2

Observations from a Pair of Moving Legs

esplanade

This story is from the change of millennium when old mate Bob and I used to run early mornings along the Glenelg South esplanade. There’s surprising stuff happening by the beach at dawn.

*

It is like facing up to an appointment with the dentist. You know that it is going to hurt, that you will make some alarming gurgling sounds and that when it is finished, you will try, with ample humiliation, to spit.

Friday. Dawn. Moseley Square. I twist and fold in a feeble attempt to prepare. Peering into the dark space of the Grand’s Pier and Pines bar, I see a lone cleaner vacuuming away the last scraps of yesterday’s conversation. “Let’s do this,” urges Bob- my accomplice.

With a beep my stopwatch is blinking and running and so are we!

At 6am the Esplanade is two babbling streams of people and dogs: one flowing toward Brighton and the other; lazily at the Patawalonga. We surge southward and a dribbling hound lumbers into my lane and then across to a yawning pine. He autographs it with the shamelessness of a footballer on an end-of-season trip.

On the horizon a tanker drags itself noiselessly toward the refinery. The breeze is crisp. A lanky teenager shuffles plastic tables outside the Broadway café, his black beanie pulled so low that some could suspect him of arranging a bank robbery for mid-morning. I spot a Chupa-chup poking jauntily from his jaw and relax, pleased that he is unlikely to feature on tonight’s TV news. He nods, “G’day boys.” We nod back.

Knots of chatty walkers drink up the seaside zest and provide welcome entertainment. It’s like spinning a radio dial across endless talkback stations- and not without intrigue. A Reality-TV producer (still in plague numbers) could comfortably fashion a dozen gripping episodes from the random snippets we steal each morning. Ambling into Somerton Park I catch:

“…but you’ll never guess,” (an elderly gent to his grandson) “he made the putt!”

“I told Doreen that there-is-NO-WAY-I’m-going.”

“So, do you think his wife knows?”

And a boisterous woman in a pink tracksuit gives her arteries some extra traffic by broadcasting, “and that bloody plumber still wanted to charge me!”

My stopwatch offers no quirky grabs. It only rudely demands acceleration. The yacht club sails toward us. Finally halfway, we anchor and embrace our minute’s rest. “A visit to the dentist’s is less painful,” I splutter, hands on hips- hungry for air.

Bob wheezes, “At least you get plenty of oxygen in the chair.” His hair is stuck firm to his head. We devour the sixty seconds, then turn, resolved, homeward bound. The wind, previously an ally, is now aggressive. I immediately feel I’m towing an old wooden bar fridge. An old wooden bar fridge bulging with brown rows of Coopers Stout.

The Esplanade’s skyline changes constantly. Majestic villas bravely protest the spread of Tuscan packing crates. A developer’s billboard stands loud among the concrete and the mesh of a building site. “Hurry! Only ONE left,” it screams impatiently.

“Now that’s optimism,” snorts Bob. This anorexic block is apparently destined to feature all of two yellow townhouses.

A cheery clot of ruddy sixty-somethings is caught by their chain of cars on a rise. T-shirts cling and drip and they chat brightly in the golden light of the sunrise as only the retired can. A champagne cork, sorry- Australian Sparkling Wine cork cuts an arc across the footpath like a failed firework. Each gent tips a crystal flute into which the hissing fizz is energetically spilled. “What’s the occasion boys?” I ask.

“Friday,” celebrates one of this chirpy clan as he hoists his breakfast drink. A gesture of sweaty fellowship.

“Amen,” I return.

“That will be us in thirty years Mickey,” puffs Bob.

“The cheapest champagne will be a hundred bucks a bottle by then.”

“Plus twenty five per cent GST.” But Bob is given to political alarm.

Pushing on towards the Broadway, we abandon our role models to their refreshments and their broad, leisurely days.

The stopwatch sternly announces that a scant two minutes stand between us and our best time of the summer. The Grand’s sandcastle shapes loom and I try to push myself quicker. “No,” my legs scream. I know deep in my soul that a root canal treatment is better than this.

“Listen legs,” I assert, “do as you are told. And stop talking. You can’t speak. This is not a Douglas Adams’ novel!”

Our finishing line (in many senses of the phrase) swims into happy view. I glance at my now completely despised watch. The Town Hall clock frowns down at us like a disappointed Senior Colts football coach. Again I spy the wandering hound, eagerly leaving his name on a sullen lamppost.

Swerving around some swaying walkers gobbles critical seconds.

“Eleven dollars for O-Rings! What’s the hell is an O-Ring?”

It’s the pink tracksuit, still expounding on the Secret Horrors of Dishwasher Repairs.

We make a desperate, final lunge- and are outside our target time. It was, however, another vigorous run and my pounding pulse is electric and exhilarating. We savour our slow cool down on the bumpy lawn that separates the Norfolk Island Pines from the sloping sands. After, easing along the veranda of the Grand, Bob inquires, “See you and Kerry in here for a beer tonight?”

“Magnificent idea,” I agree.

Yes, it is the weekend. The glorious escape. Promise and anticipation.

Our next dental appointment is not until Monday.

 

running

0

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1993

wellington

Gee, I love the early nineties. Indeed, my wife has often remarked that I’m still living there. She may have a point. So, I’m listening to some old songs. Here’s two that reverberate.

Girlfriend- Matthew Sweet

I remember the first time I heard Triple J. I was driving around Adelaide on a Saturday during 1990 in my VK Commodore. Roy and HG and This Sporting Life was on, and Roy was telling of the occasion he was marlin fishing off Bermuda with It’s a Knockout host Billy J. Smith, Kylie Minogue and celebrated cricketer Steve Waugh. He narrated with such earnestness that like all good satire I believed him for a few minutes.

Back then Helen and Mikey did the breakfast shift on Triple J and it remains the most exciting, deranged radio I’ve heard. They regularly played Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend.” It’s power pop perfection with its exhilarating, urgent guitars and ambiguous lyrics. It still transports me back to 1992 when I and Greg Anderson both sported (unironic) mullets.

A few years later Mikey was still on breakfast, but with the Sandman, and this happened.

Sandman: I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to be a woman.

Mikey: Come here.

I’m not sure if Matthew Sweet is a one-hit wonder, but “Girlfriend” endures as a glowing artefact from a fun time.

Saints- The Breeders

Emerging as a Pixies side project for Kim Deal, their signature song is “Cannonball” from their album Last Splash. I bought this when I was down from Kimba, in Adelaide to undertake my first City to Bay fun run. My aim for the gently downhill twelve kilometres was modest. I wanted to break the hour mark.

The run was Sunday morning, the day after the 1993 preliminary final between the Adelaide Crows and Essendon Bombers. I watched it in Magill with a couple mates who were enjoying some footy beers. Adelaide was up by 42 points at half time. How exciting was this? We were going to our first grand final!

As things unravelled in the second half I was tempted to apply some medicinal lagers, but resisted as I’d been training for two months. Of course we lost and a week later Essendon claimed an unlikely premiership.

I completed the run in 58 minutes.

Last Splash is an eclectic listen comprising surf music, off-kilter ballads and infectious pop. “Saints” recounts a summery day at the fairground, but through an alternative prism. There’s disconnected imagery and a driving beat with Kelley Deal on a growling guitar. Invited by her sister Kim to join the band as a guitarist presented but one problem: Kelley did not know how to strum a chord. “Saints” shows she picked it up pretty well.

The following Christmas I was in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, on a Contiki tour.  I learnt that the Breeders were playing a small venue around the corner from our digs. I didn’t go because I had to drink Steinlagers in a pub with other Australians and talk footy and cricket. As Australians do when overseas in beautiful places they might never again visit.

Ridiculous.

knockout

0

Courtney, cabernet and camels

camel

“Boxing Day Blues

I know that I let you down

You’re not keen on what you found

Courtney Barnett has many musical skills. Blistering guitar and compelling deadpan vocals, but chief among her gifts is crafting exquisite lyrics. The Melbournian uses sparse, arresting questions with potency.

When’s the funeral?

Do you want me to come?

I like how within a couplet she creates a backstory of considerable heartbreak. The questions speak of a sudden schism, destruction visited upon an intimate relationship. It’s sad.

Questions hang, and generate an ocean of regret. Courtney knows when to provide space for her listeners. The song breathes and gently sobs. It’s stunning.

*

In the days after we flew back from Queensland I chaperoned into our house a dreadful Clare shiraz. It was as if the grapes had been grown unnaturally out the back of a chip shop and the wine made, even more unnaturally, in the shed of an Ipswich car detailer.

I then ventured to the safer cabernet country of Langhorne Creek. Bleasdale is a ripper winery and its Mulberry Tree from 2013 is most companionable on these bracing evenings. The luscious fruit was an insulating treat, and I’ll engage it again soon. Friday looks likely. In Singapore it’d cost one of your limbs: prosthetic or God given. Here there’s change from twenty. Genius.

*

Despite being well beyond its sesquicentenary Adelaide continues to grow up. It’s moving from big town to city. An example of this is how the Torrens Parade Grounds was recently transformed into the Alpine Winter Village.

Borrowing heavily from German Christmas markets there was mulled wine, bratwurst and sauerkraut. Decidedly warmer than Munich in December it was brief fun under last Sunday’s pale rays. As it was booked out we couldn’t go ice skating (probably not me anyhow) but found a table and drank (and ate) in the continental troposphere.

And as you’d expect in this wintry European enclave there was a string of camels! The huge, silent beasts were led through along the village paths, their bulbous, poop-matted knees brushing my shoulders as they went past like noiseless, coffee-coloured combi-vans. Just like Bavaria!

Of course, our boys scampered off about the village to do some exploring. They returned, fresh camel turds smeared and speckled across their coats, ready for our evening at the football.

We look forward to the return of the Alpine Winter Village. But the camels can go back to the desert.

The Gobi will do.

courtney

2

a biscuit, a pie and a lost tooth

tape

When I was a boy there was a holy trinity of biscuits.

Bush Biscuits were summer afternoons at the Kapunda Swimming Pool. Skinny and brown as nuts we’d munch these while listening to Australian Crawl on someone’s cassette player. No doubt a TDK C-90 tape. These biscuits were impossibly bland- it was as if scientists had extracted their flavour in a hidden lab. If it rained you could shelter under one for they had the surface area of a picnic blanket. I still don’t know why we held such affection for them.

Then there was the Rolls Royce. The Iced Vo-Vo. Sweet and stylish, with desiccated coconut and pink fondant and strawberry jam these represent those moments of wholesome joy that punctuate childhood. These remain the anti- Milk Arrowroot; the biscuit that shouldn’t exist.

And then there’s the Salada. It’s a plain cracker that’s lasted. Forget the wholemeal or light versions. Go the original. Just as they come, or with butter, or cheese. Best of all, with vegemite, made into a sandwich so you can squeeze them together and make little brown worms. For me these are primary school and sharing these with old mate Greggy at recess before running up to the tiny oval and dobbing the footy.

And in a week of petite milestones, our boys have discovered the Salada. I’m just a little bit pleased and the memories evoked by this dry biscuit, again probably a culinary mystery, have sprinkled my week with nostalgia. When their mum went shopping last Sunday their hysteria was obvious.

“Mum, get Saladas!”

“No! Two packets,” demanded the other.

Later, I pinched one for myself and it was Abba and Grease and the Sturt Footy Club and the Jumbo Prince and Happy Days on the tele.

*

While the wife was buying these dry crackers on Sunday the boys and I wandered up to Semaphore. It is a vibrant, eclectic village, possessing the best strip in Adelaide, and we happened upon the Semaphore Bakehouse for lunch. Our next moment of celebration then occurred as we sat at an outside table and devoured our pies.

As the punters and their dogs and the shuffling folks drifted past us boys sat there and worked away at our food and it was fun. How Australian, I thought, to enjoy a steaming pie of a sunny, June morning? As tradition dictates Max removed the lid- he prefers deconstruction as his modus operandi for interrogating his world, while Alex applied himself with messy vigour to the challenge. It was wonderful.

There was but one injury. Burnt roof of mouth to their Dad.

*

It was threatening for some time. Then on Thursday it happened. Max lost a front tooth. And with this his face is forever changed, destined to march to an adulthood of deepened voice and hardening cheeks and the loss of innocence that every parent dreads.

Of course it mattered little to him, but he enjoyed the healthy handful of coins left by the Tooth Fairy, and as we set off for school this morning these were clinking away in his pocket.

Winter has rushed upon us this last week. But as we move through our routines these biscuits and pies and a tiny tooth have allowed some golden rays to bend down towards us.

As it’s Friday, I might treat myself to an Iced Vo Vo.

biscuit

0

Growing Up In A Footy Club

KFC

 

The following memoir features in First Use Of The Ball- Celebrating Football In Kapunda Since 1866. I’m most grateful to sporting legend, local historian and my former teacher Paul McCarthy for the chance to contribute to this special publication.

If you love footy and stories of colour and passion I’m proud to say the book’s available at the Kapunda Football Club, and certainly not the Essendon Football Club website at-

http://www.bombers.com.au

*

Growing up in the Kapunda Football Club was fun. It does take a village to raise a child, and in part many of us were guided through to adulthood by the Bombers. Sometimes in affirming, character-building ways, and sometimes by one of the Mickan brothers.

*

Eudunda. Heading across the hills before descending into the town, a bluish plain swims into view. This flat scrubbiness seems, on certain days, as a becalmed, wintry ocean. As a kid I used to think, instead of this saltbush and mallee, it’d be fantastic if it was the sea. As it was, eons ago. Even before the Robertstown junior colts all wore mutton-chops on their colossal faces which sat atop of their colossal frames.

To the north, and by Burra Creek, is the locality of World’s End. Snaking nearby we find Goyder’s Line, which shows where rain and soil might allow crops to be grown confidently. Goyder is still right.

Sitting in Mum and Dad’s car by the Eudunda oval, Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” plays on 5KA, in grim competition with the hail hammering on the roof.  It turns to a sleety, possibly snowy gale. It’s diabolical, even for Eudunda, and forces the footballers to scurry over the fence, and huddle between the Kingswoods and Chargers. There’s no afternoon delight for them. I’d never seen such an apocalyptic storm, and know it’s serious when I see Boo Menzel leap the hoardings and hide by a souped-up Torana.

Although I was only ten World’s End seemed even closer.

*

My old mate Trevor Lucas took what many reckon is the best mark ever taken by a Kapunda Bomber. 1985, Angaston oval, U17’s Grand Final against Riverton/Saddleworth. Still lanky even today, Trev ambled out from full-forward like a slow-motion deer, rose impossibly to the crest of the pack, and grabbed it. The footy stuck! It’s a mighty moment.

When the video was shown at their recent reunion this got the loudest roar. Like all treasured yarns it gets better over time, and Trev’s grab is now becoming stratospheric. By 2030 his mark will surely defy physics.

I spent most of that season in the Bombers’ B grade. We barely won a game. In the forlorn huddle at three-quarter time of the final match we were down by truckloads. Our coach’s address- he may have been a Mickan- was less Barack Obama than drunken barracker. “Well boys we’re in trouble. Again. And we’re out of excuses. The season’s done. I don’t know what to say. Just go and run a lap. Or something.”

*

Now demolished, Kapunda’s Railway Hotel hosted a fleeting infamy, among the ridiculous, by opening at 8am on Sundays, when because breakfast was apparently too early for beer, we’d get raspberry cordial splashed in our West End Draught butchers. Once we were chaperoned down there in the cool morning air by none other than Mick Dermody.

Years before this the publicans’ son, Mick, went briefly to Kapunda High.  In the hotel ballroom he inflicted upon me Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Once. I recovered. I tell you, everything about the Railway Hotel was ridiculous.

But Mick could play footy. He was a thumping kick, and when he connected, he sometimes achieved the mythological quality known in country sport as, “good purchase.”

In the Junior Colts one Saturday at Dutton Park our ruckman got the tap from the centre bounce. Mick seized the footy in that clean, untouchable way he had. Suddenly frozen as if in a sci-fi telemovie, the Tanunda boys were incapable of tackling. They simply stared, wide-mouthed and slack-jawed.

Mick surged towards the half forward line. Fifty-metre arcs were yet to be discovered, and he was outside that when he bombed it, a monstrous dob. Perhaps prog-rock had already pinched his conceptual clarity. It was a behind. To the Tanunda Magpies.

He’d kicked it the wrong way.

But, gee, it was impressive. I’ve never seen a better point.

*

Meet me down by the jetty landing

Where the pontoons bump and sway

I see the others reading, standing

As the Manly Ferry cuts its way to Circular Quay

“Reckless” by Australian Crawl takes me back. With a funereal bass line, and a snare drum like gunshot, it’s prominent in the soundtrack to my final year at school, 1983. At the Kapunda Swimming Pool it got a workout, in between us sneakily bombing the canteen, and poor Mrs Chappell. This was also the year I fractured my arm playing senior colts. June and my season, wrecked.

As the locum had not aligned it a fortnight later my arm was to be re-broken. Six more weeks in a cast. Look! There I am on a hospital bed as the doctor looms and mumbles.

“Ouch! It’s hurting!” I sense the subterranean crunching. Doc is an absorbed professional, and continues his medical manipulation of me. “Be quiet please!” I am in distress. “No, it’s really hurting!” Not just Masters bakery is out of sausage rolls distress. Or even Skyhooks have split distress. It is monolithic pain.

Minutes later the doctor squints at the drip. He realises. His tone transforms. “Oh! I’m so sorry. I’m very sorry!” There he was, fracturing my arm with feverish enthusiasm, but somehow, he forgot to turn on the anaesthetic.

After, the local veterinarian gave me artificial insemination gloves to slide over my cast when showering. Happily, for the district’s young and old bulls and me, these were not pre-loved.

*

Mini-League training was Wednesdays at Dutton Park. Former stationmaster and beloved club servant Bruce Dermody was our coach. He was patient and grandfatherly. At least twice a week Bruce would holler, “Hold that ball straight lad when you kick!”

With goalposts across the ground we’d have scratch matches down the trotting track end. It was the best fun of the week. It was our innocent island. It was our world. Only stopping because of the gathering gloom, we’d then cycle home to chops and three veg (mashed spud, carrots and peas), Dukes of Hazzard and bed. Even now when I dob the Sherrin with my boys I can still hear Bruce’s urgings, “Hold that ball straight, lad!”

Bruce met his wife Melva at Bowmans, a railway siding between Balaklava and Port Wakefield. It’s long gone. They lived for the club, and it was their family. We remember them well.

*

When I was at Kapunda High Former Port Magpie Rod Burton became senior coach of the Bombers. He was menacing. He had mad eyes. He could seem unhinged. Even for a Port player.

As a boy listening to one of his particularly ferocious pre-match speeches in Angaston’s claustrophobic change rooms I came within a wobbly gasp of wetting myself. I’m reminded of him whenever I watch Jaws and Quint, the great shark-hunter and his Indianapolis speech

Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’

Paul “Crackshot” Masters, Rod “Rocket” Ellis and I sitting on the western wing by Dutton Park’s timekeepers’ box when Burton had a boundary kick in. The box also housed the public address system, and across the day Bruce Dermody made regular catering announcements. These are as burned into my memory as Father Moore’s lilting sermons from St Rose’s pulpit

Ladies and gentleman, the canteen is selling pies, pasties and sausage rolls. There’s lollies for the kids. And the liquor bar will open at 2.30 for all your refreshment needs.

We were behind Burton. Deliberately, he pushed off the fence, and launched a colossal screw punt. Spiralling instantly above the gum trees, the Ross Faulkner footy bisected the posts, and below the mound, way down near the trotting track, on the service road, it landed like a depth-charge in a submarine movie.

Blighty’s after the siren goal for North Melbourne was but a stab pass.

As the Holden Commodores honked in praise, and duffel-coated kids including us shrieked, Burton smiled.

Just briefly.

KFC2

 

6

Cooler than a robot, older than the wolf

beach

The endless swimming was a highlight of our three years in Singapore. On some Saturdays, we’d be in and out of the condominium pool four times. At dawn, when the boys and I’d occasionally happen upon whispering Japanese couples rounding out their evening with a bottle of breakfast Shiraz. Then we’d also dive in around midday, and driven by heat and claustrophobia, twice during the sultry afternoon. It was a theme park and often for us, an escape.

Early during our other-hemispherical stint, we were in the water, and I was talking with you about your birthday. I said, “How’s things now that you’re three? How’re you different?” Of course, your answer was instant, and assured. You replied, saying you were now, “Cooler than a robot, older than the wolf.” Not any wolf, mind you, but the wolf. I’d long suspected that you’ve a capacity for language, an opulent and striking relationship with words. Splashing about that muggy day, confirmed it.

Only a few months ago, and back in Australia, there was this domestic exchange. “Max, will you stop being so ridiculous?” It’s a word that’s vigorously employed from time to time in our house. But only as required. Ridiculous. You announced, “Mum, you’re ridiculous!” to which she said, “You can’t even spell ‘ridiculous!’” With sparkling comic timing, your retort came. “Yes. I can. M-U-M.” This talent, while sometimes maddening, might carry you far. It’s a gift.

A counterpoint to this linguistic skill is your love for engaging with the physical world. Moving like an inexhaustible machine, you explore, you probe, you pull stuff to bits. Inspired by curiosity, and bursting with a hearty sense of industry, you help me with jobs about the house. These are the moments.

One of my favourite things is when our world shrinks and shrinks, and it’s just you and I on a Saturday morning. A little backyard militia, we mow, and with a cutting wheel, we edge the lawns. All the while you question, encourage, engage. We sometimes visit the recycling depot, and lastly as a tiny reward, we pop by the Anzac Highway TAB, where in joyous imitation, you illustrate your fan of betting slips, resulting in financial return at least equal to mine.

It’s a routine that drapes exquisite meaning over these weekends. In a life often too complex, this fetching simplicity refreshes me like an oasis. We don’t often sit still on the lounge and chat, instead conversing while in motion. The car. With heaving backpacks, walking to and from school. Out the back, as Sunday shadows lengthen, playing cricket.

Last Easter, we wandered down to Glenelg Oval for the Sheffield Shield final. Strolling southwards, chatting; the breeze, the bent rays of autumnal sunshine. I love listening to your brotherly conversations, as these dance and hang in the air like bubbles.

*

If I close my eyes I can see a silent movie of flickering highlights, and these tumble about me, like rain.

You’re riding madly round the Old Gum Tree Park, with your feet dangling high above the pedals, and look, they’re now up on the handlebars as you wizz by in a mischievous blonde rush.

Lying under the patio, just after a December dawn, with summer’s heat already heavy in the sky, you’re hugging our new dog, Buddy and you’re talking to him like an equal, as if he’s a little brother. And, he is.

We’re on a Thai beach, and in a cocoon of pure, insubstantial now, you’re jumping like a kangaroo and laughing in the gently frothing waves. I barely believe we’re here.

Finally, you’re in bed, and I creep into your room, but there’s a thin shaft of light. Inspired by the nocturnal habit of Alex, you’re in your bunk, on your belly, immersed by a book, reading with a torch. This makes me happy.

Now exhausted, you finish your story, surrendering to our will, and within moments, you slide down into an irresistible sleep. You’ve interrogated your world, so delightfully, so energetically, across the long hours of the arching day that instantly, almost impossibly, you’re still.

You are now six, and will always be cooler than a robot, and older than the wolf. Max, we love you. Play on.

lawn mowing

0

Jonesy

car

We met in the Orwellian year of 1984 at the Salisbury SACAE and studied English together. It then turned into UniSA, and is now, perhaps poignantly given tonight’s splendid occasion, a retirement village where on Thursdays, I believe, they do a wicked two fruits and ice cream. But it was tremendous fun when we were there in the ridiculous and pastel 1980’s. Among many, many memories of my friend Jonesy, here’s just a few-

Joneso, do you remember how we’d plod off to fourth year English, heartlessly scheduled on Mondays from 4 – 8pm? Having survived, at 8.01pm I’d point my 1973 HQ Holden Kingswood southward, you’d beg me to crank up the cassette player with some mid-period Bob Dylan, and we’d navigate speedily if not unlawfully to the Botanic Hotel. Safely there, we’d review the lecture’s major themes, or not.

Back in those days pubs had to serve food to stay open late and the Botanic often offered spaghetti bolognaise, which was slopped out of a large steel pot, just like in a prison movie. And indeed the food was criminal. But, on more than one occasion, as uni students, we ate it.

One of my favourite Jonesy moments was on a Friday at uni when she performed a monologue by Barry Humphries’ best character; not Dame Edna or Sir Les Paterson, but the decent man of the suburbs, Sandy Stone. Jonesy’s performance was fantastic. I laughed like a drain. It was funny and poignant. That monologue is called Sandy Claus, and as I share an extract from it, imagine I’m a doddering, lisping old man, which’ll be impossible for I’m not the actor that she is. So, picture Jonesy in a dressing gown and slippers, with her hair gray

On top of the pudding Beryl had made a delicious fruit salad which she’d put in the big cut-crystal bowl she keeps for best. She’s had it for years now but it’s still got the Dunklings sticker on it. However, everyone was full up to dolly’s wax and I was absolutely stonkered, so unfortunately it was hardly touched and Beryl said it was a wicked shame after all the fag she’d gone to. With the exception of the banana which goes brown overnight, she’d preserved every bit of that fruit herself in her Fowlers Vacola and I can vouch for it personally; Beryl’s been bottling all her married life.

Is this the best reference to the Fowlers Vacola you’ve ever heard? Is this the only reference to the Fowlers Vacola you’ve ever heard?

Teaching at leafy and prestigious Marryatville High Kerry suffered or rather I suspect, enjoyed, a wardrobe malfunction. Yes, at school. Yes, in front of her students, like a shameless Kardashian. Many would’ve blushed and ran screaming from the room, but not our Jonesy, who confronted the issue with her students, saying,” Yes, I know it’s funny, have a good look, I’m sure this has happened to some of you too. Yes class, you’re correct, I am wearing odd shoes.”

Like a puppy I’ve followed her around professionally. Decades ago, early in our working lives, she went to Cleve and I went just up the road, to Wudinna (Woo-dina for those of you from Oxford). I then followed her to Marryatville, after she’d wisely left, and recently the exam and assessment authority called the SACE Board, after she’d wisely left, but at which we might work together in a few months.

If you return, we could sneak off early on Mondays, and yet again, regularly journey to the Botanic Hotel. I could hire a Kingswood. You could drive. I’ll bring the Bob Dylan tapes.

Happy birthday, loyal, funny, dear friend.

dylan

 

 

0

Skyhooks and me

ego

Urgency. I reckon this is the best word. For they were always urgent. Midnight Oil was aggressive, and Sherbet was summery. But even when they were brooding, Skyhooks was urgent.

Learning of their 1991 reunification tour, some mates and I instantly booked our tickets. However, on the day of their Adelaide concert I awoke 565 kilometres away on the West Coast as I had to pack up my Ucontitchie Road farmhouse for the move to Kimba.

With my earthly goods flung through the front door of my new house, we leapt into my mate’s SS Commodore, pointed the 4.9 litre beast eastward, and rumbled the five hours, through a January thunderstorm, to North Adelaide’s Old Lion Hotel. We arrived with moments to spare. The pub already stinging in its smoky, hot fug. There were but three beers on tap. Red Symons was at his belligerent Red Faces best. It was a night of huge fun.

I love crowd singing on a live album. It amplifies the sense of being there, when in all likelihood, you weren’t. Great examples include “Army” from Ben Folds Live and,” Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis, but supreme for me is “All My Friends Are Getting Married” from Skyhooks’ Live in the Eighties. When Shirl invites the crowd to sing the chorus they do in such an adoring fashion. Back at the Old Lion this, too, was a highlight of that summer night.

*

Sophomore albums often rate highly. Think Nevermind, The Bends and Astral Weeks. Buoyed by the acclaim of their debut offering, there’s often a young band or artist, teamed up with a noted producer. Their confidence is unparalleled. An equivalent could be, again from 1991, when Mark Waugh made an elegant hundred on debut at Adelaide Oval. However, a friend observed, “It’s not such a surprise. After all, you only get picked for your country because you’re in fantastic form.”

Bearing this in mind, Ego Is Not a Dirty Word is their finest album. I know that Living in the Seventies is the much-loved debut, selling over 300,000 copies, and enjoying the infamy of six of its offerings being banned. But, on this second release, there’s an increased breadth in the songs, with “Love’s Not Good Enough” musing on suburban loneliness, “Smartarse Songwriters” featuring Greg Macainsh’s meta-cognitive explorations, and the title track, pushing the patience of many (I can’t imagine Sir Joh was a fan) with its brazen reference to the triumvirate of Richard Nixon, Leonard Cohen, and in an Australian music first, Jesus.

My favourite is side 2, track 2. I know it’s a hundred types of wrong but I recently played it in the car for our boys on the way home from karate. On the first note of “Mercedes Ladies” they both giggled at the larrikinism of bass line, the cheeky guitars and Freddie’s comical tom-tom drumming. It rollicks along with the musical highlight the double hi-hat chick at the end of each line. It’s a great way to spend three minutes, and encapsulates the band, their time, and their legacy. In this, as in much of their material, Skyhooks satirise the suburbs while also rejoicing in them.

Of course, we’re all apprehended by our creative context. Even here in smug 2016, history will eventually scold us. 1975 imprisoned many with multiple charges: sexism, homophobia, stereotyping. But despite this Skyhooks also pioneered themes concerning the suburban and the local. It was music of the largely untold other; it was not of NYC or London.

Such is the significance of Skyhooks for me that the mention of Carlton evokes the song first, and the footy team second. The band’s collected lyrics still generate a google map of Melbourne, and a reference to Toorak or Balwyn returns me to my original conceptions of the city by the Yarra. If the Beatles are Liverpool, and the Rolling Stones are London, then Skyhooks are Melbourne. Their music has always presented the geography of a highly human environment, as there’s colourful pictures of grimy pubs, menacing streetscapes, and widescreen vistas too.

It was in my school mate Lumpy Nixon’s lounge room (I’m sure there were ceramic ducks flying up the wall) that I first saw, and heard Straight in a Gay, Gay World. I was mesmerised by the guitars on the title track, and the sonic trickery of a swarm of insects hovering overhead on the outro, moving from the left speaker to the right. I was fourteen and this was beyond cool.

The album’s artwork gripped me equally with its triptych of a solitary black sheep, butcher shop and lamb dinner. It was the first humorous cover I’d seen. The art often functioned as a portal to an album’s narrative. I was especially intrigued by Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and tried to decipher the cover photo of the two business men, one calmly ablaze, shaking hands on a Californian backlot. However, I couldn’t unlock its mystical meanings. In our age of Spotify and digital downloads, these happy distractions have largely disappeared. But vinyl’s fighting back.

*

And finally to Shirl. He’d a remarkably complex voice, blending a tradie’s building site swagger with the footballer’s front-bar cockiness. It was effortlessly confident, and also reassuring, saying, “Why would you live anywhere else?” as it slapped your back and shouted, “Forget about it, I’ll buy you a beer!” He sung to, and for, us. But, his vowels were knowingly crisp and aware of the telling subtext. He delivered his stories with affection, while also investing the songs, as appropriate, with a sneer. “Million Dollar Riff” could be his best performance. Shirl was the perfect front man.

I love that I can go years without listening to a band, and then one afternoon find myself dragging out a dusty CD, and with the opening chords, being teleported to a distant, thrilling place. With Skyhooks that place is removed and unreconstructed, but from time to time, I really enjoy going back there.

hooks

 

0

Frogger, Bush Biscuits and Staring at Parked Motorbikes

fish tales

Growing up in the country wasn’t simply footy, cricket and an occasional hit of tennis.

Frogger

A gastronomic and social revolution followed Johnny Guzzo opening The Kapunda Pizza Bar in the late 1970’s. Located on the Main Street, it was a superior example of the wider world invading. Goodbye chops and three veg!

This meant Rawady’s Deli no longer sold the town’s most exotic food: the Chiko Roll. Of course, neighbouring Nuriootpa had a so-called, “Chinese Restaurant,” but the Barossa Valley was always a brazen place.

The KPB immediately became a teenage hangout. Within its fuggy walls were a jukebox, pinball machine and cabinet game. Trigonometry and flora transects would not win me. Enter Frogger!

Our heroic frog needed to cross a road, and then a river teeming with turtles and alligators. Superior to Space Invaders and Galaxian; both were earnest and dull next to Frogger’s narrative silliness. Beyond the usual disposable deaths, it rewarded the escorting of a lady frog.

And the cultural legacy! In 1998, the game starred in the Seinfeld episode, “The Frogger,” involving George’s world record score of 860,630 points. While, “Space Invaders” by Player One featured on the 1979 K-Tel compilation Full Boar. Side 2 holds up well

Split Enz- I Got You

Flying Lizards- Money

Sniff ‘n’ the Tears- Driver’s Seat

The Sports- Strangers On A Train

Cheap Trick- Dream Police

Ry Cooder- Little Sister

The Aliens- Confrontation

Jo Jo Zep & Falcons- Shape I’m In

Graham Parker- Hey Lord Don’t Ask Me Questions

Jimmy & The Boys- I’m Not Like Everybody Else

Roller-skating

“Lay Your Love on Me” by Racey was popular when I started high school, and ceaselessly requested on 5AD’s evening show.

Roller-skating on the betting ring at Kapunda’s Trotting Track. In a wheeled version of musical chairs I won Racey’s follow-up single, “Some Girls.“ It wasn’t even in the shops!

Collecting the record from DJ and Tarlee farmer Tony Clarke, it was a dazzling jewel in a Tintin adventure. A giggle of girls gathered around me to behold it. For about five seconds I was John Paul Young.

“You’re so lucky!”

“That is so cool.”

“Can you even wait to play it on the Pye 3-in-1?”

The chorus was ruthlessly relevant

Some girls will, some girls won’t
Some girls need a lot of lovin’ and some girls don’t
Well, I know I’ve got the fever but I don’t know why
Some say they will and some girls lie

I was sure it’d make me outrageously popular with that most desirable of creatures, the older Year 9 girl.

It did not.

Extra ball! Multiball! Special!

The highest weekly pinball score at Johnny Guzzo’s won a can of coke. I know! It was usually collected by a yoof wearing a black duffel coat, and the black boots with a fearsome reputation among mothers everywhere, Ripples. Although some dressed tough, Kapunda boys weren’t.

When not applying plantations of pineapple to pizza (jalapeno and salami were yet to be invented) Johnny Guzzo would play pinball. He was fun, but kicked out anybody who tilted the machine too violently. Exiled onto the Main Street, Johnny’d be yelling after them, “Vaffanculo! Si cazzo rompi. Esci!”

Bang! A Special! A free game! The whip-crack always turned the adolescent heads away from their smoking and bantering, to see who’d won.

It is a Believe It Or Not mystery that I claimed the coke. Once.

I often think that when my mid-life crisis finally hits, I’ll buy a pinball machine. May be Fish Tales.

Bombing the Canteen

Every summer, every boy tried to splash Mrs Chappell, the Kapunda Swimming Pool’s manageress, as she sat in her canteen chair. Mrs Chappell sold confectionery, shelved seductively in glass bottles. These were probably taken from a Fowler’s Vacola preserving set.

Launched stealthily from the diving board, drenching the canteen could only be achieved with an impeccably executed bomb or cannonball such as a Storky, Arsey, Suey, or my cousin Boogly’s speciality, the Coffin.

Being built like a full back didn’t result automatically in a bigger splash. The best bombs had slick skill and my friend Lukey, still Robbie Flower skinny, possessed Grand Master technique.

Eating at the pool was ritualistic. Bush Biscuits were similar to Arrowroots, but larger, harder, and somewhat impossibly, more dreary and tasteless. According to the manufacturer, they were, “made for camping.” Forget blood brothers, Bush Biscuit bonds run deepest.

They became our currency. Decades on, and always over beers, fellow pool-haunter Fats and I still jest about the Bush Biscuit ledger.

“You still owe me a Zooper Dooper from 1983.”

“What about the time I bought Boogly, Lukey and you Sunnyboys?”

“I remember the day you pinched my Wizz Fizz, you know, when I got kicked out for bombing Mrs Chappell in the canteen!”

For the record, Fats remains indebted to me.

Staring at Parked Motorbikes

I never loved the motorbike. Several of my schoolmates did. Upon arriving, during recess, at lunch, and after school, they’d gather under the tree where the teachers’ motorbikes were parked.

Like a hypnotised cult they’d stare at the machines as if in a David Lynch film. Or Puberty Blues.

Through barely-opened mouths, they’d mutter about carbies and clutches. They had nicknames like Gomer and Lumpy.

“How’s the throttle action?”

“What do you think’s the top end?”

“I reckon Mr H polished his petrol tank last night.”

When every working part had been mentioned, they’d cycle through them again. Never making eye contact, but staring, bewitched, at the motorbikes.

After school, they’d then break camp to Johnny Guzzo’s and, on the footpath, repeat their low automotive mantra, while gazing at a different set of Kawasaki’s.

Working at a Catholic school in Hertfordshire I was reminded of Gomer and his Suzuki pornologists. A friend, the Religious Instruction teacher, once had the following priestly exchange

“So boys, it is a sin to masturbate, because, in the eyes of God, in so doing, you are thinking about sex with a woman.”

A hand crept up. “But sir,” an anxious boy asked, “is it still a sin if you’re thinking about your favourite car?”

bush

0

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