There’s something really invigorating about spending time in a tiny, tightknit community where everyone knows each other. As an out-of-towner you’re afforded almost celebrity status. People welcome you into their homes, talk to you like they’ve known you forever. Even if you don’t know people, it doesn’t take long to work out friends you have in common from boarding school or uni days.
Everyone’s at the pub on a Friday night after a long week; footy blaring on the TV, the girls from down the road playing guitar and various mates joining in on guest vocals, rounds being shouted, rollies being bummed, kids busting moves on what passes for a dancefloor. You can detour through the park on the three-block walk home, throw yourself down a dewy slippery dip and then dissect the night over bacon and toast and tea in someone’s kitchen. By the time you wake up, the night’s gossip has already filtered out to the rest of the district.
I’ve waxed lyrical before about the joys of bush races, but now I can happily report that even without ponies their fun is hardly diminished. Days of deluge in the lead up to the Morven races meant that the track was too wet for actual racing, but that didn’t deter a turnout of a few hundred people. Little kids raced around in baby akubras and handcrafted belts with their names embossed across their bottoms; hopped up on sugar, charred sausages and the novelty of seeing more people than they might in months.
Everyone was still in their races finery and the fashions of the field were still hotly contested. It can be a lucrative sideline, and so even at the most remote race meets you’ll still spot the odd lass who’s gone all out for sartorial glory. You can tell those who do the FOF circuit by touches above and beyond the standard country races garb – a net glove here, a seamed stocking there, vintage-style tailoring and jaunty pillbox hats with little lace veils… And when it’s your best mate, with hair curled by her mum, who triumphs over a seasoned campaigner like that, the thrill is magnificent.
You’ll never dance like you do in the middle of a crowd of rum-sozzled revellers of all ages, to music you don’t even like blasted from hired speakers on the back of a truck – people reeling and careening around you like a carnival ride on the verge of falling apart. And you’ll never see as many stars as you do sprawled in a swag in the back of a ute, even if you have to do so while listening to Garth Brooks’ greatest hits being blasted by someone else in the carpark.