Friday 25th March 2016
We spent our first night in the Dream Machine at the Alstonville Showground in the Northern Rivers area of North New South Wales.
Alstonville Showground is overseen by Jimmy, an ancient caretaker, with an eccentric phone manner that suggests he views the age of telecommunication as an inconvenient fad. The seemingly simple task of asking “Have you got any space and how much does it cost?” was punctuated by Jimmy barking seemingly random statements back at me like:
“What’s the problem?”
“What did you say?”
“It’s chock-a-block mate.”
“We might be able to squeeze you in.”
And then the line went dead………
We arrived at the site—which was specifically designed to hold hundreds of visitors and exhibitors, along with all their vehicles and animals—to find a dozen or so caravans and motorhomes scattered around the ground.
It seemed that our perception of a chock-a-block campsite was somewhat different from Jimmy’s. The showground was quiet and empty to the point of desolation. There is something ghostly about an agricultural complex that isn’t being used for its intended purpose.
The site was mostly occupied by the old and the elderly who had neatly lined up their vans against the wall of a spacious, open-sided barn that overlooked the Show Ground.
We were offered a spot in this giant cattle shed, which may have been good enough for Jesus’s first night on Earth, but wasn’t quite what we’d imagined for first night together in our Dream Machine.
So we negotiated a spot on the grassy circle where the highlights of the annual Agricultural show took place— much preferring to feel like we were at the centre of the action, rather than lined up in the stands waiting for something to happen.
Jimmy’s Favourite English Joke
“Where you from?” asked Jimmy, sensing we weren’t very local.
“England,” I said warily.
“Oh I do a joke with the English,” said Jimmy as his eyes turned misty with memories of the many occasions he had told this joke before.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I tell them my grandmother was from England,” he said with a knowing grin.
“Okay…..” I said, wondering if a punchline was coming anytime soon.
“Ask me ‘Where from?’” he said, prompting me to play my part in this beautifully scripted piece of spontaneous Aussie banter.
“Where from?” I obliged.
“Buckingham Palace,” he spluttered, nudging my arm to let me know it was all in good fun and so I laughed along with him, happy to play the Pommie stooge.
Not yet living the dream
I went on to learn that Jimmy had lived in Alstonville all his life and considers it to be “God’s own country”. As a boy, he’d played football and hockey on the oval that was about to become our home for the next day or two.
In his lifetime, Jimmy had seen the town’s population explode from just 500 to 5,500 which may explain why his definition of chock-a-block is two dozen vans on abandoned Showground.
So the first campsite we chose didn’t quite provide the kind of magical surroundings we’d envisaged when we conceived this romantic adventure, but at least the toilets and shower blocks were clean and functional.
The blokes’ toilets provided a good place to shit, shave and shower. The ladies’ toilets were more social offering a collection of pre-loved books and DVDs to borrow. And it only cost $22 per night for a powered site.