4

Affection in Aisle 7

He paused in Aisle 7.

He usually found it difficult to become animated in hardware stores and this aisle was more mundane than most. It was late Saturday afternoon, and this was not a place he frequented at this point in the week, but he studied the shelving supports and thought about the choice he had to make.

The burden of his errand was lightened by the glow of a cocooned morning and the golden promise of their evening together on the darkening patio, on the lounge and then, finally, drifting into slumber. He spotted the bag of white shelving supports and considered these. He’d come for the transparent ones but was changing his mind.

He pulled out his phone and rang her and felt a frisson of love and shared investment as the ringing continued. She answered and their words were necessarily technical, but the subtext was soaring. As he drove back to their quiet street it already ranked among his favourite phone calls for the connection and the exquisite exchange gripped his heart.

Later, the subterranean intimacy and joy of their ninety second chat stayed with him like a film, and he would smile to himself over the following days when he remembered their triumphant little phone call.

0

Our passage through life

As his car skulked towards the lights, he scanned the intersection and then southward along the blurred footpath.

Sometimes he’d see all of her but often his eye would be caught by a detail: the sunlight bouncing on her tumbling hair, or the shapely elegance of her skirt, or the work basket, bursting with her cleverness.

He loved these arrangements. For some they’d be a burden, an interruption to a busy day but for him these sparkled with private joy. They represented a chance to connect in the mysterious city so he could make her passage through life easier.

These transactions were about much more than dropping off the car.

If these domestic details were shared with friends at the pub or over a coffee they’d quickly drift off into their own orbit, and the words would quietly flutter away like confetti. Who can truly know of the innermost machinery of strangers? Sustainable intimacy doesn’t happen only in a restaurant or in a tropical resort. He nodded with the thought that it happened on Friday mornings navigating the glacial traffic along a major arterial while plotting to relieve the knotty demands of each other’s responsibilities.

He eased into a car park and saw her more closely now. The always-generous smile, ever open to bright possibility. Her eyes alert and warm. He knew their history, and some of what they’d seen. Alongside those blue eyes he’d gaze later at the sunset over the sea when despite the waves and the gulls and the passing couples they’d sit alone.

Trying to invest the sound with his surprised fortune that she was about to enter the cabin, he tooted the car horn.

She looked up and was smiling.

0

A Nissan Exa, Eagle Super Beer and The Farrell Flat pub

In 2007 the UN announced that our world population was now more urban than rural.

The migration had been happening for centuries and like many global trends it only travels from the abstract to confronting reality when viewed up close, and late on a Sunday I saw it in Farrell Flat.

I’d never been there, but it’s only a short drive from Polish Hill so off we went through Mintaro where the fire bucket was ablaze in the Magpie and Stump beer garden, and past the paddocks, tinting towards green under the winter sky.

With wide streets and snug old homes Farrell Flat is appealing. The primary school is the focal part of town, as schools should be, and the main drag’s inviting with rows of tidy shops sitting under gum trees.

Driving east there’s the tennis courts and golf course. While the fairways need rain, the black scrape of the 18th looks well-used and I peer into the clubhouse window for that wizened knot of golfers clunking their beers together before settling into their post-round ribbing of each other.

However, the school’s shut, permanently. As are the tennis and golf clubs. Every shop in town is empty. On the way in we spot the park where the once-celebrated dog trials were held, but the last of these was in 1996.

We stop to take a photo of a white Nissan Exa. It sits rusting in a yard. Two dogs bark at us. This Exa is missing several panels. I owned one from 1991 until 2003 and at the end my odometer was frozen on 297,000 kilometres.  

Check in the boot for bodies

In the middle of the pub’s front bar is a Harley. On a wall is a sign advertising Eagle Super which was last brewed in the 1990’s. Across from this there’s a montage of old photos featuring 1950’s Hollywood sirens like Marilyn Monroe.

Behind the bar is Chef, the publican. He is a chef by trade and is from Darwin. He owns the Harley, and tells us, “The pub gives me somewhere to live and pays for my food and fuel.” He adds that, “I can go for three or four days and not have a customer.”

I want to offer my sympathy, but more than the wide wooden bar separates us from Chef.

There’s a TV high in a corner however the screen is blank. There’s no music. I order a beer which is a Coopers stubby from the fridge. Kegs are long gone. Claire orders a brandy. It comes in a large tumbler.

Publican and customer high-five goes badly

At Chef’s suggestion we tour the pub and various silent sitting rooms as well as the guest bedrooms. Pausing in the large dining room I imagine a far-flung Saturday night with farmers, footballers and young families, all buzzing with laughter and talk of rainfall and the school fête and upcoming weddings. Late on this Sunday it’s dark and still. The fireplaces are cold.

There’s plenty of room for a beer garden too, but I see only weeds and dirt.

Back at the bar another couple is there. We chat about their day in the surrounding wineries like Pikes and Paulettes and where they’re from in Adelaide. Taking advantage of Farrell Flat’s free camping they’ve escaped with the caravan and left their teenage boys at home (one recovering from his private school formal).

Claire buys a bag of chips. Like the town and pub itself Chef seems as if his past was more optimistic than the present. He has a low opinion of the community’s future and its aged citizens.

No, the pub’s not haunted

Mintaro’s Magpie and Stump pub was closed for about a year before the current owners took over and reinvigorated it with spectacular success. Its publican told me that their first June long weekend they did over six hundred meals. It’s now a destination pub.

Drinks done we say our farewells to the campers and to Chef.

Outside in the twilight we take in the Farrell Flat silo art. It depicts a train under full steam as it hurtles along by a wheat crop and under an effervescent, purple sky.

The vitality and hope are striking, and I’d like to think that in this handsome hamlet life might imitate art, but just as with the relentless march of urbanisation, greater forces may have already spoken.

1

Riesling Trail Ramblings

Recycling an abandoned railway line, The Riesling Trail runs from north of Clare out at Stanley Flat to Auburn in the south. It makes its good-natured way past wineries, over bridges and through hamlets.

Flashing along on our e-bikes between the Mr Mick and Tim Adams wineries we overtake ambling families and dogs straining at their leashes, feel sombre by the Sevenhill cemetery, and gush at the former Penwortham station. Sometimes the trail takes a commanding view over the vines and moderate hills, and then with close rows of trees leaning in it becomes a leafy tunnel, all secret green and Famous Five thrilling.

The Watervale pub inspires contemplation of our deeply advantaged situation. Claire and I discuss our charmed lot, uncommon safety, and this opportunity to indulge in food, wine and wonder. It’s a high point during an afternoon of discovery. Last time I was here was decades ago on a Sunday watching the SANFL footy grand final (No, not a Centrals’ victory) on TV with a crew from Kimba. While the front bar’s skeleton is unchanged all around has been converted into a succession of remarkable spaces and the pub’s now a prettily realised expression of quietly engaging light and warmth and luxury.

Its menu is modern, and I suspect, of initial concern to many, a schnitzel-free zone. I have lamb cigars (who knew that sheep smoked?) and roast potatoes while Claire has a toasty which is elevated to artform. Sitting outside by a bespoke fire bucket, we receive table service from the owner, Warrick Duthy, and then two staff, both sporting French accents. I wander wide-eyed and open-mouthed about the boozer with its stylish rooms and nooks and Chesterfields, and the pub manages to suggest both the Clare Valley and Chipping Norton.

Despite an excellent exception in Pikes at Polish Hill River all the wineries only offer paid samplings with which I’d have no quibble however we’re mostly herded to a corner and asked to unromantically tick some boxes on a form (not unlike completing a breakfast order the night before in a country motel) before a paddle of five mean-spirited glasses is plonked in front of us while the winery staff otherwise unblinkingly ignore us.

This McDonaldsisation appears unstoppable. If I was attracted only to the product it might be fine, but I like to natter with the folk behind the counter, make some connections, and hear some stories. The narrative richness has been poured down the sink (or spat into a spittoon). If I’ve enjoyed myself, I’m likely to buy some slurp.

Our day would’ve been incomplete without learning (no, not learnings) about the trail, each other, and the wine. I’m not especially open to culinary adventure but had this instructive chat at Crabtree Wines on its hill overlooking Watervale:

Viticultural Host: Can I interest you both in a muscat?

Me: No thanks. I don’t like dessert wines.

Viticultural Host: Ours is great. It’s liquid Christmas pudding.

Me: Christmas pudding? I might try a splash.

And with a sip it was mid-afternoon on December 25. Belly-full adults like bears on the warm cusp of hibernation stretched in their chairs as regular blurs of kids dashed about and an album of yuletide standards (Frank Sinatra captaining his team here) drifted above our paper party-hatted heads. This evocative power is chief among the charms of wine and not a gift I often find in the generally global and utilitarian beer. I may try muscat again.

With its name a homage to Rome, Sevenhill is not simply a winery but a village founded by the Jesuit order around 1850. Among the striking church, former seminary and college, and majestic setting one notable detail grabbed us. On the narrow veranda as we pushed inside to the tastings room sits an untidy box bursting with sporting goods. Folks are welcome to help themselves and leap about on the large lawn while dodging the picnickers with a few dobs of a footy or a game of cricket (Dad’s hammy at persistent risk).

I love these heartening offers of civic glee.

Weaving our late-afternoon, bicyclic way back to the trail, we pass the Stations of the Cross, distributed among the scrub and beneath the gum trees. For Claire Sevenhill is evocative so we speak of and remember our Catholic pasts and family and childhoods and distant lives. Shutting my eyes (not typically recommended when riding) I could be frocking up at St Roses in Kapunda for Saturday night altar boy duty.

Minutes later my e-bike battery gives way and with a final blink is dead (days later in an Angaston pub my mate Chris asks if this could’ve been due to the extra load) and in an image of despair I’m cruelly forced to pedal. Claire finds this somewhat amusing and fizzes past with high voltage as I start to huff and puff. Effortlessly vanishing into the darkening distance, I’m unsure but hearing, “Climb every mountain/Ford every stream” she might have been singing (her lungs unchallenged) a taunting tune from Sound of Music.

While it’s been windless and cloudless dusk now closes in, and after thirty-four mostly delightful kilometres our bikes are wheeled down a sloping driveway to the hire company shed.

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

The Monthly Photo Essay: May

It’s time again to complete my monthly photo essay and this month’s photo essay is for the month of May although I’m completing it in the month of June, which is probably the wrong month for those who care about months.

We love the Onkaparinga National Park and again undertook the Punchbowl link trail. Next time we might take the Sundews Ridge Hike. While hiking we found a full and unopened can of whisky and cola. Please contact me if you think you know the owner.
Spotted this on the annual Melbourne cultural, spiritual and literary retreat.
Doughballs? No, it’s not the little known sequel to Animal House but a pizza place on Moseley Square and was a Wednesday night surprise.
Had a Mother’s Day lunch at Uleybury wines which went well. Worth a look if you’re in the vicinity.
Meanwhile at the North Fitzroy Arms they’ve moved the Gough and Percy photo from the dining room to the front bar. We’re still recovering, and should eventually be fine.
0

Fifteen (happy) notes from our Melbourne weekend

1- Our party is the beneficiary of an unsolicited upgrade to business class on the pre-dawn flight from Adelaide to Melbourne with Rex. The spinach and chorizo are particularly attractive at 28,000 feet and Trev says, “Simon, Tahiti looks nice.”

2- Arriving midmorning at our CBD apartment we’re gifted an early check-in and prepare for the day’s goings-on by changing the TV from channel 7’s Morning Show (a dismal Larry Emdur vehicle) to Double J radio. We hear My Bloody Valentine.

3- There’s splendid autumnal weather for the amble to the North Fitzroy Arms, and en route we note Percy Street, its verges carpeted by brown and yellow leaves. Making our way past the terrace houses we speak of men’s mental health and this weekend as a preemptive strategy and it’s an affirming chat.

4- All at our table agree that the NFA is Australia’s best soup pub with the spicy pumpkin remarkably good.

5- The lunch is hosted by Tony Wilson and the guest, journalist Ashley Browne, is insightful and generous in speaking with us after. He writes a sympathetic dedication in his book (2020: A Season Like No Other) which Chris buys from him. Like all good lunches here it’s dark when we push out onto Rae Street.

6- Saturday’s breakfast at The Quarter in Degraves Street is also a treat and sets an expectant tone.

7- It would’ve been churlish for me to not take our party to make their debut at the Napier in Fitzroy, so I do. We admire the lead-light windows and the bar’s dark atmospherics. Father of the Bride by Vampire Weekend is playing as we sip our Hargreaves Hill ESB.

8- Late afternoon we’re at the WT Peterson Oval for Fitzroy’s first-ever home twilight fixture. Dramatically situated with the city twinkling in the middle distance we witness an exquisite finish as the locals get up with a (beyond fifty) goal after the siren.

9- Tracking across to Lygon Street the AFL app tells us the Crows have snuck home against Melbourne by a point.

10- Sunday and an old school friend (and 1984 Kapunda Footy Club Senior Colts premiership alumnus along with Trev and Chris, but not me as I was too old to play by two weeks and a premature birth: not that I’m still hostile and embittered) joins us at the All Nations Hotel for a quick beer and highlights tour of his last thirty years. He’s done well and is an early signing for a 2022 Footy Almanac lunch.

11- My fellow travellers enjoy their fish (John Dory) and chips while I am taken by the potato sibling (mash) accompanied by pork and fennel bangers, peas and onion gravy. We talk of the song “Anthony McDonald- Tipungwuti” by the Picket Palace.

12- We again enjoy the year’s best (complimentary) bus ride from the pub to the MCG with Richmond a handsome canvas as we make our jaunty way.

13- As neutrals we love the Collingwood and Power fixture (Olympic Stand, Bay M53) but in a rare Adelaide-teams-getting-up-by-a-single-point-double Port fall in, unconvincingly like Hawkey over Keating in the initial 1991 spill.

14- Catching a SBS replay of Eurovision the UK again suffers nul points, although given the contemporary geopolitics it’s likely the Beatles wouldn’t break the duck either.

15- Due to a happy technicality we’re again upgraded to business class for our return to Adelaide. The in-flight lamb and rosemary pie is hearty fare but it’s great to get home.

4

Incident at Mystery Pub/ Greenock Creek Shiraz

Once a month on a Friday we have Mystery Pub. Claire and I alternate researching a local cup-shop and with buzzing expectation and frisson swirling about the cabin drive the happily oblivious spouse to it.

Recently I took my wife to the Kentish in North Adelaide. Neither of us had been there for decades. Tucked in near Melbourne Street it enjoys a quiet, almost feudal location in a cul de sac and sitting out the front of the sandstone grog-dome on a mild afternoon we watched some locals strolling in after a tough day in commercial law or obstetrics.

With a staccato burst of click, click, click one of the zappy bar staff lit the gas heater which impressed Claire but didn’t concern me for I was in shorts (and a shirt too). August is normally the only shorts-free month for me.

It was then that a most dreadful event occurred. Claire asked for a second house red and it was decidedly acceptable, doubtless enhanced by the low chirping from the surrounding punters and our golden hour of honeyed light and gentle parachuting into the weekend.

But in a moment of retrospectively acknowledged delusion I heard myself say at the bar, “And I’ll try a Heineken 3.”

Returning to our table with the accompanying feeling of self-congratulatory triumph that one always experiences when successfully purchasing a round of drinks, I sat and took a sip.

The celebrated continental brewers describe their beer as being, “lower carb, lower calorie” but omit to say that it will also “lower” your sense of well-being, general life optimism, and faith in your otherwise excellent decision-making regarding refreshment choices.

It’s an unspeakably terrible beer. It’s as thin as a spider web and has less charisma than a bureaucrat’s corpse. The flavour seems made in a sterile European lab by faceless automatons who unblinkingly pour anonymous liquids from one test-tube to another, and I suspect I’m correct.

As many an old bloke in a quiet country pub has probably muttered to anyone and no-one, “I had two of those. My first and my last.”

*

Thursday was an excellent day and with late-afternoon cause to celebrate we swung by the Broady beer garden for a twinkling hour. At home with some gnocchi on the stove and our wedding playlist percolating about the kitchen (opening song- “Summer Love” by Sherbet) we extracted the cork from a bottle of red. Nowadays, of course, using a corkscrew is an event in itself and this too caused our epicurean hopes to simmer. We took out some special occasion wine glasses.

Friends and I had visited Greenock Creek wines in the nineties. It’s not in Greenock but on Seppeltsfield Road in Marananga. Their wines are delicious but hard to get so it’d been ages since I’d had one. The (Honorable) Paul J Keating was likely our Prime Minister when I last had this joy.

The 2016 Apricot Block Shiraz is remarkable. I’ve an unrefined palate and any initial slurp is sometimes like a slap on a cold morning to me before I settle into my work. This time it was velvety seduction. By candlelight the glass was all inky and dark and the plonk was complex and subtle and like a Bruce Dawe poem, I knew returning to it I’d locate fresh meaning and my world view would be buoyed.

Like Keef to Mick it made an elegant and synergistic partner to our pasta. As we eased through it our dining table conversation moved to the centre of our world and the wine, like all powerful forces acting for good, gently lowered herself silently into the background.

2

A Hoppy Trinity of Outback Pubs: Cradock, Hawker and Blinman

From our hulking 4WD we could see the Cradock pub, but were stopped by a film crew. It was the first day of our honeymoon, and Claire asked about the plot, actors and release date while if I wasn’t ravenous for a beer I might’ve inquired about the impact of the golden, autumnal light on the cinematography.

Airy and uncluttered, the pub is both modern and historical, and presents with an eastern suburbs confidence. There’s substantial wooden tables out the front and in the dining room as well as an inviting ropes and climbing area out the back for the kids and, I imagine, adults wobbly with too much Bundy, an enthralled audience, and no regard for the nearest hospital being prohibitively distant.

Our publican is Dickie Anderson, and he’s laconically easing through his hours. Noting there’s no tap beer I say, “I’d love a Sparkling Ale stubby.” He scrambles about in the fridge and frowns, “Umm, sorry, we’ve none left. Someone drank it all. That’d be me!”

So, on the cusp of a glorious week in the ageless, still desert we sit and look. At the ornamental ute, the firepit, the quiet bush.

Is there much better than late on the first afternoon of a holiday?

*

With its wide, noiseless streets, and mix of handsome houses and pre-fab government dwellings, Hawker reminds me of both Kimba and Wudinna.

At our B&B we met Nigel, who turns the key and we’re embraced by the smell of baking bread from one of those 90’s models that everyone had, and he’s excited to show us the TV dedicated to his DVD library of tourist videos. There’s even one demonstrating how to use the coffee machine. Nigel’s thought of everything.

The Hawker pub is cosy and seems happy to cater for its eclectic audience of locals. At the bar is a young mum with her double babies crawling about on the carpet unaware but building considerable immunity. A cheery chap takes the schnitzel orders.

On the wall is a footy tips chart with a solid list of names. I don’t check but know in capitalised black texta there’ll be Dogga, Blue, Young Kev, and Old Kev (possibly relatives, but maybe not).

Claire and I find a rickety table on the veranda, and the pub cat slinks by so we can give her the pats and tummy scratches she utterly deserves.

Across the road’s a park and a knot of kids tramps through. Claire takes a photo of the deepening sky. This sunset doesn’t simply close another Thursday but is one of reassurance and gratitude. Quietly triumphant, it seems intended just for us.

*

Cocooned on our honeymoon I’d forgotten it was school holidays until we arrive in Blinman and it’s swarming with pedestrians and cars. We spend time at the cemetery peering at the headstones and conjecturing about the kind of lives led, concluding they’d likely been hard and only dotted with fleeting sparks of joy.

At the North Blinman pub there’s an animated lunch group under the veranda. Whether aware or otherwise, they’re undoubtedly privileged to be meandering about in this safe and simple section of the world.

Claire is eager for a red. Our barkeep is an earnest woman and she promotes the house Cabernet (pronouncing it with an unironic emphasis on the t).

My sporadic wish to collect stubby holders might be the middle-aged male equivalent of buying souvenir teaspoons, but across our week there’s none on offer, so again, I ask only for a beer.

Lawn would be an inappropriate curio in this arid land, so the beer garden sits on designer dirt.  A series of James Squire umbrellas shades the punters and we plonk down among them chatting effortlessly about our day and our hectic, astonishing month.

The Blinman self-describes as the Pub in the Scrub, and I think of Buckleboo just north of Kimba which boasts the Club in the Scrub. I wonder if in a tiny hamlet beyond Goyder’s Line there’s an unlikely but locally loved massage parlour advertising as the Rub in the Scrub.

My wife and I then stroll about, glasses in hand, pausing along the walls covered with old sepia photos of pioneers and celebrated pub denizens and ponder their lives too.

What’s the narrative purpose of a honeymoon? Is it for a couple to luxuriously combine the past and the present, and then together paint a canvas that’s a landscape, but also a portrait of their deeply desired future? For our freshly intertwined lives, I’m very sure.

4

April Sun in Copley

April is always a great month, or as a student of mine once wrote, “a great moth.” Our wedding, honeymoon, some excellent hiking, and, of course, Glenelg is 4-0.

And Coopers released their Australian IPA to mild acclaim (from me).

In my 660 months on this planet, April 2021 is right up the top- like Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones.

It would’ve been thankless or at least un-2021 to have not taken a selfie with our wedding photographers

Given a debut flat tyre 250 metres into my 4WD career this sign is a vicious reminder
The Kapunda Footy Club on wedding eve
On a day of apocalytic wind and dust the boys and I braved the Hallett Cove boardwalk
Kapunda High’s soggy croquet lawn, wedding morn; didn’t stay forlorn; a wonderful event was born