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Retired carpenter..history buff, local and stories of Italianate style, especially those village superstition stories..Very far left-wing.

“Clustering”: The new tool for electoral success?

The most concerning conundrum post election is the question of why working/vulnerable people voted against their own interests to help return a right-wing government that then goes on to bust them economically and socially … and not just in this country, but with Brexit and Trumpism too, there were strange forces at play to shift opinion away from sane rationality to vociferous anger.

Why is it so?

I believe I can see an answer in the word; “Clustering” … ie; getting hold of groups of vulnerable voters and using certain cultural fears to unite/corral them against what could be seen as a long-time enemy … and then letting the natural suspicions and gossiping innuendo do the hard work of: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and so bring another group of indecisive voters into the tent.

I would describe “clustering” as that action of where one central identifiable position of authority or person of power, through self-interest, raises opposition to a principle or ideal and because of their/its credible standing in a group or the community, can gather others around itself and using those people then up the ante in opposition to a principle or ideal and create a “cluster” of persons of credibility that acts like a magnet, drawing those undecided to what is seen as the most attractive position of strength. It is the attraction of strength that pulls in the undecided voters to throw their lot in with those they see as best supporting their personal interests as against the wider communities interests … Using this methodology, smaller, more localised groups can be targeted with a Cambridge Analytica-style concentration on most vulnerable seats or even ballot-box areas…with military precision to divide the electorate into smaller, easily managed groups.

Most of us of a certain experience in life have witnessed or even suffered such a phenomenon involving team sports, committees, work meetings etc … it is not nice and worse of all, after time and experience, one can see quite clearly when such a thing is evolving right in front of one’s eyes … Anyone watching ABC Insiders last Sunday (14/02) could see the journos’ there join in a “pile-on” against Daniel Andrews and his decision to lockdown Victoria … and then there was the discussion about low-income, casualised workers (Uber/Food delivery riders etc) getting decent conditions, with the “Newscorp genuflector” at one point giving clue to the future direction of his treasonous group in saying that (words to that effect) “these pizza delivery people are mostly migrants and overseas students whom many people would see as lesser workers” … implying a sense of racist interpretation in the general community … and sadly, going by recent events … he just may be correct … and there we see the possibility of the LNP playing a “cluster card” of one vulnerable working group – Australian local casualised workforce against an imported “457” cheap-labour section of the community … just as Howard played the “lower caste” refugees with his “children overboard” racism against the settled, secured Australian community … never mind that so many of that settled community were multi cultural already … it was the “do we want such disreputable people infecting our lovely country?” debate that won the day.

The last Federal election was also played on such grounds … the franking credits issue touched also the heart-strings of other self funded retirees … so many of whom were working people who benefitted from long term permanent employment, cheaper house prices when they bought and a solid superannuation scheme to allow them to invest or speculate on shares or property to harvest extra income to boost their retirement … indeed, some were heavily reliant on such investments as their aged pension could have been severely cut because of their superannuation amount and income from investment .. this created a cluster of self-interest among retirees that was inflamed by Tim Wilson’s geriatric Big-top circus up and down the East Coast.

Then there was The Greens’ “Adani Convoy”, where either through deliberate incitement or gormless political blundering, Bob Brown’s mob created another “cluster” of mining community members completely dropping Labor off their vote slips to insert the f#cking harridan Hanson on! … in a deluded opinion that they were protecting their long-term interests … again … clustering toward what was seen as a position of strength.

Add to the above a continual division on climate change, carbon sequestration and environmental challenges and you have a well-spring of clusters to manipulate … and with a now totally corrupt to the point of criminality Gov’t, the Sky-Channel is their limit!

There must be some psychological term to describe this clustering effect in groups, but I won’t go looking for it, satisfied as I am that I can see it in action among many bloggers and social media posters … on Twitter for instance, it is not an uncommon thing for groups to cluster to “pile on” singular identities to bludgeon them off the board … we see such moments as the “cancel culture” groups … the anti this or that groups … we saw it in spades against individuals like J.K.Rowling … right or wrong, it became an avalanche of trolling … it can verge on bullying when it becomes a concentrated force.

I personally witnessed it on another social media platform some years back where a moderator, backed by a “rising star” poster on the site combined forces to attack another person and then by “magnetic attraction” others who had no part in the discussion, joined in their cooperative attack to add their infantile opinions as little more than a background shout of noise to what became the collective howling down of any opposition …

This strange yet powerful attraction of the insecure individual to join forces with those they see as a more powerful voice that will give them, vicariously, added importance to an otherwise insignificant mumble of their own, makes for a cluster of individually weak, but collectively strong voting bloc of the undecided voters that in an election won or lost on a one-seat majority is a much sought out number.

Be warned … the next election is already being ‘war-gamed’ on what that slime-bag of newscorp pustulance; Campbell, gave away last Sunday … the playing against each other of Australian worker to immigrant worker/student … making note of the Chinese/Indian ethnicity … then the playing against trade-workers in building to cheap labour-hire imported workers, not to mention that old standby … the “overpaid indigenous community” against the long-suffering suburban white community … particularly in these times of JobKeeper/Seeker … and then of course, we have those others mentioned above …

It may become an adage worthy in replacing the old; “In numbers there is strength” … with; “In clusters, there is an election win.”

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Proverbs, Parables, Stories and Verse

Proverbs, Parables, Stories and Verse … An e-Book … By Joe Carli.


We cast our nets at eventide,

We draw them in at dawn,

And in the darkened hours between,

Are trapped the dream we spawn.

Proverb: “Bread and cheese at home is better than roast meat elsewhere.”

Parable: Nicole detested polenta! So that when he came home from the fields and spotted the polenta on the stove, he started thinking fast.

”I won’t be here for dinner,” he said as he flung a scarf around his neck. “Giovanni has invited me to his table tonight.” And he rushed out the door before his wife could say anything.

Little did he know that his wife had cooked up enough polenta for all the relatives in the village. all he saw was the little she kept for themselves! So he rushed over to his son’s house as fast as his little bow-legs could carry him. There, he milled around in front of the fire and chatted small talk while the wife prepared the table.

“You’ll stay for dinner, father? she queried. “ … we’re having polenta.”

He winced at her in horror … ”Oh bugger!” he said to himself … then; “No, no, caro … er … my sister, she has invited me to her table for dinner … speaking of which … I better hurry on … ” and he flung his scarf on again and hurried out the door.

“Hungry, hungry, hungry … ” he whispered in time to his quickening steps and his stomach rumbled as he passed through his sister’s front door.

“Ah … Nicolle!” she greeted him … ” just in time for dinner. Sit down, I’ll get you some polenta!”

”Gesu Christo!” he cried as he flung his hands to the heavens … “Doesn’t anybody in this town eat anything but bloody polenta!?” And he stormed out leaving them with open mouths and a slammed door. He came home to his own kitchen with a long face and slumped shoulders. He was beaten and resigned to his fate, polenta it would have to be.

His wife (who knew his dislikes by now) glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and smiled. She reached into the oven and pulled out a covered dish which she placed in front of the dejected man at the table and uncovered a bowl of ravioli and cheese … Nicolle’s face lit up into an ecstatic smile and he sighed very, very deeply. His wife patted him on top of his head …

“Better, you see, to eat at your own table, rather than run around town for scraps from others.”

Nicolle nodded his head gratefully, for his mouth was full of food.


God I was feeling good … you know those days when you set out with a heavy work-load of appointments and things to do so you think you’ll never have time to do them all … and then suddenly this one and that one falls off the list through no fault of anyone’s and suddenly you have half … (Continue reading).

Kapitan Kemp’s Diary

This story has two connections … The first is the idea for the setting which came from a contribution in a WW2 official government publication; “As You Were” … one of many such publications put out during and after the second world war from the Australian military … The writer was T.G.Hungerford … the article was; “Last Entry in Red.” … (Continue reading).

Proverb: “Those who need a good ambassador should send themselves.”

Parable: Daniel was adopted out at six weeks old to a childless couple who loved him dearly and raised him as best they could. His natural mother and father were separated several months before he was born so that he knew neither true parent. Years later, when he was in his late twenties, he felt the need to contact his natural parents. He could not find his mother, but through one of the special agencies that help adopted people, he obtained the address of his father.

“Well,” the father said as he sat down at the table, “this is a surprise!” and he dropped a spoonful of sugar into his cup of tea, “sugar? … Daniel … Daniel isn’t it?” the father asked.

“Yes to both questions,” Daniel replied.

“Well … then … it’s good to see you all growed up and healthy … even without my guidance.” The man nervously laughed.

“I’ve had good … care,” Daniel said as he put the cup to his lips.

“Well then … “the father rubbed his left hand on his thigh uneasily. “Well then … er … tell me; how’s your mother?”

“My mother? Daniel looked puzzled, “I don’t know, I haven’t seen her.”

“What … what do you mean – haven’t seen her,” the father, puzzled too now, queried.

“No.” Daniel went on; “Not for as long as I can remember … I was adopted out at six weeks old!” Daniel blinked at his father.

“The Hell you say!!” The man leapt to his feet upsetting things on the table, “the hell you say!” he cried again as he turned away and raked his fingers through his hair. He turned then and brought his great fist down … crash!! onto the kitchen table. “Your mother had me paying maintenance for you for sixteen years!” and he stood back from the table and welsh-combed his hair again.

“Well … you could’ve gone around there and you would’ve seen for yourself” said Daniel. The man flicked his hand away angrily.

“Ahh! … me and your old lady didn’t get on, so we “talked”, as you might say, through a mate of mine who … who went … over … oh bloody hell … ” The father stopped suddenly and stared as though in a trance. He sat down on the chair slowly.

“Oh bloody hell … a mate of mine … ”

Morning Glory

The most common insults and abuse that are given , are done in an atmosphere of intimate coercion, where the dominant party can take advantage of their position and the moment to exercise without criticism or reproach their quiet act of oppression. My first job when I arrived in Darwin in the early seventies was … (Continue reading).

Three blows on the church bell meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half-minute intervals. The word teller in some dialects becomes tailor, hence the old saying “Nine tailors maketh a man.”

The Day

I stare at the wet leaves

Of the Camellia bush,

In the patio .. In the rain.

As I take in with my eyes,

I stir the cup of tea.

The spoon chimes on the porcelain;

I mind the strikes;


Three … Six … Nine …

“Nine tailors maketh a man”

So much to see out in the patio.

But nothing to absorb.

Just the everyday …

I will forget the vision,

But will remember the peace.

I woke in startled fright

I awoke in a startled fright

From a dream I dreamt last night.

From a memory so long ago,

I’ll recall the story as it did go .. :

A child, from the pusher, I broke free,

As my mother walked me by the sea.

I broke free to chase a rabbit fast,

Fled a shrub by the sea-cliff path.

I ran as does a child; sudden swift,

As the rabbit fled over the cliff.

I too stumbled toward the edge,

But my mother’s call of fright,

Drew me to a stop just right.

I could see the wave’s crashing foam,

She gathered me frightened in her arms …

But now, in my dream I did fall,

Tumbling over with rabbit an’ all.

As we fell in that slow dreamy way,

Each to each, eye to eye .. knowing,

The creature looked to me to calmly say;

“Do not worry, you will not drown”.

But I kept falling, falling, falling down …

Just then I woke in chilling fright,

And in that gasping, grasping struggle for sight,

I stared and stared into the dark of night.

A Box of Spoons

There is innocence in childhood that has the capacity to reduce a complex situation to the simplest of solutions. It has it’s own shining beauty in that it need not be corrected, nor adjudicated upon … just to be sure that such innocence will be perhaps, irretrievably lost once past the “coming of age.” But then, … (Continue reading).

Saying Goodbye to Ferruchio

You may have read my bits about “Ron the brickie” … He was sponsored to Australia as a young lad a few years after the 2nd WW. He left behind his mother and siblings when he came to Australia … a difficult situation not of his making. He went to school for a couple of years here, then worked … (Continue reading).

Proverb: “The dog runs a little, the hare runs a little.”

Parable: Angelo Pescari “had a woman on the sly”. His wife knew that, but he didn’t know she knew. Till one evening she sent the kids over to her sisters and sat down with her husband for a “talk”.

“A what!!” Angelo jumped up in mock surprise.

“Sit down and stop the theatrics,” she spoke calmly.

“Who told you that?” he continued to bluff “The things you think”. he continued in vain seeking to regain his ground. But she knew and now he was sprung.

“Settle down … I’m not going to leave or divorce you or go into hysterics over it, see, I’m perfectly calm … all I’m asking is that you finish the affair and we go back to normal … husband and wife … agreed?”

After some more talking and seeing the futility of trying to proclaim his innocence, Angelo Pescari sighingly agreed to his wife’s request;…

“Yes,” he said, he would terminate the affair immediately.

But he didn’t! He continued seeing the woman after work sometimes and of course his wife found out again.

He arrived home from “work” one evening as his wife was setting the dinner. She glanced wickedly at him.

“So … a hard day at work … eh?” She smiled.

“Why … yes … yes,” he hesitatingly answered.

“And a hard night on the mistress?” She smiled wickedly again, he just stood there in dumbness.

“Well” she continued “You can have your little coquette … but then so will I have mine … but the difference is … I don’t even have to leave the house!”

Angelo stood there dumbfounded. His wife served the dinner.

Nine months later she gave birth to a lovely, healthy boy … they did not separate, but grew closer and raised the child as their own.

The Tide

Like a sailor old, who watches the tide,

Life’s many moods I do abide … and still I watch,

For there comes a wash of the river flow,

That carries the ebb, what comes and goes.

That “tide in men’s lives” that carries their thoughts,

Like flotsam swept before a wave wild wrought

By wind and storm or by deceiving calm they be brought,

To wreck upon Charybdis rocks or wash up on rugged tor.

Fortune for that sailor who with astute eye,

Will risk the temper of mood and tide,

And call the exact moment makes best to ride.

He casts the ropes that hold him belay,

All wind and storm be no delay.

Yet I and thee, chained to life’s fickle destiny,

Can but watch as the vessel sails away from we,

While idly biding …

Like empty shells scattered on a wide, broad shore,

Awaiting tide and waves also, to move us ever-more …

Sacred Site

Australian Aboriginal Woomera ( spear launcher). Ahh! … yes … I can see that you are all a tad jaded and tuckered out with the political shenanigans. I tell you what … I’ll tell you a story. It is constructed from two events .. one, when a friend told me of finding a very old woomera in the cleft of a very … (Continue reading).

Proverb: “A bitter heart will sour the sweetest soul.”

Parable: Milan’s first wife left him and her baby very early in their marriage. She became ill with a rather common debilitating mental illness, and as the medical treatment in those days in Australia was hopelessly inadequate, she was left to carry on by her own . She couldn’t cope and simply left home, left the baby girl, left her husband and finally left the country and went back to Europe where she disappeared from Milan’s life.

In due course after several years, Milan met another woman, a single woman who helped him raise the child. She lived with him for ten years and then they married and she had a baby also, a son. The girl had grown up and was cared for (if maybe a bit too sternly) as the new wife’s own daughter.

Now, every birthday from seven years on, the girl would receive a letter and a parcel from France, from her estranged mother. Sometimes there would be a few notes of currency enclosed. Janice, Milan’s second wife was at first not perturbed at these little gifts. But over the years, and particularly when the girl reached teenage years, she seemed to become a little offended at the daughter’s glee upon receiving these gifts.

“Oh”, the girl would exclaim in happiness, “My mother has sent me something!” and she would take the parcel off to her room to open it.

Janice would look scornful and sorrowful at the same time and would complain to Milan.

“See, see, off to her room with the precious gift, ha! and it wasn’t that woman who raised her, no … it was me who worried when she was sick! So what does she care for me? … no … (and here she would sometimes have tears come to her eyes) not for me the respect she saves for her mother that deserted her” Milan would drop the corners of his mouth and sigh.

One day a letter arrived saying that Milan’s first wife was coming out to Australia for a visit, to see her daughter. Janice was caught between her love of the daughter and the bitter-ness of a feeling of betrayal of the girl’s love for her mother.

Not long after the visit by the mother, one evening, they were visiting a friend, and as they sat in the darkened lounge lit only by the open fire, Janice talked off-handedly of the mother’s recent visit.

“Oh yes, she came over one night last week … humph! the way she talked, humph! as if I was an interloper, as if I was the one who broke up her family … I soon put her in her place!”

“Well, she didn’t really infer that you … ” Milan spoke up.

“Oh no! not to you, no you wouldn’t see, you’re not a woman … but I know that tone of voice … you men are blind … and … and she brought over a dress for Corina (the daughter) .. ha! what a dress … it was terrible eh Corina? eh? … the colour ugh! the cut, the style … what a laugh … har har” and she laughed a forced bitter laugh without looking at the daughter sitting there alone, slump shouldered in the corner, her tear-filled eyes shining sadly and looking to the floor. “Obviously she doesn’t know her own daughter” Janice finished huffily.

End of stories.

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Why Join China’s One Belt – One Road?

Or: Forty Centuries of Sustainable Farming

“We are to consider some of the practices of a virile race of some five hundred millions of people who have an unimpaired inheritance moving with the momentum acquired through four thousand years; a people morally and intellectually strong, mechanically capable, who are awakening to a utilization of all the possibilities which science and invention during recent years have brought to western nations; and a people who have long dearly loved peace but who can and will fight in self defense if compelled to do so.

We had long desired to stand face to face with Chinese and Japanese farmers; to walk through their fields and to learn by seeing some of their methods, appliances and practices which centuries of stress and experience have led these oldest farmers in the world to adopt. We desired to learn how it is possible, after twenty and perhaps thirty or even forty centuries, for their soils to be made to produce sufficiently for the maintenance of such dense populations as are living now in these three countries … “ (Farmers of Forty Centuries, F.H.King, 1911).

This is not a panegyric for China … after all, I am a nobody as far as any social influence goes and for a person such as myself to wax flattery about a nation of around 1.5 billion people, would be presumption of the most crass and vulgar kind, they certainly can and do speak for themselves.

No … I come not to praise China, but rather to perhaps persuade others here to “listen up” to what ought to be obvious regarding the reality of this mega-populated nation to the north of us … and if we read the above portion of the preface to a book by an American, published in 1911 of the skills and traditions of agriculture of those peoples from forty centuries ago until that said date of publishing, you will appreciate a civilisation well versed in knowledge, frugality and perseverance … and other characteristics mentioned above … truly a nation of people to be, if not possibly emulated, then at the very least respected as capable and culturally cohesive.

The incessant anti-China propaganda dribbling out from all our media that seeks and finds every and any means to vilify and demean China via direct accusation or implied innuendo reeks of the old days of anti-Soviet “Red Menace” publications … Of course, these days the “Bolshevism schlock” is a damn sight more sophisticated, but none the less crude in its enactment by certain authorities and media outlets.

But what is the real feeling of what and where China is going with its social and economic expansion?

One Belt – One Road … Surely a bold and courageous initiative that ought to hold the attention of the world and inspire it to examine it as more than just a “communist plot” by China to grab power …

The stated objectives are:

“… to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.”

The Belt and Road Initiative addresses an:

“ ‘infrastructure gap’ and thus has potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area, Africa and Central and Eastern Europe. A report from the World Pensions Council (WPC) estimates that Asia, excluding China, requires up to US$900 billion of infrastructure investments per year over the next decade, mostly in debt instruments, 50% above current infrastructure spending rates. The gaping need for long-term capital explains why many Asian and Eastern European heads of state “gladly expressed their interest to join this new international financial institution focusing solely on ‘real assets’ and infrastructure-driven economic growth.”

Surely this would benefit Australia and open up entirely new markets for agricultural produce and manufacturing? … What could possibly be the downside to wholeheartedly joining in such an enterprise, except that certain “players” who like to control and corner geographical areas of the world trade map may find their “private back yard” of controlled and policed countries shrinking and abandoning their “protection racket” methodologies.

We have seen just recently, many Pacific Nations being approached with investment opportunities by China that would be of more benefit to those nations than the patronising pseudo-colonising by “certain western nations” that have kept them under obligation to a cold-as-charity system of “foreign aid” and exploitation … Having their revered cultures displayed as tourist entertainment for a few shekels tossed at their feet … or worse, being used as a penal colony for payment for their debts. Who can blame them for considering a changing of the guard?

And what about us? … What have we as a nation gained from this brave new world of neo-liberal, free-market philosophy? … A gig economy of casualised, part-time work, flat-lined shit wages and conditions … shit healthcare, inequality in education and a racist attitude toward multi-culturalism … retirement to a world of poverty and lack of decent care … a coterie of gangster LNP politicians who if they cannot steal the nations treasures to add to their already bulging property portfolios, they then flog it off at fire-sale prices to their mates and have sent everything of quality off-shore including our good name and honour … and there’s no point asking that old chestnut; “what have we got to lose,” because we have already lost it!

What would be lost for Australians to hitch their wagon to the One Belt – One Road Initiative? We see and hear the agricultural sector bitterly complaining of a lack of workers, surely if there was a wider market ready to pick up our produce, good wages and conditions could be paid to lure workers to their farms … if there was a greater population calling out for quality produce, then all the better for pricing and maintaining healthy agriculture practices? … If there was a wider market for the shipping of goods, then there would surely be space for quality manufacturing and value-adding to the products we make?

Someone tell me the downside? … and if we continue to clamour that Australia is a “market driven” economy that runs on the entrepreneurial inventiveness of its best and brightest, then surely the chance to join in one of the most imaginative enterprises of this twenty first century has to be a once in a lifetime opportunity!

I’m in! … Are you?

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The Making and Marring of a Baby-Boomer

This collection of stories and cameos (on my blog site) reflects a time and place where there was a ‘coming of age’ for many of us Baby-Boomers… It was an age of great social and political change… change that shaped the future for many of us and cemented an attitude toward life that has, if not lingered, then has burned a period of cavalier free-wheeling memories into our mind.

Mick… A character study

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can compress the whole spectrum of human emotions re. disgust, despair, weariness etc. into a short, sharp comment. “Jesus wept!” Bubblehead passed his hand wearily over his eyes. Mick had just that minute walked through the bar-room doors. It had been nearly one year since Mick… Continue reading

Mrs. Hancock

It’s funny, you know… the image of adults one has as a child, compared to the actual reality known by the adults of the time around you. Mrs. Hancock used to cut our hair when we were children… the four of us; from the oldest brother (about 10 yrs), down incl’ to my sister… Continue reading

Mrs. Fookes and The Marino Fish Shop

Let me tell you the story of another fish and chip shop owner. A woman too… not arrogant, nor opinionated or accusative… Oh, she was not a quiet retiring type. She had the voice and stride like a sergeant major… she would call for her child and he would hear her loud and clear half a mile away!… and… Continue reading

Kids, Cultural Differences and Willy Wilson’s Ferrets

When one reflects on some of those past acts of terrorism it seems the culprits of a certain “terrorism raid” were teens from 14yrs… backed by “adults”… Jeesus… how frightening!.. it would have scared the bejeesus out of us as kids, so when my big brother, with the help of his ‘Junior Chemistry Set’ purchased by the adults… Continue reading

“Static Electricity”

I hope I have not given the impression that the only intellectual activity in the front bar of the Seacliff Hotel was “bending the elbow”… and getting inebriated?… I would like to assert that, like many front bars dotted about this great country, a good deal of instructive and philosophical comment was conducted on any given night… Continue reading

Glen and Mrs. Wright

Did I ever tell you about Mrs. Wright and Glenn?… no?… Well, they were two “locals” down at the Seacliff Hotel… back in the old days, some of the last of that “war generation” that were retired or on the point of when we younger folk came along and taught them how to drink! Mrs. Wright was a… Continue reading


“Sos.” You had to feel for Sos… He was one of those people raised in an institution from a very young child… ”Minda Home”… that what it was called once, but the name was changed to ‘Minda Incorporated”… there was a personal slur in this state by using that original name… ie; to call someone a ”minda” was to imply… Continue reading


Getting back to that “Last Supper” thingo… you notice (as have many others) one of the “Apostles” looks remarkably like a woman… well, that’s because she is!… It’s no secret that whenever a group of “alpha-males” gather, there is always one token female allowed into the group. She is there as the “straight- man” for their confabulations… Continue reading

Jasper / The Tank Sisters

Jasper was a “Balt’ ”… ie; he was of those states cantered around the Baltic Sea… perhaps he could have been Estonian… he was a tall ponderous sort of chap… with a long serious gaze, with one of those what are called “lantern jawed” faces. He always spoke in a slow, carefully chosen word way… I don’t wonder many… Continue reading

Jim… A character study

A Sunday reflection… stories from a “wasted” decade. Henry Lawson once said the if you were drunk more than twice a week, you were never sober… using that as a premise, I can confidentially state that many of us boomers in the seventies were rarely sober! The story goes that Jim, on visiting the dentist to… Continue reading


Toothless wasn’t really toothless… it’s just that she had a plate that filled the gap of three missing front teeth, that she would click and clack and sometimes push out with her tongue… an unfortunate habit that gained her the nickname of “Toothless”. She was ahead of her time for those days, as she didn’t carry… Continue reading


Steve. He was a study in tragedy… because of what he had become from what he once was. In the early days, you’d see Steve sitting in a tatty, stuffed lounge chair in one of the many dives and squats he frequented down “The Bay” (Glenelg), his acoustic guitar cradled in his lap, a… Continue reading

Billy Guy

Billy Guy wasn’t so much a mystery as an enigma… and that only because he spoke with such a thick Scottish accent that nobody could understand a word he said. Mark could claim that he knew him best, having spent a whole evening drinking with him, conversing with him while both were in an inebriated state… but… Continue reading

Erroll’s Prawn Night

The “Pub Gathering” was interesting, if for all the other things, the Hotel where it was held. I have “history” with that establishment… lesser so than my old “alma puttana”; The Seacliff Hotel… it was there that I forged an alliance (however accidental) with Beelzebub!… ahh!… the “demon drink” did for all us youth in that den… Continue reading

Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell shared the family home with his two sisters after the parents passed away… none of them ever married. Not that there were ever any suggestion of dubious behaviour amongst them one way or the other, it’s just that they never married… though I was told by a person who knew him, years later that “Joking Jack”… Continue reading

To The Lighthouse

“One must forgive the young their foolishness, for without them, there would not seem so much wisdom in old age.”… Socrates. Ah!… Friday nights, didn’t we look forward to them. But we were young and carefree in those days. A group of us young bucks would meet after work at the Seacliff Hotel on Fridays and imbibe… Continue reading

End of stories.

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A Lack of Conviction or a Lack of Confidence?

Is it a lack of conviction toward an ideology of the Left, a lack of confidence that the Left can lead them to personal prosperity, or a lack of corporate memory of how the Right-wing has damaged the working people of this nation that has created this pot-pourri of political confusion?

And if there is anything the Right of politics thrives on, it is confusion within the voting public … because when there is doubt, a promise of financial security via pork-barrelling is “votes-in-the-booth” for the demagogues … and given that it is a dead-weight on the decency of a party with good intent that they cannot use the same machinations and malevolence of a cruel party to try and convince the voter in a now corrupted “democracy”, they are on the back-foot from the start.

Then we have the “swingers” in the party … or the base … chockers to the gills with enough social media links up their sleeve to gaslight a whole suburb with their “knowledge and opinions”. Unfortunately, as many of us have witnessed with our own now grown gen X or Y children, there seems to be a lack of solid anchoring to any ideology other than that which is delivered down a smartphone with 4 or 5G multi-megabyte speed from their peers or some of the most dubious sources on the net…and we see yet again that as in the old adage of; ”If it is reported in the newspapers” … then it must be true …

But hey, this is where a lack of corporate memory comes into the game … In an age where the reading of deep-thinking tomes of philosophy, history or satirical literature is a thing of the past as far as this next generation goes, lessons of the past, let alone advice most salubrious for the future is scorned for the incessant rush of “YouTube Instant Enlightenment” … Heaven knows how many “gosh!” moments I have had to listen to from people enlightening me with such profound newly learned knowledge …

I didn’t know I didn’t know so much!

And that takes us to the inevitable next phase of this post-modern (yes … sigh … it is still among us) outcome of spoon-fed dis-information … the lack of confidence of a rising generation to make decisions based on their own evolved knowledge and experience.

How can we expect a person raised upon uncertainty or distrust in culture, ideology, education and work to have the confidence to strike out without fear or favour. A whole generation … NO, wait … several generations … thrown into a mix of massive debt before diploma, no certainty of employment after graduation, be it in many spheres of training or tertiary education, and then only casual or crude short-term contracts and perhaps only a fall-back position of chance and circumstance in the notorious “gig-economy” of Uber or such-like … a ghastly outlook.

We recently had to go to the Telstra Store in the capital city to get them to validate our ownership of an ipad that had locked itself over password difficulties … we were told to go wait in the corner like shunned lepers while a bevy of hipsters worried over the legitimacy of ownership … It soon became clear from snippets of overheard conversation and grave looks in our direction that these youngsters couldn’t individually come to a decision without the whole group agreeing that those two obviously aged pensioners were perhaps part of a black-market gang trading in stolen iPads! … this little “jury of doubt” would have passed my fatalistic acceptance of the trials of modern technology but for another one-on-three feisty complaint another aged pensioner was having with Telstra staff over his old flip-top mobile phone, the staffers telling the old chap that he ought to upgrade to a later “smartphone” to get the service he now complains that is lacking …

“Smartphone!” … he loudly exclaimed. “The phone may be smart, but I have doubts that those who run it are!” … and he stormed off leaving the youngsters giggling and smirking … gone to us of a certain generation is the old Telstra … as reliable as the “On the stroke, the time will be … “ Man … and there we see not so much a gap between the generations, but more a gaping abyss of distrust and deception … a rising generation that leans more and more on fed dubious dis-information and jargon of a rhetoric complexity that both reassures and appeals to the demand of instant solution … the type of solution that pork-barrelling of various methodologies can assuage … the sort of thing we have seen the current collision of clowns in gov’t are brilliant at.

So there we have it … a combination in my opinion of a lack of conviction toward identity ideology, a lack of “follow-your-instinct” confidence in one’s own self and confirmed with a sadly lacking corporate memory of historical precedence to give solid grounding to one’s political stance …

Whether an attractive by its brutality swing to the far right, or a fright by the brutality swing to radical left will win the day and the vote, it all seems up in the air at the moment … one thing is for certain is that anyone with demagogue rhetoric will be out there swinging their shlock to create more doubt and confusion and if there is one thing Right-wing politics thrives upon, it is doubt and confusion in the electorate … grist for their mills and no mistake.

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The Philosophy of STOP!

We’ve all had those times in our travels through life, when we’re on a roll and there seems to be no stopping us … perhaps it’s a winning streak at punting on the horses … I heard of one chap went years on such a winning streak … till it suddenly crashed and he just couldn’t believe it would end, so he kept going and going, losing and losing till he was back where he started …

Perhaps it is something more simple, where as a young high-flying, good looking, partying person, you have the option of dating more than one or even two people at once … and you start to believe you’re almost movie-star material … until a chance meeting between one or the other persons in your dating life and then …

Yes, you get the drift … we’ve all been there one way or another … but the curious thing is not being able to read the signs that it is all getting way out of control and the best solution would be to pause right there in your actions and … STOP! … STOP right here, right now … don’t go a step further, gather those thoughts together, sit down and work it through to where the current line of action will take you.

When we look at the actions or policies of, particularly, conservative governments in Australia, we see a momentum of hubris that builds from the first days of coming to office, where there is a surge of enthusiasm to purge uncontrollably those policies of the Labor govt’ to the point of breaking every election promise, every reassurance of trust and integrity, until they move on to the inevitable blunders and corruption … a seemingly endless caravanserai of plunder and rapine of social and economic essentials.

With the business community also, riding on the coat-tails of such a govt’, CEOs mindlessly granting multi-million dollar bonuses to themselves and their favourites until the companies they lead and rely upon for their living standard begin to totter and collapse under such insatiable greed … ”When first the tottering house begins to sink, thither goes all the weight by an instinct” … Even private citizens, investing their retirement superannuation in property to rent or speculate on or negative gear in the search for ever more wealth … and of course, those famous “Franking Credits” cabal of parasites again investing their retirement monies in stocks and shares know no limit to their slavish hunger for more and more! … until suddenly they discover their financial adviser or bank has been leading them down the garden path and they smack themselves on the forehead for not seeing the obvious … they should have done a STOP! … and considered their options … but too late.

No … we have to incorporate the philosophy of STOP! Into our culture, into our creed and into our deepest psyche to pull us up BEFORE stepping into the abyss. But how do we know just when the fall is coming so to be warned?

I’ll tell you …

It’s that moment when you are about to commit to action a deed or statement and you are in such a euphoric / confident state of mind that you think; “No-one will notice” … or “This won’t affect anything or anyone” … or; “This’ll be funny” and you blurt something out and it all goes to shit in an uncontrollable way in an instant. I call such moments “ Self incontrovertible blunder” … a thing coming from your own “left-field” and yourself watching / listening to yourself saying / doing a thing whilst simultaneously thinking; “what the hell am I doing?!” … there is that split-second moment in the hiatus between the actual action and the framing of what you are going to do where your logic/reasoning capability says … or OUGHT TO SAY … STOP! … just fucking STOP! … don’t be so stupid! … and after all, stopping demands no effort, indeed, it could be described as “inaction”.

We’ve done this as well … and congratulated ourselves later in dodging a bullet for the deed. We have to be able to recognise that split-second moment and be able to mentally put on the brakes to STOP! I would suggest practicing by creating mock scenarios and recognising the moment when STOP is needed. There are also opportunities on social media platforms like Twitter etc. where you can bait a conversation to a point where it is getting out of hand and then execute a STOP moment by pulling up and giving ground to the person/s you were baiting … such an exercise is easy to set up and to wind down so that you do not come under suspicion of trolling and perhaps your sudden admission of compliancy would be seen as altruistic and you get complimented for a conciliatory action … but such an exercise would be more recommended for the experienced “player” … and I’ll take my own advice here and STOP! Before I go too far ..

The recent shenanigans in America is a perfect example where the Philosophy of STOP! Ought to have been enacted … perhaps as far back as 2016 when Trump could not help himself as he played to his own ego and plunged into the vortex of national destruction. Here in Oz, we can now witness a similar scenario in regards to a leader who has neither ability to fore-see, nor capability to fore-bear catastrophe or corruption and as far as one can see, no time soon will his mental faculty nor his political advisors put a brake on the runaway controversy of reckless governance and say STOP! … just bloody well STOP! … and let the nation and it’s battle-weary citizens take a breather and stop the forever grinding machine.

Yes, there is need in an age of increasing “just in time” economics for this new philosophy … never before have we had need to STOP! And reconsider our work opportunities, our social positions and our relationships in a time of epidemic and lockdown.

We must embrace this Philosophy of STOP!

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On Empathy, Sympathy and our Pets

In these days of the news of so much brutality in many places in the world, of domestic violence, military massacres or social collapse in far away places or here in our own backyard, it may appear self-indulgent and facile to shed a tear or two for the loss of a domestic pet when we can but turn our gaze away from the hurt of humanity. An indulgence of sympathy some would say.

But there is the thing about a knowledge of love and affection. I believe we as humans are born with the innocence of love already in our self, while affection is a thing that can grow in our hearts … There is the interpretation that affection can be a stepping stone toward love … which is true, I’d say, but love is not a learned thing but a indelible emotion of the human spirit … to be capable of love is to be human.

The same with empathy and sympathy … With all those suffering peoples we see every day on the news, there is both empathy and sympathy … I would say that the combination of those emotions as between the separation of those emotions is the major difference between the Right and the Left persuasions of societies:

“To sum up the differences between the most commonly used meanings of these two terms: sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.”

I recently finished a project I have been working on in fits and starts for many a year … the result gives little evidence of that time … and perhaps the quality of the finished product may be viewed as a wasted effort on my part! … But it had to be written … and some of you have read it to which I am very grateful … after all, it was directed to be read.

It is the story of the Italians interned in the 2nd World War to cut and burn mallee here near the Murray River … and the “play” … which I called a “reading opera” … ”A Ukulele Opera” describes a microcosm of their situation in those camps … The “opera” starts and finishes with a character named “Gemano” who is lamenting for his fiancé who he left behind in Italy when he came to Australia (with my father) to start a new life and then to go back and marry the lady and bring her to Oz to start a family … It was a true event … But the war broke out and he heard nothing of her … whether she be alive or, like so many millions more … dead … what were the odds? … Yet he held out with a belief and conviction that she lives … for five years! … five years of despair and internment … and then came the letter of joy …

In these days of “instant gratification”, how many can hold onto a desire or a commitment a person to love or hold affection with for more than a “clickbait” moment? … We seem to live in a time more of “want” than desire …

Which brings us to the love of our pets and the loss felt at their parting. With the death of a pet, in most cases we are there at the dying, we touch the body and witness the fading life and say a gentle goodbye with the stroke of the fur … or a gentle twist of the pet’s ear or some other favourite touch or word … I would think, in that moment of death, we are more in sympathy to that loss of mute, innocent love with the parting than with the empathy of the loved one. But once we are parted from that unconditional continuity of mutual company and aware of that loss of mutual confederacy between two close companions … I believe we then feel the sympathy of camaraderie so much that the weld of empathy to sympathy can become seamless, a stepping stone from affection to love is complete and that knowledge learned through the companionship of our love toward a pet takes over as instinctive behaviour into our adult relationships between fellow citizens, is what guides decent and civilized attitudes toward our fellow humans no matter what their circumstances. And it is fairly said that one can judge a person by their treatment of their pets or animals. It is a pity our leadership cannot seem to travel far enough down this route to become civilized barbarians!

It has to be fair to ask: Where would we be without our precious pets?

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The Eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel

An incident borne out of an innocent remark can inflame old resentments among a confined people. ‘Folk will have their ways’, goes the old saying. Such was the occasion of the spread of the accusation in the little parish of Saint Paul’s in our little Mallee town of Sandleton a long while ago and it became for a time the mainstay of undertone gossip did the eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel.

I have to say that the suspicion of Hildegarde Hempel’s eroticism did not become talked about until after her passing … indeed, it was a slip of the tongue of Pastor Noske at Hilda’s funeral that started the chatter … the slip came at the mention of a collection of Spanish veils, mantillas and combs, that Hilda had proudly collected over the years and would put out on display at times of community shows or church fundraising events.

Having survived her husband by more than a decade, Hildegarde Hempel devoted her time to church events and fundraising. Being childless, she was capable of devoting many hours of volunteering to that end … and her tireless activities were held in high esteem by the Pastor of that church … even if she did have a certain wearing effect upon those more taken up with family life and farm than she herself .. some even found her requests upon their valued spare time a little tiresome and wished she had found another husband to occupy herself with … But it was also with a certain sadness and shock that her death by heart attack was announced one day around the gossip pools of the small town.

It was in the eulogy that Pastor Noske was waxing lyrical about Hilda’s achievements and works for the church community that the mention of her being proud of her collection of Spanish veils and the combs that went with the veils that the slip of the tongue was made …

“Hilda can also be remembered by us all with her generosity at fund raising, where she would proudly put on display her collection of seven Spanish veils and combs … Hilda was very proud of her veils … and it has to be said the she had a taste for the erotic … pardon … the exotic … ” and the Pastor went on to further deliver his panegyric … but it was too late … the voicing of the word “erotic” just after the mention of the seven veils conjured up in more than one mind of those whose bible was closely studied in prayer and Bible classes as a testament of blind faith, the story of John the Baptist, King Herod and Salome’s dance of the seven veils … a most lustful evocation mistakenly, but believed to derive from their most holy book … and no matter the trying, the image of Hildegarde Hempel doing the dance of the seven veils could not be removed from the thoughts of many of the congregation.

So the idle chatter began among the hatted and gloved men and ladies of the congregation outside St. Pauls church on that Sunday morning .. their heads all leaning in to hear while the ladies taffeta skirts and soft silken scarves floated on the rising air of the spring day, their corsages of new blooms dancing with each excited opinion …

“A slip of the tongue is no fault of the mind” … Silvie Tempke judiciously remarked .. ”none the less, you have to be wondering just where pastor’s mind was wandering to.” Other members of that little gathering pinched their lips and nodded their heads in cautious agreement.

And it wasn’t long before the memory of certain moments concerning Hilda were recalled with a leaning toward the possibility of salacious intent. And one has to keep in mind that those veils of Hilda’s were not just any old veils, but rather exquisite pieces of the finest silken Spanish lace … seven mantillas of the finest quality with their accompanying combs … peinetas of finely carved ivory … a world of conjured images of dark-haired Spanish ladies dancing a lustful flamenco with swirling abandon … Whenever they were on display, many visitors to her stall couldn’t help but touch those finely carved combs or run the soft flowing silken veils over their hands … the electric sensation of the finely laced craftmanship sending a thrill through the skin …

There was that time at one of those shows where Hilda, in a moment of delightful abandon ala Isadora Duncan, upon a request did throw one of the veils across her body and do a pirouette with a snap of her fingers held high so that she made to be a Flamenco dancer in an exotic pose … a picture of just this moment was taken by the enthusiastic Norman Ziedel with his “Kodak Brownie” camera that was brought out of his archives and passed around, now that there was an interest in more than just the everyday display of veils … and as is sometimes the unfortunate situation with such candid snaps, they can capture one in a most undignifying pose or facial expression … and in this photo too, was Hilda caught expressing a most vampish look in her eyes coupled with an alluring twist of her body … while suitable for that particular moment as wanting to demonstrate the voluptuousness of the pose, the ramifications of that picture spread even more the luridness of the rumours.

Another, a drinking mate of Hilda’s long deceased husband; Herbert Hempel, recalled being told by Herbert, with accompanying wink of confederacy, that Hilda was an excellent dancer in her day … but that “day” being so long ago, none could recall. And that left Hildegarde Hempel out on a limb with none to defend her honour or reputation … such is the form of small town gossip that relies on a healthy diet of rumour, envy and schadenfreude to thrive.

Layered on top of the salacious rumours now circulating among the congregation, was the curious fact that Hilda only had those seven veils … and a niggling reference to the Bible story of John the Baptist, King Herod and Salome dancing the “dance of the seven veils” was resurrected time and again and washed the whole episode with fantastic colours and intense gossip … THEN, when it was heard that Hilda had bequeathed her collection of Spanish veils and combs to the church fete committee under the care of Pastor Noske … well … didn’t the tongues really start to wag!

Of course, Pastor Noske never heard any of the gossip or rumours surrounding Hildegarde Hempel and her collection of veils … indeed, he wasn’t even aware that he had started the whole thing off with his miss-reading of the word “exotic” for “erotic” in his eulogy, so was delighted to announce to the congregation one Sunday later that month of the fortunate and generous benevolence of Ms Hempel’s bequeath and those veils would be, as per usual, on display for public gaze the next month’s Strawberry Fete … a not too small rumbling of disquiet erupted from the pews of the church gathering … Pastor Noske took this as a murmur of approval and beamed a satisfied smile from the pulpit.

“I will ask Mrs. Appelt if she could arrange and attend to the display of those most exotic items on the day … ” the pastor continued innocently … There was again a frantic rumbling of turned bodies and all faces now fixed upon Mrs. Appelt in wide-eyed inquiry … Mrs. Appelt blushed and twisted her hands together in anxiety and blurted out ..

”Oh … oh really, Pastor, I don’t know … I don’t think … ” the congregation again turned as one to look to the Pastor …

“No, no … I can assure you, Mrs. Appelt, we have the greatest confidence in your capability to “man” the stall … after all, I believe YOU were one of the greatest admirers of Hildegarde’s collection.” The congregation instantly as one spun to gaze upon the hapless and now shocked Mrs. Appelt.

“Oh but Pastor … only in admiration of the craftmanship … I can assure you!” … she protested loudly and she gazed appealingly to all around her.

But in the end, it all turned out for the best, as the hint of eroticism now attached to those exquisite veils drew more visitors to the stall and by consequence, the sale of raffle-tickets from that one stall outsold more than several other stalls combined … and such an inquisitive crowd as gathered at Mrs. Appelt’s stall brought a cheerful smile to the cheeks of Pastor Noske as he did his rounds.

“Quite the interest in the veils today, Mrs. Appelt?” the Pastor enquired.

“Yes … it seems there has been an upshot of interest in them this year … and several strangers have commented on how they certainly DO have an erotic appeal.”

Pastor Noske blinked and squinted at the mention of “erotic” … and he looked deeply at Mrs. Appelt.

“I’m sorry … did you say ‘erotic’? … I … I don’t understand … ,” and he stood there, hands clasped behind his back bending toward Mrs. Appelt with his right ear listening ..

“Yes … erotic, Pastor” … and Mrs Appelt pointed to a small hand written sign that said: “Erotic Spanish silk veils and peinetas, worn by Spanish women when dancing to attract their menfolk” …

Pastor Noske immediately stiffened in shock and surprise, his hands raised up in front of him …

“Oh good heavens, NO! … Mrs. Appelt … not erotic … but exotic! .. EXOTIC, Mrs. Appelt! … good heavens … no!” … and he snatched the sign away … and it has to be noted that on replacing the sign with more subdued though accurate wording, the attendance at the stall soon dropped away … but that did not stop any future reference to those veils among the small congregation as being of the collection of the eroticism of Hildegarde Hempel.

Folk will have their ways …

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Letters from the dead

“I was abandoned on the side of a hill as a baby.”

I suppose I had a kind of reflective, forlorn sound or tone in my voice when I told Jacqui that, as she stopped doing what she was doing, let her hands drop to her side and sympathetically gazed at me …

“Oh … that’s really sad … Were you left there by your parents because you were seen as a weak child and they were testing if you could survive a night in the open fields … like the ancient Pagans would do to a crippled baby?”

“No! … no!” … I was shocked at her suggestion … though I thought I detected an edge of cynical doubt in her voice … “They were just out on a picnic by the Onkaparinga River and forgot about me when they left to go! … it wasn’t for long … they stopped the car and rushed back! … ”

Jacqui expressed a cynical snort and went back to her work with, I now noticed, an agitated manner … a little annoyed that she had expressed a modicum of unwarranted kindness toward me.

We were sorting through a tippled out box of correspondence to my mother … My mother had passed away six months or so before after a long illness and I was given a big box of these things to sort through and separate. I finally got around to it one Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t long before some of the personal letters from aunts or distant relatives caught my eye like seeing familiar people go about their everyday lives without them noticing you … a voyeur on domesticity.

“Oh … this ones from ‘Aunt Daphne’ … in England,” I announced. Jacqui cocked a quizzical eye at me. “She’s a half-sister of my grandmother … from her father’s second marriage … after his first wife died … a bit of a scandal really … she … the new wife .. was his secretary and many years younger than he,” I enlightened … “Daphne’s long dead now, like most of these people here, I imagine .” I looked down at the spread of letters on the carpet.

I started reading from the letter:

“Dear Tess.” Most of them called my mother ; ‘Tess’ … “Dear Tess … So nice to get your long letter, it is always grand to hear from your distant home. Over here, England is having one of its worst droughts on record now … I suppose those sorts of things are not that unusual out there in Australia … but it makes so much more work to keep the garden going … we are only permitted to use the hose at certain times of the day. I am enclosing post-cards and pictures which are always nice to have … ”

They were great on post-cards in those days … I offered as an explanation … you could take a family photo and get it turned into a post-card … Here she says she got all the snaps of her mother’s when she died and the father came to live with her, Daphne … ” … otherwise I would never had got a thing as he hates me … ” Crikey! … she continues … ” … in fact, he hates all children and never wanted any more and it was only that my mother threatened to leave him that they had me! … ” sounds like he was a terrible bloke … I folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. I read the post date on the front …

“That was from nineteen seventy five … that’s a long time ago … she’d be long gone by now.”

“How can a parent hate their child?” … Jaq’s reflected … ” … throttle the little blighters sometimes … certainly … but to actually, physically hate them?” She shook her head not wanting (nor getting) an answer … She sat back up straight as she read another letter … and then blew out a push of air in disbelief …

“Flamin’ ‘ell! … and I say THAT in shock and surprise … cop a squizz at this letter!” … she pushed my grabbing hand away and proceeded to read from it …

“Dear Mr. Howes … Please accept my deepest sympathy in the sad loss of your dear wife and mother. I was shocked and saddened at her sudden passing, she was a lovely mother devoted to her family and home AND ABOVE ALL (her bold underlining) to her church and teachings. She was a DEVOUT CATHOLIC … ” … Wow! … this is really full on Jesus stuff! … Who is it from and to?“

“Giz a look” I took the letter … “Oh … it’s to my grandfather after gran’ died … back in the eighties … I can’t quite make out the surname … but it’s Ellen S … something … must be one of gran’s fellow parishioners she chummed up with while at church … ” … I gave the letter back to Jacqui and she read some more emphasising the underlined words …

“ … she will REST IN PEACE with her loved ones to AWAIT the SECOND COMING of our BLESSED LORD on the RESURRECTION DAY … ” Christ! … the whole letter’s full of it! “… in the BEAUTIFUL COURTS OF HEAVEN, with our Lord and Saviour. He died for us ALL and was hung on a CRUEL CROSS and rose again so that all who believe in HIM will inherit ETERNAL LIFE with HIM in HEAVEN and so what a joy to LOOK FORWARD TO … “ … oh that’s enough! … I can’t stand it anymore! “ and Jaq’s thrust the letter back into the envelope.

“I don’t know why my mother ended up with that letter, seeing how it was addressed to my grandfather … except that I think he couldn’t read or write very well … or couldn’t be bothered … like many Methodists, religion wasn’t a big thing with him … I remember them having a huge blue one night back when they lived with us for a while … grandpa had wrenched a bottle of ink from gran’ and they wrestled toward the back door and grandpa broke free and hurled the bottle of ink into the night toward the chook yards, while crying out: “ You and your bloody letters … ”

Speaking of the devil, I picked up one envelope which had a script in my grandmother’s obvious precise hand-writing : “Read then BURN!” … I giggled aloud at that instruction as I read it to Jacqui … ”It’s a letter from Aunt Harriet, Uncle Kevin’s wife … Gran despised her … said she was like a wrung-out dish cloth … but really gran hated her because she took her son away from her ambitions to see him enter the presbytery as a priest … she never forgave either of them for that and cut uncle Kev’ from her will … not even a mention of his name … pretty vicious.”

“Well, no-one knows how to hate like a good Catholic, I always say … ” and Jacqui smiled her cat smile … Her family were from Methodist stock.

“I think it would be telling how much one is respected by the words carved onto one’s tombstone when you die … I recall my grandmother getting more consideration than my grandfather by their children … probably because, in truth, he was a narcissic sort of chap in life … and they paid him back in death. I can recall that when my grandmother died first, on her tombstone there was her name, place and country of birth, children’s names and a short reverence for the Lord and Saviour and that eternal life thingy … but then when granddad passed away a few years later, and was buried on top of her in the same grave (some said it was a terrible burden that having “carried him” all their married life, she now would have to support him into eternity), they simply inscribed on the same headstone under her testimony:

“Here lies John Howes-loved husband of the above” … and that was it … brilliant , eh?”

Then I pulled a type-written letter from the scattered lot … I unfolded it and perused the contents:

“Oh, this is an interesting one,” I said. “It’s a form-letter from one of the daughters of this old lady my mother did house-cleaning for … It’s notifying every one of the old lady’s death; ‘Dear friends of Helga Rosen’ … and it gives details of the last days of the old lady’s illness, where she died and when she died … of course, my mother knew all about it, as it was she who called the ambulance … ”

“Oh … and was the woman a very wealthy lady?” Jacqui asked.

“Well, they weren’t extremely wealthy, but they were comfortably retired … secure middle-class, I would say … My mother worked for her for over twenty-five years … became her confident and close companion … in a mistress – servant kind of way.”

“What … close companion between a middle-class woman and her house-cleaner? … How would you know that? … Were you there?”

I was a bit put out by Jacqui’s doubting tone, seeing as how I was also employed by some of those customers of my mother’s when they needed a bit of maintenance done about the yard or house … I was a handy sort of young fellow when it was needed …

“So how would I know of the relationship between middle-class women and their poorer cleaners? … I know because my mother was one of those poorer cleaners … for most of her working life … She used to take me with her when I was a child … and she continued way past the time I was a young man, when she then used to take my younger siblings with her … She would tell me the everyday events in the lives of her “Ladies” .. as she used to call them … though she was not a gossip and the women would confide in her to an almost embarrassing depth that sometimes shocked her.

Many of these Ladies were from the professional class that needed a cleaner to keep on top of the housework that their two-bit husbands didn’t do … lazzeroni! … I remember many tales she later related to me when I would visit her as she got older …

I remember her telling me that one wealthy woman from an elite address confessed to her that she made it a point to NEVER pay any account until she had got the third threatening letter just in case the company wrote the bill off as a lost cause …

But most of all, I remember this one here she was devoted to … My mother even near retirement age herself, would walk the two kilometres to the woman’s place on a Monday evening to put her rubbish bin out for the Tuesday pick-up … at no cost … just because she was such a long term client … twenty-five years in fact … and in all that time, I can only recall my mother telling me once in surprise that:

“Oh … I was given an extra dollar for my cleaning at Mrs. Rosen’s on Friday … she pressed it into my hand and whispered (though there is never anyone there but her and myself) that in future I can look forward to that little bit extra … and she patted my hand … ”

But she was devoted to that old Mrs. Rosen, a retired professional who “had rooms” somewhere in the city … The husband was a university professor in some faculty … I did know once, but I have forgotten … Anyway, after he died, my mother became almost, from what I could gather, the closest companion of that old Lady … They had a couple of children, also now professional people, but they were never around much .. shades of that Harry Chapin song … what was it? Oh yes!: “Cats in the Cradle.”

As a matter of fact, my mother saved her life a couple of times by climbing through the small (my mother was always a slight build) bathroom window to assist the woman who had collapsed on the floor ..

One time, however, when my mother was not there, the woman had a fall and was not found for several days until my mother came to clean her house … She was in critical care in hospital in a bad way … My mother went to visit her a couple of days later and though Mrs. Rosen had her eyes shut, my mother told me she was sure she was aware …

“I sat next to her,” she told me “… and said hello and told her I had cleaned the house and attended to the cat and taken out the rubbish bin and whatever … I knew she would have wanted that … and she reached for and held my hand … I could feel she hadn’t long to live and she held my hand so tight … even for the frail little thing she now was. She held my hand so tight … so that when the nurse came in to check on her she saw she had my hand and asked me in a whisper if I was her daughter … it seems that I was her first and only visitor, and her children had not been … and I had to say that no … (and my mother shrugged her shoulders and grimaced somewhat at the thought of the moment) I was her house cleaner … ”

So yes … Mrs. Rosen did die and after the funeral and all was settled, the children gave my mother five hundred dollars in recognition of her services for twenty five years … my mother was delightfully surprised.“

Jacqui sat up straight on her tucked-in legs and frowned:

“They’re such a sad lot of letters in the main … all about loss and scandal or missing from action fathers and husbands … isn’t there any cheerful ones we can read?”

I had just that moment happened upon three envelopes bundled together with a rubber-band around them and my mother’s neat hand stating: “Granny Kreiger” on them … I opened one as Jacqui was complaining … I read it and had to laugh ..

“Something funny at last!?” Jacqui lent in to me.

“Yes … well, funny in its telling … but just a general whinge from old Granny Krieger when she was in the local hospital getting treated for a re-set broken arm … Here, listen to this bit:” Jacqui leaned over my arm and nestled into my neck and read silently as I read aloud

“ … my arm has not improved much and even after I go to the Fizzo Ferapy treatment it is not better the doctor that has treated me for my arm should go jump in the lake old doctor Drever from Calvery sent me back to this jolly place before I was finished treatment down there now it is nearly my birthday and I’m still stuck in this bloomen place. Well, dear, I have the wireless on an while I am waiting for Hilda I just heard the Electric and Postal strike is over thank heavens for that wonder what next will be strike all they think about now is bloomen strikes and living off government relief a useless lot of robbery going on all over the places like when old man Ziedel got broken in an had Anteek Furnicture stolen … ” … Oh dear … that English really was a trial to those old generations of pioneers … no punctuation or anything … it was no wonder they had a twisted outlook on the world around them … but ah well at least their personality shines through … I suppose they managed”

I put the letter back in its envelope and consigned it to the “miscellaneous” box … and I had to agree with Jacqui that all these letters were so old now, written between people who were even then quite aged, my mother being one of the younger ones and now she too had passed away at the ripe old age of eighty six years … so all these people were gone too … and after all … who writes real letters anymore, it’s all Skype or email or whatever.

“Have you noticed that it is mostly women who write these letters … not men … perhaps it is worth a reflection that while men write the official histories of a people, it is really women who write the deeper stories of those people. They are like echos from years ago … the remaining cries of their spirit departing and when I have their letters all sorted and packed away, they will be finally laid to rest I suppose … forgotten … perhaps I should just throw them all back in one big box together and mix them up … all the pages loose and mixed together and then they could “talk” to each other again and again forever and ever … like letters from the dead to the dead … ”

“C’mon,” I said wearily, “time for some afternoon tea.”

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Decum Fabulum : Ten Stories, A Candid Conversation

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number six:

A Candid Conversation

… And the afternoon sun illuminated the panorama with dazzling glare so that the sea, with its distant choppy water flashed a glitter reflected off the waves. There were trees out the front of the hotel over the road, big trees, shrubs and bushes, the tops of the tall trees hidden from view by the edge of the roof from the fascia up with leaves hung in long hanging fronds down the trunk and out a little, dangling heavy like those big gum leaves do, the palm trees swirled a little with the slight breeze that had whipped up from the north across the backwater swamp.

The beach sand a muddy colour with the tide right out and a couple of kids throwing handfuls of the stuff at each other down by the creek, laughing and running away with a quick glance over the shoulder at his chaser, their laughter a stabbing staccato, rattling across in the heat from a distance.

Two of the few “long-grassmen” that lived down by the make-shift shelters next to the beach crossed the road, their hair lank and greasy, the same could be said for their shreds of clothing.

“You could be worse you know,” the friend said, “You could end up like those.”

“At the way I’m going I’ll be worse than those,” the man answered. He picked up his beer and had a sip. They sat quietly for a while, and one fiddled with his beer glass, the kids swimming now down across the creek, splashing and ducking each other, childish squeals between the silences of the hubbub of the hotel bar behind them.

“Have you told her then?” the friend asked.

“No, I’ve been sort of putting it off on the chance of an improvement.” He winced and sipped.

“That won’t help you know,” the friend motioned to the beer.

“I’ve got to.”

“Why? It would be better to leave it alone … well … at least until they finish the treatment?”

“I know, I know … but if I don’t get sozzled these nights, I’ll have no excuse for not doing it.”

“Oh come on, she must think there’s something wrong if you come home drunk every night?”

“Yes, she thinks I’ve developed a drinking problem.”

His friend grunted. A waitress come to the table, picked up the empty glasses and wiped the table top down with a damp rag.

“And how are you gentlemen today?” she spoke as she wiped.

“Oh, very well thank you, Min, very well.”

“That’s the way to be,” and she smiled a little smile .,. ”No good being crook in this sort of weather.” The men just grunted. The waitress went on to the next table.

“How are you boys today?” she repeated.

“Nice girl, Min, always friendly,” the friend remarked.

“I’m beginning to think no girls are nice.”

“You just picked the wrong one that night.”

“Yes, I should’ve left her well alone.”

A fisherman steered his dinghy up the small creek, water slipping off the bow and fanning out in ripples behind, the man standing erect in the boat with tiller in hand. He gave a little wave to the excited kids running along the bank. His progress tracked by flashes of boat and man between thick green bushes and trees, going to his moorings.

The man brought his fist down firmly but quietly on the table, his face twisted in bitter frustration.

“I don’t know, a man’s a fool.” … His friend was quiet.

He wiped his hand over his face, then dabbled his finger in the condensation made by the drink.

“I know I’ve been a fool, but then I wanted it, for some strange fucking reason I needed it more than ever that night, after all” (he did a quick movement with his finger in the liquid) … ”I’d just become a father then … and it had been so long … ” He had a quick draw at the beer as if to wash the weak excuse of words away.

“How in Heaven’s name do you put her off?”

“Well, it’s (let me see) about two months now since little Pauline arrived, and I’ve been saying that we ought to be careful cause it might not be best to start just yet, give it another coupla’ weeks. And then you know she’s not supposed to go back on the pill just yet, so I’ve used that as a backup. And now I’ve got on to this drinking thing.” Here he reflected a little. “Trouble is she’s starting to blame herself for my not being able to get it up. She thinks it was all those months of confinement that bought it round … Shit, shit, shit.”

“Why don’t you come right out and tell her?”

“No!” He looked shocked “Hell no! she’d leave me, by Christ, she’d leave me quick, it’s one thing we got, or HAD between us; trust … no she’d just give up and go.” He looked suspiciously at the friend. “You won’t tell anyone else about this will you? … You better not.”

The friend was shaking his head quickly …

“No, no … don’t you worry … boy, I wouldn’t tell anyone about that don’t you worry.”

They sat quiet again for a little. The friend stood up.

“Well … I gotta go.”

“Oh, well, I’ll see you later, I guess.”

“Yeah, listen … I hope this works out for you … ”

“Yeah, thanks.” The man smiled weakly. The other smiled back. He tried a joke.

“Just watch out all this pissing on doesn’t develop into a drinking problem.” They both chuckled a little and the friend walked away. The man finished his beer, walked over to the bar got another and went back to his table. He stretched his legs out in front and clenched his hands behind his head. He just stared out to sea.

“Damn that bitch,” he thought “and she looked so clean … that’s the trouble, who’d have thought that a quickie in the car-park could cause all this. Bugger it, I just hope those damn doctors can fix it soon as … ”

He sat there staring out to sea.

The kids had gone home. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees had come to life a little with the coolness of the evening, while the tide crept stealthily over the brown sand and up the running water of the creek, the big gums threw soft shadows crookedly over the bonnets of parked cars.

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A short biography of a working-class warrior.

Let me present to you an image of an aged man, rather heavy-set, sitting deep in a relaxed posture in a large, plump, rounded sofa purchased ‘unused’ from an eBay seller five years ago that was gifted to this same man sitting in it from his children on Father’s day. The sofa is large and the man is content. You can see he is content by the fact that he is looking plump and relaxed with a remote control for the CD player in one hand and a stubbie of West End Draught beer in the other … there is a smile on his lips not dissimilar to that which plays on the lips of the “Mona Lisa” painting currently held in The Louvre in Paris.

Mark Price is a contented man.

Wisdom, according to the ages is a thing learned not with education, but rather accrued through pragmatic experience. That experience can be one personally lived … the most instructive method … or one witnessed with the actions or situations enacted upon others. Mark was a witness and experiencer of both methods of instruction from a young age.

Mark Price was a learned man.

But Mark Price held no trade, no profession, no specialised employable skilled base or self-employment record at all. In this world of “market-based” consumerist demand, Mark Price was never ‘in demand’. Oh, yes … he worked … at menial labouring tasks, applied when requested or required to put shoulder to the wheel for family sustenance and need … but never was he recruited for any specialised skill or trade application. And that was precisely the way he wanted it, having learned by witness at a young age just what a consumerist society really wanted from those most willing to give their precious time of life to the wheels of industry … the consumerist society did not want your intelligence, your applied skills, your hunger for promotion or “recognition”, it wanted your blood! .. pure and simple, along with the many disposable items consumed by society, the ‘market society’ wanted to consume you … for body and soul has a value to be bought and sold.

Mark Price had learned this from a young age. In high school, he would see his teachers drive in everyday with their aged cars … step out in their workaday clothes … the same ones for quite a few days … holding that same brown-leather satchel … lock the car and if chance placed them near a favourite colleague, they would flirt whilst on their usual way to the staff-room. They did not see Mark, but he saw them … he did not make a habit of deliberately watching the teachers, workers on the trains or anyone else for that matter, they were just acting out their everyday roles and Mark saw them … and in seeing them and other people and family acting out their everyday roles, he began to recognise a pattern of social behaviour … a pattern of conversation … and a pattern, eventually, of a predicted ending.

Wisdom is a learned thing … and through his growing years, Mark was being pragmatically educated by the practicalities of his impoverished upbringing. Mark was learning.

He learned the meaning of “losing with grace” from his friend at school when the friend was chastised by the station master of Brighton railway station when the friend, who was captain of the school baseball team tried to re-position some of the hopelessly inept players in the team to different positions so as to improve their chances of winning at least one game … “You are the captain, not the coach .. and I will decide who plays where!” … his friend was scolded. “But we can’t win a game,” the friend complained. “It is not all about winning”, the station master lectured, “it is also about losing with grace … one must learn that when one loses, one should show dignity.” The collector of the Sunday Catholic mass plate collections informed Mark’s friend.

Mark saw examples of “dignity in losing” amongst his family and friends as he grew.

He saw the working men down at the Seacliff Hotel drink themselves drunk on a Friday night to alleviate the aches and pains of strained muscles and arthritic joints … he saw them make fools of themselves whilst in this drunken state … trying with their limited vocabulary to explain what was missing in their lives … when what was missing all the while was that love of self that had been beaten out of them with labouring or the war so many years before … He saw the dignity in losing on the bruised face of Ruth Holmstrom around the corner of his street, after being beaten once again by her drunken husband while herself also drunk. He saw the dignity in losing in the lonely eyes of Jack Mitchell who lived out his loneliness with his old spinster sisters, the three of them sharing the same family home they all grew up together in … He saw Jack slowly drink himself to tears down at the Seacliff Hotel, always dressed in a salesmen’s suit, and tie and polished shoes … the last vestige of his respectability … Oh yes, Mark learned from witnessing others the dignity in losing. He saw a friend’s father drunk on the train coming home after the day’s work at the building site, drop his ticket and the smirking porter give the workman surreptitiously, a nudge with his knee as he struggled in his fuzzled state to bend down to pick the ticket up, sending the old bricklayer sprawling onto the floor of the carriage in front of so many laughing passengers …

Mark Price saw the lifetime of honest work be debased in the dignity of losing.

Mark Price was learning that there was something remiss with the promise told him so many years before by his school teacher that hard work and an honest forbearance was what “got a man through life with success and happiness” … Mark was learning that there was a war going on between those who had and those who needed … it was very difficult to get what was needed from the hands of those who had. There was a lie being told that was never being voiced .. a lie that was being heard but never audible, printed but never read … there were those who would be warriors and those who would remain slaves.

Mark Price saw what slavery looked like … and he didn’t like the look of it.

Mark had by now reached an age where he developed a philosophy to guide his steps through this battlefield of demands upon his time and his own needs to survive without falling into slavery … His learned experiences and the witness of others attempts at suburban security has shown him that there being so many variables that await to ambush the best laid plans of mice and men that it was almost impossible for someone like himself, with absolutely no assets available and no working skills to sell to gain material possessions without resorting to thievery or skulduggery, but seeing those who had tried and failed through no real fault of their own taught him that in most cases of making a decision one way or another, the best thing one could do was to do nothing and await fate to direct his hand. This was the most wise and fortunate philosophy someone of his position in an uncaring society could attain. In a world where “doing something” was wasted value, Mark Price succeeded most well at doing as little as possible … so that having time to see opportunities arise while others were too busy ‘achieving’, he was able to place himself in the right place at the right time. Some would call it luck, but Mark knew that it was a strategy that allowed him to move about freely to pick up many rewards that a lack of time and availability denied to so many of his friends. Mark built a network of job-sources with foremen and hiring staff of different industries so that he could always find casual employment in a menial job with local councils or a building project … he never took a job that demanded higher responsibility … Mark had no interest in contributing to the good or welfare of a society that respected only profit and materialism … he only had interest in maintaining his and his own family’s needs, for the rest, they could go to hell!

Mark learned the price and value of many things … He knew what was most valuable to himself; Time … ”You can always make money but you cannot remake time.” He would say.

Fortune smiled upon Mark in the companionship of marriage. It favoured him that his future wife knew of his behaviours before she even started going out with him. Mandy frequented the Seacliff Hotel regularly and was able to notice Mark’s more exuberant behaviour … she didn’t mind his behaviour and she accepted his invitation to accompany him. Mark was wary of marriage … he had witnessed close friends, tradesmen in the building industry marry and build the family home … several family homes in fact, for disgruntled women … unhappy wives who resented even the name “wife”, who resented the idea of being a companion to a male … who resented having to defer to the husband to make, repair and structure a home for their mutual benefit. A society that profited from the separation of the sexes more than the unity of the sexes would promote dissension between men and women, even in the case where both parties were of the same working class, the same level of struggle, the same struggle to improve their and their children’s lives … anger, dissent, distrust … these were the tools of divide and rule in the world of middle-class profiteering … two adults needing double the housing, furniture, white-goods and cars made for a more profitable bottom-line … divide and rule it will be, even if both parents be impoverished and the children denied … A happy wife is a happy life was the theory that guided many men … now it made many men despair of ever attaining such.

Mark had no intention to build many houses … he only wanted one home and fortune had placed Mandy inside his realm of satisfaction … they both were content with what they had.

And what they had improved as the years went by and children graced their table. Five healthy children grew by Mark’s table and garden shed, five healthy children grew and did in turn find partners of their own and produced grandchildren that grew by Mark’s table and garden shed … Now, secure with an aged pension, Mark could look back on a life well managed, on fortune envious of nothing and no-one, for here with the evidence of so many arrows in his quiver, could the suburban warrior arm himself against a future that would be denied some of the more industrious, worked to the bone for little gain save the bitter gall of seeing their hard-earned possessions snatched away from them when old and care-worn … to be left to rot in the ironically named “aged care” facility … to be forgotten by those children that a quarrelling world of men versus women made resentful of the feeling of being abandoned when the administration of divorce forced them to take sides. No, this was not the fate of Mark and Mandy, laugh if you will of their seemingly comical circumstance that a more ‘sophisticated’ person might spurn, but here they were and deny them you cannot, surrounded at every celebratory event by generations of caring children and grandchildren, Mark would revel in idle appreciation of fuss and touch of his tribe. The noise of laughter and delight a song of assurance for the continuing health of the family.

Mark realised the blessings of good fortune and he worshipped at fortune’s altar with suitable penance … for deep in his soul and spirit, he was sincerely grateful … Mark had the Pagan’s respect for chance.

It was Christmas day, the entire family with grandchildren … all ten grandchildren … were in the house making merry and preparing the Christmas dinner. Mark had one grandchild on his left knee as he sat deep in the club lounge chair given to him on Father’s Day by his children five years before. He sat in a contented state with a stubbie of beer in one hand and the remote for the CD player in the other … under his instructions, his grandchild that sat on his left knee had just inserted a CD of Mark’s choosing into the player and awaited Mark to select the track and press the play-button … which with great satisfaction he now did and turning up the sound so the music bellowed out over the cacophony of Christmas noise, Mark smiled his ‘Mona Lisa’ smile and wallowed in the pure saturation of Jimi Hendrix’s All along the Watchtower



Wisdom is a thing learned not with education, but rather accrued through pragmatic experience. That experience can be one personally lived … the most instructive method … or one witnessed with the actions or situations enacted upon others. Mark was a witness and experiencer of both methods of instruction from a young age. Mark Price was now a wise man.

The Warrior feasted on his victorious bounty.

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The Caretaker

Kylee Clements always came home from work to an empty kitchen. She came from her work as principle of the Hudson Street Primary school always in an agitated manner, primarily because of certain incidents that bedevilled her at the school, mostly concerning the behaviour of students and parents reacting to certain students there, or because her husband, now recently unemployed lacked what she considered “attention to her implicit instructions” to fix this or that maintenance problem or purchased the wrong brand of product from the supermarket when she had made it perfectly clear that if he’d just looked at the nutrition values there on the label, he would have seen that the carbohydrates per hundred grams were by far too many for one with her condition!! … If he’d just had taken time to read the label.

“Heaven knows it is not a difficult matter for one to do,” she insisted. “And heaven knows how many times I have been there with you as I purchased the product! … And haven’t I showed you as much? … anyone would think you did it on purpose just to vex me! … and on this day of all days, when I’ve had nothing but trouble at the school” … Kylee again read the label on the offending item … she then placed this item to the back of the upper cupboard with other miscellaneous offending items.

“God only knows how difficult it is to deal with the everyday conflicts between those tenacious little terrors and their fussing mothers on any given day … really … the way some of those mothers fuss … you’d think their offspring were forged in a jeweller’s diamond tiara rather than some random spray of semen after a night on the Pimm’s number two and lemonade!” Kylee herself never had the enthusiasm toward childbearing or children in general that her position as principle of a primary school demanded of her … it was an act of professionalism, not maternal instinct that guided her career.

“Did you see this list of jobs I put on the fridge?” she called out to her husband upstairs … “The tap over the bath keeps dripping and it drives me to distraction when I am trying to do my make-up … and for heaven’s sake … can you please do something about the shade cloth over the rose garden before it completely blows away and that ‘blue moon’ gets thrashed by the damn flapping thing!”

Kylee filled and placed the electric kettle in its cradle and prepared her regular afternoon cup of soothing tea … she extracted a shortbread biscuit from a container and placed it on the rim of the saucer … this biscuit was her reward after what she considered a trying day … the one small “allowance” she would make in an otherwise strict diet …

“That caretaker at the school, Martin, pulled a whammy today … caused an awful fracas with one of the prep’ teachers … Pammy Shorren … the prep’ teacher who is married to the footballer chap … You’ve heard me mention Martin before, I’m sure … Can’t be far off retirement himself … usually a witty, congenial fellow … good with the kids … you know, he sometimes gives these impromptu little stories to a gathering of kiddies when they come to his janitor storage room to ask him silly things … you know how kids always ask the most silly things … like … oh … why do you do that? … or why is water wet? … those sort of things .. and he’s never short of an interesting yarn to spin to the kiddies … sometimes so ridiculous that you just have to smile … and he’d catch me lurking there and he’d give me a wink as he finished and shoo’d the kids away or he’ll never get any work done … ”

Kylee cleared her handbag and an assortment of files from the table and sat down to enjoy the “one peaceful moment in an otherwise troubled day” … she placed a sweetener tablet into the teacup and stirred, making sure to chime the spoon on the side of the porcelain cup … a chime that resonated throughout the stillness of the room and injected a sweet sensation into the silence … She pondered aloud on the day’s events that now vexed her.

“Yes … a real whammy … that’s what it was … Pammy came to my office in a tizz accusing Martin of making a suggestion toward her that she found disgusting … especially from one as old as himself … I had to sit back in shock at her accusation … for I had never heard Martin even make any double entendres of any sort to any of the female teachers … being aware as he has informed me of his sensibilities toward the “placid nature of the feminine gender of the species” … He has a way with words … and I have always held him to that knowledge … as I have to all the staff … one cannot let the least infringement go unanswered lest the whole situation get away from one … not in the least.”

“By the way … What did the mechanic say about that grating noise as you put the brakes on in the four-wheel drive? … Is he going to keep it there for another week? … heaven help our chances for that trip down the coast if he does … I have to wonder sometimes if we should’ve taken it to that Greek fellah over in Croyden where we used to get our cars fixed … George was a good mechanic … never pressed for quick payment like they do now … I sometimes wonder if moving to the Eastern Suburbs was a good move … what good is a better post-code if your Range Rover is worse off?”

Kylee picked up a brochure from the days post and perused the items offered … “Don’t know if we need a garden mulcher just now … hard enough to get something to just grow let alone cut things down to feed the blasted machine … ” She heaved a sigh of weariness and took a delighted sip of her drink.

“Anyway, I had to bring Martin into the office to explain himself … but between you and me, if Pammy’s account was anything to go by, he was skating on thin ice … I don’t want to sack the fellow this close to his retirement … but there it goes … if he had done the deed, there could be no other way ..

So I dragged him into the office, sat him down and gave him the floor to tell his side of the story …

“I didn’t suggest anything really” he started … ” I thought I made a rather innocuous statement, considering the situation,” he said. “Well tell me,” I replied … Martin shuffled a bit in the chair and said that thinking back on it, it may have seemed like that sort of thing a younger man might use as a pick-up line, “But I certainly didn’t mean it as such … give it a go! … at my age? … and Pammy’s age!?” … I just raised my eyebrows enough to show him I was getting impatient … He began; “I was there just outside my storeroom with the mop and bucket as one of the little kids had dropped and broke their water bottle there and I was clearing up the mess … the kids had just gone home and I thought I was there alone in the classroom block … but as I was finishing up, I saw Pammy … Ms Shorren come out of the end classroom and start walking toward me … She was walking toward me down the corridor past the other three rooms like she was walking down a modelling catwalk … and I have to say that those micro-miniskirts she wears and the black stockings that ascend to … to … where my memory forgets … and the high heels that went a tap-tapping like some sort of Morse code upon the tiles did create an image in my mind that I should have just let pass by … but as she drew nearer, I leaned on the mop handle and contemplated the scenario … she stopped just away from me and looked at me in silence … and I don’t know what made me think of it, but as I leaned there on the mop handle with this image in front of me, I said; “You know, Pammy … I’m not a religious man, so I don’t believe in a God … But when I look at you, I sure as hell believe in the devil” … and I swear to heaven that was it!

“You do know that Ms Shorren and her partner are quite the religious couple don’t you? … I told Martin … Pentecostal … every Sunday without fail … down at the centre, singing to Jesus … I believe it is she that leaves those religious pamphlets anonymously at the front counter from time to time? … It was the reference to her having association with the devil most offended her … ”

“The long and short of it was that I would have to give the situation some thought and I sent him home … ”

“To be honest, I did contemplate sacking him and I was needing a bit of time to frame my response … But then a strange thing happened on my way home to change my mind … I was there at Donahue’s Hardware getting those hose fittings that I distinctly remember asking you to get and there was Martin walking down the footpath by that line of high school buses that park there … I was getting into the Holden and there was Martin slouching along looking just a bit careworn … as those older men look … perhaps the burden of the day’s events weighing on his shoulders … and as he walked past this bus, there was a young man … oh around sixteen or seventeen years old, leaning out of the window of the bus calling and whistling to the high school girls … like young men do; “Hey blondie! … What’s your number? … give it to me … ” … those sort of things and the girls tittering and giving him the finger … little good it did to dissuade him though … and through this noisy back and forth calling, just as Martin passed, the young fellow leans out the window of the bus, looks to Martin sympathetically and says; “G’day old timer” … in a confederacy sort of way … like two mates from the same background, but with one just came off the field of battle while the younger one goes on; “G’day old timer” … I mean really … men!

And I suddenly had a glimpse into that male world where there are behavioural expectations and rules that define their manner toward women … and it does not change from one generation to the next … a strange world of driven demands upon their own expectations … and I thought … “I could sack him and bust him and make him regret even thinking what he thinks about women” … but I could never change that male desire within that makes him … and that young man behave … or at least think … the way they do … it is a choice between cause and effect … Oh the choices one must manage to keep the ship on a steady and even keel … What is it with you men?

So I have decided instead to play the mediator and get Martin to apologise to Pammy, after all he is a very good caretaker … and to make an edict about the placement of non-education literature in the school and perhaps even make a suggestion for a dress code for teachers and pupils at the school … really, the needs of caretaking in one’s working life demand a continuous review … ”

Kylee finished her cup of tea and called for her husband to ask what he had prepared for dinner that evening as she was famished.

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Bedtime Stories #8 … The Cabal of Complicity

There is a curious double standard inherent in these regional communities that goes way back to the pioneer days and has it’s roots deep in the soil of “old family/old traditions” loyalty. Sure, and it is a misguided loyalty in these times as those same “old families” have been long watered down by new systems, new blood and new technology that has swept away the old work ethic creed and community morality standard.

It works like this:

Every regional community has its’ number of “old families” … “long-time residents” … “long-time employees.”Every single one of these people over the years evolve to become part of a strata of acknowledged hierarchical status, ie; They are allocated their place in that community. Some have a leadership place, some have a “drone” place, some have the inherited if unearned respect of an influential family, while others are what you would call “floaters”; in and out of favour at some time or other … The perfect example of the Peter Principle … Then there are the “blow-ins.”

(From) Ode to Machiavelli

“ … The biggest mistake being; not understanding history,

But make mystery of what we WILL NOT see … Is it just me?

Or is it thee who takes more pleasure from the infinite variety

Of incidents in this or that society and scandalous pleasure

As your measure of understanding, rather than demanding

We take heed to the answers to those deeds, as if these

Times have changed the behaviour of men and then of women too

It’s a shoo-in to see ; the Sun the Moon, the sea and thee

Have not changed their motions and power, hour on hour

From ancient times, I’d avower and from such error; allora! … “

All of these “old” regional communities seem to thrive on a social diet of rumour, envy and schadenfreude. There are short and long-term feuds, niggling, petty hates and overall the cautious, suspicious envy of what the neighbour may have that you have not … and if they do have it, how did they get it!

The level that these petty trysts achieve and are operating on can be seen by the state of beauty or disrepair of the township. Those towns in a greater state of turmoil show little regard for their environment, or for the general civic repair or beauty of their town, being more concerned with their feuds than their civic obligations.

BUT! … but, strangely, all these communities, no matter how divided within , will unite against what is perceived as a common outside threat. This unity of concentration is called; The Cabal of Complicity.

The mirror tells its secret tale,

What is REALLY YOU will prevail,

When all may not be as it seems,

The really you will haunt my dreams.

There are, of course, the age-old bigotries against race, religion and politics … Then there are the new hatreds: Environmentalists seem to fill the void for a common enemy, as do refugees, strangely as most who came to this country and particularly those regional communities were refugees of one kind or another and there is that lovely old standby distrust: The Indigenous Peoples.

Curiously though, there is another “player” that comes into the picture about now, he is a “blow-in”, a newcomer, but he is saying all the right phrases that appeal to the local prejudices … He pushes all the right approval buttons. This toady targets the most influential to his station and needs. With astute flattery and sycophantic conversation, not to mention the strategic “on me” beer, he soon becomes accepted into the cabal as a “friend of the community”, he “legitimises” local opinion as being “in-tune” with the broader population and is often privy to a host of secrets, while juggling conspiracies and confederacies. He is a strange animal and in most cases a reject of the more cosmopolitan world of city life.


These are things once memory sees,

Cannot be forgot, nor disdained.

These things that we do treasure,

Things lost or all forlorn,

Which I did adore is grown pale and wan,

What was ever so beautiful once,

Is gone … is gone.

Nature may mark the species,

But history marks the men,

Lies shape the person,

Whose fortune is already damned.

The stupid repeat their mistakes – and

A fool is condemned in vain.

These things our memory has seen,

Not to be forgot, nor to be disdained,

Lest that we most treasure, be lost or forlorn,

And which we adore grow pale and wan,

So THAT beauty that ever once was,

Is gone … is gone.

This “strange animal” adopts the dress, the language, the scepticisms and the inherent suspicions against that universal political generic: “The head office” … The Guvverment. There being no easier audience to find applause from than that who knows already and shares as their own ; your every story, every joke your every prejudice.

In each of us there is that twist,

That in the end will come to this.

No matter the culture, the mother, the art,

Each to each,

Heart to heart.

To enter such communities and hold views in conflict with the status quo (listed above) is to court social pariahism. For although you may be of the opinion that you have just had a “heated discussion” with only one member of the community … because such a member “went to school with … “, “grew up with … “, “played football with … “, “drank with … “, “did a season shearing with … “, “works with … “, or just plain “is related to … ”, it won’t be long, regardless if the culprit is despised, hated, reviled or spurned by nearly every other single individual in the entire cabal … YOU will “have the problem”.

Because the one grain, perhaps the only grain of carved-in-stone knowledge in such communities is that its very weakness is its’ strength, so each is complicit in backing-up, right or wrong, innocence or guilt, with silent dismissal or wilful disdain, its’ “in-house” member.

Jacta alia est

Jacta alia est; The die it is cast.

Caesar quietly mumbles the words,

Mixed with the tumbling Rubicon’s waters,

And when he whispers his secret,

Who does he direct his knowledge to?

What lines do the poet place on page?

Is there those who will like the rhyme,

But curse the metre?

Will like the idea,

But curse the action?

Jacta alia est; The die it is cast.

But there is no-one left

Who knows what chance is.

None want to take the risk.

So he says it quietly … under-breath,

And leads the dumb and blind

On to their deserved death.

It is the strength of their denial, it is their unifying fear of “divided they fall”, for each individual, lacking a worldly confidence, distrusting worldly knowledge, has no solid footing, but is fixed in the matrix of all … it is the age-old maxim of “honour among thieves” … so take on one, you take on all!

It is The Cabal of Complicity.

And now it is late for this little tacker to be up and about … time for sleepy-byes … night, night tweeps … sweet dreams ..

“The Windmills of Your Mind”: Noel Harrison …

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Decum Fabulum: The Rider to the Sea

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number nine:

The Rider to the Sea

Ah, youth! … a time of plenty … so much to want, so much to desire, so much to love … yet one had the feeling of so much to lose … so much to lose … there was never enough of anything, least of all patience …

Adam reached out for the handful of peaches out far on the branch. He quickly picked these and shoved them into his bag, it was now full. He clambered down the ladder and strode over to his bin. This was the last load for the day, the bin was now full. The overseer nodded his approval and checked it into his book. His third bin for the day, not bad, he was no gun picker but it wasn’t bad. A wave of fatigue swept through his leg muscles as he leant against the bin. Sweat flowed cleanly down his chest, his hair sticky and stringy from the heat and fuzz from the fruit. he felt tacky all over.

“What a day for Chrissake.” He spoke to himself as he sat on the trailer.

“Ok boys, let’s go home.” The overseer had hooked up the trailers that carried the bins and started the tractor.

The pickers flung their ladders on the empty trailer behind and clambered aboard, the dust thick and yellow in the air.

“You still going to Sydney tomorra’, Jim?”

”K’noath, can’t see me stayin’ here another week can you.”

“He’s got the hots for his wife already,” someone called out.

“Oh yeah, if you’d felt it once you wouldn’t be here even,” Jim retaliated.

The tractor slowly bumped and twisted through the orchard. Adam clung sleepily to the edge of the trailer, gently rolling … Life, small moments of awakened senses, aware: Daylight bright, the clatter of loose leaves dancing and whirling over the road in the buffeting wind of a passing car. Long strands of gum leaves hanging low and hot in the humid afternoon, with skinny shadows stealthily creeping like thieves from the glaring sun.

The banks rose steep from the river’s edge and the water flows with soft swirling eddies clipping the far bank and ripples fanning out from projecting arms of sunken logs, like drowning swimmers grasping for the sky, scratching, clawing … A long white sandbar swept smooth around the bend with scattered leaves over the grit and heavy gums leaning long fronds into silent waters of the Murray River creeping past in the afternoon.

(A.E. & J.B. Cameron. Fruit growers. Blockers: Owners of vast acreage of fruit trees. Peaches, pears and apricots. Pickers employed every season. Seven am – five pm, an hour for lunch.)

Adam was a nineteen year old picker … working the seasonal crops.

“Hey Casey, comin’ for a swim before tea?” … Ear cocked for an answer from the next room. A creaking bed, he’s there.

“No, I’ll just have a shower.” Another creak of his bed. He won’t even shower, Adam knew.

“Well alright ,but it’ll be nice … cool and fresh …”

“Yeah, so what.”

Adam left him there …

Dust and insects filled the yard between the dormitory and mess shed, with its rattling pots and pans and the cook’s yells and songs crackling between the weatherboard walls. The sweet-smelling trees all around the compound. Crowds at the showers, sticky men jostling each other, towels and dirty shirts and shins and bristly chins, water overflowing on smooth cement sheen floor, muddy puddle by the door. A singer; Gerry … ”O′ Gerry boy, th’ gurls of Cobram are calling … ” Then lost in the roar of the motorbike coasting the long straight into town. A quick trip through to the river in the hot afternoon, his shirt sticking to his back, small insects glued to his chest with the dried sweat.

Adam parked his motorbike at the top of the riverbank on the dirt track. A path cut down the edge onto a flat lowland of sand built up over the years. Tall gums and shrubs between, all thick and scratchy down to the river’s edge. He placed his helmet on the sand, stripped to his shorts and placed his shirt and shoes with the helmet.

Halting at the river’s edge, he gazed up and down, then slipped quietly into the water. The smooth liquid washed up his back and filtered through his hair, its soothing coolness cleansing the sticky sweat and insects from his skin then washing away with the current swiftly flowing. He dug his hands down into the sandy bar, floating motionlessly, body pointing upstream with water slipping around, caressing, soft … Every few moments he ducked his head below the surface to come up again with a swish and shake the lanks of hair off his face, the droplets flicking away with a splash on the smoother surface of the river.

A large grey log jutted out from the bank on the far side. He decided to swim for it. But the river was swift, so he crawled with his hands digging in the sandy bed upstream a little to allow for the drag, then with six deep breaths, struck out for the far shore.

The river grabbed him straight away as he swam, its liquid fingers grasping at every portion of his body, trying to pull him down the busy stream to a far away ocean … a body riding the river to its mouth … a rider to the sea! … The thought of just letting himself be taken like a leaf on the water crossed his mind, the thought of being supported by the river’s strength and coasting slowly down the ribbon of wide water to the rushing sea. He stopped for a second feeling the deep waters … Nothing below him: He sank a little and came up again spitting and swishing his head to clear his hair. Nothing below him, he thought as he struck out again, his feet churning steadily behind him.

Nothing below but hidden depths of liquid, soft flowing liquid’ deeper down below, lovely warmth … (he thought of Jennifer). A Willy-wagtail alighted on the log just before he reached it, to wag its tail a couple of times and then dart away as he swung an arm over and hauled himself up to rest. Adam lay on his belly over the warm log, his legs dangling in the cool river, the rattlings and scratchings of scrub animals and birds in the vicinity a relaxing tonic for his tired body … his memory switched to a story his mother told him about the river when she was a child … about a man who drowned and his body washed up on the bank of the river and they were told not to go near there to look at the drowned man washed up on the bank of the river but they did go there on the way to school and they saw the drowned man all bloated and bumping and bobbing against a log on the river bank, surrounded by a mass of oranges all a bobbing there with the drowned man … oranges dumped in the river when the orchards couldn’t sell their excess fruit … and they would pluck one of those oranges each to take to school … but not this time and never more … for the drowned man’s eyes had been plucked out by the creatures of the river … ” … eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves” Samson Agonistes … and they ran and ran away from the drowned man … but they couldn’t run from the memory …

A new sound pitched high above the others pierced his ear, squeals of delight and giggling laughter. Girls, young girls, splashing in the river up by the bridge. He looked to them, all white in the surrounding bushland, their bodies springing about with youthful energy, purity to think of. Tender youth not yet caressed with a lover’s gentle touch, young voices never lowered to a lovers ear, whispering lover’s desires.

Adam lay quiet, the water rippling about his feet softly. He listened.

”Julie, I’ll race you across.“

“Bet you won’t.“ Two girls splashed in, a glimmer of white before becoming submerged in cooling water.

”Hey, wait for me!” A third racing across the sand, her legs flashing with carefree running, the line of her swimsuit seen for a moment, gone into the river, laughter, splashing, voices, a moments desire quietly breathed the afternoon air, river water flowing down deep, deep down clinging, touching, Adam closed his eyes … he desired …

“Jennifer” … he mumbled … lost …

”Do you like it, Adam?”

”Mmm, more than anything.” Her hand moving over his body, searching, feeling … her finger trailing along his spine, sending thrilling sparks to his muscles ..

”Do you like that … hmm … do you feel that?”

“Ah … Now where did you learn that trick?”

”Do you like it?” Her hair brushing his cheek, soft whispers into his ear, the song of Circe … her arm under his over his back, her palm open flat, warm in the small of his back moving softly, gently, her voice, he remembered the tone perfectly, right in his ear, she was inside his brain, sweetly tacky. Gone, lovely woman, lovely life. Nineteen.

”Do you love me, Jenny?” … Nineteen … gone …

Adam slipped back into the water, kicked off from the log to swim back to the sandy bank, striking furiously at the water with each stroke, harder and harder, self-derision tearing into him. He finally dove deep to cool the heat in his head, deep in the river, the deeper you go the cleaner you become, it’s a game, you see, and the one who swims deepest and longest wins.

His lungs ached as he burst the surface about thirty yards down from his clothes. He gulped the air and swam the rest of the way to the bank.

The Sun dried his body, soaking right into his skin as he lay on the warm sand. He flipped his shirt over his eyes to shade them, only the heat now touched his body, the river moving gently away, quietly shifting … humming … water, the essence of life: All life emanates from the sea. The heat warmed him while the river swayed his thoughts slowly. as a limb in a breeze, rolling wave upon wave … drum … “… rolling drum we lay down gently with the wetness drum of the sea drying in sunshine … children! laughter trilling in our hearing mind … She is here too, her finger brushing down drum along our closed eyelid so gentle, the laughter, her person here beside us, touch removed why? Opened our eyes to see her but she wasn’t there … soaring drum ache of desire rushing longingly through our body … Oh that it were only possible for us … for us … we lay back down in the warm sunshine the wetness drum of the sea drying in the sunshine wave upon wave rolling O …”

Adam woke suddenly, he had dozed off for a few minutes, restfully, He collected his things and started back to camp.

The evening meal was being dished out when he arrived, so he dressed and stood in line with the rest of the pickers to collect his serve. The mess was empty of any sound other than the clatter of eating utensils employed in the consumption of food.

After dinner Adam lay on his bunk, hands behind his head and staring at the water-stain pattens on the ceiling. Casey stopped in and placed his shoe on the edge of the bed while he tied his shoelace.

“You comin’ to town, Adam?”

“What for?”

“Jim’s leavin’ you know, we’re gonna have a cupla drinks”.

“Yeah, I might be in that. When are you leaving?”

“O, a cupla minutes, you better hurry, Pete’s drivin” …

Adam raised himself lazily and reached for his shirt.

“I’ll be ready in a sec.”

“Meet you outside then, OK?” Casey tromped on down the corridor with his heavy steps echoing through the dormitory.

Pete screamed the car on the dirt road through the orchard and careered onto the bitumen heading into town. All along the left side of the road were peach trees heavy with fruit, their branches supported with crutches of forked branches of other trees. Jim talked of his wife, house, and car he had left in Sydney. He drolled on in his boring monotone in tune with the humming of the car motor, Pete just mumbling; “Yes” or “Oh yeah” to Jim’s comments. Adam sat quietly in the back of the car, the sun heating his face through the glass. Bright spots of fruit, the green of the leaves flicking past; harlequin. A man appeared for a second, on a tractor towing spraying equipment, mist fanning out from the rear of the machine. The afternoon finishing slowly as they bumped down the long straight.

The town appeared up ahead, Jim talking continuously, quietly, to no-one in particular … just his usual meaningless babble about his wife, kids, and home … the suburban dream slowly turning into a nightmare of endless debt, remission, work and more debt. Small snatches of his talk filtered through Adam’s observations of the world around him …

Big gums flash past … ”You come here to get away from home, to have a good time, save some dough for the little luxuries, you know” … outskirts of town, all the neat gardens, then the rubbish gardens, trellises of creeping plants being watered by an old lady … ”You buy these little knick-knacks, to keep you happy …” shoe stores, hardware stores, deli’s with cracked glass windows .. a town swinging on the survival of the fruit industry … ” … doing nothing but work and you end up a slob, like Casey here, only joking son, but just hanging around, waiting for the next season … the next job … ” residents of the town shuffling along permanent footpaths, ancients, middle aged, youths too soon to look as ancient as their grandfathers … ” … property clinging like … like leeches on your time as years slip by … ” … no-one really gives a shit for Jim’s woes …

Pete pulled the car up at an hotel with ugly stone facade and arches plain, brown painted wood angular cleaved.

There were crowds of bawling blockers, pickers, packers from the sheds .. red-faced from too much grog … “It’s weird if you ask me, a body just can’t seem to win with this life.”

A chord was struck in Adam by those words, simple as they were, the mere babble of a selfish man, they were a prophecy so clear for the moment. Of course, living, being alive, nineteen … nineteen! … that’s what matters; life, those places he’d been, all alive, still there, waiting for his return to pass through to newer places, towns on towns, states on states, countries, people, over seven billions of them in this world, all living, a living breathing world of people. World, so round, whirled, world so round, those girls at the river, youth just starting to live. The joy of revelation cooled his head and cleared all cluttering thoughts from his mind, a new energy flooded through his body.

Jennifer is gone … so be it … so be it … Let life begin again!

Loose leaves danced flittering along the footpath with each eddy of wind around the buildings, their clatter of slight sound a moments awareness.

“C’mon Jim, wipe that frown from your ugly puss, the first round’s on me.” The four of them pushed through the throng of drinkers to the glittering bar all a clatter of glass. The evening was alive with light. “Ah! … Here’s the boy!” … a cry from a friend at the bar … The silent river cruising steadily between steep banks to the sea … the mad whooping from a room full of rolliking drunks … riding a wave of booze-filled reverly … riding to the sea …

Down, down … the Murray River flows … down to the sea … John Millington Synge … we are all riders to the sea!

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The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon

Once upon a time, out in the deep Mallee forest near the Murray River there lived three sisters, aged sixteen, fourteen and thirteen … for as was common in those days, children came in quick succession. Their names being … from the eldest: Tess, Maggie and Rose. It was the years of post-Great Depression and the second world war raged another world away … in the deep Mallee where the sisters lived, the war was only a policy inconvenience, or in their case an opportunity for their father and mother to gain steady employment at a charcoal burning camp as he; a mechanic, and she; as cook to around a dozen men who cut the mallee wood to burn in the pits to make charcoal. The two younger girls helped their mother with the preparation of the food, while, Tess, the eldest worked not far away at Portee Station, a cattle and sheep station on the rim of the Murray River.

Being of a family that by necessity throughout the Great Depression had to make their living moving from town to town, seasonal crop to seasonal crop for work, the girls were schooled at home by their mother who was fortunate back in her native Ireland to have had an excellent education because of her middle-class family … coming to this country to be suddenly married and a mother of three girls at the start of the worst set-back for the nation’s economy in its short history while moving around seeking casual employment left her to make do on her own capabilities.

A long time back she had abandoned her middle-class sensibilities to the practical bent of survival … another thing that she had abandoned was her Protestant religion to swing to Catholicism … and she embraced that faith with all the fervour of the religious convert … she was unbending and unyielding in her reverence toward the belief and standards of that faith … and as such would not tolerate her daughters becoming corrupted by such deviant subjects like romantic novels or poetry, herself having a long time before cast out such publications from her possessions till the only tome of any literature in her domestic enclave … which by frugal providence was a hand-stitched, split wheat-bag tent of her husband’s own design, for rarely was there a actual house over or around them … was her large, prized edition of The Bible (with illustrations).

So when her eldest daughter brought home a second-hand book of poetry; The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, accompanied by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, her lips pinched, her eyes narrowed and her heart hardened and at first opportunity, she cast both editions out of the tent-flap with an admonishing chastisement and appropriate irony considering their present establishment to her daughter that such wanton literature will not be tolerated under her roof while she yet lives!

This did not deter Tess from pursuing her secret inner desire to one day become a poet herself … she dreamed of lines of absolute beauty written with the most delightful script on pages of soft paper … Her favourite poem from the book she now held most dear to herself was Thora’s Song … her romantic heart ached for the chance to just feel the same emotions Thora felt for her lover … and Tess would dream of one day meeting just such a poetic soul as herself to be able to exchange that similar felt emotion in tender moments of love … As such a time had not yet come, Tess would stroll to the river’s edge on her evening off perambulations and there under the fading light of an afternoon’s umbra shine, read softly out to the air the works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, taking particular care on that most loved poem Thora’s Song, her lilting Irish falsetto matching tune with the many river birds calls and warbles there so that the lingua franca of the evening on the river’s edge was a song in itself … a melody of harmonies that lay a hymn of sound floating just above those primrose-lit waters of the soft flowing Murray River.

To this dream of poet, Tess would, in between chores in the kitchen of the riverside station where she worked, take time to compose poems of her own hand. Most of these crude attempts she screwed up and burnt in the big kitchen stove … some … a few she felt happier with she placed between the pages of a school exercise book she used for her home school lessons that she taught to her younger siblings when she went home for two days a week to the charcoal camp where her family lived … Tess would sometimes read these poems out to the giggling frivolity of her siblings who had little interest in literature and more in ribbons and hats.

Now the world of that district held to habit and routine and the celebration of Empire Day was one of fan-fair, parade and concert in the main town institute, where a repertoire of songs and short skits of plays and dances by locals were encouraged. So that when Tess arrived at her parent’s tent on the Friday afternoon, her sisters excitedly greeted her with the news that they were going with old Eddy in the truck to Truro to audition as sailors in a skit dancing The Sailor’s Hornpipe … and surely Tess would come along to watch! … Of course Tess was as excited and delighted and went to sleep that night formulating a desire to approach Miss Josie Rudge, the organising person, on the morrow to see if she could perform a poetic recitation at the event.

The dour Miss Rudge, school teacher and choralist for the Truro Congregational Church, was a disciplinarian type who “took no prisoners”, as she was want to say whenever the children got out of hand …

”In line! In line!” … she’d demand “and no fooling around … I’ll take no prisoners if I see anyone mucking about! … you there! … back in line … watch the markers on the floor … in line!”

But yes, they were seeking appropriate recitations for the “in-betweens” of the songs and dance routines and Miss Rudge gave Tess a time that afternoon for a reading. The piece Miss Rudge picked was a short poem that tested the elocution of the reader … more suited to one of the preferred young ladies from a “good family” of the district who were favoured with an exclusive schooled education in Adelaide and spoke the “King’s English” with just a little bit of plummy accent. Of course, Tess, coming from the Mallee bush with the hint of brogue of her Irish mother slipping off her lips like a syrup of Sligo was hard pressed to wrap those words around her tongue and she stumbled in quite a few places with the desired entrapment placed there by the cunning Miss Rudge.

And as she finished the reading from the elevated stage, Tess, who had prided herself on her practiced poetry was somewhat shy and reticent of her chances … The stern Miss Rudge did not dismiss Tess there and then, but rather encouraged her to practice when at home and she will be notified of her placement with in the fortnight.

Tess felt encouraged by that short advice and regardless of a faint feeling of caution, spent the following days at and after work bending her spoken language to deliver to the best of her capability those immortal words of her beloved bard; Adam Lindsay Gordon, and his poem, Thora’s Song.

Unbeknownst to Tess, from the first introduction of herself to Miss Josie Rudge, she hadn’t a chance of stepping out on that stage at Empire Day to deliver any thing at all, as her family situation was already known and scorned by the stern Protestant Miss Rudge, who despised anything Catholic entering within her perimeter of “England forever” … and after Tess and her sisters departed, she was heard to say to her assistant most viciously:

“The nerve! … to think I would allow the daughter of that Irish Catholic woman to stumble and ramble with her atrocious interpretation of the good King’s English upon my stage … On Empire Day of all times .. The poor child threw out more “Haiches” from her mouth than Clem Highett would dud hen’s from his hatchery! … and that mother of hers! … a face the map of Ireland … “As Catholic as Connaugh” they would say … No, I won’t have it … I will send a letter to her this week or so … don’t want to break the poor kitchen maid’s heart here and now … I’ll let her sisters dance The Hornpipe though … don’t want to appear too officious … do we?”

Unaware of the futility of her ambitions, Tess kept softly practicing her recitation whenever she had time … so that the Lady of Portee Station … Margaret Esau, would smile to herself when she heard her young servant girl softly reciting poems on the back verandah of the Portee Station Homestead on many a quiet evening.

Margaret Esau encouraged Tess to work on her pronunciations, for she was well aware of Tess’s poetical ambitions which were innocently and proudly confessed when Margret first interviewed Tess for the position of kitchen maid … an ambition that made Tess’s eyes shine with delight when she said it and brought a sympathetic smile to Margaret’s lips … for she could see that while the ambition was worthy, the letter Tess had written and the language of her spoken words displayed a working class accent with less than ready education. And so Margaret would sensitively correct any of the more exaggerated mistakes of interpretation when Tess served at the table … even promising Tess a day off so as to be able to attend to rehearsals when required. So it was a rather worried Margaret Esau that heard the gentle sobbing on the back verandah outside the kitchen one evening … Upon enquiry, she was shown the letter of rejection from Miss Josie Rudge of the Empire Day Hall Committee, citing (dishonestly) a lack of space within the program for Tess’s poetry recitation. Margaret comforted the sad Tess and taking the letter from her hands, Margaret said she would see if she could persuade Miss Rudge to find space for Tess’s reading.

This reassurance did little to comfort Tess’s unease, for she had read something unsettling in the tone of Miss Rudge’s letter … a more than hint of slighting tone of voice … even the opening address of “Dear Child” felt like a dismissal of her as a working girl with a place in the household of a large station … a position of responsibility that Tess wore with some degree of pride … And even though the wording was seemingly polite and respectful, Tess (as did Margaret when she read the letter) could feel her eyes burn with indignation when the writer had consoled her with the expression that “ … regardless of this lost opportunity to recite with those fine young ladies from the Adelaide private finishing schools, she was sure to use her accrued skills learned at the kitchen table to further herself in the arts of scullery maid or another hand trade”.

This example of passive snobbery on Miss Rudge’s part did not go un-noticed by Margaret Esau and while Tess wept for the burning insult, Margaret’s lips pinched together in anger for the presumption of Miss Rudge’s to insult her; Margaret’s young study, with such language reserved for that middle-class to use against one of their own … “She has no right to presume” Margaret hissed and took it upon herself to sort Miss Rudge out by putting her back in her place in the order of status in the district.

Tess had gone to that spot on the banks of the Murray River where she felt most private and secure, she took with her that tome of poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon’s that she felt in kinship with and began to read out loud that most private of her favourites;

Thora’s Song

“We severed in autumn early,

Ere the earth was torn by the plough;

The wheat and the oats and the barley

Are ripe for the harvest now.

We sunder’d one misty morning,

Ere the hills were dimm’d by the rain,

Through the flowers those hills adorning —

Thou comest not back again.

My heart is heavy and weary

With the weight of a weary soul;

The mid-day glare grows dreary,

And dreary the midnight scroll.

The corn-stalks sigh for the sickle,

‘Neath the load of the golden grain;

I sigh for a mate more fickle —

Thou comest not back again … ” (Adam Lindsay Gordon)

The soft lilting of her voice now pitched less high as a sadness weighed down upon her soul … that gentle wash of the Irish brogue inserted from her mother’s talk and homeland as sweet as the honeyed air of summer skies … Her Irish tongue a whisper of angels in the voice when saddened enough to sing a lament to her own destiny … for there was growing in her heart a dread that her ambition to aspire for a poet was but a pipe dream … the words of her mother damning such heathen verse to Sheol and the tittering laughter of her sisters when she tried to share with them her love for the written word in rhyme and metre and now that letter from Miss Rudge, a teacher at the Truro school no less, that gave more than hint of Tess’s incompetence with the language, all buffering down on her spirit and telling her that she was just being a silly girl to try to reach for a place above her station in life .. the life of a servant girl and workhorse for her betters and nothing more … her dreams of one day writing poetry that sang with the spirits of the Gods of air, fire and water … a dream of smoke and mirrors … a will o’ the wisp that will vanish with the first puff of wind … silly person … silly girl.

Tess stood and straightened her skirt and turned to go … she had noticed the silence of the birds as she read her verse … and she sensed that even they were in accord with her sombre mood and were wont to intrude too cheerfully upon her mood there … Tess stopped for just that moment in her departure and,turned to address The River …

“Goodnight,” she said.

A few days later, Tess was called to the telephone to receive a call from Miss Rudge of the Empire Day Concert Committee … the short of the conversation … for it was short and terse .. was that, yes, there now appeared a place in the program for her to recite some poetry and it was imperative that she most promptly attend to rehearsals on the fifth of the month 10:00AM sharp … at the Civic Hall Truro … and report to her, Miss Rudge. And the telephone went dead at that demand. Tess was beside herself with joy and handed the receiver back to Margaret who smiled in kind.

“Did you … ?” Tess asked and then stopped.

“I think Miss Rudge looked into her heart and reconsidered” Margaret cut any further conversation on the subject short … “I always say, Tess … that The River has ways of letting a poor man live like a king and in turn making the wise man look like an ass! … You know … I wasn’t always the wife of Mr, John Esau … ”

It was after Tess had left to walk to the river that evening on receiving the letter, that Margaret Esau placed a call through to Miss Josie Rudge’s residence … there was a controlled anger in Margaret’s voice as she explained that it would be a pity for herself and her husband John, who were quite generous to the school and hall committees, to make the trip to Truro for the concert only to find that her house-maid, Tess was being denied a chance to recite a most favoured poem that she had been practicing assiduously for the last few weeks …

“Oh but really, Mrs Esau … the girl is totally unsuitable to recite on stage,” Josie Rudge complained. “She is almost illiterate and her elocution is as deep and broad as an Irish bog!” … Margaret let a long silence hang in the air before she answered:

“I have been coaching her, Miss Rudge.”

There was a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the line … then a new tack was tried …

“Well, the McBain twins have come back for the holidays from their finishing school in Adelaide and I have promised them a quartet of songs with piano accompaniment in the program” …

“Yes, we are well acquainted with the McBains of Anna Creek Station … quite well acquainted and I can assure you that they will not mind if you reduce their girls to a triplet of songs and make shift to place young Tess into the repertoire.” This last with the stern voice of the Lady of the Manor … of course, Miss Rudge complied with Margaret’s wishes and a telephone was put through several days later to tell Tess the good news.

Tess walked out onto the stage of the Truro Civic Hall on the evening of the Empire Day Concert and stood proud to recite her favourite poem:

“From the collected poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon.” She spoke in a clear and precise voice … the hint of Irish brogue adding a lilt of delightful colour to her words …

Thora’s Song, Tess announced .. and she began the recital.

And when Tess had finished the poem, and a suitable round of applause rent the high ceilings of the hall, she surprised everyone to announce that she …

“ … would now like to do a short poem of my own hand in recognition of our benefactor Mrs Margaret Esau of Portee station … on a theme gratefully borrowed from Mr Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; “Hiawatha” … and Tess began:

“On the shores of the mighty Murray,

By its calm and tranquil waters,

Stood the halls of Portee Station … “

John Esau leaned over to whisper into Margaret’s ear …

“Be blowed if she hasn’t stolen some of the thunder of Mr Longfellow” … and he chuckled.

“I suspect Mr Longfellow can spare a bit,” Margaret smiled.

“The cheek of the girl,” John smirked.

“Yes,” Margaret agreed, “marvellous, isn’t it?”

There is an announcement in the regional newspaper of the times of the proceedings of that Empire Day evening … it reads thus:

“Items that were particularly well received were “The Flag Makers”, a patriotic tableau presented by grades VI and VII. A nautical song; All Over the Place by Pauline Harris assisted by the senior girls who danced The Sailor’s Hornpipe.

Films were also shown on the school’s projector, interesting and instructive films in keeping with the observance of Empire Day. They were entitled “Battle for France” the “Evacuation of Dunkirk” and the fall of France (two years ago) and “The Navy at Work.”

A variety of songs and poetry recitals were given by the young ladies of the district … Of particular appeal was the recital of a poem Thora’s Song from The Collected Poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon, by Miss Tess Jones of Portee Station.

The dancing and other items were arranged by Miss Josie Rudge and Mrs I. Richards was the pianist for the evening … A grand time was had by all!”

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