Deeper Water

 

by Andrew Starkie

Growing up in the south-west, Labour Day weekend used to signal the end of summer.  The first icy rains and wind would sweep up from the Southern Ocean, turning the camping grounds at the Port Fairy Folk Festival into a sodden, bleak mess.

This long weekend, Linda and I put the new cot together in the baby’s room and listened to Paul Kelly.  Coburg snoozed under gentle sunshine, the peace broken only by the occasional passing car or distant rumble of the Sydney Road tram.

With a month to go, Linda’s getting nervous.  She’s making lists; jobs for her, jobs for me.  The old couch goes out on the nature strip; the chest of drawers, in the corner of the bedroom.  The woman who runs our birthing classes calls this nesting.  I try to keep out of trouble by offering lame jokes.  Linda rolls her eyes.  She’s had enough.

The nursery is full of boxes of yet to be assembled baby stuff and grubby family hand-me-downs.  Linda held the ends of the cot while I screwed in the sides.  As is my way, my mind wandered.

To school days and Brother Nangle turning us into Good Christian gentlemen.  And one day pulling me aside, whispering, I’ve been hearing bad things about you, son.  He only had to say it once for I held him in that classically Catholic regard of fear and wonder and couldn’t bear the consequences of failing him.

To teenage obsessions.  From behind the bowler’s arm, the late Mick Dawson telling us to get our knees down when fielding the ball and to spread our fingers and let the catch come to us.  Tears caused by lost grand finals and Hairy Hodgins ruffling my hair.  You’ll be right, mate.  You’ll be right.  And changing priorities.  Not being able to get her off my mind and praying her dad has fallen asleep on the couch and unable to hear the ringing phone in the hallway.  Being able to breathe again when hearing her voice on the other end.

And one early morning during uni days, with a head full of nails and regret, finding myself in my penguin suit on a bench in the Exhibition Gardens.  Walking the streets of Carlton, getting my story straight, and later pleading for forgiveness.  I’ve done all the dumb things.

To discovery and sunrises and sunsets of a different type.  Sleeping in the car and on trains across America’s deep south.  Breathtaking memories that can be revisited when needed.  Flicking through them like a photo album, so they aren’t forgotten.

To the drifting years and wasting time and it wasting me.  Then being jolted into life’s realities and responsibilities.

Back in the now, I fastened the sides, manoeuvred the base and slipped the mattress in.  Linda and I stood looking at the empty cot.  I thought of the past, the future and a lump formed in my throat.

I guess I get emotional sometimes.

 

Comments

  1. Wonderful, moving piece, Andrew. Thanks.

  2. Niall Connolly says:

    Time passes inexorably doesn’t it? All of the things that have happened yet here we are, wherever we are. Now. Lovely Andrew.

  3. Danielle says:

    congratulations Andrew and Linda :)
    better sort out that baby sized North Melbourne jumper Andrew (surely that’s on the list)

  4. Enjoy it Andrew, and don’t blink, it goes pretty quickly.

    A child arrived just the other day
    He came to the world in the usual way
    But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
    He learned to walk while I was away
    And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
    He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
    You know I’m gonna be like you”

    And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin’ home dad
    I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
    You know we’ll have a good time then

    My son turned ten just the other day
    He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
    Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today
    I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok”
    And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
    And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
    You know I’m gonna be like him”

    And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin’ home dad
    I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
    You know we’ll have a good time then

    Well, he came from college just the other day
    So much like a man I just had to say
    “Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
    He shook his head and said with a smile
    “What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
    See you later, can I have them please?”

    And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin’ home son?
    I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
    You know we’ll have a good time then

    I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
    I called him up just the other day
    I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
    He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
    You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
    But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
    It’s been sure nice talking to you”

    And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
    He’d grown up just like me
    My boy was just like me

    And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon
    When you comin’ home son?
    I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
    You know we’ll have a good time then

  5. Congrats Andrew and Linda. No life without emotions. Nice touch Phanto. Soon everyday will be Father’s Day and as Lou Reed once sang of his impending parenthood: “It’s the beginning of a great adventure”

  6. Dave Nadel says:

    Similar patch of ground but the other end of the journey. My wife, Clare and I were at the Port Fairy Folk Festival this weekend. We realised it was just the two of us for the first time in 20 years. Our daughter is 19 and was with her friends at Monash. Our son is 16 and a half and we allowed him to stay home alone in Melbourne to study. In the last twenty years we have had every combination at Port Fairy, Parents with small children. One parent (me) in Port Fairy promising several nights of child care so the other parent can see the same Musicians at the Brunswick Folk Festival. One parent with one older child. Both parents with the other child. But this is the first time that it has been just the parents since the kids were born.

    Congratulations Andrew and Linda you are starting on a fabulous journey,

  7. Mark Doyle says:

    Andrew, an interesting essay on your life experience, but a bit self-indulgent and an indication of today’s society of focusing on individual needs. As Dave Nadel mentioned, I and my partner were at this year’s Port Fairy Folk Music Festival and we always enjoy it because of a great community connection with people, including adults and kids, in both the Festival compound and the Gardens Caravan Park. Converstions with Featival patrons while awaiting concerts about topics such as music, literature and the ‘dumbing down’ of ABC Radio National are cathartic. There were some great songs about family: Eric Bibb’s song ‘Saucer and Cup’; Herb Pederson’s song about the absentee parent; Ami Williamson’s song about the absentee father; and others such as Judy Collins, Abigail Washburn, Archie Roach, Marcia Howard, John Butler, Mama Kin (aka Danielle Butler) who all acknowledged family support.

  8. Andrew – always good to hear about the imminent arrival of a new little person in the world.

  9. Peter Baulderstone says:

    Wonderful piece, Andrew. I love the honest self reflection, wonder and mystery in a lot of the Almanac pieces.
    I know I spent a lot of my life locked up inside my head, which is a sad and lonely place to be. My condolences, Mark.
    Sharing heart as well as head is a rare experience for most blokes. Writing for the Almanac and sharing in the circle of open and insightful people who write here has been great for my growth and happiness.
    More power to you, Andrew.

  10. John Harms says:

    I connected with it Andrew. The memories seemed to waft off the page. I could relate to them strongly (not bad for a Lutheran). They were about you, and not about you. Keep us posted.

  11. pamela sherpa says:

    What some people will do to help their club increase their membership! Good luck and enjoy. Following footy is good preparation for having kids – highs, lows and everything else in between.

  12. Andrew Fithall says:

    Don’t listen to those wooses and their Port Fairy Folk Festival with its rules about little chairs at the front and slightly bigger chairs behind them and then furthest from the performers are those music lovers who are most into it but because they just can’t sit still and listen to what gets them up and moving have to get up the back behind the sedentary ones.

    Camping just near us at Golden Plains on the weekend was a group of two young couples and each couple had a child about 6 months old. Obviously they are determined that the new entrants into their families is not going to impact their lives…well not so far anyway.

    Good luck with it all – and as alluded to be Dave N, you do eventually come out the other end. I haven’t yet, but was fortunate to have been granted a leave of absence. A bit self-indulgent?

    I am off to The Phoenix Bar tonight to see Abigail Washburn, because she went to the wrong festival last weekend.

  13. Damo Balassone says:

    Great stuff mate and it’s not lost on me that the title of your piece is from one of Kelly’s great songs about the cycle of life – no better feeling than taking your little one to the sea for the first time. Keep us posted.

  14. Dave Nadel says:

    Andrew Fithall, I don’t want to divert Andrew Starkie’s excellent thread onto another theme but I can’t let your comments pass unanaswered.

    For those of us of the generation that has grown old with Port Fairy (this year was number 36) the rules work quite nicely. While there were some good young acts as usual a lot of the best acts first performed in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The two best acts this year were both older than me. Judy Collins (age 72) played two one hour sets without repeating herself on the second night. She looked like an old lady but her voice was as good as it was when she recorded her first album about 1960 (and she sng one song from that album on the second night)

    Chris Hillman (aged 67) and Herb Pedersen (similar) between them performed in just about every good country rock band in the 60s and 70s. Hillman in the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers (and other bands) Pedersen in the Dilliards, on the first Emmylou Harris album (and lots of other groups and albums) Chris Hillman actually founded most of the bands and perhaps (together with Roger McGuinn) the whole genre of country rock. Chris and Herb did do basically the same set at both concerts but Hillman’s voice is glorious, he is probably the best mandolin player I have ever seen and he and Pedersen did several Byrds’ classics perfectly.

    A lot of the fans watching these acts were people who had bought their vynal records in the 60s. Back then we danced (and got stoned) listening to the Byrds. Now we, like the performers are somewhat older. One of my friends at Port Fairy now walks with a stick, another has just recovered from nine months of chemotherapy. My hearing is not as good as it was in the 60s. If we had to watch these acts behind a large crowd of young peoplle dancing it would not be worth going. Jamie McKew and the organisers of Port Fairy have stuck by the people who have stuck by them for 36 years and that is to their credit.

    I am sure you had a great time rocking with the young people at Golden Plains, Andrew, and it is important that such Festivals exist. However in 16 years you will be my age and I guarantee you will not be as snooty about rules protecting your rights to watch and hear music.

  15. craig dodson says:

    As a father to be (wife 37 weeks) I feel your nerves, excitement and anticipation. My wife has gone through the to do lists and is now downright ‘over it’ and just wants junior to come out. I’m tighter than cameron mooney taking a set shot but the excitement overrides this. All the best for the next few weeks

  16. Well Dave, that obviously hit a nerve.

  17. Andrew
    Another North supporter…we need as many as we can get!
    Enjoy the journey, take it all in…because, as mentioned by
    others, it truly goes by so fast.
    And what better a soundtrack to enjoy it all with, than P Kelly.

  18. John Butler says:

    Nadel. Fithall.

    Back of the shelter sheds.

    NOW!

  19. Andrew, when a friend of mine asked what the favourite stage of her daughter’s development was, she replied: the next one. Never a truer word spoken – my boy is two and a bit now and each day makes me enjoy fatherhood that little bit more. I had the Geelong-Richmond game on last weekend. I say words now and he repeats them straight away. When I held my breath and said: “Go Cats”, there was no response. I was grappling with my emotions when, all of 10 seconds later and staring at the TV, he shouted: Go Cats!
    I put the date in the diary.

  20. Cookie, at some point you might have to deal with the heartbreaking moment of when he comes out and says “Go Dogs!” or (even worse) “Go Pies”. Now THAT is one of life’s true tests.

  21. When Harley’s mother decided to leave Carlton for Collingwood, her father said that was fine but he wouldn’t be taking her to the football. That switch of allegiance was short – I think I’ll use the same tactic.
    She was going to claim number 2 as Carlton until she realised on the weekend if both children are Geelong they will go to the football with me and she will have a day to herself to do what she wants. They’re both mine Gigs, both mine!

  22. Andrew Fithall says:

    I know Andrew Starkie is a music fan so I hope he is okay with this continuation of the discussion on his post. Dave N – I am sure you realise I was just throwing the bait out there but thank-you for your considered response. As one who has never been to Port Fairy FF, I have no right to pass judgement on the rules that are in place. Rules are useful. They have rules at Golden Plains (Meredith) as well; no elevated couches in the viewing area; no fires anywhere, and no dickheads. The last one of these rules is frequently broken, but at least there is a reference point for behaviour and how it impacts on your co-festivellers.

    Different environments cater for different set-ups. The Supernatural Amphitheatre allows for the revellers to be up close and those who want to sit to position themselves further back and still have a view of the stage. Throughout the days and nights I moved back and forward according to what I wanted from the performer and the music. Let it be known that no dancing was involved. There may have been some foot-tapping; perhaps a head nod, but that was as vigorous as it got for me. But I still reckon I would not cope with PFFF – I would be irritated. Maybe they should build the stages higher off the ground.

    I am not a huge fan of the old rockers – I was not overly impressed by the two examples provided at GP – Roky Erikson and Charles Bradley. Nor by the placement of a tribute band – Kisstroyer – in the prime spot of just before midnight on the Saturday. As a fan of contemporary local music I would prefer that greater opportunities be provided to good, established local bands.

    David Nadel, unless you plan on stopping, (and I hope you don’t) in 16 years I won’t be your age – you will still be 16 years older and we will still be having these discussions.

    And JB – I am not going anywhere near the back of the shelter sheds with you.

  23. John Butler says:

    That’s not the first time I’ve heard that response AF.

  24. Alison Francis-Cracknell says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Was at WomAdelaide music festival this long weekend with my hubby & 3 sons. Stopped on a corner in the city of churches and caught the eye of a Big Issue vendor. She smiled hopefully and with my boys in mind, I took the opportuity to try to set a good example – bought the latest issue. Flipping through it as we did the long haul back I stumbled across your piece. Didn’t realise it was yours until I re-read it and actually looked at the author’s name, put Warnambool, + Dad was a butcher + Starkie together and ,,it was you!
    Just messaging to say I really enjoyed it. You have honesty, depth & talent, keep going.
    Best wishes for your expected one. Go easy on each other.
    Alison (old friend of Paulines).

  25. John Kingsmill says:

    I forwarded this post onto PK.
    He wrote back:

    “Nice. Thanks.”

  26. Rick Kane says:

    Hi Andrew

    Ditto to all that has been said already, especially PK himself!

    AF, it’s a pity you’re not a huge fan of the older rockers, because as Dave N said, a highlight of Port Fairy was Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen. In fact, if they had played 7 shows, I would have attended everyone. Not just because of their deep historical roots but because they are still so damned good. By the way Dave, you neglected to mention the other absolute highlight, the Peter Rowan Band. Yep, another oldie.

    And Andrew, your reminisces allow us to follow our own. As I type these final words I have ‘Under the Sun’ humming away in my mind.

    Cheers

  27. Andrew Fithall says:

    Rick – I am not entirely against “old rockers”. Somewhat hypocritically, two weeks ago I really enjoyed the Carnival of Suburbia opening night – Stopping All Stations Except East Richmond. The night included Dave Warner singing Just a Suburban Boy, Mick Conway, and two original members of Skyhooks with able fill-ins (including a female taking Shirley’s lead vocals) doing Toorak Cowboy, Balwyn Calling and Carlton (Lygon St Limbo). A very enjoyable performance. My main objection is when festivals such as Golden Plains, which have a very limited number of spots, opt for the return of the old rocker at the expense of good established contemporary performers. Port Fairy can much better cater for the retros with their multiple stages and multiple performing times.

    Andrew S – good to catch up with you at Abigail Washburn last Wednesday. I must admit that it can be a bit difficult on a school night to hang in there . When Abigail announced at 11.40pm, after an excellent hour on stage, that they will have a break and be back soon, we had to quietly take our leave. Other than that, really enjoyed the show, and loved the (Phoenix Public House) venue. Back there next Thursday to see a tribute to The Replacements. There goes my hypocrisy again – a tribute to an old rock band by a bunch of musicians including a couple of older rockers.

  28. Andrew Fithall says:

    And John Kingsmill – I suspected that the JK Paul Kelly wrote about/referred to in his autobiography which I enjoyed so much, was you. Thank-you for the confirmation. Well done.

  29. Andrew Starkie says:

    love dipping in and out of PK’s memoir.

  30. Andrew, there will be many more times in the future when Linda (and you) have “had enough”, believe me. But time moves so quickly so revel in every minute of the journey.

    @Mark Doyle – I wish you used emoticons because I never know whether you are being serious or cynical or cheeky or confrontational.

  31. Rick Kane says:

    How good is Abigail Washburn? She was another highlight of Port Fairy.

    AS, we have only been to 4 Port Fairy Folk Festivals, but still haven’t experienced, “camping grounds at the Port Fairy Folk Festival turning into a sodden, bleak mess”. Fingers crossed.

    Cheers

  32. Dave Nadel says:

    Rick you are right. Pete Rowan was excellent. This was at least the second time that he had been to Port Fairy so I knew he would be good. On the other hand this was the first time I had seen Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen.

    Oh and just to prove to Andrew F that I don’t only see heritage acts, I also enjoyed Lanie Lane who I think was the only artist to perform at both Golden Plains and Port Fairy that weekend.

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