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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Barton House revisited

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. 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!"
Read on.

My story of "Barton House" has brought back memories for a Dan Simpkins, currently in Bangladesh, who found my webpage on the internet and wrote:

"I was looking for something else, and fell onto your story of Barton House. Intriguing!

I lived at Barton House in 1959 - Jan to Dec. I was a bank Johnny too - but at the old Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Ltd (CBCo) in Kingston. I played rugby for Eastern Suburbs U18s (I was all of 17 in 1959!) The meals, the soggy sandwiches, you captured it so well.

I left Barton to go to RMC and became a Cordy and spent quite a few years in the Army. The Army sent me to Adelaide to complete my degree in civil engineering. Was seconded to the old Dept of Works in TPNG (before Independence) in 1967 to 1969 and was involved in the construction of the Popondetta to Kokoda Road. So I too have a PNG background. I finally gave the military away in 1979.

My wife is from Samoa. I went there in 1991 as the Project Manager for Fletcher Construction and built the road from Falevo to Sale'a'moa at the eastern end of the island. I met my wife in Poutasi (she is from Saluafata), and she is now an Australian citizen. We have two daughters - more beautiful than you can ever imagine.

And the next point of contact is that my brother and my mother lived at Batehaven. My mother died in 2002 and we scattered her ashes in the bay. My brother and his wife now live in Temora.

Loved your stories. For what it is worth, I too am writing a book (actually books to be exact) on a strange and varied life. And at present I am in Bangladesh, and if I can believe the work gods, will be soon off to Pakistan. Again - this will be my third tour in Pakistan.

I would appreciate hearing from you."

Well, so many similarities - for a time we were both Bank Johnnies, lived at Barton House, and worked in Papua New Guinea and Samoa - cannot be left unanswered and so I am now in touch with Dan who, even though he is three years older than me, is still living the expatriate life. Where did I go wrong?


P.S. For another Barton House posting, click here.