If you walk along the clifftops from Maroubra to La Perouse on Botany Bay you will skirt four golf clubs, or just walk through them if no one is teeing off. The last one is the Royal something or other and I’d never gone very close to it before. When I did a compound of dogs went rabid and hysterical as I turned right from the ocean. A bloke turned up on a motorbike and he was looking pretty rabid too. Sorry, sorry, this dog hazard was not here when I lived on the coast. I’ll skirt right around or go back the way I came. No reply. Nothing. This guy is just doing his job, and that includes hating you with a scarcely imaginable depth of malevolence.
Never mind. I guess we’re all working for the rich man. When I was in Japan I went twice a week to Osaka on the fast train to conduct English conversation classes at Hitachi Maxell and Osaka Cemento. Sometimes I talked with salesmen, sometimes young trainee executives recruited from the universities, who lived in company dormitories until they married and moved into flats, and sometimes with men from middle management. On Monday the standard opening was, ‘How was your weekend,’ followed soon afterward by, ‘How was your golf?’ The replies ranged from, ‘Not very good’ to ‘Very bad’. Their expressions were wry and sometimes quite pained. I’m not sure why, but this was very touching.
Many, or indeed most or all of these men had not played on a golf course. Driving ranges were in many suburbs and we had one down below us by the road into Kyoto.
One day I drew a map of the coast and the beginning of Botany Bay on the blackboard and explained that this was where I was born and from here to here were four golf courses. Japanese are often portrayed saying ‘Ah so’ frequently. I never heard this, but they did say ‘Ha’ as a barely audible sigh. Their jaws dropped and their eyes widened as if a flying saucer had just landed. Looking back, I realise that my gratification at this reaction was quite infantile. And the truth is that I had never played on a golf course either, but I had watched a great deal of the game, often from up close, and was very confident that I could drive magnificently. I had certainly mimed it often enough. I knew that I could maintain perfect relaxation and balance, my head would not lift and I would follow through to find myself in the classic position we all know so well. Ah, then, and only then would my head would lift. In time to see my ball soaring down the fairway.
When I was very young the opportunity to demonstrate arose. My friend Ross Leabeater lived in the house next door, which was almost as big as our block of flats. His father was a chartered accountant. Mine drove a mobile crane immediately after the war. Contrary to legend Maroubra was not uniformly working class nor lower middle but wonderfully diverse, down to the gypsies who lived periodically in caravans down at the beach and the aborigines who lived in a shack made of kerosene tins and sheets of galvanised iron over the giant sand hill. Not all got on so well as did my father and Len Leabeater.
One day Ross told us that Mr Leabeater was away on a business trip but this time he had left his golf clubs at home. We were a gang of five on the street where Bob Carr lives now. The surf was right down below us and swamps and cliffs and whining bullets on the rifle range filled our lives with danger, intrigue and fantasy. Today there was something new and highly diverting right here on our street.
Out came the clubs, taken immediately by the wrong person who hacked away alarmingly on the bitumen, so I impatiently took them from him and selected the wood, the driver! I placed the ball in the middle of the street. Huge confidence followed my every move. My ability to relax almost to the point of falling asleep was a peculiar one. When, decades later, I had the opportunity to actually fire a .303 army rifle, rather that have its ricochets rip big holes in the air beside me, I lay down, practically dozed, and shot so well that two rifle clubs asked me to join. Actually I was writing a story for the National Times about a 16 year old girl who had finished high among the state’s shooters, when her parents asked me to accompany them to the very place where I had dodged death as a boy.
The same improbable confidence accompanied me as I stepped up and addressed the ball on our street. I did not foozle. Nor did I waggle. My eye remained fixed on the ball and consequently my head did not lift until the ball was well away. Indeed my body swept through gracefully, my backward leg pivoting on the toe of my right foot and, whack! What can I say? I mean WHACK! Finally I looked up into the sky, which was overcast that day with an even cloud cover against which the rearing ball glared white. Perhaps it was a miracle that the wood had not crashed into the bitumen, but this possibility was remote in my estimation. In peripheral vision I could see everyone standing stock still and watching the majestic flight. How far would it go?
Not so far as I had imagined. Having reached its apogee the ball swung or veered inland, to the left, and headed straight to the Leabeater mansion. From up near the roof, just above the top windows it bounced back toward the flats. For a moment I could not see it but as there was no breaking glass I knew it had missed the top windows of the flats. And so it continued on a zig zag course between the windows to the ground. There was a long silence. Everyone remained stock still (both my father and Len Leabeater were formidable men) and then Ross came down and took the clubs inside. Within minutes we had thought of something else to do. What with Ross, the Hudson brothers and the remarkable Graham Nelson, there was quite a bit of brain power always concentrated on the task of finding something else to do.
In Japan I asked my ‘students’ to demonstrate the various golfing shots. ‘Mr Innoue, will you show me the putt?’ ‘Ah, yes.’ When it came to the drive I must have pronounced it poorly because there were puzzled looks, so I mimed a beautifully relaxed drive. ‘Ah,’ they sighed. ‘Are you pro?’ ‘Professional? Oh no,’ I said with what must have sounded like false modesty. One of my friends whispered, ‘Ah, golf pro’.
Okay, at this point I am inventing – something I am no good at, which is why I only write about of real experience. Sorry, it won’t happen again.