Sunning and swimming, lawn bowls and barbecues, singing and dancing, eating and drinking and occasional falling … and all while wearing an 80s mullet wig and swinging a toy tennis racquet. If I told you that all this could be found at the beginning of the build up in the town of Batchelor (population 507*, winner of Australia’s Tidy Town 2000 award), you’d probably think I was mad. And you’d probably be right because I’m still recovering from the three days of debauchery I subjected myself and a number of my associates to last month in the aforementioned town.
It was Laverne’s 30th birthday and to celebrate we had eight visitors up from Melbourne and another fifteen or so Darwinites looking for something a bit more interesting and memorable than a Mitchell Street pub crawl. So we decided to kick things off with a three day reservation at the most memorable accommodation in Batchelor. The Batchelor Butterfly Farm and Petting Zoo has been run by a colourful local character named Chris since the mid 90s and is home to a butterfly aviary, some very small piglets and approximately seven thousand rabbits. His farm has grown slowly and organically over the decades with little additions and improvements here and there, and the interior decor (courtesy of the backpackers who work there) gets brighter and more unhinged with every visit. There’s a certain chaotic looseness about the operation of the Butterfly Farm that just enhances its charm.
We arrived at dinner on the first night to find one table set and occupied entirely by overly large stuffed animals. When informed that the only vegetarian option was unavailable, Chris said no worries, I’ll make you a stir fry. He then turned and shouted to an unseen person out the back, “PHIL CAN YOU PLEASE GRAB WHATEVER THERE IS LEFT IN THE VEGGIE PATCH AND POP THE STOVE ON?” Every meal came with half a mango, including my steak, which while lovingly prepared had a texture and flavour more consistent with buffalo than beef. We spent the day before the party lounging at Buley Rock hole, soaking up the sun and congratulating ourselves on being so at ease with leisure. Scenically Florence Falls is spectacular, but it’s a long walk from the car when laden with pool noodles, eskies, small children and sunscreen, and the water for the most part is deep. Buley’s multiple levels allow for a lot more wallowing, paddling and relaxing beer consumption. The day of the actual party we had serious plans in place.
We had been instructed to present ourselves at 10am sharp, in full 1988 regalia, at the Outdoor Ed Centre for team-building activities run by the endlessly cheery coordinator Anne Goodman. Soon after Neighbours alumni Charlene and Mrs Mangel, Andre Agassi, Roger Rabbit and company found themselves lining up with walkie talkies, PVC pipes and golf balls along the far edge of the compound while learning how to request refreshments using the phonetic alphabet. (For the record, bravo echo echo romeo.)
Ice broken and prizes won, we gathered under the awnings for a barbecue while planning our next move. The esky was restocked, and the team headed for Rum Jungle lawn bowls club, the oldest green in the Northern Territory. Here a fellow named Shirley kitted us out with bowls, a general overview of the rules and left us to it. With a covered area, a clubhouse and a swimming pool right next door, there’s hardly a better way to pass an afternoon. As the sun went down and the evening air cooled, we packed ourselves up and made for Rum Jungle Tavern. Now, despite the fact that my expectations might have been somewhat lowered by my buffalo steak, I maintain that that was one of the most satisfying chicken kievs I’ve ever had. The second I pierced the flesh, the garlic butter flowed from within, soaking the mash with herby, garlicky goodness.
Things were getting pretty loose by this point. Charlene’s wedding dress was now being worn by one of the guys, who in the middle of dinner was proposed to by Rain Man. Charlene was so thrilled she jumped into Rain Man’s embrace, upon which the pair of them stacked it over a railing and ended up in a tangled heap on the floor. Many more drinks and a shouty rendition of Khe Sanh later, it was definitely time to go. There may or may not have been a nudie run through the centre of town on the way back, and by the end of the weekend we’d gone through four litres of vodka, a case of wine and an estimated forty thousand beers. Our wigs resembled mangy, flea-bitten hamsters, and we never saw that tennis racquet again.