Oz Culture : A Tragedy in Three Acts.

I have posted versions of these pieces in part or separately on my blog or elsewhere. I offer them a a single-piece for the observation of the evolution of so-called ‘Australian Culture” from the fifties to recent times..It was / is not one simple recognizable identity..it is a blend of so many varying cultures just trying to contain chaos and dignity within their own family and society.

It goes something like this..:

Act one : Ruth Holmstrom.

I have to tell you the story (as I know it) of Ruth Holmstrom. I have to give her a bit of longevity in this world lest she be forgotten altogether, for the little I know of her as a child of around six or seven years is through my one clear memory of meeting her on the footpath at her letterbox as I was making my way to the beach one summer day.. She looked down to me and smiled weakly.

The Holmstroms lived on Jervois Tce. About halfway between our house and Rowland’s Deli’ at the top of the hill-slope to the beach there by Mrs. Fookes Fish & Chip shop.. The house was of red-brick, plain frontage, with dull, dark-green painted doors and windows. The blinds were always drawn. There was a low red-brick front fence with a small white gate. Mrs. Holmstrom grew watermelons out the back yard that didn’t have a side fence to the road , and so the ripe melons were subject to some young boys stealing one or two..to which Ruth would give chase when she could, yelling and cursing at them…young Potter was a main culprit and he was swift of foot..to his credit, he did share the booty amongst us other kids.

There were three children with Vernon and Ruth Holmstrom…the oldest was a girl whose name slips my memory a tad..I’ve got it written down somewhere..just a tic an’ I’ll find it….ah, yes..Julie..and then there was Kevin and Trevor. I knew the two boys better because they joined the other local boys down the beach.. They were known by their nick-names of ; “Sharkey” (Kevin) and “Porpoise” ( the younger Trevor)..there is a large diving-off rock there at the Marino Rocks beach called “Sharkey” and I thought and still do think it was named after the older Holmstrom boy as he could be so often sitting there alone on the rock.

The one time I remember Mrs.Holmstrom was the summer day I was walking down the path to the beach..I had my towel over my shoulder and I was jumping over the lines of tiny ants that I had noticed had made a right-angled track every so often regularly across the path…I was jumping one of these tracks when I bumped into Ruth Holmstrom at her letterbox there by the gate , collecting her mail…She was a big blowsy sort of woman with a wavey, ruffled mass of shortish dark hair and she had on a loose, floaty, white cotton dress with large red flower prints on it..neither she nor I said a word..she just looked down at me and smiled weakly and it was then I noticed one side of her face was swollen and marked by a large bruise along with a black-eye. She just smiled at me, glanced nervously around and then quickly made her way back inside the house.

Potter lived just a couple of houses up from the Holmstroms and I asked him recently about Ruth and Vernon and told of my memory..and he remarked that he wasn’t surprised, because he witnessed Vernon hit Ruth in the face with a full, closed fist once when he was there with the boys..he said the sound was like a crunching whack!, and he fled out the back door. Vernon was a violent man, extremely violent..he could be heard up and down the street yelling and threatening all the family..he would not stop short of striking the children as swiftly and as viciously as he did his wife..yet he was never reported to the police and the community kept quiet, as was the custom..or shall we say ; “culture” in those days when it came to domestic violence.

When My sister was here over Christmas I spoke to her too about this recurring memory and she told me that yes, Mrs. Holmstrom had come to our mother several times to complain about Vernon’s drunken violence…but my mother had told her to try and keep the peace and hold the family together for the sake of the children.. Ruth, along with her husband was also an alcoholic…so there was that too.

But it was not long after the meeting at the letter-box , when our mother was getting the bath ready for us kids one night that she matter-of-fact quietly informed us that Mrs. Holmstrom had died that week and she had died because she had slipped in the bath and chipped the bone in her elbow and that small chip had worked it’s way up to her heart and she had died from a heart attack because of the bone chip…so you see..you have to be careful not to muck around while having a bath otherwise you could fall over and chip your elbow and die like Ruth Holmstrom.

But I no longer believe a word of that story.

I wrote this piece quite a few years ago. It was an attempt to both explain and understand that moment of decision in my late teens, in the later years of the 1960’s when the urge for revolution was so explosive in our Boomer generation. The thing is, while we were full of the life and want for a new social beginning, AND were keen as mustard to get started in it, we really didn’t (or at least ..I..didn’t !) have any flamin’ idea where it was going to take us!..It was one crazy, hell-raising ride into adventure, with not one adult around to give guidance or example..just partying on for years and years!..the old rules were torn up and the new ones had yet to be written..and when they finally were, it was on the shredded shirt-tails of what was then a conservative Australia.

Act Two : Epiphany.

An interesting phenomenon can happen to a young person when they reach their mid to late teens, there is a moment of awakening to the situation around them, the life they are living, the social circle and familial surroundings that guide their every-day movements and decisions. They can have a sort of psychological epiphany and either fall totally in-line with the accepted dogma of society, or they can totally rebel and reject the “boring-as-batshit” lifestyle of their parents and peers and go off in a completely different direction. Some of the “baby-boomers” famously did just the latter….I was one of those.

Now, let me explain the three different phases of baby-boomers…There are those born directly after the second world war, The more inflexible of these grew up with the mind-set of their parents..:conservative, militaristic, socially servile. The second wave from the start of the fifties to the middle fifties were expected to follow such sentiments as their older siblings, but they did not..Oh!, they did for a while, as tender youths, but then they rebelled!…The third wave, till the early sixties, are the misguided conservatives we have in power now! They have leap-frogged back to the fifties in a caricature of what they perceive as their parents control mechanisms and are an exaggerated version of that conservatism!…..Hopeless!!

I am of the middle set of boomers…and man!…did we ever rebel! It wasn’t just a case of :”Oh, I think I’ll go in a different direction”…It was an emphatic…”I’m outa here!”..and I can remember the exact moment when I stopped being the aspiring apprentice carpenter and became the son from hell!
There were three things that awoke the liberating spirit within me, the first was a book, the second was music and the third that sealed my fate was an incident.

Let me enlighten you.

I was an avid reader of books in my early teens…you probably know the type of books..:crime, mysteries, war, adventure…that sort of thing…I was a regular “young boys own” kind of fellow, till one day, in the mid sixties or so, whilst about to catch a train, I was looking at a book-stand for something to read, and in a hurry, I bought this book that had on its’ cover a war theme…I bought the book and caught the train….the title of the book : “Catch 22″…I fell in love with that book…I still love it! I’ve consumed it so many times, like one consumes a lover, a hunger un-satiated till you next see them! When touching is not enough and total immersion is demanded!..a beauty!

In 1967, The Beatles released their “Sgt. Peppers” album…Talk about a bombshell!…Never, never before in the world of music had such a magical mix of bizarre and sublime sounds been cast upon the masses. You cannot honestly tell me that you can listen to that album and not be swept away with the mesmerising musical magic….and that moment when the calliope lilts in “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”…”…and of course Henry the Horse dances the wALTz…”…..glorious! magical!, marvelous! To HELL with Elvis!…and then came Hendrix and The Stones…and that sealed the whole deal.

The third incident was the defining moment, when the combination of the first two awakenings jelled with the third and I went home to sleep on a new and exciting desire.

Again, it was 1967…the end of that year, I was nearly seventeen…it was Summer…….I don’t suppose the name ; Bodo Skrypek means anything to you? Why should it?…But just roll that name around and off your tongue a couple of times….obscure? abstract?…..intriguing isn’t it?…But I kid you not..it is a real name. As a matter of fact, he nearly got into a punch-up with a copper one night who thought he was having him on giving a name like that!

Bodo was a “Rocker”….you know?, in the days of Mods and Rockers…Bodo was a Rocker of the first order..The BSA Golden Flash motorcycle, the black leather jacket and chrome chains, black stove-pipe jeans with “ripplies” shoes, the tats, the snarl, Blonde, “Flat-top” haircut and the sartorial exactness of a Jimmy Dean, but with the aggro of “Chopper Reid”, if Chopper was around in those days! You’d understand what I mean if I tell you that he used to clean his motorcycle, engine and spokes, with a toothbrush!…that machine was a black and chrome beast, an android extension of his personality, he could toss it around like it was a twirl of his fingers. It was totally phallic… Bodo WAS the fifties personified . We adored him…. We feared him!

One summer night, at the top of Brighton Rd., Three of us gathered near the monument..:a column, still there but moved a little to one side of the road, a testament to war. Three of us were there..Pommy Len with his Honda, Ron Parker with his 350cc. Beeza..and myself, the youngest by a couple of years, with my Yamaha. It was the early days of the emergence of the Japanese motorcycles…themselves a bone of contention amongst the motorcycle purists who mostly scorned the “Jap-Crap” for British machines, of which, amongst the Rocker brigade, Triumphs and BSA reigned supreme…Norton was acceptable, but just,: the intellectuals choice…the rest were, in the vernacular of the times..:”Poofter bikes”!

We were there, at the S-bend, at the monument, just milling about, dead-still night, nothing to do and no intention of doing it! and then Bodo rolls up on his Beeza…sees us, does a Uee and pulls up and parks with one automatic quick-flick of the side-stand whilst simultaneously dismounting…He lit up a cigarette…(where did it come from..magic! there it was, the lit match already somersaulting away into the night). He stands, we gather around to the “flame”…moonlight and streetlight phosphorose man and machine, memory fixed to time and place..did I know it was the end of an era…

Jacta alia est!

My senses were alert..I don’t know, something was stirring in me, a portent?..Did we talk? don’t remember, did we do anything in particular? don’t remember..But next thing, another motorcycle comes around the S-bend and pulls up. I do not know him, but Bodo does..even some sort of respect…he rides a Suzuki “Hustler”, the quickest bike off the mark for those days…his pillion is a blonde girl, long..blonde hair…they are both about nineteen or twenty, no crash helmet, no shoes / barefoot, just “T” shirt and casual denim jeans…but maaan!, they looked so cool and relaxed, they didn’t get off the bike, just straddled it and conversed with Bodo, who, after some little time in discussion on the merits of particular motorcycles tired of the conversation and tried to “hit on” the blonde girl pillion who, with a disdaining toss of her blonde locks, seemed to scorn him!…a new ideal, a new generation!..I saw it, the vulnerability, the loss of attitude….The young man started the motorcycle and with a casual adieu..and that’s what it was! : an adieu!..they turned and accelerated down Brighton Rd with such amazing speed and unity of line, that even Bodo paused in the action of putting his cigarette to his lips. I Iiked that look of cool denim, the girl, the bike the attitude….an Epiphany! I wanted it!

There seemed like a long, long silence between the departure of those two prophets and any action on our parts…That machine and its’ passengers just went…whoosh, no thundering roar of engine, no aggro from the young man toward Bodo’s facile attempt on his pillion, just a swift, smooth departure from the point of disturbance toward serenity..the red tail-light a point of distinction fading into the distance.

“I wonder”, said Bodo suddenly,”How fast I can get up to coming down that road?”

He was turned gazing up the new stretch of bitumen of Ocean Boulevarde…None of us commented, it was a rhetorical question, for he had no sooner said it than he had flung his smoke away and mounted his bike and still with the kick-start at the nadir of its stroke, the motor throttling the side-stand snapped as he leapt the bike out onto the road.

We three moved our bikes and ourselves down the road a little to where the bend straighten out toward Seacliff. We stood on the edge of the curb and waited.
You could hear him before you could see him as he came thundering down that boulevarde…that Beeza was screaming, a throaty howl. Christ he was flying!…then he appeared just as the road went into that long, broad sweeping bend of which we were at the zenith. He was already pitched at a low angle as he went into it at a speed of at least a hundred miles an hour….as he floated toward us, the bike howling with a spraying shower of dazzling sparks shooting from the muffler and foot-pedals as they bounced and scraped on the bitumen, Pommy Len and Parker leapt from the road edge to the back of the footpath….I stayed where I was…I don’t know why, except I was mesmerised in the theatrics of this performance..for that ‘s what it was ; a statement of bravado in the face of rejection…Bodo had lost face with that girl, with that young man…with us..certainly with me, I wanted nothing of it, no more big-noting, no more aggro’, no more warmongor tactics….I wanted liberation from that whole social network , screw them all!

Though of course, I couldn’t voice those specific thoughts as I stood there rooted defiantly to the curb. I wasn’t going to respond to the automatic fear….I know now with the wisdom of age ; with mortality being the only certainty, the whole world runs on bluff.

Sure enough, Bodo swept past so close to me I could smell the engine oil and feel the heat of that motor. He was still braking as he neared the Seacliff junction..but I couldn’t care less, for I had already mounted my Yamaha and was quietly making my way home…I had a lot of thinking to do.

As I lay abed, thinking about that young man and his girl, the fact that they didn’t get upset or angry, they just “walked away”…and that is what I did to that life back then..to my job, to my parents, to my home, to all the expectations of that boring-as-batshit society…it’s what we all did, a whole generation almost, spontaneously, I didn’t get angry, I just….: Walked away!

Act Three : Death by a Thousand Cuts, Living by a simple philosophy.

Or : “Old Ideas, New Australians.”

Quote :

“ 1983…Business ………..of Survival.

With the Death of Richard, I must now manage alone, on one pension.
The house seems in good condition. No large account, only the small loan I had taken out, which finishes in June 1985. Must try not to take out anymore loans, to(sic) much drain on my low income.

I must try to live on produce from garden, with eggs to help out.

Try to cut down on weekly food bills, most of all on meat.

The animals take quite a lot (money) for food, reg’, etc.

As the fowls are all getting old, must breed up some new hens. “

That quote was from an aged pensioner’s diary…sure, we know she was not going to die of hunger or homelessness..or do we?…She certainly was afraid of some vague uncertainty…and therein lies the simple truth..: “A lifetime of habit, creates a certainty of belief ..a moment of uncertainty doubts a lifetime of belief ”. For that lady, her entire life was constructed around hard work…the old-age pension that Labor and the unions put in place gave her a measure of security so she could live out her final years in dignity…that is a word well worth praising…; Dignity…..Let’s put that up there at the top of the page of Labor Party principles.

Dignity.
And damn if a person who applies their person to contribute toward the social betterment of their family, friends and neighbours for their working life, they are denied that most basic of respects..; Dignity ! ..and it only comes from others who have walked that same path . The speculator, always on the make..always on the lookout for the next “win”..the next “deal”, has neither wish nor capacity for dignity…he has traded it away with a Faustian deal with capital…no need to look to him for a “fair go”, his motto is ; “Opportunity”…but does he seriously believe that if HE did not exist, there would be no work to do?

[Actually,The name that lady called her late husband was not quite correct…you see..his name really was ; Riccardo….he was an Italian…SHE was born in Australia of Irish / Cornish stock….now THERE’S a mix!…But you know, it is not at all uncommon..of the three sisters in that lady’s family, after the war, one married an Italian, one married a German (third generation Australian) and the third a Polish man. This idea that we are just lately become a multi-cultural nation is not true..for many years there has been intermarriage in the community…sure, the surnames may be Anglo, but there is mixed ethnic in the family somewhere..and we should be proud of this…love knows no boundaries, children know no ethnicity.

I keep hearing this catch-cry ;”What does Labor stand for?”…To my mind, Labor stands for what it was raised for..a simple measure of dignity…in work, in leisure, in the fair go for all people. I remember when I was about ten years old, with my older brother, selling newspapers at the Royal Show…The manager would allocate you so many papers for the day, you’d sell them, putting all the coins into a leather bag at your hip and at the end of the day, you’d give the bag over to that manager and he’d count out what you owed for the papers and any over (you’d get tips, but most times didn’t have the time to separate the tip from the coinage) incl’ tips he’d give back to you along with your pay….But there was this one big bastard manager one year, who’d keep back most of your tips…my older brother, being a stroppy sort of young fellow , challenged him (my brother was canny enough to keep a careful watch on his tips) and the manager got angry , saying ;”If you don’t like the way I do things , you can get off with yourself !”…and THAT included me. So a thirteen and a ten year old couple of kids get cheated by an unscrupulous manager (News Limited, by the way!)….nothing new, neither then nor now!…Companies do it all the time…it’s called ; cheap labour…but to cheat kids..what sort of people are these ? Vermin….who steal the rights of their fellows…Labor with the unions, stand up for those rights..Let’s put that up on the list.

Rights.
And damn if a person applies their advantageous position to cheat even paper-boys…what sort of bastards are we up against?…and they ask what does Labor stand for?..Labor stands for what it was raised to stand for…the Rights of the everyday people to stop the vermin from ripping off the wages of ALL people and to bestow on All of us what Gough Whitlam called for and what Labor calls for now..: “A fair go”.

Labor must think carefully before they pass these new “citizenship laws” put up by the LNP…They are not to protect us from “cultural terrorism”, but are deliberately being put in place to track and control our own citizens…it is as obvious as the nose on your face. There has to be a measure of restraint in how far we go to cower and threaten the populace. There has to be a measure of dignity and rights in our confrontation of any threat. Better we offer safe harbour to the majority of whom have been driven from their homelands in fear of their lives or livelihood, like those three above, than attempt to cower and oppress a minority for little more than their own particular culture.

I offer you to read these comments and tell me they are irrelevant today..:

“ As rivers glisten in different colours, but a common sewer everywhere looks like itself, …so the all powerful rule of capital ruined the middle class, raised trade and corporate agriculture to the highest prosperity, and ultimately led to a – hypocritically whitewashed – moral and political corruption of the nation…”

And..

“ The leisure class lives by the industrial community rather than in it. Its relations to industry are of a financial rather than an industrial kind. Admission to the class is gained by exercise of the financial aptitudes—aptitudes for acquisition rather than for serviceability. There is, therefore, a continued selective sifting of the human material that makes up the leisure class, and this selection proceeds on the ground of fitness for financial pursuits.”

Both the above pieces are over one hundred years old..The first by Theodor Mommsen on ancient Rome, the second by Thorsten Veblen on post Victorian capitalism…yet they could both have been written today. Why is it that such rational observations go unheeded in our society?…I read such and take them in and use them (as you see here) as moral and ethical fodder in my own life. Where do we see such civilized observations used widely?…I don’t know!..I don’t hear or see it in everyday life!..Where is the scholarly debate among political higher learning in this nation?….Education abandoned..that’s where..Let’s put that word up there too..

Education.

And damn if the multitude of tomes of wisdom that have been written in the tears of humanity over millennium, get abandoned for stupid, facile , quick-fix slogans. What sort of people are these who, flaunting their higher education, claim the high moral ground of public debate , yet cannot or will not learn from history and will not read from the wisdom of the ages…There are those who cannot claim education beyond the third year high school, who read and revere such books…their shelves a proud display of well-thumbed volumes. And some ask what should Labor stand for?..Education…Labor stands for what it was raised for…: Education for all peoples..not the abandonment of an age of learning..but education.

The many different ethnic groups that come to these shores, from the earliest to the latest have one goal in mind…”Betterment”..of their family fortunes, their security and their children’s education…it is that simple…sure, they brought their food and prayers with them..that is their immediate security..we all take a bit of “home” when we go on holiday…When one is driven in haste and fear from one’s house..; What would YOU grab?..a piece, any piece of home?…that is what “culture “ is…a little piece of the past to carry with oneself into the future..in the worst case, it could be but a poem, a prayer, a song from the motherland….in the best case it is the family. How can one reject the call of assistance…not charity…assistance to a family in need and still shelter under the common name of humanity?

So there are the players, there are the situations…we know what the problems are today…what can be the solution?

Check this little piece from a short story by Eric Knight, see if it gives you ideas..: “Never Come Monday”.

“The Prime Minister thought of a lot of things all at once. Suddenly he called his secretary and said :
“Carrington-Smaithe. It is Sunday to-day, I hear, and it will be Sunday again tomorrow. Pack my things,. We’re going away for the weekend.”
“But sir,” said the secretary “What about the international crisis?..We have two ultimatums that must be answered immediately.”
“Dear me”, said the Prime Minister. ‘That is a nuisance, but all the world knows the British weekend is inviolate, and if this be Sunday, as it seems to me it must be, then I won’t be able to answer till the weekend is over.”
“But when will it stop being Sunday, sir?”
“Well, Carrington-Smaithe, how long will it take our fastest cruiser squadron to get around to that troublesome part of the world?”
“Oh, about thirty-six more hours, sir.”
“Hmmmph! Then I think it will stop being Sunday in about thirty-six more hours.”

There is a secret desire in that little piece of the realization of reality..(it is well worth a read by the way)..a desire that is really a need for time off from work. But it can be more than that..it can be the barricade between capital demand and producer compliance..a demarcation line between demand and supply. I have never liked sacrificing my weekends for overtime, ever! Damn their work..No-one should be compelled to work on the weekend..and if they must, as in the emergency services..then they ought to be suitably..VERY SUITABLY rewarded..work will be around a long time after we are ALL dead and gone!…and there can be the solution to differentiating Labour from Capital…the inviolate weekend..the compulsory time off for R&R. . For as long as one stays healthy, one can always earn money…but time is of the essence..you will run out of time before you run out of money…take the time..screw the money..let capital know it has no price for your free-time. And they still ask what Labor stands for…Labor stands for what it was raised for…honouring the eight hour day or it’s modern equivalent, honouring “family time”..personal time ..resting time. Those who would try to reduce the vulnerable to a kind of 24hr. slavery would love to claim ownership of the whole of our weekend…bugger them!..they can’t have it!

The solution is that WE who are the producers, the consumers, the life and breath of business, take control of our cultural lives…We draw a demarcation line between being compelled to work and a time for life. we stop the machine for a pause in production so we can enjoy our family and friendships…I say we take back our cultural lives and deny the vermin their pound of flesh!…it has never been the speculator who physically laid the “foundations”, never the stock-broker who mixed the “mortar” , never the wealthy who carried the “hod of bricks” to build “our house”.They don’t own it..they don’t own us..they OWE us !

THAT, is OUR CULTURAL RIGHT..THAT is Labor policy…: Dignity..Rights..Education..and what flows automatically from those simple entitlements..Stake your ground, claim your rights and serve your people.

” The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes “…

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