Quite rightly, we are all (except those confined to their own driveway, hotel, lavish country estate or private yacht/jet) being encouraged to take driving holidays into acceptable parts of rural and regional Australia and spray around as much cash as we’ve been hiding under the bed or in the hole in the garden under the petunias, away from the prying eyes of partners or loved ones.
The team here at The Weekend Australian multimedia empire doesn’t want to put you off but in the interests of a fair and balanced alternative we thought we’d give you our memories of some of this great country’s outback icons. This is particularly important since one of the team (who will remain anonymous but is Australia’s only national restaurant critic) has just bought the Husqvarna (didn’t they make vacuum cleaners?)
Svartpilen 701 motorcycle — simple, raw, authentic and thrilling to ride. Its design captures some of the original spirit that originally made motorcycling great. OK, time to vomit.
Let’s talk icons
The Dog on the Tuckerbox (Tupperware food container for our Greek and other foreign readers) is a beautiful life-size statue of a dog sitting on a food container five miles from Gundagai (as the song goes) that almost brings to life the canine hero of the 1880s poem by Bowyang Yorke.
Readers, this is a place you have to put on your bucket list. To give it its full name, The Dog on the Tucker Box Pioneer Monument welcomes visitors with a newly redesigned garden precinct featuring Australian and Tasmanian animal figurines. The native Australian giraffe is a particular highlight. The cafe serves hot, cold and lukewarm refreshments, souvenirs, Australiana, antiques and old wares like your correspondent and his co-driver, Michael McMichael. It has a peaceful picnic area with the graves of many deceased dogs on the tucker box. The place goes off in November for the dog’s birthday.
An oasis in the bush
Next on the list is the town of Thargomindah on the Bulloo River in Queensland. Well, really the drive from Thargomindah to Cobar via Bourke, or 1046km of tarmac terror.
Yes, friends and others, the mighty Michael McMichael (so good they named him twice) and co-driver daughter Libby McMichael’s BMW 7 Series died on our Shitbox Rally years ago by a remote billabong (small water hole, not an ice cream) outside the back of Bourke. There was no sign of the disaster to come when 200 of what may be called cars in the world’s cheapest wrecking yards in northern China left flood-torn Thargomindah for a new flood-free destination.
Despite waters up to the roof (lucky we had our masks and snorkels so we could see the man and woman eating crocodiles) … yes, despite the floods and the really bad food, we made it to the town of Cunnamulla, an Aboriginal name meaning “long stretch of water with one reasonable coffee shop”. US and Greek readers move on to the next paragraph. Cunnamulla hosted the very first interstate rugby league game, which was between Cunnamulla and Bourke.
OK, after a few soy cappuccinos and a dozen of the very finest Cunnamulla meat pies, our group drove off into the wide Australian bush. Somewhere along the way our leader in the front car decided to stop for what we call a Code Yellow (use your imagination). Seeing the driveway to a farm (farms out here are measured in the thousands of square kilometres) he pulled in, naturally assuming the driveway would be of a similar standard to those at any similar farm in Hampstead Heath, Mykonos or Connecticut.
But no. Following the rain that threatened to refloat the ark and bring the desert back to life, it was deep thick mud.
Lemming like, all the cars headed to the farm gate where they promptly sunk like stones in black muck. Of course, your drivers resisted the temptation, mainly because we were busy discussing the virtues of organic farming as pertaining to the cans of XXXX Gold in one hand and the Cunnamulla pies in the other.
Pirates of St Kilda
Heading to Tasmania by car, it is probably better to go by boat than drive. You start from the Melbourne seaside town of St Kilda (population 17,795). You can get some idea of the features of this Beaulieu-sur-Mer with Luna Park from songs such as Killed Her in St Kilda by Voodoo Lovecats, St Kilda Nights by the Purple Dentists and Melodies Of St Kilda by Masters Apprentices.
Anyway, the locals were very pleased to see 400 or so of Australia’s finest, plus two of Tasmania’s, one of France’s and one of Canada’s, all dressed to varying degrees as pirates. Not many were arrested. Then it was on to that mightiest defender of our country’s seas — the Spirit of Tasmania. For those Greek, Tasmanian and other foreign readers, the Spirit is the only transport between the two countries at the bottom of the world. Unlike her sister ship the Titanic, the Spirit was built in 1998 in Finland. After a series of near sinkings, engine failures, listeria and leprosy outbreaks it was decided to find some chump to buy what was then named the Marie Celeste.
Readers, you know the outcome. The same Australian government that has just given the sinkers of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior the contract to build three submarines for $60 trillion, bought the daughter of the Titanic and renamed the former mothballed rusting hulk the Spirit of Tasmania.
Now, many of our pirated persons hadn’t been on any sort of ship before, and the waves in Bass Strait were approaching 20m. There wasn’t too much Johnny Depp — much more Les Paterson talking to Bill and Bert on the big white telephone. For those Greek, Tasmanian and other foreign readers, talking to Bill and Bert is local slang for projectile vomiting due to acute seas sickness bordering on death.
Rock-a-Bye in Roxby
We were 300km out of Silverton on our way to Marree, on a leg of the 2015 Shitbox Rally, when our ute was attacked by what the locals call the devil’s culvert, putting a hole in the sump a small child and his Labrador could crawl through. Oil dumped on to the ground, the oil pressure warning light telegraphed disaster and the engine smelled like it was on fire — because it was.
My quick thinking saved the day. Believing the ute was about to explode, I turned off the engine and ran screaming into the bush, leaving my co-driver to handle the fire and impending explosion.
Anyway, off we went to the outback town of Roxby Downs where we started dress-up day and the theme was yellow. Michael McMichael’s daughter Charlotte dressed up as Emma, the female Wiggle. The Wiggles are a group of adults who wear very bright clothes and entertain children.
Of course, Emma Wiggle attracted a team of little ones. Unfortunately, they found Emma just when she was downing a can of Coopers and having a ciggie. Ignoring the fire risk, she threw the ciggie into the bushes and hid the can behind her back. The children were excited to see one of their favourite stars but as they were walking away one was overheard saying, “Mummy, I think Emma Wiggle is an alcoholic.”