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Running along the Yarra

It’s breakfast time in Melbourne.

Traversing Flinders Street, I jog by the Sea Life Aquarium and make my way through Enterprize Park. I later learn it’s where the first European settlers arrived in 1835. My boys, Alex and Max, are asleep upstairs in our apartment. We’re here for a weekend of footy and exploration.

It’s still and crisp. A cloudless winter morning in this elegant city.

I cut across an empty Queens Bridge Street and step cautiously over the bumpy cobblestones of Banana Alley. I imagine the Yarra was once vital to the economic life of Melbourne. I guess its value today is mostly ornamental. Some rowers are stretching out on the coffee-coloured surface.

There’s buried, industrial rumblings from Flinders Street Station. I press on.

Under the Princes Bridge an Asian man is fishing. Two lines are dancing on the drink. I wonder what he might be after. If the concrete boots aren’t too heavy, he could land a Ganglands War victim.

Progressing along Flinders Walk I pass a gin bar, Junipalooza, which confirms that ‘looza’ is an overused suffix. Has our planet reached peak gin yet? Will Bundy ever be world dominant? No, I don’t think so.

Melbourne’s cityscape is a marvel. Yesterday, as we headed to the MCG for our midday tour Alex remarked to Max that he found the metropolis, ‘architecturally interesting.’ This became a discussion and I’m pleased they express curiosity about these things.

Entering the space of Birrarung Marr I’m struck by birdsong and the accompanying aural surprise in what’s otherwise a vast built environment. It’s refreshing. And now there’s a bicycle repair station between me and the river! What a simple yet generous gesture and I hope the vandals respect it. It’s symbolic of the petit accommodations ubiquitously afforded by Melbourne.

Rod Laver and John Cain Arenas swim into view. In 1988 some Kapunda boys and I left the MCG after a day-nighter. I wanted to watch Allan Border bat but was at the loo in the stadium’s bowels when he came and went for a first-ball duck. Like a scene from a Russian documentary, we later saw hundreds of workers toiling away under floodlights to finish the Tennis Centre in time for the Australian Open.

My half-way point is the Swan Street Bridge, so I nudge along it and head home on the other bank.

Boathouse Drive is quietly industrious with relaxed, flush-looking folk carrying out their oars and boats. They seem to be enjoying the leisurely rhythms of their exercise routine. A barbecue sizzles away on a rowing club balcony.

Wearing a New York marathon t-shirt, a jogger is alongside me. I smile and vow to also buy a similar souvenir from eBay. He then propels past me as if I’m a statue. Disappearing like the roadrunner, I note that he has an athletes’ calves. I reconsider. Perhaps the shirt is authentic.

Southbank is tranquil apart from scattered patrons hunched over lattes and the (now dismembered) Age. Late yesterday when I ran along the river the restaurants were all busy with enthusiastic punters. The emerging trend for Friday nuptials continuing, a large wedding party promenaded past me, with knots of impossibly prosperous-looking couples off to the reception. There were also some boisterous lunches ambling into what sounded distinctly like hour number four. I doubt that I’ve seen any of the participants at this bright, embryonic stage of morning.

Near home I by-pass two mature women waiting for a taxi. Even at my distance I catch a gust of their perfume. It’s from the Chemist Warehouse and surely named Ski Field (for Seniors).

The apartment elevator takes me upstairs.

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To Alex and Max, on our Melbourne Trip

Hello there boys

There’s endless excitement in the alarm buzzing at 4.15, when dawn is hours away, and with surprise and shared adventure, a holiday stretches out before us. This trip was special. It was our first time on a plane for years and we’d planned it together.

By mid-morning when we sat down to a late breakfast on Degraves Street we’d taken an Uber, caught a plane, hopped on the express Skybus, and with luggage dragging behind, had ambled from Southern Cross Station to our apartment. Perhaps to complete the set we should’ve each ridden a unicycle to the footy.

Much of this now appears in my mind like a private film screening. In distinct scenes I can see you both walking by the Yarra and through Carlton Gardens to the museum and along Jolimont Road to the MCG. You’re chatting constantly about everything and anything. As brothers you’re robust and occasionally fierce, but this is what I’d long hoped for and imagined. These pictures are already precious and timeless.

At Australia’s museum of screen culture, ACMI, many of the displays dated from before you were born but you both entered this historical world with enthusiasm. I love your interest in culture and when you jumped in the box dedicated to the music show Countdown Alex immediately yelled, ‘Take a photo, take a photo!’ You knew this was important and so made a bid to me.

Just after lunch on Saturday we were on Swan Street in Richmond gawping through salesrooms at the luxury cars. We saw Lamborghinis, Ferraris and finally, a Rolls Royce Ghost. Its price tag featured, in smallish black print: $1,100,000. We were startled. Max provided a running commentary on all the makes and models while around us, puffer-jacketed men sipped lattes and signed on the dotted line. It was fun.

I loved zipping through the Sunday brunch crowd in the Queen Victoria Markets as you both ate a chocolate croissant (the breakfast of champions). Outside it teemed down in typically Melbourne style as our nostrils were overpowered by fresh mullet and Coffin Bay oysters.

After examining clothes and books we explored a movie poster stall and flicking through the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson sections you both said, ‘How about this one, Dad?’ or ‘You like this one, don’t you?’ I still can’t believe there was no Lebowski.

A highlight was the IMAX cinema at the museum. We’d not all been together at a film for ages – the last time was probably something from the Marvel universe. We were right at the front and the screen was the size of a couple megalodons. It was the 3D documentary, Antarctica and we had on our funny black glasses. It was narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, which Max found amusing to say repeatedly and as the film began, he reached out his hand and grabbed at the air while whispering, ‘Dad I can touch the words of the credits.’

There were funny moments across the weekend, and these then bobbed up and were giggled at again and again. On Friday night at the Docklands match three Bulldogs defenders all flew for a mark and all three touched it before the umpire blew his whistle and awarded it. I said, ‘I don’t think marking should be a group assignment’ and you laughed.

Then there was the guy at Saturday’s MCG game in the row in front of us who liked to chat and chat and chat about Richmond and Geelong and North Melbourne and then North Melbourne. And after the final siren in the 60,000-throng pressing along Daniher Way, he eyed me again and promptly took up where he’d left. After Alex said, ‘Dad, did you enjoy that convo?’ I’m quite surprised that he’s not rung.

Throughout our days there was unrelenting action and playfighting and laughter. It was enchanted. On each morning, I’d come up the elevator all sweaty from my run along the Yarra, gently turn the key and creep inside. Edging open your bedroom door, I’d glimpse in.

You were both still asleep.

Thanks.

Dad

xx

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Bob Hawke, Brutalism and Banana Bread: Melbourne Trip 2019

 

pub

Who doesn’t love an existential question just after dawn, on a festive Friday? Our flight had entered Victorian airspace (the state, not the historical era) and breakfast (adhering to Spartan and not Southern American culinary tradition) was dumped onto our tray tables.

Propelling eastwards, several kilometres above the awakening and expectant earth, Chris asked, “So, what’s the difference between banana bread and banana cake?”

“Extremely good question, old mate,” I replied staring at the brownish block of mashed fruit, all unanimated and morose.

Trev observed. “I reckon the difference is about three dollars. “

“Yep,” I confirmed, my linguistic prism primed. “Given the alliterative appeal, banana bread is more expensive.”

*

In part the North Fitzroy Arms appeals because it presents as a country pub. Pushing open the front door at 12.01 is all frisson and happy expectation. The décor and the memorabilia are as I remember. Unlike some soulless modern venues there’s no seductive chrome or glass. The taps offer familiar brews. I comment, “Good to see Pentridge Pale Ale is available.” Gough and Percy are on the back wall, in black and white, forever frozen in the early 1970’s.

gough

It’s great to see everyone, and the lunch is a beauty with the Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup with Mascarpone & Basil Oil scoring well. This weekend, everyone is a Eurovision judge.

Today’s guest speaker, George Megalogenis, is compelling and his book, The Football Solution: how Richmond’s premiership can save Australia, underpins the conversation with John Harms courtesy of a magnificent mix of history, politics, inner-Melbourne geography, sports psychology and Bob Hawke memoir.

The post-lunch exchanges are always splendid and I especially enjoy meeting Footy Almanac editor Colin Ritchie and hearing of his most recent trip to New Orleans. We yak of jazz icons Dr. John and Trombone Shorty, and the legendary venue Preservation Hall which with a wave of his hand Col suggests is the same size as the pub’s dining room.

*

Saturday morning we’re strolling north. Chris asks, “What time is it?” Of course, breakfast television motifs litter our weekend, so I channel former NBC Today host Bryant Gumbel and reply, “There’s breaking news overnight, but firstly let’s see what’s happening in your part of the world. It’s thirty-seven minutes after the hour.”

Mere moments later we pass Barrie Cassidy, in the midst of a Very Big Week, given the passing of Bob Hawke and the election. “We should’ve asked Barrie to join us in the All Nations Hotel for a quick beer,” laments Trev. “I reckon he might be on the hop for the next day or two, but otherwise I’m sure he would’ve been in,” I reassure the boys, based on zero personal insight.

Trev stops suddenly and points across at a concrete structure. “See that architecture. That’s Brutalism and inspired some of the buildings and spacecraft in Star Wars.” And indeed, looking at the stark, overbearing façade I see his point. If Trev went on Hard Quiz or Mastermind he’d pick Star Wars as his topic. That, or The Kapunda Tennis Club in the early 1980’s, or Shoegazing: Indie Rock’s Most Alluring Sub-genre. Same as all of us, I reckon.
NFA

Chris had spotted on Friday that Coopers Brewery launched a new XPA ale in Melbourne. Suitably inspired, and trusting the Internet, we arrived at the suggested pub, but were told it was closed for cleaning, hadn’t heard of Coopers XPA and that we might simply bugger off. Our disappointment could only have been lessened if the pub was instead a Frank Walker’s National Tiles outlet.

Surging into the All Nations Hotel at thirteen minutes after the hour we note that our regular stools (of the furniture variety) are waiting. Instantly, there’s an ornithological theme: geese. On tap is a craft beer called Goose Session IPA. We then spy the Grey Goose vodka on the shelf. Naturally, we text Kapunda identity Greg “Goose” Mickan whose prolonged digital silence indicates he’s delighted to hear from us. Googling him we find an introductory video on his business website. He boasts of there being, “720 degree views on his property. Provided you turn around twice.” We dedicate the following game of spoofy to him.

ANH

Safely at the Punt Road End (or Free Bird Seed End) of the MCG having invested (badly as it turns out) in Adelaide’s premier sprint, the Goodwood Handicap and Brisbane’s Doomben Cup, we locate our seats, and SANFL memorabilia enthusiast and champion bloke, Swish Schwerdt.

We yak about our respective Adelaide teams, Centrals and Glenelg, who are playing at the Ponderosa (the Tigers prevail for the first time out there since accidental leg spinner John Winston Howard was in power although as near as I can tell there’s no deep connection). We also recall the fabulous days on local radio when, at an urgent juncture a voice’d announce: “Let’s go round the grounds. Nipper Christie down at Alberton.” Much giggling follows.

MCG

During all of this, sixty thousand people completely ignore our charming dialogue and instead watch a match between Collingwood and St Kilda. The half-time Four N Twenty pies are at least equal to the footballing Pies, and the fixture finished, we move with clear-eyed purpose towards the Duke of Wellington cup-house.

*

Sunday’s breakfast television is the PGA golf and we decide that having to skool every time we heard, “In the HOLE!” would be dangerous; then bemoan the absence of David Marr on Insiders, but enjoy Barrie Cassidy’s fine work; and finally, on Eurovision, we decide that having to skool every time there’s geopolitical and not musical merit voting – “Hello Tel Aviv! Thanks for a great show. Greece gives twelve points to Cyrus!” – would also be dangerous, but not as dangerous as repeated listening to any of the songs.

Returning to the CBD after our Lygon Street brunch during which Trev confronts a colossal veal scallopini we pause respectfully at Carlton’s John Curtin Hotel with a Coopers beer to toast Bob Hawke; a venue in which Bob Hawke himself often toasted Bob Hawke (with ample cause).

Curtin

Our penultimate pub is the Exford (surely a sister hotel to Rundle Street’s Exeter) and we watch the Port and Gold Coast game from a sodden Adelaide Oval. The big screen shows that the locals have turned up in their dozens (forget Winter is Coming, I think the tarps are coming), and with the Filth the Power claiming control we scarper.

It’s forty-six after the hour, we’ve a plane to catch and banana bread to battle.

spoofy

 

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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