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A Week Before Our Wedding We Went To The Races

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Here at Mickeytales Towers November Nostalgia continues with much spectacle and sparkling ale. But, you somehow already knew this.

We decided to have a joint pre-wedding party at the now demolished Victoria Park racecourse on Caulfield Cup day way back in 2002. It was a glorious spring afternoon- still, sunny and the good earth itself was bursting with rude health and robust conversation. We set up afternoon camp on the sloping lawns that fell away from the old grandstand.

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Here’s the bride with her mum, Joan and grandparents who’d driven down from Queensland for a few weeks. Griff liked a punt, and for many a year after would talk about this day, especially the bewildering fact that we hadn’t invested nearly enough on the Cup winner, a handy horse named Northerly.

We’d be up in Gympie with the cricket wandering along on their boxy, old TV, when, in complete contrast to the topic at hand he’d announce wryly, “You know what? We should’ve had more money on that bloody Northerly.” He’d then cackle at his own belated wisdom, and drum his fingers in that special way he had.

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Ali Hennessy has ample respect for authority, and of course, there’s no greater authority in Australia than Major Les Hiddins (retired). No, that’s not him on the right as that’s Paul, a Kapunda boy. Les is a devotee of VB, and he used to say, “In the army we’ve a saying. Two cans, per man (or woman), per day. Perhaps.” See what I mean by respect? Of course, it’s possible that Ali’s holding the can for her husband, Hen, who may have ducked across to the betting ring to invest in Waikikamukau, only to be briskly told that the horse was retired, or that he was even less likely to run a place, as he was deceased.

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Here’s Dad. Loves a red wine, loves a chat. Loved a punt. I reckon he had a pretty good day out. I reckon we all did.

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Bronwyn and Jonesy. My dear old friends from Mount Gambier, or the Mount. Of course, when at the races if someone asks where you’re from, and you reply, “The Mount” they could glance towards a nearby gelding and wonder if there’s an equine connection, so be careful. Just sayin’. Social confusion is best avoided.

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Here’s my sister Jill and her husband Barry. They were married earlier in 2002 at Partridge House in Glenelg before the reception, which was at Ayers House. I was their MC (sadly no DVDs available for purchase at time of writing).

Back then people drank Crown Lager as it possessed a rarefied, almost posh image that meant it was an “occasion” beer. Now, it holds the charm of a solitary night in a deserted pokies tavern, complete with stale biscuits and cups of tepid tea.

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A bottle of water? Whose is it? Whew, nobody in our group! Had me worried for a minute.

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From left to right: my father-in-law Darryll, my grandmother-in-law, Jean and my mum, Lois. Note that Jean is holding an ancient parchment called a form guide. It’s not an app, or on a phone or even on the TV with some baritone idiot barking, “The Curse!” or “Happy Puntmas” every nine seconds. Kiddies, ask your elders.

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Dad’s chatting here with his brother John and his wife, Liz, who in a curious twist also happen to be my Uncle John and Aunt Liz. What a crazy life! The coincidences!

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I miss the Victoria Park races, located as they were on the edge of the city. I recall heading in there one July afternoon with Hen (far right) but leaving early to cab down to Adelaide Oval to watch the Dogs play a SANFL fixture. After the match we snuck into the CDFC rooms.

The next day we flew to Brisbane with fellow Kimba-folk, Bazz and Annie, on a mystery flight. While in Queensland, Bazz bought a child’s toy called a “cat in a bag.” With his own money. I often wonder about that cat.

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This was the last time we went to the races there. It’s now an open park although the old, heritage grandstand maintains vigil over the sweeping grass and waving gum trees. Thanks to everyone who shared the afternoon. Now, and then, it reminds me of the many and varied things for which I should be thankful.

I do wish I’d stuck more coin on Northerly though.

 

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Winx is no Waikikamukau

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So, Saturdays now settle into a lovely rhythm.

Alex, Max and I go for our weekly run, just after breakfast. Down past the Gum Tree Reserve, and across Tapleys Hill Road. Where exactly is this eponymous hill? The entire boulevard is as flat as the Adelaide Oval pitch.

Then along the Patawalonga River and to the beach. Some big old dogs gallop about like big old dogs. We pause at the Buffalo Park where the boys rotate enthusiastically through a few of those outdoor exercise machines while I pant on a bench. Then, we turn for home.

Along the way we chat. Max says, “Dad, would you rather play for Chelsea or Tottenham?”

Alex questions too. “What’s your favourite car for driving in the snow?”

I love it.

Tee-ball then beckons. As this season’s supercoach* I haul the black coffin of gear across multiple baseball diamonds, and meet the team who are jumping about on the grass like big old dogs.

We work our way through a couple of batting and fielding innings. This morning all eleven kids turned up. The complete roster. Placing them on the park as the opposition swung and struck was a challenge. It was, as old mate Chris Hayward once remarked, like putting ten pounds of spuds in a six-pound bag. I wanted to put some of them in a slips cordon.

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But this morning one of the girls came good after she snared the ball in her flopping glove. It was a moment. It was her trigger. Previously anchored to a spot and pouting with sass well beyond her years she was now diving upon ground balls and rushing first base. Excellent stuff.

The twin evils of gardening (rampant Buffalo runners) and Ikea (No, no Björnholmen today) dispensed I slipped down to the Broadway Hotel to catch the Australasian (I love that word more than I should) racing championship that is the (time-honoured) WS Cox Plate.

Because I care about the cultural and sporting educations of Alex and Max, I took them with me. Having said this Max and I probably have too many conversations about Black Caviar even though he was a toddler when she was on her way to twenty-five on the trot (or burst, in her case). His curiosity is magnificent.

We’re still learning about the noble nomenclature of racing so instead of asking which horse I’ve had a bet on, Alex says, “Which horse are your voting for Dad?”

Indeed, if this were a democratic action I’d be tempted to reply, “Not that hopeless gelding Barnaby Joyce,” but that would be brash and inappropriate. Kiwis are our friends.

With chips and lemonade and Coopers brand new Session Ale (8/10: flavoursome) we’re each on a stool in the front bar when I tell them about my favourite ever horse (although it owes me money, and having departed this planet can never square my ledger). I love that they giggle when I tell them the name. This is the same reaction I had in 1993 when he ran third to Mahogany in the Victoria Derby on that great day at Flemington. I recall watching the race in the Cowell pub. Don’t know why.

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Waikikamukau.

Even now I feel a little frisson when I say it. Why-kick-a-moo-cow. More giggles. I say it again. Waikikamukau.

Last week with the boys in tow I backed Snitty Kitty, who won at Caulfield. The Heath, I tell them. Could she be our family’s 2017 Waikikamukau?

But today we witness Winx winning her third Cox Plate. It’s also her twenty-second successive victory. There’s a rich, explosive wall of sound in The Broady as she punches on to salute by a half-length.

It’s probably a hundred types of wrong, but I want to immerse our boys in it. Because it’ll be fun.

That’s it.

On our way home, we slide past Pizza on Broadway and get a large pepperoni.

Waikikamukau would’ve expected no less.

*possibly not based upon fact

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Fifty

 

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It’s important to begin by acknowledging my loved ones.

So, thanks to the following publicans: the late Peter “Puffa” Jansen of Kapunda’s Prince of Wales; the assorted landlords of England’s oldest boozer, located in St Albans’ scenic Verulamium Park the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks; and Carlton premiership ruckman, Percy Jones, enigmatic leviathan and mine host of Melbourne’s North Fitzroy Arms.

Good afternoon and welcome. Thanks for coming; especially those who’ve driven some distance, and those who’ve come by penny-farthing.

In 2002 I shared a podium at Ayers House with Dad for my sister Jill’s wedding to my brother-in-law Barry. It was a wonderful occasion. Undertaking my MC duties by including what my wife calls, “charming anecdotes,” I’d saved my best for last.

Yes, you’ve guessed, I was to talk about Jill’s childhood obsession with our backyard chooks. So, my finale read, “Every day when Jill was seven she’d come home from school, and without even coming inside to say hello to Mum, she’d head straight out the back, and drop her bag just by the hen house. Once inside she’d tie a length of string around the neck of the day’s favourite chook, and walk her around the backyard like a clucking, egg-laying hound.”

But prior to me delivering this conclusion Dad was to speak. It gave me great joy to introduce him, saying, “Here’s the father of the bride, my Dad.”

Dad took the stage, and with these words he began, “Every day when Jill was seven she’d come home from school, and without even coming inside to say hello to her Mum, she’d head straight out the back…”

In the words of a former Magarey Medallist, “I want to thank my parents, and especially Mum and Dad.” Thanks to my Mum and Dad for their support, encouragement and opportunities.

I acknowledge the Bureau of Meteorology for giving me the most frightening fifteen minutes of my life in 1988. Back then, you might recall, weather reports featured Kyancutta on the Eyre Peninsula. Beginning my career just up the road from Kyancutta at Wudinna Area School, I naturally assumed that Kyan, as it’s affectionately known, must be the bigger town, and as I passed through it for the first time in my VK Commodore, the boot containing my earthly possessions, I was able to count Kyancutta’s buildings. All of them. 1, 2, er, 3. Done. And one of these was an abandoned shop.

With Billy Joel warbling from the car speakers, I covered those ten kilometres in existential horror, terrified to think what my new hometown must be like. And then I saw the signpost: Wudinna, Population- 574. Whew.

One of my favourite stories was told to me at cricket there. Old mate Craig worked for ETSA, and early one Tuesday morning he was part of a crew working on a powerline in Elliston. Well-known identity Dick wobbled past, and Craig yelled, “Where you going Dick?”

Dick replied, “I’m going to the pub.” Dick liked a drink. A bit too much.

Craig offered, “Gee, it’s a bit early Dick. Nobody’ll be there.” To my endless joy Dick then explained, “No, the bloke what usually serves me, he’ll be there.”

I thank our astonishing boys Alex and Max. Already Alex skills I don’t have, and this is good. It’s the point, isn’t it? Alex has earned his first belt in karate and plays the guitar really well. He already knows Iron Man by Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. During cricket season he showed a capacity for bowling leg spin which with his blonde hair might best be discouraged. He’s a great kid.

And Max. Max has an amazing capacity for language and wit. He recently said, “Mum, stop being ridiculous.” Mum replied, “You can’t even spell ridiculous, can you?” Max’s eyes sparkled. “Yes I can. M-U-M.” For his world he has an unquenchable curiosity, and I love this. These are two terrific, inspiring, fun boys.

And now I thank my beautiful wife, Kerry-ann, Kezza, Joey. We met early 1995 in Kimba. Like Singo on the punt at Randwick I was onto a winner. I was well positioned. I was twenty-eight and drove a Nissan Exa. With a turbo and a sunroof. In my home I had a CD tower!

But above this, I owned that most seductive accessory of the late twentieth century, the bread machine. With this exotic appliance one morning I made Kerry-ann breakfast. As she ate I asked, with probable over-confidence, “How’s your toast?” I then learned that she is one given, in the manner of many Queenslanders, to what is often called plain speak. She replied, “You’ve not spread the butter evenly, there’s too much vegemite, and the bread is stale.”

I thank her for our boys, and for sharing her life with me. I’m grateful for our adventures in England and Europe, but not Luton, our time in Singapore and Asia, and now, our lives just up the road, by the Old Gum Tree Park, with Alex and Max, and Buddy the dog. I love you.

Finally, I thank: Mick, Keef, Charlie and Bill; the Coopers family- Dr Tim, Max, Glenn, and the grand ancestor Thos; the Adelaide Crows premiership sides of ’97 and ’98; the cast and crew of The Big Lebowski, Apocalypse Now and The Notebook (What? I’ve been hacked! Scrap that last one.); DK Lillee; those at Pizza on Broadway for the large American; Bill Hunter; Frosty Lahood of Frosty Lahood Motors and his no root, no toot offer; everyone I played Mini-League with at the Kapunda Bombers; Bluto, Otter, Boon, Pinto, Flounder, D-Day and those of Delta Tau Chi House; PJ Harvey; the 1998 Group Three Canterbury Cup winner over 2000m Waikikamukau; for his Indianapolis Speech the Great Shark Hunter Quint (You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye); Courtney Barnett; the Kimba Cricket Club; and of course you as you’ve a place in my heart.

A special acknowledgement to those who’ve spoken; it’s humbling and heartening. Thanks to my immediate and extended family for your love and guidance. Disappointingly, there are some dear friends who couldn’t be here today. They’re in some stunning holiday locations: Italy, Bali, Hawaii, and Womma. Enjoy your afternoon.

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Here’s the wonderful video my dear friends Claire and Trish made for me-