Elevation of the Senses

When I last visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra late last year I took the opportunity to walk through the Sculpture Garden. With Anzac Day looming I thought I’de share some of my photos and their stories.

Elevation of the Senses, was created by Sculptor/Painter Ewen Coates, and immortalises the special moment between a soldier and his dog.

These dogs help save lives as they help their handlers find improvised explosive devices, ammunition, and weapons.

From the AWM:

“ The tunnel through the base of the sculpture alludes to the rigorous training undertaken by the dogs, while the rocky outcrops atop the columns represent the foreign landscapes to which the dogs and their handlers are deployed. The elevation of the dog on the central column, where it crouches eye-to-eye with its handler, highlights the deep bonds that are forged between the two, as well as the mutual dependence on which their work is based.

Within the main column itself is a hidden cache of weapons, visible only from the back of the sculpture to illustrate the danger of buried IEDs or hidden weapons that the dogs find with their heightened sense of smell. Next to the pair is a duffel bag and a tennis ball, an integral part of the dog’s training, as well as a valuable reward when the animal has located explosives.”

Inscribed on the side of the sculpture are the names of Australian explosive detection dogs that have been killed in operations – Merlin, Razz, Andy, Nova, Lucky and Herbie.  There is also a human name – Sapper Darren Smith, who died with his beloved dog Herbie in Afghanistan in June 2010. Herbie, Darren, and Sapper Jacob Moreland were investigating metal signature on the footpad of a creek bed, when an IED was triggered. The blast killed Herbie, and mortally wounded Darren Smith and Jacob Moreland.

Mesmerising and made this old heart flutter.

(Note: With Anzac Day comes all the usual controversies, and this year is no exception. The Freedom-of-Speechers are already out in force and I refer to a particular wanker in an educational and leadership role at a southern university. No identification here ; your 15 minutes of fame was 15 minutes too long).

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….

The Great Escape – 75th Anniversary

Earlier this week marked the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape when 76 RAF PoWs attempted to escape from Stalag Luft III, of which only 3 successfully escaped and made it home.

Of the 73 who were recaptured, 50 were chosen at random and murdered by the Gestapo.

The International Bomber Command Centre in the UK found 28 of those who were in Bomber Command and whose names are on the Centre’s memorial. A wreath has been laid at The Spire to honour the 50 who died, and a poppy placed in each of the 28 members of Bomber Command on the Memorial Walls.

The remaining 23 who were not shot, were placed in various prison camps including Colditz.

I’m a tad fragile at the moment and swilling with drugs to beat a couple of bugs, thus providing time to think which is more often than not, a huge negative.

I’ve stumbled across the website of an Australian author, who as fate would have it, is also a mate of my late aviation-tragic friend and author, Justin Sheedy.

Kristen Alexander is currently a PhD candidate at University of New South Wales (Canberra) researching the experiences of Australians in Stalag Luft III and welcomes contact with anyone with family connections to former SLIII prisoners. She has been writing about Australia’s aviation history since 2002. Allen & Unwin published Clive Caldwell Air Ace in 2006 and Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader in 2009. Barrallier Books published Australian Eagles in 2013. NewSouth published Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain in September 2014. Pen & Sword published the UK edition in April 2015. Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader was in the RAAF Chief of Air Force’s 2010 Reading List. Australia’s Few was included on the 2015 list. Kristen won the Military Historical Society of Australia’s 2012 and 2013 Sabretache Writer’s Prize. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in Flightpath, Aircrew Book Review, Sabretache, Britain at War, and Aviation Heritage. Taking Flight. Lores Bonney’s Extraordinary Flying Career was published by the National Library of Australia in March 2016.

Photos of the lost 50.

Kristen’s website is http://www.kristenalexander.com.au and she has a fascinating blog in which she discusses the Great Escape, and particularly how the Australian relatives responded. It’s well worth a read.


Time for more antibiotics…..

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

I Slept Next To Keith Urban

Shhhhh. Girlie Secret. I’ve got this thing for Keith Urban. Yes, the country singer from Oz who married Our Nic after that fiasco with Toy Man.

Keith is really, really cute. Like a kewpie doll on a stick that you used to be able to purchase from the Easter Show. Do you remember those? I never had a doll on a stick of course. Far too whimsical. My parents usually bought me the Nock and Kirby (Hardware) Sample Bag, and my sister the Shelleys Glue Sample Bag. That was back in the day when Show Bags were Sample Bags and contained exactly what the name suggests – samples.

So for the past three years my treat to myself for the new year has been to see Keith perform live at the Barn. Or as some call it, the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. My friend Tash and I make a night of it with dinner and drinks and then fantasise about taking Keith home with us. Separately. Not together. No wrong ideas, please. This really is a positive way to commence the new year..

Keith and Our Nic bring the cherubs home to Sydney for Christmas with the fam, head back to Nashville for New Years Concerts, and then return to the farm on the Southern Highlands of NSW for rest and recuperation. Of course, our definition of farm may differ slightly but that’s okay……

Being interstate this year meant I missed young Keith Urban. I have to admit I’m impressed by a self made man who wagged Maths classes for two years.

But did I miss him?

Let me tell you about the night I slept next to Keith Urban.

Driving home along the New England Highway in the middle of summer and school holidays can be tiresome. I wish I could wiggle my nose like Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched and just “go” places.

We’d been on the road most of the day and it was nearing Wine O’Clock, so agreed to find a motel in the next town. Tamworth. Home of The Golden Guitar. Personally, not a big fan but the drive had been hard going. Ten klicks out the billboards are welcoming us to the Tamworth Country Music Festival. A big festival of ten days duration and starting that very day.

Holy Guacamole. CMF is Big Business and we know the town will be full of
Utes with bull bars, grey nomads, campers, line dancers, and God help me, yodellers. So we pull over at the first vacancy we come across : a newly constructed Conference and Wedding Reception set up. Suits me fine. No self respecting yodeller would be seen dead in a place so refined.

A good meal, local plonk, and we crash for the night thinking it odd that the car park is virtually vacant.

Up with the sparrows next morning and readying to exit a sexy little silver car drives in to the car park next to ours. Sorry, no further details about the vehicle. Cars are not my thing. But it is sleek, is silver, and is sexy.

Who sneaks in to a motel at 6am in the morning, I have to ask?

A country entertainer who has to perform that very night, that’s who.

And that’s my “ I Slept Next To Keith Urban” Story.

Don’t make me change it to a Chad Morgan (The Shiek from Scrubby Creek) Story, okay.

Happy Birthday, Vera Lynn

Received a lovely surprise in the mail this morning, validating my parenting role. “Errol is good for the soul”. The old soul does require a little soothing so I’m not going to argue with the prescribed medicine.

Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces Sweetheart, celebrated her 102nd birthday yesterday, the 20th of March.

At a funeral, of all places, I spoke with a fella with a Pink Floyd obsession. Pink Floyd : that LP that was played at every party throughout the 1970’s.

The Wall was Pink Floyd’s 11th recorded album and a concept piece. It’s story explores Pink, a jaded rockstar that bassist Roger Waters modeled after himself and band founder Syd Barrett. Pink’s life begins with the loss of his father during the Second World War and continues with abuse from his schoolteachers, an overprotective mother, and the breakdown of his marriage; all contribute to his eventual self-imposed isolation from society, symbolised by a wall.

I’ve finally had a chance to listen to The Wall and found a song dedicated to Dame Vera, with the most popular interpretation being :”As he drifts farther from reality, Pink yearns for ideas of home and reconnecting with his personal roots, recalling the hope that Vera Lynn – a World War II era singer – instilled within a country torn apart by war and loss”.

Unfortunately, it’s a reminder that you’re getting old when you attend a Pink Floyd Tribute Concert and the light show gives you a shocking headache……

Hope you enjoyed a piece of cake with a cuppa on your birthday, young Vera.

Another family favourite. Thankfully never accompanied by harmonica.