2

Pub Review: Glorious in Excelsior, Today-o

In June I chronicled our first pub visit in 92 days, and now I describe our final pub experience for, well, dunno.

Back then it was at the Broady in Glenelg South, and on this occasion circumstances allowed us to swing by the Excelsior in the inner suburb of Brompton.

The government’s lunchtime press conference saw our lockdown outlined, and so, with a singular wish, we made a booking.

I’d last frequented the Excelsior about twenty years ago as part of a loose, but committed collective which attempted to visit every hotel in Adelaide under the cross of a Wednesday Schnitzel Club. Back then the pub’s interior design was Phantom-themed as in the ghost who walks, man who can not die. I’ve since discovered this connects to Marvel comics hero Stan Lee’s lifelong catchcry- excelsior.

Now, this motif has been retired and the pub is a little more anonymous with standard boozer carpet and taupe walls and a circa 1998 Triple M soundtrack. But, its location is trendy Coglin Street and the mise en scène as we alighted our cars was suggestive of Melbourne’s Fitzroy given the proximity to the CBD, and aspirational and artsy population.

The service was friendly and the staff were certainly approachable. There was no gloomy subtext which in their position would’ve been fair. Ordering a Big Shed American Ale the advice was, “It’s highly drinkable and quite fruity.”

Claire opted for an entrée of parmi (not parma) bread and this got our last supper underway in a fashion of which JC may have nodded his Neoplatonist approval. It was a warm evening, but C’s glass of red was both generous and pleasant in that luxurious, midweek way.

Despite the swirling uncertainty in our city-state the pub patrons appeared calm and accepting. Nearby, a family with three young girls coloured in their books in functional silence. Even their pigtails were cooperative, laying still on their narrow shoulders. Thinking of the boys at their age, I shuddered at the likely fiscal and psychological tolls of a similarly modest mealtime.

My beef burger was satisfactory although I’m constantly dismayed at the absence of beetroot in these. Surely, its inclusion is as Australian as pineapple on a Hawaiian pizza. My chips came in one of those petite wire baskets about which I have reservations. Still, they’re better than suffocating them beneath a schnitzel which must soon enjoy a Royal Commission.

Claire’s salad was plentiful and enjoyed. The roast capsicum, red onion, baby bocconcini, and bacon all played their roles like a young Meryl Streep, whatever this means.

Strolling out into the early evening a clot of lads was settling in for the night on their apartment balcony and judging by the hollering were each about five beers deep.

We were all on the cusp of lockdown, but I remember that excelsior means upward and I nodded to myself and glanced again at the balcony.

Their approach seemed impeccable.

2

First Swim

Spring’s swinging wildness has been more ridiculous this year. Rain, wind, crazed dips and leaps in temperature, and one Friday morning atop Mount Lofty, even snow. Yesterday the sun was ferocious and the boys and I steered for the beach late afternoon.

The season’s opening swim is like many other entrances: the theatre of the first ball of the Boxing Day Test, the joy of that initial barbeque (ed: do these ever actually stop?) and the elongated summery, “Howwwwwwwww” at the start of Sherbet’s “Howzat.”

All suggest much about what hopefully follows across the toasty, meandering months. Days which recline and school holidays which drift. Cricket on a big screen and then beyond the screen door, out the back, on the lawn, brown patches witness to brotherly bowling and batting.

Cooled by its Arctic origins, the water at once enlivens and connects us. We throw a ball about our bouncing triangle- Alex, me, Max, me, Alex, me, Max, me- and this repetition functions as worship.

Suddenly, a fin.

Curved, momentary, kindly.

It pushes up, again, and we peer at its periscope. Dolphin. It surfaces once more before disappearing for good, its submarine progress beneath the twinkling water.

Later at home a twilight storm of white sheets and rattles and dog-scaring booms and our towels flap like bright ghouls on the clothesline.

In the morning I gather them up from the lawn.

4

The West End Brewery and me

To this country kid life often appeared binary. Lillee or Thommo, Holden or Ford, Port or any other team, and my Dad, no, all dads, drank West End Draught or Southwark beer.

I remember our back lawn, the old Buffalo grass with microscopic leaf barbs that’d make your legs itch. Summer and the sprinkler would be on, with that comforting hiss that was anything but reptilian. By the swing was an ancient lemon tree and down from this I’d play backyard cricket with my sister even though she’d insist she was not out caught behind by the automatic wickie if in her crease. Every time. She was persistent and Mum having refereed the argument, I’d then race in to bowl as fast as my pool-cue legs would allow.

Late afternoons wandering about the garden, watering his tomatoes, Dad would sometimes open a Southwark echo. The green of the label was intriguing; almost emerald, almost regal, vaguely Germanic with the stylised stein and almost many different evocations that were beyond my mind’s innocent migrations.

*

Nowadays, at the Broady in Glenelg South, with fifteen beers on tap, I always scan the offerings before getting the usual, and for that brief moment the cluster of choice is faintly paralysing, in a hugely privileged, first-world way. But from my late teens I recall that there was no real choice. I just ambled into the golf club bar or the pub and, like everyone else, had Draught.

My only decision was glass size and the Kapunda Golf Club was a butcher (200ml) venue while after cricket each of the six pubs- The Prince of Wales, Sir John Franklin, Clare Castle, North Kapunda, Railway and Allendale- was schooners or mugs with handles (285ml) and only with West End Draught. All of this was barely considered. I may as well have wished for the sky to be another colour.

We’d get up in the dark for the Adelaide Oval one-dayers on the Australian Day long weekend. It was the triangular series era so Saturday might be New Zealand against the West Indies and then on the Sunday and holiday Monday they’d play Australia from 10am.

Three or four cars- maybe Woodsy’s 180B, Bobby’s Torana and my HQ Holden- would go from Kapunda to Gawler in the gloom, and we’d train from there (through Womma), walk down King William Street, and line up at the Victor Richardson Gates as the heat was climbing from the bitumen.

Once in we’d scramble to the southern mound about half-way up, and down from the Duck Pond. This was a marquee erected annually just inside the mesh fence at long-on, and it signalled that along with our foam eskies loaded with vodka-infused watermelon (we are all fruitarians, Officer), greasy bottles of Reef Oil and Adidas Mexico shorts all was right at Adelaide Oval for another summer.

Adelaide Oval during the summer of 1985

Although we didn’t frequent that part of the ground, from the Scoreboard Bar there’d be the day’s first factory whistle as the stem was eased out of a barrel. First keg done! This was always by 8.05am and there’d be a bigger roar than a Roo Yardley screamer at point, or Rodney Hogg trapping David Gower plumb. And this’d continue, every few minutes, sounding like Proud Mary steaming down the Mississippi. Every eighteen-gallon drum was West End Draught.

In 1992 I flirted with Southwark. It was a nostalgic, almost ironic phase, but a nod to my past. The bottle had been rebadged with a dark blue motif replacing the green death label, and each carton came with a (free) glass mug. I still have two of these and they’re the best beer tumblers I never bought. On hot afternoons I sometimes fetch one out of the freezer while I’m on the tongs. Southwark has never been poured into one.

Then one day in a pub, maybe in Kimba or Kapunda, other beer taps appeared. Suddenly, they were just there. Foreign lagers like XXXX and VB (Queensland and Victoria are different beer countries) and extra-terrestrial beers like Boags and Cascade. It was also when Coopers first entered my world. Suddenly, the old dichotomy had collapsed just like Skyhooks v Sherbet. I didn’t glance back. West End Draught was now a black and white tele with a coat hanger antenna next to the Jumbotron of Sparkling Ale.

*

Recently at the Glenelg Footy Club I ventured to the bar during half time on a sunny April afternoon. It’s a Lion Nathan premises (unlike Norwood Oval which is Coopers) and standing behind a beanied Centrals supporter I noted a specials poster

West End Draught cans $5.

It’d been decades so feeling sentimental I bought one, returned to my spot on the grass just down from the scoreboard and flipped the top. Can we locate meaning in beer? Some would argue not. I’d suggest that the answer is unquestionably.

I glanced around to make sure no-one was watching. A sip and it was 1986. Metallic, coarse, antagonizing. I remembered the words of my old mate Nick: “Some of our best times have been on West End Draught.” I tried to taste it as a country boy or my Uncle Des or as that dreadful default, a patriot. But my evaluation was clear. The can of beer, the inescapable Red Tin, was muck.

With the news of the brewery’s 2021 closure I thought of squinting farmers and dusty golfers and young fellas in utes and B-grade footballers in distant change rooms after a scrappy match, all tipping it in. But Adelaide’s a powerless town and the world now cares little for Holdens or Thommo or West End Draught.

Then, I think of Dad and our Kapunda backyard and a dawn train to watch a January one-dayer, and those simple, secluded times.

Glenelg North, later today
2

24 Hours in Kapunda

Sleeping, dusty streets. Saturday afternoon like a still creek.

Kapunda.

Memories, rushed and gentle on every corner. Footy, cricket. Bikes.

A pasty each up by the high school lawns. Awash with grey Midford shirts. Roman sandals. Unfinished essays. The poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins. Year 12 Biology and a vegetation transect on Banksias.

A cricket match shout from the oval. Share a beer and chat in the pub later with my cousin, Froggy. The captain. Rolled for bugger-all.

Visit our history teacher, Macca and his wife, Kerry. Discuss 1983 and everywhere since. Feel seventeen again.

Dinner around a big kitchen table with old friends, Woodsy and Sue. Happy collision of past, present and future. Not enough time to see others. Next time.

Sunday morning. Out to scan the golf club. Admire the lush fairways and nod at the greens which replaced the scrapes of my youth. Recall the handful of 21sts. White HQ Holdens lined up like butchers of West End. Hoodoo Gurus blasting into the cold night.

Drive back across the River Light bridge towards the city.

Back soon.

The footy club is a vast ark of memory. Always nice to see RW Randall on the board too.
No visit to the Duck Pond is complete without seeing (but not eating) a local duck.
Kapunda High School has a croquet lawn although some would prefer a croquette.
In 1980 we slept at The Pines on a bush-walking camp. Today, for the first time we returned, together.
Some call this a Pump House, but, of course, it’s The Turncock House. Don’t ask.
As law-abiding citizens we know a visit to the Prince of Wales pub is compulsory.
2

Onkaparinga: farts, sticks and socks

Stand By Me remains a favourite film and I was reminded of this yesterday whilst hiking with the boys and two of their friends in Onkaparinga Gorge.

I once heard that most beer commercials will feature a group of four men (not women) drinking together. It’s not two men because this can appear a little intimate and conflicts with the stereotypical image at play in beer drinking contexts. Neither is it three as this is an odd number and suggests two friends and an outsider and an uncomfortable, unbeery dynamic. So, the aesthetic and psychological forces mean that four works best for the assumed audience.

The director, Rob Reiner, might have known this numerical truth when making his film about Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern going on a secret hike across Oregon to find a dead body. But, of course, it’s really about friendship and being on the cusp of surrendering their innocence. I had the afternoon off and thought it timely to get out of the house and into nature. There were four boys and me in the car and it took thirty minutes to get there. Most of the conversation was about farts. It was ridiculous and compelling. Farts never go out of style when you’re twelve.

In blustery conditions we hiked the Punchbowl Link Trail on which we saw no-one. The ground was soggy and we all grabbed walking sticks for beyond a torch there’s not many objects that resonate so enduringly with a boy than a stick.

Another inescapable boyhood trait is for wearing socks outside. Why is this? With a couple kilometres to go we again struck some muddy terrain and one of the boys took off his shoes and completed the hike in his socks which, I’m sure, will never be that vibrant yellow again. Apologies to his parents. Apologies to the socks. Us adults are helpless against this incurable desire. It’s a rite of passage if not a daily habit. Maslow might argue that wearing socks in mud leads to self-actualisation, but maybe not.

Back at the car we all scraped our shoes on the road to get rid of the mud. It didn’t work. We drove down from the hills and home towards the beach. There was no mention of farts.

It was a fun afternoon and I was aware of our fortune in being able to venture to this isolated trail when so many across our country can not enjoy some distant exercise, and for the boys to be with each other in a time and place they might remember, or not.

Stand By Me is narrated by a writer played by the excellent Richard Dreyfuss and he’s telling this very story. In the final scene he types on his computer screen-

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?

0

Pub Review: In which our heroes discover that the Victoria Hotel is victorious and the Terminus Hotel is terminal

It’s 140 metres from Strathalbyn’s Victoria Hotel to the Terminus Hotel. However, a wide aesthetic divide reveals itself inside these proximate pubs. How did this happen? We were about to find out.

Arriving mid-afternoon, Claire and I saunter about the fetching park and gardens, River Angas, bowls club and swimming pool. As a measure of its prosperous agricultural location there’s many handsome and sprawling homes. We go to the oval where the Strathalbyn Roosters Junior Colts are training ahead of Saturday’s Preliminary Final against the Willunga Demons. The surface is lush and closely mown. Circle work is underway.

We peer in the window of the footy club. The bar’s open and some parents are yakking around a table. Pausing on the verandah, with the yelling and the voices leaping about the damp oval, we conclude that with its small court and limited players, netball doesn’t need much vocalising whereas footy, played on massive meadows with 36 participants, demands constant interaction. The young Roosters move the ball well and I hear, “Macca, Macca! Run hard Josh. Good pass Scotty!” Their full-forward takes a few grabs and leaning back, Grenville Dietrich style, he slots a couple majors while we watch and chat, the soundtrack of Thursday afternoon training making me nostalgic for my own small, distant playing days.

The Angus river is known as the Amazon of the Fleurieu

The Victoria pub is open-hearted with a fire place, multiple tap beers, and exposed brick and stonework. After our strolling it’s a treat to park ourselves by the flames and, just as I think it needs some attention, mine-host emerges and hoicks on some logs before prodding it like a gruff publican. The orange warmth cloaks us and our cold thaws. In the morning, with snow forecast, we’ll drive to Mount Lofty and step out of the car into a tumble of silent flakes. In late September! In Adelaide! Back in the boozer, Claire has a sparkling white while I select a Balter XPA. Both are crisp and tipped in with joy.

The dining room features table candles and wine barrels sitting atop the ceiling beams in acknowledgement of our closeness to Langhorne Creek, picturesque home to fine cabernet sauvignon. My salt and pepper squid is fleshy and tasty and I ask Claire, “How’s your vegetarian curry?” to which she replies, “Curried and vegetably.” There’s a gladdening buzz in the bar as we jettison ourselves into the rainy darkness.

The Victoria is cosy and relaxing; unlike the eponymous British queen

Late Saturday, we learnt that The Terminus is truthfully named and my only doubt is if it best describes the clientele, staff, or pub itself. Recently renovated, it includes clean walls and a wide, self-possessed bar that have only rendered it charmless and incurably grim. It’s a place for devoted punters and should at least smell of fresh paint, but I detect despair and plummeting testosterone. Our drinks were slopped out by a sour type who ensured all her coloured-glass water bottles were filled to the brim before she lifted her lifeless eyes and sullenly served us, understanding, of course, there’s immense profit in tap water compared to tap beer.

Suddenly craving fresh air we bypassed the bent menfolk, watery-eyed over their warm glasses and, like the pesky kids in Scooby Doo, crept outside. A beer garden should cultivate sunshiny conversation and laughter but, despite overlooking the emerald park and the river, that of The Terminus merely nurtures ugly tables, upturned plastic chairs, unendurable dog poo, and disappointment.

The Terminus is unfun for all the family

I’ve been to Paris three times but, until last week, never to Strathalbyn which is less than an hour from Adelaide. How does this happen? We’ll soon return to its pastoral cosiness if not all its pubs.

2

Fleurieu a-Go-Go

Just as Walter says, “Let’s go bowling,” to the Dude in The Big Lebowski, Claire and I said let’s go to Strathalbyn some months ago.

I’d never been (bowling, yes but Strathalbyn, no).

It was excellent and while we enjoyed the town itself we also went to Mount Lofty to see snow and to Langhorne Creek to see shiraz (and cabernet sauvignon).

Of especial interest was watching the Strathalbyn Roosters Junior Colts undertaking circle work at Thursday’s training.

Friday night on our cottage deck
All that wine-tasting is thirsty work so after we repaired to the pub
Lake Breeze winery was wonderful although there was no lake and no breeze
Our glasses eight seconds after we arrived at the Victoria Hotel
Monet’s lesser known “Two Old Boots in a Beer Garden”
What time does the Langhorne Creek disco start? What time can you get there?

2

September’s special six

Glenelg is the reigning premier for at least for another week!
Sunday afternoon, just critiquing the front lawn and counting the pickets.
Max’s soccer season slides to a spring stop.
What better gift than the appropriate use of a possessive apostrophe?
The forlorn and haunting beauty of Williamstown’s barbeque (and Claire!)
Teenage boy rule 31: as your parents love it ensure that you run on the grass in your socks.
0

The Little Barbeque Who Could

We first saw it a year ago.

It stands on the edge of a park.

We’d been to a café (I was going to write “local café” but as Jack Nicholson’s character scowls in A Few Good Men, “Is there any other kind?”) and drifted through an op shop where Claire bought me a retro print.

Williamstown is set on the Barossa’s southern fringe among low, rolling hills and in spring is green and awakening. There’s creeks and dairy cows and vineyards too.

Despite these natural advantages and a handsome townscape it features the world’s most forlorn barbeque. Williamstown’s park comprises mighty gums, a tempting playground and a modern gazebo with splendid potential sites in the shade, or on the soft grass for a meat cooking machine.

No, our little barbeque finds itself cruelly exiled on a grimy concrete slab by a road and a carpark and some garbage bins. There’s no shade to protect against the summer sun and the brutal concrete and black road amplify the heat. It’s surely victim to a town-planner’s hoax, signed-off by an anti-snagger, or a medium-rare Scrooge.

It sits there in silence, a shrunken parody of the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It could lend portent to a (deleted) scene in which man (sic), guided mysteriously, marks a key evolutionary moment for our ridiculous, slight species, and happens upon pine-nut and spinach chicken sausages.

So, after discussing this peculiar barbeque over the past year Claire and I decided to visit it last Sunday. I don’t think we were disaster tourists on a bus to Chernobyl, but were certainly motivated by a need to understand this oddity, forsaken in its bewildering mise-en-scène.

Planning a late breakfast we arrived at noon and the barbeque was available. With its winding, narrow roads Williamstown is a Harley riders’ destination and across our vista hordes of these bikes postured and crackled as the weekday lawyers kneaded their needy egos.

Ignition complete and hotplate warming I put down some bacon and bread and eggs while Claire poured thermos coffee.

There was laughter and roaring from behind the public conveniences. I was curious. Distinctly masculine, the bellowing was in concert and suggested a raucous performance. Claire investigated. “I couldn’t see in but it’s coming from the back of the pub.”

A couple of matching polo shirted lads crept through the carpark and sabotaged a tired-looking 4WD. They’d come from the pub. “Ahh, footy trip,” we concluded as the lads eased the wipers off the glass of their mate’s rusty wagon before continuing their mischief inside the cabin. I hoped the owner wasn’t a meek viticulturist who’d kitted up in a handful of B-grade games, and that by sundown he wasn’t guts-up in an amateur remake of Wake in Fright.

I flipped the eggs.

With the Barossa’s footy season over for most sides it might’ve been some Tanunda types or the local team. Within an hour or so, out the back of the pub a timid back-flanker would be dacked, or find something disturbing in his beer, or both.

I sipped my coffee.

A family and their dog walked past to the playground. A boy followed on his tricycle, entirely unlike Danny in The Shining. I checked my watch. The Crows match against Carlton started in a few minutes. I liked our chances.

This curious, heartlessly contextualised little public barbeque; pushed out by its own park; banished by the ancient, sullen gum trees; forever crouching; haunted but defiant by the road and carpark and garbage bins, had cooked our breakfast impeccably.

In the Sunday sun we sat and munched our bacon and egg sandwiches.

2

48 Hours in Glenelg

Pulling up at the Broadway pub on Friday afternoon Claire remarked on how atypically easy our drive had been from the city to the beach. So much so that the car’s clock displayed our triumphant arrival as –

4.27pm.

This, of course, scientists will gladly tell you is the optimal afternoon pub starting time, at least in the southern hemisphere. Locating a cosy table in the beer garden we let an hour drift away and all was providential in our world.

*

Saturday our local footy team the Glenelg Tigers were hosting a twilight match and the boys and I headed down. Sitting on the eastern side the late winter sun (now, we all acknowledge that spring only commences after the equinox on either September 21 or 22, don’t we?) poured honeyed light across the grass, the sky and us.

As is customary Alex, Max and their mates watched minimal minutes of the match, their attention taken by hot chips, each other and roaming about the oval.

Glenelg skipped away early and kept West Adelaide subservient throughout, and it was a spectacular afternoon. The fresh air and stroll did us all some good.

*

Once each winter month we set our fire bucket going with some red gum and spend a glowing evening on the patio. Claire struck a match as we made our way home from the footy and we enjoyed a few hours in the crackling warmth.

Games give the night some diverting structure and we engaged in Family Feud which is based upon the eponymous TV show. One night I flicked on the box and caught this question, just before the show was axed. This may have been the question that finished it off, but I still can’t decide if it’s towering genius or beyond moronic. We surveyed our studio audience and got their top 100 responses to this:

Name something a spider might think about?

Saturday night I read a question for Claire and Alex that went:

Name a calorie-burning exercise?

Claire and Alex called out running and cycling and others but couldn’t get the final reply which had seven responses. There was much guessing and frustration. Remember the question was:

Name a calorie-burning exercise?

Coming from the country that bought us Sco Mo and Warney’s autobiography called My Autobiography and XXXX Gold (at best a bronze product) the fourth reply was, you guessed it, exercise.

*

Sunday dawned as Father’s Day and we had Mum and Dad and my sister’s family over for a BBQ. It was sunny and warm and gentle. We ate lamb and chicken and beef. We had tossed salad and Thai noodle salad and red wine from McLaren Vale and the Barossa.

We spoke of renovations and footy and holidays. We then had Mum’s bread and butter pudding which may have had its origins in poverty but is now emblematic of comfort. The day was affirming and then it became late afternoon and with waving and tooting that was it.

It had been a glorious 48 hours in Glenelg.