Strive for the light of knowledge

Our school has as it’s motto, “ Strive For The Light Of Knowledge.” Without hiding the wisdom of the words in the learned cloak of Latin it was emblazoned on my school blazer in English. No skill was needed to interpret what it conveyed. The problem was it simplicity. It disguises its complexity and remains difficult to fully analyse. It was George W Bush’s, Secretary of State, Donald Rumsford who gave us the depth of the problem in 2002 when he spoke. “There are known knowns, there are known unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns.”

The problem for me was the truth of this statement was made decades after I left school. As the idealist, ignorant kid setting out on this adventure that has become my life, I had no idea how hard it was to fulfil understanding the depth of the school’s motto. Without unnecessarily dwelling on the words, they have served as a constant unconscious quest throughout my life.

December this year marks the sixtieth year since I walked out the school gates for the last time as a student. At that time I had no understanding life was finite. Typically I had no expectation of death, but could not comprehend anyone my current age could possibly think, feel, act and still be filled with wonder so many years later. At that time I was aware only a few men ever reached my current age. Today my inner man, is a man of of an indefinite age, he is capable of great feats. It is only by attempting something I once easily performed I realise the effort required is best left to the young.

I have learned about life from books. Several books I read as a young person have women at the core of them. Henry Handel Richardson’s book, “The getting of wisdom” Louise Alcott’s “Little women.” This list includes at least one book from each of the Austen women, including, Pride and Prejudice, and “Sense and Sensibility”. On reflection it must have been the influence of women teachers that set me to read these books. I also read with enjoyment the work of Dickens, including “David Copperfield”, “A tale of two cities”, and “Bleak House”. In this moment the only books with male leads which come to mind start with Mark Twain’s “ The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, “Kim”, by Rudyard Kipling, “Lord of the Flies.” By George Orwell, and the character “Billy Bunter” invented by Charles Hamilton

At school I tended to spend a good deal of lunch time in the school library on inclement days, reading magazines such as Popular Mechanics, dreaming I might make myself a stick Kayak, or a beach yacht. I also read 50 famous inventions and some of the titles from the Whitcombe and Tombs books. I would also browse through pages of Encyclopaedia Britannica. They stood proudly on the shelves of most school libraries until the arrival of the internet.

This anniversary of leaving school has also reminded me of life-skills I have received. I was listening to the radio, as I frequently do through the night, to a discussion. The theme of the program was, Can you, or should you, remain friends with an ex? The talk wandered into places new to me. “If your partnership drifted away before you were ready” was one, another was, “ Should you get back in touch with a partner if your partnership was toxic?

I realised just how naive I had been in my own plutonic relationships as I was growing up. Perhaps I was too timid, but some of the earliest advice I was given tempered my behavior, “don’t go out with a girl you are not prepared to marry.” These words had a special poignancy as they were said to me before the contraceptive pill. Sometimes it was whispered in corridors, “Did you hear that Harry had to get married last weekend?” The worst fate, to a young man of my period, was to face the prospect of an enforced marriage when both sets of parents were unhappy. Many of those marriages were successful but too often people grew apart and relief spread across the country when Don Chip proposed our current, No fault divorce. Then divorce rates skyrocketed into ten of thousands of homes. A shotgun marriage was an unenviable outcome. In those dark days it was worse to be an unmarried pregnant woman. Sadly, many girls did became unmarried mothers. These women had their babies taken from them. Frequently this happened by trickery. It was considered a wise thing to do in order the children might have better lives living with infertile families who “wanted them.” As we have learned this practice was widespread, and has been the cause of great grief to mothers and children born in previous generations. Perhaps worse were the innocent deaths caused to women seeking an end to their pregnancy from back yard abortionists. It is a societal relief these “solutions” no longer form part of the acceptable mores of our country.

The reminder of this anniversary is good. (I must have been in form 5 – now known as year 11- when first I spoke momentarily to the blonde girl Joy introduced me to. I recall seeing both girls horse riding miles away from Joy’s home months later. Hard as might, I cannot recall how I got to be in the car that drove past the girls. I think I must have been with Les because he was keen on Margaret, Joy’s sister. In the coming months I frequently met Joy and her sisters at church dances in different townships across our district. I started to write to Joy, as a pen pal, so I might encourage her to bring her blonde friend to a dance. Eventually the blonde got permission to go to a hay shed hop in an abandoned district home. (The house was abandoned because Lake Corangamite was encroaching over hundreds of acres of farm land and this house was in its path.) We met in a poorly lit corner, in the chaos of the teenagers hop. A spark was lit in both of us when a door, taken off it hinges, was knocked over and hit us both on the head in our first kiss.

It was not until after my graduation as a teacher in 1962 we met more frequently. In the following year I was appointed to Colac High School. From that point we have been in daily contact. Within eighteen months blondie was my bride. In the years since my learning has continued. I have learned knowledge is not certain. In much the same way as Donald Rumsford predicted there are many things we do not know. Each day something new is learned, and the sphere of knowledge is expanded. More intricately, as people, we are realising the evidence is, there is much we need to know that is unknown. Wisdom is a step beyond knowledge.

As a teacher it didn’t take me long to realise we were not assisting kids if we resorted to teaching them facts. Text books formed part of my teaching arsenal. That was so especially in the early years. Money for educational programs was scarce, and the result of that was many of the teaching materials we had were out of date because there wasn’t money to upgrade them. An English text I used had lots of practical examples, but it also included tests of trivia. One question led me to alter the way I taught from a didactic model to an experiential model. The question was – name the seven living presidents of the USA. Firstly, why? How would this knowledge help any child grow to wisdom? Secondly, Can you name seven? Thirdly- How is this a current question when 4 of them are dead? Finally, the last question could be wrong if Dr Death has visited any one of the once-famous-bodies. The thing is knowledge can stink. Each of the many globes of the world I have collected has different names for countries that once thousands no know by another name. The same can be said of major cities now sporting a new name. It is hard to keep up when we rely on facts alone as a basis for our knowledge.

Fortunately – I have grown older. I became wiser when It occurred to me my children had grown to become much smarter than me. They had taken the opportunity given to them and become very astute in their chosen fields of endeavour. When I became aware of their knowledge I started asking them for advice. (At least that is what I thought I was doing. I purposely stopped being KIA (Know it all) at every opportunity.) As luck will have it, I am discovering my grand children have the traits of their parents. I am discovering I am learning from them.

To finish, I pulled off the bookshelf the book I chose as a prize at school all those years ago. It was Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice. As I left school the fear was, mankind was facing a nuclear Armageddon and filmmakers were making the book into a film in Melbourne. (As it was on the other side of the world to the approaching Armageddon Melbourne was considered the proper place to hide) It was selected to make the film here because nothing ever happened. It was the end of the World.

For my grand children the gloom of their age is the threat of global warming. My hope is mankind will perform the miracle of arresting the threat, much like it did with the nuclear threat faced by my cohort, and this knowledge will be transformed into the wisdom needed for health by future generations.

Refer to this review of Neville Shute’s book, a Town Like Alice

https://gilesbooks.wordpress.com/2020/02/14/on-the-beach-nevil-shute/

Sixty-eight metres

Sixty eight metres.

It was late in the day in Jordan when I took this photo. The indefinite photo is of fourteen blades for new wind turbines being erected in the hills near Petra, Jordan. There were at least six similar piles in the port, along with all the other bits needed to bolt together in the coming weeks. Jordan has embraced wind power.

When you see a wind farm the blades for a turbine look to move too slowly to generate any electricity. Take our trip. Our bus drove through the mountains and we saw the lazy blades. As our bus drove they appeared to us on corners. They looked no more than 20 feet long. Given there were no trees or land marks to accurately estimate their size it was impossible for us to do so. My photo doesn’t really help either. It was only when a blade was damaged on its route to a new turbine in Tasmania last week I understood. I read it was sixty-eight metres long. At that point I realised how powerful these machines really are. Their gear box generators are very sophisticated machines indeed.


We are very fortunate to be able to say we have had many world trips. In recent years we have noticed solar electricity generation is commonplace. Solar farms have hundreds of panels sitting on thousands of hectares all facing the sun. Many of these farms have panels able to follow the sun as it moves across the sky each day. These collect even more power than the fixed panels.


BBC radio advised, at the weekend, millions of pounds had been allocated to develop wave and tide electricity generated systems in Scotland. A similar program has spent millions more dollars in Western Australia, since 2010, without immediate success. The company is attempting to raise further capital and appears to be breaking through with this technology despite the hardships of a difficult investment environment.


One of the most brilliant sources of renewable energy is hydro electricity. Once sufficient water has been stored in a dam electricity generation can be increased at the turn of a tap. It has the benefit of being pumped to the place it started in times of low demand and do it all again in peak periods.


These Technologies are each derided, in my community, as being unsatisfactory. What happens when the wind stops? The sun doesn’t shine at night. The sea hasn’t got a ripple on it. This stuff is ok but it fluctuates too much. And one criticism I almost have to agree to is, we haven’t had rain for weeks. Australia is one of the driest continents in the world. Our rivers, but one system, are short and they flow to the sea in irregular gushes of water. This year is just another year of drought for about a third of the Land mass. Many towns will run out of water before Christmas if the predictions are true. Even dams cannot hold water without it raining somewhere in the catchment.

The critics want us to consider uranium powered plants. (I will come back to them.) The most toxic debate is in regard to our coal fired plants. Australian’s balance of payments depends more on coal and gas sales than it does for anything else these days. Once we rode to prosperity on the sheep’s back selling wool. No longer. It is coal. Coal. Let’s build a bigger, deeper mine. We must sell coal to the unfortunate developing nations because we are denying them the prosperity they deserve, and we do so especially if we deny them coal fired generators.

It is all rubbish. They know it – yet they persist because we are run by cartels of lobbyists all acting for their industry. Why? It is because the major political party accepts huge donations at our expense thus denying us the opportunity of transitioning to alternate power sources. This mindset will take great resolution to improve our situation.

You do not have to be a Rhodes scholar to know why. Particularly if you apply your mind to why the lobby groups have all the power.

Big companies have valueless assets when we move to alternative energy. Therefore they are acting like the bullies they are.

We have the benefit of a 100 mega watt battery pack in South Australia. This Tesla system was built in under 100 days and has possibly paid for itself already by instantly releasing energy into the grid on demand. Our aged coal fired plants are not as quick to kick in and the Tesla system Is used to fill the gap until it does.

The problem with this is Lithium batteries are expensive. They do not last long before they are depleted and they require us sourcing rare earths to manufacture. Fortunately in South Australia we have another alternate public company with the ability to store the over supply of alternative energy produced until it is needed on demand. And, hardly anyone knows about it. If the little public company was better funded and allowed to develop as necessary then we would not have a power imbalance, ever, just using renewable energy.

The little SA company could be swallowed and be gone anytime if one of the majors decided to buy them out. The shareholder might actually think an above value offer attractive and in no time all reference to it would be forgotten. The amount needed is so small the shareholders of the major wouldn’t notice the cost. Once bought the startling new technology would be shelved. This is the danger of big money When it is used to eliminate competition.

I do not want that. I want people to invest in this gamble because it is good for the globe. I want people to write to their politicians and demand they offer it grants. I want them to treat it as an investment in the future of mankind. I also want you to read to the end and I will tell you the name of the company. It is not paying any dividends to its current supporters because it is reinvesting in growth. Without growth it, it will simply die. It shouldn’t.

As background I have outlined the dangers alternate energy faces. It is intermittent without battery backup. The batteries currently used have limited recovery. I have not read enough, yet my limited knowledge tells me, it is all less than 30% efficient. That is why this company deserves to grow. The directors cannot write about it like this without trouble from market regulators. I have nothing to gain at all but what I see is, it is as a good idea in need of support. Together, all people have much to lose if we continue to burn fossil fuel. If we turn to uranium it is worse. It will take too long to build the plants needed. The other reason, and the best reason, is spelt out in two words. Fukushima and Chenobyl.

The company- Look for the company 1414 on the Australian stock exchange.

The sea ebbs and flows like life itself.

I live by the sea. Some days we get wild seas. At other times the weight of the water wins and the sea is flat. The tradies who work around the town building the project houses of a new city like the sea. Sometimes they are hard to find on the work sites. Their twin cab utilities disappear as if by magic. If you are new to the area it must be hard to understand why so many workmen pack their tools and call an end to work unexpectedly. On Friday afternoons their disappearance goes unnoticed.

Having lived in the area for over twenty years the only mystery left for me is, where have they all gone? Are they at WinkiPop, Fishos, or on the main beach? Sometimes I come across them miles from town out on the rolling waves upon their surfboards. Each one of them riding a beautifully formed wave, or paddling out to ride the next one. Work waits. The long, hot day has called them from their tools and into the water. On days like this nothing else matters.

Not every day is like this. Some days a bath would have bigger waves. On other occasions the waves have no form. The water is choppy. The wind is possibly blowing on shore knocking the wave down before it can form. Or it is blowing from the east, flattening the incoming tide. Surfers get to know some days are so special the water calls them and some days it sms them not to bother.

Watching the stock market is like watching the sea. Usually it just rolls along. Some investments are up and some are down, week in, week out. It might be mesmerising but you would go mad trying to predict how an individual company was received by investor sentiment hour by hour. The same is true on a daily basis unless you know things before others are informed. The market is controlled by strict insider trading standards to prevent this, but human greed too often prompts people to act irrationally. Nearly always they get caught, yet it doesn’t stop this entirely, and sometimes a rouge gets ahead.

For an individual, acting alone, to think they can out run the market is tempting. However like a gambler on a horse race thinking they can beat the bookies every day, an individual investors is better to stick to the favourites. This is no guarantee though. Sit for a while and you will recall household names that no longer feature on the stock market. Companies are like people. They live and they die. I have no idea how long they last on average, but we saw companies with a two hundred year history disappear in the global crisis of 2008.

Overnight the market fell by twenty-six percent. I know one fellow, let’s call him Andrew, who assessed that it would take too long to recover his losses so he sold all his shares at the bottom of the market. Just to stem the hurt. As it happened it quickly recovered but it took eleven years to rebound to the record high level it had been the year before. Whilst the market recovered many of the favourite companies before the crash simply vanished.

The tsunami that wrecked the share market killed companies, and it ruined reputations, however those who remained invested understood in most cases the fundamental things that made the company good, still remained strong – if they had stuck to their successful business model. These people suffered a paper loss at the time, yet by remaining invested they weathered the storm collecting their dividends as they went.

The share market is unlike the sea quite obviously, but humans seem to be as fickle as the weather in always wanting more. The surfers we have around here are stoic. For a start the water is cold. Even at the height of summer they need to wear wet suits if they want to catch the best waves for hours. They soon learn not all waves are uniform. Frequently they will sit on their boards, out at sea, waiting. They wait for the perfect wave to form and then they paddle like mad until they catch it, and stand riding the crest into the shore. Their patience is like that of Job. They know not to hurry. This is the very thing stock brokers say when it comes to investing. It is not the time you get into the market, but the time in the market that counts.

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I am not the person whose advice you should follow when it comes to money. Here is why.

Mum instilled in me a suspicion of money. More importantly it was a suspicion of people with money. She saw nothing wrong with people who who worked having it, she just had me believe that most people with it, (lots of it) came to have it at the expense of others.

Partly she was right – when you only know part of the story.

I have seen people get rich by nefarious means. Withholding payment of debts, or more recently employers benefiting from wage theft from their workers. These are examples of greed personified. It seems improper to read the employment contract of a CEO and remain un moved. How can a board allow excessive bonus payments on short term indicators and think it is right. Today’s example is the Qantas chief earning 275 time the ordinary workers average wage in just one year. (I doubt the shareholders think one man alone is responsible for the turnaround of an airline either.)

A payment of millions after a turnaround may be fair, but it is not equitable if it is gained at the expense of workers being made redundant. This is especially so if the remaining staff have to do the work of two people. These are the times when it is hard not to agree with Evelyn. I imagine she also knew the sea was full of sharks.

Go G

Our granddaughter turned thirteen today. Born into the electronic age she vlogs. She makes musical videos on tictoc. She loves to cook cakes. Actually she bakes all things sweet. Her school holds many extracurricular activities to develop in her life long things to be interested in. She has tried almost all popular sports. Now she now plays netball. Hers is a privileged life. As yet she has no other responsibilities to perform after school. Her life does not easily compare to the life my sisters lived at her age. Unsurprisingly, as I am male and grew up in an age of male privilege, it does not compare to my upbringing at the same age .

My mother, like many mothers of her era, thought the best way to ensure her children did not get into trouble was to make sure we were always busy. “Idle hands are the devils workshop.” In other words being busy meant we couldn’t get up to mischief. After school we each had domestic duties we were expected to perform. Speaking for myself, it was my job to fill the woodbox which sat undercover outside the kitchen door every day after school. That was because nearly all the cooking done in there was done on a wood fired cooker. When firewood was needed inside instead of walking all the way to the wood heap it meant the cook only walking a few steps to the door and back to replenish the fuel. If the wood box was full.

The other job I had was to separate the cream from the milk after either of my parents milked our cow, or cows. (At one stage we had three cows.) Our separator was a centrifugal de Laval machine. To separate one had to assemble the previously washed pieces of the machine and turn a crank handle by hand at a given speed just as raw milk flowed from the small vat into it. The heavy counter-piece that did all the work had about thirty parts and most of these were (my name for them) the gills. The milk dropped in to the bottom of the centerpiece and because of centrifuge the lighter part of the milk, the skim milk flowed out of one hole swiftly, and the heavier cream came out another. The job was not done until the parts were disassembled and washed ready for next time. Thrice weekly the cream went off to the butter factory. We fed the skim milk to the calves twice a day.

Jobs were only part of the process of keeping my idle hands busy. I was also involved with the scouting movement from my last years at primary school until I finished secondary school at 18. Scouting was something most boys tried sometimes, either as Cubs, or Scouts. The skills we learned were of survival, and civic importance. We learned to tie knots once used on land and sea to sail boats. We learned semaphore, or Morse code, as a means to send messages. We were often outside so we learned about the stars and navigation. Additionally we learned to cook and darn and manage ourselves. Chiefly it prepared boys for leadership and responsibility.

I thoroughly enjoyed the scouting movement. Perhaps it was attrition, perhaps it was abilities I learned from regular attendance but I rose through the ranks from a Tenderfoot (a newbie) to a Patrol leader (leader of a tent full of kids) to a Troop Leader, (head kid). I also enjoyed earning the achievement badges of the association, (first aid, cooking, etc) and the different badges of responsibility. up to Queens Scout. (Never got there.) ((Attrition came about because kids left school to work on their parents farms or to to take up apprenticeships from age 14. Very few of the boys that started school with me had six years at secondary schooling.) ((Mum was determined that each of us would get a good grounding at school before we left as she had been required to during the Depression.)))

While at primary school like many families we spent Sunday at church. I went to Sunday School. Mum was a Sunday school teacher so it was hard to avoid that part of my upbringing. It wasn’t so different from other kids though because in almost every house in every street on Sunday everybody dressed in their Sunday best clothes and went to church A,B,C, or D. It was like this in almost every town in the White Australian Christian culture I matured into in the mid nineteen fifties.

When I had almost finished school I spent a whole year, with other youth leaders, being instructed one night a week learning about sports and games promoted by the National Fitness Council of Australia. In our country town where Australian Rules football, Cricket and Tennis dominated as sports for men, netball and tennis the games women, and old folk played golf, bowls, and croquet, it was interesting to learn other sports were played across the globe.

We had ball lessons on volleyball, badminton, soccer, rugby and a host of other sports and games designed to get people moving.

On reflection it seems strange I spent time learning about sport. I had little aptitude for ball games, (apart from golf) and no interest in sport generally (except running) and no interest in team games because I was and remain basically a loner. (An observation pointed out to me when I applied for training as a teacher.) Over time the vague interest I had in sport has all but dimmed to be of no interest whatsoever to me. The little I do know is to allow myself a conversation starter when silence erupts whenever I am in a group.

In late secondary school I did what many of my peers did as well and joined a junior youth group at church. For me it was the young Anglican fellowship (YAF). The Presbyterians had an equivalent body the PFA. The Methodists had theirs and the Catholics had the YCW. Among other things we organised dances, and visited dances organised by the other groups as well.

My school days were very busy and at no time did my thoughts or actions lead me off the rails to crime, or gambling, or girls. Much to my mother’s relief. I was just plain daggy, not nerdy as the word would not have fitted had it been invented. Daggy is a title given to someone awkward and clumsy as in the comic character Dagwood, found in the comic, “Blondie.”

I know my mother was terrified I might run off the rails if I had nothing to do, and I suspect she thought the same applied to her daughters as well. She became a leader of the Girl Guides to prevent them from failing at a time she needed them for my sisters. She took up tennis for the same reason and frequently she would take them off to the tennis court to wear them out before school. I really took no notice of what else my sisters got up to because of her fear but I am sure they too had plenty to do as they were growing up as well.

As I have remembered this it is so very dissimilar to my life when I compare it to that of Georgia at thirteen. She now has 450 followers of her vlog. Imagining this is well on the way to being a million she behaves as a twenty year old influencer already. I have no idea of the person she will become. Except it is obvious already it is as a woman confident in her own skin. I reckon that is ideal. Go G.

These reflections are written without a theme in mind. Perhaps they might one day be used to hear my voice from the grave. However they are received is unimportant to me. Just follow me and I might say something that resonates with you. Thanks for reading this far.

Advice to my 100 year old self

This was a very difficult job because what I remember is coloured by the prejudices of long years but it is written without hindsight. We can all be wiser with hindsight. I mentioned my aim to write this article last night in company. I was challenged to offer advice to my 100 year old self.

In no particular order these words are words of advice to myself at one hundred

Don’t stop

Walk

Stand

Welcome change

If you have made it this far it speaks wonders for modern science and the ability of prescription drugs to aid longevity

Have more things to do than you have days to finish them.

Complain not – except by silent sufferance

Recognise I have only reached this age with the love given to me by loved ones.

Remain curious and investigate things you don’t understand

Develop a positive attitude

Don’t be bullied into anything

Understand stubbornness is recessive energy

Eat drink and be merry because almost everyone you knew is now dead

Dying is natural so give it a go without fear.

We used to burn everything

It is hard to believe in these days of regular waste collection it hasn’t always been like this. At Camperdown, Primary School 114, at the end of each day the school bins would be collected and the contents fed to an incinerator. This big steel box was set into a corner of the block away from everything and each evening the contents were burnt. To say the were burnt might be an over exaggeration as they smouldered and belched putrid smoke for hours. Paper readily burnt but left over food also ended up there and it stunk as it decomposed.

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Our local hardware store made a steady income selling portable concrete brick incinerators as well. Although truth be told most homes had an old steel 44 gallon fuel barrel cut down to serve the same purpose as the smokey thing in the school ground. Home owners lit this device perhaps once a week. It too gave the same odious smell. Plant rubbish was heaped until it had reached the size of a car port on a neighbouring block. At a suitable time it was burnt in a very hot fire throwing sparks into the air or it served as a bonfire base on Guy Fawkes Day.

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In early autumn the air would turn brown across the countryside. In crop growing regions farmers would deliberately burn off their uneaten stubble. It was not uncommon form our eyrie high above the plains to see puffs of smoke drift into the still evening air from farms in all directions burning this waste. Smoke also drifted in the air from far away places in the Wimmera or the Mallee.

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Just as commonly in late autumn through the leafy suburbs of Melbourne householders raked up the leaves of elm trees that dropped into their gardens. They spent weekend their leisure time burning the leaves in the street as they listened to a football match on the wireless on damp Saturday afternoons. These fires weren’t burning brightly as the raked leaves were wet and they smoked on both sides of the thoroughfare.

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These few illustrations are meant to indicate that when it came to waste the first solution used to get rid of domestic and industrial waste was to burn it. Occasionally neighbours may have complained to each other about a backyard fire. Washing drying outdoors ruined by smoke blowing across the fence possibly caused friction from time to time but no one got overly nasty because in winter everyone burned wood and smoke was common. It was worse though when the SEC began making brown coal briquettes. The smoke was quite toxic from these slow burning little black bricks used to heat hot water and chilly homes.

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At the Pubic Park the mature poplars and elm trees did as trees do and dropped their leaves in winter. Throughout the park the wide gravel paths became quite greasy with fallen leaves after heavy rain. Dad would spend weeks raking and reraking the paths until the last leaf dropped. The collected leaves were dumped onto the same heap as they had been each year for decades. The mound made was a form of fun to a kid. I threw the leaves into the air. I threw myself onto the soft mound and generally made merry in the newly raked leaves.

Nearly sixty years later our daughter is living in one of those leafy suburbs of Melbourne where leaves were once burnt on weekends. But the practice used to manage the leaves is the same as the one my father once used. The waste went to the same corner of the garden for a generation before my daughter lived there and the heap just grew. As a visitor with little to do I offered to plant some new plants for her and I remembered to leafy mound when thinking of mulch to apply around the shrubs. It was no surprise to me that the old leaves would make good mulch I was surprised though at how deep I had to dig into the mound to find good humus. This act reminded me how little of the material in the leafy heap at The Park had converted into compost in all the years leaf matter was tossed there. It was a reminder I am like my father when making compost. He was no master either. Simply put my compost experience in the home gardening has not been successful because I am too lazy to make it.

In the last few few years we have volunteered as gardeners at The Heights a National Trust Property in Geelong. Here a couple of dozen people give their time each week out of a love for gardening to help preserve this wonderful property. One of our number Rob Hutchinson has a passion for many things, one of which is compost making. It is a happy coincidence he is like this because in the autumn the gardeners cut back truckloads of matter and he managers its conversion to humus.

If the conditions are right it takes Rob eight weeks to turn a truck load of sticks and leaves into rich compost. First he cuts the wood into smaller pieces. The thicker wood is put aside for firewood, or to be turned by him on his lathe into something of value. Then he runs over the pile time and time again with a heavy grass mower. (Previously he used a small mulcher but he gets best results mowing.) Next he shovels the mass of leaves and sticks into an enclosure. If the rubbish is not a good mixture of green and dry material he might add grass clippings or more dry material. His ideal is to encourage the aerobic material to heat up and “burn” under the cover of heavy carpet. A week later he will work over the whole lot with a fork and cover it for another week. (I might have worked at compost this much but there is more work to do.) Instead of allowing the material to mature where it is he will shovel the whole lot into the next stall. In doing this he adds more oxygen into the mix. Again he will cover it for another fortnight encouraging the mulch along adding water if it is too dry but all along keeping it hot. Before the gardeners get to use it he will have shovelled the lot into a third stall. By this time all the leaf matter has disappeared and the twigs have become fragile. The remaining lot will rest under cover until the gardeners reuse the former waste back into the soil as compost.

For one hundred years broad acre farmers have been conned into thinking their paddocks needed fertiliser to make good pasture. When natural fertiliser became scarce they applied even more artificial super to this fields. In time they learned seeding the ground between the stubble was the best way to retain moisture in the ground and help the new crop establish itself. But the practises of burning stubble, and tilling the ground killed the useful bugs in the ground and depleted it of humus. It also meant the life threads of beneficial fungi also died. In time crops became less reliable as did rain.

Fortunately, maverick farmers broke with these harmful trends as it became more obvious the world is in the grip of climate change. They observe not only is permafrost melting in millions of hectares across the globe icebergs are breaking away from the ice shelf in both hemispheres. Storms are occurring more frequently and violently. Droughts are now becoming more regular and large areas of the Amazon is burnt each year. These actions add even more carbon to the atmosphere. The Mavericks know something different must be done.

What they are doing is restoring health to the soil. They are adding carbon to the soil, and not the atmosphere, and they are leading a change, like my 73 year old friend Rob. Buy returning compost to the soil it is retaining more carbon, more water, more worms, more beneficial bacteria and the soil is repaying their efforts as crops again grow without artificial assistance as they alway have.

I recommend an issue seen on the ABC Country program Landline. Of 08/09/2019.

For measure I also recommend the good work of Soils for Life.

https://www.soilsforlife.org.au/home/index.html

D, something, something, k

Frequently I cannot think of an answer to the clue in the simple crossword. I have found if I move on to the next, or possibly have a go at the three or four next words I will eventually discover a clue I can solve. My method of attack is to rip through the puzzle quickly building a frame work of additional clues for my next round. After several attempts I will have perhaps solved 50% of it. What happens next takes time but solving the puzzle is but part of my quest. Too often I know the right word but problem solving also requires correct spelling. This is difficult for a dyslexic but more of this later.

My parents weren’t interested in word puzzles. On reflection my interest began watching my grandmother attempt to turn around the fortunes of her family by solving The Herald newspaper giant puzzle. I expect because the paper gave a big prize for the correct solution these were perhaps monthly contests at best.

The trouble my grandmother had, and perhaps every other reader had, was not filling in the gaps but using the same letters in each space as the author. Several times I watched with pride as she answered each clue, wrote her name and address on the entry, stuffed it into an envelope, and had me run to the letter box to post it, only to find she had everything right but one letter. This was due to the dastardly problem of the money making effort of the paper. It had simple clues and many words had similar meanings and by electing one word before another meant a chosen vowel was not the one used by the composer and the prize was awarded to another contributor.

The School Newspaper was a monthly publication produced for schools. In the days before schools had libraries children’s books were scarce. With its production the Education Department encouraged teachers to use it as a teaching source. (On reflection it is likely one of the measures used to bring uniformity of standards across the state.) Anyway, each child at each level received one of these papers each month. Teachers dictated passages as a means of teaching spelling. Our reading was improved by class readings of the chosen stories. Most editions had excerpts from classic novels and poems written by the language masters of the times. The paper also had a crossword. I do not remember ever completing one as I found them much too hard. I did however become more exposed to word puzzles.

At school I learned I was hopeless at spelling and I was a terrible reader. After I had started school I was given one of many books as a birthday gift. In those times of privation, as I have said, kids books were uncommon. Let’s face it, after the war things were scarce and this included paper so it is no wonder books were scarce. I was put off my first book gift because I overheard the child’s mother say to mine, “It’s an old book of John’s because he’s finished with it.” Hearing this did nothing to encourage me to read and enjoy the story of The Ugly Duckling.

Such was my grasp of reading even simple sentences were hard for me to read. It took me weeks to realise an illustration in one of the books which had a sign, Office, printed of a finger board meant this was the path to the Office, and not something which read, Off ice, and made no sense at all. When I received a copy of Kidnapped, by Stephenson as a 10 year old it put me off reading for a long time as the book was close typed in point 8 or 9 sized print.

I have always been something of a contrarian. It was popular for boys to like reading books from the Biggles series by Captain WE Johns. I couldn’t compete with the boys able to devour a Biggles book in a night of two. I chose to select books from the Gimlet series by the same author, take a month or more to read them, and not have to discuss them in the playground. They had the same flavour but I saved face seeking alternatives.

Late in the afternoon it was the teacher’s practice to select a book for class reading. Perhaps it was an Enid Blyton book by the Secret Five chosen as the class serial. I hated it when it was my turn to read a page or two aloud to my classmates as I knew beforehand I would be stumped by every new word the book exposed. (Come to think of it the class probably got a bit restless whenever I read.”

Somehow, over time, I understood if I was to do better at school I had to master more words. To help me I painfully read grammar books, books on similes and antonyms, books on words of Latin and Greek Origin, pages on English words with French or German beginnings. In fact in between everything else I did I tried to read more fluently and learn to spell. For a period I wasn’t too bad. As I age I am discovering again how hard reading was for me in the beginning and crosswords are something I do to help me. The truth is I like words. I love listening to clever dialogue made up of words requiring concentration.

Perhaps my love for words came because it was in English literature classes I was exposed to them. In my earliest literature classes I did as I have learned, to skim read a passage, a chapter, a whole book for meaning. It is then once I had (and have) a grasp of the major concepts I can read and reread the book for more a more detail. I have found I too easily lose track of what the author is trying to say if I read descriptive passages too carefully, too soon.

As this little piece is on crosswords I return from my digression to again address the theme. Jennie’s mother loved doing crosswords. She not only did simple crosswords but she had mastered to clues to solving cryptic crosswords as well. Like all puzzle solvers who occasionally think aloud and say what is on their mind I found I was able to occasionally help her solve the daily simple puzzle by calling out my suggestion.

In time I found myself attempting to solve the harder puzzle in The Age but gave up and started to buy The Australian simply for the crosswords. These I found much easier. Over a year of more I got tired of the simplicity of their puzzle as I understood the nature of the question and returned to buying The Age. Many years later after giving up The Age delivery I have taken a subscription to the Australian version of The Guardian. I also attempt the Seniors Card test online. Not so often because they keep a record of how long competitors take to solve the crossword and I find it takes me much longer than most and it reminds me of the competition I liked to avoid as a boy.


I never went to school in Elwood but I was a boy when this photo was taken. I Continue reading →

To be or not …

I like drama. By drama I mean stories told by live actors. Sometimes it might be drama but it could be comedy. Shakespeare’s “As you like it” comes to mind as one such story. I have enjoyed every performance I have seen. The gruelling tale “Antigone” by Sophocles Is a play I studied while at school. I found the language very difficult but the adult issues, I read and reread attempting to understand, meant nothing to my childish mind.

The same could be said of “The Merchant of Venice” or Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. Somehow as a literature student my unformed mind allowed me to write essay on the plot and characters moving on stage without actual comprehension of the importance of the text. The plays might well have had more meaning if I had a chance to see actors perform the work but when left to the text alone they were stiff rigid words.

Actually I was fortunate to be introduced to stage productions when the Tivoli was still open in Melbourne. On a few occasions I saw pantomimes in the summer school holidays. I can remember the excitement of the appearance of the villain on stage. At another level my mother developed a friendship with Joan and Betty Rayner when I was at primary school. They used to visit the local school with their Australian Children’s Theatre (Organisation) each year and live in their caravan at The Park. Their work was busy as they played all parts.

At around the same time the school put on a History pageant one year. It was a big, simple production using all the school to tell British history in one lesson. It was my first appearance on stage and I played King John of Magna Carta fame. Actually I also played the part of a villain as a teenager in a church revue. I left my stage performing from that point until I retired. I joined the Anglesea Players and helped with the annual One Act Play Festival for some years. Occasionally I said a line or two. The pressure of delivering the same line at the same point every performance was too much and I quietly retired again for good.

I did enjoy the play readings and the performances however. As I have said live theatre has an immediacy lost in film and television. For a time we enjoyed acts at The Pram Factory because they met several different criteria of live performance. The work was experimental. It was performed within the same air space as the audience because the actors were almost in our faces. Frequently the work was physical and emotionally challenging. Several times we specifically went to see, local woman, Iris Walsh-Howling give her best.

Despite the fact I enjoy theatre we are not really regular goers. We did get to see an interesting piece at The Edinburgh Festival many years ago and we didn’t understand a word. It was a comedy in Italian. It was a piece in the round. In fact the audience was part of the show as it was spoken in different quarters of the room. We laughed heartily but I couldn’t tell you what it was about except for the fact we enjoyed it.

Just after retirement I regularly watched real drama in the Supreme Court or the Country Court. I simply loved the theatre. I loved the drama of witness examination and cross examination. The enjoyment of language used at its best was wonderful. The passages of banter between the barristers and the court was something lost by most people present but the fast quip between players was clever. Often the charged person had no idea of how their own words would be reused to condemn them to prison. Obviously it is a foreign place most ordinary folk want nothing of but it does seem a reliable way to filter the guilty from the guiltless. This is true whether is is with a jury or judge alone.

I sense live theatre is a little unfair to the artists. Those who deliver the same words for a week or do it week in week out for a year or more, earn but a fraction of film actors. They who might have the luxury of giving a nod today on a second or two of film, may spend a week repeating the same lines before their next scene is finished. Fair or unfair live theatre makes us examine the truth of life as we know it when we experience a play as it unfolds before us. Like any good art, a truth will flick a light on the reality of what it is to be human and not necessarily as we watch it. Such is the power of theatre art.

Photos are from stage plays

David Williamson’s The Club

And One day of the year

Are you a home buyer?

My hometown is in an urban growth area. The builders have purchased multiple blocks from the developers. In turn the developers have created millionaires from those who once lived on productive land now being bulldozed into boulevards and alleys. I could write about the miserable space each new owner will purchase but on this occasion I prefer to write about their home.

One of the things I did when I retired from active work nearly twenty years ago was a course at Swinburne University on home sustainability. It is a pity the builders erecting these new homes missed the course because the homes they are building do not meet the least of the best criteria. The eventual home purchaser will not be buying the house the builder has led the buyer to believe is on offer if the budget is tight.

If you have read anything I have written you will be aware my interest in home building is not new. You will have read that as a ten year old I clambered over one of the Post war brick veneer homes Eddy Evans was building. Eddy never went to university but he learned that there were many things he must do in building one of these, off the shelf plans, to make life better for the owner. His home should allow the winter sun into the home but protect the furnishings from the burning sun in summer. This is but one simple rule drummed into anyone who has lived through an Australia summer and winter.

This is not an issue of fashion. It is an issue of fact. Our sun makes homes too hot to always glare into the home. Other fashions come and go. This one stays as a first principle of sense. Another fashion built into Eddy Evan’s home were window pelmets. Living in cool Victoria it helps if in winter windows are fitted with heavy curtains and pelmets because this simple measure keeps out the cold. We can get away without pelmets and heavy curtains today if double glazed windows are fitted.

Technology has helped the new home builder. In the post war period windows were limited in size by the availability of bigger glass. Today they can be the size of the side of a bus. Previously the glass was smaller, and so incidentally, were buses. The big picture windows illustrated in the display home will have the best available glass, but the copy eventually built may not as the cash strapped buyer negotiates a final price for the home that is eventually built. It will be built to a price and not to a standard. And that is a fault that will stay with the home all its life.

Before pulling this essay together it is necessary to examine the work of a great Australian architect, the man who wrote “The Australian Ugliness” nearly sixty years ago, Robin Boyd. Boyd was always going to be an architect but first he was also from one of the most influential family of artists. This background must have given him a love of aesthetics before he drew the first of his notable homes. The book he wrote critically examined the homes that followed those after Eddy Evans built.

Boyd called for an Australia style. He wanted us to adopt a home suited to this country. He deplored the influence of America. Because we had adopted the California Bungalow. We did have many houses well suited to our climate such as The Queenslander, and the others with wide verandas around the perimeter, but in the rush to build new suburbs we saw the development of home builders like A V Jennings. This company and many others were building houses in bulk much like mass builders are today.

The question of sustainability is not without its problems though. Take for example the trouble the English projects of Kevin McCloud . For 20 years Grand Designs has been a feature of our screens. He had television audiences hooked on watching good designs grow out of the ground. In 2007 he started Happiness Architecture Beauty (HAB) Homes. This week I read that it is in trouble and investors are unlikely to get more than cents in the dollars they have Invested. It seems he has had none of the ruthlessness of our developers seemingly hell bent on putting their return before quality.

Sustainability has a quality. McCloud was searching for it, and the one thing Boyd insisted on it was beauty. The philosopher Alain de Botton has written much about architecture and how good architecture, and good furnishings, add to the beauty of one’s life. His organisation has invited great English architects to build beautiful homes for holiday rental, in a program he has titled Living Architecture.

In cold climates like Norway the need for sustainability is accepted as the norm. The home owner enters the home via a climate lock. The home is sealed to keep in the heat. This is one of the first measures of home heating. The next is to harvest whatever heat is available from the sun using heat exchangers. These devices allow the stale air to be extracted from the building and the incoming air to be heated before it is circulated around the home users. We have little need for such extremes in our more moderate climate yet the sun we have in abundance is barely harvested. On most modern buildings there is token solar hot water collection. Before it can be used it has to be gas heated because the most efficient solar hot water systems are too expensive for a mass produced home.

Which brings me back to the major criticism Robin Boyd made of our suburbs over sixty years ago. The same criticism can be more openly made of the vast building estates being developed today. Cynically it seems the public spaces the developers are required to provide shrink as newer estates are opened. The same can be said of the housing blocks themselves and the road easements. They are too small.

A year or two ago a woman died in a tragic house fire in one of these estates. The fire brigade members sent to fight the house fire were not trained for such a job but worse their ability to reach the home before it was engulfed was set back because the roads were too narrow for their vehicle to get through residents parked cars on the roadway.

In addition to everything shrinking the first principle of a home building program is to consider the orientation of the home. The morning sun is welcoming as it streams in from the east. By lunch time in summer it is necessary to block out the suns direct rays. As the sun goes through it’s arc the south western corner of the house can be quite pleasant in the depths of winter but the setting sun is most unwelcome in summer. To benefit from the best of the sun and to exclude it in the worst times one needs to engage an architect to get the cheapest house in the long run.

Project builders may well have used an architect in preparation of their homes but once they have their initial drawings it seems they dispense of their services. The untrained first home buyer is perhaps happy to find a home and land package within the set budget not realising the ongoing costs when compromises are too easily made. As negotiations begin the buyer discovers the project home viewed includes many elective features.

Likely as not they are not included in the budgeted figure. It may have double glazing. It might include superior fitting and fixtures. It may have light wells. The same house will have six sustainability stars on paper. During construction the film wrapped around the property will have to be perforated to allow the electrical fittings, the plumbing, the heating or it will have accidental breakages. Once holed like this it reduces the effectiveness of the barrier. Simple quality omissions rewrite the standard the buyer expected

Most hurtfully the star system works best on the planned original orientation. Unwittingly the buyer agrees that it will only fit on the block when positioned in another direction. Doing that the worst of the sun will become a lifetime problem. In time compromise after compromise means the home erected has none of the advantages the prototype offered. The owner is left with heavy power bills to heat and cool the place in an estate of similar ugly problems. Far too often the home is built a long way from community assets like schools, shops and leisure centres. The isolation just adds another level of ultimate frustration.

If we could but learn close density housing can be community building. We would stop increasing city boundaries so willingly if we better measured the real cost of growth. Housing can be built with fewer operating costs than the single homes now built on tiny blocks with greater amenities just by following the housing patterns of world’s best practice. If we did that people could live fuller lives than they do now.

The photo is a work by Howard Arkley