Crew : J For Jig RAAF Lancaster.

Mike Colman is an Award winning Australian journalist. A couple of years ago I remember reading an article he wrote for Brisbane’s Saturday newspaper which immediately appealed.

Essentially, whilst watching his children play in a park at St Johns Wood in inner Brisbane, Colman spotted a giant tree with a big boulder placed in front. On that boulder was a plaque saying the tree was planted in memory of Clifford Berger Hopgood who’d been killed on a bombing raid over France in 1944.

Colman followed through with the story of Cliff Hopgood, and vowed to chase up the story of the other six crew members in that plane that night

“Which I did, it took me six years and that’s the book”, he says. Published in 2018 Crew : The Story Of The Men Who Flew RAAF Lancaster J For Jig is a great read. 

Colman’s introduction sets it up beautifully. “There were seven men in J For Jig that night in February 1944, heading for Germany – seven out of a total of 125,000 who served as aircrew for RAF Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945. Their backgrounds were not unusual. They weren’t a special crew, a famous crew, they were as ordinary as can be. And that’s what makes them important. Because their stories are also the stories of the 125,000- who they were, what they did, whom they loved and whom they left behind.”

Four died and are buried together in a little French village (Villers-sous-Preny), two escaped to Switzerland with assistance from the French Underground, and the badly injured pilot did it awfully tough being moved from one German prison camp to another. It’s not pleasant reading though I think it important that we do, if only so that we can learn from our mistakes.

Not only has Colman gathered information that is interesting for historical purposes, and written in a manner that makes it palatable to all demographics ( such as us non technical types), but the human interest side is equally fascinating, including the French reaching out to the families of the fallen some years after wars end.

This book is also another hats off to the families, the loved ones, and the civilians who simply kept “soldiering on” in order to survive during this period in our history. Marvellous stuff.

Finished this one in a single sitting.

Thanks, Cait, my youngest Easter Bunny – oh, and I ate all the chocolate in one sitting too.

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?

“Weary” Dunlop at the AWM.

Edward “Weary” Dunlop was working as a Surgeon in the UK when WW2 started. He enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps (6th Division) almost immediately and was posted in December 1939 as Medical Officer, Headquarters, Australian Overseas Base, Jerusalem, and appointed Acting Assistant Director of Medical Services. He was promoted to Major in 1940 and appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services on the staff of the Australian Corps Headquarters and AIF Headquarters in Gaza and Alexandria, serving in both Greece and Crete. Remaining with this unit as senior surgeon (and second in charge) he subsequently served with them in Tobruk.

Following the withdrawal from Tobruk Dunlop was transferred to Java with the 6th and 7th Divisions where he took command of the Bandung Allied General Hospital. When Java fell he became a Prisoner of War.

Dunlop and the soldiers working under his command were then transferred to Singapore and the POWs referred to as “Dunlop Force” were then sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. 

He became a legend among Australian POWs as an inspiration for their own survival, working tirelessly to find solutions to a myriad of medical issues.

Dunlop’s commitment to exservice men in the post war years endeared him to the entire country.

His many awards included the Order of the British Empire (1947), Knight Batchelor (1969), Companion of the Order of Australia (1987), Knight Grand Cross, Order of St John of Jerusalem (1992), Knight Grand Cross (1st Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown of Thailand (1993), Honorary Fellowship of the Imperial College of London, Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Honorary Life Member of the RSL and Life Governor of the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1977 he was named Australian of the Year and in 1988 one of the 200 Great Australians.

I believe that to his mind the greatest honour he received was the respect and affection of his men for whom he continued to fight for their repatriation benefits until the end of his days.

I grew up on a diet of Dunlop which only encouraged my interest in later years. His War Diaries are a fascinating read in that he recounts the conditions under which the POWs survived, sometimes boringly so with accounts of repetitive rice rationing, as well as many of the major medical procedures undertaken to save lives with minimal or no medicines or equipment.

Interestingly, these past ten years I have collected numerous friends who are the children of Dunlop Force. One fella’s Dad worked on Cholera Hill where the bodies of POWs were cremated, and where Weary’s diary notes were safely hidden on scraps of paper as the Japanese were too frightened to intrude.

I found this children’s book today on sale at the local Post Office. I’m the boring Aunt who bitches no end about Disney princesses and fluff. Ten copies on order:)

Books, Phobias and Teeth

I’ve previously shared my fear of crabs thanks to an Errol Flynn movie with the title “Against All Flags”, and seaweed, courtesy of an early John Wayne effort called  “Reap The Wild Wind” where the Duke gets eaten by a giant squid. I’m not fond of spiders or snakes either, but thanks to a couple of marvellous inventions,  I can deal with these  – garden hoes and vacuum cleaners.

My biggest fear is ………….dentists. There, I said it. Dentophobia.

Ogden Nash once said “Some tortures are physical And some are mental, But the one that is both Is dental”.

OMG, I hate them like you wouldn’t believe. I have to be dying before consenting to visit the dentist. When the kids were little I would escort them for their annual check up and they would be skipping with excitement. Me? I would have fainted on the footpath outside the surgery.

Everything about the process makes me sick to the stomach. I am grateful for having inherited strong bones and good teeth.

Having to face my fear head on early next week. 

So what do I do to quell these fears? Pick up some bargain books of course, ( and add a few amendments to my Will, as a precautionary measure).

The Chaplaincy at the local High School held a fundraiser yesterday where I rehomed two boxes of books, half going up to the Little Library around the corner. Twenty bucks. You beauty!

Because the turnover of books is going so well at the Little Library  thanks to the enthusiasm of the neighbourhood I’m now in negotiations with the councillor to adopt a local retirement village or aged care facility, so that books in good nick can once again be moved on and given a new lease of life.

Yeah, I could have mopped floors and dusted, but who gives a rats. 

They are recommending Valium. As a non pill popper the prescribed antibiotics sent me gaga and I’ve been all over the place like a bride’s nightie all week.

Bill Bryson, my favourite travel writer who authored Tales From A Small Island wrote :

Because we humans are big and clever enough to produce and utilize antibiotics and disinfectants, it is easy to convince ourselves that we have banished bacteria to the fringes of existence. Don’t you believe it. Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be. 

The local Rotary Club are holding their annual Bookfest today. I could always go and sus that situation out…….

Bill the Bastard and War Horse/s

When I visited the daughter in London ten years ago there were signs everywhere across the city advertising War Horse at one of the city theatres. My immediate thought was what the hell was Broncos Rugby League Captain, Shane Webcke, doing in the UK, and what could he possibly be doing to fill theatres? Embarrassingly parochial, I know.


When the stage production of War Horse later came to Australia I was mesmerised by the puppetry. Great tale too honouring the work of horses in World War 1, though as is often the case with Gemini’s, my interest in the machinations of the production took precedence over the story line. Even the more simplistic goose puppets were spectacular to watch.

Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, War Horse was then turned into a movie  directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. All I have to say is that the price of Kleenex shares skyrocketed that year. So dreadfully sad I sat with my skirt pulled up over my head in the cinema shielding me from the brutality on screen with absolutely no regard for retaining any dignity. 

I’ve just read Bill The Bastard by Roland Perry. Bastard is a term of endearment in Australia and Bill, a massive (waler) horse was much respected as a pack horse in the Palestinian campaign in WW1 amongst the Australian Light Horse for the work he achieved and for bringing four men to safety.

The read is a reminder of the value of horses, of all animals, during war. I found it a fascinating reminder that Australia at that time was still such a young country that familiar names were interconnected: Banjo Paterson, Henry Chauvel, John Simpson.

As a tribute to the 100th Anniversary of the end of WW1 the Warrnambool Racing Club in Victoria last year instigated the running of the Jericho Cup.

Why the Jericho Cup?

Approaching the end of the First World War the Australian Light Horse were planning a major offensive against the Turkish Empire. In order to lull the enemy into believing nothing unusual was afoot, a race meeting was organised on the eve of the assault.

The main race was called The Jericho Cup over 3 miles through the desert sands. The winner was Bill the Bastard.

Following the success of this Race Meeting it has been deemed an annual event. Sunday, December 1st, is the date for this years event. Just something else to add to the Bucket List….

Book Review :Diving Into Glass by Caro Llewellyn

This memoir opens with a quote from John Wayne which sets the tone appropriately: – “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway”.

Caro Llewellyn is a successful author of several non fiction books, and Director of numerous Literary Festivals, both at home in Australia and abroad. Jogging through New York’s Central Park, she loses feelings in her legs. Forty eight hours later she is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a chronic, neurodegenerative condition that affects the central nervous system.

What makes this so traumatic is that Caro has survived a childhood marred by having a father confined to life in a wheelchair. At twenty years of age, Richard Llewellyn contracted Polio, though remaining positive and determined, he flirts with his nurse whilst in an Iron Lung and ends up marrying her.

This disability doesn’t prevent Richard from working and the Llewellyn’s open a successful art gallery, whilst bringing up two young children. Taking its toll on Caro’s mother, this leads to the disintegration of the family unit. Ultimately, this leads to a successful life for each of the parents with the father receiving an Order of Australia for his Disability Advocacy work, and mother finding herself as a mature age student and becoming the renowned Poet and Author, Kate Llewelyn. 

Courtesy of author

Caro spends several years trying to find herself, and it is in New York, where she has finally found her niche and is relatively settled, that her life is shattered by her medical diagnosis. It is by looking back at her father’s example over the years that she finally comes to terms with the shortcomings of her body, overcoming them to the best of her ability

I found this book bordering the depressing side whilst at the same time totally compelling. To make such worthwhile lives out of such grim circumstances is amazing, though it does come at an emotional cost for Caro.

The voyeur in me was also fascinated in Caro’s relationships with men and her career choices. No tradies or public servants on her horizon: she mixed it with political activists, music entrepreneurs, and writers including American, Phillip Roth. With her writing and job role presenting Literary events around the world, is this the true legacy of strong, audacious parents, I wondered?

* Published by Penguin Random House Australia Pty Ltd in 2019

My Favourite Author

A few years ago a friend put me onto an emerging Sydney author who had recently had his first book published: Goodnight, Crackernight. It was a nostalgic look at growing up in Sydney in the 70’s and how sad it was when the annual fireworks were cancelled by the Fun Police. Crackernight had always been such an important date on the calendar for kids, and especially for this kid, as it fell on Empire Day, in May, the day after my birthday. With a family that told stories of leprechauns and fairies at the bottom of the garden I believed that the fireworks were in honour of my birth right up until I was in my early teens, just as I had always been told. Goodnight Crackernight was a book that stirred many childhood memories and was simply good fun.

The Northern Territory still has a Crackernight.

The author, a few years younger than I, was a military aviation tragic and his follow up book was a first in a trilogy about young Australians that travelled thousands of miles to the other side of the world to fight a war in the skies over Europe.

I chased this book down after my father died. He had flown with Bomber Command and later in Pathfinder Force during WW2 but being part of that “stiff upper lip” generation it was never discussed. Plus, the house was full of women. Only the cats were male.

I reached out to Justin Sheedy because his book was a great read and one geared towards non aviation types such as myself. Nor The Years Condemn saw a couple of Aussie lads through the Empire Flight Training Scheme, across to the UK, and into battle against the enemy. Military Historic Fiction it nevertheless provided a lot of factual information about the processes that young men, just like my Dad, had to undertake to qualify for the Air Force. It helped me to understand why young men left their homeland and families to participate in the big “adventure” on the other side of the world.

We started communicating after I put something on social media recommending this book which had given me my first belly laugh on the train journey to work. Page 7 won me over with “Even Catholic girls put out for Wings”. Justin replied and we have been chatting on Messenger ever since.

We shared the odd joke and I know I got a couple of friends interested in his books. When Ghosts Of The Empire and No Greater Love were published I bought six sets of the trilogy for my Dad’s Grandchildren as Christmas gifts along with the Airfix Kit of my Dads ( Halifax) plane. I didn’t have the knowledge of Bomber Command to pass on but young Justin did. The three books were full of fascinating information, information about Enigma, Bletchley Park, the Guinea Pig Club, and so much more. He was such a fine storyteller, and wrote so fluidly, that you felt at times that you were in the plane alongside these young men. I remember sobbing on the flight home from a holiday on Norfolk Island because of the tragic ending of Book2. His characters were just that real.

His third book, No Greater Love, with a storyline featuring Malta during WW2, has inspired me to take one last long haul journey.

Justin excused himself last winter and said he had to disappear for a while to focus on writing Book 4.

I heard from him two weeks ago to say he was 80 per cent done with his new book and that he had a contract for all his books to be reprinted and released overseas. He said his “dream of becoming a success was fast becoming a reality”.

My reply was simply “Justin, you are already a success”. I like to think he was genuinely touched. Never met the fella though we became friends. Funny that, hey…..

We’ve just lost young Justin Sheedy. Forty nine years of age. 49. Died at his desk at his day job. 49. My old nemesis. I am the first female in three generations to make it past 49.

Justin, Fly high, my friend. More stories in the next realm with a good red or two x

There’s a few LIFE LESSONS in all this:

Life IS short. Don’t stress it – just do. Spend the kid’s inheritance ….with them…and have fun together. This “you need $5 million to retire comfortably” is scaremongering from Financial Advisers who make money from us suckers. Calling BS. Stay matey with your travel agent and they’ll take care of you. Don’t dismiss Indie authors who don’t have the backing of million dollar marketing gurus. You would be surprised how many little gems there are out there that deserve a read. And hang on to the good people in your life..