These old hands. They lay down and dug deep between shoulder and blade; “bloody knotted, you’re all bloody sinew” he coughed. They were a pugilists hands, with thick skin like loose stitched leather, the texture of polished bronze covering a wide ridge of weathered knuckle.
I turned. Hunched beneath a thick great coat and black trilby, with that same expression you’d expect of a man who’d spent a lifetime fighting for a living. Trevor’s trade was boxing. And I’ve meet boxers, Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis to name a few. Their eyes all share this caring countenance. They’ve all had to learn through hard fought experience that ‘it is always better to give, than to receive’. Trevor had those eyes.
“You need a good white oil my boy and a hot bath”, he repeated over and over. Obviously concerned about my sinewy self.
He was a former champion here in South Australia, and regaled us with stories from his youth. Not just the fights, but the training, the preparation, the sheer determination to fight in the steaming heat and dust.
Horse asked when he last stepped into the ring. “Boxing… back in the mid 60’s“, then with a wry smile he continued, “but I had my last punch-up just the other week” Legend.
Trevor was eighty years young.
There are legends in every local. Mannum hotel had more than a few.
Like many New Zealanders Sian and Brent made Australia home, having moved from the South Island in the late eighty’s. With them were Maria (married to Don) and Reno, who grew up here or here abouts, both descendants of maverick and optimistic Italian parents.
So for the briefest of times here we all were, gathered around a table on the shores of the Murray, emigrants all. Tracing our genealogy upstream to distant and not so distant tributaries and streams that feeds the great river of the people. And this is such a very long river with the roots of its ancestry flowing back fifty thousand years and then some. The longest permanently inhabited place by one peoples anywhere in the world. We have now become the river.
They didn’t just share their stories, they shared their lives. With no one more endearing than Sian. For her, facing uncertainty is just a bend of that muddy river, it’s an unknown but the current flows strong and ‘it will sure carry her’. Legend.
We said our goodnights but not our goodbyes. We were perfect strangers and now old friends.
Late to rise I slouched in a moth eaten armchair, pitched as it was against the lean of the Mannum hotel veranda. Drinking cheap black coffee through a stained mug, I rubbed my feet for warmth and gazed out at the slow oily passage of the Murray and thought about last nights passage of time. I was hungry.
Every culture has a cuisine and South Australia has the ‘pie floater’. That iconic pastry encased delight, dumped upside down in a green swill of pea soup, garnished with a liberal squirt of ketchup.
Horse was ravenous for one. Me, I was hungry until he described what it was. We trudged off down Randell street – he was on the hunt.
It wasn’t the menu that got me, but the wayward wheezing coming from speaker. I reminded Horse that Tom Waits once said: “a true gentleman is someone that knows how to play the accordion, but chooses not to”. He grinned through my caution and crashed through the double doors.
Inside the endless bellowing didn’t abate. We stood in a faux wood panelled room infused in camphor cured curtains. The waiter appeared. Thin and waxen, wearing taupe chinos, a cream rough wool jumper and apron. He was clearly rushed off his feet with two tables now needing service. “Right” he fumbled and began to list of all the items on the meagre menu that he couldn’t serve us.
“So what do you have?” I retorted, and slowly looking up over his horn rims at me he replied “Pie floater?” Horse grinned, he’d found his prey.
Him satisfied, we made our way back to the Mannum hotel for the days ‘open mic’.
Open mic provides an opportunity for any would be troubadour with a chance to perform in front of a live pub audience. The Mannum is a regular haunt and it didn’t disappoint.
Corralled at the back of the bar, wild horses and wannabe rockers. Sunday’s finest, dressed in weathered denims and Motörhead t’s. Their restrained greying manes held back by Oakley wrap-arounds, as they shuffled hip slinging preloved Gibsons and Fenders awaiting their turn.
And like a microphone loves a musician, one by one they took their turn. Demonstrating they had the minimals in an endless medley of classic seventies rock covers and Joani Mitchell sound-alikes. Pints of the black stuff flowed, Horse and I reuniting with our emigrant family, along with the remaining revellers and sidewalk smokers, we stood arm and shoulder at the Heathers bar.
Then late, late, late in the day, as the mic’ drooped and reeled drunken against the breath of stale beer, smoke and whiskey, it staggered, only having the stamina for one more. Then the Theresa Law band took the stage.
“I used to think I could catch the wind, sail in any direction.
But now I’m drifting around the bend, yeah I’m loosing connection.
I’ve got to breathe the wind…”
Mannum Hotel. You are legend.
Todays top track: Theresa Law band – Breath the Wind