Possibly the oddest place we've visited on our travels, Townsville was a place where absolutely nothing went to plan.
After arriving early at the swish holiday park that Fi and Paul had stayed the night at, we met up and got a plan together. We had a few things we wanted to do in the daytime. Fi didn't want a big party for her birthday, just some nice food in the evening. Our tasks were simple:
- Visit the art gallery
- Possibly visit the free water park in the centre of town
- Find a shop selling buttons so Paul could fix his shorts
- Find a decent, reasonably-priced restaurant for Fi's birthday meal
- Find a book exchange so we could offload some of our rapidly growing finished stock
Right from the start, the town thwarted every effort.
The art gallery was closed pending the installation of a new exhibition. No problem, it was a nice day. We could go to the water park...wait, no, the water park was closed until June. A real shame, as those cannons looked like great fun.
A button shop? Are you kidding? Apparently we were, as there was neither hide nor hair of a haberdashery in the town. I guess when clothes get damaged the locals just chuck them away and buy new ones. Paul got around it in the end by nicking a button off another pair of shorts and using that. Fashion crisis avoided.
The restaurant was also a bust. The best we could find was either dodgy-looking pub grub at extortionate prices, or swanky places that made the bar prices look like a steal. Fi decided instead that we'd go to Woolworths and stock up on goodies which we'd cook ourselves at the holiday park.
Before that though, we went in search of a book exchange. Lonely Planet recommended "Jim's Book Exchange" as the superior choice in the town, but after locating the road it was supposedly on, we couldn't find it. The information centre was around the corner so I stopped in.
"Jim's Book Exchange? Oh yes, that was great. Nice place, lots of choice."
"So, where exactly is it?"
"Oh, it closed down a couple of years ago."
In fairness, our Lonely Planet was out of date by about 5 years so I couldn't complain too much. The information centre volunteers were surprised to hear the water park was closed ("Really? No-one told us! We've been directing people there all week!") but they came up trumps with an alternative book exchange for us to visit.
At least, that was the idea.
It started off promisingly: a small business park, a big yellow awning with "Book Exchange" written in bold white letters, a decent array of literature. I took my handful of novels up to the counter.
"What would I be able to exchange for these?"
"Sorry, we're not exchanging books currently unless they've originally been purchased here."
"Umm, OK. Could I just sell them to you, then?"
"No, we're not buying books either."
Right - so they are a book exchange which neither buys nor exchanges books. They just sell them. They are, in essence, a book shop.
Resisting the urge to rip down their filthy, lying awning, we set off back to Woolworths to get food and drink for the night, expecting that since the time we last left the area the supermarket may have burned down/become involved in a hostage situation/turned into a used car dealership.
Thankfully, something did actually go right and we piled up the trolley with a plethora of tasty treats before driving back to the holiday park. I need to mention the rocky hill not far from where we parkede in town, which inexplicably had a doodle of The Saint on one of its faces. Maybe Roger Moore visited the town at some point. I bet the water park was opened for him.
In true "crazy party" style we filled Paul and Fi's van with balloons whilst Fi was on the phone. We also went nuts with the decorations.
It was the best we could find, OK?
We laid out all the food and wine and got to work.
The rest of the night is a bit blurry, and I only have photos to go on to try and make sense of things. At some point, Paul turned into a psychedelic hedgehog.
I do recall a couple of other backpackers arriving in the kitchen and looking enviously at our food haul. One of them got a piece of bread, opened a jar of pasta sauce, and poured the sauce on top of it. Then ate it. I am absolutely not making this up; that was their dinner for the evening. I'm not saying we're flashpackers, but I can't ever imagine a situation where we'd get to that level of desperation. I mean, sure, it's feasible that you're on a tight budget. But pasta is cheaper than bread...why not use the pasta sauce and make a proper meal? The mind boggles.
At around 10:30pm we had been partying for around 5 hours and were ready to hit the hay. Apparently opening our van doors at such a ridiculously late hour was too much for one of our neighbouring motorhome occupants. Marching over in nightdress and hair curlers, an old lady glared at us and shouted in a broad Aussie accent, "Some poiple are tryna sloip hyer yanow!" before stomping off again. Point taken, we'll try not to be such party animals next time. Who knows what would have happened if we'd have arrived back at - gasp! - midnight?
Townsville is not really a place to visit for its own sake. However, it is a decent base to stay for a night if you are heading down to the Billabong Sanctuary which, as luck would have it, we were the next day.