CHAPTER 18. AUSTRALIAN DIVERSION

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Stanley
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CHAPTER 18. AUSTRALIAN DIVERSION

Post by Stanley » 15 May 2012, 05:18

AUSTRALIAN DIVERSION

By the autumn 1986 it became obvious that the Environmental Health Department of the council wanted control of the whole asbestos removal contract. There was little doubt that their method would be the most expensive but on the other hand, it would be thorough and they would carry the responsibility. On the whole it was a good thing for me and I laid back and accepted it. There was another reason for off-loading the whole exercise on to the council, Mary and I had a trip to Australia planned and father’s ashes were going back home.

I’d done my homework on Dubbo, I had contacted the owners of Eumalga where father lived for most of his early life and also made arrangements for a man there called Bill Hornage who was a publisher, to identify the site where father wanted his ashes putting in the Macquarie River. Initially we were to fly to Sidney and stay with Mary’s mother and father at Ulladulla on the coast about 100 miles south of Sidney and they took an interest in the trip to Dubbo and did a lot of leg work for me.

My first visit to Australia was the biggest adventure yet. Father had never gone back after he left to fight in Europe and I had always wanted to go an see where he had been born. I suppose I’m more Australian in my outlook than British in many ways and it just seemed so natural to be going there. In those days it took 24 hours to get to Sidney with two stops on the way at Dubai and Singapore. We arrived in late November and Anna and Guy met us and took us home to recuperate.

My first sight of Australia was wonderful. The strange thing is that there were no surprises, I have never felt more at home anywhere in the world than there. The smells of the bush, the trees, the light, all were exactly as I had imagined them to be. All those hours spent talking to father and listening to him tell his life story for the tape must have sunk in, I was comfortable and very happy. One thing that struck me was that the climate was very similar to California, indeed, many Californian influences could be noted in the culture and yet it was totally different. Whether this was because of what I brought to it more than climate or culture I can’t say. I certainly had a good attitude to Australia even before I got off the plane. One small comment about that. If you want a swift passage through customs carry some human ashes with you. One mention of what I was carrying ensured I was waved through and was one of the first through immigration!

Guy and Anna made us very welcome. I think they were a trifle surprised that Mary had taken up with this wagon driver who was 16 years older than her but they made the best they could of it. I can’t say that Anna and I hit it off but then neither did Mary, she always had problems with her mother. Guy was a different kettle of fish. I think he quite enjoyed having me around, we talked the same language about farming and practical matters and spent quite a lot of time together. At that time he still owned the farm he had bought after a long uphill struggle after they had migrated in the late 50’s. We went there a couple of times to do small fencing jobs and ensure that everything was OK as it wasn’t occupied but up for sale with vacant possession. It was there that I saw my first iguana, a big lizard and fruit bats which are incredibly evil looking things as they hang upside down in the trees during the heat of the day.

We went for a picnic to a place just south of Ulladulla on the seashore one day. It was famous for scenery and the small kangaroos which inhabited the area which were so tame they came to you to be fed. I checked and they weren’t wallabies but genuine kangaroos, I couldn’t tell the difference. I was stood there taking in the view while everyone else barbecued our meal and I heard somebody shout “Red bellied black coming through!” I looked round and saw a snake about four feet long moving towards me, ever the snapper I took a couple of pictures as it passed about four feet from me. The man who had shouted came over to me and as he did I noticed that everyone around me had vanished, I was alone! “Congratulations mate, you did exactly the right thing!” said the bloke. I looked at him, I was slowly beginning to grasp the situation. “How bloody dangerous was that snake?” He looked at me and grinned, “You mean you didn’t know? About twenty minutes and the nearest hospital’s an hour away!” Once again, father’s adage about a providence looking after fools and drunken men had been proved right. I made a mental note what to do next time and joined the family who pulled my leg unmercifully.

After a week of sampling the delights of Ulladulla and the surrounding areas we set off with the camping gear to go to Dubbo via Canberra. We got to Dubbo and camped on a field in the centre of town next to a wooden trestle carrying the railway line. I reflected that this was the same line that Uncle Stan had worked on and that had carried father so many times. We looked around the town and it was fascinating to walk on the same streets father had played on as a child but the main event came the day after we got there when we met Bill Hornadge and he took us out to Eumalga to meet Mary and Peter Knaggs and Peter’s father Bert who had farmed the place but was now retired and living in Dubbo.

We arrived at Eumalga and the Knaggs’ family made us most welcome and showed me round the house. It was all very interesting but I had a nagging feeling that something was wrong. By the time we had all sat down for a drink of tea on the veranda I dropped my bombshell. “I’m sorry, but there’s something wrong, this isn’t the house my father told me about.” Everyone looked at me and Peter said I must be mistaken, this was definitely Eumalga and there wasn’t another house! Old Bert however asked me why I thought it was wrong. I said that the house father had described was within sight of the road and had a vineyard in front of it. Bert asked me when this would be and I said in the 1890’s. Bert looked at his son and said “He’s right. It’s the old house he’s talking about!”

We went out and piled into the cars and went about a mile over the property to a place where there was an old wind pump and a lone chimney stack, all that was left of the house. In the distance I could see the road and it all immediately felt right. “This is it.” I said, “And there’s a wine cellar out there not so far away.” I pointed up the paddock. Bill Hornadge got quite excited at this, “We’ve always known there was a cellar here but we’ve never been able to find it.” I pointed to a depression in the ground, “That’s where it was I should say, you can see the depression where the roof must have fallen in.” I walked across to the spot and tripped over a pile of rusty barrel hoops in the long grass. There were a lot of broken wine bottles laid about as well.

It was very special being there at last. I could see the place as it was when father lived there and started to tell them stories about the place. In the end they had to shut me up and get me back to Eumalga where another local farmer, Paddy Driver was waiting for us as he had the perfect place to put father’s ashes in the river on his property. I should mention at this point that I had great difficulty getting everyone to keep this occasion low key. The Returned Servicemen’s League wanted to get in on the act and have a band and a ceremony! I couldn’t think of anything that Father would have wanted less! As it was, the reporter from the local paper, the Liberal, was there and quite a crowd of onlookers.

We got down to the river and I have to say it was just the right place. It was beautiful, there were Eucalyptus trees on both banks and it was a perfect place to go for a swim, there was a shallow that I could walk out into to put the ashes in. I didn’t muck about, I got my plastic bag and went out across the stones to pour the ashes into the water. A funny thought struck me while I was doing it and when I came on to the bank the reporter was curious as to why I was smiling. I told her that first of all, it was a happy day for both me and my father, or what was left of him, because his wishes had been fulfilled, being a romantic he wanted his remains to drift down to the reedbeds of the Overflow, shades of Clancy and The Man from Snowy River! Second, I asked her if she’d ever poured human ashes into running water? She said she hadn’t. I said “Well, that was why I was laughing, I reckon the Old Man might have slipped up. There are three types of material in ashes, there’s a black oily part that floats off on the surface immediately, another part dissolves when it hits the water and what’s left of the bones sinks to the bottom. I reckon father’s going to have a hell of a job getting himself together by the time it all gets to the Overflow!” I think they were a bit shocked at my levity but father would have understood. I had a great feeling of satisfaction, it had taken me thirteen years but I had fulfilled father’s last wishes to the letter. There’s no doubt in my mind that his shade was hovering somewhere and regarding me with approval.

The following day we were all celebrities when the paper came out because the ceremony was front page news, but this didn’t last long. We did a last round of visits and then went on our way, back to the tent for the night and then back to Ulladulla. Once back home Mary and I set off to visit her sisters, There was Jo who lived with David in Balmain, Sidney on the edge of the bay and looking across to the famous Harbour Bridge. We walked over the bridge and looked at the Opera House. It was all just wonderful. Then we set off for Singleton where we visited Mary’s sister Jill and her husband Peter. Two things stand out about this visit, one was the biggest brown snake I've ever seen, Peter killed it and said it was very dangerous. The other event was going to see the film, ‘Crocodile Dundee’ in one of the last ‘bush cinemas’. This is just a screen erected on timber supports and a seating area under canvas where the seats are made of two inch galvanised pipe and canvas. Sort of a deck chair but extending the full width of the row. We took a cool box with the beer in and settled down to watch the film. Halfway through a fight broke out behind us and blood flowed, two blokes were fighting over a woman. The film was stopped while this was sorted out and I thought it was hilarious, where better to see a film about the Australian bush than in a cinema like that?

We also visited Ra and her husband Jon out at Gooloogong. They farmed there and it was hard work. They had no rain for about four years and the only thing that kept them going was the bore holes. The homestead was surrounded by pepper shade trees and it all seemed just like home to me. Jon took me for a drink to the local pub and when we got there the barman was tossing everybody for the price of the drinks. I didn’t understand the system because if he lost he paid and if he won he paid! It turned out it was the pubs way of saying thank you to the customers at Christmas. They tried to get me drunk but I was canny, I drank the stronger ale they plied me with but missed quite a few rounds. When they finally threw us out I was all right but Jon and his mate were legless. I had a job getting them home, they had a funny way of letting off steam. We passed one of their mates pick-ups parked on the side of the road and they both climbed up on the roof and peed on the windscreen! I decided it must be a quaint local custom. I found out the next day that Jon’s mate tried to climb out of the bedroom window during the night and had to be restrained by his wife. Drink can do funny things to a bloke. My street cred. Had gone up no end the following day and we all parted the best of friends.

We went back to Ulladulla and did lots of day trips. One thing that I think puzzled them was the fact that I seemed impervious to the sun. Hot weather and sun have never bothered me, I don’t know whether you can have genes for this sort of thing but in the end they stopped telling me to be careful. However, I did get a bad case of sunburn while I was there and it was my own fault because the same thing happened to me once on Long Island in the States. Guy and I went sea fishing with a mate of his, Percy Kentwell. Percy was into surf fishing and showed us how to go on. He had a rotten fish head in an old silk stocking and a small spade. He dragged the fish head along the beach in the back wash as the water ran back down the beach after a wave had broken and kept his eye peeled for worms which popped there heads out of the sand attracted by the scent of the fish. He grabbed them as they popped up and dragged them out. Some of them were so big he had to ease the sand with the spade. These were the bait. He said that he really ought to have a fence post strapped across his shoulders in case he got a really big one and it dragged him down the hole!

Once we had enough worms, we started fishing, casting out into the surf and quietly reeling in. Of course, we were bare foot and this was where I slipped up. Percy caught a couple of bream and I caught one in about three hours fishing. It was after we had packed up and we started up the beach that I noticed my feet were red. Guys were the same and the following morning neither of us could walk. As I say, it’s happened to me before and I think it’s something to do with the scouring action of the sand and sea water and perhaps magnification as well through the water drops. It took us about three days before we could even put a pair of socks on! Anna played hell with Guy but I escaped the worst of her wrath, I was, after all, a guest.

One good thing came out of the trip though. I noticed that Percy didn’t bother to take his black plastic watch off as he cleaned the fish. I asked him if it would be all right, sea water and sand didn’t seem such a good idea to me. He said the watch was proof against everything. I looked at it, took note that it was made by Casio and was water resistant to 200 metres and bought myself one before I came home. That was 13 years ago and it’s still taking everything I can throw at it.

We left Australia after a wonderful visit in January 1987. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to go back there again. I often wonder about genes, I always knew I was happy in the sun and didn’t mind heat. What I didn’t know was that I would feel completely at home in Australia and, a big surprise for me, in the saddle as well! We went with Jo and David and Jill and Peter to the Hunter Valley. One of the attractions was a long horse ride through the bush and they persuaded me to have a go. I’d never been on a horse in my life and it was with some trepidation that I climbed on the bloody thing. As soon as I was in the saddle it did all it could to throw me off but I seemed to know what to do and stuck to it like glue. When it had quietened down a bit I got off and we found the cause was a burr which had stuck to the saddle blanket. We took that off and re-saddled it and I was right as rain. I noticed as we were going along that the horse had a very uneasy gait. It took me a while to understand the cause, when it trotted it did it like a pace horse, two legs at one side forward at the same time. The ride was most comfortable at the gallop. I asked about this when we got back and it turned out that a lot of the horses were old trotting horses that had been trained to pull a sulky in harness races. I really enjoyed the ride and the lady who ran the place came to me afterwards. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t ridden before, she said that if that was true I had missed my vocation! I got a lot of stick from everyone about it but everyone was sore except me. Genes? I don’t know but I’d have another go any day. One thing that sticks in my mind was the fact that poor Jill was very sore, she showed me her knickers when we got back and they had two holes worn in them, one for each cheek of her buttocks!

After a long, boring flight home we settled in again to work, Mary at YTV and me at Ellenroad. The asbestos contract was almost finished and we soon got back to some solid fund-raising and renovation. I had done my duty, been to Australia and one thing was certain, I wanted to go again as soon as possible!

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Stanley Challenger Graham
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scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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