Archive for March, 2011

>Memory jolts – being thrown back in time

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On top of the fridge in the old family home sat an old Bakelite wireless; they called it a “wireless” in those days even though you had to plug it in. Dark brown, with an almost art deco shape of rounded corners which echoed the curves of the Hallstrom fridge.

It was the type of radio which had the stations printed on the dial rather than numbers, as if to reflect the relative stability of society then when radio stations didn’t come and go. How did they run up the dial? 2FC, 2BL, 2GB, 2UE, 2CH, 2UW, 2SM. Stations now irrelevant, or the home of shrill talk-back, or delineated by numbers rather than letters. No FM radio then.

All that came back to me unexpectedly, triggered when in the early hours one morning I heard “Pearly Shells” by Burl Ives on the radio. I was surprised by the vividness of the memory jolt. I remember that song being played on our old wireless too often, along with others like “Spanish Eyes” and “Hello Dolly”.

The wireless seemed to be stuck permanently on 2GB. What would you call it now, “easy listening”? Until I was 12 or so, I had no experience of any other radio format – there was only one wireless in the house and I wouldn’t have contemplated pulling a chair over, climbing up and changing the station.

Something changed for me, around 1966. Maybe it was starting high school, bringing exposure to a wider world. Whatever it was, I came across, and was captivated by, the Top 40. Every Saturday night, from 7 pm to 10 pm, they played the Top 40 on 2UE from bottom to top. Somehow I talked mum into letting me change the station just for that time, inflicting pop music on the house, and staying up till 10 o’clock.

Each week, some songs would be falling down the chart, others climbing; some shooting up the rankings as “star performers” with a bullet. I would be hanging out until maybe 10 to 10 before I could guess which song would be number 1 that week.

That Saturday night Top 40 was the highlight of my week, since I had outgrown Disneyland and was by then, if only just, a too-cool teenager. I’m not sure now what the rest of the family was doing, watching TV maybe, or the younger kids were in bed. I remember mum out in the dining room sewing and doing other jobs, tolerating the music.

The ritual went on for a couple of years may be, until mum got a small transistor radio which I was able to borrow and take into our bedroom – removing the affliction of pop music from the living areas to an audience which may have been more sympathetic or just didn’t care yet, my younger brothers with whom I shared the room.

Eventually dad went on his first overseas business trip, and came back laden with duty free including the marvel of my own transistor radio. “Trannie” had a different meaning in those days.

I was struck by the power of that one sound bite, the opening bars of Pearly Shells, to pitch me back 45 years to memories which I hadn’t touched for decades. Another time, I remember opening a pantry door in someone’s house, and being taken back to the spicy, clovey smell of the cupboard in my nanna’s old kitchen and the comfort of her cooking.

They are out there: sounds, smells, sights, even tastes, which help us, if we wish and if we care to notice, to capture things in our lives with which we have lost touch, like my tentative teenage breaking away. We just have to keep an eye, an ear and a nose out for them.

>Jack Kenneth White – now at peace.

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Around noon on Tuesday, the Ides of March, my dad slipped away peacefully from us at Southhaven Nursing Home. His daughter and one of his sons were with him. What’s the accepted phrase – “blessed release”? A wrench to our hearts nevertheless.

I spoke to one of his friends the next day, who said “He was a really nice bloke”. Someone else called him “a really decent man”. I remember him when he was strong and solid and capable, when at his peak he gathered respect and admiration for his vast output, his calmness under fire, his willingness to tackle the big stuff and not be daunted by it, and his capacity to pull it off.

I’ve learned too late, and not from him, about his early life, and some of the things which formed him, and appreciated the momentous times through which he lived at a very close remove. I regret not having talked to him more about that.

I stood beside him shortly after he left us and said to my family around me: “The best advice he gave me I didn’t take. The best examples he set me I didn’t follow. He bailed me out of so many of my youthful scrapes.” The last few months I have reflected on and better understood the positive lessons that he taught me.

May his journey from this human existence be smooth. May his next destination be beautiful. May he be released from the pain which has dogged him. May he find the lucidity which has recently eluded him. May he be happy and free.

>Taking a stand

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A solitary figure stood on top of the station steps, hair and clothes being snatched by the early morning wind. It was 6 a.m., I was going to the train, and the figure handed me an election flyer through the gloom.

It was my local Labor candidate, doing what candidates do. She is standing in an electorate which is odds-on to swing against her in about 3 weeks. She’s lining up to replace a high profile, well-regarded local Labor member who has decided not to run again. The timing and circumstances are all against her.

In that early morning context, I didn’t think I should just take the flyer and run. We had a brief chat, and I asked her how she was feeling about her campaign. “Determined,” she said. “I’m not entitled to claim confidence, but people like me need to stand up at times like these for what the Labor Party really is.”

I had to admire her determination, and her willingness to take a stand. The commitment to occupy a lonely corner before dawn to connect with prospective voters; the guts to be part of an election race when so many in her party have either screwed up or bailed out, or both; the willingness to cling to core purpose in the face of a potential rout. Whatever your politics, you’ve got to respect that kind of courage and belief.

There’s a difference between plonking yourself futilely in front of a tide that won’t be turned back, and the commitment to be counted for your belief even knowing that success is unlikely. May I be granted the wisdom to know that difference.



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