Monthly Archives: June 2018

Mothers Day with Joe

Joe played his first test against the touring English and visited their shores four times. In all he played thirty-one tests against our old cricketing foe. He captained his country in eighteen of those. It took Bradman to lead the Australian XI more times to that point. He, Joe, was a thick set man in the Boon tradition and also mightily powerful with the bat. He was courageous against speed in those unhelmeted times, could defend with stoicism and build an innings by slow aggregation. He figured in some mighty stands. But, when it called for it, he could swashbuckle his way to a ton in the blink of an eye. He once held the record for the fastest century against the Poms. He also took on the South Africans once they came into the test fold.

My lovely Leigh and I, for various reasons, did not travel north this year to celebrate Mothers Day with our wonderful Mums, but nonetheless we wanted to do something to mark the day, something a little different perhaps – something we normally wouldn’t do. In the lead up to it Leigh saw an ad, I readily agreed and she made a booking.

Joe was born at Glen Ormond in South Australia, the son of a well-to-do merchant. He attended the Prince Alfred College in that state’s capital, quickly demonstrating his prowess with the willow. He once set a schoolboy record, scoring 252 against a neighbouring educational institution. He also was proficient at the native game, playing footy at a high level. After his school years he moved on to an agricultural college, before managing one of the family’s wheat farms. Later he returned to Adelaide to marry and open a sports store on Rundle Street. His father, John, saw his business potential and started to groom him to take over the family firm and was not happy when his son was selected to play his sport at the highest level for South Australia. Over time his wife, Alice, gave him ten sons and five daughters so Joe was soon to have trouble balancing his life between representative cricket, family and business. Could he make a go of it in all three arenas? Only time would tell.

The journey on that most recent of Mothers Days was only a short one, just into the nearby suburb of Claremont. The location of our repast was to be an elegant mansion that was once, before the area became built up, the most dominant feature on the landscape for miles. Now it is largely hidden from view of the major thoroughfares. A chocolate factory is now the feature most commonly associated with Claremont, but once upon a time it was this house. A recent benefactor had lovingly bought the building back to life as in previous decades it had fallen into decrepitude. It is now open to the public for tours, high teas and special occasion functions such as ours.

To start with his sporting passion won out for Joe, but the time away from family weighed heavily. Then his father pulled the mat right out from under him. John purchased a large property and informed his son he was to manage it. Joe retired from cricket and followed his old man’s orders. But his country needed him and he was soon back in whites, succumbing to pressure to take over the national side as captain. He tried to battle on in that role for a few more years, but age and weariness caught up with him. He was doing too much and had to slow down, seeing him give away the game at the highest level to return to his holdings and his ever growing family. Part of the trouble was where his father’s land was situated – almost in the middle of Tasmania, just outside Oatlands.

Claremont House was radiant in the dusk as we arrived. Entering, we were impressed by the capability of the restorers who had taken it back to something akin to how it must have looked in its heyday. On its originally prominent site it began life, around 1840, as a four-roomed Georgian home, gradually morphing into its present day form as a mansion in the Italianate style. The land it was established on was once owned by another iconic figure, one of the founders of Melbourne, John Pascoe Fawkner. He put it up for sale in 1826 for it to be purchased by another mover and shaker of those early days in the colony, Henry Bilton. He built the first structures on site, including the cottage, by 1840 transforming it into a substantial house of rendered brick. Fast forward to 1858 and Bilton had increased his land holdings around it to 350 acres. Being childless, on his death in 1889, the land was sub-divided and sold off. Parliamentarian Frank Bond became the new owner of the house itself, adding extra rooms to his Claremont edifice and constructing its tower. Twenty-one year old Kathleen Brook purchased the property in 1911and with her wealth it soon became a centre of the local social scene for the well-to-do.

Stuck in the middle of Tassie, Joe was far away from any substantial social scene, something Alice probably would have felt quite keenly. But being in that part of the world had some advantages for her husband. He found a new passion – politics, initially throwing himself into the various farming associations whose function it was to gain better deals for the man on the land. But Alice was hankering for a more urbane existence and it was her that saw an advertisement in the press for a substantial house to house a substantial family by the Derwent, not too far out of Hobart. It was also right on the road north to Stonehenge, their Midlands residence. Perfect. She quickly purchased it on Joe’s behalf and they moved in in 1920. And soon Joe started to set his sights on taking his political ambition one step further. He became the MLC for Cambridge in ’21 and served that electorate in the Legislative Council until 1941.

I wouldn’t rave about the tucker, but there was plenty of it, being a buffet – and it was palatable enough. But it was the plush surrounds, on that second Sunday in May, that really appealed. The food was being served in a large room dominated by an expansive billiard table. And on this was arranged all sorts of memorabilia that fascinated this diner, including from Joe’s tenure at the stately home. Amongst it was a plethora of photos from his time as a cricketer, including a snap of him arm in arm with the great WG, as well as one of the man he called his ‘white-haired boy’, Victor Trumper. I was so engaged I almost totally forgot about my stomach and the gorgeous date waiting for me back at our table. Also featured, from more recent times, was an image of the current owner with Dame Helen Mirren.

Along with politics the former cricketer was partial to automobiles, converting the coaching house to hold his collection of six expensive models. Sadly, though, time marches on and with his children grown up and largely dispersed, the place became too onerous for the ageing couple to manage. He sold it to the Red Cross in 1940 to be used as a convalescent home for the war wounded.

It was a delightful evening at Claremont House for Leigh and I, well worth the cost of the meal for all that history. My lady has vowed to return to partake of the tour and high tea and I would encourage any visitors to our fair city to do the same.

Joe Darling CBE saw his later years sadly mired in controversy as he dared to take on the might of the Forestry Department whose practices, back in the day, were every bit as dubious as they have been in a more recent era. He accused the minister and some officials of taking bribes and demanded a royal commission. The evidence he presented was so compelling that this was finally granted – something that did not earn him friends, but served to demonstrate the man himself hadn’t changed much from his days leading our nation on the cricketing fields of the world. He won out in the end, but did not live to see the outcome, passing on in 1946. He was the last surviving member of the soon to be federated nation’s touring party of 1896, dying only thirteen days later than fellow Tasmanian tourist of that team, mate and local parliamentarian CJ Eady. Joe is buried at Cornelian Bay. I wonder what the great man would have made of twenty/twenty, IPA and dare I say it, the current ball-tampering farce? I daresay he’d turn in his grave by the river.

Claremont House website =

Pink, Jack and the Point of it All

It was in my early months of retirement and I was sitting next to him at an end of the year work function. He was a doctor at my lovely Leigh’s place of work; the practice where she plied her profession as a nurse. At a glance I’d say he was older than myself, but who knows? We chatted away haltingly, as you do with someone you don’t really know all that well, looking for common ground. I probed away with cricket, footy, travel and even the weather, but eventually what we had was the end of our working days. He was obviously thinking about pulling the plug, I was still feeling my way into it after doing so. Breaking free from the nine to five was strange at first, but by the time I was sitting next to Jack, I was starting to feel pretty good about it. And the notion was our starting point through which, as the evening proceeded, we began to get to know each other in a bit more depth.

After reading Ms Coslovich’s column, I returned to my own private phobia of the colour. Of course, these days, if I had a grandson, using ‘too girly’, if he had of picked out ‘…the glittery pink journal’, would not have passed my lips, but would I have still discouraged him from buying it? I suspect he would find out soon enough in any case. But I wonder if it would have been the same way back when my own cherished son was a little tacker? It’s so long ago now, but maybe. I know I’ve an illogical aversion to the hue and the male gender. I’d happily buy pink for my equally cherished granddaughters. Unlike, though, the sartorially elegant Michael Portillo, with his pink jackets and strides adorning his person as he gads about the English countryside on his trains, I could never wear it. I’ve even fallen short of buying a book by a favourite author because it was too pink for me to take to the counter, let alone to be seen out in public reading it. There are some advantages in e-books.

He asked me how I put in my time; how did I fill up the days? I replied that, so far, my post-teaching days had been full and rewarding – and that wasn’t just idle chat. That was decidedly the case. I explained I could now see every movie I aspired to, read every book that tempted me (that may have been just a little fib I was to discover), catch up on all the old tele series I was forced to miss during term time and go on to wholly enjoy what we now know as the golden age of the small screen. And I confided to him that I wrote. Jack took an interest in that, asking what I put pen to paper about. ‘Whatever comes into my head,’ I responded. I told him about my blog, the Blue Room, my digitally savvy daughter had set up for me. He told me he was totally ignorant of blogs, so I gave him some more detail about how they operated.

I like Gabriella C’s short piece ‘Handle Messages with Kid Gloves’. I liked her yarn about the two men, the contrast between the guy learning Spanish and the one disappointing his son over the pink diary. I guess, if anything, with my scribing, I fancy myself as a columnist like Gabriella – or a Bernard Salt, Martin Flanagan, Tony Wright or Wendy Squires, just to name a few of my favourites. That is, writing for a wide public consumption. But I know, particularly at my age, that’ll never be the case. But does that matter? In no way is it a burning ambition.

Then Jack asked the inevitable question – the one I knew he would ask. ‘Well, what’s the point if nobody reads it?’ I could add,’What’s the point if few ‘like’ my Facebook or ‘heart’ my Instagram posts?’ I counted the medico’s query with words akin to that first father’s out with his lad – ‘And not everything need(s) to have a purpose; you could do something for the pure enjoyment’. Just as he did with his foreign language lessons; just as I do with my writing. Like the comparison with the truck driver, I know I’ll never be a writer. But it is important to me that I can write. That few respond to my blogs or anything I place out into the ether is of little concern to me. It’s the process of doing so that gives me the utmost pleasure. Isn’t that enough?

My Leigh now works elsewhere, in another medical practice, although I still go to her previous place of employment as my own terrific doctor still hangs his shingle there. I hadn’t seen Jack around the place in quite a while, but last week I had reason to again visit and there he was. He breezed through whilst I was waiting for my consultation, gave me a cheery wave and greeting before continuing on his way. Perhaps he was now part-time; perhaps he’d decided retirement wasn’t for him, that he wasn’t ready. It doesn’t matter. He’ll know when the time’s right. Back in ’11 I knew it was and have never regretted the decision, even if some might feel what I do with it might be indeed pointless. I love my life today and that’s good enough for me.

Ms Coslovich’s column –