A FREQUENT guest at the Billabong, a lady who would incline somewhat to the left if she cared enough to orient herself, observed the other day that the Professor is “basically a grumpy old fart.” She was making breakfast at the time and had the good grace to look up from the frying pan and flash an indulgent smile, so there was no perception of malice in the comment. Indeed, given that her host was picking through the Phage and Silly at the time, harrumphing with disgust and disbelief at the distorted prism through which those websites’ prefer to view the news of the day, she probably had a point. Our PM is a filthy liar! Hmmm. They care more about cows than pensioners! Urrgh. Gillard is looking like an escapee from Madame Tussauds! Erk. Bob Brown will do to the economy what he did to Jimi Hendrix! Sheesh. There are few things that are not taking turns for the worse, it’s true, but it must be tiresome to hear that fact noted every 15 seconds or so.
And yet, how can one remain silent when the forces of what is laughably called progress persist in wrecking everything – even something so apparently innocuous as Yarra Bend Golf Course, where the Professor played for the first time in a decade on Wednesday? For those not interested in the Scottish torment, a golf course is a golf course is a golf course. Such ignorance! With its hard and fast rules, against which there is no appeal, golf is a game of absolutes. You move the ball, you add a stroke. No wiggle room there whatsoever. Fortunately the sport’s guardians have never been infiltrated by social engineers, so that principle is unlikely to change.
As to Yarra Bend, however, it is too late to save that particular venue from the meddling of nannies, greens and municipal planners, who simply will not leave well enough alone.
Start with the bats or, more correctly, the grey-headed flying foxes infesting what used to be the third hole. Back in the Seventies, the picturesque par-3 beside the Yarra was known as Bellbird Corner, and it was a delight. You teed off across a small, steep valley to an elevated green, and you did so in those days to the delightful accompaniment of the little birds who gave the hole its name. Then, in the Eighties, a few flying foxes came down from the north and took up residence in the Botanical Gardens, where they were first regarded as a precious novelty. Melbourne is, or was, at the extreme southern edge of the bats’ range, so they were seldom seen in these parts. Every few decades a few would turn up, get by for a while and then vanish, cold winters and the north-wind heat of summer being too much for the creatures, which generally prefer things moist and humid. But suburbia’s tasty gardens and a spell of warmish weather persuaded that wave of invaders to endure the privations and linger, which they have done with the active assistance of wildlife authorities. Within a few years they were doing immeasurable damage to the Gardens, so many highly paid environmental consultants were engaged to do something about it.
The sensible thing would have been to shoot, gas, club or poison the screaming, crapping pests, but that would have been too simple, especially as the conservationists’ perverse logic kicked in: As flying foxes don’t really belong in Melbourne, their numbers were small. Therefore they are “locally endangered” and every effort must be made to make their latest southern incursion a permanent success. So the colony was moved, at considerable expense, to Yarra Bend, which thousands now call home. They drove off the bellbirds in short order and have done gross damage to the trees in the small and overpopulated pocket of bush in which state-paid naturalists seek to confine them. Of an evening, they pour out to pillage gardens and carpet bomb homes in adjoining suburbs with a rain of poo. The third hole – sorry, what used to be the third hole before town planners altered the course – is now an ugly, blighted landscape of skeletal eucalypts, constant shrieking, and during summer it stinks like a Greens armpit, according to those who play the course often.
It gets worse. Having established themselves in Melbourne, flying foxes are now appearing in Tasmania. And, once again, local conservationists profess nothing but delight. One wonders if that joy will be quite so robust when the first cases of Hendra virus are reported.
Enough with bats and bellbirds. Now consider Yarra Bend’s flora. Planted at a time when oaks, elms, cypress and poplars were regarded simply as handsome trees, not sylvan imperialists to be shunned by lovers of native vegetation, the fairway verges were once a very interesting mix. Now, however, in an age when green officialdom regaqrds “exotic” trees as large and noxious weeds, almost all the foreign species have been rooted out. Yarra Bend is now a eucalypt domain, which has considerably diminished its visual charms. For golfers it is a double curse. Old World trees permit very little grass to grow beneath their sun-blocking foliage. Eucalypts do the opposite, further complicating the hunt for a misdirected ball by littering the ground with dropped bark and limbs.
If exotic trees are doing it hard, they are considerably more fortunate than the cheerful ladies in the pie shop, who have been driven off forever. They were a happy crew – happy to serve a can of beer or something stiffer, they always kept the pie warmer full and the bain marie stocked with chicken cutlets, hot sandwiches and the like. But at some point – and this is only an educated guess – an official appears to have decided that golf is a healthy endeavour and, therefore, no alcohol should be sold. You can still get a drink on weekends, apparently, but during the week not a drop.
Yes, this post is the litany of a grumpy old fart’s laments, and it may seem faintly ridiculous to be fuming about bats, trees and beer ladies when there are so many bigger issues to consider. That said, when officialdom is serving up fowl manure and telling you it’s chicken salad, the only appropriate reaction should be anger.
In small ways the bastards ruin small things. Give them the chance and, as Gillard is proving, they will ruin the big things too.