1.23pm, Wednesday 16th June, Palmer Street above the marina, Townsville, Far North Queensland, Australia
Continuing our water theme, we’ve come up the coast with Qantas Link from Mackay on to Townsville. We had one of our best wine events of the year in Mackay last night – an excellent “Welcome To” the Pioneer River City – this being our first Yalumba wine dinner in this town.
But we had to get to Mackay first.
We drove up from Airlie Beach with our man in the region – Craig – and it didn’t take long to see that the main event in this part of the world is sugar cane. Not just acres of it – miles of it! It looked a bit weird – with a pampas grass type of plume poking out of the top of the cane – and Craig told me that this means the cane is flowering, and that means harvest time. The cane train rails follow the Mackay road and crisscross the whole area. As we went through the towns of Kuttabul, Leap and Farleigh, we saw the big mesh containers loaded with the cane being shunted by trains that look like little Thomas the Tank Engine units. We also started to see the sugar mills – gearing up into the cutting season – with four of them around the city of Mackay.
This was my first visit to the town, and it’s another pleasant regional Australian surprise – genuine art deco buildings, big old, rambling two-story Queenslander style pubs, and the Far North Queensland thing with the palm trees lining the main streets.
We went to drop the glasses in to the restaurant – Burp (Eat Drink) – and as I walked in, I noticed a sign on the door announcing the new CD release for Graeme Connors – top singer-songwriter, famous for “The Road Less Travelled” and “Let The Canefields Burn”, amongst others. I looked closer at the date – and it was ‘today’, and at the venue – it was Burp! Yes folks, here’s another big swing our way of the karma pendulum. We walked in, and there was the man himself setting up to play on the night, after dessert and our last wine of the wine was done – to release his new CD “Still Walking”. Turns out that the Connors Clan, Mackay locals, own the restaurant – now operational for 12 months – with middle son Adrian the chef and youngest son Julian at the bar. Being a big fan I was knocked out by the whole thing, and thrilled to bits at such an unexpected treat – Craig having kept the whole thing a big surprise. Yes, that was me with the dopey grin on my face for the rest of the day reminding myself how lucky I am to have this job … it can take you literally anywhere!
Now Burp is a sharp looking spot. It wouldn’t look out of place in either Sydney or Melbourne, with its chocolate brown banquettes down one side of the restaurant, black-and-silver pattern wall panels, polished stainless and granite top bar, and upside down red ‘mossie coil’ lampshades.
The place was sold out – 70 people packed in shoulder to shoulder – including eight of our top trade supporters in town. Adrian and his young kitchen crew did some great food, from the goat cheese and walnut mini cheesecakes with the 2005 Vintage Jansz to the baked lemon & lime tart with the 2007 Botrytis Viognier. However my top combination of the night was the Mini Lamb Pot Pie with winter vegetables topped with a Yorkshire pudding-style lid. Did I mention the lamb was meat that had fallen off slow-cooked shanks? This went seriously well with the 2007 Menzies, which had blackcurrant and mint eucalypt lifting off in waves.
Then after we’d had a lot of fun with the folks through the five courses and wines, Adrian got his Dad up to play – he was happy because he reckoned it only cost him a six-pack to get him!
Graeme Connors played a whole dose of songs off the new CD, including “Build A Beach House in the Blue Mountains” – which has already been on the radio. Then he took requests and did a couple of my favourites “Let The Canefields Burn” (now I can see where that came from) and “The Road Less Travelled”. He finished with his first big song, “A Little Further North Each Year”, and came back to do the song Slim Dusty covered, and which a lot of folks regard as our unofficial national anthem “We’ve Done Us Proud”.
What a night! Great songs, great food, and our wines held up our end of the treble. I was pulled aside by a big burly Queenslander bloke at the end of the evening, and he told me that he’d only just got into wines, and loved everything we showed on the night – but it was the next comment that got me. “You made me laugh, Graeme’s songs make me cry, and we’ve all had the best night.” It doesn’t get much better than that! Welcome to Mackay!
Thanks to Craig for setting it all up, to the Connors Clan for having us at Burp, and it looks like we’ve found ourselves another FNQ annual event. See you all next year!
PS Don’t forget to check out the new Graeme Connors CD “Still Walking”, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see something off that record do well next year at the Tamworth Golden Guitars.