Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Harold Park

When uncle Con came down to Sydney to look for his runaway wife, he visited all the city race tracks to see if he could spot her. Aunty Denise had gambled away their life savings in one bet, so she took off leaving a note that she was sorry for losing the money. Uncle Con searched for her everywhere he knew in Brisbane (calling all his and her friends; asking around at a few of the local pubs) before deciding to look for her in Sydney, where her family lived. He figured she would try to win the money back at the horses, the dogs or the trots.

On the first Friday evening he was at our house, he and Dad went to Harold Park Raceway. Dad had never been to see harness racing before , although he had been in Australia for 30 thirty years by then. In fact, he had never been to any racetrack in his life. Dad liked soccer, but he never bet, except for buying the Opera House lottery ticket every week. On the other hand, Uncle Con had taken up every Australian vice, as my mother called it: drinking beer, instead of wine; gambling on races, instead of cards; smoking, instead of … well, everyone smoked then. He mixed immediately with the “old” rather than the “new” Australians. His best friends called him “Pope” because he was the only Italian they knew.

Constantine was Mum’s younger brother out of a family of 10 children. Like her he was born in San Martino near Naples in the thirties. And like her, he left home when he was very young to go to Australia. He was 19 when one day he took his small carton case down to the port in Naples to board the Lloyd-Triestino ship for Sydney. He was angry at his whole family then, and he left without much of a goodbye, relying on an elderly neighbor to accompany him on the train to Naples. He never spoke to them again while he was away after that.

I never knew why he was angry. But he stayed angry a long time. It wasn’t until many years later, after he retired and the children had moved out that he decided to call a truce by flying out to Italy and showing-up one day at his sisters’ home in San Martino unannounced. They didn’t recognize him at first, which made him a bit angry again, but soon the tears flowed and the cheeks were copiously pinched and kissed. He told us later that he couldn’t get a decent beer back in his home village, which made us laugh.

Dad and uncle Con never found aunty Denise at Harold Park that night. After walking around, Con urged Dad to have a bet with him, and Dad said that he lost about $10. He told me that he hadn’t expected a trotting horse to be as fast as a galloping horse. “They are bloody fast”, he said. “But they when they crash, they crash like a car.”