Third Test, Day 2: Ponting a chance for the Camira?

by John Harms

We are on the Newell Highway. At last. Just south of Goondiwindi. Stumps have just been drawn at Bellrive; a couple of disastrous run outs ruining the Pakistanis day .

The Handicapper has taken the wheel. The kids have been very good, sleeping from Michael Clarke’s dismissal, all the way to Pakistan being 0/20.

We have just had an hour in a park at Goondi, where they have had 10 inches of rain over the last couple of weeks, so that the couch runners run while you’re looking at them, and the ground oozes moisture which feeds the cumulo nimbus clouds rising as you watch them.

I have a strong association with Goondiwindi and the Railway Cricket Club. A few mates of mine have worked at the Uni of Queensland vet science field station. Some stayed for years having fallen in love with the beautifully paced life, the cold bitter ale at the Victoria Hotel, and a few of the squatters’ daughters. They set up their own practice, and made a hydrobath out of a massive chemical bin and a few hoses (back in the day when the MacIntyre had water). The boys rarely woke to anything less than sun and hungover in equally fierce proportions.

I used to come to Goondi to visit them on occasions and was at one dinner party where the chef, a bloke called Kruges (who peaked academically as dux at Downlands in the early 80s) became so disorientated by the frivolity of XXXX beer, gin and tonic and the waft of Cheech and Chongs recreational smoke that he forgot to cook the dinner. We didn’t care because it was a hot night, Sonia (a squatter’s daughter) was looking all summery gorgeous and we knew the hydrobath would save us at any time we chose.

I also met Hoff round then. His father, a certifiable ratbag in that nineteenth century sort of way, proprietor and editor of the local paper, The Goondiwindi Argus, one of the few papers privately owned between Dubbo and Cooktown. He used to indulge a few of his mates including the highly erudite Kruges whose beautiful prose he would commit to the front page even if it was about the Test in England or the local comp. Kruges played for Railway CC, a club which had known zero success since it was formed in 1947, but amazingly won the premiership last summer.

Kruges was a handy medium pacer, and a stubborn tailender; stubborn in the way you’d expect a dairy farmers’ son from the red soil of Crows Nest to be. He hadn’t played for years – 13 in fact – when he was roped into playing for Railways by the skipper Mr Potter, known to all as Pol, because of his leadership style.

Pol Pot’s only saving grace was that he picked Hoff every week. Hoff ensured his selection by having the seed company he worked for put $200 on the bar every Saturday evening.

When I did my Ashes tour in 1998-99 I went through Goondi. I didn’t have time to stop. I was in my 1982 Holden Camira – Wheels car of the year that year (on the strength of it being able to traverse the length of the Hume from the MCG to the SCG on one tank of fuel. And Kruges later joined me for the Melbourne test after which and Gideon Haigh, Kruges and I headed for the Sydney test together, which required more than one tank of fuel and the blessing of the Camira gods to keep the electrics working. Darren Gough took a hat-trick.

The Camira was on her last legs then but she hung on for a while until she started to blow so much smoke that sitting at traffic lights was fraught with danger and if a copper was behind me approaching a red light I’d actually pull off the road rather than risk bad rings and and a narky member of the Queensland constabulary.

Until it finally happened. Waiting to turn right into Gladstone Road at Highgate Hill, not far from Angus Rabbit’s TAB it took two changes of the lights and when I finally took off the squad car behind me was buried in smoke like in the cartoons. I was booked and told I had a month to get the car fixed or it was off the road forever.

When news of this predicament reached Goondi, Youngy, the local copper, and Railways opening bowler, said not to worry, the Camira fell well within the astautes as interpreted by his good self at Goondiwindi.

So I drove to Goondi, the day Skalato won the Caulfield Guineas and Umrum was a certainty in the Toorak – I backed them both – and donated her to the Railway CC. They gave me a bottle of 1994 Grange. She became the man of the match award each Saturday. The announcement was made by Kenny the Key Keeper at the Railway around 9, and it was, I’m told, an honour to drive her around for the week. The boys put a cricket ball on top of the gear stick, and three stumps like a Mercedes badge on the bonnet.

It was awarded on a handicap system. Stan, a local primary school teacher and an absolute gun once made a ton and took 5-for, but didn’t win it because that’s what he was expected to do. Whereas if Hoff got off the mark he was a chance.

The club also sold each of the nine panels to local business houses to advertise on, so the Camira now looks like something out of the Redex rally but the boys haven’t paid subs or ball fees since 2002.

She’s still going. Just. She he was off the road at the time of the grand final against Yageburn last March, so they hooked her up and Hoff towed her to the ground. And they won. I mentioned their victory on Offsiders as it was the most worthy sporting highlight of the week.

There will be few highlights to come out of this Hobart Test. It’s a dead rubber, and when R. T. Ponting was dropped on nought and went on to make his fifth Test double century it was a bit like having a quintuple bogey on the opening hole of the final round of the British open and being allowed to write a birdie down on the card. (Which is a laboured analogy I know, but we’ve just traveled for eight hours with two kids to wind up in an ant-infested motel in Narrabri).

But the radio commentary was OK. Even Drew told an interesting story about A.A. Mailey being his local butcher in Cronulla when he was a kid. And I was impressed that Peter Roebuck knew who Phil Taylor was.

But the Pakistanis were disappointing and there was more talk about the wine list at the restaurant that K. O’Keefe and the crew were going to, than serious analysis of cricket that lacked life.

I’d say there’s more life in the Railway CC’s defence of its flag, if you want to make the trip north this weekend. Apparently they’re pulling huge cod from the rivers up here at the moment. A bloke at a service station in Moree told me that.

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 – Theo9, Anna8, Evie6.

He might not be the worst putter in the world but he’s in the worst three.

His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

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