Tag Archives: Australia

A house divided… Conversations at Curlow Creek

Conversations at Curlow Creek is a novel set in the early days of the colony of NSW by David Malouf. The novel that talks of an officers duties to hang Daniel Carney, a bushranger. Prior to the hanging though, he spends a night in a cottage with the prisoner. The novel is of the conversations between the two.

The Officer, Adair, is of two minds. It is not a moral paradox that he has but a personal one. Adair has come to Australia not merely to be a trooper, but to find his lost step-brother, who has reportedly become a bushranger in NSW. It seems that the head of the bushranger gang  that the condemned man was a part of, could possibly be Fergus, the lost sibling; although the name being used by the leader was Dolan.

No conclusion is reached about the true identity of the gang leader. Adair had not resolved the matter. At the same time, the enemy had become known, and perhaps loved.  Adair and Carney have many parallels in their lives. Both grew up in Ireland and both were orphans.  The difference comes in the opportunities presented to Adair as a boy. he was taken in by a friend of the mother, whom he had never known, and educated by a landowner who took an interest in the lad.

So it is that Adair builds a rapport with Carney. It is with a heavy heart that he must carry out his duties to hang the man. He allows him to wash in the creek, to prepare himself for death, and is reminded of a dream that he has in a moments sleep during the night. He wants the man to feel comfort in his death and provides him with hot tea.

No man can serve two masters, Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Adair is in a dilemma. He must remain true to himself, his heritage and do in his heart what is right, or obey those who have employed him and provide his ages.

The last page of the epilogue tells us of Adair breaking and eating bread. This reminded me of the communion celebration in the Catholic church. One is not able to partake of the communion without first seeking reconciliation with God through the forgiveness of sin. Has Adair then forgiven himself for the sin that was committed? i the sin committed that of taking another’s life, b way of hanging, as was his duty? Or was his supposed sin allowing the escape of Carney, and therefore the sin is against the community and authorities that have hired him to do the job? The issues remain unresolved. I hope to ask the questions of David Malouf when our class meets with him in two weeks time.

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Bailed Up by Tom Roberts

This was one of the paintings that was looked at by my class as they wandered the great halls of the NSW Art Gallery last week.

This painting entitled “Bailed Up”, by Tom Roberts, has been a favorite of mine since 5th grade in primary school. It hung on the white wall outside the deputy principal’s office. I remember sitting there waiting to see him and looking at the painting and wondering about the lives of the people in the painting.

The painting was done ‘plein air ‘ in Inverell in 1895. Tom Roberts used people from the nearby township to act as models so he could paint it. The painting depicted a Cobb and Co stagecoach being held up by Captain Thunderbolt, a local bushranger.  One of the models was an actual stagecoach driver by the name of ‘Silent’ Bob Bates.  This stagecoach driver had actually been held up by Captain Thunderbolt 30 years earlier. One could speculate that Tom Roberts shared a billy of tea with Silent Bob, and asked him about that experience before setting the scene to paint it.

The coach in the painting was typical of the Concord coaches used by Cobb & Co. These were made in America. The suspension used was a belt type, which made long distance travel more comfortable for passengers. The coaches were made for the west in America and were built for rough terrain and high speeds which were needed to avoid raids by Indians and outlaws.

One can see the Royal Mail logo on the side of the coach in the painting. Cobb & Co had the contract for the mail from the 1860’s through to the end of the first world war.

The Cobb & Co coaches were faster than other coaches. Because of that speed, horses had to be changed regularly, and so a whole industry was built around the transport of people and parcels. The horses were bred especially for Cobb &Co. Coach houses were built every 200 miles or so for a quick change of horses and a meal for travelers. Some of the coach houses had accommodation for overnight travelers.

The Cobb & Co coaches became synonymous for a strong willed spirit that kept going through the hard times. Cobb & Co was immortalised through the Tom Roberts painting as well as in literature through poems by Henry Lawson.

The Lights of Cobb & Co

FIRE LIGHTED, on the table a meal for sleepy men,
A lantern in the stable, a jingle now and then;
The mail coach looming darkly by light of moon and star,
The growl of sleepy voices — a candle in the bar.
A stumble in the passage of folk with wits abroad;
A swear-word from a bedroom — the shout of ‘ All aboard!’
‘Tchk-tchk! Git-up!’ ‘Hold fast, there!’ and down the range we go;
Five hundred miles of scattered camps will watch for Cobb and Co.

Old coaching towns already ‘ decaying for their sins,’
Uncounted ‘Half-Way Houses,’ and scores of ‘Ten Mile Inns;’
The riders from the stations by lonely granite peaks;
The black-boy for the shepherds on sheep and cattle creeks;
The roaring camps of Gulgong, and many a ‘Digger’s Rest;’
The diggers on the Lachlan; the huts of Farthest West;
Some twenty thousand exiles who sailed for weal or woe;
The bravest hearts of twenty lands will wait for Cobb and Co.

The morning star has vanished, the frost and fog are gone,
In one of those grand mornings which but on mountains dawn;
A flask of friendly whisky — each other’s hopes we share —
And throw our top-coats open to drink the mountain air.
The roads are rare to travel, and life seems all complete;
The grind of wheels on gravel, the trot of horses’ feet,
The trot, trot, trot and canter, as down the spur we go —
The green sweeps to horizons blue that call for Cobb and Co.

We take a bright girl actress through western dust and damps,
To bear the home-world message, and sing for sinful camps,
To wake the hearts and break them, wild hearts that hope and ache —
(Ah! when she thinks of those days her own must nearly break!)
Five miles this side the gold-field, a loud, triumphant shout:
Five hundred cheering diggers have snatched the horses out:
With ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in chorus through roaring camps they go —
That cheer for her, and cheer for Home, and cheer for Cobb and Co.

Three lamps above the ridges and gorges dark and deep,
A flash on sandstone cuttings where sheer the sidings sweep,
A flash on shrouded waggons, on water ghastly white;
Weird bush and scattered remnants of rushes in the night
Across the swollen river a flash beyond the ford:
‘Ride hard to warn the driver! He’s drunk or mad, good Lord!’
But on the bank to westward a broad, triumphant glow —
A hundred miles shall see to-night the lights of Cobb and Co.!

Swift scramble up the siding where teams climb inch by inch;
Pause, bird-like, on the summit — then breakneck down the pinch
Past haunted half-way houses — where convicts made the bricks —
Scrub-yards and new bark shanties, we dash with five and six —
By clear, ridge-country rivers, and gaps where tracks run high,
Where waits the lonely horseman, cut clear against the sky;
Through stringy-bark and blue-gum, and box and pine we go;
New camps are stretching ‘cross the plains the routes of Cobb and Co.

*****

Throw down the reins, old driver — there’s no one left to shout;
The ruined inn’s survivor must take the horses out.
A poor old coach hereafter! — we’re lost to all such things —
No bursts of songs or laughter shall shake your leathern springs
When creeping in unnoticed by railway sidings drear,
Or left in yards for lumber, decaying with the year —
Oh, who’ll think how in those days when distant fields were broad
You raced across the Lachlan side with twenty-five on board.

Not all the ships that sail away since Roaring Days are done —
Not all the boats that steam from port, nor all the trains that run,
Shall take such hopes and loyal hearts — for men shall never know
Such days as when the Royal Mail was run by Cobb and Co.
The ‘greyhounds’ race across the sea, the ‘special’ cleaves the haze,
But these seem dull and slow to me compared with Roaring Days!
The eyes that watched are dim with age, and souls are weak and slow,
The hearts are dust or hardened now that broke for Cobb and Co.

Dave

References used for this blog
https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/833/
http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/cobb-and-co
https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/lawson-henry/the-lights-of-cobb-and-co-0022012

 

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The Tree of Man: Patrick White

Baz Luhrmann would have done well to choose this novel to base his movie Australia on, as it truly reflects life in Australia.

This novel follows the life of a man and his wife, Stan and Amy Parker, as they move from pioneers, breaking bush to establish a home, to the modern day, a world of machines and strangers.

There are various events through the book that expose what it must have been like to live in the bush, as a settler and a citizen of Australia. There is so much in this book that reminds me of my own experiences growing up.

You must go through the clearing of the bush to set up home,

When my dad bought the land at Blacktown for 500 pound, it was uncleared, full of ghost gums, tea trees, paperbarks and stubborn pine trees. They built the house with no neighbours around. Some moved in, but there was still space to play, to mow a cricket patch in the back yard, to raise goats and ducks and hens and children. We built a BMX track around the fenceline and later a car track as my brother and I learnt to drive and ride motorcycles.

We learnt to fight fires. We kept a stack of wet hessian bags by the back tap and at the first sign of smoke the alarm would be raised with the shout “FIRE!” Men and boys would come running, and the women huddled together and provided cake and tea for those of us who fought it.

We lived next to a creek, which flooded every year or so. It wasn’t much trouble though, except for old Mrs Ferguson, who still lived in her wooden house in the hollow, with the dirt floors. The only thing you had to make sure of was that you weren’t fishing for carp or eels when the waters were pushed downstream. We would watch out the kitchen window as the waters rose. The chicken coop was up high enough, the ducks and vegetable patch didn’t mind the extra water that splashed over the banks.

We learnt to read the wind, to know if it was going to be a problem with the trees falling on the houses as limbs separated from trunks. We tied the old ironbark back so if it did fall, it would fall to empty land, not in the direction of the house or chook pen. We shut doors and windows and felt the house shake as the sound of the wind roared through the leaves and branches of the trees.

We had loyal dogs. They respected dad and kept quiet around him but when it was just us kids, they became animated and excited to be included in our games or oversee us so we wouldn’t get into too much trouble.

Thankfully we never had to follow our mates as they march into war. We earned our pocket money doing chores and a paper run.

You learn to read the animals, to live with them, to put up with them or have them put up with you. Snakes? Turn around and walk away. They will go away, then you can come get your feed of blackberries. When the frogs breed, you know that there is going to be rain enough to fill that little natural trough and the frogs will grow beyond the stage of tadpole… if little boys let them. Magpies are homebodies, keep away from the trees where they are when they are nesting, better still offer them food and they will leave you alone, and even avoid your car when toileting from above. It’s the cockies you have to watch out for, they are just mad.

The book showed that one must marry, watch the children grow and have families of their own. Children make decisions and have lifestyles that you don’t necessarily agree with, but you have to shut up, and accept them because they are your kids. Parents can be proud about their children’s accomplishments and brag on those, while being humble about their own brave feats.

Patrick White shows us in this book that to be a spiritual being, one must learn how to read the land. In the book; Disputed Territories: Land, Culture and Identity in Settler Societies, By David S. Trigger, Gareth Griffiths , Neville White writes in chapter 7 how he had brought two elders from the Yolngu nation to Melbourne. The men complained that there was too much noise that they couldn’t hear the land. They couldn’t feel the breeze. they wondered where men lived, and how it was possible that some people in this land of plenty were hungry. “Where is his family?” they asked.

Image result for albert tucker paintings

The Horned Intruder- Albert Tucker

The white man, the settlers have intruded on the land, because they do not read it correctly, and try to manipulate it to their own ends. Nature still wins out. Look at Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. Look at the amount of homeless people due to floods in Bangladesh. These natural occurrences happen, and we as ‘man’ have to put up with it, to cope. Because life goes on.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”. Robert Frost

For those who are not connected to the land, who are not spiritual beings, the day to day running of life can seem like a chore. Life goes on, day after day after day.

 

 

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Winter Moon and streets of Kogarah

I took a nice photo of the moon the other night from my place in the south of Sydney. Then I went to Kogarah in Sydney to take some street photos with a photography group.

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Sunset at La Perouse, Sydney

This is what Captain Cook would have seen on sunset when he sailed through the heads of Botany Bay Sydney in 1770

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The Beauty of the Untamed:Remembering Babylon.

There is a beauty in the untamed. 

What one may perceive as ugly can be quite beautiful when the layers are stripped away.

Aesthetic beauty or ugliness may only be skin deep. Peel away the top layer, that which we let others see, to what lies beneath… the true self, that is where real beauty or ugliness is.

True beauty or ugliness is revealed when one is blessed to look at the soul.

The bees which covered Janet were stripped away to reveal a beauty not immediately recognised when looking at her, but she was indeed changed. She had grown from a girl with some childish thoughts into a person who then was able to perceive people beyond the outer layer to the soul.

Gemmy proved to be a very beautiful person, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. He was an outsider. He was different.His thoughts were not of himself but on others. This is where his beauty shone.

It is not until the outer bark is stripped off that the beauty of the Rainbow Bark tree is evident

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Blake, Contraries, and the modern day.

A while ago I wrote a story about a farmer finding God. I reread it today and thought how it ties in with what we have learnt this semester about William Blake and Contraries. About black and white, good and bad. This story shows that but also shows a man seeking God on his own terms, finding God where he is, not in a church. I think the nearest church to this bloke would have been a few hundred kilometres away. Read it for yourself and see if you can see the connection. Please feel free to comment ( or peer review if you are in my lit class)

Dave

Prayer from the heart of the land

©Dave McGettigan 2 August 2011. Edited version may 2013.

 

Well God, I really don’t know how to start. I have heard of praying before but I have never done it, so I don’t know the right words to say. I will just say what’s on my mind.

I never believed in you before. You were never mentioned in my childhood home, except when dad lost on the horses, then he was heard to yell out your name.

I just got on with life here on the station. There was work to be done, so we rounded up some of the hands and did it. We rode the boundary fences, and sometimes didn’t come home for weeks if there were repairs to do.

Every once in a while, we mustered a few hundred head, and sent them off on trucks. A few weeks later, our bank account swelled so we could pay our tabs and workers, and save a bit for a not so rainy day.

The stationhands had their own ideas where we came from and how everything came into being. There was a story for everything; including how we got the space between the clouds and the Earth when Yondi pushed up the sky.

Some of the tales I found quite credible; but I always thought there was more to it.

When the droughts came, I heard other farmers over the UHF cursing you. Men would sob over the airwaves telling us how they didn’t have enough feed and the bank wouldn’t extend their credit any further. I listened while they unashamedly wept because they had to shoot cattle so emaciated that their legs wouldn’t hold them up any longer. The women would do wonders with what little food they had in the pantries; and cry when they didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.

More than once I had to tell the aboriginal workers that they were free to wander the property to search for food and water and to take care of themselves and their families as they could no longer rely on me. I would tell them they could shoot a bull or cow if they couldn’t find any other tucker. We couldn’t afford to feed the cattle anyhow. Often during these times, I would open the door to an unexpected knock, to find a slaughtered kangaroo or emu, given as a gift from a grateful farmhand.

We couldn’t go to the city. We wouldn’t survive there. We don’t know the ways of the people in the cities, and growing beef cattle is all I know.

I was thankful that the kids were in boarding school. The school offered the boys a full boarding scholarship so I didn’t have to worry that they would starve. They would also have hope and wouldn’t see the despair in my eyes. At best, with the learning, they could get work and live in the city; if the station failed and they couldn’t take over.

Then the rains came. The station flooded, but we were prepared and had dug extra dams in anticipation of promised rains. All the creeks and rivers overflowed and dams that had been empty for quite a while now broke the banks.

The stationhands returned and claimed credit for the rains stating they had been to see Uncle Bert and he calls water from the sky. There was dancing in mud puddles by all and sundry. The men all stripped to their shorts, grabbed some soap and had a welcome shower. The women dressed in summer frocks also welcomed the drop in temperature as the water began to cool everything by a couple of degrees.

The grasses grew, and trees sprouted new shoots. The birds were quick to return. Their songs once again woke me each morning and I was grateful that I had no further need for that wretched alarm clock.

I rode out to see the extent of the damage the drought, then the floods had caused. When I was a couple of miles from the homestead, I saw no living cattle. White bones were the only evidence that cattle once roamed these plains.

I realised I would have to take the chopper out to do a major muster. Then we would know exactly what financial position we were in.

We had to buy more stock from the south and with the rains, the banks would extend us credit and our accounts would swell with the rivers.

Last night I looked up at the stars. There is no possible way that they were all set in place by the ancestors of our stockhands.

I think about all the beauty in the world around me. The red earth, the green grass and the blue sky and I know there has to be someone responsible. My wife says a bloke on the telly talked about you and how even when we stuff up, you still look after us. I think that’s great. Fair Dinkum.

Well, I just wanted to say thanks God, for everything. You know, I think without the hard times, we wouldn’t know how good we got it. I reckon that when I am out on the land, fixing fences or whatever and I get a bit lonely, I can talk to you because you are always there.

So… well, see ya. Talk soon.

 

Oh yeah…Amen.

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