The Ridge Has Got Talent

You can’t have yin without yang, or heads without tails, or action without reaction, or Donald Trump without  … well, anyone really. For all that the far west lacks in resources and infrastructure and opportunities, it more than makes up for in vision and zest and can-do attitude.

A prime example of this is the Lightning Ridge Central School’s trip to Nepal, the second of which is planned for 2018. You can imagine how hard it is to organise such a thing from out here, and the risk-averse Department of Education didn’t exactly lay out the red carpet. So the local branch of Rotary stepped in to auspice the trip on the proviso that the students raised the funds themselves. It happened in 2016 and it’s happening again! There are regular car washes and raffles, but the major event on the fundraising calendar is The Ridge Has Got Talent.

As I approached the doors of the bowlo’s main auditorium I could hear the hum of a goodly sized crowd. And, of course, I got hit up straight away for entry fees and donations. Well, what else did I expect? Here’s the glamorous Krystal, ably assisted in money-taking duties by Evey.

For my ten bucks I got an act list and a stubby pencil, the type you find in bookies shops or voting booths on election day. There were 17 acts and I must admit that my heart sank a little. I’ve sat through a fair few of these things for my own kids and I wondered, did I have the stamina to sit through such an affair when it’s someone else’s gorgeousness labouring through Für Elise on a Casio keyboard. And I’m still slightly traumatised by the memory – it was a stinking hot afternoon in maybe 1998 at the Lawrence O’Toole centre in Hamilton North – of three Year 5 girls in leotards and sparkly bowlers dancing energetically to You Can Leave Your Hat On. But no: this would be different.

And it was! Not always in ways that I’d anticipated. The rotten photo below is of The Mystery Piano Player. So mysterious in fact that he can’t be seen, his faced blacked up and his costume blending in with the curtains. Was he even there? If I hadn’t heard him with my own ears I’d have thought he was an optical illusion or a conjuring trick.

Silly man: this was the conjuring trick! We were summoned to the dance floor, where we were told volunteers would be needed. I was a bit late arriving and, honestly, I’m not very good at keeping up with these things, so frankly I had no idea what was happening.

Luckily, Stacey knew exactly what was happening. Three of diamonds! Of course!

There were a few dance troupes. This was Evey and the Barretts. I’d been strong-armed into voting for this mob by Leon, Evey’s dad. He’s not a person to argue with and so I did exactly what was asked, before they’d even performed. When they finished Leon glared around the room and defied anyone not to clap louder and longer, which we all did. Thankfully they were actually quite good and so I didn’t feel too compromised.

Jada and Ava couldn’t make the night, unfortunately, but in true Ridge style a back-up act was rustled together. Barry and Gayle look like they know their way around the stage of a bowling club and I’m guessing this was not the first time they’d stepped into the breach on a talent night. They banged out a fine rendition of a song I’d never heard of which had the slightly alarming (for a school fundraiser) refrain “He drinks tequila / And she talks dirty in Spanish”. I had a brief You Can Leave Your Hat On flashback but everyone took it in good spirit.

(I’ve saved you the effort of Googling. It’s song by Sammy Kershaw and Lorrie Morgan (aka Sammy&Lorrie) and has had over million YouTube views. Seriously, where have I been all these years?)

You’ve got to admire the pluck of these little kids, especially the ones that got up and played or sang solo. This one looked like a little Minnie Mouse in her red polka dot skirt and white face. I’m guessing that’s a mum videoing her daughter’s rendition of Bubbly on the phone. Go, girl!

The senior acts finished off the night, with the Schools Spectacular dancers and a solo number by Penny (I think it was Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris) which eventually took out the pool. Then we got hit up for more raffle tickets and donations. I now have a ticket in the Khan’t trolley dash. 2561 has always been my lucky number and I’m going to start scoping out the aisles in coming weeks.

And so that part of the night ended. I was somewhat disturbed at how much pleasure I got from watching other people’s children perform their song and dance routines. This must surely be a sign that I’m getting old; there was a time I would have sneered at such an event but we all mellow with time.

Certainly my travelling companions were so mellow that they nearly nodded off in the foyer.

Good luck, happy fundraisers. And bring back amazing, life-changing stories from Nepal in 2018. You’ll never be the same again, and neither will the Ridge.

Random things in trees

Trees. I don’t know where to begin: there’s so much to say about them, and our relationship with them.

Look at this old monster, bearing its huge and ancient scar. Was the bark for a canoe? Or part of some cremation or interment ritual? I’ll never know. I’d gone out with some of the kids and Mr B, a very knowledgeable artisan, to collect wood for spears. (That’s what I like about schools out west. There aren’t enough places where you lads can go out and make spears during school time.)

Some scars were decorated. This is a more modern interpretation of the practice. Might’ve been cut with a cordless circular saw or similar. The world changes.

This one’s up the Castlereagh, towards Angledool. I don’t think it’s an actual scar from human activity, probably just a shed branch. But what’s the blue for? It’s not near a driveway or anything; it just seems really random.

But if you want to see really random stuff in trees you don’t have to go far. On the road between Cumborah and the Grawin there’s a tree with a microwave oven in it. How? Why? Perhaps someone put the oven down for five minutes twenty years ago then forgot about it and a tree grew beneath it.

As you head up towards Hebel you’ll come across a lot of little … um … what do I call them? Sculptures? Tableaux?

Whoever’s responsible has put a fair amount of thought and work into their creation. Not a lot of thought and work, but a fair amount.

Again: what does it mean?

As is always the case with children’s toys in a location where there are no actual children there can be an element of the creepy in the whole exercise. This is exacerbated when the artist nails the toy to the tree by the ears.

Superman makes an appearance. There’s something poignant about this Superman. Well, that might just be me. I’m always filling in imaginary back stories for things like this and perhaps his arrival in a tree at the side of the Castlereagh Highway miles from anywhere isn’t poignant at all, maybe it’s utterly hilarious and involved rum and cones and nakedness and all the other standard rituals of modern Ridge life.

But I prefer my poignant back story. It suits my natural melancholia.

Moree pound and Colly offal pit

Maadhaay ngay nhalay. Gayrr nhama Jambo. That’s Yuwaalaraay for ‘This is my dog. He’s called Jambo.’

Maadhaay nhalay Roxy. Yilaadhu yanaawaanha nhama pound-gu. ‘This dog is Roxy. Today she’s going to the pound.’

Roxy had been on holidays in the Ridge, staying with J. But today it was time for Roxy to go back the big house.

J’s car was having its own holiday, at the fixers in Dubbo, and so I’d volunteered to do the drive. It was partly favour and partly vested interest; I needed a day out of town. We set off down the Castlereagh mid morning, turned off towards Colly and before long we were crossing the rich volcanic soil of the Moree plains.

Last year’s rain resulted in good subsoil moisture and optimistic crop sowing, but it’s dry out there at the moment. We came across mobs of cattle grazing on the slim pickings at the side of the road. The graziers’ kids pootled around on quad bikes and we wondered about their lives. What dreams do they dream? What will they become?

About ten kays out of Moree we turned off the highway and followed a bitumen track, the pale blue peak of Mount Kaputar rising up from the plains to the south of us. What I’ve been calling “the pound” is really the cunningly named Rovertel, a boarding kennel and dog rescue place.

A fat red heeler waddled up to greet us. From inside of the kennel came the mournful whine of dogs waiting for runaround time. Roxy’s ears went down but, when the gate was opened up, she padded in contentedly. She seemed to know where home was.

So that was that.

Or was it? This would be a very short and dull blog post if that were the case. Instead, we headed into town for lunch and waited for the real story to begin.

Moree’s a moderately prosperous town, but like any town that depends on agriculture it’s had more than its fair share of lean years. Sure, there were bumper crops last year, but before that there were several tough ones. We took a stroll up and down and around the main street looking for somewhere to have lunch; both the Indian restaurants were shut so our choice came down to Omega and 2400. 2400 won out. Vegetarian nachos for me. Not bad.

I think of Moree as a checked shirt and RM Williams kind of town but the mid-afternoon population was almost entirely made up of middle-aged men and women in leather jackets. It turns out this weekend was an annual Harley-Davidson festival. Harley D made its reputation on outlaw riders, Marlon Brando rebels without a cause. “Whadda ya rebellin’ against, Johnny?” “Whadda ya got?” These days, in Australia at least, the Harley’s a status symbol. You’ve got to have a significant wedge to throw at a bike like that, the kind of money that Gen Y would need as a deposit on a shoebox in Sydney’s farthest west.

I have a strange fascination for Harley riders: not the wild guys who deal meth and corrupt the daughters of good citizens, but the accountants and retired teachers who drive out to Moree for hog fest. I wanted to take a picture of them at the cafe but I knew that it’d be rude. I could have just asked, I suppose, and I bet they’d have agreed.. But I didn’t. Then, as we were getting in the car, a whole pack of them appeared like slow-moving bison grazing their way across the vast plains of Dakota. Without missing a beat, J gamely posed by the car so that I could take a gammon holiday snap with a backdrop of hog-riding risk analysts. But really I don’t know why I did that. Like, am I ten years old? Jesus.

It was an uneventful trip to Collarenebri. We refuelled and pulled out of the servo and found ourselves next to the Ridge back road. We’d had enough of the bitumen by this time so off we set along the reddish brown dirt.

The last time I came down the back road I saw this intriguing sign. Who would not want to see an offal pit? The clock was against me on that occasion but I promised myself that, should I ever be down the back road again, I would not let the opportunity pass. Today was that day.

I tried to imagine what the offal pit might look like. A vision came to me of a deep, round pool filled with livers and kidneys and brains and kidneys and intestines and kidneys. Kidneys featured very heavily. My vision pit was rather Game of Thrones; it was lined with granite and the pool of offal was frothing and bubbling and the deep maroon colour of a Queensland rugby jersey. In the middle of the pool was a bearded man in leather armour, screaming and pawing uselessly at the rippling kidneys as he sank beneath them; I think there might have been a king standing at the edge of the pit supping from a jewel-encrusted goblet and throwing back his head as he laughed cruelly.

The first thing to pop my vision was the chain-link fence. This was one big, big fence, shiny and new. It must have cost a bucketload of money. It was the kind of fence that people build to protect something very valuable. Were there offal rustlers prowling the outskirts of country towns, scooping bucketfuls of kidneys and selling them on the black market in Big Town? Or was there something more sinister at work? J and I drove onwards, a sense of unease growing inside of us.

An open gate beckoned and we drove into the tip, past piles of tyres and abandoned white goods. A man dragged branches from a trailer but otherwise the place was deserted. The silence was thick and heavy. In the far distance a huge, dead old gum tree, denuded of foliage, loomed against the skyline. As we approached, the branches appeared to come to life as a vast flock of kites and falcons rose and flapped lazily into the thermals. We had found the offal pit.

Disappointingly it was not granite-lined. There was no sinking man or sadistic king. And it was almost totally devoid of kidneys, brains, livers, tripe and intestines.

There were lots of empty beer bottles and cans of Bundy and Coke. It looked like there’d been massive party, like some Neanderthal feasting site. Maybe that’s what you do in Colly, go out to the offal pit and get shit-faced on Bundy and kidneys. As if to confirm our thoughts, J pointed out this elegant composition: a goat’s foreleg and a pair of discarded knickers. I was immediately reminded of this story from The Onion from a while back.

As our eyes became adjusted to the tumble of colours and textures, shapes began to make themselves apparent. A sheep lay face down in the dirt, its mummified tongue lolling at a grotesque angle.

A goat’s head, barely connected to its torso.

The flattened skeleton of some creature. It was all very Gothic, or like the darker still lives of the Dutch masters.

Next to a tree lay a pair of dogs. They still had their collars on; the collars were connecting them by a short length of chain to the tree. Had they been just tied up and left there?

No. Each animal bore a huge hole in the forehead. Far too big for a bullet; you’d need Clint Eastwood’s Magnum to make a hole that size. Did someone come out with the dogs and one of those “humane” killers they use in abattoirs to take out pigs and cattle?

It was all deeply surreal. I half expected to turn around and be confronted by a line of toothless, pitchfork-toting yokels. We mooched around in silence. I prodded the toe of my boot at a desiccated lump of animal hide the colour of Donald Trump’s hair. There was a pile of jaw bones. Just jaw bones. Above us the kites wheeled patiently. It was quite easily one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been.

On the back road on the way home we veered left and right to avoid the countless dead kangaroo and emu bodies.

J saw a kitten sitting demurely on the verge. Not a cat: a kitten. We saw a dog, a wild dog, huge and panting beneath its matted coat. It was hard not to be reminded of Roxy and the dogs in the pound, and the dogs chained to the tree in the offal pit.

Yaluu, Roxy. Maayu yanaaya.

Food Safari 12: Walgett Sporto

It was time for a Federation meeting again, so in the bus we got and off we set, down the Castlereagh, braking hard for the 64 trillion emus that thought it was a good idea to meander across the road without warning.

There was a change of venue for the meeting, and so it was that at about half five in the afternoon we pulled into the gravelly car park of Walgett Sporto.

Like lots of clubs in small regional towns, the Sporto was something of a memorial to lost glories. Even the smell in the foyer – a mixture of cigarette smoke that’s somehow got into the aircon, ageing carpet fibres, schooners of Tooheys New – brought upon me a Proustian moment, my own club land Remembrance of Things Past. The honour boards were filled with winners in singles and doubles events for year after year after year until, in recent times, the names are replaced by those two poignant words “Not Played”.

Inside, the club was almost empty. The Chaser was on the telly and its gravitational pull was as strong as that of a black hole. A Federation meeting or … $2,000 if you choose to take four steps, or [dramatic pause] $45,000 if you choose to take six steps. And against The Beast!

But I am, if nothing else, a dutiful person. The meeting was in a side room and was, essentially, two hours of a growing rage that was as impotent as it was intense. Teachers being defunded from prisons. TAFE being torn apart. NAPLAN. But we motioned and resolved and, at the end of it, staggered towards the bistro safe in the knowledge that we’re just a bunch of irrelevant piss ants a long, long way from Decisionsville.

But, hey, it was Parmy Thursday!

This is where I make an unAustralian confession. I’m not a fan of the parmy. When did they become a Thing? For as long as I can remember the burger was the benchmark in pub tucker. The modern parmy is a gigantic object that could not possibly have come from a single creature but must have been stitched together with fencing wire or blended into a smooth pulp before being reconstituted, like a meaty Pringle. Being “of my time”, I went for the burger. In this case the $15 Texas burger.

I wasn’t sure what to expect (I should have read the description on the menu but, like, who does that?). In what way was it “Texan”? What actually is Texan cuisine? I know that Dubya once nearly choked on a pretzel but then I think that happened in Washington, where he’d been seduced by fancy Yankee snacks. I’d have guessed maybe a kind of smokey rib sauce. And Cajun. Do they have Cajun stuff down there or is that somewhere else? Must Google.

The Walgett interpretation of the Texas burger had onion rings, which I didn’t immediately connect with Texas. Though I could imagine Dubya choking on an onion ring. It also had barbecue sauces and melted cheese. It was grand!

Which was the general consensus all round. The lady at the counter was lovely and cheerful and made us all feel welcome, and the food was pretty quick to arrive. They even catered for S’s bizarre request to accompany his parmy: “mashed potato and salad”. I didn’t think of myself as a food snob till now but that’s just wrong.

Chuck stole the show with his mixed grill. It had everything, including corn on the cob, which neither Chuck nor I had seen on a mixed grill before. It was becoming quite a night.

The piece de resistance was, however, the dessert cabinet. There were no madeleines, so I couldn’t extend my weak Proust metaphor, but there were …

… profiteroles and Snickers cheese cake!!!! Here is our expert dessert fondler Mr B about to tuck in. How was it, Mr B?

I think that face says it all. Out of shot, his leg is kicking like a dog having its belly scratched.

The Sporto bistro belied the down-at-heel feeling I felt when I first went in. It was a really friendly place. If my Texan burger didn’t truly evoke the wide-open plains or the Sierre Madre, I’m frankly buggered if can say what, if it didn’t taste of onion rings, it should have tasted like.

The winner was of course the dessert cabinet. Well, we were all winners on the night. Apart from those sacked teachers, dismantled TAFEs, NAPLAN coordinators, etc etc.

Last day of Term 2

Oftentimes an idea for a post doesn’t come off.

Oftentimes I take pictures on my phone and use them to remind myself later of a scene or a mood, and sometimes that triggers a post. But sometimes it doesn’t.

This was one of those. It was the last day of Term 2 at the school. Teachers were tired of the kids and the kids were sick to death of the teachers. We went to the pub. (The teachers, not the kids.) It ended up with shots at the bar.

Then afterwards was one of those weird journeys in the courtesy bus along dirt tracks, bouncing around wondering where the bloody hell you are.

Then home, at which point a fire seems like a good idea. Fire is always a good idea.

But for some reason none of it clags together in the way it has to to make a post happen. So the pictures sit there until, some time later, you see them and think, ah, bugger it. And you click “Publish”.

Walking and talking down Stoneys Road

We haven’t had much of a winter, certainly not as cold and wet as the winter of 2016, but this weekend reminded us that August isn’t spring. The wind was cold and gusty and, though the skies were blue and cloudless, it felt like indoors weather. Which was good because I had a big editing job, proofreading the references of a gigantic multi-authored work on Aboriginal song cycles. By lunchtime of Day 2 my head was like a block of cold lard and so when N texted to see if I wanted to go for a walk I could barely contain myself.

I motorbiked up to Big Town, parked the Kwaka, and we started footwalking past the water towers to Stoneys Road.

I haven’t been down Stoneys Road, but then I haven’t been to about 98% of the Ridge. I need a dog. Dogs get you out.

The “town” part of the Ridge, such as it is, quickly falls away once you step off the bitumen. Fifty yards in any direction and you hit a kind of liminal zone where humans and nature push back and forth against each other, like a First World War battle front. Sometimes one side pushes harder than the other and claims a patch of scrub for a while but then the other pushes back and reclaims it. Everywhere is evidence of occasions where one side has sallied forth and, for a short while, swaggered about in its hard-fought victory.

There are houses along the way, civilians caught in the crossfire.

I didn’t know anything about the New Jerusalem, though I kind of felt like I should. It’s mentioned in the Book of Revelation:

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God , having been prepared as a bride having been adorned for her husband.

You can get quite caught up in the internet with these things. (I say “you” but I mean “me”.) The apostle John drew the New Jerusalem as the bride, drawn in contrast to the harlot Babylon. I have to say that Babylon sounds like a lot more fun, in the same way that the smoking carriage on trains in the olden days was always a million times more of a lark than being stuck with the Baptists and Presbyterians in non-smoking.

There’s still working mines off to the side of the road. In the past I’ve edited environmental impact statements for proposed mines and there’s always a good couple of kilograms of words about the rehabilitation work that will take place when everything’s been dug out. It’s all bullshit, of course.

Ridge folk take a refreshingly honest approach to rehabilitation: they don’t claim that they’ll make any effort to rehabilitate the environment, and they stick to their word.

A bit further on and the wind that had been tugging at the brim of my hat brought with it the heady stench of roadkill. You know when you hit the centre of the scent zone and it feels like the air is almost chewably full of stinking dead beast particles? At least in a car you can put your foot down and be gone, but on Stoneys Road we fell into the epicentre of a throbbing, flesh-buckling miasma. The source was two fat pigs, pushed off the tray of someone’s ute.

I take my work seriously. No long-range lenses were used.

Then on, past more mines and bits of dead machinery and busted, rusted car chassis. We came across a big pole in the ground with a thing on top that looks like a hook goes into it. I know nothing about mining. N has an impressive working knowledge of what goes on, down in those holes in the ground, but even she had no clue. We surmised for a while, made up theories, gave up.

After skirting the airstrip for a while Stoneys Road eventually cuts into the Three Mile. Here we had the option of turning round and heading back, or cracking on. The thought of all that proofreading made me sicker than photographing a dead tusker close up so crack on we did.

The next stretch of road was a bit dull. I’ll take pictures of anything but I didn’t take any of this bit. Instead we talked, talked about all the stuff you talk about when you’re walking and talking on a windy day. We didn’t talk about Charlottesville or Barcelona or Turku, we didn’t talk about same-sex marriage or the dual nationality of politicians, we didn’t talk about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions or the wisdom of a Christian woman wearing a burqa into parliament. We talked about the other stuff.

And then we were at Bill O’Brien Way, the main road that links the Ridge to the Castlereagh Highway. The track cuts in at Benny Walford’s Crossing. We paused to look at the little memorial, the plastic flowers wagging and flapping in the buffeting breeze. So poignant, these modest acts of remembrance.

The rest of the walk felt utilitarian and more like a pedestrian commute than a refreshing stroll. We walked on the sloping camber next to the bitumen as tank-sized four-wheel drives hauled caravans into town. Grit swirled around us until we hit the paved sidewalks of Morilla Street. By this time it was mid afternoon and the town had that siesta feel about it, with barely even a dog to be seen. We stopped in at the Australian Opal Centre and admired the fossilised pine cones and sea creatures and I thought about all the things that N and I had talked about, the inconsequential things that will be forgotten when we’re fossils.

Or maybe even sooner, maybe tomorrow.

Opal Queen

It’s the last weekend in July. Can that even be possible? If it is indeed true then the middle of next week will be August. Glaaarrrgh!

But if it IS the last weekend in July, then that would explain the stupidly bigly number of cars on Morilla Street, and the depleted shelves at Khan’s, and the fact that Walgett Shire Council sent up a road crew to kick some dirt around the busted pavement edges and roadsides.

Yes! It’s Opal Festival time! And that of course means … Opal Queen!

I didn’t make it last year due to circumstances that I can’t remember. Maybe I just didn’t want to go. But this year I was determined to go! Yes! Exclamation marks!!!

Friday night was the annual gala dinner of the appallingly acronymed IOJDAA, which stands for something to do with opals. It was $100 a ticket and themed “Great Gatsby” so I went to the pub instead, which was a good move as I won a meat tray in the raffles and swapped it for beer tokens. I knew from that moment on that this was going to be a most excellent weekend.

Saturday was a hive of activity. The local junior rugby league team, the Tigers, were playing Saint George, so the area around Spider Brown Oval was already choked. Add a few dozen market stalls and you have instant bedlam.

City folk will of course scoff at this definition of congestion but it’s all relative. There were lots of elderly drivers in hats struggling to navigate the side streets; kids ran – unfettered and willy-nilly – between moving cars; people parked at alarming angles wherever they felt like. But once inside the area marked off for stalls a kind of calm resumed, the calm of familiarity that you feel when you walk around these sorts of things. There was jam and chutney and balsamic vinegar.

There was salami.

There were olde timey Aussie bush signs. I really did fancy the one about pigging. Should I go back and get it?

These gentlemen want a minning truck. I wasn’t sure if it was a typo or if “minning” is a thing.

I went to Urban Dictionary and found out that it most definitely is a thing:

A foriegner, who acts very gay to another man, then blaming his gay actions on the “fact” that’s how they act in their home country.

(foriegner grabs a guy’s butt suggestively)

Minning Victim: “Hey man! What’s with that?!?”

Minner: “huh huh, that’s how they do it in Korea!”

Bystander: “Man, that guy is Minning all over the place.”

I live, I learn.

Earlier this year I blogged about drinking in the Pub in the Club, a strange other-worldly venue nestled within the Bowlo. This cavernous place only comes to life once a year, and this is its weekend to shine. The interior was packed with opal sellers.

They’re not just Lightning Ridge opal sellers of course; some have come from White Cliffs, Coober Pedy, Queensland – all over.

But the best location in the house is always reserved for one very, very important organisation: the Lightning Ridge Historical Society. Yet again the stall was held together by a team of volunteers led by the redoubtable, the indomitable Barb! Barb is out of hospital having had joint replacement surgery, and only just off her sticks, and yet there she is, selling raffle tickets, calling out to old-timers and locals, answering dozens of questions to baffled tourists. What a woman!

If there are opal sellers then there are also sure to be opal buyers. These guys rock into town every now and then, rent a room at the pub or the motel, and stick out their shingle.

It all seems a bit dubious but people who know about this stuff assure me that it’s legit. I wouldn’t like to be the one driving around these outback roads, alone, with a car full of cash and opals though. I bet they can tell some stories.

All this talk of cash and opals reminds me to go back to the story. Every second year the IJODOAJA, or whatever it’s called, holds a competition for the best opal jewellery design. The entries were displayed in the upstairs function room at the Bowlo but, due to photography restrictions, I can’t show you any of them. You’ll have to trust me that they were very, very good. As was the humungous blue opal necklace that Serena Williams once wore. Jeepers.

I wandered back outside for a bit to eat. The sausage sizzle trailer run by the Men’s Shed was out of sausages but I did get a magnificent steak and onion sanger. The number of food stalls was a bit down this year, which might explain the extra-long queue for the curly, battered spuds on a stick. It felt like pure greed to get one straight after a steak sandwich, but blow me down I think I’ll go back Sunday for a “mad feed” (as the kids say) of battery potatoey goodness.

After that it was home to admire my booty: caramelised strawberry balsamic vinegar; lemon, lime and ginger marmalade; wild boar salami; a tin of Kiwi Dave’s leather balsam; and a cutting board decorated by supa-talented Ridge art teacher Priscilla Martinez. All in all, not a bad morning. And still time for a nanna nap before the Big Night.

******

Well, that was satisfying. I never used to be a napper but now that I’m older than Methuselah I rather enjoy an afternoon lied down. Where was I? Yes! Opal Queen!

I headed into town around half seven. On my way I passed the community church, which had this sign out the front. Is it just me or does that not sound like the kind of club you want to join?

I bumped into E in the car park. E organises the primary school’s dance troupe, which apparently kicks off the show every year. This year they did Rock Around The Clock. It was exceedingly very cute.

I had no idea what was going to happen, but luckily there were plenty of people who knew the drill. It goes like this: arrive on time and sit around for ages waiting for something to happen; little kids do dance (see above); Opal Queen parade; winner announced; band comes on and everyone gets drunk and the whole thing gets loose and shapeless.

That sounded like a plan I could work with. The whole premise of women parading themselves for group approval sounds a bit medieval and there’s a time in my life (say, the first fifty years) when I would have moaned on about it being as bad as living in a Taliban caliphate or something, but from the lofty vantage point of late middle age I can just do a little nod and go, “Yeah, Opal Queen. I’m cool with that.”

There were ten entrants in total. Each of them fills out a form saying what they do in the community but, thankfully, they don’t have to read this out or anything. One by one they’re escorted across the dancefloor, do a wee curtsy to the judges (John and Leanne: opal traders from Winton), then up onto the stage. No swimsuits, no declarations of wishing for world peace, no Donald Trump. All in all, very tasteful.

In true Ridge style the entire event was devoid of pretension. As the hopefuls cruised past the judges the MC read out snippets of backstory: “K enjoys cooking and helping her dad fix his mining equipment” and “When she’s not working, T relaxes by pig hunting” were two that stuck in my mind.

L was there, looking extremely dapper. He showed me how to fill in my People’s Choice card, but I must have done it wrong because someone else won. Or maybe more than one people gets to vote?

When the winner was announced a throne was brought onto the stage. I had a sudden and cold clammy feeling at the back of my knees. I knew that throne!

I may even have sat in it!

That night at the Pub in the Club: it all came rushing at me like a Nam flashback.

Luckily L bought me two vodkas (two because he thought I’d drink one too quickly and it saves queuing). I bolted one for medicinal purposes and nursed the other back to my seat. (The ordinary one, not the throne.)

The band came on; they were called Crawfish Soup. Or Stew. They were a three-piece and the bassist had a six-string. I know it’s in the job description for bass players to look bored and disengaged but he looked so SO bored that I thought he might actually fall face-forward at any moment. They were ok, and I had a few dances with J. Here’s a thing (more learning time). I have an English friend whose sister came to Australia. She likes swing dancing and she pointed out that in Australia dancers twirl in the opposite direction to northern hemisphere swing dancers. I’d kind of doubted this but when J and I were twirling we found out that it was actually true! It had nothing to do with the medicinal vodka.

Here’s another thing I learnt.: there is a product called “finishing spray”. After you’ve put your makeup on you spray it on your face to “finish” everything off. I guess it’s like a resin or varnish, but maybe not as harmful. Maybe. There is also something called “volume powder” which you put on your head if you want to get “effortless ‘French Girl‘ hair”. I’ve never had effortless French girl hair and, sadly, never will, but I do like the idea of volume powder. And effortless French girls.

And yet another thing! (All this learning!) There is a phenomenon called “straw lips”. That might not be the actual name for it, but it describes the wrinkles that ladies get on the part of their face between their top lip and their nose and it comes from drinking drinks from straws. Or smoking. Or both. M claimed it was actually “a thing” and challenged me to Google it. I did. M: I could not find it. I photographed my lips to see if I had this condition but we were outside in the smokers’ area where it’s dark so I couldn’t tell. What do you think?

It was indeed getting very loose and shapeless by this point. I was at the bar with L when the newly crowned opal queen popped by. L insisted that I have my photograph taken with her. I was very reluctant, possibly even more reluctant than she was, but L is quite formidable and, when he has his mind set on something, it happens.

He also insisted that I include this picture, his favourite, “the one where she’s laughing and you have this really dumb blank expression”.

He also demanded executive producer credits. Blimey.

I’m not sure what time it all finished up. Someone said that someone said there was a stoush in the ladies toilets, which is par for the course at this kind of affair. I left the young folk to it and toddled off down the Three Mile for an early night. I have a job of work to do tomorrow. Those curly battered spuds on sticks won’t eat themselves.

 

Executive producer: Mr Leon Allen

 

PS: What is it all for? The Opal Queen, and Opal Festival, raises funds for the Australian National Opal Centre. To find out more, visit their website.