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.


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

2 thoughts on “Ernest Stern. An old mate.

  1. I love this memory. Just two days ago I was going through my books and found dated materials within the pages. One held a bank deposit receipt from 1995 while another held an old airline ticket dated Aug. 6, 1993. I love my old books. I too remember and hold dear to me the person that introduced me to the wonderful works of literature that shaped some of my fondest memories.

    Thank you for your story.

    Liked by 1 person

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