Dreamtime Journey Coach At Drayton, S E Qld.

I’m a little concerned that my last post about the Miles Franklin Award winning book, Too Much Lip, may have provided too many negative connotations about our First Australians.

So I thought I’de even the score by sharing a positive Indigenous experience from my recent road trip.

DownsSteam Tourist Railway & Museum is located at Drayton, an outer southwestern suburb of Toowoomba, South East Queensland, which makes it a perfect day trip to escape from the Big Smoke.

Toowoomba is on the crest of the Great Dividing Range, around 700 metres (2,300 ft) above sea level. This makes it substantially cooler, or less humid, than Brisbane with defined seasonal changes. Thus, the annual Carnival of Flowers to which those on the coastal fringe have been flocking each September to view the beautiful gardens for the past 70 years.

Operated by the Darling Downs Historical Railway Society and staffed wholly by volunteers, DownsStream Tourist Railway and Museum is dedicated to the establishment and preservation of a tourist railway for the Darling Downs region.

And the big bonus? You don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy this environment – it’s got this really pleasant vibe…..

The gardens are beautiful, you can enjoy a coffee on the station, and view the restoration of Toowooomba’s very own steam locomotive the “Pride of Toowoomba” which was built locally in 1915. After a little more than a century and well over a million miles steaming her way around Queensland, this once proud steam engine is now the only one of her class not to be scrapped. She is being restored to fully operational condition by volunteer craftsmen for mainline tours across the Darling Downs. (Keep an eye open for updates : there’s plans for train travel to the Granite Belt for wine tasting).

You can even enjoy a light lunch in one of the rail carriages!

The highlight of my visit was a tour of the Dreamtime Journey Coach which is a fascinating insight into Indigenous culture.

To acknowledge the contribution made by the indigenous workers to the construction of the railway up the range, an indigenous inmate from the Westbrook Correctional Centre volunteered to paint one of our carriages as part of his prison rehabilitation program.

Inmate “Domi” commenced painting the carriage in 2012, taking 19 weeks to complete his awe-inspiring, unique Indigenous Art Gallery on wheels (static exhibit).

The coach depicts the Aboriginal theme based on ‘Baiami’ who created the earth and all the wonderful landscape, mountains, lakes, rivers, billabongs, oceans and islands.

Experiencing our ‘Dreamtime Journey Coach’ is to take a spiritual journey from dawn to dusk. Domi’s paintings represent the traverse of a day, starting from the entrance with the orange and yellow colours of the dawn, then in the middle of the carriage the bright colours of the day and the other end of the carriage with the pink and purple colours of the dusk.

                – from website http://www.downstream.com

The twenty minute tour of this carriage, which included an explanation of characters, symbolism and meaning, tells a truly interesting and colourful story. Add to MUST DO LIST.

Located at 16 Cambooya Street, Drayton

Note : No, I do not collect tea towels. Not even good at using them.

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko : Book Review

Published in 2018 by University of Queensland Press.

A few years ago I was a regular attendee at a local Bookclub. Lovely women though lots of Jane Austen and Alice Walker novels and strictly no consumption of food or alcohol. Not even a coffee. These old dears took their reading very seriously…….

When it was my turn to nominate a book I suggested something recent and by an Australian author : Melissa Lucashenko, an Indigenous Australian writer of adult literary fiction and non-fiction, and novels for teenagers.  Can’t get more Dinky-Di than that, can you?

I thoroughly enjoyed Mullumbimby as it was familiar in both location and context as well as being contemporary. It did not go down well with the old dears who were appalled by the language and the sex scenes. 

That marked the end of my Bookclub period.

Lucashenko’s latest book Too Much Lip won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award, awarded to “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”.

This is one confrontational novel with an uncomfortable depiction of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I’m even more uncomfortable in that as a non- Indigenous person I would be made a pariah if I even suggested some of the things which are in the book.

Protagonist Kerry returns to her hometown of Durrongo, just over the Qld border, on a stolen Harley to bid farewell to her dying grandfather. A fugitive with warrants out for her arrest, she intends to stay in town for the funeral only. However she soon becomes embroiled in dramas with regards to her family, her local family history, and the overdevelopment of the local community, and unexpectedly finds love with a white fella despite previously being a proud lesbian.

All of the characters are flawed and totally devoid of charm. There’s domestic violence, fraud, alcoholism, welfare, pedophilia and child neglect issues. There’s White colonisation, aboriginal massacres and the Stolen Generation issues to boot. Yet within all this ugliness and brutality entwined are beautiful things such as Dreamtime stories, connection to country, communication with animals (totems) and ancestors.

In the Afterword Lucashenko writes that while Too Much Lip is a work of fiction “lest any readers assume this portrayal of Aboriginal lives is exaggerated, I would add that virtually every incidence of violence in these pages has occurred within my extended family at least once. The (very) few exceptions are drawn either from the historical record or from Aboriginal oral history”.

Gulp!

Compelling reading.

Warning : I must be getting old. The language is more contemporary than contemporary. But not too old – if my daughters spoke like this they’d still cop a hiding.


Maracas, Bushfires and The Breaker – Part 2

This time last year I spent several days in Tenterfield, New South Wales, for the inaugural Peter Allen Festival. Less than twenty kilometres across the border from Queensland and with a population of less than 5,000 you wouldn’t think there would be much more to learn about a rural township.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This trip was a whole different kettle of fish and included a tour of the town with a local historian. So much information to take in when a girl has a head full of music, local Sav Blanc, and sore muscles earned on the dance floor.

I was already aware that Solicitor, Major James Francis Thomas, who defended Harry Harbord Morant at his court-martial for war crimes during the Boer War, was a Tenterfield lad. Thomas was portrayed by Jack Thompson in the 1980 film Breaker Morant.

Thomas died in the 1940’s a rather broken man though well regarded. Only within the last ten years a sugar bag full of Thomas’ military memorabilia was found at the local Tenterfield Tip having been stored at an old rural property just out of town.

What was in the sugar bag?

A penny on a leather string inscribed H H Morant which was worn by The Breaker around his neck when he was executed by a British firing squad in 1902 and bears the mark of a bullet hole.

An Australian red ensign bearing the names of Morant and his co-accused, Peter Handcock. Their birth and execution dates are inked into the Southern Cross stars on the design. It reads: “Utter scapegoats of the Empire”. There is a grainy 1902 photograph of Thomas standing by the flag-draped grave in Pretoria of the dead Anglo-Australian horseman, bush poet and military officer, and this is believed to be that same flag.

A first edition, signed copy of George Whitton’s book, Scapegoats of the Empire, the Lieutenant’s account of court proceedings. ( He was sentenced to Life Imprisonment).

All artefacts are available for viewing at the School of Arts in Tenterfield.

LIFE LESSON: Always expect the unexpected.

Note : Tenterfield is just one of many rural towns suffering severe drought with dam levels down to 30 per cent. Much of the district was engulfed in flames during our visit, with no power and two major highways cut.

Thank you to the wonderful people of Tenterfield for their hospitality over the Peter Allen Festival weekend. Thank you all so much for your grace under fire – literally. Thank you for sharing your stories, your hearts, and your history.

A huge thank you to the organising team. You are all “the sons and daughters” and we’ll be back again next year. May the coming months be kinder to you all.

Fromage blanc, Camels and Conniptions -Part 1

A road trip just days into Spring and we’re already hitting temperatures reminiscent of Summer. This apparently means that bushfires are our new normal and there have been multiple blazes raging across Queensland and New South Wales for the past few days. Not fun on the wide open roads nor those that are winding, single lane through the country but more on that later.

First port of call was only 45 minutes from Brisbane, just outside the small town of Harrisville, off the Cunningham Highway. 

Summer Land Camels is absolutely fascinating and well worth a visit. Yes, camels. Those ugly big things that spit. Really interesting – who knew? 

And camels don’t spit. That’s Alpacas, their cousins. Bulls get frothy mouths when they’re “romantically inclined”.

This Camel farm is the biggest in Australia and third biggest in the world. They milk them on site to produce cheese, yoghurt and gelato – Camel gelato for goodness sake ! – as well as skincare products and leather goods.

The tour around the milking facilities is well worth taking and I was fortunate to learn all the goss from one of the partners of the enterprise who has a background in Biochemistry, Physiology diagnostics with a particular expertise in the innate immune system, gut and organ health, Nuclear Medicine, Physiotherapy and Masters in Sports Science. Seriously, it was love at first adjective.

I was totally ignorant of the fact that Australia had a Camel Corp in World War 1 that participated in the Charge for Beersheba. This means that they’re  going to have to remake the movie The Lighthorsemen and I have to drop by the Library ASAP.

So yeah, there’s all these other touristy activities that you can participate in, like feeding the beasts or going on a camel ride. See here for more information : http://www.summerlandcamels.com.au

I enjoyed a Devonshire Tea with homemade jam and Fromage blanc courtesy of the camels.

So this was a truly enjoyable start to my road trip with my excitement only heightened when I learned that the property used to be the residence of Australian filmmaker, Charles Chauvel. There may have been a hint of conniptions when told that Errol Flynn was an overnight guest before his Hollywood days.

Next trip I will take an esky and ice and purchase some Camel meat. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a Camel recipe but I’de give it a go. My daughters haven’t yet forgiven me for serving up Roasted Skippy with baked veges. A Mother’s payback.

Summer Land Camels is located at 8 Charles Chauvel Drive, Harrisville, Qld.

Next time : maracas, bushfires, and The Breaker.

Legacy Week

Legacy is an Australian non-profit organisation established in 1923 by ex-servicemen. The aim of the organisation is to care for the dependents of deceased Australian service men and women from any of our military conflicts since WW1.

This Infographic indicates the assistance they have provided over the years:

The first week of September is Legacy Week when the majority of funds are raised through the sale of special badges and other products. Army Reservists and exservicemen and women in uniform tend to be out in force during this time.

The Legacy Garden of Appreciation at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne  is a living tribute to the generous support of Victorians for the work of Legacy. It features a sculpture of a widow and her children, symbolising the work of Legacy caring for widows and children of veterans.

The sculpture is surrounded by a garden in the shape of a cross. Inside the cross are Flanders Poppies which bloom around November and were seeded from Villers-Bretonneux in France.

Out the front of Legacy House in Albury, New South Wales, is a war memorial dedicated to the 80th anniversary of Legacy and its commitment to assisting families affected by war.

The war memorial features the silhouette of a family with one child holding a wreath. The wreath of laurel is represented in the Legacy logo and symbolises remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country. On the plaque is the Legacy torch, described as “the undying flame of service and sacrifice handed to us by our comrades in war who have passed on”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was Primary School age there were classmates receiving assistance through Legacy though it was never questioned, merely considered normal. In hindsight it is a little frightening to realise that I belonged to a generation born not that very long after wars end.( Yeah, so it took me longer than most to figure that one out…duh…)

And just because I can:

Possums and Owls

I’m not good with neighbours. I like space.

So when I downsized  it was imperative to live near some Open land. Which I found. My pocket handkerchief property borders a wildlife corridor, and more importantly due to their declining numbers, a Koala corridor. I have wallabies that visit, blue tongue lizards and water dragons, drongos, scrub turkeys, magpies and kookaburras that drop by for the fresh water that is left out for them.

Swamp Wallaby

I had lived only three kilometres away for over twenty years and it wasn’t until I went for a walk through my back gate that I discovered a nearby platypus sanctuary. I kid you not. Platypus. Long time locals are still unaware of its existence!

And then there are the possums. 

I have always had a soft spot for possums having grown up in a bush setting in a little Sydney suburb since destroyed by progress with its inclination for fountains with urinating cherubs and concrete lions by the front gate. Memories of my mother, who died when I was a kid, include feeding injured possums that escaped the bushfires by braving sharks and swimming across the river to safety. I’ve been putting out spare fruit, vegetables and sandwiches ever since.

It’s Springtime now and the possums are carrying their babies on their backs. I’m continuing to put out feed though not every night as they  mustn’t become dependant. 

But our weather is playing havoc and we are still suffering drought. Three hours away the country towns will be without water for Christmas. An hour west the creeks have turned to mud and people are busy trying to relocate turtles and eels to save their lives.

In my own piece of bushland there is little blossom on the trees thanks to the lack of rain. This means that there are more possums (and flying fox). My local council also carried out a huge chemical spray operation to avoid any legal entanglements once bushfire season started so we lost many of the scrub mammals and lizards that live amongst the undergrowth. (And no, I’m not a mad greenie though question why we are still using pesticides banned in other countries, but I digress……)

When I retired one of the first things I did was sign up to assist a study being undertaken by an academic from the local university into Powerful Owls. All these years and I’ve only ever seen one of these owls once. So why not? I’m surrounded by Bush and enjoy learning from our environment.

Powerful Owls ( minoxidil strenua) are listed on the Nature Conservation Act of Queensland as vulnerable. Ever seen one? They are massive with a three foot wing span and talons. And you know their favourite tucker? 

Possums.

The past few nights I’ve spotted half a dozen Powerful Owls sitting on the back fence awaiting the nightly arrival of possums. It’s their equivalent of a smorgasbord.

Second day of Spring and it’s expected to hit 33degrees Celsius tomorrow.

No need to panic. The neighbours are all out washing their cars on their driveways.

Books By Aussie Authors and a Glass of Plonk With Michael Robotham

Recently in Australia we celebrated Love Your Bookshop Day and Book Week. Here are some books by Australian authors that I’ve recently completed. Interestingly, my tastes are changing: I have a preference for non fiction these days.

The Girl On The Page by John Purcell.

A beautiful,young and wealthy editor is given the task of assisting an elderly author, married to another author, to write a contemporary novel that will sell. The crux of the novel is what makes “great literature” versus today’s Best Seller. “There’s uphill reading and downhill reading. As you can imagine, uphill reading requires more effort. Downhill, less so. Readers will do both in their reading lives.”

All this protagonist needed was a father who owned a pub, right? This could have been a really good story with its insight into the world of publishing with the author being a bigwig at Booktopia. The sex scenes ruined it.  I’m no prude but we’re talking multiple cheap and nasty episodes and I suspect the author got his rocks off writing it. Erotic? In your dreams, matey.

Just Another Digger by John-Thomas Francis

Poems about war by a local author with sixteen years of military service behind  him including service in Korea. Enjoyed this one; his poetry tells of stories which are full of feeling without getting maudlin.

I took a few weeks to get through this one despite it being a slim volume. I’m just a pleb having grown up in a country that worships the doggerel.

Fortune Cookie by Bryce Courtney

Fourth generation Chinese-Australian man goes to Singapore to work as a creative director in an Ad agency. Triads, drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, sleazy businessmen are all included in spades. A saga that commences with the Chinese in the Gold fields in 1850’s Australia.

Fascinating history but would have benefited from the work of a decent edit. Repetitious and a good 100 pages too long.

Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Vern’s son is doing time for numerous episodes of domestic violence. When Vern hears that the son of the local drug lord is bashing his son in prison, he attempts to rectify the situation, at first peaceably, and later using his skills as a WW2 soldier in New Guinea. It becomes a train wreck.

This is an interesting read as every single character is flawed and unlikable. I think we’ve met them all! Extremely Australian in flavour, I guess I’m just a little over Domestic Violence as a theme. This blokey psyche that has men thinking that just because they don’t beat their women makes them a good fella makes my blood pressure soar. Where’s that garden hoe?

A good read.

Crime Writer, Michael Robotham, gave a presentation on his latest release, Good Girl, Bad Girl, at my local watering hole the other week.

With a dozen books as a ghost writer under his belt – including Rolf Harris ( which he didn’t see coming) – as well as his crime novels this chappie is fascinating and full of stories. It’s actually a bit disconcerting to find that authors that deal in horrendous crimes, blood and gore, are really such funny buggers in real life.

I’m hoping to find a copy of this one under the Xmas tree 🙂