When I was home looking after our second son ABC News 24 began. Two events of note occurred during those months. Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani compound, and the actor Bill Hunter passed away.
One day just after lunch as Max slept I watched Bill’s memorial service on the television. Mick Molloy worked with Bill, most impressively on Crackerjack, and as a touring double-act across many inner-suburban pubs.
In his eulogy at the Princess Theatre, Mick recalled Bill’s favourite sayings. Operating within a narrow theme, the first was, “I’m just two schooners short of the horrors” and often used in response to a cheery salutation, the second was, “Get fcuked.”
At the Footy Almanac lunch, and in conversation with our Kapunda crew, John Harms observed that every Melbournian has a Bill Hunter story. And key to these fabled tales was Bill’s seeming ability to be relaxing with a lager at multiple pubs. Simultaneously. He defied quantum physics for Bill could teleport himself, when thirsty. Forget arc-welding, here’s an enviable life-skill.
In town for the weekend with five mates to celebrate my looming birthday, I was keen to pay homage to Bill.
It had begun well.
How do you build a publican?
As there is no instructive literature, I suggest the following. Make him slow of gait, even lumbering; commanding yet enigmatic; an employer of understatement as his primary method of communicating, and drench his back-story with equal measures of hyperbolic myth and striking reality.
In short, you make him Percy Jones: proud Tasmanian, Carlton royalty, and mine host at the North Fitzroy Arms.
In this pub bursting with memorabilia, the best example is a photo in the back corner of Percy, standing shoulder to shoulder with another hulking 1970’s icon, Gough Whitlam. It’s invested with historical context, colossal vitality, and fun.
Happily, we now have our own photo with Percy, taken at a front bar table, as he worked unhurriedly through his steak, hands like dinner plates, further enlarged by long seasons of ruck-work. Somehow, reminiscent of Bill Hunter’s corporeal talent he sat with, around, and over us by the window as twilight stole the day. Increasingly, Percy appeared to have descended a North Fitzroy beanstalk, with the scent of an Englishman (Collingwood pest) twitching in his nostrils.
Having concluded the luncheon we repair to our Elizabeth Street digs. A bunk bed sets an appropriate tone and function, for our trip is merrily reminiscent of a school camp. We lie there giggling at, well, nothing in particular, each with a brown paper-bagged Coopers Sparkling Ale to close our proceedings, as against the Tigers, the Hawks predictably close theirs.
The top deck at the MCG for the Magpies and the Blues. Footy can be of heightened appeal, especially when you’re disinterested in the result. The man-bun count is dangerously high, and incurable offender Bryce Gibbs is doing well. He’s a Glenelg boy.
Soon, we locate a narrative in Levi Casboult’s afternoon. He’s a great mark, but his kicking is a curious tribute to James Manson: former Magpie and according to the Coodabeens, a “rock and roll Tasmanian.” Still, his inelegant disposal wins me ten bucks from one of the old muckers. Collingwood present as fragile, listless, and impotent. Is this uncharitable?
As the Carlton song booms about the Olympic Stand, our ears detect Percy and Bill Hunter, adding their baritones to the celebration.
Pausing involuntarily at Young and Jackson for a head-count and pot of tea we then move to the Docklands for the Crows and Dogs. This could now be the competition’s finest rivalry. Anecdotal evidence suggests that on that September day in 1997 over quarter of a million Dogs supporters were behind those goals for Libba’s notorious point.
Earlier in the day, and fittingly around lunchtime, we were enjoying boys’ church at the All Nations Hotel in Richmond when above the fetching old bar, Bill Hunter’s apparition appeared, declaring, “Trust me Mickey. I was there. Don’t listen to ‘em. It was a fcuking behind.”
Tonight, though, the Crows are walloped in the middle, and have to launch too many attacks from deep in defence. This makes it tough, especially as the Dogs are on. Jenkins kicks a career-best eight, and while the free kick count is lopsided, it’s an excuse, and we lose a thriller.
Bontempelli shows poise and creativity in becoming tonight’s difference. He’s only just concluded being a teenager. When I was his age I could almost speak in sentences, and keep my Kingswood on the left.
After the siren, and walking along the swirling concourse a Dogs fan barks, “Crows supporters are two-headed at birth, and they’ve cut off the rong (sic) one.” This, of course, required appropriate rebuttal, and with volume one of our group replied, “Hey mate! You best get home and watch the ’97 prelim on your Mum’s Betamax.”
Twenty years in, this rivalry is escalating. It’s a ripper.
Because it’s the best method of dealing with our (temporary) Crows grief, we each purchase another Coopers Sparkling Ale and return to the school camp confines of our hotel room.
Safely snoring in the tiny space, we’re again visited by Bill Hunter who nods, just like he so often did in Muriel’s Wedding, and remarks, “You boys have had a bloody good weekend. Now go home tomorrow to your wives and families. If you behave, you can come back next year.”
Thanks Bill, we murmur from our bunks.