It’s Hot

It’s hot. Forty in Adelaide this week. Mid-thirties in Melbourne. Canberra sweltering in November. All the talk of climate change and global warming.

It’s hot alright. But I reckon when I was a kid every Darling Downs summer was this hot. Easy.

All my summer memories are of heat. The local pool, our back yard, the veranda. We kids barefoot and as brown as pennies. If we ever had shoes on, it was to play some official game. Cricket daily. Golf occasionally. Tennis often.

Dunlop Volleys and socks coagulated together by a cocktail of sweat and ant-bed tennis court dust. Matches fought out in sweltering conditions, monumental struggles against the Leahy kid from the Commercial Hotel. If you had to play on the asphalt court your Volleys left their tread mark in the doughy surface. It was hot.

In my memory it’s always holidays. And it’s always the first day of a Test match. Waking up every morning with a body so rested and full of energy you were ready to go all day. The sky a perfect blue and the ABC newsreader full of information. GulpedMilo. Already too hot for toast and Vegemite. And as you pedalled out the front gate, all you could hear was your mum’s voice screaming: “Have you kids brushed your teeth?”

Down to the pool, where the supervisor was scooping out the Christmas beetles. He wore his weathered skin loosely, like a trendy sports jacket. Ours was dolphin-svelte. And we swam with effervescent joy. Like Flipper himself. A lot of time spent doing bombs off the big board. Movements of Olympian grace, choreographed to make the biggest splash possible. You were so skinny your technique had to be perfect to get marks on the corner light pole.

Then leaning on the rail of the big board watching the grade nine girls down on the grass putting coconut oil all over themselves. They were so old.

But they weren’t as old as the tough who was climbing the steps. He’d left school a couple of years ago to become a boner at the abattoir. Tough all right. He didn’t speak and you didn’t dare look him in the eye. He was a giant to us, his huge tummy hanging over the top of his stubbies. We giggled behind our little hands as he walked past, his bum-crack the source of great amusement.

Having surveyed the end of the board, he walked back to us, turned and began his performance. With three explosive steps he pounded his foot into the board, propelling himself impossibly high. For purists such as us, his body position was all wrong as he approached the water. But at the last instant he managed to contort in such a way he to achieved the perfect figure four. Kehhr . . . spuuurr . . . lunkkk. Spray went miles in the air. Like a World War II movie. The light pole was saturated.

We stood clinging to the rail, heads bobbing up and down with the board’s reverberations. “Shit,” Varley said. (He was the most worldly of us.) We would never be able to do that. The diver got out and went back to his towel, lit up a Winnie Red and put his head back in his copy of Truckin’ Life.

Time for the cricket. Straight on the treadlies and back home with just minutes to spare. Little voices excitedly preparing for the first delivery, as a big voice yelled from some mother’s room, where mothers did mothers’ stuff: “I hope you kids have got towels down on those lounge chairs.”

As the day grew even hotter we squirmed in our chairs. Lemon barley water with ice. The cat stretched under the divan. More lemon water. Salad sandwiches for lunch. And fruit. Nectarines and rockmelon. And watermelon for later on. And a run through the sprinkler to cool off before the start of the next session.

Dad popping his head in from time to time to get the score and eventually staying to watch Greg Chappell in majestic touch again. Your back sticking to the vinyl chair. The brother in the bean-bag sprawled out in the classic horizontal star-jump position. Doug Walters building his legend.

At stumps, it was time to do the lawn. It was always a race. The storm building in the south-west. Cricket fraternity turned gardening commune. To beat the tempest. And getting it done as the storm passed (yet again) to dump its load on Gatton orIpswich, or that faraway city,Brisbane. We were left to watch the towering anvil tops of cotton-wool clouds, white and pink, illuminated by the western sun.

Mucking around with the cricket ball instead of picking up the heaps (no catchers at our place). No relief for us. Just the smell of grass clippings and petrol. And backs all itchy from rolling in the kikuyu.

Inside. You realised you’d actually worked hard and you were sweaty as Dad knocked the top off the reward: one tallie of Carlton Pilsener (we were never a XXXX family) to be shared among all of us. Lucky we kids had shandies. And mum had a glass of lemonade with just the tiniest drop of brandy (“to take the sweetness out of it”).

She sipped away while she cooked dinner. Fish fingers with home-grown lemon and salty homemade chips and pieces of tomato from the garden sprinkled with pepper and thick slices of white bread holed by attempts to spread unspreadable butter made rock hard by the battling fridge. Talk of Walters’ great pull shots. And dad insisting on a boiling hot cup of tea (“the best thing for a stinker”).

You had a cold bath. You got into bed, knackered, but it was too hot to sleep. And your brothers were in what your mother called “a silly mood”. No covers. And you resorted to the ultimate act of decadence: going to bed without your pyjama top on. Still impossible to get comfortable. Back to the shower for a 10-second cold blast. Back into bed. Wet. Back to the fridge for some ice. Into a tea-towel. On the forehead. On the back of the neck. And your mother came in and threw a glass of freezing cold water on you, and you were about to go berserk when you saw it was your mother and you wouldn’t give your mother a blast. No one would. Except your father when he didn’t have a shirt on Sunday morning.

And it was still hot. And no one was asleep. And dad wanted another beer. But the lawn had already been mown so he’d go to the old toot and return with a bottle of his special ginger beer. He’d go through the ritual of holding it over a jug covered with an ancient straining cloth while mum uncapped it and it geysered all over the kitchen and a significant part of the laundry cupboard. A whole bottle yielded enough for the two of them to have a glass.

It was still hot. Everything would be quiet for a few minutes and mum would think we were all asleep until my brother farted. Magnificently. We’d all giggle, which turned into uncontrolled laughter that brought my wise old father to the door: “If you kids don’t get some sleep you’ll never bat like Doug Walters tomorrow.”

I’d forget how hot it was. With the tea-towel over my face, I’d fall asleep to constant slow motion replays of me hitting Derek Underwood for a straight six at the MCG.

 

Gee, it was hot.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Brings back memories, John.

    For all the talk of climate-change, isn’t it funny how in our memories of summers past, the days seem to have always been so much hotter.
    In the Age of X-box, I often wonder what memories of childhood my sons will cherish.

    Gee I miss summer.

  2. pamela sherpa says:

    Wonderful John . I have similar memories of summer- always hot and never being able to sleep-We couldn’t sit outside at night because of mosquitoes.We rode our bikes home from school and had to wait til 4 o’clock to have a swim- mum wouldn’t let us swim before that(in the heat of the day), However we played tennis in the heat of the day on Saturdays and I can still taste the cold lemon cordial from the cream cans that had huge blocks of ice in them.

  3. JTH – great piece of work. You could have been describing the Greensborough Pool when you wrote of diving boards and bombs. And those grade nine girls!

    Smokie – I don’t just miss summer, I miss summer as a kid.

  4. Lord Bogan says:

    JTH, is this from around 1973-4? Takes me back to a carefree place (1977-79) where time seemed to just revolve around fun in the outdoors with other kids. It’s about the only age 12-14 where fantasising about smearing coconut oil on fifteen year old girls seems acceptable. Sucking on Glugs and Sunnyboys,wishing you were Viv Richards one day and Greg Chappell the next or Joel Garner or Lillee.

    Wondering if Mark Edmondson could really be the next big name in tennis, listening to ABBA followed by Slim Dusty, followed by Graham Bonnet on 3XY. No helmets, just a tattered pad for the left leg and a holey glove for your left hand. If you were left-handed, tough luck, you just had to be brave like Hookesy. Kids coming to the street holidaying with grandparents, pretending to be left-handed until their maladroitness overwhelmed their shame and they sheepishly went back to the right.

    A time when our parents were younger and it seemed like they would live forever, while us kids were content to go for a ride to the milk bar for a paddlepop on our Dragsters between innings. Love this piece John. Thank you for taking me back.

  5. Where’s my cricket bat?

    Canberra never had as many hot days as the high north but the ones we had were sweltering. You should get a carlton united best sports writing nomination for this, JTH.

  6. Mulcaster says:

    For a time I went to school at a youth detention centre on the top of James Street in Toowoomba. Toowoomba can be brutally hot in summer. My enduring mermories of that place are sitting on wooden forms….in the mid afternoon heat with swarms of flies, and perspiration. Trying to fight off sleep as we were supposed to be doing quiet work …the Semi trailers loaded with wool bales strugled up the hill dropping down the gears in a desparate and always successfull attempt to get to the top. The trucks belched out diesel fumes and roared. The heat and the smell and the flies …. and of course the day Johnny Warner farted.
    John was a small pink boy with huge ears. I suspect he is now the sergeant at arms of an outlaw bikie club. But back then he was small and frightened. One afternoon as we were all just about asleep when a monstrous fart exploded in the back of the class room. The shock waves raised the chalk dust… the teacher (given to enjopying corporal punishment)… lept to his feet with strap in hand and screamed “Who dun that!!”. Like in a Sam Peckinpah movie all heads turned slowly around. Getting pinker Johnny raised his hand and stood “I.. I’m sorry Sir … it was supposed to go whisss … but … I … I …had an accident”.

  7. Peter_B says:

    Great stuff JTH. You had me back in Renmark circa 1966. Boy it was hot. Early Dougie but more Simpson & Lawry; Boycott & Edrich than IVA & DKL. We had the sprinkler more than the pool, because that was a longer trip to the other side of town. Waiting for dad to come home from the bank. I had spent weeks practicing the wronging. I’ll give you a chance, he generously offered (he opened the batting in Country Week for the Upper Murray). Laying down the bat, he took up a stump and carved me through the covers for the next 10 minutes. I was crestfallen. The day I realised the only place I could ever emulate Richie, was in the commentary box. I’m getting there.

  8. Peter_B says:

    Wronging??? Bloody Yank auto spell checker. Wonder what it does to doors a? There. Found out.

  9. Pinnaroo, late 70’s early 80’s. That bomb diving tough got around I reckon. Bloody hot!

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great fun Peice JTH , spot on Smokie , re computer games bow em up ! Ironic isn’t it that we never cared how hot it was and were all outside playing our Test Matches , unlike today has society gone too soft ? Loved how you took us all along for the ride but every 1 , of us was going back to there own youth uncovering the slight differences !
    Thanks Burnside Pool , the rain gauge what a great cover fielder , the fair dinkum test matches with my brother in law . the Bishops tennis court that can’t nearly 40 yrs ago !
    Great childhood memories !
    Thanks Harmsy Brilliant !

Leave a Comment

*