21st birthdays- good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay

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How great was that procession of 21st parties? Footy clubs, town institutes, trotting tracks, backyards and in my case, a cosy golf club. It was a time of fuzzy optimism and innocence and skinny leather ties. It was the eighties.

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One lunch-time in the Kapunda Golf Club when we were nineteen Davo and I learnt a key life skill. An elder statesman of both the club and the community Gus Higgins lined up some glasses and began.

“Now boys, you want to keep it tilted. That’s it. Don’t panic, but snap it off quickly.”

Gus was teaching us how to pour a beer. We were excellent students. We wanted to acquire this universally-admired expertise so we could take our place among the men of the world, or at least those of Kapunda. His gentle tuition continued.

“Don’t over-fill it. You want to leave a nice head on the glass.” As Davo eased the West End amber into a butcher, Gus uttered his final, terrifying command, “Make sure you don’t choke it.”

This was a rite of passage. Happily, we passed. My 21st was another.

For my party, I recorded four TDK cassettes of music. Six hours’ worth. Much like Rob Fleming making a mixtape in High Fidelity I saw myself as an artist who was curating an artefact of considerable beauty. If this is possible with The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

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The tapes are long gone, but I remember the Hoodoo Gurus featuring prominently, especially “Like Wow – Wipeout” with its urgent rhythms and connotations of Sydney beaches and oddball Australian off-spinner Greg Matthews. Johnny and June Carter’s “Jackson” was on there too, as I loved, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.” When Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” played there’s a youthful, exaggerated drawl as we sang along- “How does it feeeel?” And we didn’t really know, for we were twenty-one.

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I was also a fan of sixties music, mostly British bands like the Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks, so this became the dress theme. My dear friend Trish designed the hand-drawn invitations. On the night, much paisley and purple swirled about the brown timbers of the club house. Wide ties flapped. Nick came as a blonde Mick Jagger, complete with Union Jack flag flowing behind him as he strutted about the bar and dance-floor, most notably when “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” blasted the room.

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Woodsy made a VHS video of the night including the speeches. Mick Dermody told a joke with the punch-line concerning train passengers pooping in each other’s shoes, but said some lovely, touching things too. I made exactly the speech an unworldly country boy would make.

Woodsy and CAae

In the photo album there’s happiness and smiles, but sadness too for some of these people are gone, and some have drifted away. I think of the Australian writer Tim Winton who views life as a series of corridors of time and space. And then we or they move through a door.

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But what a fun corridor this was. Not a school kid anymore, but not really yet an adult either. At uni and on the cusp (cups). A honeyed place in which you’re finding your way, and the world’s opening up, beyond the dusty town you call home.

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“Eagle Rock” was a preposterous badge of this confidence, this unarticulated need to separate ourselves from the generation that came before. There’s a belief that this tradition originated at the University of Queensland and migrated to South Australia. My first recollections of it were from 1985, at a St Anne’s College toga party with Rocket and Stolly and Harmesy and others.

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This Daddy Cool classic saw you instantly crowding in a circle, dropping your trousers and then swaying along to the song with your Levi’s bunched down over your Adidas Romes and dragging onto the brandy-sticky carpet.

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 Of course, it doesn’t stand up to modern scrutiny. It does, however, have an undeniable tribalism, even an evangelism that functions as a crude declaration of independence. But these broad churches held no salvation for some of the older adults who departed soon after, grim-faced and steering their Holdens north.

Around breakfast on Sunday the cold sun bent through the windows and the captain came in. Some of us had slept on the floor. I was near the honour board, as near as I would ever get, under one of those brown, laminated tables that’s compulsory in country golf clubs. Watto simply announced, “You’ve got an hour to clean up before the first group tees off.”

I stood up and adjusted my tan velour tie. I started picking up beer glasses.

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