Wednesday, December 28, 2011

a day in the sun

My goodness. Red Nomad Oz at Amazing Australian Adventures has bestowed upon me – and nine others - The Sunshine Blog Award. I’m chuffed Red has said nice things about my blog, because she is an intelligent, witty and polished writer.

Accepting the award or even following the rules of acceptance are not mandatory. It’s a chain award of sorts, but not really a chain letter per se, as I’m not required to provide my bank account details, nor will I be looking over my shoulder if I break the chain.

One rule is that recipients of this award do not have to make long winded speeches acknowledging great-aunt Myfanwy’s match-making etc etc while ignoring wind-up signals.

Another of the problems is a requirement that I nominate ten other blogs I think deserve the award. This is a tad difficult, because I’m rather new at blogging and don’t follow an enormous number of blogs yet. My list would have to include some what’s already got this award from someone like Red. No doubt I’d even have to award the award to someone who has no idea who I am. 
How embarrassment.

Finally, it is not in my nature to impose obligations on others. As my sidebar already provides a list of blogs I like I’ve decided to complement that list today with some comments and thank yous - an obligation free award, if you will. [Nothing original here – it’s what most bloggers do anyway.]

A logical place to start is with Amazing Australian Adventures.
Red - and her partner in crime, Pilchard – travel to parts of Australia few of us ever see. What with the photos and all the details of who did what when, this is armchair travel and companionship at its best.

Dina at That Weird American Who’s Obsessed With Australia was the one who inspired me to start blogging, offering lots of encouragement along the way.

Her blog has taught me heaps I never knew about Australia, for example, it is legal for Australians to marry first cousins. 
If only I’d known sooner.

Dina is a self-confessed Flickr stalker, and provides links to good photos. This saves me the trouble of trawling through heaps of mediocre photos to find a good one. I probably wouldn’t bother if I had to do it myself.
Lately, this weird American woman has been providing links to quizzes about Australia. My score is consistently lower than hers. Hmmm.

Some of the stuff Dina explores during her day is of no interest to me at all. I tend to scan this for the real gold – some thought provoking moments about life in general, all offered with real and refreshing personal honesty. It’s hard to provide an example from her 'Weird' posts which works when lifted out of context, so I offer, instead, a quote from her “unschooling” blog – a simple comment that made me question an idea I’d never questioned before:

Yes, I'm worried that something might happen to Jack...VERY worried. But it's not because I fear being childless. It's because I fear being Jackless.  For those of you who feel it's better to have multiple children just in case you lose one....will the living ones really replace the child you lost?  Are children that interchangeable?

Comfort Spiral.
Cloudia’s posts at Comfort Spiral are most often [though not always] a collection of stunning photographs and inspiring quotes. With music.

Visiting Comfort Spiral puts me in mind of the days when I’d go to work and turn over the next page of the desk calendar, hoping to find something witty and inspiring.
The key differences between those old desk calendars and Comfort Spiral are that Comfort Spiral is inspiring rather than disappointing; it contains colour and great pictures; and there is music.

This link will take you to the post that hooked me on Angie’s blog.
If you like people who like their kids, and if you want to read something warm written by a woman with a sense of humour, this is the place to go.

What first drew me to High Riser is Andrew’s interest in Melbourne.
Not living in the inner city, I let Andrew live there for me; whether going out to dinner, waiting for a glimpse of Her Majesty, or doing some high-quality people-watching.

As a bonus, Andrew is fascinated with machines and buildings. Looking at these particular posts has an element of past-people-watching. It would be nice to go back in time and interview people about where their inspiration came from, or what obstacles they overcame to get things done.

Every now and then Andrew says things in a way that makes me jealous of his writing; a recent gem was this: 
“A black man, a red head, an Asian and a fair haired guy with dreadlocks walked into a bar together. That's all.”

Another thing I like about Andrew's posts is that he often has the same opinion as I do. I like that in people.

Jayne, at Our Great Southern Land, has a good sense of humour, and a great nose for stories with ‘local colour’.
I tend to think of her blog as a sort of “lucky dip”; there’s always something in her posts that turns out to be a treasure for one reason or another.

Jayne sometimes gets outraged about important social issues. I like that in people.

What first drew me to Blue Skies Sunny Days was colour. 
As a monochrome type person, I was bowled over by the colours of the classic paintings Rubye Jack displays on the sidebar of her blog. 

Rubye Jack has also reminded me that sometimes when people talk ‘quietly’ I can’t help but listen quietly.

Windsmoke’s Fair Dinkum Haikus create fantastic images. He likes to spin a yarn every now and then, with both his yarns and riddles revealing a rare appreciation of gentle humour.
A must-read – at least until I find out if he once lived in St James St and if so, at what number, and when? A man of mystery, indeed.

Bizarre Scribble is a Bonza Blog.

I’m just getting to know a little about Kath Lockett who writes Blurb from the Burbs
So far I’ve worked out that Kath – an Australian adapting to life in Geneva – is an excellent writer, loves her family, has a great sense of humour. Just as importantly, Kath likes dogs.

This is another must-read for me – at least until I work out who the musical parent was.

Diane B at Adventure Before Dementia is another excellent photographer/writer – her travel writing is wonderful. Her recent trip to see Western Australia’s wildflowers has made me extremely jealous – of the writing, photography and the trip.
It’s fortuitous that Diane likes travel, because it seems she has lived everywhere at some time or other.

A sucker for biographies, I’ve loved what I have read so far of Diane’s life story as well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

more memories

At the age of 7 and 8 respectively, one of my brothers and I took the first of many journeys from Melbourne – unaccompanied – to holiday in Porepunkah.
Single parents rarely had any financial support in the 60s, and my mother had to keep working. Holidays with relatives or family friends were a win/win child-minding option.

Our journey began at Spencer St [now Southern Cross] station.

Country lines had the interior of their carriages laid out in much the same way as one would see in old black and white movies – two bench seats in a little compartment, luggage racks at the top, and a corridor along the side of the train.

A standard feature of Victorian carriages was a series of black and white pictures of Victoria’s main attractions, including the Mount Buffalo Chalet. The Chalet belonged to the Victorian Railways and provided accommodation for those who were more “well to do”.*

Railway toilet deposits went straight through onto the railway line. It was always fascinating to me, to peer through the toilet and watch the sleepers below as the train rushed its way from one location to another.
No need to worry about pollution, a friend suggested as we reminisced years later: Mass = force x acceleration, and everything exploded into tiny biodegradable fragments as it hit the bed of the railway line.

A standard sign inside the toilets prompted someone, somewhere, long ago, to compose a song which begins*:
Passengers will please refrain
From passing water while the train
Is standing in the station
I love you…

From the train we checked our distance from Melbourne at regular intervals, with the help of Griffiths Tea signs.

At Wangaratta we left the train, gathered our luggage and headed for the bus stop, where the driver on the Wang to Bright bus was expecting us.
Australia’s private bus lines have a tradition of being friendly and flexible with “stops”, and the bus driver delivered us safely to Mo – waiting on the side of the highway at Porepunkah – sometime after midnight.

A long time friend of my grandmother, Mo had lived for years in this house as a ‘resident housekeeper”. It was no stately home, just a cottage where she’d found lodging in exchange for housework when the owner’s wife had died, leaving him and 3 young children on their own.
The kids had long since grown up and moved on, but Mo had stayed.

a cottage much like the one at porpunkah

Country cottages or farm houses often had a “front parlour” in those days – a lounge room off limits to any but adults, and reserved for special occasions. A wall mounted telephone, rarely used, had a crank handle for connection to an operator.

The next room after the parlour was the width of the house. Here there were lounge chairs, a huge wooden dining table, open fire place, and on the door of a linen press, a giant hand painted portrait of Donald Duck.
Behind that room was a large kitchen with a wood stove. Bench tops ran along two walls, with lots of cupboards and drawers underneath.

Many homes today still have a traditional “junk drawer” or two where people store little bits of “stuff” that might come in handy. In the 60s this would include pencil stubs, lengths of string that could still be used to tie parcels, drawing pins, scraps of paper, screwdrivers and whatnots. Fred, the owner of the house, had the most interesting “stuff” I’ve ever seen.
One day he pulled out a small vial of mercury, explaining this was used in thermometers and blood pressure machines, and that people who worked in mercury mines usually suffered brain damage. In those few minutes I learned useful things could be dangerous, and that poor people often did unsafe jobs out of desperation.

Fred wasn’t one to initiate conversations, but usually had something interesting to say about anything. Like most of the adults in my life he had a knack for creating more curiosity than he satisfied – something for which I’m eternally grateful.

The door of the kero[sine] fridge had long ago lost its grip on life, and was held shut with an old bicycle inner tube.

Like many other older cottages, it had a bathroom which was something of an afterthought, this one had been cobbled together with crate boards. During our stays here we were expected to have a bath once a week – whether we needed it or not – and lit the chip heater ourselves. A retired sawmill worker, Fred had access to an endless supply of perfectly sized wood chips and offcuts.

The toilet was quite some distance from the house, but close to a dirt road so the dunny can man could “drive to work” when he came once a week.
Locals in the few houses Porepunkah, at the time, all pumped water from the Ovens River, so having a night soil collection was a jolly good idea.

Photo source here

At the risk of being indelicate, let me tell you the only thing worse than the smell of phenyl when a can had just been replaced, was the smell a day later. To use one of these thunderboxes in the summer is to have all of one’s senses assaulted by damp heat, along with the noise and itching as one is repeatedly hit by a frenzy of blowflies desperate to lay their eggs.

The contents of a used pan are at once mesmerising and repulsive. Of course the contents warranted investigation! Who would want to sit over a pan that’s too full, or trap a blowfly inside the pan while closing a fly’s only exit with a bare bum?
Luckily, Fred owned several acres. During my stays I fertilised every corner of those paddocks. I much preferred to take my chances with the snakes than the blowies.

The cottage had been designed to take good advantage of prevailing crosswinds. Doors and windows were invariably open. There were no window or door screens, but the population of flies inside the house remained at a tolerable level. When blowies came looking for me – perhaps feeling rejected because I so assiduously avoided their nursery – they most often flew in one door and out another.

As we sat at the table to eat it was often a choice between fork or knife, because one hand was always shooing flies.

Using a spritzer to control flies in these conditions was as effective as a water pistol in a bushfire.
Fly papers suspended from the ceiling like so many elements of an art installation were far more useful. Once tacked to the ceiling it seemed they were never to be removed, their numbers simply increasing from year to year.

Each spoonful of an occasional baked custard with sultanas in it was scrutinised carefully before it went into my mouth.

Every two days my brother and I crossed the highway and walked up a long dirt road with a clean billy, to swap for another with a quart of fresh milk in it.
No kid’s education is complete until a dairy farmer squirts fresh milk directly into their mouth.

Inside the house, jug covers were used to keep the flies out of the milk.

Further at the rear of this large block, and much closer to the river, was an even older shack where Fred’s daughter lived with her husband and very young children. The kitchen was – in the tradition of its day – in an outbuilding behind the main rooms of the shack. The walls were lined with newspapers which made for interesting reading, and some of the floors were still compacted dirt.

At the back of the kitchen building was a fairly common sight in the 60s – a carefully stacked pile of beer bottles: Three deep and much taller than me [which isn’t saying much].
One day my brother and I were down at the river behind the house when we heard some loud shotgun blasts, and the sound of breaking glass. The kids’ grandmother was baby sitting, and had seen a black snake slither behind the bottle stack. Some people are like that about snakes.

Unless sunning themselves on warm asphalt, I’ve rarely seen snakes, though people are often keen to say they’ve spotted them, even in my own yard.
We’d always been told they are shy, so whenever we tramped through long grass were careful to make a noise announcing our presence and giving them time to move away.

The river was quite shallow behind this block, and a trickle of water had made its way around a small sand bank. If it had been of any significant size it might be called a billabong.*

Mo always blanched sausages in boiling water to remove some of the salt and fat before she fried them, and was happy to donate sausages and a heavy frypan to the cause. We would light a campfire of sorts when my brother and I went “camping” during the daytime on our little “island”. Bro spent a lot of time fishing as well, and was quite good at catching redfin which no one wanted – when he was older he developed a habit of going fishing with sinkers on the end of his line but no bait or hook. As he dislikes fish as much as I do, it seems pointless to catch them for nothing, but he enjoys sitting quietly surrounded by nature and I guess “fishing” is part of the treat.

One of Fred’s neighbours worked for the Mount Buffalo Chalet where he led people on horse-trail rides. I know he took us there one day and although I remember the hairpin bends on the road up Mt Buffalo I have no memory whatsoever of the Chalet then.
On another occasion, he took Mo and I up to the Buckland Valley* where her elderly parents lived in an old mining shack. I accepted an offer to stay a few days with them, astonished that people lived without electricity or generators.
At dinner I was offered a strange new food called “potted meat” which I didn’t like at all but felt I must eat because it was the polite thing to do. It also proved to be a big mistake. After dark I felt a desperate urge to get rid of the meat but as it was pitch black I couldn’t find the door latch in time. Mo’s mum eventually came and found me, and then cleaned up by the light of a kerosene lamp. That was the night I decided it’s less trouble in the long run to politely refuse anything I don’t want to eat.

Porepunkah was a small town then; I remember a butcher’s shop, a post office where the mail was collected, and a pub as well as a handful of houses. Somewhere away from the highway was a sawmill. Across the bridge over the river was a general store /caravan camping ground and, behind here, was a dredged out swimming hole.

Ovens River

Driving through there a few years ago on the way across the mountains to Omeo I was gobsmacked to see Porepunkah had become such a crowded suburb of Bright.

It’s staggering to compare the enormous freedom and trust we had back then compared to kids – or even adults – today. We never stole anything, polluted anything, burned houses down, or drowned; instead we were able to stretch and test ourselves and learn what we were capable of.

A large yard next to Fred’s house had the standard clothesline held up with a wooden prop, and it was also the place where chooks roamed free during the day. To this day I can recall the smell whenever Mo plucked a chook she had killed, and I can still see the disappointed look on her face when she took a naked bird into her kitchen one day and three unlaid eggs slid out.

The rooster was a ratbag, but when he had his eye on a hen he was lucky if he didn’t wear himself out too soon chasing it for miles around the large yard. 
I remember one day when a local pair of elderly spinsters, on their way to collect their mail “in town”, stopped for a breather by the fence. The rooster was up to his usual trick, chasing a chook up and down, round and round. Feathers and dust were flying and the hen was squawking. Occasionally she would flap her wings and make a little leap in the air, but we didn’t think she would win the battle. Somehow, she finally found a small hole in the fence and broke out to freedom. The spinsters did not take their eyes off the hen as she ran from the fence line, across the grass verge, and onto the highway just in time to be caught by a car roaring through. 
For a moment my brother and I, and the spinsters – perhaps even the rooster – watched in open mouthed disappointment at what we had just witnessed. Then one of the spinsters turned to the other, nodding with a dour and knowing expression on her face, and said “See, Suze: she preferred death!”.

photo cottage

I must confess the train carriage in the photo was actually a NSW train [much the same as Victorian trains]. 

photos ovens river and chalet

The train song appears to be nearly one hundred years old and probably originated in the UK, though versions of it exist in the U.S. as well. The Other first heard this song from her mother [now 90] The Other's mother probably learnt it from her father, who had been and actor and music hall performer. The tune is Humoresque.

A billabong is sometimes known as an "ox-bow lake".

The Buckland Valley was the location of some anti-Chinese gold mining riots in 1857
[The following clip is a bit fuzzy, but brief and quite interesting.] 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

memory lane

About 50 years ago, my family moved into a small semi-detached home in Moonee Ponds. This was in one of the streets, not far from Moonee Ponds Junction, named after British poets.

At the rear was a cobblestone laneway, a reminder of the pre-sewerage “dunny-can” days. 
One of my grandmother’s two standard jokes went like this:
Q: Who is the strongest man in the world?
A: The dunny-can man, for he picks up what everyone else drops.

“New Australians” – i.e. almost white Europeans – were still arriving in Australia to settle, bringing with them strange new ideas and, in return, being paid with loud advice like “Yer in Orstraylya now, ya order lern ta speke Inglish!”.

When our new-chum neighbours were joined by their family and friends for a sauce or wine-making day, they always carefully hosed their carefully concreted back-yards when they finished. The lanes behind our house on those occasions were awash with tomato or grape pulp, and the smell of either can still transport me back to that house.

Gas Stove

The house had a wood stove [which smoked too much to be any use], an early Kooka gas stove, and in the lounge room, a briquette heater. 

Gas geyser
[connecting pipes insulated with asbestos lagging, of course]

For hot water in the bathroom there was a standard gas geyser, and for hot water in the kitchen there was the standard large kettle.
The laundry copper was under a back verandah of sorts. Not a gas copper like contemporary ones, it was still wood heated.

Gas Copper

Coming home from school [St Monica’s] meant either negotiating the junction, or taking some back streets to avoid the blokes spilling from the pubs out into the street. Mostly, I took the back streets.
One day, a lovely old Italian lady was in her front garden in Margaret Street when I tripped and fell, skinning my knee. She, without a word of English took me [without a word of Italian] into her home and washed my knee then put some antiseptic on it. At home such things were tended with [pink] mercurochrome, but whatever this lady put on my knee was brown [probably Betadine].

From that day on I knew that different people had different ways of doing things; that despite their differences most people are kind; and that actions speak louder than words.

Known variously as the Moonee Ponds Town Hall or the Essendon Town Hall, the council building which occupies one corner of the junction was largely destroyed by fire in 1978, and today only the clocktower remains.
The ballroom dances held there were a little before my time, though I do remember school concerts in the hall. What I remember more vividly than anything was going there for my “needles”.

The secret of comedy is timing, and for most of my life my timing has sucked.
While people in other parts of the world were administering an oral vaccine for polio, in the early 1960s yours truly was one of thousands who were given the Salk vaccine by injection. Not long after my last polio ‘needle’, the oral vaccine was introduced. 
Some years ago a GP delighted in explaining that ‘in those days” the needles were of a much thicker gauge [he forgot to mention the intimidating length], and that after a dozen or so kids had been vaccinated the needles were sharpened for further assembly line use.

A Bills water trough in Beechworth
[the kids belong to the bloke wot runs the website mentioned below]

Another feature of the junction at that time was a water trough for horses. This was very useful at the time, because milk was still commonly delivered by horse and cart all over Melbourne, and the ice we used at home was also delivered by horse and cart. The bottle-oh was a rather grubby and surly looking man, who always had a woman sitting atop the cart with him. Rumour [amongst us kids, at least] had it that she only put up with him because she was a deaf mute. This ‘fact’, along with my conviction the bottle-oh had what was called a ‘club foot’, helped me almost get over the trauma of having polio injections – the world was obviously not a very nice place for anyone remotely ‘handicapped’.

The bread was delivered in the modern way – in a motorised van. There wasn’t a lot of variety, and our unsliced loaves were simply handed over with a small piece of tissue paper wrapped around them. Sometimes there would be a little corner of the loaf broken off and, with the logic of a seven year old, I sat one day and nibbled at the corner a little, figuring that another missing crumb wouldn’t be very noticeable. The next crumb didn’t seem to make much difference, or the next crumb… or the next. When it finally occurred to me that a whole heap of crumbs made a big difference compared to the original loaf, I knew I was in trouble.

The incidence of Tuberculosis [TB] in Australia had peaked in 1953, but in the early 1960s it was still a problem. Today, Breastscreen vans rotate from one area to another, but in the ‘60s it was chest x-ray vans on rotation.
Whenever the van was in Moonee Ponds, the footpaths were stencilled with the legend “Have you had your chest x-ray?” [or something darned close to that]. Anyone looking for the van had only to follow the trail of footprints stencilled on to the path.

Of nearly 40 members of my own extended family tested for TB, only two had no trace of the disease. As one of the disease-free pair, I had another 4 needles [not at the town hall], while most others were simply given thousands of pills to swallow.

A range of crystal radio sets were available in the 60s
usually small enough to fit into a breastpocket

A few of the family’s adults were sent to Fairfield or Heatherton for total bed rest. When the authorities said “total” bed rest, they meant it. To survive the boredom, most used tiny crystal set radios, which worked well when the alligator clip was attached to one of the ancient old metal beds. They were also easily hidden from the concentra sanatorium staff.
As for comfort and care while being cured, the motto of the sanatorium [according to parolees] was “You can’t die of TB in here – though we make no promises about anything else”.

With rigidly limited trading hours, for anyone who worked Monday to Friday there were only a few hours left on Saturday morning to do the shopping – most often for us this was in Puckle St.
If my memory doesn’t deceive me, there were three Gilbertson butcher shops in this one small street. Meat and three veg was a balanced meal, and meat meant either lamb or beef – the lamb in reality was usually ‘two-tooth’ mutton. City dwellers who wanted a chicken for dinner had to buy one frozen, or kill one themselves.
Sawdust was commonly used on the floors of butchers' shops, as well as some fishmongers or pubs. In Gilbertson’s stores the sawdust was so thick it was as good as a walk along the beach.

One frequently visited store was a wool shop. Socks were made of wool and so any holes were repaired by darning. Most people wore hand-knitted jumpers, cardigans or vests. It was a do-it-yourself world. Knitting patterns usually specified how many balls of wool were needed for a particular garment, and expert knitters would ask for the right amount of wool – which had to be from the same “dye lot” – to be put away, and were bought as the garment progressed.

A little further along there was a haberdashery shop. Fabric was bought by the yard, and the shop assistant would complete a docket, then send the docket and cash to a central cashier using a ‘flying fox’ system. The flying fox in Puckle St was much the same as the one used in George’s in the city.

A docket and cash canister is
attached to the flying fox

The cool dude then waits for the countdown

And the docket and cash arrive at the store's space station

The manufacturer’s publicity for flying fox systems stressed the inefficiency of having shop assistants walking to a cash register and giving change when they could be serving other customers. Perhaps using a central cashier meant running adjustments could be made to stock figures as each piece of fabric was sold. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but I bet the flying fox system also made sure no shop assistants could pocket any of the cash, under-ring a sale, or fudge the yardage on too many dockets.

Early model shopping jeep
[not collapsible because few people had cars]

The first super-market-like store I remember seeing was also in Puckle St. Customers were invited to leave shopping bags, shopping jeeps or coats and brollies with a “cloak-room attendant” of sorts. It wasn’t a large store, but customers queued at checkouts to pay for purchases.
If we were planning to buy honey or peanut butter, we brought our own jars along, which were weighed before and after filling. Biscuits were weighed out for sale in brown paper bags. I doubt broken biscuits really are healthier because all the calories have leaked out, but they were definitely cheaper.

Around this time there was some kerfuffle about whether it was okay for bakers to sell “yesterday’s bread” cheap or not. I was not the most politically astute 7 year old in the world, but I believe one group held that stale bread was unhealthy, while the opposition claimed this was all bunkum, just a con to ensure pig farmers could get cheap supplies. Yesterday’s cakes [for a penny] however, were way cool and I think I would remember if it was illegal to sell them.

Once in a blue moon I am asked if I like horse riding. My usual response is that I don’t any more, because I once fell off a horse and hurt myself – the shop had a concrete floor. [The real story is that I don’t like heights.] Kifts shoe store had the perfect lure for kids in need of school shoes – a mechanical horse that was FREE.
There were always heaps of kids waiting patiently [or otherwise] for a turn, and I don’t remember whether I ever scored a ride on the grey beast or not. Probably not. I was small, and easily ignored.

Across the street was the movie theatre – where we saw many a Disney movie for the first time.

After we moved closer to the city, we still found ourselves in Puckle St from time to time, as various family members moved to or from the area. It was in a hardware store not far from the theatre that I watched, rapt, as the following took place in 1966:

“That’ll be one and ninepence please love,” the shopkeeper asked as he handed over the goods.
The elderly lady customer rummaged in her purse for a moment, then handed over a two shilling coin.
The shopkeeper - complying with the law by confiscating old currency and giving out change in new currency – handed over a two cent piece.
The elderly lady peered at the strange brown coin she had been given, then asked “What’s this?”
“It’s a two cent piece, love,” the hardware man explained.
I would be surprised if the lady could actually see the coin properly, but she was definitely surprised. “Two?’ she asked. “You owe me threepence.”
“Nah, love, it’s decimal currency. See, three pence is equal to two cents…”
“How can it be two cents when you owe me three pennies?”
“It’s the changeover, love, see… there’s only ten cents now, for a shilling. See, it’s twelve pennies in an old shilling but now ten cents is… well, anyway… it’s that way, you see…”
“Well if it’s the same, why don’t you just give me a threepence, or three pennies?”
“Oh, I don’t know why they don’t just wait til all us old people die, before they change things.”

Early gas stoves did not have user friendly thermostats, hence older cookbooks usually had a page explaining how many inches high a gas flame should be for a slow, medium or fast oven temperature.

Lighting the gas geyser involved turning on the water, then lighting the gas pilot, then turning the pilot around so the flame reached the gas ring inside the unit. Amazing I'm still here.

The secret of doing laundry in a copper is simple - hot water sets a stain. Start with cold water, and as it heats up this generates movement. BT - before tissues - this was the ONLY way to get handkerchiefs clean. Boil clothes if you want to kill germs, but don't boil man-made fibres [or wool].

Milk or soft drink bottle recycling was done mainly through milk bars. A "bottle-oh" collected and recycled beer bottles. Beer bottles were more common BW & BC - before wine and before cans - and there were more than enough to keep several people in business.

The ice man cameth until 1962 when he advised my mother nearly everyone had a fridge now, and he was going to retire. Most photos I can find of ice chests are of carefully restored oak chests. Ours was decidedly tatty and thinly veneered. People who have used ice chests know better than to attack iced up fridges with knives or hair dryers - just turn the fridge off, leave the door closed, and the melting ice will keep everything cool.

The changeover to a new currency was protracted and, for many people, quite painful - hence the name "dismal currency".

Horsetrough photo from a website dedicated to the Bills charity.

For more on the flying fox system, start here.

For more on vintage water-heaters start here.

For more on the bottle-oh [Georgie Singles] start here [you'll have to search for the relevant story].

Thursday, December 15, 2011

wotalotta rubbish

Call me naïve or call me an ostrich; I’m a global warming sceptic. I do believe ocean levels are rising and ice caps are melting, but this is a belief in things that are happening, not a belief in the reasons they are happening.

Like many others who are not scientists, I can only rely on experts for advice about causes. Choosing which experts to believe is a little like choosing which self-appointed expert I should trust to tell me what god was thinking when he dictated the holy scriptures.

I’m rather sceptical about emissions trading schemes, whatever name or form they take; I’m certain they are neither a priority nor the great planet saver it is claimed they are.

Quite simply, carbon dioxide emissions are a form of pollution, but it is for the effects of all pollutants we must make ourselves accountable to current and future generations.

There are many forms of pollution we should be concerned about; carbon dioxide emissions are one, but the most toxic are the trade in arms and weapons, and the by-products of all Uranium mining. For this reason, the ‘carbon tax’ seems no great victory to me, and whatever its worth, this has been more than cancelled by the decision to extend uranium sales to India.

There is something either sick or surreal – perhaps both – about the arms industry. Who are these people, who devise bigger and better and more efficient ways of killing and maiming people while, hopefully, destroying as little infrastructure as possible?
As someone more original than I once pointed out, they are perfectly normal people who love their families, cherish freedom and go to church on Sundays.

It is one thing to defend ourselves, or to show that we can defend ourselves, but how is it self-defence to plant mines in third world countries where people live at subsistence level and depend on crops for survival?
Let’s not dwell on the detail of how grenades do their job, or the engineering genius behind this or that type of land-mine: How is it self-defence to decide we’ve won our battle, then walk off and leave this grisly pollution behind?

We have national laws designed to ensure we all get along with our neighbours, and that we take good care of ourselves. We need permits to cut down dangerous trees, we are forbidden to put “For Sale” signs on cars parked by the side of the road, we must register pets and prove they’ve been neutered, and alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed to protect us from ourselves.
Yet it is seen as perfectly sane, sound business practice to manufacture arms in quantities above and beyond those required for our self defence. Weapons are traded to different factions involved in any number of civil wars around the globe – and let’s call these wars what they are in most instances; ethnic cleansing.
We sell guns to warlords and then need guns to defend ourselves when we try to send aid to the people who are starving because warlords have guns.

How about a weapons trading scheme as a useful tax priority?

A second form of pollution, with a different kind of toxicity but an equally serious one, is the mining of uranium.

Left in the ground and undisturbed, uranium is relatively harmless. Mining creates radioactive tailings and destroys water resources.
Uranium has some value in providing advanced medical equipment, but like arms for self-defence, the medical benefits of uranium cannot justify the quantities we trade.

The hypocrisy of continuing to mine and sell coal for electricity generation while we cry about carbon emissions is one thing. The stupidity of arguing that nuclear power is cleaner and safer is staggering.

Working on a health and safety project for a manufacturing firm, the question “What is the worst that could happen?” was asked. Of course, no one is expected to plan against the worst that could happen, because the probability of the worst that could happen is so low. If we had to allow for the worst possibilities all the time, we would have to stop breathing.
None the less, this question of “the worst” provides a benchmark for working backwards and deciding what we ought to worry about.

When asked what is the worst that could happen to our factory, I naturally said “A plane could fall out of the sky”. Perhaps I deserved the flak I got because I’m sometimes too flippant, but 3 weeks later the Twin Towers were hit.

Accidents happen:
Disasters are what happen when the thing that was least likely to happen happens.

After Three Mile Island we seemed to say to ourselves “Phew, that was close! Right, what lessons can be learned and how do we idiot-proof the process?” 
After an appropriate length of time we can distance ourselves from cover-ups like Maralinga or Windscale, and say “thank goodness that sort of thing wouldn’t happen now”. 
After Chernobyl we could say “oh well, it was inevitable but the Soviet Union has crumbled and the world is now safe from the inefficiencies of command economies”.

But what do we say after Fukushima?

Fukushima shook me the way no previous accident could. When the tsunami first hit the power plant, I was confident the Japanese would be able to deal with the problem better than any other people in the world.
The Japanese embraced quality-system-thinking 60 years before any other country in the world, and it helped Japan become the economic power it is today. They had the foresight to build a massive retaining wall to protect their nuclear plants from a worst case scenario – a tsunami. Unfortunately, their worst case scenario was not improbable enough, and two plate movements created the monster that very quickly killed thousands and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Fukushima is still spewing radioactive waste into the ocean which, ultimately, every country shares. A nation with very little arable land now has even less, and less chance to make a shift from being reliant on seafood to reliant on anything else.

Mining uranium and using nuclear power not only involve risk, they create waste. Who should take the waste? How can we bury it safely so that following generations will have a few hundred years to leisurely discover a better way to use it, or even store it?
“Not in my back yard!” 
Should those who buy uranium be responsible for its storage, or those who dig it up in the first place? One popular answer seems to be “let’s just bury it on Aboriginal land which, as we know, has no value and is wasted anyway”.

One of the biggest causes of carbon dioxide emissions - and pollution in general - is the west’s insatiable appetite for crap.

For years I was naïve enough to never use aluminium foil or plastic food wrap because I cared about the planet. Then I worked for a company which produced about 3 container loads of non-biodegradable waste a week. 
Most of this waste resulted from a combination of engineering incompetence, poor management, and ridiculous customer specifications.
The cost of dumping this waste was such that the manager seriously contemplated buying cheap farmland so he could just dig a bloody great hole in the ground and bury it himself.

Like many people, I use plastic food containers, and have plastic bowls and spatulas and measuring cups. At least these have a reasonable life span. But I have just bought some Christmas presents made of plastic [as if the world needs yet another Barbie doll]. Guilty as charged.

Many of the consumer goods we buy have a very short life and are made of non-biodegradable materials. Some plastic can be recycled, but in many cases this would simply be impractical – the waste is too small to bother with, and is in any case unusable because it is mixed with other materials.

Somewhere ‘out there’ pollution is being created to generate power to run injection moulding machines using plastics made of fossil fuels to create manufacturing and warehousing and transport and retail jobs by producing crap like this:

Drink Holder Cowboy Hat

which will, after we all have a good laugh for ten minutes, end up in landfill.

In India, there are communities where people make a living of sorts by salvaging materials from decommissioned nuclear powered vessels. The life expectancy of these people is [from memory] just over 30 years.

I remember a picture of an elderly Japanese man sifting through rubble near Fukushima, looking for food. He was not looting; he and his wife were starving. And when he was caught on camera he broke down, crying “I’m so ashamed, I’m so ashamed…”

Yes, ocean levels are rising and people living on small islands are threatened and species will die out. But this is all wrong, and I feel impotent in the face of it all.

I suspect, on balance, the Labor Party’s achievement in pulling off a ‘carbon tax’ and compromising on a mining tax have been pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

a gay little party

One hot topic at the recent ALP national conference was whether party policy should be binding in favour of gay marriage, or whether parliamentary members should have a conscience vote on the issue: Both options would represent a departure from previous party policy.

There were quite a few people writing letters to editors, moaning about the insignificance of this issue and that it was a distraction from more serious matters such as pay rises for MPs, whether it is okay to lie about carbon tax proposals, and how to expand the current party membership to at least 17 before the next election.

In The Age today Dennis Altman – an early campaigner for the decriminalisation of homosexuality – suggested this is a serious issue because it is a human rights issue.
[Interesting, he says, that this human rights issue is open for a conscience vote when the equally important policies relating to asylum seekers were not.]

On the same page of The Age Amanda Vanstone outlined her idea of a sensible approach to the gay marriage issue, stressing that regardless of marital arrangements, every child is entitled to know who both of their biological parents are. Most of her comments work for me.

Not having given the issue enough thought in the past, I was confident that moves to give same-sex couples equal treatment before the law had covered all the bases [e.g. taxation or social security], but there recently arose the case of someone who is unable to get their same sex intended a visa, because there is no way they can marry here. On the other hand, I know of a couple who were able to organise visas some years ago because their same sex relationship was recognised. This called for a little clarification on my part.

The Marriage Act is a federal act, and so has significance if a gay couple are affected by any federal law.

Some states have recently made allowance for gay couples to register their relationships.
In Victoria there has been a long-standing entitlement of same-sex partners to exemption from or reduction of taxes for transactions such as property transfers to a partner. This benefit applied before the registration of gay relationships was proposed by the state. In this sense, perhaps, state registration amounts to little more than symbolic recognition.

Importantly, State acknowledgment of a relationship has no power to over-ride a federal law.

For the purposes of immigration visas for same-sex couples, the federal government does not discriminate where it can be shown that there is a long-standing commitment by a couple. Unfortunately, in order to show this commitment, some Australians have had to live overseas as a couple for an extended period, before applying for visas.

Where the law does discriminate is in the case of Prospective Marriage Visas, which permit fiancé[e]s to travel to Australia to marry – obviating the need for living overseas to prove the relationship is fair dinkum. 
No one can be a prospective spouse if the law won’t allow them to marry.

With a conscience vote, there is no way any attempt to change the law will succeed. The Liberal coalition have a binding policy on the matter, and Julia would look a right prat if she voted in favour of change now.
The ALP might be able to increase its membership to 17 before the next election, but I doubt many of that number will be gay people or friends or families of gay people.

Amanda Vanstone suggests – and I agree – that any religion should be free to refuse to marry same-sex couples if that is against their beliefs. 
She proposes that all marriages should be formalised by the government, with people holding religious ceremonies later if they so choose. As most religious ministers [or their equivalents] are registered celebrants and do complete government paperwork as an adjunct to religious ceremonies, I’m guessing what she is really on about is separation of Church and State with respect to marriage.

Some members of the public suggest that gays should generally not be discriminated against, but gay marriage will make a joke of the institution. This smacks a little of “some of my best friends are poofs but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one”.
There is no other way to interpret this sort of nonsense than, as Orwell put it, “all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
 Anyone who claims to be in favour of human rights yet objects to gay marriage on one pretext or another should either pee or get off the pot.

The ALP shot themselves in the foot years ago, by moving to the right of Genghis Khan in order to steal coalition votes. In doing so they left their left flank open - conscience votes will do nothing to soak up green votes, and the only reason the ALP are getting coalition votes is because Tony Abbott is a vote repellent.