My father turned 70 earlier this year and, in keeping with a longstanding tradition of familial ‘burban’ (combo of bush and urban) poetry, I penned a little tribute:

‘The Net’.

It centres on the legendary cricket net Dad built for his eldest boy (that would be me) in our suburban Brisbane backyard.  It still stands today, some thirty years after the concrete slab was first poured.  Last year, during my little family’s return to Australia for the Kindling book tour, a small ‘inukshuk’ was erected beside the net to honour our Canadian links and watch over the Old Faithful.

Read it and raise a glass: To fathers, fantasies and fields of dreams!

The Net

We all sat around sharing a few beers
The Canucks and one lone Aussie lad
And a question was raised that pricked up our ears
What comes to mind when you think of your Dad?

As the answers poured forth, I must confess
There were too many memories of fun;
Coolum Beach, the Pope and shared Maroon stress
How could it be narrowed to just one?

Cryptic clues hinting treasure of a BMX bike,
Gaythorne’s last train docking bay;
There was the ‘Sheriff of Richmond’ patrolling the dike
And the ‘Blowfly’s wobbly jaunt the next day

Then one gem burned bright like a hinterland fire,
An epic surely penned by the Bard;
A bastion of dreams, a fort of desire:
The cricket net Dad built in our yard

“A grey concrete slab,” I informed the gents
“Four metres in length, maybe five,
“Surrounded all sides by a tall cyclone fence
“That nabbed every sweet cover drive.”

“Now, there’s a thousand of these in every Oz town
“Nets as far as an eye could see;
“But this was unlike any you might be shown:
“Three things made it special to me.”

“The first was the brick wall backstopping the bat,
“Like a ‘keeper unmoved in his stead;
“If you played and you missed, you better lay flat
“Lest the pill cuff the back of your head!”

“Second – the tree root in front of the slab,
“Lurking like a bunyip beneath;
“If the ball hit that? Well, close up your gab
‘Cause the prize is a few less teeth!”

“The random root and the wilful wall:
“They made sure you stayed on your toes
“At times, it didn’t look like cricket at all
“Ducking and weaving like Lionel Rose.”

The Canuck boys laughed (though they had not a clue
About any of the things they’d heard);
Then one piped up: “Hey, you’re not through…
“Three special things…What is the third?”

The mention of this quivered my chin
The lump in my throat made me hoarse
“It’s a ‘who’, not a ‘what,” I said, voice giving in
“Number three is my father, of course.”

“He strained and he slaved building that net;
“His sweat: grist for the job done
“He did it with no thought of gain, you can bet –
It was a selfless gift to his son.”

“But he didn’t just toil then leave it in place:
“He stuck around so I could play;
“He became Thommo slinging with fearsome pace
“And ‘Dutchy’ Holland with his leggies away.”

“He’d stand on his mark, cradling a seam
“That was older than Bodyline hate;
“He’d shine up one side on his make-believe creams
“Then bowl till the hour was late.”

“And, every so often I’d sense what he’d seen:
“A bold vision, a fanciful story;
“His eldest resplendent in famed baggy green,
“The product of backyard net glory.”

“Ah, but sadly, my skills fell short of elite –
“Dad never saw his boy play a Test;
“He died a little the day I admitted defeat
“And laid the game of cricket to rest.”

“If he mourned thereafter, I never knew –
“He was much too kind to lay bare,
“From practice pitch ashes, a writer grew
“With new dreams a father could share.”

“And the net stood quiet as child became man –
“A legacy lost in repose;
“But though wearied and worn, it continues to stand…
“There’s a lesson in that, I suppose.”

Silence reigned for a minute or so
As the lads mulled questions to ask
There was mist in their eyes – and this much I know
Each one had a ‘net’ in his past.

And then I raised a toast, spoke for us all:
“To the greatest gift I ever had:
“A net filled with wonder, never to fall
“From the hand of my hero: my Dad.”