Yes, the more I think about it, I am sure it was definitely him. That it was Don.
She was hovering. Every time I looked she had crept a little closer. I began to speculate as to why she was there – but I’ll never know the answer to that. Flying out of the state that Saturday morning I realised I was in the company of minor celebrity. In the boarding lounge, such as it is at Hobart (supposedly) International Airport, the special people had been called to the plane first. Parading past my seat were Luke Darcy, Cameron Ling and Richo. They’d been in town for the big Friday night game at Blundstone Arena, the first AFL encounter under lights at the local venue. I watched out for Sam Lane, but sadly she was no where to be seen. The previous evening I had tuned in, somewhat bemused, as the Rooboys gave the Tigers a right royal shellacking at Blundstone. On Saturday eve, in my hotel room, I watched similar happen to Essendon at the hands of Freo over in the West, so the Channel Seven commentary team was in for a big day in the air. Following them out onto the tarmac came Damien Hardwick, members of his coaching team and a handful of young men I took to be players, although none of their recognised stars. Once boarded, a couple of rows down from me, I could see midfield stoppage coach, Brendon Lade, in his seat, his knees up around his chin. The confined space in cattle class is not obviously designed for giant former ruckmen.
It was at the luggage collection bay I first spotted her. She was dressed head to toe in Blues regalia and her eyes were firmly fixed on Dimma. It only took a glance to tell that she was in some way intellectually impaired. I was also, to some extent, hovering as I legitimately waited to pick up my case. I am ashamed to say I was engaging in a little ear-wigging too. Their emphatic loss from the night before was naturally the prime subject matter of the Tiges’ management members surrounding me, one on his mobile telling how the previous evening in Hobs all that could go wrong went wrong. Watching on tele it certainly appeared that only one team had come to play – the other, the ones with the yellow stripe, found that, in the freezing air, it was all a little too hard. Sorry Richmond supporters.
But now my mind was on the girl and not on the Richmond Football Club’s woes as she edged even closer to the group around that team’s coach. They all looked pretty gloomy that morning at Tullamarine. Eventually she must have decided she had been waiting long enough for the important question she had to ask Hardwick. She was now close enough to reach in and tap him on the shoulder – which she did. Her query, which she was fit to burst to ask, consisted of just two words.
I watched on with interest as I felt his response to her could tell me a great deal about Dimma the man. He was certainly a positive and affable fellow in his television persona – but I suspected this was not the best of days to be interrupting a debriefing. Those two words? Simply, ‘Where’s Jack?’
Of course, those of us enamoured with the game, would immediately know she was referring to Jack Riewoldt. He’s one of the stars of the team, a quixotic and charismatic figure. Hardwick turned and faced the girl, did not smile, but politely, without embellishment, told her that he wasn’t on their flight. He waited to see if she had anything else to inquire. She did – ‘Is he coming soon?’
Dimma responded that he thought that was the case, but couldn’t guarantee it. He then turned from her to resume his conversation with his acolytes. There was no reference to the girl as she moved off, satisfied, if perhaps disappointed, with his answer. He certainly did not make any derogatory comments about her to those in attendance. To my mind he handled the situation perfectly. He was respectful of her and gave her his time – as fleeting as it may have been. He certainly lost no brownie points from me as a result of the exchange. As to why such a fervent Carlton supporter was hanging around at that time of morning is intriguing. Perhaps that is what she does – checks out the teams returning from interstate games to catch a glimpse of her heroes. It wouldn’t be the Blues that day as they had a home match. Good on her I reckoned – she wanted Jack and she was brave enough to find out from the top man as to whether she’d be in luck.
And she sang to me. Just briefly, but she did sing to me. I was meandering around the ‘Henry Talbot:1960s Fashion Photographer’ exhibition at the NGV Australia when I arrived at a certain photograph at the same time as a tall statuesque blonde, pushing an infant in a pram, together with another woman who was around my age. The image we were all focusing on was entitled ‘Billy and Jackie’. I immediately recognised the male model involved but heard the younger woman ask the elder one ‘Who are they Mum? You knew everyone in Melbourne back in those times.’
The answer, ‘Don’t be silly darling. I didn’t. And I have no idea who they are.’ – and they proceeded to move off. That was too much for me so I piped up and informed them the bloke was Billy Thorpe. The mother turned around and came back. She peered again at the image and extolled, ‘Of course it is. How could I have missed that face. Look at him. He was so young back then.’
I replied something to the effect that we all were so much younger then. She smiled at me and started singing, just quietly, so that her daughter didn’t hear, a few bars of ‘Forever Young’, grinned once more and headed in the direction of her familial companions. It was a lovely moment that will stay with me. Back in the sixties we were all going to be forever young. It didn’t happen.
There were other encounters and sightings. Travelling in on the Skybus from the airport that same Saturday morning I found myself opposite a woman from Salt Lake City, very excited to be in Oz, with her two teenage children. We started chatting – turns out that after four days in Melbourne she was flying south to visit her cousin in, of all places, Dodges Ferry. She hadn’t been to Tassie before and had many questions to ask. I sat next to a couple at the footy. The poor woman. She was a Collingwood supporter but spent her time listening to her hubby raucously cheer on the Doggies when she wasn’t fetching him beers to keep him well lubricated. When he disappeared at half time we started chatting. She was a librarian from Canberra and we talked books until the game and hubby were ready to resume. On my final night, seeking out a proper sit down meal rather than take-away, I happened on Toscani’s in Acland Street, near my hotel. Italian, I partook of a delicious lasagne served by its sole waitress, a delightful young Korean who, at 27, thought she was quite old. I wish. It was a very quiet Monday eve and we got to talking. She was keen to know about my island and she told me of her future hopes – to become a permanent citizen of our country and to set up a restaurant specialising in the tucker of her home country. We chatted so much my pasta treat had decidedly cooled by the time I got to it. Best of all, she gifted me with dozens of radiant smiles. There were dreams of limitless possibility in her eyes. Let’s hope that our country will continue to be a place where that is always possible.
I continued my love affair with the trams of Yarra City. I had an adventure in taking the 109 to Kew to visit a friend recovering from a health issue. Brother Jim was on the mend and maintaining his sense of humour despite what life has thrown at him recently. This mode of transport is a great way of encountering people and getting a feel for the multicultural nature of our second city. There was the German tourist sitting opposite on one journey who was obviously not on the best of terms with his travelling companion. He was furrowing his brow over a map so I inquired if I could be of assistance. Turns out the reason for his frustration was that his wife was not satisfied with the standard of our big two Aussie supermarkets and had demanded that he take her to an Aldi which, being European, was obviously far superior. He was peeved that so much time had to be taken out of their time in Melbourne to hunt one down out in the suburbs. His parting words to me were, with a nod to his missus – ‘Once a German, always a German.’ Then, on another ride, there were two beautiful young ladies standing a short way from me, lost in each other’s presence, gently caressing and cuddling. We have come of age in such matters as there was no staring; no one batted an eyelid. If only I could say the same of some of our Neanderthal politicians.
I attended two very close and pulsating games of AFL, viewed several fine exhibitions (200 Years of Australian Fashion at the NGV definitely worth catching) and went shopping. My pointing of the camera was mostly in abeyance due to the weather, but one morning I took an early morning perambulation along the St Kilda foreshore and delighted in that milky light off the water that sometimes can be caught around the bay. I hope my resulting images did it justice.
And, the more I think of it, I am positive it was him. My lovely lady and I love to celebrity spot and one of her best was sharing an elevator with Mark Seymour of Hunters and Collectors fame. Well, I was about to enter the lift at my Carlisle Street hostelry when I had to step back for a figure departing. As he emerged he looked up at me. I realised instantly that I recognised him. It was the quiff of hair that gave it away. So distinctive – it had to be him. Don Walker, of Cold Chisel fame – the man who has written so many of their iconic anthems. As good as Mark Seymour? Could be – if only I was completely sure.