Almanac Memoir (and Poetry): ‘An Avocado’



At first, we weren’t an ABC family.


It wasn’t because we harboured any particular dislike or ideological mistrust of ‘Aunty’, it was just that our television antenna could never quite pick up Channel 2 clearly enough to make viewing it worthwhile. My dad occasionally climbed up onto the roof and tinkered with the aerial, calling from above “Is that any better?” Mum would answer: “No, it’s a bit fuzzy.” And then, after a bit more toing-and-froing, she would remark “Now it looks like The Goodies are in a Siberian snowstorm.” At length, it was decided that the Dawson family would just have to make do without the educational benefits of the national broadcaster. The commercial television stations’ antennae atop Mt Dandenong must have been taller. Or something.


Then one Friday evening, my dad arrived home from work bearing a box within which was a curious instrument called an ‘indoor antenna’. He had stopped off at McEwan’s especially for it. After much experimenting, we discovered that this indoor antenna worked best for attracting the ABC’s signal when one wire was looped over the end of the curtain rod, and the other was attached to the electric heater. I was amazed by this piece of 1970s technology. But in hushed tones, mum forewarned us that, come winter, we would have to find another place to attach the second wire.


That very night, as our family dived headfirst into the ABC’s snowless offerings for the first time, I was introduced to the joys of The Two Ronnies. The skits were superb, and the interplay between Messrs Barker and Corbett as quick and sharp as anything as my thirteen-year-old eyes had witnessed. And then there were the songs: hilarious piss-takes, send-ups, show-tunes, and full-on song and dance numbers. All performed with a sly, knowing wink and the knowledge that they were smarter than us. Which, of course, they were. In one particular episode, with a calypso band and maybe even a Carmen Miranda-esque bowl of fruit on his head, Ronnie Corbett sang a song called ‘A Banana’. It was clever, catchy, and hilarious.


In my early teenage years, I wrote what could only be loosely described as poetry. I thought the entire object of the exercise was to make the final words on each line rhyme, no matter how ridiculous the proceeding words sounded. I even attended a youth writing workshop, co-ordinated by the great Pat Traynor, who self-published an annual compendium of the best pieces of writing produced by her youthful charges. Desperate to be a part of this publication, I wrote all manner of stuff in a tatty exercise book.


I was rewarded for my efforts when a poem of mine was selected. It was titled An Avocado, and whilst it was not a direct copy of The Two Ronnies’ A Banana, there were certainly some similar themes. Indeed, I recall writing it to a calypso beat, partly inspired by the West Indies cricket team’s TV commercials for Brut 33. My family found it all most amusing, possibly because we had never so much as tasted an avocado. Among some of my classmates I was briefly a cause célèbre, especially when our teacher informed us in breathless tones that she had spied the workshop annual being pored over in the Williamstown Library.


Some years later, long since having eschewed something as uncool as poetry, my sister told me a story which had me all ears. A friend of hers had mentioned in passing that a classmate had been awarded a minor literary prize for a brilliantly humorous poem. This erstwhile Judith Wright had even stood up at assembly and accepted the plaudits of the entire school cohort. “The poem had a funny name,” my sister’s friend said, “It was called Avocado.” Alert to the ruse, my sister managed to procure a copy of the thief’s ode and, of course, a mere glance showed that it was my very poem. Word for word, punctuation and all. My sister urged me to take action, to call the police, to phone the headmistress and divulge the scoundrel’s horrible secret.


I thought for a moment only, and decided that I was content in the knowledge that my youthful scribblings had been worthy of such a prize. The plagiarizer knew the truth. I knew the truth – and then some. For the poem thief would never know that An Avocado was based on a riotous tune performed by two greats of English comedy, and that it was from there that the magic had come.


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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    Enjoyable piece, Smokie. I reckon about three-quarters of Australia (maybe a slight exaggeration) used to have a similar problem in terms of getting ABC TV reception. Of course, I’m curious about the wording of the Avocado poem, but I suppose, given the later plagiarism, it is better left unquoted!

  2. Smokie- I have great memories of Friday nights watching the ABC. Pot Black with Whispering Ted Lowe. While I admired the sport I really loved the sense of theatre and then either The Two Ronnies or Dave Allen. I enjoyed his sketches but found his storytelling peerless while The Two Ronnies was all highlights. I’m surprised more inspiration has come from Brut 33! Thanks for this, great memoir.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    “… for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is behind the green …”

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant Smokie, great to hear your poem stood the test of time, hope you claim any future royalties!

    In my part of of Victoria we only got two TV channels when I was a kid, one of them being the ABC, which always came in crystal clear. So by necessity we were a 50% ABC family. The Two Ronnies was something I missed out on but they seem highly regarded to this day.

  5. Love it Smoke. The contortions we all went to shifting the aerial around hey!

    “Don’t move”!! everyone would yell as you straddled the back of the couch with a leg on the window sill and the other leg on the side table; groin muscles quivering under the strain, shoulders stretched unnaturally sideways, head facing the backwards like Linda Blair.

    Love to read the poem. Recite it old mate! Right here.

  6. DBalassone says

    This is gold Smokie. Would love to see the poem if you can dig it out.

  7. Our farm was in a narrowing, North/South-running valley about 80 kms south-west of Brisbane. Hills on three sides. Not a great place to get a decent TV signal in the early 60s. When Dad bought our first TV (a Pye?), the problem of where to place the outside aerial for best reception presented itself. Like you, Dad and my brother lugged this heavy metal monstrosity around while the rest of us kept watch on the screen to see where the best spot was to be found: “No, still snowy’, ‘That’s better, but still hazy’, ‘No, that’s worse than ever’…After what seemed like ages, a dozen different elevations, multiple angles of direction, numerous variations in inclinations etc, a tiring Dad just plonked the bloody thing down and leaned it against the houseyard fence – ‘That’s it! Don’t move, great picture!’ And there it stayed for years. And we got four channels – 2, 7, 9 and (a bit later) 0 – luxury!

  8. Rick Kane says

    Cheers Smokie, for rolling together a number of incongruous actions and events into one fantastic spliff of a story. Love and theft, as His Bobness would say. And then we find out he’s lifted that from someone else. The great irony of the thief of your Avocado is that they are saddled forever with a lie that goes to the heart of their story about their great achievement. And you just keep on producing top shelf stuff!


  9. And the winner is……

  10. Sue Smokie I can see the headline,Smokie Dawson saves the Roos ! Great stuff

  11. Thanks for your comments, all.
    Much appreciated.

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