Almanac Life: 13 Passengers



The Bush Inn, Toorak



Thursday nights were big back then. We could barely wait to get off the track, into the shower, and then into our civvies.


After footy training, and a quick drink in the clubrooms, a designated driver would be appointed. No-one wanted to volunteer for this most unglamourous of tasks, but there was a loose agreement that we would take it in turns to be the person who remained sober for the evening. Despite a jaunty beginning to proceedings, the designated driver’s enjoyment would inevitably deteriorate in inverse proportion to the drunkenness of his mates. Often was the time that the driver would call “time” and attempt to cajole and roust the lads into his vehicle, only to be thwarted by the riposte “Let’s have just one more!” However, it was an unwritten rule that when the designated driver signalled his departure, he was under no obligation to wait for the slow coaches – they would quickly need to weigh up the lift leaving immediately versus an expensive taxi home later.


It hardly made sense back then, and it still doesn’t some thirty-eight years later, but our Thursday night destination of choice was the Bush Inn, in the salubrious suburb of Toorak. It meant a drive across the Westgate Bridge from Williamstown, but a couple of our crew had attended St Kevin’s, and this was a pub at which their old schoolmates drank. The trip across town was made even more enticing by the knowledge that plenty of girls, most of them former students of Mandeville and Sacre Coeur, hung out there also. Us “Willy” boys were more than a crosstown drive away from home – this was a world away.


From time to time, word would spread like wildfire through the crowd that an after-party had been organized at the home of some unfortunate soul. Agreeing to be the designated driver was one thing, but I could not even imagine what would bring a person to throw open their home to a couple of hundred drunks from the boozer. But no-one wanted to miss out on an after-party, where the vibe was generally a little looser and more unstructured. When ‘last drinks’ were called, inevitable was the ensuing scramble to source a ride to the after-party.


I was sober on the night that fourteen people squeezed into my old EH Holden. I was the designated driver who agreed to seating four of us on the front bench seat (myself, Tommy, and twin sisters whose names I cannot recall), six more on the rear bench seat, and a further four in the back of the station-wagon. When you are 18, and a girl (or seven) asks for a lift, what are you to do? It was all a bit of a hoot.


I had a vague idea of where we were headed, but the cacophony of thirteen passengers yelling directions was fogging up the windscreen. As the suspension groaned and steering became more difficult, I suggested that the twin crushed against me should operate the gearstick, because I could not reach it – and I wanted to keep both hands on the wheel. The gearbox screamed blue murder as the girl struggled to manoeuvre the gearstick from second into third. “I don’t have my driver’s licence” she croaked. Now, I sensed doubts creeping in to a teenaged brain that was brash and bulletproof only moments before.


Coasting downhill toward the Yarra River was a cinch, but on Alexandra Avenue I went to make a right-hand turn. The oncoming traffic seemed far enough away, but in that crazy moment I forgot to factor in the onboard load which the EH was now resisting vehemently. I turned the wheel, I put my foot on the accelerator flat to the floor. The motor responded grudgingly, meekly, and we made it across the intersection. In the fast-approaching headlights, Tommy looked out the passenger-side window to see his life flash before his eyes. Our Under-19s team were a coat of paint away from being unable to field a team two days later. The remainder of the journey was less eventful, but more subdued, for a few of the passengers had been wise to our brush with tragedy.


I am told that the party was a belter. I did not go in; on arrival I announced to my mates that I was heading home and did anyone want a lift? On the trek back over the Westgate, I found the old Holden much more appreciative of a cargo of only one.



You can read more from Smokie HERE.


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Thanks Smokie. Great yarn and much head-nodding here on my patio. Years ago when I first heard that the male brain doesn’t reach maturity until the mid-twenties I was affronted (I was probably 23) but since I’ve seen no reason to dispute this!

    When I finally have my mid-life crisis proper I am buying an EH sedan. Stay tuned!

    Was also put in mind of ‘Three Dead Passengers in a Stolen Second Hand Ford’ by Dave Graney-

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I thought that this was going to be a story about North Melbourne last week when I saw the title.

  3. A night you’ll not forget Smokie. We have all had them!

  4. Colin Ritchie says

    It’s amazing what we did when we were younger, often without considering the consequences. Couldn’t do it these days!

  5. Clearly somebody cheaped out, buying only the 149 motor…the 179 would never have dragged its heels like that!!

    Out of dire necessity, I got 11 Primary School. cricketers into an NA Pajero to go home after a game in about 1991. Never try it these days. In under 14 basketball we had 6 kids in the coach’s Mini every Saturday arvo, plus a ball and score sheet. But I dips me lid to 14 in an EH. Well done and good story, too.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Nine players, the coach and the scorer found their way to our u/13s baseball game in 1972/3. Coach drove a Beetle.

  7. Roger Lowrey says

    Strange as it may seem Smokie, I have done a couple of nights like that myself.

    Mine featured an outstandingly sturdy Toyota Corolla which accommodated many more passengers than its showcase design catalogue ever anticipated.

    But we all ended up happy and cheerful in our own way. Perhaps more by accident than by design I should suggest..


  8. Smokie, we saw a lovely Green EH station wagon on the weekend. It moved so fast I couldn’t see if there was 179 badge on the tailgate !

    Not too many EH’s on the road anymore. In my youth, late 70’s, early 80’s quite common, quite popular.

    I remember when I was young.


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