Friday, July 17, 2009

This week: Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia

Antique Car Rally

My friend Leeona’s in-laws belonged to an Antique Car Club in Bundaberg, Queensland. On weekends, they had “rallies” where they would get together to talk about antique cars, look at each other's cars and then go for a Sunday drive around the beautiful countryside of Isis County. In honor of my visit, the in-laws organized a rally to show me around. This rally started off as just two cars, but the open invitation was quickly accepted by others in the club and on rally day 15 cars showed up. They said they came because of Leeona’s “American Friend.” Present were cars of all shapes and sizes, even eras. Two of the oldest cars were pre-1929, while some of the “newer” models were from the 1960’s.

My ride was a 1926 Aston, oldest car in the group (pictured above), and my driver was Geoff. An amicable fellow, Geoff was extremely proud of his car, as he should be, and more than happy to answer my silly questions. He told me a car was considered an antique because of the year it was built. Cars built before 1929 are “antique” while cars built between 1930 and 1940 are “classic” and so on. The Aston, built in Britain, was shipped to Australia and had a top speed of 30 mph. It had no windows and no seat belts, much to the dismay of my two nieces because they learned in school you should always wear your seat belt. Geoff also told my nieces that if the car couldn’t make it up hills they’d have to get out and push. With his thick gray mustache hiding his smile, it was hard to tell if he was joking or not.

At noon sharp the cars started up and we headed out of the public parking lot at Bundaberg. Our first landmark was the Bundaberg Bridge, a beautiful old iron bridge over the Bundaberg River. From here to the ocean! It was a fall day in May and the wind blew our hair around, but the sun shone so a light jacket was all we needed. Our slow speed made us one of the last cars in the convoy.

Our route first took us north to Bennett Heads. We drove through the marina and marveled at the large boats in dry dock. There was also a huge sugar mill which had two giant storage bins on each side. It looked deserted as we drove by, but Geoff said in a few weeks when the crops came in, the place would be buzzing.

From Bennett we drove south down the coastal highway and gazed out onto rocky beaches and the Pacific Ocean. At first we saw just an occasional house, but as we got closer to the town of Bargara, the houses became more frequent. The rocks turned to fine sand at Bargara Beach, which was also the site of numerous subdivisions of expensive new homes. We honked at the kids playing in the front yards as we moved through the subdivision. From Bargara we had to go inland slightly to connect to another road that went south. With several stop signs on this road the girls were worried that they’d have to get out and push, but Geoff managed the car well. Instead the girls sang songs for us since the car had no radio.

Around noon we reached an ocean-side park at Elliot Heads, which is where we stopped for an afternoon snack or “tea” as they call it. The park had covered picnic tables next to a bay that at high tide would have been full of water, but since it was low, large black rocks filled it instead.

Everyone had tins and plasticware full of brownies, cookies and cakes as well as thermoses of tea or bottled water. Everyone was vying for “the American” to try their treats. Leeona whispered in my ear that normally members kept their snacks to themselves, but since people were asking me to sample their treats, they were also sharing with each other. I think some may have been showing off their baking skills, but I wasn’t about to question anyone with lemon cake, macadamia cookies and chocolate brownies around. After tea, Leeona, the girls and I walked in the exposed bay as people fished in a few shallow pools. Our stroll came to an end when we heard the sounds of engines starting up.

We were back on the road and heading for the “Hummock,” the highest point in the county. I had run out of questions to ask Geoff so the girls sang more songs for us. When we finally arrived at the Hummock road we could see the hill. It was an extinct volcano (much like the ones in southeastern Colorado) and stuck straight up out of the flat countryside. We worried the Aston wouldn’t make it up such a steep grade and even Geoff expressed doubts. He put it into low gear and the engine roared as we began our ascent. It was slow going, but we made it, last car up the hill. At the top was a lookout and from it we could see the patchwork squares of dark and light green farmland and Bundaberg town to the west, to the east the Pacific Ocean. A rally rider told me that homes built on this hill were quite expensive since they were the only properties with ocean views in the whole county. With high ground such a rare commodity in Queensland, the locals were quite proud of the Hummock. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I’d stood on the summits of Rocky Mountain fourteeners. However, no fourteener in Colorado had a view of the Pacific so the Hummock got points for that. A distant rain storm was on the southern side of the hill and beautiful rainbows arched in front of it. If not for the storm, we would have been able to see Frasier Island.

The sun was disappearing behind new clouds as we said goodbye and I thanked the members for coming out. We hopped back in the Aston for one last run back to Bundaberg. What a special memory I would get to take back to the States - an event held just for me.
Unless you know someone in the Bundaburg Antique Car Club, chances are you may not be able to experience this, however, there are several cool things to do in Bundaberg and here are some links:
Bundaberg Rum (awesome!)
There is a restaurant outside of Childers called (I kid you not) the Horney Critter. It is a family restaurant, I swear. The oysters are to die for. Can't find any web information at this time.