Dogs Bark And The Teardrop Camper Goes By

It was the early seventies when I embarked on the two-year working in England and hitchhiking Europe odyssey. The journey was also known as the traditional rite of passage for twenty-something-year-old Aussies. Similar to most twenty-something-year-old Aussies doing their rite of passage, I wasn’t going to London and Europe to find history, culture, and sophistication; I was going for the adventure, thrills, and naughtiness. During the last few months of having farewell drinks with the mates, I explained to them how I was going overseas to search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary. My years as a young teenager, adolescent, and maturing adult, seemed to be made up of chaotic events and occasions that confused me. It was these confusions that were the focal point of my search for idealism in the ordinary.

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One of those confusions was Dad and Granddad building a plywood teardrop camper. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they were skilled enough to throw together a camping trailer; it was that I didn’t think they understood the existential aesthetics of a Masonite teardrop camper. Some would have doubted their carpentry skills. Granddad was a tinsmith by trade, but he had a collection of woodworking tools in his backyard shed, and dad was a smooth-talking suave salesman who was everybody’s best friend and would give anything a try. They built the camper on a small trailer dad bought. I think they made the design up as they went, and it ended up as a small camper with a small door on one side, just big enough to accommodate two people in sleeping bags. It would hardly be called a camper by today’s standards; it didn’t have a rear galley kitchen with a stove to cook on, a fridge, or running water, and there was no inside cabinet storage for plates, spices or a french coffee press. And there was no insulation in the walls, floor, ceiling or door, and no reading lights.

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During my preadolescence and early teens, the new camper set the stage on many holidays for the family to uncover the idealism of the teardrop Masonite camper trailer. Dad majestically towed the camper behind the Holden FB station wagon on every family holiday, and it was the showpiece of our tent and trailer campsite. Our holidays were a mashup of camping and caravanning.

The tent, stretchers, folding chairs, Li-Lo, Primus, Esky, rolls of toilet paper, a couple of torches, and all of the other camping stuff were now neatly packed in the camper instead of being crammed into the FB. And this made room in the Holden for nanna and granddad to join us on our family camping and caravanning holidays. When we arrived at a camping ground, everything came out of the camper and was set out alongside the FB until the tent went up next to the camper trailer. It was a square white canvas tent with wooden poles and ropes and a lace-up in the middle of one side that became the front of the tent. After dad attached two guy ropes to one of the corner poles, granddad raised the pole into place and held it until dad hammered in a tent peg and secured the ropes to it. While dad and granddad were putting the tent up, I busied myself assembling the hessian roll up folding camp stretchers; I sometimes struggled to get the wooden leg sections aligned and attached to the wooden stretcher frame and the springs hooked into place.

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I was overjoyed when I became old enough to help dad put the tent up. I was a man at last, and doing a man’s job; emancipated from a boy’s job of wrestling with the stretchers and trying to inflate the Li-Lo. The Li-Lo is an air bed mattress. We had two green Li-Lo’s. Some might say they were buoyant, superbly comfortable, and easy to blow up. I tried blowing them up a couple of times but only managed to get them to be soft and plumpish before I was dizzy and lightheaded. I think I was breathing faster and deeper than usual, thereby causing some of the carbon dioxide that should have been staying in my body to go into the mattress. Dad suffered the same dizziness whenever he was blowing up the Li-Lo and eventually bought an accordion-style air pump made exclusively for inflating Li-Lo’s. The inflated Li-Lo’s were wrestled into the camper trailer, transforming it into an under-the-stars boudoir. The camper was nanna and granddads bedroom whenever they went with us on our family camping and caravanning holidays. My brother and I slept on the Li-Lo’s in the teardrop camper when nanna and grandad were not holidaying with us.

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There were times as a young adult that I sometimes wished I’d spent more time assembling the stretchers instead of holding the tent poles. The wishing came when I spent cold, dank, Saturday afternoons with a couple of mates at the Western Oval standing on the sloped terraces in front of the grandstand, with the proud brotherhood of Footscray football followers. I was surrounded by the smell of meat pies and tomato sauce, cigarette smoke and beer, balancing on tiptoe between busted beer bottles, spilled beer and puddles of vomit, with a Four N Twenty in one hand and a beer in the other. And then a roar from the crowd would erupt. It meant a goal scored, a spekkie taken, or a player was flattened by a shirt front and now lying motionless on the ground. When a shirt front happened, runners dashed onto the oval carrying a folded canvas stretcher. After opening the stretcher, they lifted the hardly conscious player onto it and stretched him off the ground to applause from the terraces and the outer. I’d take a long drink from my beer, turn to my mates and tell them; if I’d spent longer with the camping stretchers instead of the tent poles, I’d be the one getting the applause right now.

As I matured into a young teenager, our camping caravanning holidays seemed to follow the same mundane routine. Unload the camper, put up the tent, blow up the LI-Lo’s, set up the stretchers, unfold the camping chairs, set up the Primus stove, put the wooden toilet seat and rolls of toilet paper and the torch by the tent flap, and see if the caravan park office had ice for the Esky. I found myself losing interest in wanting to uncover the idealism of the teardrop trailer. I was like our fellow campers. I stopped showing awe and wonder at dad and granddad’s Masonite teardrop camper trailer.

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I learnt England was the home of caravan holidays and for those who have a love affair with caravanning when I was a teenager sitting in a darkened Hoyts theatre watching Carry On Camping. Carry On Camping hit the screens in 1969 and is the 17th release in the 31 Carry On films series. The classic Carry On comedies blend the traditions of the British music hall and the seasonal pantomime. Pratfalls, groping women, sight gags around cleavages, homophobic wisecracks, double entendres, males dressing up, smutty jokes, and slapstick routines stitch together the narrative sequences of each film. Carry On Camping follows the standard Carry On formula and is a series of vignettes laced with innuendo, double-entendres and slapstick.

Sid and Bernie are best mates and partners in a plumbing business. They keep having their amorous intentions snubbed by their chaste girlfriends Joan and Anthea. The boys suggest a camping holiday, secretly intending to take them to a nudist camp. Of course, they end up at a family campsite and meet up with the weirdest bunch of campers you can imagine. Coachloads of sex-starved teenage schoolgirls and bands of hippies all add to the laughs.

It took halfway through Sid and Bernie’s escapades for me to see past the fat people jokes, women’s knockers double entendres, and the camera peering up ladies dresses to see Carry on Camping for what it was. It was my insight into why cars towed caravans and how England became the home of happy campers. And then I knew that if I could brave it, my quest for finding inspiration and idealism in the Masonite camper trailer had to begin in the mother country. Years later, I boarded the S.S. Galileo at Port Melbournes Station Pier after spending the day consuming farewell Australia beers. The Galileo’s mooring ropes slid into the water, and I could hear the band on Station Pier playing Drunken Sailor and the sound of paper streamers breaking as the ship pulled away.

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During the seven weeks of the S.S. Galileo sailing across the Southern Ocean, along the coast of Africa, and into the Mediterranean Sea, I planned out the start of my search for uncovering the idealism of the teardrop Masonite trailer in the home of the caravan holidays, and those who have a love affair with caravanning. I’d start by visiting the head office in West Suffix of The Caravan Club of Great Britain, and even though I wouldn’t have a caravan or camper, ask to be granted special permission to attend their National Rally and if I could pitch up. The rally takes place on the grounds of a stately home and can attract up to 10,000 caravanners at a time. As I planned my quest, I pictured the nights I’d spend sitting by the light of a kerosene lantern with those who live the romance of the caravan culture. I’d listen as the caravanners told their stories of yore, stopping by the side of a quiet lane, getting a farmers permission to pitch up or to park a teardrop camper.

I started my two-year working in England and hitchhiking Europe odyssey in the mother country by sharing a small room in a three-storey row house in Tooting Bec. During the long hot summer, I worked as a lifesaver at an outdoor swimming pool nestled in the corner of South London’s Brockwell Park. I spent my free time before I headed off to Europe and the hippie trail to India, enjoying the adventure, thrills, and naughtiness of London and England. I never visited the Caravan Club of Great Britain’s head office, so I never did discover the idealism of the funny little teardrop trailer towed by a FB Holden station wagon that I sometimes slept in on a family holiday.


The History of Teardrops

The Caravan Club of Great Britain

The Carry On Film Series

We’re All On The Same Ferry But In Different Cars

On some Saturday and Sunday afternoons, our gang of five would ride their bikes to the Warmies instead of Nelson Place and the Williamstown piers. The Warmies were around the bend in North Road from where it dead-ended with the Strand. Folklore explained the Warmies as being the hot water from the Powerhouse boilers being pumped into the Yarra and mixing with the cold waters of the Yarra River and Hobsons Bay. A steam-powered ferry, a small floating road guided by two large chains strung across the river mouth, carried cars, bike riders, trucks, and pedestrians across the mouth of the Yarra River at Newport, to a thin strip of concrete at Fishermans Bend; the end of Williamstown Road. The locals called the ferry the punt.

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The Warmies was where we learned first-hand about fishing. We’d watch and talk about how to catch flathead and what was biting in the bay with the Newport fishermen as they cast their lines into the swirling eddies of lukewarm water. There was always a collection of assorted cargo ships slowly entering and leaving the mouth of the Yarra. You could almost reach out and touch the ships as they made their way upriver to the sheds and cranes of the Victoria docks; we’d idle away the afternoon ship spotting and daydreaming about the adventures, romance, and intrigue that were lurking in exotic foreign ports. The punt would leisurely wait on the Newport or the Fisherman’s side of the Yarra for the ships to pass. If a procession of ships were leaving or starting their slow journey up the mouth of the Yarra, it became a long wait for the punt, and cars and trucks with their motors turned off became backed up along North Road to the Strand.

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I never knew the names of the ships but their funnels hinted at their identity. A red funnel with a blue star on a white background was the Blue Star Line, a blue funnel was the Blue Funnel Line, and a black funnel with two white bands was the British East India Line. A ragtag collection of nondescript ships made up the rest of the convoys. As each ship slowly passed, I tried to match the flag flying from the stern with their name and country of registration; and soon, I was daydreaming about the adventures awaiting me in unknown far off lands.

The pushbike gang fell apart as we grew into young teenagers and matured into youthful adolescents. Andrew Lambrianew and I became a gang of two. We spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Sandy Point, the Williamstown Piers, the Back Beach, and Nelson Place and seldom went to the Warmies. But when either of us felt the urge to demonstrate our burgeoning manliness and disrespect for authority, we headed to the Warmies to ride the punt without paying the fare collector for a ticket. I’d casually push my bike to the front of the punt and rest it against the guard rail around the pulleys, guiding one of the chains and wander off to the other side of the punt. As the punt slowly glided across the Yarra, I’d move in lockstep with the fare collector but on the opposite side. As the punt neared Williamstown Road, I’d make my way back to the bike, and as soon as the fare collector started to lower the punts ramp, I was on my bike and standing on the pedals to muster all the force I could for a quick fare evading escape. I’d hide among the waiting cars and trucks for a couple of punt crossings before repeating the perilous fare-dodging trip back to the Newport side of the Yarra.

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Sometimes I thought about riding my bike back to the Newport side of the river; that meant riding down Williamstown Road, through industrial Fishermans Bend to Spencer Street, down Footscray Road, and along Whitehall to Douglas Parade. An 8 to 10-mile bike ride that any young teenager should have no worries completing in a couple of hours. The thought of such a trek sent adrenaline rushing through my veins. One fateful Sunday afternoon, the adrenaline mixing with the excitement of evading the fare collector sent an explosion through my brain. I was standing on the pedals as soon as the fare collector lowered the punt’s ramp and pedalling down Williamstown Road on my way to Newport. I made it as far as the overgrown weed paddocks alongside the runway of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory. During the fifties and up until the mid-sixties, the airstrip was known as the Riverside Drag Strip; and the surrounding sand dunes and salt marshes were a perfect place for the local petrol heads to have endurance trials with their garage hobby cars.

A few years after the gang of five fell apart, my brother discovered himself as a petrol head with a couple of new mates, Graeme Kelly and Ron Templeton. They tinkered with what I called an Elliott Ness car; I couldn’t tell a Ford from a Holden or a Vanguard back then, so the car could have been a Buick. The Kelly house was just off Douglas Parade and a block or so from North Road.

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On weekends they’d push the car from Kellys to the punt, then to the marshy grasslands and the runways surrounding the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. While they were pushing the Buick, I was busy with my adolescent adventures at Sandy Point, the Williamstown Piers, and Nelson Place. A couple of times, the promise of driving the car if I helped push it to Fishermans was just too much. It was my teenage years, and it became my first time driving a car. I don’t remember if the fare collector charged us for a car pushed onto the punt.

It was the second time I’d driven a car. As a youngster, I often took dads work car for a drive on weekends. He parked the Vanguard on the street outside of the house. I’d ask him to unlock the door so I could take it on a drive; he never left the keys in the car, so I had to be the engine. I knew the gears and the sound of an overworked car engine because, on the school holidays, I’d ride along with dad as he drove around the suburbs calling on lending libraries so they could restock their collections for the next two weeks. In the boot were crates of bestsellers, recirculating books, and all-time favourites for the lending libraries to choose from. I watched him change gears and listened to the engine as we drove the busy streets of Melbourne’s suburbs. When I drove the Vanguard, I could hardly see over its enormous steering wheel, but as soon as I gripped it, I was Gelignite Jack Murray.

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My feet and legs couldn’t reach the brake, clutch, and accelerator, but my left arm could reach the column gear shifter, and my hand became glued to it. I’d start each afternoons endurance trial by revving the engine with a series of throaty roars, pushing my left foot down on the floor, and thrusting the shifter to first. I allowed the engine to purr in my throat through first gear until it reached a desperate guttural roar; a signal to a change into second gear. I always crossed the finish line in every Redex Round Australia Reliability Trial in first place.

After experiencing the thrill of driving the salt marshes and runways in the Buick, I imagined the turn-on of conquering the marshy grasslands in Uncle Ken’s Amilcar. The Amilcar is a French sports car from the 1920s. Uncle Ken’s Amilcar sat under the shade of the fig tree in Nanna’s front yard. Even though he always said I’m going to fix it up, I don’t remember the engine ever being started or the car moving. It was easy to picture myself pushing the Amilcar down Wilkins Street and onto the punt. At Fishermans Bend, I gave it a series of desperate pushes off the punt and onto the marshy grasslands. I jumped into the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel in the same way I’d held the Vanguards steering wheel. The engine roared into life, and I was flying across the dunes and salt marshes. It was part art and part science; my larrikin antics combined braking, accelerating, and steering to create a glorious mix of noise and violence sliding sideways between the sand dunes at 100 mph.

image source: jmcadam

As a young teenager, you never think about how your escapades prepare you for the future. As I was evading the fare collector on the Newport punt, I never thought about crossing the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry. I spent a little over a week in Belize in the mid-nineties. It was a short time after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillips visited, so I missed the arrival of the Royal Crates. The boxes that precede the Queen wherever she goes contain china, silver, crystal, linens, the red carpet, the Queen’s private toilet seat, and the small crowns for the Royal Vehicles. I also missed the Royal Party’s visit to San Ignacio, where they were guests of honour at a luncheon at the San Ignacio hotel. They dined on Heart of Palm Salad, Medallions of Beef Tenderloin, Steamed Cho Cho, Steamed Corn Tamalitos, and Sour Sap Ice Cream. During my visit, I made do with a small bite to eat at a restaurant in Belize City with the US Ambassador.

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I wonder if the Royal Party’s drive along the Western Highway to San Ignacio was similar to mine. It seemed as if our four-wheel drive was constantly dodging walking villagers, the occasional car and bus, and various animals. The trek to Xunantunch and El Castillo was a bumpy ride from San Ignacio to the Mopan River along a road carved through the overgrown tropical jungle. At the river, a ride-for-free, hand-cranked ferry with room for two cars got you across the river; Xunantunch was about a mile away, along a narrow, rising hilly road. Some say you have to be a fit climber to reach the top of El Castillo; I only managed the top of the first flight of stairs.

After several deep breaths of warm, humid air, I thought back to riding the punt from the Warmies to Williamstown Road without a ticket and gasping for air while pushing the Buick to Fishermans Bend. I never thought of it as an omen for a future ferry ride to the Mayan city of Xunantunich.


‘Short Road’ Ferry to Williamstown

Fishermans Bend

Xunantunich Maya Site Belize

My Mind Was In The Gutter Instead Of On The Roof

I’ve often described our early thirties house as a charming two storey revival brick Tudor cottage. We became the second owners of the charming cottage thirty-plus years ago. It still had the original exterior architecture, and the interior was as it was when built. I was tickled pink to be living in a cottage with a slate roof, and I often sat on the small front lawn, close my eyes, and think I was living in Dorset or East Sussex. The first upgrade we did to the house was to install new electrical wiring and replace the screw-in fuses with a circuit breaker panel. The second major upgrade was to replace the octopus heating system and the two window air conditioners with a heating and air conditioning system. When the time came to rebuild the kitchen and bathroom, we focused the remodelling on maintaining the integrity of the 1930’s design of the house.

image source: jmcadam

Over the years, the house demanded small and sometimes medium maintenance work. Some homeowners attach metal trim to a houses wood fascia to protect it from water and insect damage and inhibit paint peeling and fading. Forty-plus years ago, the East Sussex cottages wood fascia boards were covered with brown aluminium trim, and hammering nails back into the metal fascia trim to refasten it to the fascia became a yearly medium maintenance work activity. May and June are the peak months in Nebraska for severe weather; storms strike quickly and can produce thunderstorms with heavy rain, strong winds, lightning, hail, and tornadoes. After every severe storm, it became common practice to find strips of aluminium fascia trim on the ground or flapping in the wind along the roofline. I did my best to temper my concern about heights and would gingerly climb the ladder to try and hammer sections of the brown aluminium trim back onto the cottage’s fascia.

image source: jmcadam

Three years ago, two long lengths and a smaller section of the aluminium fascia trim fell from near the twenty feet from the ground roof peak and exposed dried out warping and cracking water damaged wood. I collected the two twisted sections of fascia trim and put them in the garage for safekeeping. Over the next few years, I nailed bits of fallen bent brown aluminium trim back onto ladder height wood fascia. Strong winds in early April 2021 caused new small strips of trim above the garage to come loose. By standing on the garage roof, I could reach over the house’s front curved brick roof-line and juggle the strips of trim back into place; I struggled to pound an assortment of nails through the trim and into the fascia board. A shower of softwood shards fell out from behind the trim where I was hammering. The fascia was water damaged, dried out and cracking. It was my first exposure to fascia board rot. After years of reattaching fascia trim and now coming face to face with wood rot, it was time to get rid of the brown aluminium trim and replace any damaged wood fascia board.

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I thought back to my third and fourth form woodworking classes at Williamstown Technical School and wondered if they’d prepared me to replace the wood fascia. Most of the time, the projects in woodworking involved planing wood or shaping wood with a spokeshave or wood chisel. But I did get to make a tenon and mortise joint, a pencil case with a swivel lid, and fashion a hexagonal wooden copper stick with a rounded handle from a length of 3-inch x 3-inch wood. I proudly gave mum my copper stick, which she used on her washing days until the washing machine replaced the copper.

Williamstown Tech woodworking classes had made me ready for any woodworking project, but I decided a home remodelling company should have the opportunity to replace the rotted fascia. Every piece of brown trim the professionals removed exposed more rotted crumbling wood and caused shards of splintered wood to rain onto the ground. Every piece of brown trim the professionals removed exposed more rotted crumbling wood and caused shards of splintered wood to rain onto the ground. Water had seeped under and behind the loose aluminium fascia trim during the last forty years and done its damage. But that was not all. Rainwater had made its way under the cottage’s roof slate; sections of the roof sheathing were areas of damp decaying moulding wood.

Home Remodelling Specialist: Your only option is a total roof replacement.
Me: No worries just rip off the old slate, wack down some new plywood sheathing, put on some new slate, and Bob’s your uncle.
Home Remodelling Specialist: Your roof’s not slate, it’s asbestos cement roof shingles.
Me: Don’t come the raw prawn with me mate.
Home Remodelling Specialist: It’s made by mixing asbestos fibres and Portland cement and they were popular roof shingles from the twenties through the sixties.
Me: Crikey!!!! The house was built in the early ’30s.
Home Remodelling Specialist: Then for sure the roof is asbestos shingles. We’re going to have to pry them off without chipping and breaking any of them, and then put them in plastic bags for disposal.
Me: Now I’m wondering if the new roof should be corrugated tin.

During the last hundred plus years, corrugated tin became Australia’s most iconic building material; and it’s now part of Australia’s cultural identity. A corrugated tin roof is the quintessential signature of an Aussie house.

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The verandah on the back of the house where I grew up was a classic add on Australian lean-to. Its flat corrugated roof abutted the pitched corrugated roof of the house. I remember when dad and granddad spent weekends on end rebuilding the old back verandah. They installed new four by four uprights, ripped out the old wooden lattice, built a waist-high tongue and groove wood wall, and installed louvred windows from the top of tongue and groove to the roofline. The corrugated tin roof was left untouched. The remodelled verandah became known as the fernery, and mum kept her potted plants on shelves along the bathroom wall at one end of the fernery.

Three pitched roof sections, one on each side and one at the front of the house, formed a U shape around the house. There was a small flat roof surface where the valleys of the rooves met at the bottom. As a youngster, I never had a concern about heights, and I’d prop dads wooden ladder up against the back door of the fernery and climb onto the roof. It was a playground to run around on, kick a footie from into the backyard, or catch whatever my brother threw at me from the backyard. And the roof was my haven when I was a lonesome teenager. I’d walk-crawl up one of the valleys, sit atop the roof, and think about what would shape and determine my fate and make me the person I was yet to become.

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When I looked down Douglas Parade, I could make out Dashers Milk Bar. It’s where our pushbike gang of five would sometimes gather on Saturday arvos to buy a Tarax, a Peters ice cream, or a bag of mixed lollies. We never knew Mr and Mrs Dashers real name; we called them the Dashers because we thought they moved so slow. On top of the counter at the back of Dashers was a wooden display case with a hinged glass lid, which an ophthalmologist today would diagnose as having cataracts. The scratches caused by the knurled edges of hundreds of threepences, sixpences, and pennies rubbed along the glass as tortured choices were made from the assortment of lollies in the case for a threepenny bag of mixed lollies, caused the lid to be dull and opaque. Dasher counted out the choices, and when you’d spent your threepence, he handed over a small white paper bag with a mix of clinkers, fruit tingles, choo-choo bars, black cats, musk sticks, mint leaves, or milk bottles. You were lucky if the bag of lollies lasted through the afternoon, which went to show you can’t have your lollies and eat them.


I only gave the Power House at the back of mum’s house a passing glance of contempt. It was built n 1918 by the Victorian Railways to supply electricity for Melbourne’s burgeoning suburban railways. Melbourne’s demand for electricity increased, and the powerhouse expanded to become the largest in the southern hemispheres. Briquettes eventually replaced coal to fire the boilers, and briquette soot became the scourge of the neighbourhood. When the boilers fired up, the powerhouse chimneys spewed clouds of soot over the surroundings. The soot was the bane of mum’s washing day life. When the wind started blowing toward our house, her sun-dried washing became covered with black, gritty soot. Mum seemed to sense the presence of the soot, and a guttural cry of soot, soot, echoed through the house. She lived by the adage you should never air your dirty washing in public, so she ran to the backyard, gathered the washing from the rotary clothesline and hastily returned it to her soaking troughs.


When I looked toward the Strand, in the distance was Station and Princes Pier, and they seemed to be always cluttered with ships of the Lloyd Triestino, Chandris, Sitmar, and P&O lines. I couldn’t read their names, but I knew from the colours of their funnels if they were Chandris or Sitmar. They made up the immigration conveys sailing from England and Europe, bringing government-assisted migrants and Ten Pound Poms to their new home in Australia. When the ships left Melbourne to return to their home ports, they carried twenty-something-year-old Aussies starting on their traditional hallowed rite of passage, a two-year working and travelling holiday of England and Europe. I sat on the pitched roof ridge squinting at the passenger ships, daydreaming about the adventures awaiting me in unknown exotic lands and ports of call. Sometimes I just stared at the berthed ships and watched people frolicking in the water at Port Melbourne beach and wondered if they were swimming out to meet their ship that didn’t come in.

The asbestos, cement roof shingle, replacement conundrum was now a choice between slate or corrugated tin. The more I thought about a new corrugated tin roof replacement for our two storey revival brick Tudor cottage, the more I thought about reliving the pleasure of kicking a footie from the roof. But if the house had a corrugated tin roof, it would have to be wrapped in corrugated tin to create the attractive architecture and appearance of a distinctively Australian building such as a shearing shed, woolshed, outback dunny, or water tank.


Why the Tin Roof is an Australian Icon

Asbestos-Cement Shingles

Understanding Fascia and Soffit Repair

Is The Prostate Biopsy Exam Multiple Choice

Over the last twelve months, because of appointments with specialists, different procedures and scans, and fortnightly immunotherapy treatments, I’ve spent, on average, at least two days a week at the hospital. The excision of a melanoma tumour and lymph node, ongoing infusions, blood draws, multiple Ultrasounds, MRI and PET scans, and the removal of skin lesions has conditioned me to be no longer surprised by most medical environments and strange surgical tools. I’m no longer surprised at being ushered into a strange room partially lit by a dull blue glow emanating from a beast-like, humming medical appliance. But I’m still uncomfortable, though no longer overwrought when wheeled on a hospital bed into a well equipped operating room or scanning suite.

image source: jmcadam

Although I no longer felt uneasy at the sight of freakish medical machines, and with my inner child was unfailing in telling me stainless steel medical instruments were never designed to cause pain and suffering, I was still apprehensive about the upcoming procedure to have samples of suspicious tissue removed from my prostate. I was told it would be painless because it was standard practice to numb the area during the procedure. The day before it was to happen, I received a call from the hospital telling me the apparatus had just broken down and they were waiting for new probes to be delivered; they would reschedule the biopsy when they arrived.

When the procedure was first scheduled, I never gave it a second thought as to how it was done, so the mention of probes sent my brain into overdrive. In no time, I was suffering mental exhaustion and did what I had vowed never to do. I turned to the Google machine. Whenever you’re freewheeling the Net, it’s a challenge to stay clear of the chatbots and armchair experts. And if you’re searching for medical procedures and surgeries, you’ve got the problem of symptom checkers. How do you trust a checker that tells you when you fill in a couple of symptoms about a headache that you’re suffering from mumps or a brain tumour?

I successfully navigated away from the chatbots and armchair experts and found several reputable sites describing the prostate biopsy procedure in nanoscopic detail. A thin ultrasound probe and biopsy needle get whacked into your bunghole. The areas of the prostate where they’ll snag samples from are numbed with lidocaine to reduce any discomfort. So I need to remember to remind my dentist when they start to numb my upper gum with lidocaine and adjust the chair that I’m here for a filling and not a prostate procedure. The spring propelled needle gets steered into place by aligning a live-action ultrasound image with an image from a previous MRI scan. When the needle is where it should be, it’s whammo, and it gets fired into the prostate to snag a sample of tissue.

image source: jmcadam

The new probes arrived, and so, therefore, did my prostate procedure. Two nurses ushered me into a room lit by a dull blue glow from a beast-like brooding medical appliance. They asked that I undress from the waist down and drape myself with a towel, gesturing to a side room. When I reentered the blue dimly lit room, it seemed as if it was humming to itself. I heard a soft gasp. The two nurses turned toward me and fixed me with an incredulous stare.

Me: Not a bad awning over the toy shop ah?
Biopsy Nurse:: I’ve never seen that before.
Me: Crikey!!! I hope ya talking about the towel.
Biopsy Nurse:: How did you get it to stay around your waist like that?
Me: Ya wrap the towel around ya waist and then tuck one end of a corner between your guts and the towel. It’s how I used to change into me togs at Willy beach.
Biopsy Nurse:: There were no changing rooms at the beach?
Urologist: Yeah but it was quicker to change by the Lifesavers clubhouse wire fence. That’s where ya bike was. When you finished changing you’d wrap ya undies, shirt, and shorts in ya towel and put it under the pedals of ya bike, and bob’s your uncle.

image source: jmcadam

As the nurse guided me to the examination table, I couldn’t help but look at the tools the Urologist would be using for the procedure. I became fixated on the ultrasound probe; not the probe itself but the slim metal tube attached to its end. It was the same metal tube I’d seen on my prostate biopsy procedure, web searching; it was the barrel of the needle gun. Needles get shot down the metal tube by a spring-loaded biopsy gun and through the wall of your bunghole to snag samples from my prostate. The nurse positioned me on my left side and curls my knees up toward my chest so that I’m now in a loose fetal position. She places a couple of pillows around and under me; the last one between my knees. I feel a gentle pat on my right shoulder.

Urologist: And how are we this morning, looks like we’re ready to start.
Me: Am I numb yet?
Urologist: I’ll talk you through every step. We don’t want any surprises. I’m just doing a little cleaning of the area and applying some gel.
Me: Am I numb yet?
Urologist: Just relax, you’ll feel a little pressure as I insert the ultrasound probe.
Me: Crikey mate, you’re moving this thing around in me bunghole like a rat up a drain pipe.
Urologist: Doing okay? Now you’ll hear a clicking sound every time I collect a sample.
Me: Blimey, it sounds like you firing off a bloody staple gun.
Urologist: Just five more samples to go.
Me: I bet watching that thing moving every which way through me dark bunghole reminds you of the River Caves at Luna Park.

image source: jmcadam

Luna Park Melbourne is a still-operating historic amusement park on the St Kilda foreshore of Port Phillip Bay. I remember mum and dad taking me as a young boy and then as a young teenager heading off by myself or together with some mates to Luna Park. As a young boy, I thought of Luna Park as the most magical place in the world; I was held in wonder by the colour and movement and the sounds and the smells of the attractions. None more so than the River Caves of the World. The River Caves was a gentle meandering little wooden boat ride through different scenes of the world’s landscapes. As a young boy, I never thought of them as sculptured from plaster, paper mache, and chicken wire. The boat slowly carried you through Toy Land and then Eskimo Land. You became spellbound by the odd-looking paper mache misshapen Eskimos staring at you and were unaware of the fan visible through the peeling walls blowing air to simulate a cold howling wind. The current carried you around winding curves to each new scene. And who could forget the Jungle with its garish backgrounds and the paper mache mountains with bears, antelopes, and tigers on the top of them, and its waterfall with a pond filled with flamingos? I didn’t see the holes in the animal’s bodies or their heads falling off; it was the most magical place in the world.

image source: pinterest

As a teenager, the River Caves were still an adventure to me but, they had lost their magic. I remember the recorded safety announcement when you got in the boat cautioning against rocking and that you must keep your hands in the boat at all times. I dutifully obeyed it as a young boy, but as a teenager, I ignored it because you rode the River Caves for two reasons. One was to try and stop the little boat by pushing against the paper mache cave walls and ceiling, and therefore, cause a boat jam in the caves. The other was to get your mates as wet as you could by rocking the boat, and trailing your hand in the River, and splashing water where ever. The second reason was to try and coax a girl into sitting next to you in the little wooden boat. If that happened, both of you knew what was next. As soon as the boat entered the dimly lit cave and rounded the first winding curve, your arm was around her shoulders, and you were in for a pash session before leaving Eskimo Land. You never felt the cold howling wind of Eskimo Land because you were floating through the Tunnel of Love.

image source: flickr

If your adolescent banter hadn’t persuaded a young lass to accompany you on a journey through the River Caves after an hour of trying, you and the mates would head off to The Rotor. The Rotor was a big cylinder that spun passengers at high speeds. When the centrifugal force it generated glued the riders to its wall, the floor dropped away. The timid could watch the antics of the riders as they became glued to the wall from a viewing platform that ran around the top of the cylinder. There were no safety regulations back then, so some would do handstands before the cylinder reached full speed, and others would contort themselves, causing their arms, legs, and hair to fly everywhere. As one of the timid, I kept my fingers crossed there was someone who’d just eaten coloured fairy floss, and they would puke, so I could get to watch green foam splatter back into their face and fly around and land on people. The hope of all the timid teenage boys watching was that the girl’s skirts would ride up and show their upper thighs.

At the end of the ride, the cylinder slowed down, gravity took over, and the riders would slowly slide down the wall to the floor that had magically reappeared. The Rotor was dismantled in 1977 and thrown in the old Port Melbourne tip under the West Gate Bridge bridge; buried just across the Yarra River from where I grew up.

image source: jmcadam

I felt a comforting pat on my right shoulder and the Urologist announces that it’s the last sample, and he’ll talk to me in a few days when he has the biopsy results. A nurse is now standing behind me, I may be a little unsteady on my feet when I get up from the examination table, and she guides me to the side room where I’d undressed. I wash the lubricant gel from the work zone, change back into my clothes, and reenter the blue dimly lit room. As I fasten the Velcro straps on my Tevas, I ask the nurses if the probe had floated past the palace of King Neptune with his bevy of beautiful mermaids.


Prostate Biopsy

Luna Park Melbourne

Williamstown Beach

What If You Got A B-52 Shot In The Arm

After pushing the Hand-Held Control between my left thigh and the side of the infusion chair and adjusting the pillow I’d just rested my left arm on, I thought about whether I should settle on a cup of machine brewed coffee, or cranberry juice, from the Nourishment Center. It was before lunchtime, so I decided on coffee. It struck me that these are now the first things I do whenever I sit in the infusion chair, and I started to wonder if I follow a routine whenever I sit in an infusion chair. I’ve been sitting in an infusion chair twice a month for the last ten months for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses your immune system to fight cancer. It uses laboratory-made substances similar to components of your immune system to stimulate and boost your natural defences and how they work to find and attack cancer cells.

image source: jmcadam

After a short wait and three sips of coffee, a nurse appears and readies me for, and then starts my infusion. They announce as they leave, see you in thirty minutes; if you need me for anything, push the red nurse button on your Hand-Held Control. Even though I’ve sat in the infusion chair twenty-plus times, I’m still not exactly sure what the nurse does. I’ve never looked at what they’re doing; I only steal a glance at what they did when they leave the room. I have a needle in my left arm connected to a catheter connecting to an IV bag holding my chemotherapy liquid hanging from an IV pole with an infusion pump and other medical equipment that sometimes beeps and chirps. I wonder if never looking as I’m being jabbed with a needle is a sign that I have needle phobia. By now, I shouldn’t have anxiety about having a needle poked into my vein or any worries about looking as it punctures the skin. I have, on average, a couple of hospital visits a week, and they all involve a needle.

image source: jmcadam

The Pet scan is close to being my favourite procedure. It’s a positron, emission tomography, imaging scan that uses radioactive tracers; that’s where the needle is involved. During a scan, you lay motionless inside the scan machine tunnel for thirty minutes or more. As to which is my favourite procedure is a toss-up between a PET scan and an MRI. The MRI scanner uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create a cross-sectional image of your internal organs and structures. The equipment is inside a large cylinder that has a movable table. The table slides you into and out of a tunnel inside the cylinder. You may be in the tunnel for ten or more minutes at a time, and you’re warned not to move because the slightest movement can blur an image during the capture. Your nose touches the top of the cylinder, and you’re wearing earplugs because of the loud clanging noises from the scanner. After a series of scans, a liquid contrast dye gets injected into your vein for the final scan.

image source: jmcadam

At the start of my MRI brain scan, the technologist, as they were helping me onto the movable table, cautioned me about moving my head in the tunnel. When I was lying prone, they nudged and jostled me so that my head was in the correct position when I entered the cylinder tunnel. All the shuffling and squirming caused my hospital gown, which was like all hospital clothing and wouldn’t fasten at the back, to ride up in the front. I avoided any embarrassment because I couldn’t look down. I was motionless from the shoulders up because my neck was resting on a foam u-shaped pillow, and my head was encased in something akin to a crash test dummy helmet.

I still have several months of hospital visits that involve a poke with a needle, so I need to come up with a strategy to overcome needle phobia. It means taking one small step at a time. I can’t be afraid of going slowly, only of standing still. I should construct a mind conditioning stepladder where each step will be a different degree of thinking about and interacting with syringes and needles. I’ll model it on Dale’s Cone of Experience. The bottom of my Cone of Needle Phobia will be an abstract modelling activity, and each step up the Cone will lead to a direct, purposeful conditioning experience.

image source: pexels

For this to work, I’ll need to stay with each step until I feel my anxiety peak and then gradually reduce on its own. When I’m confident and relaxed, I’ll move on to the next step. I may need to work at an activity a few times before I’m ready to move on, but it doesn’t matter how slowly I go, so long as I don’t stop. And when I reach the top of the Cone, I’ll be so eager to watch a nurse stick a needle into a vein in my left arm.

Cone of Needle Phobia

  • Watch having an injection in my arm for an infusion, blood draw, or a PET and MRI scan
  • Download the app and play Injections Syringes & Needles Fun Simulation Game
  • Listen to podcasts such as: What You Need to Know About Spinal Injections for Spinal Pain
  • Watch YouTube videos of patients having a deltoid injection
  • Search the Internet for images of injections
  • Look for and hold a syringe and needle packet at a chemist shop
  • Think about infusion injections

Mum must not have had a needle phobia. I remember how excited she got when the Red Cross rang to ask her if she’d come into the blood bank to donate blood. Mum had a blood type compatible will most other blood types, so she often gave blood. She couldn’t wait for her blood donor day to come, and when it did, she put on her going into town clothes, made sure her blood donors card was in her handbag and then headed off to the Newport station to catch the train into town.

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Back then, the Blood Bank was at the top end of Flinders Lane. The Lane was still waiting for gentrification and was the centre of Melbournes’ garment and clothing trade and soft goods import warehouses. Most people thought of the Lane as a working man’s street. Mum, at one time, worked as a seamstress in a Flinders Lane dressmaking workroom that was close to Spencer Street Station, which is now known as Southern Cross Station. Mum would have walked along Flinders Street from the station to the blood bank instead of walking the Lane; not wanting to be reminded of her days as a seamstress. She would enjoy the walk down Flinders Street, without doubt, the Ball and Welch department store, the remodelled and modernised Majestic Theatre known as the Chelsea Cinema, the State Theatre and the neoclassical Herald and Weekly Times building provided her with a pleasant distraction.

The Red Cross stamped mum’s card after each donation. She began to reach blood donor milestones and receive badges and certificates. Whenever mum got home from giving blood, all we heard about was how many more stamps she needed to reach another blood donor’s milestone. Collecting a stamp for each pint of blood became the thrill of the hunt for mum; she couldn’t wait for the phone call asking her to give another donation. But it wasn’t just about the stamps. Mum would tell us, over and over again, about the lovely cup of tea and plate of biscuits, which were probably either Monte Carlos, Milk Arrowroots, Royals, or Scotch Fingers, she had when she waited with the other donors in the recovery lounge after giving blood. If mum had needle phobia, then the pleasant thoughts of a lovely cup of tea, and more stamps in her blood donors card, replaced her anxiety and fear. I need to ask the Nourishment Center at my next infusion if they have any Arnott’s Tic Tocs, Tim Tams, and Iced VoVos.

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I was calm and anxiety-free as I sat in the waiting area waiting for my first Urology appointment. I was thinking of iced VoVos, and how this would be my first hospital visit in so long, where I wouldn’t have anything jabbed into me. I heard my name called and was soon sitting alone in the examination room, waiting for the Urologist.

Me: G’day mate.
Urologist: Tell me John do you ever feel an urgent need to urinate?
Me: That depends; sure do if I’m out with the boys throwing back ice colds.
Urologist: How often in a day will you urinate?
Me: I don’t think it’s worth takin the piss anymore.
Urologist: Do you have a burning or painful sensation when you pass urine?
Me: I feel a bit of burning if I’ve spent the night drinking a few ice colds and enjoying a Lamb Vindaloo with basmati rice and naan.
Urologist: How would you describe the force or velocity of your urine stream?
Me: I can’t say I’m holding a fireman’s hose when I point Percy at the porcelain. Come to think of it, I can’t move the lolly as far as I used to. I don’t know if it’s the angle I’m hitting it at, or if not controlling the dribbling or velocity from start to end.
Urologist: Do you have any pelvic pain?
Me: You know this is the first appointment in a long time where I haven’t had anything stuck into me.

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And then I heard the snap of a latex glove and a voice asking me to lower my shorts and undies and to bend over and rest my elbows on the seat of the examination chair. The Urologist gestured to a tissue box and rhetorically asked, do you need to clean up a little. I cleaned up a little, sat back in the chair, and started squirming until I realised it was the Vaseline I was feeling. I started thinking about Iced VoVos as the Urologist shared his thinking from the examination. He concluded with seems like we need to schedule a follow-up MRI. I asked him if he thought I should construct a Cone of Latex Glove Examination Phobia.

I now feel the need to play a game of Injections Syringes & Needles. I need to remember that it’s important to fill the syringe with the right medicine, not too much and not too little. After the game, I’ll distract myself by doing a few Tim Tam slams with a lovely cup of tea.



Has eLearning Killed the Learning Cone?

Injections Syringes & Needles Fun Simulation Game

What’s More Boring Than Some Old Fella Going On About How Things Were

Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would be like, to live once again in a place where I used to live. I think that’s why the idea to stay in Albert Park for a few weeks came to me when I was booking a return Qantas ticket to the Land Down Under. Albert Park is a gentrified inner suburb of Melbourne nestled between Albert Park Lake and one of the Port Phillip Bay beaches. Wide streets, charming heritage buildings, leafy parks and gardens, and the Village shopping area with its collection of open-air cafes characterise Albert Park. Back when I was living in Melbourne, and before gentrification and upper-class affluence became the norm for Albert Park, I rented a flat in a two-storey Art Deco building a stone’s throw from the Village, which at that time was still the local shopping centre.

image source: jmcadam

As soon as the Qantas e-ticket arrived in my inbox, I went house searching on Airbnb. A single-fronted, fashionable weatherboard Victorian house, a ten-minute walk from the Village and a dropkick from the flat I once called home was going to be my living in Albert Park house for a few weeks. After a couple of days catching the No 1 tram into town, shopping in the Village, walking Albert Park’s leafy streets, and slowly strolling Kerferd Road down to the palm tree-lined beachfront, I was back living in Albert Park; it was as if I’d never left thirty plus years ago.

It was a warm, late afternoon when I set off as I often did many years ago for a cold Melbourne Bitter at the Albert Park Hotel. I stopped on the footpath and stood in disbelief. The entrance to the public bar was now a door in a wall of construction hoarding with a constant procession of tradies entering and leaving the opening. I peeked through the opening and before me was a clear view of four storeys of emptiness. I stumbled back three steps and asked a workman wearing a yellow high visibility vest what was happening to The Albert; he pointed to a person wearing an orange vest.

image source: jmcadam

Me: G’day mate, what are they doin to The Albert?
Contractor: It’s closed; we’re revamping it into a fashionable new-look pub and restaurant.
Me: Yu gunna ruin it; I spent a fair bit of my time in there standing on the mouldy beer soaked carpet with me elbows on a soggy bar towel drinking a few pots.
Contractor: The new front bar is gonna pay homage to that. It’ll have the original brick columns, bar tables and red leather booths.
Me: Fair suck of the sauce bottle mate. What about the beer soaked carpet and the smell of the urinal with that great aroma of mateship. Men respect the scent of the urinal.
Contractor: You’ll forget about the smell of the urinal when yu see the new four-storey glass atrium, the main bar with a fig tree growing at one end, and the new dining room that’s gonna be serving up modern Chinese classics.
Me: Yu mean steamed dimmies and chicko rolls.
Contractor: Nah mate, more like your pan-fried dumplings, Peking duck, and pancakes and prawn toast.
Me: Blimey I yu keepin the TV’s for watching the footy and cricket. Is there somewhere close by where yu can buy a cold beer?
Contractor: Nah mate, not until the fashionable new look Albert opens.

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The only place I could find to buy beer was a chain store in the Village catering to the higher end of the wine, spirits and beer market. I stood looking through the glass door of the beer cooler at unfamiliar craft beers. The bottles had labels that sent my mind into a state of nervous confusion. There were ales, bitters, porters, wheat IPAs, stouts, and pilsners and flavours that included coffee, chocolate, banana bread, pumpkin, and passionfruit. And then I saw it tucked into the bottom shelf; longnecks of Melbourne Bitter.

I was beside myself with excitement because in front of me was my Holy Grail of beer. Whenever I was back in Australia in the last ten years, Melbourne Bitter was as scarce as rocking horse shit. I grabbed a few of the treasured longnecks and, on the way out, engaged the associate.

Me: How come yu selling Melbourne Bitter longnecks?
Associate: It’s got hipster appeal; it’s made a come-back. It’s back on tap at a few pubs around the city.
Me: When did the next door butchers become a restaurant?
Associate: What butchers shop?
Me: A & G Meats.

I left with the longnecks, each nestled inside their own paper bag, resting in a reusable plastic shopping bag. When I was on the footpath, I took a few steps backward, stood at the gutter, and scanned the shop fronts. Back when, the bottle shop was a hardware shop next door to A & G Meats, the butcher’s shop where I bought bangers at least once a week; not because they had great bangers but because I was eating soft non-chewable foods because of my teeth.

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When I was growing up, dental hygiene wasn’t a big thing in my family. I went through childhood and adolescence, knowing my teeth would be coming out. Mum’s usual comment about a toothache was, ‘we can get them fixed, but if they start hurting again, then out they’ll come’. Mum told us visiting the dentist would be painless; he was a distant cousin and wouldn’t hurt anyone in the family. I don’t remember ever getting an anaesthetic. I always knew just before the hurting would start; the chains and pulleys driving the drill slowed down as our distant relative dentist relentlessly pushed it into your tooth; that’s when the hurt started. And he held the drill up close in front of you when he pulled it out of your mouth so the chains and pulleys would start up again. Whenever he started drilling a tooth, a strange smell started coming from your mouth. I left my distant cousin dentist’s double-fronted cream brick veneer building with tears in my eyes.

When I became old enough not to listen to mum, I never went to a dentist again. Fillings fell out, cavities appeared, and I loosened a front tooth when I fell off my yellow bike and smashed the front of my face on the footpath. Over the years, my tongue would discover a rough edge on a tooth, another filling starting to go, or a new hole beginning to happen. I never had toothaches; my teeth only hurt when I chewed on the decay and cavities, so I ate lots of soft foods.

image source: pixabay

I cooked my A & G Meats sausages the way Aussie cook sausages; in a frying pan over medium heat, letting the fat escape as they’re warming up, and then turning them in the hot fat until they were crisp on the outside and spongy and juicy inside. I’d throw in a few handfuls of cooked, soft fusilli and toss it around in the hot sausage fat. If I wasn’t eating pasta and sausages, I’d wrap a couple of the just-cooked bangers in thin slices of white bread, smother the lot with tomato sauce, and hope for a squirt of fat when I bit into what would then be a perfect sausage sandwich. Some days, I’d change it up and have a couple of sausage rolls from one of the local Milk Bars for lunch. Sausage rolls are similar to Little Smokies Pigs In A Blanket. They’re made by wrapping sausage mincemeat in a few sheets of puff pastry or thin pie crust if they’re mums homemade sausage rolls to form tubes that are baked until golden brown. You buy sausage rolls at any takeaway, milk bar, or bakery, and if you can’t wait until you get home, it’s ok eating them straight from the bag smothered in tomato sauce. Most Aussies would say that sausage rolls are the second cousin to the meat pie.

image source: jmcadam

I turned and looked down the footpath on the other side of the wine, spirits and beer chain store come bottle shop, and my memories collided with the present; the chemist shop was still there. I stepped inside and looked around for the Kodak cameras and film. Back when, every chemist shop in Melbourne was a Kodak photographic dealer, and you went there to buy a camera and film. You took your film back to the chemist to have it developed and to get your photos printed. A week after dropping off your exposed film, your photos were ready for pick up; you’d stop on the footpath as soon as you left the shop and reach into the Kodak envelope with hands shaking for your twelve black and white photos. Most of the time, only about half of the twelve were in focus, well-framed, or correctly exposed.

I searched the chemist shop looking for anything Kodak, only to discover, a Myki card counter had replaced the cameras and film. Myki is a reloadable credit card-sized smart card ticketing system used for electronic payment of fares on most public transport services in Melbourne and regional Victoria. And the familiar smell of the chemist shop, the fragrance of ladies perfumes mixed with the scent of cough lollies and medicines, the perfume from bars of Lifebuoy, Pears and Palmolive soap, and the distinctive aroma of medicinal aldehydes and ketones were also missing. I looked around for the bars of soaps and sand they too had been replaced; by liquid soaps, you squeezed from a plastic container. I thought about it for a short time and decided that would have been a good thing to have when we were growing up. We all shared the bath and shower at home, and for everybody, it was one bar of soap to soap it all. When we showered, we all grabbed the same bar of soap to rub over the flannel and ourselves, and then we’d leave whatever on the wet, sudsy soap bar of soap. It’s probably best if that’s where I leave it.

image source: jmcadam

As I strolled back to the single-fronted fashionable weatherboard Victorian house, I started musing about going to a chemist shop to buy a tram ticket and going to the local pub for Modern-South-East Asian food. I looked down and realised I was swinging the reusable plastic shopping bag with the three Melbourne Bitter longnecks. Back at the Airbnb, I sat in the sparse, remodelled, open-flow interior now devoid of any traces of the house’s Victorian-era heritage, and wondered if you’d go to a jewellery shop to buy butcher shop sausages made with meat, fat, fillers and salt, stuffed into intestine casings.


Unease in the Village

Back in Time for Dinner

1904 Melbourne Bitter Ale First Brewed

Why Isn’t There A Vaccine Against Stupidity

It seems that in the near future, whenever we travel to foreign countries, we may very well have to present a vaccine passport to provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19. Some academics and human rights groups are voicing concerns about these new vaccine passports. They suggest it may be discriminatory against those waiting for a vaccination, anyone who can’t have a Covid vaccine for medical or religious reasons, and persons who reject mandatory immunisation because they control and decide what goes into their body. Other flustered persons have expressed concerns about their privacy and the ease of hacking a digital vaccine passports information. Now I’m not sure what the big deal about a vaccine passport is about because having to prove you were vaccinated to enter a foreign country is not a new concept.

image source: jmcadam

When I was wandering Europe, the Middle East and Asia along the ill-defined hippie trail, I carried a passport, Barclay’s travellers’ chequers, a fake international student card, an international drivers licence, and the World Health Organisation’s International Certificate of Vaccination. The certificate was a yellow booklet known colloquially as the yellow card. Different countries had different mandatory immunisation requirements, and the yellow card became a vaccine passport to be checked at border crossings for the required vaccinations and if they were current before you were approved to enter. Travellers got the vaccinations needed for each country. We were concerned about our health and well being and the adventure of travel, and didn’t worry about who controls and decides what vaccines go into our bodies.

By the sixties, most communicable diseases in Australia were controlled by routine childhood vaccinations and high living standards. Like most Australians growing up in the fifties, I was inoculated against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio, but not smallpox. Back then, smallpox wasn’t widespread in Australia, so there were no mass vaccination programs for the disease. I’d seen photos of smallpox victims, and they caused me to have the same fear of it as I did for polio. Australia experienced a major polio epidemic in the late fifties. I remember seeing images of children laying immobile in bed suffering from paralysis and pictures of others with their heads jutting out from iron lungs. John Tillerson, lying immobile on a flat wooden cart with bicycle wheels, was one of the pictures come to life.

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Whenever we played cricket in the street, the electricity pole was the wicket, and the gutter was the crease. The electricity pole wicket was a couple of houses down from the Tillerson’s. If we were playing cricket on a warm summer day, Mrs Tillerson would wheel John out of the front gate and onto the footpath on a flat wooden cart. He’d watch us play laying stretched out along the length of his wooden cart. John had polio, and his unbendable legs were in iron braces. We called him Tin Legs Tillerson, but not to his face.

During the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, ships from Lloyd Triestino, Chandris, Sitmar, and P&O made up the immigration conveys sailing from England, and Europe, to Australia. It was commonplace to see the Fairsea, Arcadia, Patris, and Galileo docked at Port Melbourne’s Station Pier. When the ships left Melbourne to return to their home ports, the government-assisted migrants and Ten Pound Poms they carried to Australia were replaced by twenty-something-year-old Aussies starting their hallowed rite of passage, a two-year working and travelling holiday of England and Europe.

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I boarded the S.S. Galileo with a yellow card having signed stamps showing the date of vaccinations for smallpox, malaria, diphtheria, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis. Protection against diphtheria, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, and tetanus was somewhat standard for the hallowed rite of passage. Because I was unsure of where my travelling while searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary would lead me, I thought vaccination against smallpox and malaria would be a plus. All I remember about getting the smallpox vaccination is the cautionary words of the doctor infecting me.

Me: G’day mate; I’m here for my smallpox jab.
Smallpox Doc: It’s not like a vaccination you’re used to. I won’t be sticking a needle into yu. I’m gunna put the vaccine just under the first layer of your skin by taping around a small part of your arm with a two-pronged needle.
Me: Crikey!!!!
Smallpox Doc: Your gunna have a blister in a few days and it’ll be incredibly itchy. Whatever you do, don’t scratch it. In a few weeks, it’ll scab over and then fall off. You’ll have a pitted scar there for the rest of your life.
Me: No worries mate.

image source: reddit

A few days after getting the jab, a liquid-filled blister appeared on my left arm, where the doctor pricked my skin with the vaccination needle. I covered it with a band-aide to help me with resisting the urge to scratch at the itchy, fluid-filled blister. Whenever I changed the band-aide, I couldn’t help but look at the blister filling itself with pus, and that caused me to remember the photos I’d seen of children with smallpox; their face, upper arms, and body covered in small pus-filled blisters. I’m not sure if I threw the scab in a paper bag when it fell off and if I tossed it into the rubbish bin or not.

It took two months to travel by ship from Australia to Durban, up the coast of Africa to the Canary Islands and stopping in Messina, Naples and Genoa. I began my rite of passage in the mother country, sharing a small room in a Tooting Bec three storey row house with my Aussie travel mate and four English lads. During the long hot summer, I worked as a lifesaver at an outdoor swimming pool nestled in the corner of south London’s Brockwell Park. A few weeks before summer’s end, my Aussie travel mate and I bought a 1960’s Ford Angelia panel van with money we saved from our summer lifesaving jobs. It was a small dark blue van without windows, similar to a fruiterers delivery van or what you’d see on a London street while watching a baffling Scotland Yard mystery feature film.

image source: youtube

At summer’s end, we both were without jobs, so we made a deep and thoughtful decision; we’d search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary by driving our Ford Angelia van across Europe and then follow the Hippie Trail from Turkey through the Middle East to India. With the Ford Anglia van safe in the bowls of a drive-on drive-off car ferry, I spent the cross-channel journey from Dover to Belgium in the ferry’s lounge drinking pints of warm beer. In those days, I thought of Europe as an adult Luna Park; a hallowed rite of passage experience. Twenty-something-year-old Aussies didn’t go to Europe to find history, culture, and sophistication but went there for adventure, thrills, and naughtiness. During the next several weeks, the Anglia took us along the highways, laneways, narrow winding roads, roundabouts, and through the villages, towns, and cities of Germany, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. At night we parked in village squares, side streets, and out of the way places and nestled into our sleeping bags in the back of our trusty van. At border crossings, our passports were stamped, and on-demand showed what was now our tattered yellow card.

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The Plaka, in the shadow of the Acropolis, is the oldest section of Athens. In the early seventies, pastry shops, old men playing backgammon, nightclubs, and street vendors selling the best tasting souvlakis filled its streets. We parked the Anglia in the streets of the Plaka, and it became our bedroom in Athens. During the day, I walked the twisted, hilly, narrow streets of the Plaka and wandered to the Acropolis. I sat alone among the Parthenon stones and watched Athens stretching itself into the distance. Because I needed up to date vaccinations for Turkey and Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, I checked my yellow card a few days before leaving Athens when I was sitting peacefully on one of the Parthenon stones. Some vaccinations needed updating, so I headed off to a hospital on one of Athen’s main streets for the round of new vaccinations. I don’t remember getting the updates, but my tattered yellow card was newly date stamped, the dosages noted, and signed by a Greek health specialist.

In the Hippie Trail days, the streets surrounding Istanbul’s Blue Mosque were the parking garages for Magic buses, Volkswagen Kombis, old Royal Mail vans, and a collection of unroadworthy minivans. We parked the Angelia in the shadow of the Mosque and enjoyed Istanbul for the next week or so. I’d begun to practice the traveller’s ritual of finding a bank to cash a traveller’s check, changing leftover money into a different currency, checking for required visas, and checking vaccinations are valid for the upcoming border crossing a few days before leaving for a new country. In the shadow of the Mosque, I discovered my Aussie travel mate and I had overlooked a lapsed vaccination in Athens; we needed to find someone in Istanbul to vaccinate us.

image source: jmcadam

Fellow travellers who were sharing the Blue Mosque parking garages told us the whereabouts of a doctor who gave vaccinations. My travel mate and I trusted the owner-driver of a classic 1950’s American car, come Istanbul taksi dolmus, to find the doctors house somewhere in Istanbul. The consulting room was a small room with a table and a medicine cabinet on the wall above a sink. The doctor entered the room, took a syringe from the table drawer, turned toward the wall-mounted cabinet, and motioned both of us to bare an arm for the vaccination. He filled the syringe with the liquid from a vial he took from the cabinet. My travel mate raised his hand to signal he would be first. The doctor plunged the needle into his arm and released the serum. In an instant, he spun around, jabbed the needle into my arm, and emptied the syringe of the leftover serum. He recorded the dosages, dated, stamped, and signed our tattered yellow cards. I offered him Greek drachmas for his services; I hadn’t cashed a travellers check or changed money before leaving Athens.

I wonder if the doctor with the small consulting room in Istanbul is equipping it with the necessary technology to interact with the fast data rates and greater capacity of the next-generation communication networks in anticipation of someone with a digital vaccine passport knocking on his door. Maybe it would be better if the Covid vaccination left a scar similar to the smallpox vaccination; if so, you could wear your vaccine passport on your arm.


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My Colon Preparation Left Me Feeling Washed Out

Even though I’ve been visiting my general practitioner twice a year for as long as I can remember, I’m still not exactly sure what general practitioners do. I’ve come to think of them as flagmen or caretakers for your well being. As my flagman, my general practitioner has referred me to different specialists to diagnose and treat several medical problems. He’s also prescribed various medications for my health and well being. One was a pharmaceutical to lower my elevated blood pressure, another to maintain a satisfactory blood pressure reading, and a couple of others to reduce the cholesterol level and uric acid level in my blood.

image source: jmcadam

It had to be at least ten years ago when I first suffered an episode of gout. The big toe on my right foot started having a slight discomfort, and because of the upcoming long weekend, I refused to acknowledge the persistent ever-growing pain. On Friday morning before the long weekend, I was overcome by a sudden unmanly moment and confided to a couple of coworkers that I was suffering from a painful big toe. They chorused gout and proclaimed that if I was planning on firing up the barbie and drinking a few to celebrate the long weekend, then I should see my doctor. I took their suggestion and rang my general practitioner. After explaining the three-day pain in my big toe was increasing exponentially by the minute and my barbie and backyard cricket plans for the long weekend to him, he said that I should immediately come into the office. After glancing at my red, inflamed big toe and giving it two pushes with his thumb, he announced, bet it feels like your toe is soaking in boiling water instead of being jabbed with a thumb.

Physician Assistant Specialist: You’ve got gout; the curse of living like a rich man. Living an affluent lifestyle and eating large helpings of red meats and seafood, and consuming generous amounts of alcoholic beverages.
Me: Crikey. Hang on a minute mate; I’ll be the first to admit you won’t see a bowl of porridge and a slice of stale bread spread with lard on the table, but I’m far from a beef wellington, custard tarts, and pies made with copious amounts of butter and sugar type of fella. And it’s not like I’m chucking back twenty glasses of chateau cardboard every day.
Physician Assistant Specialist: When there’s too much uric acid in your body, it can crystallise and deposit in the joints; usually in the big toe.
Me: Listen, mate, I like a pie and sauce now and then, and I’ve come to appreciate a few ice colds in my time yu know, but that’s far from an affluent lifestyle.
Physician Assistant Specialist: When you get home, take the pain relievers and the prednisone, and sit with your foot elevated. And avoid a diet of red meat, liver and kidneys, and seafood. If it’s not gone in a week, come back and see us. And go easy on the beer.

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It’s about a ten or fifteen-minute drive from the hospital to our house. In the short drive home, my big toe progressed from feeling like it was soaking in boiling water to being hot and swollen, and whenever I put my foot on the ground, I suffered intolerable pain. I crawled up the front steps and into the house; the pain was intense. I lay exhausted on the couch with my foot elevated and swallowed my just prescribed medications. That was my start to a long weekend without a few snags on the barbie, a game of backyard cricket, and beer.

During my twice a year visits, the flagman for my health reviews my blood pressure and orders a blood draw to check my uric acid, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; and announces the countdown to my colonoscopy at the end of every visit with, it looks like five years until a colonoscopy John, well John 4 ½ years until your colonoscopy, and so on. I don’t think of a colonoscopy as something you put on your calendar, as you would, a birthday, St Patrick’s Day party, or attending the AFL Grand Final at The G, so I forget the countdown as soon as I leave the examination room. On my last visit, the flagman did the countdown to my colonoscopy and announced; looks like we’re due for that follow-up colonoscopy John.

image source: jmcadam

The day before my 10:15 am colonoscopy arrived, and I started my preparation chanting what would be my mantra for the next 30 hours.

The bowel and colon must be empty; the gastroenterologist needs to see the polyps a plenty.

I started the day with a clear liquid diet. To avoid dehydration, I dutifully counted every glass of Gatorade and Apple Juice I swallowed. I cleared the fridge of milk and milk-based drinks, red, blue and purple beverages, beer, protein drinks, and juices containing pulp to help with resisting the urge for a glass of Milo or any of the other prohibited liquids, and this made room in the fridge for the mammoth container of prepared electrolyte bowel prep solution. My goal was to have the cleanest colon the gastroenterologist has ever seen. A colon he couldn’t stop talking about in the break room for the rest of his working life. At 6:00 that night, I started drinking the bowel prep solution. Every 10 minutes, I downed an 8-ounce glass until half of the prep solution was gone. The instructions were to finish the other half 6 hours before the procedure. After downing the third glass of the prep solution, the bowel movements started. I lost track of the number of times I spent in the loo over the next few hours, but I made sure during each visit to check the liquid I was expunging; my goal was a watery stool that anybody could see through.

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I had trouble finishing the second to last 8-ounce glass, which would have been eight glasses of bowel prep solution in about two hours. And that caused me to think back to the good old times of summer when the snags were sizzling on the barbie, there was a game of cricket in the back yard, and we were busy throwing back a few ice colds with the mates. In the day, it was nothing to go through half a dozen long necks of Melbourne Bitter without breaking a sweat. A long neck holds close to 26 ounces of the golden amber, and now here I was, struggling to put down 64-ounces of prep solution.

I started my colonoscopy day at 4:00 in the morning by drinking the last nine 8-ounce glasses of bowel prep solution and then digging the car out from the mound of snow caused by the snow ploughing trucks clearing the street of the 7 inches of snow left by the overnight storm. I did one last check of my stool before heading off for the procedure, and I let loose with a shout of bloody ripper. It was a clear yellow fluid without sediment. The first stop at the hospital was patient check-in.

Patient Check-In Person: (With a polite tone) And how are we feeling this morning.
Me: Grouse. I was out of bed at 3:30 to drink the solution every 10 minutes so I could hang out in the loo every 9 minutes expunging liquid, and then at half six I started digging the car out of a heavily compacted snowbank, and now I’m going to have a tube stuck up my bum.
Patient Check-In Person: (Looking at a computer screen) Last name?
Me: (while my patient history was being accessed from a mainframe somewhere) I was joking about feeling great. You know, I woke up during my last colonoscopy.
Patient Check-In Person: Date of birth?
Me: I was joking about being great; I haven’t eaten in 24 hours.
Patient Check-In Person: I see you’re here for your colonoscopy, we just have a few waivers and consents for you to sign.
Me: I was joking about feeling grouse; I only got about 5 hours of sleep last night.
Patient Check-In Person: If you take the elevator to the third floor they’ll check you in; have a nice day.

I was laying draped with a hospital gown, prepped for intravenous infusion anaesthesia, and waiting to be rolled on my mobile bed into the procedure room when the anesthesiologist sat beside me.

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Anesthesiologist: And how are we feeling this morning
Me: Really great. Yu know, I still remember waking up during the last colonoscopy. It’s funny how you remember little things from 5 years ago. Could you give me something to make sure I don’t wake up this time?
Anesthesiologist: If we give you anything to put you into a deep sleep you’ll have to have a tube down your throat because you wouldn’t be able to regulate your own breathing. Besides, it’s quite normal to wake up during the procedure.
Me: Normal?!!!!
Anesthesiologist: I’ve had two colonoscopies and woke up during both of them, but I don’t remember the experience.
Me: Now that’s the way to go. What a commitment to patient empathy; having two colonoscopies so you can walk the talk with your patients.
Anesthesiologist: My mum had colon cancer.
Me: So you know then what’s it like to wake up with a tube up your bum.

I was conscious when they wheeled my mobile bed into the procedure room and parked it alongside a wall-mounted 50-inch television screen. I was in the centre of a flurry of activity; nurses were arranging equipment and materials, positioning and stabilising me with pillows, and chatting with the gastroenterologist. He was dressed in a full length yellow waterproof latex apron, a clear face protective safety shield, and arm protection nitrile gloves. I heard the gastroenterologist ask, are we ready to go, which caused me to turn toward him and utter; no, not yet, I’m waiting for the deep sleep to start. I remember hearing a muffled I wasn’t asking you, I was talking to my nursing staff.

image source: jmcadam

I was drifting into a twilight zone as I turned toward the wall and the 50-inch television screen. The anaesthesia kicked in with me looking at an extreme close up of my bum. I didn’t wake up during the colonoscopy. The only memory I have of the procedure is smiling at someone I thought was the Gorton’s seafood fisherman before he stuck a snake-like, multi-layer flexible tube with a light, camera, and a tool for removing polyps up my bum and the length of my colon.

I’m thinking about starting a colonoscopy event calendar to clip onto the fridge. This way, I can appreciate the dwindling months until my next colonoscopy. Whenever the flagman for my health announces the countdown for my colonoscopy, I’ll stop at the supermarket, buy a packet of Gorton’s frozen 18 ct Breaded Crunchy Golden Fish Sticks, cut out the fisherman logo, and paste it on my colonoscopy calendar. Ten fisherman logos would signal five years, and it’s time.


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EC‑2990Li Video Colonoscope

All Good Things Must Come To An End

The other morning I set off on what I thought was my last morning walk through the neighbourhood for 2020. Autumn had become wintertime, and the early morning daylight was no longer being warmed by the suns rays. During the last month, the sun was cautioning me of the change in seasons by appearing later, and later each morning. The sunlight and I were similar in that we were both reluctant to venture out into the cold mornings. Now that winter is here I’ll miss putting one foot in front of the other again and again and again without thinking.

image source: jmcadam

I started my last of the year morning walks before the rubbish trucks had wandered through the neighbourhood. Laying in confused chaos on the footpaths were mountains of stuffed rubbish bins, plastic bags crammed with rubbish, overflowing green recycling tubs, cardboard boxes packed with paper and plastics, yard waste bags bursting with the last of autumn’s grass clippings and leaves, and bundles of cuttings tied with string. Even though I was used to the disorganised rubbish on the footpaths every Tuesday morning, I still gave the chaos a quick look over when I walked by because there’s truth in the adage that one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure.

When I was growing up, there wasn’t a plastic tub, yard waste bag, or cardboard box in sight on rubbish day. There was only a galvanised rubbish bin on the nature strip outside of each house, and there was never more than one bin to a house. Most of the bins had very little rubbish in them but instead, were stuffed with glass bottles, tin cans, and anything the chooks wouldn’t eat, or that you couldn’t burn in your incinerator. Our incinerator was an old 44-gallon oil drum in the back of the yard, with a hole cut out in the bottom to scoop out the ashes from the burnt rubbish to put on mum’s backyard flower garden. I don’t know where the incinerator came from or how it got into the backyard.

I forget which day of the week was our rubbish day, but mum never did. Our bin was always out on the nature strip in the morning for the garbos to empty. The first rubbish truck I remember was a horse-drawn, green cart. It looked like a massive drum cut in half, on wheels. It had sliding, curved doors on each side and the garbo lifted the rubbish bins into the cart to dump their contents. When the cart was full, he closed the doors, and the horse and garbo headed off to the tip, to empty the cart. As the rubbish was collected, the horse stopped, slowed down, and started, without a command from the garbo. It’s as if the rubbish bins were the horse’s traffic lights; a full one meant to stop, and an empty one to go.

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When rubbish trucks replaced the horse-drawn carts, collecting the rubbish became a two-garbo job; one garbo to drive, and one to run up and down the street chasing the truck to empty the bins into it. In the summer the garbos wore footy shorts and a singlet, and it was a safe bet that you’d probably see your garbo running around the footie oval on Saturday arvo kicking a few goals for the local club. To thank your garbo for a hard-working year, you always left a few longnecks on the footpath beside your rubbish bin at Christmas time.

I think fate sometimes thinks about the hand it deals you. The last time I was Down Under I went for a few early morning walks in some of the cities and towns we were visiting. One morning, on a stroll through one of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, the footpaths were crowded with clusters of large plastic carts with different coloured lids. It seemed as if the colour of the cart’s lid defined what went into them, so each cart contained either rubbish, recyclables, or yard waste. I came across a Melbournian who was comfortably navigating his way through the maze of carts and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to chat in the hope of understanding a Melbourne rubbish day.

image source: jmcadam

Me: G’day mate, is it rubbish day and why do the carts have different coloured lids.
Man on Street: Dunno if it’s rubbish day, yard waste day, or recyclables day; the whole things a dog’s breakfast mate, and now the governments giving us another bin with another different coloured lid. Crikey, you’re gonna have to know what’s the right day for a light green, purple, yellow, and a red lid, so ya can roll the cart with the right stuff in it out to the footpath so the rubbish truck with a liftin’ arm can pick it up.
Me: Means more work for the garbos doesn’t it.
Man on Street: Nah, less work; they’ll be just sitting on their bums working a lever mate.
Me: I think it would take a lot of eye-hand coordination to work the rubbish cart lever.
Man on Street: They get that drinking the beer you put out on the footpath at Christmas mate.
Me: When you get the cart with the new coloured lid how will ya know what to put in what cart.
Man on Street: Nah, don’t worry mate, she’ll be right; they’ll tell us about the change when it happens.
Me: Ya reckon.
Man on Street: It’s gonna be good for the environment mate, and it’s better to think that they did something instead of they could have.

I didn’t think about rubbish carts with different coloured lids again, that is not until months later when I leant Omaha was changing how it’s rubbish, and recyclables are collected. Each household was getting two 96 gallon carts, one with a green lid for recyclables, and the other with a black one for rubbish and yard waste. A truck with an automated arm was going to lift the carts and dump them into its hopper. I was ready for the rubbish collection change because I had no fear of rubbish carts with different coloured lids.

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It was rubbish day on one of the morning walks after my last walk for the year, and the day of change had arrived; the large carts were now Omaha’s official rubbish and recycling bins. Most houses had two giant wheelie carts in front of them, but some had a mix of plastic bags stuffed with rubbish, green recycling tubs, and the new carts. It seemed that for some persons, the change in how Omaha’s rubbish was now being collected was difficult to accept. I wanted so much to counsel the rubbish collection traditionalists on the need to accept and embrace the rubbish cart change, but I stopped myself from knocking on the front door of the houses with the prohibited plastic rubbish bins and recycling tubs out front.

image source: tripadvisor

I still remember the first time I was served a salad before my meal. I looked down at the salad and started suffering from a fear-inducing change. I tasted saliva thickening in my mouth and throat and then felt my heart hammering on my chest. From growing up and living half my life in the Land Down Under the only way I knew to eat a salad, was on the same plate as the main meal. A meat pie, apart from a take-away, ordered at a café will come on a plate with a salad and optional chips. A Sunday night’s tea of cold leftover roast lamb always comes on a plate with a traditional salad of lettuce, grated carrot, sliced tomato, and beetroot. A cheese toastie, without fail, comes with a rocket salad. And a chicken parma isn’t a parma unless it comes with a salad. When I think back, I should have refused to eat the salad. But I overcame my fear and accepted the change that a salad before the meal presented. I ate the salad and with each mouthful of cut-up romaine heart started to realise how much better my future would be with “I’m glad I did” running through my memories, instead of “I could have”.

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I felt my heart thumping, and oxygen flooding in and out of my lungs when I started reading how Qantas is grounding, until at least the middle of 2023, its fleet of Airbus A380s, because of a downturn in international travel caused by COVID-19 restrictions. I became even more despondent the more I read. As my fingers retreated from the keyboard, each hand curled into a fist, and my nails did their best not to dig into the palm of each hand. It was fortunate that I’d just smoothed my nails with a fine-grit hardened glass nail file. And then it slowly registered; I’ll never again fly in the worlds largest passenger plane and experience the exhilaration of Skycam. A couple of years ago, on a return A380 flight from Melbourne to Los Angles, I discovered Skycam, and I spent the next sixteen hours watching the flight speeding through the outside darkness and then landing at LAX on my inflight entertainment screen. On my next flight Down Under after discovering Skycam, I selected it on the inflight entertainment system as soon as I was seated and readied myself to watch fifteen-hours of flying through a dark sky.

image source: jmcadam

As long haul travel slowly returns to normal the Qantas A380 will be missing from the skies, replaced by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350, and flying from the US to Down Under will never be the same again. For some, life without Skycam will go on as if nothing has changed. I pin my hopes on accepting no more Skycam the next time I fly Down Under just as I accepted the change of eating my salad before the main meal. As I take the step from the jet bridge into the aeroplane, I will rejoice in not knowing what I’ll find on the inflight entertainment, and celebrate that change has been kind.

The more I think about how I embraced and accepted change instead of being fearful and rejective, the more I can understand, and value who I am. I reckon there’s an agent of change deep down inside of me waiting to be set free, and from now on, I’ll welcome eating my salad before my bowl of mac and cheese, and I’ll start setting my alarm half an hour earlier to relax and meditate, and think about change.


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Freedom Is Being Able To Eat Cake Every Day

No trip to Fremantle, or freo as the locals call it, would be complete without taking in a couple of the must-do things listed on the countless “What to do when visiting Fremantle” websites. Each of the different websites lists the same what to do activities: visit the Roundhouse, hang out at the pristine beaches, escape to Rottnest Island and meet the quokkas, enjoy fish and chips at Fishing Boat Harbour, stroll the Fremantle Market, sample a boutique beer at Little Creatures, wander the Cappuccino Strip, stretch your legs at Esplanade Park, and tour Fremantle’s infamous prison. I’ve always said, if you’re visiting somewhere new, the first thing you need to do is something to give yourself an insight into the values and spirit of that place. I’d suggest wandering the downtown streets, finding a place to drink with a local, and starting up a conversation with a stranger. On my first day in Fremantle, I signed up for the following tours, a historical walking tour, a cemetery tour to visit Bon Scott’s gravesite, the lead singer of AC/DC, and a Behind Bars tour of Fremantle’s heritage prison.

image source: jmcadam

The convicts transported to the Swan River Settlement built the roads, houses, churches, and buildings that would become the city of Fremantle, as well as their own prison. It was known as the Convict Establishment and records suggest, close to 10,000 convicts passed through it until transportation ended in 1868. The Establishment was renamed the Fremantle Prison, and it continued as a place of incarceration until decommissioned in 1991; it’s now a world heritage site.

It was a hot midday afternoon when I headed off for The Convict Prison tour. As I got to the corner of Market and High Streets, I realised I’d be stepping inside a one time, maximum-security prison, and confronting the realities of life on the inside. I thought of stopping to get some Parma Shapes or Chicken Twisties to nibble on during the tour. But I realised any food from the outside would be confiscated at the gate. I was thinking of the gruelling and demanding time I was in for and decided I had best take in a carb-loading snack before the tour, so I stopped at Fremantle’s oldest tea room.

image source: jmcadam

Culley’s is known for its mouth-watering pies and their daily baked delights that include: matchsticks, lamingtons, and vanilla slices. I ordered a pie with chips and salad for my pre-prison, carb-loaded snack. As I squirted tomato sauce on the pie and raised a fork full of pie and salad to my mouth, I thought how my snack would be a godsend to an Inmate Distiller; a pie and sauce and chips fermenting in a plastic bag with hot water would produce tremendous prison alcohol.

We gathered around our guide; he started the tour with an introductory story of Fremantle Prison from its convict origins in the 1850s until its closure as a maximum-security gaol in 1991. He finished the introduction with several cautions.

Convict Prison Tour Guide: No shoes, no shirt, no entry
Tour Group Person: Bet the convicts weren’t told that to often; do thongs count?
Convict Prison Tour Guide: You must keep hold of your ticket until your visit to Fremantle Prison is complete
Tour Group Person: Blimey, now we’re all ticket of leave men
Convict Prison Tour Guide: Fremantle Prison retains the right to deny access and or remove visitors who are being a public nuisance, acting recklessly, or failing to observe directions from Fremantle Prison staff
Tour Group Person: Fair go, mate, I thought that’s how ya got into prison
Convict Prison Tour Guide: Chewing chips and toffees is something you don’t do at a world heritage site, so there’s no eating on the tour
Tour Group Person: Fair crack of the whip mate! good job I finished me Darrell Lea Allsorts before the tour

image source: jmcadam

Our Convict Prison tour guide led us through the cell blocks and exercise yards. Even though writing and drawing on the walls was not permitted, I couldn’t help but notice the graffiti, poems, and pictures scrawled on some of the walls of the long sandstone hallways. The Convict Prison tour guide explained that in the last few months of the prison’s operation, the rules were relaxed to introduce art therapy, and so graffiti and artwork spread across the walls of some of the cells and hallways.

From 1888 through to 1984 the gallows room was the only place of legal execution in Western Australia. Forty-three men and one woman hanged in the gallows room. As our tour guide described the formalities of a hanging I took hold of the railing, bent over and looked down into the thirteen feet of the long drop.

Convict Prison Tour Guide: It went full bore when it was time; they escorted the poor bugger through that door there from their cell in solitary
Tour Group Person: They knew they’d seen their last gum tree
Convict Prison Tour Guide: Their hands and feet were tied up in leather shackles and they put a cloth hood over their head
Tour Group Person: Bummer
Convict Prison Tour Guide: They stood em on the closed trap door there and a noose was put around their neck and they hanged the poor bugger by dropping em through that trap door
Tour Group Person: Poor bugger
Convict Prison Tour Guide: It was over and done with in a flash; like a dose of salts
Tour Group Person: Like selling hot cakes
Convict Prison Tour Guide: Yep, just like hot cakes; from leaving their condemned cell in Solitary to their hanging was around 60 seconds

image source: jmcadam

Corporal punishment wasn’t uncommon in Australian penal colonies, and the Convict Establishment was no exception. I’m not sure if the young fella volunteered, or if his girlfriend volunteered him, but as quick as a flash, his arms and legs were tied to the lashing post. Just as the young fella was about to be lashed, our guide called a stop to it. Apparently, the Establishment staff sometimes refused to inflict corporal punishment on the convicts. So before the cat of nine tails could be used, Flagellators had to be recruited from Fremantle. No one in the tour group volunteered to be a Flagellator.

An hour and a half of walking through cell blocks, exercise yards, and up and down stairs caused me to wonder if I was suffering from a carb deficiency, and therefore my need for carb-loading food. As soon as the tour finished, I headed to Culley’s for a cup of afternoon tea and a daily baked matchstick, lamington, or vanilla slice. As soon as I took the first slow bite of the firm vanilla yellow custard between the two buttery pieces of puff pastry, I once again experienced the heavenly taste of a vanilla slice; just as I did on Sunday afternoons. Sunday afternoon was mum’s baking day, and the kitchen counters were filled with lamingtons and butterflies, vanilla slices and matchsticks, and occasionally a sponge cake and scones. Mum moved her Sunday baking to Friday or Saturday afternoon if Friday and Saturday nights were visitor nights.

image source: expedia

The lounge room was set aside for receiving visitors where they were entertained, with adult conversation, a pot of tea, and the results of mum’s baking. Mum had furnished the lounge room with the formal elegance dad’s working wage allowed. Crocheted dollies sat on the back of the sofa, and the two lounge chairs and her crystal sparkled from within the glass china cabinet. A PMG 300 Series Bakelite rotary phone sat on a small table alongside the crystal cabinet. Over time a His Master Voice, our first television, replaced the phone and it sat supreme in the lounge room. Mum and dad’s friends, the Slaters, would visit on a Saturday night, and their visit was a small gift from heaven. It wasn’t that I was allowed up the passageway and into the lounge room, but more so because mum always left me a couple of her vanilla slices on a plate on the kitchen table. Before I went up the passageway mum would sternly warn me,

Just say hello to Mr and Mrs Slater, be on your best behaviour and keep your feet off the chairs.

I dreaded when it was our turn to visit the Slaters in Coburg because it meant I wouldn’t be eating mum’s vanilla slices and dad would be driving past the dark foreboding bluestone walls of Pentridge.

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Pentridge began as a stockade in 1851, and between 1857 and 1864 it was transformed, into a typical British prison with wings radiating from a central hall for each prisoner to have their own cell. High walls with sentry towers were built from bluestone quarried on-site and enclosed the prison. Pentridge became known as The Bluestone College. Whenever I caught sight of the high imposing bluestone walls, my mind worked overtime imaging the violence and depravity inside those walls. I’d fall into a huddled silence on the back seat of the car, not daring to look at the threatening walls, fear gripped my mind, and my heartbeat would race., The fear sent shivers down my spine and caused my hair to stand on end. Dad would start to talk slowly and quietly; he was the only soothing, calming presence.

Some say Pentridge was witness to scenes of great violence and depravity. It housed Ned Kelly, Australia’s infamous bushranger before, and after his hanging at the Melbourne Gaol in 1880; his remains were moved to Pentridge in 1929.

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The notorious underworld character Mark Chopper Read spent time at Pentridge. He’s known for his semi-autobiographical fictional crime novels, children’s books, and paintings that include a series of Ned Kelly portraits; some depicting Ned as heavily tattooed, like himself, and with machine guns or hooks for hands. The Australian film Chopper launched the career of Australian actor Eric Bana. Pentridge housed Ronald Ryan, the last man executed in Australia; he was hanged at the gaol in 1967. Pentridge officially closed on May 1st, 1997.

Bluestone College is being redeveloped and transformed into an urban village, that will include a public piazza, restaurants, a shopping centre, and a 15-screen Palace Cinema. I wonder if Culley’s would be interested in opening a shop in Coburg.

Culley’s Tea Rooms

Chopper Review

Pentridge Prison’s History of Horror