Surely Goodness and Kindness: Talking With Brian on Manly Wharf

Manly Wharf, New South Wales, Australia
Manly Wharf, New South Wales, Australia

I overheard a man on Manly Wharf beach one afternoon and his story became one of the most compelling interviews.

Let’s get there, unlike the Manly Ferry which darts out of Circular Quay and pretty much makes a beeline for Cabbage Tree Bay.

Let’s take a slightly circuitous root.

I grew up in the mid sixties and seventies with something of a hefty disdain for Manly.

It was a disdain maintained from a distance of about 366kms away in Canberra, and it was all based on the eternal battle between the mauve of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (‘Silvertails’) and the Black and White of my beloved Western Suburbs Magpies (‘Fibros’). Rugby League, for the uninitiated.

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Traditional geographic and tribal rivals

My family hailed from the west: Parramatta, Harris Park, Guildford and Baulkham Hills. My anti-Manly bias was born of those silly tribal rivalries that sound so pointless in smaller towns like Canberra where I have never been able to take the north vs south thing seriously.

“We’re not that [farnarkeling] big!”

Cliff Notes: I’d never spent much time there, and while visiting friends in Fairlight and on other trips, I was looking for reasons to like the area.

Yes, we’ve fast-forwarded to 2013, and for some reason one day, I’d gone across the briney foam from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf and drifted up and down the Corso and around the back lanes and alleys.

And fell completely and totally and hopelessly in love with the place.

When you get just a little bit out of the centre of Manly, things get a little beige, bland and neo-conservative. But right in the middle of town, it’s like a little melting pot, albeit a flashier more glamorous pot than some other localities that host meetings of many cultures within the scope of what is loosely termed ‘Greater Sydney’.

Me, I love them all.

Walk from Punchbowl train station to the Boys High School (which I did when I first moved to Sydney in March 2013, to interview the assistant principal) and you see pretty much no white faces, hear no Australian spoken, and smell smells that don’t feature in, say, the main street of Miranda.

Take a walk along Forest Road in Hurstville CBD and to have a conversation or transact some business, a working knowledge of Mandarin, Cantonese or Korean would serve you well.

Hang out around various parts of Liverpool and a little Italian will get you a long way.

I know a little Italian. His name’s Marco and he’s a retired jockey.

(Dips the hat towards the film ‘Top Secret’ for that gag. I’m here all week, tip your wait staff, try the risotto.)

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Interview: Taj Ralph, The Corso at Manly, 2013

Image courtesy of Taj Ralph
Image courtesy of Taj Ralph

Taj Ralph

In Manly today, as I took a few minutes in a favourite perch high above the Corso at the New Brighton Hotel, I heard a young singer-songwriter setting up in the prime position at the eastern end of the famous strip, with his back to a fairly choppy swell.

Taj Ralph just did the one bracket, a mixture of covers and his originals. The voice announcing the songs was powerful but undeniably young. And as I made my way down there, I heard him answer sheepishly to what must be a common question: “I’m 12”.

There’s something highly engaging about the way a 12 year old says casually: “I wrote this one a couple of years ago”. And he had a couple of those.

In my bar-side perch, I thought I heard Taj say that he had been selling CDs the last time he was busking, but the rains had come and he couldn’t sell them anymore. But down on the street level I got the real story: the “ranger” had come along to tell him he wasn’t allowed to sell his CDs.

What the H E double hockey sticks? What gives, Manly Council?

More of that for another time.

Here’s our chat; it’s brief, though as his Dad [Simon] pointed out as he was packing up Taj’s gear, Taj was overdue at the skate park.

Check out Taj’s music and chalk the name down as one to watch in years to come.

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Image courtesy of Taj Ralph

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