Apr 26
Vandenberg Unearthed
icon4 Apr 26th, 2010 | icon2 Memories, Music | icon3Comments Off

Rach and I spend a fair amount of time in op shops, and often the pickings are slim. The most disappointing area of the op shop, for me, is usually the record bin. Most op shops have one, and they are typically crammed with the absolute worst horrors ever committed to vinyl: pan pipe music, Hammond organ instrumentals, strange German orchestral easy listening (often with saucy semi-nude women on the cover), Kamahl records, and so on.

Imagine my surprise when on a recent op shop excursion, among the usual dross I came across this record sleeve:

It was a little beaten up, and had a large black texta mark diagonally across the cover, but nevertheless my pulse quickened considerably. To explain why, let me go back in time 25 years or so …

In 1984 I was committed to the cause of metal. But owing to my miniscule music-buying budget I was interested in only the best that metal had to offer, and I was especially keen on any record that could offer up some killer guitar solos. Around this time a good buddy of mine –  let’s call him Pete – travelled to the US with local High School concert band The Marching Koalas. On his return he had a suitcase crammed with records and cassettes from the States, apparently having spent his entire travel budget on music. One of the tapes he brought back was by a band I had never heard of, called Vandenberg.

Vandenberg were a Dutch metal band that formed in 1981, centred around the guitar exploits of Adrian Vandenberg. The tape Pete had bought was their second album, Heading For a Storm, from 1983. The cover illustration, featuring a pack of sharks cruising down a desert highway, is surely a classic of the genre.

The first I heard of this record was a song called “This is War”, specifically the guitar solo. Pete played it to me on his ghetto-blaster while we were on a bus during a school excursion. My mind was well and truly blown. We must’ve listened to the guitar solo fifty times on that bus trip, until someone threatened to throw Pete’s tape player out the window. You can hear the song in the clip below (audio only). Mr Vandenberg starts warming up his fingers around 2:03 and hits full stride at 2:30. Imagine it’s 1984 and you are an impressionable 14-year-old wannabe metal guitar hero …

Anyway, the years passed. I made a dodgy copy of Pete’s cassette and eventually bought the Heading For a Storm LP (available here only as an expensive import) in the late ’80s, but never got around to tracking down their first, self-titled album. Which brings me back to the Gosford Vinnies in 2010.

There I was, standing at the record bin, with a copy of the first Vandenberg album in my hands. Questions flooded my brain. How the fuck did this record get here? Who donated it, and where are the rest of their records? Am I dreaming? I quickly slipped the disc from the sleeve to make sure it wasn’t some shitty Perry Como LP, which thankfully it wasn’t. The vinyl was even in decent condition. The asking price was $1. Thank you very much.

The circle is closed.


Vandenberg split in the mid-’80s after a third LP, with Adrian leaving to join David Coverdale in Whitesnake. Here’s a video of Vandenberg’s biggest “hit”, a classic metal-ballad called “Burning Heart”.

Dec 28
I Feel the Earth Move …
icon4 Dec 28th, 2009 | icon2 Memories | icon3Comments Off

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Newcastle earthquake. Being a proud Novocastrian, I was in Newie on that fateful day and can remember it vividly. Our family always had Christmas holidays in Forster, so it was unusual for us to be at home in late December, but for some reason that year we came back to Newcastle for a few days around Christmas. Perhaps it was because my sister was visiting from the US, where she was living at the time.

Just before 10:30 on that morning I was lying on my bed, probably reading a book or listening to music. It began as a very subtle shaking, so slight that for a second or two I thought it was just our old washing machine jumping up and down. But as it grew more violent I realised this was something else entirely. I stood up and went to the kitchen, where mum was standing. My sister had come out of the loungeroom and for a second or two we stood looking at each other as the house shook and things started falling off shelves. Our old house was a wooden frame weatherboard place, built in the early ’50s. For those few seconds it felt like being inside a shoebox that was being twisted back and forth. It’s amazing that there wasn’t severe structural damage – I guess they don’t make ‘em like they used to!

In maybe ten seconds it was over. I think one of us said the word “earthquake”, which is what I’m sure we were all thinking. But an earthquake in Newcastle? We all went out the front and looked up and down the street, most of our neighbours had the same idea. Across the road a car had stopped and its driver was crouched on the road, looking underneath, wondering what it was that had caused his car to go haywire. Of course his car was fine, it was the road that was momentarily screwed up.

One of our neighbours was talking about a possible explosion at the BHP steel works. We all looked in that direction for any signs of smoke or fire. But as we went back inside I think we knew that we had just experienced an earthquake.

Of course we didn’t know the extent of the damage at that time. The power had gone out and so we had no television. I had an appointment at 11:00 to get the brakes fixed on my car, so off I drove to the mechanics in Tudor St, Hamilton. Little did I know that this was the area which suffered the most damage. As I drove I passed many houses that hadn’t fared as well as ours. Most people stood in shock, some crying, outside their homes. Fire engines and ambulances roared by, the air filled with the wailing of sirens. When I arrived at the mechanics I found that one entire wall had collapsed, the employees standing around looking at the pile of rubble. Assuming that my appointment was cancelled I turned around and headed home.

Over the next hour we got more news via the radio. We sat in our loungeroom in amazement as we heard of the people killed in Beaumont St, Hamilton, crushed by fallen shop awnings. And then we heard that the Newcastle Workers’ Club – a local institution! – had collapsed and that people were trapped inside. Nine were to die in that one building alone.

In 1998 the telemovie “Aftershocks” – adapted from the play by Paul Brown – told the story of the Newcastle Earthquake. I was played by a young David Wenham.

Here is some old NBN news footage of the disaster (WARNING: This footage contains ’80s fashions):

Nov 13
Tooth Hurty
icon4 Nov 13th, 2009 | icon2 Bric-a-Brac, Memories | icon3Comments Off

What’s the best time to go to the dentist? (See the title of this post for the answer.)

So I had a wisdom tooth pulled out yesterday. Upper left. It had been giving me gyp for a few weeks, nothing too bad though. Nowhere near as painful as when my other wisdom tooth went to the dark side, a year or so ago.

Let me digress for a moment by saying that I am not a big fan of going to the dentist. This probably goes back to when I was in primary school, when we used to have an annual event called a “Brush-In”. The Brush-In (presumably the name is in the vein of “bed-in”, “sit-in” and so on) was a kind of enforced, intensive tooth-brushing session, overseen by a crack team of dental hygiene professionals. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?


The problem was the toothpaste. They weren’t using no Colgate, let me tell you. This stuff was fucking disgusting. It was pink and gritty, and its smell alone was enough to send a kid running. The rumour in the playground was that if you should be so unfortunate as to swallow any of this rancid paste you would vomit uncontrollably until your body was purged of the vile poison.

The Brush-In could occur on any day of the year, and we were never informed in advance. It would simply be announced with little or no notice, and we’d be marched across to the toilet block where the Brush-In crew would be waiting. Every kid would be given a new toothbrush and a paddle-pop stick with a lump of the deadly pink goo. In groups of six we’d stand at the sink and brush away until our overseers were satisfied.

My next brush (pun intended) with the dentist came when I was 12. For some reason one of my front baby teeth refused to fall out on its own, and was beginning to look a little ridiculous. Mum took me to a dentist one day after school, and before having the offending tooth ripped out, I was forced to brush once again with the same pink gloop as I’d dreaded for so many years in primary school. Anyway, the tooth came out easy – it was loose anyway – and apart from the shame of walking around Woolworths with a mouth full of cotton wool while mum did the weekly shopping, the trip was a success.

It did, however, mark the beginning of a dental drought for me, as I wasn’t to go to the dentist again for more than 25 years.

Which brings me back to having my first wisdom tooth pulled out, which happened about a year ago. I won’t go into gory details, but it really hurt like hell, an abscess having formed under the decayed tooth cap. Luckily, Rach’s uncle is a top dentist in Newcastle (like me, he’s a proud Novocastrian) and he sorted me out nicely, got it out in just a few minutes without any pain, and the relief was blissfully instantaneous.

Yesterday’s operation was only slightly more difficult. The tooth itself needed a bit more coaxing out of its position, but now I have a nice big hole where the tooth used to be. Luckily, my teeth are generally pretty solid – no cavities, no fillings – so I’m going to see if I can’t beat my 25 year record.

Here is a video of some dude getting a wisdom tooth yanked. This dentist also works part time as a butcher. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish.

Aug 19
Radio Ga Ga
icon4 Aug 19th, 2009 | icon2 Family, Memories | icon31 Comment »

I recently came across a dusty box of cassette tapes, one of which was an interesting anthropological recording made by my family in 1981.

My sister Julie had moved to England with her husband around 1979 and lived there until 1984, during which time she had two children. Back then there was no email of course, and international phone calls were prohibitively expensive and so reserved for special occasions.

I can clearly remember when mum & dad had our phone line updated to support ISD – or International Subscriber Dialling, now known as International Direct Dialling. This meant we could call Julie’s home phone in England directly, without having to go through an operator. (Sadly we had to change phone numbers, but our old number – 574576 – will always be burned into my memory.)

Anyway, with the cost of phone calls to England being what it was, we didn’t get to speak to Julie very often. Then sometime in 1981 local radio station 2KO did a series of broadcasts from various cities in the UK, perhaps as some sort of loosely defined cultural exchange. And in the spirit of Anglo-Australian good will 2KO was giving Aussie expats the chance to broadcast a message home to their family in Newcastle. My mum was all over this in a flash, and so it was arranged that Julie would record a message to be aired at a specified time.

Such an important occasion had to be recorded for posterity, so dad’s mono cassette recorder (more used to playing Johnny Cash at full volume while dad worked in the backyard) was brought into the kitchen, a blank tape purchased especially (a “Tempest” brand C-90!) and the “record” button pressed as the time for Julie’s message drew near.

What with radio technology being what it was back then the broadcast sounded like it was being beamed from Pluto rather than northern England, but thankfully the cassette recording – now 28 years old – is still reasonably clear and intelligible. Here’s what my sister had to say:

Hello. This is Julie in Yorkshire. I’d like to say “hello” to Marj and Les ***** of New Lambton. We’re all happy here, mum and dad, our expected baby is coming along nicely; we think it’s going to be a girl. We’re very much looking forward to seeing you next year. Love to you all, and many thanks to 2KO for making this possible.

The tape ends as my mother bursts into tears of joy.

Somehow I ended up with this precious cassette – I think I made a case later on that as only three minutes of it had been used I could certainly fill the remaining 87. And although I was always careful to preserve Julie’s message I seem to have made good use of the remaining blank tape. One side has Australian Crawl’s “Sons of Beaches” album while the other has “Screaming for Vengeance” by Judas Priest. (The guitar solo in “Riding on the Wind” blew my 13-year-old mind.)

I’ve now transferred the message to computer, so it’s safe forever. Right? I’ll email it to my sister, she’ll probably get a kick out of it.

In other phone-related trivia, here’s something I just remembered. For years we had a little wooden box sitting next to our telephone, with a slot in the top like a money box. The intention was for people who used the phone to drop a coin into the box, to pay for their call. Exactly who these “people” were I don’t know – presumably “visitors” who had to use the phone, which was basically nobody that I can remember. The box always seemed to have a solitary 20c coin rattling around in it, and no apparent way to get it out. I remember the box had a picture on the side of Stockton bridge – one of Newcastle’s most conspicuous local landmarks – and a little poem that went:

Call from here when e’er you will,

But don’t forget who pays the bill.

If there is another single object that sums up 1970s suburbia more than this coin box I’d like to know what it is.

Aug 10

Things were different in the ’70s. Life was simpler, people were friendlier, the sky was a brighter shade of blue. But most importantly, tourist attractions were unhindered by bothersome laws regarding public safety and animal welfare.

About thirty minutes drive from where I grew up in Newcastle there was a magical place called “Raymond Terrace Lion Park”. For just a few dollars a family of four could enter the Lion Park and drive around at their leisure – in the comfort of the family sedan – observing the most majestic of Africa’s big cats.

Let me make this clear: once inside the Lion Park, you could drive unsupervised, among the lions, in your own car! Only common sense prevented you from opening the car door and stepping out into the realm of one of the world’s most savage killing machines!

Recently, while delving through the Snubian archives, I came across some photos of the Lion Park, probably taken by my sister. This would’ve been the mid-’70s. Note the Lion Park jeep painted with zebra stripes. Also note the large male lion gnawing on the thigh bone of its latest victim.

Here are a few other rare shots.

These days you’d have to go all the way to Africa to see this

Female lion prepares to attack neighbouring horses

Thankfully, the park caretakers observed the strictest of security measures to ensure the safety of their patrons. For example, the man at the front gate would explain that you should keep your DOORS CLOSED at all times.

Not only that, but the park itself had a foolproof double gated entrance, so that none of those pesky lions could escape and go on a murderous rampage through Hexham. As you arrived in your car, a man would emerge from a booth, collect the entrance fee, and then open the first gate, at which point you would move forward a few metres into the “lion exclusion zone”. After closing the outer gate, he would check that any nearby lions were otherwise occupied, then quickly open the inner gate and wave you through. Amazing! I can picture those double gates like it was yesterday.

I don’t recall what the advice was should your car break down, or should a lion decide to consume it. But I suppose cars were more robust in those days. For example, our family car at the time was a 1967 Holden HR sedan – see below. That’s my dad leaning on the bonnet. Hopefully this was not taken inside the Lion Park, but anything’s possible.

In doing some “research” for this piece, I discovered that Lion Parks were quite common back in the day, and were usually run by circus companies. For example, the Raymond Terrace Lion Park was run by Ashtons. They probably figured they could make a few bucks from their lions in the off season. Whether such an arrangement was good for the lions is arguable I suppose, although they had plenty of space and could always supplement their diet with the occasional stray koala.

I have always had fond memories of the Lion Park, or as I knew it, the “Lion Safari” - as in “Dad, can we go to the Lion Safari today PLEEEEASE!!!!” (repeat fifty times). Incidentally, the ’67 HR was our family car up until about 1976, when we upgraded to a Holden HJ “Belmont” – woohoo! The Belmont ran like a dream right up until I wrote it off in 1988. Ah, good times.

May 21

Let me tell you a story to illustrate the strangeness of the human mind.

When I left school I worked full time as a trainee at BHP Steelworks in Newcastle, and went to uni part time studying Electrical Engineering. I mostly went to lectures at night, but trainees also got eight hours study leave each week, so I went to day lectures and tutorials where possible.

One of the subjects I did in first year was called Maths I. It was split into four branches of mathematics: calculus, statistics, something called “algebra & analysis”, and one other which I forget. The head lecturer was a Professor Smrz. I am still not sure how to pronounce his vowel-less last name, but I think it’s probably something like “smertz”. (I was careful to never say it in his presence, in case I got it wrong.) He was a bit of a strange character, Eastern European, extremely serious, and scary as hell to a disinterested first year student.

In March of my first year at uni I crashed my car, so was temporarily without transport. Because of this I missed a couple of Maths I tutorials. We had been warned that if we missed more than a certain percentage of classes we would fail the course. At the time I worked out I could miss three and still be OK. This gives you some indication as to how seriously I took my studies back then.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, I had just bought a lovely, red 1979 Toyota Corolla. It was a rainy Friday afternoon and I was leaving BHP to attend a 2pm Maths tute. I simply couldn’t face going to uni to sit in a room and listen to Professor Smrz drone on for two hours. I did a quick calculation, figured I had missed two tutes already, and thus had one up my sleeve. So I nicked off into Newcastle and went record shopping. That day I bought a second-hand vinyl copy of Animals by Pink Floyd at Rice’s Bookshop on Hunter St.

As I drove home, I started to get a nagging feeling. I began to wonder if I had miscalculated the number of tutorials I had missed. I rushed into my bedroom, dug out the Maths I notes and flicked through the course calendar. Sure enough, I had screwed up. I had now missed four tutes, enough to get myself booted from the course.

I fretted all weekend. Being kicked out of Maths I would mean a fail grade, which could potentially lose me my traineeship at BHP. Not necessarily a bad thing in hindsight, but at the time it was a scary prospect. The following Monday I raced to uni and explained the situation to Professor Smrz. He was not especially interested in my excuses, and I realise now that I was the kind of apathetic student that lecturers hate, but I begged and pleaded and he gave me another chance. The rest is history!

Since then whenever I get out Pink Floyd’s Animals to give it a spin I get a morbid feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I can picture myself sitting in my bedroom, staring down the barrel of a life of poverty and homelessness, all because of this record. I find it amazing that a simple object like a record cover can bring on physical symptoms of fear more than twenty years after the initial event.

In case you’re wondering, I scraped through Maths I with a Pass.

Oct 6
Snubian Phone Home
icon4 Oct 6th, 2008 | icon2 Memories | icon3Comments Off

Was just down the Bi-Lo and stood behind a guy at the checkout who was wearing one of those nifty wireless earpiece thingies. Apart from thinking he looked like a bit of a wanker, it struck me how far mobile phones have come in the last twenty years or so, and how things just aren’t the same as in the good old days.

Look at this tosser:

Remember Gordon Gekko in Wall Street? None of yer Bluetooth bullshit for Gordon – when he gave an order into his monster cell phone people fucking listened.

I had a friend who owned a “mobile” phone like Gordon’s in about 1994. It rattled around in his briefcase like a house brick. He and I had a short-lived money-making scheme at that time which revolved around a system for betting on horse races. On Saturdays we would drive down to the TAB, go inside and wait for the right race to come up, then rush out to the car and call PhoneTAB on his mobile to place a bet. We’d then enter the winnings (or losings) into a spreadsheet on my laptop. In the back of my car! Let me tell you, sitting in a car outside a TAB in Newcastle in 1994 using a laptop and placing bets on a mobile phone, we thought we were fucking Gordon Gekko.

I bought my first mobile phone in 1995 – an Ericsson GH337, which cost a small fortune for the time (about $450 from memory) but is actually reasonably sized even by today’s standards. Here it is next to one of its descendants.

Of course, now you have iPhones and all that sort of thing, they just keep on getting bigger and better … or smaller and better. But check out this news report from 1983 on fledgling cellular phone technology. Imagine, at that time the mobile network permitted only 12 simultaneous conversations in an entire city!

Sep 19

OK, I admit it, I have a sweet tooth.

But as I get older, I find myself craving the sweet delights of my youth. Some days I stare into space and pine for all the old-school ice-creams now sadly departed.

There was the Triple Treat, a glorious chocolate-coated ice-cream and marshmallow combo that is sadly missed. And the Lickety-Split, a paradigm-shattering ice-block with not one, but two sticks!

Speaking of gimmicks, does anyone remember the Rocket? It boasted a cleverly shaped plastic stick, which when collected in large numbers, could be used to build stuff. Pure marketing genious.

And those infuriating Paddle Pop “Lick-A-Prize” competitions where you had to collect and match the sticks to make a little picture. I always had the feeling that nobody ever won anything from Lick-A-Prize. In fact, I have just visited a website where someone claims to have collected 866 Lick-A-Prize sticks over several decades … and has never matched a set of sticks! I rest my case!

Incredibly, the Paddle Pop Lick-A-Scam continues to this day! In my days the big prize was a bike. Now it’s a trip to FL-O-RI-DA:

As a kid in the ’70s your choice of ice-cream was like a mini personality test. Were you a Drumstick man or a Cornetto man? Were you brave enough to walk into the corner shop and ask for a Gaytime with your mates sniggering in the background?

Of course that was a more innocent time. A time when it didn’t seem politically incorrect to have a vanilla and strawberry ice-block called a Redskin, with the requisite native American chief on the wrapper. I don’t think the flavoured ices shaped like a hand grenade would go down too well at school these days either, given modern anti-terrorism laws.

The list of fallen ice-creams continues … Monaco Bar, Choc Wedge, Billabong. May they Rest In Peace. Yeah, sure, I know some of these are still available, but they’re not the same.

And don’t get me started on the subject of price. When I was a kid, during Christmas holidays our family would go to the beach every morning. Mum would secrete a $2 note (remember those?) somewhere in her swimming costume and at around 10 o’clock I’d run up to the kiosk and with just two dollars purchase ice-creams for all. My preferred beach ice-cream was the Dixie Cup – a little cardboard punnet of creamy vanilla ice-cream that came with a small, flat wooden spoon. I’m pretty sure I was responsible for burying the wrappers and sticks in the sand afterwards too.

Anyway, my point is that things aren’t like they used to be. Now we don’t invent new ice-creams, we just have 37 flavours of Magnum. Most of the old ice-creams are gone, but thankfully we still have a few, like the Bubble O’Bill, whose bubble gum nose still takes me back to a better age. (Even if he does look like Ivan Milat.)

Perhaps my ultimate gripe is that ice-creams today are too small. In the ’70s a Chocolate Heart could feed a family of four for a week. These days it’s gone in three bites. You might say I’ve gotten bigger since those days. But to paraphrase Norma Desmond, I was always big, it’s the ice-creams that got small.

Jun 18

I am not the luckiest of people when it comes to competitions. There are only a few competitions I have ever won, and even these have usually been disappointing in some way.

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Jun 12
Cubic Rube
icon4 Jun 12th, 2008 | icon2 Memories | icon3No Comments »

In March of 1981 I was nearly eleven years old. My sister Ruth was still living at home then, while she studied for a science degree. One day I wandered in to her room, and on her desk I noticed this magazine:

There was something about this image that fascinated me. Now we all recognise it, but at that time it was something very new. I asked my sister about it, and she explained that it was a new type of mathematical puzzle called Rubik’s Cube.

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