Today i have watched Sean Connelly’s acceptance speech at the AFI awards. In 2006 he was given the tribute of a Life Achievement Award. I watched the program today as this is the week he died at 90. In his speech he acknowledged he had in inauspicious beginning. He left school at 13. I was shaken when, of all the things he might have said, he marvelled at how his life changed when he turned five. He said, “ I got my break, big break, when I was five years old, and i t has taken me more than 70 years to realise it. It is that simple, and it is that profound.” This man who became the character James Bond, 007 owed his success to those who taught him to read.
To read is life changing. We caught sight of it in our judicial child. At four she “transcribed” from a favourite work the words use to explain the tale. Drawing page after page of scribble — each sound representing the word she understood we spoke. As a teenager she noted the words she didn’t recognise it a text book in order to later check the meaning from a dictionary and note that beside the entry.
I, with some glee, report the company Adani changed its name this week to – Bravus. Presumably they assumed it meant “brave”. The company is far from brave. It was controversially given the opportunity to open what is proposed to be the largest coal mine in the world in the Galilee basin of Australia’s far north. At every stage, Adani has thumbed its nose to all complainants.
Whenever it reaches full production, the coal will be shifted offshore to India to produce thermal electricity without any acknowledgement of the contribution it will make toward global warming. Therefore, it was with great mirth to read students of Latin pointed out bravus would never have meant brave. The appropriate word in English is fortis. The Guardian Australia reported the word meant something else. In fact, it was the opposite of brave. They wrote, “Mining company Adani has changed its name to a Latin word that means “crooked”, “deformed”, “mercenary or assassin”, after mistakenly thinking that it meant “brave”. Knowing the true meaning it appears the company has chosen its new name very carefully as it is most appropriate.
My own education was not as clear cut as it was for Sean Connelly. I had trouble learning to read because I now understand what made it difficult was dyslexia. 75 years ago, no one had a name for it. My teacher thought by sitting me in a corner called, “the dunce’s corner” I might get over my disability and be shamed into reading.
I realised words and I did not get on together early in life. Learning to read was painful and it took me years to master. Learning to spell was as difficult. At school a training exercise was to learn five words as a spelling exercise each night for homework. Early next morning our teachers tested our comprehension and spelling of those words in the subject, Dictation. Day after day i failed to write the words I was expected to learn.
However, instead of being discouraged I took it upon myself to study vocabulary. I learned the foreign roots of words and little by little to decode the clues in order to read. I learned prefixes and suffixes, and the shape of words in order to scan paragraphs for meaning. Even at this stage of my life i find it easier to scan a text for meaning rather than to concentrate on each word. The downside of this is I still misread obvious errors, especially when rereading my writing, and I find form filling onerous.
To this point I have found you, my reader, accepting of my shortcomings in this area.
I love the sound of well read language. Many authors you like I cannot read. I cannot immediately identify words I use in speech unless I have mastered them before in print. It is possible i have a problem with English but as it is my only language I would be lost without it. As it is I sit somewhere between Sean Connelly and Adani when it comes to language, malapropisms excepted.
As Boy Scouts once a year, (perhaps less often), we played “Name the Shops”. It was a game, influenced by Rudyard Kipling’s book “Kim” and known as “Kim’s game”. It was a simple game which required us to name the shops in the local shopping strip of 3260. They ran for perhaps a kilometre down both sides of the Main Street. We had to name them in the order they ran. It was relatively easy because the shop ownership rarely changed and it included big civic buildings like the court, the shire office, the cinema, the post office, the 7 banks, and three car dealerships.
Some we knew as hangouts. They were the milk bars, the bike shop, the fish-n-chips, and the hairdressers. We struggled to remember the solicitor’s offices, the dress shops, the florists, or the beauty saloons. We knew each of the grocery shops, the shoe shops, and the men’s clothing store, and the chemist. The bakers were easy to name. Harder to remember was the chap that ran the photographer’s shop. On the other hand we remembered the two newsagents because they stocked comics. (We didn’t specifically have them at home, I remember reading The Phantom, and one called The Chuckler’s Weekly.)
There were three stock and station agents – farm supplies stores – in town. We also had four hotels for a population of about 2,000 town folk. Going home in the evenings we would stop and peer through the window of the electrical stores (after 1956) at the fuzzy black and white television sets. It was a strange thing to see, because the picture was frequently all white. This was because we lived in an area of poor reception and the antennas were too weak to pick up a clear picture. (In those early days none of my friends had tv so it caused no envy to look.)
In remembering this game I think I could still score pretty well. The fruiterer operated in a side street as did the doctors, the dentist, and the plumber’s supply shop. Some shops like the boot maker and the jewellers I remember easily because the operators were odd. Maybe the smell drifting from the shops helps me remember others. The smell of ink is a constant reminder of the newspaper office. I get a different, but similar, reminder when I pass a pub on foot.
Nothing remained open after five pm except the fish-n-chip shop and the pubs. They closed at six. The chippery remained open until around ten pm. On Saturdays most shops opened from nine until noon. After that the town was locked down until Monday morning. Saturday afternoon was given over to home maintenance or sport. Sundays were the day of rest. Over 9O% of the people went off to one church or the other. (I can count five different denominations) The church goers would dress in their Sunday best clothes. On the way to church they would nod, or wave, to their neighbours heading off in another direction to a different church.
The non church goers attended the Salvation Army Hall, or they went to the Seventh Day Adventist Church on a Saturday. Even the non believers attended one type of church or the other because even in those days of full employment few people jeopardised their job by declaring their lack of faith. Few jobs were advertised because they were usually filled by word of mouth. Some jobs were closed to people of one church but they were open to those of another. (Those days of fundamentalism were pretty dreadful. (It was possibly the stories I heard like this (long ago) that opened my mind to the evils of all segregation. Otherwise I have no personal experience of this type. It is my hope you never have to experience it either.)
[Unlike today, no one sold phones, (no mobiles). If your family wanted a phone it was supplied on loan from the Post Master General (PMG). All personal communications came from the PMG: mail, telegrams, and phone. It might be of some interest to learn telegrams were a sort of paper delivery of every SMS. Except people usually only got a telegram irregularly. The sender paid so much per letter and to reduce costs the sender just told their simple message briefly.
You could call the messages crude. “SAD NEWS DAD DIIED PEACEFULLY FUNERAL TBA “
Or you might have got one like we actually received when Andrew was born. It reads
CONGRATULATIONS WELCOME TO ANDREW LOVE TO ALL THREE BILL RYAN FAMILY
The message is addressed and was delivered to the hospital ward by the Telegram boy (who possibly rode a push bike to the hospital in a post boy’s uniform.]
Our shopping strip was a practical place. It never changed much as it was a place were all commercial activity took place, year in – year out. Today the buildings remain. Many of them have swallowed their neighbour and they have been enlarged. Some are empty yet the streetscape remains. Down the centre of town runs the avenue of Elm trees planted out by school children in 1876. It is a wonderful oasis to rest on a hot day. In the middle of the avenue is the wonderful bequest,the Thomas Manifold clock, built in the style of Westminster’s Big Ben in 1897.
When you visit Camperdown take pride that your great grandfather, Abraham, for a period, maintained and preserved this significant plantation,now recognised as a important heritage area in the State of Victoria
It is unlikely you will ever play “Name the Shops”. In the unlikely event your suburb has a main shopping strip, even if you learn the names of the shops it is unlikely they will all operate as they do today by middle of next month. Such is the speed of modern change.
Anything that is four times older than me, and still standing, is entitled to lean on the ground, instead of standing all the time. A sure sign of resilience is the ability to rest on an elbow and still stand. We see examples of this in this ancient plant, the Moonah. . The prevailing wind will sculpt and prune it so it is taller on one side than the other. When the wind is too strong the bough will resist until it bend to and meets the ground. There it will rest and send forth new growth.
In my home town we have a few remands of ancient scrub that were old trees long before William Buckley lived amongst the Wadawurrung people. (William Buckley was an escaped convict who was rescued and improbably lived with local tribal for 32 years before he resumed his former life and was pardoned.) The tribes people he lived with had great respect for this tree they called it Plenty. It gave plenty back to the tribe in nectar and medicinal properties. Botanists have named it Melaleuca lanceolata. (Lanceolata reads as if it is a “lotta” plant actually the word refers to its lace like leaves). Its long abundant flowering season from October to February is rich in pollen and a food source for bees.
The tree in the photo stands on the Esplanade at the Eastern end of Gilbert St. It should probably be recorded as a tree of significance – however this is unlikely; first as it is one of the last wild trees left on that part of the Bluff, and secondly it would bring attention to it in the summer when the town is overrun with all manner of individuals. Some, likely as not, uninterested in plants. The trees are not endangered, so I suppose that is another reason it stands unnoticed and alone.
The Moonah tree is known throughout the country as a strong plant, well capable of withstanding salty wind and rain. Indeed in many parts of the country it is planted as a tree good at fighting salt degradation – as we observed in many over-farmed mallee sites. It helps to lower the water table and in doing so draws salt deeper into the subsoil.
Of all the wonderful plants I love I have chosen to write about the Moonah because it is not showy. It is not really splendid despite its delicate tiny flowers. After living 300+ years it is often just a stubby black tree with twisted branches, prickly tough leaves, and flowers almost too small to be noticed. Yet this tree is tough. Farmers find its wood makes everlasting fence posts. It makes a wonderful wind break. (Not even the wind will get through it’s tight canopy). As a result it is a popular tree for birds to roost in. Possums love to sleep through the day hidden among the mess of its branches.
Commonly we find it growing in masses of thick undergrowth where it seldom gets much taller than four metres. Along the Anglesea estuary it adds stability to the shallow, poor soil. Under the canopy – at the proper time of year the undergrowth hides the most spectacular native orchids: the Fairy Orchid grows underneath the moonah others grow nearby, the twisted Sun Orchid, the Sharp greenhood , the Wax Lip Orchid.One hundred kilometres away the tree survives in the undergrowth of the Manna Gum – a favourite of the Koala.
In Torquay we are lucky to have at least one streetscape where the trees (photo included) where trees stand 10 metres tall. This stand (also a remnant) is inland, about 100 metres from the surf beach. Here, the tree are protected from the the inshore wind and they reach up to 10 metres into the clear sky. Because they have been protected they are tall and have grown without the handicap of neighbouring plants holding them back.
Like all plants of the Melaleuca family the flowers grow from a filament that when spent remains on the flower stem as a little hard nut like growth. As the plant grows “nuts” from previous flowering’s remain.
The Plenty Tree
The twisted Moonah tree turns is back to the wind hunkers down low, resting on heavy limb in the dusty dune. Perhaps the Wadawurrung sheltered beneath this bough the day a possum skin became a ceremonial cape. Even so it grows. Annually flowering millions of petals so bees use this generous pollen store as food we harvest.
I do not remember much of Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel “The Loved One,”. To those who know me this is not news. First I read the book over sixty years ago. Secondly most who know me, know as someone who regularly misuses names. “Howard would you hold this please.” When the name I should have used was, Frank – who was working with me. It is a family thing to mix names I say. That is because Grandma alway did it. “Bruce, Ian, Paul she would say until she arrived at the name she needed. Ron.”
As an adolescent the plot of the book didn’t resonate with me as did the explanation of what happened to the bodies that entered “Whispering Glades”, the funeral home. The manner in which the dead were prepared for everlasting life as beautiful specimens of themselves as possible has especially remained forever with me. The notion of the dead being falsely preserved seemed strange when we never saw the dead.
What happens in America, or in your pcorner of the world is bound to be different when it comes to loving your deceased. Here, first, is a personal recollection of my experiences.
It was only, many years later when I joined the big Vagg clan I came face to face with my first corpse. In those far off days it was a family practice for the body to reverently reside in the parlour of the family home in the days before the funeral. Prayers were recited in the room, and the body lay in an open coffin. After prayers, visitors would spend a few minutes in contemplation with the deceased. A day or two later a mass was said and the body committed to the earth.
As the years rolled by the ceremony changed. The body remained in the funeral director’s care until it was required at the church. The body arrived at the church in a closed coffin. Nearly always it remained that way and people lost touch with the sight of a cadaver. Death was left to the professionals and the only members of the congregation who did have a viewing were the immediate family – if that was their wish. Otherwise no one did.
Almost as invisibly funerals have shifted further to become products of big business. Once they were exclusively church affairs – somewhere in the past couple of decades the church has given way to the funeral chapel. Just as the grave has given way to the invisible cremation. In the past in my circle, the coffin left after the ceremony of the church for the graveyard. Family and friends gathered around the grave and after prayers the body was committed to the ground and buried. Hundreds of generations of my ancestors rest where they were placed just like this. Now, in a funeral home a curtain is closed and the casket is whisked away to the crematorium for cremation.
Funerals have become a commercial business. The country’s largest business in Australia is Invocare. This is an American conglomerate with literally dozens of once familiar local business names. (I am cynical about them if I am honest. I do not think death is a product to be exploited by business). Here I recite some of the practices business has been known to exploit – without reference to any particular model.
One company is know to ship multiple caskets to the cheapest under-utilised crematorium even if they are shipped hundreds of kilometres. Once processed the ashes are redistributed to the director’s place of choice giving the funeral director another chance to benefit from the grieving family.
The operators are ruthless profiteers, clipping the ticket of the grieving relatives: for celebrants, cars, flowers, music, caskets ( you wouldn’t want your dad to be sent off in a cardboard box so if you step inside we can show you a gold, bronze or an aluminium casket. If this is beyond your means – (why would it be. – Dad left you some money didn’t he?) we have Mahogany, Blackwood – with a lovely grain, Pine, or (heaven forbid) processed Craftwood. (The slick-sell can last for hours, but don’t worry, We will look after your Dad as if he was our own.
The truth is, over the years we have removed death from the process of life. We don’t even say Dad has died. We lie and refer to him as “In a better place.” “Passed”. Crudely you might read he is Deceased, because we seem to prefer euphemisms to Dead.
People live. People die. I will die. That is the nature of things. In 2020 we have all become aware death happens. It happens suddenly and without warning in a pandemic, and we do not like it. The media is consumed by it. Governments around the world are hiding behind the words of the epidemiology teams that project if we do not do this: close businesses, stop movement, limit traffic, bring in lockdowns, our hospitals will become overcrowded and more people will die.
People have always died. For democracy a dying constituent is no good. So leaders have given way to science and created fear in their communities. Yet the virus kills. Bacteria kills. Stupidly viruses and bacteria spend their whole lives trying to kill their hosts. Just as we people stupidly over consume and kill our planet. Yet when it comes to the planet we ignore science and kill it anyway.
Grim isn’t it? So too are the predictions of philosopher Byung-Chun Han who posits COVID -19 is probably not a good omen for Europe and the USA. “The virus is a physical test. Asian countries, which think little of liberalism, got a grip on the pandemic quite early.” He continued , “The virus is a mirror. It shows what society we live in.”
In his opinion, COVID – 19 shows we live in a second class society because COVID- 19 is not conducive to democracy. It has left the poor to their own devices. We have inadequate hospitals for them. “The pandemic is therefore not only a medical problem, but also a social one.”
“Faced with the shock of the pandemic, the west will be forced to give up liberal principles” and choose strong autocratic leaders.
He even observes it has killed religion. (People) “ totally sacrifice faith for survival. Everyone is listening to virologists who have absolute sovereignty of interpretation. In the face of the virus religious belief generates into farce.” Further he observes, “And our Pope Francis? St Francis has hugged lepers.” We are left to assume Pope Francis has to be cosseted to remain safe.
He is asked a question on everyone’s lips, “Is COVID – 19 a mortal wound for globalisation ?”
In his answer he observes, “We no longer do business for people, but for capital.” He continues, “We freely exploit ourselves in the belief we are fulfilling ourselves. But in reality we are servants.”
Now, Byung-Chun Han suggests the winner from the Pandemic is more likely to be China than is to be the West. It already seems apparent, the virus is forcing people to re-examine the neo-liberal ethos forced upon us for the last forty years. Small government has been a bane on our development by demolishing civic organisations in the belief life will be better if more is left to commercial operators because civil servants cannot work as efficiently. Clearly it did and it can again.
Tony Abbot. (Oh it hurts to write the name of our former prime minister but there – I have). Tony Abbot suggested the world had gone mad locking down business when we should just let the virus rip. Sure the elderly will die, he said, but the pain caused to the economy when they live an extra month or year is too expensive to the economy.
These paraphrased words are similar to the arguments used by Byung-Chun Han in his treatise. The cost of saving the elderly is extravagant when their lives are so costly. (My words are not exactly his). The average life expectation in Germany (he lives in Germany) is 80.5 and the average age of the German Covid-19 cases is 80 or 81.
Written, as these words are, in the sunset years of my life, life is good, yet I am as uncertain as you when it will end. I do not want COVID but neither should you. This does not mean either of us should live fearfully, but was Princess Dianna fearful when she met with AIDS sufferers thirty years ago. No? I don’t think so either. We just need to wash our hands. Keep a social distance. And wear a mask.
Behind the bamboo curtain We thought it happenstance The sweat at the minced imp dance A waste until it travelled freelance And met us at home - that’s for certain.
What is it? Truthfully, I cannot do cryptic crosswords. I admire those who can and that is why I have set this test. The clever readers among you will be able to solve this easily – if I have made the answer get-able.
The answer is a single word on everybody’s lips this year.
This is spring. Unlike the last twenty Springs this year we have had average rain. Accustomed as we are to below average rainfall it has been a dismal one. The vegetable patch still has its uneaten winter crop in a state of overgrown profusion. Each remaining plant has gone to seed. In the last generation if we had left over plants they were ripped out early and replanted with spring varieties that leapt out of the warm ground. My only trouble with them was with how thirsty they were.
Now we are told a phenomenon called La Nino has cooled the Pacific waters heading our way from Peru and we are going to have a Spring and Summer of average rain. The thing is we have become accustomed to parching unseasonal weather caused by an opposite system called El Niño.
El Niño is mean. It was responsible for the horrid events most of the country experienced last year. Fire, floods and famine followed. Thousands of acres of land were burnt in months no one could ever remember it being so dry, or so wet. Now we have this soft system – La Nino – and all it can do is rain like it would any other year and frankly I am over it.
How dare the weather be cool. How will the climate change deniers accept the globe is warming from the affects of mankind induced climate change when it rains every day? And it is too unpleasant outside to plant spring vegetable so close to the summer months. Frankly it is ridiculous.
The funny thing is this is an ordinary year. Ordinary as far as the weather goes. It is far from ordinary by any other measure. We are in the grip of a pandemic. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods. The global movement of people from country to country has paused. The world’s economy has collapsed. Governments are grappling to contain a deadly virus. One that for the most part is uncomfortable but unpredictably lethal for far too many. As I write the effects seem worse all over the world.
The crystal ball needed to halt the virus is as elusive as is the vaccine needed to stop it despite the presidential announcements from: The White House, The Kremlin, and Brazil. It could be said the world is in some sort of hiatus. Nothing ordinary is ordinary anymore. The optimistic are holding on to a belief things will spring back to where they were. Others, too many, have lost belief in life and are now living in the hell of despair.
In these times we need not be either optimistic nor pessimistic. Life is too unpredictable to require from us more, or less, than pragmatism. In this way we must face whatever comes our way as ordinary. Some are calling we accept this as the “new” ordinary. There is nothing wrong with accepting ordinariness is what is happening.
It is ordinary not to act stupidly and take precautions. We accept when in a car is a sensible thing to wear a seat belt to avoid injury. Just as we accept protected casual sex is a sensible precaution against disease. The ordinary thing to do is to ensure you do not spread the virus to those you love and wear a face mask when you are outside your family circle.
We might rail against this advice, but science advised us, to act otherwise is reckless. Many things previous generations did was reckless. And it cost lives. Builders of great architecture sometimes rode with the building steel from the ground to great heights without any protection. The loss of life led to rules about safety and safety equipment. It is illegal to act otherwise because when people cut corners they put the lives of innocent people at risk – to say nothing about themselves.
I am happy to admit to being ordinary. I write without any fulsome plan as some authors I admire use. For the most part I have written essays of a certain length. In them I have expressed my innermost prejudices – perhaps even without awareness. Lately I have written more poetry (I call it poetry even though it doesn’t measure up against classical poetry. It ((sort of)) resembles the style of modern poets.)
Writing like this requires me to use words economically. A haiku of seventeen syllables might be easy to some, on the other hand I have difficulty. Just as I have difficulty painting pictures with words in my longer work.
Facing difficulties is an everyday human test. Most of the time we have learned from previous experience yesterday’s test no longer bothers us. We don’t even think what we need to do, we just do it because it is the easiest way to get by. Sometimes the test, is a bit like this Spring weather, it is uncomfortable to become wet, or get blown about in the wind. Past experience has taught us to wear a jacket and just get the job done.
If my writing today reads as if I am preaching, my tenor is wrong. If you were here to talk with me about what I have written you could set me right. Fortunately your grandmother is quick with her slant to balance everything I say.
As a last word I observe the more opinions one hears on a topic the more likely you are to get to the truth. In other words don’t jump to conclusions based on only one side of an argument. Be like one character in the 1982 film, “A Few Good Men” says, “You can’t handle the truth”, and listen for it.
Before you leave today please tell me what you think.