Up’Hebel’ – Dirranbandi Easter Weekend 2016
When I was a teenager, I discovered that I quite liked being friends with boys. Now, now – you over there with your mind in the gutter, get it right back out of there please.
When my friends and I all started to become ‘interested’ in boys, I also realised that the ones I wasn’t ‘quite interested’ in were still pretty cool. They had funny jokes, got into some pretty crazy things, and overall lived life in a way that was, to my teenage female mind, uncomplicated and fun. I decided that people of the male persuasion maybe weren’t so gross after all, I admitted that their cooties possibly didn’t exist, and in the end I made some really good friends.
Fast forward 10 years or so. I still have quite a few male friends (most of whom are football guys whom I’ve met through Ryan), and so when one of my best guy friends, Adam, invited me out to spend the Easter weekend with him and a few mates, I said yes without hesitation.
I met Adam during my post-grad education degree. We pretty much hit it off on the first day when I turned around and said to him “I don’t know anyone, can I sit with you”. Luckily for me, he and the other two girls he was sitting with said yes. 6 years, two post-graduate degrees, and a couple of schools later, Adam is living 600kms west of Brisbane in a little town called Dirranbandi, population 711 as of the 2011 census, and famous for being the hometown of Ray Meagher (A.K.A Alf Stewart – Stone the flamin’ crows!). He’s doing his duty as an employee of the Queensland Government, and teaching rural.
Every school holiday, Adam makes the long, lonely drive back to Brisbane to visit his friends and family (also…there’s just not that much to do in Dirranbandi during the school holidays). He has lived there for nearly 4 years, and I thought it best that I get off my backside and visit him instead.
The fact that I would be visiting him with 6 of his other (male) friends didn’t ruffle my feathers a bit. I’m no prissy girl, and as I’ve already mentioned, I think guys can make cool friends, so I was very much looking forward to it.
I was picked up bright and early at 6am on Good Friday, shafted to my rightful place at the backseat of the bus alongside the eski, passed a personalised stubby cooler (what did I tell you, cool) and told to get myself a drink so that we could get this show on the road.
Adam had made the drive to Brisbane the night before (so he had a car here on our return and could spend the rest of the holidays in Brissy), and the eight of us headed off down the Ipswich motorway, next stop T-Bar for brekky (…that’s Toowoomba, Adam). It took me nearly 5 hours to ask “So, what does Up’Hebel’ even mean”, which was met by raucous laughter from the guys. I found out that it was one of the iconic pubs we would be stopping at on our weekend away, and I got even more excited for what was in store.
The scenery on the drive was repetitive, but still somewhat breathtaking. I couldn’t get enough of the uninterrupted view of the outback. Dorothea MacKellar’s poem, My Country, was on repeat through my head. Sunburnt country and sweeping plains as far as the eye could see, I could see what inspired her words and to be honest, I thought she got it 100% right.
600km was plenty of time to get acquainted with the rest of the guys, and I quickly cemented my place as one of the boys by keeping up with them in drinks, and taking less time than Adam to pee in the bush (despite the fact that I had to high-tail it an extra 100m into the scrub for privacy).
When we finally arrived in Dirran, it was in high spirits, and a little tipsy (except for the drivers, of course – thanks Chris and Paul!). We had a bbq and played Cards of Humanity before I hit the hay somewhat early (I’d not slept much the night before). I had an important event the next day, and I needed to get my beauty sleep (and lots of it).
We woke up nice and early, got kitted up in our finest and on a new bus by 9am – destination, Lightning Ridge Races!
One of the highlights of the Easter Weekend in this region, the Lightning Ridge races are part of a 3 day Easter Festival that includes Easter Egg races, carnival rides, opal and fossil exhibits, and a plethora of other fun activities. We picked up some lovely people from a station not far away, and stopped off in Hebel for a quick toilet break, before heading on to Lightning Ridge. We made a beeline for the races, through the dust and flies, and straight to the bar. Golds all round, and we were set to watch some racing.
To be honest, racing itself holds little to zero interest for me – I had my eye on a different prize – the Best Dressed Female. I checked my lipstick, made sure my fascinator was in its most fascinating position, and headed up onto the hill.
But alas, it wasn’t to be. The ladies of Lightning Ridge and its surrounds certainly brought their A-game, that’s for sure. For people who have probably got no intention of ever going to any races in a bigger city, they looked immaculate, and in the 30+degree heat, that in itself was a feat to be reckoned with. I didn’t even get a runners up, however I still had hopes – along with Paul, I was participating in the Best Dressed Couples event (didn’t matter that we’d only met the day before, we just didn’t tell them that).
The boys tried their best in the Men’s category, but again were robbed (considering they made up 50% of the participants, that’s pretty bad).
Once we realised the bias of the judges (apparently, wearing a hat gives you about 1000 bonus points), Paul borrowed a hat and we were ready to take on the other participants in Best Dressed Couple.
We came first runners up!
Along with our well-earned prize of a bottle of bubbly, we had our photo snapped for the local paper, and headed back to the table, triumphant.
The 2 hour bus ride back to Dirran was filled with jokes, beers, and lots of off-key singing to 80s anthems. We stopped off at the Hebel Hotel for a celebratory drink with the rest of the bus patrons, and enjoyed hearing about life in the country.
We arrived back in Dirran in time to have some potato gems and lasagna, and play Family Feud before I again headed off to bed (beauty sleep, I tell you).
The remainder of the weekend involved an entire day spent lounging on a mattress in the living room playing boardgames and cards, eating whatever food we could find that hadn’t been eaten yet, heading to the Old Moey (Old Motel) rather than the New Moey (New Motel) for a few drinks, and getting some famous ‘Tucka Shack Pizzas’ which had a solid toppings to base ratio, and a decent amount of olives and pinapple on every slice (no matter the flavour).
The next day we cleaned up Adam’s unit (only took us about 2.5 hours), and headed off towards home. Far from the banter-throwing journey on Friday, this was filled with comfortable silence. We were all a bit melancholy that the weekend was over, however still found the occasional energy to throw around a casual ‘Veebs then?’ (VB beer) ‘This Guy!’ (Adam’s new favourite catch phrase), and play a hilarious online game of Family Feud (every man for himself). Four pub stop-offs (one place to which I accidentally donated my stubby cooler), two food stops and a total of 11 hours later we finished up at Chris’s house, unloaded our rental trailer and van, and wished everyone goodnight.
Having been, at best, casual acquaintances with everyone except Adam on the trip, it was so nice to give everyone a sincere hug at the end of the night. Despite how sad I was that the weekend was over, I was happy that I’d shared such a cool experience with guys that I knew I could now count as friends. I’d never been as far west as Dirranbandi, never been to a town in Australia with a smaller population, and definitely never expected to have such a great weekend with a bunch of genuinely awesome people. So Parns, Geary, Rob, Matt, Kearsy, Paul, and Kappu (and some Lyndon person who made an appearance) – thanks very much guys!
Phew, writing is thirsty work. Anyone fancy a veebs?