Going to the Melbourne Cup

We’d parked our camper-trailer under wattle trees in full bloom, at Girraween National Park, on the Granite Belt.

camper girraween wattle pininterest.co.uk
Girraween wattle pininterest.co.uk

The tiny Coleman camper held two double beds, plus a single when we dropped the table down. It had a small fridge and gas stove, a sink with a pump tap, a hard roof and sturdy canvas walls with zip-down, screened plastic windows.

After spending the day walking with our three kids among the spring-time wild-flowers of one of Queensland’s most beautiful and popular national parks, we were lying in bed in the dark, telling jokes and laughing.

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Wildflowers at Girraween National Park

Suddenly there was the sound of a long, musical fart. “Who farted?” said Con, indignantly. Ironic, coming from the family’s master of flatulence.

“That wasn’t a fart”, said one of the kids. “That was a Girraween Giggle.”

That set everyone off with real giggles, and I happily put my hand on Con’s leg, under the doona.

Con was immediately distracted from farts, and we concentrated instead on a problem that all parents face when they share a camper with their children.

Tents are different. A tent might be the same size as a camper-trailer, but it doesn’t jiggle or squeak. Even with its jacks wound down tight under all four corners, a camper does. It’s not unusual, when walking through a caravan park or camping area, to pass a jiggling, squeaking camper.

From our home in Lowood, in the Brisbane Valley, we were now on our way south to go to the Melbourne Cup. We’d bought the lightest of camper-trailers, weighing just five hundred and fifty kilograms, because we didn’t know how to reverse a trailer and didn’t want to learn. For that whole trip, we pushed it into position by hand in every new caravan park.

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Our camper-trailer

We were driving the Golden Holden, the Kingswood we’d bought to replace the old blue and white HR Holden.

Con had just completed his duties as a volunteer at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games.

con c'wealth games 1982
Con on duty as a volunteer at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, Brisbane

At the closing party, only two days earlier, his wallet had been stolen, and so we were travelling under a handicap. In those days, he received a salary, I worked casually, and we had little in the bank – only a Christmas Club account into which I put money occasionally. We lived from pay to pay, with a credit card (Bankcard) for emergencies.

Now the Bankcard had been stolen, plus Con’s driver’s license, his only form of identification. Both our Bankcards had been cancelled. New cards and license had yet to be issued.

In 1982, shopping for groceries or fuel on credit involved a phone call from the business owner to a Sydney number for verification of our Bankcard balance. It seems primitive now, but in those days it was an amazing service. And just as we were about to begin an extensive interstate road trip, this service was closed to us, because we had no card.

Con was on long service leave, and so fortnightly deposits would continue to be made into his savings account. He’d sent his signature to a bank in Richmond, Sydney, where we were going to visit family friends; but he would have no form of identification to enable us to withdraw funds before then.

We banked with the National Bank – now NAB. In those days there was a branch of the National Bank in almost every Queensland town, because the National Bank had taken over the old Queensland National Bank and its many branches throughout the state. In New South Wales they were less common.

Con visited the Lowood bank manager and told him of our predicament – we would be travelling interstate with no means of withdrawing money – and he gave Con a card with his signature on it to show along the way. Off we went.

On the long haul up to the Granite belt, at Braeside, south of Warwick on the New England Highway, the engine of the Golden Holden blew up.

When I first went to Stanthorpe, the road from Warwick was largely gravel, a winding, narrow road up the range where overtaking was impossible, and accidents were common. By 1982 that road was gone, replaced by a long, smooth ascent. Too long for the Holden with a camper-trailer in tow.

We were broken-down beside the road, with steam rising off a seized-up engine, three kids and a camper and very little money.

The RACQ towed us to Stanthorpe, and we arranged to have a new engine installed. Then we went to the bank. Contacted by the Stanthorpe branch, the manager at Lowood opened my Christmas Fund account and forwarded the funds. It was enough to pay for the new engine.

Two days later we were in Armidale. No National Bank there. I made rissoles for dinner out of the cheapest meat I could buy: sausage mince. Con put fifty cents on Kingston Town for the Cox Plate, and another fifty cents on Triumphal Arch in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup, and took the daily double.

In the caravan park we listened to the races on his little radio. First Kingston Town won. “He’ll win the Melbourne Cup!” said Con, with great excitement, “and we’ll be there to see it!”

Next, Triumphal Arch came in first, and Con, with delight, picked up nine dollars from the TAB. It was enough to get us through to Muswellbrook.

Muswellbrook had a CBC bank, which was tied in with the National. Con produced the card he’d got from the bank manager at Lowood and withdrew fifty dollars, enough to see us through to Richmond. It was a high old time that night in the caravan park at nearby Lake Glenbawn.

camper lake glenbawn ezytrail
Lake Glenbawn ezytrailscampertrailers.com.au

Con had some beers, and I drank a little bottle of Ben Ean. Ben Ean Moselle “Shorts” were popular in those days.

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Advertisement for “Ben Ean Shorts” theconversation.com

A couple of days later, at Richmond National Bank, our holiday was saved. There was a call from Lowood bank while we were there – the manager offering us an overdraft. A few days later our replacement cards arrived, and our financial life had been restored to as much order as we ever managed to achieve. On we went, to Melbourne and the Cup.

Kingston Town came second.

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Old poster showing Kingston Town being beaten by Gurner’s Lane, Melbourne Cup 1982 leski.com.au

Our camper served us well on that trip, and for several more years. By then, the kids had grown. The trailer seemed too crowded, and its canvas showed signs of wear. When I went back to full-time work, we traded it in for a second car, although we were sorry to see it go.

We never forgot the Girraween Giggle.

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The Golden Holden and the camper-trailer at Jerilderie, Vic.

Relay Excitement

On Saturday, the Commonwealth Games Baton Relay is coming to a park near our Brisbane home, just four days before the Opening Ceremony on the Gold Coast. This relay is the longest in history, covering two hundred and thirty thousand kilometres and visiting every Commonwealth nation and territory. That’s quite something.

We went to the 1982 Commonwealth Games, held in Brisbane. It was wonderful. We were all excited.com games brisbane

That was when people first began to talk about Brisbane “coming of age”. They talked about it again in 1988, during Expo. In 2018 we must have really come of age at last, because no one talks about it anymore. (Now we even have an international TV series located in Brisbane, “Harrow”. It’s fun to do what people in New York and London have always been able to do – play “Spot the location”.)

I’ve been reading up on the 2018 Baton Relay. It’s traveling all over Queensland, and most of the way it goes by air: Cooktown one day, Mount Isa the next.

Each Baton bearer carries the torch for two hundred metres. They don’t have to be sports people. The list of criteria includes words like aspire, inspire, contribute and achieve. In each town there is a celebration when the baton arrives. A lovely thing to think about – all those parties. Yesterday Augathella, today Barcaldine, next week up north to Yarrabah and Ingham and Emerald. I hope Ingham has dried out before then.

The first big relay in Australia was the 1956 Olympic Torch Relay to Melbourne. The Relay began in Cairns on the ninth of November, when the flame was flown in from Greece, and it caused excitement all down the east coast, arriving right on time in Melbourne, thirteen days later. The torch bearers endured conditions unthinkable today.

The most testing sections of the Relay were in Queensland, the worst of it during a rainy day and night between Mackay and Rockhampton.

The road trip to Cairns to set up the Relay was an epic in itself, beginning in Melbourne nineteen days earlier, the convoy of army trucks and Holdens manned largely by university students who’d never been to Queensland. I was astonished, when reading about it, that when the convoy headed north from Rockhampton, it took the coastal route via Saint Lawrence, following the train line. Now the main highway, back then this route was a dreadful track of creek crossings, potholes, swamps and cattle grids: wild country to the Melbournites in the convoy.

In the end, the convoy had to be loaded on to a train to make the journey to Sarina and rejoin the Bruce Highway.

In the 1956 Relay, the Torch was carried all the way on foot, continuously, regardless of weather or time of day or night. To qualify, the torch bearers had to be able to run a mile in under seven minutes. Men only. Runners were dropped off at marker pegs a mile apart, to wait, unlit torch in hand, for the previous runner to arrive. When they’d run their section they would pass the torch in to the support truck and be tossed a commemorative medal before the truck disappeared on its way.

From Mackay to Rockhampton, the Relay followed the Bruce Highway, much of it gravel road back then, and wisely avoided the Saint Lawrence road. Bringing the torch through was not easy, all the same. It was dark and raining. Each young runner in his white uniform would wait by his marker for the previous runner to emerge from the gloom, torch in hand, to pass on the flame.bowen ol torch

The torch weighed one point eight kilograms, and it felt very heavy after a mile held at arm’s length. If the runners held it too close to their bodies, sparks blew in their faces.

People came out with hot soup for the runners down that dark, muddy road and cheered them on. Souvenir hunters followed after the support trucks, pulling up the markers, although this was banned. There must still be relay markers in sheds and cupboards all down the coast. Family members clearing out Dad’s or Granddad’s bits and pieces may puzzle over what they could be.

For the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the Torch Relay was transported by camel, Flying Doctor plane, and underwater on the Great Barrier Reef. It was a far slicker operation than that journey down through Queensland in 1956. Rutted, muddy roads, encounters with snakes and dogs, rainy nights, leeches, mosquitoes: those Melbourne University students went home with enough stories of the wild north to create legends in the south.

This year’s Commonwealth Games Baton Relay is much easier for its Baton bearers. It is a masterpiece of smooth organization, and it has brought pleasure and excitement to people across the world on its journey to Queensland and the Gold Coast. Not so much adventure, though!

Photo “1956 Melbourne Olympic Torch carried through a street in Bowen Qld” – from Picture Queensland, State Library of Queensland: digital image collection

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