PNG Pipe Dreams.

P1080839
Kokoda Track May 1998 between Menari and Efogi.

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.

Until next time.

Advertisements

Trains, Cricket and a Pair of Forgotten Heroes

 

 

P1080650
Graves of George Cross holders Privates Jones and Hardy at Cowra Cemetery.

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.

P1080593.JPG
Japanese Gardens at Cowra.

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!

P1080644.JPG
Site of the George Cross action at Cowra.

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.

P1080656.JPG
Graves of Japanese servicemen in Cowra.

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.

P1080715.JPG
Linda with one of the displayed engines.

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.

P1080736
Inside the old mail carriage.

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.

P1080687
Bradman’s birthplace in Cootamundra.

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.

 

Live Life and Love It

 

Got up this morning feeling a little battered and bruised after a hard night at work. Flicked the computer on to catch up with the world and immediately read two stories about fellows who had succumbed to heart attacks aged 45 and 47! Gawd. Good morning Starshine. The earth says hello!

I manage to thread the needle between these two men being 46 years old so it was a bit of a sobering way to shake myself awake for the day. The funny thing is, and I’m sure anyone who is around the same age will agree, you find yourself in middle age before you know it, not really being sure how you got here. One day you are young and carefree, fit and able, next you are dodging heart attacks and bowel problems! Hhmm. Time sure does fly.

The jist is that I don’t feel any different to how I did twenty years ago. I do feel I’m more mature. I occasionally say and do stupid things nowadays but it’s but a sliver of the time when compared to my loose mouth of decades ago. Physically, there are a few more aches and pains and perhaps I am just starting to feel the wear and tear on my body a little-I’m certainly not as lithe and agile as days gone by but I ain’t a cripple yet!

Illness and incapacity can strike at any time without warning I know and my doctor, the last time I dared to go, marveled at the fact that I don’t attend the practice very often. That must be a good thing though, right?

A few years back I took a trip to Europe with Linda. I’m a mild history buff and although I had been to Britain and Turkey before I had never been to western Europe. I was getting older of course and the thought had occurred to me that I didn’t want to die without having seen the fields of France and Germany. You never know what the future holds. So, we went in the spring of 2013 and had a great 6 week trip. Of course, two years later Linda is seriously ill with cancer and life was put on hold for a year and for some time in 2015 we were gripped with some uncertainty as to where the road in front of us would lead.Linda is now well thankfully but since then several extended family members have passed away due to cancer and my little world is getting shaken up just a little.

I’ll be 47 in three months. Well on the road to a half century. I can’t believe I’m here. Life is good and I have been very lucky in so many ways and pray it holds for a good 40 or so years yet.

In October 2013 I stood in a military cemetery in a farmer’s field in northern France and gazed upon the headstone belonging to a great uncle I never met. He was 20 years old and died of wounds at a place no-one outside a certain radius has ever heard of. Grevillers, France. I guess there is some nobility in dying for your country but that sort of thing is roundly mocked now particularly by those who lean to the left and lying in a lonely grave in France so young is certainly a waste of what would probably have been a good and fruitful life. But I think I owe it to him and the rest of my family and Linda to live strong and long and we owe it to ourselves to enjoy life to it’s fullest.

I have to go to work today and put in eight long, boring hours but it’s only a means to an end in order to keep living and enjoying my comfortable existence. Don’t take work so seriously. Do what you have to do and embrace the other sixteen hours of the day when you can do something worthwhile.

Embrace life and those you love. Life as you know it could be over in the blink of an eye.

Have fun and take care.

e5539-mattandlindaeurope20131736
Grave of L/Cpl JF Robinson. DOW 23 April 1917. Grevillers France

A Strange Notation on a Hot Summer Day

p1080323
Bay of Martyrs, Victoria, Australia

Boy it’s hot! I love a stretch of good weather as much as the next man but endless days of being lathered in perspiration and sleepless nights takes it’s toll on those with the most formidable constitutions. I can’t remember a spell of hot weather in Canberra where it has been over 30 degrees celsius for weeks on end in my lifetime. Yes, it can get hot here but our summer heatwaves generally only continue for a couple of days before the weather retreats and gives us a spell in the far more comfortable mid-20 degree range. Global warming? Makes you think.

It doesn’t look like ending soon. The rest of the week will be mired in temperatures from 31 degrees to 39. Lovely. Oh, for a couple of days of soaking rain!

I should be out on my bike yet once again the bane of work has degraded my body and it in turn has betrayed me.  I’ve had an elbow problem for some time and my heavy workload last night seems to have aggravated it. I think I need to try the old Rocky Balboa tactic of fighting southpaw for a while to give my poorly arm a rest. I’m almost 47 and I’m wondering if I can hack the pace of this job for another 20 years.

So, for today I’m leaving regular exercise behind and using the morning for rest and recovery-and blogging! It’s much preferable to be on the internet plugging away than watching the news or reading the papers and observing the divided and angry world we live in. From President Trump’s shenanigans in the United States to protests about the inclusivity of Australia Day here at home it seems that no-one can agree on anything and respect for another opinion differing from or own is a theory discarded when Noah was a boy! Unity? There is no such thing in today’s world.

So, perhaps I am better off retiring to my couch and curling up into a ball to watch television rather than ponder the great issues of our time on my blog. Fan on full blast of course!

I will decorate my blog post today with a picture I took on the Great Ocean Road last October. It is of the Bay of Martyrs near Port Campbell, right down on the rugged southern coast of Australia. The great thing about this part of the coast is that not many people visiting the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge bother to venture any further down the road and consequently miss such magnificent scenery as this even though it is but a few kilometres further on. We had it all to ourselves courtesy of the Port Campbell Tourist Office volunteer who offered his shrewd advice as to where to go and what to see. Thank you sir!

Take care all and stay cool.

 

2017-Here We Are-Here We Go!

wheelofbrisbane1
Photo at the Wheel of Brisbane

Greetings and salutations! 2017 is here in all it’s glory and we all should have shouldered slowly but surely into the year by now. Unfortunately and depressingly some things never change.

I’m back at work and although my mood has improved since that very first day  whence I had to return I’ve found it’s very much the same old thing, it’s just a different calendar on the wall. But, I am not going to spend 2017 whinging and whining about work. There is too much to look forward to and I have always concluded that the eight hours of monotony  we suffer every day is only a requirement for us which enables a better life to be had when we are not engaged in employment.

Some may have noticed too that my Blog has a new look. I figured it was due for a change and as  my posts have been infrequent lately I needed some inspiration and a fresh start. I was also thinking of changing the name of my Blog. “Strange Notations from a Laborious Life” has always seemed a bit silly and jarring and I am open to any reasonable suggestion for a new title. Put your thinking caps on!

I’ve also been drawing a blank when it comes to actually writing a post. This has been happening for a while but all creativity has dried up and I am hoping to get into some useful work this year, write a few short stories and perhaps get a freelance article or two published. I need to read more, be socially active, get those creative juices flowing! Again, I’m open to suggestions for topics for the Blog.

I spent Christmas/New Year in Queensland, the first time I have been in the land of the Banana-Bender for over twenty years. It was a pleasant time staying with Linda’s daughter and her fiance although it was hot! Everyone loves their air conditioning unit in Queensland and the humidity is such that you seem to be in a constant lather of sweat the whole time. My photo of the day was taken at the Wheel of Brisbane and although it is actually a green screen behind us with a view of the Brisbane River creatively inserted into shot, the wheel is on the river near the area they call Southbank  I hope Megan and Tristan don’t mind appearing in this post.

p1080447
The Brisbane River from the Wheel of Brisbane.

I also spent a couple of days in Wangaratta, the town of my birth, attending a family reunion. My mother, her two sisters and two brothers are getting on in years so they try to get together in early January every year. It is only the third time this has happened but it has quickly become a tradition. I had missed the first two reunions so I wanted to make every effort to get there this time and it was a pleasant experience. Leaving Wangaratta at two years of age I never got to spend much time with maternal cousins so I don’t know them all that well. I guess now is as good a time as any to strengthen family ties.

So-what lies ahead in 2017? For me it’s more travel. Linda and I are going to Melbourne in March to see a concert then we are hoping to get to New Zealand in May. Not the greatest time of year to be heading to the Land of the Long White Cloud but a bit of cool weather never phased me. I haven’t made much of it yet, just a thought or two coalescing in my mind but I hope to get over to Western Australia later in the year as I have never been there. That, and improving my employment status and writing more are my goals for the year. How about you? Drop me a line in comments and let me know what you would like to achieve in 2017.

It promises to be quite a year. A new President of the United States, Britain trying to extricate itself against it’s better judgement from the European Union and the continuing threat of Terrorism  will all play a major role and be the dominant features of the year no doubt. There is plenty to write about. Plenty of fun to be had. I’m up for it. You should be too.

Have a great day.

Work, Road Trips and Cycling

 

14482934_1892875607609511_524933252264230912_n1

It’s been a while between drinks but life has been busy with work and leisure and the notion of writing down some “strange notations” really hasn’t gripped me as much as I hoped it would.

I remembered the other day a quote I once read about blogging which stated most blogs end up dying and realised mine was probably on the verge of doing so. It didn’t suddenly make me want to charge out and start writing things down but the urge has taken me today so here I am-nothing profound or thought provoking-merely a check in with a hope that something more interesting will be coming down the pipeline soon in “Strange Notations from a Laborious Life”!

So-what have I been doing? The usual-working although I was lucky enough to have a few days away down on the Great Ocean Road in October which was enjoyable. Not a place I have been to before but I am certainly glad I went. The Twelve Apostles is of course the drawcard of the Shipwreck Coast but I found Loch Ard Gorge and the story behind it to be much more profound and the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Boats to be just as spectacular as the The Twelve Apostles and possibly more so.

London Bridge was also a very interesting place and all of these remarkable formations are within a very short drive of one another with the attractive hamlet of Port Campbell a nice stopping point for accommodation.

p1080305
Linda at London Bridge (In my jacket!!)

From Port Campbell we meandered home through Colac and some of the greenest farmland I have ever seen in Australia. It’s a different country when it rains. I hadn’t been to Colac since I was boy and my father and I followed the Melbourne to Warrnambool bike race and as we turned on to the main highway just out of town heading east I remarked to Linda that Mockridge and Taylor, two legends of Australian cycling had swapped turns along this road during their famous pursuit of the leaders in the 1957 edition of the classic handicap race as it was formatted then. She sort of sighed and gave me her “that’s nice dear” look and we were soon in Colac eating Red Rooster chicken burgers for lunch.

Home through Bendigo and Albury with a stop in Cobram where my grandparent’s old house is derelict and falling down-a sad testament to the irresistible passing of time and our inability to stop it or at least hold it back.

Home again to work and to the election of a new President of the United States (!!!!) and back to the grindstone at work and we find ourselves less than a month out from Christmas.

I have been doing some riding on my bike as the picture at the top of the page shows. I made a vow several years ago that I would never again wear tight fitting lycra shirts as the idea of fat middle aged men  riding around in them is never appealing but on the day in question it was freezing so I dug out from the depths of the cupboard a long sleeve jersey and broke my vow. It hasn’t been worn since though!

I have entered the Cadel Evans’ People’s Ride which coincides with the Road Race he lends his name to at the end of January-thus my return to cycling and the quest to be fit enough to ride 111km at a reasonable clip. I have been riding for two weeks and have begun to wonder what possessed me to enter as I am so far out of shape it’s not funny. I have improved over the last couple of days from “Grovelling” to “Really Struggling” but it’s a slow process. With Christmas interfering I am doubting my ability to be fit enough to ride such a distance at the end of January but I guess I can always pull the pin. Time will tell.

So, that’s it for the moment-just a small snapshot into what I have been doing for the last couple of months. I hope to back online with something more entertaining to tell you before Christmas. Until then, take care.

 

 

Mt Oriel Homestead/Iandra Castle

p1080156
Iandra Castle

Deep in the heart of southern New South Wales lies a throwback to the days of English aristocracy transplanted into the bowels of this great southern land. Iandra Castle or, more correctly, Mt Oriel Homestead is an English style manor house built in 1908 by the Greene family after which the nearby hamlet of Greenthorpe is named and is about 20km north of the major local service centre of Young.

I had never heard of it despite spending much of my youth racing pushbikes in the area and it only entered my consciousness when some friends in Young mentioned it a few years back. It is empty now but still sits on a large estate and is in desperate need of repair and renovation-thus several open days a year raise money for the homestead in the quest to refurbish it and restore it to it’s greatest glory.

It has quite a fascinating history which is beyond the scope of this blog to impart but is readily accessible via a quick web search.

Linda and I had been wanting to visit the “Castle” for some time and had actually decided to go a couple of weeks back but the prodigious amount of rain we have been having put the area under water, well almost, and I figured a drive over from Canberra may just turn into a nightmare of road closures and hassles and thus we left it to last weekend when a second successive open day was held.

P1080166.JPG
The author at Iandra Castle

We stayed with our friends in Young on Saturday night and they drove us out through the luscious green fields of the Southern Slopes to the Homestead, not much more than a twenty minute drive, on Sunday morning. The whole area is a picture at the moment given the copious amounts of precipitation which have fallen on it recently and it is worth the drive for that alone. Iandra Castle itself is a whisker off the beaten track but would be no problem for anyone to find in these days of Global Positioning Systems and Smart Phones.

It was a magnificent day weatherwise to boot, the rain gods having taken a well earned rest and it seems that many a traveler eager to break the shackles of of wet weather imposed exile took advantage of the sunshine to come and visit this little gem of country New South Wales. Many and varied types of people were in attendance and a strong international flavour was evident. Ladies in Islamic wear, Asian tourists with the latest in photographic equipment, Indian families lunching on the lawns and of course regular Aussies such as ourselves keen to have a look around.

 

P1080170.JPG
Linda and I on the ramparts.

The ladies on the front door selling booklets about the history of the place told us that in spite of the wet weather the weekend before there had been over 900 people through and I thought as I looked around there would probably be as many as that there now given the numbers of cars in the carpark and people traversing the grounds.

The place itself has had a little renovation over the years and there has been some lovely work done but many of the rooms need restoration and it is estimated at least 10 million dollars would be required to restore the castle to it’s former glory.

So, keep an eye out for open days at Iandra Castle. It’s worth the drive and it’s only ten dollars to get in, not much really in this day and age and when you consider the fee goes towards upgrading the place then it really isn’t too much to complain about.

Be advised there is no cafe facility onsite although a local outfit sells very good coffee from a cart out the front.

All in all a nice day in a little known yet historic part of Australia.

 

P1080173.JPG
The lovely grounds of Iandra Castle.

Footprints in the Dirt of History

There have been times through the last four years as I have tended to this Blog that I have wondered if doing so appeals to some narcissistic tendency which hides deep inside me.P1070853

By nature I’m not particularly vain. Quite the opposite in fact but I think deep down inside we hide a part of ourselves that likes to be well thought of and admired. I try to hide from the world as a rule but here I am again today, working the keyboard, putting my thoughts down on the screen, leaving myself open to ridicule and criticism, something I usually avoid in my regular life.

I suppose it all comes from self-esteem, never my strong suit but I guess it is linked to my desire to find out about my personal history. Where I am from. Who I am related to. To place myself in this crazy world and understand why I am here. And where I am going.

The photo above was taken in January this year at the Greta cemetery in North-East Victoria. The cemetery is 25 kilometres or so from the major regional centre of Wangaratta where I born. In colonial times the main road from Sydney ran through Beechworth and on down through the old township of Greta until the railroad was routed in a different direction and the town died as a result. It’s no longer there. Just a beef stud and ghosts of those who once inhabited the place survive.

Greta is most famous of course for being the home of one Edward “Ned” Kelly, outlaw and legend who lived at 11 mile creek, a few miles along a dirt road from the site of the old township. Ned’s uncle was notorious for burning down the Greta hotel-with a young Ned and his family and others inside it at the time! They were wild times in a frontier society and although it is now well and truly off the beaten track there is no doubt about it’s historic place in Australian history.

Greta cemetery is a about five kilometres or so from the site of “old” Greta. It’s situated on a crossroad which I am sure has caused many a hasty driver a panicked moment as it appears out of nowhere through the haze thrown up by the sunburnt fields which surrounds it.

My great grandparents and great uncle are buried in the cemetery and it is their grave over which I am hovering in the photo at the top of the page. Obviously they died well before I was born and I really know little about them except they lived and worked and died in district and I feel it’s only right to pay respects to them as I pass through on my way to somewhere else.P1070854

Ned Kelly, his headless remains exhumed from a nameless grave at the old Pentridge jail was re-interred in Greta cemetery a few years ago as per his final wish. His mother, sisters and brothers lie here too all in unmarked graves which gives them a privacy which they weren’t afforded in life. Let’s hope they all finally found peace.

I guess the crux of this post is that by writing my blog I am leaving my own little footprint on the world. No one much reads it. No one much cares for it but in pandering to my own vanity I am leaving a mark. I’m not going silently into the night. My name and my legacy is here for others to find. I don’t know much about my relatives and I often wonder what they were like. Would I like them? Would they like me? Would they be shocked by the world as it stands today, a world which has moved on and left them behind. I hope my descendants, if they choose to, may have a sense of who I was if they choose to read what I have written. I hope they want to find me.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Churlish Piece of France

, France, October 3, 2013

I have decided to occasionally add a “Photo of the Day” to my blog to spice it up a little and perhaps throw a cloak of excitement which may otherwise not exist, over my life in an effort to make my blog, and in turn my existence, seem more exciting than it actually is.

 So, to begin this new phase in my literary career I am including a photo of myself at one of the most famous and bloodiest places in Australian history. Pozieres, France.
 Those who regularly read my blog and people who know me well would remember that Linda and I took a trip to the continent in September and October last year. We spent a week in London before departing on a whirlwind Trafalgar tour which we jumped off in Paris. We spent four days in the city of light before finding ourselves in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France. The Somme in fact.
 Invading armies, marauding bands and assorted Kings, Dictators, Emperors and Despots have passed through this region in the last two millennia and the Somme River and it’s surrounding countryside were famous long before the bloody conflagration known as The Great War, latterly, World War One, and it’s accompanying devastation rolled through the area in the second decade of the 20th century.
 My Great Uncle, a young fellow by the name of John Flinders Robinson was serving in the Australian Imperial Force on the Somme in 1917 when he suffered gunshot wounds at a little village called Lagnicourt and was transported to a Casualty Clearing Station at Grevillers to the west where he died on April 23. He was buried in the cemetery at Grevillers where he remains to this day. He was 20 years old. He brought me to northern France.
L/Cpl JF Robinson

I was not originally intending to spend time looking at war memorials and gazing back a century on the pointless destruction inflicted on this part of the world but as I had researched my Great Uncle and learned of his presence in this world, my family was very keen that I visit his grave. As far as we know, no one from the family had ever visited it to pay our respects and let the young fellow know that he had never been forgotten.

 Researching papers from the Australian War Memorial and family tradition had made it clear that this young man was much loved and sadly missed and although I never knew my Great Grandparents or John Robinson’s siblings, it was clear that his loss had creased their lives like a tracer bullet and he remained in their hearts and thoughts forever more. A snapshot of the tragedy that overtook too many families in Australia from 1915 to 1918.
 Escaping the madness and bustle of Paris after picking up our hire car, Linda and I miraculously found ourselves on the correct motorway out of the metropolis and before we knew it we were speeding towards the old Western Front and our date with family history.
 It was an easy date to keep.
 The road from Paris to our eventual destination in Calais runs right through the heart of the battlefields of the Great War and we soon found ourselves, like a generation of Australians a century before, on the Somme and the names which I once had learned from reading history books were bright and clear on road signs as they hustled by as we tried to keep pace with the other commuters in their slick and shiny Audis and Beamers. Our little KIA hire car paled into insignificance alongside the cavalcade of riches which sped around us on the Motorway.
 Bapaume. A village which any Australian in these parts a century ago would know. It was a much contested town during the war and it soon appeared before us and we took the exit off the Motorway and  found ourselves treading on the pages of history and in the footsteps of men who had been forced to give too much. We were on the old Western Front.
 Bapaume isn’t a particularly exciting little town, in fact it is downright dull and there was a distinctive lack of folk in the streets and apart from the rumble of an occasional semi-trailer which pierced the serenity, it was a quiet place.
 As we wandered around I noticed a plaque on the wall of the town hall, just near the roundabout in the centre of town. It was dedicated to men of the AIF who, whilst billeted in the hall, were killed when a German booby trap exploded in 1918. We were in the right place.
 We found our way to the information centre where two local women seemed to be quietly fiddling away at their work and whilst the younger of the pair, a rather plump young lady with long blonde hair tried her best to understand us due to our lack of knowledge of the French language, her older partner gave a look of disdain as if the presence of yet more tourists looking for ancient war graves was nothing more than a distraction.
 We told the friendlier of the two that we were looking for the village of Grevillers and she soon produced a hand drawn set of directions and we turned to be on our way. It was then that the other woman sparked up.
 Unprompted, she told us she would find us a map which showed us exactly where the cemetery was as it was tricky to find. We hadn’t made clear our objectives but it must have been obvious. We looked and sounded liked tourists. Why else would we be off the beaten track in Bapaume?

 She had soon printed out a much better map which showed exactly how to get to Grevillers which was only a few kilometres away but in 1917 would have taken us across No-Man’s Land and I appreciated her effort at rousing herself and displaying some empathy for foreigners who had  come from the ends of the earth, just like their forefathers and found themselves in this little village, searching for one of their own.

Taking the advice of our “Bapaume Angels” we were quickly on our way and easily found Grevillers British Cemetery on the outskirts of the village with the same name with only one wrong turn blighting our advance.

Set close to the Albert-Amiens road in rolling green farmland the cemetery is one of literally thousands which dot the line of the old Western Front. Every few miles a cluster of marble headstones will appear along the roadside, testament to the sacrifice of millions of Allied servicemen of the great war and a scar on the landscape; a beacon for the folly of ignorant politicians and the arrogance of Generals who did their bidding.

Grevillers cemetery is beautifully kept as all Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries are. Stark against it’s surroundings, clean and bright, crowned by a memorial to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force which recaptured the town after it was lost to the Allies in the last great German offensive of the war in 1918.

It contains about 400 graves. Kiwis, Brits and Aussies all lie here in geometrically perfect lines with identical headstones laid out with regimental precision.

German fatalities buried here after the Kaiser’s army captured the town were evicted not long after their living comrades were sent packing. Such is the lot of the defeated, dead or alive.

Of course, for me, Grevillers cemetery is different to the rest for an important reason.For in it lies someone who was once of my flesh and blood.

Finding the cemetery was a surreal experience. After all the years of searching, the time spent looking at maps and peering at my destination through Google street view, I was finally here. Now I had to find the man I had travelled so far to see.

Parking at the south-eastern corner, close to where the local farmer was ploughing his field, we entered the cemetery from the rear, close to the Kiwi memorial and a relief plaque dedicated to the history of the Battle of the Somme.

I rushed back to the car, much to Linda’s bewilderment, to retrieve my six-foot Australian flag. It has been to Gallipoli and been carried along the Kokoda Track. I needed it in Grevillers cemetery.

Row by row we searched, Linda on one side of the cemetery, me on the other. I urged young John to help me find him, to guide me to his last resting place. I think he heard me.

At the very front of the cemetery, next to the Grevillers road, I finally came across a group of soldiers who had died on the day I was looking for. April 23, 1917. Right in the middle row, five or so plots from the entrance, I found him.

Lance Corporal John Flinders Robinson

5th Battalion Australian Imperial Force

23rd April 1917

Aged 20 years

His Name Liveth Forever More

I spread my Australian flag at the base of the headstone and carefully laid a set of replica medals, directly corresponding to those Lance Corporal Robinson would have been awarded posthumously, against the marble.

Photos were taken. Linda and I shared the moment. My family’s duty was fulfilled.

At the entrance of the cemetery, in it’s own little pigeon-hole in the brick facade, is a guest book. There, the names of a regular trickle of visitors is recorded for posterity. The last visitors had preceded us by a few days.

Linda entered her name on the record and handed the book to me. That is when the enormity of my mission finally weighed me down.

Overcome by melancholy and the accumulated grief of a family who had lost a son and a life that was cut short before it had reached it’s prime, I cried.

I cried for my Great Uncle and all that he had missed out on by giving his life for “King and Country”. I cried for his mates who lay with him and those who lie in other lonely French cemeteries, lost and all but forgotten by their descendants. I cried for those who are known only to God, secure in unmarked graves and for those who still lie in the fields which spread to the horizon all about me, lost forever.

A plot in a churlish piece of France and a name on a wall in Canberra are all that physically remain of John Flinders Robinson. But in the hearts of those he left behind he remained forever and in the minds of their descendants he will remain forever more.

Lest we forget.

That was merely my first day on the Somme The adventure continued and so will my narrative……at another time.

Have a great day.