Thursday, March 31, 2011

An army recollection

This post is a bit indelicate so perhaps anybody feeling delicate should stop reading now

In the great scheme of things, my time in the army was undoubtedly of the most minuscule importance that you can possibly imagine -- but I enjoyed it and that is what matters to me.

One very amusing recollection is when we were "in the field" (at Tin Can Bay) and we had our first experience of army sanitary arrangements. With perfect good sense, the army does not make allowances for privacy in such situations. When you have to "go" in battle no privacy may be available. So you need to get "broken in" to primitive arrangements.

In Tin Can bay the "restroom" consisted of a number of "thunder boxes" set in a semi-circle with no partitions between them. This lack of privacy did have a considerable constipating effect on a number of my "brothers in arms". I have chronically loose bowels anyway, however, so I was not held up to any degree at all. I just blurted away, rather to the envy of some of the others, I imagine.

One occasion when I did surprise myself, however, was when we were all in the back of an army truck returning from leave in town. In good army style, our leave had involved much beer. And beer consumption can suddenly hit you hard with an urge to "go". So I did. I stood up at the back of the truck and peed it all out on the road as the truck bounced along. I would not be able to do it sober. Nobody else did likewise but I have always had a rather weak bladder so maybe their need was not as great.

I think my performance did earn me some kudos, however.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Earth day

Anne and I celebrated Earth day in appropriate style. Everybody was supposed to turn all their lights out at 8:30 pm.

So at 8.30pm I turned on every light in the house and Anne served up our dinner on my verandah. We had Forfar Bridies from Syd's, with salad, and they were of course excellent. We washed them down with some Wynn's Coonawarra Shiraz

I live within earshot of "The Gabba", one of the holy grounds of cricket. They had a well-attended (judging by the roars of the crowd) football match there last night. It was of course held under huge floodlights. And they certainly were not turned off at 8.30pm. Thank goodness for sporting Australians.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Some pictures from scenic Lumsden

With Von and Hannah

The beach looks very English -- but it is a river beach, not a seaside beach. I note that Von is warmly dressed while I have the airconditioning on! A difference between the shaky isles and Brisbane of course.

Paul's birthday

Paul has his birthday this week so I put on a small birthday dinner for him tonight at my place. We managed to fit 9 people onto my small front verandah but that meant that we were close enough for everybody to hear one-another.

Present were Paul & Sue, Anne & myself, Ken & Maureen, Jenny, Nanna and Timmy. So the lad had his mother, father, grandmother and his old stepfather all present. Not that he's really a lad anymore. He is a man in his 30s. But all the relationships seem to be much as they always were.

It was good to have Timmy present. I always enjoy telling stories about what he did when he was a kid. Fortunately, he seems to enjoy the stories too.

We had curry as usual for the main course and an impressive range of desserts brought by the ladies. Paul managed -- just -- to blow his candles out and ate heartily as usual. Paul and Ken are both great eaters so there was no curry left over but I was rather pleased that there was half a Pavlova left. It is in my fridge at the moment but will not last long. Maureen made the Pavolova as usual.

I can't remember what we talked about: Mostly politics, I think. Though we did spend some time talking about the Royal succession. Australia is a monarchy and who will reign is a topic most Australians have an opinion about. I favour Prince Charles and I think Paul agreed

Before everybody went home, I sang them a song! It was an old Australian favourite -- "Click go the shears" -- which almost no Australians understand these days. You have to know:

Why the shears go click?
What is a blow (not what you think)?
What is a ringer (nothing to do with bells)?
What is a snagger (not a sausage maker)?
What is a "bare bellied yo"?

I explained it all and everybody seemed to enjoy that little bit of Australiana. Ken was the only one to know any of the answers and he is a Pom!

Self flanked by Anne and Paul

The gathering, with Paul's gorgeous and pregnant wife Sue on the far left. Sue helps me to take lids off things! And does many other kind deeds

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Abraham's bag factory and Gearco

My first job in Brisbane in 1964 was as a clerk at Abraham's bag factory out at Rocklea. I bought an old Army B.S.A. 500cc motorbike (for ten pounds) to get to and from work. I loved that bike: Manual advance/retard and all. It was a couple of months before I discovered that it had a fourth gear! Tram tracks are very dangerous to bikes and I once slipped on them and came off in the middle of Ipswich Rd. I was lucky not to be run over.

I eventually wrote the bike off in another accident in which I broke my leg. Where I came from that was almost a rite of passage for young men. I went back to my parents' home in 308 Mulgrave Rd in Cairns while I recuperated. It was then that I took the picture of Roxanne as a little girl that now hangs on my wall. She always was the good-looking one.

I stayed at the bag factory for only a few months but had some educational experiences there. I was a stock clerk so was sort-of half way between the office-workers and the factory workers, most of whom were female. I kept factory hours, however -- starting at 7am. The office workers started at 9am. It was my introduction to class distinctions and was all very new to me at the time. I was struck by how the factory girls seemed to live in a different mental world to me. I hardly understood them at all. My head at that time was full of writers from Thucydides to Ruskin and that would have been greeted with great derision had I mentioned it.

I was at one stage given the chance of driving the forklift but a veil of silence over that is probably best.

There were a couple of freemasons working in the factory and that was new to me too. The factory foreman -- a very important man named Henry Trenerry -- was a Mason and there was another guy too. The manager was a former salesman named Garlick. It was my introduction to the idea that salesman often become managers.

The factory made bags (paper sacks) for one of the sandminers on Stradbroke Island and Henry had to ring them up at times. I still remember their phone no.: "Dunwich 16".

I cannot remember why I left Abrahams but I imagine that I got bored with it.

I then went to work for Harry Beanham (usually resident in Sydney but he visited his interstate shops occasionally) at Gearco in the city. The job was to run a business selling second hand factory machinery and some new machinery: Mostly to do with lathes and other machine tools. I found it interesting.

Harry was in partnership with another bloke (Bob Naesmith) selling new and secondhand photographic gear. I ran my side of the shop and the other side of the shop was run by George Smith and Mrs Staer. I had for many years a SLR Pentax camera I acquired from the other side of the shop when it came in second-hand.

I made my mark in Harry's mind by being a very successful seller of diehead chasers. There was a complexity to them that interested me. He eventually sent his total stock of them up to Brisbane for me to sell. Don't ask what they are. You don't need to know. Mechanical engineers know already.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jill's birthday

I very naughtily forgot Jill's birthday recently but she forgave me when I offered to take her and Lewis to the Kafe Meze as a late offering. So we went there tonight.

The Kafe Meze has a large array of excellent appetizers so I ordered a selection of 7 or 8 different ones as the meal for us all. The Kafe Meze is set up for that.

That was very well received as we had a mini-banquet of very tasty dishes (the food on them was good too). As usual, the keftedes were much praised but the Taramasalata was much enjoyed too, as it usually is. I believe I also had the privilege of introducing Jill to Haloumi, slightly to my surprise. A Greek meal is not complete without Tarama and Haloumi.

Anne and I had a sort of parfait for dessert while Jill and Lewis played it safe with Baklava. The parfait was comprised of walnuts, yoghurt and honey, a combination new to me -- though yoghurt is very Greek of course. In fact, the first time I ever tasted yoghurt was at the Innisfail Greek club, where I was taken by the inimitable Panayotis Kokkinidis. Isn't that a marvellously Greek name? Anyway, I enjoyed the parfait.

I was glad that I booked in advance as the customers kept pouring in to the restaurant. A majority of them seemed to be young too. It clearly is in fashion with the youth for their weekend outings at the moment. The restaurant is a big one but when I went to pay the bill, there seemed to be no vacant tables anywhere. The restaurant is not a cheap one so I guess quality counts.


I cannot leave mention of Panayotis Kokkinidis without paying some tribute to him. I have a photo of myself with him when I was about 16. He was a very happy man. His happiness was part and parcel of the fact that he was a God-filled man. You get men like that in all Christian denominations and in Jewry. His utter faith in his Lord gave him a degree of happiness and confidence that most of the rest of us can only aspire to.

Last I heard of him he was doing some sort of missionary work in Vietnam. That would be just like Taki (his nickname). His faith would carry him through all sorts of situations that would daunt other people. Compared to him I see myself as "Thy poor earthbound companion and fellow mortal", as Burns put it.

An amusing thing about Taki is that he looked very Greek and yet had somehow acquired a good command of Italian. So when Italians heard Italian words coming out of this very Greek face they tended not to believe it. That of course amused Taki. I know of it because he told me. I can vouch for the fact that he spoke Italian and looked very Greek and the rest I can imagine.

The world has been a better place for having Panayotis Kokkinidis in it. I hope his Lord has been kind to him in the 50 years since I last saw him.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Australia's surprising origins

Australia started out as a military dictatorship. That sounds like a bad start but the military concerned was subservient to the parliament of England so it was fairly humane and permissive by the standards of its day. But most Australians know that (I hope).

What is perhaps more surprising is what a modern place Sydney was in its earliest days. Stories surrounding my two convict ancestors help illustrate that:

From Sydney's newspaper of the day ("The Australian" -- particularly the issue of 30.7.1828) we learn that when the convict ship carrying my male ancestor arrived in Sydney harbour, there was smallpox on board.

So what did they do? Just say a prayer and disembark everybody straight away? No. The illness was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was then sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was eventually allowed to disembark on August 5th at Spring Cove. Pretty modern! Precautionary vaccinations in 1828.

So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place by 1828. A "visiting English gentleman" writing in "The Australian" of 13 August 1828 under the pseudonym "Delta" was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the convicts had built well in their first 40 years.

A subsequent writer in "The Australian" found "Delta's" encomium a bit exaggerated but did nonetheless still see Sydney as a place with opportunities that might well entice emigrants from England.

And when my female ancestor from those days was being transported to Australia in 1840, the convict ship departed from Kingstown, about 12 kilometres south of Dublin city centre in Ireland, and now called DĂșn Laoghaire (or Dunleary). So how did she get from Dublin to the port? By steam train! The railway from Dublin to Kingstown opened for business in 1834 and terminated near the West Pier. So Australia started out as an offshoot of the most advanced country of its day. And it has always been a "modern" country. Around the year 1900 it was by some accounts the richest country in the world.