0

Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club

Beneath the trees I see a rickety wooden stand, and a row of old couches.

Pumping music floods across the lush outfield. It’s jazz/techno/funk/fusion with an accompanying saxophonist. He’s slight, sporting a pork pie hat and dwarfed by black speakers on tall tripods. Previously living next door, he returns annually to provide the soundtrack. It’s the strangest broadcast I’ve heard at a cricket match.

After a while my ears and eyes accept these peculiarly arranged nuptials and welcome the enhanced festivity.

Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club is underway.

Thirty-odd women (the hyphen’s crucial here) are at six long tables on the long off boundary, affably ignoring the sporting action. Now, does Ladies Day carry a possessive apostrophe? Do they own it or is this adjectival? Which better illustrates their experience? My fear is that the women do most of the work for their own day, but then I’m assured the males began preparations in the kitchen around dawn.

Along with its pocket-sized community the oval’s nestled in an attractive valley at the confluence of Bull Creek and Finniss River. It’s just up from the church and the Greenman Inn. We’re between Strathalbyn and Willunga, and the Mount Lofty Ranges sits right there to our immediate west.

At the 2016 census this hamlet recorded a population of 261 yet fields two senior teams and a junior side. Adelaide Oval’s soil was originally sourced in Ashbourne, and further elevates the celebrated status of the club.

The cricket itself is almost apologetic with looping deliveries, batting which prods towards the cherry rather than bludgeons it and fielding that’s a tragi-comic mix of purposeful and accidental. The infield appears impenetrably spongy. It’s like underwater cricket. The scoring shots seem to be sixes and lofted fours but even these are like fluky pitching wedges from high handicappers. Instead of a Kookaburra they could be using foam bats and a nerf ball.

Just up from the lone saxophonist there’s an outdoor bar so I ask the chap in charge, ‘What’s the score?’

Fishing about in an esky he replies, ‘Langhorne Creek is 7/70 after 35 overs.’

‘40 overs a side? You shouldn’t have many to chase down.’

He laughs. ‘It’s B grade cricket. No guarantees.’

Indeed. I was in a Kapunda side that was rolled for about 35 against Riverton. But they only got the runs with nine down. Fonz, a team-mate in Kimba, played in a country carnival team that was knocked over for two.

By contrast I later learn that in October 1954 Ashbourne icon H.R. Meyer took 6/65 against Langhorne Creek.

He was 69 years old.

A late-innings six is skied into the foxy mid-wicket scrub and melancholy minutes follow. The musician continues, as U2 sang, to ‘breathe’ into his saxophone. Brows are furrowed and the fielders stomp about in the undergrowth. At the Ladies Day tables much wine is downed, obliviously, before the ball is hoiked back at the wicket, finally.

Lunch is then served with a handful of deliveries remaining in the visitors’ innings and the amassed ladies begin to file towards the clubrooms. I hope they enjoy their chicken and (tossed) salad.

Suddenly, a midwicket slog at us under the trees. The barman (and likely OHS&W officer) yells, ‘Watch out!’ But I can’t see for the canopy. The ladies remaining put their hands over their glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and not their heads in an impulsive display of their true personal priorities. On the rope a fielder snatches at the ball. He turfs it. Blokes behind the bar shake their capped bonces, with one suggesting he has the ‘best hands in the club.’ The ball dribbles over the boundary.

Ladies Day and the resident saxophonist continue. I know none of the players, spectators, or officials but there’s been rejuvenation in seeing their shared enterprise, even for twenty wistful and nostalgic minutes.

We hop in the car. We’ve a winery appointment.

6

Beer Review: Southwark Bitter

As we ambled along the grey beach this morning and the dogs scampered in the wet sand and we chatted about yesterday’s Cellar Door Fest I thought of many wonderful things for which I’m grateful.

Oddly, Southwark Bitter was absent from this gentle Sunday mindfulness, but now here I am on the patio with a distinctive green can. It’s time to revisit. Excursions into nostalgia should be occasionally inclusive and with the radio on, the lawn freshly mown, and the water feature bubbling along, I flip open the can. I expect it to be combative.

It smells more beery than beer. There’s nothing post-modern or aspirational present. It’s unapologetic, and I know that on Southwark’s playlist there’s just too many songs by The Angels. But, wait, perhaps the aromatics aren’t as boisterous as I remember. There’s a familiar charm, and it’s like the old cricketer who batted at ten, didn’t bowl and had to be hidden in the field. You and your team-mates loved him.

I take a few cautious sips and personal history makes me expect to be clobbered in the gob. But, I’m not. It’s not nearly as angular and cantankerous as my last venture into this beer-themed savannah. It’s smooth and almost subtle. Disbelieving, I check the can. Yep, Southwark. I replaced some lawn this morning and can now feel the effects of shovelling (yes, I used my skimming shovel) and wonder if I’m experiencing some sensory side-effects of this rare Sunday exertion.

A plane takes off from Adelaide airport and with a low scream climbs out across St Vincent’s Gulf. Buddy, the dog moves and Triple J plays a song I don’t know.

I keep two glass Southwark mugs in the freezer and sometimes bring these out on hot days when guests call in. It’s more theatrical than real but the frostiness adds a brief frisson to our shared enterprise. Given that I’ve bought a Southwark for the first time this millennium I decide it would be churlish not to marry beer and ancient mug. So I do.

This seems to exaggerate the trademark bitterness and now my 2021 experience starts to approach the one I recollect from those dusty Kapunda afternoons after cricket or by the Duck Pond with other misshapen youth or up at Gundry’s Hill with Fats blasting Mondo Rock out of his car boot. The universe settles back onto its known axis. It’s been a curiously rewarding event, and the beer has over-delivered. I’m strangely pleased.

With a determined swallow I finish my mug of beer and sit it down on the table. I wonder when I’ll next have a Southwark.

I look over at the dogs. They don’t seem to know either.

2

First Swim

Spring’s swinging wildness has been more ridiculous this year. Rain, wind, crazed dips and leaps in temperature, and one Friday morning atop Mount Lofty, even snow. Yesterday the sun was ferocious and the boys and I steered for the beach late afternoon.

The season’s opening swim is like many other entrances: the theatre of the first ball of the Boxing Day Test, the joy of that initial barbeque (ed: do these ever actually stop?) and the elongated summery, “Howwwwwwwww” at the start of Sherbet’s “Howzat.”

All suggest much about what hopefully follows across the toasty, meandering months. Days which recline and school holidays which drift. Cricket on a big screen and then beyond the screen door, out the back, on the lawn, brown patches witness to brotherly bowling and batting.

Cooled by its Arctic origins, the water at once enlivens and connects us. We throw a ball about our bouncing triangle- Alex, me, Max, me, Alex, me, Max, me- and this repetition functions as worship.

Suddenly, a fin.

Curved, momentary, kindly.

It pushes up, again, and we peer at its periscope. Dolphin. It surfaces once more before disappearing for good, its submarine progress beneath the twinkling water.

Later at home a twilight storm of white sheets and rattles and dog-scaring booms and our towels flap like bright ghouls on the clothesline.

In the morning I gather them up from the lawn.

4

The West End Brewery and me

To this country kid life often appeared binary. Lillee or Thommo, Holden or Ford, Port or any other team, and my Dad, no, all dads, drank West End Draught or Southwark beer.

I remember our back lawn, the old Buffalo grass with microscopic leaf barbs that’d make your legs itch. Summer and the sprinkler would be on, with that comforting hiss that was anything but reptilian. By the swing was an ancient lemon tree and down from this I’d play backyard cricket with my sister even though she’d insist she was not out caught behind by the automatic wickie if in her crease. Every time. She was persistent and Mum having refereed the argument, I’d then race in to bowl as fast as my pool-cue legs would allow.

Late afternoons wandering about the garden, watering his tomatoes, Dad would sometimes open a Southwark echo. The green of the label was intriguing; almost emerald, almost regal, vaguely Germanic with the stylised stein and almost many different evocations that were beyond my mind’s innocent migrations.

*

Nowadays, at the Broady in Glenelg South, with fifteen beers on tap, I always scan the offerings before getting the usual, and for that brief moment the cluster of choice is faintly paralysing, in a hugely privileged, first-world way. But from my late teens I recall that there was no real choice. I just ambled into the golf club bar or the pub and, like everyone else, had Draught.

My only decision was glass size and the Kapunda Golf Club was a butcher (200ml) venue while after cricket each of the six pubs- The Prince of Wales, Sir John Franklin, Clare Castle, North Kapunda, Railway and Allendale- was schooners or mugs with handles (285ml) and only with West End Draught. All of this was barely considered. I may as well have wished for the sky to be another colour.

We’d get up in the dark for the Adelaide Oval one-dayers on the Australian Day long weekend. It was the triangular series era so Saturday might be New Zealand against the West Indies and then on the Sunday and holiday Monday they’d play Australia from 10am.

Three or four cars- maybe Woodsy’s 180B, Bobby’s Torana and my HQ Holden- would go from Kapunda to Gawler in the gloom, and we’d train from there (through Womma), walk down King William Street, and line up at the Victor Richardson Gates as the heat was climbing from the bitumen.

Once in we’d scramble to the southern mound about half-way up, and down from the Duck Pond. This was a marquee erected annually just inside the mesh fence at long-on, and it signalled that along with our foam eskies loaded with vodka-infused watermelon (we are all fruitarians, Officer), greasy bottles of Reef Oil and Adidas Mexico shorts all was right at Adelaide Oval for another summer.

Adelaide Oval during the summer of 1985

Although we didn’t frequent that part of the ground, from the Scoreboard Bar there’d be the day’s first factory whistle as the stem was eased out of a barrel. First keg done! This was always by 8.05am and there’d be a bigger roar than a Roo Yardley screamer at point, or Rodney Hogg trapping David Gower plumb. And this’d continue, every few minutes, sounding like Proud Mary steaming down the Mississippi. Every eighteen-gallon drum was West End Draught.

In 1992 I flirted with Southwark. It was a nostalgic, almost ironic phase, but a nod to my past. The bottle had been rebadged with a dark blue motif replacing the green death label, and each carton came with a (free) glass mug. I still have two of these and they’re the best beer tumblers I never bought. On hot afternoons I sometimes fetch one out of the freezer while I’m on the tongs. Southwark has never been poured into one.

Then one day in a pub, maybe in Kimba or Kapunda, other beer taps appeared. Suddenly, they were just there. Foreign lagers like XXXX and VB (Queensland and Victoria are different beer countries) and extra-terrestrial beers like Boags and Cascade. It was also when Coopers first entered my world. Suddenly, the old dichotomy had collapsed just like Skyhooks v Sherbet. I didn’t glance back. West End Draught was now a black and white tele with a coat hanger antenna next to the Jumbotron of Sparkling Ale.

*

Recently at the Glenelg Footy Club I ventured to the bar during half time on a sunny April afternoon. It’s a Lion Nathan premises (unlike Norwood Oval which is Coopers) and standing behind a beanied Centrals supporter I noted a specials poster

West End Draught cans $5.

It’d been decades so feeling sentimental I bought one, returned to my spot on the grass just down from the scoreboard and flipped the top. Can we locate meaning in beer? Some would argue not. I’d suggest that the answer is unquestionably.

I glanced around to make sure no-one was watching. A sip and it was 1986. Metallic, coarse, antagonizing. I remembered the words of my old mate Nick: “Some of our best times have been on West End Draught.” I tried to taste it as a country boy or my Uncle Des or as that dreadful default, a patriot. But my evaluation was clear. The can of beer, the inescapable Red Tin, was muck.

With the news of the brewery’s 2021 closure I thought of squinting farmers and dusty golfers and young fellas in utes and B-grade footballers in distant change rooms after a scrappy match, all tipping it in. But Adelaide’s a powerless town and the world now cares little for Holdens or Thommo or West End Draught.

Then, I think of Dad and our Kapunda backyard and a dawn train to watch a January one-dayer, and those simple, secluded times.

Glenelg North, later today
0

Adelaide’s North Terrace

It’s always excellent to explore your own city and so we booked into an apartment on North Terrace and scampered about for three days.

Day trips are fun, but staying overnight in the CBD invests the holiday with heightened excitement, and cloaks the cityscape with enchantment.

It was a trip of constant curiosity and we discussed the confronting Art Gallery exhibits and the giant squid in the Museum and ventured about the Botanic Gardens’ Conservatory. Claire took us on an impromptu tour of TAFE and the boys were quite taken with the enormous white-board pens (for use with the vision-impaired).

We speculated about the coins embedded in Rundle Street’s footpath and saw the bat colonies by the zoo and even watched 1980’s World Series cricket in our room.

Alex and Max increasingly embrace tradition so hopefully this can become an annual investigation.

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Botanic Gardens

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Absence Embodied: installation in the Art Gallery

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brotherly love

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balcony o’clock

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what a joy this apostrophe is: so inclusive, so quietly assured

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Pancake Kitchen

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my first visit since 1984

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looking south

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this painting enjoyed our scrutiny, if not admiration

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early morning

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arrival (not the ABBA album)

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North Terrace

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tour guide Max at the Botanic Gardens

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successful parenting

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Pub Review: The Greenock, Barossa Valley

greenock pub

Located on the north-west edge of the Barossa, Greenock was a town I typically ignored in my youth.

Coming from Kapunda for footy or cricket we’d drive through it in a minute on route to Nuri, Tanunda or Angaston. Sometimes, after a hot afternoon in the field you’d swing by the Greenock pub, five of you in an old Holden furnace (six in a HQ if it had a bench seat in the front), and each get a longneck in a brown paper bag for the meandering trip home.

Now, Greenock is a destination. There’s a handful of bright cellar-doors and the excellent Greenock Brewers, run by Chris and Lisa Higgins. Also chief among the attractions is the pub and on my annual June sabbatical I meet old school mate Nick there for lunch.

brewers

The local cricket club is nicknamed the Schlungers and their teams comprised an assortment of blokes usually called Nitschke. Playing at their home ground was often memorable, and one distant day my friend Bob’s bowling career came to a tragicomic and delayed death with an eighteen ball over (which only contained seven legal deliveries). Despite being an opponent he brought curious relevance to the GCC’s official prayer: Blessed are we who are cracked, for we shall let in the light.

Walking into the pub you instantly feel a sense of earthy relaxation with the curved wooden bar, fireplaces and dining rooms both spacious and snug. Given our reverent understanding of history Nick and I order Norton burgers, named for former mine host Norton Schulter who ran it for many years along with his son Mick. The Schulters have owned the pub for 150 years. Norton recently turned ninety.

norton

Norton (on left) a publican’s publican

We each nurse a Trafalgar Pale Ale and chat about times old and new; local footy and the AFL; Tarantino and the Stuttgart beer festival; Vampire Weekend and boys and utes and misbehaviour; family and love. Winemakers and farmers drift in. Outside, the world spins with blind delirium.

Decades ago Kapunda fielded an indoor cricket team on Thursday nights in Tanunda. Despite having some decent cricketers we were no match for the side filled with Schlungers and other Barossa notables like Horrie Moore who were so cocky they took to fancy dress. Once they whipped us while wearing rubber boots. Another time, in dresses. Humbled, we’d break up the despondent quarter-hour drive home by pausing at the Greenock for a healing cup and Fats would press C6 on the jukebox which was, “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis. Back then we were all caught in a trap.

schlungers

The Schlungers

For a while some pubs engaged in a pissing contest to see who could serve the biggest schnitzel and you’d often get one flopping off your plate the size of grandma’s best tea-towel. Now, the competition has moved from acreage to height and burgers and it’s all culinary architecture and perilous scaffolding and intimidating the diner into meekly deconstructing their meal in an act of surrender. Happily, no shallow displays of Freudian compensation in the Greenock today and we find our Norton burgers approachable, just like their eponymous inspiration.

And the chips are great too.

In this complex, unknowable time the Greenock pub is a sanctuary within the sanctuary of the Barossa within South Australia’s sanctuary. An easy amble from Adelaide, the pub and its unpretentious charms make this hamlet a terrific destination.

oval

2

My Greg Chappell Hat

hat

 

“Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Some hats can only be worn if you’re willing to be jaunty, to set them at an angle and to walk beneath them with a spring in your stride as if you’re only a step away from dancing. They demand a lot of you.”

Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

“You can never have too many good hats.”

Phil Klingberg, Kimba Cricket Club (1993)

*

On this gusty afternoon I’m on our patio writing. I’m just up the road from where the Chappell brothers attended St Leonards Primary School in the palindromic suburb of Glenelg.

It’s sitting on the table quietly, but has a full and boisterous past. Faded and frayed, on its front an emblem; two golden stalks of wheat embrace the acronym KCC. Kapunda Cricket Club. Down one side; the crowded loops of a celebrated signature.

It’s in its fourth decade. Mothers, wives and girlfriends, everyone, please look away now for it’s never been caught within twenty-two yards of a twin-tub.

It’s my Greg Chappell cricket hat.

*

I was at high school when the Kapunda Cricket Club distributed these hats in 1982. Cold Chisel had released Circus Animals, the Violent Femmes erupted with their eponymous debut, and the Eagles presented their second greatest hits album, meaning there were only forty-three such offerings to come (thus far). On average each Australian household now contains six separate versions of “Desperado.”

My hat was there as I featured in four losing grand final sides on the West Coast (South Australia, not California). This doesn’t bother me as cricket was always more social than showdown, and provided a fun, often protracted afternoon and post-afternoon structure to my Saturdays. I enjoyed the temperate rhythms, wit and mateship because if you played cricket with a chap, then bumping into him at Adelaide Oval guaranteed a happily frothy conversation.

How’d you go if you could face your own bowling? Would your eyes light up? Or would you cringe at the crease? Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn attending their own funerals it’s delicious to ponder, but unattainable. I’d endured a poor season when I made more runs than I took wickets. And my bowling wasn’t fearsome. More Les Paterson, than Lenny Pascoe.

I’d my cricket hat with me when old mate R. Bowden and I flew to New Zealand for that shamefully compulsory rite of passage, the Contiki Tour. On the South Island we visited Fox Glacier, where our tour guide advised us to take a hat. Yes, a fox hat.

It was summer, however in the photo we’re huddled on the bitter, elevated tundra. I’m petrified as I’ve climbed many icy steps to the frozen plateau, but know in that nagging way going up is easy; it’s the coming back down which gets unpleasant. I didn’t want my distorted limbs, innards and freshly bloodied cricket hat sent back across the Tasman in a chilly bin.

*

Like any commendable cap it’s versatile. An enthusiastic but fabulously incoherent golfer, on a par four I can go from Greg Norman to Norman Bates to General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf (I’m assured he’d a hideous slice) in seven shots. I like to wear my Greg Chappell hat up and down, but more often, across the fairways, and remember a coach telling me, “You’ve got it arse-about. You hit a cricket ball in the air, and a golf ball along the ground.”

It was shielding my boofy face just before the change of millennium when, up the Riverland on the wonderful Waikerie golf course, I lipped out on the last. This would’ve given me a best-ever back nine of 39. The next morning at Renmark, sure I’d the sport sorted, I bludgeoned my way to, and swiftly beyond one hundred, like David Warner in a feisty frame of mind.

At Kimba playing Buckleboo during harvest an unspeakable northerly roared down the desert, blasting sand and flies and primordial horror. While umpiring in the reddish apocalypse a team-mate signed my hat with the names of West Indian cricketers Viv, Joel and Clive. He even spelt most of them adequately. But that was ages ago, and his ink is submerged beneath the yellowing cloth.

While we lived in Singapore my Greg Chappell hat spent three years in friendless and dark storage. How did I do this? Retrieving the hat from its tomb, I felt the antique brim, creased from its slumber, but still sturdy.

*

Now like a retiree forever doomed to two-fruit-and-ice-cream its solitary excursion is accompanying me and my Victa across our lawn. Given its unattractive capacity for making babies cry and dogs growl, my wife’s banished the hat from public appearances.

She’s right.

But on the backyard table it’s looking at me like Wilson the volleyball, from the Tom Hanks’ flick Cast Away. Later tonight with the wife and boys in bed I’ll continue to write and reflect over a Barossa shiraz, and when nobody’s peeking, I’ll stick it on my head.

I might even take a selfie.

 

Eagles

0

Pub Review: Hotel Victor, Victor Harbor

DW 1

Iconic Australian cricketer, leviathan punter, beer inhaler and former Rothmans enthusiast Doug Walters famously said, “When in Victor Harbor be sure to swing by the Hotel Victor. It’s really good.”

Actually, he didn’t say this, and I just made it up.

Doug is a fabulously cool cat, and once went to bed in Perth well after dawn and well-oiled before mere hours later, going out to bat for his country. He possesses a remarkably mild temper, but I wonder what even he’d make of the Hotel Victor.

taps

The boys and I were in town and as the Tuesday sun was setting, all autumnal and fetching, we suddenly had a dinner dilemma. I won’t say it was poor planning on my behalf but our holiday cabin menu read: half a raw sausage, two bread crusts and nine grapes.

Among the safest beer choices in this land of plenty is Coopers Pale Ale, but happily sat in the front bar and peering across the park, my first sip was, as they say in beverage circles, putrid. Mmm. Something not right here. All metallic edges and prodding screwdrivers, and not the fruity, plentiful palate so richly celebrated.

Eleven patient slurps later I cleared my poisoned throat and rasped at the innkeeper, “Excuse me, young man with the hipster beard, my ale is poorly.” He replaced it, but the second was equally miserable. It lay in the glass like a sad, Liverpudlian puddle.

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Occasionally, the first beers poured daily from a keg can be, as Doug himself describes, a little sharp. However, this was beer o’clock in Victor Harbor during the splendid guts of school holidays. There were punters nursing cups all over the boozer. I was no pioneer.

A pub unable to provide a crisp gargle is like a frisky pup not wanting to reproduce with your bare leg: inexplicable.

We should’ve decamped to the fish ‘n’ chippery, but I persevered with the cold-eyed application of the Never Dead.

I’d a discount meal voucher and was singular in my wish to redeem it. “No, you can’t use it in here, only in the bistro,” announced the pig-tailed girl with cheerful senselessness. “What difference does it make?” I blinked. “Do the meals not come from the same kitchen? How can it matter where we sit?”

She blinked back.

In the apparently magical bistro with the boys gawping at their devices I ordered, but the pub again gave the rude finger. “Sorry, you can’t use this coupon for kids’ meals, only adult ones.”

I was tempted to use Aunt Edna’s favourite expression, the elegant and timeless, Fuck me.

I was getting extra good at loosing arguments, and my will to live was about to drown itself in my rancid ale, so naturally I continued. “But the discount here is ten bucks. Should I return, and buy the adult-only lobster and save thirty dollars? Would that be better for you?”

Hotel Victor 3, me 0.

lobster

I admit my roast beef was terrific. Tender, exquisitely flavoursome and a treat to eat. The carvery vegetables were also delicious; especially the cauliflower, although as Aunt Edna used to suggest, “If you somehow manage to fuck up cauliflower we’re all in deep shit.” She had a shocking mouth, Aunt Edna.

Upon arrival we were promised water and glasses, but the four wait staff were so stressed attending to the excessive, punishing demands of the six other diners that this didn’t happen. Mercifully, humans are only 60% water so replenishing with H2O wasn’t important, and at no stage were we in significant biological danger.

They were also busy dwelling on Doug Walters’ famous century made entirely in the final session at the WACA in 1974. He bought it up with a six off the day’s last ball.

For the Hotel Victor to have also hit a six off their last delivery would’ve required free Coopers Sparkling Ales for me, and buckets of chocolate ice-cream for both Alex and Max.

The wait staff (yes, we’re still waiting) were consumed by their own ridiculous rules for acceptance of vouchers; an unwavering commitment to shagging up the country’s finest keg beer; and avoiding minimal levels of table service and so, with eyes shut, flopping about at the crease like a wounded sea mammal, and failing to offer a cricket shot, were bowled middle stump.

DW 2

2

Adelaide Oval in the Eighties: Rodney Hogg, Adidas Romes and Mondo Rock

Davo, Rocket, Stephen, Trish, obscured Kapunda youth likely Kate, Trish and your correspondent

I remember the sweet, coconut aroma of tanning oil. It made us glisten like boxers or glamorous full-forwards and accelerated our baked so we were flapping roast chooks on the sloping grass. Applied upon arrival to our skinny selves it was a blessing if we forgot to re-drench our arms and backs during the second innings. Best let the sun inflict its damage without encouragement. Today, detecting its distinctive smell I’m instantly at Adelaide Oval during the summers of my youth.

With headlights peering into the warm dark our convoy of HQ’s and 180B’s would make its way about Kapunda’s streets and then steer south to Gawler. We’d load eskies and bags of food and a couple of our Mums’ blankets onto the train carriage ready for the roughly hour-long ride.

I recall Rocket and Chrisso and Woodsy and Nick and Claire and Trish and Crackshot and Lukey and Kate and Gert and Stephen and Jamie and Tommy and Boogly and Davo and Bobby and Brendan.

old oval

On the red hen sliding past Womma station there’d be a sudden fizz as someone like Davo opened a Southwark stubby, while secretly hoping the guard wouldn’t appear. Meanwhile, our parents would yawn and empty some cereal into their bowls.

There was always a queue, but at 8am we’d burst into the ground, and rush the open space on the south-eastern corner’s hill. Here the blankets became important as they were thrown out like magic carpets and we claimed our territory half-way up the mound.

Although the world wobbled on a different axis back then I was always astonished when at precisely 8.05am I’d hear the first industrial whistle from under the scoreboard. Accompanied by a satisfied roar, it was the spear being pulled from breakfast’s first empty keg. Across the day these would punctuate the air as a gassy summery score.

scoreboard

Many wore those blue shearers’ singlets which were an oddly ironic uniform, even among those of us who’d never wrestled a sheep. Our hats were barely functional rather than chic. Most didn’t bother. Our hair was unfashionable in the cruel way that only teenaged hair can be. The perms could be especially devastating, and high school yearbooks confirm these vicious facts. There were double-plugger rubber thongs and Adidas Romes and youthful enthusiasms.

I’d see a neat sign on the back fence declaring that under its small tarp was the “Duck Pond.” Pleasingly, I never knew the etymology for this. Nor did I bother for some mysteries are best unsolved. The equivalent of permanent residents at a country caravan park, this was a comforting citizenry whose annual presence was as welcoming as the first sighting of a beer snake being paraded about the crowd as if it had been transported from an Asian street festival.

beer snake

There was an innocent charm in the catering. I suspect the total combined menu was pies, pasties, chips and hot dogs. I fear that sausage rolls were a culinary omission, and don’t think chicken salt had yet been discovered in the pans of Adelaide’s barren north. Tacos or stir fry? Scarcely conceived.

The only vaguely healthy option was fruit although this was largely confined to a whole watermelon, injected with Smirnoff the night before, behind someone’s Dad’s shed.

I recall that Brendan always smuggled in drink. At the forefront of innovation for clandestine imbibing were his bar-noculars, which appeared to security guards, parents and the constabulary as a set of binoculars doubtless used by a cricket tragic. Happily, these were optically useless but alcoholically tremendous as each black tube held a neat quantity of neat spirit. It was perhaps the sole technological marvel of that decade.

At 9.30 the teams appeared on the heritage scoreboard. Which bustling Rodney would open the bowling: Hogg or McCurdy? Would Roo Yardley deliver some offies with his high, tidy action? Which Kim Hughes would turn up? The swashbuckler or the drunkenly swinging? Surely David Hookes would finally get a run on his home ground?

As part of their sports science-free warm-up the players might slow jog a lap, and I recall the crowd commentary on IVA Richards. “Check out the shoulders on him! He looks like a middle-weight!” And, I can still see Clive Lloyd, all hunch-backed and huge, laconic and cat-lazy.

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The late Bruce “Roo” Yardley

Back then 220 was a handy score, and the Windies and England often had us covered. Lillee and Thomson and Marsh were near the end while AB was bracing himself for the torrid decade ahead. I also remember Sod O’Donnell and Henry Lawson and Kepler.

After the match we’d play cricket in the Creswell Gardens or head to the SA-FM Sky Show by the Torrens or maybe take refuge in the Cathedral Hotel or venture down to Glenelg for a swim.

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Your correspondent and Trish about to line dance in the Creswell Gardens

On the train, we’d rattle homewards and then pile into our cars with their Pioneer cassette decks and Mondo Rock blasting through the open windows into the still dark. We were worriless for tomorrow was Monday and the Australia Day long weekend. School and uni were weeks away.

Our world was still wonderfully small, and for a few days every summer Adelaide Oval was at its centre.

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0

Nine

 

Max in shades
Max Benjamin Randall, this Saturday, after the longest time and the shortest of years you’ll be nine. These days have flowed over us, like rain. They stretch on and on, and this makes me glad.

I love how you see our dogs Buddy (Chubby Kid) and Angel (Angela Merkel) as your siblings. Some mornings you emerge from the bedroom: stiff-legged, sleepy-eyed and with your beautiful hair bouncing in a wild, sunny animation, and go straight outside to the puppies, give them a hug and see how they’re going. It’s a sign of your boundless affection, and says many cool things about you.

Your bed is the top bunk above Alex, and near your pillow is a teetering stack of books. Like your dad you tackle multiple titles at once and sleeping, enjoy the proximity of these paper joys.

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Good luck with that lovely Road Dahl box-set Nanna and Poppa bought you for Christmas. I think you’ll like it, and have a life-long relationship with stories as both a reader and a teller. I reckon you just might.

Next season I hope you’ll play cricket. It’ll be fantastic if you can be in the same team as your brother. You love this game and enjoy some excellent competition in the backyard with Alex. I’m reassured the fights are typical and a predictor that neither of you will be unassertive types when older. This appears likely. It’s somehow comforting.

As it’s one of the sporting world’s most specialised skills, we must keep working on your leg-spin. In a decade or so, Australia might be ready for another blonde leggy.

Speaking of Alex, my favourite moments are when the two of you do something constructive together. Whether it’s building Lego or making a fort I love to see this. While these are punctuated with incidents that are, shall we say, less than constructive, I know as you both make your way through school and beyond you’ll be fierce supporters of each other. In the best possible ways you’ll be warrior-brothers.

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Such is your shared competitiveness that only last week you were both riding home and of course, it immediately became a race along the mean streets of Glenelg North. Hurtling along Winx-like, it was superb until in what would’ve otherwise been a photo finish you clipped handlebars. Oh, no! Then it became horrific, but also if we could watch again in super-slow-motion, quite balletic, as you simultaneously somersaulted over your bikes.

Cue kilometres of bandage and gallons of hospital-strength antiseptic.

Pleasingly, neither of you is like me in that there were no tears. I’d be happy if this is the last of your stacks, but confidence is not especially high given your combined broken arm count in Singapore was four. In two years.

sports day

Another wonderful contrast to me is your encyclopaedic knowledge of cars from a crusty Corolla to, as you suggest, a lit super-car. We now take weekly excursions to various car-dealers to check out the McLarens, Bentleys and Lamborghinis, and just last night when in bed you said, “Dad, if you were a car you’d be a Ferrari.” I asked why and you replied, “Well, it seems like the sort of car an old Dad who had millions of dollars would want.” One of these is true.

So, have a great day. Saturday birthdays are always special.

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Last weekend cruising about Alex commented how he couldn’t wait until he was older and could live in Victor Harbor. In a sign that your world will surely open itself up you responded, “Yeah, I’m going to live in Clare.”

After a pause you added, “But also Utah.” You deserve so much, and to see and experience all of which you dream.

Happy, happy birthday dearest Max.

Max on beach

 

2

Pub Review: Sir John Franklin, Kapunda

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Noted navy man and Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin contributes his name to this Kapunda boozer which is neither especially naval nor Arctic given the town’s dusty location in the driest state in the driest continent. I doubt this old mucker ever enjoyed a Cooper Sparkling Ale. But let’s not quibble over these minor details.

Franklin had a distinguished career before he untimely extinguished in remote Canada from starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, and scurvy. And, I suspect, from an overly long and grim death certificate.

This should have come as no surprise to him given that his 1819 expedition ended with most of his party expiring following unpleasant cannibalism, or a shoddy diet of lichen and their own footwear. This gained Franklin the nickname of, “the man who ate his boots” which must have been somewhat embarrassing for him at barbeques and footy club progressive dinners.

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Sir John Franklin, in happier times

Happily, neither fellow diners nor Blundstones are on the menu today at this grand old pub. Although on a recent post-cricket visit (I was probably there long enough to have been described for tax purposes as a lodger) I chose not to dine (I was afraid of getting parmigiana on my new cricket whites) while fellow guests Matt Ryan and Fergie Higgins spoke well of the meals and, as grandma would have liked, left nothing on their plates.

To provide some entirely unnecessary, indulgent context the balcony of the Sir John Franklin was the first place I saw and heard that most distinctive 1980’s artefact: the ghetto blaster. A ridiculously enormous silver affair, it was owned by one of the Hutton brothers, whose father George was the publican when I was in high school.

As various HQ Holdens and Valiants warbled up and down the Main Street we supplied the soundtrack which, of course, was the masterful 1980 compilation cassette Full Boar. My affections were torn between Mi Sex and their tune, “Computer Games” and Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”. I’m still not into yoga and I have half a brain.

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The front bar features Sky Channel and a TAB, both of which were splendidly embraced on our recent visit by esteemed former local Chris Hayward while he waited patiently for his similarly veteran-statused cricket colleagues. Of course, his investments were accompanied by a schooner of West End Draught, although tragically this didn’t enhance his returns.

I’m thrilled to report that this space within the pub is more than adequate for the compulsory spoofy tournament, or two. The bar stools are ergonomically perfect for this, and for competitors who use the Paul White stand as you play technique, the carpet is forgiving and offers suitable support for those tense moments when you’re in a final against Goose Mickan and you’re holding none, but have called five.

mine host

Built in 1849, the pub has a social club and my research staff tells me that among the office-bearers are former Kapunda Football Club trainer Peter Wenke (no-one ran the magic towel out to the half-back flank with more grace) who in a surprise to your correspondent, was in this very bar late Saturday morning. I continue to love the notion of the pub social club that affords its members a sense of ownership and decidedly human investment. But that’s enough reflection upon the role of social capital in contemporary Australian watering-holes.

Finally, on a personal note I must mention the superb bag-minding service run by the pub. If, like me, you left a small Auskick backpack (borrowed from your son Max) by the bar prior to rambling home late Saturday evening to the Clare Road digs of your mate Woodsy, then the most excellent staff will take care of it until you collect it, sheepishly, Sunday morning. My cricketing colleague Stef can also vouch for this wonderful facility.

So, next time you’re in Kapunda, there’s much to enjoy in my favourite pub named for a British explorer who perished in Canada from a greedy, rather excessive mix of starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning and scurvy.

dining room

0

Kapunda Cricket Club: the Comeback

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A bumpy guess says it’s been 10,629 days since I last fronted for the Kapunda Cricket Club.

Moreover, 90+ years, collectively for Tommy, Puggy and I. With Hollis and Stef also donning the drawstring creams we average over fifty. Years, not runs. My cousin Froggy is our captain. He’s played cricket continuously for nearly four decades.

Nuriootpa’s number 2 oval is scandalously slow, and the eastern side caravan park will come into dreadful context later. If I bowl, I fear for the Millards and the elderly gents in white singlets shuffling with their toiletries bags to the amenities block.

Winning the toss, we bat and make a bright opening. Coming in at three and four, Tommy and Puggy (another cousin) bat together. They’re watchfully cautious, but the scoreboard is glacial. From our gazebo an informative voice (possibly mine) inquires, “You chaps know it’s a forty-over innings and not a five-day match?”

Across the afternoon there’s marginal opportunity to sledge the opposition for we’re too busy sledging each other.

I bat for a few overs with Stef.

For many of our teenaged years we spent a summery week down at Port Willunga. There was relentless, fierce backyard cricket with his cousins Nick and Adam. Despite the therapeutic presence of a taped tennis ball this often disintegrated into a physical fight.

Once this tumbled onto the street. Of course, the brothers were at it like a mobile MMA bout, and Stef, spectating bemusedly with me in the January dusk said, “Should we start throwing a few punches at each other, just to fit in?”

Batting is about partnerships. Stef and I do this by scrambling some byes and keeping the scoreboard, as IM Chappell would recommend, ticking over. We turn some easy twos into panicked singles. We urge Kapunda’s score toward the century. It’s great fun to spend time in the middle after many, many years.

perfect

We have a mid-pitch chat. With widening eyes, Stef says, “I’m going to start swinging.” I like his thinking. The ancient leggy tosses one up. On this hard wicket, he extracts ridiculous bounce. I get after him. Like an Adam Scott lob wedge the ball is instantly vertical.

I’m caught mid-pitch by the keeper. For a duck. Can you believe it? A beautifully-compiled duck. Like the slaughtered buffalo in Apocalypse Now, I stagger towards the non-striker’s end, and know, preternaturally, that I should’ve paused inexplicably, allowed him to pass, dropped my shoulder and then decked him, accidently.

Having made just over a hundred, we take the field. Our tally is Invincibles-like given that a few weeks’ back we were rolled for 21 after being 7/7. And that was with the captain and oldest player, Dr Max, making 18. If he’d made zero point zero it might’ve been truly, profoundly hideous.

The next two hours are fabulous fun.

We spend it laughing, largely at each other. There’s a Grand Canyon between my cricketing memories and the rotund, slow-motion parodies trundling, and on this warm Barossan afternoon, listing about in the outfield like matinee ghouls.

Tradition dictates that we establish a Schooner School. In this a dropped catch equals buying everyone a beer while claiming one earns a cup from each participant. Tommy and Puggy argue that I owe all a beverage for my undeserved duck. Froggy shakes his head and says no; the rules must be as they were in 1987. Blood is thicker than beer. Six of us sign the verbal contract.

We take a solitary wicket, dropping three catches which, of course, is great for the Schooner School but not our cricket. After one grassed Kookaburra I giggle rhetorically, “Do you blokes want wickets or free beer? What’s wrong with you?” Today is a celebration of contemporary failure and not just a nostalgic reunion with our sunny past.

Greenock

I bowl from the northern end, which is acknowledged rightfully as the difficult, or as I call it, the heroes’ end. After one exotic and ragged nut, Froggy completes a decidedly athletic and unthematic manoeuvre on the mid-wicket fence to save a certain four, heaves the ball back in to me, and yells at the batsman, “Don’t try to hit my cousin for six, pal!”

The day is going magnificently. Towards the end of my third over I’m cooked. Stef hollers, “You’ll be good for fifty overs, Mickey!” I reply, “Well, yes, but maybe over three seasons.”

As a team, we strangely only sustain one injury, if embarrassment, humiliation and self-satire are ignored. Having been forcibly, if not brutally removed from first slip, Puggy is banished to short mid-wicket when one of my deliveries is punched in his vague vicinity, and with the elegance of a land-locked sea mammal he flops belatedly at the ball, and in an alarming gesticulation which will forever haunt those who saw it, rises ashen-faced, grabs inexactly at his groin and cries, “I’ve done my groin.”

At Nuriootpa number 2 most of us read this as a clear medical sign that he had, in fact, done his groin, at least in a musculature sense. Puggy subsequently spends the rest of the match, evening and financial year hobbling like a knee-capped, low-level gangster in a C-grade mafia movie.

The net result of this groinal misfortune is that he can’t replace me as scheduled at the heroes’ end. Froggy asks, “Can you keep going, Mickey?” I nod yep, assert that my groin is fine, and from cover point Hollis quips, “Heart of a lion, heart of a lion.” Much laughter. A little bit of wee nearly comes out.

We share a post-game beer with our Nuriootpa opponents, including Horrie Moore who enjoyed sustained infamy as the Barossa’s premier fast bowler. As is often the case in sporting demonology he is a ripping bloke.

Stop-overing at old mate Chris Higgins’ Greenock Brewery, it’s bursting with happy Kapunda people who are there for a 50th. We invest an animated hour, and as ritual commands, each fetch a paper-bagged longneck for the arduous fifteen-kilometre expedition back to Kapunda.

me

In Hollis’s Prado are five blokes who’ve triumphed with the stellar sum of six runs and so we endure the ruthless, unforgiving Greenock Road and Thiele (named for Colin) Highway before decamping, more or less permanently, to the historic Sir John Franklin Hotel, located on Kapunda’s main street, which is conveniently named with the Google-friendly nomenclature of Main Street.

At half-eight it is time for spoofy. With nine players it means the potential number of coins is twenty-seven. Given the fiscal incentive to cheat engineer the result (the loser buys everybody a beer, so there’s little change from $100) Dan is summonsed to record the live data: Goose- 12, Puggy- 16, Froggy- 17, Tommy- 22, Whitey- 9, Hollis- 20, Stef- 23, Mickey- 19, etc.

If you’re from Kapunda and haven’t suffered a spoofy final with Goose Mickan then local mythology suggests you’ve not lived, or felt existential pain. I sweat through two finals with my (read: everyone’s) old nemesis and we share the (dis)honours.

spoofy

There’s continuous handshaking and back-slapping and affirming cheer. My fellow veterans and I vow this to be an annual event. We conspire that a 2020 away fixture at Greenock would be ideal, and schedule a late-spring, high-altitude training camp in Denver.

I love being back home.

0

Backyard Cricket

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During that beautiful hour or so before dark when the light is golden and the world’s rough edges disappear the boys and I played cricket in the backyard. It was warm and still and the kids next door were having a pool party. They had a great soundtrack and sang along to Gang of Youths and The Smith Street Band. They even played Eagle Rock.

Max likes to bowl leg spin, that most difficult of the cricketing crafts. But he has reasonable control and can get them to bite and spit. With his blonde locks he’s not unlike a certain SK Warne. I encourage him. “Don’t try to bowl fast like your dopey old Dad. There’s millions of very average medium pacers out there. Keep the leg spin going!”

Our home is in a constant state of tennis ball crisis. An already modest backyard, it will continue to shrink as the boys likely stretch into six footers. We share fences with five properties and all have endured our friendly fire.

A couple months back the people behind us had their yuccas removed. They ran the length of their back fence and were quite tall. I came home from work and suddenly could see the eastern sky as that vegetative wall was gone. And on our lawn were about ten tennis balls and a toy or two which had taken refuge in the trees. I was surprised there wasn’t also a Jetstar blanket, a German motorcycle and the Best of the Jackson Five. They were big trees.

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After a brisk delivery from Alex, Max edged one over the tree and into Mrs Hambour’s yard. Like Farmer Fred’s wethers we had no balls. Mrs Hambour is 97. She lives alone. She makes me laugh.

Earlier in the week when the temperature reached 46 degrees I rang her from work during the day just to check on her. She told me (again) of how she’d been recently hospitalised at the new Royal Adelaide following a fall during which she suffered two black eyes and hurt her nose.

“It was very nice Michael. They were good to me. I even saw one of those heart people- what are they called?”

“A cardiologist.”

“Yes, that’s it. And I said to him, ‘Don’t worry about my heart. It’s no good. Have I broken my nose?'”

The boys returned with two tennis balls and two chocolates each.

Having had a bat and a bowl I took up the prestigous position of umpire/ commentator/Dutch beer drinker in my chair under the patio at short extra cover. I channelled Australia’s finest all round broadcaster Tim Lane.

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“Max comes in and tosses one up just outside off stump. Alex steps into it and punches it through mid off for four!”

The boys found it amusing, although, if truth be told, not as amusing as their Dad. I continued.

“With his characteristic loping approach Alex bowls and Max is defending this one back up the pitch. There’s no run.”

And then like all great commentators (real and backyard) I had to show the power of brevity.

“Edge. Gone!” I made myself giggle.

Being brothers there was frequent disagreement so I turned to more televisual theatre to help. Alex was sure Max was out LBW. It was irresolvable. So I made the TV rectangle with my fingers. We’d go to DRS (Decision Review System is a technology-based system used in cricket to assist the match officials with their decision-making). I began.

drs

“Can I have side-on vision of the bowler please?” For reasons unknown I adopted an English accent for my third umpire duties. There’s probably some interesting post-colonialism going on here. Alex and Max had stopped fighting and were watching me and my recreation. “Yes, that’s a legal delivery,” I said to no-one and everyone, putting my hand to my invisible ear-piece.

I continued. “Can we go to Hotspot please?” The boys eyes widened. “Can you rock ‘n’ roll it please?” A meaningful pause. “Again… Thank you. No edge showing.”

I took a sip of beer. “Let’s go to ball tracking please.” We were getting close to the truth. “Yes, it’s pitching in line.” Another pause. “But the ball is going over the top of middle stump. Can you please reverse your on-field decision to not out?”

And do you know what? The boys nodded and returned to their positions. Dispute ended. I learnt something too.

And with this the game continued under the orange sky until we again exhausted our tennis ball supply and it became time for baths and then bed.

It had been a brilliant hour.

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2

Four pubs and a funeral

Yesterday I went to the funeral of my dear mate Bob’s brother Jeff. We all went to Kapunda High. He’d passed away too soon. He left a young wife and two daughters. He was 48.

The service was in Gawler and closed when the casket was draped with a Hawthorn footy club flag and their team song was played on a loop. Training as a junior with Central District he’d idolised Johnny Platten.

Jeff was laid to rest in the church cemetery where a couple decades’ prior he’d married a local girl. Atop this hill just outside of Saddleworth, the wind roared from the north in that menacing, apocalyptic way, as the temperature screamed into the hundreds. Fahrenheit, as always, seems more appropriate for these timeless occasions.

In the interim we called into the Gilbert Valley pub. It’s one of those places that has the take-away drinks fridges in the bar itself. Puggy and I had a quick pint of Session Ale. In a corner below the tele two chaps wearing farming equipment hats were slumped. For some reason the screen was showing an old movie, and not the cricket. They were drinking West End Draught cans.

GV

There was a reception at the bowls club. While the party pies, sausage rolls and scones were all in attendance the sandwiches, of course, were uniformly excellent. For the first time in ten years I saw a girl I went to school with Gert*, and her husband Kempy* against whom I’d played footy and cricket. Again I was reminded of my unbreakable home bonds of school and growing up. On a day of mixed emotions this was a lovely moment.

Saddleworth

Mid-afternoon our convoy of two conveyances set forth towards Marrabel and its singular pub. I reckon I’d last been inside in 1986, and as near as I could tell all was as I’d left it. Most of us opted for a West End from the keg, largely on account of it being the only draught option.

Marrabel is a town known for its eponymous rodeo, and so we searched the pub wall photos for Kapunda’s champion bull rider and colourful identity, the late Les Cowan. One of the Hayward brothers, Hollis, and I reckon we spotted him clinging to a vertical beast, frozen but waiting for the eight-second horn. However, the memorbilia had no caption so we couldn’t be certain.

Marrabel

Among the flow of cricket stories, both recent and prehistoric, we then paused to toast Jeff, while Chris also hoped that 2019 could be funeral-free.

We then pushed on through Hamilton where there were four churches and a now vacant shop. I wonder how many kids live there today and go to Kapunda High. There was once a dedicated school bus. The earth is desperately brown and scorched.

As always it is a treat to call into the Allendale pub. It is cosy, welcoming and inn-like in its charisma. Happily, Greenock Creek ales are on tap. Indeed, two of the four offerings are from our old school mate Chris Higgins and his thriving micro-brewery. A trip home, even amid awful circumstances such as those of today evoke much, both good and bad.

Allendale

It was time to continue our cricket reminisces. Of course we spoke of the Lyndoch Cricket Club which at tea breaks provided the most gentlemanly afternoon tea, all scones and egg sandwiches and pleasant conversation.

First experiencing this as an eighteen year old- the day Wocko took a hat trick- made a mark on my young self. Of course, once this culinary interlude concluded and the locals again stepped across the mythical white line psychopathic hostilities resumed. Both accompanying cousins, Froggy and Puggy understood.

I then dragged out the old chesnut concerning Rodney Hogg and his debut appearance at Mildura’s Willowfest. Handed the ball the recently retired Australian quick heard from the boundary, “Bowler’s name?” The captain answered only to hear, “One ‘g’ or two?”

Finally we adjorned to Kapunda’s Prince of Wales. It was the natural conclusion for our day. Although only six in physical number our party expanded courtesy of the anecdotes. Froggy and Hayward the Elder had a moment of faux disappointment concerning some confusion among the beverage orders.

Prince

Night was gathering when we then heard of the night at the Mickans when Paul E. White, having smoked the brothers in cards, starting counting the cash. One of the brothers Mickan admonished him saying, “You know it’s not etiquette to count your money while still at the table.” His voice rising its customary couple octaves, Whitey retorted, “I’m not counting my money d**khead, I’m counting yours!”

And so homewards.

The good that comes of funerals is community and connection, and the silent vows we take from these to live well, to stride with purpose and to take care of each other.

It is how we can honour the deceased and ourselves.

Vale Jeff.cemetery

3

Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and me

songs from the south

My favourite Christmas song is twenty-two. But it seems as though it’s been around forever. Like Love Actually, which premiered in 2003, they’re both part of the festive furniture, and signal the season’s arrival.

It’s the 21st of December and our protagonist Joe, freshly imprisoned and hotly anxious, reaches out to his brother. But is “How to Make Gravy” a letter or a phone call? Initially, the form seems spoken- “Hello Dan, it’s Joe here,” but then moves to a written mode- “I hope you’re keeping well.” Which is it? I don’t know.

Over four and a half minutes, this mystery of the medium continues while we meet the brothers; Angus; parents Frank and Dolly; Joe’s wife Rita; his kids; sisters Stella and Mary; Mary’s former boyfriend, the olfactorily-offensive one (just a little too much cologne) and, of course, the almost missable Roger.

Although most are only mentioned once they’re Australia’s first family of Christmas song. We feel like we know them. Despite these skeletal sketches, they’re writ large. Dolly’s the uncrossable matriarch. I can imagine having a beer with Angus, and if he were alive surely Bill Hunter would play Frank in the film version, all gruff wisdom and barbeque tongs.

‘How to Make Gravy’ begins with opening chords similar to Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ but its guitar riff by the recently-departed Spencer P. Jones almost nods in homage to the British band’s late-sixties hit song. This might be partly why Kelly’s tour de force seems like it’s been around longer than 1996. It’s deep in our musical tectonics.

Across the top and also underneath is that doleful slide guitar, foreshadowing the anguish to come. Exhilarating, it’s suggestive of outback space and tropical heat and melancholic veranda conversations.

The next surge is when Peter “Lucky” Luscombe’s drums kick in with an electrifying jolt at, “I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland and Stella’s flying in from the coast”.  I was drawn to the song upon its release, and taught it (and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”) to year 10 classes.

I’d only considered it as a stand-alone song until I read this from the singer: “I’m sort of aware where certain songs are written a few years apart from each other – ‘To Her Door,’ then ‘Love Never Runs on Time’ and ‘How to Make Gravy’ – I’ve got a feeling it’s the same guy. He keeps coming back.”

Here Kelly’s created a fictional universe, or at least some intertextuality, especially as the line, “Tell ’em all I’m sorry, I screwed up this time” indicates a wider backstory, an extended narrative, featuring our central character and his wife Rita.

And what of that famous recipe for gravy?

“It’s a real recipe of my first father in law, which he used and which I still use. When I make gravy for my family, that’s the recipe that I use, and now they always make me, make the gravy. It’s my job now (laughs). When I made up the song it wasn’t my job but it is now. Sometimes art influences life or the other way around.”

I love how the song’s acknowledged with today, December 21, declared national Gravy Day. There’s even a hashtag- #GravyDay.

A portrait of timeless Australia, it’s as evocative as the timber pylons of the Port Willunga jetty; a backyard cricket match; the ribbon of road unrolling across the Hay Plains.

As the boys splash about in the twinkling pool on Christmas morning, and I sneak my first piece of ham I anticipate that plaintive strumming and forlorn slide guitar and hearing, yet again, Joe’s confessional.