IN LIGHT OF recent announcements by various members of the LNP Cabinet, and given Prime Minister Scott (How Good’s Volunteering) Morrison’s attitude to the catastrophic events unfolding throughout the country, perhaps we could look at reworking some old traditions that have faded into obscurity and at the same time celebrate the Pentecostal PM’s famous pledge.
The once anticipated Cracker Night, Empire Night, Guy Fawkes Night – the name varied State by State – and associated mayhem have been replaced by organised, multi-million dollar spectacles aimed more at swelling corporate coffers and earning votes for politicians than celebrating tradition. Halloween has replaced them to a certain extent, but it’s not the same. I doubt kids today get as much as satisfaction out of playing dress-ups and begging as we did in using a gumnut bomb to demolish the letterbox of a detested local dignity.
In my home State, Western Australia, preparations began weeks before “Guy Fawkes Night” on November 5th. Kids scrounged cardboard, wood and anything else combustible, stacking the spoils anywhere they thought they could get away with a bonfire. Old clothes were snaffled and stuffed with rags and grass – with a last-minute addition of Penny Bungers if you were more solvent – and turned into a “Guy”, an effigy of the plotter of whom it was once said that he was the only man ever to enter Parliament with the right intention.
For a couple of weeks or so before the big night, groups of kids dragged their Guy around the streets chanting “Penny for the Guy; Penny for the Guy, Mister,” paying particular attention to barber shops, pubs and shop fronts behind which they knew the SP bookies lurked. Those pennies purchased supplementary cracker supplies.
So, here’s my plan. To mitigate the dangers associated with pyrotechnics and summers that thanks to the climate crisis are beginning ever earlier, we could recognise the Winter Solstice as Scott Morrison Day or, if you’d prefer, Pentecostal Eve, combining the temporal and the holier-than-thou.
On this day, in towns all over Australia, effigies of our hopefully former PM could be set aflame to chants of “Throw another Big Aussie Barbie on the Fire”.
After all, he did say he would burn for Australia.
With a wink to Janis Joplin who, I just know, had she ever seen me in the front row at a performance would have raced me off.The wonderful illustrationsparked an instant response.Hillsong and our Prime Minister deserve all they cop –and more.
I learned this from Allan Cust in about 1955. He was my “supervising tradesman” when I began my apprenticeship at the Fremantle Printing Company, Western Australia. Allan had survived being a Prisoner of War on the infamous Burma Railway, with a bayonet scar running from the collar bone on his right-hand side to above the hip on the left to prove it. I only knew that because I caught him changing his singlet in the paper store one afternoon.
It was Christmas in the poorhouse, and the supervisor swore by all the gods, There’d be no Christmas pudding for this bunch of wretched yobs; Up stood a worthy pensioner, her face as bold as brass: “We don’t want your Christmas pudding, shove it up your arse.”
The giant corporate, Pentecostal Hillsong Church this year broadcast Christmas messages on commercial TV. Acknowledged as a mentor by Scott Morrison, the current Prime Minister of Australia, Frank Houston, father of the current “Chief Pastor” Brian Houston, was implicated in the sexual abuse of at least nine children, atrocities covered up by his son and the company’s hierarchy. Despite being under police investigation, Brian Houston is still a close confidante of Morrison and the Australian Hillsong cult is expanding and now controls a profitable global empire.
What a friend we have in Canb’ra, Christ almighty what a pal; We can safely damage children, While Scotty’s there then all is well.
Chorus: We can blithely gather millions, Stuff the hungry and the poor; Watch the countryside a-burning, As the Rapture opens heaven’s door.
Have no fear of p’lice inquiries, They are helpless in our sway; From the GG to Chief Wallopers, Born-agains now rule the day.
Jesus loves the Pentecostals, Blessed be the rich and smug We control this loony government, The voter taken for a mug.
For me Dunalley will always evoke fond memories. It’s one of those rare places, which, like the Buccaneer Archipelago of my childhood, are forever changeless, magically fixed in time and space. There are people like that, too; those dear departed ones still vivid and warm in recollection. My old knockabout mates Bob Pomeroy and Julio, lovers, parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts – and Bill Dunbabbin.
Bill Dunbabbin is to me a large part of what makes Dunalley such a special place in my soul. In him are the sea and the wind and the enduring rocks of his beloved island; the great gums and the peaty rivers; the wave-battered cliffs and the quiet reaches of the sea-hammered West. But Bill was also a paradox: a quiet man who loved a yarn and a lively discussion as much as he enjoyed sitting in silent company, feeling the breeze off the bay and savouring the aroma that make coastal settlements what they are the world over: that sea whiff with its hints of far-off lands and adventures in great and noble causes.
He also liked a good read, especially from books about the lives and achievements of the great explorer–adventurers. We had a bit of a book club going there for a while, Bill and I, borrowing from each other’s collections. In Pat’s cheerful kitchen overlooking the bay and fuelled by her delicious home cooking, we exchanged views on authors and their subjects. Flinders (who Bill, in common with many seafaring folk, rated as probably the greatest navigator of them all), Baudin, D’Entrecasteaux, and Cook were discussed and dissected, along with accounts of great journeys by land and sea and tales of shipwrecks and wonders the world over.
In my past dealings with a national magazine, I was often in contact with modern-day adventurers and their achievements – mountaineers, kayakers, travellers in exotic overlands – and I respect their steadfast resolve to achieve what they do, but for all their wonderful feats, the fact remains that, when all is said and done, they are the modern-day equivalents of the “gentleman adventurers” of Victorian and Edwardian times.
Pat and Bill – like so many of their time – were adventurers in the course of earning a living and their time at Port Davey is almost the stuff of legend. Their generation drew strength from this rugged old land of ours and went quietly about their business, enduring much as they did so. They were the overlanders; the fishermen under sail; the soldiers, sailors and airmen, the Waafs and Waves and Wrans of great and terrible conflicts and the endurers of harsh economic times. And in them our Colonial past wasn’t history – it was in the conversations and recollections of their parents and grandparents. Let the politicians rant about flags and patriotism; I’ll stick to my Bill and Pat Dunbabbins.
If by chance you should ever be in Port Davey, that legendary haven of Tasmanian seafolk and, I suspect, Australia’s equivalent of Fiddler’s Green, rest soft a while. Let the moist morning air wash over you and open your soul to the voice of the water. There’s a good chance you’ll hear a soft, strong greeting: “Good morning, Captain.” Be not alarmed but instead be happy in the knowledge that Bill Dunbabbin has come home.Rest in peace, Bill, and condolences to dear Pat and family.
Afterthought – Where are the monuments?
Even though just a nipper as nations go, Australia has a proud maritime heritage. This is the only continent first populated by sea, and before the first European skippers sighted our coasts, with sometimes disastrous consequences, the Macassa Men traded with the northern Aboriginals for the right to dive for bêche-de-mer, or sea-cucumber. This link was once very strong. When I was a youngster, we knew this once-valuable commodity by its Malay name, trepang.
Ships and the seafarers that crew them have carried Australia’s economic lifeblood since the days of European settlement, while the RAN and its predecessors have always played a vital role in our defence. Our seaborne navigators and scientists add daily to our knowledge of the world and our fishing fleet, though a fraction of its former size, is still an important contributor to our economy.
A Tasmanian friend from another generation, the late Billy Dunbabbin, and I once discussed whether or not there should be a statue of Matthew Flinders, the greatest navigator of them all, in every coastal town, and if Flinders, then why not D’Entrecasteaux?
Billy himself was the stuff of legend – a former fisherman who with his wife Pat had for a time lived aboard their boat in Port Davey. On still, misty mornings I sometimes hear Bill’s low greeting: “Mornin’ captain. A soft day.” When the wind roars across the hilltops, I can visualise the whitecaps in Norfolk Bay and hear him opine that “It’d blow the milk outa y’ tea.”
So where then are the monuments and memorials? Who has heard of Harry Robertson, whose days with the Antarctic whaling fleets gave rise to a treasury of songs? When tourists take a Murray River cruise do they hear the songs and tales of the Mud Pirates?
Who collects the lore of the fishermen? Like the tale of the notoriously stingy crayboat skipper whose deckhand brother was lost overboard. Days later he radioed the police with the news he’d found the body. When told to bring it in he replied: “Can’t. I dropped him back in.”
When a horrified constable asked why, he replied: “’E was on good ground. I got 35 crays orf ’uv ’im.”
Since the 1970s, airconditioning in cars, homes and the buildings in which we shop and work has meant we’re exposed to the elements for just minutes at a time on most days. For many, the weather is a TV weatherperson’s breathless description of a mini-tornado in Oodnagalarbie East or hail-damaged flowerbeds in Pavlova Circle.
We watch as HOSE FROZEN of Angora Heights (formerly Billygoat Hill) demands the authorities do something about his garden tap, rendered inoperative by the lowest temperature in 80 years, and ends his complaint with a derisive remark about global warming. But those same TV “personalities” and their melodramatic presentations have probably made city dwellers more aware of the weather than at any time in the past 40 years – even if that mini-tornado was in fact a willy-willy lifting skirts and raising dust in the supermarket carpark.
To the fishermen, farmers and others who depend on it for their livelihood, the weather is a living thing. It’s seen in the 10-metre rogue wave looming over your boat in the vastness of the Southern Ocean, or in the searing wind that rattles the stalks of a failing crop; and in the staggering, rheumy eyed, dust-stained ewes, weakened by a year or more of drought. To these enduring folk, the weather means poor or plenty, a smaller overdraft or another season of make-do.
The weather can also be a life-changing experience – like the Tasmanian thunderstorm that struck me almost dumb, and nearly made me get religion. It was the mid-60s and there were six of us crammed with our instruments and the Speech Therapist from Sassafras into a tiny Standard, on our way to play a gig in the north of the island.
The little car struggled up St Peter’s Pass into the maw of a fierce thunderstorm and as we reached the summit I stuck my head out of a window , yelling: “Send ’er down Hughie, you old bastard!” Whack! Lightning struck a road sign just ahead of us, setting its post afire and briefly cutting our motor. There wasn’t a word said for an hour, and from that day I’ve never again yelled at Hughie during a thunderstorm
This was written more than twenty years ago now. The memories are still bright.
My old mate Bob Pomeroy has left us. My mad old mate from the reckless knockabout days, my grand old mate with his winning knockabout ways… I got the news last night cobber, and I suppose I’d been expecting it, but that hasn’t made it any easier.
We saw a lot together you and I. From one end of our beloved Australia to the other, and over the length and breadth of New Zealand we knocked about in those wild and wandering days, working at all sorts of jobs and all sorts of lurks as we travelled: tin-mine pump guards on Tassie’s sodden west coast; sideshow spruikers in Hobart and Adelaide; freezing-works labourers and wharfie “seagulls” in Kiwiland, you and I did it mate, hard and soft.
We put up in and put up with single-men’s camps of all sorts and shared flats and boarding-houses of all descriptions and some better left undescribed. We’ve been overnight guests of the English Queen in the days when being three sheets to the wind and full of the joys of living could get you lumbered in some of our less-understanding communities.
We earned big money in some places, sometimes, and bugger-all at others; shout for the bar one week and roll up our cigarette butts the next. We blued with each other and blued our cheques together. We laughed in defiance at an establishment that spurned us because they couldn’t understand us, and we wept together at the sheer beauty of being alive in this sometimes sad old world. We were mates in the sense described so well by Henry Lawson.
And always there was the music. We supported ourselves by singing in pubs and clubs from Zeehan to Invercargill, Auckland to Adelaide. For miners and ministers, crims and coppers, bag-swingers and socialites we sang Old Shep and The Spaniard who Blighted my Life, Love is Pleasin’ and The Wild Colonial Boy and everything in between, and never missed a beat or a beer in the doing of it.
Some of our escapades together have achieved legendary status Bob old cobber, and they seem to have grown a bit in the retelling, but who are we to gainsay that, we of a generation and background which idolises Ned Kelly, that other defiant Native Son from good though dirt-poor Celtic stock?
Do you remind the time we found the old 1000-gallon tank lying in the bush between the mine and Stan Roy’s Renison Hotel? Remember how we decided to see if we could still walk inside it the way we we did as kids and how it got away from us on the last slope? How it crashed through the jerry-built fibro wall of the back “lounge” and came to rest against a table? And do you recall the aplomb with which you stepped from the tank, raised a hand in the air and said “Two middies thanks Stan”?
Remember saying to the angry young constable in Adelaide – the one I’d abused and in whose general direction I’d swung a vague, somewhat worse for the booze hand because of the way he was treating some old meths drinker: “You can’t lumber him, he’s me best bloody mate!” Do you remember the Top Pub at Zeehan and Daniel and Roy and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Kerosene Jack and the Wallaby Twins and Nipponhausenberg and Strahan?
And what about the time you made the sign from a bedsheet pilfered from the single-men’s quarters in Zeehan. “Honest John’s Used Trains” it read. We hung it from the Cyclone fence surrounding the steam loco display at that mineral museum and, dressed in our best clothes supplemented with borrowed vests and ties, waited for the daily coachload of tourists to arrive. Do you remember the freezing purgatory that was the mine pump house on a winter’s night? The skin-lifting, gritty blast of compressed air on the face as we fought to clear the blockage in a leaky, rusted-out vanning table feed-pipe?
Oh they were the days mate. The days when yarns were born and legends made. The beer tasted better, the sun was warmer, the winters wetter and the work easier, even though the bosses were bastards one and all. The lovers and the loved, the laughter and the tears. I’m glad to have shared those times, the fat and the lean. And the music mate, always the music.
I’m crying as I write this Bob. I know you’d prefer I didn’t, but you’re a mate and mates understand. They mightn’t agree, but they don’t criticise. I don’t know how much time I’ve got left old china, so I can’t say when I’ll see you again, but we were never in a hurry to get anywhere. I know he’ll come for me in his own good time, that old ratbag of an ex council-ganger with the scythe. And fair’s fair I suppose, we gave life a bloody good shake, so we have to give the other a whirl too. I’ll see you straight after he’s been, old mate. Your hair’ll be flaming red again, and our beards’ll have no grey again, and we’ll rant and we’ll roar like we did again.
He’s half-hinched your body mate, but he can’t take the memories. See you later, cobber.
What’s that? Of course I’ll bring me bloody guitar!