4

Five Scenes from Our Wedding

The weather presented us a story that will, doubtless, enjoy regular airings over the decades. Standing alone on the croquet lawn as yet another squally shower progressed from mist to rain, I wrestled with what to do: brave it or ring the Kapunda boys to put up some marquees? Shelter might be functional, but it’d ruin the aesthetic and checking the BOM radar for the dozenth time that hour I could see more dark clouds racing our way.

Yet again I changed my mind. As family arrived a hundred chairs were dried off and with the last row done the rain slashed across the school again. Crippled by indecision I reluctantly rang you, interrupting your preparations and feminine fun. But your voice was calming in its reassurance.

Mere minutes before our ceremony the clouds fled and while it was gusty and bracing the April sun shone upon us and that lavish lawn as if it had sisu, the Finnish concept of resilience and determination.

*

After hours, months, years of anticipation an occasion can suddenly rush upon you and despite all the expectation and longing it shocks with its realness now that you’re finally living it and are right in the magical moment. I was initially a little anxious when I saw the first guests’ cars pull up outside Kapunda High on dusty West Terrace and felt blissfully powerless as our time finally arrived.

Then Lisa Mitchell’s “Providence” soared across the afternoon and launched our narrative, while you made your graceful way, and I decided to wait and not strain or move onto tippy-toes. Our guests stood and some lurched into the grassy aisle. Camera, heads, hair. I could not see you. I remained on our rug between the plinths.

Then you emerge as if in a cascading, serene dream. Smiling, singular, focussed. Hair tousled and tumbling, cheekbones perfectly formed, eyes flashing.

Your dress is shimmering, shapely and a vision of painterly elegance. I surrender to this, and to you.

*

It was as if the town and each citizen we encountered had been bewitched and a golden hour descended, just for us. There could have been a clandestine operation and Kapunda was now our private movie set. As the photographers captured us in our intermingling blue attire we moved about from Dutton Park where we danced by the iron gates to the Main Street murals to the mine chimney and above us and about us the late afternoon light was enchanted and invested with unhurried kindness.

*

Hand-in-hand and entering through the Dutton Park doors was a triumph. You imagined it flawlessly and then realised it with cinematic style. The candles, the balloons, the rustic beauty. Our friends and family were assembled for the evening in an event that was firstly about us but also allowed for old connections to be remade and renewed. The sound was raw and welcoming, a rush of affirmation and liquid joy. It was a twilight sea of warmth.

*

And finally in the midnight stillness, we walked back to our accommodation at the School of Mines through Dutton Park’s lingering jubilance, under the gates, past the dark homes, over the disused railway line near the Duck Pond, across from the playground and swimming pool, next to the Institute and museum, around the quiet library corner, under the Rawady’s veranda and to our front door.

The geography and place are so unremarkable, and so familiar but now re-contextualise as a private paradise, and as we stroll and reflect upon our perfect day, these bear hushed witness to our love.  

0

Trish’s wedding speech, to us

Here we are at the scene of the crime – the place where I first met Claire and Michael.

It all began on a blisteringly hot day in February 1981, the first morning of the school year – the start of Year 10.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: 1981?! Surely these good looking, youthful, vital people weren’t even BORN in 1981, let alone starting Year 10 at high school! I can assure you, that I can’t understand it either. It remains one of the Great Cosmic Mathematical Conundrums. Nevertheless…

On that fateful February day, I walked through the school gates in considerable culture shock. I had moved with my family from the city only the day before to our half-built house in a paddock behind Mount Allen – about 10 minutes north of Kapunda. Our electricity was not yet connected. There were sheep, a cow and a horse in our front yard and our house had a moat. And the vintage yellow school bus had just taken me on a 50-minute dirt-road trip to Marrabel-and-back in a cloud of dust you could see from Gundry’s Hill.

Thank goodness I had the good sense to approach Mrs Maloney, the first teacher I saw, and ask her to introduce me to some Year 10 girls. Thank goodness Mrs Maloney introduced me to a group including Claire Louise Morrison.

Starting a new school where the friendship groups have already formed and settled can be tough, but starting a new school in the country, where the kids have all known each other since pre-school, can be especially rugged.

Claire had experienced this, firsthand, the year before, and had magnanimously decided that she would make the transition much easier for any future new girls, should she encounter any. (What a generous and kind decision to have made, Claire. You are a brick.)

Presented with the opportunity on that bright February morning, Claire took the leading role as a one-girl welcoming committee. I remember her smiling at me, stepping forward, shaking my hand and enthusiastically introducing me to Lisa Trotta, Sandra Bell, Cate Dermody, Wendy Fechner and possibly Our-Pam-the-Pastor’s-Daughter. She asked me all about myself, gave me a bit of a run-down on herself and everyone else, and told me where I could meet up with everyone at recess and lunch.

That alone says a lot about Claire and the person she is. But it only hints at the dynamic and direct energy that radiates out of her – her charisma, her sense of humour, the animated way she moves. Well, I knew within two minutes that Claire was lively, generous, outgoing and fun – and an innate leader – and I hoped we would become friends.

Shortly after – possibly that same day – I met Michael Randall. While there was no stepping forward and effusive hand-shaking, I do remember him being one of the only boys who might volunteer helpful information. Aloof. Maybe a little gruff, but at least vaguely sympathetic. I think he saw me going in the wrong direction to find a classroom, and muttered something like, “No, it’s over there.”

Now Mick had met Claire the year before. And, as time has revealed and the Weekend Australian Review can testify, he pretty much fell for Claire on the spot.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: he listened intently to everything Claire said; he laughed at all of her jokes; and, although he did his best to hide it, he pretty much gazed adoringly at her all day.

AND, when he saw that Claire and I were becoming besties, he started talking to me a whole lot more. In fact, as time progressed, I started getting long phone calls from the public phone box outside the Kapunda Post Office.

Why the public phone? Because in The Olden Days, there was only one telephone per house. This one telephone was attached to a wall socket, and the curly cord from the phone to the handset would only stretch so far. If you were lucky, you might be able to pull it tight around the corner of a doorframe to gain a bit of privacy, but, generally, your whole family could listen in on your phone conversation, and – worse – call out embarrassing things.

Your parents would regularly tell you to hurry up and get off – because if you hogged the phone for hours, giggling and theorising over who liked who, and what it might have meant when he said this or she said that – no-one else could make or receive a call. And, get this: there was no SMS, no texting, no SnapChat or memes or gifs or social media of any kind. Not even Email!

These were all good reasons for Michael Randall to put 30 cents in his shorts pocket, bid farewell to Lois, Bob, Jill and Sam-the-Tough-Cat, and ride his bike to the Post Office.

His calls to me were long, hilarious and entertaining, and our own friendship grew as he made his thinly veiled attempts to find out more about Claire.

Of course, I spent even more hours giggling and theorising with Claire – on the phone, on our walks with Bonnie by the duckpond, or scoffing mixed lollies from Rawady’s deli in the Morrison’s sunroom. There was no doubt whatsoever, even back then, that she ‘loved’ Michael Randall – but would she ever ‘lerve-love’ him?

In Kapunda at that time, there grew a mighty Love Triangle. Possibly even a Love Dodecahedron. Between the beginning of Year 10 and well beyond the end of Year 12, the Class of ’83 negotiated the grave situation where everybody loved somebody sometime, but they didn’t love you back because they loved somebody who loved somebody else. All those hopeful hormones with nowhere to go!

And as teenagers growing up in a small country town, this was tragic and torturous. There was school and sport and church and Lutheran Youth and Rural Youth and there was the Clare Castle Hotel and parties at friends’ houses. Once we could drive, there were also discos in the Angaston Town Hall, movies at the Tanunda Drive-in, spooky midnight trips to the Reformatory and early drives to Gawler to catch the train to the city for a day at the cricket. And we went to all of these places, on rotation, with PRETTY MUCH THE SAME PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. So there was no escaping the Mighty Love Dodecahedron.

The angst was real. But so was the friendship.

Even after Year 12, when we started making our way into the wider world, we clung together – a tight band of Kapundians. Claire and Mick and I stayed especially close.

After matriculating (another Olden Days word), and a wonderfully long, study-free summer, February 1984 saw the three of us embarking on studies to become teachers. We chose Salisbury Teacher’s College because it was close enough to drive to daily in Michael’s HQ Holden.

(Of course, it was necessary to tease each other mercilessly about our cars. Claire had dubbed Michael’s sensible white HQ sedan ‘the Parent’s Car’. My Hillman Imp was ‘The Wimp’, and Michael also liked to call it ‘The Shitbox’.

Claire’s Mini Minor didn’t have a nickname but was considered miraculous – mostly because Claire and her passengers continued to survive Claire’s death-defying driving – but also because, at one time it had reportedly transported all seven Morrison siblings, plus Fran’s luggage, home from the airport.)

In any case, the Mini and the Wimp were deemed unsuitable for the daily trips to college. Looking back, I wonder if Michael Randall volunteered The Parent’s Car, not because our cars were unroadworthy – which they were – but more because they both lacked something that proved vital over those long miles: a cassette deck.

I promised myself I would only say kind things about Michael today, on this Day of Days, but, during these trips he did force us, against our wills, to listen to the Animal House soundtrack and the Foul Sixties Music. And it was pre-meditated: he had taped these things on cassettes. (That’s another Olden Days thing.) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and, through this experience, the bond between Michael, Claire and me grew ever more solid.

I think, even then, we all knew we’d be friends for life.

And here we are today, with decades of shared memories.

There have been annual winter pub dinners to co-celebrate our birthdays. Countless catch-ups for drinks and laughs and to share news of life’s triumphs and challenges. Endless discussions on career choices and child-raising and renovations and travel and world events and art and literature and the TV advertisements that Claire can’t stand. Lively debates about music: Michael make your peace with Pink. Weekends away. Picnics and beach walks and barbecues. Meals that Claire has generously finished for us. The yearly spate of heavy Fringe plays at the Holden Street Theatres. All those amateur musicals we made Michael watch us in – and that one time we actually got him up on stage for talent night at a Rural Youth Rally. There are the jokes only the three of us get. The crippling, weeping giggling fits. Speeches we’ve made for each other at milestone events. And the trips we’ve made together – and for each other – to attend a special event, or just be together – when one of us has experienced sadness, loss, loneliness or grief.

We’ve walked different paths with different people, sometimes even in different countries, but we’ve always made time and space to nurture this magical friendship.

We three made our own love triangle – of friendship love. One where the three sides provide unshakable strength and support.

Within this love triangle, we enjoy the insights we get from the male and female perspective, but I can say honestly that gendery things have never, ever divided us.

Claire and I have acknowledged again and again how important Mick’s friendship has been to us. He’s an extraordinary man. He is thoughtful, gentle, kind, deeply respectful, intelligent, fair, well-read – and so very funny. Mick is a true feminist – an equalist – and we both love him for that.

There are so many kinds of love – and love itself can swell or shrink. Love, even enduring love, can evolve and change.

I’ve spoken about Mick’s ongoing love for Claire, but I have also closely witnessed, over many years, Claire’s deep and abiding love and respect for Mick. As we’ve travelled along our own life paths, there have been times when the deep connection between them has almost broken to the surface. For a long, long time they were not free to acknowledge this, even to themselves, much less to each other. They each honoured the commitments they had made elsewhere and devoted their energies to raising their beautiful children.

But, as they say, true love will find a way.

As the other paths they were travelling came to an end, they turned towards each other, as they’ve always done, to offer strength and support. They found so much more. And I found myself, once again, on the end of long phone calls – from both of them. All the what-ifs, and could-bes and what-do-you-think-it-could-means were there again. And you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to know that, one day, we’d end up here, at a wedding. And given that these two are the most sentimental, nostalgic people in the Whole World, you could have placed bets on it taking place in Kapunda.

So, here we are, at the scene of the crime…

This wedding brings together two very dear friends, who, this time, have everything on their side. They have the foundation of a long friendship – all the jokes, all the memories, and all the understanding, compassion and trust that goes with that. They know, love, embrace and enfold each other’s children. They have life experience, past successes and mistakes to learn from and draw on to ensure that they face life’s challenges together with kindness, consideration and empathy. They face their future with optimism and excitement. They see the significance of this second chance. They truly treasure each other, and will do everything in their power to nurture each other and the love that binds them…

Lastly, and most importantly, they share a great love of pubs and all things alcoholic and snack-related. This, I know, will carry them through any dark times.

Claire and Michael – my best friends – I don’t need to wish you happiness together. Instead, I wish you long, healthy lives, so that you can wring every ounce of joy out of this enduring love. 

I am so very happy to have been a part of your story to date, and feel honoured to have been invited to share it with your friends and family today. I know we all look forward to sharing in every good thing that is to come.

0

Claire’s wedding speech, to me

A few months ago, Michael and I wrote our will together.

My old will, written decades before, was on the table. Michael leaned over to take a peek, and cheekily asked if his name was there. I was excited to show him that indeed, it was. Right there in my will I’d written and signed more than twenty years ago were the words:

“to be left special mementos in the event of my death, my dear friend, Michael Craig Randall”.

It was a memorable moment for us both, for here was yet more evidence of the deep bond we’ve shared since we first met. In many ways, it’s hard for us to convey the continuity of our love, when, for so many years, we were apart. We hear about twins separated at birth, later to be reunited as adults. Finally, everything makes sense for them and their hearts find peace. Or maybe I can explain it as an undercurrent. Gentle, but constant, and despite our having climbed into different boats many years ago, it kept pace with us over time. Or as a shape shifter, our love taking on different forms and shapes over the years.

However it is best described, our story is one of patience, respect, hope and courage. One of grief, second chances, triumph and unforetold magic. One of ancient and enduring love on an enormous scale. Today, Michael and I have been telling you our story in many different forms; through the songs we’ve chosen, the ceremony we pieced together over shared bottles of wine, the speeches, our photos and of course the venues that we chose for our wedding. Our lives have been intertwined both inescapably and intentionally, since we first met in 1979 resulting in a shared history that spans six decades.

So let’s start there, with our first decade together, the 1970’s. We didn’t know it then, but in the dying part of this decade, our course was set in unstoppable motion. We were 13 year- old kids together, meeting for the very first time at your little disco at Kapunda primary school. There was us sitting on the floor of my room at our family home just down the road in Crase Street, where you told me that a book in my bookcase was “profound”. I had to wait until you had gone home to look up the meaning of “profound” in the dictionary. Already then you were a fine wordsmith.

Then came the 80’s. This was the decade of high school’s happy days. You were working after school at Boo Menzels’ butcher shop, cleaning up animal guts and I was working across the road at Rawady’s deli, bagging up mixed lollies. You’d often come in on Saturdays in your cricket whites, and, if you were lucky, I’d put extra ice cream in your milkshake. But most profoundly (see, I know how to use that word now!) there was our memorable Year 12 together (right where we were married just a few hours ago) where we would argue with our friend Trish, about Paul McCarthy, our beloved history teacher, and who he liked the best. (……………………………………)

The 80s continued with parties at the nearby duck pond, dunkings at the Kapunda swimming pool, hot vodka-infused days at Adelaide oval one dayers, and afternoons watching each other play netball and footy right here at Dutton Park. There were the commutes together to Salisbury teachers college, rural youth camps, and night time visits to the local St John’s Cemetery to find ghosts (although never one to mess with the paranormal, you refused to come out of the car!). Michael and I have always been proud that our birthdays are only one week apart and in this decade we celebrated our 18th birthdays together and, as the 80’s ended, our 21sts.  

Along came the 90’s.  Champagne on the salt pans of Lake Gilles in Kimba and a joyously happy summer together. But the universe had different ideas for us during this decade – our working lives began and the world beckoned. We both trod different paths but we stayed deeply bonded as friends and continued to share in each other’s joys and sorrows. There were dinners, coffees, movies and our 30th birthdays. Our bond of friendship remained strong while we travelled the world. There were letters, cards and phonecalls, whether they were from a pub in England, the Boomerang bar in Singapore, a hotel room in California or a phone box in Turkey.

The 2000’s brought a decade of significant life events for us. On that terrible day, September 11th 2001 we sought each other out to spend the afternoon together to try and make sense of that crazy moment in world history. During this decade we celebrated our 40th birthdays and the births of our wonderful children. You shed tears with me at the funerals of my mum, my dad and my eldest sister Fran.

The decade of the “twenty teens” saw countless pub dinners, shared laughter and fringe shows with Trish and our MC, Kerry. There were barbecues, drinks and significantly our 50th birthdays when Trish and I made you a world class video on the lawn of our high school, right where we were married today, that was premiered at your party.

And then…..finally, in the twilight part of the twenty teens, the world righted itself, the universe smiled upon us and decided it was time to offer us a new beginning –  together. 

And so now we come to this decade – the 2020’s, and our wedding day. A scarcely dared dream; when finally it’s our time to have a shared life, where we get to call each other from Aisle 7 in Bunnings to discuss the colour of shelving supports or push pins vs thumb tacks. So everyday, so ordinary yet for us, extraordinary.  I know, I get that you will be surprised to learn that in this decade we get to celebrate our shared 60th birthday party, and our retirement together! 

If mum and dad and Fran, my eldest sister, were here today, they would have been filled with happiness and be cheering us on. Mum and dad knew you so well. Dad would have loved sharing a beer with you, together bemoaning the AFL management, and singing the praises of the SANFL. Mum would have served you your own stash of homemade biscuits so you wouldn’t need to sneak them from the top of the fridge, like you used to. And Fran would have made us a wedding cake. How I wish they could experience our joy today and see the warm, engaging and quality person that you have become, and how proud of you I am.

There are four people we would like to single out to say thank you to: our four children – Francie, HP, Max and Alex. All four have embraced us, and our love and our marriage. I am ever so thankful for their loving support and am proud to say that Michael and I have children who are insightful, generous and open hearted. To Max, Alex, HP and Francie, my deeply heartfelt thanks. 

And now Michael, of course to you….

Michael, I’ve known you at nearly every stage of your life. As a boy, as a teen, as a young man and now as an approaching senior! I’ve watched you blossom from an inarticulate and awkward boy to a self-crafted, clever and insightful man. I love you for your boyish charm, your ability to find beauty in the everyday, your tenderness, your mindfulness, your forgiveness. I love you for your wish to see the best in people. Your wit, comedic timing and playful smile. Your openness to learn from others. You are an inspirational, dedicated teacher, a keeper and writer of the finest literature and have the best Michael Caine and Arnie accents in Glenelg North. I love you for your expansive, unwavering and boundless love for me.  

Michael Craig Randall, whether it was as young sweethearts, or as the best of friends, I have loved you. But we just had to wait. And we waited well. With faith, love and grace in our hearts.

And now, at last, I get to love you as my husband. You are every dream inside my soul and I love you completely.

0

My wedding speech, to Claire

Thanks to everyone for joining us at our beloved Kapunda High School, and here now, in this footy club which is one hundred years older than Claire and me. These places have such profound and affirming meaning for us, and across the ceremony and this reception we’ve wanted to tell our story; our long, sometimes maddening, always beautiful story. I thank Claire for making today the elegant event it’s been. Your dress, the candles, the delicate details you’ve created for this celebration – I love you.

We were still teenagers when Claire rang to tell me she’d won the job. I knew she would – such are her impressive talents and attractive, girl-next-door persona. She was to be a host on the kids’ TV show Cartoon Connection. Of course I was thrilled for her, but also secretly despairing…

I imagined Claire (and her shapely calves) at Channel 7 touring the facility and saying hello to Wheel of Fortune’s Adriana Xenides and the goofy Baby John Burgess. But she’d also encounter the weather presenter, Keith Martyn. According to some, a gruff and condescending figure, he also annually published his own South Australian almanac, the impressively entitled, Keith Martyn’s South Australian Almanac. Now Keith’s book included tide times and details about when to plant tomatoes. How could I compete with this glamour? I could see Claire stepping in and out of Italian sports cars, going to A-list events and having her photo in the Sunday Mail (and not just the Possums Pages). I was right to be concerned at the high stakes: early on in the show they gave away – I’m not making this up – a 14-inch Phillips portable colour television!

I feared that Claire might be swept away from us for there I was, working weekends in Kapunda at Rexy Draper’s service station. Datsun 180Bs returning from day visits to Cadell would limp in with hissing radiators and billowing smoke and the frowning drivers would plead, “Can you fix it?” and nineteen-year old me would reply, “No, sorry. I’m not a mechanic, I’m a historian”. But then, one afternoon, I saw you on Cartoon Connection. You’d taken your dog, Bonnie, to appear with you on the show, and got her to count to ten with her paws. During that segment, you were so engaged with, and proud of, Bonnie that I reckon you forgot you were on camera. In that moment, I knew it was all going to be alright. You wouldn’t forget us. You were still our Claire– and always would be.

But before you moved on from your TV career you were to be offered a job as a weather presenter. That would’ve been fantastic. “Let’s cross now to Claire who’s up in Kapunda outside the Clare Castle Hotel and she’s got your four day forecast (the seven day version had yet to be discovered). Oh, we seem to have lost Claire. No, wait, she’s actually inside the pub! Ordering a brandy and coke!”



In 1991 I was living in Kimba and that November, you and Trish came to visit one weekend. Our worlds were expanding and we were all being pulled on different paths, but a photo from that weekend captures the moment when you and I sat together at Lake Gilles on a wooden sign – looking out towards the horizon. Things shifted that weekend, and we turned towards each other and in the two months that followed, I thought our time had arrived. On Boxing Day I went to America for three weeks and with you as a constant, joyous reference point I visited San Francisco and Phoenix and Santa Barbara and I stood on the snowy rim of the Grand Canyon. I was at some of the most exciting places in the world but, most exciting was the thought that you were awaiting me, back home across the Pacific in Adelaide. But the world turned. You continued with your life and I, mine. I did the only thing I could: I went out to Buckleboo one February afternoon and for the Kimba Cricket Club took 5/15. Gee, I bowled well. My in-swinger was never better. Tragically, we were later rolled by Waddikee who went on to win the A grade grand final.

And then, precious Claire, after almost thirty years, our paths changed and we found ourselves again sitting side-by-side, gazing at the horizon. In early 2020 we allowed ourselves the kind of indulgence only permitted those in love: we flew to Sweden for a week. We drove (not in a Volvo) across the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo and then near Lyungbyhed to a secluded cabin. It was a remarkable, enchanted time. Some evenings we’d walk through the forest to a dark, still lake and climb onto a creaking pontoon. We’d sit at the table with a lighted candle, pull a rug over us, eat olives and talk of all we’d done that day, and of old friends, and things over the years that had made us laugh and things that made us cry, and of our children, and our hopes. And geese would skim across the lake and gather on its island and you’d smile at me in that heartening, exquisite way. Around us a peculiar, blue twilight would grow above the trees and my heart was singing for I knew, after all the desperately rushing decades and the long aching years, that finally, finally – kind, clever, funny, amazing Claire – we were together.

6

Beer Review: Southwark Bitter

As we ambled along the grey beach this morning and the dogs scampered in the wet sand and we chatted about yesterday’s Cellar Door Fest I thought of many wonderful things for which I’m grateful.

Oddly, Southwark Bitter was absent from this gentle Sunday mindfulness, but now here I am on the patio with a distinctive green can. It’s time to revisit. Excursions into nostalgia should be occasionally inclusive and with the radio on, the lawn freshly mown, and the water feature bubbling along, I flip open the can. I expect it to be combative.

It smells more beery than beer. There’s nothing post-modern or aspirational present. It’s unapologetic, and I know that on Southwark’s playlist there’s just too many songs by The Angels. But, wait, perhaps the aromatics aren’t as boisterous as I remember. There’s a familiar charm, and it’s like the old cricketer who batted at ten, didn’t bowl and had to be hidden in the field. You and your team-mates loved him.

I take a few cautious sips and personal history makes me expect to be clobbered in the gob. But, I’m not. It’s not nearly as angular and cantankerous as my last venture into this beer-themed savannah. It’s smooth and almost subtle. Disbelieving, I check the can. Yep, Southwark. I replaced some lawn this morning and can now feel the effects of shovelling (yes, I used my skimming shovel) and wonder if I’m experiencing some sensory side-effects of this rare Sunday exertion.

A plane takes off from Adelaide airport and with a low scream climbs out across St Vincent’s Gulf. Buddy, the dog moves and Triple J plays a song I don’t know.

I keep two glass Southwark mugs in the freezer and sometimes bring these out on hot days when guests call in. It’s more theatrical than real but the frostiness adds a brief frisson to our shared enterprise. Given that I’ve bought a Southwark for the first time this millennium I decide it would be churlish not to marry beer and ancient mug. So I do.

This seems to exaggerate the trademark bitterness and now my 2021 experience starts to approach the one I recollect from those dusty Kapunda afternoons after cricket or by the Duck Pond with other misshapen youth or up at Gundry’s Hill with Fats blasting Mondo Rock out of his car boot. The universe settles back onto its known axis. It’s been a curiously rewarding event, and the beer has over-delivered. I’m strangely pleased.

With a determined swallow I finish my mug of beer and sit it down on the table. I wonder when I’ll next have a Southwark.

I look over at the dogs. They don’t seem to know either.

3

Ladies and gentlemen, The Mt Mary pub!

Is there anything more lovely than being taken to a mystery location for lunch?

The investment another makes in you courtesy of this wish to treat you with singular affection elevates a shared meal into an act of kind-heartedness, and converts a lazy hour or so into a lush, cinematic episode.

We left Robertstown (population-248) and headed through Point Pass (population-110), Eudunda (population-828), Sutherlands (population-unsure as no available census data, but clearly very few) and suddenly, when I was most curious about our destination (surely, we’re not going to Morgan?) it appeared on our right.

As a Kapunda youth it enjoyed a particular mythical, even ironic status. Set beyond Goyder’s Line among the salt bush it’s a place mostly visited after a day up the river, skiing or fishing.

Bounded by a nightmarish plain there’s no mountain at Mt Mary, and despite its population recently doubling from 6 to 12, I’m unsure if there’s even a resident (non-deceased) Mary. The town features ten homes, the pub, and a (possibly working) telephone box. It’s a living pioneer museum.

Exiting the Thiele Highway (named for Eudunda author Colin) we took a town tour and saw the former general store which was run nearly a century ago by Claire’s grandparents. Passing multiple cars in the town we almost forge another lasting connection as outside one abandoned house we scarcely avoid an accident. In a town populated by only a dozen persons this might have been tricky on the insurance claim.

Strolling into the Mt Mary hotel there’s a sumptuous lawn out front and given the frequent Armageddon winds and rare rain this is to be applauded. It’s an emerald welcome carpet. Although it’s a tick before noon there’s in situ patrons anchored to the bar having settled into an it’s-Friday-so-why-not drinking and conversational rhythm.

Coopers on tap is another predictor of bonhomie. Every worthy beer is better on tap apart from Sparkling Ale which finds its lofty peak when enjoyed from a long neck, but as this is the last holiday excursion I relax my rule-book and the host pours me one. Central to her endless research, Claire orders a house red. We repair to a table by the turf and as front-line ambassadors, greet the stream of sunny visitors.

Social media offered insight into the pub’s raison d’etre just prior to the November lock-down when mine host Donna urged that there was, “still time to hitch up your goat and get your drink on.” As we all know life is better with goat.

Disastrously, most of our regional train lines were torn up decades ago, including the Kapunda to Morgan track. Sitting in our untroubled afternoon we imagined boarding, say, the 9.42 from our former hometown and alighting in Mt Mary to dine and take refreshment! How a-quiver we would’ve been with me wearing a top hat and Claire easing along the platform in a Sigrid Thornton big dress.

Sometimes in a suburban pub meals can be bought and then instantly appear as if they’d just been dinged in a microwave. Those with a rapacious appetite might welcome this swiftness, but it has the anticipatory allure of a KFC drive through. Our Mt Mary meals are delivered by the chef forty minutes later which allows time to chat with each other and the publican, Donna, during which we learn about the pub, her husband Craig’s earth-moving business, the local 86-year-old horse rustler and her commitment to the local fauna.

Claire’s deconstructed vegetable stack is tasty and the polenta chips are a treat although, as has been noted by many, the non-meat options can seem overpriced. Are these subsidising us carnivores? My beef schnitzel is exquisite. It’s sizeable but not of ridiculous pillow-case dimensions and the vegetables are a wonderful accompaniment; the Hutch to the schnitzel’s Starsky.

The pub’s on the Mad Max road to Morgan but is an emerging foodie destination, and we’re told folks visit regularly from places like the Barossa and Waikerie. Sadly, the trains have stopped, but out back, unpowered sites are $9 per person.

As always, goats camp free.

2

At 5pm we drive around Lake Bonney and guess how many cars we’ll pass

My thong presses the accelerator as we pass the Bluebird Café and steer along Queen Elizabeth Drive with the lake on our left and a row of beige residences on our right. We see the besser block holiday unit I stayed in with Mum, Dad and my sister Jill when I was thirteen.

In that hot bedroom I played Hotel California over and over on my little cassette player when I wasn’t walking to and from Barwell Avenue and gazing in shops or drifting by the jetty just across from the town oval, home to the Barmera Roos.

We’ve decided upon the guessing order for the week and each must declare their prediction before we leave the town limits.

Max goes with his traditional low number. He’s already a student of the form, and gets us away with a crisp, ‘Three.’

Alex quickly declares, ‘Four’ and Claire participates with an optimistic, ‘Six.’

I then finish the formalities with what history tells us is an unlikely seven. All moving vehicles count, but we must pass them on the road itself before we get to the finish line. We call it the Lake Lap and it’s now in its third big season.

It’s a January afternoon and time for our daily tradition. Just before 5pm we coax the boys into the car from the jetty or the caravan park pool or their cabin chairs in front of the Test and alight in the pub drive-through where we negotiate our refreshments. A soft drink for the boys and a can of something serious for Claire. I get a Sparkling Ale. Alex says, “Dad, can we have some jerky too?”

‘No’ is my automatic reply, ‘you won’t eat your dinner.’ The protests begin. I then say to the drive-through attendant, ‘Can I leave the boys here with you for an hour?’

‘No’ comes his automatic reply. He’s a wizened, laconic type who looks like this job is to get him out of the house. ‘I should be immune to the noise. I’ve got eleven grand-kids.’

Easing through Barmera’s empty streets I note the bowls club and recall my first long-distance journey as a learner driver. It was 1983 and Dad had a tournament up here. In the green Ford Falcon I was legally limited to 80 kph, irritating a trailing and snarling V8. After a lengthy period he growled past me with horn blaring and outrage billowing from his twin exhausts. A mile or so later I saw a flashing blue light and the grumpy driver taking roadside receipt of a speeding fine. How I itched to honk my horn back at him, but this wouldn’t have done for a L-Plater with his Mum and Dad.

Lake Bonney’s shore is defended by dozens of dead gum trees and with the open road ahead we gather speed, but I keep to an unhurried ninety so we can better enjoy our circuit. Lonely caravans squat on the bank with their deck chairs and murmuring AM radio and late-afternoon mugs of strong tea. Above us is a soaring azure sky, and save for the mighty river and this lake we’re in a desert of scrub and sheep stations. There’s few vehicles on this section of the lap.

The radio’s on Triple J and the boys’ musical world is expanding along with their limbs so I introduce them to Tame Impala’s best album Innerspeaker and they enjoy the swirling psychedelic guitars. Is one of the selfish joys of parenthood inflicting your culture upon your offspring? Our other aural routine is Ben Folds’ Rocking the Suburbs on the way to Barmera, once we leave the Truro bakery and descend Accommodation Hill.

Drifting by the ruins at the Morgan Road intersection we then see Chambers Creek which feeds the lake’s 1700 hectares. To our right the road goes to the Overland Corner Hotel and it’s again changed hands, but is without a license until February and, of course, this is unbeknown to us on our Slim Dusty visit. Like many Murray landmarks it boasts a sign indicating the eye-widening 1956 flood level. No-one went thirsty back then.

More traffic is likely now and the current sedan score is only two so I tease with Dad comments like, “I can see a convoy of cars coming!” or “What if we pass the Hell’s Angels?” We pass the ubiquitous Pelican Point and its advertised Nudist Resort, but don’t call in as we’re overdressed. Along a fence there’s a teapot atop each of the strainer posts. With the bitumen curving about, vehicles might suddenly emerge as they make their way around the glittering lake.

After the ceaseless slog of parenting the boys as babies and toddlers they’re blossoming and rewarding company, and now choosing shared rather than solitary fun. Our daily Lake Lap represents this happy change, and I hope in years to come it’ll remain a keenly anticipated holiday routine and one they’ll discuss with affection and gentle mockery of their Dad.

Reaching the Sturt Highway today’s game concludes with Max again victorious. We’ll drive back to the cabin for a barbecue or to the Cobby Club for schnitzel night or maybe a swim in the parched, motionless evening.

0

Pub Review: The Windmill

A great man once said that every time you walk into a pub, there’s a story. As Dale Kerrigan would’ve narrated if he were me, “I’m Mickey Randall and this is my story.”

Suburbs like Port Adelaide, Norwood and North Adelaide are home to many pubs and geographers and historians and pissheads will happily bend your ear with a truckload of reasons for this. Prospect, just to the north of the city, is not one of these blessed locales.

However, fear not for it hosts the Windmill Hotel.

Our Kapunda group was slightly diminished in number, largely due, I suspect, to some not knowing the date. The week between Christmas and New Year can interrupt one’s sense of time, what with all the couch, all the cricket, all the Coopers.

We dine inside and not in the beer garden and this seems an accurate choice given that the garden is wholly cement and fake grass, and two of our party are drinking cider as if they’re elderly extras miscast in a Welsh coming-of-age movie. But, far be it for me to editorialise upon the refreshments of old friends.

I can report that the Windmill has a daily schnitzel special, offering these for only $10, as if it’s September, 2007 and Port is a very good chance against Geelong in the AFL grand final. While toppings such as gravy or parmi are extra this still represents tremendous value.

The meals are great and punctuated by talk of the cricket and local boy Travis Head who, we agree, has poor foot work and seems to make too many very handsome thirties. Discussion then moves to cars and more particularly four-wheel driving across various outback settings, and after a fashion I deftly move the subject to a topic with which I’m more familiar: neurosurgery and specifically neurosurgery as it pertains to the cerebrovascular system.

As Crackshot has recently moved to Prospect and indeed, lives around the corner, he suggests adjourning there for a mid-afternoon coffee. Once we’re there and enjoying our post-lunch lattes, Fats comments that, if he thinks about it deeply, this really is a disastrous state of affairs. “Coffee, Bah!” he almost spits across the immaculate stone bench-top. “Never mind”, I comfort him, “It’s OK.”

And it is for in early 2021 we have planned to go to Puffa’s, one of Kapunda’s iconic pubs, for a Saturday barbeque on the balcony.

There’ll be no coffee.*

Chip suffocation is the biggest killer of over-40s in this country

*No, we actually enjoyed our coffee and being hosted by Crackshot

0

The Bung Fritz Appreciation Society Handicap

As a fan of horse racing I love the mysteriously monikered Group 1 events such as the CF Orr Stakes, the LKS Mackinnon Stakes and of course, Eagle Farm’s JJ Atkins. These names evoke grainy Depression-era footage of black hats and long coats on heaving racetrack concourses, however contemporary classics are also of interest.

Summer hosts my favourite equine event, the soon to be time-honoured Members of Bung Fritz Appreciation Society Benchmark 60 Handicap over 1100 metres at the Gawler and Barossa Jockey Club. The track benefitted from a recent $15 million revamp and holds midweek and occasional weekend meetings.

Let’s be clear: fritz is not devon, strasburger, Belgium or polony. Named for the sheep intestine or bung this elite version comes in fetching orange skin although its qualities are far beyond Trumpian. With the continent of Australia now effectively eight independent nations these cultural and gastronomic divisions are set to broaden. Luncheon meats remain our key differentiator.

The Bung Fritz Appreciation Society formed back in the murky late-Howard era around 2006. Their patron is Denis ‘Father’ O’Malley and over the phone club stalwart Ian Millen explained that they assemble bi-monthly at local boozers such as the Lyndoch, the Greenock and the Freeling. When he told me the names of those from Kapunda who were members I was not surprised. The society has fielded requests to start local chapters in Alice Springs and Cairns. All have been denied. I understand that at their meetings they critique fritz and vote for the best in the annual Bung Off. This year Gumeracha Butchers triumphed. At the Christmas summit members sing, ‘Jingle Fritz’ which is based upon the lesser known and musically inferior, ‘Jingle Bells.’

First run in 2012 this fritzophiles sprint saw smallgoods fans gathered in a marquee with guest speaker and colourful former hoop Johnny Letts. Most wore the traditional bung fritz uniform which, of course, includes a Hawaiian shirt. Now, they enjoy the races in the new Wolf Blass Pavilion although I am unsure if Wolf himself made the journey trackside in his modest Rolls Royce. Mysticano won last year’s edition while maddening underachiever Two Odd Sox ran just outside the placegetters. The trifecta paid $510.

On Saturday January 23 if you’re camped in a front bar mid-afternoon and the screens shift to the next at Gawler keep an eye out as I’ll be there shouting and slapping the form guide into my bruised palm as in the Members of Bung Fritz Appreciation Society Benchmark 60 Handicap over 1100 metres my horse runs fourth.

2

To Alex, on finishing primary school

Dearest Alex

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.

Love Dad

Xx

December 2020