Not so long ago I was involved in a local history project to recreate an example of a bathing box – once commonly seen on the foreshore. The boxes were removed in the 1960s, yet some remained in the neighbourhood until quite recently. After all these years none now survived, and that is why we began our project. If only we had had the skill and foresight of the Chinese architect Wang Shu we could have made something wonderful.
The difference between the town of Ningbo and Torquay are unalike, yet similar. Both places are victims of modern growth programs. For sometime the Chinese government has overseen a massive modernisation of the country. When they decide to modernise, whole districts are bulldozed. Everything in the path of development is removed and the people are rehoused in new multi-storey apartments. Here farmland is sold off, roads are formed, and much needed single story housing is built “out of ticky-tachy and they all look the same” like it says in the words of the song.
In China Wang Shu reclaimed the materials from the villages dismantled to make way for the new. In so doing he demonstrated architectural leadership because he planned and built the Ningbo History Museum from the repurposed material. He used an old Chinese technique of Wa Pan to do this.
He didn’t just recreate something old. From his imagination he materialised something new.
The former villagers now have something to remind them of the 3,000 year old village, and the people, that once lived there.
The museum is substantial. It is a building of some 30,000 sq metres. Wa Pan has been employed by builders throughout the ages. It means to repurpose existing material and to reuse it in a new way. As I say, in the western world, Romans used the same rocks as the Greeks had in ancient times. Here in Ningbo Wang Shu did the same thing where he could, but he didn’t just re use bricks from the Ming dynasty he used lots of concrete. However the concrete he used was given a unique Chinese treatment. Bamboo, a traditional building material, was used to create the formwork for the concrete. The textural shape of the bamboo became a new building texture found on the walls. The walls are not solid though because they contain fragments of old tiles and other ancient matter in their fabric.
The skills once needed to build with traditional materials was lost to the new age builders. This meant that in order for the work’s creation the tradespeople had to be taught how to use old methods to build this new museum. These new skills have proved valuable to the employees engaged.
The building created in the Yiazhou province is much more substantial than the little bathing box I was involved in recreating. In our case our little project had to meet a set of regulations that did not exist when the original beach lovers built their humble shacks from found materials. All our building has is a familiar silhouette in a garden a long way from the beach. The people of Ningbo live in a city that did not exist a few years ago yet they have examples of ancient materials and forgotten skills as a constant reminder of their lost village.
We love our flaming Utes Hotted-up fuel-guzzling, V8 powered cars — invented here — Anachronisms in a future world. Where bloody minded humankind burns the globe Turns out it’s fossil fuel The ugly transgressor Whilst manufacturers electrify cars novelle Operate charge-points — not common fuel servos. Yet another modern Luddite blunder.
Every country son and daughter lusts for their first two door V8 so as to attend a BNS ball. A mythical rural scene of bacchanalian debauchery manufactured in the minds of their city cousins. When the isolated, shy individual in fact arrives, gaucheness personified alights unless egged on by a peer pressure group. At least it was until the local motor industry gave in to the economic reality the government would no longer prop-up our lazy car industry. They closed their plants and a V8 utility (ute) vehicle is no longer constructed here.
The Ute survived in the country because of its usefulness. Once the domain of two main constructors it pootled around the farm in many guises. The first, according to my friend Kevin Norbury (1), was an invention of a Geelong farmer. He cut his new car in half and had a luggage tray built over the rear wheels so he could carry a sick lamb or a bale of hay when inspecting his stock.
A new vehicle fills the suburbs. Too big to be a useful farm appliance, it sports four doors and a smaller luggage tray. The SUV is the car of choice of home builders (tradies) and it too is a ute. The car is ubiquitous in suburban shopping centres in parks designed for shopping trollies.
The tarmac becomes so hot in most of these the centre owners have built sun protection.
While business accepts our world has changed, our government has not. Perhaps the reason for this is the fossil fuels industries are major donors to the government. Another reason is the support the government gets from the media. (Media rules were changed some years ago. Over those years consolidation has taken place, so that in some states there is no longer a choice in the news supplier. To put it more succinctly, if the Murdoch press says,” This is how things are.” There is no alternative view put to most folk to add any balance.)
Artificial global warming has reached a point of danger. No informed individual wants to test the predictions of climate scientists to discover the scientists were right and they were wrong except governments beholden to fossil fuel purveyors. The first global change to reduce carbon emissions was an agreement in Kyoto to cut them. Here in Australia we put a levy on carbon and asked producers to improve or pay to produce it. The levy was so successful carbon emissions fell. At least they did for a while until opposition leader Tony Abbott called it a carbon tax. At the next election, he became PM and carbon usage shot up. It continued to do so until 2019, when we had another election. At that election a new PM, Scott Morrison, demonised the Labor party by claiming, “The Labor Party wants to take away Tradies’ utes.” They returned him on the promise to do nothing about carbon emissions. Or that was his claim. So the country does nothing.
However, manufacturers are in a scramble to catch up to China, the largest maker of electric vehicles. Observers are warning if Australia does not change its rules on carbon emissions, they destine us to become the dumping ground for all the world’s most polluting cars. A thirsty internal combustion engine does not make a ute a ute. A car becomes one when it has an external carriage area.
A new industry is not without error and a story yesterday caught my eye, The tale is about the difficulty new adapters had charging their electric car on English motorways. (4) This story suggests there is some working out to do until every car is fitted with a universal power connection.
With significant risks, there are great possibilities. That, we are told, is a sign fortune follows the brave. One of the greatest risks is to enter business using your own money. If the business succeeds the opportunity to make it is before you. The chances are you will have to prove yourself before anyone else will invest anything in something you start from scratch. It gets going, even if you have a lot of money. Be prepared because it will take more than you plan to spend.
A third and fourth career of mine was to help business manage cash. I did this for fourteen years. In my case, I have seen how easy and how hard it is. Many years ago I knew one family where both mum and dad were running a successful business, yet I saw the woman in tears. She remembered when she was told there was no money, none to buy a meal for the family. The mother went through her purse and found a few cents. Francene reached in the crevices of the couch and found a few more. She told me that after robbing the kids piggy banks she just found enough to buy half a dozen eggs so they could eat one night. Even after that, she said, “Bob had faith this business would succeed.” With the T family it did, however, it took many years living, hand-to-mouth like this before it paid off for them.
Only last month I heard a similar story of a family that had invested everything in farming. They had faced years of plenty and invested it all: in more land, in more equipment, in more seed. The current season is the best they have had for 25 years, yet they were at the mercy of the weather for 10 days after they cut the crop before they could harvest it. Even then there was no guarantee until it was in the silo.
Such is the life of those who risk everything in the hope of — One Day. One day we will be ok. One day we will have a holiday. One day we will have enough to buy a new home. One day….
I have also seen people who didn’t have to go through these trials. I have spoken with people who have taken charge of the family business and decided the wisest way forward was to grow the business. The decision to borrow and expand is also fraught. Normally the generation that makes that decision is very aware of the risks and they work as hard as their parents did on the business.
They make personal sacrifices and measure their chances with the risks of expansion. Like many farmers, they succeed where others might have failed
It is a factor of business the risk is not over even when they make the sale This is especially so when the sale is one made of business terms? We can be owed companiesed, and owe thousands of dollars at the same time. All party’s reason the job be done before all payments are made.
Not that that is the end. If I return to my story from Mrs T. They sold their business to a multinational competitor after their years of struggle just to see the business close and the products be taken off the market. The millions they received did not make up for the work, recipes, name loss, and pain – it just helped them have a very comfortable retirement.
In the third generation of a business, things are more difficult. You take an enormous fortune and spread an enormous fortune, and all you get are arguments. If, as is done with two very public big names – the money is left to one person to manage things can go wrong.
James Packer has halved his wealth in a decade. The mental anguish is apparently awful. Noting what our eldest has said of his friends clever enough to have sold businesses for tens of millions. They talk of the pressure they have had not losing what was so hard won. It must be worse when billions are risked.
One fellow, and his brother, inherited Australia’s largest building company about 15 years ago. Most of it went to one grandson. Now, remembering when I was preteen, I travelled around the eastern suburbs in the early mornings with my uncle. Some first workers we saw every morning were stocky Italian chaps. Many of them arrived in this land with no English. The owner of the business knew these men before he came here. As his business grew he remembered these hard men. He knew there was no work for them in the aftermath of WW11, so he called on them. The country was short of tall men, and stocky men were even better for the job.
The jobs they worked at were dirty. The equipment they had was scarce, so they picked and hammered with manual tools forming roadside gutters and curbs. The old yellow grader was the only tool of note I remember with the name Grollo printed on the side.
Fifty years afterwards one grandson managed the expansion of the business across the world. He decided he could manage the building company and its expansion into a whole new field from New York. He lived part time there and wherever else it was possible to live as a jet setter and still monitor the business. All the stocky men had retired or died like his grandfather, so he hired the smartest people money could buy.
Last weekend the building company went into receivership. Daniel has named many reasons the company has run out of working capital, but the one person ultimately responsible for the loss.
It is awful to watch a company collapse. Many times, losing a business can be put down to happenstance. Things like the pandemic are not down to mismanagement. Sometimes companies fail because their customers run out of money. Many times good people get caught by sly operators. That hasn’t happened here, and it will not stop many hundreds of innocent people from being hurt.
I have worked with people on both sides of the ledger. I have seen the damage done to families when ill health is the cause of failure. I have seen the anguish when an owner has to find thousands a debtor cannot pay. Insolvency used to be a crime.
Occasionally it is no one’s fault. All too often it is. The lesson from all this entry is to learn from what I have seen close by — fortune follows the brave. Sometimes. Sometimes the brave one is just a foolish gambler. Sometimes the brave one is a thief that will steal and steal again with a Phoenix movement. Observationally i say if you want to play because you inherit the earth, play but don’t pretend your play is business. Better to invest your money and play with the dividends than play with your capital that is someone once worked hard to build it.
(Not sure my last statement is correct.) What have you got to say?
It was rare for anyone to call us by phone but when they did if they were from out of town it became a thing involving others. From their place they rang their local telephone exchange and asked to be connected to Camperdown 232. The telephonist replied, “Connecting to Camperdown”. Our local telephonist ( one of the many women employed in the job) would pull out a weighted cord, and connect it to a port housing our number. Our caller needed just three numbers – 232 – to enjoy the service of calling our home. It rarely rang – maybe – once a month.
Our family practise was to make eight calls a month. The first call was to the taxi. Each week Mum would book a taxi to take us all off to church. On Thursdays Mum would phone the grocers Moran and Cato. Before doing this she would have prepared a list of the necessities she needed. The list may have read something like this.
8 oz of tea,
1 Lb Plain Flour
1 Lb Self Raising Flour
8 Oz Sunshine Marie Biscuits
1/2 Lb Brockoffs Crisp biscuits
1 Lb Butter
1 Lb John Bull Oats
2 Oz Vegemite
8 Oz Sultannas
8 Oz Weetbix
1 packet Kraft Cheddar
1 packet Pattie Pans
1 bar of Solvol
1 Lb Sunwhite Rice
1 26 Oz. Bottle of Vinegar
1 bar of Velvet soap
(It really didn’t matter. The list was simple but when she rang she had specific things in mind. The grocer did not sell fruit and vegetables and if you wanted meat you needed the butcher, not the grocer).
List at the ready she walked to the hallway, where the phone lived – bolted to the wall. She reached up and took hold of the ear piece. She stood in front of the phone and twirled the magneto handle, listened, and spoke.
“Camperdown 75 please.” (A little wait and then she would recite her list. A few hours later the grocer came with a box of the goodies she ordered. (None of it appealed to a hungry young boy).
At the end of her call she replaced the ear piece on the carrier at the side of the wooden Oak box that was our telephone.
Most of the household communication was by letter but once a year Dad would contact a brother in Duns Scotland and they would share a minute or two talking. After that time the operator would interrupt the call and enquire , “Your time is nearly up. Do you want to extend the call for another minute?” Frequently thrift determined the call would cease. On the second, the operator would disconnect the lines and the call ceased.
The Post Master General ran the operations for the Federal Government. Homes were connected to the network of copper wires crisscrossing the country, wired to their insulators on poles, and stretched across the countryside five metres from the ground. If you didn’t like the PMG you had no alternative. An army of PMG workers spent the day fixing broken lines, telephones, and exchanges because all the emergency services depended on the system working.
(In writing this I am reminded how the telephone lines ran beside the railway line between towns and sidings. As a steam train passenger, in my experience, smoke from the engine would blow past the window, the train clickedly – clacked as each wheel ran over the joints in the line, and the telephone lines would fall and rise between each post in rhythmic movements. The whole effect was mesmerising.)
It was years before it was commonplace for homes to have desk telephones. For few homes were large enough to accommodate an extra telephone table and chair. In time phones became smaller, smarter, and they came in a variety of colours with a single hand piece – to listen to – and capture the speaker’s voice. The off site operator disappeared and the home owner was able to dial directly from the phone with a rotary dial connector to anywhere else.
When more people connected the number of lines multiplied each year. To save time – people kept a teledex of the numbers they most frequently used handy to save them searching through the phone book for them.
As a teenager I didn’t call my friends on the phone. We had been trained to consider the cost of a call. My sisters didn’t make calls either. I was in my fifties before I had a mobile phone. It was provided as a work tool and as the book – keeper monitored the usage it was limited to essential calls regarding appointments.
The ubiquitous use of phones is relatively new. One surprising thing is how quickly they become redundant. Last year Samsung took over from Apple as the most popular phone. Today I read China’s Huawei has eclipsed them. It seems only a few years since no one had anything but a Nokia.
The modern Miss or Mister could not imagine anyone using a fifty year old phone except as a stage prop in Arsenic and Old Lace like we did.
Certainly Alexander Graham Bell must be restless in his grave if he ever thinks of what he unleashed.
Nick used to have a chicken he would play with for hours. The now nameless chicken was happy to be carried around, in his arms lying upside down. One trick he happily played with it was to lightly run his outstretched fingers over its face. The bird would close its eyes and lie motionless on its back, even when placed on the ground, before it realised it was free to resume its day.
In our garden we watched the blue wrens dance about collecting insects from the comfort of our lounge. The tiny birds are no bigger than one of the eggs Nick’s hens laid, yet despite their bright colours it was possible to miss them except for their nimbleness. First they were here, next sitting on the barbed-wire fence 20 metres away, before we spotted them again jumping about in the grass. Their hens were just as busy but not so obviously seen. The industriousness of each bird a simple reminder there were things to do.
Frequently the jobs were ignored as kookaburras would announce their arrival with a hearty laugh. They perched in open places outside our reach. When they finished, they, like the other common resident with rapier like beaks, the magpie, would sharpen the beak on the branch beside them. These birds, each with a distinctive song, added joy to our lives.
The joy of birds is a universal thing. In the outback the chattering Apostle birds are observed as a puffin is in Great Britain, a Curlew in Queensland, the skylark and the peacock in India. Twitterers are found throughout the globe. They will stand daylong in a draughty hide to spot a rare bird. Or they will travel the length of the country to see more birds than another in the same year.
In our neck of the woods we have birds that migrate from Russia each year just to rear their chicks. When they have fattened them and taught them to fly they will be off with them, to the other side of the world, so they can gain enough strength to repeat the journey six months later.
This year botanists, who watch for these things, are reporting their numbers are down again. Their reports are beginning to become alarming. The retuning birds are fewer than last year. Worse they are lighter than their great grandparents were just ten years, ago and fewer nestlings are expected to survive. It is not unusual for the returning birds to die when they reach land. The mass deaths have occurred from year to year when the days before their arrival is unusually stormy. What is happening now, apart from the hungrier bird arrivals, is the difficulty the birds have in finding space to nest.
This country has become obsessed with urban growth. In most other parts of the world we have visited the demarcation between agricultural land and urban land is sharply defined. Here our suburbs just roll on through farms. For instance chicken farmers have industrialists develop housing blocks to their fence line. When the new residents move into their new homes they complain to the authorities, (those that approved the development) the place stinks and the poor poultry farmer has to close down his operation.
Closing pig farms or poultry farms is as commonplace here as is knocking down sprawling trees. Trees that have grown on the same undisturbed land for hundreds of years are bulldozed just so a road can be built to the next tree, that was knocked over, to build a housing estate.
The poor residents that have lived happily in those trees for just as long are homeless. One of the biggest birds often dislodged this way is the sulphur crested cockatoo. The family of this big white bird, (as intelligent as all-get-up), has had to wait at least 80 years for a nest. They choose to watch the spot, a branch once grew – to form a scar on the trunk – and use that hole when big enough as a nesting home. (That shows these birds are patient as well.)
(Unsurprisingly the new home buyer looks forward to settling down getting to know the neighbours. What they find, is the sulphur crested cockatoo. This bird, with the long memory, does what has been done to it, and it systematically starts to demolish the new home in much the same way as the demolisher once did to them. In no time at all the human neighbours lose all patience with the avarian and the bird is banished. It is never, however, vanquished.)
In this multicultural land we have lots of birds from many different lands. What scientists tell us is. the indigenous birds that once lived in lightly inhabited grasslands and forests are seeing off the birds of migrant origin that once happily reigned over the cities. Black birds used to cause havoc on dusk as they met before roosting for the night. These common birds are being driven away and our original birds are flexing their muscles shouting, “enough is enough.”
I don’t think a lot about birds anymore but like most Australian children I grew up as a member of the Gould League of Australia. This association did so much to engender into young minds the importance of birds. This was especially so when in came to our wild birds. The birds found here had no pressure to develop by natural selection as those born on different continents. Our birds are uniquely beautiful and the Gould League helped us understand that. I guess that is why I now have a renewed interest is spreading the word we must not continue to destroy the habitat of our birds because when we do we destroy our inheritance.
John Gould was a nineteenth century Englishman who visited Australia and recorded many of our birds. His illustrations of our bird life are wonderful examples of beautiful birds and birds exquisite art. His folios are must see treasures. Thanks John.
Remembering Chloe the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo I had as a pet. Each year she laid an infertile egg at the end of winter, just to remind me she deserved the wild life I denied her.