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The Townsville Cup

July 24th, 2010

We’re frisked at the gate and our bottle of water and Diet Coke are confiscated. You’d have to be kidding, wouldn’t you – water banned in stinking hot Townsville? But it might be gin or vodka and the Coke might have bourbon in it. They don’t want punters bringing their own grog. And no one under the age of 18 is admitted to the track. This is a serious, adults only piss-up. Overheard on the way in – “I’m only here to drink”.

This is racing in FNQ – that’s Far North Queensland. I’m starting to fear the worst. I’m expecting a crowd full of bogans, Hansonites and redneck punters in Bob Katter ten gallon hats – but I’m wrong. Everywhere I look there are beautiful, nubile young women and smartly dressed young men in suits and ties. About 80% of the women have a tatt, and about 80% of the men have a tie, and about 40%, both blokes and girls, have a hat. I’d say the average age is about 23 years. I feel a bit old and crumpled.

Conditions for horse watching are poor. The public are not allowed into the horse stalls area and I can only gain access after paying $20 to get a members pass. Many horses seem to be unattended in the stalls, which I regard as a serious negative, and some are even hobbled. The mounting yard is long and narrow so that only about half the field parades past before going on to the track. Most of the mounting yard fence is taken up with the catwalk for the fashions on the field. The conditions are so bad for horse watchers that I don’t even have a bet. But it’s ideal for people watching. Hats and tatts. The boys go for the Gleeson, the pork pie hat popularised by the retired VRC steward, Des Gleeson. And the favoured tatt spot is at the base of the neck on the back.

Tora Tora Tora wins the Cup.

We leave before the last race. Heels are coming off now. And blokes are falling out of trees.

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Postcard from Palm Cove

July 20th, 2010

I see the forecast for Melbourne today is a Min 6 and Max 12. Here at Palm Cove, in the spelling paddock, it is Min 19 and Max 29.

Wish you were here. On second thoughts, maybe not.


Postcard from Carnarvon Gorge

July 5th, 2010

Carnarvon Gorge has long been on my list of must-do walks. We arrive just in time to get a map from information and check into our lodgings – a safari tent. Camping with an en suite. Now that’s what I call camping!

The walk is a there-and-back-again, criss-crossing the Carnarvon Creek on stepping stones over 20 times, with side trips to canyons and aboriginal art galleries. The ranger asks me how long it would take me to walk 14 km and I reckon about 6-8 hours. So he suggests I aim for the Art Gallery and then check out the Amphitheatre, Ward’s Canyon and Moss Garden on my return.

I head off at 0830. It’s crisp and clear – cold really. I soon encounter a tour group of geriatrics. They are so deaf they can’t hear me calling out “coming through”. And soon after, another tour group blocking the path, closely inspecting the trunk of a tree. And then I have the gorge to myself. It’s lovely and quiet. At last. Solitude, stillness, spirituality. The only sound is the soft trilling of treecreepers, the flapping of currawong wings as they abandon the path ahead, and the incessant tinnitus in my head.

I reach the Art Gallery at 0945 so I push on another 4 km to the Cathedral Cave. A seductive sign points to the end of the main gorge track at Big Bend, so I fang it and reward myself with a nice cup of tea. 10 km in two and a quarter hours – not too bad for an older person. Plenty of time to explore everything on the return. Binaroo Gorge is a side trip of about one km, but is absolutely stunning, with steep, narrow, moss-sided walls. Cathedral Cave has wonderful art and etchings. On closer inspection some of the etchings look a bit dodgy. And indeed. They are images of the human vulva. Wow! Thousands of years old. And I thought sex was just a recent invention. I spend a good half hour inspecting the works in detail. Back to the Art Gallery, and oh no, more vulvas. Everywhere, in your face, vulvas. Lunch, taking it all in, then Ward’s Canyon, cool and intimate with king ferns, the Amphitheatre, an awesome chamber, nearly 200 feet deep, entered through ladders and a slit in the rock. A womb, perhaps, to accommodate all those vulvas? And finally, with my boots dragging and scuffing the track, the sublime, dripping, Moss Garden. Back at the start at 1700 – eight and half hours and 25 km. No wonder my legs feel like cramping up.

The walk is definitely in my top five day walks. Number one must remain the yet to be completed Tongariro Crossing, with three failed attempts. Number two must be the walk of a lifetime in the Grampians – the exhilarating Mt Stapleton-Hollow Mountain challenge. Any walk at the Prom ranks highly, and the Murchison River at Kalbarri is good, but I’ll give Carnarvon Gorge number three.

The Missus gives me two Panadol Osteo to ease the aching legs, but it’s hard to sleep. Tossing and turning, dreaming about vulvas.


Postcard from Lightning Ridge

July 3rd, 2010

 The Missus and I are heading north, like migrating swallows, seeking some respite from the Melbourne winter. Our first stop is Lightning Ridge, outback New South Wales, where Nigel, a childhood friend of The Missus has an opal mine. But it’s still cold – minus two overnight with a heavy white frost.

 We lob into our comfortable lodgings at Chasin’ Opals and then head out to explore the town. It’s mostly a tourist town now, with most of the holes filled in and only about 50 miners left out in the bush. The architecture is fascinating – just grab anything that’s at hand. Bottles, cans, stone, scrap cars, caravans, cobbled together with bits of tin. The hot artesian bore that once soothed miners’ aching muscles has been turned into a swimming pool for tourists. The Missus flops in.

 Next day Nigel takes us on a 150 km tour of the active opal fields. They all have evocative names – Moonshine, Allah’s Strike, Eagles Nest, Dead Man’s Lead, Les’s Rush. It’s a maze of rough bush tracks, camps, humpies, mines, hoists, agitators, bores, tanks and rusted, discarded machinery. The usual deal is to drill a nine inch hole to find the opal dirt and then a three foot shaft if it strikes some colour. The opal dirt goes up in a bucket on a hoist and is then washed in an agitator, a large cement mixer barrel. The Missus confronts all her fears of claustrophobia and descends 60 feet into the mine, clinging hopefully to Nigel. It is an amazing experience. A rabbit warren of tunnels. And a helluva lot of work for little reward. But it’s the lifestyle that seduces them.

 Nigel says that the people out here are all social outcasts, misfits and alcoholics. I think I could fit in here. And they even have a 1200m racetrack. I would call the going, ah, let’s see, puggy.

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