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 Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

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

Kangaroos Across The Road

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Maitland Library Facebook Page

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

Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons

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

Yeah, he wears a bandana seven days a week.

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

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

Are the Events of Almost Eighty Years Ago Still Relevant?

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

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

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

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

Best Things About Fitzsimons’ Kokoda?

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

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

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

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

An Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales – Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

Eyebrows, Netflix and A Book

With no reprieve from the heat and the temperature now nudging 42 degrees I’ve given up the good fight and have succumbed. I’m not comfortable binging on Netflix though it has prevented the odd burst of madness. And who knew that “ watching Netflix and chilling” was slang for something else?

So I’ve watched BirdBox along with 45 million other people from all over the world this week apparently, (Creepy as), and also Tidelands, Netflix’s first Australian production.

Tidelands, with its eight episodes, is about drug trafficking and Water Sirens from Greek mythology. Bizarre concept, right…..Does it work ? The critic from the Adelaide Review summed it up with, “in essence, it’s Home and Away with bosoms and magic, and that augurs well for its future……”.

I have never seen so many beautifully crafted eyebrows, nor attractive young men in tight leather pants at the beach, as you do, of course, and I will forever more look at the use of kitchen bench tops differently. Blaming the heat I will admit to battling with the storyline, from beginning to end, but yeh, must get the address of that brow sculpture specialist.

On to Bruce Willis in Hart’s War, which in turn led to an interesting book, The Black Knights, The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen, by Lynn Homan and Thomas Reilly. This was a fascinating read about the African Americans who participated in a flight training program during WW2 as a social experiment and went on to serve escorting bomber planes over Europe and North Africa. Great book with personal stories and photographs which made it so much more interesting. It’s also not that long ago….

Please, no walking around in blind folds and always remember to keep your kitchen bench tops clean.

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?

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.