Boozy Bathurst boganism ain’t what it used to be
The Hill is dead. Gone is Burnout Boulevard. Gone are the smoking car husks. Gone are the flaming toilet rolls. In their place? Coffee carts, dodgem cars and young families.
The Hill, for non-members of the V8 sub-culture, is the imaginative name for the top of Mount Panorama, home of the annual Bathurst 1000 race.
For years the Hill was an almost mythical place; a lawless oasis where men were free to be men, if your definition of being a man includes drinking to the point of vomiting, yelling “show us ya tits” a lot and burning stuff.
Admittedly, that kind of thing goes on at your average Mad Monday celebration too, but the denizens of the Hill were über-bogans: the bogans that other bogans looked up to. (And please note, I do not use the word “bogan” in a pejorative sense but as a way of describing a certain kind of V8-loving, suburban super-Aussie.)
Hill-dwellers exhibited an heroic commitment to boganism. They farkin’ loved their cars, farkin’ loved sinking piss, and farkin’ loved not changing their underwear for four days. Unfortunately, some of them also farkin’ loved blowing up toilets and chopping down power poles and that, kids, is how you ruin a good thing.
At the behest of event organisers, the NSW Police launched a massive crackdown on booze, drugs and “anti-social” behaviour in 2007, “restricting” beer to one carton per person per day and setting loose roving packs of police. The crackdown worked, if by “worked” you mean they arrested and cautioned way more people than usual – about 150 instead of the usual couple of dozen.
I had my own run-in with Bathurst’s over-eager men and women in blue that year. My friends and I had gone to a Bathurst pub to watch the Wallabies take on England in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup. It was not going well for the Australians, so at regular intervals I would let loose an expletive of frustration.
Towards the end of the game, and after another four-letter outburst, I received a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a wall of blue uniforms behind me. The chap at the end of the finger looked me squarely in the eye and said, “Settle down.”
Unsurprisingly, after a day of drinking and in a heightened state of pique, this failed to quell my passion. I tried to make him understand that I wasn’t doing anything wrong but if you send out squads of police looking for trouble, chances are they’ll find it. Thankfully, my mates dragged me away before I started using words like “fascism”.
Anyway, the crackdown worked: five years later, the Hill is no more. And that is a sad thing. Yes, technically some laws were being broken and damage was done, but they weren’t harming anyone other than themselves and the odd Datsun 120Y. In fact, the Hill was notable for its lack of violence.
There was a spirit of community and mateship, of like-minded people coming together and inhaling toxic chemicals. And correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the right to get smashed and hurl a flaming toilet roll at your mate what the Anzacs died for?
There is a degree of inevitability about this. Few of those great male rituals that form the backbone of Australian masculinity – the Boxing Day Test, the Big Day Out – remain the debauched free-for-alls they once were, and that is not an altogether bad thing.
There should be limits to behaviour; it’s how societies function (although how the hell a beer snake threatens the Australian way of life I’ll never know).
But the real reason for the great Bathurst purge is predictably far less noble than issues of societal cohesion. The V8 Supercars series is an increasingly valuable competition, generating $100m-plus annual revenues, and the Bathurst 1000 is the jewel in its petrochemical-burning crown.
Turning a blind eye to a couple of thousand beer-drenched idiots was easy enough in the rough-and-tumble era of Dick Johnson and Peter Brock, but the sponsored-up-the-wazoo 2012 series is a different beast altogether – polite and sanitised, just like the drivers themselves.
I’ve been going to the Bathurst 1000 almost annually since 2002. I have no interest in the vehicular shenanigans – I go to see my friends, drink beer at times of the day when a coffee would be more appropriate, and sit in camping chairs for hours on end.
Those carcinogen-breathing nutcases on the Hill were most certainly not my kind of people, anymore than I would have been theirs. But Bathurst without the Hill feels like a lesser, blander thing. Like Steve Waugh without the streak of bastardry or Mad Max without the hacksaw scene.
This year’s race, the 50th, plumbed new depths of corporatised insipidness, with more merchandise tents per square metre than ever before and a team of radio announcers blathering endlessly about how “crazy” and “fantastic” everything was. Children ran free and fans queued patiently for overpriced mid-strength beer.
I’m also pretty sure I saw someone with a fruit smoothie. I may not go back next year.
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