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Gough and The Whitlams: we’ll play chess and drink claret

I liked The Whitlams before I ever heard them.

How could I not enjoy a band named for this iconic leader, a man whose disgraceful 1975 dismissal interrupted Singing and Listening one Tuesday afternoon at Kapunda Primary School? The man whose perfect photo with Percy Jones hangs in the North Fitzroy Arms. I always bow at its altar.

“Gough” is my favourite Whitlams’ song and we played it at our wedding reception. It captures the wide-eyed awe I always felt about the man. I would’ve loved for Gough to, “Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret.”

I’ve been wondering about other Australian Prime Ministers and how they might connect to music. It follows from a game I like to play when someone says something – generally a snappy, domestic phrase that could, with minor adjustment, be the title of a country music album. For example, Claire might yell out from the shower, “We’ve run out of shampoo!” That’s my cue and I’ll yell back in my terrible American accent,

And the nominations for best Country Album are: (dramatic pause and then I lean into the microphone) Running Out of Shampoo by Claire and The Cactus Girls!

Or I’ll remember that most vital chore as I scramble about Friday morning. The bins! Again, I then put on my imaginary black Stetson and announce to the imaginary music awards auditorium,

And the winner is: (another dramatic pause) Putting Out The Bins by Chester Pink and the Garbage Trucks. 

But which other PM moonlights in music?

John Howard and the Horrible Bowling Action for their (unlistenable) record A Dead Ball in Pakistan. We’ve all watched the video of JH harpooning one into the pitch just beyond his (doubtless) sensible fecking shoelaces.

Defending himself he later explained, “They had a ball that was basically the inside of a tennis ball with some white tape around it.” What? Sorry, Little Johnnie but that’s just backyard cricket as millions of us know it! It’s how I spent half a dozen summers with my mate Nick down at his Port Willunga beach shack.

(Bob) Hawkey and Singo – A Beer with Belle du Jour. I’m anticipating a Dolly and Kenny style duet here. The story goes that, back in 2000, Singo hadn’t bought Bob a gift for his 70th so gave him a share in his racehorse, Belle du Jour. The filly then won the Golden Slipper. To celebrate Singo famously shouted the bar at Rosehill. A karaoke hit.

Paul Keating (performs solo; no backing band tolerated) – Flogged with a Warm Lettuce, the follow-up to All Tip and No Iceberg. Its first single is the surprise indie smash, “I Wanna Do You Slowly.”

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The Whitlams’ leader is Tim Freedman and his sweetly sung songs of gentle optimism and suburban irony are Sunday barbeque joyous. Their best tunes also include ‘Melbourne’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘You Sound Like Louis Burdett’ which was modified among my peers to honour the cult Adelaide oval curator Les Burdett.

At uni I once caught a bit of the Midday Show (probably having just arisen) when the preposterously coifed Ray Martin asked, “Who’s Australia’s greatest living politician?” His guest was Gough and he waited with faultless theatrical effect before replying with his very E. G. Whitlam vowels, “Well, Ray, I can tell you who the second greatest is.”

We’re going to see The Whitlams tonight at The Gov’s early show. They’re on stage at 6.30 so we’ll be home just after sundown for hot chocolate and a (shared) digestive biscuit. As we slide into the weekend I’ll be humming,

It’s for you Gough, you Gough, you Gough

Edward Gough Whitlam

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A Day on the Green: Annie’s Lane

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One of life’s unexpected joys is to chance upon a game of cricket. Arriving in the Clare Valley we locate the bush camping ground ($10 a head) at the Watervale Oval. Setting up our camper trailer is like every couple assembling Ikea furniture together, but without the fun, laughter and argument-free marriage-building.

Indeed, a game of cricket is happening. The oval is shielded by an impressive stand of gums along its eastern side while a handsome grandstand sits atop a gradient that makes Lords appear flat. A round robin Masters tournament is underway, and my lunch is a snag in bread ($3 a pop, sauce no extra) and a Rabbit & Spaghetti ‘The Fox’ Hop & Rye Lager ($5 per 500ml can, 4.8% ABV).

The boundary is in, and the boundary is breached, often. Very few singles are taken. None are run. One innings is opened by inaugural Crow and dual Margery Medallist, Andrew Newton Jarman, who makes, as you may suspect, an exotic and inevitably brief seven.

We stroll up to Annie’s Lane winery for A Day on the Green. Models began and are serviceable, but more cask white than perfumed Riesling, with “I Hear Motion” the highlight. There’s lots of darting, skipping infants here, and between sets the DJ spins Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and a boy of about ten immediately sings along. I’m impressed. He’s wearing a Coopers brewery cap, advertising Mild Ale, which at 3.5% is mid-strength. They’re obviously responsible parents.

NMFC fan and guitar-slinger Tim Rogers is next, and announces that the Adelaide Crows have won the grand final. A mate and I discuss which Tim might perform. I say, “When I last saw him in November we got bad Tim. I hope good Tim’s here today.” Neil replies, “Oh, I don’t know. Bad Tim could make it interesting.”

I get a Fat Yak ($8, 355ml) and a local sparkling shiraz for the wife ($35 a bottle, 13.7%, with “lifted aromas including black olives, figs and Christmas cake spices”). Good Tim does an up-tempo version of “Heavy Heart” which has this great lyric

Been watching so much TV

I’m thinner than I should be

I’m like a waterlogged ball

That no-one wants to kick around anymore

Stopping by various islands of friends I visit the merchandise stand, and settle upon a Day at the Green stubby-holder ($10, but bottomless) while the wife selects a Violent Femmes t-shirt ($40, the one featuring their eponymous album’s cover). There’s gorgeous autumnal light on this tropical afternoon, and it endows the valley with a McCubbin quality; even the curved line of rickety porta-loos ($0, minimal wait time).

The Whitlams are excellent, and I’m struck by the agelessness of Tim Freedman’s voice. With their blend of wit, quirky sentimentality and piano-driven pop they remind me of Ben Folds Five, North Carolina’s finest trio. Among their terrific lines are, from “Melbourne”

If I had three lives, I’d marry her in two

and their signature song, “Gough”

Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret

Walk slowly down my little street, can you bring Margaret?

Finishing with “You Sound Like Louis Burdett” we rename it to honour the iconic Adelaide Oval curator, Les Burdett. I get another Fat Yak (still $8, mercifully no variable pricing) and the wife and I pull apart and devour our savoury pull-apart ($6, you know the bakery chain, the one with the jangly jingle).

The next act is introduced as coming from Ohio, but the Violent Femmes are from Milwaukee. Is it a mistake, irony or an alternative fact? Is there an issue with what Colbert calls “truthiness?” Invigorated by winery produce and news of Hawthorn’s imminent loss the crowd is up and dancing as they zip through their country-twinged songs about adolescent desperation.

“Blister in the Sun,” “American Music” and “Old Mother Regan” are superb. It’s charming to also be in Clare with my dear old friend Clare and she films us, if this is the correct verb, singing “Country Death Song.” Clare promises to post it on social media, and I’m sure we’ll soon be celebrated as a contemporary Sonny and Cher. However, Sunday afternoon’s initial viewing exposes this as unlikely (probable recording contract value, $0).

“Add It Up” is all psychotic teenage anguish and the Gen X crowd is jumping to this last song. Gordon Gano’s voice has been perfect: at once sunny and whingy and smiling, leading us to happy places, while Tasmanian resident and MOMA curator Brian Ritchie monsters xylophone, jaw bone and bass with good humour too.

Led by Flacco lookalike Dave Faulkner, I saw the Hoodoo Gurus in the late nineties on their break-up tour, which of course, was from the pre, post-truth world, and never something anyone really believed. For the right fee, even the Ramones might again tour. So here we are in 2017 as they perform “Leilani” and “Bittersweet.” Along with Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out” and the Rolling Stones’ “Torn and Frayed” the anthemic “1000 Miles Away” is among my favourite road songs.

Remember how “Like Wow, Wipeout” became the theme song of Brylcreemed, ear ringed and punkish Australian off-spinner Greg Matthews? That was 1986. The song endures while Mo Matthews is now a radio commentator so I’m unsure if he still uses hair product from when Menzies was PM. It’s the final song of a fun day.

Prior to breaking camp and over a breakfast latte ($5.50, red van by the oval) I check the footy and cricket scores. I also see that Dad’s Nuriootpa Tigers Division 1 bowls team has jagged another flag, his twelfth.

All about the campsite there’s deceased camping chairs (too many $$, the sausage sizzle hardware mega-store) in Salvador Daliesque tangles of disappointment and enthusiastic Sauvignon Blanc. Our twenty-year veteran chairs ($40, Port Pirie camping store, late lamented) are in the boot, ready to ride again.

The cricket begins. We drive south, into our muggy Sunday.

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