Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tasmania 1969. Part 1

                The Holiday of a lifetime

The Empress of Australia. (Long since sunk)
"Oh no, not the gravy"


Boutique coffee break at Roscoes Cuz's

A day at the races

Boags best

"I'll never drink again"

Chug a lug.....Down the hatch

The Southern Odyssey begins.....

It was late February 1969, my stepfather Jim had just dropped me off at the Balmain wharf, where the Empress of Australia should have been preparing to depart for the island state of Tasmania. There was some kind of industrial dispute taking place and the ship’s departure was going to be delayed indefinitely. I informed my step dad of the problem and recommended he head back home, which he eventually did. I then joined forces with my eleven other travelling companions and we all proceeded to wait impatiently for the crew to sort out their differences with management. There were ten of us Avalon guys and two from the Mona Vale club. We had agreed we would be competing as Avalon Beach after arriving in Tassie. We had three cars with us and these were driven on board by their owners. None of us thought to keep a jacket and tie handy as we were unaware at the time that it was going to be minimum attire during dinner on the ship.
Just as we were on the verge of locating a local watering hole to quench our rapidly increasing thirst, an announcement was forthcoming requesting that all passengers board the ship as it would be leaving shortly. We boarded and were shown to our cabins that each contained two double bunks. Shortly afterwards we were informed by the ships Purser that we would have to venture down into the bowels of the ship to obtain our jackets and ties. What a nuisance, bloody protocol. We were all on the passengers deck at the pointy end of the ship as it left its berth. I kid you not, by the time we were about to pass under the coat hanger, I was as crook as Rookwood and me a boatie. I hasten to add that I was not on my Pat Malone. There were at least four of us whose complexions resembled Kermit the frog or the ogre Shrek. Sydney Harbour, what a beautiful part of the planet. Trouble was I was feeling so seedy that I was unable to appreciate one of the worlds most beautiful sights.

The gravy made me do it
We passed through The Heads and headed south hugging the NSW coastline along the way. Thank God the bar and restaurant were situated in the middle of the ship where the dipping and rocking were not as noticeable. I could not believe it, here I was on board a large vessel, being waited on, along with my surf club mates, yet every sip of beer nearly was regurgitated. Bloody Hell, I felt like crap. I discovered the stern of the boat was the best place to relax in a comfortable deck chair and most of the afternoon was spent snoozing. By dinner time I was feeling much, much better. I had been informed that club captain Peter Coleman and I would be dining with the ships officers at their table. I was waiting for the Maitre D’ to escort me to my table and began waving to Pete who was already seated with the officers. Whilst waiting, a nearby table was being served and two of the passengers had ordered the roast pork. After their plates were placed before them, the waiter began to ladle copious quantities of steaming gravy over the meat. 

I quickly caught Pete’s attention, shook my head, then sprinted to the nearest ships rail and left a trail of my stomach contents from Bega to Bass Strait.
The chunder must have done the trick. I slept like a log that evening and when the next day dawned, I never felt better and ate a large breakfast of sausages, bacon and eggs with baked beans on toast. The remainder of the voyage was extremely windy in more ways than one. Later that morning we were all participating in the shipboard activities.

Shuttlecock was quite good until we ran out of cocks, all of which eventually ended up in the Tasman Sea.

Similarly, Deck Quoit tennis came to an end when all of the little brown rope circles were last noticed disappearing over the top of the meshed netting erected to prevent the little brown rope circles from disappearing over the said same meshed netting. The popular game of Deck Quoits was the most successful as no quoits were lost, but several passengers were sent base over apex by having their feet taken from underneath them by speeding quoits and others would see their gin and tonic suddenly vanish after a circular missile that had inadvertently strayed off course flew by.

Some of our more refined team members would be seen taking beef tea during mid morning and mid afternoon……..Ah! Nothing like a cup of Bonox....Bleah! At approximately 4 pm. the northern coastline of the Apple Isle appeared over the distant horizon and before we knew it our vessel was preparing to dock at Bells Bay. The welcoming committee consisted of one solitary fur seal bobbing up and down in the ocean approximately 25 miles off shore. He or she simply trod water no more than 10 metres out from the ship's starboard side and honked out a greeting to us all as we sailed past.

Tassie had daylight saving. What the hell’s that we asked. After setting our watches one hour forward we drove the twenty odd miles into the city of Launceston. A suitable camping area was located and our twelve foot square tent was erected. Each of the tourists were allocated twelve square feet of the tent. No one had bunks, merely sleeping bags, which were laid out on top of a canvas ground sheet. We all set out to sample some of the local brew known as Boags. Entering our first pub a round was ordered and we discovered the only beer on tap was VB, so after downing this more than acceptable refreshment, we departed to locate a pub that sold the local brew, namely Boags. The hotel we entered was the St. George. What a well appointed friendly pub it was too. We and the hotel management, at this stage of our odyssey, had no idea what was going to happen almost two weeks later in this very same hotel. I cannot recall what dinner was that evening, although I’m fairly certain it would have been fast food purchased at some greasy spoon establishment. Suffice to say it was well and truly washed down with copious quantities of Boags lager……..Good drop.

Waking up the following Saturday morning with a tomahawk between one’s eyes was not a good way to start the day. Merely the thought of breakfast was enough to make one dry retch. Our beloved club captain and team leader Peter announced that we were to attend a party in our honour that evening. Our host was a former member of the Avalon club whose name I’ve never been able to recall.
Ross Lumsden had a cousin who owned a boutique in the heart of town, we were all invited to visit her and have a friendly cup of coffee in the shop. Three cars set out to locate her boutique and to purchase three eskys along the way. The locals had no idea what an esky was. You know, you put grog in it and fill it full of ice. Oh! You must mean a portable fridge. OK, have it your way, where can we buy one? I was in the third car piloted by the inimitable James Demos. We were lost. Oh look two coppers, let’s ask them if they know where the boutique is. We pulled up in the Saturday morning peak hour shopping traffic and made our enquiry. “What the bloody hell’s going on at this place?” asked one of the wallopers, “You’re the third carload of guys to ask that question.” Arriving at the shop that was in an arcade near the city’s centre, our hostess did not appear to be too overwhelmed with the presence of such a magnificent gathering of Australia’s finest, who had commenced putting a large hole in her stock of coffee and ate all her cakes and biscuits that I assume were there for the benefit of her clients. We were not alarmed or surprised when our two young policemen pounding the beat were sighted outside the shop squinting through the window. They were invited to join us and our invitation was gratefully accepted. Twenty minutes later they departed full of cream cakes and Monte Carlo’s washed down with the odd cup of coffee. When our hostess’s kitchen resembled a wheat field after a plague of locusts had swept through it, we said our farewells and returned to our tent to ascertain what was next on our busy itinerary. 

A day at the races
It was agreed that we attend the Launceston races that afternoon and at the appropriate time we drove to the track clad in clothing that would make a Big Brother housemate look almost well dressed. Our three vehicles entered the race track through a gate that was signed, ‘Owners and Trainers Entrance.’ There did not appear to be anyone in authority attending, so we simply drove through waving like British royalty to the crowds of horse racing enthusiasts going about their business. Arriving on the course proper we split into two groups of six. One of these groups went missing and whilst in the throes of finding them the second group heard a series of loud shouts originating from a section of the main grandstand. There they were, God bless their little cotton socks, all comfortably seated behind a large sign on the front of the stand that read, ‘Reserved for Members, Owners and Trainers.’ 

A great day was had by all. My day ended on a high note. I was down the gurgler with only one race to go, so I backed a long shot that managed to shove its nose in front during the last two strides….Protest! Oh, piss off…..Protest dismissed, You little bottler. I broke even….Phew! We did achieve some notoriety as the Sunday papers reported that a scruffy bunch of loud hooligans had put a damper on a successful days racing carnival by refusing to stand for the national anthem. What national anthem we asked? It was God save the Queen……We’re not Poms, we’re Aussies. If they had played ‘Tie me kangaroo down sport,’ or something similar, we would have proudly rose to our feet and more than likely sung a chorus or two. I have no idea why, but one particular tune became our theme song throughout our two week adventure. It was, ‘Lily the Pink.’
All around the four corners of the Apple Isle, the strains of this inspirational ditty would be heard emanating from the Avalon Beach Travelling Music and Amber Fluid Imbibing Society as they left their trail of destruction behind them.
The party, allegedly held in our honour that evening, took place in a large extremely well appointed two storey house. What a thrill it must have been for the visiting Surfers Paradise Water Skiing Team to be invited to this party and to be introduced to famous celebrities such as, Denis Casali, Ross Lumsden, Jim Demos, John Doring etc. Our host, silly, misguided fool that he was, told us to help ourselves to a fridge choc a bloc with 750 ml. cans of Carlton Draft. This fridge was discovered in an upstairs kitchen around midnight. It contained 20 dozen cans of Victoria’s finest brew. Fifty percent of this liquid gold was sent hurtling through one of the second floor windows and came to rest neatly packed in the boot of one of the cars. Weren’t we lucky to have bought those three eskys earlier that morning.

The Low Head surf carnival
What happened after that, I don’t know. All I can remember was waking up the next day vowing never to drink ever again. One could not be this crook and still be alive. Pete announces that we are to compete in a surf carnival at Low Head Beach that afternoon. Low Head is Launceston’s main beach and surf club. Oh, come on Pete, we can hardly stand, let alone compete in a carnival. It’ll be good publicity said Pete. Yeah sure, just read the obituaries in the following mornings newspapers, we’ll all get a mention. The surf carnival was the grand final for the five Northern Tasmanian clubs that were competing. Only two points separated all five teams in the annual points score competition, any club could win it. The five clubs were Low Head. Burnie, Penguin. Devonport and Ulverstone. The beach was completely covered in spectators. It seemed the whole of Launceston had turned out to witness the days competition. Well I’ll be buggered, the PA announcer used to be a member of the Avalon surf club, or so he said. He announced the following, “We are thrilled and honoured to have competing at today’s carnival members from the well known and extremely competitive Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving club from the Northern Beaches of Sydney.” The whole beach stood as one and we were given a standing ovation. Despite the massive amounts of local brew that was hindering our ability to remain vertical, let alone compete in a satisfactory manner, we were able to be quite competitive. We entered in 13 events and were only out of a place in one of them. Guess whose event?
The belt race. Avalon’s representative, Trevor ( Pogo ) Fuller. Me a belt swimmer, Get your hand off it Darryl……I should have called tails. There we were all seven of us lined up on the beach opposite our respective buoys. I was on the left looking at a tiny red and yellow dot floating on the horizon. On my right attempting to locate his black buoy was another invitee. He was a member of the Tasmanian Olympic swimming squad and he looked raring to go. The other lot were from the five local surf clubs. The gun went off and we all sprinted into the completely flat ocean, water temperature 13 degrees Celsius. 

This wasn’t a surf race it was more like a beach sprint. Fifty metres out and it was still only shin deep. Finally, freestyle at last. The Olympic swimmer on my right took off like a rubber duckie and reached his buoy in no time. I was breathing on my right side and could see the five Tassie guys and me were all in a straight line. I was doing OK. Fifteen metres to go and I was in the lead. Five metres later I hit the wall. My arms suddenly became spaghetti, my horizontal body was now two thirds underwater at a 45 degree angle and I could feel the contents of my stomach beginning to rise from within. One by one I was aware of the other competitors reaching their buoys and raising their hands. At last I made it……dead last. “Onya Avalon,” said the duty boat sweep, just as the whole of my mornings breakfast and a considerable quantity of lasts nights Carlton Draught spewed forth all over the red and yellow buoy. “Well I’ll be stuffed, look at that,” commented one of the duty boat guys pointing to a piece of toast that still had butter on it. It was floating amongst the multi coloured cloud of organic matter that was beginning to spread and surround me and the Olympic swimmer, who decided to add his contribution by having one in sympathy.
The beach sprint. No such thing as heats, quarters, semis and finals down south. One hundred and fifty odd budgie smuggler clad individuals lined up at one end of the beach jostling, shoving and elbowing each other and when the starters pistol fired, it was the Zulus’ attacking Rorkes Drift all over again. Avalon’s former Balmain winger Denis Casali won the event. Thank God he didn’t fall over during the race. It would have taken Tony Robinson and his Time Team more than their usually allotted three days to dig him out. 

Using Low Heads work boat our scratch senior crew finished second in the boat race and the junior crew won their race…..so they should, none of them were under 19. The results did not count as we were competing strictly under invitation.

If my memory is correct, we were third in the Tug a War, second in the board paddle race, second in the beach flags and Johnnie Towner and I gave the ski race a nudge by finishing second and third. Not a bad effort for twelve hung over inebriates. At day’s end the PA announcer thanked us for our attendance and participation and for the second time that day we were given a standing ovation by the huge crowd who had stayed until the final event. 

Drinking and Fire walking
None of us returned home to our tent that evening. The Low Head blokes put on a barbecue in our honour alongside the ruins of the old surf club building on the beach. We were joined by a couple of Dee Why guys and several fantastic miscreants from the Burning Palms club south of Sydney. Along with many Tasmanian guys from the northern beaches clubs we began to give the Boags quite a nudge and by the time the sun had set we were all steamed up. A massive great bonfire was lit, the glow of which would have been seen from southern Victoria, if not the actual flames. The Tasmanian Beer drinking competition was about to begin. One ten ounce glass of Boags held aloft then downed in one mouthful and the glass placed upside down on one’s head. A highly qualified judge would then check to see if ones crown was still dry and if so a green flag would be raised to signify a legal attempt. There were heats, followed by even more heats, quarterfinals followed by semi finals and finally only two left standing. The only major event I have ever won turned out to be the Tasmanian Drinking competition. What a marvellous item to appear on ones CV.

Ahh! Supper.
A ten inch diameter hardwood tree had been placed on top of our bonfire and the flames were licking their way around it. Some fool suggested we begin fire walking. Sure, why not? Yeah, let’s do it. Where’s the fire? Oh I see, OK I’ll be in it. The idea was to mount the log and shuffle ones way to its end. Ones foot would then be placed in the middle of the flames licking around the log whilst precariously balancing oneself above the white hot embers and the odd flame below. The longer one remained balanced surrounded by the flames the more points one earned. Were we completely off our faces? Of course we were.

"You want me to walk on what?"
Surprisingly everything went off semi smoothly until one of the Burning Palms guys slipped and fell into the middle of the fire. He was dragged out as quickly as possible and was seen to have serious burns around and underneath his left armpit. He simply said “She’ll be right” and poured two 10 ounce glasses of beer over the bare burnt flesh. A week later he was seen competing at the Aussie championships without a worry in the world. The bonfire was kept ablaze all night as it was needed. No one had sleeping bags and it was real brass monkey weather that evening. We all fell asleep around the fire and remained comfortable, warm and cosy.

I awakened with a loud shout when a red hot ember spat from the fire and landed on my bugle…..I still have the scar to this very day.

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