Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas Newsletter

I'm sure there will be outpourings of grief, bringing forth cries of anguish and lamentation for the loss of long tradition, but this won't dissuade us from dispensing with the A4 sheet of paper for our christmas newsletter this year—the chrissie card is empty.  The office is paperless.

   I've watched over the years as my annual contribution to the news-go-round has maintained its iconic (or ironic?) look of unadorned sentences, but I admit to secretly admiring the colour, decoration and photos that are creeping in to other desktop publishing efforts, and in the face of Facebook and tweet of Twitter, we've gone electronic and the newsletter can only be read here, where I can add adornments without spending the Porsche money on printers' ink.

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   We'll commence with some appropriate clip-art.  I thought the obvious image for the Australian summer would be that bloke in budgie smugglers, but it's even more obvious of course—holly! —you only get a little prick out of that!

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   In a round-up of news from the extended family, we now have seven grand-kids—actually the same as last year but there seems to be a lot more of them, bigger and tougher, specially when they're all here together which is always great to see.

   Ronja got an electric guitar for her birthday and has really taken off.  Her version of Vance Joy's Riptide shows plenty of talent and I love to hear her sing.  Mason is a bit of a goer as well with guitar but he might be more the outdoor type being into cricket and he's just completed the Great Victorian Bike Ride.

   All the kids are special and growing up way too fast.  Amelia plays a mean game as dee-fence in her basketball team—the sound of ball bouncing on boards drives me to distraction but it's beaut to see her playing with a big grin.  Nara is into calisthenics (and the footlights).  Harve has french knitting all over the house, and Theo has fun in the "bush" backyard building cubbies out of sticky tape. Sully has a girlfriend but don't say I told you.

   My interaction with Harvey, Nara, Sullivan and Theo has been increasingly through games like backgammon and chess, and not to forget "Shut the Box"!

*     *     *     *     *

   During the year Helmy and Perran bought a house in Glen Waverley, and have been busy turning it into their nest.  They renovated and paved the front courtyard.

   Daniel and Monika went back to live in their own house in Frankston after they'd rented it to William, Wendy and Jakob for some time.  Dan changed jobs during the year and is much happier with the new company and challenge.  Daniel and Monika jointly celebrated their 40th and 50th birthdays at a beaut party.

   Jac and Pat are always busy with family activities and had a beaut holiday in Vanuatu.  The  news from Central Australia is that Andrew and Sarah did a season of their show "A Circus Affair" at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and followed this up with a nine-show season at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.

   Much of what Doortje and I have been up to can be seen in other posts on the blog this year so I won't be repetitious.  A highlight of the year was the gathering of the extended clan in Adelaide for John's 70th birthday.  We did our last camping trip in the tent at Easter to Yarra Junction, bought a new car, and went back to old haunts in East Gippsland.

   In November we were told that I have a brain tumour and the end is nigh.  It's turned into a very busy time.  The kids and their families have rallied around and been very supportive.  My siblings have come from far and wide to spend time with us, and I appreciate it immensely.

   Doortje and I have played games of scrabble and backgammon, and done the crosswords.  I've spent a large amount of time reading this year, possibly a hundred books, and there are still books I want to read, and of course music continues to give me great pleasure (although it now sounds as if I'm sitting inside a washing machine to listen).  

   As we have always done, Doortje and I are still able to enjoy those beaut little moments, that are able to melt my heart.  As well, there are still times when I get cranky 'cos things should be done my way despite my best efforts to stop myself.

   Life continues to be an adventure, right to the very end.

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   For those who haven't seen a chrissy card, all the best from Rob and Doortje for the summer holiday season and new year.

This photo is a "selfie" taken at Glen Helen, NT, on my 60th birthday.

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Monday, 16 December 2013

2013 Top Ten Books

   Here are my favourite ten books of 2013, selected from about 100 books that I added to the collection and read for the first time.  It happens that I've concentrated on Australian novels this year.

    I've read some good non-fiction that hasn’t made it to the top ten, such as Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, an in-depth study of the violent eruptions in 1883, and Winchester's superbly accessible writing led me on to The Professor and the Madman about an incarcerated killer who spent his days compiling entries for the first Oxford Dictionary.  Other non-fiction books I was impressed by were Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet,  about the history of telegraph; The Secret of Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay, about WWII code-breaking; and Lawrence Krauss's A Universe from Nothing—I liked his theory but had trouble with the detail!

   The short-list included some beaut books like Shearing in the Riverina by Rolf Boldrewood, A Happy Death by Albert Camus, two from Peter Carey—His Illegal Self and Chemistry of Tears, Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Graham Greene's The Man Within.  I was also impressed by Alice Munroe's Short Stories.

   But  the following books rated in my top ten for 2013 so let's go…

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1.  Patrick White - Happy Valley  1939

   Possibly a strange choice for number one but I've gone for the novelty value that I got out of it.  I read a lot of White this year—all the short stories, I re-read Voss, finally after 30 years I read A Fringe of Leaves and Riders in the Chariot from front cover to back. And now White's first novel Happy Valley.

   White was in his twenties when he wrote Happy Valley and had been living the life of a jackaroo in the Monaro country.  He obviously knew a fetlock from a forelock.  It is obvious too, that he enjoyed writing this book and was pleased with the outcome.  His powers of observation and his ability to express what he experienced were incredible, and on show in this first work.  Imagine if I'd set out to write a book about Muloorina, and then read Happy Valley!

   To me the interplay between the characters of different class reflected in the small-town pecking order show understanding and maturity well developed already in this first book.  The pace of the novel is varied and reflects the moods of non-urban living.

It was no longer winter at Happy Valley. You began to wonder if it could ever be anything else, and there was really no reason why it should, why Happy Valley should take part in the inevitable time process rather than stay concealed in some channel up which either time or circumstance had forgotten to press. Then it happened when you forgot to wonder.

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 2.  Alexis Wright - Carpentaria  2006

   This book won the Miles Franklin award in 2007 and I should have read it sooner.  There is no doubt Wright is a major writer with much to offer from an Indigenous perspective.

   This book is set in her country in fictional Desperance on the Gulf of Carpentaria, where inevitable conflict occurs between white residents, two separate fringe camps, a mining development and the forces of law and order.  The overall physical environment is so strong in Wright's writing I could feel the dust in my eyes, and several of the themes, particularly fish and fishing, are unforgettably treated. This is not the tropics of New Guinea or Bali, but the tropics of the Top End—dry, sparse and hot, no shade but plenty of dust, every footfall is an effort and there's always sweat.  Will Phantom and the other fishermen have intimate knowledge of tradition; the estuaries, creeks and gulf; tides, the wind and weather; and the myriad varieties of sea-life and habitats.

   I love the colloquialisms and nicknames, even place names, that Wright invents or uses.  The main character is Normal Phantom, the policeman is Truthful and a religious zealot is Mozzie Fishman; the "suburb" of the Phantom family is Pricklebush, the mine is Gurrfurit.  Wright's knowledge of the idioms and language are impressive.

…government people, important people, money people, nuisance bugger people, anyone who can take your thoughts away on pieces of paper, just like that, and put it, wherever they like, inside white man’s technology in whatchayougoinama call it? Computers. Yes, that’s the one the old blackfella man had been tinking about, racking his brains for it: ‘It come to my head for a look around.’ Yeah! Alright. ‘They lock em up all the information inside for them own eyes only.’

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3.  Thea Astley - The Well Dressed Explorer 1962

   Another one of my favourite Australian authors where I went searching during the year to see what I'd overlooked in the past.  I found this.

   Astley's first novel and her first Miles Franklin winner turned up, but only just—I could only acquire a second-hand copy on eBay which I scanned to make an e-book in case anyone wants a copy.  It was worth the effort.

   George Brewster is the central character and his life from childhood until death is portrayed.  He was never able to overcome the lost love of his childhood, but spent his life trying, and giving up, and moving on, from the Darling Downs of Queensland to Sydney.  He became a journalist and we follow not only his career, but the language development, and the clich├ęs of the trade, that changed as George aged.  Mix in all the religious uncertainties, the infidelities, the striving for self-delusion, and we begin to understand the term "explorer" in the title.

The twenty-five-year-old heart discovers in the glass the fifty-seven-year-old face with all the mutilations and barbaric developments of five decades. The mottled hand trembles some mornings as it draws razor along a pleasingly clean path of skin through the lather. Hairs tuft from ears and on the end of nose, and, captured in the morning sun’s cruelty, grey ones shock the dark. The white sagging face is sick, is elderly, is cheerfully insolent about it all, purses its lips and whistles corn.

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4.  Lloyd Jones - Mister Pip 2006

   I loved this book.  My favourite Dickens is Great Expectations, and of course the setting of a village school in New Guinea is familiar to me.  Mr Watts lives in a remote village on Bougainville during the 1990's mining conflict when the village school put out of action by rebels.  He volunteers to keep the school open using the one text still available, Great Expectations.  The novel is narrated by Matilda who uses Dickens in her growing up, working out relations with her separated mother and father, comparing the old village with the "new" world of Dickens' London and her relations with Mr Pip, aka Mr Watts.  On top of all this the village copes with depradations of rebels and rambos.

Around dawn we heard the redskins’ helicopters pass over the village and then return. They hovered in the air like giant dragonflies, peering down at the clearing. They saw a line of abandoned houses and an empty beach because we had cleared off. Everyone. The old people. Mums and dads. The kids. And those dogs and chickens that had names.

   Once again I was struck by the authenticity of the physical surroundings but more particularly the village life and relationships of the characters involved.  There is no detachment in small village life but rather full engagement which Lloyd Jones understands and appreciates fully.

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 5.  George Orwell - Coming up for Air 1939

   If Patrick White is my favourite author it's not by much more than a whisker, and I can't believe there were books by George Orwell that I hadn't read until this year.  I made amends by reading his essays and three novels, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, The Clergyman's Daughter and Coming up for Air.

   The latter is about "mid-life crisis", the pointlessness of dead-end work and futility of trying to rediscover old haunts and times.  It is not depressing but more an honest appraisal of the way things are.  Set in provincial England around 1930, Orwell also has the sense that things will get worse before they get better.  His writing is political simply from the choice of subject matter.  The hero is an ordinary forty-five year old leading an ordinary life, but with the nous to analyse it.

When you've time to look about you, and when you happen to be in the right mood, it's a thing that makes you laugh inside to walk down these streets in the inner-outer suburbs and to think of the lives that go on there.  Because, after all, what IS a road like Ellesmere Road?  Just a prison with the cells all in a row.  A line of semidetached torture-chambers where the poor little five-to-ten- pound-a-weekers quake and shiver, every one of them with the boss twisting his tail and his wife riding him like the nightmare and the kids sucking his blood like leeches.  There's a lot of rot talked about the sufferings of the working class.  I'm not so sorry for the proles myself.  Did you ever know a navvy who lay awake thinking about the sack? 


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6.  Michelle de Kretser - Questions of Travel  2012  

   The 2013 Booker Prize winner is a tour de force (with the emphasis on tour?) with many levels and nuances.  Laura travels extensively and lands a job in Sydney writing for a travel guide publisher, Ravi lives in strife-torn Sri Lanka and yearns to travel.  I was most impressed by the descriptions of Ravi's situation in Sri Lanka, and the brutality in the midst of down-town commercial normality.

One night, a little further down the coast, the incoming tide had brought what seemed to be a collection of colossal turds. The sun, creeping up on the array, revealed bodies from which the heads and limbs had been removed.

Ravi was the kind of person whose heart contracted at the sight of a frog-shape mashed into the road. But dailiness normalises everything, even slaughter. And Ravi was young—what he feared wasn’t extinction but exclusion. He was haunted by the sense that he was witnessing the birth of a new world. A digital revolution was gathering speed. He ached to be part of it. Soon it would transform the way everyone lived, he told Malini; its power, located everywhere and nowhere, would exceed armies. He used a word that had become fashionable: global.

   De Kretser asks Australians to look at asylum seeking from a broader perspective than merely political, and the local Sydney scene is portrayed.  At another level, communications and global travel are explored in the internet age and the implications for humanity, bringing the haves and have-nots into ever closer relationships.

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7.  Carrie Tiffany - Mateship with Birds  2012

   This is a beaut little book about how real people behave in real life, and kookaburras.  It has teenagers in love and "mature" people, Betty and Harry, heading in the same direction, but most of all it has the wonderfully observed  rural landscape of a small farm on the outskirts of a 1950s country town, with the natural rhythms and changes that  occur in a year among the stock, birdlife, paddocks and daily occupations.

In dairy country it gets dark from the ground up. The pasture, the mud on the laneways, the wetness of the land, rise to meet the linen skies. The daylight fades; then it fades again. The trees drip their black leaves; the last screech of the cockatoos. Harry stayed outside as long as he could, until the ground was murky and his feet were no longer visible. He walked cautiously in case he stumbled; his weight held back at the ankle.

   After four years with the alpacas at Wiseleigh, I can relate to every word.

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8.  Peter May - The Blackhouse  2011

   In the detective mystery genre, this is first of the Lewis Trilogy, set on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.  The book is most memorable for its depiction of the island with its anachronistic customs and centuries' old traditions.  I read the next two books in the trilogy and the above comment holds, but the plots are somewhat weaker or repetitive.  The description of the annual guga hunt when a dozen men spend a fortnight on a remote island to kill and butcher for meat thousands of young seabirds in the traditional ways is absolutely unforgettable (and I respect those involved).

On ground as flat as they could make it, right next to the top of the chute, the two men spread out tarpaulins and laid the salted birds in a large circle, feet turned towards the centre, the outside flap of skin folded up to prevent leakage of the pickling fluids created by the salt. A second circle overlapped the first, and a third overlapped the second, moving closer to the centre until the entire first layer had been formed. A huge wheel of dead birds.

   The farm crofts that are centuries old were first made of black stone and are now called blackhouses to distinguish them from the crofts that more recently used lighter stone.  It is the indelible world of Lewis that makes this book unforgettable, and there's a detective in there too!

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9.  Flannery O'Connor - Wise Blood  1949

   Her first novel, this is a black satirical work that draws on the propensity of Americans to believe almost anything and suffer for it.  The returned war veteran, Hazel Motes, starts a street church in the mid-west to make a living, intending to preach atheistic themes. He is successful enough to provoke a rival who founds the Holy Church of Christ Without Christ, and then it's no holds barred, and it turns out Hazel's head is mostly the problem.

   O'Connor says in her introduction

That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them Hazel Motes' integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to.

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10.Markus Zusak - The Book Thief   2006

   This is the moving story narrated by Death, of Liesel Meminger, a girl in Hitler's Germany involved in the protection of a Jew in the family cellar.  She becomes a book thief, learns to read and become a story-teller to fill the long days and nights of seclusion.  The writing is engaging and lively as Death involves the reader in his to-ings and fro-ings but it is forthright rather than morbid.

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

  There's an Australian connection coming from the fact that Liesel survived the war and went to live in Sydney.  

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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

2013 Top Ten Albums

 Here are my top ten music albums for this year, selected from ones that have been added to the collection in the last twelve months.

The range seems to be more limited.  No new standout blues or pop music, only two from the 21st century.  I've obviously had a hankering for jazz and instrumental music featuring ensembles or solo virtuosi.

Some are suggesting that mp3 and iTune sales of "singles" will be the death of the LP album, but I don't think so.  For one thing, it's possible to cherry-pick and design your own album.  I did that this year by selecting non-vocal tracks from three Joseph Tawadros albums and compiling an album that features the skill and variety of his oud playing, and I think it is very successful.

A good LP album is greater than the sum of its parts—it has a central purpose and other intangibles such as balance and mood. The Paul Kelly album here makes the list because I assigned a retrospective purpose to it, to showcase his song-writing in 1985 just when his career took off.

Anyway, let's get down to it…

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 1. Itzhak Perlman
Paganini 24 Caprices for Solo Violin  1972

The Israeli violinist plays what to me is cerebral music, washes over and into the brain with not a note to be missed.

 2.  Jacques Loussier Trio
Ravel's Bolero  1999

After playing with Bach, Loussier turned his attention to this sublime rendition.  Surely it was written for piano?  The last half hour of the album is taken up with Loussier's Nympheas suite with its seven short movements and this sits well with the Ravel.

3. Margret Roadknight
Fringe Benefits  1993

We went to visit Margret Roadknight in Lakes Entrance to buy a couple of albums, including this one which features guest musicians and some of my favourite songs like My Brown Yarra and Market Mosaic.

4. Motion Trio
Pictures From The Street  2004

Polish acoustic accordion trio whose music ranges from classical composers to their own contemporary works with Balkan gypsy influences.  An exciting album with great variety.

5.  Sabicas
Flamenco Virtuoso,  1961

I've been pining for the flicking fingers of flamenco to replace some records I used to have, but they all seem to have orchestration or a drum kit these days.  Then I found this album by the Spanish Romani, Sabicas, strictly a guitar (or two) with hand claps and foot stomps, recorded when they knew how, and he'd been practising for forty years.

6. Yamandu Costa & Dominguinhos 
Yamandu + Dominguinhos  2007

Yamandu is a Brazilian guitarist and composer who plays 7-string acoustic guitar and here teams up with an accordion player, Dominguinhos, with some wonderful Brazilian rhythms.

7. Gerry Mulligan & Johnny Hodges 
Gerry Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges  1960

A happy robust album of 5 tracks by two sax players at the top of their game.  They knew how to get you to come back for more in those days— the album runs for 33 minutes, about Elvis length!

 8.  Paul Kelly 
Post  1985

I've always listened to Paul Kelly in "best-of" sets or compilations, and realised I didn't know any of his albums.  I got Post and Gossip, his first two solo albums (Coloured Girls), and they are much better to listen to than a wide-ranging compilation.  I prefer Post, the first of the two (and it contains Adelaide!).

9.  Georges Cziffra
  - Liszt 10 Hungarian Rhapsodies  2001 remaster, ?1972

Hungarian pianist plays Liszt, showing virtuosity of player and composer. Liszt was a great "bash artist" with panache!  I love solo piano and stuff without an orchestra gets votes.

 10.  Jimmy Giuffre 3 
 Jimmy Giuffre 3  1957

The oldest album, 11 tracks written mostly by Guiffre, who plays clarinet, tenor, baritone, with the rhythm section of guitar and bass. Guitar and reeds fit well together and the absence of drum kit helps make the album a pleasure.

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Shortlist included Carlos Del Junco, Castlecomer, Joseph Tawadros,  Band of Brothers, Talking Heads (!), Oh Mercy, Claude Hay, Zoe Keating, Arrebato Ensemble and Ray Price Quartet.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

All the Eights Pt 4


   In 1983, when I was 38, we spent the second of two years at Areyonga. In the previous ten years we had lived in Papunya, Brisbane, Ti Tree, Lajamanu and Alice Springs.
   When we left Finke at the end of 1973 we moved to Papunya, 200 km west of Alice Springs and spent three happy years there (not many whitfellas stayed that long—in fact Alice Springs people couldn't believe we'd take young kids out there!).  Andrew was born in 1975 and Helmy towards the end of our stay at Papunya in 1976. 
   Papunya had a mixture of Western Desert tribes which included Pintubi people with very little previous contact with white Europeans.  There were about 1000 people there, which of course was far too large to suit the Indigenous lifestyle.  The school had 300 children ranging from preschool to secondary boys and girls.  There were 12 white staff, about 20 indigenous staff and the job was huge.
   After being appointed from Finke to be Principal, we arrived there in the middle of one of the wettest summers on record.  As far as I can work out the reason I was promoted to Papunya was because during the previous year in Finke the Alice Springs office hardly heard from me, which apparently was unusual, no requests for assistance or complaints.  I did question whether they meant for me to go as assistant principal, but that was not the case.  Needless to say, our trip out to Papunya in early March involved lots of swollen creek crossings and carrying our toddler and baby through the water as part of a convoy.
   The principal's house had been commandeered by someone else and the one we spent the first night in had no flyscreens, it was full of mosquitoes and the toilet was overflowing.  There was no power; the pastor's wife brought some candles over.  From then on things got better.

The vege patch, Papunya backyard, 1975.

    The community had lots of amenities such as police, clinic, store, church and such niceties as a citrus orchard, piggery and an open-air picture screen.  Communication was very basic, consisting entirely of telegrams over the flying doctor network and a weekly mail plane which could also carry our orders of perishable meat and vegetables.  There was a tennis court, though!  The Papunya Tula artists had just begun and the famous honey-ant mural was still on the school wall.  We still have some paintings by Long Jack Phillipus and Johnny W. Warangula we bought at that time direct from the artists.
   Sammy and Gordon Butcher, later to become famous in the Warumpi Band, were still teenagers at school at that time but there was a band already that pre-dated Neil Murray.
   An influence on my music in the Papunya days was a 12-string guitar-playing teacher who was a great bluegrass player.  He introduced me to Doc Watson and taught me walking bass while finger picking.  I could play Freight Train and Wild Mountain Thyme for a while.  Meanwhile, I remember that the post-primary girls at school were into the various tartans of the Bay City Rollers and Rod Stewart.
   A vivid memory I have from that time is attending a full initiation ceremony of some boys, although the circumstances were not ideal.  The boys were in trouble with the law and the court accepted that if they were initiated they could avoid further punishment.  The police sergeant and I were chosen to witness the ceremony, apparently as representatives of white law.  It was a full ceremony with plenty of smoke, dust, dance and chant and took all night.  The climax came in the early hours when the boys were 'cut' in a scene I could never forget, and whisked away to a bush camp for their apprenticeships.
 Family photo, 1976.
    Apart from the cross-cultural challenges of the job and the rapid increase in the size of our family, I was also studying for a University Degree by correspondence.  At the end of 1975, I sat for an exam in the courthouse attached to the police station and was somewhat distracted by the fact that a large group of men with spears surrounded the police station in an attempt to free a prisoner.  The whole incident was over in 10 minutes but the Alice Springs newspapers called it a Front Page Riot.
   During 1975-6 the community began to revert to its origins—mainly the Pintupi began to migrate back out west and set up outstations, first at Yayayi and Kungkayunti (Brown's Bore), and later at Watiyawanu (Mt Liebeg), Walungurru (Kintore), and all the way back to Kiwirrkurra in WA.  The school size dwindled until there were only about 40 children at Papunya.  It was time to leave.
   We still keep in contact with people from those days, and I love it that Andrew in the course of his work has been able to keep re-visiting his "dreaming country".

*     *     *     *     *

   At the end of 1976, I was given study leave to complete the degree at Queensland Uni and we went to Brisbane for 12 months, where Helmy started walking and Jacqui started preschool.   In some ways it was like a holiday for a year but there were always assignment deadlines and all-night sessions to get them done. For one assignment I wrote a mini-thesis entitled "A Case for the Abolition of Compulsory Schooling for Tribal Aborigines in Central Australia"—I felt as a result of the Papunya experience, that the only viable way to provide education on the outstations was to abandon the idea of "schooling" as we know it and start from first principles, attract rather than compel.

   Jamboree Heights where we lived was a brand new suburb south-west of Brisbane and I recall there were plenty of excavation sites providing clay, which I purified and did some modelling with the kids.  In the mid-year Semester break we planned a major excursion by road to Cairns, but only got as far as the Glass House Mountains before the motor of the bus blew up.  Later in the year we did get up to Hervey Bay.  Helmy had her first birthday on the way home.
   When we left Brisbane, I was appointed principal of Ti Tree, 200km north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Hwy, and one attraction was the ability to drive on bitumen roads some of the time!  And the pub!  The school was known colloquially as the Taj Mahal—we even printed some appropriate t-shirts when one of the staff's activities became t-shirt printing.  Ti Tree was unique in that it had schooling from preschool to tertiary, after a teacher training course began when I was appointed.
   Some bright spark, recognising the building of the school was a mistake, justified its existence by establishing a large empire.  It employed university lecturer, adult educator, office staff, laundry staff, full library, music room, sick bay, big storerooms, ran a kitchen and dining room with a full-time cook and a boiler room.  The number of children was about 40 and teacher's college students numbered a dozen at best (most of these were from the top end and always homesick).  The staff enjoyed facilities such as a dark room and I began printing black and white photos.
   No-one could explain why the school had been built.  The best explanation was that it was designed as a hospital for some future contingency.  Using the facilities for a full residential tertiary institute really just compounded the issue.  For accommodation a fully operational caravan park was built in the school grounds and 28-foot caravans left over from Cyclone Tracy were installed.  The professional cook was employed to feed all the students, preschool to tertiary, the latter three times a day.  I did a couple of trips to Napperby Station with the cook to take delivery of beef 'killers' to supply the kitchen.  The specialty of the cook was meat pies and they were beaut, straight from the oven, organic beef, better than Balfours, but then I discovered the secret was a four gallon drum of black goo called 'pie flavour'!
 Daniel and friend near the hall and dining room, Ti Tree. 1978.

   Anyway, the politicians unveiled a plaque on the school wall around October, the bureaucrats put a note in an annual report and at the end of the year the school reverted to being a primary school!  The Department required me elsewhere, and we Cooks moved on.

*     *     *     *     *

In 1979, Lajamanu (formally Hooker Creek), was a large community of Warlpiri people; one of the more isolated places in the NT, north-east of the Tanami Desert and 560km south-west of Katherine by road.  The climate is a cross-between the dry central desert and the tropical north, the best of both worlds.  The community had a homogenous settled feel to it compared to, say, Yuendumu or Papunya.
   On arrival we pulled up in our bus outside the house of the deputy principal where there seemed to be a gathering of teachers and apparently there was some surprise at the size of the family that began to disembark.
   The school was large with a dozen white teachers of whom five were neophytes.  This meant a huge job with five probation panels involving guidance and assessment.  I made noises in the department and union that the situation shouldn't be allowed to arise at a remote school where the work is difficult enough.  I had so much influence that more teachers with no teaching experience were appointed in 1980!  One teacher lasted only until Easter—he came from Geelong and before this had never been east of Melbourne, let alone out of Victoria.
   The aspect of the job that I loved was setting up the beginnings of a bilingual education program in Warlpiri with people like Ned Hargreaves and Paddy Patrick.  The younger kids began their literacy learning in Warlpiri instead of English and we had to make all the written materials.  Jacqui was in Grade 3 and was in the same situation as kids who learn English with no background knowledge.  We also started a regular bilingual newsletter Lajamanu Mirrawarri to give the adults some experience of written Warlpiri.
 Ladies on a picnic, Lajamanu, 1980.
   We went on some great trips in the district.  North of Lajamanu was a place called Sambo Rockhole (on a tributary of the Victoria River, I imagine) where we went camping and on school trips.  Our bus was just capable of negotiating a huge 'jump-up' down onto the flood plain; there was a fear that we wouldn't be able to meet the challenge of climbing back out again.
   On one trip we caught a 500mm catfish and baked it on the hot coals—not the tastiest fish but beautifully fresh.  We also had a raft of old fuel drums that we could pole up and down the lagoon like Tom Sawyer, so the kids loved the place.
   Another trip we did a couple of times was to drive west out to the Tanami Rd and then via Rabbit Flat to Yuendumu.  This was before there was any mine traffic.  One time we gave other teachers a lift and one of them was camped in his swag alongside the bus while we stopped overnight—a fact that Doortje had forgotten when she tipped a full chamber pot out the window during the night!
   Another memorable trip involved driving at night on the back road from Wave Hill to Dunmarra with the headlights burnt out and Doortje shining a torch out of the side window.  It was a slow trip.
   An interesting incident occurred when the police sergeant and I went on a Sunday afternoon to get a killer to supply beef for some of the families.  We killed and butchered the beast on its skin in the paddock and then brought the quarters back to the police cells to be hooked on the bars for the meat to set.  Later we did lots of cutting and mincing.  Later still I was required by the police in Katherine to sign a statement acknowledging my role on that Sunday—the Sergeant was either disciplined or charged for cattle duffing!
   For several reasons I needed to have a break from schools and in September 1980 applied for a job with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Alice Springs as a community relations person and we packed up and left Lajamanu at that time.
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   There were two of us in the D.A.A. unit whose job it was to promote success stories to counteract the continual negative press 'enjoyed' by Aboriginal communities.  I became the de facto photographer and set up a dark room at home.  Several of my photos appeared in the local Alice papers and nationally in the D.A.A. magazine.  I spent a lot of time holding the hand of the journalist, whose background was in commercial radio, with no Aboriginal community experience and very little life experience.  The first time we camped in the bush, he climbed into his swag in his full set of striped flannel pyjamas!  I didn't stay in that job long.
   I transferred into project management involving communities in the border region of WA, SA and NT, such as Ernabella, Pipalyatjara and Kaltukatjara (Docker River).  I loved the remoteness and beauty of that country, and the people I met, but the distances involved meant I was away most of the week, with a swag thrown on the back of a Holden ute.  Doortje was at home looking after four little kids at school and preschool and we decided at the end of 1981 it was much more sensible to be all out bush in a community together, instead of separated half the time, so I went back to teaching.

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   Areyonga (Utju) is a Pitjantjantjara community, 230km west of Alice out past Ntaria (Hermannsburg), at the  start of the Mereenie Loop to Watarrka (Kings Canyon).  In 1982, there were about 150 people there and 30 kids in the school.  The school was nominally a one-teacher school, but an official bilingual literacy program had begun there and it enjoyed a big budget.  There were also plenty of buildings.  Besides me there were two other professional staff, a teacher/linguist and a printer who operated a full offset printer capable of reproducing full colour photos and illustrations.
   Two teacher assistants, Nyinta and Albie, meant that we could have two classes and the linguist helped out with the Pitjantjantjara lessons with the junior kids.  Her job was to produce reading materials, teaching aids and so on, using local informants, and devise the literacy program.  Despite me being the boss, she was paid more than me—I didn’t mind at all but thought it was typical of the NT bureaucracy.
   Anyway, it was a wonderful working atmosphere and I like to think we were very productive and the kids' satisfaction with the program very evident.  The idea was for them to become literate in Pitjantjantjara in the first couple of years and then transfer the skills into English later.  Our own four kids joined in all the activities except that I took them for some extra English work.  We made sure that plenty of lessons took place out in the open, collecting bush tucker and so on, to become the basis for stories and written material.
 A class in the bush, Areyonga, 1983.
   Of our own kids, Helmy was the only one I taught when first she began school, as I'd had non-teaching roles when the others began.  It gave me a thrill to watch her learn to read, but to be honest she taught herself in no time at all.  Jacquie finished primary school in 1983 and I believe her standard was as high as anyone else who began secondary school with her, with no detriment academically by her being at Areyonga.
   Rumour has it that when the four went home for morning recess Doortje had them reciting 'times tables' as they went back out the door.
   In 1982-3, communications weren't quite so primitive at Areyonga.  There was a public telephone booth but it did involve booking calls and you still had to say "over".  However, the school now had its own two-way radio and it was a daily occurrence to listen in to the 'sched' and send or receive telegrams on the flying doctor network.
   We had a regular picture show at the school—16mm feature films were hired from Alice Springs.  I remember that we saw Grease a few times in two years.  Video was becoming more common.  Initially the school had a recorder and camera that used one inch wide tape but soon we had Beta or VHS, I forget which.  Someone in the community was having the ABC football match of the day featuring Drew Morphett sent up on tape each week and we watched it in the school.
   Areyonga is in a beautiful location in a steep-sided canyon ('Utju'), gouged by a creek over millions of years.  The sounds of donkeys and mudlarks would echo off the walls, as well as kids playing.  In two years we saw the creek flood about four times and loved to explore the rockpools where the creek turned a corner into the hills near our house.  Our backyard was really a cliff face, too steep to climb.
   The house was a modern brick affair with heating and ducted cooling.  We always seemed to have visitors.  A succession of Areyonga Desert Tigers keyboard players cut their teeth on the instrument in our loungeroom.  Doortje always had ladies in for a cuppa.  She became involved with the women in the fledgling batik cottage industry and we still have a framed bush tucker print hanging over our bed.
   I wrote a few songs while we were at Areyonga (although the Areyonga Song was a rip-off of a sea shanty) and towards the end of 1983 the family made a cassette recording of ten songs called Singing Together.  The recording studio was the loungeroom, the equipment one mike stand and stereo mike.  There is some double-tracking involving a second cassette recorder so sound quality was not of the essence.  I'm glad we did it though—the kids' voices sound great now and a couple of the songs I'm proud of.  It was not uncommon for a recording take to be aborted by a knock on the door and "Kungka, you got tea leaf?"
   The dump at Areyonga was a good source of old bikes and I began to revisit an old hobby.  Many bikes were discarded only because the tubes and tyres were ruined so they weren't hard to restore.  Two bikes I remember were a high-rise chopper type with 3-speed T-bar gear change on the top bar, and a BMX for Daniel, I think.  It wasn't long before bikes were being brought to the house for puncture repairs and it was always a pleasure to see one going again.
   In those days our camping was done under the stars with the minimum of equipment, probably a large tarp for a groundsheet and blankets, a camp oven, tucker box, and not much more.  We camped in the creek at Tnorala and watched shooting stars in the days before the place was understood to be out of bounds.  We camped at Mutitjulu next to Uluru before this was no longer possible.  We camped in the valley east of Areyonga.  We also bought a canvas tent to use in more civilised camping and used it first in Palm Valley and then on the memorable Broome trip.

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   When we left Areyonga at the end of 1983 it was the end of an era.  The kids were starting their own adventure with secondary schools, Doortje wanted to be closer to her parents in Victoria, and I was due long service leave and subsequently became a "house-husband".  It was be fifteen years before we went back to live in the NT after the kids had all flown the coop.

We made many friends on the remote communities and some we still count as close friends, keeping in contact one way or another.  To be able to drive out to Areyonga and visit friends who have become community elders is special.  Swapping Christmas cards with others, or sharing oysters on a deck with a view, is just as special.

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This will be the last of the series.  By 1993 the kids were all adults, and would be able to spot my porkies, so I'll leave it up them and Doortje to tell the rest.  Thanks for typing, Helm.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Top Twenty Photos 2013

Here's a post I prepared earlier, sort of...  

   These are my favourite photos of all time, as of today, except...

  There are a variety of sources, for example, some have been scanned from slides or prints to make the digital images.  Unfortunately, some of my favourite photos were taken in the period between slides and decent digital images, when my pictures were 640 x 480 with tiny file sizes, simply not conducive to cropping or reproducing.

   Also, the criterion for selection has been that the image must be rendered in 1024 x 576, an ideal size that looks good on my 16:9 television and can also be uploaded and seen readily on the internet, but it means portrait orientations miss out. I have made it harder for myself by not including photos I've already uploaded to the blog or Flickr. The two black and white photos I developed and printed myself.

   The photos represent a big chunk of nostalgia, an appreciation (in my mind) of good scenery, and some great flukes; nevertheless it was not easy selecting only twenty and leaving lots out!

   My favourite photos are landscapes, of places I know and can lose myself in by seeing the photo; and of course, Doortje, and those close to me.  I have not ranked the photos within the twenty, even though they are numbered.  Double click to enlarge photos.


1. Native Grass  Ipolera Creek, NT. 2002.
No words needed.

2. Three Girls  Uluru, NT. 1981.
Oozing casual affection.

3. Ghost Gum  Palm Valley, NT. 2000.
Magnificent flora in ancient environment.

4. Alan  Fannie Bay, NT. 2005.
Action shots are not my forte but this one appeals for lots of reasons.

5. Amelia  Karingal, Vic. 2005.
Newer cameras make this easier, but I never found it easy.

6. School Excursion  Areyonga, NT. 1983.
Scanned from a print.

7. Butcherbird  Marryat River, SA. 2003.
Produces my favourite birdsong. Note the hook!

8. Mason, Explorer  Coolart, Vic. 2003.
  A companion shot shows the door closed before Mason's arrival.

9. Mt Sonder  Tyler's Pass, NT. 2004.
  My favourite mountain by far, and I always loved to be anywhere within coo-ee.
More or less visible over the back fence at Ipolera.

10. Gavin. Knock-off Time Glenrose Vic 1981
.  I had a framed poster 900x600mm made from the slide at the time and it still hangs on the wall in Maffra.

11. Brumbies  Ipolera, NT. 2005.
  Herman Malbunka's pride and joy, caught in the sun.

12. Stuart Highway  North of Coober Pedy, SA 1985.
  The  bus reminds me of we passengers pushing the Greyhound (Redline) bus out of a bog in 1968 not that far from here.

13. Gibbers  near Indulkana, SA. 2004.
  I can kid myself this is like a dot painting.

14. Mt Gillen, Alice Springs NT. 1981.
  Taken at Anzac Hill on Jac's first communion day.
Developed and printed in the laundry.

15. Contemplation  Standley Chasm, NT. 2000.
Doortje loves to commune with nature.

 16. Overnight Camp  near Lake Boomerang, SA. 2006.
  Not a great photo but very evocative for me.
 I never got tired of driving between Port Augusta and Alice.

 17. In the Shit  Glenrose, Vic. 1981.
  Now that's candid! Andrew's amusement not guaranteed.

18. Uluru  Uluru, NT. 2010.
  So many photos to choose from with this subject. Tempted to filter, but no.

19. Ronja  Frankston South, Vic. 2003.
 If you take a single shot and get this, something's going on!

20. Love Birds Alice Springs, NT. 1981.
A controlled shot with tripod and timer and a couple of goes.
It can get us teary though!!

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Some dates are approximate. No animals were harmed, etc...
Coming next... My favourite square photos (just kidding!)