Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Yolla Students - Fossil Bluff Beach - Wynyard - Tasmania

The Gunners, Catwoman and Me


'Please, mister, please! Mister, have you seen my Nicholas? Please help me! I need to find my Nicholas. He should be here, my Nicky. Can you help me, mister! Please?'

An eternity had now passed since that Sunday morning, a morning dawning with the promise of the early summer's day to come. A morning so long ago now it seems it was from a life other than my own. The memory, though, is as clear as the day it happened - it has never left me.

It was 1988 – bicentenary year, and I'd had a big night. I was just a callow youth, coming to the end of my uni time. I was studying architecture, and I wasn't yet immune to 'big nights'. As the sun came up I was decidedly feeling the worse for wear. Stumbling down Coventry Street, towards Clarendon, I had planned to catch a tram at the end of the latter, down to my digs opposite South Melbourne Beach. I had a room on Beaconsfield Parade, in an old boarding house that had seen better days. It has been done up now, yuppified; but back then it had two advantages – it was cheap, and it was just across the road from the water. I loved the beach back then, still do. Well that was the plan, at least – to get back and catch some zeds before I tackled looking for a summer job. But then I was stopped in my tracks by plaintive cries of assistance I just couldn't ignore – and looking back, I am glad I didn't.

After the all-nighter I was seedy as, but still on a high. I'd just been to see the Gunners – Guns and Roses. No, not at the notorious concert shemozzle at Calder Park Speedway – that came later. This one was on their first trip to Oz – they were just starting to get a name in the US. My mates were all off to another venue to see 'Whispering Jack' – John Farnham – with their girlfriends. He was riding high then after his huge comeback album. I was unattached at this stage and wanted something edgier, rawer; and from what I had read, this new American outfit were just the guys to provide it. On a balmy summer night at the Entertainment Centre they were ragged and bumptious, totally without any sheen – but now and again you had the sense of what they would become in their pomp. Axyl strutted the stage like a demented cross between Jagger and Johnny Rotten. And then there was Slash – a mass of black unruly curls with no hint of a face to be discerned. He was naked to the waist, bathed in sweat from the effort of producing electrifying riffs on his axe. Then suddenly Axyl stalked off stage with a sneer, and it was over. It was great, but the abrupt termination left me somewhat empty – I wanted more from the night. I'd arranged to meet my pals at a pub across from Spencer Street Station, and being still pumped, I was ready for a few ales. We argued into the night as to who had received a bigger bang for their buck in terms of the night's musical offerings, so by the time I was on my way home, I was well and truly wasted.

But the voice sure woke me up. I had just passed the Market when I became aware of her pleadings. I turned around, but there was no sign of a woman behind me. I'd just gone by an alleyway, so I backtracked, and sure enough, there she was. She was off to one side, away in the shadows, but as I approached, she fixed her gaze on me; peering up at me from under rank, greasy grey hair. And she was surrounded by cats, a half dozen or so of all sizes and hues, pressing themselves up against her legs. Their tails were up, and the moggies were mewing, as they do. They were obviously hopeful of some tucker.

I took her in. She was short, squat and rotund, and was leaning on a thick cane. She was attired in a stained baggy black blouse and grey pantaloons, tied at the waist with some thick baling twine. On her feet were carpet slippers and she reeked gently of not having washed for a while. As she looked up I saw her wrinkled face was contorted in pure anguish. I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself, after having taken this initial step, if I now scampered, so I inquired as to what was amiss. It obviously had something to do with a Nicholas.

'It’s Nicholas, mister, my Nicky. I've called and called and he's not come. I can't look for him, not with all these around me and hungry. I can't hardly walk myself either, I'd never make it back up to them markets. I can hardly get to my front door over there. All these little beauties come to me from up the Market, and they need me. Please help me find him, mister.'

Despite my fried brain, I had twigged she was talking feline, not human. Her voice also had bit of an exotic tinge to it, despite her use of the local vernacular. She went on to detail that her Nicholas was a short haired tabby, and she was frightened he was trapped somehow back up the road. Would I go up and find him. She assured me that he responded to his name, and that he'd come to me. She pleaded that Nicholas had never, ever been late for his brekkie before. I assured her I'd follow her instructions and would see what happened. Then she did something, something quite off-putting to me, unused as I was to acts of affection between strangers. She grabbed my hand and started kissing the back of it. What could I do after that?

So I retraced my steps back up the street. I felt a bit of a drongo, especially as the Market was starting to open up for Sunday trading. Around I went, calling out 'Nicholas. Nicholas’, and asking various souls if they'd seen him. Suddenly, from one of the fruit stalls charged a grey furball. I picked him up. He felt full of tum and was licking his lips. He'd obviously been delayed by another appointment for a feed. 

I made my way back with him to where I'd left the old girl, but she was no where to be seen. There was a light on over one of the doors further up the cobbled alley, so that's where I headed and knocked. Sure enough, she answered.

'I left the light on so's you'd know, mister, and you did. And you've found the naughty boy too. You bad, bad, bad boy, Nicholas. Put him down, mister, and come in. I can't thank you enough for your kindness. Not everyone your age would do that. You’ll take tea with me, won't you, mister – and you'll need a reward.'
I assured her that the latter wasn't necessary, but I was dry, and, even though I was a coffee man, a tea would go down well. I was in a bit of trepidation as to what I would find inside. It wasn't too bad, though – just a slight tang of cat urine and human sweat. There was a short corridor up to a lit room up the end, and a couple of closed doors on either side. We went to the end, and she sat me at a table. The room was small, undistinguished in any way apart from what graced the walls. I was flummoxed by what I saw, though since, with my travels and visits to galleries, I've seen plenty more. But back then it appeared to me I had entered something akin to King Tut's tomb! The walls were full of golden framed, small religious paintings – dozens of them. I know now they are icons. And the colours – so rich, like jewels. Ruby reds, emerald greens - I was transfixed until she passed a cup of steaming tea over to me, black as black can be. I took a sip, then asked her what I was supping on as it was so unusual. It was like no tea I've ever tasted before – so pungent, strong and smoky – but not unpleasant. She responded that it was Russian caravan.

The cats in the corner attracted my attention then. They all seemed sated, grooming themselves and purring contentedly. I asked if they all had names. She confirmed that most certainly they did, and that she had named them herself. She rattled them off. 'Well, you've met Nicholas, the naughty one. There's Alexandra, the white one; Anastasia, the long hair; and that black one over there is Olga – she's so bossy. Tatiana is the ginger and Maria is the Siamese looking one. Alexi there, the grey one, well he's the runt. But Nicholas is my favourite – always will be! They all come down here each morning, hungry or not, mister – they always come - excepting Nicholas this morning. But now he's here, thanks to you.'

Now the names she called the cats started ringing bells, and then it came to me – the tea. They were named after the Russian royal family, the ones the Bolsheviks killed in a cellar somewhere at the start of the century. I quizzed her about it and I was right. Tears formed in her eyes – I later found out that these came easily when she talked of the past. I finished my tea and made motions to go. She put her hand up to delay me, went to the wall, and took down a small image of, I later found out, the Virgin Mary. She then passed it over to me.


'I couldn't possibly take that!'
'Yes, yes you can mister. You've done a good deed for me, you have - and I want to do you one in return. You see, I live here all alone, apart from my moggies, and really, they're only visitors, not family. I have no real family left. All gone - all gone mister. I'm the last of the line. It'll all fade away once I'm gone. I am not unhappy, mister, though. I don't want you feeling sorry for me. There will be no fretting. I won't have it! People come here from the authorities, bring me tucker, my pills and I don't want for anything. I take care of myself. And I have my memories, mister – such memories'
'But I don't deserve this, so please take it back. Don't get me wrong – I am grateful, and it sure is beautiful, and, I reckon, valuable too. It is so generous of you, but no – I've not done enough for such a nice thing!'
'Well do enough – earn it then!'
'How do you mean – like odd jobs and that?'
'No mister, no. Something more useful to me than that.'
'Well, yes then – if you're sure? What is it you want me to do?'
'Listen to me, mister – listen to my story. It's important that someone listens to my story before I’m gone. Listens to it and writes it down. These old hands – it's beyond me now! Do that for me, mister, and that icon – the one you hold, that will be yours. I am asking you to do it, and soon. There aren't many of us left now. My time is so short!'

I agreed. It was a good decision.

The next weekend I cried off my usual Sunday routines and headed back up to Coventry Street, as arranged. And she was waiting, and it was a very different Ludmilla to the one I'd met just seven days past. We had exchanged names before my departure then, but to her, it turned out, I would always be 'mister' – never Jason. Yes, she was waiting, and she was spruced up. The tatty garb of the the previous visit was gone – she now had on a becoming white blouse, embroidered with flowers, and plum coloured slacks with matching shoes. And she wore a brooch of the largest pearls I had ever seen. I remembered that particularly. Her rooms had lost their odour of cat and sweat, replaced by the 'pine o'clean' smell I knew so well from my lodgings. Ludmila poured us each a cup of blackest caravan, and then made herself comfortable. I had pen and pad, ready to make notes, and so we began.

'You see, mister, I am White Russian. You don't know what that is, I bet, but it will become clear as I go on. Those icons on the wall, and the one that's about to become yours, mister, they have been in my family for generations. They are all I have now of the old country. I've made provision for them in my will, and for those cats, for when I'm gone. One icon less, though, it is no matter, mister.'

Over that morning, and a good few later, her story came out – and it was quite an amazing one – along with many tears. I've read about the White Russians since, and it all stacks up, and following it is presented in a nutshell, without all the flesh that's in the paper record. When the telling had been told, I typed it all up for her – handed her a copy, kept one for myself. That's on hard drive now, as well. And the icon was mine.

She, Ludmilla, was born in St Petersberg in 1911.Tsar Nicholas was on the throne, and her family had close connections to the royal palace. Her mother, a recognised beauty and member of the aristocracy, was a favourite at court and a confidante of the Tsarina. Her father was an officer of the hussars, and away most of the time. Being so young, at that stage Ludmilla, had no inkling, until much later, just how privileged her mother's life must have been, compared to the average Russian. The serfs were free under law, but peasants still made up the bulk of the population – and the country was seething with revolutionaries of many persuasions. Most will know that Russia was dragged into the Great War, and suffered terribly at the hands of the Germans and their allies. They were still using cavalry, and war had moved on, as Ludmilla's father found out, to his cost – a father his daughter could barely remember. In St Petersberg the Winter Palace was stormed and the revolution began. The Tsar went and Kerensky came to power. In 1919 her mother told her that the city was dangerous, her home was unsafe and that they would have to leave. By now her mother was with another man, and he secured the three of them passage on a train heading east. They could only take a few trunks with them – some clothes and the family icons. Being only eight, Ludmilla thought the journey would never end.

On and on they travelled till they reached the fringes of Siberia. Here the man left, put on a uniform, and was lost to them. She soon figured out he was a member of the White Army. Back along the tracks Kerensky had fallen, and the Bolsheviks had taken control of the west of the country. A mixture of Kerensky supporters and royalists had joined together in a dishevelled, rag tag army to oppose the Bolsheviks, the Reds. For a while the western allies had been supportive and sent in troops – the British, even a few score Australians. But it was all such a mess they withdrew and left the Whites to their fate. Ludmilla's mother found a freezing apartment well behind the lines, but as the civil conflict started to turn in the favour of the Reds, and they started advancing along the Trans-Siberian, she and her mother were soon on the move again. Further and further east they went, in stages, until they could go no further – Vladivostok. Once defeat was certain, her mother organised passage on an old, crowded steamer to Shanghai.

Shanghai at that time was an 'open' city – open to westerners to settle, and they formed enclaves. Ludmilla, and her mother, along with hundreds of other Whites, found refuge in the Russian area of town. Her mother soon took up with a rich Chinese business man while her looks still permitted, and Ludmilla grew up to have liaisons with other eligible émigrés – but no one stole her heart. Life became ordered and comfortable, and Ludmilla thought that this would be where her story would end. But no, the Japanese came, and it all fell apart. At first there was not much difference, but many in the enclaves saw the writing on the wall and left. Ludmilla thought it wise to move on, her mother opted to stay and tough it out with her 'sponsor'.

So for Ludmilla it was another boat, and this one docked at the port of Melbourne. She had grown into a striking, and determined, young woman, and had no trouble finding rooms in St Kilda. With the help of her mother's genes; she made a tidy living being a hostess. She was well rewarded for entertaining chaps down from the Western Districts, looking for a good time in the freedom of the city. She had affairs, fell in and out of love, and even went up country for discreet flings – and then the good times were over. War was declared, and all to soon the Japanese were involved. Just before Pearl Harbour a small trunk arrived for her – the family icons. She had kept in touch with her mother, but a few months before the trunk's appearance the letters stopped. Her mother disappeared from her life – permanently.

For a while she worked in a night club entertaining the troops on leave, and the Americans, but was soon deemed too old. Connections gained her a job at the South Melbourne Markets, and she took new rooms off Coventry Street, to be closer to her work. It was still a good life. Being so near she had many visits from the market men, and even some friends from the old country. Time passed, her looks and figure went (they had served her well), her joints seized, and she became too old for the hard yakka that market life entailed. She gave it away to live on what she had squirrelled away, and eventually they stopped coming, her visitors, as they died off, or lost interest – until me, that Sunday morning.

In its full form, it was all quite some story. After the telling was done my visits lessened, became infrequent, as my job in a city architect’s firm, going on the town, and girlfriends took precedence. Then, one Sunday, I turned up to no answer to the knock on her door. I wasn't entirely surprised when a neighbour came out to pass on the news that she had died a few weeks back. Those around her became concerned when she didn't front to feed her cats one morning. I was saddened by the fact that there was no funeral. There would be no one who would turn up to it – or so they thought. A few weeks later a small package for me arrived at my boarding house. It contained a letter from a legal firm – and the pearl brooch. Wrapped around it was a pencilled note on some scrappy paper. Her hand was shaky, the sentiment was not. - 'For your wife – one day.' Her last words to me.

And now a wife I do have. Instead of an engagement ring, I presented her with a pearl brooch, and a story, when I proposed back in '96. My business is going gangbusters, and of course those rooms across from the beach these days are something I'd rather not ponder on. I have two fine lads and a little girl – her second name – Ludmilla of course. And, yes, I still have the icon. It takes pride of place on the wall above the old fire place in our Seaford home – just across the road from the beach. The icon's probably worth a small fortune, but I've never had it valued. I don't care. I do well enough. I'll never part with it. I'll pass it down to my daughter. I am still a coffee man, but in memory most Sundays I'll partake of a Russian caravan. I still like to hang out, when time allows, around my old haunts. She would turn in her grave knowing her rooms are now a hipster coffee joint, and when in the area I'll go there for their renowned espresso that some consider the best in town. I'll stop by the markets, for fresh produce, where she worked all those years ago. And, as for my music – well I've mellowed. Like the tea from the steppes, in moderation, I can even take a little 'Whispering Jack'.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Perfect White

A Blue Room Book Review - Delia Falconer – Sydney

As I was about to enter my teenage years in the backwater – not necessarily a negative – that was Burnie, in the early 60's, two events occurred that gave me the heebie jeebies for years. The first was venturing to the long gone Somerset Drive-in, on the fringes of town, to see Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. I have no idea now whose car I was in, or indeed with whom I saw the movie, but it gave me nightmares for months. The al fresco cinema experience was just across from the sea shore, so as well as out of control avians on screen, the real McCoy, in the form of gulls, were passing their sinister shadows across the  ‘goings on’ as well – a double whammy, and a scarifying one at that! I still avoid all but the cheesiest of horror film until this day, and you can image the impact of diving plovers!

The other unnerving event was an occurrence in a city I'd never been to, but again nightmares and cold sweats ensued. The Bogle/Chandler 'murder' impacted on my post pubescent sensibilities like no other event since. Sleepless nights caused by the sensational details of that last evening of 1963 at Lane Cove, Sydney, profoundly gave me worse heebie jeebies than 'The Birds'. As well as the lurid descriptions of half naked bodies in, and on, the media of the day, and all the conspiracy theories, it was the nature of the relationship between the dead couple and their spouses that bugged. Used to conventionality, their supposed 'free love', before it became a hippy phenomenon later that decade, caused me much disquiet. Nowadays, it's felt, there's a distinct possibility that their demise was caused by foetid fumes emanating from the polluted cove itself – which does not fully explain the tampering with their bodies post-succumbing to their fates. Why were they 'covered up' before discovery by a couple of youngsters searching for golf balls? Afore the Azaria Chamberlain farrago, this 'weird' event, and the disappearance of the Beaumont children, shook the nation from its 50's lassitude, and burdened the country for decades. It sure as hell shook me up!

This, Falconer's entry into the engrossing 'Cities' boutique book series, will take some beating as its siblings come on-line. To my mind, it is superior to the other like tomes I have perused, on Hobart and Melbourne, by Peter Timms and Sophie Cunningham respectively. There have been more published since. My high regard may be because, firstly, I live in the little state capital on the Derwent, and am quite intimate with 'Bearbrass' on the brown Yarra. I am yet to get a personal sense of Sydney as my visits there have been few and very superficial. Why, even a visit to Bondi is still on my bucket list after all these years. I spent a week there back in 1976 – I can vaguely remember a trip to the Blue Mountains. More recently were a few nights either side of a cruise. I was restricted to the Rocks, Darling Harbour and the CBD. No real feeling for a place can be garnered from such limited exposure. Now a touristy mecca, I was intrigued that right from the get go of European settlement the Rocks was home to any who preferred to live outside the established mores of the day – out of sight of the strictures of the Anglican ruling class.

The second reason for being so taken by this book is that Falconer gives it all a Lantanaesque sheen. She is at pains to stress that under its ritzy surface there's all manner of festerance. 'Lantana' is, by far, my favourite Australian film, so I am very drawn to her sweaty presentation. All boxes are ticked by this erudite author. We have the quick sad diminishment of the people of our first nations around Sydney Town, paralleling Grenville's marvellous 'Secret River' trilogy. The story of the relationship between Lieutenant Dawes and the mysterious Patyegarang has always fascinated me, and is cited by Falconer, as well as being superbly imagined on by Grenville. The better known tale of Bennelong is featured too, and there is much 'tipping of the lid' to the city's literary luminaries, past and present. Writers of poetry and prose, such as White, Slessor, Anderson, Knox, Park and Kate G, give some sense of place through their wordsmithery, quoted at length by our guide. The fable of the 'Eternity Man' is recounted, and much is made of the city's irreverent past seguing into its present 'gayness'. Falconer writes of areas of Sydney that are a mystery to me – the vast expanse of the Sydney's west (maybe less of a mystery to Julia now), the national parks and the inner suburbs surrounding the core. It draws me to get to know the city well; even if Melburnians regard it a Gomorrah – to Sydneyites, so I’m told, its southern sister city is simply irrelevant.

Where I live in my idyll on the Derwent, above our mantelpiece are two images of Sydney, courtesy of sale prices during our recent expedition. One is an attractive rendering of the iconic vista of Circular Quay and Opera House, in pointillistic style. The other is a semi-cartoonish print by Mark Ahr of that beach I have yet to perambulate on. To me, all beaches are rites of passage, places where I feel most free - where the breadth of Aussie culture is called on to unveil itself of its layers. In my dotage I know that my days of disporting myself, on the many strands of this sun worshipping nation, belongs in the past. But for this beach I will make an exception. It is part of our collective psyche – I want to experience it before it is too late. Falconer's Sydney has inspired me to ensure it happens.

The Monthly's take on the book =

Blue Wren

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A Blue Room List – Our Top Ten Favourite AFL Footballers

Lists. The Blue Room loves lists. At this time of the year, in the hiatus between the last rites of the pointless pre-season cup and the commencement of another glorious season, stretching all the way into September, many are putting together dream team lists for various on-line competitions. The list that follows, though, owes nothing, not one iota, to number crunching; to the endless stats that form the basis for those lists, agonised over minutely by those guiding the modern game. No, my list is a throwback to the past when your favourite footballer was based on your gut, on what you valued within the wider spectrum of the world's best, most exciting, most exacting football code. So here it is folks, for you all to peruse and ponder – and, although I am besotted by the 'brown and gold', I promise, I have cast my net far wider, and it is eclectic. Only contemporary players are eligible. Here we go – in descending order:-

1. Luke Hodge – Round 11, 2008; deep into a pulsating game that would become typical between these two teams in the years to come. It was a nail-biter, only a few points in it. The General, as he had done all day, was patrolling the half back line, repulsing Cat attack after Cat attack. He was exhausted, but he kept going, willing himself on. Towards the end, though, he started missing targets up ahead, Geelong snatched the lead and went on to win by eleven points. Mate Neville H was very quick to point out, rightly so, that Hodge had cost Hawthorn the game. Fast forward a few more weeks and it was the last game of the season. Defying the pundits, a youthful Hawthorn team was up against the hoary, battle-hardened Cats outfit again and, therefore, at ultra long odds to cause any more than a footnote to Corio Bay's finest holding up the premiership cup. Geelong, every sage scribe had informed us, supposedly had it won before the toss of the coin. The 'poo and the piss' would be outgunned, and that appeared a given when a stoic centre half back of an already maligned defence went down with a broken foot. Into the breech came Hodge, and the rest is history. On that day he again played himself to exhaustion, but this time no kicks were shanked. He hit target after target as the Hawks surged, and he walked away with the Norm Smith.
In my later years of teaching, an image of Hodge graced my classroom. Towards the end it was getting tougher and tougher for this old 'chalkie' to keep going, but I'd look up to the photo of The General, and knew, if he could do it in that '08 grand final, I could see it through too – and I did, just.
These days his battle worn old body is starting to let him down, and those skinny legs are beginning to lose their pace. Coach Clarkson knows he'll need to be managed carefully, but come September, if, unlike '12, Hodge is finals fit and they are there again, we're in with a chance. The General is the heart and the soul of the team, always presenting, always giving his all.

2. Robert Murphy – I would suspect if a poll was taken of second favourite teams, the Doggies would win hands down. Even Julia's toxic popularity as their No.1 supporter would not impact. Over the years, since Charlie Sutton led them out on that one day back in September, 1954, they have had their opportunities, but always fell short in the semis, sometimes being desperately unlucky. Murphy has played through those years of their latest 'window of opportunity’, but retirement and the 'green grass' elsewhere has cruelled the team, and it is difficult to see them troubling the finals again for a while. Not so long ago Murphy would have had the cachet to move on as the writing appeared on the clubroom wall, but he chose loyalty, presumably knowing all chance of the boys from the West bettering their premiership tally the near future is virtually nil. It's fair to say that his value is now diminished at his veteran stage, and the coach has hinted he'll spend much time residing down forward in '13.

                                                                         Ragsy Goold
To me Murphy is the 'Ragsy' Goold of the modern era. How many would remember Ragsy now – that debonair representative of the rag trade who graced the Blues during my formative years of footy fascination? To me he was the epitome of class back then, as Murphy is to me now. The regular Age columnist is a Thursday must. I hope he reappears this year what with that august purveyor of the news going downmarket tabloid – and I like players who have a literary bent as well. He regularly spins a good yarn, often as not spun laterally to footy, only connecting in at the end. And, of course, he has given us the 'People's Beard' – see No.10!
On the field itself Murphy is what I term a 'glider' – he does the game so smoothly – there is all the time in the world when the Sherrin is in his hands. He is a ball magnet whose low flat punts are unerring in hitting targets – or were. These days there's not so many meaty chests charging out from up forward to hit – gone is Grant, Bazza and the 'Smiling Assassin'. Cousins was another glider, to be admired on the field even if he was/is a sad figure off it, as is Judd. Yes Murphy plays and writes like a dream. In the latter he is insightful, witty, whimsical and, above all, intelligent – and that is reflected in the way he goes about his game.

3. Jobe Watson – I am attracted to the generational thing – of champions begetting champions. The history of the V/AFL is littered with their number, and of course those of sons who sadly did/do not quite measure up. The latter is decidedly not the case with my No.3. Watson junior has every bit the impact on the 'paddock' as his illustrious father. Only perhaps Judd matches him for gut busting these days – (these two are mortal, Ablett is simply a freak). As far as courage goes, he and Hodge are on a par as the exemplars for the game. Whereas, perhaps, the other Hawk's midfielders carried the General through '12, Watson, towards the end of Essendon's 'annus horribilis', carried the whole twenty-two. Despite the ‘dream team’ of Hird and Thompson being at the top, 2013 is not shaping marvellously for the Bombers at this stage either. The borderline actions of members of their support staff may yet neuter them as a force this season, but all reasonable supporters of other teams have everything crossed that this will not come to pass - even Hawthorn ones. In 2012 no one deserved the Brownlow more conspicuously than this proud member of the team from Windy Hill – and, if the unthinkable happens, and he is rubbed out for the season, or part thereof, the game will be so much the poorer as a result.

4. Cyril Rioli – Now not many of us may remember 'Ragsy', but we all remember 'Dazzling' Darrel, particularly in this part of the world. Check out his highlights reels on YouTube, and the reasons for his legendary status will be obvious for the uninitiated. He could play big or small, and held down centre half forward despite his stature. He is mostly remembered for being the Saints only premiership captain – pity about that Magpie guernsey – but I remember him for how he could tiptoe like quicksilver through a pack of opponents, all intent on his destruction. Somehow he always came out of any melee with the Sherrin. He could predict the random trajectory of an oval ball like no other. No wonder he carried the moniker 'Mr Magic'!

                                                                       Darrel Baldock
Nobody has matched him in this regard since, nobody ever will; but, now and again, with Rioli, something of that Baldock uncanniness re-emerges in black skin. It was there in a remarkable patch for Hawthorn in the ultimate game of '08, and has been in evidence on occasion since. Oppostion players are doubly nervous when he comes into the frame, and team-mates are left scratching their heads after some of his unbelievable plays. He'll bring the most pedestrian of games alive for five of ten minutes, and then disappear off the radar. Such game changers are priceless in the modern era. His individual flair is never lost in translation.

5. Eddie Betts – In my book, he's the best of the pests, and certainly the most watchable – having taken over the mantle from Collingwood's 'Neon' Leon. Stephen Milne may have more goals, Hayden Ballantyne more cheek, but Eddie has the face. Watching Carlton these last few years has been a joy, particularly when No.6 and 8 are in the team list as well – a sadly rare occurrence. As with the 'Dons, injury flattened the Blues last year, costing Ratten his job – to the Hawk's benefit. But with Mick at the helm adding backbone and 'smarts', given a better run with players' soft tissues, the Blues should be in the mix come September. You may praise Clarkson and Sheedy, but to me Malthouse is the Keating of coaches, hopefully refreshed after a year behind the mike. As hard a task master as the great coach is for 'team first', I hope he doesn't blunt Eddie's penchant for dashing down the field, taking the ball off the pack and snapping truly. His unalloyed joy ensures that modern footy is no mere beige shadow of the past.

6. Mitch Robinson – In the tradition of that other seminal Blues’ Hall of Famer David Rhys-Jones, this Tasmanian hard nut has something of the 'white line fever' about him. He is a footballing pin-ball – throwing himself into packs, oblivious to the damage he does to others, or to himself. Off field, as well, there is aggression which needs curbing. Hopefully the gravel-oval mongrel in him will always be part of his game.

7. David Hale - I am partial to 'gliders', 'black magic', 'the generational thing' in the world's best footy code. And I have high regard for certain 'journeymen'. They are often in their footballing dotage, have never been champions, but move to another club and finally find a niche under a coach who has seen something in them and is prepared to take a punt. The classic in recent times is Leigh Brown who played his heart out for Mick to earn a premiership medal. As he has retired, for me David Hale has taken the mantle. He was never consistent, and always on the fringes at the 'Roos, but under Clarkson his ability to play back, front, or in the ruck, has won him a permanent spot in the Hawks best 22, and he is paying back in spades.

8. Jarrad Waite – Big barrel chest, Hodge-like scrawny legs, Robbo-like leap, and, when fit, a potential match winner. He's Tasmanian, his father a local legend, and perhaps this is his year. Mick will need him consistently on the paddock if Carlton is to be a contender.

9. David Hille – For football ability alone he wouldn't have a guensey, but has it when his humanity is factored in. An opposition player suddenly crumples to the turf. Hille realises something is badly amiss, ceases ball-focus and turns his attention to calling for assistance and ensuring umpire awareness. Such action from a player these days is not a given, with the winning at all costs mantra. A club stalwart doing it tough – Hille buys him a dog for company, and ensures he makes a home visit every week to give the old fella something to keep going for. Class.

10. Ben Hudson - Finally Neville H a Collingwood player of sorts. Will the Maggies have cause to use him during '13? That is debatable as he is insurance for Darren Jolly. Another journeyman, he is on my list simply for being 'The People's Beard'!

Lovers of this great game will all have their favourites, and the beauty of Aussie Rules is that all, from the Sandilands man-mountains to the Liberatore midgets, can play it. May your team fare well in '13 and GO THE HAWKS!

 Darrel Baldock Tribute =

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Red Flower

Sub-Continental Rumblings

You learn very quickly on the sub-continent. I'd only been there half an hour tops, but I had already discovered one vital fact about India – nothing is straight forward!

I have never been to India, despite what is written above. Dear reader, you will discover the reason for this apparent contradiction if you peruse onwards. Once upon a time, before my wish list became my bucket list, visiting India was priority numero uno. Now that the transition from the former to the latter has been made, I have downsized. India is still there, but under a column headed 'Close to Buckley's'. I won't cross it off just yet, not while there's life, health and hope. 'Safer' goals now, rightly or not, take priority.

Of course India is back in the news of late – does this huge, crowded, dynamic, vibrant, emerging global powerhouse ever leave it for long. The current headlines are insignificant compared to the last time – the despicable treatment by male thugs of a vulnerable woman on a bus. At least her violent violation galvanised the nation and caused a government to act – something we could learn from here, as well, given the equally horrendous fatal uber-misogyny that occurred on Sydney Road, Brunswick. No, the cricket issue is a 'storm in a teacup' in comparison, but it's there and therefore up for comment. When all thought the antics of blokes like Boon, Walters and Symonds were a thing of Australian cricket's neo-neanderthal past, up pops four fellows who are yet to realise being paid squillions more than the aforementioned means a certain responsibility to team and country. Mature professional sports people are comfortable that their significant remuneration means much is now expected of then in the modern, if beige, era – that there is no place for 'me first' and individualism. You have to give now to take. Four were unwilling to follow the guidelines, and were rightly penalised. One prima donna, in a fit of juvenile pique, has taken his bat and gone home – and he's the vice-captain to boot. Deplorable, but at least there's hope for the others who are suitably contrite.

Admittedly the current team touring the subcontinent is decidedly lacking in the grizzled, battle- hardened veterans so needed to give fibre and provide the example by their deeds. Clarke does this, but from all reports Watson has spent much more time on tour sulking than he has in the middle; or making a positive contribution to off-field 'culture'. The news out of India would make the soon to be pursuers of the Ashes akin to another 'Australian' team that toured there in the early noughties – the equally ramshackle Abbotsfield Anglers. They played with varying success in the lower divisions of the Melbourne park cricket roster, but nonetheless sort of represented Downunder in the cricket mad home of Tendulkar and mesmerising spin. This event was first celebrated in a humorous documentary made for television, and then recently retold, and elaborated on, for the big screen. Given the events of our hapless elite cricketers, 'Save Your Legs' is remarkably prescient, and not a bad film to go with it. It had a big build up in pre-publicity before it exploded into cinemas all around the wide brown land, but sadly the viewing public have stayed away in droves. It is now disappearing out of the multiplexes after a truncated run, but I was fortunate enough to catch it before our local had issued the final rites. Maybe the small screen will be less harsh in judgement; or perhaps India will be beguiled. I'm at a loss as to why Australians will embrace something like 'The Sapphires' and not this, which has a very similar 'feel', and is largely set off shore too. There's plenty of irreverent humour, some seemingly regulatory gross-out revolving around Delhi belly, and a sweet romance. Curry, Cowell and Gameau make a good fist of their leading roles. Pallavi Sharda shines as the love interest, and there's even a 'Slumdog Millionaire-ish' Bollywood finale of sorts. Sure there is a bit of clunkiness here and there, but Mother India is entertainingly presented in its teeming glory. It is pleasant lightweight fluff, with grown thirty-something men behaving like post-teen tossers – or like Shane Watson! It is not the stinker its box office suggests, even if I felt it needed a tranquil 'angling' in the Yarra scene to give the name of the team a reference, perhaps as a preface.

Teddy (Michael Clarke, sorry — Stephen Curry) is the effective leader of the team, trying to hold it all together. The on paper captain, Rick Shaw (Douggie Walters, sorry — Brendon Cowell), although naturally gifted, is more interested in the local weed than his responsibilities. At first drop we have Stavros Bane-McEvoy (Shane Watson, sorry – Damon Gameau) who is selfish and self-centred, even if he is capable of swinging a match. This struggling knockabout movie deserves better than the Australian public. It's not 'Lincoln', but it spins a reasonable yarn of acceptably wrought whimsy and pathos. And the struggling Australian cricket team deserves someone more worthy than the fragile, underachieving and self absorbed Shane Watson as its vice-captain. Let’s hope the ACB has more backbone than to do a Kevin Pieterson number with him!

And that lesson I discovered in a country I've never visited – for the patient, here's the story. It was 1976 and I was returning from a brief six week European sojourn. British Airways was the carrier, and mid-flight we were almost due for a refuelling stop at Mumbai – it may have still been Bombay back then. I had a decision to make – to use the over worked, on the nose micro-loos on board, or await our stopover. It was a no-brainer. I chose the latter. Coming into land was an eye-opener. I do not know if it is still like it, but hard up against the runway was a shanty town, its population engaged in their early morning ablutions impervious to jumbos taking off/landing a hair's breadth away. Once inside the transit lounge, I made a bee-line for the loos. At this just post dawn hour they were spotless, commodious and blissfully empty. On finishing my business in a cloyingly sweet smelling cubicle, I moved to the wash basin area to find that half a dozen men, obviously from the nearby shanties judging from their decrepit attire, had suddenly appeared out of the ether. All were proffering me a thick, white steaming towel. 'How lovely,' I thought. 'They obviously know how to treat the weary traveller here in India. What service!' I selected from one of the profferers, but what was the correct etiquette? Do I merely wipe my hands with it, or do I go the whole hog and refresh the face and armpits as well. They were all watching with rapt attention. Hoping I wasn't being crass and offending local sensibilities, I went for the latter option, and then proceeded to hand a now well-used towel back. He graciously took it with one hand, but then the other was raised, palm up. Now, naively, it had never occurred to me that I had to pay for this privilege, but no worries, I thought, I'll just empty my pockets of change – and that, dear reader, was almost my downfall.

You see, my point of departure from Europe was Rome, and therefore my pockets were rattling with, no - not the solid(ish) euro, but next to worthless lira, a mixture of coinage and small notes. The towel provider looked at what was in my hand with consternation, and said one word, 'Dollar'. With that he and his colleagues took one step towards me. I nervously mumbled, 'No have dollar.' Another step forward was taken. 'Show wallet,' was demanded. Now, in those pre-credit card days, as I wanted to avoid the hold up of having to change money at Tullamarine, my purse was empty. I now uneasily displayed it to those blocking any effective escape route. I was beginning to think my last minutes on the planet would be spent in an Indian toilet, or at best the plane would leave me stranded if, at some stage, I managed to talk my way out of this now fraught, to my mind, situation. Whilst I was thinking these thoughts, my assassins-to-be were also engaged in a feverish discussion amongst themselves. Then one pointed to my hand, still clutching Italian funny money, stepped forward even closer, stared at me for what seemed an eternity, and uttered, 'You give.' I did as required, and then, thankfully, he stepped to one side, opening a pathway to freedom, and ordered, 'You go.' I didn't need to be told twice.

And no, I didn't miss my flight. Now for many India can be a challenging place, especially for newbies. It can be unforgiving, but these days, for our cricketers, cosseted and not wanting for any human comfort, it is not the tough ask of the days of yore, at least until they enter the playing field. Consider Ed Cowan, who scratched and sweated for ball after ball for nearly three hours, exercised patience and gave utmost value to his wicket in the second innings of the Hyderabad debacle. Watson faffed around for a bit and gave it away as being too hard. Cowan has half the talent of our vice captain, but is twice the cricketer.

'Save Your Legs' Website =

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A Launceston Park

A Blue Room Book Review - Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Project

My DLP (Darling Loving Partner) just simply adores BBT (Big Bang Theory). Despite the notorious ducks and drakes the Nine Network does with its programming, and considering their seeming reluctance to show episodes of a popular series with any degree of consistency – the modus operandi being to give a taste, then pad out with interminable repeats – my DLP is ever patient. Then on top comes the grating, monotonous inanity of the never ending ad breaks, all of which causes this viewer to throw in the towel in frustration whenever he has had the misfortune of being attracted to anything shown on the commercial channels. Not DLP. Bless her, she'll sit through the dross to savour the five or ten minutes of bliss, reluctantly bequeathed, before the same god-awful, braying spruiking is repeated in another break. But DLP is stoic – even if what is promised in the tele guide to be new BBT turns out, in fact, to be a repeat seen previously. For DLP an evening featuring a new episode of BBT is unalloyed joy. She is a discerning tele officiando, so the show must possess something to deserve her devotion. In quizzing her on this, she states she loves the quirkiness of the characters, especially Sheldon. BBT has had certain longevity, and DLP has been fascinated by the changes in this leading man since the get go. According to her, Sheldon is much more normal in this new set of episodes than he was at the commencement of the show – and this transition has fascinated her. From my fleeting recent viewings, to me he still has a fair way to go. DLP cites, as evidence that, these days, for Sheldon, there is even a love interest, of sorts, in his life. 'Is she normal?' I queried.
'Well no,' was her reply. 'But then, what is normal? ‘Point taken, but Rosie is definitely normal, albeit it with a trailer load of baggage and a father fixation.

Some critics have compared Simsion's gloriously wonderful creation, Don Tillman, to Sheldon. Not being a BBT devotee, I cannot comment to any degree. Like me, DLP thought that 'The Rosie Project' was the bees' knees, and agreed there was much Sheldon in Don (and visa versa). Another comparison could be made with the Bradley Cooper character, Pat, in 'Silver Linings Playbook'. Performing off him, Jennifer Lawrence won a thoroughly warranted Oscar as his love interest. Her luminous presence on the screen was riveting, but her Tiffany character was as close to normal as Sheldon's Amy – in other words, not within a bull's roar. Odd attracts odd, and that is believable. Odd attracting normal, now that is another matter. To Simsion's credit, he does bring this off despite the reader's initial incredulity that such could ever be possible, particularly as Rosie is much more than normal normal. She turns heads, lights up a room, and dresses provocatively to display her attributes. In theory, the task Simsion has set himself is a tough ask. That he has succeeded in doing so believably has been paid back in spades by the book buying public.

One of the delights of a teaching career spanning forty years was coming up against mini Dons, Sheldons and Pats. These kids would puzzle and provide a challenge. I cannot in truth claim to have connected with them all, as is every teacher's mission, but when I did; I was rapt, for I knew I was in for a very interesting ride. They were all the proverbial square pegs trying to fit into round holes, often succumbing to their inability to understand why they couldn't, or worse, weren't allowed to. It was always a privilege being invited into to their worlds, and, it is fair to say, I formed a close attachment with a number. I hope I may have smoothed their paths a little in doing so, but what they gave me back repaid the effort many times over. For them school life was fraught with difficulty – it was a minefield. The resulting explosions were often their reactions to the frustration of not being able to penetrate the impenetrable. They wanted, if not to be normal, at least to be accepted. They didn't fit, and it hurt. At least, as with Don, with adulthood, would come a greater appreciation as to why this could never be the case, and coping mechanisms could be devised to deal with it – but for a kid this was all ahead in the mist. To win Rosie, Don thought he had to become more 'normal', only to discover a 'normal' Don wasn't something Rosie could fall in love with. I hope there has been/will be a Rosie, an Amy or a Tiffany, for all those wonderful misfits I encountered over my time at the chalkface.

Don takes his social clues from one of his few mates, Gene, a married, but insatiably randy, work colleague, whose ambition in life is to shag a female representative of every country on the planet – complete with a map full of pins displayed to chart his progress. Normal? At least there is Gene's long suffering wife to provide some balance for Don. These two, and a departed elderly woman, were Don's social life in a nutshell. This lack of numbers was of concern to him, but not borne with the same angst as my teenage charges. And then along comes Rosie to turn his ordered, to the nth degree, world upside down.

A critic complained that Simsion's page-turner, in focusing too much on Don's attempts to solve the identity of Rosie's birth father, with his gene mapping expertise, was detracting from the romance. Admittedly this exercise does become a tad convoluted towards the end, but to dis it misses the point. How else was odd to attract normal unless there was a device, such as the one the author hit on? Don's extreme pedantry would have driven Rosie off in a flash without this, or something akin. This was how Rosie lasted long enough for Don to get a taste of what this love thing may possibly be. It is still problematical that she falls for him, but not beyond the bounds, if you get my drift.

I was as intrigued as much with this book, as I was with 'Silver Linings', as to whether we'd get 'Hollywood' or 'real life' ending. Both went a certain way, and then veered back to the other. But with such a well wrought journey from both writer and film maker, really, for such excellence, either form of ending would have sufficed and been entirely satisfactory. After discussions with DLP, I do wonder which way it will fall for Sheldon and Amy when it comes time for BBT to wind up? Whichever way it goes, the last episode of BBT will be a sad day indeed for DLP.

My beautiful daughter, knowing something of my feelings for the mini-Dons of my years in the classroom, recommended 'Rosie' to me. I knew the battles these students had constantly being jilted when they made overtures of friendship, often to the most unworthy of peers. I've seen their 'buttons' pushed over and over again by 'normals', using them to attain an easy laugh, and maybe a few extra kudos, from their simpering acolytes, when the desired explosive response was attained. There were the cruel jibes they were subjected to, and in many cases, overt harassment from 'normals'. But these odd bods have and will grow(n) up. Many will, like Don and Sheldon, become quite brilliant in one of the disciplines they tend to become overly fixated on. Some will go beyond. Their left field thinking will light up our world as their unconventional wiring will allow them to delve deeper and deeper into explaining the voids of our collective knowledge. With his first person approach Simsion has made 'odd' somehow sexy – and that has got to be a good thing. 'The Rosie Project' deserves all its success, deserves a Hollywood rendering, and deserves to be read by every 'normal’ on the planet!

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Jerry Approaches

Beware - Alpha Female on the No 96

Melbourne trams are a joy. I adore scuttling around the inner city on them – and their clientele are a constant source of pleasure, kindness and indicator to the vibrant multiculturalism that is this city on a brown river. So I was taken aback when, on a recent journey, the following occurred.

I was due to fly out of Tullamarine later in the afternoon and still had plenty of time, but after an obligatory visit to JBs in the CBD, I had had enough. I was stuffed after three days of 30º heat, and being on the go, so I decided to catch the No 96 from the Mall back up to my hotel opposite Southern Cross Station, collect my baggage and proceed on out to the airport. It's only a few blocks, a journey I could do blindfolded. My reverie induced by the clatter of wheel on rail, though, was soon shattered by a loud, stentorian female voice. It dawned on me that the producer of the accusatory interruption was mightily miffed by something, so I searched out its source on the reasonably full conveyance. She was sitting further on up the tram; a very elegantly attired, not unattractive blonde, of around fifty or so. I didn't capture the wording of her opening volley, but the remainder of what became a tirade went something like this:-

'Yes, it's you I am talking to, you disgusting man. You there, standing there in your suit, you perverted creature.'

We all looked around; or at least those of us of the male persuasion, to figure out which of us she was referring to. I realised I was safe – I was attired in t-shirt and shorts. Next to me was a balding, sweating, somewhat overweight fellow, approaching fifty as well I would have thought – and he was suited. We'll call him Mr X. It dawned on him that, yes, he was the one in the gun. He pointed to his chest.
'Are you referring to me, madam?'
'Yes, I certainly am, you odious man. Of course it's you, acting all innocent in your suit!'
'What do you think I have done, madam?'

At this stage his voice was calm, whilst hers remained sharply accusing.
'What do you think? You were at the lipstick counter in Myers, weren't you?'
'It's none of your business where I was, madam.'
'You were at the lipstick counter in Myers, following me around. You left straight after me, following me out, and now you’re on this tram. I know, I saw you do all this. You are stalking me, aren't you? Admit it!'
'Madam, I certainly am not. I have never seen you before till this moment!'
'Well then, what were you doing in Myers – you, in your suit? You should be at work! Why aren't you at work?'
'Madam, I repeat – it's none of you business.'
'It is my business if you're stalking me. You are stalking me aren't you? Aren't you? I demand an answer.'
'No madam, I am not. If you must know, I was in Myers buying my wife a present. Here!

With that the now not so cool Mr X held up a small black Myers bag.
'I don't believe you. You are stalking me. Tell me why you aren't at work. I bet you don't even go to work, do you?'

With this Mr X, the accused, turned his back to the woman. He apparently thought that by remaining stum she would shut up. But she was not finished with him yet! Not by a long shot!
'I repeat,' she yelled, 'You should be at work, not stalking women on trams. Why were you in Myers? Why are you wearing a suit when you obviously do not go to work? You are stalking me, you nasty man. I will not stand for this any longer! Unless you answer me, I am going to call the police. Answer me. WILL.....YOU.....ANSWER.....ME?

By now Mr X realised by ignoring her she wasn't going to go away – if anything she was getting more vehement. He turned and faced her, clearly now shaken.
'Madam, listen to what I am saying. I am on my break. I caught this tram down into the city to buy a present for my wife. You can look at it if it will shut you up. I am now on the tram going back to work. I've never laid eyes of you before. I am not stalking you!'
'No you're lying – you stalked me in Myers; you stalked me out of Myers; and now you're here on the tram, still stalking me!'
'Madam, whatever medication you are on, I suggest you take it, go home and have a good lie down. Good god, woman – why on earth would I be stalking you?'
'How would I know? Maybe this is what you do every day?'
'You're mad!”
'How dare you! I want you off this tram. Off it now! If you do not get off I am calling the police. There's a stop coming up. I demand you get off this tram! GET.....OFF.....IT.....NOW!'

And he did. He was beaten and he knew it. He pushed through those also waiting to depart. It was my stop too. As I stepped down I saw him scurrying off down Spencer Street, head bowed, getting away from the whole business away as quickly as possible. I then peered back into the train at the seated lady. Did I discern the hint of a smirk on her face?

Now, I had no way of knowing, but my gut tells me that the victim in all this did not spend every waking hour stalking the matrons of Melbourne. I felt for him – but maybe that is because of my maleness – maybe someone of the female gender viewing this whole sorry affair would be in her court. It did take me back to an event the previous weekend when I was on the receiving end of some unsavoury accusations, as well, from a very fired up, overt woman of a certain age (see 'Going South – Part Two). I bet any pleasure Mr X was expecting to have through presenting the real woman in his life with a gift had completely dissipated as a result of the alpha female on the No 96.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

In a Melbourne Park

Going South - Part 2


 In which your Blue Room scribe meets a matriarch on the warpath and delightful unclad personages.

She came charging down the beach, this mother hen, her hackles and voice raised. She was in no mood to take prisoners, and unbelievably I was the source of her outraged ire. Do I learn a vital lesson the hard way!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At breakfast that morning our gracious hosts, at Cambridge House, gave us some useful advice for our travels for this the second day of our adventure in the far south. They suggested we take the scenic coastal route between Geeveston and Dover on the way going down to the Cockle Creek Whale, rather than on the return journey, as I had planned. And we did – it was sage instruction as the photo opportunities were so frequent, on this gorgeous summer's day of blue sparkling sea, that our progress was extremely slow. DLP cautioned, at one stage, that if I didn't get a move on our ultimate goal would have to be abandoned. I can't think of a more spectacular drive on an island very generous in providing glorious littoral vistas. The highlight, which turned out to be of a wholly different nature than what I expected, was when we manoeuvred around a sharp bend to be confronted below with the spectacularly pristine ribbon of pure white sand that is Roaring Beach. On its narrow approaches there was no where to stop for a snap above it, so I thought I would have to content myself with captured images from sea level. We turned into the shack fringed esplanade, looking to stop at a pathway through the scrub to the sand. I spotted one opposite, then had the intention of driving up the rise at the end of the road to a turning circle, and coming back down to park adjacent to the entrance of said walkway. At the top of the incline, though, I spotted two brilliantly hued sculptured eagles rising from a rocky outcrop off to the beachside of the car. What a shot that would make – the bronze raptors against the sublime sky! As I walked to edge of the platform of land above the beach, my mind was totally focused on photographic excellence. It should not have been!

I snapped the eagles, and looked around, to see if there was any other feature to deal with similarly, when I spotted a matronly woman walking from the sea, gesticulating towards me. I was a tad surprised, took it to be a wave, and responded. She continued gesticulating, and it began to dawn that something was amiss with this scenario – but what? I looked around the beach, and then down – and became rudely aware just what the issue was with the woman. Immediately below were two figures, unclad, one very pregnant. Now I am not silly – I knew cameras and unclothed bodies on beaches are an uncomfortable mix, so thinking caution was the best policy, I quickly withdrew my presence and returned to the car. I explained to DLP the reason for the leaving, and returned to my original plan of accessing Roaring Beach by the prior spotted track – mistake number two.

I was no sooner on the strand, at a more than respectable distance from the trio further up, than I espied the matronly one haring towards me. I thought I would diffuse the situation with a calm explanation, but as she bustled closer, I could see she had her dander up. She was severely agitated and started informing me of the low life pedigree I obviously possessed to be sneaking around a 'known' area for nudism in the local area – and what's more, in possession of a camera - presumably to be used later for self-gratification, or worse, posting on the internet. I tried to remain cool and, when I could get a word in, I gave my side of the business – that my object was the avian installation, that how was I to know that the spot was reserved for those who preferred a freer existence on a beach (I later checked for signs - there were none), and that I was deeply resentful of her accusations. She was not mollified – she obviously had me down as a skulking pervert, a contemptible peeping-tom.

It became apparent that it would need further action on my part if this woman was to be placated. By this time she had informed me that the two others involved were here son and daughter-in-law, and I had ruined their joyous pleasure of communing with nature in such an innocent manner. Oh dear! So I figured the only option I had was to display for her the sole image I had taken. To be safe I also showed a few prior snaps, so there could be no doubt to my story. Even this was not enough – she demanded to see every image to ensure there were no other poor unsuspecting souls I had preyed upon. Enough was enough; I refused, stating I had rights as well. I was beginning to feel that she was in no mood for any proof of innocence – she thought she had me nailed and was determined to get her pound of flesh

By this time the couple whose modesty she was railing about had arrived, clothed, so I gave my explanation, plus apologies, to them – and they were immediately happy. This seemed to calm my accuser down. She began to see, I think, my side of things, just a tad, and soon left, after we had shaken hands. The young couple remained with me, the son apologising to me for his mother's over-reaction – 'Don't worry about Mum, she just goes over the top sometimes.' We chatted for quite a while before I moved off to do justice to some more of that striking beach. When I returned to the car, sometime later, I found DLP in happy conversation with the pair. Mother passed us by, still seemingly affronted, and as well, miffed, judging by her manner, that her cubs were getting on so famously with such a degenerate and his good lady.

I learnt a lesson – a lesson that my beloved DLP has had the prescience to remind me many times is a failing of mine – that I need to be more aware of what is going on around me. I need to be more observant. Had I been the whole incident would have been circumvented. Beaches and cameras these days have a very tenuous relationship. Rennie Ellis would be turning in his grave.

But there are issues here as well, I think. Had I been a female with camera would her reaction have been so virulent? Given that there were no signs warning that this area was 'clothing optional', and therefore for all intents and purposes it was a public beach, what if I was offended at the sight of nudity. I am not, and the brief glimpse I had was one of imminent motherhood presented in all its beauty. But still the situation should not have arisen whereby either party could be affronted. I wonder if the Huon Council is aware of the known nudist beach within their jurisdiction.

In which a drive to the end of Australia is achieved, another couple with a story to tell are encountered, and your scribbler imbibes of the delights of ewes' milk ice cream.

I know there is virtually no chance that I will ever reach the northern most extremity of Oz that it is possible to access by car, or possibly the western one as well. I have had the pleasure of mounting Cape Byron in an automobile, and now we were about to venture as far south as it is possible to go by road in the country.

The above incident did shake me, but after continuing on past Dover, Southport and the most southerly cafe in Australia, at Ida Bay, my spirits started to lift. Past the latter the bitumen vanished, and the road ahead was one of heavily corrugated gravel. I was surprised at the amount of traffic, all driving to conditions apart from one idiot P plater who was gunning it, ignorant to his scaring the bejesus out of his fellow road users. I knew there were no permanent residents south of Ida Bay. I thought we'd probably encounter a man, his dog and not much more. But no, way, way south was teeming with people, both at Catamaran and the Creek – campers and shackies. And no wonder, on this glorious day, what a glorious place these two pinpoints on the map are! At the end of our journey we left our car and walked to the Whale, a memorial to those who hunted this creature almost to extinction in days of yore.

I had always wanted to visit Recherche Bay, not so much for its beauty, but for its history. As well as a whaling station, it was the scene of one of the first meetings between the island's indigenous people and Europeans. The French, doing the encountering, also planted the first non-native vegie patch on Australian soil here, the remains of which are still discernible just across the water from the bronze cetacean
The leader of the expedition, Bruni d'Entrecasteaux, reckoned the Bay was marvellous – 'Why,' he mused, 'it could give safe harbour to all the navies of the world.' He was less impressed by the flies.

We also encountered another interesting couple down there, two sisters of a certain age who, like Barbara in Part One, were searching out their roots. Every gravestone at Catamaran cemetery, according to them, was a marker to an ancestor's last resting place. There would also be a few good yarns there too. 

It had been a full, if salutary, Saturday. Our drive from Cockle Creek back up to our base was uneventful, and that night we had a none too shabby meal at the newly refurbished Kermandie Hotel. Sunday dawned, and we wended our way back to the capital, via Cygnet and Birch's Bay. The former is now a diverse mini- Byron, home to numerous mainland refugees, and devotees of alternate/organic living. The latter hamlet is the home of Grandvewe Cheeses. I sampled their ewes' milk ice cream, perfect on a super hot day, as well as the sumptuous view of the Channel, and Bruny beyond, from their deck – magic! 

So in the end we had encounters with fellow travellers, Oriental rug buyers and a personage who definitely had the wrong end of the stick. Our 'Going South' was a terrific affair, with much dinner party fodder for months to come. We had a ball, to be long remembered by my beautiful DLP, and a scribbler who needs to be just a little more au fait with what is going on around him.         

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Going South – Part 1

In which your Blue Room scribe encounters and withstands the attack of an Asian martial arts devotee.
It was our first stop, less than an hour out of Hobart. I was wandering around in a reverie, as is my wont in any retail outlet within which I have no intention of spending money. DLP (Darling Loving Partner) called me over to examine some alpaca jackets she felt would be just the bees' knees for the adored Poppet, being so reasonably priced, and I agreed. I thought, if the budget would allow, I would call back in on the return journey. DLP then went one way, and I wandered off in another direction entirely, vaguely looking at the touristy not-so-tat on display. I was somewhat aware of another couple over by the serving counter, locked in discussion with the two shop assistants. Between myself, and the display I was meandering towards, were a couple of attractive mats/rugs on the floor. 'Nice,' I thought as I prepared to walk across them en route. And it was then it happened, causing me to stand stock still, with one foot poised above the first of the mats. It was the male of the Asian couple that caused me to freeze. From the counter had come the guttural cry of the banshee, and from the corner of my eye I caught the vision of the utterer of the screech exploding away from the sales area, charging towards me, fists clenched, in a semi-crouched, crab-like gait. I took a step backwards and prepared to defend myself – as much as a sixty plus unfit pacifist can, knowing he'd be no match for this younger assailant. I was, at this stage in events, completely at a loss as to why I was the recipient of such aggressive attention. In a flash he was to me, but then he pulled up. He then rose to his full, not overly considerable, height. He unclenched one fist and transformed it into the internationally recognised stop gesture. With the other hand he pointed down to the rug – and then I finally twigged, after first gleaning I wasn't in for a martial arts flogging. He and his wife/PA/lover/daughter had had the mats spread out on the floor to observe them, from a distance, preparatory to making their purchase. He, unlike his female companion, obviously spoke no English, as I immediately discerned when retreating to a safe distance to discreetly observe further proceedings. His stunningly attractive, expensively attired compatriot was evidently the broker in the exchange. It seems they were haggling with the counter staff. He obviously held the purse strings. She was running between the two parties – all sweetness and giggly laughter. He was dour, unsmiling; this stocky, presumably Japanese sugar daddy (just supposition). The retailers were being polite, but firm. The issue was over five dollars. The asking price, as low as they could go with, whilst still retaining a profitable margin, was $245. His best offer was $240. Back and forth it went until he raised his hands and reluctantly agreed to the higher amount for the rugs. Much congratulations ensued from both parties, but then DLP re-emerged, clutching a bottle of Taverners honey flavoured ale for me. I enjoyed the beer immensely later the same day – far more than I enjoyed the fleeting prospect of being karate chopped or jujitsued to an inch of myself, at the commencement of our Christmas present to ourselves. We were going south – deep south, and we were soon on our way.

Tourists to the capital of our little island in the southern seas frequently point to the mountain (Mt Wellington) and ask, 'What’s on the other side?' The answer they'll frequently receive is, 'Antarctica'. Of course, this is not at all correct – and it's given to keep pesky 'blow-ins' away from one of Tasmania's true treasures – the Huon. And that's were my DLP and I were heading that day I survived the attack of the masterly oriental judo black belt fanatic.

A chapter of family connections and freakish platypi.
Yes, I know, it's platypuses, but platypi sounds so much better. After the almost violent event at the Huonville Tourist Information Centre, we reposed for an enjoyable, sun-saturated lunch at Franklin's Petty Sessions Cafe, before proceeding on our way to our southern excursion's base, a B and B, Cambridge House at Geeveston. Now I knew that, on my mother's side, I was related to the Geeves after whom this Huon town receives its appellation. They were its founders, commencing its tradition as a centre for forestry. Was it more than serendipitous is that our hostelry turned out to be the former family home of the Geeves of Geeveston? We were shown to our attic room by our delightful host, Karen, who informed us we would be retiring in 'Mary's Room'. An old photograph of Mary Geeves featured in our more than adequate accommodation for our two nights down south. It gave a few scant details about her underneath her portrait, stating she was the fourth child of John Geeves, the town's founder. Added to the 'meant to be-ness' of the occasion, I was also informed she entered life in 1851, exactly a century prior to me. My antenna was raised – there is a story in all this. Stay tuned!

 At Cambridge House there were more commodious rooms on the ground floor below us, but we had use of a tastefully and eclectically furnished lounge, as well as a front veranda overlooking a glorious garden with a creek frontage – a creek famous for its platypi. Karen, and partner Glen, are treechangers; much like the nearby Cygnet based Matthew Evans, whose SBS series, 'Gourmet Farmer', has brought this idyllic region to national prominence. Treechangers figure prominently in the Valley and beyond. They have escaped the pitiless nature of big city mainland existence for the bucolic splendour of my paradisiacal island. Our hosts were from Brisbane, and Glen has achieved local fame as a master conjurer of marmalade of great repute. His brew is a stand out of their equally stand out breakfasts.

Geeveston itself was quiet so late in the holiday season. It is a timber town trying to reinvent itself as a tourist hot spot, to varying degrees of success. It is on the way to Tahune, which helps, as do the very compliant platypi. Karen promised these monotremes would put on a show, and they did not fail her. Later that evening, we were returning from our repast, following the creek back to Cambridge House, when DLP noticed a certain rippling up ahead on the surface of the water. I went to the spot, left the track, and proceeded up the bank overlooking the place she indicated. And there, immediately below me was a platypus, at rest, He/she looked up at me, I down to him/her, and we had eye linkage. I was entranced, but in a flash it was off to continue its nightly frolics. Little was I to know that, only a week later, I was in for a repeat, in much different circumstances (see 'Melbourne, Death and White Nights’).

Previous to that, in the early evening, we had headed off in search of some evening sustenance. Despite signage to the contrary, we found 'central' Geeveston had shut up shop as far as dining was concerned. The only place open was on the outskirts, but it nonetheless did us a most agreeable kebab based meal. At this eatery we were soon chatting away with John and Barbara – grey nomads from Harbour City. He was making his eighteenth trip to the island down under Downunder, she was a first-timer (and she loved it). He was attired in grey nomad garb – trackie dag. She was dressed for a night on the town, such as it was. Barbara was extremely well presented. The beautiful old dame was doing her partner proud in her sophisticated Sydney finery, and she looked most fetching – and, as well, she had a story to tell. I adore a great yarn and she sure produced one. Their next port of call was a visit to Collinsvale, at little hamlet on the western flank of Mt Wellington. She was out to get her father's provenance. It seems he was found wandering the desert by members of the Light Horse in Egypt – so I presume we're talking the Great War. Somehow they arranged to take him back to Oz after the cessation of hostilities, and he spent his formative years overlooking Hobart on the side of a mountain. She wanted to know more, and evidently there were people still around in Collinsvale who could fill in the missing bits. I'd love to know the outcome of all that!

In Part Two your Blue Room scribe meets a mother on the warpath, unclad personages, ventures as far south as it is possible to behind the wheel of a car, and samples ewe's milk ice cream.
Cambridge House website =

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Melbourne, Death and a White Night

Death. It does play on the mind in the wind-up years of life's passage. There may be a decade or two left, but how one goes out still vexes. This troubling is not in the nature of a stultifyingly vice like grip, it is more in the nature of a light fret - at this stage. It's the missingness of it all – no more books, no more movies, no more music. No longer will there be the radiant touch of my loved one's hand on the small of my back to help the dark hours pass, and no more the following of a Poppet's journey to reach her dreams. But there is much life in this old dog yet. I want the contentment I've finally reached, after forty years at the chalkface, to last a good while yet. Life is so wonderful, so fulfillingly rich and happy. Why am I pondering all this? The answer rests with a film.

Tasmania, under the leadership of Giddings/McKim continues to be brave. They did the hard yards for peace in the forests and gay marriage, and now euthanasia is in the spotlight. The upper house, the throwbacks in the Legislative Council, have stymied the first two, and no doubt will do the same with the latter, as always disrespecting the wishes of the general populace. I would suggest, though, a viewing of said film, of 'Amour', be made compulsory before consideration of any bill to legalise mercy killing of the terminally ill is considered. It puts it all into perspective. Despite death not coming quietly in this imagining of a couple's battle with the inevitable, it is to the film-maker's credit that the experience is not overwhelmingly harrowing. It says something that David and Margaret both gave it five stars. I wouldn't have done so immediately after the closing credits. The fact that I viewed it on my first night of this most recent visit to Melbourne, and spent a big percentage of the remainder of my sojourn reflecting on it means, therefore, that I now concede those doyens of film reviewing were correct in their assessment.

I would not wish my final hours/days/weeks, whatever, to be as were Anne's in the film. Bravely played by Emmanuelle Riva, (definitely worthy of her Academy Award best actor nomination), this story, in the skilled hands of director Michael Haneke, showed the demise of her character, the once vibrant Anne, into a painful, semi-vegetative state. It did so in an unsanitised, jolting way. You wouldn’t wish it on yourself, or on anyone you love. The venerable Jean-Louis Trintignant came out of retirement to play Anne's husband, Georges, a role in my view every bit as testing as Riva's. Needless to say the latter didn't attain the golden statue – and Jessica Lawrence earned that right without any qualms from this armchair critic. It was a 'no brainer' that 'Amour’ walked away with best foreign film gong.

Whereas the movie takes us to a place that we'd perhaps rather not venture, any doldrums for your scribe it caused were, at least temporarily, put aside by a visit to NGV (St Kilda Road) and its 'summer masterpiece' of 'Radiance – the Neo-Impressionists'. For each of my days in Old Bearbrass the temperature was enervatingly up over the 30º mark, sapping my energy. In the cool of the vast gallery all this was forgotten as this sun-saturated exhibition retrieved my mojo. I basked in the pointillistic magic of Luce, Signac, Seurat and their acolytes. These guys took how to render light and colour on canvas to a new level. As an added bonus, I had the delightful and knowledgeable company of a friend, Lisa, to add the icing. This continued on, after our viewing, with the addition of hubby Graeme, to explore other locales, and the partaking of some welcome pear cider at a Brunswick St pub. The combination was a Melbourne highlight.

Prior to the above contemplation of Cote d’Azur renderings, I started the day with a treat – another gourmet breakfast at Hardware Societe – no guesses in which laneway this addictive cafe is located. I was boosted by a morish rice pudding, swamped in marinated strawberries and lubricated by cinnamon milk and, of all things, served in a jar! It rivalled the wild rice porridge of my winter visit. It was also great to catch another lunchtime paella at ‘Simply Spanish’, just outside the South Melbourne Market. On my final day, because it seemed to be the right habit to get into when in Melbourne, I had a devilishly naughty, cream sodden iced coffee at 'The Blue Room', Claredon Street.

The last time my presence was noted at the Melbourne Zoo was in pre-digital days when a roll of film couldn't be squandered with snap-happiness. Thankfully, those days are gone, so it was high time I, your scribbler, revisited, in the knowledge I could point and hope at every beastie in sight. And yes, meerkats in the flesh are indeed super cute. The butterfly house again beguiled me as much as I remembered, with the azures and emeralds of countless bejewelled wings a-flapping. The snow leopard, frisky seals and lugubrious real 'rangas' were brill as well. What really stole my heart, though, was a native from closer to home. For a few precious minutes I was alone in the Sidney Meyer Platypus House with its seemingly sole resident, and he/she was in a playful mood. I felt with this little fellow I was safe in placing my head up against the glass of his aquarium, and so every-time he surfaced we had eye linkage – his/hers, of course, being shut in dive mode. I cast my mind back to the previous weekend when I was doing something the same on a quiet creek’s edge, south of Hobs, at Geeveston. It felt so similar. It seemed I would have been happy eye-balling this captive specimen for hours, but all too soon a chiacking group of young men entered, breaking the spell. No 'eyes of the tiger' at this zoo, but the window to the soul of a monotreme had as much magic.

Sex with strangers – that's the disconcerting experience I had, at the venerable Kino, on going to see 'Elles'. The little, 'intimate', theatrette was crowded, so the naked 'in your face' bodies on the screen of this over-heated movie left little room for delicacy. I ended up finding myself as interested in the male patron next to me as I was in the rather turgid goings on presented by director Szumowska. This guy was definitely out of his comfort zone – he didn't know where to put himself as he squirmed through proceedings. On his other side was his very beautiful, elegant 'date', and I suspect they did not know each other all that well. Perhaps he had been misled by the promise, put out by the promoters of this distinctly confronting movie, that it was 'racy and sexy', and that, 'Elles simmers'. Whoever dreamt up that piece of patently false advertising was at a different movie to me, and the poor fellow to my right would have been better advised to have taken his belle to the PG rom-com next door. This French affair would definitely not get anyone 'in the mood'. At the first hint of closing credits he was out like a shot, his bemused companion trailing in his wake. Still, as always, Binoche acted 'her pants off'. Excuse the poor taste pun, but even in this dross she is a revelation.

As for celeb spotting – Bob Brown and his partner strolling down Collins, and Brian Nankervis et famille at the NGV.

The morning newspaper lauded that over one hundred thousand were in attendance; that evening's tele news reported three times that amount – and it seemed like a million to me. It was by far the biggest crowd I had been part of, and clearly, judging by the chaos, it was unexpected. What they, and I, were there for could only be described as beyond awesome. And I think it is going to happen again in twelve months time so, in the words of the great hatted one, 'Do yourself a favour' and try and make it to the next one. The word will spread how marvellous this one was, so book early. It was my first go at night time photography, but on the computer screen, at least, my images give hint at what came to pass. The atmosphere around Fed Square/Flinders Street, for the amazing laser light projections, was electric, with the throng ready to party every hour till dawn. I wasn't, I couldn't – but it's called 'White Night', and it is fantastic!

The other good stuff – well finding out the tram trip to South Melbourne Beach takes half the time as the one down to St Kilda to catch a breeze off the briny. There were the delightful shop assistants in Coventry Street who had all the time in the world for a chat. There was the animated driver on Tram No 1 who did his best to give his passengers a cheery start to the day. Here now, a couple of days later, I am still exhausted – but I can't wait to get back!

Melbourne's White Night =