Never Eat Chocolates When You’re Knitting

I had my shorts and walking shirt on and was about to reach for my white ankle socks; then it’ll be on with the runners and out the door for one of my slow morning walks. I’ve never made it a habit to inspect my socks before putting them on. I fold them over themselves to their toe, slip the rolled-up wad over my foot, unravel it and then smooth it over my heel and ankle. On this fateful morning, I just happened to glance down when I was easing the sock over the heel of my right foot. And I saw it; a frayed hole so big that I could push my fist through. I sat back, floored by its size, and all I could do was stare at the socks’ threadbare heel. Memories flooded back to when I was a young lad with frayed holes in my socks, jumpers and cardigans.

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Mum inspected my socks, undies, shirts and anything else I wore for the slightest indication of a hole. I gave her every opportunity to be able to perform a daily inspection of my clothes because I’d drop whatever I was wearing when I was changing into my pyjamas onto the bedroom floor. I thought it was the best place to leave them for mum to wash them or put them away. When mum saw the slightest hint of threadbare cotton or wool on a sock, jumper or anything, it became part of her Tuesday night darning collection pile.

Mum’s life as a housewife was made up of the same routine every week. Monday was washing day, cleaning and vacuuming were on Tuesday, Wednesday was soaking the dedicates and catching up on washing, and shopping was on Friday. Monday night was ironing, Tuesday night was always darning night, and Thursday night knitting and mending. On Tuesday nights, after the dishes were washed in the sink and dried, mum sat at the kitchen table with the darning pile and her darning-sewing box. Her darning-sewing box was a MacRobertson’s Old Gold Chocolate Box. Dad sometimes gave mum MacRobertson’s Old Gold chocolates for a special occasion; I think her darning-sewing box was a present for a long time ago birthday.

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As a youngster, I always hoped dad would give her a box of chocolates for her birthday, and I looked forward to mum’s birthdays as much as she did. She’d let us choose a chocolate from the assortment in the box when she first opened it. The chocolates were long gone, and instead, it now held a collection of threads of different coloured wool, large darning needles, crochet hooks, buttons, elastic, bits of material, reels of cotton, several metal thimbles, and a pincushion. But if you looked closely, you could still read the faint print on the underside of the lid.

The half-pound box contains two inviting layers of tempting chocolates- twenty-three delicious pieces tantalising with the fragrant aroma of fresh chocolate. Twelve different varieties in each box …. and each an artistic creation made from, fresh wholesome foods and lavishly coated with smooth, rich “Old Gold” Chocolate.

Ironing, darning and knitting and mending nights were back in the time before television, and so the kitchen wireless kept mum company. The wireless dial never left 3AW, and the sounds of Give it a Go with Jack Davey and Bob Dyer’s Pick a Box with Dolly filled the kitchen. And our pet sulphur-crested cockatoo, perched on the back of a Laminex kitchen chair, also kept mum company by joining in and starting conversations with a burst of obscure cockatoo sayings made up of put together words. Mum had a simple but elegant darning style. She’d put her left hand into the sock, make half a fist under the hole and then do a warp and weft thread and in no time would weave a flat wool patch over the hole in the sock.

image source: jmcadam

Most times, mums darning pile was all socks, but sometimes one of my wool knit cardigans or jumpers made it into the pile; that was never a challenge to mum. She’d reach for her knitting needles instead of a long darning needle and then a thread of leftover matching wool from her darning-sewing box. It didn’t matter if it was: an argyle geometric long sleeve jumper, a simple stitch cardigan with raglan sleeves and shawl collar, or a cable cardigan with double moss stitch sleeves, mum would have the frayed wool threaded onto her knitting needles, and she’d knit the hole closed with the same stitches and pattern of the cardigan in less than no time. We all thought of mum as a knitting wizard. Her fast-moving needles created rows of plain-pearl stitches on Thursday knitting nights and filled the kitchen with a silent rhythmic clicking. She never looked once at her finger around the wool, or her thumb and finger, guiding the needles; she occasionally looked if she was doing a cable or herringbone stitch or knitting a jumper with a pattern of different colours of wool. Whenever I outgrew something, she’d recycle it by unravelling the wool, winding it into balls, and putting them away until she could re-knit them into something else.

I went to Williamstown Technical school, an all-boys school in an inner working-class Melbourne suburb where I grew up, and completed the fifth form before going to College. The winter uniform at Williamstown Tech was long woollen grey trousers, a grey shirt with tie, a maroon v-neck jumper, a maroon blazer, grey socks, black leather shoes, and a cap. The summer uniform was a grey short sleeve shirt, grey shorts, get socks, black leather shoes, and a cap. The only time we wore our cap was Monday morning assembly and when on a school excursion. We all folded our caps and pushed them into the back pocket of our pants with the tip just sticking out; making it easy to quickly slip it out of your pocket and onto your head in case of a sudden cap inspection.

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A couple of clothing shops in Williamstown sold school uniforms. Each year in early February, before the start of school, mum shopped for my new school uniform at Burke’s emporium in Douglas Parade. Burke’s sold men and young men and boys and women’s clothing, haberdasheries, bedding, linens, curtains, and what seemed to be everything else; I thought of Burke’s as a tired and old fashioned Myers. Shopping at Burke’s was stumbling into another world; the faded polished wooded floors were the yellow brick roads to the display counters of the different departments. Each department had a shopping assistant waiting behind the counter; it was polite and formal. The tangle of overhead cables and small metal cylinders flying back and forth from the counters to the raised central cashiers’ booth preserved the faded old-world charm. To a young, clean-cut, urbane adolescent, there could be no better shop to buy a school uniform.

Until the school jumper incident, mum knitted all my jumpers and cardigans and anything woollen I wore. The incident happened when I was entering the third form at Willy Tech. Mum decided to knit a school uniform jumper instead of buying a new third form jumper at Burke’s. During the long, hot, January summer nights, mum sat at the kitchen table with the white cockatoo and wireless as her only company and kept up a steady sequence of pearl and plain stitches and knitted a maroon long sleeve jumper with a V-neck collar and two yellow bands and a green band bordering the collar, waist and cuffs. I thought the pearl-plain stitches on my new jumper were bulky but thought no more about it. I started the school year with unbridled enthusiasm, proudly wearing my hand-knitted third form school uniform.

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In the sixties, boys at Victoria Education Department Technical Schools were placed into each school year’s top two forms by their average grade in the final tests from the previous year. The twenty-four students in Form 3A were those whose average ranked highest from their second year. I was starting my third year at Willy Tech in From 3A. Schools combined forms into double sections for academic subjects, so 3AB was the double section for Mathematics, Science, English, and Social Studies. Forty-eight of the brainiest second form boys grouped as a double section for most of their third form school year.

The first general assembly for the school year was the first time the boys of 3A lined up together as a form; they were mostly the old faces from form 2A, but there were a few new faces. Each form learned who was their Form Master and their Form Room for the year. The school assembly marched off to their form room for the first important form meeting to assign a form captain, roll monitor, and lunch monitor. In the form room, several boys began to point at me. I thought they were trying to influence our new Form Master’s choice for the honoured monitor jobs, but as boys were assigned, the pointing continued, and then I started hearing hushed whispering. Surely all the pointing and whispering wasn’t at me. I knew most of the boys; we’d been together since 1A. They were my mates.


Every day for the next several weeks, when I wandered the schoolyard at recess and lunchtime, I suffered a slew of ugly jumper comments and pointing at my chest. After enduring days of peer torment, I hung my head and looked at my hand-knitted school jumper; there was no end to the large pearl-plain stitches. Every boy in the school was jeering at the pearl-plain jumper mum had knitted with size seventeen knitting needles. I never wanted to wear the hand-knitted jumper to school again, but the fear of being out of uniform and the threat of yard duty and the cuts kept me wearing my jumper. Whenever I pleaded with mum to unravel the maroon wool and wind it into balls, she told me the jumper was sheer perfection in plain-pearl knitting, and the simple stitching was what made it beautiful. For the rest of the year, I tried to filter out the jeers by only thinking of Mathematics, Solid Geometry, and my new fourth-form machine knit school uniform jumper from Burke’s. At the end of the school year, mum unravelled the homemade school jumper; the wool sat somewhere waiting for her to re-knit into another jumper.

image source: jmcadam

I still have the blue argyle short sleeve jumper mum knitted for me twenty-plus years ago; she sent it to me in the US. I think she knitted it without a pattern. I remember wearing it only one time. I sometimes take it out of the drawer and try to squeeze into it; unfortunately, I’m now a little too portly, and the jumper is an extremely tight fit, so it sits in the drawer most time, gathering a collection of moth-eaten holes. When I take the jumper out of the drawer to admire mum’s knitting, I sometimes see strands of maroon, yellow and green wool in the argyle pattern.



Australian School Uniform: History

History of Knitting

Buddy Can You Spare Me A Goal

With winter loosening its grip on Omaha and the mornings becoming lighter and brighter, it was time to once again commit to leisurely strolling the neighbourhood and the nearby park. I’ve been setting off early to mid-morning with the temperature sometimes hovering around freezing, wearing gym shorts, a The North Face windcheater, and a Footscray beanie pulled down to cover my ears.

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Last Sunday, the morning had a warmth in the air that wasn’t there a few days ago, and I crisscrossed the neighbourhood streets with a quickened pace to get to the park to enjoy the beginnings of spring as I walked. Even though it was early morning, the park was a lively place. Tight buds on the forsythia and dogwood branches were straining to open, and now and then, a dog owner would throw a tennis ball for their dog to catch in its mouth, and occasionally a parent strolled the pathway with a little one in a pusher. We were strangers together, sharing the lukewarm rays of the sun, and when we passed, we shared a slight nod of the head and a chirpy good morning.

There was nothing unusual or different about the young father with his two boys by his side ahead of and approaching me. The younger boy was skipping and running ahead as all boys do, the other boy was sword fighting the warm spring air with a thin tree branch, and the man was nodding his head to the beat of his earbuds. I let loose with a hearty good morning as we passed, only to be stopped in my tracks by his response.

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Father walking in the park: Hey Buddy.
Me: Go doggies.
Father walking in the park: Are they chasing their tennis balls?
Me: I thought you barracked for the swans.
Father walking in the park: You won’t see any swans this time of the year only sandhill cranes on their way to Kearney.
Me: I thought you confused me for Buddy Franklin.
Father walking in the park: I was talking to my son.
Me: He only needs five more big ones to reach the 1000 mark.
Father walking in the park: You have a great rest of your day.
Me: Go swans.

I’m easily confused when I hear Hey Buddy, especially this time of the year, and it seems I’m hearing it more often wherever I go. Now that I think about it, I’ve always been surrounded by Hey Buddy’s, but it’s never registered. It’s the go-to dads use whenever they’re congratulating or talking to their young son; I never pick up on it until the Aussie football season. And now all I seem to be hearing is;

Hey Buddy, Good Job on those hiccups.
Hey Buddy, Good Job waking up from your little nap.
Hey Buddy, Good Job with the nose blowing and getting it all in your hanky.
Hey Buddy, Good Job eating your fries and colouring outside the lines on your Happy Meal colouring page.
Hey Buddy, Good Job. straining the spuds and not splashing your shoes.

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The official first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere is the first day of autumn in Australia, and it signals the start of the Men’s Australian Football season. And that’s what leads to my confusion when I hear Hey Buddy. The only time Hey Buddy, Good Job, should be used is in homage and respect to Lance Buddy Franklin, the superstar forward for the Sydney Swans. Buddy is shouted in some way by every swan barracker when he slots it through the big ones for a major from the half-forward flank and when he does some freaky impossible play and scores a sausage. Buddy’s on target to kick a thousand goals this season, needing to kick only five more goals to reach the 1000 mark. He’ll become just the sixth AFL player to kick 1000 career goals and the first since the great Geelong forward Gary Ablett senior in 1996.

Australian Rules Football is a game with similarities to Rugby, American Football and Gaelic Football, with a bit of basketball mixed in. Some say gentlemen from the Melbourne Cricket Club invented the sport to keep cricket players fit during their non-cricket playing winter. They based the game on rugby but made up new rules. AFL football consists of four 20-minute quarters, and it’s played on an oval-shaped field; the oval can vary in width between 120 and 170 yards. The umpire starts each quarter by bouncing the ball in a centre circle.

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The game’s a fast-moving, demanding physical contact sport, with players running and sending the ball the length of the ground at blistering speeds. A game of Aussie rules football is played between two teams of 18 players with set positions, but mostly they roam anywhere on the oval. Players try to move the ball to their scoring end of the ground by kicking, handballing or bouncing the ball as they run with it. A team scores a goal, equal to six points, by kicking the ball through the two large posts at their scoring end of the ground without a player touching it. A smaller post is beside each of the large goal posts. A point, known as a behind, is scored when the ball passes between them. The team scoring the most points wins the match.

I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the footie when it was The Victorian Football League. Back then, Melbourne was the epicentre of Australian footie. It provided ten of the original teams, and two local teams relocated, one to Queensland and the other to New South Wales, to form the new Australian Football League. Melbournes ten AFL teams, except for Geelong, no longer play at their old suburban footy grounds; instead, all local matches are played Thursday through Sunday at the MCG, Etihad Stadium and Geelong’s Kardinia Park. I remember when Melbourne came to a stop on Saturday afternoons. Supporters invaded the six sacred suburban home grounds where their teams were playing. North Melbourne’s home ground was Arden Street, Carlton’s Princes Park, Hawthorn’s Glenferrie Oval, South Melbourne’s the Lake Oval, Footscray’s the Western Oval. The other seven league teams also had their hallowed home suburban footy ground.

Being born and growing up in Williamstown, there was little choice regarding who’d be my footie team. If you were born and raised in the working-class western suburbs, you automatically barracked for Footscray. The British Bulldog was, and still is, the Footscray football team’s mascot, but in the western suburbs, they’re known simply as the Doggies. I’ve forgotten the number of cold, dank Saturday winter afternoons I stood on the terrace in front of the grandstand at the Western Oval. I stood with the other brotherhood of Doggie faithful. The air was thick with the perfume of meat pies and tomato sauce and cigarette smoke and beer. It was a penny to a quid that the four-n-twenty was going to be hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth or on the cold side of warm.

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The senior faithful were close by, sitting in the front row seats in the grandstand, their sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and a thermos full of hot tomato soup resting on the crochet blanket in their lap. We roared as one whenever our champions, Gazza, Quinie, Sando, Sockeye, and Roundie, came close to the Sherrin. We drank our beers and cheered the boys on with affectionate insulting encouragements; we only saw red, white and blue on the ground, and they could do no wrong. And we welcomed the last quarter with the tribal ritual of a pie in one hand and a beer raised in the other; our salute to the sound of the siren that started the final onslaught.

And then there was the arrival of our Kelvin, Kelvin Templeton, the young lad from Traralgon; he was to become our messiah. He flew high to mark the Sherrin’s that Quinie and Sando fed him, and we raised our right hands as one, clutching a beer, saluting Kelvin when he streaked away from opponents on his leads and when he tussled for the ball in one on ones on the forward line. After returning from an injury-plagued season, Kelvin booted 118 goals and headed up the goalkicking table, becoming a member of the elite 100 goals kicked in a season club. In one game, he threaded the Sherrin through the big ones 15 times and kicked nine behinds, a VFL record of 24 scoring shots. He was acclaimed as the best footballer in Australia when he won the 1980 Brownlow Medal. Heaps of the golden amber were spilled and consumed, and countless floggers shredded in celebration of Kelvin’s performances on the forward line at the Western Oval.

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The AFL is now a national competition with teams from all the mainland states playing in the first-class level of the competition. The overcrowded and unhygienic suburban grounds and the exposed stands that were no shelter from the arctic conditions are a thing of the past. Floggers, being able to bring a few long necks and tinnies to a game, and smoking inside the ground are banned; but you can still buy a beer, a pie with sauce, and bring along homemade sandwiches. In this day and age, some of the new age barrackers prefer a cappuccino, pizza, or a butter chicken and lamb saagwala curry; which are now available at the grounds. Some say the local magic of the game is lost.

And now I’m beginning to wonder how Buddy became the go-to nickname American that dads use for their sons; what happened to sport, champ and chief? I think Buddy became the go-to nickname because of the amount of time young Millennials spent in front of the TV years watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island. It must have implanted little Buddy, the Skipper’s nickname for Gilligan, in their brains. I think the Good Buddy dads should start using Kelvin instead of Buddy. Imagine the delight a child would experience when he hears,

Hey Kelvin, Good Job on those hiccups.
Hey Kelvin, Good Job waking up from your little nap.
Hey Kelvin, Good Job with the nose blowing and getting it all in your hanky.
Hey Kelvin, Good Job eating your fries and colouring outside the lines on your Happy Meal colouring page.
Hey Kelvin, Good Job. straining the spuds and not splashing your shoes.

Or they could go small-scale Aussie by starting with, Hey Fella, Good Job, Hey Mate, Good Job, Hey Digger, Good Job.


Australian rules football-History, Rules, & Facts

Australian Football: A Hall of Fame Oversight

Do You Call Your Kid “Buddy”? You Might Want to Reconsider

You Should Never Take Up An Uninteresting Hobby

I’m at sixes and sevens with what to do with myself in the mornings. At first, when my morning recurring hospital visits were over, I was excited about having the morning time to myself to do nothing. As the mornings without the predictable hospital visits wore on, I was tiring myself out so much by doing nothing that I started taking mid-morning naps. I began to miss having something to do in the morning. Some might say that sitting in an infusion chair or lying in a body mould receiving radiation therapy is boring. Some mornings, instead of just sitting in the chair doing nothing, I’d count the number of drops per minute of liquid running into the tubing from the IV drip bag; not that I was bored. After several weeks of counting drips, I thought it might be interesting to do something a little less repetitive. I asked my caregivers if it was ok to kick a footie in the hallway or play end-to-end outside with some of the medical team instead of sitting in the infusion chair counting drips. They didn’t seem interested in playing end-to-end, so I ended up watching Australia Rules on my smartphone while having my infusion.

image source: jmcadam

It’s been six weeks since I last counted drips of liquid, and being at home with nothing to do has caused me to think that overdoing nothing might become boring; maybe I should take up a hobby. But what hobby should I take up? I’m out of practice with hobbies. The last two hobbies I had were back when I was a youngster. I remember putting together plastic model kits and stamp collecting. Dad bought my Revell plastic model kits. I didn’t get enough pocket money to save up to buy them myself, so I saw it as a lost cause and instead spent my pocket money on bags of mixed lollies at Dashers. The Dashers owned the Milk Bar on the Douglas Parade and Bunbury Street corner; we christened them The Dashers because they moved so slow. Our pushbike clique spent Saturday afternoons riding their bikes around Newport and Williamstown and doing the things preteens and early adolescents do. The gang always ended up at Dashers to spend their threepences, sixpences and pennies on a bottle of Tarax, a Peters ice cream, or a bag of mixed lollies. Oh, what a torture it was trying to choose between clinkers, fruit tingles, choo-choo bars, black cats, musk sticks, mint leaves, or milk bottles for a threepence bag of mixed lollies.

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I remember putting together a Sopwith Camel plane, a Centurion tank, and a Spitfire. I left them unpainted, and each one was a white plastic colour. As time went by, I became concerned about the sameness of my models, and I pleaded with dad to buy me small bottles of different coloured model paint. I painted the Spitfire in camouflage, which looking back, was an insightful choice; my little fingers combined with my still-developing hand-eye coordination made it impossible for me to paint a straight line. And I smudged paint over all of the RAF decals and the other transfers I’d put onto the plane.

I would have given up threepenny bags of mixed lollies in a heartbeat to save up my pocket money to buy the Revell cargo ship model; I remember it as a model I dreamed of having. I grew up a block from Port Phillip Bay and the mouth of the Yarra River. The Yarra led cargo ships to the Port of Melbourne. As a youngster, I’d watch giant ships from far-flung corners of the world, low in the water, glide their way into the mouth of the Yarra River. And on foggy winter nights, I was put to sleep by the mournful fog horns warning the laden ships of the closeness of the foreshore as they navigated their way into the Yarra estuary. I knew my cargo ships, and the Revell kit was perfection in plastic. Mum and dad were aware of my longing, and it was an early birthday present.

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There seemed to be hundreds of parts in the Revell box; every part was the same plastic white colour. Buoyed with confidence from my painting of the Spitfire and Centurion, I decided to paint some of the plastic parts; the hull defines a ship, so it had to be painted first. From my ship-watching at the Warmies, Sandy Point, and the bottom of our street, I knew the hulls of cargo ships were two colours; one colour to the waterline and a different colour below the waterline. I painted the hull, but it didn’t come close to the hulls of the ships I’d seen. I tried to get rid of the smears of paint with turpentine, but not knowing the effect of turps on plastic, I transformed the hull of the perfection in plastic freighter-cargo ship into a bizarre piece of worthless kaleidoscopic plastic.

I wrote a letter to Revell telling them about the turpentine and the painting of the hull. They must have been taken back by the pitiful handwriting and the suffering of a young teenage plastic modeller from the other side of the world because they sent me a new white colour hull. I left it unpainted. I set the white coloured completed ship among my other plastic models; that became the day I gave up the hobby of plastic model making.

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I started collecting stamps when I gave up plastic model making. I think dad felt sorry for a lonely little boy without a hobby; he started giving me stamps whenever he bought a cellophane bag of stamps for his collection. He handed down stamps he already had and those that didn’t interest him. And whenever he’d buy a First Day Cover, he’d get an extra one for me. A First Day Cover is a stamp on a postcard or envelope franked on the first day it’s made available to the public. Some collectors, so they have a unique First Day Cover, buy the new stamp when it’s released, put it on an envelope, and mail it to themselves. Sometimes dad did the same, but most times, he bought the official Post Office released First Day Cover postcards.

Dad must have thought I’d become fascinated by the colours and images on the different stamps of the world, and stamp collecting would become my new hobby; that never came to be. The hand me down stamps were mostly Australian Sydney Harbour Bridge stamps or ones with different Australian animals on them; over time, they became duplicates of each other and the stamps I already had. My collection never grew beyond an assortment of different coloured: ha’penny kangaroo, sixpence kookaburra, shilling lyrebird, tuppence King George’s and fivepence Queen Elizabeth stamps.

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I never enjoyed putting stamps into an album. My pudgy little fingers had trouble folding the stamp hinge in half, and it was always a problem licking half the hinge to stick it onto the stamp. And it was more of a problem when the hinge was on the stamp to lick the folded other half to paste it into the album. Putting stamps into the album was a breeze compared to rearranging them into a new sequence. I began to dread when dad gave me any new hand me downs because it seemed there was always a different denomination of a stamp I already had. And my stamp collecting hobby became; if a fourpence kangaroo a hand me down, I’d lift off all the stamps after the ha’penny kangaroo in my album, soak off their hinges, fold and lick new hinges to stick on them, lick the hinge and then move each stamp down one space for the fourpence kangaroo to go after the ha’penny kangaroo.

I never thought about stamps the same way I thought about ships when I was ship-watching the collection of assorted cargo ships entering the mouth of the Yarra. I would become lost, daydreaming about the adventures, romance, and intrigue lurking in exotic foreign ports. When I glued hinges onto the stamps, I never once thought about their country or the lands they travelled across. With all the hinge licking, stamp rearranging, and the disappointment of never finding a rare, two and ha’penny, 1942 King George Vl in the stamp hand me downs, I lost interest in stamp collecting as a hobby.

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I never gave stamps a second thought again, that is not until I sorted the Christmas avalanche of letters and cards at the Footscray Post Office for six weeks. After the first week of sorting, I only saw envelopes with a street address and a postcode. I neither saw stamps nor had time to listen to their life story. I was a sorting letters automaton; my hands were a mesmerising blur as I flicked the envelopes into the correct pigeon holes for the posties to collect. I undoubtedly became the virtuoso of letter sorting because of rearranging and sorting stamps during my stamp collecting days. But sorting letters didn’t rekindle my interest in stamp collecting as a hobby.

I need to think of a hobby to take up in the morning in place of doing nothing. It has to be a new hobby instead of one I’ve already tried. Collecting In-Flight Sick Bags sounds like a hobby I wouldn’t mind trying. You collect the sick bags from flights you take; if you become an avid sick bag hobbyist, there are websites where you can buy and swap sick bags. If collecting sick bags doesn’t work out, I’d try Toy Voyaging. It’s a hobby where you send your toy to another toy voyager for a holiday. The voyager takes photos of your toy at different tourist attractions and doing holiday activities; they also fill out a travel journal of your toy. You do the same by hosting another toy voyager’s toy.

I think I’ll take up Toy Voyaging as my new hobby. Revell has a Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner plastic model kit I can put together and send on a holiday to Nepal. I think I’ll paint the hull black with a red band along the waterline. Or maybe I’ll kick a footie around in the street as a hobby. Decisions decisions !!! I’m having as much trouble choosing a new hobby as I do when choosing between a chiko roll and steamed dim sims.


The History of Hobbies in the U.S.

Beginner’s How-To Guide to Plastic Modelling

What is a First Day Cover?

What’s The Good Of Being An Island If You’re Not Good At It.

Most first time overseas visitors to Sydney arrive with a prepared have-to list of their must do’s. It’s a penny to a quid they’ll have on their lists, explore The Rocks and Circular Quay, wander Darling Harbour, walk the Sydney Harbour Bridge, visit Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, stop by the Zoo, take a Harbour cruise, tour the Opera House, and show up at Bondi Beach. If I’m gonna be in Sydney for a few days during any of my travels back Down Under, I never prepare a Sydney must-do list. It’s easier to take care of the must-do Sydney attractions from the plane window rather than tootling around the city for a few days. Because most international flights to Sydney Airport approach runway 16 from the north, I try to make sure I’m sitting in a window seat on the left-hand side of the plane. If the wind is coming from the right direction and the air traffic controller has stipulated a western or northwest flight approach path, then below you will be a panorama of the Harbour Bridge, the iconic Opera House, most of Sydney Harbour, the skyscrapers of North Sydney, and the Sydney skyline. And that’s your must-do list taken care of, as well as having the most impressive plane window view ever.

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If the wind is coming from the right direction, and if the air traffic controller has stipulated a western or northwest flight approach path, you’ll get the most impressive plane window view ever. Before and below you is the Harbour Bridge and iconic Opera House, most of Sydney Harbour and the skyscrapers of North Sydney, and the Sydney skyline; the tourist destinations on everyone’s must-do list.

I always do a final confirmation before the plane begins its descent into Sydney. As the cabin crew start collecting the leftover remnants of breakfast, I’ll ask one of them if they wouldn’t mind checking with the captain to find out what runway we are assigned and if the wind direction has caused a different approach than the north. If I need to change seats from the left-hand side to the right-hand side of the plane, I’ll do a quick scan to find any vacant right-hand side window seats. If I’m out of luck, I’ll try to assess who would swap their seat if I told them a frightening story of extreme wind shifts.

I’ve seen the right-hand side of a plane hit with a down-draft so enormous that it caused a massive, ear-popping, stomach-churning drop; the people sitting in the right-hand side window seats shot out of them and hit the ceiling, and then landed across the aisle, one row up, on other passengers lap. And I’ve seen people who must have had the baked beans and omelette for their breakfast blowing yellow-red liquid all over the place as they used their hands to try and funnel the vomit into the back of the seat pouch in front of them.

When the First Fleet of 9 transport ships and 2 small warships arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788, it didn’t take long to figure out the area wasn’t suitable for settlement; so the 850 convicts and their Marine guards and officers moved to Sydney Cove in Port Jackson. And in time, the cove became known as Sydney Harbour. Originally the harbour was dotted with 14 islands, and the British named the large island with the flocks of noisy sulphur-crested parrots perched in its red gum trees Cockatoo Island.

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Today the island looks nothing like the uninhabited, rocky, tree-covered island it was in 1839 when the 9th Governor of the colony of New South Wales, Major George Gipps, decided it to be a perfect location to build a prison for convicts who had re-offended in the settlement. Cockatoo Islands had its slopes cleared of trees and its upper parts levelled for the building of the convict prison. As the Sydney settlement grew from a colony into a city, the prison became an industrial school and reformatory for girls, and later a prison barracks. The islands sandstone foreshores were blasted with gunpowder to construct a dry dock for shipbuilding and repair; then came a naval shipyard. Nowadays, Cockatoo Island is about 232 yards long and 30 yards wide; it’s the largest of the remaining eight harbour islands and is one of 11 Australian convict sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

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On my last trip Down Under, I landed in Sydney and spent a few days as a tourist in the Harbour City. I idled the days away, wandering around Barangaroo, enjoying fish and chips at Watsons Bay, and gazing in awe at the wood escalator sculpture at Wynard Railway Station. Activities you’d have trouble doing looking out a plane window. And then, I was inspired by the spirit of adventure and decided to go on a 2-hour Saturday night dusk Haunted History Tour of Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island is a commuter ferry ride from Circular Quay. When Saturday afternoon arrived, I made my way to Circular Quay to catch the F8 ferry service; it was a little after four when I stepped onto its gangway. I didn’t know it at the time, but it came to be that I was practising a canny sense of long-sightedness in leaving for Cockatoo Island some 2 hours before the start of the tour. As the ferry made its way under the iconic bridge, I looked for bridge climbers; I wondered how many tourists would have on their must-do list, take a ferry ride under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

image source: jmcadam

As soon as the ferry cleared the bridge, it headed toward the shore and made a stop at Luna Park. And that caused me to experience a slight mental shiver. When I first checked the Sydney ferry services timetables, the Cockatoo Island ferry didn’t stop at Luna Park. Could I possibly be on the wrong ferry? I hurriedly set off to the gangway gate in the hope of finding a track-it ferry service map displaying a ferry’s journey in real-time. As I bumbled toward the gangway gate, I began a soft melodious,

Will I ever return
No I’ll never return
Will my fate remain unlearned
I may ride forever on the harbour’s water
I’m the man who never returned

I started frantically pushing on the real-time Sydney ferry services interactive display panel. A timetable appeared, and I breathlessly traced the names of the ferry stops with my finger. And I discovered I wasn’t on the Cockatoo Island ferry but a ferry that made stops in and around the harbour and further afield; so many that I began to have a shake in my boots panic. Then I saw it, buried among the too many stops to count was Cockatoo Island. I had jaunty spring to my step as I stepped ashore at Cockatoo Island and was delighted that I had over an hour to wander and explore the island before the Haunted History Tour.

image source: jmcadam

The first landmark I came across was a crowd control, steel barricade fence blocking off the Eastern Apron. The Apron is an area of grass, concrete, and relics of the islands shipbuilding days. It’s nestled against the dramatic backdrop of a sheer cliff face and provides one with a breathtaking harbour view. A large sign on the fence had an arrow labelled with, Entrance This Way, and another sign had written in generous letters, Tickets This Way. I approached a uniformed attendant who was standing by the entrance.

Me: ‘Scuse me mate, how come you gotta pay to go into the island?
Uniformed Attendant: You don’t, only if you want to go in there.
Me: What’s so special about in there?
Uniformed Attendant: Nothing, we put a fence up because of the festival.
Me: What festival?
Uniformed Attendant: One Electric Day with The Voice himself, Sir John of Farnham, Vanessa with all the arm and leg tats, and a few others.
Me: Yu mean Johnny, the plumbers’ apprentice. He hit it big with his first hit Sadie The Cleaning Lady, back in the sixties.
Uniformed Attendant: Dunno anything about that mate!
Me: For a while, it was good luck trying to buy an Electrolux; yu’ couldn’t find one anywhere. Do yu’ know where the Haunted History Tour starts from?

Our Haunted History Tour small group headed off as the sun started lowering itself toward the horizon. As we walked past the glamping tents, I wondered why my fellow tour members were here. Was it because Cockatoo Island was the site of so much hardship, death and dying that they were hoping for a spine-chilling ghostly experience, or were they like me, hoping to gain a deeper meaning of the island’s history and culture.

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Torchlight guided us through the Dog Leg Tunnel. We looked through the dusty windows of darkened buildings, and our guide told of ghostly activities as he shone his torch on the outside of buildings. It seemed as if the noisy island glamping campers wandering about exploring their overnight island spooked the ghosts because our group didn’t have any paranormal experiences. Families and young adults often spend the night on Cockatoo Island at the glamping ground in a pre-erected or BYO tent or spend a night or more at one of the Federation-style heritage houses or apartments. I never imagined teenagers and adolescents skateboarding in a Dog Leg Tunnel could be so rowdy. Or was it possible what I thought were weekend visitors were the supernatural?

The Haunted History tour guide ushered us onto the back lawn of one of the Federation-style heritage houses; it was once the home to Cockatoo Island’s medical officer. He began telling a story of a little girl aged 5 or 6 in a white dress; just as he was explaining that Minnie was the second child of Gother Kerr Mann, Superintendent of Cockatoo Island from 1859 to 1870, I felt a haunting vibration. I began walking to the edge of the clifftop that overlooked the Eastern Apron. I looked down. All I could see was the One Electric Day festival. I became spellbound, marvelling at how Vanessa Amorosi could jump down off the speakers, mix with the crowd, then jump back up to continue her set. I thought it somewhat comparable to Cregg Rondell, lead singer of the Boy Hits Car band, climbing a stack of speakers and diving 68 feet into the cheering crowd below.

image source: jmcadam

The sun had reached the horizon, and the light was draining away and fading as I sat at the Cockatoo Islands dock waiting for whatever ferry was going to Circular Quay. I looked back toward the silhouetted sandstone walls of the convict settlement and stared off into the darkness. I tried to focus on the outline of the islands original century-year-old steam crane. Through the still air came the faint sound of whistling steam escaping from a boiler and the thumping of pistons and the grinding of sprockets. Or maybe it was just Minnie enjoying the warm evening, playing and singing, on the back lawn.


Welcome to Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour

One Electric Day Cockatoo Island Sydney, November 9, 2019

Interesting Facts About John Farnham-NFSA

It’s All About Wearing Trouser Clips And Gripping The Handlebars

During the sixties, the car became an essential part of everyday life for many Australians, and it seemed as if there was a Holden parked outside every house. Dad was working for Forward Library Supply, and his company car was outside of our place. The Forward Library Supply was a wholesale bookseller to libraries and schools; they also rented books to lending libraries. Once a fortnight, lending libraries chose from the company’s stock of best sellers or its wide-ranging book collection. Most of the lending libraries were in shopfronts on the main street of Melbourne’s suburbs. Dad drove a different route through the Melbourne suburbs each day to stop at the libraries and exchange their books for best sellers or popular selections and to take requests for new favourites so they could restock their collections. He redid the routes every fortnight.

image source: jmcadam

The first company car outside our house was a Vanguard, followed by an Austin, and then came a succession of the latest model Holdens. And thus started our Sunday afternoon drives; they were Saturday drives because Sunday afternoons were mums baking afternoons. Not every Saturday was an afternoon driving Saturday; I never knew how the perfect day for a Saturday drive came about. We lived in Newport, a working-class Western suburb of Melbourne. Most of the Western suburbs, and the inner suburbs of Collingwood, Richmond, Brunswick, and Preston, were thought of as being working class, so our Saturday drives were through affluent Toorak, South Yarra, Kew, and Camberwell, and sometimes to the Dandenongs, and the cities of Frankston, and Geelong.

I don’t remember much about our Saturday drives other than we stopped going on them when dad left Forward Library Supply for a new job at Turner Industries in White Horse, Road Box Hill. At first, he took the train to work, changing at Flinders Street to the Box Hill-Lilydale line. The train ride was over an hour each way, so he bought himself a Vespa scooter; we became a family without a car. I didn’t think about the weekend drives. I was maturing into a responsible teenager, and I spent most weekends imagining all the lustful adventures and escapades I would have as an adolescent.

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And for the next thirty-plus years, I had no thoughts about Saturday afternoon drives. I was busy living in the seventies and beyond. I think I occupied myself with a two-year working- hitchhiking England and Europe rite of passage and wandering Europe and the Middle East along the ill-defined hippie trail. When I arrived back home in Oz, there was no time to look in the rear vision mirror. I was bringing new teaching methods for teaching Math and Science into the classroom; until it was time to wander South East Asia and the Middle East. There were no Saturday drives when I returned to Australia. I became a college student and studied Instructional Technology. Upon graduating, I left Australia and started living in the US, where I spent time carving out a career in Instructional Design.

Now that I’ve migrated from the world of work to the world of leisure, I’m finding the time to think back when and occasionally look in the rear vision mirror. The last few times I’ve looked into the mirror, dads been taking the family on a Saturday afternoon drive along Toorak Road in the Holden station wagon. And this has caused me to be overcome with remembering the past enjoyments of the weekend drive. I wanted the weather, or whatever determined it was perfect for a drive to announce it was time; then came a perfect Sunday afternoon, and I set off for the Old Market. The downtown Old Market Area is a collection of renovated century-old brick warehouses that at one time were home to produce dealers, buyers, and transporters. Its cobblestone streets have become home to a diverse mix of quaint cafes and bars, boutiques and galleries, and restaurants. I headed for the Old Market along Farnam Street, which becomes one way after Midtown, so you navigate a half s-bend into Harney Street to continue on downtown.

image source: jmcadam

I was pushing down on the accelerator to speed up from crawling through the half s-bend when I saw a maze of white plastic bollards through the windscreen. As my foot began searching for the brake pedal, a trickle of bike riders appeared. It took a few seconds to realise I’d come across Omaha’s protected bike lane pilot program. I parked alongside the bikeway to give my mind time to untangle the thoughts created by the jumble of bollards. As the cyclists drifted by, I glanced into the rear vision mirror. I saw myself riding my bright yellow bike along Swanston Street, wearing faded corduroy shorts, the argyle short sleeve jumper mum had knitted, and a string bag wrapped around the handlebars. It was the mid-seventies, and I was a thirty-something young man riding a yellow bike without a crossbar, known back then as a girls bike, with the trams and bustling traffic of a busy city. I didn’t choose the bike over a car because I had a love affair with the pushbike, but I’d just returned from wandering South East Asia and the Middle East and had no money. And I was also once again a student.

image source: jmcadam

My Melbourne city and suburbs bike ridings were before the age of the urban cyclist. There were no bike lanes or painted bikeways defined by plastic delineators to separate you from traffic and parked cars; you only became a skilful city cyclist through trial and error. And you learnt early in your city cycling to never ride on the tram tracks. It’s hard to believe that Melbourne’s tram rails were designed with a groove that a pushbikes front wheel rim would easily fit in. If your front wheel slipped into the groove, it became impossible to steer and keep your balance, and where the track went, you went. The only way to remove your wheel from the rail groove and onto the roadway was to forget about traffic and the nearness of any tram and carefully dismount, then lift your bike onto the road.

I never rode on or cross over Melbourne’s tram tracks in wet weather. Like all metals, when they became wet, they turned into two shiny, slippery ribbons of steel. The drizzling rains of Autumn created a proving ground that was a test for the novice Melbourne city cyclist. Autumn also scattered the city with fallen decaying autumn tree leaves, which contain an oily residue, so the tram tracks became coated with a film of oily water. It was a sure bet that someone would be picking themselves up with a road rash souvenir after they’d ventured onto the wet tram line and went flying headfirst in front of traffic after their bike went out from under them; a sure sign of a novice city cyclist.

image source: reddit

Whenever I was riding through the city on a wet, rainy day, I felt the sure and steady hand of dad holding the back of the bike seat. Dad taught me how to ride a bike. I learnt on Boxing Day morning after I found the second hand, painted over, Malvern Star Santa left at the foot of my bed. I’d hoped so much for a pushbike that Christmas but deep-down knew I’d not been good enough to get a bike. I was becoming a teenager and had been busy acting my age for most of the year. Santa must have been grateful for the two bottles of beer I’d left on the kitchen table and sent the reindeers and sleigh back to his workshop to pick out a bike.

As soon as I was out of my pyjamas and dressed, I pushed the Malvern Star onto the Peel Street footpath and yelled for dad to come out. He helped me onto the bike, grabbed the back of the seat, gave a gentle forward push and began jogging alongside me with his hand still on the back of the seat. I began to push down on the pedals as best I could, and dad was doing his best to keep up and keep hold of the bike seat. It was before the days of bike helmets and knee pads, so if I fell off, I’d land on the asphalt footpath and earn a bruise, scratches on the knee, elbow, or palms of the hand, or a bang on the head. What made learning how to ride a bike even more dangerous was that my feet could not touch the ground when I was sitting on the bike. Dad and I kept at it for the next few days. And then his hand must have felt I could balance because he let go; nothing was holding me back when I pushed down on the pedals. I looked over my shoulder, dad gave me a wave and a big grin, and the bike and I fell onto the grassy nature strip. I fell off the second hand Malvern Star more times than I care to remember. There wasn’t a time when I didn’t have scratches on my arms or legs, hands, face, even my stomach, and bruises on my head and everywhere else.

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And then came the fateful day; I was riding the lopsided, uneven bluestone laneway, our shortcut from Peel Street to nannas house on Eliza Street when the irregular bluestones had the better of me. I was less than halfway through the lane went I went crashing from the Malvern Star onto the stones. My left wrist landed on the raised edge of one of the bluestones, causing the bone to break into the u-shape of the stone edge. After two weeks of wearing a plaster cast, the doctor had to re-break the wrist because he determined it wasn’t knitting correctly. He did the second breaking without chloroform.

In the late eighteen hundreds, Omaha tram service had grown to 145 trams running on 125 miles of track. Today it’s a city without trams. Buses slowly replaced the trams, and the last tram ran in 1955. I think the tram tracks have been either covered over or dug up, and the only reminder of the service is a tram, minus its wheels, at the Durham Museum. My mind couldn’t untangle and make sense of the jumble of bikeway bollards, and all I was thinking about was trams. When a gaggle of bike riders appeared in the bikeway, I shouted to them in a loud voice, if you come to any tram track crossovers, expansion gaps, or points cross over them in a straight line instead of on an angle; it’ll reduce the time your rubber is on the metal.


Williamstown’s Convict Seawall Under Threat

Scrubber Tram No. 8

Omaha’s Downtown Bikeway Test to Begin

All I Ever Wanted Was To Own A Fruitcake

It has to be five years or more since Cost Plus World Market returned to Omaha, and since its return, it’s become once again my go-to shop for Tim Tams, Pickled Onions, Golden Syrup, Fruit Cake, Irish Shortbread and Bisto Gravy Granules. It was just after Halloween, and try as I might, I couldn’t manage a Tim Tam slam with leftover Snickers or Kit Kat treats, so it was time for another buy up of Tim Tams. Foods of the World is at the back of World Market, and I headed straight for the Tim Tams as soon as I walked into the shop; I came to a screeching halt surrounded by a display of Christmas foods and treats from around the world.

image source: jmcadam

I’ve heard it said that some people complain late October is far too early for shops to be putting out their Christmas merchandise. And I’d be one of those persons if it wasn’t for the fact that I can buy traditional fruitcake at some of these shops. I can remember when, like most Australians, I could come by fruitcake year-round at cake shops and supermarkets. A slice of fruitcake after tea, or as an afternoon snack, with a flat white or cup of tea is a marvellous finish to a satisfying meal. Now, it’s safe to say Americans don’t have the same love for fruit cake as Australians. In most US cities, you’re not able to walk into a cake shop and buy a classic, dark, moist fruitcake; in Omaha, you even have trouble finding a cake shop.

Oh, how I miss the taste of fruitcake. I’ve known people who eat fruitcake with a slosh of custard, cream, or ice cream, but most genuine fruitcake eaters keep the custard and cream for Christmas plum pudding, which fruitcake fanciers think of as a boiled fruitcake. For as long as I can remember, nanna made her traditional Christmas plum pudding for our family Christmas Day get-togethers. The three families always arrived at nanna’s place a few hours before the sit-down dinner.

image source: jmcadam

Mum, Aunt Peg and Aunt Bet would head off to the kitchen with nanna to prepare the food, and even though the temperature hovered around the nineties on Christmas Day the gas stove and the wood-burning stove was going flat out. There was no air conditioning or fans, and so the kitchen temperature was above one hundred degrees. My brother and I went outside with our cousins Andrew and Peter to play by the fig tree in the front yard and the long grass around the backyard sleepout. Bruce and the little cousins Margret, Jeff and Russell, were too young to play with the big kids. I never thought about what granddad, dad and Uncle Ian and Ken, were doing. Now that I think back, they were probably in grandad’s shed, sinking a few cold ones and keeping themselves out of the kitchen; but not Uncle Ian, you could bet a penny to a quid the only alcohol that ever touched his lips was what was part of a Freemasons ritual.

Everyone sat around nannas dining room table; granddad had put in two expansion leaves, so the table was big enough to seat twelve. Nanna decorated the table with Christmas bon-bons, and the centrepiece was a small eight-inch, artificial, conical pine tree. Christmas dinners were always roast pork with perfect crackling, apple sauce, roast potatoes and carrots and pumpkin, peas, roast lamb, and plum pudding for dessert.

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Nanna started her plum pudding at least four weeks before Christmas Day. She’d mix dried fruit, suet, treacle, cloves, ginger, sixpences, threepences, and other ingredients and then wrap the mixture in an old tea towel or pillowcase, tie it with string, and simmer it for a day. After which, she’d hang the cloth orb in the kitchen-bathroom doorway, where it would hang proudly until Christmas Day dinner. As soon as we finished our hot roast dinner and wiped the sweat from our foreheads, the ladies went into the kitchen to prepare the pudding. The pudding went from the doorway into a pot of simmering water. Nanna somehow knew when it could be taken from the bubbling water and have its cloth removed. The ladies cut the naked pudding into serving-size pieces, set the pieces in dessert bowls on the kitchen table, and topped them with cream.

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When nanna announced, puddings ready, we raced into the kitchen. We weren’t allowed to reach for a bowl of pudding; instead, nanna handed a bowl to us. It was as if our name was on the bowl and only visible to her. As soon as we discovered the sixpences and threepences hidden in our pudding and sucked them clean of the moist goodness, we headed back outside to play in the hot summer afternoon sun. Many times there was uneaten pudding left in our bowls.

A few years ago, when I was in Melbourne on one of my frequent Down Under visits, cousin Russell thought a family get-together was a good idea. We were in the kitchen drinking a few ice colds, and our conversation was loud with interruptions of yeah and who remembers when.

Cousin Russell: Remember nanna’s Christmas pudding. We’d eat it double quick looking for the sixpences and threepence’s she put in it when she made it.
Me: It hung in the kitchen doorway to the bathroom for a month or more before Christmas.
Cousins Peter: Remember the Christmas when nanna asked for the threepences and sixpences back.
Cousin Russell: And she swapped them for brand new ones.
Me: She said that she needed the old ones back because the government changed the amount of silver in the coins, and now it was dangerous to put the new ones into her pudding and in your mouth.
Cousin Russell: Anyone for another cold one?
Cousin Russell: And remember nanna always used to cut the pudding in the kitchen and then push sixpences she had kept out of the pudding into Peter’s slice of pudding.
Me: Fair suck of the sav Russel, there’s no way!!!!
Cousin Peter: No, she didn’t.
Cousin Russell: Yeah, she’d push sixpences into Peter’s plum pudding.
We all fell silent, with all the cousins taking a doubting, fleeting look at each other.
Me: I wonder if we would’ve eaten the plum pudding if it didn’t have threepences and sixpences in it.

As we grew older, Christmas Dinners and Christmas changed. And they changed forever after Uncle Ian and dad decided to take the dirt nap. Christmas dinners moved to our house, and it was just mum, my brother and I, and nanna and granddad, sitting around the table. Mum’s cousin Mavis joined us after her husband died. Mum maintained the traditional roast pork and lamb Christmas dinner, but she added roast chicken and replaced nanna’s plum pudding with the threepences and sixpences with a trifle and pavlova. We ate in the dining room, which mum decorated with a strand of silver garland around the side-way window and one of nanna’s Christmas trees on the table. As soon as granddad and I finished eating, we headed up the passage to the lounge room, under the pretext of watching television, to sleep off our Christmas dinner.


In my teenage years, I headed off to the beach as soon as I finished Christmas dinner. I was on school holidays, and Christmas day was just another day of an endless summer at Williamstown beach. Now that I think back, it was a sign that I was maturing into a responsible adult. Like the typical Aussie male, I didn’t think of Christmas as anything special. It’s the time of the year to take a few weeks off work for a caravan on a camping holiday, to spend lazy days at the beach, or head off to somewhere in South-East Asia. There’s no time to think about chestnuts roasting on an open fire or dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh when there’s the Boxing Day Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a cricket test match between Australia and an international touring team at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and firing up the barbie in the backyard with the mates every weekend.

Not having nanna’s boiled plum pudding every year at Christmas didn’t mean I went without the taste of fruitcake. Mum made a fruitcake, along with her lamingtons, matchsticks, vanilla slices, and butterflies on her Sunday baking afternoons. It was a light fruitcake, full of dried fruits, currants and raisins. We’d take a piece of the fruitcake, wrapped in greaseproof paper, every day to school as part of our lunch. Back then, school lunches consisted of only three standard items; sandwiches, a piece of cake or biscuits, and fruit. Mum made my school lunch sandwiches each morning; she’d wrap the cut-in-two sandwich in greaseproof paper and put it with the fruitcake and a piece of fruit into a brown paper bag.


Every boy swapped parts of their school lunch with other boys, and my fruitcake was a sought after item. I never swapped my fruitcake with any of the Yugoslav, Cypriot, and Maltese migrant boys bused to school each day from the hostel a couple of miles down Kororoit Creek road from Williamstown Tech. I was aghast whenever I looked into their lunch bags; their lunches were a collection of crusty wedges of bread, slabs of pungent-smelling cheeses, and strange-looking dried sausages. Today, those cured meats, pieces of artisan bread, and cheeses are the foundation of gourmet sandwiches. Today, I’d be the first one to swap a slice of mums 12-inch square light fruitcakes for a Yugoslav schoolboys lunch bag.

When I finished lunch, I’d fold the greaseproof papers along their creases, put them into my empty paper bag, fold the paper bag into a small packet and put it into my trouser pocket. Mum used the greaseproof paper and paper bag the next day and the next for our school lunch. At the start of the week, I had a new brown paper bag to fold and put into my pocket; mum kept the brown paper bags from the fruit and grocer shops when she did her Friday afternoon shopping.

Whenever I taste fruitcake again, I start to think it’s more than time to bring back the joy of eating fruitcake as a Christmas custom. I’ve heard it said there are about a billion cookies left out each year for Santa and 500 million glasses of milk to help him wash them down. I think a good place to start the Christmas fruitcake custom would be to get rid of the cookies and milk on the kitchen table and leave a bottle of beer and a fruitcake laden with rum for a Santa snack.


National Fruitcake Day

Ultimate Guide To Fruitcake

About Christmas Puddings & Coins: History & Traditions

If You Aim At Nothing You’ll Hit It Every Time

I’ve been going through hormone therapy during the last couple of months to reduce my testosterone levels to cause existing prostate cancer cells to shrink or slow their growth so that targeted radiation therapy will be more effective. Yesterday I had markers implanted in my prostate preparation for five weeks of five days a week radiation therapy. I remember the conversation with my radiation oncologist as he explained why and how I’d be having markers inserted into my prostate.

Me: How will the markers get into my prostate?
Radiation Oncologist: We’ll use the probe like we did for the biopsy.
Me: Fair go mate; not the probe up the bunghole again!!!!!
Radiation Oncologist: But we’re not snipping and removing, we’re inserting.
Me: Sounds like you’re still drilling for Vegemite.
Radiation Oncologist: We’re putting the markers in you so we won’t have to guess when we aim the radiation; and we’ll leave them in your prostate after the treatment.
Me: Struth, I’ll probably set off the airport metal detectors?
Radiation Oncologist: You should be OK they’re made of gold.
Me: Crikey!!!, I’m gonna be like the James Bond Gold Finger villain, but it’s not the finger that’s gold, no what I mean!!!!

image source: jmcadam

The radiation oncologist went on to explain the CT Simulation, the last step before radiation therapy, but I’d stopped listening. I was thinking about things in the past that needed accurate aiming to be successful.

Moving the trough lolly calls for a keen eye and a dead-on aim. Against-the-wall urinals tend to collect a lot of liquid, and so most Australian men’s trough urinals have deodorising blocks resting in them to neutralise the smell of the urine that doesn’t wash down the drain. No self-respecting Aussie male is going to call the scented blocks a deodoriser; they know them as a cake, puck, biscuit, or trough lolly. The standard Aussie men’s trough urinal is the classic stainless steel hinged grate style. A hinged floor grate covers a base tray with a drain to stand on. Urinals in hotels and footie grounds usually have several trough lollies sitting in the base tray. You can bet a penny to a quid that after a few rounds of beers with the boys, the challenge is to see who can move the lolly the furthest.

image source: jmcadam

Some drinkers say the trick to moving the lolly is to stand back, unzip the fly and have at it. Others believe the secret to moving the lolly the furthest is controlling the streams dribble and splashing and keeping up a constant force and velocity on the lolly from the start of its journey down the base tray. I maintain the secret to moving the lolly, and to keep it moving, is in the angle you make your stream first hit the lolly, and then changing the slant and the angle around the circumference to create currents and small eddies at the base of it. You’ll produce a similar effect on the lolly’s movement, as they do on a curling stone by sweeping the ice. But it’s without question that the one who moves the lolly the furthest is the person with the best muscle memory and hand-eye coordination and the most accurate aim of their stream.


During the late sixties and early to mid-seventies, I taught Math and Science at several different, Victorian Education Department Technical Schools in Melbourne’s working-class inner suburbs. The cuts and yard duty was a staple punishment for any student who could have committed a misdemeanour. The cuts was being belted across the hand with a three-inch wide, two-foot-long leather strap. They were a part of everyday school life. If you dished out the cuts, you had to be on the money with your aim every time you gave anyone some of the best. Any boy could get the cuts if they were: talking in class, for not doing their homework, not bringing the right books to class, forgetting their apron for woodwork, sheet metal or fitting and turning, being rowdy and unruly in the corridors, leaving the school grounds at lunchtime without a lunch pass, and wagging school. Boys didn’t know how many cuts or the type of cuts a misdemeanour called for; most of the time, they waited until the strap was raised above the teacher’s head and listened for the command.

One hander: Hand up now, hold it straight.
don’t move it.
this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
Two one-handers: Up again.
Three one-handers: Hand down, other hand up.
remember this is for your own good.
Six of the best: The sequence is repeated six times.
Double hander: Two hands up and hold them together.
hold them steady now.
wait, wait.
Two double handers: Both hands up again.
the command is repeated for the number of double handers.


The backhander wasn’t given out lightly. It’s an extremely difficult cut to master, and not every teacher could give a backhander. Just as the strap hits the palm of a boys outstretched hand, you give it a flip so that it curls onto the back of their hand. I think teachers became masters of the backhander by practising flicking chalk with their strap off the staff room table and onto the floor. You needed to smash a lot of chalk to smithereens to become a master of the backhander. Aim and a deft wrist movement had to become one fluid action to deliver a legitimate backhander. I never gave the cuts to any boys. I was afraid my aim on their small quivering hand would be so imperfect that I’d miss the target and hit my shin.

In the early seventies, I wandered Europe and the Middle East along the ill-defined hippie trail. Local buses and trucks transported me through Turkey and Iran and from Kabul through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan. I’d eaten street food throughout Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, and for some unknown reason, I was still dropping solid ones onto the porcelain. During my last days in Kabul, I began to feel feverish and nauseated and started to suffer chills and diarrhoea. I became worse on the train journey from Pakistan to New Delhi. Back then, a third-class train carriage was compartments with two wooden plank seats facing each other with a second row above them. At least five people squeezed onto each plank, and if you were sitting on the lower plank, you looked through legs for most of your journey.

image source: twitter

There were no cooling fans, you slept sitting up, and in most cases, no toilet facilities, apart from a small space at one end of the carriage with a door and a hole in the floor. I spent considerable time in the small compartment with a hole in the floor. After the first couple of times, I became careful about what I had in my pockets. I spent most of my time in New Delhi huddled in the corner of a dark, dank room with stomach pain, nausea, extremely watery diarrhoea and fatigue, and lurching, sometimes crawling, to a small room with a hole in the floor. Even though I could accurately aim at a target when I was looking between my parted legs, a skill most squat toilet users wished they had, I knew that diarrhoea, when combined with stomach cramps and stress from using new muscles in my legs, would guarantee splash-back.

I came by my skill to accurately aim while looking between parted legs as a young lad playing Tunnel Ball once a weeknight at the Williamstown Youth Center. It was a toss-up between Tunnel Ball and Iron Goals as to which one was my favourite Youth Center game.

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To play Tunnel Ball, teams line up alongside each other, with their players in a straight line, facing the same direction with their legs apart, thus forming a tunnel. The player at the end stands back from the tunnel with their knees bent and head down so they can watch a ball as it travels through the legs. The player at the front of the tunnel propels the ball through their legs and into the tunnel. Each player then guides and speeds the ball through the tunnel with their hands, and when the ball reaches the end of the tunnel, the end player picks it up and runs to the start of the line. The tunnel shuffles down, and the ball is propelled through the tunnel of legs again. The game continues until all players have carried the soccer ball to the head of the tunnel; the fastest team wins. To win, you have to be comfortable having your head in someone’s crutch between their parted legs and to be able to focus on a ball in motion, estimate its speed, distance and direction, and reposition your legs for it to travel between them. Just before the ball reaches you, you may have to move your feet, so it goes through your legs, and give it a push with both hands to speed it through the tunnel.

During my time travelling throughout South East Asia, I always hit the hole when dropping hard ones. I used a technique that combined skilful aiming and deft positioning know-how.

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I’d place my feet around the hole and slightly further apart than my shoulders so that my legs spread out over the hole. Once positioned, I’d squat down until my thighs just about touched my calves. And then I’d let my arms rest on top of or on the sides of my knees. Before starting the drop, I’d look down between my legs and give my hips the same circular motion as if I was twirling a hula hoop. As soon as I reckoned that my aim was on target with the hole, I’d stop moving my hips. Sometimes I added a little dash to my squatting technique. If one of my legs began to feel tired or fell asleep, I’d bend to one side, causing the squat pressure to only be on one leg. And I felt so confident about my aim and my skill to re-aim accurately and quickly that I’d stand up halfway through a squat to give my knees some relief.

Since I had my gold markers inserted, I’ve been following the price of gold on The London (over-the-counter) OTC market. It has historically been the centre of the gold trade, and it’s estimated today to comprise approximately 70% of the global notional trading volume. The current value of my markers is about $35.00, so I’m waiting for a rush on gold before deciding if I should sell them.


Fiducial Marker Placement

Bio-Toilets On Trains To Keep Tracks Free Of Yuck

Cruel And Unusual Punishment At Schools

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.

image source: jmcadam

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.

image source: pinterest

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.

image source: jmcadam

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.

image source: jmcadam

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 on to 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.

image source: pinterest

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.

image source: jmcadam

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