I was born in a place called Ipswich in 1975 which later became famous for being the place that spawned a few football stars like Alfie Langer and the one-time Liberal Party member – Pauline Hanson.
My mum (also born in Ipswich) and my dad (born in the UK, but immigrated as a child) met on a train to Brisbane and were married to fleece a government student subsidy that somehow advantaged married couples. My mother wore black to the wedding, the wedding cake was chocolate and my grandfather (dad’s dad) answered when the registrar asked for “Mr Hannah” – so almost married my mother instead. There is only one scratchy photo of the occasion.
The most romantic part of their short relationship seemed to be the fact that during the 1974 floods my dad (who lived in North Ipswich) purposely stranded himself at my mum’s house (in Eastern Heights), much to Nanna’s chagrin.
When I was 2 we moved to Brisbane and mum worked at the student union at the University of Queensland and apparently organised the Go-Between’s first paid gig. I excitedly told this to Grant McLennan once and he tried his hardest to look interested and completely failed at attempting to look impressed.
As a child I liked Lego and Dr Who and Monkey Magic, but I hated going on long slow drives with my Nanna and watching impatient drivers build up behind her car as she tottered along doing 60 in a 100km/hr zone. I think this was the beginning of my hyper-appreciation for shame.
She would also drive round and around shopping centre car parks looking for a spot where she could drive straight through one car bay and front first into another. This was so she could avoid having to reverse at any stage in the car-parking process. Bizarrely this activity seared itself into my brain and I found myself doing it unconsciously during my driving licence test many years later. The tester, obviously annoyed said, “Why did you do that?” I blamed Nanna and maybe I hit a nerve because he said nothing else and silently ticked a few boxes that let me pass.
My sister was born in 1979 when we lived at a house in St Lucia on Sir Fred Schonell Drive. Even though for almost as long as I can remember I have liked Star Wars, I was in fact one of THE only children WORLDWIDE to actually walk out of their first viewing of Star Wars at the movie theatre. In my defence I was quite small and made it about 15 minutes in where Obi Wan cuts off some alien’s arm. But then I begged my dad to let me out. I must have known the enormity of what I was doing cause I remember everything about that moment.
Anyway – luckily that initial bad experience didn’t have any effect on me and I found myself one morning not long after picking up an old recorder that was lying around the bbackyard and I shoved it in my underpants (cause in those days you literally jumped out of bed in you dacks and spent the majority of the day in that state) like it was a lightsaber and like I was Luke Skywalker. I quickly realised that the recorder was not a lightsaber but in fact home to a large family of very pissed off ants. My screams woke my dad who met me at the back door and proceeded to pull down my underpants and sprayed me (and my shame) with a full can of fly spray.
If one day I discover I cannot reproduce, I will know who to blame.
I started school in 1981. So I was in grade 1 in 1981, 2 in 1982 and so on. I thought this was the most amazing thing ever and that myself and my fellow grade 1ers were somehow chosen-ones in a “scholastic” sense.
PISSING MY PANTS
I loved school ’cause you no longer had to have a midday nap like at kindy. Despite this I only peed my pants once in grade 1 but no one ever found out. To this very day. You actually might be the first ones I have confessed this to.
The principal – Mr Blanchard – came to visit and I must have just lost it. Authority can do that to you. But as I said, and inexplicably, no one ever found out.
The only other time I almost pee’d myself at school was when I hadn’t finished some assignment – as far as grade 1ers can get “assignments” and the teacher (as punishment) had sent the rest of the class off to the pool for swimming class. I was so upset at being left behind I remember feverishly scratching away at my workbook while this overwhelming sense that my bladder was about to explode invaded me. Luckily I got it all done and was released so I could empty my bladder in the school pool instead of the floor of the classroom.
I went to a variety of schools as I grew up including Oakleigh State School in Enogerra, Eagle Junction, Mt Austin Primary in Wagga Wagga, Central School in Ipswich, New Farm Primary and Glenmore Road in Sydney.
In class I was the kid with his hand up all the time, but often getting the answers wrong. At Wagga Wagga I was top of the class, because there was not much competition. I still have a merit certificate which was awarded for “very good work and excellent manners” dated 29 November 1982. I may have had “excellent manners” but I had very messy handwriting – something I was always getting in trouble for. Arguably, you are all lucky they invented computers so you could read this in 12 point Helvetica.
My mother moved to Sydney when I was about 5 and eventually my sister would move down there too. It wasn’t my ideal homelife but I grew to appreciate having two homes in two different cities and parents that were too far away from each other to fight all the time.
Being a student, dad wasn’t too flush with cash, but naturally we never did without, except if you count Atari game consoles, Velcro sneakers and A-Team action figures as essential items.
MY FIRST AND ONLY PUNCH
In 1983, after a brief stint doing ballet as an extra-curricular hobby, Dad signed me up to a local soccer club and I turned up and just ran onto the big field where a proper game was taking place and started joining in. No one was very impressed. It got worse. Later that day, on a field only one quarter the size of the proper field, I tackled one of my own team’s players because he was hogging the ball and had refused to pass. I then went on to score my very first goal. I was all smiles and full of glory but then suddenly utterly appalled when no one congratulated me. My lack of team skills was frowned upon despite my protestations. This was the world’s “justice” I learned.
A few years later – also at soccer, I managed my first and only proper punch. And in the process I almost broke a kid’s nose. A few day’s earlier dad had taught me about “self-defence”. He told me to grab a kid’s collar with your left hand and pull it towards you while simultaneously punching with your right.
This leads to both power and accuracy of the blow he explained. While demonstrating the lethal nature of this move he managed to give *me* a nose bleed! I was impressed. So impressed that at soccer training when this kid was mucking around and playing silly buggers – I tried it out. There was blood everywhere.
The whole team, including the coach, was in shock. Some kids just stood there. Others rushed around like doctors on ER trying to stop the bleeding. The kid was a mess, crying and carrying on. It was like a war zone. Training was over for the night. The coach had a few words with my dad but bizarrely – I wasn’t punished. And from then on I commanded a whole lotta respect. For years if anyone was giving me grief I’d remind them about what I’d done to poor “Timmy” (I don’t remember his name and he never came back I might add) and they would back off.
And now I shall bring this story to my life-long wedded-ness to vomit.
For as long as I can remember I have been a vomiter. I get car-sick, i get sea sick, I get sick on escalators. My dad was on a date and we were driving up to Mt Glorious for a bushwalk but just at the top I went nuts and dad had to turn the car around. My dad got so frustrated with my car vomiting he once hit me after I got sick all over the front door after a car trip back from Ipswich. TRUE STORY. Try and explain that away dad.
So when my vomitness got kinda acute was in year seven when my school organised a trip to New Zealand. On our first day we went on a bus trip around the hills behind Christchurch. I felt sick about 3 quarters the way through and they made me stand up next to the driver near the door (cause apparently that would make me feel better.) Just to prove them wrong I barfed all over the bus’s entrance and everyone had to step over it squeezing their eyes closed and holding their noses as they rushed to get out.
So we never had it easy growing up. We were poor – there’s no getting around that. Luckily I have never experienced such conditions since – and i have lived on $10 an hour with a mortgage. The thing that sticks with me about those years was the was indignity. From 8-12 I went to a school (Eagle Junction) in a fairly well-off area and I was forever embarrassed by how little we had. I look back now and realise having a black and white tv wasn’t all that bad.
Having no glad-warp in the house and having to use ex-breadloaf plastic for sandwich bags wouldn’t kill me and was good for the environment
Wearing my former school’s uniform instead of the current school’s uniform could have been my own little exclusiveness.
And never having any cool stuff in your lunchbox didn’t mean you went hungry. But instead, at the time, I felt pathetic.
My clever, and “ordained” system of 1981- grade 1, 1982 – grade 2 got mucked up when Dad and I moved to Sydney in 1987 and I had to move down a grade cause the NSW education system is so weird. So I went from grade 6 to grade 7, to year 6 and then to year 7 again. So it was that in 1988 – I started high school at Sydney Boys’ High School (who’s alumni included Gough Whitlam, Rene Rivkin, and Russell Crowe)
Then dad realised he hated his new Sydney job and he hated Sydney and moved back to Brisbane to concentrate on an idea for a business he had – which would later make him a millionaire. But more on that later.
I hated Sydney too for a while but I adapted more easily then he did so I decided to stay and live with my mum and my sister in downtown Darlinghurst with prostitutes, drugs, grime, transvestites and for the first time in my life: homeless people. It was an eye-opener for a small-town kid from Ipswich. Next door was a 2 metre fence with broken glass cemented along its top. Every night (and day) there was screams and police sirens and you had to dodge syringes as you walked home from school. But I grew to like big-city living and from my bedroom window in Burton Street it seemed the whole world walked by every few hours.
When the Mardi Gras came around I walked the 150 metres up to Taylors Square to see what the commotion was all about. Immediately some yobbo who was swinging off a traffic light dropped a bottle of beer which bounced off my shoulder and smashed on the ground covering me in stinky, sticky beer.
“Right! I’ve had enough,” I said.
And then I went home and watched what I could from my bedroom window.
At school I liked Art and history and I played saxophone in the school band ’cause it was the closest thing to a rock instrument apart from drums. I was heavily into INXS at the time and was a BIG fan of their saxophonist – Kirk Pengelly. When I was 15 I started playing the guitar because I had started listening to all those guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and because I hoped it would get me laid. (It didn’t.)
I was not very good at school work but managed to fit somewhere in between the dullards and the brainiacs (and somewhere between the ugly and the tragic).
TOKEN SHIT STORY
Sydney High was very sport orientated. I despised organised sport and I never had a blazer but I loved playing tip footy or soccer or cricket at recess and lunch. In year 11, when I arrived back at class a little early after one such lunch-time soccer game I discovered I had stepped in dog poo. Because the bell had only just rung I was alone in the classroom so I set about trying to scrape the poo off my shoes on the legs of the desks. I worked my way around the room as there was a significant amount of poo to decamp. Eventually I gave up and went off to wash my shoe.
Matthew Ware had just arrived and he managed to half-witness what I was doing but said nothing. When I had returned it had been a few minutes since the bell and I walked into the class to find everyone hugged up against the windows on the far side of the room – all with seriously pained looks on their faces. It was then I noticed the overwhelming stench that invaded every inch of the room. Our teacher was even trying to interest the class in the Peloponesian War without much success. I remember poor, nerdy Josh Kay who was especially put out because he had to sit up the back of the room instead of his usual seat in the front row. Some boys even refused to enter the room and demanded the teacher find us a new classroom. Matthew Ware dobbed me in and the teacher made me clean every desk. I can remember laughing the whole time. It is quite a bizarre experience to simultaneously clean shit and laugh uncontrollably while you worked.
The first girl I kissed was called Els. She was a “family friend”. There was no way I could have ever met a girl on my own volition. I was 15 – but looked no more than 12. She might have been 14 – I can’t remember. But my extra age and maturity didn’t help with my kissing technique. I was woeful. I pressed too hard, was all sloppy and just thought kissing was like a marathon – in other words, keep going until dehydration or lack of blood-sugar put an end to proceedings. But, regardless, I thought it was utterly fantastic and I will forever remember that buzzing in my lips – lasting for days later – which meant my life had changed forever.
Around this time another watershed happened in my life. I was on a plane to Brisbane and there was heaps of turbulence and I was feeling ill, but not vomitacious. I think I even sung ‘Alright Now’ to calm myself down.
But then Bang! I started projectile vomiting. It went everywhere. I was soaked, the guy next to me was splattered and the seat in front of me and the aisle now resembled a Pro Hart painting. The whole plane had been buzzing with conversation but now it was deathly silent. Suddenly flight attendants swarmed over me and tried their best to clean me up. They wouldn’t let me out of my seat because of the turbulence. It was at that moment I had an out-of-body experience. It was as if my brain was so appalled it wanted to ditch my useless, vomit-soaked, good-for-nothing body. I looked down at myself and shook my head. It was surreal. Suffice it to say I had trouble flying for a few years later – and this undoubtedly contributed to the fact it took me another 14 years before I eventually travelled overseas.