Dec 28
I Feel the Earth Move …
icon4 Dec 28th, 2009 | icon2 Memories | icon3Comments Off

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Newcastle earthquake. Being a proud Novocastrian, I was in Newie on that fateful day and can remember it vividly. Our family always had Christmas holidays in Forster, so it was unusual for us to be at home in late December, but for some reason that year we came back to Newcastle for a few days around Christmas. Perhaps it was because my sister was visiting from the US, where she was living at the time.

Just before 10:30 on that morning I was lying on my bed, probably reading a book or listening to music. It began as a very subtle shaking, so slight that for a second or two I thought it was just our old washing machine jumping up and down. But as it grew more violent I realised this was something else entirely. I stood up and went to the kitchen, where mum was standing. My sister had come out of the loungeroom and for a second or two we stood looking at each other as the house shook and things started falling off shelves. Our old house was a wooden frame weatherboard place, built in the early ’50s. For those few seconds it felt like being inside a shoebox that was being twisted back and forth. It’s amazing that there wasn’t severe structural damage – I guess they don’t make ‘em like they used to!

In maybe ten seconds it was over. I think one of us said the word “earthquake”, which is what I’m sure we were all thinking. But an earthquake in Newcastle? We all went out the front and looked up and down the street, most of our neighbours had the same idea. Across the road a car had stopped and its driver was crouched on the road, looking underneath, wondering what it was that had caused his car to go haywire. Of course his car was fine, it was the road that was momentarily screwed up.

One of our neighbours was talking about a possible explosion at the BHP steel works. We all looked in that direction for any signs of smoke or fire. But as we went back inside I think we knew that we had just experienced an earthquake.

Of course we didn’t know the extent of the damage at that time. The power had gone out and so we had no television. I had an appointment at 11:00 to get the brakes fixed on my car, so off I drove to the mechanics in Tudor St, Hamilton. Little did I know that this was the area which suffered the most damage. As I drove I passed many houses that hadn’t fared as well as ours. Most people stood in shock, some crying, outside their homes. Fire engines and ambulances roared by, the air filled with the wailing of sirens. When I arrived at the mechanics I found that one entire wall had collapsed, the employees standing around looking at the pile of rubble. Assuming that my appointment was cancelled I turned around and headed home.

Over the next hour we got more news via the radio. We sat in our loungeroom in amazement as we heard of the people killed in Beaumont St, Hamilton, crushed by fallen shop awnings. And then we heard that the Newcastle Workers’ Club – a local institution! – had collapsed and that people were trapped inside. Nine were to die in that one building alone.

In 1998 the telemovie “Aftershocks” – adapted from the play by Paul Brown – told the story of the Newcastle Earthquake. I was played by a young David Wenham.

Here is some old NBN news footage of the disaster (WARNING: This footage contains ’80s fashions):

Dec 27
Christmas Craziness
icon4 Dec 27th, 2009 | icon2 Bric-a-Brac | icon3Comments Off

Well, our Chrissie was a good one, got lots of nice pressies, ate lots of nice food, and so on … but our quiet little corner of the world had its share of newsworthiness on Christmas Day.

You may have seen on the news that a guy was shot by police following a neighbourhood dispute in Lisarow, which is our suburb! And it happened just a stone’s throw from Rach’s mum’s house, which is a bit scary! The police had the road blocked yesterday, and there were journos nosing about getting quotes from the neighbours for the evening news. On the same day a woman was hit by a van while walking on the footpath just a few streets away from us. And to top it off, a guy was bitten by a shark at Avoca Beach, our latest favourite swimming spot!

Apart from all that the day went fairly smoothly. I was lucky enough to take out the Annual Christmas Day Family Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament – my second win in three years, to blow my own trumpet!

The last two days I’ve done not very much apart from eat leftovers and read my book while keeping an eye on the Boxing Day Test Match. Go Pakistan!

Dec 22

Last weekend we watched the first in the Sunday Night Classic Movie series. Rach’s mother Margaret (aka “Gum”) got first pick, and chose a favourite from her youth, Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley.

Released in 1961, Blue Hawaii was Presley’s eighth film, and followed a pattern common to most of Elvis’s movies: a loosely connected series of songs interspersed with lots of pretty girls and occasional narrative elements.

Let me give you a quick run-down of the tissue-thin plot. Chadwick (“Chad”) Gates, played by Elvis, is a young GI returning to Hawaii after two years of military service in Europe. Chad is happy to be re-united with his French-Hawaiian girlfriend, Maile (pronounced “my-lee”), and his gang of eccentric yet musically gifted beach buddies, but he quickly reveals an underlying restlessness and uncertainty about his future.

Also waiting for Chad are his somewhat overbearing parents, whose deepest wish is that their son make a career in the family’s flourishing pineapple business. (Chad’s mother, a domineering Southern dame, is played by the venerable Angela Lansbury. This despite the fact that Lansbury is English and only ten years older than Presley.)

Chad’s desire to strike out on his own leads to the central conflict of the film, an ideological clash between himself and his parents regarding the importance of career success, financial independence, and so on. Furthermore, when Chad lands a job as a tour guide to an attractive American school teacher and her four amorous female pupils it’s clear that this temptation will test the strength of his commitment to his beloved Maile.

I won’t spoil the film for you by giving away the ending, but I will comment briefly on some of the more noteworthy or otherwise mystifying scenes:

  • early in the first reel a Corgi appears on the beach and is brutally rough-housed by Chad and his pals before making off with Maile’s bikini top
  • Chad’s parents’ butler is a bumbling young fellow of Asian appearance whose name is “Ping Pong”
  • a young girl, one of Chad’s clients, driven temporarily insane by a combination of unrequited love and long-term parental abandonment, steals a pink jeep which she proceeds to crash into a grove of palm trees before attempting suicide by drowning. Chad drags her from the water and dispenses his unique brand of psycho-therapy, a good old-fashioned spanking!
  • the use of greenscreen technology is woefully bad, as in the “picnic” scene, where the waves of distant Waikiki Beach are seemingly frozen in time

The songs are nothing to write home about either. The only one you’re likely to know is “Cant’ Help Falling in Love”, which is sung by Elvis to Maile’s grandmother on the occasion of her 78th birthday. Other musical interludes include “Rock-a-Hula Baby”, “Slicin’ Sand” (a beach dance party rave-up), and the classic Hawaiian tune “Aloha Oe”. As luck would have it, we own a copy of the Blue Hawaii soundtrack album, purchased from a recycle centre for 20c. We’ll be sure to give it a spin on Christmas Day.

This was the first of three Elvis films to be filmed in Hawaii and makes good use of the local scenery. A number of scenes are shot around Waikiki, with Diamond Head dominant in the background. I was delighted to learn that the early “beach shack” scene was filmed at Hanauma Bay (shown below), a popular swimming and snorkelling beach about 15km from Honolulu. I swam there when I visited Hawaii in 1997, and it’s a gorgeous spot, with a crystal clear lagoon surrounded on three sides by the sheer walls of an ancient volcanic crater.

In summary:

Blue Hawaii is a harmless beach romp, suitable for the whole family. Blissfully free of plot and characterisation, with the occasional double entendre (delivered with Elvis’s trademark wry grin) to keep things spicy. Three-and-a-half stars.

Dec 13
A Very Snubian Christmas
icon4 Dec 13th, 2009 | icon2 Neighbours | icon3Comments Off

Once again our neighbours have gone into uber-friendly Christmas mode.

First we get a notice in our letter box from down the street asking if we’d like to be part of the Christmas morning Santa syndicate. For a small fee it can be arranged for Santa to stop by and deliver to our bright-eyed kiddies a pre-purchased gift to the value of $20. This is an annual event in our street. Sadly I can’t find the piece of paper otherwise I’d go on heckling in more detail.

Next arrives from a few doors down – people we’ve barely seen let alone spoken with – an invitation to a “Christmas eve street party”. Apparently BBQ facilities are provided, so all we need to do is bring our own food and drinks and we can all get together and “have a few laughs”.

I’d rather eat tinsel.

You see, our neighbours are a strange lot. There’s the “Takaluas” (not their real name) next door who, though unfailingly friendly, are a mysterious bunch with odd nocturnal habits. The “Ethans” (not their real name) on the other side are a pair of screaming nutcases who are on the verge of bringing a third child into their high-tension household. Further afield our street holds a selection of suburbanites who collectively have taken lawn care (and hence annoying me) to new extremes. One of my favourites is “Crown Lager guy”, who can be seen in his front yard each afternoon around 4:30, cradling a Crownie, looking for his next conversational victim. Lately he has taken to standing, beer in hand, out front of the construction site across the road, staring intently through the wire mesh fence at the bare concrete slab, as if it somehow all makes sense.

You’re probably thinking I’m being a bit bah humbuggy about this, and you’d be right. I’ve searched deep within myself and found not even an inkling of desire to spend a single minute socialising with any of our neighbours. For 364 days of the year they annoy the shit out of me with their lawn mowers and line trimmers, so I don’t see why I should happily share a beer and a sausage with them just because it’s Christmas.

I plan to spend Christmas Eve with people I care about. Namely, Rach, our cats, and a large glass of eggnog.