Three hours south of Sydney is a little slice of heaven called Lake Conjola. Small communities dot the lake, some with names that evoke the holiday spirit, like Manyana and Fisherman’s Paradise.
My family’s holiday house is in one of these small lakeside communities with large gum trees rising all around. The house is in a sleepy little street, set just back from the lake. Lining the driveway is a large creeping Jasmine, its sweet perfume wafts into the house with the wind. The wide porch wraps around much of the house, dotted with a handful of lounges, a barbecue and a dining table for six.
It’s a comfortable house, a big upgrade from the caravan we used to own in a van park a few minutes away. Dad’s boat sits in the driveway, covered, hoping this weekend will see some aquatic action. Downstairs, is the garage. But now it’s more of a games room with darts, table tennis, a whiteboard to keep score, a bar fridge, couches and a big screen TV for the big sporting fixtures. Upstairs, the open plan kitchen/living room/dining room is the focal point of the house.
We arrived shortly after midday, and took our first deep breaths of fresh Conjola air. However, inside the house it was not so inviting. We opened the door to discover the unmistakable odour of rotting food. In the three weeks since my parents had been down there, a fuse had blown, leaving the house without electricity. Everything that was in the fridge and freezer had been rotting under a corrugated iron roof in the hot, Australian sun. It was all hands on deck to remove the offending food, Dad dry retching as he pulled the putrid fish bait and meat from the fridge. An hour later, we were lounging on the deck. It felt as though we’d been there for days.
Days in Lake Conjola are usually spent reading, snoozing, taking the dog for a walk, waterskiing/wakeboarding, playing golf, fishing, going to the beach and enjoying a chat over one of Mum’s plates of nibblies. There’s plenty to do in the area, but the wonderful thing is that nothing is required of you. There’s a real emphasis on holiday down at Lake Conjola.
The Lake Conjola Bowling Club (or ‘the Conjola Bowlo’ as it’s affectionately known to the locals) is the heart of the community. It’s the only thing in Lake Conjola, aside from a few take away shops and a combination corner store/bait shop. Like many bowling or RSL clubs around the country, this is where the town gathers.
It had changed slightly since I’d last been there. The club benefitted from new carpeting that looked as though it came to the South Coast direct from Vegas. The bistro has upgraded from the standard ‘pub grub’ fare of chicken schnitzels, steak and chips. Our friend, Johnno, says they now do a pretty mean pizza.
One of the two pool tables has been replaced with a mini-TAB, the walls lined with the form guides, the TVs above displaying the current odds and the live races around the nation. Sliding doors along one side of the building open up to the two manicured bowling greens. The family-friendly area is shaded by a decorative bamboo screen from the two dozen poker machines and the TV displaying the winning Keno numbers. The Conjola Bowlo also have teams that compete in lawn bowls, in fishing tournaments, and in darts competitions. Prize winning catches have been mounted on the wall near the TAB, the victor’s name inscribed in on a brass plate for posterity.
Friday is the new Saturday at the Conjola Bowlo
Each Friday at 1pm, Bingo takes over the majority of the seats. A card costs $5, an ink dabber $2. Games continue almost non-stop for over four hours with the numbers read at a fair clip. The average age is about 75, and many of these old codgers play four cards at once. I struggle to keep up with one. Bingo takes you through until 5:30 or so, enough leaving time to collect your winnings (if you were one of the lucky ones), and order your meal.
The evening’s double-header brings regulars and tourists alike to the air-conditioned club. First up, the 7pm Members Badge Draw. When Mr Whatsamecallit was not on hand that night to claim the $400 prize within sixty seconds, attention soon turned to the main attraction: the Meat Raffle.
The Meat Raffle is an institution in clubs nationwide, and one of my favourite traditions (even though I’m vegetarian). On offer for winning tickets were about ten packs of meat: sausages, steak, lamb chops and chunks of pork, all fresh from the abattoir on the aptly named Slaughterhouse Road. Club patrons took a good sticky beak at the slabs of dead animal on refrigerated display at the entry to the main club room before they purchased their tickets.
The raffle numbers were being drawn much more slowly than in bingo, so I showed Mum the rock my friend C had bought me on our recent trip to Half Moon Bay. Mum pulled out her turquoise talisman, and in the middle of regaling how Dad had purchased it for her on a recent trip, her number flashed up on the screen. All her Christmases had come at once! She was the proud winner of one of those chunks of pork. Winning a meat tray is a real thrill.
We spent the next day out on the lake. Recently, Dad had adapted his old golf buggy to act as a dolly for the fibreglass behemoth of a canoe we own, and seemed pretty chuffed about the outcome. And it worked really well! Here’s a little film the American and I made about the adventure:
I get a real kick out of introducing him to more of the ‘real Australia’ each time we fly home for a visit.