For the past seven years it’s been my job to organise and run the Chess Association of Queensland (CAQ) sanctioned Inter-School Chess Tournaments around Queensland.
Tournaments are run from Gold Coast to Cairns, and out in Toowoomba (by the Toowoomba Chess Club). Whilst the largest numbers overall tend to be concentrated within the South-East corner, I wanted to focus on the regional areas for this blog.
When I first arrived on the Gold Coast, back in July 2010 (after a wonderful jaunt around Europe!) I knew that my job would be busy, with a large portion of it being Inter-School related. A week later, my first Inter-School road-trip began as I joined the legendary Ian Murray on his final voyage around the state. Our itinery looked like this:
- Monday – Drive from Brisbane to Roma
- Tuesday – Tournament in Roma and then drive to Charleville
- Wednesday – Tournament in Charleville
- Thursday – Drive to Longreach
- Friday – Tournament in Longreach
- Saturday – Drive to Cloncurry
- Sunday – Drive to Mt Isa
- Monday – Run tournament in Mt Isa, drive back to Cloncurry
- Tuesday – Drive to Townsville
- Wednesday – Drive to Cairns
- Thursday – Run tournament in Cairns, and drive back to Townsville
- Friday – Run tournament in Townsville, and drive to Mackay
- Saturday – Mackay Open
- Sunday – Mackay Open
- Monday – Run Mackay tournament
- Tuesday – Drive to Rockhampton
- Wednesday – Run Rockhampton tournament and drive to Gladstone
- Thursday – Run Gladstone tournament and drive to Bundaberg
- Friday – Run Bundaberg tournament
- Saturday – Bundaberg Open
- Sunday – Bundaberg Open and drive to Maryborough
- Monday – Run Maryborough tournament and drive to Sunshine Coast
- Tuesday – Run Sunshine Coast tournament and drive back to Gold Coast
Welcome to the job and Queensland. I certainly wasn’t prepared for that mammoth schedule rolling up to the job. But the thing that dawned on me mostly was just how BIG Queensland really is. Over three weeks and some 5,500km.
Over the years, the schedule has changed somewhat. In one year I thought it would be clever to add a tournament in Warwick to the front end of the trip – one of the most ridiculous ideas I have ever had.
Luckily this behemoth was only done in Term three each year, with terms one and two comprising of two week runs along the Coast between Cairns and Maryborough. At the end of 2013 however, the decision was made to stop the Western run of the Inter-School Tournaments – taking in Roma, Charleville, Longreach and Mt Isa. Whilst regrettable, the decision was made in the interests of safety and for financial reasons. We have been working with local schools to have locals run the events with some basic training and all equipment provided by Gardiner Chess.
With a two-week Inter-School run taking place in Terms one to three each year, there is a lot of work that goes into organising and running the tournaments.
The first step is to send reminders to all the School Coordinators in each region. This is done in the first week of each term, with a summary of each term sent in the final week of term. From there, it’s important to work out a few things regarding logistics:
- Who is going to go on the trip? We now have a few others who can take some pressure off me which is nice!
- Whether it’s a one way trip with a flight back from Cairns, or is it a round trip? Whatever the case, book required transport.
- Where to stay in each region and to then book the accommodation.
Just before leaving for the trip, it’s important to pack the car with all the necessary equipment. As you can see from the photos below, there is a LOT of equipment.
- Sets and boards
- Medals and ribbons for prizes
- Printers and laptops
- Personal belongings
If the trip is one way, then a hire car needs to be collected and loaded up, with a flight from Cairns back home at the end (with about 250 kilograms of equipment send back via TNT freight). If we use one of the Gardiner Chess cars for a return trip it will mean an extra two to three days of driving back from Cairns.
As I first learned when I went on that first trip…..Queensland is a big big place!
Sometimes people say to me that going on a work road trip like this would be a lot of fun and that it looks like I don’t work much, and whilst it certainly is a lot of fun, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
A day would usually look something like this. Get up about 6.30am and get ready for the day ahead – shower, breakfast, dressed, deal with emails, pack the car, check out and get to the venue by 8.00am. Once there it’s a case of setting up all the equipment, ensuring all the technology works, and then dealing with registrations and questions from about 8.45am. The tournament runs, and should ideally be finishing about 2.15pm (we say 2.30 to allow for a little bit of delay here and there), and then as schools depart its madly packing the car and getting ready to leave around 3.00pm. Immediately it’s time to get back on the road to drive to the next town which can be anywhere up to five hours away.
Upon arriving at the next town, and depending on the time, it’s about checking in, posting results from the tournament online, checking in with the office, dealing with emails and then organising dinner. After dinner there’s more emails, and putting together all the files for the next day. In the case of the Townsville-Cairns leg, which has tournaments back to back, this often means getting to bed sometime after 11.00pm.
Regional tournament numbers fluctuate from term to term and year to year. Cairns is now one of the largest regions in the state with over 300 players in term two 2017, and has consistently high numbers, but other regions depend on the economic climate in the town. Linked to this, Gladstone and Townsville in particular, have both suffered in the last couple of years and numbers have been up and down.
Although the fortnight long run is certainly full on, the people I get to meet along the way certainly make up for it. Going from town to town, it’s great to see familiar faces in so many of the places – indeed many of the coordinators have been involved within their region for longer than I have been running the events – David Long from Trinity Anglican School in Cairns actually started events up there some 20 years ago! His program sees Trinity Anglican School qualify for State Finals almost every year, and in terms of numbers, he has one of the most active programs in the entire state!
One of the key things about these regional events is that they act as the qualifier for the State Finals, held in Brisbane each October. Many people I know – myself included – take the city lifestyle for granted. For some of the regional kids, they haven’t seen a city, or the ferries along the Brisbane River, or even been on a plane so the excitement for these kids is huge!
For me personally, one of the best parts of the road trips is the opportunity to see new and exciting places. Whilst the Western run was a nightmare because of the driving (narrow roads, road trains, and plenty of moving wildlife on the road!) and how tiring it was, it provided the chance to see some amazing places that I would never have seen otherwise.
Sometimes police escorts tell you to pull over….this is a tray for a dump-truck in the mines!
The QANTAS museum (one of only two places in the world you can stand in a Boeing 747 engine!) and Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach were fantastic to walk around, whilst further North, I’ve been lucky enough to see the Blackall Woolscour – the last operating steam powered wool washing plant until it closed in 1978 – which highlights some of the key parts of Australia’s wool industry and its history. There has also been Barcaldine – home of the Labour Party and many monuments dedicated to the explorers (such as Burke and Wills), including ‘The Black Stump’ – from where anything to the West was considered the middle of nowhere.
With the road trip condensed to two weeks, it provided weekends in one of three places – Rockhampton, Mackay or Cairns. Due to this, I’ve been lucky to see some of the areas and I readily admit that two of my favourite places are Airlie Beach and the Cairns region – two of the most beautiful spots in Queensland.
Some of the highlights along the coast for me are:
- Eungalla National Park – a chance to see platypus in the wild, with some cool streams and gorges to explore during the hotter months.
- The Whitsundays! Weekends in Airlie Beach are always entertaining (if only due to the masses of backpackers) and the chance to go out snorkelling in the highly attractive stinger suits is an opportunity to not be missed!
- Detouring inland for Emerald events, I’ve loved the opportunity to go fossicking for sapphires to the East of the town – and yes I’ve found a few nice stones! There is something about a) just digging in the dirt and not worrying about reception and b) driving around looking at the mining huts and setups, that makes for a very peaceful day.
- The tablelands around Cairns and the waterfall circuit are stunning and allow the opportunity to taste local produce, and see some amazing scenery
- North of Cairns is Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest. Two of the most stunning and incredible places I’ve been too.
Clockwise from top left: Araluen Falls in the Cairns Tablelands, Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach at the Whitsundays, Mossman Gorge swimming spot, and view from the Cardwell Range towards Hinchinbrook Island.
Whilst we do live in a beautiful part of the world, it is can also be very dangerous – especially when mother nature decides to unleash. I’ve been quite lucky with the following:
- 2011 – Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Yasi missed me by a week as I had just passed through. Even two months later driving through the damage afterwards was very eerie (see below)!
- 2012 – Flooding at Frances and Cattle Creeks just south of Ingham caused me to turn back to Townsville and I didn’t make the tournament until lunchtime the next day. Luckily we had WIM Alexandra Jule in Cairns teaching at the host school at the time and she stepped in to help!
- 2015 – Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Marcia was the closest yet. I was in Rockhampton as the cyclone formed and looked at the updates during the day. I decided at lunch time (when it was a category 3 cyclone) to abandon Rockhampton as soon as the tournament finished, and go North to Mackay ASAP as I needed to be there for the Mackay Open on the weekend. I remember stopping at Claireview half way along the journey, and finding TC Marcia had been upgraded to Category 4 strength. Arriving at Mackay it was already a Category 5 Tropical Cyclone which when it ripped through Rockhampton the next day was still a Category 3! With the highway shut for two days afterwards, I definitely got out just in time!
On top of the potential weather hazards there are also some other issues that are faced along the way. My biggest gripe is the Bruce Highway itself. It is a horrible piece of road and there is always road work taking place. It also happens to be one of the deadliest roads in Australia with the stretches around Gin Gin – which i thankfully avoid most of the time – and between Rockhampton and Sarina being particularly bad. Years back the worst area was around Cardwell as they blasted through the range, but now it seems to be further South where the issues are as the increased load of trucks takes its toll.
Hotels can be another issue. When I find a good hotel I always go back to the same place. Sometimes this isn’t always possible and sometimes it’s too expensive. Thus I’ve tried some different places….some of them, have been horrid indeed and some have just been unlucky to land loud people in the next room.
All in all I love these trips. Being away from my partner is certainly hard, as not only is it time away from her, but it’s consistently being on the go, packing and moving from night and night and of course not having the usual comforts of home that we take for granted. The smiling faces of the students and the awesome coordinators and places I get to go make it all worthwhile.
Here are a few more photos of the ‘big’ Australia objects:
The Big Gumboot at Tully at 7.9 metres, represents the amount of rain that fell in 1950, The Big Mango at Bowen was even stolen a couple of years ago, The Big Matilda at Kybong, South of Gympie was used in the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, and the Big Ned Kelly in Maryborough – just don’t stay at the motel…