War Records Conundrum

I recently located an interesting children’s book about Sister Marie Craig, one of the “Flying Angels” who cared for some 18,000 injured soldiers on flights from Papua New Guinea to the hospital in Darwin during WW2. After the misleading book  about a cat who survived a sinking ship, Changi and Sandakan as mentioned with much disgust last week, I didn’t want to get caught out again, so checked the records at the Australian War Memorial. Sister Craig’s story is fair dinkum and is an interesting one……

So, whilst looking at records at the AWM, I discovered a new record under my father’s name which is out there on the internet for all the world to see. Their database contains the names of WW1 and WW2 soldiers, service numbers, rank, date of discharge and decorations and other basic information. I’m not sure about other Conflicts – records were still being digitalised at one point. It’s a user friendly database and you simply search using a name.

Service records are available for a fee and the AWM will post a copy of these documents. I ordered my father’s service documents after he died : 42 pages, which to be honest, apart from medical history, promotions, and changes of pay means little to me. 

( I digress, but on my first visit to the AWM in Canberra as a young woman travelling with a young man who found it difficult to locate hotel accomodation because we were not married – Canberra being Australia’s porn capital no less – a research officer at the AWM explained veterans service documents by using the records of a deceased Prime Minister as an example. Though not fond of the deceased Prime Minister in question I was somewhat appalled that his medical records included a dose of VD during his time in a theatre of war which was clearly pointed out by the employee. So much for privacy.)

But back to the old man.

Dad’s plane.

There is now a record that states under Collections that the AWM is in possession of my father’s leather bound diary from 15 April, 1943 to 24th August, 1945 that includes movements, roles, and flying missions etc. It also states ” entries describe leave, dances, the Boomerang Club and meeting girls”. Photographs, poetry, propaganda leaflets are also included as well as details of his marriage to an English sweetheart. ( Not my mother).

My father never discussed the War. It wasn’t until he was in his 70’s that he let things slip, like Dresden and how ” bloody cold” it was high in the skies above Europe. He wasn’t quite the hard old bastard by then.

There was never any mention of a diary nor a first wife.

My curiosity is piqued but it is not my life. It is a diary of a life before I was even a twinkle in the eye. A life 15 years before mine even started. 

That these records of times past are retained for historians is a wonderful thing. I get that. What I don’t get is that there are 566 words included in the description of the diary’s contents available on a search under my father’s name on the Australian War Memorial’s website available for all and sundry to see.

I’m a little conflicted :don’t dead people deserve some privacy? I can hear the old bugger telling me to ” cop it sweet, Pet”, but it just doesn’t sit well.

Any thoughts?

Some Real Duds

The front cover of Red Lead – The Naval Cat With Nine Lives by Roland Perry grabbed my attention with the announcement   ” the legendary Australian ship’s cat who survived the sinking of HMAS Perth, Changi and the Thai-Burma Railway”.

A $1 investment – what could go wrong?

61 pages in and my intuition kicked in necessitating the need to research some military websites, including the Australian War Memorial and the Naval Institute.

Guess what? 

A work of fiction. Very misleading and disappointing. A total non-story.

The reality is Redlead, like many of the cruisers crew, did not survive the sinking of HMAS Perth and there was no Dan Bolt, the ex veterinarian who adopted the cat at sea.

Indeed one reviewer summed it up thus: “Finally in this case you can ‘judge a book by its cover’.  The photo on the front cover of a cat sitting in the gun barrel is not Redlead; it’s the ship’s cat of HMS Cornwall taken in 1933. Also the front cover wording stating the “cat who survived the sinking of HMAS Perth, Changi and the Thai-Burma Railway” is false.”

61 pages. What a time waster!

Next up, The Beach They Called Gallipoli by Jackie French, another $1 investment.

I’ve mentioned Jackie French AM , Australian author, previously. Not only is she a historian, ecologist and wombat carer, she was 2014–15 Australian Children’s Laureate and 2015 Senior Australian of the Year. Love her work, I really do.

Young Harry Kilometres, the grand child, is the product of a military family. Indeed, he was born in a rural and remote area of Australia because of his father’s military involvement. For overseas readers that means crocodiles, poison jellyfish, snakes galore, wild camels, and bison on the golf course. So little Harry is already ensconced in certain traditions. He’s been practising the manoeuvres to parachute out of a plane since he was three months old  and his library of army history is already enviable.

So I just had to pick this book up for Harry’s bedtime reading for his coming visit. Beautifully illustrated by Bruce Whatley with a sprinkling of vintage photos and Jackie French, writer of children’s books.

DEPRESSING

I appreciate that Gallipoli was not an uplifting experience however this book is not the kind of book to hand to a child as a learning tool. Jackie and Bruce were clearly on the red wine when they dreamt up this concept. I’m thinking an Art Gallery or Museum would have been far more suitable.

And you know what? Two lousy books in a row can destroy your day.

The Week That Was And Old Age

It was Melbourne Cup earlier in the week, Australia’s iconic horse race which literally stops a nation. Melbourne, in lock down for some 280 days due to Covid, opened up for 10,000 questionably fashioned party-goers at the racetrack – as opposed to the usual 100,000 plus- none of whom looked like they were a day over 25 years of age. I didn’t watch the race, didn’t pull a cork out of any bottle, and am unable to name the winning horse.

Is this a sign of old age?

The Beersheba Re-enactment ( for the anniversary of the Charge in 1917) at the Laidley Pioneer Village was interesting and well done, though I was disappointed with the lack of spectators. These dedicated horsemen and women are passionate about both their history and their horses and I would have thought that the event would have attracted scout groups, girl guides, and high school groups as history via a whiteboard and text book never worked for me. Neither did Shakespeare.


Saved a baby crow fresh out of the nest. Spent the morning on the phone to the Wildlife mob as he was wobbly on his feet and the other larger birds were overly interested. Did you know that walking on the ground for a week or two is what baby crows do? It was just unfortunate that this was the same day the first Brown Snake of the season slithered by the back door.

Went to the theatre to see Mamma Mia last night. Wonderful to get caught up in the joy of the music, and….da da…enjoy it maskless. Last live performance was four months ago when masks were compulsory. Do you know how depressing it is not to be able to sing along with a favourite performer? And I mean depressing. I would have been happier listening to a CD and ordering a pizza at home it was so sad.

So energised by the music and dancing – and that was just the audience, not those on stage – that I vowed to open a bottle of bubbles when I made it back home.

Didn’t happen. Too tired.

I’m just getting old, I tell you.

Tomato Update and Weekend Plans

Spring in South East Queensland lasted for all of a fortnight and then we pounced straight into Summer, evening storms and all.

The tomato plants have revelled in the heat and humidity and I have no doubt that the bandicoots that frolic in the vege bed at night will also be prone to acidic disorders from over indulging. The freezer is full of pasta sauce, a little heavy on the chilli and garlic apparently, and I’m now moving on to tomato chutney production. Not that I eat chutney but I can’t handle food waste. Blame the Depression parents who wouldn’t let us kids leave the table until the plates were clean.

The good news is that I will pull the remaining plants out on the weekend (before sunrise). The bad news is that means no tomatoes for summer salads and I’ll probably have to sell a kidney to afford them for Christmas Lunch.

Talking of waste, Australia has collectively moved away from single use plastics recently. Well done! So please explain somebody, anybody, why the shops are all full of plastic pumpkins. Crappy, cheap plastic pumpkins from China.
1. Why is Halloween becoming such a big deal in Australia?
2. Why is it that freight from China has been delayed since Covid but plastic pumpkins arrive in time for the end of October?
3. If children under 12 are not allowed to walk to school without parental supervision why are they allowed to go trick or treating? I’m not even going to mention the legalities of nazi teachers checking the contents of lunchboxes. I’m too old to open that Pandora’s Box.
4. If we really must instigate this Halloween business, how about next year we all plant some pumpkin seeds and harness our own food source?

So, you’ve figured that I don’t give a rats. Instead, and weather permitting, I plan on a much more appropriate celebration. Yep, a reenactment of the charge at Beersheba at the Laidley Pioneer Village. Entry is by donation.

Never heard of Beersheba?

On 31 October 1917, during World War 1, Australia’s Desert Mounted Corps led the famous charge of Beersheba by the 4th Light Horse Brigade, probably one of the most stunning victories in any battle or war in Australian history. This charge saw 800 Australian horsemen gallop their horses across three miles of open desert, through the Turkish defences, to win the precious wells of Beersheba.
 
The victory by the Australian horsemen, under the command of Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel against the Turks, was the beginning of a successful Australian campaign that led to the collapse of the Turkish Ottoman empire and turned the tide of war in the Middle East.

And I wont be watching anything starring Jamie Lee Curtis either. It’s the 1980’s Australian flick, The Lighthorsemen, or nothing. Forget the insipid romance between a young Sigrid Thornton and Peter Phelps before he got paunchy, it is a beaut little story and a reminder of old fashioned Aussie larrikins.

It would be totally hypocritical of me to wish you all Happy Halloween though I do hope you all play safely and that there are no chipped teeth from all those boiled lollies. I’ll be at Laidley – yee haa.

ADD TO 2022 TO DO LIST :
Instigate a community pumpkin growing plan and eradicate all plastic pumpkins.

A Morning At Highfields Pioneer Village

Highfields is a satellite suburb of Toowoomba situated on the Great Dividing Range, approximately 135 kms from Brisbane City. First developed in the 1860s for timber felling once it was cleared it became prime dairy farming land. Since the 1960s it has become a thriving suburb with all the modern amenities and the benefit of an abundance of mature trees which add to its street appeal.

Highfields Pioneer Village is located on 20 acres on Wirraglen Road and consists of over 60 authentic and well preserved buildings, relocated from surrounding districts, and all stocked with artefacts from earlier days. My parents used to talk of Coolgardie Safes – fascinating to at last see one.

Each of the buildings is dedicated to an area of pioneer life including the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker……silversmith, blacksmith and beekeeper etc. Some of the buildings have been turned into museums – ambulance, radio, fire engine, 11th Lighthorse Brigade – and the number of old vehicles and farming equipment is fascinating even if I am totally clueless as to their use.

My favourite is The Grinke Cottage with its colourful Cottage Garden which has been entered in the Annual Carnival Of Flowers Garden Competition over the past several years in the Cottage Garden category. Just gorgeous.



So proud of myself: I refrained from taking cuttings.


The Anderson Bomb Shelter is also interesting. Over 2,250,000 were erected, many in Australia, and were made homely with bunks inside and flowers and vegetables planted in the protective bank of earth. One joker declared ” there was a greater danger of being hit by a vegetable marrow falling off the roof of an air raid shelter than of being struck by a bomb”.

There is also an old church which is to this day used for weddings.

Honestly, there is a lot to take in here and it can’t be done in a short time frame. I would like to make a return visit and may make the effort on one of the Pioneer Village’s special event days which you can read about here : http://www.highfieldspioneervillage.com.au/events

We finished the morning over hot tea and damper ( with Golden Syrup – wicked, I know) cooked by one of the wonderful volunteers.

The Highfields Pioneer Village is another attraction hit hard by Covid and an ageing volunteer base. So wish I lived closer………

Tip : Add to Must Do List.

Much Needed Therapy : A Day On Straddie

North Stradbroke Island, affectionately known as Straddie is an island that lies within Moreton Bay off the coast of Brisbane. It is a 45 minute vehicular ferry trip from my sandpit or half that on the people-only Straddie Flyer. At 68,000 acres it is the second largest sand island in the world. Known as Minjerribah to the First Australians the Quandamooka people are the traditional land owners and their presence is still keenly felt on the island.

Fun Fact: Originally there was only one Stradbroke Island but in 1895 it split into North Stradbroke Island and South Stradbroke Island after some bizarre events. Firstly, in 1894 the 1,600 tonne barque Cambus Wallace from Glasgow, carrying explosives, shipwrecked in a narrow passage. Five sailors we’re lost, the others managed to salvage barrels of rum and most of the explosives, although they were deemed unstable. Rum and explosives being a heady mix there was one hell of a BOOM, and further storms and strong currents led to the fragile strip of land dissolving and breaking completely away in 1898.

All ferries arrive in Dunwich. The township has a fascinating history having started as a military post, becoming a temporary lazaret, a quarantine command, and then the largest asylum in Queensland for the poor, disabled and disadvantaged. There also remains evidence of the financially rewarding Dugong harvesting industry.

Used For Boiling Down Dugongs

Myora Springs has been the meeting place of our First Nations people for eons with it’s fresh water feeding into the bay. 

Amity Point remains relatively untouched by progress and is a camper’s and fisho’s paradise.

Do you remember the Disney movie Finding Nemo? This movie featured The East Australian Current, a large scale flow of water that runs south along the east coast sweeping warm tropical waters from the Coral Sea southwards to interact with the cool temperate waters of the Tasman Sea. You know what that means? All manner of sea life including sharks – big, hungry buggers. We sat mesmerised and watched dolphins and whales at play. Look hard and you may just spot Nemo.

Point Lookout is nothing short of spectacular. The old beach shacks of days gone by are well and truly gone and the high end real estate is at such a stage that I could probably afford to purchase their letterbox and possibly a water feature or two. Despite the exorbitant prices, it is still acceptable to walk sand in through the house and barbeque on the verandah overlooking the view. It retains that holiday vibe. 


I just have to tell you that the Straddie Pub is a Must Do item on any visit to the island.

Wind burnt, sun burnt, and thrilled to have to stop driving in order to allow a koala to cross the road we returned to Dunwich for the ferry ride home.

From Dunwich back over to the mainland.

Feeling improved and in a much better head space, thank you for asking…………….

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss – Book Review

This is the first novel that has broken through my brain fog, courtesy of Covid, for quite some time

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.”

Set in 1852, the Marrambidya – what we know as the Murrumbidgee – floods through the newly established township of Gundagai, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The local indigenous had warned the colonists though this went unheeded. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.

Wagadhaany is a 13 year old Aboriginal lass and considered to be one of the lucky ones because she survives the flood and lives in a settler’s home as a domestic. When she is forced to move away from her “mob” her spirit is crushed despite forging a friendship of sorts with the new mistress of the house. Her heart slowly heals when she meets a Wiradyuri stockman and she dreams of escaping from servitude and returning to the river of her ancestors, though there is danger in escaping from the white man.

Beautifully written with a nod to indigenous language, the images of rural NSW with its flocks of noisy cockatoo and the swirling currents of the river and dry plains are almost lyrical. The ugly events of our past are covered, such as the massacres, payment to workers by way of rations, abuse and mistreatment of the women, and early days of mission life. It’s not pretty.

Wagadhaany’s partner takes their twin sons camping on their first “walkabout”
to learn many of the Indigenous ways and I felt as a reader that I too was being educated in bush craft. I will never again move a log with my hands until testing first with my feet ( in case of snakes)! I particularly enjoyed the lessons gained from looking at the night sky given my recent reading about Aboriginal Astronomy.

In Gundagai today there is a sculpture of Yarri (Wagadhaany’s father in the novel) and Jackey Jackey commemorating how many of the colonists were saved during the flood in those early days.

Though not an in-your-face, aggressive look-what-you-done look back at historical events which is so very prevalent in other recent publications, this story is no less forgiving. It in no way detracts from the appalling treatment that our Aboriginals suffered but rather confirms that you can ” catch more flys with honey than with vinegar”.

Great read!

About the Author

Anita Heiss (born 1968) is an Aboriginal Australian author, poet, cultural activist and social commentator. She is an advocate for Indigenous Australian literature and literacy, through her writing for adults and children and her membership of boards and committees.

First Nation’s Storytellers


It is only over recent months that I became aware of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy after having listened to Astrophysicist and Science Communicator, Kirsten Banks, on of all things, a home renovation show.

Of Wiradjuri descent Kirsten has a particular interest in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have used the stars for over 65,000 years for navigation purposes, predicting weather seasons, and for determining when the best time is to hunt for certain foods such as emu eggs. “ Aboriginal Astronomy can teach us about the link between the sky and the land”, she said.

My interest was further piqued on my recent outback Queensland travels and in particular Winton. Winton’s small population, low humidity, and low light pollution make it the ideal location to stargaze and the area around the Australian Age of Dinosaurs is now one of only ten internationally recognised areas certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary.


Since then I have been receiving social media alerts regarding Aboriginal artwork related to the skies. ( see Aboriginal Skies)

With a daughter in Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory – which I grew up calling Gove – an area in East Arnham land populated for some 40,000 years by the Yolgnu people, we all have a new appreciation for the story tellers from our First Nation. Contemporary Australian Indigenous art often references astronomical subjects and their related lore such as the Seven Sisters.

Here are examples of some of the art works:

This fabulous artwork was submitted by Annette Joy. Annette is a Gourmanjanyuk/Wergaia artist and the painting represents Yerrerdetkurrk, which is the star Achernar. Yerrerdetkurrk is the ‘Nalwinkurrk’, or mother of Totyarguil’s wives. The ‘Nalwinkurrk’ never allows’ her son-in law to see her. Achernar is a bright, binary star system located in the constellation Eridanus, and is the ninth-brightest star in the night sky.

“Hydra the Water Serpent” from the ‘Shared Sky Exhibition’. This exhibition highlighted the connections between Aboriginal & contemporary astronomy. This artwork is acrylic on linen (70cm x 52cm) and the artist is Nerolie Blurton. “The Water Serpent, stretched across the sky with its many heads, was a monster until it was cut and killed. The red blood drips down from the clot. The browns and orange show that the Hydra can be seen best in autumn.”

If Aboriginal Astronomy intrigues you I recommend reading the story of The Emu In The Sky by Ray and Cilla Norris. Fascinating and guaranteed to give you a brand new perspective.

Dark Sky and Dinosaur Country at Winton overlooking Banjo’s “plains extended” and “vision splendid”.

Isn’t it bizarre how watching something on TV simply to learn how to stop bugs eating young eggplants can take you on such a convoluted journey ? * shaking head and muttering.

Another Must Do

With half of this country’s population in Lockdown and the rest of us either in masks or walking on egg shells it’s a little galling to admit that there have been some really good things that have come about due to COVID.

One of those is Theatre Redlands, formed last year during the worst of lockdown, by a group of experienced and passionate individuals who have formed an alliance with Redland Museum to share stories from our past.

Early in the year I attended the performance Women Of Their Word, a “celebration of Australian women poets who captured their times and experiences in verse – insights into what inspired them, the challenges they faced and the contribution they made to Australia’s emerging cultural identity”. Some of the women included Judith Wright, Dame Mary Gilmore, and my personal favourite, Maybanke Anderson. ( Never heard of her? Either had I! Fascinating – look her up.)

Last month Theatre Redlands had a new program on offer with a distinctive Queensland flavour to coincide with June 6th – being Queensland Day, when Queensland officially separated from New South Wales to become its own colony. ( I was taught at school that June 6th was D Day but I digress).

Down Came a Jumbuck is a whimsical theory about how Banjo Paterson might have come to write Australia’s unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’. I particularly enjoyed this given my recent trip to outback Queensland where I visited the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton.

Following intermission The Droving Days took the audience to “Pub Redlands”, the area in which I live, to join a group of retired drovers and their mates, reminiscing about horses they’ve known and ridden and tall tales of unlikely characters, all woven through with Banjo Paterson’s timeless ballads.

The recitation of Paterson’s Man From Snowy River was breathtaking. You could have heard a pin drop – the audience was enthralled.

So two things :
1. I am so looking forward to the next production from Theatre Redlands


2. There is an annual Man From Snowy River Bush Festival next April. Who knew??? Added to Must Do List.

War Memorials on my travels

Did you know that there is a Queensland War Memorial Register, currently with over 1300 sites listed?

War memorials resulted from a ground swell of community sentiment going back to the Boer War when memorials were usually situated within cemeteries. With the mass casualties of the First World War affecting almost every family communal memorials in prominent public places were established as a tangible symbol of national mourning. 

These memorials are ever so present in country towns where the names of the fallen indicate just how many local families lost their husbands, fathers and sons. Some are big, some are small. Each are poignant.

Roma, Qld
Longreach, Qld
Ilfracombe, Qld
Chinchilla, Qld
Exhibition in Winton, Qld, in a Troop Train transporting soldiers to the Big Smoke. ( Located in the Waltzing Matilda Museum)

These are just a selection from my recent travels. I’ve always been a sucker for these memorials and how they correspond to a township’s history. When I was in my teens and working for Veterans Affairs ( then Repat) my dream was to travel Australia and photograph all those in small, country towns. Copped the ” responsibility lecture” instead. In those days I listened to what I was told. How things change.

For more information go http://www.qldwarmemorials.com.au