Category Archives: Letters

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


Tom Elliot

This is a letter I fired off to Tom Elliott, radio presenter on 3AW in Melbourne, in response to rant and sometimes vicious talkback about the ANZ bank, launching a policy that will require the bank to hire 4% indigenous people.

Dear Tom.

Listening to the discussion this afternoon about the Bank policy to employ a (small) percentage of indigenous workers, was cringeworthy. Not for the reasons most of the bigoted racists who called in to agree with your outrage, but because you are capable of a much more noble stance on this issue. The amount of Indian, Chinese and Pakistani workers in my bank for instance far outweighs other ethnicities in the community and I think it only fair and indeed righteous that this bank decide to make a stance to encourage our indigenous workers to their ranks.

This isn’t racist or political correctness gone mad, this is fair dinkum and a fair go…this is a great Australian hand up, not a hand out.The bank should be applauded.

Go inside the Laiki Bank or the Arab Bank in the CBD and count the Greeks and the Egyptians working the counter…plenty of ethnic disparity there old mate. I’m not saying this is right or wrong. It’s just a fact. Surely this policy is meant to encourage Aboriginal students to the ranks of the banking industry?

This is surely to be seen as our multi nationals encouraging our Aboriginals to look to the banking sector for a career?

The way this was presented on your program, served only to alienate Aboriginals from the argument, not at all was it structured to be inclusive. We need to encourage our indigenous population, not further alienate them. The spurious argument that it’s reverse racism is just a tool for bigoted and racist haters to stand up and wave their arms for 5 seconds of pathetic notoriety. This discussion needs encouragement, not bleating about equal rights. We all need to stand up for our Aboriginal community here in Melbourne. WE need to encourage everybody to excel, not shame them because of their Aboriginality. I know there are members of the aboriginal community that are working hard to be inclusive and have pride in themselves and and their accomplishments and in their families and in their communities.

You, wether you like it or not, are a leader in this community and I believe that you should, as much as you can, encourage the good work and look for gems among the shit that we’re usually dished up. Our Indigenous, our Aboriginals are ours, they’re Australians, they’re unique to US and we should be proud to be among those that encourage, inspire and empower them all. Anything less is beneath our honour and our spirit of goodwill.

I’m a typical white Melbournian bloke with two very proud Aboriginal men in my family. I have nothing but praise for these men and they have shown me another way of thinking, a less racist way and a more inclusive way of understanding.