Georgina, a Lady and a Runner Beyond Price
Back to Woodford to Glenbrook
by Bryce Courtenay
This article originally appeared in the Sydney Striders Blister magazine #11 and is from a time before 1990.
That’s the trouble with Poms. First they let a whole heap of people come from the West Indies and Pakistan, then they let them take over the railway system in the UK. That means that all the real Pom station masters, fitters and turners, shunters, etc. had to migrate to Australia and take over the unions and the railways over here.
The station at Glenbrook is a typical example. This little town dozing on the foothills of the Blue Mountains is so sleepy the dogs have forgotten how to bark. Nothing ever happens at Glenbrook except for one day a year - the Woodford to Glenbrook run. A bush run that is rapidly gaining its popularity amongst the urban set. Registration for the run takes place at the local railway station where everyone then catches the train to Wcodford and from there runs back through the bush to Glenbrook.
On the surface, it all looks tidy enough, hardly an opportunity for even the most rabid Pom Station Master to cause chaos and dissension. But, as we have learned to our cost over the past couple of centuries, put a cap with a badge on a Pom’s head and it will inevitably lead to both.
I arrived atGlenbrook Station at 7.30 a.m., mainly because I'd never heard of Glenbrook and I imagined it would be at least three hours from home, which it wasn't. At 7.30 am on a Sunday morning nothing stirred in Glenbrook except the Station Master who, when I approached him, was reading "Whizzer and Chips". That's another thing about Poms - they never really grow up.
"G'day," I said. He looked up, plainly disturbed at having his morning read interrupted.
"You 'ere for the run then?" he asked. I replied that I was.
He fixed his eyes on the curry stain on my track-suit, no doubt thinking dark thoughts about the West Indians and Pakistanis who had caused his downfall at British Rail and subsequent migration to the Antipodes.
"Not on then, is it?"
"why not?" I asked.
"Don't you listen to the bleeding news then?" he replied. "No," I said.
"Been a derailment up the line, your lot can't get through."
"we could drive up if we can get some of the locals to drive our cars back?"
He found this genuinely funny. "After Saturday night at the RSL, the locals only assume half-consciousness around 5 p.m. on a Sunday!"
It was obvious that he felt happily responsible for the derailment and that it pleased him mightily to have created mayhem among us with so simple a ploy as playing with his train set. I decided that there was no point in carrying on the conversation; as far as he was concerned it was game and match for the Homby set.
"where can I have a leak?" I asked. He looked at me with distaste.
“The toilets are down the platform and don't throw the paper towels on the floor!"
I climbed up the steps out of the Station to find a lady in a tracksuit setting up a table attached to which was a large handwritten sign which read 'Race Registration' "I thought it was off," I said.
"No," she smiled brightly. "You mean the derailment? We've got a bus coming". Before the day was out I was to gain considerable respect for Ms Georgina Price of the Blue Mountain Joggers. The unflappable Georgina indicated that we could park in the National Park some three kilometres away and that a bus would take us up to Woodford.
She ticked me off the roll, took my money and directed me to see a guy with a truck, if Iwanted aT-shirt. ("Only five bucks and if we sell 30, we break even"). So I went over and bought a T-shirt.
We had to wait for the park ranger to open the park. I don't know if he too was a Pom, but he was big and mean-looking with a great black beard, so there seemed no point in telling him that he was half an hour late.
We found ourselves parked in a delightful little valley white with frost and soon a whole cavalcade of cars began to assemble, cutting rude tyre marks into the sugar-frosted landscape.
As I had a non-running driver with me, we decided to take the car up to Woodford rather than wait for the bus, so that I can't report on the bus ride up. But I'm sure Georgina made it all look pretty effortless. We drove up to Woodford Station, which was empty. No doubt the Station Master was an Australian and had heard about the plot to keep us from running and had decided to take a sickie so he didn't have to face Georgina.
Around 10.00 a.m. the runners were all assembled and there was Georgina, stripped down to her running gear, introducing us to the starter, a tweedy old gent who once ran in the Olympics. Not only did Georgina have organising talent, but she also had the panache to get us going with a bit of class.
However, Bill Courtney of the Western District Joggers lowered the tone immediately by admonishing his team to "Beat the Christ out of them Sydney Striders" But the green and white seemed only faintly amused and the race got under way with the usual disappointing plop of the starter 's gun.
What newcomers to the race hadn't been told about this bush run was that runners are strongly advised to have their running shoes resoled with tractor tyres. The last time this track saw a grader was when Georgina was in nappies. The first 12 ks of this 25k run cannot be imagined. But the best way to see it in the mind's eye, is in profile. Imagine that the run is a sales graph and that the company performance it shows has monthly peaks and valleys roughly at about the incline and decline of Mt Everest. Then consider that every jagged rock in the area worth its cutting edge somehow managed to accumulate on this particular first 12 ks, and you can see that those of us wearing racing flats were in the deepest proverbial. Four letter words interjected with 'Oooh's' and 'Ouches' adequately explains why they call them the Blue Mountains.
Going up the inclines was hard work, but nothing compared to going down the other side. Bodies soon piled up on either side of the road clutching ankles and kidneys with gravel rash to be seen by the metre as runners tumbled down the slopes on anything but their legs. I settled in behind Brian Colwell, grateful to find at least one Strider that hadn't streaked ahead of the field. Michael Halmay, Keith Canard, RobertHarrison and Charles Coville had taken off as though this was a 5 k sprint and I began to pity the Western District Joggers; their humiliation was obviously about 80 minutes away.
The rest of the male Striders seemed to settle down to a more reasonable pace led by the ever-determined Ray Doran and Dave Cox and followed by Bruce Usher, Robert Shaw, Steve Cornelius, Neil Collum, Richard Clelland and then Brian and myself with Ron Feeney also attached to us. I can't tell you who was behind me, except to say that there weren't too many of them wearing the green and white.
I soon discovered that following in the footsteps of Brian Colwell has one great disadvantage. While Brian climbs the inclines at about average speed, he takes the declines like a Mac truck out of control. On a downhill run Coe and Ovett wouldn't have Buckley's.
The race settled down to a pattern, which consisted of dodging the sharper stones and keeping one’s eyes glued to the ground. Taking in scenery for the first 10 ks would have been to have taken one’s life in one's hands. If one were to add 'rock avoidance' to the total distance of the race, then it's probably a 30k race. But finally around the 12 k mark the road turned into a smoothish, ambling, slow decline and eyes that had run rock avoidance for the first part of the race could now be raised to take in the passing scene.
What a lovely run it turned out to be. The air was clear as a polished goblet, the sun was warm, with just a sliver of ice, so that running conditions were just about perfect. The first of the wattle blossom was out and while I was taking all this tranquility in, that rotten Pommie Bastard, Colwell, heedless of the beauty of the scenery, had advanced another couple of hundred yards ahead of me.
So I concentrated on my duty and caught him up. You see, it was the first time I had ever asked to be a member of a team and the responsibility weighed pretty heavily. It was also my first race with the Striders which compounded my potential misery. What if my namesake, Bill Courtney (note the difference in spelling at least) and his Western District Joggers should manage to beat the Sydney Striders Veteran team by just enough seconds for it to all be my fault? So I glued myself to Brian. I figured that if I came in around the same time as the Club Secretary then they would have to string him up on a gum tree next to mine.
Now that there were no more precipices to run down, Brian turned out to be a hard but fair runner and I dogged after him almost to the finish where it turned out that the last 100 metres was a steep incline into the valley and finishing line. Brian turned around and said something rude to me and took off like a Jack Rabbit to win our personal contest by 20 seconds. (Typical under-handed Pommie trick.)
I was followed in by Ron Feeney, Brian Lynch, Cecil Ford, Mike Fdwards, Dwight Melson and Karl Topher, all in around 1.40, and by the time my breathing had returned from desperate to medium hard, Jim Travers, Glen Mcregor and Peter Ryan, the last of the Striders but by no means the last of the field, were home. It had been a lovely race and the first 12 ks was happily forgiven with the hospitality of the Blue Mountain Joggers and their team helpers showered upon us~ Tea came in great steaming cupfuls, orange juice and bickies and sausage sandwiches followed, and everyone smiled.
I recalled the Manly Giant Jog a couple of weeks previously, the most underwhelming event of the season. They sure could use a session of mountain air and mounting people.
Finally, the prize giving came. And who do you think had to do that too? Our Georgina. She did the announcing and let the old gent have the glory of shaking paws and giving out the trophies. The Striders won the first and second male home (Michael Halmay and Keith Canard), then first and second in the open male teams. I decided that it was time for me to disappear. What if the male veterans, my team, hadn't made it? I'd be to blame for sure. With Keith and Ray first and second veteran home, and I already knew Richard Clelland had finished ahead of me by a clear two minutes, losing would be my fault, wouldn't it? I mean, you couldn't do much better than the other three did, could you? And then Georgina, God bless her, announced that the Striders Veteran Team had won by the massive and truly overwhelming margin of 45 seconds from the Western District Joggers, who had clearly limped into a dismal second place. How could there be a more perfect day or a more perfect race!
Finally, it was all topped off when Georgina blushingly announced that she had won the women's open and that her team had won the female team event.
Congratulations Georgina Price, you run a great event. We'll all be back with our mates next July.
You should have seen my youngest kid's face when I told him that I'd won a medal. "Gee, Dad!" he said. "How far into the bush did you say?".