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When there was no fruit there were lots of other things to do.  Aspiring ‘Don Bradmen’ played cricket in one of the unsealed streets near the railway or on the local oval.  But I disliked their obsessive attitude; it spoiled the game for me.   A cricket ball is heavy and comes at a small boy very fast.   I preferred to let them pass me by.  But deliberately failing to catch-someone-out in the slips; or a ball that has been ‘skyed’; is not a way to impress some fanatical ten year-old who fancies himself captain of the Australian Cricket Team.

We did other things; like tadpoling or yabbying in the various creeks.  I never caught a yabby (my friend did once).  It was a bit like fishing; I lacked the patience.  But I had jars of tadpoles and frogs eggs that were dually transferred to a fish tank; where I watched them grow legs and turn into frogs.

One winters evening after falling into the rather slimy creek and so covered in mud that we hosed ourselves off at a friend’s place; I was heading home with my tadpole jar. 

A passing woman said:  ‘Oh you’re going to get it when you get home!’  She said it with such vehemence that I believed her and getting to our garden hid my tadpole jar and snuck in, filthy and shivering with the wet and cold.

I was amazed and grateful when my mother couldn't care in the slightest about my muddy clothes and put me in a warm bath before giving me a hot drink in front of the fire.  It was so nice to be home.  I was around seven at the time.

School holidays were a time for new adventures. 

These were the days before TV, first introduced in Australia for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.   As I have mentioned elsewhere we didn't have TV until the early 1960s.  The Spencers were late adopters like us; but the McDonald's were amongst the first to get it. 

Michael McDonald was the youngest of three brothers and had inherited a huge comic collection. Along their semi-enclosed veranda there were long window seats that housed this collection.  We spent many hours sitting or lying around on his pleasant elevated veranda, that overlooked their huge apple and fig tree, amidst a sea of comics. His mother (Elsie) would give us green 'Mynor GI' cordial in water to drink.

Most of their comics were black and white or had just one or two colours; except for some American ones that were brightly coloured.  The content could be quite lurid, women with flimsy clothing being carried off; femme fatale; and so on; but of course being boys they had none of those really soppy romantic ones that the girls at school surreptitiously read.

Comics were broadly blamed in the press and on the radio for juvenile delinquency and if they were discovered at school they were confiscated.  Repeat offenders were likely to be caned.

But comics were everywhere. We had quite a collection ourselves, mainly brought home by our father, who always selected the very tame, but colourful, Disney ones; Scrooge McDuck and so on.  

When we went to the flicks we were usually given two bob (a florin coin or two shillings) for both of us.  We could go downstairs for sixpence; or upstairs for ninepence.  We preferred to go up as this had a much steeper slope, to roll Jaffa's or other spherical lollies down, during quiet, tense or tender moments (roll-clonk, roll-clonk, roll...); and allowed things to be dropped onto the kids below.

That left threepence each (thruppence) to buy a sample bag or an ice cream.  The sample bag typically contained an old comic; a sherbet cone; and two or three other kinds of lolly wrapped in paper to chew or suck.

There was, and still is, a big Scout Camp very close by; at the bottom of Pomona St.  At age 7 and a bit I became a Wolf Cub and soon had my fire-lighters badge. You had to light a fire with a maximum of two matches; and then, obviously, keep it alight.



Your author in our front garden



If we were going ‘down the bush’ to play we might take sausages; potatoes tea-leaves sugar and a jar of milk in a billy for lunch.

We would make a circle of stones in which we would light a fire.  The potatoes went into the fire, often becoming charcoal balls outside; but still steamy soft inside. Green forked sticks went into the sausages to be held in the heat until cooked. 

The billy boiled; the tea was added; and the billy traditionally spun by its handle to settle the leaves. Tin mugs and camping knives, forks and plates then came out to serve our feast.  Sometimes we would take flour and make ‘damper’ as well. 

At other times we lit fires in the paddock next door; adding green leave or grass to make smoke signals; as we had seen at the flicks. 

I liked the cubs and stayed to become a 'sixer' and to get my 'Leaping Wolf' and an armful of badges - Dib Dib Dib - Dob Dob Dob.   I suppose that everyone knows that the Cubs is based around Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, written in1894, and the adventurers of Mowgli.  Akela is the head wolf and cubs promise her/him to do their best.

When I was finally old enough to join, I found the Scouts disappointing.  I tried the Pennant Hills troop where someone stole my big sheath knife with the bone handle; and the Air Scouts; only to discover that they only flew model planes.

In high school I joined the army cadet corps.  Apart from our own .303 rifles we got to fire the Bren and Vickers machine guns; and to use the radio equipment.  Much more fun.




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I first visited China in November 1986.  I was representing the New South Wales Government on a multinational mission to our Sister State Guangdong.  My photo taken for the trip is still in the State archive [click here].  The theme was regional and small business development.  The group heard presentations from Chinese bureaucrats and visited a number of factories in rural and industrial areas in Southern China.  It was clear then that China was developing at a very fast rate economically. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

His life in a can

A Short Story



"She’s put out a beer for me!   That’s so thoughtful!"  He feels shamed, just when he was thinking she takes him for granted.

He’s been slaving away out here all morning in the sweltering heat, cutting-back this enormous bloody bougainvillea that she keeps nagging him about.  It’s green waste tomorrow and he’s taken the day off, from the monotony of his daily commute to a job that he has long since mastered, to get this done.  

He’s bleeding where the thorns have torn at his shirtless torso.  His sweat makes pink runnels in the grey dust that is thick on his office pale skin.  The scratches sting as the salty rivulets reach them and he’s not sure that he hasn’t had too much sun.  He knows he’ll be sore in the office tomorrow.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia and Empire




The recent Australia Day verses Invasion Day dispute made me recall yet again the late, sometimes lamented, British Empire.

Because, after all, the Empire was the genesis of Australia Day.

For a brief history of that institution I can recommend Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Scottish historian Niall Campbell Ferguson.

My choice of this book was serendipitous, unless I was subconsciously aware that Australia Day was approaching.  I was cutting through our local bookshop on my way to catch a bus and wanted something to read.  I noticed this thick tomb, a new addition to the $10 Penguin Books (actually $13). 

On the bus I began to read and very soon I was hooked when I discovered references to places I'd been and written of myself.  Several of these 'potted histories' can be found in my various travel writings on this website (follow the links): India and the Raj; Malaya; Burma (Myanmar); Hong Kong; China; Taiwan; Egypt and the Middle East; Israel; and Europe (a number).  

Over the next ten days I made time to read the remainder of the book, finishing it on the morning of Australia Day, January the 26th, with a sense that Ferguson's Empire had been more about the sub-continent than the Empire I remembered.

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