Inga’s Travelogue: Yeah, Ballarat again…

I’ve treated myself to some more Ballarat adventures. I don’t know what it is about that bloody town, but there’s definitely a little (vodka-drenched) piece of my soul there.

The Ballarat Cup was the premise of this trip. Nikki and I cruised up there on Saturday, had a little poke around the Mill Markets, then checked ourselves in to Reid’s Guest House. I’d found Reid’s on the internet: “providing respectable low-cost accommodation since 1886.” Ceiling murals! Leadlight windows! Heritage listed! Wheeee!

It turned out to be a mildewed fire trap filled with meth addicts. In addition to being a backpacker hostel, it also serves as the local ‘emergency accommodation’ for at risk individuals. It’s a monolithic timber warren of stained carpet, creaky steps and desperation. It smells of fungus, crack-pipes and cheap air freshener.

And I loved it. I adored the fact that 100 years ago, tipsy tight-arsed revellers just like me were floating down the halls and stairwells after an evening at one of Ballarat’s fine drinking establishments. I loved the fact that my ancestors (and perhaps even an itty-bitty GOF) would have strolled past its lead lighted foyer doors.

Welcome, crackheads

Just like the Vatican, only better.

Ceiling murals

Our depressing, grey room on the third storey featured an inspiring view of a brick wall and 4 foot wide alleyway. Around 9pm on Sunday night, we heard voices down below. Nikki squeezed as much of her top half as she could manage through the window pane, then reported that “there’s like 50 people down there! It’s a tour group or something!” A few taps on our smart phones, and we found out the cellar at Reid’s is one stop on the Ballarat Ghost Tour circuit. It was disappointing that we didn’t realise sooner, so we could have put sheets over our heads and moaned eerily down at them. Although I’m sure the sudden appearance of Nikki’s bosom 25 feet overhead was equally thrilling.

We kicked off the weekend with a good ol’ fashioned pub crawl. We spent a considerable amount of time at our old favourite Bluestone 101, where we were the only patrons for a good hour and half. Three or four different venues later, we strutted into a cosy little place in a side street and ordered vodkas. After a couple of minutes, we noticed that everyone in the bar seemed to know everyone else. People were giving us sideways glances. There were banners and balloons festooning the walls proclaiming HAPPY 21ST BIRTHDAY DYLAN. Uh oh. We sidled up to the friendliest looking bar tender and learnt that we were, in fact, crashing somebody’s birthday function.  Luckily, ‘Dylan’ turned out to be ostentatiously homosexual, and more than thrilled to receive birthday wishes from random inebriated women. Even so, we drained our drinks and bolted the hell out of there.

An indefinite number of hours and vodkas later, we wove our way back to the room at Reid’s. Nikki started texting her boyfriend, so I took the opportunity to explore the labyrinth of halls. Most of the hallway doors are fitted with a little infra-red security lock – you wave your key over the sensor, then there’s a beep and a click and you can push the door open. I beep-clicked my way through a couple of dimly lit storeys, finding laundries and linen closets and row after row of locked doors. Eventually I pushed through a slightly ajar door thinking to find yet another storage area, and nearly fell on top of some poor bloke asleep in his bed. In my hazy state I convinced myself he would wake up in a heroin-fueled rage and start chasing me, so I piss-bolted back through the maze of corridors, frenziedly beep-clicking like I was in Mission Impossible. The creaking floorboards and doors screaming on their hinges as they slammed shut behind me added to the terrifying illusion that I was being pursued, until I exploded back into our room.  I turned off the lights, plunging a startled Nikki into darkness, before explaining in a stage whisper that a guy was coming to kill us. Nikki took the news remarkably well, and declared that we would go and find this man before he found us. We marched boldly back out into the hallway, and wandered back and forth until we heard voices coming from behind a locked emergency exit. We decided we’d stumbled across the resident ghosts, and promptly skittered back to our room, locked the door and braced it with a chair.

Argh, ghosts! Murderers!

Sadly, the evening’s adventures left us in no fit state for the races the following day. We threw on our racing outfits regardless and blearily teetered around town looking for the bus to the Turf Club. We managed a listless two hours at the race track before we realised we were about to keel over face first into the grass and choke on our own misery, so we accepted defeat and caught a taxi home.

But just so the day wasn’t a total waste, I made Nikki take some photos of the local architecture on her iPhone 4S:

Three levels of dancing and mega-hot security guards

Bluestone 101

Mmm, meat.

Ballarat Steakhouse

Child me, dammit.

A while ago I blogged about joining Big Brothers Big Sisters. It’s been a fairly laboured process, but I’ve finally finished the training and if all goes well I shall be acquiring a child shortly. It probably would’ve been quicker to just make my own kid, but I guess that’s not the point of the exercise. (It’s funny how any idiot can have babies, but lord help you if you want to spend a couple of hours a week with someone else’s).

So after completing an initial interview, psychological profile, police check, Working With Children check and some bland, superfluous online training (don’t hit your Little, don’t give your Little alcohol, don’t get naked in front of your Little), the next step was a training day. I turned up on a Saturday (only mildly hungover) and was submitted to a range of exercises and workshops designed to widen our perspectives and put ourselves in a Little’s shoes.  It was very informative and entertaining, and then an actual Big Sister turned up with her Little Sister to talk to us and answer our questions.

And that’s about the point when my cold, cynical heart melted into my shoes. The Big Sister was perhaps mid-thirties, a lovely outgoing lady with a partner and no children. Her Little Sister was nine years old, one of five children from a disadvantaged family. They talked about cooking omelettes together and making Christmas presents for their families, which was touching….but the way that little girl gazed adoringly up at her Big Sister instantly turned me from “this will be a nice thing to do” to “holy shit, this is the best thing I’ve ever done, ever”.

After the training, it was time for the home visit. A couple of co-ordinators come over to ensure you’re not running a meth lab in the garage, then ask you every question imaginable about your family, friendships, relationships, childhood, religion, sexual leanings, drug use, alcohol consumption, illnesses, experiences…I almost felt like I was undergoing top secret positive vetting. They were lovely about it nonetheless.

Then they check your referees (the production manager at work made me sit with him while he phoned them – I squirmed and cringed while he delivered a glowing review that made me sound like Nelson Mandela), then there’s another online course to complete, then supposedly you’re ready to be matched. I can’t bloody wait.