Almanac Life: The Age of Corona

 

Spotted in a Currumbin car park in 2018 – deserved a photo. This looks like a 1976(ish) Corona. JTH’s was a little older. Same mustard colour though.

 

 

This dastardly virus is not the first Age of Corona I’ve endured. I had almost three years of Corona-worry back in the late 1980s.

 

At the end of 1984, having miraculously secured my Arts degree from the University of Queensland (at that time it was like a resort tucked into the St Lucia reach of the Brisbane River) in History and Maths, I put everything I owned – a Gray-Nich cricket bag, a set of golf clubs, a dinner jacket and a single removalists’ carton stuffed with clothes, a pewter mug, and a few books and papers – into the back of my Mini Moke, put a Dean Martin tape into the radio-cassette player on the front seat, and (top-down) headed for Adelaide.

 

The following year I did just enough to squeeze a Dip Ed out of Flinders University. During that time, I learnt that a Mini Moke was not ideal for Adelaide conditions. To a Queenslander, it felt like Adelaide was shrouded in a Lancastrian mizzle.

 

Just as miraculously, I landed a job back in Brisbane. I gave The Moke (as it was known) to my brother for Christmas and caught a flight back to the warmth of The North. I was to teach Maths and Phys Ed at a small Lutheran secondary school among the market gardens and custard apple orchards on the south-eastern fringe of Brisbane.

 

When I got there, I needed a car. I needed Yatso.

 

During my undergraduate years I’d played at the University of Queensland Cricket Club (and returned to the club once back in Brisbane). The first team I played in was skippered by Gazza, a legendary mid-thirties clubman (the treasurer) and estates lawyer who had, by stealth and deception, put together a strong (on paper), Fourth Grade side. A few of them should have been playing up the grades. I started as the archetypal fill-in player but cemented my spot because I played 500 and understood the restorative qualities of Bundaberg rum. Our side included a combination of undergrads and good-old-boy alumni.

 

The opening bowling attack was made up of two blokes a good twenty years my senior: one, a distinguished academic, the geographer Geoffrey Mac, and the other not. That was Yatso. Indeed, in the days when, to play for Uni you needed to be a student or a graduate, how Yatso qualified for the team was a mystery to me. That was until I learnt, late one night, having just lost an ambitious Slam Hearts bid, that half a term at Kelvin Grove Teachers’ College in 1963 was enough to keep the QCA officials happy.

 

Both had been good bowlers in their day. Geoff Mac still hit the pitch hard and did a bit with the ball. Yatso was hanging on to that particular outswinger that’s produced by the classic side-on action of the 1950s and `60s. However, we found ourselves in the Year of our Lord that was 1981. Which presented its challenges. At the height of his delivery stride he became the victim of Physics, his ample girth taking control, such that he was never able to raise his head sufficiently to see where the ball had pitched, what shot the batsman had played, or to which part of the outfield he’d been dispatched. Momentum carried him well up the track. When, eventually, he came to a halt, he instinctively grabbed at the top of his creams. He’d turn, hitch (he tried to wear the cricket pant over rather than under the tum), and huff, and demand the ball back quickly as he charged back to his mark (during the early overs of his first spell).

 

Everything about Yatso was big. He was a big Zorba man, with bucket hands, a big Fred Flintstone head, a big voice and a bigger laugh. He had a tendency not to listen. This occurred in pretty much every facet of his life: professional, social, matrimonial, cricketing. You knew he wasn’t listening when he superimposed “Yeah mate. Yeah mate. Yeah mate” over everything you were saying to him.

 

“Hey, Yatso. This bloke’s getting a long way across,” Gazza would say, walking towards him from mid-off. (Gazza was a mid-off sort of captain.)

 

“Yeah mate. Yeah mate. Yeah mate.”

 

For a young bloke Yatso was a character in a team of characters. They partied, but they were also good at what they did, or were preparing themselves to do. Apart from Prof Mac, the team included a medical student who went on to do research at Cambridge, helped pioneer heart-lung transplants, and ran hospitals; a GP; a young solicitor; an economist; a mathematician who become a serious actuary in Canberra; and another one who developed maths education strategies. And then there was Yatso. Yatso owned a used car yard on Logan Road in Holland Park. Classic old Brisbane.

 

He looked after vehicular needs of the students in the team. One ended up the owner of a VW Beetle that had seen better days. He’d gone to see Yatso on a very hot day. They were standing outside the pre-fab that was the office looking across the yard.

 

“Look at the Beetle mate,” Yatso said. “Look at it. What a beauty!”

 

“Well, we better have a look,” our pimply student suggested.

 

“Nah mate. Nah. You can see enough from here. Look at the boots on it,” Yatso said, gesturing towards the car.

 

“Boots?”

 

“Tyres mate,” Yatso explained. “Look at `em.”

 

It was enough to clinch the sale.

 

Rumbo was sold a Leyland Marina which he did not even test drive. “Don’t worry about tryin’ it mate,” Yatso said. “The Test’s about to start on the telly, mate. You wanna get home, mate. See that first ball. Get that first beer into ya.”

 

I was there with Rumbo that very hot morning. I had never seen Yatso in work clobber before. He wore short-sleeved business shirt, tailored shorts (small) which he wore under his belly, and long white socks. He had surprisingly skinny legs, and no backside at all. He had the build of a bloke who, in Queensland terms, had “drunk his arse off.” Many of these types, educated by the Christian Brothers around Brisbane, were to be found drinking tinnies in the Don Tallon Bar at the Gabba, Telegraph under the armpit, watching the final Friday session of Shield matches.

 

Rumbo was persuaded and we drove back to his joint in what became known as ‘The Ancient Marina’ home – in time for the first ball of the Test match.

 

So, when I got to Brisbane carless, in keeping with tradition, I knew Yatso was my man. He’d retired from club cricket and I hadn’t seen him for three years or so. I gave him a call.

 

“Yeah, come out mate. Have a look mate. Yeah mate. We got somethin’. Yeah mate. Yeah.”

 

I got to his establishmnet and we wandered down towards the fag end of the car yard.

 

“Darky, mate,” he said, as we ambled along. “Whattya spendin’?”

 

“About 3000.”

 

“Dark, for that brass you’re lookin’ Stralian six, 120 thou on the clock. No air. You won’t get air for that. Good boots. Strong. Or you’re lookin’ mid-70s Japanese four. Good ks. No air.”

 

He paused.

 

“But mate, you don’t want one of those six cylinder Aussie bastards. They’re petrol guzzlers mate. Deadset guzzlers. Ya lookin’ Jap mate. Yeah mate. Go the Jap mate. I’dbe going the Jap mate. Yeah mate. Yeah mate. Go the bloody Jap mate.”

 

By sheer coincidence our discussion finished just as we got to a very ordinary looking 1974 Toyota Corona. He tapped it. “Dark, mate, this has got you all over it.”

 

He’d just traded it. Mustard. 135,000 on the clock. He’d done nothing to it.

 

“How much?” I asked.

 

“$3400,” he said.

 

“It needs a bit of work,” I suggested.

 

“Yeah mate. Yeah mate. Yeah mate.”

 

I bought it. He charged me $3000.

 

I got it home.

 

My first concern came the following morning when my new second-hand Corona wouldn’t start. I rang Yatso and he insisted the RACQ sort it out. Which they did. Temporarily. A matter of weeks later the engine blew up. Yatso did the right thing and replaced the engine. Within weeks it blew up again. Warranty covered that engine, but not the inconvenience, nor doubt.

 

The car never ran well. I must have owned the only Toyota that’s ever overheated. It had that oil-on-the-engine smell about it. All of the time.

 

It might have had a fresh, reconditioned engine, but towards the end of 1987 it was struggling. At the end of the school year I took it down to Brunswick Heads where a few of us played a week-long golf tournament we had at Ocean Shores each December – I reckon it was the year of The Muscular Christianity Stableford Classic. Coming home, the (third) engine blew up on the Banora Point hill. A dodgy mechanic got it back on the road a week and $600 later.

 

But I was loyal to my Corona. It had terrible compression and getting the beast going was a lottery. I was always calling the RACQ. One mecahnic shook his head. He was a Sri Lankan fellow with a very polished English public school accent. We talked cricket for ages and he lent towards me and said, “I am sorry but your car is terrible. I strongly advise you get a new car.”

 

He managed to start it. As far as I was concerned, all my problems were solved.

 

In Grade 11 Maths I that day, I resolved to page through the Courier Mail for new car ads. The first one I could afford I would buy. There was an ad for the Daihatsu Charade, on sale, for $8990. I went to the dealership in Moorooka and said to the bloke, “See that dark blue Charade over there, wrap it up.”

 

He made me go for a test drive. He also got me to start the Corona and he had a look. I kept quiet. As we were negotiating the deal he offered a $3200 trade. I did my best not to splutter. I signed as quickly as I could.

 

Before school, on the day that I was to pick up my new Charade, the Corona wouldn’t start. I rang the RACQ roadside-help number. The yellow truck turned the corner. It was the same Sri Lankancricket-lover.

 

He was pissed off. I told him the story. He got the Corona going and he said, “Seriously, my friend, this car has about two starts left in it.”

 

I got to school. I turned the Corona off. After school I sat in the carpark trying to get the Corona to turnover. Eventually it did. En route to Moorooka I had to go to the bank to pick up the cheque. I was worried. I decided I’d leave the car running outside the bank while I went inside.

 

It all went to plan. Within minutes I was back in the Corona and cruising happily to Moorooka Daihatsu. There was a great sense of relief as I rolled into the dealership. I parked right at the door of the sales office, turned the Corona off, took the keys from the ignition triumphantly and headed in.

 

As I got to the counter a salesman appeared. “Mate,” he said, “Is that your car?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Do you mind moving it?”

 

 

**

 

 

A decade or so later I wrote a version of this story for Modern Nomad. Yatso was called Smithy in the piece. The used car fraternity of which Yatso had been part had kicked on and now his mates ran major new car dealerships around boom-time Brisbane. They had no trouble identifying Smithy as their great mate. The bloke who had the Mercedes dealership somehow found me. “We’re taking you to lunch,” he said.

 

About a dozen of us went to Tatts. We’d started with a couple of beers and were sitting in the dining room looking at menus when Yatso appeared. He had no idea what was happening, but he’d be told to come an hour after everyone else.

 

He spotted me, and realised immediately. He came over, put out his giant hand, shook mine, and slapped me on the back.

 

“Maaaaate,” he said.

 

It was one of the great lunches. A post-Corona lunch. I’m looking forward to one of those.

 

 

 

Read more from John Harms HERE

 

 

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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 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 [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie9. 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. That’s a cracking tale. Never owned a Corona but did own a pale blue Datsun 200B. Indestructible. Not even my old mate Sean could kill it.

  2. Grand yarn. Though its got nothing on the Cortina Virus. Who knew clutches could have a cable? I got so good at double declutching I should have been driving semi’s.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    What a fine piece – fun to read! The cricket bits reminded me of the season and a half I played for Deakin Uni in the Southern Districts B Grade comp. We played bush and coastal teams in the vicinity of Geelong. I went from backyard cricket to a fair dinkum competiton, which was a steep step up. I think it was the only time I played sport and ended the season less fit than I started it – too many after-training or post-match barbeques and sessions of great conviviality.

  4. In December ’73 I bought a brand new white Toyota Corona, trading in my ’62 Vauxhall Velox on it. At first I was really pleased with it then little things began bugging me. After just over 2 years the battery conked out. Then the fan belt stripped . Not long after the radiator (or so I thought) began to leak. It turned out to be a hose join to the radiator under pressure leaked. Then rust started appearing. For all that it was ok for getting me from A to B and I did numerous fishing trips in it. Finally, in ’91, a complete rust bucket by then, the wreckers took it away and I bought a Datsun .These days I drive an automatic Mitsubishi – wouldn’t go back to a Manuel for quids.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Que? Fisho

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Did Yatso also have a cousin with a yard on Grand Junction Road, Wingfield? A dodgy fuel pump and suspect welch plugs killed my first purchase before the Queens Birthday. I bought it in late March.

  7. Rulebook says

    Well played,JTH v entertaining

  8. Suzie bliss says

    Hey ! Let’s not forget the ‘Camira’ JTH ! Preceding the ‘Corona’ ? As referenced in Play On!!! Chapter ‘car of the year’

  9. Andrew Ingleton says

    JTH,
    Great story and reminds me of when I bought a Kingswood for $1500 with 150k km on the clock(probably second time round) off my mate Shark Bell. No boot lock so a screwdriver in the glovebox and missing back window(triangular) exactly the same as my fathers Kingswood. Proudly set off from Melbourne to Ballarat to show the old man only for The automatic transmission to fail at Ballan. Only the reverse gear engaged so I reversed with the traffic all the way to Ballarat. 35km later I reversed into my parents home and spent the rest of the weekend arguing about whether I should have reversed with or against the traffic. I spent $400 on a new transmission and headed off to the Sharks to accuse him of being the Arthur Daley of our chemistry lab. He just laughed and bought it back off me for $900 5 years later! Thanks for the laugh. Undies

  10. Marcus Holt says

    I snorted at your last line JTH ! I was too young to drive back then, other than doing endless unauthorised three point turns in the backyard in Dad’s work ute, and a nighttime excursion around Toowoomba in the Toyota Crown when the parents were out for the night, all of this a couple of years before reaching legal driving age, but, Dad had the BP servo on the corner of Cavendish Rd in Holland Park so I feel like I know the territory Yatso operated in. My Nan and Pa had an earlier model Corona, the boxy shaped one, which bore a multitude of scars due to my Grandfather being a seriously bad driver. A trip to the shops up High St Northcote with Pa was never accepted lightly!

  11. A cracker of yarn, JTH.
    Well played.

  12. Great yarn JTH. I love a cricket story about the characters we play with. Yatso sounds like he could transition to “colourful racing identity” with minimal training.

    I turned my back on Holdens in my mid-twenties and bought a Nissan Exa, the wedge-shaped, two door, sports car from Main North Nissan. Heading to Kapunda and most excited it stalled as I went through the Gepps Cross intersection, probably the worst place in Adelaide to stall. I got it going after a few moments not unlike those of Dennis Weaver in Duel. Despite ongoing mechanical issues I kept it for over a decade although disappointingly the odometer died at 297,000 and I didn’t get my Tubby Taylor in Peshawar moment of glory.

  13. Thanks for all of the comments.I think there’s some follow up yarns waiting to be written if any of you have the time. I’m particularly intrigued by the A. Ingleton odyssey.

    Nice mention of the Crown the noble father of the bastard Corona.

    To be fair to Toyota, The Handicapper had a 1994 Corolla Sica which had 260,000 on the clock (without missing a beat) until it was nicked from the front of our joint last September. Great car.

    Suzie, the Camira came after. I think the sequence was Moke, Corona, Daihatsu Charade 1, Daihatsu Charade 2,1984 Volvo, 1973 Superbug, Camira. There’s a story in each of them – quite a few of which are told somewhere – mainly Modern Nomad in The Oz. Must dig them out. But I always wanted a 1969 Monaro.

  14. Thea Allan says

    Thanks John, You made my day.
    Undies, I can see you driving backwards from Ballan to Ballarat. Amazing Skill (and Luck!)

  15. JTH – that could be the best list of shit-box cars I’ve ever seen. Camiras were only good for providing rusty bodies in empty paddocks. And the 1984 Volvo had a lifespan of about 12 months. Shocking vehicles.

    Didn’t know your Sica got nicked?

  16. Been thinking about my car ownership trail. I think it goes as follows:
    1967 Kingswood Premier (Tri-matic if you don’t mind. Bucket seats).
    Holden Commodore 1979?
    Datsun 200B
    Datsun 240K (awesome car. Cost me $1,000).
    Daewoo Espero – had a brilliant CD player.
    Ford Falcon station wagon
    Holden Commodore brand new.
    Holden Astra
    Ford Territory 2010
    VW Golf.2014

    Favourite car? 240K Painted in East German grey.

  17. great STORY !!! the doppelganger effect that I share with you John… continues
    I’m now back from the Arctic teaching at the same school amongst new developments now being built …. not custard apples in the southern suburbs of Brisbane
    and I did own two Mini Mokes … the first a dirty yellow one with the 1100 cc motor called the Possum the second an electric blue 1275 with BMW sports wheel mags Gemini seats instead of the deck chairs
    and wouldn’t you know it when I headed off of an odyssey to work in LA with street kids and then Bombay with the same demographic literally it was Holly wood to Bollywood
    and wouldn’t you know it!!!! I gave the second Moke to my little brother !!! Scary coincidence or just legends eyeing each other off in the universe
    Still can’t understand how I’m a Tiger and you are Cat but hey they are part of the same Genus

  18. Noel Lipp says

    Great read, John. It’s amazing how cricket, cars and teaching can provide such a great framework for life stories.

  19. I think you may have stumbled on a new genre – the list of cars you’ve owned. Yours is also intriguing – and no doubt you have stories. I should have gone pre-Moke and mentioned the 1968 Morris 1100.

    Richard, I’m starting to get concerned. If you are currently driving a Honda Odyysey that would cap it off.

    Good to hear from my old maths teacher: hello again Mr Lipp. Most of the cars of our beloved Toowoomba cricketers were utes and panel vans.

  20. Excellent concept.

    1967 HR Holden sedan (sky blue)
    1973 HQ Holden Kingswood (white)
    1985 VK Holden Commodore (glacier white)
    1984 Nissan Exa (white)
    2006 Hyundai Elantra (blue)
    2008 Hyundai Tuscon (black)
    2014 Subaru Forester (white).

    Up one day- 1964 EH Holden sedan.

  21. Can’t see you in a Volvo somehow JTH.
    Dad and mum bought a brand new Corona in ’75. An SE basic (No cassette player). The lightest faded green you could imagine. Brown seats. I quite enjoyed driving it actually. Got rid of it for mum about 26 years later. A true 1 owner and the bugger still tried to knock me down. “But it’s got all the papers!”

  22. Ben Fenton-Smith says

    Excellent work John. The Moorooka miracle mile hasn’t changed much and is now getting it’s rightful recognition in Australian literature after this piece and Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe.

  23. So JTH I am getting concerned –
    I have a similar vehicle in the same class the Honda’s chief competitor a far superior machine that is also a 7 seater the magnificent silver Toyota Avensis !!! Tell me your Honda isn’t silver!!!

    For what its worth
    1976 1100 Mini Moke Dull Yellow
    1978 1275 Mini Moke Elecric blue
    1982 Honda accord 1800 3 door Hatch sensational machine did over 350 000 km in that car
    1985 XE Ford Falcon 6 cylinder alloy head Wagon ” The Ox!!!”
    1991 Skinny Camry wagon Maroon
    1992 Turquiose 1800 Corolla Hatchback
    2000 Holden Astra 1800 silver
    1998 Suzuki Vitara 5 door 6 cylinder Maroon
    2008 Toyota 2.2 Avensis

  24. Richard, our Honda is known as the BSC. Big Silver Car.

    Ben, I need to read that book

    DJS, the Volvo story involves a little old lady and a sympathetic uni mate.

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