My mates, the old time cops. Why locking up bad guys never goes out of fashion.

April 30, 2013

The first police officer I knew was a family friend. A giant of a man, with shiny black boots so big that babies could have slept in them.

He ran our town like a smiling version of Clint Eastwood, in an early spaghetti western.

We would see him walking the streets after school. Helping an elderly woman with her shopping bags. Talking footy with Harold the barber.

I’d only ever seen his friendly side. But the toughest of the local kids were scared stiff of him. I would soon discover why.

Bored one afternoon, I started throwing stones at the front of our house. Actually, they were rocks. In the direction of on-coming cars. To this day, I can’t tell you why.

I wasn’t trying to hit anyone. But I did. Straight through an old bloke’s windscreen. How he kept control of his rusty bomb I’ll never know.

Neighbours came running. So did Mum. It was a major incident. I was in strife.

When the dust settled, I sat in my room, waiting for the wrath of Dad. Before that happened, there was a knock at the door.

It was my parent’s policeman friend. I came out, to find him blocking the doorway. It was like there had been an eclipse in our street.

His voice deepened, and he gave me the biggest bollocking I’d ever received. There was mention of being locked up. And a reference to what happened to young blonde boys in prison. I was close to wetting myself in terror.

Years later, Mum told me she’d asked him to come over that night. There was never any chance of me being taken away. It was all about giving me the fright of my life. And it worked.

It was an early version of pro-active policing. Helping kids stay on the right path. When a boot up the bum or a clip over the ear wouldn’t lead to an internal investigation.

Funny how some of my best mates are now cops. Or ex-cops. I met most of them back in the day. When police and journos got on. Often by spending nights consuming cool drinks, and solving the problems of the world.

They were from different cities and towns over many years, but all shared a common trait. They loved locking up bad guys.

Not one was a paper-pusher. They were street-smart. Some, it should be said, would rather a fight than a feed. Again, a different time.

Those who remain in the job today, are high-ranking. Still driven by the desire to make the streets safer. That will never change.

Others have successful careers outside of the force. When we get together, the tales are tall, and the laughs loud.

I’m hearing that there’s a push to get back to that raw style of policing. More cops on the beat. Experienced eyes and ears, nipping trouble in the bud. Let’s hope so.

We hear so much about young people not respecting authority. Of having no fear at being spoken to by a police officer. It remains one of the greatest concerns for my mates in the force.

The time of the local copper being invited home by worried parents might be gone. But pro-active policing never went out of style. The results are worth the effort. That stupid, rock-throwing kid would tell you that. If he wasn’t still shaking.

Watching the races, in the palm of our hands. What will they think of next?

April 27, 2013

There was a time when punters crowded around the radio to listen to the races.

Such activity often took place in a pub. The public bar. Loud-mouths had to be told to shut it, as Ken Howard brought the field into the straight.

This was before tv, and the internet. A few years after dinosaurs stopped roaming.

I can remember listening to the daily double at the kitchen table. Mum would have had a dollar or two on her favourite jockeys of the time.

Miss a race, through an unexpected visit from a thoughtless relative, and you’d have to wait until the Sunday paper to get the result.

If I’d suggested to Mum that she could find the placings on Twitter, seconds after they crossed the line, she’d have scolded Dad for giving me sips from his large bottle.

Who would have thought things could change so much? From crackly transistor, to world racing in the palm of your hand.

I now have an i-phone. Yes, I’m the last person on the planet to have made the change. And what a change it is.

Multiple betting sites are a tap away. Anywhere in the world. They will take my money, with another tap.

What’s more, I can actually watch races live, on my phone. Sitting on the bus, or the ferry. Or the toilet. With a tap.

There they are, running around Randwick, or Doomben, or Hollywood Park, and I’m not missing a second. On the same device that I can talk to my girls on, and use as a torch. Yep, it does that too. Who thinks of this stuff?

I should add here, for the benefit of any media company financial officers who may have stumbled across these pages, that I will never actually use such a feature on the company phone. I am fully aware of the contract involved, and there is absolutely no need to check my records each month.

No wonder administrators are having trouble keeping up. This new breed of racing fan is so tech-savvy, they expect nothing but the best when it comes to accessing our sport.

And they have zero patience. Don’t give them what they want, and they’ll be gone. To the next smart sport, that provides better online ways to have a punt.

Sadly, I’m unable to offer any help. I’m struggling to make a phone call on the bloody thing. And I don’t know how to retrieve voice mail. Leave me a message, and I might get back to you next year.

But with any luck, I can watch them run around next time I’m at a school dance concert. Mum would be looking for that large bottle right about now.

Time for our young heroes to shine, on a new look ANZAC Day.

April 24, 2013

For a long time, our war heroes were older.

They’d march on ANZAC Day in dusted-off jackets, with rows of medals clanking. Year after year.

Our veterans would share the same steely gaze. And a rum toddy as the sun came up.

Over time, crowds grew. Finally, as a nation, we got it. Parents and their kids lined the streets. We wanted to show this wonderful bunch what they meant to us.

Their numbers are dwindling, of course. It makes every year, extra special.

I wish Dad had been around to see the change. Things were so different when he was trying to adjust back to normal life, all those years ago. When people didn’t care as much.

He would have been amazed to see the flags waving. And all those mini-medals, worn by sons and daughters. Including his grand-daughters. Girls he never got to meet.

Something else would surprise him. The emergence of our young heroes. The men and women fighting for us today.

It’s only recently, that ANZAC Day has taken on a new look. Slowly, but surely. A reflection of a changing world.

We’ve been fighting another war for years now. Not that everyone understood that in the early days. So different from what Dad experienced. Against an insidious enemy, often hidden, in a far away land.

Those involved in these battles are not old men, carefully placed in the back of jeeps. Men we will adore, until the last one takes the final salute, to re-join his brave mates.

These modern soldiers have families just like us. They follow the footy on their i-phones. They’re on Facebook.

For a while, it seemed some were unsure of their place on ANZAC Day. They worship the men and women who went before them.

Sure, they’d be there for the dawn service, and the march, but more to help the veterans of battles done. They would wear their medals with pride, but clap loudest for others.

In the last few years, the mood has shifted. Possibly because there’s so many of them, coming back from those awful, dusty fields.

They see the public’s reaction to the likes of Ben Roberts-Smith and Mark Donaldson. Heroes, in every sense of the word. As brave as anyone we’ve produced.

I hope this new breed understands how proud we are of them. For their courage. And their sacrifices. Just like their fathers and grandfathers.

This year, save a cheer for the young heroes. After the march, shake one by the hand. Get your mum to give someone a hug. Let them know what we think of them.

Dad struggled so much with what he was asked to do. For years, he chose not to think about it.

If he was able to have a beer with me now, I think he’d see things differently. He would understand, that all those who serve deserve our ever-lasting gratitude.

The diggers of today are following our heroes of yesterday. And we’re proud of every single one of them.

How we let Black Caviar into our family. And we don’t want to let her go.

April 18, 2013

The tears have dried up now. We’ve composed ourselves, knowing the journey has come to an end.

And what a journey it was. Twenty-five starts. Twenty-five wins.

I remember Steve Hewlett on 4TAB giving her a wrap after her second or third win. Said she might be something special.

Now, we say that lots in racing. Usually, for anything that salutes, when we’re on board. Overcome some trouble, and you can make that extra-special.

But Steve was spot on. This mare with the giant arse named Black Caviar, would dazzle us. Time and again.

For a while, it was just racing folk following her progress. She would lose, eventually. They all get beaten. Phar Lap, Tulloch, Kingston Town. All of them.

But not Nelly. She kept winning. Soon, other sports followers got involved. Then the general public. Those who would rather read the classifieds than the form guide.

Kids started wearing her colours to the races. Mums made flags. Dads had dollar bets and kept the tickets.

They did tv specials on her. Books and magazine articles. She found time between trackwork sessions to set up her own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

They took her overseas, and she won in front of the Queen. Just. When the narks wanted to write her off, she came back and went even faster.

Win number 25 was at Randwick. It was breathtaking. The victory we’ll never forget.

Now it’s over. The most magnificent of careers, finished. She’s off to the breeding barn. How do you think the first stallion will feel on the big day? He’ll be texting his mates all morning.

We all get to keep our special memories of the Mighty Mare. I have two that stand out.

The Teenager and I sat up late, the night Black Caviar raced at Royal Ascot. I loved that she got caught up in the excitement of it all.

The two of us were joined by an entire racing industry on Twitter. We cheered, and gasped, and then cheered again. It felt like we were all in the same lounge room at midnight.

The other unforgettable moment, was when she raced at Doomben. I wrote that night that when she hit the front, it sounded like the grandstand roof had lifted off. I’ve never heard a roar like it, at any other sporting event. Even now, recalling it, I get chills.

Anyone who has watched her anywhere, had that same feeling. How lucky we are.

There will be other champions. We’ll dress up in someone else’s colours one day down the track.

But there won’t be another Black Caviar. A once-in-a-lifetime champion.

We owe Peter Moody and her owners so much. They shared her, when they could have kept her locked up at Caulfield. They gave of their time, and promoted the sport they love at every turn.

I’ve written more about the Mighty Mare on these pages than any other subject, outside of my much-loved girls. They’re lucky the horse has given it away. She was catching up.

Thanks for the memories, BC. Good luck having babies. We’ll never forget you. And if you find the time, can you let us know which of your youngsters runs the fastest? A Twitter post will do just fine.

From the backyard orange tree to the mighty river. The evolution of the family picnic.

April 16, 2013

I can’t remember going on a picnic as a kid. It’s not something we did.

In fact, I don’t think I knew anyone who went on one. It may have been that my circle of friends were all smelly boys.

Dad was the driving force behind our anti-picnic stance. I don’t think fancy outdoor dining was something they taught him during the war.

I can’t recall Mum ever making the suggestion. Lunch was had at the kitchen table. Sandwiches, except for Sunday. Then we’d wolf down a roast, before starting a game of footy or cricket outside.

The closest thing we got to a picnic, was what took place under our backyard orange tree.

It was anything but spectacular, that tree. Not that big, and a pain if you were fielding at mid-off. Still, it had character.

It was where Dad liked to gather, when the neighbours came over. The wooden chairs were old and uncomfortable. Sometimes covered in grime. No-one ever complained.

The adults would have a beer. Mum would sip a shandy. Or two. And the stories would come thick and fast.

There would be food on offer. Sao biscuits and Coon cheese, if memory serves me correct. And the odd packet of chips. Hardly gourmet fare.

The reason I bring up this rambling episode from my past, is that I went on a picnic over the weekend.

It’s another one of those things I didn’t get, for many years. And now I do. I’m a picnic-convert.

Living by the river, I see picnic spots every day. Mental notes are made, as I go for a walk. There are so many of them. Huts, and benches, and seats. All with magic views.

Those enjoying their feast as I wander past must get a little nervous, as I eye them off. I see mothers cover the bread rolls, just to be sure.

I’ve established I prefer seated areas to the grassy ones. Easier on the back. Less chance of ant bite. Yes, I’ve done my homework.

The girls don’t quite share my enthusiasm. When I announced that we were off for a Sunday picnic, I detected rolling of the eyes. Such an activity required movement, and an interruption to phone usage, which neither had been planning.

There was also the matter of having to walk. All of a few hundred metres. Daughter Two is a big fan of driving everywhere we go. If she thought I could squeeze the car in the lift to get down to the pool, she’d be in the front seat.

After ignoring all protests, we set off, with our plastic bags full of goodies. Hot chook, bread rolls, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, drinks, biscuits, and grapes. The plastic plates and cups were in another bag.

I’d been hoping we could get into a little hut with amazing views down the river. I see it most mornings, and had always thought it would be perfect for us.

We were in luck. It was empty. I celebrated. The girls pointed out that the bench was dirty. Sigh.

As we munched our tucker, the girls came around. Hard not to enjoy such surrounds. Even if it meant missing out on Disney Channel for an hour.

We were joined by a large frilled-necked lizard. Another joy of that magnificent river. He almost sat on the bench with us. Passers-by took photos. He ate a stray grape. The girls thought that was cool.

We’ll return to our new spot soon. I might even go all out and buy one of those fancy picnic baskets. At least they won’t be able to complain about carrying bags.

It’s not quite the old orange tree, but it’s ours. I reckon Mum would approve. Not sure about Dad though. Although he’d be happy with that dirty bench.

Why it was more than just a win. The Mighty Mare shuts up the narks and the haters.

April 14, 2013

It’s not often you get surprised by racing people.

Salt of the earth, most of them. The older ones have pretty much seen everything.

Sure things beaten. Camels that sprout wings. Jockeys finding fast lanes, and zip-tight pockets, all on the same day.

It takes plenty to get their attention. Even more to get them excited. And that’s what happened yesterday.

I saw something I’ve never seen, in forty years of loving the racing game. It was at a pub. Not one of your fancy inner-city places. This was an old school establishment, with blokes who still eat white bread, and wouldn’t be able to name a fancy imported brew in a skinny bottle.

Like everyone else, they gathered around screens just after 5, to watch Her in action. The usual rowdy conversations stopped. All eyes were on the Number 9, in the black and salmon.

As the race unfolded, there was none of the usual boisterous barracking. It was almost a respectful silence. Until the Mighty Mare hit the front.

They cheered. Someone yelled ‘Go Girl’. Ok, that may have been me. And then, something I’ll never forget.

This crowd in stretched t-shirts and well-worn thongs, started clapping. Loud, sustained applause, in a suburban pub. They love Black Caviar so much, this mob, they couldn’t help themselves. And it was perfect.

It’s what the critics don’t get. What this champion racehorse has done to a nation.

She has reached far beyond the punters. People from all walks of life are talking about racing. They’re watching tv, and reading sports pages, to find out what’s she’s up to.

Families are going to the races to watch her. Thousands of them. Stands that have been empty for years, are packed again.

The narks choose to ignore all this. These small minded nobodies want to find fault. They want to criticise her owners, and her trainer. And it’s a disgrace.

Peter Moody is at the forefront of dragging the industry off the floor. At a time when the gambling dollar is under threat like never before, he’s become the public face of everything that’s exciting about racing.

He shares her, like a proud father shows off his favourite baby photos. Does interviews with good grace and great humour. Makes us feel like we’re on the journey with him. Which of course, we are.

Forget the rubbish you hear about her beating inferior fields. It’s utter crap. Trainers have been dodging the Mighty Mare for years now. Because they know they can’t get anywhere near her.

She demolishes anything game enough to challenge her. Believe me, there hasn’t been a horse sitting at home in a stall, that could have changed a result that she’s been part of.

They don’t hand out Group Ones. She’s won fifteen of them. Mostly untouched.

But that’s not the most telling factor in this wonderful story. Winning races is only the start of it.

She’s become part of the family. Our kids will tell their kids about a horse that could fly. Everyone will have a story, about the day they saw Black Caviar. And amazingly, the great majority will have never won a dollar on her.

She’s so good, most of us don’t need to back her. And those that do outlay something, keep the ticket to put in the pool room.

We’ll never see another like her. And we’ll never see a greater example of what really makes people go to the races.

Nothing beats seeing a champion in action. Just be thankful that those around her want to take us along for the ride. That deserves another round of applause.

Great lessons in using public transport. If only I could find a timetable..

April 9, 2013

I stood on the platform, doing a fair impersonation of someone with absolutely no idea.

You wouldn’t think catching a bus would be too difficult. I’m told lots of people do it every day.

They know where they’re going. They have studied timetables. Possibly with the help of an academic.

I had made no such preparations. Foolishly, I decided it would be a simple task. Men don’t need timetables. Everyone knows that.

What I didn’t realise, was that a bus travels through my local busway about every four seconds. Each with a different number.

Of course, I had no idea what number I was looking for, to get me to my destination. There were no timetables on any of the walls. Staff members are no longer employed to help dumbos like me.

At this rate, I would not get to enjoy the cool drinks on offer a few suburbs away until around midnight. And that wasn’t an option.

I decided that the only thing I could do, was to stop one of the buses whizzing past me. Surely a kind driver would point me in the right direction.

It will come as no surprise to you, that I chose the wrong driver. This fellow was obviously at the end of a long shift. Or he was just a prize nark.

The fact that he had been delayed by a confused passenger annoyed him greatly. He told me this, loudly. Explained that he wasn’t going my way. Hadn’t I seen his number?

I advised that his number meant nothing to me. This enraged him further. By this time, bored passengers were uploading our colourful conversation onto YouTube.

He eventually sped off, leaving me alone again on the platform. About now, I was reflecting on what a great decision it was to decide against catching a cab.

Help finally came, in the form of a mother struggling with a pram and four small children. Her keen eye detected a big kid in strife.

She showed me the App on her phone, that came up with the timetable I’d been looking all over for. The elusive bus number, that was nowhere to be seen at the actual bus station, had been in her phone all along.

I thanked her, and waited for the 111. As it turned out, it got me close to my destination. But not quite there. This meant I walked up a large hill, cursing the bus system all the way.

When I made it to the pub, late and sweating, my friends managed to have a giggle at my misfortune. It was around then, as they made fun of me, that I noticed the purple bus.

It was driving past us every fifteen minutes. Like clockwork. And stopping just metres away. After all that, I didn’t need to know a number. Just a colour.

I’ve now established that the purple bus can get me to my second favourite hotel on any given day or night. And get me home.

For all I know, there may be a fleet of coloured buses criss-crossing the city right now. I don’t need to know where they’re going. I’ve found my bus. And I still don’t have a timetable. Just how men like it.

Why Shaun Dwyer deserves to win a Golden Slipper.

April 6, 2013

If he’d been wearing a cap, the trainer would have looked like a limo driver.

Shaun Dwyer was standing beside his car at Toowoomba airport, with door open. He was there to pick up a journo. Someone he’d never met. Or heard of.

Still, he welcomed me as if I was an old friend. He talked freely on the way to the stables. There was a warmth, often found with those who ply their trade away from the bright lights.

I was doing a story about a small trainer going up against a giant of the game. Shaun V Gai. The first lady of racing had the favourites in the Magic Millions. The bloke from the Darling Downs had an outsider.

We had a cuppa, and he told me a bit about his background. Learning from the likes of Bart and TJ. Little things. A lifetime, getting better at his craft.

He showed me his pride and joy. Regimental Gal. She looked a million bucks. While we were there, the trainer never took his eyes off her.

On the ride back to the airport, Shaun told me he thought she could win. He didn’t say it in a boastful way. More matter-of-fact. He’d done everything he could, and she was ready.

On race day, she did exactly that. Won like a good thing. He was swamped in the ring post-race. But still found time to thank me, for my support. A bloke he’d met once. Who’d done one story on him.

I’ve been thinking about that encounter, in the lead up to today’s Golden Slipper. The similarities are striking.

Shaun now operates out of Bendigo. Still keeping out of the city. He’s up against Gai again. Of course, she has the heavily backed favourite.

He’s been putting all his efforts into one horse. Villa Verde. I’ve never been to Bendigo, but I’d bet my last on the trainer only having eyes for one horse in that stable.

Everyone has dropped off, after Overreach did a job on her last start. Barrier 17 won’t help either. And Gai’s horse does look a star in the making.

But there’ll be no better prepared starter this afternoon than Shaun’s grey. Trust me, she’ll look a million bucks.

I’m going to have something on her. Slippers are funny races. The first 200 metres can be like herding cats. I’m hoping that she can avoid any trouble inside, and get the cash.

If she wins, keep an eye on Shaun after the race. He’ll thank everyone who’s had anything to do with her. And a few others who haven’t.

There would be no more deserving Slipper winner. I’m hoping Shaun Dwyer gets to ride in someone else’s limo tonight.

The art of singing to babies. How much damage could a Kenny Rogers song do?

April 2, 2013

The thing with babies is that they’re so small.

You forget, when you haven’t held one for a while. A decade qualifies.

The girls and I paid a visit to a great mate’s bub last weekend. A 5 week old bundle of cuteness.

They were impressed with how easily he went into my arms. It’s something a Dad never forgets.

All these years on, and the little bloke slipped straight into position. Cradled into my forearm. Tiny head safely tucked away.

He looked up at me, with blue eyes that looked years older. What was he thinking?

I suggested to the assembled gathering it may have been something about the large, rough melon above him. I noted there was no serious disagreement.

At 5 weeks, there’s not a great deal to think about. Sleep, milk and poop pretty much does it.

The girls were amused to hear his mum describe an emerging wind habit. My mate tells me he is approaching Olympic class for flatulence. The bub, not him.

It’s always fun to see new parents in action. Absolute love and devotion. There is no concern about a lack of sleep at present, because it’s still fun. We’ll check back in 4 years. My money will be on a different answer.

It took me back to when the girls were tiny fart machines. I could have said that differently, but this one line will be enough to embarrass them for days.

Daughter Two was a sound sleeper as a baby. Still is. It was rare that we needed to attend to her during the night.

The Teenager was a different proposition. She would wake, constantly. There were tummy issues, and she found it difficult to sleep for more than a few hours.

I frequently volunteered to bring peace back into the household. My answer was to sing to her.

I would bundle her into my arms, and head downstairs. Gentle rocking and soothing tunes.

I would start with a bit of Eagles. Those smooth sounds were often enough to get her back to slumberland. ‘Take It Easy.’ ‘New Kid In Town.’ Then ‘Hotel California.’

Hushed tones, of course. Just enough to relax both of us. Doing laps of the rumpus room.

From there, I’d move into a little Creedence. ‘Proud Mary’ or ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ Joe Cocker would play a role with ‘You Are So Beautiful.’ The most fitting of songs for her.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could be having a whinge after exposure to such a collection. But if the mini version of The Teenager was still grumbling, I’d bring out the big guns.

Kenny Rogers has been putting people to sleep for years. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

He starred in all our late night singalongs. Meaning he was perfect to get a baby snoozing again.

First up would by ‘Coward Of The County’. Then, one of the all time greats. ‘Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town.’

You painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair. Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere? The shadow on the wall tells me the sun is going down. Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

She would be drowsy by now. You probably are too. Perfect timing for the highlight of my midnight whispering performance. ‘The Gambler’.  And by the end of the great man’s anthem, she would be asleep.

You might laugh at such antics, but Dads are nothing if not inventive. You won’t find my methods in any reputable baby book. That might be why they worked.

My mate has cool modern technology to fix such problems, so he probably won’t need my song sheet. That’s ok.

The Teenager still won’t go to sleep. But now it’s because of friends and phones, not farts and food. Not even the great Kenny has an answer to that.