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Today's quote:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Spin me a dream woven silver and gold
from sunshine and shadows and days long ago
where people are memories and stories unfold
from "The Wind in the Willows" song


Colleen had promised to send a photo of their monthly 'coffee klatsch' but reneged
at the last moment, citing her unbecoming hairstyle. We therefore apologise for only
being able to show you on this blog an artist's impression of her actual appearance

 

We don't just treasure our memories; we are our memories. And yet, memory is less like a collection of photographs than it is like a collection of impressionist paintings rendered by an artist who's taken considerable licence with his subject.

I can only imagine how much licence was taken when John Burke, ANZ Bank's Chairman of the Bored, met with his personal assistant Colleen Moran (née Murray) over a cup of latte yesterday for their monthly 'Laugh-In' - "Say good night, John" - "Good night, John!" - to talk about 'the good ol' days' working with the ANZ Bank and living at Barton House, some of which I shared from 1965 to 1967 and again in 1969.

I wrote elsewhere about my years with the ANZ Bank - click here - and living at Barton House - click here - which shaped my future like no other period in my life, and I will always be grateful to the late Mr Robert Reid, the then manager of the ANZ Bank in Canberra, who hired me as a youngster, fresh off the boat from Europe, and gave me the chance of a new start in a new country.

While Mr Reid made the initial decision to hire me, it was John Burke as my immediate boss who had to make it work by putting up with my 'German-ness', both in accent and attitude, although he never took himself too seriously to make me feel that he was the boss. In fact, while I was just a lowly ledger examiner and trainee teller, John was a consummate teller - a teller of jokes, that is.

For us Germans jokes are no laughing matter. Maybe it's because we lack the flexibility of the English language whose vocabulary and grammar allow for endlessly amusing confusions of meanings, or because we killed all the funny people, but we simply fail to under-stand the rhetorical trifecta of irony, overstatement and understate-ment, of which John was - and still is - a past master. He just had to mention the war or say in a Monty Python-kind of voice "I haff a funny joke for jew and jew vill laugh" for my head to go into the O/D-card bin to suppress a convulsive giggle.

Yours truly outside the ANZ Bank Kingston A.C.T. in 1969

Back in those days I knew nothing, so John taught me all about the importance of the comma ("eats roots and leaves") and how to know when "you're in love". He also introduced me to psychoanalysis ("I talk to the trees, that's why they put me away") and politics (he wanted me to join some sort of party as a country member) and let me in on a banking secret ("once you withdraw, you lose all your interest"). John was a fun-sort of a boss. He got things done not by cracking a whip but by cracking a joke! Under his tutelage, my compulsory two years in Australia simply flew by.

I still knew a good German joke - just the one but I won't repeat it here because I know it's not funny - and could compound nouns with the best of them, but slowly the voices in my head began to speak in English and I learnt that "I'm sorry but all the banknotes are the same size" wasn't the correct answer to a customer asking for larger ones.

 

Remember when the Seekers came to Canberra in 1966 for the filming of their television program "The Seekers Down Under"? Those were the days of driving without seatbelts and listening to lyrics which were intelligible and intelligent. 'A World Of Our Own' indeed! I still have all their records, including their later "I am Australian" which ought to be our anthem

 

As for Colleen, my one mental picture of her is wearing her dark-blue bank uniform on a frosty Canberra morning with contrasting fluffy white finger-gloves which she now denies she ever owned. Who said that memory is what we thought we'd forgotten? Colleen was part of the soap opera that was Barton House while I was a 'New Australian', still struggling with a new language. And while others had girlfriends, I hadn't even had the experience yet of failing to get a girlfriend.

 

Have a listen to the Bitter Lemons singing "Canberra Blues" in the Albert Hall in 1965. The late Paul Lyneham - who would become a well-known political journo later - was their lead vocal. And take a good look at the self-conscious dancers on the floor, so typical of the time. As for myself, you'd have had to beat me unconscious to be dragged off to a dance like that.

 

At the time, everyone over the age of thirty looked middle-aged, and everyone over fifty looked absolutely antique (Mr Tillett did!) but here we are, fifty years later, belonging to the same category of the non-young, and turning our pasts into anecdotes which is one way of not losing the plot when you get old. I always thought growing old would take longer than this.

They say that old bankers never die, they just lose interest. Colleen and John, I hope you never lose your interest in those 'good ol' days' and treasure them as much as I do. I may even come to one of your meetings and help you reopen some long-forgotten neural pathways; after all, "ve haff vays of making jew talk".

 

 

At least for the moment, the carnival is not over yet!!!


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P.S. Come on, treat yourself to some more of the Seekers - click here.