Heading up to the Gold Coast for the annual Indy 300 car race, I wanted to pack two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicoloured uppers, downers, laughers, screamers… also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.
However, knowing security officials at Sydney Airport would greet me with mocking laughter followed by complete disdain and impending arrest, I temporarily restrained my yearning to turn the weekend into a mess of incoherent consciousness. For a few hours at least – anyway, the booze would be cheaper in Queensland, surely.
Stepping off the plane at Coolangatta into the warm air and onto the hot tarmac, I could tell that this trip was going to be great – a few beautiful days in the sun, a relaxing multi-day bender by the beach, with the dulcet tones of car engines roaring. Perfick.
I am greeted by my buddy, Felipe.
I want you to understand that this man at the wheel is my travel attorney! He’s not just some dingbat I found on the Strip. He’s a foreigner. I think he’s probably Ecuadorian.
Tearing up the coast from Coolangatta to Surfers Paradise, we knew our trip was different. It was to be a classic affirmation of everything right and true in the Aussie national character; a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country.
What better way to get a feel for the place than to hit the observatory at the top of Q1 – the tallest residential building in the southern hemisphere. The top level has a killer near-360 degree view. Two glasses of ice water with ice. It’s a tad eerie looking out the front windows, like being on a zeppelin in the ‘30s.
With time to kill, the Ecuadorian advises we take to the streets around Main Beach. The crowds are starting to show on the streets, while balconies above become increasingly active. Retiring to the balcony of the Hard Rock, and a man-sized plate of nachos, the evening settles in nicely.
What better way to start the day than with an ocean swim followed by pancakes and hash browns – from here the day’s diet will consist of hot chips and hot dogs – but mostly alcohol.
Arriving at the track it all seems very calm – a disturbing quiet before the storm. It’s only a practice day, but there’s a buzz around. The racers were ready at dawn. Very tense. But I was ready now.
With a terrible roar it began, cars tearing down past the pits. Indy racing starts now… Excellent.
After both the Champ Cars and V8s had had their wicked way with the Gold Coast course’s corners, it was time – I felt – for an agonising reappraisal of the whole scene. The race was definitely under way. I had witnessed the start; I was sure of that much. But what now? What else of course – party.
The Gold Coast is famed for its nightlife, so with the help of the Ecuadorian, I was sure we could rustle up an interesting evening.
“I hope you’ve got your drinking shoes on!” I yell at him, down the phone, as he makes his way to my hostel, knowing full well he’s probably still wearing ‘thongs’.
Arriving already somewhat woozy at the evening’s event I attempt to explain the guest list situation to the girl on the door.
“Hi there. My name… ah, Stuart McDowell… on… on that list, that’s for sure. Free lunch, final wisdom, total coverage… why not? I have my attorney with me!” Despite my fumbling we’re ushered in.
At the party I’m pleasantly surprised. Surfers girls sure are a pretty bunch – and it seems half of them are here. Guys, with their half-arsed attempts at dressing up – a collared shirt and jeans (I’m no better) standing alongside some stunning beauties, done up to the nines. Am I complaining? Um… no.
“Turn up the fucking music! My heart feels like an alligator! Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass! What’s wrong with us? Are you goddamn old ladies?” That’s right, you tell those snobby DJs, Ecuadorian! My travel attorney is keen to kick this up a notch, and I agree.
A cute girl dancing by us suggests black Sambuca shots. Shit, that’s a good idea. One whiff of that stuff will turn you into something out of a goddamn medical encyclopedia. Being someone who rarely says no to turning an average night out into a self-deprecating trainwreck, I quickly have a pair on the bar. We exchange pleasantries, perhaps even names, and down shots. Insert downward spiral here.
What follows I can only deduce from brief memories and flashes. I have some recollection of exiting the bar and unsuccessfully attempting to take photos of scantily-clad young ladies out the front of strip clubs. I’m not sure explaining to their parents their line of work over a copy of TNT was high on their lists of things to do (though I seem to remember explaining that the photos would have been of great importance to our reader).
I meandered home like a lost puppy and struggled to find my hostel room keys, for what seemed like hours. Only to realise that there was no key and the swipe card was in my wallet. Pure genius.
Start day with hearty routine of mid-shower gross regurgitation and general conscience rinsing. No time. Apply clothes. Grab the cameras and bail. The Ecuadorian’s out front – Sea World awaits. The stomach does a few impromptu turns. You’d better take care of me, Lord… if you don’t you’re going to have me on your hands… and half of last night’s drinks.
There are polar bears! Sea World has four polar bears in their large air-conditioned enclosure and despite the obvious assumption you’re making (“polar bears in Queensland – that’s f*cked up”), I’m told they’re quite comfortable.
Second up is Shark Bay, an enormous open tank enclosure that replicates a tropical lagoon housing some of the largest captive sharks I’ve seen. With a large underwater viewing area and walkways at almost touching distance, this really is about as close as you want to get to these guys. Though if you really have to, Sea World will let you snorkel with the less aggressive sharks in the other half of the tank. The rougher side is restricted to a cage dive (all for a price, mind you).
The older I get the worse I get with heights. My yearning to ride the Corkscrew rollercoaster is somewhat non-existent, but the Ecuadorian keeps pushing me onwards. No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride… Camera sneakily at my side, we climb into the first carriage.
Stay calm. I’m a relatively respectable citizen – a multiple felon perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. It’s no good though. The pimply-faced teenager manning the button has spotted the camera. Looks like that perfect shot of my heights-fearing speed-stretched face won’t be making my video’s final cut. It was scary shit.
A quick round of the dolphin pools (not too long, those guys seem too intelligent to be kept in those enclosures and I’m not gonna be here when they rise up and escape), and back out to the car.
Up the Old Pacific Highway north, the Ecuadorian has a rental car tearing to the Zorb Park – a strange activity that involves either being submerged or strapped into the centre of an enormous inflatable ball and rolled down a grassy hill.
I was ready for it, braced for the G’s, but my stomach was not. The first roll down was harnessed, exaggerating the nausea – enjoyable, but maybe not with a hangover.
However the ‘wet zorb’ is very different. With myself and the Ecuadorian inside this plastic womb, the ball is filled with a few bucket-loads of water and sent down the grassy knoll, like a giant rolling washing machine towards the base, where we climb out, reborn into the sunny afternoon. Rad… I could do some more of that. But the night awaited…
Night three on the booze. Brain? Still present. Liver? Wounded. Self-restraint? MIA. Could all the pieces come together at Saks Bar? Who knows.
As usual the Ecuadorian was keen as mustard. It wasn’t long before we were back at drunktown – population: us (and a roomfull of its fellow citizens.)
Our condition had started to deteriorate. How long could we maintain, I wondered. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at one of these poor girls? Keep it together man. But it’s too late, the Ecuadorian’s already serving this girl with all manner of angles. She seems fine with it though. The locals here must have developed some sort of immunity to shameless male flirtation.
I desperately needed peace, rest, sanctuary. I hadn’t counted on this. Finding my attorney… locked into some kind of preternatural courtship. Taxis are a nightmare – looks like I’m walking this one. Arriving at my hotel, my hand goes straight for the swipe card. I won’t be fooled twice. A soft pillow and a chicken kebab a comfy bed doth make.
Oh my God… there’s someone at the door. There’s someone at the door! I’m running late. Today is the day of the main races and we needed to meet up with our ticket supplier.
Walking around the track with my attorney I was pouring sweat. My blood is too thick for Queensland. I’ve never been able to properly explain myself in this climate.
Suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving. At second glance they weren’t bats, but military F-111’s doing dump-and-burn fly-bys – simultaneously igniting the crowd and permanently destroying the hearing of the young children, foolishly dragged along by their petrol-head parents.
This is it. The race seems like a ridiculously drawn out climax. After over 90 minutes of sub-F1 whining, there’s a brief pause before the V8s destroy their final race. Not that by this point many people are watching.
Small packs of megaphone-wielding guys provide light entertainment and medium levels of harassment to anything female over 15 in a city-wide radius. As the afternoon wears on, the number of times young girls must scream “Holy shit! Look at that bunch over there! They’ve spotted us!” must be staggering. The sight of women scampering off in opposing directions becomes increasingly common. I know when I fall asleep tonight I’ll be subconsciously muttering “Tits out for the boys.”
The race ends and the crowds retreat, ever so slowly, hoping to enjoy the Indy experience for a few precious moments (and hours) longer, but it’s getting on and I have a return flight. The Ecuadorian jumps behind the wheel and we high-tail it for the airport – it’ll be close.
Sitting on my return flight, still all fuzzed up, I get reflective. Never lose sight of the primary responsibility. Cover the story. But what was the story?
Well, you could say that Indy’s a crazy time in Surfers Paradise, but you should also realise that Indy’s just the tip of a giant iceberg. One with its own local Polar bears. In Queensland. Maybe I‘ve been partying too hard, I’m starting to see Polar bears in Queensland…
The damage: Admission to the Q1 Observation Deck is $17.50. Admission to Sea World is $66. Zorbing costs from $50 for one, or $35 each for two (cheaper for three, etc).
The details: For Q1 info, Ph: (07) 5630 4700; for Sea World info, Ph: (07) 5588 2205; for Zorbing info, Ph: (07) 5547 6300.
Thanks to: Gold Coast Tourism.
Check out: The video of Stuart’s trip on BPTV