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The building boom

 

From 1948 onwards Australia opened the doors to migrants:  first from Europe and North America and later from Asia and the Middle East.  A massive building boom resulted.  In Thornleigh a lot of inexpensive three and four bedroom cottages were built.  We treated these building sites as playgrounds; wonderful for battles but also just to explore the timber frames.

Even as children we understood the construction process and were even critical of the construction quality. There were four basic standards: trench foundations, wooden frame, fibro cladding and steel, fibro or tile roof; similar with timber (weatherboard) cladding; deeper drilled foundations and outer brick walls (brick veneer); and full brick.  We noticed if the timber plates had been properly knocked-in or just nailed and the quality of the floors and materials in general.  The days of architectural flair were in the past; and the future.  This was a time of production-line housing.

Typically the first sign of a new house was the pegging out.  Sewerage pipes were laid, followed by a foundation trench filled with reinforcing then concrete around the periphery; upon which a low brick wall was built. Concrete pads within this outer foundation marked the location of brick piers capped with galvanised ant-caps.   Within a few days the timber frame was knocked up and roof joists and ceiling rafters added for stability. Sheets of corrugated iron, upon which concrete was poured, marked the bathroom and laundry floors.  The timber frame was then clad on the outer walls and wet areas with fibrous cement (fibro).  The fibre in fibro was asbestos.  Corrugated fibrous asbestos might also be used for the roof.

Workers typically cut fibro with a hand saw or a special long handled nibbling tool, creating a snow of white dust and/or lots of little chips; in which we played. 

A particularly amusing thing for us was to light a fire of timber off-cuts then soak a piece of fibro in water and heat it until it exploded.   Today this material is considered to be extremely dangerous.  It is only handled using protective clothing and face masks.

I expect to die anytime soon.

From time to time, as children, we accidentally broke windows; usually with some projectile: a ball; a spear; a marble fired from a catapult; a slug from an air rifle and on one occasion a cricket stump.  

But people who lived in fibro houses had the additional risk of their wall being broken.  One day we were playing cricket at school when one of the bigger boys hit a six over the fence and smashed a large hole in the wall of the house next door.  No wonder I didn’t try to catch those balls!

One of the kids knocked on the door and asked:  ’can we get our ball back?’  He failed to mention that it had put a large hole in their house. People who live in fibro houses shouldn't... (that's all).

Bob Piper reminds me that we also risked our lives exploring the underground storm-water drains using burning newspaper torches – wrong on so many levels that it's almost unbelievable that we are both still alive.

 

 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Writer

 

 

The fellow sitting beside me slammed his book closed and sat looking pensive. 

The bus was approaching Cremorne junction.  I like the M30.  It starts where I get on so I’m assured of a seat and it goes all the way to Sydenham in the inner West, past Sydney University.  Part of the trip is particularly scenic, approaching and crossing the Harbour Bridge.  We’d be in The City soon.

My fellow passenger sat there just staring blankly into space.  I was intrigued.   So I asked what he had been reading that evoked such deep thought.  He smiled broadly, aroused from his reverie.  “Oh it’s just Inferno the latest Dan Brown,” he said.   

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Opinions and Philosophy

World Population – again and again

 

 

David Attenborough hit the headlines yet again in 15 May 2009 with an opinion piece in New Scientist. This is a quotation:

 

‘He has become a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, a think tank on population growth and environment with a scary website showing the global population as it grows. "For the past 20 years I've never had any doubt that the source of the Earth's ills is overpopulation. I can't go on saying this sort of thing and then fail to put my head above the parapet."

 

There are nearly three times as many people on the planet as when Attenborough started making television programmes in the 1950s - a fact that has convinced him that if we don't find a solution to our population problems, nature will:
"Other horrible factors will come along and fix it, like mass starvation."

 

Bob Hawke said something similar on the program Elders with Andrew Denton:

 

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