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Pub Review: The Cumberland, Glanville

Plenty of room for you and yours in the beer garden

I had one final chance to visit a pub down the Port. I was offered plenty of advice.

“The Largs Pier is a beautiful old building.”

“The British is nicely renovated.”

“The Port Dock Brewery is good fun.”

But, for the moment, no to all of these.

A colleague said, “I reckon you’d find the Cumberland interesting.”

And so last Tuesday afternoon we ventured over the bridge, with Cruickshank’s Beach among the pylons, along Semaphore Road and then towards Glanville Railway Station which eases past the window.

There it was. The Cumberland, or as all such pubs must be known, The Cumby.

Australia is a vast country with many modern and featureless suburbs bigger than European cities. This is why the Port is terrific. Jump in your jalopy and in five minutes you can drive through Port Adelaide, Birkenhead, Semaphore, Exeter and Glanville where the geography is intricate and brutal, welcoming and rich.

Oh dear

Certainly in Britain there’s a whole realm of interest in pubs located by railway stations. Oodles of websites are dedicated to this genre alone.

Sauntering into the front bar the six patrons all ceased their conversations and took us in. If a honky tonk pianist had been banging the ivories he, too, would’ve stopped suddenly.

The publican, Michael Parker, or The Rev as most call him, was friendly and helpful, especially when chaperoning my friend, JB, through the forest of cider choices.

We ventured out the back to the beer garden’s large lawn and sheltered benches, but it was barren, save for a Port Power flag hanging flaccidly in an upstairs window. Sometimes, having too much space to yourselves is unappealing so on we explored.

Next we came across the live music room with its blackened stage. In recent months it has hosted the legendary Kevin Borich Express, and while I must confess to a personal connection, the magnificently-monikered Don Morrison’s Raging Thirst (I’m friends with Don’s sister Claire). I reckon Tim Rogers and Tex Perkins would both go well in the Raging Thirst.

Punters can watch the world go by

Sitting on our stools out the front of the Cumby the mis en scene of sky, battered earth and noiseless trains sliding in and out of the railyard was a compelling palette. It was natural, industrial and human.

The triangular patch had formerly been a carpark for the Holdens, Fords and Valiants. Now in the newish, glass-walled space there was a luckless incident involving a wonky table, JB’s elbow, Bob’s pint and his cream trousers. But in the maritime atmosphere his strides dried quickly. Perhaps they’re from Fletcher Jones.

And as friends for over thirty years we all moved on, although it gave rise to the ancient philosophical question: What’s worse than someone spilling a drink on you? Answer: Someone spilling your own drink on you. This aside, we enjoyed a lively interval in the bright afternoon, and then scarpered.

Such is the dynamic psycho-geography of the Port that last week’s destination, the Lord Exmouth, while technically a compact suburb away, is only 220 metres to the west. But the Cumby’s atmosphere is different, and in our often homogenised world, this diversity is to be celebrated.

So, if you’ve a raging thirst, or you want to hear one, then this pub is right there. And, should you wish, you can catch a train.  

And be there too.

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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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Pub Review: The Birkenhead Tavern, Port Adelaide

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It sits alone.

At once alluring but also brazen like a Bond villain. Under twilight it could be in a Hitchcock movie, dominating the landscape as the Bates Motel does its Californian corner. Although if painted in pastel yellow and pink the façade’s symmetry might be reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film, provided Bill Murray was in laconic shot.

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The cinematic concept of mis en scene describes the artistic arrangement of the background, props, lighting etc on a film set, and is relevant here. Making a westward crossing of the eponymous bridge there’s no adjacent buildings, and the dusty car park surrounds it like a dry moat. I’m immediately struck by the frontier psychology at play.

Architecturally, the context is that the only pub on the Port River, the Birkenhead Tavern, is itself utterly decontextualized.

It’s a remarkable site (and sight).

In the Riverview bar I’m agog at the water and blue light. The panoramic sweep includes the river, red lighthouse, Dolphin Explorer cruising ferry (unfortunately not captained by Flipper), and idle sheds and docks.

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A fierce southerly rushes the river past at a decent clip. Occasionally, king tides flood the pub forcing it to stand amid the lapping waves like a rebellious Atlantis.

On this, my biennial visit, I’m at a table in the racing corner, but looking out. The bar’s busy with burly high-vis chaps and retirees and burly high-vis retiree chaps. It’s Happy Hour and I order a Pale Ale ($5.50).

Suddenly, there’s scattered outbursts as a roughie gets up in the last at Queanbeyan. A wizened, skinny bloke barks, “It’s won at $97!” This spurs further eruptions, but these are only monologues from embittered punters. There’s no conversation, just forlorn observation.

“I can’t bloody believe it,” a bearded fellow accuses his West End Draught stubby.

“You’re joking,” murmurs another to an uncaring, inattentive divinity.

Pubs can be solitary spaces, especially for the fiscally anguished.

In the Port’s narrative this boozer has been a compelling character, since the days when it was a local for workers who caught the ferry across the river after work, and also when the upstairs light was flicked on and off signalling that the constabulary should slip in the darkened door for their nocturnal beer.

Publicans and wallopers have long shared murky relationships, as at least locally, policing the Port and guarding against illegal trading is traditionally thirsty work. Beyond an arresting location and a clutch of exotic punters what does the Birkenhead Tavern offer?

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A poster tells me there’s live music with an endless line of Sunday strummers, many of whom, of course, are called Josh. On the front lawns eager anglers can seduce bream and mulloway but there’s no outdoor sink at the pub to gut your catch.

Meanwhile the pub’s website features multiple photos of Port Power footballers but as these are without a caption, I’m unsure if they’re on the menu with chips, coleslaw and complimentary garlic bread, or that you might simply enjoy one with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Unsurprisingly, the cuisine is described as pub, and I also note steak and ale pie on the special’s (sic) board, reminding me of when our newlywedded friends Brett and Trish were in Dublin, and Steak and Guinness pie was on offer. Ever polite, Brett asked the bar staff, “So, what’s in the Steak and Guinness pie?”

The young Irish fellow gazed at, and perhaps beyond Brett, and tonelessly mumbled, “Steak,” and blinking once, added, “Guinness.”

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Pub Review: The Exeter, Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like it always does.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

atticus

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

This is why I love the Exeter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why I love the Exeter.

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

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

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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

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The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

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As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Pub Review: The Crown, Victor Harbor

 

chernobyl ferris wheel

If petite bread rolls deliver doughy joy then the frisson when these are also hot from the oven is seismic. Surely a clear sign of a caring god, or at least, reliable electricity.

This unexpected bliss began our Friday night meal at the Crown Hotel. Driving into Victor Harbor as the wide bay swims into happy view I wondered how our boys hadn’t been here previously for an extended visit yet had holidayed to the Bavarian Alps, artistic Left Bank in Paris and Murray Bridge’s world-class Bunyip.

Having checked-in at our caravan park digs and positively appraised the bunk beds, bouncy pillow and decidedly unappealing pool we drove to Warland Reserve with its twin pubs standing sentinel over the foreshore.

Upon presenting our boisterous trio at the bistro, the pub staff now appraised us silently and then did what I’d do which is to quarantine us in a marginalised corner away from the quiet, undeserving diners. In hospitality circles I’m sure this is some form of pre-emptive damage control. There was an American college football game on TV, but disappointingly it didn’t feature Purdue. It was Boise, Idaho’s finest.

bouncy pillow

Our boys were drawn instantly and they assured me, ravenously, to the salad and vegetable bar. It would’ve been easier to stop an aspiring reality television star (read: talentless, vacuous twit) from taking a selfie.

Pleasingly, their lemonades were served in sturdy plastic cups. You know, the coloured models that you used at your cousins’ place for cordial after you’d been running about or chucking rocks at your footy, now stuck at the top of a eucalypt.  

As a fan of haute cuisine Max chose the Italian Hawaiian Irish fusion. Unfortunately, when his ham and pineapple pizza and chips arrived, despite his father’s sobbing implorations, he was chock-a-block with hot bread rolls. I had the pizza on Saturday, save for the solitary bite Max had taken.

Boise was constantly handing the ball back to their opponents as they couldn’t get their passing or running games to fire. Out the window, and across the reserve I could see the lights of the amusements and the Ferris wheel.

I trusted that the compulsory mangy dog would be there, wandering and weeing and roaming about in a vaguely menacing way when we visited in the morning and like a drunk bookie, I forked over wads of cash to a carnie.

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As a ten-year-old Alex is on the cusp of moving from kid’s meals to adult portions, and this causes me emotional if not fiscal despair. But tonight, he’s happy to tackle the nuggets and chips.

When served they’re not the traditional ones shaped as rectangles or ovals: these are in the form of dinosaurs confirming what archaeologists having been telling us forever which is that if we visit Jurassic Park, take down a T-Rex, and cook it, it will, of course, taste like chicken. He inhales them as if he’ll soon need the energy to outrun a velociraptor.

Continuing our involuntary theme of transmogrified chicken my Kiev arrives. It’s been a while and my excitement had risen, like that of a rooster when sunrise is imminent over the henhouse.

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While the Ukrainian geography of my chook was nebulously accurate I think its origins were not in Kiev but more precisely 142 kilometres to the north of the capital in Chernobyl.

I suspect the meal may have come directly from reactor number 4 itself. How else to explain the impossibly dry and disastrously crunchy properties, other than thermonuclear accident?

I felt especially sorry for the cold garlic butter that had presumably been once trapped in this poor poultry, all trace now gone, doubtless a victim of irradiation’s cruel physics. I may have been better off with the amusement park hound.

Luckily, I hadn’t downloaded a Geiger counter app to my phone or it would’ve now been clicking away like a barn full of tap-dancers, attempting a world record.  

Still, we all survived and retired to our cabin. The footy was about to start and the weekend was upon us. We were in front.

Afterall, we’d had hot bread rolls.

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Pub Review: The Holdy, Glenelg South

 

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

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

I call it the year I barracked for Collingwood.

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

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

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

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

Holdy table

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

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

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

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

$25!

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

Holdy beer garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s tenacious, just like AB.

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