Burnie, Tasmania 1979
There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad
Riders On The Storm, The Doors
I don’t buy into the idea of ‘the good old days’. “Oh we didn’t have to lock our doors in the the good old days”. I still don’t lock doors. Those days were more about Auntie Lil, who wasn’t really your auntie looking after you for the afternoon and Uncle Derek, just being hospitable, letting the kids have a go with the air rifle. Children burnt by fireworks every year and dying from head injuries after coming off bikes.
But I was just a kid myself and mostly didn’t know what was going on. Not a joiner of Scouts, or a school boarder or from a broken home, so I was at reduced risk of being preyed upon. The magnitude of what Australian adults have done to Australian children over the decades of ‘the good old days’ has come to light in my lifetime, and it’s changed how we think about that relationship, for ever.
But I did read The Bulletin, and watched the ABC News along with my dad – that was a 7 o’clock fixture and we were not allowed to talk over it. I knew about the nefarious Painters and Dockers Union, and Putty Nose Nicholls ending up dead on the highway on his way to Melbourne to testify. I remember the Truro murders and the feeling that life was cheap, (particularly in South Australia for some reason). A girl my age who lived just down the hill but went to a different primary school was abducted on her way home, and murdered. There’s a killer on the road Jim? Ya don’t say.
I listened to Burnie’s own 7BU exclusively as a kid. My primary school was a slab of tarmac in the very middle of Burnie, and 7BU was across the road. We crossed at the traffic lights to nearby shops to get lunch and lollies at recess. But we also wandered further afield; some naughty older kids went as far as the notorious Zodiac Milk Bar. I went to Beaurepaires Tyres to get Sumitomo and Mitsui stickers, and also into the front office at 7BU to get printed copies of the week’s Top 40.
Riders On The Storm was the only Doors song 7BU ever played. My mental image of the singer was someone like the Marlboro Man crossed with the God of the Old Testament. All-seeing, all-knowing, powerful but not necessarily prepared to intervene. An electrical storm rumbles in the distance under the music… or is it the sound of the surf?
Down at the beach was another good place to get into trouble. I knew all about the disappearance of the Beaumont children too. When I was six the man who is still Tasmania’s longest serving prisoner, James Ryan O’Neill, abducted an eight year old boy named Ricky, who was later found dead. Past acquaintances remember O’Neill claiming to have taken the Beaumonts.
If you give this man a ride,
sweet family will die
Riders on the Storm was probably the start of my lifelong love of the electric piano. On the seven-minute album version Ray Manzarek has a lot of room to move. He settles into a boogie I have seen described as “choogling” – that for me is the epitome of road music. If he kept it up for another 113 minutes it would get me quite happily from Hobart to Launceston. But I wouldn’t be picking up any lonesome drifters on the way.