Wednesday 21 September 2005
Hello once again. I was reading a book about the Otago Peninsula and boy did it trigger a few memories. It started of with Thomas Bracken, the man who wrote the words to ‘God Defend NZ’, our National Anthem. He also wrote some fine pieces – notably ‘Not Understood’ and ‘Dunedin from the Bay’. It kicks off, ‘Go traveller unto others boast’. What it awakened in my mind were the bike rides we went on round those glorious bays – Company, Macamdrew, Broad and Portobello and right around to the Lighthouse at Tairoa Heads. It was a lousy road all the way but there was not much traffic and we were sixteen years old. Most great cities round the world would have built a four lane highway and a substantial bridge, but the absence of these features is maybe part of its charm.
We even biked over the hill from Portobello to Hooper’s Inlet and Pipakaretu Beach. My Aunty Jessie Milne had a holiday home there for many years, and we had some hilarious times there. There was no electricity or flush lavatory and I can still see Tony Milne and Abe Isaac playing Backgammon (Toll-lee).The loser had to empty the dunny. Abe said that he had lost so often he was going to eat cheese and boycott the whole arrangement.
We used to shoot rabbits and Aunty Jessie used to roast them in garlic and olive oil outside the ‘crib’. This was our first experience of a barbecue.
Sometimes, we used to take the high road across Highcliff where there was a large café. It was open for many years and held a dance on Saturday nights, where you could sneak in a little booze. From memory, it was near the big transmitter for 4ZB and 4YA Radio Stations. Today they probably do the same job using computers instead of large towers.
So they were some of the sunshine days of young Lebanese boys.
‘Backwards turn backwards,
Oh Time in your flight,
Make me a child again,
Just for tonight.
I must tell you about a man named Jules Menzoni – a real gentleman of Italian stock. He ran an illegal gambling club in Christchurch for over thirty years and was never raided. All the Lebanese men used to go there whenever they were in that city, especially when big race meetings were on. From memory it was called ‘The Ambassadors’ and was very strictly run. Old Jules had a heart of gold and anyone who went broke there was given ‘walking around money’ before they left the premises. Once, when he stayed at Wains Hotel for a holiday he was treated like a V.I.P. and was visited by many of our people. On the day he checked out Peter Coory and I were in the lobby. We were both working there at the time. He asked me – ‘How many kids have you got, Butch?’
‘ Two,’ I answered.
‘ Well, here’s a fiver for each of them.’
‘ And you Peter?’ he continued.
‘ Eight,’ he responded (he only had six but even that would have been tempting fate).
‘ Give them my best wishes.’ Jules replied. We all laughed but poor old Peter nearly cried.
‘ Why did you tell Jules a lie?’ I asked as I gave him half of my whack. Jules lived to be over ninety, even out seeing poor old Peter!
Although I was resident in Sydney by that time, I came back for Peter’s funeral. His son approached me.
‘ Uncle Butch, I am going to a ball and seeing as we are about the same size, could you lend me a suit?’
‘ Certainly,’ I replied. (Peter and I had been closes than brothers), and I gave him one that looked made to measure.
‘ Keep it Paul, it is perfect on you.’ He repaid my kind gesture by discovering in one of the pockets something that should have not have been there in the first place and he told half of Dunedin about it, causing me a load of problems. So that was the last suit I ever gave away.