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Dearest Alex, on watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell

Dearest Alex

As you know we love rituals such as attending the SANFL grand final, hiking in the Onkaparinga National Park, and when on our annual trip to Barmera completing a late-afternoon lap of Lake Bonney. Rituals celebrate our past and give excitement and shape to our future.

But among these there’s been Wednesday nights watching Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell.

I had long enjoyed it and reckon you were about ten when you first joined me on the lounge. As one of the show’s characters (probably played by Tosh Greenslade in a wig and glasses) may have said, ‘Shaun, you’re never too young (not even at fourteen like you) to be introduced to searing political satire and viciously sharp comedic writing and acting in this bumbling, endlessly self-parodying nation of ours.’

I loved how you’d laugh about the characters who’d feature in that week’s episode. You’d often do your own impersonation of them, such as the Daily Telegraph’s sub-editor Chris Lorax with his pathetic defence of his ‘lamentable puns’ when he feebly says, ‘It’s just a bit of fun’ or at the close of a sketch as the fantastic Sir Bobo Gargle would holler, ‘Release the Kraken!’ or the traffic reporter in the helicopter would say, ‘I’m Lois Price for Mad As Hell.’

All of this you got which pleases me hugely. I think a sense of humour and keen awareness of human frailty are vital and already you have these in ample proportion. I loved how we’d laugh at the same jokes, at the same absurdities such as Darius Horsham, chomping on his cigar and scalding the host by saying, ‘Shaun, don’t be an economic girly-man.’

In anticipating the next episode you’d wonder aloud if there’d be another caricature of a BBC nature documentary such as the Polyamorous Self Pleasuring Gastropods of Bolivia or this one-

We’d also look forward to the increasingly surreal and self-referential spoof of Enid Swink. Your appreciation of the ridiculous was obvious when we’d laugh uncontrollably as the characters would attack each other with the lightening that’d come from out of their fingers. Among our favourite moments was Swink: Origin with all that the title alone says about the shamelessness of the rubbish that Hollywood is trying to sell us.

But you’re alert to this.

It’s an indicator of how significant Mad As Hell is for us that watching the news or driving around and hearing mention of the current Opposition Leader you’d immediately go into character of the spokesperson Brion Pegmatite and mutter the name, ‘Peter’ in that sneering, villainous way that was his Voldemort-like signature. He and the man that inspired him really do find it difficult to show empathy, compassion, or joy.

So, beyond the thirty minutes of mutual fun this provided I can tell that the show has given you much as a thinker and writer, an emerging citizen, and a talented drama student. It’s been a joy to share it with you.

It’s sad that it’s finished but as we know one of Micallef’s exquisite skills is his sense of timing and this is probably another example.

I know there’ll be more rituals to come for us, and I look forward to seeing what these might be.

Love Dad

Thanks to the ABC for both the show and these images.

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The 12.23 to Gawler Central, stopping all stations

In the dim belly of the Adelaide railway station a smiling, high vis attendant asked, ‘Are you good? Going to the show?’

The boys and I scurried past, en route to Platform 7. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘We’re off to Womma.’

I doubt he hears that often.

During winter of 2020 we completed the other three Adelaide rail journeys- Noarlunga, Outer Harbor and Belair. With the Gawler Rail Electrification Project (GREP) now done we had our final trip to make.

For train station aficionados this northerly line includes a maximum of 27 stops.

Along the soursobbing way we saw soccer near Kudla; a mattress factory; bemused sheep; Costco and we might’ve alighted if we’d suddenly required 47 kilos of chicken wings. The rail yards flashed by; long snakes of rolling stock paused outside the window.

I suspect the last time I went through Womma on the train was at 7 in the morning on the way to an Australia Day one-dayer in the 1980’s. We would’ve risen in the hot dark and en convoy of HQ Holdens, made our way to Gawler with chairs and eskies and towelling hats and gallons of Reef oil (skin cancer was yet to be discovered). Some in our unruly throng (you know who you are) likely had a couple discreet Southwarks in transit.

Lunch was in a shopping centre adjacent to the station. The boys all agreed that it was the best sushi they’d (or probably anybody’d) ever had in Gawler.

The return leg was express from Dry Creek and this is always welcome. We crawled through the lovely North Adelaide station which now houses a quiet cafe. We shared our carriage with people who seemed to be heading to the Show.

There were pylons; tall dormant chimneys; substations; eruptions of misplaced townhouses.

The project cost 842 million dollars although as near as I could sympathetically tell, Womma was still Womma.



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Running up that Carrackalinga Hill

Claire and I trudge through the soft sand of the beach and then nurse a coffee at the village green. How daggily cool when from the barista’s van bursts, ‘The Pina Colada Song?’ Of course, I’m not into yoga but may have half a brain.

We’re in Carrackalinga with old friends. It’s Saturday morning and our day reaches out with electric possibility.

Planned equally with science and enthusiasm, my run’s to the Forktree Brewery and back to our accommodation. It’s my daily four kilometres. But up a hill.

How tough can it be?

Round, emerald knolls watch over Carrackalinga and making my way up the road a herd of sheep encourages my ambling by bleating in charitable ways. Last night’s pizza is now unwelcome ballast.

On the outskirts of town, a council election poster urges participation in this democratic event. Texas-sized utes and rattling 4WDs pass and some swerve away from me in vehicular acknowledgement of my ascent. Or not wishing to bloody their gleaming bull bars.

There’s several twists and the road’s undulating. Accustomed to the flat esplanade of Glenelg North, my thighs protest this topographical change to their jogging routine.

Finally, the brown tourist sign I’ve been seeking for excruciating minutes:

Forktree Brewery.

Despite being presently incapable of having a beer, I’ve never been so pleased to arrive at a brewery.

I’m soaked. My ears popped on the way up and my legs are so convinced of an alpine elevation that they expect a few twirling snowflakes.

A woman and her dog survey the beer garden. We exchange a few only-one-of-us-is-in-a-brewery words. With her hound marching her tree-ward she asks, ‘Where have you run from?’

Still in the carpark and puffing I reply, ‘Our holiday house back down the hill.’

She replies, ‘Awesome! Great job!’ Her husband appears with two pints. She’s an American but they live on Kangaroo Island. They both take a sip.

‘How’s the beer?’

‘Pretty good,’ they nod.

‘Lovely,’ I say, ‘We’re heading to Myponga later. Might go to the Smiling Samoyed Brewery.’ They both offer a glowing critique.

The brewery’s 151 metres above sea level. This might seem numerically unimpressive but having extracted a personal toll each of those demanding centimetres now generates a handsome reward.

Hands on hips, I drink in the wide vista up and down the Fleurieu coast. Gentle, green ranges. Sprawling white homes hugging the shore. A seaweedy tan smears the shallows and then the gulf deepens into a marine blue.

Tumbling down the hill. It’s almost controlled falling. Again, the vehicles are generous, and the sheep are softly supportive. A couple rotund blokes nod at me from a front lawn.

The cotton wool clouds loom as if they’re daubed on a God-sized canvas and although it’s mid-winter these pledge imminent awakening. Spring could almost be ready to say, ‘Boo!’

Our double story digs swim into sight and wondering what’s happening inside with Claire, my friends, and the boys, their past thirty minutes is unveiled: toast, hairdryers, and teenagers still in bunks.

I crunch up the gravel driveway.

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Mystery Date: Magarey Medals and Magill Road

Claire and I share a monthly tradition in which one takes the other to a secret pub for a Friday hour. But Mystery Pub has a less frequent and more leisurely sibling we call Mystery Date.

Saturday was my turn to be indulged.

Some loathe surprise but I love to bask in the underlying kindness. Parking the car at Light Square I’m then on foot and chaperoned through our handsome city. The clouds made a low, grey ceiling and the streets were emptyish. Claire wondered if the subdued, barren landscape were still plagued by the pandemic.

North Terrace is an elegant boulevard befitting Paris or Madrid and as we scurried past the casino, art gallery and assorted statues of older men, less-old men and dead men on horseback I was curious about our first stop.

Our Footy, Our People, Our Stories was an invitation to drift back gently to my childhood. The SANFL exhibition features photos and sound archives and film footage. We watched the highlights of Glenelg’s 1986 triumph and then saw Port Adelaide win the 1988 flag, the first of nine premierships in about a decade. I understood Macbeth’s despondency upon seeing that Banquo’s offspring would reign forever when he mutters in disgust, ‘Will the line stretch out until the crack of doom?’

How great to then pause in the Library Café and peer out across the wet courtyard and admire the museum and meditate upon the joyous escapism these majestic buildings provided us when we were kids. They still do.

After some sneaky misdirection and circuitous driving to preserve the mystery Claire pulled up on Magill Road. Drifting east and in and out of some antiques stores we also gazed in the windows of boutiques and restaurants and speculated upon their offerings. We chatted constantly and made connections to our surroundings, and each other.

Wolfie’s Records occupies an entire cottage and sells vinyl, vintage clothing and used turntables. In a small room Claire and I flicked through the racks of albums and here’s a snippet of our conversation-

C- Rod Stewart. Yuk.

M- Here’s a Jackson Browne record I’ve been after.

C- Great. I like him too.

M- Phil Collins. One word- why?

C- Oh, God. Dr. Hook!

M- No, we already have the Sherbet Collection.

C- Ripper ’77?

M- Has the entire country flogged off their LRB collection?

And then in another cottage crowded with audiophiles we repeated the process a few doors up at Big Star Records. It was a lovely, diverting hour and I was keen to play my new/used $10 copy of Running on Empty. Over a warming shiraz later that night it would teleport me back to Kapunda and Year 11 when I understood little of it but tried to imagine its palm-treed Californian world.

Having gifted me an afternoon of footy and music, with her unparalleled kindness my wife then drove me through Stepney’s narrow streets to the Little Bang Brewery at which she’d made a reservation for two.

It was bursting with good fortune and a thrumming din. A sign announced a party that had assembled for ‘Mitch’s 30th.’ With Pinto Gris and IPA refreshments aboard we decamped to our cosy balcony space and surveyed the steel beer vats.

Suitable menu items were selected and we dissected our excursion and considered the evening. Identifying Mitch we note that his wife appeared to be about 8 and 3/4 months pregnant so we silently wished them joy and patience from our lofty location.

The fare was fine and as always I enjoyed my beery excursion into novelty. Steering through the mid-winter dusk and thrilling despairing at the radio’s description of Port losing, I contemplated the spring edition of Mystery Date which I’d curate for Claire.

It would soon be upon us.

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On Being Gentle

Over the Adelaide Hills an orange pinkness stretches out into our sky. It bursts as a cathedral across the city.

Here, on the tiny yellow ribbon of sand we’re rotating deathlessly towards the sun and a Thursday dawn is upon us. The beach is ours alone and in coats and scarves and beanies we tramp north. Heading along by the regularly crashing waves, and into our promising days, we exchange ideas both small and transformational.

Are these vivid almost hallucinogenic sunrises and sunsets still caused by the Tongan volcanic eruption? Or given our seemingly heightened human catastrophe, is this nature’s reassurance that our problems are petty and of cosmic inconsequence?

On the sand there’s a scramble of human and dog prints like kid’s scribble. In the gathering light we wonder if these are the earthy reminders of those who’ve come before us this morning, or these fleeting impressions survived the night by escaping the high tide’s indifference.

It’s a great spot to visit as a dog. Some parade abound, heads proudly aloft with dribbly tennis balls wedged in mouth while others greet the water and each other. On the King Street bridge we later spy the much loved trio of Golden Retrievers. Their happiness is instructive. But today, the beach is quiet and we’re bathed in gentleness.

I can’t name a single Charlotte Church song but glancing at an article recently noted that her best advice is, ‘be gentle.’ It’s something I’ve heard over the years and it’s curious that saying this to myself in a Welsh lilt (she’s from Cardiff) I’ve finally vowed to allow it deeper governance. Unlike the mock-heroic inner forearm inscriptions of ‘Brayden’, ‘Jayden’ or ‘No Regerts’ I think ‘be gentle’ would make a good tattoo. Maybe not on your bum.

A Friday or two back my wife Claire and I went to the Gov to see Josh Pyke. It was a triumph and sitting by the open fire it was lounge room intimate. Paul Kelly is our finest storyteller, but there’s an argument that JP is our most accomplished and affecting musical poet.

He took us on a kindly tour of his celebrated catalogue and these songs are often fragile prayers. They promote gentleness. ‘The Lighthouse Song’ is an ode to the joyous notions of sacrifice to the other and mindfulness-

So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry
And we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
Our beams will burn the clouds to beacons in the sky
And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind
I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those others in.

But at dawn with my wife Claire on our sweep of beach I thought of his new tune called, ‘A Town You’ve Never Been To.’ It’s a hymn of gratitude for his musical and poetic gifts, and a wish for his various personal and artistic loves to remain unbroken. It’s a quest for adventure and truth.

I think it’s also about wishing to be gentle.

So find a street that you’ve never been down
In a town that you’ve been to
And sing a song that you love for me

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Running along the Yarra

It’s breakfast time in Melbourne.

Traversing Flinders Street, I jog by the Sea Life Aquarium and make my way through Enterprize Park. I later learn it’s where the first European settlers arrived in 1835. My boys, Alex and Max, are asleep upstairs in our apartment. We’re here for a weekend of footy and exploration.

It’s still and crisp. A cloudless winter morning in this elegant city.

I cut across an empty Queens Bridge Street and step cautiously over the bumpy cobblestones of Banana Alley. I imagine the Yarra was once vital to the economic life of Melbourne. I guess its value today is mostly ornamental. Some rowers are stretching out on the coffee-coloured surface.

There’s buried, industrial rumblings from Flinders Street Station. I press on.

Under the Princes Bridge an Asian man is fishing. Two lines are dancing on the drink. I wonder what he might be after. If the concrete boots aren’t too heavy, he could land a Ganglands War victim.

Progressing along Flinders Walk I pass a gin bar, Junipalooza, which confirms that ‘looza’ is an overused suffix. Has our planet reached peak gin yet? Will Bundy ever be world dominant? No, I don’t think so.

Melbourne’s cityscape is a marvel. Yesterday, as we headed to the MCG for our midday tour Alex remarked to Max that he found the metropolis, ‘architecturally interesting.’ This became a discussion and I’m pleased they express curiosity about these things.

Entering the space of Birrarung Marr I’m struck by birdsong and the accompanying aural surprise in what’s otherwise a vast built environment. It’s refreshing. And now there’s a bicycle repair station between me and the river! What a simple yet generous gesture and I hope the vandals respect it. It’s symbolic of the petit accommodations ubiquitously afforded by Melbourne.

Rod Laver and John Cain Arenas swim into view. In 1988 some Kapunda boys and I left the MCG after a day-nighter. I wanted to watch Allan Border bat but was at the loo in the stadium’s bowels when he came and went for a first-ball duck. Like a scene from a Russian documentary, we later saw hundreds of workers toiling away under floodlights to finish the Tennis Centre in time for the Australian Open.

My half-way point is the Swan Street Bridge, so I nudge along it and head home on the other bank.

Boathouse Drive is quietly industrious with relaxed, flush-looking folk carrying out their oars and boats. They seem to be enjoying the leisurely rhythms of their exercise routine. A barbecue sizzles away on a rowing club balcony.

Wearing a New York marathon t-shirt, a jogger is alongside me. I smile and vow to also buy a similar souvenir from eBay. He then propels past me as if I’m a statue. Disappearing like the roadrunner, I note that he has an athletes’ calves. I reconsider. Perhaps the shirt is authentic.

Southbank is tranquil apart from scattered patrons hunched over lattes and the (now dismembered) Age. Late yesterday when I ran along the river the restaurants were all busy with enthusiastic punters. The emerging trend for Friday nuptials continuing, a large wedding party promenaded past me, with knots of impossibly prosperous-looking couples off to the reception. There were also some boisterous lunches ambling into what sounded distinctly like hour number four. I doubt that I’ve seen any of the participants at this bright, embryonic stage of morning.

Near home I by-pass two mature women waiting for a taxi. Even at my distance I catch a gust of their perfume. It’s from the Chemist Warehouse and surely named Ski Field (for Seniors).

The apartment elevator takes me upstairs.

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To Alex and Max, on our Melbourne Trip

Hello there boys

There’s endless excitement in the alarm buzzing at 4.15, when dawn is hours away, and with surprise and shared adventure, a holiday stretches out before us. This trip was special. It was our first time on a plane for years and we’d planned it together.

By mid-morning when we sat down to a late breakfast on Degraves Street we’d taken an Uber, caught a plane, hopped on the express Skybus, and with luggage dragging behind, had ambled from Southern Cross Station to our apartment. Perhaps to complete the set we should’ve each ridden a unicycle to the footy.

Much of this now appears in my mind like a private film screening. In distinct scenes I can see you both walking by the Yarra and through Carlton Gardens to the museum and along Jolimont Road to the MCG. You’re chatting constantly about everything and anything. As brothers you’re robust and occasionally fierce, but this is what I’d long hoped for and imagined. These pictures are already precious and timeless.

At Australia’s museum of screen culture, ACMI, many of the displays dated from before you were born but you both entered this historical world with enthusiasm. I love your interest in culture and when you jumped in the box dedicated to the music show Countdown Alex immediately yelled, ‘Take a photo, take a photo!’ You knew this was important and so made a bid to me.

Just after lunch on Saturday we were on Swan Street in Richmond gawping through salesrooms at the luxury cars. We saw Lamborghinis, Ferraris and finally, a Rolls Royce Ghost. Its price tag featured, in smallish black print: $1,100,000. We were startled. Max provided a running commentary on all the makes and models while around us, puffer-jacketed men sipped lattes and signed on the dotted line. It was fun.

I loved zipping through the Sunday brunch crowd in the Queen Victoria Markets as you both ate a chocolate croissant (the breakfast of champions). Outside it teemed down in typically Melbourne style as our nostrils were overpowered by fresh mullet and Coffin Bay oysters.

After examining clothes and books we explored a movie poster stall and flicking through the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson sections you both said, ‘How about this one, Dad?’ or ‘You like this one, don’t you?’ I still can’t believe there was no Lebowski.

A highlight was the IMAX cinema at the museum. We’d not all been together at a film for ages – the last time was probably something from the Marvel universe. We were right at the front and the screen was the size of a couple megalodons. It was the 3D documentary, Antarctica and we had on our funny black glasses. It was narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, which Max found amusing to say repeatedly and as the film began, he reached out his hand and grabbed at the air while whispering, ‘Dad I can touch the words of the credits.’

There were funny moments across the weekend, and these then bobbed up and were giggled at again and again. On Friday night at the Docklands match three Bulldogs defenders all flew for a mark and all three touched it before the umpire blew his whistle and awarded it. I said, ‘I don’t think marking should be a group assignment’ and you laughed.

Then there was the guy at Saturday’s MCG game in the row in front of us who liked to chat and chat and chat about Richmond and Geelong and North Melbourne and then North Melbourne. And after the final siren in the 60,000-throng pressing along Daniher Way, he eyed me again and promptly took up where he’d left. After Alex said, ‘Dad, did you enjoy that convo?’ I’m quite surprised that he’s not rung.

Throughout our days there was unrelenting action and playfighting and laughter. It was enchanted. On each morning, I’d come up the elevator all sweaty from my run along the Yarra, gently turn the key and creep inside. Edging open your bedroom door, I’d glimpse in.

You were both still asleep.

Thanks.

Dad

xx

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Goodbye to a faithful friend

In the end it was deceptively quick.

As should always happen in these situations, mercy prevailed. With no witness and limited ceremony I simply nodded briefly and acted swiftly.

Appropriately, it was in the grey light of Wednesday’s unremarkable dawn. A dawn that would be forgotten as soon as it was complete.

The symptoms revealed themselves late last week: feverish temperature; ungainly sweats, internal functioning becoming increasingly laboured. I wished that a simple solution were available. Experts were consulted and their chorus was clear and while sympathetic it was unanimous: a terminal prognosis.

Our relationship had endured for over a decade, and to my shame I admit that I took far more than I gave. I offered rare gratitude but demanded constantly. I heard no complaints.

Of course, I became grief-stricken when faced with the grim inevitability of the pending loss. As the sun struggled up in the east that morning my despair hurtled towards me. Why is it only when the final hour descends that we pause and show the kindness we’ve failed to display previously?

Yes, dear reader, my beer fridge was dead.

I turned off the power. The Southwark mugs that for long years had been kept crisply chilled in the freezer were now thawing in the feeble June sun.

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Dawn in Dubai Airport

Early morning.

My favourite time of day as it’s when I’m best aware of my enormous fortune and the garden of wonder that’s you. But I’ve not had one like this before.

Generically, Dubai airport is familiar, and the air is warm and cocooned. There’s buzz and privilege as well as some thrilling strangeness. Just as there should be when travelling.

We saunter about this recognisable and vaguely indecipherable place before claiming a table in Costa Coffee. I feel the delirium of little sleep, and the gentle euphoria of life blissfully interrupted, blended with the expectation of what’s ahead in our week. It’s like when you stay up all night the first time as a teenager and see in the dawn.

There’re people everywhere and I love the secret intimacy of being with you in a crowded place.

As we waited for our coffee – I’m unsure if we ordered food; possibly a small cake – I remember feeling safe. I’m sure it was because of you and the psychological and emotional comfort you bring. I also felt distinctly still, despite hurtling 11,000 kilometres.

These were our first overseas moments together and they’d been an infinity coming. Having fled Australia, we now caught our breath.

It was a key scene in our movie and the camera was rolling.

I recall speaking low and conspiratorially with you. We shared confidences. As you spoke, I had a moment, born of responsibility and devotion. These moments are unexpected and seismic; I think they rush out of our long past and wash over me with a warmth and a love and a relief to which I can only surrender.

It was an episode that to a stranger might have seemed ordinary but was a sublime, quietly joyous hour. It continues to possess deep and subtle symbolic power for me.

Airports are hubs of promise where life can be amplified to magical dimensions. In that otherwise forgettable coffeeshop we were halfway to Europe and our fête, for two.

It was both prologue and epilogue.

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ONJ and me

During Saturday’s breakfast on the patio, I popped the needle on Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits.

Instantly, I was six years old and back home in Kapunda. Mum and Dad’s lounge room is again wallpapered, the TV’s black and white and the carpet is burnt orange. It’s winter, and I’ve got on my footy boots. They’ll be on all day.

When Mum and Dad downsized, all the family vinyl came to me and since taking delivery of a retro record player at Christmas I’ve been happily swimming in nostalgia. Some of the albums had been untouched since 1988.

ONJ features prominently on the soundtrack of my childhood.

*

The second song on side 1 is, ‘Banks of Ohio’ and this transports me to a still, musty room on Hill Street in Kapunda. I’m still six and strumming a guitar during my weekly lesson, while the massively patient teacher, Deborah, helps my fingers to stretch across the chords. I love the idea of a guitar and singing, but the latter is galaxies beyond me and my gruesome tone deafness.

ONJ does the definitive version of this nineteenth century standard. Her voice and the melody are bouncy, and I always loved the basso backup of celebrated singer Mike Sammes who subterraneously echoes Livvy’s, ‘where the water flowed.’ Sammes also contributes on, ’Let Me Be There’ and ‘If You Love Me (Let Me Know).’

Trying to sing along with Deborah, I’m a little anxious about the lyrics. The narrator declaring that she, ‘held a knife against his breast’ is squirmingly grown-up and I vow to avoid this so-called Ohio River. Bad stuff happens on its distant, murky banks.

Nowadays the tune would come with attendant humourless warnings: adult themes, graphic violence, and persistent mention of a river that enjoys confluence with the Mississippi in Illinois.

The song’s a murder ballad.

*

Sipping coffee out the back and then emerges gently from our turntable the 1975 Grammy winner for Record of the Year. As it plays across the garden we discuss ‘I Honestly Love You’ with Claire suggesting it’s ‘depressing’. I counter that it is certainly pretty although I’d always viewed it as a disposable love song.

On it Livvy’s voice is beautifully warm and pure, but not drenched in palpable sadness. It bathes the listener in sunlight. But as with much music there’s a disconnect between the medium and the message.

Hearing it as Mum played it at home and on the car AM radio, my generation’s all logged many hours in its company. But following breakfast last Saturday we were moved by repeated listens and became profoundly aware of its narrative intensity.

As we learn both characters in the song are trapped by marriage, and unable to be together. The lyrics are by Peter Allen, who at the time of composition, was married to Liza Minelli but had fallen in love with a man who was similarly stuck.

I’m hesitant to see all texts as autobiographical because sometimes stories are just fictional. Not everything is inspired by real life. But there’s a good case here.

The opening verse is disarming: tender, vulnerable, brave. I imagine our main character talking in a café or a park. 

Maybe I hang around here

A little more than I should

With this we’re instantly eavesdropping on a private confessional and there’s tension as ONJ sings, ‘I got somewhere else to go’.

While the chorus of, ‘I love you, I honestly love you’ is necessary, the verses and the bridge are superior because these are where she reveals the story. The characters remain ageless, genderless, and timeless.

In the second verse we hear, ‘Maybe it was better left unsaid’ and this second ‘maybe’ confirms our narrator’s nervousness. Her vulnerability is crushing, and we all know a bit about this. The repetition of ‘chance’ in the third verse shows how powerless they both are in this sometimes-cruel universe.

How can I have been unaware of all of this since I was a child?

The way the strings soar in the final verse is stirring while a harp is used sparingly but to great effect. It lifts a tender song to an enhanced fragility. The eternally imponderable is here too in

If we both were born in another place and time

This moment might be ending in a kiss

But there you are with yours and here I am with mine

So, I guess we’ll just be leaving it at this.

The last line is only superficially dismissive of their plight and given the emotional stakes of the story is also deeply ironic. If we view the song as a monologue, it’s dramatic and affecting.

I love rediscovering old music and reaching a new, heightened appreciation.

*

Of course, many of ONJ’s songs feature women who’ve relinquished or make no claim on their rightful power. These are females for whom life appears to happen rather than be controlled. ‘Sam’ and ‘Please Mr. Please’ are key examples. Claire suggested that maybe ‘Physical’ was in part ONJ actively promoting a feminist perspective.

Students of ‘I Honestly Love You’ will know that it features in Jaws just prior to Amityville’s second shark attack but I prefer to reference the 90’s indie singer Juliana Hatfield who, in 2018, produced an album of ONJ covers. She remarked that

‘I have never not loved Olivia Newton-John. Her music has bought me so much pure joy throughout my life.’

And I agree when she goes on to say, ‘Listening to her is an escape into a beautiful place.’

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Walking each other home

It’d been a forgettable November afternoon at work.

But, one click led to another and I legitimately found myself watching a TED talk by the American writer Anne Lamont. It’s called, ’12 truths I learned from life and writing.’ She is funny and wise and worth hearing on many topics. However, the idea that’s made an impact on me isn’t even one of her declared truths. She was mid-point and as an aside remarked that

We’re all just walking each other home.

I paused the video and sat at my desk for a while, looking at nothing in particular. Like all great poetry this simple arrangement of words held a profound notion. Later I shared the idea with Claire.

It’s about beauty and hope. It suggests joyful partnership and unalterable love. It’s uncluttered. It encapsulates so much.

The twin and universal images of walking and home marry so elegantly.

*

Following Nazeem Hussain’s stand-up comedy gig at the Rhino Room for which Claire was an Auslan interpreter (she did a great job and was funny too) it remained a warm, buzzing evening so we ascended the 2KW bar for a snack and nightcap. The Fringe Festival was well underway. There was much to celebrate.

The streetlights twinkled and if a hens’ night brood hadn’t claimed the deck for a private function then we would’ve drank in the vista over the Festival Centre and Adelaide Oval. Instead, we were happy to sit in a booth.

We returned to the idea of walking each other home.

It is the loveliest thought.

Over her shiraz Claire observed that, ‘It’s an idea that can only really work later in life.’

I agreed that it’d be somewhat ‘previous’ to promise it in one’s twenties, the metaphor of home perhaps being a mood-killer on a first date.

It appears to be an idea that is attributed to nobody in particular and is timeless. Some could see it as a little grim, but for me it speaks of serenity and dignity. It suggests the beach in winter; winery fireplaces and dawn’s first light when the dark is eased back down into the earth.

I’m grateful that I discovered it on a listless afternoon at work.

Although it’s not from a poem, it’s the noblest poetry.

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January is here, with eyes that keenly glow

With New Year’s Eve out the road (bed early, eyes shut, ears blocking out the staccato soundtracks of various fireworks displays both legal and otherwise) we move to the serious business of holidays and relaxation or as my friend Nick calls it, relack.

Lake Bonney is our annual setting for this and we now have a bursting itinerary of traditional activities that commence when the teenaged boys race out of bed at the crack of 9.45am and, I suspect, continue to well after I’m safely a-slumber.

No carp were harmed (much) during the taking of this photo as I stylishly alighted Barmera’s jetty into the fresh depths of Lake Bonney.
The Hilton Hotel on South Road (the address is always given as a differentiator from the other Hilton) hosted (probably unknowingly) January’s Mystery Pub. Neither Claire nor I were responsible for the demise of this chip, but during its darkest moments did offer it thoughts and prayers. It would be unfair to say that this chip is the most exciting feature of the pub, so I won’t.
We had our annual late lunch at the Seafaring Fools café on the Broadway. Here’s Claire enjoying a hot Milo.
There’s a $4.50 voucher at the Oodnadatta Roadhouse coming your way if you can guess which boy is currently learning at home.
Since confessing that, for the first time ever, I (in the fetching company of Claire) left Highway One and visited the historic town of Port Wakefield I have been flooded with stories from people who’ve actually been there too. Thanks to both of you. Let’s get some t-shirts made.
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Saturday morning, on the Glenelg North esplanade

The beach was a pale gold and wide.

A few lone swimmers bobbed in the shallows. It was well after 10am, the hour deemed as cut-off for unleashed hounds, but a few dogs bounded along the sand ahead of their owners unbothered by any petty council bylaws. A boat or two scattered atop the shimmering gulf.

Heading north the first one was an elderly woman on a bench. She was alone. She was immersed and had a coffee beside her. She was reading a romance novel. I was instantly buoyed and felt the associated glow of life lived well by the beach.

Nearly a kilometre later I reached the esplanade shelter we call the Mormon Hut. We know it as such because occasionally on the weekend it hosts a group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who set up displays and stands of pamphlets. I’m unsure if their honeyed ways have netted many flies, but I do admire their optimism and enterprise in setting up churchly shop right by the sea where there’s plenty of pedestrian traffic. If not theological interest.

As I arrived at the MH this morning on the near bench was an aged man also by himself, deep in a book about Greece. It may have been in Greek. He seemed relaxed and at profound peace and was enjoying his Saturday morning of leisure.

With my hands on my hips I puffed and sweated and drew in some air and looked at the other bench. There’s only two tables in the MH. On the northern side was an elderly woman with an iced tea by her elbow. She was reading a large novel. In the minute I was there she didn’t look up.

Opposite her was a man who seemed to be well into his eighties. A walking stick leaned against his seat, diagonally. He had a white beard and was hunched over an equally huge novel. By his elbow was another iced tea. Like his wife he didn’t look up nor speak.

I was pleased to be in their company, momentarily.

Continuing to huff I gazed at the elderly readers, there by the calming ocean, on a mid-summer morning, living exquisitely and with singular application.

Four people by the beach on benches. All engaged by the written word. It was poetically simple. It was as if I, too, had spent a languid hour with a book. It gave me hope and reassurance.

When I got home all drenched and ridiculous I said to Claire, “I’ve just got another idea for our retirement…”

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New Year’s Eve, 2021

New Year’s Eve’s a funny old day. During daylight it’s one of my favourite days but once the sun’s down I lose interest.

As a teenager in Kapunda I remember regularly waking early on the last day of the year- often before anyone else at home- and in the still dawn riding my bike around town and evaluating everything through my decidedly adolescent eyes. The Main Street was quiet- there was not a HQ Holden to be seen or heard- and I’d feel something probably akin to gratitude for the place- my place- and wonder about the year ahead, due to get underway in a few, brief hours.

It was always a solitary exercise but I’d experience connectedness to my hot, dusty hometown.

Claire and I and the dogs have just returned from the beach where the loose streams of walkers along the wide, flat sand suggest many others have resisted a sleep-in and are also extracting what they can from 2021 before it’s too late.

Happy new year to you!

Early January the boys and I (and later Claire too) headed to Barmera on our traditional trip. Here’s the last known photograph of our yabby nets prior to them being hooked by some miserable Collingwood supporting sod.
With Alex turning thirteen he and I spent a night up in Hahndorf to mark his official ascent (or is it descent) into teenagerhood. It would be churlish to mention that I narrowly won the mini-golf, so I won’t.
Max had his birthday at the Beach House (it remains an effort not to call it Magic Mountain). It was a fun morning and my hearing, the audiologist tells me, will soon have recovered.
Late afternoon at the Kapunda Mine Chimney on our wedding day this selfie captured our photographers too. How often is a photo taken of the photographers? Not often enough so thank you both.
Here we are, mid-April, on our honeymoon in the Flinders having just had a picnic lunch. If you listen carefully to this photo you can hear the lonesome call of the crows.
At the annual Footy Almanac lunch at Australia’s best soup pub, the North Fitzroy Arms, the spicy pumpkin was, as Rick Stein himself might’ve enthusiastically said, tasty.
We e-cycled the Riesling Trail one June Saturday and Claire enlisted a stick to correct our host town’s spelling.
In early spring I spent two days writing while overlooking the beach at Port Elliot before Claire joined me and we went for a dawn walk to begin our weekend.
Alex received a retro record player for Christmas. In between him dropping the needle on some hippity-hop vinyl I ushered him into the sacred world of Ripper 76.
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The Week Before Christmas

Claire and I made a pact that we’ll watch When Harry Met Sally once a year. So, a couple Sundays ago we did. It features great dialogue by the late Nora Ephron but also some moving monologues and my favourite is delivered by Harry to Sally on New Year’s Eve when they both finally realise exactly what they want. It’s a list of the things Harry loves about Sally.

Groundhog Day is another romantic comedy from the same era and it, too, includes a simple yet touching list of the things Phil finds astonishing about Rita.

Inspired by these two monologues I wrote one too, in the week before Christmas. Before Love Actually had its annual airing!

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I love when we go to the beach how you kick off your shoes and abandon them on the sand by a rock and trust that they’ll be there upon our return. I love that you care nothing for cars and will never tell the difference between a BMW and a Mazda. I love that you run your life with a paper diary which is misplaced every few months, but somehow always turns up. I love that Angel understands you are the most compassionate person she’ll ever see because dogs just know. I love how I can catch your scent in an empty room and then our beautiful, rich past rushes back towards me. I love when I meet your eye across a busy space and how at that moment, we share many secrets without uttering a word. And I love when you smile because it shows me that this world is bursting with joy and promise and magic.