11 January, 2016. 15:34
ERROL PARKER | Editor-at-large | Contact
KNOWN FOR ITS THREE historical churches and the former headquarters of the now defunct Hazelton Airlines, Cudal, in central western NSW, has gotten behind one brave member of it’s small community.
Taking over the family property late last year, 28-year-old Sam Dunston recently invited his close friends and family over to his farm for a dinner – where he was going to tell them something he thought would alienate him forever.
“I couldn’t keep living like I was. Every day. I felt sick to my stomach,” said Dunston. “So I got everyone in my life together, including my lovely girlfriend Kate, and told them all at once.”
Sam revealed to dozen or so guests that he’s always harboured a lifelong hatred of Bundaberg Rum.
“I can’t even look at it. The smell makes me dry heave.”
At first, everybody thought he was joking. Some of his oldest friends squirmed in their chairs, as some of them later revealed that they’d known for quite a while that Sam wasn’t like the others.
Sam said his girlfriend screamed in shock and ran out of the room. They’d shared many evenings at the pub drinking and spitting rum on each other. She felt betrayed.
He played four seasons for the nearby Molong Magpies, where each win, or loss, is celebrated with a few cold beers, followed by bulk rum once the sun goes down. The fact that he played for the Magpies already put him at odds with his local community. It was during those long nights sipping sugar cane champagne and speaking gibberish with the boys that Sam realised he was living a lie.
“All I wanted after a big game was a glass of white with a few ice cubes,” he said. “Even beer is disgusting to me, but I’ve been afraid of the stigma of being a male white wine drinker in the bush.”
Forcing himself to enjoy traditionally male alcoholic beverages, Sam said he’d often return home of an evening angry and sad at himself for being afraid to be himself.
“I knew deep down that it wouldn’t be such a big deal,” he said. “But it’s hard to make that first step in the direction of being a free and happy wine-o,”
Sam even considered destocking a few paddocks to make way for a small vineyard, giving him a legitimate reason to be drinking wine around other males his age. After doing a few sums, he found that being a winegrower without a bore or irrigation license would certainly ruin him. Then it hit him.
“After speaking with another young secretive wine lover, it gave me the courage to not care about what other people think of me,” said Sam. “There’s people down at the pub who’ll give me shit for it, but guess what, those people can go squat on a cricket stump for all I care. Fuck ’em.”
But what Sam didn’t count on was how his community would react to him coming out of the wine closet.
His local hotel recently revamped their wine list to include drops from all over the region.
Publican Brett Doorknob said he’s now keeping the Bundy behind the counter so Sam doesn’t have to look at it when he walks through the door.
“We all need to be mindful of each other, especially in small towns like this one,” said Doorknob. “If this little fairy gets queasy when he smells a bit or rum, that’s fine. We’ll just have to pour it outside from now on. It’s not a big issue.”
“The added cost of keeping the shit cold is also fine.”
The pub’s bottle shop has also undergone a cosmopolitan makeover, with a new range or red, white and roses now available. Up from the range of seven last year, the pub now imports wine from places as far away as Mudgee.
Sam has been touched by the town’s reaction, saying that he thought he’d have to move down to wine communities like Darlinghurst or Freshwater Beach to be true to himself.
“Just goes to show that the fabric of a small town can be torn by something as trivial as this,” said Sam. “I know there’s other wine lovers in small towns like mine. Just do it. It gets better.”