8 Aug 2022

Early days with John Henningham and Denis Ryan

Most of the memoirs I put up here are of very recent events but notes about the more distant past also have a place in memoirs. I have quite recently put up a record of one of the men's dinners that I occasionally put on. In it John Henningham got an honourable mention, as he has often done in these notes over the years. He and I have been friendly for for over 50 years and have kept in sporadic touch over all that time. So I thought it might be appropriate to put up here a brief note about how we originally met.

I think it must have been in 1969 that I rented a terrace house in Wentworth Pk. Rd., Glebe, in Sydney (WPR). It had 3 bedrooms so I asked among friends to find people who might move in and share the cost with me.

I was referred to two young men with a love of cars, Henningham and Croucher by surname. I became quite good friends with both (Henningham and Croucher were already old friends -- school friends) in a bantering sort of way. We address one another by surname only. I address the other two as Croucher and Henningham and they address me as Ray, so how you define that sort of friendhip I have no idea. You just have to be part of such a friendship to understand it, I think. It is an unusually strong friendship. People who have been to school together or in the Army together often address one-another that way. It is sometimes referred to as a "muscular" friendship, associated with constant but not serious abuse of one-another. For many years, my usual greeting when I rang Henningham up was: "Christ you're a shambles, Henningham!".

Henningham when he still had hair

We greatly enjoyed our times at "WPR", in part because we shared attitudes that were at least not incompatible, including a liking for the music of Leos Janacek and "The wonderful world of Barry McKenzie" by Barry Humphries -- a comic book, no less.

In fact, when I was first introduced to Henningham and Croucher at a small party, they gave me the McKenzie book to look at as a sort of test of cultural compatibility. They regarded it then (and I think still do) as the apogee of Australian humour. After I had been chuckling over it for ten minutes or more somebody said wonderingly: "He's still on the first page". So my credentials were firmly established.

All three of us became great devotees of McKenzie. All of us still use some McKenzie slang, particularly in one-another's company -- including an unusual meaning for the word "feature". Henningham was real fun back then but has become a bit more restrained since he married.

One interest we did NOT share was an interest in sporty cars so my purchase of a humble Mazda 1300 was greatly derided. When a car-lovers' "Bible" (called "Wheels", I think) came out and named the Mazda 1300 as "car of the year", there was therefore great embarrassment. That issue was hidden from me and no mention was made of it until many years later.

An incident I remember at that house was when Henningham, Croucher and I were about to take out some insurance. The salesman, George Serhan, was of Lebanese origin and a real bull-artist. We rather liked that side of him. We thought it an art-form and quite amusing (He even had a chauffeur!)

My girlfriend Nola was there, however, and also detected the insincerity. Did she get up him! She really gave poor old George a tongue-lashing. We almost had to pull her off him. It is lucky I am so exceptionally blunt and straightforward or else I would never have got on with Nola.

What I eventually learned about insurance at that time is chronicled elsewhere

The three amigos lunching at Southbank a few years back, with two wives. Croucher is sitting beside his Chinese wife

Denis Ryan, Henningham, Croucher and I had quite a few parties at Wentworth Pk Rd. If ever we got sick of our guests, however, we would put on Janacek's Sinfonietta. We all liked classical music but not very many other people do and Janacek is a bit much for even some classical music lovers. The Sinfonietta would clear the house within minutes. They would even leave their beer behind!

It didn't work for Denis Ryan, however. I think he introduced us to Janacek in the first place. He would say "This is good" and settle in. Not that we minded. Denis was always good fun. He had that Irish roguishness and was a great raconteur. He had been a shearer for most of his life and later moved to Sydney to manufacture shearer's clothing.

For quite a while he used to drop in at our place after work for a few beers with us: The real Australian male thing (except for the classical music in the background). We enjoyed it greatly. He liked Resch's D.A. but we drank Flag. We used to buy D.A. especially for him. We called it Denis's Ale, though D.A. really means Dinner Ale.

All four of us tended libertarian, which is sometimes seen as Right-wing. Denis had been a Communist in his youth (not uncommon among shearers, I believe) and knew an awful lot about politics. He had not had much education but was quite intellectual and cultured for all that. Apparently you do sometimes find that among shearers, according to Denis. He was in his late 30's at the time. Sadly, he is now deceased

Denis at home in Abergeldie St. with his Japanese girlfriend

Nola and I drifted apart, though we still kept in touch, and I took up with the the red-headed Dawn. So after about a year at the terrace house, I left to marry Dawn, which rather broke things up

With the arrival of the internet, however, Henningham, Croucher and I were able to create a "virtual" WPR, with frequent emails exchanged: almost entirely of a jocular or even nonsensical nature. We even have a sort of strange inflated language that we use only between one-another.

Henningham was later to become Professor of Journalism at the Uni of Qld but is now retired, and Alf Croucher was to spend much of his life in China as an academic.

Henningham as he was just a few years ago, at lunch at the Sunnybank Mosburger cafe with his wife Helen and my then-girlfriend Anne

ADDENDUM: I am putting up this addendum pending advice on whether I should put it up at all. With unusual concern from my autistic self, I fear that what I am about to write might in different ways reflect badly on all three people concerned.

In the early days of our joint residency at WPR, there was a certain tall lady in our social circle. It's not an overriding consideration for me but I do rather like tall ladies. And I was myself of above average height so such women were accessible to me. I did not long ago marry a lady who was just a fraction short of 6' tall. A happy memory.

So I paid some attention to the tall lady in the WPR social environment. It was however a complication that Croucher was interested in her too. So what to do about that? I withdrew. I felt that I had a much better chance of finding another lady than he did so I ceased all approaches to her. I actually abandoned potential romance for the sake of a male friend. Whatever else that says, I think it firmly establishes my credentials as an Australian