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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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Sausage Roll Review: The Goolwa Bakery

It’s a snaking and demanding ribbon of tar from Glenelg to Goolwa along and across the Hills and between the vines until the great arc of the Southern Ocean appears like a pale blue relief.

It was supposed to pour down but instead just spat with appalled apathy on my Korean car’s bonnet. I’ve the best part of three days overlooking Knight’s Beach to write and think and read for which I’m enormously grateful.

But I need to open my holiday with a sausage roll, as one should.

My now annual writing retreat is largely predicated on nostalgia and other investigations of the past so exiting the Southern Expressway and ignoring the radio I push in a CD on my hugely old-school car stereo.

The Eagles accompany me on my trip down to the gushing, green Fleurieu. Although my tiny brain is prejudiced happily to the past, I reckon they stand up well. It’d be easy to mock them as symbols of 70’s American excess but the songs and the musicianship are peerless. Eagles Live was enormous in my youth, and it might’ve had the be-jesus overdubbed out of it, but ‘Seven Bridges Road’ and its climbing harmonies still arrest me.

The Goolwa Bakery is located on a side street, and I was instantly smitten by the cosy interior. Some modern bakeries tend towards supermarket dimensions, to their consequent detriment. The atmosphere was also buoyed by a fishbowl in TV, sitting on a table near the door, as it always is in a rural baked goods emporium.

Ordering my $5 sausage roll my thoughts meandered towards Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace and her famous $5 shake, a speciality at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Initially expressing disbelief Vincent Vega then takes a socially inappropriate sip and exclaims that it’s a ‘pretty expletive good milkshake!’

And so it was with my sausage roll.

Claiming a chair on the early afternoon footpath and withdrawing (careful now) the lunch from its brown bag it appeared as a freshly busted hunk of axe handle in both girth and approximation.

My first bite met with peppery whiffs and pleasantry. There was flaky, tasty pastry and it wasn’t sweaty which the medically alert among you will know is the biggest killer of over 55’s in this antipodean country.

Looking about my environs I note that the bakery shares premises with the Goolwa Health Centre and hope that all the kiddies reading now grasp the attendant irony.

The woman serving the baked grub was effervescent if somewhat resigned; I wondered about her life but not for long.

Munching on I was acutely aware of my enormous privilege as I was soon to drive to my beach accommodation. I’d be on a balcony with long, glorious hours in front of me.

Five quick minutes later I’d finished my lunch, scanned the surroundings, and pointed my motor west.

The Goolwa Bakery is over a century old. They know how to craft a sausage roll.

I’m unsure but they might even serve them (sauce if required) with ‘pink champagne on ice’ in the Hotel California.

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You in the Garden

Bustling through the kitchen I’m delighted to hear music as the Billy Joel record would’ve finished twenty minutes ago when I was at the beach.

I’m instantly elated that you’ve put another album on the turntable. I want it to be your record player too. I want it to be a shared hobby. Music is such a rich part of our relationship, and with this simple, affirming act, you just composed another song.

Arriving on the patio is a scene from our movie and this one is shot from my point of view. The record is Supertramp’s Breakfast in America and I know you like them too. They are evocative of our teenage years. All the promise and the torture.

There’s been a whirl of activity with plants and prunings and dead stuff scattered on the lawn in piles. This is movingly symbolic. It’s our home and you’re invested. I love that this has happened while I’ve been elsewhere, during our mid-afternoon.

This is a quiet triumph. A minor, suburban miracle.

Then, of course, there’s you.

In your lovely hair, all tied in a ponytail, there’s bits of twigs and leaves. You’re in a simple, checked shirt and your (now) muddy jeans. You’re wearing black gardening gloves, and these are at once stylish and practical. The camera trails us around while overhead the festive clouds skip by. The water feature percolates away.

With their galloping piano and saxophone and catchiness Supertramp continues, at volume of course. You give me a tour of your horticultural achievements. This is boundlessly heartening and yet another big moment in our small, precious life.

And regularly during this episode you smile your smile. It’s so loving and pure and utterly perfect. I follow you about the garden across the lawn. Our anonymous space is now enchanted by care and devotion but mostly you.

This movie scene has been a magical, unforeseen gift.

Thank you, Claire Louise.

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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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Tramping through Tanunda

David Franz Winery

My fifty-second consecutive day of jogging four kilometres begins at our Valley Hotel apartment. I cut through the beers garden (note plural: who has just one beer?) and consider how often I’ve run to, but never away from a pub.

Tanunda’s Murray Street is Barossa vine-zero and already enjoying pedestrian traffic with tourists and locals shuffling in and out of the coffee shops and bakeries. A community market’s on and the sun catches the golden varnished pine of trucks and steamrollers and assorted wooden toys.

Scurrying along Bilyara Road I recall that Wolf Blass has a shiraz named Bilyara. Us Kapunda folk used to frequent his winery and I wonder if Claire and I should invest a nostalgic hour but given that the Barossa now hosts one hundred and fifty cellar doors perhaps we should keep our visits to novel vinous venues.

It’s downhill past the Tanunda Oval which is being widened to accommodate (hopefully) SANFL footy and first-class cricket. A second, smaller oval for the kids is under development although the skyline’s disarmingly clear because many ancient trees were felled for this progress.

It’s just after eight on the Queen’s Birthday holiday so it’s effectively Sunday. A ute rumbles past with a dog hanging out the window.

Glancing over towards the wicket area I remember a Colts cricket game when I was fielding at very short leg as in thundered my mate Rocket. Already scary quick, in a few brisk years he’d be selected to play Sheffield Shield. The only helmets within the postcode were, I suspect, on the bonces of a bikie gang as they made their philanthropical way towards the pub.

The Tanunda batsman and I were shaking in equal measure, but it was worse for him as with trembling mitts he was attempting to keep hold of some dreadfully narrow willow. As the Kookaburra collected his head the crack was awful, preternaturally percussive, and he dropped to the concrete pitch, a flannelled tangle. Deeply concerned (well, as concerned as boys become regarding matters of physical safety), we rushed to his splayed self, and knew he was fine when he announced weakly, ‘You bastards.’

Now on Langmeil Road and pushing towards my halfway mark I’m taken by the wide, tree-lined boulevard and its handsome homes.

It’s crisp and mercifully still as the ferocious front of the previous week has absconded. According to Mum and Dad it plonked nearly five inches at their place on the Greenock side of Nuriootpa.

Approaching the brashly-monikered and tucked-away cellar door Riesling Freak, I vow to visit prior to the first Test against the Windies given that cricket and white wine seasons conflate. As the gleaming folk of HR might say, some useful synergies may then be generated.

I pull up puffing at Langmeil Wines where my wife marked a significant birthday. We all then traipsed, with purpled glasses in hand, to Peter Lehmann’s and the now defunct Richmond Grove wineries.

But today we’ll explore the Barossa Valley Estates and David Franz cellar doors. Given the affection with which we know the earthy and personal contours of this valley, I’m hoping for both wistful memory and shared discovery.

Barossa Valley Estates

I turn back towards the town centre.

On Fechner Drive (highly Barossan nomenclature) there’s a single vine on an empty block. It’s still smeared with shrivelled black dots and I wonder what happens with its annual fruit yield. Birds, possums, furtive backyard vignerons?

Across the road is a lemon tree bursting with confident blobs, already tennis ball-sized and auditioning for Van Gogh’s yellow period. Then there’s a pastoral counterpoint: an olden stone barn with rusting implements scattered about with the entire mise en scène evoking the original German settlement.

I notice a succession of peppercorn trees and recall the one a nine iron from my childhood home, where under its secretive branches was an enchanted space of games and invention. These, I decide, are the trees of innocence while surging, aspirational gums are for adults.

Nicking through the Tanunda Oval I recollect a rare win in my first year of senior footy for the Bombers. I wonder at the pronounced south to north slope of the ground. As a kid this escaped me.

On the canteen wall, the chalk on the Magpie menu blackboard shows hotdogs are $5 and this seems about right. In the clubrooms under the grandstand, I assume mettwurst and port remain available for the stalwarts.

I skirt the white terrace benches by the southern goal and remember dark, wintry afternoons as a kid scampering around in my footy boots. These silent symbols have been there forever and are redolent of all that’s nurturing and treasured about long past Saturdays.

My fourth and final kilometre concludes as I burst back through the Valley Hotel’s beer garden.

Random granite blocks (and man) at Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park
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A Butcher of Victorville Pale Ale at the Greenock Brewers

It was a perfect half hour.

We strolled in, exchanged greetings with mine hosts and were offered a beer. It was then that we learnt the nostalgic truth.

At the Greenock Brewers Chris and Lisa Higgins sell tremendous beers in bottles and on tap. And, most wonderfully, they can offer you a butcher of beer too.

In a world where the blind madness of upsized consumption has held us to ransom by making us believe we need more and bigger serves of everything from homes to cars to buckets of popcorn at the cinema, being served a beer in a 200ml glass is of great comfort and wistful joy.

Urban myth suggests the Newmarket Hotel in Adelaide first served a butcher of beer to workers from nearby cattle yards, and so the term entered the local vernacular.

Garden-fresh from lunch at the Greenock pub, Nick, Chrisso and I wandered through the shadows of Laucke’s flour mills having decided upon a quick visit and concluding refreshment.

I’m confident it was the first butcher I’d had this millennium. Most pubs no longer stock schooner or butcher glasses and therefore it’s a pint or you’re spitting feathers.

It was instantly the mid-1980s and I was being taught to pull a beer (along with old mate Davo) at the Kapunda Golf Club by Gus Higgins (who was Chris’s uncle). Suddenly all of us were far skinnier but had fatter hair. Allan Border was Australian cricket captain. There were Kingswoods parked outside too.

The Victorville Pale Ale is fiendishly easy to consume. It’s zesty and agreeable and sparkles with citrus notes. I also purchased a six pack for medical and research purposes. If it’d been an hour later, we might’ve dropped anchor and cancelled our evening plans and had a second butcher.

With this nostalgic tone set we spoke of our past, most notably Kapunda icon Skeeta and shared stories of his footy exploits and his drinking exploits and his drinking at footy exploits. Many of us associate Skeeta instantly with the Holden Torana, more particularly his being driven and then not being driven, largely as it frequently ended up in exotic places where a Torana shouldn’t be.

With the golden Barossa light bending across the brewery and through the windows we shared more stories and then it was time for Nick, Chrisso and I to point our non-Torana cars homewards.

I’d enjoyed the beer, and the company enormously. I couldn’t wait until the next time I’d drink a butcher.

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Vinyl Records for Velociraptors

My quest for nostalgic albums continues and I swing between Mr V Music of Semaphore and The Record Store in Warradale. Here’s some recent purchases and my meanderings on how these are autobiographically illustrative. That’s surely the purpose of music: to allow for and encourage personal connection.

I had much Billy Joel in my diet when I was young. Mum and Dad’s collection included his album 52nd Street which I enjoyed but The Stranger is his best record and features his finest song, ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.’ Inspired by side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road and its unbroken suite of songs I love how Billy Joel structures this narrative of doomed lovers Brenda and Eddie within the framing story of the old school friends dining together. There’s nostalgia and romance and Dixieland jazz and a great piano solo. It was among the first long songs (7minutes, 37 seconds) I got to know as well as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 11 minute, ‘I Heard it Through The Grapevine.’ These are wonderful for losing myself in and allowing the narrative possibilities to unfold.

Certain artists are forever associated with particular people growing up and The Beach Boys remind me of Davo, who was in my year at school and lived up the street. He also had the vinyl of Dream Police by Cheap Trick, and we’d play that at huge volume when his folks were out. Claire and I featured, ‘I Can Hear Music’ at out wedding ceremony and many would agree that ‘God Only Knows’ is among the greatest love songs despite it not actually using rhyme but repetition with the second and third verses both having ‘me’ to end each of the eight lines. If I was imprisoned and forced to listen to one of those Pink FM-type radio stations and some cow-eyed poppet came on and wailed eight verse lines in a row that ended with an identical word I’d screech back with unholy bug-eyed salivation but such is the symphonic beauty of Brian Wilson’s melody that we accommodate his lyrical curiosity.

This record evokes my hometown of Kapunda when I was in Year 11. It takes me back to that summer and teenaged parties and driving around town in our old cars. I think of that New Year’s Eve at Stephen’s which, of course, was much anticipated, unlike now when these nights are mostly to be endured and midnight comes as a relief and at 12.01 one dives enthusiastically into the cot from the bedroom door. ‘It’s Raining Again’ is a sweet song that conjures both sadness and happiness and memories of dear old friends while the record’s finest tune, ‘Bonnie’ is built around an uplifting melody despite the lyrics being about a man stalking a famous actress, so no harm there. I just need a copy of Crime of the Century to complete my Supertramp set along with Crisis. What Crisis, Breakfast in America, and Even in the Quietest Moments.

Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle and a woman I worked with taught his kids in St John’s Wood at their local school. She was utterly mad but I like that Paul and Linda didn’t send their offspring to some fox hunting snootery. Again, this record features his boyishly optimistic love song, ‘Listen to What the Man Said’ and we included it our wedding ceremony. The soprano saxophone solo makes it soar with pure joy. It’s redolent of London’s Hyde Park on a cloudless summer day.

One of jazz’s most significant texts, this double album runs for 93 minutes and is at once demanding, beautiful, and dangerous. Urban myth suggests Davis recorded it after being inspired by Hendrix’s famous guitar-on-fire set at Woodstock. It’s not one I often play when Claire’s home but I have made it part of Alex’s education and happily, he wasn’t horrified by it. One night last week during his daily bathroom residency I heard another Miles Davis album drifting from under the door so it’s good to know my parenting is now complete. Whew! I’m keen to also buy 1959’s Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s saxophonic hymn, A Love Supreme.

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Our beloved school, Kapunda High

Word quickly escaped that a fire had ravaged our beloved Kapunda High on a Tuesday night in late March. It was awful and yet bought many together. As published in the local paper here’s my story.

*

On Wednesday there was a pilgrimage to Kapunda High School, and its centrepiece, the mansion known as Eringa. People stared and shook their heads and became teary at the sight of the burned ruins.

One former student said to me that, ‘it was like someone has died.’ Indeed, the stunning structure around which the school has grown is like a much-loved old friend and main character in the town’s story. We embrace it dearly.

In our Kapunda group-chat my cousin Froggy praised the school saying, ‘Its aura and rich history have played a big part in many people’s lives.’ We all agreed.

When I began Year 8 it had less than a couple hundred students but was always at the town’s heart. It seemed snug. Even as gawky teenagers I think we realised it was special and would shape our lives for the best.

It still does.

Not purpose-built as a school, it was the residence of Sir Sidney Kidman, his wife, and children, and just like a family home, remains a source of deep pride for Kapunda. We had classes in what were servants’ quarters, high-ceiling bedrooms, and grand reception rooms with stained glass windows. It was wonderfully unique.

Every year, the prefects ran a week of lunchtime fundraising activities. A key attraction was a ghost experience in the tunnels running under the mansion. Can you imagine this happening now? Nobody was spooked but there was mischief and laughter in the darkness, and we’d emerge caked in thick dust and blinking at the sun, ready for more mayhem with Bunsen burners or hockey sticks.

My wife and I met in Year 8 and were only ever going to be married at our beloved school. The affection we hold for it, and the teachers and students with whom we shared the beautiful building and grounds meant we had to return to where it all began for us.

Our choice of wedding venue surprised some city guests who’d not ever visited Kapunda but then saw it’s no drab school. It’s a welcoming estate flanked by Moreton Bay Figs, rose gardens and a fetching sweep of lawn.

On our day last April, the setting was moving and picturesque, and this made Tuesday’s fire more devastating.

For those like me who moved away, a trip home always meant a slow lap of the town. You’d ease past the duck pond, Dutton Park (home of the Bombers), the Prince of Wales pub (there might be a car you recognise out the front) and Gundry’s Hill.

But you’d also drive to the high school, pause by the fence and smile at the view. I’m not sure other towns can make this claim. Even for those who went there our school is a tourist attraction.

Driving up up late Wednesday afternoon, we wanted not to merely witness the awful smouldering ruins, but to see friends and to grieve. This was never only about the building.

At the school we saw our treasured history teacher Paul McCarthy and his wife Kerry. There were handshakes and hugs. These were precisely the people we needed to see.

Later in the pub local icon Tolly remarked that it was, ‘like a wake.’ How terrible that Eringa, the showpiece of not only the school, but Kapunda itself, has suffered this? But those who’d come and congregated weren’t really at a wake. There’s already a rugged resolve that this dreadful event not be a final chapter. Following the equally devastating fire of 1902, Sidney and Isabel Kidman rebuilt their home.

For the thousands touched by Kapunda High, we’re hopeful that this happier side of history can be repeated.

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Record Recollections

In the wonderful High Fidelity the protagonist Rob Gordon and his disturbed employees Barry and Dick trade musical top fives at the record store, Championship Vinyl. Since Alex and myself were gifted a turntable at Christmas I’ve bought a dozen or so second-hand albums and my personal top five follows (from the beginning of 2022).

Of course this is entirely an exercise in yoofy nostalgia so has been limited to music from my adolescence. I’ve decided that if an album’s from a time when I could vote, then I won’t buy it!

On state election day I went to a record fair and wandering about the tables and crates of vinyl I thought, gee what am I doing here? There’s only middle-aged and old blokes here, all nattering about rare B-sides and European pressings of obscure collectables. Then I thought, oh, hang on…

5. On a distant Sunday evening during Countdown Molly once slurred, ‘Boz is the buzz’ or something like this. Great 70’s songs, and it has an intriguing cover with a coquettish Boz on a bench at Casino Point, south of LA avoiding an assertive female mitt. Many of the songs would’ve been played on 5KA and 5AD. I probably tried to record one live from the radio onto my little cassette recorder (when it wasn’t playing the best of Little River Band) and guess that it was, ‘Lido Shuffle.’ No, I still have no idea what this song title means.
4. A school mate’s brother had this and as teenagers we’d play it while flat on the floor in his parents’ darkened lounge room, initially mocking its jazzy, beat poetry stylings. Old friend Stephen once said that it only belonged in a ‘peace room.’ And then like kids with glazed-eyes like extras in a horror-film we were lured into its world, for ever (It’s no good Jim, they’re gone). Probably not one to play at a Sunday barbeque though.
3. Another album I discovered through an older friend. I knew the artist courtesy of his work in Steely Dan and this was similarly slick with its flawless musicianship and spiky tales about life in that most foreign of lands, America. Driving about dusty Kapunda in a green Gemini we’d play air cowbell to ‘New Frontier’ as I imagine all the cool skinny kids did in the summer of ’83.
2. Ahh, Skyhooks. At the time I knew little about Melbourne but liked that there were songs about it. People usually seemed to sing only about New York, California and London, and Skyhooks made me curious about Carlton, Balwyn and Toorak. Living in the 70’s was their debut but I preferred Ego is not a dirty word. I insisted on ‘All My Friends Are Getting Married’ for our own wedding. Yeah, funny. I know.
1. Probably the most famous live album and with ample reason. There’s great songs and through the clever sequencing the mood and narrative are beautifully controlled. ‘Play Me’ is a sublime song and, ‘You are the sun, I am the moon/ You are the words, I am the tune / Play me’ are lyrical poignancy. Just before his last tour I thought given that I’d not seen Neil in concert I should get a ticket to his Adelaide Entertainment Centre concert. Within days he announced that due to health concerns he’d be retiring from performing, immediately. Poo. Not just an album but a cultural artefact. Good lord!

Honourable mentions- Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne, Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits, and Beggars Banquet (NB- no possessive apostrophe) by the Rolling Stones.

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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.’

0

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.

2

On the patio with old friends, listening to Ripper 76

Is there much better than a simple lunch on the patio with old friends, and a retro record player?

Claire and I went to Kapunda High with Stephen who’s lived by the river in Brisbane for decades. He and his wife Eleni were in town having visited family and Kangaroo Island.

With an unforced and graceful joy our conversation moved across our extensive history.

Over at the record player I cue up Side 2 of mid- 1970’s compilation Whopper which is glitter-ball, flared-pants glee. It’s irresistible while Side 1 is mostly turgid country ballads. We all giggle at both the name and wild-haired evocations of Disco Tex and his Sex-O-Lettes and their hit, ‘Get Dancin’.

But this is mere entrée for we then play Ripper 76. Everyone has a story about Ripper 76. It’s the finest compilation album in the catalogue of compilation albums.

Eleni tells us how as a young girl she won a copy in a Brisbane radio station phone-in and this persists as immeasurably superior to winning an icy cold can of Coke from a Black Thunder. She talks of the excitement of her mum driving her into the city to collect her vinyl.

*

Our focus shifted to the global marriage of music and geography. Stephen spoke. “I had ‘Autobahn’ by Kraftwerk ready to go as soon as we hit the autobahn. Next thing a BMW went past us like we were standing still. Must have been doing 200k.”

I then offered. “When I was in California in 1992, we hired a convertible and driving around Santa Monica, heard The Doors’ ‘LA Woman.’ The sun was shining, and it was such a moment.”

Stephen continued the American theme. “As Eleni and I drove into Nevada we played, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and now, whenever I hear that song I’m immediately back there. We’ve done similar things in the Black Forest and New York.”

Claire asked a question. “Can you do this in Australia?”

My first memory was instant. “Walking through Treasury Gardens to the MCG I was listening to Triple R and Paul Kelly’s ‘Leaps and Bounds’ came on just as the stadium swam into view. It was early in the footy season so the “clock on the silo” said more than eleven degrees but it was still fantastic.”

Our lively topic concluded in Europe when I mentioned Claire and I driving across Sweden and hearing the radio announcer say something like, “Just nu är det riktigt kallt här på landsbygden i Sverige och jag hoppas att du har tätt upp Volvos rutor för det kan komma snö. Hur som helst, det var Billy Joel.”

As lovers of both song and travel what wonderful, remindful privilege we shared. How amazing to enjoy those synchronised soundtracks?

People, place, and musical portraiture.

*

Stephen and I also reminisce on collecting albums together as teenagers. We didn’t buy ones we knew like 10, 9, 8 by Midnight Oil for these were already in circulation but instead sought records that represented new, slightly dangerous terrain.

With Layla and Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes and a Yardbirds double album (on transparent vinyl) we edged into the world of blues. However, we also bought the Animal House soundtrack featuring ‘Shout!’ by Otis Day and the Knights, from surely one of the finest toga party scenes in modern cinematography. Before we were adults (clearly) many of us saw this film dozens of times.

As adolescents we also frequently mocked Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and then one night in someone’s wintry loungeroom as we finally listened to it properly, we came slowly to a realisation. Van’s jazz, blues, folk mysticism was brilliant. This was a humbling moment and I think we were all too embarrassed to confess. For many of us this album’s remained an intriguing, lovable companion.

Back on the summery patio I eased myself out of my chair and put on The Best of the Bee Gees- Volume 1 and pondering my wife and our dear old friends I thought of the divergent yet entangled paths we’d taken since leaving Kapunda.

Much had changed, and in some delightful, fundamental ways, nothing had.

5

Spinning Records on our Patio

A while back Mum and Dad gave me all of their vinyl records including a couple Beatles’ singles from the early sixties. I tweeted this photo and explained that I’d inherited these because they’d downsized in the Barossa.

A mate replied saying, “Gee, it must be a small house.”

*

Following the year’s first edition of Mystery Pub which was at the Hilton (on South Road) and returned this verdict: spacious; bland; utilitarian; expensive Claire and I decamped to the patio and cranked up the new (retro) record player and enjoyed a dozen or so albums. Here’s our evening’s top three as voted by me alone (hmmm- selfish):

3. Shilo by Neil Diamond.

This is a magnificent compilation and the cover featured a “connect the dots” which Mum completed at the kitchen table. There were 200 dots and such is my still shaky numeracy that I remember being relieved I wasn’t entrusted with the black pen to bring Neil and his guitar neck to life.

Spence Berland of Record World supplied the cover notes and he wrote that Neil’s voice, “is filled with love, beauty and the type of human pain that everyone can identify with.” Yes, but mercifully for Claire I chose not to sing along for her auditory pain would’ve been profound and possibly, incurable. “Kentucky Woman”, “Cherry, Cherry” and “I’m A Believer” are magnificent and while it has a sublime melody the lyrics of “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” remain just a little bit creepy.

2. Blow Your Cool by the Hoodoo Gurus

I’m fairly confident that this was bought for my 21st by old school friend Chrisso. He couldn’t confirm this but did share that Woodsy and I gifted him Astral Weeks by Van Morrison for his birthday that year. Of course. I’m quite sure that Woodsy is yet to hear this album.

Many of us curated the music for our own coming-of-age parties and I made four C-90 minute cassettes which were each played twice at the Kapunda Golf Club on that distant June night. I recall Chrisso saying that he sequenced “Good Times” from Blow Your Cool to finish his Kapunda Trotting Club event so people would hear it and agree that, yes, they had had a good time at his party. I’m sure we did. Most of The Bangles, including Susanna Hoffs, provided backup vocals on this track, having just returned from a pedestrian crossing in Cairo.

The hit single, “What’s My Scene” features these fantastic opening lines which take us straight into the middle of a lovers’ tiff-

And another thing I’ve been wondering lately / Oh, baby, tell me, where have you been? 

The evening raced by and Claire and I’d drained many cups of tea when we popped on what would be the night’s top selection.

1. Best of The Bee Gees

Another old school friend, Stephen, visited during the week and told us that there’s a statue of the brothers Gibb in Redcliffe, Brisbane where the young Mancunians found themselves in the 1950’s. The unveiling was a mighty affair and Stephen suggested the statue could well rank in the top ten attractions in Redcliffe.

Sadly, the Bee Gees are now The Bee Gee but the album is tremendous with soaring harmonies and superb pop sensibilities. “Massachusetts” might be difficult to spell but is probably a better title for the song than “Punxsutawney.” Other gems are, “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” and one of my all time favourites, “To Love Somebody” which I have mercilessly destroyed with shiraz-driven warblings across the decades.

All are excellent examples of pop music, but excuse me for I’m about to drop the needle on Ripper 76.

5

To Max, on finishing primary school

Dearest Max

You are about to have your last week at primary school. So, now’s a good time to think on what you’ve done and all that’s happened.

I recall your first Celebration Night at St Leonard’s. You were in Dennis’s class and with the sun slanting in above the gum trees you danced with your friends in the back row. What was the song called? Can you remember? It seems such a long time ago, but also as if it’d occurred just a few days back. You’ll find that time is weird like this and then it’ll start to accelerate like a Koenigsegg Agera RS (which we know is the world’s fastest production car).

I hope you enjoy Celebration Night and take a moment to think about this farewell and the many teachers who’ve helped you and the friends who’ve left and the friends who’ve stayed.

I’m also reflecting on Saturday mornings and soccer matches at school, in the Adelaide Hills and everywhere in between. It was sometimes freezing when everyone’s legs went blue through to torrential rain but we also had those cloudless, pale sun days. I loved your eagerness on the pitch with your team-mates and how you listened to the coaches and were keen to impress them. Every goal you scored was a life highlight for me but I particularly loved the one at Mitcham in 2020!

Tee-ball was summery fun and I lost count of the number of homeruns you whacked and how when fielding you sprinted like a leopard for struck balls across the crunchy grass. As the coach it was a challenge to get your team to sit in the batting line-up! Were you naughty then? Just a bit.

I’ve such special memories of the camp to Narnu Farm on Hindmarsh Island and especially the horse ride around the paddocks. I reckon you were on the old one named Pudding. Do you remember playing tennis? You were such a good sport and kept the game going with your kind leadership ensuring everyone had fun.

There were fifty kids on that trip and because you’d done everything with such unstoppable enthusiasm by 10pm you were the first asleep! Sitting in the kitchen with our coffee I remember Barry the Deputy Principal saying how he wasn’t shocked as you, “ran pretty hard most days” and I was delighted by this. I trust you’ll continue to live this way.

Next morning one of your friends said at breakfast that you were the first awake and with all the kids still in their sleeping bags you told everyone funny stories. This also made me smile.

My favourite achievement is your recent poem and debate on racism in footy. It was a task you took seriously and you worked so hard on this assignment. It was probably the most important piece of school work you’ve done and it showed your deep and growing skill with language. I reckon English and critical thinking will be at the centre of your success at Brighton and beyond school it’ll remain a big part of your life.

I was thrilled and not at all surprised when you earned an A+ for this task. No, you didn’t get or receive an A+, you deserved it.

Here’s some other writing you’ve done that I love. These are from your long “list of activities” which is still up on the kitchen cupboard-

1. Ride (anywhere)

8. Eat (food).

And in accordance with the tradition you began about once a month you announce on the fridge whiteboard

                The cordial is pre-made.

This is one of our great literary rituals and of social service too!

There’re many things I’ll miss as you finish at St Leonard’s but high on my list is driving past at lunch or recess when the playground is a surging sea of green shirts and hats and suddenly, just like that, I see you dashing about, your unmissable blonde locks bouncing along as you chase your friends or climb that tree just outside the front office or kick a footy.

So, primary school is over. I hope you’ll always look back upon this with deep affection and satisfaction. Enjoy your holidays.

I’m proud of you.

Love Dad

xx

0

Sunday lunch review: J & F Pizza at 58 Cellar Door and Gallery, Port Elliot

For me life’s biggest dilemma remains: is Friday or Sunday the best day for a long lunch? Saturday is often hijacked by sport, shopping, and lawn-mowing but makes up the trifecta. I’m also a fan of strapping on my boots for a Friday lunch marathon that concludes dangerously close to the first appearance of twinkling stars.

But let me tell you about last Sunday’s lunch.

It was set by a leafy vineyard. There were families with kids on the balcony enjoying the mottled sun and a boisterous, happy group was gathered inside for a 60th birthday. We were close to the woodfired pizza oven, and a great vocalist and guitarist in Pat Ramm accompanied our meal and conversation.

We were guests of 58 Cellar Door and Gallery and particularly J & F Pizza run by two local mates, Josh and Frazer.

With champagne, two Meechi Pale Ales (brewed in nearby Langhorne Creek) and a bottle of Thunderbird Cabernet Sauvignon the refreshments were sorted, and our formidable batting lineup was set.

Frazer and Josh are always looking to keep their pizza menu dynamic and so offered us a Four Cheeses pizza as entrée. It was zesty and subtle, and I hope it finds a long-term place for it was an excellent start to our lazy afternoon.

Throughout, we spoke of footy and family and friends and art.

After a digestive interval the main event was upon us: Prawn pizza and one that was half Hot Salami and half Margherita.  At this point there might’ve been mutual food envy. All looked and smelt appealing, and the Hot Salami was especially delicious with the olives and pickled chilli working with and not against the salami.

The acoustic music continued with covers of Neil Young and The Eagles providing a relaxing soundtrack while over at the birthday gathering those good folks were settling into a rhythm too.

Back in my foggy uni days there was a local joint that did a dessert pizza, and I was once tempted although like many student culinary experiences it was horrible.

However, J & F Pizza do a Lemon Curd pizza which with its delicate blend of curd and basil is a fantastic way to round off a lunch at 58 Cellar Door and Gallery.

Moving toward summer and balmy holidays, when you’re next down around Port Elliot on the Southern Fleurieu, I urge you to sample the fine work of J & F Pizza. Find them on (08) 8554 3149 or at no58pizza@gmail.com.

It’s Sunday lunch (and afternoon), done right.

*disclaimer: we luncheoned with Frazer’s parents, Chris and Letitia