*take nothing for granted!
Unless otherwise indicated all photos © Richard McKie 2005 - 2015

Who is Online

We have 62 guests and no members online

Translate to another language



Colin Spencer next door was another friend my age.  I mention him in the article on cracker night and making explosives.  When he was five or six he was addicted to sugar and ate it by the bowl-full. 

Whether this caused his kidney disease (nephritis) or was a result of it I never knew. But the outcome was the same, a long stay in bed with absolutely no sugar.  He spent some of the time with his stamp collection, drawing and whittling balsa-wood models using a hard backed razor blade.

One day on my way home from school I bought a threepenny chocolate and having eaten it, carefully refolded the wrapper to look like it was still uneaten.  I went in to see Colin and asked him if he would like it.  Then I said: ‘Oh that’s right you can’t have it; it’s got sugar in it’ and threw it out the window.  He jumped out of bed and ran around the house to discover the empty wrapper. 

When he returned he was a little cross. 

With the razor blade in his hand he began slashing at me.  I raised my right arm to protect my face and he slashed it open.  Blood began to squirt out of my arm at each pulse.  Gripping it closed with my other hand I ran home and said to my mother: ‘Colin’s cut my arm’.  ‘That’s nice’ she said.  So I removed my hand and squirted her with blood.  

She told me years later that the only thing stopping her fainting was the obvious need to stop me bleeding to death.  A tourniquet was applied the doctor phoned.  He came around within minutes.  I was stitched up and bandaged on the spot but it was not fine surgery.  As a result I still have a prominent three inch scar on the inside of my forearm.

Colin’s temper remained infamous, particularly in interactions with his father, until he was an adult but then he quite suddenly became the most peace loving of all my friends; a ‘flower child’.  He even traded his sports car in on a Mini-Moke.

Another source of injury was our 'billycarts'.  

Mine was the traditional central plank with a square seat over the back axle and a forward, pivoting, board under-which the front axle was mounted. It was steered by means of a rein-like rope; attached to the front board close to the wheels.  A pivoting handle/lever provided a brake that, like those on San Francisco cable cars, pushed down directly on the ground.  The wheels came from a baby's stroller. 

Other children had different designs; some with ball-baring wheels; others with giant spoked 'pram' or 'bike' wheels. 

Peter had a converted pedal car with a working steering wheel.  We removed the pedalling mechanisms: a double crank in the rear axle connected by bars to the pedals, as this just slowed it down - the pedals flying back and forth dangerously inside, and replaced it with a straight rear axle.  Then it went like the wind - the Red Flash! 

As we reached billycart age, around ten, we quickly became very good at making axles.  These were typically made of 5/8" mild steel rod purchased from the hardware store then cut to length with a hacksaw.  Two small holes but large enough for a cotter (split) pin, or just a bent over nail, were drilled at each end; spaced to accommodate our chosen wheel; plus washers.  I could do this either by hand, using my own hand-brace (very slow) or illicitly, using my father's centre-punch and very precious electric drill.

Thornleigh has some very good hills and billy carts really need a good brake.   Peter's had good steering but relied on his heels to stop or slow down.  Before taking it for a spin down Paling Street, our usual test area, we built a makeshift track down our steep driveway; around the house; down the side steps; and into the back garden. 

Down went Peter in the Red Flash; clank clank clank went the Flash as it flew down the steps; scrissh went the dirt he made the corner; scream went Peter as he hit the vent of the septic tank at the far-side of the back lawn; and tore his leg open,  He still has the scar.

Although my billycart was more mundane it was not lacking in speed and I wore-out several brakes down Paling street.  A little over half-way down there is the intersection of Cavendish Street.  This was still unsealed and ran down over the creek and then up; removing the need to brake on the downward run.  I could do a very nice skid turn into the dirt at the top of this street but the surface further down was harder; un-even and rutted. 

With each run I got more daring until the inevitable happened. In a hard rut the tyre on my inside front wheel came back and hit the central bar and it stopped dead.  I went flying; sustaining gravel-rash to my hands, elbows, one hip and leg and the top and side of my face.  It was all superficial but there was a very laborious removal of dirt and gravel from my wounds, and an even more painful disinfection with bright red mercurochrome. Then I had no use of my hands and could only drink my meals through a straw for more than a week.

Meanwhile Colin's engineer father, who was also a skilled carpenter, approached building a superior, fully-enclosed machine for Colin as a personal project.  Colin may well have built his own simpler machine, as I did, but John was intervening, probably concerned about gravel-rash. 

We decided to 'give Paling street a miss' as a test location for the new machine and instead went over to Bob Piper's place.  Maybe Paling St had been banned.

Bob's street was much less steep but only because half way down was very steep section; a small cliff.  As his brakes were suspect Colin elected to make his test-run down the footpath; without fully comprehending that even on a gentle hill, continuing to accelerate with no brakes could be an issue.  This was particularly so as the steep section corresponded with an, appropriately named, 'flight' of steps in the footpath. 

Colin survived.  He wasn't even concussed when his beautiful sports-car-like billycart first became a small aircraft to rival the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk; clearing the bottom of the steps by at least ten feet; and then a pile of kindling.




Add comment

Security code

    Have you read this???     -  this content changes with each opening of a menu item


Burma (Myanmar)



This is a fascinating country in all sorts of ways and seems to be most popular with European and Japanese tourists, some Australians of course, but they are everywhere.

Since childhood Burma has been a romantic and exotic place for me.  It was impossible to grow up in the Australia of the 1950’s and not be familiar with that great Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson’s rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s 'On the Road to Mandalay' recorded two decades or so earlier:  

Come you back to Mandalay
Where the old flotilla lay
Can't you hear their paddles chunking
From Rangoon to Mandalay

On the road to Mandalay
Where the flying fishes play
And the Dawn comes up like thunder
out of China 'cross the bay

The song went Worldwide in 1958 when Frank Sinatra covered it with a jazz orchestration, and ‘a Burma girl’ got changed to ‘a Burma broad’; ‘a man’ to ‘a cat’; and ‘temple bells’ to ‘crazy bells’.  

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

Outcomes for girls and boys



A Radio National discussion (May 29 2015) stated that statistically girls outperform boys academically and referenced research suggesting that this has something to do with working parents:

Provocative new research suggests that the outcomes for girls and boys can be different when parents go back to work, in particular mothers.

The big question is WHY?


Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

Terms of Use                                           Copyright