Town of the goats prepares a barbie fit for the Queen

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The Independent Online

Sneeze and you would miss Coolabah, a tiny Australian outback settlement off the highway 400 miles west of Sydney. Few travellers give it a second glance as they whiz past at 75mph, following the arrow-straight road to Queensland.

Sneeze and you would miss Coolabah, a tiny Australian outback settlement off the highway 400 miles west of Sydney. Few travellers give it a second glance as they whiz past at 75mph, following the arrow-straight road to Queensland.

The 50 residents of Coolabah, named after the shady tree celebrated in the song "Waltzing Matilda", are usually resigned to being overlooked. But next month they hope their town - one short street, a pub, post office and two general stores - will play host to a very important visitor, the Queen, who will be in Australia for her first tour since 1992.

Her Majesty may meet a frosty reception in some parts of the country which voted narrowly against becoming a republic in a referendum last November.

Not in Coolabah, which houses some of her most devoted Antipodean subjects. The town had a pro-monarchist vote of 92 per cent, highest in New South Wales, the most populous state. Locals are waiting to hear whether the Queen will reward their loyalty by dropping in during her two-week visit.

They have written to her at Buckingham Palace, inviting her to meet them and explaining that "unlike our city friends and family, we miss many opportunities to welcome and see official international guests".

Coolabah has not yet received a reply but, with the royal itinerary about to be announced, fingers are firmly crossed and the twice-weekly mail is closely watched.

Although the town has little to offer apart from a profusion of coolabah trees, residents promise to pull out all the stops, laying on a typical Australian barbecue for the Queen as well as rescheduling the highlight of their calendar, a wild goat race. "If only she'd come," sighed Ben Rieth, publican of the Coolabah Hotel Motel, where the monarch's portrait hangs above the bar, beside the head of a glaring billy goat and half a dozen photographs of dead boars. "We don't get many visitors, let alone the Queen."

Coolabah is home to twice as many dogs as people. It also has, according to any arithmetic, four republicans. "We know who they are, but we're not saying," said Leroy Walsh, a lunchtime drinker.

Minutes later, giggling like a naughty schoolboy, he identified himself as one of the rebels. "I'd still like the Queen to come, though. We'd have a yahoo and a skinful of grog."

At the other end of the bar, Bruce Miles, the town's goat hunter, whispered: "Don't tell anyone, but I was one of the four. I thought it was time to sever the ties with Britain. Anyway, I don't think she'll come here. Why would she? What's she going to do when she gets here, go yabbying [fishing for freshwater prawns]?"

Had they been ostracised for their treason? Both men laughed, perhaps a little too loudly. It is clear that the referendum exposed a rift; several townsfolk muttered darkly that the dissidents always failed to pull their weight in community projects.

No such charge could be levelled at Colin Watson, a fanatical monarchist who owns the portrait in the pub as well as four others. A former civil servant, he acquired them from government offices but was obliged to keep them in a shearing shed for many years because his wife, Georgina, did not share his passion.

Now they are divorced and the paintings are proudly displayed by Mr Watson, who is so confident the Queen will visit Coolabah that he has already booked a marquee for the barbecue. "I've bet Bruce a goat that she'll come," he said. "We'll give her steaks and salads, and perhaps a little chevreuil - that's French for goat meat.

"The billies taste a bit sour, but the nannies are nice, and so are the young wethers." He added, conversationally: "That's a billy that's had his testicles cut off."

At the other end of town, Sylvia Walsh, proprietor of Sylvia's Store and of three ancient sheepdogs that scratch their private parts incessantly, revealed she was related to the Queen. "My great-grandfather, James Wiblon, who came over here in the 1870s, married a Jane Windsor," she explained.

The goat race has been an annual fixture in Coolabah for a decade, but it has been rescheduled to feature a Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The competitors are trapped by Mr Miles. "My whole life is goats," he said. "Everything I own, I got through catching goats."

Others are sceptical about the likelihood of a royal visit. Bob Lemon, the town's kangaroo shooter, said: "It's just a dream. If she sees us, it'll be from 30,000ft, looking down."

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