Hervey Bay, 17th December 2007
I wake up, yet again, at 7.30am. I feel like a Christmas turkey on slow-bake. As soon as the morning sun is high enough to reach the top of the van, the velcro type material on the ceiling takes on the attributes of a nuclear oven. Every morning it’s a struggle contorting myself out of the coffin-like top bunk and out into the fresh air.
Today’s picturesque scene that I stumble out of the van to is Torquay beach at Hervey Bay. After a minute or two of adjusting to the light, wiping the evenings drool from my face and then taking in the beachfront scenery, I start to think about what to do today. Using your brain at this time of the morning is difficult enough but it slowly dawns on me that I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself here.
Hervey Bay is the jumping off point for trips to Fraser Island and also a good area for whale watching. However the whales are on their summer holidays at the moment, I’m not too sure where but probably somewhere with cheap fish and plenty of good-looking lady whales, and Fraser Island is off the cards for two reasons. Firstly, for matters of a fiscal nature and secondly because I need to leave some new things to see when I next come back to Australia.
So with Fraser Island now on my “to do” list, joining other notable spots such as Karijini, the Bungle Bungles & Kakadu, I start my aimless day by heading to the campsite office to pay for the nights accommodation. I’m greeted by a wrinkly hag who has a receding hairline and all the friendliness of a Gestapo trained Alsatian. She does, however, have reason to be pissed off as she barks down the phone to Dave, “They’ve put a fack’n peg through the bloody water mains again…” I’m left wondering whether Australians have the longest tent pegs in the world or if perhaps they should have laid the pipes a little deeper.
Encouraged by my first interesting encounter of the day, I head into town to hunt down some breakfast. I settle for some gigantic bananas, the fluffiest white rolls you’ve ever seen and a mandatory iced coffee. I grab a copy of The Australian and head down to the beach for a munch and a read.
As I’m trying to decipher the main sport headline, “Kiwis Call Tait a Chucker,” and the reasons behind why it’s souring relations between the two nations, a man with a shiny bald head swims into my field of vision. He’s about 20 metres out and swimming in a line parallel to the beach. He’s the only person in the water and the longer I watch him the louder the Jaws theme tune plays in my head. I start to envisage the reconstruction of the scene for the TV documentary on shark attacks with me as the main witness, my 15 minutes of fame at shiny heads expense. I decide it’s a price worth paying and start scanning the watery horizon in the hope of spotting a tell tale fin. Once again though, my toothy friend fails to make an appearance and I retire back to the campsite, albeit feeling a tad guilty for wishing harm on shiny head.
I spend the rest of the morning with my feet up and do my best to become accustomed to my new status as a man of leisure. Doing nothing is more difficult than you’d imagine and, in my opinion, achieving a status of contentment through merely sitting on your arse is a skill in itself. However, once achieved, there comes a point when you do have to extract yourself from your vegetative state and go out into the world.
I head out onto the main drag and plod along before finding myself in a second hand bookshop, chatting with an extremely spherical gentleman who sports a superbly bushy, white moustache. He starts off the conversation with, “I bet you’re glad you’re not in France, they use bloody horse fat for frying the chips in McDonalds...” and this sets the tone for the ensuing fact filled conversation over the next 5 minutes. He tells me that he’s reading a book about the effect of eating at McDonalds all the time and I become aware of the fact that if I were in a movie, this would be the point where a little red devil Stuart would pop up on one shoulder and an angelic Stuart would appear on the other. Fortunately, angelic Stuart wins and I refrain from suggesting that he looks in the mirror in order to find out the books conclusion.
Perhaps it’s the guilt from thinking these nasty thoughts or maybe it’s my growing obsession with how I could grow a moustache as bushy as his, either way I feel the need to cut the conversation short and flee the premises. I head down to the beach, get my toes wet then take a long walk along the squeaky sand, complete with a very loud iPod. Shiny head is still swimming.
As darkness falls, the fruit-bats come out in search of tucker and the backpackers go out to hunt down beer. I’m in the busiest pub on the main street and surrounded by jiving middle-aged Australians, yet I feel like I’m part of some kind of European Parliament beer drinking committee. My drinking partners for the evening, representing Norway, Germany and The Netherlands at this beer summit, are less than impressed at the boogying on display and the music being pumped out by the hillbilly band.
Of course, as the Scottish representative and a lover of all things Australia, I have mixed emotions about the scene in front of me. I’m inclined to agree that the 40 year olds in “Mrs Claus,” red furry Christmas outfits should put away their disco fingers but I can’t help singing along to the bands cover of the Cold Chisel classic, Khe Sanh. We spend the next few hours polishing off pots and schooners of XXXX Gold and then make a beeline for the only nightclub in a 100km radius.
As we walk into the Koala club I almost go into cardiac arrest. The management are clearly expecting a large contingent of polar bears to be clubbing tonight and as such, the air conditioning is set to “Arctic” mode. It’s so cold that I could easily cut diamonds with my nipples. The freezing conditions are combined with a fly-paper like floor that makes it difficult to move around without losing your shoes. We get a beer and go in search of a semi-warm spot. There’s one corner where the air conditioning is broken and the temperature is a mild -10C, we settle in and start shivering. After 10 minutes everyone is borderline hypothermic and I’m sure my fingers are going black so we decide to call it a night. On the way back to the campsite, I spot a sign above a kebab shop advertising “Kebab, Potatoes, Ice Cream.” Do the polar bears pig out on potatoes after a big night?
As I contort myself back into the top bunk in the van, I’m left thinking about how strange the world can be. Or maybe it’s just Hervey Bay?
|From An Ache For The Distance|