No State of Origin for Broncos halfback Ben Hunt, who returns from injury for the NZ Warriors game on Saturday (Benji Marshall in the wings) Photo courtesy

Dear readers, it’s time for those of you who don’t like rugby league or sport in general to get back to posting cat and dog photos on Facebook. Today we ask the unthinkable: why not scrap this faux State rivalry  called State of Origin and let footie players get back to their own teams?

Each year at this time, professional rugby league players face a massive conflict. If you’re good enough, fit enough and have that perceived ‘spark’ you’ll get picked for State Of Origin.

Kick-off for the first of three State of Origin games is this Wednesday evening. It’s Queensland vs New South Wales, although not really. You can be born and bred in Cunnamulla, but if your first senior game was played in Dubbo, then by default you become a NSW representative – a “Cockroach”. Likewise for the Queensland team. If you played your first senior footie for Brothers in Brisbane, you’re a Cane Toad.

But as Brisbane Broncos Chairman Dennis Watt says, “It’s always part of every player’s dream to play for their State and play for their country. If they get picked, nobody says no.”

Mr Watt says the State of Origin period (May 31-July 12) is a difficult management issue for the Brisbane Broncos, who have six senior players in the Queensland team for State of Origin I.

“It’s a big impost on the club but also an opportunity for younger players coming through.

“The fear is that top players will be injured. Traditionally we (Broncos) have not done well through the Origin period, with the exception of 2015.

“My other fear is that the junior players will eat too much at the buffet,” he quipped.

A touring group of 45 players, coaches and support staff left Brisbane this week, flying to Auckland for the match against the New Zealand Warriors. The group included 20 players from the Broncos under-20 team, who will also play on Saturday. All travel, accommodation and ancillary costs are covered by the NRL.

“The downside of State of Origin is that we are missing some of our best players,” he said. “We haven’t been playing great footy for 80 minutes (this year), but there’s a bit of grit about the team.”

Mr Watt, a former newspaper executive, says he is enjoying the challenge of helping Broncos chief executive Paul White oversee the construction of the Broncos’ new $27 million headquarters at Red Hill.

NRL.Com’s New Zealand correspondent Corey Rosser, previewing Saturday’s game at Mt Smart Stadium, seemed to be predicting a Broncos win. He reminded readers of the Warriors 30-14 loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons last week, while Brisbane scored six tries against the Wests Tigers to win 36-0.

Six Broncos players and Warriors veteran Jacob Lillyman will miss the Round 12 match in Auckland due to State of Origin commitments. The Broncos will be missing Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford, Josh McGuire, Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday. Also missing from the squad is hooker Andrew McCullough (injured).

Halfback Ben Hunt returns from injury, joining utility player Benji Marshall, who has had limited playing time for the Broncos in 2017. Newcomers or players who rarely get a run include Jai Arrow, Jonus Pearson, Jaydn Su’A, Travis Waddell and George Fai (making his first-grade debut). The Broncos named Tevita Pangai Junior, Jamayne Isaako and Joe Boyce as reserves.

We were at Lang Park stadium in Brisbane on May 13 for the ‘double-header’ rugby league event. We got there at 5.15 and the first game between The Gold Coast Titans and the Melbourne Storm had already started. The crowd, which later swelled to 44,127, was already vocal. There were conflicting cries of “Go Billy, Go” or “Hayne Train.” If you want a quiet Saturday night out, don’t do it to yourself.

It is interesting how a football stadium becomes a microcosm of the broader city. There were a few “pre-loaded” young blokes intent upon drinking themselves into a stupor, a few young women wearing heels and nightclub clothes instead of the ubiquitous Broncos fan jumpers. There were also happy family groups behind and in front of us, one woman willing to take our photo ‘in situ.’

“Don’t try posting that to Facebook from here, mate” she advised. “Everyone’s on it and it will take ages to upload.” She was right. The Titans made an unbelievable comeback and beat the Storm 38-36.

Then we were between matches. The Manly cheerleaders came on the field in tiny white shorts and halter tops and did a dance routine. Many people streamed out and thronged to the bar. There were queues for food, queues for the loos and those not otherwise engaged were checking their phones or checking out the tiny white shorts.

When I returned to my seat, the Little League game was in progress. These keen young kids play across a small section of the field at half-time. Even with the under-6 kids, you can spot the future stars. They are the ones who run straight and hard, tackle properly or who show footwork and pace. One particular young lad crossed the goal line four times. There are a few different age categories of mini league kids between 6 and 10. Hard to know which is which when there’s no commentary, just a seemingly muddled group of kids getting carved up by the three or four who know what’s going on.

“Go, son, go” came a shout from somewhere behind me, “Go! You beauty.” (as the kid scored between the plastic goal posts.

Then Manly (boo) and the Brisbane Broncos (yay) ran out for the main match. We were up and down like that Whack-A-Mole sideshow game. Every few minutes we were standing, flipping back our seats back while someone struggled their way to the other end of the row, carrying four dribbling beers in a plastic tray. This went on all night, even though drinks are expensive at Lang Park (sorry, Suncorp Stadium). She Who Listens to the Radio While Watching Footie shouted “Why don’t you sit down and stay sat.” I pointed out that as she had headphones in her ears, the remark may have been louder than she thought. “Good,” she mouthed.

Despite a dismal first half, when Manly piled on 14 unanswered points, one of the best coaches in the game (Wayne Bennett) must have said inspiring words at half-time. The Broncos came back from a 14-0 deficit to win the match 24-14.

As 44,127 people were being squeezed like toothpaste out of Suncorp Stadium’s various exits, I had that panicky feeling like when you’re about to go under anaesthetic but nobody has given you pethidine yet.

If you don’t like crowds and noise and can’t afford decent seats, you’re far better off watching rugby league on TV, or listen to the game on ABC Grandstand. You’ll get a better word picture of the game and even details often missed by Nine’s commentators like who replaced who from the bench (and why). And you’ll never hear discussions about whether players should wear their socks up or down.

Shut up, Gus!


Amsterdam dog doo sidewalk photo Laura K Gibb

So I’m walking the dog in unfamiliar territory – Brisbane bayside suburbs. I have my little black plastic dog doo bag tucked into the hip pocket of my jeans, as one should. But it seems many people in this particular suburb don’t give a shit about dog shit, if you’ll pardon my Flemish. If you’d taken a plastic supermarket bag and a trowel on this walk and could be bothered, you’d end up with a good five kilos of dog doo just from this one suburban street and a small park.

The words (above) on an Amsterdam sidewalk translate to ‘dog in the gutter,’ but the city’s tolerance has been stretched. Dog owners must now carry a plastic bag or a trowel and inspectors can issue a €50 fine. There was also a suggestion that owners be traced (and fined) through DNA tests on dog doo, according to the English language NL Times.

Some responsible Australian dog owners have somehow trained their pets to back their arses under a tree or shrub to do their number twos. If you don’t have a bag you can just throw a bit of mowed grass over it.

In one of the episodes of the Stan series Billions, Public Prosecutor Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), bullies and shames a guy into picking up after his dog. It’s a gratuitous and outlandish scene in a series known for gratuitousness and outlandishness.

My favourite line is (guy) “Why don’t you mind your business?” Chuck replies “This is my business.”

(Actually it’s the dog’s business, if you want to be pedantic).

If you are a dog owner, this YouTube video of the dog doo scene will hopefully remind you to ‘do the right thing’.

There are many other examples of TV writers (Family Guy) and others taking up the dog doo theme.

Songwriter Loudon Wainwright III works the dilemma into a song (Man and Dog from his 2014 album Ain’t Got the Blues (Yet).

Here’s the appropriate verse:

“When a man has to carry a plastic bag
on his person at all times
when a dog dumps on a side walk
walking away is a crime, living in the city…

(this will lift your mood, maybe)

Loudon sings about walking your dog as being a good way to meet a woman, although one would suggest that carrying a (full) plastic bag on your person would not be alluring.

Walking a dog in a strange neighbourhood means people don’t call out hello to the dog by name (even if they don’t know yours). Also, you don’t know which yard has a dog that will bark and snarl or if the gate is open or shut. Some people, on seeing a large dog with jaws approach, will pick up their little squealing ball of fluff, which, while seemingly prudent, is apparently not the best way to socialise animals.

On my walk last Saturday I did meet a woman who came out of her driveway to sook over the normally sooky dog but he was too intent upon, as my friend Mr Loophole calls it, “reading the P-mail”.

I told She Who Sometimes Scoffs I was thinking about writing a column with the dog as narrator, which she said had probably been done. She was right.

Here’s a reading list which is probably by no means exhaustive:

So after flirting with that idea: “Why do you want me to come? There are so many far more interesting things over here.” Or “Why do you want me to put my lipstick away? Call a spade a spade, you stupid human.”

So I decided on a different approach, and that was to use the failure of dog owners to clean up after their animals as a clumsy yet probably accurate political analogy.

Let’s use the current Queensland Labor government as an example. The party has been in a tenuous state of power since January 2015 and will contest an election sometime in the next 12 months.

In the interim, the government is supporting Indian company Adani’s controversial plan to develop a new coal mine near Alpha in western Queensland. This would require the building of a railway line to the Abbot Point coal terminal north of Bowen to export coal from the (expanded) port. This proposal has sparked a broad protest movement with former Greens leader Bob Brown weighing in.

“In 40 years’ time people will be talking about the campaign to stop Adani like they now talk about the Franklin (Dam). “Where were you and what did you do?” they will ask.

“This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake,” Brown wrote in the Guardian Weekly on March 24.

The Queensland Labor government wants this project to happen. Promised employment, it seems, is the government’s main reason for risking environmental damage to the Great Barrier Reef and incurring the wrath of many loyal Labor voters.

My point, if clumsily made, is that if and when the Queensland government is toppled, it will be a replaced by another regime. When protestors make their valid points about the risks of environmental damage, the next government can always say, “It’s not our mess”.

One could make the same case for offshore detention centres, the proposal to drug test welfare recipients or the cashless welfare debit card being trialled in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

The potential for the latter to become a big mess is that a cashless welfare card system could be extended to all welfare recipients, even pensioners. Now that’s not a mess I’d want to clean up.

Returning to the original rant, people should pick up their dog doos. If you forgot a plastic bag (and we have all done this), as Chuck Rhoades suggests, “pick it up with your hands”.

Paul Giamatti’s character says to the shamed guy as he’s walking away:

“Sir, still some over here.”

“That’s not (dog’s name), man!

“It is now,” says Chuck, while talking on his mobile about his nemesis, the crafty funds manager, Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis).

The scene ends with Chuck thanking the guy for doing his civic duty. “Feels good, doesn’t it.”

One could extend this analogy to the real estate development company which mistakenly sent an email to its entire database thanking recipients for supporting their Sunshine Coast development. Mine was addressed, ‘Dear Bob’ and thanked me for supporting Sekisui’s development application for Yaroomba Beach. At some point I must have signed a petition against the proposal so I was one of unknown numbers of people who got the email from the developer thanking them for supporting the project. We got an apologetic email from Sekisui about the same time we read the story in the Sunshine Coast Daily.

To me, the second email was like the guy who walks his dog without a plastic bag and has a citizen shame him into picking up dog doo with his hands.

It’s called doing the right thing.

Dentist Smile Photo courtesy of

So I’ve just been to the dentist for a clean and descale. It’s a must-do, twice-yearly chore.

As I walk back to the car I’m looking for suitably long grass to spit out the remains of the fluoride wash. As I near 70, I’m hearing dental horror stories from my peers. Most of these anecdotes involve four-figure quotes for implants, bridges or crowns. I still have most of my own teeth and a couple of implants that set me back $1,600.

Maybe 25 years ago, pain drove me to a dentist. Luckily, I picked a good one (out of the phone book). He packed the problem tooth with antibiotics, put in a temporary filling and booked me in for a proper filling in a week’s time. It was the start of a process, overcoming dental phobia and accepting an expensive course of dental remediation. Some thousands of dollars later, I was at a stage where I could safely book in for a six-monthly check-up.

I’m doing this on a regular basis now and it’s been a while since we had any issues. I did crack a filling once on a chunk of dark chocolate, but OMG, it was such a nice piece!

As we age, we are more prone to gum disease, our teeth more likely to crack or shatter, and more importantly, those large old fillings we had in our childhood start to fail. Some of our teeth may have been saved by root canal treatments, which permanently kill the nerve but preserve the tooth.

Put your teeth in the glass, Mr Wilson

My Dad’s generation had a quick but not entirely painless solution to teeth and gum problems – they had all their teeth extracted. After going around gummy for a number of months they were fitted with dentures.

I was reading Annie Proulx’s novel, Barkskins, which charts the history of two families of wood cutters, carving out a life in New France – 16th century Quebec. There are many things that could catch your attention in this 700-page, richly imagined generational epic, but this one stood out. Proulx’ character Charles Duquet suffers from gum disease and has had his teeth extracted. A vain man, he seeks out a denture-maker. Duquet’s new teeth are made from ivory. The French denture-maker explains that the teeth are ‘only for display, not for chewing’ and that he should take them out when eating. Also, they will turn yellow with exposure to sunlight, so perhaps Monsieur would like to order a spare set?

I figure the author of The Shipping News and other fine novels would be a peerless researcher, so I checked out the history of dentures. Then as now, dentures are a luxury poor people can rarely afford.

A full set of dentures in 2017 can cost from $2,000 to $2,500. Factor in about $150-$200 per extraction and it’s no cheap exercise. However, as those who replace amalgam fillings with porcelain or opt for caps and crowns can testify, dentures are a relative bargain.

The ever-informative Wikipedia (now banned in Turkey), tells us that dentures were available as early as the 7th century (usually partial plates made with human or animal teeth and held together with gold bands). The Japanese invited full wooden dentures in the early 16th century (and continued using them until the 19th century).

US President George Washington’s dentures were made with ivory from hippos and elephants as well as gold, rivets, spiral springs and even real human teeth.

As recently as the Victorian era, young men and women were offered dentures as a 21st birthday present.

Manifold improvements in dental care have seen demand for dentures dwindle over the centuries.

A 2009 survey in the UK found that only 6% of adults had no natural teeth, a big improvement on a 1978 survey when 37% were entirely edentulous.

An Australian government report (2013) said that 19% of adults aged 65 and over had no natural teeth.

Our generation at least went through childhood with regular dental care. In New Zealand where I grew up, every school had a dental clinic, staffed (usually) by one qualified dentist and a team of dental nurses.

The nurses did the inspections and de-scaling and also filled cavities under the watchful eye of the in-house dentist. As a result of a life-long craving for sweets and chocolate, a lack of fluoride (a subject for another time), and less than rigorous brushing, my mouth is full of mercury amalgam fillings.

Other things can do your teeth in, including facial injuries from traffic accidents, assaults, playing sports and other mishaps.

One of the biggest impediments to maintaining a healthy set of teeth is dental phobia. Almost half of UK adults surveyed for National Smile Month in 2009 said they feared going to the dentist and 12% of them suffered from extreme dental anxiety.

This Monday marks the start of the 40th National Smile Month in the UK, a dental health awareness campaign. Australia has a national dental care week in August, at which time we’d hope to have more recent data than 2013. Here some current UK figures.

  • One in four adults don’t brush twice a day, including a third of men;
  • One in ten admit they regularly forget to brush their teeth;
  • 42% use only a toothbrush and toothpaste for their oral care;
  • Less than a quarter of adults use dental floss regularly;
  • One in three have never flossed their teeth;
  • The UK spends £5.8 billion a year on dental treatments;
  • Half of adults visit their dentist every 6 months;
  • 25% have not visited a dentist in the past two years;
  • Around 2% of the UK population (about one million) have never visited a dentist.

An Australian report says that uninsured adults are more likely to have experienced toothache (20%) than insured adults (12%). I was too cheap to pay $17 for the whole report (with 2013 data), so I’m quoting the media release from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report shows that of those who were eligible for public dental care in 2013, just over 20% experienced toothache, compared with almost 15% of adults who were not eligible. Only about half of Australians have some form of private dental insurance.

Expenditure on dental services (except those in hospitals) in Australia was $8.706 billion in 2012-13.

“The largest source of funds for this expenditure was individuals, paying directly out of pocket for 58% of total dental costs,” AIHW spokesman Dr Adrian Webster said.

Today’s children, flossing daily, their often near-perfect teeth the product of fluoride and orthodontics, are a reminder to the rest of us to make do with what we’ve got.

In my case, that means living with an undershot jaw; a genetic condition exacerbated by a face-plant motorcycle accident 40+ years ago. For a visual cue think dog breeds – Pekinese, Shih Tzus, Bulldogs (or Albert Steptoe).

When my current dentist first looked inside my mouth and asked me to bite he said something like “Holy Cow.” I know what he meant to say.

Last week’s FOMM − a reader wrote to say Dexy’s Midnight Runners may have been a one-hit wonder in Australia with Come on Eileen, but they also had another number one hit, Geno, in the UK.



Songwriter Kath Tait sings her hit song Bastard!

All songwriters and bands that have a hit song wear it like an anchor, a money-making and/or crowd-pleasing obligation. That is, you are required to sing it at each and every performance. Forever.

This applies universally, whether you are Barnsey, U2, Coldplay, Paul Kelly, Adele or a one-hit wonder band (in Australia) like Dexy’s Midnight Runners (who had two number one hit songs in the UK).

And what about those long hit songs, like Hotel California? Can you imagine how it must be for Don McLean singing his hit song American Pie, or Arlo Guthrie persevering through another rendition of Alice’s Restaurant thousands of times? On my experience, most famous musicians are more than happy to trot out the old faithfuls.

Some stick to the ‘sounds like the record’ version while others re-invent their hit song or develop ‘acoustic’ versions.

Even your relatively anonymous folksinger will be known by fans (however few in number), for one good and/or catchy tune.

A friend sent me a YouTube video of songwriter Al Stewart (hit song – Year of the Cat), performing at the 2017 UK folk awards. My friend knew I had all of the old vinyl records and the boxed CD sets.

It amazed me to watch this 71-year-old chap, who started off in London in the 1960s wearing an Afghan coat and flatting with Paul Simon, working his way through On the Border. After the 35-second guitar intro, surprise, the voice is just as it always was, taking me all the way back to 1969 and his debut album, Bedsitter Images.

People who have known me a long time sometimes call out for a song I wrote but rarely sing, a late 1970s anti-war song with a corny chorus – “Armageddon, Armageddon, Armageddon out of here”.

I won a May Day songwriting competition with that one in 1979 but have rarely sung it since. We moved towns, moved on, the Russians left Afghanistan and the references became dated. I’m now being urged to add an updated verse with the words Trump and Dump. But as songwriters know, it is hard to recapture the moment and make it relevant almost 40 years later.

Then in 1998, I wrote Courting the Net, a sardonic love ballad about a woman whose husband has been cheating on the Internet. Sometimes She Who Sings the Girl Bits will say, “Haven’t we done that one to death yet?”  I usually say there are sure to be people in the audience who don’t know the song, so let’s do it anyway.

I recall going to hear Peggy Seeger a long time ago. Peggy, half-sister to Pete, wrote a feminist hit song in 1970, “I’m Gonna be an Engineer”. People at the gig started calling out for the song when it appeared she was getting to the end of her set and might not sing it at all. As I recall, she ended the set with this song, which has multiple points to make about gender inequality and sexual harassment.

“Well, I started as a typist but I studied on the sly
Working out the day and night so I could qualify
And every time the boss came in, he pinched me on the thigh
Said, “I’ve never had an engineer!”

The song was on the 1979 album Songs of History and Politics. The Youtube video with guitar played by her husband, the late Ewan MacColl, has had 40,409 views.

Peggy, now 81, has recorded more than 60 albums, either solo, with Ewan MacColl, her brother Mike, the Seeger family or singers like Frankie Armstrong. I had the good fortune to share dinner with Peggy and a few mutual friends at Woodford’s Spaghetti Junction when she was on her retirement tour a few years back. We sang her our favourite original song and felt quietly chuffed that it got the Seeger seal of approval.

While 40,000+ views is pretty damn good for a 47-year-old, 759-word, 4.33 minute feminist folk song, it is a trifle compared to Adele.

Her song Hello has had an astonishing 1.925 billion views on YouTube. A friend who knows more about these things than I do explains that this does not mean that 25% of the world’s population are Adele fans. It means that a vast number of fans, ranging from hard-core wannabes to occasional listeners and YouTube browsers have tuned in to this video, over and over.

Remember Adele? Her recent shows in Brisbane were the reasons why the women’s AFL had to be transferred to the Gold Coast and other big sports events shuffled around to other venues. The upside was you could ride trains for free on the day.

It’s hard to beat a great voice, great songs, longevity and massive marketing. Adele packed out Brisbane’s Gabba Cricket Ground over two successive nights, but the weather and 120,000 people attending over two days left the ground unsuitable for imminent sporting events.

Confession time: until Tapestry choir director Kim Kirkman handed out sheet music to Set Fire to the Rain I did not know Adele’s music, though people told me she sang the theme song for the James Bond movie Skyfall. It’s in the style of Thunderball (without Tom Jones’s head-splitting and sharp final note).

I’m being told by people under 40 that no-one in their social set is buying CDs anymore. They listen to and watch YouTube videos or subscribe to a streaming service like Spotify or Deezer. Just how anyone makes a living from being listened to in this way is not hard to figure out. The better you are as a live act and the more you tour, the more people will turn out to hear the music they already know. This is probably why Adele outsold the Guns n’ Roses tour, attracting 600,000 Australians to her concerts. Adele, who has mainstream, cross-generational appeal, is a graduate of the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology. She wrote Set Fire to the Rain in 2011. It has been viewed 376 million times (so far) on YouTube.

Jetse Bremer’s acapella arrangement of Set Fire to the Rain, written by Adele, with lyrics by her producer, Fraser T Smith, has been added to Tapestry’s expanding repertoire, with an airing scheduled at Lift Gallery on Sunday afternoon 4th June.

Meanwhile back in our little village, last night we sang Kath Tait’s song Strangers and Foreigners (2,712 views on YouTube) at an IDAHO community function at the local RSL. IDAHO is the International Day Against Homophobia, so Kath’s song about small town prejudice and the need for tolerance was quite on point. Some of Kath’s songs are about being different in places where differences make you a social outcast. Listen to the song here.

If you really like it, consider ordering a copy of her CD, Bastard! It’s a classic. She’s also the only person I know who can sing and play concertina and harmonica at the same time.

Last week: The sharp-eyed will have noticed I spelt Labor Day incorrectly. (And the usually sharp-eyed proof reader didn’t pick it up! Ed.). A reader sent me some information about Labour Day in Melbourne this Sunday (May 7th). There’s a march starting at Trades Hall at 1pm. You’d hope all those Fairfax journos who are striking for a week about the axing of 125 journalists’ jobs would show up.