Crew : J For Jig RAAF Lancaster.

Mike Colman is an Award winning Australian journalist. A couple of years ago I remember reading an article he wrote for Brisbane’s Saturday newspaper which immediately appealed.

Essentially, whilst watching his children play in a park at St Johns Wood in inner Brisbane, Colman spotted a giant tree with a big boulder placed in front. On that boulder was a plaque saying the tree was planted in memory of Clifford Berger Hopgood who’d been killed on a bombing raid over France in 1944.

Colman followed through with the story of Cliff Hopgood, and vowed to chase up the story of the other six crew members in that plane that night

“Which I did, it took me six years and that’s the book”, he says. Published in 2018 Crew : The Story Of The Men Who Flew RAAF Lancaster J For Jig is a great read. 

Colman’s introduction sets it up beautifully. “There were seven men in J For Jig that night in February 1944, heading for Germany – seven out of a total of 125,000 who served as aircrew for RAF Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945. Their backgrounds were not unusual. They weren’t a special crew, a famous crew, they were as ordinary as can be. And that’s what makes them important. Because their stories are also the stories of the 125,000- who they were, what they did, whom they loved and whom they left behind.”

Four died and are buried together in a little French village (Villers-sous-Preny), two escaped to Switzerland with assistance from the French Underground, and the badly injured pilot did it awfully tough being moved from one German prison camp to another. It’s not pleasant reading though I think it important that we do, if only so that we can learn from our mistakes.

Not only has Colman gathered information that is interesting for historical purposes, and written in a manner that makes it palatable to all demographics ( such as us non technical types), but the human interest side is equally fascinating, including the French reaching out to the families of the fallen some years after wars end.

This book is also another hats off to the families, the loved ones, and the civilians who simply kept “soldiering on” in order to survive during this period in our history. Marvellous stuff.

Finished this one in a single sitting.

Thanks, Cait, my youngest Easter Bunny – oh, and I ate all the chocolate in one sitting too.

Frohe Ostern!

My plans for Easter are simple: spending time in the garden. I’m no Green Thumb though I do enjoy home grown produce if minimal effort is involved. The sun on the old bod is therapeutic and I enjoy getting the hands dirty. It’s a nurturing thing. At the moment there are pumpkins, passion fruit, pineapples, paw paw, tomatoes, cabbages and an assortment of herbs flourishing. Not bad for a handkerchief sized piece of land.

My property backs onto Native bushland so I recently attended a Workshop about indigenous native plants that attract birds and bees. I’ve been propagating Natives and planting them along the edge of the scrub. The next step is building a Bee Motel. A girl has to have a project after all.

My neighbours on both sides hate the kookaburras, magpies, drongos, lorikeets, wallabies and possums that come to the back fence. The Bearded Dragons disturb the dogs and the Bandicoots steal the dog biscuits. (Errrr, feed the dogs indoors, dipstick. How hard is it?) They all hate the possum box – the Bees just might send them over the edge…….

I’ll also be immersing myself in music, music that is way out of my comfort zone. A friend’s son will be visiting in a few months. An Opera Singer in Europe he is bringing his German bride home to meet the fam and apparently we’ll be attending the Baroque Festival in Victoria. No comment.

I realise that the bride will have a good grasp of the English language but thought it important to learn a few phrases of German before her arrival. So I’m now attending weekly German classes and have also downloaded the Duolingo App. I’m not at all confident. They tell me my German accent is very Bogan Oz and I sound like “Kath and Kim”.

Before I travelled to Italy I undertook a six month intensive language course just to be able to order a wine and a meal etc. Never used a word of it : five years of school girl French from thirty five years beforehand came spewing out.

If the weather remains glorious I may just set up the air mattress and mosquito net and go glamping in the back yard. That would at least put me out of hearing range of the stereo. All this edu-mac-ation is doing my head in!

As we’ve just been reminded, nothing is infinite. Enjoy your Easter, whatever it entails.

My head does not connect to my hands. A craft project for the Little Library

Anzac Parade and the AWM.

Anzac Parade starts at the steps of the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra, and ends at Lake Burley Griffin. On the other side of the lake is Parliament House (which houses our politicians.) 

View from the top of Mt Ainslie

The Parade is visually powerful, with a red gravel central strip and dark eucalypt ‘walls’. The red gravel of the central strip was originally made from crushed Canberra house bricks. The material was chosen in part for the similarity to the ‘crunch’ made by military boots during a parade (and some suggest refers to blood). The ‘walls’ are created by the Victorian Blue Gum, Eucalyptus bicostata, and the planter boxes, which contrast in colour to the crushed red brick paving, have the native New Zealand plant Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ growing in them, symbolising the ANZAC connection.

Taking a self guided walking tour along the Parade is something I do every visit to Canberra, regardless of the season. The fragrance from the Eucalypts and the overhanging branches are stunning. At dawn or dusk you’re more than likely to spot a grazing kangaroo, and the parrots and cockatoos that feed on the flowering gums are a constant reminder that Canberra is indeed our “Bush Capital”.

Lining each side of the Parade are monuments commemorating the military conflicts in which Australia has played a part. It officially opened on 25 April 1965 to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli.

One of the most recent additions to Anzac Parade, and also my favourite, is a monument to the Boer War. It was unveiled late last year.

The monument shows Australian troopers mounted on horses breaking through the trees of Anzac Parade. The significance of the four troopers is that they represent a four-man section, a formation for fighting and patrolling. When they went into combat, three men would dismount while the fourth would lead the horses to cover.  Letters from a soldier are at the feet of the horses.

There is also a nod to Australian Bush Poet and journalist, A B (Banjo) Paterson, who served in both the Boer War and WW1.

There are no Entry Fees to visit the Australian War Memorial.

See you in a couple of weeks!

Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker : Book Review

Published in 2018 I’ve had my eye on this book for the past couple of months having holidayed in Tasmania, our Island state at the southern end of the mainland, on numerous occasions. The Apple Isle, as she was affectionately known a generation ago when that fruit was its prime produce, was the destination for my honeymoon, and a couple of Wedding Anniversaries. (Yes, we know how well that ended, don’t we…..just don’t lump any blame onto Tassie).

Twenty years down the track I came upon a Tasmanian whose eccentricities matched my own and we’ve been making the annual pilgrimage to the farm on the East Coast of Tassie ever since. I share all this as I feel it to be relevant to my feelings about this memoir.

The author, Fiona Stocker, is Australian by birth but grew up in the UK where she met her partner and they later immigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, in search of a lifestyle with more “space”. Seven years in Brisvegas and the couple realise they’ve merely swapped one city for another, and partner, Oliver, has never adjusted to Qld’s summer humidity. Ollie, mate, you are not on your own – feeling your pain.

They sell up and buy a five acre bush block out of Launceston, northern Tasmania, moving into a house which requires renovations and with septic tank issues. With two toddlers they embark on a totally different way of life, attempting to become self sufficient of sorts, as hobby farmers do.

Fiona shares the trials encountered in their first years on their property : scorpions, snakes, wallabies eating the vegetable patch, chickens that won’t lay, guinea fowl, and neighbours who are three or fourth generation Taswegian farmers – their own special breed, let me tell you. There are mistakes to learn from and celebrations to share, such as mastering the art of lighting a wood fire, cooking wallaby patties, stocking a wood pile, the formation of lasting friendships, and playing midwife to an alpaca.

Fiona admits that her mindset slowly changed to that of a country woman, bartering and swapping produce, considering bush regeneration, growing and cooking the bulk of family meals, and attending stock and farm machinery clearance sales for pleasure.

There are a lot of gentle laughs in this book and I feel those readers unfamiliar with life in rural Tasmania would really enjoy and gain from Fiona’s stories. A Must Read for City Slickers to appreciate their country cousins…..

One of my Tasmanian sisters-in-law butchers her Alpacas when they become recalcitrant and swears by Alpaca chops. The brother-in-law does not serve Turkey at Christmas, but rather Roasted Peacock which are in abundance on his property.

My limited artistic efforts include this plate I painted for the alpaca butcher in the family. My attempt at sarcasm as I was appalled. The alpacas had names for God’s sake.

Ten years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity to hobby farm in beautiful Tassie. These days I need the reassurance that I can get a pizza delivered and it’s a cheap taxi ride to visit Uncle Dan, (as in Murphy, the wine cellar).

This book most certainly resonates and I envy the Stocker’s their move and the realignment of their dreams.

I look forward to Fiona’s next book in which she shares how they become Pig Farmers. Personally, I’de love the author to include some recipes as these country women seem to have mastered the art of creating a meal out of absolutely nothing and turning it into something magnificent. Wallaby Patties anyone?

“Weary” Dunlop at the AWM.

Edward “Weary” Dunlop was working as a Surgeon in the UK when WW2 started. He enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps (6th Division) almost immediately and was posted in December 1939 as Medical Officer, Headquarters, Australian Overseas Base, Jerusalem, and appointed Acting Assistant Director of Medical Services. He was promoted to Major in 1940 and appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services on the staff of the Australian Corps Headquarters and AIF Headquarters in Gaza and Alexandria, serving in both Greece and Crete. Remaining with this unit as senior surgeon (and second in charge) he subsequently served with them in Tobruk.

Following the withdrawal from Tobruk Dunlop was transferred to Java with the 6th and 7th Divisions where he took command of the Bandung Allied General Hospital. When Java fell he became a Prisoner of War.

Dunlop and the soldiers working under his command were then transferred to Singapore and the POWs referred to as “Dunlop Force” were then sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. 

He became a legend among Australian POWs as an inspiration for their own survival, working tirelessly to find solutions to a myriad of medical issues.

Dunlop’s commitment to exservice men in the post war years endeared him to the entire country.

His many awards included the Order of the British Empire (1947), Knight Batchelor (1969), Companion of the Order of Australia (1987), Knight Grand Cross, Order of St John of Jerusalem (1992), Knight Grand Cross (1st Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown of Thailand (1993), Honorary Fellowship of the Imperial College of London, Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Honorary Life Member of the RSL and Life Governor of the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1977 he was named Australian of the Year and in 1988 one of the 200 Great Australians.

I believe that to his mind the greatest honour he received was the respect and affection of his men for whom he continued to fight for their repatriation benefits until the end of his days.

I grew up on a diet of Dunlop which only encouraged my interest in later years. His War Diaries are a fascinating read in that he recounts the conditions under which the POWs survived, sometimes boringly so with accounts of repetitive rice rationing, as well as many of the major medical procedures undertaken to save lives with minimal or no medicines or equipment.

Interestingly, these past ten years I have collected numerous friends who are the children of Dunlop Force. One fella’s Dad worked on Cholera Hill where the bodies of POWs were cremated, and where Weary’s diary notes were safely hidden on scraps of paper as the Japanese were too frightened to intrude.

I found this children’s book today on sale at the local Post Office. I’m the boring Aunt who bitches no end about Disney princesses and fluff. Ten copies on order:)

The One Day Of The Year

One of the great benefits of retirement is the accessibility to theatrical performances. No longer am I confined to attending the more popular weekend shows where you run the risk of being allocated seats in the nose bleed section, especially if, like me, you get peeved about having to fork out for tickets 9 months before the event. ( I have a tirade down pat about this but won’t bore you here).

More free time also allows you to experiment with different kinds of performance art at less conventional theatre spaces. This year I’ve already visited three theatres that I didn’t even know existed! It’s been great fun, and you know what? Theatre can be as cheap as chips. No, I’m not getting any Seniors or Pensioner discounts to reduce ticket prices – if you hunt around some of these lesser known venues charge between $20 or $25 for an evening of great entertainment.

Next month Brisbane is hosting its annual Theatre Anywhere Festival, with over 400 performances happening in parks, garden nurseries, on buses, and shopping centre car parks. If you’re local look up Anywhere.Is. Last year I attended a show underground in what used to serve as a water reservoir in colonial days. The building was as interesting as the play.

Next week I am off to the local Community Theatre’s Rehearsal Night (fundraiser) for The One Day Of The Year. Written by Australian lan Seymour in 1958, this was compulsory school curriculum reading. At 14 I hated it. And Chaucer. What sane person didn’t?

Alf’s son Hughie and his girlfriend Jan plan to document Anzac Day for the university newspaper, focusing on the drinking on Anzac Day. For the first time in his life Hughie refuses to attend the dawn service with Alf. When he watches the march on television at home with his mother and Wacka, he is torn between outrage at the display and love for his father

I’ve always enjoyed theatre and once played D’Artgnan in a high school French class production. A friend asked me to join a theatrical group earlier in the year which I declined though I am attending a fortnightly group which includes a local playwright specialising in convict Australia, and an eccentric 80 year old screenwriter for the BBC. We clicked straight away – he carries a torch for Hedy Lamar and my notebooks are covered in photos of you-know-who.

Who has time to work?

Simpson and his Donkey.

In the 1960’s at school when we were learning about ANZAC Day and the Gallipoli Campaign, it was all about Simpson and his donkey. That’s it, other than it being an opportunity for the boys to wear their Cub uniforms on the day and the girls, their Red Cross apron and cape. No apron for this black duck – I wore Rosemary pinned to my shirt straight from my mother’s garden.

John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick (6 July 1892 – 19 May 1915), who served under the name John Simpson, was a stretcher bearer with the 1st Australian Division during the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I. After landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, Simpson began to use donkeys to provide first aid and carry wounded soldiers to the beach, for evacuation. Simpson and the donkeys continued this work for three and a half weeks, often under fire, until he was killed.

Interestingly, Bill the Bastard, the waler horse I recently read about, was the one who would carry Simpson’s body back down the valley when Simpson was shot by a spray of shrapnel.

(Note to self : Interconnectedness. Amazing stuff).

Not a good photo of the statue of Simpson and his Donkey at the Australian War Memorial. It remains very much a part of the ANZAC Legend and as such is difficult to get a look in with the tourists.

What I do like are these chairs located in the onsite Cafe, Poppies. Of course, my daughter virtually disowned me when I enquired how much they were to purchase, and whether the price included Carrot Cake and Coffee.