Modest Expectations – We Fielded Our Cricket Team from 2002 Onwards

Matildas. Adulation. Well deserved. The question is what now? Coming fourth is not new. After all, the team finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, being beaten by USA for the bronze medal. That event did not elicit the same adulation as has occurred. Sam Kerr, arguably the best player in the world, is a key reason for the adulation. We see very little of her in the flesh; moreover, she missed the early games through injury, but during the whole time on the field she was double-teamed. Her goal nevertheless gave us a glimpse of her ability.

However, there is a need to get perspective. How many sporting teams receive an enduring memory by finishing fourth?

After all, the Hockeyroos almost owned the hockey podium a decade or two ago, and still remain second seeded. Then there is the Women’s cricket team and the Diamonds netball team; currently both top seeded – both world champions. Where are their statues?

The basketball Opals have slipped since Lauren Jackson, the best basketballer in the World, retired and Liz Cambage went walkabout.  The first decade of this century was Opal time – three Olympic silver medals and a World Cup gold in 2006. Yet they retain 3rd seeding in the World.

Our women’s water polo team briefly flashed the world winning the Gold Medal at the Sydney Games.

So, the potential for disappointment and then blaming exists; unreal expectations with poor allocation of funding (see sports rorts), especially when there is a statue to remind the nation of the could-have-beens.

Spain has shown the way to gold by being Under 17 and Under 20 women’s football champions. They set the nations which appear to use brutality as a major tactic on their heels. This is illustrated by the so-called Lionesses. It is time that when a player deliberately steps on the foot of the opposition player then they should be immediately red carded.

Happy Matilda Day!

I have expressed my view of a Matilda Day. The naming of the team Matilda was a stroke of genius as the name can embrace all women’s sports in a way that the names Hockeyroos and Diamonds cannot. As demonstrated this past month, Australia has demonstrated a yearning for uncomplicated, dedicated women epitomised by this team.

The Matildas have shown themselves to be an ideal for young children, and part of this is hero-worship, and wishing to emulate their achievements.  Sam Kerr, in proposing her academy for aspirant children footballers demonstrates her ongoing tangible commitment without any unnecessary hype, just shows her quality.

The fact that the women are free to disclose their sexual preferences is an advantage as it strips away the humbug, which has infested this nation. We are applauding honesty, grace and the fortitude of Australian women – not a bunch of football players who just happened to finish fourth in some ephemeral sporting event, where previous women’s sporting teams have gone before.

David has Left the Building

David Unaipon

In July 2019, in this blog I wrote about David Unaipon, the Man on the $50 note. I have a copy of his Native Legends from which I quoted in that blog.  There was a letter interleaved in the booklet, in flawless copperplate, which read (sic):

February 15th 1930

Dr Angus Johnson

Dear Sir

Last week I had an Aboriginal named D. Unaipon staying at my hotel at Mount Pleasant and he told me he was searching for skulls for you. I should esteem as a favor (sic) if you would let me know if that was correct as he went away and never paid his board.

Thanking you in anticipation

Yours Truly

H. Clendinnen
Talinga Hotel
Mt Pleasant

I think I must have Dr Johnson’s copy since the inside covers are plastered with newspaper cuttings mostly related to David Unaipon, but among them, there is pasted a cartoon of Johnson as Medical Officer of Health for Adelaide City Council. It is ironic that David Unaipon made part of his income wandering the Murray River banks picking up Aboriginal skulls.

This letter, as a request for payment, in reality is a reflection about Unaipon’s source of income, although it is ignored by commentators. Why? It does nothing to help to airbrush an occurrence which is unpalatable to a later generation that is calling for repatriation of the remains, blaming their removal on insensitive whitefellas. I have kept an article reprinted from the Observer in 2009, when the Ngarrindjeri-born clown, Major Sumner, says he’s been repatriating his people’s remains from all over the world for decades and has returned people to the country of his father (Ngarrindjeri) and now his mother (Kaurna). Major Sumner stands out with his curious body painting, kangaroo bone through nose and emu feather crown. I would like to know where the ochre pot he uses for his distinctly coloured lines is located.  As for the clown role, that is seen in very many civilisations as a serious foil testing reality.

I am not sure about Major Sumner, who is variously labelled as being an OAM, AM and AO. I always am wary of creeping self–aggrandisement, when it appears that there is only proof of OAM. Such a confusion of post-nominals is in itself trivial but inflated curricula vitae always make me suspicious.

Major Sumner

Major Sumner is reported as saying “It’s draining and it takes it out of you. But it makes you feel good that you’re doing it. What really got me was we were sitting down there and then you will get one of the old people’s remains – and we are not just talking about old people. These are little children. Little babies. Their remains.

“Why did they die – how did they die? They’d never seen life yet … we don’t know why. But it makes you feel very, very sad for them – for their spirit. It affects me because I’ve got a lot of grandchildren and I’d hate that to happen to my grandchildren.”

I wonder what David Unaipon would have replied to this jumble, given that reference is made to him in The Conquest of the Narrindjeri, David Jenkins’ book. This book was given to us by Henry Rankin OAM, a major elder in the Raukkan Community, just before Christmas 2000.

In this book, there is a generally positive view of David Unaipon and his creativity. For instance, he was issued with nineteen patents across his life, none which were proceeded with because of lack of finance. Even the invention of the mechanical sheep shears which appears on $50 note was a matter of dispute, where he seems to have been initially “dudded”. But then that was the story of Unaipon’s life. He was “always short of a quid”.  Sound familiar?

Incidentally in this book, there is no mention of his skull retrieval activities. The Aboriginal airbrush is brought out to smooth over the sand, and leave history to recollection, a selective process. The lesson is that we must always own up to the trail of detritus we leave, even if the climate changes.

Death in The Family

I left the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in 1984 after five years working there. One area I had an interest in was the AMA/ACHS Peer Resource Centre. When I had joined the staff of the AMA, the then President of the AMA, Lionel Wilson had drawn me aside and asked if I would become the AMA expert on peer review and all the accompanying catechism, which surrounded the challenge for the medical profession to improve and maintain the quality of health care.

I was leaving the AMA, and my going-away present was an olive tree which I named after a colleague of mine. His first name was Brian, and at the presentation of the olive tree, it was thus labelled. Brian was a small tree in a pot when he was presented to me.  As he grew, the pots got bigger. Nevertheless, Brian was decorative but at no stage did he produce any olives. He just sat stoically by the back door, where he probably could have done with some sun.

However, he remained a dwarf until on my wife’s birthday back in 1987, when we moved into our new house. This was a fateful day for Brian. He was then planted on the grass verge outside the house.  From there, freed from the constraints of the pot, he flourished. He quickly passed through adolescence to become a full grown tree. His branches spread outwards so inter alia they were vulnerable to cars parking next to him, damaging him. To compensate, he would have a prune from time to time.

Then the olives began to arrive annually, and we harvested up to five kgs. The first harvest was not properly processed, despite following a plan of changing the water while increasing the brining. Some of our subsequent harvests were taken but since Brian was in the street, we had no grounds to object.

When first picked from trees like Brian, olives are very bitter and have an astringent flavour. This is mostly due to the oleuropein in the olives. Oleuropein is a bitter compound that likely helps protect the olives while growing. The passing parade of school students learnt an early lesson about olives, picked them on the way to or from school, which was just around the corner and spitting them out.


Having witnessed a nun in a monastery in Cyprus sitting and quietly smashing the olives and then putting them straight into brine; and indicating that was all one had to do, induced us to do the same. The rationale was this accelerated the process of removing the astringency. It worked and for several seasons we had olives by the bottle.

Then Brian started producing fewer and fewer olives, and then there were hardly any, and these were only on the unreachable top. Then the understory of branches lost their leaves and became a wickerwork of dead branches. Brian has recently undergone surgery but whether he survives will become clearer in the next few weeks. But the prognosis at best is guarded.

Free Assange. He has Cost Too Much

Imagine, for a moment, that the government of Cuba was demanding the extradition of an Australian publisher in the United Kingdom for exposing Cuban military crimes. Imagine that these crimes had included a 2007 massacre by helicopter-borne Cuban soldiers of a dozen Iraqi civilians, among them two journalists for the Reuters news agency.

Now imagine that, if extradited from the UK to Cuba, the Australian publisher would face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison, simply for having done what media professionals are ostensibly supposed to do: report reality.

Finally, imagine the reaction of the United States to such Cuban conduct, which would invariably consist of impassioned squawking about human rights and democracy and a call for the universal vilification of Cuba.

-Belén Fernández, Al Jazeera

I have never really had much time for Julian Assange and his posturings. He briefly disclosed some American so-called secrets, the importance of which has been vastly exaggerated since the disclosure seems to have had minimal effect on Pax Americana. Still, far, far worse, he embarrassed several American bureaucrats, and that is of course a capital crime. The problem is some of the vindictive protagonists are those who posture as ovine liberals rather than as true lupine authoritarians.

Assange on the balcony

Assange portrayed himself as the detached intellectual, a Saviour of the Human Race, a man of Destiny calling Nations to account. Well, that did not happen. He holed himself in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and standing on its cuckoo clock balcony, from which he declaimed about his unwarranted need for asylum before, like the cuckoo he went back inside and the door snapped shut.

Then the Ecuadorian Government changed, and Assange was back on the streets, where he was arrested, and put in gaol. The legal process grinds on as the Americans are not at this minute inclined to drop all charges. And of course, our politicians, expert in lingual coriophilia do not raise their heads from their appointed task on their RNR trips to Washington to play golf.

But, for God’s sake, keeping Assange in custody serves no purpose apart from satisfying this vindictiveness of a few American bureaucrats. The Poms have connived to ensure Assange is still held in custody. Why?  Presumably there is a hulk on the River Thames in order for Senator Wong to seek a sentence for him to be transported for Life to New Holland rather than being executed in a Federal American prison.

Fortunately, it seems that Caroline Kennedy has become the equivalent of “best friend” to Assange and hopefully her influence will get the US government to drop all charges while saving face. Presumably the Prime Minister is on tap for a display of Assange contriteness and a compendium of “thank yous”. After I would suggest Assange slip into a more mundane role in progressing his obvious concern for a better world. Smelling the flowers would help him.

The comment by the Al Jazeera journalist comment is masterly and very relevant.

Time to send Julian home!

Bring Back the Parasol

I grew up in southern India but have lived in the United States since I arrived to attend college in Wisconsin at age 17. There are endless public health stories to be told in India, so I go back once a year and try to report as much as I can. I speak four Indian languages, which is a real advantage when interviewing non-experts. 

The above quote legitimises the following timely musings of Apoorva Mandavilli in the NYT. She was socialised as a child and teenager in Southern India. I have edited (rather than paraphrased) her article, but I believe I have retained its essence. Some of her statements are contestable, but in the editing, I believe I have not censored any of her views.  Personally, I am captivated by Kerala, but I have never lived through monsoon driven flooding, which might change this idyllic view.

As I hurried to an appointment one recent afternoon in New York City, the harsh sun seemed to set my skin and hair on fire. Sweat pooled under my sunglasses, and my T-shirt and shorts stuck to my damp skin. I should have been used to the heat. I grew up in southern India, where the temperature routinely sweeps past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But I had abandoned all the tricks and strategies I had used then.

To begin with, I was walking outside at about 3 pm (in New York). In India, I rarely ventured out between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., or if I did I was fully equipped to face the sun. I usually carried an umbrella, much as women in Victorian England carried parasols, to shield my head and face. And I wore salwar kameez, a tunic and loose fitting bottoms made of thin, gauzy cotton.

It turns out that these methods, employed all over South Asia, are rooted in solid science, even though I didn’t realise it then. As climate change sends temperatures soaring around the world, people who are not used to coping with heat could stand to adopt a few strategies from regions that have faced hot weather for generations.

In New York I only ever carry an umbrella when it’s rainy, and rarely wear a hat except at the beach. But in a situation where you’re out in the direct sun, having something to protect you from that direct sun radiation is important. Hence the parasol.

Likewise, wearing little clothing to stay cool (or cultivate a tan) exposes you to dangerous solar radiation. A better option is to cover up with breathable layers.

People in hot regions dress in thin, loose fitting clothes, in light colours that reflect the sun’s rays and facilitate the evaporation of sweat, rather than trap the heat as darker colours do. Clothes made of thin cotton, linen or bamboo are the most breathable, and synthetic fabrics, like polyester and nylon, the least breathable.

Having that sweat evaporate is important to cool your body when you’re moving or exercising.

Cool, damp cloths can accomplish the same goal. In northern India, men often wrap a wet scarf or towel around their neck or their head,

The neck is replete with blood vessels, which widen at high temperatures. The dilated vessels carry more hot blood from the core of the body to the skin, where heat dissipates into the air. In fact, when people turn up in emergency rooms with a heat illness, doctors often pack the neck area with ice and cold towels to rapidly lower their body temperature.

Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism, but the moisture lost must be promptly replaced. That can be accomplished by drinking water, eating watery vegetables and fruit like cucumbers, watermelon and mangoes, or soups. People in the tropics often eat hot soups, to cool off by sweating.

Everybody knows hydration, but what we miss is that hydration doesn’t necessarily mean only drinking water.  Water should be combined with electrolytes.

When I was growing up in India, bottled water was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Coconuts, heaped high in roadside stalls, offered an inexpensive, safe and delicious alternative. Vendors use a small machete to slice open the top of the coconut. When I’d had my fill of the cool, sweet water, I would break the coconut open and eat its moist white meat.

Doctors generally warn against drinking alcohol in the heat because it is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration. If you do drink, margaritas make a good option because the salt on the rim can replenish sodium lost to sweat,

The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to avoid it as much as possible. In various cultures, that means scheduling work for the hours when the daylight is less intense. Many people in southern India, and especially those who toil outside, begin their workday around 4 a.m. and work until no later than noon. The afternoon often includes a nap. Work then resumes at 4 or 5 p.m. for a few more hours.

Yet, the routine is now less common than it was in his childhood, he said, as Western rhythms and office life have taken over Indian cities.

Few Indian households have air conditioning; traditional homes manage to stay cool using other techniques.

One key approach is to open windows early in the day and close them before it begins to warm up. Heavy, dark curtains block light and heat from entering the house, and ceiling fans circulate the cool air trapped inside. My family home had curtains made of khus, a native Indian grass, which we sprayed with water every couple of hours. The curtains transform hot gusts into cool, fragrant breezes.

Many traditional Indian homes have verandas, high ceilings and walls of mud that keep the interior cool. New Orleans, is famous for its shotgun houses — linear buildings in which a bullet shot through the front door can in theory exit through the back door without hitting anything on the way — that allow the air to flow freely. Because heat rises, high ceilings and ceiling fans also keep the living spaces cool.

Some of these older strategies may have become useless — for example, early mornings are frequently so warm now that even waking up at 4 a.m. may not always offer a comfortable start to the day.

Climate change’s rapid pace demands solutions that can keep houses and bodies cool even when the mercury keeps rising.

We are no longer adjusting to one hot day or a couple of hot days, we’re looking at week upon weeks of having to deal with this. This is the cultural shift that people must make in their heads.

Mouse Whisper

Our ringtail possum. Every evening from early autumn about nine or ten in the evening, we would see her unblinking eyes peering through the dining room window as she climbed down the outside bars over the windows from her nest. I wrote about her in my 26 May Whisper.

But she has vanished – gone – who knows where. I miss her visits every evening – her quizzical look as if what she saw in the house confounded her.

I’ll miss her.


Modest Expectations – Blumenthal & Hawley

Wednesday, 10pm. Bit sad.

If Mary Fowler progresses and Sam Kerr maintains her place at the apex of the game then we’ll have a formidable attack for the 2027 Cup, the venue of which will be announced on 17th May next year. Four bids are being considered:

  • Germany, Netherlands, Belgium
  • United States, Mexico
  • Brazil
  • South Africa

But it’s a bit early to speculate on that while understandably defeat hurts. Time to concentrate on Sweden in two days’ time for the game to determine the bronze medal.

Finally, an Olympic gold medal in Paris in next year would be some compensation.

As Tony Armstrong said to this youngish side “Maintain the Rage!”  Well at least metaphorically.

Matilda Day

Well done Matildas!  Seeded 13th, and yes, home ground advantage; but beaten by the Poms, seeded fourth. Probably the Poms were a better team – cagey and robust. Nevertheless, we had our chances.

It is thus a very appropriate time, Prime Minister, if you had the courage. Why not replace the King’s Birthday with Matilda Day to celebrate Australian women including their sporting achievements? A good time to institute such a change, given that it is not even Charles’ real birthday, and if you stand back, you would realise how ludicrous it is for us to celebrate the mythical birthday of an ageing Pom, who has no relevance to modern Australia, apart from being the representative of colonial overlords, whose ancestors help drive my family out of Ireland or would have left them to starve. I’m sure that I am not the only Australian to feel the same way.

If you would ask the Australian people whether they thought a public holiday to continue to celebrate somebody who would have done King George III of 1788 fame proud, or what the Matildas represent, I am sure they would choose Matilda Day.

And if that doesn’t convince us of our Prime Minister’s judgment, perhaps his interviewer-of-choice in the UK, Piers Morgan’s comments might jolt him into ditching his obsequious attitude to the British:

England’s fabulous Lionesses crush Australia’s wilting Matildas 3-1 in their own back yard to reach the Women’s World Cup Final … sweet revenge for the Jonny Bairstow Ashes runout debacle. Congrats ladies – you’ve made your country proud! Morgan wrote.

Matched only by England’s guttersnipe, Stokes’ tweets. Bitch about cricket all you like, no matter how unwarranted without checking your own MCC rules, but what have the Matildas done to deserve your disgusting commentary other than play hard and accept the result graciously.

Did you guys enjoy Sam Kerr being kicked in the face?

Those two should witness the demonstration of grace – the Matildas.

Humbug Valley

I had not travelled up the New England Highway for some years before last week. I remember travelling up the highway first in May 1956. My father believed, as my mother had died two months before, that it would be therapeutic to get away from Melbourne and go to Brisbane. It was the last capital city I needed to visit to complete the set, if Darwin had not to be included. In any event I had travelled with my parents on The Ghan to Alice Springs five years before. This had left Queensland the only State or Territory that I had yet to visit, but in the intervening years my mother had become very ill.

It was a time when John Landy had the whole country in a fervour as he tried to break the four-minute mile. I remember when we were driving up the Highway, we passed a car, which was stopped. We noted its driver as we were, listening to the crackle of the broadcast. It was obvious that both of us were listening to John Landy running. Why else would this stranger be jumping up like a dervish while acknowledging what he assumed to be a kindred spirit as we honked our car’s horn? I can’t remember what time Landy did in this race.

On this occasion last week we were headed to stay with an old friend and his partner, who live in Toowoomba, and we stopped overnight in Armidale, where I first visited for a university student meeting in 1960.  It was a tense time then, because the University of Melbourne student body had seceded from The National Union of Australian University of Students (the Australian Nation Union of Students title was thought to be very inappropriate – but not by all!) the year before I became President of the University of Melbourne SRC.

The reason for the secession has been lost in the mists of time, but coming in to land, those mists were still there, hanging around the airport. The campus of the University reflected the youth of the University as a separate entity from its parent University of Sydney in 1954. It was a dismal place.  Little money had been spent on it. There was mud everywhere and wood planks had been put down to assist the attendees in negotiating the mud. I remember that nevertheless there were several falls from insecure planks. As for the meeting, the outcome was relatively positive although Sydney University, with Michael Kirby to the fore, was implacably opposed to our readmission.

Anyway, these anecdotes are by-the-by. The New England Highway resembles the Hume Highway of the 1960s in being two lanes passing through every little village, with restricted speeding.  The only exception was Scone where, given the overall lousy standard of the bitumen, we found here a smooth stretch. I presumed the Scone bypass was relatively new, and on checking, it was completed three years ago. To finish this picture, there are occasional overtaking lanes but very few rest areas, and travelling north these always seem to be on the other side of the road.

What has changed? It is the volume of traffic, and now the trucks are Leviathans. The number of coal trucks confirms that we are in the land of the climate change denialists. Then the coal trains passing through reinforce this view. The Hunter Valley is littered with coal mining activity, sneering at climate change. As the prospect of a world consumed by fires ramps up, it will even reach the coal executives high in their office tower buildings from where admittedly the view of the Coal Fires could be beautifully apocalyptic.

Once Hunter, now Humbug, Valley (can’t close the mines – what about the jobs!) I would suggest there will be many more jobs for firefighters trying to put out the flames. Passing yet another rumbling overladen coal truck just keeps reminding us that public policy in this country is a travesty. Yet we are letting the politicians, who should be rectifying it, get away with doing nothing, thus effectively complicit in the murder of our planet.


Traveling through the Hunter Valley reminded us of the time we spent a weekend for four, courtesy of British Airways at Belltrees. Belltrees is the home of the White family, from which the noted author Patrick White was spawned. The White family have owned an extensive tract of land in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales since 1831, and in the process of acquisition acquired all the water rights. Wealth and White have been synonymous there, in a property which once occupied 56,000 hectares at its biggest, but now is a relatively modest 9,000 hectares.

Belltrees Homestead

We stayed in one of the cottages in the grounds of the 52-room Federation mansion, where we were greeted with afternoon tea, followed in the evening by an excellent traditional meal with Hunter wines, Tyrrells as I remember them. The next day exploring the grounds, we had a picnic lunch, and drove up to Ellerston, the Packer property in the lee of the forested Barrington Tops. Very select, well-guarded, high Cyclone wire fence encircling the property, where Packer even then had multiple polo fields hidden away in his 28,000-hectare property. A large helicopter could be seen, like the Royal Standard over Buckingham Palace, suggesting in this case, Packer was in residence.

That visit to Belltrees was probably in the early nineties, and I was talking to a friend who knows the value of property in that area. He had looked at parcels of land being carved from the estate and put up for sale.  This slice of the property was sold, but still a substantial amount remains, despite the remaining White owners investing into polo rather than farming.

I thought then it was another world, but Sydney is ringed by settlement where pioneering families still abound, where their presence is muted, as “old money” still exists and has not been gradually whittled away over the generations. I believe polo is one such “whittling indulgence”.

Just Love that Ibacus peronii 

Ibacus peronii

Nambucca Heads is one of those coastal, or more correctly riverine communities, which have grown over the years from being a fishing village to being a place where people have built holiday homes, and more recently by those retiring and moving to these townships – the sea change.  With this evolution the housing just resembles any other metropolitan suburb or township, but 500 km from Sydney. The housing stock is no different. Houses with the narrow eaves, energy inefficient, timber framed, brick veneer or cement construction with a vestigial garden, plonked down to remind one that all individuality in such towns is increasingly being lost.

But not quite. In a quiet spot on the Nambucca River away from the major hub is Davis Seafood. This unprepossessing shopfront has a sign which highlights that you can buy fish and “air fried chips”. Small notices above the door state “flake”, “blackfish” and “mullet”. They also announced that they sold crustacea – mud crab and Balmain bug.

Well, it was not very promising. There was neither flake nor blackfish available. The mullet had been sold out. It was one of those places where the day’s catch was sold – until there was no more. As for mud crabs, they were not available in August – rule of thumb, mud crabs are only available in the months that have the letter “R” in their title.

However, there were Balmain bugs, freshly caught, freshly cooked. They were small. Nevertheless, they tasted as I have never tasted one before. Reminiscent of lobster, but more delicate and where one could taste the brine. Absolutely sublime.

That was not all. there were whiting fillets available for the fish and chips – it may not have been wrapped in newspaper, but it was that authentic taste that I remembered from my childhood. Nostalgia may have clouded this enthusiastic reminder of the fish and chips of yore.  In my fish files, the Balmain bugs were the best I ever tasted.  Ironically, we live in the Sydney suburb where the Bugs, Ibaci peronii, were common; but sadly, no more.

 Vegemite on the Moonie

This past weekend we stayed with John and Hillary plus Poppy, her Dalmatian. As a side comment, I do not care much for dogs; but I must say these hounds with their black spotted coat have a noble appearance. I could see these carriage dogs bounding alongside the coach protecting the travellers from the attacks of wild animals or highwaymen with the temerity to not yield to these regal canines.

John Kibble has been a friend of mine for nearly 40 years. He was a Queensland medical graduate with a deep-seated affinity for the Darling Downs and has owned cattle properties across Queensland as well being in the forefront of promoting day surgery.

Below is a poem, which I wrote some years ago. The fact we still had a blue Saab then gives some indication how long ago this subject of the poem occurred. John had invited us to the Flinton races. Flinton itself is a population speck about 100 kilometres east of St George, a place for growing melons (the major grower was a man called Moon and his melon harvest known as “moon rocks” – although we were informed that he now grows onions – “onimoons” doesn’t have the same ring.)

However, the race meeting coincided with heavy rain, so heavy that the races were cancelled, but nevertheless John had invited us to stay at his property through which the Moonie River ran. We were to go on to St George, and the Moonie was due to bring a “banker”. If that occurred, we would not be able to ford the River and this meant a sixty kilometre detour.

Therefore, the ballad below relates what happened when we crossed the Moonie River that age ago when “ute” was still a word. Read on:

Squares and Spanish Moss

Savannah is one of those Southern United States cities where the Spanish moss hangs from the trees, the magnolias bloom, azaleas abound in spring and where the arterial Savannah River still has paddle steamers contributing to that nostalgic belief of courtly southern etiquette, with the whole city built around squares. Although the city was not razed by the Northern Army during the Civil War, the ghosts of men in grey uniforms and women in bonnet, shawl and crinoline still wander the streets with their jolly loyal black attendants, caricatures, perhaps called Aunt Jemima and Uncle Remus.

We had stopped off in Savannah, taking a break from our railway trip from Miami to New York. Once the train would back up into the city centre, but now as we waited to leave Savannah late at night, I watched those who were waiting like us for the Amtrak, white and African American groups, huddling against the cold. I had this product of fertile imagination of what an ideal place for a terrorist attack – an isolated shed aka railway station late in the evening.  Fertile, but it is not my usual reaction when I have been in such locations. Eventually the train came.  It was late.

But back to the beginning. Even though it was early winter, we wanted to walk the Squares of this city in Georgia, starting at the River and then proceeding away in a roughly centrifugal manner. Each of the squares had its own identity.

Monterey Square is probably the most well-known of all the Squares, because of its association with John Berendt’s non-fictional novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. Although it did not win the Pulitzer Prize, it has become of the most popular novel of its type, being on the best-seller list for over four years after its publication in 1994 and the subsequent 1997 Clint Eastwood film, in which Jack Thompson is featured as the savvy trial lawyer, Sonny Seiler, who defended Jim Williams in his trial for the murder of Danny Hansford, his sexual partner. Sordid is one word which comes as one wanders through this licentious Berendt swamp but is it compelling reading!

Johnny Mercer

In that Square there is also a house built by an ancestor of Johnny Mercer, the song writer, who wrote many famous songs, including one of my favourites, Moon River. We stayed in the Hyatt Avia Hotel on Ellis Square facing the Market, where there was an almost life size statue of Johnny Mercer leaning on a fire hydrant reading a newspaper. It had been vandalised and remained partially covered.

Savannah, at the time we walked around the city, had 23 Squares although others had been mapped out and been lost with time. The Squares nevertheless defined the people who lived around them. This bred an individuality in each of these Squares.

For instance, there is Chippewa Square named for the 1814 victory of the United States near Niagara. This was one of the battles in the 1812 War, which showed that the United States army could match it with a seasoned British military force fresh from its victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The US army was under the command of General Jacob Brown. But the statue in the Square is that of a stout General Oglethorpe with sword unsheathed, as he faces south, repelling the Spanish presumably.

General James Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733 as a bulwark against Spanish incursions into the British Carolinas and as a potential port for raw material export. In this case the crop was cotton, bolstered by black slavery to ensure the growth of Savannah as a significant port.

Nevertheless, Chippewa Square has modern notoriety, as it was where Tom Hanks as Forest Gump was filmed on a park bench waiting for a bus. I could not find the spot.

Although there is an Oglethorpe Square, where the Moravians settled with their musical skill and ability to craft musical instruments, the first two Squares created were Johnson and Telfer Squares, all lined up near the river. These squares in winter were not the most attractive but were areas where the first churches were built and generally had religious associations.  John Wesley later, as a young clergyman, came to Savannah and preached there.

Chippewa Square

As it was winter, it was not the time to visit Savannah if you wanted to smell the flowers. These Squares were thus stripped of their colour and were reliant on their structure, the architecture, the configuration – whether the central point was fountain or statue. Each Square has its own distinct history.

What did we take away from Savannah? A black felt rat with pink inner ears. This rat had been left over from Halloween. Having read Berendt’s novel, I could not think of anything more appropriate than the acquisition of such a dark forbidding creature. Savannah, after all, epitomises that Baudelaire axiom about at the heart of intense beauty that evil can permeate the environs.

Mouse Whisper

Seen on the back of a caravan being towed by a 4WD vehicle in northern NSW, “Adventure before Dementia”.

A brutal warning not to delay travel and acquisition of new experiences before it is too late. People say glibly 70 is the new 50. Somewhere in the seventies, this gap closes (if it ever existed) and by the age of 80, 80 is 80, I am assured.

We mice do not have to worry. Getting to seven years is not the new five.