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Birthday petanque and tropical tremors

razorback

I hung over the side of my bed, and peered underneath. I expected to see a pair of blood-shot eyes and another pair of yellowing tusks, threatening to pierce my person. No, as near as I could tell, there was no razorback in my room.

More sudden movement as if something large was scurrying about on the tiled floor. It seemed to be trapped and decidedly unhappy. I thought briefly of the film, The Exorcist when young Regan’s bed starts bouncing about in downtown Washington. I wondered if Fathers Merrin and Karras could help me. Twenty-three stories up in a Darwin motel on a Monday, just before dawn, is as good a place as any for some demonic possession. Afterall, it was Holy Week.

Just as I was about to shout, “The power of Christ compels you!” I leapt from bed and rushed to the window to peer out across the harbour. It had only been a week since Darwin had somehow endured Cyclone Marcus, its worst storm since Tracy, in 1974. The palm fronds were still and the water was flat. What was happening?

I then did that most 2018 of things, I googled it. Earthquake. 6.6 on the Richter Scale and several hundred kilometers north in the Banda Sea adjacent to Indonesia. By now the clattering commotion had stopped. I’d been more curious than frightened. It lasted maybe fifteen seconds and had been unlike the Hollywood, Spielberg versions with swaying walls and rolling floors like an oceanic wave was pounding through.

It did seem more like a deranged beast than a seismic event, more satanic explosion than sudden release of stored energy from deep in the earth’s interior. Later I texted Kerry down in Adelaide and told her the earthquake had reminded me of the cult 1984 Australian film Razorback. Her reply pinged, Wakey wakey, hands off snakey!!

While the week begun with sudden violence upon the good earth it finished with a gentle afternoon of petanque on our own patch of the planet, the comforting rectangle of backyard lawn.

Yesterday our Max, our bright, challenging, playful Max turned eight and we had a family barbeque. He received some cash, a nerf gun and some Captain Underpants books which, of course, are all you need as you start moving through your ninth year.

petanque

Late afternoon in the warming sun and from a dark corner of the shed we dragged out the petanque set I’d been given by Sylvie, the French exchange teacher I’d worked with many years ago.

Fresh off a week during which he’d won two Division 1 bowls grand finals up in the Barossa Dad was all over the kitty early. In one of these finals they’d beaten the affectionately described Tanunda Boxheads, and this is always a treat. He’s now played in nearly thirty bowls grand finals. I think this is remarkable.

I then subbed myself out, and handed my silver balls (sic) to Alex so I could tend the barbecuing over at Beefmaster Central. As I seared, flipped and poked I’d hear the occasional crack as the metal orbs clashed on the lawn and there’d be a burst of commentary from Dad or Barry or Mitchell.

It took me back to our Mediterranean travels and watching loose knots of older men playing similar games in parks or on the dirt in Italian seaside cities, and for me the past and the present came together for a happy moment.

Mum and my sister Jill took some photos, and this one is brilliant as it captures the scene so perfectly, it could’ve been constructed by a film director. There’s a singularity of focus and a shared application. It’s self-contained, and even Max, especially Max, the birthday boy, is a participant. He’s there, surrounded by his wider family, luxuriating in his petite gang, as they move up and down the lawn.

The mise-en-scène, the storytelling of this picture is grand, and personally compelling. It’s already a favourite photo.

After the destructive movement of Monday morning up in the tropics, back here on Good Friday, this photo freezes time and earth as it offers up a gift of stillness.

Motion and stillness. Motion and stillness.

Max glasses

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Like music? Like beer? Read this!

hay plains

Hay Plain – Julia Jacklin

It’s a rite of passage for many of us. Going from South Australia to Sydney and driving across the Hay Plains.

In the summer of 1989 old Kapunda mates Bobby, Swanny, Puggy, Pinny (not actually his nickname but it seems a shame to exclude him) and I drove it in a hire car.

It was a Commodore wagon with a radar detector we’d borrowed from local publican and iconoclast Puffa. It went, as your Uncle would say, like the clappers.

I’m sure we had other cassettes but I remember the B52’s Cosmic Thing featuring, of course, “Love Shack.” It was a fun album, but twice a day for three weeks became, for me, audio water-boarding.

cosmic thing

Around Coffs Harbour the tape somehow ended up buried in my suitcase. Someone, I suspect it was Swanny, solved the mystery of the Missing Cassette and rescued the tragic tape. On it went! Yippee. “If you see a painted sign…”

Every night all five of us slept in the same big room. At least one would sleep in his clothes. I can only guess at the olfactory horror of those murky, blokish spaces.

I’m pretty sure we ate KFC every day for about three weeks. It was like that alarmist documentary Super Size Me. I blew up like an inflatable raft.

KFC

Julia Jacklin is a great alt-country singer songwriter and her debut album Don’t Let The Kids Win features beautifully-crafted songs. “Hay Plain” is an atmospheric, plaintive number in which she uses her charismatic voice to engaging affect.

In it she makes reference to that iconic Sydney road, the Western Distributor. In 1985 on my first trip to Sydney with Trev, Chrisso and Woodsy in his Datsun 180B we stayed with a mate in Drummonye and used this road daily.

Right by the exit was a huge billboard with a giant image of a funnel web spider baring its metre-long fangs, warning people to avoid these horrific fuckers.

One night we got home and our old school mate Brendan, now peeling prolifically because of Bondi sunburn, yelled out, “No! We’ve been robbed. Someone’s stolen my cup of skin.”

Julia Jacklin’s on my list of acts to see and this clip from a show in Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club captures her warmth and talent-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf6YdmKIChU

Pleader- alt J

British indie darlings alt-J toured Australia late last year and old mate Brett and I went along to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on a Tuesday. Tuesday being the convenient and traditional night for major touring artists to play in our little city.

Having avoided incapacitation by a Coopers Clear – surely the Trevor Chappell of this distinguished beer family – we ventured into the barn-like room and I was delighted by the crisp and punchy sound quality. The band were amazing unlike their set at Singapore’s Laneway Festival in 2014 when, dogged by technical problems, they sulked off stage mid-song.

singapore laneway

I texted Brett the day after the Adelaide concert and shared that I thought the final song of their most recent album was the highlight of our night. “Pleader” is a moody six minutes’ voyage with the opening three a foreboding instrumental before the last half of the track has a stunning choral outchorus, complete with agrarian imagery and biblical textures.

The accompanying video is inspired by the Welsh mining classic novel How Green Was My Valley? Among the unforgettable scenes is one with a landslide caused by the detonation of a WW2 German V2 bomb.

The vocals are distinctive and rarefied and the lush orchestration builds the sense of doom. Hugely impressive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrhSJzM8NLE

Coopers Session Ale

Released mere weeks after the apocalyptic 1993 preliminary final in which the Crows choked after half time, Coopers Black Crow came into the market. This marked a spectacularly dismal month for crows, everywhere.

black crow

A mid-strength lager, it was massively disappointing, especially for an enthusiast such as me. It was named by public competition among significant fanfare. A more accurate name would have been Dead Cat Piss.

Bursting into the world last October was Coopers Session Ale. It is everything its feathery, deceased predecessor was not.

Tropical, fruity, and with citrus complexity beyond big brother the celebrated Pale Ale, it speaks of a lazy afternoon on a Pacific island. Marrying Galaxy and Melba hop varieties with secondary fermentation, it’s animated in the glass, a triumph of golden straw colour and fetching aroma.

Each and every Friday around 4.27pm I pay wave $12 at Gavin, mine host at the Broady and receive two crisp pints in return as the murmuring and the post-working week shuffling builds in his front bar.

I must mention that the packaged version is inferior, and humbly submit that the colossal Sparkling Ale is the only Coopers beer which is better out of a bottle, a bloody big bottle.

Still the Session Ale is a ripper. Perfect.

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Qantas Schmantas: customer care feedback

sad

Dear Sir/Madam

I’ve played by the rules, but you haven’t, Qantas. Five weeks’ ago, I filled in one of your so-called customer care feedback forms. You suggested I’d get a reply quickly. I haven’t.

It’s almost as if you don’t, well, care. So I thought I’d try this.

We booked our recent flights to and from Brisbane with Qantas as we wanted a full-service experience. We were happy to pay extra as we travel with our sons who are seven and nine. Our experience was poor. It was, at best, a decidedly budget experience.

On our first flights, we had rear seat screens, which were great. On the return flights, we did not. It is a grim lottery with the winning ticket a personal screen and the losing ticket the offer of an entertainment app. We do not each have an iPad, and if an app is deemed a service then it’s one for which I’d rather not pay. I can load films, music and games on our devices if required. Yeah, crazy, I know! But, I’d like to know in advance.

It was a long and uncomfortable flight home.

The inflight meal was a bag of about six split chick-peas and some horrible eggplant dipping sauce. Of course, our boys love eggplant, as I’m sure you know, as do all young boys. Just kidding! This was rubbish, and in no way justified the extra money we had spent.

bag

To then be offered a beer or wine for six dollars was an additional insult. Seriously? Given the money we paid I reckon a free (not really) beer is the minimum offering. Even a crappy XXXX Gold. Full service? Not on my planet.

On this flight one of the rear, economy class toilets was not working so we sent our boys to the toilets at the front of the plane. The one working toilet at the rear was occupied. The male flight attendant immediately and ungraciously sent them back from the business class facility as if they were rabid dogs.

As we’re toiling proletariat this I can partly understand, but less than a minute later an adult passenger, also from economy, made his way to the business class toilets. He was not sent back, and this, quite frankly, pisses me off. If we’re having total segregation, then do it properly, please. In 2018, ageism is such an ugly look.

I must say that the female flight attendants were excellent in that they were friendly and helpful. My wife and I really appreciated their efforts.

However, this did not convince me that we should fly Qantas again.

I’d rather save my money and go with Virgin or Tiger. With these you get what you pay for. With Qantas, you pay extra and receive a very budget, very disappointing service.

This continues a rather poor run of experiences with your company.  One Christmas when we lived in Singapore we flew home to Adelaide. We were very excited. But we were sat by the toilets, on the overnight flight, which I can only suggest, quickly reminded me of a poorly-maintained abattoir during a heatwave.

But that is a story for another time.

Regards

 

prisoner

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts from my Caloundra Balcony

FM radio is illegal in Op Shops

Going to the late Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo is a waste of money for in Queensland dangerous and toxicologically startling fauna comes to you, for free, every minute of the godless day

By 2020 “GPS signal lost” will be the biggest killer of over-fifties in this country

I love our boys, but to teach them about privilege and perspective I’m writing a series of books with titles such as, “The Boy Who Died Because He Had To Listen To Triple J In The Hire Car” and “The Boy Who Died Because He Ate His Pavlova Slowly”

What does it mean that the small town of Murgon boasts ten churches of different denominations?

Bundaburg has the nation’s best Target, I think

How do I process the grief of buying my family a pepperoni pizza that achieved the astonishing, postmodern feat of being entirely free of pepperoni?

Country radio provides two truisms: David Bowie was boiled shite in the 1980’s and Neil Diamond was always great

Cricket conversations are fantastic: Is Peter Siddle one of your favourites? and, Dad, was it Lillee caught Dilley, bowled Willy?

At least every six months we should camp somewhere free of light-pollution, and sit about a fire, and stare up at the remarkable blanket of stars, and remind ourselves to live well, and to love fiercely

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Holiday!

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There is no question.

This is the best photo I’ve ever taken. Nothing in Iceland. Forget the Grand Canyon. Rule out Iron Knob.

Every compositional element is within. Summer in that magical time between Christmas and New Year. Holiday park. Our boys. Big screen Test cricket. If you move the camera slightly to the right. There, that’s it. Yes, that’s a cup of crisp pale ale. Perfect.

We’ve been on a short getaway. A holiday. A self-contained location with all the amenities. It’s brilliant, and after three separate visits in 2017 it’s a favourite. We’re getting to really know the terrain.

When I was a young, numpty/teenaged type, with all the attendant boof-headedness this implies I found considerable mirth in someone I know once knocking on the door of a school-mate, saying, “Is Billy home?” His mum gave a sincere, nodding reply, announcing, “No. He’s gone on holiday, to Greenock.”

From this, the closed ancestral home of Kapunda to Greenock was a steady ten minutes in the family Valiant. Roar! How we laughed! How could this be a holiday? I’d ridden my (sister’s) bike there and back!

But, tonight, to you, with sincerity and delayed wisdom I confess that we’ve spent our Yuletide break about eight kilometres down the road. Not nearly as far as Greenock.

Why? Because it’s terrific, we can slip home and feed the dogs, and pick up some essentials like eggs, a torch and some extra-cold Sparkling Ale.

I also reckon it’s because I now know that a holiday is not about the distance travelled, but locating a fitting headset, and finding a place that works.

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Here’s the other key attraction. Our boys, Alex and Max stay there in the compact camper-trailer with one of us, while the other, eases into the car, and DRIVES HOME TO AN EMPTY HOUSE (APART FROM THE DOGS) FOR THE EVENING.

For those of you who’ve forgotten, this means the non-holiday park parent gets, in the morning, with its luxurious new light, to wake up without provocation, and avoid the existential horror of being WOKEN UP.

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Developing a functioning relationship with a holiday park includes locating a barbeque who’ll love you back. One who’ll respect you, and also not give you any nonsense.

This one is gentle on a sausage, appropriately robust with a chicken patty, and massages a steak like it should. It’s also by a creek and some friendly trees. I like it.

But this bugger, yeah, this one here-

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It looks sleek and cooperative, but it’s benign appearance is deceptive. It doesn’t cook, which, if my dictionary serves, is the job of a barbeque. It’s Yorkshire on Boxing Day. I may give it a kicking.

You may as well line up six of the park’s dopey yet kindly ducks, point their arses at your chops, and light their farts.

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A modern holiday park offers entertainment for the kiddies and this one has a huge games room, complete with multiple distractions, including Space Invaders and its crazy derivatives, and shoot ’em up adventures. In a symbol that captures the regard with which we hold this fantastic space there’s also a Skill Tester/ Grabber.

And for the first two days it was free!

This morning after a tremendous sleep-in Max stumbled out of our tent, nodded vaguely at me, and marched straight to the games room, such is the hypnotic power of the Grabber. I yelled “Fried fritz?” at him but he shuffled onward.

When a boy refuses fried fritz, we all know life is a-changin’. I’m not sure of how many chocolates our boys extracted from this contraption, but it was, as my old boss would say, a goodly number.

Since we visited in March a beer garden has been added. How can this space get any better, I hear you ask? Next to the pool, there’s a giant TV screen, grassed (fake) expanse, assorted beanbags, under-cover booths and agreeable bar and kitchen.

Yes, it is one of our tiny world’s best spaces. If I were a ghost you wouldn’t see me here, on a chair.

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I’m happy to say the Marion Holiday Park is great value and provides a wonderful, surprising escape.

Find it here-

https://marionhp.com.au/

 

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Road Trip- Kapunda cars and boys

 

Once upon a time we took photos by cars. Were vehicles more important when we were young? I suspect they were, and now we’re defined by other things: family, houses, work.

Here’s some old photos. Each tells a story.

 

Some friends- Chris, Stephen, Rodney and I bonded while at Kapunda High over a shared ownership, and then, love of the iconic Adidas shoe, the Rome. We became the Romers. There were four of us, and in this snap we’re heading off on a trip in Stephen’s Holden Gemini, but for reasons I can’t recall, Rod is absent.

Of course, we’re all blubbing and bellowing into our hankies, wondering how we’ll cope without Rod.

Yes, well spotted. I’m wearing a Kapunda Cricket Club cap.

Why did they stop painting cars in that particular green?

In 1988 Paul, Mikey, Chrisso and I ventured to Melbourne in Paul’s VK SS Commodore. It accelerated, as they say, like the clappers. We went to the MCG and saw Dean Jones up close, hitting a few in the net. I was keen to see the Australian captain, Alan Border, bat. After some refreshments I wandered down in the bowels of the stadium to use the facilities.

Coming out into daylight and blinking, I looked at the scoreboard. AB had made a duck. It was the last time full-strength beer would be served at the MCG for many a year.

Yes, well spotted. I’m wearing hideous, fluoro-coloured, hyper-coloured board shorts. No, I don’t know why.

In January of 1985 Woodsy, Chrisso, Trev and I drove to Sydney to stay with Stephen and Brendan in Drummoyne.

Yes, Woodsy and I are wearing Adidas Mexicos shorts, which for humanitarian and visual arts reasons are now banned.

On the way we stopped in West Wylong and met some local girls who, apparently because of our accents, thought we were British. In Sydney we played cricket, and went to the SCG and saw Simon O’Donnell make his debut while sitting on the Hill. We swam at Curl-Curl, Bondi and Manly. It was innocent fun. Then we went to Kings Cross where our country boys’ eyes were widened.

We also went to the Basement to take in some jazz. One afternoon in The Rocks we saw Kamahl and his Rolls Royce.

Ah, the days of the Road Trip!

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Ashes Moments- January 2003: Steve Waugh’s Sydney Century

lake

The scorebook would make for unremarkable reading given that this particular box contains neither of cricket’s contrasting exclamation marks: 6 or W. But, the final over at the SCG on Friday January 3, 2003 was astonishing. I know precisely where I was, and am sure that many of you do too.

We’re up at Barmera with friends from Kimba, and filled the windless, stretching days with golf and barbeques. Gentle, unhurried rhythms. Late afternoons, we’d sit on the lawns slopping away from our hotel rooms, and gaze out across our drinks and Lake Bonney. Up early for a swim before eighteen holes, the brisk pool’s a reminder that save for a mighty river, this is a desert.

The fifth Ashes Test was a transition with neither Warne nor McGrath playing due to injury. If relief from longitudinal torment comes before hope, then, for England, a jackboot might’ve been lifted off their writhing throat.

Paul, Klingy and I made our way round Waikerie’s lush layout, and now it almost seems unknowable that despite having mobile phones mine permitted merely texts and calls. As we zigzagged the fairways and beyond, we’d no idea of the cricket score, and were only updated by Skull and company as we motored back up the Sturt Highway to our wives and families, poolside and relishing the blonde warmth.

waikerie

The motel bar advertised a happy hour, so Klingy and I moseyed in for a post-golf beer, and to catch the last few overs. Stephen Waugh, who’d given so much for so many years, but was nearing the conclusion of his tenacious, decorated career, had a century within unexpected grasp.

All summer, he’d suffered an indefensible lack of runs, and the near-shouting for his head was intensifying. During this session, questions were being asked of him by the visitors, and after a lifetime in the dungeon, England’s skipper, Nasser Hussain, sensed an opening. Waugh later suggested that these challenges, “galvanised my spirit.”

In this Test, he’d equalled AB’s record of 156 matches in the baggy green, and had also gone past 10,000 runs. His career stretched back almost mythologically: he’d seen players pass through this English side like it were Oxford Circus tube station.

With the owner of the greatest sporting nickname courtesy of the Warwickshire CCC souvenir shop, Ashley “The King of Spain” Giles, also out wounded, Richard Dawson bowled the day’s last over. He’d play seven Tests for his country, and take eleven wickets.

Such was their innocuity, the Australian captain patted the first three balls back down the pitch.

In this nation, cricket telecasting is more dissected than parliamentary decisions. We largely choose the family and friends we invite into our living rooms, but have no control over commentary teams. At this point, with his sense of drama and boyish excitement, Bill is handed the microphone. As it’s been for decades, his exhilaration becomes ours.

Dawson’s fourth ball is in the slot, and Waugh drives it for three. There’s a sense of rumbling, rapidly-gathering occasion.

Hussain attempts to then assemble doubt in the batsmen, with elongated brooding over his field placings. It’s an obvious stratagem, but for his ceaselessly down-trodden troops, a late wicket could yield both actual and symbolic value.

BBQ area

An unparalleled master of mental combat, Waugh responds by gesturing for Gilchrist to join him mid-pitch. All at the SCG in the Brewongle and those watching elsewhere know this is confected theatre, but we don’t care.

“It’s getting interesting, Michael,” Klingy proposes, “He might get his ton. Do ya want another beer?”

The TV screen is both irresistible and repellent. I take a sip. The January sun steams in across the glittering lake.

Finally, our wicketkeeper, whose ball-striking was already in robust evidence, took guard. He records a single off the penultimate fig, but could’ve run two. This would’ve given him fifty, however he might’ve attracted a continental condemnation of Harold Larwood proportions. Upon England’s return in four years, Gilly would secure a folkloric place with his WACA explosives.

By the day’s ultimate delivery, this over has endured for nearly ten minutes. My father-in-law, ever alert to a broader narrative, still insists the bowler was under instruction to serve up something hittable. Waugh is on 98. The ball is wide, and outside off-stump. He slashes it to ground, and it punches towards cover.

The Kookaburra sped through the infield. It broke to the left of screen.

Bill cried, “There it is!”

Occasionally, sport attains transcendentalism, and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said of this philosophy, it allows us to locate, “an original relation to the universe.” I love these moments; these blissful intervals when we’re at the happy mercy of others; these strangers we know intimately, and upon whom our holiday joys can depend.

In the bar, by Lake Bonney, in the fading Friday sunlight, back closer to the beginning of this millennium, we brushed away a few hot tears.

Klingy spoke, “I’m a bit emotional.”

With broken words, I gasped. “Yeah. Me too.”

Stephen Waugh had just registered his 29th century, and had equalled the Don. For the immediate future, he’d remain the Australian captain.

We walked to our rooms. We’d had an afternoon.

SW AG