Mates first: Packing toasters and sinking middies

ISN’T it funny the way we turn out like our parents, even when we have no idea of their past.

The day I truly began working on dad’s biography – the day of the first interview – I called a friend for advice and, among other things, she said, “In a way, you’re lucky, because you’re going to get to know your dad in a way that a lot of people don’t get to know their parents”.

So far, there have been several “wow” moments where I think, “So that’s why he told me that”.

Two of those moments happened while chatting to affable former cricket captain Kim Hughes, who played club cricket with dad at Subiaco and recalled how “Wally was a coward and hated the fast bowlers”.

It made me remember the times dad would get angry at me for being afraid of the fast pitchers in baseball. “Stop stepping away from the bloody thing,” he would say.

Then he told me of the times a group of them would go to “The Shents” (Shenton Park Hotel) after training on a Thursday and sing “the naughty version” of Old McDonald Had A Farm in the talent show.

It was ironic, because when I was in primary school, the teachers send a letter home to my parents and I was made to write lines (remember that punishment!) for singing, “Old McDonald sitting on a bench / picking his bum with a monkey wrench” and so on. Dad flipped out.

But last week was another side of dad – a more serious side – that I didn’t know existed to the extent it obviously did and it was to do with loyalty and love.

I always knew dad was loyal, don’t get me wrong, and almost every person I speak to names that trait as a prominent one of his. But this was more.

Dad was posted to Melbourne with The West Australian in 1973, coincidentally the same year that close friend George Young headed to St Kilda Football Club.

The pair was close before Melbourne, but, after dad’s less-than-12-months, they were even closer. George told me last week, “Our bond was just so close that you could almost say we were cousins or brothers, over a period of 30 or 40 years”.

And he recounted a beautiful tale of friendship.

Mondays were their days. It was a day off for dad – with him having worked the weekends – and it was a light-to-no training day for George. So, they would spend the day playing golf before heading to the pub.

But when George was injured, he needed to work – can you imagine that these days; a top-flight forward in the national game having to work?! – and it loomed as the end of their Mondays.

The pair had other ideas.

“I got a part-time job working for an electrical retailer in the heart of the city,” Young said.

“Because Wally had Mondays off, I got him a job there, packing toasters and wrapping them up for posting off to clients. That would have gone on for four or five months, I reckon.

“Wal and I, we’d always sneak off at lunchtime and head over to the local bar to knock down six middies during the lunchtime break and then come back.

“I remember it was a double-story retail outlet and we used to hide upstairs and there was a phone up there, so we used to ring back to Perth to find out what was going on, get the cricket scores and everything.”

Dad didn’t need the money, he already had a job. But the friendship was worth more than the day off.

It reminded me of when I was in my late-teens, to early-20s.

I had my full-time job hauling magazines from the conveyor belt at the Courier Australia warehouse in Belmont. My best mate, Mark, had a gig at a supermarket chain as a night-filler. For obvious reasons, the chain shall remain nameless.

We spent most of our weekends together, but the thing with night-fill was that it was one of those jobs where knockoff only came once all the work was done.

That didn’t suit us; I wanted my mate and he wanted to be finished. So, most Fridays I would buy a six-pack, wait for the manager to leave and he’d let me through the back roller-door and we’d have a few beers while finishing the job. The store never knew, it simply thought it had hired the quickest night-filler going around.

I’m sure a lot of people would read this and think, “Man, you needed to get a life. Or a girlfriend!” Actually, I think I had a girlfriend at the time. But that’s ok, she could wait.

I didn’t need to be there. And he didn’t need me there. But the friendship demanded it.

It’s funny the things we pick up from our parents, without even talking about it.


Have you got a similar story of mateship? Drop a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear it.

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