It’s been a long time between drinks. I haven’t written a blog post for nearly two months and so much has happened in that time that life has been a blur. I’ve been on leave for five weeks, been back at work a month and have had plenty on my plate to ponder.
I once heard it said (in fact I read it on the internet!) that all blogs eventually die and for some time I have been fearful that “Strange Notations from a Laborious Life” is in a death spiral of it’s own with posts dropping off in regularity and my enthusiasm for writing waning-all things I’m sure which contribute to the death of other blogs.
So, is “Strange Notations” heading off into the sunset? Will this be the last you hear from this earnest blogger? The truth is-I don’t know. For five years I have wanted to put my personal story forward to whoever might want to read it. I wanted to leave a small mark on the world, just so there was a piece of me left floating around when I am long gone. I think I have achieved that and I am quite proud of some of the content I have written on this site. I hope a few people somewhere got something out of it occasionally. But I have been wondering-is it time for a change? A freshen up? A new beginning (I’m starting to sound like George Lucas writing the preamble for Star wars!)?
I was thinking of starting a new blog with more specific content, a narrower reach and perhaps a larger audience. Although it would be a shame to kill off “Strange Notations” the truth is that nothing lasts forever and to grow and broaden our horizons we sometimes have to move on and leave behind the labours of our love.
I was thinking I may do some freelance writing and concentrate on producing more short stories. Something new, something different. Should I leave this blog behind to wither and die? You tell me. I am open to suggestions and welcome comments from anyone interested enough to make one.
The truth is I may soon have plenty of time on my hands with which to write. I can’t go into specifics at this stage as I am not sure of them yet myself but my life, one way or another is about to get a big shakeup. It’s an exciting but nervous time for me as I move forward. Every now and then an opportunity arises to improve yourself and that opportunity is looming for me now. I won’t make a mistake this time.
So, it may not be the last you hear from me. Or maybe it will be. I’ll keep battling ahead with laborious life and try to make the most of it. I hope you all do too!
Tomorrow will mark 19 years since I departed Australia for the steamy climes of Papua New Guinea to hike the infamous Kokoda Track with my brother and sister (pictured). The Track (or Trail as it is also commonly known) is a narrow footpath (or more correctly a dirt track cut through the jungle) traversing the Owen Stanley range which, depending on where you terminate the hike is about 100 kilometres in length and I have been led to believe is the only way from Port Moresby across the range to the north coast (although I may be mistaken in that belief). If walking from Ower’s Corner at the southern end you will most likely finish your walk at Kokoda Village on the north-side of the range from where you will be able to catch an airplane back to Port Moresby. It is green, steamy, moist, muddy, precipitous mountainside and precarious jungle most of the way and owes it’s fame as one of the world’s great hikes to the vicious, desperate clash of arms which took place along it’s length from August to November 1942.
The Japanese Army, advancing from bases on the north coast of Papua clashed with Australian Militia and Army in a series of battles, ambush’s and skirmishes across the width of the range. The Australian’s, supply line stretched to breaking point and significantly outnumbered fell back across the mountains, screening Port Moresby and delaying the Japanese advance to the point of exhaustion. Reverses elsewhere saw the Japanese eventually abandon their quest to capture the capital and they were harassed and harried by fresh Australian troops as they retreated headlong into the mountains, desperately trying to regain the relative safety of their northern strongholds. These beachheads were eventually reduced in late 1942 and early 1943 and the defending garrisons annihilated and the Japanese Empire lost it’s toehold in Papua.
All that remains today is the Track, it’s detritus and ghosts and the people who live along it trying to eke out a very basic existence which most of us could never imagine experiencing in this day and age. And, of course, there are the Trekkers.
The Kokoda Track has for evermore attracted hikers from all over the world although of course as one can imagine, most of these hardy souls come from Australia, following in the footsteps of countrymen they never knew and testing their stamina and endurance for reasons known only to themselves. I even met a Japanese veteran in Efogi Village on my crossing.
I suppose there is a risk and Papua New Guinea has it’s dangers but you judge those risks and take your chance if you dare. Hiking companies who run guided tours on the Kokoda Track are very well organised and can get you across the mountains safely and in good order.
In 1998 there were about 500 people walking the Track every year. That has risen to 2000 a year almost 20 years later. It’s good business for the locals who, in a region which was suffering an unemployment rate of 80% in 1998, are employed as guides and porters by many travel companies. Having such large numbers on the range has certainly caused some cultural discomfort over the years and everything on the Track is owned by someone and they expect something from the tourists who are continually appearing in their villages, using their facilities and being protected from nee’r do wells who habitually stalk unwary and unprepared hikers on it’s length. Local land owners have from time to time “closed” the Track, demanding compensation for permitting trekkers to use it but these protests have never seemed to last long. The benefits of having well off Australians throwing a bit of cash around the population more than likely sees any cultural offence quickly forgotten or at least ignored.
I hadn’t realised it was the 19th anniversary of my trip to Papua New Guinea until I started writing this post. I recently stumbled upon an article about another campaign fought by Australian soldiers in New Guinea a year after the Kokoda campaign, this one in the Finisterre Range which culminated in a very hard fight for a 6 kilometre long, razorback feature named by Australian forces “Shaggy Ridge”. Ironically, many men who fought on the Kokoda Track were present at the capture of Shaggy Ridge and it is an epic of Australian arms although largely forgotten today.
As I “googled” the campaign many photos of the Ridge during the campaign and notably from more modern days were returned. It appears you can do a 6 day hike from Lae to Nadzab which climbs Shaggy Ridge and I must say it piqued my interest. I always swore I would never go back to Papua New Guinea but a hike to Shaggy Ridge, bearing in mind my much advanced age when compared to my previous visit, could be an enjoyable trip.
Would I like to do it? Yes. Am I likely to do it? Probably not. The hike itself would not be a problem, I’m sure I could fit enough to handle it. I just don’t like flying and it would take two flights, one from Moresby to Lae and another back again to do the trip. Flying in Australia is nerve wracking enough for me but flying in a country noted for it’s aircraft accident rate hardly inspires me to drag out my old backpack and start training. Also. I doubt I could drag out any old traveling companions to accompany me and I’m not likely to venture to PNG without a mate or two to hold my hand.
Ah, pipe dreams. We all have them and perhaps it keeps us breathing. If nothing else the images of Shaggy Ridge have reminded me of another part of my life when I ventured to PNG to walk in the footsteps of better men than me who gave their all. Nice memories to have and a nice life I have enjoyed.
It’s been a while. Three weeks (almost) since my last post. I really have been letting the side down. I did a single day online course about a month ago through the Australian Writer’s Centre which centered on trying to attract more Blog readers. The Writer’s Centre courses are actually really fantastic and this one was no exception and I learnt a lot. Trouble is I ended up doing the exact opposite to what the course taught me to do. They explained that you need to make regular entries so as readers know that a post will be coming out soon. Of course, almost immediately, my productivity ceased and my output fell to zero. Loser!
Of course it’s not as though the internet is breaking every time I drop a piece online. I oscillate between less than half a dozen to about twenty or so readers with every post. I won’t be challenging JK Rowling in the popularity stakes any time soon. Thus my reason for doing the course.
I did have a bit of a flurry of activity just after doing the course but it petered out into nothingness soon after that despite my best intentions. And I have no excuse.
I have been on holiday from work for the last two weeks and before I farewelled my workmates I wrote myself a list of things to do while I was away. They were, in no particular order, find new job, write, walk and do an online course. Until I started writing this post I have not achieved any of those goals.
Linda and I did get away for a few days however. I have long wanted to visit the site of the World War 2 Prisoner of War camp at Cowra and we drove over there last week. We visited the Japanese Gardens which are close to the site and very beautiful and from there we drove onto the old site itself which is just over the small hill on which the garden complex is situated.
There is an interpretive walk at the site and it is a quiet and peaceful place situated in a shallow valley with bleating sheep and ploughed fields giving no hint of the blood that was spilled here on August 4 1944.
For those who don’t know this was the site of the biggest mass break out of prisoners of war in the Second World War. 1200 Japanese prisoners scaled the barbed wire for no other reason than being ashamed of being incarcerated and clubbed and stabbed to death four Australian soldiers in the process. Almost 300 Japanese died as a result of the escape and most of the rest were captured in the following days after realising being stuck in the middle of the Australian countryside with no real purpose or leadership was pretty pointless. Privates Hardy and Jones were awarded posthumous George Crosses for standing their ground at a Vickers machine gun post when other men would have run and not been blamed for it. Private Hardy disabled the machine gun before the pair were overrun and killed, denying it’s use to the escapees. Cool, calm gallantry under the greatest possible pressure. A couple of hard earned George Crosses to be sure!
I suppose the story of Privates Hardy and Jones struck a chord with me as they were 44 and 45 years of age respectively, just a fraction younger than I am today. Considered too old for active service they were cast off to 22 Garrison Battalion to sit out the war guarding the vanquished. Garrison troops were often unfairly castigated as weak soldiers but many of them were veterans of the Great War, men who had been wounded in action and couldn’t return to active service and men like Hardy and Jones who wanted to serve but found themselves in that awkward age group which missed both world wars. I would suggest they got more than they bargained for at Cowra but if nothing else they died as gallantly as a pair of Australian soldiers could have. It was a tragic and pointless episode in every respect. Lest we forget.
The other place of note we visited during our meandering trip through the countryside west of Canberra was the Roundhouse Museum at Junee. The town is a big rail hub and the museum is a great spot staffed by volunteers who are former railway workers and thus very knowledgeable. The real attraction though is the trains! Several retired engines and carriages of varying ages are on display and of course you can hop aboard and get a small idea of what it might be like to drive a train.
There was also an old mail carriage from the days when mail was sorted on a train which came across from Sydney and mail officers sorted on board as the train chugged through the night. This service ceased three years before I started with Australia Post so it wasn’t quite ancient history for me and also provided another layer of interest in the museum. I highly recommend a visit.
We also visited Cootamundra and the birthplace of cricket’s greatest player Don Bradman. I knew of course that Bradman had been born in Coota but in all the years I was regularly visiting the town racing pushbikes I never knew exactly where the house was. Ironically it is situated just around the corner from the old start line of the Haycarter’s classic, a race I participated in several times. I would have ridden past it warming up!
An old spinster had owned the house for many years thus it was in almost the same condition as it had been when the great man was born and when she died in the 1990’s the local council moved in and created a nice little attraction for passing tourists and cricket lovers.
So, all in all it’s hardly been a riveting two weeks of leave but it sure beats the hell out of being bored senseless at work and I did enjoy my few days away. I’m off to West Wyalong tomorrow for an overnighter before getting back to the grind of doing not much at all for another three weeks.
I will try once more to be a regular blog writer but I can’t promise anything. My life simply isn’t exciting enough to be constantly writing about it. But you never know when and where inspiration will strike. Stay tuned for more.
Easter Sunday, 2017. The best thing about Easter Sunday is I don’t have to work Easter Monday. Winning!! It was a quiet day but we had a nice family lunch with lots of chocolate floating around the house. Bits and pieces of wrapper are lying everywhere and we will no doubt be picking up discarded foil fragments for weeks to come.
The most notable part of my weekend to date was a drive Linda and I took out to the site of the old Orroral Creek tracking station deep in the south of the ACT on Good Friday. In fact they call this part of the ACT the Bimberi Wilderness even though it’s only 50 kilometres from Canberra and even less from the southern suburbs. I spent plenty of time riding in these parts many years ago although it was a rare day that I ventured out beyond the fearsome Fitz’s Hill, known around town as the territory’s hardest hill climb, beyond which lies the turn off to Orroral Valley.
For any cycling aficionados who may wander by this site, read this post and not know this climb it is a significant ascent on what is now known as the Boboyan Road south of the village of Tharwa in the Australian Capital Territory. According to stats on the Cycle2Max website the climb is 2.6 kilometres long with an average gradient of 10.4%. More than enough for most of the weekend warriors around here to handle. In fact I can only remember physically riding over the top of it twice although I may have been up there (on the bike) on a couple of other occasions. I usually turned around at the bottom when I trained around those parts years ago. I usually went out past Tharwa and the area beyond called Naas on weekdays before I went to work. Couldn’t see the point of flogging myself to death in the morning when I had to stand up at work for most of the evening. I trained out the other way through the Tidbinbilla Valley or north of the city towards Gunning on most weekends. I remember riding up Fitz’s and turning around halfway a couple of times. But I am a conqueror of this particular beast.
I have been out of the loop in regards to cycling and am somewhat estranged from the local fraternity nowadays but I can’t imagine that Fitz’s has lost anything of it’s formidable reputation. The annual Fitz’s Challenge is a “fun” ride that goes over this feared sentinel every September and they seem to get hundreds of people to participate, many who have never turned a pedal in anger. I can think of better ways to spent the early hours of a Sunday morning than busting a gut on Fitz’s Hill!
The major problem with Fitz’s is not in riding up it. Any serious cyclist with the right amount of training in his legs should be able to get over it without significant difficulty. Getting down it was more frightening! There is a climb/descent on the Orroral Valley side which isn’t too bad but the descent back into the Naas Valley was quite a ride. For me at least. The hill falls away from the crest at quite a steep angle and drops straight down to the valley floor. Nowhere is there an opportunity to wash off speed with a switchback or an easing of the gradient of the descent. I can remember glancing at my old Cat-eye cyclo-computer as it nudged past 100 kilometres an hour and getting a good look at a guard rail as the road gently dog-legged to the right about a third of a way down. Of course by this time I had plenty of experience of handling a racing bike at speed and managed to get down okay on the couple of occasions it was required. However the hill has claimed lives on it’s steep descent and I would recommend taking care if you haven’t spent a significant amount of time riding.
For the record the Cycle2max website lists the best time for the climb at 9 minutes and 35 seconds by local Dave Moten in 2005. It may have been broken by now and the old Canberra Tour use to traverse the hill so I imagine Dave’s time is not the definitive record. A top effort nonetheless!
So, on Good Friday I found myself ascending Fitz’s Hill for the first time in many years. This time I was in the much more comfortable position of driving a car over the top and Linda and I soon found ourselves taking the right hand turn which would take us to the site of the old Orroral Valley Tracking Station site.
I had thought about riding down this road on the rare occasions I had been out this far but not knowing the lay of land and if there were any significant physical challenges involved had put me off. I wanted to survive the ride home!
As it turned out there was nothing to intimidating on the road out to the valley. A few steepish little ascents took us past a camping site which was quite well populated. Some people really enjoy camping but I must say I can think of thousands of better ways to spend my Easter long weekend than sleeping in a tent in the Bimberi Wilderness. From the campsite there was a long, shallow descent before the road cleared the forest and the expanse of the Orroral Valley opened up in front of us.
The old tracking station of which nothing now remains except it’s foundations was built in the 1960’s by NASA. It must have been cold, lonely and isolated in those days but it played a fulsome role in the American space program tracking satellites and firing lasers at mirrors which had been left on the moon by Apollo astronauts. Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station which is in the next valley played a much more important role in the moon landings as did the Tidbinbilla dish which did in fact broadcast the first pictures of Apollo 11 on the moon to the world. (Despite what they say in the movies!)
It’s a beautiful place, quite green for this time of year considering the summer we have just endured. There were plenty of people at the site. There are picnic tables and public shelters set up and I was surprised that many had taken an opportunity to venture that far south on Good Friday. But it was a beautiful day for a drive.
As I said, there is nothing much left of the old space station, just concrete slabs adorned with a few weathered signs explaining just what was positioned in that particular spot and what it was designed to do. The only permanent inhabitants now are the kangaroos which cluster in bunches on the perimeter of the site.
As Linda and I patrolled the old site and bushwalkers appeared from a track running from the north and quickly disappeared again as the track continued south I did think it was a shame that no significant effort has been made to upgrade the site and give it the recognition to which it is due.
We spend a lot of money, in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia, investing our citizens and tourists with the knowledge of the indigenous people who occupied this land before European settlement. Of course it’s only right that this happens and the ACT is very good at it. But I do wonder why sites such as Orroral Valley Tracking Station and it’s sister site at Honeysuckle creek are left to go to ruin at the hands of time and from the ravages of the weather. This is human history. The history of mankind and the people who worked at this site helped to make it happen. Surely some sort of complex with interactive displays would be money well spent. I think we owe it to those who spent so many years in this isolated outpost tracking satellites and furthering the knowledge and achievements of humanity. I know the complex at Tidbinbilla covers a lot of this ground but surely more could be done at other sites in the ACT. Replacing many of the indecipherable signs would be a good start.
Orroral Valley Tracking Station closed in 1981. It’s dish was sent to Tasmania where it is still in use although not by NASA. it’s a very pleasant drive out to the site and I would recommend it although wildlife is present in abundance and several Wallabies risked their lives in a mad dash in front of our car as we left. It was also noted in signage that snakes can be a problem as they are anywhere in the Australian bush. So be careful.
Orroral Valley is 50km from Canberra. Head south through Tuggeranong following the signs to Tharwa. Cross the trestle bridge over the Murrumbidgee River at Tharwa Village and continue on Naas Road past the visitor centre and Mount Tenant. The road becomes Boboyan Road and soon descends into the Naas Valley with Apollo Road to Honeysuckle Creek branching off to the right beforehand. Drive over Fitz’s Hill and the turnoff to Orroral Valley is at the bottom of the hill on the other side. It is only a short drive to the tracking station site from there.
I am losing things. For the first time in my life I am losing things. A few weeks ago I lost a texta I used at work. It almost certainly fell out of my pocket while I was leaning over and I didn’t notice but it perturbed me nonetheless. I never lose things. And, I had to steal another one off a machine we work on. Can’t do without my texta. But I never lose things.
Yesterday I lost my pen. It was in my shirt pocket and disappeared as assuredly as it would if it was sailing through the Bermuda Triangle. (Not that pens can actually sail through or disappear in the Bermuda Triangle, but you get my drift I’m sure.) I have no idea where it went or how. I thought I may have actually forgotten to take it to work but it wasn’t here when I got home and I haven’t been able to find it today. I never lose things.
Then there was my box of cotton buds. In the bottom right hand draw of the bathroom vanity. It’s gone. It’s been there for months (actually years!) and suddenly it’s gone. How will I get my ears clean now? (Yes, I know you shouldn’t stick things in your ears but I am very gentle I assure you. My hearing is still okay, I think.) It’s very disconcerting. I never lose things.
Of course the fact that there are other people living in the house may have contributed to the sudden absence of my box of cotton buds but Linda assures me she hasn’t seen it, touched it or otherwise been in contact with it. Hmmm. It may be that all of her stuff which is packed tightly into the vanity draws is obscuring my view of it but I don’t think so. I never lose things.
Walking to my car last night after knocking off work I found myself wandering around the car park in circles. For a brief moment I thought I had lost my car. I never lose things! Of course I hadn’t lost my car. I had just parked in a different place than usual and eventually I found it. I never lose things but see how paranoid I am becoming?!
A few years back I went through a period of leaving things in cafes. I would be out shopping, stop off for a coffee with my newly bought wares, then leave them behind. It’s lucky that on each occasion the items were recovered because I never lose things.
I was driving to Wagga Wagga one day a few years back and stopping in Gundagai for refreshment I took my sunglasses off and lay them on the cafe table. They were expensive. My mother had bought them for me. I was halfway to Wagga Wagga from Gundagai before I realised the reason the glare off the sunbaked farmland was killing my eyes. I had left my sunglasses behind. I didn’t go back for them. I never lose things.
I trained myself out of that habit. The habit of leaving things behind. But losing things is another matter altogether. It just doesn’t happen to me and it’s a worry. I never lose things.
There is no history of dementia in our family but I have wondered if I will be the first to start a trend. But then a friend once told me losing your car in the car park is not a sign of Alzheimer’s Disease. Forgetting you have a car is! Perhaps I am just going through a bad patch where I don’t seem to be able to hang onto my property?
I can only hope this trend will soon dissipate and I will return to normal…safe, reliable… my property always intact and where it should be because…I never lose things!
Milford Track, 2009. Looking out from under a long felled tree trunk I look as though I am wondering where to go or what to do next. Of course it is very much a posed photo and I knew exactly where I was, or, I hoped the guides from Ultimate Hikes Adventures knew where we were! I found this photo today on Facebook, in the “On This Day” section that has suddenly popped up on my Timeline. It’s a metaphor for my life today as I look out from the safety of my cozy world towards the future and wonder what it will bring.
If you read my last post you may recall me mentioning I had applied for another job. Unfortunately I didn’t get it; not that I was judged on lack of perceived qualification or ability. I didn’t fill out the application form properly!! Doh! Rookie error! I was momentarily crushed and all the hope I had of swanning into the Production Manager’s office at work, swagger in my step, hoping to gaily and disingenuously sing my regrets at having to leave the employ of his fine company, putrefied into the sprawling morass of unfulfilled promise which I seem to have been flailing in for much of my life.
No matter. The other mob didn’t deserve me! The thought of another twenty of so years in my current job did momentarily fill me with dread and a sense of foreboding. I felt suffocated and trapped, like a flailing man being dragged out to sea by a rip in the ocean, all hope abandoned, a life of tedium and the company of knaves all I could look forward to at work. However, I am nothing if not resilient nowadays and I have bounced back, ready to face the world once more on this dank and dark Monday.
I should have started perusing the job adds for something else I could do but given the disappointment of my previous failed attempt to find different work I felt something more creative to be appropriate. So I did an Australian Writers Centre course on “How toGet More Blog Readers”! It was a two hour online course with plenty of info, some of which I probably needed a teacher to explain properly but here I am today, reinvigorated, trying to get my Blog out there and recognised.
I will look at the employment pages again soon. There will be something of note to come up which will tickle my fancy I’m sure. I can at least relax now on my impending holidays without worrying about whether I would be required for a job interview or even if I was expected to start work elsewhere. Perhaps it’s time to write a book, a memoir of sorts. “The Secret Lives of Postal Workers” is what it would be called. Boy, do I have some fodder for that tome! Something to think about.
So, life goes on in with the same gentle cadence as always for me. Slow and steady, laborious yet sometimes fruitful. I hope you enjoyed this strange little notation.
Monday, Monday! They sing songs about it but for mine Thursday is the day for a mournful tune. Yes, Thursday! Thursdays really get to me. We are so close to the weekend that we can almost touch it, but……we still have to do it all over again tomorrow! What a tease Thursday is.
The one positive thing about Thursday for me is that things start to run down a little at work. Everyone seems to have gotten their important mail off on Monday or Tuesday hoping to get their article to it’s recipient by the end of the week. By Thursday it seems that mailing is an afterthought. “Ah…I’ll pop it in the post. It will get there by sometime next week” most will be thinking by today. Conversely, if you are waiting for a letter today you can only hope it was posted on Monday. Ah Thursday. What a day.
I’m actually counting down the days. I have next week and the week after to endure before I am off on five weeks of leave. If you hear a roar rumbling over Canberra at about 9.46pm on April 21 don’t be fearful-it’s not the sound of rolling thunder or the end of the world coming upon us, only me exiting the sliding doors at work with a shout as I hop, skip and jump my way into the sweet lazy days of my holidays. Best thing is that I also have Easter between then and now. Ten working days to go. Can’t wait to cross another number off my calendar when I get home tonight.
My leave will be a little different this year. I will be a little anxious. I have applied for another job and won’t know if I am being considered for it until after April 25. Nerve wracking. Well, not really nerve wracking but the situation is making me a little uneasy. It’s a bold new world for me should I get the job. A friend of mine nailed it on the head when she said applying for another job is at least a start, a proactive step towards improving my lot and I think she is right. I may not get the job, I may not even be short-listed but by doing up a resume and writing an application I feel I have crashed through a barrier. Working so long in the same position can make you feel institutionalised and sap your confidence. I feel it’s time to move on and broaden my horizons and work with amazing people. We should all strive to improve ourselves. Wish me luck.
Anyway, it’s a golden autumn day here in Canberra. Other parts of the country are suffering due to natural events but, apart from having to work, I can’t find a fault in this warm and lovely city today. Hope you all have a great day and don’t let the Thursday curse wear you down. The weekend is almost here. We just have to do it all again tomorrow!
Back from a relatively quickfire trip to Melbourne to see Adele in concert. I don’t need to tell anyone reading this post that Ms Adkins is the biggest singing star in the world at the moment and probably the greatest talent of her generation. You will always get argument of course but no-one else has the ability, charisma, stage presence, personality and iconic songs to match her. Not even Beyonce. A quick check of Twitter profiles sees Adele with 28.7 million followers to Beyonce’s 14.7 million. Telling? Perhaps.
The concert itself was flawless and Adele shows a great command of herself and her show. She sings just as well live as she does on iTunes and has a self-deprecating sense of humour and a potty mouth which, when combined with her working class London accent seem made to go together and cause no offence. Whatever you expect of Adele she will deliver. A self-aware and professional performer who may not even have reached her peak. She’s only 28.
The only other artist I have ever heard who sounded as good live as he did on record was Johnny Cash-one of the legends of popular music who I managed to catch on his last Australian tour in 1992-an experience which has never dimmed in my mind.
Our tickets were in the bleachers at Etihad Stadium so Adele herself was a mere dot in the distance but the large screen above her stage gave us an up close and personal view of her performance and it was impressive to see how hard she was trying. It was her last show in Australia after a long tour but you wouldn’t have known it. An exceptional performer who has probably already attained a legendary status.
We stayed in East Melbourne in a comfortable enough apartment complex just off Victoria Parade. I love this part of Melbourne. Old style homes abound and walking the streets gives a feel of what it must have been like living here many decades when life was simpler but perhaps harder. The old church above in Hotham Street has been converted into apartments and a quick check of real estate prices today revealed that one of those abodes recently sold for 2.5 million dollars!! A little out of my price range.
Explored Bridge Street in Richmond and had dinner in Victoria Street, wandered Fitzroy Gardens and took a tram to St Kilda, pounded the promenade and ventured out onto the pier. A fine weekend shared with our great friends Michael and Julianne.
I hadn’t been in Fitzroy Street St Kilda since I was 14 when my Dad and I came down to follow the Melbourne to Warnambool bike race which started at Port Melbourne that year. Fitzroy Street at the time was noted for it’s frequentation by “Ladies of the Night” back in those days (and I must point out I was well and truly in bed before that sort of business was plied!) but is much more upmarket now and St Kilda is very much a jewel in Melbourne’s glowing crown.
As we were strolling down Fitzroy Street an elderly gentleman rounded the corner in front of us and I immediately recognised him (although it was lost on Linda) as the figure of Ron Barassi, legendary player and coach in the VFL/AFL and probably the most influential figure in the history of Aussie Rules football. Of course I was too scared to accost him and ruin his day by asking for a snap on my iphone but for a sports fan it was a bit like seeing God wandering along the street. We are a bit insulated from sporting heroes here in Canberra. Perhaps they are seen out and about in Melbourne all the time?!
We perused the markets at the end of the street and I bought myself a reasonably expensive hat. I normally wouldn’t fork out $40 on a handmade Panama style piece of headgear but it was as warm as the far side of Venus and a brilliant blue sky was giving the sun plenty of leeway to scorch my skin. Another hour in that heat and you would have mistaken me for a tomato to be sure.
The hat certainly saved me some discomfort even though I felt like a bit of dandy among the beautiful people of St Kilda.
A tram ride home and a short rest and we were off again to the aforementioned night with Adele and were all suitably satisfied.
Monday dawned steamy but wet and yet the weather had cleared a little by the time we boarded the flight home. As if sighting one living legend of Australian sport wasn’t enough, providence granted that we should sight another on our flight home. Adam Gilchrist, the heroic, legendary wicketkeeper/batsman was sitting in business class, two seats in front of us. Linda of course had no idea why I was pointing out the tall and lean stranger and gasping at the fact yet another famous face had appeared in our path on our short trip away. She claimed she had heard of him yet she surely wasn’t as incredulous as I at the close encounter. Again, I left Mr Gilchrist to his own devices and noted that he was accosted by a cricket fan at the baggage carousel and was suitably polite and friendly considering the interloper was trying to coax him into a surely unwanted conversation about cricket. Nice to know he lives up to his reputation as a nice guy.
And that was my weekend. Legends, friends and the sights of a great city rolled into one. One can’t ask for much more.
I had a nice acknowledgement from the author of the new book “Mrs Kelly”, Grantlee Kieza who read my last post and concluded that the Kelly story will be debated for centuries. I certainly don’t agree with some of his conclusions but can still acknowledge the value of his work. Our national identity and character is still being created, we are after all a young nation and talking about one of our great stories and looking at it from different perspectives only contributes to our national narrative. May it long continue.
I also had a reply from someone who is most decidedly an anti-Kelly zealot. A lady who runs a blog which seems to have an aim of destroying the Kelly myth. Now that’s okay. To each his own and differing opinions are allowed in this great nation of course but I must say she did get a little personal but I have found that arguing with people with such entrenched views is pointless. She is obviously very well researched and that’s great and difficult to counter but she reads history with a different eye to me. Having several relatives who have served time in prison for capital offences and having seen the way a small element of the judiciary and law enforcement abuse their authority has perhaps blurred my vision of the Kelly legend. So be it. Some view the story in black and white. I see it in shades of grey.
Any great national story is open for debate and we have seen recently with Australia Day passions rising on both sides of a debate about the validity of celebration of the European settlement of this continent. Anzac Day is another which often stirs controversy although the sanctity of the occasion often mutes opposition to the commemoration.
The United States is ripe for such controversy given their tumultuous history and one only has to study events such as the battles at The Alamo or Little Big Horn to see passions rise and verbal fisticuffs on display. The rise of folk hero Davy Crockett who died fighting the Mexican army in Texas is a fascinating display of myth-making.
Of course these people died a long time before I was born. I never knew them. The chapter of that book is closed. Their travails have no effect on the life I live so I don’t see the point of getting too wound up about history. I enjoy it but I would like to influence the future not the past.
The building of myths and legends is what makes up the living organism of a nation. The nation which deny’s it’s myths and legends is barely a nation at all. Of course there is always a more prosaic explanation for any event and men and women, heroes and villains are sometimes seen through a lens of national desire, needs or wants.
Good authors will keep poking at our history and produce good work. Then it’s up to us to read what they say and then make up our minds. Be adventurous and grab a history book. Our own story is pretty inspiring.
Just finished reading a new book on the life of Ellen Kelly, the mother of the nefarious Ned and Dan and a woman who led a tragic and in some ways desolate life until her death at the age of 95 at home in Greta Victoria. The book is by Grantlee Kieza, a stalwart literary figure in Australia who has written many books on sport and great people and events in Australian history. It’s a good book. Accessible and highly readable for the general public although it becomes as much a re-telling of the Kelly Outbreak as anything-understandable when given that the years between 1878 and 1880 really defined and ruined Ellen Kelly’s life even though she was in prison for much of that period.
The book isn’t judgmental for the most part and tells the story of Ellen and Ned and his gang without ever glorifying the tale as has been done so many times before. There is a slight hint that Kieza is no fan of the legend but he doesn’t labour the point too much.
There is however enough in Kieza’s recounting of the outbreak to suggest that his sympathies lie with the authorities and the erstwhile officers of the Victoria Police and the defence of Constable Fitzpatrick is likely to put the still numerous Kelly supporters off-side but it is a well researched book and I have no reason to doubt Kieza’s resolution of the “Fitzpatrick incident”.
As with most of our country’s myths and legends, the image and iconery emboldened by Ned Kelly as he staggered, badly wounded out of the early morning mist and into the gun-sights of a dozen policemen outside the Glenrowan Inn dressed in his ploughshear armour, is constantly under attack by new generations of historians and others who feel that legitimizing the legend and making a hero out of a horse thief and cop-killer is something which should never be countenanced.
Ned Kelly was a very dangerous young man, there is no doubt of that but he remains an enigma. Brought up surrounded by a family of criminals after his father died he never really had much of a chance. Poverty, discrimination, self-consciousness and self-pity all played a part in the man he was to become and let pool the anger which seeped into the deepest recesses of his character. He was big and strong and tough. He hadn’t spent his whole life stealing horses. He had cut sleepers for new railway lines in the tumbledown forests of North-East Victoria. As hard a work as a man could do and he was good at it, defying his reputation as a thief and a neer’ do well. And of course he had broken rocks for three years in Pentridge prison. When his anger broke he was a wraith and God help anyone who stood in his way. A very formidable young man as his victory over local thug and standover merchant Isaiah “Wild’ Wright in a twenty round slugfest in Beechworth in 1874 would attest. It’s no wonder people, police included often walked around him.
Of course in every myth there is a kernel of truth and it is no less the case with Ned Kelly. There were times when the man lived up to the legend. He could be noble and decent and kind…and honest, courageous and loyal but his predilection to violence and his hatred of the police and the perceived injustice meted out to his family…true or no…had warped his soul. And he became a killer. And this where I take a stand which is different to many revisionist authors.
I don’t share the view that Ned was destined for the gallows from the moment he first drew breath at Beveridge north of Melbourne. The circumstances of his life shaped him and although he made some terrible choices which eventually led to his execution, I think there are a few extenuating circumstances. There is no doubt the Victoria police of the day were incompetent and corrupt. No matter what way you spin it, no matter how much you champion law and order, no matter how black and white you want to make it, the kick-backs to police officers, their support of squatters over selectors and the handling of criminal elements such as the Kelly’s and their kin left much to be desired and, rightly or wrongly led to a feeling of injustice among such clans which was never properly addressed or even considered by authorities of the day. Racism, discrimination and self-interest ruled and people like the poor farmers of the North-East fell through the cracks-and trouble followed.
Of course while many in the same situation as the Kelly’s never felt the need to strike back through stock theft, the poverty and desolation remained the same until many social problems were relieved after land reform was initiated and as a result of the Police Royal Commision of 1881-an investigation brought on by the Kelly Outbreak. Ned had some sort of a Pyrrhic victory.
The results of the Royal Commission spoke for themselves and perhaps those who champion men like Constable Ernest Flood, Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick and even Sergeant Michael Kennedy, the brave and decent officer who was killed by Ned Kelly at Stringybark creek, who despite his sterling reputation still accepted private kickbacks for arresting petty criminals, should look harder into the root cause of Ned Kelly’s rampage and ask themselves what they would do in a similar situation. Ned was a committed criminal but it didn’t have to lead to murder and the loss of so many innocent lives. By 1880 it was war as far as Ned was concerned. Kill or be killed. It would have been a strange thing for a man who had been conditioned by circumstances and driven by the rage such as which aroused Ned Kelly to run and not strike back.
It’s beyond the scope of this blog to explore the Kelly outbreak in any great detail. I implore you to have a read of Grantlee Kieza’s new book on Ellen Kelly. It’s a great read by one of our best authors but also have a crack at Ian Jones and Keith McMenomy-men who stand on the other side of the argument and make a case for Ned. Their opinion is worthwhile too.
Ned Kelly will always be viewed through a prism of personal prejudice and ideals. No opinion of him is the wrong one. It’s good to have a discussion of differing views as long as it’s civil. My Irish catholic roots and connections to North-East Victoria through relatives who knew Ned Kelly obviously colour my perspective. My Great Aunt Ethel Sumner was married to Albert Griffiths, Ned’s nephew through his sister Grace and my father, who himself as a youngster met old Jim Kelly, Ned’s brother, swears a better man never wore shoes. These fine and upstanding, law abiding citizens mourned for relatives they never knew until their dying days. Surely there is some substance to their grievances. Many of my own relatives lie in Greta cemetery with Ned, his mother, brothers and sisters. There was never a bad word said about him in our family. Such is the role of upbringing in the maintenance a legend.
Outlaw, legend, hero, villain or cold blooded killer, Ned Kelly remains a giant of Australian history. No matter what you think of him his story still resonates today and reminds us that all members of society need to be treated equally under the law and even our criminals deserve that right. To treat them any less does ourselves no credit. It’s as important today as it was in 1880.