As we ambled along the grey beach this morning and the dogs scampered in the wet sand and we chatted about yesterday’s Cellar Door Fest I thought of many wonderful things for which I’m grateful.
Oddly, Southwark Bitter was absent from this gentle Sunday mindfulness, but now here I am on the patio with a distinctive green can. It’s time to revisit. Excursions into nostalgia should be occasionally inclusive and with the radio on, the lawn freshly mown, and the water feature bubbling along, I flip open the can. I expect it to be combative.
It smells more beery than beer. There’s nothing post-modern or aspirational present. It’s unapologetic, and I know that on Southwark’s playlist there’s just too many songs by The Angels. But, wait, perhaps the aromatics aren’t as boisterous as I remember. There’s a familiar charm, and it’s like the old cricketer who batted at ten, didn’t bowl and had to be hidden in the field. You and your team-mates loved him.
I take a few cautious sips and personal history makes me expect to be clobbered in the gob. But, I’m not. It’s not nearly as angular and cantankerous as my last venture into this beer-themed savannah. It’s smooth and almost subtle. Disbelieving, I check the can. Yep, Southwark. I replaced some lawn this morning and can now feel the effects of shovelling (yes, I used my skimming shovel) and wonder if I’m experiencing some sensory side-effects of this rare Sunday exertion.
A plane takes off from Adelaide airport and with a low scream climbs out across St Vincent’s Gulf. Buddy, the dog moves and Triple J plays a song I don’t know.
I keep two glass Southwark mugs in the freezer and sometimes bring these out on hot days when guests call in. It’s more theatrical than real but the frostiness adds a brief frisson to our shared enterprise. Given that I’ve bought a Southwark for the first time this millennium I decide it would be churlish not to marry beer and ancient mug. So I do.
This seems to exaggerate the trademark bitterness and now my 2021 experience starts to approach the one I recollect from those dusty Kapunda afternoons after cricket or by the Duck Pond with other misshapen youth or up at Gundry’s Hill with Fats blasting Mondo Rock out of his car boot. The universe settles back onto its known axis. It’s been a curiously rewarding event, and the beer has over-delivered. I’m strangely pleased.
With a determined swallow I finish my mug of beer and sit it down on the table. I wonder when I’ll next have a Southwark.
I look over at the dogs. They don’t seem to know either.
To this country kid life often appeared binary. Lillee or Thommo, Holden or Ford, Port or any other team, and my Dad, no, all dads, drank West End Draught or Southwark beer.
I remember our back lawn, the old Buffalo grass with microscopic leaf barbs that’d make your legs itch. Summer and the sprinkler would be on, with that comforting hiss that was anything but reptilian. By the swing was an ancient lemon tree and down from this I’d play backyard cricket with my sister even though she’d insist she was not out caught behind by the automatic wickie if in her crease. Every time. She was persistent and Mum having refereed the argument, I’d then race in to bowl as fast as my pool-cue legs would allow.
Late afternoons wandering about the garden, watering his tomatoes, Dad would sometimes open a Southwark echo. The green of the label was intriguing; almost emerald, almost regal, vaguely Germanic with the stylised stein and almost many different evocations that were beyond my mind’s innocent migrations.
Nowadays, at the Broady in Glenelg South, with fifteen beers on tap, I always scan the offerings before getting the usual, and for that brief moment the cluster of choice is faintly paralysing, in a hugely privileged, first-world way. But from my late teens I recall that there was no real choice. I just ambled into the golf club bar or the pub and, like everyone else, had Draught.
My only decision was glass size and the Kapunda Golf Club was a butcher (200ml) venue while after cricket each of the six pubs- The Prince of Wales, Sir John Franklin, Clare Castle, North Kapunda, Railway and Allendale- was schooners or mugs with handles (285ml) and only with West End Draught. All of this was barely considered. I may as well have wished for the sky to be another colour.
We’d get up in the dark for the Adelaide Oval one-dayers on the Australian Day long weekend. It was the triangular series era so Saturday might be New Zealand against the West Indies and then on the Sunday and holiday Monday they’d play Australia from 10am.
Three or four cars- maybe Woodsy’s 180B, Bobby’s Torana and my HQ Holden- would go from Kapunda to Gawler in the gloom, and we’d train from there (through Womma), walk down King William Street, and line up at the Victor Richardson Gates as the heat was climbing from the bitumen.
Once in we’d scramble to the southern mound about half-way up, and down from the Duck Pond. This was a marquee erected annually just inside the mesh fence at long-on, and it signalled that along with our foam eskies loaded with vodka-infused watermelon (we are all fruitarians, Officer), greasy bottles of Reef Oil and Adidas Mexico shorts all was right at Adelaide Oval for another summer.
Although we didn’t frequent that part of the ground, from the Scoreboard Bar there’d be the day’s first factory whistle as the stem was eased out of a barrel. First keg done! This was always by 8.05am and there’d be a bigger roar than a Roo Yardley screamer at point, or Rodney Hogg trapping David Gower plumb. And this’d continue, every few minutes, sounding like Proud Mary steaming down the Mississippi. Every eighteen-gallon drum was West End Draught.
In 1992 I flirted with Southwark. It was a nostalgic, almost ironic phase, but a nod to my past. The bottle had been rebadged with a dark blue motif replacing the green death label, and each carton came with a (free) glass mug. I still have two of these and they’re the best beer tumblers I never bought. On hot afternoons I sometimes fetch one out of the freezer while I’m on the tongs. Southwark has never been poured into one.
Then one day in a pub, maybe in Kimba or Kapunda, other beer taps appeared. Suddenly, they were just there. Foreign lagers like XXXX and VB (Queensland and Victoria are different beer countries) and extra-terrestrial beers like Boags and Cascade. It was also when Coopers first entered my world. Suddenly, the old dichotomy had collapsed just like Skyhooks v Sherbet. I didn’t glance back. West End Draught was now a black and white tele with a coat hanger antenna next to the Jumbotron of Sparkling Ale.
Recently at the Glenelg Footy Club I ventured to the bar during half time on a sunny April afternoon. It’s a Lion Nathan premises (unlike Norwood Oval which is Coopers) and standing behind a beanied Centrals supporter I noted a specials poster
West End Draught cans $5.
It’d been decades so feeling sentimental I bought one, returned to my spot on the grass just down from the scoreboard and flipped the top. Can we locate meaning in beer? Some would argue not. I’d suggest that the answer is unquestionably.
I glanced around to make sure no-one was watching. A sip and it was 1986. Metallic, coarse, antagonizing. I remembered the words of my old mate Nick: “Some of our best times have been on West End Draught.” I tried to taste it as a country boy or my Uncle Des or as that dreadful default, a patriot. But my evaluation was clear. The can of beer, the inescapable Red Tin, was muck.
With the news of the brewery’s 2021 closure I thought of squinting farmers and dusty golfers and young fellas in utes and B-grade footballers in distant change rooms after a scrappy match, all tipping it in. But Adelaide’s a powerless town and the world now cares little for Holdens or Thommo or West End Draught.
Then, I think of Dad and our Kapunda backyard and a dawn train to watch a January one-dayer, and those simple, secluded times.
The monstrously-thirsty actor Robert Shaw, spitting feathers after his iconic performance in Jaws’ Indianapolis speech, barked across the set to a young Spielberg, “Stevie, for Chrissakes, get me a longneck of Southwark!”
Now the fine detail of this may not be entirely accurate, but I’d like to think that the man who played the great shark-hunter, Quint, would’ve been a Southwark slurper. It sits well against his gruff, world-weary until a colossal shark devoured my character when I slid down a sinking boat into its mouth, image.
Of course Jaws was already a classic, and Robert Shaw had long been shark food in 1992 when I made the purchases, and claimed my complimentary glassware. How ancient does this now seem? Indeed, it was half a lifetime ago.
The Adelaide Crows had only just been hatched, and their first flag was half a decade away; Nirvana’s Nevermind was still newish and novel; mobile phones were rare and about as smart as Channel 9’s evening programming.
I remember Southwark beer as something Dad occasionally drank. The distinctive green label. Hot summers and kikuyu grass and World Series cricket. My ten year-old self, riding a blue dragster along the tired streets of Kapunda, with cardboard strips pegged to the spokes.
In 1992 I was in Kimba and bought, over a few months, four cartons of the then recently re-badged beer. Green death was, well, dead. The label was now a stylish dark blue, no doubt a marketing strategy to seduce the wide-eyed kids.
Coopers was but a niche refreshment, and a few hipster laneways behind main street. I think the glasses and not the beer was my key motivation. Like buying a crappy car because the clunking model you test-drove was in your favourite colour.
Among my memories of 1992 are the high rainfall of that summer. It started pouring late in the year, continued across harvest and beyond Boxing Day. Typically, the West Coast is a hot and dusty place around then; a parched and baked land, but it was awash, biblically. Parts of the farming country were sullen seas, and reaping was impossible.
Driving home to Kapunda for Christmas I had to go via Whyalla (that’s a disappointing phrase) because Highway One was blocked. Iron Knob was more Soggy Knob, and as we all know, this is never good.
Despite being amorphous solids, such is their resilience that I still have all four of these Southwark mugs twenty-six years on. Since then we’ve lived in ten houses across three countries and both hemispheres. These mugs have housed cordial, milk, water, Coopers Sparkling Ale, and assorted European lager- beers my old mate Bazz affectionately describes as “kooky stuff.” Even Bitburger, Germany’s eighteenth best lager. The mugs are indestructible. They’ve become nostalgic symbols.
They speak of country football; losing cricket grand finals; punting syndicates featuring forgotten horses with energetic mates; VHS versions of Pulp Fiction; Sunday barbeques that stretch into the muggy dark; Chad Morgan cassettes; buying my now wife a Happy Hour beer in the then great front bar of the Kimba pub; a midnight quiet only broken by a lone long-haul truck.
With last Saturday’s sun setting we were mustered about our patio, and it became medically urgent for Mozz and I to upturn a robust ale into glass. As Dr Hook ministered above the effervescent evening (only sentimental songs from irrecoverable ages will do with ancient friends), out came the old mates, the old muckers, those Southwark mugs: silent servants, patiently working as they have since Mark Waugh had an unironic mullet.
Musically, it wasn’t going well for Sylvia, her mother, or Sylvia’s former and anguished flame, but well into their third decade of faithful companionship, the mugs again came good, and the ale danced in the glass. Now, in a curious first, I toast the brilliance of the Southwark mug by raising the Southwark mug! Meta-toasting!
As IA Healy would nasally suggest, ” ‘Bowling Southwark!”