Shedding a tear at the school concert. When daughters still dance into Dad’s heart.

October 29, 2013

This was going to be about something else. Until the girls started dancing.

Why was this performance so special? Remember, I’ve been watching them jump and twirl since they came up to my knee.

I’ve sat through concerts where fathers should have been receiving the medals.

We’ve done shopping centre recitals. Strutting their stuff in front of the fruit shop, as bananas are weighed.

They’ve always been good. Natural dancers. Both practice hard, at rehearsals and at home.

This particular show was for school, on a Sunday afternoon. I went alone, and managed to snare a seat close to the stage.

Their first dance was a lively number. They nailed it. The kids around them were great too. Such a confident, talented bunch.

But it was the second dance, a more sedate affair, that blew me away. I have no idea why. I’d seen them perform it before. In the same flowing red dresses.

For some reason, this was different. They LOOKED different. Older, both of them. With perfect hair and make up.

It was like I was watching in slow motion. I saw things, in those precious few minutes, that I hadn’t seen in months.

Teenager Too was glowing. I had to look twice, to make sure this tall, graceful young woman, was the daughter who used to fall asleep at the dinner table.

She stood out, among girls much older. Every move was perfect. But it was beauty shining from within, that lit up the stage. Her smile, lit up my heart.

The Teenager is now a leader in the group. The others follow her. When did she get so .. mature?

She works so hard, to be so good. Every spare hour, she’s trying to get better. I watched her glide across the floor, and saw the passion in her eyes. Ridiculously long limbs, making complex moves look easy. Every teenage boy in the room was watching too.

I thought back, to when this gorgeous young woman could hardly get out of bed. Not that many years back. A stomach problem that had us visiting every specialist in town.

She couldn’t eat. Constantly felt sick. Reflux you would normally see at the end of the bar.

The little girl who would listen to stories in bed until I fell asleep, could hardly keep her eyes open. She had no energy. And she was scared.

I feared the worst. That’s what Dads do. So one night, running out of options, I prayed.

It was a shout out to anyone who was listening up there, to swap the pain. Whatever this bad thing was, I wanted it. Or anything else, to square the ledger. That’s what Dads do.

To this day, I don’t know what that sickness was. One doctor said he thought it could pass, with time. And so it did. With or without my help. Slowly, her old spark returned.

So here she was, with the sister she squabbles with on the hour, but loves like no other, dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Near the end of the performance, they linked up, and for a split second, they were as one on the stage.

It was then, sitting alone in the dark, that I shed a quiet tear. So very proud, and so incredibly lucky.

I wish every one of you had been able to come and share those few minutes with me. Even my old racing mates, who last waltzed to the Glenn Miller Band.

That one dance, made me as happy as a father could be. Sometimes, you can’t beat the simple things.

Beware a wounded warrior. Why the Cox Plate is a Dundeel.

October 26, 2013

I’m always wary when a trainer reports a ‘minor niggle’.

Call me a cynic. Or someone who’s lost plenty over a few centuries, jumping at shadows.

To me, a horse with a hoof abscess, is like a footballer with a dodgy hammy. No-one ever knows just how serious it is.

Quite often, the flying fullback will have a tiny twinge. But it will still be listed as a hamstring strain.

Crook hoofs can be the same. An abscess sounds yuk. And while it is no doubt painful for dear neddy, it’s not usually life threatening.

Still, reports of such a scare can send punters scampering. We’re a nervous breed. The smallest of setbacks can spook us.

Last month in the Underwood, It’s a Dundeel ended Atlantic Jewel’s unbeaten run. The horse touted as the next Black Caviar.

It was a gutsy, awe-inspiring performance. And it bought me dinner that night.

Not long after, we were told about the abscess. It was enough to turn markets upside down.

Not for me. I refuse to be swayed. How many times do we have to be reminded – believe what you see.

He’ll step out on that treated hoof today, as Cox Plate favourite, after the scratching of the Jewel. I would have backed him anyway.

History tells us that unlike some other major races, the best horse usually wins Mooney Valley’s showpiece. I hear you throwing exceptions to me. I’m not listening.

It’s a Dundeel is the best horse in the race. Tough as grandpa’s mud soaked boots. He’ll be winning.

Friends with elephant-like memories will recall my fancy for 3 year olds in the Plate. One of the youngsters will always produce a grand effort. That could be Long John today.

Enjoy the spectacle, as jockeys take off at the 600, looking to create history. I think we’ll get the chocolates. As long as that hammy isn’t worse than they told us.

Heroes who stink of smoke. Thank God for our volunteer firemen.

October 22, 2013

Thommo used to wear the funny overalls. He’d disappear, every time there was smoke on the horizon.

We didn’t get it. Why would a young bloke leave a pub full of cool drinks, to play with fire trucks and big hoses?

Our home town was surrounded by bush, so Thommo and his mates were always busy in summer. A few times I saw him after fighting fires. Covered in soot and ash, and stinking of smoke.

Eventually, we worked it out. Our friend was one of a special breed. Heroes, who risk their lives, to save others. From the most frightening of foes.

Time and again, they’d head into the scrub. Saving the day, before flames reached properties.

Their actions were repeated in towns across the nation. Men and women, from all walks of life. Standing as one, against the flames.

Talk to them, and they’ll tell you about the heat. Like a furnace. And even more terrifying, the noise. An unimaginable roar, heading up hills and down gullies.

Years later, another mate rang me, from his roof. He could see a bushfire coming towards his street. His girls had gone. He was armed with a garden hose, and a beer.

In the end, he didn’t need either. More good luck than good management. The fire took a different path. As these awful beasts sometimes do.

Then there are other times, when no amount of hoses or stubbies are enough. When the bravest of firefighters simply shake their heads. That’s what NSW is facing now.

There are fears massive fires will join as one. Almost unthinkable.

There is only one thing guaranteed. That the heroes in overalls will stand their ground. Follow their training. And do everything in their power to protect the communities facing danger.

At the opposite end of the scale, are the firebugs, and the looters. Lowest of the low. Whatever the penalties are, double them.

Thommo no longer fights fires. He’s done his bit. The younger ones are in charge now. But he will be anxious today, and tomorrow. Looking to the horizon. Thinking of his mates. And smelling smoke in the air.

Why the world’s slowest tote operator owes me the Caulfield Cup winner.

October 19, 2013

It was like I was speaking Mandarin.

The woman at the tote machine looked down, then up, then down again.

She was confused, as if I’d just asked her to tell me the ignition sequence for the Space Shuttle.

In fact, I was after something far less complicated. Or so I thought. A simple bet.

The racecourse was Randwick. I had hoped that through her position in the racing industry, she had heard of it. Apparently not.

She shook her head. Where is it again? Sydney racing, I replied. Randwick. They’ve run a few decent races there over the years.

Precious seconds were ticking away. I could see the field moving in. Punters smarter than me were jumping into other queues.

Again, the shake of the head. I was sweating. They were about to jump, and I wasn’t on.

The horse I was trying to back was Hawkspur. I walked away, betless, mindful of the sign on her counter, warning customers that abuse would not be tolerated. I was obviously not the first sucker to get stuck at that window.

I watched on the screen, with no sound, and spotted the colours early in the straight. It made it that much more painful, to see the Waller horse fly home to collect the prize. Not that I needed a winner at that stage of the day. Much.

I so wanted my abuse to be tolerated. But I thought better of it. And because of that, the world’s slowest tote operator owes me big time.

This afternoon, I want her to take time out from botching other tickets, and cheer the Pumper home. It’s the least she can do.

This isn’t the finest Caulfield Cup field I’ve seen. As usual, I’m struggling to line up the genuine imports. A few others don’t seem to have lived up to their early promise.

If there’s one horse I’m worried about, it’s the Kiwi, Silent Achiever. Roger James has her cherry-ripe for this. One target all along. Perfect barrier. And a bloke by the name of G. Boss doing the steering.

I’d back both of them, but there’s no chance she’d get so many bets on. Tell me, where’s Caulfield again?

Reporting live from the world’s biggest traffic jam. Welcome to the new Surfers Paradise.

October 8, 2013

Yes, I’ve been Missing In Action. But with good reason.

I have been stuck in traffic. Not just any traffic. I’m talking congestion that puts LA to shame.

It’s called Surfers Paradise. Officially, the greatest traffic bunfight in the history of motorised vehicles.

The tourism capital, doesn’t move anymore. Roads in and out are at a standstill, day and night. I know this, because I spent much of last week stuck. With blood boiling.

It’s a city gridlocked. No-one can get anywhere, anytime soon. Need some milk up the road? Set an hour aside. Fancy a dip at the beach? Leave at midnight, and you might get there before sundown.

People can’t get home. They now work from their cars, waiting for the lights to change.

Families have dinner in the back seat. Kids do their homework at the next intersection. I’m serious. There are drivers out there somewhere, who left to pick up the paper a month ago.

Cabbies are sending their kids to posh schools. They must be making hundreds every time the meter kicks in. Because they can’t get anywhere. They just sit and make small talk, while passengers re-finance their mortgages.

Bus timetables are out the window. They now run every four hours. Actually, change run to crawl.

They are building a light rail network through the centre of town. Look up Disruption in the dictionary, and there is a picture of this massive work site.

Every, single road is affected. Lanes are closed. Detours at every turn.

I honestly don’t know how locals are coping. The glitter strip is being strangled, choking on a mass of exhaust fumes.

It’s a classic case of politicians not thinking ahead. Years ago, the road network should have been expanded. Instead, those in power sat on their hands. Meaning drivers now sit on their bums, for hours on end.

They trams will fix it, they reckon. No-one will need cars. Look out for that flying porker. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Gold Coast holds special memories for me. I lived and worked there for years. It’s where the girls were born. Many wonderful times.

It makes it even more painful to see the place grinding to a halt. I’m no tourism expert. But I’ll tell you something for nothing. Getting stuck for an hour in traffic each day in your board shorts is as damaging as any bikie brawl.

If you’re reading this at the lights, good luck. With any luck, you’ll be home for Christmas. Next year. Just in time to catch the new tram.