If Only They Had Lived

My Last Words about Moreton Bay
My Last Words about Moreton Bay

I find it interesting to know what projects famous artistic people were working on when they died, and how it intertwined with their lives at the time. Here are some of my favourites:

  • A month before his death at 93, film actor, Christopher Lee, had signed up to star with an ensemble cast in the Danish film ‘The 11th’.
  • Richard Wagner, the 19th century German composer was planning another opera ‘Die Sieger’ (The Victors). I read somewhere that a teenage Adolf Hitler tried his hand at completing it.
  • David Lean, the British film director, was about to begin filming Joseph Conrad’s book ‘Nostromo’ when he died. In 1997 Alastair Reid directed it as a British-Italian television drama miniseries.
  • Stieglitz Larsson who wrote the ‘Millennium Trilogy’ died shortly after delivering the manuscripts and so could not witness the book and films subsequent huge popularity.
  • In the summer of 1959, Boris Pasternak, Russian poet and author of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ , began work on a drama to be called ‘The Blind Beauty’.  It was to be a drama of the 19th century in Russia with its main event the liberation of the serfs. He envisioned the drama as an ambitious trilogy, but unfortunately only lived to complete the first act.
  • After he had finished ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ in 1984, Sergio Leone wanted to make a war epic film based on Harrison Salisbury’s book ‘The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad’, about the Eastern Front during World War II. Leone settled on the idea of following an American war photographer, to be played by Robert De Niro, as he found himself trapped in Leningrad for years during the German siege of the city. Leone secured $100m in financing and the cooperation of the Soviet government and had hired regular collaborator Ennio Morricone to compose the score when he suddenly died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 60.
  • I had been writing about Moreton Bay for 25 years when Rosemary Opala supplied her sketch of what she imagined would be my final words as I disappeared beneath the surface of the bay’s waters….glug..glug…

Bert Hinkler’s Last Epitaph

Bert Hinkler and his Avro Avian
Bert Hinkler and his Avro Avian

Bundaberg’s Bert Hinkler is well known for his brave solo exploits as a world beating aviator in the early part of last century. I had become familiar with much of his life as a result of my researches for a recent book “Queensland’s German Connections” (Bert’s father, John, had emigrated from Prussia before settling in Bundaberg, Queensland.)

It was quite a surprise then when at a recent Probus meeting, guest speaker, Kevin Lindeberg, spoke about his involvement with what we could call Bert Hinkler’s last epitaph. Bert had died after his Puss Moth plane crashed in the Italian Alps on 7 January 1933 when he was then attempting to break the world record for a solo flight to Australia.

In 1974 Kevin Lindberg was shown the crash site by a Italian carbon collector, Gino Toichhioni, who had found Hinkler’s plane in April 1933. They left two markers: one at the crash site and one where Bert’s body was found 80 metres away. Last year, it was decided to erect a memorial at the crash site, and because Kevin is now the only Australian alive to be personally shown Hinkler’s final resting place, he was taken to Italy to identify where the plane had crashed and where where Bert Hinkler had dragged himself before he died. The plane site marker was missing but was found by Franco Scarpini who looked up at the sound of a Lone Eagle flapping above him, where he found  Bert’s death site marker still lashed to a tree, but – 40 years on – now high above the ground.

By a strange coincidence, Bert Hinkler often referred to himself as a Lone Eagle!

The memorial is be hewn from a 1.4 tonne basalt boulder from Bundaberg’s Mon Repos Beach where Bert originally learnt to fly. It is to be unveiled on August 2nd this year.

Time and Tide

In the course of my Moreton Bay researches I have often wondered why so may wooden boats – once the love of someone’s life – lie abandoned and left to rot amongst the mangroves.

Abandoned boats at Rusters boatyard, Redland Bay, in the early 1990s
Abandoned boats at Rusters boatyard, Redland Bay, in the early 1990s

Last weekend, I revisited one such ‘cemetery’ at Rusters in Redland Bay. It was a former boatyard that I used to frequent in the early 1990s to visit and interview bay identity Eric Reye who had made his home there on his boat ‘Coolooloa’. Eric spent years converting the old surf landing dory that he purchased after WW2 into a floating laboratory for further research into biting midges (he was a world leader in that field then). Although he never fulfilled his dream, ‘Coolooloa’ did provide him with a home, and with an interest in trying to make the old craft seaworthy.

Eric Reye on his boat 'Coolooloa' at Rusters boatyard in the early 1990s
Eric Reye on his boat ‘Coolooloa’ at Rusters boatyard in the early 1990s

Like a true sailor, he loved his boat – it was his ‘other woman’. And I think this is why so many boats are left to rot: their owners just couldn’t bear to part with them, so that eventually when they died their boats were left to fade away, forgotten widows, in the mangroves.

Peter Ludlow and the widow 'Coolooloa' at Rusters 6 June 2015
Peter Ludlow and the widow ‘Coolooloa’ at Rusters 6 June 2015

Colours of the Past

While researching my latest book project “WW1 Heroes of the Redlands” (due for publication in August), I was struck by how much my mental picture of life in the Redlands at that time was influenced by photographs. In those days, all photos were in black and white, because colour photography had not then been invented. So I found it difficult to visualise the landscape then in anything other than black and white.

Cleveland Central railway station 1890 (Qld Govt Railways)
Cleveland Central railway station 1890 (Qld Govt Railways)

Was this how the Redlanders saw their lives then? As if through a filter of monochromatic drabness? Maybe the whole world had been monochromatic up until the invention of technicolour. But then I thought of Napoleon, and my visuals of him are all in full colour. Why? Because I have only ever seen portraits of him done by artists, and these were always colourful (this was even before the invention of photography). So people could see things in colour!

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

But what about the Redlands a century later? Did they still view life monochromatically? Then I came across a painting of Ormiston Station by Gwen Bruce in the early 1930s. She has confirmed that we Redlanders are no different from the rest of the world.

Ormiston Railway Station early 1930's (painting by Gwen Bruce)
Ormiston Railway Station early 1930’s (painting by Gwen Bruce)