Monday, December 31, 2007

The Giant Staircase, Katoomba NSW - A great work out for your legs

Too much Christmas indulgence new Christmas present CDs to listen to so daughter and I are hitting the open road intent upon a walk down the giant staircase at the Three Sisters Katoomba NSW. We’re late getting away and it’s already almost 1:30 PM. Not my preferred time of day for such activities, early morning is much better but oh well.
Given the time we decide to stick with the freeway rather than take the scenic route up the Northern Road. 5 mins from home and we’re on the M5, M7, and finally the M4 before hitting the Great Western Hwy and slower speeds up through the mountains. It’s a fairly painless drive and the novelty of Lighthorse interchange has yet to wear off. Lighthorse interchange is the intersection of several major motorways and is featured by huge flyovers. Named because the Australian Light Horse trained in this area at the time of the Great War. Along the approach there are numerous poles sticking out of the ground in long rows, they have bits of cable sticking and drooping out of the top. We originally were puzzled as to what these are and thought they must be light poles unfinished with the electricity cables in ready.. but no, we eventually found out they are sculptures intended to represent the Light Horse. I guess the cables are supposed to denote the emu feathers on the caps…. We hated the whole thing at first, but they’re growing on me a bit. I guess they’re cheap to replace if a truck slams into them LOL.
Anyway selected Supertramp classics keep us bopping. Daughter finds that she does know these songs afterall, just didn’t know who sang them or their name. We follow up with classic Elton John. Daughter’s gift to me so more than usually appropriate. We’re all on a bit of an EJ kick at the moment having sold a not very popular relative into the slave trade for (very good) tickets to his recent show. Unfortunately hubby couldn’t go as he hadn’t been well, but the EJ fan offspring (both daughters and elder son) and I headed up to the Hunter Valley for the show. Just EJ and piano. Excellent, he is such a magnificent piano player, it’s worth going just for that really. Though his voice has really deteriorated and I’m glad I saw him several times back in my younger years. Ah, that concert with Ray Cooper – now that was brilliant! EJ butchers Daniel these days, but we were also treated to some of my other favourites that he can still sing up to par, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters and Ticking. 2 ½ hrs performance that flew by like a snap of the fingers. An awesome thing to see him live. (Venue sucked though). Anyway I digress…
We arrive at Echo Point at about a quarter to 3 I think it was. Clearly my brother has stayed home today as his parking angel has come with us and we get a brilliant spot right near the lookout. I didn’t even embarrass myself reverse parking which is always a relief. LOL. Meter parking all around this area. It’s pretty warm today about 26 or 27 C even up here in the mountains. A LOT of people about. It’s always been popular but you can really see that it’s hit the international tourist agenda these days. The mountains and Echo Point in particular always make me thing of Gang Gang cockatoos which we used to see at the feeder at the info centre. We still have them hanging around at our place now which is surprising, though I guess it has been cool so far this season. Usually they are just winter visitors and they would have headed back up into the mountains by this time of year. We do this walk every now and again. It’s one of our favourites, but we do it more in winter than summer and there’s generally less people about. We waste no time and with hats and sunscreen applied as appropriate we head off down the path to the three sisters and the start of the walk. Admiring the magnificent views along the way. Our intended walk is suggested as 1 ½ hrs duration. Last scenic railway car leaves 4:50 pm so we should have plenty of time. The first section is very busy with people doing the initial section that takes you over to the first of the sisters. There’s also a number of people coming up the staircase and going further on, but as we progress these decrease in number and spread out. The stairs themselves are quite challenging, high risers narrow treads. The treads in many places are rock and eroded so uneven. It really is necessary to watch where you are going and hold the rail. A great test of leg strength. At the bottom of the stairs we have an option to head towards Leura or back towards the railway. Both are modest distances. We take the 2.5 km to the railway as is our traditional route. The path is a rough bush path, and traverses a number of modest hillocks with stairs up and down along the way. We’re a bit over the ones going down but the up sections along the way are a welcome relief LOL. The bush is looking gorgeous after all the rain we’ve been having. New growth on trees and banksias particularly noticeable. Tree ferms are lush and bright. Moss on rocks everywhere in prime condition. Still some lovely pink wildflowers along the path. Bellbirds and Crimson Rosellas calling and an occasional Eastern Whip bird and others make me want to sing the Carol of the Birds but I don’t know the words so I have to be content with humming a little bit of it. Along the way we pass a loudly chattering group of crimson rosellas and stop to try to spot them. It’s amazing who well these colourful birds blend in with the bushland and we don’t spy them until they fly over the path. Who’d have thought red and blue are camouflage? It never ceases to amaze me!. There is really no better place for a bush walk than the Blue Mountains and these walking trails around the mountain villages. Glorious.
Along the way we pass a poor young woman who appears to have hurt her ankle or foot. She is being assisted by at least one good Samaritan who passed us earlier (very fit skipping down the staircase without even holding the rails) and a young woman. Another guy is heading off for help, meanwhile the others are helping the injured girl hobble in the direction of the railway. Lucky she’s a slight little thing. Still a couple of kms to go. Ouch! Wish we were carrying a bandage or something to support her foot. Nothing we can do so we skip on past with a cheery comment. Looks like a great travel story in the making there! I think they might be finding it challenging seeing the funny side of things just at the moment but she tries at any rate! That’s the spirit! At least they aren’t somewhere seriously remote.
We’re not hanging around, we mean business on this walk today. Just before the railway we come to Katoomba falls which are flowing with plenty of water at the moment. We fantasise about climbing down and playing in the water a bit and there is clear evidence that others do so given the moss is worn away on the rocks at likely vantages, but we press on, with just a slight pause to admire the gully. Our thoughts have been brought back to the injured girl a couple of times along the way as we clambered over or under fallen trees that are creating entertaining obstacles on the path… well minor if you aren’t nursing an injury.
We are a bit horrified when after an hour walking we hit the lengthy queues at the railway, and we puzzled at first as to how to join the queue as it comes in and snakes around and we seem to be hitting the side of it. In the end we conclude it’s a merge situation so hop in line and make a note that perhaps winter on a week day really is the best time for visiting this place LOL. A couple behind us give us a look that suggests they’re with us on that! The queue travels pretty quickly and the train shifts a lot of people on each trip, we only have to wait for the second departure so all in all it wasn’t bad and we were quickly up at the pay station forking over the $10 each for the privilege. Actually felt quite festive being in the crowd which was full of international tourists. Quite like being on holiday really. The shop at the top is ridiculously crowded we make a bee line straight out and how lucky, there’s a trolley bus just about to go, so give cursory consideration to walking back to EP (our usual practice) but daughter votes for the bus. $2.80 each for the bus and I just have enough change. Not spot on correct money, I need a little change (less than a dollar) still, the driver enquires if I have right change. Sorry only other cash I have is fifties. (Tip: make sure you take small change for the bus). The bus is pretty crowded and we wonder if people trying to get on at the stops along the way are going to fit, but they seem to squeeze in OK once a few people get off.
Back at Echo Point we decide not to hang around and head straight for the car. We zip down through Leura and back on the highway for a bopping ride and we’re home before 6pm. Ah, got to love Macarthur. Central to all the best places.

PS: There was indeed a change of government at the federal election. BIG swing and the Prime Minister lost his seat. It was a VERY interesting election night, not even Antony Green was giving things away early in the night. MP Stephen Smith, now Australia's foreign minister got it absolutely spot on and he made his prediction as soon as polls closed. Very impressive. When he first spoke the commentators were fairly surprised at such a bold prediction when the polls had been all over the shop. Incidentally there was some fall out over the huge variation in the polls given the outcome with questions raised about methodology of some mainstream pollsters.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Election Day Buzz

There’s a certain excitement in the air today. Federal election. Compulsory voting and it’s been a long campaign. The opinion polls have been all over the shop predicting everything from an overwhelming landslide change of government to a narrow retention of power for the incumbent government. Daughter has a friend over they are both voting in their first election. I am very impressed and proud as both have carefully considered the policies of the candidates and made their decision based on policy not just the media. They talk of friends and voting intentions, preference allocation and policy. We talk history and context to elaborate on the strategy required for voters in getting a parliament consisting of the right mix of elements.
Polls have been open an hour or so. We’d been warned by others that voters are turning out early and in large numbers. We finally find a parking spot and wander on into a local school to vote, running the gauntlet of party faithfuls handing out how to vote leaflets. I take one from everyone. I don’t like to suggest to all and sundry how I intend to vote. There’s a delicious smell and a festive atmosphere the parents and citizens are holding a barbeque and selling lamingtons as a fundraiser. Robbie Williams playing for the entertainment of the queue which is already quite long, and building steadily behind us as we join the line. Husband hands over some cash and directs daughter to buy some sausage sandwiches. They smell great but I give it a miss. They have a poster up this year suggesting voters may like to check how the different political parties are allocating their preferences, in case you just want to allocate your senate vote along the party line. I don’t recall having seen this information in past elections. I guess that’s the beauty of an independent electoral commission. Each year there are improvements to the system. We wander in and take advantage of the offer, but I don’t like any party’s preferences so I number 1-79 to allocate my preferences in the order I have decided on. Daughter’s friend has also decided to number 1-79, so we wait outside for him. This gives us plenty of time to buy a dozen lamingtons. Quite good. We discuss politics and the election some more, and how we are looking forward to the election coverage tonight as we head home. I lament the skill of Antony Green and his election outcome computer modeller. He is so accurate and he generally has the result correctly identified within an hour of polls closing. I liked it better in the days when you watched the commentary from the national tally room all night as the booths were counted and marked up on the boards. It is one night every few years when the politicians forget the spin and just speak as people as with the electorate they watch the results flood in. If one of the parties gets a big shock, you get some really spontaneous and honest responses and a greater insight into the people behind the performance. Love it.
Well, I can’t wait for the polls to close. This should be one of the most interesting elections in years, and to my surprise I’ll be barracking for some pollies on both sides. There are some good sensible people who’s seats are apparently line ball. There MIGHT even be a spill in the Prime Minister’s own seat – I can’t quite believe that will happen though the electoral boundaries have been redrawn this election and he’s not so safe a seat any more.
7 hours to go.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sydney – Canberra – Remembrance Day 2007

A glorious day after a week of rain. It is wonderful to be on the road again with everything clear and fresh. You can almost hear the countryside sighing with relief at the renewed moisture the rain has provided.
The drive between Sydney and Canberra gets mixed reviews. It is amazing to us how many people report that it is a fairly boring drive with little to see. We conclude that these people must be driving with their eyes shut! In truth the drive is featured by wide vistas of broad pastures, blue hills and glorious sky. Areas where rain has been a little more generous are boldly, lushly green. Some where rain has been slower in coming a green tinge is appearing among the golden brown of last seasons cover, but everywhere you can almost hear the landscape sighing with relief at that at least some small measure of relief from this savage drought has at last been delivered. Paddocks are here and there populated by sheep and cattle. The trees and shrubs in remnant bush change in type with the local terrain. Along the centre of the highway flowering shrubs are planted which throughout late winter and spring provide a beautiful festival of native flowers. The display commences with the exuberance of the golden wattle in August/September. Today the red of the bottlebrush flowers provide a bold contrast to robust little shrubs smothered in tiny white flowers. It is so satisfying to see the little creeks and rocky rivers renewed with run off from the rain. This, the Remembrance Driveway is a beautiful and fitting memorial to Australians who served their country in the second world war. www.remembrancedriveway.org.au
Today we are destined for the Australian War Memorial where the Remembrance Driveway ends, marked by three Spotted Gums in Remembrance Park behind the memorial. As we travel, we are reminded of the valour and sacrifice of all by rest areas and memorial parks named for the 24 Australian winners of the Victoria Cross from WWII and the Vietnam war. There is now a set of 3 CDs of oral history about the Remembrance Driveway. Surely suitable entertainment as you travel this memorial route. We pick up a copy from the War Memorial shop, it is also available from the Roads and Traffic Authoritywebsite http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/oralhistory.
We make good time and arrive in Canberra at about 9:15. A brief stop at the information centre to identify the closest local Maccas outlet to satisfy some of the party who skipped their breakfast to effect our attempt at a 7 am departure. 7:10 not a bad effort for the younger party animals of the group. We are parked and getting into position before 10 am for an alleged 10:15 am start for the Remembrance Day service. Much larger turnout for the ceremony than last year, and as the MC notes, even the flies have turned out bringing another type of salute – the Aussie salute – to the formal marks of respect. Like a church service from my childhood, matrons with legs crossed using the free program as a much appreciated fan and fly switch. Attire among the crowd everything from jeans and collared shirts to heels and tailored jackets with jauntily brimmed millinery, dress uniforms of numerous nations. Dignitaries heavily bedecked in honours and badges of rank.
The service follows the usual program. This year the Prime Minister personally in attendance delivers the commemorative address. The Australian Federation Guard – a mixed formation from the three services marches in stands in formation. The catafalque party emerge, move into position and stand in respect throughout the proceedings.
Again this year one of the servicemen in the main body of the Federation Guard faint from the immobility and heat and is assisted from the field unable to walk unsupported. I find myself mentally rebelling at the illogical aping of customs developed in another time and climate, a republican spirit within me stirs and grumbles. I find another reason to appreciate that our main commemorative services are held at dawn on Anzac Day.
The service concludes with the Governor General and Prime Minister and their wives and other dignitaries proceeding up the stairs to the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier to lay wreaths. Throughout the day a guard of honour is maintained around the tomb. The changes of the guard and military spectacle observed by the many visitors to the memorial.
As we move away from the ceremonial ground the offspring report with some anger and vigour the appalling behaviour of some foreign visitors sitting in the row behind them. I’m glad I was out of earshot of the comments in question during the service. You have to wonder why on earth anyone would bother attending a Remembrance Day service in any country if all you plan to do is find fault. Everything was considered fair game - from the cars used by the official party, to the name of the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. The object of the service is quiet reflection and commemoration and clearly these nitwits completely missed the point, and what’s worse, contaminated the experience for the people around them. Inexcusable.
For the record, should anyone else out there wonder why we note that the tomb in question is of an Australian – until the early 1990s, our marking of respect for the unknown soldier, was obliged to be focussed on the similar memorial in London which represented all of the fallen whose remains were not recovered from the Great War. For a long time this was not considered inappropriate given that we served as an element of the British forces in that conflict. When finally it was felt that we should repatriate the remains of one of our unidentified fallen and have our own local memorial to the unknown soldier in our main national memorial, it was appropriate that it be given a different name to distinguish it from the London memorial which Australians still very much respect and honour. It was not a pompous gesture of Australian nationalism, more a continued mark of respect to the London memorial. If anything was pompous it was the arrogance of these visitors in assuming that they could interpret the intentions of a people they clearly do not even come close to understanding.
After a quiet picnic lunch in the serenity of the grounds. We make our way in to the War Memorial. We have some time before the Remembrance Day talk, which is to be delivered today by Les Carlyon on the topic “Two men of Passchendaele”. A discussion of Field Marshall Haig and David Lloyd George in the context of the events of third Ypres – which Australians know as the battle for Passchendaele. I take the opportunity for a little browsing in the memorial shop. Attracting a comment from daughter, that there can’t be anyone who enjoys the war memorial shop more than me! LOL I am strong and massively disciplined and decline to buy more to add to my already groaning reading waiting list! Though I was reminded during the later talk introductory acknowledgements, that I must read some Antony Beevor. In what time remains we spend a half hour or so checking out the new discovery zone. There’s going to be a few farmers with their legs blown off in the field I attempted to clear of land mines!
After Les Carlyon’s very interesting talk, the author has agreed to some book signings, which result in my acquiring an author signed copy of Gallipoli to match the author signed “the Great War” I picked up here last Remembrance Day. Better yet, I plant a seed for a Les Carlyon penned book that covers Douglas Macarthur. Les Carlyon is so objective in his writing. I think it would be fascinating to get a book with an Australian focus that is really objective about Douglas Macarthur and provides all the relevant context for the reader to make up their own mind on the subject.
After a tiring and emotional day we climb back in our car and head for home. Driving in the early morning or late afternoon is a pleasure I find it’s hard to surpass. A leisurely stop at Collector for afternoon tea at the Lynwood cafĂ©. Purchase some preserves and such for Christmas pressies. We’re home at about 7pm and I’m nursing a dose of mild heat stroke and ruing the fact that I’d managed to leave my hat out of the car this morning.
I can hardly wait for another run to Canberra with a little more solitude to listen to the Remembrance Driveway oral history CD. Perhaps when they reopen the redeveloped post 1945 galleries…..

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wallaman Falls, Far North Queensland

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Wallaman Falls, visited June 2006 Second video is the cassowary we were lucky enough to see on the way back from the falls viewing area. If you see a cassowary stay in your car, they are quite dangerous.

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Honeyeaters at Ivy Cottage video

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Once again these are white cheeked and macleay's honeyeaters. They are tucking into leftovers. In the second video the light is just terrible but at least it gives you a feel for the numbers of birds that come in. The reference to "vicious rainforest birds" is a long standing family joke. It refers to a sign that was outside an aquarium on Magnetic Island many years ago encouraging passers by to come in and see "the feeding frenzy of the vicious reef sharks". When you went in, you found the sharks they were referring to were all little baby black tip reef sharks, mostly about 12 inches long. Tiny and not what I expected at all. LOL.

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Ivy Cottage Paluma



These photos are of birds at Ivy Cottage at Paluma in far north Queensland, which is to the north of Townsville. The Victoria's Riflebirds (top)were hard to capture on film, and even these don't do them justice. Magnificent birds. The lower photo is a white cheeked honeyeater and numerous Macleay's honeyeaters. I didn't get photos of the bowerbirds unfortunately.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Waltzing Matilda - lyrics and meaning a la Snodge

Waltzing Matilda was written by Andrew Barton “Banjo” Patterson.

The following notes are provided to help people understand the song and what it is about.
See below for lyrics.

Swagman: more usually referred to as a “swaggie”. Commonest translation of “swagman” is tramp or hobo, but that’s not quite the same. It’s someone who walks the tracks of the bush/outback looking for work, or subsistence. Rural Australia relied heavily on such itinerant workers for a very long time and it was the custom that landholders would assist swaggies when they turned up by issue of food perhaps tea/tobacco/sugar/meat/flour.  The swagman is a man who carries a swag.
  
Jolly: in Australia in times gone by, certainly it was still the case when I was very small, "jolly" was used as an all purpose expletive. I don't believe it is intended only to infer that the swagman was jolly in the sense of happy and good humoured. A double meaning fits the context very well... here's a jolly swagman - inoffensive and doing noone any harm.

Swag: is usually translated as “bedroll”. Can be a blanket inside of which you carefully secure your essential belongings. You might put your belongings on the blanket then roll it up and tie it either at either end with a rope which is then used like a handle. You sling the swag across your shoulder by the rope and off you go. The iconic image has a “billy” attached on the outside.

A swag is also known as a “matilda”. A “matilda” was also a term for a common law wife which may have influenced the use of the term for the swag. It would have been consistent with Australian humour if this was the case. Afterall, a common law wife is someone you sleep with consistently without being married, as you do your swag. So your swag is your matilda.
  
Waltzing matilda. If you’re walking along with your swag on your back, the swag moves with your body as you walk and you’re said to be “waltzing matilda”. Some suggest that the German word “waltzen” which has been translated as “to tramp or hike” or wander about was also an influence. Again you see the play on the words which is a very typical sort of witty word play style of humour Australians have long been fond of.
  
Billabong: a backwater off a river. A billabong fills when there is a flood, then as the water recedes it gets isolated from the flow. Australia has an endless cycle of drought and flood. Billabongs are where bunyips reside. A bunyip is a sort of scary monster creature. Reputedly incredibly ugly but it usually appears in children’s stories as a poor gentle misunderstood creature that everyone is scared of but deserving of sympathy. Though in the case of this story, I guess the ghost of the swaggie has reign at this billabong.

Coolabah tree: a type of native tree of the species eucalyptus. The shade of a coolabah tree isn’t very deep. The canopy is quite light, so it’s dappled shade. You find coolabah trees in the outback, so you know that the events of the song take place in a very remote area. No shops, no services.

Billy: a small tin pail (maybe 1 litre capacity) with a handle. It is used like a universal cooking pot and kettle. To “boil the billy” means to make tea ie the drink.

Jumbuck: a term for sheep.

Tucker: food

Squatter: the landholder. There’s a fair bit of history behind how the landholders came by their land. The squatters would simply go and occupy vast areas of land. Over time and various changes to the laws they came to have tenure. It was an inequitable process that heavily favoured the wealthy and lead to a range of interesting historical events we don’t need to discuss here. The fact that the squatter in the song is described as being mounted on his thoroughbred is a reference to the wealth of the landowner and the great divide between the landholders and the workers. There is a bit of a sub-text of “the bastard could surely spare one bloody sheep for a poor swaggie”. The song was written just after a very bitter shearers strike in the 1890s which was about the time of a severe drought and economic depression. The government (and police) backed the landholders against the striking shearers. There was violence and political upheaval. The union movement really got going. Shortly after these events the Australian Labor party was formed.

Trooper: the police of their day. It is significant that the troopers are there backing up the wealthy squatter. This is a reference to the system being stacked against the workers. There’s a thread weaving through many Australian historical events of power corrupted and the law being used to protect the interests of the wealthy.

“Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag” = hand over that sheep

“You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me” at the end of the this stanza means “you’re under arrest”.

“You’ll never take me alive” = “I’ll see you in hell”. This is an echo of some Australian bushrangers ie outlaws the most famous of whom were driven to bushranging through the actions of corrupt police and associated injustices. In particular one named Ben Hall is famous for this phrase.  Ned Kelly, another great Australian icon, is also deeply associated with this sort of tragic result of police corruption and social injustice. "You'll never take me alive" can be seen as an Australian statement of "liberty or death".

So there you have it. Waltzing Matilda is the story of a poor Aussie “battler” driven to suicide by the selfishness of the wealthy and the impacts of a system in which the only way to survive is to take what you have to. It is a story that speaks to the deep commitment of Australians to the concept of a “fair go”.

Waltzing Matilda is more than a folk song. This is the national song of Australia and will stir national pride far more than the official anthem. You know they’re really going for patriotic feeling when they roll out Waltzing Matilda at a sporting event. It is so effective at rousing the crowd some opposition teams have tried to ban the crowd singing it.

Waltzing Matilda (modern commonly known version). Follow the link to the youtube listing of the late great Slim Dusty singing Waltzing Matilda.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolabah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Down came the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred
Up came the troopers, one two three
Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tuckerbag
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me
Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong
“You’ll never take me alive” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong
“You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me”

[sing softly now…]
Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong
You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me

Weary Dunlop Memorial


Here is a photo of the Weary Dunlop Memorial in Benalla, Victoria. Just in case you can't read it, the words around the plinth are Friendship, Courage, Forgiveness. Weary is the big bloke at the back supporting the emaciated POW. Despite the dreadful things he witnessed in the prisoner of war camps on the Burma railroad, on his repatriation Weary was a shining light of leadership, encouraging forgiveness for the events of the war, supporting veterans and leading humanitarian aid projects in Asia. A very great Australian.

Could this possibly be one of the best speeches ever?

This is a speech by John Gorton, delivered April 1946 when as a veteran he addressed a welcome home celebration for returned servicemen in his home town in Victoria. Bob Davey was a local man who was killed. What a shame it isn't better known. The message is eternal.


There has been a good deal of confusion of thought as to why we went to war, and as to what we can reasonably expect as the result of our military victory. We did not go to war to make a new and better world as the result of the exercise of brute military force. We can only expect to achieve the kind of world we want by the use of brains and effort during peace. We fought only to preserve, for ourselves and our children, that conception of political freedom and justice which was being attacked by a tyrannous power. We succeeded in that defence. Yet, I have heard not only civilians but returned soldiers say that because the world is not better, but worse, therefore the war was fought in vain. That is was a futile thing without reason or result, and that all the suffering which was entailed was wasted.
It was not wasted. We retained a system of government in which we, the people, choose our governors, dismiss them when we wish, and have a voice in our own destiny. We retained a conception of justice in which the humblest one amongst us has equal rights before the law with the head of the state. We believed that those principles were worth defending, not because in themselves they provided all that could be desired for human happiness, but because we believed that we could only advance to a full and satisfying life for all if we retained the freedom on which to build.
But it is now, in the peace, that we must make our advances. I believe that the returned serviceman wishes us to secure for all men that economic freedom which we have never had, and to which all who are willing to work are surely entitled. We must remove from the minds of men the fear of poverty as the result of illness, or accident, or old age. We must turn our schools into institutions which will produce young men and women avid for further education and increased knowledge. We must raise the material standard of living so that all children can grow up with sufficient space and light and proper nourishment; so that women may be freed from domestic drudgery; and so that those scientific inventions which are conducive to a more gracious life may be brought within the means of all. We must raise the spiritual standard of living so that we may get a spirit of service to the community and so that we may live together without hate, even though we may differ on the best road to reach our objectives. And we must do all this without losing that political freedom which has cost us so dearly, and without which these tasks cannot be accomplished.
Outside Australia peace has set us tasks as hard. All around us we see a world living in the gloom of half-peace, in the immediate agony of starvation and disease, and in the shadow of a future atomic world, whether we like it or not. And what affects the world will affect us. We must do our utmost to alleviate the immediate suffering, and we must take our place in the world, not as a self-sufficient, sealed-off unit, but as a member of a family, the members of which are dependent the one upon the other. We must do this. For no person of susceptibility, no soldier who has seen his comrades killed, no Christian, above all no mother with growing children can stand idly by and see the chance which we have once more won, once more wasted.
That is why I demand of you, in the name of the dead and the returned, that you do not consider this war as a task finished; that you not regard this celebration as the last chapter in the book. Look on it rather as half-time! A joyful occasion certainly, but only a break in the continuous task. For tomorrow we must carry on again, and the tasks which lie in front of us are immense and urgent as never before.
What can we do? Individually, it may not be much. But we can at least all think on the problems which are in front of us and be ready to act on our thoughts if the opportunity arises. We can try to reason out how we may best take our place in the family of nations, and how we may best provide a full and satisfactory life for all our citizens. We can practice tolerance and understanding. And we can be ready always to defend against attacks, either from within or without, the political freedom, the measure of freedom which we already have.
It will be hard. Without the spur and urgency of a war, it will mean a constant effort from all of us. But I am going to call on your imaginations. I want you to forget it is I who am standing here. And I want you to see instead Bob Davey. And behind I want you to see an army; regiment on regiment of young men, dead. They say to you, burning in tanks and aeroplanes, drowning in submarines, shattered and broken by high explosive shells, we gave the last full measure of devotion. We have bought your freedom with our lives. So take this freedom. Guard it as we have guarded it, use it as we can no longer use it, and with it as a foundation, build. Build a world in which meanness and poverty, tyranny and hate, have no existence. If you see and hear these men behind me – do not fail them.

Monday, October 15, 2007

the quintessential explanation of Waltzing Matilda

I have just had the privilege of reading Prime Minister Paul Keating's address at the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Waltzing Matilda. The address was a gift to the nation delivered on 6 April 1995. As such I am sure that Mr Keating would not object to my reproducing it in full in this blog for the benefit of others. It is quite long, but it is worth the read. I hope you also enjoy it. It moved me to tears.

This is a great honour. It is one to tell our grandchildren about: we were in the North Gregory Hotel when Australia celebrated the first performance of Waltzing Matilda 100 years ago. And we were all in evening dress. Which is something the swagman would have found amusing – but maybe the squatter, the troopers and Banjo Paterson would have appreciated it. I’m sure they all would have liked the irony in it.

[These celebrations] are reminding us of the spirit of the bush and commemorating a song which has lifted our spirits for 100 years. There are no limits to the power of a good song. I read on the way up here that 10,000 people would be in Winton this weekend: so this has to be a very considerable boost to Winton as it struggles through the drought. You see, music has more than charms – it has profound economic effects. In times like this it is not as good as rain, but it may well be the next best thing.

Waltzing Matilda was born in a drought era of course, and it is not hard to imagine that this might have had some effect on the melancholy theme of the song. And there is equally no doubt that in all the varieties of hard times Waltzing Matilda has galvanised the spirit of countless Australians. If culture is that which defines a people, if it is the expression of their collective sentiment, Waltzing Matilda sits at the centre of our culture – it’s a well spring of the national sentiment, a pool, a billabong.

I suspect that there is no one here who has not at some time, somewhere in the world, heard or remembered the tune and felt deeply affected by it. I’m sure it has brought Australians home before they intended to, and given others the strength to stay away a bit longer. For a century it has caused Australian hearts to beat faster. I venture to say it has caused more smiles and tears, more hairs to stand up on the backs of Australian necks than any other thing of three minutes duration in Australia’s history. It has long been our unofficial national song. Not our anthem - one can’t sing too solemnly about a jumbuck. But Waltzing Matilda is Australia’s song and it always will be.

Think what it has withstood down the years. Wave after wave of American and British popular music. The cultural cringe and all that post-colonial posturing. The urbanisation of Australia which might have been expected to dilute the old bush sentiments. Mass immigration and multicultural Australia which changed the face and the fabric of our society. Waltzing Matilda has endured them all. It has endured through wars and depressions, good years and bad. It has endured some terrible renditions – by both local and overseas performers.

I don’t think we should make it official and issue some kind of decree; but I think we all know that Waltzing Matilda is at least as beloved as the anthem. It is to we Australians what Land of Hope and Glory is to the British, or America the Beautiful and God Bless America are to the people of the United States. And, entirely without prejudice to the status of Advance Australia Fair, we might sing Waltzing Matilda at a lot more public occasions than we presently do. I hope these celebrations serve as a bit of a trigger for this.

I have no doubt that all through these celebrations people will be talking about why Waltzing Matilda endures. Why it means so much to us. I know some will also be asking who the swagman was and what, therefore, the song was meant to signify. I won’t be buying into the historical debate, but I suppose every Australian is entitled to say – even obliged to say- what the song means to him or her. I don’t think I was the only Australian kid who wondered when he learned the words at school – what sort of swagman is this? Jolly one minute, drowning himself the next?

These questions about the psychology of the swagman have never had the weight of the social and political interpretations – the ideological interpretations. Paterson’s words describe a class struggle, and if ever there was a class struggle in Australia it was in the 1890s. It’s not hard to see the song as an affirmation of the fair go, which still strikes a powerful chord in Australians. And may it always do so.

It is also about freedom. The swagman is a free spirit. We can interpret Waltzing Matilda as a celebration of our rebellious nature, as part of the tradition which began with the convict rebellion at Castle Hill and runs all the way through Frank the Poet, the Eureka Stockade and Ned Kelly. We can think of the swagman’s jump into the billabong as an Australian statement of liberty or death.

But, the truth is, none of these things come into my mind when I hear it sung. They didn’t come into my mind when the entire crowd gathered in Croke Park in Dublin sang it before the Gaelic football final when I was there two years ago. I don’t know what came into my mind then – I think the experience emptied it of all rational thought. But afterwards I was aware of the extraordinary power of this song on an Australian’s senses. All sorts of music can move us, but to hear Waltzing Matilda sung so fervently and beautifully by the people of another country 12,000 miles from home is to know that nothing can move us like our own song. It is to know that a national song is not something to be interpreted intellectually. When you hear it, you don’t think about a political position, or social or psychological issues. You don’t think about the historical context.

What Waltzing Matilda tells us in an entirely uncomplicated way is that we are Australian. And it tells us in a way that I think is equally Australian in character – it tells us without beating drums or waving flags, or pounding our chests. It tells us with a simple melody and a story, and a whimsical and ironic story at that. There is no national song l know of quite like it in the world.

I’m sure what happened with Banjo Paterson and Waltzing Matilda happened in the realm of the spirit. I think he wrote a story to a tune which quite mysteriously – in ways we’ll never know – picked up the spirit of the place as it was then; and, like the ghost of the swagman, it never died. And it touches us as a ghost might. As the spirit of the bush might.

When we were kids the other line I think we used to wonder about was the one which says that “his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong”. I confess to wondering what you would hear. What sort of noise would the old swagman make – what does it sound like when you stuff a jumbuck in a tucker bag? It took me ages to realise that this was Banjo Paterson’s whole trick – the song is the ghost of the swagman, and a hundred years later we are hearing it as loud as ever.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Southern Highlands Scenic Circle

It's a week since we've been home from our trip up to Coonabarabran* and Daughter, who has been studying for upcoming HSC exams is getting itchy feet. A drive to the highlands is calling, so after only fairly minor arm twisting on her part we pile in our learner vehicle and off we go at about 11:30am. We stick with the highway until the Colo Vale exit and then turn onto the Old South Road. This takes us through beautiful rolling dales with some lovely views, bringing us to Bowral at Kangaloon Road. As it is getting about time we had some lunch we head into Bowral in search of the Gumnut Patisserie. Tulip time is recently over but there are still glorious spring flowers in the gardens all around. I particularly enjoy a dogwood in full flower.
We notice the local farmer's market is operating at Bowral Public School.# We have no trouble finding a parking space opposite the school and have a look around. It's about 12:30pm and we're a bit late for some of the food options that are in the midst of packing up. The alternatives available look really good though and we make a mental note to return at an earlier time one day. There's Gozleme; gourmet deli produce from a presumably local smokehouse (mental note to bring an esky next time); gourmet sausage sangers; and others. In the cold food department there's gourmet pies, a lady selling large antipasto tarts (we buy one $15) and blueberry cheesecakes; a local olive oil producer offering taste sampling (we try and buy $14 for the smaller size); gourmet dressings and marinades (we try and buy $9 a jar); we give the apple and nut stalls and a few sheepskin or picture stalls a miss. Somewhere there is also a "bacon and egg man" in the parlance of the olive oil stall - apparently he supplied the delicious bread we used for tasting the olive oil, but we aren't able to identify him in the quick glance around we take. There's good value seedlings and herbs too so we pick up a pot of basil - way cheaper than our local outlets.
With directions supplied by the lovely people at the olive oil stall (Sutton Forest Olives) we make our way to the Patisserie, passing upmarket cafes with street tables and many people enjoying the glorious spring weather over a relaxed lunch. In the plaza near Corbett Gardens we pass the Cheese shop which looks enticing. I suggest we wander in and check it out, but Daughter suggests we save it for something fresh to do when we come back with the esky. I can't wait to go back- who can resist cheese? I wonder if they have any local stuff... so many dairies in the area... The Gumnut patisserie is just across the road from the plaza. It is officially the best patisserie in NSW and has been for the last 4 years. This information is prominently displayed across the window. I'm getting a bit low on cash (maybe just as well). We order a sausage roll, a raspberry tart and a macadamia and pecan tart, as well as three small brioche. I'm happy to find a brioche outlet as I want to try making a brioche bread and butter pudding. We had this at Pure South in Melbourne and seems like it should be easy enough to make at home. Mum says the secret to B&B pudding is sprinkling it with Vanilla sugar.. a tip she got from the UK show Pie in the Sky... but I digress... We eat the sausage roll straight away while it's hot. A bit greasier than necessary, but very yummy just the same. We replenish cash supplies, stop at Woollies to buy a cold drink (coffee milk and a nudie - my favourite) and head to the car before we cook our earlier purchases. About an hour after we stopped and we're back on the road. We're heading towards Macquarie Pass which Daughter has an urge to drive down. We've done the main route out towards Robertson many times, so we decide this time we're taking the back roads. We drive down Kangaloon Road, turn back up Old South Road at the roundabout, and turn right at Range Road. A while later it's then left at Glenquarry Rd. This route is a beautiful drive passing through pastures stocked with dairy cattle or occupied by large homes or mansions. Careful driving is necessary as the eye is drawn to spectacular views across the rural highlands to the east and west. This is a much more scenic alternative to Kangaloon Road which is itself quite a nice drive. We come to a turn off at Kirkland Road, which we know will take us back down to Kangaloon Rd and to Robertson township, but we're not in the market for antiques, lollies or browsing the other shops so we continue along Glenquarry Rd. In this section much of the way is bordered by natural bushland that forms part of the water catchment. I'm curious about the signs, so we pull over and learn that entry to the area attracts an $11,000 fine. On stopping and being able to give it closer attention, we see that the bushland and the wide area of verge is full of tiny wildflowers. Even an occassional flash of red that might be a waratah in the no-access area. We press on. The locals are clearly pretty annoyed with Sydney water for some reason with frequent signs posted describing the dire consequences of whatever it is that has been proposed. Cattle, we note, are not camels and require water. As we proceed the bush becomes full of colour with bushes covered with rich yellow pea flowers and the odd everlasting daisy bush. As we near the edge of the plateau, we start to get views over the escarpment to the ocean. Finally we rejoin the Illawarra highway not far from Macquarie Pass to the left, but I have my own agenda and my driver is directed to the right.
We travel along the highway, trying to watch the road rather than the spectacular views, until we reach the Robertson Pie Shop (reliable) and the turn off to Jamberoo Mountain Rd. This road will take you down to Jamberoo and the recreation park, the Minamurra Rainforest Park and the beaches at Kiama %, but we're heading for Barren Grounds Nature Reserve for a bit of a walk. We stop along the way at Jamberoo Lookout, it's signposted but the sign is quite small and there's no warning, so we are obliged to find a safe spot to turn around and head back to the turn. This lookout gives sweeping views over the escarpment, across rainforest and lush green pastureland to the beaches and the rich blue expanse of the ocean. The southern reaches of Lake Illawarra are just visible at the northern end of the vista, with Kiama to the south. We have a brief chat with some friendly young men, listen to some enticing bird song, admire the trees in full blossom in the surrounding bush, and press on to the nature reserve which is only a short distance down the road. And again the turn comes upon you quite suddenly.
Barren Grounds used to be an observatory and ecological research facility operated by Birds Australia. It borders Budderoo National Park. Birds Australia gave up it's tenure to direct conservation resources to areas less assured of protection. Barren Grounds is now managed by National Parks. It is still very popular with birders and home to the Eastern Bristlebird and Eastern Ground Parrot as well as many many other fauna. It's somewhere you really need to creep along the track at about 10 km as you are bound to find birders along the narrow road whose attention is decidedly elsewhere. We dodge a couple who obligingly move with their tripods and spotting scopes off into the verge, and make our way to the picnic area. There are tables and shelters and facilities provided and wildflowers adorning the base of the stonework here and there. Ah, this is when we get to see if all the fuss about the Gumnut Patisserie is warranted. Suffice to say IT IS!! Sorry Currawong, no crumbs for you!!
Having shamelessly indulged in hip and thigh enhancement therapy, we take off for a walk to the Illawarra Lookout. I've got my binoculars with me - a very effective form of bird deterrent. The healthland is alive with wildflowers of all colours. Dominated by the dainty white tubes of the heath, with splashes of colour provided by deep pink boronia and fan flowers, yellow from thriving isopogon, and also the occassional rich blue from little fellows to whom I've never been introduced. The native flowers are often not flashy at a glance, but when you look at them closely they are exquisite in the fine detail of their decoration. Looking into the tiny mouths of each heath flower you see perfectly placed minute spots. I could spend a long time here with my wildflower guide...
Illawarra lookout is even more spectacular than Jamberoo lookout. It angles more to the north and you get a greater view of the area towards Lake Illawarra. There are a lot of birds around, you can hear them soflty piping in the dense undergrowth. We take our fill of the view and begin to head back. As we leave I hear the birds letting eachother know we've gone and the calls become louder and closer. I quietly turn back and see a little party flit across the small area of open ground at the lookout into the vegetation on the other side. Not quick enough to get a bead on them for identification though. In a short time all goes deathly quiet and I turn for home. Serious birdwatching's not something you can really do too well in a hurry.
I rejoin Daughter who's waiting patiently on the main track and we head into the sun to the west. The views along the path as we return are expansive. We're back at the car in only half an hour. Clearly the estimated time for the track assumes you might be taking a more serious interest in things along the way as it's stated at 1 hr. I cast a longing glance along the other track where I have fond memories of walking with Mum early one morning and where we saw a stack of awesome birds including the ground parrot and bristlebird, finches and some small mammals. Why has it been so long since we came down to spend the whole day? We listen as we hear a black cockatoo calling and are pleased that it comes our way, flying with that slow loping action. The black cockatoos aren't uncommon in the highlands but seeing them is always a thrill. They are a most obliging bird, announcing their presence with their distinctive call. Reluctantly we pile into the car and make our way slowly out of the reserve.
Isn't it amazing the way the return trip along any road seems so much shorter than the journey outward. We're back at the Illawarra Highway in what feels like a trice, though on the map it looks much longer and we turn for Daughter's no 1 destination. Macquarie Pass. She's had the briefing about speed and brake management on long steep inclines before and with the occassional hint she drives very capably down the mountain. It is a challenging drive with a number of hairpin turns, but it travels through glorious dense rainforest and is most enjoyable. We emerge into the sunlight at Albion Park and take a tiny detour into a small new housing development that strikes us as very American in it's overall look and style of house. We are both very fond of classic American domestic architecture and streetscapes, with the porches and street trees. In this estate the garages face a back lane which is a great way to go about things. Like my brothers new (old) place in Stanmore Sydney. It's the best way to make a beautiful streetscape. The imposing vista of the escarpment all around adds a beautiful feel the area. Daughter thinks this development is not as well done as some of the places we visited in the US, but I think she's not allowing enough for the fact that this is brand new and the neighbourhood is not yet really established. We agree the street itself could be a bit wider.
Back on our way we are travelling back the conventional route up the Princes Hwy and Mt Ousely before heading inland to Appin and our home in Macarthur. There is a scenic detour we could take through Picton, but as evening approaches we save it for another day. We don't really need a scenic detour in any case. The road heading in to Campbelltown from Appin is beautifully scenic. Trees line the road providing a verdant archway above you, with beautiful pastureland and distant mountain views across to the west. We arrive home at about 5:30 feeling again how priveliged we are to live in this area where we can so easily just take off out of the city and go to so many excellent coastal and inland country destinations.

*(report posted on tripadvisor http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g255058-i121-k1505036-Long_Report_pt_4_final_Coonabarabran_Sydney_via_Mudgee-New_South_Wales.html )
# These farmers markets are at Bowral Public School, right in the heart of town where you can't miss them, on the 2nd saturday of the month. They are also at Moss Vale - I think it said near the post office - on the 4th Saturday of the month. For more information on the attractions in Bowral see www.southern-highlands.com.au
& For those new to my travel reports, sausage roll sampling is a bit of a theme with Daughter and I. We like to sample them at any bakeries we come across, usually just sharing one between us when we're on our own. It is very important when trying a new bakery to just buy one and try it to see if it is fit to eat before buying more. It's never a problem returning after doing the taste test as you can compliment the staff on the quality which is generally appreciated. If the sausage roll is aweful, you don't go back, and just look for a bin instead.
% www.jamberoo.net
www.kiama.com.au
www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/parks.nsf/ParkContent/N0069?OpenDocument&ParkKey=N0069&Type=Xh

Thursday, October 11, 2007

So this is it

Welcome to my subjective travel blog. I have created this blog as a place to compose and report on my trips, both short and long. I may expand to trip planning as I get to understand the available functionality. As the blog title acknowledges, this blog is my own subjective views at the time of writing. I do not claim it as "truth" in the literal sense. Just my own purely individual and subjective response to my travel experiences or research. What you do with the information is up to you.

I hope you enjoy your visit with me.