Leaving us in stitches. A father’s tribute to a brave daughter, and her beautiful scar.

January 31, 2012

I think she knew the answer, but the question came anyway.

“Dad, will this needle hurt?”

The Teenager was sitting in a cubicle at the Children’s Hospital, looking at me with wide eyes. And a gaping hole in her chin.

An hour earlier, she’d fainted. Dropped in the kitchen like a sack of spuds. On the way down, she caught the sharp edge of a kitchen cupboard.

She stood up, her gorgeous face sliced. A serious wound, in the shape of an uneven horseshoe.

The Treasurer and Daughter Two rushed her to the emergency ward. No tears or fuss.

I’d arrived from work soon after. There she was, still in her summer pyjamas, sitting on the bed, smiling. She showed me the damage. My heart sank.

Doctors and nurses fussed over her, prodding, and asking questions. She smiled at them too. Gave polite answers. Then asked for her phone so she could send a photo to all her friends.

It was then decided that the repair work needed to be done by a plastic surgeon. Just to be sure. We were lucky. It was early on Australia Day. The public holiday rush hadn’t started. The specialist was available.

He arrived within twenty minutes. Good looking, naturally. Blonde hair, fit and confident. And young. I have socks that are older.

But his manner was calming. He explained what needed to be done. There would be stitches. And an injection into her face, to stop any pain.

Up until this point, The Teenager had been remarkably calm. Unlike the rest of us. When Doctor Dashing left, her mood changed.

My daughter has two great fears in life. Vomiting, and needles. She was about to experience one. With fears it would lead to the other.

“Dad, will this needle hurt?”

As parents, we spend our life protecting. Shielding children from pain whenever we can. I wanted so much to say she wouldn’t feel a thing. That everything would be ok.

From experience, I knew what was ahead. And I couldn’t lie.

“Well, the needle will hurt. But that’s so you don’t feel the stitching. Some discomfort, to make sure the rest is painless.”

Tears welled in those big eyes. And there was nothing I could do.

We moved to a bigger room, where such procedures are done. Doctor Dashing scrubbed up. His nurse told The Teenager to lie on the bed. No turning back now.

The Treasurer stood bedside, holding her hands. Tightly. I ended up at the other end. Holding her knobbly kneecaps. I don’t know why. It seemed like a soothing thing at the time.

Her loving sister was also in the room. I stopped worrying about how the ordeal was affecting her, when I realised she was practising dance moves next to the oxy-viva. And posting updates on Facebook.

I had a clear view of the pain killing needle going in. That giant, long, thick, ghastly needle. That made my little girl cry.

Doctor Dashing was trying to work quickly, but it seemed to take an eternity. Numb the area, and irrigate the wound. She was trying so hard not to sob.

They gave her time to compose herself, before the stitching began. I told her to close her eyes, and go to a happy place. She nodded, through the tears. I swear I felt her pain.

My daughter dug deep, and found strength I didn’t know she possessed. She lay still, eyes closed, possibly imagining she was on a beach somewhere with Cody Simpson. The place that allowed her to receive twenty stitches without flinching.

That night, there was extra chocolate, and even more chick flicks than usual. She went back to school the next day, even though we said she could have the day off.

The Teenager’s dream, for as long as any of us can remember, has been to be a model. And she won’t be letting a bunch of stitches get in the way.

She has already devised a strategy. Australia’s first Supermodel with a scar. With the gory photos to prove it.

Her positive attitude blows me away. So, too, her bravery. And in my eyes, she’s more beautiful than ever. Every bit of her. Even those kneecaps.

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The bus driver, the loudmouth and the veteran. And me. How we helped Black Caviar win again.

January 28, 2012

It was a scene repeated in pubs all over the land.

People from all walks of life. All shapes and sizes. Young and old. All finding a spot to watch a champion.

I ran out of time on the way home last night. Couldn’t risk missing the Mighty Mare continue her record-breaking run. So I made a detour to our friendly neighborhood tavern.

I’d cheered Black Caviar before at home. And at the track. But never at the pub.

It wasn’t crowded. In fact, there were just six of us in front of the big screen.

The Loudmouth was explaining to no-one in particular how they should be taking her on. The other trainers are crazy, he yelled. Have a go, and take the prizemoney for second. That’s what he’d do.

His business shirt was untucked, as he continued to tell us his version of The Black Caviar story. I was straining to hear Greg Miles as they headed to the barriers, just as The Loudmouth declared she would be beaten one day.

The Veteran was sitting. His shirt was flannelette. He wasn’t drinking, or betting. Just watching. He’d seen plenty before. And he knew this would be special.

The Bus Driver was still in uniform. Wide as he was tall. He may have left his glasses on board. Because he kept getting up, to check the tote odds. Then he’d sit down. And get up. And sit down. Did he think she would blow out late, so he could plonk the day’s fares on her?

The Young Blokes couldn’t stop smiling. Two of them. They wouldn’t have known Phar Lap. Or Kingston Town. They would still have been in school when Makybe Diva was winning Cups.

But they knew Black Caviar. Both were texting about her, and laughing. The Veteran gave them a look. They didn’t notice.

One minute to race time. I looked around the pub. A table of twenty-somethings with caps on backwards were facing the other way. Others, too, ignoring the moment. If only the Loudmouth had time to tell them what they were missing out on.

As she jumped from barrier one, someone behind the bar turned the volume up. No-one spoke. We watched, and waited.

No surprises. They went hard up front, in the hope today would be their day. It wouldn’t be.

She cruised up to the leaders. Luke was sitting with his feet on the dashboard. They were in overdrive. She was having a track gallop.

As she approached the finish line, the Bus Driver jumped to his feet. The Young Blokes laughed, and gave each other High-Fives. The Loudmouth was lost for words. For a few seconds. And the Veteran just nodded.

It was then that I realised I was clapping. Standing on the floor of the pub,  applauding this amazing champion, and everyone involved with her. No-one minded.

And that was it. The night Black Caviar won her 17th consecutive race. Some were at Mooney Valley. Other in their lounge room. I was with a motley crew, in a pub, where they had Aerosmith playing before Correct Weight was declared.

Champions do that. They give us moments we’ll never forget. Wherever we happen to be. They make us smile, and clap. And nod. What’s even more fun, is that we’re all on this amazing journey together.


The old home town doesn’t look the same. Losing memories in the name of progress.

January 24, 2012

I don’t remember any of these houses. Not one. I’m driving down the first street I lived in. My home town. Where I rode my first bike.

Nothing is familiar. The picture in my mind of Britannia Street is so different. The homes were bigger. More impressive. These images don’t match.

I returned to have a look last week. The house that Dad built so long ago, when the street was bare, is tiny. Almost box-like. My mind had it as big as a castle.

I’ve been back before over the years, and never noticed. Or didn’t want to. Now I do.

I tried to peer over a fence, without getting arrested. Dad’s old garage was mostly intact. But the rest of the yard was unrecognisable.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. We’re going back more than four decades. What was I expecting?

It sent me on a mission, to see what else had changed. And what remains, in the place of my childhood.

A few streets away, I found a lovely brick home. Right where our old fibro rental house use to sit. Where we moved to when Dad’s business collapsed.

That wonderful backyard is gone. No more cricket games. The orange tree, so handy for shade while having a cool drink, is no more.

Somehow, the old laneway behind all those modern homes, has survived the area’s revamp. The short stretch where the Old Man taught me how to steer his beloved Holden. I drove down it again. Slowly.

Across the road, sits the primary school I went to. Now surrounded by a giant, imposing, dark green fence. Keeping the vandals out, and the students in. We never needed a giant fence.

My journey took me a little further up the road. The short stroll I made to catch the bus to high school. It’s all different.

There was a milk bar I used to stop at each afternoon. A strange old man and his wife ran it. There would be extras in the lolly bag. It’s now a real estate agency.

Around the corner, I would spend time in the local bike shop. Nothing like the  smell of new rubber.

The bloke would show me his latest skateboard. Spin the wheels. I’d imagine how cool it would be to own one. But it was too expensive.

The bikes and skateboards are now but a memory. Replaced by a Homewares shop. Whatever that is.

Keep going down that road, take a right, and you’ll find the oval that I did laps of. The place where Dad took charge of the Under 7 soccer side. Even though he’d never seen the world game played.

What made that field stand out from everywhere else, was it’s old, creaking grandstand. About ten rows of solid wood. We’d sit there when it rained. Or when it was too hot. Or when there was a schoolboy secret to be told.

It’s gone now. There’s no-where to sit. The adjacent van park has swallowed it up. Room for one more holiday cabin.

Next stop was my old high school. Which I discovered is no longer a high school.

It’s been re-branded as a Secondary Campus. Whatever that is. But some things don’t change.

I snuck down a driveway, and found two blocks, that are exactly the same as the day I walked out, more than thirty years ago.

They haven’t been touched. Not so much as a lick of paint. The adjacent toilet block, where we fought off being flushed on a daily basis, is exactly the same.

It seemed to be the only place of my childhood that hadn’t disappeared. Even though it was the one that needed change the most. So much for progress.

I wanted to check out one final location. A place that gave us lots of fun, for very little outlay.

Plenty of Sundays were spent on the magic waterways of my home town, riding around in small, wooden hire boats. If we were lucky, we’d get one with a half cabin.

A group of us would carry on a carton of cool drinks and a hot chook, and leave our problems on the shoreline. How we didn’t end up on a beach in Fiji is beyond me. But somehow, we always returned safe and sound.

The homes surrounding the boathouse have all changed. Those little holiday shacks have been replaced by expensive coastal cottages.

But tucked behind them, is my boat hire place. Exactly as I remembered it. And those original boats are still there. Right down to the colour, and the names. I almost danced a jig on the end of that little wharf.

Things change. People, too. I get that. Especially over such a time frame. The price of getting older.

We can’t stop progress. Even if it’s painful sometimes.

But while the buildings might be gone, they can’t demolish my memories. Even if I’ve built on them a little.

That’s the beauty of reminiscing. Things get bigger and better with time. Except when it comes to hire boats. They stay exactly the same. Bless them.


Step aside for some famous faces. The rules on how to deal with big names at the track.

January 21, 2012

They put down their race books, and parted as if Royalty had arrived.

And she had. Racing Royalty. Gai had joined us.

No second name required. Like Madonna. Except the famous trainer is ageing better.

She’d just finished one-two in the Gold Coast Magic Millions. Lost the protest, and won the protest.

Dressed like the stage star she once was, Gai swept into the room, and we all stopped talking.

She has this ability to silence a crowd. With those quick steps, and a golden smile.

My mate, a giant of a man who was fearless on the footy field, was giggling like a schoolgirl. He may have even brushed his hair.

“I just had my photo taken with Gai!”, he announced breathlessly. Best win of the day.

It takes plenty to make punters look up from their form guides. A bunch not easily impressed. Only the special need apply.

Singo fits the bill. They actually follow him around. Everyone wants a chat. He usually obliges.

It’s what happens when you are known for shouting a racecourse. Thirsty racegoers have long memories.

We see plenty of sporting stars at the track. And not just the youngsters.

I’ve mentioned before how Richie Benaud had the members cheering a few years ago. Everyone wanted to shake the great man’s hand.

Leigh Matthews is another. With the AFL legend, they tend to admire from a distance. You hear the whispers before you see him. He doesn’t seem to mind.

I remember finding Gus Gould at Wyong races years ago. When he was club coaching, not commentating. Shorts and thongs. Pie and a beer. A happier man you would never have seen.

A mate of mine invited former Manly league hard man Terry Randall to a big Gold Coast race day a while back. For those too young, or following the wrong sporting code, let’s just say he was one of the game’s true tough guys.

But not this day. The bloke they called Igor had a kind word for everyone. I mean, EVERYONE. They were lined up at our table all day. No one missed out on a chat.

He shared a cool drink with them too. Memorable for the fact that each of those beers looked like thimbles in his giant paw.

Not everyone is so humble. I had the pleasure of visiting Hollywood Park last year. Only so the girls could go star-spotting without me grumbling in the back seat.

I talked my way into the club’s ‘special’ area, after explaining that I was a part-owner of a famous Australian horse named Beartracker.

Using my best Bazza Mackenzie accent, I explained to the gateman that this superstar stayer that would soon start favourite in the time-honoured Melbourne Cup. Still can’t believe that worked.

Anyway, sitting a few rows up from me was Mel Brooks. Sadly, the famous comedian was in no mood for laughs. In fact, the Blazing Saddles genius may have been having the worst day ever experienced at a punting venue.

He ended up with a face like thunder. No chatting. No beers. Don’t you dare take a photo.

A few months later, I discovered that you don’t have to be a famous actor or a football star to be mobbed at the races. Far from it. Actually, you can be a trainer from the Queensland bush, in a big hat.

It helps if you’re in charge of the world’s best sprinter. And you don’t mind saying g’day to a few thousand people.

That’s what Peter Moody did at Doomben, the day Black Caviar blew us all away. He stood there for what seemed like an hour, meeting all those fans. More Charleville than Caulfield.

Fawned over like a rock star. And the sentimental bushie loved every minute of it.

The scenes that day will take some topping. Unless the great mare returns this year. Remind me to invite Mel Brooks if she does. He might finally get to back a winner.


A holiday fishing tale. The girls get their first catch, and put Dad in a tangle.

January 17, 2012

Mum’s favourite fishing spot was a big, flat rock.

It looked out across the still waters, just an easy stroll from our rented home.

There were lots of rocks to fish from. All shapes and sizes. But Mum liked the big, flat one.

We would wander down there most Sunday nights. Usually after dinner. Each with a hand line. Dad carried the bucket, and the net. And one large bottle of beer.

It was always calming. If there had been anger at home, it left when the bait hit the water.

The old man spent more time sitting than fishing. He seemed to enjoy the quiet.

But Mum was there to fill that bucket. And she usually did. I can remember her catching the biggest flathead I’d ever seen. On her little hand line. A crowd gathered, and she was proud as punch.

Her ability to snare all manner of marine life wasn’t passed down to her son. I liked fishing. I just wasn’t very good at it.

My great claim to fame on the water’s edge was the gift to tangle any fishing line within reach. It was uncanny. I could have all our gear in knots before Dad had taken the top off his bottled brew.

I had this firmly in mind, when the girls decided they wanted to go fishing these holidays.

It seemed safe enough. As long as I kept away from their equipment.

Cheap rods were purchased, and armed with nothing more than a bucket, some bait, and my thongs, we ventured to a ‘secret’ spot on the river.

Daughter Two had caught a fish before. A few years ago. It was a poisonous, spike-covered thing that caused panic on the boardwalk. But a fish nonetheless.

The Teenager was yet to open her account. This was to be her year. She had a steely determination, when lines were cast.

The cause wasn’t helped when her second throw landed in a nearby tree. Local birds were suitably warned.

On cue, her sister pulled in the first fish of the evening. A tiny bream. It took an eternity for me to remove the hook, as it wriggled under my safety thong.

We had cause to reconsider our location a little later. A combination of mozzies the size of army choppers, and a nearby gathering of the local hillbilly clan. Classic banjo wasn’t far away.

The next night, we shifted spots. It was a masterstroke. For Daughter Two. She caught another one. The Teenager caught a small branch, a plastic bag and part of a newspaper.

There was worse to come. Her hook became trapped under a submerged object. She urged me to put my cool drink down, leave my camp chair and provide urgent assistance.

I did as requested, but not before issuing a lecture on the need for her to get tougher in such a battleground. Surely she could sort out a little snag.

This line of reasoning seemed sound, until I took over. The stupid hook had obviously caught the hatch of a slow-moving submarine.

I gave the line one final yank, and to my surprise, it came free. As did the boulder that had been holding it hostage.

It left its watery home, and sped missile-like towards the shore. Directly into my left shin. The scream I unleashed scared away fish in surrounding suburbs.

The following few nights were less eventful. Except for the god-awful tangle I managed to inflict on Daughter Two’s line, while foolishly trying to replace a sinker. Some things never change.

The Teenager kept trying, and eventually landed her first fish later in the week. Although it was under the guidance of the brother-in-law, who is an expert in such matters. I’m pretty sure he managed to avoid serious shin injuries.

We don’t have a big, flat rock. And as yet, no-one has caught a fish large enough to keep. But we’ve found our favourite spot. Mum would be proud.


Finally, a sure thing on the Gold Coast. Take a tip from the master of the Magic Millions.

January 14, 2012

It’s not often I put my tipster’s hat on.

No need to. There are plenty out there already. Tipsters, not hats. They put the hours in. Do the videos. Still, it should be said that not many are driving Porsches.

Regular readers of this page know full well the awful luck I attract. Especially in big races. Very early on, I accepted the title of the World’s Worst Punter. Nothing much has changed.

Except this weekend. At Magic Millions time, I become an expert. Self-proclaimed, admittedly. But with dazzling form on the board.

I don’t know why, but my strike rate in the January classic is top-notch. Looking for modesty here? Move along. This is a rare chance to gloat.

It started on this day, fifteen years ago. I was back after a few years up north, and itching to return to the fun of the Gold Coast track.

The great Mick Dittman urged General Nediym home, and so began my one and only winning streak.

Two years later, I was on Testa Rossa. Winner. Then Gai won consecutive years with Assertive Lad and Excellerator. Keep them coming.

I missed Lovely Jubly, but made up for it in 2003 with Regimental Gal. I’ve written about the excitement of that day before. What a win.

It started another triple treat. Chris Munce did the right thing on Dance Hero, and then Bradbury’s Luck saluted in the 2005 classic.

Back to reality the following year, but I was on Mimi Lebrock in 2007.

Before I go on, let’s check the scoreboard. Are you keeping up? I think that’s eight winners in eleven years. Hold any applause until later.

Two lean years followed, until the local star Military Rose took us back to the winner’s circle in 2010.

I was overseas last year and missed Karuta Queen, and to be honest, I wasn’t a fan.

So there we have it. Impressed? You should be. This, from someone who can go weeks without going close to a decent winner. Months, if you want to be brutally honest. My one weekend of the year to boast. Live with it.

Yes, plenty were favourites. Just remember, you won’t go broke backing those that cross the line first.

I hear pleas for help. For those scribbling notes, here are a few factors to keep in mind.

Long shots rarely get sighted. The exposed form is usually spot on. Our winner will come from the first few in the market.

They need to be on the pace, or not far off. No chance if they get too far back on this Gold Coast track.

Barriers are vital. The babies need to be close to the fence. Did I hear a yawn? Ok, I admit, nothing ground-breaking so far.

The one thing I get excited about, is finding a fancy that’s already run the trip. And impressed. If they’ve clocked a strong 1200 metres, double your bet.

After all that chest-thumping, I’m now going to tip you the short-priced favourite. Gai will add another trophy to the mantlepiece. Her filly Driefontein will win easily. Ticks for all of the above. Especially winning at the distance.

Before you start the slow hand-clapping, I’ll throw up a bonus. With sweaty palms, here’s the winner of the 3-year-old classic as well.

Now, this is a much tougher affair. And my track record here is non-existent. But I shall lead with my chin, and tip Easy Running.

Brisbane’s best jockey Damian Browne is overdue for a big win. The horse was super impressive winning at Eagle Farm a while back, only to lose on protest. Painful, expensive, bloody protest. Yes, he owes me big time.

So there we have it. The double. Two winners for the price of one. The more you put on the more you get back.

I hope my lucky streak continues. Surely it’s not too much to ask. To shed the unlucky tag, for just one weekend. I accept I won’t be driving a Porsche home. Just as long as I’m not walking.


Give us a wave. How life only gets better after a holiday surf.

January 10, 2012

Dad loved being out the back. He’d been in the surf all his life. I never saw him swim anywhere but the ocean.

He’d get through the white water with ease. The old man had that wiry, Australian build of the day. So many war veterans seemed to look that way. Not big, but slim and powerful.

My father had a deep tan, from long hours on building sites. His costume of choice was popular at the time. Not Speedos or board shorts. Somewhere in between. I still see old blokes wearing them. And I still cringe.

He’d catch wave after wave, surging to the shore, with his baldy head protruding from the wash. And me watching in the shallows.

I can remember when he taught me how to body surf. One of the best times of my young life. Even better than when he taught me how to whistle.

Work out where the waves are breaking. Don’t waste energy getting there. Pick the one you want. Swim hard. Once you’re on, keep one arm straight. Look up, and don’t crash into large women or kids.

I’ve loved the surf ever since. Thanks to him. If you’ve never caught a wave all the way into shore, you haven’t lived.

It all came back this week. We’re at the beach, spending every available second in the wide blue Pacific.

The girls decided they wanted to learn how to ride a surfboard. Not from me, interestingly enough. Instead, it was decided lessons would be better from Johnny the surf school man, who could take large sums of cash from us.

Between us, this was probably a wise choice. I surfed as a teenager, like all my mates. Even had a trailer for my board. A few of us would take the day off school, if a decent southerly was blowing. But I was no champion.

None of us could afford wet suits, so when the water got icy, we wore footy jumpers, somehow thinking the thick wet cotton would keep us warm. It didn’t. But we provided plenty of laughs for anyone watching.

Anyway, our wads of money this week meant the girls were fully equipped when they entered the surf. Not a Titans jumper in sight.

And guess what? They were naturals. Both up on their feet after their second lesson. One more and they’ll be teaching me.

The lessons did more than allow them to stand up on a surfboard. More importantly, they now feel comfortable in the ocean. Not scared by waves anymore.

I’ve noticed it already. They want to come out the back with me. No fear of the boomers crashing in front of them.

Dad and Johnny were very different characters. Although they shared the same hairline. And both are responsible for something wonderful.

They passed on a love of the surf. That will stay forever. The girls have been smiling like I was, on that weekend all those years ago. Best money we’ll spend this holiday.