Jun 2
We’re all goin’ on a …
icon4 Jun 2nd, 2009 | icon2 Travel | icon3Comments Off

So we just got back from a week in northern NSW, staying at a little place called Wooyung, doing some fieldwork for Rach’s PhD. You may have heard about some floods they’ve been having up north, which meant we were forced to take the New England Highway rather than the more direct Pacific Highway.

Our trip started off nicely – in Scone we had a tasty bacon & eggs breakfast – but apart from that it was a pretty tedious drive. Tamworth, Armidale, Tenterfield, Casino, Lismore – these aren’t just lyrics from Peter Allen songs, they really exist! The constantly changing speed limits – 100, down to 50, back up to 80, back down to 60 – nearly drove me to despair.

The flat tyre in Ballina was the last thing we needed, but it did mean we were able to stop at one of the region’s great landmarks, the Big Prawn! By my (admittedly rough) calculations, this monument to crustacean life-forms outdoes in terms of sheer magnitude Coffs Harbour’s so-called “Big Banana” by a factor of at least ten to one!

Our enforced stopover also meant I could relive my youth by wasting a dollar (it was 20c in my day) in their Flintstones pinball. Sadly, the machine had been belted into submission by countless long-haul truckies, and the flippers were annoyingly unresponsive. All my best pinny moves were wasted on this poorly maintained pile of junk. What’s more, with all the flashing lights I wasn’t seeing the ball too clearly after 12 hours on the road.

The rest of the week was spent in the rainforest, or driving to and from. Let me say this about whoever designed the roads in northern NSW: they should invest in a ruler. I think the longest straight stretch of road was roughly twice the length of a Toyota Hilux. If I didn’t get to have fun by running down stray hippies I would’ve been really annoyed.

I’ll end by giving you a tip. If you’re ever in a small town on the southern edge of Nightcap National Park called Rosebank (which you probably won’t be) stop at the Green Frog Cafe and try their pumpkin soup. Tell ‘em Snubian sent ya.

May 10

Rach and I have just returned from Bermagui on the south coast of New South Wales. On our first night in town we ventured out to the local Hotel-Motel, aka the “Hoey Moey”. (Or better still, “Huey Muey”, as in, “Rach and Snuey went to the Bermagui Huey Muey for a schooey of Toohey’s Newy”.)

First stop was the “Hoey” where we enjoyed a refreshing ale under the watchful gaze of an enormous marlin, hanging on the wall opposite. Down south they love their fish, preferably dead, stuffed and mounted, the bigger the better. The pub was decorated mostly with photographs of large fish, a phenomenon we have witnessed at other southern NSW drinking establishments.

Soon our stomachs were telling us that some dinner was required, so we headed next door to the “Moey”, or its attached bar & restaurant to be precise. I got the chicken schnitzel and Rach had the roast. Tasty! They even had an open fire, which looked real enough but appeared to be plugged into a nearby power socket.

As I waited at the bar to order my obligatory dessert of chocolate mud-cake, ahead of me a very odd couple were placing their dinner order. I couldn’t help overhearing as they attempted to find something on the menu that was prepared to their liking.

“How is the fish done? Is that grilled?”, the guy asked.

“No, sorry, the fish is battered and deep fried”, replied the girl behind the bar.

“What about the squid?”, asked his partner. “That must be grilled, surely?”

“No, that’s deep fried too.”

Thus the conversation continued through each item on the menu until only the side dishes remained. At this point the guy requested a prawn salad, plus a side salad (huh?) and a serve of vegetables. It seems we have some kind of deranged fruitarian on our hands here. The bargirl politely explained that, in fact, the prawn salad was pretty much just a side salad with some prawns added. Thus informed, the order was amended to a prawn salad and two serves of vegetables. The woman ordered something equally confusing along with a further side of veges. 

A few minutes later, as I gave my dessert order a woman appeared from the kitchen and approached the barmaid, piece of paper in hand.

“It says three serves of veges here for two people, is that right?”

The barmaid nodded, exchanging looks with her harried colleague.

Meanwhile the couple’s drinks – some sort of bitters and mineral water concoction – had been prepared and placed on the bar. They had sat at a nearby table and now looked up at their drinks expectantly. A brief conversation ensued on the topic of how best to transport their beverages from the bar to their table. The guy seemed uninterested in his drink, perhaps because upon sitting he had immediately plugged in an earpiece and was fiddling with his iPhone.

Let me try to describe this pair. He was fifty-ish, tall and thin with a mop of curly grey hair. He wore black-framed glasses of the type popular these days with the arty set. His partner – whether she was his spouse or business colleague is unclear – wore identical frames. 

He started making calls on his phone. He had a strange, slightly plummy accent, not English exactly but perhaps lower North Shore Sydney. As their table was near ours his telephone conversations were clearly audible. At one point he left a message for someone informing them that the Aboriginal elder, Uncle Mack, would be “unable to attend the meeting this evening”. His partner sipped her drink in silence.

Their meals arrived and iPhones were pushed to one side. As I was inspecting the ingenious electric fireplace, Rach watched in disbelief as our new friend swung a crystal over his prawn salad, presumably in an attempt to cleanse this potentially tainted food. Clearly this type of New Age hokum has no place in a meat-and-potatoes town like Bermagui. Thank God they didn’t try it next door in the Hoey.

The mud-cake was superb, in case you were wondering.

Mar 14
Clubbed to Death
icon4 Mar 14th, 2009 | icon2 Science, Travel | icon3Comments Off

In recent months Rach and I have been visiting rainforest sites along the NSW coast to collect data for her PhD. During these trips, wherever we happen to find ourselves, we dine out at least one night at the local bowling club.

To complement Rach’s studies of rainforest plant ecology, I am undertaking my own research comparing attributes of bowling clubs in coastal towns from Byron Bay to Bega. The preliminary title for my study is “Bowling club traits along a latitudinal gradient”.

As data collection for my study I am scoring each venue based on their provision of what I consider key attributes for any bowling club:

  • bistro and/or Chinese restaurant with cavernous dining area
  • confusing or misleading entrance signage
  • Keno, including availability of sharpened pencils at each table
  • a pre-1970s portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
  • separate “low-rollers” gaming area
  • chocolate wheel
  • menacing or intimidating bar staff
  • photograph behind bar of obscure “local legend”
  • wide range of ancient liqueurs
  • gold-lettered honour roll of bowling champions
  • signs warning patrons to control their bad language and/or unruly children
  • prize/trophy cabinet
  • Friday night meat raffle

Below are some of our initial observations from a selection of the clubs we have visited.

Currarong Bowling & Recreation Club

It was while sitting in this club that I first had the inspiration to conduct my groundbreaking research. Upon entry to the club, the expected sign-in book was nowhere to be found. I proceeded directly to the bar, where I was greeted with a stern look and gruffly asked, “You a member?” (Clearly, I was not a member; the barman probably knows every member of this tinpot club by name.) I answered in the negative, and was directed to sign in at a small desk, hidden from view by a large pot plant.

This club had the smallest chocolate wheel I have ever seen. It was approximately the size of a medium pizza, and had about ten numbers on it. The small size of the chocolate wheel was offset, however, by the largest seating area of any club outside of Las Vegas. There was enough seating to accommodate the population of the town of Currarong twenty times over. And that’s not including the separate dining area attached to the Chinese restaurant (the sludgy food was below average).

The selection of ancient and dusty liqueurs behind the bar was staggering. Most of the colourful liquids had long since separated into their constituent parts: water above and a yellow, green or red glutinous mass below.

Greenwell Point Bowling & Sports Club

“The club with the million dollar view”. If you can find it. Following the road signs we found ourselves driving for kilometres through quiet suburban streets, only to be deposited into an alley behind the club, which ended at an open paddock and chain link fence, beyond which was the club’s car park, with easy access from the main road we should’ve stayed on ten minutes before.

The main recreation in these parts is fishing, and the bigger the better. The walls of the club were adorned with photos of beefy blokes with their enormous catch hanging forlornly alongside. It was here that Rach discovered that during the day spent crouching in rainforest her belly button had become infested with tiny orange “chiggers”.

The meat raffle here was a winner – we walked away with a tasty prawn platter which was quickly devoured the following afternoon.

North Beach Recreation & Bowling Club (Mylestom)

This club has brought the concept of the 2 AM lockout forward six hours to 8 PM, an idea which has spread to other clubs we visited. Seriously, if you choose to enter the club after eight o’clock in the evening you have to knock politely on the front door and asked to be allowed inside. Luckily we arrived early and grabbed a seat before the Friday night meat raffle crowd arrived.

We sampled both the Chinese restaurant (so-so) and the pizza (pretty good), although our dining experience was marred by the large number of unsupervised children who ran between the tables. When a gang of tweenage girls began a jazz ballet routine next to our table – seriously affecting the digestion of my chicken and cashew nuts – we decided it was time to head back to our accommodations.

Port City Bowling Club (Port Macquarie)

This club gains points for having an incredibly confusing entrance. A large sign directing you in from the road actually leads to a car park for the adjacent tennis club. From there you must walk past the tennis courts, through a gate, around the bowling greens and enter via a back door, into an empty room at the very rear of the club.

The bar staff, however, were verging on friendly, and the bistro menu was wide-ranging. The Queen’s portrait was a little too recent for my tastes, but was prominently placed for easy viewing. The meat raffle was among the most professionally organised of any I have had the pleasure to witness. Rach and I walked away with a selection of lamb products that were cooked the following evening on the communal BBQ at the Lighthouse Beach Holiday Village.

At around 8:30 pm a local singer named Tony Ward began to perform. He sang and played guitar to pre-recorded backing tracks, while wearing a selection of comic glasses, waistcoats and hats. We stayed for one song. Upon trying to leave by the same door which we had entered we found it locked, and had to detour out the front door, down the darkened side of the club, through a fence, past the tennis courts (again) and finally to our waiting vehicle.

Pacific Palms Bowling Club

A pleasant place for a bowling club, nestled among tall gums in a quiet bushland setting. As we sipped our beers on the back terrace we watched two local foursomes play a few ends on the well manicured greens.

The barman on duty resembled a modern Ned Kelly; the tip of his ZZ Top-like ginger beard dragged on the bar, permanently stained from long-term exposure to Tooheys New dregs. While he poured my beer we had a brief conversation comparing the relative merits of Pacific Palms with the nearby metropolis of Forster. Pacific Palms wins out, I was assured, owing to its laid back atmosphere and lack of electronic traffic signals.

The bistro here was a definite winner. The menu was large with no less than eight specials, including the exotic sounding osso bucco. During our meal we were delighted to witness the arrival of the local drug dealer – underpanted arse hanging out of his too baggy shorts – who proceeded to order up big at the bistro for himself and his two molls. For their entree they ordered not only a dozen natural oysters but another six Kilpatrick as well.

May 1

“This make you better”. Our guide, Phong, had returned to the table brandishing a plastic bottle filled with clear liquid. “Rice wine. Make you strong”, he said as he poured two full glasses, one each for Rachael and me.

We had just sat down to dinner as guests of a family in the village of Ban Ho, in northern Vietnam. We almost hadn’t made it here. The previous night, in our hotel in Sapa, I had fallen ill with a fever and chills. I was determined, however, that we continue with our pre-arranged home visit, so I had put on a brave face that morning as we met Phong.

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