Darwin’s own version of a Commonwealth Games baton relay has completed a journey almost as impressive as the actual event, and far more unlikely.
Instead of a baton, the nominated object was an esky.
And instead of delegates, the esky travelled along its outback route with help from a motley group of about 20 truckers, publicans and travellers.
By the time it reached the Gold Coast on Thursday, it was filled with fishing lures, messages of support for athletes and stubby coolers from the umpteen country pubs it passed through.
Men’s hockey player Jeremy Hayward, who was raised in Darwin and plays for the Kookaburras, was one of three people to unpack the esky with relish yesterday.
“No disrespect to the baton, but there are a lot of messages in here and some proud people back in the Territory and also Queensland supporting us,” Hayward said.
“They’ve just dropped in stuff as they go, I think — little tokens of respect and support, and it’s very special to me.”
He said he appreciated the stubby coolers, while one of his team-mates said he might put the lures to use.
“It reminds me of home, really — how laidback and relaxed they are,” Hayward said.
But the esky’s journey to the Gold Coast was jeopardised at various legs of its mammoth voyage.
Over its five-week journey, the esky spent days languishing in country towns, was threatened by floodwaters when heavy rain cut off roads in western Queensland, and encountered fears that it would continue south to Alice Springs.
It got off to an uninspiring start, idling for several days at a service station just 18 kilometres down the road from its starting point.
“I couldn’t believe it was such a struggle,” Michelle, who ferried the package about 400 kilometres to Mataranka, said.
“I thought, ‘Come on Territorians, we’re on the road all the time going to towns and regional centres’.”
Daily check-ins traced the item’s stop-start journey through the outback.
But would it make it all the way solely on the kindness of strangers?
“I want to say yeah, but it probably won’t,” Ryan, who carried the esky along a remote stretch of highway in the Barkly Tableland, said.
“You don’t know who’s out there.”
“I’m just going to give it to the least dodgy person that comes into the pub this morning,” Kelly, a bartender in the remote Queensland town McKinlay, said.
Somewhat remarkably, the esky eventually wound up in Charleville where it seemed to vanish for several days.
Margaret Stapleton took the item the farthest when she transported it from the outback Queensland town to Brisbane.
It was laden with stickers, postcards and messages by the time Tom Whetton, whose son Jacob also plays for the Kookaburras, heard a call-out on ABC Radio Brisbane to take the esky on its final leg to the Commonwealth Games.
“I was just listening to people who picked it up: backpackers, German people, guys who were bushwalking through the middle of nowhere, caravans, trucks and transport companies,” he said.
“The journey’s been fantastic.”
He put in a call to his son, who was set to compete at the Games.
“Dad rang me and said, ‘Guess what: I’ve picked up an esky from Jimboomba’,” Jacob Whetton said.
“He went and got it and delivered it to myself and to Jeremy Hayward who’s from Darwin, so it was really special for him as well to have a little bit of the NT down in the Gold Coast.
“To have a look at all the support messages inside the esky was pretty cool.”
Students at Blackall’s St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School had a field day with the esky. (Supplied)
The messages come at an appropriate time for the high-performing men’s hockey team as they work to save face following disappointment at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“We went there with an intention to come home with a great result and that didn’t come about,” Whetton said.
“We’re looking forward to getting out there and playing a new style of hockey and it’s been working for us over the past 12 to 18 months.”
He said the esky arrived at a good time for the team.
“Whoever was involved with the esky, we can’t thank you enough.”