The Advanced Society / Barbarian Intellectualism.

Natural History of the Coorong


The Advanced Society.

In his book The Road to Serfdom, Freidrich Hayek asserts that the economic freedom of capitalism is a requisite of political freedom… with continual growth being the mechanism that feeds such “economic freedom”.

So we have to propose the question : What makes an “Advanced Society”?

Could it be that as proposed by Hayek above?..Or is it something more basic…more durable…more sustainable than the capitalist notion of continuous growth / continuous consumption? Can it be presumed that a technological advanced society holds greater ethical dominance and therefore deserved racial dominance over the more stable tribal structures that once were spread throughout the Australian environment for tens of thousands of years?

Consider these examples..

Eucalyptus Largiflorens (Black Box) : Distribution and occurrence: Local community dominant, in grassy woodland on heavy black clay soils in seasonally flooded areas;

In this area of Sth. Aust’, primarily restricted to ex swamp-lands. This tree, like many that have evolved to an environment-specific location can be found near my residence in the Mallee. Like the Mallee trees everywhere, it has evolved in a stable, static environment over many thousands of years..indeed, you can see that a mulititude of trees and understory in the Mallee bio-forest were reliant on such a stable environment for them to spread so wide, so far in such profusion. Any extreme disruption of climate or landscape would have changed the appearance and bio-diversity of the entire forest and it’s denizens..THAT is a “given”. We have to accept : The very existence of such a bio-forest system proves beyond argument that the geography where they settled, took root and evolved was stable, static and sustainable for a very long period of time.

This is an important point to my thesis..we have to understand and accept that the Mallee bio-forest, from the dry-lands to the swamp-lands, from the canopy to the forest floor is a unique interconnected species specific / environment specific entity that relies upon a stable, static geophysical situation to maintain it’s integrity. Certainly, that integrity has been corrupted over the last two hundred years since settlement to the point where we cannot truthfully claim that pristine Mallee exists anymore at all. It has become a victim of “continual economic growth”…and one has to logically conclude that in the last resort of sustainable life ; if the environment fails, then so too will the society that killed it.

Likewise, if we look at the indigenous peoples who lived and thrived for many thousands of years along the Lower Murray and The Coorong in Sth. Aust’. I will not even attempt to disassemble the complex tribal structures that existed along the lower Murray River…it would be presumption on my part and liable to insulting error. Enough to point out that settlement is proven for many thousands of years. Indeed, carbon dating of one site of middens (discarded mollusc shell-heaps along The Coorong) alone put it back to 2.500cal BP. (2.500 yrs. Old)…so we have evidence that of the many sites scattered along the seaward-side of The Coorong there was regular gathering and consumption of a reliable food source by the indigenous peoples for thousands of years. I have seen these middens many years ago…scattered amongst the site were numerous camp-fire circles, denoting the practice of stopping, gathering, cooking and consumption of the food and presumably the social intercourse that accompanies such moments.

For such feasting to have taken place (these middens are huge!), would prove the reliable, regular supply of the molluscs and the reliable, regular harvesting by a group of peoples familiar with and capable of attending to such a chore on a continual basis for thousands of years. I know the geography of The Coorong well..on the seaward-side we have bountiful harvest of shell-fish, on the landward-side we have bird and mammal life…the evidence of indigenous people’s fish-traps on The Coorong, indicate regular harvesting of food there, the abundance of fresh water from the natural Sth. East drainage system then in place, guaranteed the presence of kangaroos, emus and sundry wildlife for food and clothing…in all, one must admit, that along with the temperate climate, not a bad place to reside…indeed, it could be considered almost an idyll..and reside here people did ..undisturbed for many thousands of years…mark that!…food, clothing, shelter of a quantity and quality that remained in-situ for many thousands of years…exploited but not over-exploited..harvested but not depleted..lived with but not dominated..and perhaps it could have gone on for time it already had…if not finally destroyed by the kind of “advanced society” lauded by Mr. Hayek at the start of this article.

So tell me..: What constitutes an advanced society? it the one who uses it’s developed technology to invade, subjugate, desecrate and finally, perhaps, annihilate that very environment it relies upon for it’s life…or is it the other who, with astute observation recognizes a “line” between sustainability and destruction, and by managing it’s population ,refuses to be tempted by the possibility of a gluttony of temporary riches and maintains a judicious, salubrious lifestyle and culture for many thousands of years, visiting the same locations for food, clothing, shelter without desecration nor selfish accumulation?

So YOU tell me.: Who has the most “advanced society” ?



Barbarian Intellectualism.

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“For so many in the techno-elite…the notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted. As a former classicist turned technologist, I’ve always lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, the failure of its intellectual culture, and the stasis that gripped the Western world for the better part of a thousand years. What I fear most is that we will lack the will and the foresight to face the world’s problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance.” (random quote from the internet.) .

In an earlier post, I questioned the presumption of what constituted an “Advanced Society”; The notion of perpetual progress and economic growth is somehow taken for granted vs. the concept of creating a deliberate stable, sustainable social environment.

While the notion of “perpetual progress” demands a “ laissez faire” economy, the latter would encourage a more “softly, softly” approach. To say that the latter would constitute a kind of “anti-intellectualism” is wrong..I would say that it is more of a “steering” of intellectual prowess toward community relevant advances, rather than toward that which enriches and can be utilized only by a wealthy elite. The barbarian idea of plunder and rapine to enrich the few rather than the most is anti-intellectualism..a degree of thought would prove that, like a garden, a sustainable harvest brings greater wealth in the long run rather than a one-off slash and burn approach..”softly, softly catchee monkey”. But that is not to say that the Barbarian class hasn’t learned by their mistakes.

In ancient times, the Scythians, a most barbaric nomadic tribe from the Steppes of Eurasia , would contract the Grecian artists and artisans to manufacture works of beauty in plundered gold for their own vanity. The barbarian hand, while being adept at wielding a weapon, seems always to lack the finesse and temperament for cultured art. One cannot sing through gritted teeth nor distribute equal share of wealth with a clenched fist!

The IPA. (Institute of Public Affairs), considered in these days as being THE VOICE of the right-wing think tanks in Aust’, is one such example of “Barbarian Intellectualism”. Reading articles from personalities of this institution, one can visualize through the chosen jargon and clichéd phrases, them trawling through their university days learned texts with “join-the-dots” simplistic logic that is more borrowed-intellectualism by rote-learning than by inquisitive enquiry. They will even cunningly reach to progressive writers and themes to give ‘legitimizing cred’ to their words by quoting from very dissenting sources, as if the reader cannot discern their cunning…just like the schoolchild trick of the older boy offering the younger child ; “One BIG ‘gob-stopper’ for all those little ‘jaffas’”…we’ve all witnessed THAT scenario and it’s nothing but insulting to have such juvenile methodology foisted upon us in our old age…But then perhaps THAT IS the limit of their imagination.

Truly, many of the arguments put up by the “Barbarian Intellectuals” , no matter who they quote, are little more than excuses for barbaric behaviour, rather than a seeking to discover better ways .

If there is one famous quote that could embrace the entire Barbarian Intellectualism ethos and moral direction, it would have to be that ghastly logic from the Vietnam War , where one ; “…must destroy the village to save the village.” And we have seen just how far such insane logic has taken the governance of this once well-administered country .

The social-suicidal implementation of the IPA. “wish list” has driven both the object and the integrity of  conversation in this country to a depth never before plumbed. To have to listen to the childish babbling of its creators is to give too much valued-time to too little thought. The influence of such puerile philosophy on the ministers of the current LNP. govt’ demonstrates the even lower level of capable discourse amongst the front bench of that govt’.

To call this govt’; “capable” is to outright lie..To call the govt’ of the day “culpable” is to be somewhere closer to reality…as to what they are “culpable” of is for a future commission to ascertain…but the least charge that can be leveled is the one of “cultural barbarism”.





Ok..let’s talk about barmaids…When I think back on the subject, and I have to “think back’ because I no longer inhabit the locales where barmaids are to be found!…age HAS wearied him..and I am no longer haunted by strange, unrealisable fantasies! But I have to admit, as a drinking man, the barmaid holds a special iconic position in the drinking male’s itinerary of desire. the perfect barmaid is a rare person..a species so valued that physical harm can befall those who abuse or debase such in public. They are not really “personality”…they are …: “elan” personified……vivacity….creating a hunger for something promised but never delivered..and indeed…never really needed to be delivered…no!..wisdom tells us the journey is most times better than the arriving.

I have known three perfect barmaids. : Shirley (at The Brighton Esplanade)…Diedre (the Postal Institute Club, Darwin) and Noela (The Seacliff Hotel)…



Shirley was quite old when I met her by accident, dropping in for a cool summer day beer to the saloon bar on the corner of Jetty Rd. and The Esplanade there by the Brighton jetty. She had that sharp, dry wit of an experienced woman that could cheer highly or cut deeply depending on the occasion or the person…I used to go to the TAB. , drop a few bets and then listen to the races there on a quiet day when things weren’t busy…I remember I was there at the bar one day…while Shirley was wiping the bottles in the fridge and this too obvious “high-camp” chap rushes in and buys several tins of UDL. pre-mix and then just as quickly rushed out…

“What do you make of THAT?” I casually commented. Shirley just leant on the bartop staring blankly out at the chap crossing the road.

“What’s TO make of it? …these days, what with the surgery they do, a couple of clips and snips and bango!..Bob’s your aunty”….she swished the cleaning cloth at an idle fly and went back to work. I could imagine her getting home and the old man asking her how the day went.. “Oh..the usual…five drunks, three proposals, two-on-a-promise and too few tips!” But she was sensitive to the dark soul… seen a bloke come in to the bar..a local…not looking good (and you’d bet Shirley’d know the problem), order a beer, put some coins on the mat and Shirley put her finger on the coin and pushed it back into the pile with a knowing wink…it doesn’t take a grand gesture to prop a fellah up…a good soul was Shirley.



Diedre was a different woman entirely…buxom, bubbly, sharp as a tack her early thirties and real womanly….you could say one thing to her and she’d twist it about like a cryptic clue and leave you open-mouthed working it out…never to be trapped or cornered, but always smiling…She was the bar-manager of the Postal Institute Club there on the hill over-looking the Botanic Gardens in Darwin…a prime position…I would go there Friday nights for a meal…Earle, the cook there in a side kitchen next to the bar would serve the best Barra and chips in Darwin on a fri’ night…such things are of paramount importance to a bachelor..I would front the counter there and call to him..

“Fancy a beer Earle?”…”

“G’day, “Jay” for me and one for (he had a woman friend there, I forget her name now!)…” and he’d serve the best Barra that melted in your mouth..and you’d take your plate straight to the bar and Diedre would serve you a handle of amber with a smile and coquettish cheek so that you thought you had joined the angels and they were ringing the Angelus just for you. She was a shorty, but wore those platform shoes that were the fashion in those days (I’m talking the mid-seventies)…and when she came out from behind the bar to collect glasses, she would swish about the tables like a dancing a diminutive Isadora Duncan!…god she was beautiful!..I swear, any number of blokes would’ve thrown themselves under Vishnu’s Juggernaught just at her command….and I do believe I may have joined them!

If you were one of the last there at closing..and I confess that I sometimes was!…she’d call out with the voice of a Mary Magdalene..”I’m clearing the lines…anyone want a free beer?”…..Heeeyyy??



Noela…The barmaid at “The Cliff”…It’s a crying shame that medals of valour are only struck for war combatants…otherwise Noela’s shirtfront would be heavy with the ribbons and polished brass of many “campaigns”! But she was not a striking person in any memorable way…she was what mean-spirited people in those days called “plain”…no great witticisms passed her lips…droll was her humour, very a matter of fact one couldn’t be sure if the humour was not an accident of language…for instance, I once fronted the bar on a quiet Monday night, having been over the coast for a weekend’s fishing, got my beer and when Noela returned with the change I asked her if anything interesting happened over the weekend….She placed the change there and while looking to someone fiddling at the cigarette machine quite casually noted that : ” Oh..Zero’s beer went flat while he was framing a rolly.”….and walked away…that was it…droll, very droll. Of course, you’d have to know “Zero” and to have witnessed him rolling a cigarette…He had the nickname “Zero” because it was considered by those who knew that it was the measure of his IQ…..he was a heavy drinker and had the eternal shakes, so that to watch him fashion a rolly was a temptation of patience…he once bragged he could get 90 rollies from one 2oz.packet of Champion Ruby…but the damn things were so skimp on tobacco, and so loose rolled, he’d light it up, then choke on the first drawback to spit to the floor the loose bits of baccy that came with the inhale. I do recall once seeing Noela, in a quiet moment, elbows on bar, face in her cupped hands, staring intently at a completely unaware Zero busy rolling one of his cigarettes…was it satire on her part or just bored interest?…that was it with couldn’t tell. But one thing she was…reliable..unflappable..and a patient ear for the lonely drinker….and believe me..there can be no lonelier place than sitting by oneself with a heart full of hurt and a skinfull of booze and an empty hotel bar.

No…give the woman a medal, I say…TWO!




On that extraordinary musical delight by Santana..: “Abraxas”, there is a poem from Hermann Hesse’s book, Demian, quoted on the album’s back cover:..the painting on the front is : “Annunciation”…

“We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion.

We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it:

We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas….”

I cannot think of a better dedication to the mysterious relationship males have to such an extraordinary institution…: The Barmaid.



Why I live where I live.

Here’s several “cameos” of my personal interpretation of the place where I live. They are a personal slant and you can take it or leave it as you please….and of course : all names and references to persons are purely accidental and non-litigious…

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A short announcement.

As well aware as we are these days of those “Great Moments in History” where an event is celebrated on canvas…like, say ; George Washington crossing the Delaware…or Captain James Cook bearing up proudly on the bow of the Endeavour’s whaler boat as he broaches the sandy shore of Botany Bay…or even our own Col’ Light on Montefiore Hill, with his determined arm outstretched pointing to the possible location of the future precinct of Adelaide….and how right he was!…. I’d like to draw your attention to those little moments in history…enacted in those little places way off the beaten track that, one must acknowledge, do deliver their own great moments within their own little worlds….less perhaps, “momentous” than “of the moment”!

Such an event happened on the evening of the 2nd of June 1953…..on The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd .. at the Sedan Hotel front bar, where was gathered a regular small group of loyal local blokes…many bearing the Germanic names of that peoples that had been enemies in two wars of recent memory….but wishing to scotch any rumours of disloyalty to The Crown, the publican of the hotel called for silence with the ringing of a spoon on the rim of a schooner glass and proposed a toast to;

“ Her Majesty…The Queen!”…..

THAT is the orthodox version of events…..I have it on good authority, though I will not vouch for it’s exactness of detail, that another short announcement accompanied that toast that created a certain amount of “discussion” within that small community….

it went like this..

I doubt it goes without some knowledge in these small country towns, that certain individuals practice ..habits..that are ..shall we say..of a different complexion to the mainstream. Most accomplish these little peccadilloes in the secrecy and privacy of their own homes…by themselves…of course there is a price to pay for all that secrecy…there is the paranoia that if discovered, the general consensus of “the mob” will excoriate and damn the individual in question to exile or worse….such “difference” is a heavy burden to carry..particularly if one is working every day, shoulder to shoulder with his fellows in the fields…it wears on a chap!

Such a burden had for several years weighed heavily upon one such chap amongst that gathering that evening in the front bar of The Sedan Hotel…(we shall not name names!)…He had come to the decision a week or so before that he would share this burden with his fellows and take the consequences ..whatever…he would “own” his idiosyncrasy.

He had chosen that particular evening and he had steeled himself for the occasion with rehearsed lines and solemn mood to deliver to best advantage that which he wished to say….the fact that the publican had chosen, with his unfortunate royal toast to the newly coroneted queen, the very apex of that moment, the very inhale of breath so to speak, was inconvenient, but not a deterrence…he decided to press ahead.

The silence was heeded, the glasses were charged, the toast was made..:

“To the Queen!”..”Hear, Hear!”

…the schooners were just touched to wetted lips when he made his own small announcement to the gathered circle …:

“I like wearing women’s clothes…..I always have .”

Several members of the party had to be revived after choking and spluttering on the amber fluid just then in the act of consumption.

I would not like to claim that he said it “gaily”…but rather, in a quiet, solemn voice…soft, but determined…his chin “steeled” to suit the gravitas of the moment.

You know, there are some hesitations in the general hubbub of public gatherings where a void of silence can follow momentous announcements…I’m thinking of Julius Caesar about to cross the Rubicon and he says quietly to the troops..;

“Jacta alia est” (the die is cast)..the legions, I suspect, fell respectfully silent…

..or Horatio Nelson with his famous telescope to the blind eye..:“I really do not see the signal”….

There are others…there are others…such a silence followed this announcement in the front bar of The Sedan Hotel….a full ten seconds silence…an eyewitness noted the ticking of a clock (two rooms away) for a full ten tocks…that record, I hasten to add, still stands!…I suspect the shock of this fellow navvy, this rough-handed roustabout, whom they were more used to see in moleskins and blucher-boots, informing them of his preference for women’s petticoats and finery threw some small confused images into their male minds… wasn’t long, however, “till the boat rightened itself”, the wave of confusion subsided and he was confronted with wide-eyed “enthusiasm”…..needless to say, his first suspicions of the possibility of estrangement, alienation and blind anger were quite sufficiently full-filled!


Sedan aspirations and goals.

Now, anyone here who has lived in a small country town will recognize the situation I am about to describe. There is a familiarity with both the pettiness of complaint and the seriousness of the minutiae of desire for redress that runs like “Orteses Thread” through the fabric of the community..and like all these little communities, a heady mix of “rumour, envy and shadenfreude” sustains all it’s members!

Into this community, there came the new CEO. of the local council to address the citizens in a “Community Aspirations and Goals meeting at the Sedan Memorial Hall, all invited w/ coffee and cake provided”. Now right there, from the start, any local could’ve told him that he could’a doubled his attendance if’n he’d offered ‘mini-savs’ on the menu! As it was , a goodly group turned up to ‘sus out’ the new CEO. I was one of that group…I had a couple of ‘goals’ of my own to suggest at that meeting!….

It went like this.

The new CEO came from the Sth East…Mt Gambier , to be precise..There is a lot of water down that end of the state..and maybe they are more used to partaking of THAT liquid rather that the Sedan whom beer and the like are no strangers! So it was as no surprise that several “known” members of the local public came to the meeting straight from the front bar of the Sedan Hotel..and I did notice that one such, with the nickname ; “Pull-through” (I won’t go into the reasons for these designations, it could be too tedious and convoluted…some though, give a hint!), skinny as he is, found the doorway a tad too narrow as he ricocheted off the jambs!

“ Now I don’t want to be sitting back in my office in Mannum dictating to the community what it will have”..the CEO began. “I want YOU..the community to tell me what are YOUR aspirations and  goals for Sedan…” and here he paused for effect to thrust his pointer at several headings written on a large piece of butchers paper blu-tacked on the wall…he swept his black-rimmed bespectacled and wide-eyed gaze accusatively around the room….feet shuffled..a sign of expected comment.

“How about a ramp in the gutter there outside the pub..there on the footpath” ‘Banger’ was first off the rank…the CEO raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, so ..a ‘disabled ramp’ in the kerbing?” he suggested.

“Well…” ‘Banger’ drawled “Not so much ‘disabled’…well not going IN..coming out maybe!..” this got a few laughs..” But you can make a miss-step there and do your self some damage on a Friday night”..a good deal of nodding and cross-chatter affirmed this point..

“…broke six bottles the other week!…”was heard in one camp.

“Yes, yes..I see…mark that down Mr. Parker. “ the CEO addressed his clerk. “Some more please”.

Of course, Banger’s first foray into the pond unleashed a tirade of ideas…from the problem with puddles outside the post-office (when it DID rain), painted house numbers on the kerbs (only a small portion of the town has kerbing) to a scenic car-park on the top of Sedan Hill for the visitors to the district (this last drew a muffled gasp from the crowd for it’s audaciousness…a pet project of Mrs. Auricht) ..several more trite complaints followed. The poor CEO, expecting more in the line of aspirations than desperations was becoming impatient at the somewhat pettiness of the requests..

“Yes, yes..but I was hoping for…for…” his eyes swept the room..he saw not the least sympathy….he understood..”…NO!..put those down, Mr. Parker..put those..those ideas in that ledger of yours….ok..any more?”

I was waiting for my moment..After a short silence and the turning of heads toward each-other negatively, I put up my hand.

“ I have an idea “ I volunteered. A disapproving murmur pulsated through the reputation had preceded me!..

” A fountain!” I exclaimed boldly..” In the centre of the ‘square’ there…we move that cement obelisk..after all it is only a street sign, not a memorial..and we put a fountain in the centre of the a mark of beauty and a testament to the resilience of this community living in a dry country…I envisage (yes..I spoke like that!..I had rehearsed)  a low, brimming bowl with the water lapping over a polished, curved lip..within this bowl is a tryptich sculpture of panels..three sandstone panels carved in relief with representations of (in the centre) ; The Ubiquitous Mallee Tree..flanked by on one side representations of the Indigenous peoples and on the other ; the Pioneers of the district..(There was silence in the room as I spoke..more now, I realise , from shock than from politeness!)…the entire fountain surrounded by beds of native flora….so that visitors driving into the town from any direction, will immediately see this amazing display in the middle of dryness and say ; “WOW!”…” I finished my little spiel with a flourish of my arms.

There was silence in the room..a full seven seconds silence…the record for Sedan is ten seconds!..then , like bursting through the surface of water after a deep dive, the cacophony of the world around came crashing in…a veritable HOWL of derision and outrage was flung in my direction…everybody moved away from me..of the dissenters, “Slammer” was most red-faced ..on his feet straight up..

“ Move the obelisk!?..” he raged,  “..move the fuckin’ obelisk !!? dad helped build that fuckin’ obelisk…it’’s a treasure..almost sacred!…no! !…we don’t move the fuckin’ obelisk!, ferget it!” nodding heads and cries of support for ‘Slammer’ were thick on the ground , so that the CEO. gave a shake of his head to his clerk and then decided to wrap up the meeting. I quickly made my escape.

It was about a month before some folk would talk to me in the street after such blasphemy. But I do hold second place (I believe) in the ‘Sound of  Silence’ record in the community..There are some small moments to treasure with the experience of living in small country towns…I’ll tell you about them someday!


Ziedel’s secret carburetor.

There’s a lot of ; “Eee bah guumly” in this district..or there would be if they were Yorkshiremen.. as it is there’s the equivalent!…in Germanic brogue…if there is such a thing..

Was asking for a bit of background knowledge on a long deceased relative of mine from the local aged mechanic…Peter….He and his offsider ; Vern, run the only workshop in the district..have done for near on fifty or sixty years!…I don’t know…neither does anyone else…not even them!

“He was a very inventive sort of chap” ..I assisted.

“Ooo, there were a lot of them about in them days” Peter opined “There was Pastor Ziedel…he was a sort of genius…Do you know, he invented this carburetor that could halve petrol consumption in a motor..but he was dammed clever how he done it.” and here Peter tapped the side of his nose.

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, you know he didn’t want anybody to find out how he done it, so he got those little jets and seats and whatnot made in many different places so no-one person could put them all together…Ooo..he was cunning alright”

“So did you get to see how it looked?” I pushed on. Peter stopped, pulled up and looked at me in wide-eyed wonder.

“No!..of course not, it was a secret…hell, he wouldn’t let anyone see how he done it…why, if he went to any motor event, he’d take that special carburetor off and put the old one on so nobody could pinch his design..Ooo, he was cunning , ; old Pastor Ziedel.”

“But if no one saw it, how do you know it worked?”

There was a pause in the response, which told me that this line of reasoning had rarely before been broached…then ;…

“Whhyy…of course it worked…you ask anybody who knew of it…he had it on his old Holden for years…of course it worked…and dammed good too!”

“Well, I imagine some one saw it after he passed away…was it in his estate when they went through his effects?”

“No..not that I ever heard..I suppose his son threw it out with a lot of other stuff.”

“What!” I exclaimed “I would have thought it would be a very valuable item.”

“Maybe…but because the old man was so secretive about it, I don’t suppose the sons would have know what it was if’n they came across it.”

And THAT is the wonderful way mythology is created!….eee bah guum !

The Fallen.

Getting a bit fed up at the continuous jingoistic cycle of war memorials / war marches / war dedications…can we not someday leave such horror and sadness to rest in peace and start to concentrate on the present living?

Image result for Free pics of civilians in war.

The Fallen.

A soldier falls at Passchendaele,

A mother weeps at home.

In one hundred years between,

A billion come and gone.

But who will weep for Ginny?

Who will weep for Tom?

A woman beaten dead at home,

A black man’s lost his son.

A billion die in poverty ,

Millions starved or bombed…

A soldier falls at Passchendaele

And the nation’s marching on.

And it’s for this war or it’s that one,

Never for a Billy or a Joanne.

A soldier falls at Passchendaele

And still we’re marching on.

They’ll always have us marching,

Always fighting on.

For God – or King – or country,

Another Poncierres, Ypres or The Somme.

A thousand wars “worth fighting for”,

And not one lost nor won.

But still the soldier falls forlorn,

And a mother weeps at home.

Tho’ we march for glory,

We march and sing the song.

Marching, marching, bloody marching,

Seeking a glory so long gone.

But who will weep for Ayusha?

Who will weep for Saalim?

And for the billion lives between ;

Raped-cheated-broken-starved and beated…

Or shall we cry for none?

A soldier falls at Passchendaele,

All our mothers weep alone.

Curse instead the liars brought us here,

And pray; let our world get moving on.

A Small Pebble.


A small pebble.

I crossed the Murray this morning…the Mighty Murray River…on the ferry at Swan Reach and I picked up a stone from the one side, carried it across on the ferry and placed it on the other side. I did it because of a story my mother told me years ago that I just remembered as I drove up to the ferry…

My mother grew up near the river. She worked as a house-maid at both Punyelroo and Portee stations near Swan Reach before and during the second World War. Many times she was called to accompany the Lady of the House to cross the river on a flat-topped punt, used for ferrying supplies across the river there at the station. She told me of an old German hand there at Portee who, whenever he had to cross the river, would pick up a small stone, a pebble, carry it across and place it on the other side….my mother asked him why he did it….he was at first reluctant to tell her..but she persisted…

“Well, girlie”…( that’s what they all called young women out there then)….”it is my own little thing…I think of the small stone as my soul,…you see, I cannot swim..and so I take the stone, carry it, and if or when I reach safely the solid ground on the other side, I leave it dzair….when I come back, I do the same”

“What happens if the boat starts to sink?” my mother asked.

“Dzen I will try to throw it with all my might, to the other side….and I think if it reaches there , then  I feel I too will reach there…”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Dzen, I think I vill be lost in the waters of the river…”

This morning I crossed the river and I picked up a stone and carried it across and placed it on the other side…I thought of that old man and I thought of my mother, in hospital now, on palliative care for pulmonary fibrosis…she will never again come to cross the river…so I thought of it as me, her son, her bloodline, carrying HER soul safely across the waters…I don’t know what made me think of it after all these years…but I just did…must be a pagan thing I suppose and since she carried my burgeoning soul for nine months, could I not at least carry her soul for a couple of hundred metres?

“O’ River flow, I hear your waters falling,
Tumbling o’er rocks and rolling on to sea.
So many years I hear my name you’re calling,
While you’ll be here and I’ll be gone so far from thee.
And never more will I return to hear you,
And never more your waters be my lover’s cue.
Tho’ you’ll be here with sunshine glistening brightly,
O’ River flow, O’ River flow for ever so true.”

We arrived safely…

“Poor Cocky”

Image result for Pic of a sulphur crested cockatoo.

My mother worked as a servant girl at the station on the Murray where this event took place..She heard it told by the station owner to a guest one night after dinner. Those stations in those days were almost like miniature kingdoms on their own.

It is one of those little things that one sometimes meets a hardy, rough-on-the-outside farmer, only to find a soft centre due to some event in their lives.

His story went like this..:

“Poor Cocky.”

The door of the shearing shed opened and it clattered that grating corrugated iron sound as it banged against the steel rails of the holding pens. A short, stocky farmer stood framed in the square of light that was the doorway. Another man and a young lad ceased their occupation to turn to stare at the intruder.

“Gazza!” the man in the doorway called.

“Ah…George…come in, come in,” the older man responded.

George stepped into the shearing shed eclipsed as it was in its corrugated iron cladding from the bright day outside… Nail-hole shafts of sunlight on floating gossamers of dust beaded the gloomy floor. He ambled over to the others with a swinging gait familiar with aged workmen. The man called “Gazza” (Gary) was busy cleaning the working parts of a rifle with a soft cloth; the young lad, around fifteen years, sat, legs dangling, on the skirting table, watching half-interestedly. The air in the shed was musty with residual odour of sheep, shearing,  workmen and machinery oil.

All the trappings of a just finished shearing season remained scattered about the work-space; marking dyes, dousing drenches, tufts of belly wool and woolbags with sharp, bent fastening staples hooked onto them hanging from a nail in the wall. A steel-plate stencil with the station’s name “Portsea” black-edged with paint hung skew-wiff on another nail next to the bags and the floor-boards still greasy with a waxy gleam from the task just completed.

“What’s the score, Gazz?!” George asked as he approached, hands in pockets.

“This is my grandson…Jamie…” and the man sort of winced at the boy’s name.

“Jay-mee,” George pronounced slowly with an emphasis not lost on Gazza…

“Yeah, righto.” Gary silenced any further comments on what he too considered an effeminate name for a boy child, but the lad surprised them both by standing up from the skirting table and offered his hand to George.

“Call me Jim,” he said confidently.

George raised one eyebrow in respect and took the lad’s hand proffered. The other man, Gary, smiled gently but proudly at this small gesture, then he spoke.

“We’re going to get a lesson in gun-handling, so I thought it best to start off with the basic requirements of the skills.” Gary spoke as he concentrated first with a toothbrush and turpentine, then with the soft cloth as he cleaned and worked the trigger mechanism of the rifle. The small metallic clicking sounds mixed with their breathing seemed to drift smoke-like up to the rafters to mix with the lingering, tremulous feelings of the cacophony of shearing machinery and men over the past few weeks…like the residue of excitement left in a stadium after a full-house wild sporting event…the people gone but the echoes remain!

“You gonna teach him to shoot?” George asked.

“Mmm…this arvo.”


“Oh…dunno…I thought down on the flats, near Dempsey’s Landing.”

“Coupla’bunnies?” George persisted.

Gary was reassembling the rifle as he spoke and now it was complete, he pushed in the bolt and worked it a couple of times with a click! clack!

“That” he answered contemplatively ‘..or maybe a couple of those bloody galahs.”

George winced imperceptibly, he himself did not shoot at all now, although it was once said that he was the best shot in the district.

“Gonna come along?” Gary asked, though he knew George would refuse.

“Nah…nah…give it a miss, Gary.”

Maybe it was the moment, maybe it was the fact that the younger lad was there which prompted Gary, but he carefully placed the rifle on a cloth on the skirting table and folding his arms whilst leaning against the table, looked George squarely in the eye and said:

“George…you used to be the best shot in the district when we were young, but now you don’t even pick up a gun…it’s a puzzle, George, a real puzzle…so c’mon, out with it, what’s the story of all this pacifism, eh?”

George took his hands off the table and plunged them into his pockets, they were rough hands, coarse hands with solid callouses and chipped nails, they were hands that had shaped the framework of the family farm, he himself was a nuggety man, old now but still solid with yet firm muscles from an age of hard labour on the farm, from a generation who structured their lives around the necessities rather than the leisure’s, his face wore evidence of struggle against nature…nature was winning!…His shoulders set.

“Aww…you wouldn’t want to know Gary…Why…you’d just laugh,” he grimaced a sort of smile.

“Oh give it a rest George…how long have I known you…?”

“Yeah…well…but some things that happen to a man might be terribly upsetting to him but still seem funny to others…like, like slipping on a banana skin, or walking into a street sign while looking the other way, for instance.”

“Ha, ha.” Jim and Gary laughed together.

“No, George,” Gary shifted his body, “you’re not going to get out of it that easy… Now, if I’m going to teach young…” and he paused “young Jim…here the correct use of firearms, he’d do well to hear why another man (who used to drop a rabbit at a hundred yards running)…suddenly gives the game away…you owe it to the young lad’s education, so c’mon,” he made little flicking “c’mon” gestures with his fingers and hand “…out with it…” and he crossed his arms again.

They both looked at George impatiently.

“Well,” George decided, “alright, I’ll tell you, but it mightn’t mean much to you and I feel a bit of a fool for the telling of it, so I’ll trust you not to spread it far and wide.”

Gary agreed with this request with an of course…of course.: George took his hands out of his pockets and leaned at arms length against the skirting table and gazed at the floor.

“You know, it’s strange, the things that change a man’s life…and it’s almost always little things that do it too, not the big but the little.” He took a breath, pursed his lips and began.

“ You remember that Sulphur crested cocky we had for a pet years ago?”

“, can’t recollect it …but everyone had a pet magpie or cocky ’round here at some time.” Gary scratched his head as he answered.

“Well, we did and you know we got him from old Tedmonson out there on the ‘Bulldog Run.’ He was a cranky old bastard, that Tedmonson, he used to treat that cocky mean, was there myself one day and the old man swearing and hammering away at a plough-arm, trying to straighten it and that cocky up and mimics him. “‘Bloody bastard of a thing,’ says Tedmonson. “‘Bloody thing! Bloody thing!’ cackled cocky. -“‘Shuddup stupid!’ yells Tedmonson. “‘Stupid bastard, stupid bastard!’ mimics the bird, and old man Tedmonson up and chucks a hammer at the cage, swearing and cursing, picks up a length of water pipe and smacks the side of the cage with it something shocking, so the bird in there has its crest shooting up and is flapping its wings and screeching something awful! “‘Steady on Sandy,” I said to Tedmonson. “‘Bloody bird…I’d wring its neck if I could get close to it.” “‘Wring your neck! Wring you neck!’ cocky mimicked again, so the old man picks up the water hose and sprays the parrot while all the time laughing sort of cruel like ’till I calmed  him down.
Then one day they’re moving interstate and I happened to be over there looking at a generator I was thinking to buy and I asked him what he was going to do with the cocky.

“‘Wait till the wife’s gone and then shoot the bloody thing…then I’ll tell her it got away.’

He grinned menacingly at the parrot who just raised its crest and ducked its head away sideways, always keeping its beady eye on the old man though.

“‘I’ll take him”, I offered. “Be a shame to kill it, I don’t mind birds and the kids’ll be thrilled!’

Tedmonson looked disappointed, but I pressed him on the subject and said I’d ask his wife that night, so he shrugged and said: “Oh well…so be it, but it’ll cost you a dozen bottles of beer.”’ and that’s how we came by the cocky…and we called it “Wudgie” or “Wudge” because when I first brought him home, Louise, who was just three years old then, looked at it and asked: “‘Is that a wudgie?” meaning budgie of course and we all laughed, so we called it “Wudge”…and the kids taught that bird to say all sorts of things and some words it picked up on it’s own, like those birds do.”

“We had that parrot for around eight or so years, ’til one day it escaped, an’ it tells you how clever those birds are : every day we came to feed it, it’d climb up the wire, beak over claw to hold by the door lock with its head cocked and one eye watching us lift that catch. We had one of those gate catches that click up themselves as you shut the gate, and that bird spent eight years every day watching us lift that catch ’til one day I come out to feed it and he was gone and a twig was left pushed through the wire where he’d flicked that latch..

“Oh bullshit!” groaned Gary, turning away.

“No…no…listen, “Bandy” Phillips had a cocky that used to undo the valve-caps on his bike with its beak and press the tiny tip in there to let the tires down…and Harry Hocking…”

“Alright, alright… I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but go on with your story.”

“They’re clever birds, those sulphur-crested cockys,” George persisted

“Yeah?” Gary broke in sarcastically, “then they oughta  put ’em through university and make politicians out of them …or perhaps they already have” and he raised his eyebrows and an indicative finger as he nodded his head sagely.

“Anyway,” continued George with a sigh, “it was gone… but I thought I might see it again if’n it came back or someone caught it, and I’d recognise it by the one missing claw on its left foot where, presumably, Tedmanson had hit it with something one day. By and by over the next few years I forgot all about the bloody thing…presumed it was dead…Then one morning the missus says that Uncle Charlie is coming up for the weekend and would I go shoot a couple of wild ducks down by the river so as to have a nice roast come Sunday. They always said that: “George, go shoot a couple of ducks…George, go shoot some bunnies for Christmas… …’cause I was a good shot, you see.”

“I’ll say,” interrupted Gary, then turning to his grandson eagerly, “I seen George here trim the corners off a playing card at twenty-five yards with his .22, then plug the centre with his .410 shotgun.” Gary finished with his arms gesturing.

“Wow,” the boy remarked, suitable impressed.

“Well, I was a reasonable shot then,” George admitted shyly.

“Any-road,” he continued, “I’m down near ‘Westies Billabong’ there at seven in the morning and my breath’s steaming.. I’d spotted a couple of ducks by the reeds there so I got into a crouch… (and here George went into a pantomime of his actions)…and was working my way bent-backed ’round the billabong real quiet when suddenly all hell breaks loose… (he threw up his arms in a gesture of surprise)…and these two cockies come twisting and screeching in the air above me…must’ve had their nest in a hole in a tree there and saw me as a threat. Any-road, they were making a hell of a racket so it scared the ducks who flew off , and I was that angry with those bloody birds that when one came swooping and diving then twisted side-on to me… (George used his hand flat to show the action)…just above, I quickly just swung the shotgun in its’ general direction and let fly…boom! ”

“Well, I hit it and it fell like a folded object to ground over near a red gum and it lay twisting on the grass so I started walking casually over to it all the while pushing another cartridge into the breech of the shotgun. (He went through the action of loading the gun)…”But as I came nearer, suddenly! (he paused)… I hear a voice…call out ;

“Poor cocky”

“What’s that!”  I called…again I hear it…

“Poor cocky”.

“Who’s there!” I called…turning 360 degrees to see who it was…I thought someone was having me on.. but there was no-one, nothing but the screeching of that cocky’s mate weaving and diving madly in the air above, around the branches of the gums…Then again, that same voice calling weakly and I turned to the direction of the sound (George turned staring to the empty pens) and there it was, on the ground in front of me, the cocky  I had shot, calling weakly….’poor cocky’ it was saying, ‘poor cocky, poor cocky’ over and over till its voice faded, I looked down at the bird..and suddenly I saw that missing claw..Nah! I couldn’t be.. Wudge…Wudgie? I said unbelievingly as I stood over it, but sure enough, there was the crook foot with the one claw missing…sure, it could have been another pet bird that had escaped and gone back to the wild..after all ,it had been years since I last saw it… I bent down and lay the gun on the grass, then raised the body of the bird close to look at its’ eyes to see if there was still some life left in it..but it was dead, and I stared and stared, but all I could see in that dark pool of it’s eye was the reflections of passing clouds overhead…and there was something about that…that killing of the bird, it threw me…maybe something to do with it gaining it’s freedom and losing it perhaps, and I couldn’t even let a poor bloody cocky have a bit of life but I go and kill it! So really, in the end I was no better than old man Tedmonson, perhaps worse..’cause even he didn’t kill the bird….Killing, killing… George kill this, George kill that and I was so sick of it, sick of  the killing…” he let his arms fall to his sides wearily. “…I dunno…just…sick of the killing…so I went home, threw the gun in a locker in the corner of the shed and I haven’t shot it since…

“It was the killing, I think…I just got sick of the killing….”