LEST WE FORGET – THE ANZAC DAY CENTENARY


rising-sunThe Rising Sun Badge – Third Pattern, May 1904, carried a scroll inscribed with the words ‘Australian Commonwealth Military Forces’ and was worn throughout both World Wars by the First and Second AIF. Although there were a number of variations, one of which was the Commonwealth Horse, this badge pattern formed the template for all subsequent General Service badges.   Source: http://www.army.gov.au

For Australia, fighting in the ‘Great War’ began with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landing at Rabaul on 11 September 1914, ultimately taking possession of German New Guinea and islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. On 14 November 1914 the Royal Australian Navy HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden. Our legend, however, starts six months later . . .

The drip feed rifle was implemented during the evacuation of Gallipoli, to confuse the Turks into thinking Anzac Cove was still being defended. When enough water had dripped into a jam tin, the weight caused a string to pull the trigger.

The drip feed rifle was implemented during the evacuation of Gallipoli. A string was connected from a jam tin to the rifle trigger. Water from an overhead container dripped into the tin. At a certain weight, the rifle would fire. Sporadic firing left the Turks with the impression that Anzac Cove was still being defended. (picture source: http://www.firearmstalk.com)

Around 4.30am, on 25th April 1915, about 1500 men of the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, comprising battalions from Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, together with the 3rd Field Ambulance, landed on Gallipoli near Ari Burnu point. A second wave of 2500 men followed shortly after. They were the first of the many thousands of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps to land and fight in Gallipoli. Although the Gallipoli invasion failed to reach its objectives, and perhaps the most successful campaign was the evacuation of 41,000 troops in mid December 1915 – at a time when the horrors of the Western Front were still to be discovered – the tradition of the ANZAC was born. Even today, the area near their landing point is referred to as ANZAC Cove.

Australia was a young nation, only federated in 1901. The First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) was formed on 15 August 1914, in response to Britain declaring war on Germany. The AIF was, and remained for the duration of WWI, a volunteer force, and Australians volunteered in their thousands. What drove them to it? The chance to fight as Australians, not as part of the colonial forces of the British Army was a part of it. In 1914, however, Australia was still very tied to the “mother country”. Duty and loyalty to the British Empire was a big factor, and men and women wanted to “do their bit” for King and Country. Australia is also a long way from Europe, and the idea that they were going off to a grand adventure was a big lure. In thinking the fighting would be all over by Christmas, many young men feared they wouldn’t reach Europe in time. They were eager to enlist as soon as possible. Later, after the casualty lists of Gallipoli were published, men enlisted to support their mates, or to avoid being thought a coward, or handed a white feather. Then there was the pay; Aussies were sometimes referred to as the “six bob a day tourists”. For the 1000 or so Aboriginal recruits, it was the first time they had received equal pay. Their contribution is particularly remarkable when it is recalled that Australian society at the time did not consider them citizens, and most did not have the right to vote, nor were they counted in the census.

The 25th April is thought of by many as the day we truly became a nation, at least in the sense of the foundation of our military history, and it was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916. Its observance is not a celebratory party, however, but more of a dignified and solemn remembrance of all that Australia lost in the Great War – the ‘war to end all wars’. As well, we commemorate service in all those wars and peacekeeping missions which have followed, including our current representation in Afghanistan and Iraq. The mood of the crowd is reflective and sad, we mourn those who died, and those who were injured, and there is an undercurrent that ultimately, all war is futile.

It is traditional to hold a dawn remembrance and wreath laying service. Dawn signifies an acknowledgement of how those young men of the 1st AIF must have felt as they assembled on the ships in the early hours of the morning, and were towed in lifeboats, launches and cutters towards the Gallipoli beaches in the pre-dawn gloom, enveloped in a sea mist, and chilled because they were ordered to wear their tunics with sleeves rolled to the elbow, so that their white skin would allow for easier identification during the confusion of assault. The Turks had first spotted them a couple of hours earlier, and were assembling ready and waiting to defend their land. . . (If you can’t see anything in the photos below, then you have some idea of their experience).

Later in the day, depending on the size of the town, there may also be a street march, usually ending at the local cenotaph or shrine of remembrance.

This year, we travelled to Bogan Gate, a small country town we last visited in 2010. (https://garrulousgwendoline.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/exploring-nsw-forbes-to-dubbo/)

Bogan Gate in 1914 was a prosperous sheep farming area, with many families related through marriage and mate-ship. Like many country towns, its population is declining, and is currently around 200, but for this extra special one hundred year anniversary, the attendance swelled to around 500. Descendants had come from all over, with several of the more senior members being the last surviving children of those original ANZACs.

One of the poignant stories of those who enlisted from country towns all over Australia is that they were a hardy farming lot, and accomplished horsemen. Many joined the Light Horse Brigade – mounted troops who were organised more along cavalry rather than infantry lines. They took their beloved horses with them to war, but when it came to Gallipoli, the decision was made to send the Light Horse Brigades in as pure infantry, and, although they were later used in other campaigns, for this fight the horses were left behind in Egypt, or not disembarked from the transport ships. Australia sent 136,000 horses overseas, predominantly Walers, a mixed breed horse, suited to tough and dry Australian conditions, a good match for the harsh climate of the Sinai and Palestine campaigns. When the war finished, however, cost and quarantine considerations meant that only one horse was ever returned to Australia – ‘Sandy’ who belonged to Major General Sir William Bridges, who was killed at Gallipoli. . . .

Authorities are good at finding the money to go to war, funding peace is a harder concept.

Amongst the many who enlisted from Bogan Gate was Staff Nurse Grace Linda Tomlinson of the Australian Army Nursing Service. 26 year old Nurse Tomlinson enlisted in mid 1917, served in Bombay, India, returned at the beginning of 1920 and was discharged unfit a year later.

There were also three Magill brothers, distant relatives of my cousins. They were all Light Horsemen, and it was fitting the remembrance service was supported by the Trundle Light Horse Re-Enactment Troop.

Inside the memorial hall, remembrance plaques had been hung on the walls. Imagine how Mrs Magill felt when her three sons went off to war, one after the other:

Eric died in a Malta war hospital of septicaemia as a result of wounds incurred on Gallipoli. On the 19th July he wrote to his mother. After thanking the local ladies for their support of Belgian refugees, and politely requesting care packages and old magazines for his group in Gallipoli, he goes on to tell of how another local boy was wounded:

“Now I will give you a bit of an account of how poor Cooper was hit. There were sixteen of us sent out as a screen, in charge of a sergeant. We were made into patrols of four, three men and an N.C.O. in charge. I was in charge of King, Cooper and Boswell. We had orders to retire to shelter (about 30 yards) if we were shelled. The Turks’ trenches were 150 yards in front of us, and we were covered by low scrub, about knee high, through which we crawled, though the Turks on our right, 1000 yards away, could see us if they were watching at all. We were out about 20 minutes, when the Turks opened fire on us with shrapnel. I was slightly in advance of the other three, and ordered them to retire, when King sang out to me that Cooper was hit. King, Sgt. Hewitt and I ran to him, and started to carry him in, I took his feet, Hewitt his head, and King in between. When we stood up we were exposed from the knee up, and the Turks opened on us with rifles. We carried him a few yards, till King exclaimed, “My God! My poor old leg is gone,” and dropped. Hewitt and I carried Cooper on to our trench, and then went back for King. We carried him to the trench, and found his leg was broken above the knee, and Cooper was hit in the thigh, the shrapnel bullet coming out through his stomach. Corp. Bolton, on my left, had Gibbons hit in the leg, and Kennedy in the hand, both flesh wounds. I then crept out, and got Gibbons’ rifle, and we retired with all the honours of war, bringing in our arms and wounded. This happened on the 10th July.” (source: Forbes Advocate Friday 10 September 1915 p6)

A few months later, in October, another neighbour’s son serving in Gallipoli wrote home to his mother with the news that Eric had been hit by a shell on the eve of being transferred to hospital for jaundice. Before the month was out, the family was gutted with the news that Eric had died five days later. He was just 22 years old.

In the meantime, their (first-born) son Frank had enlisted, and had been sent overseas just two weeks before Eric’s wounding. He served his four years in the Middle East mostly with the 12th Light Horse, and would have been part of the contingent who charged Beersheba on 31 October 1917, and probably part of that which entered Damascus the next year. Their third son, Jack, also enlisted in the 12th Light Horse, and spent the final year of the war in the Middle East. Mrs Magill no doubt breathed a sigh of relief that the war was finished before her fourth son was old enough to enlist.

Sounding the Last Post

Sounding the Last Post

After the mounted bugler sounded the Last Post, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McCDWYgVyps) and we bowed our heads in a minute’s silence, I reflected on the huge toll that WWI took on Australia.

From a population of approx 4.9 million, around 420,000 Australians enlisted for service, representing 38.7 per cent of the male population aged between 18 and 44. Over 60,000 were killed, and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. At 64.8 per cent, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of the war. The New Zealanders fared just as badly, or even a little worse.

 

Statistics are one side of the picture, but they hide the human story of the pain and worry about the loved ones who you may never see again, or who return home never again to be the person who left. Amongst the memorabilia on display in the local hall, was a simply bound photocopied catalogue of all the names of those who died. Each one a single line of name, number, unit, and date, location and cause of death. There was Eric Magill, and there was Private Alexander Richardson Kyle – my aunt’s father – killed in action at Hargicourt, near Bullecourt in France on 18th September 1918. Two year old Aunty Nan never knew another father. There, also, was Oscar Walker, one of the real life people in the book I am reading at the moment: The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker. Nineteen year old Oscar enlisted in October 1916, and was killed in France on 4th September 1918. The cause of death column has many acronyms: KIA, DOW. Oscar’s is one simple, inescapable word: gassed.

And within twenty years of this world-wide tragedy, as a consequence of the outbreak of WWII, the sons of the two returned Magill brothers would find it their turn to fight for “King and Country”. As would the descendants of the Walker brothers who did survive.

This article is compiled from historical knowledge and understanding, with fact checking to several sources, e.g:

http://www.anzacsite.gov.au/1landing/bgrnd.html

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/aborigines/indigenous/

https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/horses/sandy/

https://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/44/page54_bou/

http://www.gallipoli.gov.au/anzac-timeline/events-of-the-gallipoli-campaign/april-1915.php

http://rslnsw.org.au/commemoration/heritage/the-first-world-war

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waler_horse

 

Qantas B747-400 VH-OJA Retires


Flight Path Boeing 747-400, The Plan: B747 arrival Sunday 8. ETD Sydney 0730  Landing AP 0747. Coming down the coast, low level, turning in over the lighthouse around 0735 to pick up a 5 nm final approach from the north. Weather permitting..... max 10 kts crosswind, nil tailwind, runway dry, good visibility.  Source: J. Thurstan, HARS Volunteer

Flight Path Boeing 747-400, The Plan: B747 arrival Sunday 8. ETD Sydney 0730 Landing AP 0747. Coming down the coast, low level, turning in over the lighthouse around 0735 to pick up a 5 nm final approach from the north. Weather permitting….. max 10 kts crosswind, nil tailwind, runway dry, good visibility. SOURCE: J. Thurstan, HARS Volunteer

Being more of a night owl than an early bird, there needs to be a compelling reason for me to tumble out of bed before sunrise. Sunday 8th March was one of those days. The City of Canberra, the first Boeing 747-400 to be acquired by our national carrier Qantas, was due to land at the Illawarra Regional Airport at Albion Park, which is located south of Wollongong on the east coast of New South Wales.

The small airport, more accustomed to light aircraft and joy flights, is also home to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) who scored a major coup in being selected as the final destination for this much loved and highly celebrated ‘Flying Kangaroo’, retiring after twenty-five years of service.

All vantage areas around the airport were packed as thousands jostled to watch its arrival – scheduled for 0747 hours. (Actual touch down was 7:50am EDST). None of our photos do the event any justice, they are out of focus and the morning was a little foggy – almost from too high humidity – however I thought these two were humorous. If you look in the foreground, you will see the neon road sign warnings: “changed traffic conditions” and, “expect delays” – you reckon?

There are so many interesting facts associated with this aircraft:

It was just the twelfth Boeing 747-400 to be built out of a total of 694.

Covering a distance of 18,001 kilometres (11,185 mi) the City of Canberra holds the world record for the longest ever commercial flight – its delivery flight non-stop from London to Sydney in 20 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds in August 1989. Only sixteen passengers plus crew travelled on this flight, additional weight was stripped back and a special high density fuel was used. You can read much more about that here.

On its 13,833 flights, the aircraft has carried 4,094,568 passengers, covering almost 85 million kilometres, the equivalent to 110.2 return trips to the moon.

Its final flight, from Sydney to Albion Park, was completed in under fifteen minutes at an altitude of 4000-5000 feet. It is capable of flying up to 45,000 feet and usually cruises in the mid to high 30,000s.

It was the first 747-400 to land at the regional airport, and the four pilots, Captain Greg Matthews (Qantas’ manager of training), first officer Peter Hagley (747 technical pilot), second officer Michael East and Captain Ossie Miller (the 747 fleet captain) spent more than twenty-five hours in the Qantas simulator preparing to land on a runway only 1,819 metres (1.13 miles) long, compared to an average of 3,000 metres (1.86 miles) at Sydney Airport. After consultation with manufacturer Boeing, the tyre pressure on the 16-wheel main landing gear was reduced from a standard 208psi to 120psi to avoid damaging the runway. Take off weight was almost halved from a maximum 397,200kg to just 201,000kg. Only 20,000 kilograms of fuel were loaded, just enough for a second landing attempt or a return to Sydney if needed.

Excitement on the ground mounted as she was spotted approaching the airport at a speed of 132 knots, far lower than the usual 180 knots. The aircraft came in low and slow, right over the top of us, and touched down perfectly, a puff of smoke rising from the runway as she pulled up with metres to spare, and rolled on to reach the tug waiting at the end. With a wingspan of 64 metres, and this runway just 30 metres wide, the two outside engines hung over the runway’s edge, creating quite a spectacle.

There are many videos of the landing on youtube. The attached link gives a good idea to the build up, includes radio communication and has captured a great runway angle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmWE9KGYN6s

Bringing this aircraft to Wollongong is a crowning achievement for the hard working volunteers at HARS, and the Boeing 747 joins its growing collection of over forty aircraft types, including a Southern Cross replica, a PBY Catalina, a Douglas DC3, a DC4, a Lockheed P2 Neptune, a Super Constellation – the beloved “Connie”, a Vampire, a Sabre, a Mirage, and an F111.

For all those followers of this blog who are also aviation enthusiasts, if you are coming to Wollongong, make sure you leave time to visit this facility. Details here.

 

Crazy for PBY Catalina Flying Boats


Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (8)

Sunday February 22 was my twenty-ninth wedding anniversary. Where I live, that’s not such a big deal. We have people living here who have been married for longer than I have been on this planet, and that’s getting to be longer than I am altogether comfortable with. Nevertheless, twenty-nine years is a personal best for me, not that I am altogether sure that is how marriages are measured either :-) . . . Anywho . . . moving right along . . .

Although I rush to assure readers that we spent a happy day engrossed in each other’s company, there was a moment when I logged on to the computer, and my goodness-golly-gosh, what a surprise was waiting there. My email box was inundated with ‘likes’ and new ‘followers’ thanks to US based fellow blogger, GP Cox – who writes about the Pacific War and other military history at https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com – having re-blogged two articles I had written on the Catalina flying boat. What a thrill that gave me. His blog has a very wide reach, and I was amazed to receive feedback from more than sixty people. That’s a first for me. I have done my best to thank each individually, but if I missed you, let me just say I was delighted to receive such a positive response.

My fascination with Catalinas first began in 1974. I had moved to the eastern suburbs of Sydney, near to the Rose Bay flying base which ran a commuter service to Lord Howe Island. How I longed to take an island holiday by travelling there in one of those flying birds! Unfortunately the service was withdrawn in September 1974 before I had saved enough pennies. It was a sad day for me, let me tell you. There is still a restaurant on the water at Rose Bay called The Catalina, but its website only gives a scant nod to the original history.

So I never achieved that ambition, but from time to time in my travels I stumble across Catalinas. So it was that hubbie and I chanced upon the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum in Victoria (Aust), which is the post Pacific Paratrooper re-blogged. He also included a link to a follow up story on the Black Cats and Double Sunrise Service, featuring the Catalina of our local Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) at Albion Park, south of Wollongong, New South Wales (Aust).

There is obviously such a love of this craft that I decided to re-feature that particular Catalina. It is about to appear at the Australian International Airshow to be held at Avalon Airport, Victoria. The Catalina will leave Albion Park tomorrow morning with two pilots, an engineer and around half dozen other support people. The flight will take four hours and fifteen minutes, and the Catalina will perform flypast and handling demonstrations on three days of the show. Below is the media release, taken from the Airshow website http://www.airshow.com.au/airshow2015.

At the end of this post, I am including the photographs provided to me last year by HARS. However, I rang my buddy as I was drafting this post, and they were right in the middle of preparing the Catalina for tomorrow’s flight. He promptly took A LOT of photos for me. I am going to include them all here in a slide show, ‘cos I guess there are some enthusiasts out there who will love to see the details of how it is currently fitted i.e. military style. You will note that it was raining here today, but not too bad. The photos include the pilot ( in blue) Gordon Glynn, and flight engineer, Jim Marshall.

For good measure, I will also throw in a few photographs of the author with a Catalina taken last September at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire, England. You will notice it is not black :-)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MEDIA RELEASE Black Cat on the Prowl

A classic World War Two workhorse, the famous PBY Catalina flying boat, will be among the many historic warbirds soaring skyward at Airshow 2015. Catalinas were used extensively by the RAAF during the War and were dubbed Black Cats because they often flew night time missions behind enemy lines. (In fact PBYs were often painted black as a night camouflage). From bases in northern Australia they would probe deep into Japanese-held territory on assignments that often involved 30 hours or more continuous flying. Catalina crews mined many harbours including Hong Kong and Manila, inserted commandos into enemy areas and rescued many downed Allied aircrew. These long range seaplanes were slow, even by the standards of the day, with a cruising speed of 200 kilometres an hour however they boasted a highly impressive range of 5,700 kilometres. They were armed with 2 x 50 caliber machine guns in blisters port and starboard and 303 machine guns in turrets fore and aft. They could also carry 1,800 kilograms of mines or bombs hung from beneath the wings. It was the same bomb load as the B-17 Flying Fortress. Catalinas were fitted with the same Pratt and Whitney engines used on the Dakota DC3, power units famed for their reliability. The Black Cat appearing at Avalon is owned by the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) and is painted to represent RAAF A94-362 as flown by HARS member Rees Hughes. It is fitted with wheels rather than floats. The society maintains the aircraft as a flying memorial to all Australian airmen who flew these hardy, durable and versatile machines during the War. The Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition will be staged at Avalon Airport 24 February to 1 March.

Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (1) Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (2) Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (3) Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (4) Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (5) Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (6) Catalina Flying Boat courtesy of Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Albion Park, NSW, Australia (7)

 

DuxfordAirMuseum0067

 

DuxfordAirMuseum0065

DuxfordAirMuseum0063

DuxfordAirMuseum0062

I belong to No One to be Published in July 2015


2015-02-12 Hachette Flowers 001

 

These beautiful flowers are a gift from my publisher. Yes, you read that right dear readers. In July, Hachette Australia will release my memoir, I Belong to No One, as a paperback and ebook simultaneously. Set in 1960s and 1970s Australia, it is an emotionally engaging tale of a time when women were trapped by the shameful secrets of teen pregnancy, illegitimacy and domestic abuse. As events unfold, the reader gains insight into the reason our former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, issued an apology to all those affected by the practices of Forced Adoption. It is a story of loss, but it is also a story of triumph over adversity, and I hope many people will be touched and comforted through reading it.

Recently, I had my first official meeting with Hachette, where I was guided through what to expect in the run-up to publication and the first months following release. They are working on the back cover blurb – which is a good thing – because I found writing a synopsis harder than writing the book, and the idea of condensing the synopsis into an attention grabbing few paragraphs had my head in a spin. I should also have the finalised cover in the next month.

At the meeting, my publisher at Hachette was very supportive. She stressed to me that I should celebrate every step of the way, and reminded me, in the nicest possible way, what an achievement it is to secure a publishing contract in today’s climate. Hear, hear!

Really, it is still difficult to absorb this is really happening to me. A career in shipping and logistics hardly prepared me for this experience, so every step of the journey is a brand new day. It is quite a ride.

I can confess now that I was unable to blog for a couple of months as I was head down, nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, bum on seat, fingers glued to laptop etc. etc., soldiering on through yet another edit of my memoir. I had already self-edited to the point where I felt I could do no more, at which time I sent the manuscript to a professional for appraisal. That resulted in another edit, which then led on to another manuscript appraisal with a different editor, who then worked with me to get it to publishable standard.

Last year fellow blogger Sandra Danby wrote an excellent post on her experience of copy-editing her novel Ignoring Gravity. You can be sure I had already taken on board what she had to say. Sandra also kindly announced my publication in her ‘new books coming soon’ section last February 22nd. Thank you Sandra!

The difference with the most recent edit is that I was responding to the publisher’s copy editor. Then in today’s mail I have received what is called first page proofs. Now the layout looks as it would if it was in a printed book. I have glanced through the stack, and it looks – different. No longer is it a manuscript in Times New Roman 12. No longer is it double-spaced on A4 paper. I have spent so many, many years looking at a manuscript, and now . . . gosh. Well, it is no longer my baby, that is for sure. It seems to have turned into a teenager overnight, a stranger inhabiting the body of the child you thought you knew so well. Now I have to look at it very, very critically making sure my changes have been interpreted correctly, and looking for proof reading errors.

I have a publisher, (she sighs and looks dreamy) . . . picture insecure debut author dancing around the laptop. A little celebration before the hard work of proof-reading begins.

My Dark and Stormy Night Story


It was a dark and stormy night. Whoops! Correction. Last night was a dark and stormy night. The meeting I was attending broke up around nine pm. Downstairs, the rain stopped long enough for me to reach my car parked a few minutes away. I hadn’t wanted to take the train. I wouldn’t get home until well after eleven pm and I didn’t feel safe on the public transport at that time of night.

I punched ‘home’ into the satnav, which proceeded to wind me around suburban streets in a zig-zag pattern, right, left, right, left – when all the time my innate sense of direction told me the main road was straight ahead. The rain was falling heavily again, and cars were parked on both sides of the darkened back streets. It was difficult to pick out exactly where my side of the road actually was. Finally, the satnav merged me onto the main highway, much further south than where I would have joined left to myself, and just beyond a wide curve which hid the traffic I was joining.

On familiar territory at last, I relaxed and turned on the radio. It was a political panel discussion. Last week our (Liberal) Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, fought off an internal leadership spill. The word on the street is that he ordered his front bench to vote for him, meaning that when the votes were counted, something like 60% of his back bench voted against him. He prevailed. Partly because no one actually stood against him. In a television interview that night, he told the reporter “I know how to beat Labor Party leaders. I beat Kevin Rudd, I beat Julia Gillard, I can beat Bill Shorten as well. What I’m not good at is fighting the Liberal Party and that’s why I say to all of my colleagues: we will now go on together to build a better Australia and to point out that Bill Shorten has no answers; he just has a complaint.” (Translation for non-Australian readers: Bill Shorten etc are the opposition Labor Party)

I sighed. When will we ever have a government that stops focusing on beating their opponents into power, and concentrates instead on governing the country? Visionary Australian Prime Ministers who can actually lead seem a distant memory. Maybe they were always a myth.

The rain was pelting on the roof and I had the radio volume up loud. I passed a railway station lit brightly enough to be seen from space. Whenever I pass this station I wonder why it is so well fitted out in comparison to others on that line. Although it is close to the end of the Sydney suburban rail network, it is not a connection hub. I found myself wondering about who was their local parliamentary member and how much clout he or she had.

Five minutes later I slowed to go through Heathcote, the gateway to the Royal National Park and a landmark on the freeway drive south to Wollongong. Moments later, we all accelerated again, striving for the 100klm (60mph) limit, except the rain was so heavy and visibility so poor that most of the scant traffic was doing less than that. No one could put their high beam on though, as we would dazzle oncoming traffic and the light only bounce back at us in the rain. Every so often a flash of lightning lit the way ahead.

I became aware of an unusual sound from the tyres. For a minute or so, I told myself it must be the sound of the wet tarmac. I strained to see if the road surface was different on this stretch. Then I turned the radio off and listened harder as I drove. The cabin was filling with a howling noise. Not normal. Not good.

Last year, I had a flat tyre on exactly this stretch of highway, going in the opposite direction. Could I really have a flat again? In the old days, you knew immediately, the car would wobble, almost out of control, and the steering wheel would drag heavily. In my more recent experience, with tubeless tyres, the only signal is the weird noise.

There is bushland either side of the freeway at this point, and no lights. In the darkness, with the rain still lashing down, I tossed the alternatives in my mind. Trash the tyre by driving on – or stop the car here and risk getting hit by a following car when I got out to see what was the problem? I chose to drive on, slower, but still covering about a kilometre a minute. A couple of minutes later, I pulled over onto an unlit, deserted side road that leads up to a pet hotel. No traffic going there at this time of night. Out of the car in a break in the rain – sure enough. Driver’s rear tyre, flat as the proverbial tack.

When the road assist arrived about thirty minutes later, he didn’t bother to greet me. He looked at a cement dividing strip at the entrance to the side road. “S’pose you managed to hit that?”

“Well, no, actually,” I replied. “This happened a couple of k’s back.” I didn’t know whether to be more mortified at the suggestion that I had driven straight off the road into a cement bollard, or to be admitting that I had knowingly driven the tyre into the ground.

When I was much younger, I used to change my own flat tyres, although in reality it was a two woman job. One to hold the crowbar and another to jump on the handle to loosen or tighten the nuts. These days, there is no point trying it yourself. Another break in the rain gave him the ten minutes he needed. All I did was stand by with umbrella at the ready as he placed his jack – which looked more like a breathing machine – under the car, attached it to a compressor, sent the car shooting in the air and then got out his racing car style zzt-zzt machine to unscrew the nuts.

I’d run the hazard lights while waiting for him to show up, so I asked him to wait while I checked that hadn’t flattened the battery as well. Then he decided to stand on the cement bollard with his torch while I reversed up to get in position to drive back on to the highway. It was a kind gesture. Can you imagine if I had hit it and caused a second flat? Then I really would be in trouble.

I still had thirty minutes of high speed freeway driving to reach home. I left the radio off and imagined every odd motor sound as more signals of trouble on the horizon. The rain came again so heavily that all the southbound traffic bunched into a congo line, snaking along below the speed limit, all with our hazard lights on. We left braking distance between each other, but none of us dropped so far back as to lose sight of the lights in front. “Visibility was poor” is an understatement, and there was still the steep descent of Mount Ousley to negotiate.

Eventually I walked in the door sometime after eleven pm – around the same time as if I had taken the train. Bill commented that he’d heard “a bit of rain” and seen the occasional flash of lightning.

“Bill,” I said, “Out there, it is a dark and stormy night . . . ”

 

 

 

 

 

The Annual March of the Grandchildren


2015-01-20 Symbio Zoo 137

Nonna, if I look cute will you feed me again? Meerkat imitating the look of hungry grandchild . . .

The six week Australian summer school holidays are at an end, and all our grand-kidlets are back in their respective cubby-holes for another term. Once again, we managed to have visits where they tagged each other: at first two, joined by the next two, then three went, and then there was one, until finally none. When they are all here, it is like a chorus from Ten Green Bottles, with kids literally hanging off the walls and sharing beds. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, I would – but partially geography, and partially availability, means the visits always get sandwiched into January.

They are not really kids any more, so we can count ourselves lucky if they still want to come and visit Nonna and Pa in the upcoming years. Three are in high school, with the eldest of them now starting senior school (two years here), and then, scores willing – off to university. And she just got her driver’s learning permit. Watch out!

It was an action packed time, with lots of sun and water, at the beach, the swimming pool, and all day at a local water theme park. Actually, I had a ball at that one too! I rode the various water slides, and had two goes using a toboggan bobsled on metal rails (the only dry activity). Then there were visits to a local zoo, and twice to the movies. As luck would have it though, for Australia Day (26th January), the weather turned cool, and the evening fireworks were almost obliterated by rain.

We took heaps of photos, but I am reluctant to post photos without their parents knowledge, so here are some alternatives . . . Hope you enjoy . . .

This is a THONG (not a flip-flop)

This is a THONG (not a flip-flop)

And this is a thing throwing contest on Australia Day

And this is a THONG throwing contest on Australia Day

And this is Kidlets #3 and #4 saying good-bye to Wollongong until the next time

And this is Kidlets #3 and #4 saying good-bye to Wollongong until the next time

Fireworks in a hazy rain

Fireworks in a hazy rain

Liz Thurlow, Part Nine: Lies and More Lies


‘The usual?’ Bob was already reaching for the gin bottle.

‘Why would it be any different?’ Liz’s tone was waspish, unnecessarily sarcastic. She was still feeling fragile, off-balance.

Bob gave her a hard look as he poured the gin and tonic. Liz turned back to the stove. Bob took his beer around to the other side of the kitchen bench where he could see her side on.

‘You okay?’

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘You look a bit . . . peakish.’

‘Thanks for the compliment.’

‘Liz. I’m only asking. You don’t seem to be yourself lately.’

‘So nice of you to notice.’

‘So what is it?’

‘Nothing . . . everything. Oh nothing. I just get sick of doing the same thing, day in, day out.’

Bob took another sip of his beer. ‘Dot rang me today.’

‘Dot?’ Liz felt her stomach freeze. ‘Dot who?’

‘Dot. Your tennis friend.’

‘Oh? Why would she do that?’

‘She says you haven’t been at tennis lately. They’re all worried about you. She says she’s been ringing the house – no answer. And no answer to her messages either.’

‘Well, I haven’t heard the phone ring.’ Liz tried to sound off-hand. ‘Hasn’t rung much at all lately, come to think of it.’

‘Have you stopped tennis?’

‘Yes. I got a bit bored. Same old, same old. And those biddies. Always got too much to say about other people’s business.’

‘You didn’t think to tell them first?’ Bob was dialling a number on his mobile.

Liz ignored his question, tried to deflect the conversation, ‘Who are you calling?’ she asked.

‘Us. Checking out whether the phone is ringing.’ They both paused, listening to the ring-out tone on the mobile. The home phone stayed silent.

‘Strange,’ Bob strolled over and picked it up, ‘Oh! Here’s the problem. The volume button is pushed way down. I wonder how that happened?’

‘Maybe I did it when I was cleaning,’ Liz’s stomach was doing back-flips now. ‘I disinfected everything a few weeks back.’

‘Mmmm, doesn’t explain why it is not recording messages though.’ Bob dialled the number again and let the phone ring out to the message bank. ‘Testing, testing,’ he spoke into the mobile.

He was just about to play it back when Liz banged the dinner down on the table. ‘Oh, stop fussing will you. I’ll check it out tomorrow.’ She stabbed at the remote control. ‘Here – the news has already started. You’ll miss the headlines.’

————–

Bob didn’t doze off on the lounge after dinner. He seemed to be unusually alert. Around ten, he suggested they turn in together. As he pulled back the covers on his side of the bed, he frowned.

‘Liz. Clean sheets?’

‘Yes. So?’

‘Liz. It’s the second pair this week.’

‘You notice these things?’

‘Well, I can hardly not notice. Yesterday’s were brown, these are blue.’

Liz hadn’t counted on this. She imagined Bob staggered up the stairs and fell in to bed each night oblivious to these things.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘I had a lay down, and . . . well, I had an accident. Embarrassing really. I had to change the sheets.’

‘What sort of accident?’

‘Really, Bob. I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Liz,’ Bob was looking very concerned, ‘are you sure you are quite well? You wouldn’t keep anything from me would you?’

‘Why would you think that?’

‘Well, when I was talking to Dot, I suggested you might have been still helping that new woman.’

‘Which woman?’ Liz was confused.

‘The new one at the tennis club. The one you said needed to have a second breast scan.’

‘Oh, her. No . . . no I haven’t seen her in a while.’

‘Well, it’s just that Dot said there was no new woman.’

Liz felt she was going to throw up. She wasn’t used to lying. She never imagined it would be so complicated.

‘Silly old -‘

Bob cut in. ‘Liz, it was you wasn’t it. You got a call back on your last scan. And you didn’t tell me. Why would you keep something like that from me? I’m your husband. I’m here to support you.’

Liz breathed out. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that!

‘Look,’ she said, more smoothly than she could have imagined she was capable of, ‘I didn’t want to worry you. Over nothing. And it was nothing – really.’

‘So why have you stopped tennis? And why are you lying down in the day? You’ve always been so energetic.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. It’s probably menopause. Hot sweats and all that.’

‘But, you’re only fifty Liz. Would you be menopausal already?’

‘Lot’s of women are at that age.’

Bob looked unconvinced. ‘Well, I hope you’d tell me if there is anything serious. I’m concerned for you Liz. Something doesn’t seem quite right lately. You would tell me, wouldn’t you?’

‘Of course, silly.’ Liz gave him a hug and a kiss. ‘Thank you. You’re such a sweet man.’

Her mouth was saying one thing, her head was thinking another. And her stomach was roiling.

————–

A few hours later Liz stirred to the sounds of gas rumbling in her stomach. It wasn’t long before she could feel hot acid churning in her gut. It was burning, running back up towards her throat. She couldn’t stay lying down. Liz shook herself awake and stumbled to the bathroom for some antacid. Then she sat in the big armchair in the bedroom, the one she used to nurse the children when they were little babies. She tried to doze off, sitting upright, like she used to do so long ago, but the reflux attack was the worst she had ever experienced. Her stomach and chest were on fire. She was in agony. She tip-toed to the bathroom downstairs and tried to throw up quietly, but nothing happened. She didn’t want to wake Bob, couldn’t face any more of his questions right then. She took another antacid and propped herself up on the lounge, willing the pain away. Eventually, she drifted into a light doze.

She was dreaming, images and conversations mixing and melding. Tony, Bob, houses, utes, number plates . .  I BLD 4U. Srce Moy. My darling one. Dostoevsky. Caravans. Boring holidays. Her children. Babies nursing at her breast. Jan tap dancing. Her watering Jan’s garden. Tony again. Breast scans. But she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming. There was a voice in her head. It was asking over and over, is this dream or reality? And she was answering, this one is a dream, this one is reality.

It was the pre-dawn bird calls which stirred her again. After all, she must have slipped into a deeper sleep. She padded back upstairs and slipped into bed beside Bob. He rolled over and cuddled into her. ‘You okay?’ it was a muffled mumble into her hair.

‘Mmmm. Needed the toilet. Nothing to worry about. Go back to sleep.’

He pulled her closer and snuggled in. The snuffles a moment later told her he had dropped off again. She lay there planning what she should do next. She knew she had seen the answer in her dream. She just had to remember the message.

————–

 As soon as Bob left for the station, Liz was on her mobile. She jabbed in the number from the slip of paper she still had in her wallet. It answered on the third ring.

‘Tony?’

‘Yeah. Tony Babic here.’

‘Tony. It’s Liz.’

‘Liz?’ he sounded surprised.

‘Are you on your way to Jan’s?’

‘Yeah. What wrong Liz?’

‘Are you alone?’

‘Of course. Like usual.’

Liz took a breath. ‘Tony. I don’t want you to come here any more.’

‘Oh! You mean Liz – you wanna’ stop? Just like that? Why?’

This is it Liz. This is the moment where you say: ‘That’s right Tony. I don’t want you coming here any more. This was a bad idea. I don’t know why I didn’t realise before. I thought I was bored, but really I was content. I have a perfect life, perfect husband. He knows I am hiding something from him. Now he is worrying that I am sick with cancer and not telling him. This has got to stop.’

Liz clutched the phone tighter. ‘That’s right Tony. I don’t want you coming here any more. This was a bad idea. I don’t know why I didn’t realise before. My husband knows I am hiding something from him.’

‘Liz? You wan we stop seeing each other?’

‘No, silly. I mean it was a bad idea doing it here. I’ve had the key to Jan’s house all along. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before now.’

‘You wan meet in Jan’s house?’

‘Yes, of course. Much simpler.’

‘You think that good idea?’

‘It’s a great idea. Should have thought of it ages ago.’

‘Well, whatever you think is good.’

‘And another thing Tony . . . From now on, I choose the timing.’

‘Sure, boss.’ Liz could picture the grin on his face, ‘so I see you soon, ne?’

‘Mmmmm, might be time for me to keep you guessing.’ Liz was laughing now, ‘See you.’

Liz rang off, checked back into her call log and deleted the record. No point leaving a trail, she thought.

This is the ninth part in a story building exercise for character, Liz Thurlow.

Previous Episodes: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight