Ed­die fi­nally calls time

Sunday Territorian - - NEWS - By ZACH HOPE

FOR 59 years, Ed­die Ah Toy has been toil­ing nearly ev­ery day in the small Pine Creek gen­eral store that bears his fam­ily’s name.

His town, about 90km north of Kather­ine, has in the same time trans­formed from re­mote min­ing back­wa­ter without re­li­able wa­ter sources, sew­er­age sys­tem, grid power or in­vest­ment, to a fully func­tion­ing tourist stop and town­ship of 600-odd in­hab­i­tants.

De­vel­op­ment in Pine Creek post the 19th- cen­tury gold booms and busts is best mea­sured in decades, and Ed­die has nearly eight of them.

He talks at length about the peo­ple who have come and gone; the mines; the bat­tles he and his fa­ther — leg­endary Top End pi­o­neer Jimmy Ah Toy MBE — had with au­thor­i­ties to mod­ernise their com­mu­nity; the time he hi­jacked a grader left be­side the road af­ter his car broke down in the mid­dle of the bush; and the times he would cart bar­rel af­ter bar­rel of yel­low­cake back to the shop where he would stash them in a deal with lo­cal min­ers un­til trans­port vans ar­rived.

He reck­ons at times there was $500,000 worth of it stored out the back.

‘‘We had no gloves in those days, but I’m still alive — maybe I’m one of the lucky ones,’’ he said with a grin.

The store it­self has gone from a cor­ru­gated iron shed sell­ing horse­shoes, bri­dles, salts for buf­falo hides and ra­di­a­tion cloth­ing to a more struc­turally sound build­ing stocked with fa­mil­iar mod­ern-day items like glossy mag­a­zines and en­ergy drinks.

There has been lit­tle rest in be­tween — few days off and even fewer breaks— but now, Ed­die says, it’s fi­nally time to pull up stumps.

‘‘I don’t think it’s hit me yet,’’ he says, slumped in a plas­tic chair in one of the few shaded and breezy ar­eas next to the shop.

‘‘I didn’t know whether to go one more year and make it 60 to round it off, but I want a life for my­self now. I’m 76 years old.’’

Ed­die’s first act in his new life will be a river cruise through Europe with his sis­ter, but he won’t be leav­ing Pine Creek for long, nor will he be idle when he re­turns.

There’s plenty of gar­den­ing, main­te­nance and com­mu­nity work — the sort that saw him named 2005 Ter­ri­to­rian of the Year— still to do.

He reck­ons if he stops he will be dead in a year, and 59 years of hard work de­serves a long re­tire­ment.

The store he loves, and which is now an out­back icon, was founded in 1935 by his fa­ther, who moved to Aus­tralia from China in 1880 to work on the na­tion’s bur­geon­ing rail net­work.

It was shut down for three wartime years, when the com­mu­nity was evac­u­ated south from 1942. Ed­die vividly re­mem­bers the fam­ily’s re­turn in 1945 to a ran­sacked store, stripped bare by army men.

He moved to Darwin for high school in 1951 and to the sur­prise of his class­mates, the ‘‘coun­try bump­kin from Pine Creek, the bush kid’’ topped the class in his first year.

He came back in 1955 and be­gan work at the shop in earnest, but Jimmy was al­ways the boss un­til his death in 1991.

The store and Pine Creek it­self is a proud Ah Toy tra­di­tion, and it may not fin­ish with Ed­die.

‘‘We’re just babysit­ting it un­til one of his fam­ily wants to take it over,’’ said He­len Reed who, with Tom Hay­man, took over the lease last week. ‘‘Fam­ily’s im­por­tant, and Ed­die and his fa­ther have put a lot into this busi­ness — and this town.

‘‘We’re just wait­ing un­til one of them is ready.’’

Pic­ture: KA­T­RINA BRIDGEFORD

Ed­die Ah Toy has opted to re­tire af­ter 59 years work­ing at his fam­ily’s gen­eral store in Pine Creek

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