The Road to Ballarat by Toni Jordan
Toni Jordan, on a forthcoming trip to Ballarat.
The late afternoon sun is soft and it makes the trees outside my window glow iridescent green, but I’m not outside enjoying it. I’m also not making dinner, nor watching Downfall Hitler parodies on Youtube while sipping a gin and tonic. I’m not even working on this week’s Age column. Instead I am sitting at my desk, poring over Victoria–a History by Don Garden (1984). It’s a laugh a minute at my place.
Not my usual mid-week read, but essential because next Tuesday, the Wheeler Centre’s Turbocharged Text Tarago (the TTT) will snake its way up the highway to Ballarat, that cradle of Victorian history. Inside will be Jane Clifton, Alice Pung, Derek Guille, Shane Maloney (he’ll be in the back seat, and the driver will have a stern eye on him) and me.
We’re popping up to the ‘Rat for an event celebrating 175 years of Victoria: a trivia night at Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts. The questions, I believe, will be about Victorian history. One problem: I’m not actually a Victorian.
Yes, I’ve lived here for 13 years. But a simple urine test would show I was born and raised a Queenslander. I’m paralysed with fear. What if I let my team down, by not knowing the percentage of women in Victoria in 1841 (29.5% of the population) or the year Jules Lefebvre painted Chloe (1875)? Alice Pung is a very smart woman. She’ll know these things. Derek, I believe, has interviewed everyone in Victoria at least twice. Nothing escapes him. And Shane possibly knew Lefebvre personally. I’m doomed.
So my plan of attack will be simple. I intend to work on Jane the Quizmistress. I’ll try to sit next to her in the TTT. When the little trolley comes down the aisle, I’ll fix her a drink. I’ll fluff her pillows and offer to fetch her something from the mini-library in the galley. I’ll also be gratefully accepting hints from the audience. If you’re any good at cheating, please come along.