Monday, September 15, 2008

A storm on the road

A sunspot on the road as the sky darkens. There is rain in the distance.

A couple of weeks back we took friends Mark and Janene up to Mt Isa to catch their plane back to Sydney. We had been keeping a close eye on the weather because rain had been predicted that afternoon, and we didn't want to get caught on the road back to Birdsville. What did catch us was most unexpected — a dust storm associated with the storm cell, basically a mini hurricane.

The wind picks up, with sand gusting across the road.

And then we see a very ominous red dust cloud in the distance.

A very large dust cloud. This is the far end of it

And getting closer all the time.

Then it hits us.

We crawled along with minimal visibility for about 15 minutes.

Finally we come out of the dust.

And find we have missed the rain behind it.

About an inch fell — none of it on Birdsville, although this was the rain that cut the Windorah road directly before the Birdsville Races.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The blur that was the Races

The catchphrase for the Birdsville Race advertising is "The dust never settles".

The races were a little over a week ago now, and it's hard to believe it happened at all, except for the persistent flat feeling now that it's all over after the weeks of build-up for the biggest event in the Birdsville year.

The Bakery was frantically flat out, Dusty's friends and rellos did a fantastic job. I made coffees for four hours solid one morning, and bacon and eggs for three hours solid the next morning, so I missed out on a lot of what was going on in town and at the track. We did pizzas Thurs-Sun evenings as well, so the days were long, and it didn't help that I had the flu through most of it. But it was fun, and very exciting, lots of adrenalin, and a very definite party atmosphere all round.

Normie Rowe came in for a pie and coffee, as did Bill Peach. Tom Kruse (now 94 and in a wheelchair — he was in Birdsville to unveil a bust in honour of himself) and a bunch of dignitaries came for lunch — they sat in the back of the Bakery while the craziness continued out the front. The TV crew for the Australian Top Gear show came in to film Dusty on Friday morning. I think there was a group from the ABC in as well. Dusty was very nervous for the Getaway crowd the day before, but was rapidly becoming quite blasé by this stage. He went out to Big Red with the Top Gear guys on Friday morning — they'd driven a very expensive Audi sports car slowly up the Birdsville track and then took it out and drove it up Big Red! It came back rather battered and scratched. Keep an eye out for it on TV ....

Went to the pub after work to check it out, the place was pumping with live music, and lots of people, mostly talking, but quite a few energetic dancers in front of the stage out back. Fred Brophy's boxing tent was pulling them in too, lots of drumming and spruiking to get the punters in. We went in, it wasn't as blood-thirsty as I thought it might be, and watched as a couple of the young barmen from the pub got flattened. No major damage done, and some very enthusiastic encouragement from the crowd.

Dusty gave me Saturday off, which astounded me considering how busy things were, so I got to dress up and go to the Races with Evan, his sister Helen and her friend Therese, who were staying with us. Managed to lose some money on the first race, won some of it back on the last race. The weather was fabulous, blue skies and 30 degrees, and not too many flies. But lots and lots of people. And police. I went back into town to pick up Theresa when she got a break from the Bakery, and got breathalysed on the way there and again on the way back 10 minutes later. When we left at the end of the day, the traffic queue was long, as they were breathalysing every 3–4 drivers, including Evan. Amazingly, only one person in the whole weekend returned a positive reading.

People started leaving first thing Sunday morning, we were still very busy at the Bakery as lots of people wanted breakfast before they headed off. By lunchtime, most of the stalls and hot food vans were gone, and by Monday, Birdsville was back to it's usual sleepy little self. So we shut the Bakery after lunch and all went and had a barbecue by the river for Dusty's 60th birthday.

PS Today's weather: Hot, very windy and very dusty. Dirty grey sky, horizon gone, "raised dust". 32 degrees today, 36.8 a couple of days ago. Still over 30 degrees when we went to bed, so we left all the doors and windows open. We were woken to the roaring of wind at 2 am, so scampered over the already dusty floors to shut everything up.

The house of pain — Fred Brophy has the last travelling boxing tent in Australia.

Sideshow Alley — normally a vacant lot opposite the Oval.

How to stand out in a crowd ....

Welcome to the Birdsville Races!

Our bookies — Therese and Helen's friends Terry and Effie.

And the winner is ......

This pair won the Best Dressed Couple in the Fashions in the Field competition.

The caravan park was chockers.

People fly in and camp under their plane's wings.

Happy Birthday, Dusty! (far right)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Races are coming

Tomorrow is the first day of the Birdsville Races. There are people everywhere and the town is starting to look like Shideshow Alley at the Easter Show. There are all sorts of hot food vans and people selling stuff around the main area of town (adjacent to the Pub and the block up to the Shell servo), the caravan park is totally packed and the areas between the town and the race track are covered with vans and people camping out, especially along the river. The area along the river on the Race course side has lots of yards and camping areas for the horses and trainers. This year, there are 170 horses entered.

Fred Brophy's Boxing Tent is set up near the oval opposite the pub, and there is the Nakadoo Rodeo next door, two places you can get yourself seriously hurt for not much money, but very popular nonetheless. The Pub has stripped all its furniture and the wall decorations and is just a large, very crowded barn, and apparently the thing to do is to throw your beercans in the street when you finish with them, and they will get cleaned up at some stage. I'm told the place is awash with beercans by the end of the races.

There was a bit of a scare on Saturday, with some unexpected rain, enough to close the Windorah-Birdsville Road until Wednesday, and a radio announcer foolishly quipped "Looks like the Races will be called off again". Several irate local business people, not to mention the head of the Race Committee, immediately rang, and quite a few announcements re the upcoming races went to air over the next couple of days. Meanwhile, the traffic was backed up in Windorah, which is no bigger than Birdsville, with people sleeping in the Community Hall and on verandahs and all over the place. The police at Quilpie (the next town before Windorah) stopped any more people coming, and Quilpie was filling up too. The road was finally opened Wednesday morning, the story being there was a queue of traffic a kilometre long waiting, with Fred Brophy at the head of it.

Things have been building up at the Bakery, thousands of pies have been going into the freezers in preparation. A whole bunch of Dusty's friends and relatives have turned up to help out, we were tripping over each other to start with, but now its a well-oiled machine. It was deadly quiet Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday when the crowd started to arrive from Windorah was very busy, and today has been non-stop. We're starting to wonder is we've got enough pies after today's crowds.

The TV program Getaway was in this morning to interview Dusty, right in the middle of a rush, it was pretty crazy, but all very exciting. The gang got their T-shirts signed by Dermott.

Evan has been entertaining his sister Helen who arrived on Tuesday, I think they've gone off to see some people get thrown off calves .... I have to go back to work, we're doing pizza this evening. I'll get some pics up as soon as I have a chance.