Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, June 30, 2008


Yalleroi couldn’t be described as a one horse town, at least not at the time we visited There were in no actual horses to be seen, nor were there any other residents than the sole occupant of the Public House, which was exactly that a house which was open to the public.

It was a house in those days, but with the passing of another thirty years or so, it would probably now be described as little more than a hut. It had two modest if not small rooms with a verandah at each end, one of which featured a little infill at the back corner which served as a kitchen. It was typical of the historic style of housing born from necessity in the 19th century.

The Public Bar consumed the one of the rooms in its entirety, it was simply furnished with a total inventory comprising one domestic dining table in the centre clad in a green marble laminex with a screwed aluminium edge strip which screamed “1955”. Half a dozen non-matching chairs sat around it, and in the corner of the room was a rounded Pope kerosine refrigerator which looked as though it had been sulking there for half a century, and it probably had been.

The fridge held the entire stock of alcoholic beverage available to the public, one brand of beer, thoughtfully packaged in a type of bottle known as “the stubby” which at the time was the ubiquitous measure of driving distance in country Queensland. If it was more than a stubby away, you knew you’d have to pack the Esky, and by golly a six pack trip could even mean stopping for fuel before you came home.

The cash register was in the centre of the table, and comprised a solitary ice-cream tin about a third filled with coins and notes of varying denominations. The tin itself was of the two litre (or half gallon as it was known) variety, made of metal not the plastic which has become all too familiar, at a time when a half gallon tin of icecream cost as much as a small television set.

The publican was the sort of friendly ancient bloke that one often meets at the end of a long trip when one is in the middle of nowhere with a disabled vehicle. He explained as he watched us chewing remorselessly on an entire box of chewing gum that once resided on his table beside the till tin, that he was the only one in town that week, as everyone else was out on a muster, but his dogs were around the place somewhere. They would he assured us, be back before dark.

He waved us off with the shake of his head, and welcomed us back less than ten minutes later with an identical shake. I actually wondered at the time if it hadn’t quite finished its farewell shake.

Clearly he was going to have guests at his hotel for the night. The problem with that of course was that the other room, was where he lived with all of his earthly belongings, but we were welcome to camp on the verandah, which would at least keep our swags off the ground when the night temperatures in the outback took their customary plunge.

By this time the last of the sun had almost disappeared, and he ducked away for a minute to start “the genny”, a hotchpotch generator powered by an old wartime truck engine, which powered the entire town. Everyone in Yalleroi went to bed at pub closing time, because that was when the genny was switched off. On his return he was accompanied by three hulking and somewhat terrifying shadows, who he introduced as his dogs.

These things were huge, they seemed to be part lion, part shark, and part very ugly dog, and he regaled us as he served some of his corned beef and damper, with tales of how they’d kill all manner of animal and human by the simple expedient of removing the innards of their opponents. No need to lock anything up he proudly explained and nodding in the direction of the till, a thief would be dead before he got to the door.

The dogs he said were sort of like werewolves in a way, by day they’d hunt if they were commanded to, but were as gentle as they were immense. By night however, every piece of the vicious gene manifested itself in murderous behaviour. Pity help any one or anything that fell across their path.

That night he told us all sorts of mustering tales, and drew maps of where we could find waterholes on the way back, and lent us a pair of plyers to crimp the leaking radiator closed, and showed us how to seal the rest with clay and straw.

As he was about to retire, and we rolled out our sleeping bags on the verandah floor, we nervously enquired if the the dogs knew we were their friends.

“Oh yeah they won’t worry you” came his cheery reply,

“As long as you don’t move once I turn the lights out.”


Thursday, June 26, 2008


It's been a long time since I was last in Yalleroi, and for a town that's in almost the geographic centre of Queensland, it's hard to imagine somewhere that's closer to the end of the earth.

I hasten to add that I'm not reflecting on the good townsfolk at all when I say that, if indeed there are any townsfolk left, and as far as I can tell from the satellite photos on Google Earth, it may well be the case that there aren't. I suspect that just as it did in 1974 when we passed by, the town still comprises less than a handful of houses and a population that can be counted on the fingers of one thumb.

Travel of any sort in 1974 was expensive. Driving was the only way of covering long distances in a reasonably affordable manner. Interestingly, heavy road transport was still to reach it's peak of efficiency and things we take for granted today, such as car carriers, were just not available. For the hire car companies it could take weeks to deliver new cars to a remote depot by rail, or to relocate them after a one way hire.

Being young, enterprising and broke at the time, I discovered that the companies were very happy to have someone deliver their cars between towns and would even allow a slight detour or two along the way, providing the cars arrived in due course with a full tank of petrol. This was a fortunate discovery at a time when my life was occupied undertaking research into Queensland vernacular architecture, a project that would have proved very difficult indeed without a good deal of waltzing round the countryside.

So it came to be that we drove through Yalleroi with barely a sideways blink en-route to Longreach, in a brand spanking new Holden Premier with air conditioning which was soon to be the pride of Longreach's Avis fleet. The road, as one may imagine, for a track between the not quite monster metropoli of Blackall and Jericho, was not a particularly good one, and there hadn't been much rain for a long while, which meant that like all unsealed roads in blacksoil country, this one lay several feet below a covering of rich bulldust.

It was just before dusk, well past the time when sensible people drive in areas littered with livestock and wildlife, and we were pressing on carefully, dodging kangaroos, and beef cattle, driving with our noses pressed hard against the windscreen to give us just a fraction of a second more warning of whatever might appear next out of the dusty gloom.

I can still see that big black pig as though it happened yesterday. It was a monster of a wild boar and it was travelling at full tilt toward and across us at the same time. It was all I could do slow the car enough to lessen the impact, but even at forty kilometres an hour, a half ton pig leaves a substantial hole in a plastic grille, and if one did not stop quite quickly enough, one could even find the radiator leaking through a pig-snout shaped hole in it as well.

On this occasion we didn’t stop quite quickly enough.

When one is miles from anywhere but Yalleroi, with water pouring out of the radiator of one’s car, prudence suggests that the best course of action would be to turn back and seek assistance, which of course we did.

For reasons which will become apparent on another day, the only commercial enterprise in Yalleroi was the Pub, and the only product it sold which looked as though it might be useful in plugging a leaking radiator, was chewing gum.

If we had known then what we know today, we wouldn’t have spent forty five minutes chewing the entire town’s supply of Mr Wriggley’s best before stuffing it in every leaking cranny of the radiator.

Certainly we wouldn't have struck out in the near-dark of the evening determined to get to Blackwater and some proper repairs.

We certainly wouldn’t have discovered that chewing gum, when heated by, for instance, engine water passing through a radiator on a motor car, liquifies in a very short space of time.

Neither would we have had the slightest inkling that liquified chewing gum, when dragged through a car radiator by an enthusiastic mechanical fan, forms long hair like strands which weave a vast sticky web over the entire innards of an engine bay, and start to flow out of the gaps in the car bodywork, before the temperature of the engine has had time to reach even normal operating temperature.

We know all of those things now, but most importantly, if it hadn’t been for that one gigantic porker, we wouldn’t have had the chance to stay overnight at the Yalleroi Pub.


Monday, June 23, 2008

A Tale of Three Footstools

It's been a while since I've interrupted the nonsense by posting pictures of anything I've made, and even longer since I've made anything, so here's a footstool that hopefully will be the prototype for a future generation of them. Of course in what is something of a tradition, it's been finished for a year or two, but not much has happened since.

There is one under construction now, which was to be a first birthday present for our grandson, but it looks as though it might have to be for his second now, since he snuck his birthday in last year some time when we were looking in the other direction..

It is fascinating for me (even if not for anyone else) to reflect on how even something as simple as these stools represents a documentation of change in half a century of history and in the way we live our lives. We can observe in them a progressive increase in disposable wealth and as a result of a corresponding decrease in manufacturing costs better tools have become available. Cheaper manufacturing has eliminated the need to rescue second hand nails, but at the same time there is reference to a diminution of materials, as useful timber becomes more difficult to obtain, and certainly it is difficult to find a usable quality in modern packing crates. Of course the family genetic predisposition to scrounging has not devolved, a fact which Darwin may have been able to draw some conclusive thesis from, but few others .

The first of these stools has been around as long as I can remember. It was built by my father and his dad about the time I was beginning to walk, midway through last century. Three of them were built from packing case timber and nails recovered and straightened before re-use. (Scrounging is an art handed down from generation to generation in my family!). With the advent of machine driven nails, it is difficult if not impossible to reuse nails today.

Paint was left overs, courtesy of the Commonwealth Government house we lived in the fifites which explains some "interestingness" in the colour tones of one or two of the stools.

Tools were rudimentary, in those days the timber was plentiful, so it is over an inch thick and the top is one piece although the construction is about as crude as can be, it's held together with those two inch former packing case nails and nothing else. The legs have been simply checked over the stretchers.

Dimensions are 240 x 350 x 180 high, and the slope of the legs is such that the overhang never causes a problem with small children standing on one end.

All in all it's a perfect stool for kids to stand on to reach handbasins, kitchen sinks etc, or to sit on for other activities, and great for grown-ups to stand on to reach the top shelf, a simple utilitarian and very effective piece of furniture.

The second stool is one of nine built by my dad for each of his grandchildren as they got to be mobile. The utility remains of course as they are an almost exact copy of the earlier version.

An edition of this stool was made sometime in the first year of each of his nine grandchildren's lives (from 1978-88), in time for them to stand at the basin to clean their teeth! Each was finished with polyurethene, and the name of it's owner carefully (but shakily) painted in black on the top.

At the time he was suffering from a few ills, and although he had a few more tools which made the job easier, materials were more difficult to scrounge. Packing case pine was free and still the best choice, but it was no longer dressed on the crate, this one was cleaned up with a belt sander to make it a little more presentable.

The timber was thinner, about 18mm and had to be joined from two widths. Probably because of the lack of thickness, but also because he wanted concealed fixings throught the top, he built a triangular cleat and used some scrounged screws (8 screws- 3 different sizes) to fix it all together. Dad could spot a screw in the middle of a six lane highway at twenty paces!

Finally my own version, a tribute to the other two, just as simple and similar in dimensions but with more sophisticated detail in the construction.

I'd been pondering how to go about my own interpretation of these stools for some time.

I wanted to devise a structure which would not require mechanical fixings (I'm not quite as adept at finding screws), yet keep the same proportions, and here is the result.

Five pieces interlocking, the legs slide over the stretchers and through the mortices in the top where they are wedged. The whole structure is self supporting, and doesn't need any mechanical fixing.

Dimensions of all are similar, in this case the construction material is scraps of Camphor Laurel pulled out of a New Year's bonfire, and of course I didn't have to scrounge any screws or straighten any nails. Finish is sprayed satin NC lacquer.

With a little bit of luck, what is the chance that one of my grandchildren will be able to write about the fourth or fifth evolution of this stool fifty years from now!


Thursday, June 19, 2008


While it would be quite inappropriate to complain or even make a negative suggestion about any inadequacy in the quality of gastronomic offering at the Home of the Biting Midge, which is usually of a quality and quantity ranging from pleasantly excessive to simply exquisite, it’s probably worth recording that on the odd admittedly extremely rare occasion, the oven in our house has been known to produce something akin to the remnants of a small village in the path of the last the eruption of Krakatoa.

Those who have ever partaken of a course of Botanical Studies will understand that a final year High School project is not something that one takes lightly. If this project involves collecting plant samples over many many months, and carefully drying and pressing them prior to incorporating them in a final presentation, one could become quite emotionally attached to the whole thing.

Presuming say six months had elapsed, with only a few weeks to go to the final submission, which will be assessed by Government Inspectors to ensure the standard of the school rating is fair, imagine the level of, let’s call it anxiety or perhaps pressure building up within the households of the participants. Now if the pressure from within the household is countered by a low pressure area from without, a huge storm front could well roll through and sit stationary for the best part of two weeks, dumping inches of rain each day, and leaving the house soggy in an average humidity something equal to that at the bottom of an Olympic swimming pool.

If that had happened, there’s a slight chance that some of your carefully dried pressings could start to exhibit the merest hint of a furry mould growth, which the night before hand-in, can never be said to be a good thing.

For those blessed with parents as clever as our children had been given, this would not have been a problem. The household oven would be carefully warmed, then turned off and left to sit a few degrees above room temperature, to act as a rudimentary dehumidifier for the project.

An hour or so in the oven, and it would be perfect for presentation, providing the Mother of the household keeps her wits about her, and doesn’t crank the temperature up say half an hour too soon, to ensure the oven is the right temperature to cook the evening’s pizza.

Remember kids it’s never too late to change your Biology project to a chemistry one, you simply need to change your report to ensure that there’s lots of mention of carbon, although you have to be careful not to get the paper too soggy through the tears.

None of which has much to do with cooking except to remind us of a time not long after we were married, and with inlaws and their brood for dinner, trying out the new oven, it is suffice to say that things did not go quite according to plan. Actually they might have been to plan, but it wasn’t one of ours.

As the tribe of guests were leaving, our street was filled with acrid smoke of a burning car tyre on a nearby vacant lot.
“What’s that smell?” enquired our four year old nephew.

“It smells like our dinner” replied his sister who should have been old enough to know better.

“Errrk! We didn’t like it” they chorused in perfect synchronicity.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Show Day

We’ve just had a long weekend.

Friday was a Public Holiday, or Bank Holiday as they say in England, but it doesn’t matter a jot what it’s called, we didn’t have to go to work, and the schools were closed and generally around the middle of the coast there wasn’t much going on.

This was only of course the middle bit, because it’s the bit formerly known as the Maroochy Shire, in what of course is now the Sunshine Coast Region, and technically the day off was to celebrate the Maroochy Show. The other two former Council’s each has a Show Day of their own, and no one can decide what to do with this somewhat schizophrenic arrangement, so for the time being the City is split along (literally) party lines, with Shows being held in Nambour, Noosa and Maleny and depending on where in this great schamozzle one lives, one is expected I suppose, to use the day off wisely and turn up at the appropriate event.

Expected to show the flag so to speak.

I imagine quite a few people do, but a lot of others don’t.

While I’m never backward in taking an opportunity not to go to work, it does seem a bit disruptive, particularly when the Friday Holiday is in the same week as the Queen’s Birthday Monday Holiday.

A few businesses are actually taking advantage of the short week, and closing entirely for the duration, however the last word in inconvenience really goes to a gentlemen of my acquaintance who is of an age where society doesn’t expect him to work any longer.

I shall refer to him only as Fossil, reasoning that if it’s good enough for his kids to call him that, it’s good enough for me.

Fossil dropped in for a chat yesterday, ready to take some government bureaucrat head on.

He couldn’t believe they’d do this to him.

He’d worked hard all his life, he said to get to a point where he could retire, and was starting to enjoy himself entirely. This week though, when you take out the public holidays and weekends that he would have had off anyway, he’s reasoned that they’ve only let him be retired for three days.

He was wondering if he should get penalty time or something for having to suffer time out of retirement to have the Public Holiday.


Thursday, June 12, 2008


On the highway somewhat west of Rockhampton but a long way before turning down the road to Yalleroi, there was once a tiny outpost named rather inauspiciously, Banana.

When one travels a little around this country, one soon develops a sense of the sort of agricultural produce that one can expect to be derived from the surrounding terrain, and it has to be said that the soil around Banana was rather underwhelmingly incompatible with any place we'd ever seen that produced the well known yellow fruit. Not even a person with absolutely zero knowledge of horticultural practice could mistake the area for one capable of supporting anything that even closely resembled its namesake.

It's the sort of country that those who truly believe they live in a land of opportunity describe as prime grazing country, which when it all boils down, can be translated to meaning that it never rains, and when the grass does grows the land can support about one head of cattle per million acres. Less charitable people might even describe the landscape as verging on inhospitable.

So it was no surprise to find that only part of the township of Banana visible from the highway comprised one single solitary shed with a couple of petrol bowsers outside and what appeared to be a mechanical workshop and some sort of office with a sign indicating that food was available somewhere within.

It being food and petrol o'clock, we stopped to find a constantly ringing bell announcing our presence, and no other sign of life. Somewhere in the gloom that was the workshop part of the shed, a well dressed older gent emerged carrying a large spanner, and with a polite nod to us, commenced belting the electric bell with it, in what appeared to be an entirely futile request for it to desist in its constant clanging.

I offered to assist, and grabbed a few tools of somewhat lesser dimension than his tractor spanner from my toolkit. As much through good luck as the application of a bit of common sense and logic, within a few minutes we had the miscreant device performing more or less as designed.

The gentleman seemed to be eternally grateful and kindly offered us dinner at his roadhouse explaining with some obvious pride that was his first night in charge of the brand new business. Prior to that day, it seemed he'd been suffering badly on the land, through prolonged drought and depressed stock prices and he'd decided to give away cattle and try his hand at "business in town". We looked around, and seeing no sign of "town" presumed that this was it.

At his urging we sat at a small table in the corner of the workshop that had been laid with a new seersucker tablecloth, and he asked us what we'd like for dinner. There was no sign of a menu, and we were a little unsure of our choices, so naturally we enquired at to what they may be.

"Well", he began, almost puffing up to double his size in pride,"because it's our first night, Mum's got the whole menu on."

We were still none the wiser, and after our further enquiry he elaborated:

"Steak, or Rissoles"

We ordered steak, and in due course a table-sized slab arrived on a monster plate, dripping in fresh fat and cooked as only a cattleman's Mum could cook it. Eating the lot was no mean feat, but it gave plenty of time for conversation and in the course of dinner the mystery of the naming of the town was solved.

Banana it seemed was the name of a particularly large and meaningful bullock which led a haulage team in the days before road transport had been invented. After a long and arduous life of giving his all, poor old Banana succumbed to the effort of hauling a load out of a gully nearby, and it subsequently became known as Banana's Gully.

In the almost forty years since my visit, Banana has become the centre of its own self named mini mega Shire, in the middle of a booming resource-fueled regional economy, I suspect the shed is now larger, and the spanners in the workshop are larger still to cope with the size of machinery that is now scattered through the area, and maybe those steaks will have been replaced by burgers from an international franchise, and the bell will have long been gone.

No matter how large may have become, I must confess that to this day I can't look at a piece of that bent yellow fruit without having a passing thought for Banana's Gully" and wondering what happened to the bloke who gave us the choice of the full menu.

Steak and Rissoles


Monday, June 09, 2008

Amazing Grace

There are some things that seem to be against the natural order of the world, and having a baby brother who is a grandfather is one of them.

Babies being born with more hair than I have is another.

Having no respect whatsoever for these immutable laws, the delightful Macy Grace lobbed up sometime last week when least expected, perhaps starting a new trend in punctuality for our now ever so tiny bit more extended family, but certainly throwing Kate and Andrew's life into premature disarray.

There’s another law too I'm sure, which has something to do with babies' names and a generational difference, in what does and does not constitute a suitable moniker for a person to carry with them for the best part of the next century.

When it comes to owning an agreeable name, I wasn’t feeling as sorry for tiny Macy Grace as I had felt at first for many of the latest crop of new arrivals, in fact even though my opinion matters nought to anyone involved in the process, I almost instantaneously approved.

“Almost”, because I think as an elder, while acceptance of new fangled ideas in child naming is inevitable, there is a certain duty to ensure that when approval is expressed, it is done with the merest hint of begrudging. This is never, I do not hesitate to say, to take anything away from what is truly a joyous occasion, but simply to ensure that all the options have been explored before the newborn is pushed down a lifelong path of defending itself because of a moment's frivolity by its parents, who let's face it, are inevitably under some strain.

If the truth be told, this one even looks like a Macy, or at least some semblance of how I suppose a Macy is intended to look.

Jenna approves, and after all she knows a thing or two about modern naming practices, experiencing one of each new name ever invented as she does with the beginning of each new pre-prep year. I could be said she is something of a child name expert.

She’s been through the Jezebel’s and Moonbeams, and Jarrods and Rains and every combination of letters and I suspect a few numbers thrown in as well, so it came as a bit of a shock that her similarly name-hardened colleague should react so negatively when the new arrival was announced, albeit possibly in something of a mumbled shorthand.

“Poor kid”, she sighed,

“Who’d name their baby Amazing Grace?”

How I wish I'd thought of that!


Thursday, June 05, 2008


We love living where we live, in a land of endless blue skies and glorious beaches, and wide open spaces and in a place which, if you ignore the odd poisonous snake and spider and the apparently constant risk of being taken by a shark or crocodile there is really little risk of injury to life or limb.

The most common risk to all is skin cancer, a disease which impacts on about half our population and if caught early enough is usually without long term effect. If not, the consequences can be dire, to say nothing of being terminal.

Most of our country is below a hole in the ozone layer in earth's atmosphere which allows an unnecessarily large amount of UV radiation to interrupt our outdoor pleasure, and while it all feels pretty good at the time, the long term consequences are not.

Having been born at a time when the impact of this was not at all understood, much of my time in my formative years was spent in what were thought to be healthy outdoor pursuits, time spent hatless and shirtless and if there was a dressing, it was called "tanning lotion" not sunblock, and always contained some sort of oil to hasten the frying process. Usually the only body parts that were protected in any way from the sun’s ravages were the nose and occasionally one’s lips, which would get great lashings of Zinc Cream, a white goo with enough heavy metals in it to run a small power station.

From an early age I had been the subject along with the others in my group, of stern warnings from our kindergarten teacher Mrs Kennedy, who would warn us every day to put on our hats when we went outside or we'd have "Freckles as big as Penny's". Even at the tender age of four, I didn't think was particularly fair to single out Penny, who had a shock of red hair and a complexion to match and was probably been born completely dappled. I didn’t believe that a hat would make one jot of difference.

Sometime in the 70's a public education programme was introduced and we all became aware of the risks, and UV inhibitors became available along with shirts to wear while surfing, but it appears it all came too late for me, the damage was done.

In my fifty-fifth year, a Basil Cell Carcinoma appeared on my shoulder.

This unwelcome little spot was barely the size of a one cent coin and was duly exorcised, with a mere flash of a surgeon’s knife, but Mrs Kennedy’s words began to haunt me.

"Freckles as big as Penny's", she had said, and I'd remembered without question for half a century, never thinking for a second that her grammar may have been open to interpretation. What was it she was really saying?

My four year old brain knew better: My hair wasn't red, I didn't have any freckles, I didn't need a hat. I would tan.

I hadn't for a minute considered she'd been talking about something else, the copper coin about thirty millimetres in diameter that were valued at twelve to the shilling in those days long before decimal currency.

If I had, would I have taken her advice?

Possibly not, but even though I hadn't, my nasty freckle was only as big as a five cent piece, nowhere near the size of a Penny.

If you can’t trust your kindy teacher, who can you trust?


Monday, June 02, 2008


During my first trip to Japan, I was feted by business colleagues and treated to a number of unexpected highlights although just why they were unexpected I can't really explain to this day.

We had been commanded by our client to "feel" Japan and as part of that process he had taken it upon himself to ensure that we had experienced many facets of life and culture as well as reviewing development projects as we went along.

One evening at dinner, a plate of what looked like some kind of flower but which clearly wasn’t, beautifully styled in veneers of petal shaped bits with a slight daub of pink creating a perfect imitation of a lotus flower was placed before me.

My guess that this was some sort of fish was pretty close to the mark, and it was evident that this fish had not been subjected to the strange western custom of having been cooked prior to serving, which again should not have been unexpected given my whereabouts.

As had become my habit before placing most things in my mouth, I turned to our Japanese colleague for a small hint as to just what it was I was about to consume.

"Fugu" he explained.

“Ahh”, I thought out loud, “Puffer Fish”- a polite term for what we called the Toadfish when at home.

"Isn't that poisonous Wada san?"

"Yes, yes. Very poisonous!"

"So if I eat this and get sick, it will be your fault?"

"No. Won't get sick. Very poisonous, you just die.

Ohh! Don't worry, " he continued obviously sensing a small wave of distress flooding over me," if you die, then the cook will lose his license."

With those words of complete reassurance, and not wishing to offend my host who had gone to some effort not to mention considerable expense to get me a seat in this renowned restaurant, I made my peace with the Lord, and tucked in.

As one would expect in these circumstances, the food was a feast of fantastic presentation and texture but it must be said, tasted nothing at all like chicken. If forced to provide a description at all, I'd say it was a moderately passable imitation of raw puffer fish.

From the first tiny mouthful, my mind worked overtime, looking for any sign that my mouth was going tingly during the evening. Would I simply pass out? I wondered.

Throughout the evening, I tested every nerve ending in my mouth to see if there was any sign of misbehaviour. I rested uneasily that night, and it was only at the dawn of the new day that I was able to satisfy myself that fortunately I remained steadfastly in this world.

I had "felt" a little more of Japan and lived to tell the tale.

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