkama, former O-Hub coach-consultant

Stan Monday
A slightly less bearded Stan with his best mate Alefay, who he called "Lucky Dube".

Another time, Stan regaled Alefay about his days as a musician. “I could have been a millionaire”, he told him, and invited Alefay to church to see him play.

“It’s not that I didn’t believe him, but it’s hard to imagine a 65-year-old guy in Aurukun as a wizard on the guitar,” says Alafay.

“When I walked into the church, I couldn’t believe how wrong I was. Uncle Stan was standing with the band shredding on his electric guitar. He was so good.”

I saw Stan on a trip to Aurukun in May. Alefay was out of town. I asked Stan if he thought O-Hub helped him in anyway. He told me O-Hub helped with his finances, and that he’d have to travel to Pormpuraaw to get help from his family if O-Hub did not exist.

But he mostly told me about Alefay, and repeated himself for effect. “Alefay’s my brother. He’s my brother. Where’s Alefay? When he coming back?”

“After a little while, I was able to predict Stan’s routine,” says Alefay.

“It was like clockwork. He’d have eggs and weet-bix for breakfast, and then come in and tell me that he had eggs and weet-bix for breakfast, as if it was a novel experience.”

“I’d get him a tea and a bikkie while he checked his bank balance just to see his savings climb. The money wouldn’t change until pension day, but for him I think it was a real sense of accomplishment.”

“The he’d come back in the afternoon, often just to yarn. After a while, I think Stan treated our relationship as if we were father and son. He would make every day just that little bit more interesting.”

Stan bought a car for his family. When it broke down, he consulted O-Hub to help him budget for the repairs. He would tell the O-Hub staff, “that’s my car, it’s my responsibility, and I want to take my family fishing”. From his pension alone, he saved the required amount.

“I’ll never forget the day that the tow truck came to Aurukun for Stan’s car. A crowd of forty people gathered around his place, and everyone asked him ‘how did you pay for this?’,” says Alefay.

“When cars stop working in Aurukun, they’re often left to die. But Stan proudly told everyone ‘I went to the O-Hub, and they helped me save my money. Alefay helped me with my budget’.”

“After that, people were lined up to do their budget with me. I couldn’t give Stan a referral fee, but I stocked up on some nicer bikkies.”

Stan Monday with tow truck
"The tow truck driver loved Stan," says Alefay Ninkama.

After the bond they had formed, Stan and Alefay’s parting was regrettable. In the lead up to Alefay’s flight, Stan would come in every day just to check he hadn’t missed him. On the actual day of Alefay’s departure, Stan overslept.

When he woke, he quickly made for the airport. He was 100 metres from the tarmac when Alefay’s plane took off. He had to wave from the middle of the dusty street.

Stan now calls Alefay several times a month and says the same pithy thing every time. “I miss you brother. When you coming back?”

Those of us who know Stan suspect that his memory is, unfortunately, deteriorating. His recollection of certain things, however, remains rock solid: his childhood, his family, his guitar skills, and his Alefay.

If you find yourself in Aurukun, look for the blue flannelette shirt, white hair, and leisurely gait that denotes Uncle Stan Monday. If you are polite, you could be gifted with a story or two. While Stan may forget the interaction, you certainly will not.

STAY INFORMED

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