Friday, 12 August 2011

Brisbane Queensland Boarding House

Arriving in Brisbane, my first task was to find steady employment and, closely after, a permanent place in which to live. Looking for work took longer than I liked and I had to settle for a couple of 'icky jobs'. One of them was washing new vehicles at a Ford motor dealership (at least there were no drinking straws nor cigarette butts to remove from tight spots!).

I did not work for long at that Ford dealership washing cars - an advertisement in the newspaper from the Dunlop Rubber Distribution Center in downtown Brisbane asked for an experienced Accounts Receivable clerk. I applied and was hired. Very soon thereafter, an ad was placed by the owner of a boarding house in the suburban area of Kedron - about a mile from where I was staying. I went there for a look, liked what I saw (and was liked by Marj Carroll - the owner) and moved in. I lived there for 2 1/2 years.
This is me leaning on the gate to 81 Brookfield Road. The snapshot is a small one and my scanner does not seem to recognize 'petite sizes' so allots space for a large photo instead!

There were 6 or 8 bedrooms in the house with two tenants in each. My room was next to the kitchen and right off of the dining area. All of the boarders were men. Marj's husband, Fred - an assistant stationary engineer in a nearby garment factory - and their two sons were there as well. The couple were Jehovah's Witnesses but they did not try to proselytize to we boarders - although I and two others - who attended church fairly regularly - did receive the occasional 'dig'.

One of the recipients of the 'digs' was Russell who was a Cadet Officer in the downtown Salvation Army Corps. Russell and I liked each other so, when the Queensland leader of the Army was elected the General of the world wide Army, Russell invited me to come with him to the downtown citadel for the sendoff meeting (General Coutts had to move to London, England in order to carry out his duties).

Russell had a motor scooter so I rode 'pillion passenger' behind him downtown to the gathering. We were a little late in arriving and the only two adjoining seats still empty were in the front row. The event consisted of music - band and choral - and speeches. When it ended, General Coutts marched out with the color party and then returned to accept personal greetings. Naturally there was a crush of people wanting to shake his hand. However, he noticed the 'cadet' flashers on Russell's lapel so he reached over and grabbed both of our hands, squeezed them, and wished us God's blessing. I was awestruck!

My first roommate was a young guy who was also a Jehovah Witness. On Saturday, November 23, 1963, I was partially awakened by the noise of Fred - Marj's husband - puttering around in the kitchen and came fully awake with a jolt as the feet of Barry - my roommate - hit the floor as he rushed to the kitchen saying, "Fred! Fred! President Kennedy has been shot!" Sleepily I thought, "You Jehovah's Witnesses always make a political crisis out of anything" - and then realized that what he was saying was true! Another boarder, Brian, and I went into downtown Brisbane that morning. People were out and about shopping, buying each new edition of the tabloid newspapers, and were very somber. A day later we were watching the news on TV and Marj kept saying "Poor Jackie! Poor woman!" She had lost her first husband tragically in an auto accident.

Another boarder was Jack McCamy. He remained with us for only a few months but, during that period, we became friends. Here we are on a Saturday morning strolling along Queen Street in downtown Brisbane. This photo was taken by a professional photographer. 

All of the guys who lived there were great (being a boarding house tenants kept coming and going) - including two men who were brothers.

Kurt was living there when I moved in. He was German by birth - born during World War II. He was a handsome blond Nordic man - and extremely fastidious. When we first met he was working at a tannery and absolutely loathed the stench of tannic acid on his clothes - the first thing he would do when he arrived home was take a shower and change clothes. He quit that job and found another at a factory which made concrete culvert pipes. No stench on his clothes - just cement dust which he detested as well.

Kurt owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle and, one day, he took me out for a ride. We went up to the top of two mountains in the old range west of Brisbane from where one has a panoramic view of the coastal area and the city.

Some months later Kurt's younger brother, Roland, arrived. As there were no vacancies in the boarding house at that time, Kurt talked Marj Carroll into letting Roland have his bed while Kurt took a cot down under the house where the cars were parked. Roland was easy going and not at all as fastidious as was his brother. Kurt told the rest of us that Roland had been up north cutting sugar cane. We all bought that but I began to wonder - wasn't the sugar cane cutting season a little later in the year than May?

I knew that Kurt was frustrated by having to work at menial jobs. Also I gathered that he did consider crime as a way out of their penurious situation. At that time the film version of "West Side Story" was making the rounds of various cinemas. When it began a run at the local movie house I talked Kurt into going with me hoping that somehow "Crime Doesn't Pay" could seep into his thinking. Naively I forgot that the movie dealt with gang violence in New York City and not organized crime!

When I lived in Australia the afternoon tabloids were brought to offices for people to read while on the transit going home. On a Friday in November 1964 the screaming headline on the front page of the tabloid caused my heart to sink into my boots. There had been a bank robbery - something unheard of in Australian cities in the 1960s.

However, when I arrived home everything seemed normal. Soon, though, the Police were at the door. As all of we tenants were 'transient' we were looked at very closely. Kurt had moved out a few days before - with Roland - but we (and especially Marjorie) could not believe that Kurt and Roland were suspects. As she ran a good, clean house it was not long before she rented out the spare bed. My new roommate came home from work on the Monday evening to find his part of the room completely covered by fingerprint dust. What a mess!

One night I was in bed asleep and was awakened by Fred - the Police were out on the back stoop and wanted to talk with me. Being a 'boarder' with a home address far away and knowing the accused - I was a suspect too.

One afternoon at work I was called down to the front desk where the Branch Manager was standing at the front counter with two police detectives. I had to go with them in the squad car to Police Headquarters where I was shown a garment that was suspected to belong to Kurt. Did I recognize it? Not really!

Roland was caught not too long afterwards and was sentenced to a hefty jail term. The papers mentioned which prison he was in so I wrote to him. More visits by the police asking if I would find out from him where his brother was? I knew Kurt - he loved his brother dearly but he also knew that Roland was a blabber so he would never have revealed to him where he was planning to go.

About a month later I was informed of a family emergency back in Canada so I returned home. However, I kept in touch with Marj and, some months later, she sent me a letter and enclosed newspaper clippings. There had been an automobile accident and one of the drivers had been knocked unconscious. When the authorities went to identify him they learned that he was Kurt. I never heard anything more.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

HItchhiking the Coastal Highway Melbourne to Brisbane

I remained in Melbourne for a number of days visiting with friends, sightseeing, and taking in shows. One of the fellows whom I met while working in the orchards in Tasmania had promised to take me to a game of Aussie Rules Football so I held him to that promise.

He and his mates lived in the Hawthorne area of the city. On the Saturday when we went to a game Hawthorne was hosting a team from Essenden, northwest of there. I had seen a game of Aussie Rules on my previous visit to Melbourne but that was at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds - a large stadium that had been built to host the Olympic Games in 1956. The Hawthorne 'pitch' was much more usual in being smaller than the Olympic Stadium - yet hosted over 30,000 people. There were bleachers - which were more expensive - but most of the crowd stood around the playing area. We were a bit late in arriving so the only spot that we could find was at the back - I could see the far goal posts but the crowd in front blocked my view of the near ones.

Just before the game began, three women came in (two middle-aged and one elderly), They had brought a small bench with them which they placed back near the fence and upon which they stood to watch the game. A little later a couple of men came in and stood between these women and where we were. One of them was a big bruiser of a guy - and just as foulmouthed as his size. After a while his buddy said, "Tone it down, Mate, there are some women behind us!" The older woman of the three at the back spoke up and said (with a strong Scottish brogue), "It's all reecht - ye're barracking for ma team!"

The visiting team prevailed by a big margin over the hosts.

While still on the subject of Melbourne, there is one afternoon in November when the entire nation stops for half an hour or so. That is for the Melbourne Cup - Australia's premier horse race. In the offices where I worked in Sydney and in Brisbane all work stopped, radios appeared, and everybody listened and then groaned or shrieked - depending upon who had the winning ticket in the office pool.

It took me four days to hitchhike southwest from Melbourne and then northwest up the coast of New South Wales to Sydney. I passed through hilly countrysides for most of the route, saw many towns and countless farms and stations. Even though I thought that that route would be lightly traveled, I did get offered many rides, met some great people, and stayed at hotels (charming older ones) and B&Bs each night.

Arriving back in Sydney I went to the old flat at Tamarama Beach where I saw my former flatmates and met a new one. While in Sydney I revisited familiar sites and saw a few movies. During my stay a cyclone blew through leaving a lot of water but not too much damage. However, when I left to hitchhike north I encountered a lot of showers - some were downpours - so travel was a bit dicey. Also, because of the weather, I couldn't camp out but sought hotels and guest houses each night.

After a few days on the road I arrived in Kempsey - an agricultural center - and, again, encountered an angel. The weather forecaster was predicting the advent of a second cyclone (cyclones are to the Southern Hemisphere what hurricanes are to the Northern - they cause a lot of damage during their passage but do bring much needed moisture to the hinterland). I had planned to keep on going but I went into a branch of my bank to withdraw some cash and was accosted by a younger man - the next angel!

He had inherited his Dad's dairy farm a couple of miles from the town and, as a teenager, he had been to North America to an international gathering of young people who belonged to the 4H movement. While over here he had hitchhiked around so immediately recognized a 'kindred spirit'. He invited me out to the farm for the duration of the wet weather to stay with him, his wife, and small child.

Much of the farm was low lying land along the river. It was a dairy and he had more than 100 milkers. During my stay of nearly a week I helped out with the farm chores - the first of which was to herd the cows in a riverside meadow to higher ground for safety. Of all the cows in his herd he lost only one to the flood.

I am a 'city boy' but I do enjoy being on a farm and, where I am able, to help with the chores. Neither my hiking boots, oxfords, nor flip flops were appropriate wear out and around the flooded land - so I went barefoot. Some of my readers may find this disgusting but stepping into fresh cow dung is not gross at all - it is warm and soft - and the bare feet are easily washed off.

When the waters subsided and the roads reopened, I continued on to Brisbane arriving there two days later. While picking pears near Shepparton, Victoria I met two brothers from Brisbane. They wrote to their Mom (Mrs. Dears) about me and arranged for me to stay at their home until I found proper employment in Brisbane and could afford to live in a boarding house.

While the other State Capitals are ocean side cities, Brisbane is not. Being very sub-tropical the terrain along the coast is either sand dunes or mangrove type swamps. Where the Brisbane River empties into the ocean there are some offshore islands which block the formation of beaches. Therefore, the city is a few miles inland straddling the Brisbane River. Thus it is not as picturesque - in my opinion - as the others. One thing, though, it is very laid back.

More about Brisbane in further chapters. While I visited the other cities only for days or months, I lived in Brisbane for 2 1/2 years and loved every moment of it.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Goodnight, N.S.W., Australia

On Thursday morning, January 3, 1963 I caught a train out of Melbourne bound for the town of Bendigo to meet Barry Reynolds. When I had seen him in Perth, he introduced me to his best buddy from Windsor, England - Roy. We three would be working together in the fruit harvest until Easter (3 1/2 months away).

For years Ardmona canned fruit was available in super markets here in Canada. The cannery was situated in Ardmona, Victoria near to the larger town of Shepparton. That area is agricultural and most of the crops grown there are fruit trees.

If you are familiar with the story "The Grapes of Wrath" you will know the situation in which we found ourselves for a number of weeks - competing with other people for scarce picking and packing jobs - and being held hostage by the weather conditions.

We were able to find some work in and near Shepparton - most of which was on a 'piece meal' basis. We were paid only by the number of boxes of fruit that we managed to pick each day - and were docked if the fruit was not ripe enough or was too small. For all of those positions we competed with others who would jump in front of us if they had the chance.

Most of the work was for a man who had a huge orchard of pears and peaches (also we worked for a neighbor of his who had plum and apricot trees). Years before - at home in Coquitlam - I had wrenched my lower back which I thought was healed. Not so - one day I was loading some fruit onto a truck when my back gave out and I was in excruciating pain. While the orchardist had seemed to be a hard nosed person, he too had a back problem so he took me to his chiropractor whom I thought was going to break my back but he cured the problem!

A much pleasanter experience occurred one afternoon when a group of us were picnicking on the banks of a river - we saw and watched a duck-billed platypus that was swimming in the water. Those animals are fairly rare now so it was a real pleasure to see one in its natural habitat.

Before picking the pears and peaches we had a day or two picking plums and apricots. As a food I love fresh fruit - but I am not all that fond of having to pick them for a living!

The best known grape growing area in Australia is the Barossa Valley in South Australia but there are vineyards in the Mutrray Valley on the New South Wales side of the river as well. Barry and Roy had worked for a man, John Kemp, during the previous season and were invited to come back again.

When the pear and peach crop came to an end we drove up to the larger town of Swan Hill, Victoria and then crossed the river to the hamlet of Goodnight, New South Wales. As that is rather an odd name for a community, I will give a history.

The Murray is one of Australia's larger rivers and, during the days of early settlement, paddle wheel steamers were used by a surveyor as a means of mapping the valley. It was dusk when the boat was brought to the bank to be tied up for the night. As far as the surveyor knew there was no one near by - and then he heard a voice call out of the gloom "Good night!" So that was what he named the spot which, in 1963, consisted of a number of vineyards and sheep farms plus a general store and a post office. The larger community of Tooleybuc was not far away and there was a larger store and a pub in that community.

John knew that Barry and Roy were coming and that they had a third person with them. He made me welcome too. John, his wife and a number of neighbors belonged to a small Christian sect who did not believe in a denominational structure. They were a wonderfully warm couple who did not proselytize, honored the Sabbath (we never worked for them on that day) and who were very generous in the lunches that were sent out to the vineyards.

Two types of grapes were grown. The first to ripen was a variety of green grape and these were dipped in a special solution and spread on racks to dry and were packed as sultanas. The other variety was a larger dark purple/black grape that was dipped into a different solution and, after drying, became raisins.

Later in the season a tanker truck (with the top of the tank taken off) pulled into the yard and was left there. Into it were dumped the lower grade purple grapes and the load, when full, was taken to a winery to be turned into cheap wine ('plonk').

It was my job to be up in that tank stomping on the grapes as they were dumped in there. While doing that I was thinking of that episode of the "I Love Lucy" sitcom where she and Ethel were in Italy and stomping the grapes with their bare feet. In reality, as the grapes are smashed, the pulp and juice have a high sugar content so every bee and wasp for miles around converge on the truck to feast. Only a fool would do that task barefoot - I was wearing knee high rubber boots!

The weather there was interesting and challenging. For most of the time the sun shone but there could be sharp thunderstorms and, what is worse, dust storms. I remember one afternoon when a dust storm blew out of the desert in Central Australia. In unpleasant weather we had to lower hessian 'curtains' to protect the sultanas and raisins so they wouldn't be spoiled. The dust storm came as a wall of brown moving inexorably across the land. It was quite a sight.

The land where the vineyards were was irrigated which, for me, created a psychological problem - snakes liked to live near the water. The itinerant pickers' cabin was situated on the edge of that canal and the outdoor privy was a few hundred feet along it. I didn't see any snakes there but I most certainly watched for them - especially for tiger snakes.

Barry and Roy slept on cots in the cabin proper while I slept on a cot in the lean-to. There was an electric bulb on an extension cord that extended to a large tree that was beside my bed. Therefore I could read upon retiring and then, when I had finished, just reach up to turn off the light. Sometimes I had interesting visitors - including a group of frogs one of which hopped right up my sleeping bag towards me.

Also, we had visitors in the cabin. One evening we had gone to Tooleybuc to the pub and, when we returned, we went into the cabin and, turning on the light, we saw an unexpected and not too welcome guest.

Immediately on our left, were the shelves where we kept the pots and pans, next to it was the wood stove and then more storage for dishes and things. On the wall above one of the pans was a huntsman spider which I recognized from having seen another one in Tasmania. It was huge. We didn't kill it as we did not consider it too much of a threat to us. I got a good look at it, though. It was huge - about the diameter of a saucer - brown in color and had the most remarkable markings.

A day or so later we came in from work and found two guests. The big guy had returned and was on the wall above the pots while - beside the pots - was a smaller version who looked to be quite nervous of the big guy above and of we humans.

Rabbit stew was on the stove so we dished out some on each of our plates, Barry was curious as to the relationship between our two 'guests' so he placed his hand on the shelf between the smaller spider and the stove. That spider had the option of running past his hand (there was room) or to backtrack towards its larger cousin. Fatally, it chose the latter so, as I was eating my plate of stew, I was watching 'Bruta' (as we named the giant) sucking the life juices out of its victim.

Some of the neighbors grew watermelons and, more than once, we were called upon to assist with that harvest. Barry - the biggest of the three of us - was walking along each row snapping the vine so that Roy and I could pick up the melons and take them to the truck provided. I bent down to pick up one when a fairly large dark brown snake slithered over it. So help me - I tried my darndest to reach one of the satellites orbiting overhead! It was a brown snake and not a tiger but it was still poisonous. Barry - the devil - had seen the snake but didn't tell me so he could see what would happen if I sighted it.

Our last day of work was on Easter weekend. I said "Good-bye" to Barry and Roy and caught a train for Melbourne. I never saw them again.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Alice Springs - Perth - Melbourne

In case any of you are wondering about my 'phenomenal recall' I have to be honest and say that I kept diaries/journals for most of my adult life. Earlier today I read the journal entries covering the period from November 14, 1962 until January 3, 1963 - this 'chapter' is about that period.

The ride from Alice Springs down to Marree and Port Augusta was much more comfortable than was the ride north - I was able to ride in a sleeper coach this time! Antonio (Tony) Cicchini, Beth Hall - a nurse at the John Flynn Memorial Hospital in Alice Springs - and I were about to drive to Perth. Both Beth and Tony were going home for Christmas.

The automobile had ridden on a flat bed car in the train and was offloaded in Port Augusta. After having the car serviced and buying some food and other supplies we were on our way. For a number of miles we drove past wheat fields, cattle and sheep stations and we camped out that first night. The 'highway' was paved, then it was graveled and then dirt and it took us past the Great Australian Bight so we could see the ocean from the dirt road we were traveling on. Soon, though, the agricultural land gave way to the desert - grey, dusty and covered by plants which needed little water in order to survive. Then we were crossing the Nullarbor Plain. For years I thought that this was an Aboriginal word - but - no - it is Latin meaning 'no trees'.

We spent one night out on that plain sleeping on what - while driving - is a bane of life in the desert - bull dust. It is so dry there - and in some areas near Alice Springs - that dirt becomes a thick dust of the consistency and texture of talcum powder. While traveling in an open vehicle - like a Land Rover - anybody riding in the back has to use a bandana to cover the mouth and nose. At the other end of the ride through the bull dust patch the rear passengers are covered in grey dust and resemble zombies!.

However, sleeping in our bags on the dust is like sleeping on a downy mattress - very comfortable indeed. In the morning, though, we had to do some cleaning to get the dust off of our belongings before we could continue on.

During the third day on the road we gradually came into inhabited land of cattle and sheep stations followed by wheat and other crop farms.

Most of the animals that we saw were small - except for kangaroos. We had to watch them as, if one jumped in front of the vehicle, a collision could be quite damaging to both the animal and the vehicle.

The three of us were riding in the front seat of that sedan with our belongings in the trunk and on the back seat with a rifle on top. As we got closer to habitation we began to see trees again. Along that stretch of road we saw an emu trot across some distance in front of us. Tony was one of those people who thought that he should shoot any creatures that he might see. As he was driving he began to shout, "Get the gun!" "Get the gun!" Both Beth and I replied, "Get what, Tony? - oh the gun!" By that time the emu moved safely out of harms way. It was of no threat to us so why should we kill it?

In the afternoon we drove through the gold mining area around Kalgoorlie and then through the Darling Range (old mountains that were no more than high hills) and began the descent to the coast. In those mountains we began to see the result of more rain - lush vegetation.

Late in the afternoon we arrived in the built up area east of Perth. We dropped Beth at her mother's place and then Tony took me to where his parents lived where I was invited to stay. A nice clean house, good food - but 'Mamma' Ciccini spoke no English!

The next day I visited Perth for the first time - a beautiful city. The Commonwealth Games were about to start, there were many visitors to the city and everything was shiny and clean!

The first person that I encountered whom I knew was Giovanni (Johnny) from Alice Springs and, on the following weekend, I saw Barry who was working in another town south of the city. As well as decorations for the Games. Christmas was coming and elaborate Christmas light displays were everywhere. This was in December of 1962 and the astronaut, John Glenn,  was orbiting the earth in a space capsule. The nickname for Perth is/was "City of Light" - a la Paris, France - so the city authorities asked the citizens to leave the Christmas lights on all night long. Mr. Glenn noticed and commented upon the spectacular sight. 

That was the year when Canada's hopes for medals were resting on the shoulders of Harry Jerome. The day that he was scheduled to run in the heats I went out to the stadium to cheer him on. He had a terrible race and did not even place.

While in Perth I did some touring and an acquaintance took me out to a sanctuary that is northwest of Perth. In that sanctuary was an enclosure of eucalyptus trees where Koalas were kept. 'Feeding time' was in the early afternoon. After the keepers had brought fresh eucalyptus branches into the enclosure and the koalas had eaten, those with cameras were allowed in - ten people at one time. I was able to stroke a koala (very soft fur and - not surprisingly - the 'bear' smelled like eucalyptus) and had my picture taken. Again I wish that I could locate those missing slides!.

I remained in Perth for a couple of weeks. During that time I took Barry to see "My Fair Lady" (this was the performance where I found myself seated between Barry and three young Roman Catholic priests). All four of them enjoyed themselves thoroughly so I did as well.

Another event was going down to the port of Fremantle to see off Giovanni who was returning to Italy. There were maybe half a dozen of us there and Giovanni was overwhelmed - he hugged and kissed the cheeks of each of us while tears streamed down his face. Sentimental Italian but better to be that, I think, than a stoic northerner!

The games were over and it was time to move on so I hitchhiked south to the town where Barry was working, visited for a couple of days, and then hitchhiked on to the southern town of Albany, east to Esperance (the shipment port for the ore from the Kalgoorlie mines) and then north to Kalgoorlie.

At Albany is one of three marine phenomena of the world - a blowhole. The two others are located on the Big Island of Hawaii and just south of the Mexican city of Ensenada on the Baja Peninsula. I have visited the first and third - but I have not been to the Island of Hawaii.

I arrived in Kalgoorlie, bought a train ticket to Melbourne, and waited for Barry to arrive. He came by train from Perth and, because of the varying gauges of the Australian railways, he had to change trains. We had a berth each on the Trans-Australian train - but had to change just across the border of South Australia and again in Adelaide. The last train was the most comfortable - coaches with soft seats that reclined. No berth - but I was able to doze off between stops.

In Alice Springs another bookkeeper had arrived before I left and he had invited me to spend Christmas with him and his partner. That was an odd situation - Ivan was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother and, therefore, Jewish. He and Jon were to go to his parent's home for Christmas dinner but I - as an outsider - was not invited! He left a pork chop in the refrigerator for me but I detest pork so I left the apartment and walked for a few miles before I found a restaurant open for business and with a Christmas menu. I had roast chicken.

On New Years Eve there was another charade. Ivan's parents along with other family members were expected for a dinner party. Ivan had a brother who was Orthodox so all non-Kosher foods had to be thrown out or hidden!

While in the city I saw a live performance - "The Black & White Minstrel Show" - which was quite enjoyable. Of course, that type of performance is now frowned upon.

Shortly after New Year I took the train to the town of Bendigo where I met Barry and his buddy, Roy, so we could be a team working in the orchards near Shepparton.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Italian Rooming House

When Barry and I first arrived in Alice Springs we stayed at a boarding house that was owned and operated by a Mrs. Brown. She was a nice person and a very loyal resident of Alice Springs. However, when we found where we could live somewhat more independently, we moved on.

Early in our friendship Barry told me how he disliked Italians ever since a girl from a neighboring town to Windsor, England was allegedly gang-raped by a group of young Italian men. Within a day or so of that revelation, he was hired by Johnny Donna who was a cement contractor and of Italian origin. A few of the men in that crew lived in a rooming house operated by Mr. and Mrs. Panazza. We visited the building, liked what we saw - and the young Italian men who were living there - so took the vacant room.

That is Barry Reynolds who is threatening to clobber me with the meat tenderizer.

Their house was on the East Side close to the ford which crossed the Todd River. At the back of their lot were two small buildings. The first one consisted of 4 bedrooms with two twin beds in each, a large 'common room' where the wood stove was located and an add-on which contained a table and chairs. One bedroom was immediately off of the dining area (that was where Barry and I slept) and the remaining three were off of the large Common Room. The other building contained two or three shower stalls as well as the toilets. The building backed onto the alley so the 'night soil' truck could come at night and empty the toilet cans.

Giovanni (Johnny) on the left - with Barry behind him working at the stove - me, Mario and Carlos who is kneeling in front. Sebastiano (Sammy) took the photo. I do have a photo of the lot of us together but it has become stuck in the album and tore when I tried to remove it.

Through this experience I learned how ethnically different were Italians - depending upon what part of Italy they came from. Luciano was from Treviso (north of Venice) and the Panazzas were from Milan. Because Luciano and the Panazzas were northern Italians they held themselves as superior to those from further south. The rest of our roommates came from the town of Vasto which is across the Appennines from Rome. The two cleaners out at the airport were Sicilians and, therefore, they were looked down upon by all of the others.

At some point one of our fellow boarders bought a carcass of a goat or a calf that was to be divided between each of them - and each would pay for his share accordingly. World War III broke out - until the dispute was resolved.

Our fellow roomers were Sebastiano ('Sammy'), Carlos, Giovanni (Johny), Mario, Antonio (Tony) and Luciano (Lucky). Mostly their personalities were quite different one from the other. This, coupled with their mercurial temperaments, led to some intriguing and explosive dynamics.

For instance, Sammy was somewhat simple while Carlos, his roommate, was the village STUD!! One night we were awakened by an argument next door (there was a louvered window between Barry and my room and theirs so sound traveled easily). Carlos had been out on the prowl and had returned with - presumably - a hooker. From what we heard later, Carlos had fallen asleep while the 'date' was ready for more. She made a pass at Sammy who loudly objected thereby waking Carlos who vocally defended his 'date'. Outside beside the entrance was a dart board. We could hear Sammy out there throwing darts until the 'guest' had left.

Mrs. Panazza, when she heard of the incident, was furious - she did not allow girls into the rooms unless there was one for each male occupant!

Carlos changed jobs and became a long distance trucker hauling freight up and down the Todd Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin and back. One Sunday afternoon I was sitting at the table writing letters when Carlos returned from up north. He went to his room, freshened up and then left. Within half an hour he returned - with a cashier from the supermarket in tow! I don't remember where Sammy was - if I ever knew - so the visit was fairly peaceful. After a while, however, Carlos emerged looking all rumpled and sweaty, went out to the shower rooms and then came back neat and clean.

In the meantime 'girlfriend' came out of the bedroom and sat across from me making me uncomfortable. She was trying to pick me up!

In the previous blog I talked about the two flights in Connellan Cessnas out over the Outback. When I came home to make myself some lunch, Mario - the 'clown' of the group - was there. I was so excited by the experience of that morning that I was babbling. Mario stopped me with the question, "Ernie - how many engines she have? One? What happens if engine (pronounced 'eenjine') quit"? He held out his arms and made the sound "eeeoooowwww" while pointing his arms at the ground. Then wagging his finger at me he exclaimed, "Me no fly!!!"

Barry left to journey with two nurses from the hospital in their car up to Darwin and then down the coast of Western Australia to Perth. The 1962 Empire Games were about to open in Perth so I decided to go there as well. One of the nurses from the hospital was going home as was Tony so the three of us agreed to catch a southbound train and then to drive in Tony's car across the Nullarbor Plain to Western Australia. We left The Alice on November 14.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Alice Springs

Almost smack dab in the middle of Australia is a wonderful town - Alice Springs. I arrived there in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 26, 1962 and stayed until Wednesday, November 14 of that same year. While not situated in the Simpson Desert it is not far from there and, therefore, hot and dry.

The town is bisected by the Todd River which, for most of the year, is a 'river' in name only. Most years the river remains dry throughout the autumn, winter and spring months with heavy rains falling only during the summer. 1962 was different, though. Twice during my stay heavy downpours occurred in the hills to the east of the town - and the river actually was a river for a few days. The road across to the East Side - where Barry and I lived - was a paved ford across the river bed. While the river ran 'dry' I frequently crossed it by simply walking in a beeline towards my destination. When it flooded, though, I was forced to use a foot bridge beside the ford.

To the south and southwest of the town is the Macdonnell Range. Being from Canada I was used to seeing mountains that were snowy peaks. These mountains were very old, geologically speaking, so the tops - while jagged - were worn - and, in sunlight, reflecting many different hues. Very similar to the terrain depicted in photos of the desert areas in Arizona and Utah. Those of you who have seen the film "The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert" will have noticed how beautiful are the colors of those rock walls - continually changing hue as the sun progresses across the sky.

For Barry and I - the lad whom I met during the train ride north - our first task was to find work. As it so happened, our arrival preceded the annual 'Town Fair' and the local pop bottling plant needed extra help. I was put to work cleaning and washing used bottles for recycling. I had to learn how to extract broken straw, cigarette butts and other detritus (as well as stale pop) out of the bottles so they could be refilled. A very 'yucky' job!

That work lasted for only two or three days and then we had to look for something else to do. Barry was quite a sturdy fellow so he found work with a cement contractor laying curbing along streets in a new subdivision. For me it was a longer wait before I was hired as the bookkeeper at Connellan Airlines - a fleet of Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft which carried mail, freight and passengers to the outlying cattle and sheep stations, supplied flights for people who needed to come into town, and took tourists for birds-eye views of the Outback. If any readers have read Nevil Shute's book "A Town Called Alice", Eddie Connellan and Alice Springs figure largely in that yarn.

There was a man whose memory is revered there - the Rev. John Flynn. He was a Presbyterian missionary who settled in Alice Springs in the early part of the 20th Century. It is he who is credited with creating the "School of the Air" and the "Flying Doctor Service" in the outback. The first was so that children of families out on the Stations could receive a government accredited education while remaining at home, and the second was a system by which ill and injured people in the outlying areas could receive proper medical care.

In his memory a beautiful church was erected on Todd Avenue - the main street. While I was there the church was completely full for the Sunday morning service and many people attended a film and slide evening each Monday. His memory is so revered that almost all visitors dropped by the church AND attended the film show. That was one way to get to see what life in the Outback was really like.

One of the films was about the construction and dedication of the John Flynn Memorial Church at which Queen Elizabeth II officiated. Those of us who assisted with the film evening waited in amusement for one scene in that movie.

When the church was dedicated all of the local people became involved with the preparations - including the local Aborigines. This particular scene showed an Aboriginal woman out hunting for food. In her hand was a stick that she was using to remove sand from the base of a shrub. She found what she was looking for, dropped her stick, picked up a wriggling 'witchety grub' (a type of caterpillar) and popped it into her mouth. Many of the tourists groaned and turned away from the screen while we 'locals' laughed!

My next blog will be dedicated solely to life in the rooming house where Barry and I lived but, as our roommates became very much a part of our lives, I will now share one part of our experience with them.

On the August Long Weekend (the British Bank Holiday weekend), some station owners/managers in the Harts Range area (northeast of Alice Springs near the Queensland State border) held an annual horse race. Practically everybody who lived in that area went up there for the weekend - including a large group of us. We traveled in a number of vehicles .Two of the guys drove up in a pickup with all of our luggage - and especially the sleeping bags - in the back. Most of us who rode in cars arrived in good time but there was no sign of the truck and its contents.

They appeared the next morning having overshot the turnoff from the highway and then, on the return trip, overshooting it again! Five of us were riding in a Morris Major - a girl driving, another girl riding beside her and three men in the back seat. I, being the slimmest, rode in the middle while the other two - burly men - rode on either side of me. We had no choice but to sleep as we were in the car and, when one of us turned, all of us had to turn at the same time!

One of my most vivid memories of that weekend was the next morning. We awoke to find ourselves beneath a huge gum (eucalyptus) tree. Hundreds of wild budgerigars were hopping about the limbs and chattering up a storm! I thought of my oldest sister, Alda, for whom Dad built a large cage in which she raised budgies when she was a girl.

The truck with the bedding was not the only vehicle that was missing - so were a couple of the cars that were traveling with us. Eventually everybody showed up and we watched the horse races together.

I noted with interest that most of the jockeys were aboriginal lads - and they certainly could ride! At the conclusion of the races a cup was presented to the biggest winner - and that was a very impressive piece of hardware!

Working for Connellan Airways meant that I could avail myself of free flights when an aircraft went out on a special run to deliver or to pick up somebody. This happened one Saturday. Two tourists booked on a mail run flight while two women had booked a trip on a plane into town from the homestead. As a Cessna has four seats (one of which is used by the pilot) another plane had to be sent to accommodate the incoming pair. The pilot chosen to fly the extra aircraft invited me to go along for the ride. It was spectacular! I enjoyed it so much that I was invited to go along on an afternoon flight too.

There had been a number of hard showers over the previous days so what I saw was magical. Instead of brown barren terrain there were patches of vivid green speckled with flowers. The second mail run was to the south towards the South Australian border. The pilot was having trouble in spotting the windsock at the landing strip (all flying by those small planes out there was visual with no instruments used). He had an idea in which direction the Station (house and outbuildings) was in so he flew that way until he spotted the plume of dust behind a land rover which was being driven out to meet us. As we got lower Cam - the pilot - spotted the windsock and down we came. That was one area where little rain had fallen so everything looked barren to me. However, the station manager commented gleefully how much rain had fallen and that the cattle were fattening up nicely! You could have fooled me!

There was a movie theater in town with a program that changed twice a week. From the outside one saw the usual marquee and ticket booth, Inside was a snack bar and the washrooms. However, to enter the theater proper, the doorways led to the outside and rows upon rows of lawn chairs. The screen and the movie projectors were adequate and many of the movies - near to being 'first run' - were quite good. However, with no roof, one could see the stars and the hordes of flying insects attracted to the beam of light going from the projector to the screen. If the movie turned out to be boring just try to count all of the moths and other insects in the beam of light!

There was an amateur theater company in Alice Springs and they put on a production of Shaw's 'Pygmalion'. I was with a group of people who went to see it. Two of us had seen "My Fair Lady" so, while on our way home, we remembered lines and began to sing the appropriate songs from the musical version.

I loved my stay in Alice Springs - but Barry had left to go out to Perth and I promised that I would meet him there. Also - summer was coming and it was getting hot. I gave notice to my employer and to my landlord and left on the train on November 14.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

On My Way to 'The Alice'

My finances were now relatively stable and winter was coming on so it was time to get back on the road and head for Port Augusta and Alice Springs. My hitchhiking with Brian - plus my experience alone in Tasmania - made me feel comfortable in 'going it alone'. As I usually did in larger communities, I took Geelong transit to the "end of the line" and began hitchhiking.

The main highway between Melbourne and Adelaide was to the north but I thought that I would try the southern route along the coast. For the first number of miles the highway was paved but that ended and, as night came on, I found myself on a country road that was not even graveled but dirt. Although the motorists were generous in offering rides, the rides were - for the most part - short ones.

The weather was not the best all day and, as evening came on, I found myself in frequent showers and sleet. When it was completely dark I kept slogging on hoping to reach a town that was ten miles or so up ahead. I was so tired I decided to rest. I took off my backpack, put it on the ground, sat on it and dozed. I was awakened by the sound of a motor and approaching headlights - it was my next 'angel'.

She was a widow woman who was driving back to the family dairy farm where she took me to spend the night. She lived in the original farm house while her son and his family lived in a separate building. It was they who had a bed for me to use.

During our chat in the car I told her that my grandmother mentioned a brother who was a pharmacist and who migrated to Victoria in the early years of the twentieth century. He opened a 'chemist shop' on the High Street of a town somewhere in that state. I assume that his surname was DeLacey/Hollis so she said that she would try to trace him and his family. Unfortunately, knowing the only address being 'High Street' was like saying 'Main Street' in North America - almost every community has a street named that. She did do a search and then wrote to me in Brisbane more than a year later to say that it had been fruitless.

The next morning this gracious lady drove me out to the town of Colac on the Melbourne - Adelaide highway where hitchhiking was easier. This route took me through the town of Mt. Gambier, South Australia where there is the cone of a long extinct volcano and, in the crater, a lovely blue lake.

I arrived in Adelaide the next evening. I did not impose upon the hospitality of the Barkhams (the School for the Deaf) but I did call them on the telephone to ask for the telephone number of Anne. Anne and two of her girlfriends moved to Sydney from England and one of them dated one of my roommates - ergo the connection!

I hitchhiked from Adelaide to Clare and arrived during a downpour. I telephoned Anne who suggested that I hire a taxi to bring me out to the station. The younger man - Andrew Thomas - who owned the property had inherited it when his parents were killed in an auto accident. This man was young but he most certainly knew his sheep! The merino sheep on the property were all prize winning animals. He invited me to go along with him and his best sheep dog while he examined his flock for stud rams that another shepherd wanted to purchase as well as the best of the sheep to be entered into an upcoming sheep judging contest. My job was to catch these rams by the horns and hold them while he examined their teeth and the wool on their backs (all the while he was explaining to me what he was looking for). At first my job was relatively easy but became increasingly more difficult as 'good sheep' were put in one pen and the 'failures' in another. This created more room for the rest to try to keep out of my reach.

When the first job was finished he opened a gate for four more rams to enter the paddock. These rams were to be taken to a special show so their snouts were streaked with blue chalk (thus they stood out from the others). He wanted to reexamine these rams and I was asked to catch them. I lunged for one ram as he tried to run past me and along the split rail fence. I got him but, in so doing, one of my fingers was jammed against the fence railing splitting the tip of it and leaving me with a bloody scar. I was proud of that wound!

The next morning I was back on the road hitchhiking the rest of the way to Port Augusta where I purchased a ticket on "The Ghan" for the long 30 hour ride to Alice Springs. The name was a holdover from earlier days when travel to Alice Springs and Darwin was by camel trains. The herders of these camels were men from Arabia and they were referred to as 'Afghans' which had become shortened to 'Ghan. When the railway was built the nickname was applied to it.

When I was in Australia the railways were still operating as they were when the country consisted of a bunch of colonies each with its own borders and customs. In order to counteract smuggling on the rails each colony installed a different gauge so that, at the borders, all freight and passengers had to leave one train in order to board another across the line. 1962 was well past the colonial days but the different rail gauges still existed. This made rail traffic across the continent interesting to say the least!

At Port Augusta I boarded a modern sleek train for the ride to a small place called Marree. There we alighted from that train and boarded an older one on the next track - but of a different gauge. At the station was a food outlet so I went to buy something to eat thereby meeting Barry Reynolds - a young Englishman (from Windsor, England) - who became a close friend.

The second train consisted of three sleeper cars, a dining car and a coach behind the diesel engine. Both Barry and I were short of funds so couldn't afford a berth. Instead we rode in the coach with as motley an assortment of males as one would ever meet. Most of them were 'fettlers' who worked at various rail camps along the line. Some were station hands on remote properties - and a number were aboriginal men. Many had booze (it was illegal to give alcoholic beverages to aboriginal people but most of the white men on that train ignored that law). Needless to say, we got very little sleep.

We arrived in Alice Springs at midnight the next evening - too late to look for accommodation - so we used our sleeping bags where we hoped that security folk would not see us. We were not 'busted'.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


This episode in my story was hard to deal with when it happened - and difficult to write about now. However, this is a part of my story and not to be glossed over. Yes, I was a victim of a scam artist - but there seemed to be a 'guardian angel' (or angels) at work at the same time.

After working in the fruit harvest I remained in Hobart for a few days of sightseeing. The most inexpensive accommodation that I knew of was the YMCA so I booked in there and, thereby, I met a very engaging young man with a 'hard luck' story of family feuding and missing funds. I loaned him some of mine. Each time I asked him to repay he came up with another hard luck story - much of which involved a pregnant girlfriend.

Another complication was limited access to my own funds due to bank closures over holiday weekends as well as the fact one could only receive service in a branch of the bank where one's own account was located.

After wasting time in Hobart I hitchhiked up to Launceston to see if I could get a seat on the ferry to Melbourne. As Easter and Anzac Day (Memorial Day in both Australia and New Zealand) practically coincided that year, that was a very long weekend and the ferry was completely booked. I had the option of flying across the strait but I was a pound short of the fare and my bank was closed.

I went for a walk through a lovely park in Launceston and then returned to the downtown core. Walking along the street I encountered another young man who had been a guest at the "Y" in Hobart. He was bubbling over with excitement as he had just booked passage for a vacation to Great Britain. I blurted out my problem and, immediately, he loaned me a pound note (as well as his address so that I could return the loan).

While I had been up for a ride in a small aircraft with a friend who had a pilot's license years before in Canada, I had never been in a commercial aircraft. This was a few years before jet planes came into commercial use so it was an old fashioned, propeller one - and we took off during a thunderstorm! The flight across the strait was bumpy yet exciting. Melbourne was shrouded by clouds and mist until we began the descent into Essendon Airport. I was sitting on the side of the plane that gave me a view of the downtown core and it was breathtaking!

Once on the ground I telephoned the people with whom Brian and I had visited on our way to Tasmania and, immediately, they invited me to spend the balance of the weekend with them. I even got to go with the husband to a Congregational Church for worship the next morning.

On Monday the banks were open again and I was able to access my account.

Another one of the fellows whom I had met on the ship to Sydney (another dining table companion) lived with his widowed mother in North Geelong some 45 or 50 miles west of Melbourne. I went to the railway station to catch a train out there but made a mistake which proved to be another example of my 'guardian angel' at work. I was on the express to Geelong proper and it did not stop at North Geelong so, when I alighted at Geelong Station, I set out to walk back.

On my way I came upon a young guy up a ladder working on a house. As it so happened, he had been on a hitchhiking holiday in Europe so recognized me for whom I was. He came down the ladder to chat and then invited me, if my friends were not at home, to come to his house to meet his young wife.

At the house in North Geelong Noel was at home but his mother was away. I returned to where Peter was working and he took me home. I remained with them until Noel's mother returned from her trip. Eventually two letters containing money arrived and I was able to continue my journey.

While still in Melbourne I had encountered another of the fellows who had borrowed a pound from me. In repayment he invited me to go with him to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds in order of attend an Aussie Rules football game. Throughout much of Australia 'Aussie Rules' is very popular - but, in Sydney, it is traditional rugby. There I was a regular attendee at rugby matches cheering for the Eastern Suburbs (the part of the city where Bondi is located). I got to attend another Aussie rules game a year or so later so I will write more about that game when my narrative reaches that point.

I think that Ric - and other friends - will attest to me being too trusting. However, the episodes of which I have written, while difficult, were both humbling and inspiring.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Apples and Pears

On the morning following my arrival in Hobart I said, "Goodbye" to Brian and caught the country bus to Port Arthur where I transferred to a car for the rest of the journey to Highcroft - an orchard where I worked at picking apples and pears for six weeks. The orchardist, Mr Hansen, was doing fairly well and had been able to purchase a few neighboring farms. The abandoned farmhouses were used as housing for the itinerant pickers and packers who did not live nearby.

I shared a room with an English and a Hungarian fellow then, as the space was rather crowded, I moved to another room. Soon I had a roommate - a Welshman who did not really like me. One of the 'straw bosses' was a lad from another farm a few miles up the road. His people had some dairy cows so he brought my roommate and I a bottle of milk each morning for which he charged three pence which came to a "penny ha'penny" each (one and a half pence). There was a half penny coin in circulation at that time and that useless bit of metal went back and forth between his pocket and mine until the end of the season!

The general store and the post office were located in the village of Nubeena, about five miles west and down on the shore of an inlet of the Antarctic Ocean. It was to there that we had to go for groceries and our mail.

Highcroft was about 14 miles from Port Arthur - the notorious British penal colony - which sits on a point of land that sticks out into the ocean. It has been many many years since the 'fort' was used for its initial purpose - now it is an historic site and well worth a visit. I was fortunate enough to have been there three times during my visit to that part of the world. Again I would really like to locate the lost box of slides as I have photos that I took while there.

I mentioned in my last post about a huge spider which I encountered. As well as outsized insects there were snakes too - and most of them of the poisonous variety. One of those - the tiger snake - is quite commonly seen in Tasmania. As the orchards were in fields of relatively high grass I was super careful in walking through them - much to the amusement of the locals. This led to an amusing conversation during one of our 'smoke-o' breaks. We got to chatting about 'bush walking' (as the Aussies call country hiking) when I mentioned how much I loved hiking back home in Canada. One of the other pickers looked at me in astonishment and asked "But what about the bears?". I laughed and explained that, even though my family home was across the road from an orchard which black bears liked to visit - I never saw one! I realized that my phobia about snakes was like his about bears - each of us feared something that we MIGHT encounter - but not all that likely!

This idyll ended immediately after Easter - the onset of winter 'Down Under'.

Before I leave this blog I should mention Kevin. He was the local boy who brought my roommate and I our daily bottle of milk. The people who live on that southern peninsula of Tasmania are simple folk and were quite isolated. He and his family attended some sort of evangelical congregation. To him Hobart was a 'Big City' and, therefore, a place of wickedness and evil. The thought of going across to genteel Melbourne was unthinkable - the sin and loose living there must know no bounds! Unfortunately I do not think that 'Kevin' is alone in that thinking - probably there are many isolated folk who look at life in the same way.