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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My letter to the Federal Treasurer

Dear Mr Swan,

Please find below my suggestion for fixing Australia's economy.

Instead of giving billions of dollars to banks that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan. You can call it the Patriotic Retirement Plan.

There are about 10 million people over 50 in the work force.

Pay them $1 million each severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

1) They MUST retire. Ten million job openings - Unemployment fixed

2) They MUST buy a new Australian car. Ten million cars ordered - Car Industry fixed

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage - Housing Crisis fixed

4) They MUST send their kids to school/TAFE/university - Crime rate fixed

5) They MUST buy $100 WORTH of alcohol/tobacco a week .....and there's your money back in duty/tax etc.

It can't get any easier than that!

P.S. If more money is needed, have all members of Parliament pay back their falsely claimed expenses and second-home allowances.

Yours sincerely,
The Whole Country
(or should that be The Country in a Hole?)

On my list of "Books to read"

Teri Louise Kelly latest book, "The Last Bed On Earth", covers her time as manager of a backpackers’ hostel in New Zealand where she observes that backpackers "drink, fuck, take dope, steal other peoples food, drink, fuck and ride a bus to someplace where they can drink, fuck and steal food again.”

High season in New Zealand. Teri Louise Kelly and partner-in-crime, Jo Buck, wait behind a wire-mesh cage ready to serve the world’s budget-travelling army as it descends through the long white clouds seeking thrills, pills, and quick kills.

Despite all the horror, Kelly’s ability to paint the worst with such humour and candour makes you want to pack up your stuff and dorm-hop your way around the world. Apart of staying in hundreds of youth hostels in my teens, I have never been in a backpackers' hostel, so reading this book will be a kind of catching up with what I could have done ... but first I have to find the book.

Padma is still in Indonesia ...

... visiting old friends and family!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Car improvements

Padma keeps telling me that I should trade in our (t)rusty old TOYOTA Camry (1989 model, 380,000km) because it has no CD-player, no power steering, no power windows. Well, have I got a surprise for her when she comes home from her holidays!!!

The week that was!

My trusty old McDonald-calendar tells me we're almost at the end of the month. And while the whole world is going to hell in a handcart, our politicians have spent the last week devoting all their waking hours to the OzCar (or RuddMobile) affair and a certain fake email. The email's alleged purveyor's house was pelted with eggs overnight. Should they prove to be quail eggs, or even Fabergé, the Opposition Leader will have some serious questions to answer.

In the meantime, a new party, the Australian Sex Party, - slogan "Where you come first!" (or was it "Where you come first"?) - has joined the ranks of all those other pricks (and fannies) on the hill. They promise all their members a pleasurable experience! As their website states, "In keeping with our credo, our member's needs always ‘come first’" (judging by the position of the apostrophe, they have only one - which, based on 2007 election results, would get them $2.10. Things must be a bit slow in the sex-business!)

A 10-year-old boy at Bilambil Heights on the New South Wales north coast, whose skull was fractured when he fell out of bed at a friend's house, has been awarded almost $854,000. His parents said after the accident his personality changed and he was depressed. I have had a changed personality and depressions for years but all I get is dirty looks.

And there are signs that times are getting tougher in the Land of Plenty: Ashley Mackinnon, from Wilson's Creek in northern New South Wales, tried to sell his dead wife's ashes on the internet auction site ebay. Mr Mackinnon says he doesn't know what his wife's remains may have fetched on eBay. "It was only really on there for a day and there was 150 hits... I had to go to work that day and then on my lunchbreak I'd had a few phone calls and stuff so I thought I'd better check where it was at and I had this message saying your item has been removed."

Some people who have the time of contemplating their own navels may just now have discovered that they are suffering from BIID, or Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Caused by whom or what? A whole new generation of lawyers will make their fortunes in search of the answer! I already have the answer because I have suffered from BIID myself every time I wished I had cut off my tongue before saying something stupid (such as "Body Integrity Identity Disorder.")

And even peaceful, little Nelligen has been in the news lately with the discovery of human remains in a shallow grave in the Currowan State Forest.

In overseas news, nine centuries of male monopoly on the canals of Venice came to an end on Friday when the first woman passed the gruelling test to become a trainee gondolier. Giorgia Boscolo, the 23-year-old daughter of a gondolier, said, "I have always been in love with gondolas." Her father, Dante (not the one of the Inferno!), said being a gondolier was "a job that requires a lot of physical strength, but with experience you need less effort - and my daughter has lots of experience!" He didn't elaborate.

And while in Italy (yes, Venice is in Italy; next question!), a priest caught driving over the alcohol limit pleaded to police that it was only because of the Holy Wine he had drunk as part of the mass. Police rejected the priest's excuse and revoked his driving licence anyway. Now the 41-year-old priest is said to appeal against the ruling, saying his alcohol consumption was not "voluntary" since it was part of the Catholic ritual in the four masses that he had celebrated during the day. And I say "Amen" to that!

... ah, yes, and Michael Jackson died - but who gives a shit?

P.S. Oh, and I almost forgot, an archeological team, digging in Washington DC , has uncovered 10,000-year-old bones and fossil remains of what is believed to be the first politician - see below:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't just save a life - save a lifestyle!

Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice time is here within the Southern Hemisphere,
And so my heart beats to the tune of this the shortest day in June.

Hence welcoming more daylight hours, as Earth the sunshine's kiss devours,
My mind strays to the ancient rites in northern lands of darkest nights

Where Winter Solstice sanctifies the manner of the Dark's demise,
And rebirth of the Sun whose rays revitalise Earth's drab malaise.

This mystery in ancient times gave rise to rituals and rhymes,
Imploring of the gods to grant fertility to man and plant.

The Celtic Druids glorified the sun god as their spirit guide
As by the fire's glow enticed, they feasted, chanted, sacrificed.

So did the Romans, Greeks and Norse celebrate Earth's turning force,
When Dark was conquered by the Light: a new beginning clear and bright.

The ancient monuments attest to age-old cultures in the quest
To understand Earth's mysteries where gods were keepers of the keys.

Then Christians joined to celebrate the birth of Him they venerate;
Decrying pagan liturgies, but bound in abstract elegies.

This land they call Down Under knows no days where Darkness overflows
To smother Light and sunshine's fire, adrift in melancholy's mire.

But we can still our mind's attune, on this the shortest day in June,
To rituals of ancient days: the rebirth of the sunshine's rays.

So as each year the cycle spins, we contemplate our origins,
As lives revolve on hope that Light will overcome the darkest night.

by Vivienne Ledlie

Happy Birthday to Canadian Chris!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Perfect Name: Mad(e)off - with US$50 BILLION

The Perfect Storm

Storm Financial (would you have given your money to a financial adviser with a name like that?) was founded in 2004 by Townsville local Emmanuel Cassimatis - a former MLC insurance agent - and his wife and former secretary Julie. It had 14,500 clients when it collapsed into administration, then receivership in January by which time it had turned into a Financial Storm.

The group charged upfront fees of 7 per cent on all funds raised (mostly borrowed money as they convinced investors to borrow more and more) - which reached a peak of about $4.5 billion last year - and management fees of 1 per cent a year after that, as well as receiving "kick-back" commissions from the funds in which they invsted their clients' money.

Investors were encouraged to share the (impossible?) dream of making money out of virtually nothing: borrow against the value of their houses, buy shares with the borrowed money, borrow against the value of those shares to buy even more shares, and so ad infinitum - as their now defunct website suggested, "Investing successfully is about fulfilling your full financial potential; not about being constrained by the limits of your present position" - until the market turned and the dream became a nightmare.

So how did that desparate sailing-couple, Vivienne and Murray Withers, shown at the beginning and end of those video clips, finish up with nothing except a huge mortgage on their house? Here's an example of how it might have happened which assumed a relatively 'safe' 75% lending margin (some Banks lent as high as 100%!) and completely ignored very heavy bank and interest charges - not to mention the upfront 7% and ongoing 1% commission to our friends Emmanuel and Julie:

1) They borrowed 75% against their $1 million house

2) They invested the borrowed $750,000 in shares

3) They borrowed another 75% against the first lot of shares to buy another $562,500 worth.

4) This could have gone on several more times like the veritable financial perpetuum mobile it seemed to be but let's assume they came to their senses and stopped there. They now held shares totalling $1,312,500 and had loans totalling $1,312,500

5) Then the 'unthinkable' happened: the sharemarket dropped 50% and the value of the shares was reduced to $656,250. The lenders called for top-up money to restore the 75%/25% margin failing which they sold all shares at $656,250 (perhaps even lower!) which left a shortfall of $656,250 against the loans. All shares were gone and the 'gambler' - sorry, investor - was left with a debt of $656,250 against the house which would also need to be sold to repay the balance of the loan.

Push up the gearing to 85, 95, even 100%, continue the "buy, borrow, then buy again" routine a few more times, allow for an even steeper drop in share values (some of Australia's most conservative company shares had dropped to as little as one-third of their former value at the climax of the shake-out), and it's easy to see how that housewife fighting back her tears could have finished up with nothing except two margin loans totalling 2.5 million dollars! Or the 73-year old granny who finished up with a 1.18 million margin loan and a $256,000-debt on her house! Welcome to the real world of high-stakes finances!

Did our friend Emmanuel explain this possibility to his sucker-clients? He seemed to have laughed those loans off as a Claytons loan - "the loan you have when you are not having a loan." Of course, every 100%-geared up client meant a doubling of Storm Financial's fees!

Some of those investors didn't look sophisticated enough to withdraw money from an ATM, let alone buy and sell shares. Who did it for them? And who told them what to buy and what to sell? Given the number of clients, Storm Financial could have been in no position to individually monitor and manage those portfolios. Did they use a cookie-cutter routine of 'get-set-and-forget' with the same shares for all their clients? A highly dangerous strategy even with a paid-up portfolio which allows one to sit it out when things go bad; totally suicidal with a highly-geared portfolio when each market downturn could mean a margin-call and a potential sell-off! What analysis, if any, was good old Emmanuel referring to when he said, "In the analysis we did, we did not believe the house was at risk"? What professional expertise did this former insurance salesman possess that made him think he could bet his clients' money (and worse, his clients' BORROWED money!) on his aberrant model of an ever-rising market? Even at the absolute nadir of the collapsing market in October 2008, when the index had almost halved from where it had been just five months earlier, and when Storm Financial were finally forced to send out this letter, urging clients to convert what was left of their portfolios into cash, they advocated that clients should NOT use the cash to repay their 8%-interest margin loans, but to keep it on deposit at 4% "so that the cash can be switched back into equities to gain from any upswing in the future." Many people instructed Storm Financial to switch to cash. Had Storm Financial acted on those instructions, a lot of pain could have been avoided. But here's the kicker: not one of those instructions was acted on ... read more.

There are many questions: such as who declared on the bank's loan application form that the unemployed widow shown in the video clip, who finished up with a $300,000-debt, had a MONTHLY after-tax income of $104,000 ? And what was the 'sales pitch' employed by those dozens, if not hundreds, of Storm Financial's 'investment consultants'? What presentations and promises did they make to their would-be investors? What a pity I'm already in retirement! I would've loved to get my hands dirty on a bit of forensic audit work!

Those people must have had some idea of how dangerous a game it was they were playing. I mean, our 'yachtie' Maurice, who wondered aloud on-camera how the banks could have lent him $2 million, didn't look like someone who'd spent his life selling shoelaces door-to-door. He must've realised how dangerously deep he was into this high-stake poker-game! Was it greed that conquered all their fears, that stopped them from asking some searching questions? Any suburban accountant or solicitor could have told them of the dangers!

Of course, had things gone their way, had the market gone UP by 50% to give them a PROFIT of $656,250 - and all on borrowed money! -, they would no doubt have rubbed their hands with glee and regarded the rest of us, who conducted their financial affairs with a little more caution, as complete simpletons. However, now that the party is over for them, they're desperately trying to portrait themselves as innocents who have been had. As my Canadian friend Chris put is rather succinctly, "Playing dumb is not an option!" They were all playing "double-or-nothing" - and got it, one way or the other!

"Heaven and Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science"

by Australia's best known Geologist, Ian Plimer, Professor of Mining Geology at The University of Adelaide and Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at The University of Melbourne.

Required reader for everybody who's talking a lot of hot air about climate change!

For starters, listen to this interview:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My next car

In anticipation of a big pay-out from my school - see precious post "The week that was!" -, I've placed an advance order with Volkswagen for a VW 1L - so named because it will go 100 km on one litre of petrol! - which will go into production in 2010. More information ...

A beautiful-looking car and what an engineering feat! It is, of course, quite reminiscent of the Messerschmitt of the fifties. No, not this one:

but this one:

This little car, known as a "Kabinenroller", was every young man's dream in post-war Germany when stringent restrictions imposed by the Allies forced the former aircraft manufacturer Messerschmitt to turn its attention to car production. It became one of the best known “bubble car” manufacturers and produced the Kabinenroller until the early 1960s.

The idea to produce such a car had originally been conceived by Fritz Fend, an ex-Luftwaffe pilot, to provide inexpensive transport for disabled ex-servicemen. Manufacture started at the Messerschmitt factory in Regensburg with the first model, the KR 75, powered by a 175 cc, single-cylinder, two-stroke Sachs engine with controls similar to those of a motorcycle.

In 1955 the KR 200 appeared, an updated, more-refined version of the KR 175, offering a wider track, an optional additional seat and a 199 cc engine. The vehicle had four forward gears and independent front and rear suspension, not to mention a peculiar reversing procedure which involved turning off the ignition and flicking an electric switch, effectively turning the engine in the opposite direction. The KR 200 produced 10 hp at 5,520 rpm with 0-50 mph in a breathtaking 40 seconds; most important however was the 70-85 mpg.

There are car clubs in Europe, the US, and elsewhere that still value these cars, usually for their quirky character rather than their actual monetary value. Nonetheless, some collectors will pay over 10,000 euros for a well-maintained "Schmitt."

The week that was!

On Thursday Australian political debate came to a grinding halt as Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young's two-year-old child Kora was carried screaming from the Senate chamber after she was ordered out during a division vote. The Senate a child-care centre? Why not? It may lift the level of debate! More here...

And while our Prime Minister squanders the wealth of this nation, it seems he might be driven out of office in a beat-up 13-year old rusty ute, also known as the "Ruddmobile" - more on "Utegate." Of course, we all know what a 1996 Mazda ute looks like whereas none of us has ever seen a $300 BILLION debt! Can we now get on with governing this country, please?

While all this was going on in Canberra, just across the border in Goulburn, Clint Elford complained that $30,000 he had donated to his beloved Cronulla Sharks NRL club had not been properly accounted for. This has since proven to be a headache for the club after it was revealed that their (now) former Sharks chief Tony Zappia failed to reveal the cash injection to board members. However, it also turned the spotlight on the charitable 27-year old donor who, it is now alleged, defrauded an insurance company out of $525,000 by claiming to be terminally ill and dying from the rare neurological disorder Shy Drager Syndrome. Which didn't quite make him shy enough to claim an additional $1.5 million from another insurer. He proved to be a good son, though, as he gave some of the money to his parents who have since been charged with money laundering and recklessly dealing with the proceeds of crime. Read more...

All this pales into insignificance when compared to billionaire Allen Stanford (sorry, Sir Allen, as he now sports the clipped mustache and Saville Row style of English aristocracy following a 2006 knighthood by the Caribbean island of Antigua; he also claimed to be related to the founder of California's Stanford University until the institution filed a trademark infringement suit) who is alleged to have bilked investors of $12.5 BILLION. Depositors flogged to his Bank of Antigua despite, in the hierarchy of offshore banking havens, Antigua being one of the world's least-regulated and least-transparent. As David Marchant, an offshore banking analyst based in Miami, comments, "Antigua was the wild west and Stanford was the chief cowboy. In their greedy desire to avoid paying a 15 to 20 percent tax, they put their money with an offshore crook who ultimately taxed them 100 percent." A 50-page indictment showed the scam dated back to September 1999 and continued until about February 17 this year. In Antigua they're already calling him Sir Allen SCAM-ford!More details .... Perhaps Madoff and Stanford could form a partnership?

Closer to home, a New South Wales man has successfully sued the state's Education Department for the bullying he suffered as a schoolboy in the 1990s. David Gregory, 30, from Mollymook, south of Sydney, suffers obsessive compulsive disorder and agoraphobia and has blamed his condition on bullying he was subject to while at the Farrer Agricultural High School in Tamworth. He was seeking more than $2 million in lost earnings, but Justice Elizabeth Fullerton has awarded him almost $470,000 for losses connected to his inability to work. The court heard Mr Gregory was subjected to six years of bullying at the school in the NSW's north-west. He was called a "poof" and a "Nazi" and he was hit and publicly humiliated. He alleged that teachers had done nothing to deal with complaints and had not intervened to stop him being socially ostracised. Mr Gregory will also be paid for future medical costs relating to his mental illnesses, but the amount of damages has not been set. More ...

Good on you, David! By the way, this will be my last blog for a while as I'm off to Germany to sue my old school! These last fifty years since leaving it have been hell!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lying in bed ...

... on a cold Thursday morning, with TWO electric heaters going and a hot cup of tea in my hand, I cheer myself up by watching - again! - Billy Connolly's "The Man Who Sued God":

Beautiful scenery, too! It was shot in a small place called Bermagui which is just a couple of hours by car down the coast from here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's official!

In all those turbulent and restless years since leaving Germany in 1965, I somehow managed to keep a small piece of paper issued by the "Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte" in Berlin which confirmed my contributions to the German Government's compulsory pension fund during my articled years. Those contributions were a miniscule percentage of my then earnings which, being no more than a stipend towards my training, were equally miniscule: 86 Deutsche Mark a month during the first year, 105 Deutsche Mark during the second year, 142 Deutsche Mark during the third year, and so on.

Small as those earnings were, the contributions made from them represented some sort of entitlement to a pension which made me write to the "Bundesversicherungsanstalt" (don't you just love that word?) and, with almost lightening speed, I received their reply that, as soon as I had reached the ripe old age of 65, I would be entitled to a monthly pension of 78 Euros and - with typical Teutonic precision - 28 cents!!!

WOW!!! Let's celebrate!

Monday, June 15, 2009

15th June 1215 - signing of the Magna Carta

Just came back home and found a few calls waiting for me!


Padma's telephone call from Bali woke me up this morning. She's arrived safely! I tried to get Rover to make me a cup of tea but he's sound asleep! Ah well, it's too cold to get up early anyway. So I keep reading "The Rights of Man" which, in my opinion, include the right to stay in bed as long as one wants.

I've finished "The Schopenhauer Cure" which was totally compelling and I simply MUST get the author's other book, "When Nietzsche Wept", which was also made into a movie.

Alain de Botton offers a well-reasoned explanation of Nietzsche's perspective on life:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Parallel Lives

Click on image for close-up
For a wider GOOGLE Earth perspective, click here

Does anybody live down there? Yes, my friend Karl-Heinz and his wife Dorle do!

I met Karl-Heinz in September 1968 when I went to South-West Africa. Karl-Heinz had arrived there the year before, having previously emigrated to South Africa in the same way and at about the same time as I had emigrated to Australia. Being about the same age, we shared many similar interests and indeed shared the company-provided flat in Lüderitz on the Atlantic coast. However, unlike me who left South-West again after only six months, Karl-Heinz is still there today - having moved less than 300km inland to a farm along Pad D414 just north-east of Helmeringhausen.

Click on image to enlarge
For a larger GOOGLE Earth perspective, click here

Karl-Heinz and Dorle have been running their 15,000-acre farm "Süderecke-West" for nearly forty years in one of the driest countries, breeding goats and supplementing their income with the making of prickly-pear jam (prickly pears grow there in abundance, as they do in Australia where they are regarded as the most invasive weed ever imported), while bringing up their four children who have since left for Windhoek, Cape Town and Germany as the farm cannot support them.

For Karl-Heinz and Dorle there is little choice: turn left and remain at Helmeringhausen, or turn right to Aus (which means 'finish' in German)

... and here is South-West Africa's unofficial national anthem (set to the tune of "Reserve hat Ruh" ("Reservists on leave"):

Das Südwester Lied

Hart wie Kameldornholz ist unser Land
und trocken sind seine Riviere.
Die Klippen, sie sind von der Sonne verbrannt
und scheu sind im Busche die Tiere.
Und sollte man uns fragen:
Was hält euch denn hier fest?
Wir könnten nur sagen:
Wir lieben Südwest !

Doch uns're Liebe ist teuer bezahlt
trotz allem, wir lassen dich nicht.
Weil unsere Sorgen überstrahlt
der Sonne hell leuchtendes Licht.
Und sollte man uns fragen:
Was hält euch denn hier fest?
Wir könnten nur sagen:
Wir lieben Südwest !

Und kommst du selber in unser Land
und hast seine Weiten geseh'n,
und hat uns're Sonne ins Herz dir gebrannt,
dann kannst du nicht wieder gehn.
Und sollte man dich fragen:
Was hält dich denn hier fest?
Du könntest nur sagen:
Ich liebe Südwest !

Heinz A. Klein-Werner

A change is as good as a holiday ...

... so while Padma is away in Indonesia, I've moved into the guest-cottage where keeping house and keeping warm is so much easier.

The fridge is stocked with potato salad and 'bratwurst' and my favourite lentil soup and I am surrounded by books and videos and DVDs to last me through the winter. Come and visit me on the cottage's website to see how and where I live!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I'm well prepared ...

... just in case being alone in the house for the next six weeks gives me the shits!

Although, of course, trusty Malty and Rover are still around to keep me company while I catch up with a whole pile of reading.

A recent ABC Radio programme featuring Christopher Hitchens' book on the "The Rights of Man" has rekindled my interest in Thomas Paine as, indeed, 'these are the times that try men's souls.' He famously wrote that 'the whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.' What would he say of today's state of the world in general, and of America in particular?

And then there are several entertaining DVDs. Only yesterday I picked up a copy of Billy Connolly's Journey to the Edge of the World which is all about the legendary North West Passage deep within the arctic circle. Quite timely watching, given the wintry weather down here! (and, being by Billy Connolly, it's the only travelogue rated M with 'mature themes, coarse language and sexual references')

Friday, June 12, 2009

When did it happen?

When did nostalgia replace the golden promise of tomorrow?

I had always believed that the juiciest meat of life was yet to be found and had always coveted the future - the time of being older, smarter, bigger, richer. And then came the time of the great reversal, the deidealisation of the future, and the beginning of the aching yearning for what used to be. When was that reversal? I don't know. It just sneaked up on me. One day I woke up and realised that the truly soaring moments of life had come and gone without my grasping them. Welcome to the future!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"There ...

... go I !" - how many times have I thought this when looking at other people's lives! Never in envy but in surprise and, indeed, wonder that I should've come through it all in one piece.

We can't live another life in parallel to find out what might've been had we not taken the road less travelled, but we can look at the lives of friends who kept us company from afar while we made our own little detours.

Friends such as my old school-mate Ulrich who's never even left his hometown, learnt his trade there, married, had kids, and only in recent years has been adventurous enough to take a typical Ballermann-holiday abroad.

Or Karl-Heinz whom I befriended in South-West Africa in 1968. Forty years later, married and with a grown-up family, he's still in the same place.

The old accounting-colleague from my days in New Guinea in 1970, Graeme, would've never left Rabaul either had it not been for the volcanic eruption in 1994 which wiped out the town and Graeme's fortunes with it.

In Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" is the oft-repeated question whether we would be willing to repeat the precise life we have lived again and again throughout eternity. Nietzsche's message to us was to live life in such a way that we would be willing to repeat the same life eternally.

There but for the Grace of God go I ? Well, however ill- or well-considered, my own choices have had a lot to do with where I am today and I like to think that I have lived my life rather than having been lived by it.

Hot cup of tea on a cold morning

Happiness is being one of the gang in Saudi Arabia from 1982 to 1985

It's good to be home again after a trip to even colder Canberra yesterday. I had my bandages and stitches removed at the hospital, ate a huge lunch of Wiener Schnitzel with 'Gurkensalat' at the Austrian Club, and then rummaged through the opportunity shops for some books.

Found some interesting titles: "The Hunting Hypothesis" by Robert Ardrey (all about man's evolution); a story of Schopenhauer's life and influence woven through a fictional narrative entitled "The Schopenhauer Cure" by Irvin D. Yalom (who also wrote "When Nietzsche Wept); "Greater Nowheres - A Journey through the Australian Bush" by Dave Finkelstein and Jack London (no, not THAT Jack London); "Desparate Voyage", a story by John Caldwell which lacks any literary pretensions and instead is a straightforward first-person account of his tremendous (mis)adventure of sailing single-handedly across the Pacific in a 20-foot boat -- the kind of voyage no sane person would (or could) make today! You can't help but root for him and wonder how things will turn out.

And I picked up several tried-and-tested videos ('what are videos?', I hear you ask): "The Secret Garden", "Licence to Kill" (James Bond Collection); "The Longest Day"; and "Alice in Wonderland".

We drove back to the coast in mid-afternoon as I really didn't want to spend any more time in Canberra. As I headed down the Clyde Mountain, I idly reflected on the fact that I had lived in Canberra longer - from 1965 to 1967 and again from 1985 to 2000 - than in any other place, including my own hometown in Germany. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans!

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Click on image for larger display

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Flashback Barton House Canberra

Sunday morning after the night before: chilling out on the front steps; "yours truly" in dead centre, wearing sunnies and checkered shirt. Notice the chap on the far right having a "hair of the dog" from a McWilliams flagon left over from the night before. If that didn't do it, there was always BEX powder and a good lie down! Or one took Vincent's with confidence for quick three-way relief.

It was 1965. The Menzies era was coming to an end. The conflict in Vietnam was escalating. And I had just come out to Australia as a young migrant from Germany. I spent those early years, from 1965 to 1967, and then again a brief period in 1969 after I had come back from South Africa, in Canberra in a place called "Barton House" in Brisbane Avenue, one of the many boarding houses then in existence.

Those were the days of parties, of evenings in front of the telly in the TV Room watching "Z-Car" or "M*A*S*H", laughing at the antics of Agent 99 and Maxwell Smart in "Get Smart" ("Good thinking, 99" was a favourite saying in those days); or being bored to death by Barry Jones's insufferable show-off act on Bob and Dolly's BP Pick-a-Box. And then there were the evenings spent at the Burns Club or in the Newsroom of the "Kingo" Pub across the road, drinking 'schooners' and talking about 'sheilas', followed by a last-minute dash back to Barton House before the dining room closed! And Sunday morning, sitting on the frontsteps with the boys, recovering from the night before, while waiting for the week's washing to run through its cycle in the laundry in the backyard.

It was at Barton House that I was introduced to the culinary delights of Australia in the 60s:    mixed grill, corned silverside, Yorkshire pudding, spaghetti-meatballs, lamp chops, and, as a filla-uppa, loads and loads of steam-pudding drowned in thick creamy custard. And who can forget those dreadful brown-paperbag luncheon packs of baked-beans sandwiches, chutney sandwiches, and spaghetti sandwiches? Is there anything more revolting than a soggy spaghetti-sandwich dripping through the bottom of a brown paperbag? The people who ate that stuff must've been a weird mob indeed!

There were never any seconds - except for steam-pudding!!! - and for a growing lad that meant going next door to the "Greasy Spoon" at Lachlan Court to stock up on Iced Vovos, Arnott's Spicy Fruit Rolls (my favourites!), and spring and Chiko rolls.

I always occupied a share-room because a share-room was cheaper. And some of the room mates I had to share with! There was the ANZ "Bank Johnny" from the Kingston branch who regularly came back drunk, night after night, and who was a master of the Australian expletive - which he used constantly, stand-alone, in between words, even inserted into words! And the WORMALD-employee who would purposefully strut off to work only to be back inside the room five minutes lates, screaming his head off. "They repossessed my car again, the bastards!!!" He regularly fell behind with his repayments, and regularly had his car repossessed. And then there was the postie who seemed to lead a charmed life as he was usually back from work by mid-morning until he was found out to have dumped his mail deliveries at the local tip! And the Kiwi with his already then wonderfully antic ROVER-car with walnut dashboard who loved classical music and played it throughout the night on his radiogram. Remember the radiogram? His was an expensive "HIS MASTER'S VOICE ". My own choice of music at the time were THE SEEKERS and PETER, PAUL AND MARY (although the official chart had already moved on to the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel). Typical movies of the day were "They're a Weird Mob" and, some time later, "The Age of Consent". There will never be another time like that! Could I write a book about it? You bet!!!

There was a constant stream of new arrivals, but to a hard core of people - and that included me! - Barton House was "home"! The sort of "home" that prepared me well for the house I later shared in Rabaul with two fellow-accountants and the camp accommodation I occupied when I went to Bougainville Island. And it gave me the confidence and the skills to deal with all manner of people in future years.

And what variety of people I met, and what interesting friends I made! Some of the names I still remember are John Burke, my immediate boss at the Bank, Merv Quinn, another "Bank Johnny" originally from Broken Hill, the other two "Bank Johnnies" Dennis Everitt and Bob Southwell. And Pat Fisher from Foreign Affairs who was forever on study leave trying to learn some foreign languages but never getting past the equivalents of "Good Morning" and "How are you?" and who loved to show off his cricket-whites, strutting into the dining room with cricket gloves, leg padding, and all. And Jerry from the Government Printers who somehow or other had broken his leg and stayed on crutches for years and years, creaming off the insurance companies. The retired dotty surveyor who spoke to no-one and always walked about with his own cutlery in his pockets. In the mornings he would stand outside the communal shower cubicles and rap his walking-stick on the door if anyone dared to stand under the shower beyond what he considered was a reasonable time.

For years after, and in different parts of Australia, I still kept bumping into people who had been at Barton House, who had been chased for their outstanding rents by Peter "Frenchie", the manager, who also ran an "Academy of Self-Defense" (and didn't he need it to deal with some of his more difficult boarders!) They all looked back on their time at Barton House with fond memories and a great deal of nostalgia.