I’d only experienced once before that bewildering package of emotions when I heard the news in 1996 that the AFL has ratified a request to merge from Melbourne and my Hawthorn. Shock, fear, helplessness, despair. Like your heart was on track to be ripped out. All the foundations to your supporterhood until that time were to be abandoned like a discontinued branch line to the far corners of your last stop memory. That other time had been when I’d dropped a penny bunger into the bee hive on the family farm way back at the start of the 70’s – that golden dawn at Glenferrie.
My getaway was framed by a barb wire fence that I’d need to negotiate once the fuse was lit. Beyond lay the freedom of a wide open paddock which I’d negotiate at speed to the shelter of the chook shed where I’d wait out the impending swarm storm. At this stage of my childhood I was obsessed with “beating the Nazi’s” and the ready availability of fireworks extended my wartime celluloid fantasy into real life. The bee hive in reality that the German base that as a special forces soldier I’d infiltrated ready to enact maximum damage.
I had history here – I’d lobbed “tom thumbs” – clusters of small fireworks connected by a gunpowder fuse that blew in sequence – into the back of a passing neighbour’s pig filled truck that I’d recast as a “troop truck”. The passing freight train, possibly laden with looted European artefacts and gold reserves destined for the war machine had taken a hit in the guard’s van. My own Uncle Keith had suffered horrific burns from the “Guy” that sat atop our schools annual bonfire which we’d stuffed chock o block with bungers, catherine wheels, sky rockets etc. No one in Leongatha East can erase the memory of that one sky rocket liberated from a tilting Guy as the bonfire blazed below trapped in flight under Keith’s shirt as it sought to escape and deploy it’s payload. How the Education Department hushed that one remains testament to loyalty to internal machination.
“Wack job” kids at school were recast as important Nazi military officer’s whose assassination was critical in the progression of the “war”. Under cover 10 minutes prior to lunch armed with penny bungers, sticky tape and a half shoe lace to serve as a time delay, I afix the device then retreat to watch the action. Like clockwork the officer’s arrive, sit down and commence their negotiations over a vegemite and cheese sandwich. Suddenly as the smoulder of the shoe lace met the gun powder fuse generating that tell tale hiss that informed the officers to their fate. A feeble attempt to flee is halted in a maelström of smoke, white crusts and home made banana custard. Another small step forward for the resistance.
By now you can see with the benefit of my experience that my plan for the bees was perfect. Yet I hadn’t – in my mind rehearsed exit from the hive – factored in that one barb that snagged my jumper on the fence. Fire in the Hole!!! Now in fear, my frantic efforts undermined untanglement. I became hip to the jive of unrest in the hive as they tuned into that tell tale hiss of the slow burning fuse.
Now in despair I’m just about free when the hot blast of gun powder mixed with honey and bee sweat hit’s me like a pollened flower followed closely by the sonic shock wave of the explosion. The blast clears me free of the barb wire. As I instinctively hit the dirt, the bee’s are out looking for perpetrators. Collectively they’re a tad pissed off communicating to me in the words of blues guitarist Albert King “if you hear a little buzz it aint nothin but us”. The first sting hits my earlobe. 12 o’clock high I got bandits coming in low. A rear guard action begins manoeuvres at the back of my legs. Gunfire in surround sound. I’ve got no air support. It’s gonna be a turkey shoot.
All this before I’ve even got to my feet. Fortunately for me the majority of the swarm spot a calf joyously frolicking with its tail up kicking its heels and running with the kind of abandon only a baby animal can bring. Rather expressing the joy of existence, the calf’s flight is triggered by the explosion from the hive raid. The bees latch onto it’s fear, baulking from me and is now calf bound. I get to my feet and run fending off the shrapnel and sniper fire of the renegade behind the lines crew. I struggle to outrun the persistence of their mop up but finally make it back to base for the midnight flight outta that hell hole back into the loungeroom on time for the start of “Hogan’s Heroes”. For years as I nurse the welts from the crossfire back to pristine dermis, I can’t get the screams of that calf out of my head.
The whole Mick as “soldier/gun for hire”gig was up of course when I was months later gifted an air rifle. By this time my media landscape included the JFK assassination. A neighbour’s shiny new yellow Renault became the motorcade. The predictably of his journey’s to and from work put in train the conspiracy.
His vision of me firing at him from the grassy knoll of the 6th floor of the cypress tree book depository became the Zapruder footage that convicted me in the eyes of the American people – along with my father and my neighbour and the gun was gone for good.
I wrote through tears and shame the letter of apology that went beyond the reach of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Like bees round your orchard, I’d gorged free at the buffet of the “all you can eat” Hawk successes of the 1970’s and 80’s. I became, and remain a member that year, purely so I could vote down that merger proposition via proxy when the proposition was finally put to members. The game that preceded this vote is the subject of my next post.