Thursday, 29 April 2010

Beware the one legged Ophthalmologist!

IXL rang very upset. She was home alone and suffering ‘flashes of lightning’ in one eye. Her only computer is at ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ where she makes delciious goodies for the Noosa Farmers Market, so she asked me to look it up on the net. Diagnosis? Detached retina associated with floaters. (Bits of debris and/or blood in the eye). Natural degeneration associated with being over fifty. Nothing life threatening, but in need of treatment, usually laser tacking of the retina back into place. Sounds easy. But it reminds me of a Monty Python scrap where the media person describes playing the flute. ‘You just blow in one end and move your fingers up and down the outside. Next week, I’ll tell you how to do brain surgery.’

Yes, she had a floater ‘shaped like a fish hook’ so yesterday I buzzed over to her place on my Hyosung (99CC, $2,500 brand new on the road) and drove her to the docs where Tom, her GP, arranged for her to be seen by an ophthalmologist immediately. Verdict? ‘No surgery required yet and maybe it will settle down. Come back in two weeks.’

That verdict took about an hour to arrive. Meantime, I caught up with the latest gos on Hollywood goings on, who is pissed off with whom for sleeping with their best friend and who is in Africa gathering babies to adopt. Agents must bust a gut keeping their faces in No Idea and its imitators.

In about ten minutes I had renewed my acquaintance with Pammy’s implants and was left staring at the opposite wall where the word OPHTHALMOLOGIST had been Araldited to the wall in bas relief. At twelve years old I studied Latin for a whole year. It failed to drag my attention from mucking about in boats, but it did provide a tool for analysing word structure so I put it to work.

Op = getting along on one leg.
H (silent) as in hat. ‘I left me ‘at at ‘er place.’
Thal = Biblical direction meaning DO IT, as in Thou thal not covert thy neighbour’s wife. If you see her uncovered, take a look but leave the blanket off.
Mol = Lady of easy virtue, which seems to indicate she finds it easy to be virtuous but in fact she doesn’t.
O = shortened version of ‘of’, of Celtic origin, as in John O’Groats, funny name for a village closest to Dunnet Head, most northerly tip of Scotland where you can get a ferry to Orkney or catch a cold.
Gist = the meaning of stuff. As in ‘getting the gist’ of something.

So, I went in and dragged her out. Who wants your favourite grandma being examined by some one legged bloke who’s knows a lot about prostitutes!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Not happy Kev!

We interrupt our stories for a news flash.

In 1996 Martin Green and his team of Uni of NSW researchers were leading the world in solar technology. John Howard axed their funding and the team dispersed, snapped up by institutes in California and China. California now has the most ambitious renewable program in the US and we buy our solar panels from China. ‘Nuff said.

Kev 07 dropped the baton too. He was ambitious and naive. Naiveté leads him to presume logic trumps ignorance and people will do the right thing. He convinced Malcolm Turnbull, a lawyer who is open to logic and negotiation. But Abbott is a man of faith who, without evidence, declared ‘climate change is bunkum’. In the age of the ten second grab and where Celebrity rools, bullshit beats brains any day. But back to naiveté and the insulation scheme debacle.

Cowboys robbed the bank in a vacuum of non-supervision, where every other aspect of building is so closely monitored, too much was presumed. They were allowed to bypass scrutiny to cause fires, deaths and injuries. A million homes were insulated, most probably OK. But it used up Kev’s political capital. It is that loss which will prove to be the more tragic.

He needed his political credibility intact if he was to tackle ‘the biggest challenge facing this generation’ but support for his cap and trade emission scheme plummeting from over 60% to around 40% and is now a dud. Three or four errors of detail created sensational media releases and allowed climate change deniers to brand the science a conspiracy. And although every mistake was balanced by a thousand indisputable facts, it was the errors that grabbed the headlines and we too grasped the errors.

Australians are the world’s worst polluters per capita. All other countries with significant energy infrastructure, including China, have more power coming from non-fossil sources than we do. Germany, the strongest economy in Europe and the only Green Party led government in the world, is ahead by a country mile so the ‘we are waiting for the rest of the world’ claim is a self-serving lie as is the ‘lost jobs’ mantra. In Germany, Green jobs replaced black jobs just as a century before, foundries replaced harness makers.

Like a kindergarten kid with a desire to do good things and be a hero, Kev wanted to go to Copenhagen with his show-and-tell emission trading scheme approved. Unfortunately, his naiveté and impatience destroyed Nelson and Turnbull, both potential emissions trading allies. Removal of the moderates gave Abbott the power to muddy the waters and use fear of change to protect his polluter mates from a carbon tax. He is the political equivalents of the shonky pink bat installer. Win now and bugger the consequences.

When Penny Wong was allowed to be frank, she said ‘there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide’ and that is the most prophetic statement you will hear. Pussyfooting around the problem now will create unimaginable mayhem within the lifetime of our children and their children. The turning point was Peak Oil two years ago, masked temporarily by the economic crisis. But as the world economy recovers from Goldman Sachs’s robber barons and their shonky bonus-creating ‘financial products’, we will be paying $2 a litre, $5 a litre or conceivably $10 a litre and that will be just the beginning.

Lemmings don’t really jump off cliffs, but humans do!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Ricky taking the mickey

He not only knew most songs but he also knew the changes, so he often launched into unrehearsed routines, passing clues back to the band via hand signals. We came to be fairy good at reading is intentions after a few years of wondering what he would do next and being prepared for anything. But I was not prepared for this.

In those days, I still sang if Will wanted to give me another last chance, and often as not, I would be joined at the microphone by Ricky May, our band singer, who would lean in to add his gutsy Maori harmonies.

Before Rick joined the band we had another great singer, Terry Holden. He was lost to entertainment when the NSW club scene collapsed, returning to Melbourne to become a lawn mowing contractor until his death from heart failure not long after. League fans might not know, but it is Terry’s voice with the Will Dower Sounds they hear when the Rabbitos anthem is played.


Terry gets a mention here because I want to introduce another character, a young woman of maybe mid twenties, very heavily made up thirty years before the Emo look caught on. I walked into the dressing room to hear her exhorting an embarrassed Terry to ‘come home with me and I’ll tie you up and do things you will never forget!’

I backed out of the room but Terry had seen me and called me in to protect him. Anyway, she and a few of her cronies always took a table front and centre, eyes at stage level from where they smiled and applauded everything and were still regulars when on this afternoon, Ricky and I were right in front of them singing a duet.

My old Maton acoustic is a bulky instrument, requiring me to lean forward to reach the microphone, so my eyes were drawn to her face. Every time I looked, she appeared to be fascinated by my crotch and continued to stare as I tried to concentrate on the song. But her eyes never wavered and as I recalled the scene with Terry in the dressing room a few months before, I wondered what she was staring at and turned to Ricky. He had noticed her staring too so I asked between notes:

“Is my fly undone or what?”
I should have known better. He took his time checking out what I couldn’t see below the body of my guitar then came back to stand with his lips near my ear.
Nothing had changed at the front table except that Ricky’s theatrical and exaggerated actions, standing back and staring, then lifting the guitar to draw further attention to my embarrassment brought open hilarity to the girls that spread to adjoining tables. His facial comedy kept them laughing until we were almost through, when he and gave me the verdict.

Of course in retrospect, I would have said something similar but at the time I wanted the old cartoon theatre trapdoor to open up and swallow me out of sight.
“Yes mate,” he laughed along with the idiots in front.
“Wider than a brothel door!”

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Fats Enough.

Will Dower was the driver so his eyes were on the road while Ricky May was free to scan the passing roadside for eateries.

On the old highway not far north of Newcastle, on the way to a gig at Port Macquarie, there it was. Not a Macca’s with the super quick efficient drive through, but a traditional greasy spoon with its black and onion stained hot plate, sweaty and overweight ethnic (apologies to dear Helen Zerephos. I will get to you eventually) and the delicious smell of charred beef and toasting rolls.

Rick had seen the sign from afar, or maybe he had been there before, but he gave Will plenty of notice to pull over and was out before the engine stopped.

Rick leaned back in the window.
“How many ‘burgers can you eat?”
“OK,” said Ricky, hurrying through the plastic stripped doorway as Will unfolded himself from behind the wheel to stretch his legs.

Time passed and Rick was still inside. So, presuming the place must have been busy, Will decided to add coffee to his order and pushed his way through the plastic into smoky gloom. When his eyes had accustomed themselves to the lack of light, what there was of it, struggling from a single fluorescent tube trough twenty years of accumulated fat and fluff, only to be absorbed by dark and mysteriously stained décor, he saw the hot plate completely covered with bacon, meat patties, onion rings and eggs, all cheerfully sizzling and sputtering. Then a glance at the bun toaster, fully loaded, confirmed his suspicion of a busy time.

Musicians are very aware of sound but there was none. He turned to see who else was waiting but all he saw were old wooden fold-up chairs and Formica topped tables, adorned by salt and pepper shakers placed either side of the ubiquitous plastic flowers in an assortment of fly spotted empty sauce bottles. There were no people. He double checked but not a soul was in sight so he continued on to reach Rick’s side as the first of the completed burgers was being stacked with beetroot, tomato, lettuce and lashings of tomato sauce.

“How many did you order?”
Rick looked around sharply.
“You only wanted one, didn’t you?”
“Yes, one’s fine, why?”
“That’s OK then,” Rick said with obvious relief.
“I only ordered a dozen!”

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Eyes on the pies.

I would wager my golden tooth caps that no tailor had ever heard such a strange request. But as we are talking of Ricky May, nobody should have been surprised. Ricky loved his wife Colleen, his daughter Shaney, entertaining, rugby league and golf more or less in that order if you exclude food.

So in season, he could be found standing with thousands of other football tragics, squashed together, rain hail or shine on a miserable Sydney Sunday, bellowing his encouragement at eleven of his favorite mud splattered and blood encrusted gladiators. However, those blissful afternoons of escape were being ruined by a problem he had yet to solve.

There was no way Ricky could stand out in the cold for the full eighty minutes and not eat. Drink? No, he could tolerate parch to the point of perish but he had to have food. So what to do? Snack bars were always too far and pushing through the crowd to the food outlet was too stressful. He was terrified there might be a vital try or even a biff-up while he wasn’t looking, so he went to his tailor.

I swear I am not making this up! Imagine the surprise on the face of the snack bar attendant that first time, when he found Ricky at the front of the queue asking for a dozen hot pies. Then imagine the utter amazement as he watched twelve steaming pies disappear one at a time into the twelve cunningly concealed and insulated pockets of Ricky’s new tailor-made and purpose-built ‘pie coat’!

(Here you can see Ricky singing at the opening an AFL game in Adelaide.)
PS. Stories of Ricky May are told with love. He was not only a great entertainer but a warm and generous human being. Watching the video brought him back to me for a moment, nice but sad.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Hoodoo in Dooralong.

“You do
“Who do?”
“That too!”

Or, 10,000 Men Praying.

With so much publicity being attracted to predatory behaviors of some unbalanced individuals within religious organizations, it may be time for Catholicism to rethink its insistence on celibacy. Evidence indicates that forcing human beings to deny natural instincts distorts their moral boundaries.

Looking behind the abusers, one must wonder how many non-abusing, but 'celibate' men and women go through their lives carrying the guilt of homosexuality, masturbation or at the very least, ‘shameful thoughts’.

However, sexual abuse is not the only aberration closed societies, religious and otherwise, produce when they exclude the averaging influence of the wider human community.

One only has to recall the Jonestown tragedy to be reminded of the hundreds of lives lost, including children, who as Richard Dawkins points out, are not Labor/Liberal/Christian/Muslim/Hindu children. They are just children, not yet having the maturity to choose political party or religious affiliation. But they were killed along with their demented parents, all victims of a closed sect whose thinking became so skewed that it led to the suicide-murder of hundreds of their own.

Of course, skewed thinking occurs wherever people choose faith over evidence and close their minds to challenging information and ideas. Closed minds can produce bizarre results. Here is one. It concerns the then recently deceased (ex) Australian Attorney-General in the Whitlam Government, (picture) who successfully changed the Family Law Act to introduce no-blame divorce, removing the need for farcical games, played to establish fault if none existed to comply with the law as they attempted to end toxic marriages.

This conversation happened.

Time: A week after Murphy’s death from cancer.
Place: On the roof of our Community Hall, me helping the tradesman rewire its outside light fittings.

He said: "We got rid of Murphy!"
Me: (expecting a joke) "Murphy’s Law?"
He: "No, Lionel Murphy. Ex Attorney-General, anti Christ. He changed God’s divorce laws!"
Me: "He died from cancer. What do you mean you got rid of him?"
He: "Ten Thousand Men Praying!"
(I'm supposed to join the dots.)
Me: "I've no idea what you're talking about."
He: "Every day at the same time, ten thousand men pray to God for the same thing. We’ve been praying for Murphy's death and we got him!"
Me: "WTF! That's outrageous!"
He: (apparently not hearing my outrage) “We're going after Bob Hawke next!”

Now, thirty years on, we can safely claim that ten thousand men praying was not enough to knock off old Bob, ex ACTU President, ex Prime Minister, ex drunk and full-on larrikin, who is still going strong, enjoying his golden years with his lover and partner, Blanche d’Alpuget. However, when Bob does finally kick the bucket, despite, by my calculation, over one hundred million unsuccessful man/prayers for his early demise, the spiritual terrorists will claim credit.
Such is the nature of delusion.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Stomping and other sports.

While Lyle Gilmore was the principal of Dooralong School, at age about forty, he continued to play rugby. Monday morning he often turned up with a bruise or a sore knee, but on this day, his face was swollen and torn, with a Betadine stained and stitched cut starting from is mouth and ending at his left ear. His face looked like a hand-made wallet.
‘A hundred and sixty eight stitches.’ he was able to mumble through diced-tomato lips.

When talking was less painful, he explained he had been ‘stomped’.
‘Stomped? You mean intentionally?’
‘Yes, intentionally.’
‘So this bastard makes a habit of ripping up people’s faces.’
‘Can’t you sue the mongrel?’
‘He was banned for a few matches, that’s all.’
‘So behaviour that would land you in jail is OK on the sports field!’

Then last Sunday I read Plane Jane’s column in the Australian. She wrote about the pressure ARL (Rugby League) players are now under to perform extreme and spectacular collisions, risking permanent injury. She wrote about legal contact, but what about illegal contact?

Now, with video footage recording incidents of intentional foul play, good evidence is available to show if an act was intended to injure a player for the match, the season, or for life.
Intention to seriously injure was never part of any game. We now have the technology so it is time such breaches were recognized as criminal assault and dealt with in courts of law, damages awarded and punishment meted out, including fines and jail time if appropriate.

I contend that would stop intentionally inflicted injuries overnight.

However, there are some on-field encounters we cannot legislate against, but if only out of common decency, wouldn’t you think they’d get a room!?

Pics coutesy ‘Perfectly timed photos’.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Acquitted while a head.

George Cooper was legally blind, but was a regular at Mel’s wine bar. Maybe twice a week his old mare delivered him to the door where she waited patiently until about nine o’clock when she would snort her message that it was home time. In the interim, George, at about eighty years of age, would drink more than he should and tell stories. This one is too good to not pass on.

Back when Laguna had a hotel and was the first stopping place west of the Hawkesbury on the Great North Road, I’m guessing about the late 1860’s, a bushranger was active near Wisemans Ferry.

As anyone familiar with that area will know, prolonged summer rain turns dirt roads to porridge and paddocks to soup. A week of rain and no wheeled vehicle could move along the flat country between Laguna and Wollombi. That was the situation when a rider came through with news that a bushranger had robbed a gold coach, shot the guard in cold blood and was probably headed their way.

Later that night, under a full moon, a traveler woke to find a big bearded man silhouetted against the sky, climbing in his window. He thought he saw a gun in the intruder’s hand, scrabbled his own out from under his pillow and shot the man dead.

Of course, the noise brought men a-running, lanterns in one hand and revolvers in the other. It was a wonder the sleeper wasn’t also shot in the panic, but everyone eventually calmed down and the body was dragged into the kitchen for a better look.

They agreed he must have been the bushranger. But, as there was no way even a pack horse could get through to the Wollombi lock-up, they decided to cut off his head and take it in for identification. The sleeper volunteered to walk the seven miles at first light carrying the head in a chaff bag.

After Battling through the mire for most of the morning, he made it to the court house and presented his grisly trophy. The constable cleaned it up a bit and they compared the rough bearded face with likenesses on the wall. He wasn’t wanted.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Shearing the genes and fleecing the consumer.

1. Roundup time.

Roundup (glyphosate) is an effective herbicide that we are assured breaks down in the soil when plants die. OK, but what happens to glyphosate in plants that do not die?

Glyphosate is sprayed over growing crops and taken up by both weeds (that die) and ‘Roundup Ready’ Canola (that doesn’t). It remains stored in plant tissue, including (one presumes) seeds, where I again presume, it persists to be still present in the oil we consume.

So, unless someone can convince me glyphosate is harmless to humans whose cells share a high number of components with plants, I will not be buying any GE canola product and remain very suspicious of anything Monsanto has to say on the subject.

2. A wee problem with prostate testing.

Today on RN I listened to an eminent researcher talking about a campaign to launch a national prostate screening program in the US. It is known that prostate screening produces a high percentage of false positives, resulting in unnecessary surgery and on balance, it is better that diagnosis be symptom driven.

Following radical prostate surgery, about 40% of patients remain incontinent, requiring them to wear diapers. So, who is putting up the money to pay for the dodgy promotion campaign?

You guessed it, a leading American diaper company!

3. Patenting Mt Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary was the first to reach the summit and so should have been entitled to patent the mountain peak and then charge fees for every subsequent climber, images of the mountain, or use of it in any way.

Silly? No sillier than the patenting of BRCA 1 and 2 genes (markers for breast cancer in women). That claim is being challenged in some countries on the grounds that description does not constitute invention.

However, Australia recognizes the patent, virtually halting BRCA research in this country.

Three examples of corporate ethics-free zones. Outrageous!

Saturday, 17 April 2010


Maybe it is saxophone players, but they are definitely the champs of absent mindedness and of those, Dave Rutledge was the best. Dagwood, so named because of his personality is a really nice bloke, very capable musician but dangerously forgetful. He told me this story himself so I suspect it was watered down somewhat. It all started when he bought a new runabout to go fishing outside.

Dagwood picked up his three mates, who dumped their rods, bait and slabs of VB into the boat and climbed into his Vee Dub. At the boat ramp, she was launched and held while Dave parked the car and trailer.

It was a great day. They caught enough fish to justify being out there and were approaching the ramp with the sun in their eyes, beer in their veins and joy in their hearts when Dagwood destroyed the mood. He could not find his car keys.

They searched their pockets. Tackle boxes were upturned, spilling the detritus of decades onto Dave’s new floor. Rusty hooks, loose sinkers and old bits of prawn shells were revealed, but no keys. Eventually in desperation they tipped their fish out of the Esky but when the bow touched the beach, they still had no keys and no more hiding places. Eventually after a period of reflection Boof came up with an idea.

‘Come on up to the car Dags,’ offered Boof. ‘I reckon I can hot wire it, get you home at least.’
So, while the others tidied up the mess, Boof grabbed pliers, some wire trace and with Dave in tow, headed for the car. A few metres short they stopped, listened then ran the last few strides to the driver’s door.

There were the keys, hanging in the ignition. And there was his little VW, doors unlocked and engine idling, ready to go home!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Family Tees.

Hovee Ray, paternal grandfather, moved from Tasmania about 1919 leaving behind most of the family, good breeders all and now scattered all over the Holiday isle.

My niece, Jennifer Ray, 16 of Alexandra Headland is a pretty good golfer, thanks to her step father Eric’s tutelage and natural Ray athleticism. (Ha! Ha! No, really!) Her mum, Dianne mentioned more or less in passing that Jennifer was off to Ulverstone Tasmania for the Australian Girls Amateur Championship and would need accommodation.

I had been communicating with my Tasmanian cousin Linnie Carew, our Ray family tree scribe so I shot off an e-mail to ask if there were any Rays in Ulverstone who might like to take on my niece for the three day tournament. Honestly, I didn’t know exactly where Linnie lived, but bugger me, she wrote back to say she lived in Ulverston and her mum, a Ray would be delighted to put up a couple of the girls and would even organise a cheer squad. How good is that! This morning, Jen’s friend Lauren is leading the tournament.

More on:

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Dan Langan, Cattleman.

About the only person not already at the market was Old Dan. Wollombi intersection was seriously clogged with bodies overflowing from Mel’s and sight-seers, milling around, admiring St Michaels, the court house and the post Office, beautiful examples of convict masonry in locally quarried sandstone.

I had never seen it before, despite spending months at a time on my grandparents’ dairy farm at Werombi, where the first chore of the day, after a round of the rabbit traps, was to take Rowdy and drive the herd in for milking. Not that they needed much driving: they all knew the way and were further motivated by swollen udders and a trough of grain and silage waiting at the out end of the milking shed. But we drove them from the back

Now, here was Old Dan, chugging along on his old Massey Ferguson in low-low, a bale of lucerne hay on the carry-all, parting the crowd of revelers, followed by a herd of mixed cows and calves. There was no hurry, no yapping, nipping blue cattle dog and no break-aways to be chased and cursed at. That was so outside my experience. I stood and watched and learned.

He knew cattle are followers. They string out in a line, one behind the other, each calmly following the one in front and in this case, following the one following the hay bale.
I saw it again at Dooralong years later as the dairyman brought his cows home by simply walking slowly in front, leading the way with the dog at the rear adding a little encouragement to any cow stopping for more than a quick chomp of roadside greenery

Peter Police was fussing about, fretting over the impediment to traffic flow and trying to keep the road clear in case a car should blunder into town. Then at the height of confusion, along came Dan to be the star of that moment, creeping along on his unregistered tractor and for me at least, showing how it was done. As he passed where I stood, his old eyes appeared briefly from under the hat brim and he winked. People standing nearby were startled by my sudden laughter as I turned away. Dan kept going, eyes front and I knew he heard and understood he'd been sprung. I miss him.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Dumb Down Doodles and the Swiss Watch.

Tasmanian Greens leader Nick McKimm might have a point.

Essentially, at each election, our governments pendulate between Labor union bullies and Coalition big business apologists, with cross bench seat warmers fighting for relevance.

We are fed a media dumb doodle of spin, lies and sensationalism when we need facts.
A week out from a close election, our media was more concerned with Mike Rann’s ex fuckee than his record as State Premier! Much more entertaining than dry issues like Murray-Darling water management.

Last week McKimm drew our attention to the Swiss Parliamentary system, where all parties share government and Cabinet posts are divided up in proportion to the number of seats won. Reportedly, that delivers a high level of understanding of the issues and absence of misleading invective.

Adversarial political debate, what we hear from Canberra, is a mixture of ignorance, ego, disinformation and lies that keep the waters muddied and the punters confused. With truth difficult to find, no party feels secure enough to confront really difficult issues like people smuggling and climate change. Wriggle room has gone. We need truth and decisive action, so what to do?

In Tasmania, seats are split between Libs 10, Lab 10 and Greens 5. No party has enough people to fill all cabinet posts, so with the Governor telling Bartlett to grow up and work with the Greens, even ex-premier Paul Lennon suggested the Greens should get a cabinet post. As I write, ABC news announced the Greens may be offered two ministries. An experiment worth watching, maybe with wider implications.

More here:

P.S. Seems Lennon has forgotten the Greens want a corruption inquiry into his alleged improper relationship with Gunns! Then again, he probably feels safe with both Lib and Lab luminaries on the Gunns board! Bumper sticker seen in Hobart: ‘Tasmania, the State of Corruption’. Ouch!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Arson About

If you drive through Wollombi now, you will see a different landscape. Trees have replaced grass on the hilly terrain. This is due in no small measure to the passing of Jimmy Roberts, crow catcher and your friendly neighborhood arsonist.
It is really a bit harsh to label Jimmy an arsonist. He was simply following the local tradition of lighting up the bush every year as an efficient way of clearing scrub.

Within days of a summer fire, grass would sprout, providing feed for winter when cattle take to the hills to escape cold damp air on the valley floor, moving into forest remnants at night into warmer air then back to the slopes to feed, strolling down to a dam or creek for a drink every other day.

But, things changed in the seventies. Young people, I hesitate to call them Hippies, moved out of the city in an attempt to create a life for themselves that was less dependant on big everything. Big oil, big mortgages, big job commitments, in other words, small enough to feel manageable.

After a year as deputy I was elected Fire Captain. Not knowing much of the layout, I spent a few days on a trail bike familiarising myself with the network of trails that criss-crossed the bush. As I buzzed around, I found scores of huts and shacks sprinkled through the bush, most not attended but some well established with families.

After marking what I found on the map, I reported my concern that the local culture of burning off in summer could result in tragedy, maybe even death. I was ordered to warn the arsonists off, so I pulled Jimmy aside next time I saw him at Mel’s. Pleasantries passed both ways then I got down to business.

‘Jimmy, you can’t keep lighting those fires up in Stockyard Creek in summer. You’ll have to do it in winter and take me along to burn back around the weekenders.’
‘What bloody weekenders?’
‘Jimmy, there are huts and shacks up there now, so you can’t just light up the bush whenever you feel like it.’
‘No good burnin’ in bloody winna ya dill. The scrub won’t burn then, it’s gotta be summa.’
‘Well, people live there now so you can’t do it any more.’
‘If those silly buggers wanna live up there in th’ bush that’s their look out!’
‘I’m afraid the law says otherwise Jimmy. Someone could get killed, so if you’re caught you'd be up for murder.’

Jimmy skolled the last of his Muscat and turned to leave.
‘Yer won’t catch me, mate.’
‘Why not?’
He gave me a pitying look.

‘I light a candle in the grass and when it gits away, I’ve been in Cessnock fer two hours ‘avin’ a beer with me mates.’
And he was right. I never did catch him at it and maybe just as well.

Many a time while I was guiding Jimmy's fires around people's houses, if I'd caught the old bastard at it, It might have been me that was up for murder!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Gawd Stone the Crows!

Jimmy Roberts.
(Apologies in advance, particularly to overseas readers for this attempt to capture his accent).

Jimmy Roberts never married. He and his brother lived on a farm down towards Payne’s Crossing on the Wollombi Brook and worked for the Cessnock Council.
Every night an old truck pulled up outside Mel's tavern and Ben Bowyang and Bill Smith walked in. One was short and stout, the other tall and skinny.
There was no need for Mel to ask what they wanted. It was always brown Muscat in a five ounce glass, eight cents. Beer was not officially available because the wine bar didn’t have a public toilet, but beer from the bottle shop was OK.

Actually, the bottle shop was at the same counter, divided by an imaginary line where it returned near the street door. So if you wanted a beer, you took the two paces to the end of the counter and collected your stubby, 32 cents. Now, because the stubby had been bought at the bottle shop, it was yours and you could drink it in the licensed premises as a BYO, which means you took it back to your place at the bar to drink it. If there was a space near the end of the counter when you came in, that was the place to be. You only needed to reach around the end of the bar to collect your beer from the legally correct department.

Anyway, Jimmy overheard me telling Mel I didn’t know what to do about the crows that were digging holes in my water melons. Now Jimmy grew a lot of water melons every year and was somewhat of an expert.

He turned his attention to me.
‘I’ll tell ya,’ he says. ‘Ya gits a hegg.’
‘A hegg?’
‘Jesus bloody Christ!’ says Jimmy to Mel. ‘Where ja git this silly bugger?’
‘His name’s Ford.’
‘Righto, Pford’, he says, turning back to me. ‘Ya gits a hegg.’
‘What do you mean? What’s a hegg?’
‘An enn’s hegg, ya dill, like ya gits fr’m a bloody chook. ‘N enn’s heg, ya git me?’
‘Yes I get you, so you get a hen’s egg. OK, then what?’
‘Ya puts the hegg on a rebbit trep like, ‘n when the bastard gits cort ya leave ‘im there t’ frighten away the other bastards!’
‘Seems a bit cruel.’
‘Crule! Bloody ‘ell it’s owny a damn crow, fer Chrissakes.’
He turns again to Mel.
‘This ‘ere stupid mate a yers, bloody Pford, ‘d rather leave bloody crows eat ‘is melons th’n frighten ‘em orf!’
‘Ya gotta make allowances,’ laughs Mel. ‘He’s from Sydney.’
‘’Nuf said,’ says Jimmy and turned away to talk to his brother.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sabots at Mooloolaba. (Wednesday)

There on Mooloolaba beach this morning was a sabot and I had a flashback. A sabot, to Netherlanders is the ubiquitous wooden clog, footwear of the poor and web footed, borrowed to name a tiny sailing dinghy of similar shape, six feet long four feet wide.

Way back in 1948, marine plywood was almost unprocurable, as was petrol until Bob Menzies ended rationing but for some reason, three years on, plywood was still reserved for the military. So, Dad and I used Masonite to build my Sabot.

Mum sewed up sails from unbleached calico and she was ready for the water. In truth she should never have been allowed anywhere near water. She had no floatation, the sails worked only down wind and the Masonite soon began to swell and soften around the joints, threatening to let go their screws, glue having given up after a few day out.

However, with my mate Lindsay Opie, grandson of Dame Mary Gilmore and inheritor of some of her genes, I took off on an adventure few parents would have allowed even then, with no life jackets, no communication and no experience.
We stuffed food, a saucepan, one box of Redheads, two sleeping bags and a tiny tent into the bow and set off from where the family was holidaying at Tuggerawong, to circumnavigate Tuggerah Lakes.

Prevailing winds there are either N Easters or S Easters. So as we had a NE wind, we went south, camping the first night on what is really a delta of the Ourimbah Creek, lit our camp fire, cooked spuds and fish we had caught on the way and slept. Next day, we intended to go cross wind to Long Jetty, but a stiff south westerly hit and we were blown north east towards The Entrance, unable to turn into the wind to get the sails down. I wrestled with the mainsheet and tiller while Lindsay bailed frantically as each following wave dumped serious amounts of water over the stern.

Opposite the Entance itself, we began to hit sandbars that threatened to rip the centreboard out of the hull. We were too busy to lift it out, so we crunched into each sandbar, lifted by the next wave and were thrown forward until we were blown ashore at North Entrance right where a high sand blow used to be. It was later flattened to form the road to Toukley, but then it presented us with hours of fun, tobogganing down its face on sheets of iron left by previous tobogganers. The hot south westerly howled for three days, so we stayed, swam, fished and one day walked all the way to my Uncle Frank’s house at Shelley Beach for something to do, buying a few groceries on the way back.

Gales eventually blow themselves out as did that one, so we headed north and almost came to grief again. We misjudged clearance under Toukley bridge and after jamming the mast in its timbers, we swim her out to unstep the mast. Then, once clear of the bridge, we continued north, spending all day running aground on shoals that cover about three quarters of Budgewoi Lake, stopping to eat when hungry and swim when hot, pulling ashore at Gorokan in the late afternoon, the best camp site of the trip. The picture below shows the new bridge and the waterfront where we came ashore, then with trees down to the water, clean and minus the pelicans and what they leave behind.

With no houses in sight, we pitched our tent under the she oaks, lit our fire and had dinner of canned stew and potatoes followed by a large can of tinned peaches, listening to a gentle breeze whispering through the oak needles. For me, that was heaven and still is, but we were almost out of food and down to our last sixpence. We needed to get back.

Morning produced the perfect wind for the home run but we were hungry, so decided to find a shop to buy bread and headed uphill. Eventually we came to a road and found a house where we asked directions to a bread shop. The kind soul at the door gave us a half loaf, so we toasted it all over the fire and ate the last of our eggs, put out the fire, loaded up and headed home. That was the best sail of the trip and we arrived in time for lunch.

Mum had a photo I wish I could produce here showing her with binoculars, scanning the opposite shore looking for a sail. She said she thought we had drowned but showed no emotion when we turned up. She just threw a few more snags into the pan and fed us.
Our poor sabot was now leaking badly and useful only as firewood. After that one holiday she never sailed again, but I did.

Lindsay joined the navy and that cured his waterlust, but I remain infected, always owning a sail boat and now living aboard Tiziana, my lovely old steel ketch, at the moment writing and reliving memories of beautiful places, wonderful people and the adventures we shared. How good is that!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Council Capers 2. CLAG Sale Day

Cattle sales were, for that tiny hamlet on the Wollombi Brook, a four times a year social event where old friends caught up, kids played around the brook, everyone ate too much gramma pie with clotted cream and some cattle changed hands.

Cessnock Landholders Action Group (CLAG) was formed to fight Cessnock Council’s 400% rate hike on non productive rural properties. Their strategy was clear. After the Stephen and Catherine Pile debacle, they reckoned they had found a way to squeeze new squatters off their cheap land and out of their home-made shacks.

Clearly, they were not aware of the quality of their protagonists. We had Bernie Eddie, ABC TV producer, who made an hilarious TDT episode on the subject, Guy Morrison, retired SMH Features editor who wrote our media releases and his brother Alastair, university lecturer and author of Let’s Talk Strine, to name just a few of our cast of media professionals.

This day was not a cattle sale day, but a trash and treasure day to raise money for CLAG. Sheds gave up a century of treasures to be good-naturedly haggled over. Eight or ten food stalls were selling preserves, water melon, ginger beer and the ubiquitous sausage sandwich. A bush band was torturing old favourites and families were picnicking on rugs among the cow pats. The old market place hummed with fun and frivolity until suddenly, the ambience darkened and all eyes turned to a kerfuffle at a stall where a big red faced man was berating an old lady selling cakes and tarts.

As the secretary of our gang of dissenters, I hurried over. There was our Council Health Inspector demanding the stall close.
‘Excuse me.’ I said stepping in between him and the stall. ‘I’m one of the organizers. Can I help you?’
‘There was no permission given for this!’ he frothed, waving his arms expansively to include picnickers, kids screeching around the paddock, knots of buyers and sellers, coming to rest on the stall at hand.
‘Close this down immediately or you’ll be in breach of article (something or other) and will be summonsed.’

‘I see,’ I said reasonably. ‘So all the Vinnies, Boy Scouts, CWA and footie clubs that have their stalls in town, you're saying they all have permits?’
He stared for a moment as the rusty wheels turned, but I wasn’t finished.
‘If you close this down, there’ll be a lot of angry people running around Cessnock demanding you close them too.’
That went into the thought grinder as I waited. We had form, as the say.
He was wavering as I reminded him:
‘And you know we’ll do it.’
‘OK,’ he said, red faced and frustrated. ‘I’ll let it go this time, but next time you get a permit or I will close you down!’

His eyes left mine and flicked behind me where an angry crowd was gathering. There is a time to attack and a time to retreat. This was retreat time.

I was surprised to see him at the next market with his wife and kids, standing in the gramma pie queue. ‘Good choice.’ I smiled my approval as we both pretended I was referring to the pies.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Dark Doings at Dingle Dell

I watched fascinated as Wollombi moved from being a red neck remnant to an alternate lifestyle enclave, but Dingle Dell pushed that envelope further than I thought was possible. I don’t know why, but a set of escapees from Sydney’s gay show biz community set up camp (sic) out along Yango Road and called it Dingle Dell. You are permitted to wonder at the name but I will let that go through to the keeper.

They turned up at the tavern, two but rarely three at a time and became known at the bar as harmless and friendly, funny and exuberant as gays often present. All seemed well until Jimmy began arriving alone, very depressed and teary. What apparently brought it undone was a love triangle, with the older man being replaced by a younger man in the heart of an even younger man, so they all left except the oldest man who stayed on, probably because he had nowhere better to go. But he gradually carved out a place for himself in the community.

Jimmy Goode was an outrageous poof, so camp, he was a caricature of himself but you just had to like him. Friendly, emotional, caring and willing, he became such a fixture at the Tavern, no longer Mel’s, but basically unchanged except for the prices, that his absence always invoked a worried; ‘Is Jimmy OK?’

Winter was on the way and Tony Royal wanted a fireplace in the bar. Jimmy offered the unbelievable information he was a stonemason. A Pom with a withered arm, a history of hanging about King’s Cross with Les Girls, a poofy lisp and a skinny ageing body, it was a bit farfetched, but Bob, Tony’s manager, gave him the nod and work began. Of course professional stonemasons employ grunts to do the heavy stuff. So, with some local boys to provide muscle and eye candy, Jimmy’s joy filled project progressed. Stone was cut, trimmed and lifted until it was time to fit the blacksmithed iron grate. And so it was that the fire was lit with suitable pomp, plonk and pissedness to commission Wollombi’s first new stone fireplace in maybe a hundred years.

Helped by his boys, none of whom to my knowledge was ever invited to replace his lost love, Jimmy built fireplaces. Moving out of Dingle Dell and into town, he was given a home in Rex (Hipshot) Thompson’s shed. When fireplace building declined, he became the Tavern’s barman, always friendly and always entertaining until he died, remembered by people who accepted him into their community for what he essentially was. A nice bloke.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Wooly Red Steer.

Dan Langan was the oldest man in town, nearing ninety, wiry and strong, he still rode his big white mare around the hilly property. We had a common border that appeared as a road on the map where it looked flat. But like other roads of its time, it had been drawn up in Sydney by a draughtsman as far removed from reality as the road was to any chance it would ever be formed. It was probably the same fellow who plotted the course of the Great North Road north of Wiseman’s Ferry, an heroic undertaking that promised a highway to the Hunter valley as grand as any in the world.

Stone work on that road is equal to the best of Macquarie’s grand buildings, costing the colony the labour of hundreds of convicts for years, blasting, shaping blocks and digging culverts, traversing a cliff that would challenge Sir Edmund Hillary. There was even a cave beside the road with a convenient round hole in its roof, called the hanging cave. It is rumored they hanged recalcitrant convicts there with a gibbet erected over the hole, through which unfortunates were dropped, breaking their necks.

Whatever the truth of that, there is a graveyard nearby which I was told holds the hundred and thirty bodies of men who lost their lives in the pursuit of that folly.
Before its steep grade saw real traffic a better way was found by following an Aboriginal path through the Mangrove Creek Valley taking the easier slope out that is now the St Albans Road.

Dan’s fence was an exercise in desperation. What was still standing was held together by baling twine and rust, but with a little repair by me, it seemed to keep my stock in and his out.

That was until the appearance of the red wooly steer. I arrived home to see him, not yet accepted by my four, grazing alone on my side of the fence.
I drove him out my front gate and pushed him into Dan’s place. Then I searched until I found what I thought had been his point of entry and closed the gap.
Next visit he was back.

Bugger. This time he had integrated with mine. They were now mates and would test the fence if they were separated.
It was time to see Dan.

Dan loved a chat and that’s what we had for maybe an hour. A pot of tea and several scones later as Mrs. Langan fussed over us and it was time for business.
‘Well, young feller,’ he said. ‘You didn’t come over here for a chat. What’s on your mind?’

I told him his red steer was back on my side of the fence and maybe we needed to put him in a more secure paddock.
His smile broadened as I spoke until he was laughing.
‘I thought the pest of a thing was yours!’
‘No, he’s not mine.’
‘OK,’ he laughed again. ‘Let’s eat him!’

Friday, 2 April 2010

Colouring in his Musicians.

The comment about music and colour reminded me of a George Shearing quip, but before I tell you that, it was a fact that Dave Brubeck could not tour segrated high schools and universities in the South because his bass player, Eugene Wright was an African American, as was George Shearing’s bass player.
However, George had been blind from birth so when his agent complained he was missing out on a lot of work on the university circuit because he had coloured players in his band, acted totally shocked and enquired anxiously;
‘Coloured? Really! What colours are they?’

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Vale Herb Ellis

Herb Ellis, master guitarist, passed away last Sunday 28th March.

He wasn’t my all time favourite player, but he was one of the greats. Along with Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow and Johnny Smith he developed jazz guitar from where Charlie Christian, innovator and star of early Benny Goodman ensembles, had left off. From the late forties but mainly in the fifties, those leaders, later followed by Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery, influenced the next generation of guitarists including my friend George Golla, Lennie Hutchinson and most of our contemporaries all around the world including George Benson. Herb Ellis developed a unique rhythm technique I tried to emulate. That gave me a skill that had its reward in scores of studio engagements.

In 1961, as I remember, my friend Barry Stewart, drummer and legend in his own right, put my name forward for a six month stint as guitarist in the house band at Griff House, Castlereigh St Sydney. For those who remember, that was the home of the Professional Musicians Club and although I wasn’t really ready to be exposed to the best musicians in town, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. So I took the job and worked my bum off practicing, transcribing solos and studying arranging. I had bought two of Herb’s albums including Ellis in Wonderland, at that time his most recent and had studied every note.

Our bandleader, Nat O’Toole, threw me a lot of solos. I guess he thought I needed the practice. But so it was that I was battling with the changes of an Elmer Bernstein theme, trying to emulate Barney Kessel, when I looked up and almost dropped my pick.

We all knew Ella Fitzgerald was in town on tour with Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Herb Ellis as her backing group, but nobody could have expected to see what I saw. There, not two metres away, sitting alone at a table right in front of me, watching and listening, was Herb Ellis.

Luckily it was the last tune of the set, so I was spared more scrutiny, not that I had any idea how long he had been there. Of course I hurried off to introduce myself and he graciously invited me to join him. I expected a consolation compliment only, and did get that, but he started talking guitar. Given a nod of approval from Nat, I stayed put and listened to the great man as he offered a respectful lecture on all things guitar as they related to what he had seen of my playing. He must have recognized some talent to bother, or maybe he was just a nice bloke. He certainly was that. RIP Herb.