It’s almost impossible to top a visit to Lithgow, but as I continued my journey to rekindle an old flame in Orange, I was determined to make the most of it. My next stop was Bathurst, which is Australia’s oldest inland city and was founded on gold. Who cares about any of that, though – the main thing you need to know is that there’s a bloody massive statue of a gold panner at the city’s entrance, and it’s one of the best Big Things on the planet (along with the other Bathurst’s Big Pineapple). Unfortunately, there was no gold in his bucket, just some dog shit 🤷♂️
Bathurst is full of beautiful old architecture that dates back to the gold rush, but it’s also a surprisingly modern and bustling little city. The Courthouse, completed in 1880, houses the scum of the Greater West (and that’s just the lawyers!) and looks like it would be more at home in the middle of a sprawling European metropolis. There are vibrant gardens, stone shacks, ancient churches and – most importantly – countless pubs. Bathurst has a mash-up of Victorian, post-war and housing commission styles that makes it truly unique.
Of course, the architecture isn’t Bathurst’s most famous feature – that would be the Mount Panorama Circuit, which looms over the city and has mythical status in the motor racing community. It’s a terrifying track with blind corners and an incredible 174m difference between the highest and lowest points, so it’s no wonder ‘The Mountain’ is so popular with revheads. Outside of race meetings, it’s a public road, and it was an unusual experience to meander through the chicanes whilst basking in the unrivalled views out over farms and hills.
As I was cruising down Conrod Straight and enjoying the rural views, I noticed that the Del Sol was moving a bit quicker than intended. I lifted my foot off the accelerator, but I kept picking up soeed, and I realised a beer bottle was wedged in the pedals. Passing 100, then 200km/h, Mount Panorama became a blur, and I had no choice but to hold on and expertly navigate the world’s toughest race track. With white knuckles and sweat pouring down my face, I fearlessly conquered the mountain over the course of six or seven laps, before the bottle rolled loose and I came to a screeching halt in front of the main grandstand.
I was teaching the stray bottle a lesson by drinking it when a sandy-haired fella came running over with a stopwatch in one hand and a huge smile smeared across his face.
“That was incredible!” he enthused. “You just smashed the lap record!”
“Yeah, and now I’m gonna smash this case of beer.”
“You’re a legend, and I’d like to offer you a spot in this year’s Bathurst 1000. My name’s Mark, but you can call me Skaifey.”
“Sorry, Mike, I won’t be calling you anything. I have to get to Orange. Bye!”
My memories of Orange were that it’s as flat as the chicks I went to school with, but binge drinking’s obviously wrecked my brain, because it’s actually a mountainous region. Australia’s highest point west of the Great Dividing Range is Mount Conobalobalos, a few clicks out of Orange, and I hiked all the way to the top. Swear I did, I just didn’t take any photos until I made it to the peak, which just happens to be right next to a car park. Anyway, the vistas are top notch, even though it’s cold enough up there to freeze the dick off a snowman.
Looking out over Orange, I reflected on my past in the town, and wondered what the future held. Would I find the chick I got onto at that disco 20 years ago and, if so, would she be the size of a truck? I climbed into the Del Sol, pointed it downhill, and drove towards my destiny…