Showing posts with label Grafton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grafton. Show all posts

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My childhood Eden

As a boy on the rural outskirts of South Grafton, I lived just a stone’s throw away from a pristine paradise: Susan Island, a luxuriant rain-forest Garden of Eden in the middle of the broad and fast-flowing Clarence River.


I was reminded of my childhood Eden by this image displayed by the wonderful Gallica website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France:

Click to enlarge

Susan Island was the ancient home place of a gigantic colony of fruit bats, whose daily excursions (from where to where, I never knew, nor for what reasons?) filled the twilight sky over Waterview with a dark moving cloud. The zoologist Richard Dawkins would have been enchanted—as was I—by this mass movement in the sky.

The Big River flowed just a few hundred yards behind our house in Waterview. Here’s a photo of a family fishing excursion in 1951:


That’s Don on the left, I’m in the middle, Dad’s in the background and Anne and Susan are on the right. I think we were aware that we were being photographed, because we’ve more-or-less struck up poses. We used earthworms as bait. Don and Anne, with bamboo rods, fished for slender Southern Garfish [Hyporhamphus melanochir], which were full of bones but very tasty.


Dad and I, using hand-held lines, were hoping to catch a big Spangled Perch [Leiopotherapon unicolor].


You can see Susan Island—the sleeping ground of the fruit bats—in the background of the fishing photo. But we local residents rarely went there (even though it was easy to find rowing boats), because our island paradise was in fact cursed by a terrible event that had occurred in its vicinity (on the Grafton side) just before Christmas 1943: the drowning of 13 kids who were Cub members of the local Boy Scouts. Not long after this tragedy, I myself would become an active member of this youth organization, and I would never think twice about my drowned forebears. That’s the terrible thing about explicit historical tales. They persuade the living that they belong to the past, and that nothing of their likes will ever reoccur. For me, as a child, the Cubs were drowned… and that’s all I knew about this ancient affair, which ended up irritating me, like a constantly reoccurring news film (without images).

Of the 13 victims, 9 were buried side by side in the South Grafton cemetery.


Today, we have images of their ugly concrete and tiled graves.


Meanwhile, we never see pictures of the tombs of their 4 comrades in Grafton. So much the better. It’s all so sadly desolate, like the memorial on the banks of the Clarence in Grafton, erected through the efforts of a sympathetic police constable named Alan Dahl, mayor of Grafton: a family friend who once taught me the elements of photography.


There’s a recent article on this tragedy in The Daily Examiner [display].

Today, jolted into a state of reminiscences and meditation by the French image of fruit bats, I simply wish to list, once again, in alphabetical order—in the admirable Israeli style that consists of naming out loud their hallowed victims—the drowned Cubs of December 1943. [A precise name is enough, as it were. In Jewish mysticism, a name is often considered to be no less significant than the entity it designates. Many Jews refer to God, for example, as ha Shem : "the name".] In fact, half-a-dozen surnames are those of young siblings or cousins of the victims who went to school with me in South Grafton.

Graeme John Corbett (8), son of John Corbett of 32 Bent Street, South Grafton.

William Robert Dillon (8), son of Frederick R. Dillon of 104 Ryan Street, South Grafton. William was the only son.

Cecil George Lambert (8), son of George Lambert of 90 Hoof Street, Grafton. Cecil’s father was on active service.

Raymond Arthur Morris (8), son of Keith Morris of 127 Ryan Street, South Grafton.

Brian Leonard Munns (9), son of Leonard Munns of 43 Bright Street, Street, South Grafton. Brian’s father was the Deputy Mayor of South Grafton.

Keith James Rennie (8), son of William Rennie of 130 Hoof Street, Grafton. Keith’s father was a munitions worker.

Robert Alexander Rennie (10), brother of the above-mentioned victim.

Edmund James Retchford (8), son of George Retchford of 16 Mary Street, Grafton. Edmund was their only child.

Alvin Adrian Leo Spicer (10), son of Bert Spicer of 193 Ryan Street, South Grafton. When the tragedy occurred, Alvin’s father was apparently on his way home from the AWC in the Northern Territory.

Richard John Steinhour (8), son of George Henry Steinhour and Lillian Margaret of 29 Abbott Street, South Grafton. Richard’s father was a returned digger of World War II.

Dale William Thorsborne (10), son of William August Thorsborne and Iris Sylvia Doris of 106 Ryan Street, South Grafton. Dale was the only child.

Allan Crawford Tobin (9), son of Raymond Tobin of 27 Abbott Street, South Grafton. His father was on active service in New Guinea. Allan had joined the cubs on 8 October 1943.

Robert Walter Wilkes (10), son of Reginald Wilkes of Kelly Street, South Grafton.

There’s no point in mentioning the names of the older fellows who were supposed to be taking care of the Cubs. Meanwhile, the paradise of Susan Island continues to raise its ominous head above the mighty waters of the Clarence. And the squeals of the fruit bats are the music of Eden.


The tragic outing of the Cubs, although totally elucidated, remains in my mind as a kind of mysterious Big River Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Anglican diocese of Grafton

In the mid-1950s, when I was a teenager in Grafton and an active member of the Anglican community attached to Christ Church Cathedral, I would never have imagined that, one day, from my home in the mountains of south-east France, I would be reading the following solemn statement published by an archdeacon of the Grafton diocese:

Click to enlarge

Click here to see a shocking page of their website, against a background of jacaranda blossoms, on which the diocese includes a link to a 31-page document, created in 2004, bearing the sad title: Protocol for Dealing with Complaints of Sexual Abuse.

I made allusions to Grafton’s unpleasant history in this domain in my blog post of 16 June 2013 entitled In the shadow of Grafton's cathedral [display].

Today, I have no desire to wade through the sordid tales and events that have been unfolding in Sydney’s ongoing Royal Commission into child abuse. But, for readers who might like to follow up these stories, I include here a list of links to relevant Australian media accounts.

Anglican Church official Pat Comben quizzed in Royal Commission over response to child sex abuse at North Coast Children's Home [link]

Cleric quits over abuse handling [link]

Abuse claim priest has quit [link]

Anglican directory of clergy a 'stud book' [link]

Brutal assaults at a NSW orphanage [link]

Church to audit child sex abuse settlement [link]

Church dissent over abuse approach [link]

Abuse diocese puts community first [link]

Smiling bishop Keith Slater failed victims of sex abuse in their hour of need [link]

I'm not sure I'm still a Christian, Anglican priest Pat Comben says [link]

Bishop ignored child sex charges [link]

One of the articles contains the following sentence:
The protestant community in Grafton seems close. One could well imagine the conversations at the "dinner parties with a bit of red wine" that Pat Comben, former diocesan registrar, touched on in his evidence to the commission.
That allusion annoys me in the sense that it gives the impression that Grafton Anglicans were in the habit, in a mildly inebriated state, of passing around fragments of sordid information at private dinner parties. That vision of events is far removed from my memories of Arthur Edward Warr, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, dropping around for weekly chess evenings with my paternal grandfather, with tea and biscuits served up by my grandmother. But I have to admit that, as a boy in Grafton over half a century ago, I had no contacts whatsoever with what might have been thought of as the upper-crust Anglican community of the city.

These days, as a confirmed atheist who looks upon all present-day religions with the utmost disgust, I'm quite delighted to observe that an organization such as the Anglican Church appears to be coming apart at the seams... but I'm immensely sickened by the case of those countless kids who were handled as sexual objects by vile males who were supposed to be the children's guardians.

POST SCRIPTUM: Many former residents of Grafton are aware, I believe, that their “city” has been going slowly down the drain, in countless ways, over several decades. Today, as a symbol of that civic and economic decay, the local mayor and his councillors don’t even talk of Grafton any more. They ramble on stupidly as if they were living in a vague place known as “the Valley”. Be that as it may, I have the impression that the reputation of Grafton is likely to suffer indelibly as a consequence of the ongoing Royal Commission. We can no doubt think of those links in the above blog post as nails in Grafton’s coffin.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In the shadow of Grafton's cathedral

In the middle of the 1950s, the Anglican cathedral of Grafton (my birthplace in Australia) was a focal point in my young existence.


A charming legend evoked a link between one of my maternal ancestors and Christ Church Cathedral. Here's a studio photo of my great-great-grandmother Eliza Dancey [1821-1904] and her daughter, my great-grandmother, Mary Eliza Cranston [1858-1926]:

[Click to enlarge]

They had left their native Bailieborough in Ireland (County Cavan) in the 1870s. In Australia, Mary Cranston married Isaac Kennedy [1844-1934] in 1881, at a Protestant church in South Grafton. Meanwhile, Mary's young brother William Cranston [1862-1934] had become a bricklayer in Grafton and, in 1883, he was working on the construction of the front wall of the new Anglican cathedral. The bricklaying was watched with interest by two little girls, Bella Greenaway (14) and her sister May (6), who were waiting to meet their father, George Greenaway [1843-1915], captain of the coastal ship First Favourite, about to tie up at the wharf at the end of Oliver Street, after a voyage up from Sydney. The smaller child had with her a tiny porcelain doll. In the course of their conversation with 21-year-old William Cranston, the bricklayer was invited to place the china doll in a recess, high up in the wall... as a kind of offering to the emerging cathedral.

Over half-a-century later, in 1937, Cranston's brickwork was demolished, and replaced by a new western wall in which the tiny porcelain doll was given a central setting, where it can still be seen today. [Some of my data concerning this story comes from an article by Don Peck in the newsletter #116 of the Clarence River Historical Society, dated 27 July 2010. I have taken the liberty of slightly modifying certain dates, to render the account plausible.]

When I was out in Australia in 2006, I took a photo of a plaque containing the list of the cathedral's bishops:


One of these men, Kenneth Clements, had become my friend for a short while in 1956, just before I left Grafton to become a science student at the University of Sydney. As for the bishops who followed Clements, I had lost contact with the Grafton scene, and I knew nothing about these men... until reading about some of them in the national press. So, the stuff I'm about to relate comes purely from web pages that you can easily find by means of Google.

In particular, there was the case of Donald Shearman, the bishop of Christ Church Cathedral for a dozen years, from 1973 until 1985. As far as I know, Shearman's bishopric raised no problems (no pun intended) in Grafton. It was only later that facts were published [article] concerning the churchman's alleged misconduct involving a 14-year-old girl in a church hostel in Forbes, back in the 1950s. In 2004, Shearman was actually defrocked by the Anglican church, which was an event of a kind that had never occurred previously in the ecclesiastic history of Australia.

On the fringe of this affair, the Anglican archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth, apparently went out of his way to protect Shearman, advising him "to keep a low profile" [article]. By the time Hollingworth's cover-up role had been revealed, he had been appointed by prime minister John Howard to be the Governor-General of Australia and, for his old school in Melbourne (Scotch College), Hollingworth was hailed as a hero [article].


In 2001, moreover, he had been named a Companion of the Order of Australia. But, no sooner had Hollingworth started his job as the queen's representative in Australia than criticisms were aired publicly about his alleged protection of pedophiles during the 1990s, when he was Archbishop of Brisbane. Finally, in May 2003, Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General. In 2005, the woman at the heart of the Shearman affair, Beth Heinrich, spoke publicly for the first time about her relationship with the bishop [article].

Grafton's Anglican cathedral was in the news once again, a month ago, because of sad tales of sexual abuse of children. Having neglected to follow up allegations concerning the North Coast Childrens Home in Lismore, the bishop Keith Slater was obliged to resign [article].


In spite of these nasty associations, Christ Church Cathedral evokes several positive personal memories. Back in the mid 1950s, when I still imagined myself naively as some kind of a Christian (a situation that came to an abrupt end a year or so later, when I settled down in Sydney), I used to don regularly the red and white outfit of a so-called server officiating within the church.


Above all, the cathedral contains a lovely stained-glass window in memory of my paternal grandmother Kathleen Pickering [1889-1964].

[Click to enlarge]

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Home-made candied ginger

In my childhood recollections, candied ginger is a Proustian madeleine. [If you don't know what I mean, look up the last pair of words in Google.] This delicious foodstuff is associated, in my memories, with Xmas celebrations in the house of my paternal grandparents in Oliver Street, Grafton.

Anne, Don and me at our grandparents' home in Oliver Street

Often, when I drop in at an organic-foods store in St-Marcellin, I buy a bag of candied ginger... and I generally end up eating it all before I get home. You see, I really seem to be addicted to candied ginger. Recently, my Choranche neighbor Tineke gave me a jar of fine candied ginger in syrup from the Netherlands. Recipes on the Internet suggest that it's quite easy to prepare. So, I gave it a try. First, you peel the ginger roots and chop them into pieces.


From that point on, it's basically just a matter of boiling the pieces, three or four times, in a sugar syrup. Here's the end result:


My home-made candied ginger is delicious... but there won't be much of it left by the time this blog post is published. The chunks are soft and tasty, but they're slightly stringy, which simply indicates that the raw ginger rhizomes (roots) that I purchased in a local fruit and vegetables store were not quite as fresh as I would have hoped. If the rhizomes had been younger (as seems to be the case for the abopve-mentioned Dutch product), there would have been no stringiness whatsoever, and the boiling operations would have rendered the chunks quite transparent.

Incidentally, when I drained the ginger chunks, I set aside the precious syrup in which they had been cooked. I then used this syrup to flavor chilled Perrier, obtaining a liquid madeleine from my childhood in South Grafton: ginger ale.

Maybe the ideal way of obtaining fresh ginger rhizomes would be to actually grow the plant here in my vegetable garden at Gamone. For me, though, there's a problem. Experts state that the ideal constant temperature for ginger plants is around 25 degrees Centigrade. That more-or-less rules out Gamone... unless, of course, I were to install a small greenhouse. And, to heat it in winter, I could use a solar panel. Now, that sounds like a pretty complex project aimed at resurrecting my madeleine. Maybe I should choose the relatively simple strategy adopted by Marcel Proust, and write a book on the subject.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

End of an Australian automobile era

As a boy in Grafton, I grew up in the shade of the celebrated Ford motor company, founded in Detroit (Michigan) in 1903 by the legendary industrialist Henry Ford [1863-1947].


In Australia, the Englishman Charles Bennett, a bike-rider of the penny-farthing era [see], had become a New South Wales champion cyclist in 1883, and he went on to create the highly successful Speedwell brand of bikes [see]. But times were changing due to the arrival of the automobile. Charles Bennett moved into this field, starting up an Australia-wide automobile affair whose branch in Grafton was known as the City Motor Garage and Engineering Company. Around 1920, in Sydney, my London-born grandfather Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985] met up with Bennett, who persuaded his young compatriot to take over Bennett's Grafton business.

That soon became the dominant preoccupation of my grandfather. And, throughout the years that followed, the latest model of the Ford automobile became a standard feature in family photos.


On the left, that's my wonderful grandmother Kath Pickering [1889-1964]. The little boy is my father Bill Skyvington [1917-1978], and the little girl is his young sister, my aunt Yvonne Tarrant, who celebrated her 94th birthday in Taree a few weeks ago.

As soon as he acquired land, enabling him to become a beef grazier, my father (a mechanic in his father's business) was so faithful to the Ford story that he chose V8 as his cattle brand. Click here to see my blog post on this subject.

I learned yesterday that Ford has decided to abandon Geelong.


Why not? After all, these days, nobody rides a Speedwell bike. In any case, another fragment of my childhood Australia is crumbling away.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

An eye for an eye

As a child in South Grafton, I was expected to admire a gushy poem penned by a young American Catholic fellow named Joyce Kilmer, killed in 1918 by a sniper's bullet on the Western Front in France.


I would imagine that countless English-speaking people of my generation can recite most of this poem by heart:
Trees
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
The US musician Oscar Rasbach [1888-1975] wrote music for Kilmer's celebrated poem, and our local radio station 2GF in Grafton used to play constantly the version sung by the Austrian-Jewish tenor Richard Tauber [1891-1948]... whose Teutonic accent irritated me almost as much as the syrupy sentiments of the song.


The only aspect of Kilmer's poem with which I agreed was that it had been written by a sentimental fool. I was accustomed to wandering around on my father's bush property, which provided me with ample visions of trees. Not one of them, however, gave me the impression that it might be pressing its hungry mouth against the "sweet flowing breast" of the dry ground. If I observed lots of "leafy arms", they did in fact seem to be lifted most often in a plea for rain, but I never imagined for an instant that God might be playing a role in this meteorological affair. True enough, certain trees wore nests in their "hair", and the birds who had built them were generally either raucous crows, screeching parrots or savage magpies. There may have been robins in the bush, but I don't remember them. And the idea that snow might ever lay upon the "bosom" of one of our eucalyptus trees was frankly unthinkable. (I was 21 years old when I came in contact with snow for the first time in my life, in France.)

The final line of Kilmer's poem annoyed me most of all, with its silly idea that God might "make" trees. We all knew that Australian gum trees proliferated everywhere with no need for any kind of divine intervention. Indeed, the only domain in which my father would have surely appreciated a helping hand from God was ring-barking, designed to clear land so that our cattle would have sufficient grass to eat.


I realize retrospectively today that one of the advantages of growing up in rural Australia was that I soon developed a healthy respect for the power of Nature, which was often brutal, with no apparent concern for the welfare of us humans. The harsh Australian environment is not the sort of place in which a clear-thinking dweller would invent the quaint notion of a benevolent Creator. I've always considered that the Christian divinity is basically a humanistic Mediterranean concept: the intellectual reflection of a setting distinguished by harmony, where Nature is regulated by pleasant seasons. No authentic Australian (such as our Aborigines, above all) would have ever been inclined to invent the gentleman who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

Once, as a boy, I asked my father why he never went to church (as had become my habit). I have never forgotten his marvelous reply: "Billy, you probably won't understand what I have to say. My cathedral is my bush paddock." In fact, not only did I end up understanding my father's metaphor, but I finally got around to adopting a similar attitude. At the age of 14, I came upon a little book on pantheism, in my grandparents' library, and I was so impressed by this primitive philosophy (which sees the natural world—in a similar spirit to that of our Aborigines—as a vast assembly of autonomous divinities) that I dared to reveal my enthusiasm explicitly to Dean Warr of Christ Church Cathedral... who was not exactly impressed by my revelation. Fortunately, my emerging fascination for mathematics and physics soon dissuaded me from delving more deeply into the archaic metaphysics of pantheism. Meanwhile, my encounter with the mildly sacrilegious book Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan took the wind out of my slack and flapping Christian sails forever.

These days, the terms "creationism" and "intelligent design" designate the variety of religious faith that exploits the splendors of the natural world as proof that a Supreme Designer must have been at work in the beginning. There again, it's difficult for an Australian to be a creationist, because almost everything in the Antipodes seems to have been designed differently (if at all) from what you find in the Mediterranean world. If God thought that jumping was a good mode of locomotion for our kangaroos, why didn't he design jumping creatures for the Northern Hemisphere? If he thought that waddling in an upright position would enable Antarctic penguins to move around easily on ice, why didn't he use the same principle for Arctic creatures? Either the Supreme Designer worked in an experimental fashion, and often got things wrong, or else there was a team of several senior designers who didn't necessarily adopt the same principles.

Adepts of creationism and intelligent design apparently find it difficult to believe that an organ as complex as the human eye could have emerged from Darwinian evolution. They raise doubts concerning the feasibility and evolutionary benefits of the intermediary stage that is often designated as "half an eye". In his Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins devoted an entire 54-page chapter to the fascinating subject of the evolution of various kinds of eyes, which have emerged independently from scratch at least 40 times in the history of the animal world. In The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins returned to the question of eyes, and insisted upon the fact that our human eye provides a case study in "unintelligent design". In a recent issue of the UK's Daily Mail, there's an extraordinary collection of fine photos [access] of eyes of all kinds.

Let me conclude this rambling post by a lovely photo of a pair of astonishing eyes: those of a baby Madagascan lemur born recently in a French zoo.


Blogs are written by fools like me,
But only an adult lemur couple can make a baby lemur.
My words don't have the same poetic impact as those of Joyce Kilmer. What's more, they're not entirely true from a clinical viewpoint, since they neglect the theme of what we used to call "test-tube babies".

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bridges that let boats through

As a boy, I used to ride my bike across the two-tiered bridge (road/rail traffic) over the Clarence River between South Grafton and Grafton. So, I often watched the heavy span of our bridge being raised to allow a river boat through.


This mechanical spectacle impressed me greatly, because it involved a degree of tremendous power that had no common measure with the other everyday events of my life. I was incapable of fathoming the means by which this gigantic segment of steel could be raised laboriously—in a litany of metallic creaks, clangs and groans—into a vertical position. The only mechanical engineering devices that measured up to the power of the massive bridge span were steam locomotives, which were a familiar sight at the South Grafton railway station.


After a trip to Brisbane or Sydney in a train drawn by such a locomotive, your hair and clothes were sprinkled with specks of coal dust, and the passenger's grimy body exuded a smoky smell. Having arrived at your destination (often dazed after a night with little sleep), your first wish was to get under a shower and change into clean clothes. I remember the first arrival of a diesel locomotive at South Grafton, around 1952. For the entire community, it was an exciting event. The railroad department invited people aboard for a free return trip across the Clarence River, to the little-used station at Grafton. An aspect of the new train that impressed me immensely was a dispenser of chilled water in paper cups.

My grandfather Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985] started Grafton's Ford dealership in 1925.


At that date, the bridge over the Clarence did not yet exist. So, vehicles were transported across the river by a steam ferry.


At the South Grafton end of the crossing,  in 1881, my Irish great-great-grandfather Michael O'Keefe [1831-1910] had purchased the Steam Ferry Hotel.


After his death, it was inherited by his son-in-law James Walker. Renamed Walker's Hotel, and rebuilt after a fire, it became South Grafton's best-known hotel, and still stands today.


Meanwhile, train carriages were floated across the Clarence River on a ferry, the Swallow.


The bridge that we know today was opened in 1932. So, one of its earliest users would have been my father, Bill Skyvington [1917-1978], riding his bicycle across to the dairy farm of the family of his future wife, Kathleen Walker [1918-2003], in Waterview, on the outskirts of South Grafton. In those days, there wasn't much vehicular traffic between the northern and southern banks of the Clarence.


This lack of heavy traffic was just as well, since automobiles were likely to drift over the central line when turning around the bridge's two nasty corners, one at each extremity, designed to allow the presence on the lower level of the bridge of a relatively straight railway line. At the Grafton end of the bridge, in Kent Street (where we lived in the '50s), there are two massive concrete viaducts leading up to the bridge: one for road traffic and the other for trains.


That's to say, the low railway viaduct (in the background of the above photo) was aligned with, and at the same level as, the main central segment of the bridge. Motorists, on the other hand, had to turn a corner at the top right-hand point of the higher-level vehicle viaduct (in the foreground of the photo) where it joined up with the main linear segment of the bridge. Here's a view of the southern corner, taken from the level of the railway line and pedestrian crossing:


And here's a view from the southern bank at a time when the Clarence was flooded:


In the following view, looking back towards the bank at South Grafton, you can see that the archaic structure is covered in rust:


The following two photos (which I found on the Internet), apparently taken through the front windscreen of a truck (equipped with a heavy steel protective grid, seen in the lower half of each photo), reveal that the Grafton Bridge is totally obsolete and indeed dangerous with respect to modern road traffic:


Here's an aerial view of this same South Grafton end of the bridge:


The following amateur videos illustrate the unique setting of the bridge:


At the end of this first video, click to view the same author's second video (labeled XPT2), which includes the experience of crossing the bridge in a motor vehicle. Then there's this train-driver's vision of the bridge:


It was recently announced that plans are under way for a second bridge at Grafton. But the existing 80-year-old bridge (whose moveable span ceased to function long ago) will remain in service.

I was reminded of our antiquated bridge across the Clarence when I saw this photo of the fabulous suspension bridge that was opened in Bordeaux a fortnight ago.


The big three-masted barque that was present at the opening ceremony is the Belem, launched in 1896.

POST SCRIPTUM: As if our dear old bendy bridge didn't have enough problems already with its traffic saturation, blocked lift-span and rusty metal, The Daily Examiner revealed an additional ailment here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hang-gliding pioneer from Grafton nominated for world's highest award

The FAI [Fédération Aéronautique Internationale], whose head office is in Switzerland, governs world records in all kinds of air sports and astronautical achievements.


They have recently announced on their website [click here] that John Dickenson has been nominated as a potential recipient of their distinguished 2012 FAI Gold Air Medal.


There has been considerable discussion on my blog concerning this man whose pioneering efforts in hang gliding were conducted on the Clarence River alongside my native town, Grafton, in 1963. The test pilot was a local man, Rod Fuller. To access this material, use the search box up in the left-hand corner with the term dickenson.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Antipodes activity and readership

My Antipodes blog is not a particularly gossipy place. I'm a rather reserved kind of individual, and I don't go out of my way (as other bloggers do) to encourage superficial chatting in the comments section. On the other hand, I'm thrilled to receive momentous feedback (through personal e-mails from friends) about subject that have been introduced into Antipodes, such as this fuzzy copy of a letter to the Australian engineer John Dickenson announcing a major US award, which establishes officially his role as a pioneer inventor in the marvelous domain of hang gliding.


My initial blog post on this fascinating theme, entitled Grafton in aeronautical history books, appeared in Antipodes on 16 October 2007 [display]. Since then, the subject has been taken up expertly and profoundly by dedicated researchers such as Graeme Henderson and my French neighbor Stéphane Malbos. To find my various observations on this subject (inevitably superficial, since I've never actually practiced this fabulous activity), put dickenson in the search box up in the left-hand corner.


Is my native Grafton likely to accept fully this amazing role in aviation history? Probably not. It's a silly city, a dull-minded spot on the map of northern New South Wales, which has failed all recent attempts to identify itself as a significant place… even to the point of no longer existing officially as a city.

Today, my Antipodes blog has moved into cruising speed. I've appended a readership counter, whose contents remain private. Funnily enough, I often discover that Antipodes is never better than when I don't write anything new whatsoever ! The readership keeps pouring in, as it were, on many different (and often unsuspected) old subjects.

All kinds of subjects bring readers to Antipodes. For example, crowds of readers from all over the planet have been intrigued by my comments on the fake videos of New Guinea natives seeing white folk for the first time ever. This has certainly been the most "successful" Antipodes blog post ever. But, as I tried to point out explicitly,  this subject was totally screwed up in my Antipodes blog, for all kinds of reasons, and I was no longer capable of joining in all the social-network fun on this theme. In a nutshell, I discovered that a French law court had condemned somebody who had alleged that this stuff was fake. As soon as I heard that, I dropped the subject immediately, like a smelly hot potato. (Maybe "nasty hot turd" would be a more appropriate comparison, except that nobody usually picks up turds. Any better literary suggestions? Anne...) I didn't want to be a hero in a domain that I didn't necessarily master.

Another readership success was a blog post on the theme of so-called "professional bias" [display], which has attracted many US readers. Other great favorites were my blog posts on Lawrence Durrell [display] and those on the Ephrussi family in Austria [display].

Recently, a kind friend (in fact, my ex-wife) noticed that I hadn't written anything new for at least a week, and she may have imagined that my everyday existential despair had brought me to the verge of abandoning all further activities of self-expression. Well, not exactly. It goes without saying that I'll let all my readers know as soon as my existential despair has reached such a point…

Let me tell you a secret. I evaluate regularly but discreetly, day by day (even—indeed above all—when I don't write anything whatsoever), the readership of Antipodes, simply because it's my personal "business". So, I know what's happening globally… and I also watch the statistics of similar blogs by Aussie expatriates in Europe. If ever I were to detect that my daily readership was dwindling, or inferior to the above-mentioned blogs, I would be saddened, if not alarmed. But this has not yet occurred. Antipodes rules the waves, as it were.

Now, if ever you happened to be reading Antipodes primarily because you're interested in me and my dogs (which is surely the finest motivation of all), let me say that we're all fine. Sophia is aging in the style of a noble old lady, and Fitzroy is a noble young descendant... not of Sophia, of course, but of archaic wolves and dogdom in general. (What a splendid genealogical concept!) As for me, my ceaseless contemplation and meditations (of a non-Buddhistic and non-religious pantheistic kind, maybe "spiritual" if you're prepared to stretch the meaning of such silly words to breaking point... in the style of my former friend and neighbor Franz-Olivier Guisbert, my former wife and neighbor Christine, and countless other superiorly-intelligent folk) are surely more "noble" (a great adjective for dogs) than I as an individual could ever be. Meanwhile, in the proverbial nutshell, I carry on living happily, in good health and spirits, here at Gamone...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bush humor when I was a Waterview kid

This is the cover of a famous Australian weekly magazine, Pix, dated 23 September 1946 (the eve of my 6th birthday). The woman is the US actress Rita Hayworth [1918-1987], and we see from a news heading on the cover that she has just started a "new dance craze". I would imagine that they're referring to the jitterbug, which had been spread throughout the planet (including jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter of Paris) by the American GIs. Pix was a popular photo-journalistic magazine with a huge readership: nearly a million Australians.

At home in Waterview, Pix was regular reading for everybody, along with The Daily Examiner and The Women's Weekly. As a child, I probably wasn't particularly excited about Rita Hayworth and the jitterbug. The item that amused me most of all in Pix was the regular cartoon by Eric Jolliffe, whose specialty was Aussie outback humor… or funny bush drawings, as we would have said. The central personage was a rough rural fellow known as Saltbush Bill, who was always attired in a felt hat and black waistcoat.

Saltbush Bill lived with his large family in an environment that might be thought of as harsh and primitive, where he was perpetually faced with typical bush problems.

To a certain extent, we rural folk at Waterview were probably in mild empathy with Saltbush Bill and his caricatural milieu. Snakes in tree stumps, for example, were an everyday affair… like spiders, heat, dust, flies and backyard lavatories, etc. I hasten to point out, however, that we knew nothing whatsoever (for geographical reasons) of a dimension that was constantly present in Saltbush Bill's universe: the Aborigines, inevitably depicted by Jolliffe—in a way that would be ethically unthinkable today—as incredibly primitive. If ever Saltbush Bill appeared in an urban environment, it was usually a matter of finding solutions to his rural problems. Here, for example, he's dropping in on the local blacksmith:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

The caption is typically banal, since words played a relatively minor role in Jolliffe's work. Saltbush Bill informs the blacksmith that the name of his old horse is Flattery, "because it never gets me anywhere".

PARENTHESIS: I'm intrigued by the construction technique for the post-office roof. I don't recall having seen anything like that in Australia. Apparently the external wooden frame is intended to keep the sheets of corrugated iron in place. As a guess, I would imagine that the purpose of this technique was to avoid the use of nails, since there would have been several obvious advantages in not using nails. First, you didn't need to have a system of solid rafters capable of receiving roof nails. Then you didn't have to puncture the corrugated metal, allowing rain to leak in. Finally, you didn't have to go into town and purchase nails. I would imagine that the external framework was tied together with wire or string. And, if the metal sheets got blown off in a storm, it would have been easy to put them back in place.

Now, just to make it clear that my authentic family environment was only remotely associated with that of Saltbush Bill, here's a photo of my grandfather Charles Walker [1882-1937], attired in a fine Sunday suit and shiny shoes, with a watch chain stretched across his waistcoat, and a cigarette in his left hand:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

As they say in the movies: All characters appearing in Jolliffe's work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.