Jan 2
Sharp Dressed Man
icon4 Jan 2nd, 2010 | icon2 Family, Fashion | icon3Comments Off

It was 1977, the year in which punk reigned supreme. In the UK both the Sex Pistols and the Clash released their debut albums, while closer to home the Saints and Radio Birdman did likewise. Anarchy was in the air. Schapelle Corby was born. Gold and Black won the Cup. I turned seven years old. My sister Julie got married, and to her wedding I wore a cornflower blue suit.

That’s me in front looking surprisingly happy to be having perhaps my life’s worst fashion moment. I was probably doped up on Milky Way Bars. The white skivvy says it all really. I think it was either that or a bow tie, so better the devil you know. I find the brown shoes go well with the blue suit, don’t you? The flower was ripped out twelve seconds after this photo was taken.

On the left is Dad, timeless in charcoal suit, thinking about the outboard motor he could’ve bought for the cost of this bloomin’ wedding. Mum is wearing a nice floral number with a pink triffid blossom that threatens to go for the jugular. That’s Grandma on the right, down from Rockhampton, wearing one of her countless number of increasingly dazzling muumuus.

And then there’s the bride and groom. Nothing dates this photo more than the powder blue tux and velvet bow tie. Or maybe the hairstyles. Julie and her new English husband Alan (looking here like one of the cello players from ELO) were fledgling hippies, soon to move to Mount Gambier, where Julie would teach primary school and Alan would be a cabinetmaker. They baked bread and had a bean bag. I know because I slept on it when we visited the following year. (It was on this same trip that I was falsely accused of weeing on the toilet floor among other felonies.)

Aug 19
Radio Ga Ga
icon4 Aug 19th, 2009 | icon2 Family, Memories | icon31 Comment »

I recently came across a dusty box of cassette tapes, one of which was an interesting anthropological recording made by my family in 1981.

My sister Julie had moved to England with her husband around 1979 and lived there until 1984, during which time she had two children. Back then there was no email of course, and international phone calls were prohibitively expensive and so reserved for special occasions.

I can clearly remember when mum & dad had our phone line updated to support ISD – or International Subscriber Dialling, now known as International Direct Dialling. This meant we could call Julie’s home phone in England directly, without having to go through an operator. (Sadly we had to change phone numbers, but our old number – 574576 – will always be burned into my memory.)

Anyway, with the cost of phone calls to England being what it was, we didn’t get to speak to Julie very often. Then sometime in 1981 local radio station 2KO did a series of broadcasts from various cities in the UK, perhaps as some sort of loosely defined cultural exchange. And in the spirit of Anglo-Australian good will 2KO was giving Aussie expats the chance to broadcast a message home to their family in Newcastle. My mum was all over this in a flash, and so it was arranged that Julie would record a message to be aired at a specified time.

Such an important occasion had to be recorded for posterity, so dad’s mono cassette recorder (more used to playing Johnny Cash at full volume while dad worked in the backyard) was brought into the kitchen, a blank tape purchased especially (a “Tempest” brand C-90!) and the “record” button pressed as the time for Julie’s message drew near.

What with radio technology being what it was back then the broadcast sounded like it was being beamed from Pluto rather than northern England, but thankfully the cassette recording – now 28 years old – is still reasonably clear and intelligible. Here’s what my sister had to say:

Hello. This is Julie in Yorkshire. I’d like to say “hello” to Marj and Les ***** of New Lambton. We’re all happy here, mum and dad, our expected baby is coming along nicely; we think it’s going to be a girl. We’re very much looking forward to seeing you next year. Love to you all, and many thanks to 2KO for making this possible.

The tape ends as my mother bursts into tears of joy.

Somehow I ended up with this precious cassette – I think I made a case later on that as only three minutes of it had been used I could certainly fill the remaining 87. And although I was always careful to preserve Julie’s message I seem to have made good use of the remaining blank tape. One side has Australian Crawl’s “Sons of Beaches” album while the other has “Screaming for Vengeance” by Judas Priest. (The guitar solo in “Riding on the Wind” blew my 13-year-old mind.)

I’ve now transferred the message to computer, so it’s safe forever. Right? I’ll email it to my sister, she’ll probably get a kick out of it.

In other phone-related trivia, here’s something I just remembered. For years we had a little wooden box sitting next to our telephone, with a slot in the top like a money box. The intention was for people who used the phone to drop a coin into the box, to pay for their call. Exactly who these “people” were I don’t know – presumably “visitors” who had to use the phone, which was basically nobody that I can remember. The box always seemed to have a solitary 20c coin rattling around in it, and no apparent way to get it out. I remember the box had a picture on the side of Stockton bridge – one of Newcastle’s most conspicuous local landmarks – and a little poem that went:

Call from here when e’er you will,

But don’t forget who pays the bill.

If there is another single object that sums up 1970s suburbia more than this coin box I’d like to know what it is.

Aug 10

Things were different in the ’70s. Life was simpler, people were friendlier, the sky was a brighter shade of blue. But most importantly, tourist attractions were unhindered by bothersome laws regarding public safety and animal welfare.

About thirty minutes drive from where I grew up in Newcastle there was a magical place called “Raymond Terrace Lion Park”. For just a few dollars a family of four could enter the Lion Park and drive around at their leisure – in the comfort of the family sedan – observing the most majestic of Africa’s big cats.

Let me make this clear: once inside the Lion Park, you could drive unsupervised, among the lions, in your own car! Only common sense prevented you from opening the car door and stepping out into the realm of one of the world’s most savage killing machines!

Recently, while delving through the Snubian archives, I came across some photos of the Lion Park, probably taken by my sister. This would’ve been the mid-’70s. Note the Lion Park jeep painted with zebra stripes. Also note the large male lion gnawing on the thigh bone of its latest victim.

Here are a few other rare shots.

These days you’d have to go all the way to Africa to see this

Female lion prepares to attack neighbouring horses

Thankfully, the park caretakers observed the strictest of security measures to ensure the safety of their patrons. For example, the man at the front gate would explain that you should keep your DOORS CLOSED at all times.

Not only that, but the park itself had a foolproof double gated entrance, so that none of those pesky lions could escape and go on a murderous rampage through Hexham. As you arrived in your car, a man would emerge from a booth, collect the entrance fee, and then open the first gate, at which point you would move forward a few metres into the “lion exclusion zone”. After closing the outer gate, he would check that any nearby lions were otherwise occupied, then quickly open the inner gate and wave you through. Amazing! I can picture those double gates like it was yesterday.

I don’t recall what the advice was should your car break down, or should a lion decide to consume it. But I suppose cars were more robust in those days. For example, our family car at the time was a 1967 Holden HR sedan – see below. That’s my dad leaning on the bonnet. Hopefully this was not taken inside the Lion Park, but anything’s possible.

In doing some “research” for this piece, I discovered that Lion Parks were quite common back in the day, and were usually run by circus companies. For example, the Raymond Terrace Lion Park was run by Ashtons. They probably figured they could make a few bucks from their lions in the off season. Whether such an arrangement was good for the lions is arguable I suppose, although they had plenty of space and could always supplement their diet with the occasional stray koala.

I have always had fond memories of the Lion Park, or as I knew it, the “Lion Safari” - as in “Dad, can we go to the Lion Safari today PLEEEEASE!!!!” (repeat fifty times). Incidentally, the ’67 HR was our family car up until about 1976, when we upgraded to a Holden HJ “Belmont” – woohoo! The Belmont ran like a dream right up until I wrote it off in 1988. Ah, good times.

Apr 26
Family Ties
icon4 Apr 26th, 2009 | icon2 Family | icon37 Comments »

My dad’s brother has long been interested in genealogy, the tracing of our family history. I recently found, in the Snubian archives, copies of some notes and papers detailing part of my distant ancestry. It makes for interesting reading.

My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Brazel, pronounced to rhyme with hazel. If you trace the Brazel line (or Brazil, or Brasell, or a variety of other spellings) back three further generations you meet her great-grandfather, Michael Brazil.

Michael Brazil was born in Manchester, England, around 1814. He was a petty criminal who had already served a short stint in prison before he was sentenced to seven years for housebreaking and transported to Australia in 1833. As a convict he was assigned to a Mr Henry Baldwin at Windsor, north-west of Sydney. He received his ticket of leave in 1839, and his full freedom in 1841, at which time he took a lease on some land at Brookfield, in the Upper Hunter Valley north of Newcastle. This is where the story gets interesting.

Michael, now in his late twenties, married seventeen year old Rebecca Hampton, one of three daughters from a local farming family. She bore him three children before she died on Christmas Day, 1848. A coroner’s inquest was held as it appears the circumstances of the death were suspicious. The coroner eventually ruled that her death was from natural causes, Rebecca having been struck by lightning while ironing!

With three small children, the eldest having been crippled in an accident, it was necessary for Michael to re-marry, and quickly. The obvious choice was the late Rebecca’s sister, Diana. They were married in April 1849, when Diana was just fifteen years of age. Diana bore two more children to Michael, a daughter and a son, Alfred, who is my great-great-grandfather. Diana died tragically in childbirth, along with her baby Dinah, in 1855. She was twenty-one.

By this time Michael was around forty years old and had five children aged from two to fourteen. As a working farmer, for him to look after his family on his own would have been almost impossible. The records are ambiguous here, but there is evidence that Michael did marry again, this time to Mary Ann Hampton, sister of Rebecca and Diana and the sole surviving daughter in the family. Although there can surely be few men who have married three sisters, in the context of this story it makes perfect sense!

Michael and Mary – now in her late twenties – had no more children together, although there is a record of Mary giving birth to a child way back in 1845, with Michael listed as father. In 1845 Mary was just sixteen and Michael was married to his first wife, Mary’s sister Rebecca! I think Michael might’ve received a visit from Mary’s four brothers around that time too.

Michael died in 1885 and is buried in Coolongolook cemetery. Mary lived to see in the new century, passing away in 1900 in the town of Dungog.

As I said, it makes for interesting reading. There must be a novel in there somewhere!

Nov 10
Solar: A Day in the Life
icon4 Nov 10th, 2008 | icon2 Family | icon3Comments Off

Solar is our three-legged, diabetic cat. Below is his daily schedule of activities.

05:15 AM
Solar awakes.

05:16 AM
Solar begins screaming to be let outside. We can usually stand this for about 5 minutes before one of us gets up and opens the front door to let him out.

05:21 AM
Solar begins screaming to be let back in. Because his cries are muffled by the door we can put up with this for a half hour or so. 

05:45 AM
Solar is let back inside and begins his morning pre-breakfast routine. This involves climbing on the dresser and/or bedside tables and knocking off anything not nailed down (photo frames, lamps, books etc). Because he has only three legs he is not the most dexterous of animals. Also, his single front paw, when applied to the facial area from a height, exerts double the normal amount of pressure (in terms of pounds per square inch) than a non-disabled cat. Remember that pressure is a function of acceleration, surface area and mass.

05:50 AM
Solar begins screaming loudly for his breakfast. This continues unabated until he is fed.

06:00 AM
Solar receives his breakfast (approximately 2/3 of a cup of Science Diet Light Adult cat biscuits) and his morning insulin shot. He celebrates by diving face first into his food bowl, thus spreading its contents across most of the kitchen floor.

06:01 AM
Solar loses interest in his breakfast. He has more pressing matters to attend to, namely …

06:02 AM
Solar urinates impassively on the entranceway tiles. At this point he is usually carried forcibly outside or at the very least told in no uncertain terms that he is a little shit.

06:20 AM
Solar receives his morning treat of a bit of toast with Vegemite. 

06:30 AM – 05:00 PM
Varied activities, including but not limited to eating the remainder of his breakfast and then: a) lying inside the couch (literally – he crawls under and up inside a hole in the fabric); b) lying on the entranceway telephone table; or c) lying on the front deck on his cushion.

05:00 PM
Solar begins to make impassioned pleas for his dinner.

05:30 PM
Solar receives his dinner (portion same as per breakfast).

06:30 PM – 09:00 PM
Evening entertainment. Free time for Solar to do as he pleases, which is usually taking the night air on the front deck, where he can keep an eye and ear on his neighbourhood rivals.

09:00 PM
Bedtime. Solar takes his place on the bed and collapses into a deep, dreamless state. Sometime during the night he rises to take an enormous shit in his litter tray, which becomes his special greeting to us each morning.

Jun 23

Just as urban legends exist in society, many families have their own “household legends” that are passed from parent to child. My mother was particularly good at creating little stories to deter me from unwanted behaviour. Usually these stories began “I read in the paper about a little boy … “. Here are a couple of examples.

A child in England jumped up and down on his bed so much that the electric blanket exploded

Like most kids my bed doubled as a trampoline. I had an old, springy bed and you could really get a good bounce going if you kept at it. I also had an electric blanket that I adored, and kept on most of the winter.

One day mum caught me jumping on the bed and calmly related how a boy in England had recently been blown to bits when he jumped too hard on his electric blanket. This terrified me. I was too young to see that there is no obvious way for an electric blanket to go off like a landmine, so I took mum at her word. It is an electrical device after all, so I suppose a misplaced jump, a tiny spark and KABOOM!

A child in Scotland ate so many scrambled eggs that his eyes swelled up and he couldn’t see

I loved scrambled eggs as a kid – still do in fact. I would’ve eaten them every day if I could, but for some reason mum didn’t agree with my dietary preferences and concocted this little tale to get me to cut down on my egg intake. Perhaps eggs were as expensive back then as they are now.

The story was that excessive consumption of eggs would make your eyes – maybe even your entire face – swell up like a balloon. Mum had read this in the paper one morning, and passed it onto me as she dished me up a steaming scrambled egg breakfast for the fourth time that week. I had trouble getting those eggs down that morning and to this day when I eat scrambled eggs I picture that poor little kid with his eyes puffed shut.

Apr 16
Feeding Time
icon4 Apr 16th, 2008 | icon2 Family | icon3No Comments »

Remember the international media storm that descended upon Steve Irwin after he was filmed holding his son Bob near a croc’s mouth? Personally, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

In my family, being held near, or partially in, the mouth of a wild animal was a rite of passage. Extra points were awarded if the animal in question was potentially man-eating.

For example, instead of being baptised, my sister Ruth was simply held above the open jaws of a dolphin at Sea World (c. 1961).