|International Training Institute|
The sun shimmers off Sydney harbour with the same intensity, but there’s no one around except a fat caretaker, dawdling across the road towards the old commando base for a cup of tea
The car park is vacant
The weatherboard huts bare
There are no desks, no chairs, not even a shred of carpet
The Hallstrom library has been stripped of shelves
Every door propped open in futile hope that the gusty wind may blow away the must and damp ingrained even 40 years ago
The grass, always well mown, is knee-long
The shrubs, trimmed beyond redemption, are unkempt
The long walkway, fish-boning into lecture huts and usually busy with students, is empty except for the untidy leaves of liberated plants
The canteen, where I ate cream buns in those days when I was allowed to eat cream buns, is naked except for a grimy pie warmer and a defeated radiator
A battered green felt notice board lies on the floor
Around the corner, the common room, where I learned chess in 1962 and was married the second time in 1985, is as sombre as a crypt
ASOPA 2002 seems such a sad and meaningless place
“It’s heritage listed,” the caretaker expounds, unsympathetically ordering me off the property
Do you remember those days?
Of finding new ways to burn the candle?
Of walking in on mates otherwise engaged?
Do you remember those days?
Whether falling in love, being away from home,
Or just plain throwing up,
They were intense times mate, weren’t they?
Looking back we seemed to be psyching ourselves
For something –
Not a job in the bank round the corner,
I remember losing a weekend in an Estonian haze
with Freddie Behr and his thousand lost cousins.
Why were we at ‘The Robin Hood’?
Did we end up at Queenscliff?
Who knows? No-one seemed to care.
All a bit much for a boy from Merrylands.
Then after two years we went on my first flight,
By Vickers Viscount
From Sydney to Port Moresby
Via everywhere it seemed.
Drunk dry by Townsville
- or was it Brisbane?
All of us went from one gyrating vortex
To a newer warmer 24 hour/ 7 day a week
Version with lots of yellow and green and brown
The colours of our nation’s flag? Nah!
The national colours of SP Brewery.
Out in my little bush school at Tufi on the Coast
Of old North East Papua
We used to scan the horizon day after day
Waiting for the ‘Bev’ to arrive, or even the ‘Kalili’.
Beer gone after two months I watched Tony, my Didiman mate
Rip the top off a hottie right there on the wharf.
Old Tone never got the taste for the Buka Meri.
Some of us came South after a few years.
My flashback was staggering – sober – into an Army Officers
Mess at Bandiana on a freezing June day.
“Are you OK?” said the trusty barman
“Look at the mirror – your lips are all blue. What can I get you?”
I looked at him with tears in my heart for his kindness and gasped,
“Rum and water, thanks mate”.
My words brought a strange silence to the members assembled.
They’d never had to get by without beer.
Rum will keep – and you can always find water.
I had entered a different universe.
Then in the twinkling of an eye as I was taking
My midday dip in the pool a couple of months ago,
Thinking of nothing in particular
Janine took a mysterious call.
What I could hear was intriguing.
I didn’t know who it was.
But the pool filter was on
And the water was flowing in what looked like
Is that our destiny, just when we think we are safe
To be drawn into that creative power
Again and again.
Look at the bios, what do they say?
“Comfortable people, living comfortable lives?”
Not on your life mate.
We were taught at the Buena Vista to reel
from one situation to another.
And we’re still doing it!
In pretty amazing ways.
14 June 2002