Bairnsdale camp…the wrap

I knew the 2010 Bairnsdale camp was going to be unlike any other when Sam and I went for a quiet beer at the Imperial Tavern, across the road from the camping ground, on Thursday night. Within about two minutes of sitting down at the bar, we were chatting with a bloke in a fetching blue dress with matching hair ribbons. He was at great pains to emphasise that this wasn’t his normal attire. Indeed, looking around the bar and seeing the collection of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Megadeth, and Iron Maiden T-shirts on the other patrons, we were prepared to take his word for it. In any case, he was 6’ 4’’ and missing several teeth so we didn’t feel we had much option.
So far, so surreal. The next day felt more like a traditional camp, however, with temperatures climbing into the high 20s and a gloriously flat Mitchell River beckoning. The weather was not so kind to us on Saturday, with passing showers and blustery conditions keeping most crews off the water for most of the day. Never one to let us sleep in, however, Simon delivered a masterclass in rowing technique for the club, demonstrating his points on the catch, the finish, the rowing arc and the ideal power output with a motley collection of anatomically-challenged stick figures.
Apparently, Sunday dawned fine and most crews were up early, taking advantage of the conditions on this, the final day of camp. As promised by Justin, most crews made it all the way to the cliffs, some 9km upriver, which were indeed spectacular. The Senior Men re-enacted the Mutiny on the Bounty, however, when offered the chance by stern pair to make their third trip to the cliffs in as many days. The response from the rest of the boat was hilarious but, sadly, unprintable. So, with time on our hands, we decided to ram the other boats getting off the water at the landing pontoon. Accelerating to attack speed, we were cruising at a cheeky 36 spm before we heard Franzi’s dulcet tones, sounding particularly German at this point, asking us if we’d mind stopping. Like the bloke in the blue dress, Franzi is someone you ignore at your peril.
Despite the great rowing and the even greater meals, however, the highlight of the camp was undoubtedly Saturday night at the Imperial. Australia may have won several thousand medals in minority sports like the marathon and road cycling at the Commonwealth Games, but New Zealanders can hold their heads high having taken out the annual box-biting competition. Like gumboot-throwing and competitive sheep-mustering, it’s clearly in the blood.
In hindsight, it would have been best if the boxing machine had been removed before we arrived at the pub. Not that isn’t amusing seeing people punch walls but it tends to inhibit witty, sparkling conversation and certainly detracted from the debonair moves being cut on the dance floor by Kev Astaire. Furthermore, I suspect the freely-flowing testosterone may have attracted the locals, one of whom proved particularly attentive towards the end of the evening. Still, one can always rely on one’s crewmates, who provided enough of a diversion for me to set a new record for sprinting up vertical banks, as I leapt across a major highway – in the path of oncoming traffic – and found safety in a ditch.
I’m still a bit disappointed I didn’t make it to Charlies’ – the one and only nightclub in Bairnsdale. I thought everyone had called it a night after the Imperial but I’m reliably informed that Kev and the girls were seen slinking out of the club at 4:30am, having been booted out by the management. I asked Kev the next morning what the place was like and he ran the old “what goes on tour, stays on tour” line. I pressed him, however, asking for a simple thumbs up or down. “Well, Smithy,” he replied, “as I was dancing on the main podium, next to the DJ, with a magnum of champagne in each hand, it looked as if everyone was enjoying themselves.”
Finally, thanks to Justin, Barry, and all the coaches for ensuring the camp ran like clockwork.
Until next year . . .
Andrew Smith