CULTURE AND NAVIGATION IN
Imagine that you are standing in the middle of a theatre, a music hall or indeed the Sydney Opera house. You are really on a long weekend camping holiday stationed at Elanda Point on the shore of Lake Cootharaba and from that point you go to either the Kin Kin pub or the pub in Pomona. These two places are the platform for an enthusiastic outburst of singing, which bounces off the timber and the good quality of the sound itself encourages the participants to belt it out with vigour. They all had a good feed (at Pomona) and drink (at either place) and the other guests join in, or enquire politely if we are members of a professional group, what is the name of the group and are we available for hire. You can imagine how our chests swell at that. We, the dozen of us, are rather ordinary citizens mostly from the Western Suburbs of Brisbane Town all fond of Arts, but hardly true artists..
We were a pretty mixed lot of ethnic backgrounds, but the singing was mostly in English and it varied, all of us being “Bound for Botany Bay” or serenading the “Ladies of Augathella”, even the Men of Harlech got into the act, as did folk songs, various musicals and even an attempt at some opera. Even Stephen Foster’s songs got into the act. I had a very modest contribution of “Lloyd George knew my Father, Father knew Lloyd George “sung to a never ending tune of a Salvation Army hymn (also an English school boys’ song).
How did my wife and I get involved? We were holidaying in Noosa Heads and took a full day trip to “Harry’s Hut”. To get there you take a boat which travels north on the Noosa river, then crosses three lakes, the last being Lake Cootharaba. There follows a National Parks information centre called Kinaba, The Kin Kin creek joins the Noosa River and through some very beautiful narrows to Harry’s Hut. The tour company put on a very nice lunch but you have to watch for some predators, in the form of goannas (or are they monitors?). The water in the river is affected by tannin from various vegetation and has colours ranging from yellow in the shallow water to red, blue and black. If you focus on the water-level at the riverbank and follow through to the reflected image, you get some striking shapes.
The atmosphere is so incredibly quiet and beautiful that when our friends suggested a camping trip to Elanda Pt. on Lake Cootharaba, we just jumped at it. From nearby Boreen Pt. we could hire a canoe that would take us around the river and lake. My first encounter with a canoe was quite a disaster. I had a young teenager with me who was doing well, but I on the back seat kept shifting my backside so much that I turned the canoe over. Later at the camp I accused the young boy, jokingly, for the mishap and he did not forgive me to this day. Probably, neither did the canoeing group which my wife and I joined to canoe in the Kin Kin creek, where we had to do a bit of portage (carrying the canoe over obstacles like stones or fallen trees) and when I put the canoe back into some deep water, asked my wife to jump back in whilst I launched the canoe. I overbalanced, turned the canoe over and caused my wife to fall in.
At the end of the first of these camping holidays we decided to purchase a canoe after a trial in a canal at Bribie Island, where we found out that when we tried to navigate from the canal to Pumistone Passage the moment the canoe stuck its bow into the passage the wind turned us around. Nothing terribly surprising if you read Jack London’s attempted turn in the Magellan Straight, where the winds stopped him from turning into the Pacific for a number of days. I had to learn some special navy words, which I had not encountered before. One of them was passed on to me by a retired P&O shipping company employee – namely POSH. This abbreviation stands for Port Out Starboard Home and the way I understood the relevance it had to left and right was incorrect. In fact port is the left side and starboard is the right side of the boat. Bow (or prow) is the front and stern the back. Ignorant landlubbers can find more naval definitions on the internet.
The owl and the pussycat, went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat
Truly, that’s what it was – a 16 foot green canoe, but, most importantly, with an outrigger and you can’t overturn a canoe with that contraption. Not even late starters in their mid-fifties braving the treacherous H²0.
HAVE A GOOD DAY
IN FRANCE? – ANYWHERE.
It does not really matter where you are – it is always nice to use the proper “Greetings and Salutations”. How often – at work – do you pick up a phone and when the “connection” comes on – you just barge straight into the topic without some initial niceties.
It was brought home to me in Paris (of all the places). I was looking for the railway station at Montparnasse and I saw a tall man with a very elegant uniform topped of by a legionnaires cap –( just like the one our Brisbane tram employees used to wear before the trams were abolished in the 1950’s) except it looked a lot smarter. It was in fact a French gendarme and when I came closer he saluted smartly and said Bon jour. I, being proud of my franglaise proceeded to say something to the effect of: “Excusez moi” could you show me the way to the garre de Montparnasse?. To which he replied by clicking his heels again and saying .Bon jour. Finally, the pennies dropped – I did not start my conversation with “Bon jour”. One should always say “Good Day” at the beginning of a contact, maybe you should not enquire about the other person’s health – which may not be all right, but let us not forget the “Good Day”.
In France, you do have a dilemma; particularly if you are obviously an Anglo-Saxon (I think the French are kinder to others.) Some people expect you to try a bit of French even if it is not the best, others, particularly the better educated ones, would rather you did not “murder” their beautiful language. So, you have to experiment, by muttering something like “My French is not very good parlez vous anglaise?” That may save you.
After sorting out where the railway station was I proceeded to enjoy Paris, totally transformed by architect Baron Haussmann, who wrecked 60% of the town to create wide boulevards and sorting out gardens and cultural institutions in the 1860’s. Lisbon did the same but London missed the chance after the great fire. After Paris I ventured to the south of France and admired the works of the ancient Roman civilisation – which produced bridges and aqueducts like the Pont du Gar and stadiums as those in Arles and Orange (forget the bridge in Avignon – the one in Prague is much much better) It makes one think – where could we have been today had the Vandals and other tribes not destroyed the ancient Roman civilisation –more than a thousand years lost. Perhaps we would be going to Mars for a cuppa next weekend.
Let’s all have a GOOD DAY
AZURE - A BEAUTIFUL COLOUR
There are many pleasant experiences we can enjoy on this great planet of ours and one of them is water, aqua, l’eau, wasser, voda – which can nourish us or kill us, but it can also give great pleasure. Its’ colour or hue can be very diverse and pretty. The nearest pond to me is the water in my suburban swimming pool. It is a nice light blue, provided I supply it with enough chemicals to keep it so. To go a bit further afield we have the Brisbane River, we are, after all, living in a River City. Unfortunately, it is mostly the colour of mud, that is, except the time it was covered, from end to end, by hyacinth. I wish I knew where they all came from. It seemed that the whole of Queensland supplied the hyacinths and poured them into our river. It was all beautifully green and so thick that you thought you could walk over them. Mind you a brackish colour is also the feature of the Yarra River in Melbourne, which the Sydney siders refer to as being too thick to swim in and too thin to plough. But Sydney has something to be proud of. If you climb to the top of the Coat Hanger, previously painted by our Paul Hogan, and you overlook the Sails of the Danish architect’s creation and take in the water of the Sydney Harbour and further out into the Pacific – well - you will see a beautiful blue. The beautiful blue surrounds Australia and it enchants landlubbers who live far from the sea shores of the world.
My own experience of coming from a sea-less country, completely isolated and unable to travel in my early years, then something like Bondi Beach and so many other beautiful beaches within public transport in Sydney and later the Gold Coast (earlier named as the South Coast), really became a sight for sore eyes.
When undertaking my first overseas trip my wife and I travelled through Greece, Italy Austria and Czechoslovakia and saw a great deal of the Mediterranean in between. When we got to what is now the Czech Republic a lot of Czechs, who are besotted by the Mediterranean, asked me if the oceans around Australia are as blue as the Mediterranean. I, as a good Minister for Australian propaganda, said “Yes” to which my 3rd generation dinky di Australian wife replied “No” So much for the faithful wife.
As for the Mediterranean – what a beautiful word and what an even more beautiful colour when represented by sparkling translucent water through an opening in a cave, sorry a grotto (wouldn’t we rather be grotto-men than cave-men?).
A very long time ago I acquired a book written by a Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe, who amongst other deeds helped when a deadly cholera epidemic struck Naples. He later took himself to Sorrento and then to the Island of Capri.
From the harbours, the Marina Picola and Marina Grande, he climbed to the village of Capri, up 777 Phoenician steps to Anacapri where he discovered a disused chapel called San Michele (say Sun Mikeleh), long long ago the site of emperor Tiberius’s villa.
Munthe wrote a book called The Story of San Michele, fell in love with the area and eventually built a villa there. He encouraged farmers and fishermen to pass onto him such useless articles as fragments of statues and bits of marble which he dispersed and embedded in the walls in his villa (now a museum) and in the grounds. The area of the museum sits on a gorgeous site which overlooks Naples, Vesuvius, Sorrento and other islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea. (That Sea stretches to the island of Sardinia, which is reported to have another brilliant and striking colour – Emerald.) I brought Munthe’s book with me to Australia and re-read it prior to this trip.
Apart from the colour the Mediterranean also possesses the quality of clarity, unlike the waters of South Eastern Australia, which are bluish green with a sandy bottom, which does not allow you to see down very far. The Med is a lot bluer and clearer and you can often see much deeper. When you think that some area is 3 meters deep it is in fact 10 meters deep and often quite stony. The closest comparison would be the Great Barrier Reef where at the edge of the reef you can have a clear vision for ten to twenty meters and the water is very blue. It seems to me that waters are bluer as you get closer to the equator in our region. Bora Bora and Moorea in Tahiti have a very pretty hue. As for Blue Grottos, a Croatian friend tells me that they have a Blue Grotto of their own on the island of Biševo.
Back to Capri - After inspecting various venues on the island and tasting some unique but tasty pasta at an elegant and inexpensive hotel, we decided to succumb to the usual kitschy touristy attraction – namely The “Blue Grotto”. An excellent decision. After practically lying in the canoe as the entrance through the rocks is quite low, we enter into a chamber, totally dark at first and then a stream of light coming from the break in the rocks above strikes the water transforming it into a shimmering, translucent paradise. It is quite dreamy.
Yes – that tiny speck in the ocean with its grotto and San Michele was quite worth the visit.
Grotta Azzura is truly - Azzorable.
Hunter or gatherer?
Before I get into these fundamental decisions about hunting or gathering – I am a traveller, full stop. I spent 20months in this beautiful place called Sydney – also known as the Big Smoke – and there is the rest of the continent (and the world) to investigate. I came upon a place called Jervis Bay (pronounced by the locals “Jurvis” Bay), found out that some part of it contained a naval base, which was cleverly excised by the Federal Government from NSW and became part of the Australian Capital Territory, that Government ran out of chips ( or was it ships?). And leased some part of the naval buildings to the tourist industry. It did place a Rehabilitation Centre there and I got a job in that centre as a “useful”. In order to polish the floors and wash the dishes and act as a runner for the disabled inmates playing cricket, I was obliged to swear allegiance to George the 6th (imagine – this was even before the enthronement of Betty the 2). So I signed up, swore and hopped on my trusted stead otherwise known as a JAWA 250cc bike (the name stands for JAnacek and WAnderer – Czech and English) and off I tootle south past the Illawarra region, admire the Kiama blowhole, through the Shoalhaven country and land in the naval base.
There is this beautiful country around Nowra and Jervis Bay, full of green pastures – just like in the old country and there are dozens, nay hundreds of ears jumping out of the tall grass. They are bunnies, rabbits, millions of them. If you are not careful you could easily slip on one and break a leg. How come this country which only has four percent of arable land produces such overabundance of animal and vegetable pests? You need a couple of hundred of camels to help build a telegraph line and at the end you finish up with a million feral ones, probably more than King Saud has in his paddock. You have plenty of useless kangaroos but you need some water for your bovines and fluffy sheep, so you put up some dams – and presto – your roo population blows up to 50 million. The same with plants; do you know about the prickly pear? But that is about hundred years ago – an ornamental cactus literarily ruined large tracts of pastures. Same other “ornamental” plants were planted at NSW railway stations. They are called lantana, and they infested northern lands and edges of rain forests. And I better not talk about toads.
But I really want to talk about bunnies. They made me realise that I could not be a gatherer as I get a backache if I bend down. I found that out when the Rehab management sent me to Huskisson to collect some slimy creatures called oysters for a picnic. So a hunter I shall be and rabbits will be my target. I purchase a .22 calibre CZ rifle in early spring of 1950 and am ready to pounce. What I did not do was to follow the world news and I missed the fact that the Government had a scientific organisation which had finally produced some toxic substance called myxomatosis, which they released about the same time as I purchased my weapon (for mass destruction) and the effect was so quick that my rifle never had a look-in – there goes my testosterone fix. Rabbit proof fence in Western Australia did not stop them but myxo did. The bunnies did re-appear, but in smaller numbers and yet another chemical substance keeps them in check.
Manufacturers of the classic Akubra hat now use other materials with the rabbit skins to produce the iconic hat. And, yes (I bought one on Sovereign Hill – not far from the Eureka Stockade). Foreigners in ancient lands immediately affirm that the Akubra hat is indeed an iconic Australian article.
And as far as the Hunter and/or Gatherer – well luckily in this modern civilisation – there are other means of skinning the………
But that is another story
Mt Kosciuszko here we come
Memories of an adventure of a Czech migrant slaving for Australia
On the Snowy Mountains Scheme in 1951/52
One Sunday we prepared ourselves for a great expedition: horse riding for the unable, with a continental sausage sizzle and the conquest of the Peak (that’s Mt. Kosciuszko to you) It all started with four of us (Pole, Czechs and a German) hiring horses from the Kosciuszko Chalet. One rider made a spectacular start in his brand new jodhpurs (don’t know where he got them). He was a smaller fellow and the horse is much higher than you would think at first, so he took a mighty jump into the saddle, but the jump was too mighty and he finished up on the ground on the other side. We all mounted eventually and proceeded to ride to a small lake Albina at the bottom of Mt Townsend where we planned to have a sausage sizzle. Now the continental way is to build a fire, sharpen one end of a stick, pierce the sausage and hold it over the fire. A good theory in Europe, but we had only Ozzie snags which are very thin and soft. When we pierced the ingredients just poured out. That was the end of that. What we needed was something like a knackwurst which is firmer and larger.
We did “conquer” the summit at about lunchtime and proceeded to pull out some tins of meat. Problem. We did not have a tin opener. After some searching around we did find a horseshoe and proceeded to lever the top open, pouring the contents into the palms of our hands – as we forgot to bring some cutlery. We celebrated the fact that we actually got to the top of Australia’s highest mountain – a mere 2228 m (the smallest of any other continent). On the way downhill my horse spotted a tuft of some green grass and despite all my efforts to stop him, he could not resist the chance of a free lunch on it. Now the side of this peak is not really made of marshmallow (it is in fact granite) and as the horse stopped I shifted in my seat (unlike the Australian poet’s horseman) and described a rather inelegant curve over his head but luckily managed to miss any sharp rocks. I only had one other horse ride – at Binna Burra – with the same results. I was told that you cannot be a good horse rider if you don’t have three falls. Tough luck neddies – I am not giving you another chance.
From a forthcoming tome “How I conquered the driest continent” copyright Hzehr
Fish and Friends
I was lucky to have such clever school mates. They taught me things never taught at school or my parents. Little things, like lying on my belly on the river-bank, with my neck and head protruding over the edge of the bank, so that I could grope with my hand in the hollow just under the edge and tickle the belly of a carp. I was never good enough to throw one out of the water, but have seen it done. It’s quite amazing what you can learn from school mates when there are no private schools and you have to rub shoulders with the great unwashed, who somehow knew things your parents would never tell you. I suppose that the compulsory public school system saved our society from having to invent two codes of rugby, one for the working class (league) and one for the middle and upper class (union), or the reverse if you live in Kiwiland.
Whilst carp in Australia are quite muddy, untasteful and a pest, there is a place in the world, actually where I come from, where they are quite tasty and very desirable, namely in the Czech Republic. Twenty-one and a half of these Republics would fit into Queensland. The grandma of all Czech cooks, a Mrs Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, confirms that carp is the Christmas dish – and is eaten particularly on Christmas Eve. The country is full of ponds where carp are being grown and in the middle of December all the carp are “harvested” and every inhabitant of this land has a carp for Christmas Eve dinner. This habit is not as universal in the neighbouring countries. In the days when few people had bathrooms, they kept the live carp in a bucket, later, when bathtubs were available – this is where the carp would splash ‘till Christmas Eve (the tub was only used on Fridays for bathing – remember oldies – Friday the Night of the Bath?). I am talking about the period just before WWII.
If ou keep three carp scales in your wallet, so the rumour goes, money will stick to you into the next year.
My next “carp” experience happened a long time afterwards – on one of my visits to Canberra. I wandered to the garden behind the Australian National Gallery facing the lake called Walter Burley Griffin and came upon a small child with a fishing rod in his hands, who seemed to have a really lucky streak as he was pulling out a meal size fish every few minutes. His father, reading a book and holding a net in one hand, came to the party each time his son caught a fish, helped him pull it out, and threw it into a bag. Seeing that it took me half a life time to catch any decent fish, I asked the father what kind of a fish it was and was it edible, to which he advised me that it was a carp, certainly not edible as it was full of benzene. Many of the roads around the lake were sloping towards it and carried dirt from motor cars into the lake.
After this experience, I am ready for the true Australian fishing adventure, but the prey is trout, not a muddy carp.
I have to get to a camping ground called Buckenderra which sits by Lake Eucumbene, just north of Jindabyne in the Snowy area. There I meet my two compatriots whom I had known for a long time whilst working in Melbourne; one of them is now in Sydney. My friends are both keen fishermen and they wasted no time hiring a boat, buy some bait, and they got me to walk with them into the bush to find some more bait in the form of snails, which attach themselves to the bottom of stones. So up we go, turning up stones and scraping the slimy creatures into a bag and hop unto our mini fishing trawler. Oh, I have no fishing rod, but the other two are well prepared for that Queensland amateur and have some rods to spare. Tonight I have a loan of one from one of the Honza’s (the other one calls himself Henry) – and would you believe it - I caught a trout. The next day we collect some more bait and this time I have the other friend’s rod and after a long nights work I catch another trout. The next day, buoyed by my successes I decided to buy a rod of my own. We go to another fishing place this time on the Geehi River (the upper reaches of the Murray) past Scammel’s Lookout, a very scenic part of the High Country – but no luck for me. All this time my two trout are busily freezing in the Esky and I am very keen to taste them.
My mates tell me not to do this as the trout taste much better if they are smoked and there is a man in Cooma who does a great job of smoking fish. Why not do that and they will air-freight it to me in Brisbane when it is smoked. I agree to that. A bad decision. Cooma has a power failure and the fish are ruined. I did not even taste my own personally fished trout.
A sad ending to my fishy tale. I will have to wait before I catch a fish with my own rod sometime in the future. The moral of the story – no need to buy your own rod and don’t smoke the fish.
AROUND THE MONARO
In the 1960’s and 70’s I used to wander off to the lakes on the Snowy mountains and seeing that it was around 1000 miles to get there from Brisbane, I had a stop-over in Canberra. Unlike state government politicians who keep forever complaining about the place – I like it.
The Monaro is a region of Southern NSW from the Snowy Mountains to Canberra and I remember it for its “yellow” tone, which comes from the drying grassland, except for the period to March 1983 – it became a “black” tone country, as the remaining stubble was quite burned off because of a prolonged drought, and all you saw was black soil. This all changed as if by magic in March 1983: a day after Bob Hawke took the reins of power from Malcolm Fraser – it just poured. Don’t take this as my political bias – it did happen.
This time I am talking about my stop at the National Gallery of Australia in the Seventies. I had to check out Gough Whitlam’s recent purchase of some paint splashed on a canvas which was allegedly ridden upon by the artist on a bike. It was Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. The art gallery director had an authority to spend up to $1 million, but the price was $1.3 million and the director had to ask the Prime Minister of the day Gough Whitlam for his permission to spend that extra money. He got it, but Gough was roundly condemned.
Not having progressed much from impressionist and the like, Pollock, whose style is described as abstract expressionism, did not do much for me – but the colours, at least, were pleasant. What concerned me was the fact that Australia paid so much for it. It did pass the test though, because in no time flat it became worth about seventy times as much (It makes one wonder if this country would have become much richer had we kept Gough there longer).Even the Encyclopaedias decreed that Pollock was some sort of an artistic trendsetter.
I then meandered around that of the garden behind the Gallery and discovered some well known statue of a man supporting his head with his hand. It was really The Thinker, by Rodin. I wondered how we could afford it (actually you can find an advertisement in Google that invites you to buy a 37cm replica for $2,499 – you can replicate sculptures but not paintings) That reminded me of the time when somebody brought Michelangelo’s David to Bourke St - that must have been a replica too - and the public allegedly demanded that he have a fig-leaf placed – you know where.
Having had a little think about that, I walked to the edge of the lake named after Walter Burleigh Griffin – the man who designed Canberra. He was an American, who was maltreated by local bureaucrats just like Utzon was when building the Sydney Opera House. Both these men were crucified by bitchy officials. Burleigh Griffin by a man who was found to tell lies to Griffin while he was then working on implementing his plan for the City. When the same man was appointed to the planning commission, Griffin called it quits and went designing towns in the Riverina and, of all things, incinerators. One is still in existence in Ipswich and now serves as a small theatre.
One of the most attractive venues in Canberra can be viewed from the top of Mt.Ainslie. Looking downhill in a straight line over the top of the War Memorial down Anzac Avenue, across the Lake, across the old Parliament House (now a Portrait Gallery) is the gorgeous new Parliament on top of Capital Hill.
Whether you are interested in things military or not – the War Memorial is quite exceptional. On one of my 5 day stays in Canberra I spent fully two and a half days there. The mosaics and panoramic depiction of battlefield is amazing.
I took time to have a look at the National Library of Australia, which has an interesting triptych best watched from the balcony on the upper floor. The Library always has an exhibition of some historical or unusual publication.
The High Court has some interesting woodwork inside and an amusing cascade, which any boy would delight in “cascading” down it. When I was there they had pictures of judges displayed all of whom could have done with some orthodontic attention!
If one can ever manage it the Floreade is the thing to see. I saw it twice.
There is a million, or is it two, of flowers to see – you don’t have to go to Holland to see beautiful exhibition of flowers. A million tulips. And when the show is finished – they just plough them up!
On my usual way south to Cooma I came to a huge round-about. Twice in My travels did I make the same mistake I kept going round and round until I thought I had surely gone around far enough; and turned left. Well I did not go far enough and got to Queanbeyan instead. Luckily, there is another road from there to Cooma. No problems getting into Canberra, but out….?
So, good bye for now from Nambri. The original tribal name for the Canberra area.
A Call To Arms
How do you learn to operate various weapons to defend yourself?
Go to the US of A and drop in at a corner store and buy some “artillery”? Or join a rifle club and pay for all your training and ammunition?
There is another way – Join the Army. Nearly every country in Europe had conscription. Two years, that’s what you had to give to your country in the military before they allowed you to go abroad. It started at 18 and was postponed if you studied at University. But my dad, somehow, got me exempted and I obtained a passport to leave the country without serving. I never asked my dad how he managed it.
Australians defeated two referenda on conscription (in 1916 and again in 1917.) Why agree to conscription when the country’s citizens supplied enough bodies and casualties to feed the British war machine voluntarily?
In 1958, this senior “Boy Scout” decided to join the CMF - Citizen’s Military Forces, 9th Battalion, I Section, at the age of 30, just to learn the drill. Because of my educational standard I was offered a commission in the Pay Corp. Not for me, I wanted to learn things the hard way.
First of all they put me through the indignity of something called “small arms parade” and issued me with a .303 rifle, first issued to British troops just before the Boer war. Very shortly after I joined we had our annual camp at Greenbank (now a suburb of Brisbane) where at last I got my first bit of shooting practice. You start 800m from the target in a lying down position, then run 200m forward and shoot from a kneeling position. You keep going forward and each time the shooting position gets more difficult. By the time you get to 200m you have to shoot from the standing position and the target looks as big as the side of a house, but for some reason it keeps moving from side to side and becomes very difficult to aim at.
Very shortly after that we departed for Canungra JTC (Jungle Training Centre) which is an international training centre for jungle warfare. This is where I had a chance to fire a BREN gun (BR for a Czech city - Brno, EN English city – Enfield) followed by the old .303 rifle, then an EYrifle (which is a strengthened .303 with a cup on top that houses a grenade and fires like a mortar), and lastly an Owen gun – a beautiful little toy which fires quickly and inaccurately.
I frightened a whole platoon of my infantry mates on the BREN gun range. The Army did not bother to instruct me how to use it. Somehow I just had it in my arms and was told to:” Go and shoot”. As it happened I did not know what to squeeze, how to hold it and generally did not have a clue, so I turned to the left and yelled to the sergeant: “How do you handle this thing”. I must have also moved the instrument to the left (not down) as a result of which the whole column of soldiers dropped to the ground. You can imagine what kind of an answer I received.
The next range was for mortar firing. Somehow, instinctively, I worked out that I have to aim for the sky about half way to the target – and bingo –bulls’ eye. “Where did you learn that”? Another lesson was not to lend your rifle (never called a gun) to anybody. One of my mates asked me to lend him my rifle. He claimed that his was not working too well. The lazy soldier just did not want to clean his rifle. I did not realise how much more cleaning needs to be done after an extra 10 shots have been fired. In the JTC we had field exercises with live ammunition buzzing around our ears ensuring we kept our heads down.
Various marches produced 2 inch blisters on my heels, for which the only cure was methylated spirits. That sure slowed me down a bit. It also showed up a smart looking corporal, who was very good at shouting orders and maintaining a crisp step, looking very uneasy when leading a night compass march. I think he nearly had an accident.
As an OR (the lowest rank in the army = Other Ranks) I produced a problem for the organisation. I was the only OR aged over 21. The others were conscripts from a previous intake, all of whom would have served their 174 days and were now on the occasional weekend and bivouac training for two years. (This was a tail-end of the 1951 “Korean” war conscription, which came to an end in 1959.) The OR’s did not have a mess and they were under the drinking age, hence not entitled to a canteen, but what do they do with an oldie like me? Well they made me an honorary non-commissioned something or other, entitled to use a sergeants’ mess. Problem solved.
We leant some interesting tricks: Such as: How to float a jeep over a river. Drive the jeep onto two planks, just wide enough for the wheel of the jeep on each side, with a tent material underneath. Only one man was sitting in the vehicle and he was holding onto the tent ropes from each corner of the float. Push it into the water, with soldiers steering it in the front and pushing it in the back. Sadly, we had a tragedy. The exercise was a night one and one of the pieces of plank most have hit the head of the soldier in the front and knocked him out. In the dark, he was not missed immediately. The army had to call the police and the poor boy’s body was recovered the next day.
One of the more interesting exercises involved our company spending a night in the rain forest (otherwise known as “the jungle”) just downhill from the Gold Coast-Beechmont road towards the Numinbah Valley. The troop was divided into “friends” and “enemies”, given a day’s rations, and then introduced to lianas (or vines), rooted in the soil at ground level and using trees as vertical support to climb. By pulling at the vines, you communicated some pre-arranged meaning to your companions. During the night, communist style propaganda was broadcast, urging us, the friendly forces, to give up our “struggle” and go home to our wives, who are being seduced. The whole business was a charade, as the communists in Malaya, had already given up by that time. We were advised that our enemies “prevailed” over us at night and literarily walked all over us. We never knew about it. Perhaps one should realize that “dark” at night in the jungle really means something more dramatic than one would imagine.
In the morning, we picked up our gear, including BREN guns and ammunition and trudged up the steep hill and we reached the top
quite exhausted. But there is a happy ending to this event. On top of the road was a utility truck with Salvation Army officers dispensing tea, coffee or juice to weary soldiers.
Soon afterwards we left Canungra and after 19 months I left the army, which certainly gave me an insight into human behavior and taught me to distinguish between “the fair-dinkum” and the “phonies”. It also highlighted the leadership qualities of people you did not expect it from and the delicate balance between “commissioned” and “non-commissioned officers.
The Australian army is no longer a British Colonial Institution, it is truly a national one and we are pretty safe with it.
C V - TRUTH PREVAILS
When I arrived in Melbourne in autumn of 1952 I went and saw the General to apply for a job. The General was in fact the General Motors Holden Company, fully owned by the American giant (just like another giant that owns Vegemite) known as the GM Company. In November 1948, a couple of months before arriving on these shores GMH launched its first Australian model - the Holden FX - and it was an instant success. GMH offered me a job on the assembly line which I accepted. Very soon they realised that I could be of a greater benefit to them as I was pretty fast at counting a number of nuts and bolts and placing them in little bags. I was given a job in the tool store on an afternoon shift. This job was a real promotion, as I had my own little office with a window through which I dispensed tools to whoever presented me with a requisition. I hardly spent more than 2 hours per day on this task. At that time, I was seriously considering broadening my bookkeeping qualifications, as my Czech Commercial Academy qualification did not seem to carry much weight here in Australia. The commercial Institute, known as the Hemingway Robertson Institute, offered to bring me to a stage of presenting myself for examination with an Accountancy Institute. I took this up and they supplied me with a set of booklets and exercise questionnaires which I found very easy to follow. I was able to pass my Intermediate stage examination – a 2 year course – within 9 months. The exam was held at the St. Kilda Town Hall.
The GMH factory situated at Fisherman’s Bend, had much better facilities than Henry Ford’s lot in Sydney and also owned a hut at Mt. Buller, one of Victoria’s ski resorts. They also hired two top tennis players of the day to show their skills to the staff. They were Ken McGregor and Dinny Pails (I had seen Pails in Prague previously).
My first lodging was in a boarding house at Grey Street St. Kilda. I could either catch a train to St. Kilda Rd or bus to St. Kilda Junction. It was here that I once had an interesting experience. A lady stopped me and asked me for a match (I was a smoker then) I really thought that she meant it. Well, you have to learn the habits of different countries.
My next address was a more salubrious one – East Malvern. As I said I worked on an afternoon shift which started at 1.30pm and I did not get home before 1 am. In the boarding house I had to get up very early for breakfast and as I had not enough sleep, I went back to bed and did not get up much before lunch. That interfered with my intention of spending some time swimming at the Malvern public pool, which – would you believe it – closed at 12 o’clock for lunch. So, I would have to go out and came back an hour later.
By the time I left Melbourne to return to the Big Smoke, I thought I was ready for such a complex task as reconciling Cash Books in an office, a step not to be taken lightly in Australia. I was asked for some document with a Latin title: Curriculum Vitae, which I diligently compiled by telling prospective employers how well I performed on the assembly line and in tool stores and they all thought that an office job was too difficult a step for me. I came upon a brilliant idea of asking one of my Melbourne friends who had a business name and a letterhead to let me have a blank letterhead which I could then fill with some highly fictitious material about my clerical duties in some non-existent firms. I got the first job I applied for and was greatly praised by my erstwhile factory workers who were very impressed with my success of “jumping” from one class (labourer) to another, higher one (clerk).
The motto of my country of birth reads: TRUTH PREVAILS. – PRAVDA VÍTĚZÍ
Had I obeyed these lofty principles I would still be a Nut-Counter, instead of the much more socially elevated Bean Counter.