IT’S one week before summer officially strikes in Australia and I am sitting in my air-conditioned office, ruminating on the impending warmer weather and the sticky issue of camping. Apparently, people like to camp (and if you look at any Brisbane dating site, they not only like to camp, but 4WD, fish and go piggin’ as well). Me, not so much, but given the right circumstances, I’ll give it a red, hot shot. (The camping, not the piggin’). And by right circumstances, I mean a glamping tent with air-conditioning, bar fridge and, easy access to a toilet (preferably an ensuite). All of which I enjoyed a few weeks ago when I previewed Australia’s newest glamping product Hideaway at Cabarita Beach in northern New South Wales. Ensconced in my gorgeous, generous bell tent under a plump, crisp, linen doona, it felt like I was born for this camping caper. Until I remembered I am not.
It’s tricky to pick my worst camping adventure. There’s been quite a few. So let’s narrow it done to the coldest and the hottest. A few years back I was invited to cover the Mount Isa Rodeo, where, among other things, I interviewed the female boxer Beaver whose reputation for beating up blokes in the ring was legendary. Despite her size and status, Beaver turned out to be a gentle giant and she even made me a cup of tea. As much as I like to suffer for my art, I declined the offer to fight her later that night in the ring, as I value keeping my ribs intact. Had I actually fought Beaver, I may have spent the night in the cosy comfort of the Mount Isa Hospital, as opposed to the glamping in which I was staying.
Mount Isa in winter, like much of the Queensland Outback, is a curious beast. It’s hot during the day, and then plummets to freezing once the sun sets. But I came prepared, packing my hot water bottle Kevin 07 (who I named after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2007 campaign). Or so I thought. The glamping was set up within a mining camp, those hot, horny miners happily tucked away in heated dongas. My tent, was, inexplicably, down by the creek, where the temperature dropped to one degree. I’d come home from my rodeo reporting, covered in dust, hand Kevin 07 to the camp’s toothless security guard with instructions to boil a kettle to fill Kevin’s guts, while I limped to the showers. The fact the showers had no doors, and the hot, horny miners were in the cubicle next to me, should not be lost on this story. And had I known just how cold it was going to get at night in my tent, I would have worked that fact a little harder. But alas, I rubbed and scrubbed only myself and then returned to collect Kevin.
It was so cold in that tent, that the cheap polyester blankets they’d given me would shoot off green sparks in the dark. But worse was when I realised that all of the water I had drunk throughout the hot day to stay hydrated, decided it was time to work its way through my kidneys at night. Years later, while travelling through Morocco with an Australian doctor, I learned that while our other organs slow down significantly at night to rest and repair, it’s when we go to sleep that our kidneys go into overdrive. Hence the reason you may need to pee during the night. Who knew?
It was way too cold, and too far, to drag myself to the toilet block, so I decided to improvise. With a tiny Tupperware container in which I had been carrying some sultanas for snacks. There I was, congratulating myself on my genital genius until I felt something wet and cold, on the only socks I had to keep me warm. I looked down in horror and realised I had peed on my foot. I tossed my warm urine and my wet sock outside the tent, and went to bed miserable. By this time Kevin was cold, I was cranky and even worse, I knew I had to repeat this camping caper all over again the next night.
My hottest camping episode, and I mean this in several senses of the word, was a few years back, when I went to the summer Woodford Festival on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. This time I was in Tent City, in a media tent, which was just like every other tent, and again, there was no ensuite. On this occasion it was as hot as hell. And I did what any journalist covering this event would do, and drank as much beer as possible to keep all jolly and hydrated. I was even congratulating myself on how well I had done not going to the bathroom all day when again, I lay down later that night to go to sleep, when my kidneys went into overdrive.
Luckily, I remembered I had again packed a small Tupperware container with sultanas in the car, which I promptly emptied and carried back to my tent as my makeshift toilet. Which I proceeded to use over and over and over again as my kidneys decided to process the equivalent of a carton of beer on this hot evening. Again, I missed as I pissed, but there were no socks involved this time, it was too warm. So warm, in fact, I slept with the tent flaps open. Which would have been fine, had I not awoken the next morning to a tent which reeked of stale pee and a curious line of festival goers walking past my tent, gaping as they went. I looked down, only to discover that during my wild night, my left breast had escaped my singlet and there I was, arms akimbo, my bosom on display for the entire festival to see.
I packed up rapidly that morning. Headed back to Brisbane and vowed I needed a new tactic should I ever tackle camping again. And should you ever feel the need to go camping with me, if I ever offer you a sultana in a Tupperware container, you’ve been sufficiently warned.
THERE are rumoured to be seven men to every woman in Mount Isa, but on this particular Saturday night I’m interested in one woman and one woman only. I’m in the Queensland Outback on a mission to meet a sheila called Beaver. I’d first heard about Beaver only weeks ago, in fact, I was invited to fight her. And this wasn’t any old catfight, meet-you-after-school scenario. You see, Beaver is a boxer and a good one at that. Unfortunately, for the crowds at the Mount Isa Rodeo where Beaver is to box, I’m more of a lover, than a fighter, and I decline the invitation graciously. Hell, I’m someone who weeps when they get a paper cut, such are the perils of my profession.
It’s day one of the rodeo when I first meet Beaver, boiling a kettle at her camp behind the Fred Brophy boxing tent. Beaver is the only woman in Brophy’s troupe, Australia’s only surviving travelling boxing show. I expect Beaver to be like Queen Bee from the 1970s Australian television drama Prisoner and when I see her with that steaming kettle my imagination goes into overdrive, half expecting her to throw hot water over me while giving me a Chinese burn. Turns out Beaver is simply making her lunch and she politely gestures for me to sit in the shade while she does so. While Beaver may be bigger than the average woman, she’s also huge of heart.
When we met last weekend Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight. She first met Brophy about five years ago when she was doing security work out at the Birdsville Races.
“I played Rugby League for Australia and Rugby Union for England and I wanted to test myself as an individual and decided to do boxing,” Beaver says.
“Out in Birdsville we were sitting around and someone said something about Justin Bieber and I misheard and I thought they said Beaver. They said ‘you need to get this Beaver as famous as you can’. So when I got up to fight I said Beaver instead of my real name and it’s stuck ever since.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants.”
But there’s more to Beaver, and boxing, than meets the eye. The 30-year-old owns gyms in Townsville where she runs youth boxing programs.
“Boxing is a big part of my job. I’ve been given an opportunity through my life and through Fred and I feel giving other people the same opportunity is the right thing to do,” she says.
“I grew up in a broken family but I’ve had quite a good upbringing. I don’t really have a sob story. My contribution is more the fact I am willing to give back to those who haven’t got everything.
“I love life and I get joy of out putting a smile on people’s faces. I strongly believe in doing one good deed a day.”
We spend the afternoon sparring, and by sparring I mean I watch Beaver cook lunch while I stand back as far as is safely possible and ask her questions about her chosen sport, of which I understand little.
“To be a good boxer you need to be very disciplined and fit and mentally tough. I’ve got the mentally tough down, fitness not so much,” she says.
“Here there is no weight class. I think the people who say that women shouldn’t box are normally scared we’ll be better than them. The more negative people are the more I succeed. My drive comes a lot from that.
“The most powerful weapon anyone has is the power of speech. I don’t think you should inflict harm on anyone. Boxing is a sport and it has to be one of the most friendly things.
“I never intend to hurt people. At the end of the day we want to put on a good show and hopefully both of us will have a drink together and no one is hurt.
“Boxing is addictive, once you start, you can’t stop.”
Participants who take on Brophy’s boxers earn $30 for each minute they are in the ring. Beaver is coy about how much she earns but admits what she does make, she donates to not-for-profit youth boxing programs. Convinced she is my new best friend I ask Beaver what her secret manouevre is. At this stage she pauses the interview, takes two gloved hands, and pretends to simultaneously smack me around the head. “That’s the buffalo,” she grins. I think I’m going to faint from fear. I decide Beaver and I will be mates for life. I will never, ever upset Beaver.
I ask Beaver to dress in the outfit she’ll be wearing for her fight. Beaver puts on a skirt over her boxing shorts, which is part gladiator, and part like she’s shredded a local miner to pieces.
“You’ve got to bring a bit of fashion into the sport. Fred likes to say I’ve got hairs on my legs that would spear a rat,” she says.
“Lots of men love me. Everyone loves a Beaver.”
The next night Beaver steps into the boxing ring, but there’s no woman courageous enough, even in the Queensland Outback, to take her on. My friends tug at my sleeve, urging me to take one for the team. “Are you insane,” I hiss with venom dripping from my voice. I’ve seen the buffalo. I know what the buffalo can do. Fred calls a man, who is either extremely brave or very stupid, into the ring to fight Beaver. I’m filled with an equal blend of repulsion and fascination as I watch the bloke box Beaver. In the first round the poor fellow is full of hope. But that doesn’t last long and Beaver easily wins the match before she storms off into the dark night, with a rumoured three broken ribs. Beaver looks as mad as hell. “I love you Beaver”, I shout, my words trailing her like a cloud of dust. Just to be sure.
The Global Goddess travelled to the Mount Isa Rodeo as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland – http://www.queensland.com. To book a ticket to next year’s rodeo go to http://www.isarodeo.com.au