The greatest of t-shirts

I used to be quite the clothes horse. Some fifty shirts, from tailor-made class to oversized tropical colour bursts and everything in between, cotton, silk, rayon. Classy Italian wool suit jackets, leather jackets, corduroy jackets, fur coats, dozens of scarves. Boots, cuban-heeled, flat-heeled, hard-toe, pointy-toe. In my younger days I had as many as five pairs of Converse Allstars in different colours so I could co-ordinate with my shirts and scarves.


Around ’06 I counted my t-shirts, something like 120. Of course, that included dozens of work shirts that wore out. Flatmates, house moves and time have accounted for many more. A few are carefully preserved.


November ’94, Zimbabwe, staying at Victoria Falls w Sue, noticed several of the locals wearing an impressive t-shirt, asked a bloke where he got it, was directed to a shop on the outskirts of the village.


It was a local version of Target, socks and trousers and underwear, I made enquiries and was shown to the rack by a young woman who informed me that the only remaining size was Small.


At 6’2” and 165lbs, this wasn’t a problem. The local men were at least as tall, far broader of shoulder and thicker of arm, potential linebackers and tight ends, every one of them. If I were any shorter I could have worn it as a dress.



It was beautiful, perfect, I loved it and wore it a lot. Walking down King St late one ’95 night, the occupants of a passing car yelled “American bullshit” etc, which just goes to show that ignorance is the oxygen of the intellectual periodic table.


The neckpiece wore out many years ago and Mum said I ought throw it out. No way.


Last time I wore it my thumb went straight through the back while putting it on so it will be retired to a hanger on the picture rail of our bedroom. When I check out, I’d like my mortal carcass to be clad in it.


This t-shirt, its stars and stripes, its picture of Martin Luther King and his most famous quote, represents what I love about the USA. A nation founded on an ideal of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has fallen short again and again but never stops trying, however clubfooted.



When I read about the disaster that Zimbabwe is now, I remember the people. We stayed in the New Waverly Hotel. Went into town to check out tours, when hearing of our residence, the jaws of the pale locals hit the floor. We hung out in the bar one Saturday night, a minority of two, a band was playing, no skin on the kick drum, when I bought drinks there was always a bloke saying “Buy me a beer?”


“Ha, no way mate, then everyone would want one!” We laughed, it was okay.


We went to the races in Bulawayo, the only palefaces in the public area, Sue was the only woman. One jockey won the first three races, put our money on him thereafter. A fistful of winning tickets, a bloke in the queue beside me says “Hey man, you’ve had a big win!”


Um, yeah, okay, says the skinny white bloke, not wearing the t-shirt but the only one who could afford to drink beer from a bottle, surrounded by magnificent physiques.


“Hey, this guy has had a big win,” he said to his mates and they were happy for me, they shook my hand and congratulated me. In the public stand, looked at the members stand, pure pale, and was glad to be sitting with the locals.


People are people, just wanna be left alone to live their lives, to work and enjoy the company of friends and family.


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About Earl O'Neill

Freelance gardener, I've thousands of books, thousands of records, one fast motorcycle and one gorgeous smart funny sexy woman. Life's pretty darn neat.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Earl, my wife reckon’s I’m not far behind you with t-shirts. My favourite t-shirts are:
    1. Bob Dylan: concert with Tom Petty at Kooyong 1986
    2. Spotted Cat Music Club New Orleans
    3. Preservation Hall Jazz Club New Orleans,
    and a soft spot for my first Byron Bay Bluesfest long sleeved from 1998.
    I just love buying t-shirts from concerts and clubs etc I’ve been to.
    I’m off to New Orleans for Jazz Fest in April and I know I will not be able to help myself and will return home with more t-shirts than I went with!

  2. Mick Jeffrey says

    I was considering adding a Zimbabwe component to the South Africa trip in June, but then got turned off by the political climate and potential issues heading into Zimbabwe for a couple of days before commuting to Durban.

  3. Great stuff Earl plenty of character and meaning in this article yes fun but a message re society as well

  4. Awesome MLK shirt. Jealous Earl. I still get mesmerised by YouTube clips of his off the cuff speeches. Wisdom distilled from years of seminary, struggle and reflection.
    “I Have a Tweet” doesn’t quite do it. Ignorance is oxygen… it.
    Having trouble geeing up for the GAFL season (flags – I’ve had a few; but then again too few to mention).

  5. Thanks, a nice reminiscence, Earl.
    A couple of years ago, my wife decreed that for each new t-shirt that I buy, I must let go of an existing one (i.e. donate one into one of the recycle clothing bins). Unable to part with my much-loved tees, it is fair to say that I have not bought many new shirts recently.

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