Archive for May, 2009

I’ll be a big noise
with all the big boys
– Peter Gabriel, 1986

autumn leaves 1It must be autumn in the Berra. Pedestrians wade through drifts of leaves, or skid down footpaths carpeted with acorns, and the Australian War Memorial has had its warehouse open day.

Big Things In Store is the clever name for the annual opportunity to go and have a look at some of the stuff the AWM has collected but can’t put on permanent display at the main complex where the actual memorial is at the top of ANZAC Parade.

On Sunday we went out to the warehouse at Mitchell. It really is a warehouse, and packed full of big things from concrete floor to soaring ceiling. The open day is popular; even some ten minutes before opening time a hundred or so people were already parked and streaming in for a squiz. If you’re not a former serviceperson or military buff, it can be an odd experience. I had to engage in some rigorous doublethink in order to admire the machinery on display for its design and historical interest and ignore the reality that it’s all built for the singular purpose of large-scale killing and/or causing havoc.

AWM plane 1Once I got my doublethinking cap on, I was very impressed by some of the items they’ve preserved. An actual German V2 rocket. Woah. I had no idea a V2 was so BIG. Its direct inspiration for the space race was evident. The V2 was displayed next to a prototype of another experimental rocket that the Third Reich never got to deploy across the Channel – one of only two such prototypes in the world, apparantly.
AWM plane 12A fully restored Centurion tank, repainted to original specs – who knew that inside all that steel, the bench seats and sections of the floor were still made of wood? All manner of aircraft – a Dakota, a Beaufort, a Canberra Bomber and a M*A*S*H-type helicopter all in a row. Anti-aircraft guns – the engineering differences between the German and Japanese weapons were so great, it was difficult to see that they served the same function. Transports, cannon, radial engines, field kitchens, shells, torpedoes, sea mines, a Salvation Army tea-and-cordial truck, modified farm vehicles turned to combat, ancient portable barbecues, a Singer sewing machine. AWM plane 2My doublethinking cap slipped momentarily when I turned a corner and saw tucked up on a shelf some little tin boats used to land troops on beaches; thoughts of Gallipoli mixed badly with images from the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (an otherwise terrible movie, those opening scenes still give me the horrors). To fight back is sometimes necessary, but war is a dirty business, and it’s good to remember that at both ends of all these machines – the pointing ends and the pointy ends – there are real human beings.

hand-made noticeSome of the items showed the social history of combat and service, and they spoke of a culture in which teamwork and getting on with the job were paramount. No doubt the ability to pull together meant the difference between life and death in combat. There’s both harshness and humour evident in those unofficial communications.

It was a family day for Berrans, and folk of all ages were out. A fellow helped his elderly dad out of a car and into the warehouse. A bloke talked to his friend about using ‘one of those’ in Vietnam. A father explained all the machines to his two little girls and took photos of them posing seriously before impressive items; on one hand it seemed inappropriate, but on the other hand the man evidently had only daughters, and he treated them just as he would have his sons. Food for thought.

a very disconcerting notice

a very disconcerting notice

Out the back there was the inevitable sausage sizzle, but the line there was even larger than that for the Centurion, so we passed.


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Give me a home among the gum trees, with lots of plum trees,
a sheep or two and a kangaroo
– John Williamson, 1975

Bugger me. It’s about 10 past 10 at night, I was just on the verandah out the front doing a little night carpentry (don’t ask), and three kangaroos hopped down my street.

I shit you not. Right there on the bitumen, heading towards town.

The Berra is known as the Bush Capital, but really, this is ridiculous. I live in an inner area, less than 5 minutes’ drive from the CBD. My well-established older suburb has traffic, apartment complexes, rowdy share houses, joggers, pet dogs, and even stolen car action (that was last weekend). There are no gum trees on the nature strip, just the introduced deciduous species that look pretty in autumn. It’s not a bloody wildlife sanctuary.

Never in six years in Tamworse did this happen, and Tamworse really is the country.

Alas, I didn’t have the camera handy. And now the Bald Man thinks I’m on drugs.

I wish.

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A sorrowful tale I’ll tell,
Concerning of a hero who through misfortune fell
His name, it was Ben Hall
– (trad), Weddings Parties Anything, 1989

Does anyone else find the Logies excruciating? It seems to get more puerile every year. Funny people aren’t funny, and smart people look insipid and/or embarassed. Only Johanna Griggs looks excited. As Dave From Albury twitted tweed observed mere moments ago, “When even Rove doesn’t respect the Logies anymore, does that mean that they have officially jumped the shark?” It’s enough to turn you back to the computer on a Sunday evening.

Okay, what happened with the rest of that long weekend? A little while after the Dawn Service, The Bald Man hopped on his bike, joined two friends and rode to Collector. Collector is not a cafe, not a shop, and not in this case a common noun, but one of the weirdly named places* within cooee of The Berra. This Collector is a smidgen of a town about 60km to the north-east not far from Lake George**, known for its annual pumpkin festival and not much else. It was a stupid brave thing to ride out there, given the filthy weather (the drizzle had cleared a little, mostly blown away by the gale-force winds). I am not so stupid brave and therefore opted to drive out there to meet them. The plan was to stay overnight at the famed Bushranger Hotel.

The Bushranger Hotel, Collector. Ominous.

The Bushranger Hotel, Collector. Ominous.

The Bushranger Hotel was founded in 1860 as the Kimberley’s Commercial. A heritage study of the Hotel I found at the bar notes that the name Collector is probably a corruption of a local Aboriginal word ‘collegdar’, thought to mean either ‘pelican’ or ‘hill’ (of course, they’re so similar). The Hotel’s name was changed after an incident in which Ben Hall and his mates Gilbert and Dunn shot a Constable Nelson right outside the pub.

With that sort of heritage, I suppose I should have expected a rowdy night. Certainly the plasma TVs, one over the otherwise-empty bar and one in the main lounge blaring the Country Music Channel at full volume mid-afternoon, should have been a hint. But no. I was captivated by the many rustic touches, including the sign labelled “dunnies” confusing some non-English speaking tourists who were also visiting, the strangely attired and unravelling stuffed kangaroo, and the collection of dead snakes in jam jars on the shelf behind the pool table.

The counter meals certainly lived up to the hype; I thoroughly recommend the pork roast. The beer on tap is fine. Together, they make a nice day trip. But that’s all I’d recommend.

To cut a long story short, all other business at the Collector Hotel was conducted at an excruciating volume. As patrons started to flow in, the volume of conversation went up, the music went up to compensate, and the conversation rose to shouting level. Tribes of feral children ran screaming through the premises accompanied by dogs and chasing cats. At one point The Bald Man turned the music down a little, but it was promptly turned back up to ear-splitting. At about 9.30pm, tired from the ride and tired of shouting, our group retired to our respective rooms. At about this time, the plasma was retuned to a contemporary music channel and the party began in earnest. Our bedroom was directly over the lounge, and the floor vibrated with the noise. This continued until 2.45am. At this time someone turned off the music halfway through an appalling song, which was all the better to hear another half hour of whooping and shouting as the remaining patrons wound down. I can honestly say I have never paid for a more hideous hotel experience, and believe me I have plenty to choose from. The morning wasn’t much better, as the bathrooms turned out not to have been washed for some weeks and were too vile for use. We fled into an oncoming storm.

Bruce Stadium, or rather, Canberra Stadium. Those are cheerleaders on the turf, freezing their rumps off at half time. I don't get this cheerleaders thing. Personally, I'd rather have the Little League.

Bruce Stadium, or rather, Canberra Stadium. Those are cheerleaders on the turf, freezing their rumps off at half time. I don't get cheerleaders. Personally, I'd rather have the Little League.

Sunday had one good experience in store, however; my first ever a-grade Rugby League match. In fact, it was a Raiders game at Bruce Stadium, making it a truly Berran experience. The weather was a disturbing mix of sunshine and sleet, and the crowd a piffling 10,000 (the AFL girl in me sniffed) but I have to confess watching good footy in the flesh is always a joy. It was a good match too, although the Raiders lost. I think I am finally on my way to understanding and perhaps even appreciating the northern codes, a little. Go you Raiders.

* There’s also a place nearby called Tarago. Not related to Toyota in any way, I understand.
** Another strangely named place, seeing as there’s never any actual ‘lake’ at Lake George. Well, I saw water in it once, but that was decades ago.

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