I GOT an unexpected call from an old friend the other night.

Tony, who I first met more than twenty years ago in the Uni bar, has long since settled in Sydney where an honours degree in Economics eventually landed him a job analysing train fare receipts for the NSW Government.

A partner, three kids and a heavily mortgaged house in Randwick followed, and Tony looked well on the way to fulfilling the Great Australian Dream.

Until his long hours at the Transport Department took their toll; Tony’s partner found comfort with someone else, Tony found solace in the bottle, and Tony’s employer decided he was better suited to an alternate vocation.

In our younger days, Tony and I would sometimes disappear into the Tasmanian bush, in what we pretended was a break from our gruelling studies.  We never ventured too far from civilisation; always preferring walks with either a warm hut or a cold bottle at the end of the day, and when he rang me three years ago asking if we could revisit one of our earlier expeditions, I readily agreed.

I picked him up from the airport a few weeks later.  The Tony I remember from University days was a strapping 20-year-old; always quick with a smile, and never one to shy from a challenge.

I almost didn’t recognise him - time hadn’t been kind to Tony.  To be frank, he looked like shit. 

We retreated to a Salamanca wine bar which didn’t exist in our University days, where we swapped stories about our lives.  Sadly, Tony wasn’t easy company.  A new job in funds management didn’t inspire him; he saw little of his kids, and his easy-going manner had vanished, replaced with a bitter, cynical view of the world.

To make matters worse, the rampant socialism endemic to University students had long since vanished from Tony’s ethos – he was now an ardent capitalist.

After considering his physical condition, initial plans for a week-long (and alcohol-free) Overland Track expedition were replaced by a couple of nights at Pine Valley, but even that proved ambitious.  An unseasonal blast of icy air from the South Pole dropped two feet of snow around Narcissus Hut, so there we stayed. 

A few days later, I dropped Tony back at the airport, with the ties to the past feeling noticeably stretched.  I waved goodbye, thinking I’d never hear from him again.

And then last year, a fit, healthy looking Tony arrived unannounced at my doorstep, complete with a new (Tasmanian) bride, demanding that I take a week out of my life to traverse the Overland Track with him, sadly sans new bride (who I must say, was far more appealing than any of Jarvis’ recent conquests).

We did it.  In the middle of winter, Tony and I walked from Lake St Clair to Dove Lake, with scarcely a word of disagreement, and in the face the most putrid weather Tasmania can offer. 

It was hard to believe this was the same person I’d spend two sullen nights with at Narcissus Hut just a couple of years before.  Tony, who had previously given every indication of being on a terminal downhill slide, seemed to have come good.

He’d cut back on the dreaded alcohol (although we did have a few at Cradle Mountain Lodge on the sixth night), risen through the funds management ranks to a decent analyst’s position, and did I mention picked up a hottie?

When we returned to Hobart, the lovely Vanessa had forgiven me for stealing her new husband, and the two of them flew back to Sydney, promising to return soon.

And the call the other night?

Well Tony arrived at work on Monday to find the Gunns analyst had defected, and he’d been give the job of updating the numbers.

The previous analyst was a 23-year-old devout follower of the spreadsheet; had never been to Tasmania, and had certainly never spent a night lost in the Tasmanian wilderness.

Tony was full of questions.

``Is Robin Gray still alive?  Surely the old cunt on the Gunns Board can’t be the same one?’’

``Are they serious about this shit?  Hasn’t anyone looked at their fucking cashflow?’’ (Tony’s words, not mine).

``Jarvis, what the fuck’s going on down there in Tasmania?’’

We talked at length about wood supply deals; about resource management; about how John Gay is not only trying to raise finance from every dodgy banker on the globe, but endeavouring to flog off non-core assets like Tamar Ridge without success.  And we planned another walk in the Tasmanian bush, far from tree plantations and taxpayer-funded toursim ventures.

And Tony’s new recommendation, which should be published within days?

``Gunns?  Fuck off.  I’m an investment analyst, not a pokies player’’

Jarvis Cocker

Well Tony arrived at work on Monday to find the Gunns analyst had defected, and he’d been give the job of updating the numbers. The previous analyst was a 23-year-old devout follower of the spreadsheet; had never been to Tasmania, and had certainly never spent a night lost in the Tasmanian wilderness. Tony was full of questions. “Is Robin Gray still alive?  Surely the old cunt on the Gunns Board can’t be the same one?’’