Monday 31 May 2010

The sounds of silencer.

Tony Brady became a very successful Sydney based theatrical agent but before that, he had a short life as young Frank Sinatra. He certainly looked like him and sang well enough, but unfortunately he peaked before tribute shows became fashionable. Needing a good backing band, he approached me to put together a jazz group to support his show.

At the time, I worked at Elim, the wedding reception house at Croydon in Sydney with John Speight, pianist and long time director of the Manly Jazz Festival. One night when our regular bass player was away, he booked Ron Martin. Ron was the best I had heard. His strong harmonic framework and feel made such an impression that I asked him to join the Tony Brady show group. He accepted, then recommended Loretta Lawson for piano and Laurie Watkins on drums. We had a band.

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra Pictures

It exceeded my expectations. It had life, it swung, we all shared a common feel and all read well. Unfortunately Tony’s show didn’t attract enough work for my band to become a permanent unit but we all kept in contact and did gigs together as often as possible. So it was that Ron and I found ourselves playing together in the late night band at Chequers Nightclub.

Ron always parked his Kombi in a vacant lot right opposite Chequers back door and often invited me in for a coffee or a drink before I faced the long drive home to Cabramatta. From the back lane, a passage led past the kitchen, ending back stage at the dressing rooms where international stars like Shirley Bassey and many more, including the outrageously gay Francis Faye put on their finery.

Ron’s Kombi was also his home and where he kept his impressive arsenal. Within easy reach were a Bowie knife, a high powered rifle with scope, a Luger pistol and a 22 Browning automatic rifle. I assure you he had no criminal intent, but as he said; ‘there’s no point owning the bloody things unless they’re there when you need them!’ It makes sense, but only if you owned them. That’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me now but seemed OK back then.

On this occasion, in the early hours after work, as we drank our way through half a flagon of claret, he produced his latest toy, just received from a gunsmith in Adelaide. Out came a beautifully crafted wooden box about eight inches long by three by three, dovetail jointed with a sliding lid, handmade by a master.

With great ceremony, he opened it to reveal, packed in tissue paper, a brand new silencer, steel blue and, he said, ready to go. I had no idea why he needed a silencer and didn’t think to ask. I was a country boy, given my first pea-rifle at thirteen, then the legal age to carry firearms. So I was more interested in the function of the thing. How it worked was not obvious. I doubted it would work and said so. Then, like a pair of naughty little boys, we slid back the side door, taking the assembled 22 with silencer and stood in the lane wondering how we could safely try it out.

I pointed out the kerbside drain that came from under the night club, so Ron stuck the barrel up and let it off. We had no idea a silencer needs space around it to work and up a drain pipe, it didn’t work at all. His faster than sound ammo didn’t help either, so the result was an almighty ka-boon that echoed through the building and off every wall for miles.

Inside the kitchen, where the drain started as a floor vent, the sound must have been deafening. After our ears recovered from the blast, we heard falling crockery, screaming Chinese ladies and terrified chefs, waiters and washer-uppers. Cacophony erupted inside and we ran.

Within five seconds we were in the Kombi and off. By the time somebody appeared at the door, Ron’s number plate was unreadable through a screen of blue and black exhaust smoke. I can still see his bearded bony face, dentures clamped in fear and determination as he pushed his little clapped out engine to maximum acceleration, staring ahead, lumbering up the lane, lights off, until we disappeared into the Sydney night, in urgent need of a laundry.

Friday 28 May 2010

Thursday 27 May 2010

Dark clouds over Europe.

Black Economy.

Black plumes of volcanic ash
Economies feeling the lash
Greece on its knees
A salary freeze!
'What is it with Wogs and cash!’

And it ain't just Wogs. Not that long ago, an opportunity came my way that looked so good I almost went there.

On a holiday that included a few days in and around Kupang in West Timor, on the highlands near Soe, we passed by some vacant land that I was sure would grow asparagus during July and August. In those months asparagus prices are always high.

So, we arranged for three farmers to grow trial plantings, sent them crowns and went back a year later to see the results. Sure enough, they did grow as predicted so we looked into the logistics.

Labour then cost about A$25 per month and land rent was similarly cheap. But we needed to build an Australian standard packing facility so the product could be shipped by air from Kupang on a daily basis without the need for inspection of every spear in Singapore, our target market.

That would have entailed selling my Australian asparagus farm and borrowing about one million Australian to set it all up.
Then I met my army officer 'partner', whose contribution was to be nil but his cut was to be half the profits. I was told ‘if one didn't have an army officer as a 'partner', one would encounter obstacles such as product left in the sun at the airport, mot loaded, or any number of accidental disasters’. OK, that's how they do business. I didn't like it. It did raise doubts in my mind, but I pulled out for other reasons.

We went to Flores to see some land that looked even more promising but when we tried to fly back to Kupang, we stuck a problem.

At the airport ticket counter we waited and waited for attention while staff laughed and joked together only a few metres away, none moving to the counter. Eventually, as take off time approached, I asked Moe, our interpreter to ask if there was a problem. He got the answer that we would not be served 'because we were Christians'. The problem was, that one of our party was a woman with no head scarf.

So we hired a Bemo (taxi) to take us to a 'Christian' airport on the other side of the island, A$50. Half way there, in dense forest, we were stopped by a log across the road. The driver asked for A$20 which he passed to a machete wielding bloke who smiled at us like a crocodile before a dozen men appeared, moved the log and we were on our way as the log was dragged back to re-block the road.

That was enough for me. I went to the farmers who did the trials, gave them instructions on how to grow, pick etc, wished them well and never went back.

The old hands say you just need to do it their way and it's OK but I wasn't prepared to risk all, including maybe my life. With such lawlessness rife, I could imagine getting the whole thing up and running just to be chucked out of the country with nothing to show for it but debt.

It is a tragedy that those farmers, all hard working honest people were denied that opportunity because of the endemic corruption and religious bastardry that was stifling their economy. Sukarno had his hand in every till but one hopes Bang Bang has a wider view, keeps religious nutters out of his government, gets serious about the rule of law and rids that delightful country of its corruption and black economy.

Monday 24 May 2010

Drips and other torchers.

While Wollombi itself was set on the valley floor, surrounded on three sides by well grazed grassland, Bucketty, then within the Wollombi Brigade area, was set along several ridges, a fire fighter’s nightmare. To take advantage of views, houses were built right in the fire-ball sweet spot.

If you have ever held a bit of paper over a fire, you know how hard it can be to light, despite the temperature. No oxygen, and that is how fire balls form.
Super heated gases created by fires rushing uphill cannot all burn as they are released from oily leaves. Unburnt gases overtop the ridge in an envelope of oxides then follow the hill shape to where, in fresh oxygen, they combust from the outside in. Whispy bits burn first, until what is left is a ball of burning gas, flying along near ground level, igniting all it touches.

There is no point trying to hold a fire hose against such a terror, so the only way to win is to back burn down the slope. But for that to be possible, the fire fighter must be way ahead of the front. On the day of the double back burn I was, but so was Old Frank.

At least two ridges away in bushland, we could see the long line of brown smoke smudging the view below circling crows and hawks, looking for roast dinners in cooling ashes behind the front. We stood there with our map on the bonnet of the jeep, me the captain and Frank, my boss, making our plan. We decided I should take a drip torch on the trail bike and start a back burn to establish a containment line. Fine so far.

It needed a long light-up, so it took a while. But with a couple of kilometers of flame satisfactorily creeping towards the menace and several checks to be sure it was all travelling in the right direction, I headed back towards Frank and the village.

I digress to explain something. In unburnt bush, wind at ground level is reduced significantly so spotting ahead from a backburn is not usually a problem. But at the front of a wildfire, wind rushes unhindered through denuded trees and shrubs throwing super hot leaves, bark and twigs way ahead to reignite in fresh air up to a half kilometre or more, leapfrogging the front at deadly speed as happened in Victoria recently. A backburn must be wider than spot fire range.

Anyway, I was almost back when I saw Old Frank walking along, having lit a second burn between us and the village, putting himself and worse still, me between two fire fronts. One end had closed and the other was closing rapidly. Fifteen minutes to BBQ long pig!

He really was a bright bloke, but sometimes C2H5OH hangs around into the next day to cloud judgment and befuddle memory. I really believe he had forgotten I was out there and thought he needed to save the village single handed. So there he was, drip torch in hand cutting off our escape. By the time I dropped the bike and ran to Frank, visibility was almost nil and breathing difficult.

He saw me coming and did the classical double take. I wish I had a photo of his face but there was no time for recriminations. We had to get out, so I led him through the closing gap. With eyes streaming and the only clean air near the ground, we crawled on hands and knees while flames raced in on both sides.

Luckily it was not far but it was far enough. Wheezing and coughing, we slid and scrambled between rocks and scrub, cinders and ash swirling, eyes streaming, until the air cleared and we were out.

‘Hey Frank!’ I yelled at his blackened face, tears washing pink strips down his cheeks into his beard. ‘Am I being paid for this job?’
‘Don’t be bloody stupid!’ he growled. ‘Nobody gets paid, yer dickhead!’
‘So it’s not a real job then!’
‘Waddayamean, a real job?’
‘Well,’ I laughed, ‘If it was a real job, I’d tell you to stick it up your arse!’

I stopped, hysterical, while he glared at me from baleful eyes, coughing, panting and sweating. I guess seeing the funny side is harder through a hangover, but then again, maybe it wasn’t all that funny.

(Photo courtesy The Age)

Friday 21 May 2010

Old Frank’s Firewater.

There always had been a love-hate relationship between Laguna and Wollombi. Laguna claims to be older with Laguna House built in 1834 on 1,000 acres of land granted to Heneage Finch, surveyor, then later sold to Richard Wiseman. The house is a beautiful and smart example of Georgian architecture, basically a stone box with gable roof.

It is smart because there is a gap of two or three feet between the top of the outside walls and the roof. It is a ‘box inside a tent’ with total ceiling ventilation, the gap protected from vermin and birds by fine wire mesh.

That building is the coolest summer house I have ever been in. The kitchen of course, is separate but unlike many, has never been burnt out. Doorways are all about five feet six inches, so the average twentieth century Australian must do a limbo entry.

It is only one of two or three stone structure in Laguna whereas Wollombi, built later and having the advantage of being at the junction of two main roads, one to Newcastle and Maitland, the other to Singleton, grew quickly and now boasts at least a half dozen substantial stone buildings including two churches and more if you include houses on the outskirts of town, like the Andrews and Thompson homes and of course Mulla Villa further east..

When Frank Legge bought the Laguna Tavern, built in 1927, he reclaimed its original name; 'Ye Olde Horse Wagon Trading Post'. He then decided it needed an iconic beverage to compete with Wollombi’s Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. So he produced a similar drop, with his own bearded likeness on the label and marketed it in similar half gallon jars. The Trading Post did have a few advantages. It sold basic groceries, had a petrol bowser and an old slab shed where dances were held occasionally, and it had Frank.

Frank was a delightfully social old bugger and worked tirelessly for his community, but he did like a drink, so although I never saw Frank Legge legless, he did attract a few drinking regulars and, I suspect, his gregarious sharing of a glass or ten did cloud his judgment at times. Maybe that would not have mattered had he not accepted the job of District Controller for the Rural Fire Brigade, headquartered in Cessnock. So Frank was my boss, and I am loyal to a fault, or I was then.

Floods occasionally overflow bridges out along the Watagan road, so the old locals behead a chook, bake bread and stay on their side of the water until it subsides, usually within a few days. But on this Friday evening I got a call from Frank to bring the fire tanker to Laguna. When I arrived there were maybe eight or nine disappointed people, weekenders, who had driven up from Sydney but could not get through the flood.

So Frank decided I should take them home on the fire truck. I was not at all happy about that. I told them it was too dangerous and they should all high tail it back to Sydney while they could. Old Frank accused me of being gutless, loaded them all aboard and with the cab full and another half dozen clinging to the tank, prepared to take them across the flooded bridge.

Although the bridge was still there, as evidenced by the handrail just visible above the water, I could imagine a plank or two missing and the tanker front wheels dropping into a hole. If that happened we had a potential disaster, with people trying to get themselves and their children back through rushing brown water in the dark. I tried to reason with them but I suspect they didn’t want to disappoint Old Frank either and most made the decision to go. However, I was conceded one wish and attached the Fire Brigade Jeep to the truck by a long rope so I could tow it off the bridge if it stalled and to provide a life line should the truck have to be abandoned.

The truck got through so I unhitched the rope, watched it disappear into the rain and drove the jeep home cursing myself all the way for not confiscating both sets of keys. Luck was with them that time and of course they now had a new adventure to talk about.

‘Who dares wins’.
Old Frank dared and I lost credibility. That hurt. But in hindsight, to have been vindicated, lives might have been lost. So, in retrospect, if the only thing lost was a bit of 'face', that's OK by me.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Fools rush in…

Herbert Khaury arrived for rehearsal looking normal. His alter ego, Tiny Tim was well dressed, tall, normal build and spoke in a normal voice. The rehearsal was perfunctory, just the songs. No gags, no problems!

TT rarely closed the door unless he was actually dressing so it was that just before the show I saw him in his dressing room, stuffing wads of newspaper into the pockets of his suit. As I watched, he transformed himself from neat and trim to crumpled and pear shaped. That should have told me something but as you know, I can be a bit thick

I liked his one liners, like: ‘Never hit your grandma with a shovel. It makes a bad impression on her mind!’ But his signature song, ‘Tip Toe Through the Tulips’, was a bit infra dig for an aspiring jazz guitarist like myself, backing up pop stars while waiting for the big jazz gig that visited but never moved in.

During his first show, as he falsettoed through the repertoire, tossing his curls and casting his one-liners, I noticed his ukulele was out of tune. Not a lot, mind you, just enough to offend my precious jazz trained ears. So, during intermission I tuned it.

In the second show, his in-tune ukulele melded into the sound of Billy Burton's orchestra. He did cast me a glance so I smiled my acceptance of imagined gratitude.
After the show we were having a drink with the cast when his manager drew me aside. Expecting a thank you for tuning the ukulele, I was floored by what he said.

“Did you tune TT’s uke?”
He wasn’t smiling, so I put my face back into neutral and admitted I had.
“I know you meant well, but don’t do it again. He likes it out of tune!”

Sunday 16 May 2010

It’s a roach old cock!

It is comforting to know our Customs Service is alert and thorough. Arriving home from our South Sea Island odyssey, Oriana docked at the International Terminal and we were subjected to the full monty. I don’t know what they were looking for, but they peered into everything except our body cavities. In my bag I had a new camera, an electric typewriter and my electric watch that had worked for about ten hours, all bought in Suva. Apparently I had exceeded the limit and was required to pay import duty. If the watch had been working, I would have worn the useless thing and been spared.

So I was a bit miffed, more so knowing that the young man getting the once over from the adjacent officer had left Sydney with a derelict guitar in a good case and came back with a duty free Stratocaster, the old guitar now bobbing around mid Pacific. But my problem was nothing compared to Peter’s.

Attention was drawn to his raised voice as he protested. The officer’s gloved hand held a tiny dirty looking scrap of something, so tiny I couldn’t make out what it was. But it was generating grave concern among the protectors of our borders who gathered around, handcuffs at the ready.

“What’s this?”
“It’s a roach, innit!”
“I see, so its marijuana and you admit it is your property.”
“Waddaya mean ‘my property’?”
“You knew it was there. Right?”
“A course not!”
“But it was in your luggage so you must have known.”
“Listen mate,” he concluded with impeccable logic,
“If I’d a known it was there, I would a smoked it wouldn’t I!”

Friday 14 May 2010

Mellow Yellow in Suva.

In the music industry, the busier we became the less we saw of other players and tended to become insulated within our own little circles. So when Peter Power turned up for the Oriana gig with Renee Geyer, although I knew the name, I was surprised and delighted by his energetic and competent guitar playing.

Coming up in music through R and R exposed young musicians to some nasty drugs, so if a pot habit was the limit of its legacy, you were lucky. It is a fallacy that marijuana helps musicians play better and there is no way Warren Daly would tolerate a drug taker. So Peter never let on he liked a smoke and I was not aware of it until Fiji.

Craig Kerchner, our piano player and I were wandering around Suva when we heard a kerfuffle and saw Peter, red faced and angry clutching a brown paper bag, yelling and pointing up the street. His Cockney accented spluttering was almost intelligible but we got the essentials.

He had been asking among the local likely lads where he could buy some pot. Of course where there is a need there is a merchant, so a young Indian told him to wait, disappeared and reappeared within minutes to exchange a bulging brown paper bag for Peter’s ten dollars. Then, not waiting for Peter to examine the merchandise, he headed off at a brisk walk.

Peter’s cry of anger coincided with the appearance of a navy blue beskirted constable, who took in the tableau and sprinted after the alleged thief yelling for the lad to stop. We arrived in time to be treated to a Road Runner replay as pursued and pursuer disappeared into the distance.

Peter was still carrying on so we looked into the bag. Our amusement did not assuage his anger and neither did our insistence that he come with us, taking an arm each and hurrying him away.

Ten dollars might be too much to pay for a few old banana skins, but we judged it an appropriate penalty for attempting to procure a prohibited drug.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Parlay voo Fronsay

Despite her astonishingly rich hormone saturated voice, huge sad eyes and generous body, to me she seemed oddly insecure, a little girl seeking reassurance and support. So we older band members, Warren and I basically, rostered ourselves to chaperone her when she went ashore.

We were billed as Renee Geyer and the Daly Wilson Small Band on the Oriana in 1972. My first cruise and an adventure that was at once fun and a revelation. It shattered any expectation I had of the mythical South Sea Island Paradise but the band was good and Renee was sensational.

In Numea, I was rostered on as Renee searched for denim and French perfume. We found a denim shop and she started. An attendant hovered as vests and jeans were ripped from racks, tried then discarded. Several times she asked for help from the Frenchman, who seemed to have no English. He shrugged at each question and occasionally spoke to her in French. Some I understood from my very limited schoolboy French but did not have the confidence to translate.

His agitation grew in proportion to the height of the pile of discarded garments. Renee’s disappointment expressed itself as ‘What a heap of crap’ or ‘I wouldn’t wear any of this shit’, until it became too much for the Frenchman, who demanded in impeccable English:
“Get out of my shop!”

Well, that was that for denim, so it was down to the old town for perfume where she chose enough to last a decade and it was time to pay. She had no cash and with no EFTPOS or ATM, it was off to the bank. We had no idea where we would find a bank on a Saturday afternoon in Numea, so I accosted the first person we saw, a little old lady, and asked for directions.

“Ou est le…” Shit! I couldn’t remember the word for bank, if I had ever known it.
My teacher, Old Scotty, WWI veteran of many battles in France, probably learnt his French from locals with whom he needed to communicate for whatever reason, spent more time telling us of his wartime exploits than the intricacies of French Grammar.

However, we did do a lot of work on tables and chairs, doors and windows and I did pass my exams. But I swear Scotty did not mention banks. I was at a loss. Maybe money would give her a clue, so I showed her an Australian twenty while repeating my question.

“Ou est le…” She looked horrified. Well! I don’t know what she thought but it was not nice.
“Non! Non!” She objected. “Non! Non!” Her vehemence hinted at some sinister interpretation of my intentions so it was my turn to object.
“Non! Non! Excusez-mois,” says me. “Je chercher le … bank, le bank.”

The franc dropped.
“Sacre bleu! Le banc! Le banc!” She threw her hands in the air in true Gallic manner and took off. She walked so fast we struggled to keep up, as she led for at least a kilometre, stopping outside a squat granite building where she smiled and indicated its closed doors.

“Le banc est ferme!”
“Merci.” I thanked her as she turned away, her duty done.

Renee was disappointed and I was laughing.
“Le banc est ferme”, I repeated.

If there was one thing old Scotty taught well, it was the difference between ferme and ouvert.
For a young man in a foreign country, they were very useful words indeed.
But in 1914 France, I guess it wasn’t a bank Scotty needed.

Monday 10 May 2010

Gang Rape Most Fowl.

We decided to raise some fowls and bought twenty mixed day-old chicks. But as they grew we realized the mix was nowhere near the fifty-fifty we expected. We had been conned.

Nineteen developed rooster-like features until it was clear we had only one pullet, a ratio of five percent. But we looked on the bright side and planned to dress one a week starting soon. Then our timetable was changed by events beyond our control.

Jim McBeath, my drummer mate and his wife Susan, bought a house at Tascott near Gosford, built a chook pen and populated it with four mature white leghorns hens. All went well until one day that summer, Sue screamed and Jim looked out the window. They were horrified to see a two metre tiger snake slithering across the yard uncomfortably close to their three year old infant. By the time Jim slowed from warp speed at the child’s side, the snake had disappeared under the chook house.

Eric Worrall was alive then, so Jim called him at the Reptile Park and asked what to do. Eric sent a big bearded guy with long hooked length of fencing wire and a chaff bag. After poking around under the shed for ten minutes he had the tiger by the tail, popped him into the bag and offered this advice:

‘You gotta get rid a th’chooks.’

Jim and Sue liked their fowls. Kitchen scraps, transformed into free range eggs, helped feed themselves and four growing boys and they all had names. Fluffy, Muffie, Scruffy and Lucky were loved.

‘Why’s that?’
‘Mate,’ says the expert. ‘Ya got chooks, ya got chook feed. When ya got chook feed ya got rats ‘n where ya got rats ya got snakes. OK?’

At the gig that Friday, Jim asked if I’d take his hens. Our one pullet hadn’t started to lay, so I happily accepted. And so it was that late Sunday night, four comatose birds were tipped gently from a potato sack onto the chook pen floor and I went to bed.

Monday morning, just as the sky was turning from black to streaky grey all hell broke loose. The cacophony of screeching, crowing and two dogs barking propelled me out of bed, heart hammering, to see who or what was being murdered.

It was a brothel in a goldfield. Lined up behind each of the four old virgins were four or five roosters, crowing, scratching, pecking and raping. The hens were terrified as they were spurred into submission, their genetic preconditioning forcing them to squat, wings out to accept their fate-worse-than-death.

The pullet, still too immature for her smell and antics to be attractive, was running around the fence in bewildered terror when I took a hand, grabbed the bag from where I had dropped it in the dark and stuffed the old girls back inside.

While Sal stoked the fire to boil water, I drove two nails into the chopping block to hold their necks still, rounded up all the cockerels except one and lopped off their heads. In ten minutes there were eighteen white rapists hanging by their toes Italian style from the clothes line. From there they were removed one by one, dipped into boiling water, plucking and dressed. All the good bits like hearts, kidneys and gizzards, collectively the giblets, were kept along with the legs for winter broth.

Laying hens live in a coop,
And peacefully sleep on a roost.
Roosters that raid them
Will soon feel the blade then
And end up as somebody’s soup!

Their criminal 'remains', after having been hung, drawn and frozen, were consumed with gusto and sweet revenge over the following months.

Friday 7 May 2010

Ladies Man.

Ozzie Harris was an odd little bloke, small and wiry, maybe late sixties, who lived with his brother and sister-in-law in what may have been the last surviving stucco house in Wollombi. Built in the late 1800s, it sat among trees on the town side of Narone Creek Bridge.

With abundant energy and little to do, Oz could be seen wandering about looking for a chat. Often, when you were outside, he would appear, wide smile and cheery greeting to stay for a few minutes or longer, wandering through his mind and yours for as long as you liked. Comments on the weather came first, the price of cattle followed then on to anything else that cropped up. But he always ended by offering his help.

Anyone could expect the occasional visit but women received more visits than average. Sally often mentioned that Oz had called but never hinted at anything untoward, in fact she found him ‘sweet’ and certainly 'non-threatening’.
I agreed with her, but suspected he had hopes.

So, as I was told later, when a youngish woman moved into a small cottage a hundred metres away just over the bridge, Ozzie called in to make sure she was OK.
Over the months, his help was offered and accepted until he was chopping her wood, attending her garden and helping wherever he could. She became dependant on his generosity and he felt the obligation her apparent helplessness engendered.

It was said she needed substances to face her demons and maybe that provided the last link to complete this tragedy. So, as shadows lengthened, she retreated inside to begin her routine that insulated against whatever ghosts shared her existence.

Late on that fateful day, it was also said, Ozzie remembered his promise to cut her some firewood. So, as light was fading, he grabbed his axe and hurried across the bridge to attack the wood pile before all warmth left the lowlands, which it did as soon as the sun climbed away up the hillsides. Tragically, his lateness and two ‘it was saids’ converged to end one life, ruin another and shock scores.

Inside the house, night was close. Lamps were lit, and the dog had settled in by the newly kindled fire. Spooked by the dog’s frantic barking, she grabbed her rifle and joined him at the door. Of course the dog knew Oz and had his tail been wagging, the outcome might have been different. But her dog heard only the squeak of gate hinges and it was the wrong time of day.

Through the glass and against fading light, all she could see was the silhouette of a man hurrying towards her, axe in hand. Fear, confusion and maybe a little substance induced paranoia tightened her finger and the gun fired, bursting apart the big heart of her only friend in town.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

A Dog's Breakfast.

Cattlemen become hardened to cruelty as they push terrified beast onto trucks, through crushes and finally into the abattoir. Most people sitting down to a prime steak are vaguely aware of all that, but rarely get to see behaviors like this one, hinting at intelligence that surprised and inspired.

In spring, stone fruit must be culled or all our peaches and nectarines would be tiny things with big seeds and scant flesh. It seems that each tree has just so much sugar to go around which it spreads over as many fruit as it bears. So by culling to an optimum number, the farmer can achieve optimum fruit size. But it must be done as soon as fruit is large enough to rub off the branch to not waste energy on fruit that will be culled. So when the time comes, the farmer is at it each morning as soon as he can see.

In the Dooralong Valley, spring mornings are chilled by cold air trapped in low lying paddocks. Layers of mist, soft cotton sheets floating, thin above frosty grass delineate the strata. Warmer air at the hilltops keeps the cold air down until sunshine caresses the ground, releasing mists to rise and dissipate into invisible humidity. It was through such layered mist I walked, secateurs ready for the occasional overgrown branch or water-sprout when I became aware of the drama being played out beyond the orchard fence.

Covered-wagon style, about thirty cows were in a circle, heads lowered, bellowing their distress, presenting a wall of horns ready to gore and toss any who came close. Three wild dogs circled them, running fast, tiring the cows as they constantly adjusted their line of heads to watch and deter at each pass. Fatigue weakened their frantic hoarseness as fdaster and faster the dogs ran the perimeter searching for a gap. Sensing the rising panic they challenged the line causing it to buckle. Gaps appeared that would widen to let them through and they joined up to exploit weaknesses. Once they were in, organised defence would break apart. In the confusion each cow would search for her own and three dogs would be too much for one cow as they tore at the throat of the unlucky baby. Inside were the thirty calves, all bleating, picking up on the fear, wild eyed and huddled mid-circle.

I ran home for my gun. Two minutes later I was back at the fence ready to drop at least one and frighten off the rest, but a clear target was impossible through the dust, mist and swirtling bodies. Then one looked my way and without any apparent signal, they were all on the other side of the cows and gone. I was through the fence in a moment but by the time I reached the circle’s far side it was as if they had never been. Cows were breaking away and calves rejoining their mothers to suckle and be comforted.

Within minutes all was quite, cows grazing and calves cavorting around them, a picture of sylvan perfection. Not bad for a herd of dumb animals... maybe not as dumb as we would like to believe! Pass the sauce please.

Monday 3 May 2010

No future for the futurist

Imagine my surprise to read Re David Dale’s rave (Sun Herald May 2) where he postulated a Malcolm Turnbull switch to Labor. By the way, I agree labor is Cousin Mal's spiritual tribe.

In one scenario he had Turnbull retiring as Labor leader, having replaced Rudd after his loss to Lib Joe Hockey in 2013 and handing it to Peter Garrett in 2018!

I almost had a seizure reading that. Way back in 1990, I wrote a musical play for schools called '20-20 Vision', about climate change. The setting for the play was the Peter Garrett Environmental Awards when people (current students playing themselves as adults in 2020) who had engineered the turn around to a nil-carbon economy in the thirty years between 1990 and 2020, were being honoured. In the play, Peter Garrett was Prime Minister!

I think the chances of PG becoming PM by 20-20 are about as good as humanity achieving carbon neutrality in the ten years left of the thirty then available! Incidentally very few schools bought that play. Most rejected it as ‘too political’.

To carry you back to public attitude then, I remember in the same year receiving a reply to my suggestion that our school start a recycling program. Inspector Ray Bird (Central Coast NSW) replied: “I don’t regard recycling as an appropriate activity for school children.”

Reading it now, my play is middle of the road but I have moved on. My current serious writing is about the next thirty years. Unfortunately, despite some success as a futurist, (well, maybe Garrett excepted, ha ha!) my latest book has as much chance of success as that play did twenty years ago. Pity really, it will be middle of the road by 2040!

Saturday 1 May 2010

Marriage and other snags.

When Ricky May discovered the lead skater in the Pat Gregory Ice Show dead from heart failure back stage at Souths Leagues, you would have thought the message would have gotten through but an addict is an addict and food was his downfall.

He might have been in dodgy company, hanging around with Irko and his mates, but it wasn’t loose women that kept him out late. However, Ricky’s wife Colleen wasn’t to know that and worried.

Coming home at dawn was nothing new, but unlike the old days when Colleen was a soubrette at Sydney’s top night spots and he would meet her after work, she now had her gorgeous little brown skinned blue eyed baby Shaney and was grounded. So now, after his gigs he hung out with other entertainers. At first he came straight home but after a while his pattern went back to staying out late and she became suspicious enough to have him followed.

Now, anyone who has ever seen Colleen knows any man who cheated on her must be totally insane. A natural blonde with blue eyes, a face so perfect she could have been used as a template by cosmetic surgeons and a body, well, let’s say she made Miss Universes, all of them, look frumpy. But we don’t always see ourselves as others see us. After a week the detective agency report arrived.

‘Mr May departed South Sydney Leagues Club at one AM, proceeded to Harry’s CafĂ© de Wheels and was joined by a Mr Norman Erskine. They had coffee and a floater. (Pie and peas). They then drove to the Royal Motor Club. They watched the late show there, and were joined by two other men, leaving at 3.15.

'That group of four caught a cab to Kings Cross where they entered the Hasty Tasty Restaurant and Mr May had Beef Stroganoff and a beer.
At 4.30, they left the Hasty Tasty, catching a cab to Chequers Night Club where they met with the late night band and had a drink with them, then they all went to an all night hamburger joint where Mr May had hamburgers with chips and a milk shake. From there, Mr May was dropped off at Souths Leagues where he collected his car and drove home, arriving at your door at 5.55 AM.'

Every day for a week a similar pattern was reported. Col was devastated. Where others might have been relieved, she was seething.
“He wants food more than he wants me!” she shouted at the report and decided to undress the problem. That night after Rick left for work, she took Shaney to a friend’s house and prepared her trap. Early next morning she was ready.

Half an hour before his arrival, she prepared her herself for battle. Ricky was worth fighting for, so she showered and did her hair just the way he liked it. She made up her face, not that it needed making up, perfumed herself with his favourite and then totally nude except for her highest heels, she waited. As the garage door closed she rose, went to the fridge and pulled out a three metre string of sausages and draped them strategically around her faultless body, being sure not to obscure her best assets.

He came through the door and stopped in amazement, eyes wandering over the sausages.
“Rick! I’ve had enough. It’s the food or me. Your call!”
He took her hand tenderly and kissed her on the lips before turning her away from the door.
“Coll, I love you so much”, he breathed into her ear, removing the sausages. “I can hardly wait. Let’s do it now!”
Then, hurrying her through the house, he grabbed a large pan from the rack and stopped at the stove, dropping in the sausages.
“Let’s cook the snags!”

Epilogue: She did leave for a short while, but they were soon back together and as predicted, she and Shaney lost him to a heart attack in 1988, aged 44 years young.
Sadly missed by his family, his mates, his fans and his golf club. A great talent and a gentle man.