No Holds Barred

The other night I was channel surfing using the on-air channel guide. The local cable company provides seventy plus channel choices with the TV Starter option. I usually have three or four first choice channels picked out at a time and I cycle between this bundle before I grow weary of their programs. And that’s what caused the channel surfing the other night. I chose a new channel as a first choice channel and now three nights a week a curious fascination draws me to replays of the The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny’s guests can include Robert Mitchum, Don Rickles, Sylvester Stallone, Tony Randall, Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal, Charles Nelson Reilly, or Suzanne Pleshette. The replays are from the seventies and eighties; Johnny’s monologues include references to Ronald Reagan as Governor of California, or as President of the United States; the hair styles and wardrobes of Johnny, Ed, and the guests also suggest the seventies and eighties. The other night Johnny introduced and interviewed Hulk Hogan. Hulk was a guest because he had just made his film debut in Rocky III; cast as the world wrestling champion Thunderlips, the Ultimate Male. It was early in his career and Hulk had yet to fully explore and embrace The Hulkster and Hulkamania. Johnny was disinterested in the beginnings of Hulkamania.

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I sat on a cramped couch, glued to the small TV in the corner; the second floor of the bungalow style house was made up of a front room, bedroom, bathroom, and a small kitchen. Lincoln, Nebraska, was now my postcode. Immigrants will tell of how they learned to speak American by watching television. I already spoke English, so I watched television for the synthesis of American cultural and the Australian lifestyle. I watched wrestling; the late seventies and early eighties had to be the second golden age of wrestling. Hulk had become The Hulkster and was a permanent guest on a The Tonight Show format wrestling talk show; Vince McMahon was Johnny. The The Hulksters talked a lot about all the Hulkamaniacs around the world, and the importance of Hulkamaniacs saying their prayers, drinking their milk, and taking their vitamins. And I watched all the wrestling matches; I lost count of the number of times I saw the ripping of The Hulksters shirt. For over a year I watched professional wrestling; I was bewildered by the cast of stock characters, and the plots and twists that moved the fantasy along.

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There was a series of low railway viaducts just passed the intersection of New Footscray Road and Dudley Street. They carried the western suburb trains, Spirit of Progress, Overland, and the myriad of railway lines that made up the Melbourne railway yards. Back then, the yards seemed to go on forever; they stretched from North Melbourne to Spencer Street. The jumble of lines were clogged with every type of goods wagons and passenger carriages; the yards included goods sheds and a hump yard. The shadows of the viaducts and yards fell across the stadium. The West Melbourne stadium was a grungy, concrete bunker sandwiched between the railway lines and Dudley Street. I remember Dad taking us to the wrestling at the stadium. Back then it was the mecca of boxing and wrestling in Melbourne. We sat high up in the raked bleachers and squinted through the dark smoke filled space, to watch the action figures in the ring; a vintage black and white film with a grainy look and light leaks. The ring was a small squared circle in the distance, floodlit by overhead lights; the wrestlers were small mannequins. You barracked hard when Big Chief Little Wolf applied his Indian Death Lock, and you booed Gorgeous George and referee Bonnie Muir.

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I remember the ring attendants ambling around, back and forth outside the ring. There were at least six attendants; they ambled not in a random fashion, but in some predefined pattern around sections of the ring. The attendants wore long white coats; the same white coats Victorian Football League Goal Umpires wore. Over the years I often wondered what caused me to choose studying chemistry at Footscray Technical College instead of art at Caulfield Institute of Technology. As I think back, I remember my fascination with the stadium’s white coated attendants; within an outstretched arms length of uncertainty, walking within inches of a Flying Head Scissors and Atomic Drop, and at any moment a grappler could be thrown out of the ring and land at their feet. I must have chosen chemistry at Footscray Tech so I could wear a long white chemistry lab coat and always walk within an outstretched arms length of uncertainty.

Some boys chose wrestling as an activity at the Williamstown Youth Center. It was the type of wrestling you saw on the newsreels at the pictures; Greco Roman and freestyle wrestling. Wrestling that was always part of army training, or school sports; wrestling that boys did man to man. Submission Holds and Pin-Falls were unknown; we practiced the science of wrestling and only used leverage and balance as our holds. Each match was a physical chess game, and we always finished our bouts as friends.

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Most nights of the week, after tea, I challenged Dad to a wrestling match. When he accepted, we squared off on the kitchen floor. The passageway spilled out into one end of the kitchen, and the back door to the fernery was opposite the passageway. Mum’s sewing machine was tucked into the corner by the door to the fernery, and the phone was on a small table by the door to the passage; the end of the kitchen between the two doorways was a natural squared circle. Dad and I did a freestyle type of wrestling. We started our matches in a modified Referee’s Position; the one where you choose either the top position or the bottom position. Dad always took the bottom position, squatting with his knees and hands on the floor. And that was the only Youth Center move we used. I tried to put dad in an Indian Death Lock, a Hammer Hold, Head Scissors, or a Submission Head Lock but he squirmed and slithered, and used his weight and strength to release himself from my wrestling holds. And when I couldn’t subdue him I would move into him with a series of Japanese Chops.

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In the early sixties Melbourne’s Channel 9 began broadcasting, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, its own World Championship Wrestling. The matches were scripted promotions for Killer Karl Cox’s, Mario Milano’s, Spiros Arion’s, Brute Bernard’s, Bulldog Brower’s, and other wrestler’s weekend matches at Festival Hall. I occasionally watched Gentleman Jack Little and the boys; I was losing interest in wrestling. I had transitioned from a young boy through early childhood, and into a fledgling adolescent. I had things to do on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; besides, I was now wearing a white chemistry lab coat two afternoons a week for Organic and Inorganic Chemistry Labs at Footscray Tech, and the West Melbourne Stadium, the House of Stoush, was no longer the grimy mecca for boxing and wrestling. It had been renamed Festival Hall in the early sixties and it was now Melbourne’s largest live entertainment venue. The Beatles, played the hall when they invaded Australia as part of their 1964 world tour.

Back then there was a lot of decision that you had to make; hippie, bodgie and widgie, mod, skinhead, surfer, or Beatles or Stones. I decided I was Stones so I didn’t see the Beatles at Festival Hall; but I did see an early sixties Chubby Checker concert, and the 1973 Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention concert. I remember Zappa using his guitar as a cigarette holder. He pushed the filter of his cigarette down onto a string sticking out from the tuning peg, and he tucked lit cigarettes under the strings on the pegboard. His cigarette on the end of the string defined its own path as Zappa threw out his own unique solos; it’s embers and smoke joining the other embers and smoke in a darkened, grungy, Festival Hall.

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Sometimes we look back and question the decision we made. During my search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard at an outdoor swimming pool with four other band of brothers; Peter the university student, John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and The Young Londoner. John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill worked a collection of part-time jobs to supplement his income from other activities; when the long hot summer was drawing to a close he asked me what I was going to do for a job. He knew a friend who was trying to get a bunch of lads together to tour small Italian and Eastern European towns and perform one night wrestling matches; did I want to do it. I confessed I had only wrestled on the kitchen floor with my dad. John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill didn’t see that as a problem; the troupe was going to spend the next month learning holds and routines, and developing their characters. The next morning I told John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill, thanks for thinking of me. You always regret some decisions you make.

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With the success that Chubby Checker had with Lets Twist Again, Twistin USA, Slow Twistin, and Twist It Up as follow ups to The Twist, I wonder if he regrets the decision not to follow up The Hucklebuck with a version called The Camelclutch

Ah here’s the dance you should know
Ah, baby when the lights are down low
I say, grab your baby then go
Do the Camelclutch (yeah)
Do the Camelclutch (yeah)
If you don’t know how to do it
Man you’re out of luck
Push ya baby out (yeah)
Then you hunch her back (yeah)
Start a little movement in your sacroilliac
Wiggle like a snake, wobble like a duck
That’s what you do when you do the Camelclutch

I didn’t decide to stop watching wrestling; I just drifted away from it. And the other day I found an old small box labelled John’s Toys; I sold my Titan Sports 8-inch 1984 vinyl Hulk Hogan wrestling action figure, that included a championship belt, and a box of 25 assorted wrestling action Band Aids.

 

Festival Hall: the greatest moments from Melbourne’s favourite live venue

Channel 9’s World Championship Wrestling

Frank Zappa Bio

I Wasn’t Naked I Just Didn’t Have Any Bathers On

The last few days in Omaha has seen the temperature pushing into the nineties, with the humidity matching the air temperature; and summer officially begins in a week. Maybe the corn sweat has launched early this year, or maybe global warming caused July and August to start in June. After heaving the lawn mower around the backyard, and oozing with sweat, I pushed back into the green resin stack-able patio dining chair that I had put in the garage; even with the door open it’s the coolest place in the house during summer mid mornings. My head lolled forward and the resin chair became a bold and beautiful folding deckchair. I didn’t try to interrupt my eyes closing and I was soon back playing a game of beach cricket and trying to eat a paddle pop before it melts.

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Back when, my summers usually began in November; the temperature began creeping into the eighties as we sat in our winter uniforms, squashed two to a desk, in the hot classrooms at Williamstown Tech. On those hot days the teacher opened the windows but the cooling south breeze only arrived in the late afternoon; the air was stifling. We sat silent and unresponsive, glancing up at the large octangular speaker in the corner, waiting for the headmasters announcement to be broadcast into every room:

boys, you may remove your jumpers and loosen your ties

It was around mid November when the summer uniform replaced the winter uniform. We were permitted to wear shorts, a short sleeve shirt without a tie, and summer socks.

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When I was a young teenager drifting into adolescence it seemed as if I spent every day of the school holidays at Williamstown Beach. I would leave my bike resting against the chain link fence of the Life Saving Club with the towel that I always wrapped around my shirt and shorts lodged under the bike below the pedals. The Life Saving Club was at the end of the promenade that ran alongside the Esplanade; a low curving blue stone wall separated the sand and water from the promenade. Back then, the sand ended just before the Life Saving Club; a rock wall arched around past the club. There were two sets of steps inset into the wall that led into the water. Past the steps were the rockies. There were no steps down to the rockies. You clambered down the wall onto the rocks. At different places the rocks had formed openings and the waves and tidal water gushed into and out of these deep grottoes. Only the brave went there to swim; only those enduring a rite of passage, or answering a dare. The rockies were the first time I swam starkers.

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I don’t remember dad driving the family to the Gold Coast on holidays but I know that he did. I remember looking out over the Blue Mountains at the three sisters; I don’t remember Sydney. After leaving Sydney we would have driven up the two lane Pacific Highway to the New South Wales border town of Coolangatta. The thin strip of road connecting Coolangatta with Surfers Paradise snaked through the small sleepy, Gold Coast beach towns. I don’t remember Surfers Paradise. I think we stayed in the Tweed Heads caravan park. I would have gone swimming in the surf at the beach. Mum had a couple of strict swimming rules; we could only go as far out into the water where we could still touch the bottom, and the most enforced rule was we could only go into the water an hour after eating. After every meal, or snack, mum would hold court and warn us of the severe consequences of swimming immediately after eating:

your stomach will cramp up and you will sink to the bottom and drown

It took until young adulthood for me to go swimming straight after I had eaten; and I never once got stomach cramp.

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My second visit to Surfers Paradise was in the late sixties; it was still the land of meter maids and Mini Mokes. The re-built Surfers Paradise Hotel anchored Cavill Avenue and it’s Birdwatcher’s Bar was crowded with males of all ages downing a few cold ones: you staked out a drinking spot by the glass windows to watch the girls in their bikinis saunter past. New motels and hotels, towering five stories into the blue sky, were carving out the new Surfers Paradise skyline. The beer gardens were a welcome retreat from the mid day sun for the holiday makers. Constant rounds of  beer and mixed drinks, and a good counter lunch were the norm. The Bee Gees grew up in Redcliffe, about 70miles from the Gold Coast. The holiday makers paid scant attention to the young boys when they sang their way through the beer gardens. One night I was putting away a few cold ones, and mum had never said anything about waiting an hour after your last drink before going swimming, so I decided I should be swimming at Surfers Paradise beach. I could just make out the breaking waves from where I was on the moonlit sand but I peeled off my clothes and ran towards the breaking waves. I swam starkers in the Surfers Paradise surf.

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I was young; I didn’t know danger. It was only a couple of years since the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, mysteriously disappeared while swimming alone at a beach near the ocean-side town of Portsea. Maybe he went swimming without waiting for an hour after eating.

When I first went searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard during a long hot summer at an outdoor swimming pool that was nestled in the corner of Brockwell Park. Brockwell Lido was a drop kick from the Herne Hill train station, or a short bus ride away from the Brixton tube station; sometimes I would endure the long walk across Tooting Bec Commons and through parts of Streatham. The Olympic size pool was surrounded by asphalt and concrete, and a ten foot high brick wall. On each side of the pool were the dank, dark, subterranean men’s and women’s changing rooms. A high diving platform was at the deep end of the pool and a large concrete water fountain towered over the shallow end. The life guard changing room was behind the fountain and the room shared a wall with the first aid room. The changing room and the first aid room had an outside door to the park.

The pool and it’s surrounding concrete provided a welcome respite from the sweltering summer heat to the people of Lambeth and South London. Five of us: Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, The Young Londoner, and the Aussie searching for inspiration and idealism plucked quite a few little ones from the shallow three foot end of the pool, and were regarded as hero’s by their young mums; we also dragged a few teenagers and adults from the deep end after they jumped off the high diving board and discovered they couldn’t swim.

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We often worked until after nine during the weekdays but finished earlier on Sunday evenings; sometimes different combinations of us would stroll over to one of the local Herne Hill pubs to sink a few pints after work. Last call was around eleven. A collection of uniformed first aid volunteers would show up on the weekends. It was an early Sunday evening and a couple of the young uniformed first aid lady volunteers agreed to join us for a few rounds at the local. It had to be after eleven when we; Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer lurched out of the pub and headed towards the Lido. We had decided to go swimming.

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We lifted Mick the Irishman onto the top of the wall and he in turn hoisted John the part time criminal from Herne Hill onto the wall. They let themselves into the first aid room with the key the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer had given them and unlocked the outside door to the park. We all swam starkers, in the moonlight, at Brockwell Lido. As I think back it was fortunate that we had consumed only pints of warm English bitter and not snacked on any of the Scottish eggs available from the bar; waiting in the moonlight for an hour after eating may have proven to be a little tiresome.

The Thailand I remember was a county transitioning from a rest and recreational retreat from the Vietnam War into a tourism mecca. In the mid seventies Chiang Mai was a sleepy country town nestled among the forested foothills of northern Thailand close to Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle; the meeting of Thailand, Burma and Laos and the center of the infamous opium trade. Our back packers hostel was a collection of buildings surrounding by trees and foliage; they ringed a small delightful courtyard. Five of us intrepid travelers set off from our hostel on a two day hike into the mountains and villages of the Golden Triangle. A friend of our guide dropped us off at the entrance to a rough track into the mountains. We dragged ourselves along mud trails, skirted countless opium fields, and trekked through small villages and into and out of Laos and Burma.  I wondered if the opium farmers guided their donkey caravans along these old jungle trade paths. It was late afternoon when we arrived at our overnight mountain jungle village.

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Before eating and sleeping we were encouraged to cleanse the dried mud and sweat from ourselves in the nearby stream. I think the rivulet was the fresh water supply for the village. I wandered along the stream, downstream from the village. I sat naked in a cold mountain stream in Asia’s Golden Triangle.

Nowadays you can relax during a scenic drive through the countryside in air-conditioned comfort and stop off at attractions such as the Hall of Opium Museum and the Mae Ka Chan hot springs, where you can soak your sore muscles in three natural pools and let tiny fish nibble dead skin from your feet. Which makes me wonder if fish have to wait an hour after they eat before they can go swimming.

I haven’t been swimming for years; maybe I should go swimming in a sand pit. I will probably need to go out and buy a pair of bathers.

 

What In The World Is Corn Sweat

Brockwell Lido

History Of Surfers Paradise

I Look At My Clothes To See What I’m Wearing

The other day when I was resting on the fringe of the women’s section at a WestRoads department shop I slowly became aware that I was surrounded by racks or women’s clothing that had parts of their shoulder, or the complete shoulder removed. It appears that leaving part of the shoulder exposed, or the whole shoulder and upper arm exposed, is the must have look for 2017. The cold shoulder look is everywhere; dresses, jumpsuits, bridal gowns, and even bathers. And surrounding the cold shoulder displays were racks of Hippie Laundry label smocked off-the-shoulder tops, tie-dye popover tops, and destructed shorts.

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As the sales associate wandered by I turned to her and with a slight smile said

If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.

The sixties welcomed tie-dye shirts, long flowing gypsy skirts, fringed vests, and peasant blouses; I learned that women had shoulders. The associate was staring off into the display of cold shoulder clothes and answered

I had a halter top sun dress and a batik tie dye halter top.
I wouldn’t wear the cold shoulder; it’s for the young ones.

I don’t remember going shopping for clothes back when. Mum made most of my clothes until I was in my late teens. It’s impossible for me to forget the blue blazer and grey long trousers that she made for me; I was maturing into a teenager and it was time for me to wear grown up clothes. The blue blazer and grey long trousers were about twice the size they should have been, but they were made for me to grow into; maybe the loose, baggy fit was some cool early sixties look that I didn’t know about. Mum said that the blue blazer and grey long trousers were to be kept for best; they were my going out clothes.

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On school holidays mum and nanna would take me with them when they went into town on one of their shopping days. Like everybody back then they would wear their best dresses, and sometimes gloves, when they went into town. I would wear my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes. We would stop at Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade and I would sit with mum and nanna, and the other shopping ladies enjoying their sandwiches or if it was later in the day scones and a cup of tea; they were all in their stylish suits or dresses. I was in my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes.

If you looked closely into the dark night you could just make out the glow of the new landscape that television was carving out across Melbourne. But it was still a time when going to the pictures in town on a Saturday night was a special occasion; a special night out and you would wear your best clothes. Dad would wear a suit and tie, and mum her best Saturday night going out dress. I wore my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes.

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I was a young teenager when I first caught the train to Yarraville to take learn to dance classes at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom. I was expecting the debonair Pat McGuire and his wife Marjorie to turn my two left feet into dancing sensations; I would glide across the floor showcasing the pride of erin, fox trot, and the evening three step. Mum was so happy that I wanted to learn to dance; I was so happy for the opportunity to meet girls. Mr McGuire would walk the boys through a dance, and Marjorie did the same with the girls. When he thought it was time to practice the dance he had the boys line one side of the hall and the girls the other. Most of the time it was boy’s choice so you had to invite a girl to dance. The girls didn’t know if you had mastered the dance steps or not; I’m not sure they cared because they were at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom to meet boys. I know it wasn’t my pot cut, I was growing my hair into a long sixties style, that caused the girls to turn down my invites to step onto the dance floor. Every week the refusals repeated themselves and I would spend the night sitting in front of, and learning against, the boy’s wall. As I sat in front of the boy’s wall I searched for the reason why the girls refused my invite to join me on the dance floor; the only common denominator that came to mind was that my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes made me look like a dork.

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I stopped going to dance classes at the Universal Dancing Classes Ballroom and I never wore my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes again.

I remember when The Beatles invaded Australia as part of their 1964 world tour. We all wanted a Nehru collar jacket. A year later Jean Shrimpton shocked Melbourne when she wore a mini skirt to Derby Day and caused absolute silence in the members lounge at Flemington Racecourse. It was five inches above the knee and her legs stopped a nation. And that was the first time I appreciated women’s fashion. I learned that women had knees and thighs. I was neither a mod nor a rocker but I did take charge of mum’s electric sewing machine and peg my jeans to produce a stove pipe effect. I turned the legs inside out and sewed a new tapered seam alongside the original seam; creating a small opening at the bottom of the legs that I could just squeeze my feet through. Even though I was rewarded a new freedom when I became a college student at Footscray Tech I still needed mum to provide food, shelter, and clothing. I wanted to shop for my own clothes; the closest I got was telling mum what I had to have. It was the late sixties and cool college students rejected the hippie fashion of tie dye, leather sandals, flowers and peace signs, and beads and fringes; that would all come later.

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Our uniform was corduroy pants and desert boots. I did persuade mum to buy me a paisley shirt. It was a time of conflicting idealism, protest, rebellion, and freedom of choice. We could choose to be hippie, bodgie and widgie, mod, skinheads, or surfers; and I became a little of each depending on what I could persuade mum to make with her sewing machine. A bottle green duffle coat, navy blue refer jacket, a green jerkin, tapered jeans, bell bottoms, and black ripple sole shoes were the only constants as I brushed up against the late sixties and early seventies sub cultures. I remember owning a suit. I left the suit in Australia when I set out in the early seventies on my first hallowed rite of passage searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. Mum would have kept the suit, but I never wore it again.

Carnaby Street was on the cusp of it’s hey day when I was living in London. In the early sixties it was the birthplace of Swinging London, the home of mods, skinheads, and punks. It was the place to be if you were creative and in search of inspiration. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks made Carnaby street a legend; in the early seventies it’s rebellious reputation was fading.

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The fashions of yesterday in the left over menswear boutiques were making way for the emerging punk culture. I resisted becoming a dedicated follower of fashion during my search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary; my journey started and ended in jeans. When I returned to Australia after wandering Europe, and drifting through the Middle East and into India along the ill defined hippie trail, I left my jeans on the bedroom floor for mum to wash. I wore my Indian kurta shirt, harem pants, and scarves the first few times I walked Douglas Parade.

And as I sat back resting on the fringe of the women’s section at a WestRoads department shop I started to ponder why is fashion only for the skinny, gap tooth smiling, youthful young ones and why is fifty plus the age that makes us no longer style conscious.

If fashion designers refuse to create daring, provocative, every day fashion that allows all of us fifty plus to flaunt an intense, emotional street style image then we need to create our own. Every pop culture that we travelled through defined itself by the clothing and fashion they established and left behind; hippies, bodgies and widgies, mods, skinheads, surfers and punks wore their individual clothing in a collective way. I think we need to forget about the 50 and older sections in clothes shops that are stocked with age appropriate clothing and just shop in whatever section we want. Ours is the right to create a mix-and-match wardrobe.

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But there is a place for the trousers with an elastic waist band that straddles the back of our waist, and need to be positioned just above where our stomach starts it’s bulge. We need to lower them so they sit low on the hip, below the waist, below the waist band of our brightly coloured, patterned boxer shorts. We need to reveal our underwear. Sagging shouldn’t be the exclusive fashion of Justin Bieber.

Fashion predicts that for 2017 hipsters will combine styles. Hipster chic street style will be mixing grunge and hippie; must-haves such as matching button ups, knee-high socks, polka dot tights, cool striped crop tops and big floppy hats. So it’s time that we reach into our wardrobes and storage boxes and reclaim our skinny jeans and trousers, the corduroy jacket with the leather patches on the elbows, the leather sandals, tie-dyed and paisley print, and shirts decorated with beads and fringes, bell-bottomed jeans, Nehru collar jackets, and the duffle coats and refer jackets of yesteryear.

For the last thirty years I have headlined floral print shirts year round. And I bought shorts from Australia and wore them before they were popular in the mid-west; before the united parcel delivery driver or post men wore shorts. Mum would only let me take a little from each culture; a pegged jean here and a paisley print there so my wardrobe is bare. If only I could wear my loose, baggy blue blazer and grey long trousers going out clothes one more time. This time with a floral print shirt and I would glide a partner across the polished dance floor in my own maverick style.

 

Sixties’ model Jean Shrimpton shocks world with first miniskirt

Carnaby Street: 1960 – 2010

The Beatles let it be in Australia: 1964

A House With No Name

You wouldn’t know if it’s springtime or what season the outside world was grappling with when your walking the upper level of WestRoads in the mornings. Inside the mall each season has the same prescribed climate; temperature is maintained at a constant mid-seventies, there is no breeze, and the lighting is never darkened by clouds or the threat of rain. Because spring has dismissed winter, I’m walking throughout the neighbourhood in the mornings instead of WestRoads. The three laps of the upper level and the two laps of the lower level of the mall have become a meandering one hour stroll through the streets where I live.

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Some mornings I have to wait for the spring harsh rains to become a soft gentle shower; when occasional droplets are falling on the sunshine that is breaking through the clouds. It’s that perfect time of the year. Mornings are being warmed by the gentle spring heat; the tight buds on the forsythia and dogwood branches are straining to open and the trees are sprinkled with leaves and blossoms. I vary my walking track each morning. Sometimes I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first off and other mornings head in the opposite direction to keep the hills for midway through my amble. The other morning I set off before the rubbish trucks had wandered through the neighbourhood so the bins, plastic bags of rubbish, green recycling tubs, cardboard boxes stuffed with paper and plastics, yard waste bags bursting with grass clippings and leaves, and bundles of branches tied with string were all in disorganised chaos on the footpaths. It was easier to leave the footpaths and walk the roadways; I fell into a pattern of long and short strides and my thoughts went back to when rubbish bins lined the nature strips of my childhood.

Like most people back then we only had one galvanised rubbish bin. Once a week on rubbish day the bin was put out on the nature strip to be emptied by the rubbish man or, as we all knew him, the garbo. One bin was more than enough because most people burnt their rubbish. Our incinerator was an old 44 gallon oil drum in the back of the yard. I don’t know where it came from or how it got into the backyard. There was a cut out rectangular hole, about ten by six inches, at the bottom of the tin so the ashes from the burnt rubbish could be culled and thrown onto mum’s garden.

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When I think back I wonder if it was the ever present incinerator in the back yard and the ashes being scooped out from the fire and smoke that caused me as a youngster to close my eyes whenever we drove past the Springvale Crematorium on the way to Aunt Peg’s. Mum’s sister and our cousins lived in the country town of Dandenong; a 20 mile drive from Melbourne in the Austin A40 down the Princess Highway. The crematorium was a silhouette across the fields. I silently ached for the A40 to accelerate and leave behind the incinerators that burnt bodies.

Before meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, and bread and biscuits were wrapped in plastic you’d just tell the shopkeeper how much you wanted. Items were weighed on a shop counter scale and then wrapped in paper, or put into a paper bag, to be carried home in a string bag or a shopping jeep. And the paper and food scraps became food for the incinerator. Our rubbish bin was filled with glass bottles, tin cans, and anything that wouldn’t burn in the incinerator. I remember the small horse drawn rubbish cart; green with large wheels on each side. The cart’s shape was a large drum cut in half; curved metal, sliding coverings on each side formed the top of the cart. The horse stopped, slowed down, and started without a command. The rubbish tins were the equine traffic signal.

The garbo lifted the metal tins onto the side of the cart and dumped the rubbish into the cart, and when the cart was filled he would slide the coverings closed. I remember the rubbish trucks replacing the horse drawn carts. In summer the garbos would run up and down the street, dressed in footy shorts and a singlet, banging the rubbish bins on the sides of the truck as they emptied the rubbish into the truck. At Christmas mum and dad would always leave a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos.

Aksarben, where I now live, is a quaint suburb of Omaha. Bordered by Elmwood and Memorial Parks, it embraces an array of homes, from brick Tudors to Craftsman-style bungalows, and the streets are lined with mature trees. It’s a suburb where you would expect houses to have front fences and a name. I amble a different way through the neighbourhood each morning searching for a front fence; a French Gothic picket, a row of dense evergreen hedge plants, or a low stone front yard wall. But my front fence searching is in vain.

image source:google

No one is gonna call a house a real Australian house unless it has a front fence, front yard, and a name. The front fence and front yard are part of Australian history. I think the front fence has remained part of the The Land Down Under suburban house because an Aussie wants privacy from the street, and a place where their little ones can safely play.  There are some, though, that maintain a fence in front of a house adds nothing to the appearance of the house or street. Many different styles of front fence lined the street where I grew from a young boy through early childhood and then, to a fledgling adolescent. A relative of ours had a large concrete scalloped fence. Our house had a high wooden picket front fence; in time it transformed into a low square picket fence and then into a scalloped picket fence.

image source:johnmcadam

During the fifties and sixties many picket front yard fences were restyled into unique statements by Greek and Italian immigrants. Melbourne still has a few traditional front yard fence styles; wooden picket, low stone or masonry pillars interlinked with thick chains or rods, woven wire, squat brick veneer with a touch of decorative wrought iron, or tea tree.

It is said that every house built in Australia before about 1930 was christened and given a name by it’s architect, builder or first owner. After the Second World War the Australian government committed to a vigorous and sustained immigration program and house naming was once again in vogue. British, Italians and Greeks were the first to arrive in large numbers to the The Lucky Country, and when they secured their first home they named them after the counties, Italian towns, Greek regions, and English parishes they came from or where their families lived. If a house didn’t have a name then its name became who lived in the house; the Tillerson’s, the Bate’s, and the Ashford’s houses made up part of our street.

image source:google

Our house was named Montrose; a lovely little dark coloured plaque with curly and fluid gold lettering was attached to the weather boards by the front door. Montrose is a small Scottish coastal town nestled between Dundee and Aberdeen. The McAdam name stems from the Scottish Gaelic McAdam clan, which originated as a branch of Clan Gregor. Clan Gregor is a Highland Scottish clan famous for the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor. Back in the late forties and early fifties I don’t think Mum and Dad would have so admired Rob Roy that they would name our house after a small Scottish coastal town 100 miles from his birthplace. Maybe the house was already called Montrose and, because I’m a descendant of Australian Royalty, a third great grandson of the transported convict Thomas Raines, the house chose us.

image source:google

The immigrant Lebanese family, the second owners of the Milk Bar on the corner of Douglas Parade and North Road, only knew mum as Mrs Montrose. The shop was only a block away so when ever we ran out of milk, or needed some bread, mum would duck over to the corner shop instead of going to Mrs Worm’s on Melbourne Road. She would be welcomed as Mrs Montrose; whenever mum was in the middle of something and I went over to get the milk whoever of the Lebanese family was serving at the time would ask, and how is Mrs Montrose.

As I saunter through the neighbourhood I also look for house names. So few houses have a name. They only have numbers. But there are a few house with the same name; Huskers and Big Red. And that makes me stop and think; a house shouldn’t have the same name as another house in the neighbourhood. A house should be named for a geographical feature, a type of tree or plant or flower, an animal of the area, the seasons, an event or period of local history, a memory or desire of the person who lives in the house.

Our house also doesn’t have a name, just a street number, so I think I need to give it a name. If the house had a name it might help the help the postman deliver letters and it would ensure the butcher, baker and milkman made their deliveries to the correct address; a trend already redefining the retail grocery trade is the convergence off online shopping and home delivery. Coming up with a name for a house should be an enjoyable and pleasing experience so I need to think about a name in the backyard over a few cold ones; I’m thinking The Beer Drinkers Arms, The Malt Shovel, or The Stagger Inn.

I should probably also start leaving a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos at Christmas time.

 

How Do I Trace The History Of My House

Rob Roy Scottish Outlaw

Shit brick fences of Melbourne  Facebook

I Only Drive The Speed Limit

I was sitting on the couch in the front room and looking absent mindedly out of the two front windows. My view was filtered by the fronds of the new small artificial pine tree. The tree was already decorated with clear white mini string lights and we had complemented the lights with glass ornaments and a few select silver ornaments that were collected through the years. It was mid December and the neighbourhood houses were wearing their Christmas lights together with other seasonal decorations. Dusk was arriving between four thirty and five; at the same time the postman was pushing letters into the letter boxes. Letters make a distinct sound when they are pushed through our letter box flap and allowed to fall into the metal box; even the cats had come to recognise the sound. We empty the letter box by reaching through a small hinged wooden door  in the wall of the front coat closet. The obscure envelope arrived in the letterbox unexpected.

image source:johnmcadam

On the top left of the envelope was
If not delivered return to G.P.O. Box 1916Melbourne 3001.
On right hand side of the envelope was an International ParAvion stamp with an address
PO Box 91980 Victoria Street West Auckland 1142.
And on the lower right was
suggestions to save money by reusing the envelope
When Reusing Ensure No Address Shows Through Window
To Reuse This Envelope Open At The Red End.
The back of the envelope was filled with other tips on opening and reusing the envelope, and how to make payments. There was a large red arrow pointing to the red end of the envelope which had printed on it
Insert Thumb Here.

The obscure envelope contained a Victoria Police Infringement Notice. According to a speed camera at the intersection of Fitzroy Street and Lakeside Drive in St Kilda, my detected speed was 52km/h but my alleged speed was 50km/h; the lower speed allowing for tolerance in the detection system. The permitted speed at the intersection is 40km/h. The infringement offence was exceeding speed limit in a vehicle other than a heavy vehicle by 10km/h or more but less than 15km/h. The infringement penalty was AUD $311.00 and 3 demerit points. The Victoria Police Infringement Notice arrived two months after I had been driving in Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, Melbourne; just a few days before I left Australia to return to the US.

image source:heraldsun.com.au

The Victoria Police Infringement Notice was a surprise and shock because whenever driving on the left side of the road just happened to come up in conversation I would nonchalantly announce that for me it was as a duck takes to water. If a cashier at the super market, an associate at the ACE hardware shop, or a server at a restaurant just happened to mention driving in Australia, I would, with a disguised sense of satisfaction and pride, recount driving to get petrol and having to chuck a U-ey because I had passed a servo a couple of clicks back. And I sensed their admiration and wonderment. I would gesture with my right fore finger, nod and with a smile softly say; on the left side of the road.

The Victoria Police Infringement Notice presented four options to resolve the infringement penalty

Pay in full by the due date to avoid additional costs and enforcement action
Nominate who was driving if I wasn’t; there was a nomination statement included in the mailing and a new infringement notice would be sent to the person I nominated
Apply to request an Internal Review to the Enforcement Agency if I believed I had cause
Apply to have the matter heard and determined in the Magistrates Court

I replied to Dear Sir or Madam from the Civic Compliance of Victoria to request an Internal Review of the infringement offence.

image source:pixabay

I reside in the United States of America and was visiting Australia during November 2016. I rented a car to spend a few days enjoying the attractions of the Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne. I have been driving for 30 plus years in the States, which has a traditional systems of weights and measures; traveling distances are measured in miles and speeds are given as miles per hour. I was aware that Australia uses the metric system. So as not to confuse myself I chose my driving speed in Australia by going with the traffic flow. I am a cautious drive and unknowingly I drifted over the speed limit for a short period of time. I accept that at no time is speeding safe. I would like to request a caution or waiver for this infringement. I thank you in anticipation and look forward to visiting Australia again in the near future.

Not long after I posted my humble request for an infringement review I received a late payment infringement notice for AUD$333.60 which was followed by another obscure envelope with a letter denying my request for amnesty, because my offence was of such a serious nature that it could not be wavered. I struggled over if I should pay the infringement penalty. My ethics won through, so I sent the Civic Compliance of Victoria a US bank cheque for US $253.00; noting on the back of the cheque that the exchange rate when I purchased the cheque was 1.00 AUD =.7581 USD.

image source:pixabay

I hadn’t been in the US all that long when I first went for the driving skills and road test to get a Nebraska driver’s license. I drove a sixties or seventies two door Ford automatic for the test; a big car when you were used to driving a VW beetle, Mini Cooper, or Holden EH station wagon. I was still used to the steering wheel being on the right side of the car and the windscreen wiper controls and turning light indicators being on the other sides of the steering column; instead of flipping the turn signal with your left hand I did it with the right hand; and gear changing was done with the left hand.

The woman evaluating my driving skills and practical knowledge of the road rules thanked me for opening the car door for her. I was the only one that knew I had gone to get in the wrong door; the steering wheel is on the left side of the car in the US. She was cheerful to my reply of; no worries, she’ll be right mate. And we both started an enjoyable conversation; she had an insatiable appetite for everything Australian. I stopped at the exit to the mall parking area and my examiner, without looking up from her clip board, requested that I turn right. And turn right I did; onto the left side of the road.

image source:registriesplus.ca

She stopped her next question about Australia’s unique collection of animals mid sentence, looked up from her clip board, turned to me and said; do know you’re on the wrong side of the road. I thought this was a new question that she had just thought of about driving in Australia; I started to look around a bit and think about an answer. The cheerful lady interrupted my thinking with a firm; you just turned onto the wrong side of the road. As I veered to the correct side of the road I looked over to her, smiled and said; no worries, she’ll be right, mate. And I was soon on a straight stretch of road and the enjoyable conversation about Australia continued. I was stopped at a corner and my driving skills and road test examiner punctuated my discourse on the fair dinkum backyard Aussie barbie with; turn left here. And turn left I did; onto the right side of the road. After another smile and no worries, she’ll be right mate I politely asked her to stop talking to me; suggesting she was distracting me. We drove in silence for several miles, and with renewed concentration, I turned onto the correct side of the road at the next five corners. My examiner wrote something on the clip board paper when we arrived back in the mall parking area. She turned to me and said; you know what you did back there with the turns onto the wrong side of the road was an automatic disqualification, but I’m going to recommend a license anyway. I smiled and said; no worries, she’ll be right mate.

image source:pinterest

After posting the cheque to Civic Compliance of Victoria for US $253.00 my guilt from the infringement offence in the The Land Down Under was tamed. Now I was renting the flat so I could choose the curtains. Twelve days later later another obscure envelope was in the letter box. The US $253.00 bank cheque was still stapled to the photocopy of the infringement notice that I had stapled it to. An accompanying letter began with

Dear Sir/Madam, I refer to the above Infringement Notice Number. We are unable to accept your cheque as Civic Compliance Victoria can only accept cheques issued in Australian dollars. You can pay by one of the payment options below.

1. Send your Bank Draft (in Australian dollars) with this notice to: Civic Compliance Victoria, GPO 2041. Melbourne Vic 3001
2. Present this letter Civic Compliance Victoria , Ground floor, 2777 William Street, Melbourne, between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday
3. Call 613 9200 8111 or visit, fines.vic.gov.au

I explained to my US bank that I would like to deposit a bank cheque that I had purchased and made out to the Civic Compliance of Victoria back to my account.

image source:pixabay

And now I am wracked with worry because the drivers license demerit points exist somewhere in limbo and the demerit point columns at the Civic Compliance of Victoria won’t balance. I suppose I could convert my Nebraska drivers license into a Victorian license so the 3 demerit points could be assigned to a license and the demerit point columns at the Civic Compliance of Victoria would balance. The paperwork can be completed online and the interview appointment can also be scheduled online; but I must be living in Victoria. But I don’t suppose there’s cause to worry about the 3 drivers license demerit points because as we enter the era of digitisation of everything, Civic Compliance of Victoria will create a digital record and assign the demerit points to a virtual licence.

The final obscure envelope arrived not all that long ago and the accompanying letter began

Dear Sir/Madam, We acknowledge receipt of your recent inquiry in relation to the Infringement Notice above and wish to advise you that the matter is now finalised. Should you have any further questions please do not hesitate to phone or attend in person at the above address. Our hours of business are 8:00am to 6:00pm, Monday to Friday, except public holidays. Alternatively, you can visit, fines.vic.gov.au for further information.
Yours faithfully,
Correspondence Officer

I checked back on all the correspondence in the obsure envelopes and whenever there was an enclosed letter the closing was never signed. It just read Correspondence Officer. I think I would like to begin a new career as a Correspondence Officer.

 

Civic Compliance Victoria

Melbourne’s Top 10 Speed Camera Locations

Driving Down Under: What You Need to Know

No Dramas, No Worries

I sat alone in the waiting area anticipating the return of the associate from the service centre workshop. Why is it that you can go for years without a puncture and then you have flat tyre after flat tyre. Omaha was caressed by a gentle soaking rain the other day so all of the nails and screws that were resting in the gutters were washed onto the roads by the rain water gushing down the overflowing gutters. But how does a nail or screw lying on the road puncture a car tyre

1. a car in front of you runs over part of the nail or screw and cause it to
stand upright ready for you to run over it
2. you drive over the nail or screw and your front tyre flings it up
and into the path of the back tyre
3. the nail or screw is sitting pointed head up on the road and it’s nestled
into your tyre as soon as you run over it

I expected the associate on their return to tell me the tyre couldn’t be patched because a nail or screw had lodged in the sidewall. I focused on the waiting room tyre wall display and was soon musing over common causes of punctures; jagged pieces of wood, screws and bolts, knife blades, sharp rocks, potholes, stiletto heels, or indoor tv aerials, when a sign hanging from the ceiling caught my attention. A bearded smiling mechanic was staring out at me and to their left was written; tightening, torquing, wrenching. As I stared at the sign the words faded and became; tightening, torquing, spannering, and I was soon singing along.

I think it’s safe to say that if you own a car in the The Lucky Country then your going to have a small tool kit in the boot or glove box; a spanner set, a couple of screw drivers, pliers, that sort of thing. You never know when your motor might go bung and you need to do a quick fix under the bonnet to get to the nearest servo. And when you ask where’s the nearest service station your probably going to be told; there’s a servo another two clicks up the road, if you get to maccas you’ll have to chuck a U-ey, you’ve gone too far.

And it’s not just the way Australians spell and pronounce words, or the slang they use, that make up the little differences that are the The Lucky Country.

image source:excelle.monster.com

Australians keep their knife and fork in their hands when they eat. Food served on a plate comes with a knife and fork; it can be a meat pie and sauce, full roast with veggies, fish and chips, or grilled steak with salad, or anything in between, and it’s eaten with a knife and fork because it comes with a knife and fork. If the pie, dimmie, chico roll, or fish and chips is ordered as take away forget the knife and fork; it’s eaten from the bag or the paper it’s wrapped in. You’ll never see anybody forking food separately; different foods are combined on the fork at the same time. A plate of roast lamb and mixed veggies is worked on by cutting the brussel sprout into bite size pieces, and keeping the knife and fork in both hands cutting a chunk from the roast potato, and then a bite size slice of roast lamb. And with the lamb still on the fork, collecting a piece of brussel sprout onto the fork tines with the lamb, and then loading some of the peas and a chunk of roast potato onto the back of the fork. The knife is used to help move food around the plate and to push food onto the fork. No one cuts up food and then puts the knife and fork down and then picks up the fork to bayonet the just cut up foodstuff; and no one would ever use a fork to cut up food. There are no appetisers in the The Lucky Country; the entrée comes first, followed by the main course and then dessert. And a salad is served with the main course, not as an entrée.

image source:johnmcadam

Coffee comes in a cup. It comes as a flat white, long black, short black, latte, or cappuccino; good luck finding the bottomless cup of percolated or drip brewed coffee. At a cafe or restaurant no one is going to bring a coffee carafe and cup to the table and leave the carafe after pouring a cup of coffee. And you won’t see a commercial pour over coffee maker behind the counter. Order at the counter, pay, take a number with yourself to a table, and await the cup of coffee and refreshment to be carried to your table; if you want a refill of coffee, repeat the process. You won’t find a one cup coffee drip maker or single serve brewer in a hotel or motel room. Rooms are equipped with an electric kettle to boil water, a supply of tea bags and sachets of instant coffee crystals, sugar or sweetener, and milk in the mini fridge. In the morning boil some water, empty a sachet of freeze dried coffee grounds into a cup, stir with a spoon, and BAM!!; good morning coffee.

The The Lucky Country decimalised on the 14th February 1966. The national currency is the dollar, and fifty plus years later the dollar comes in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes; coins come in 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent and one and two dollar denominations. You’ll always get a $1 or $2 dollar coin as change whenever you buy anything; they add up fast in your pocket.

image source:johnmcadam

There’s no better way of getting rid of those little gold nuggets than ducking into the nearest pub for a glass of the amber fluid. Walking up to the bar in any pub and announcing I’ll have a beer mate will get you a cold one; but ordering a beer isn’t that easy. The size of a beer varies in each state and territory and each size has it’s own name. Most but not all states use schooner as a name for the large size, but the name for a small beer could cause confusion; its a half-pint in the Capital Territory, a middy in Western Australia and New South Wales, a pot in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, sometimes a ten in Queensland and Tasmania, and a handle in the Northern Territory.

Bartender: G’day mate ya right?
Ian: G’day, schooner of New and a middy of VB mate
Bartender: Sorry?
Ian: Schooner of New, middy of VB
Bartender: Sandgroper mate?
Ian: Freo
Bartender: (holding up a pot and a glass) Which one mate?
Ian: (pointing to pot): The middy
Bartender: No worries
Bartender: (placing pot on bar) Cheers
Ian: Cheers

image source:chicagotribune.com

You don’t need money in the The Lucky Country for tipping because there is no tipping; but you can if you want to. Tipping isn’t a substitute for a persons salary; it’s not part of the The Lucky Country culture. Australian workers are guaranteed a minimum wage by law. Depending on the industry or the job they work penalties and allowances could increase their minimum wage; currently the basic minimum wage is around twenty dollars an hour. However you need cash when you eat out with friends; splitting the bill is not an option. Most staff will act more like your mate than your server so don’t ask what they recommend for an appetiser or request they spend their time organising your bill and figuring out who ordered what. Work it out amongst yourself, throw what you owe as cash onto the table, and then one person goes to pay.

image source:pixabay

It was nine o’clock on a Monday morning and I was in a hotel room just a stones throw from Streets Beach at Brisbane’s South Bank Parklands. I was starting on me second cup of instant coffee and Karl and Lisa had just signed off from The Today Show, so I started channel surfing. My thumb hesitated, and I stared; Atlanta Falcons were leading the Green Bay Packers. I was watching American Football, live, in a Brisbane hotel room. Now it’s safe to say that Australians love sports and it’s also safe to say no one really cares about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Lucky Country has Australian Rules Football; players don’t wear padding and helmets, and are not running off the ground every few minutes to take a rest and put a towel over their heads. It’s summer in the The Lucky Country when US football is broadcast on Australian television, so it has to compete with cricket; the national summer sport that allows sports fans to showcase both their excitement and fatigue for a game played over five days.

image source:beingindian.com

Cricket is played between two sides, one out in the field and the other in. Each man that’s in the in side has to be got out; men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in, and the next man in goes out and goes in when he’s out. When all of the in side is out, the out side goes in and the out side that’s been in goes out, and tries to get those coming in, out. When both sides have been in and out, and if there is still enough time, then each side gets to go in and out again. The side who scores the most runs wins; sometimes after five days there are men that are still in and not out so the game is a draw. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the in men are out.

In the The Lucky Country young and old recognise and admire the drive, creativity, commitment, and finesse of the athlete who competes alone, but against themselves. They admire none more so than those who are not fond of rules; those that have no respect for the status quo. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, Australians see genius.

And just as I was thinking, the battered sav could be called the battered deep fried saveloy, the battered deep fried hot dog sausage, or a corn dog, the associate returned from the service centre workshop and told me that I must have driven over a small nail. And he started to explain that because of the rain showers the other day the nails and screws that were resting in the gutters were washed onto the roads by the rain water gushing down the overflowing gutters.

After the puncture was repaired I drove to Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers and ordered a Chicago Dog Freddy’s Style.

 

Tipping in Australia: Who should you tip and how much

The top 10 cafés for coffee lovers in Melbourne

Pots, Pints and Schooners

I’m Still Spewin’ Over Last Night’s Footy

The other Saturday afternoon the sun was streaming through the front window; I was stretched out, head back with my eyes closed, listening to Way With Words on National Public Radio. When Martha and Grant were giving the closing, could not have made this program possible without spiel, it sprung to mind that I had just spent an hour doing nothing else but listening to the wireless. I tried to make a mental list of other times I had just listened to the wireless; driving all day, brisk exercise walking, sitting in a dentists waiting room, and long haul air plane flights don’t count.

I would head straight for the dining room as soon as I got home from school, and sit glued to the wireless listening to the Air Adventures of Biggles, Superman, Adventures of the Sea Hound, Tarzan, Hopalong Cassidy, Robin Hood and Hop Harrigan. Mum would bring my tea into the dining room so I could listen to the cliff-hanging end of the last serial. Back then the only vegetables I would eat were peas and potatoes so she would carry a plate with a couple of grilled lamb chops or cutlets, boiled peas, and mashed potatoes from the kitchen into my world of mystical adventures and danger.

But there came a time when I was no longer distracted by the Air Adventures of Biggles and the Sea Hound, or Hopalong Cassidy. Perhaps I was just growing up; or maybe I lost interest in the serials because a His Master’s Voice television became part of our lounge room furniture. But I didn’t desert the wireless. The kitchen wireless was my retreat from the cold and rainy Saturday afternoons for the next couple of Melbourne winters.

The city would come to a stop on Saturday afternoons. All Victorian Football League football games were played on Saturday afternoon and supporters invaded the six sacred grounds where the twelve teams were playing; North Melbourne’s home ground was Arden Street, Carlton’s Princes Park, Hawthorn’s Glenferrie Oval, South Melbourne’s the Lake Oval, and Footscray’s the Western Oval, and the other seven teams had their own hallowed home suburban footy ground. There was little choice about what team you barracked for. If you were born and raised in the working class Western suburbs you barracked for the Footscray Bulldogs. I barracked alone in the kitchen; it was cosy and warm.

image source:westernbulldogs.com.au

Brownlow Medallist John Shultz, and Ted Whitten, led the bulldog boys into battle at the wind swept, wintry, hostile enemy grounds and the adoring Western Oval. It must have been the young boy in me that decided to ride the coat tails of a wining side; I drifted from barracking for the Bulldogs to barrack for the Geelong cats. It was the heyday of Polly Farmer, Bill Goggin, and Doug Wade. The distraction from the Bulldogs only lasted a couple of years and the wireless dial once again was tuned to the boys of the Bulldog breed.

And there was the Victorian Football Association as well as the Victorian Football League. Association games were played on Sunday afternoons. The Williamstown VFA team was the Seagulls and they played their home games and trained at Point Gellibrand Oval. The grandstand was at one end of the ground and a grass mound stretched from just past the grandstand to the Morris Street gate; and the old lighthouse, seagulls, and unpredictable waters of Port Phillip Bay flanked one side of the oval. Watching the ships entering and leaving Port Melbourne, and the Melbourne docks was a welcome distraction when the cold, salt water laden, strong Port Phillip Bay winds kept the ball at the far end of the ground away from the grandstand. And trying to stay on your bike as you free-wheeled down the grassy mound was another distraction.

image source:slv.vic.gov.au

Half time and the end of the games were the meaning of footie; you herded into the dressing rooms as the boys walked in from the field. At half time you watched in amazement as ankles were re-bandaged, and you became intoxicated by the suffocating scent of the liniment that was splashed and rubbed into every inch of bare skin. And you were mesmerised by the coach’s passionate speech; it was inspiring and rousing whether the boys were winning or losing. At full time you were with the boys when they dropped onto the dressing room’s benches at the same they were unlacing their boots; the room was filled with the incredible scent of sweat, liniment, and cigarette smoke and beer; the proud fragrance of the football brotherhood. And the coach followed up his half time rousing address and caps were popped from tall bottles of the golden amber and they celebrated.

image source:pinterest

As I entered into the world of change and uncertainty that was the sixties and seventies I lost interest in the kitchen wireless and riding my bike to Gellibrand Oval. During my first journey of searching for inspiration, and idealism in the ordinary I found myself at an afternoon game of rugby in Edinburgh. I stood among a crowd of passionate Scotsmen; passionate for their team. When I was overheard confessing I didn’t know the rules of rugby because I was a boy of the Bulldog breed, a boy who only knew Victorian Rules Football, a nearby passionate Hearts supporter reached into his inside coat pocket and produced a flask of whisky and proclaimed

Now I’ll be telling ya what’s happening and we’all drink whisky and
you’ll be a Hearts supporter

. On a cold, dank Scottish winter afternoon, surrounded by cigarette smoke and Scottish whisky, I stood together with the proud brotherhood of football.

On cold winter Saturday afternoons I stood on the sloped terraces in front of the Whitten stand with the familiar faces; the veterans sat in the front two rows of the Whitten Stand stand; their sandwiches were wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thermos full of hot tomato soup rested in their lap, or at their feet. We ambled to the Western Oval turnstiles after a few starters at either the Rising Sun, The Plough, or the Buckingham carrying a thin paper bag with a couple of bottles of the golden amber under each arm.

image source:foxsportspulse.com

We drank our beer and cheered the boys on with a selection of affectionate obscenities and insulting encouragements; we could reach out and touch Gaz, Bernie, Laurie, Sockeye and Bazza: there was only red white and blue on the ground; they could do no wrong. As committed one eyed barracker’s we encouraged the umpires to make the right decisions with indecent and threatening support. The last quarter was greeted with the tribal ritual of a pie in one hand and raising a beer in the other as a salute to the sounding of the siren to start the final onslaught; the four n twenty would either be hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth or more on the cold side of warm. On a cold, dank, Melbourne winter afternoon surrounded by the smell of meat pies and tomato sauce, and cigarette smoke and beer, I stood with the proud brotherhood of football.

I went back to teaching when I returned from my first journey of searching for inspiration, and idealism, in the ordinary. Wednesday afternoons at Victorian Technical Schools were sports afternoons; usually football in the winter and cricket in summer. Each Technical School had a football or cricket team cobbled together from the best of the best senior boys in the fourth and fifth forms. Neighbouring schools would play against each other on Wednesday afternoons. Someone at my school decided it would be a good time for the boys if they could watch a football match played between the teachers, and the school football team. On a mild winter’s Wednesday afternoon I ran out onto the school oval with the teacher’s team. The entire school, form one through form five, wearing the school uniform of grey pants, grey shirt with tie, and maroon jumper lined the oval.

image source:wikipedia

I closed my eyes and the boys became a cheer squad, dressed in their duffle coats covered with badges of their favourite player names and jumper numbers. And they waved their floggers; six foot long sticks with massive amounts of streamers taped to the ends. The teachers team had four players who were better than any of the senior boys in the school footy team; two physical education teachers, and a couple of teachers who played for Williamstown’s AFL reserves team. Our plan was to play keepings off; four teachers against eighteen boys. The cheer squad welcomed me onto the ground with a chorus of barracking. It was just a few minutes into the game when my excitement caused me to forgot about the plan; I jogged towards the corridor, the ball was kicked my way. I heard the roar from the boys lining the oval fence and then I was lying on the oval ground gasping at the air; it seemed to take forever for the air to return to my lungs, and for my eyes to focus.

I had been shirt fronted by one of the man mountain teachers that played for the Williamstown reserves. I spent the rest of the match standing alone on the half forward flank. A few of us went to the local after school; the lounge was soon filled with the incredible scent of sweat, my liniment, and cigarette smoke and beer. We were the proud brotherhood of football celebrating the victory of a heroic, stout hearted, sweat stained battle.

Australian Rules Football is now a national competition; Melbourne provides ten teams, Sydney, Queensland, and South and Western Australia two teams. Melbourne games are no longer played at the old suburban footy grounds but at the MCG, Etihad Stadium, and Geelong’s Kardinia Park. Smoking and floggers are banned, and no alcohol can be brought into the grounds. You can’t use indecent or obscene language, or threatening or insulting words toward the players or umpires, and you can only get rid of your rubbish in a receptacle provided for that purpose.

image source:johnmcadam

And the Footscray Bulldogs are now the Western Bulldogs; some say that the local magic of the game has been lost.

Sons of the ‘scray,
Red, white and blue,
We will come out smiling, if we win or lose.
Others build their teams my lad, and think they know the game,
But you can’t beat the boys of the Bulldog breed, that make ol’ Footscray’s name!

I think I should take a class in gesturing hypnotically just like Mandrake the Magician, or attempt to uncover a Tibetan mystic who can pound into me the secrets of ancient magic so I can stand once again on the sloped terrace in front of the Whitten Stand; a four n twenty pie in one hand and a beer in the other, raised in a salute to the proud brotherhood of football. Or perhaps I can just watch the replays of the footy on YouTube.

 

Australian Football League

Radio: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Western Bulldogs