Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Russell Sprout Again: An Update

First, I want to say thanks to everyone for your sympathy over my dental ordeal of the past week. It isn’t quite right, but the antibiotics have kicked in and I am almost back to my old self.

Back in February, I did a couple of posts about Lu our youngest and her struggles to fit into a school system that didn’t cater for her advanced needs.

At the time I finished my second post on a quite upbeat note: Lu had finally after a long struggle become content enough with school to take it seriously.

Well all that has changed.

When I got home a couple of weeks ago Lu dropped a bombshell. “Dad, I’m leaving school.”

“You’re… what…?”

“Dad it’s OK.”

“What do you mean It’s OK, you’re sixteen. What about your future? What about university?”

Suddenly I was very afraid. I had dreaded this moment for a long time. Lu has hated and I mean HATED school for almost all of her short life. I’d often been concerned that she would simply drop out as soon as she was legally allowed.

But recently things had seemed much better for her. She wasn’t exactly enjoying school but she had come to tolerate it and see some value in where it was taking her.

“Dad it’s OK.”

“What do you mean, how can it be OK?”

Then a straw to clutch, I decide it is just her sense of humour and she is pulling my leg. “You’re teasing me aren’t you?”

“No Dad, I’m leaving school.”


“Dad let me finish.”

So I took a breath and let her finish.

Normally here in Victoria the senior years of high school (called Year 11 and Year 12 although they are actually the 12th and 13th years of school education) are spent doing the Victorian Certificate of Education which is how university places are allotted.

I should say a quick word about the Australian education system. After school age we don’t have a separate college system where you do a bachelors degree before going on to a university to do post-grad. Rather undergraduate degrees and post-graduate studies (like masters and PHD studies) all happen at the same universities.

So normally Lu’s path would be to finish the VCE and go on to enrol at one of the local universities based on her results.

But that is not what she is doing.

Now before you panic on her behalf (like I did), Lu has worked it all out.

Yes, she has left school. But she has harnessed her frustration and sidestepped the last two years of high school.

Here in Oz one thing education does well is open opportunities for people. There has been recognition that the traditional path doesn’t suit everyone.

One of the things that has stemmed out of this is Open University.

Lu has worked out that rather than continuing on at school she can enrol immediately with Open University.

Deb and I have agreed to her plan with a couple of provisos:
she has to do something to keep social contacts going (not content with standing still she has fixed this one already she has gone out and joined a group that are putting on a musical later in the year);
and if it doesn’t work out she will go back to high school next year (somehow I get the feeling that this agreement won’t be needed).

Lu’s plan at this point is to do a semester or two at Open Uni and work hard enough to get top level results then transfer over to Melbourne University as a regular undergrad (because the Open Uni courses are run by recognised Universities she will get credit toward the degree she does there).

There is no cost to us as parents. Ultimately Lu will pay through HECS (an interest free government scheme that will increase her tax slightly when she enters the workforce until the debt is repaid).

Lu has already enrolled in first year Maths, Chemistry and Biology units.
She has begun work on her Bachelor’s degree as I type this post. This very determined young woman has found a solution to her biggest problem. Who are we to stand in her way?

Now on a slightly calmer note a few piccies.

A couple of weeks ago we were driving along a back-road just on sunset.

Out in a paddock I noticed these two ruined grain silos being painted by the rich colours of the evening light.

This first piccie is taken over the grey timbers of an old stock-yard.A close up showing how rich the old bricks and stone looked in the sunset.Then just a minute or two later as the sun dipped below the valley walls they almost blend back into their surroundings.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Absent Without Leave

I am sorry to say this is (once again) a quick post.

Unfortunately, I have been a little unwell.

I hasten to add it is nothing serious.

I managed to split one of my teeth in two on the weekend. No high diving or anything dramatic involved, just a tooth that had been root-canalled about 12 months ago.
I hadn’t had a chance (or the money) to get it crowned. It must have been brittle and it split when I was eating some cheese and crackers.

Hmm, maybe crackers are better named than they should be.

Anyway this led to a marathon sitting in the dentist’s chair a few days ago as the dentist struggled to get the recalcitrant tooth out of my head.

Then to really make my week the wound decided to get infected.

So I have been suffering enough pain and discomfort to stop me thinking and hence writing (which includes blogging).

I have been absent without leave from the blogosphere for nearly a week.

I want to apologise for a few failings stemming from this:
I haven’t posted on my book news as because of the above my book has been on hold;
second, I have been neglecting my responses to all your wonderful comments on my blog, I feel really bad about this as I appreciate the time everyone takes;
finally, although I have been lurking around many of your blogs, I have barely commented at all.

So please accept my apologies, I hope to be back on deck in the next few days.

Until then a few piccies that I took last weekend.These are the Woolshed Falls near Beechworth in central Victoria. There hasn’t been much rain up there just recently, but there was just enough water going over the falls to make them worth pointing a camera at.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Well it is 9:45 pm Saturday as I type this and I have just come in from a long day driving and sightseeing.

I am using my usual (and slightly pathetic) excuse that it has been a long day and I am therefore going to do a quick post.

Last time I posted I said I would talk about my book and how publishing is going. However, I seem to have enjoyed the lying meme of last week so much that I am still telling porkies and I am not going to talk about the book tonight.

I think I will have some more interesting news about the book in the next couple of days, so I am going to be unkind and make you wait.

Anyway, this morning I leapt out of bed quite early and peered out the bedroom window.

It was a misty morning so, instead of taking my time and having a lazy breakfast, I shot out to try to capture the mist.

Two blocks from our house is this paddock which I thought looked quite pretty through the mist.Then as I walked along the fence line looking for new angles I spotted this. The droplets of mist caught in this cute little web highlight it beautifully.

One more piccie of a big scribbly gum in the paddock as the mist continued lifting.
Then I found another web.That was that, I went home to find Deb just getting up and we made our plans for today.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Four N’ Twenty

Well I seem to have aroused a great deal of curiosity over Four ‘N Twenty Pies.

How do I answer the simple question what is a Four ‘N Twenty Pie?

Well being creative (or foolish) I am going to engage in a little cliché.

If you feel I malign you or your much loved nation, well all I can do is apologise in advance.

When people feel the need for a little snack, or lunch on the run across the world they often fall back on a local tradition.

The French eat croissants.The English eat egg and chips.Americans reach for a hot dog.Aussies when eating on the run traditionally grab a meat pie.And in Victoria the most favoured brand of meat pie is a Four ‘N Twenty.Absolutely the most traditional place to eat a pie is while watching Aussie Rules Football at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground).To complete the wrap up of cliché I include a piccie of a Four N’ Twenty being eaten at the footy.

Just to totally change the subject, I thought you might be interested in another reflection I caught on the pond I showed you the other night
Down at the far end was:(you’ll have to forgive the quality, this is a small section cropped from a much larger photo).

Most of the images in this post were from Wikimedia Commons . The Kangaroo reflection is mine.

Next: I answer the question "You want to publish your third book in five years. What about the first?"

Monday, May 17, 2010


Back on the fifth of May Niki of Wool’n’Nuts tagged me .
Thanks Niki this seems like fun.

As I reflect I will share some reflections I caught with my camera this evening.

I must answer the following five questions five times and then tag five people, so here goes:

Question 1 - Where were you five years ago?
1. Living in another state (Queensland), I am on my third state/territory since then.
We moved to the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and now Victoria.
2. Writing the second (kind of first – it’s a long story) draft of the book I am about to publish.
3. Renovating our house.
4. Watching as our eldest finished her final year of high school.
5. Trying to decide what our future would hold.

Question 2 - Where would you like to be five years from now?
1. Hopefully living in the same state (either that or somewhere exotic overseas).
2. Publishing my third novel.
3. Owning our own house again. I’m sick of renting already.
4. Watching our girls graduate from University.
5. More financially stable than we are at the moment.

Question 3 - What is (was) on your to do list today?
1. Go to work.
2. Supervise staff.
3. Feed homeless people.
4. Go to Melbourne Town Hall for a meeting with Melbourne City Council Staff.
5. Do a blog post.Question 4 - What 5 snacks do you enjoy?
1. A ripe peach.
2. Dried fruit and nut mix.
3. A Four ‘n Twenty pie.
4. Dark chocolate.
5. More dark chocolate.Question 5 - What would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Buy more chocolate.
2. Write full time.
3. Travel the world and take lots of piccies.
4. Establish a foundation to help people out of homelessness.
5. Put my feet up.I choose to tag:
Jemi over at Just Jemi

Susan over at Susan Fields

Jennifer over at Ten Lives and Second Chances

“B” at B. Miller Fiction

Yvonne at The Organic Writer

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Proud Dad

I’ve been scanning some of my old photographs to keep for posterity.

I have thousands of prints and negatives that I would like to scan. So it is proving a very slow task.

Here are a few piccies that I have scanned recently. These are quite dusty and damaged because we had them in a frame.

They were taken on a frosty morning about 22 years ago.

This is E our eldest (who is not quite 24 now).

The night before a bowl she had been playing with had been left out on the grass with some water in it.

To E’s amazement there was a layer of ice on the water when she got up in the morning.Look Mum!You can see through it!
It’s crunchy!Dad, will you take it? My fingers are cold!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Uncle Harry Saves the Day

I am tired and cannot think tonight. Yet, I have an urge to post. I guess I must be well and truly becoming a blog junky.

Well we were out and about again on the weekend.

But because I can’t think I’ll put on my Uncle Harry hat and play the tour guide.

Two hours drive from our humble abode lies the Central Victorian town of Clunes.

Clunes, like many towns in Victoria was founded during the 1850s Gold Rushes.

In fact Clunes was where the first gold was found in Victoria and was the home of the first gold rush in the then Colony of Victoria.

Clunes had a boom in the early days. Like many gold rush towns it went into decline when the local mines closed. Development stopped dead.

Today walking down the main street is like stepping back into the Nineteenth Century (apart from the cars).Most of the shops look like they are still in the 1800s including the sign-writing.
In fact I guess most of the “old” signage is in fact not too old. The town was used as a set in the 2003 film Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger.

Clunes is today taking advantage of the time warp it seems to be caught in with some businesses aiming squarely at tourists and day-trippers (that would be me).

Some carry things to excess
Of course there are all the conveniences we expect in the Twenty First Century.
Including a "modern Garage".

Like many of the gold rush towns there was enough money around to build some reasonably impressive public buildings.

The Post Office.The Town Hall and Police Court.And finally a building to keep the writer (and reader) in me happy.
The original library.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Not So Pure

Well it seems that now is the time when the heinous untruths I have been spreading across the internet (well at least on my own blog) are un-masked.

Given my wicked nature, I have woven an element of truth into all my falsehoods to more easily ensnare my victims.

So which are the lies? What is the truth?

1. I have a very rigid routine. I have so much happening in my life the only way I can keep it all flowing is if I diarise absolutely everything.

This is my first LIE. I have a terrible tendency to fly by the seat of my pants. However, I do use a diary fairly consistently at work. Otherwise, my natural tendencies to random behaviour would be fatal to my credibility as a manager.

2. During my surfie period in my youth I was waiting to catch a wave when suddenly a huge shark burst out of the wave next to me. I have never been so frightened.

This is true – almost (but not quite). I was once sitting on my board out behind the breakers waiting for a larger wave. As a wave began to build, I saw in the water a massive shadow racing directly at me.
Naturally I thought “shark” and was expecting to end my short life in a patch of blood soaked foam. Then out of the building wave popped a bottle-nosed dolphin, I swear it laughed at me, before disappearing back into the wave. So the fear was real, but technically the shark is a LIE.

3. When I was a toddler I lived in a house that had no less than 20 of the deadliest snakes in the world in residence. They didn’t frighten me because I was simply too young to understand the danger.

This is actually the TRUE yarn. Although taking a little poetic licence I have made it sound much worse than it was.
My dad was a herpetologist, probably one of the leading experts on Oz reptiles in the field.
His passion – snakes. My Dad had literally dozens of Eastern Browns, Copperheads, Red-Bellied Blacks, Tiger Snakes, Bandi-Bandis and Death Adders all living in the house. Fortunately for little me they were all enclosed in cages.

4. Again on the subject of houses, I have lived in a large number of places over the years. In fact the total number of houses I have now lived in is nearly 20.

This is also a LIE, although only technically. You notice I said “…nearly 20.”
My eldest daughter E has already lived in “..nearly 20” houses (18 to be precise). I have in fact lived in 58 houses I can remember. If my Mum is to believed (and I always listen to my Mum), there were at least a dozen in the first three years of my life.
Why so many? It’s a long story probably best reserved for a post of its own. My throw away line is “I have a gypsy for a mother and I married a gypsy too.”

5. Deb and I first met when I sat next to her in a lecture hall on our first day at university.

This is also a LIE. In fact I sat next to a guy who was at that stage Deb’s boyfriend. So I met a certain charming young woman through him, again it’s a long story.

6. I was on a ship in the Suez Canal when the 1967 Arab-Israeli war broke out.

Fortunately this is also a LIE. However, I was actually on a ship crossing the Indian Ocean bound for Suez and London when the 1967 war broke out. Can you believe people actually travelled the world by ship back then? My Mum’s Dad had just died so she took us to England to visit our Grandma. Because of the war we were diverted around the Cape of Good Hope and went to England the long way.

7. When I was 18 I wrote off (totalled) my first car by crashing it into a tree.

Again this is a LIE. I did write off a car when I was 18, but it was my Mum’s. Also, I didn’t hit a tree. It was much more dramatic. It was wet, the tires weren’t great and I was young and silly. Very silly.
I was driving much too fast on the Pacific Highway when I skidded across in front of oncoming traffic. I hit the table-drain on the other side of the road and cart-wheeled the little FIAT 850 I was driving end over end. I didn’t touch the roof.
I have a vivid memory of looking down through the windscreen as the car was flipping over. I was absolutely convinced that I was about to die. I felt no fear, just a profound regret that it was all over so soon.
To my total surprise, when the car came to a halt (right-way up), I was still alive. The driver’s seat had collapsed so I was lying on my back. The engine (in the back of an 850) had pushed partway through the firewall and was sitting by my head. I thought “It could catch fire, I’d better get out.” Amazingly, I got out of the wreck under my own steam. I had severe bruising (one on my leg as big as a dinner plate) and whiplash, but other than that I was uninjured.

So there you go, Al is revealed as a terrible liar! Only Anne the Piedmont Writer guessed correctly that Number 3 was in fact true.

Or is it? Do you believe me?

A random photo: Harbour 2008

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pure as the Driven Snow

Way back on the 18th of April DJ of Chez Aspie tagged me with the “Creative Writer Award”. To accept the award you have to tell six lies and one truth about yourself. Being a compulsive liar (aren’t all novelists when it comes down to it?) I told DJ I’d get on to it on the weekend. In fact it has had to wait until now.

So without further ado some porkies:

  1. I have a very rigid routine. I have so much happening in my life the only way I can keep it all flowing is if I diarise absolutely everything.
  2. During my surfie period in my youth I was waiting to catch a wave when suddenly a huge shark burst out of the wave next to me. I have never been so frightened.
  3. When I was a toddler I lived in a house that had no less than 20 of the deadliest snakes in the world in residence. They didn’t frighten me because I was simply too young to understand the danger.
  4. Again on the subject of houses, I have lived in a large number of places over the years. In fact the total number of houses I have now lived in is nearly 20.
  5. Deb and I first met when I sat next to her in a lecture hall on our first day at university.
  6. I was on a ship in the Suez Canal when the 1967 Arab-Israeli war broke out.
  7. When I was 18 I wrote off (totalled) my first car by crashing it into a tree.

What do you think? How truthful have I been?

I chose to inflict this tendency to lying on Lisa at Lit and Life and

Myrna at Night Writer

A random photo from the archive.

Next (if I chose not to lie): I get tagged again.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nothing Profound

I thought I’d share a little of the weather we have been having over the past week.

Late the other afternoon we had a huge storm blow in from the North-East.

It was still well and truly daylight but in an instant it was half-light.

You’ll have to excuse the poor quality of these photos, but I was trying to prevent my camera from getting too wet.The wind, as you can see was driving the rain across our neighbourhood. Inside a minute of this rain and our gutters were overflowing like crazy.In the North of Oz when it rains it tends to pour. Cloudbursts aren’t as common down here in Victoria, but we certainly have our share.

The sound of a downpour like this on a steel roof has to be heard to be believed.

Then, as usually happens with this type of storm, it was gone.

An hour later the clouds now moving away to the West gave us a pretty sunset.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Soldier Settlement.

On 11/11/1918 World War One ground to a halt in Europe.

Of the 330,000 Aussies who had volunteered for service overseas 61,928 lay dead and 152,171 had been wounded.
Australian War Cemetery Villers-Bretonneux, France (Wikimedia Commons)

Aussies had fought with distinction in every major campaign.
Yet, what happened to many of our veterans on their return is one of the saddest episodes of our history.

The Australia Diggers returned to in 1919 was facing recession. Many of the Diggers were discharged directly into unemployment.

Not surprisingly, the young soldiers became extremely embittered by the failure of their country to do more for them after they had given so much.

There were no less than 20 serious riots around the country when veterans voiced their displeasure. In a world that was still reeling from the aftermath of the War and the Russian Revolution the State and Federal Governments finally acted to correct their oversight.

Some veterans benefited from training programs to teach them new skills and trades.

Others would be compensated by a shiny new scheme called “Soldier Settlement”. Diggers would be settled on farms around the various states for a “nominal” fee that they could repay over time and they would be given low interest loans to help them get established.

Not surprisingly, thousands of Diggers leapt at the chance to build themselves a future.
Soldier Settler Temporary camp (NSW State Records Office)

Most of them were doomed before they started.

Firstly, most were city slickers with no understanding of farming. Australia had a proud history of “bushmen” and the outback, but in fact by 1900 Australia was the most urbanised nation in the world.
Soldier Settlers clearing land near Mullumbimby (NSW State Records Office)

Then the land that was distributed to the Diggers was either: poor quality land that had been largely ignored by earlier settlers; or going concerns that were split up to provide farms for multiple Soldier Settlers. In almost every case this meant that the veterans were given parcels of land that were never likely to be practicable farms.
Soldier Settler farm Texas, NSW (NSW State Records Office)

Finally, the Australian climate is extremely variable. The normal farming cycle is several good years followed by several years of drought. Experienced farmers could (and still do) make a go of it by preparing for bad years during the good years. In most cases the Diggers had neither the skills or resources to survive the first period of drought which began by 1922.

Soldier Settler Fertilizer Co-operative (NSW State Records Office)

A couple of quotes from NSW state records are typical of the experience of Soldier Settlers.

“We cannot carry on to make enough to keep our wives and family.” Stan Walker 1923.

“As it has been a very dry year here, the water has given out and the cattle are dying. Clarence Faulkner 1922.

On 13 November 1924, the Police Constable at Ashford reported that Faulkner’s whereabouts were unknown. Clarence Faulkner was one of hundreds of soldier settlers who in the end deserted their holdings.

By 1939 in each state of Australia between 60 and 70% of soldier settlers had left the land, many leaving with debts they could never repay.

These men had in most cases been through unbelievable hardship during the war. More than half of those who returned had been wounded.

Australia repaid many of these men with years more of toil, ending in heartbreak and poverty.