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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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Fleurieu a-Go-Go

Just as Walter says, “Let’s go bowling,” to the Dude in The Big Lebowski, Claire and I said let’s go to Strathalbyn some months ago.

I’d never been (bowling, yes but Strathalbyn, no).

It was excellent and while we enjoyed the town itself we also went to Mount Lofty to see snow and to Langhorne Creek to see shiraz (and cabernet sauvignon).

Of especial interest was watching the Strathalbyn Roosters Junior Colts undertaking circle work at Thursday’s training.

Friday night on our cottage deck
All that wine-tasting is thirsty work so after we repaired to the pub
Lake Breeze winery was wonderful although there was no lake and no breeze
Our glasses eight seconds after we arrived at the Victoria Hotel
Monet’s lesser known “Two Old Boots in a Beer Garden”
What time does the Langhorne Creek disco start? What time can you get there?

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Songs of Sparkling Shiraz

 CT

Just before her weekly massage Catriona Rowntree eyes the camera coquettishly.

The Getaway audience is transfixed. Where’s tonight’s rubdown? Fiji? Ah, lovely.

But it’s about her voice. A voice, some would suggest, belonging to the blissful space between sleep and waking.

Like Catriona in her fluffy bathrobe, sparkling shiraz is also distinctly Australian.

No matter that the rest of the planet views it like a toasted cheese sandwich in India.

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October long weekends. Our throng stayed two hours’ north of Adelaide at the Clare Country Club. We’d observe an annual routine.

Golf. Dinner at Bentley’s hotel. Golf. Watching the SANFL Grand Final in the Watervale pub (another Port flag). Golf. The Magpie and Stump in drowsy Mintaro, where I first heard a publican inquire, “Another cup of tea vicar?”

The Clare Dragon Chinese restaurant where the crankiest person in the world would serve us: Colleen. Every year she’d mutter, “Well I won’t be here next time you visit. This is driving me mad. I can’t stand it.”

And come next October Colleen’d deliver these same lines like a poem. A poem performed by the cantankerous employee of a regional Chinese eatery.

There’d also be a winery tour. One stormy Sunday we coasted into the Wilson Vineyard near Polish Hill River. At the counter, we began our work with Freddie Flintoff gusto.

A single sip. The subterranean purple hue, the mesmerizing flavor, the sassiness. It was dangerous fun. It was a sparkling shiraz. It was called Hippocrene. I was enthralled.

Poets can be fibbers, but I reckon John Keats got it right in “Ode to a Nightingale”

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim

Tellingly, the parents-in-law smuggled a bottle into England for us to share on my birthday. If a Google map showed who was drinking what across Europe, then we were likely the only sparkling shiraz slurpers. I didn’t care.

Hippocrene was an occasion wine. Sometimes it’d be Christmas. Sometimes the occasion would be Sunday. We only ever had two or three bottles a year, so at the easing of the cork there was always frisson.

Like the Greek civilisation from which it inherited its name, one October the cellar door assistant announced that Hippocrene was no more. “Have you any left?” I begged. Out the back were a few bottles of the ’96. We bought half a dozen.

And then it was gone.

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The Black Chook

This can open the batting at your barbeque. Unlike Watto, it doesn’t plonk down a dumb left pad and get struck plumb. More like Boof, it’s good for a chirpy thirty.

Surprisingly sturdy, it boasts drinkable complexity. And it receives extra points for having the word “chook” in its name.

The Black Chook’s about $18 in Australia, or approaching a hundred bucks and two months’ national service in Singapore.

The Black Queen

A tremendous wine by the late Barossan, Peter Lehmann.

We’d been to Kapunda to climb over and in and on Leo the Train at the Hill Street playground. We’d luncheoned at Masters’ bakery on the main street, helpfully named Main Street. As Dr Evil might say, “Try the sausage rolls. They’re breathtaking.”

Heading home I thought I’d buy a bottle of sparkling shiraz. So I said to myself, “Self. Why not actually call into Peter Lehmann’s winery on the way through Tanunda?”

Rather than going to a liquor chain this seemed a retro, fun thing to do. Not so much slaughtering a cow because you fancy a hamburger, but more like listening to Revolver on vinyl.

A profound, exotic gargle, the Black Queen is about $40 in Australia, or the price of an inner-city apartment here on the tip of Malaysia.

Andrew Garrett Sparkling Shiraz

Like a glass of agitated Ribena®. You’d be better off with a wine made by Midnight Oil warbler, Peter Garrett.

Andrew Garrett once tried to sue Westpac for- raise your little finger to the corner of your mouth- eleven billion dollars. I’m less chance to drink this again.

Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz

Here’s a confession. Langhorne Creek’s an hour south of Adelaide, but it was only three years ago that I first visited. For me, that’s the oenological equal of never having heard 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. The Bridge Hotel serves lunch, and you can sit outside, under the obliging gums, with a Coopers Pale Ale.

It’s parched and dusty, but the vines often enjoy winter flooding from the Bremer River. Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz reminds me of writer and Exeter Hotel inhabiter, Philip White.

When the Advertiser was still a newspaper, he penned a column called Drinks. White once described a wine, I think a Greenock Creek, as being “full of iron and steel, and women and children.” Obviously, this also summarises the Bleasdale.

A snip at $20 for Tony’s Team Australia, or if you’re from the Republic of Singapore, similar coin to a luxury holiday on Koh Samui.

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Sparkling shiraz is the viticultural Skyhooks. Unheard of in Europe. Never caught on in America. Yet enduringly significant and loved in Australia.

For a certain demographic, both provide a cracking soundtrack to backyard barbies.

As the creator of pastoral poetry, and Deniliquin Ute Muster fan Theocritus said, “Now give me goat and cup.”

skyhooks