This is a draft of a memoir. Originally imagined to be a reflection on my life through the senses of smell, touch, hear, taste and seeing it kinda morphed into:
1 Running, Jumping, Standing Still, 2 Hunting and Gathering, 3 Aural Gluttony, 4 Silence is Golden, 5 Touchy Feeley, 6 Smelly, 7 Vistas, 8 Songlines, 9 Work and Leisure, 10 Politics and Philosophy
Running, Jumping, Standing Still
At best I would describe myself as an enthusiastic sportsman. From a very early age I loved sport and physical activity, but I was never more than mediocre at anything. In fact, I perversely took pride in my mediocrity.
For years I kept the newspaper clipping from the state swimming carnival held at the North Sydney Baths. Appropriately, the baths are no more than a good cricket ball throw away from the grinning face at the entrance to Luna Park. Well, not my throw. My sister could probably have thrown that far, but not I. Anyway, mine was a stunning performance in the final heat of the 100 yard butterfly (pre metric in those days of the late 1950’s.). Most people would have thought that it was a typographical error which recorded that my time in winning that heat was twice the time of the winners of every other of the seven heats. No, no error. Fortunately there was no report on the degree to which I struggled to stay afloat and flail my way for the two lengths of the pool.
Then there was the regional athletics carnival held at the Sports Ground (what has since been replaced by the Sydney Football Stadium) and the Sydney Cricket Ground. My cousin Dianne Coggan was a genuine athlete. A runner, coached by Betty Cuthbert, the recently retired Commonwealth Games and Olympic champion, Dianne was serious. I discovered tobacco around the age of 15, so was never going to have the “wind” to seriously compete.
At our school athletic carnival when in year 11, I had surprised everyone except myself when I finished in the top three in both the 110 yards and 220 yards sprints. I had always fancied myself as a sprinter. At Vaucluse Primary School, there was just one class per year and therefore this big fish in a very small pond was the fastest boy in the class. I was also a very big boy. At primary school there were 5 stone 7 lb and a 6 stone 7 lb rugby league teams. By the time I reached year 6, I was already over 6 stone 7 lb and could only play when there were no weight scales at the ground and they could “ring” me in. I was big, fast and strong. I could sprint when in clear space, I could also drag two or three tacklers many meters and I could hand off the ball to team mates when under pressure. I drove all the coaches mad because I preferred to play rugby union.
More of rugby later. Back to athletics.
Being big, it took me around 80 yards to get to full speed. In the final of the 110 yards race, I reached top speed 30 yards from the finishing tape and flashed into 2nd place behind the school champion Hal Hermann. I know it’s hard to believer but there was a time when two people held a tape stretched at chest height across the finish line and the winner was determined by judging who’s body touched the tape first. In the final of the 220 yard race, I powered on at 80 yards, took the lead at the 200 yard mark and died over the last 20 yards. Nicotine constituted 50% of my sweat and my lungs were in danger of exploding. I finished third; again to Hal Hermann. I crossed the line, did a right hand turn and continued running into the toilet where I threw up.
When it came time to select representatives for the school in the regional championships, it was decided that as I had done so well in the sprints but only the first place runners could compete, I would represent the school in the discus and javelin. Neither Doody Wiggins or myself had ever thrown either a discus or javelin. We were both big strong kids, approaching 17 years old. Neither of us was particularly bright. Neither of us considered that two weeks training in “field” events was insufficient to compete at an elite level. Doody finished last in the discus and second last in the javelin. I finished last in the javelin and second last in the discus. Actually, Doody was a bright kid, but more of that later.
When it came to a decision between rugby league or rugby union, there really was no contest. I ended up playing both; but only one with any real enjoyment. My uncle Kevin was a great rugby union player. He played 148 1st Grade games for Eastern Suburbs in the 50’s and 60’s. He was a Waratah playing 2 games in 1952 and 1953 scoring a try in one game. He played for Sydney in one of the first games against the Fijians, and was selected to tour South Africa with the 1953 Wallabies. In those days when Rugby Union was amateur, he had to decide between going on an unpaid tour or marrying Aunty June. When he withdrew from the Wallabies, his arch rival Peter Johnson was chosen instead. In those days, the contest for the ball in the scrum was furious. Peter Johnson and Ken Catchpole were the Randwick and Australian combination of Hooker and Halfback. Uncle Kevin was never selected again. He played out his career at Easts in bloody confrontations with his brother Don (Sydney University and Eastwood), Peter Johnson and anyone who played for Gordon. As a country sales representative he was on the road most weeks and eventually had to retire just two games short of the major 150 game milestone.
My father Bruce was from Melbourne and while his sports had been tennis, golf, sailing, lacrosse and Aussie rules football (the Demons were his team), exposure to Uncle Kevin had made him a passionate convert to Rugby. So was I. At a very early age I was taken to the Saturday fixtures at Woollahra Oval. I even have an early memory of Uncle Kevin taking me to Sydney University Oval for one of his games. All I really remember is driving through the Carillon Ave gates in his car with a blanket over the front bench seat (cars rarely had bucket seats in those days). On the seat between us was a radio made of brown bakelite with two hinged doors that when opened switched the radio on. It was about the size of a champagne bottle box, so must have been an early version of the transistor radio. I also remember that the ground, like all rugby grounds was surrounded by a hessian fence. The hessian was strung on wire, stored in boxes every 50 meters or so and on game day strung out around the ground. Being amateur, money was scarce and the game was screened off from the public. At Sydney University, there were brick ticket boxes and turnstiles. As sophisticated as the Cricket Ground. The ticket boxes are still there today, stacked with corner posts and goal post pads, reduced to storage facilities.
It was also an era when women played very little organised team sport. They were to be found spectating. The absolute best looking women were at the rugby. All dressed up and made up. Sydney University versus Easts was a smorgasboard.
It wasn’t just that I came from a Rugby family that drew me to Union over League. The main factor was that Rugby was a weight based game while rugby was aged based. By the time I started at Vaucluse Boys High School, I was as big as boys two years older than I and only eligible for the 8 stone 7 lb teams. I remember the sports master Mr Gill setting up the antipodean version of a sauna in the storeroom adjoining his office on the main assembly quadrangle. Here he had heaters to raise the temperature into the high 30’s and we boys who were within a pound or so of making the correct weight would don army greatcoats and sweat off the weight on game day (Wednesdays).
For two or three years in high school, I always had to play with boys who were my size but so much older and emotionally and physically tougher. In the front row, there were head clashes. Deliberate head clashes as we testosterone driven deer fought with our antlers. I had heavily padded head gear to survive. We also played against the toughest kids from the all the other eastern, southern and inner west schools of Sydney, and many regarded it as an opportunity to beat-up the soft eastern suburbs boys. Petersham were only on the field for the fighting and football was secondary.
Most of the Watson’s Bay boys were league players. Mr Wolfe and his son Peter were fanatical leaguies, and provided coaching for all the weekend teams in the Watsons Bay and Vaucluse area. They always had their eye on me. They figured I would always attract two or three defenders because of my size and speed and coupled with my ability to pass the ball even when in the grasp of the tackle, I was a natural. The only thing I lacked was ticker. If truth be told, I wasn’t particularly fond of pain. I didn’t have a problem with catching, passing, running and kicking, but front on tackling was never a skill that came naturally. It invariable involved pain. In those days, front on tackling was never a skill taught in Rugby Union. It’s a strange thing that I had no problem in being tackled. I could brace myself and allow two or three players to hit me and still maintain my feet and drive forward, but having to put myself into the position of being run over or having to dive and make a tackle that would remove all the skin from my hip to my knee was a real problem. I spent weeks every season with a weeping scabby graze that would generate so much pain when I took the top off in making another tackle, that I became expert in avoiding any field position that would necessitate me having to tackle.
What I lacked in substance I made up for in style. From a very early age, I adopted a number of rituals. I was always the last player to run on the field (David Campese adopted this affectation many years after I ceased playing). When challenged by any other player who wanted to run on last I always responded’ “last on first off”. I always had polished boots and I laced on my boots with 2 meter long linen tape that was always freshly washed and ironed. I would wrap the tape around under the boot and then loop around the heel and back to loop through the horizontal to then pull down back under the foot and back to the top to tie, which would lock the boot onto my foot so tight that it could never come off in a tackle.
So, it was rugby league every Wednesday at school and rugby union every Saturday. Dad and Uncle Norm (Wilson) assembled a team to play every Saturday. I don’t remember anyone coaching us, but I do remember Dad and Norm scrounging together 15 players every Saturday and organising transport. I remember playing in Eastern Suburbs/Randwick rep. teams at state carnivals; getting walloped by Manly by 50 points in the days when a try was only worth 3 points. We lost a lot. Amazingly, I was at a loss at the end of every season and couldn’t wait for the next one to start.
In between two competition games per week, we played touch football on the lawnie every day after school and for hours on Sunday afternoon. We couldn’t get enough football.
The lawnie was the park in Cove St., just 20 meters down from our house. Two giant Moreton Bay Fig Trees and a set of swings took up a third of the space on the left hand side and a row of shrubs surrounded by mesh cages down the right hand side. In summer, the mesh cage around one of the shrubs served as a wicket and we played cricket. I couldn’t bowl or bat, got bored easily in the field after around 3 minutes, and consequently have few memories of any summer fun at the lawnie. Dave Gibson went on to play grade cricket and it became such a passion that when he won the lottery in his fifties, and never having married he spent much of it on his beloved Waverly Cricket Club.
I had many fond memories of playing touch at the lawnie. A crowd of us boys would spend hours playing a strategic game of touch, working the ball backwards and forwards and manipulating a gap between the defence and the nail and charcoal strewn patch in the centre of the lawnie. This was the hearth of our annual bonfire. On the Empire Day weekend in May, we would have a massive bonfire. For months before hand, we would collect branches in the forest between Cliff St. and the army barracks on South Head. We also collected driftwood and anything else flammable and stored them in backyards around the neighbourhood. As the week before bonfire night approached, we would add to the bonfire till on the eve it was the biggest in Sydney. The core was always the heavy timber and the bulk eventually made up of the fronds from the palm trees that lined the path down the middle of MacRobertson Park.
Eventually the bonfires became so big that the fire brigade would arrive late afternoon and hose it down before we could even light it. Our response was to dress one of the boys up as Guy Faulkes, and pull him around the street in a billy cart to collect money. Then it was off to the service station to buy petrol to pour on the bonfire and counteract the water. We had no idea who Guy Faulkes was, he was just a dress up character synonymous with cracker night. Later we learnt that he was a man who had tried to blow up the British House of Parliament. Australian’s being on the side of the underdog or anti-establishment, had adopted him.
Dinner was so hard to endure as we just wanted to be off down to the park for the lighting of the ‘bonnie’. I don’t think I ever made it. Someone always had it lit before mum and dad allowed us out to the front of the house with our boxes and bags of fireworks. While it seemed that every other kid in the neighbourhood was allowed to run riot all night, throwing bungers at each other and generally terrorising the neighbourhood, I was firmly under my parents control. Restricted to the street in front of the house, dad would set up the skyrockets and various roman candles. Minimal explosives and lots of pretty show. A bunger was about the largest explosive I was allowed; certainly not the double bungers or black and red monsters that it seemed every other kid had. There wasn’t a lot of them either, so we would unpick sheets of ‘tom thumbs’, to set them off individually rather than as they were designed. A sheet of tom thumbs would jump around the street as the wicks burnt down and each tom thumb went off individually. A single tom thumb could even be held by the tips of two fingers to let off, with minimal damage to the fingers and only the occasional burn. Little did we know that across the city boys were blinding themselves and damaging their fingers as they fired rockets at each other, threw bungers indiscriminately and generally took risks with what were basically explosives. Eventually the government banned the bonfires because of the week of pollution that followed, and then the fireworks themselves.
What it meant to the lawnie was that the bonfire took two to three weeks to finally burn itself out. The council probably took a few more weeks before they came to clear away the remnants of charcoal and bits of nails and metal that had fallen out of the timber. Touch was played around and occasionally through this smouldering ash strewn circle in the middle of the lawnie. We never wore shoes in the 50’s and 60’s, unless we were at school. Touch was played in bare feet that became tougher and tougher. A side step and two long strides could carry you through the middle of the rubble and off to score at the other end of the park.
I had a great side step from either foot, and I was fast. I loved playing touch. I could have played it all year. When I revisited the lawnie in my 50’s I was surprised at how much the park had shrunk. The Moreton Bay Figs had always been big, but now they are so massive that the council has had to install posts under the main branches to keep them from collapsing. The two trees must have always taken up a third of the park, but now it seems like half the park. As the park is only around 50 meters square, we must have been playing touch on a field that was only 20m wide by 50m long. How in the hell had we ever managed to score a try playing on such a small field? Who was it that had played? There was Robbie (Basha) McGann, Robert Newton, Greg and Peter Blake, Dave Gibson and myself. Occasionally there might be Peter or Dave Abbott, but being Waverly College boys, they weren’t home from school till late in the day. So, those titanic struggles were often just three on three. No wonder we developed great ball handling and support skills; we were always either carrying the ball, passing it or receiving it.
Those Moreton Bay Fig trees also had a big role to play in our lives. By the time I moved to the Bay at 6 years of age, there was already a rope tied onto a branch way up high and an old car tyre attached to the end around two meters up from the ground, with a rope tail that reached the ground. The older boys, and there was a wild group around five years older than us, would climb out along the branch that is parallel with the ground. That’s the branch that today is supported by a post. It is around three meters from the ground (to the top of the branch) and extends around 20 meters out from the trunk. Once in position, someone on the ground would grab the tail and walk it across to the boy on the branch. He would stand and climb into the tyre and then let go, swinging wide across the ground. We graduated to this swing by the time that the older boys had moved on to brawling and daring each other to jump the blowhole at the Gap. We never made a similar transition when we reached our late teens. We also used to cut notches in the bark of the tree trunks to milk the sap for chewing gum. It tasted nothing like Wrigleys, but the gum if left to set for a week or so at least had the consistency of chewing gum. The taste was quite bitter; but that’s for another chapter.
We’ve already established that I wasn’t much of a swimmer. In fact, butterfly would have been my worst stroke. I had been taught to swim by an ex Olympic coach Alf Vokler at the Watson’s Bay baths. They’re still there today. Weed and shellfish encrusted bars formed a rectangular swimming pool. A timber deck above the bars provided a walkway around the pool and at low tide this was probable (and still is) 2 to 3 meters above the water. Alf would strap a harness around my waist. This was attached to a rope. I would climb down a ladder into the water, feel the kelp brushing my feet and descend into the depths of fear and terror. Meanwhile Alf would instruct me to let go of the ladder and swim the 15 meters or so to the next ladder. I’d ignore him. He’d insist. I’d cling to the ladder. With the rope, he’d drag me off the ladder. In shear terror I’d attempt to flail to the next ladder. In time Alf decided I was a waste of his time and Mum that it was a waste of her money. She bought me a set of fins instead, and with the added buoyancy that came from kicking and actually moving across the surface of the water, I learnt to swim.
My sister Lesley was an asthmatic, and at some point toward the end of primary school, mum and dad decided that swimming would help Lesley and we should therefore swim competitively. I can’t remember how many years we swam at the Bondi pool. All I really remember were the memorable days when the surf was so big that it broke over the wall of the pool and made every race like a competition in a washing machine.
I loved being in the water, but just to muck around. I spent hours every afternoon and all weekends in the water at Camp Cove. Just mucking around.
Come summer at school, I’d spent years playing house cricket. Basically everyone who couldn’t play cricket, would form teams to represent their “house”. I believe mine was Phillip (after Captain Arthur Phillip). For someone who was easily bored playing cricket, wicket keeping seemed like a position where you were at least always handling the ball and part of the action. I couldn’t bowl or bat, had no sort of throwing arm, but how hard could it be to catch a ball when wearing gloves? I had difficulty sitting behind the nets at lunchtime while my mates practiced their bowling. I flinched at every ball, unable to convince my brain that there was a net between me and the ball.
I only had one memorable experience playing cricket. Playing house cricket on what’s now the Colleagues Rugby Ground beside Woollahra Oval, some idiot actually hooked the ball. Now that sort of stroke in House Cricket was unheard of. I was only fielding 15 meters or so from the batsman. The ball came like a rocket; so fast that in my attempt at self defence, I caught the ball with a combination of hands and stomach. I asked if I could field at Long Stop in future.
Thank god I was finally saved from having to play cricket by the introduction of Water Polo to school sport. Now this was serious mucking about in the water. All my mates were in the team, we got to travel to schools all around the harbour and training also involved mucking around in the water. The only down side was that a large part of training involved kicking my legs and attempting to keep my upper body out of the water up to my waist.
Most of the players for us and all the other schools we played were competition swimmers, but hey, water polo wasn’t about being the fastest. It was about ball control and teamwork. It was also about stamina and staying on the surface. I had little stamina and spent most of the time being dunked and struggling to avoid drowning. I was only used off the bench when we were either getting well and truly beaten or so far in front that we could afford to play virtually one short. Nevertheless, I still loved being part of the action.
Slightly more serious mucking about in the water was how I experienced sailing. Actually it began with just mucking around in the water. The path that runs diagonally across Robertson Park used to be lined with palm trees. As the outer fronds died and dried out, they would droop and hang down the trunk. A strong wind would bring dozens of them down on the ground. We would take them down to McGann’s boatshed where we used a saw to cut off the fronds from the stump. They always looked like the old sailing ships with a very high stern and a long pointy bow. We would slip a piece of wood into the bottom to act as a keel, a piece of straight driftwood for a mast and then some stiff cardboard with a slot top and bottom to slide down over the mast, like an old square sail. We would sail these across the bay in front of Doyles, and on occasions if the wind shifted, they would set sail up the harbour. Never to be seen again.
Toward the end of primary school, dad built us a sabot. There are still a few sabots sailing in Sydney today, but back in the early 60’s, there were large fleets of these training skiffs. The Vaucluse 12ft Sailing Club was one of the first to introduce these boats to Australia. They were only about 8ft long, had just the one main sail and a blunt bow. No buoyancy tanks as this was really controversial. When you capsized, that was it. The time taken for a club launch to come along side, turn the boat vertical and drag it bow first out of the water to drain the water over the stern and refloat was such that you would never get back in the race. Buoyancy tanks were seen to be not really skiff sailing and it was well into the sixties before they even allowed them in the evolving 12’, 16’ and 18’ skiffs.
Dad had to wait some time for the “mold” to become available. This was a timber model of the boat that the frame of the boat was built around. At that time, our home at 23 Cove St. Watsons Bay consisted of the original cottage and workshop built by my great grandfather Tom Coggan. Tom was born in Bristol in 1865. He learnt his trade with his father and uncles. They were painters who specialised in painting timber to look like marble and all sorts of decorative and advertising painting. He married a catholic girl (Mary Josephine Calli) in 1888 and was ostracised by his family and therefore moved to Cardiff. When she died, he emigrated to Australia in the 1890’s and married Minnie Weeks.
Eventually they built the cottage and workshop at Watsons Bay. His son, my grandfather Tom “Coge” Coggan eventually became a food chemist and worked for Sweetacres, the makers of Minties, Fantales and Jaffas. We’ll come back to him later. I guess through his connection with Sweetacres, his father was contracted to paint the Minties advertising signage on shops all over Sydney. He also made the dials for AWA Radios. These were glass with a hole drilled in the centre for the tuning arm and the stations lettered in gold leaf. Unbeknown to Sweetacres, “Coge” was making biscuits on the side. He had a bakery in City Rd close to Sydney University and was making the greaseproof paper to wrap “Dad’s Cookies” in the Cove St. workshop. Two large timber, metal lined vats were used to melt the wax through which the paper was rolled to coat it. I assume the paper was then hung to drip dry. What I do remember was that the floor had a centimetre deep coating of wax even when we moved there in 1954.
When great grandmother and great grandfather died, Uncle Donald, Aunty Vi and cousin Dianne moved there. Dinie and I attended kindergaten and 1st class at Vaucluse Public School together, before they moved to Beecroft and we followed them in to Cove St.
When we arrived, the workshop was just as it always had been; a large unlined corrugated iron and fibro room with the corner walled off to enclose a claw footed bath tub (the bathroom). The ceiling was simply a frame to hold timber offcuts. The laundry was built In the side passage and consisted of a set of concrete tubs, a copper (gas heated) to boil and wash the clothes, a wringer to squeeze the water out of the clothes after rinsing in the tubs and a large timber cabinet for putting the dirty clothes waiting for the weekly wash day.
This was going to kill two birds with the one stone. The workshop was ideal for building the boat and the laundry cabinet would provide much of the timber. This was a project that would take months as dad could only work on it on weekends and of an evening after work. If memory serves me correctly, the frame had to be built fairly quickly so it could be taken off the mold and passed on to the next family waiting to build their boat. The bow and stern were made of thick marine ply, the ribs from the same marine ply shaped to be curved and rounded with no sharp edges on the inside but flat and square on the outside, to attach the sheets of thin marine ply to form the skin. Once the frame was built, it could be removed from the mould and all the rest attached while it sat on three saw horses. Dad was a perfectionist. The final boat named “Gull” was a masterpiece. The timber used to make the centreboard and rudder and various other bits and pieces came from the old laundry cabinet. Black with layers of lacquer and old age when dad broke it up, it turned out to be a deep red cedar, absolutely glorious when coated with marine varnish. Gull was the prettiest boat in the fleet of 30 or so.
What a shame we never did it justice in our sailing of it. My sister Lesley crewed while I skippered. We had always been argumentative siblings. Putting us in a confined space at sea was a recipe for disaster. We were given the maximum handicap and never improved upon it. Our only chance was on days with a really strong wind. Starting 25 minutes ahead of the back markers and being heavy enough to keep our boat stable in a strong wind, we finished in the first three occasionally. Often we found ourselves either becalmed in light breezes or being dragged out of the water after capsizing. The boats were light enough that the club launch that shepherded us around the course could pull alongside us in the water, turn the boat upright and drag it up on the side of the launch as the water drained over the stern. They would then slip it back into the water, we would re-board and continue on sailing.
That all came to an end when I graduated to sailing 12ft skiffs and VS’s. A friend of mum’s, Geoff Batchelor, had bought a VS and wanted to race it at the Vaucluse Yacht Club. Back in the 1930’s someone designed the Vaucluse Junior “VJ” and the Vaucluse Senior “VS”. Both were beautiful, fast, unique and probably years ahead of their time. I never got to sail the VJ but always wanted to. They were around 10 foot long with a short bow sprit. They had a fixed size main sail, jib and spinnaker. They were fully enclosed and you sat on the deck. Kind of like a floating coffin, but only around 9” deep. In even a light breeze they skimmed across the water and to keep them flat you sat out on a plank that extended out over the water. They had been designed to teach boys to sail at a time when boys were still pretty small. Post WW2 our diets were much healthier and I suspect boys were much bigger than they had been in the 30’s. Whatever, I was too heavy to make up a crew on a VJ and they couldn’t be sailed single handed.
The VS on the other hand was 15’ long with buoyancy tanks fore and aft and again fixed size sails. To keep these on an even keel, there was a trapeze; a wire from near the top of the mast clipped on to a harness worn around the hips with straps through the legs. This was for me. Now my weight could be of use. I controlled the jib and spinnaker at the same time as swinging out on the trapeze with my toes gripping the gunwale, feet several feet apart and knees slightly bent to ride the bucking boat as we flew across the waves.
Unfortunately there were always more lighter wind days than big blows. We were competitive in a small fleet of 5 or so boats that raced at the Vaucluse Yacht Club, but really came into our own in strong winds. There came the day when every other sailing club in Sydney decided that the storm was just too severe for racing. All the other classes of boat at our club also decided to give it a miss. No O.K. dingies, VJ’s or the Bluebird yachts that my father sailed.
We sailed a course that started from a line set up between Green Point and the wharf. Looking back, I don’t remember ever having started from this point any other race. We thought we would be smart and save our energy by just letting our sails off and just drifting behind the line waiting for the start. Well it wasn’t exactly drifting, as the seas were high and the wind was buffeting us severely. We were just too clever, and a gust of wind capsized us. By the time Jeff, his son Michael and I had righted the boat and bailed it out, the rest of the fleet were almost down to the marker in Parsley Bay. We set out in pursuit. By the time we rounded in Parsley Bay, the rest of the fleet were scattered in the water between there and the marker back in Watsons Bay. We rounded in the lead and set off on a shy run out past the Sow and Pigs across the harbour to the marker off Obelisk Beach. As we flew past the pigs, I was out on trapeze with my head turned back toward the stern. The water coming off the bow was blinding me, so I had to turn my head away. As I looked back at Geoff, I heard an almighty “bang” and watched the rudder break away from the stern and slam down on the back deck. The bottom bracket had broken and the 300mm long and 15mm thick stainless steel pin that held the rudder in place was twisted like it was made of liquorice. The boat was careering out of control so I dropped my feet off the gunnel and swung down into the water, grabbed a stay and swung the boat into the wind while Geoff and Mick dropped the sails.
I had to stay in the water, holding the bow. As usual, I was terrified of sharks so I kept my legs wrapped around the bottom of the boat as we drifted across the heads. Actually it was the wind driving us across the heads and into Quarantine Beach. Once we had dragged the boat up onto the sand, Geoff set off to find a public telephone. He called back to the yacht club. “it’s Geoff Batchelor” he said. “Sorry, he’s not here, he’s out sailing” was the reply. “No he’s not” said Geoff, “he’s over at Quarantine, can you send the club launch to tow us back.”
That’s how I had fun on Saturdays in summer. On Sundays I now sailed in a 12’ skiff. Like 16’ and 18’ skiffs, each boat had an emblem on their sale to identify them. Almost all boats and yachts had numbers to identify them, but skiffs had emblems. The most famous at the time were the oval in red and blue on each side of the diagonal for Yandoo sailed by Choco Winning, and a Blue Exclamation mark for Trivial sailed by his brother. Skiffs had evolved from the 20’s or even earlier. Hanging on the walls of the 12’ Sailing Club were photographs of these old boats, built out of timber planks, with bow sprits 6’ or longer and massive sails. Often it took 6 or 7 men to crew them. By the time I started sailing, first in an old “clinker” built boat with a crew of 4, the boat was evolving rapidly from light weigh ply to fibreglass hulls with a crew of 2.
Dennis Dignan was a builder and also the Interdominion Champion. Every 2 years or so, Australian 12’ skiffs would compete with N.Z. 12’ Cherubs. Dennis began building lighter and lighter boats. When fully evolved, the skin consisted of just two layers of very thin ply cut into strips and bent into shape from gunwale to keel. I always thought that if I slipped off the gunwale while coming in off the trapeze that I would put my foot through the bottom.
We would sand and varnish the bottom of the boat, coat after coat till it had the gloss of glass and could slip through the water. Gone were the old venturi’s on the bottom of the boat. These metal tubes were designed so that when moving at speed through the water the vacuum created in the tube would suck the water out of the bottom of the boat. Now there were sleek plastic venturi’s that you could pop down when needed. Also gone were the 6’ bow sprits, now just 3’. But we still had the 18’ spinnaker poll; now three aluminium poles joined together when needed.
I spent my final year of 12’ racing on a brand new Dennis Dignan built boat “Action” owned by a mate Ian Sparrow. Ian’s grandfather or uncle was Charles Sparrow a marine architect who designed the VJ (Vaucluse Junior). Ian had to have the absolute biggest and best of everything. At the same time as the boats were getting lighter, so were the sails. Ian had a new spinnaker made that consisted of little squares, designed so that if a hole was punched in the sail it wouldn’t rip. It was light in weight and absolutely massive in size. For weeks we would spend every race day folding it into a long tube tied with wool. The idea is that when all folded into a long thin tube we could hoist it up the mast and push it out on the end of the spinnaker pole, set the lines to hold the pole in place and then pull on the sheet. The wool would snap at the bottom, the wind enter the sail and then all the other woollen ties would snap as the sail filled with wind. For weeks we never got to use it; it was always a little too windy for the size. Finally the day came when we were in a drifting race. Ian called for the big spinnaker. I hoisted it, set the lines, pulled on the sheet and the spinnaker opened, spread out and around the boat and completely enveloped us. Everywhere we looked, 360 degrees there was just that massive big blue spinnaker. I don’t think we ever tried to use it again.
The other memorable race was again in a big blow. As we raced back down the harbour from Rose Bay, passing Neilsen Park, someone on the club launch photographed us. Both Ian and I were as far back in the stern as we could fit. The boat was flying and in the seconds after the photograph was taken, they say we were air-born and they could actually see under the boat. The trouble was that in landing we hit a wave and just buried the bow. Ian and I were pitched forward and landed out in front of the capsized boat. It was the equivalent of going over the handlebars on a bike.
Two other “big blow” races were memorable, but I wasn’t involved in either. Both involved “Southerly Busters”. These massive blows occurred late in the day after a very hot and humid day. With great speed, these southerly wind changes roared up the coast and caught the fleet by surprise. I witnessed the first event when standing on the end of the Watson’s Bay jetty. The 12’ fleet was down in Parsley Bay and heading back to the clubhouse to finish the race when the storm hit. Every boat flew back across the bay and as they came, masts exploded and sails ripped to shreds. The smarter ones deliberately capsized. The masts were still made of laminated wood in those days and the pressure as they bent became so great they just exploded and bits and pieces flew in all directions.
The other big blow involved the 18’ Skiff fleet. It hit them near the “wedding cake”, the harbours southern channel marker just out from Green Point. All boats flew down the harbour and smashed into either the “Sow and Pigs” or the rocks off Green Point. The photographs in the paper the next morning showed just how much damage had been done to the skiffs. The story was all about the cost of the boats and the likely repair bill. The 18footers were the only professional racing skiffs. Sponsored by companies just as they are today, they used to attract a large fleet of ferries carrying spectators. All packed on to one side of the ferry to watch the race, they were in danger of capsizing. The attraction was that there was gambling on the results and there were many stories told by the 12footer sailors about the illegal tactics used by the 18footers. Like deliberately throwing a bailing bucket over the stern to drag and slow the boat down (if they had to throw the race), or throwing crew overboard to lighten the boat on the final leg or if the winds had dropped and they didn’t need as many crew to sail the boat.
I never really got into board surfing. It first became really big in the early 60’s. Half of the school were into board surfing by 1963. I bought all the surf magazines and read about surfing the exotic new surfing spots all around Australia. The closest I came was to make myself a “hand board”. About 25cm long and 15cm wide, rounded on the corners with fins glued on the bottom and a leather strap to slip my hand through. We didn’t use swim fins or what we called “flippers” in those days but had to kick like fury to get into the wave and then do a push up off the hand board to get the upper body out of the water and then cut across the wave with just the hips and legs in the water. As the wave finally broke over us, we would roll forward and let the wave pass us by and swim out for the next wave.
I also was among the first to ride a skateboard. Using a piece of red cedar off-cut, left over from building the sabot, I shaped a surfboard about 60cm long and 15cm wide. I then stole one of my sisters roller skates, separated the front and back wheels and attached them to the bottom of the board. We rode our skateboards down many of the rough roads around the “Bay”; trying to do big looping turns from one side of the road to the other. Potholes made it a risky ride. The footpaths were smoother, but they made for a straight line high speed run that could end in severe grazing if you came off at the bottom of the hill. The best rides were to be had on the smoothly tarred roads up into the Army barracks. We would sneak up in the bush beside the road, as close as we could get to the security gates before being seen by the guards, then out onto the road and take off down the hill. Here we could do the big sweeping turns from side to side and if we came unstuck on the turn could dive off into the grass and bush beside the road. No helmets or elbow and knee guards. Just lots of bruises and grazes.
That reminds me that we had also gone through a “billy cart” phase in the late 50’s. Originally they were timber frames with a vegetable or fruit crate attached to sit in, and the wheels and axles were from old family prams. No wonder few of the antique prams from the first 50 years of the 20th century survived. By the 60’s, the best were very light weight frames with just a flat board big enough to fit your bum on, rope tied through the front axle to steer and wheels made from Ball Bearings. God they were noisy, but so much faster than our old billy carts. In those days, ball bearings were hard to come by and they greatest envy was a mate who managed to get a set that were new rather than those that were worn from use in some factory or whatever.
Toward the end of my last year at Vaucluse Boy’s High School, a sportsmaster who was involved with the Watson’s Bay Church of England youth group invited me to join them in a spring trip to Smiggins Hole. The church had a chalet and the plan was for us to do hiking trips around the snowy and to canoe the upper reaches of the Murray River. So, In September/October 1964 (at the height of the Beatles tour of Australia) I set off to the Snowy. We had a fantastic experience in canoeing through rapids in the higher reaches of the Murray and eventually a near disaster when one of the canoes was sucked under on one of the bends in the river and wedged in among all the driftwood caught some 2 meters down. Standing on the bank, we could see the canoe. The water was so clear, even though moving so fast on the bend. It took us hours to free the canoe and resume a much more cautious paddle down the river.
On one of the early hikes, we discovered that there were still some patches of snow and that there was quite a lot on the top of Mt Kosciusko. Back at the chalet, I found a piece of timber around 50 cm long and 15 cm wide. I shaped it like a surfboard, chiselled the front to that it sloped up to the point and drilled holes along both sides to insert boot laces to strap one foot onto the board. Someone told me that skis had a groove down the middle to help steer, so I used a chisel to cut a groove into the bottom of my board. Off we went to Mount Kosciusko. There I strapped my left foot to the board, pushed off with my right foot and then put it on the back of the board. I snow boarded slowly down the snow into the rubble at the snowline. It was probably only a 50 metre run, but I’m still claiming it as the first snow board run in Australia. I know that there are two records of snowboards in America. The first was made in 1939, and the second in 1963. I was right up there with the inventors.
Somewhere in amongst all this, I found time to take Tennis lessons on a Saturday morning. Initially on a backyard clay court in Dover Heights and later at Rose Bay near the Flying Boat base, next to the Wintergarden picture theatre; also on clay courts. These were the days when tennis racquets where made of wood and the head of the racket was around half the size of the modern racket. Like all my sporting endeavours, I was a mediocre tennis player, but at least it was a sport that I could go back to for the rest of my life and play “socially” and for a period in my 40’s use as an excuse to drink beer with mates on a Saturday afternoon.
Golf was another incidental sporting activity from when I was around 15. The thing with golf is that it is such a “mind” game, that at 15 I could step up and drive the ball a fair way down the fairway and reasonably consistently. Putting wasn’t much more than aim at the hole and hit the ball, with no allowance for slope or speed of the green; but hell, three puts didn’t seem so bad. The older I got and the more I thought about my game the worse my distance and accuracy. It was even beginning to desert me before I turned 17 with one memorable drive at the Bondi course slicing across Military Rd and off down a side street for around half a kilometre. Today I play a consistently mediocre game. If I have one par 3 hole that I can par, I’m happy, one par 5 hole I can bogey I’m ecstatic, and the rest I except double and triple bogies as the norm. I leave all my best shots at the driving range.
In my final year at Vaucluse Boys High, they introduced Rugby Union. A rather pretentious principal, Mr Harris had always styled the school on the private school model. He was the founding principal when I started 1st year in 1960. In 1965 the NSW Rugby Union began a schools competition and this suited Mr Harris’s pretensions. It also suited me because this was my game. What a disappointment to find myself on the reserves bench while all these leaguies like Basha McGann and Aussie Rules converts like Ken Robertson were selected ahead of me. Both took to the game like ducks to water, went on to play 1st Grade for Easts, and to this day Basha is a stalwart of the Eastern Suburbs club. As to why I couldn’t get a starting run? Well I guess that brings me back to nicotine and the athletics carnival. With no history of playing Rugby Union, the school simply selected their League team and Hal Hermann took my wing spot. Too late, the athletics carnival had demonstrated my speed, but by then smoking had destroyed my fitness. An early childhood bout of three simultaneous infectious diseases had probably already damaged my lungs, but a smoking habit that escalated to 60 cigarettes a day over the next twenty years meant I never really had the stamina to play a solid and fast 80 minutes of football.
The highlight that year however was playing in the Wallaroos Under 18’s. Colts rugby in the 1960’s consisted of Under 18’s and Under 21’s. Easts had three Under 21 teams and the one Under 18’s, playing as the Wallaroos. One of the oldest rugby clubs in Australia wearing the traditional strip of black shorts, black socks with gold tops and a black jumper with two gold V’s on the chest, rather than the East Tricolour. Even then, Randwick was our main rival.
I played in the centres and on the wing, and we won the championship. If only my school had given me a chance. What might have been. Still, winning the championship was something special. Dad took me off to buy a navy blazer. That’s the traditional sports blazer with the brass buttons and the embroidered championship badge attached to the breast pocket. Very smart. When they saw me off to attend University in Melbourne, many said they expected to see me back in Sydney playing for Victoria at national championships.
In 1966 I joined the Monash University Rugby Club. The club colours are almost identical to Argentina. Here I was playing Outside Centre and occasionally Wing. I was known as “The Big Fella” in the weekly newsletters and revelled in being an experienced rugby player in a city where Aussie Rules was the only football.
I have three wonderful memories from my two years at Monash. Surprisingly, one of the best games I ever played was in a match we lost to Geelong. Both teams played a hard and fast game and at the end we had lost narrowly. Neither team could have played another five minutes. It was one of those rare games where neither team deserved to lose.
When a Japanese Navy team visited Melbourne in August 1966 they decided to play a combined Universities team. To ensure there was continuity, they decided to play the Melbourne Uni. pack with the Monash back line. I had a fantastic Fijian team mate Konrad Ismell (reportedly a tribal prince!!!) at inside centre. Late in the second half the game was well and truly won. We were ahead by some 50 points. Konrad made a break and only had the fullback to beat. I had trailed him through the gap and loomed up alongside him and called for the ball as he drew the fullback. Konrad looked across at me, then tucked the ball back under his arm as he approached the fullback who leapt into the air and delivered a karate chop to drop him in his tracks. Later I asked Konrad why he hadn’t passed the ball to me. He replied that as I already had seven tries and he only six, it was his turn to score. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen on a football field. Oh, and tries were only worth 3 points back then.
I travelled to Brisbane to play in the Intervarsity Rugby carnival. This was in the days when it was a serious competition rather than an undergraduate party. I was carrying an injury; my knee swollen and held in place by an elastic knee guard. In those days there were no doctors and physiotherapists. Elastic tubes over elbows and knees and elasticised bandages to hold loose joints or sprained muscles together was about it. Also lots of liniment and Vaseline petroleum jelly. The liniment to heat sore muscles and the petroleum jelly to protect thighs from grass burn. There I was playing for Monash University against Queensland University; my knee encased in an elastic tube and restricted in movement and speed. I’d been moved in to inside centre. I took the ball, and was flattened by a 10 ton truck. I had never been hit so hard in a tackle. I had no idea that Wallaby Jules Guerisimof was in the Queensland University team. One of the smallest flankers in world rugby, he was a punishing tackler. My teeth are still loose 42 years later.
Rupert Rosenblum was a Waratah and Sydney University 5/8. To this day, he still coaches kicking at Sydney Uni. In 1965, his father bought our home in Cove St. Watsons Bay for him. Now here he was in 1966 playing for Sydney University at the intervarsity rugby carnival. He had already well and truly established his reputation as a “Kicking” 5/8. In the big game between Sydney Uni and Queensland Uni, with the sidelines packed with every other player at the carnival, every time the ball was passed to him by the halfback they would all kick in unison with him. It was the worlds biggest chorus line.
Other memories of playing rugby in Melbourne are of playing in rain so cold that all feeling in my hands was lost and catching and passing almost impossible and a memorable game in which one of our team mates, a Frenchman kicked an opponent while he was on the ground. In those days of fairly frequent all in brawls, not one of our players ran in to help. We were absolutely disgusted that anyone would kick and opponent. While it was fairly common in any game involving the French back in the 60’s, we were staggered to see it first hand.
I only ever played Australian Rules once, and that was a cameo 5 minute appearance for Monash Teachers College against Bendigo Teachers College. I have only two memories. One is off burning lungs from the continuous running and the other of my only touch of the ball. I secured the ball and turned, only to confront two defenders closing on me at pace. I ran at the gap between them and when they closed the gap, bounced the ball at their feet and attempted to bust between them and regain the ball. Now I thought that to be a reasonable strategy, but the umpire disagreed; I was penalised for throwing the ball. As we drove back to Melbourne late that afternoon, the news came over the car radio that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated.
By 1968, my cigarette consumption was up around 40 a day and my weight had ballooned to 17 stone 7lb (112 kilos). I was so unfit that I retired from rugby and pretty much all physical activity. For the two years we lived back in Sydney from 1971 to 1972, my sole sport was squash. Not the athletic form of squash where you fight for possession of the centre of the court and manoeuvre your opponent around but the blast and destroy form. Again, racquets were made of wood with small heads. If I didn’t win the point after two hits of the ball I never did win the point and within five hits my opponent would have run me ragged and finished me off. It was fun, social and at least rigorous exercise.
It was only when we moved to Redcliffe, Queensland in 1973 that I returned to Rugby. Redcliffe played in the 2nd Division Brisbane competition and fielded just two teams. I decided to turn out for the trials in late February. It must have been a 30 degree day and humidity around 90%. By half time, I was sun and heat struck. Apparently the field had been built on the site of an old rubbish tip and there was so much charcoal just a foot below the surface, that it was just soaking up the heat and radiating it back up. I almost retired again.
We used to travel long distances for games; down to the Gold Coast and out to Ipswich in the days when there were no motorways and it was 2 hours or more each way. The grounds were still very hard with sparse grass and very uneven playing surfaces. By my second season I was captain/coach of the second grade side and in a very selfish decision moved to 5/8. I figured I wouldn’t have to run as far or as fast, and when buggered, could simply move the ball along the backline, or kick it aimlessly down field. No finesse to my game.
The memorable moments in my five seasons at Redcliffe:
In my second season, I spent half of it on the sidelines. I only ever threw one punch in all my years as a player, and was only once on the receiving end of a punch. In a game against Queensland Institute of Technology, I came up against the manager of the QIT Bookshop. He was a client of mine and someone I had come to know reasonably well. At some point during the game, I was trailing in support of one of our young players (18 y.o.). As he ran through the QIT backline, Bob threw an elbow at his head which barely missed. Following a metre behind, I grabbed Bob’s collar and took a swing at him. I was so unbalance that I fell back on my leg and you could hear the sound as it broke.
I lay in the middle of the field while they drove a station wagon out to me. The removed the hinges on the clubhouse door and used it as a stretcher and loaded the door and me into the back of the wagon. Off we drove to Redcliffe Hospital on an Easter Saturday with me hanging on to the tailgates struts to avoiding sliding out onto the road.
At the hospital I was moved to a gurney and parked in a dead end corridor near the emergency department. For four hours I lay on the gurney staring at the blank wall and ceiling. It was four hours because the radiographer was entertaining guests at home and said he would rather finish his meal before coming in. So, hours later after the x-ray confirmed the break, the real fun began. The doctor was an American recently arrived in Australia. He revealed that it was years since he had set a broken limb. Now, the idea is that you soak plaster of paris impregnated bandages in water and then starting with the foot, unroll and wrap steadily progressing from the toes to just below the knee. The first roll stopped around my ankle and the second half way up my leg. At this point the doctor realised that he was the victim of a practical joke; the nurses had soaked wrist plasters. Actually, I was the victim as I ended up with a cast with bumps and lumps that eventually broke around the ankle several weeks later and required additional plasters to keep it together.
In 1975, Dick Marks, an ex-Wallaby, headed up a team to develop a national coaching scheme and ran the first Level 11 Coaching Course at Enogera Army Barracks. In those days tobacco company advertising was still dominant in sport and therefore I was awarded the Rothmans Coaching Badge Clive Rowland, the Welsh coach made a guest appearance. He had standardised coaching in Wales and in five years coached the worlds dominant international team. I remember three main things from his session; a coach should dress like a coach and set the highest standards in everything, that with low body height a small player could dominate a larger opponent and that hands on hips or clasped behind the head sent a message to the opposition that you were buggered, so don’t allow it. He contributed a hell of a lot more to Australian rugby. He had played for Wales, became a school teacher, coached Wales and eventually became President of the Welsh Rugby Union. He provided the framework for the Australian coaching programme and Queensland even more than NSW took it to heart and over the next five years or so they beat most New Zealand provincial teams by big scores and probably became the dominant provincial team in the southern hemisphere.
At Enogera we spent three days of intensive instruction in how to coach almost all elements of the game. We packed scrums against the Queensland pack and held our own, we worked from sun up to sun down and really earned our coaching badges. I still have my badge today, proudly sewed to a training jacket.
In 1976, we decided to push fror promotion to 1st division. We raised money through “pig in a barrow” raffles, pub meat trays and many social functions at the club. The “Pig in a Barrow” was the most amazing thing I have ever been involved with. We would buy a pig from the butcher and a wheel barrow from the local hardware store. We then loaded the pig into the barrow and set off down the two streets of the Redcliffe shopping centre selling raffle tickets. We raised hundreds if not thousands of dollars. When all sold, we would draw the winner, return the pig to the butcher for butchering and packaging and then deliver the wheel barrow and meat to the lucky winner.
With the money, we recruited Fijian players. We were probably the first to recruit players from Fiji. There were a few Fijians who had moved to Australia toward the end of their careers and who joined Sydney and Brisbane clubs, but not many. The only one in Brisbane was the ex-Fijian half back Taito Rauluni who was playing for QIT (now QUT). One of the members of our club was married to a Fijian, so he and Taito put together a list of potential recruits. Our first three recruits were Fijian internationals Peni Nasolo (Flanker), Kini Nolatu (5/8 or inside centre) and the never to be forgotten 2nd rower, Petero Civoniceva. He arrived on an early evening flight from Fiji and we arranged for someone to collect him from the airport and bring him back to the club to meet the players. We were packed into our small club like sardines, all drinking and talking. You couldn’t hear yourself think. And then silence spread from the front door across the room as we all turned to witness Petero’s arrival. He had to turn his head on its side to fit below the door frame, his shoulders brushed either side of the door frame and his body filled the entire space.
I have a slightly different memory of Petero to Wayne Smith. Petero was an erratic player; at times so docile as to be almost a passenger in the team. On those occasions, someone from our own team would eventually give him a belt in the head in the middle of a maul or ruck. That would stir him up and he’d get stuck into the opposition.
Petero Civoniceva has one fan swelling with pride. Wayne Smith reports
| September 30, 2006
Article from: The Australian
PETERO CIVONICEVA paused the television replay just after that tackle on Sonny Bill Williams and, shaking his head, stood up.
The perfect host, he offered a coffee but said he wouldn’t be having one himself. What he felt like was a beer and so beer it was. It was grand final week, Wayne Bennett was nowhere in sight and some things are best discussed over a cold glass.
“That tackle wasn’t so bad,” Civoniceva said at last, having sunk his powerful frame into an understandably complaining bar stool. “I’ve put in worse tackles. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I thought it was maybe worth a penalty but Sonny Bill got up straight away.”
Thankfully, the NRL had assessed it pretty much the same way, rating it only a grade one offence, not enough to necessitate any late, unwanted changes to the Broncos’ front row for tomorrow’s premiership decider against Melbourne. He was going to be there, he said, even if he had to drive to Sydney. No way was he going to miss Shane Webcke’s final match.
To his right, on the circular bar that dominates his garage, sit two framed photos: one of Muhammad Ali unleashing that incomparable left jab, the other of Civoniceva in full cry, Broncos jersey straining to accommodate rippling muscles, tacklers being shed left and right.
Vanity? No. Paternal pride. For this is not the home of Petero Civoniceva, the Broncos’ grand final prop, but of his father, also Petero, the former Fijian rugby international. This interview had been hastily arranged. He really was driving to Sydney for the grand final and there was not much time to waste. Time enough to reminisce, however.
It was 29 years ago that Civoniceva Snr had first come to Australia, first come to the Redcliffe peninsula, just north of Brisbane, his then wife Tima and their seven-month-old son following a few months later. He should have made the journey to the Big Island one year earlier, with the Fijian team, but injury cost him his place in the touring party and so he had missed one of the most controversial incidents in Australian rugby history, the walk-off of the Fijian side in the third Test at the SCG after its captain had been sent off.
Still, Civoniceva Snr was to experience more than his fair share of controversy during his turbulent decade as the star Fijian recruit in a Redcliffe side promoted to first grade the year after he arrived. Without question, he became the most feared player in the Brisbane premiership, this in an age when such hard men as Tony Shaw, Stan Pilecki, Chris Handy and Mark Loane regularly turned out for their clubs when not playing for Queensland or the Wallabies.
Mostly, Civoniceva Snr was feared for his ferocious play. A 115kg Test second-rower at a time when 100kg was considered huge – his son now plays at 106kg – he revelled in the hand-to-hand combat of the forwards’ battle and, ball-in-hand, was an almost unstoppable runner, 200cm of towering, gym-toned aggression. But there was also another reason opposing players were extremely wary of him.
“I had a short fuse,” he admitted, drawing on his beer. “It was the main weakness in my game. Young Petero is totally different to me. He’s very disciplined. You have to have that tough mental approach to survive at the level he has. He has had to have that strength.”
The years have helped him to assess his flaws. Back in the 1980s, however, Civoniceva’s lack of discipline was something every opposing side was keenly aware of. Brothers in particular, Shaw, the Brothers and Australia captain, most especially so.
“Shawry was one of the most intelligent footballers I ever played against and the toughest,” he recalled. “He was so cunning. He’d bait me and bait me until I cracked. I’d get my marching orders and then he’d stand there laughing at me.”
Still, it was generally a serious business, winding-up Civoniceva Snr. Yes, it was quite possible it would end with him being sent-off but more than once he was accompanied to the sideline by his stretcher-borne baiter, knocked unconscious. Like the other proud black man in the picture frame, Civoniceva Snr had fists of steel.
Rod McCall was to play 40 Tests for Australia, partnering John Eales in the second row when Australia beat England in the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham, all the while revelling in the intimidating nickname of ‘Sergeant Slaughter’. Yet when he was 24 and the next big thing in Australian rugby, he happened to fall foul of Civoniceva’s finely-attuned sense of justice while playing for Brothers in a 1988 pre-season trial.
One punch was all it took. McCall was out cold by the time he hit the ground, landing so hard he dislocated a bone in his leg and spending 10 weeks on the sidelines, delaying by a year his Test debut. Civoniceva, who recalls the “unfortunate incident” as being triggered by “an adrenalin rush”, was suspended for seven weeks.
McCall’s lip was split so badly he required plastic surgery and for a time even considered taking legal action against his assailant. Ultimately he didn’t but he understandably still was a very wary man when Brothers met Redcliffe later that same season, a match that fortunately passed without incident.
“Afterwards Petero came over to me and said, ‘I think I owe you a beer’,” McCall remembered. “So we had one – or two. He was actually a gentle giant. You just didn’t want to be within arm’s length of him when he snapped. There are no ill-feelings. I probably did the same thing to other people in my career. I just didn’t have the same punch.”
In those days, the Tongans and Fijians didn’t get on particularly well. In fact the rivalry between each of the island nations was such that they didn’t make good team mates. We had just the one Tongan in the club, and with three or more Fijian in 1st’s, I took him into the 2nds. On one of the outside grounds at Ballymore we were within 10 minutes of the end of the game when two opposition players sandwiched me with the ball. With my arms pinned, a third player approached and I watched as time slowed to slow motion as he clenched his fist and swung a punch into the middle of my face.
I was immediately taken to the doctor under the main stand and he began taping up my broken nose. All of a sudden one of my team mates rushed in and told me I would have to return to the field because all hell had broken loose. When the referee whistled full time, the players approached each other to shake hands, as was the done thing. Tony the Tongan approached the player who had broken my nose and instead of a shake, he belted him in the head. As Tony explained, a cheap shot by the opposition player in breaking my nose, wasn’t the sort of act you just forgot about because the ref. had blown full time.
Eventually in 1978 we were promoted to the 1st division of the Brisbane competition. For several years, we had been running the Redcliffe 7’s as a preseason carnival and fund raiser. The 7’s was the baby of Les Fry a Welshman and our 1st grade coach. With promotion to 1st division, we decided to really kick the 7’s up a gear and invited the Ella Brothers and Wally Lewis to form a schoolboys team and compete. The QRU pressured to have the event moved to Ballymore, however we had a strong committee and retained control.
The schoolboys attracted a massive amount of publicity and they lined up against Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland 1st grade teams. In their first game, they were very cautious and lost. Having lost and appreciating that a large crowd had come to watch them, they threw caution to the wind and played spectacular football for the rest of the carnival. No one will ever forget the three Ella brothers backing each other up and playing a mesmerising style of football. There seemed to be six brothers on the field, as they would each handle the ball three or four times in a single phase of play and score under the posts.
I had decided to get serious for our promotion to 1st division. I spent the entire off season working out at a Gym four times a week and joined Cheryl on the Weight Watchers programme. By pre-season, I was amazingly fit and muscled up. I had shed all my fat, had strength and speed. Unfortunately I still smoked.
Then again, I was shifting from the backs to Prop, so maybe I didn’t need as much “wind”.
In my 1st game and 1st competitive scrum (a trial match) as prop, I packed down, the ball came in, my neck bent, my bum went skyward, my feet lifted 20cm off the ground and I thought I was going to die. Chris “Buddha” Handy, the retired Wallaby prop was delivering my first lesson in scrummaging. For the rest of the game, I kept my feet well back, my head up and locked, my back and legs in a straight line and locked and my right arm out straight gripping Buddha’s jumper and turned to lock my elbow. I just locked up in every scrum and survived. It was the longest game I ever played and I cursed every back how knocked on or dropped the ball. In fact I even cursed them if they juggled the ball when catching it because in those days that constituted a knock on. You had to catch the ball cleanly.
When you stop to think about it, what would the Ellas have been like in an era when you could actually juggle the ball when catching it. I remember one of the rare occasions when Mark Ella dropped a pass. It made the headlines
At training the following week, one of the flankers forgot his boots and trained in his runners. Being early autumn, there was a heavy dew and his feet slipped on the wet grass. The whole scrum pivoted on my back and I dropped to the ground with disc damage. It was so bad that despite several weeks of physiotherapy and treatment, it remained a chronic problem for the next five years or so. It also meant that I was out of the 1st grade team.
Our 1st game in the 1st grade competition was against GPS (I think). What I do remember is that the team spent all day psyching up for the game and the last hour in the clubhouse with the theme from Rocky playing continuously. They burst from the club onto the ground all fired up. The game was very physical and became even more physical as the Fijians responded to racial taunts. These taunts were unrelenting and so provocative that eventually all hell broke loose. At least three GPS players were knocked out in separate incidents and the most memorable was by our 5/8 Penni Vola Vola. When provoked, he threw a punch no further than 20cm. It was the most devastating punch I have ever seen. Just a short jab to the jaw and the GPS player was out cold and off to hospital with another team mate almost as concussed where they spent the night under observation. Word spread around the other clubs. The next week against Souths, I overheard their pre-match talk in the dressing shed and it was all about concentrating on the game and not saying a word to the Fijians that might provoke a response.
Mucking Around (Vaucluse and Watsons Bay)
Apart from organised and semi-organised sport, there was also “mucking around”. Watsons Bay and Vaucluse were great for mucking around in the 1950’s and 60’S.
Until I was in 2nd class (1955) we lived with my grandmother Claire Coggan at Clarke St., Vaucluse. Tucked in between the cemetery, Christison Park and Rosa Gully, it provided great opportunities for mucking about.
At the northern end of Christison park there was swampy ground and ponds among the sandstone rocks which was a great breeding ground for frogs. Like most kids, it wasn’t enough to leave them where they were. I would take home jars of tadpoles and watch them grow legs and shed tails as they evolved into frogs before releasing them back into the swamp.
At the southern end of the park was the “tip”. This was the Woollahra answer to disposing of their tree loppings. As far as I remember, it was never designed for disposing of either household rubbish or junk. Locals obviously used it because I remember some of my most cherished possessions came from digging through the tip. There was the stack of manuscripts for a radio drama about a newspaper reporter working the “Night Beat”. This was either an adaptation of the American radio drama or something similar. An actor who lived at the end of Clarke St. closest to the cliffs, dumped his manuscript at the tip and I cherished them … for a while. Then there was the box of exotic feathers. They were probably used to decorate hats, or to make fishing flies. Just little colourful feathers.
The main purpose of the tip however was to dispose of the tree loppings. For much of the year they would lop the branches around the telegraph wires and dump them at the tip. They would sit there to dry out and then be burnt and bulldozed off the cliff. While I wouldn’t say that there were plague proportions of rats, there were certainly enough to keep you on your toes as you dug around.
There was certainly one too many however. Colin Suttle was a local kid a few years older than I. I remember him most for his fanaticism for the game of “Test Match”. He lived in a pokey dirty little cottage near the bus terminal. One day, while being chased along the cliff outside the fence just down from the tip, he stood in the stomach of a dead “drunk” This man had passed out while drinking and rats had started eating at his stomach. As David Addison chased Colin , he stepped in the guy, looked down and took off for home. I seem to remember he couldn’t speak for some time. Now, I didn’t witness the event, so I can’t swear for certain that it happened, but I’m pretty certain it did.
Over the years I spent a fair amount of time at my grandmothers. I can’t remember why. Initially it was because we lived with her. Later I lived with her while my mother was in a hospital at Picton recovering from Tuberculosis, and later still when my parents moved to Melbourne and I was doing my Leaving Certificate at Sydney Tech. At other times I must have stayed overnight when I was at Vaucluse Boy’s High just around the corner. However long I did live with her or how often I stayed at her place, I have far too many memories of playing with the kids around that part of Vaucluse.
There was the Lewis kid who was memorable for two things. His family holidayed at Surfers Paradise when it was “THE” place to holiday in the late 50’s early 60’s and he had a dog who was run over by a tram. The dogs hind legs were so badly damaged he couldn’t walk and in time learnt to walk on its front legs occasionally but most of the time just dragged it’s hind legs around. I also seem to remember watching the Rocky and Bullwinkle show on TV at their house.
Then there was Jimmy Elfick who’s father was a bank manager. He was “shell shocked” from WW1 and therefore when at home we had to keep quiet. That was O.K. because most of the time at Jimmies was spent in his bedroom building model airplanes out of balsa. We would buy kits which contained blocks and sheets of balsa wood with a set of plans and “decals’ to stick on when finished. The main tools were razor blades and sandpaper. We would cut out the plan for the fuselage. First the side on view. We would stick it onto the top of the balsa block and then carefully carve the shape with the razor blade. Next was the side view. Then we would use the sandpaper to round it off and complete the shaping. Then the wings and tail were shaped and attached with “Tarzans Grip”. I’ve got to wonder if the appeal of making balsa models was purely the excitement of recreating war time plane models or the smell of the “Tarzans Grip”. Once assembled, we then painted the planes and attached the decals which were the insignia of the aircraft; the red, white and blue circles of the air force or the swastika of the Germans. Finally, fishing line was used to hang the planes from the ceiling. At the Addisons next door, with the three boys sharing a bedroom, the ceiling was a crowded war zone with every make and model aircraft from WW2 involved in a mass dogfight.
Warwick and John Addison were considerable older so I don’t remember much more than John taking apart clocks and things and trying to reassemble them and Warwick returning from a years long round Australia holiday with tales of exotic beers such as Swan Larger and XXXX and the party lifestyle of Coolangatta. David was a year ahead at school, and we knocked around together more than any one lese in the area.
David was the one who dared me to cross the garage roof when it was being built; and I fell through the canvas onto the garage floor. He was the one who lost his temper and chased me mercilessly until he took a shot at me with a big wooden scrubbing brush as I rounded the corner in their backyard. The brush cracked me on the ankle and I limped for days. It was at a party in their garage where we danced to the music of Buddy Holly when he was killed. It was where we had the best BBQ’s. His father, Uncle Doug was the butcher who home delivered throughout Vaucluse and Watsons Bay, and made the absolute best big fat beef sausages.
When Uncle Doug wasn’t working, he was leaning on the bench in their kitchen with form guides spread around him and listening to every race on the radio. I suspect his bets were placed with the local SP bookie. This was a little “foreign” guy who had a hole in the wall shop at the bus terminus. For the life of me I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget my naiveté. I must have been well and truly into my teens before I found out. I couldn’t understand what this guy was about. His shop was maybe 10 meters long and 2 meters wide. It consisted of a bank of shelves with fruit and veg., a couple of shelves of jars of lollies and a big ice chest stocked with soft drink. Here I developed a passion for “Passiona”. God that was an exotic drink for a kid. At the end of the shop was a door that opened into a wardrobe where he had a desk, chair and telephone. He spent so much time in there that as kids we occasionally helped ourselves in the shop. We were thieves. He was a “starting price” bookie. What business he didn’t do on the phone, he did with the constant stream of bus drivers.
Uncle Doug really wanted to be a firemen. Any time there was a fire engine siren in the area he was off to his car and chased them to the fire. Mum and Dad played Canasta with Uncle Doug and Aunty Merle on Saturday nights, and on occasions it would come to an end when Uncle Doug took off to chase a fire engine.
I don’t know for how many years they played Canaster on Saturday nights. It must have been long enough for me to grow from an age where I would be carried to the car in the middle of the night to return home to my own bed, to being old enough to lie on the floor of the boys bedroom listening to the Saturday night serials and dramas on the radio till late at night and then walking to the car for the drive home. The only other memories I retain from those Canasta nights is that the women drank “Pims” , they played at a card table and Aunty Merle was a stunner. She had a large dressing table in their bedroom and was often still putting on her makeup when we arrived. It had a massive mirror and was well lit, almost like a theatre make up mirror.
Aunty Merle died of cancer when I was in my mid teens. Uncle Doug was never the same again. He just seemed to go through the motions for the rest of his life.
The cliffs never held much appeal to me. I loved to sit and look out on the ocean or even along the rugged coast, but as for climbing or walking close to the edge, no way. Colin Suttle’s experience probably started the slide, seeing bodies being retrieved from the base of “The Gap” continued the slide and when one of our school mates was killed while climbing down the cliff at Rosa Gully finished me off. He was climbing down a rope when another boy dislodged a rock which hit him and knocked him off the cliff face.
“The Gap” was infamous in the 1950’s and 60’s as the main suicide jump in Sydney. For us kids, the attraction was the famous police cliff rescue squad. They would erect a tripod on the edge of the cliff and with a block and tackle, lower a policeman on a stretcher to the base of the cliff. This was all manual work with a team of police lowering and pulling the stretcher back up the cliff. They wore white overalls with the traditional navy blue police cap. Often, the body would be so badly broken that they would put some body parts in a sack and cover it and the body with a blanket before bringing it back up. Only once did I accidentally see a body, when I walked past the back of the ambulance as I headed back home. I haven’t been able to stand the sight of blood since.
We learnt how to do it in primary school at Vaucluse Public School and on the way home. In those pre T.V. days, we only had books and movies to feed our imagination and provide the theme for play. The movie Rob Roy sparked a long period of lunch time play in which we would act out the fighting between the Scots and English by running around the playground sword fighting and either hiding or trying to ambush each other. The Sunday Newspaper comics provided the inspiration for making swords and shields. Prince Valliant was the model for a great shield with the horses head emblazoned in red paint.
Robin Hood inspired bows and arrows made of bamboo which was in plentiful supply , and I suspect that one episode lead to the addition of the shanghai (sling shot) to our armoury. What with fire works, bows and arrows, shanghais and BB Guns, it was a wonder non of us lost an eye or suffered a major wound.
In those innocent days, we used to walk home from school without parents. They would only have got in the way of our fun. If we had walked straight home, we would have been there in 15 minutes. Unless we had an urgent game of touch to play on the lawnie, we usually took an hour to get home. There were distractions every 50 yards or so. In those days, there were still a number of bushy areas to play in, there was the beach to walk along, hail storms to shelter from, pinball to play in Tommy Marinados
The most primal sense: Smell
Have you ever wondered why food loses its flavor when you have a cold? It’s not your taste buds’ fault. Blame your stuffed-up nose. Seventy to seventy-five percent of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Taste buds allow us to perceive only bitter, salty, sweet, and sour flavors. It’s the odor molecules from food that give us most of our taste sensation.
When you put food in your mouth, odor molecules from that food travel through the passage between your nose and mouth to olfactory receptor cells at the top of your nasal cavity, just beneath the brain and behind the bridge of the nose. If mucus in your nasal passages becomes too thick, air and odor molecules can’t reach your olfactory receptor cells. Thus, your brain receives no signal identifying the odor, and everything you eat tastes much the same. You can feel the texture and temperature of the food, but no messengers can tell your brain, “This cool, milky substance is chocolate ice cream.” The odor molecules remain trapped in your mouth. The pathway has been blocked off to those powerful perceivers of smell–the olfactory bulbs.
Of all our senses, smell is our most primal. Animals need the sense of smell to survive. Although a blind rat might survive, a rat without its sense of smell can’t mate or find food. For humans, the sense of smell communicates many of the pleasures in life–the aroma of a pot roast in the oven, fresh-cut hay, a rose garden. Smells can also signal danger, fear, or dread.
Although our sense of smell is our most primal, it is also very complex. To identify the smell of a rose, the brain analyzes over 300 odor molecules. The average person can discriminate between 4,000 to 10,000 different odor molecules. Much is unknown about exactly how we detect and discriminate between various odors. But researchers have discovered that an odor can only be detected in liquid form. We breathe in airborne molecules that travel to and combine with receptors in nasal cells. The cilia, hairlike receptors that extend from cells inside the nose, are covered with a thin, clear mucus that dissolves odor molecules not already in vapor form. When the mucus becomes too thick, it can no longer dissolve the molecules.
Animals depend on odors secreted from their bodies to communicate. For humans, odors communicate a variety of messages, depending on the odor and the person receiving it. The aroma of a baking apple pie sends one message when someone is hungry and quite another when that person has just finished a six-course meal!
I also remember reading that in the Amazon, Indians have dozens of words to describe smells, whereas in the western world, most of the words we use are derived from the other senses. Our sense of smell has become so subliminal, that we don’t rate it as highly as sight or sound, or even touch and taste. I also recollect Proust writing the the smell of a bakery took him back to his youth and a visit to a cake shop with his grandmother.
SMELL AND MEMORY
“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust “The Remembrance of Things Past”(1)
Last week when I was in New York there was this good smell coming out of this restaurant and right when I smelled it, the smell brought back memories of this one festival I went to in Japan almost 3 years ago. On another occasion this perfume a girl was wearing brought back memories of a girlfriend in high school. Of all the senses I would say that smell is the sense that is best at bringing back memories. When you smell a certain scent it feels as though you slipped back in time and that you are actually at that scene again. If it was not for the other senses of your body, you might really feel as though you are back there again. But why is it that smell has this ability to instantaneously trigger memories of events, places or people that you usually would not “think” of?
Despite the tendency of humans to underestimate the role of smell in our every day lives, for most mammals, smell is the most important sense. Dogs are probably the most obvious example of this, it is through the use of the olfactory system that animals are able to find food, reproduce, and even communicate. While being one of the oldest and important parts of the brain, our failure to fully realize the importance of the olfactory system resulted in it being surrounded by numerous questions (2). How does it work? How do we identify smells? While these are only a few questions out of a whole list, research has progressed in recent years that we know much more about the olfactory system than before, but the fact remains that much remains to be found.
Through research conducted on mice, it is approximated that humans have 1000 different sensors in their nose (3). While this might seem like a large amount of sensors, it is not enough considering mice and humans can identify about 10,000 odors. The mystery surrounding this ratio can be explained through the unique features of the olfactory system. Odors are molecular so the method used is different from light or sound that come in waves (4).
Inside your nose about the level of your eyes, is a small patch of tissue containing millions of nerve cells. The odor receptors (sensors) lie on these nerve cells. Each of the receptors recognizes several odors, and likewise a single odor could be recognized by several receptors. Thus similar to codes, what happens is that different combinations of the 1,000 receptors result in our ability to identify 10,000 different odors. Linda Buck, an associate professor at Harvard, makes an analogy of this quite efficient system to letters being used in different combinations to make individual words. She goes on to say that this system ‘greatly reduces the number of sensors needed to code for the smells” (3).
The process that takes place is quite complex. After an odor molecule enters the nose and are recognized by the olfactory sensors, the signals are eventually sent to the olfactory bulb that is located right above the eyes (3). The signals only go to two areas in the olfactory bulb, and signals from different sensors are targeted to different spots that then form a sensory map. From there the signals reach the olfactory area of the cortex (smell sensory cortex) (5).
An important quality of the olfactory system is that information travels both to the limbic system and cortex. The limbic system is the primitive part of the brain that include areas that control emotions, memory and behavior. In comparison the cortex is the outer part of the brain that has to do with conscious thought. In addition to these two areas, information also travels to the taste sensory cortex to create the sense of flavor (2). Because olfactory information goes to both the primitive and complex part of the brain it effects our actions in more ways than we think.
Many wonder how certain smells able to trigger memories of events taking place several years ago despite the fact that sensory neurons in the epithelium survive for about only 60 days (1). The answer is that the neurons in the epithelium actually have successors. As the olfactory neurons die, new olfactory neurons generated by the layer of stem cells beneath them, which eventually takes the role of the old neuron as it dies. Linda Buck points out that the key point to the answer is that “memories survive because the axons of neurons that express the same receptor always go to the same place” (1). The memories are stored in the hippocampus, and through relational memory certain smells trigger memories.
Another popular question is the reason behind smell having such a strong role in instantaneously recalling memory. Despite our belief that sight and hearing are the two most important senses to our survival, from an evolutionary perspective smell is one of the most important senses. To recognize food or to detect poison, smell is the sense that almost all other mammals use. Because of this basic feature yet vital role, smell is one of the oldest parts of our brain. Trygg Engen, a psychology professor at Brown University notes that smells serve as “index keys” to quickly retrieve certain memories in our brain. This primitive yet essential role is probably why smells trigger memory more than does seeing or hearing.
Professor Engen goes on in attempting to further explain the relation of odor and memory. His controversial views basically states that the way we sense odors are all results of “nurture” and not “nature” (6). He says that initially all smells are neutral, and that whether a odor is pleasant or unpleasant has to do with the initial condition in which the smell is perceived. It follows from this that when we smell odors, it triggers a certain memory that has to do with that particular odor and thus is decided whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. Engen’s views are controversial because of the lack of convincing data to back his views up. Although certain points about Engen seem to make sense, such as how odor serve to trigger memories like index keys, his views about the “nurture” vs “nature” are a little harder to understand. If odors are decided by “nurture”, it leaves the question of how so many people have a similar view towards many odors. There is probably nobody who would say that the smell of rotten food is good. Yet Engen’s views are definitely worth considering because for some odors like gasoline, some people say it is good while others detest it.
It is said that people can identify about 10,000 different smells, but have many smells can you name off the top of your head (3)? In comparison, look at how many colors there are in a crayon box, or the many varieties of music existing. This lack of understanding and appreciation of odors is a result of our over reliance on our eyes and ears, even to the extent that we suppress our awareness of what our nose tells us. Our underestimation of the role of smell results in our lack of extensive knowledge concerning many aspects of the olfactory system. But as Proust stated, smell has such a strong power to vividly bring back memories, it is definitely more important than we realize. To a large extent smell is more personal than other senses so it brings back memories of people, not just places, or things.
I labour the point because smell has always been the sense I was most aware of, because I’ve only had it occasionally. In my late 20’s a broken nose (playing rugby) compounded a propensity to grow polyps
Chicken poo Redcliffe
Broom in Italy