Sydney, 1961. Burnie 1976.
She kneels down with a balled up tissue in her hand
Spits in it, wipes my chin
I smell lipstick and tobacco
Catch my leg in the spokes of her wheel
Sydney, New Years Eve of 1961. Dad was a Tasmanian state school teacher doing a swing up the east coast with a couple of mates. Mum was a Catholic bank clerk working in Martin Place. After their first encounter, Dad sent Mum a postcard “from a pubbo in Dubbo”.
Occasionally the school organised excursions to Sydney, and Dad would volunteer. Mum remembers going to the pictures with Dad and dozens of his rubbernecking students. Later she came to Tasmania on holiday with a girlfriend, drove around seeing the sights in a Morris Minor, and met Dad’s parents.
For a time Mum had just one picture of Dad that he had sent her; his footy team photo, done in the old single-file style. He was a ruck rover for South Burnie. She’d tell everyone “He’s the one with the bandaged hand”.
They courted mostly by post, and in 1965 were married at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Dad was C of E, but they were allowed to marry in a Catholic church as long as Dad agreed that the kids would be brought up as Catholics. My parents look like movie stars in their wedding photo. Their eyes sparkle and they look so happy and excited.
I was the middle of three, and we were state school kids. Mum shepherded us along to Star Of The Sea in Burnie until we all reached confirmation, then let us make our own choice about whether to continue. By the mid-1980s, we’d each voted with our feet, and then Mum also stopped attending weekly.
Phillip carries me home from church on his shoulders
I fall asleep listening to him breathe
That’s the way it’s gonna be, that’s the way it’s gonna be,
That’s the way it’s gonna be.
I remember Sundays in the cold redbrick church, around 1976 or so: especially the smell of Mum’s leather gloves and lipstick. During readings and sermons I would run imaginary horse races between the red, blue and green ribbons in my missal. Blue and Red were frontrunners but Green would always come from the clouds with the rails run while the commentator (myself) silently went berserk. This was me, Mum, Jacki and Sally. Dad was across town at St George’s. We would get cream buns and the Sydney Sun Herald on the drive home and have lunch reunited with Dad, then watch The Winners.
I was born in a town that hugged the side of a mountain for dear life
Everybody my brothers and sisters we flew
As quickly as we thought we could
That’s the way it’s gonna be.…
At 17 I packed up and moved to Hobart for art school. Simultaneously Jacki married and moved out, and two years later Sally joined me in Hobart, where she took to art school in a much more serious way than I.
Then in 1994 my future best man played me Night of the Wolverine by Dave Graney with The Coral Snakes, and it clicked for me. I went out and bought a copy and it has rarely left my side since.
I had a happy untroubled childhood and I don’t think about my church days much. That’s The Way Its Gonna Be said to me that the afterlife might be a place free of responsibilities and worries. An eternal feeling of being carried home for a peaceful Sunday afternoon. I have no idea if that’s what Dave meant, but that’s what I take from it.
Graney speaks as a lot of different characters in his songwriting, but I have always felt that this song reveals the real Dave. He grew up in a Catholic family in Mt Gambier. He has written and spoken about some wild times growing up, but at the same time I think he had uncles and aunts in holy orders. Thanks to the glorious age we live in, I have had occasional correspondence with him; he has shown no interest in my sentimental theory about this song. Dave Graney is not a sentimental writer, and after luring you in with shared remembrance, his song continues;
You’re the sort of person who used to be called a square
Before you all decided it was so unfair.
Then, the song tails off with the repeated refrain everybody drank – and that’s also the way it’s gonna be.