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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The Bogan Shire

What’s Rangoon to you is Grafton to Me is a 45 minute psychedelic gonzo radio rant from 1978, courtesy of Russell Guy. It is gold. Solid gold. And it is my companion this strange winter’s night in the Bogan Shire:

“I was just waking up when the front tyre went; at the same time a horse appeared and the headlights went and the horizon came through the windscreen. I said goodbye to Eartha Kitt and left the road like a jumbo jet diving into a swamp. Some time later I regained a level of consciousness less ugly than the one I left. I’d seen some strange movies on the inside of my eyelids…

This is appropriate listening. Hyped up on sour coffee and tepid meat pies the white lines quiver, the tar bends and writhes like a stick of licorice melting in the sun. The roadside blurs, McDonalds wrappers flicked into the updraft perform delicately and coke cans sparkle like rubies in the long paddock, once the domain of the drovers’ mob.

The swan song of the asphalt is a grunting howl, hot tyres on worn tar, a screeching fan belt, the whump whump of the road trains as they slam past and Black Mary’s strange symphonic whir thump as her weight slews behind her.

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Tonight, however, we have slowed to a wheezing stop. Time to taste this world.

We are parked on the edge of the Bogan River, deep in outback NSW. The Bogan Shire has little to do with its colloquial cousin – not an Ugg boot in sight here, though there has been a sighting of a feral flanno. The river glides lazily through the town, swollen and sated, gulping at the sandy banks, sucking a the roots of the gums. Even the whine of tinnies, ferrying salty men clutching coldies and bright-faced smiles, softens to a vague hum in this peaceful place.

Right up until the rednecks arrive shouldering their very particular brand of enjoyment. This bit happens to involve a small shouty child, a knackered canoe, a dog lead and some laconic hollering.

In this languid place so far removed from the scoured, bleached harshness of the desert, the perspective of this trip comes into sharp focus. After a journey depicted in love and laughter, in the Tin Lid’s rapacious appetite for life, his exponential appreciation of the raw marrow of life, and in wine slurped from tin cups beneath an ocean of stars, the sloth-like waters of Nyngan and an intermittent wi-fi signal forge a rose-tinted hindsight.

This is another country, far from the urban sprawl, where the call of the road is a V8 snarl, where stoicism is considered a blood sport and a no-frills-can-do attitude is essential. There is a raw honesty here, a beauty that exists in the sparse utility. There is a dark romance and a hard-edged lust for life.

This is the heart of Australia in all its rich fetid glory:

A lesson in bush mechanics

The Marree pub. Nirvana

Call of the road


The ultimate hero. And his cattle dog





Black Mary


The indomitable Black Betty, she of the bam-a-lam, hot chicks and a roaring V8, has been reborn as Black Mary, in memory of Captain Thunderbolt’s Aboriginal wife, who stole through the night, swam the dark waters of the harbour, scaled the heights of Cockatoo Island Gaol and slipped her lover a file… he met her not long after at Glebe Point where she was waiting with horses, and they fled to Tenterfield to live lives now immortalised in bushranger lore.

Black Mary is still chock-full of bam-a-lam, hot chicks and a roaring V8.