Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Melbourne Cup comes to town

Ex-Melbourne Cup-winning jockey John Marshall poses with the Cup on the front of one of Tom Kruse's Birdsville Mail trucks, a 1940s Chevrolet Blitz. The current owner drove it up from Quorn (South Australia) for the occasion.

Not the race, the actual Cup!

The Emirates promotions people decided to raise some awareness of the Cup's history by taking the Cup on a tour of outback Queensland, and Birdsville was one of the towns to be honoured. Quite a few people around the area are involved in racing (hence the Birdsville Cup) and one local horse, Pandie Sun, came third in the 1957 Melbourne Cup.

The Cup and its entourage of three plus another three Channel 7 camera crew flew in a couple of Sundays ago, made an appearance at the Pub, did a tour of all the businesses of the town (five plus the school), visited the race course, mounted one of Tom Kruse's old mail trucks for a parade with some locals on their horses and retired to the Wirrari Centre for drinks and finger food, and speeches.

Locals had provided a lot of racing memorabilia to decorate the Wirrari Centre, including an impressive array of cups, lots of photographs and a colouring competition from the school kids. There was a great turnup, despite several of the locals heading off for a wedding in Charleville that weekend. Everyone had their photo taken with the Cup, and the star jockey, Alan Marshall, said he thought it didn't get photographed that much at the actual Melbourne Cup Races.

Someone suggested the Cup should go out to Big Red to be photographed a bit more, and since they were due to depart at 8 am the next morning, several intrepid locals volunteered to take the official party and the Cup out for the sunrise. We all gathered at the Bakery at 5.30 am and had coffee to fortify ourselves, then roared off in the semi-darkness and got to Big Red just in time to set up. Lots more pictures were taken, then we jumped back in the cars and delivered all safely to their plane for their next visit to Jundah.

PS Weather today: 42.8 degrees C (109.4 F) at 12.44 pm, overcast and windy. There looks to be rain falling in the distance, but it's probably so hot none of it is making it to the ground. Yesterday, 42.2 hottest, coolest overnight 26 degrees at 3 am. We spend a lot of time inside with the aircon .... the sparrows and crows sit around outside panting with their beaks open. The kites float overhead on the thermals.

John (left) and Brian, the publican, with the Cup at the Pub.

John Marshall (holding cup) poses with John Menzies, owner of the Birdsville Working Museum, and his mule Bella. Bella is a very large animal — she is a cross between a donkey and a Belgian Draught horse.

My moment with the Cup ....

The Cup Parade sets out.

Locals from the parade on their horses pose in front of the crowd at the pub.

Local school kids get in on the action.

Mixing it with the locals at the pub .....

A selection of cups and photographs of winners from Pandie Station.

Jane, from Pandie, won the best hat prize.

Filming the cup against the sunrise on Big Red. Bigger than Ben Hur, really ....

The Cup in all it's glory.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A trip to Sydney

The view from the cafe near Mark & Janene's place — a million miles from Birdsville ....

I've been a bit distracted since the last blog, but here goes ....

A couple of weeks after the races, we had a car rally of 300 people come through Birdsville, for which Dusty was cooking dinner. The Bakery only holds about 40-50 people at best, so dinner was to be at the recently-finished, newly enlarged Wirrari Tourist Information Centre, overlooking the oval. Despite Dusty losing a lot of sleep, huge amounts of food were prepared, and we served up lots of cold roast meats and salads, three different curries and rice, and hot corned beef with baked veg. Tables and chairs were set up in the area outside, every available local was roped in to help and it all went off very well, with lots of good feedback from the rally people.

Two days later, I packed my bags and headed off to Sydney for a wedding and, two weeks after, a yacht race at Lake Macquarie. Evan was driving down for the yacht race and we would travel back together. MacAir (locally known as SlackAir) was true to form, and arrived five hours late. Luckily, I had decided to go via Mt Isa and catch the plane to Sydney the next day, rather than trust MacAir to get me to Brisbane in time to make my Sydney connection directly. All in all, it took about a day and a half to get to Sydney ....

My friends of many years, Anne and Carson, had finally decided to tie the knot after years of living together, and Anne's daughter Kate did a fabulous job of organising it at a very flash boutique hotel, The Establishment, near Circular Quay. It was a lovely wedding, and I met people I hadn't seen for years and enjoyed myself very much. I had decided to splurge and stay at the hotel, expensive but worth every cent. It was a great way to start my visit back to Sydney.

The next two weeks were a whirl of shopping, eating and socialising, and boy did I make up for lost time! I also did a barista course, and now I am a qualified barista. I stayed with friends Mark and Janene, who have a grand old terrace house just off King St, Newtown, so I was in the thick of the action. Evan arrived unexpectedly after the first week for his old skipper's wake, a sad day for him but a welcome surprise for me. We really enjoyed ourselves catching up with friends and the time went very quickly. So much to do, so little time to do it! It was great to be back in Sydney, but I was starting to miss the quiet and space of Birdsville by the time it we had to leave, not to mention the ability to park anywhere, any time ....

Neale arrived from Birdsville Friday evening, so we picked him up from the airport and headed straight up to Lake Macquarie, two hours north of Sydney, for the Heaven Can Wait 24-hour Yacht Race where we were crewing for Mark and Janene, who have a Van der Stadt 34 ft cruising yacht. Lake Macquarie is a huge waterway, four times bigger than Sydney Harbour, and we managed to get around the 28 nautical miles (approx 42 kms) course three and a half times in the 24 hours. Despite a brilliant start, we had a mediocre result (we had a huge handicap). We really enjoyed the sailing despite the cold wet weather, and breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches prepared by Janene on the galley stove was the envy of several of the sports boats as they passed us.

The three of us jumped in the car as soon as we got off the boat on Sunday afternoon and headed straight back to Birdsville. We got as far as Gilgandra that night, through pouring rain, and set off again early the next day. We drove all the way through to Birdsville Monday, and arrived at 2.30 am Tuesday morning — a huge trip of 2,000 km in 36 hours. Driving into Birdsville in the wee small hours was strangely moving and I was quietly glad to be back ....

The rally cars lined up outside the Wirrari Centre and oval.

Tables for dinner all set up and ready to go.

Carson and Anne tie the knot with great style.

My room at The Establishment — what luxury!

Learning the tricks of the trade at the barista course.

Janene gets things into order on the bow of Windchaser.

Umbakumba, another Balmain boat, finally overtakes us again after we have held them off for about four hours.

Skipper Mark (second left) and crew still in good spirits after 24 hours of wet and cold racing.