We do anything to help our sick kids. And yes, paramedics spoil a birthday party.

June 28, 2011

Nothing is simple. Not in this family. Take a well planned birthday, throw in a medical emergency and a few paramedics, and you have our weekend.

By all accounts, it had been a glorious time. Daughter One, who from here on will be known as The Teenager, had celebrated in fine style. The hotel stay. The Titans debacle. And then family dinner. Wonderful fun.

Daughter Two, who from here on will be known as Daughter Two, had been unusually quiet. No teasing. No stealing of older sister’s goods and appliances.

We knew she had some sort of bug. Off colour, with a cough and a sniffle. At Skilled Park, she didn’t even yell her adoration for Scotty Prince. Unlike The Teenager, The Treasurer, and The Mum-in law.

Come feast time, at a funky Gold Coast Japanese place, she’d had enough. No food. No banter with the cousins. Something was up. Her temperature.

When we arrived back at grandma’s place, our digs for the night, she’d gone downhill. We gave her medicine and a sponge down. She went to bed, as sick as I’ve seen her.

We checked on her every fifteen minutes. That’s what parents do. Around midnight, as the oldies sipped a cuppa before bed, and The Teenager spoke to a greater section of the Western world on Facebook, we heard her talking. In another dialect.

She was bolt upright, in her Titans’ jersey, wide-eyed. Her skin was bright red. There was gibberish talk. And she was burning up.

Our family has some experience in deciphering gibber. They’ve heard it from me more than once, usually after long sessions on the truth serum. But this was different.

I asked if she knew where she was. At home, she said. Are you in pain? She mumbled something, and waved towards the sheets, which were now soaked. I need seven, she called to someone beyond me. My little girl was boiling. I had an awful chill.

The Treasurer called the Health Hotline. The nurse was calm, and helpful. More than likely, it was a bad fever. But she couldn’t be sure. We need to rule out meningitis. Keep her in bed. Stay calm. And call an ambulance.

The temperature was now above 40 degrees. We sponged her, all of us. Her alien tongue ceased, finally. Relief, of sorts. But that bright colour remained.

You think the worst. That’s what parents do. You don’t say it, but you think it. And you stand at the front door in your winter pyjamas, and wait.

The paramedics arrived, on a shift from hell. Saturday night on the Gold Coast. They went to work quickly. Temperatures, skin checks, blood pressure.

The lead operator teased about her team’s loss to the Sharks. She smiled. Good sign. Is your neck sore honey? Please say no. Please not meningococcal.

It was, they decided, a severe fever. Nothing more sinister. The peak of this damn bug she’d been battling. And it would pass. We received instructions for medication and hydration. They told us to ring immediately if it flared again.

As they walked out, the second bloke pulled me aside. He recognised me. Because he’d been at this house before. Yes, I said sheepishly. I was the bloke with the dislocated ankle. In the garden, out the front. What are the odds? The curse of Mum-in-law’s house strikes again.

They walked back to the ambulance, giggling as they looked at the tiny retaining wall I fell from four months ago. I didn’t mind. They were amazing. Able to look after sooky old gardeners, and brave young girls, all with a smile.

I know parents who deal with way more than fevers. How do they do it? One of my best mates went through leukaemia with his young son. It was touch and go. They had to split their time between Cairns and Brisbane, as the treatments continued. His little bloke isn’t little any more. Fighting fit now.

My nephew survived a serious blood disorder as a baby. It seemed never-ending. But he survived. He had to, because he’ll be playing for the Maroons one day at Lang Park.

We have friends who just found out their four-year old has diabetes. Four years old. Life has been turned upside down. But this amazing little girl is giving them strength. They’ve been all but knocked over by the love and support from those around them.

And on it goes. You know someone too. Fighting the fight. Finding strength wherever they can.

Another chum is a doctor, who fights cancer in kids. A miracle worker. A mum, and a wife, and a wonderful specialist who makes sick children better. Most of the time.

On a dark day, every now and then, she has to tell families that the battle has been lost. The cancer was too much. The fight over. Can you imagine having to deliver that news? Next time you’re having a bad day at the office, think of her, preparing for that conversation.

As parents, we would gladly swap places with our sick kids. Make it me, not them. I’ve said that prayer. I bet many of you have too. But it doesn’t work that way.

Daughter Two was on the improve the next day. She wanted to hear more about her hour in fairyland. We’ll add to the story over the years, to achieve maximum embarrassment on her 18th birthday.

Of course, she’s managed to pass the bug on to me. Prepare for more gibber talk. And get the sponge bath ready. I’ll try to be as brave as Daughter Two. Unlikely. Just don’t call that paramedic out again.


A daughter’s special day means no racing for me. Except maybe a sneaky double..

June 24, 2011

There’ll be no Eagle Farm for me tomorrow. After weeks of enjoying the winter carnival up close, I must decline the invitation. A better offer has arrived.

Daughter One celebrates her 13th birthday. Thirteen glorious years. The party starts tonight. And runs until she’s nearly 14.

It’s been quite a run for the serious punter, this carnival. Punishment, week after week. It started for real with the Black Caviar show in early May. There’ll be few bigger days, ever, in Queensland racing.

We backed up for two more top shelf Saturdays at Doomben. The pace was a cracker. It became too much for an old fella. Those running the home stable ordered a spell for Oaks Day.

Just as well. I don’t need to remind you how big the Stradbroke was the following weekend. A true staying test. Finally, Ipswich Cup with the masses. Five giant meetings in six weeks.

That’s behind us now. Wallet inflated, somehow. Damage confined to several major organs. The human body’s ability to recover is truly a wonderous thing.

Anyway, the focus shifts this weekend. Quality family time. With just the odd peek at the form guide.

It’s ok, they understand. You’re talking to a bloke who had a double running on the afternoon of his wedding. When we said goodbye to Mum, God bless her, I had a nice win on a country cup. I still reckon she ordered that inside run.

When the stewards looking over me call correct weight for the final time, you’ll all be forced to have a bet. Those who farewell me once I’ve logged off, will be given a mystery trifecta ticket on entry. It’s marked clearly in the will. I’m still working on how I’ll take my cut of any winnings.

Hang on, how did I go from winning over the carnival to turning my toes up? That’s a new high in drifting, pointless rambling, even for me. Let us return to the topic of the day; The Birthday.

This weekend has been planned for weeks. We’re spending tonight in a city hotel. When I say we, I mean myself and The Treasurer, Daughters One and Two, and a bunch of thirteen year old girls. A couple of big rooms with a connecting door.

I can hear you sniggering. Karma, you’re yelling at the screen with delight. Punishment for having all that fun.

I’ve seen what’s planned. My input wasn’t needed. The more notable activities include turns at doing facials and home-made beauty treatments, a few crazy prank calls, eating a large bucket of sour worm lollies, and the obligatory pillow fight.

The timeline has scary movies and popcorn from midnight. I fancy my chances of sneaking a look at the form guide when the screaming starts. Only briefly, of course.

After a few minutes sleep, we’ll enjoy breakfast, and more teenage-style fun, before farewelling the friends, and departing for the Gold Coast. So begins phase two of the birthday bash. They might let me listen to a race or two in the car on the way down. Then again, maybe they won’t.

Daughter One, you see, is a mad Titans fan. We’re off to their clash with the Sharks tomorrow afternoon. Players will be warming up as they declare correct weight in the last. Not that I care.

True, it won’t be the game of the round. There was some late mail that they’re actually paying people to go through the gates. But none of that matters. She wants to cheer Scotty Prince. If I can smuggle a transistor in, I might get to hear one of the later races in Perth. Kidding.

As exciting as the bottom of the table clash might be, it will have nothing on our family dinner planned for that night. Yes, we’ll hop on the train, get back to our car, and head into Surfers Paradise for an evening of giggles with the relatives. By this time, a cool drink might be in order.

Come Sunday morning, just after ten o’clock, we’ll officially have a teenager on our hands. There’ll be cards, and presents, and love. Lots of that.

June 26, 1998. It still makes me giddy, just thinking about that day. When the footy coach completely forgot he’d been making plans for a son. Because she looked at me, and made everything different. Better.

Thirteen years later, she’s still smiling. And shaking her head at dad. I’m banned from the pillow fight apparently. Who knows, it might give me time to get that double on.


Sorry, Miley Cyrus, but I’m taking a stand. And you can’t talk me out of it..

June 21, 2011

The girls were puzzled. How could I turn them down? Who would knock back the chance to see the one and only Miley Cyrus in concert?

They were crowded around the laptop, buying tickets to her first Brisbane show. Four tickets. One for each of us. Quick thinking was needed.

I’ve mentioned the young American songstress on these pages before. She’s very popular in our house. To be able to scream at her from close range was a dream come true, apparently.

The tickets are not cheap. Think of being front row to see Elvis in action. In a comeback spectacular. With Frank Sinatra as his backing singer. The girl’s nickname might be Ned Kelly.

As much as I want to party with my wonderful daughters, I’ve had to take a stand. I’m on a self-imposed ban from tween and teen concerts.

I told them they’d have more fun without me. An all-girl affair. Yell as loud as you want, without Dad shaking his head. Dance crazy. Just don’t tell me later. And it would save us some money. The Treasurer agreed.

The Daughters have form for dragging me to these type of concerts. They enjoy seeing me out of my very limited comfort zone. The last one was Miley’s Nashville buddy, Taylor Swift.

It must be said, I don’t mind her music. She has a catchy, country sound. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The first thing I noticed was that the crowd was pretty much all female. Maximum age 16. With no intention of sitting down.

I knew the first couple of songs, and tried to join in the fun. Difficult, when you’re not screaming, or crying, or dancing. Or all of the above at the one time.

What troubled me most was the talking. From the stage. The star of the show wanted to chat. Between every song. Long winded, heart-felt yapping. Is that what they do these days?

It was too much. I left early. When I walked outside, I found Dads everywhere. Sitting on lounges. Lying on the floor. Reading books.

No one spoke, but they nodded in appreciation. I’d gone through those doors. They hadn’t. But I couldn’t last the distance. How times had changed.

In the early days, we’d sneak into pubs, to watch some of the legends of Australian rock. Angels. INXS. Australian Crawl. Midnight Oil. Chisel.

They were just kicking off, all of them. And so were we. In grimy places full of smoke and grog and agro.

Truth be told, we shouldn’t have been there. Luckily, ID checks were not the done thing.  We’d get in through an open toilet window. Sometimes a friendly bouncer would turn a blind eye. No one seemed to care.

I don’t remember the greats talking between songs. Although Barnsey might have sometimes. We just couldn’t understand what he was saying.

The focus was on the music. Great, rocking tunes. One after the other. Until the bar closed.

Granted, my memory may be a little hampered. And as a card-carrying member of the Our Old Fart Music Was Better Than Yours society, I might be a little biased. But examples remain.

I’ve never heard a sound like The Eagles produced, when they played in Brisbane a few years back, on their (second) farewell tour. Magic. The concert DVD gets a belt here every few months. I never get sick of those good ‘ol boys.

Anyway, none of that will matter to the girls tonight. Miley will talk. They’ll scream. Better that I’m not in the way. They’ve even given me permission to go for a steak and a beer while they’re out. That’s called a win-win.

Don’t worry, I get dragged along to everything else. Wouldn’t have it any other way. A man has to have something to whinge about.

Daughter One turns 13 this weekend. Very special. And I’ll be playing my part. I’ll tell you how it goes next week. We’re staying in a hotel, with some of her friends. She’ll go through the front door, not the toilet window. And they’ll be way better behaved than we ever were.

I haven’t told her yet, but I’ll be looking after the music. I’m sure her friends won’t mind. No talking allowed. Some of my old cassette tapes should work just fine.


The spirit of a city to shine on Ipswich Cup day.

June 17, 2011

I’ll be heading up the Ipswich Motorway tomorrow, to attend Queensland’s biggest race meeting.

Seriously. I am not sipping hard liquor as I write this. Completely sober. But given the event in question is the Ipswich Cup, that will change soon enough.

I know what you’re thinking. He’s finally lost it. No surprise really. Call the men in white who talk in hushed tones.

Before you send me to my calm, happy place, let me explain. Ipswich’s grand day of racing attracts more racegoers than my beloved Stradbroke Saturday. Magic Millions Day on the Gold Coast? Not in the same ballpark.

Think Black Caviar Day at Doomben, with more rum. The only other arvo that comes close is Eagle Farm’s Ekka holiday race day. But that doesn’t count, because the entire crowd there is aged eighteen and one month.

There’s nothing like an Ipswich Cup day. And I mean that in a good way. Think of all the great racing events. The Cup. Cox Plate. Doncaster Day. This isn’t one of them.

Instead, it’s an amazing celebration of a city’s spirit. When twenty thousand people cram into a racecourse designed to hold half that amount.

I have no idea where they put them. There are tents on the infield, that become small cities. I’m guessing they see little racing over there. You need a lift in a Hercules to get to some of them. But they love it.

The grandstands are full before the gates open. I’ve always suspected the crowd begins arriving last Tuesday. They’re probably in there now, doing the form, chuckling to one another about getting a seat.

On the way in, it’s the happiest racing crowd I know. Everyone is having a laugh. That says something about Ipswich. They stick together. Forget the barbs from the snobs and the toffs. They don’t get it.

The girls are frocked up. Outfits weeks in the making. They come from all over. For some, it’s their most exciting outing of the year.

The boys arrive in various forms. They show their appreciation that the girls are frocked up. You know how it goes.

There are also blokes dressed as animals. I’m not sure why. Costumes are very popular. I saw a bloke dressed in a bear suit last year. He seemed to be having a good time.

It’s as much a giant party as a race meeting. Believe me, no-one goes short of a cool drink. The bar staff have been training like Olympians just to keep up the pace.

For all the social stuff, there are some decent races too. Every year you’ll find a sprinkling of visiting horses and trainers, looking to pick up some carnival prize money.

This year’s Cup is no different. Kiwi stayer The Hombre will start favourite. Rightly so. He’s been running in much stronger company than this. If the track dries out, double your bet.

The punters will be cheering for Our Lucas. He won the Cup last year. And the year before. Can you imagine what they’ll do if Rob Heathcote’s tough gelding makes it three from three? No-one will leave.

The meeting will be a little different this time. Something special. Early this year, Ipswich was underwater. Swamped by the worst flooding in decades. The racecourse wasn’t spared.

In those grim few days, families lost homes. Lives and businesses were destroyed. Locals needed every bit of the city’s famous spirit.

It’s been a struggle since. But they’ve worked together. We’d expect nothing less. And now, finally, Ipswich is getting back on top.

So there’s extra reason to celebrate. A time for people to say thanks. Even shed a tear. It could be the most emotional race meeting of the year.

If you haven’t been before, make the trip. Join the party. Shout the bloke next to you a drink. Unless he’s in a bear suit.


Struggling for Facebook pals? Twitter making you twitchy? Make friends with a book.

June 14, 2011

I love a good book. Such a simple pleasure in a complicated time. Learning from the words of others.

Our house wasn’t filled with the classics. I can’t remember if we even had a bookcase. But Mum always seemed to be reading something.

I might be slandering the old boy, but I don’t recall Dad finishing too many books. Newspapers were his go.

He’d pour over the morning paper during smoko at work. Especially the sport pages. Then after a hard day on the tools, he’d check the afternoon editions on our kitchen table.

It was there that he’d tell me whether the journos had got it right. Especially the league writers. What would they know?

I caught his love of the printed word. It wasn’t long before it was my job to buy The Sun and the Daily Mirror.

There were no deliveries in those days. Didn’t need to be. We had the trusty paperboy.

Every afternoon, he’d ride his bike down our street. A teenager with a large cardboard box attached to the handlebars. His whistle would be my cue to dash outside.

All the neighbours would be out too. From memory I was the only kid. He’d weave back and forth across the road, picking us off one by one.

I’d be shattered if that box was empty when he arrived at our house. But always careful not to say anything. Our newsagent on wheels happened to be an amateur boxing champ. He was never robbed.

Books came later. Over the years I’ve collected my own little library. It’s moved with us from place to place.

I’m not big on fiction. Biographies are my go. I love reading about the lives of others. Especially those who have a go. Or inspire. Even those we might despise.

It’s quite a mix in my bookcase. The Reverend Ted Noffs sits beside gangster Neddy Smith. Singo could be next to Dame Edna and Kerry O’Keefe.

This may surprise you, but the likes of John Cash and Dean Martin are on hand. Tom Jones too. Just up from Jack Gibson and Wayne Bennett. Even cricket kook Henry Blofeld. What a dinner party that would be.

Sporting stars, and the people who work with them, fascinate me. Especially those from humble beginnings. So many lessons for the rest of us.

Read the life stories of Lance Armstrong or Andre Agassi, and tell me you’re not motivated. Take a journey with Alfie Langer or Shane Webcke, and try not to cheer. No chance.

I’ve tried to pass my passion on to the kids. We did Fairy Tales at bedtime from an early age. Daughter One loved them. She would order repeats. Sometimes Dad would fall asleep first.

Daughter Two, however, was more for the impromptu. She liked her stories made up, not from a page. Tell me about the moon, Dad. Quite a task, especially after Friday night drinks.

Every year now, we head to the Lifeline Bookfest. For those who haven’t been before, picture the MCG covered with tables of every kind of cheap reading matter.

I head to the Biography table, and snap up a few bargains. The girls find the section for children, and battle with dozens of grandmothers looking for early Christmas presents.

Each finds favourites for a few dollars a pop. Enough to last till next time. And keep them off the i-pod, for an hour or two.

They’re a varied bunch, our fellow book fair visitors. This is an event that attracts all sorts.

Some try to get to the final page while still at the table, in the hope of saving around three dollars. Others are reading so much at home, they’re neglecting personal hygiene. Badly. They tend to get the books they want. Think of the Comic Book guy from The Simpsons.

But at least they ARE reading. Others, it would seem, don’t have time for paperbacks or hard covers. No need to, when your head is buried in Facebook or Twitter.

And that’s a shame. For all the advantages of being plugged into social media, there’s nothing like taking time out, to tackle an old favourite, or find a new friend.

To play my part, I’m taking a stand. Less Facebook, more reading.

Forget Twitter before bed. I’ll be turning pages. With a book that I can smell. No i-pad, thanks. Batteries not required. Besides, I need somewhere to put my Grade Three ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ bookmark.

You can join my campaign. Get the kids involved too. Hopefully we’ll see you at the next Bookfest. Just remember the deodorant.


How a couple of old blokes will have too much fun on Stradbroke weekend.

June 10, 2011

I’m excited. Like a kid who’s peeked downstairs on Christmas night and spotted a Malvern Star under the tree. It’s Stradbroke weekend.

Queensland’s favourite race day. At our best racetrack. Eagle Farm. Since 1890. What a tradition.

The great sporting venues are rich with history. Around every corner. Especially on a racecourse.

When I first visited Flemington, I imagined Phar Lap steaming up that giant straight. Listen hard, and you can hear the whoosh as Big Red surges to the post.

Go to Randwick, and feel the spirit of Tommy Smith bustling past. On his way to saddle up another winner. Maybe chip a jockey who ignored the gospel.

Eagle Farm is different. When I sit in the stands, I think about the punters of winter carnivals gone by. Cheering. Cursing. Offering a tale of woe to anyone who might be listening. Yep, some things don’t change.

There are spots on course, that help tell a state’s history. I like that. Something old. Something new.

Memories away from the track too. I remember watching in awe from Bundaberg when Rough Habit won his second Stradbroke in 1992. I groaned in Cairns back in ’95 when my favourite sprinter Schillaci could only finish second.

Since then, I’ve worked on some tradition of my own. And that’s why I’m so excited.

My mate and I plan it every year. Our favourite weekend, that revolves around the big race. He flies up, I take time off. A racing holiday for old farts.

It all starts today. We’re off to the Bernborough Club lunch. Honouring a champ, with a few hundred other like-minded fans. They’ll be excited too. I’ll check this for you, but I suspect cool drinks could be on offer.

We’ve been told that Mick Dittman might be speaking. I hope they don’t mind two blokes squealing like schoolgirls on table seven.

At day’s end, we’ll devour a steak at the Caxton. Then watch the footy. Not too late, though. That’s the plan anyway. A bloke needs to be reasonably tidy for the main event.

Come Saturday, we actually get nervous walking through those big gates at the end of Racecourse road. The huge crowd walks as one. Form guide in one pocket. Hope in another.

The day flies past. Brisbane Cup. The TJ Smith. The Derby. And the Stradbroke. What a program.

For what it’s worth, we both like Woorim in the big one. Go the local boy.

At day’s end, we’ll catch the bus to the pub down the road for a few cleansing ales. Like they did fifty years ago. Hopefully we’ll have enough left to actually buy one.

Then it’s off for post-races Chinese. The same restaurant every year, of course. They should remember our order by now.

Once, when the Brisbane Cup was still run on the holiday Monday, we bumped into Paul Perry and the owners of Newport there.

They were celebrating their win in the Cup, and counting cash. With that beautiful cup in the middle of the table. We promised each other, over a mountain of fried rice and cups of cheap wine, that we’d do the same one day.

If we’re not under the whip by this stage, we venture out for a final sip. It’s a never-ending search for somewhere playing eighties music. Sad, isn’t it.

Last year we took a wrong turn, and ended up in a karaoke bar with some very loud American students. Not quite what we were looking for.

Anyway, that’s our weekend. Wish us luck. If you happen to see us along the way, some words of encouragement would be good. Maybe even a tip or two. Another chapter will be written. On and off the track. Tradition. You can’t beat it.


The grubs will never win, because of men like Damian Leeding.

June 7, 2011

I didn’t know Damian Leeding. But I know blokes like him. They’re braver than me. They go to work, not knowing if they’ll make it home.

I’ve knocked around with coppers for the best part of thirty years. Some of my best mates are either in the force, or retired from it.

People my age remember how it used to be. When the local cop ruled the roost. A boot up the bum, or a clip across the ear. Don’t do it again.

Not any more. It’s a different time. Old school is now frowned upon. Not an option. Everything today has to be by the book. Except the crooks are ignoring the script.

One thing hasn’t changed though. The good officers hate the bad guys. With a passion. They despise what they do to innocent people. And they want them off the streets.

I don’t know Damian Leeding’s widow. A police officer herself. But I know women like her. Brave partners, fully aware of the risks.

Can you imagine what it’s like, kissing someone goodbye in the morning, knowing what could lie ahead? Such strength.

As a rule, they don’t discuss those thoughts with others. But it’s always there. The silent fear.

They are incredibly supportive. It’s a tight-knit group. When the unthinkable happens, as it did last week, they grieve as one.

I don’t know Damian Leeding’s parents. But over the years, I’ve met mums and dads like them. So proud, that their son or daughter is willing to take the oathe to protect the rest of us.

Talk to the parents of a soldier, and you’ll find that same emotion. Watching their own take on the toughest of roles. Jobs that must be done.

Listen to what they say, on those awful days when the Hercules returns with another draped coffin. Words dripping with pride, and pain. In equal doses.

It’s never been tougher to be a cop. The crooks they’re chasing are a new breed. On new drugs. Those chemicals frying their brains, have also eliminated any notion of fear.

We have grubs pointing guns at teenagers, trying to make some pocket-money at their fast food restaurant. Or taking on the bloke working the night shift at the local service station. Patrons are being tied up in pubs and clubs. And it seems to be happening every other night.

These cowards carry handguns and shotguns. Knives and iron bars. Even machetes. All aimed at terrifying some poor bugger trying to make an honest dollar.

Well, enough. It’s time we made a noise. Stamped our feet. Let law makers understand that we refuse to accept low lifes getting away with it.

Police need to know we’re behind them. That the overwhelming mob, the silent majority, appreciates what they do for us, every day. Every week.

I didn’t know Damian Leeding. But I know blokes like him. They’ll shed tears for him today. And after a drink to honour his bravery, they’ll go back to work.

Over time, they’ll help with the bills, when the public appeals dry up. They’ll be around, to take Hudson and Grace to Broncos games. All the while, reminding them what a hero their dad was.

Sometime soon, they’ll also look deep inside. To think about how they’ll react, at the next robbery. Only one answer. They’ll do exactly what he did. Prepared for the ultimate sacrifice, to keep us safe. Just like Damian.