The Sands of Time

“What was my Centrepoint? Either a radical sex cult or a place to buy Butterick 7634.”


I have this enduring image of my dad striding up the main drag of sand at Surfer’s Paradise, tanned, holding a briefcase, wearing a large and ungainly pair of mafia shades and decked out in a pair of speedos. That’s all. Oh, he wore brown vinyl slip-ons too. He was never a jandal man.

It was a terrifying and humorous sight, but dad wasn’t joking. I’m laughing and crying right now just remembering it. Perhaps there was a pistol in the briefcase, or a set of fancy bejewelled flick knives?

Once we’d found a position in the sand, we spread out a blanket (an actual blanket) and sat down and began our holiday. It was as if someone needed to sound the horn, to signal the start.

It was our school holiday Holiday. Mum and dad had probably saved for ages to get us all there; me, aged 16, my sister, 19, mum and dad. We had rellies in Brisbane and we’d spent some time there, marveling at the huge backyard lizards and different dialing prefixes, before heading south in our rental Commodore in a wafer cream colour.

We were heading down the coast to the Smoke, where more rellies awaited. I saw Australia as a land of wonders — I couldn’t fathom what I could possibly offer my Australian cousins in terms of interesting news. They already had everything first: slimline red personal tape decks, shorts from Portmans, pyjamas from Sussan, trips to Centrepoint. What was my Centrepoint? Either a radical sex cult or a place to buy Butterick 7634.

We were fish out of water.  We always were. I’m grateful for it now. Nothing more stink than being part of the ‘circle people’. Where are they now?

My dad was an outsider. His line of work was sheep shearing when he and mum met. He’d gone back to the land after a stint in the New Zealand Police where he’d worked his way right up the ranks to the C.I.B in Wellington. Detective Stewart, thanks criminals.

It really wasn’t his vibe though; while he loved the authority, the power that men in blue tit hats could exert over mortal New Zealanders, it scared him a little too. The police made you paranoid. Who was talking about you? When was your review? Had you followed procedure correctly?

Which brings me back to the beach. The scene: bronzed ex-Detective Stewart, hairy chested, beSpeedoed, slip-ons kicked off casual styles. But wound up like a cog.

Rubbing Tropical™ roasting oil into every inch of skin, going for the Big Burn.

Terrified about his valuables. Feeling under assault enough to take a briefcase to one of the busiest and friendliest beaches on the planet.

My poor father, all 6’2″, all hair still intact, teeth, everything, in the prime of a not-even mid-life crisis. He wouldn’t let mum just carry the stuff in her summer ’86 Koala Blue handbag.

It was the keys. The keys to the fucking rental Commodore. And his wallet. He was terrified of losing the car keys or some kind of theft scenario on the beach.

After dad died, I went to the funeral home to see him. I’ve written about this somewhere before, but they do a great job of the stiffs. They plump them out, and every worry line just disappears. They turn the scared ex-policemen back to what they were, without the terror.

That image on the beach — I’ll try and post a photo — will stay with me forever. It’s so funny and devastating.



My dad entered hospice care today two years ago for a long stay that lasted one week. Good on you old boy.

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