Maracas, Bushfires and The Breaker – Part 2

This time last year I spent several days in Tenterfield, New South Wales, for the inaugural Peter Allen Festival. Less than twenty kilometres across the border from Queensland and with a population of less than 5,000 you wouldn’t think there would be much more to learn about a rural township.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This trip was a whole different kettle of fish and included a tour of the town with a local historian. So much information to take in when a girl has a head full of music, local Sav Blanc, and sore muscles earned on the dance floor.

I was already aware that Solicitor, Major James Francis Thomas, who defended Harry Harbord Morant at his court-martial for war crimes during the Boer War, was a Tenterfield lad. Thomas was portrayed by Jack Thompson in the 1980 film Breaker Morant.

Thomas died in the 1940’s a rather broken man though well regarded. Only within the last ten years a sugar bag full of Thomas’ military memorabilia was found at the local Tenterfield Tip having been stored at an old rural property just out of town.

What was in the sugar bag?

A penny on a leather string inscribed H H Morant which was worn by The Breaker around his neck when he was executed by a British firing squad in 1902 and bears the mark of a bullet hole.

An Australian red ensign bearing the names of Morant and his co-accused, Peter Handcock. Their birth and execution dates are inked into the Southern Cross stars on the design. It reads: “Utter scapegoats of the Empire”. There is a grainy 1902 photograph of Thomas standing by the flag-draped grave in Pretoria of the dead Anglo-Australian horseman, bush poet and military officer, and this is believed to be that same flag.

A first edition, signed copy of George Whitton’s book, Scapegoats of the Empire, the Lieutenant’s account of court proceedings. ( He was sentenced to Life Imprisonment).

All artefacts are available for viewing at the School of Arts in Tenterfield.

LIFE LESSON: Always expect the unexpected.

Note : Tenterfield is just one of many rural towns suffering severe drought with dam levels down to 30 per cent. Much of the district was engulfed in flames during our visit, with no power and two major highways cut.

Thank you to the wonderful people of Tenterfield for their hospitality over the Peter Allen Festival weekend. Thank you all so much for your grace under fire – literally. Thank you for sharing your stories, your hearts, and your history.

A huge thank you to the organising team. You are all “the sons and daughters” and we’ll be back again next year. May the coming months be kinder to you all.

Maryborough and a Touch of Whimsey : Part 1

Maryborough is 300kms north of Brisbane, inland on the Mary River, and positioned between those tourist mecca’s, Hervey Bay and the Sunshine Coast. Founded in 1847, proclaimed a municipality in 1861, it became a city in 1905. During the second half of the 19th-century, the city was an entry point for immigrants arriving in Queensland from all parts of the world.

Maryborough’s income comes from numerous farming and station prospects in and around the city and it’s healthy fishing industry. Tourism also plays a significant part in the economy and sells itself as the Heritage City of Queensland  holding heritage markets each Thursday. Many 19th and 20th century buildings have been preserved and the suburbs are littered with the quintessential old Queenslander homes, ( which a Danish friend described as a “wooden s***box on stilts”) and which are worth a small fortune.

However, Maryborough’s real claim to fame is as the birth place of whom? Here’s a clue……

And another, in case that one was a little obtuse….

Yep, P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books lived in Maryborough before moving elsewhere at age eight. Her father managed a bank, in the building where, in a room on the second storey, she was born. This is in the centre of town and still in use, no longer as a bank but as a retail shop. A life-size bronze statue of Mary Poppins, as P.L. Travers described her, complete with umbrella was erected outside the old bank premises at 331 Kent Street, on the corner of Richmond Street, in 2005. 

It is now one of Maryborough’s most famous and photographed icons.

From dusk till 9pm every night there is an illuminated mural that is simply enchanting. ( I was between tea and a show so without camera – Damn!) Here’s another mural – the joint is jumping with them!

But there’s more – we Aussies are adept at flogging a dead horse, you see.

Every winter school holidays for the past ten years Maryborough has held a Mary Poppins Festival. The Festival offers something for all the family. The ‘Art of Storytelling’ program includes film, art, music, performance and literature during the 10-day event. Events are held in various locations across the CBD as well as heritage-listed Queens Park.

Maryborough, thank you for your hospitality. It was a lovely visit.

I do so love our country towns and learn something new at each and every one.LIFE LESSON : Get away from the cricket on the telly and help our farmers and country cousins by spending a few bob in their towns. You’ll be blown away by some of the stories these townships can share.

Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan

I’m currently wading through David Cameron’s The Battle Of Long Tan to better gauge the historical accuracy of the movie released this week, Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan.

Set in Vietnam in 1966 the 1st Australian Task Force headed by Brigadier David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) is set up in Nui Dat where patrols are sent out into the local countryside. One night the camp is attacked by mortars and while the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery are able to target them, the 1st Field Regiment need to follow up the next day to find the source. Alpha Company don’t find anything, so Harry Smith’s (Travis Fimmel) Delta Company is sent out to chase them down while a rock show – with Little Pattie and Col Joye and the Joy Boys- is happening back at camp and with monsoonal rain forecast.

All goes well until at the rubber plantation at Long Tan the 11th Platoon of D Company comes under heavy fire and it is soon discovered that this is not just a raiding party but a full battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. 108 young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers fight for their lives against 2000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.

My initial qualms were about how this would stack up against the big money American movies. And you know what? There was plenty of blood and guts though the point that war is ugly was made without the focus on missing body parts. Bravo.

The Battle is also told through the eyes of Harry Smith and the other leaders on the ground which means that the audience is in on the tactics. Thank you, producers, for taking into consideration that we don’t all have military backgrounds.

This is a very Australian (and Kiwi) movie and the young larrikins come across as brash until they find themselves under fire. The language is littered with colloquialisms  though I admit to being thrown by “ we’re not here to **** a spider”.

Strong performances by all concerned. Reviews are raving about Travis Fimmel’s performance. I found his eyes so mesmerising that I tended to lose focus for a moment or two – a bit Paul Newman-ish.

Whilst this movie didn’t enlighten me any as to the whys and wherefores of this war, it did perpetuate the ANZAC ideals of mateship, larrikinism, and sheer courage.

What I did learn was that the Artillery at Nui Dat fired almost non-stop for 5 hours in support of the battle and that artillery fire was eventually being brought in “Danger Close” to within 50 metres of the Australian position.

And also that the helicopter pilots were as mad as cut snakes.  I’m now chasing a copy of (pilot) Dr Bob Grandin’s book. See here: 

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/a-helicopter-pilot-remembers-the-terrifying-battle-of-long-tan-as-new-film-premieres-20190613-p51xkx.html

I like a movie which leaves me curious. Vietnam was not discussed in schools back in the day. No political agendas. How things have changed….

I hope that these (now old) men receive the respect that they perhaps did not have previously.

Tip: Don’t rush out of the theatre. Read the screen right till the end. This is when you’ll be privy to a few sobs. Sitting in the dark in the quiet, I felt as if I’de been winded. 

***********

Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on the 18th of August, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan for the men of D Company, 6RAR.

On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR, honouring the 18 Australians who lost their lives.

In 2017 the Vietnamese Government made the decision to hand the cross back to Australia, as a gesture of “goodwill” (following a political incident which barred Veterans from visiting the cross in Vietnam for the 50th anniversary of the event. Just one of those little “incidents” that we must gloss over). It is now on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Two Good Ol’ Girls

It’s officially been the warmest July (winter) on record though we’ve still lost a couple of Australian Icons.

Last week we lost MARGARET FULTON, aged 94 years. Scottish-born Fulton was the first food and cooking writer in Australia, a journalist, and commentator, with 25 cookbooks to her name.

She was awarded the Medal of Australia in 1983 “ in recognition of service to the media as a journalist and writer in the field of cookery”. In 1998, Fulton was added to the list of 100 Australian Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia.

In all honesty, I never owned a copy, though my m-i-l swore by hers and probably prevented my death by poisoning.

A personal thanks to Ms Fulton who single handedly changed Australian cuisine from post Depression “ meat and three veg”, and for showing my mother’s generation that afternoon tea did not mean freshly picked radishes from the garden, curly celery – My God, do you remember this? – a packet of Jatz crackers, and a salt shaker. 

Only days ago we lost 89 year old DORIS GODDARD. 

Goddard, the legendary publican who was known for putting the Hollywood in Sydney’s beloved Hollywood Hotel, Surry Hills, which she purchased in 1977 before the suburb was gentrified (and in the days when I was too fearful to walk those streets). She cemented herself as a Sydney icon, famous for pulling out her guitar and serenading fellow drinkers at the bar.

As a young woman Goddard travelled the world as a cabaret singer and actress playing bit-parts opposite the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Mel Gibson, Piper Laurie, Bob Hope and Sid James.

At this year’s Vivid festival held in Sydney Goddard was honoured when the Hollywood was made a canvas for visual effects house Heckler’s 50 Iconic Women projection. Goddard herself was inducted as the 51st iconic woman, alongside the likes of Kate Moss, Brigitte Bardot, Amy Winehouse and Queen Elizabeth II.

My favourite memory of Goddard is in the role of a Danish shot-putter opposite Bill Travers in Geordie, released in 1955.

Geordie is one of those nice little movies. No saloon brawls, no profanities, no car chases, no explosives. Remember those? The book of the same name was written by David Harry Walker a Scottish-born Canadian novelist.

It is the account of a young Highlander saddled in boyhood with the title Wee, for obvious reasons, and of the astounding results which followed a course of body building. He becomes the top-ranked hammer thrower at the Highland Games and is chosen to represent the UK in the Olympics at Melbourne, Australia. Of course, he wants to compete in his kilt which becomes an issue.

Thirty one years ago I gave my daughter Geordie as her middle name.  Damn those hormones. 

Only a few years ago a reporter asked Ms Goddard the secret of her success.

Sweetheart,” she said, “I have been happy no matter where I am. You have to make the f***ing most of what you’ve got on the day you’ve got it. No one’s going to give it to you.”  

Bless ‘em.

Build It And They Will Come

I recently came across an obituary from the local newspaper for author W P Kinsella that I had tucked between the pages of a book several years ago. Amongst other things Kinsella wrote Shoeless Joe from which the movie Field of Dreams was derived. Kinsella’s literary agent described the author as a “dedicated storyteller, performer, curmudgeon, an irascible and difficult man”. Love him already.

Shoeless Joe is a good read, with more flesh than the movie, though this does not necessarily make it any better.

Iowa farmer Ray (Kevin Costner) hears a mysterious voice one night in his cornfield saying “If you build it, he will come,” and he feels the need to act. Despite the threat of bankruptcy, Ray builds a baseball diamond on his land, supported by his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan). Afterward, the ghosts of great players start emerging from the corn fields to play baseball led by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.(Ray Liotta …big sigh and twinge of lust).

This stays pretty much to the original storyline, and much of the dialogue from the book is in the movie. This was a tad disconcerting in that I could hear the “voices”, particularly of Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones, whilst I was reading. I could only “hear” Shoeless Joe in the first half when he did his spiel about what playing the game meant. Maybe this means nothing other than I’ve watched the movie far too often.

The camaraderie of the ball players is far more prominent in the movie version providing much of the humour and humanising the ghosts.( It’s about here we can offer a collective sigh for Liotta again……….)

Which brings me to a recent project: the Butterfly House in my back garden.

Build it and they will come. Fingers crossed anyway. I’ve also planted Marigolds, Lavender, and Geraniums so here’s hoping for house guests soon.

Next project? A Bee Motel.

Musk Sticks, Museums and Movies

In 2018 Sweden opened it’s Disgusting Food Museum

Australia’s contribution to the museum collection includes Witchetty Grubs and Vegemite – sacrilege! 

Perhaps most surprising within the museum is the presence of the humble Musk Stick. They’re simple, unassuming lollies that neither creep nor crawl. Hot pink and sickly sweet they are a throwback to many Australian childhoods. I have memories of crushing them up into the milk we were given in bottles at primary school, though I won’t share that with my daughters as I’m still nagging them about the benefits of Brussel Sprouts.

Who didn’t make their first trip to the “pictures” without a couple of musk sticks in a white paper bag? At 1c each they were an absolute bargain.

Selected Cinemas across the nation are holding a Hollywood Classics Festival until early December. Movies will be shown at the first time slot on Monday mornings once a fortnight. It’s going to be a bit early to eat a Musk Stick but I’m going to give it a go in silent protest and a nod to the past. That’s my August Goal. Judy Garland on the big screen at breakfast, tragics singing along to The Trolly Song, without throwing up.

Porter, Big Bands and Hip Replacements

Showing my age but I remember when pre wedding festivities consisted of a gathering of women who thought it dreadfully risqué to open a bottle of Porphrey Pearl or Cold Duck and to gift such wondrous things as wooden spoons , tea towels, and paper towel dispensers to the bride-to-be. Yes, the compulsory Kitchen Tea, when mothers and maiden aunts openly drank the McWilliams Port or Sherry from the flagon and guests dined on sausage rolls, Devilled Eggs and fruitcake. ( Question: why is it that any drink that is pink kills pot plants?)

Times have changed and the Hen’s Night is now almost as big as the actual wedding requiring just as much planning. Some young women fly out of the country for the event on the basis that “ what happens in Bali stays in Bali”. I did not attend my eldest daughter’s Hens as I’de had enough of waking up on Saturday mornings to find some strange teenager laying across my bed wanting relationship advice and breakfast. From a divorcee. What’s that all about?

My favourite Hens function took place nearly thirty years ago. Frocked up we went to a Saturday matinee to see A Swell Party, a musical which was overlaid with biographical content, followed by a slap-up Thai meal where we all got sill-ily sloshed. That was my introduction to the music of Col Porter.

I often play a CD of Porter’s music by the original artists. It’s old. The sound quality is not the best but it’s still fine music. Helps with the mopping.

De-Lovely is a 2004 musical biopic. The screenplay is based on the life and career of Cole Porter from his first meeting with his wife, Linda Thomas, until his death.  Critics may have panned the movie but I loved that it introduced a new generation to the music of Porter with a soundtrack featuring contemporaries such as Alana Morrissette, Robbie Williams and Sheryl Crowe.

So a recent Dinner Dance with a Big Band playing all the tunes of Porter and the songs of Dino and Cranky Frankie was just De-lightful.

Swing Central at Cloudland in Brisbane

Better than my previous weeks venture to a nightclub for Baby Boomers – yes, they are a thing – where the only positive was that I seemed to be the only one not requiring a hip replacement.