Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How I learned to love cricket

So we were up at sparrow’s fart,* heading to Low Head for a cricket match. Most of my friends here in Tasmania think I’m nuts. Why does a Canadian, who grew up watching winged ice-men chase a puck, want to waste a perfectly good Sunday watching boring old cricket?

Before coming to Tasmania, I’d had three experiences with cricket. One was at my kitchen table in October 2009, watching Pete search The Guardian for cricket scores (sheer futility). The second was drinking beer and eating oysters with Pete and Lobie Daughton at Lobie and Marilyn’s loft in Charlottetown. For those of you who don’t know him, Lobie is the sole soul of cricket in PEI; until he came to the Island, I don’t think there was ANY. So when Pete was jonesing for cricket, Lobie brought out his cricket bat… and an orange. No juice was spilled that night. The third was a few days later, at a poetry reading at the Haviland Club. Lobie brought along his favourite cricket ball for Pete to hold (he still had a couple weeks to go in PEI...). When Pete got up to read, he passed it to the fellow from India who was sitting next to him to hold. The fellow must have thought it was a gift. Apparently he beamed beatifically, then disappeared seamlessly into the night. With the ball. Never to be seen again on the Island. Pete felt so bad that when he got home to Tasmania he arranged to have author Richard Flanagan’s daughter take a brand-new expensive cricket ball to her soccer game, and she gave it to David Boon's daughter to take home to have the (Tasmanian) “great one” sign. The package arrived in my mailbox, which I dutifully took to Marilyn and Lobie’s 20th wedding anniversary party last August. You’d have thought it was his first-born - Lobie held it reverently before stashing it in his bedroom. Locking the door. He still tells the story at the Farmers’ Market.

Okay, so I admit the first game I went to in Branxholm was, well, boring. Akin to watching paint dry. Eleven blokes out on the field standing around with their thumbs stuck up their arse. I almost went for a walk.
The field in Branxholm
The field at Low Head - next to the golf course (fore for a six!)
Instead, after a while I went and sat beside the score table. It reminded me of scoring bowling. I said something about computers having a few good uses as I watched Pete’s and someone from the opposing team’s pens flick up and down what looked like two accountant’s ledgers. Except with dots and circles, dots and squares, Ws and Ms and LBWs. I asked who was winning. Wrong question. 
Lunch was great – mothers of the local netball team put on a great old-fashioned country spread with sandwiches and pies and a flotilla of cream cakes. In the end, though, Pete’s team, the Thylacinians' 11,** had lost. Afterwards they drowned their sorrows in beer in the clubhouse, while the opposition celebrated, and I got to match faces to the names I’d been hearing: Spread and Eddo, Fish and Robbo, Blakey and Boyler, Roo and Prickle. (Pete is Hayzy.) The best part was the piss-up later at Prickle’s pub in Scottsdale: Robbo found a guitar and we sang and drank beer til the wee hours.

Prickle and Laurie
Young Boyler (Peter Boyler, Warren's son)
Blakey and Hayzy
Young Boyler, Boyler, Sebo, and Prickle
Guess... nice outfit, what?
Entertaining Robbo entertaining
Sebastian sampling the wares at Prickle's Pub
Laurie doing the same

Next game was on Bruny Island. As with most travel to islands, there was a bit of “ferry panic” - it was touch and go that everyone would make the boat.  A few of them had to park their cars and walk on, much to Captain Hayzy’s relief. At Alonnah, my job was to keep Flossie, Pete’s slipper of a dog, from beating up Milky, Roo’s dalmation. With Flossie on my lap I watched while Pete and then Warren “Boyler” Boyles (publisher of the magazine Forty° South) fussed over the Thylacinians’ score book; both kept a running commentary on my behalf, telling me there were six bowls to an over, 40 overs to an inning, and two innings to a match, with lunch in the middle. Lunch was great. But the Thylacinians lost. Again. Afterward, the beer and barbecue were great. The party at Pete’s shack was great. Cuffy cracked a bottle of champagne, and Roo contributed a bottle of Southern Fire Tasmanian single malt whisky. Both went down just fine.

We don't mess around with Roo
My third game was in Hobart. This time we walked the dogs around the field while Pete told me the names of batting swings: a forward defensive shot or push, a backfoot cover drive or cut, a late cut, an offside drive, a straight drive, an on drive, a pull or a hook, or a leg lance. All these to defend the wicket from being bowled off the stump, which means the batter has been bowled out. And if you have ten out, you lose. Period. With the ball coming at you at a pretty good clip, I just thought it was a miracle that the bat got in the way of the ball. We won that game. 
Eddo crying in his beer on Bruny
"The speech"
Listening to "the speech"
My fourth game was, appropriately, in Forth. The night before had been magical: we’d stopped at the Thylacinians’ home pub (the Mole Creek Pub sponsor their team shirts and hats) in Mole Creek, near Deloraine, where Robbo was holding court with his guitar. Australia’s singing legend Ted Egan happened to be there, too. Songs traded back and forth, lubricated by Tassie Tiger beer. Eventually we had to drag Robbo from the clutches of an adoring young female fan; having 11 able-bodied cricket players the next day took precedence over scoring that night.

Just after we arrived the next morning, a fellow came up to me in the parking lot and handed me a huge block of famous triple cream brie cheese from King Island (worth, I found out later, about $200). The guy from the opposing team handed me their scorebook. I looked around desperately for a fridge, and for someone to keep score. The lunch ladies pointed me to the fridge, and Boyler ended up with the book. I followed his every pen stroke, like a batter watching the ball leave the bowler’s fingertips. After lunch, I took a deep breath, and asked if I could give it a try. I must say I was pretty nervous – I mean, I’d watched a total of 3½ games and an orange. I was grateful for the guys from the opposing team who talked me through the dot balls, the wickets, the wides and the byes. At the end I was in a bit of a daze… from knowing nothing about cricket to being able to keep score was nothing short of a miracle. We also won. Boag’s Draught (and King Island cheese) never tasted so good.

I now attribute my enthusiasm to my compulsion to want to put things in boxes – especially when not much else of what I do will fit. (My mom reminded me that this is what I did in high school, too, with all the sports I was hopeless at: basketball, volleyball, softball… always the manager, never the player…)
Sebastian Baglole's run, for posterity...
In keeping score I’ve come to understand the nuances of the game. That it’s not the win but the journey. It’s the elegance of Vishnu’s ballet as he whizzes in his fast bowl, or the eloquence of Hayzy’s lob that drops right in front of the batter, making it well nigh impossible to hit. It’s watching Blakey getting 40, a dogged 1 and 2 runs at a time, and Robbo’s grace behind the wicket. It’s the great bare-handed catches in the field - and the spectacular misses. The guys might get pissed off if the umpire calls an LBW, but mostly it’s annoyance at themselves – not too many of them “have a tantie and spit the dummy.” It’s the occasional 6 over the boundary – bringing cheers and honks from both teams. It’s the cap ceremony for the new players. It’s not yelling at the rookie (Sebastian Baglole from PEI, who batted his first game and even scored a run in Low Head!) when he forgot to run the next time, meaning game over for the Thylacinians’ 11. It's the brothers playing with brothers, and fathers playing with sons (and sometimes they're on opposing teams). It’s beer in the clubhouse… and the after-match speeches full of jokes and jibes… as the captain of the team we played at Low Head called it, it’s the “sociability.” And even though Hayzy admits he says the same thing each time, we don’t even notice because we know it’s from the heart.
Scorer in action
It’s also been a wonderful opportunity to meet people from outside Hobart – people who are not rarefied academics or eccentric artists but who come from all strata of Tasmania society. People who have come to be my friends. Roo and Gordie, Eddo and Blakey, Robbo and Spread, Andrew and Vishnu. Now I know why Pete went to all that trouble for a ball.

So that’s why I get up at sparrow’s fart on Sunday morning. And why I’m thinking I’ll change my PhD topic to cricket.

**named after the extinct Thylacine or Tassie Tiger
"O Captain! My captain!"***

***Blog posting photos by Laurie and Robbo**** (including this one of Hayzy)
****aka Paul Roberts... Thank you, Robbo!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A mainland adventure

The plan was simple: on February 23 I was to fly up to Sydney from Hobart to meet my mom, who was coming in from Victoria, BC, Canada, for five weeks. We were to have two days exploring this iconic city before flying north on the 25th to visit my friend Phil Hayward and his family in Lismore, in northern New South Wales, for six days. On Phil’s advice, I’d booked seat sale tickets through Rex Air, a small regional airline.

On February 22, the afternoon before I was to leave, we were driving along the Midlands Highway, coming back from a cricket match and my first interview in northwest Tasmania. I said to Pete, “My mom should be leaving Victoria right about now.” She had told me she was leaving on the 23rd and had made a comment to the effect that she left and arrived the same day. Except suddenly I realized it was only February 21 there. That’s when I had my first inkling that everything might not work out as I’d planned.  

Sure enough, when I arrived at the airport in Sydney the next morning, there was no mom. I went to Denbeigh’s mom’s place and tried to track down my mom on Skype. She was happily drinking tea at my aunt and uncle’s house in Oak Bay, in Victoria, doing laundry and getting ready to leave the next night. I found out then that she was going to arrive an hour and a half after we were supposed to leave for Lismore February 25. I had the teeniest little hissy fit.

Too late to salvage the Rex Air ticket, I booked her another flight for Saturday afternoon, then set about enjoying my two days in Sydney. I hopped a bus for Circular Quay – site of the Sydney Opera House, a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of the World campaign. The shell structure was just as spectacular up close as it is in all the photos. (And I laughed when I saw that Martha Wainwright was playing there the next night, though I didn't go...) 
That evening I went with Helen and her friend Peter to the Helenic Club and ate fabulous Greek food, listened to wonderful Greek music, and met some amazing Greek people. 
Next day I took the ferry to Manly Beach, where I watched kids learning to surf and waded in bathwater-temperature water. I basked in the Australian summer, since it hadn’t really made an appearance in Tasmania this year. That night I had dinner in the Glebe with Denbeigh’s dad and his partner Suzie. It was the perfect mini-vacation.
I headed up to Lismore on Friday as planned, where I experienced the incredible generosity of Phil and his wife Rebecca Coyle, Phil’s parents Roy and Ruth, and Phil and Rebecca’s youngest daughter Amy. Both Phil and Rebecca work at Southern Cross University, Phil as Director of the Higher Degree Research Unit and Rebecca as Head of School, Arts and Sciences. Phil is the founder of the Small Island Cultures Research Initiative (SICRI) and editor of the island cultures journal Shima.

I first met Phil in Japan in 2005, when I attended the inaugural SICRI conference in Kagoshima (the conference where I had two marriage proposals!). The next year Phil and his older daughter Rosa stayed with Mikhala and me when they came to the Island to talk about hosting a conference at UPEI in 2007. Phil came back for the conference, where he and another SICRI colleague, Danny Long, helped me empty my liquor cupboard. But when I was saying goodbye at the Charlottetown airport, he said that was it – he wasn’t coming back until I came to visit him.

Then last summer Claire and I met Phil and Amy at the SICRI conference in Guernsey. We all stayed on Herm Island, and ate meals together in the quaint White House Hotel. We travelled back and forth to the conference on the ferry, the dock for which depended on the tides. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Phil, Amy, and me on the ferry to Herm Island, June 2010
Claire and Amy on Herm Island
Before Mom arrived on Saturday, Phil and I drove to Terania Basin in the World Heritage Nightcap National Park and walked in to see the spectacular Protesters Falls, where protesters in 1979 had successfully stopped a proposed logging operation. I was surprised to read the interpretive sign that referred to Tasmania:

“The struggle to save the forests of Terania Creek will be remembered as the birthplace of direct action in defence of old growth forests. The successful outcomes of Terania inspired direct action approaches in Australia, such as the 1981 Franklin River blockade, which successfully defended wilderness areas in Tasmania.”
Phil at Protesters Falls in Nightcap National Park
It thus seemed appropriate that the falls were boisterous and full – a result of all the rain they’d received – just as protests still rage here in Tasmania. (The latest is a proposed pulp mill for the Tamar River in the north-central part of the Island.) The rainforest was fragrant and rich, redolent with earthy smells and moist air. Tree roots twisted around other trees to pull them down, making room for their offspring. The lush vegetation was so NOT what I expected of what I always thought to be a drought-stricken Australia… but then neither were the floods that had devastated cities and towns in Queensland in January...

The next day Phil took us to a country market in Bangalow and the famed Lighthouse in Byron Bay – Australia’s easternmost mainland point - before meeting up with Rebecca and Amy for a swim in the teatree-oil-stained water at Lennox Head. The water was perfectly clean; it was just the colour of, well, tea. On the other side of the spit was a gorgeous wind-swept beach - just one of the squillions for which that coast is famous.
We then found front-row seats at the Lennox Head Hotel and listened to a fantastic music duo of the gorgeous Cara Robinson from Ireland on drums and washboard and her hirsute husband Hat Fitz from Melbourne playing dobro and guitar. Apparently the couple thought it was a great way to celebrate their first anniversary: they were still rocking when we left. It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I even bought their CD.
Cara Robinson
Hat Fitz


Phil and Rebecca loaned us their car for the next three days, so Mom and I set out on various excursions around the area. I honed my skills driving on the left-hand (I didn’t say “wrong”!) side of the road while negotiating busy towns and winding country back roads. We thoroughly explored the region, shopping and drinking morning coffee at Ballina, seeing what Mullumbimby looked like (small town, two streets!), swimming at Brunswick Heads, and lunching at Tweed Heads, where we could see off in the distance what a local fellow enjoying his lunch hour called “our own version of Manhattan” - the skyscrapers of Surfers’ Paradise which signal the start of the famed Gold Coast. Apparently, in a severe lack of foresight, the skyscrapers shade the beaches.
The view from Tweed Heads
You can just see the skyscrapers in the distance, marking the beginning of the Gold Coast...
Public art in Ballina

More public art in Ballina
Phil, Rebecca, and Amy were fabulous hosts. I loved their house and their 14 acres where Phil is reforesting what was once a banana plantation; the native trees and shrubs are thriving through his hard physical labour and watchful eye. Neither of them would let me help out around the house - they kept saying, no, no worries, just sit and relax. Finally I asked Phil, “When you and Rosa were at my house, did I wait on you guys hand and foot?” To which Phil replied, “Yup.” Oh.
The sunset bench
"All this will be rainforest one day?"
"... one baby plant at a time!" (i.e., the nursery)
"Yes, Amy, your folks ARE crazy..."
Not much happens in Modanville, so when someone gets a new mailbox...
Phil took us to the charming Lismore airport on Thursday morning. Because only prop planes fly in, Lismore doesn’t need to have the same level of security as most other airports. They just ask, “Are you carrying any dangerous goods?” It was most refreshing.
Next time I see Phil will be in the gorgeous and tropical Whitsunday Islands in the centre of the Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast of Queensland, where the 7th SICRI conference is to be held June 12-16. I’m presenting a paper on island tourism with a focus on Ten Days on the Island, Tasmania’s cultural festival. Mike will be with me, and we’ll be heading back to Prince Edward Island shortly afterward. I have a feeling, though, that half a world won’t prevent this friendship from flourishing. Indeed, Phil, Rebecca, and Amy (and, fingers crossed, Rosa, too!) already have plans to be in Cape Breton in 2012 for the 8th SICRI conference. Now I just have to convince them that a day or two in Prince Edward Island is essential. After all, I have some more waiting on hand and foot to do.