Almanac Summer: Simple Lethargic Motion

 

 

 

 

I’m back in Oakey, Up North.

 

Time slows here. I’m at 1970s pace again, maybe slower.

 

This afternoon it was 30-something, but felt hotter with the sun radiating off the parched grass. Parched? It’s usually summer green.

 

We sat in the shade of the veranda – Australian necessity’s fine invention.

 

A single black and white butterfly was hanging around, waiting for a set, then surfing the edge of a zephyr. Patient butterfly. We were thankful – for butterflies and zephyrs.

 

Grandfather set up the hammocks. The kids swung back and forth. Simple Lethargic Motion. Then discovered they could bang into each other. They started singing the jingle from that ad. Kids from The People’s Republic of Northcote finding their Inner Queenslander. Is The Newton Cradle Bundaberg’s or Sir Isaac’s?

 

We sat at the veranda table doing nothing. It was an effort to laugh with the kids. But we raised the effort.

 

Then quiet. Except for the backbeat of the cicadas. The tyres of the neighbour’s ute on the coarse gravel road.

 

A crow farked from the stand of drab-grey eucalypts.

 

When an occasional cloud slid across the sun, the roof creaked heavily in response. The cloud passed. A return creak.

 

There was no point trying too hard. We knew that. Best to wait a few hours to see off the heat, then start again.

 

But where were we up to?

 

The sorghum looks healthy thanks to the pre-Christmas rain. Since then, no rain. Nearly four weeks. Unusual for summer. A stormless new year? And none for a week or so says David the farmer.

 

The Bureau says the same – more confidently but with less precision.

 

The cattle were somewhere.

 

The hours passed. The sun dropped. It was a huge orange ball over the back of Millmerran (or somewhere down that way), slipping away quickly (to Goondi and then Bourke) on the more-orange horizon. No storm tonight.

 

We took the kids up the top paddock to watch it. They found (very big) ants – and the cattle. The twilight was magnificent. Queensland cool. You could smell the eucalypt on the breeze: lemon. And the last of the day’s dust. Lemon getting on top, with a break in the second set.

 

We had a beer. Then dinner. We rescued an old bottle of Coonawarra Cab-Sav. It had seen twenty summers under the steps in cellar-less Queensland. Ambitious. The wine promised a lot early. But didn’t quite deliver.

 

The kids did their own thing. We could hear them laughing and laughing and laughing. Like cousins who see each other once or twice a year. Learning quickly. Thinking the best. No time for real battles. Remembering their funniest stories and jokes.

 

The adults went to bed, but I was happy enough with the last of the Cab-Sav and the midnight chatter of the kids in the next room. I checked my email. (Who on earth imposed email on Oakey?)

 

I spotted an email from Shane Backx whom I like to call my friend even though we haven’t met. He knows my mind and has introduced me to some Facebook groups confident they would lift my spirits. He sends me notices for ‘Pubs your Father and Gramps Drank In’ which is a beaut page. While checking out some remote pub (where S. Backx has probably had a few sessions) I noticed in the margin a promo for another page: Greek Cafes and Milk Bars of Australia. Had to have a look.

 

It’s a tremendous site which seems to have emerged to support a book about Greek cafes, which I must buy. It made me think of Phil Dimitriadis and other friends of Greek heritage who grew up in their families’ cafes. And of the wonderful Florentzos family who ran the Cecil Cafe in the main street of Oakey in the 60s and 70s.

 

Having established the Cecil Cafe (very successfully) as a haven for locals, travelling salesmen, bank johnnies, drinkers from the Western Line Hotel, they leased it to a couple, Peter and Bev, who carried on the tradition while themselves running the Oakey Hardware Store.

 

As a high school student I worked at the Cecil Cafe. I learnt to make a proper burger with the lot (rissole, bacon, egg, cooked onion, cheese, pineapple, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, BBQ sauce on a buttered toasted roll squished in the toasted sandwich maker), peel spuds (by centrifugal force) and slice them and leave them to soak in a bucket of water, blanch the chips for the next day (chips had to be twice-cooked) and shave spuds for decent potato scallops (potato cakes Down South), put nicks in the cabana and drop it into the oil, squeeze oranges, lemons and pineapples for ice-cold juice, dip the ladle into the vats for malted milks (and thickshakes with scoops of icecream), straighten the chocolate (Black Cat?) and glazed fruit boxes, among other tasks. The mixed grill was superb. So was the seafood basket – despite that old rule to never buy seafood west of the Great Divide. (How did we source Tasmanian scallops in Oakey?) The T-bone was huge. (Do you want an egg with that?) Coke was about 24 cents a can then. And you could hear the roll of the pinball on the wooden 1950s machine (Was it Ace High?)

 

The Cecil Café is now Café Cecil. It’s closed. The Warrego Highway by-passes Oakey now.

 

It was well into the night and the kids were finally asleep. Holiday exhaustion.

 

I turned off the lap-top.

 

I had a look outside. Up at the night sky. So clear in the bush.

 

The Universe is enormous, as Theo keeps telling me. He has made me re-think.

 

He loves Physics. He grasps ‘big’.

 

I believe in Simple Lethargic Motion.

 

 

 

 

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 j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo11, Anna9, Evie8. 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. I’m having a muesli and fruit breakfast, sipping an oolong tea on our back veranda and now craving a mixed grill! Thanks mate. Love your storytelling JTH; seeing the ordinary as something more. And I’m wishing I was going to spend my day in a hammock. Cheers

  2. Sitting on the train to the Blue mountains and all I can see are brick houses – oh, I do miss the lovely old Queenslander and the wrap-around verandah! I can feel the memory.

    The hamburger reminiscence reminds me of a time in the 80s on our cycle trip from Brissie to Melbourne. Somewhere in a small country town we stopped for a feed. Marshall: hamburger with the lot, please. Jan: hamburger, but without the meat, please.
    Shock, horror! “I can’t do that!” “ Oh, why can’t you?” “ Well, I just can’t, the hamburgers snd the buns won’t match”. “ What do you mean?” “If I don’t use the hamburger I’ll have one over….”
    “ Ok, just make a hamburger with the lot and throw out the meat”
    And so it went on! She eventually made the hamburger, wouldn’t throw out the meat, we paid for two with the lot, I removed the meat and handed it back to her to do as liked with it.

    Nice relaxing story. Enjoy
    Jan

  3. G’day JTH,

    Thanks for sharing the lovely family holiday story. Are you staying / Have you stayed at a holiday house? Do you own it if so?

    I researched about Oakey and found it’s a small town inland Qld. It seems a lovely place.

    Occasionally to be honest, I wish I could spend quiet times in the bush as I need to escape from busy urban life seeing and dealing with too many people. And I think it’s the nature of human being.

    I love footy and visiting Melbourne for footy games is my favourite, but I need to touch the nature. I have to weigh up my holiday destinations…

    Are you playing cricket over there too?

    Cheers

    Yoshi

  4. Thanks R.Kane. Hammocks have their place.

    There’s a diagnosis waiting for that burger flipper Jan.

    Yoshi, we were staying at Grandfather’s farm. Oakey is a typical inland Queensland town. I wouldn’t describe it as a holiday destination – but you can certainly take it easy there. It was too hot for cricket. I did play a few holes of golf one evening. I was the only one on the course. I think if you go to Queensland you could start at the coast somewhere (many possibilities) and head inland for a couple of nights. Cheers.

  5. JTH- I reckon this is what many today might describe as an essay on mindfulness and locating joy. Thanks very much.

    Jan – your comment reminded me of the opening to I Make Hamburgers by the great Whitlams.

    My first customer was Megan
    She came in for a hamburger with the lot – no meat
    “Hey that’s a salad roll” I said and we started going out

  6. Reading it made the pulse slow a few beats. Half way to Queensland time? SW WA’s summer has been very mild to date. But the week of 100+ (centigrade is the devil’s work) starts Saturday. Always timed for the tennis in Melbourne.
    I was picking apricots near Swan Reach and listening to the tennis/cricket on the pocket tranny in Jan 2006. Rebuilding a life. The World Today in the lunch break was all about the announcement of a State Funeral for Kerry Packer at the Opera House in February.
    “Rather him than me”, I thought. And was unexpectedly grateful for the work and the money, and my mate, and the evening beers we shared on the caravan park verandah. From little things……………….

  7. Thea Allan says:

    Thank you for sharing to fb.
    Not getting the weekly posts, I have refound my old friends through your posts. I had missed you all so much.
    Central Victoria has been uncharacteristically HOT this week.
    Have not had three days of above 40C for a number of years.
    I love hearing of what you have done in another life. The stories remind ms of the film , Wonen in Black..
    Looking forward to seeing the Cats W playing tbis year. Been a long time coming

  8. Anthony W Collins says:

    You should do the right thing and keep coming north … your kids would love to forage dinosaurs fossils in that dirt between Winton and Richmond.
    Pleased to have you back in Queensland.

  9. Yvette Wroby says:

    The words and sounds of contentment JTH, love your story telling and the feel of Qld through your words. Love the kids and can imagine them all dinging into each other like the ad. The power of advertising indeed.

    My sound is the oven slowly making more trays of apricot strips from the last of the apricots from 3 trees. All set now for apricot needs for another year.

    Keep enjoying.

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Beautifully meandering and reflective piece, JTH. Like a river gently flowing past old ground and seeing new things.
    Nature really does replenish the senses.
    I often wondered where I got my enjoyment from conversing with people. Never really had conversations of any substance with parents or siblings. However, from a young age in Mum and Dad’s milk bars, I loved talking to customers and hearing their stories. Greek cafes and milk bars site is a beauty. Will have to find some old photos to share.
    Theo is on the money.
    Enjoy the holiday and memories of the ‘Cecil’. Cheers

  11. Andrew Starkie says:

    sent me to sleep, Harms. In a good way. Could feel and smell the heat.

    What’s the name of the Greek cafe, main drag, Gundagai?

  12. Trevor Blainey says:

    our week of nothing much starts on Saturday. doing nothing much is an underrated past time. doing nothing much where the cicadas and the waves (in our case) provide the soundtrack is a gift. doing nothing much with kids providing the chuckles and the noise is not to be wished away. it passes you by in a heartbeat. then there’s a gap and then you start going places with them again. you’ve got a lot to look forward to.

  13. Very nicely paced, JTH.
    This piece had me meandering along with you.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    You’ve both given your three kids a gift for life John/Susan with your regular summer breaks. Do they look forward to them, remember them, enjoy them? Do they appreciate the idea that doing nothing can be a worthwhile way to pass the time?

    Thanks, I needed this.

  15. Colin Ritchie says:

    There’s something about those laid back summer holidays with family, where time stands still and entertainment has to be created, the best kind. My wife’s family had a holiday shack at Balnarring Beach built by her grandfather not long after he came back from the first world war. It was very rustic, a good torpedo punt to the beach and a fabulous spot for kids, real “Amazon and Swallows” stuff. My kids had a ball there over many summers, as the did the oldies. No tv, no radio, no tech stuff, just books and games, and a lot of fun. So many memories came back as I read your story.

  16. Bernard Whimpress says:

    Time for that bigger book on philosophy I reckon. Like the Graham Kennedy reference to the crows especially and mention of the zephyr put it almost back in Ford Zephyr time.

  17. Luke Reynolds says:

    Wonderful JTH. I need a summer holiday.

  18. Mark Duffett says:

    Andrew Starkie, I came across and looked admiringly on that very establishment just last Monday, en route from Sydney to Hobart. It’s the Niagara Café in the main street of Gundagai. A more attractive piece of Art Deco you will not see. Unfortunately time and strict family expenditure policies did not permit a leisurely linger inside – we had already contented ourselves at the bakery.

    BTW, lovely, JTH.

  19. Robert Allen says:

    Great piece John. Re Greek cafes, I too ‘discovered’ the Niagara in Gundagai just recently during a driving trip from Brisbane to Melbourne. Sadly it was closed both times I passed through, but a window display features a dining setting used by wartime PM John Curtin, Ben Chifley, Artie Fadden and others during a late night train stop in 1942. Their meal – or so the plaque tells us – was prepared by “the late Jack Castrission”. Spooky!

  20. Peter Fuller says:

    John,
    This lovely reflection on your summer holiday has obviously struck a chord with a lot of us. My take away was how fortunate your children are to experience some time in rural Australia. The paradox is that in these times of better communication – physical and media – the psychological distance between city and country seems more pronounced than it was in my childhood.

  21. Thanks for all of your uplifting comments.

    Home in The People’s Republic now – and straight back into it.

    Swish, I hope our kids are building memories. I think they are. They love the trips (plane this time), they love Oakey pool and seeing their Brisbane cousins. We’re keen to have an extended stay at Brunswick Heads one summer – before it’s further discovered.

    Anthony W – we’re looking for winter sunshine this year. Work permitting. Can always find an excuse to be Up North.

    Phil, I would love to read your memoirs around the cafe/s. Even a photo with a few sentences from time to time.

    Thanks again.

  22. I wake up here in Yarrawonga about 7.30. That’s late for me. We breakfast, hit a tennis ball, plunge into Lake Malwala to cool down, then sit on a chair. Then it’s 3pm. Somehow. Slow rhythm. Beer into the afternoon. A late ski across still water. Blazing heat. Love it.

    Loved your QLD yarn. It slowed me down even more.

Leave a Comment

*