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.

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

Fairy Penguins Rule.

“Is this Heaven?” asks a ghostly baseball player in Field Of Dreams.
“No. It’s Iowa”.

No, it’s the beautiful Hunter.

When I open the front door to walk the Lab in the mornings I am greeted by grazing kangaroos in green paddocks.

Thirty minutes to the west are the beautiful vineyards of the Hunter Valley, although if you are expecting to pick up some cheap plonk these are not the venues for you. Cellar Doors and eateries within the wineries are big business these days, unlike 40 years ago when they consisted of mainly tin sheds.

Thirty minutes to the east is the coast where I caught a fish yesterday, spotted a pod of dolphins, and frolicked in the waves.

To the north by ten minutes is a little township steeped in history. Our country towns are fantastic places to explore especially with the aid of a Heritage Walk map. Interestingly, I stumbled across this hitching post from America from the late 1800’s. If we can no longer call them Fairy Penguins and are no longer able to buy golliwogs, then please explain…..

In a park in Maitland not featured on the map I came across a Memorial to those who lost their lives at Sandakan during WW2. If you want to touch up on Australian history read Paul Ham’s Sandakan and learn why a previous generation wholeheartedly supported the Australian car manufacturing industry.

Soon I will venture south some thirty minutes to the local zoo where I have an appointment at the Meerkat enclosure. I’m all for collecting experiences but being peed on by a meerkat is not one of them. Thanks, daughters of mine.

Reading When One Is Not Reading.

Despite having more spare time I seem to have less reading time. I guess this will change once I come to grips with the fact that Rome wasn’t built in a day and everything doesn’t have to be done at once.

I have finished a couple of books, all very much stop and start efforts:

The Debs Of Bletchley Park by Michael Smith should have been a great book. Recounting the stories of women recruited to break German codes, translate messages, and pass on intelligence during World War 2, some of the 8000 women who lived and worked in poor conditions for the War Effort share their pride in working alongside men and aiding their country at Bletchley Park.

Lots of fascinating information but not an easy read. Ok, yes, maybe the brain needs to shift out of party mode. Blame me and not the author.

A Man Named Ove by Fredrick Backman.

This was my chosen paperback for plane travel, which has also been turned into a movie.

Bleak. That sums it up.

An old man wakes up each morning planning to kill himself following the recent death of his wife. He is no ordinary man either – he is one of those blighters who was curmudgeonly at 25. Hey, we all know one, don’t we? Anyway, it does have a happy ending, kind of, but you suffer for it.

I had to laugh at the back of the book where there was a questionnaire to check if your personality type was the same as Ove’s. I figure that could send some people over the edge…….

Kittyhawks Beyond The Gap by Dennis O’Leary

This one was lent to me by a friend I hadn’t seen since her wedding, nearly forty years ago. Her Dad was a soldier on the Kokoda Track and her late husband was Navy, so she has an interesting collection of reading material. I could have filled a suitcase!

In the words of his dedication in Kittyhawks, former RAAF engine fitter Dennis O’Leary has written this book as a resource for students ‘so that the youth of today may know what the youth of yesterday did for them’. My friend met O’Leary in his 80’s when he used to enjoy working in his garden.

This was an easy yet fascinating read and I particularly enjoyed learning about the Morotai Mutiny, when pilots were disgruntled about their limited participation in events happening around them.

Another one that should be in all High School Libraries…….

I think I’ll now reread Peter Brune’s “A Bastard Of A Place”,  about this conflict. You seem to gain more out of a (historical) book when it becomes personal, dont you think?

It’s All About The Journey.

Home after a week pottering around the beautiful small townships of the New South Wales, South Coast Region. This trip, despite its short length, was a celebration of the end of one phase of my life and for the beginning of the next. The goal was to purge some sad memories and to create some that were new and fresh. It is amazing how quickly those goals were achieved.

This part of the world is a continuous coastline on one side of the highway, and soft green hills or rugged timberland on the other. It’s a part of the world where you don’t have to share a beach and there is a plethora of space to stop and think. Space where there is no white noise. Any plans for an overseas jaunt in coming months are seriously being overhauled.

My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, who totally cracks me up said “ To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Road trips are the source of much fascinating information. After a quick feed at a pub in Nowra, I learnt that The Archer Tavern was named after the racehorse that won Australia’s first and second Melbourne Cups in 1861 and ‘62. Archer was a long distance specialist having walked the 600 miles from Nowra to Melbourne for the big race.

This was the basis of a truly dreadful mid eighties movie starring Our Nic before she met that bloke Cruise, and a young Brett Climo. Whatever happened to him, I wonder?

In Moruya, further south on the Moruya River, you can’t miss the recently closed Air Raid Tavern situated on the Highway. A wooden carving of The Airman stands proudly outside. Moruya ?Air Raids? The hallmarks of a failed education system in the 1970s were once again raising their ugly heads.

Three trawler men lost their lives during WW2 when a Japanese Midget submarine bombed them off the Moruya Coast, on their way up the East Coast. Who knew that? Some more unpalatable history, apparently.

So, of course I had to look at the Midget Sub on display, very much bruised and battered, at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Fascinating stuff.

For the penultimate in Trivia a celebration of another kind taking place further south near Narooma had themed food to match the quiz like game at hand, set up in tents in a back garden, with a soft summer breeze, the hum of cicadas, and a playlist of music from the last five decades.

Much thanks must go to these good people, these Adventurers, who have convinced me to add “Watch Dr Who Christmas Special” to my Must Do List. An achievement considering never having watched a Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord Of The Rings movie  which I rate highly as Personal Bests, right up there with my No Tupperware Policy.

And I picked up a first Edition copy of Rudyard Kipling’s, Kim, for my Errol Flynn Collection from a second hand bookstore in a little country town that served the best coffee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said , “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” So true.