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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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Round 7 – Western Bulldogs v Adelaide: Bill Hunter and Your Mum’s Betamax

bill

When I was home looking after our second son ABC News 24 began. Two events of note occurred during those months. Osama bin Laden was killed in his Pakistani compound, and the actor Bill Hunter passed away.

One day just after lunch as Max slept I watched Bill’s memorial service on the television. Mick Molloy worked with Bill, most impressively on Crackerjack, and as a touring double-act across many inner-suburban pubs.

In his eulogy at the Princess Theatre, Mick recalled Bill’s favourite sayings.  Operating within a narrow theme, the first was, “I’m just two schooners short of the horrors” and often used in response to a cheery salutation, the second was, “Get fcuked.”

At the Footy Almanac lunch, and in conversation with our Kapunda crew, John Harms observed that every Melbournian has a Bill Hunter story. And key to these fabled tales was Bill’s seeming ability to be relaxing with a lager at multiple pubs. Simultaneously. He defied quantum physics for Bill could teleport himself, when thirsty. Forget arc-welding, here’s an enviable life-skill.

In town for the weekend with five mates to celebrate my looming birthday, I was keen to pay homage to Bill.

It had begun well.

*

How do you build a publican?

As there is no instructive literature, I suggest the following. Make him slow of gait, even lumbering; commanding yet enigmatic; an employer of understatement as his primary method of communicating, and drench his back-story with equal measures of hyperbolic myth and striking reality.

In short, you make him Percy Jones: proud Tasmanian, Carlton royalty, and mine host at the North Fitzroy Arms.

In this pub bursting with memorabilia, the best example is a photo in the back corner of Percy, standing shoulder to shoulder with another hulking 1970’s icon, Gough Whitlam. It’s invested with historical context, colossal vitality, and fun.

Happily, we now have our own photo with Percy, taken at a front bar table, as he worked unhurriedly through his steak, hands like dinner plates, further enlarged by long seasons of ruck-work. Somehow, reminiscent of Bill Hunter’s corporeal talent he sat with, around, and over us by the window as twilight stole the day. Increasingly, Percy appeared to have descended a North Fitzroy beanstalk, with the scent of an Englishman (Collingwood pest) twitching in his nostrils.

Having concluded the luncheon we repair to our Elizabeth Street digs. A bunk bed sets an appropriate tone and function, for our trip is merrily reminiscent of a school camp. We lie there giggling at, well, nothing in particular, each with a brown paper-bagged Coopers Sparkling Ale to close our proceedings, as against the Tigers, the Hawks predictably close theirs.

*

The top deck at the MCG for the Magpies and the Blues. Footy can be of heightened appeal, especially when you’re disinterested in the result. The man-bun count is dangerously high, and incurable offender Bryce Gibbs is doing well. He’s a Glenelg boy.

Soon, we locate a narrative in Levi Casboult’s afternoon. He’s a great mark, but his kicking is a curious tribute to James Manson: former Magpie and according to the Coodabeens, a “rock and roll Tasmanian.” Still, his inelegant disposal wins me ten bucks from one of the old muckers. Collingwood present as fragile, listless, and impotent. Is this uncharitable?

As the Carlton song booms about the Olympic Stand, our ears detect Percy and Bill Hunter, adding their baritones to the celebration.

*

Pausing involuntarily at Young and Jackson for a head-count and pot of tea we then move to the Docklands for the Crows and Dogs. This could now be the competition’s finest rivalry. Anecdotal evidence suggests that on that September day in 1997 over quarter of a million Dogs supporters were behind those goals for Libba’s notorious point.

Earlier in the day, and fittingly around lunchtime, we were enjoying boys’ church at the All Nations Hotel in Richmond when above the fetching old bar, Bill Hunter’s apparition appeared, declaring, “Trust me Mickey. I was there. Don’t listen to ‘em. It was a fcuking behind.”

Tonight, though, the Crows are walloped in the middle, and have to launch too many attacks from deep in defence. This makes it tough, especially as the Dogs are on. Jenkins kicks a career-best eight, and while the free kick count is lopsided, it’s an excuse, and we lose a thriller.

Bontempelli shows poise and creativity in becoming tonight’s difference. He’s only just concluded being a teenager. When I was his age I could almost speak in sentences, and keep my Kingswood on the left.

After the siren, and walking along the swirling concourse a Dogs fan barks, “Crows supporters are two-headed at birth, and they’ve cut off the rong (sic) one.” This, of course, required appropriate rebuttal, and with volume one of our group replied, “Hey mate! You best get home and watch the ’97 prelim on your Mum’s Betamax.”

Twenty years in, this rivalry is escalating. It’s a ripper.

*

Because it’s the best method of dealing with our (temporary) Crows grief, we each purchase another Coopers Sparkling Ale and return to the school camp confines of our hotel room.

Safely snoring in the tiny space, we’re again visited by Bill Hunter who nods, just like he so often did in Muriel’s Wedding, and remarks, “You boys have had a bloody good weekend. Now go home tomorrow to your wives and families. If you behave, you can come back next year.”

Thanks Bill, we murmur from our bunks.

NFA

 

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Finals Week 1 – Western Bulldogs v Adelaide Crows: Disco-Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes

Tex

It was a moment of unfussy beauty.

At home and at the MCG we were looking at the goals, and dared to hope that he’d kick it straight. The distance wouldn’t bother him. But then Jenkins rushed forward, and we were fearful that the footy might go his way. He’d hardly touched it all night.

So why wouldn’t he have a ping? Minutes before, from a set shot, he’d brutalised a goal from sixty, in a statement of daring and confidence. Our game affixes much currency to the physical, to risk-taking, to muscular magnificence. And many would have rightly expected this from a swaggering centre-half forward. We could have expected a captain’s goal.

But we want our leaders to see what others can’t, and to show the way with the brain, and not only their brawn.

Until this point the camera had ignored Charlie Cameron, and then he appeared just beyond the goal square. It was an exquisite stratagem. With a low, spearing pass Tex found him, and he goaled. Done.

Taylor Walker has displayed enormous bravery in this season of unspeakable tragedy, his first as captain. He has moved from lovable country lad to a figure of purpose and clarity. On the field, in his debut final as leader, with only moments remaining, this is his finest effort. It wasn’t a pack mark, or inspirational goal, or brutish bump. It was an act of intelligent selflessness.

It was an act of such clarity that I wonder if Tex had recently read Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

*

About the only Latin I know is the phrase in medias res which means, “in the middle things” and it’s often used with reference to a story that begins in the midst of action. If the Roman satirist Horace was at the footy Saturday night he’d have recognised this in the explosion of dramatic events beginning with the opening bounce.

South Australia has again debated switching to the Eastern Standard time to align with the bulk of the nation’s population. The Crows were similarly uncertain about their clocks for they were their customary five or so minutes late in taking to the field. In that period the Bulldogs kicked four of the five opening goals.

Eddie Betts then occupied that rarefied space in which we all knew that no matter how many opponents were between he and the ball, no matter what cruel trajectory the Sherrin took before or after it bounced, that he would welcome it into his sure hands, and kick a goal. I was reminded of the Frank Zappa song from Just Another Band From LA fittingly titled, “Eddie Are You Kidding?”

*

Red dirt and whirly-whirlies and haunted, silent pubs. Broken Hill was our first stop on the road to Queensland. We wandered about the Living Desert sculptures just out of town. It is a place where sky and sand and heat and people connect. In the hot morning sun we started pulling up the tent pegs prior to the long drive across to Cobar.

Our caravan park neighbours were packing up too, and the woman made me think of the diverse country this is. She was handsome; on the cusp of middle age, but wearing a blue bikini, and although it was 2001, she was smoking a pipe. I hadn’t seen anyone smoking a pipe since my primary school principal, who’d patrol the corridors, leaving an olfactory, if not educational impact.

Until Tex arrived I’d thought little about Broken Hill and the Bikini-Clad, Pipe-Smoking Woman. But I like that Tex similarly brings a singularity of unique thinking to his game, influenced by the place that gave us Pro Hart and Wake in Fright and the Flying Doctor.

*

Neither side could outrun the other. At various moments Stringer, Dangerfield, Dahlhaus, Sloane and Dickson all seemed to charge into the straight with the baton a pumping, and the finishing tape mere yards away. But then the opponent would surge, and we’d gasp.

It was unrelenting entertainment. It was a Tarantino movie, a Ramones album, and it concluded in a Flemington photo-finish.

Finally, with a clever dispatching of a Bulldog on the wing, Tex seized the footy like a chalice, ran methodically, bouncing twice, before approaching the fifty metre arc.

With his sure disposal honed by long afternoons dominating kick-to-kick at Willyama High School, and then among men at the North Broken Hill footy club, he took an inward breath and sent the ball inward to Cameron.

Our captain had just won the match.

Broken Hill

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When The Sun Sets Over Carlton: Moments in Melbourne

DK

I am walking towards him.

And there is DK, those Puma bowling boots flying, in his magnificently menacing delivery stride, about to hurl it at me. Doubtless, pitching just outside off-stump, and jagging back sharply and unplayably onto a knee roll. Plumb.

With its classical vitality, and evocations of my summery, simple childhood, the Dennis Lillee statue outside the MCG’s Gate 1 is brilliant. Just brilliant.

*

The MCC library captivates me. A reading room within a colosseum! In other places and times this might be strange. But this is Melbourne. The complete Wisden’s Almanack (still using the archaic “k”) catches my eye, as does its predecessor, Lilywhites. As a built environment the MCG is superb, however it’s also a rich human location. It swirls with stories.

I look affectionately to the Nylex tower. It is colder than eleven degrees.

*

I take the Skybus from Tullamarine to the CBD in twenty minutes. No other city populated by 4.4 million permits such an easy transfer. This pleases me. The Skybus is blasting Triple M. I retrieve my phone, plug in the earphones, and tune into 3RRR’s Respect The Rock with Nicole TadPole.

Federation Square remains arresting, but is discordant, and utterly decontextualized. Is this the intention? It’s a serviceable public square, except, many would argue, a narrative of loss pollutes the pavers. I wonder if finally there’s a begrudging acceptance.

It’d be surly not to invest an hour in Young and Jackson. I imagine when I first visited, the taps poured VB, Fosters and, for the discerning, VB. Murray’s Angry Man Pale Ale is horrible. It possibly speaks of my naiveté concerning American styled beer, but in this case I see “complex character” as encoding for poop. However, Stone and Wood Pacific Ale is golden lusciousness. I drink a second.

My room doesn’t include NITV and The Marngrook Footy Show. Watching The Footy Show is like eating MacDonald’s; few admit to it. And it’s true, courtesy of my Singaporean address, I haven’t seen it for years.

Sam Newman is self-parodying. Does he care about his eponymous character anymore? Nevertheless, there’s a tribute to just-retired Jonathan Brown, and multiple mentions of “frothies.” Before they get to the games, I’m asleep.

*

I read The Odyssey on Mykonos. I heard “LA Woman” in Santa Monica, while driving down your freeway. As a boy, I enjoyed Sun on the Stubble by Eudunda’s favourite son, Colin Thiele. Staying on Flinders Street, I’m reading The Slap. Despite the dark plot, it also celebrates this city’s multicultural confidence. What fun to enjoy the art of a place while there! It informs the literary experience in an intimate, amplified way.

The vinicultural climax is a Murrindindi Shiraz at the Footy Almanac’s Waterside Hotel luncheon. Like the function, it is languid and companionable. The hours rush by. The hours glide by. There’s talk of musician Tim Rogers’ vulnerability within the context of modern masculinity, Dane Swan’s plucky unorthodoxy and Heritier Lumumba’s “I am a golden negro of mother Africa” tattoo.

*

At Docklands Stadium I take in Geelong and Essendon with some Footy Almanackers. I enjoy sitting in the Medallion Club at the Coventry End. The track is a FAST 1; a dry, hard track. The football is Muhammed Ali quick.

Being dispassionate about the result conjures Brecht, and Verfremdungseffekt, or the “alienation” effect. The purpose of this theatrical technique is to make the audience feel detached from the action of the play, and therefore better placed to appreciate it. Yep, as a neutral spectator, that’s me!

Heppell is terrific for the Bombers. As a left-legger he’d fit into Hawthorn’s side, but he’d have to trade his absurd hair to one of the Coasts: Gold or West.

*

Saturday afternoon, and the Docklands for Richmond and St Kilda. I’m at a TAB caravan on the concourse, tapping screens, and scanning the thoroughbred fields.

The wife and I went to Iceland one February. This was Hayman Island next to the frigid lasers of fecking wind slicing at that caravan. Bjork would’ve pulled her beanie of swan feathers down low, abandoned any thoughts of a Rosehill, Race 6 earn and scampered inside.

Good idea.

Having met fellow South Australian Mark “Swish” Schwerdt, we then sit up high in the affectionately labelled Level 3, and chat about our childhoods, Skyhooks, writing, and, of course, cult Crow, Eddie Hocking.

With six goals in the opening term, the Tigers create an irresistible lead. St Kilda provide their opponents Saharan space, allowing frequent invention from Trent Cotchin and Punt Road’s own son of anarchy, Dusty Martin. The Saints kick their only major through Nick Reiwoldt. He’s still as solid as a Chrysler Valiant.

After quarter time, both sides play spasmodic football. The kind that makes folks remark, “ I’m glad I’m not wasting fifty cents on electricity by recording this at home on the Betamax VCR.” Former captain Chris Newman is quiet, but after the half-time siren, threads a tidy goal.

St Kilda hang with them in a way which gives false hope, like the effortlessly beautiful girl you saw on a jetty when you were fifteen. When you were beyond deluded.

Meanwhile, Swish and I are diving into our conversations, and Richmond win by about three lengths.“Oh, we’re from Tigerland” is wonderful as they’re my second team, with the best song. What a shame it can’t be entered in the Eurovision competition. For the yellow and black it’s the first win in their famous nine-match streak. Today is the Saints’ ninth consecutive loss. 2010 must seem Paleolithic.

As we’re leaving I see a merchandise van called the “St Kilda Locker.” Bad eyes. Thought it said “St Kilda Lock Up.”

*

I dine at Il Tempo on Degraves Street.

Eating bruschetta, I reflect on my relationship with the tomato. I fancy tomato soup, but despise tomato sauce, specifically on fried eggs. Surely, among polite peoples, this is indefensible. I accommodate tomato in toasted sandwiches, but I avoid it in the New York underground train network restaurant. I sometimes eat a grilled tomato at breakfast or a BBQ lunch.

Being an adult can be awkward.

In the Sunday quiet I listen to The Whitlams’ “Melbourne.” It’s an enchanting song, and weekend coda.

In love with this girl

And with her town as well

Walking ’round the rainy city

What a pity there’s things to do at home

Y & J