Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Wild about Harry

What a pity there are no photos of the way the old clubhouse looked back in the 1960's. Since then there has been numerous coats of paint plastered on and a few minor changes here and there, but basically it's still the same old ageing building.

Throughout the '60's there were no large corporate sponsors or massive grants and donations flowing in on a regular basis. Money was raised by organising special events in the clubhouse and the never ending chook raffles and Art Unions etc. Another money spinner was to hire out the hall to various sporting and cultural groups who realised what a great geographic location the club was blessed to have.

Trouble was there were many wild surf club functions that tended to almost destroy the building itself and left it smelling like a cross between a brewery and an outdoor dunny.

Someone had to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess and transforming the dance floor and environs into a venue that would appeal to the more refined. The club would host a committee meeting on Friday evening and a wedding on Saturday.

Friday night, Committee Meeting.(in this case AGM)

Saturday Night. Wedding or other function.
Even my former bedroom is put to good use.

Every social club needs that special someone to see to the upkeep of the facilities at hand and to blend in with the club's many members. Being a club full of red blooded, highly strung and full on ragers, the Avalon SLSC required someone with the patience of Job to maintain the upstairs section of the building. Sometime during the early 1960's we were fortunate to gain the services of good old Harry, who became our live in caretaker up until the early 1970's.

Harry was a retired old age pensioner who still had a spring in his step and became more than satisfied with his cosy living quarters alongside the well appointed surf club kitchen. He would quite often be seen lounging around the stage, that back then was situated at the northern end of the dance floor, reading a book, or sipping on the odd drink in his deck chair on the verandah out front, taking in the beauty of Mother Nature, so ever present on the beach.

During his first year or so he was given more than his fair share of mischievious stirs by both the young and older members, who took delight in pulling his leg on numerous occasions. Eventually he became part of the furniture and was given the respect he deserved. He was loved by all and sundry as he had blended in beautifully with his surroundings and the clubhouse was maintained in an immaculate condition.

Aussie group.  The Atlantics.

When the Stomp was in full swing on Saturday nights, there would be upwards of 600 pairs of feet thumping up and down on the floor boards, removing all traces of polish and even some timber itself. The boatshed and locker room below would have all the horizontal surfaces completely covered in superfine sawdust around 3mm deep. The dance floor looked as though it had just been sanded in preparation for varnishing. Every Sunday morning out would come Harry's rotary floor polisher and by 12 noon he would have the floor gleaming. 

After midnight.
Harry's Dalek.

By 12 Noon Sunday.

During this period it was common for many local groups to hire the clubhouse, therfore the building had to be spick and span more often than not. Harry was given the run of the whole building, but very rarely would he be seen in the downstairs section. In the kitchen he had his own refrigerator for his perishables and would quite often be seen preparing his meals using the twin oven St. George electric range. Any club members preparing their own meals would store their food in the Milk Bar fridge also situated in the kitchen.

It did not take too long for Harry and I to become great mates. Whenever he ran out of milk, coffee, tea or sugar etc. I was only too happy to share my goodies with him and when the tables were reversed he would always share his produce with me. I would quite often cook breakfast for him and he would always reciprocate, especially when I was on vacation.

During my first few years in the club, I was forced to rely on public transport to take me to and from Avalon. This meant there were many times on a Friday evening when I was unable to leave home at a respectable hour to head north to the club. Quite often I would leave home at Annandale around 11pm. and take the tram into Wynyard and then board the 190 Palm Beach bus at the bus ramp in York Street. It would be the last Palm Beach bus and would always leave right on time at 11:50pm. and I would arrive at Avalon spot on 1:10am. 

One of our club captains decided to change the locks on all the doors, leaving me with no means of entering the club as my key had become useless. Grass roots members like myself were no longer permitted to have keys. The only way to gain access was to wake up poor old Harry at 1:15am. and borrow his keys to open the downstairs door to the boatshed. I was not the only bloke forced to drag him out of bed at some unearthly hour, but I was the only one who he allowed to use his keys to have duplicates cut. After a while our illustrious captain realised I somehow had managed to obtain new keys and he wanted me to hand them in. He finally gave up after I continually kept on quoting the Bible everytime he asked me for them.
I simply told him to go forth and multiply, although I did phrase it differently.

One day I noticed Jackie Watt on his surf ski taking up a position directly off the clubhouse to have a fish, so I paddled out to join him and check out the landmarks that positioned one over the hidden reef. Shortly after I arrived, the surf boat crew who had been out having a training row also arrived, just as Jackie was hauling up something rather large. Just as he pulled the 4 foot bull shark out of the ocean, he was asked by the boaties, "What've you got there Jack?" As the shark went spinning through the air towards the boat, Jackie called out, "Here, have a good look." The shark landed in the middle of the boat and did its impersonation of Chubby Checker, the crew decided discretion was the better part of valour and abandoned ship quicker than music lovers leaving a Britney Spears concert. As for me I lined up the necessary landmarks and after Jackie confirmed their location, I returned to shore.

Usually twice a year I would spend my holidays staying in the club and to save money I would do my own cooking. Most of the meals were fairly basic, mainly grills and fries with the traditional greasy black thumbprint on the side of the plate. Some of my semi complicated efforts were passed onto me by my Mum, such as the bolognaise sauce, savoury mince, roasted chicken and Harry's favourite, the infamous gravy beef soup. The gravy beef became so popular that Harry had to let me use one of his huge stock pots and batches up to 2 gallons at a time were produced. Every once in a blue moon the soup would be left standing on the stove top one day too many and would become a living organism. Anyone recall Steve Mc Queen's first movie, 'The Blob.'

During these holidays of mine, to save money for the essentials, such as copious quantities of Resch's and Tooheys, I would bring ample supplies of red meat and eggs and would put the well appointed kitchen to good use. Many delicious, but cholesterol raising culinary masterpieces were created there, complete with that ever present greasy black thumbprint on the plates side.....Yum!!!! As stated earlier Harry loved my gravy beef soup, that was created from a recipe given to me by my Mother. Even I was proud of it. It was so thick with ingredients and full of goodness, that even a blacksmith's anvil could float on it. My dear Mother never wasted anything edible and before leaving home at the start of every vacation, she would remind me of her gravy beef recipe and saw to it that I departed with at least half a silo full of barley. It took me quite a while to work out where all the dead insects floating on top of the soup originated from.......Good one Mum. Harry simply regarded them as extra protein.

Bugs holidaying in Barley.

One of Harry's pots was around the size of a small Mutual backyard swimming pool, so we were never short of body warming and gut growing nourishment. Towards the end of the 60's the Brunswick boy Farls used to bring his two boys down to the club for a decent feed on a regular basis. They quite often would ask for and receive second helpings.
Normally the soup would be placed in Harry's fridge each evening, but every now and then we would forget to do so. One morning I'm hoeing into bacon and eggs when Harry enters the kitchen and lifts the lid on the soup. "Oh good, you've heated it up," he said.
"No I haven't," I replied.
"Well how come it's boiling?" he asked.
We both stared into the pot at what resembled the mud pits of Rotorua and realised we were not the only living things in the kitchen.

A lesson had been learnt. We now knew we could only leave the soup on the stove for no more than 2 to 3 days, but definetly not a whole week. Despite this near deadly mishap, the gravy beef soup stayed on the menu for another several years......Mum's weevils included. 

One thing I was never short of was red meat, which included bucketloads of bacon along with my silo full of weevil filled barley. I would divide the meat into appropriate sized portions and it would be placed in the milk bar fridge. Because of my relationship with Harry, I was allowed to store some of my other produce in his fridge as well. Now that I knew the exact location of the offshore reef, fresh fish became a regular part of our diet. I would paddle out and after about an hour or so return to shore with at least 3 or 4 fish, the most common being red bream, tailor and the occasional flathead. To stabilise the ski and to help keep my feet out of the water, an 8 foot long length of floorboard from the old clubhouse would act as an outrigger. I pinched this idea from the Watt brothers. Whatever I caught was divided in two, half for me and half for Harry. 

No way in the world am I intimating that I was an excellent cook all those years ago, but when it came to produce, I had it all, thanks to my Mother. Whenever Harry and I were together in the kitchen we both ate extremely well and washed it all down with quality tea and coffee. If only my culinary skills then could have been on a par with my current abilities, we could have had some genuine masterpieces. As it was, we didn't do too bad anyway. Rump and Sirloin steak, Lamb Chops, Beef and Pork Sausages, Bacon and Eggs with lots of toast and Baked Beans.

Lamb Chops.
Sirloin Steak.
Typical breakfast. 

One Wednesday night I won the Snooker tournament at the RSL and the next day Farls and I attempted to oven bake one of the prizes, namely a plump and juicy chicken. It ended up a full on baked dinner and was absolutely delicious. Harry kept commenting on the mouth watering aromas emanating from the kitchen, so I saw to it he had a baked dinner as well, He loved it. 

I remember when Harry was asked to attend one of the Friday evening Committee meetings. He almost burst into tears of joy when it was announced he had been made an Honorary member of the club for services rendered. He went on to give many years of devoted service to the club and during those years he experienced a great quality of life, that enabled him to be a part of something worthwhile in his twilight years. The local kookaburras adored him and every evening just before dusk they would literally line up in single file and each in turn would be fed some mince or sausage meat that Harry purchased especially for them. On one occasion I remember 13 of these kookas all waiting on the wall of the club's back landing for Harry to arrive with their supper. The first in line would take his morsel to a nearby tree, eat it then return to the back of the queue and shuffle sideways to eventually receive its second piece.

On Sunday afternoons at 5pm. the QY's bar would be open for business and Harry would be quite often shouted the odd beer which he enjoyed. Every now and then he would shout me a coldie, which I truly appreciated. This was a common occurence for quite a while and it may have been years later I began to notice a habit that Harry appeared to have adopted. I began to decline his offers of the odd beer as I began to realise what he was up to. God knows how long he had been doing it. It was not his responsibility to wash the glasses and wipe down the tables at QY's, but he appeared only too happy to do so. Time and time again people would sing his praises when noticing him picking up all the glasses and trays, as they began heading home after a few beers. What they didn't notice was any glass containing slops was spirited away and poured into a collection of jugs that Harry would keep in his fridge. Whenever Harry desired an ice cold beer, out would come the jug from the fridge and a week old drop of slops would be consumed.

The years were beginning to take their toll on an ageing Harry and his behaviour started to go over the top as his health started to decline. Many of the slops he was accumulating contained the odd cigarette butt and other dodgy unidentifiable bits and pieces. Two members, who shall remain anonymous, waited until Harry was distracted and pissed in one of his jugs, then invited him to have a beer with them. They adjourned to the verandah and polished off several lagers, making sure they were drinking from their jug and Harry was drinking from the doctored one. He appeared to enjoy every drop. At the end of the session a whole new definition for the term, 'a night on the piss' was forthcoming.

"Bloody hell, which one's Harry's?"

The years had indeed taken their toll on poor Harry and when his memory began to go and dementia was taking hold, he was placed in a home by his family members and he was given the attention he sorely needed to live out his days in peace and comfort. The vast majority of years as caretaker were happy times for him and even though his leg was pulled on a regular basis, he never took anything too seriously. The highlight was when he was appointed an Honorary Club Member. Even his family agreed the surf club was responsible for prolonging the number of years that gave him so much pleasure.

I am assuming that as I type, Harry would be relating numerous tall tales of his Avalon years, to his Heavenly neighbours, many of whom would most certainly be grateful that he was not responsible for the supply of wine at the wedding feast of Cannae, or at the Last Supper..........I shudder to think!

"The beer tastes salty."

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