14 November 2009

I was in Deniliquin, NSW, with my mate Chris* for the Ute Muster, planning our holiday with the aid of our Deniliquin Holiday Planner, published by Deniliquin Council (motto: "Achievement through action").
"What's your idea of relaxation?" asks the Deniliquin Holiday Planner. "Deni offers the lot."
To illustrate the many recreational possibilities in the town, the booklet's designer chose a photograph of a car approaching a roundabout at a quiet intersection, and a picture of a large family shopping at Target.
Deniliquin is, of course, the Ute Capital of the World (unless you are a member of the Native American Northern Ute nation, in which case the Uintah-Ouray reservation in north-eastern Utah is the capital of your world). My favourite parts of Deni are the ute-related attractions such as the Ute on a Pole, and the FB Holden ute that has been transformed into what the holiday planner calls a "magnificent mosaic sculpture". According to the plaque next to the sculpture, which has an inscription considerably longer than this column, the mosaic's design is a description of the local landscape that includes a summer sunset, the Edward River and hay bales, and also roadkill, the Milky Way and "the iconic Deniliquin town sign".
Not all of these references are apparent to the untutored eye, which might well mistake the ute's livery for a randomly assembled pattern of colourful tiles.
"I'm not seeing a lot of roadkill," said Chris (motto: "Snore through walls"), "but you'd assume that'd be on the front of the car."
Touchingly, a ute enthusiast had left a four-pack of Jack Daniels and Cola in front of the sculpture, like a votive offering at a Shinto shrine.
At the muster itself, I (motto: "Sleep through snoring") tried to find out why so many people love utes. The man to ask seemed to be David Nolte, curator of the muster's ute museum.
"I don't really know," said David authoritatively. "They're just a common sort of thing to have. They're pretty flashy and they're just really,
I suppose, an Australian icon."
But why?
"I can't really tell you. Why do people play tennis?"
Search me.
"Or play cricket?" said David. "I can't imagine why anyone would want to play cricket."
I approached Robert Martin of Wollongong, NSW, the winner of Deniliquin's Ute of the Year, to see if he could tell me why he'd spent so much time on his ute.
"It's my wife," he said, "my personal wife."
What functions of a wife does it perform?
"She doesn't say 'no', mate. It's as simple as that. Put your foot on her, she says 'Go'. Put your foot on the brake, she says, 'Stop'. "
It doesn't sound much like a wife at all.
"It's a bit more costly than a wife, I think," said Robert. "I've spent about 90 grand on this car."
I found a tent selling a mug with the slogan, "If your tits were as big as your arse, I'd be interested".
"I think you should buy that," said Chris, "and never give it to anyone."
Deniliquin is a nice place with friendly people, good food, minority-interest crockery and a peaceful river, but it seems to have become Australia's ute capital simply because no other town thought of it first. Outside of the muster, there are no more utes per head in Deniliquin than, for instance, in Gundagai or Wagga Wagga.
A close reading of the Deniliquin Holiday Planner revealed that Deniliquin is really the Rice Milling Capital of Australia, "home to the largest rice mill in the southern hemisphere". Forty million people throughout the world eat rice milled at Deniliquin every day, although it's unclear how you might be able to plan a holiday around that.

*Not Chris Ryan.