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In 1994 Bobby Bowden and I did a Contiki tour of New Zealand

canterbury

In early 1994 old Kapunda mate, Bob Bowden and I went to New Zealand. Of course it was illegal back then to not undertake a Contiki tour so you could travel to exciting, distant lands, meet fellow Australians, and spend your evenings in exotic pubs arguing about footy, cricket and which state made the best pies.

In a shameless attempt to impress the locals I took a range of Canterbury clothing with me, including this, the timelessly stylish top known as an “Ugly.”

RFB in Auckland

Here’s Bob on a windy hill overlooking Auckland in his Kapunda Bombers- themed red and black outfit proving again that the 1990’s is not as hideous, fashionistically, as the 1980’s. If it were Brownlow night a reporter would ask Bob, “And who are you wearing?”

If you peer at the cricket ground in the middle distance you’ll see Sir Richard Hadlee, smirking up at us, for no good reason.

place name

Upon returning to Kimba my Year 9 English class was decidedly unimpressed when I included this Kiwi place name in their first spelling test for 1994.

glacier

A highlight was ascending and then descending, perilously, the South Island’s Fox Glacier. Although my GS Chappell floppy cricket hat came in useful that day, there is no truth that a sudden hail storm gave it its first and last wash in over thirty years.

This hat is now tragically banned from all overseas travel. It can not be issued a visa.

backyard

I’m forever indebted to David, the English bloke on the left, who pointed at the grim base of Fox Glacier and quoting a classic British comedy said to me, “See that freezing death trap over there? That’s your backyard in summer, that is.”

toga!

What trip to the hotspot of Queenstown is complete without a toga party? Toga! Toga!

As Doug Neidermeyer declares in Animal House, “And most recently of all, a “Roman Toga Party” was held from which we have received more than two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.”

NB- my boatshoes as worn in Rome 34BC.

sheep dog statue

While we didn’t see any sheep statues- no, seriously- we did spot this bronzed sheep dog who refused to fetch the stuck stick I threw.

spoofy

Our tour finished in Christchurch by which time Bob and I had introduced our travel mates to the ancient art of Spoofy. A game of chance using three coins the loser has to buy all the participants a beer. The UN should use it as a diplomatic strategy to resolve international tensions.

In fact , I think Bob Hawke once did.

This was a quarter of a century ago. Time to return methinks.

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The Summer of 1983: New Frontier

gemini

Stephen’s harlequin green Gemini took us to Adelaide Oval one-day matches starring the Bruces (Laird and Yardley) and on other days to Kapunda’s Duck Pond lawn and memorably across the roo-infested plains preceding Blanchetown so we could rollick and crash at Crackshot’s family shack by the river.

It was a significant car. There was continuous music for we were teenagers with our windows down and the volume up.

We often played Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly.

The Gemini’s cassette player had a fast-forward feature that miraculously read the gaps in the tape and moved to the next song! If, say, a mixed tape was on, one moment we’d have track 3- perhaps a lesser tune from McCartney’s Tug of War, and then suddenly, track 4- probably “Smoke on the Water”- boomed from the Pioneer speakers (woofer, midrange and tweeter). I found it astonishing. How amazing would the future be?

My gateway to original music was Brendan. He’d moved to Kapunda from the Barossa and although the same age as us he was somehow older and viewed the tiresome planet through world-weary eyes.

In his darkened loungeroom I first heard Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Midnight Oil’s 10,9,8. In 1983 it was a centre of cool. He also introduced me to The Smiths, U2, and one evening to Donald Fagan, who I learned was half of Steely Dan.

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Brendan had a Flock of Seagulls haircut before Flock of Seagulls existed.

“IGY (What A Beautiful World)” is The Nightfly’s opening song and first single, and my favourite ever tune referencing the International Geophysical Year (actually eighteen months in duration, going from July 1957 to December 1958) but it was “New Frontier” which grabbed me.

I’d like to declare that back then I was drawn to Fagen’s nostalgic depiction of young love in suburban America; that this energetic Bildungsroman or coming of age account spoke to me intensely; that the interplay between wide-eyed youth and our cynical selves was enticing.

But no, it was the cowbell.

When K-Tel ultimately releases 20 Cracking Cowbell Classics! with “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Drive My Car” among other percussive pearls I trust “New Frontier” will occupy a prominent (vinyl) place.

Concluding with a suitably slick, LA cool, instrumental guitar break, and with the Gemini hurtling down a country road I’d accompany the song on my own invisible cowbell (this remains my chief musical talent) and aim to stop wacking my invisible drumstick on my invisible idiophone hand percussion instrument when it suddenly yet predictably ceased on the cassette.

This synchronisation was tough but if I timed it right there’d be a nod from one of my fellow passengers like Chrisso or Claire or Trish. But not Stephen for he was driving. It’s still the pinnacle of my (invisible) musical career.

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I can now see that I’m wistful about the lyrics which convey a wistfulness of their own. I guess scholars call this meta-wistfulness. It’s a song of innocence. It’s about being on the magical cusp of your future, when your world is opening up, and this is curious given that, for the geeky semi-autobiographical narrator the action- real and anticipated- takes place one weekend in the family’s nuclear bomb shelter.

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding

A summer smoker underground

It’s just a dugout that my dad built

In case the reds decide to push the button down

We’ve got provisions and lots of beer

The key word is survival on the new frontier

My last high school summer was punctuated by New Year’s Eve. It was the first time I stayed up all night. We were at Stephen’s in his absent parents’ loungeroom. Around 4am, with my hometown sinking to sleep and the music muted, a couple of us decided to aim for the dawn. It was a new frontier.

Beyond seeing that year’s first light, there was no other incentive. Standing on the concreted driveway we peered out over the chaff mills towards the unremarkable hills and I recall my exhilaration as the sun’s easterly rays filtered down to dusty, slumbering Kapunda.

Shortly after I fell asleep on the floor. Later, Boogly and Bongo and the others woke and soon music began – probably Australian Crawl’s Boys Light Up- from the imposing boom-box. Someone then made a cup of pineapple cordial.

Over my next twelve months there was footy and cricket; weekend work at the Esso service station; Year 12’s unforgettable anguish and ecstasy.

1983 was here, and The Nightfly would become part of the soundtrack.

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Pub Review: The Exeter, Adelaide

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The beer is fresh and cold, if unspectacular. Coopers features, but otherwise it has a decidedly pedestrian array of beer taps. And the food’s fine although I can’t recall an amazing meal I’ve had in its quirky beer garden.

Ultimately, none of these matter when deconstructing Adelaide’s mighty Exeter Hotel.

Some pubs offer accessibility as their key attraction. A vital yet drearily utilitarian function when you get home after a tough day on the hamster wheel and realise you forgot to take out the chops to defrost, so you barrel down to your local for some cheap schnitzels.

This is not the raison d’être of the X.

Set amidships at 246 Rundle Street in the city’s East End alongside the restaurants, cafes and retailers, a visit to this peerless boozer can set you on the road to Damascus, or at least Kent Town.

Beyond the usual, but still praiseworthy self-promotion of “No Pokies!” the X also positions itself by quietly announcing that pub crawls (Adelaide Uni Engineers: they’re lookin’ at you!), buck’s and hen’s nights and misshapen birthdayers younger than 21 can look elsewhere to celebrate.

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This is a pub that knows its mind. It won’t listen to an hour of AM radio talkback, or watch Q&A and suddenly change its view. It’s a pub that wins the toss on a muggy day, ignores the hectoring of its opening bowlers, and decides to bat.

Just like it always does.

The front bar of the Exeter is an Adelaidean experience par excellence but the grungy microcosm within is removed from the monolithic culture of the day: there’s no which school did you attend? Crows or Port? Mix or Nova? Fruchocs or FUIC? Nonsense you might encounter at other more nakedly aspirational pubs.

Indeed, this incongruity is most welcome and isn’t incompatible with the genteel surrounds: it’s an earthy compulsion. The X, in roaring, bursting flight with its eclectic denizens, is more Soho or Camden Town or Hammersmith pub. As a point of difference, it’s wholly life-affirming.

If the Exeter didn’t exist, it would be necessary to build it.

*

Decades back our mate Chris was emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dined on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then galloped across to the Exeter.

Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remained, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

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As always, we navigated travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrived at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Over and through our Coopers, we pondered the novel’s last lines, and admired their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, we’re left with a painterly scene, a world profoundly restored by the love of Atticus

atticus

He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

This is why I love the Exeter.

*
Among my favourite writers is the Adelaide Hills-based wine scribe Philip White. Early in my career a highlight was opening Wednesday’s Advertiser in the English faculty office with my then boss and old mate Digby. We’d devour Whitey’s column and belly-laugh and nod. He’s a magnificent author, and naturally, his articles were not about grog, but stories. People, places, events both happy and poignant.

Some years later I finally met Whitey in the Exeter. We yarned at length about much including the account he wrote of the Darwin Stubby Drinking Competition held, of course, at the Humpty Doo pub.

darwin

“I loved the character at the centre of that story, Dave Gaston”, I stated.

Whitey replied. “Yeah, I reckon I compared him to Mick Jagger saying he’d ‘carefree elegance.’”

“You did. And it was great that while Dave won the prize you put a twist in the tail.”

“It was true,” the plonk critic nodded, “The quickest Darwin Stubby guzzler on the day was Norman. A Brahman bull.”

This is why I love the Exeter.

*

So, the X can be curmudgeonly. But safely within its ageless walls- check out the TOURIST DIES OF THIRST newspaper billboard behind the bar- you’ll be at this town’s ragged, charming heart and in a place of conversation and character and cheer.

It’s that most rare of locations: the destination pub.

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Pub Review: The Holdy, Glenelg South

 

ab-and-me
Just before our youngest son was born I became, through an outlandish crinkle in the space-time continuum, that most unhinged of aquatic creatures: a XXXX Gold beer ambassador.

An eager supporter of Coopers beer it was a mystifying position in which to find myself, but I remain grateful for all I was gifted: a corporate box experience at the Adelaide 500, the fully-catered BBQ I hosted one autumnal afternoon, and a seemingly endless, almost terrifying supply of XXXX Gold beer.

I call it the year I barracked for Collingwood.

holdy bar

The highlight was a XXXX function at the Holdfast Hotel during which I spent some time with former Australian cricket captain, Allan Border. How good? He was generous and wry and I loved it. I opened by telling him that because of his tenacity he’s my Dad’s favourite cricketer.

He replied with champion modesty, “Well, we all have our own style.”

Later, we spoke of when Warney exquisitely seduced Gatting with the Ball of the Century, and AB commented how fielding at backward square leg he’d not enjoyed a great view of it.

But he then added that during drinks Heals noted in a hyperbolic understatement, “It was a fair seed.”

Holdy table

Once upon a time, The Holdy was the summery destination: post-Test sunburn and panel vans and West Coast Cooler.

Having spent much of the past month indoors recovering from foot surgery the urgent medical advice was to bask in some vitamin D and I’m sure Doc ordered me to accompany this with schnitzel and necessary quantities of Coopers.

In these matters I’m nothing if compliant. It was time to get back to the Holdy.

The street bar offers daily specials, and we leapt at two schnitzels (Snitty Kitty about to resume racing) and a jug of beer for $25.

$25!

Coastal value not spotted since on a distant, sweltering Sydney weekend a young AB himself padded up for Mosman.

Holdy beer garden

In my misshapen youth beer brought forth in a jug was a wildly exciting event; a bold announcement of intent; a brazen promise of future mischief. Holding a jug of ale like Liberty extending her torch skywards I burst back into the beer garden, an adolescent cockiness in my (limping) stride.

My dining colleague Puggy and I calculated that with this special offer either the schnitzels, or the jug had cost us a solitary dollar. How good? This set the tone for an hour or so of luxuriating in this dappled beachside icon, once owned by another cricketing star, GS Chappell.

There was singular application to the culinary and cuppage challenges. Both food and ale were excellent.

holdy

Like many a boozer it has bobbed about variously and is again resurgent, having endured hostile seas a few moons ago. Similar to SK Warne on a hat trick, or with his spiky hair gelled, and about to go on the ran tan, the Holdy is finding irresistibility afresh.

Our only critique is that Coopers Session Ale, the ale du jour, is unavailable from her galaxy of glistening taps. Still, for a former XXXX Gold ambassador, this is a tolerable omission. As Indian batting genius VVS Laxman says, “Pale Ale suffices.”

Named for Colonel Light’s ship, HMS Rapid, which once endured a violent storm without breaking its anchorage, I reckon this pub will hold fast for a century or two yet.

It’s tenacious, just like AB.

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Finally, some Japanese poetry honouring the beer fridge

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Haiku is a noble yet tiny poetic form. It combines natural imagery, brevity and ancient timelessness, and was made famous by the seventeenth-century master, Matsuo Bashō.

Here’s his finest-

Flower
Under harvest sun- stranger
To bird, butterfly

Blowing stones
Along the road to Mount Asama,
The autumn wind.

Moon-daubed bush-clover-
Ssh. In the next room
Snoring prostitutes.

nature

See. Gorgeous natural imagery including the flower, butterfly, autumn wind and snoring prostitutes.

*

We’re the same, you and me. While there’s lots to celebrate in this fine, bursting world, big gaps have opened up.

Time to plug these, for everyone’s sake.

As I see it a dangerous cultural chasm exists with the shameful lack of ancient Japanese poetry promoting the unreconstructed joy that is the humble beer fridge.

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Thanks to them internets old mate Greg and I ended this tragic chapter last night while in different parts of our nation, watching distinguished haiku inspiration, Animal House.

Thinking haiku: think toga party and Bluto Blutarsky.

I suggest you print the following and put ‘em up on your beer fridge, alongside the kids’ finger-paintings. The sense of peace and artistic bliss will be all yours.

And then crack open a Kirin lager and toast our old mate, Matsuo Bashō.

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Under moonlit night
Stubby holder on white shelf
Beer fridge

Beer fridge empty
Actually not so empty
Carlton Cold

Full fridge
Thirsty as buggery
All XXXX

Beer fridge dies
Ale warming
Within and without, light’s off.

MB

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I’ve not left the house in four days

m and r

In May, 1991 I collected the ball on the half-forward flank at Cleve Oval, lifted my eyes goalward and ran.

Or, attempted to run, as an opponent tackled me and stomped on my right foot, accidently. A man of bellowing mirth, and ample girth, he was not inaccurately nicknamed Gut.

I’m unsure of the physics, but am certain mass, force, and pressure all rushed together unthinkingly and briefly as elemental energies do and broke my metatarsal and phalange.

I stopped like the coyote hitting a painted-on tunnel the roadrunner has just disappeared down.

My internal headline was

Gut mashes foot

In my new job I had to take a bunch of kids to Adelaide in about a month and needed to upgrade my licence, so later that night, hobbling about my weatherboard home, I rang my dear friend Gareth to say Sunday’s bus-driving lesson about the noiseless, wide streets of Kimba was off.

Crutches came and went, I got my bus licence for the surprisingly agile, if boxy Toyota Coaster, the Adelaide trip happened and I played footy a month or so later.

I forgot about my foot.

*

Not long after Max was born in 2010 I jogged through Moseley Square one afternoon and returning home my foot had a secret, invisible steam iron pressed to it, as if it was a GAZMAN shirt on job interview morning. It was searing and burning and as tender as expensive mince.

A few weeks later sitting in a medical clinic the doctor peered at the x-ray and asked, “Have you ever broken your foot?”

“Yeah. In 1991. Playing footy. A big bloke stepped on it.” I supplied extra detail. The doctor looked interested. “His name was Gut.”

Comparing my extremity to a formerly wayward chook, she then commented, “I’m afraid your foot’s now coming home to roost.”

*

Last Friday just after seven Kerry took me to Noarlunga Hospital. It’s a low, flat building that seems like it belongs in the Riverland, or on the Sunshine Coast near a surf club.

In a small office I met with the anaesthesiologist. He suggested a local would be fine but offered a general too.

On Family Feud a team captain will sometimes blurt, “Play!” before Grant Denyer has closed his overly tiny mouth.

With even quicker speed I yapped, “General.” I didn’t even glance at my family.

crutch

Subconsciously informed by my previous Australian operating theatre experience this decision was supersonic. Alex was born by emergency Caesarean section at Flinders Hospital and I was there, sat and chaperoned on a stool by Kerry’s head.

A blue sheet shielded me from the birthing action, but on the ceiling a large mirror reflected everything. I didn’t want to faint, so I didn’t look at that mirror, that all-seeing mirror, like Indiana Jones when the face-melting evil spirits fly about after the Ark of the Covenant is opened by the galactically stupid Nazis.

So, yes, I didn’t wish to unintentionally catch a glimpse of my filleted toe, or an electric saw, or a mallet.

I had no wish to spectate.

And yes, I’m comparing a Caesarean section with minor foot surgery.

I’m sorry.

*

I’ve not left the house in four days.

I thought I’d spend time watching old DVDs like Goodfellas or The Royal Tenenbaums but I’ve barely turned on the TV. Daytime viewing is beyond grim with the exception of Judge Judy who cuts through the nonsense quicker than a salt-and-pepper deputy principal, or a New Jersey detective.

Instead, I’ve had my foot elevated over the couch-arm like a languid teenager (with a decidedly unyouthful hoof) while I’ve re-read the Lay of the Land from the Frank Bascombe series by Richard Ford and luxuriated in its finely-observed narration.

When this middle-aged introspection was settling too heavy upon my solitary soul, I listened to a podcast featuring Merrick and Rosso, the former Triple J (and Nova) radio duo for whom there’s still enormous affection, twenty years on. They reminisced about Tight Arse Tuesday and Choice Bro TAFE, and I laughed like a pirate.

*

It’s been good to shut out the world a while. No work, No driving. The weather only glimpsed out the window in a second-hand, oddly-removed way.

Some quiet.

Tomorrow, I’m back to the hospital for a post-operative appointment.

My recovery’s going well, and I’ll soon be back, not on a half-forward flank, but out of the house, and in the world, with a foot that’s good for a few more decades of stroll and grunt and run.

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Kapunda captures King’s Head cup-house

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It’s fair to suggest that nostalgia can often interfere with the truth. This might be why I convinced myself that our destination had a certain mystique, a mythology all of its own that would reveal itself through a grand, weaving story.

Christmas a couple years’ back Chrisso texted from near New Orleans that he’d tell me the reason for this venue when he returned.

I could hardly wait, and some months later when we caught up I asked, in a rather formal, yet compact sentence, “So, why is the Kapunda boys biannual reunion held at the King’s Head pub on King William Street?”

I was looking forward to his complex and engaging narrative.

“Because it’s on the tram line.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep.”

Oh.

*

Last Friday on yet another unseasonably warm evening not quite twenty of us descended upon this ripping old-school boozer to share tales and to laugh and to stir and, above all, to connect.

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We gathered in the cosy front bar at a large wooden table. It seemed that there were travel yarns to tell. Where you been, somebody asked.

Crackshot replied, “An eight-week odyssey through Western Australia.” Anecdotes followed.

Chris offered, “I had a week at various resorts in Fiji.” Crisp yarns were shared.

“And what of you Mickey?” somebody, possibly Puggy, asked.

“Mannum.”

Oh.

*

We prefer the King’s Head as it’s fiercely South Australian. Some would say, the KG of the pub scene. There’s only local drinks and food available. Not a Carlton Draught or Moreton Bay Bug in sight. It’s a point of difference.

As is the complete absence of TAB, and wide screens with footy, racing and darts glaring out across the punters. It’s a refreshing change and means you must immerse yourself in the company and conversation.

It could be described as a place where you can enjoy a pub holiday.

We do.

There’s a sparkling galaxy of beers on tap including brash youngsters Pirate Life, Mismatch and equine Hills star, Prancing Pony. A volley of correspondence earlier in the week created a bubbling anticipation for Kapunda chap, Chris Higgins’ Greenock Brewers Victorville Ale. An app confirms this.

But we’re a week too early. The Greenock beer is not on. It’s a disappointment but doesn’t seem to decelerate our eagerness.

Around seven a grinning group of old muckers rolls through the doors like oranges. Whitey, Woodsy, O’s and Dames present themselves. Our ensemble is complete with beers and handshakes and schnitzel and warmth and reminisces; some keenly remembered and some forgotten.

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So, there’s Lukey, Puggy, Crackshot, Matey, Rus, Bongo, Schultzy, Bobby, Nick, Whitey, Woodsy, O’s, Dames, Fats, Swanny, Chrisso, and Mickey.

Happily, just about everyone has a nickname. It’d be a shame for somebody to miss out.

Shortly after Nick tells us one of his favourite stories. By then, we’ve already dealt with the famous night at the West Torrens Cricket Club in 1986. Former Torrens opening bowler Rocket is an apology tonight given he’s in New Zealand, bro.

Nick continues, “Years ago at a U2 concert, Bono started clapping, slowly and deliberately.” He clapped too, to emphasise his point. Nick likes a story.

“Bono said, ‘Every time I clap, an African child dies.’”

“Somebody in the crowd then yelled out, ‘Well, stop fcuking clapping then.’”

*

Without being previously aware we’d also lobbed into the King’s Head on the night when a DJ was playing 1980’s electro/ synthesiser/ new wave music.

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Normally this would make me change the radio station quicker than an Ali jab, and reach for the sick bag but the combination of Coopers and friendship and ridiculous memories makes it fun. I recall

Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling”
Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?”
Flock of Seagull’s “I Ran”
Pete Shelley’s “Homosapien”
Visage’s “Fade to Gray” and the gold medallist
Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

Maybe that we were all at school for some part of the eighties invests this music with involuntary affection for our shared past.

Or maybe it’s the beer.

*

It’s another terrific evening and a great chance to connect and strengthen our community. It’s also a tradition. I do like a tradition.

However, when Nick and Fats and I wander out of the neighbouring La Trattoria, post-pizza and red wine, the trams had stopped for the night. Ubers were urgently beckoned.

Time for nighty-night.

Maybe I’ll jump on a tram after our Christmas cups, at the King’s Head.

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