A House With No Name

You wouldn’t know if it’s springtime or what season the outside world was grappling with when you’re walking the upper level of WestRoads in the mornings. Inside the mall, each season has the same prescribed climate; temperature is maintained at a constant mid-seventies, there is no breeze, and the lighting is never darkened by clouds or the threat of rain. Because spring has dismissed winter, I’m walking throughout the neighbourhood in the mornings instead of WestRoads. The three laps of the upper level and the two laps of the lower level of the mall have become a meandering one hour stroll through the streets where I live.

image source: jmcadam

Some mornings I have to wait for the spring harsh rains to become a soft gentle shower; when occasional droplets are falling on the sunshine that is breaking through the clouds. It’s that perfect time of the year. Mornings are being warmed by the gentle spring heat; the tight buds on the forsythia and dogwood branches are straining to open and the trees are sprinkled with leaves and blossoms. I vary my walking track each morning. Sometimes I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first off and other mornings head in the opposite direction to keep the hills for midway through my amble. The other morning I set off before the rubbish trucks had wandered through the neighbourhood so the bins, plastic bags of rubbish, green recycling tubs, cardboard boxes stuffed with paper and plastics, yard waste bags bursting with grass clippings and leaves, and bundles of branches tied with string were all in disorganised chaos on the footpaths. It was easier to leave the footpaths and walk the roadways; I fell into a pattern of long and short strides and my thoughts went back to when rubbish bins lined the nature strips of my childhood.

Like most people back then we only had one galvanised rubbish bin. Once a week on rubbish day the bin was put out on the nature strip to be emptied by the rubbish man or, as we all knew him, the garbo. One bin was more than enough because most people burnt their rubbish. Our incinerator was an old 44-gallon oil drum in the back of the yard. I don’t know where it came from or how it got into the backyard. There was a cut out rectangular hole, about ten by six inches, at the bottom of the tin so the ashes from the burnt rubbish could be culled and thrown onto mum’s garden.

image source: jmcadam

When I think back I wonder if it was the ever-present incinerator in the back yard and the ashes being scooped out from the fire and smoke that caused me as a youngster to close my eyes whenever we drove past the Springvale Crematorium on the way to Aunt Peg’s. Mum’s sister and our cousins lived in the country town of Dandenong; a 20-mile drive from Melbourne in the Austin A40 down the Princess Highway. The crematorium was a silhouette across the fields. I silently ached for the A40 to accelerate and leave behind the incinerators that burnt bodies.

Before meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, and bread and biscuits were wrapped in plastic you’d just tell the shopkeeper how much you wanted. Items were weighed on a shop counter scale and then wrapped in paper, or put into a paper bag, to be carried home in a string bag or a shopping jeep. And the paper and food scraps became food for the incinerator. Our rubbish bin was filled with glass bottles, tin cans, and anything that wouldn’t burn in the incinerator. I remember the small horse-drawn rubbish cart; green with large wheels on each side. The cart’s shape was a large drum cut in half; curved metal, sliding coverings on each side formed the top of the cart. The horse stopped, slowed down, and started without a command. The rubbish tins were the equine traffic signal.

image source: adelaiderememberwhen.com.au

The garbo lifted the metal tins onto the side of the cart and dumped the rubbish into the cart, and when the cart was filled he would slide the coverings closed. I remember the rubbish trucks replacing the horse-drawn carts. In summer the garbos would run up and down the street, dressed in footy shorts and a singlet, banging the rubbish bins on the sides of the truck as they emptied the rubbish into the truck. At Christmas, mum and dad would always leave a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos.

Aksarben, where I now live, is a quaint suburb of Omaha. Bordered by Elmwood and Memorial Parks, it embraces an array of homes, from brick Tudors to Craftsman-style bungalows, and the streets are lined with mature trees. It’s a suburb where you would expect houses to have front fences and a name. I amble a different way through the neighbourhood each morning searching for a front fence; a French Gothic picket, a row of dense evergreen hedge plants, or a low stone front yard wall. But my front fence searching is in vain.

image source: google

No one is gonna call a house a real Australian house unless it has a front fence, front yard, and a name. The front fence and front yard are part of Australian history. I think the front fence has remained part of The Land Down Under suburban house because an Aussie wants privacy from the street and a place where their little ones can safely play.  There are some, though, that maintain a fence in front of a house adds nothing to the appearance of the house or street. Many different styles of front fence lined the street where I grew from a young boy through early childhood and then, to a fledgling adolescent. A relative of ours had a large concrete scalloped fence. Our house had a high wooden picket front fence; in time it transformed into a low square picket fence and then into a scalloped picket fence.

image source: jmcadam

During the fifties and sixties, many picket front yard fences were restyled into unique statements by Greek and Italian immigrants. Melbourne still has a few traditional front yard fence styles; wooden picket, low stone or masonry pillars interlinked with thick chains or rods, woven wire, squat brick veneer with a touch of decorative wrought iron, or tea tree.

It is said that every house built in Australia before about 1930 was christened and given a name by its architect, builder or first owner. After the Second World War, the Australian government committed to a vigorous and sustained immigration program and house naming was once again in vogue. British, Italians and Greeks were the first to arrive in large numbers to The Lucky Country, and when they secured their first home they named them after the counties, Italian towns, Greek regions, and English parishes they came from or where their families lived. If a house didn’t have a name then its name became who lived in the house; the Tillerson’s, the Bate’s, and the Ashford’s houses made up part of our street.

image source: google

Our house was named Montrose; a lovely little dark coloured plaque with curly and fluid gold lettering was attached to the weatherboards by the front door. Montrose is a small Scottish coastal town nestled between Dundee and Aberdeen. The McAdam name stems from the Scottish Gaelic McAdam clan, which originated as a branch of Clan Gregor. Clan Gregor is a Highland Scottish clan famous for the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor. Back in the late forties and early fifties I don’t think Mum and Dad would have so admired Rob Roy that they would name our house after a small Scottish coastal town 100 miles from his birthplace. Maybe the house was already called Montrose and, because I’m a descendant of Australian Royalty, a third great-grandson of the transported convict Thomas Raines, the house chose us.

image source: google

The immigrant Lebanese family, the second owners of the Milk Bar on the corner of Douglas Parade and North Road, only knew mum as Mrs Montrose. The shop was only a block away so whenever we ran out of milk or needed some bread, mum would duck over to the corner shop instead of going to Mrs Worms on Melbourne Road. She would be welcomed as Mrs Montrose; whenever mum was in the middle of something and I went over to get the milk whoever of the Lebanese family was serving at the time would ask, and how is Mrs Montrose.

As I saunter through the neighbourhood I also look for house names. So few houses have a name. They only have numbers. But there are a few houses with the same name; Huskers and Big Red. And that makes me stop and think; a house shouldn’t have the same name as another house in the neighbourhood. A house should be named for a geographical feature, a type of tree or plant or flower, an animal of the area, the seasons, an event or period of local history, a memory or desire of the person who lives in the house.

Our house also doesn’t have a name, just a street number, so I think I need to give it a name. If the house had a name it might help the postman deliver letters and it would ensure the butcher, baker and milkman made their deliveries to the correct address; a trend already redefining the retail grocery trade is the convergence of online shopping and home delivery. Coming up with a name for a house should be an enjoyable and pleasing experience so I need to think about a name in the backyard over a few cold ones; I’m thinking The Beer Drinkers Arms, The Malt Shovel, or The Stagger Inn.

I should probably also start leaving a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos at Christmas time.

 

How Do I Trace The History Of My House

Rob Roy Scottish Outlaw

Shit brick fences of Melbourne  Facebook

Let Them Eat Cakes

Back when I was wearing a red apron at the newly opened Omaha location of a national retail chain, they had just returned to Omaha after a six-year absence, my primary responsibility was to introduce different world foods and beverages to customers and talk about their traditions and history. The holiday season was the obvious time to introduce the flavours of Christmas cookies, cakes, and fruitcakes from around the globe; stollen from Germany, mincemeat tarts and fruitcake from England, ginger snaps from Sweden, and panettone from Italy. And I shared my enjoyment and memories of mum’s fruitcake and nanna’s plum pudding with the shoppers gathered around the displays of Dunedin and Welsh fruitcake, European light fruitcake, boxes of Walkers mince pies and tarts, plum puddings, tins of Cadbury Jumper Biscuits, and jars of mincemeat; and they shared the memories and family traditions of their holiday season. Fruitcake has been one of my favourites ever since I was a young lad. Sometimes on mum’s sift, blend, mix, beat, stir, whip, and bake Sunday’s, she would make a fruitcake. It was always a light fruitcake; rich and luscious, and we would take slices of it for the next week wrapped in greaseproof paper, in our school lunches.

When I offered samples of fruitcake and shared its heritage and history with all of the shops Christmas patrons I presented bite-size pieces of Dundee and European fruit cake, paired with samples of Winter Spice Tea. I cut small bite-size chunks from the cellophane-wrapped cakes and put each moist sampling into a plastic portion cup, and the cups were arranged in straight lines on clear trays on a mobile wooden demonstration cart. I gestured and motioned toward the plastic portion cups and greeted the Christmas shoppers approaching me with fruitcake just like what was served when Princess Diana married Charles. Most of the shoppers when they caught sight of the moist fruitcake chunks turned down the sample by telling me: Americans don’t like fruitcake. The more I’ve mused over Americans dislike for fruitcake the more I have come to the conclusion that Americans just don’t like cake. I think it’s safe to say that Americans like pies more than cakes; pies served with ice cream, pie a la mode.

john-and-fruitcake

image source:johnmcadam

And I think that this is indeed unfortunate because most countries can be identified with a cake that they call their own.

Italy; Tiramisu. Layers of ladyfingers dipped in coffee and heaped with mascarpone whipped with eggs and sugar.
England; Victoria Sponge Cake. Jam and double whipped cream sandwiched between two sponge cakes.
France; Galette de rois. Round cake with flaky puff pastry layers with a dense centre of cream made from sweet almonds.
Greece; Baklava. Rich, sweet layers of crispy golden brown phyllo, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.
Germany; Black Forest Cherry Cake. Four layers of chocolate sponge cake, cherries, and whipped cream flavoured with cherry schnapps.
Australia; Lamington. Squares of sponge cake coated in an outer layer of chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut.
United States; And I struggled to think of an iconic cake that the world identifies with America.

cakes

image source:aaronmaree.blogspot.com

America’s cake list comes down to red velvet cake, American cheesecake, and angel food cake; I don’t think of chocolate brownies and doughnuts as cakes. Red velvet cake is not really inspiring; it’s a simple chocolate layer cake with cream cheese on top, and it’s only red, bright red or a reddish-brown colour because of food colouring. And angel food cake is a type of sponge cake made with egg whites, flour, and sugar, but no butter; how can a cake be admirable if it doesn’t contain butter. Besides, angel food cake never seems to stand alone. It’s always served with cream or some berry fruit; a great cake should be able to stand alone. And American cheesecake is a cake made only with cream cheese, sugar and eggs; but it isn’t uniquely American. There are Australian, Brazilian, Colombian, Bulgarian, French, German, Greek, Dutch, Belgium, Polish, Russian, Swedish, and United Kingdom and Irish style cheesecakes. So I don’t think America has a national cake, a cake to call its own, a cake that could stand alongside the bald eagle, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, or the Great Seal.

lamington

image source:tabletopplanner

As well as lamingtons, Australia is also known for its vanilla slices, matchsticks, butterfly cakes, jam-filled swiss rolls, jam tarts, coffee scrolls, and cream puffs. Either cake would not be out of place alongside any of Australia’s well-known icons; the big red kangaroo, emu, golden wattle tree, Akubra hat, or Sydney Opera House. Unlike America, you’re going to find a large collection of cake shops in most of The Land Down Under’s cities and towns.

Acland Street is nestled in the heart of St Kilda; a short tram ride from Melbourne’s CBD. It’s known for the consummate cake shops that own the footpaths. I still have sweet memories of wandering Acland Street, and with all the other shoppers smudging the outsides of the cake laden windows. If it was creamy, sticky, crunchy, smooth, sweet, zesty, or tangy it would be either a cheesecake, eclair, meringue, macaron or a pie or tart, from one of the street’s famous five European cake shops.

acland-cake-shop

image source:ieatthereforeiam.blogspot.com

After it was wasn’t okay to hold your mum’s hand in public but it was still okay to be seen with her I would sometimes go into Melbourne with mum and nanna on one of their shopping days; most times it was just a window shopping day. They always stopped in at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the Block Arcade for sandwiches, or if it was later in the day, scones and a cup of tea. The main room seated about 50 people and you just walked in and found yourself one of the empty, small, marble top tables amongst the other window shopping ladies. The room always hummed with conversations and the clinking of stirring spoons in teacups. The days of the shopping ladies, the well-heeled and fashionable matrons, and the genteel old-world ambience has mostly gone; now roped off queues form outside the Tea Rooms and wait for a table. And the cake choice has grown from scones, lamingtons, sponges, and vanilla slices to a bewildering choice of forty-five delectable cakes and tarts. The bulging Hopetoun Tea Rooms window display is said to be the most photographed window in Melbourne.

tea-room-window

image source:johnmcadam

I probably first drifted into Carlton when I was still at Footscray Tech; around when college first started to interfere with my learning. Carlton is an inner-city residential neighbourhood of Melbourne; it was and still is, populated with students, Italian immigrants, artists, and aspiring hipsters. And it was there that I was introduced to the mysterious lattes, espressos, and cappuccinos that were produced by the Faema espresso machines. Carlton brought a culinary and cafe culture to Melbourne; some of the first wave Italian restaurants, coffee shops, and delicatessens are still colonising the streets and laneways. Brunetti’s is still a small piece of Italy and is now nestled in Lygon Court; a small shopping arcade. Banks of illuminated display cabinets overflowing with cakes, pastries, éclairs, and macarons welcome you to the magical land of cakes.

carlton-cakes

image source:johnmcadam

Beechworth is Victoria’s best-preserved historic gold mining town. The town is cradled in the foothills of the Australian Alps in north east Victoria and is a comfortable three-hour drive from Melbourne. Built during the riches of the early gold-rush days the town’s attractive two main streets are lined with elegant buildings and historic shop-fronts; more than 32 buildings are listed by the National Trust. Walking into the Beechworth Bakery gives you a taste of yesteryear; the glass-fronted display cases are crammed with custard tarts, coffee scrolls, apple squares, lamingtons, jelly slices, vanilla slices, date scones, beestings, lemon slices, orange & almond cakes, and jam tarts; just to name a few. The cakes, pastries, and pies carry you back to your kitchen on mum’s Sunday baking day; when you waited to lick the wooden spoon that she used to mix the batter for her butterfly cakes.

beechworth-cakes

image source:johnmcadam

Yea is a scenic township about 60 miles north of Melbourne; the suburbs of Melbourne are relentlessly moving in on the town and transforming the surrounding rural countryside into bedroom communities. Many of Yea’s historical buildings are heritage sites and there are still gorges and fern gullies close by; a reminder of what the area was thousands of years ago. And Yea is no exception to the rule: Every small town and suburb of Melbourne has a cake shop. It could be a pie or a sandwich shop but you know you can always treat yourself by just ordering a flat white coffee and lamington. My grandad lived for a while in Yea during the early 1900s. He was probably one of many who smudged the glass with their face when coveting the lamingtons, fruit scones, and vanilla slices in the windows of the bakeries lining the main street.

yea-street

image source:johnmcadam

Omaha is nestled into Nebraska and is the 42nd largest city in the United States. The city and its metropolitan area is home to over 900,000 people. Omaha claims to be the mother of Butter Brickle Ice Cream, the Reuben sandwich, Raisin Bran, the frozen TV dinner, the first Duncan Hines cake mix, and the Eskimo pie; each one of these delicacies is not only a rich addition to the American national food menu but an influence on the way the world eats. For as long as I can remember Omaha has always had the Delice European Bakery and Cafe; a Xanadu of gateaus, tortes, tarts, rich cream-filled cakes, scones and cookies. And more recently the Le Petit Paris French Bakery; a rich source for mousses, tarts and macaroons, and classic pastries. So maybe Omaha is the American exception to the adage: Unlike America, you’re going to find a large collection of cake shops in most of The Land Down Under’s cities and towns.

The Cheesecake Factory is at the WestRoads Mall; they claim to have 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts. I think I will stop by The Cheesecake Factory and suggest a lamington cheesecake as a dessert option.

 

Cake Wrecks

Hopetoun Tea Rooms

Beechworth Bakery

I Always Stop and Smell the Plastic

Ever since living in Nebraska I wait breathlessly each year for the arrival of spring. One of the earliest signs of winter’s end is the appearance of asparagus. Recently I went to Wenninghoff ‘s to buy some crisp young spring asparagus. Omaha’s farm in the city had no asparagus; the hail from a not so long ago thunderstorm had destroyed the crop. I went in search of asparagus at a grocery store known for it’s variety of signature items and produce. And it seemed that every vegetable and fruit was encased in plastic.

john asparagus

image source:johnmcadam

And so I thought about the legacy and genius of Harold Warp. Some say that I-80 through Nebraska is the most boring stretch of interstate in the country. Maybe the ordinariness of I-80 is because the cheapest way to build it was to put it in a wide, level, smooth place; a totally flat location with no heavy duty obstacles. And today I-80 follows the Platte Valley, the time worn floodplain of the Platte River. These days I-80 is home to an endless convoy of semi-trailer trucks shuttling between Bosselman’s and Flying J Travel Plaza’s. And everybody zooms along guided by their GPS and with a Spotify play list blue tooth streaming to their car sub woofers. All of Nebraska’s tourist attractions are just an exit away from the big four lane road.Traveling west the signs first started to appear just past the Grand Island exit; the signs decorated every corn field until the Minden exit. It was a fifty five mile landscape of Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village billboards. Twenty plus years ago I took the 279 exit and spent an afternoon aimlessly wandering the twenty eight buildings of the Village.

pioneer village

image source:transkansas.blogspot.com/

It was all about stuff. Harold was his own curator and he introduced a cutting edge approach to cataloging, acquisition and the display of artifacts. That afternoon I walked away from the Village with slumped and weighty shoulders and a bowed head. Harold Warp was no avant-garde pioneer. I didn’t see the signs anymore; they were still standing tall in the corn fields but my rejection of Harold and his Village made them unwanted. One day it just appeared in smaller lettering on one of the signs: inventor Harold Warp, developer of plastic food wrap and the plastic food baggie. Harold was a deliverer, a rescuer, a benefactor to human kind. It wasn’t about the museum it was all about Jiffy Wrap and Jiffy Bags. Harold Warp carked it on April 9th, 1994.

I could recite it by heart; sixpence worth of chips, a piece of flake, and three potato cakes. You stood at the counter and watched as the flake and potato cakes were dipped in batter, placed in a wire basket and plunged into hot bubbling frying oil. And a few minutes later the chips were added to the basket. Fish and chips shops were always family owned and staffed. Mum and dad were behind the counter and the kids helped out on the always busy Friday and Saturday nights. They knew just when to raise the basket of golden goodness from the oil and bump it a couple of times on the edge of the fryer to drain some of the hot oil.

fish and chips

image source:foodandtravelfun.com

The fish, piles of chunky chips, and crisp potato caked, all deep fried were emptied onto a small piece of grease proof paper resting on sheets of yesterdays newspaper; this pile of perfection was sprinkled with salt, and sometimes vinegar, and then three or four pages of the old newspaper were used to make a steaming hot wrapped package. You would tear the top off of the newspaper package as soon as you left the fish and chip shop to create an opening so your fingers could grasp the golden contents. Sometimes the goodness would stick to the grease proof paper and newspaper; you would peel them from the batter and then scrape the batter from the paper. And the oil would soak into and through the newspaper. Over time there were concerns about the possibility of ink chemical contamination from the newsprint and it was ruled unsafe for food to come into contact with newspaper ink. And so fish and chips were wrapped in white butcher’s paper and then fancy boxes. But I never knew fish and chips to be wrapped in plastic food wrap.

It had wooden floors and a counter that ran the length of the shop. Square shelves of different sizes formed the wall behind the counter and they strained under the weight of the Arnott’s, Brockhoff, and Swallow’s biscuit tins. Rodgers Grocers was on Douglas Parade and close to the corner of Johns Street. Mum and nanna shopped occasionally at Rodgers when nanna bought a pound of biscuits for granddad to dip into his cup of tea. And they passed it every Friday on their way to the shops on Douglas Parade and Ferguson Streets. I would sometimes walk to Williamstown with mum and nanna and they would stop at Rodgers to treat me to broken biscuits; when customers ordered biscuits the broken bits were separated from the whole biscuits and kept aside in a broken biscuit tin.

arnotts grocer

image source:dailytelegraph.com.au/

Biscuits were ordered by weight and a balance weight scale on the counter was used to meet each customers order. I think mum would buy us half a pound of mixed broken. The eight ounce weight was put on one pan of the scales and a few biscuits from the broken biscuit tins were put into a paper bag and put on the other balance pan; biscuits were then added one at a time until the scale balanced. We left J A Rodgers and Co clutching a small paper bag anxious to get home to savor our Arnotts. It’s bizarre how you take the outstanding to be the ordinary and the ordinary to be the exceptional; the broken biscuits were thought of as a delicious treat and the cakes that mum baked every Sunday were left neglected on a plate in the cupboard. Years later mum would buy the fabled Arnotts Mint Slices and there would always be an open packet of round chocolate biscuits topped with mint flavored cream and coated in dark chocolate in the cupboard.

Even though mum’s main shopping day was Friday she also bought fresh meat mid week at the butchers. The butchers window was home to at least thirty metal trays of different parsley dressed meats. Sausages, mince, chops, cutlets, tripe, kidney, bacon, and rissoles all sat in their own trays in the window proudly enticing shoppers inside; their texture and colors unobstructed by plastic food wrap.

butcher shop window

image source:loc.gov/item/afcwip001384

Legs of pork and lamb hung from hooks in the window. And sides of lamb and small joints hung from ceiling hooks behind the counter. I think the sawdust that was spread on the floor behind the counter was in recognition of the tradition of butchery and not to soak up spillage. Orders were either filled from the trays in the window or by asking the butcher to cut and prepare your preference from any of the hanging sides or joints. After the sawing and cleavering the cuts of meat were trimmed on the butchers block, weighed at the counter, and wrapped in several sheets of the butchers white paper. Most people left the butchers shop with several white paper wrapped parcels of meat.

And so I didn’t really know of any food that came wrapped in plastic. I never thought about the Mint Slice’s. The fruit shop was the place for fruit and vegetables just as the butcher was for meat; and you bought cakes, milk and bread at the cake shop or milk bar. As I navigated through adolescence to adulthood I don’t remember when I had the realization that food was being wrapped in plastic. I think it started when I put oranges and then apples into the plastic bags that had replaced the paper bags at the fruit shop. I didn’t notice that I was growing a plastic profile until it was to late: And it has slowly spread since arriving in America. At first I didn’t pay any attention to the expansion and growth; and then people started to notice.

vegatables

image:johnmcadam

I would stand in front of the produce shelves at supermarkets and gaze intently, chanting Warp; Warp; Warp until I reached a meditative state with the plastic wrapped vegetables. And then I discovered packaged peeled oranges. Some saw the concept of the skinless citrus as convenience gone mad but I asked if it was a shrine to Harold Warp and the plastic food wrap pioneers and visionaries who followed. The English honor the plastic prophets in their own unique way by questioning the robustness, naturalness, and biodegradability of a banana’s own packaging; cellophane wrapped bananas.

banana

image:dailymail.co.uk/news

Sometimes I wonder why packaged meats have a sell by, use by or freeze by, packaged on, and an expiration date on the label stuck to the plastic the meat is wrapped in. The butcher always told mum how long the meat was good for and when she could cook it. And we always watched it being packed fresh in a few sheets of white butchers wrapping paper. Maybe the plastic is a shroud recognizing the oracles of plastic food wrapping.

asparagus-water

image source:uproxx.com/life

And just a few days ago at a grocers that features foods without artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats I saw asparagus water for sale; plastic bottles of water with a few stalks of asparagus floating in them; just $5.99 each.

I don’t remember seeing a collection of food wrap at Pioneer Village. I think I will donate some sheets of white butchers wrapping paper.

 

Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village

Melbourne’s 10 best fish and chips

WarpBros

Left is the Right Side of the Road

The silencer on my Nissan Cube recently developed a deep throaty gurgle. It goes without saying that driving your car anywhere within spitting distance of a car repair place is going to set you back a couple of hundred dollars. The car repair professional called soon after I’d left the Cube to be worked on and said they couldn’t get an aftermarket muffler and that they’d have to buy one from a Nissan dealer. In the same sentence, he threw out that the Cube needed a new front tire, which means two new tires, and a new battery. It’s not that I doubted the professional, but it’s hard to believe that Cube mufflers are so scarce. A Google search revealed my brave little toaster was now deceased. The Nissan Motor Company discontinued the Cube from it’s US lineup in 2015. And now, whenever I sit in the Cube, I muse over some of the cars I’ve known, but are now no more, which include the Commer, Vanguard, Austin, and Holden.

I think it was the Austin A40 that took us over Pretty Sally. Pretty Sally Hill is a gap in the Great Dividing Range. The Great Dividing Range is Australia’s largest mountain range; stretching from the northeastern tip of Queensland, through New South Wales, and then into Victoria. The road over Pretty Sally was the gateway to the Highlands of Victoria from Melbourne: And it was part of the original Hume Highway to Sydney. By the 1930’s Pretty Sally, because of a sharp turn near the crest of its hill, was known as a road accident magnet. It was a long, slow, climb up Pretty Sally Hill, and cars were often strewn on the shoulder with violent boiling radiators. The highway was shifted to avoid the steepest section in the 1960s. In 1979 the now closed Pretty Sally Roadhouse was used as the setting of Fat Nancy’s in the film Mad Max.

hume shifting

image source:state library victoria

Mum started her repeated warning early on the day we had to cross Pretty Sally. She was rocking imperceptible in her passenger seat and it seemed every few minutes was asking dad how much further to Pretty Sally. She kept repeating that we have to be across Pretty Sally before dark: And asking how many more hours until the sun goes down. We didn’t know what Pretty Sally was holding for us; only that we couldn’t be crossing The Hill at nightfall. My brother and I fell into a huddled silence on the back seat fearing that something out there awaits us and knows our names. And then mum announced; we won’t be there before dark, and she fell into a deep quietness. It was twilight when Dad’s “we’re here” caused my brother and I to unfurl from our shivering fetal positions and fix our eyes on the road ahead. Dad started to talk slowly and quietly to the A40; a soothing, encouraging chant. The car slowed as it entered the incline of The Hill and it slowed even more as we passed the hissing, steaming, defeated cars on the shoulder.

radiator boiling

image source:chicagotribune.com

We didn’t know what fate was going to befall the wide-eyed families inside. Mum stared at the cars and the innocent victims as if she knew their fate. The A40 began to lurch forward and dad gripped the steering wheel and his knuckles turned white. Just as the car was about to give up, dad in one quick motion double-clutched and shifted down a gear; the car was renewed with momentum from its second gear. Mum asked quietly; Bob are we near the top. We laboured past other stalled and wheezing cars on the shoulder. Our eyes grew wide in fear as we watched the mums and dads leave their cars. The A40 conquered the hill that twilight but we knew that something unknown was out there and knew our names. For years to come, we convulsed at the mention of Pretty Sally.

For many years dad worked at Forward Library Supply. The office was on the first floor of the Block Arcade; Room 1, First Floor the Block, 98 Elizabeth Street Melbourne. Back then the Block was just an arcade and not known as a heritage shopping arcade and you went to The Hopetoun Tea Rooms for a quick cuppa and a plate of sandwiches; mum and nanna would never think of it as an authentic federation style tearoom experience. Forward Library Supply was a wholesale bookseller to libraries and schools and rented books to lending libraries. Most rental lending libraries were in shopfronts in the main streets of Melbourne’s suburbs. They would either rent crates of current best sellers or choose from a selection of favourites from Forward Library Supply’s book stock; after a given time the books were exchanged for another crate or other selections. Book readers would either join a lending library for a quarterly or yearly subscription or would borrow a book for threepence a book. Dad called on Melbourne’s lending libraries and completed his monthly circuit in a Forward Library Supply car. I think his first car was a Vanguard and then a Holden station wagon.

vanguard

image source:1949vanguard.com.au

HoldenEH

image source:mightyrollaman

The boot of the Vanguard would be loaded with crates of bestsellers, books being recirculated from lending libraries, and a collection of favourites for lending libraries to choose from; dad carried a swatch of dust jackets of all the books in the trunk. I’m not sure how Dad kept track of all the books that were at each library, what was being returned and recirculated, and what was selected from the favourites collection. I suppose he had his method; probably similar to the dabbawalas of Mumbai. I think he worked to the same efficiency as the dabbawalas of Mumbai; it’s claimed dabbawalas make around one mistake in every six million tiffen deliveries.

tiffins

image source:commons.wikimedia.org

I remember a few days on school holidays that I partnered with dad when he did his rounds of the libraries. A lending library would select the books they wanted from dad’s swatch of dust jackets; my job was to find the books in the trunk and to re-shelve the returned books on the trunk floor. The job was a lot easier when dad got the Holden station wagon; with the back seat down the Holden became a modern-day bookmobile. I can still see the lending libraries in Douglas Parade and Ferguson Streets Williamstown and the one in Anderson Street Yarraville.

books

image source:pixabay.com

I don’t remember our front seat conversations in the Vanguard or Holden. I know we didn’t talk about circulation systems because dad didn’t know anything about the Dewey Decimal Classification system and besides the books didn’t have call numbers.

If the Vanguard or Holden was parked on the street outside of the house on weekends I would ask dad if he would unlock the door; as soon as I sat in front of the steering wheel I became Gelignite Jack Murray or Jack Brabham. Dad never left the keys so I became the car engine and driver. The steering wheel was enormous but I gripped it just like dad did on The Hill. I knew the gears because I watched dad as he mastered the busy streets of Melbourne’s suburbs: And I knew the sound of a straining, overworked car engine because the A40 had conquered Pretty Sally. My feet and legs couldn’t operate the brake, clutch, and accelerator but my left hand and arm became an extension of the steering column gear shifter. I would start each travel adventure revving the engine with a series of throaty roars, pushing my left foot down on the floor below me, and then thrusting the gear shifter to first. The engine purred in my throat through first gear until it reached the desperate sound of needing to change to second gear. I crossed the finish line first in the 1954 Redex Round Australia Reliability Trial and was the Formula One champion in 1960. Sometimes I just went for a leisurely drive without leaving the curb.

Gelignite Jack_Murray car

image source:commons.wikimedia.org

Around the bend from where the Strand meets North Road was the Warmies; water that was used for cooling was discharged from the powerhouse into the Yarra River. A steam punt guided by chains ferried cars, bike riders, and sometimes trucks across the mouth of the river from Newport to Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne; we always knew it as Fisherman Bend. You could squeeze about 32 cars on to the punt. I forget the make and year of the car that my brother, Graeme Kelly, Ron Templeton, and some others would push from Kelly’s place to the punt, and then on to the marshy grasslands and runways that surrounded the buildings of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and General Motors Holden.

newport punt

image source:ferriesofsydney.com

During wartime, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation made the Wirraway, Wackett, Mustang, and a fighter aircraft known as the Boomerang. I helped push the car on to the punt a few times and became a Sunday driver over the grasslands and up and down the airstrip that was home to the Boomerang.

Mum learned to drive in the Holden and she became a licensed driver. I think she drove only once or twice to the Melbourne Road shops in Newport and the once or twice to the Douglas Parade shops in Williamstown; her top speed was bout 10 miles per hour and the car bounced over the bluestones of the gutters that she always seemed to drive on. And then she drove no more. When dad took a new job at Turner Industries in White Horse, Road Box Hill the Holden became the last car we had. At first, he took the train to work; changing at Flinders Street to the Box Hill-Lilydale line. The train journey was over an hour each way. Dad became the owner of Vespa scooter. I remember him layering coats and then a raincoat on cold wintry mornings before he started on the long journey to Turner’s.

vespa

image source:bkennewell.blogspot.com

The Vespa was always parked in the front yard pushed up against the veranda. Some Saturday afternoons I would jump onto the Vespa and even though the handlebars were locked at an angle I would ride the Great Alpine Road from Myrtleford to Bairnsdale; the Vespa engine staining and humming in my throat.

Now that the Cube is discontinued from Nissan’s US lineup, I need to sit in the driver’s seat of the parked Cube on Saturday afternoons and joy ride Iceland’s Ring Road and the Tasmanian Peninsula.

 

Fishermans Bend Aerodrome

Laffans remember Pretty Sally

Overland Adventure: The Story of the 1954 Redex Reliability Trial

Every Job Should Have a Swivel Chair

Did Russell Crowe really have to spit the dummy when they told him at the Virgin Australian Airline Sydney Airport check-in that the hoverboards his children got for Christmas were not allowed onto the plane? His flying off the handle caused me to think about what makes us what we are. It doesn’t take much to conclude that what we are is caused by the influence of many things. I think these many things include; mates, parents, climate, culture, education, income, machines and gadgets, and jobs. I also think that we become our jobs while doing them, and we retain some of what we become for the rest of our life. Russ has had quite a few jobs in his lifetime. These include; being a television child star, a failed attempt as a bingo caller, bartending, and working as a waiter. Could the jobs have caused Russ to have; a fiery temper, embrace arrogance and rudeness, and take up a volatile, combative bad-boy nature?

One of my first jobs was coordinating the delivery of the Golden Fleece Top Hits 45rpm vinyl records to Melbourne’s Golden Fleece service stations. Golden Fleece was one of the major Australian petrol suppliers and distributors; it was a pioneer of single brand service stations and its golden merino ram logo seemed to be everywhere around Melbourne and Australia. I remember a Golden Fleece station on the corner of Hotham Street and Douglas Parade.

gf station

image source:flickr

Golden Fleece’s main petrol distribution terminal for Melbourne was on Douglas Parade just past the Newport Power House. The terminal was a farm of petrol storage tanks connected to several tanker loading stations. The petrol tankers would check-in and out at a dispatch office when entering and leaving the terminal. I spent six weeks one hot summer in the dispatch office. To entice motorists to fill their tank at a Golden Fleece service station, or just to stop in to get their windscreen cleaned, the company gave away a different promotional Top Forty hit each week. Each station was given a number of records at the start of the week and if they ran out, the owner would phone the dispatch office to request additional records; the additional records were matched to the truck that was delivering petrol to the station that week and when the truck left the terminal the records were given to the truck driver to deliver. I answered the phone calls from the petrol stations and assembled the caches of records to hand to the drivers; sometimes delivering the records to the loading trucks.

gf truck

image source:flickr

The Top Hits collection included cover versions of:

Bobby Goldsboro: Little things
The Seekers: A world of our own and I’ll never find another you
Herman Hermits: Mrs Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter
Ray Brown and the Whispers: Pride
Burt Bacharach: Trains, Boats, Planes
Brian Wilson: Help me Rhonda
Bob Dylan: Mr Tambourine Man
Ned Miller: Do what you do do well
Gerry and the Pacemakers: Ferry crossed the Mersey.

Recently Russell Crowe changed the name of his band. The millionaire actor allegedly changed his old group’s name from Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt to The Ordinary Fear of God because the names have the same initials and he would save money on not having to manufacture new merchandise. I wonder if The Ordinary Fear of God will play cover versions of Ray Brown and the Whispers Pride.

When my early seventies searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary walkabout took me to London I had a job during the long hot summer as a lifeguard in an outdoor swimming pool. The pool had to be as large as one and a half Olympic pools; it was surrounded by asphalt and concrete and the only blades of grass were outside; the concrete and pool were protected by a ten-foot-high brick fence. On each side of the pool was a men’s and women’s changing room that resembled dank, dark subterranean, grottos.

swimming pool

imagesource:architecturetoday.co.uk

The attendant in the men’s changing cave was a thin, pale, long-haired, young English man; he seemed to be forever reading this incredibly thick book. It took several weeks for me to linger near to, and enter the cavern, and talk to the strange quiet man. The book that he read all summer was Tolkien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again. During the summer we plucked quite a few little ones from the shallow three-foot end of the pool and were regarded as heroes by the young mothers; we also dragged a few from the deep end after they jumped off the diving board and discovered they couldn’t swim. It would have been no worries for Russ though seeing he made an appearance in the Australian television series Bondi Rescue; the series followed the daily lives and routines of the professional lifeguards who patrolled Bondi Beach.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, I was a van driver-transport aide. With other driver-transport aides we shuttled developmentally disabled clients from their places of residence to sheltered workshops; as well as to evening and weekend recreational activities. The transport fleet was made up of about ten transit vans of different colours. Several rows of bench seats were removed in some vans to provide lockdown anchoring for a wheelchair. Our morning route included collecting each client from a managed group home, or their parents home, and then dropping them off at their workshop. I think that each morning we usually picked up about twelve clients. Management tried to keep our routes and client pick ups consistent so we soon knew each other fairly well.

van riding

image source:specialgathering.files.wordpress.com

Our morning conversation would be; Good Morning Raymond. Seat belt on Raymond. John what you have for breakfast. Seat belt on Raymond. You have eggs. No Raymond toast. You have eggs. Seat belt on Raymond. See you this afternoon Raymond. Good morning Mike. Seat belt on Mike. Our afternoon route was the reverse of the morning route. After picking up the clients at their workshops we would then drop them off at their group or parents home. They knew their van by the colour so workshop pickups were routine; except when their van was in the shop for maintenance or repair. Some of the clients lived by the adage work hard and play harder: And we would transport the players to evening cooking classes or weekend bowling. Even though every ball was a gutter ball for the Saturday morning ten pin bowling game it was always high fives and an exuberant celebration for a game well played. I don’t think anyone understood the concept of winning; it was all about the satisfaction of bowling the ball. Our van became a special van on Friday afternoons. After workshop pick up we would stop at the drive-through for ice creams to go; even if it took an extra journey around the block we would make sure the ice creams were finished and any telltale dripped ice cream was cleaned up before we got to the group or parents home. I always wondered if anyone ever told their supervisors or parents about having ice cream: we were never asked about Friday ice creams.

icecream

image source:zocalopublicsquare.org/

I’ll bet you a shilling to a quid that Russ worked as a van driver-transport aide as he prepared for his best actor nominated role as John Forbes Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind.

I didn’t know it at the time but the opportunities offered to me at Footscray Tech groomed me for later events in my life: none more so than walking the boards in George Bernard Shaw’s short play Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction subtitled The Fatal Gazogene: A Brief Tragedy for Barns and Booths. After spending a few years in Nebraska we moved to Springfield, Illinois. The opportunities of practising as an Instructional Designer in Springfield were sparse and soon we were receiving food stamps. To sidetrack my anguish of collecting food stamps and the empty, endless, days of searching for the hidden Instructional Designer position I auditioned at the Springfield Community Theatre. I was cast in an upcoming production. I busied myself in the Springfield theatre scene and my circle of knowing people in Springfield quickly expanded.

theater

image source:karibedfordblog

One day a thespian companion asked if I was interested in part-time work. And so I became a patient simulator. We recreated a patient through role-playing in mock doctor-patient interviews and examinations. Our stage was a fabricated doctor examination room. Half of one wall of the room was a one-way mirror so the medical student’s faculty could observe them practising doctor-patient communication and examination skills; the performance was videotaped for feedback. The day before becoming the patient we were given the profile of an actual past patient; medical history, personality, physical findings of X Rays or blood tests, medications, emotional temperament, and their response patterns. The medical students were rotated through the examination room for their thirty-minute encounter. Collecting food stamps became a distant memory.

image source:medicaldaily.com

Many famous actors have turned down famous roles. Russell Crowe turned down Aragorn in The Lord of Rings and Morpheus of The Matrix. I turned down the prostate and rectal examinations as a patient simulator; I wonder if Russ would have turned them down.

It seems that Russ and I have a lot in common. We both have turned down great acting roles and also have been active in the music and recording industry. And we both know about lifesaving and have a sensitive insight into the developmentally disabled. I’m glad I didn’t get a hoverboard for Christmas otherwise I would likewise have a combustible temper, be arrogant and rude, and possess a volatile, combative bad-boy nature.

 

Huey Lewis and the News:Workin’ for a livin’

Brockwell Lido

Springfield Theatre Guild

#DadTookMySelfie

I think dad just completed three turns in his grave, or he just shifted slightly. A recent newspaper article put forward that Gen Y’s spend five hours a week taking selfies. A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, taken with a smartphone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. The smartphone must be angled at 45 degrees just above the eye line. It seems that the pose is extremely important; the slight raise of the eyebrow, the sideways smile, the carefully dishevelled hair, the sucked-in cheeks, the pouting lips, the nonchalant tilt of the head. Snap: the perfect selfie but not before filters are applied to blur the outlines, soften colours, or add a sepia tint.

selfie2 selfie3
selfie5 selfie4

Dad’s era was the Kodak brownie and he only knew of a camera with a lens facing away from you; you would aim the camera at something and then glance down at the viewfinder to finesse the aim. I don’t think he would have enjoyed a selfie camera with the lens facing him. I think I progressed from a brownie box camera to a brownie flash II. I remember turning the camera to either portrait or landscape orientation. We would get our unexposed Kodak black and white film at Koefords; the chemist shop in Melbourne Road. I think we got what was known as 120 film; we would open the back of the camera and attach and wind the film on to the take-up spool, which was the spool the preceding film came on, and then close and wind until the number one appeared in a small window. You would wind on the film after each picture and you could take twelve pictures with each roll. The exposed film would be taken back to Koefords to be sent away for processing. A few weeks later the black and white prints were in a Kodak envelope ready for pick up: And before you left the shop you would breathlessly reach into the envelope to explore your twelve black and whites. Most of the time only about half of the twelve were in focus, well-framed, or respectably exposed. I have some vague memories of aiming our brownie at the three sisters rock formation in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Before leaving Koefords we impatiently leafed through the prints to relive the mcadam family holiday to the Blue Mountains and Sydney. The three sisters were grainy barley visible miniature weathered peaks. And we were puzzled at what could have happened.

kodak brownie

image:thejohnmcadam

Smartphones and their cameras seem to be today’s digital brownie handheld point and shoot camera; though most have high-quality sensors and a host of camera settings and effects that we could have only guessed at in our brownie days. It’s ironic that today’s smartphones made the brownie cameras passe, but it’s back to the future as retro vintage, inspired apps turn our digital snaps into cool sepia-tinted artifacts with damaged split edges: our selfies are a charming collection of over and underexposed out of focus photos, that belong in a second-hand shop shoebox, or in a Kodak envelope from Koefords chemist shop. But we don’t print our photo’s any more; we upload, to Facebook, to Instagram, and Pinterest and assign each selfie a hashtag so it can be re-tweeted and tagged and shared. We don’t seem to take vacation or travel photos anymore; today’s panoramas just become the background for selfies.

Dad quickly migrated from sharpening his photography skills to creating 8mm black and white home movies. I don’t think he had a passion to rekindle the Australian film industry, which unfortunately had become almost non-existent, so he wasn’t interested in thematically reproducing the 1919 movie The Sentimental Bloke; considered one of the greatest silent films, and one of the best Australian movies, instead he took to putting the mcadam family holidays and other mundane activities in the can. And I don’t remember watching any of his silent black and white family epics.

film camera

image:pixabay

Dad had an 8mm black and white camera, a projector, and a film splicer which he used to join parts of his films together, rejoin broken pieces and add a beginning blank piece of film to existing film to help thread the projector. When splicing his films he would either hold bits of the film up to the light or run it through the projector and mark where to cut to give him the needed segments of film. I remember it as a simple process; he didn’t use white gloves to protect the film, he didn’t attempt to deconstruct a visual narrative and reconstruct it to his own assumptions. And he didn’t experiment with intricate, multi-angle, quick-cut montages of normal and slow-motion images; his movies had a more organic film look. Dad moved on to buying 8mm releases of commercial films; his collection was anchored by Charlie Chaplin, Popeye, and Mickey Mouse: And on picture night the Peel Street kitchen became our own picture theatre. Dad’s movie making and film collecting were on the cusp of television being launched in Australia and his camera, projector, and reels of film would soon end up in a large wooded box in the backyard shed. Sometimes, years later, and without much care, I would hand thread the old Chaplin and Popeye films into dad’s projector and follow the action on the shed walls. I should have shown more care because the sprocket holes became more and more chewed as the sprocket wheels worked hard at pulling the old film through the projector. His film collection, which included the family epics, ended up a tangled jumble on the floor in the shed beside the big wooden box now housing our Hornby train sets.

projector

image:pixabay

I don’t know exactly when, but one day his film collection was thrown out. And what would dad be doing now as a home movie maker; it seems that every smartphone and tablet has a front and rear-facing camera, huge amounts of storage, and awesome processing power. The smartphone and tablet is a travelling movie studio; dad’s 8mm camera, film splicer and projector would be in his pocket. He would have downloaded and installed an assortment of apps so that he could add Super 8 texture, grain, scratches climbing the screen, and noise to give his digital HD video his own unique organic film look. And the Peel Street kitchen wall of yesterday would be today’s YouTube and Vimeo.

I only have a few old black and white pictures of me as a very small boy, some of my Australian life in the late seventies, and a meagre spattering of me at other random times. I can remember many times over the last several decades spending a whole day without taking pictures of anything. Maybe I should start tweeting selfies of myself with my shirt off just to see how many thumbs up I will collect.

#natural construction of self

 

15 Poses and Tips for Selfies

Super 8 – Official Trailer

Gen Y spends 5 hours a week taking selfies

College Interfered with my Learning

I drive past Do Space on the corner of 72nd and Dodge quite often, and every time I think of the outstanding learning opportunities that were presented to me during my studies at Footscray Technical College. Do Space was created by converting a Borders book store into a free to the public technology library and digital workshop. Do Space has been described in the Omaha World-Herald as a resource meant to provide access to educational and creative computer technology to people from all walks of life, but especially to people who don’t have access to it anywhere else.

In the last half of my final year at Williamstown Technical School, I had to choose whether, to continue taking fitting and turning classes on Wednesday afternoons, or take glass blowing at Footscray Tech. I don’t remember everyone that chose glass blowing, but there were at least six of us that included: Brian Jefferies, Phillip Daniels, Graham Brown, and Robert Ballard. Every Wednesday afternoon, we would catch the train from North Williamstown to Footscray and during each glass blowing class, we attempted to make different pieces of chemistry laboratory glass equipment. We laboured to bend, melt, and attach glass to create; test tubes, condensers, three-way adapters, pipettes, and unique funnels. At the end of fifth form at Williamstown Tech, I was a decision away from a different life; attend Caulfield Institute of Technology to study Art or attend Footscray Technical College to study Chemistry.

For the next two years, I caught a morning train, with Brian Jefferies, at Newport Station for the trek to Footscray Tech. It was the new freedom of being a college student. It was the way we were. And I had chosen to smoke Kent cigarettes. I think it was the attraction of an all-white cigarette with a micro-nite filter; the suggestion of suaveness, sophistication, worldly allure and cultivated magnetism also helped. At Footscray I walked with Brian along Irving Street, smoking a Kent, to the three-story Nicholson Street Footscray Tech building. The chemistry laboratory and classrooms were on the third floor at the far end of the building and overlooked the railway viaduct spanning Nicholson Street.

kent

image:vintageadsandstuff

The first female day students entered Footscray Tech in 1960 and studied commerce and commercial practices and they were an outnumbered group. I think there were only about ten or fifteen female students at the college during the two years I contemplated the tangled theories of inorganic and organic chemistry. The chemistry students were also in the minority; we banded together though and were easily identified by the chemical stained white lab coats we all wore. There were probably about fifty of us. The commerce and commercial practices females and chemists were severely outnumbered by the engineering students.

Ron Lawton was from a farm in Sunbury. I never thought of Ron as the best looking fella available and he was incredibly thin. Regardless of what and how much he ate there was never a change in his weight and appearance. Ron decided he was going to host a chemists party in one of the field barns on his parent’s farm. Some of us chemistry students saw ourselves as wild and rebellious and with a youthful rage inside. We started to question the standards set for us. Music was our way to rebel not just against the music of a previous generation but against the confining social status quo. We would build a new system on love, trust and brotherhood. And it would begin at Lawton’s Farm; Only a handful of us showed up at Ron’s party. As we waited for the commerce and commercial practices students to turn up we started to consume our booze booty; mine was a bottle of sweet vermouth. The Rolling Stones had just released Satisfaction and it played, blaring from the barn and into the darkness, on an infinite loop.

barn

image:pixabay

And the commerce and commercial practices students never did arrive. I blacked out at the podium smoking Kent and only hearing the Stones. I left the barn the next day.

What did I learn? Drinking vermouth and listening to the Stones without female commerce and commercial practices students is remarkably good fun.

Footscray Tech had its collection of clubs and a student council that attempted to promote a student culture and advance the concept of music and avant-garde drama as a universal language and social change agent. I think it was the drama club that had an open casting call and auditions for actors for the George Bernard Shaw short play Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction, subtitled The Fatal Gazogene: A Brief Tragedy for Barns and Booths. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to better acquaint myself with some of the commerce and commercial practices students. I think I played the part of Adolphus Bastaple, or it may have been the landlord. We had a terrific run of two or three nights. Some of the commerce and commercial practices students and their girlfriends always attended the dances that were held at the College. I decorated the auditorium for Normie Rowe who along with others advanced the sounds of the Australian sixties music revolution. The auditorium throbbed to the brooding beat arrangement of Normie’s first single It Ain’t Necessarily So and Andrew Lambrainew seized the opportunities and presented himself to one of the commercial practices students.

normie

image:courier mail

What did I learn? That female commerce and commercial practices students preferred listening to Normie Rowe to talking with Adolphus Bastaple.

The sixties were an era when we believed we were special and trend-setting, and we wore our optimism and genuine faith of a better world on our sleeve. I don’t remember how the invite arrived but volunteers were needed to accompany the student float in the annual Moomba Parade. Some of the chemists honoured the opportunity to not only promote the perception of the student body as the guardian of humankind’s language and knowledge but relished the moment to be part of a parade that for the last fifteen years had inspired all Melbournians: And it still does to this day. We dressed in our white chemical stained lab coats, gathered a large supply of lab wash bottles and massed a generous reservoir of water, and stockpiled an inventory of flour bombs. I don’t remember the theme of the float or who designed and constructed the float, but undoubtedly the engineering students were responsible for the majestic masterpiece. Our fellow students riding on the float, between waving to the crowds lining Swanston Street, cheered us on as we water fought and flour bombed our way down the Moomba Parade route. I would maintain that the crowd lining Swanston Street was delighted by the float and the antics of the chemists. Two years later Footscray Tech was banned from entering a float in the 1968 Moomba Parade.

crowd

image:state library victoria

On the students’ float, high upon his dog kennel roof, Snoopy rested with his machine gun. Below him the Baron rested calmly on a red hearse. The ‘Footech Army’ supplied themselves with flour bombs. The Melbourne Herald reported that the students were dressed in bedraggled Australian army uniforms and pelted each other with flour bombs. They even threw a roll of mauve toilet paper to the reviewing panel at the Town Hall which landed at the feet of the Lady Mayoress.

They were readmitted in 1969.

What did I learn? We could flour bomb female commerce and commercial practices students in a Moomba Parade.

It was either a Ford Anglia, Austin or Morris convertible; it was Philip Daniel’s car. It was our carriage for our going away to Rosebud camping weekend. Brian Jefferies, two of the other chemists, and I all crammed into Philip’s car. We pitched the tent in the thick of the tea tree and when our camp was secure went in search of a beer supply: And we learnt that we had unknowingly pitched our tent close to a hall hosting a Saturday night dance. Because we were students of the sixties; idealists, stewards of change in personal relationships, and purveyors of the new feminism, we were anointed to attend the dance. I didn’t dance with her but we talked a lot; between conversation threads and Kent cigarettes, I would retreat back to our tent for a fortifying beer. She attended one of Melbourne’s elite ladies colleges.

reading room

image:state library victoria

I advanced that we meet next Sunday at the coffee shop opposite the State Library of Victoria; thinking that we could then both retire to the libraries main reading room. She agreed. Giddy with excitement and anticipation I retreated back to our tent for more fortifying beer. That Sunday I waited for several hours outside the coffee shop on the corner of Swanston and Little Lonsdale Streets. She never did punch the clock. I don’t think I even knew her name.

What did I learn? You won’t meet female commerce and commercial practices students when you are camping at Rosebud.

After my education was completed at Footscray Tech I entered the workforce and spent less than two years as an industrial chemist at two different companies: Then I taught Math and Science in the Victorian Education Department for a few years; moulding young minds and preparing the youth of yesterday for their journeys of tomorrow. But life had to be more than judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree so I returned to a journey of searching for inspiration, and idealism, in the ordinary: My walkabout took me to London in the early seventies, hitchhiking through England, Scotland and Europe, and travelling overland in buses and trucks through the Middle East to India: And several years later to South East Asia and the Middle East.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. Albert Einstein

 

State Library of Victoria

Australian Rock Music

History of Cars in Australia

What Good is the Warmth of Summer Without Christmas

It seems that Christmas arrives earlier and earlier each year in Omaha. The interior of most department stores and shops, and even some houses, were festooned with Christmas decorations in the middle of November. Some stores were even decorating promptly after Halloween; maybe it’s just a Midwest custom. I am not really familiar with the traditional dates and origins of Christmas decorations and tree decorating but I thought convention suggests putting up the tree and decorating 12 days before Christmas day. I think my uncertainty over decorating dates is because as a youngster and teenager the days leading up to Christmas were always focused exclusively on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. As a young adult, when I spent several years working in the Victorian Education System, I again focused on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. Australian schools, colleges, and universities started their summer holidays usually the week before Christmas and recommenced at the end of January or early February; my teenager school holiday years were spent at the beach and not thinking about Christmas and Christmas decorations. It’s not that I was a disciple of Oliver Cromwell and wanted the good times of people just eating and drinking too much made illegal and traditional Christmas decorations like holly banned but Christmas was just not a hefty celebration.

santa surfing

image:theinspirationroom

Maybe it’s the early summer heat that causes a unique Australian Christmas and sways what northern Christmas traditions are celebrated. Many Australians spend Christmas out doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for their Christmas holidays. A lot of places hold a Carols by Candlelight; the words about snow and the cold winters are sometimes changed to special Australian words and there are also some original Australian Carols. When Santa gets to Australia he gives his reindeers a rest and uses six white boomers to pull the sleigh; and he changes into less hot clothes. On Boxing Day it’s fire up the barbie at the beach with the mates, catch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or spend the opening day of the Boxing Day Test between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Santa visited us on Christmas Eve and we would always leave something special and scrumptious for him on the kitchen table; sandwiches or biscuits that mum had made and sometimes a bottle of beer for the boomers. I remember the morning that my brother and I each found two wheel bikes at the end of our beds. It wasn’t the Malvern Star that we had hoped for but a refurbished bike; I know now that mum and dad couldn’t afford two Malvern Stars. I was excited to ride the bike and implored dad to take me and the bike outside to the nature strip and to hold the bike while I tried to ride it; dad let go of the seat early into my strange balancing performances. I and the bike fell down onto the grassy nature strip a few times and then I was riding; but turning successfully would take a little more practice. I soon mastered the length of Peel Street to Effingham Road. The more I road the bike the more the belief in myself surged and my doubts and insecurities about ever being a champion cyclist were silenced.

bike

image:pixabay

In the mid eighteen hundreds prison hulks were moored off Williamstown; the convicts quarried bluestone from Point Gellibrand during the day. Much of the bluestone was used as ballast for cargo ships returning to London from Melbourne but some was used for buildings and other constructions in Williamstown and Melbourne. It is romantic to think that the bluestones connecting Effingham Road and Eliza Street could have been quarried by the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly.

I had to ride, and conquer the bluestone lane. The lane was a short cut between Effingham Road and nanna’s place. Mum always warned us about riding the lane and the dangers of the uneven bluestones; the most humdrum injury according to mum was falling off the bike and smashing your head open on the bluestone. Her warnings of the hideous trauma and wounds awaiting on the bluestones stopped us bike riding the lane for a short time. Unbeknownst to mum we started to ride the bluestones. The bluestones were lopsided and disproportionate and they formed an incredible cragged riding surface.

 

bluestones

image:pixabay

One day the bluestones claimed me, and mum’s forewarnings materialised; I went crashing onto the bluestones and my wrist collapsed onto the raised edge of a stone; my left wrist was broken and the u shape of the stone edge was molded into my limb. After the first setting Dr Long had to rebreak the wrist because it wasn’t knitting correctly. The second breaking was done without chloroform. I kept riding the lane; sometimes to nanna’s for Christmas dinner.

The family always gathered at nanna and granddad’s for Christmas dinner; we would all get to her place about an hour before dinner. Mum, her sisters Peg and Bet would head for the kitchen and my brother and I with our cousins Andrew and Peter, Bruce was to young, would play in the front yard by the fig tree or in the back yard in the overgrown grass around the sleep out. I never did know what Dad and our uncles, Ian and Ken, did. Some years the dining room table held crackers or bon-bons. A small string of garland dressed the fireplace mantel on which a small eight inch, artificial, conical pine tree was positioned. The table had a similar tree as a centerpiece. Even though the temperature was always in the nineties nanna would have the kitchen gas stove and the wood burning stove going flat out. We always had roast pork, her crackling was always perfect, roast vegetables, roast lamb, and plum pudding. She would start her plum pudding at least four weeks before Christmas Day; she mixed fruit, suet, treacle, cloves, ginger, sixpences, threepences, and other ingredients, and then wrapped the mixture. After boiling the pudding in the pudding cloth was hung in the kitchen bathroom doorway until Christmas Day.

plum pudding

image:the cook and the curator

After our Christmas dinner the pudding was reheated by steaming and served with cream. We ate our pudding double quick looking for the sixpences and threepences. In later years we had to give nanna our sixpences and threepences, and in there place she would give us brand new sixpences and threepences; the Australian government had changed the silver content of coins and it was dangerous to put the new sixpences and threepences into puddings and into your mouth. As soon as we had recovered the sixpences and threepences from the pudding we were back outside playing in the hot summer afternoon.

coins

image:pixabay

As the years went by Christmas dinner moved to our place; it was just mum, my brother and I, nanna and granddad, and Mavis. Mavis joined us after her husband died. Mum maintained the traditional roast pork and lamb but added roast chicken. And there may have been a strand of silver garland around the dining room window and one of nanna’s Christmas trees on the table. Nanna’s plum pudding was replaced with a trifle or something similar. After the feast granddad and I exhausted would head for the lounge room under the pretext of watching television but to sleep off the Christmas dinner. In later years I would go down to the beach.

backyard cricket

image:dennisdoescricket

Maybe I will ask Santa for a cricket bat, a few tennis balls and a couple of rubbish bins, for the stumps, this year so I can start the tradition of staging a twelve days before Christmas backyard cricket game; friends would then know when to start their Christmas decorating.

 

 

Carols in the City 2009:Colin Buchanan and Santa

Puddings, puddings, all year round

National Lampoon Christmas Vacation

Dreaming of Deja Vu

When I read that a new stage musical of Groundhog Day is to have its world premiere at the Old Vic in London next year, I thought about the time loop that mum had engineered for herself; repeating the same week again, and again, and again. For as long as I can remember: Sunday was always cake baking and roast lamb dinner day, Monday washday, Tuesday cleaning and vacuuming day, Wednesday soaking the delicates and catch up on the washing, Thursday do part of the shopping day, and Friday was shopping day.

Washing the clothes and bed sheets and anything else my mother deemed washable was a day’s work. The washing was always soaked in cold water at least a day before washing. Mum would sort the clothes before soaking; one of the wash troughs was for the whites and the other for the coloureds. Before we upgraded to a washing machine mum, washed the clothes by boiling them in the copper kettle. We called it the copper; it stood on metal legs and used gas to heat the water. On washing day, the combination wash house and bathroom, which we just called the bathroom because opposite the wash troughs and copper, was the bath with a gas-fired water heater that provided hot water for a shower or bath. It was a small room detached from the house on the back veranda, and on clothes washing day or when you had a shower, it would steam up and become a rain forest ecosystem.

mum's dream washing room

image source:slv.vic.gov.au

I remember the bathroom remodel. A washing machine with a clothes wringer mounted on top replaced the copper kettle, and a stand-alone water heater installed outside the wash house bathroom to supply both the kitchen and bathroom with hot water. Mum now had running hot and cold water for the wash troughs and the washing machine, but her washing process stayed the same. She’d soak the clothes for a day, agitate the clothes in the washing machine in hot soapy water, and rinse and wring them out, at least twice, to get rid of all traces of soapy water. The clean, slightly damp clothes were taken outside into the backyard and hung on the new rotary clothes hoist to air dry. Mum had a bucket she’d use to carry the leftover water from the one day soaking of the clothes into the backyard to water the passion fruit vine and her other assortment of flowering plants.

newport power house

image source:slv.vic.gov.au

We lived one block down from the powerhouse; it stretched from the corner of North Road and Douglas Parade, past the Strand to the Yarra Riverbank, and at least six blocks along Douglas Parade to Digman Reserve. The original powerhouse was built by the Victorian Railways in 1918 to supply electricity for Melbourne’s expanding suburban railways. Later two other power stations were built and integrated into the original structure to construct the largest powerhouse in the southern hemisphere. Brown coal briquettes were used to fire the boilers to produce the steam to turn the turbo-alternators, and when the boilers fired up, the powerhouse chimneys belched relentless clouds of briquette soot over the neighbourhood. And this powerhouse soot was the curse, the bane, of my mother’s washing day life. If the wind was blowing toward Peel Street, mum’s clean, sun-dried, rotary clothes hoist hanging washing would be covered with black grit. A guttural, shrieking, cry of soot, soot, soot would echo the house as mum ran to the backyard to gather the washing to return it to the soaking troughs, washing machine, and wringer.

clothes hoist

image source:pinterest

The Newport powerhouse was replaced in the late seventies with a gas-powered power station; it’s one, long, chimney dominates the surrounding suburbs. And there is no soot.

Everyone in the family acknowledged that mum was a breathtaking all-round cake maker. But it was agreed though that her older sister Peg could make a better sponge cake. After the Sunday roast lamb dinner, the kitchen countertops alongside the sink and those below the window that looked onto the high side fence became mum’s combination baking tables and pastry boards. The countertops were Formica, or what we knew as laminex. Mum was clever and artful in how she planned her Sunday afternoon routine. A light sponge cake and puff pastry recipes were the foundation of Sundays baking, and they allowed mum to create her lamingtons and butterflies and vanilla slices and matchsticks.

lamington

image source:tabletopplanner

The lamington, a handheld bite-size piece of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and liberally sprinkled with desiccated coconut, is an Australian culinary icon. There are many accounts of the lamington’s creation, but everyone attributes its name to Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. I like the one of it being created from a work accident by the maid-servant of Lord Lamington. Apparently, while working at Government House in Brisbane, she accidentally dropped the Governor’s favourite sponge cake into some melted chocolate. Lord Lamington wasn’t a person of wasteful habits, so he suggested it be dipped in coconut to cover the chocolate to avoid messy fingers. He devoured this new taste sensation with great delight, and the maid-servant’s error was proclaimed a magnificent success by all. And mum’s lamingtons were indeed enjoyed by all.

butterfly cakes

image source:aspoonfulofsugarblog.com

Mum’s used the same light sponge recipe for the butterfly cakes she used for her lamingtons. Her butterflies were created by first carefully cutting and removing a cone-shaped section from the top of a small cupcake. She filled the cavity left in the top of the cake with whipped cream and sometimes jam. She cut the cone-shaped section into two and anchored the inverted pieces in the cream to form butterfly wings atop the cake.

Mum never seemed to weigh or measure any of the ingredients when she was making her baking staples, and the puff pastry for her vanilla slices and matchsticks were no exception. Her vanilla slices would leave you basking in the glory of their wonder. She made the puff pastry and custard from scratch, and when she rested the firm vanilla yellow custard between two buttery pieces of her puff pastry, the result was a stunner. It was insulting to call mum’s vanilla slices by their colloquial name snot blocks.

vanilla slice

image source:pd4pic

Her matchsticks were vanilla slice puff pastry filled with fresh whipped cream and jam and sprinkled with icing sugar. The matchsticks were rich and sweet and should have come with the caution that consuming mum’s matchsticks may produce a sugar overdose, a sugar high, or a diabetic coma.

matchstick

image source:pinjarrabakery

Mum repeated each week again, and again, and again. Sunday was sift, blend, mix, beat, stir, whip, and bake, Monday was washing day, Tuesday cleaning and vacuuming, Wednesday soaking the delicates and catch up on the washing, Thursday part of the shopping, and Friday was the main shopping day.

 

John Fogerty – “DejaVu” (All Over Again)

Home made Lamingtons (Recipe)

History of the Washing Machine and Washer Dryer

You Never Forget the Manhood You Grow Up With

I remember Dad as a salesman both in his professional and his personal life; it seemed that everybody enjoyed his company and reveled in his outward personality. He was a volunteer at the Williamstown Youth Center, a Free Mason, a member of the Williamstown Lions Club, and he seemed to dabble in whatever took his interest at that moment. I can’t recall any meaningful father son planned activities that we did together that were opportunities for shared learning, or occasions that promoted my self confidence and character development. We didn’t have a barbecue so he couldn’t fire up the barbie so we could grill together. He wasn’t very adept at mechanics or construction so we didn’t share building projects, and he didn’t know his way around a car engine. Dad did know that first impressions are very important and assumptions are made based on attitude and appearance so I know that he planned my first two public appearances to help with my personal growth. These were not one on one activities that we did together but he did have some closeness to both and I think he knew that the visual milk bottle pizzazz and the iron goal temperament that I needed to muster would cause me to grow into a well rounded, successful, man.

Moomba was a cultural festival staged annually in Melbourne. It started in 1951 when Melbourne celebrated fifty years of Federation with a street parade. In 2003 it morphed into Melbourne Moomba Waterfest and events still included the traditional Moomba parade, crowning of Moomba monarchs and fireworks displays, but now carnivals in the gardens and along the Yarra and river watersports, water floats, the birdman rally, as well as live music and bands are all part of the festivities; today it is Australia’s largest free community festival.

moomba tractor float

image:state library victoria

From the 1950’s until the 1970’s the parade that stretched down Swanston Street was the highlight of Moomba. The parade attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and would take several hours to pass. It was made up of humble tractor drawn floats adorned in flowers, armies of clowns with some even riding bicycles among the floats, assorted bands that included the perennial favorite Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Band, costumed historical characters, giant paper mache puppets, and the flamboyant floats of Myers, the Gas & Fuel Corporation, and the State Electricity Commission.

moomba float

lets get together and have fun
image:state library victoria

One year the Williamstown Lions Club sponsored a post Moomba parade in Williamstown. Dad was the organizer; I don’t know if he stepped forward or if his fellow lions knew that he could do it. It seemed every night for a couple of weeks his fingers had found a home on the keys of the portable typewriter that he set up on the dining room table. He persuaded several of the companies, businesses, and others who had their Moomba floats meander down Swanston Street to be part of the Williamstown parade; they agreed to warehouse their floats, transport them to Williamstown, and volunteer their employees to smile and wave from the float on a Saturday afternoon. Assorted local community groups, businesses, and bands also agreed to be part of the parade that was to proceed down Ferguson Street, turn into Nelson Place and travel on to Thompson Street.

williamstown town hall

waiting for the milk bottle
image:state library victoria

On the day of the parade I drifted through the designated assembling area outside the Williamstown Town Hall and marveled as all the participants somehow arranged themselves into the parade order: And dad appeared from out of this coalescing assemblage and walked toward me. I didn’t know what to prepare myself for; he put one hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes and said; would you be a milk bottle. It seems the person who originally offered to carry the paper mache milk bottle hadn’t arrived. Dad motioned and someone lifted the milk bottle over my head as I bent from the waist. I settled the two inside straps on my shoulders; I was the milk bottle. The parade started and I gingerly started to walk with faltering steps. The paper mache bottle was designed with a small gauze mesh at eye level and all you could see was what was in front of you. If you wanted to see anything either side then you had to turn as a milk bottle; if you wanted to see where you were stepping you had to bow down as a milk bottle.

chador nelson place

customs house hotel from inside the milk bottle

I soon adjusted and as I gained confidence I swayed from side to side, did a little skipping, completed small circles, and even sashayed down part of Nelson Place. I was showing visual milk bottle pizzazz.

The youth centre was housed in a building behind the Williamstown Town Hall. It was a wood framed relcaimed building surrounded by unused electric light poles. There was a small street beside the Hoyts picture theatre that Williamstown’s electrical and maintenance vehicles used that led to the back of the town hall. The youth centre building contained a stage, a small to medium auditorium with attached toilets, and changing rooms. Off the front of the hallway that separated the auditorium and toilets was a small counter high snack shop canteen, and further along a room for hobby activities. First Constable Merv Storey was the youth centres pt instructor and manager; he was the catalyst for the centre. I also remember Tom Webb who was known for his model glider and plane making classes in the hobby room; and his wife, who we only knew as Mrs Webb. Mrs Webb provided piano accompaniment for all the centres public displays of physical culture, pyramids, vaulting and parallel bars. The youth center offered recreational and physical culture activities for boys and girls from eight years old and up.

exercises

image:state library victoria

I attended the youth centre one night a week. I think dad volunteered at the centre as a committee member, and he would help out one night a week with games and instructional activities. He would umpire games of iron goals; one of my favorite games. Iron goals was played in the auditorium and the junior boys would be randomly divided into two teams and the teams would line up along opposite walls; each boy would number off. An iron goal was at each end of the auditorium. The iron goal was a miniature soccer goal without the net and was made from bent and welded metal rods; you scored by dribbling a basket ball from the centre of the auditorium, along the floor, into your goal. Your opponent had to steal the basket ball from you by only using his hands. They could then attempt to pat and dribble the ball into their goal to score. Dad would blow the whistle call out two numbers, for example four and seventeen, and then four and seventeen would run to opposite ends of the auditorium, touch the iron goal, and run back to the basket ball in the centre to start dribbling to their goal.

basketballs

image:pixabay

I know that dad never favored me when calling the numbers but he always called my number during a game of iron goals; it was as if he was preparing me to choose life as a competition; or a game. The youth center staged an annual coed display of gymnastics and physical culture, indoor games, marching, boxing and wrestling, and other activities in the Williamstown Town Hall. I was one of the selected junior boys who gathered in the centre of the town hall floor, the outer portion of the room was crowded with spectators, to demonstrate the indoor game of iron goals. My number was called; I was first to the basket ball. I bobbed and weaved, my hand patting and guiding the ball on an unimaginable journey across the town hall wooden floor. All I could hear were the gasps from the spectator parents as they followed my dreamlike control of the ball toward the iron goal. I also heard the distorted chord progressions and inversions as Mrs Webb, her feet furiously pumping the pedals and her hands a blur, created a medley of improvised piano riffs to accompany my iron goal ball dribbling.

piano keyboard

image:pixabay

I don’t remember scoring the goal but waiting for my number to be called forced me to practice mental readiness and also to invent some personal rituals to maximize my performance and control anxiety.

So dad knew that he hadn’t played enough games of snakes and ladders or draughts, or taken me to any car shows,  hadn’t helped with my homework, or gone camping just with me and the dunny seat, and hadn’t played much catch with the cricket ball; the times we could have been just dad and son bonding. But in his own way he knew that the visual milk bottle pizzazz and the iron goal temperament that I needed to display would cause me pass into manhood and help me to grow into a well rounded, successful, man.

 

Ultimate Paper Mache

Moomba Parade Melbourne 1967

Best Father and Son Activities