How was your Father’s Day? Hunter and I took Lee and Lee’s father Ian (AKA Pa) to the 5th Annual Kurilpa Derby.
Just like West End is not your standard Brisbane suburb, the Kurilpa Derby is not your standard Derby. Sure, there are races, competitions and dance-offs, but it’s more like the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland than the Olympics. Organised by the West End Community Association (WECA), the Derby celebrates West End in all its quirky urban-hippie glory. As well as celebrating the West End community, the derby also celebrates Boundary Street as a place for people- and pedal-power, rather than cars.
On paper the Derby is a series of organised races between wheeled participants, with bicycle polo, roller derby, Brazilian dancers and local marching bands marching between each race, and a relay match at the end. In reality it’s a carnival of joyful exuberance and barely contained chaos - anything with wheels is able to be raced (penny farthings, unicycles, tuktuks, ensemble mattresses and bathtubs on wheels to name a few); the crowd wander onto the track during the races to high five the participants and cheer them on; and the relay is a squid relay (use your mouth instead of hands, fresh squid instead of baton).
The main street is blocked off, the drab business of workday replaced with a jolly jumble of costumed kids on scooters, burlesque dancers in their knickers being carted about by men in zebra costumes, teens on skateboards, bongo players playing a tattoo to which Brazillian dancers in heels and feathered headdresses shimmy, lions in cages on bicycles, winged ladies on unicycles, ladybugs on penny farthings, glitter clad men on stilts and smiling faces as far as the eye can see. The restaurants and cafes overflow, the smell of incense is in the air and if you look up you’ll see locals on the rooftops, serenading the crowd with trumpets and saxophones.
Ostensibly there are a variety of races for different categories of racers- kids on scooters, downhill racers, ‘themed things on wheels’ etc. The start of the races appear to be whenever the first participant makes a break for it, the ‘end’ of the ‘race’ is arbitrarily called (this year by a lady dressed as Wonder Woman) and everyone is declared a winner and given free chocolate milks for their efforts. Best in show awards are given out too- I was most pleased when a friend racing the SS Wildthing (on a go cart frame) won a prize!
(This scene is from Hallmark's Alice In Wonderland- IMO the BEST version made. Skip to 8:00 to see the caucus race, and if you like it, follow the link to the poster, and see the entire film through her channel)
We had lunch at Char Chars at 12:30, finishing the meal and beers in time to watch the police close the street and the people take over. There were hundreds of kids there; and seeing all their smiling faces as they ran amok, free to play and frolic as they pleased, happy to meet new friends and help each other up made me happier than I can explain. It’s been a long time since I last saw such public freedom for littlies. Last time I went to the Ekka, the local school fete, or to the Cleveland Strawberry Carnival, the kids were kept on tight reigns, parents terrified of every stranger, grim faces strangled with suspicion. In comparison the spirit that infuses the Kurilpa Derby was like that spirit of community and trust I recall from my own childhood- mum would give me $2 in exchange for a promise to meet back in a few hours and not get into any trouble and off I would trot, delighting in my freedom.
To be honest I started the day in a really down mood. Father’s day sucks ass for those of us who don’t have a father. Father’s Day reminds me of the years when he was alive and I would begrudgingly abandon my own personal social life to spend a day with him. I resented Father’s Day right up until my mid twenties when it started to sink in that my dad was actually a really great guy, funny and fun to hang out with. It helped a lot that my husband and he got along like a house on fire. Before then my dad would ask me slightly offensive questions, like why I had 'ruined my pretty face with facial piercings', why I 'dressed like I was going to a funeral', why I had green hair, why I liked shit music. He didn’t ‘get’ me, and I responded by not giving him much opportunity to. In about 2005 or so Lee and I broke up and after a few months it occurred to me that maybe I could talk to my dad about it. For a man who was given barely any access to my personal life, he sure had some insight. He told me that he had really liked Lee and thought perhaps we could work out our differences. When Lee and I got back together a year or so later, Dad didn’t skip a beat, he just welcomed Lee back and got on with cracking jokes and making us feel good to be alive and together. I know that as I grew up I made good for all the years I wasn’t, but I still regret the selfish folly of my youth. So yeah, I was pretty teary.
Lunch came and my order was stuffed up and I felt a sulk coming on. Across the table Lee sat next to Pa, Hunter on Pa’s lap. Laughing, playing games with the menu holder, Hunter’s sweet little face as he ate Haloumi for the first time. The three of them happily chatting brought me to my senses.
As I said, after lunch we weaved our way through the gathering throng to the derby finish line, all the kids smiling and squealing lifting my spirits. By the time the marching band started up and the Brazilian dancers started their show I had completely let go of my sorrow, as I lifted my head I saw my son on his Pa’s shoulders, smiling and jabbering away, taking it all in and pointing at everything joyously. Lee and I held hands and danced a little, we met up with our friend (Dave Cuthbert AKA Captain SS. Wildthing!) and Lee went in a race on a borrowed go kart. Four o’clock came around and Hunter was getting very sleepy so we made our goodbyes and our way home, declaring the day a brilliant success.
“Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.” – Langston Hughes
Thank you for a brilliant day WECA, and Viva la West End!