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Pub Review: Lord Exmouth Hotel, Exeter

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Among the minor benefits of my brief stint working nearly an hour from home at an architecturally-barren university campus is that my commute takes me through the rich and diverse pub destination of Port Adelaide and surrounds.

The Lord Exmouth is a corner pub just to the south of bustling and charismatic Semaphore Road where it sits on a suburban street. Its crooked front veranda, suggestive of the curious experiences promised within. For inside is a 1970’s museum.

Old mate Bob has a slender window between work and baseball commitments so agrees to meet for a brisk cup. It’s happy hour at this boozer, also known as the Monkey House, so-named as there’s dozens of toy monkeys crammed into the shelves above the bar. Of course it doesn’t matter why these are there, only that they are.

Bob gets a West End Draught and it’s only $3.50. This sets a happily nostalgic tone. My personal bravery has always been in question so I avoid his example and order a Coopers. The front bar is narrow and unlikely to have enjoyed any form of renovation since Gough strolled about Parliament House.

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There’s six or eight chaps in there too, and I’m sure this is exactly as they prefer it. They engage in banter about those who are here, and those who aren’t, with the easy familiarity of men who’ve invested many a regular hour, or three, in here.

Graham and Barbara Cox have run the place since the late 1970’s. It’s a family affair and their daughter is a flight attendant but can often be found behind the bar when she’s home. I wonder if she motions elegantly towards the doors, telling new patrons that, “In case of an emergency the exits are located here, and here.” And if she hands a punter a particularly astringent glass of, say, moselle, I also imagine she crisply urges that they, “Brace, brace.”

Our nostalgic theme continues when I mention to Bob that the pub was featured in the films Wolf Creek and Australian Rules. Taking in the interior with its authentic 1970’s decor and vaguely haunting mis en scene I can’t imagine either film’s art director had to do much in the way of preparation.

Graham lets us out the back to the cosy and welcoming beer garden. There’s a rectangle of lawn (dirt) and like Mick Taylor himself, some weathered tables are scattered about. Each table has multiple fliers advertising the pub’s Christmas Eve festivities and I suggest to Bob, “That’s you sorted then.” But he seems uncertain.

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Now both helplessly trapped in our 1970’s youth we speak of the Kapunda Cricket Club; currently keen to attract former players to its struggling third team. Our comebacks to this formative outfit are probably more imagined than real, but it’s victimless to dream. West End Draught can do this to unsuspecting men.

Our beers drained we wander back through the bar where Terry is being ribbed in his inexcusable absence and we move out into the Wednesday afternoon. We’ve spent the previous half an hour so deep in the past that I’m surprised there’s not a HQ Holden and a brown Torana awaiting us.

I’m also shocked that I’m not twenty pounds lighter and sporting a mullet.

The Lord Exmouth is another excellent pub discovery, down at the Port.

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Dad’s 75th

Dear Dad

I think about the Christmas holidays we had as kids, often spent up the river. Invariably hot, we’d stay in parks and places like those around Lake Bonney. I still hold great affection for the Murray and we go there regularly with our boys. I thank you and Mum for this vital legacy.

But I do remember one time at Loxton when we came home to Kapunda early because Jill and I were fighting so much- not my fault mind you. Upon reflection this was especially disappointing as, by then, Jill and I were in our mid-thirties.

As always, it’s beautiful to be in the Barossa, thanks to everyone for coming here today.

Dad loves to talk footy. When I ring up or we’re around a table with a shiraz in hand there’s a pattern to our discussion. We start with the Crows. Who’s playing well, who’s not? Will we make the finals? How good is the Honorable Edward A. Betts?

We then touch on Port. Not for long though. Years ago, I told Dad of how Tony Morrison, a keen Norwood fan, and the father of an old school friend, Claire, called Port “the Filth.” Then for a while when we’d mention Port instead of calling them “the Filth” Dad would call them “the Slime.” No, it’s not funny, is it Jill, but it amuses me still. The Slime.

We then move onto the SANFL and talk of Glenelg and how they’re travelling. Not much joy in recent years, but we used to speak glowingly of Rory Kirby and former captain Ty Allen. If on the terraces at the Bay I’d seen Peter “Super” Carey or Graham “Studley” Cornes I’d update Dad about the adoring crowds flocking around Super, and then of course, about those crowds somehow not adoring Graham.

Finally, we move to the Barossa and Light and analyse the competition there. Who’s playing well for Tanunda and Nuri and, of course, Kapunda. Whenever I go to Dutton Park it makes me proud to see RW Randall on the life membership board. These chats remain important. Even when yakking about the Slime.

When Kerry and I lived in England Mum and Dad came to visit in 2004. We had a fantastic month or so travelling through England, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy. One night we saw a play called Blood Brothers at London’s Phoenix Theatre.

The story revolves around fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie, who were separated at birth, one subsequently being raised in a wealthy family, the other in a poor family. The different environments take the twins to opposite worlds, one becoming a councillor, and the other unemployed and in prison. They both fall in love with the same girl, causing a rift in their friendship and leading to the tragic loss of both.

We were in the front row and it was brilliant. See it if you can. At interval Mum and Kerry bought a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. In second half everyone was crying again- Mum and Kerry at the tragedy of the story, Dad and I at how expensive the wine was.

We wish him and Mum well today, over the bowls season and for the future.

We love you. Now please raise your glasses.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 (air cowbell 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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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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A letter to myself at thirteen about a story I wrote

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Hello young Michael

I hope this finds you well. Although of all people I should know how you’re travelling.

Gee, look at you! Your hair is nut-brown, having turned darker since you were a little blonde boy. I won’t send through a photo because the silver, err, fox you are now might scare you a little.

What a scrawny thing you are too. If I can give you a tip or two, play footy and cricket as long as you can. Giving both away when you’re around thirty seems too young. After this you’re a spectator forever.

To the story you wrote in Mrs Warry’s Year 9 English class at Kapunda High. I reckon it was in Room 42, that transportable out the back. You loved that class and the space itself was inviting and safe, but this was a function of the teacher. It always is.

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Nowadays it’s strange, but I reckon we went the entire year without a computer or watching a film. I don’t think we even had to get up in front of our friends and give a talk.

We simply read and wrote and learned.

Your story, “The Courtroom of the World” begins with the protagonist, young Barney, opening his eyes, having fallen. That you withhold the details surrounding this is excellent. It simply doesn’t matter. The intrigue only makes us more curious. Without your knowing it, dropping the reader into the middle of the action is an exalted technique that the Classicists called in medias res. Well done.

I must also congratulate you on your careful, earnest handwriting. It’s a credit to your sense of application although you must prepare yourself for the shock of what happens later. Now you write like a shiraz-soaked spider has wobbled through a saucer of ink…

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You admirably attempt a metaphor with, “rivers of blood” to describe Barney’s leg injury although some would classify it as passé. But, then again, you’re not quite fourteen, so they should be kinder. Encouragement is always the very best option. Stick with metaphors as they make stories gold-plated. Ha!

While I’m at it, why Barney? Did you know a Barney? The only Barney I recall is Rubble, and you weren’t a huge Flintstones fan, but I reckon you found Betty cute although she was no Josie of the Pussycats. Could be another mystery of adolescence.

I do like how you maintain the tension. At one point, Barney becomes agitated, “gasping in fright” for he has to be home at six and it’s already five-thirty. That Catholic compliance (guilt) can pop up in all sorts of surprising places.

In the next plot development our main character sets off with no clear plan only to descend into what, “was a cave. Being an adventurous boy, he decided to explore.” Recent history says no to this. Snooping about in a cave is not suggested. Here in 2018 I’m sure of this.

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I can forgive that, but then to shamelessly write, “Up ahead in the distance he saw a shimmering light” is disappointing. Under no circumstances should you plagiarise the Eagles and their 1976 song, “Hotel California.” Sorry, but despite how many school socials you slow-danced to it before those stark community hall lights came on, this is wrong, morally and aesthetically. I don’t care how captivating you found the final guitar solo.

I’m curious that “The Courtroom of the World” is presided over by a frog, but I guess our amphibian friends would be as suited as any beast to pass robust global judgments. Good job avoiding the obvious call of making a lion, tiger or wombat king of the planet.

The jury in your tale consists of, “The Alligator, the Snake, the Monkey, and the Seagull.” Let me ask why you thought that a seagull could offer lofty wisdom and analytical thinking? They’re really just hot-chip vultures.

Just as The Honorable Justice Frog is about to hand down his terrible, doubtless appropriate verdict, Barney’s mother awakes him! I wonder if there’s not a rite of passage about this, a compulsion that all offspring must write a narrative that concludes with a dreadful jolt from slumber.

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I look back across the increasingly fluffy decades to that classroom and consider its legacy. Even when we didn’t deserve it Mrs Warry would smile and peer at us warmly from above her glasses. She was kind, patient and offered that most luminous of gifts, considered praise.

I thank her for helping to shape me.

I recall little of the previous or following year in English. Year 9 has always enjoyed a certain mythology: an unforgettable, sharp quality. Yours, it would seem, was like this.

You’ll be saddened to learn that Mrs Warry passed away this last year.

So, young Michael, keep with it as I like what you’re doing. While I’m pretty sure you don’t have a novel or a film lurking in your bonce, there’s a couple of boys called Alex and Max who just might. They seem to enjoy a yarn and as you know, we need storytellers.

Keep encouraging them, just like Mrs Warry would’ve.

See you soon.

xxxgates

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Pub Review: Five Cups in Fremantle

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To visit Fremantle is to understand that this earth is essentially good and bright and joyous. I’ve had a remarkable afternoon.

I guess it’s an emblem of country-boy faith that not for the first time, hotel concierge staff consider it appropriate to swear at me, in cheerful, inoffensive and welcoming ways. Perhaps I’ve an inviting face, for when I ask about public transport, the smiley front-desk person said, “Don’t use a travel card, for they’re shit.” Oh.

I spoke. “Where’s the city station?”

The well-groomed, nicely-vowelled girl then replied, ” Oh, you’ll know it’s Perth station because there’ll be people pissing out of it.”

I blinked. “Thanks.”

On this Sunday the sun splashed on my face all afternoon. It had the redemptive power of Mykonos or Napoli. I asked some locals if it was extraordinary and most nodded in a dismissive way. I imagine this is typical in Fremantle.

On the train down I glance up at the network and note the Mandurah line stops at Murdoch and then Bull Creek. I suspect, given the deplorable mass media of this country that this is ironic. The sun is wholly magical, for a July day. So, I went to five pubs.

Surprising, I know.

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National Hotel – it’s bustling, and a fierce footy locale when I stroll in to Sandy Roberts chirping about North and the Gold Coast Suns, who I am told, are an AFL team. I ask for a Panhead Extra Pale Ale from NZ. It’s satisfactory, and I’ve got down here on a train trip for only $4.80. As I walk up to the balcony bar there’s a 2013 Grand Final Freo jumper and rock concert posters such as Hendrix, Woodstock, and of course, the iconic, groundbreaking Leo Sayer. The red brick, the exposed brick is lovely. As the Roos v Suns progress a Harley eases past the open doors. I talk with an old mate, who’s a Dockers bloke. He’s unmoved by the deplorable state of Tassie footy. Exiting, I see Monday’s industry night with an Old Skool arcade machine that I trust is Frogger.

Sail and Anchor– I remember our old friend Shelly urging us to look up! Look Up! And there’s a beautiful pressed tin ceiling. The air is high and effervescent, with a blue light. I order a Nail Brewing Pilsner but it’s circumspect; stand-offish; spikally brash beyond what a modest chap might ask of a pilsner. If a pilsner won’t behave, then where do we actually stand, in 2018? For the most isolated city on our tiny planet, there’s people everywhere, all in rude health; their kids behaving; nostalgic music a comfy bed as all attack the schnitzel and chip with a rare gusto. I then remember that it’s mid-winter but observe every second bugger is slopping about in thongs. Gee, I love this place.

Ball and Chains- Immediately, I mistrust this boozer. There’s an artifice and confection that’s worrying. I nervously order a Minimum Chips lager, and then order, as an incestuous accompaniment, a minimum chips. There’s a pensive mood about it all. I gulp my beer, so I can leave. However, the sunlight here is ridiculous. Big blokes wolf Emu Export. I avoid eye contact. I sit at a big timber outdoor table on the impossibly fetching esplanade. A Morton Bay Fig is among the Norfolk Island Pines. I’m drenched in sun, and instantly drunk on light. But, I scarper.

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Bathers Beach is right on the beach and beyond ridiculous. I’m with a Cheeky Monkey Pale Ale, on a sun lounger right on the sand, by a post with the waves crashing and the sun washing over me in a deeply medicinal way. A gull yarps while flapping above my head. By me are two English girls who surely can’t comprehend their enormous luck. It doesn’t matter, but the beer is pure muck; a modern nonsense that is profoundly difficult to love, even by a leviathan such as Sir Les or Thommo. I’ve rarely spent a better fifteen minutes, in the heart of winter, anywhere, including Luton, despite the toxic lager.

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Little Creatures Brewing: Interrogating the bar-keep as the hugely wonderous sun rolls in, I ask about the Session Ale. I repair to the balcony and watch the boats wade in. The beer is affectionate, but lacks the warmth of the Coopers equivalent. A seagull drifts across my vision. The water looks warm enough that I could swim. How could this be? Perth is more Mediterranean than Mykonos or Capri.

I’ve had an afternoon of astonishment and glee. It’s been a Beatles album; a Hyde Park concert; an opening wicket from your first-born on a crisp morning as the sun stretches across your face.

How can I not have been to Fremantle until now?

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