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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not quite Monaco.....

It’s every kids dream (big and small) to take a flimsy wooden box, put it on wheels and ride it helter skelter down a big hill!   Once a year, in a village dubbed as “Australia’s Happiest Town” -  Bangalow,  you can do this whether you’re five or ninety five ( that’s if you’re still game). 
Since arriving home from our steamy holiday two weeks ago, it has rained almost non-stop. On the days when it’s not relentlessly bucketing down, it’s overcast, cold and the sky indecisive as to whether it’s going to send down a two second explosion of great big drops or throw a misty film that sneaks under the brolly and makes everything feel damp and clammy. Overall it’s been pretty miserable and a hankering to be back in warmth has seen me trawling the computer looking for cheap flights back to sunshine and fun.  You can imagine how delighted I was to wake up on the weekend and find an amazingly blue cloudless sky and the promise of some jam packed enjoyment spread out over the North Coast.  We had a choice of  an Antique show in Alstonville, a Gem festival in Ballina, a Surf meets Turf Parade in Evans Head, the “Booty” market in Lismore and the ultimate ‘lets be like Ginger Meggs and scuff our knees' fun of the Bangalow Billy Cart Derby. 
A soap box derby down the main street of a step back in time village won and nice and early on Sunday morning we hightail it to Bangalow in the hope to beat the crowds and grab a good possie on the hay bales.   
Bangalow is a small historical village that packs a big punch. Located in the hinterland behind Byron Bay, it’s a vibrant, always happening place where just about everything is celebrated with some sort festival. 
On any given weekend there were will be something on the calendar – like the famous Bangalow Market, the Fatherhood Festival, the Bangalow Music Festival, Self Publishing Book Fair, Travelling Film Festival, Heart Beat and so much more.
Weekdays can be spent exploring shops that offer Afghani rugs and pony pouches, Japanese origami mobiles and vintage kimonos and stunning Tibetan thangkas.  Wander into the local pub and you might find behind the piano, Tim Freeman of the Whitlam's or Missy Higgins playing for free or down at the local A&I Hall, a small intimate concert being given by Ben Lee.  No wonder the locals of Bangalow are some of the happiest people in Australia. 
Pit Lane was where the gleaming machines and the beautiful people had gathered and I could barely contain my enthusiasm when I spied the very sexy leather clad Tex Perkins of The Cruel Sea fame wandering amongst the race wheels; it was almost as if he was ‘choosing’ his speed machine for the celebrity race he would be competing in.   
What would he choose, a deck chair strapped to two bike fames; a black coffin with pink cross, a magic carpet or a sleek yellow miniature formula ford complete with windscreen and custom paintwork.  Further down the street, watching the competition was the ‘yummy mummy’ of comedy, the gorgeous Mandy Nolan and not far from her, another rock god – Pete Murray.
Big M dragged my attention back to the racing when he mused ‘there must be a lot of wheel chairs in Bangalow up on blocks at the moment….all their wheels have been stolen for the carts.’   It could almost be said the same for all the bicycles, prams and skate boards.   In fact there were a lot of ‘big’ carts getting around with extremely tiny wheels, including a door, millimetres off the ground and could only been steered by the driver kneeling on all fours, head pointing down, backside up and praying like buggery! 
Billy carts of all variety of fantastical designs and questionable build shot down the street, gathering speed, some threatening to upspill the drivers, most smashing into the safety bales at the finish line much to the delight of spectators and competitors alike.  It was all very exciting and exhilarating.   The morning belonged to the little tykes with children as young as five bolting down the hill. 

 At midday the racing stopped and a parade had the crowds bopping along to the beat of various bands. 
The local Sikh community was bright and engaging with beautiful sari clad women dancing but it was the pounding of the hot chilli red Samba Blisstas that blew us all away. 

Then it was the ‘big kids’ turn and the pace picked up with the increased weights on the track.  The spills and thrills mounted and so did the days heat.  I couldn’t believe after a week rugged to the hilt in gloves, scarfs and long coats, we were peeling away the layers and fanning ourselves as the sun beat down.     
Every year the Derby gets bigger, more exciting and action packed.  It might not be Monaco Grand Prix, but the racing is just as serious and the crowds….just as sun soaked, eager. Bangalow certainly is “Australia’s Happiest Town.”  


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