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Posts Tagged ‘visitors’

We’re the last to leave the party
The first to ask for more
– The Choirboys, 1987

It was at Woolies in Dickson that I first realised Summernats 23 was here.

Wednesday afternoon and more than the usual quota of feral children were being dragged through the vegetable section by hatchet-faced women. The deli was three-deep with blokes in thongs, shorts, tats and stubble. At the checkouts, Woolies staff were actually working as traffic control, waving customers towards the least lengthy lines. In the carpark there were a lot of 80s-model Commodores with mags.

Summernats has undergone a makeover in the last 12 months according to organisers. Founder and roughnut raconteur Chic Henry sold the festival to Australia Day Concert producer Andy Lopez, who this week pledged to make the festival more “family friendly” (though he stopped short of making it an actual family event, saying “It’s not meant to be like a day out with Humphrey B Bear”). In addition to the usual burnout competitions and street machine parades, the program offered highlights including fireworks and the Choirboys. The ACT Government offered free chlamydia tests.

Thursday evening and green lights on Northbourne Avenue were met with squeals as clutches dropped. Arms dangled out windows, holding stubbies. The Bald Man and I were driving across town when a bunch of blue lights caught our attention. A group several hundred strong were converged on a servo in Braddon, along with several dozen police. It was unclear what was going on, but there didn’t seem to be much action so we rolled on. What was clear was that for those who didn’t fancy heading out to EPIC showgrounds and paying a fat fee to get through the gates, a kind of mini-Summernats parade was happening downtown.


So Friday evening we made a special trip back to see it for ourselves. Although it was still light when we arrived at Braddon, hundreds of spectators were already lined up on the footpaths to watch the passing parade of cars. Many had folding chairs and eskies to ensure comfort. And surprisingly, it was a family event. Along with the many (bearded and bellied) blokes, there were a lot of children (with extraordinary mullets), women (with hard, hard faces) and teenagers (with tattoos and muffintops). We stationed ourselves diagonally opposite the Debacle and breathed deeply of the petrol fumes.

Bald Man is an unreconstructed petrolhead, so he had quite a good time looking at the cars and crowds. Frankly the informal parade was pretty motley, but there were a few gems amongst both cars and drivers. The highlight was Roger, a genial local bloke with a genuine GTHO which he bought from the original owner right here in The Berra a decade ago for a tenth of what it’s worth now.

I soaked up the atmosphere, of which there was plenty. For a start, the landmark Mandalay was actually open for business, the first time I’ve ever seen it so since moving here. It was so remarkable I felt we had to buy and eat something from it, which turned out to be a Canberra Dog for Bald Man and a Dagwood dog for me, and no, I am not ashamed. It was all part of the experience. Walking down Lonsdale St one admired cars parked in little family groups: XYs, Celicas, Toranas, Monaros, Mustangs and so on.

At some point in the evening a roar went up from the servo across from us. A meathead decked out in white trackpants and bling had pulled up in a hotted up Mazda RX3 and was revving the engine when some rozzers snuck up behind him and ordered him and his mates out of the vehicle. The police then wheeled out an RTA inspector, who started to go over the car, and then it began to escalate. A crowd gathered, first dozens and then hundreds. More police arrived, and then more – no less than eight cars and more than 30 uniformed bods.

It was a very long half hour while the car owner argued aggressively, various cops stared back at him impassively and the crowd hooted and jeered. Finally they let him go without a canary, but looking at the width of those tyres it was probably a close thing. Had they been the fashion police though, this bloke and his mates would have got life.

Perhaps what’s so fascinating about the Summernats is the side of Canberra it brings out. Most of the cars doing laps of Braddon were local. A friend commented over dinner on Saturday night that a bogan car show wasn’t the kind of thing you’d expect to see in the Berra, which did take me aback. Summernats shouldn’t be a surprise at all, for like every other Australian city the Berra has plenty of outer suburbs where bogan culture thrives, and the layout of this town actively supports a strong car focus. But there is definitely a so-called-cultured and affluent middle class here that has no idea or interest in what goes on beyond the Parliamentary triangle and inner suburbs, and that’s not healthy. Boganism may not be in good taste, but willful ignorance is inexcusable.

Finally after a few hours we had had enough. We attracted only a few jibes as we hopped on our bicycles and rode away.

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These days turned out nothing like I had planned.
– Powderfinger, 2000

What a strange couple of weeks it’s been. Work took me to Victoria to help with bushfire coverage; though I stayed office-bound, the hours were long and weird, colleagues worn out and worn down, and smoke permeated even the Southbank studios. Outside visibility was low and everyone looked serious. (Readers of The Hobart Chronicles may remember that the smell of bushfire makes me twitchy. I left Melbourne with a full-blown coffee dependancy re-established, my caffeine free weeks a distant memory.)

Then just days later, attending to the outlaws took me to northeastern NSW where flooodwaters were receding; at the Bald Man’s mother’s property she’d had 25 inches in 10 days, exceeding all known records for the area, and a low-lying bridge was temporarily impassable. It was hot and swampy.

And here in The Berra? Dry, dry, dry. The gardens that started January so lush are now desiccated. Trees look like they’re turning early for autumn, but in fact the leaves are just dying. Miss Penny, visiting from Tamworse last weekend, was a bit taken aback by the dry landscape, but I’m pleased to say she enjoyed her stay having found The Berra very much to her liking. Sunday also happened to be my birthday. With each passing birthday, I seem to care about my age less, which is good; but I also seem to care about everything else a little less, too. Perhaps it’s smart not to look at the detail of one’s life too closely at times like these.

Anyway, The Berra offers many fine distractions, and we sampled a few on the weekend. Sunday was the annual open day for Government House at Yarralumla, and so early on we dropped in. I had a look at the work OB, and the Marketing guru snuck off and quietly organised for us to jump the queue of people waiting to walk through the grand old residence. Somehow this morphed into a personal tour by one of the senior staff for Miss Penny, the Bald Man and me through some of the open and not-so-open areas, like the kitchen and flower-arranging room (yes there is one of these). Built in the 1830s, it’s remarkable how the House relates to all the contemporary landmarks, including Lake Burley Griffin and the Telstra tower, none of which existed when the drawing rooms with the fine bay windows were installed. Now in its 18th decade, the house has a gentle, genteel atmosphere even when filled with hundreds of curious Berrans peering over the red ropes at the furniture.

Our guide, having served under several G-Gs, remembered some fascinating moments, a boon for the Bald Man who is in turn fascinated by the Dismissal. Here was where Whitlam walked in. There was where Fraser stood. Kerr was sitting behind this desk. And so on. We rounded a corner and nearly ran into an older gentleman coming down a flight of stairs. “Oh,” cried our guide, “Hello Mr Bryce!”

We left, awestruck, and discussed the tour while stuffing ourselves at yum cha for lunch. Then about two hours later, having clearly not eaten enough at lunch, we went out for afternoon tea.

Not just any old afternoon tea, but High Tea at the Hyatt, The Berra’s only 5-star establishment. It was very grand indeed. I’m told it’s something of an institution in The Berra, and I can see why. Luxurious surrounds and exquisite petits fours, and you can sit around for hours enjoying first-class people-watching. A group of forty-something women held what looked like a baby shower for one of their number; two dapper young fellows ordered elaborate pink-and-green cocktails. But what was going on at the next table, where a couple of dozen women of varying ages and flash frocks sat adorned with nametags, drinking champagne? We ran through some options: a business meeting; a briefing for Tupperware sales ladies; a church group outing. It finally emerged as some kind of bridal shower, complete with quizzes, little speeches, a sharply pretty Bridezilla and her cut-glass mother. It was a world away from our humble little trio. I thought people only had shoes made to match their dresses for the actual wedding, and then only people for whom the styling of the day may actually be more important than the happily-ever-after. But then, what would I know? It was a joy to watch it all.

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And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
– Simon & Garfunkel, 1965

Boy, when the locals say The Berra empties over summer, they weren’t kidding.

I also joined the exodus for a period, visiting first the ancestral home deep in Melbourne’s burbs, followed by the obligitary stopover to some in-, uh, outlaws at the NSW mid-north coast hinterland, and then a couple of days’ relief in the wilds of the Barrington Tops with friends, where there were roos, wombats, quolls, wedgetails and water dragons to be seen on vast paddocks of cattle country freshly planted with eucalypts. I observed feral dog and razorback carcasses, climbed hills and forded streams, visited caves, abandoned quarries and old miner’s huts, drove quadbikes and shot at targets, and generally got in touch with my inner Sarah Palin. Yeeeeeeeee-HA.

Travelled back via the Central Coast (we spent NYE with some friends there, which was very pleasant in the way the evening should be, until 8 o’clock the next morning when the neighbour started up his lawnmower and proceeded to do his yard. On New Year’s Day – I shit you not). Bald Man and I got back in time to welcome our jazz officianado friends from Tamworth for a visit to Our National Capital.

They were here to tour a variety of the cultural institutions, which was great, as they were all open 9am-5pm every day. We whiled away some pleasant hours at the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the National Museum, old and new Parliament Houses. Both veteran musicians and accomplished composers, Lis is also a painter and John originally an American (a ‘septic’, as he’s been taught to say) so there was a lot of culture for them to enjoy.

Alas, the enjoyment largely stopped there. Everything else we tried to take them to was shut. A late lunch/early dinner at Tilly’s, for a taste of a Berran institution? Shut, at 5pm on Saturday no less. Parlour Bar, for a civised cocktail and tapas? Shut, for renovations. Silo? Shut. A series of favourite cafes in Civic, Ainslie, Braddon? Shut, shut, shut. My poor friends. They thought the Berra was a ghost town, a poor impression since they were considering moving onwards and upwards from the country to somewhere with a little more happening, like the Berra – I’m embarassed to think where else they’d rather go now.

The final indignity came after our friends had departed, when the Bald Man and I went in search of a takeaway. His favourite is pizza – the good kind, with which we were very spoiled by several excellent purveyors in Slobart. In the Berra I’m sorry to say we have not found a single decent pizza place. We opted therefore for one of the cheap local outlets, Zeffirelli, which at least has the decency not to skewer your wallet for their ordinary fare. And it was… you guessed it. Shut. For three whole weeks over summer. As shut as Caffe Ravello around the corner. And that pretty much exhausts any of the edible pizza options in the locale.

Thank goodness for the cheap and cheerful Chinese, which was open and doing a roaring trade. Duck and noodles at the Tak Kee Inn went down a treat.

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