Les Darcy And That Urban Myth.

I do have a basic understanding of the sport of boxing having been raised by a father who was an A Grade sportsman in his day: cricket, golf, football, swimming, tennis, and even Pennant lawn bowls in his dotage. It peeved him no end that neither of his daughters had any athletic flair nor interest though he did try to instil in us an appreciation of the athletic animal.

Not sure how that did either of us any good. Looking back to my teenage years I was enraptured not by the athlete but rather how they wore their uniform.

So I was aware of the name Les Darcy, a boxing legend from the early 1900’s, a young man who went to America to find fame and fortune. Myth has it Darcy was poisoned by Yank boxing promoters, just as Phar Lap, the racehorse that captured Australia’s attention during the Depression, was murdered.

Les Darcy is one of the Hunter Valley’s favourite sons, having been born in Maitland. He is honoured with a Highway named after him, a bronze statue in a local reserve, memorabilia in a sports club, as well as being featured on the outside wall of the *Maitland Art Gallery.

So I just had to read Peter Fitzsimon’s , The Ballad Of Les Darcy, and guess what? Darcy wasn’t murdered at all – he died of septicaemia following a dental issue caused in a fight two years previously when his front teeth were knocked out. I know. SO disappointing, hey…….

Darcy was the Australian middleweight champion, and at twenty years of age also captured the heavyweight title.

There was a glitch in his “good lad” reputation in that he was vocal in his antipathy towards enlisting in WW1 citing the needs of his eleven dependants. Thus his journey to America as a stowaway to make some big dollars on the boxing circuit to set the family up at home before agreeing to participate in the war effort.**

So much for the best laid plans. Darcy died at 21 years of age. No such conspiracy theories. He just didn’t take care of his gums. There’s a LIFE LESSON in that!

One of my father’s favourite movies, was Somebody Up There Likes Me, based on boxer Rocky Graziano’s autobiography which he used to make me sit and watch with him. Thank God there were no movies featuring lawn bowls.

*Maitland Art Gallery is most certainly worth a visit and make time for coffee and cake.


**This is where it became messy. Les enlisted in the American Army on the basis that he could have two months off for Boxing tournaments and to make big money, and to encourage American civilians to enlist also. He was made a Sgt and after the two months was up was supposed to be transferred to the Australian Army. Didn’t happen. He just wasn’t into dental hygiene.

Another Country Town With A Story and a Film Festival: Dungog

Who knew?

Dungog, on the Williams River in the higher Hunter Region is a dairy farming area with many fine colonial buildings still in existence. There are also many thickly timbered areas particularly around the picturesque Barrington Tops. Back in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s the Brushbox was milled and laminated for the floors and wood panelling of Sydney’s iconic Opera House.

Coolarlie 1895

There is a palpable creative vibe to Dungog with its artisan co-operatives along the Main Street and quirky antique stores.

The James Theatre, the oldest purpose-built cinema still operating in Australia , started its life as an open air theatre in 1912 – how I loved the old open air on the NSW South Coast as a kid! – and now also hosts live performances, dance and film classes.

I was gobsmacked to learn that in 2007 Dungog held its first annual three day Australian Film Festival to foster Aussie films and talent. I only stumbled across this information by asking about the Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett Boulevard signs located at the Tourist Information Centre. Created specifically for the first Festival, all the other signs went “walkabout”, as they would. Why have I never heard anything about this Event ?

Typical wide streets of our country towns

This Festival morphed and expanded into the Dungog Festival five years later and continues to grow with interest from both locals and visitors alike. The dates for the 2019 event are Friday, 4th October till Monday, 7th October.

The blurb goes:

The festival will burst with the sights sounds and experiences of Arts, Activity, Food, Music and Fun in the pristine rural setting of Dungog. More than ever this year the Festival has events to suit all budgets including the addition of the free Sunday Street Party.

They are creating a dynamic program that will engage both the Dungog community and visitors from further afield. Key events such as the ‘Long Table Dinner’, ‘Gala Street Parade’, ‘James Theatre’, Sculpture on the Farm’, ‘Wallarobba Hall Oktoberfest’, ‘Garden Ramble’ ‘Long Lazy Lunch’ and much more are all certain to draw crowds.

Buskers, bands, solo artists and everything in between will create a vibrant atmosphere on the streets of Dungog, where just a few steps away the historic James Theatre will host a film program Dungog’s fresh approach to the moving image will deliver some truly retro and innovative cinematic experiences that venture outside the cinema walls, giving visitors new ways to engage with film around the town.

For more information: http://www.dungogfestival.com.au”.

I love supporting our country towns with these endeavours and will most certainly put my hand up for dog sitting duties that weekend. Without the dog.

TRIVIA : Just outside of Dungog is a little settlement called Gresford. Lots of beautiful rolling hills, it is the location of a property by the name of Torryburn. This was Dorathea Mackellar’s family home from 1898 onwards and where she wrote, as a teenager, the iconic poem, “My Country”.

From Wikipeadia. Traditionally starts at Verse 2. “ I love a sunburnt country”.

Country towns. Love ‘em.

Losing The Plot

I woke up at 9:40 this morning. That’s five hours later than normal. Morning people don’t wake up when it’s nearly lunch time.

Do I feel better for all this extra sleep? Absolutely not! Let’s blame the heat and the Labrador. Mostly the dog. Four weeks of puppy sitting and I’m done.

Firstly, I find myself constantly having conversations with said dog. The weather, what we’ll have for tea, the Dow Jones Index. This would be a concern at the best of times, but Bentley is deaf. We even had a discussion about music from the 70’s recently.

Then this afternoon I found that I shampooed my hair with Organic Hemp Pet Wash from Byron Bay.

I’m now about to sit down with a chardy in front of my latest Netflix binge : Schitts Creek. I’ve made a platter for humans, and a platter for the Lab.

Does this mean it’s time for me to start checking for employment opportunities ?

The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

Still puppy, plant and house sitting in The Hunter Valley. Loving the green rolling hills and abundant wildlife – hating the heatwaves. Yes, plural. The Labrador continues to wake me up three times a night for ablutions. One of us will be popping Valium shortly and it won’t be me…

Kangaroos Across The Road

The Library at Maitland currently has a lovely exhibition as part of its Walls That Talk series, celebrating 100 years since the publication of The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.

”At a time when children’s books were usually filled with fairy tales and whimsy, Lindsay’s tale of a quarrelsome, endlessly renewable pudding marked a complete change of pace. Lindsay complemented his playful use of Australian slang with over 100 distinctive Magic Pudding drawings.
Norman Lindsay’s timeless classic follows the adventures of koala Bunyip Bluegum, sailor Bill Barnacle and penguin Sam Sawnoff – owners of the much-desired Magic Pudding ‘Albert’ – as they try to outwit Possum and Wombat, the professional, and extraordinarily persistent, pudding thieves.
First published in 1918, it is still in print and has been translated into Japanese, German, French and Spanish as well as having been published in Britain and the United States. It is regarded as a classic of children’s literature.” – Courtesy of Maitland Library.

The Magic Pudding is right up there with The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as Classic Australian Children’s Literature. I think everyone of a certain vintage grew up with Bill Barnacle and Albert.

I hear tell that prior to Christmas the Library was selling Xmas Puddings too. What a fun initiative.

Courtesy of Maitland Library Facebook Page

The Exhibition finishes next week. If you are in the area it is worth dropping by. You can pick up the Labrador as you go past.

Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons

Peter Fitzsimons’ original claim to fame was as a Wallaby, a representative Rugby Union player, who got sent off the field during a game against the All Blacks. He went on to sports journalism which led to writing numerous books, including biographies about Australian icons such as Nancy Wake, Les Darcy and Charles Kingsford-Smith. 

Yeah, he wears a bandana seven days a week.

Fitzsimons has since become a bestselling non fiction writer with his military history books, Tobruk, Victory At Villers-Bretonneux, and my personal favourite, Kokoda.

Kokoda details the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea, just north of the Australian coastline, during World War 2, and the Australians’ efforts at turning the tide of that war. 

Are the Events of Almost Eighty Years Ago Still Relevant?

A friend of fifty years standing recently shared that her father, whom I used to wave too as a child whenever he drove past, took to swinging a Japanese sword at the neighbours as he aged. He had taken it from a dead soldier at Kokoda. I never knew Old Billy was a soldier, only as the father of my friend who drove the blue car.

I nearly lost another friend recently. I had known previously that her Dad returned from serving at Kokoda with half the sole of his army boot still imbedded in his foot. I had no idea that when she was born some years later that she was quarantined in a hospital ward for the first three months of her life because his Equatorial disease had passed to her, thereby weakening her heart.

A younger friend, with two beautiful round, brown babies, recently shared that her grandfather, a native of PNG, used to share food with Australian Soldiers on the Kokoda Track.

My daughter’s friend, a military lad, recently related how a program to assist young men with behavioural issues included trekking the Kokoda Track where they learnt life skills such as team work, persistence, and personal strength.

Best Things About Fitzsimons’ Kokoda?

  • Written in a language that is easy to read for those who don’t usually read military history, particularly the female demographic. Military objectives are clearly explained as are outcomes, and personality and power conflicts between world leaders, as well as military leaders, are not swept under the carpet
  • The characters have been personalised which emotionally connects the reader. For example, we follow the Bissett brothers as youngsters, to playing football at the local club in their teens, to their enlistment, to service in North Africa, and then at Kokoda. I even retained the Obituary Notice for Stan Bissett when I spotted it in the local paper in recent years . Another farm boy, meets his sweetheart before the war, marries her once demobbed and we learn what maintained the couple for the next forty years.
  •  Perspective. World War 2 began less than 170 years after Australia was settled by Europeans. She was a young country still learning her way. I was fascinated by the political decision making processes. In WW1 Australia followed the orders of the British Empire. When the Japanese invaded the Pacific in WW2 the Australian Prime Minister fought tooth and nail for leadership of the Australian Army in order to better protect our own nation. Fitzsimons also provides the perspective of boys on the front, Padres, nurses, medics, families waiting at home for news, and the individual leaders.
  •  There are so many fascinating tidbits of information within these pages. Did you know that acclaimed Kokoda War Photographer, Damien Parer, was apprenticed to Charles Chauvel, the Australian film maker who made Wake of the Bounty with a very young Errol Flynn in 1933? Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s visits to Oz, especially with his family, are a good read and will raise a smile or two, as well as provide insight as to the reasoning behind certain haunts around Brisbane still bearing his name. War Correspondent, Chester Wilmott’s dismissal when he savagely reported on the preparedness, or lack thereof, for battles on the island is also interesting stuff.

“ In the Kokoda battle their qualities of adaptability and individual initiative enabled them to show tremendous ability as fighting men in the jungle. They were superb.” Lieutenant-General Tsutomu Yoshihara, chief of staff of Japan’s South Seas army.

This book so beats little old gentlemen in suits writing dates on a blackboard with chalk. One of my all time favourite books…..

With special thanks to my beautiful friends who shared their stories. Our Dad’s kept their daughters in the dark, didn’t they….

Kurri Kurri, a Country Town With Heart, and a Great Book

The Hunter Valley, with its wineries, eateries, galleries and boutique accomodation, is a Mecca for tourists, and cashed up ones at that. On the fringe is Kurri Kurri, a township with few remnants of the architecture dating back to the early 1900s indicating that this place once enjoyed a mining boom. In the 1990’s all but one of the coal pits was closed and 11,000 people lost their jobs. 

All these years later this little country town is still doing it tough. The Workers Club has been boarded up, and charity stores outnumber other retail outlets.

We loved walking around the town centre and chatted to a few locals at the Cafe. I also ducked in for a quick haircut where a delightful lass shared local knowledge about places of interest.

(Personal Message for Cat Balou, daughter of mine : – Confirmed that there were NO grey hairs. From a professional, sweetheart. Take that!)

Which reminded me of a recent read : Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein, which details the impact that the closure of a car manufacturing plant in Wisconsin at the beginning of the recession in 2008 had on an entire community. Goldstein is a staff writer on social policy for the Washington Post and shared a win in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

This non fiction effort covers a period of five years which is fascinating in that the author follows characters from how they coped initially with their dismissal from their jobs and where they are down the track. It covers all that you would suspect, including homelessness, suicide, family breakdowns, loss of self esteem etc. It showed how the loss of one industry impacted on other industries and how the entire community was effected economically and socially.

On the positive it explains how some workers on the assembly line were able to set themselves up through study to become successful professionals, as well as how the community worked together to assist each other . “Barb believes that Lear’s closing was the best thing that could have happened. It’s closing taught her that she was a survivor. It taught her that work exists that is worth doing, not for the wages, because you feel good doing it”.

Although the American politics and mechanations went way over my head it was interesting to read that government funding into retraining programs did not have the successful outcomes anticipated.

The coffee is great in Kurri Kurri which labels itself  “A Country Town With Heart”,  and is worth a visit if travelling around the Hunter. It also has the largest number of murals on the mainland.

Let’s inject a few bob into our country towns this year, and hey, we might even learn something of our history, our heritage, along the way. And take it from an old girl: one five star marble bathroom looks the same as the next.

TRIVIA : – Kurri Kurri has produced the largest number of first grade Rugby League players in :

Andrew Johns

John Sattler

Paul Harragan

Eddie Lumsden

Mark Hughes

An Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales – Book Review

Australian Author and journalist, Leigh Sales, is the host of the ABC’s 7:30 Report. She has a Masters in International Relations and it has been great watching her over the years sticking it to both our leaders of commerce and our bureaucrats. Ms Sales is not one to back away from the good fight as our previous Prime Minister could testify.

So her 2018 released book, Any Ordinary Day, was an eye opener. In this, Sales interviews several high profile Australians from the past 20 years who have survived great tragedy, and have indeed moved on, despite unbelievable depths of sorrow, to become the best versions of themselves that they can be. Names like Stuart Diver, Walter Mikac, and survivors from the more recent Lindt Cafe (Claytons terrorist) attack. Interviews are conversational in tone and although the author has no answers as to where individuals find their strength, it is a positive read, with a reminder of the power of resilience, hope, and all that is good.

Yes, there is sadness as victims recount their tales, though there is also much joy and humour. Did you know Diver’s second wife recently died of ovarian cancer and that jokes abound as to what could possibly take wife Number 3? ( Aussies are renowned for their black humour. It’s how we get by).

There are the expected conversations about religion and faith, though not everyone canvassed is religious per se.

This is one of those “ conversation starters around the dinner table “ books. My lot had fun with this….