A Father's Day tribute - by Peter Newlinds
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pay tribute to my own father in Around the Grounds in both fond and, I hope, amusing ways. A highly accomplished and by any measure successful man who appreciated the simple pleasures of life, my father was also very practical and good with his hands.
When the opportunity came up some time in the late 1960s to build from scratch and then sail a mirror dinghy (a flat-packed father and son sailing dinghy designed and promoted in conjunction with the Mirror Newspaper in England), he did so in a typically thorough manner. The building process included the use of copious amounts of white paint, fiberglass and lots of nails. The white-hulled creation was named Hesperus in honour of the evening star, as well as Henry Longfellow’s famous poem ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’.
In 1970 on Botany Bay a regatta was held to commemorate the bi-centenary of Captain Cook’s discovery of that historic waterway. Mirrors from all over the Sydney area and beyond were massing together to take part. Hesperus up until then had an undistinguished record in competitive racing, so the idea of checking where the finish line might be never actually crossed my father’s mind, the assumption being no doubt that he’d have other boats ahead of him to lead the way. No one is entirely sure how it happened but Hesperus (with my older brother as the crew) found herself in the clear lead of this big race with 100 metres to go, then in the manner of one of those ‘blooper’ clips you see on YouTube, my dad dropped the sails too early and forfeited first place which was there for the taking. There’s no moral to the story other than the acknowledged truth that there’s a fine line between sporting success and failure (Hesperus did recover in time to get third place) and that the most infuriating situations often end up making the best stories.
My dad had a fondness and a talent for using maxims (pithy lines of wisdom) and my memories of these little gems were useful when writing Around The Grounds. One particularly line was always a favourite of mine and I drew on it in December 1996 before entering a little windowless room for a 5-minute audition as an ABC commentator. ‘Tell them you’re great and let them find out you’re not’ was my game plan as I ducked and weaved a series of questions from my prospective employer. Had I called Australian Rules football? ‘Of course I have,’ I replied promptly. The truth was I’d done one game in my life. It was up to the ABC to decide if I had the potential to rise to greatness. They decided to at least let me try.
When by a freak set of circumstances I found myself on the Hobart Real Tennis court earlier this year with HRH Prince Edward as my doubles partner, I was struck by many things, the first and foremost being by how unexpectedly overawed I was, by his fame if not his talent with the racquet. I was also greatly impressed by his attitude and his immaculate presentation, which brought to mind another line my father would regularly use in relation to my own sporting pursuits: ‘If you can’t be a good cricket or rugby player then at least look like one’.
In its best form sport is a link between generations, a commonality not always easy to find when two people are born more than three decades apart. As clearly as anything I can recall spending a day with my father at the SCG watching the first day of the NSW v MCC tour match in November 1978. Spectators had plenty of room to bask in the sun on the old hill and watch the relatively low key warm up game to that summer’s Ashes series. Ian Botham made his first class debut in Australia, a young all-rounder called Allan Border turned out for NSW and I Ioved every second of it. I went to bed that night wanting only to relive the whole day again. My dad enjoyed cricket too and encouraged and took pleasure from my interest in it. My eventual rise to ABC commentator probably came as no great surprise to him.
Earlier this year I took my young adult daughter along to watch the Australia v England T20 international at Blundstone Arena. This was pure 2018, cricket complete with flame throwers, dancing girls, music clips and a garish scoreboard with a replay screen. The game was as beautiful and dramatic as ever though, as Glen Maxwell brought up his hundred with a six on to the hill off the last ball of the game. Who writes such scripts?
It was a different format in a different century but the essentials were still there. In this case the ability of sport to build a link between a father and daughter. The same bonding experience, just someone different sitting in the seat beside you…
Originally Published in 2018