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..

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….

Against All Flags and Burrill Lake

I’ve previously shared the movies that helped mould the person I am today: Reap The Wild Wind with John Wayne being crushed by a giant squid accounting for my fear of seaweed ( and love of calamari), and Elizabeth And Essex with Errol Flynn and Bette Davis which was my excuse for decapitating my sister’s Barbie dolls.

A road trip through the haunts of my childhood on the New South Wales South Coast has stirred many memories; some good, some bad, but none ugly. Nothing is ugly once you hit the beautiful beaches and forests of this region, except perhaps for real estate prices.

Coming from a family that enjoyed fishing, swimming, and body boarding in these same waters I was reminded of successful nights of prawning and catching Blue Swimmer Crabs in Burrill Lake, just south of Ulladulla. The Father Bear would wade knee deep in water holding a Tilly Lamp, guiding everybody else who would have a net ready to scoop any crabs attracted by the light. No need for any bait. That was me. I always attracted crabs.(Get your minds out of the gutter please). Nips from crabs were plentiful though I never complained as nothing ever did beat a fresh crab sandwich with a spray of pepper.

Catching up with a friend and neighbour of fifty plus years standing over these past days we sat and watched Against All Flags, a 1952 movie starring Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara, which reminded me of the time where I confronted my military father and refused to be used to attract Blue Swimmers. It was the summer of rebellion. I was 8 and I had just seen this movie for the first time.

Onboard a 1700s merchant ship, determined British naval officer Lieutenant Brian Hawke (Flynn) bravely endures twenty lashes with the intent of using the wounds to help him go undercover on the pirate island of Libertania. Once there, however, Hawke is brought before the colony’s head pirates, the Captains of the Coast, and forced to prove himself in a fight to the death. As he endures the various trials of a pirate, he finds himself drawn to the beautiful buccaneer Spitfire (O’Hara) and torn between her and his mission to disarm the renegade settlement. Co-starring Anthony Quinn, it’s a Technicolor epic filled with buxom maidens, breathtaking swordplay and dazzling spectacle. From IMDB.

For the purpose of this story you need to know that when the pirates realise that Errol is a spy they inflict an awful punishment.  They tie him to a pole on the tide line and await these butt ugly crabs to come out of the water to scavenge for food. Errol as a main course – delicious!

Off set Errol was injecting oranges with vodka in defiance of the No Drinking Rule, and was seven years off his early demise. I think he still looked damn fine, and when the mogul princess in the movie kept asking for “more”, as in kisses, I knew just where her head was at. 

It was an absolute treasure to rewatch this movie all these years later in colour and with a wonderful friend. Cath, I never knew you were such a movie buff, particularly one with such an eye for bloopers. ( Watch for Spitfire’s beauty spot changing cheeks).

I still have a fear of live crabs though am partial to a good crab salad with mango.

The South Coast, Errol Flynn and good friends. What a great start to retirement.