Almanac Motor Racing – Bathurst (Part 5): The road trip Home

Rain fell through the night.  The ground was wet as I returned the glasses to the general store about 5:30am.  A few men waited for coffee.  The woman behind the counter said thanks with barely a glance, like she was certain they’d be returned.  After packing up, the motel room now looked like a used motel room, dishevelled but no longer ours.  We said goodbye to a few South Africans and Peter.  Just after 6am, Nick guided the 4WD from Millthorpe.

The tower says it all – victory for David Reynolds.


We were taking a different route home.  I sat in the back.  Triple J was on the radio, music I was no longer in tune with.  Music I would’ve turned off at home.  On the road, it sounded different, it sounded right.  We’d been through a different experience.  Unknown techno music suited the speed at Bathurst.


Through heavy fog we drove, Nick never beyond the speed limit.  Roos, cattle and sheep fed amidst the gloom.  Danny consulted his phone and guided Nick through Orange’s backstreets.  Danny’s phone predicted the shortest distance to Dubbo.  It became known as Danny’s Detour, taking us on rough roads, twists, turns and level crossings, through Mullion Creek, Stuart Home and Mumbil instead of the highway.  Eventually we saw a sign, 20km to Wellington.


‘Reckon there’ll be a highway there?’ Nick asked.


The fog cleared, revealing an overcast day that would brighten by the kilometre.  Radio stations drifted in and out.  A flick of stations generally found Triple J.  A shocking 80s mix on local Dubbo radio stunned us.  Breakfast was again fast at McDonalds in Dubbo, the same franchise we ate on the way down.


Grain farms extended as far as the shimmering horizon went.  Bare hills rose in the distance.  Trees provided windbreaks and border lines.  Scraggly eucalypts grew in clumps or single trees stood tall and lonely on the earth.  And the willow trees spread their noxious love, tracing the path of every shallow creek.


We drove through Gilgandra and Coonabarabran and the Pilliga National Park on the A39.  The Tourist Hotel in Narrabri stood tired as we went past.  Again I thought of Tucker’s Daughter and Ian Moss.  Surely he’d played a concert in Narrabri over the years.


Moree was a quick glance, as was Boggabilla.  About 1pm we crossed the border, stopping in Goondiwindi for more fast food.  Nick didn’t eat.  It was hot.  A day earlier, we’d been cursing single-digit temperatures.  In the car park we cursed 30 degree temperatures.


To the north of Goondiwindi, we drove through vast hectares of grain farms broken up by clumps of bushland.  Nick stared at the road.  Danny and I looked at the bush.  It is impossible to get bored staring at uncleared bushland.  There was very little roadkill on the Gore Highway, as though it had all been cleared away over the weekend.


I saw something I’d never seen before.  ‘What are those cactus plants?’ I asked.


‘Prickly Pear,’ Danny said.


For hundreds of kilometres, prickly pear grew in various states of height and health.  Introduced as a border tree, the cactus quickly grew out of control, infesting 40,000 square kilometres of farm land by the 1920s.  The introduction of a Mexican moth has kept it under control ever since.  The prickly pear seemed an anomaly against the eucalypts and pine trees.  Prickly pear is ugly, a fighter as all weeds are.


Willow trees can grow again if broken branches find moist ground.  The pads of prickly pear can regenerate months after breaking from the plant.  I stared at the prickly pear as we sped past.  Some were dying or dead, others standing three or four metres tall.


Both weeds will never be rid from Australia.


Staying on the A39, a storm brewed to the east.  The weather app indicated it would miss us.  Outside Toowoomba, the range opened up as we made our slow descent.  Nick had driven most of the day.  He said he was good to go.  For the entire trip, I didn’t touch the wheel.  Nick was the main driver, with Danny as reserve.  I was emergency.  I didn’t mind.  I finished Michael Clarke’s autobiography in the back seat.


Hitting Darren Lockyer Way meant we were close to home.  The landscape eventually gave way from corn and grain farms to industry and suburbia.  Nick took the expensive tunnels to make the trip quicker.


After dumping my gear inside my house, I drove Danny home, thanking Juliette for the ticket.


Back at home, I reflected on the past two weeks, attending two of Australia’s biggest sporting events, the AFL grand final and the Bathurst 1000.  I learned more at Bathurst, and though motor racing isn’t my thing, there is no reason why it isn’t.


Despite the weather, the race was thrilling.  By the end, I was wringing my hands in fear and hope that Reynolds would hold on and win.


Later that night, I looked at old clips on YouTube of Allan Moffatt and Peter Brock and Dick Johnson speeding around the track.  It reminded me of an age where I didn’t have to prioritise the sport I watched.  As a kid, there was always time for everything.


Nick, Danny and I made time, driving more than 2000km there and back to watch the Bathurst race.  I made a promise to my boys that I would take them to Bathurst for the race when they’re older.  I’ve made the same promise about grand finals.


Perhaps, in a decade or so, Nick, Danny and I will take our families to watch the race.  Another, glorious road trip.  And next year, I’ll be making time to watch the Bathurst 1000…

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…


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    This series was a very enjoyable read Matt.

  2. Mark Duffett says

    “…old clips on YouTube of Allan Moffat and Peter Brock and Dick Johnson speeding around the track. It reminded me of an age where I didn’t have to prioritise the sport I watched. As a kid, there was always time for everything.”

    Boy, did those lines jump out and resonate with me.

  3. Ben Footner says

    Have thoroughly enjoyed your account of Bathurst Matt. Thanks for sharing.

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