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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Robin Hood couldn't have done it better!

The Tobin tax - also known as Robin Hood Tax - which was suggested by Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin as long ago as 1972 as a tax on all spot conversions of one currency into another, has already found support with Gordon Brown (the British Prime Minister), Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) and Nicolas Sarkozy (the French President).

It is receiving some airtime in Australia as well and you can support it by joining the hundreds of Australians on robinhoodtax.org.au. After all, taxing those vultures is the very least we can do!

Books, books, glorious books

I've ordered another two books from my favourite online bookstore, The Book Depository in the U.K. It offers FREE postage world-wide!

The moniker "Wolf of Wall Street" goes back to a movie by the same name made several months before the disastrous 1929 Stock Market crash. In it George Bancroft stars as ruthless stock manipulator Jim Bradford, who plays his customers for suckers and laughs all the way to the bank. Cornering the copper market at the expense of his hated rival David Tyler, Bradford taunts Tyler in public, prompting the latter to plan a sweet revenge. Tyler inaugurates an affair with Bradford's status-seeking wife Olga, which indiscretion is witnessed by the Bradford's maid Gert. Armed with plenty of "inside information", Gert decides to get on the Wall Street gravy train by talking her boyfriend Frank into investing in copper futures. Alas, things don't go as planned, and soon the impoverished Frank is embezzling from his boss to cover his losses. When Frank is thrown in jail, Gert confronts Bradford, blaming him for Frank's plight. Bradford laughs in her face, whereupon Gert angrily spills the beans about Olga and Tyler. Instead of buying a gun, Bradford handles his wife's infidelity in characteristic fashion by financially ruining Olga, Tyler, and himself. This last bit of stock manipulation has the salutary effect of making Gert and Frank millionaires, which pleases the inscrutable Bradford, who now has ample reason to laugh at himself.

Nothing much seems to have changed in eighty years!
Here's a YouTube clip of the latter-day "Wolf of Wall Steet":

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Without uxorial supervision

When the wife's away, the blokes will have a barbecue.

We almost ran out of storage space but then somebody had an idea!

Serving titbits was a bit of a problem without a can-opener.

When it was time to sober up, the coffeemaker wouldn't work.

After it was all over, I discovered I had accidentally sat on the mobile phone. However, I was able to fix it and Padma will never know!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Every setback is the starting point for a comeback

I have been a very active sharetrader with Commonwealth Securities for well over fifteen years. During this time CommSec charged me huge sums of brokerage while its parent company, Commonwealth Bank, paid a mere pittance of interest on the large cash balances that sat idly in a cash management account in between trades.

I thought I change all this by asking Commonwealth Bank to open an account which pays a slightly higher rate of interest. Got it all set up and linked to my sharetrading account, then went ahead with my next trade. Did I get a nasty surprise when I received Commsec's contract note! The brokerage plus GST had gone up from what used to be on this particular trade $103.69 to a whopping big $267.60, or a 158% increase!

It seems that what the Commonwealth Bank gives you with the one hand in slightly higher interest, it takes away with the other by a huge increase in fees! Nobody at the bank had told me - and I had been advised by the bank manager himself - that a change of account results in an increase in fees which outstrips the gain in interest by a factor of five!

I was so incensed by this sleight of hand that I immediately started to research other banks and online brokers. What I came up with made me wish that CommSec had put the boot into me many years earlier so that I would have gone and found another online broker who could have saved me an absolute fortune in brokerage and at the same time paid me a much better rate of interest.

Here are some comparisons of online brokerage rates (before GST):

Commonwealth Securities (at their most recent rate) 0.2838%
Commonwealth Securities (at their previous rate) 0.11%
ANZ Bank's E*Trade 0.1%
NAB Online Trading 0.1%
Bell Direct 0.1%
Morrison Securities 0.05 or 0.06%
Amscot 0.025%

These are innocent-looking percentages but on high trading volume they make a difference of thousands and tens of thousands of dollars between the lowest and the highest rate. Take a smallish $200,000 trade on which Commonwealth Securities used to charge 0.11% or $220 but which it has now increased to 0.2838% or $567. Amscot would have done the same trade for as little as $50.

ANZ's E*Trade would have done it for $200 PLUS given me QANTAS Frequent Flyer Points! My past trading volume would have given me several trips around the world already! And if I joined E*Trade before 30 June 2010, they would even give me $550 in FREE BROKERAGE!

And, without getting too technical, ANZ's E*Trade offers something CommSec never did: trailing stops! They are a great way to protect one's portfolio.

Well, every setback is a starting point for this Comeback Kid.
Don't disturb me! I am busy talking to several brokers who are all very keen to get my business!

P.S. Okay, I heard you: yes, I will have to learn how to use a new online trading platform but, hey, leaning new things keeps the old Alzheimer's at bay.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Old TI-sandals, My Beautiful Footwear

Old T I, Why are you looking so sad my dear?
Why are you looking so blue?
Are you thinking of someone so far away in a beautiful place called T I?
Old T I my beautiful home
It's the place where I was born
Where the moon and stars that shine makes me longing for home
Old T I my beautiful home
Take me across the sea, over the deep blue sea
Darling won't you take me back to my home T I
Old T I my beautiful home
T I my home sweet home
I'll be there forever, the sun is sinking, farewell.

You are looking at a pair of sandals which are 33 years old!
(and a pair of feet almost twice that age)

They are my old TI-sandals, so named because they were the footwear de rigueur of all and sundry who lived on Thursday Island in the 1970s.

They were cheap, indestructible, and protected the wearer against what was known in those days as "TI coral": the broken bottles that covered the beaches of Thursday Island.

I never saw anybody wear those sandals when I revisited Thursday Island in 2005 - see my travel log at dearall28.html.

Perhaps they didn't go too well with mobile phones and iPods which every self-respecting dole bludger on the island seemed to carry.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Somerset Maugham has changed my life, too ...

... but this chap has gone one better: not only has he all of Somerset Maugham's books but just about everything else about him as well! What a collection!

I bought my first set of Maugham's Short Stories when I visited a bookstore in Singapore while I was stationed in Burma in 1975. It included such stories as The Verger, Mr Knowall, and Sanatorium, all of which were also made into a short film under the name Trio, followed by Quartet and Encore.

Others, like The Letter, were turned into radio plays:

Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

And here's the movie trailer of the same story:

And here's The Razor's Edge:

And here is another favourite of mine, The Vessel of Wrath (aka The Beachcomber). You can watch the remaining eleven parts of the old 1938 black-and-white version here: Part 2,  Part 3,  Part 4Part 5,  Part 6,  Part 7,  Part 8,  Part 9,  Part 10,  Part 11Part 12. A more recent colour version is available on DVD.

Reading The Trembling of the Leaf takes me back to my years in Samoa or the Solomons or Papua New Guinea and each story creates such evocative "word-pictures" that I never tire of reading them.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The only death we experience is other people's

It's almost exactly fifteen years to the day when my best friend from my New Guinea days, Noel Butler, sent me this funny "Childers by Night" card and wrote,

"Dear Pete, Hope your outlook on the future is not
as black as this. Mine is but that's inevitable."

I had no idea how prescient and indeed deadly serious his message was until a couple of months later I received a phone call from a woman. She introduced herself as Noel's sister and told me that Noel had just passed away!

It may seem that Noel had never achieved much in his life except get through it. And after his life had come to an end, he left no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But the way of life that he had chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and self-reliance of his character left a great influence on me so that, long after his death, I still remember him as a very remarkable man.

Noel and I first met aboard the liner PATRIS in 1967 when he was going on a European holiday and I was returning to Germany. The PATRIS had been scheduled to call at Port Moresby in New Guinea but, following the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel, the Suez Canal closed and the ship was re-routed around the Cape of Good Hope.

However, the many New Guinea expats who had already booked, Noel amongst them, still joined the ship in Sydney. As did Graeme Bell's All Stars Band. And so for the next four weeks I would sit in the ship's Midnight Club and listen to the many yarns of high adventure told by those larger-than-life New Guinea expats while Graeme Bell's All Stars played their ragtime music.

During the day, Noel and I would sit on deck for hours, hunched over a chessboard. Our mutual love of chess and my interest in New Guinea started a friendship which lasted until his death almost thirty years later!

We kept up a regular correspondence during all those years which Noel spent in Wewak in the Sepik District, before PNG's Independence in 1975 and old age forced him to return to his homestate Queensland.

I had come up to PNG in late 1969 and worked there for several years. During this time I visited Noel on his small country estate outside Wewak and Noel came to spent Christmas 1973 and Christmas 1974 with me. Or at least he tried because by the time he arrived on Bougainville in 1973, I was in Arawa Hospital being prepared for an urgent appendectomy; and when he came to see me in Lae in 1974 I was already packed up and ready to fly out to my next assignment in Burma.

Our paths crossed more frequently after I had temporarily come back to Australia in 1979. I visited him several times and observed with some concern his struggle to make himself at home again in Australia, first at Caboolture, then at Mt Perry, and finally at Childers. He never quite succeeded since, as he put it, after a lifetime spent in PNG, "my spiritual home will always be New Guinea".

Perhaps this struggle is something else that we shared. I, too, still think almost every day about those many faraway places in which I lived and worked. The years spent there have left me unsuited in many respects for life in the deep south. I feel suspended between my past life in the islands and my present life in mainstream Australia, and I still seek a place where I can feel truly content.

"Über den Himmel Wolken ziehen, über die Felder geht der Wind, ... irgendwo über den Bergen muss meine ferne Heimat sein."   
                                                                         Hermann Hesse

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On the road to Bali

Yours truly at HARRIS Tuban last year

In just a few hours' time, Padma will arrive at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali where she will stay overnight at our favourite hotel, HARRIS Tuban, before flying to Surabaya.

As today is Padma's birthday, I have asked the hotel's manager, Hengky Tambayong, to surprise her with a birthday cake and upgrade her room to a suite.

Happy birthday, Padma!

Seventh Anniversary

Seven years ago to the day the Riverbend Trio became a Quartet!

We had spent Padma's birthday at Moruya where we enjoyed midday lunch in the beergarden of the "Adelaide Hotel" overlooking the Moruya River when a man on a pushbike pulled up for a rest. He had a tiny Maltese puppy in his backpack which made us talk to him. He turned out to be an Austrian by the name of Robert Krenn who was pedalling from Melbourne to Sydney (a distance close to 1000 km) and who had ridden his bike all over the world and had many stories to tell.

Rob mentioned that he had met others who were also cycling round the world and whose websites he gave me; they were http://www.tilmann.com and http://www.aussteigerduo.ch and http://www.recycle.myweb.nl.

We invited Rob to stay with us at Riverbend and he turned up late that same afternoon to overnight in our guest cottage. We talked and talked and became very good friends. And his little Maltese puppy and our dog Malty became very good friends as well! So much so that when it was time for him to leave next day late in the afternoon, we suggested to him that if he ever needed a good home for his little puppy, we would be very happy to take care of him!

Late that same evening, Rob called us from Burrill Lake, some fifty kilometres north of Batemans Bay, to ask if we had been serious about wanting to take care of his little puppy as he felt we would give him a much better home than he ever could. Of course, we had been serious with our offer! So we got into our car and drove north to meet Rob at his campsite where we drank hot tea, walked along the beach and gazed at the stars, and talked some more. We returned home well after midnight with the new member of our family whom we have called "Rover" as he has already travelled so much!

Malty and Rover have become very good friends and our house has become a very lively place with Rover exploring everything. At night he sleeps on our bed between the two pillows, usually on his back with his four legs spread out in all directions. He is a dear little fellow and a great addition to the family!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's St Patrick's Day ...

... so here is another movie based on a story by one of my favourite authors, Graham Greene.

(Don't get it? Let me spell it out for you: G-R-E-E-N-e )

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sydney or the bush?

CTA Business Club Martin PlaceThey say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Perhaps I ought to revisit Sydney once in a while so that I will appreciate the peace and quiet of "Riverbend" when I come back from the Big Smoke.

I used to be a member of the CTA Business Club which is located in that flying-saucer building in Martin Place right in the heart of the city. Their rooms are relatively inexpensive and they operate a good bar and restaurant and everything the city has to offer is right on their doorstep.

Time to join the Club and join the Real World!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Still in the same colour

"The Quiet American" based on Graham Greene's book with the same title

"I can't say what made me
fall in love with Vietnam.
That a woman's voice can drug you?
That everything is so intense -
the colours,
the taste,
even the rain?
Nothing like the filthy rain in London.
They say whatever you're looking for
you will find here.
They say you come to Vietnam
and you understand a lot in a few minutes.
But the rest has got to be lived.
The smell,
that's the first thing that hits you -
promising everything
in exchange for your soul.
And the heat.
Your shirt is straight away a rag.
You can hardly remember your name,
or what you came to escape from.
But at night, there's a breeze.
The river is beautiful.
You could be forgiven for thinking
there was no war,
that the gunshots were fireworks,
that only pleasure matters.
A pipe of opium,
or the touch of a girl
who might tell you she loves you.
And then something happens,
as you knew it would,
and nothing can ever be the same again."

Read the book, watch the movie, and nothing will ever be the same again!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shades of Greene

I've just read "Shades of Greene", an anthology of Graham Greene's best short stories. Stories such as "When Greek Meets Greek", "The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen"; "The Over-night Bag", and "Dream of a Strange Land". They were made into separate film episodes by Granada Television many years ago. Unfortunately, they are not available on DVD.

However, I have another Graham Greene story, "The Third Man", on DVD, which I have watched again. What an unforgettable musical score, played hauntingly on a zither!

And what unforgettable quotes, such as when Harry Lime says, "In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Interestingly, these lines were never written by Graham Greene but later added to the film. Orson Welles apparently said the lines came from "an old Hungarian play", and added, "When the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they've never made any cuckoo clocks." And, of course, during the period of time the Borgia flourished in Italy, Switzerland was "the most powerful and feared military force in Europe," and not the peacefully neutral country it is currently.

They don't make films like this anymore!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Road Less Travelled

I first heard about Pigeon Island and the Hepworth family when I tried to find work in the islands back in 1969. Tom Hepworth had written a very enticing letter in response to my classified advertisement in the backpage of the PACIFIC ISLANDS MONTHLY, offering me a job as 'book-keeper' in his growing enterprise, Pigeon Island Traders. He described to me in vivid colours the sort of life I would lead if I were to join him and his family on Pigeon Island. He wouldn't be able to pay me much but, as he put it, neither would I need much money and I would have plenty of time to pursue my own interests and continue my accountancy studies.

I was sorely tempted but I was also concerned about my professional career and what "career" would there be with something called "Pigeon Island Traders" located on one of the remotest islands in the South Pacific? Instead, I accepted another offer from a firm of chartered accountants in the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea - and I have never looked back!

It was only in retirement that I began to recall my many wanderings throughout the South Pacific and around the world which led me to ponder what might have happened had I opted for one and not another of the many choices that had come my way. And so I also thought again about Pigeon Island and on the spur of the moment wrote a letter to "Tom Hepworth, care of Pigeon Island Traders, Pigeon Island, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands."

Some months went by and I thought no more of it until one day I received an envelope covered in a lot of colourful Solomon Islands stamps. In it was a letter from Ben Hepworth, the now grown-up son of Tom Hepworth, who told me that his father had passed away some years ago but that he and his twin brother Ross and his mother Diana were still living on the island. He had enclosed some photographs and told me a good deal about the island and invited me to visit them.

Ben, who was some five years old when I had been offered a job on the island by his father, was now in his late 30s and, apart from his secondary schooling in New Zeland and a short-lived attempt at a career with the Mendana Hotel in Honiara, had never lived away from the island. I was amazed at how this family had clung to their dream of living on a small South Pacific island for so long! From the time they set sail from England in November 1947, times had not been easy: their daughter Tasha, born 1958, was mentally retarded and is living today in an institution in New Zealand; they have had several fall-outs with their two sons, Ross and Ben; there has been continued trouble with traditional land-owners over their 2-pound-a-year lease of the island (signed Christmas 1958) which officially runs out in 2052; then there was the destruction caused by Cyclone Nina 1993 and again by Cyclon Danny in 1999 ... the list goes on and the words 'CAN'T GO ON MUCH LONGER' and 'SEEM TO HAVE RUN OUT OF STEAM' appear in Tom's diary more than once. They tried to attract caretakers to the island but failed repeatedly (the Austrian Wien family in 1964 was a particularly dismal failure; the Pearce family family ran off at the beginning of 1980 leaving the message 'JUST COULDN'T GO ON' hung in a bag on the cargo-shed door); they tried to sell the island in the mid-80s for five hundred thousand US dollars but 'the chains of Pigeon' kept Tom until his death in 1994 at the age of 84. 'Blue skies, fair winds, hot sun and beaches by the miles,' Tom once wrote about Pigeon, but 36 years was a long time for a man with cultural leanings to spend on an isolated island. We all have our fantasies but for most of us reality intervenes - but not so for the Hepworths!

Imagine living on a South Sea Island,
far from civilisation's worries,
and MAKING MONEY from it!

Ngarando-Faraway is For Sale!

This small resort on beautiful Pigeon Island only needs capital to become a money spinner.
Uniquely, Pigeon is leased until 2052; Tourism will take off when an airfield only 3 miles away is completed in 1988, and NOW is the time to invest.

US$500,000 will purchase everything on the island, including a profitable store, bar one acre to be used in their retirement by Tom and Diana Hepworth.

Tom's advertisement in the mid-1980s
Click here for a GOOGLE-view of Pigeon Island

Thankfully, they were now in contact with the world through the Internet and we began to send each other emails. Ben's mother, Diana, emailed me to suggest that I should come and 'house-sit' the island while she and Ben would go on what she felt may be her last chance of a 'round-the-world trip, planned for the year 2003.
Again, reality intervened for me but I did offer to put up a webpage for them to try to attract some other suitable 'house-sitters'. She mentioned that in early 1998 a Lucy Irvine had come to Pigeon Island and during her year-long stay on Pigeon Island written the book "FARAWAY".
Diana, with helpers, showing the book FARAWAY
Had I heard of Lucy Irvine? I had indeed! I myself had spent ten months on tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait to the north of Australia in 1977. Lucy had 'marooned' herself and her 'husband' on even tinier Tuin Island just north of Thursday Island, for over a year from May 1981 to June 1982 and written a book about it. I had read that book,
, and also seen the movie. Now I rushed out to get her book "FARAWAY" to read about Pigeon Island. After having read the book, I was somewhat relieved that I hadn't gone to Pigeon all those many years ago because far from living in a 'tropical paradise', the Hepworth family seems to have had more than their fair share of troubles. I have since had an email from one of the Pearces mentioned in Lucy's book: Another Pigeon Island tale

Since I heard from Ben in late 2001, I have been in regular contact with Pigeon Island. Diana was able to find some suitable 'house-sitters' and in June 2003, she and Ben and his daughter went on their overseas trip during which they contacted me from the U.K. and the US. While Padma and I were holidaying in Bundaberg, Ben called us from a motel in Brisbane before leaving on the next day's flight to Honiara. It came therefore as a complete shock to us when a few days later we received the following email:

Dear All,

My mother passed away at about 2.30pm on the 27th of August 2003. We were in a canoe, having left Lata about 15 minutes earlier, heading back to Pigeon Island after a 3 month around-the-world trip. We were still within the sheltered waters of Graciosa Bay when her spirit was taken. Mum and I had been talking 5 minutes earlier, but she left in a manner she had always wished for, suddenly. To me she appeared asleep, so it took a minute or so to realise what had happened. I felt her presence close by me as the others in the boat and myself tried to find her pulse.

She was buried next to Dad on Pigeon Island, according to her wish, in a funeral which reflected her long standing in the Reef Island community, with an overflowing of grief. Ross took quite a lot of video tape of the event.

Many of us have known the death of a loved one, like a hole that cannot quite be filled, a loss that cannot quite be redeemed, a reminder of man's mortality and God's omnipotence. Those of us who have a hope in eternal life can nonetheless put our trust in that some day, these tears will be wiped away forever.

It has been several days since Mum passed away, but I have not been able to inform anyone but our closest relatives until now.

To end on a bright note, Mum was able to see many of her friends, and her sisters, on the three month trip before departing this earth. It is a pity she did not get back to Pigeon Island before leaving this world, but our choice to leave is rarely left up to us.

God bless,
Ben Hepworth

and 'God bless' from all of us here at "Riverbend".

FOOTNOTE: Even though I never got to Pigeon Island, I went to Honiara in 1973 when at the ripe old age of 27 I was appointed Commercial Manager (they called it "Secretary" in the case of a Statutory Body) of the BSIEA, or British Solomon Islands Electricity Authority. I lived a gracious life in a big house on Lengakiki Ridge overlooking Honiara and the ocean beyond, all the way to Savo Island and Tulagi. A tall old Swede tried to get Tambea going which was a tourist destination way out west of Honiara and accessible only by 4-wheel drive and after crossing a couple of raging rivers. I was member of the Point Cruz Yacht Club and every day by 4.30 sharp the offshore breeze would fill the sails of my CORSAIR dinghy. Wednesday nights was Chess Night on the terrace of the Mendana Hotel and there was always a big do on of a Saturday night at the Guadalcanal Club (commonly referred to as G-Club). Why I ever left Honiara I'll never know!!! Those were my restless years and I simply couldn't stay put anywhere for more than six months to a year. During all those years of travel it was the people I met, the many colourful and swashbuckling characters, that left the most lasting impressions on me. And perhaps I did likewise to them, who knows? I just wished I had been a more widely-read person at that time which would've enabled me to gain a greater insight into the people I met and the places I visited. When I lived in Greece in the early 80s I visited Hydra several times without ever knowing anything about George Johnston who with his wife Charmian Clift lived for some eight years on the island. George Johnston is of course best known for his book "My Brother Jack" and I have read every one of his many other books since. When I worked in Port Moresby, one of the old accountants in my office was a Mr Chipps, and the whole office would chortle "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", every time he left the office without my ever realising that they were making a literary reference to James Hilton's famous book. And of course the same James Hilton wrote "Lost Horizon" in which he gave us the word "Shangri-La". Indeed, the Shangri-La hotel chain bought the rights to his book and placed a copy on every bedside table in place of the usual Gideon Bible. I knew nothing of this when I stayed at various Shangri-La Hotels in Malaysia and Singapore and I had barely heard of Hermann Hesse when I stayed in the suite named after him in the Raffle Hotel in Singapore. I visited Pago Pago without ever having read Somerset Maugham's short story "Rain" and lived in Rangoon before I had ever heard of Rudyard Kipling's "On the Road to Mandalay". Even Saudi Arabia would've been of greater fascination to me had I had the time to read Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom". How much richer my travels would've been had I done all that reading earlier but of course as it was, I found just enough time to read the necessary technical literature to allow me to carry out my work. In those hectic days it was an almost unheard-of luxury to find the time to read a novel. Instead, I studied accountancy standards or IATA rule books, improved my laytime calculation skills, compared charter parties and worked through case studies in forensic auditing, as the case may be. To this day I am still fascinated by books about unaccountable accounting or the world's worst maritime frauds. BUT I have also found time to dip into John Donne's "No Man is an Island" and Boethius's "The Consolation of Philosophy", so things are beginning to balance out.


P.S. Years later I received the following email:

It was extremely interesting to read your blog – it would appear that I am one of the Pearce family that Lucy Irvine wrote about in her book and there were many inaccuracies – especially about leaving the message hung in a bag on the cargo shed door. What a load of rubbish. My husband left me on the island, sent his boys back to his mum in England and set sail around the world on an old clipper. Needless to say he only got to Australia before it sank – but there lies another tale. I stayed on Pigeon Island for another six months alone until Ross came back and took over the business. I couldn’t get away sooner as my hubby, bless him, had cleaned me out and I was too conscientious to up and leave the Hepworth’s business. To earn some money I opened up another store on the island opposite in Ngandeli. Direct competition to the Hepworths which didn’t go down well at all. Still, it meant I could finally escape that hell in paradise in July 1981.
What a dysfunctional and slightly deranged family the Hepworth’s were (are)! After living on Pigeon Island for three years and almost two more in the village opposite, I can tell you Lucy Irvine barely touched the surface in her research into their history. A lot of errors were printed in her book – but it made for good reading – as did your blog. I was sorry to read of Diana’s death but thought the way it happened seemed the way it would have been for her. I enjoyed maybe 10% of my time there – it made me a stronger, different kind of person when I returned to the UK and has made the remainder of my life one of thankfulness for what I now have and despair for the younger generation who have no idea of how the other half lives.
I intend writing my book when I retire soon of the life I spent out there. I began writing it whilst I was there but have never finished it. (Quite a few bad memories buried deep.) Lots of cajoling from friends means I may just take up the pen again and complete it.
(The advert Tom placed in the mid 1980’s about selling the island is amusing – he told us when asking for investment in the mid 70’s that an airstrip would soon be completed making communication with the outside world much easier. It still hasn’t been built!)
Again, nice to read your blog. You were sensible not going to the island………..
Carole Gibbs

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Barton House in 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 take Vincent's with confidence for quick three-way relief.
All things of the past now!

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 or the Black and White Minstrel Show. The Dollar Bill ads and other commercials added to the flavour of that era. We were all happy little vegetables - oops! - Vegemites!

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 second helpings - 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 antique 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, Peter, Paul & Mary, and The Brothers Four. And who could ever forget Rolf Harris? There will never be another time like that! And could I write a book 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 (or was it Bourke?), my immediate boss at the Bank; Merv Quinne, another "Bank Johnny" originally from Broken Hill; the other two "Bank Johnnies" Dennis Everitt (or was it Everall?) 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 Jerry from the Government Printers who somehow or other broke 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 there with fond memories and a great deal of nostalgia.

If you were at one time an "inmate" of Barton House and have pictures and memories to share, email me at riverbendnelligen[AT]mail.com
I shall collect all comments and snaps on this blog which, hopefully, will grow as time goes on.

With best wishes to whoever and wherever you are!

an ex-ANZ "Bank Johnny"

Monday, March 8, 2010

New acquisitions for my movie collection:

Odd Horten (Baard Owe) is a man with a lot of time on his hands. The character at the center of Bent Hamer’s wry social comedy, O'HORTEN, is a former train driver who struggles to adjust to the freedoms of retirement. Hamer carefully outlines the rituals from Horten’s working life: recurring visits to a local tobacconist to fuel his pipe-smoking habit, a pre-work routine in his Oslo apartment, and visits to a small-town hotel where the kindly female owner treats him with considerable fondness. Most of Hamer’s movie takes place in the snow-covered Oslo night, where Horten encounters a series of erratic characters as his own behavior slides into nonconformity. The director fills his movie with little eccentricities that are rarely explained but often provoke amusement, such as the time Horten emerges from a late-night dip in a swimming pool, clad in a pair of red high-heeled shoes. O'HORTEN is a wonderfully amusing piece, with Hamer demonstrating his innate ability for offbeat comedy. The strange atmosphere and long silences are reminiscent of the work of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, and the oddball denizens of the Oslo night are similar to the way-out characters of Jim Jarmusch’s MYSTERY TRAIN. Hamer’s movie is a compelling exploration of a loner who has had all the familiarity stripped from his world, and flounders as he seeks to find meaning in a life shorn of routine. Owe’s deadpan delivery is flawless, and his restrained performance offers few clues as to what is going on in Horten’s head, requiring the audience to ponder the motivations for his increasingly peculiar behavior. The mixture of humor and poignancy are kept in a delicate balance throughout, with Hamer gently steering his small cast through a film full of richly rewarding subject matter.

In this breathtaking film from renowned Swedish director Jan Troell, a woman experiences an artistic awakening after being introduced to photography. Based on real-life events, the story opens at the start of the 20th century and centers around Finnish housewife Maria Larrson (Maria Heiskanen). Maria spends her days struggling to care for her large brood of children and trying to manage her abusive, alcoholic husband, Sigge (Mikael Persbrandt). Sigge is a dockworker, and when he isn’t dabbling in Socialist politics, he’s parading around town with various women, then returning home in a drunken stupor to beat Maria and the children. Maria suffers many harsh indignities, but her world is changed forever the day she tries to pawn an old camera she won in a lottery. The owner of the camera shop is a kindly gentleman named Sebastian (Jesper Christensen), and instead of buying the camera, he insists Maria try it first. Maria takes his advice, and the effect is instantaneous: she is hooked on the power of the pictures. She begins to take portraits of the townspeople and the harsh world around her, and her newfound talent suddenly infuses her with confidence and awakens an inner passion. Sigge rails against this bold new change in her and becomes more abusive, threatening to kill her and destroy her camera. But Maria defies him and continues to take pictures, eventually developing an intimate friendship with Sebastian. Troell does a magnificent job re-creating the time period, and while many of the film’s images are rather harsh and painful to take in, they are also fascinating and beautiful in their realism. Persbrandt delivers an excellent performance, and Heiskanen is phenomenal as the unstoppable Maria. Despite the bleak world the characters inhabit, the film is ultimately a moving affirmation of life’s beauty and the strength of the human spirit.

The Hurt Locker is a riveting, suspenseful portrait of the courage under fire of the military’s most unrecognized heroes: the technicians of the bomb squad, who volunteer to challenge the odds and save lives in one of the world’s most dangerous places. Three members of the Army’s elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad battle insurgents and each other as they seek out and disarm a wave of roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad -- in order to try and make the city a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike. Their mission is clear - protect and save - but it’s anything but easy, for the margin of error on a war-zone bomb is zero. A thrilling and heart-thumping look at the effects of combat and danger on the human psyche, The Hurt Lockeris based on the first-hand observations of journalist and screenwriter Mark Boal, who was embedded with a special bomb unit in Iraq.

Visionary director Kathryn Bigelow brings together groundbreaking realistic action and intimate human drama in a gripping film starring Jeremy Renner (Dahmer, The Assassination of Jesse James), Anthony Mackie (Half Nelson, We Are Marshall) and Brian Geraghty (We Are Marshall, Jarhead), with cameo appearances by Ralph Fiennes (The Reader), David Morse (“John Adams”), Evangeline Lilly (“Lost”) and Guy Pearce (Memento). The Hurt Locker is produced by Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Greg Shapiro and Nicolas Chartier. The screenplay is written by Mark Boal (In the Valley of Elah, story). Barry Ackroyd, BSC (United 93, The Wind That Shakes the Barley) is director of photography. Production designer is Karl Juliusson (K19: The Widowmaker, Breaking the Waves). Editors are Bob Murawski (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3) and Chris Innis. Costume designer is George Little (Jarhead, Crimson Tide). Music is by Academy Award Nominee Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders (3:10 to Yuma), and sound design by Academy Award Nominee Paul N.J. Ottosson (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3).

In the summer of 2004, Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) of Bravo Company are at the volatile center of the war, part of a small counterforce specifically trained to handle the homemade bombs, or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), that account for more than half of American hostile deaths and have killed thousands of Iraqis. A high-pressure, high-stakes assignment, the job leaves no room for mistakes, as they learn when they lose their team leader on a mission.

When Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) takes over the team, Sanborn and Eldridge are shocked by what seems like his reckless disregard for military protocol and basic safety measures. And yet, in the fog of war, appearances are never reliable for long. Is James really a swaggering cowboy who lives for peak experiences and the moments when the margin of error is zero or is he a consummate professional who has honed his esoteric craft to high-wire precision? As the fiery chaos of Baghdad swirls around them, the men struggle to understand and contain their new leader long enough for them to make it home. They have only 38 days left in their tour of Iraq, but with each new mission comes another deadly encounter, and as James blurs the line between bravery and bravado, it seems only a matter of time before disaster will strike.

With a visual and emotional intensity that makes audiences feel like they have been transported to Iraq¹s dizzying, 24-hour turmoil, The Hurt Locker is both a tense portrayal of real-life sacrifice and heroism, and a probing look at the soul-numbing rigors and potent allure of the modern battlefield.

Evoking Homer's "The Odyssey," but in fact more closely resembling a contempo Candide yarn, Greek-French vet Costa-Gavras' "Eden Is West" is a playful modern fairy tale about a serious subject: illegal immigration into the "paradise" of West Europe.

One of a boatload of illegals from an unnamed country -- Albania could fit the bill -- Elias (Italian thesp Riccardo Scamarcio, "The Best of Youth") jumps ship when the Greek coast guard approaches and wakes up on a Mediterranean hotel's nudist beach, where he first strips off and then steals a bellhop's uniform. It's the first of a series of incidents in the vignettish movie in which, trying to fit in while avoiding the authorities, Elias is either befriended or dumped by various citizens of the European Union.

Speaking no language other than his own (unidentified) tongue, Elias carries bags, is mistaken for a hotel plumber, gets fondled by a gay security officer and is roped into a variety act by German magician Nick Nickelby (Ulrich Tukur), who tells him to look him up in Paris. After a romp between the sheets with lonesome Christina (Juliane Koehler), a tourist from Hamburg, Elias sets off at the pic's midway point to somehow make his way to France's City of Light.

After its elaborate game of hide-and-deceit within the vast grounds of a resort hotel, the pic opens up into a road movie peppered with lightly comic Euro characters, seen from the p.o.v. of an outsider. After hitching a ride to Italy with a rich, constantly bickering Greek couple (Ieroklis Mihailidis, Annie Loulou) and then getting a lift from two weird German truckers (Antoine Monot, Florian Martens), Elias is momentarily stranded at the junction of roads to either Paris or Hamburg.

The ingenuous Elias has to choose between his heart (Christina in Germany) or career (Nick in France), and chooses the latter, spending time as an illegal in a provincial factory before arriving in his chosen Eden. It's interesting to speculate what other kind of movie could have developed if he'd chosen Hamburg instead.

Costa-Gavras is on record as saying he consciously intended a lighter-hearted take on a problem that's more often treated with lugubrious tragedy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A message to my friends near and far:

There you are, smiling already!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The romance of train travel

Yes, it still exists! And I may indulge in it on my next trip up north: one way by train, travelling the 1,700 km from Brisbane to Cairns in 31 hours, and enjoying the "Queenslander Class" luxury; the other way by Greyhound bus, hopping off the coach at several stops between Cairns and Sydney to revisit old friends and old places.

Things have changed on the Sunlander train since this documentary was filmed in 1988, and the three old ladies are obviously travelling in economy sleepers, but the clip conveys something of the atmosphere and feeling of train travel:

Here's the official 'blurb':

And if I want to continue my train travels after I have arrived in Cairns, I can take a trip on the historic Savannahlander:

Train timetable Brisbane - Cairns Fare $609 Queenslander Class
Coach timetable Cairns - Brisbane
Coach timetable Brisbane - Sydney  Fare $373 Cairns-Sydney

A world-wide problem: fighting terrorism

At least it keeps the unemployment rate down!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fifteen years to the day ...

... my best friend, Noel Butler, sent me this "Childers By Night" postcard with the message:

Dear Pete, Hope your outlook on the future is not as black as this.
Mine is but that's inevitable.

How prescient this message was became apparent a short two months later when I received a phone call late one night from a woman who introduced herself as Noel's sister and told me that Noel had just passed away.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Advance Australia bare!

More than 5000 people braved a cool morning to get naked on the steps of the Sydney Opera House yesterday to take part in an organised photo-shoot by American artist (artist?) Spencer Tunick, who is known around the world for his large-scale images of nudes posed in stunning formations.

The photo-shoot, in cloudy conditions, took about 90 minutes with volunteers then allowed to return to their clothes, which had been left scattered in the neighbouring Botanic Gardens - a scene described by one television commentator as resembling a teenager's bedroom on a massive scale.

Morris West in 1960 wrote an Australian novel which he named, rather presciently, "The Naked Country". How right he was!

It just goes to show we get our culture not just out of yoghurt tubs!
I am so proud to be an Australian!  Australia über Alles!

Canberra goes up in smoke

We're back from our trip to Canberra!

I was almost physically sick seeing all that waste of money in our capital city.

New office buildings everywhere to house the masses of euphemistically-named "Public SERVANTS", many of whom seem to spend much of the day standing at the entrances of those same buildings lighting a fag.

While I sat in the car, waiting for Padma to renew her passport, I watched and counted several DOZEN public servants huddled in small groups in doorways and at street corners. They stood there, for as much as half an hour at a time, while they smoked one, and sometimes several, cigarettes before ever so slowly and ever so reluctantly melting back into their respective office buildings.

On the short stretch of road I observed, I counted seven groups with, on average, four people indulging in their chosen addiction AND BEING PAID FOR IT as these were not regular meal breaks (which they take too!) but random smoke breaks at any odd time during the day.

Assuming only a moderate smoking habit and thefore no more than perhaps THREE such smoke breaks at a MINIMUM of 20 minutes each, there is a whole hour's worktime gone, all paid for by the generous taxpayers! This being repeated all over Canberra and indeed the whole country, I could well imagine several million working hours being lost each working day - at what? $20 - $25 - $30 an hour?

Let me try and get my head around this: on the basis of 'just' 1,000,000 hours being lost each day x $25 an hour = $25,000,000 x 250 working days in a year = $6,250,000,000 in wasted productivity every year (and my assumptions of a mere million addicts wasting just one hour each day at an hourly rate of $25 are very low!)

[Over six BILLIONS in annual waste! Not millions - BILLIONS! To help you visualise the sheer magnitude of this number, try to guess how long a MILLION seconds it. Now try to guess the same for a BILLION seconds. Ready? A MILLION seconds is less than twelve DAYS; a BILLION is almost thirty-two YEARS! ]

Of course, all this presupposes that all those nicotine addicts are employed in something useful and gainful to begin with! Drawing on my experience of six months' contract work with a government department - mainly because the permanent workers were not doing their work -, I am quite convinced that a vast number of public SERVANTS could be sacked without having any impact on their departments' work output.

In any case, pandering to these nicotine addicts without also providing time off for alcoholics to visit pubs and bars to engage in their own socially accepted and freely chosen addiction, or offering free needle exchange in each building for heroine addicts, or "rest rooms' for sex maniacs, smacks of discrimination and should be reported to the Human Rights Commissioner!

P.S. By the way, what's this fetish with identification cards, on the end of expensive-looking colour-coded straps, dangling from each addict's neck? It makes them look like a bunch of freemasons standing there with their IDs hanging down in front of them, sometimes as low as their pelvic region, suggestive of some sort of electronic-age penis gourd.