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Ashes Moments- January 2003: Steve Waugh’s Sydney Century

lake

The scorebook would make for unremarkable reading given that this particular box contains neither of cricket’s contrasting exclamation marks: 6 or W. But, the final over at the SCG on Friday January 3, 2003 was astonishing. I know precisely where I was, and am sure that many of you do too.

We’re up at Barmera with friends from Kimba, and filled the windless, stretching days with golf and barbeques. Gentle, unhurried rhythms. Late afternoons, we’d sit on the lawns slopping away from our hotel rooms, and gaze out across our drinks and Lake Bonney. Up early for a swim before eighteen holes, the brisk pool’s a reminder that save for a mighty river, this is a desert.

The fifth Ashes Test was a transition with neither Warne nor McGrath playing due to injury. If relief from longitudinal torment comes before hope, then, for England, a jackboot might’ve been lifted off their writhing throat.

Paul, Klingy and I made our way round Waikerie’s lush layout, and now it almost seems unknowable that despite having mobile phones mine permitted merely texts and calls. As we zigzagged the fairways and beyond, we’d no idea of the cricket score, and were only updated by Skull and company as we motored back up the Sturt Highway to our wives and families, poolside and relishing the blonde warmth.

waikerie

The motel bar advertised a happy hour, so Klingy and I moseyed in for a post-golf beer, and to catch the last few overs. Stephen Waugh, who’d given so much for so many years, but was nearing the conclusion of his tenacious, decorated career, had a century within unexpected grasp.

All summer, he’d suffered an indefensible lack of runs, and the near-shouting for his head was intensifying. During this session, questions were being asked of him by the visitors, and after a lifetime in the dungeon, England’s skipper, Nasser Hussain, sensed an opening. Waugh later suggested that these challenges, “galvanised my spirit.”

In this Test, he’d equalled AB’s record of 156 matches in the baggy green, and had also gone past 10,000 runs. His career stretched back almost mythologically: he’d seen players pass through this English side like it were Oxford Circus tube station.

With the owner of the greatest sporting nickname courtesy of the Warwickshire CCC souvenir shop, Ashley “The King of Spain” Giles, also out wounded, Richard Dawson bowled the day’s last over. He’d play seven Tests for his country, and take eleven wickets.

Such was their innocuity, the Australian captain patted the first three balls back down the pitch.

In this nation, cricket telecasting is more dissected than parliamentary decisions. We largely choose the family and friends we invite into our living rooms, but have no control over commentary teams. At this point, with his sense of drama and boyish excitement, Bill is handed the microphone. As it’s been for decades, his exhilaration becomes ours.

Dawson’s fourth ball is in the slot, and Waugh drives it for three. There’s a sense of rumbling, rapidly-gathering occasion.

Hussain attempts to then assemble doubt in the batsmen, with elongated brooding over his field placings. It’s an obvious stratagem, but for his ceaselessly down-trodden troops, a late wicket could yield both actual and symbolic value.

BBQ area

An unparalleled master of mental combat, Waugh responds by gesturing for Gilchrist to join him mid-pitch. All at the SCG in the Brewongle and those watching elsewhere know this is confected theatre, but we don’t care.

“It’s getting interesting, Michael,” Klingy proposes, “He might get his ton. Do ya want another beer?”

The TV screen is both irresistible and repellent. I take a sip. The January sun steams in across the glittering lake.

Finally, our wicketkeeper, whose ball-striking was already in robust evidence, took guard. He records a single off the penultimate fig, but could’ve run two. This would’ve given him fifty, however he might’ve attracted a continental condemnation of Harold Larwood proportions. Upon England’s return in four years, Gilly would secure a folkloric place with his WACA explosives.

By the day’s ultimate delivery, this over has endured for nearly ten minutes. My father-in-law, ever alert to a broader narrative, still insists the bowler was under instruction to serve up something hittable. Waugh is on 98. The ball is wide, and outside off-stump. He slashes it to ground, and it punches towards cover.

The Kookaburra sped through the infield. It broke to the left of screen.

Bill cried, “There it is!”

Occasionally, sport attains transcendentalism, and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said of this philosophy, it allows us to locate, “an original relation to the universe.” I love these moments; these blissful intervals when we’re at the happy mercy of others; these strangers we know intimately, and upon whom our holiday joys can depend.

In the bar, by Lake Bonney, in the fading Friday sunlight, back closer to the beginning of this millennium, we brushed away a few hot tears.

Klingy spoke, “I’m a bit emotional.”

With broken words, I gasped. “Yeah. Me too.”

Stephen Waugh had just registered his 29th century, and had equalled the Don. For the immediate future, he’d remain the Australian captain.

We walked to our rooms. We’d had an afternoon.

SW AG

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The Killers in The Taminga

party pies

AFL Grand Final morning is fantastic. Buzzing expectations, glancing yet again at your watch, and finding stuff to distract the racing mind. At this point my cousin would apply Sparkling Ale, but today we choose modest exercise.

It’s cool in the Clare Valley, and the sun’s out, and the trees and the fairways of the golf course burst with warm promise and stratospheric, if fragile, hope. We only play nine holes, so we don’t need a lunchtime Zimmer or gopher. I take it as a minor omen that I don’t lose my ball.

The town has three pubs and these are, of course, the Top, the Middle and the Bottom pubs. Australians really do enjoy a rare and efficient grasp of geography. With an alluring alliterative splash, the Bottom is also the Bentley’s, and the Top is, yes, you guessed it, the Taminga.

Our tables were by the open windows overlooking the street, and as the breeze dashed in and out, we could see trucks and utes, lazily circling the roundabout. Opposite was Pink’s Mitre 10 Hardware, and I was fearful that this sleepy winery village had been invaded by that dreadful wailing popster. Imagine my relief upon learning that the Pink family has run their store for six generations, and never released a hideously overwrought album of faux-feminist tosh.

pinks

In order to set the afternoon’s rules of play I said, “What do you reckon? Every time Bruce (the match commentator) says, ‘clever’ Mozz has to woof down his beer.”

All agreed, except for Mozz.

In truth, drinking games are best left in our juvenile past, and we quickly recognised that no earthly good could come of my idea. Plus, there was the after-dark, safely back in our room, Karaoke to follow, and we had Ol ’55, Glen Campbell and the enormously patient Neil Diamond to cheerfully demolish.

Is there anything that generates such excessive expectation as complimentary party pies? No, of course not. And there were also wedges put out by the bar staff, but these conglomerates of oil and mistreated potato put me in mind of a semi-mythical fat-berg, easing along a London sewer in a decidedly sinister fashion.

Don’t you love suddenly remembering a great song? One you’ve not heard in a while? The pre-match entertainment was American band The Killers who I’ve always admired. Their fifteen-minute set was a treat, in contrast to Meatloaf, universally known as the evil mastermind responsible for the “Massacre at the MCG.”

But it’s only at the post-game concert that they played their finest song, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Included on their 2004 debut Hot Fuss, it’s a classic of heartland rock. For days now, I’ve had it on repeat at home, in the car, and for personal health reasons, at work.

It reminds me of U2 from their Joshua Tree era, when they were the mightiest band on the planet. There’s a rousing intro which is reminiscent of “Where The Streets Have No Name,” as the pounding drums and catchy guitar conjure an anthemic boldness, and a soaring gospel quality.

Like so much of Bono and band’s output, it’s about the seeking of redemption.

I want to stand up, I want to let go

You know, you know; no, you don’t, you don’t

I wanna shine on in the hearts of man

I want a meaning from the back of my broken hand

Now, Bono is largely a git wearing glasses around the clock, but for two decades the Dubliners were remarkable. They combined words and music with singular mastery.

As the Sweet Inspirations choir bursts to joyous life on the refrain- “I’m got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” I’d love to be at a huge, summery football stadium when the crowd sings along, with front man Brandon Flowers waving his microphone at the bouncing masses. A sign of modern esteem is parody, and the British comic Bill Bailey once pronounced in response to The Killers, “I’ve got ham, but I’m not a hamster.”

“Mr Brightside” may be more popular, and a track on which Richmond Tigers star Jack Riewoldt guests, but “All These Things That I’ve Done” is a stirring song that takes me to splendid places.

Places offering party pies, for free!

Taminga

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Cricket, tennis and Father’s Day brunch

 

FD

The chorizo is ferociously tasty, and just short of generating physical pain. It’s as hot as the Henley Beach weather is not. Outside, Alex and Max are leaping over some wooden benches. Storm surges roll past the jetty in thunderous grey and white. Even the seagulls shelter under the eaves. We’re starting Father’s Day at a café.

*

Alex went to his first cricket training last Sunday. Worried he wouldn’t be good enough, he had told me repeatedly that, “Ty can bowl at 55 kilometres an hour, Dad.” Indeed, his mum confirmed that he had bowled at a Jason Gillespie cricket centre with a speed gun measuring the pace of his looping delivery. Statistics can haunt us early in sport, and life.

Max batted first, and as the family expert, then showed Alex how to insert the box or protector as it’s now disappointingly known. What a curious sight, to see the boys bonding over a triangular plastic prism. Still brotherhood is a surprising beast and this shared skill is a most Australian thing. Not for the first time I considered a cricket box, and wiped a tear from my eye, although this was a parental observation, and not the wincing experience of an inadequate lower-order batsman on a dusty West Coast pitch.

Alex galloped in to bowl from an excessive run-up, all limbs and heart-breaking innocence. Max was back a pitch length as well, and reminded me of the Yorkshire fellow who once commented that a bowler ran too much before delivering the ball. “I don’t go that far for me holiday,” he noted.

He nodded as the coach advised on his action, listening well and taking it in. He’s made an investment in this sport, and already values his emerging place in this most Australian of pursuits. Too soon, his summers appear to be stretching out, in their endless, languid joy. He’s on his way.

*

Max and I went on his first school camp Monday, down to Narnu Farm on Hindmarsh Island. As a former teacher who gorged himself on camps early in his career, I reckon everyone has a lifetime quota. Although I reached mine years ago, I was excited. I was a volunteer.

I had some benevolent community-mindedness in jumping on that bus, but like many, a major motivation was to watch and learn, to see Max in action. Of course, I was going to spy on him.

As leader of Group 3 and its eight kids, we cycled through a set of activities including horseriding- the old gelding Pudding a class favourite; animal feeding- an escapee goat providing a highlight, as goats generally do, and finally; half-court tennis.

I played with Max and two of his friends. Between fetching balls from the neigh-bouring (sorry!) horse paddocks I discovered much. Dispensing with the medieval French scoring system we played first to twenty points. It was close throughout. If Max and his partner lost a point, there was no disappointment, just the fizzing joy of a close contest; an opportunity to go again, to share the action with his friends.

Self-appointed scorer, he’d jump up and down, proclaiming, 16- 15, and so on. He preferred it tight, to enhance the social connection. He had no wish to surge ahead, and claim an easy victory.

Great or errant shots with balls lurching about in exotic trigonometry offered little for Max. He simply wanted us: his mates, his Dad, himself, to zip about together on a tiny court in communal enterprise. He was entirely in the moment. That was his universe. I loved it. I’ve rarely been happier.

*

Later, in the bunkhouse, Max took himself off to bed around ten. Of the fifty kids, he was the first asleep, and I suspect, the first awake. One of his friends told me that in the morning, “Max told them funny stories” as they squirmed in their bunk beds with the sun struggling through.

The deputy principal was unsurprised that Max was done in moments. “He runs pretty hard.” I nodded, “He’s just the same at home.” Over his coffee the deputy continued, “He gives every minute a flogging, does our Max.”

I considered. Giving every minute a flogging. Beyond report cards, or NAPLAN results, this, I reflected, is exactly how I want them to tackle life.

Henry

 

 

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Servo Wars/Bin Ninja: So you wanna be a Reality TV star?

bins

I still can’t believe it. It was a sure thing. The public would’ve loved it, but it wasn’t to be. Of course, I speak of my reality TV show, Servo Wars.

At the end of our Singaporean street were two busy service stations (petrol stations/ gas stations). Yes, two, right across the road from each other. I almost want to type “literally across the road from each other,” but my fingers, in grammatical obedience, won’t allow this.

Anyhow, can you imagine a more perfect setting for a gripping reality TV series? Each station a microcosm of bustling human activity within a teeming island state, but- and here’s the kicker- there’s a broader narrative arc in which our two servo’s are in constant, artificially-constructed competition with each other. Genius, I hear you breathlessly whisper.

Servo Wars.

The thrilling drama would’ve included-

The ancient, stumbling driveway attendants- yes, folks who fill your tank, check the oil and wash your windscreen- dodging inattentive drivers- who once or twice a week are necessarily skiddled in the name of televisual art, and are stains on the driveway, their bloodied limbs a-thrashing. Soon followed by the engaging theatre of wailing ambulances and Ray-banned police, not chewing gum, but interrogating the trembling car owners before they’re hauled off to Changi prison.

cop

And

The duelling managers of both affixed convenience shops shouting at the store assistants, sometimes simultaneously, “I asked for more condoms in the counter display! Together is this curiously asexual nation’s most popular, albeit furtively purchased brand of birth control, and I can only see dozens of Alone packages!”

Or-

“Look across the road at our competitor, our life-long enemy! Esso! They’re offering two-for-one croissants. Somebody. Do something!”

I know, I know.

While Servo Wars remains unproduced, our planet is a little poorer. But’s here’s hope. Casting will soon begin for my latest project, one that will capture our hearts like the charming Bachelorette bogans.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bin Ninja.

A character-driven vehicle focussing upon the endless struggles of a middle-aged suburbanite as he tries desperately to manage his bins: the red (general refuse), the green (organic materials only) and the yellow (recycling), this is everyman drama, but infused with the conventions of Greek theatre.

Bin Ninja’s work is manual and repetitive as he selflessly takes stuff to his nest of driveway bins, five, six, sometimes ten times a day, every day! But, watch as the meditative power of these acts instantaneously transcends the mundanity. Bin Ninja!

Look! The boys have just finished some muesli bars- wrappers to the bins! Plastic milk container empty again? That’s the second today. They’ll pee the bed! Never fear, Bin Ninja silently walks it outside, before momentarily dashing through the hail and wind, stomping the plastic flat and dropping it into the yellow (recycling) bin. The man’s a hero!

Then there’s the Sunday Bin Ninja’s wife lopped the 97-year-old neighbour’s overhanging tree, scattering limbs and leafy debris all over the precious and universally-admired lawn, and left him to chop up the branches with a cheap hand saw and inadequate pruning shears and, somehow, fit them all into the green (organic) bin while the wife promptly trotted off to the local footy club with her girlfriends and drank Adelaide Hills sparkling wine!

BH

Oh, Bin Ninja, I think the nation’s falling in love with you already!

And just when Bin Ninja merchandise is sold out across the entire country- t-shirts, stubby holders, novelty BBQ aprons- the eagerly awaited Christmas special screens. On Boxing Day!

apron

The plot is simple: the boys again get too many presents, and all the plastic and cardboard packaging for the infinite games and the Lego and the car racing tracks and the cricket-sets and the bike accessories and the bed-sheet like wrapping paper has to all fit into the yellow (recycling) bin already exploding with pre-Christmas boxes and clunking bottles and beer cartons, and abandoned greeting cards and envelopes from already-forgotten former work colleagues.

What will Bin Ninja do? How will this very real, very residential conflict find resolution? The bin is spilling all over the sorry driveway, and what’s that sinister noise? It’s the council bin-truck making its menacing, diesel-fumed way along their very street! Go Bin Ninja, go! Will he wheel the bins out in time? Will he dodge being run over by this mechanical beast? Will he save his family from a recycling crisis?

Coming in 2018.

Bin Ninja.

 

Esso

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To old mate Chris Hayward, on his 50th

 


About a month back six former Kapunda High scholars- Rocket Ellis, Nick Lienert, Trevor Lucas, Andrew and Chris Hayward and I were at the MCG taking in Port versus Collingwood: a truly post-apocalyptic and dentally-challenged fixture. Ours was a tidy collective.

During the second quarter Chris returned with his round, and this is instructive for he had not six, but two Bundies. One for his brother, and yes, one for himself. Now some of you are possibly thinking, that’s a bit selfish. Indeed, some of our ensemble in Row G may have thought this too- despite none of us liking Bundy. What do we make of this purchase? The meaning is, of course, that Chris values family deeply, and for this how can we but admire him?

And those in our group at the MCG not called Hayward were pampered by Chris with refreshments. Yes, light beer. No, one each. As the insipid lagers made their sorry way to the downcast recipients there was anger and a fight threatened, and partly because it was Port and Collingwood and we wanted to blend in, a fight threatened.

But this is to misunderstand the situation. Ever a visionary, Chris had foretold that we’d end up in an Irish bar at 3am, and plainly, he was looking after his mates. Our safety, and our health were, as always, his priorities. So, thanks for your human concern Chris. Indeed, leadership can be lonely.

Chris is a tremendous enthusiast, and as all of us know, this great gift is contagious. To spend time in his company is one of life’s joys for Chris finds happiness and fun everywhere. He loves laughter and people, and lives in robust and generous ways. And for this, we thank him.

So happy 50th Chris. To Chris!

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Pardon me, Pastor, pass the pasta

DD

The torchlight beams hop about the dirt path in front and then above, and occasionally, behind us, as our boys, Alex and Max, guide the way into Sassafras. The mountain dark and colossal cold presses down. Fern trees are all about, like extras in Avatar, for we’re in the Dandenongs. To our north a wooden building appears. It’s a church.

At least it was. Now, it’s a restaurant called Dine Divine. On the phone, a week ago, Janine was insistent.

“We must go to the old church Sunday for they have a brilliant pasta night.”

Mine host and restaurateur Trev punches our order into his iPad with one finger. He’s had a successful career, and splits his time between Southbank, his farm and this converted place of worship. He could be retired, but I know there’s nowhere he’d rather be. He likes a yarn.

Janine, Garry and I have the carbonara. It’s magnificent. Creamy and luscious, but possessing subtle flavours, while the pasta is bouncily solid, as it should be. The ham is salty and necessarily complementary, and the dish is equivalent to the food I had at Jamie’s Italian in January. Anyway, we know his restaurant juggernaut is a genealogical lie, for Mr Oliver was born in Essex.

Garry and I each have a Crown Lager, and I remember a time, back in the simpler, pre-globalised 1990’s when these represented a beery extravagance, and were something to be enjoyed at a Christmas function, when the boss was shouting- Quick! Davo! Get a couple more Crownies. We’ve still got ten minutes to go! Or you were on the lunchtime lash, at somewhere precariously bohemian, like Café Junction in the Adelaide Casino. Now, a Crownie’s unreconstructed flavour and nose seems as sophisticated as a night at the Dapto dogs.

When in Ireland on their honeymoon some dear friends ventured into a pub for lunch. Brett considered the blackboard menu above the bar, and asked the waiter, “What’s in the Guinness and steak pie?”

With unblinking eyes, the young local looked through and past Brett, and replied in an unironic monotone, “Guinness.” There was a pause. “And steak.”

So, my wife had the Guinness and steak potpie, and declared it the best she’s ever feckin’ had. A couple bowls of chips are inhaled. Folks sometimes forget that it’s easy to butcher a chip, to mix food industry metaphors. These are an ornament to the spud. We eat them as if we’ve been wandering the desert for over a month, except we’re in a temperate rainforest.

Is there a better soft drink than a Lemon, Lime and Bitters (LLB)? Of course not. I just read that it’s customary for Antipodean golfers to take it after their round, but I must rebut this as bald-faced nonsense. But Alex has one, and for a few minutes it’s the best event of his brief life.

The LLB is superseded by the arrival of his sticky date pudding. He is nine, and eating chocolate dessert inescapably descends into an unholy hybrid of unwatchable reality TV, horror schlock, and Animal House food fight scene. It becomes difficult to tell if he’s gobbling the pudding, or vice versa.

Again, I wonder at what age he’ll possess a fully-functioning mouth, and we’ll be able to throw out the drop-sheet. It seems a while off. Inserted between the almost medieval-black castle of pudding, and the elegant bathtub of ice cream, is a golden lattice of toffee. He makes a suitable mess of this too.

On the flight home, Alex announces it as a Victorian highlight. For me, it is too.

Dine Divine is warm and wonderful, and sits geographically and gastronomically at the centre of Sassafras.

We’ll be back.

Dine Divine is at 345 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, and

https://www.dinedivine.net.au/

SDP

 

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At 4pm on my birthday I remembered something remarkable

baby.png

Having fled work, I was scurrying along Greenhill Road towards its most westerly origin where it is neither green nor hilly. I was thinking ahead to the hour or so of Friday sunshine left in the week and how it’d be happily spent. Park, dogs, boys, a few dobs of the footy in the closing dark.

As birthdays go it’d been fine. Not quite up there with the birthday I had years ago, by Lake Balaton in western Hungary when we had a lovely lunch of pilsner beer and goulash overlooking the water in the glorious European summer, but pleasant enough.

Then I remembered.

Like a car’s agitated navigator trying to really concentrate on a crucial part of the journey, I turned down the radio as the thought formed fully in my mind.

A decade. It was now a decade.

I swung down Anzac Highway and commenced the vaguely downhill run to home. A few tears then formed hotly. I was having a moment.

It was ten years to the day that we learned Alex was on his way.

*

I recall much of Saturday June 16, 2007. My dear old mate Chris was down from Brisbane, and he had stayed with us the previous night.

It was a sunny day and early in the morning Kerry thought we should definitely go to the doctor. She’d done a test at home. It was positive.

From then on, the day, my birthday assumes a nimble quality as though we’re in a floating cocoon and the world is spinning but without our interest or participation. This most physical, most real of events is confirmed, and all about me has now assumed a gentler quality; a welcoming, smiling face. The simplest household items are invested with magic and wonder.

While hanging out the washing I rang Mum and Dad on the cordless phone. Pegging the socks and jocks we had a brief excited chat. The future, especially early 2008 swirled and leapt about me.

That evening we dined with friends at a now long-closed Polish restaurant just off Henley Square. The Adelaide Crows played the Kangaroos on the Gold Coast and in those pre-smart phone days my mate Bob was texted the score at the end of every quarter. We won. The food was good, but I mostly remember the sense of our brilliant warm secret, the fuzzy binary code and a feeling that we were in a happy, symmetrical orbit.

*

Like every decade, it has been full and fast. Everything has changed. Much is as it was.

Alex was born a week after his mum’s birthday. Two years after his little brother Max came along. We left Australia for Singapore, and then returned. Now there’s karate and dogs, guitars and school.

And so, every year I remember that birthday, now a decade back, when the anniversary of my birth was also the day we learned that Alex was on his beautiful, astonishing way.

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