Tania takes baton and runs with it
By TONY WHITE
VIVACIOUS country music star Tania Kernaghan, bursting with pride and national fervour, hopped, skipped and jumped as she glided through the streets of Grafton yesterday carrying the Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton.
Amid a kaleidoscope of colour, cheering onlookers and Australian flag-waving children, the mulit-award winning songstress described the moment as 'the highlight of my career'.
Ms Kernaghan was one of 12 people selected to take part in the Queen's Baton Relay on a special route from McKittrick Park in South Grafton to St Mary's School in Turf Street, Grafton, as part of an epic 180,000km journey that began at Buckingham Palace, England, on March 14 last year.
"To be chosen to carry the baton in such a prestigious event is just unbelievable, an incredible honour," Ms Kernaghan said.
"It makes you feel so proud to be Australian and part of a great event like the Commonwealth Games.
"I don't think my feet touched the ground, I was just gliding. The adrenaline rush was fantastic.
"All the people were waving and clapping. It was very encouraging. A great feeling.
"I first started coming to Grafton as a 13-year-old as part of my Dad's (Ray) shows. Every year I get back here and do some shows. It's sort of like my second home."
Flanked by an 80-plus entourage including police escorts with flashing lights, buses, cars and official Queen's Baton Relay staff, Ms Kernaghan and the other runners, including Australian men's hockey captain Brent Livermore, were given a warm welcome by locals.
"This sort of thing brings out the best in people, it's a great event and terrific for the town," Grafton businessman Ron Young said.
Excited onlooker Drew Gatland and his daughter Alexi really enjoyed the procession.
"We talked about coming this morning and Alexi has had a great time," Mr Gat- land said.
"We got to talk to Tania Kernaghan and Brent Livermore which was excellent. It's a great thing for the town."
Brett and Karen Fitzgibbon and their daughters Melodie and Alyssa stumbled onto the Queen's Baton Relay.
"We didn't know it was on but we were in town and it's been great for the kids to see," Mrs Fitzgibbon said.
Ms Kernaghan, who resides on the Gold Coast, had just returned from the annual Country Music Festival in Tamworth where she won the People's Choice Award for best female vocalist.
"That was a great thrill. Now to come here (Grafton) for this is a real highlight for me," she said.
"The people in Grafton have been fabulous.
"This is the highlight of my year, the highlight of my career. I lunched with the Queen in Albury in 1998 but this is something else, very special.
"It's an historic moment, especially in Grafton."
Famous Australians Cathy Freeman and Elle MacPherson were the first of 3500 Australians to carry the Queen's Baton which has travelled from England through 71 countries. The Australian leg involves a 21,500km journey over 50 days visiting more than 500 communities.
Mr Livermore, who flew back from Melbourne especially to take part, said: "It's a privilege and absolute honour to be here, it's been a real buzz. The enthusiasm for the Commonwealth Games is growing and this really brings it home."
For Yamba-based athlete Ray Hunt, yesterday was the third occasion he has been involved with pre-Games ceremonies. He carried the Olympic torch for the 1956 (Melbourne) and 2000 (Sydney) Olympic Games in Australia.
The other baton carriers yesterday were Harold Kratz, Rebecca Ulrick, Karen Barlow, Patricia Fischer, Lindy Mears, Nathan Sullivan, Brad Wardell, Nancy McPherson and Kylie Duff.