On the Other Side – 2

A river is a natural divide within a community and to my experience, the inhabitants of each side remain loyal to the one they have chosen. But other elements, can also separate us: train tracks (‘he came from the wrong side of the tracks’), roads (‘on the sunny side of the street’), TV advertisements (‘We’ll see you after these words from our sponsors’), graphs (‘let’s flatten the Covid19 curve’), or even time itself (‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.’)

Looking with envy on the other side

But back to rivers, for as well as dividing us, they also present a challenge to cross them. In my younger days, in the 1960s, the folk singing era was in full swing and the River Jordan was a source of inspiration for many folk poets. Our Australian singing group, The Seekers, released their contribution with their 1967 hit ‘On the Other Side’, co-written by Tom Springfield with Gary Osborne and Bob Sage.

You can hear them even now by following this YouTube link:

An Innocent Abroad (Japan and Russia)

To continue my jubilee quest of 50 years ago (see my previous post of 06.10.2018 – An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong):

Stopover in Tokyo

After leaving Hong Kong I had a stopover in Japan. Unlike Hong Kong where street names signs were duplicated in English, Tokyo streets were all in Japanese. Understandably, they made no concessions to Australian tourists. Oh, how I wish that Google Translatehad been invented then! And there were no Hotels.com or Google Maps: not even an internetto share my frustrations with my Facebookfriends. So after spending two nights in Tokyo and Yokohama YMCA’s, I took the easy option and booked a bus tour to Mount Fuji and environs.

October 1968 – cone of Mt Fuji

The beautiful Japanese countryside was a welcome relief from the throngs of Tokyo and Yokohama.

Stopover in Moscow

After a rattling 10 hour flight across Siberia, the Russian Aeroflot airliner touched down in a chilly Moscow where the trees were wearing their autumn garbs, the skies were grey with clouds, the Muscovites were donned in their thick black coats, and their faces were already set grimly against the onset of winter. But it was not only the weather that was cold, for in 1968, it was still the Cold War with the West. I could still feel the excitement at arriving in an alien territory.

October 1968 – Moscow – Red Square crowds

Even so, Moscow was a beautiful city and one steeped in history. I again took the easy option and boarded a sightseeing tour.

Destination London

When I touched down at Heathrow, I immediately felt at home. I was greeted by friends who spoke Australian, and who introduced me to familiar sites that I had up until then only been able to read about in books and travel brochures. The first night I was taken to Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros. I have been in love with them ever since.

I hadn’t fully realized the solitude that necessarily accompanies the lone traveller. Nor the anxiety of travel: of having to deal with timetables and unfamiliar situations. It’s something the travel agent didn’t deem necessary to relate.

From the perspective of 2018, I wonder how I could have been so naive and unprepared for my journey – just throwing my clothes into a port on the morning of departure from Brisbane. No travel money, no travel books. I was focused on my destination in London. I forgot that travel, like life, is a journey not a destination. Young people today have it easy. All their travel information is online – so much so that they almost don’t need to actually travel at all.


An Innocent Abroad (Hong Kong)

It’s fifty years ago this month since I first ventured overseas. I was one of the many young Jet Setters taking advantage of the flight specials that were made possible by the introduction of Boeing’s 707 Jumbo Jets. My ultimate destination was London, which in 1968 was ‘the centre of the universe’ to so many of us. But it was in Hong Kong that I chose to spend the few days of my new life away from my home in Brisbane. 

Hong Kong in October 1968 – the view from Victoria Peak

The stalagmites of Hong Kong today

As you can see from these images, the place has changed a bit over the past half century: The Star ferry is no longer the only means of communication between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (well you can’t actually see the tunnel now hiding beneath Victoria Harbour; nor the fact that Hong Kong has now passed from British control back to China.)

I have always harboured a desire to return to Hong Kong one day, but with the passing of the years, shopping is no longer on my holiday itinerary; nor is the zing of a booking into a luxury hotel; nor is the vibe of a megatropolis. My enthusiasm has waned, but if I every do make it back there, even as a stopover, I expect that Hong Kong will surprise me in some new and unexpected way.

A gentleman in Moscow

 Fifty years ago this October, I briefly visited Moscow en route to the UK. There were signs that the cold war between East and West was slowly defrosting but even so I felt a sense of excitement just to be there: that I was infringing on an alien culture. I was staying at the Hotel Berlin on Red Square and the autumn cold was already seeping through the double glazed windows of my austere room. Outside, in Red Square an endless stream of Muscovites lined up outside the Lenin Mausoleum waiting their turn for a glimpse of their revolutionary hero; another line waited outside the GUM department store to shop; and at the far end of the square, St Basil’s Cathedral was undergoing restoration, though I was still able to enter and marvel at the holy icons adorning the walls of the many private chapels of the former Tsars and other Russian nobility.

St Basil’s Cathedral on Moscow’s Red Square. Undergoing restoration in 1968

The 1965 movie and hence the book of Boris Pasternak’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’ were still very much an influence on me then. For me, it helped to humanise the inhumanity that occurred during and after the Russian revolution; it was ordinary people tested in extraordinary times; it put the individual before the State – a fact that caused the Soviet Government to force Boris Pasternak to reject his Nobel Prize. 

The cover of Amor Towles 2016 book ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ is another life-affirming book full of humour and charm that brings together the profound, the political and the personal aspects of Soviet life during and after the revolution. In this case, the novel’s protagonist is Count Alexander Rostov, starting in Russia’s turbulent early 1920s and spanning 30 years. When the Count is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, he is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Having never worked a day in his life, he must now live in one room as history is being made outside.

Happily I now read that the book is soon to be made into a television adaption. Kenneth Branagh is to play the Count. I hadn’t imagined what the Count might have looked like, but Kenneth Branagh seems to be ideal. 

Moscow’s Metropol Hotel in 2018 (Google street view)

Reminders of Peoples Past – 11 – Bee Gees Street Memorial

The Bee Gees Street Memorial

It is fitting that we end this series by returning to whence we set out: the Redcliffe Peninsula, and to its world famous export, The Bee Gees. In recent years the Council has renamed a whole street after them and decked it out with memorabilia from their singing career.

On his most recent visit to Redcliffe, Barry Gibb, the oldest and only surviving member of the pop group, told a reporter of the life changing decision they had made as young teenagers. Like many others with too much time on their hands, the three brothers amused themselves by stealing goods from the local shops. However, Barry’s conscience got the better of him, and he took his younger siblings, Maurice and Robin, and their contraband good out to the end of the Redcliffe Jetty and announced to them that they had to make a decision: do we carry on with our stealing or do we do something useful with our lives?

They threw all their stolen goods off the end of the jetty. The rest is history…

Redcliffe Jetty

Centenary of a Revolution

Grave of Karl Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery (Photo courtesy Paasikivi)

When I was living in London during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was intrigued by the huge bust of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery not far from where I lived. This was at the height of the Cold War between the West and Russia and just half a century after the Russian revolution. Feelings of angst were still running high then, and Karl Marx statue endured several bombing attempts.

Marx had hoped to incite the British workers to revolt, but this didn’t seem to be in their nature. It was left to the Russian peasants in 1917. Perhaps they were the more desperate and downtrodden.

This week I attended a lecture by visiting Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick to mark the centenary of the October 1917 Russian revolution. I was surprised to learn that the event is not being celebrated with any great enthusiasm, not even in Russia. An exhibition in London of Russian revolutionary inspired artworks seems to be the world’s major contribution to its memory.

The passion for revolution seems to have burned out and I don’t think even Karl Marx statue will raise the prospect of another explosion.

Stories from Bribie Island – 1


S.S.Cormorant (hulk at Bongaree)
S.S.Cormorant (hulk at Bongaree)

Les Bax: 

‘I was on the fishing boat that towed the hulk of the ‘Cormorant’ to its final resting place on Bribie Island. The ‘Cormorant’ had been purchased by Bribie resident, George Sharp, with the object of using it to stop the erosion of Bongaree foreshore frontages. As planned we arrived at Bribie at 5:00pm at the top of the tide. Arrangements had been made to meet up with Council employees, who would help put the hull in place, but there was no sign of anyone from Council, after a short time, we decided to go ahead and beach the ‘Cormorant’ ourselves. We fitted ropes to the shore, attaching one to a tree and the fishing boat guided the hull into position. The ‘Cormorant’ rested on the bottom about half way up the beach. Billy Woods had been engaged for the following morning to blow a hole in the hull, ensuring it was stay where it was placed. He arrived as planned and assuming the hull was where the Council put it, proceeded to place the explosives in the hull and detonate them. The ‘Cormorant’ would remain exactly where me and my mate, Ron Duell, had beached her until 1990 when its remains were removed for safety reasons.’

Jim Ormiston:

‘I was four years old in 1919 and my family lived in Terrace Street, New Farm. It was just after WWI and Brisbane was in the grip of the Bubonic Plague. So bad was it that the authorities had a horse and wagon which used to go round the suburbs to collect the dead. It was reminiscent of the Black Plague in Europe centuries earlier.

‘One morning dad heard the wagon in the street outside our house and the call of “Bring out your dead.” When he looked out the window he saw four bodies from the house next door being loaded on the wagon. It was all he needed to make up his mind and he called to my mother, Elsie, to pack a port. Then our family caught the S.S. “Koopa” down to Bribie Island.

‘We had no money and nowhere to live, so we went up about a mile south of the jetty where the RSL Club now is. It was all bush then and dad had packed a small tomahawk in the port which he used to strip bark from the pine trees and build a little humpy for shelter. Fortunately food was plentiful. We’d put a lasso out with food to attract goannas, which we’d skin, fillet and cook. Or we would boil up a bucket of yabbies. Fish were also plentiful which we caught using bent pins on a line.’

Lisa West:

‘I visited Bribie’s reclusive artist, Ian Fairweather’s hut many times. If we happened to meet at the shops, I would have a cup of tea with him at Joe’s Jetty Café. Fairweather was then heavily involved with his translations of ancient Chinese novels, a task which required enormous concentration and perseverance.

‘So fine were his translations that the Buddhist Society of America, of which he was a member, honoured him by sending him an exquisite rectangular seal. Although Fairweather was not a man to receive honours gladly, But I remember that he was especially pleased with this seal, and the recognition of his Buddhist peers.

‘Best known of these translations was THE DRUNKEN BUDDHA, which had been accepted by University of Queensland Press for publication. Fairweather needed a typist and approached me to do the job for him. Although I couldn’t type myself, I did refer him to another resident of the island who proceeded with the task. However, as the work progressed the woman’s husband became alarmed with Fairweather’s accounts of the main character’s somewhat unorthodox personal habits and thought it best if his wife passed on the task to someone else. As Fairweather himself was a bit of a mystery to the other residents on Bribie, the typist’s husband was probably equating Fairweather’s habits with those of the drunken buddha!

‘Another typist was duly found.’

Ian Fairweather and hut (Photo courtesy Ron Powell)
Ian Fairweather and hut (Photo courtesy Ron Powell)

References: Moreton Bay People – The Complete Collection

The Malcolm Frazer Experience

Collin Myers speaking to the Toondah Probus Club at their August General Meeting
Collin Myers speaking to the Toondah Probus Club at their August General Meeting

Our Toondah Probus Club’s August Guest Speaker was journalist Collin Myers whose topic was ‘The Malcolm Frazer Experience’. After leaving school Collin worked for the Courier Mail, then Reuters in London, then for Malcolm Frazer, and then headed corporate affairs at Mount Isa Mines. During his long career, he accumulated a long list of memories and anecdotes. Here are just a few:

‘After I left school I worked as a journalist for the Courier Mail covering the Queensland State Parliament. It was an interesting time then and I interviewed many of the political personalities of the day: Les Dipplock, who was the last Minister for Public Instruction (now the Education portfolio); Premier Vince Gair, who used to float ideas with the journalists before introducing them into Parliament; Jack Duggan, with the Mount Isa strikes, Colin Bennett, and Clem Jones. In 1965 my boss at the Courier Mail announced that there was a journalist’s job going in Canberra. I had visited Canberra in my final year at school, so I applied for the position. I was the first person to have actually asked to go there, so I got the job.

‘These were the Menzies’ Years, and I was impressed that he was always courteous and valued the Westminster System of Government. As Prime Minister, Robert Menzies was especially courteous to the Opposition Leader, Arthur Calwell, because he thought that as long as Arthur was the Leader, he would have little chance of being toppled. Menzies also removed threats to his leadership from his own party by appointing would-be rivals to overseas postings such as the High Commissioner in London.

‘In 1967-8 I worked for Reuters in London. I found the politicians there interesting too: Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, if he didn’t want to answer a tricky question, always spoke quickly in his Yorkshire accent; Margaret Thatcher, at that time spoke in a high pitched voice – unlike her later lower tone as Prime Minister. These were interesting times politically, too: the 1967 Falklands crisis, the Rhodesian crisis, Common Market membership. Interestingly in the House of Lords, Notice Papers were written in Latin.

‘I returned to the Courier Mail in the late 1960s and early 70s. At that time the so called ‘Ginger Group’ of pollies used to have clandestine meetings with the journalists; and journalists were able to walk in to Ministers offices unannounced.

Prime Minister Malcolm Frazier of Australia is welcomed upon arrival for a visit to the United States.
Prime Minister Malcolm Frazier of Australia is welcomed upon arrival for a visit to the United States.

‘Then I got a job in Canberra as Malcolm Frazer’s Press Secretary. In those days he had a staff of just 4 people in his office, whereas today there would be 15 to 20 on the Prime Minister’s staff. I became very close to the Frazer family and even had my own bedroom in their homestead, ‘Nareen’. Frazer’s electoral seat was always a marginal one and he had to work hard to keep it. I remember he once visited 36 pubs in a day during a campaign, and on another occasion in a small country town, he gave a policy speech to an audience of one (at the audience’s insistence!).

‘1972 saw the Aboriginal Tent Embassy crisis in Canberra, and Malcolm played a pivotal role in negotiations with them. I was surprised that when some of the Aboriginal Elders arrived from the Northern Territory, Malcolm knew them all by name.
‘Malcolm Frazer recognized my loyalty as a Senior Adviser, and on one occasion he asked me to cost the ALP’s election policies, which I did in a few days – much to the amazement of McMahon who had a team of economists working on it for three months.

‘And finally, another personality who I knew well was Tom Burns who liked to say ‘A politician is not worth two bob until you have made an enemy.’

A Merry Sharing Christmas


View from our flat at Ridge Road, London in 1969
View from our flat at Ridge Road, London in 1969

We all know that Christmas is traditionally a time when families get together, and I have always managed to achieve this for as long as I can remember. However there was one year, 1968, when this did not happen.

I had just arrived in ‘Swinging London’ (as it really was then – for young people such as myself, the centre of the universe), leaving my family behind in faraway Brisbane. I had set myself up sharing a flat with three young English men of my own age in Earls Court (known then as ‘Kangaroo Valley’ because that is where all the visiting Australians had their digs), and I had found work as a Pharmacist with Boots The Chemist at their Victoria Street store. I had even made a new friend with the Secretary there, a charming Irish lass by the name of Phyllis. In short, I was pretty well set up for the winter, before setting out to travel in the Spring.

However, when Christmas arrived, my three English flatmates went home to their respective families in the English countryside, and all of London seemed like my flat – cold and deserted. Even Phyllis went home to Ireland to spend Christmas with her mother in Co Cork. I’d never had to search for a Christmas dinner before, but fortunately there was a friend of mine in similar dire circumstances, so we resolved to share a Christmas dinner together. Of course, finding a restaurant that was (a) open and (b) not already booked out, proved to be a problem, but eventually we found a very ‘unchristmassy’ one to at least satisfy our hunger. After lunch, we celebrated the rest of Christmas day by doing our washing at the local Laundromat.

All this sounds a bit depressing even now, but I did have the thought of Phyllis to bolster my flagging fortunes. My faith in her return was rewarded the following Christmas when I was able to share it with her welcoming family as inlaws, and like icing on the cake, it even snowed!

I hope you all have someone in your lives to share with this Christmas, if not in person, then in your thoughts.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll

Swinging London in the 1960s
Swinging London in the 1960s

During the late 1960’s like so many young Australians I was drawn to live in London’s Earls Court (known to all then as ‘Kangaroo Valley’). However, although I was fascinated by the whole ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ revolution of which London was at the centre I never fully embraced it. Perhaps as a Pharmacist, I had medicated too many drug addicts at Boots Piccadilly pharmacy.

Recently, to see what I’d missed out on, I read Richard Goldstein’s book ‘Another Little Piece of My Heart’. Here are some of the quotes I found most interesting:

  • It was the great temptation of the sixties, the ghost of Rousseau that haunted every Freudian of my age. What lay beneath the layers of repression?…I was sick of living in a world whereto social order was all too obvious. That’s why the hippies were so appealing to people like me. They represented liberation from reality.
  • That was the whole problem with the counterculture. There was no will to form institutions that could transmit values, only a feeling that everything worth learning could be comprehended in an instant or immediately felt.
  • No one makes great art out of contentment with the world…
  • But in 1967 the hip thing for a chat show was to have a professor as a guest. ..They had to have an outsize sense of their importance, a blind confidence in their ideas, and a conviction that they could single-handedly alter the course of history. Most important…they had to be entertaining.
  • By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, art changes morals.
  • Perhaps this is always what it’s like to live in revolutionary times, the sense that everything is coursing toward a destiny that seems irrational and immanent (inherent).
  • I often found myself thinking about how other radicals had coped with the failure of their revolutions. How did the young visionaries of 1848 deal with the suppression of their noble dreams? What did partisans in the Paris commune think when their defeated comrades were executed by the thousands? How did Communists who deeply believed in the triumph of the proletariat live with the tyranny of Stalin? Some of them recanted in bestselling books, others clung to the long view of human history while settling down to raise ungrateful children.

I think our young people of today live in equally revolutionary times, and wonder how our radicals will cope when they fail.