History

Ocean Grove … continued

It struck me that as I was writing about my memories of Ocean Grove that these recollections are inextricably tied to “growing up”. My years in Ocean Grove covered those influential childhood and teenage years. By the time my family left for a farm in the Western District, I had moved to a university in Melbourne.

In the 1960s the Scout movement was still popular so I joined the 1st Ocean Grove Scout troop. It was called the “first” but in fact it was the only one. There I learned a lot of practical skills and some less so. Tying knots, starting fires, putting up tents and rope bridges were some of skills we learned. There were others: smoking, making your own cigarettes with toilet paper and paper bark, practical joking (which now would be called bullying) and other life altering skills. I never smoked again after the paper bark episode. The camps we had at Eumerella just outside Anglesea were a highlight – out in the bush with very few amenities. Eumerella Jack with his dog wandering about at night looking for unsuspecting little boys to devour – or so the legend goes. We had leaders – great and not so great. Some were like kindly uncles or big brothers and others were there to feather their own nest. A saving scheme was introduced where we would bring 2 shillings a week to build up a bank account. It was only many years later that I realised that we never saw our money, or the originator of the scheme, again. I advanced through the ranks and became a ‘Patrol Leader’ which my mother with her Dutch accent pronounced as ‘Petrol Leader’.

The school bus also deserves a mention. When I started high school in Queenscliff we were transported in an old rattly Ford bus. It was cold in winter, hot in summer and always draughty. I am sure it wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the safety gurus today.

My first paying job, in contrast to being an unpaid slave for my father, was as a paper boy. I was in Grade 5 at the time. We were paid 15 shillings a week for a paper round that took a little over an hour. We had to memorise the addresses as well as which newspaper each customer got on which day, by heart. I remember that Wednesdays and Saturdays were horrendous as The Age with its classified sections was at least 2 or 3 inches thick and I had a number of highbrow customers who wouldn’t be seen dead with the Geelong Advertiser or the Sun. Then there were the customers who also received the poorly named “Truth” and the pink Sporting Globe. I didn’t always get the orders right which lead to an unhappy boss and annoyed customers.

Another job, which a friend arranged for me, was to work at Henk’s Bakery. Henk Petersen was a Dutchman who supplied bread and other pastries to the local community. During the summer he was extra busy with the influx of visitors. I would start at 4 in the morning and prepare all the orders for the bread carters. One had to know one’s Vienna loaves from the Milk loaves and High tops and whole meal.

It was the newspaper thing all over again – there was so much to remember and I didn’t always get it right, especially at the start. Wholemeals were mixed with Viennas. Who could blame me in the poor light. On other occasions I helped with making the dough for the next day’s bread and filled pies and pasties.

Beach Ocean Grove 5

The Ocean Grove beach in the 1950s

However, the following summer I started with the Ocean Grove Foreshore Committee. After an interview with Ernie Storer, while he was having a shower, I was appointed as beach cleaner. Seven days a week my mate and I would scour the beach and sand dunes for rubbish. We also collected bottles which became the source of our bonus at the end of the season. Another lurk we cottoned onto was that if Mother Nature was kind and there was a strong westerly wind after a busy beach day the day before, change which had fallen out of people’s pockets could be found protruding out of little piles of sand. So we made it our first priority to “clean up” any money. We could make up to an extra $4 or $5 a day this way but the wind had to be just right. This was a good bonus when the wage was about $40 per week – the basic wage at the time. (We had changed to decimal currency in 1966).

In subsequent years I was promoted. First came toilet cleaner – we had to clean quite a few toilet blocks between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I estimated that we cleaned about 80 toilets and 80 shower cubicles per day. This job included being teased mercilessly by older women who could see my embarrassment at cleaning women’s toilets. Then came the peak promotion – garbage collecting.

I was consistent here as well because once again I made my share of mistakes. Probably the most infamous one was bringing down the Telephone lines between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I was driving the front end loader with the bucket raised in an area where I shouldn’t have. There was a cacophony of pinging sounds and the writhing of wires as I sliced through the multiple overhead lines. I believe this episode led to the phone lines being placed underground in the camping area.

I worked for the Foreshore Committee well into my university years. The pay was good. One other job I had in my later high school years that went throughout the year was doing odd jobs on a hobby farm owned by a Melbourne stockbroker. This involved wood chopping, mowing, feeding cattle as well as hay bailing. During the drought in the late 1960s I hand watered a recently planted avenue of trees which I am pleased to note haven’t been cut down with Ocean Grove’s urban expansion.

Being profligate, all this work didn’t make me rich but it helped get me through university and played a role in shaping my character – or so I wish to believe.

Categories: Family, History, Ocean Grove, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The Demise of American Exceptionalism?

“American Exceptionalism” is a term that has resurfaced in recent times. This phrase has echoes in the American Revolution, Alex de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln. It reflects the unique origins and principles upon which the United States was established and its role in the world.

am-flagIf ever that phrase was under challenge it is now. When a nation of over 300 million people has placed before it two very unexceptional people as a choice for president any claim to exceptionalism comes under intense scrutiny. It could be argued that the two candidates, in fact, represent two aspects of American society that reveal the baser instincts of humanity – the power hungry political machine and the excesses of capitalism.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, the USA is going to struggle to assemble some social and political equilibrium in the future. This comes on top of its unwillingness as a society to deal with issues of guns, race and social inequality.

To prove to itself and the world that the title of being exceptional is justified, the nation needs to show that it has the willingness and moral fortitude to confront these issues. The next few decades will reveal which aspect of the American character will come to the fore.

 

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As Time Goes By

A few weeks ago while teaching a year 10 class it suddenly hit me that it was exactly 50 years earlier that I had been in Year 10. I expressed this to the students and they responded by saying that it was amazing that someone could be so old and still talk and stand at the same time.

We discussed the changes that occurred over this period. Then the unemployment rate was well under 2%. A student could leave in year 11 and do a two year primary teaching certificate and be back in the classroom before turning 20. Lots of students left by year 9 and 10 and went straight into jobs and apprenticeships. At Queenscliff High all my fellow students would remember Robbo who was the first to escape and became a postman. Even in the early 1970s I could still walk into the Ford factory and find myself on the afternoon shift the next day earning some money so I could afford to get married the following year.

At my school girls still did the “girls’ subjects (Home Economics, Commerce and Shorthand and Typing) and boys did the “boys’” subjects (Mechanical Drawing, Woodwork and the sciences).  Some schools were beginning to experiment by allowing a more democratic choice of subjects.

There was the cold war, nuclear fears and the growing rumbles of the Vietnam war. Colonialism was coming to an end and we had just introduced decimal currency.

The divorce rate was still low and de facto relationships hardly heard of.  Although later I found out that many of these families suffered at the hands abusive husbands and fathers.

Technology has of course been the one of the most massive changes. In 1966 the teacher would hand out sheets which had been duplicated on a spirit duplicator. Every student would sniff their sheet of paper for its faint smell of the spirit/alcohol.

For those of you who are a certain age, what changes have you noticed?

Categories: Education, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Hope In The Valley of Madness

If you have any grasp of history one cannot but be sobered by driving through the Somme Valley. The list of military cemeteries, some large, some small, is horrific. Each grave in each cemetery is a testament to lost dreams, lost potential and human foolishness.
In one small town, Villers-Bretonneux, there is an example of hope persevering over madness. When soldiers returned after the Great War they instigated an appeal from the children in Victorian schools to rebuild the school in Villers-Bretonneux. It took a while but a school was finally built in 1927. Their contribution is not forgotten. A big sign in the school states “Do not forget Australia”. The town has many references to Victoria and Australia: The “La Melbourne Cafe”, the twinning of towns with Robinvale are just two. Even Melbourne and Victoria are both street names. The local WW1 museum has large photos of Victorian icons.
In this valley of madness there is a small declaration of the better aspects of humanity. It was good to see the children playing in the school yard. Let us pray that there is no Somme Valley for them.

  

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Another World

Like my own dad, my wife’s step father was also indentured to work in Germany during WW2.  I have reflected in the past on the tragedy of these young men having crucial years stolen from them. (Being Content in a WW2 Workgang)  Today I simply want to include a few photos that give us a glimpse of that time: the good, the bad and the ugly – and the downright strange.

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The striking thing about this photo is both the fact that the young men organised themselves into musical groups but also took pride in their appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This this one of the more bizarre photos. Dutch cowboys in a Nazi hall during an entertainment evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This was a time of war. The workers’ barracks were bombed by the allies. The Allies may have heard of the appalling costumes in the earlier photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So naturally the workers had to rebuild their own accommodation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My wife’s stepfather worked in a railway workshop. I am intrigued by the presence of a lady in the middle of this photo.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, History | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

MDCCLXXVIII

I am a sucker for old books. No, not the dog-eared silver fish nibbled paperback that you had to read for High School English but old books – books that have an odour acquired over the years, solid covers – often leather-bound and a history that can be traced well over 100 years. My oldest treasure is a Jonathan Edwards book printed in 1778 or MDCCLXXVIII as it is written on the Title Page.

eb

Finding a home for EB9

Some people rescue stray animals, my weakness is stray books. Recently I acquired a 9-10th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica plus Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and Scotland Illustrated.  All up, it means I have to find over 3 metres of heavy duty book shelf space on my over-full book shelves or a family member with the same sensitvity and compassion.  The added problem is that I already have a 9th edition of the Britannica.

You may consider me greedy or just plain loopy but the problem is that these books have a lineage and pedigree that needs to be preserved.

The 9th edition of the EB comes from a time when scholarship was taken seriously. It wasn’t the democratic hodge-podge of Wikipedia but a collection of the most renowned thinking of the era. Mind you, as with all learning it has to be read with discretion. Julius Welhausen may have been a great classical scholar but I still don’t have to agree with his article on Israel.  It reflects a time when science and engineering inspired enthusiasm and excitement. The car, planes and the space race were still to come but the possibility was in the wind.

When a book was printed it was an event – it made a statement. In the C16th a person could be put to death for having a copy of Tyndale’s New Testament in their possession. Now we can buy books by the kilo and recycle them as soon as we are done with them. Some of us have transitioned away from books altogether and swan about imperiously with our loaded Kindles.

I was once asked what heaven would be like. I answered, “The biggest and most comprehensive library ever!” The closest I got to heaven on earth was my visit to the British Library in London a few years ago.  Its collection of old treasures is amazing. A few years ago it purchased St Cuthbert’s Gospel which came from the C7th. Now, that is old!

Wait, a phone call has come in.  A stray volume has been discovered wandering and alone. I must go and rescue it.

Categories: History | Tags: , | 2 Comments

European Castles – A Selection

Some readers have wanted me to continue with my castle fascination. Below are a few photos I have taken in different parts of Europe. To us they may be quaint and beautiful in their own way but most have a history of bloodshed and intrigue.

Gavno Slot near Naestved, Denmark

Gavno Slot near Naestved, Denmark – started off as a pirate hideout.

Fredericksten, Halden Norway
Fredericksten, Halden Norway – a reminder that Scandinavia was not always a place of liberalism and confraternity.

Het Steen Antwerp
Het Steen Antwerp

Carcassonne, France
Carcassonne, France – the site started life as a Roman fortress and later became a Cathar stronghold

Alcazar Toledo

Alcazar Toledo – Toledo was once a centre of Christian, Muslim and Jewish learning and cooperation

Castle at Peniscola Spain

Castle at Peniscola Spain – used in the film El Cid, if you are old enough to remember!

Alhambra Granada

Alhambra Granada – a Moorish stronghold

Real Alcazar Seville

Real Alcazar Seville – a Spanish castle with a Moorish flavour

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Favourite Castle Photos – Wales

Wales has amazing castles. Here are some found in the north west. Most of these represent Edward 1st’s attempt to subdue the unruly citizens of Wales in the C13th. The one exception is Dolwyddelan which started life as a Welsh castle guarding a route in central north Wales but also ended up in the hands of the cunning Edward.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Inside Caernarfon Castle

Inside Caernarfon Castle

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

The Rounded Walls of Conwy Castle

The Rounded Walls of Conwy Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

Dolwyddelan Castle

Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle

Beaumaris castle

Beaumaris castle

Categories: History, Photo, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Unusual Grace – A Dead Man’s Boots

My dad and fellow workers in WW2

My dad and fellow workers in WW2. Dad is top left.

I have reflected previously on some of my father’s experiences as a conscripted worker in Germany during WW2. (See here) Dutch workers had more freedom than others as the German authorities simply said, “If you abscond we will pick up your father to take your place.”

My father worked north of Berlin in a place called Hennigsdorf on the Havel river. In 1945 he and his fellow workers were liberated by the advancing Soviet armies. The workers found themselves in the midst of extremely harrowing battles as the German army made its last ditch stand.

One of the few detailed stories my dad told me about this part of his life centred on this liberation. By 1945 his clothes, and in particular shoes, were in a state of extreme deterioration. One of the liberating soldiers motioned (language being a useless option!) to my father that he should find a German soldier’s corpse with the right boot size and “liberate” them for his own use. I gather there were quite a few and they all wore high quality boots. But even after years of war my dad was still squeamish about such matters. The Russian soldier, seeing my dad’s reluctance, took off his own boots gave them to my dad and then went in search for an appropriately sized and equipped corpse.

Yes, it is a strange story, yet I have always seen it as an act of unusual, but real, grace. This was one of only a very few experiences that my father ever shared with me about that time of his life. The grace shown in the midst of horror was a memory he could share.

Categories: Family, History, my dad, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Geddington, Grief and the Eleanor Cross

The Eleanor Cross, Geddington on a gloomy day

The Eleanor Cross, Geddington on a gloomy day

In the delightful little village of Geddington in Northamptonshire there is a fine example of an Eleanor Cross. Edward 1st was so grief stricken by the death of his wife, Eleanor of Castile in 1290, that he erected fine stone crosses from Lincoln to London to mark where the body had rested on its journey. They  are an amazing record of devotion. Today three of the 12 crosses survive and the Geddington cross is considered to be the best of these.

Edward had the power and wealth to manifest his grief in this physical manner. For the commoner on the other hand the memories and grief are usually less tangible. We may erect a headstone or another small plaque but our expression is limited.

What is the best memorial to erect? I believe the best memorial is the legacy that we leave to others and to a large degree that is in our own hands. And of all the legacies to leave, rather than wealth, fame, land and possessions, we cannot do better than pass on  the power of faith in Jesus Christ. I know that each person must make their own decision with regard to faith. However our lives can declare its reality and appeal. We can make it attractive. I have written on previous occasions of my dad whose faith struggles manifested, for me as a child, the reality of the relationship one can have with God. To this day the memory and image of my dad living his life before God is extremely powerful for me, even though he has been dead for nearly 19 years.

So when people grieve at our passing what will they remember, cold stone crosses or a life well lived that pointed beyond itself to greater and eternal realities?

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, History, Reflections | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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