Many years ago—back in the nineties—my agent rang me to say that a multimillionaire was throwing himself a birthday party and wanted me to perform at it. The party was to be held over a weekend on his private island and I was to be flown there in a private plane. It all sounded very intriguing and the fee was enormous. Apparently whoever it was had seen me on my ABC show and liked it; the only problem though was that I couldn’t find out who the multimillionaire was until I agreed to do the gig and signed a confidentiality agreement. My agent wasn’t being coy; she was dealing with an intermediary and that was the deal. Visions of being hunted for sport by the BRW Rich List or a Dr Moreau type turning me into some sort of animal flashed through my head and so I turned the offer down. The truth was I didn’t have a stand-up act anyway and found the whole idea of performing in what was effectively someone’s lounge room a bit demeaning. Still, I always wondered who this mystery fan was.
A few years later, I was back in my hometown of Adelaide. We had the Formula One Grand Prix back then and, even though I wasn’t over there for that, it was a bit hard to avoid. I found myself at the Hilton Hotel attending a party in a suite of rooms on the top floor. Racing car drivers, supermodels and world-famous celebrities were supposed to be there but from my position, up against the wall near a coat rack, the only people there were barely recognisable local TV personalities like me, looking over each other’s shoulders for the actual famous people who were supposed to be there. My wife told me she’d walked into a bedroom to get rid of her coat and seen Michael Hutchence and Elle MacPherson but that was about it. As the bed was otherwise occupied (by other people too, it must be said, just sitting and talking), she instead hung her coat on the rack next to me. While she was off getting us drinks, a drunk man on the couch on the other side of the rack pointed at the green denim jacket next to my wife’s coat and said: ‘See that? That’s George Harrison’s. I saw him put it there. He’s here with Ronnie Wood.’
I was—and still am—a big Beatles fan and I figured if I stood by the hat rack long enough, I would get to meet George as he retrieved his jacket—or, at worst, Ronnie Wood. As it turned out, I only got to meet a woman claiming to be George’s Australian publicist (he had already gone and she’d been sent back to collect his things; he’d also apparently left his hat on the fridge but she couldn’t find it). It seemed unlikely that George would have a publicist, let alone an Australian one, so perhaps she was just someone stealing his jacket but she recognised me and introduced herself. I told her I was a big fan of George’s and would have loved to meet him. She said that I could have a few years back when he tried to book me for a party he was throwing. I wished I had been turned into a mule on that island, so that I could have kicked myself as much as I deserved. In my wildest fantasies about who my multimillionaire fan might have been, I’d only got as far as Dick Smith.
Even more years later, I was holidaying with my family on Hamilton Island. I found myself one morning walking along Catseye Beach when I passed a large house that looked out over the reef. It had big front doors with an Om Shanti symbol featured prominently above them. This was a few years after George had passed away but I swore I saw George walking towards the house along the sand. He nodded a neighbourly smile as he passed by. It was his son, Dahni. I resisted the urge to bore him with my story. The place was called LetsBeAvenue.
I played cricket with Don Bradman
I see that Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ cap has sold for £175,375 and while I’m no cricket fan, it has made me want go through the boxes in our cupboard where there should be, somewhere, a slightly blurred photograph I took of the Don back in 1981 standing next to a bin. He’s not smiling and it’s badly framed because my friends and I had just been to an afternoon Law School function but it’s a one-off and surely some collector in India would pay handsomely for it.
We had enjoyed a pleasant day toasting the last of our exams and eating sausages and one of us was taking the rest of us home. One of our number lived in one of the nicer Adelaide suburbs of Kensington Park. ‘Hey, Don Bradman lives there!’ he yelled as we drove past a big red-brick place. Perhaps it was the wine, but we thought it was a good idea to reverse the car up the road and onto the footpath and pay the Don a visit. An old woman was watering the garden.
‘Hey, Lady Bradman!’ we yelled out of the window at her until she could ignore us no longer. ‘Can Don come out and play?’
At first, Lady Bradman claimed that we had the wrong house but eventually, won over by our charm and insistence (and my friend leaning on the horn), went inside, presumably to fetch Sir Donald. This took some time as it was a double-storey house and I guess she had to go upstairs looking for him. We had considered climbing over the gates so we could squirt each other with the hose while we waited but this proved difficult as the gates were quite high and none of us could make it more than halfway up because we were all still slippery from when we’d fallen into the Law School pond earlier. Eventually a man who looked nothing like the young black and white Sir Don I remembered came down the gravel drive to meet us. He had his hands in his pockets and looked a bit grim but still had the keen eye that had made him such a great batsman; recognising my friend from when he was a little boy and used to collect the paper money.
‘So, what can I do for you fellas?’ he asked in that familiar squeaky, helium voice of his.
As I was covered in the least amount of pond scum and wasn’t giggling as much, I spoke for the group and asked whether he’d like to play a bit of street cricket with us. Don wasn’t keen on this idea, explaining that it was getting late and that his wife (Lady Bradman) had the tea to get ready. We wouldn’t hear of it (particularly with my friend leaning on the horn again) and finally he relented, agreeing to one over only if we did it on the footpath, he could bowl and that the over was limited to one ball. He trudged off inside to get a bat and we found a tennis ball in the boot. It was bin night, so I moved the plastic one near the gate down to the other end of the fence as a wicket while my friends again tried to climb into the Bradmans’ front yard (even though the gate was open now).
Don appeared with an old, scuffed bat. I don’t know enough about cricket to know whether it was a famous Bodyline one but it probably wasn’t as it was yellow and made of plastic. We took our positions and my friends stood about on the road in a vague semi-circle, ready to catch me out. As I faced the Don, it occurred to me that he was very old now and probably not a great bowler anyway. ‘If I get it over the fence,’ I said, pointing to it alongside me, ‘it’s a six.’
‘Yeah, okay,’ he said impatiently, already shuffling into his run.
The heat, the pond scum, the alcohol, the undercooked sausages and the ensuing 30 or so years have conspired to rob me of an accurate blow-by-blow memory of the following moment. Suffice it to say that the Don rolled his arm over and I stepped forward with a neat block shot. There was some desultory applause from my friends and Lady Bradman appeared on the verandah to tell her husband his chops were ready.
I shook hands with Don and asked him whether I could keep the bat as a memento. He refused (it was his grandkid’s, he claimed). I asked if he would at least sign the tennis ball. Again he refused (no excuse given). He did, however, agree to have his picture taken with a disposable camera one of us had. Well, not so much ‘agree’ as ‘not object’ while he was moving his bin back.
I wish I could find that photo. It would fetch a pretty penny today. Even the unsigned tennis ball would probably be worth something. Let’s face it, in these hero-impoverished times people pay money for any old rubbish. We should have stolen his bin.
Shaun Micallef is a TV writer and performer who works mainly for the ABC but sometimes earns his living in the real world as a rogue, vagabond and poltroon.