All of a sudden you’re about to start your final week of primary school! Over these years you’ve grown and learnt so much about the world and yourself. I want to tell you how proud I am of you.
You’re interested in the things around you and this constant curiosity is, and will be, a great asset. I’m sure it’ll help as you move through high school, and I like that you’ve been inquisitive about the following: Egypt, Mad as Hell, climbing Mount Everest with your friend Jan, using your bare hands (along with Max) to catch imaginary catfish at the bottom of the Valley Park pool just like Teddy from Mudcats, our adventure heroes in Bear Grylls and Russell Coight, cricket, the layout of your bedroom, and let’s not forget your developing if secret love for Vampire Weekend.
I like how you try so many activities and give your best to these. It’s also encouraging that when things don’t go so well that you’re able to accept this and look ahead. This resilience will help you as you move through secondary school and its challenges.
I’m pleased that you’ve taken up volleyball. It’s a great game and I can see that it’s given you much. That you’re in the state special talent program makes me happy as this means you’ll learn more about the skills and yourself. I hope it’ll be a sport you’ll enjoy for many, many years.
As someone who loves traditions it pleases me how you value these too such as watching the AFL grand final in The Taminga, sitting in the same spot on the grass at Glenelg matches and playing the car guessing game every day at 4pm as we do a slow lap of Lake Bonney. These rituals tell me that you value people and experiences and fun.
I know that you’ll make the most of your last few days at St Leonards and the celebrations at school and the surf club. It gladdens me that you understand how important these times are and especially appreciate being with your friends. Knowing where you are at a particular moment in life is important. So, take some photos and take your time to be polite and enthusiastic and grateful.
You’ll soon be at Brighton and in Year 8 and I know you’re going to do very well. Before then enjoy yourself and the summer ahead. I’m so proud of you. Signing off I’m sure you want to read these words from our old friend
I gained most of my vast knowledge of the outback from my father Russell Coight Snr, who taught me everything I know before he died from a combination of a self-inflicted axe wound, sunstroke, and snake-bite.
When Claire, Trish and I were in Year 12 at Kapunda SA-FM had Triple Track weekends and these were organised by artist or theme.
I’m sure irony or satire were never playlist drivers at the fledgling radio station, as I don’t recall a ridiculous mid-70’s theme, but late Friday night in the upstairs lounge at Carrackalinga – after charades was done (with Claire in Eddie McGuire mode as both compare and a team captain), and the boys downstairs with Perchy the blue heeler being boys – for us there was dancing (OK, not all) and wine and nostalgia and laughter, and these three were played on Trisha’s phone-
S-S-Single Bed by Fox
The Way That You Do It by Pussyfoot
Jeans On by (Lord) David Dundas.
It was a moment of shared history and evoked a joyous time from our childhoods and cloaked the room in safety and deep privilege. Inside, it was warm and for a few hours just before midnight the outside world of lashing rain and lurking adult responsibilities ceased to matter.
I thought of the comfort of old friends and our forgiveness and acceptance, quiet encouragement and unspoken gifts to each other, given freely and often.
Saturday morning and we arose across a few languid hours and gently started our days, a bit like the characters in The BigChill and as JB noted, each boy had cereal, slopped milk on the bench and table and then, of course, left the milk out. The fridge was too far away from them, an impossible bridge.
After Brett, Leonard, Alex, Riley, Oliver and I enjoyed a diverting quiz –
Who was the first Republican president?
Who performed “Waterloo Sunset?”
Where does port wine come from?
and then board games.
Some of us watched Muriel’s Wedding (Abba was a constant weekend companion) and then went to Myponga beach. It was invigorating and the tide swallowed much of the sand and just as we left the rain began. Riley and Max were in shorts and the apparent temperature was 4.9 degrees.
Thanks to JB, Leonard and Oliver for an excellent 24 hours in Carrackalinga.
On our way home it hailed as we drove through Sellicks Hill, but was warm in the car.
boys mucking around on the beach and no-one gets wet!
wintry beach a treat; as much seaweed as you can eat!
Brett about to do his Michael Caine impersonation
Claire and Max mid-charade, doubtless something equine
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.
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.
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.
Sleeping, dusty streets. Saturday afternoon like a still creek.
Memories, rushed and gentle on every corner. Footy, cricket. Bikes.
A pasty each up by the high school lawns. Awash with grey Midford shirts. Roman sandals. Unfinished essays. The poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Year 12 Biology and a vegetation transect on Banksias.
A cricket match shout from the oval. Share a beer and chat in the pub later with my cousin, Froggy. The captain. Rolled for bugger-all.
Visit our history teacher, Macca and his wife, Kerry. Discuss 1983 and everywhere since. Feel seventeen again.
Dinner around a big kitchen table with old friends, Woodsy and Sue. Happy collision of past, present and future. Not enough time to see others. Next time.
Sunday morning. Out to scan the golf club. Admire the lush fairways and nod at the greens which replaced the scrapes of my youth. Recall the handful of 21sts. White HQ Holdens lined up like butchers of West End. Hoodoo Gurus blasting into the cold night.
Drive back across the River Light bridge towards the city.
Stand By Me remains a favourite film and I was reminded of this yesterday whilst hiking with the boys and two of their friends in Onkaparinga Gorge.
I once heard that most beer commercials will feature a group of four men (not women) drinking together. It’s not two men because this can appear a little intimate and conflicts with the stereotypical image at play in beer drinking contexts. Neither is it three as this is an odd number and suggests two friends and an outsider and an uncomfortable, unbeery dynamic. So, the aesthetic and psychological forces mean that four works best for the assumed audience.
The director, Rob Reiner, might have known this numerical truth when making his film about Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern going on a secret hike across Oregon to find a dead body. But, of course, it’s really about friendship and being on the cusp of surrendering their innocence. I had the afternoon off and thought it timely to get out of the house and into nature. There were four boys and me in the car and it took thirty minutes to get there. Most of the conversation was about farts. It was ridiculous and compelling. Farts never go out of style when you’re twelve.
In blustery conditions we hiked the Punchbowl Link Trail on which we saw no-one. The ground was soggy and we all grabbed walking sticks for beyond a torch there’s not many objects that resonate so enduringly with a boy than a stick.
Another inescapable boyhood trait is for wearing socks outside. Why is this? With a couple kilometres to go we again struck some muddy terrain and one of the boys took off his shoes and completed the hike in his socks which, I’m sure, will never be that vibrant yellow again. Apologies to his parents. Apologies to the socks. Us adults are helpless against this incurable desire. It’s a rite of passage if not a daily habit. Maslow might argue that wearing socks in mud leads to self-actualisation, but maybe not.
Back at the car we all scraped our shoes on the road to get rid of the mud. It didn’t work. We drove down from the hills and home towards the beach. There was no mention of farts.
It was a fun afternoon and I was aware of our fortune in being able to venture to this isolated trail when so many across our country can not enjoy some distant exercise, and for the boys to be with each other in a time and place they might remember, or not.
Stand By Me is narrated by a writer played by the excellent Richard Dreyfuss and he’s telling this very story. In the final scene he types on his computer screen-
I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
Pulling up at the Broadway pub on Friday afternoon Claire remarked on how atypically easy our drive had been from the city to the beach. So much so that the car’s clock displayed our triumphant arrival as –
This, of course, scientists will gladly tell you is the optimal afternoon pub starting time, at least in the southern hemisphere. Locating a cosy table in the beer garden we let an hour drift away and all was providential in our world.
Saturday our local footy team the Glenelg Tigers were hosting a twilight match and the boys and I headed down. Sitting on the eastern side the late winter sun (now, we all acknowledge that spring only commences after the equinox on either September 21 or 22, don’t we?) poured honeyed light across the grass, the sky and us.
As is customary Alex, Max and their mates watched minimal minutes of the match, their attention taken by hot chips, each other and roaming about the oval.
Glenelg skipped away early and kept West Adelaide subservient throughout, and it was a spectacular afternoon. The fresh air and stroll did us all some good.
Once each winter month we set our fire bucket going with some red gum and spend a glowing evening on the patio. Claire struck a match as we made our way home from the footy and we enjoyed a few hours in the crackling warmth.
Games give the night some diverting structure and we engaged in Family Feud which is based upon the eponymous TV show. One night I flicked on the box and caught this question, just before the show was axed. This may have been the question that finished it off, but I still can’t decide if it’s towering genius or beyond moronic. We surveyed our studio audience and got their top 100 responses to this:
Name something a spider might think about?
Saturday night I read a question for Claire and Alex that went:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Claire and Alex called out running and cycling and others but couldn’t get the final reply which had seven responses. There was much guessing and frustration. Remember the question was:
Name a calorie-burning exercise?
Coming from the country that bought us Sco Mo and Warney’s autobiography called My Autobiography and XXXX Gold (at best a bronze product) the fourth reply was, you guessed it, exercise.
Sunday dawned as Father’s Day and we had Mum and Dad and my sister’s family over for a BBQ. It was sunny and warm and gentle. We ate lamb and chicken and beef. We had tossed salad and Thai noodle salad and red wine from McLaren Vale and the Barossa.
We spoke of renovations and footy and holidays. We then had Mum’s bread and butter pudding which may have had its origins in poverty but is now emblematic of comfort. The day was affirming and then it became late afternoon and with waving and tooting that was it.
With winter having fled north leaving sun and windless days behind Alex, Max and I ventured out for our third rail journey. The Seaford line heads from the city to the coast and then continues south over the dunes and through rolling foothills. It’s nearly forty kilometres long.
Beginning at the city’s new station, the vaguely subterranean Oaklands, we arrived at the terminus and stepped out into Sunday morning and circumnavigated a shopping centre with quite possibly the continent’s best Big W. Or worst, it’s difficult to analyse.
Homeward, we alighted at Brighton and strolled to Jetty Road and located an outside table at the Beach Pit. Our meals were well-priced, prompt and tasty. Mine came with a compulsory Sparkling Ale.
Three hours after departure we returned to Oaklands with talk of completing our series by taking the Gawler train in a few Saturdays’ time.
Yes, I thought to myself, the boys are now old enough to experience Womma.
Windmill attempting to make shopping centre less brutal
Cute mosaic attempting to make shopping centre less brutal
What a joy this apostrophe is: so inclusive, so quietly assured
On this July afternoon when the sun has the pale sky to itself and warms our faces in that uplifting, a South Australian-winter’s-not-so-bad way, the boys and I were about to leave the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and make our boisterous path along the River Torrens to the North Terrace holiday apartment.
We’d had a fantastic morning in the 51-hectare public garden at the city’s north-east corner and I saw it, just by the Plane Tree Drive exit. Beyond the vertical and ascending letters I was struck by its many expressions of beauty.
It was the Friends’ Gate sign.
It’s named for the volunteer organisation, Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, who has supported the Adelaide, Mt Lofty, and Wittunga gardens since 1977. Community and enterprise of this scope are worth commemorating with a gate and declarative sign and my heart was gladdened.
My second reading of the sign was that it’s not only for this society, but also for all friends visiting the Botanic Gardens. It’s an expansive symbol for those past, present and future who have happened by this gate. To meet someone by the Friends’ Gate surely provides a welcoming and opportune reminder of the relationship you share.
What better way to begin an hour or so in a beloved’s company than with a smile and hug by this cosy sign?
I’m neither grammarian nor linguist, but simply love locating joy in words and the worlds they create, and so my subsequent reading of the sign focussed on the possessive apostrophe. I noted how visually diminutive it is but was alerted to its terrier conviction.
The apostrophe was instantly affirming and seemed to suggest everything enchanting about the time and place. As the sun hung in the midday heavens I found abundant delight in this gentle space in our mostly gentle city. It was almost a Russian doll effect: state; city; garden; sign. Although an artificial construct, there was punctuative beauty in this natural if manicured garden. I was spellbound.
Like most moments this apostrophe existed in a personal context. Telling Claire of it later she wondered if it might be exclusive and indicating a club for the privileged few. I suggested that I didn’t find it aggressive, but rather inclusive and quietly proud.
I later speculated if Mr John Richards, the 96-year-old founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, might have also enjoyed the Friends’ Gate so much that it inspired him to reverse his recent decision to close down his very British organisation.
I also thought about the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ – a phrase referring to the mistaken use of an apostrophe, in a plural noun such as ‘Cauliflower’s – two for a dollar!’ Of equal horror for some is the clanging absence of one, the prickly omission when confronted with a line like, ‘Tigers car window broken with 9-iron.’
The Friends’ Gate sign was certain and unhurried – if a punctuation mark can connote movement. I imagined it inspiring an acoustic Belle and Sebastian song with a sweetly soaring chorus, or a Bruce Dawe poem, all festive and tender awe and penned in a distant decade.
This possessive apostrophe stayed with me as we hiked behind the zoo and Adelaide Oval then grew in the west.