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Philip Road, Elizabeth- Holden cars and me

HR

There was still a post-Coronation glow across the Commonwealth when Holden started making cars in Elizabeth, just north of Adelaide. Indeed, our Queen had only been in Buckingham Palace for a few years, and with this respectfully in mind, those mapping the satellite city instead decided that the thoroughfare next to the car manufacturing plant should be named Philip Highway, Elizabeth. I guess Philip Road, Elizabeth was a bit horizontal in tone, especially in the 1950’s.

I’m not a petrol-head, but as a country boy, I was always going to buy a Holden for my first car. Purchased from solid farming folk near Greenock, it was a pale blue HR Holden complete with two-speed Powerglide. It had razor-blade thin tyres, which had the unfortunate habit of prolonged squealing as I gently rounded a corner, or accidently drove in circles at the intersection just up from the Kapunda Pizza Bar. Prior to buying an FM radio, for my driving pleasure I had a portable cassette player and a kazoo. The HR’s registration was REM-097.

Part way through my degree I upgraded to the model I’m confident was made in greater numbers than any other at the Elizabeth plant: a HQ Kingswood (white). In our little country town, there must’ve been twenty of these, and they were mostly driven by us young fellas. Sometimes there’d be three or more of these in a diagonal row, outside Nugget’s Clare Castle Hotel*, late on a Sunday. Owning one seemed almost compulsory, and it functioned as a type of vehicular uniform for our silly army. Its rego was UXA-100.

CCH

For a few months, my friends commuted to uni and back with me. Claire and Trish* were Abba fans and musical theatre devotees, and I now confess that I took fiendish, even megalomaniacal delight in controlling our musical accompaniment. They’d holler, “Put on the radio” and “We want SA-FM.”

Deaf to their words, I’d then lean over and pump up the volume on a ten-minute blues song like, “Key to the Highway.” Somehow, we’re still friends.

Nineteen. There may well be an age at which Australian males are more stupid, but I doubt it. With sudden and inexplicable urgency one Friday night, when I was barely nineteen, three friends and I decided that we needed to race down to one of the Kapunda main street’s four pubs (or possibly, all of them).


So, we left the home of the mate that for legal reasons I’ll refer to as Woodsy* and failing entirely to navigate the dirt road behind Kapunda High School, my left fender prised open about twenty feet of the corrugated fence like it was a tin of Whiskers*. The car came to an immediate halt. Our friend was studying electronic engineering at Adelaide uni, so I said, “Chris*, you’re smart, fix it!” He couldn’t.

Subsequent crash analysis revealed a major cause being the HQ Holden’s front bench seat on which, for now obscure reasons, all four of us were, for want of an ergonomically accurate term, sitting. Apparently, this lack of physical space made it difficult for the driver (me) to successfully operate the steering wheel.

Later, another mate, Crackshot* remarked that despite it being only eighteen months since I’d somehow won Kapunda High’s Paul Giles Memorial Prize for Character and Leadership, I still clearly wanted to make a lasting mark on my former school. Under the cold light of Saturday morning, in grim conversation and looking at my Adidas Rome-d feet, neither the headmaster nor the town’s police officer, saw my yearning for scholastic legacy as a legally relevant issue.

The final Holden I owned was the most expensive of the three, and certainly the least likable. Heading off to the West Coast to teach I bought a VK Commodore from Hage’s in Tanunda. It drove well, if thirstily, but the stereo was terrible and the front speaker rattled like buggery whenever I’d turned up a tape, like Billy Joel*. Billy deserves better.

One evening after a prolonged cricket fixture and raffle-ticket selling duties in the Wudinna Club, the VK batted last and was dismissed, run-out by a Ford at a railway line on the road back to my farmhouse accommodation (I wasn’t driving). After extensive rehabilitation, during which I drove Jock* and Snook’s dune buggy, I sold it.

I didn’t know it, but my relationship with Holden’s was finished. I’m unsure whether I’m yet to have my mid-life crisis, or if I’ve been having one all my life, but I often think that one day, I’ll buy myself an EH Holden.

I might even take it on Sunday drives, and do a lap of Kapunda High.

Thanks, Holdens.

 

*names not changed

HQ.png

  

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Port Adelaide v Collingwood: a Messerschmitt up your arse or free bird seed

free bird seed

During the second quarter, on the fifty-metre arc, at the Punt Road end was, to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, when the stories and the beer began to take hold.

Six of us are in Row S, connected by the time we spent together at Kapunda High School, and variously on the Barossa’s cricket and footy ovals.

Much of our conversation is our old cars and coaches and mates and publicans and parents and maverick teachers who shaped us.

It’d been a ripping trip so far: early flights, the North Fitzroy Arms for the Footy Almanac lunch which concluded with the final siren at the SCG, the obligatory Young and Jackson nightcaps, and a Saturday laneway breakfast.

With the Uber app showing cars descending like black Pacmen three of us ride in a Caprice, and I’m reminded of the great Dave Graney and his song “Feelin’ Kinda Sporty” which opens with the magnificent

A black Statesman “73

Caprice.

Leaded.

At high noon, and accompanied with ample yarns, we entered the All Nations Hotel to confer with the ghost of Bill Hunter, and then white pub-vanned to the MCG as the match commenced. Each of us is merrily apathetic about the result.

I love footy, but occasionally its lone function is to provide a panoramic context across which we can splash our stories. Rocket would love to be watching his beloved Sturt while Nick, the Hayward boys (not Kapunda’s Gatlin boys) and Lukey are Norwood men, but as neither is scheduled at the MCG today we get along to Collingwood and Port.

With the match chugging along Nick and I discuss contemporary AFL footballers and old players from home, in particular one Mail Medallist and local publican who loved scrapping at the bottom of a pack, like a nuggetty 1970’s Selwood.

“You know what he used to do in the sheds before a game?”

“No. Tell me.”

“He’d smear heaps of Vaseline on his eyebrows so the elbows would slide off.”

I giggle.

Needing to refresh their refreshments the Haywards return with their shouts: Bundy for them, and mid-strength beers for us. For a moment, I fear we’ll need petroleum jelly too, but happily there’s no fight in the forward pocket.

We move onto that most vital of topics: Which Test Cricketer would you most like to have a beer with? (until very recently in pre-production at Network Ten)

“Warney?”

“There’s nothing to discover. Nothing.”

“Yeah, and I can’t have a beer with someone who calls their book, ‘My Autobiography.’”

“That’d have been a funny meeting at the publishers.”

I take a difficult sip of my mid-strength. “Waugh twins?”

“No. Steve’d bore you to death.”

“The worst kind of mental disintegration.”

Ultimately our choice is clear. One of the most stylish middle-order bats we’ve seen, and still a bloke about whom little is really known. An anti-Warney. The one who quit the night of the famous 2006 Ashes victory in Adelaide. Damien Martyn.

On the ground, Port is doing well with Robbie Gray slotting a few while Unley Jets alumnus Brodie Grundy is holding his own for the Magpies.

We wonder if the Chappell brothers still own the Leg Trap Hotel, and if David Warner is less likeable than a curved television and if it’s possible to make Boonie more Australian. It isn’t.

This brings us to the best quotation ever, the one which places sport and our little, self-tortured world into perfect context. Nick remembers his Dad giving him Australian allrounder and WWII pilot Keith Miller’s book. “Pressure,” Keith said. “I’ll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.”

Still laughing at the magnificence of this, Rocket heads off to a cavern and emerges with some appropriate beers. Normal transmission is resumed. Pendlebury is smooth and constructive, as usual. We note that Ollie Wines has thighs like Californian redwood.

The conversation then tends, as it must, towards other nostalgia and juvenalia. We’re now at Stalag 13. The verdant field of the MCG recedes and we’re all in front of a black and white TV, sliding our paws into packets of Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs.

“Burkhalter and Hochstetter.”

Much giggling, given to misty eyes.

“Captain Hoganhoffer?”

“No prisoner has ever escaped from Stalag 13.”

More giggling.

“I’d like to hear this on the BBC World Service: Munich Messerschmitts 2, Stalag 13, 3.”

Someone slides next to me with a pie. A message comes through that another Kapunda High contemporary is on the second deck behind the Port cheer squad. We wave at Maria, who waves towards our bay.

Looking back now it makes sense, and indeed there’s a happy inevitability in the childhood image that would become our weekend’s talisman. The footy is now on mute as we moved towards the creature that Mark Twain described as “a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton.” The coyote, but of course for us, Wily E Coyote.

I don’t know how we came to this, and I don’t want to know, but as the shadows lengthened across Melbourne, Lukey, with his talent for the comic and the absurd mentioned it and we were off.

“Easily the greatest cartoons ever.”  

The coyote hanging in mid-air until he realizes that he is about to plummet into a chasm!”

“Yeah, and he’d hold up a sign like ‘Goodbye cruel world.’”

“Or ‘Help me.’”

“‘Mother.’”

By now the laughter and the memories and the beer and our good fortune at being in this fun space meant, for some of us, there were tears of childish abandonment.

“What of the Giant Kite Kit?”

“The roller skates and the fan blowing the coyote along?”

“From the Acme company.”

Bombs, detonators, nitroglycerin. Not so funny in 2017, but when you’re seventeen and watching Looney Tunes…

We talk of the Road Runner’s ability to enter the painted image of a cave, while the coyote cannot, which showed us that the existentialists are correct: it is an unknowable and absurd universe. Cartoons teach us this.

And then as the Paah (sic) delivered their knockout blow to Collingwood, Lukey delivered his knockout blow to us. A childhood picture that captures the fun, the innocence of the endless battle between the Roadrunner and the Coyote.

“Free bird seed.”

And there it was. Only three words. But a beautiful mantra of the past, a pulsing refrain, and the best televisual picture of a little bird nibbling at food in the desert, likely just outside Albuquerque.

coyote 

 

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Trish

Imp

 

Hello from Caloundra, on the Sunshine Coast. If you’re seeing me read this, it means that Pauline Hanson and I have been kidnapped.

I remember when we were in Year 12 at Kapunda High. How could any of us forget? We’d the wonderful Mrs Schultz for English, and had to read the distinctly un- wonderful poetry of the British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, or GMH for short. Maybe it was this poet from Essex who set Trish on her particularly British-flavoured life journey. However, before he’d a chance to inflict his tortured verse upon us I often wished that a GMH-assembled vehicle had run over Hopkins.

As great as Mrs Schultz was, it was you Trish who helped me most in year 12 English. With your brutal intellect, passion for argument, and literary insight you showed me how to interrogate a text. In the depths of that soggy winter I was awestruck by your skill as we also read The Grapes of Wrath. I knew it well, but what a ridiculous title! Grapes of Wrath? Grapes, I remind you, make wine. If the book was vaguely accurate it’d be called The Grapes of Enormous Eternal Joy.

There were tutorials and Trish volunteered to chaperon us through the garden of symbolism. We were in expert hands, and were about to be symbolism-ed to within an inch of our proverbial. She took us through page after page, merrily dissecting the novelist’s exhaustive, and exhausting use of motif. Most impressively, she provided tremendous detail on the book’s famous recurring turtle that somehow represents the poor, evicted families. I know! A turtle! In this Trish enthused me and challenged me and, yes, she terrified me.

And if ever again I encounter a fictitious turtle signifying displaced Oklahoman farmers, I know who to phone.

*

As is often the case with the talented, Trish flirted with many university courses. She began a teaching degree with Claire and me and in my old Holden we’d travel together daily to and from Salisbury. With the girls imprisoned in my car I’d inflict all sorts of teenaged cruelty upon them courtesy of my music. I simply refused to have the radio on. No evil mastermind leaves things to choice, and I permitted only my curated set of cassettes, and as we hurtled through Smithfield along Main North Road, accompanied these dreadful songs with my unfathomably awful singing and, on special occasions, even more unfathomably horrid kazoo playing.

For this Trish, I unreservedly apologise.

Over the long decades Trish began multiple degrees; including education, arts, and finally, communications at Magill. She’d have excelled in any of these. But, in keeping with her life’s English theme I maintain that she should’ve pursued animal husbandry, through which she might have become a Mrs Herriot, living in North Yorkshire and happily inseminating grateful cows.

*

It’s a mark of her individuality that she owned a most British vehicle too. An MG? No. A Rolls Royce? Sadly, no. Our Trish, I tell you with some delight, drove a Hillman Imp. This duo was as distinctive as Mr Bean and his 1976 British Leyland Mini 1000. Of course we’d banter about this car and I’d tease her with my revolutionary wit, for example, calling her Imp a wimp. Ha-ha. But revenge was Trish’s for when I had my mid-life crisis twenty years early, and bought an obviously phallic sports-car, she labelled it, or possibly me with the abbreviated form of “Richard.” Game over. Trish wins.

*

An idea in this speech has been the decidedly British nature of Trish’s life. She is reminiscent of an “English rose” but unlike a Kate Moss, has expressed herself through the creative and performing arts as an accomplished writer, editor, visual artist, singer and actor. Of these achievements we’re all most proud.

I reckon she’d live well in Cambridge. I can see her discussing poetry mid-morning over camomile tea, before taking a trudge through the muddy fields of Grantchester. Then returning to her homely cottage to make Brett and Riley a supper of gluten-free scones.

Indeed, as evidence that my notion is not so silly she also worked for a while in a Geezer-styled boozer, the Norwood Hotel. Like a much-loved character from East-Enders I can see Trish smiling from behind the bar, and saying to the shuffling menfolk, “You orright darling? Can I get you a ‘alf?”

*

Dear Trish. You’re a faithful and precious friend who’s taught me much about people and our planet. As you know, when she laughs with you in that beautifully abandoned way she has, it is to be alive and loved. For this, and everything else, thank you, and happy birthday!

In concluding, I can assure you that I’m on the balcony of our holiday apartment, and at this very moment, as a tribute to you Trish, am Salsa dancing in a most fetching fashion with a turtle who goes by the name of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Enjoy your afternoon.

turtle