Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Farewell to a captain.

William and Thomas run out with Coburg captain Nick Carnell in his last home ground game at Coburg City Oval, Saturday 22 August. (His last VFL game will be at Eureka Stadium this Saturday.)

More pictures at Coburg FC, Round 19.


Crowdfunding parent-teacher night.

The government has released a taxpayer-funded app to assist time-poor-parents in dealing with their children's schooling.

Common sense would once have said that an app is the last thing any time-poor parent needed. But common sense has no place in a bureaucrat's vision for insinuating themselves into people's lives, funded by you:
Education minister Christopher Pyne said it was designed to help working parents understand how they can engage with their children's education in the small bursts of time they have.
'Help' such as:
... the questions parents should ask at parent-teacher nights.


Mrs Fleming hires a gardener.

It was just before nine o'clock on a winter Saturday morning in 1971. I was a teenager. I stood before an enormous old house, a late Victorian in central Essendon, near the station. It had verandahs all round and a soaring roofline, and it was set back from the street behind a front garden lined with mature shrubs.

I pushed open the gate, walked up the tiled pathway, took three steps up to the verandah and pressed the bell-push set into the stained glass panel beside the front door. A muffled chime echoed somewhere inside, as if far away. Time passed. Eventually the door opened, seemingly by itself.

The woman who stood there was ancient and massive, like the house. She had requested someone to do some weekend odd jobs in her garden, and I had been nominated; but I cannot remember how it came about. It is one those circumstances lost in the mists of time. It was my first job.

I announced myself. The old woman led me down a gloomy hallway, through an enormous kitchen that still had a wood stove, and out a doorway into the back garden. It was slightly overgrown, but still quite neat, with Victorian-era stone pathways, shrubberies, a central lawn and trellised vegetable garden at the back, accessed by a gate that felt like it hadn't been opened in any recent time. She showed me the garden tools in the cobwebbed shed. They were covered in dust, as if untouched for years. There was no evidence of any human activity anywhere; and, for some reason, it seemed miraculous that the woman was still there, alive. She would have been well into her nineties. Her children must have left and her husband passed on decades earlier.

Suddenly, I was alone in the silent winter sunshine. The woman had disappeared back into the house. I weeded pathways and turned over rock hard soil in the flower beds that no longer had any flowers. A couple of hours passed and I was in the vegetable garden, weeding in profound silence, when the gate squeaked behind me. The woman appeared, with a plate. Morning tea: biscuits and a piece of fruit cake. They were old and stale, and I felt a rush of pity. She must have had them in an old tin or barrel for months, ready for visitors who never came. So I got them. I worked for three hours, nine to midday, and she paid me at the end, extracting coins with leathery hands from an old purse.

Every Saturday through that winter of 1971 she appeared at the same time with the plate of morning tea, and I made the same pretence of eating as she vanished back into the house, and I continued making progress with the weeds. But then the job ended. Apparently she died.

It was definitely 1971. My diary records it. But decades later, the house came up for sale. I attended the auction and inspected the record of title. There had been several owners since I had worked there, but the title registered the original sale as 20 October 1970, the property passing from the executors of the estate of a ninety-year-old widow by the name of Mrs Fleming to a young family, with a settlement of 12 months. The house had lain empty for a year.


The sensuous/sensual avocado.

Reed avocadoes are coming into season. Possibly the most voluptuous fruit of all, they are big and almost round; and when ripe, they bulge with creamy young flesh. Are they ready to eat? Cup one in your hand and squeeze ever so gently.

I almost regret not including the avocado in my top ten vegetables list (the rule being that if it is used like a vegetable, it is given honorary vegetable status, even though it is a fruit).

Last night I made this sensuous* pasta dish using a Reed avocado, a leek and a red capsicum, all of which are plentiful and cheap right now.

Rigatoni with avocado, leek and red capsicum.

I chopped a leek lengthwise twice, and then across the grain to make quartered rings. Then I chopped a red capsicum into small batons.

I placed the leek and capsicum in a pan with a scored clove of garlic, a dash of white wine, a little olive oil, and lots of pepper, and set it on a low heat to steam the vegetables in the wine.

Meanwhile, I cooked the rigatoni.

When the leek and capsicum were soft, I added the avocado, sliced into segments, along with a dessertspoon of home made pesto and half a cup of cream, letting it simmer a few more minutes.

Draining the pasta, I removed the vegetables from the pan with a slotted spoon and placed them over the pasta on serving plates. Then I stirred the remaining pesto-infused cream and wine sauce over a high heat to reduce, and poured this over the vegetables and pasta.

A generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese, some chopped parsley, and that was it. Dinner.

*Or should that be sensual? The words are used almost interchangeably these days. I think the Reed avocado richly deserves both dictionary shades of meaning.


Test post.

What name will come up? Hitting the 'publish' button now ...

What's in a name? A lot of unintelligible HTML.

I only wanted to change my name. It shouldn't be that hard.

A little background: in 2003, when I started this weblog, you could count Australian weblogs on one hand. It made sense to use an internet handle at the time.

The blog was a place to store recipes, online being easier than having a drawer full of newspaper cuttings, pages torn out of cookbooks, hand-jotted notes stained with gravy, and split pea packets (etc) with recipes printed on their reverse side. At the start, the blog didn't even have a comments function. So I chose a name that simply represented what I do in the kitchen, which is mess about a lot without getting get too serious about food. I wanted to distinguish this blog from the rash of over-serious 'foodie' blogs that subsequently took over the world.

Now, of course, everyone has their own name on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and dozens of other online time-wasting functions, so I thought, after twelve years, I should drop the 'kitchen hand' handle and use my real name.

Easier said than done. I thought I could simply replace the two words 'kitchen hand' with 'Paul Kennedy' in the template. But the name 'kitchen hand' does not actually exist in the entrails of the blog. It is in a cloud somewhere, belonging to Google+, and is teleported by magic to the bottom of the page when I post an item or make a comment. So I was blundering around in the HTML, trying not to make an inadvertent error which would turn my blog pink, or lose all the posts, trying to find the code that represents the post name, having googled an answer to the problem. The code that several google solutions proposed wasn't there, for the simple reason that google solutions are so often wrong. Just any doctor.

It would have been easier to change my real name by deed poll. Maybe I'll do that. Any suggestions? I want to be different. At school in the 1960s, I was one of six Pauls in the classroom at St John Bosco's Niddrie and, of those six Pauls, four had surnames starting with 'K'. Further, there was another Paul Kennedy in a lower grade.


Around the grounds: what's the food score?

I happened to be reading an old (pre-2000AD) copy of Bon Appetit, the US foodie magazine. By 'reading' I mean 'looking at' because when you read a recipe in a magazine, you don't take it in like you do when reading a detective story plot or a football match report. I have proven this theory dozens of times when browsing the cookbook section in bookshops: upon noticing a particularly delicious-sounding recipe and not being able to afford the book, I have attempted to memorise the ingredients. No matter how simple the recipe, I inevitably forget several ingredients by the time I get home. Yet I can always remember the smallest plot detail in a 768 page novel. For example, in which direction does Gandalf turn Shadowfax in Chapter Seven of 'The Return of the King'? The Barrow-downs, of course. Case proven.

Inside the back cover of the Bon Appetit was an interview with racing driver Richard Pretty. They asked him about the variety of food on the racing circuit. 'You eat at home,' he replied, 'or you eat hotdogs.'

There is a theory of stadium food. The theory describes a kind of upside down U-curve. At one end is big corporate stadium food: expensive pies, expensive chips, expensive bottled water, weak beer in plastic cup-like containers. That is just an insult. This year, big corporate stadiums tried to rectify the horridness of their big corporateness by reducing their food prices, while making crowd-'friendly' changes such as allowing children onto the ground after the game. But only on Sundays, when the game ends at about midnight! Nuts. Big corporate stadium head office probably had ten focus meetings and six power point presentations to think that one up.

The other end of the U-curve naturally goes from one extreme to the other, serving the kind of food I call Conspicuous Health Consumption. You have stalls selling sushi rolls in cute little plastic boxes with soy in little fishes, and quinoa salads that wouldn't satisfy a pregnant rabbit, and wholegrain rolls stuffed with pureed pumpkin studded with sunflower seeds and dusted with cumin powder. This is ridiculous. The whole idea of eating sushi while watching the third quarter of Collingwood v. Richmond is just so fundamentally flawed it doesn't even warrant discussing. Sushi properly belongs in one place, and that place has the gentle sound of a single wooden instrument, softly backlit windows and a lady in a gently shimmering silk kimono lingering in half shadow waiting to bring you some more saki. But at the football, no.

The middle of the U-curve is where you want to be. Take these ex-VFA grounds for example, now home to VFL matches; but maintaining their earlier VFA traditions, including volunteers serving the food.


Werribee, home of the sewage farm and Tim Blair, was a small country town when I first visited in the 1960s for a 'parish picnic', a long-forgotten type of traditional outing (note to Generations X, Y, Z and whatever they are calling the current one: 'outing' means a daytrip, not the forced revelation of someone's sexuality) complete with sack races, Irish dancing on the back of a tray truck, pony rides, barbecues and broom throwing. Yes: broom throwing. Times change. I counted 28 restaurants in Werribee's main street as we walked from the railway station to the football ground, the site of that 1960s parish picnic and this day's football match.

Half time. I always take food along to these games but you know what boys are like. Get the smell of a pie stall or a deep fryer across the grass and they're hungry again. We walked around the half-forward flank at the city end towards the members' wing, where the food stalls were set up in several volunteer tents next to one of those ubiquitous Coffee to You vans. One of the tents had a huge grill going, and not just sausages. Home-made patties were served in rolls as a hamburger; or in bread, as a sandwich. There's a difference. I asked for the sandwich, and there was a choice of salad. I chose the coleslaw, and the server extracted enough coleslaw from the tub to make the sandwich about six inches high. Three dollars. On the way back around the flank to our spot in the forward pocket, Thomas and William decided they were hungry again and shared the sandwich; not with me, with each other. I went and got another one.

Stadium food rating: four stars.


It was that Sunday a few weeks back that saw the biggest July downpour in twenty years. You could hardly get into the ground: the entrance, slightly concave from decades of crowds, was a sea. 'That's not going to stop us,' I joked to the volunteer ticket seller as we crept around the six-inch isthmus of dry land alongside the ticket box. Welcome to Trevor Barker Oval, he said. Members of other clubs, $5. You don't even come close, Mr Corporate Stadium.

It rained all day. Coburg led 40 points to nil at quarter time before Sandringham wound it back. It was the start of a rollercoaster four weeks for the 'Burgers. The canteen is a small standalone brick structure on the Beach Road flank just around from the members' stand, staffed by volunteer ladies selling homely fare; salad rolls made by humans, dim sims, hot pies. Thomas had asked for a cup of tea. I ordered the tea and paid. Then the boys asked for a bag of chips, seeing some on the counter. You need actual cash at these places - no cards, of course - and unfortunately I was now out of spare change. Overhearing the conversation and presuming the tea was for me, and that I had denied my children a snack even while indulging myself with hot tea, the lady immediately and sympathetically offered them a bag of lollies, free. Volunteers are angels.

Stadium food rating: three stars.

Port Melbourne.

North Port Oval is legendary and notorious at the same time. Now the ghosts of the past – or is it the wind? – moan in the sadly-empty Norm Goss grandstand, a massive Victorian era structure that rises over the ground agape like the jaw of a dementia patient. We walked from the Fred Cook end around the southern wing to the rolador-window canteen just before half time, but the canteen was drinks and snacks only, and the man pointed to the lower grandstand. What a revelation. Underneath the stand is a walk-in servery as big as ... well, as big as it needed to be in the 1960s and '70s glory days of the VFA, when several hundred painters and dockers would fight to get to the pies and chips at half time on freezing afternoons. Today, we were alone in the space apart from the ever-smiling ladies behind the enormous bain marie and display cases featuring all the usual home-made fare, sandwiches, rolls, home-made cakes, etc. Six dollars for crisp, golden, hot, perfect chips in a bag the size of an SP bookie's.

Stadium food rating: five stars


I can't believe how many people don't know where Coburg City Oval is - probably because it doesn't front onto Sydney Road or Bell Street. It is landlocked behind the Coburg indoor pool to the north side, the Russell Street car park to the west, Coburg bowling club to the south and the wasteland of the old, demolished Coburg high school to the east.

On match days, we sit behind the pool end goal where we are frequently the only supporters. Sometimes Coburg legend Phil Cleary wanders past, snapping the odd photograph and chatting to anyone who wants to talk. The live telecast isn't the same without Phil, but come to Coburg City Oval on match day and you can talk to him live.

The kiosk is a two-minute walk around the west wing, at the grandstand end in the shadow of the cricket scoreboard. The aroma of hot chips and pies floats across the ground and is impossible to resist. Help yourself to sauce, mustard or vinegar from the catering size pump-pack bottles on the counter, gratis. Much better than having to pay for those tiny plastic sachets that never contain enough sauce when you try to squirt it onto your pie. There's a social club if you get too cold or want to sit in comfort and watch the football through glass, like the business networkers in Corporate Stadium land. I know where I'd rather be. Go 'Burgers.

Stadium food rating: four stars.


Label lore: a fascinating game of mystery, puzzlement and sheer idiocy to help you while away those boring shopping trips to the supermarket.

Aisle one.

Seen on a can of pineapple: Naturally Low in Fat.

Spent the next two aisles looking for sugar labelled Naturally Low in Salt, spring water labelled Naturally Low in Caffeine and legs of lamb labelled Naturally Low in Fish. Didn't find any, but the shopping trip was a quarter over, and I found myself in ...

Aisle five.

Seen on a can of tomato soup: Made from responsibly grown Australian tomatoes.

Now this was a hard one, and provided enough entertainment to get me through the next four aisles (which also made me forget two items on the shopping list). To start with, since grammar went out with old telephones, people throw words into sentences in any order. Was the adverb 'responsibly' even intended to modify 'grown'? And if so, how do you define responsibly grown tomatoes? Or irresponsibly grown ones? Left out in the rain? Letting cockatoos eat them before they ripen? Or did the manufacturer really mean that all Australian tomatoes are responsibly grown, compared to the cheaper imports? Who knows. I suspect the latter, and that the phrase was mangled by a semi-literate marketing executive and went unnoticed all the way up the line to the CEO. So many questions, so little time left to shop! This game is great. Into the home straight now.

The refrigerated aisle.

A health warning for Pliny the Elder.

Ancient Indian writings described yogurt and honey as the food of the gods; Abraham supposedly owed his longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt; the biblical land flowing with milk and honey was reportedly fermented yogurt; ancient Greek cuisine included a dairy product known as Oxygala - a form of Greek yogurt; while Pliny the Elder is among many writers to mention the benefits of yogurt, which is, among other claims, responsible for raising the average Bulgarian age at death by decades compared to non-yogurt eating races.

Fast forward to twentieth century Australia. I picked up a tub of Greek yogurt, intending to coat some bone-in chicken pieces with it along with a selection of Indian spices before baking them, tandoori-style, and serving them with the three Rs (rice, roti and raita). But right there on the label, traffic-light style, was a star rating graphic, giving the product the low rating of just one and a half stars out of five. Australian bureaucrats had decided, after several millennia of opposing evidence, that GREEK YOGURT IS BAD FOR YOU.

The shopping trip was over, and I forgot only some shampoo and a tin of baked beans.


Happy birthday, Martin.

Tried to call you yesterday and you've obviously ditched the landline, like I did last year. Hope you had a good one.

*Rest of the world thinks: WHAT! No Facebook, no Twitter? These guys try to TELEPHONE greetings to each other? Nuts!*


Wake up and smell the onions.

John Lennon never wrote a song called 'Looking Through a Glass Parsnip'. No-one ever wrote a book titled Chokos in the Stew. "He knows his carrots" was never a figure of speech. There was never an online satirical magazine called The Potato. Booker T. and the M.Gs never recorded Green Beans.

There is a reason for this. The reason is that the onion is not just a vegetable. It is a cultural artefact.

The onion underpins more recipes than any other ingredient. It stars in its own right. It makes grown men cry. If there were no onion, it would be necessary to invent one.

The onion is the only vegetable in existence that can literally stop people in their tracks. I have proven this several times, when working on the Bunnings kindergarten fund-raising sausage stall. For some reason I always got to be the cook while the others handled the money or served the customers. This meant I was able to stand behind the grill turning onions and sausages, while gazing out over the vast car park, where thousands of home renovators would arrive, reverently, as early as 8a.m. on a Sunday morning. They should call it St. Bunnings. It is the new place of worship, supplanting churches. You can tell the home renovators from the tradies, because the renovators keep coming back for more of what they took home earlier – much more. They don't realise how much Spakfilla or Liquid Nails or Floating Floor they actually need until halfway through the job. Television renovation shows don't tell you this. They also don't tell you that, just off-screen, sits a B-double semi-trailer loaded to the gunwhales with hardware supplies and an army of crew to carry it onto set. The thing for the home renovator to remember is to buy four or five times as much of anything you need. Of course, you'll end up with a truckload of offcuts as well. Send these to the kindergarten for the children to play Renovate My Cubby with.

So it's eleven in the morning, and the sausages and onions are on, and I employ my technique of drenching the onions in oil, and then dredging them across the hottest part of the hotplate, so that they send up clouds of fragrant smoke, which drifts across the car park ... and the home renovators stop like pointers, mid-stride, and change direction towards the smell of the cooking onions that are vigorously frying to the point of caramelisation. When you've been digging trenches or painting a roof all morning, the smell of frying onions is irresistible.

The onion wins the countdown.

The onion sits proudly at Number One; immovable, like Dark Side of the Moon was through the long cold months of 1973; sailing on and on into 1974 and beyond, a triumph of majestic, dignified, imperial progressive rock in a sea of tawdry glitter, cheap glam and appalling disco.

The onion reigns over all. If this vegetable were a footballer, it would be Dick Reynolds, Bob Skilton, Wayne Carey and all three Gary Abletts* rolled into one.

Citing onion recipes is almost superfluous; most are clich├ęs, such as onion soup, a masterpiece of taste, aroma and satisfaction, and yet a refugee from a 1980s bistro menu. And yet ...

Caramelised spiced onions and potatoes.

By adding the mystique of eastern spices, you will exponentially increase the taste and aroma power of already irresistible caramelised onions. Try this at your next barbecue and they'll be marching towards the serving tables like zombies, completely deprived of the power of free will. This recipe is the ultimate conversation stopper. Bring it out when they start talking religion, politics, or sex. Onions! Spices! Must eat! What was I talking about? Who cares!

Cut 750g of new potatoes in halves. Boil and then simmer until just tender. Don't overcook.

Cut a couple of onions into very thin slices. Heat a quarter cup of oil in a frypan; add two teaspoons each of hot paprika and powdered coriander, half a teaspoon of black pepper and a dash of cardamom powder. Stir spices through for half a minute then add the onion. Stir through, set to low and cook until caramelised, about twenty minutes.

Drain potatoes when done, rinse in cold water, drain again.

Stir potatoes through onion mixture, add half a teaspoon of salt, and cook another minute or two to combine, adding two tablespoons of lemon juice for a delicious acid kick.

Transfer to serving bowl, top with plain yogurt and chopped coriander. Often served as a side to crispy skin spiced fried chicken, but which is the real hero here?


Breathe, breathe in the air
Dont be afraid to care
Leave but don't leave me
Look around, choose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be


*Yes, of course there were three Gary Abletts.


School lunch defines #2 vegetable of all time.

Never mind the old story about the Italians and the Greeks getting strange looks at their salami sandwiches on one-inch thick peasant bread. We were as Australian as gum trees, but our sandwiches raised eyebrows every day. Baked bean sandwiches. Canned spaghetti sandwiches. Beetroot sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches. Sultana sandwiches. Some of those I would still eat. The rest, perhaps not.

We didn't always take our lunch to school. Sometimes, in junior grades, I went home for lunch – yes, walked the half mile all by myself – and I could scent the aroma of home-made vegetable soup a block away from home. The walk back to school was slower and more reluctant.

There was also a school canteen, staffed by volunteer mothers. In those primitive days, fulfilment in the workplace and paying $120 a day for childcare was just a pipe dream; and mothers did nothing all day except dust, and hold lunch parties, and drive their new Volkswagen Beetle to the church tennis club to play tournaments, and make canteen lunches at school for no pay. What a life. On bitterly cold winter days, the aroma of pastry from the Noon pies* and pasties warming in the six-drawer chrome pie warmer would somehow drift into the classrooms, and make you forget what the teacher was droning on about and wish lunchtime would come sooner. Pies, 10c. Pasties, 12c. In a brown paper bag. Help yourself to sauce.

On Fridays, at least in the cooler months, orders were taken for the local fish shop, which was on the corner, just a few houses away from the school. Its shingle was a large blue plastic shark. The fish shop and the shark are still there. Drive down Hoffmans Road and you'll see it.

Two children, one often being me, took the class orders to the fish shop in the morning, and went back at lunch time to pick up the parcels. They were newspaper-wrapped and boxed in a carton, and it took two children to carry it. The briny salt and vinegar aroma that rose from the box on the thirty metre return journey to the classroom was possibly the best thing I've ever sensed. Back in the classroom, we handed the parcels around. Names were hand-scrawled along the margins of the newsprint. It took a while to find them sometimes.


Your parcel arrives. Sit at your desk, tear open the newspaper package and smell the aroma. Then bite through a crisp golden crunch to a soft, yielding, steaming, semi-transparent white inner substance that was the most heavenly eating experience on earth: the potato cake.


How could such a humble vegetable be transformed; alchemically, almost – into such a transcendentally delicious eating experience? The magic of the deep fryer had something to do with it, of course, but it still comes back to what's inside the batter. For instance, some fish shops now offer other vegetables in place of the potato; but I just couldn't anticipate eating a 'pumpkin cake' with the same ardor as looking forward to a potato cake thick with salt and vinegared batter.

That one simple innocent uncomplicated food experience is enough to shoot the mundane potato into position number two in the top ten vegetables of all time countdown.


One man's cake is another man's fritter:
In Australia ... deep fried potato cakes are commonly sold in fish and chip shops and takeaway food shops. In New South Wales, they are usually referred to as "scallops" or potato scallops, however the term "potato cakes" is used across the southern states of Victoria and Tasmania and known in South Australia as a potato fritter. The potato cake is also known as a potato pie in Western Australia, and both "potato scallop" and "potato fritter" are used in Queensland. In the ACT, potato cakes are more commonly referred to as "scallops" - a term more commonly used in the surrounding areas.
- Wikipedia

*Thanks to Stef of Finding the Radio Book blog, a treasure trove of Melbournalia.


The first hero; and his brother.

I went back through the archives. (This blog is just a continuation of what used to be hand-written diaries. I keep them all in a box in the bungalow at the beach house. If fire ever roars through the Mornington Peninsula my life in words will be gone. No great loss. The early ones are just pre-teen terse two-line entries.)

I went back through the decades, right back to the early 1970s. I flicked through. It must have been winter 1970. April, May ... there it was:

Saturday 30 May, 1970. State cross-country championships at Bundoora. Saw Ron Clarke and got his autograph.

I hadn't remembered getting the autograph. All I had vaguely recalled was seeing the adidas-wearing Glenhuntly-singleted Olympian near the finish, face etched in pain as usual.

I had joined St Bernard's athletics club the previous month, after reading Franz Stampfl on Running, and Bundoora was my second race after Clifton Hill in pouring rain. I liked running and the rain never bothered me.

Two years earlier I had listened on radio as Clarke finished the Olympic 10,000 metres in Mexico, reportedly near death. From yesterday's Australian:
Realising his main rivals in the 10,000m would be from high-altitude countries, Clarke paced his race so he would be with the leaders at the 8000m mark. So far the race plan he had devised with famous Austrian trainer Franz Stampfl was working perfectly, because as the runners went through with only 2000m to run, he was only one of four who could win. But when he attempted to push the accelerator a lap and a half from home, his body didn't respond.

He couldn't get air. He staggered on, steadily turning greyer. Now, all thoughts of a medal gone, it was all he could do to finish; barely had he crossed the line for sixth than he collapsed. Up in the stands Australian team doctor Brian Corrigan was on his feet well before that happened and though there was a moat and several officious policemen in his way, he somehow kicked and fought his way to Clarke's side.

Incredibly, no resuscitative equipment was available, almost as though the then IOC president Avery Brundage was intent on demonstrating that racing at altitude was never a problem, so all Corrigan could do was give Clarke oxygen and pray. His image, holding an oxygen mask and praying, remains one of the most enduring photos of Australia's Olympic journey.
Ron Clarke had been a mesmerising figure for most of the 1960s. In 1965, when I was eight and in grade three, Clarke seemed to be never out of the news. In fact, he set nine new world records in 21 days in that incredible year. Melbourne's evening newspaper, The Herald, carried dramatic black and white pictures on both front and back pages from Europe. The morning papers couldn't get them in time. Dad brought in Clarke's triumphs every afternoon. We were a print family.

Ron Clarke's brother Jack was centreman in Essendon's 1965 premiership win, captained the team in 1962 and coached the Bombers in 1968 to a narrow grand final loss. No wonder the Clarkes were sporting heroes to a boy in Essendon.

Back to that 30 May 1970 diary entry. There was a second line:

Essendon beat Collingwood.


It's OK to gamble: chief croupier.

Federal treasurer Joe Hockey, in a casino-logic moment, says that if you think house prices are unaffordable, just get a better job. See? Simple. Croupier logic. Rake in more money and everything's great.

(Incidentally, 'Joe Hockey' could not be a better name for a hustler at a shady casino in a James Hadley Chase novel. But I happily admit that's just gratuitously nasty.)

As truisms go, Hockey's assertion is practically an axiom, or even a platitude. I don't know, I'm just throwing words around meaninglessly, as you do in a casino while you're waiting for the spinning to stop. Plenty of spinning goes on in Canberra. It's a money pit. Want a million dollar house? Get a better job.

Truism. Of course anyone can buy a house. All you need is a deposit and enough income to service the payments. Guess what? The commentators agreed with Uncle Joe.

But they're asking the wrong question, or shooting the wrong fish, or looking into the wrong barrel. Or something. I don't know.

Peter van Onselen in today's Australian (subscription required) crunched some figures. By averaging the salaries (circa $65,000) of three classes of public servants, van Onselen arrived at the conclusion that a pair of these earners could borrow in excess of $800,000. Case proven.

None of this figuring takes account of risk. Risk is everything. But wait, we're in a casino. Risk is an exciting part of the game; not a threat to your financial security. That last sentence is savage irony because even though it looks right, the truth is completely and utterly the reverse. Risk has to be minimised or at least covered first. Financial crashes have always started with the fatal flaw that you buy at the highest price you can afford. But prudence demands that you ask yourself if you could afford the loan if you no longer had the house. That is: if the bubble bursts; and you have to sell a million dollar house for $500,000; and you still have an $800,000 loan. There is no jingle mail in Australia. You have to pay off the loan even if you lose the house.

Van Onselen concludes:
"Hockey's comments were fair, reasonable and factually accurate."
'Fair' is in the eye of the beholder, we've already dealt with 'factually accurate'; and that leaves 'reasonable'.

Was it 'reasonable' for a federal treasurer to reprimand the electorate for worrying about astronomical house prices? Hockey's comments might have read like a statement, but to the electorate it came across as a cantankerous rebuke.

So no: it was not reasonable. It is not reasonable for a federal treasurer - or a croupier - to cantankerously rebuke his customers. A prudent treasurer would at least be more guarded in discussing any potential bubble which might affect millions of constituents.

Meanwhile, The Australian's Stefanie Balogh reported in a break-out story alongside van Onselen's column the comments of a losing bidder, who fell short of the $2.33 million sale price at a weekend Balaclava auction:
"Mr White said: 'I did hear (Tony Abbott's) comment earlier in the week that he owns a house and he's happy prices are going up ... and I thought it showed a complete disregard for people entering the market.' "
More gratuitous nastiness: if Joe Hockey is a good name for a crooked croupier, Tony Abbott is a great name for the fictional casino boss you find in the secret back office behind the red velvet curtains. If you can get past the bodyguard. Aah, Tony, there's a guy here wants to see you. Everybody wantsta see Tony ...

These people have the political nous of a housefly. Or a Clifton brick. One of the two. And the alternative is an ex-unionist being investigated by a corruption inquiry. Since when did politicians come from that background?



Sometimes you just need a little perspective: at the Balaclava auction mentioned above, the gap between the reserve and the selling price was double the amount I paid for a Melbourne house in 2005. It went for two houses more (at 2005 values) than the buyer expected.

If that's not starting to look like a bubble, I'm James Bond. Or Phillip Marlowe. Or both.


Seventy years after.

"Any resemblance between pre-war football and today's game," football historian and Truth sports reporter Jim Main wrote in 1969, "is purely coincidental."

Main continued: "The old game died bloodily in 1945, when Carlton throttled life out of South Melbourne and gave birth to a professionalism that has matured into today's cold, calculated ruthlessness ... ."

Carlton was reigning premier when Main wrote those words; having achieved success by poaching the star player of the League's then most successful club, prompting one of the Sun News-Pictorial's better back page headlines: Carlton Draft: Melbourne Bitter. The act of unsporting bastardry so shocked Melbourne it never won another flag; Carlton blithely piled up another seven during the reign of nine coaches following Barassi, some of whom were summarily sacked - and two of which were reappointed, attesting to the board's erratic vacillations.

The word professional is no longer associated with ruthlessness. The Swans found professionalism, via its famous spin-free 'no-dickheads' mantra. On the other hand, Carlton just stayed ruthless and have not won a flag for twenty years. They would do well to apply the Swans' policy. To the board, of course.


Seventy years after the game known as the 'Bloodbath', Carlton and the Swans meet again - tonight. It could be another bloodbath; metaphorically this time, of course.


Stupid labels: #1 in a series of about six million.

It was on a can of pineapple in the supermarket.

It read: Naturally Low in Fat, as if to reassure the one in eighty billion shoppers who might think pineapple was as fat-laden as, say, a ham and cheese croissant or a jar of double cream.

What next? Naturally Low in Nuts on a leg of lamb? Completely Sugar Free! on a jar of salt?