Two Over Achievers

Never heard of Florence Violet McKenzie, affectionately known as Mrs Mac or Violet? Well neither had I until reading Radio Girl by David Duffy.

You know how there is this current movement to encourage girls into S.T.E.M subjects at school – read: Science, Maths, Engineering and Technology-then this is one fascinating read about a woman born in 1890 well before her time.

The list of some of her achievements include :
⁃ First female Electrical Engineer in Australia
⁃ With the money made as an entrepreneur selling radios she established her own Signalling School for women in Sydney
⁃ Wrote a bestselling cookbook explaining how to cook with an electric stove – because it had been all wood stoves ( get your head around that!)
⁃ A Presenter for the ABC in its first year of existence
⁃ Persuaded the Australian Navy to set up the WRANS
⁃ First woman in NSW branch of Wireless of Institute of Australia
⁃ Started an amateur Radio Club
⁃ Organised the second ever World Wireless Exhibition held in Australia
⁃ Started the Wireless Weekly magazine which has since become Electronics Australia
⁃ Opened her own Radio College to educate women in radio related technical skills to assist with tasks during WW2
⁃ Trained women to serve in the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps who then went on to train as Morse Code Instructors, who themselves trained men in the Navy.

OMG! I look back at all of the screaming matches over the dinner table because the entire concept of long division and fractions escaped me. And don’t talk to me about Trigonometry. What a wasted year of my life and so many tears. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, has an agenda of quietly pushing her friend’s daughters down the STEM route and routinely gifts tractors, hi vis jackets and lab kits.

#mathssux#sciencesux#stemmakesmecry.

PAYNE VC by Mike Coleman

Every Australian over a certain age would have heard the name Keith Payne, the most decorated Aussie that served in the Vietnam War. Well into his eighties now ( he served in Korea also) this is an interesting read that tells the story of a country kid that grew up in Far North Queensland shooting bunnies to help put food on the table and went on to become a leader of men.

I enjoyed learning about the support Payne received from his wife and five sons, and the impact that war – and the Victoria Cross – had on this soldiers family.

He came home troubled in the days before the term PTDS was even coined, but fought his demons and won, later to become an advocate for veterans requiring support.

Keith Payne is still visible on special occasions such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day and is a regular speaker at school and RSL functions. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star.

Without being disrespectful I truly think the wives of these men could do with an award of some sort in recognition of the work they do in the background……….

June 6th and Nancy Wake

In a little bush school in Sydney many years ago Primary School children greeted each new day with a rendition of “God Save The Queen” and a “salute to the flag”. Back then June 6th was always commemorated as the Anniversary of D Day.

Thirty years later in a school across the border Primary School children sing a different anthem about land “girt by sea”. On June 6th these kiddies celebrate Queensland  Day, which is the official birthday of the Australian state of Queensland. Part of these celebrations include presenting “Queensland Great Awards” to outstanding Queenslanders for their lifetime of dedication and contribution to the development of the state and their role in strengthening and shaping the community in Queensland.

Award Winners at Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane City.

When my eldest, Pocahontas, was in Primary School her class was called to assembly for each of them to declare an Australian, dead or alive, who should be recognised as an outstanding citizen. Sports stars figured highly: tennis players, crickets, footy players as well as a handful of rock stars, actors and models.

Pocahontas, proving that eccentricity is hereditary, suggested The White Mouse as a worthy candidate. Her class mates giggled and teachers looked at each other boggled. The White Mouse was one of the codenames of Nancy Wake, the expat Australian and underground operative during World War 2.

I was reminded of this reading Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon.


From Goodreads:

In 1936 intrepid young Australian journalist Nancy Wake is living in Paris after witnessing firsthand the terror of Hitler’s rise in Europe, firing her resolve to fight against the Nazis. When Nancy falls in love with handsome French industrialist Henri Fiocca, no sooner has she become Mrs Fiocca than the Germans invade France and Nancy takes yet another name, a codename – the first of many.

As the elusive Lucienne Carlier she smuggles people across borders and earns a new name ‘The White Mouse’ along with a five million franc bounty on her head, courtesy of the Gestapo. Forced to flee France, Nancy is trained by an elite espionage group under the codename Hélène. Finally, with mission in hand, she is airdropped back into France as the deadly Madame Andrée. But the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed Nancy – and the people she loves – will become.

Based on a true story this is a fascinating look at a gutsy woman who liked her G &T’s and *lipstick. A little long and convoluted perhaps, with flashbacks and parallel timelines, though the information comes from Wake’s autobiography (of 1985) and numerous biographies. Well worth the read 🙂

Born: 30 August 1912.   Died:  7 August 2011

Awards : George Medal, 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, British War Medal 1939-45, French Officer of the Legion of Honour, French Croix de Guerre with Star and two Palms, US Medal for Freedom with Palm, French Medaille de la Resistance, Companion of the Order Of Australia and New Zealand’s Badge in Gold. 

Wake’s medals are on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

*Said to be Victory Red from the Elizabeth Arden range.

4000 Bowls of Rice: A Prisoner Comes Home

About The Author

Linda Goetz Holmes is a Historian appointed to the U.S. Government Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, tasked with locating and declassifying material about World War II war crimes.

Summary

The author’s central figure, Australian Staff Sergeant Cecil Dickson, had been a reporter for a Melbourne paper. Already a veteran of fighting in the Middle East, he was returning home with his battalion in January 1942 when it was diverted to Java. Eventually, the battalion joined masses of American, British, Australian and Dutch prisoners working under brutal conditions on the Singapore-Burma railway.

Between stories of suffering and sadistic cruelty the author focusses on the months after Japan’s surrender and Dickson’s return to Australia utilising the letters he had written to his wife.

Personal Take

I enjoyed the different perspective with the protagonist focussing on wars end and getting home to his wife , Binks. It wasn’t until October 1945 that Dickson finally left Asia for Australia and between the lines we get that he could have departed earlier except that as a journalist he was interested in writing the POW experience for the Australian public.

Dickson was pipped at the post by Rohan Rivett, a fellow POW, who wrote the POW Bible, Behind Bamboo, released in 1946, which was the Go To book when I was a student.

One particularly tragic tale refers to the POW who survived years of incarceration only to ring his wife in Perth, Western Australia, on his journey home to learn that she had formed a liaison with another man. He quietly slipped over the side of the ship never to be seen again.

Dickson also relates that as he disembarked off the ship in Melbourne a “ charming woman came up and chatted to him”. It didn’t click that it was his wife of 19 years, Binks.

We have absolutely no idea, do we ?

Books Can Be Friends.

My interest in the Second World War started after hearing an ex POW being interviewed on the radio one rainy Sunday morning way back in 1982. Looking back that sounds odd because as a child I was aware that my father as a younger man had flown in Bomber Command and had a War Bride from Brighton. Said bride remained in England and my father never boarded a plane, any plane, ever again. It was simply not discussed – all very stiff upper lip and a house full of females…..that kind of thing.

A young Stan Arneil was a Prisoner Of War in Changi following the Fall of Singapore. He wrote One Man’s War for his family’s benefit as they had no inkling of his earlier life. He went on to become a family and Church man with a successful career.

Listening to this interview I tuned into the hardships he and his fellow POWS endured and wondered how could someone who suffered so much speak with such positivity.

That was the beginning of my interest in POW autobiographies and biographies. I love reading of those whose resiliance and mental strength saw them through such dreadful times. I wonder how they moved past the darkness to find their peace and build upon their lives. I wonder too about luck, the luck of the draw.

I still have my copy of One Man’s War which is written in diary format. It’s one of those books that I am unable to part with. It is older than my children and outlasted a marriage, as has Of Love And War, a collection of letters to and from Captain Adrian Curlewis and his family.

Another Changi POW Sir Adrian Curlewis returned to civilian life becoming a Judge as well as being instrumental in implementing the Australian Life Saving movement.

His mother was Ethel Turner, author of the classic children’s book, Seven Little Australians, first published in 1894.

At a recent charity book sale I was saddened to see multiple preloved copies of Edward ‘Weary ‘ Dunlop’s War Diaries available for $1 each. Another survivor of Changi and the Burma Railway, Weary was not only a leader of men but a medical man who successfully completed hundreds of life saving procedures with very basic instruments and medicine.

I was saddened on so many levels : this is the kind of a book lauded by a particular generation with an age group decreasing in numbers, and I also wondered if the loss of these books meant that this part of our history would be lost in years to come.

I’ve informed the daughters that there are a carton of my favourite books joining me in that last journey when they cart me out of the house in a long wooden box, together with a dozen CDs – because music is important even on bad days – and my Errol Flynn movie collection. You never know if they might come in handy. The girls can hang on to the concrete possum collection.

Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Name : Australia’s Sweetheart

Author : Michael Adams

Published : 2018 by Hatchette Australia

I was gifted a copy of Australia’s Sweetheart on the basis that Mary Maguire “socialised with everyone from Charles Kingsford Smith, Errol Flynn and Donald Bradman”. Indeed, I went straight to the Index which listed thirteen references to Errol Flynn. Thirteen. Hold that thought.

Never heard of Mary Maguire? Neither had I!

Still, let’s not dismiss this 2018 effort by journalist, screen writer and author, Michael Adams. It’s a fascinating read.

Mary Maguire was a teenager when she starred in two Australian movies made in the mid 1930’s. Her first major role was in Heritage, produced by Charles Chauvel, just after he had discovered a young Errol Flynn and directed him in In The Wake Of The Bounty.

Mary became a household name at a time when 3 million Australians went to the movies each week and when there were over 1,200 movie houses across the country. Hard to picture really, pardon the pun. It seemed logical then for Mary to try her luck in Hollywood in the latter part of the 30’s. Especially considering her social connections……

Her father, Michael, was a popular AFL footballer, boxer and publican and her mother rather a beauty. When Mary was a teenager the family relocated from Melbourne to Brisbane to run the Bellevue Hotel, an inner city establishment renowned for its clientele and which in recent years had been listed as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as a “Defining Moments”. (Locals may remember it was later demolished in the dead of night by the Deen Brothers to make way for another ugly Government Office Block – another defining moment in Queensland history.)

The Bellevue Hotel, Brisbane. Shame. Shame.Shame.

Russian ballerina’s stayed at the Bellevue, as did the English Cricket Team involved in the infamous Bodyline incident, Australian sporting hero Donald Bradman, and aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. Royalty supped in the Dining Room of the Bellevue Hotel, and one of Mary’s beaus was the young aviator that was killed in an air crash in the Lamington National Park ( located by the O’Reilly’s)

Mary lived on three continents : Australia, America, and the United Kingdom and she lived parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. It’s this information which is the backbone of the book and makes it such an interesting read.

My favourite piece of trivia revolves around Mary’s Australian friend, Margaret Vyner, a super model before the term was even invented and fellow actress. Such was Vyner’s beauty that Col Porter added her name to the list of wonderful things about the world in a version of his song You’re The Top from his hit musical, Anything Goes:

You’re the top, You’re an ocean liner, You’re the top, You’re Margaret Vyner.

Mary mixed with many Hollywood movie stars, including Ronald Reagan, Marion Davies, Gloria Swanson, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland. Her first husband was a Nazi sympathiser and her second husband, an engineer, invented Mr Bartender.

Thirteen Index references to Errol Flynn. Mary Maguire “left behind no known diaries or letters”. There is nothing to indicate that Flynn and Maguire did anything more than share an employer and workspace. Flynn has most certainly been used as a yard stick and the author has obviously done much research utilising media reports. I’m just not so sure this conveys the actress’s actual life as opposed to the life publicity would have us believe she lived.

Regardless, an engaging read and insight into earlier times.

Finch, Bloody Finch

We’ve been sold another pup….

Were you too brought up on the myth that Actor, Peter Finch, of A Town Like Alice and The Shiralee fame, was Australian?

Buzzzzz. Wrong! Finch was born in England, lived as a child in France and India, only coming to Australia to live with rellies when he was 10. It wasn’t a happy childhood, and the Jesuit saying “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man” could explain a lot.

I’ve just read Elaine Dundy’s Finch, Bloody Finch and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the man. Talented, eccentric, creative, for sure. Also a ratbag.

His school years weren’t much to write home about, though his best mate was Paul Brickhall, author of classic books The Dambusters, The Great Escape, and Reach For The Sky. His first job was as a copy boy at the Sydney newsroom which of course meant that he became a member of the infamous Sydney Journalists Club ( read as Big Boozer) refer https://alanknight.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/sydneys-journalists-club/

Living at Kings Cross during its Bohemian days Finch mixed with all types, including the infamous crime boss, Tilly Devine, and even shared lodgings with young artist, Donald Friend.

( That’s only 80 years ago. Another instance of interconnectedness. The Universe is A-maz-ing).

Success followed with radio plays and entertaining the troops when he enlisted during WW2., before heading overseas chasing Larry Olivier. And the rest as they say is history…………

Interesting is that Finch discovers when he is in his 40’s that there’s been a mix up with his parentage and his Father was never the Australian fellow, but rather a Scotsman. If it hadn’t been for this slight, errr, blunder….Finch’s life may have been totally different.

The book kind of disintegrates in the latter stages as we flit between Finch’s relationships and my interest waned accordingly.

Although Finch’s Joe Harmon states that “Alice is a bonzer town” with more conviction, Bryan Brown will always be my preferred Joe Harmon in A Town Like Alice. No doubting Brown’s heritage.

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?

The Bee Gees & March 1988

You know how mumma lions get when their cubs are threatened? Well, I’m like that with my LP (vinyl) record collection. In numbers it’s only small – in memories it’s huge. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All have been placed on disks and there are moments when a girl gets a little sentimental, a wee nostalgic, and the music takes me back.

One of my first LPs was the Best of The Bee Gees Volume 1 followed by Best of The Bee Gees Volume 2. (Note : Not the first. I have to retain some semblance of pride, so that one shall remain nameless).

I mention this because I recently read The Bee Gees, Tales of The Brothers Gibb. Over a 1000 pages and way out of date it was hugely informative. Did you know the nicknames for the three Gibb brothers that formed the group were Pissy, Potty and Pilly after their respective addictions?

I was always a fan of Robin, the twin with the goofy face. Hated the eldest, Barry, who was too flashy and the falsetto gave me the pips. Unfortunately, I learned things about Robin in the biography that I really didn’t need to know and had to keep reminding myself that the magnificent monument in London dedicated to Bomber Command may not have happened without his attention and focus.

Their younger brother, Andy, was also an entertainer. Andy died suddenly in March 1988 which I heard on the radio coming out of a drug induced daze in the maternity wing of the St George Hospital in Sydney. Happy birthday my gorgeous Cat Balou.

Heading north to Redcliffe to see a Gene Pitney covers band. (Who, you ask? Think the song “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”). Redcliffe was where the Gibb family lived in their early days in Australia and a laneway is dedicated to their musical journey.

And here’s my brush with fame : I know a lad who stole Barry’s vegemite and cheese sandwich when they were attending Humpybong Primary School all those years ago.

Bee Gee Way, Redcliffe

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.

The Scandalous Freddie McEvoy by Frank Walker : Book Review

“Swashbuckler, daredevil racing-car champion, Winter Olympian, gambler, smuggler, scoundrel and suspected spy – this is the fascinating story of scandalous Freddie McEvoy.”

Who?

The first sentence of the Prologue threw me with “ Freddie McEvoy was many things: the first Australian to win a medal at any Winter Olympics…..” Hey, was Zaria Steggall chopped liver?

It was only after delving deeper that we learn that Freddie McEvoy was indeed born in Australia but emigrated to Europe with family at the age of six following his father’s death, and represented the United Kingdom in a medal winning bobsled team in the Winter Olympics of 1936. Slightly different connotation………

McEvoy returned to Australia in his late teens where he became friendly with a young lad with similar interests and personality by the name of Errol Flynn, though returned to Europe within 3 years.

A quote from Flynn about McEvoy, as well as a photo of the two men together some twenty years later when they renewed their friendship in Hollywood in the 1940’s, graces the front cover. The author frequently comments that the two men look very similar, something else that I don’t get. Tall, dark and with a moustache. That’s it. All other photos within the book are so grainy and unflattering that you can’t tell. McEvoy doesn’t even wear his trousers well…truely…..

So Freddie is well educated, plays the ladies on the French Riviera, is athletic and a risk taker. He chases wealthy women to fund his lifestyle, and mixes with the “in crowd”, with lots of European Society and Hollywood names being bandied about, as well as the odd fling with known Nazi spy’s.

Always chasing money, McEvoy smuggled diamonds and guns on his yacht between California and Mexico and he too was targeted by the FBI as a Nazi spy. He died when his yacht crashed into a reef and in the process of rescuing his latest wife, though the circumstances were somewhat mysterious.

This is an easy read that goes in one ear and out the other. “Australia’s daredevil Lothario” whose mantra was “ Pleasure is my Business”.

Who? And does anybody care?