Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and the Delight of Context

On an ordinary street Claire and I went to a mostly forgettable Milanese church.

We’ve been to many spectacular places of worship in Europe but this one’s façade had less charisma than a suburban supermarket. Italy has a chain of these called Pam. I think this is funny.

Our visit wasn’t even really about the church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, but the nearby refectory.

The Mona Lisa is the star of the Louvre art museum, and the Queen Sofía National Museum Art Centre in Madrid is famed for Picasso’s anti-war satire, Guernica. But these are dedicated galleries, and within them we expect masterpieces.

Increasingly, I’m interested in the context of experiences, and the more unlikely the circumstances, the more compelling. One of the world’s great paintings, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is on the dining room wall.

These unremarkable circumstances are remarkable.

The story of this magnum opus is as distinctive as the painting itself. Located next door to a medieval kitchen, Da Vinci finished it in about two years. The thinking behind it being on a refectory wall is that the monks would feel a divine connection with this painting of Christ at supper while they, in turn, gobbled their bread and stew. Unsurprisingly, The Last Supper suffered extensively from steam, smoke, and soot. And probably, if truth be told, cabbage odour.

Where the feet of Jesus should be in the painting is now a door, knocked through a few centuries’ ago because, you won’t be surprised to hear, the monks wanted better access to the kitchen. Later, Napoleon used it as a stable. It recently endured a twenty-year restoration.

As he was mastering the use of a single vanishing point our expert guide (she was terrific) told us that Da Vinci hammered a nail into Christ’s temple (ouch, irony!) and radiated string to assist with the perspective.

Apparently, the table at the centre of the painting wouldn’t have actually fitted in the portrayed room at Mount Zion, but there’s significant captivation as Jesus announces his looming betrayal. Da Vinci shows this with each disciple’s face and action a psychological revelation.

Despite the intolerable yelling from fellow visitors, it was extraordinary, and I felt privileged to see it. It speaks to my ignorance, but I was unaware that on the opposite wall is another painting, called the Crucifixion. We weren’t encouraged to view it.

The entire site was nearly destroyed by Allied bombing during WW2 and The Last Supper is conservatively valued at half a billion dollars.


On another Italian back street is an art gallery and the beige walls suggest a warehouse. There are fresh smatterings of graffiti by the entrance. We’re in Florence.

Claire booked our Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze tickets months ago and these were so tight that we could only get separate entrance times. Getting lost on our way, we clarified directions with a local and ran, backpacks a-jiggling, to make our 8.45 timeslot.

Got there. Seconds to spare!

Just like the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan we went through airport-style security at the door and then rushed to the famed exhibit.

The first glimpse is arresting.

Among many ironies is that this version of David is indeed a Goliath. I’m confident that Michelangelo was entirely aware of this when sculpting his subject. Standing over five metres tall it’s inside a roped fence and so it’s impossible to stop beneath the marble colossus and feel fully shadowed.   

Immediately, I’m drawn to the massive hands and feet. David’s head is also immense and each of these, I’d suggest, indicates Michelangelo’s faith in human gifts. Communicated with Renaissance calm and intellect, the artist presents his subject with optimism and awe while reminding us of our potential for creating good.

Of note is the small genitalia which I reckon is emblematic of a modern, evolved masculinity. This is predicated on enlightened thoughtfulness that is freed from narrow constraints of sexual prowess. Michelangelo might be saying that regardless of David’s physical heroics we should look deeper for inspiration and ideals.

Most agree that David is presented in a theatrical moment: just as the youthful warrior has reached a momentous decision to go into battle against his larger foe. The statue weighs over six tonnes but emits a sense of almost celestial light, youthful beauty, and weightlessness.

Claire and I returned later to gaze again upon this mesmerising sculpture before continuing with our Florentine day.


Three Italian Beers


It’s late afternoon in Lake Como.

Claire and I are sitting on our second-floor balcony and in the cool twilight, we help ourselves to dreamy snatches of the water. As the mist settles, snowy mountain peaks fade into the bluish light of Switzerland.

We listen to our scenery, the breeze, and the folks below.

Birra Moretti’s mustachioed mascot makes my beer instantly recognizable. He’s patriarchal, encouraging in that European way, and timeless. He’s urging me to be my best beer-consuming self. Luigi Moretti launched the brewery in 1857.

Our initial Italian meal was a belated lunch at a bistro on Piazza San Giorgio. We both had variations upon lasagna as, wide-eyed, and happy, we gazed at the cobblestones, the church, and the black scooters, lined up like fast, rebellious smears.

Given this postcardy context how was the beer? Moretti’s a fruity lager; energetic and offering of infectious excitements. Mine is in a cooperative tumbler.

Of course, it was great. How could it not be?


Arriving by train in the Cinque Terre we had to yank our luggage up a cliff around sunset. It was nearly three-hundred uneven and ancient steps, clinging to the rock face.

We struggled past two (American) couples, securely dining and wining in a café, and these both remarked helpfully on how our physical chore appeared as if it, ‘Sucked.’

My philosophical question remains: Is it good to warrant a holiday beer? Are they to be earnt while travelling?

Either way, sitting on our lofty terrace I had a Peroni Red. I can’t recall an unwelcome coastal beer and this one certainly wasn’t.

We also drank in the view of the rolling Mediterranean where to the north the blinking lights were the Cinque Terre’s first village in Monterosso. We’d explore it in a day or so.

The ale is slightly darker than its more famous stablemate, Nastro Azzurro, but is flavoursome and feisty. The brewery was established in 1846 in Vigevano, just south of Milan. Its aroma and palate are fetching.

As we sipped and chatted, we heard the bells ring out from Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church.

Glenelg North

Back home and it’s the Sunday before work. I’ve a near-fatal case of post-holiday dreads.

Dr. Dan prescribes a medicinal excursion to his liquor emporium. A variation on our Mystery Pubs and Mystery Days, I come home with Mystery Drinks. I get beer and on occasion, something tentative and spiritual (alcoholic not holy) for Claire. It’s an opportune distraction.

Pirate Life’s Italiana lager catches my mourning eye. It’s brewed down at the Port, the Napoli of Adelaide, or not.

At 5.2% take caution after a few so you don’t get lippy with Nonna. If you did, I wouldn’t want to be you.

A zesty beer, I found Dean Martin in my glass, and it made me think of zig-zagging home after the opera at La Scala; birdsong by a Lake Como church; scampering along the platform to make our train to Pisa.


An Italian Arrival

I am shaving while characters rush in and out. It’s seven in the morning, and I have spent over thirty hours travelling.

Here I am in Milan Airport. In the men’s bathroom/restroom/toilet/euphemism.

Since disembarking all is going well. Through a large window I’ve already seen the jagged and snowy Alps.

A sludgy sea of shuffling people at passport control. I hear someone say, ‘Australians come this way.’ My eyes dart towards the voice and about three minutes later I exit via the non-EU, or third countries lane and charge the world’s biggest baggage carousel. It’s the size and shape of the Monza formula one circuit.

Luggage is dropping onto the belt and shortly after, thud. My bag! And it’s not damaged.

I now brush my teeth, and this feels fantastic too. Rinse, spit, go!

As always, early morning is the best time to land in a new country so the day and your adventure can begin together. While airports can be viewed merely as venues for transition, right now all about me is invested with wonder. Stretching out with golden expectation, our Italian trip’s in front of us.

I remain alert to the terminal’s minor dangers but my surging notion is that strangers are kind. My fears submerge. With the rush of passengers, I sense the richness of universal narratives. How many stories have compelled them to this airport?

I’m enjoying the exhilaration of arrival.

Later tonight, in our Lake Como apartment, the toll for my voyage will be extracted, brutally. When I collapse at dusk, the violence of modern travel will come for me with little mercy. Waking abruptly at 3am I’ll find myself in the bathroom checking the weather back home, just stopping before I open my work email.

But in the terminal my mind buzzes, and I compare everything: the Italian and English languages, the café menu, the manufacturer of the cistern. Look, there’s a bidet! These are enchanted curios in a bold, bright world.

Claire suggested our reunion for Exit 5 of Terminal 2. Given my first hour in Italy had gone well, I’m now over-confident as I tow my case to the meeting spot. See! Easy!

Outside’s brisk in Milano. There’s a stream of pedestrian traffic, and my eye’s especially caught by a white-suited man. He also wears white shoes. I think of Dean Martin. Carrying himself past the forecourt with relaxed confidence I wonder if he’s meeting someone here, too?

To my west is a bus stop and a constant line of vehicles siphons through it. The success of my morning makes me certain that from here Claire will emerge. A dot at first. Then her familiar brisk gait followed by her hair and face, and finally the smile I know so very well. I haven’t seen her since Friday evening. I’m sure she’s on the bus that’s just paused. I peer across the traffic. Where is she?

And then suddenly, Claire’s sunny voice is behind me, coming from the terminal.

‘Hey, you!’


Milano parkrun

I was an island in a lake of hugging and hollering and happy chaos, and the energy was catching.

I didn’t hear it, but Claire later told me a grab from, ‘The Final Countdown’ was blasted as we gathered. Given I was about to undertake the Milano parkrun its 1980’s bombast was probably a welcome supplement to the mise-en-scène.

By the start line was an Italian flag, and I joined the run briefing in English during which laminated maps were shared around. Unlike home there would be no defibrillator.

With a crescendo of noise, we were away! Fittingly, the initial dash was on cobblestones and these then trended to dirt with a high chance of puddles.

European parkrun time is 9am as opposed to the Australian start of 8am, largely I guess because during the northern winter it’s then still dark. Today’s idyllic with an invigorating air. Milano is famed for its windlessness; it’s the anti-Chicago. This pleases me.

Dominating the north of Lombardy’s central city, Park Nord extends over four municipalities. Our Uber out here was a Mercedes Benz Vito; it’s imposing black finish befitting this fashion capital. Milan seems a wealthy place with smartly dressed folks, stylish attractions, and high-end eateries. I’m yet to spy a K-Mart.

Around the back of my first circuit, I see that most Italian of sporting landmarks: a velodrome. It’s all whizzing blurs of lyrca and metal. I’ve seen very few cyclists in the city, probably given the narrow streets are bunged up with buses, cars, and trams. Being collected by an errant Fiat Panda can be nobody’s aspiration.

Moving past the fields of wild grass into the home straight, I jog through a grove of trees. Glancing at my old Swatch, I’m making reasonable time given we’ve both been crook with colds and I’m still shaking off jetlag. Being in Europe during our footy season I’m always a little surprised upon a weekend awakening that it’s half-time at the MCG. That’s an arresting symbol of our planet’s vastness.

One lap done and from the volunteers I hear lively Italian urgings and I’m electrified for these anonymous gestures. And there’s Claire waving, taking photos and calling out, ‘Go, Mickey Randall!’ How great to be unreservedly supported in this Saturday pursuit.

It’s both a blessing and a curse that I know what to expect on my second trip around.

I push on.

Although I’m about as competitive as lettuce there’s a healthy sense of rivalry in parkrun. I try to keep close to a guy in orange but can’t. The Patawalonga run in Glenelg appears to attract a wider variety of participants. Here, they’re all athletic and coolly confident.  

T-shirts are instructive texts and there’s a few about today. I spot a couple geezers in garb advertising Sussex’s Run Wednesdays and a white-bearded fellow with one announcing he competed in a 100k event (or at least paid his entry fee). As it’s bright yellow and obviously declares my Australian citizenship, I’m in my Singapore Sharks footy shirt. Did you know the Sharks host the world’s biggest Auskick programme?

Exhausted, I cross the line and find Claire. I’ve extended myself and am pleased. I’ve really enjoyed the various enthusiasms of the morning, and how these exist beyond language. I remain embarrassingly monolingual.

Fellow competitors help themselves to a complimentary drink that looks like cola. Curiosity urges me to claim one. It’s boiling and black and I wonder if it’s coffee which isn’t what I’d generally take after hard exercise. Sipping hesitantly, I discover it’s a sweet tea. Nearby is a plate of pastries.

Ahh, Italy.

During my run Claire spoke with a volunteer and of course he has a friend running a bar in Adelaide and I love this universal desire to locate connections.

Despite feeling lousy it’s the fifth best time of my brief parkrun career. Today, Milano hosts a compact but classy field with nearly two dozen runners getting around the five-kilometer course in under twenty minutes. I finish mid-field.

We head south through the park to the Metro and the lilac line. Duomo, mid-afternoon gelato, and the Last Supper await.


Max and I hung out in Aldinga

Glenelg? Mykonos? Venice Beach?


Port Willunga’s my favourite beach on the planet.

Sizeable sets of late-March waves roll in and it’s chilly when the first of these curling walls topples against our legs. The weekend straightens out in front of us. Max and I quickly tolerate the cold but then a rip drags us along the coast. I’m alarmed.

Max says, ‘We’re going north up the beach, aren’t we?’

‘Yes, we are, that’s right Buddy,’ I reply. ‘You’ve got a good sense of direction.’

‘I just sort of knew which way it was.’

Drying off on the dazzlingly white sand, we then set off towards the famed jetty ruins. I wonder how long until these are finally claimed by the wind, the sand and the water.

On the cusp of his thirteenth birthday, I remind Max that we were last by these wooden relics with his brother Alex. It was a few years’ ago on our way back from a Victor Harbor holiday. He recollects.

Plucking our way beneath the chalky cliffs, across the rocks and through the seaweed, we delve into our past. There’s talk of Bear Grylls. We know his documentaries well, used to discuss the narrative formula. Every Tuesday we’d watch one and have a home-barbequed burger.

I feel a pang.

‘Alex likes the ones set in the snow and ice, but I prefer those in jungles,’ Max says.

I propose, ‘Maybe we should watch some again, you know, for old times’ sake?’

Our weekend is about offerings and gentle explorations of our past, and our futures. As suggested by Claire, it’s a rite of passage, and I want Max to feel relaxed and loved. So far, Year 8 has been rough. I’m worried but hope together we can command our boat through the storm.

At the headland we turn around.


In the Aldinga pub, we’re perched at a tall table on high stools. It’s teeming with families, but we’re cocooned in a corner. In tribute to Bear we have burgers. A significant occasion, it washes over me like rain.

Back at our apartment we chat in the Balinese hut, all bamboo and blonde light. Max is invested and appreciative. The sky is smeared with the white dashes of screeching cockatoos. The sun’s now sinking, and it’s been a terrific afternoon. I’m thrilled.

My world shrinks to Max while I again try to open up his like a flower, encourage him to see the adult opportunities for travel, for work, for life. It’s both a privilege and a fearsome burden.


Sunday morning and we drive onto the wide, flat beach at Silver Sands. A sign demands our speed must be at walking pace and this suits me. I ease down our windows, let in the salty breeze. Invite in the quietening, deep sea.

There’s many joggers and dogs. Cars are sprinkled along the beach. I pull up and turn off the engine. We talk of New York, Paris, Salt Lake City and basketball. Max loves the NBA. Speaks the language fluently. He asks me for my all-time top 5 basketballers.

‘Michael Jordan.’ I think back and rattle them off. ‘Larry Bird. Kareem Abdul- Jabbar. Magic Johnson. Dr. J.’

‘Dr. J,’ Max repeats. He smiles. I do too.

This extends to a moment, a sharing, and we both silently acknowledge the cool of his name. I remember him from when I was Max’s age. A keen student of basketball history, he knows him too. Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving, was a star for Philadelphia in the 70’s and 80’s.

It’s just a name, but it hangs warmly in the beachy air, and we connect.


Within the weekend the heavens present as a comforting character in our story. The gentle blue atmosphere of late summer affirms, and like a wise old priest, encourages our conversations. The beaches, the dark-green vineyards, the twinkling ocean, all seem to be attending to our confessionals.

Packing the car, I’m suddenly awash in a tumble of loss, fear, and happiness. I pause and take a slow breath. Aldinga has been an escape while also a glimpse into the next decade.

I tremble and trust it looks promising.


Five Summery Delights

Beach House Café

A two-minute squirt towards Victor Harbor from our digs at the Bluff. This rickety eatery on the esplanade was bursting last Thursday with folks like us keen for the wood oven pizza or its slightly surprising culinary cousin, North Indian curry. The service was brisk yet relaxed and we inhaled our pizza.

It was fun dining.

The cafe hosts live music and there’s a history lesson as the walls are busy with mounted posters for the iconic acts that have played across the previous two decades, such as Mental As Anything and Ol 55.

Get in there soon to enjoy a Rogan Josh while listening to the Countdown classic, ‘Looking for an Echo.’ It’d be fantastic on a wintry Sunday.


Why aren’t there more novels about cricket?

With Test matches allotted five days there’s rich and natural narrative possibilities. I’ve read novels that mention the sport so was thrilled to learn of Willowman which promised a singular attention to the great game.

Inga Simpson’s recent paperback was on my holiday menu and while the plot and characterisation aren’t especially original, the poetic meditations upon batting, music and the patient craft of fashioning beauty are exquisite. Like this section on the main character and Test cricketer

Harrow was using the old Reader bat for the occasion, a deep divot worn in its face…It was yellowed, a few fine cracks in the face, but still beautiful. Some kind of magic at work that it didn’t really age. In the soft English sun, the bat was golden, containing all the hope and possibilities of the game.

I loved reading a chapter or two mid-afternoon, and then napping!

Soul Music

Since the turn of the century this British series has been offering its simple genius.

The producers at BBC Radio 4 take a piece of music and weave together the stories of about five people. The connection: how a particular song features in their lives and became the soundtrack for personal change. There’s the everyday, the tragic and the wryly comedic centred on the transformative power of music. It’s compelling storytelling and gives insight into some remarkable art.

Last Saturday night Claire and I dragged the beanbags out onto the back lawn and listened to episodes on Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’, U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and following a stroll around the block, John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’

I was inspired to play the live version from Rattle and Hum which features the Voices of Freedom choir and late in the song Bono and U2 allow them to take over. It’s spinetingling.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Darkly comedic, this is an essay on male friendship and the complex consequences of its failure. Set against the Irish Civil War we, like the main characters, Pádraic and Colm, are vulnerable to their island’s claustrophobia and agoraphobia. It’s a beautiful, terrible place.

It was unsettling and like all great cinema remained with me for the following days as I tried to reconcile its themes. Not for the squeamish, it also has much to say about mortality and art and sacrifice.

After we saw it Claire and I enjoyed exploring it at Patritti wines.

Pirate Life South Coast Pale Ale

Seeing this on tap I invariably feel a pulse of ale frisson. It occupies that select space I call occasion beers. Fresh and redolent of beachside beers gardens (deliberate plural for who only has one beer?) and gentle swimming bays, it’s an afternoon treat.

Once at Alberton watching Glenelg lose to Port the bar was serving a Pirate Life light beer called 0.9 (based on the alcoholic value). I instead wanted the 2007 grand final commemorative beer, Pirate Life 119 but none was available.

And with an incandescent appearance, the Pale Ale looks painterly in a glass as if Monet had captured it by a French field. Not a regular Friday cup, but one to mark a moment, like a festive luncheon.


Coober Pedy, at Dawn

Headlights like beacons in the leaden wet.

The engine’s both idling and roaring in the passive/aggressive way I associate with a Greyhound bus. Closing in, and the sight of it is evocative.

For me an interstate bus often prompts cinematic images of youthful dreams but also broken hearts. Making my way into the Coober Pedy morning I wonder about the passengers and their reasons for travel.

Above the windshield the destination says Alice Springs.

Minutes earlier I clicked the door of my Mud Hut motel room, eased onto St Nicholas Street and then veered north. Hutchinson Street is the main thoroughfare. I’m keen to explore.

It’s raining, and the day is lightening quickly. I’m almost a thousand kilometres nearer to the equator so the sun dashes up and down the sky more urgently, and with less languid theatre. Long, slanting solar routines belong in the sentimental south.

A sign directs worshippers towards the Underground Catholic Church of St Peter and St Paul. Its subterranean neighbours are an opal buyer and a backpackers’ hostel. I guess religious visitors pray for glistening gems to come to them before diving into a musty bunk.

John’s Pizza Bar then appears under the showering sky. My daybreak run is also initial research for Wednesday evening’s dinner. The building’s a low, forgettable rectangle and scurrying past I decide to seek a more distinctive local experience.

Above the red and blue Ampol servo a nightclub called Red Sands occupies the second story. I suspect the swingin’ hotspot’s no more, but I’m happy to be astonished. Playing cricket at Wudinna a frequent joke while fielding was, ‘What time’s the Minnipa disco start?’ The reply: What time can you get there?

With water already pooling by the pavement The Desert Cave materializes in the west. Above ground, it’s self-pleased and swaggering. I speculate if tourists are seduced into submission by its machismo. But the optimistic architectural view is that it’s illustrative of continuing faith in the community, a symbol declaring this town will endure, and we challenge you to discover why.

Lurching along by the kangaroo orphanage, the rain beats a pulsing tattoo on the tin roofs. Puddles and mud now smear the good earth. The desert isn’t as thirsty as I would’ve thought and like a surly child the ground almost seems to refuse the water.

Suddenly, a drive-in theatre! The huge steely screen hangs over the lunar landscape. Initially noting the absence of the iconic speaker poles I remember that cars now tune their radio to a low-powered FM signal. Shutting for a decade from the mid-80s, funds were then raised to digitise. An utter triumph, it’s the state’s only surviving example, and runs every Saturday from 8.30 until summer pushes everyone and their nostalgia back underground. I’d love to see Jaws there.

Turning back up the main road I pass a garage with its iron doors flung up. A couple of cars have already nosed into their respective bays. I hear a radio. Overhead lights press out into the lifting murk. There’s a mound of discarded tyres, and gluggy smells of oil and diesel cling thick.

Trotting homeward, a ute slides by me, its window down. I catch a glimpse of a goatee and lime-green vest as a miner teases me, ‘If you’ve got that much energy, then come and dig a hole!’


The following morning near the Opal Inn Salon Bar the same ute slows and the same miner hollers, ‘If you grab a shovel you won’t have to bother running!’

I laugh and encourage him. ‘Check with me again tomorrow!’


The 12.23 to Gawler Central, stopping all stations

In the dim belly of the Adelaide railway station a smiling, high vis attendant asked, ‘Are you good? Going to the show?’

The boys and I scurried past, en route to Platform 7. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘We’re off to Womma.’

I doubt he hears that often.

During winter of 2020 we completed the other three Adelaide rail journeys- Noarlunga, Outer Harbor and Belair. With the Gawler Rail Electrification Project (GREP) now done we had our final trip to make.

For train station aficionados this northerly line includes a maximum of 27 stops.

Along the soursobbing way we saw soccer near Kudla; a mattress factory; bemused sheep; Costco and we might’ve alighted if we’d suddenly required 47 kilos of chicken wings. The rail yards flashed by; long snakes of rolling stock paused outside the window.

I suspect the last time I went through Womma on the train was at 7 in the morning on the way to an Australia Day one-dayer in the 1980’s. We would’ve risen in the hot dark and en convoy of HQ Holdens, made our way to Gawler with chairs and eskies and towelling hats and gallons of Reef oil (skin cancer was yet to be discovered). Some in our unruly throng (you know who you are) likely had a couple discreet Southwarks in transit.

Lunch was in a shopping centre adjacent to the station. The boys all agreed that it was the best sushi they’d (or probably anybody’d) ever had in Gawler.

The return leg was express from Dry Creek and this is always welcome. We crawled through the lovely North Adelaide station which now houses a quiet cafe. We shared our carriage with people who seemed to be heading to the Show.

There were pylons; tall dormant chimneys; substations; eruptions of misplaced townhouses.

The project cost 842 million dollars although as near as I could sympathetically tell, Womma was still Womma.


Running up that Carrickalinga Hill

Claire and I trudge through the soft sand of the beach and then nurse a coffee at the village green. How daggily cool when from the barista’s van bursts, ‘The Pina Colada Song?’ Of course, I’m not into yoga but may have half a brain.

We’re in Carrickalinga with old friends. It’s Saturday morning and our day reaches out with electric possibility.

Planned equally with science and enthusiasm, my run’s to the Forktree Brewery and back to our accommodation. It’s my daily four kilometres. But up a hill.

How tough can it be?

Round, emerald knolls watch over Carrickalinga and making my way up the road a herd of sheep encourages my ambling by bleating in charitable ways. Last night’s pizza is now unwelcome ballast.

On the outskirts of town, a council election poster urges participation in this democratic event. Texas-sized utes and rattling 4WDs pass and some swerve away from me in vehicular acknowledgement of my ascent. Or not wishing to bloody their gleaming bull bars.

There’s several twists and the road’s undulating. Accustomed to the flat esplanade of Glenelg North, my thighs protest this topographical change to their jogging routine.

Finally, the brown tourist sign I’ve been seeking for excruciating minutes:

Forktree Brewery.

Despite being presently incapable of having a beer, I’ve never been so pleased to arrive at a brewery.

I’m soaked. My ears popped on the way up and my legs are so convinced of an alpine elevation that they expect a few twirling snowflakes.

A woman and her dog survey the beer garden. We exchange a few only-one-of-us-is-in-a-brewery words. With her hound marching her tree-ward she asks, ‘Where have you run from?’

Still in the carpark and puffing I reply, ‘Our holiday house back down the hill.’

She replies, ‘Awesome! Great job!’ Her husband appears with two pints. She’s an American but they live on Kangaroo Island. They both take a sip.

‘How’s the beer?’

‘Pretty good,’ they nod.

‘Lovely,’ I say, ‘We’re heading to Myponga later. Might go to the Smiling Samoyed Brewery.’ They both offer a glowing critique.

The brewery’s 151 metres above sea level. This might seem numerically unimpressive but having extracted a personal toll each of those demanding centimetres now generates a handsome reward.

Hands on hips, I drink in the wide vista up and down the Fleurieu coast. Gentle, green ranges. Sprawling white homes hugging the shore. A seaweedy tan smears the shallows and then the gulf deepens into a marine blue.

Tumbling down the hill. It’s almost controlled falling. Again, the vehicles are generous, and the sheep are softly supportive. A couple rotund blokes nod at me from a front lawn.

The cotton wool clouds loom as if they’re daubed on a God-sized canvas and although it’s mid-winter these pledge imminent awakening. Spring could almost be ready to say, ‘Boo!’

Our double story digs swim into sight and wondering what’s happening inside with Claire, my friends, and the boys, their past thirty minutes is unveiled: toast, hairdryers, and teenagers still in bunks.

I crunch up the gravel driveway.


Running along the Yarra

It’s breakfast time in Melbourne.

Traversing Flinders Street, I jog by the Sea Life Aquarium and make my way through Enterprize Park. I later learn it’s where the first European settlers arrived in 1835. My boys, Alex and Max, are asleep upstairs in our apartment. We’re here for a weekend of footy and exploration.

It’s still and crisp. A cloudless winter morning in this elegant city.

I cut across an empty Queens Bridge Street and step cautiously over the bumpy cobblestones of Banana Alley. I imagine the Yarra was once vital to the economic life of Melbourne. I guess its value today is mostly ornamental. Some rowers are stretching out on the coffee-coloured surface.

There’s buried, industrial rumblings from Flinders Street Station. I press on.

Under the Princes Bridge an Asian man is fishing. Two lines are dancing on the drink. I wonder what he might be after. If the concrete boots aren’t too heavy, he could land a Ganglands War victim.

Progressing along Flinders Walk I pass a gin bar, Junipalooza, which confirms that ‘looza’ is an overused suffix. Has our planet reached peak gin yet? Will Bundy ever be world dominant? No, I don’t think so.

Melbourne’s cityscape is a marvel. Yesterday, as we headed to the MCG for our midday tour Alex remarked to Max that he found the metropolis, ‘architecturally interesting.’ This became a discussion and I’m pleased they express curiosity about these things.

Entering the space of Birrarung Marr I’m struck by birdsong and the accompanying aural surprise in what’s otherwise a vast built environment. It’s refreshing. And now there’s a bicycle repair station between me and the river! What a simple yet generous gesture and I hope the vandals respect it. It’s symbolic of the petit accommodations ubiquitously afforded by Melbourne.

Rod Laver and John Cain Arenas swim into view. In 1988 some Kapunda boys and I left the MCG after a day-nighter. I wanted to watch Allan Border bat but was at the loo in the stadium’s bowels when he came and went for a first-ball duck. Like a scene from a Russian documentary, we later saw hundreds of workers toiling away under floodlights to finish the Tennis Centre in time for the Australian Open.

My half-way point is the Swan Street Bridge, so I nudge along it and head home on the other bank.

Boathouse Drive is quietly industrious with relaxed, flush-looking folk carrying out their oars and boats. They seem to be enjoying the leisurely rhythms of their exercise routine. A barbecue sizzles away on a rowing club balcony.

Wearing a New York marathon t-shirt, a jogger is alongside me. I smile and vow to also buy a similar souvenir from eBay. He then propels past me as if I’m a statue. Disappearing like the roadrunner, I note that he has an athletes’ calves. I reconsider. Perhaps the shirt is authentic.

Southbank is tranquil apart from scattered patrons hunched over lattes and the (now dismembered) Age. Late yesterday when I ran along the river the restaurants were all busy with enthusiastic punters. The emerging trend for Friday nuptials continuing, a large wedding party promenaded past me, with knots of impossibly prosperous-looking couples off to the reception. There were also some boisterous lunches ambling into what sounded distinctly like hour number four. I doubt that I’ve seen any of the participants at this bright, embryonic stage of morning.

Near home I by-pass two mature women waiting for a taxi. Even at my distance I catch a gust of their perfume. It’s from the Chemist Warehouse and surely named Ski Field (for Seniors).

The apartment elevator takes me upstairs.


The Wedding of Nugg and Loz

Last October the Kimba crew were in a Yorke Peninsula winery but it was closing early because of a wedding reception. The rustic setting was decorated in bright colours and a large sign announced the nuptials of Nugg and Loz. We speculated on the nature of the father of the bride speech over shiraz and a charcuterie , Chaka Chan platter. It was a funny lunch.

Any resemblance to persons living or otherwise is tremendous.


Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Nugg and Loz’s wedding. I’m proud to be giving this father of the bride speech. Don’t you agree that what we saw earlier was a moving and beautiful ceremony?  

I want to start by thanking everyone for coming here to the reception tonight at the Currabunga/Nungeedowner/St Frumentius Cricket Club. Even though the windows were all stolen yesterday I don’t think it’s too cold in here at all. I just heard that Fred’ll be back soon with two blankets so that’ll help. It’s lovely here, though, isn’t it? Well, at least it is now that the blizzard is over.

A big thanks as well to everyone who’s assisted with the catering. I’m confident when I say that these are the finest egg and brussel sprout sandwiches that’ve ever been served at a wedding.

Today, December 15, is also Sam the butcher’s birthday. Sam grew up a long, long way from here in Cairns and we learnt ukulele together as kids. Although he’s never visited here and as near as I can tell none of you has heard of him, I thought it important to mark this date.

As you can see, Loz or Lauren as her mother and me and Uncle Dennis named her, inherited her stunning looks from her mother, definitely not me.

You’ve become a strong, independent woman. We’re all so proud of you Loz and especially your decision to start your own plumbing business. It’s the finest plumbing business in Currabunga. It might be the only plumbing business in Currabunga, but I’ll stand by these words.

We also know that deciding to run your own plumbing business without a vehicle is challenging. We’ve all seen you out on your bicycle riding around town, carrying broken toilets and washing machines and kitchen sinks under your right arm as you steer your wobbling bike with your left. This is surely a sign of your determination, Loz.

Now to Jayden or Nugg as everyone here knows you. Loz’s mother Beryl and I have long had our eye on you as a very talented young man. Once I first noticed you as a twelve-year-old when you came 5th in the fielding trophy for the Currabunga/Nungeedowner/St Frumentius Cricket Club Under 10’s, I knew you’d be a leader in our town. Maybe one day you’ll tell me your secret. I was never much of a cricketer. I guess it doesn’t help that I didn’t learn to swim.

I’m not a man of endless words; honestly, I’m more comfortable playing a ukulele to my pet goats around the woodshed, but I do want to say that Jane, sorry, Loz, has been the light of my life.

Now, a little birdie told me that these two newlyweds have planned a very exciting honeymoon. Tomorrow Nugg and Loz are leaving the Currabunga/Nungeedowner/St Frumentius Cricket Club and cycling forty minutes east to achieve their life-long dream. And do I hear you ask where are they going? Yes, you guessed it! To Jones Valley and its world-famous Dishwasher Museum.

And now, as I end this father of the bride speech, I’d like to raise a toast to my daughter and son-in-law. I wish the two of you the very best in the years ahead.

To Nugg and Loz and a beautiful future.


To Alex and Max, on our Melbourne Trip

Hello there boys

There’s endless excitement in the alarm buzzing at 4.15, when dawn is hours away, and with surprise and shared adventure, a holiday stretches out before us. This trip was special. It was our first time on a plane for years and we’d planned it together.

By mid-morning when we sat down to a late breakfast on Degraves Street we’d taken an Uber, caught a plane, hopped on the express Skybus, and with luggage dragging behind, had ambled from Southern Cross Station to our apartment. Perhaps to complete the set we should’ve each ridden a unicycle to the footy.

Much of this now appears in my mind like a private film screening. In distinct scenes I can see you both walking by the Yarra and through Carlton Gardens to the museum and along Jolimont Road to the MCG. You’re chatting constantly about everything and anything. As brothers you’re robust and occasionally fierce, but this is what I’d long hoped for and imagined. These pictures are already precious and timeless.

At Australia’s museum of screen culture, ACMI, many of the displays dated from before you were born but you both entered this historical world with enthusiasm. I love your interest in culture and when you jumped in the box dedicated to the music show Countdown Alex immediately yelled, ‘Take a photo, take a photo!’ You knew this was important and so made a bid to me.

Just after lunch on Saturday we were on Swan Street in Richmond gawping through salesrooms at the luxury cars. We saw Lamborghinis, Ferraris and finally, a Rolls Royce Ghost. Its price tag featured, in smallish black print: $1,100,000. We were startled. Max provided a running commentary on all the makes and models while around us, puffer-jacketed men sipped lattes and signed on the dotted line. It was fun.

I loved zipping through the Sunday brunch crowd in the Queen Victoria Markets as you both ate a chocolate croissant (the breakfast of champions). Outside it teemed down in typically Melbourne style as our nostrils were overpowered by fresh mullet and Coffin Bay oysters.

After examining clothes and books we explored a movie poster stall and flicking through the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson sections you both said, ‘How about this one, Dad?’ or ‘You like this one, don’t you?’ I still can’t believe there was no Lebowski.

A highlight was the IMAX cinema at the museum. We’d not all been together at a film for ages – the last time was probably something from the Marvel universe. We were right at the front and the screen was the size of a couple megalodons. It was the 3D documentary, Antarctica and we had on our funny black glasses. It was narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, which Max found amusing to say repeatedly and as the film began, he reached out his hand and grabbed at the air while whispering, ‘Dad I can touch the words of the credits.’

There were funny moments across the weekend, and these then bobbed up and were giggled at again and again. On Friday night at the Docklands match three Bulldogs defenders all flew for a mark and all three touched it before the umpire blew his whistle and awarded it. I said, ‘I don’t think marking should be a group assignment’ and you laughed.

Then there was the guy at Saturday’s MCG game in the row in front of us who liked to chat and chat and chat about Richmond and Geelong and North Melbourne and then North Melbourne. And after the final siren in the 60,000-throng pressing along Daniher Way, he eyed me again and promptly took up where he’d left. After Alex said, ‘Dad, did you enjoy that convo?’ I’m quite surprised that he’s not rung.

Throughout our days there was unrelenting action and playfighting and laughter. It was enchanted. On each morning, I’d come up the elevator all sweaty from my run along the Yarra, gently turn the key and creep inside. Edging open your bedroom door, I’d glimpse in.

You were both still asleep.





Shakespeare drinks at the Railway Hotel

Old mate Shakespeare once typed on a Friday just before knocking off for the week and heading to the Railway pub for Happy Hour that, ‘April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.’ It was a pretty lonely beer that night for Bill, largely as the railway was yet to be discovered by some Scottish git in the Industrial Revolution.

But he was right in that April with its public holidays and autumnal glow is, as Richie Benaud may have said, a very fine month indeed.

April 10 is our anniversary (same day every year at it neatly turns out) and we celebrated with a Sunday picnic at Golding Wines near Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills. In this photo you can see how Gen X is largely yet to master the selfy.
An audio highlight was purchasing this vinyl gem, complete with dark vignettes of life on the Californian coast. On the title track they ask the question most of us have at one time asked, ‘Who is the gaucho, amigo?/Why is he standing in your spangled leather poncho/And your elevator shoes?’
On an infrequent Saturday when the air is still and the sky promises a spectacular sunset Claire and I will stroll down to the esplanade and spend a quiet hour and drink in the transition from day to twinkling velvety cloak. We then rush home to watch the smug twits on Escape to the Country.
Hobart’s MONA is confronting and demands you look at the world from a curious and often fractured perspective. This tunnel walk is accompanied by a weird soundtrack that plays tricks on your ears.
I’ve always wanted a photo of my left ear and the distant, fetching city of Hobart. Thanks to Claire, Mount Wellington and our somewhat cursed e-bike excursion, this small dream of a Kapunda boy came true.
And as a well-known ale aficionado Claire also had a dream in which she found a lager keg in the beer garden of a funky Tassie pub that was named after her family. Thanks to the New Sydney for coordinating this and providing hope and joy to one eager South Aussie.
I wonder if the Queen finds seeing her name all over the joint on buildings, cruise ships, airport terminals etc a bit tiresome? I now know it’s fun thanks to Claire’s impeccable research. In a ridiculous display of monstrous ego and ill-invested cash I’m going to return to this place in the south of Tassie five times a year.

Three Tassie Experiences

Mount Wellington by bike

At 4,170 feet above Hobart there’s an apparent temperature of two degrees. I’m an incurable under-dresser so am in shorts. It’s crisp. It’s Saturday.

We’re on Pinnacle Road, which has (predictably) taken us to the top of Mount Wellington. The city is below the cloudy curtain. Claire and I have come up in a bus.

As is widely known as soon as a bus driver has a functioning microphone and fondness for narrative, they become a coach captain (not always but often). This occurs.

Our hire e-bikes are onboard too. We are riding down the mountain.

Stepping out in the gusty cold being blown off the mountain seems most probable. Forever lost in a Tasmanian gully. Later discovered like an antipodean version of the Tolland Man. I later learn that winds have been clocked up here at 200 kilometres per hour.

On the way up we passed the Fern Tree Tavern which describes itself as, ‘your loungeroom on the mountain.’ This seems a long time ago. We could be in there now with something warm and affirming while we laugh about the mad types in the deathly outdoors.

Halfway down we pause at the Lost Freight Café. It is a shipping container. On chairs in the welcome sun Claire and I have lunch and then coffee and cake. A cluster of cyclists goes by.

Neither of us pedal. Our fingers and wrists throb as the brakes are squeezed continuously as a life-support strategy. It’s not cycling but loosely controlled falling. Last June we braved the Riesling Trail, and it was shared and peaceful and leisurely. This is a private hell of cold, roadkill, and metaphysical fear. Our descent is indecent. Our trip is twenty-six kilometres.

Like much in life such as exercise, work, and parenting this is only appreciated in retrospect, when the sense of achievement emerges, bruised, from the difficulty of the undertaking. I’m glad we did it.

Down on the flat we whizz about the CBD and out to Sandy Bay and chain up our bikes outside the Hope and Anchor only to lean on the door and learn that the pub is shut for Easter.

Returning our wheels, we debrief in The Whaler on Salamanca Place. It’s snug inside and a golden light bathes us and the ancient, maritime bar.

Beach fire

From our wooden deck on Police Point we look east. I see a bumpy lawn, a rivulet, a tide endlessly drifting in and out. In the distance is Kangaroo Bay.

Between grass and sand is a fireplace. It is all rickety concrete bricks and rusty iron.

Nightly we feed it pine logs and these are swiftly devoured. These are not like the red gum and mallee roots we burn at home. We gaze out over the dusky sea and enjoy the quiet.

Our conversation mingles with water, sand, sky, fire. We look at the twinkling sweep of the Milky Way and speak of the print on our wall back home which features the entire poem, ‘Suburban Lovers’ by Bruce Dawe. It opens with one of my favourite lines, ‘stars now have flown up out of the east.’


Claire is keen to use the kayak. Because of the strong wind a lunchtime attempt is abandoned. The canoe stays on the grassy bank.

On Saturday we saunter about Geeveston and make an unsuccessful quest to spot a platypus. We have a drink outside at the café called The Bear Went Over The Mountain before returning, for the final time, to our seaside abode.

There’s a quick frenzy of activity as I build the fire and sort a few things for our barbeque. I wonder where Claire is and call out. Her phone remains on the lounge.

I am lugging pine logs and then dispersing firelighters when shadowy movement on the still bay catches my eye.

A kayak swims into shot. It’s Claire.

The snaking kayak pushes into the rivulet by our fireplace. It’s a lovely and charming moment.

She stays in the canoe. The fire crackles and smoke phantoms about me. I stand on the bank. We chat.

Claire eases away into the glassy, darkening beyond.


Three Tassie Hikes

Mount Field

Sunlight dapples onto the paths. Ferns are abundant and calming. Moss spreads over logs and rocks.

Wildlife is invisible (I assume) despite the voluminous incidence of roadkill. We see no living creatures by or on the road as we drive 800 kilometres across our holiday.

Claire and I enjoy Russell Falls and Junnee Forest. Autumn means the falls are a trickle. These will gush and tumble in winter. The canopy is arresting and invites gratitude. Wood scents exaggerate our healthiness and reinforce the idea that being in nature is therapeutic.

The early forecast suggests snow flurries and a top of six but it’s mild and fine and prettily cloudy, not Northern European gloomy.

Toadstools dot about, hiding in undergrowth. Massive fallen trees punctuate our progress and remind us that this is not a static museum but often a theatre of sudden and colossal action.

We hike inside our cocoon and the walking itself dissolves as the people and places of our conversation loom and disappear. I think this is how it should go.

I encourage Claire up the final wooden steps of our six-kilometre hike and we return to our MG hire car. MG originally stood for Morris Garages (in Oxford) but this debut experience would instead suggest that driving one is Mostly Grim.


On the drive home we buy strawberries.

Tuhane Adventures

To the north of Rosehaven-lookalike, Geeveston, we tread the paths around the park and admire the Huon pine trees.

I find myself accompanying my wife along the 619 metre-length of the Airwalk. How did this happen? It’s fifty metres above the Huon River. The website suggests-

‘The full return journey takes about 50 minutes – more if you stop for photographs, spot birdlife, or pause to enjoy the clean, fresh scents of the forest.’ For you I now editorialise this- ‘Or about ten minutes if you’re rushing in terror with eyes frozen on your clumsy feet, too petrified to look out, lest you fly off the bridge to your messy doom.’

As we near completion of the elevated circuit Claire ventures onto the cantilever section. I don’t.

We see a clueless couple with a dog. The dog is also motionless with terror. I think it cruel. Dogs like being in the sky as much as the emu.

On our way around the adventure park, we talk of the pioneers and their lonely wives, the indigenous lives, the brutal and entitled English colonisation. We then talk about hot chips.

We finish with the swinging bridges and these span one hundred metres across the Huon and sixty wobbling metres over the Picton. For once I’m less scared than Claire. It’s still a height issue but I’d prefer to plummet into icy water than onto the merciless, unforgiving ground.


We constantly wrestle with the car radio. Hobart is home to some untreatably dreadful pop stations and Triple J appears to be especially combative, so we go with Classic FM, and this offers the sedative strings of Vivaldi.

Cockle Creek

Meandering drive down to Australia’s southernmost point. It’s always exciting to be geographically extreme.

We venture past the unspoilt beaches of Recherche Bay. In Tassie, there is no hurtling along. The winding roads make driving a demanding science and not a leisurely art.

Claire visits the Cockle Creek Cemetery (happily not permanently) while I sit on a large stone and the sun washes over me.

A gaggle of loud, euphoric youth finish their week-long hike. I don’t share their exuberance and announce to Claire over our lunch that, ‘their sense of accomplishment and vitality are nauseating.’ I’m not entirely joking. We munch our sandwiches.

The Fishers Point trail (trial) is two hours return, and a four-kilometre return trip, allegedly. As advised by the small sign, we, ‘consider tides and coastal conditions before undertaking this walk, as sections of beach may be restric​ted during high tides.​’

We then read this: From the whale sculpture carpark, it’s an easy (I call bullshit) coastal walk through heathland and offers spectacular views to distant Adamsons Peak, Southern Ranges, Bruny Island, and the Southern Ocean.

Along the way cruelly camouflaged signage means we scramble over endless rocky stretches, scaring and scarring lizards and our ankles.

Throughout, the sky is a cathedral with variety of cloud shapes and hues painting the friendly blue canvas. The beaches are decorated with driftwood and beautiful shells. Claire pockets a couple of these.

As South Australians we’re unaccustomed to trees growing right on the beach unless these are stinky mangroves. These seem to belong in the tropics and not the bottom of our world.

At Fishers Point, we explore the ruins of the 1843 pilot station and lighthouse.

A simple wooden cross at the point. Dedicated to Chris Reid. There’s also a smashed TV. Probably because the owner couldn’t watch footy on the beach due to a fatal if predictable lack of electricity.

Claire places a rock on the cairn.

On our return the directional signage, previously hidden, is now like Vegas neon. We can see exactly how to cut through the bush and when to tramp along the sand.


A few years’ back Triple J erected an ironic billboard just south of Dover and it’s still there. It perfectly captures the stereotype of their uni-student listenership.