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The Little Barbeque Who Could

We first saw it a year ago.

It stands on the edge of a park.

We’d been to a café (I was going to write “local café” but as Jack Nicholson’s character scowls in A Few Good Men, “Is there any other kind?”) and drifted through an op shop where Claire bought me a retro print.

Williamstown is set on the Barossa’s southern fringe among low, rolling hills and in spring is green and awakening. There’s creeks and dairy cows and vineyards too.

Despite these natural advantages and a handsome townscape it features the world’s most forlorn barbeque. Williamstown’s park comprises mighty gums, a tempting playground and a modern gazebo with splendid potential sites in the shade, or on the soft grass for a meat cooking machine.

No, our little barbeque finds itself cruelly exiled on a grimy concrete slab by a road and a carpark and some garbage bins. There’s no shade to protect against the summer sun and the brutal concrete and black road amplify the heat. It’s surely victim to a town-planner’s hoax, signed-off by an anti-snagger, or a medium-rare Scrooge.

It sits there in silence, a shrunken parody of the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It could lend portent to a (deleted) scene in which man (sic), guided mysteriously, marks a key evolutionary moment for our ridiculous, slight species, and happens upon pine-nut and spinach chicken sausages.

So, after discussing this peculiar barbeque over the past year Claire and I decided to visit it last Sunday. I don’t think we were disaster tourists on a bus to Chernobyl, but were certainly motivated by a need to understand this oddity, forsaken in its bewildering mise-en-scène.

Planning a late breakfast we arrived at noon and the barbeque was available. With its winding, narrow roads Williamstown is a Harley riders’ destination and across our vista hordes of these bikes postured and crackled as the weekday lawyers kneaded their needy egos.

Ignition complete and hotplate warming I put down some bacon and bread and eggs while Claire poured thermos coffee.

There was laughter and roaring from behind the public conveniences. I was curious. Distinctly masculine, the bellowing was in concert and suggested a raucous performance. Claire investigated. “I couldn’t see in but it’s coming from the back of the pub.”

A couple of matching polo shirted lads crept through the carpark and sabotaged a tired-looking 4WD. They’d come from the pub. “Ahh, footy trip,” we concluded as the lads eased the wipers off the glass of their mate’s rusty wagon before continuing their mischief inside the cabin. I hoped the owner wasn’t a meek viticulturist who’d kitted up in a handful of B-grade games, and that by sundown he wasn’t guts-up in an amateur remake of Wake in Fright.

I flipped the eggs.

With the Barossa’s footy season over for most sides it might’ve been some Tanunda types or the local team. Within an hour or so, out the back of the pub a timid back-flanker would be dacked, or find something disturbing in his beer, or both.

I sipped my coffee.

A family and their dog walked past to the playground. A boy followed on his tricycle, entirely unlike Danny in The Shining. I checked my watch. The Crows match against Carlton started in a few minutes. I liked our chances.

This curious, heartlessly contextualised little public barbeque; pushed out by its own park; banished by the ancient, sullen gum trees; forever crouching; haunted but defiant by the road and carpark and garbage bins, had cooked our breakfast impeccably.

In the Sunday sun we sat and munched our bacon and egg sandwiches.

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Holiday!

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There is no question.

This is the best photo I’ve ever taken. Nothing in Iceland. Forget the Grand Canyon. Rule out Iron Knob.

Every compositional element is within. Summer in that magical time between Christmas and New Year. Holiday park. Our boys. Big screen Test cricket. If you move the camera slightly to the right. There, that’s it. Yes, that’s a cup of crisp pale ale. Perfect.

We’ve been on a short getaway. A holiday. A self-contained location with all the amenities. It’s brilliant, and after three separate visits in 2017 it’s a favourite. We’re getting to really know the terrain.

When I was a young, numpty/teenaged type, with all the attendant boof-headedness this implies I found considerable mirth in someone I know once knocking on the door of a school-mate, saying, “Is Billy home?” His mum gave a sincere, nodding reply, announcing, “No. He’s gone on holiday, to Greenock.”

From this, the closed ancestral home of Kapunda to Greenock was a steady ten minutes in the family Valiant. Roar! How we laughed! How could this be a holiday? I’d ridden my (sister’s) bike there and back!

But, tonight, to you, with sincerity and delayed wisdom I confess that we’ve spent our Yuletide break about eight kilometres down the road. Not nearly as far as Greenock.

Why? Because it’s terrific, we can slip home and feed the dogs, and pick up some essentials like eggs, a torch and some extra-cold Sparkling Ale.

I also reckon it’s because I now know that a holiday is not about the distance travelled, but locating a fitting headset, and finding a place that works.

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Here’s the other key attraction. Our boys, Alex and Max stay there in the compact camper-trailer with one of us, while the other, eases into the car, and DRIVES HOME TO AN EMPTY HOUSE (APART FROM THE DOGS) FOR THE EVENING.

For those of you who’ve forgotten, this means the non-holiday park parent gets, in the morning, with its luxurious new light, to wake up without provocation, and avoid the existential horror of being WOKEN UP.

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Developing a functioning relationship with a holiday park includes locating a barbeque who’ll love you back. One who’ll respect you, and also not give you any nonsense.

This one is gentle on a sausage, appropriately robust with a chicken patty, and massages a steak like it should. It’s also by a creek and some friendly trees. I like it.

But this bugger, yeah, this one here-

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It looks sleek and cooperative, but it’s benign appearance is deceptive. It doesn’t cook, which, if my dictionary serves, is the job of a barbeque. It’s Yorkshire on Boxing Day. I may give it a kicking.

You may as well line up six of the park’s dopey yet kindly ducks, point their arses at your chops, and light their farts.

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A modern holiday park offers entertainment for the kiddies and this one has a huge games room, complete with multiple distractions, including Space Invaders and its crazy derivatives, and shoot ’em up adventures. In a symbol that captures the regard with which we hold this fantastic space there’s also a Skill Tester/ Grabber.

And for the first two days it was free!

This morning after a tremendous sleep-in Max stumbled out of our tent, nodded vaguely at me, and marched straight to the games room, such is the hypnotic power of the Grabber. I yelled “Fried fritz?” at him but he shuffled onward.

When a boy refuses fried fritz, we all know life is a-changin’. I’m not sure of how many chocolates our boys extracted from this contraption, but it was, as my old boss would say, a goodly number.

Since we visited in March a beer garden has been added. How can this space get any better, I hear you ask? Next to the pool, there’s a giant TV screen, grassed (fake) expanse, assorted beanbags, under-cover booths and agreeable bar and kitchen.

Yes, it is one of our tiny world’s best spaces. If I were a ghost you wouldn’t see me here, on a chair.

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I’m happy to say the Marion Holiday Park is great value and provides a wonderful, surprising escape.

Find it here-

https://marionhp.com.au/