It’s All About The Journey.

Home after a week pottering around the beautiful small townships of the New South Wales, South Coast Region. This trip, despite its short length, was a celebration of the end of one phase of my life and for the beginning of the next. The goal was to purge some sad memories and to create some that were new and fresh. It is amazing how quickly those goals were achieved.

This part of the world is a continuous coastline on one side of the highway, and soft green hills or rugged timberland on the other. It’s a part of the world where you don’t have to share a beach and there is a plethora of space to stop and think. Space where there is no white noise. Any plans for an overseas jaunt in coming months are seriously being overhauled.

My favourite travel writer, Bill Bryson, who totally cracks me up said “ To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Road trips are the source of much fascinating information. After a quick feed at a pub in Nowra, I learnt that The Archer Tavern was named after the racehorse that won Australia’s first and second Melbourne Cups in 1861 and ‘62. Archer was a long distance specialist having walked the 600 miles from Nowra to Melbourne for the big race.

This was the basis of a truly dreadful mid eighties movie starring Our Nic before she met that bloke Cruise, and a young Brett Climo. Whatever happened to him, I wonder?

In Moruya, further south on the Moruya River, you can’t miss the recently closed Air Raid Tavern situated on the Highway. A wooden carving of The Airman stands proudly outside. Moruya ?Air Raids? The hallmarks of a failed education system in the 1970s were once again raising their ugly heads.

Three trawler men lost their lives during WW2 when a Japanese Midget submarine bombed them off the Moruya Coast, on their way up the East Coast. Who knew that? Some more unpalatable history, apparently.

So, of course I had to look at the Midget Sub on display, very much bruised and battered, at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Fascinating stuff.

For the penultimate in Trivia a celebration of another kind taking place further south near Narooma had themed food to match the quiz like game at hand, set up in tents in a back garden, with a soft summer breeze, the hum of cicadas, and a playlist of music from the last five decades.

Much thanks must go to these good people, these Adventurers, who have convinced me to add “Watch Dr Who Christmas Special” to my Must Do List. An achievement considering never having watched a Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord Of The Rings movie  which I rate highly as Personal Bests, right up there with my No Tupperware Policy.

And I picked up a first Edition copy of Rudyard Kipling’s, Kim, for my Errol Flynn Collection from a second hand bookstore in a little country town that served the best coffee.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said , “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” So true.

Road Trips and Trivia

I love road trips, stopping wherever and whenever it suits. And I love that there is so much history that can be gained from the little country towns that dot the landscape.

Clunes, in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, and with a population of less than 600 had me with Uncle Peter’s Secondhand Bookshop. The lush vegetation was gorgeous too.

Tabulam, with a population of less than 500, is the birthplace of Lt General Sir Henry Chauval of the Australian Light Horse. Not only is there a monument to the Light Horse Brigade in this fly spec of a spot but last November being the 100th anniversary of the Charge of Beersheba, there was a re-enactment. ( yeah, makes the mind boggle, doesn’t it?)

The township of Drake, a bustling centre in the gold rush of the 1870’s and 80’s, has a population of less than 130. The foot never touched the brake pedal when the Lunatic Motel was spotted.

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We’ve yet to investigate Tenterfield, our destination, though a few big things already appeal to my sense of trivia :

Major J F Thomas was born in Tenterfield.

Who?

Major Thomas was the country solicitor who defended Harry “Breaker” Morant ( and Peter Handcock ) during the Boer War in South Africa. If you’ve seen the Aussie flick, Breaker Morant, think the character played by Jack Thompson.

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A B Paterson, Australian poet and war correspondent, married a Tenterfield lass in April 1903. St Stephens Church, a tiny, wooden structure revisits this event annually in an attempt to keep Banjo’s poetry alive.

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around that the colt from Old Regret had got away
And had joined the wild bush horses, he was worth a thousand pounds, so all the cracks had gathered to the fray
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far had mustered at the homestead overnight
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are and the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight

It was a cold winters night in the Hill Top Farmhouse last night, though good news : we may have broken their drought.

Bomber – As Mad As A Cut Snake

I always wanted a Mercedes Sports car. My father, a child of the Depression, always said that “nothing is handed to you on a plate, Girlie”. The only car he ever gave me was a Matchbox Toy. It was a Mercedes, however. My daughters had to buy their own cars too and both held down part time jobs throughout High School and Uni in order to do so.

My eldest, a slip of a thing, was a tea trolley girl at the Repatriation Hospital where she met some very interesting characters, including Tony Bower-Miles, a Vietnam Veteran. In the Australian vernacular, Bomber, as he is affectionately known, would be best described as rough as guts and as mad as a cut snake. He would also give you the shirt off his back. My daughter grew up surrounded by some hardened old men which meant big, burly Bomber with his beard and six earrings didn’t phase her one bit. In fact this scary looking bloke would assist my daughter to negotiate the wards full of men, mostly vets, many who were in not such good shape.

I’ve recently read Bomber : From Vietnam To Hell And Back. Co-written with Mark Whittaker, who provides the history, time fames and context, Bomber’s running commentary is full of colour, profanities and brothels.

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Bower-Miles is one interesting fella. He likes a cold beer on a hot day, is not fond of authority figures, and is as courageous as they come. In Vietnam, where Land mines, in particular US made M16 anti-personnel mines, were one of the major threats faced by Australian troops, much of Bomber’s work involved cleaning up their aftermath. They were often positioned by the enemy and later used to great effect against Australian troops.

“A quarter of all the 504 Australians killed in Vietnam were killed by mines and booby traps. And of those, 55 were killed by M16 mines which were almost all lifted from the Australian minefield.” 

( True story. There is a line in Redgum’s Song “Only Nineteen”, which goes : Frankie kicks a mine the day that mankind kicks the moon. Private Frank Hunt was seriously wounded on 21st of June, 1969, along with 18 others, with another killed, by an Australian land mine.)

Bomber’s commentary is raw, and in no way prettied up, and is both a fascinating and terrifying read. After Vietnam he was transferred to Singapore for a time, and nearing conflicts end, returned to Australia via Darwin, to assist with the cleanup after Cyclone Tracy, which absolutely decimated the northern city. This too gives a different perspective to what we know about this catastrophe – hearing it from someone on the ground assisting with the rebuilding.

His return to civilian life was not a happy one including a marriage breakdown, and Bomber spiralled downwards into a world fuelled by alcohol and violence, exascerbated by pain from injuries that occurred from having been thrown off tanks on several occasions by bomb blasts in Vietnam. Throughout this period he maintained his friendships with fellow veterans in a self styled support system.

And this is where the true measure of the man comes to light.

In 2001, Bomber returned to South East Asia, putting his minefield breaching and clearance skills to work in the task of locating and destroying some of the 4 to 6 million land mines that still contaminated Cambodia. This trip was self funded as were the others that he later took. 

On a shoestring budget, Bomber established the Vietnam Veterans’ Mine Clearing Team. The men were removing mines planted by Pol Pot about 30 years ago as part of his battle for power. The Vietnamese planted mines during their invasion of Cambodia, and some farmers even used the mines to stake their claims.

The problem is none of these are recorded on maps, and walking around Cambodia can be life threatening. It’s anticipated there are about 40-thousand amputees in  Cambodia as a result of land mines. In early 2008 the Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team – Cambodia Inc was registered as an incorporated entity in Queensland. (IA:36313) and registered with the Australian Government Business Register . 

Now that Cambodian Self Help Demining has official status, they work within the rules and that means Bomber and his mates must confine themselves to fund-raising. Interestingly, each of the mine detectors purchased through fundraising for the de-mining operation has a plaque attached in honour of one of the Engineers killed during the war in Vietnam.

Yes, Josie, you are quite right. Bomber is a larrikin and unsung hero, and most certainly, as mad as a cut snake.

 

 

Here Is Their Spirit – Australian War Memorial : Book Review

I’ve been rereading “Here Is Their Spirit – A History Of The Australian War Memorial” by Michael McKernan which was published to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the official opening.

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Officially opened on Remembrance Day, 11th November, 1941, the concept of the AWM was conceived by WW1 historian, C E W Bean. His vision was for “commemoration and understanding, or more accurately, commemoration through understanding”.

The idea of a museum memorial date backs to 1916, when Bean witnessed the battles in France, though the Australian War Records Section weren’t established until 1917.

An Architectural Design Competition in 1927 did not have a winner though two entrants were asked to work together to fulfil a brief, a brief much reduced due to the Depression.

This book gives a fascinating insight into the trials that went into creating this magnificent building, both political, financial and practical.

It was also wonderful to read how the public embraced the concept and came to the Memorial’s aid enthusiastically when there was a plea for additions to the collection, such as letters, medals, and photographs. One General had to be advised on the quiet that live shells were an inappropriate donation!

Unfortunately, there was a period of disinterest and lack of funding which meant that some priceless objects were either tossed out or stolen.

An interesting read, despite being published nearly thirty years ago with much change instigated since then.

These days the AWM is much valued and considered a national treasure. It has ever changing exhibitions and is constantly being innovative in bringing our past to the forefront. For the centenary anniversary of Gallipoli the projection of 200 iconic wartime photographs on the outside wall of the building each evening was just stunning on so many levels. ( and helped increase the share price for Kleenex I have no doubt).

Disappearing shortly for a few days as a Mother’s job role includes restocking fridges and a pantry. My youngest is on the move so I’m also looking forward to stacking the bookshelves-and not in colour coordinated book spine fashion!

I’ve been promised a Yum Cha which is a great motivational tool. Or is it a bribe?

She’s just up the road from the AWM. Do you think she’ll know if I get lost amongst the cartons one afternoon?

“ Here is their spirit,
In the heart of
The land they loved;
And here we guard
The record which they
Themselves made.”
C E W Bean

 

Australian Author Challenge: Our Vietnam Nurses by Annabelle Brayley.

I don’t do illness, or ill people, well. A character flaw and I blame the military patriarch who would yell at his daughters at the first sign of any slight weakness, “Toughen up. Stop being girls”. My father did not get sick until the month he died and I follow in his footsteps. The young things flag at work – I just march through it, soldiering on.

I softened once my own daughters came along and did not have the stomach for children’s illness’. If the six year old vomited, the seven year old had to clean up after her. Poor parenting I know, but I would be kneeling over the toilet bowl in sympathy. I remember having to take the teenager to the Dentist to get the last of her baby teeth pulled. She entered the surgery bravely whilst I fainted on the footpath outside.

Both my daughters have always had a fascination with medical procedures, and are addicted to those ghastly shows on the television that feature an assortment of lumps, bumps and stumps. There was one dinner party where the kids were far too quiet for my liking so I sneaked in to see what mischief they were up too. What did I find? Half a dozen cherubs fascinated by the DVD of my recent Colonoscopy!

So I was surprised when an acquaintance handed me a book and said “ I know that you will just love this!”

Our Vietnam Nurses by Annabelle Brayley, tells fifteen stories about civilian and military nurses, as well as a couple of medics, who all played their part in saving lives and comforting the wounded during this period of history.

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There were several common threads throughout this book:
• None of them had any previous knowledge of Vietnam and it was very much a “think on your feet “ process when they landed in the middle of a war zone.
• All those interviewed saw their efforts as both crucial and rewarding
• All feel as if there lives changed direction from the experience of serving in such a manner

Yes, the book did dish up blood and guts as to be expected, though many of the cases detailed had positive outcomes, with the larrikin spirit of young Australian Soldiers shining through. The constant themes were the camaraderie, strong working relationships and commitment to achieve the very best with the little that they had to help the injured.

This book is primarily personal recollections which added to my interest. It made the history more real.

One hundred and six nursing officers from the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Sisters ( RAAFNS) we’re deployed to No.4 Hospital at Butterworth Airforce Base in Malaysia to care for military personnel based there and to fly medivacs into Saigon or Vung Tua evacuating wounded Australian soldiers back to Butterworth, and then home. Between 1965 and 1971 thirty two of them were attached to the United States Air Force for 60 day rotations flying missions into Vietnam on a daily basis to evacuate wounded American soldiers.

There were also more than 200 civilian nurses who were members of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation who assisted civilian surgical medical teams across a similar time line, and operating within Vietnam.

And you know what horrified me the most? Not the shattered bodies, infestations of worms, or grenades under hospital beds. Did you know that it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that all RAAF nurses who flew from Butterworth to Vietnam to medivac injured Aussie soldiers, or who were seconded to the USAF, were acknowledged for their contribution?

Another pox on the Australian Government, who currently cannot find $200,000 to send a handful of weary Bomber Command veterans to the opening of the International Bomber Command Centre in England this year. They say they are “ too old”. I would argue that they were “too young” when they did their bit.

Great read. Highly recommended even if amputations aren’t your thing.

You’ll just have to wait till I share my dental experiences……..

 

PS Vietnam Nurse song by Australian, Russell Morris, who has long since lost his hair, but not his voice. (Courtesy of You Tube)

Australia Day 2018

Australia Day is a national Public Holiday held on January 26th each year to commemorate the day the British First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove in 1788. It is the date that our Government bequeaths Order of Australia Medals (or jellybeans , as my dear old Da referred to them), and many immigrants become Australian citizens. It is a day full of community events, and of family gatherings in parks or at the beach for a cricket match and a barbecue. It is also the last big hoorah after the Christmas holiday break which means that pubs across the country will be full to the brim with punters betting on cane toad and cockroach races, playing pub trivia, or singing along to pub bands playing iconic Aussie rock music.

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We are patiently awaiting the announcement of The 2018 Australian of the Year which is the real test to determine if, as a nation, we have grown up at all. I remember the decade when you had to be either a Pop Star or a  Sportsman to win that accolade. No offence intended, but neither are necessarily the makings of a noble human being.

There is a movement challenging this date. In some quarters the 26th of January is known as Invasion Day or Genocide Day. My views are totally irrelevant here.

If the weather is good – and that means not 90 degrees plus, nor 80% humidity – I hope to jump on the ferry and take the five minute trip to Coochimudlo Island where there will be beach markets and the opportunity to swim in the beautiful Moreton Bay. Somewhere in the mix will be a barbied snag or steak, and a chilled glass of plonk from the Hunter Valley.

Lamb is the traditional Barbeque fodder as a nod to those years last Century when “Australia rode on the sheeps back”. They were the days before a kilo of lamb cutlets cost $48-00!

Another nod to earlier days will probably find me making Golden Syrup Dumplings. What is Golden Syrup? Golden syrup or light treacle is a thick, amber-coloured form of inverted sugar syrup made in the process of refining sugar cane into sugar. When I was a child this product was affectionately called Cockie’s Delight as those that lived on the land, droving sheep and cattle, could easily transport this deliciousness in their saddlebag, as an additive on their damper ( Bread) or to sweeten the Billy Tea.

Here’s my Cockie’s Delight Dumpling recipe courtesy of http://www.taste.com.au

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Method
1. Combine 2 cups (500ml) water, brown sugar, 1/4 cup (60ml) golden syrup and 50g butter in a large saucepan. Stir over a low heat until melted.
2. Meanwhile, use your fingertips to rub in 50g butter into flour. …
3. Bring the sauce to the boil then drop heaped dessert spoonfuls of the mixture into the sauce.

4. Serve with a scoop of ice cream.

TLOML has a passion for the works of A B (Banjo) Paterson so I do expect a recitation of Mulga Bill’s Bicycle ( which I suspect is his own version of Alzheimer’s testing)

 

So though there will be no hand on the heart stuff in my house, I will most certainly reflect and honour previous generations for the deeds that have allowed this country to provide me and mine with a most glorious lifestyle.

Have a bonzer Australia Day, mate.

Enjoy…..

 

My Anzac Biscuits

There have been lots of books and little bruschetta amongst these pages so far so lets remedy this with information about Anzac biscuits, which we Aussies claim as our own.

ANZAC Biscuits have long had an association with the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops sent to Gallipoli during WWI. However, it is incorrect that the sweet biscuit recipe was created to send to serving troops due to their longevity during transportation.

There was an Anzac Wafer, similar to hard bread, which provided sustenance to soldiers, though these were not sweet and were often used for other purposes such as writing messages. For some interesting reading refer to the Australian War Memorial –
https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/anzac-biscuits

The sweet Anzac biscuit became popular during the war years as a fundraiser for the war effort, as they contain no eggs and also have a reasonable shelf life. Baked by Mothers, wives and sweethearts, these biscuits symbolise love and care from home.

One hundred years on and each ANZAC Day, on April 25th, the Returned Services League – affectionately known as the ” Rissole”- benefit from the sale of Anzac Biscuits in commemorative tins. Funds raised go towards to ex service members, both past and present, and their families.

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Ingredients

• 2 cups plain (non-self raising) flour
• 1 cup white or brown sugar
• 4 tablespoons golden syrup (cane syrup)
• 1 cup desiccated coconut
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 tablespoons of water
• 2 cups rolled or instant oats
• 225 grams butter or margarine

Procedure

0. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, and melt the syrup and butter in a saucepan. Add the baking soda and water to the syrup mix.
0. Mix the wet and dry ingredients, adding water if necessary.
0. Separate and roll the mixture into small balls, and flatten them on oven trays.
0. Bake at 150°C (300°F) for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

The finished biscuits are quite chewy and crisp, and do have a long shelf-life.

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NOTE: I do not include either the brown sugar or coconut in an attempt to reduce sugar intake. This makes my Biscuits less aesthetically pleasing, though the flavour remains the same – just perfect with a cup of tea.

Just as well there is always a chilled bottle of wine in the fridge and a selection of cheeses as an alternative for impromptu guests.