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Honeymoon in Arkaroola

Located 635 kilometres north of Glenelg’s Broadway Hotel, I imagine Arkaroola’s an infrequent honeymoon destination, but the pandemic’s made prickly and independent nations out of Australia’s states so with Hobart, Darwin and Cairns omitted we hired a 4WD and headed bush.

“Let’s go down there and have a look,” Claire said as we clattered along The Flinders Ranges Way. Turning right the guttering on the road instantly shook the car like we were on a shuddering, fillings-flying-out-of-your-gob ride at an Outback World theme park. A glance in my side mirror and there’s rubber like darting black birds. Shredded tyre.

Australia’s Vast Interior 1, Novice Driver 0.

On Sunday morning we joined the Ridgetop Tour. Bum-surfing in the back of an unrelenting old Toyota, this took us over the Gammon Ranges’ brutal granite and sedimentary peaks. However, geology is like baroque music to me: admirable, but largely beyond my appreciation. It was difficult terrain and our driver showed surgical skill and a cray boat skipper’s eye in getting the vehicle up, and down, the merciless tracks. Thankful for my seat-belt, I felt for the big man opposite who was forced to ride the tray sans harness like it was a Japanese-built version of the legendary bucking bull, Chainsaw (Australian Bull of the Year, 1987 to 1994). I questioned if we were all in an unauthorised Tourism as Violence experiment.

At Sillers’ Lookout, we stared out towards Lake Frome and Beverley uranium mine’s ribbon of airstrip, and I said to my wife, “After weeks of trudging across the desert how would those first explorers have reacted to this range? Relief at the change or despondency at how tough this place is?” We drank our complimentary (not really) coffee and ate slender fingers of lamington while others in our party took selfies.

Back in our cottage mid-afternoon we reflected that we were having ourselves a unique honeymoon. No pool-bar cocktails or reef-oil aromas for us. I could, however, have conceded to a club sandwich out on our verandah.

Griselda Hill looms over Arkaroola’s southern entrance and the advice is to climb it just before sunset. Our original aim was to take a bottle of wine and enjoy it at the summit as we bathed in the orange-pink wash of the surrendering sun. How quickly we became elevated. How still and quiet the dusky village below. Picking our careful way up the steep goat track we soon agreed this would’ve been ridiculous.

Earlier Claire mentioned seeing Shane Warne on I’m A Celebrity and his arctic terror when confronted by large, creeping arachnids. My response, I recollected, had bordered on mocking his fear, and now, mere hours later, I was on my hands and knees and utterly frozen on a sheer outcrop in what could’ve been a fatal blow to my vacillating sense of physical masculinity, if not Warney’s. I could not go up. I could not go down. Hours of virtual training with Alex and Max watching weekly episodes of Bear Grylls: Man v Wild had left me skill-less and with no actionable problem-solving.

If I’d been capable of thinking beyond my catastrophic context, I might’ve speculated bitterly upon the honeymoon sunset we could’ve experienced on a ferry returning smoothly to Hobart’s Constitution Dock (doubtless with a splash of the very same wine that was currently waiting unloved a few hundred metres below in our spartan room), following an aesthetically challenging, yet physically safe excursion to MONA. I might’ve also wondered about the alarmingly large number of grooms who expire just after their nuptials, and therefore get to star at two big family events within the same month.

With one of her first significant acts of marital love Claire coaxed me towards the summit. Like many moments in life our final ascent was rewarding – retrospectively. Peering over the edge she saw the ghoulish cliff-face so we remained on my recovery rock, and with a slowly stabilising heart rate I took in the broad, astral view.

Next morning, we arose in the desert dark and did the sunrise hike along Acacia Ridge. It was pleasantly crisp, and we had it to ourselves. We swapped the lead with unspoken intimacy but talked of weighty matters and trivia and each other and life a considerable distance to the lush south. Nearing the ridge’s summit and our ultimate viewing spot, another ridge would reveal its dreadful peak, and so on we’d ramble. Sunrise was at 6.36. The minutes began to gallop. The sky began to brighten. Yet another ridge.

When we reached our summit, the sun was already low in the sky. But it was only a technical disappointment for there we were, newly together in an ancient land. An Australian Raven offered acknowledgement. We talked some more, and we looked.

Sitting on a rock we shared our bottle of water. Married life was magnificent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April Sun in Copley

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

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

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

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

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

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My wedding speech, to Claire

Thanks to everyone for joining us at our beloved Kapunda High School, and here now, in this footy club which is one hundred years older than Claire and me. These places have such profound and affirming meaning for us, and across the ceremony and this reception we’ve wanted to tell our story; our long, sometimes maddening, always beautiful story. I thank Claire for making today the elegant event it’s been. Your dress, the candles, the delicate details you’ve created for this celebration – I love you.

We were still teenagers when Claire rang to tell me she’d won the job. I knew she would – such are her impressive talents and attractive, girl-next-door persona. She was to be a host on the kids’ TV show Cartoon Connection. Of course I was thrilled for her, but also secretly despairing…

I imagined Claire (and her shapely calves) at Channel 7 touring the facility and saying hello to Wheel of Fortune’s Adriana Xenides and the goofy Baby John Burgess. But she’d also encounter the weather presenter, Keith Martyn. According to some, a gruff and condescending figure, he also annually published his own South Australian almanac, the impressively entitled, Keith Martyn’s South Australian Almanac. Now Keith’s book included tide times and details about when to plant tomatoes. How could I compete with this glamour? I could see Claire stepping in and out of Italian sports cars, going to A-list events and having her photo in the Sunday Mail (and not just the Possums Pages). I was right to be concerned at the high stakes: early on in the show they gave away – I’m not making this up – a 14-inch Phillips portable colour television!

I feared that Claire might be swept away from us for there I was, working weekends in Kapunda at Rexy Draper’s service station. Datsun 180Bs returning from day visits to Cadell would limp in with hissing radiators and billowing smoke and the frowning drivers would plead, “Can you fix it?” and nineteen-year old me would reply, “No, sorry. I’m not a mechanic, I’m a historian”. But then, one afternoon, I saw you on Cartoon Connection. You’d taken your dog, Bonnie, to appear with you on the show, and got her to count to ten with her paws. During that segment, you were so engaged with, and proud of, Bonnie that I reckon you forgot you were on camera. In that moment, I knew it was all going to be alright. You wouldn’t forget us. You were still our Claire– and always would be.

But before you moved on from your TV career you were to be offered a job as a weather presenter. That would’ve been fantastic. “Let’s cross now to Claire who’s up in Kapunda outside the Clare Castle Hotel and she’s got your four day forecast (the seven day version had yet to be discovered). Oh, we seem to have lost Claire. No, wait, she’s actually inside the pub! Ordering a brandy and coke!”



In 1991 I was living in Kimba and that November, you and Trish came to visit one weekend. Our worlds were expanding and we were all being pulled on different paths, but a photo from that weekend captures the moment when you and I sat together at Lake Gilles on a wooden sign – looking out towards the horizon. Things shifted that weekend, and we turned towards each other and in the two months that followed, I thought our time had arrived. On Boxing Day I went to America for three weeks and with you as a constant, joyous reference point I visited San Francisco and Phoenix and Santa Barbara and I stood on the snowy rim of the Grand Canyon. I was at some of the most exciting places in the world but, most exciting was the thought that you were awaiting me, back home across the Pacific in Adelaide. But the world turned. You continued with your life and I, mine. I did the only thing I could: I went out to Buckleboo one February afternoon and for the Kimba Cricket Club took 5/15. Gee, I bowled well. My in-swinger was never better. Tragically, we were later rolled by Waddikee who went on to win the A grade grand final.

And then, precious Claire, after almost thirty years, our paths changed and we found ourselves again sitting side-by-side, gazing at the horizon. In early 2020 we allowed ourselves the kind of indulgence only permitted those in love: we flew to Sweden for a week. We drove (not in a Volvo) across the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo and then near Lyungbyhed to a secluded cabin. It was a remarkable, enchanted time. Some evenings we’d walk through the forest to a dark, still lake and climb onto a creaking pontoon. We’d sit at the table with a lighted candle, pull a rug over us, eat olives and talk of all we’d done that day, and of old friends, and things over the years that had made us laugh and things that made us cry, and of our children, and our hopes. And geese would skim across the lake and gather on its island and you’d smile at me in that heartening, exquisite way. Around us a peculiar, blue twilight would grow above the trees and my heart was singing for I knew, after all the desperately rushing decades and the long aching years, that finally, finally – kind, clever, funny, amazing Claire – we were together.

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“Wind-blown and rosy, my little March girl”

March is when the year finds its rhythm and the days are warm and still, and new and old joys present themselves like simple gifts.

Claire and I ventured into the West Beach Surf Club one Sunday and a man (not Ziggy) played guitar
Old Mucker Trev took me for a spin to Strathalbyn in his 1971 Alfa Romeo
I saw this in our 99 year-old neighbour’s home, and then one accidentally fell…
One Saturday evening Claire and I hung out with Christie (she’s really hot)
Max turned eleven and had a party at the Beachouse and all played well
Visiting Steingarten Lookout in the southern Barossa we found these two glasses of wine!
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Beer Review: Prancing Pony and Smiling Samoyed at the Normanville pub

Perhaps we should’ve been in Shit Creek.

For on the table were not one but two paddles. Brett had one and I had the other, and both wooden planks were holding six glasses of craft beer. We’d soon be rowing at the Olympics.

I love a weekend away with a big group and down in Carrackalinga we had seven adults and seven kids. I like how some things are done together, but other excursions occur with just one or two. Earlier Max and I had swung by the Yankalilla bakery for a Cornish pasty and sausage roll before pulling in at the oval and watching the local B grade cricket for half a dozen overs. We saw one wicket and some decidedly exotic swatting. The boundaries were long and the outfield, lush. Runs were scarce.

Following a walk down the beach it was suddenly late afternoon and six of us gathered in the Normanville pub’s beer garden. Having it to ourselves invested the episode with enhanced novelty and occasion.

The first craft beer was an XPA from the Prancing Pony Brewery. While we agreed that it included citrus, melon and berry flavours the tasting notes’ proposal that passionfruit was present became controversial.

Claire tried it and said, “But there’s no actual passionfruit!” Someone retorted that it was only redolent of it, that it might simply be a metaphor, or point of sensory reference. Claire was insistent, if not incensed.

A few impassioned minutes on passionfruit followed.

Built in 1851 the Normy is among the state’s oldest pubs and there by the veranda we all admired the beautiful tiling while inside each dining room was magnificent lead lighting.

Next up was the Germanic Kolsch which may have suffered from poor sequencing as someone, possibly Leonard, described it as having, “dreadful nanna fruit.” I found it sharp. Its bitterness was like one of our group (Claire) missing out on being Dux of Year 12 by one point out of 500: lingering and irreconcilable.

However, Claire liked the mango beer that was a New England India Pale Ale. It had the fruitiness of a Carry On movie, but I found it undrinkable. If it illustrated the best of Boston then maybe we should’ve retrieved the tea (c.1773) from the harbour floor and had our own party. A voice from another chair pleaded that it had the generic characteristic of, “orchard fruits.” I sipped again, my face deforming like I was on the rocket sled of a 1950’s NASA experiment.

JB then told us of how, minutes before arriving at the pub, she’d been dumped by a large and uncaring wave. Happily her son, Oliver, showed an appropriate level of human concern while some of us nodded with nebulous sympathy, but quickly returned our attention to the paddles.

The 12 Paws Pale Ale was met with ambiguity. In an obvious attempt to make it into this blog, Brett described the beer as being, “indistinguishable from most other pale ales” regardless of the number of paws quantified in its name.

The afternoon galloped on and we’d a barbeque to ignite and charades to punctuate our evening so we adhered to the equine theme of this paragraph and tried the Prancing Pony Brewery’s India Red Ale which clocks in at a Phar Lap-sized 7.9%. The notes promised, “caramel characters” but Claire was firm: no likey. Brett voted it champion beer of our session. I could see its appeal, but for me it mostly represented a disagreeable chore, like compulsory attendance at a death metal music festival.

A couple of punters joined us in the beer garden. In the front bar somebody laughed. A distant mobile phone buzzed: we need milk.

Our final refreshment was a dark ale from the Smiling Samoyed Brewery just up the hill in Myponga. It whispered of roasted dark chocolate and black Arctic nights and a plaintive, strummed mandolin, or maybe just beer.

Our convoy then stretched up the hill towards our holiday house.

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Sentimentality and alienation in Adelaide pub architecture

I’ve just discovered my new favourite place in my old favourite place.

Now in its third year the Broady beer garden is always a delight. Week’s end; a brisk hour; Saturday and Sunday stretching out with languid promise.

Claire and I took up residence last Friday around 5pm and found ourselves at a wooden bench by the back wall. With the noise washing over and about us and the throng surging we were in a captivating little nook. The effect of the foliage was to secret us and intensify our isolation and we became distant witnesses to the garden’s spectacle, and the muffled, if deafening drama and comedy.

I was reminded of Jordan, the glamorous, but golf-cheat character from The Great Gatsby who whispers: And I like large parties. They’re so intimate.

A beer garden should enable theatre and connection and sometimes even privacy. The Broady’s does this. The space allows gregarious but also discreet moments.

The Hahndorf Old Mill Hotel is a big pub on the main street of this lovely old Germanic town in the Adelaide Hills.

Alex and I were up there last Saturday. He’s just turned thirteen and to mark this we drove up for the afternoon and evening. We wandered about and made our compulsory visit to the Fruchoc Shop and I said, “Where would you like lunch?”

Helpfully, he replied, “In there” as the Old Mill Hotel appeared.

Hahndorf is historic and there’s a constant architectural aesthetic across the main drag with charming evocations of Bavaria through dark timbers and inviting warm places and Hofbräu available in big steins.

But, I will never understand how the hideous glass and metal roof of this inn was ever allowed. It’s vaguely 1980’s in its visual impact or more likely inspired by the Jupiter 2 from cult sci-fi TV series Lost in Space.

What is it doing in this genteel, rustic village?

It can only have been designed by the evil Dr. Smith. Will Robinson and the robot (the real star of the programme) would look on in horror before we’d hear, “Warning! Warning” Judy would have (again) sought comfort in the arms of the gruff and unloveable pilot Don West, who openly hated Dr. Smith.

Gee, it was a complex social ecosystem on the Jupiter 2.

Even Penny’s chimpanzee-like alien pet named Debbie would have put its hands or long ears over its eyes at the sight of The Hahndorf Old Mill Hotel’s ugly roof.

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Ladies and gentlemen, The Mt Mary pub!

Is there anything more lovely than being taken to a mystery location for lunch?

The investment another makes in you courtesy of this wish to treat you with singular affection elevates a shared meal into an act of kind-heartedness, and converts a lazy hour or so into a lush, cinematic episode.

We left Robertstown (population-248) and headed through Point Pass (population-110), Eudunda (population-828), Sutherlands (population-unsure as no available census data, but clearly very few) and suddenly, when I was most curious about our destination (surely, we’re not going to Morgan?) it appeared on our right.

As a Kapunda youth it enjoyed a particular mythical, even ironic status. Set beyond Goyder’s Line among the salt bush it’s a place mostly visited after a day up the river, skiing or fishing.

Bounded by a nightmarish plain there’s no mountain at Mt Mary, and despite its population recently doubling from 6 to 12, I’m unsure if there’s even a resident (non-deceased) Mary. The town features ten homes, the pub, and a (possibly working) telephone box. It’s a living pioneer museum.

Exiting the Thiele Highway (named for Eudunda author Colin) we took a town tour and saw the former general store which was run nearly a century ago by Claire’s grandparents. Passing multiple cars in the town we almost forge another lasting connection as outside one abandoned house we scarcely avoid an accident. In a town populated by only a dozen persons this might have been tricky on the insurance claim.

Strolling into the Mt Mary hotel there’s a sumptuous lawn out front and given the frequent Armageddon winds and rare rain this is to be applauded. It’s an emerald welcome carpet. Although it’s a tick before noon there’s in situ patrons anchored to the bar having settled into an it’s-Friday-so-why-not drinking and conversational rhythm.

Coopers on tap is another predictor of bonhomie. Every worthy beer is better on tap apart from Sparkling Ale which finds its lofty peak when enjoyed from a long neck, but as this is the last holiday excursion I relax my rule-book and the host pours me one. Central to her endless research, Claire orders a house red. We repair to a table by the turf and as front-line ambassadors, greet the stream of sunny visitors.

Social media offered insight into the pub’s raison d’etre just prior to the November lock-down when mine host Donna urged that there was, “still time to hitch up your goat and get your drink on.” As we all know life is better with goat.

Disastrously, most of our regional train lines were torn up decades ago, including the Kapunda to Morgan track. Sitting in our untroubled afternoon we imagined boarding, say, the 9.42 from our former hometown and alighting in Mt Mary to dine and take refreshment! How a-quiver we would’ve been with me wearing a top hat and Claire easing along the platform in a Sigrid Thornton big dress.

Sometimes in a suburban pub meals can be bought and then instantly appear as if they’d just been dinged in a microwave. Those with a rapacious appetite might welcome this swiftness, but it has the anticipatory allure of a KFC drive through. Our Mt Mary meals are delivered by the chef forty minutes later which allows time to chat with each other and the publican, Donna, during which we learn about the pub, her husband Craig’s earth-moving business, the local 86-year-old horse rustler and her commitment to the local fauna.

Claire’s deconstructed vegetable stack is tasty and the polenta chips are a treat although, as has been noted by many, the non-meat options can seem overpriced. Are these subsidising us carnivores? My beef schnitzel is exquisite. It’s sizeable but not of ridiculous pillow-case dimensions and the vegetables are a wonderful accompaniment; the Hutch to the schnitzel’s Starsky.

The pub’s on the Mad Max road to Morgan but is an emerging foodie destination, and we’re told folks visit regularly from places like the Barossa and Waikerie. Sadly, the trains have stopped, but out back, unpowered sites are $9 per person.

As always, goats camp free.

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At 5pm we drive around Lake Bonney and guess how many cars we’ll pass

My thong presses the accelerator as we pass the Bluebird Café and steer along Queen Elizabeth Drive with the lake on our left and a row of beige residences on our right. We see the besser block holiday unit I stayed in with Mum, Dad and my sister Jill when I was thirteen.

In that hot bedroom I played Hotel California over and over on my little cassette player when I wasn’t walking to and from Barwell Avenue and gazing in shops or drifting by the jetty just across from the town oval, home to the Barmera Roos.

We’ve decided upon the guessing order for the week and each must declare their prediction before we leave the town limits.

Max goes with his traditional low number. He’s already a student of the form, and gets us away with a crisp, ‘Three.’

Alex quickly declares, ‘Four’ and Claire participates with an optimistic, ‘Six.’

I then finish the formalities with what history tells us is an unlikely seven. All moving vehicles count, but we must pass them on the road itself before we get to the finish line. We call it the Lake Lap and it’s now in its third big season.

It’s a January afternoon and time for our daily tradition. Just before 5pm we coax the boys into the car from the jetty or the caravan park pool or their cabin chairs in front of the Test and alight in the pub drive-through where we negotiate our refreshments. A soft drink for the boys and a can of something serious for Claire. I get a Sparkling Ale. Alex says, “Dad, can we have some jerky too?”

‘No’ is my automatic reply, ‘you won’t eat your dinner.’ The protests begin. I then say to the drive-through attendant, ‘Can I leave the boys here with you for an hour?’

‘No’ comes his automatic reply. He’s a wizened, laconic type who looks like this job is to get him out of the house. ‘I should be immune to the noise. I’ve got eleven grand-kids.’

Easing through Barmera’s empty streets I note the bowls club and recall my first long-distance journey as a learner driver. It was 1983 and Dad had a tournament up here. In the green Ford Falcon I was legally limited to 80 kph, irritating a trailing and snarling V8. After a lengthy period he growled past me with horn blaring and outrage billowing from his twin exhausts. A mile or so later I saw a flashing blue light and the grumpy driver taking roadside receipt of a speeding fine. How I itched to honk my horn back at him, but this wouldn’t have done for a L-Plater with his Mum and Dad.

Lake Bonney’s shore is defended by dozens of dead gum trees and with the open road ahead we gather speed, but I keep to an unhurried ninety so we can better enjoy our circuit. Lonely caravans squat on the bank with their deck chairs and murmuring AM radio and late-afternoon mugs of strong tea. Above us is a soaring azure sky, and save for the mighty river and this lake we’re in a desert of scrub and sheep stations. There’s few vehicles on this section of the lap.

The radio’s on Triple J and the boys’ musical world is expanding along with their limbs so I introduce them to Tame Impala’s best album Innerspeaker and they enjoy the swirling psychedelic guitars. Is one of the selfish joys of parenthood inflicting your culture upon your offspring? Our other aural routine is Ben Folds’ Rocking the Suburbs on the way to Barmera, once we leave the Truro bakery and descend Accommodation Hill.

Drifting by the ruins at the Morgan Road intersection we then see Chambers Creek which feeds the lake’s 1700 hectares. To our right the road goes to the Overland Corner Hotel and it’s again changed hands, but is without a license until February and, of course, this is unbeknown to us on our Slim Dusty visit. Like many Murray landmarks it boasts a sign indicating the eye-widening 1956 flood level. No-one went thirsty back then.

More traffic is likely now and the current sedan score is only two so I tease with Dad comments like, “I can see a convoy of cars coming!” or “What if we pass the Hell’s Angels?” We pass the ubiquitous Pelican Point and its advertised Nudist Resort, but don’t call in as we’re overdressed. Along a fence there’s a teapot atop each of the strainer posts. With the bitumen curving about, vehicles might suddenly emerge as they make their way around the glittering lake.

After the ceaseless slog of parenting the boys as babies and toddlers they’re blossoming and rewarding company, and now choosing shared rather than solitary fun. Our daily Lake Lap represents this happy change, and I hope in years to come it’ll remain a keenly anticipated holiday routine and one they’ll discuss with affection and gentle mockery of their Dad.

Reaching the Sturt Highway today’s game concludes with Max again victorious. We’ll drive back to the cabin for a barbecue or to the Cobby Club for schnitzel night or maybe a swim in the parched, motionless evening.

2

Novel Review: Lament (a Ned Kelly story)

When Muhammed Ali opened the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta a commentator remarked that the former boxer was, ‘the most famous man in the world’, and safely on my beanbag in front of the box I scoffed at the notion before later deciding it was likely true. His deeds, both noble and otherwise, continue to generate their own global momentum, and with a mythic, omnipresent station in Australian life Ned Kelly makes a similar, albeit local, impact.

While I’m not a Kelly obsessive some contextual experiences include Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series which I first encountered at high school. These were intriguing and disturbing, and I knew there must be substantial reasons for the artist to complete 27 paintings on this subject although at seventeen I was naïve to their deeper reverberations. Around the turn of the millennium I read Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang and found it hypnotic, and I’m a huge admirer of Midnight Oil’s, ‘If Ned Kelly Was King’ (from their superb Place Without a Postcard) with its speculation on how our most iconic bushranger would handle modern multinationals.

With this literary and artistic baggage in hand I read Nicole Kelly’s Lament in this luxurious week between Christmas and New Year (this year’s ham intake has been down, oddly but healthily), and given the holiday freedom from tyrannical bosses that some of us are enjoying I’m sure Ned would’ve approved of my recreation. ‘Lament’ is a compelling text and the plot races along with the thrill and constant danger of an escaping bushranger’s stallion. The novel’s a balance of exterior action and, as a first person narrative, Ned’s acutely human interior. He’s also a charismatic leader of his gang

‘Pistols out, lads. Be ready for any bolters. We can’t have work out yet.’ I carry one in each hand. ‘We’re takin’ no prisoners. So give ‘em a warning and if there’s any movement, ye cut ‘em down, ye hear me?’ (Page 79)

The central purpose of ‘Lament’ is to wonder what might’ve happened if the Kelly Gang escaped Glenrowan, and this speculative fiction imagines how they hope to live once their bushranging days are done. So sympathetically, so abundantly does Nicole Kelly chaperone us into the private world of the central character that despite his inexcusable violence I found myself cheering for Ned, and his gang’s escape into happy, anonymous lives. As our narrator he observes carefully and with a native, attractive intellect

I warm to the two of them and it is her nickname, affectionately called, that confirms the great luck of my acquaintance with the couple. She’s another beautiful and formidable Kate within my life now. I think of my sister, who has always had my back. These people, so familiar and yet so strange, circling in my life. Surely, if I rely on a Kate, I am in good hands. (Page 146)

In this reimagining the character of Ettie gives symbolic and real agency to those frequently marginalised in this story of the marginalised. While it remains Ned’s version of events Ettie and other females like Anne Jones, the Glenrowan Inn proprietor, are given due prominence in this retelling and this is a strength of the writing.

Ned Kelly looms over our collective consciousness because, rightly or wrongly, he’s become the national embodiment of the themes of injustice and inevitable doom, but also love for family which have found forceful expression in this publication. With our sense of what it means to be Australian under heightened and probing scrutiny, this novel is most timely. I enjoyed my excursion into this historical domain of dark and light, and the chance to reflect upon a man who remains emblematic of much of our national identity.

Simultaneously of its time, but also distinctly modern in authorial attitude and style, Nicole Kelly has given us a new and welcome perspective on this infamous life.

Lament can be  purchased by contacting www.hawkeyebooks.com.au/lament/  or you can visit www.hawkeyebooks.com.au/nicole-kelly to contact her.