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.

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.

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.

fcamper ben ean
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.

camper melb cup taa poster
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.

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

Walking on Granite

Girraween?” said my hairdresser. “It’s lovely there. I had my first hangover at Girraween.”

Thirty kilometres south of Stanthorpe, in Queensland’s Granite Belt, famous for frost, stone fruit and wine, Girraween is beautiful, especially in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming. It’s a special place for many, including my family.



Con confirms Girraween’s past party status.

“I used to go out there from Stanthorpe. We called it Wyberba back then, and things were pretty casual. We’d have airbed slides down the cascades at the Junction, then have a barbecue and hold stubby races.”

“What do you mean, stubby races?”

“My mate Ross and me, we’d float our empty stubbies in the creek and bet on which one got to the bottom of the rapids first.”

By the time Con and I revisited Girraween National Park with our children, he had become a civilised person who would never throw bottles in a creek; especially in such a beautiful place as Bald Rock Creek, flowing through the park, past campgrounds and picnic areas.

We went there towing a little camper trailer. The campground was glowing with wattles that dropped yellow balls of blossom on the camper roof.

We took the kids walking along the tracks, down to the Junction through the wild flowers, and up to the top of the Pyramid.

Because it is coarse-grained, granite is easy to walk up, never slippery unless it is wet or eroded smooth where water runs down. All that is needed is a head for heights.

eddy rock

My mother was an artist who appreciated the sculptural shapes of the granite boulders and balancing rocks, sometimes adding granite sand and pieces of vegetation to give texture to her paintings.


The Granite Belt is inspirational for artists: the rocks with their fascinating shapes, their pinks and greys, glinting quartz crystals and blooms of lichen.


One recent early summer, Con and I visited Girraween, this time with our grandchildren. The sound of cicadas was everywhere: so loud it was deafening, a continuous, piercing, almost shrieking buzz. On a eucalypt beside the track a cicada shed its skin and unfolded its crumpled wings as we watched.



Empty cicada skins clung to every branch and tree trunk. The kids collected them and used them to decorate their jumpers and hats.


Our grandchildren enjoyed the rocks and caves, flowers and creek, but it’s the cicadas they remember most.

Our whole family has been to Girraween and Stanthorpe many times. I’d like to buy a house in the area, but only if I could have some boulders. If you live on the Granite Belt, you can expect a boulder or two in your yard. My cousin has built a house on top of a granite outcrop overlooking the National Park. She has a fine collection of boulders, and she’s building a garden among them. I envy her.


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