Ways of getting wet

This is an old story which I recently found. Laura is now an adult.

 

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(South Bondi Board Club members pose for a Women’s Weekly article about the new ‘hot dog’ style of surfboard in 1958. L to R: Scott Dillon, Bluey Mayes, Andy Cochran, Rod Cartlidge, Barry Ross, Des Price. Photo: Ernie Nutt)

“Let’s go swimming” I suggested to eight year old Laura during the summer holidays. “Yeah” she replied ardently (aren’t eight year olds ardent?), “let’s.” That’s how I found myself in this cavernous post-modernist hell, reading Allan Bennett’s Writing Home, squeezed miserably between a plump Muslim woman in a white broderie anglaise dress and headscarf work over curiously chic opaque white stockings and a Chinese family with bulging hampers cracking watermelon seeds.

It’s a bit like reading a menu, and seeing roast chicken, and the mind’s eye and palate filling with a crisp plump bird stuffed with sweet butter and herbs, surrounded by perfectly roast potatoes and melting onions, and what arrives is a scraggy leg with two flowerlets of attenuated broccoli. When I said “go swimming” I meant the beach, yellow sand, foaming surf, glittering sunshine. She meant an indoor pool. If you want an indication of just how the world has changed in 30 years, look at the change in the meaning of the word ‘swimming’.

I grew up in Double Bay, and swam at Redleaf Pool or Nielsen Park, surfed at Bondi and Tamarama. I body surfed – never took to the board, I was a sailor and the two didn’t, somehow, mix – I alternated between those two beaches, depending on the wave. But very early on in my beach days, it was always Bondi. I’d catch the 365 from Double Bay – a double decker of course – and get off in Campbell Parade, hop down across the blistering asphalt to the south end of the beach, rubber fins and towel, zinc cream plastered across my nose.

I go so far back I remember Bluey Mayes being the hero of the beach with his long Okanui board. I can still see him standing, muscles bulging, tattoos rippling, balancing the long board, about twice his length, on its tail, whether waiting to dive in or just attracting attention, I never knew. Whatever, he got it. We worshipped him, us young surfers. Most of my mates went on to ride boards and formed the Windansea surf club (Max Bowman, the late Kevin “Head” Brennan, Brian “Squeaker” Morris) a purist surfing club designed to distance themselves from the old fashioned silly hat wearing do-gooders at the Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club.

 

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(Windansea Surf Club, undated, uncaptioned)

We’d jump off the rocks at the South Bondi Pool, and swim out to catch the really great waves there, peeling off just before we got eaten by the jagged rocks. Or else we’d surf the long sliders off the point at Tamarama.

On really good days at Bondi, I remember the surf as being huge. We had a technique with dumpers which required you to shoot through the face and free fall down it, slapping the water when you hit bottom and then rolling up into a ball as the huge wave of water thumped down on you. You had to be able to hold your breath. We learnt how to ride the left and right breaks, when to pull off the wave, and when to take it all the way. Out of the water, there was the life.

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When I was very young it was Vallis’ milk bar, where we’d sip milk shakes in aluminium canisters, leer at young girls, then pad up to the fish shop for potato scallops – I can’t remember but I think we used to take the scallops into Vallis’. It was a great milk bar, with pinballs and dark wood veneer booths. We never did any good with the girls – we were too young, and they were after the older surf club members. Bluey did OK.

Later I remember hitching to Bondi and home again, along O’Sullivan Road and New South Head Road, getting out at the ABC Milk Bar where the bottle shop is today. I remember a lift one day with a bloke who was selling plums bottled in brandy. He’d been eating more than he sold, and we polished off two bottles on the long slow drive home.

By then I was lunching at the Astra Hotel, now an old people’s home. The Astra pies were famous and we’d have a schooner of beer and a pie for lunch before heading back into the surf. By then some of us had cars and we might even drive to Bronte in somebody’s old Veedub.

That was the beach. Burning sand. Pounding waves. Salt stretched skin. Peeling noses. Yeah, and sometimes bluebottles and always sharks. At the back of the mind.

And then there was just plain swimming. And for me that meant training at Redleaf Pool for the annual school sports day at North Sydney Olympic Pool (about the only time I ever crossed the bridge). I swam competitively at school, and used to train at the same times as Murray Rose. I never knew him he was a fair bit older but we did laps together. Rose was a vegetarian, a bit radical back then in the 50s It was whispered he lived on seaweed.

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(Redleaf is now known as Murray Rose Pool: when I was very young I remember seeing him there: A blonde god)

The other attraction to us boys at Redleaf was Irene van der Bellen. She was a Dutch girl with intense blue eyes and long blonde hair and very mean parents. Well, they must have been. She was still wearing the thin blue cotton Speedo one piece at 15 she’d probably first got when she was 12. And it was bulging out and getting thinner and Irene bulged out and got rounder. We used to lie around the boardwalk around the pool (on our stomachs) just waiting for Irene van der Bellen to get out of the pool and walk up to the changing sheds, wishing we were towels.

I remember we found out where she lived, and Archie Cooper and me went around to her place one night and sang “Goodnight Irene” outside her window until her father threatened to call the police. I wonder where she is now? Did she realise what a ruckus her old blue cotton Speedo used to cause? Maybe it wasn’t her mean parents who squeezed her into the old one every year.

There was a tuckshop at Redleaf and it sold those open jam pies with mock cream piped around the top of the crust. Whatever happened to them? You can still get pineapple doughnuts and Neinish tarts but those jam pies have gone the way of the Bondi tram.

Redleaf was seaweed and dark green water and lying under the plane trees and the long walk up the stairs home. My mother told me she used to take me there as a baby, but I don’t remember.

That summer holiday when I realised that swimming for Laura meant an indoor pool, I suggested we go to the Olympic Aquatic Centre at Homebush Bay. Surely it couldn’t be worse than the pool at Willoughby the school sent her to. I was wrong. It was wet hell on earth.

There’s a postscript to this story. When Laura grew up, she became a very keen board surfer. Couldn’t imagine swimming in anything but the ocean.  

 

 

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The Naked Lunch

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This was originally published as a review in the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald. But I had to persuade the women sub editors to let it through. Only by arguing that it was not in favour of such places, but was merely reporting their existence and the kind of food they served did I prevail. Sadly such places – Twin Peeks one – still operate today. 

Where did your husband have lunch today? Was he served by young ladies in lingerie? Did he pay one of them to remove her brassiere, sit on his lap, and feed him flummery?

There are now at least six of these what are now known as “lingerie restaurants” in Sydney. One woman even spoke to me of the “lingerie restaurant industry”. This is not exactly a new development. Blokes have sat around tables being served by scantily clad women and perving on dancing girls after lunch for quite some time now. Salome is probably the best known of the early lingerie waitresses, Tête de Jean Baptiste her most famous dish.

A feminist friend dismissed such places as “just another manifestation of male power” and “symbolic of male ‘ownership’ of women.” I’d say she was right. But the blokes at the lunches that I went to didn’t look capable of or desirous of such analysis. They just wanted to eat, drink, and look at women with few, if any, clothes on.

I also spoke to Lindal Lee Arnold (who, incidentally, has a BA in Economics and Behavioural Science from Macquarie University), managing director of LA girls, who supplies lingerie models for places like The Pitts in Pitt Street, and Maurizio’s at Wetherill Park. Here, the waitresses are dressed, but after lunch there is a parade of young girls wearing lingerie. Ms Arnold has a different perspective on this phenomenon – in her view “it’s total exploitation of the men – we charge them $50 each to see a parade. If the girls are getting well paid, surely it’s the customer being exploited.”

For my first experience of such male exploitation, I went to Twiggy’s, which is in a terrace in Woolloomooloo. The door is locked, you ring the bell, a little door behind a grille is pulled back, and if you pass muster, you’re ushered into a dingy room which looks like a 60s bistro. White tablecloths, solid wooden chairs, and drapes closed tight to keep out the light and prying eyes.

Surrealistically, all the tables are occupied by fully clothed men being served by young women in brassieres, G strings, garter belts, and high heels. The men look like husbands: fathers, grandfathers and uncles. At Twiggy’s it was mostly lower middle management, with a couple of Ralph Lauren striped shirt and bracers types from the money market.

At first, the atmosphere was subdued and nervous. Fascinating was that, although these men were quite patently here for the young women, they didn’t look at them. While orders were being taken, their eyes never left the waitress’s face. Later, one told me “they won’t look at us when we’re looking at them.”

The food is served with indecent haste to make way for the “entertainment”: three strippers. At Twiggy’s the first was one of the waitresses, and then two outsiders – there is now a lingerie lunch circuit for strippers. The food was more than perfunctory – which I’d been expecting – less than polished, but certainly professional. The menu is limited – four entrees and four mains, but again, no one was seen to complain.

Smoked salmon with a good house made horseradish – acceptably gritty and pungent; a chicken salad of juicy little chunks of grilled chicken on a bed of mizuna and mignonette studded with slivers of grilled red and green capsicum; a lamb loin of good quality, but overcooked and accompanied by a flowerlet of broccoli: neither restaurant was big on veggies. The short wine list yielded a Yarra Ridge Chardonnay and a ’91 Kalimna.

Cinders is a different story. Opulent, men’s clubby, with balloon back chairs, delft blue and rust red rooms, glass-fronted bookcases, and young ladies in collars and cuffs with transparent black mini skirts and white waistcoats which were discarded progressively through lunch. Here it’s senior management doing the ogling, MDs, CEOs and the like. That’s the way manager Alison Brooks likes it. At Twiggy’s it’s “Hi guys”, at Cinders it’s “good afternoon gentlemen.”

The real surprise at Cinders was the seriously good food. A superb mushroom soup with Thai flavours; delicious duck livers on corn cakes served with reduced pan juices; I was warned by a chef friend against saying that the tenderloin steak was the best I’d had in Sydney for yonks, so I won’t. The wine list was more intriguing than Twiggy’s, and even the desserts weren’t bad, although we did serve ourselves.

Later, I spoke to a senior executive who freely admitted to taking his clients regularly to Cinders. His explanation was that it was “a sort of a male thing, a bit like going to the football”, that he took the same clients to the opera – “horses for courses” – and when asked whether or not he felt that he was displaying primitive male sexist attitudes, replied, indignantly, “no, I don’t buy into this feminist argument. If there were a restaurant where men stripped off, women would go there.” There is. They do.

And finally, what of the waitresses themselves? Penelope (not her real name) began working nights as a topless waitress to supplement her income from a cosmetics company, and finally gave up her day job to work as a lingerie waitress. She doesn’t mind the job, but there are downsides. Firstly, there’s the disruption to her social life “I’m with men all day, I have to be nice to them and some of them are so awful, the last thing you feel like is men after work.”

Since Penelope has been working as a lingerie waitress, “none of the girls have ever been out with a guy from the restaurant – they can’t even touch us – if someone does grab you they’re thrown out.” It does bother her that they “have the audacity to give me their business card and ask me out when I’m being paid to sit on their knee.”

On the whole, as far as Penelope is concerned, it’s not a bad job. “We’re really well paid (about $16/20 an hour plus “megatips”), you don’t have to take your panties off – it’s just like what you’d wear at the beach.”

Amanda (her real name), the self styled “foreperson” at Twiggy’s, who described herself as never having been a “clothes kind of person”, told me that she “would love to do exactly what these men are doing, not because of equality, but because I’d love to see guys walk around in next to nothing and eat nice food.”

What does it all mean? Let me offer the bullfight analogy. I went to my first bullfight expecting to hate it and loved it. This worried me enormously, and made me feel very guilty. I thought about it at length and came to the conclusion that, although I should have evolved beyond the primitive blood lust that the bullfight had unleashed in me, I hadn’t.

Well, the men who frequent lingerie restaurants (regulars go fortnightly) should have evolved beyond enjoying being served lunch by scantily clad women – but they haven’t. And as long as they haven’t, there’ll be people out there, men and women, exploiters or exploited, to take their money. At least they’re eating well.

 

(Both places offer food at a fixed price of $55.00 plus drinks, the average spend is around $120 a head.)

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Ciao Carlo. Leichhardt won’t be the same

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Last week the foodlovers of Sydney learnt that Carlo Colaiacomo, half of AC Butchery in Leichhardt had died. Just eight weeks after his beloved wife Angela, the A in the name.

Carlo was a much loved figure, and his shop one of the very first in Sydney to offer the kind of carnivorous products we omnivores hungered for. Especially smallgoods and sausages, great sausages.

One of those customers, Kim Terakes, had a few memories of Carlo to share. He recalled” Carlo pulling me aside one day in the shop and pointing to the ‘restaurant trimmed’ lamb cutlets. ‘The French did this, fuck them. Cut all the fat off the meat. No flavor any more. Fucking French’.”

But like many of us, Kim remembers walking into the shop, and Carlo saying, casually, one eyebrow raised ‘coffee mate?’ This was more than a butcher’s shop, this was visit to old friends. It speaks volumes that there were at least half a dozen of his Sydney customers at the funeral in Mudgee.

Who could forget the queues snaking all the way down (almost) to Norton Street at Christmas? Angela’s wonderful vinocotto (I’ve still got a bottle in the fridge). And big Carlo, presiding over the whole thing.

Below I’m pasting in a story of a visit I made to the family farm at Rylstone, original published in what was the Good Living section in The Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s a long way from Leichhardt to Rylstone, south east of Mudgee, where Carlo and Angela Colaiacomo (that’s Colee-arc-omo) of Sydney’s AC Butchery own a 73 hectare farm, with the totally inappropriate and unpronounceable Gaelic name of Aughnloo.

When this farm was brought to GL’s attention, we thought they were only raising organic beef and chickens. But wait, there’s more. Add geese, Muscovy ducks, New Zealand White rabbits, pheasant, partridge, quail, pigeons and pigs. There’s also one milking goat, a vineyard comprising some 6000 Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir vines, and fifteen olive trees with more to come of the last two items. Indeed, as the Colaiocomos have only owned Aughnloo for two years, it’s early days yet.

What Carlo and Angela have done is to create a mixed farm in the Southern European style. And the reason it’s possible to make a profit on such a quixotic enterprise is that they also own a butcher’s shop, so that almost everything that comes off the farm, ends up in Leichhardt. And that means their customers know they can always buy meat that has been raised, cared for and butchered by the man and woman behind the counter.

“There was one cow” said Carlo, “a real personality, we called her ‘mucca pazza’ (crazy cow – certainly not mad cow) “and when she finally came into the shop, her meat was beautiful, with very yellow fat. I’d say to customers, try this meat, it’s terrific, I knew the cow.” Not many butchers can offer that kind of personal hoof to hotplate service.

What’s even more remarkable about this enterprise is that, while Angela’s late father was, many years earlier, a farmer in Sicily, Carlo, far from being a ‘contadino’ (country man) was what his friend Carmello Torretta called a ‘concrete boy’: Carlo came here 32 years ago from Rome, where he last lived in an apartment overlooking the Piazza Navona.

We visited Aughnloo on a cold autumn morning, with a thick fog all but obscuring the view below the north facing farmhouse set high on the side of a steep hill. After a breakfast of bacon and eggs and a corretto (espresso with a nip) against the cold, Carlo and Carmello (Angela was in town that weekend) conducted a tour of the property, along with farm manager Steve Fuller.

But before that, Carlo showed off the kitchen garden, which is a dead give away that there are Italians about: broccoli di rape, rocket, thyme, various lettuces, all thriving just in front of a small chicken run raided daily for fresh eggs.

There have been good rains in the district recently – too good for some of the Mudgee vineyards – and the countryside is rich and green. Twenty seven cows in the mixed herd of around forty five are in calf and they’re all looking glossy and healthy, with plenty of rich mixed pasture to go around. Manager Steve Fuller reckons the property could carry 150 head, and that’s what he and Carlo are aiming for

We drive past the olive grove which, this year, didn’t give much of a crop. “Last year we got 25 kilos. This year, just enough for the table” said Carlo. On the other side of the property, beneath a shady pepper tree, a large run houses geese and Muscovy ducks. Carlo spots a hawk eying off the ducklings, Carmello chases it away.

We visit the rabbits, two of them  giving a vigorous demonstration of the expression ‘to breed like a rabbit’, and stop for a while in the pigeon hutch, listening to the calming ‘plomplomplom’ of its residents.

Within the space of an hour we see more meat on the hoof, claw and paw than many city people see in a lifetime. And the satisfying thing is, we know that most of it, eventually, will make its way to Leichhardt.

(AC Butchery is  still at 174 Marion Street Leichhardt, 9569 8687.)

 

aaad5e857d60a7b04faba1f410d929f0Carlo and Angela’s daughter Licia is on the left, and Angela is second right, on Carlo’s left.