Saturday, July 15, 2006

Camel Cup Report

The Lions Club, the working girls of Minnie Made (this link isn't for kids or work for that matter) and camels. What do these three things have in common? All three have played a major role in one of Alice Springs' biggest controversies in one of their annual biggest events, the Imparja Camel Cup.

Becca and I hadn't realized there was so much controversy surrounding our choice of things to do on a Saturday afternoon. After we'd read about the fact that there was local Camel races, we elected to jerryrig our schedule a bit so we could hang around for the event itself. So what was the controversy that had everyone in such a stir?

There were veiled references to "pressure being applied", "a few narrow minded people", and "controversy emerge as well as a new major sponsor and committee" in the Presidents' Messages but the Phlegmington Cup message really says it all. It's a bit long and there will be a brief recap after it but it's well worth the read:

The citizens of Alice Springs are exhorted to fight like lions for the honour of the Camel Cup - and some working girls.

By god, I hope those lion-hearted Lions poohbahs in Alice Springs stick to their guns during this whole Camel Cup rumpy-pumpy brouhaha. It was bad enough when the last American ambassador felt his status as overlord of Dubya's most loyal satrapy entitled him to interfere with the doin's and goings-on of the ALP (Australia Labor Party). Now every toothless gimp from across the Pacific feels entitled to play sheriff every time they get a sniff of some't they don't rightly hold with a-happenin' and a-transpirin' down on the big ponderosa at the bottom of the globe. Somebody should tell these know-nuthin' know it alls that just because they can play banjo with their toes and surge half-a-dozen carrier battle groups into Sylvania Waters on 30 minutes notice, that doesn't give them the right to go fiddling with our Lions, our camels or our licensed knocking shops.

Because, somehow, some of them awoke recently labouring under just that delusion.

Every year the Lions Club of Alice Springs runs the Camel Cup, a charity event attracting thousands of punters, one Afghan ambassador and dozens of grumpy, foul-smelling dromedaries. The punters drink heavily, the ambassador grins maniacally and the camels hawk glistening wads of green phlegm on all comers without fear or favour.

Later in the day, some of them run off in all directions while being whipped by untrained idiots covered in beer and camel snot. This is the Imparja Camel Cup and is considered to be a highlight of the red centre's tourist calendar. It raises a pile of money which goes to local charities.

For the last four years, one of the sponsors of the cup has been an escort agency with the perplexing handle of Minnie Made. (You've gotta wonder, given those poor literacy standards we're always hearing about, whether a lot of blokes, who are just looking for a house cleaner, end up with some unexpected lovin' into the bargain.) Until this year, the camels and the hookers had lived in a comfortable symbiosis, but the registration in protest of race announcer Chris Tangey has thrown a spanner into that happy arrangement.

Mr. Tangey apparently objected to a family event being associated with a takeaway bordello and his concerns, rejected by Lions Club organizers, found a sympathetic hearing in the US.

A wind-up mouthpiece by the name of Dane LaJoye from the Lions Club International HQ and Deathstar in Oak Brook, Illinois wrote to his upstart colonial outpost complaining that Minnie's sponsorship was an outrage.

"I have spoken with our legal department [and]... the use of the Lions logo in association with something that undermines the moral values of a given community is not in keeping with the high standards of Lions Club International," he puffed.

To their credit, the Alice Springs Lions reacted with some measured outrage of their own, with big cat Keith McEwen roaring that if murderers can go to church and put money in the plate, Minnie's can sponsor their bloody camel. He also pointed out that all the newspapers fulminating about this issue took advertising from escort agencies, which isn't actually true, yet, but I'll be having a word with the ad guys later this week, so here's hoping.

It's hard to know who to blame for all this but... Actually, no it's not.

It's all John Howard's (ed. Current Australia Prime Minister) fault.

Perhaps if the PM had not gone to such lengths to create the impression in the American mind that Australia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Texas Incorporated, we might not have come to this juncture.

The camels would be running free. Minnie Made would be flat out. And a legion of morbidly obese mid-westerners in tasselled loafers, checkered rayon pants, and ill-fitting body shirts would not be heading our way in a fleet of wood-walled station wagons. Bibles in hand and dudgeon hight, to tell us how to run our camel races.

To the Lions of Alice Springs I say hold fast and prepare to receive the brutish foe. Do it for the hard-working girls of the legitimate small business that is Minnie Made. Do it for Australia. And most of all, do it for those noble ships in the desert, who are the innocent camel-meat in the giant novelty sandwich in this transpacific crisis.

If you've hung around long enough to read the whole thing, you can see they take their camels seriously. To paraphrase the diatribe, the working girls of Alice Springs have always sponsored camels in the cup. The Lions Club HQ in the good old USofA got a hold of it, tried to put the kibosh on it and in true (Northern) Territory fashion, the Alice Springs folks told them to go bugger off.
With this as a backdrop, Becca and I got some bleacher seats and settled in for an unseasonably cold day at the races. Even the locals were wearing furry coats in an effort to keep out the cold. We instead chose to combat it with cans of Victoria Bitter in our flash new stubbie holders.
Things kicked off in earnest with the parading of the special guests around the course on camels. Including in this group was a "famous" actor, Olympian Dawn Fraser and the only person who looked remotely comfortable on the camel, the Afghan ambassador to Australia. Oh and the race mascots, who defy description. The PA team pitched in with their banter; our favorite being their suggestion on how to properly train for camel racing: "Jump into a washing machine".
That mental image firmly on our mind, the races began. The first four races were qualifiers for the big one: the Imparja Camel Cup. Here's a recap of the races:
Race 1:
-The first rider of the cup was bucked 10 meters into the race.
-The top two at the halfway mark suffered interesting fates: the leader got tossed pretty severely (though was able to walk away ok after some extended time down on the track) while her camel "won" going away. The second place person ended up winning the race despite his camel doing a 360 on the homestretch.
-Being absolutely amazed at the sitting start executed by the camels. For as surly as they were on the track getting them to sit was seemingly no problem.
-Bring even more amazed at the chaos that ensues when the pistol goes off and the camels surge up from their sitting start
Race 2:
-Three camels refuse to go anywhere at the start with one even taking the extra step of bucking off its rider and going after the other two rogue camels. Having seen this up close (I was taking pics of the start) I can safely say you'll never see me racing a camel. Ever.
-One guy ran beside his camel the whole race, finishing a good few minutes behind everyone else. For perspective the winners of the races were covering 400m in about 40 seconds. Nice use of race rule 19b though.
-The rickshaw races between camel races were won by four guys in leisure suits. Also the first of many kids' hobby camel races (think wooden horses but with camels).
-Spent the time between races (motto: 40 minutes of waiting for 40 seconds of racing!) checking out the myriad of food options: steak sandwich, sausage sandwich and meat pies. I think one place offered strawberries?! as an alternative.
Race 3:
-Mmm... steak, onion and potato sandwiches...
-The top two simply ran away from everyone else causing our neighbors to astutely point out "There sure does seem to be a wide range of abilities".
-Our first sighting of a Minnie Made camel who to my disappointment finishes 4th. The chance of a Minnie Made camel winning the cup is looking slim.
-Yet another two riders were bucked. So far we've yet to see a clean race.
Race 4:
-Becca and I finally take cover from the increasingly worsening conditions by tucking ourselves behind a Victoria Bitter race sign at track side. This becomes our home for the rest of the day much to the jealousy of the suckers still getting chilled by the desert Alice Springs winds.
-The last qualifier for the Camel Cup goes off without a hitch. Everyone stays on their camels and play nice long enough for everyone to have a clean race.
-Minnie Made's camel evidently came back for more, complete with a new rider. Won the race going away; oh how I'd love to see them have to present the trophy to the ladies...
-In addition to the countless BBQ's and beer stands, men dressed as Vikings, women belly dancing and beer can hats being sold were observed between races on the concourse. Kind of like the Kentucky Derby but different.
Race 5:
-The big one, the Imparja Camel Cup. There was evidently a Miss Camel Cup Challenge going on before this but since our loudspeaker conked out before the first race we chose to instead keep sheltering behind our beer sign.
-An overheard exchange:
Well-dressed Aussie women who've obviously just showed up: "Is this the Camel Cup? Where are all the camels?"
Local standing next to us: "They'll run past us during the race"
WDAW: "But wherre are they now? We came here to see camels"
LSNTU: "Here, there and everywhere"
Confused looks ensue, they scamper off and everyone around gets a good smirk out of it. Maybe they flew up from Sydney for the day.
-Ok, the race itself. Again another clean race (a little less surprising this time given the general quality of the racers). The leader for 80% of it started to slip off her camel on the home stretch, costing her the race. Mucho credit is still to be given though as she held her grip just long enough to cross the line second, then dropped off the side of the camel she'd be "riding" on for the last 100 meters.
-Sadly the Minnie Made camel finished far back in the pack.
With that it was time for us (and apparently 2/3 of the crowd) to leave. We had a flight to catch while the rest scampered home to see if they could find their space heaters. We were sad to leave; still on the docket were the Honeymoon Handicap (where Husband and Wife had to switch mounts mid race), the Prettiest Camel competition and four more races. Thankfully though the five races we saw gave us memories to last a lifetime.
If you're in Alice Springs anywhere around July 16th next year, make it a priority to stick around to see this event. It is truly an Australian cultural experience that gives you a much better understanding into the lives of those who live in the NT (Northern Territory). Who knows, maybe you'll be the lucky one to see the Minnie Made ladies collect the big prize.


Steven said...

This is so outrageously funny, I can just picture most of the action... And thanks for helping me bookmark Minnie Made... Must check that out whenever I get to Alice Springs... :-D

Anonymous said...

Reading this over lunch at my office, I had two coworkers stop to see why I was laughing so hard, I was crying. Mom

Anonymous said...

This is one of your funniest entries ever. I especially liked the newspaper article.

Anonymous said...

Oops - forgot to sign that last one - this is Cyrel.