Saturday, 31 October 2015

Songs of Oil and Steel

I stopped in Shepparton on Friday afternoon to have a quick look at the outdoor part of the heritage museum they have there.  The museum itself looks rather scrappy and run down, which is a pity as they have some genuinely good things.  Their historical machinery is particularly good and, in its way, summed up how farming has changed as time has passed.

I forgot to take a picture of the logging jinker on display there: a long narrow  cart used for carrying logs which would have been pulled by horses or bullocks.  I did, however, take a picture of the technology which came after it: a powerful Fowler steam engine.  These engines were incredibly powerful - strong enough to pull a plough across a field as long as the cable would hold. 

The sign with this particular engine noted that it had had a large part in building the irrigation infrastructure that makes the Goulburn Valley what it is. Speaking of which, the museum also displayed a large wheel which (sadly) also had no interpretative material with it but which I surmise was part of the area's waterworks at some time.

Moving on from the steam engine took us to their two old tractors.  The first was a venerable old single-cylinder veteran from perhaps the 1920s.  I can't readily identify its maker (I don't claim to be an expert), and I couldn't find a plate of any sort on it.  If you know what it is, sing out!  The only observation I would make is that it looks like it's from the same era as the Jelbart tractor that my grandfather bought in the 1920s.  I should say that he was not sentimental about the move to new technology: he never expressed any regret about ceasing work with horses.

The second tractor was a Moline-Universal Tractor, which Wikipedia tells me was manufactured between 1916 and 1923.  The spidery, spartan design seems a world away from the giant land-masters of today's broadacre farming.


There is little or no information on display about these machines, or about the men and women who used them.  I hope they served the purpose they were bought for, with minimal breakdowns.  I hope they brought the prosperity that the farmers hoped for.  And I hope that they heard some music in the song of steel and oil.

Advertising image from here

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Norm, a channel, and voting Fascist.

Hi everyone,
This is the post I'd planned to write last night.  Simple truth is that by about 11pm I was dead tired and falling asleep, so that knocked that out.
Anyway, after my last post I finished up at work and headed back into Shepparton.  I stopped at the supermarket for a few things (cat food, copy of the Weekly Times, exciting stuff like that) and on a whim went into the K-Mart next door to see what the pricing on a couple of things would be.  Maybe there's an element of vanity at work (maybe?!) but I think this is the first time in almost 20 years I can hit the beach in Speedos without making people want to rip their eyeballs out.  Shortly after I left high school I kind of morphed into Norm from the Life: Be In It ads.
 Image from here
Shopping done, I went over to the pool for a swimming test I mentioned yesterday: 100 metres swimming and 2 minutes treading water while wearing lightweight two-piece uniform.  The uniform wasn't as bad to swim in as one might have expected - a bit more drag, and slightly restrictive, but that's all.  I noticed that the studs on the jacket come undone quite easily: if one were to be thrown out of a boat it seems to me it'd be little effort to take the jacket off altogether.
Aquamoves Pool - Shepparton
I headed for home after the swimming test.  The sun was going down by that stage, which gave me a chance to get a really good photo of the East Goulburn Main Channel looking south.
Today has been a little frustrating.  The business unit I'm part of met and discussed a range of things, some of which will at least result in me getting some extra work (this is a good thing, trust me).  I'm still looking for something better, something I'm passionate about.  Life is not slowing down!
I see that one of our media commentators has just launched his own political party: the Derryn Hinch's Justice Party.  What is it with people insisting on having their own names in the names of political parties these days?  Off the top of my head I can think of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party, the Jacquie Lambie Network, Katter's Australian Party and the John Madigan's Manufacturing and Farming Party.  It's like suddenly being surrounded by Cults of Very Annoying Personalities.  Mr Hinch is probably not a name my American readers will know.  Essentially, he's a cookie-cutter shock-jock who could be considered an Australian Rush Limbaugh, if one stripped Limbaugh of his fluency, panache and compulsive listen-to-able-ness.  His party is based around the usual simplistic tough-on-crime slogans, although as a cyclist I find it hard to forget hearing people with bicycles described as "cockroaches on wheels".  I'd like to think that Mr Hinch somehow did not realise the homicidal implications of that phrase.  Anyway, happily the makers of Red Dwarf have spared his party the need to create their own posters for the next election:
Image from here
No more for now.  I may have a little time on my hands before SES tonight, so if I can post again I will.  Hope all is well with you.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A Chevy, a Ford and a paddlesteamer

Hi everyone,

It's been a full couple of days here.  Yesterday morning I stopped in at the VicRoads office in Shepparton to have my boat licence formally issued.  This went smoothly, although it may have been just as well there was no music playing when they took my photo.  Otherwise who knows what might have happened?
Disco mccalister   Tapped Out Unlock Disco Stu
Before                                                          After
Images from here

The day at work was surprisingly full, thank God.  I still managed to get out for a walk at lunch and spotted a couple of restored vehicles - a Ford Falcon and a Chevy truck.  Noting the ancient rivalry between those two companies it's perhaps proper that they were on opposite sides of Ross Street!  This was the Ford -

And this was the Chevy -

I don't plan to buy into the Ford v Chevy debate.  The car I demanded the most from - and got - was a Toyota Corolla that was ancient when I acquired it.  It left me with an eternal respect for the sheer un-kill-ability of Japanese engineering (it finally died after being run without oil for about 10 miles; I still feel a bit bad about that).

Image from here

On the subject of elderly machinery (and for that matter, affairs nautical), the water resources news emails the company sends us every day covered another subject I'm fond of: riverboats.  The story itself was about how the PS Cumberoona will be based from this point at Yarrawonga rather than Albury.
Alecto and Rattler.jpg
Image from here

The mystique that surrounds riverboats is a remarkable thing.  As technology, paddlewheelers have been obsolete since the day in March 1845 when HMS Rattler towed HMS Alecto backwards.  Despite all of which, if I ever again get together with a Southern girl, the relationship will need to involve a paddlesteamer on the Mississippi at some point.

I didn't have a huge amount of spare time after work before I needed to be heading back to the farm, but I took an hour for a run.  The sun was very bright going down: a week or so more and I'm going to want sunscreen for these outings.  I did the Pyke Road loop (in reverse this time) which took me out of Tatura and then back into it again

I was partly crafting this blogpost as I ran, although I'd forgotten my ipod so I kept getting distracted by the sound of my own breathing.  The run back into Tatura down Hogan Street was as good as it always is: past the pub (I wanted to stop!) and the take away (I wanted to stop!) and the Foodworks with the good fruit selection (I really wanted to stop).  Best of all though was it takes me past the buildings tied to Sacred Heart church, that are built in red brick that looks so good in the setting sun.  This time I snapped a picture of the building that was accommodation for pupils when the Church school accepted boarders.

There were some chores and odds and ends to do when I got back to the farm.  Is it strange that I feel almost grateful to have the chance to support the parental units in this way?  Maybe grateful isn't the right adjective.  I mean, who really feels thrilled by household chores?  But in a way, I kind of feel like I'm making up for having been such a ratshit support to the ex after Grace and Rachel were born.  I did try the best I could then, but the plain truth is that my best wasn't good enough then.  Well, life is about learning.  Ancora Imparo.

No more for now.  I should post again later this evening after the swimming test (it's a pre-requisite for the rescue boat crew course).

More later

Monday, 26 October 2015

Was it the wrong war?

A story from the Alaska Dispatch News caught my eye recently.  It covered the relics - including a midget submarine - of the Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands in the Second World War.  It's left me wondering how we can best make sense of this part of the Asia-Pacific past.

Image from here

The popular conception of the Pacific War is of a war of free peoples against a fearsome totalitarian overlord.  Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen declare that -
In its relentless march of conquest, Japan had grabbed more territory and subjugated more people than any other empire in history and, for the most part, had accomplished all this in a matter of months … (1)
The Australian calendar includes a day to commemorate the (largely spurious) Battle for Australia Day.

Flag of Azad Hind.svg
Image from here

At one level it's enough to point out that, regardless of what people believed at the time, neither Australia nor the United States faced a meaningful existential threat during the Pacific War.  More challengingly, the sympathies of a large part of the population of East Asia actually seem to have lain with Japan.  Siam/Thailand formally allied itself with the Japanese Empire.  Some 43,000 men were prepared to serve in the pro-Japanese Indian National Army.  And Japanese soldiers were frequently welcomed (at least initially) by civilians in East Asia as liberators from Dutch and French imperial masters (2).

Is it possible that behind every patriotic invocation of Kokoda, and every rescreening of The Pacific, there is a refusal to confront the possibility that this may have been in part the wrong war to fight, in order to preserve the wrong empires?

Disclosure: In preparing this I have recycled some material from another blogpost titled "History in a Corner".


(1) Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States (?pl, 2007), ch. 17.
(2) Sebastian Conrad and Prasenjit Duara, Viewing Regionalisms from East Asia (Washington DC, 2013) at p.23; Ethan Mark, ‘The Perils of Co-Prosperity: Takeda Rintaro, Occupied Southeast Asia, and the Seductions of Postcolonial Empire’ (2014) 119 American Historical Review 1184.

Sunday, 25 October 2015


Hi everyone,
It's a bit of an odds-and-ends post tonight.  I've been trying to think of a word for my thoughts at the moment.  I'm not sure what to go with.
Friday at work was another day of filling in time and generally being useless.  I was comparing notes with two of my colleagues, who are swamped with administrative tasks which they could give to me but which (owing to our oddish administrative structure) isn't allowed.  We've sent a message to our section head asking for a unit meeting to discuss these issues.  I have a sense of foreboding about it.  In the past (at other workplaces) complaints about structures and workloads tend to result in everyone identifying issues receiving punishment duties (that is, changes to work arrangements that kind of address the problem but that mainly succeed in humiliating those affected).

I had another good trip to the opp shop on Friday.  This time, volumes of French and English verse and a complete set of Marlowe.  Possibly the best $1.50 I've ever spent!

Because I was feeling unsettled on Friday I went for a run at Victoria Park Lake and on the Broken River trail.  The lake was its usual picture-perfect self -

The river trail took me under the railway bridge, and regular readers will know how I feel about both railways and bridges.

Saturday the old boy took a load of cattle down to the Peninsula - he came back tonight.  Second Oldest Sister and JP came up here for lunch which was very pleasant.  Apart from that S.O.S. mentioned that Michael had said something pretty unflattering about her.  She and JP didn't seem too fussed, but I'm pretty mad about it and don't know that I want to have much more to do with Michael.  I'd give him a bit of latitude where Little Sister is concerned - separation doesn't always bring out the best in people - and I couldn't care much less what he might say about me.  But S.O.S. (and, for that matter, Oldest Sister Economist) are a different kettle of fish.  I have a lot of reasons to be grateful to them (as readers of my old blog will know) that, I suppose, give their interests a bit of extra heft with me.
I was up late last night to Skype with the girls.  They were happy and well and very chatty.  After about an hour though Rachel wanted to use the ipad at their end and I was fighting to keep my eyes open.  She was so sweet about switching off though - "Good night sleep tight don't let the bedbugs bite" - that I couldn't be sad.  I'm so proud of what perfect little ladies they're becoming.  Their manners are, dare I say it, ones Grandma Judith would be proud of!
Today has been quiet.  It's been warm all day and if we're lucky maybe there'll be rain tonight.  We can only hope.  The dog and me have been for about 9kms worth of walks, but after the last few days I decided to give my Sunday run a miss and replace it with some strength training.  I'm feeling a bit brighter about things despite still suspecting things are work are about to take a turn for the worse.  Weird, right?  Well, I guess any change has a 50% chance of being progress, right?
No more for now: I'm off to have a cleanup and get to bed.  Let's see what the week brings.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

How I went on a long walk

Yesterday was a bicycle themed day for me.

The back tyre on my bike has had a slow leak for a while.  I had a little time free yesterday morning and so I put some time in to fixing it.  I was very impressed with tyre slime last time I used it, so I put in the recommended half a bottle and blew the tyre up to the recommended pressure

The repair seemed to hold and at about 3pm I headed out for a ride.  On a whim I decided to go and explore the tracks to the south of my area, towards the Violet Town Road: I haven't yet explored them much either on foot or by bicycle.  This terrain turned out to be pretty rolling with a lot of decent rises and falls.  The roads were essentially bush tracks, mainly loose rock and dust with grass growing between the wheel tracks.  Some of the roads here are marked as not accessible in wet weather.
It surely made for some challenging riding!  On one climb I had to get off and push the bike uphill: the ground was too loose and the climb too high for me to get enough traction from the back wheel.  That said, the view from the top of a lot of the rises was a great payoff.

I got to the main road and went along it for a bit before turning back onto the bush tracks again.  I was about 16 kilometres (10 miles) from home at this point when disaster struck.  I was going up a climb when there was a bang! and a stinging sensation in my left calf.  Yep, the back tyre had blown out and ejected the tyre slime onto my leg.  There was a large rip in the tyre.  I'd been leaning back to put weight on the back tyre to help it gain traction, and it was a pretty rocky stretch of road, so I think I just hit a bit of sharp rock.  Damn.
I didn't really have anyone I could call, so there was nothing for it but to thank God I was wearing these -
 - and start walking.  Going by a shorter route, I figured I was about 14-15 kilometres (about 9 miles) from home.  I started out by pushing the bike, but decided that this was going to be much harder than it needed to be.  I found the biggest tree I could to hide it behind and left it there, so I could come back later and collect it.

I was much less annoyed by the need for a looooong walk home than you might think.  For one thing, because I was on the backroads, I could happily sing to myself all of the old marching songs I knew (I'd working my way through 'Scotland the Brave', 'Waltzing Matilda', 'Dixie' and 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' before I got tired of the sound of my own voice.  For another thing, it was still challenging terrain that I hadn't seen much of before. 

At one stage I saw a middling size mob of kangaroos out in a paddock.  This was the best photo I could manage with the zoom function on my phone:

The other thing I saw was something I'd been hearing a lot about on the news: crops that farmers have decided there won't be enough rain to finish, and which are being rolled up for stockfeed.

The walk took a little over two hours.  Once I'd had a chance to rest my feet and drink some water I hitched up the trailer and went back for the bike - happily it was still there!

I'll google up repairs for the back tyre, although my strong suspicion is that it'll be cheaper and easier to just replace the tyre altogether.  We'll see.  Certainly a jury-rigged repair can't make it worse.  It might leave me with another long walk, but based on this experience that might not be a bad thing either!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

To J. - a poem

I wrote this years ago, for my (now ex-)wife.  I found it in my Facebook notes and, looking at it, I still think it's still one of the best things I've ever written.  With that in mind I'm reproducing it here -

To J.

We reached Melos after 85 days wandering
Finding the sea as the ancients had said
Wine dark, serpent haunted.

We rounded Malea on the 91st day.
Without fanfare, without cheers, with mourning.
We forgot where we had come from.

On the 96th day we sailed past Bojador
The end of the world, my world, was close.
I began to wander.

We wandered a long time, years
In that Atlantic expanse
Iron grey, rolling, unmarked.

One month drew into another
Blurring in a grey eternity
I threw the compass away.

After many years the sun showed itself
Face roasting in a blood red sky
Stripping scales for new skin

Night came, and 11 tiny white stars
Stood still in a velvet black
Cool air came with a burgundy coloured dawn

Mid-morning found green hills
A beach the colour of honey
A woman knee deep in the waves.

The winds died away for the last time
And I knew that I had never been lost.
I had been looking for Ithaca.

Cemeteries and Railways

I had a few hours to spare yesterday evening and went for a run before SES training.  This time, essentially a large loop around the northern outskirts of Tatura.  I'm really coming to love running here: the terrain is dead flat and the drivers give runners plenty of room.
This particular loop took me up past the cemetery.  I've often heard quoted the epitaph that says "I was as you are now; as I am now, so shall you be".  This little memento mori gave me an extra kick of speed and encouragement in the afternoon sunlight.  I like to think that the people who are sleeping in that cemetery would like the idea of someone running by.  Tatura, like many country towns, is passionate about its sport.  Granted, the popular sports tend to be football and netball in winter and cricket in summer rather than athletics, but somehow I don't think they'd mind.
I also ran past the Tatura German Military Cemetery (Deutsche Kriegsgraberstatte Tatura).  Tatura was the site of a number of camps for German nationals who were interned in Australia during the First World War, and for German internees and Prisoners-of-War during the Second World War.  The Cemetery is where the ones are buried who did not live to the end of hostilities.  It's a hard thing for people to die so far from home.
On that note, a friend I had in the Before Time once commented that his father had fought at the Battle of El Alamein.  One of my family was also there, and so I casually asked "oh yeah?  Out of interest, who was he with?  Australian Ninth DivisionBritish Eigth Army?).  Err, no: actually, with the umpteenth Panzer Division.  Okey-dokey: he was on the other side... Moving right along!
Turning onto the long leg of the loop brought me across the Toolamba-Echuca railway line.  I love how the signs for the railway still use an image of a steam train.  It's kind of appropriate in a way.  The line is used only sporadically.
As I went down Pykes Road I could feel my pace and spirits picking up.  Work has been a bit of a drag lately and while I was running I started feeling strong and ferocious again.  I was going well enough to decide to tack another couple of kilometres onto the run, a decision I regretted not at all.
Going for this run was a great idea: I haven't felt that good for a while!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A city at the end of the world

Churchmen tell us that God is merciful, but nature prefers to be merciless.  Facta non verba.  The mechanics that shape the biggest of objects have no compunction about shredding entire worlds.  The movements of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen and wind and sunlight inflict pain and distress on bodies and minds.

I have lived most of my life under the Australian sky.  In summer the sun drags along for 14 hours or so.  In winter the bitter air chills and chills until warmth means more than anything else.  In both seasons, emotions are accentuated less by celebration as by crises.  The faces of men and women in this world seem less to age as to solidify into implacable endurance.  They live in a world which has already ended and where little change that is good or bad is to be expected.

New Orleans is a city where the world constantly threatens to end and does not do so.  Strip away the tourist trash and the clichés and you still find a city where the senses are king.  Food is made to be enjoyed, coffee to stimulate, music to speak and prayers to be heard.  Things are beautiful are thrown at you, all at once and without complication. In a city where the world is always one big storm away from ending, the present is a work of art.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Too many meanings

In a few weeks, voters in New Zealand will go to the ballot boxes to select a new flag.  I feel pretty sorry for our friends across The Ditch.  Flags - especially changing them and condeming them - are on the list of 'nothing new to say' subjects.  Like euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment and a few other things, it's a subject where there is seemingly nothing new to say and (possibly worse) no minds on either side that are likely to change.  Hearing the issues debated is like listening to bored schoolchildren reading a shopping list.  That said, I think I have a new idea to put forward.

I suggest that where flags and the like are concerned, we've been asking the wrong question for a long time.  Debates about flags are always about the meanings they express.  These meanings don't change; they just build up in deeper layers.

The Confederate battle flag is the best example imaginable.  Probably the first meaning to be attached to it was one of tragic valour and regional pride.

Image from here

That meaning still attaches to it: consider its use by the defunct Southern Party.

Southern Party (logo).jpg
Image from here

In the meantime it acquired other meanings too.  One was the entirely positive quality of independence, irreverence and spiritedness.

Image from here

The other was the negative meaning of violence and bigotry.

Image from here

The same fate met the Eureka Flag, flown at the 1854 miners' rebellion at Ballarat.

Image from here

Since then, it found itself adopted both by the hard left of politics AND the hard right, with all the sets of ideas that go with them.

Builders Labourers Federation Logo.jpg
Images from here and here

This accreting of meanings means that every flag comes with unfair whispers.  An African-American in South Carolina might know that his white neighbour flies the Confederate flag as an expression of pride in his region and his heritage, but it would take a bigger man than most of us to completely ignore the whispering hateful voice that goes with it, because of the extra meanings it carries.  The unfairness works both ways: the same white neighbour who wants to show respect for his ancestor who owned no slaves and served in the Army of Northern Virginia will find himself unfairly facing the derision and contempt of people who assume he's a knuckle-dragging bigot.

May I suggest that a way out can be had from the language of heraldry?  By adding (or, sometimes, taking away) from flags, their meaning can be made clear.  A Eureka flag, for example, that included an image of a tree would refer to ordered liberty and justice* that is far removed from the lawlessness of the Builders' Labourers Federation.  A Confederate flag incorporating an open lock or broken chains would convey rebelliousness and independence, and a design that included a noose or a burning cross would convey ... well, something very different.

I know that there is an element of disrespect to the ancestors in this idea, and a degree of meddling with heritage.  Certainly it is open to abuse.  But perhaps this is a risk worth taking if it means those of us who are living can transmit to those who are not yet born the best ideas of those who are now in their graves.


* Simon Schama talks about forests having this meaning in Landscape and Memory.