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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.



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Running up that Carrackalinga 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 Carrackalinga 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 Carrackalinga 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thanks.

Dad

xx

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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.
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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.’

Kayak

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.

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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.

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Three Hobart Pubs

Preachers

Strolling home to St Ives after submerging ourselves in sex, death, and repulsion at MONA we went up hilly Montpelier Retreat where some tempting music swam into earshot. Not a recognisable song but a tune curious and indicative of youth and a vibrant pub.

And it was!

The beer garden is set on a typical Hobart tilt and is jammed with tables and stools and a bus. Yes, a bus that serves as a playground for the kids and dining snug for the bigger kids. There’s a beanie on most heads and most heads have a burger and chips in front of them.

I get a glass of red for Claire and the barman persuades me out of a lager and into a local ale. Again, the wisdom of strangers has prevailed, and back outside and supping on my cup, I say a silent prayer to the beardy youth who served me. It’s a fine ale.

The chatter weaves around the music. A catchy song is playing. Claire says, ‘I like this one. Let’s find out what it is!’

Neither of us has Shazam or a music identification app so the race is on. With a traditional song structure, we’re heading towards the final chorus! Quick. The little wheel is spinning on my phone screen. Ding! Done.

I point it towards the speakers under the veranda. After a few moments, bingo! It’s an indie band from Florida called Flipturn and the tune is ‘Vanilla.’ It mightn’t be a song for the ages, but it’s certainly contextual and added to our playlist as a sonic souvenir will always evoke the lovely late afternoon visit we made to a fun Hobart pub called Preachers.

New Sydney

Collecting a hire car on Easter Sunday we drove to Richmond which seemed to be a petite version of touristy Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills and performing a similar role for Hobart. We explored it and two animal-themed Coal Valley wineries in Every Man and His Dog which was rustic, and Frogmore Creek all dazzling and stylish if maybe just a little too self-pleased.

Centrally located on Bathurst Street, the New Sydney is ancient and well-loved, like a couch from your childhood. There’s a thin beer garden that matches the pub’s grungy ambience.

Curious and dotty stuff lines the walls and shelves. There’s a collage of license plates, mostly from American states which was probably interesting once but is now somewhat cliched like a horse walking into the pub and the bartender saying, ‘Oh, why the long face?’ Of course, one license plate, probably from Alabama urges, ‘Run, Forrest, run!’

The light is fading and a young bloke gets the fire going. From the mantlepiece two hefty candles emit an orangey glow. He’s a skilled firestarter and heaves on an enormous log. The fireplace could double as a garage for a Smartcar. Down here in Tassie they know about wood.

Huddling about the crackling combustion, I scan the bar. It’s not a footy or a betting establishment. It’s just a pub that attracts folks who’ve decided on a late Sunday afternoon as the cold rises from the blackening streets that this is a perfect place for company and warmth.

Hope and Anchor

Following a drizzly afternoon in Port Arthur we push open the darkened door to a CBD pub claiming to be the country’s oldest continuously licensed boozer. The dining room is busy, and the fire’s ablaze in the front bar, so we plonk down in two old armchairs within comfy range of the flames.

As expected in an antique town the walls are festooned with memorabilia that speaks to its varied pasts and below the TV is a set of enormous, tatty bellows. British and brown hues dominate, and it doesn’t need Tony Robinson from Time Team to confirm it dates from 1807. I order an XPA while Claire’s request for a port is met with difficulty despite the town’s latitude of 42.8794° S which one might expect drives increased demand for fortified gargle.

I glance in the beer garden and it’s murky and barren, although it might appeal more in January. Back in I pause by the wood-panelling at a Moulin Rouge-like print with female posteriors which I’m sure was rousing for 1920’s Parisians. Above the fireplace a large deer head also disapproves. He’s not changing his mind.

Again, there’s no shiny or jangly entertainments on offer so people must make do with the company they bring or the company they find or introspection.

So we do.

2

Good Friday in Battery Point

Arthur Circus in the heart of Battery Point (no, that’s Claire; Arthur Circus is the location)

Disembarking at our St Ives apartment late on Easter Thursday I decide as I’ve now run 67 consecutive days that this should continue. It matters not that we’re now in another state. So, in the Good Friday morning stillness I jog south on the Sandy Bay Road.

There’s a trickle of traffic and I pass the Doctor Syntax pub: solemn and grey and vaguely medieval. I love that there’s a comic figure, British thoroughbred, play and rock album all named for this medical and grammatical character. Easing down the footpath I vow that we’ll invest an hour late one Easter afternoon. The roadside signage promises all manner of pubby treats. There’s a beer garden too.

Further along is the Sandy Bay bakery with thickening knots of folk on the street, all poised with lattes and brioche things. I pick my way past.

Then I turn off Sandy Bay Road and steer towards the water and Errol Flynn Reserve. Named for the celebrated 1930’s Hollywood star who was born in Hobart, the reserve is neither swashbuckling nor braggadocious. It’s surprisingly modest and utterly lacking in Freudian imagery.

A whale blubber pot in Salamanca Place; yum.

The hushed streets and handsome weatherboard homes and benign, flat river remind me of the play for voices, Under Milkwood and I wonder, slogging along, about Captain Cat, Nogood Boyo and Mr. Mog Edwards, those most magnificent creations of Dylan Thomas. I recall the beginning-

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea

With the Hobart atmosphere resting gently on the bay, I steal across the Royal Yacht club of Tasmania carpark towards the Derwent Sailing Squadron. Many 4WD’s have nosed their broad beaks into the spaces although I spot no sailors on the balcony. Dry-docked craft hang about like timber phantoms.

My destination is the Wrest Point casino, defined by its dire 70’s concrete tower reminiscent of Glenelg’s Revolving restaurant, itself for some time now an empty, hideous blob. If nothing else Hobart’s casino seems persistent. I nod at it. I’m rarely a casino patron but there used to be an excitement in visiting one. Now it seems to me that there’s a sharper sense of occasion popping down the servo Sunday evening for a block of fruit ‘n’ nut.

Completing a U-turn, I’m now on a dirt coastal path with a curmudgeonly sign forbidding dogs. Why escapes me and I then encounter a pair of happily defiant owners and their snouting hounds. People and Hounds- 1, Authorities- 0.

In a playground I pass a ruddy-cheeked couple with a toddler, all surging towards a stationary swing, their worlds necessarily shrunk. Puffa-jackets, flat whites, and singular smiles. They’re having a very good Friday.

Kelly’s Steps leading into Salamanca Place

Swinging into Napoleon Street and as promised by the motel receptionist I confront a hilly challenge. With nothing like it in pancake Glenelg, I tiptoe up its sharp tarmac, my calves pinging like a submarine radar. The sunlight bends in across me with kindly promise and assists my ascent.

Rumbling up the curiously named Trumpeter Street the sail-white and seafaring-blue façade of the Shipwright Arms gladdens me as I drift past. It’s inviting and stately but there’s an abandoned rum can by its front door. What should I expect at a nautical pub in this most nautical town? I promise an hour in its lounge-room like front bar by week’s end (gee, our week’s fast filling up).

Homeward bound through Battery Point, noted bakery Jackson and McRoss sits invitingly on the curb, all close and confident, like many Hobart frontages, as if they’ve been plonked there by the road, direct from London. It’s prosperous and caffeinated and sticky-bunned beneath its green sign. For these peoples it’s already a good Friday.

Drippy-browed and clingy-shirted in the motel foyer I poke the elevator button. Our MONA ferry departs in an hour.

Your correspondent’s beer in the Shipwrights Arms
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Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club

Beneath the trees I see a rickety wooden stand, and a row of old couches.

Pumping music floods across the lush outfield. It’s jazz/techno/funk/fusion with an accompanying saxophonist. He’s slight, sporting a pork pie hat and dwarfed by black speakers on tall tripods. Previously living next door, he returns annually to provide the soundtrack. It’s the strangest broadcast I’ve heard at a cricket match.

After a while my ears and eyes accept these peculiarly arranged nuptials and welcome the enhanced festivity.

Ladies Day at the Ashbourne Cricket Club is underway.

Thirty-odd women (the hyphen’s crucial here) are at six long tables on the long off boundary, affably ignoring the sporting action. Now, does Ladies Day carry a possessive apostrophe? Do they own it or is this adjectival? Which better illustrates their experience? My fear is that the women do most of the work for their own day, but then I’m assured the males began preparations in the kitchen around dawn.

Along with its pocket-sized community the oval’s nestled in an attractive valley at the confluence of Bull Creek and Finniss River. It’s just up from the church and the Greenman Inn. We’re between Strathalbyn and Willunga, and the Mount Lofty Ranges sits right there to our immediate west.

At the 2016 census this hamlet recorded a population of 261 yet fields two senior teams and a junior side. Adelaide Oval’s soil was originally sourced in Ashbourne, and further elevates the celebrated status of the club.

The cricket itself is almost apologetic with looping deliveries, batting which prods towards the cherry rather than bludgeons it and fielding that’s a tragi-comic mix of purposeful and accidental. The infield appears impenetrably spongy. It’s like underwater cricket. The scoring shots seem to be sixes and lofted fours but even these are like fluky pitching wedges from high handicappers. Instead of a Kookaburra they could be using foam bats and a nerf ball.

Just up from the lone saxophonist there’s an outdoor bar so I ask the chap in charge, ‘What’s the score?’

Fishing about in an esky he replies, ‘Langhorne Creek is 7/70 after 35 overs.’

‘40 overs a side? You shouldn’t have many to chase down.’

He laughs. ‘It’s B grade cricket. No guarantees.’

Indeed. I was in a Kapunda side that was rolled for about 35 against Riverton. But they only got the runs with nine down. Fonz, a team-mate in Kimba, played in a country carnival team that was knocked over for two.

By contrast I later learn that in October 1954 Ashbourne icon H.R. Meyer took 6/65 against Langhorne Creek.

He was 69 years old.

A late-innings six is skied into the foxy mid-wicket scrub and melancholy minutes follow. The musician continues, as U2 sang, to ‘breathe’ into his saxophone. Brows are furrowed and the fielders stomp about in the undergrowth. At the Ladies Day tables much wine is downed, obliviously, before the ball is hoiked back at the wicket, finally.

Lunch is then served with a handful of deliveries remaining in the visitors’ innings and the amassed ladies begin to file towards the clubrooms. I hope they enjoy their chicken and (tossed) salad.

Suddenly, a midwicket slog at us under the trees. The barman (and likely OHS&W officer) yells, ‘Watch out!’ But I can’t see for the canopy. The ladies remaining put their hands over their glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and not their heads in an impulsive display of their true personal priorities. On the rope a fielder snatches at the ball. He turfs it. Blokes behind the bar shake their capped bonces, with one suggesting he has the ‘best hands in the club.’ The ball dribbles over the boundary.

Ladies Day and the resident saxophonist continue. I know none of the players, spectators, or officials but there’s been rejuvenation in seeing their shared enterprise, even for twenty wistful and nostalgic minutes.

We hop in the car. We’ve a winery appointment.

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Pub Review: Greenman Inn, Ashbourne

Often seen as a carved ornamentation on churches, the Green Man motif originated in Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and Byzantine cultures. Nowadays, there are countless British boozers named for The Green Man, and it’s the name of a tranquil Fleurieu pub snuggled between Willunga and Strathalbyn.

We’d never been, and lunch is at noon. Claire’s arranged this, as part of a magnificent day’s excursion.

A roomy bar. It drinks in the golden afternoon light. A moment passes but then the absences announce themselves: no screens, no music, no pokies a-janglin’, no incessant bed of horse-racing babble.

It’s the front bar as traditionally experienced: a place to talk and imbibe and be among others, and this communal quiet can be a rarity. The bombardment upon our ears now equals the manufactured and sustained assault on our eyes.

Outdoors is a verdant municipal park with lawns both broad and uncluttered. There are front, side, and rear verandas, then out the back a paved patio, and finally an elevated expanse next to the remaining wall of a ruin. We could claim any of these painterly places but find our table beneath a tree. At once it’s a private room and offering a panorama of the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges.

The Greenman’s an acoustic haven.

Pub lunch menu. Lovely. Here we go. Order burger. Easy. But it comes with both pineapple and beetroot.

And here’s my reaction to this.

In recent years I’ve increasing affection for beetroot and decreasing tolerance for pineapple. I think these are connected. Although, the latter is cultural not epicurean with a possible factor being the PM absconding to Hawaii that summer as his country burnt. Beetroot and pineapple can’t cohabitate, so I ask for the omission of Golden Circle’s finest (alleged) fruit ring.

Of course, everything’s a political determination, especially the purposeful denial of pineapple.

Behind us is a soccer pitch-sized carpark. In a triumph of gravelly multi-tasking, it’s shared by the pub and Eastern Fleurieu School (enrolment: 26 pupils). This utilitarian concept continues to the north where pine trees guard the community church. Nearby is a table tennis club (meeting most Tuesdays). Leather clad and genderless motorcyclists stop by the road-side stall which with quiet trust offers:

Roses- $5

Flowers- $2

Plants- $2.

Our lunch is unhurried, as all lunches should be. Other diners drift by and smear our green palette with denim and cheesecloth. The fire truck roars past like a throaty, lumbering quadruped. A quarter hour later it returns. I wonder about the causative combustion, once errant, now extinguished.

While neither Claire nor I love our meals the context compensates. For me lunch is only ever vaguely concerned with food; it’s simply a pretext to conversation. A plate of high-end grub (read: microscopic morsels with daubed jus) reveals me as akin to a Eurovision-enthusiast studying musicology at Oxbridge.

With the necessity of a second beer, I move from birdsong to bar and the auditory momentum is unbroken. A component of any lunching encounter, today’s musical score is sublime, a marriage of nature and sympathetic human murmuring. Walking back to Claire and our table, I take in the garden scenery, pleased that my footfalls are silent upon the compliant grass.

A wealth of compulsions can take us to the pub and once there, assorted attractions might bewitch and keep us. At the Greenman Inn in Ashbourne it’s the aural sanctuary.

Treat your ears soon.

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Dawn in Dubai Airport

Early morning.

My favourite time of day as it’s when I’m best aware of my enormous fortune and the garden of wonder that’s you. But I’ve not had one like this before.

Generically, Dubai airport is familiar, and the air is warm and cocooned. There’s buzz and privilege as well as some thrilling strangeness. Just as there should be when travelling.

We saunter about this recognisable and vaguely indecipherable place before claiming a table in Costa Coffee. I feel the delirium of little sleep, and the gentle euphoria of life blissfully interrupted, blended with the expectation of what’s ahead in our week. It’s like when you stay up all night the first time as a teenager and see in the dawn.

There’re people everywhere and I love the secret intimacy of being with you in a crowded place.

As we waited for our coffee – I’m unsure if we ordered food; possibly a small cake – I remember feeling safe. I’m sure it was because of you and the psychological and emotional comfort you bring. I also felt distinctly still, despite hurtling 11,000 kilometres.

These were our first overseas moments together and they’d been an infinity coming. Having fled Australia, we now caught our breath.

It was a key scene in our movie and the camera was rolling.

I recall speaking low and conspiratorially with you. We shared confidences. As you spoke, I had a moment, born of responsibility and devotion. These moments are unexpected and seismic; I think they rush out of our long past and wash over me with a warmth and a love and a relief to which I can only surrender.

It was an episode that to a stranger might have seemed ordinary but was a sublime, quietly joyous hour. It continues to possess deep and subtle symbolic power for me.

Airports are hubs of promise where life can be amplified to magical dimensions. In that otherwise forgettable coffeeshop we were halfway to Europe and our fête, for two.

It was both prologue and epilogue.

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Semaphore on a Saturday

Leaping into the car we drove straight to Semaphore. It’s a great location to wander and discover. It was mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Having rediscovered vinyl albums Mr V Music is our first stop and it bursts with a huge and broad range. In recent weeks there I’ve found the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! and Beggars Banquet (why no possessive apostrophe?) and Claire left me to it and moseyed next door.

I grabbed Jackson Brown’s masterpiece, Late for the Sky and anticipated getting home and popping it on the retro record player, recently relocated to the patio. My listening pleasure would likely enjoy a beer as its own sunset soundtrack.

Suddenly my wife rushed back into Mr V’s emporium and said, “When you’re done, come next door. They’ve got records too. Even ELO.”

Trashville is tremendous fun.

It’s a retro boutique but does offer other 60’s and 70’s ephemera and yes, they have old vinyl too. Imagine my delight at buying a Best of Glen Campbell for only $5! The cover had been loved with clear enthusiasm, but the record plays perfectly. How excellent to have ‘Galveston’ and the soaring existentialism of ‘Wichita Lineman’ spinning under our veranda as the piping shrikes hop about on our lawn.

Our afternoon in Semaphore was unfolding with simple, sunny joy. Time seemed to be both languid and accelerating.

Trekking east shop-by-shop saw us next venture through the door of Semaphore Pets and Garden. This is a vivid space, and out the back it stretches enchantingly like a jade and lime cave. It’s vegetative and intriguing; warm and lush; engaging and sensory. One could get lost like Bear Grylls.

We especially liked the intimate outdoor dining of Sarah’s Sister’s Sustainable Café, jutting out among the ferns. How great that these adjoining businesses share a fetching aspect.

We left with a rustic birdfeeder that now stands by our pond.

After all this indoor action we decided upon a late-afternoon jetty saunter.

Yet again I was reminded of the elevated ideal that a jetty is an umbilical cord to our better, more mindful selves. Ambling out on the ancient timbers- how awful if these were built only from steel and iron- we yakked about cruise ships and those times the Queen Mary swam past the shoreline like a horizontal skyscraper.

We then moved onto crabbing and also how we casually describe our oceanic activity as ‘swimming.’ Rarely do you see anyone thrashing about in the shallows with a spot of butterfly or backstroke. Standing in knee deep water is generally the extent of our swimming.

Our car was lurking in the shadows next to the Semaphore pub and neither of us had sampled their beer garden, so as courtesy dictates, we swung by. We located a high table and stools and luxuriated with my (quite good) Big Shed Pale Ale at 3.5% and Claire with a friendly glass of white.  

If a story can be defined as a routine interrupted, then an investigation of Semaphore is a splendid weekend narrative.

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Mystery Pub: Brighton Metro

The sixteenth edition of Mystery Pub was underway.

Claire was this month’s pilot and we flew down Tapleys Hill Road and as always neither Tapley nor his/her hill were anywhere in sight. Still, the hill was alive with the sound of Friday afternoon. As always I had no idea where we might be destined. It’s an intoxicating concept.

Being within a particular demographic Escape to the Country holds a curious appeal and we’re often flopped on the couch on a Saturday evening taking in this perennial property porn. In each episode the couple are shown three houses in their county of choice (rarely Shropshire) and the final one is always described by the smug host as the ‘mystery house.’ And most weeks, I’m sure to Claire’s silent dismay, I holler at the screen, ‘Great. The mystery house. Aren’t they all mystery fecking houses?’

For the first time we welcomed guests to accompany us. Old friends and former Kimba residents, Mozz and Kath were in town and had long expressed an interest in the MP notion so we popped them in the back of the motor and before we knew it Claire had skidded to a balletic stop at the Brighton Metro alongside an old Jaguar.

Once we had conquered the maze involving the pokies room, Charlie’s diner, the Sports Bar, Tutankhamen’s tomb, and various other antechambers we burst out, blinking and bordering on dehydration, into the delicious sunlight of Adelaide’s latest beer garden. That it sits on what was once the northern part of the carpark matters not for it’s a big and inviting space and there was a thrilling hub-bub as we claimed a table. It was reserved at 6pm for Bev/Jody/Sue/Matilda or some such as the laminated sign on the table announced.

We had forty minutes. We set to work.

We chatted of folk we knew and as Mozz and Kath have been to the US of A a few times and spectated at pro-golf tournaments they shared stories of encounters with the sport’s elite such as Stuart Appleby and concluded that most were generous and receptive. As you’d hope.

This contrasted sharply with my experience of a former Australian cricket captain who I crossed paths with one morning at Adelaide Oval. It was only he and I and I simply nodded acknowledgement, as decency demands, when he ambled past. I only expected a nod or a quick smile in return. I asked not for an autograph or a tip in Dapto Dogs. Instead, he glared at me as if I’d just done something unspeakable in his shoe. I was aghast. His nickname may have rhymed with ‘Tubby.’

With Mozz sporting a more free-flowing, Woodstock-inspired hairdo and goatee-beard combo talk then moved to who his fashion inspiration might be. I confess it appeared a little unruly and foppish and Kath declared that she calls her husband, ‘Boris.’ Both enjoy a party. Subsequent suggestions included Billy Connelly and a superannuated Dude from The Big Lebowski.

The Happy Hour included beers and wines at $6 and assorted cocktails at reasonable prices. We noted with pleasure that dogs are welcome too and spotted a couple canines perched by the tables. This is emblematic of a pub keen to impress and if I had a choice of buying a Pale Ale for a Golden Retriever or our 39th Test captain, the beer would be poured into a bowl.