Monthly Archives: July 2016

Ernest Stern. An old mate.

I found this letter I had written to Ernest “Butch” Stern several years ago. Butch owned a restaurant on the Great Ocean Road at Aireys Inlet, Victoria, right on the Great Ocean Road. It was the Aireys Lighthouse Restaurant.

My mate, Dean Kennelly and I had moved down to  Aireys Inlet after cashing in our lives in Melbourne. We bought an incomplete 32 feet steel hulled sloop and put it on a boat building property at Sunnymeade beach in Aireys. We were going to finish building it, then sail off into the sunset for a life of swashbuckling adventure, just like Alby Mangels had done several years before.

Late in 1982, Butch offered us both jobs, Dean as a dishwasher, and myself as a “meeter and greeter” as he liked to call us. I loved it and Dean liked it as well, so well that he ran off with Butch’s girlfriend at the time… This is all the stuff of another story that may or may not be told, depending on inducements or other threats and promises…

Here is the letter from July 21 2012, as I peeled it off Facebook this morning.

Ernest.

I was in a unique situation tonight. I was reminiscing about things, life in general with a lovely friend after a fine meal and several glasses of New Zealand’s finest sauvignon blanc..

Questions were asked, answered, topics interspersed, moods changed brought on by more wine, followed by sweet ports with coffee.

There I was, poised to fiddle the cork from a bottle of Tokay when I was transported back to Aireys Inlet, 1983. Probably after a night in the front room of the Aireys Lighthouse restaurant, maybe it was post fire. I was jolted to realise that we met each other nearly thirty fucking years ago.

When the calendar clicks into July/ August 2012, this will mark the time that Dean and myself arrived in that not so sleepy hamlet.

We had arrived with a flourish. Two young men with a 30 foot steel hulled yacht, plenty of ambition and big brass balls. Soon to be realised by the locals that we weren’t cashed up rich kids but bones of our arses dope smoking layabouts with a raw talent for excessive drinking and pretty damn hungry for any kind of strange Michael that presented itself.

After ripping the cork from the fresh chilled bottle of Portugals  finest, I described with passion, my very first night as a “meeter and greeter” at the Lighthouse restaurant. Picture two rather delicious, slightly older young ladies dining together. I attended their table and enquired as to their needs. “Can I get you ladies, anything else?” was met with the immortal and never to be beaten reply of  “when are you going to start seducing your customers?”

I realised at that moment that if waiting on tables was able to procure this fabulous result, then my career as a waiter, was secure. 

But this isn’t the important memory.

I was prompted to remember you handing me a book to read. I can almost see the bookcase that held a collection of well read paperbacks. You suggested that I read a particular book from your collection. Now here my memory is a little dull but it was either Dice Man by Luke Reinhart or Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Doesn’t really matter. Both books were a catalyst for my future passion for literature of a similar ilk. I have recently acquired a copy of The Golden Torc, (Julian May) another of your loaned books. Dice Man is still tucked away in my bookcase along with a few old favourites like Future Shock, 1984 and others from that era.

The fact of the matter Butch, is that thirty years on, I am myself, not a writer of such important tomes but I do submit a regular column to a well known motorcycle magazine, I have in past years written a regular column for the Sunday Age and other various blogs, articles and some well received letters and emails, too many to  mention, some too personal to reproduce.

I firmly and honestly believe that writing and understanding the mechanics of the written word, the general requirements for being able to put words together in large blocks, cannot happen unless one has an understanding of how this shit works. I wasn’t  a reader at all, I can’t remember having read anything prior to you offering me those books to read.  Clearly I could read, I wasn’t a dunce, My education prior to then must have been significant enough to have enabled me to read and read well.

What is significant, is the memory of your generosity, your  interest in me and your selection of those books that shaped the future of my literary direction.

How about that?

It’s been a very long time since we have seen each other but I do relish the thought that if we did happen to bump into each other down the track, it would be a warm and wonderful occasion, similar to my best memories of that era of wine women and song.

Ahh the memories……

Olly Downie

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This Bloke. A story about a great mate.

This Bloke.

This bloke has been in my life for 42 years.

We probably didn’t think when we met, that we would go on to know each other for the next few weeks, let alone the next 42 years.

From pretty much the moment we met, we had each others back, although when we met, it could have gone in the opposite direction. We met because of a turf war between our respective motorcycle gangs. Sounds heavy?

In those days it was.

There was a proliferation of motorcycle gangs in those early days in Brisbane. There were the infamous major clubs, some of them brand new and there were a lot of neighbourhood clubs. We were in our separate neighbourhood clubs and the word had spread that we were about to engage each other in a bloody war. A turf war, a battle of who drinks at which pubs.

The threat was so real that both gangs thought it might actually happen and neither clubs wanted that. We all loved our pubs and we loved other pubs in other locations as well…we were great lovers of pubs in those days. We liked riding to them with 30 or so mates and we loved spending whole days and nights in the pubs so neither gang really wanted that to end.

So Paulys brother, Gary “Billy Jack” Howes who was the President/Spokesman/Leader of the Confederates MC, decided we should come together as a group of concerned citizens and discuss this alarming turn of events. We organised a meeting at the Newnham Hotel in outer Brisbane. The pub had set aside a function room with a massive meeting room table and chairs and we all met there at this regional save-our-pubs and clubs meeting and that’s how this friendship began.  These days it might be called “dispute resolution” but in those days that’s exactly what we did, we had a dispute resolution meeting. We were starting a trend.

Pauly and me, we sat next to each other at this meeting and that evening, our 42 years long relationship started. We became mates, brothers, riding buddies, drinking partners, house mates, workmates and lovers of all things to do with pubs, girls in pubs and motorcycles…

We weren’t even 20 years old at the time, so the prime of our lives was still years ahead.

I didn’t see Pauly after that meeting until a few months later, when be both turned up at trade school on the same day. We were both apprentice carpenters and fate had decided that we would be scheduled to start trade school on the same day, in the same class.

Trade school in those days was the thing that got in the way of those long main-bar sessions at the pub near the college. Looking back at our trade school days, we must have been surrounded by very patient and very forgiving tutors.

The bike gang era was an interesting time for everyone involved. We had great times, and we had trying times. Some of our brothers died on the road, some died on the end of a needle, others just moved on. Some drifted out of the motorcycle scene and flourished, others stayed and flourished. We led exciting and exhilarating lives. The drink driving rules and the police in the old days weren’t anything like they are now.

We managed to get away with a lot of nefarious things. Nothing with any criminality involved, just risky business and plenty of booze and hooch. We were at times unruly, irreverent and unwashed but as Pauly was always quick to point out, we looked after each other and never mistreated our girlfriends. We did however, mistreat our livers and our bikes and our bank accounts…

I left Brisbane immediately after I finished my apprenticeship. I was twenty years old.

I took my final pay, bought a Kawasaki 900 and left for Melbourne within a week. It wasn’t long after I arrived here that Pauly came down for a visit and he didn’t go home for a couple of years…

The motorcycle scene was alive and well in our neighbourhood in Melbourne and we were both heartily embraced by the locals and we went on to form excellent friendships with people that are still in both of our lives.

These days Pauly is the most significant bloke I know. Because of his unwavering friendship, he is one of the few people that I can speak to about everything. We spend a lot of time in each others company and our separate personal histories are intertwined with great experiences tempered by caution, good luck and sage advice.

This bloke inspires me to do greater things. He is the one who takes the first step, breaks the new ground and sets a standard to aspire to.

Pauly was the one who recently broke the fog of despondency and bought a new house. I had been wavering between staying a renter and splurging on a massive mortgage. Pauly bought a smaller more affordable home in a cheaper suburb. I saw the wisdom of this and not long after, bought my own home, breaking the 4 years old morass of failed marriage and lost fortune.

Now we’re both renovating at our leisure instead of working like maggots to service huge debt.

Pauly decided to answer a call for Judges on the Housing Industry Association, Home of the Year panel. He was awarded the position and when his co-judge retired, he invited me to join the panel. That was about 6 years ago. Our time on the panel together has been awesome, incredible and we’re the luckiest two bastards in the room as far as we’re concerned.

Pauly called me once and said he’d just put a flag pole in his front yard… Damn, I’ve always wanted to put a flag pole in my front yard and if Pauly is patriotic enough, then I am too. Nothing controversial has happened other than a feeling of acknowledgement of our history. I probably would never have done such a significant thing unless Pauly did it first.

Pauly once said to me that a woman should come into your life to improve it, to enhance our lives. He said to ask yourself “what does this woman offer that will make my life better?”. We have both been through failed marriages so this was like a religious conversion to me, suddenly the mystery was solved…

We were working on a small project together a few years ago and Pauly said one morning, that he was going to make a play for this woman he was doing a renovation for. He had his mind made up and even though he thought he might have been aiming a bit high, he was in no doubt that this woman would be his before the week was out… That determination is typical of Pauly. No doubt, and that lovely woman, is still by his side.

We talk most about our next steps in life or about the results of past decisions, we discuss everything that a couple of old farts who have a 42 years old relationship talk about.

We talk about our own children; we are immensely proud of all of them. We congratulate ourselves often, that of all the things we have accomplished in our lives, our offspring are the most beautiful. The people that we are so proud of are the ones we’re responsible for, the ones we brought into the world.

Pauly is never short of a piece of quiet advice or an anecdote that explains a small mystery. Sometimes I don’t think about it until much later, but I can usually relate back to a conversation that we’ve had in the recent past.

Pauly can always add that one small piece of advice that will help a decision easier to make or seem more practical or just plain practical advice and we all need good advice.

I’m exceedingly proud to know Pauly and I’m looking forward to growing older with him.

We both still have plenty to offer and Pauly will continue to be my muse, my advisor, my critic.

Many people are so proud to call This Bloke, their mate.

He’s my mate and I’m a very lucky bloke.