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Friday, November 30, 2012

To all who seek a refuge

Horst's native hut on the beach of Uiha Island


My friend Horst Berger was 39 years old - a good time to have one's midlife crisis - when he read somewhere, "Träume nicht dein Leben, sondern lebe deinen Traum" (to the few of you who are not fluent in German, it means 'Don't dream your life, live your dream')

He left his native Austria for the Kingdom of Tonga where he arrived on the 25th of April 1995 and where he has lived ever since. I was reminded of this when I read this prologue in James Michener's book Rascals in Paradise:

"In an age of anxiety men seek a refuge. Because of some deep urge, constant throughout history, troubled men traditionally dream of islands, possibly because the smallness of an island invites the illusion that here the complexities of continental societies can be avoided, or at least controlled. This is a permanent, world-wide dream.

When the island chosen for refuge happens to lie in the South Pacific, a colourful body of romance often helps to make the idea of escape an absolute obsession. Then, if the chosen island is reputed to contain lovely and uninhibited girls, the obsession is apt to degenerate into a monomania. And if the girls are Polynesians, the dreamer is truly lost.

... Citizens of many nations who have grown weary of atomic bombs, dictators, taxes and neurasthenia ... are united in their conviction that only in the fabled islands of the South Seas can they find the fulfillment that their own society denies them. Were each of the islands a continent, there would still be insufficient room for the defeated people of the world who require refuge.

In the 1930s there was in Australia a learned gentleman who clearly foresaw that a great war was about to break over the world. He had no desire to participate in this foolish war, but he had to conclude from his studies that Europe was going to explode and that the resulting fires would involve Africa and much of Asia. With extraordinary clairvoyance he deduced that Australia, left unprotected because the military men were preoccupied with Europe, would surely become a temptation to Asia and would probably be overrun.

Wishing to avoid such a debacle, he spent considerable time in determining what course a sensible man should follow if he wanted to escape the onrushing cataclysm. He considered flight into the dead heart of Australia, but concluded that although he could probably hide out in that forbidden region, life without adequate water would be intolerable. Next he contemplated removal to America, but dismissed this as impractical in view of the certainty that America would also be involved in the war.

Finally, by a process of the most careful logic, he decided that his only secure refuge from the world's insanity lay on some tropical island. He reasoned, "There I will find adequate water from the rains, food from the breadfruit and coconut trees, and fish from the lagoons. There will be safety from the airplanes which will be bombing important cities. And thanks to the missionaries, the natives will probably not eat me."

Fortified with such conclusions, he studied the Pacific and narrowed his choice of islands to the one that offered every advantage: remoteness, security, a good life, and a storm cellar until the universal hurricane had subsided.

Thereupon, in the late summer of 1939, one week before Germany invaded Poland, this wise Australian fled to his particular South Pacific refuge. He went to the almost unknown island of Guadalcanal."

Like other people who in their days of hope or torment fled to their obscure Guadalcanals, where, they were convinced, perpetual ease and fulfillment awaited them, so Horst has lived his dream for the past seventeen years on the tiny island of Uiha in the Ha'apai Group of Islands. May he continue to do so for many years to come!

Tom Neale - A Remembrance

to view some clippings from the Pacific Islands Monthly, click here


It’s been 35 years today since Tom Neale died. In the end, he was reduced to a frail, shriveled gnome in a hospital on Rarotonga; in one of life’s great ironies, the man who had escaped the madness of modern society for 25 years and who had defied death despite storms, sharks, injury and loneliness finally succumbed to one of civilization’s most dreaded—and common—ailments: cancer.

But those of us who knew him remember a different Tom Neale. In our mind’s eye we see a wiry, leather-skinned leprechaun who most often wore nothing but a loincloth and wide-brimmed woven hat to conceal his balding pate and jug-handle ears. We remember that at age 70 he could still work from daybreak to sunset, feeding his chickens, tending his crops and shinnying like a monkey up coconut trees. We can still envision his warm eyes, his thin lips fixed in a quixotic grin, cradling an unlit cigarette Bogart style, while he sat every evening on his beach watching the sun go down.

Neale was among the last true individualists. He left his native New Zealand at the age of 22 and spent the next 28 years of his life wandering the islands of the South Pacific, taking on an assortment of odd jobs: clearing bush, planting bananas, keeping store. His peregrinations led him to exotic locales, including Tahiti and the Cook Islands, where he met American traveler and writer Robert Dean Frisbie.

Frisbie fired Neale’s imagination with the idea of living in the northern Cook Islands on tiny Suwarrow Atoll, a deserted ring of coral motus, or islets, hundreds of miles from any inhabited region. Frisbie had been stranded there during World War 11 with his children and two New Zealand coast watchers when a powerful typhoon pummeled the area. During the storm, waves washed over the motus as if they were pebbles on a beach, prompting Frisbie to lash himself and his children to the forks of tamanu trees, which bend with the wind instead of breaking, to keep his family from being swept away.

In spite of his harrowing experience there, Frisbie had always harbored a desire to return to Suwarrow, and, after many rum-soaked evenings spent swapping tales with Neale, he proposed that they go to live on the island together. Neale was enthusiastic and began to make plans, but Frisbie was unable to uphold his end of the bargain: stricken with tuberculosis, he died soon after.

But Frisbie’s dream had become Neale’s obsession, and he began to squirrel away every spare penny from his meager earnings as a storekeeper. Then, in 1952, at the age of 50, when most men are preoccupied with nurturing their careers and managing their investments, Neale abandoned his job, his friends and his links with civilization to take up residence – alone – on Anchorage Island, the most habitable of Suwarrow’s motus.

Neale lived alone on the island by choice, not necessity. In fact, when word leaked out about his plan, Cook Island women deluged him with offers of companionship. Although tempted at first, he ultimately refused all offers, reasoning that "the prospect of being cooped up with a woman who might eventually annoy me, of being imprisoned with her -–like a criminal on Devil’s Island, without hope of escape – made me shudder." Thus, Neale spent his remaining years on Suwarrow living in splendid isolation.

His penchant for solitude gave Neale a reputation for being a recluse and a hermit. He bristled at the suggestion. "I’m not a hermit," he told me. "Hermits don’t like people, but I do. I just live here because it suits me. I can do what I want to, when I want, without being beholden to anyone. I’m free!"

His freedom, however, was not without its responsibilities. When Neale arrived on the island, he had to hack his way through a tangle of vegetation to reach the original coast watcher huts, but what he found was enough to make a lesser man weep with despair. The huts were in ruins and the garden had become a jungle overgrown with weeds and vines.

Neale took on the task of reconstruction with the zeal of a workaholic, laboring from dawn until dusk for months to repair the buildings and replant the garden. Using volcanic rocks, he first built a native oven and then constructed a series of tidy paths through the underbrush. He captured the scrawny chickens left by the coast watchers and killed the wild pigs threatening to uproot his garden. He fished, trapped lobsters and collected eggs from the nests of seabirds inhabiting nearby motus. He even succeeded in pollinating his plants by hand when no bees were available to fertilize them naturally.

This frenetic pace kept Neale from dwelling on the one troublesome aspect of his island existence: loneliness. Neale handled it with unending toil. "When I’m by myself, I’m never lonely," he said. "The only time I feel any loneliness is just after people leave. Otherwise, I’m just too busy."

Despite the isolation, Neale’s life was full. In time he became a South Pacific celebrity and was visited frequently by yachties and journalists. He wrote a book, Island to Myself, in which he told the story of his first few years on Anchorage. He was even appointed postmaster of Suwarrow and received correspondence from all over the globe.

But amidst all this notoriety, Neale harbored one great apprehension: he feared dying alone. Fortunately, this was not to be. He seemed in excellent health at the time of my visit in 1972, but even then the cancer that finally took his life was festering in his stomach. Not long afterward some visitors to the island found him in great pain, and he was removed to Rarotonga, where he died at age 75.

In his time, Tom Neale was labeled a dreamer, a hermit and a crackpot. I remember him as a warm, intelligent human being with a resolve and strength of character that most of us can only envy. He pursued his island dream to the end and lived his life as his own man.

(This has been reproduced from an article written by Kenneth R. Vogel which also included the excellent photo of Tom Neale, one of the later ones in his life. The photo was also taken by Kenneth R. Vogel.)

Read Tom's book An Island to Oneself.

Tom Neale's chronology.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

This week's bookbag

How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind


I have all of Humphrey Bogart's movies and one of my all-time favourites is The African Queen - never mind that the Germans got a beating!

I've just found a copy of the book The Making of THE AFRICAN QUEEN by Katharine Hepburn which describes the making of this memorable film, together with 45 photographs.

It never ceases to amaze me how the best of finds usually come from my favourite op-shop. And this one is quite a find!

Monday, November 26, 2012


1. Open a new file in your computer.

2. Name it "Julia Gillard".

3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.

4. Empty the Recycle Bin.

5. Your PC will ask you. "Do you really want to get rid of Julia Gillard ?"

6. Firmly Click "Yes."

7. Feel better?


The woman applying for a job in a lemon orchard in Orange, seemed to be far too qualified for the job given her arts and education degrees from Sydney University and her job as a social worker and school teacher.

The foreman frowned and said, "I have to ask you this: "Have you had any actual experience in picking lemons?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I have! I've been divorced three times, owned two Holdens, supported the Wallabies, and I voted for Julia Gillard."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Empire of Sand


The hero of this story is short. Five foot five is a generous estimate and some believe him to be a good four inches shy of that. His head is too large for his body, possibly because a childhood accident – a broken leg he ignored for several days – stunted his growth. He has what dentists call a Class Three Occlusion. He has a strange laugh, especially when nervous, an effeminate high-pitched giggle. He is often scruffy and shambolic.

Then there is his personality. Some find him charming and erudite, but just as many think him an insufferable bore. If he doesn’t approve of you he can be taciturn or plain rude. He most certainly is a liar, who doctors the truth to serve own purposes. His sexual orientation is murky, but he pays a burly man to visit him and ‘punish’ him, with a severe beating, for a series of imaginary misdeeds. He both courts fame and is repelled by it.

So, the hero of this novel is a short, oddly proportioned lying bastard. Welcome to Lawrence of Arabia.

Except, of course he wasn’t. Lawrence of Arabia didn’t exist. He was invented by Lowell Thomas, an American journalist and showman who produced an enormously popular stage show, with a lecture, slides and moving pictures which turned an often squalid guerrilla war into a romance about a desert warrior. Once a day, twice on Saturdays and Wednesdays, the White King Of Arabia led the noble Bedu in a fierce campaign to free their lands from Turkish shackles. No mention of British gold driving the enterprise, the inter-tribal feuds, the sickening massacres on both sides, the political double-dealing or the pivotal role played by General Allenby. It was about as authentic as Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik, which came out in 1921, while Thomas was still doing the rounds.

Nor was he Thomas Edward Lawrence; his father, an Anglo-Irish squire, had run off with the family governess and had five illegitimate sons, of which ‘Ned’, as they called him, was the second. The father’s name was really Chapman; the Lawrence family, like Lawrence of Arabia, was a construct. Luckily I have one thing on my side when it comes to forging my central character from this mish-mash. He comes riding out of the rippling desert mirage and as the features solidify from the super-heated air we can see it is Peter O’Toole, star of the movie version of Lawrence of Arabia. He is a good foot taller than Lawrence, blonder, too, with a chiselled face and piercing blue eyes. Now, HE looks like a hero.

And indeed, the Irishman has superseded the real man in the public imagination. No wonder Noel Coward said that if O’Toole had been any prettier they would have had to call the movie Florence of Arabia. So, like a palimpsest, the genuine hero is erased and a new one of far finer features painted over him.I don’t have to tell the reader anything about this man; if need be, O’Toole will supply the face and the voice.

But why write another book about Lawrence at all? For all its faults, David Lean’s epic captures the essence of the Lawrence story, at least as outlined by the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lowly, bumbling mapmaker/archeologist plucked out of Cairo office and manages to win the trust of the Arabs. Aids in the Arab uprising against the Turks (designed to weaken the Ottoman Empire, Germany’s ally) on the understanding that the tribes will be rewarded with independent homelands. Embittered by war and betrayed by the British and French governments, who have no intention of giving Arabia to the Arabs, he returns to England a disappointed man. He tries to reverse ill-advised political carve-up of the Middle East at the Paris Peac conference of 1919 and two years later in Cairo. He fails. (And we are still living with the consequences of that.)

Suffering from post-traumatic stress, he seeks anonymity in the army and RAF at a lowly rank, but is hounded by the press and the Lawrence of Arabia monster he helped create, assuming the show would garner support for the Arab cause, rather than simply making him a celebrity. After a few happy years working on the Schneider Trophy seaplanes that would, eventually, give birth to the Spitfire and helping design the fast RAF rescue boats that would save downed pilot’s lives, Lawrence eventually dies in a somewhat mysterious motorcycle crash (think Princess Di) in Dorset, aged just forty six.

Robert Ryan, in his book Empire of Sand. never intended to go over this story again, at least not the central section that made him famous, the revolt in the desert. Although research in recent years had thrown up interesting inconsistency in his accounts, such as the fact his infamous buggery by the Bey at Dera’a may have been a total fabrication and that Lawrence was far from the only Allied officer fighting with the Arabs; he wasn’t even the first one to blow up Turkish trains on the Hejaz railway. Nor was he the first into Damascus; New Zealand troops beat him to it by a day. The Arab liberation was a carefully staged fiction, much like de Gaulle’s liberation of Paris, almost a quarter of a century later.

Fascinating though they were, none of the new discoveries really changed the arc of the story or altered the fact that Lawrence did remarkable things. It took a special kind of man, one not hamstrung by British conventions or attitudes, to deal with and win the respect of volatile figures such as Emir Feisel (Alec Guiness in the movie, too old for the part) and the fiercesome ‘outlaw’ Auda Abu Tayeh (Anthony Quinn). Although Damascus was the culmination of the campaign, Lawrence’s greatest feat was probably taking the port of Aqaba from the rear, a strike in which Auda was instrumental but the Englishman certainly planned. (Deduct two points if you instantly thought that wasn’t all he took from the rear in the desert; there is no real evidence that he was actively homosexual).

But all that is up on the screen. Empire of SandI doesn't novelise the movie, in other words. Rather, it is a prequel, set before the Arab Revolt, which began in June, 1916. It begins with Wilhelm Wassmuss.

Wassmuss was a blond and blue-eyed German, with a penchant for self-promotion and a predeliction for wearing native garb out in the desert. He loved the tribespeople of the Middle East, encouraged them in revolt, telling a few fibs along the way, and, after the war, did his best to help them. He set up farms and irrigation systems in the bleakest of parched lands and lost everything on the scheme. He died, forgotten and pfennigless in 1931. When his biography came out in 1935, it was called Wassmuss: The German Lawrence.

So, TEL had an alter ego among the enemy. In 1915, Wassmuss was galvanising the tribes of Persia to rise up against the British, who needed to control the Gulf because of the oil coming out of Basra’s refineries which kept the Royal Navy steaming (you can join the dots to today there). Wily Wassmuss told the tribes that the Kaiser had converted to Islam and made the hajj to Mecca, thus ensuring their loyalty to Berlin, not the infidel British. He became such a thorn in Basra’s side that huge rewards were offered for his capture. The whole story has strong echoes of John Buchan’ prescient Greenmantle, which came out the same year.

Where was Lawrence while this was going on? According to the film, he was a bumbling fool in Cairo. Well, he was certainly eccentric, but no idiot ingenue. In fact, according to investigations by Philip Knightley and Colin Simpson of The Sunday Times in the late sixties, he was running spies, interrogating Turkish prisoners and gathering intelligence. He worked eighteen hour days at it, scorning the social circus that was wartime Cairo (polo or racing at Ghezira, tea at Groppi’s, cocktails at Shepheard’s, dinner at the Continental). Lawrence would have at least have heard of Wassmuss and the other German agents trying to destabilise the British Empire.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Lawrence was asked his opinion about the Kaiser’s man in Persia. Lawrence was certainly sent ‘On Special Duty’ – clandestine missions for the Intelligence services - at least twice before the Arab revolt. In 1916 he was despatched by the fledgling Arab Bureau to Mesopotamia (Iraq), ostensibly to bribe a Turkish commander with a million pounds to release the ten thousand British soldiers he had surrounded at Kut (north of Basra on the Tigris). The Turk refused. The British surrendered and most of the men, but not the officers, died of disease and malnutrition on a hideous forced march.

But there was an earlier, sketchier mission, which had Lawrence travelling to Athens to ‘improve liaison’. What, I thought, if that was a cover? After all, Kut had a dual purpose. As well as trying his hand at bribery and corruption, Lawrence was instructed to meet with Arab nationalists in Basra to sound them out about a possible Arab Revolt. What if Athens was another piece of chicanery? What if it was a cloak for Lawrence to track down and neutralise the increasingly dangerous Wassmuss?

This is what Empire of Sand became, a fictional version of an encounter between two genuine historical figures. It’s Heat. In Persia. I meant the Pacino/De Niro movie, not the climatic conditions. It has an equivalent scene to the pivotal meeting of the principals in a diner, where both men come face to face just once. Cop and thief. They respect and maybe like each other, but know they are on opposite sides and if they have to kill, it won’t be personal.

After having read Empire of Sand, I’m done with Lawrence. He’s your hero now. If you want him.



Jonathan Swift invented the word "Yahoo" in his book Gulliver's Travels to describe a race of brutes with the form and vices of humans whom Gulliver encountered in his fourth and final voyage.

They represented Swift's view of mankind at its lowest and the word "yahoo" has since come to be applied to any actual human who was particularly unpleasant or unintelligent.

The Yahoos were controlled by the intelligent and virtuous Houyhnhnms which apparently did not catch people's fancy as much as "yahoo" did.

If you have anything to add to this story, please email me at pgoerman@houyhnhnms.com.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."


I guess our outgoing Prime Minister - and she can't be outgoing soon enough - can always get a job with Macquarie, the publishers of the "Gumleaf Dictionary".

"Flying a kite"


There was a time when it took several days for a cheque deposit to be cleared because the cheque had to be physically taken from the bank where it had been deposited to the bank on which it had been drawn.

Banks in each locality would "exchange cheques" on a daily basis, taken in cheques from other banks which were drawn on them and swapping them for cheques taken in by them but drawn on other banks. Then, within their own branch network, they would once more send off the cheques which were drawn on them but on a different branch.

All this could take several days; precious days which were used by some clever bank customers to artificially inflate their bank balance by "flying a kite", as the practice was called. It may go like this: a customer has two accounts, each one in a different location. Distance does matter - the farther apart, the better - , so let's assume the 'ideal' situation of one account on the east coast and the other on the west coast.

A cheque drawn on the west coast account was deposited in the east coast account, boosting the east coast account's balance from which real money could be withdrawn. At about the time when the west coast's account could be expected to be 'hit' with the cheque in transit from the east coast, an east coast cheque was deposited in the west coast account to cover it, and ad infinitum.

As a young ledger-keeper with the ANZ Bank in the 60s, I was trained to look out for a pattern that might suggest that someone was "flying a kite" and to bring it to the bank manager's attention. Once discovered, such customer was politely asked to take his business elsewhere.

These days when cheques are electronically processed and never even leave the bank where they have been deposited, the only ones who are still "flying a kite" are the banks themselves: following St George's disappointing customer service, I have been transferring each maturing term deposit by immediately drawing a cheque on it and depositing it with the Commonwealth Bank.

On the very same day the Commonwealth Bank received my St George cheque, my bank balance with St George was debited. But my Commonwealth Bank balance didn't go up! Yes, they did acknowledge that a deposit had been made but the balance of 'Funds available' excluded the deposit for another three days.

Three days for what had taken no more than a split-second to register on a computer screen! Multiply that by the total of the transactions that daily churn through our banks, and you get some idea of the BILLIONS of dollars which are in the banks' 'no-man's land', earning interest for them but for no-one else. What a giant kite!



My last blog From Left to Right really got the wind-in-the-willows up an old Canadian friend from my days in Bougainville. He promptly folded away his ironing board and took off enough time from his domestic chores to rummage through his attic to locate the one and only book he's ever owned and read (well, the cover anyway).

Having established beyong any doubt that The Wind in the Willows has its title printed along its spine from top to bottom, he felt emboldened enough to pronounce this theory:

"The reason for the book spines to be printed in this fashion is because the Germans determined that anyone living below the equator would be looking up and would therefore be able to read the titles with ease. Do I have to tell you everything? Englishmen look down on everyone and it follows that their book titles would be a reflection of that unfortunate genetic mutation."

Thanks, Chris! It proves you can take the man out of Bougainville but you can't take Bougainville out of the man. Still as pissed as ever! ☺

From left to right

The left-handed shower recess in our guest bathroom


Another one of those many conventions by which our lives are governed is that the cold-water tap is always located on the right while the hot-water tap is on the left. The reason? Because most people are right-handed and reach for the cold-water tap first. Well, the plumber who installed our guest bathroom must have been left-handed!

But why, do tell, are the titles on the spines of books in the German and French language written from the bottom to the top but books in the English language have theirs written from the top to the bottom?

Here's a bunch of German books:

Now compare this to the books in your house! (If the only reading material in your house is the TV Guide, visit your local library. A whole new world may open up for you!)

And here's another question to ponder: why do the numbers on the telephone (no, not the slow, heavy, dialling upwind, rotary phone which, by the time you had dialled the last number, made you feel like you had really earned that phone call, but the new push-button job) run, top to bottom, left to right, 1 2 3 / 4 5 6 / 7 8 9, whereas electronic calculators (and the number pad on your keyboard) have theirs go from 7 8 9 / 4 5 6 / 1 2 3 ?

If you have the answer, dial 4 4 7 8 1 0 8 1. But not before 5 pm as I want to keep pondering for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Not your average insurer


Having had my flood insurance cancelled by NRMA Insurance - see here - I thought I might as well get quotes from other insurers. That seemed to bother the NRMA sales lady because she immediately suggested that I should reduce the sum insured to reduce the premium.

"Reduce the sum insured? But I might be under-insured?", I queried.

"No", said she, "you'll always be covered up to the total sum insured."

"Yes, but what about a partial loss?", I wondered.

"As I said, we'll always cover you up to the total amount insured."

I didn't have the heart to tell her that in a previous life I had served my articles in one of Germany's biggest insurance companies (I wanted to become an actuary but got bored with it and became an accountant instead) and remembered something about the "Average Clause" which goes something like this:

If property is under-insured, then effectively the policyholder is assuming the risk of the uninsured portion of the loss. Insurance policies deal with this uninsured portion by reducing or averaging the insurer's liability under the policy. If the property insured is either the principal place of residence for the policyholder or their family, or the contents of such a residence, the averaging clause will have no effect if the sum insured is more than 80% of the value of the property. If the property is insured for less than 80% of its value, then the sum insured shall be averaged in accordance with the following formula:

A x S

where A is the amount of the loss; S is the sum insured; and P is 80% of the value of the property.

Right now I am insured for $600,000. She suggested I bring it down to $400,000 to reduce the premium by roughly a third. Okay, so if the place burns down and is a total loss, they pay me $400,000. But if it's only a partial loss of (say) $200,000, she's wrong in saying that they still pay me $200,000. If the place is really worth $600,000, then the "Average Clause" kicks in.

$200,000 x $400,000

Instead of $200,000, I'd receive only $166,666.

I'm not writing these blogs just for your entertainment, you know. I am trying to educate you!!! ☺

Monday, November 19, 2012

A house in Umbria and the blissful geography of a flat world


Tomorrow's aquarobics have been brought forward one day as tomorrow we'll visit an old lady - a very old lady! - in a nursing home to celebrate her 97th birthday.

During today's trip to Ulladulla we picked up a DVD we have had on order for a few weeks, My house in Umbria, and a couple of interesting books - The Geography of Bliss and The World Is Flat - from our favourite op-shop or thrift shop or second-hand shop or whatever you call it.

We don't call it second-hand shop. We call it the place where you can pick up an almost brandnew book which still has a retail sticker of $39.95 on its cover for a mere 50 cents.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Plain English Insurance Cover


The ______________Insurance Company has issued this policy to ________________________ for a period of _____ year(s) ending promptly at midnight, standard time on ___________.

Property Location: ____________________________________.

Amount of Insurance you bought: $_________ , on your house, all the accumulated furniture and shit inside your house, your garage (the one where you park your car, not Al's Body Shop) and any other small building on the lot, and what it costs to live when your house is burned down or something like that happens, for so long as we say it's okay.

We also will defend you in court if some sonuvabitch makes a claim against you, or pay his damages, and we'll pay the medical bills of some people who get hurt accidentally at your place, or some other places.

(We could spell it out in detail, but you wouldn't understand one F***ing word of it anyway--shit--we had to hire ten lawyers just to figure THIS out after we wrote it).


  1. If anything happens and it looks like it's going to cost you money, call us right away and we'll tell you if we're apt to pay for it.

  2. Our agent has already told you that this is the new "ALL RISK" policy. He was correct as far as he went, but he doesn't even know what the F*** he's selling. So, if you have any questions, call or write to us, not some jackoff insurance salesman.

  3. Don't lie to us about what happened or how much something cost or how godawful new it is or how it never leaked before. If you try to shit us, we'll not only cancel this F***er so fast it'll make your head swim; we'll pass the word around and you won't ever be able to get an insurance policy again, short of Hong Kong Mutual. There's so much F***ing regulation, and an Insurance Commissioner who thinks he's Jesus Christ, that we CAN'T LIE to YOU--It'd be our ass. So, don't give us any song and dance or we'll land on your ass hard.

  4. Replacement Cost: F***ing forget it! You don't need it. We'll pay what is fair, with or without any goddam Replacement Cost Coverage. And, we don't give a shit what your goddam neighbour's policy has on it.

  5. The Amount of Insurance You Bought, listed above, is the absolute most we will pay no matter what your house and other shit is worth or however many people sue your ass for any one accident. So, you'd better be goddam sure you've bought enough to cover the worst F***ing disaster you can imagine. Don't depend on your agent for this!!! If he had any imagination, he'd find an HONEST occupation.

  6. Don't bother us with a lot of questions about what is and isn't covered by this insurance. We'll tell you when you need to know. If we told you now, you'd forget it in an hour--if you ever understood it in the first place.

  7. YOUR DUTIES: (1) Pay the F***ing premium and (2) Call us right away when you think something's happened (don't try to analyze it, just call in); that's all you gotta do. Don't try to get cute--see item (3) above in case you forgot already (which doesn't surprise us).

  8. If we think of any additional conditions, we'll let you know. By the way, if what happens involves a vehicle, airplane or boat or has something to do with your job--forget it! Don't call us; we couldn't care less!

 By: ______________________________ Dated _______________



Not the most elegant wording but honest, isn't it? More honest than the small print in most insurance policies (how many have actually read that bit?), especially when it comes to the definition of "flood", a subject close to my heart and always close at hand.

Many insurance companies have had their fancy lawyers draft definitions of “flood” which don’t actually pay out on a flood situation. A general rule of thumb is that if the flood damage is caused from the sky above (a storm), then you’re covered. If the flood damage is caused from below (like from a swollen river, creek or stormwater drain) then you’re not covered. How crazy is that? And don’t argue about how the river and creek were swollen from above. That logic won’t wash with the insurance companies and their lawyers.

Ordinary, hard-working Aussies doing the right thing, paying their insurance premiums for years thinking they have protection are left in the lurch. Dudded at a time of disaster. To make matters worse, insurance companies are excluded from Federal laws covering unfair contracts. Which means insurance companies can get away with contract murder.

Since 2003 the Federal Government has been negotiating with the Insurance Council of Australia to work out the issue and have yet to reach an agreement. Nine years of negotiation! Come on, give me a break and agree on a simple standard definition of a flood. None of this fancy lawyers jargon aimed at finding as many loopholes as possible.

My own insurers, the NRMA, who for years and years had me covered for "flood" - however they define it in their small print - have just sent me their renewal notice which announces in bold print,

"Your policy now includes flood cover. On the right panel you will see two premiums listed - one with flood and one without. You can choose which you'd prefer. To remove flood cover, you must contact us on 1300 137 593."

And here's the 'right panel':

What a lot of spin! I have always had flood cover which was always included in my annual premium of around a thousand dollars. Without a single word of apology, they removed the "old" flood cover and repackaged it as "new" flood cover for an extra $4,538.89 - yes, that's right, AN EXTRA FOUR THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-EIGHT DOLLARS AND EIGHTY-NINE CENTS.

Given this huge increase in premium, I think they don't really want my business. I think they are just telling me to EFF OFF! It doesn't get much plainer than that!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No surprises here


Reading the morning news, I larn that in Dallas a distraught woman complained that a three-year-old child kept biting her Great Dane, that a Canadian mobile Red Cross unit took blood from a Mr A. Stone, and that a man had his first bath at the age of sixty-seven (no. it wasn't me!).

I also read that Labor politician Mr Obeid and former minister Eric Roozendaal have been suspended from the Labor Party over corruption allegations made at ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) inquiries.

But that's not news, is it? I mean, you can't blame a politician for being corrupt any more than you can blame a frog for being green. A thing can only be what it is.

My dog's secret


My dog sleeps about 20 hours a day. He has his food prepared for him. He can eat whenever he wants.

His meals are provided at no cost to him.

He visits the doctor once a year for his check-up, and again during the year if any medical needs arise.

For this he pays nothing, and nothing is required of him.

He lives in a nice neighborhood in a house that is much larger than he needs, but he is not required to do any upkeep.

He makes no contribution to the running or maintenance of the house.

If he makes a mess, someone else cleans it up.

He has his choice of luxurious places to sleep. He receives these accommodations absolutely free.

He is living like a king, and has absolutely no expenses whatsoever.

All of his costs are picked up by others who go out, work hard, and earn a living every day.

I was thinking about all this, and it hit me like a ton of bricks:

I think my dog is an ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT!

A moment of "Strewth!"


The last time I heard the exclamation "Strewth!, once fairly common in Australia, was in the mid-60s. I was then a lowly Ledger Examiner with the ANZ Bank in Alinga Street in Canberra when Kay Atkinson, a ledger machinist, had just barely missed dropping a heavy metal tray of ledger cards from the mezzanine floor onto the heads of the unsuspecting customers below. She voiced her relief with a resounding "Strewth!" --- and within minutes was before the manager, Mr Reid, who wanted to know how she could have dared uttering such profanity in his august banking chambers.

She returned red-faced to our guffaws and heckles of "Oh Mrs Jones!" which is what we had come to call her after her recent marriage to a chap by the name of Jones which coincided with the launch of a TV commercial that featured a margarine-buying Mrs Jones. Of such innocence were our jokes in the 60s!

I was reminded of all this when Ian Paterson, a colleague of mine from my Bougainville days in the 70s, who had trawled through my Bougainville website and blogs, emailed me:

"Pete, you have thought no doubt about writing a book, haven't you? I have lived half a dozen lifetimes in this incarnation. But you, struth [sic], don't need to come back for 2000 years! You have crammed in about 50 lifetimes!! Not only that, you have an amazing way of viewing life with extremely entertaining and interesting expression. So I will be buying a copy as long as you sign it with a suitable inscription."

No book - yet, Ian; I am far too busy already writing my own eulogy to make sure the bastards get it right.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's been a full day!

Note the bumper guides on the sides especially put up for us;
they are to bowling what trainer-wheels are to cycling


After a roast-beef lunch at the bowling club, nearly three hours in the pool, and another hour's ten-pin bowling at the Dunn Lewis Centre, we had just enough time left to scour the local op-shop for some interesting reading:

Green was the Earth on the Seventh Day by Thor Heyderdahl whose book "Kon-Tiki" I read as a boy in Germany;

Where the Poor are Happy by Roderic Owen; I'll mail it to Horst Berger in Tonga after I have read it;

Inside the Foreign Legion by John Parker; never joined the Legion, emigrated to Australia instead, so this will be an interesting read;

Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks; not exactly my usual reading material but anything from the man who wrote The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat promises to be interesting;

The Whales in Lake Tanganyika by Lennart Hagerfors; a new twist on the old "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" story;

Hell has Harbour Views by Richard Beasley. Adultery, fraud, greed - just another day in the office and a bit of light reading while laying in the hammock under a shady tree on a sunny day at "Riverbend"; it was also made into a television series;

Bridge Across the Sky - The Berlin Blockade and Airlift, 1948-1949; I was a 3-year-old passenger on the Airlift, fleeing the Communist East for the free West so perhaps it's about time I read up on it.

Another day in Paradise


It's a beautiful morning out there, I've had my Weet-Bix, and we're off to the pool for our weekly aquatherapy. See you later!

A friend of mine has named his two dogs Rolex and Timex.

I said, 'Whoever heard of someone naming dogs like that?'

He answered, 'They're watch dogs!'

Monday, November 12, 2012

An acute case of Buyer's Remorse


Having decided that the grand residence above on seven acres of waterfront land was too expensive at $2 million and having instead bought the wooden shack below on 3,000 square metres of waterfront land right next to it for $1.7 million instead, the new owners are suffering from an acute case of Buyer's Remorse and have put the place up for sale again.

Lane's End

It's for sale at $1,730,000, or separately at $965,000 for the shack and $765,000 for the adjoining vacant block of land.

Please form an orderly queue!

A friend of mine was stopped for speeding. The police officer asked him for his license.

My friend replies in a huff, 'I wish you guys would get your act together. Just yesterday you take away my license and then today you expect me to show it to you!'

Saturday, November 10, 2012

All pumped up!


We went to the Moruya Markets this morning which was full with shoppers, hawkers, and baskers, brought out by the warm weather and bright sunshine. Graham was playing his button accordion and a chap from Sydney did an imitation of André Rieu with his violin and Ritchey Sealy painted from a photo.

Funny! Painters of old used to paint lifelike images because photography hadn't been invented yet; today's painters paint from photos to make them look like paintings.

Later, at the bowling club, we had a lunch of beautiful Orange Roughy, a deepsea fish from Bass Strait. Perhaps it hadn't tasted quite so nice had it been served up under its other name 'slimehead' or 'Hoplostethus atlanticus'. Wikipedia tells me that this fish is noted for its great age reaching up to 149 years with the result that it accumulates large amounts of mercury in its tissues. Mine was quite tasty which may mean it was less than a hundred years old which gives me hope that my eventual cause of death will not be from hydrargyria.

Anyway, I immediately flushed all that mercury out of my system with a few glasses of medicinal Chardonnay after which I felt like Albert Weinstein and enough of a genius to tackle the big job we'd come to Moruya for: to buy a new water-pump and instal it in place of the trusty old DAVEY XP900H which had served us well for almost ten years but was getting rather noisy and clucky.

The new pump is a classy Italian thoroughbred, a Calpeda Idromat3, which pumps water with barely a whisper. However, I am confused: the operating instructions - sorry, istruzioni per l'uso - state, "Non mettere valvola di ritegno all'uscita dell' IDROMAT3", which, as any full-blooded multi-cultural Australian knows, means "Do not install non-return valves on the outlet of IDROMAT3". And yet, Paul at the Moruya Mower & Chaninsaw Centre also sold me a non-return valve to stick on top of this little beauty.

What to do? Should I take it back to him or is it a non-return valve in the literal sense? I will find out the answer when he re-opens his shop on Monday. In the meantime, I shall instal the old DAVEY on the tank by the horseshed where it can see out its days pumping water to the vegie garden. 'O pompa mio!

A friend of mine was pulled over for speeding.

While he was writing the ticket, a fly was bothering the cop, so my friend said, "That'’s a circle fly, sir."

The policeman asked, "What’'s a circle fly?"

My friend said, "Them are the flies you find in the barn around a horse's ass."

The policeman said, "You calling me a horse's ass?"

"Oh no, sir, I would never say a thing like that, but you can't fool them flies, sir."

Friday, November 9, 2012



Living as a contented recluse on an acreage in the country, I am known to few beyond the immediate circle of my doctor, dentist, accountant, and the Commissioner of Taxation.

This contemplative life suits me and fits in well with my taste for classical music. And how much more classical can you get than Mozart? His Clarinette Concerto sends a shiver down my spine even without looking at those stunning scenes in the film Out of Africa.

Mozart's compositions have all been neatly numbered in Koechels by a man called - you guessed it - Koechel. This keeps non-German-speakers away from serious bodily harm as they can refer to "Koechel 525" instead of having to work their way through "Eine kleine Nachtmusik".

His Clarinette Concerto, which became the theme in Out of Africa, is Koechel 622. You could make quite a name for yourself by starting a conversation about the film with, "Wasn't Mozart's Koechel 622 absolutely sublime?".

If you get a bit confused about numbers in your old age as I do, you may just want to stick with the number 365. This is, you may remember, the number of days in an average year. It is also the number of Mozart's Concerto No. 10 in E-flat major for Two Pianos.

Just stay away from it in a leap year!