Almanac Motor Racing – Bathurst (Part 1): The road trip Thursday

Bathurst – the road trip

Near the top of the mountain with two hoodies on…

 

The road trip for the 2017 Bathurst 1000 was my sister’s idea. Juliette has been married to Danny for 16 years.  She wanted to send Danny to Bathurst this year because she didn’t want to watch him sit on the couch watching television all weekend.

 

There were tickets, three day passes for Danny, me and my brother Nick.  In the kitchen, when Juliette showed me the tickets, hat and lanyard, she told me what was going to happen.

 

‘You’re going on a road trip to Bathurst, to watch cars drive around a road,’ Juliette said.  ‘I know it’s not your thing but you’re going.’

 

As I kid, I liked watching Bathurst.  My father Bill loved Bathurst, but like me he couldn’t sit still all day.  He’d watch the first 20 laps and the last 20.  My favourite driver was Allan Moffat.  If Moffat didn’t win, I was happy for Holden to win, though I got sick of Peter Brock and all those victories.

 

As I aged, I became a casual observer of motor racing.  I can watch it but not for long.  I don’t watch the Super Cars or Formula One.  If I miss Bathurst, I don’t mind.

 

I don’t dislike motor racing.  I just stopped making time for it.

 

The ticket brought back memories of Moffat’s Falcons, Brock’s Torana and all those big, loud cars scrambling around the mountain.  I recalled famous crashes, Dick Johnson’s rock and Jim Richards telling the crowd they were a pack of arseholes.

 

The last full race I watched was in 1990, with Win Percy and Allan Grice driving the victorious Holden.  As Juliette said, it’s not my thing, but I was going.

 

When Nick and Danny arrived on Wednesday morning, I’d been back a few days from Melbourne, having watched Richmond finally win another premiership.  I thought my excitement was exhausted, but as we packed my bags into Nick’s car, I felt a pang of adrenalin.

 

‘My excitement just pinged,’ I said.

 

‘You’re going to learn a lot this weekend,’ Danny said.

 

We left my house about 9am.  A few kilometres down the road, Nick called a game I’d never heard of, spotto.  Nick developed the game for his kids, initially for motorcycles before settling on various colour cars.  As we drove through Nundah, Nick said the first person to see a yellow car and call spotto gets a point.  Yellow tractors didn’t count.  Yellow earthmoving equipment didn’t count.  Other than that, spotto was on.

 

It didn’t take too long for me to realise that spotto is hard to play from the back seat, particularly as I wasn’t paying enough attention.

 

Heading west past Ipswich, we took the Cunningham Highway.  Nick’s Prado was a late entrance to the road trip.  Danny’s car, a Mercedes E63, was the original drive but it ended up in care with a blown suspension airbag.

 

The landscape changed from suburban to rural.  We drove past fields of grain, corn and paddocks of cattle in the valley west of Ipswich.  We went up the range, through Cunningham’s Gap and stayed on the A3 to Warwick where we found a bakery with a limited variety of pies.  In a nearby brown-grass park, ordinary pies were consumed.  Warwick needed rain.

 

Upon the restart we went west on the A42 and encountered music troubles.  The Bluetooth wouldn’t pick up our phones.  The auxiliary port was touchy.  Nick’s phone worked.  We listened to a song about koalas – don’t call me a bear – then changed to my phone for AC/DC, Tom Petty and Kings of Leon.

 

The sun shimmered the horizon.  The day was clear.  Danny checked the weather app on his phone.  Rain was still forecast for Sunday, race day.  My app said the same thing.  It was going to rain in Bathurst all day.   Passing through Inglewood and Yelarbon, we were flanked by thousands of hectares of farm land.  Silos shone in the distance, looking like space stations as we went past.

 

After crossing the border near Goondiwindi, we picked up the Gore Highway, where a suicidal truck driver tailgated us for half an hour before attempting an imbecilic pass and almost swiping us into the bush.  Nick could’ve reached out his window and touched his taillight.

 

Half an hour later, the suicidal truck driver locked up all his wheels after the woman he was tailgating grew tired of it and pulled off the highway.  The B-double trailer fanned about as the driver tried keeping the truck on the road.  We were disgusted by the suicidal danger and should’ve reported him.

 

The Gore Highway lived up to its reputation.  The roadside was littered with kangaroo and wallaby corpses in a vast stretch.  Hundreds of marsupials in various states of decomposition.  While heading over a bridge, a dead freshwater turtle lay next to three dead roos.  The turtle was on its back, the shell empty.

 

The temperature outside decreased with each kilometre.  Music troubles continued.  The auxiliary port stopped registering all our phones.  For a while we listened to static.  At a highway pit stop, Danny again tried to get his Samsung phone to work so we could listen to Motorhead.  As he jiggled the auxiliary port, we were buzzed by hundreds of small flies.

 

‘Why are there so many flies around,’ Danny said.

 

‘Well, New South Wales is shit,’ Nick said.

 

Danny took over the driving.  Nick and I took beers.  Our plan was to head to Dubbo, but that meant driving until 8pm.  About 5pm, we stopped in Narrabri to find a bed for the night.  The Tourist Hotel offered us three rooms, two singles and a double for $130.  The publican was surprised I wanted rooms.  I took that surprise to Danny and Nick.

 

We went up the road to the Commercial Hotel.  A room with two single beds and a divan would cost $200.  We went back to the Tourist Hotel and booked rooms.  I jagged the double bed.

 

After inspecting the rooms, we regretted our decision.  The rooms looked like they’d been built in the forties and never upgraded.  The pub’s clientele looked the same.  It was loud and unhinged.  In Danny’s room, the ceramic sink had a broken edge but it was functional.  In Nick’s room, the white enamel sink was stained with rust.  In my room, a sign above the sink said Do not use the sinks.

 

Nick said there was no way he was getting under the covers.  The blankets were decades old.  The pillow cases were faded and flimsy.  The linen, though, was white and clean.  Regardless, Nick said he was going to sleep on top of the bed in his clothes.  Danny vowed to do the same.

 

We walked up the road to the Commercial Hotel and settled in for dinner and beers.  Nick said hello to a couple of men he knew from Brisbane.  A huge, dark brown timber statue carved out of a tree trunk decorated the public bar.  I wondered what who the squat wildman was.  Nick said it was the Yowie.  At the bar, I asked a woman who the statue was.

 

‘The Yowie,’ she said.

 

Her colleague chimed in.  ‘He’s based on an Aboriginal legend.’

 

Carrying beers back to our table, I told Nick he was right then stood next to the Yowie for a photo.

 

After a couple of beers, we ordered dinner.  The pub was full.  The woman at the counter was jovial.  She took our orders.  Nick said he’d get dinner.  The woman had to cancel our meals and reorder them, because she thought we’d be paying separately.

 

After reordering our meals, I asked if we could pay separately.  She laughed.  Danny asked if he could cancel his order because he changed his mind.  She laughed again.  ‘Leave me alone,’ she said.

 

Our dinner took almost two hours to arrive.  Only Nick’s steak was hot.

 

We went back to the Tourist Hotel for one last beer where a round was $12 cheaper.  We went for a walk through the Tourist Hotel a sprawling, tired establishment.  It seemed caught in a long ago farming boom from which it never recovered.  The bar was old and long, littered with bar-mats of long forgotten beers.  The lounge was furnished by antique furniture.

 

Long, dark hallways accompanied our walk to bed.  The men’s toilet had three cubicles, with one boarded up.  The hot water worked in the shower.  Hornets had built nests on the tiled walls.  The mirror was faded badly.  Yellow tiles had fallen off the walls in patches.

 

In bed, under the covers, nothing bit me.  The clientelle partied until 11:30pm, then a few residents loudly found their rooms.  Throughout the night, we were woken by people banging doors closed, or letting the toilet door slam into the brick that kept the door from locking.

 

At 3:30am, someone else woke me by banging a door shut.  I couldn’t get back to sleep.  Nick knocked on my door at 5am.  ‘Matthew, get up.’

 

The three of us, trying to be quiet, packed our bags in the gloom.  In the hallway, Nick sighed.  ‘What a great night sleep,’ he said.  ‘Leave your key in the door and let’s get the fuck out.’

 

We fled the Tourist Hotel and stopped nearby for a takeaway coffee.  I thought about Ian Moss and Tucker’s daughter Narrabri faded into the distance.  She’d been a memory a long time.

 

About an hour out of Narrabri, I noticed something that looked like lemons littering empty paddocks.  I mentioned them to Nick and Danny, who couldn’t see them.  They thought I had one too many beers the night before.  The rest of the weekend, I searched for those lemon-like things and never found them.

 

The Newell Highway took us through The Pilliga and on to Coonabarabran.  Nick stayed behind the wheel.  Multiple road signs pointed left to Dunedoo, as though the highway was shepherding us that way.

 

‘Dunedoopoo,’ Nick said.

 

Breakfast was in Dubbo, at McDonalds.  There were no surprises.  It was fast and ordinary.  Nick drove on.  The landscape had mostly been cleared for sheep and cattle.  Nick scared a few with the horn.  We laughed.

 

Shallow creeks meandered through properties for hundreds of kilometres.  Willow trees, a noxious imported weed, lined the creek beds and banks, killing off native vegetation with their aggression, stagnating the water with their roots and polluting it with their foliage.

 

Through Orange we went.  The landscape was beautiful, sheep and cattle plentiful.  Farm houses were flanked by huge sheds, some crumbling, others in ruin and others propped up by treated timber and still functional.  Every farm had a tip, a space where old equipment, cars and household furniture was dumped.  Some dumps were huge, rubbish that would never be cleared.

 

Millthorpe is a small, pretty town of 1000 people between Orange and Blayney.  Two pubs, the Commercial and Railway, serviced the town along with a general store.  Old brick and bluestone houses and buildings stood as they’d done for 150-years.  The railway line still carries trains.  We pulled up at the Millthorpe Motel.  Reception was locked.  I pushed the intercom and asked if we could gain access to our room.

 

The woman who answered said no.  It was only 11am.  Check-in wasn’t until 2pm.  She promised to call once the room had been cleaned.  We drove through Blayney then into Bathurst for a look and supplies.  A beautiful town, Bathurst was decked out in racing attire, flags, banners and posters.  People decorated their front yards the same.  We drove to the track, but traffic forced us into a U-turn.

 

The woman from the motel called.  Our room was number 6.  The key would be in the door.  Back in Millthorpe, we unloaded the car and made the small room ours.  Within minutes there was stuff everywhere, food, bags, clothes, the Engel fridge and beer.

 

Nick noticed the room didn’t have beer glasses.  I called reception.  No beer glasses were available.  The sun beat down.  We walked the streets, looking for somewhere to get beer glasses.  There is no supermarket in Millthorpe.  The businesses were craft stores, antique stores and a physic offering future predictions.  We wondered how they survived.

 

I suggested asking one of the pubs to borrow three glasses.  Nick and Danny told me to do it.  We hatched a plan to steal three beer glasses then shelved it.  At the Railway Hotel, I went in.  Ten faces turned to look at me.  I never asked for beer glasses.  It seemed a ridiculous request.  After making a hasty retreat, I found Nick and Danny and shook my head.

 

At the general store, we ate a bowl of chips.  Nick suggested buying three jars of Kantong sauce and tipping the sauce out.  It sounded reasonable.  I was 18 the last time I drank beer from a jar.  As we prepared to select our jars, I asked the woman at the counter if she had anything we could drink home brew from, plastic cups, disposable coffee cups, anything.

 

‘I’ll return them,’ I said.

 

She gave me three milkshake glasses.  ‘I was going to give you plastic cups but when you said you’d return them you can use these.’

 

We thanked her.  It was early for beer, just after three.  In our room, we poured home brew and toasted small town hospitality.  About 6pm we went to the Commercial Hotel for dinner.  Before we were inside, the owner emerged.  He was overly friendly, his brown hair slicked back and a commercial radio voice, pale blue shirt tucked into dark blue denim jeans.  He asked Nick and Danny where we were from and if we were in Millthorpe for the race.  ‘You having dinner here?’ he asked.

 

We nodded.

 

‘Good,’ he said before holding the door open for us.  The Commercial Hotel had undergone a recent renovation, timber floors polished, a wall knocked down, new paint on the walls.  The balcony at the back had been enclosed.  It was small and welcoming, with motel rooms out the back, much like the rooms at the Tourist Hotel without the sordidness.

 

Dinner was fine, the beers better.  Back at the motel, we opened more home brew.  I asked Danny dozens of questions about Bathurst’s recent history.  I confessed the last time I watched a full race and described the rum hangover I had.  I knew few drivers, aside from Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup and the Kelly brothers.  I didn’t know a woman, Simona de Silvestro, was driving in the race.

 

There were keys in every door at the motel.  Most rooms were vacant.

 

‘We could have our own rooms tonight,’ I said.

 

‘People will arrive late from all round the country,’ Danny said.  ‘International too, all getting off at Sydney Airport for the same connecting bus.’

 

Danny was right.  About 9pm, people filtered in.  Six South Africans occupied the two rooms next to ours.

 

All old men, the South Africans were agitated.  One of them had lost their tickets at the airport.  He explained that he’d been on the phone to a couple of men who had just flown in from South Africa for the race.  Somehow in between disconnecting the call and gathering his bag, he left six lanyards and tickets somewhere.

 

Another paddock pass would cost $180, not a huge amount, but his mate’s questions weren’t about money.  They wanted to know how six lanyards filled with tickets could’ve been lost.  The ticket-loser had no answers.  They were all worried that someone at the airport would gain entry to Bathurst on their tickets.

 

‘You won’t be the first people to lose their tickets,’ I said.  ‘Call the organiser and tell him what happened.’

 

‘Tell him you fucked up,’ one of the South Africans said.

 

Danny gave them the organiser’s number.  A phone call was made.  The organiser, Glen, said he would cancel the original tickets and new tickets could be picked up at the track in the morning.

 

When the ticket-loser got off the phone, he grinned.  ‘It’s been fixed up.’

 

‘Nothing is fucked,’ I said.  The South Africans went to their rooms.  None of them had any beer.

 

It was after ten when we prepared to sleep.  Nick claimed the divan but couldn’t find a proper pillow.  Danny and I had two pillows each and weren’t willing to give him one.  Danny checked a tall, thin cupboard and found a blanket but no pillow.  Nick put the blanket beneath him for extra padding and pushed the couch cushions and two small red couch pillows together.

 

‘Can’t believe they don’t have a spare pillow,’ Nick said.  ‘Or beer glasses.’

 

‘When was the last time you two slept in the same room?’ Danny asked.

 

Nick and I looked at each other.

 

‘It was at Elimbah,’ Nick said.

 

Bill and Patsy bought the house at Elimbah in September 1988.  I moved to Rockhampton to study in 1989.  ‘Nick and I slept on single beds in one of the bedrooms for a few months in late 1988 and early 1989,’ I said.

 

‘Fucker was snoring back then,’ Nick said.  He got into bed and offered a warning.  ‘No snoring,’ he said.

 

‘I don’t snore,’ I said.

 

‘I don’t either,’ Danny said.  ‘Juliette says I do but she’s wrong.’

 

‘I don’t snore either,’ Nick said.

 

‘You two better not snore,’ I said.

 

After a few minutes, Nick broke the dark silence.  ‘Matt,’ he said.

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Tell me a story.’

 

‘There were three men in a room in Millthorpe and they all went to sleep.’

 

‘That’s a shit story.’

 

We all snored.  Nick woke me at some point, growling Matthew, roll over.  I muttered sorry and rolled to my right.  Later, he woke me again, Matthew, get off your back.

 

‘It’s not me, it’s Danny,’ I said.

 

‘Push him,’ Nick said.

 

I leaned over the void and pushed Danny on the shoulder.  The ruckus stopped.  Later Danny snored again.  I ignored it.  Nick woke us at 5am.  A red couch pillow lay between my bed and Danny’s bed.  I asked Nick how it got there.

 

‘I threw it,’ Nick said.  ‘To stop you snoring.’

 

‘Did it work?’

 

Nick shook his head.

 

Breakfast was toast and three cups of coffee.  In between, we made six bread rolls and three sandwiches, packing our bags with warm clothes, snacks and cameras.  I put 20 cans of beer into the soft esky, topping the beer with our food.

 

After a shower, Danny went through his bag and frowned.  He dug deeper, shifting clothes.  ‘I don’t have any undies,’ he said.

 

Nick and I exchanged a glance.  ‘What,’ Nick said.

 

‘I don’t have any undies.’

 

We laughed.  Danny looked up, face in thought, trying to remember how he forgot to pack undies.  ‘I remember getting them out,’ he said.  He dug into the bag for another look but gave up.

 

Nick and I weren’t offering any undies.

 

‘I forgot to wear undies to footy training once,’ I said.  ‘Never did it again.  Ended up with sore balls.’

 

Danny turned his undies inside out.

 

Read Part 2 HERE.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. Ben Footner says:

    Great read Matt. Looking forward to the next instalments!

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