In five hundred languages Ancestors Dancing dreamtime song-lines Taught wisdom Millenniums before folk in Powdered wigs Sent men across seven seas To plunder, rape, and murder For a King Claiming fauna, flora, soil Enslaving all as labour.
1967 Marked its end?
Yesterday In the lived experience Of wary warriors Characters imagined In television studios Knowing hatred is learnt In burnt cork antics
Look in the mirror And see your act Is not the colour of entertainment And no excuse Of ignorance Will soothe the wounds Caused to people Of ancient grace Ill from your cold lessons of bigotry
It was in the news months ago. Something about Netflix. I cannot fix it because my words are insufficient but we can.
What should happen here? Who should we turn to if this happens? How can we prevent this? Why, if this should happen, you must do this. Oh, how things have changed! William Henry Perkin thought nothing of the risks he took to change how fabric was dyed in the nineteenth century. (I will return to him later). Not so if you were Em. Em would have sleepless nights if it wasn’t for the rules of compliance she spends her days writing.
Back in the 1950s, I was in our new school science room. Every student had access to a Bunsen burner gas outlet. Every two students shared a sink to clean equipment. We had beam balances to calculate the chemicals we use. A closed section of the room was reserved for experiments with chemicals that gave off noxious fumes.
I liked science partly because of the nurturing skills of our teacher Norm Stewart ( earlier story). Other than his encouragement I had no confidence I could ever remember the periodic tables. I was so sure memorising them was beyond me I stopped studying science at form four. In my last year of science, our classes were mainly to do with recording our lessons according to the rules of school science. The classes emphasised the importance of accurately recording what we did so another scientist could reproduce, by the same method, the actions we took. The next rule of scientific investigation is to leave your work open to criticism. At that stage your method can be refuted if a reviewer should reach a different result following the methods specified. Leading to the ultimate step, the conclusion. The conclusion means the work has been rigorous and scientifically responsible. Which leads me to what I did without these steps of care.
After school, I did make my own experiments with chemicals I had bought from the chemist’s shop. In an earlier lesson, we had made copper crystals. Experimenting, at home, I made one about the size of a AU 50 cent coin and was pretty pleased with my effort. I moved on and made some gunpowder, just because I could. And this is where compliance officers, like Em, would become very anxious if they should every find out what went on unsupervised. At school the room was filled with dangerous stuff that was often untended and left in the hands of the uninitiated.
At school we played with Mercury and let it run through our fingers without any warning it was dangerous. Just as we watched how magnesium ignited easily at a high temperature, bright white light, without wearing protective eyewear or clothing. One experiment seemed to reoccur any time of the year at school. The senior boys would amuse themselves making hydrogen sulphide gas (rotten air gas). This gas was intentionally made outside the ante-room, the place with the exhaust system, and it stank. All too often experiments, outside classroom hours filled the corridors with a putrid stench.
Long before any science experience at school I had watched, and copied adults, melting down lead on the fire, and I also made lead fishing sinkers. No one gave any thought to the fact the fumes of melting lead are carcinogenic. In the metal workshop at school, even first formers would use hydrochloric acid to clean metal with no other protection other than a calico apron. These boys, who mostly came from farms, were familiar with the dangers of sulphuric acid in lead batteries. So, I suppose, the school reasoned any danger was not wholly unexpected in a work environment. Not that that decision would stand the test of reasonableness if acid ate into a boy’s clothes, or burned his skin.
About the age I was in the school science room, a century before, young William Perkin went to work as a chemist with August Wilhelm Von Hoffman at the Royal College of Chemistry, London. In his holidays he made an accidental discovery. In a temporary laboratory, with a coal derivative — aniline — he produced a dye with an intense purple colour. (They dyed fabric with natural materials prior to his discovery.) His new colour, Tyrian purple, was a new hue from which he built a fortune, and with further experimentation he produced dyes of other colours that changed the entire British dye industry, and it altered the colours used around the world, in all manner of things.
If risk managers existed in those days, and they were aware of the dangers these new dyes were to health, they could have saved many lives if they had banned their use. Fortunately, science does not fix things outright as, “we know all there is to know about —-.” . It allows for new people to challenge the status quo. In time, the carcinogenic nature of these dyes was discovered, and their use was banned in foodstuffs and for use in clothing. The interesting thing is, if they were banned outright medical science would have been denied a valuable tool in fighting cancer. Today those same dyes are used in nuclear medicine to trace the movement of chemical treatments that save lives. I am unsure this proves compliance officers need a crystal ball to predict all possibilities, but it does seem it is impossible to ever imagine all the risks one might encounter.
Unlike young William, I never studied Chemistry. To this day I would be hard put to name twenty elements, and I have no idea which subset of them each one belongs. My chemistry skill finishes at trying to make a good espresso each morning with ground beans and pressured hot water. And with that I am well pleased.
Wild animals roamed here in past millenniums. It is possible to find dinosaur footprints in the sandstone on the seashore not so many miles from here. These patterns have nothing to do with that, except in my imagination.
We are enjoying a few days by the sea. For over 65 years, we have been visiting this sleepy winter hamlet of about 1,000. Now, it is summer the residents hide away from the marauding 25,000 visitors holidaying here.
Some people come here to bask in the sun, (not that there is much of that just now). Many read. Some wait for that time of day they can get together and show off their best preened self.
For thousands of years indigenous people roamed the hills around here. The sea saw to it they never went hungry. There is little evidence of the natural riches now, but there are middens, (waste tips) of consumed seashells — if you know where to look.
The coastal road is an iconic day out for visitors. Many, are not used to driving on twisting country roads, and some (more than ever should) end up here. Thankfully, the government maintains this hospital for the sick and those accidentally injured. A decade ago I served on the hospital board for two terms — when this building was commissioned — replacing the former place.
Even in cooler weather, like it is today, a stroll on the beach is health giving.
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.
A new metal texture Offensive to Augustus Rodin’s eyes Forced him to Prematurely age Balzac - the sculpture In a urine treatment His assistants gave.
Not all metal Is so willfully altered. Greyfriars Bobby Has stood in Edinburgh since 1873 The pride of dog lovers. Aged in place Tourists rubbed his bronze nose raw. As a sign of our times a surgical mask Preserves his nostrils Intentionally.
No such care was needed On our gifted stainless steel Carving dish. It’s shot surface Is etched this way By fifty thousand Knife strokes, Out worn Over convivial Sunday roasts.
Vulnerability In general use Other surfaces show. Circling my rotund waist A leather crocodile belt Shines brighter Each year I use it Like the arms of my lounge chair. Together their patina Was earned Embracing me.
The Bill Ryan I knew was a dairy farmer. His dairy was on a hill. The paddocks his cows fed upon were all on lower ground than where he milked them. As king of all he surveyed you could expect him to be the ruler of his mob. (He was married to Helen (Ella) and he was Jennie’s uncle.)
It is not unkind to record he did not rule over this land. Instead he was one with it. He accepted the challenges it gave him. A major challenge was the way the ground he bought to farm shrank under his ownership.
Logically it makes no sense. How did his land shrink? The reality was the perversity of the weather. Throughout the 1950s it rained. Rainy months were followed by more rain. In that rain Bill trained his dog to fetch the cows feeding on the abundant grass growing on the productive grassy banks of his property. It was no mistake when he called his land Lovely Banks. The ground was Lovely.
By the time I got to know Bill he had reared his family on that land. The rain that fell in the wet years filled the lake. Lake Corangamite flowed over the flat area at western foot of his land. By the time of my first visit, the lake surface was punctuated by fence posts that once defined the border of his property.
Bill may may have felt aggrieved by the loss of land yet he retained a stoic attitude to the hand he was dealt and he farmed the remaining ground as best he could. His farming, like many agriculturalists of the time, followed a simple routine dictated by the seasons. The busy fertile spring determined the size of the summer harvest. The dry days of autumn were punctuated by the returning wet days of winter.
Twice a day, Bill tended his herd of cows in a life lived without fuss. He made one concession to a macho image. He always had a hand rolled cigarette hanging from his lower lip. As he talked the smoke flipped up a down in fascinating rhythm to his utterances. That fag was a fixture. At some stage of the day the exposed end had been burnt – however all these years later – I don’t think he ever smoked that thing because I never saw it alight.
I remember Bill at this time in my life because he was a born philosopher, and I turn to philosophy to wrest reason where none exists. Like the rest of the family he was a Catholic from birth and a man disinclined to sin in any way the church enumerated, yet I have to say philosophy determined his attitude to life. I have written he was stoic. (The Ancient Greek Stoics accepted the hand they were dealt with – with resilience. They were confident and calm.) Bill never said things that were better left unsaid because kindness was also a feature of stoical lives. Of course his training in the field of philosophy was never formal – it came from the simple way he lived.
Another natural philosophy Bill lived sprang from a saying he frequently voiced. He had a habit of saying, “The faster I go, the behind-er I get.” I could have learned sooner in life many things if I had thought more on this saying. To live life purposely you don’t have to be ambitious. You don’t have to please everyone. You don’t have to do too much. I have found when you study “isms” , and look at the work of philosophers, none gives an infallible road map of how to live your life. Just find something you must do and do it as well as you can.
Better to be like Bill – keep busy but not so busy as to lose a way to make your life meaningful. And ponder on my experience. It seems true enough. When you wondered aimlessly about the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and stood beside the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, was it serendipity alone it took to remind you of existentialism?
Twenty percent of the century you were born into has gone. In that time the little child has learned so much. Tell me, what have you learned that makes you now an adult?
Is it the sense of fairness you picked up playing sport? Was it the value you gave to your team mates when you played? The friends you spent twelve years at school with day after long day will drift away on their own journey of life. Think of them.
What did you learn from the classes you took that you will never forget? Was it the ability to understand the lessons your teachers gave? From this point on you have to make sense of what you heard, what you read, and what was left unexplained. in doing so – become yourself.
What lessons have you learned from the places you have called, “My room”?
Is there one thing your father has said to you you treasure? What about your Mum? She has been with you all they way. Waking you up, getting you ready for school, cleaning up after you. What have you learned from her you prize? Have you told her?
I do not want your answers. They are things for you to think about in the depth of the night. Not that you have sleepless nights now. You will one day – and on those occasions you will have time to think of what your family means to you.
These are your salad days. With luck, now you are in the most wonderful bloom of love. You are soaking up: the music, the art, the culture of your day. I am most grateful that you are experiencing these days. Our lives are better when we can think about our good days. Some days are grey days. Days when there is no sun. No matter how much we long for things to improve they just seem to get worse.
You will have days like that. Everyone does. We never think we will, but we all do. Birthdays are good days to reset our mood. They are days when we can aim for the moon. If we miss the moon, it’s not bad. Life is just different than we imagined. The best part of birthdays is you get a chance to hear from those who love you. We, your family, love you. Have a happy day.
If one day you remember anything I have written here. This is my point. Live today, (tomorrow, and the forever days ahead) one day at a time, because that is how we make what is to become ourselves.