It’s testicle size, nothing else matters.

Today I stumbled upon an exceptionally archaic and exceptionally entertaining dating scene.

It’s a place where testicle size is prized above everything else, even muscle length and skin tone, although those characteristics are not to be snorted at. This dating scene also requires wads of cash to even come through the front gate and there is little choice for the female of the species.

Of course, it’s the local bull sale. And it’s fabulously fun, in an oh-so voyeuristic fashion.

It starts with the graziers roaming around the yards checking out the scores of grumpy bulls up for grabs. Specifically they’re looking at whether their scrotums hang to the left or the right and how many calves its likely to produce. The length of their pizzle is checked out and discussed openly, much to the embarrassment of the beasts on the other side of the fence who get angrier by the minute.

Some farmers want a bull with a big back end. One of the lads kindly informed me that my back end was probably similar to what they’re looking for – healthy. And these big butts, one farmer paid $12,000 for the chance to play cupid with the beasts testes.

The beast’s temperament is also important. You don’t want to be stuck in a ring with a 900kg animal that’s crankier than, well cranky like a hungry, horny bull in a fickle mood.

Watching the behemoths kick back the dirt was terrifying at times. And the blokes had a nice chuckle at me jumping away from the gates. Fear is just hilarious, really.

But it got me thinking about how civilised we humans are, and how complicated we make mating. Imagine putting all the blokes in a pen, naked obviously and parading them around commenting on the size of their scrotum and the tone of their skin. “He puts a bang in your bullet,” the auctioneer would yell.

“The scrotal are like peas in a pod, and good peas they are too,” he’d add.

We could even discuss how hairy they are and whether that’s because it’s been a cold season or whether they’re just a hairy breed.

It’d be a level playing field really and people could buy the bloke that suited them best. The man that suited what they wanted in their progeny. How novel!

Of course it would go beyond the length of size of their testicles and include information about behaviour. Instead of ‘this is a feisty beast’, we’d get ‘this guy is likely to be sullen after a bad day at work’. Let’s face it, a heads up would be nice about these things.

A ring full of naked women would probably be even more fun. “Look at the length on her rack,” they might say.

The biggest issue with this forum is consent, especially for women, but let’s not let that get in the way of a healthy imagination.

But in reality, things are rarely so straightforward. Instead we do a ridiculous cloak and dagger routine that is rarely successful. Fortunately I experienced that cringe worthy experience today too and can draw a few comparisons.

Before the bulls were paraded around I trotted into the arena, scouring the yards for broad-brimmed folk to take pictures of. The local handyman gave me a cheery welcome with dating advice included, free of charge.

“See that bloke on the right,” he nudged me, grinning uncontrollably. “ Single. Two properties. I’ll introduce you,” he said listing off his best attributes.

By the way, I heartily enjoy these forced-intimate awkward situations with older men.
We shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Yes, he was the bloke that nearly ran me over in the street today. A point of common interest – road safety.

But I wasn’t immediately taken with the gentleman. Nothing wrong with him, perhaps he was just a tad too quiet. I’m too fussy again, it seems.

“He’s 49,” I was told, belatedly.

“I’m 25,” I replied, with slight indignation.

“He’s got a pacemaker. We can jumpstart him,” he tells me.

That’s just what I‘m after, I thought, my mind dripping with sarcasm.

I pulled a face that said I was not really interested in marrying this feller, as I could see the handyman was already wondering if he’d be able to walk me down the aisle.
“Oh I’m only jokin’. Or half jokin’ anyway,” he said and strolled off to whisper something in another blokes ear that made all of the lads laugh conspiratorially in my direction.

I couldn’t decide whether it’d be more fun to have had the exchange naked in the ring or fully clothed in work gear, Akubras and inhibitions.

It didn’t matter though, it was all great fun.

Things that should never feature in family photos.

The obligatory family photos are rarely a smile and say cheese affair in my family. If my Nanna isn’t demanding the entire family yell out SEX so loud that the dogs three streets away start howling then my father is pinching my mother’s butt with the sort of enthusiasm that would put a teenager to shame. It’s a sideshow.

And I love this slightly confronting quirkiness.

At my Nanna’s 90th on the weekend my mother threw a few cups of metho on our excitable natures and this picture was spawned. “Be silly,” she yelled as if we were not already crazier than a colony of bats at sunset.

Things got out of hand very quickly. My father seemed to forget his three adult children were around and made a lunge for my mother’s breast. One brother ruffled my hair while the other dodged a nipple cripple I directed at his chest. My mother was still squirming away from my father when I donned my cape and rescued her with a swift tweak of my father’s nipple. All highly inappropriate, really. Nipple cripples are for cute boys, definitely not fathers!

But a weekend of crazy relatives has revived my independent soul.

My brothers tripped me over, bought me beers, blamed me for their hangovers and refused to give me piggybacks. My cousins put me firmly in my place. “You’re not 65kg anymore,” one slandered me in a very sporting way. My eccentric Aunty Wendy chopped onions with swimming goggles on. Uncle Dave demanded that I make him coffee. Aunty Gaye told us all about her pineapple-tart dramas. My father claimed there was no way he was driving home when Uncle Rami’s wine cellar was open. Uncle Rami took the clan out on Sydney harbour in his boat. I conned my young cousin into wetting her precious curls in the freezing swimming pool. All the babies howled and laughed in their simple, easy manner. My mother, of course, told me I needed to be less flirtatious with boys. And Nanna, she just wanted to hear more about the swag hopping.

At dinner I was able to order two entrees for myself and then steal a little off the other eight main meals on the table. I know no better way to get the most out of a Turkish restaurant.

It was a perfect weekend and a startling reminder of how comfortable families are. I liken a few days in Sydney to slipping into trackies and uggs after a night out in tight jeans and heels.

The get-together was particularly important for me as I have been spending so much time alone, making my way through the contents of my wine cellar at whatever pace I choose.

I’m not brilliant at keeping in touch with my family. I regularly forget my brother’s birthday, although admittedly it falls directly after Christmas when I am usually broke and trying to sleep off a serious case of roast chicken bloat. One year I called him about an unrelated matter on his big day and when he pointed out my faux pas I was so surprised that I just told him that I’d given my present to Mum, who was visiting at the time.

They searched high and low for the non-existent present, which provided endless laughter for me, but was not much of a treat for my brother. Here is the beauty of family – he can’t do anything about it except laugh it off, otherwise he won’t get a present next year either. It’s a highly satisfying scenario.

My father and I regularly chastise each other about forgetting to return emails while my grandfather is looked over on most special occasions. But Granpa does get a phone call every time he remembers my birthday. Last time I called he referred to my stature as short and thickset, so it’s little wonder his phone number is not ingrained in my memory.

Should I be making more of an effort with the rellies?

Of course I should. That’d only be fair considering the support all of them would give me if I ever had a problem with my plumbing or my car or needed help to figure out why my zucchini plants have white spots on the leaves.

Then again, the distance can make things less intense. It’s a nice treat to be teased by a familiar face that you haven’t seen in 18 months.

At the end of the day none of the chatter matters, they’re stuck with me.

Single, not slutty in a small town.

The early morning sunlight beamed down on me as I dragged my doona through the red dust back to my ute. My filthy sneakers were in one hand and a pink pillow was tucked under my arm. A large grin was pasted on my face.

That’ll set the chins wagging, I thought, thoroughly satisfied with the night’s shenanigans.

Setting the small-town gossip vine on fire can be more satisfying than the result of an entire week off carbs. The trick is to do it on your terms. Own it.

I didn’t always think like that.

When I first arrived in Charleville, outback Queensland, I was a shell of my dancing-on-tables self. I had traded the liberal backpacking community for a town where people would gossip about a half-sucked mango. As the new journo in town my party style was seriously overshadowed by a sickening desperation to make a good impression, and some mates.

People stopped me in the cold section of the supermarket to ask if I was single. It was a dirty word. I reckon they thought I was a man-eater. One bloke even stopped me outside the cow-food store to find out whether I was gay. The attention was flattering, but I couldn’t shake the outsider feeling. People seemed suspicious.

A few Friday’s passed with quiet beverages, relaxing but ultimately dull aromatherapy baths and pillow snuggles.

I loved the town, the friendly postie who waved at me as he zipped down the street and the quiet gum trees on my morning jog. But it was stifling. The skinny-dipper, who was discreetly tucked away inside of me, was itching for some time in the moonlight.

The ultimate outback party, the Birdsville races, tapped my party spirit on the shoulder, making promises of 7000 people raging in a town that normally houses just a hundred citizens.

My flirty side, fed-up with the chaste lifestyle urged me to purchase a bottle of Jägermeister instead of a bottle of Bombay for the five-day festival.

It was time.

On the way to the races I was waylaid in Windorah, a small desert town that hosts a mean shindig, and I lost my swag. It’s an easy mistake to make when you’ve drunk all of the Pure Blonde in the bar and you’re not quite sure where the car was parked.

The adventure-starved voice told me it’d be fine to bunker down with the boys in a nearby camp who, ever so kindly, offered to share one of their swags with me. It was an innocent swag share, but the truth was never going to get in the way of the ribbing I was given by the boys I was tripping out with. Please note returning to camp at 5am is not a good way to keep a low profile.

That juicy piece of news made its way to my small town before I even arrived in Birdsville later that day.

But, strangely I no longer cared. I was thrilled to finally be having some fun. It felt right, honest, to be caught in a bind and have a laugh about it.

Other gossipy tidbits from my adventures during the Birdsville bash beat me home. I lapped it up and slipped in a few pearlers they may not have heard, hoping to fan the flames with a few slices of truth.

If the locals were going to discuss my bedfellows, and that’s almost a given in a small town, I’d hate for them to leave out the juicier details.

People have warmed to the new approach, I think. As I stumbled across the paddock on Sunday morning I could feel eyes boring into me. I dumped my doona and went straight across to have a yarn with the girls I’d met the night before.

“Where did you sleep,” one of them slyly asked me.

“Oh, it was a bit cold last night so I asked some guy if I could share his mattress with him,” I told her with a smile, feeling as cheeky as the clever partygoer who remembered to pack Gatorade for the morning after.

“Did you really,” her mouth popped open, shocked at either my honesty or audacity for bunking with a stranger.

“He was a bit handsy at first, but I told him off and it was fine,” I divulged, loving the attention. “Where did you sleep,” I asked her.

She’d shared a swag with a nice gentleman, also an innocent bed-sharing activity, so we sat on the tailgate and gossiped about that.

Finally, it was all out in the open.

To flash or not to flash, that is the question.

I was minding my own business in the ladies room of the Birdsville pub when Helen rushed in, demanding I lift my shirt with her for the grinning fools at the bar. The exhibitionist inside me screamed for attention. “Get rid of that ugly shirt,’ the voice yelled at me. ‘You look terrible in blue.’

I pondered the possibilities, briefly. The happy faces that would greet me. The knowing smiles. The possibilities of free beer. At $6.50 a can that would almost be worth it, the miser in me thought.

The popularity of a flasher is undeniable. The drunken lads would remember my breasts, surely. And I could make some new friends.

Helen’s face grinned wildly at me, her face flushed with flashing-fuelled adrenalin.

She seemed to be having so much fun. More fun than I was bloody-well having with my shirt, singlet, jacket and chastity belt on.

‘Let me out, let me out,’ my breasts screamed, knowing there was a party outside that would rival the shearers coming to town after a dry season.

I could feel my shirt starting to bust open. The excitement in that dimly lit bathroom was almost too much to handle.

Then suddenly, I collected myself, heaved my camera over my shoulder and realised I was at work. I was a small-town journalist with a (good) reputation to build. Also, I was no longer an insecure 16-year-old that thought the only way to be noticed was to show your rack to the eligible and, let’s face it, less-than-eligible men partying away in the paddock.

Oh yes, that horrible, fun-killing voice of reason does exist in my head. That should please my mother.

But at what cost, I wondered as Helen began handing out ‘Helens melons’ bumper stickers and t-shirts. Yes, she missed the apostrophe, but no one cared and, yes, it is ironic that a flasher was handing out t-shirts. But the fun that lady was having was off any scale I could design with my magic markers.

I firmly believe there are benefits to losing the shirt and I respect Helen for owning the flasher title for one of the wildest weekends I have seen in a few springs. I reckon a quick shirt-lift removes the pressure of thinking up witty banter in conversations with strangers. You can become a sensation regardless of the size of your breasts. Also, you will make the lads smile, and that is as nice as bringing a cup of tea to someone’s swag when they are hungover.

But what does it say about dignity and sharing. What are those selfish fellers giving back? And I’m really not encouraging the guys to get their weapons out at the bar, that’s not classy at all. It’d just be nice if some of the cute farmers had decided to do away with their shirts. In a down-to-earth, innocent way, of course.

The other issue is about impressions. A lady who dispenses with her top as quickly as she can down a can of XXXX is perhaps less likely to find a lad who will take her seriously. Or maybe that is just my experience.

I reckon that a sense of mystique can also create an impression. Then again, no one wants a bumper sticker that says ‘Smiley Penny’.

Despite the banter, at Birdsville, I decided not to flash the crowd.

After all, there’s probably only room for one flasher at a time in the desert. And I’d hate to compete with Helens melons. They were enormous!

The taming of the Birdsville Cup.

DISCLAIMER: This is an actual news story for the Warrego Watchman, Charleville. Personal antics and photos to follow.

IT’S NOT the race meet it used to be, many old-timers said. It still has the pulling power of a road train and a reputation for wild parties where beer cans spill onto the street and naked men climb the chimney of the pub. But the 7000 or more people that flocked to the small inland town to watch Roma-trained Dancefloor Prodigy take the cup barely put a toe out of line last weekend. Security guards, Irish bartenders, grey nomads and race-organisers waxed lyrical about the grace and patience of the crowd.

The lack of troublemakers is remarkable considering 30 tonnes of grog were lugged across the desert for the event. Former Diamantina mayor and owner of the Bedourie roadhouse Robbie Dare said the tough cops and the light beer on offer at the races had restricted the party antics. “They used to be wild. There used to more fights here than in Fred Brophy’s tent,” he said. But he’s not complaining, it’s still a ripper weekend.

For the president of the race club David Brook, the meet has never been about wild shenanigans. “If that’s the tag it’s got I don’t know where it came from,” he said. He explained people needed to be respectful because they’ve lobbed on a town that’s usually home to about 150 people.

David reckons the race crowd was one of the biggest he’d ever seen in almost 40 years at the club. The weather was kind, too, with a clear breezy weekend.

The good-natured tomfoolery began on Thursday with hobby horse races outside the pub. A wheelie-bin race and fashions of the field contest got the crowd roaring early on before Toowoomba muso Mick Lindsay took to the stage.

As the XXXX cans were swept from the pub floor on Friday morning the races hotted up. Terraplex, trained by Bevan Johnson and ridden by Tim Brummell took out the first race of the day, the 1000m maiden plate, with Charleville trainer Brendan Richardson taking a close second with Clear Decision. In the second race, the 1000m class B handicap, Yannicki lost its rider and Kashnite, trained by Kym Healy came home first. Rapid Leica Jacko, trained by George Tipping, Jam Tin, trained by Kylie Geran, Well Satisfied, trained by Barcaldine local Todd Austin and Kym Healy’s Cruziero also had wins. Fred Brophy’s boxing tent captivated the crowd on Friday night. His booming voice touted the punching skills of the Barramundi Kid and the Son of Mauler. “Give him a rally,” Fred shouted to the crowd as the visitors flocked to fight the professionals. A few blokes were seen rubbing their jaws on Saturday at the racecourse.

About 5500 people watched Gary Geran ride Dancefloor Prodigy to a win in the 130th 1600m open handicap Birdsville Cup. Jockey Gary Geran, who rode Just the Touch to a win last year at the meet, said he had to fight hard to get the cup. “It’s not an easy race to win.”

Roma-based trainer Craig Smith said it had taken him eight years to pull off the win. Todd Austin’s Greys A Rockin, ridden by Shane Egan was half a length behind and Lotto Blues, trained by Kym Healy and ridden by Tara O’Donnell was third.

Earlier in the day Bevan Johnson’s Baroque Star took home the 1200m maiden plate, Jay Morris’s Outstandingly won the weight for age 1200m, General Calm, trained by Ken Foord won the class four 1000m handicap while in the class two 1200m handicap Todd Austin’s Samski got over the line by a nose hair. Charleville’s Ron Sullivan’s Edwardscissorshands took fourth. Todd Austin’s Streetson won the class six plate and Charlie Prow’s Silverado took out the John Flynn outback dash class one 800m handicap.

Ron Sullivan had two races in Betoota the weekend before and two horses in the Birdsville pool. He said the competition is similar to most of the southwest races with the same pool of trainers. It was his third year at Birdsville and he said it wouldn’t be the last. “There’s nothing like the Birdsville races. The next comparison is the Melbourne Cup.”

Back in town, Frontier Services patrol minister John Case from Charleville was helping to man the pancake parlour at the old Birdsville hospital.

The veteran race-goer said he believed the weekend was not as wild as it used to be. “It’s become mainstream and the people who are coming have changed,” he said of the older demographic that filled the town. He said the last few years have been quiet for the police, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost character. The people were still much friendlier than they would have been in a city setting, he said. On Friday morning they dished up more than 4000 sausages at the launch of the company’s great outback BBQ fundraiser. He said he hoped to raise about $15000 for the charity this year.

The Birdsville crowd were more than happy part with cash. A carton of beer began at about $60 and the charity auctions were out of control at times. David Smith from Wyong spent $400 on a stuffed emu on Thursday to commemorate hitting an emu on the trip out. Then he forked out another $450 for a painting on Saturday night. Other stuffed animals roused the crowd. Gumnuts fetched $190, Dixe Normous raised $210 and Fast Beater was sold for $100. Auctioneer Don Cullen from Jamestown in South Australia said the crowd should have paid more for the novelty items. He said he doesn’t feel guilty about conning people to part with their coin at the event even though they’re likely to throw it out in ten years. It’s all donated to the Birdsville clinic, after all.

The once-a-lifetime factor opens wallets. The Charleville bookmakers, David ‘Crocket’ Power, Red Alexander and Lindsay Newbie were impressed with the size of the bets coming in. “I’ve never seen so many cash bets in 35 years at the Birdsville races,” Red Alexander said.

The southwest sent a significant consignment to the races. Charleville lad Paddy Baker was at his sixth races. “You can do what you like here,” he said. Mate Lincoln Brennan was there for the women, he said. Although he had probably gone to the wrong place as rough estimates took the crown to be about 75% male.

Deb Lindsay from Charleville, dressed as a pirate’s wench, said she was in Birdsville to play up and run amuck. Her mate Katherine Castles from Quilpie, also dressed up in ‘pirates of the desert’ garb, said she was at the races to go terrorising.

In the sideshow department Helen from Jundah bought a swag full of Helens melons t-shirts and bumper stickers and lifted her shirt at every possible opportunity. British backpacker Emma Park didn’t mind being chucked in a dirty garbage bin in the wheelie-bin races and swagging by the creek. “We love it. It’s so different to what we’re used to in the city,” she said. On Sunday Irish barmaid Laura Ryan kicked off her ninth day on the grog. She served a lot of drinks over the weekend too, but praised the crowd’s attitude even though a fair few men gave her some stick about her accent.

Federal member for Maranoa Bruce Scott said the weekend was a unique part of the Australian culture. “I recharge my soul out here.” He said he was proud to see the Roma and Barcaldine trainers take first and second in the cup. But he wasn’t planning to cut loose with the rest of the punters.

The airport was hot property, as usual with 137 planes, seven roulettes and three choppers using the strip next to the pub. Airport manager Rodney Cecchini from Wagga Wagga said there was a takeoff or landing every three minutes between Thursday lunchtime and Saturday 6pm. But there were no incidents to report on the airfield.

In the pub there was one fight between two local ladies on Sunday night, but the crowd kept their clothes on and noses in line, mostly. Racing action out west continues this week with Morven expecting to pull a record crowd and Bedourie races keeping punters on their toes.

Ok, I’ll tell you about the yabbie races.

Hello dear readers,

Sorry for the mix-up with postie the yabbie story twice with no text. I was on an adventure where technology worked as well as a shearer with a bad elbow.

This was written a few days ago about the yabbie racing shenanigans in Windorah, Qld. The riot that was Birdsville will follow when the bags under my eyes have firmed up again.

I hope you are all well.

Penny

The party chopper en-route to Birdsville stopped in Windorah last night for the yabbie races. I adopted a gonzo journo style and joined in the shenanigans, depleting the bar of its low-carb beer stash and garnering an understanding of the fuzzy edges most of the party were experiencing.
I believe slight inebriation can liven up journalism on select occasions. A quick scan of my battered notebook this morning has revealed a few pearlers.
Some nice bloke has written me a poem: ‘there once was a lass from Kyogle, whose breasts some old men did ogle. She first took our shots, then our story she jots. But their intentions were far from noble.’ Classic.
I’ve written a few pars on the yabbie races where crayfish are auctioned off at absurd prices to the legless city folk. The creatures have to walk towards the green line and the first over wins. Most of my coverage focuses on a group of lads from Victoria who bought a yabbie named Pooh Bawl and won about a grand of its deft legs. They bought him for $550.
A bloke called Piglet merited a mention for his swing dance moves on the grass, but his attempts to woo me were less than fruitful when he refused to be called anything but Piglet and, sadly, I draw the line at farm animals.
The most exciting part of my night didn’t get a mention in the ripped notepad. In a moment of Birdsville-inspired abandon I chucked five bucks in a hat to buy a yabbie called Gee Bunger or something similar and ended up with a 50 tucked down my shirt this morning.
Most importantly the notebook is chockers with mens’ phone numbers.