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Fifty

 

chook

 

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.

horse

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

 

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Home on the Grange

weber

It’s like being down at the park, and finding yourself having a bit of kick to kick with Luke Hodge.

You’re not sure how, but here you are with the finest modern exponent of the drop punt. The elegance, the unforced style. The footy thuds into your chest, and you gasp. But, as great as it is, you don’t feel worthy. How did this happen? You’re enjoying the moment, while being aware of your inadequacy.

*

A Thursday evening, on the edge of the desert. Old Kapunda mate Chris, Eddie and I around my kitchen table.

1983 Penfolds Grange Hermitage. And not one bottle, but two.

The kitchen table cost me a Southwark six pack. I bought it from Bo, fanatical barbecuer, and my cricket captain. Completing the transaction, we then drank the beer. At the table.

In the untidy blur of a Wudinna footy club progressive dinner, we were outside, beneath the cold stars, working the tongs. It was 3am.

“Hey, Bo.”

“Yeah, Mickey?”

“The barbecue’s gone out.”

“I turned it off.”

“Oh. How come?”

“This way we can stand out here a bit longer. You know, have a few beers. Enjoy ourselves. There’s no rush.”

*

As a kid I played footy and cricket in the Barossa Valley’s main towns. Nuriootpa. Tanunda. Angaston. This was its only purpose.

Moving away was the key to appreciating it. To enjoy that it was probably the country’s premium wine-making region. Folks’d ask, “Where you from?” I’d tell them, Kapunda. Next door to the Barossa. Dad works at Penfolds.

And so living six hours away on the state’s West Coast, I began to value the place. It became more than just the soggy oval where as a senior colts footballer you’d hoped to roll the Tanunda Magpies. Or where Bob Blewett, father of Greg, would patiently humiliate you and your team mates on Angaston oval, crafting yet another century.

*

Ucontitchie Road. I loved living beside this sandy track as it seemed elemental, and more authentically Australian than distant Kapunda. About two kilometres from town, the massive stone farmhouse sat on a rise, and offered a view from the wide verandah.

With clothes, books and golf clubs in the boot of my VK Commodore I moved there. A day’s drive. Billy Joel in the cassette player. My interior design theme was Young Bloke Spartan. Bo’s table was the stylistic centrepiece.

During my first Wudinna winter I kept waiting for it to rain. Back home in Kapunda there was a constant twenty inches annually. Here a drought punished the land surrounding my house. A grain farming community, that year saw only seven inches, with two of those just before Christmas.

In the bush quiet I’d think about how big our country was, how far away I was. Our geography confronted me, and I knew if I walked north, I might see no-one before I flopped into the Timor Sea, three thousand kilometres distant. It was very Australian, it was very foreign.

*

Like viticultural blood brothers we vowed to prepare well. No beers from Sunday to Thursday, even if someone, like Bo, suggested a quick snort in the club after Tuesday’s cricket training. We wanted to be drink-fit. During the week I glanced at our Grange bottles on the rack. They were the most valuable things in my home.

What to eat with Grange? The BBQ kettle craze was at its zenith. A hunk of beef. Roasted vegetables. A jug of thick gravy. A heat haze shimmered across the stubble, while on my verandah, the Weber spat and popped.

Dad was allocated two bottles of Grange. We claimed both, and the dark receptacles cost us forty bucks each. As the afternoon sunlight bent through my kitchen, we pulled the corks.

“Good choice fella,” remarked Eddie as I slid in Rattle and Hum, U2’s exploration of America, pre Bono-with-welded-on-sunglasses-wanker-era. We also listened to the first CD I bought, the Beatles’ White Album. As Paul sang “Blackbird” we attacked the Grange, in our clumsy and brusque ways. Gee, youth is magnificent.

Later, with beers as crisp as the descending night air, the Seekers rang out over the paddocks. They were ancient even then, but we felt a happy, ironic duty.

Hey There! Georgy Girl
Swinging down the street so fancy free
Nobody you meet could ever see
the loneliness there inside you

*

We drank the Grange Hermitage in the year of the titanic grand final. The best one ever. If you believe, the one personally attended by about half a million fans. Dermie’s ribs, Gazza’s goals.

So what did we think of the wine? It was excellent, but I didn’t have the necessary vernacular. I still don’t. I was inescapably inarticulate, and without language, there’s only partial meaning in anything, especially shiraz. It was confronting, but I’m glad we had it.

Ultimately, its depths were as incomprehensible to me as watching Michael Holding bowling at Adelaide Oval. Playing for Tasmania in the season our Grange was made, he glided deathlessly to the wicket, released, and instantaneously the ball was 130 feet away. Up in the Edwin Smith Stand I could only see it after it arrived in the keepers’ gloves. Delivery after delivery.

It was metaphysical, beyond the boundary. I could only stare. On this planet much remains mysterious.

*

It’s a coarse deliberation, but I’ll ask anyhow. Would I now rather a solitary Grange Hermitage or, for the same outlay, a dozen bottles of d’Arenberg’s The Dead Arm Shiraz? Do you climb Everest once, or regularly ascend the Matterhorn’s pyramidal peak, and risk it becoming routine? What would you do?

*

You nod at Hodgy, and run into space. Spinning perfectly, it rushes at you.

All you have to do is catch it.

grange