I'd assumed going to see a bike race in Australia would be pretty much the same as seeing a bike race in Scotland. Same speedy bikes, same clouds of dust, same hairy bikers, same skanky lassies in lycra shorts. However, there was one major difference: the food.
Last summer at the British Superbikes at Knockhill we had agonised over our options:
- burgers of questionable origin
- chips and curry sauce
- chips and brown sauce
- chips and red sauce
If you choose curry sauce they slap it onto the chips for you, scooping it up from a metal tray, all yellowy brown like toxic waste, the surface stiff and puckered from hours under a heat lamp. If you want Red or Brown it's DIY from plastic bottles with crusty nozzles. And don't ever call it ketchup or tomato sauce. That has to be one of my favourite things about Scotland. It's either Red or Brown sauce. Just like when you're a kid and your Mum asks what flavour milkshake you want, and you say, "PINK!".
When we arrived at Phillip Island a few months later for the Australian MotoGP, I saw the same white vans plonked all round the circuit. My stomach purred in anticipation of being dished up the same greasy slop by the same sweaty-browed ladies.
But while a few served traditional burgers and chips, the majority of the vans were rather… cosmopolitan. There were fresh salad wraps, Turkish kebabs, German sausages on fat white rolls, meat pies, baked potatoes, samosas, noodles, wood-fired pizzas and a freaking gelato stand.
They even had Real Coffee. It was bizarre, hearing the familiar schhhhhhh of the coffee machine right next to screaming motorbikes. Baristas fished out Melting Moments and chocolate cookies from glass jars with those dainty little tongs. Biker Types balanced their helmets in one hand while stirring their cappuccinos with the other. This was no Styrofoam and watery Nescafe stirred with a Paddlepop stick operation. They even had plastic lids! And two kinds of sugar!
"Look at those big Aussie guys there, they're just sooo tough with their leathers and lattes!"
"It's all a bit poncy, isn't?"
"You want a hot chocolate?"
I won't bore you with the details of the race, because I know most people aren't terribly interested in MotoGP. But let me tell you it's one of the greatest ways a girl can spend two days, and not just because for once the queue for the Ladies loo is heaps shorter than the Mens. MotoGP is also noise, smells, adrenaline, engines, crashes and slutty chicks holding umbrellas over tiny men in leather suits.
On Saturday we watched the qualifying from opposite the pit lane, peering into the garages through my zoom lens at the mad buzz of mechanics and riders. On Sunday we perched in Bass Strait Grandstand, the race right in front of us and the ocean at our back, as Valentino Rossi cruised to yet another victory.
After the race came the grand palaver of getting back to Melbourne. With tens of thousands of bikes, cars and coaches all trying to escape at once, it took over an hour to crawl off the tiny island. This provided great entertainment for those staying behind. Every house we passed had people sitting in front yards and verandas, hanging from the balconies with beers, watching the passing parade. Even when we finally reached the turn-off for Melbourne, more people appeared from out of the hills, jumping up and down beside the highway, waving flags and beers.
This strange spectacle continued for almost the entire two hours back to the city. Just people bloody everywhere, grinning and leering and waving; turning the side of the highway into one big living room. The roads were flanked by rows of folding chairs, occupied by beer-bellied blokes, knitting grannies and bikinied teens with mirrored sunglasses. There were dogs and babies and cartwheeling kids. People picnicked on car roofs, in the back of utes and in the middle of roundabouts. Two guys had even brought along a sofa. Life can be pretty quiet in small Aussie towns, so a few thousand motorbikes swarming by all at once could be the most glittering day of the year. At least it's a great opportunity to drink beer and jump up and down like a dickhead.
"What the hell are you Aussies all about?" Gareth asked, gawking out the window in amazement.
"I don't know. We're a bunch of idiots!"
And I'd never been so proud.