Number 49 – Thirty Years Behind The Couch

couch

Wayne Anthoney

On the eleventh of September 2001 I woke at seven, sleepily strolled out into the lounge and was surprised to find a large group of people staring mutely at the television screen. They were watching weird images of a jet plane crashing repeatedly into a tall building. At first I thought it must be a documentary, or perhaps a wacky American comedy, then I realised that no-one was laughing. Well you guessed it, in horrified amazement we were witnessing endless replays and commentary of the Al-Qaida attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. So I know exactly where I was on that day – 49 Giles Street.

Though I’m not a full resident of Giles Street I’ve been staying at Number 49 off and on almost since the Davises moved there in 1982. It has been a home away from home, always welcoming, ever friendly, never without surprises and unexpected events. Well there is in fact no such thing as an unexpected event there. Things just happen.

More often than not, with all the bedrooms occupied I rolled my swag behind the couch, but on some occasions when that prime spot was booked by someone else I slept in Nyree’s Nook, the playhouse on stilts in the back garden that later became the chookhouse.

On the day in 2003 (?) that we farewelled Bill and Darce at the airport for their trip to China, Bill asked me to stay alone at Number 49 and sleep that night on the verandah of the recording studio. All the household furniture had been stacked in the building but the door wasn’t finished and fearing burglars Bill asked me to be the security night watchman. Well I did it, but the house was dark and lonely, not another soul anywhere, and WEIRD is the best way to describe that night. Richard Hill or perhaps Suzanne Bryce’s boys finished the door the next day, after I had driven back to Yulara where I worked. Not sure what I would have done if confronted by a gang of drunk or drug-fucked furniture thieves with bolt cutters and baseball bats. Try to reason with them I suppose.

I celebrated my sixtieth and seventieth birthdays at Number 49, the years being 2000 and 2010 respectively. On the former occasion I drove in from Yulara while my son Tom and wife Sarah flew up from Adelaide. Many good Centralian friends attended. It was a wonderful night, the legendary Davis hospitality going into overdrive. Numerous performers gave of their art, with the partially completed recording studio providing a perfect backdrop. Dave Oakes took over the kitchen for most of the day, in order to concoct a massive, delicious and nutritious curry, for which in my compulsory speech I completely forgot to thank him. I do so now. Dave, it was delicious. (Incidentally he lived further up Giles Street some years before I got to know him, I’m not sure of the number, but anyway the house burnt down.)

I did my fair share of work on the studio, by the way, when in town from Yulara for a weekend, shovelling sand, running errands, doing a bit of ramming, helping with the philosophical dicussions around the back table.

Ah, the back table at Number 49. It has always been an essential part of the environment. We’ve sat around that table over the decades, discussing every subject imaginable, more often than not assisted by the fruits of the vine. Great plans have been made around that table. I’ve often referred to it as Alice Springs University. The table and the chairs have been changed from time to time, like the antique axe (it’s had five new heads and three new handles but it’s the same axe) but the ambiance never alters or falters.

No-one who was at Bill’s fiftieth birthday celebration will ever forget that party at Number 49. The arrival through the back gate of the Citroen, Tregenza’s outrageously funny recorded monologue, watched on a TV set while Bill’s mum’s lower jaw hit the ground, Annie’s hilarious song about the Citroen catching fire (Off the Road Again) and the football team’s message written in large letters on a dozen bare arses remain forever etched in our memory.

One important person who missed the party was Laurie Gorman who had passed away three months earlier. Greatly loved uncle for Rory, Nyree and Darce.  When he died, in August 1998, early in the morning, at the first school  bush camp for our brand new Nyangatjatjara College, Oakes and I were camping with him. He struggled out of his swag on that cold morning, naked save for a black beanie, limped off out of sight to ablute, pushed too hard, popped an aneurysm at the base of his skull and was dead I think before he hit the ground. Back at Yulara many hours later I was still in shock. Bill rang. You got to come up to town he said. I drove up the next morning. Our white-way grieving and black-way sorry camp started at Number 49.

Parties for all occasions have been a vital component of life at Number 49. Birthday parties in particular, but also celebrations for numerous other reasons or perhaps because it’s Friday or perhaps for no reason at all. One of the most amazing I can recall was actually a double party, with two generations occupying the same space but not interacting at all. There were the adults, in animated discussion all over the house inside and out –  some thirty or so of them a I recall – and then the kids, about another thirty, shorter but much louder. The noise was phenomenal – debates raging, music blaring, kids running and screaming in every direction. Warren Snowdon from Number 6 was there and had brought along another politician, Anthony Albanese, who was very tired and sat in a chair in the middle room sound asleep for several hours, while the party raged deafeningly around him.

And then of course there is the Elephant in the Room at Number 49, otherwise known as the Citroen in the Garage. In all my years, all my decades as unofficial permanent resident I have seen it in motion on only two occasions. Once was when it drove into the back garden at Bill’s fiftieth, mentioned above, and twice was for Nyree’s wedding.

This second occasion, out at Honeymoon Gap, was superb. Very emotional, spiritual even, when the old car came majestically around the rocky outcrop. Because Nyree had INSISTED that it would be the wedding car, otherwise the wedding was off and she would go to Calcutta and become a nun, (I made that last part up), Bill freighted the Citroen down to Adelaide to have it properly fixed up, including a beautiful new coat of puce duco and repairing the headlights that go around corners, very French. I think that last bit is right. Then he drove it back to Alice and it performed admirably all the way. I did not actually see the vehicle while it was in Adelaide, either stationary or in motion.   Bill was expecting it to be a bit of a cold trip, and as the Citroen would be travelling in stately manner but not all that fast, he prevailed upon me for the loan of a jumper, to which request I was happy to accede.

I now have to take a bit of a detour in this yarn before I get back to the Citroen, but I think it is worth it as it lends verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. (Thanks to W. S. Gilbert for that.) It seems that Bill was for a time in the habit of bike-riding out to the Gap and back as part of his fitness plan. On one cold morning he wore my borrowed jumper. By the time he got there he was quite warm, but his arse was getting sore. (Why are bike seats so small and so hard?) Anyway he took the jumper off, folded it this way and that and put it on the seat for padding. This arrangement worked quite well until he was nearly home. As he was accellerating across the Stuart Highway next to Hungry Jack’s one of the arms of the jumper, having worked its way loose, became entangled in the back wheel, causing the bike to jack-knife and Bill to spear over the handlebars and land on his head on the road. After which he apparently saw stars for several weeks. Anyway when I got the jumper back a few months ago, the arm that got caught in the wheel, was about two feet longer than the other one, but hey, that’s what friends are for and I’ve got plenty of other warm clothes.

Most people probably know the next episode in the Citroen saga. Soon after the wedding Bill became convinced that he should put some sort of petrol cleaning chemical agent in the tank, which turned the petrol into a sort of jelly and completely buggered the fuel system, resulting in the car becoming undriveable once again and requiring much of it to be dismantled. I don’t know how long that problem took to be sorted but I went for my annual visit to Behind the Couch in September of 2011 it wasn’t going .

When Meredith and I went for our annual visit this year, October 2012, it still wasn’t going. This time the clutch had failed, very hard to repair and requiring Bill to pull most of the front end apart. Tyres, wires pliers, wheels, radiator, bits and pieces all over the garage. Basically it looked to me like it has these last thirty years, but at least it is registered.

I sent Bill a photo of a car that had been converted to a chook-house, but he was not amused.

It has been a wonderful thing and a rare privilege to have seen Bill and Ann’s three children grow to adulthood and two of them to marry and now produce beautiful grandchildren.

When Darce turned 21 a couple of years ago I wrote a piece for him to be read at  his birthday celebration as I was not able to be present. Here it is below, reproduced with my permission, and as my final offering to this compilation.

MEMORIES OF DARCE-MAN

I have known Darce since he was born and watched his growth and development with interest, leading to fascination and awe. The diversity of his skills and talents, his musical ability and his panopoly of interests are an inspiration to us all.

The event that sticks in my mind as perhaps the real start of our friendship happened in 1999. I had been in Europe. My daughter Christie was working at the time in London. As she saw me off at Heathrow she gave me a book. “Here dad”, she said, “you might enjoy reading this on the flight home.” It was the first Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. I did indeed enjoy it mightily and read it non-stop, hardly pausing for more than several free gin and tonics.

I flew to Darwin and thence to Alice, where I stayed overnight as usual behind the couch at Hotel Davis, five stars at least. I gave the book to Darce, saying “This is a great book Darce, I reckon you’ll enjoy it.” The Harry Potter books were at the time an unknown phenomenon, waiting to take the world by storm. Well Darce read the book and reported that he loved it. He was nine at the time and I was fifty nine. That’s quite an age difference for people enjoying the same book.

Three months later, when I was again up in Alice for a weekend, Darce handed me a book. “Hey Wayne” he said, “I reckon you’ll like this.” It was the second Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

So I think it is a wonderful thing for a friendship between people of such different ages to be based on a mutual love of fine literature. I have been reading John Howard and Peter Costello’s biographies  recently and when I’ve finished them I’ll post them up to Darce.

And in a nutshell, may I say God Bless Giles Street Alice Springs, and all who sail in her, and especially Number 49!

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