THE last time I found myself on the back of a motorbike was about a decade ago, my arms wrapped clumsily around a very pleasant, overweight biker as we whizzed through the ranges surrounding Alice Springs. No, I was not on a date, but pushing my comfort zone for a story. I’m pretty sure I scarred the biker for life as I screamed in his ear while clawing at his nipples, possibly providing inspiration for the movie Wolf Creek. Fast forward to last Monday and I’m again on the back of a bike, but this is not just any bike. I’m on a Brisbane Trike Tour with owner Chrissy McDonnell who has banned me from both clawing her nipples and screaming any profanities. After all, we’re all ladies here, including this shiny, black three-wheeler she’s christened The Bling Queen, worth some $65,000.
I’m also with my good mate Shaun who has witnessed me at my worst, so the two of us clutch onto the metal pole at the back and prepare for the ride of our lives, me taking deep yoga breaths and hoping no one can hear me through the intercom in our helmets. We cruise through my suburb on to Coronation Drive and past the Brisbane River, which sparkles like a diamond on this glorious winter day. Through the city we buzz, turning heads at every corner. We pause at one set of traffic lights and look up at the towering Suncorp Building, in the city centre.
“See that, that used to be my office,” says Chrissy, who used to write product disclosure statements for the insurance giant.
“I reached a stage last December where I realised life was short and I wanted to do things I enjoyed while I still had enough health and youth to do it.
“There was a motor bike tour franchise for sale on the internet and it just got me thinking ‘why don’t I buy my own trike?’ I didn’t see anyone else doing that in Brisbane.
“I thought ‘I’m not the girl I think I am if I can’t do it’.”
At 59, with a 41-year-old partner and four grandchildren who call her “Biker Nana”, Chrissy is quite the girl.
“Part of it is inherent. I come from a long line of women that always were a tiny bit different. I was born in 1956 during the Hungarian Uprising. My parents had to escape and went across the border into Austria and were repatriated into the UK. I was three months old and they lost everything. We eventually came to Australia as 10 Pound Poms.
“In my life I’ve seen my parents reinvent their lives. Anyone can do this, you just don’t give yourself permission to do it. I saw from my parents that it’s not a bad thing to re-start your life.”
We whizz over the Story Bridge and onto the M1 southbound towards the Gold Coast. Our ride is fast and furious and around Beenleigh we take an exit and onto more quiet country roads, which leave little doubt you’re in Australia. There’s Swamp Valley and Boomerang Roads before we hit the tiny town of Wonglepong and finally Canungra where we stop at a regular biker haunt: The Outpost Café. I practically swagger into the coffee shop like a true-blue bikie and total wanker that I can be when someone dresses me up in costume. Chrissy politely interrupts my fantasies about joining a bikie gang, by continuing her story.
“I was 31 and I had four kids when I got my motorbike licence. Sometimes you’ve got to get something out of your system. I scandalised my first husband but I just loved it. I used to get up at four in the morning and watch the sun come up over the creek and the dolphins come in. It really set me up for the day,” she says.
“People didn’t recognise me in the Tarago with four kids as the woman on the motor bike. I had this whole other identity.
“That was another incarnation of many. We’ve all got them.”
Chrissy can see that I’m a bit apprehensive on the back of her trike, particularly when I ask where the seat belts are: “There aren’t any. You don’t need them on a motorbike. Sometimes you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone and be a little bit frightened.”
And she’s right. Frankly, I’ve been on scarier dates. Chrissy is the ultimate safe driver and says there’s lots of misconceptions about motor bike riders.
“I’m not a biker chick. There are a lot of women out there that ride. We are bikers in our own rights. People have this tendency to put women in a filing cabinet and attach a label to them,” she says.
“There is not particular reason I do it, I just enjoy it. I’ve had people get very angry and aggressive and ask ‘what do you think you are doing?’
“For me, life is excellent. I haven’t been able to wipe the smile since I left the office.”
We ride on towards O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards for lunch, where we perch by the creek with a picnic lunch. So fresh is this creek which runs through this picturesque property, you could drink the water, which runs down from the rainforest. And on a good day, you can even spot platypus here. Before we depart, I ask Chrissy what her life mantra is: “Remember to buy hyacinth. There is that old saying that if a man is hungry and has two coins, he should buy bread with one coin and hyacinth with another simply to enjoy it. We need to remember to buy hyacinth.”
The Global Goddess was a guest of Brisbane Trike Tours – http://www.brisbanetriketours.com.au; and O’Reilly’s Canungra Valley Vineyards – http://www.canungravineyards.com.au
THE mercury has plunged to minus 2 degrees and the hour hand has just passed 7 when I head out to the Dalby Saleyards in Southern Queensland Country. I rage a long debate with myself over whether I can get away with wearing my lime green, fluffy dressing gown I tossed in the back of the car at the last minute before heading west. I realise it’s been so long since it’s rained out here, the boys might mistake me for a tuft of grass, and anyway, without an Akubra on my head I already stand out like the dog’s proverbial. I’m chasing stories on Dalby, Chinchilla and Miles and for the next two hours, I’m also chasing men, The Global Goddess whispering naughtily in my ear in the cattle yard not to relinquish a prime opportunity to find a fella.
I’m no mathematician, but the ratio of blokes to sheilas on this chilly morning is about 50:1 in my favour, and the greetings I receive are much warmer than the weather. There’s plenty of nods, nudges and a couple of “g’day mates” tossed in my direction over the rattle of cattle under auction. One bloke asks me if I’m “watching the footie tonight?” (He clearly does not know that Offspring is screening on the other channel and I’m bloody intrigued to know how Nina’s love life is faring). Another asks me if I’ve got “any cattle in the yards?” a question me and my tiny 2-door Hyundai i20 find secretly hilarious and flattering at the same time.
The men keep doing the Dalby two-step around the cattle yards, shuffling along a metre to stand in front of the next pen of beasts going under the hammer and I’m following them like I’m in a progressive barn dance. But I have a burning question I need to ask and I need to find a willing volunteer. I stop one bloke whose mate tells me his name is Harry, “Harry high pants” and he agrees to an on-camera interview in “five minutes”. In the meantime, I speak to one of the rare women out here, and pose my question to her. “Most of them down there are married,” she nods her Akubra in the direction of the flock by the fence, and there’s a few players in there too, she tells me, naming a couple of culprits.
After two hours I give up on securing an interview with Harry, and am walking quietly back to the car when I hear a voice behind me. “So, have you got your story?” another cowboy says, following me quickly out of the cattle yards. “Yep. I don’t have all morning to be chasing you boys around,” I say defiantly. “Where are you staying tonight?” he directs this question at my breasts. “Chinchilla,” I say. He stands and considers this for a moment, calculating whether I’m worth the hour drive to the next town. And just as I’m about to turn to leave he says: “Well, I guess I’ll see you around then.”
I laugh all the way back to the car and ponder this exchange for the next hundred kilometres to Chinchilla. Country Queensland can be complicated. It can give you the absolute shits and delight and surprise you all within the space of a kilometre. One minute you’re cursing the dust and the fact it just won’t bloody rain, and the next, you’re loving the wide, open spaces. The space to think.
I haven’t had a decent coffee in days and I’m starting to feel a bit scratchy by the time I arrive in Miles on my last day. Don’t get me wrong, country Queenslanders are hospitable, but you can’t exactly request a double shot, skinny latte when all that’s on offer is black tea. You drink your cha and you don’t complain. That’s just the way it is out here. I’m told the property on which I’m staying out of town – the deliciously named Possum Park – doesn’t cater and so I stop in town and pick up a meal to cook later and wine. I have grand plans to sit with my bottle of red and spend my last night writing up hours of interviews born from hundreds of kilometres on the road. But the owners have other plans. The communal camp fire is lit at 4.30pm and I’m expected to be around it.
This gives me one hour, except for a small problem. The second I step out of the car, I drop the coveted wine, smashing it to pieces on the gravel, wine pouring over the thirsty ground like there’s been a murder. I contemplate my dilemma for a minute and then, without hesitation, jump into my car and drive the 20 minutes back down the dusty tracks, dodging kangaroos, into town for another bottle. I consider for a minute that this may make me the alcoholic I’ve long suspected I am but I don’t have much time for such ponderings, if I’m going to make it to the campfire. Things are raging by the time I join a bunch of grey nomads around its flames. I’m welcomed like a long-lost daughter by this bunch of strangers and once we warm up a bit, I confess to my hunt for a cowboy. There’s a single, 82 year old woman sitting next to me and I ask her if she, too, is looking for a fella: “Nope, I’ve come this far without someone ruining my fun, I’m not going to let them now. I get to travel the world and do what I like.” I don’t catch her name, but if I had to guess, I reckon it would be something like Dot. I stare into the simmering coals and reflect upon Dot’s words and have a stark realisation on this starry, starry night. I’ve just met me…in another 40 years.
The Global Goddess travelled to Dalby, Chinchilla and Miles as a guest of Southern Queensland Country Tourism. To go on your own cowboy hunt, go to http://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com.au
How’s the Serenity?
I’VE known her since the day she was born. This feisty, fabulous female was always going to be a handful. She’s a lot like me. It’s the way we’re wired. A colicky baby, she fought and struggled to breastfeed. She cried a lot. Didn’t like to sleep much, still doesn’t, there’s too much life to be living. Around the age of 3 she insisted I make her a baby kangaroo out of play dough and threatened hell to break loose if a joey was not produced. She’d throw an almighty tantrum and scream at her mother “I’m not a naughty girl” before running out of the room. Even as a little kid, she had a taste for the absurd, able to eat exotic things and laugh at the ridiculous. As a teenager, on holidays, her in one single bed, me in the other, we’d laugh at our similar sleep patterns. She’s a worrier, too, and a lot of people think she looks so much like me, she could be my daughter.
But my niece, Cheneya Freese, was born with cattle breeding in her veins from both sides of the family. Now 17, this is a kid who has worked part-time after school and on weekends, saving her pennies, because she has a big dream. She wants to one day run her own cattle station. Some people would say she is mad, this teenager with this huge dream, in a country of droughts and flooding rains. Where the industry is dying a slow death. But not me. Because I know her. I’ve watched this kid with the fighting spirit from the get-go and know if anyone can do it, it’s her. Things don’t come easily to her, she’s the type of person who has to go and grab life by both hands. Give it a furious shake. Hope something drops from the tree. And just when she thinks it’s not going to happen, when she’s on the verge of quitting, she dusts the bullshit off her jeans and picks herself up.
So determined is Cheneya to realise her big dream, that since she started high school four years ago, she has been undertaking agriculture at school, working with her dad on his property – west of Brisbane – and attending as many local agricultural shows she can. That’s where she met Bevan and Dawn Voight from Warrill Creek. Cheneya was hell bent on breeding Murray Greys, until she met Bevan and Dawn, and discovered the interesting breed, Square Meters. She started building cattle yards, fences and troughs on the family property. Attended meetings with other Square Meaters, helped Bevan and Dawn show their cattle at local shows. And begged her father to let her buy some of her own cattle, and put them on the property.
In the meantime, she also established her own stud name and logo – Serenity Plains. With her savings she bought three cattle – Gone Forever, Ebony Eyes and Hosannah – from Bevan and Dawn. She’s registered her own brand. Bought a ute and got her driver’s licence. Last October, Serenity Plains welcomed its first calf – Jaala. Shortly after, on Boxing Day, another calf called Judge came into the stud. In less than six months, Cheneya’s herd of three increased to five.
But the story doesn’t end there. Last month, Cheneya decided to enter her cattle in the Toowoomba Show. It wasn’t an easy day. After recent rain, the humidity was stifling and the mud up to this young cattle woman’s thighs. One of her cattle was unsettled and as she walked and walked around the ring, tears fell from her eyes. But then, just as you’d think she’d give up, things did their last-minute turnaround for her. And she won Champion Senior Female and Grand Champion Female overall across her breed. Against all the other, older die-hard cattle men and women.
At the end of this year when she finishes school, Cheneya hopes to gain a traineeship within the beef production industry. She’s inching one step closer to that dream. And over the coming years there will be plenty of drought and flooding rains. There will be plenty of tears shed under the Akubra and moments when she’ll want to quit. But I’ve known this young woman since the day she was born. Her plans will tweak and change, but quitting, nah, it’s not an option.
For more information on Serenity Plains or the Square Meters breed, please contact Cheneya Freese on 0458 805 499 http://www.facebook.com.au/SerenityPlainsSquareMeters
Of Men and Manure
I RECKON they were good signs. Literally. I’m out in the Queensland countryside on a man hunt. Well, I’m actually meant to be doing a story on polo. But I know bloody bugger all about horses, contrary to what I told the editor of a new horse magazine whose title sounds suspiciously like the tome for which Hugh Grant pretended to write in the film Notting Hill. And so I do what Hugh did. First rule of journalism: fake it till you make it. Second rule: hope like hell you figure it out somewhere along the way. (For the record, I’ve been doing this for 25 years now and suspect any day now I shall get caught).
But I wasn’t entirely lying. We did have a pony when we were children which one of my sisters ridiculously called Fairy Twinkle. I’d never call a pony Fairy Twinkle. Particularly a male pony such as ours. Unless it was gay. But no one was gay in 1970s Queensland. Not even my two uncles who wore tight white shorts, as many rings on their fingers as Liberace and lived with other men. They were the only men back then who crossed their legs when they sat down. Which in my opinion gave the game away. Mum insists to this day it was because they lived in New Zealand.
But I digress. My sister most prone to nostalgia believes it was she who gave the horse such a stupid name. Fairy Twinkle died on the eve of one of our sports carnivals, and our parents didn’t tell us, because they feared it would “upset our performance”. Just for the record, there was no “performance” to upset – the girls in my family more apt in scholastic than sporting abilities, only just beating the fat kid to last place. The day after the sports carnival Mum sat us all down and simply said: “Fairy Twinkle has gone to the glue factory”. And then she went all Senate Estimates Committee on us and refused to take further questions.
So here I am, on a sunny September reminiscent of my sports days, out in the country about to write about a polo game. I’m told there will be men. Plenty of stallions. I’m driving to country Canungra and the first sign is a good one. It simply says: “Boyland”. I drive a bit faster and sing along to Katy Perry. Five minutes later, I past through another town: “Wonglepong”. If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. Canungra’s Café Metz is full of men in army fatigues when I arrive, but men in uniform scare the anti-authoritarian in me. Instead, I grab a coffee and sit under a sign which simply states: “Today Is My Lucky Day.” Another sign.
I’m here to interview Australia’s top polo player and my photographer friend Cathy is here to shoot him (not literally, as my accountant Shaun thought recently when he saw that I was claiming my phone on my annual tax return for “shooting” jobs). Cathy and I both like a bit of eye candy and the prospect of spending the warm afternoon with a bunch of hot men and getting paid to do so is all rather attractive. If only we could get to the men. You see, there’s the issue of the horses, who seem to have taken a liking to both Cathy and me. At one point I feel some rather rapturous breathing down the back of my neck, followed by a slow, sticky, unmistakable slobber. It seems Mr Ed has gone all horny and has found the back of my head a rather attractive prospect. Meanwhile, Cathy isn’t faring any better, and with each click of her camera, the mob moves in and she’s flat out photographing the subject.
But professionals that we are, we spend six hours on this job, Cathy shooting it till it’s dead (again Shaun, if you are reading this I don’t mean murder) and me, tiptoeing through the tulips of manure and interviewing every human I can find. Which is where I stumble across 72-year-old Jim MacGinley. Jim’s been playing polo for 52 years and he’s my go-to man about how to find a fella on these fields.
“Well, it would be best to be a player…you can take that whatever way you want,” he chuckles outrageously as his naughty joke.
“The Aussie boys are there for the games and want to play polo. Go to England or the US if you are looking for a fella with money and Argentina if you are looking for a playboy.”
And hence we two fine fillies leave the polo field. Hot, a bit bothered, with no fellas but a nice story, some great pics and a good tip on how to find a polo player. Don’t be surprised if next time you read me, I’m off to South America. Chasing a story about a horse, of course. Just don’t tell my accountant.
Beautiful One Day, Perfect The Next
ONE year ago today I stepped off the plane in Brisbane after 14 months of living in Singapore. People sometimes ask me how long it took me to adjust to being back in Queensland. I knew I’d arrived the moment those two tiny Qantas wheels left Changi’s tarmac.
I moved to Singapore one month after Queensland’s devastating 2011 floods. I was battling a personal torrent of my own and needed to shake off those last, pesky, stubborn crumbs of my broken marriage. I, like Queensland, had some healing to do. Suffice to say, it’s been a rocky road for both of us, plagued by potholes and the occasional melt down. That’s the thing about healing, it takes its own damn time and you can’t rush it. And then there’s those inevitable relapses, as Queensland saw again in January this year when the flooding rains returned. As for me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have some crawl back under the doona days.
But I’ve just spent the past two weeks on assignment out in the Queensland countryside in which I grew up. We were barefoot through the bindi patch kids. Dirt on your cheeks types who didn’t come inside until after dark. Cycled our daggy pushies without helmets, rode in the Kingswood without seat belts, got a scratch and fixed it with a bit of good old-fashioned spit.
And in the past two weeks, I fell in love with my state all over again. Southerners often mock Queensland. They say our weather is too humid. Humid to me is living in Singapore – 100km from the Equator. They say Brisbane is a big country town. If sitting outside by the river on a temperate evening eating food designed by world-class chefs makes us a big country town then yes, we’re epic. Sure, we don’t have daylight savings and our politics are ridiculously conservative. But that just breeds the underground movement of creatives and larrikins I so love here. In Brisbane, strangers still chat to you in the street. Thank the bus driver when they alight. Let your car squeeze in during peak hour traffic.
In the past fortnight, I experienced in spades the friendliness for which Queensland is renowned. In the South Burnett – Joh country – I stumbled across characters, entrepreneurs and optimists. Shirt-off-your-back people where dogs with names like Merlot are the stars of an Australian book about Wine Dogs. A place of dappled sunshine and dimpled smiles.
I met wine makers and farmers’ wives. Ate the local smoked pork, drank the new world Italian reds they are planting out there. Stayed in century-old cottages on hillsides overlooking charming valleys. Did I mention it’s emerald green out there? Yep, after all that rain that so scarred our state, it’s left a legacy of lushness. I took the time for a good old chinwag.
Last week, my travels took me to the Darling Downs. But not the Toowoomba I knew from my childhood – one of haberdashery shops and picnics in the park. Sure, they still exist, but walk past an inner city lane and there’s graffiti art and pop up coffee shops courting the trendy set. Toowoomba is finally embracing its organic food scene. I ate salty olives, fancy French cuisine and slept in an elegant mansion. I stumbled across eclectic art galleries and small designer stores. Had a cuppa with the locals. They keep me honest, no room for egos out here, just kookaburras, galahs and king parrots.
Queensland and I are both a little older and wiser after the past few years. Sure, we’ll always carry our scars, but we’ve also got fire in our bellies. Yes, people sometimes ask me how long it took to adjust to being back in Queensland after Singapore. To be honest, I don’t think I ever really left.
The Global Goddess travelled through Southern Queensland Country as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland. To plan your own escape, go to http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au
Keep your Vegemite in the fridge
THERE were frogs in the pond, pigs in a blanket, a gaggle of geese and a gargle of girlfriends. White cockatoos sat at arm’s length over the back fence and Joe the dog slouched under the table, barely able to conceal his bemusement.
We arrived in the one-horse, one-pub Queensland country town in the height of the noon-day sun. The girl we like to call Jodi (who has insisted her friends stop naming her in blogs, so for the sake of this story let’s call her Clarky) had packed ice blocks for the 45 minute drive west of Brisbane. Things were going swimmingly, until I drove the wrong way into the town’s drive thru bottle-o. Clarky swore she heard a banjo play somewhere in the distance and I thought I saw a tumbleweed blow past, until I realised it was just Corina stumbling out of the bottle-o with some lemonade. We kept the engine running…just in case.
It was Retro Sunday lunch at Dame Alison’s where a mob of top sheilas, six of us in all aged between 39 and 72, gathered on the verandah for a good old chinwag and some fine food. Except this year the food wasn’t so much fine but funky. We harked back to the 70s, clutching at the recipes of our mothers and grandmothers. I pulled out old faithful: my spinach cob loaf and some sausage rolls. Mr Lee brought cheer and cheerios. Clarky baked some chooks, Heaney tossed a salad, and Alison, a Shepherd’s pie which mysteriously contained no lamb.
But the piece-de-resistance was Corina’s nana’s jelly salad. Imagine, if you possibly can, yellow jelly, carrot shreds and, wait for it… mustard, and you’ve got the salad. Unfortunately for me, who’d spent the week suffering from a gastro virus, it too closely resembled what I’d been trying to keep down and from the looks of the others, they were about to join me as fellow passengers on the proverbial porcelain bus. Nana would have be turning in her grave if she could have heard our comments, that is, if she wasn’t so preserved from all the mustard she used to consume.
But it wasn’t so much about the food, as friendship. Feisty femme fatales dining on the deck to swap stories and secrets, swatting flies and egos. There’s no bullshit with Brisbane women – they’ll slap you down if you get too big for your boots, but are the first to pick you up when you break a heel. That’s what I love.
As the perfect Pimms afternoon wore on, we braved the gamut of conversations. Should Vegemite be kept in the fridge? Would you look after your cheating ex-husband if he was dying of a terminal illness? We spoke of death and dating (sometimes, for me, in the same sentence). Three of us had boyfriends, three of us didn’t. Those of you who remember the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era will enjoy the irony of a group of journalists and PRs standing, side-by-side in the back yard, feeding the chooks. We collected fresh eggs from the chook pen to take home.
We spoke of sex, travel and work. That’s another thing I love. In a town like Brisbane where you have to compete furiously for the work, our foes are our friends. There’s no room in this river city for small-minded competitiveness. What goes around, comes around. And so it is with these girls.
They keep me honest, they rough me up, but they are the first to be there when I need it. A group of us were recently up in Lombok for our annual travel writer’s conference. Someone from Sydney paid us one of the nicest compliments we’d ever heard. “You Brisbane girls are just so friendly and fun. You’re down-to-earth. You’re earthy.”
And she hadn’t even seen Nana’s jelly salad.