A spoonful of Maryborough is more than enough!

G’Day Folks!

I trust you all had a pleasant Easter break and quite possibly, just like me, are struggling to rejoin the normal day-to-day existence of work, rest and very little play.

With the obvious exception of Christmas, there is no time of year that brings it home to me just how far away from home I find myself at these important family occasions.

Admittedly, it has been a while since I last made it home for Easter, which is a shame, considering the importance of it in my father’s family’s calendar.

For a few decades now it has been the norm for the clan to take a convoy of cars to the Mountains of Mourne, where the quite spectacular surrounds of Tullamore Forest Park would play host to our family’s high-spirited but totally innocent antics. With a family picnic, forest walks, painted egg competitions, football, games of rounders and the annual favourite, throwing Uncle JB in the duck pond being the highlights.

Meeting at The Square Car Park in Ballyclare on Easter Monday morning, we would never be quite sure of just how many cars would be making the trip and over the years, numbers would swell and numbers would dwindle but the format always remained the same, with the convoy setting off at 10:00am to start our annual Easter Excursion.

Despite living in England and then Belgium, I tried my best to make it over for the festivities but unfortunately money and time constraints started to take their toll. As a result, the Easter trip home regrettably fell by the wayside in my own calendar over the last 4 years.

I can only say that I was always there in spirit, if not in mind.

This year, of course, things are a different kettle of fish altogether as I find myself on the other side of the world and what with travelling at the speed of light still only possible in mankind’s fervent imagination, not having a Scotty to “beam me up” nor my own supersonic jet at my disposal, I was resigned to an Easter far, far away from home.

So what to do?

With there being a worrying lack of Bank Holidays in the Australian calendar, coupled with the fact that Easter weekend Down Under means that both the Friday and Monday are national holidays, Krissy and I were determined that we’d try and make the most of it.

However, considering that the majority of our budget went on purchasing our tickets for our trip back up to Northern Ireland later in year, we were going to have to do things on a shoestring. Also, true to form for the pair of us, we had left things to the last minute to organise anything.

Thankfully, Krissy used her executive assistant skills (and not to mention more than a little of the company’s time) to ensure that we at least had the bare bones of a plan to follow.

We decided that we would use the opportunity to go on a road trip of approximately 600 miles to explore a tiny fraction of this huge, vast, country - heading north as far as a town with the rather strange name of 1770; getting its name from the year that Captain Cook landed there. From 1770, we would take a boat cruise to Lady Musgrave Island at the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef.

Exciting stuff I’m sure you would all agree and it was with great anticipation and bags packed that we headed north on the Thursday evening after work. To break up the drive (Lord knows I’ve been doing enough of that lately with my 4-hour commute each day), we decided that the first night would be spent in a town called Maryborough, about 2 hours north of our home on the Sunshine Coast.

Admittedly, I knew nothing about Maryborough but then again, this could be said about almost all of Australia and as Krissy had never been there either it mean that we would be both be exploring unknown territory. Krissy did, however, express some reservations, saying that as a rather remote township, it might be a “bit rough”.

Having spent many a drunken night in Ballyclare, I felt more than equipped to deal with whatever Maryborough could throw at us. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be dealing with the drunken insults, surly bar staff and opportunistic taxi drivers that were to follow.

Having checked into a lovely, wee cabin in a holiday park for the princely sum of 50 AUD per night (around 20 pounds in real money) we headed to the Lamington Hotel across the street around 21:30. The term ‘hotel’ in Australia can mean a variety of things such as a hotel, a pub, a pub and a hotel or in this case, a bar populated by half a dozen drunken, rowdy, inbred half-wits.

As we crossed the street, we could already hear them shouting at each other and the two of us exchanged nervous glances. I reassured my loved one that everything would be OK and if not, sure we’d get a taxi on into town to the Post Office – which was not a post office but rather the hub of the Maryborough nightlife – or so we had been reliably informed, admittedly by people from Maryborough.

Taking a deep breath, the two of us had barely stepped across the threshold before all conversation had stopped and everyone turned to look at us. Giving a courteous nod to everyone, we approached the bar, trying our best to blend in.

“Where are you guys from?” enquired a young fellow in his twenties with blonde hair and a terrible affliction that caused him to drool and speak incoherently. Or perhaps he was just very, very drunk. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, I really would, but trust me – you had to be there.

“I’m from Northern Ireland,” I proudly announced.

“And what about your lovely girlfriend?”

To be fair, the exclusively-male clientele seemed to be more interested in Krissy than the altogether more windswept and interesting Northern Irishman from Ballyclare. Strange that, eh?!

Politely explaining to them, who we were, where we’d come from, and that we were in their hometown for vacation, we ordered our drinks and hoped for a little peace and quiet on the start of our Easter break but it wasn’t to be so.

Pulling his chair over, Blondie introduced himself as “Bretto” and proceeded to say how gorgeous Krissy was, ask if he could kiss her (sacrificing a kiss from me if he could), asking me what I thought of the IRA, if we thought he was gay (to which I responded with the hilarious “no, but I think your boyfriend is” which got a rather put out “I’m not his boyfriend, I’m his brother!” addition to the conversation from the even more drunk guy sitting next to him), asking his opinion on whether he should get his girlfriend (who he had met the previous night) to sign a pre-nuptial agreement because he was a home-owner and then telling us that he had once won 1000 dollars at a Prince William look-alike competition.

Honestly you just can’t make this stuff up.

I have to admit to laughing out loud at that one, with the only similarities that I could see were they are both tall with blond hair and that all their limbs are intact. Upon seeing my reaction he proceeded to plead with us to believe his story, which of course we both did, it seemed perfectly plausible that this was the sort of thing people in the area did to get their rocks off at the weekend.

And all of this repeatedly punctuated by some pretty awful swearing – and I don’t mean awful as in he wasn’t any good at it.

Proudly informing him that I was writing a weekly column for my local newspaper back home (and believe me – he is not the first person that I have shared this with) his dazed eyes and somnambular demeanour suddenly lifted, with him inviting us over to his house the next day to show us the paper cuttings to prove it.

Politely declining, and with a surprising but nonetheless extremely welcome early last orders being called, we used the opportunity to call a taxi and leave the establishment for the bright lights of the Post Office. Surely it had to be better than the Lamington.

With a huge sigh of relief, we entered our next Maryborough drinking den but the sigh quickly turned to a groan as we surveyed the scene.

Far from being the hive of activity that we had been hoping for, we were treated to a bar with about four times as many drunken eejits as the Lamington. Normally, the fact that there were a few females thrown in for good measure would be at least some cause for hope but not in this case. Once more folks, I’m asking you to trust me on this one. If ever a place could have done with a bit of soft lighting, this was it.

Unfortunately it was, quite possibly, the brightest bar I’ve ever been in and once more we were treated by many of the locals to drunken leers/stares (depending if you were Krissy or I.)

Without boring you with too many more details, the rude Maori barman and the aggressive doormen were the icing on the cake for us. It was time to cut our losses, drink up and head back for the safe haven of the cabin for some drinks and card games. We’d had enough.

Returning to our base for the evening and relieved to have gotten back in one piece and without too much hassle, we started to read up on Maryborough to see if there was anything that could save the township and hopefully provide us with something interesting to do the following day. Especially considering that it was Good Friday and that all the Japanese Torture Establishments were going to be shut…

Rather unbelievably, help was just around the corner in the quite unexpected guise of Mary Poppins, or at least, her creator, a certain P.L. Travers who was born in Maryborough in 1899. (The “Mary” coming from the Mary River that runs through the town.)

But it got even better.

It all seemed too surreal and too good to be true after our first taste of Maryborough life but according to the Maryborough Magazine, we discovered that its residents are officially the happiest in Australia, according to a leading national study by a university that found Maryborough to have the highest levels of national well-being.

With spirits suitably raised, we excitedly made our plans for the following day. Looking forward to a walk around the town, taking in such sights as the Town Hall Green, the Botanical Gardens, the bronze statue of Mary Poppins, the City Hall, the Cenotaph and Memorial Gates, the Band Rotunda and Fairy Fountain, the bollards depicting caricatures of a family of immigrants landing at the port of Maryborough in the 1860’s, the list went on.

Incredibly, thanks to this little booklet with the slogan “Maryborough – Start Here”, the town had been transformed from the nasty, booze-filled, unwelcoming red-neck town that we had just experienced, to a charming, pleasant, quaint, historic town which should be on everyone’s Must See Places on an Easter Weekend Road Trip.

And then I spied the write up on the Post Office that we had practically ran out of an hour previously:
“The ‘PO’ as it is affectionately known, stands on a prominent corner opposite the city’s Post Office.
A pub popular with all ages, it’s renowned for its great atmosphere and friendly service…the prefect spot to relax, enjoy a cold drink and watch time pass on the historic clock tower over the road”

The same clock tower that we had been watching earlier praying for the quick arrival of our taxi. It just goes to show the power of the printed word!

I am pleased to report that the following morning was spent taking a relaxing walk in the 30 degree heat around what I can quite honestly say, is a lovely town. A town that is kept in immaculate order, with everything clean, spotless and tidy. Picture-postcard perfect even, with the surrounding architecture providing wonderful examples of “Old Queenslanders” – wooden buildings raised on stilts, so as to assist with the cooling down of the contents within.

As a rather interesting twist on the standard tourist attraction, the Town Hall Green offers several etchings of characters from Mary Poppins which, by placing paper on them and rubbing with a charcoal pencil, allows children and adults alike to take home a personal treasure with them, to remember their trip to Maryborough long after they have left.

Unfortunately, with the local paper and charcoal pencil establishment being closed for the holidays, we made our way back to the car, our lasting impression of Maryborough repaired beyond belief.

Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps there is. All I know is that I have very mixed but ultimately fond memories of the town of Maryborough and my time spent there with Krissy will forever stay in the memory.

Even though boat cruises where cancelled due to weather conditions, ensuring that we didn’t make it to the Great Barrier Reef, the rest of the weekend was spent having a fantastic time exploring further, lounging at the lovely beach of Bargara, taking in the delights of Bundaberg with its famous dark rum distillery and generally exploring the unknown in this country full of unknown with the woman that I love.

Of course, it certainly wasn’t Tullamore Forest Park, with the beautiful mountains of Mourne in the background and the family getting up to their usual carry-on, but there’s always next year…

In loving memory of Uncle JB, Auntie Iris and Gran.
You’re missed more than ever.


Anonymous said…
Christ you're as full of shit as you were always were! Seriously though, good to know all those lessons from Tommy Stewart's computer classes paid off and you're having a good time.

Lorraine (Ireland)