Discovering the real Toodyay

Toodyay, in the West Australian Wheatbelt and 85km north-east of Perth, was founded as Newcastle by European settlers with its name later changed and pronounced Too-dyay, as it is to this day, with the plum further into the mouth the higher one’s imagined social standing.

However, to the Ballardong Nyungar, in whose ancestral land it sits, it is Tudjii (u as in book, ii as in feet), sometimes written Duidgee. And not only to the Nyungar. Relatives of my parents’ generation who farmed at Moora also called it Tudjii, with a local rhyme to back them up:

Tudjii was Tudjii, when Northam was a pup;
And Tudjii will be Tudjii, when Northam’s buggered up.

So there.

A new tradition?

Crude I know, but it was spur of the moment.

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anticipated Cracker Night, Empire Night, Guy Fawkes Night – the name varied State by State – and associated mayhem have been replaced by organised, multi-million dollar spectacles aimed more at swelling corporate coffers and earning votes for politicians than celebrating tradition.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.

Heroes of my autumn years

Bill Dunbabbin, Dunalley, Tasmania

Bill in his natural habitat, Dunalley fishermen’s wharf, Tasmania. Rest easy, old timer.

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.”

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Harry_Robertson_(folk_singer)

Under the weather

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

More Doggelerish

Heatwaves

What’s that creature up ahead, is it crow or goat?
Did it trip across the road or on the heatwaves float?
Did it hop or did it skip, or lift its wings and fly?
On these sunburned western roads, mirage deceives the eye.

Long journeys are enlivened by trivia like this,
It beats by far the radio, or cans-full of warm piss;
And for those of you on safety bent, who roll your eyes and moan,
At least I’m immersed in wonder, not on the bloody phone!

Drongos, dogs and Depp

Depp

Johnny Depp has been generating a lot of free publicity back home in the US. Free for him that is – Australia is paying for it.

You might remember that in April of this year Mr Depp and his wife, Amber Heard – or is it “then wife”, I don’t really follow what passes for the lives of film and TV stars – brought their two pampered mongs, Pistol and Boo, on a little jaunt to Australia where their daddy was filming yet another blockbuster aimed at children and adults under 15. Problem was, Mr and Ms Depp didn’t bother getting the paperwork done that would allow their trend-setting ornaments to enter our country.

They might have pulled it off if their pups weren’t so desperately in need of a grooming after their gruelling flight from the USA in a private jet that they had to be innocently smuggled in a handbag to a dog beautician. And would you believe it? Some lousy Australian provincial dobbed them in.

Enter The Honourable Barnaby Joyce, MP, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Barnaby is also leader of The Nationals, a right-wing minor party with a rural power base, though now increasingly dancing to the fiddles of mining and agribusiness interests and alienating many of the younger generation of farmers, the constituency it purports to serve.

Joyce

The Hon. B Joyce is not stupid – despite what Mr Depp thinks – though he could be described, and not too unfairly, as about half way between oaf and buffoon on a sliding scale of such things. But he is informed, politically savvy, knows his constituents and most importantly is the Minister for Agriculture charged not only with looking after the interests of what is arguably our most important industry, but also with keeping Australia safe from many of the ills that beset agriculture in the rest of the world. Among diseases of mammals, rabies, foot and mouth disease and rinderpest are absent, while anthrax, next to foot and mouth perhaps the most feared of all, is confined to one small area and there has not been an outbreak in years. That is why we are very zealous about our quarantine laws and swift to act when they are breached.

Barnaby does suffer from frequent outbreaks of foot-in-mouth disease, being prone to opening his mouth before his brain is in gear, but in this case he meant well and acted properly, even if his tone was a little florid. He does have the power to order the destruction of animals or plants that might be harbouring exotic diseases, but in the case of the dogs Depp there would, I am sure, have been regard for the fact that as far as was known, they hadn’t been in contact with other animals, Mr Depp aside. A proper court hearing would have been held, a hefty fine imposed, a warning issued, an order to take the dogs from the country immediately, and that would have been that. Neither did the attitude of the Celebrity Depp help.

And here at last I come to the root cause of my outrage. None of this happened. Why? Because Mr Depp is a celebrity and therefore above the rules that govern the poor bastards who made him rich and famous among what appear to be hordes of barely pubescent, Hollywood gossip-website addicted children.

I am not famous and neither am I a celebrity. That is why, when I returned to Australia after five years in the US, the three cats I brought back with me – at a cost of about $18,000 – could not even be picked up from the house without paperwork allowing them to leave the USA, let alone enter Australia. When they got here, they spent three months in quarantine before I could take them to their new home. If the paperwork had not been done, they would never have left the States. If by some chance they had got to Australia without those papers, I would have faced a fine in the tens of thousands and the cats destroyed.

So how did Amber Heard – not Depp, he wasn’t charged with anything – get away with a “three-month good behavior bond”? And, like all true celebrities, when their crime was uncovered (yes, it was a crime, punishable at law) the Disdainful Duo immediately blamed an underling who they “thought had done all that stuff”.

To add arrogance to insult, the Depp/Heard combo made a clip for TV in which they “apologised” and said what a “wonderful place” Australia was. The film was dripping with sarcasm badly disguised as satire, which I doubt they understand anyway.

Ever since, poor put upon Depp has been doing the rounds of the TV channels back home, raising heaps of laughs for his cleverness and wit and his opinion of mere Deputy Prime Ministers of countries who would seek to criticise people of his elevated status.

One replay I saw last night took the cake. The host, proving that his ignorance of the wider world was equally as profound as Depp’s, raised heaps of laughs by noting that Australia’s laws are as stupid as America’s. Depp flashed his wit and scientific acumen by noting that Joyce looked like he was inbred with a tomato and he thought he would explode. Great stuff. Inbred? The result of a cross you mean? Ah, what’s the bloody use.

I hold no brief for The Hon. Barnaby Joyce, MP – in fact I hate his guts in the way that you hate a politician’s guts not really meaning him any harm, but I’d like to put y’all straight here. I don’t know if Depp occupies the same spot on the oaf/buffoon scale as Barnaby Joyce, I’ve never spoken to him, but he is a celebrity – and that’s something that if I had a daughter I wouldn’t want her to marry. He is a mug lair, with a head like a boarding-house cup of tea, i.e. big and weak.

He has insulted me. Despite my dislike of the system and the often mindless authority that greases its cogs, I’m clever enough to know there is need for some of it and so strive to do the right thing.

He has insulted one of my grandfathers – a member of Australia’s Light Horse (mounted infantry) during WWI – and his thousands of comrades-in-arms who at the end of the war had to shoot the horses that had served them so well and faithfully during those terrible years, because they couldn’t take them home and wouldn’t leave them to be starved and beaten in hawkers’ carts.

He has insulted the USA and its people by acting as though he is above Australian law, though I’d like to remind my fellow Australians that he’s probably equally as obnoxious back home.

And he has insulted my country by thinking that it is his part of his own personal fiefdom, to act in as he pleases.

But what makes me really angry is the fact that both major political parties in this country support legislation that treats refugees like criminals, condemning children, women and men to life in what are to all intents and purposes concentration camps in foreign countries. Even if they are proven to have legitimate refugee status, they will not be allowed to settle in Australia, but will be given the “opportunity” to settle in countries such as Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. Failing that, they will be returned to the hell from which they fled – a hell in large part created by military actions in the Middle East in which Australian troops were ordered by their government to participate. We deny these people, but allow the Johnny Depps of this world open access. Hope y’all gits bit by a rabid ’coon, John-boy.

A quick guide to Australia’s main political parties and the environment within which they operate

The Nationals is in reality a minor party – it gets many fewer votes than the Australian Greens – but Australia’s preferential voting system keeps it in government in coalition with the Liberal Party, whose name is increasingly an oxymoron, thanks to the influence of the flat-earthers who worship the unlamented ex-Prime Minister, Tony “Mad Monk” Abbott, a copped-one-punch-too-many amateur boxer, failed seminarian, serial groper, misogynist, xenophobe, racist, England-born all-round wanker who favours Lycra and budgie smugglers as informal wear, and reintroduced knighthoods. He only handed out three – one to the Jook-Embruh would you bloodywell believe – before the outraged howls of the vast majority seemed to herald a tar and feathering, causing him to desist. I say ex, because Tony was so hated by Australians of all stripes that the multi-millionaire, Malcolm Turnbull did a Brutus on him in September of 2015 and took over as PM.

Malcolm Turnbull was seen by many – well most – as a breath of fresh air. The Libs were elected after a few years of inner turmoil saw the governing Labor Party voted out of office. As an aside, it was a constant bombardment of vicious attacks on Australia’s first female Prime Minister orchestrated by the Mad Monk and his allies that was responsible for much of that turmoil. Parliamentary protocols were thrown aside, vile accusations and statements were made about the PM which, if she had been a private citizen, would have seen the slobs who made them in court charged with sexual harassment, libel, slander and probably a few other things beside.

So intense was the Monk’s hatred of Julia Gillard that on attaining the office of PM, he scrapped the National Broadband roll-out she had implemented and began a new one. Dubbed “fraud band”, it’s allegedly cheaper (it’s not), and better (it’s not, it’s third rate) and has seen Australia slip from among the best in the world for internet access and efficiency, to below the position the USA held when I was living there. It will not serve us in the future and will be astronomically expensive to rectify. But that doesn’t matter. Abbott got rid of a woman who had the temerity to become PM and to tear strips off him in the best anti-misogyny speech I’ve ever heard.

The Greens? If people could only stop and think, they might come to realise that the Greens are the only voice of reason left in the bleak waste that is Australia’s political landscape. Labor is as deeply in thrall to the giant corporations – miners included – as the Coalition, with the added burden of having to satisfy the trade unions, some sectors of which are as corrupt as any of their political opponents.

Murdoch’s newspapers are shrill, untruthful and downright biased in their support of the Liberal/National Coalition and denunciation of Labor and the Greens, but hate the Greens so much that they actually expressed sympathy for a Labor candidate whom they had previously portrayed in a front page cartoon as a Nazi and against who the Greens are standing. That should tell you something.

Malcolm has turned out to be a dud; “Tony Abbott in a top hat” to quote one politician. He has turned his back on the progressive policies he once espoused and has continued with Abbott’s lunacy for fear that the farther right will rise again and strip him of his position.

Australian politics is Stalinesque in its brutality and, as we the great unwashed have always known but are just being reminded of by the few journalists who have at last decided to kick over the traces, as corrupt as any in the Western World. It has been so since the days of Captain Bligh and the Rum Rebellion when those who owned the rum trade – the New South Wales Corps, the troops charged with policing and protecting – owned the colony and with impunity bought and sold officials at all levels and in all branches from the Governor on down. The owners have changed, but the methods have not.

There is one faint glow on the horizon – there is a sudden and growing rise in the number of those who believe that political donations by vested interests is corruption by another name. Bring it on.

For the non-Australian:
drongo is a backward person, one who never learns or tries.
mong cf mongrel
mug lair a braggart, a show off, an obnoxious person with an over-inflated ego.
copped means to receive and also to accept (as in cop it sweet). Tony Abbott seems to be afflicted by symptoms of boxing-induced brain damage. He has poor coordination, walks with a gait often seen in ex-boxers, and repeats phrases in a way that suggests he has trouble in forming cohesive sentences.
wanker is someone addicted to masturbation. It probably stems from the Victorian belief that “self-pollution” damaged the brain.
budgie smugglers are skimpy swimming trunks, the Speedos worn by lifeguards and some shiny-arsed surfers. Budgies is the Australian name for budgerigar (US parakeet), our smallest native parrot. Wildlife smuggling is a big problem in Australia, our native birds and reptiles are in demand overseas and criminals use all sorts of ruses to smuggle them and their eggs out of the country. Do you get it now?
Jook-Embruh Queen Elizabeth’s husband. The Mad Monk truly justified his nickname when he knighted him.

Depp image: Bidgee. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bidgee.
Joyce image: Angela George. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Depp#/media/File:JohnnyDeppApr2011.jpg

An imaginary conversation with Tony Abbott, MP

A brief and biased social history of Australia since World War Two

Part One

Mr Abbott, I won’t address you as Prime Minister – even though your party elevated you to that position – because I don’t think you deserve the title; Prime Ministers are leaders, you are not.  A lot of people might disagree with that opinion, perhaps thousands, and that’s fine, I can cop that sweet, but it’s me talking to you. Who am I? Well in your books, a nobody I suppose. A 70-something-year-old Old-age Pensioner born in Australia of mixed, though chiefly Celtic ancestry, who finished serving his apprenticeship in Fremantle a year after you arrived here from England.

Speaking of England, I’d like to ask you to clear up a couple of things about your move to Australia, because it seems very complicated. As I read it, your father had been living here with his parents who had migrated to this country in 1940, soon after the outbreak of WWII. Your father then returned to England where he met your mother, an Australian, and in 1960 the family came back to Australia under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. How could this be? Your father was living in Australia then returned to England, your mother was Australian and presumably a citizen of this country, so how did they manage to get assisted passage back here? If this was a rort, it might explain your relaxed attitude to today’s Parliamentary entitlements.

But back to the present and me explaining why I don’t think you deserve to be addressed by your title – neither do I think you deserve to be called an Australian, but more of that later. The Australia I grew up in was a pretty good place, still is as a matter of fact, but the way it was run left a lot to be desired. When I was a kid we had a thing called the White Australia Policy; you probably know about that, it was a latter-day construction of the belief that all our migrants should come from the British Isles – preferably England or Ulster and a few from the more compliant parts of Scotland but with allowances made for the Welsh and Irish and the naughty bits of Scotland that for some inexplicable reason wanted shot of England.

However, during WWII the Japanese gave us a bit of a shock and so governments of both stripes came up with a campaign around the slogan Populate or Perish, which was later expanded to the Holy Writ of the Two ‘I’s – Immigration and Irrigation. This, it was thought, would hold back the Yellow Peril, the Asiatic Hordes poised to sweep down upon us, carry off our women into white slavery and, in a grand irony, force upon us the evil of opium – the very drug the Western  Powers had forced upon the Chinese, leading to the Boxer Rebellion. However, the flow of Poms and Ulstermen was not enough to realise the Grand Ambitions of the Anglophilic Establishment, so it was decided that we would allow people from the less savory parts of Europe such as the Baltic states and the Mediterranean to sully our fair land. It was suggested that we should begin with only blue-eyed “Balts”, to allow the gentlefolk of Australia to accustom themselves to foreigners, but that was overruled and soon Italians and Greeks began arriving in their thousands, their customs and mannerisms giving rise to the same horrified reactions that greet Muslims today. One newspaper I recall ran a lurid story about a group of Italian men watching dogs copulating in a park. It was probably the same august publication that informed its readers that the saxophone solos in rock and roll tunes copied the mating calls of African animals and in the same article called Mitch Miller a prominent jazz musician. We were already pretty well versed in dishing out the borak to people who weren’t the same as us, after all, we’d been giving the Indigenous peoples gyp for a couple of hundred years and government policies and the media of the day made sure they stayed on the fringes and invisible.

Women and kids got the rough end of the pineapple too, even white women. Aboriginal women got it really rough though. Young blokes, and some not so young, in country towns all over Australia used the women in the blacks’ camps – euphemistically known as The Missions – as “comfort women”, to use a not-so charming Japanese phrase from WWII, with the added benefit that they didn’t have to feed, clothe or house them. It was a rite of passage for a young feller from the bush to get pissed with his mates on a Friday or Saturday night and then head down to the camps to root a gin. Wonderful stuff.

Any bloke  could bash his wife and kids without reprisals from the law, because the coppers “didn’t interfere in domestic disputes”, and the churches for the most part seemed to think it was biblically right and proper. If a woman left her husband, especially a woman with kids, she couldn’t expect help from anywhere, often not even from her own family. Rarely could she get a divorce – even if she could afford the legal fees – because her husband had to agree. Many married women didn’t know what their husband earned; he kept control of the purse strings and doled out “housekeeping” money to the little woman.

So you can see, Tony, Australia was pretty barbaric place to live. Oh I’ll admit that it wasn’t just Australia, every civilised country was pretty much the same. But that didn’t stop our soldiers, when they saw Gypos and Arabs treating their womenfolk badly, from being outraged. Terrible people the Wogs, uncivilised, mate.

Same thing happened when the Italians came over here. “Make their women wear black after their husbands die and all the old girls have to wear it for the rest of their lives. And those awful bloody head scarves the old women have to wear…”, this from women of my mother’s generation whose husbands often left them to sit out in the car, if the family owned one, while they drank with their mates in the pub, bringing them out a shandy or a glass of lolly water every hour if they were lucky. Women weren’t allowed in the Public Bar, only in the Ladies’ Lounge or, if they were accompanied by a male, the Saloon Bar. So that’s the sort of Australia I grew up in, Tony. Then along came the 60s and the 70s, and things really began to change.

But I’ll leave that for the next instalment and in that I’ll also explain why I think you – and a bloody lot of people like you – don’t really love Australia. Okay? Too bad if you’ve stopped listening, because I’ll keep rabbiting on anyway. I’ve got the bit between my teeth now and look set to bolt.

My Farewell To The USA

This was written as I was preparing to leave Kentucky to return to Australia, and it is with not a little horror that I note that since the Abbott government came to power we are sliding rapidly into a facsimile of those aspects of the USA that so troubled me.

It seems donkey’s years since I’ve put finger to keyboard to contribute, and I don’t really know why. LikeTheDew is always a great read and just as I’ve enjoyed contributing, I’ve enjoyed the many and varied passions of its contributors. But these past few months I seem to have been visited by that come-and-go ennui that seems from time to time to plague anyone involved in creative pursuits, but the packers have been and gone and with them the mood that has prevailed over the past few months.

The packers? Yep, in three weeks or so we’ll be stepping onto the tarmac at Hobart International Airport and walking the 50 yards to the terminal building to wait for the baggage cart to drive into the passenger lounge where Quarantine Beagle will give it the once over before we can grab our gear off the trailer. In other words, I’m going home – not to the state in which I was born, but to the island state I love equally as much.

It’s not without great sadness that I’m leaving. I’ve enjoyed my time here in Kentucky and forged many friendships that I know will stand the test of time – or what’s left to me of it anyway. I think I’m finally admitting to myself that I’m getting older, though a lot of what remains of my brain may still be stuck somewhere between 1960 and 1980. I also feel that I’ve got to know many of you out there; though we’ve never met, you’ve said some nice things about me from time to time.

I’m going to miss the great jam sessions I’ve had close to the source of the music I so much love: the mountain ballits and dance-tunes, and the blues and jug band music that once flourished in the south, all of which appeal to the brooding Celtic genes my forebears passed on to me. I came with eight guitars, an autoharp, two ukuleles, a set of small pipes and a piano accordion; I’m returning with three of the guitars, the ukes, the accordion, the small pipes and autoharp, and a custom-made mountain dulcimer and an open-back banjo bought two months ago and on which I may one day be competent. You’ve got no idea what it feels like for me to put that banjo in sawmill tuning and play Pretty Polly close to the hills that for a century more kept it from escaping back to the wider world from whence it came.

And I’ll be able to boast that I met an old feller named Deward who was once in demand to play fiddle for dances, and how we sat on his porch fronting a narrow road hidden in the woods and I accompanied him with guitar and voice while he played Leather Britches and Handsome Molly on a fiddle whose friction tuning pegs had been replaced with ones made for a guitar because Deward had a “tetch of the roomatics” in his fingers. He would say: “Thisun’s a hay chord,” and he’d start in on her and I’d pick her up and he’d yell, “You got ’er there boy, you got ’er,” and away we’d go, buckin’ and skippin’ over the hills and far away into that bright, gravity-free nirvana that musicians sometimes reach. We’d play Oh the Dreadful Wind and Rain to summon the shades of Celts long dead and then he’d change the mood, the battered old fiddle calling on Old Jimmy Sutton to dance for us, hearing him in our souls as he flat-footed on the ancient boards of the porch.

Always remembered will be the family gathering I attended up in the mountains. Asked to sing a song, I played Crow Black Chicken and was at first taken aback at the shocked faces, relaxing when the expressions changed to ones of delight as some of the guests began dancing.

I’ll also miss the green moistness of Kentucky, especially when I’m back to nursing a vegie garden through yet another Australian dry spell, but I won’t miss the frost and snow, nor the guilt I feel every time I mutter, “All right Hughie, that’ll do for a bit” when the rain gauge is full yet again.

I’ll look back with fondness on the polite way my stories about life in Australia were received. Even though I know a lot of what I said was taken with a grain of salt, people still listened – they were after all the ones who asked the questions. But after nearly five years here, the disbelief is understandable. The other day I told a Good Ol’ Boy that his all the bells and whistles Chevy Silverado would cost him just shy of $126,000 in Australia, and that the repayments on the nifty little V-Dub van I drove back home were nearly twice as much as what I’d pay on a Cadillac here. He shook his head and said, “Lawda mercy,” but I could tell what he really meant: “Pull the other leg, it plays Dixie.”

The talented surgeons who undoubtedly saved my life will always have my gratitude, for not only did they save me, they were incredibly kind to my then wife through a very trying few days. I know that if I had died there would have been no meaningless platitudes but genuine sympathy and that’s comforting. If ever you badly need a heart surgeon you could do a lot worse than Dr Hamid Mohammed-Zadeh.

Oh, there’s lots of nice stuff I’ll miss, but there’s also lots of stuff I’ll be shaking my head over for years. When you’re a foreigner hailing from a country that apparently is only second-rate or at least not the best on earth, you know that the USA Hollywood and Teeveeland like to show you isn’t true. I mean, fair crack of the whip, cobber, I’m not as green as I am cabbage-lookin’. Not everyone lives with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a swimming pool, two cars, perpetually clean shirts and permanently fixed-in-place hair, but movies and teevee have been telling you most of your life that it’s the land of golden opportunity where anyone can become president and there seemed a ring of truth to that.

You grew up listening to your Dad and his mates, whose first experiences of “The Yanks” were during World War II. They told you how shocked they were when they saw what the GIs ate for breakfast: “Bloody Golden Syrup on their bloody bacon for chrissake!” The fact that a country could be so generous as to feed its PBI bacon was astounding enough, but to see those same footsloggers pour what the Diggers at first thought was Cocky’s Joy over it, well jesus, mate, strike me bloody pink, you just wouldn’t credit it, would yer? Then in the next breath you’d detect thinly disguised awe as your Old Man – who had done his four-and-a-half years in the Forward Field Workshops in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Solomons – describe how if the “…Yanks’d want an airstrip, they’d throw everybloodything at ’er. Our mob’d still be workin’ out if the requisition forms should be in triple- or duplibloodycate and the Yanks’d have bombers landin’ on theirs. Fair dinkum. Couldn’t beat the bastards at that game.” Then the mood would darken. “Their officers did the same thing with their bloody men. Threw ’em at the Japs like there was no bloody termorrer. Bastards. Like the Poms did to our blokes in the first big stoush. Lousy bastards.”

So when you get here you know it’s not going to be like Hollywood or Disneyland, but everything you’ve ever read or heard hasn’t prepared you for the reality that is the USA, the Great Idea, in the 21st century.

It’s the apparent opulence that hits you first, the abundance of everything that makes you want to rush around and buy up the world: autos, tools, clothes, giant meals; all ridiculously cheap and easy to buy on tick at rates so low it’s hard to believe. After a while you begin to slow down to your usual pace and look around a bit more. As you move around in your day-to-day life, the varnish begins to crack a bit, peeling off here and there as the poverty becomes a little more evident. You begin to see the families and older, single people living in decaying trailers stuck on tiny lots right on the road verges in rural areas so beautiful they’d break your heart. You see the evidence of poverty – and its handmaiden, ignorance for lack of education – everywhere in the supermarkets where food and drink that’ll poison you is less than half the price of fruits and vegetables shipped in from all over the US, Mexico and China. Not that a lot of this food’s much chop, picked so green that it’ll rot before it ripens, denying many of its benefits. (Sadly, this result of factory farming is now common in Australia. At least a couple of generations have now grown up without ever having tasted ripe fruit.)

After a while you begin to pick up on the “National Mood” – a generalization to be sure, but palpable nevertheless. The contempt in which the poor are held still shocks me – as does the national attitude to welfare and anything else that might suggest a social conscience, the latter seemingly confused with socialism à la the Nazis. On the national news, I may have heard Native Americans mentioned maybe twice in the almost five years I’ve been here and I’ve heard and seen coverage of heaps of protests about the war on coal, but none at all on the social plight of families in Appalachian coal counties. When the mountain folk are mentioned, it’s usually to reinforce the stereotype of shack-dwelling, drug-crazed, incestuous, gap-toothed, banjer-playin’ dumb yokels but nary a word about why their society is in crisis and why it is that the coal counties of Kentucky and West Virginia, producing a commodity allegedly “vital to the national economy” are among the nation’s poorest. As long as I live I’ll not forget a local teevee channel’s 6pm bulletin. The bright young thing opened with: “Three coalminers have been killed in a mine accident in Eastern Kentucky and we’ll return to that soon, but first our Big Story…” then proceeded to rabbit on about the latest doings of the UK Wildcats basketball team.

It’s also hard to believe that anybody with most of their screws reasonably tight would vote for politicians who claim to believe a god created the world and that this should be presented to students as an alternative to evolution. That journalists would treat such people as credible candidates for any office – let alone the presidency – and devote hours of space and time to them hardly bears thinking about.

And I’ll be glad to have my freedom back. Living under a Constitution that insists on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of and from religion gets a bit harrowing at times. The number of times I have been chastised in supermarkets for forgetting where I was and slipping into Australian dialect have not been all that many, but they have been unsettling. Sometimes, when looking at prices, an Australian jumps into my mouth and I’ll let slip with “jesus bloody christ” or something like that. One bloke demanded of me – demanded – that: “You fall upon your knees sir, and ask the good lord to forgive you before you are struck dead.” When I told him he’d better rack off out of it if he wanted to avoid the heavenly bolt himself, I thought he was going to call the cops. I once asked a political canvasser if he was aware that the god-bothering bastard he represented was concerned about freedom from union interference but apparently didn’t care about the Peabody rip-off of miners’ pension funds. He told me I was going straight to hell, which to me is a good thing if heaven is populated by his candidate’s ilk. Mention taxpayer-funded universal health care, compulsory wearing of helmets when riding a motorbike or pushbike and a near-total ban on private ownership of handguns, and the response is nearly as bad.

Another great puzzle to me has been the attitude to sex – or anything that suggests it – and anything viewed as profanity. Who sets the standard? I once saw, with my own eyes, on ABC’s 6.30 news, Brian Williams apologize because “children might be watching” and he was about to mention a book title containing the word ‘hell’. PBS is currently airing an English police drama that is sometimes, to my mind, a little too gratuitous with the gore. But that’s seems not to disturb whoever’s job it is to worry about such things. Instead, English vernacular as mild as “tosser” and “arse” are bleeped out and bare breasts and bums are a definite nay sir – even dead ones on a morgue slab are blurred out. Look at the “news” clips on even the upmarket sites purveying news.” ———’s [insert name here] topless bikini too raunchy for San Tropez (pictures)”. No blurring here, just a big black bar straight out of the 1940s. On the other hand, we can turn to cable teevee and watch 4 year olds dressed and acting like, at best, ghastly parodies of Las Vegas showgirls or, at worst, $20 bagswingers moonlighting as 1930s burlesque queens.

Lest I be thought churlish, I am painfully aware that I am returning to a country almost totally in the clutches of the mining industry. Not long ago, the presently governing Labor Party had a rush of blood to its collective head and appointed as Prime Minister someone who should have been held up as an example to the world – the child of working-class Welsh immigrants, irreligious, intelligent, in a caring relationship though unmarried and a woman. Instead she was held up to the same sort of insults, scrutiny and opprobrium that have plagued President Obama and for similar reasons. She wasn’t the status quo and she wanted to change things and industry and the establishment weren’t happy with that.

Despite the fact that Australia is getting ahead of it’s green energy targets, that it has a national debt less than 25 per cent of GDP, that it has experienced 21 straight years of economic growth despite the horrors of universal health care, subsidized education and a reasonable pension in old age, despite all this she was sacked and replaced by the man she herself replaced, a wishy washy Christian who backed down on the carbon tax that will now probably be repealed and who suggested, but lacked the guts to push through the nationwide fibre-optic roll-out that Ms Gillard got going.

It is possible that the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – laughingly calling itself the Liberal Party and led by Tony “The Mad Monk” Abbott, a charismatic Catholic – may win the imminent election, so in anticipation it has been in talks with Rupert Murdoch to discuss the introduction of policies that have proved popular in the US, e.g. allowing corporations to make covert donations to political parties, changing media ownership laws thus allowing mining magnates to own a greater share of the press, teevee and radio and presumably allowing Rupe to at last accomplish what he has always wanted to do – own a larger share of Australia’s media, previously forbidden him by law and so motivating him to take up residence in the USA and Britain, the consequences of which are painfully evident – and other progressive measures.

I know all this and it saddens me that it’s what I’m going back to, but it’s my country and my fight. I’ll be able to write angry letters to the editor based on my experience of life in the USA and getting up the ratbag politicians for wanting to go the same way. When at political rallies someone claims that corporations have the same rights as individuals, I’ll be able to yell “If America’s so bloody good, why don’t you go and live there?” and have the moral authority to do so.

In New South Wales, near the little farm I once lived on, is a well-preserved and vibrant 19th century gold-rush town named Gulgong, site of the last of “the poor man’s rushes”. It was my watering hole in the days when I drank and I used to sing every year at its Folk Festival. My dear, dear, entertainingly alcoholic friend, the late Jules Sackville lived there and I followed the horse and dray that bore him up Mayne Street to the cemetery where, at his request, I sang “Go To Sleep You Weary Hobo” over his grave.

Gulgong’s facades and most of its buildings have been preserved as National Heritage and among them are two of my favourite things, two wooden facades fronting stores built in the 19th century. One bears the legend “The Wonder of the World” and close by is the “American Emporium”. Whenever I looked at them, for some reason I thought of John Steinbeck and America. To me, John Steinbeck was America and America was the Wonder of the World, the Noble Experiment, the Great Idea, Democracy with a capital D and uninhibited by monarchy and class. Where is the America of my imagination? As an Australian I feel crushed by the dead weight of the religious bigotry and money-based caste system that are holding this country back. You, my dear American friends, may not be able to feel it, but as an Australian born and bred I do, and it scares me.

I was once a fervent anti-monarchist and hoped to see the Old Brown Land at last truly free of the English in my lifetime. Australia’s parliamentary system is a mix of both England’s and the USA’s and now I’m not sure if it doesn’t work better than both of those from which it drew.

I hope that this is only temporary, a blip in the continuum, and that soon the people will rise-up to reclaim their heritage, to stage another revolution, though bloodless this time, to reiterate what the first one sought: equality for all. Even better, perhaps my inborn Celtic love of sweeping, embroidered oratory has so clouded my thinking that all this is mere imagination, the hoop-de-doodle so frowned upon in the Palace Flop-House and Grill. I hope so, I truly hope so, because there is so much about this country and its people that I love. So, if you’ll allow me, when I’m not busy fighting to change Australia’s stupid bloody flag or railing at some other insult to the country that bore me, I’d like to drop you all the occasional line.

Farewell, my friends, and a thousand thank yous for making me feel so welcome.

Kentucky memories, IV

health

Look after his health and Jack’s all right

I am toying with the idea – not very practical I’ll admit – of putting together an Australia–US phrase book, available for download at a nominal fee to anyone reading what I write and having difficulty understanding the Australian turn of phrase.

When one ignores the obvious, such as “dinky di” and “have a go you bloody mug”, there are subtle differences in word meanings that often slip under the radar. I remember well the shocked look on my (then) bride’s face when I asked a friend if I could nurse her newborn babe – nurse in Australia means simply to hold.

Of course the trouble might lie in finding suitable US equivalents, but as from today I am confident I have at least one entry covered. Listed under “U” would be:

Up yours, Jack; var. and abbr. of F**k you, Jack, I’m all right: Sarcastic comment to a person exhibiting blatant self-interest or ignoring the plight of others, e.g. the voters of Massachusetts who, already enjoying a form of State-sponsored universal health care, knowingly elected to the Senate a man who is certain to block any attempt to introduce a Federal scheme that would benefit their not-so-fortunate fellow Americans.

This was written during the long and only partially successful battle to introduce universal health care, deridingly called “Obamacare” by the Mad Hatters of the Tea Party and their Republican acolytes.

Racism or the insularity of the offended party?

Note: The ad in question whipped up quite a storm for a while in the USA. Apparently it’s okay to humorously depict all Britishers (and, to be fair,  residents of the Appalachians) as having appalling teeth, and all Irishmen as drunken, violent husbands whose wives pop out babies between beatings, but don’t dare depict West Indian attendees at cricket matches as costume-loving, rum-drinking, dancing, steel-drumming almost fanatical supporters of the game.

I’d probably be better off keeping my nose out of this one, but sorry, I just can’t let it go. I’m referring of course to the KFC Australia commercial that has so upset the delicate psyches at NBC’s Today and their colleagues at The Grio – not to mention a representative from that well-known arbiter of correctness and good taste, the advertising industry I’ll just quote a couple of lines from The Grio here:

The KFC ad depicts a frustrated, white Australian cricket fan sitting among a crowd of black people who are happily dancing to the beat of steel drums while rooting for their team, which is apparently from a Caribbean nation. How does he get them to see things his way? He offers them a bucket of chicken and they quickly change their tune. As they grab pieces of chicken from the bucket, he looks at the camera and says, ‘Too easy’.

cricket

Well let me explain a couple of things fellers. You’re right of course in assuming that the black people are supposed to be from a Caribbean nation, the West Indies is one of our great cricket rivals, but the steel drums aren’t there to tell us that – that’s just you stereotyping.  You see, when Australia plays a Test series against the West Indies in the West Indies – that’s what we call cricket or rugby matches against other Commonwealth* countries, a Test – then steel drums can be heard pretty much continually throughout the four or five days of each match. The West Indian barrackers also like to don fancy dress and dance around the place as part of their contribution to the atmosphere. I also suspect they drink rum.  In short, a Test series in the Caribbean is one big carnival and big heaps of fun. And the feller in this commercial is in a pretty typical situation for someone at an “away” Test. Let’s say the roles are reversed, as is often the case. Should I be offended if the product being offered is Foster’s Lager? Other than to say I wouldn’t be caught drinking that blowflies’ piss Fosters if my life depended on it, I think not. Now to the expression “too easy”. Perhaps a cursory examination of the Australian dialect may have helped here. Too easy has many meanings in Australia, but the literal one you have assumed is not among  them. It can mean the same as the US “You’re welcome”, or “She’ll be jake” meaning things will turn out all right in the long run or even “What’s the problem”, which itself needs explanation in this context but I ain’t gonna. They could’ve had him say “No sweat”, I suppose, but the newly arisen language police of the Australian Moral Reicht may have objected to that. Let’s say you’re stuck with a flat tire and a flat spare by the side of a lonely outback road. An Australian pulls up and spends four hours in the blazing sun patching the tire. You thank him. “Too easy,” he says. Not the work, not the sun, not ‘some people are easy pleased’. He’s shrugging his shoulders, turning aside the compliment, saying ‘it’s my duty’. Ah strewth, what’s the use. “Too easy” has connotations that even I can’t put into words – none of them bad – it’s Australian, it’s a state of mind. The Grio also claims the commercial is racist. Why? Because the writer can only think in stereotypes? You know, what I see as the real problem here is the eyes of the beholder. An ardent fan of the US and its peoples, I nevertheless am not blind to some of its shortcomings and one of them is an appalling lack of knowledge about the world beyond these shores. A lot of Americans are genuinely puzzled when they travel overseas to find that other people are different from them and some – a very small some – can’t cope. But not that many Americans travel overseas. Something less than 20 per cent of US citizens hold US passports – the figure for Senators is even lower by the way – whereas the figure for Australians is around 50 per cent and that may have something to do with it. Sorry folks. I love America and the Americans, but when you start chucking deepies over stuff like this… Now, who can I speak to about that pot-hole’s accent in the Geico ad? *To add to what I fondly hope is the patronizing tone of that aside, the British Commonwealth is an association of countries once in the British Empire. Though our Governments may spout guff about our special relationship with The Crown, what unites us ordinary ex-colonials is the love of sport and our fierce rivalry over it: netball, cricket, rugby, badminton, hockey; you name it, we’ll have a red hot go at it.