Mean machines and chicky babes

With smoke pluming in lewd balloons from every steel orifice, the fetid flowery sweetness of methanol – a lingering promise of speed – and a vitriolic V8 Armageddon, a battle of sound that clangs righteously as it rides the cooling air, the speedway tangles itself into my subconscious. It feeds a memory as liquor feeds oblivion, of hot nights in a faraway land, my Dad and his mates drinking tinnies beneath the bonnet of a hot rod, 10CC bawling from the 8-track stereo at full bore.

The cowboy’s got the scent too… he knows his way around these events. No matter the class or race, he comes from a long line of hot-rodders, spending taper-thin tar-filled days on the quarter-mile at Eastern Creek, racing, rigging and living life at high velocity, a shortened diff snug between his thighs.

The cowboy's old man and his trusty steed

The cowboy’s old man and his trusty steed

It’s as if we have been called in, slotting seamlessly into a world of metal and fuel, rubber and gas…

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Arriving in Broome from the dirt tracks of the Kimberley, we have been doing a lot of this:

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and plenty of that:

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Our playground is a turquoise coastline fringed in Pindan – the rust red dirt of the Kimberley – sunbaked days knee-deep in rockpools, hot chips, cold beer and salty nights beneath endless skies bivouacked around the fire.

But let’s be honest, in the face of such wholesome wholesomeness the consensus was that a little balance was in order…

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The speedway is the abject celebration of man vs machine, the blast of speed, hollering testosterone, the wanton release and the final ignominy of being dragged through the dirt on a chain. It sparks with cultural references, alight with the high-pitched rumble of AC/DC, of Swan in crumply cans, of hot fireys dolled up in neon reflectives and a full face of makeup – it is the speedway after all…

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Barb’s running commentary crests the whump whump of the centrifugal track, spruiking everything from Auto One to Clarke Rubber, the bain-marie and Broome Cemetary; I can’t help but question if there is a correlation.

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She is excited: rapid-fire annunciation spills from the tannoy and the fireys start making a beeline for the track, schnitzy burgers tucked into deep pockets.

The throaty roar of a V8 snaps our heads up in anticipation and the tension is palpable. The dirt puffs into the air, a choking fog that adds taste to the putrid gas of the burnout cloud that hovers balefully over the track…

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Shiny wrecks howl around the track bucking and butting each other in a parody of Darwinism – here, only the headlong maniacs with ‘real good drivin’ skills, eh?’ and a car that doesn’t fold into pieces survive. Little tuckers are next, knee-high rev-heads slotted into souped-up billycarts that peel in and out of formation on the quarter track, proud parents jockeying for position on the hurricane fencing.

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The Tin Lid has wangled a bright blue Zoopa Doopa and stops his wholesale demolition of it to tell me the bain-marie lady told him the family meal includes:

  • 2 x cheeseburgers
  • 2 x chips
  • 2 x nuggets (of unknown origin)
  • 2 x Zoopa Doopas

We’ll be having hot chips then and pretending we are not really a family…

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A toddler bowls up and down the concrete in the shed pushing a Tonka. He is utterly absorbed, oblivious to the tonnes of metal being flogged through the dirt just metres away, fire flashing from bellies, smoke pouring from arseholes…

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There are tin lids on the prowl everywhere, from nappy-straddling tots to leering teens, stalking the lolly jar while sizing up the beer fridges and each other:

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Ours, though, is more interested in second place and the misappropriation of a Double Diggity Dog cooker. This leads to a confusing moment as I realise he has no idea what a ‘dimmy simmy’ is. This is quickly rectified, in theory rather than in practice.

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The official (the one calling the shots, or at least the tow truck) up there in the box with Barb, is wrapped in shiny black, a motorcross-hatcheted cap pulled down tight over black wraparound sunnies and a mid-shoulder length grey rat’s tail. His shirt reads: Official. 2013. Perhaps the other one is in the wash? Or maybe he’s just a fan of Barb.

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It is he, however, who announces the lolly storm. Pint-sized punters pour towards the track as a lumbering effie – the rescue truck – barrels onto centre-stage. From the back of the tray a couple of young fellas are hurling white paper lolly bags into the crowd that seethes and boils in anticipation, breaking left to curl around the track in hot pursuit. The Tin Lid can hardly believe his little sugared-up eyes and beseeches the Cowboy to assist him. The reward is greater that he could imagine, two paper bags crammed with teeth and milk bottles and snakes, and a stolen moment to gorge himself.

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As the rumble dies down, the children suddenly quiet, Burnout Billy is back. For Billy, the aim is to spin doughnuts in his low-slung not-ever-gonna-be-street-legal mean machine –in a fetching shade of lime – until the tyre pops. Billy is a legend though, and the crowd chew on his smoke as they bellow him on. He gets not one but two, and drags his whooping arse out through the dirt on sparking rims.

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The speedway has a viscous seam of Australiana pulsing through it. As the big guns roll out, throbbing to a bass line that can be heard 10kms away, mobs of spectators flock to their eskies atop utes and trucks decked out in lawn furniture, and parked trackside for your viewing pleasure. This is a passion, a shared love with something for everyone. Kids roam free in the dark, high on lollies, adults lounge in precise formation and the sharp whine of speed continues deep into the night.

Shrouded in smoke, the speedway is a neon-coated sugar-filled beery wonderland.

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Old bones

The Secretary, in a well-considered manner, grabs a knife and stabs efficiently at an entirely innocent map: “We shall go here. Now”; the edict comes down. The paper tears into a tiny fold, its edges frayed and flapping, and for a moment I think she means Punchbowl. Summoning the courage to tell her we have already been there and her head must be leaking, I realise its the fold – its swallowed Campsie whole.

Like a flap of skin jammed beneath meaty thighs and sticky with the sweat of close proximity, Campsie is tucked conspiratorially between Belmore and Ashbury, Clemton Park and Harcourt (the suburb that died).

Strange streets that seem banished from my map are flighty creatures that wriggle and stop without warning. Lead skies shroud a greyed-out afternoon, while the screech of the Holden’s fan-belt makes my eyelid tick impatiently and I begin to wonder if this inner western shadow actually exists.

The internet says it does, though every What to do in Campsie inquiry directs the viewer to a skeletal line-up of Korean BBQ joints, chicken shops and Cake World. Apparently this little slice of suburban life also features heavily on the National Public Toilet Map.

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The heart of Campsie looks like an Asian strip mall, albeit under temperate skies without the tiniest dash of humidity. It lacks, however, the notorious smell and sound of the subcontinent, a place that guzzles expectation before burping languorously and leaving an aftertaste of exotic chaos that will never be fully digested.

Here, life is more prosaic. Beamish Street chunters through the middle, a teeming mess of life: I can just imagine the ad hoardings glistening like gems in bright sun, but today the asphalt absorbs light in gloomy resignation:

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Cheap phone joints bawl and titter, knock-off shops pander to the plastic senses and signs talk in tongues, cursive updrafts of Hindi and Arabic shouted down by rapid-fire Hanzi and the Altaic Korean script. They brag of bibimap and kimchi, toum, black cumin and MSG:

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As if compensating for the ominous lack of bright light, savage hits of fluorescent colour spark on the back of my retinas with gaudy promises of brooms and plastic blooms,

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a pink-stripped butcher and Snow Monkey, of which I have nothing to report as I have no idea what it is, though Weekend Notes exclaim it is a ‘thing to do’ in Campsie:

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Warming pink aside, in a floodlit mall gilded in concrete and pebble-dash, knecking teens emit warning pulses of “WTF do you want?” Contemptuous eyes and lip-locked mouths snarl a warning: “This is our piss-stained stairwell”.

And from a rough-as-guts pub, garish bastion of the corner, a clutch of greased mechanics drink with a crew of council workers. They stare menacingly at our snail’s pace along the street.

Their corner, their fight, right? Swill-time has started early and they are ready to brawl.

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We seek sanctuary in Denoy’s, a barber’s shop from the past that has a new lease on life. Repurposed as an old timers’ card palace, Denoy’s is flooded with jocular warmth and filled with the scent of cardamom and coffee and unfiltered cigs.

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A grey-haired grandfather strolls over; “Please, you come in, see for yourselves? You wanna play cards? You wanna coffee?” I ask how the men know each other and he replies,

“As you get older you fight with your wife. This place here? It gives us something to do, some place to be. We play cards, we drink coffee, we smoke. It’s good, you know?”

There are cosy pockets of the past here, jostled between the pings of a non-stop-can’t-put-it-down-must-have-it consumerism. Denoy’s is just the first hint. Across the road, Wally & Ossie’s pizza joint warbles a siren song of foot-long garlic bread and Chianti from the ’70s.

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And Bruno and Marian’s is a picture of retro cool, flecked with nostalgia,

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its window pane a living memory.

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A sign for Homy Ped shoes – the hoof of choice for an aging generation – age-spot creams, the Gentle Dentist and an eyebrow wax that promises immediate youthful rejuvenation are further indication.

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There is a sense of temporal mutation here, a stubborn past captured in sepia that can’t be outshone by the bawdy neon of now. An Asian butchers looks suspiciously as though it is sited in what was once the undertakers:

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while directly behind a young girl playing an ocarina in the shadow of the war memorial on Anglo Road, two blokes tweak the sound system on their souped-up Suby, mids and tweeters squabbling for supremacy of a track entitled Take Yo Bitch.

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Even the pub’s logo is reminiscent of dentures:

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Campsie’s old bones poke through tears in its new skin, a sharp jab, a knocked knee, a dislocation in time that cheapen a rapidly applied slick of external varnish.

I wonder how long it will be before they are encased in a tougher skin, a skin that refuses to let them jut out to escape their wives or get a perm beneath the tinsel? It will be a sadder day when this jangle of bones is retired at last.