Lone Pine Barracks and Rosemary

Museums of the Australian Army Infantry can be found in every state of Australia. I recently stumbled across the Hunter Valley branch attached to the Lone Pine Barracks at Singleton, about 25kms west of Maitland.

Why is the Australian Infantry Museum worth a visit? Because it’s not too big. I just love visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and generally do so two or three times a year, but it is just so large that I tend to come out with information overload. Know what I mean?

The museum at Singleton has two display galleries with a wide variety of exhibits with short snatches of information about all the conflicts Australia has been involved in since the late 1800’s: just enough information to be a valuable learning tool and not overwhelming.(Ten years ago I would have scoffed and said it’s because they think the general population are idiots, but that’s another story…).

The Heritage Gallery, on the ground floor, includes heavy artillery and military vehicles, as well as personalising events and individual equipment pertaining to particular conflicts by way of photographs, momentos, and brief descriptions.

The Latchford Gallery on the mezzanine floor features collections of small arms emphasising the many changes and developments over the years.

Think you’ve heard and seen it all?

I had no idea that Australia had sent Peacekeepers to Rwanda. This is a particularly brutal read and provides insight into the machinations of our Army and the magnificent men and women who serve. Of those who spent time in Rwanda half came home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because they watched the brutality as it happened but were unable to get involved despite their years of training. Yes, I shed a quiet tear or two. Well, maybe not so quiet.

We’ve just learned that one of own, a 28 year old serviceman with two tours of Afghanistan under his belt, has committed suicide. Went to the hardware store three weeks ago and never came home. He was someone’s son, husband, and father……

With a military son-in-law, a father who was in Bomber Command and a father-in-law who was a Merchant Seaman and Master Mariner, I’ve been reminded that I’ve been extremely self indulgent these past weeks since my retirement. So, I’m back on the fundraising trail to assist these poor bastards : psychs, employment training, financial assistance to families, whatever it takes. Another sixty Rosemary plants for sale soon.

And it wasn’t a good move to watch Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk either. I think I now better understand why my parents were such big fans of Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.

*If you’re in the vicinity the museum is well worth a visit and has a Cafe for refreshments.

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.

Another Country Town With A Story and a Film Festival: Dungog

Who knew?

Dungog, on the Williams River in the higher Hunter Region is a dairy farming area with many fine colonial buildings still in existence. There are also many thickly timbered areas particularly around the picturesque Barrington Tops. Back in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s the Brushbox was milled and laminated for the floors and wood panelling of Sydney’s iconic Opera House.

Coolarlie 1895

There is a palpable creative vibe to Dungog with its artisan co-operatives along the Main Street and quirky antique stores.

The James Theatre, the oldest purpose-built cinema still operating in Australia , started its life as an open air theatre in 1912 – how I loved the old open air on the NSW South Coast as a kid! – and now also hosts live performances, dance and film classes.

I was gobsmacked to learn that in 2007 Dungog held its first annual three day Australian Film Festival to foster Aussie films and talent. I only stumbled across this information by asking about the Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett Boulevard signs located at the Tourist Information Centre. Created specifically for the first Festival, all the other signs went “walkabout”, as they would. Why have I never heard anything about this Event ?

Typical wide streets of our country towns

This Festival morphed and expanded into the Dungog Festival five years later and continues to grow with interest from both locals and visitors alike. The dates for the 2019 event are Friday, 4th October till Monday, 7th October.

The blurb goes:

The festival will burst with the sights sounds and experiences of Arts, Activity, Food, Music and Fun in the pristine rural setting of Dungog. More than ever this year the Festival has events to suit all budgets including the addition of the free Sunday Street Party.

They are creating a dynamic program that will engage both the Dungog community and visitors from further afield. Key events such as the ‘Long Table Dinner’, ‘Gala Street Parade’, ‘James Theatre’, Sculpture on the Farm’, ‘Wallarobba Hall Oktoberfest’, ‘Garden Ramble’ ‘Long Lazy Lunch’ and much more are all certain to draw crowds.

Buskers, bands, solo artists and everything in between will create a vibrant atmosphere on the streets of Dungog, where just a few steps away the historic James Theatre will host a film program Dungog’s fresh approach to the moving image will deliver some truly retro and innovative cinematic experiences that venture outside the cinema walls, giving visitors new ways to engage with film around the town.

For more information: http://www.dungogfestival.com.au”.

I love supporting our country towns with these endeavours and will most certainly put my hand up for dog sitting duties that weekend. Without the dog.

TRIVIA : Just outside of Dungog is a little settlement called Gresford. Lots of beautiful rolling hills, it is the location of a property by the name of Torryburn. This was Dorathea Mackellar’s family home from 1898 onwards and where she wrote, as a teenager, the iconic poem, “My Country”.

From Wikipeadia. Traditionally starts at Verse 2. “ I love a sunburnt country”.

Country towns. Love ‘em.

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.

Kurri Kurri, a Country Town With Heart, and a Great Book

The Hunter Valley, with its wineries, eateries, galleries and boutique accomodation, is a Mecca for tourists, and cashed up ones at that. On the fringe is Kurri Kurri, a township with few remnants of the architecture dating back to the early 1900s indicating that this place once enjoyed a mining boom. In the 1990’s all but one of the coal pits was closed and 11,000 people lost their jobs. 

All these years later this little country town is still doing it tough. The Workers Club has been boarded up, and charity stores outnumber other retail outlets.

We loved walking around the town centre and chatted to a few locals at the Cafe. I also ducked in for a quick haircut where a delightful lass shared local knowledge about places of interest.

(Personal Message for Cat Balou, daughter of mine : – Confirmed that there were NO grey hairs. From a professional, sweetheart. Take that!)

Which reminded me of a recent read : Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein, which details the impact that the closure of a car manufacturing plant in Wisconsin at the beginning of the recession in 2008 had on an entire community. Goldstein is a staff writer on social policy for the Washington Post and shared a win in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

This non fiction effort covers a period of five years which is fascinating in that the author follows characters from how they coped initially with their dismissal from their jobs and where they are down the track. It covers all that you would suspect, including homelessness, suicide, family breakdowns, loss of self esteem etc. It showed how the loss of one industry impacted on other industries and how the entire community was effected economically and socially.

On the positive it explains how some workers on the assembly line were able to set themselves up through study to become successful professionals, as well as how the community worked together to assist each other . “Barb believes that Lear’s closing was the best thing that could have happened. It’s closing taught her that she was a survivor. It taught her that work exists that is worth doing, not for the wages, because you feel good doing it”.

Although the American politics and mechanations went way over my head it was interesting to read that government funding into retraining programs did not have the successful outcomes anticipated.

The coffee is great in Kurri Kurri which labels itself  “A Country Town With Heart”,  and is worth a visit if travelling around the Hunter. It also has the largest number of murals on the mainland.

Let’s inject a few bob into our country towns this year, and hey, we might even learn something of our history, our heritage, along the way. And take it from an old girl: one five star marble bathroom looks the same as the next.

TRIVIA : – Kurri Kurri has produced the largest number of first grade Rugby League players in :

Andrew Johns

John Sattler

Paul Harragan

Eddie Lumsden

Mark Hughes