Monthly Archives: October 2018

Fighting War on A Different Front…Army Dentists WWII.

While it was all very well for our Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies to follow Britain’s lead and declare war on Germany on the 3rd September, 1939, the reality was that our troops were far from ready to go.

Indeed, it appears that our young men had stuck their tooth brushes where the sun don’t shine, and their teeth were just as black. Just to give you some idea of the full scale of the problem, in September 1939 in regional Victoria of 2,477 men examined, only 301 were classed as dentally fit and many of those had upper and lower dentures.That’s not a lot of pearly whites!

With the army struggling to treat almost universal dental annihilation, the NSW branch of the Australian Dental Association set up a clinic at the showgrounds where a team of 80 volunteer dentists worked in relays of twelve. These volunteers included my grandfather, Bob Curtin, who had a dental practice in Macquarie Street and you can see him hard at work in the photo above.

By the time the clinic closed in September 1941, 66,991 teeth had pulled out along with giving 97,763 fillings and supplying 19,318 dentures. I can’t help wondering what happened to all those teeth and whether they’ve all been stashed somewhere in one of these construction holes you see in the ground. I’ve never thought of teeth as landfill before but given those numbers, disposing of all those teeth must’ve been a consideration. Or, perhaps the tooth fairy took off with the lot. In that case, leaving a penny under all those bottles of beer, must’ve cost her a pretty penny.

Army dentists cartoon 1940

Not unsurprisingly, the soldiers themselves were less than enthusiastic about fronting up to the dentist. Indeed, one soldier we’ll just call “Jack” spilled the beans on what was known as the “Dental Clinic Racket”. This was not only a way of avoiding the dentist. It had the added bonus of getting them out of all sorts of duties so they could head off to their “bung-hole” (bed) instead:

“To secure, immunity from distasteful tasks by this means a soldier would first make an appointment with the clinic. He would show the appointment slip to the sergeant and be sent away from the kitchen, or some other fatigue to keep the appointment. At the clinic he would plead some excuse for delay, and the dentists, always willing to oblige, almost invariably agreed, to make an appointment for another day, The soldier was then free to go to his”bung-hole” and rest. But we have a checking system from today which will kill that dodge. Of course, in a day or so, the boys will think up a new one.”

Jack then goes on to say that the dental clinic made a raid on his unit that morning:

“All the boys were examined for dental defects, and if extractions were required, hustled straight over to get the works. I’ve seen some of those boys rush up a hill with fixed bayonets, yelling like madmen. The enemy was only imaginary, but I know that they would, and-will, do tho same when shot and shell are flying. But when these men were told to face the Dental Corps they paled, and almost had to be driven to the clinic. If the Dental Corps, had the same effect on an enemy, they would make ideal front line troops.”

Eunice & Robert Wedding

The marriage of Eunice Gardiner & Robert Vincent Curtin at St Mary’s Cathedral 1940.

As it turned out, 1940 was a busy year for my grandfather. That photo appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 2nd July, 1940. While my grandfather was flat out trying to maintain his dental practice while volunteering out at the showground, a young concert pianist had returned from London to tour Australia with the ABC under famous English conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham. While I’m not exactly sure of when they arrived in Australia it would appear they arrived in March, 1940. At some point along the way, my grandmother was in Sydney and had a toothache. Her brother Les had gone through school with my grandfather and I’m not too sure if that’s how she ended up there with that toothache. However, that was the beginning of a new chapter in our history. They were engaged n the 23rd August, 1940 and married in December.

Well, wrapping this up has been a bit of a rush job as I’m off to a concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music tonight and I want to potter around for a bit while I’m down there.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Speech Day 1928: The Life Lessons My Grandfather Heard.

As a woman, it’s already difficult to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes and know what it’s like to be a man. Moreover, not having a contraption like the Tardis to travel back in time, it’s also hard to rewind the clock back to 1928 when my grandfather left school as an 18 year old.My grandfather was also Catholic and attending Waverley College in Sydney, which is run by the Christian Brothers. Back at this point in time, there was a great divide between protestants and Catholics which I find hard to imagine these days, although its still rippling away under the surface.

Papa Curtin with Rowena 1969

My grandfather and I. 

Yet, almost 60 years later, I was also sitting at the back of the school assembly hall not paying much attention to what was being said. So, despite all these glaring differences, we were probably not all that different and had very much in common. The transition from the cloister of school into the next chapter has always been a big step.Yet, generation after generation, has gone before us. We were not alone. We have never been the first generation stepping out there trying to find out way, which I now find largely reassuring.  and I guess you just have to hope that most of them eventually found their way and as George Bernard Shaw said:

Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Being a by-product of my own generation, these attempts to walk in my grandfather’s shoes, have taken me back to one of the greatest movies of all time: Dead Poet’s Society, (Indeed, it would be my favourite if Casablanca hadn’t got there first!)  For those of you already replaying the movie in your heads, I’m reminded of that scene where English teacher John Keating played by our very much loved friend and mentor, Robin Williams, is looking at the portraits of ex-students on the wall and says:

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

-Dead Poet’s Society

As it turns out, I have been able to read the words my grandfather would have heard courtesy of the old newspapers which are now online. Eerily enough, these words actually have a Dead Poet’s Society feel about them, as most of these end of school speeches do. By the way, my grandfather had attended Waverley College, Sydney run by the Christian Brothers and the Address was given by Archbishop Sheehan:

Archbishop Michael Sheehan.

“Your years of youth, my dear boys, are very precious. It is the time in which you build for the future. The opportunities which are now close to your hands will, if neglected, never come within your reach again. Your greatest enemy is the spirit of ill-will and idleness; your best friend is the spirit of obedience and industry.

Your whole life from childhood to death is a warfare, a struggle against temptation. Every victory you gain over yourselves and over the powers of darkness brings with it a strengthening of your will, a strengthening of your character. 

The process of building therefore of which I spoke a moment ago means more than piecing together the divers kinds of knowledge. Let us put it in this way: your task is not only to build for your-selves the house of knowledge, but also and much more to build firm and strong the fortress of the will.

‘How will you take these few words from me? I know boys too well not be be conscious that they listen to old people like myself with a certain amount of patronage, and with a secret feeling that we are out of date and possibly suffering from a touch of dotage, and that therefore any advice of ours is to be taken with a good grain of salt.

Well, it may shake you a bit to hear that the boys of every generation have had exactly the same thoughts, and that when they grew up they found their mistake. One of the chief temptations of your time of life comes from a kind of pride, from a tendency to underrate the advice of the more experienced.’ His Grace concluded by again congratulating the Brothers and the boys on a most successful year, and wished all present the blessings of the Christmas season.” Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 5 January 1928, page 25

Whether you agree with the Catholic ethos or not, I found good wisdom in there. The Archbishop, who’d been born on the 17th December, 1870 at Waterford in Ireland, did a pretty good job of crawling into the boys’ shoes, seeing himself through their eyes and hopefully captured their attention. In his roundabout way, he first encouraged the boys to listen to their elders and hopefully thus avoid some of life’s predictable potholes. He also wanted them to have a heart, a love of God and be living breathing humans. He didn’t want them to be walking encyclopaedias, robots or money-making machines.  He wanted each and every one of those boys to have a rich and complex life. Catholic or not, there’s a lot of good advice to hold onto there and you can adjust it to suit your personal creed.

There’s one thing I’d particularly like add.

That is the importance of family, close friends and having meaningful relationships, which you carry with you throughout your life. Having lived overseas and travelled, I know what it’s like to be that random atom drifting through space where no one knows you, your history, or your family. Moreover, as an Australian living in Germany, there was only the odd person who knew what an Australian was either and I got away with a bit under that heading too.

While there can be real freedom and liberation in flying away from all those ties, I felt quite lost without them too. There’s a lot to be said for having shared memories within a close community where you can bump into an old friend down the street and have those shared experiences, insights and memories. We have been living in our home for something like 18 years. That’s really crept up on us and initially, it took a long time to get established. However, I now have a genuine, informed interest in the people around me. This has nothing to do with career, paying off the mortgage or even putting food on the table. However, there’s food we don’t eat and we also have to cater for our souls.

What would your advice be to a young person leaving school at the end of 2018? Any regrets? Anything you did or observed that worked well and you’d like to pass on? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought I’d better point out that these young men left school the year before the 1929 Fall of Wall Street. The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the Great Crash, started on October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and continued until October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange’s crash of September, signalled the beginning of the 12-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries. Wikipaedia These same men could well have fought or enlisted in WWII having had their own fathers serve in WWI. They didn’t have it easy.

 

Tales from University 1929…The Lad Paying for the Girl on the Tram.

What goes around comes around. While our kids are still a way off leaving school, quite a few of my friends’ kids are currently doing their HSCs or final exams at the moment. While they’re currently fully immersed in their exams and seizing hold of current friendships, they’re all about to embark into the great unknown of new beginnings.

Who knows whether any of these kids will find themselves walking along the same old path we trod into Sydney University. Catching the train to Redfern Station and then walking down Lawson Street, onto Abercrombie and into campus…albeit clutching a map and potentially loads of trepidation.

Starting anything new is such a melting pot of horrid anxiety and exhilarated excitement that it’s surprising any of us can actually put one foot in front of the other and actually emerge from the other end with that precious piece of paper in hand. All I can say to the new ones is that the paths well trod, but there have also been a lot of casualties and not to take anything for granted. That you need to carpe diem seize the day but also make sure you don’t burn up along the way. Light all your matches at once and have no story to tell.

Anyway, while some people waste their lives hunting down the mighty dollar, I live in pursuit of the story. Consequently, as soon as I found out that the archives of Sydney University’s newspaper, Honi Soit were online, I dived in and I haven’t come out. What’s added zest and excitement to this journey, is that I’m a third generation Sydney University Graduate and I also have aunts, uncles, brother, cousins who’ve also been through the place. While our names mightn’t be etched in stone in the Main Quad, we’ve definitely been part of the action. Some of us more than others.

It was only natural to want to check out the very first edition of Honi Soit and see what it was about. Then, I realized that my grandfather had been studying dentistry at the time and that he would’ve held that paper in his hands all those years ago. Been a part of the action. Born in 1910, he would’ve been 19 in 1929 and possibly in second year. I’ve got to try and nut that out.

So, when I found this fabulous letter to the editor written by a Fresher, I had to think of him. I didn’t think of him as the Fresher, but more as one of the wise owls offering this hapless young man a bit of advice.

Here it goes:

Trams 1920s

Letters to the Editor May 3, 1929.

Dear Sir,—

Now I am only a Fresher, Mr. Editor, and consequently am  not very well up in ‘Varsity ways and this is what’s worrying me. Every morning I meet one of the women of my year at the tram—she’s always there first and so I can’t dodge her—and we ride in together and I pay her fare.

Now that’s it—should I pay her fare seeing that I only met her a few weeks ago? You see it makes quite a big difference in this way: When I ride with her I don’t like to use my cram pass and as it is a three section journey that means 3d. extra plus 5d. for her—making 8d. extra altogether.

This means 3/4 a week in the morning and there’s also one afternoon which brings it up to 4/- a week. This is £ 2 a term and means £ 6 a year.

As we are both doing MED. we will travel together for six years and that means £36. Further since everyone fails in Third Year we will have to stay seven years at the ‘Varsity and that makes it £42.

It doesn’t seem a bit fair to me that this girl should cost me so much money, but as I am only a Fresher and don’t know much I would like to have your opinion as I am certain it will be a good one.

Hoping that I haven’t caused you too much bother.

I am.

Yours Very Truly,

M.T. Honi Soit, May 3, 1929 pg 3.

The Replies

Honi Soit, May 10, 1929

To the Editor,— The touching plea of a Med. Fresher in the shape of an extremely ingenuous letter to your paper, must surely have touched all hearts. Even the Women Undergraduates must have been moved to pity ere they passed judgment. My first feeling was one of intense astonishment. That a Med. Fresher would actually consider the possibility of paying someone else’s tram fare was a possibility not dreamt of in my philosophy.

The puzzled fresher would have us believe the following facts:

(a) He is very worried. (I would suggest nerve nuts at stated intervals —notably during lectures).

(b) It is impossible for him to dodge the “woman.’ (I’ve heard that one before).

(c) He has calculated expenses over a period of seven years with terrifying results. (At last we are on familiar ground).

Naturally enough the Age of Reason has little time for the Age of Chivalry.

It would seem on the face of things that the question, ”Should Men pay Women Students* tram fares?” is as fruitless as “Should women stand in trams?” But there are a few considerations which make the former question a matter for controversy.

In the first place we find it difficult to believe that the puzzled fresher catches the same tram—literally speaking—as the troublesome “woman” on every occasion. Apart from the sheer miracle of a Med. student paying someone else’s fare, the misfortune must be on the fresher’s own head. Either he is organically lazy, or he is proving that even in the tram a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. We are thus faced with an interesting psychological contretemps. As yet the innocent fresher cannot analyse the strange force which compels him to seat himself by the “woman” and bravely ignoring his shameful tram pass, to drag forth the sum of eight-pence. On the other hand the financial instinct struggles fiercely.

No wonder then the poor fresher is worried.

I think that if the fresher continually meets the “woman” in the tram, she should hand forth the plebeian coppers as naturally as she might stroll in minutes late for a nine o’clock lecture. The whole question really hinges on the problem of to show or not to show the humble pass, and my opinion is that it should be treated as an academic privilege to be taken advantage of on every occasion. And so, let the “woman” take the initiative and keep her tram pass as she does her powder puff—

within easy access. Surely then the fresher will be worried no longer when he sees “the treasured” privilege—-her

pass—”come sliding out of her sacred glove.”

A SYMPATHETIC WOMAN UNDERGRADUATE.

Honi Soit, May 10, 1929 pg 4.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Those Tramfares

(To the Editor.)

I read with amazement the piteous appeal for guidance from M.T.G. (“H.S.,” May 3). That he should even consider, let alone worry over, paying a woman student’s fare is quite beyond my comprehension. His blunder for to my mind it is an egregious mistake is all the more apparent when the reason why women come to the ‘Varsity in general, and do Medicine in particular, is taken into consideration.

Of course it is well known that women only come to the ‘Varsity to “catch” a husband. As “Med.” has the best “catches” and is the longest course, they have greater opportunities to carry out their nefarious schemes.

If, however, M.T.G. finds that, having commenced, he cannot cease paying the siren’s fare, I would suggest the adoption of any or all of the following:—

1.—Buy (a) a car; (b) a motorcycle (with pillion) ; (c) a bicycle.

2.—Miss the first lecture.

3.—Make a certain proposal to the woman.

4.—Have a row-with her.

5.—Leave the suburb.

6.—Leave the ‘Varsity.

Hoping this may clear the air for  him,

ARTS III.

Honi Soit, May 22, 1929 pg 4.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Reading this letter 90 years later, what would I advise the young man?

Probably, my greatest piece of advice to that young man is that you should only give what you feel comfortable giving. As it stands, paying for the young woman’s fare seems like more of a tax and all he’s really concerned about is how much it’s going to cost him. He hasn’t mentioned whether he likes the girl, finds her attractive, it’s just about how much she’s costing him and that’s counter to the real spirit of giving. You should give with a full heart, without building resentment. Yet, at the same time, I also feel for him because once he paid for her a second time, he’d established a pattern which would be very difficult for anyone to get out of. I’d really love to hear how the story panned out. Was there ever romance with this girl on the tram? Or, perhaps she read his letter and decided to pay her own way. After all, it was a fairly pointed letter. Indeed, that makes me question whether the letter was genuine or just a story line devised by the editors? I guess we’ll never know. However, it all made for an entertaining read and a huge sense of relief, that my fresher days are well and truly in the past.

Best wishes,

Rowena

How to succeed at University – by REALLY trying.

As you may be aware, I’ve been fully immersing myself in past editions of the Sydney University Newspaper: Honi Soit over the last couple of weeks.  I’ve really stumbled across some ripper stories and I particularly moved this one by Graham Sawyer from 1963:  How to succeed at University – by REALLY Trying . While he admits that it wasn’t entirely original and was based on an article from Esquire, I found it very enlightening and wish I’d read this before I first arrived in 1988 as a humble Fresher with my map out in front.

Naturally, the procession of students from school to university continues. Indeed, Year 12 is currently sitting for their HSC or final exams and all being well and that being their goal, they’ll be off to uni in the new year. So, who knows? Perhaps, this advice from over 50 years ago will stand them in good stead:

Honi Soit Supplement March 5, 1963.

THERE IS too much time wasted in your first few days at this sepulchral establishment in telling you how to pass exams. If you have managed to enrol, register, and in general to get into the University, then it is self-evident that you have the required ability and intelligence to graduate. You will find that study and exams are a mere formality and can be taken in your stride. It is far more important to enjoy your course, and to make your years at student level the most memorable of your life.

This means of course as much time as possible should be spent away from study. The successful student is not necessarily the one that passes. This you will realise within six months, so you may as well learn it now. The ultimate goal or criterion for success as a student is the attainment of power within the University. Now power is a nebulous concept and it can take many forms. There is political power, power of personality, power of opinion, power in talent, and even (and this will appeal to many) power in lack of talent. Only at University can a talentless bum be regarded as a somebody. Exploit it . . . So we present a few simple rules and paragraphs of guidance which if carefully followed will lead to your recognition as a person of status in student society.

_DSC6665

The Main Quad, Sydney University 2018.

  1. Arrival.

Note here that the first hundred days of your career are crucial. This is the time when foundations are laid, and it gives rise to our first rule: DONT JOIN ANYTHING YET IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY AVOID IT. Sound out which clubs are fashionable, which have the smallest membership and which you can become president of most quickly. Don’t worry if you are not interested in the Club’s activity. you will find that it mostly boils down to self-administration anyway. Don’t be afraid to go to the functions held in Orientation Week which involve afternoon tea, because the population at these is largely starving third-year students and not enquiring freshers. Some very useful contacts can be made here. In conversations, raise your age, be uncertain about what course you wish to take, be indifferent to people, be self-contained.

  1. Friends, Making and Breaking.

Don’t keep in with the friends you have made at school, you will find they’re inadequate for your progress at Uni. Seek out new friends who are rich, influential, very bright, or very talented. When going out, the rule for the student on the move is this: GO OUT WITH WOMEN WHO ARE EITHER OLDER OR VERY GOOD LOOKING. Do not waste time with any others. If you cannot attract this type of woman, mumble something about an affair with a married woman. This is as good.

For the freshettes, only go out with second-year (and upwards) fellows, this is far better for status. If you cannot get a guy, say you are being faithful to a young doctor in Melbourne. Have a picture. Don’t just go out to enjoy yourself, the luxury of this comes later. Be conscious of the impression you are making.

  1. Conversation.

There are two points which will enable you to carry on a very impressive conversation with a member of the opposite sex. Firstly make sure you have evolved a philosophy of life. Contrary to the opinion of the “world outside” students are heading back to morality. The “what’s the use — let’s do it before the bomb comes” attitude is decadent. The best philosophy for this season (and very big on sex appeal too, incidentally) is idealistic cynicism (i.e. what has happened to the moral fibre of the world etc.). Adopt this philosophy and you are sure of success. Also make the most of your background, whatever it is. Never apologise for it, no matter how squalid. Make it sound exotic. Talk about how your mother and father make love a lot. Be personal and feel free to criticise them whenever possible. Call them “oldies”. By the way, a knowledge of carracing is desirable (though far from essential) to aid conversation with the rich and social set.

  1. For Those In College.

Although a book could be written on entry into college the following hints may be of assistance.

  1. Be gracious, even when yelled at to answer the phone.
  2. Be mysterious, never take anyone (at all) into confidence.
  3. Get long distance phone calls, exciting letters . . . arrange these yourself,
  4. Rent a good painting for your room, when you have to return it say the artist was having a show, Australian art only of course.
  5. Buy from a junkyard a smashed up TR3 grille and inscribe it “September 1961, Sandra”. Put it in an obvious position.
  6. Have an affair with a girl in Sydney, and one in the old home town. Talk about it with passion, let whole college advise. Break one of the girl’s hearts, and plead guilty to the whole college.

 

5.A Note on the Academic Side.

Remember this maxim: “A friendly lecturer is like money in the bank’. Make at least one friend, preferably in the Psychology Department for they are young, generous and above all, understanding. For now, go to all Classes, lectures and do all your assignments. Do not be too smart immediately. Let lecturers think they have helped you. Preferably do your essays on time, but if you need an extension, red eyes and a plea of “family troubles” never fail. All other comments on this topic I reserve to my later paper to be entitled “How to Pass Exams, Find Religious Faith, and Have a Traumatic Love Affair Simultaneously”.

6.After the First Hundred Days . . . The Move to Power.

The primary and most important task now that you have laid the foundation is to choose the role which you must assume for the remainder of the year, unless of course you stage a conversion later in the year, which is good if done tastefully. Sportsmen are unfortunately no longer powerful student figures, real power lies in the assumption of one of the following roles and exploiting it to the full. Rule of thumb here is: Make sure your name is on it.

Different Student Types

  1. The Newspaper-Literary Complex.

Student Graffiti Artist

The home of this is the “honi” office where gather all the literary types to belt out their muses on ancient typewriters, and swap theories as to primordial excretory functions of Kerouac in 20th Century literature. It is a quick and sure rise to power for both sexes when they join “honi”, for its staff are really the elite. You merely sit in the office, think up sick or dreary jokes, find lesser people who can be sent up. All this without the need for any talent. If you have talent you should write endlessly. Be prolific; it’s fashionable. Write poetry, it takes less time. The best gimmick to assume power in the newspaper field was last year when a group got the editors thrown out and took over the paper. Don’t try this again, it has been (as it were) done to death.

The sure way to power in the literary field is as follows: Submit a very dirty fortnightly article with either your own name (if it is something like Carslaw Gardfish) or a pseudonym like Gloster or Alkie (if your name is commonplace). Never let either editor or staff see you, until you have been published three times, then boldly walk into the office and present yourself with your next opus.

You are made.

2. Student Politics Group.

At the elections in June campaign vigorously for the S.R.C. Your platform should be: More representation for freshers, and abolition of the S.R.C.. Note: only your own sex can vote for you, do not waste campaign time on members of the opposite sex. Union elections are also beneficial, but cut your teeth on the S.R.C.

Join one of the political clubs, preferably the Labour Club if you live in a blue ribbon Liberal electorate. This proves you are sincere. Join the C.N.D, (three stars) or Student Action (two stars).

Get your bloc votes from a religious group (two alternatives here) or the very helpful college Or faculty vote (especially in Engineering), When on Council, Or any semi-political committee, speak often and vigorously using big words. Go to Union Night. Resign conspicuously from small office and talk vaguely about pressure being brought to bear. Whatever you do, don’t be a Communist … it simply isn’t a good joke any more. Organise a protest . . . against anything . . .

Politics can be rewarding in ways other than simply status. There are many free trips to “conferences” and other perks which are yours for the asking.

3. The Charismatic Party-Giving Non-Joiners.

Firstly look up “charismatic” in a dictionary. Now give parties anywhere you can find, Paddington, an old ice-works, a brothel, East .Sydney Tech, (but you get the idea). Wear an impeccable suit with perhaps a bullethole in the shoulder. When people ask, give no details. Drink only Rum-and Coke (very IN). Invite the Royal George push. Spend the night in the window of a furniture store, and chunder on the display carpet. Apologise to the owner. You’ll be a legend in no time. Be a big wheel on Commem. Day. Race off women (more of this in another paper entitled “Ovals and Bars — another view of University Life”).

4.The Arty Theatre Set.

Student Theatre Type

You will find this group in the Union Theatre Foyer at any time. Go to castings for plays and make a grand entrance by slamming the door or somersaulting into the room. Try for only big parts, refuse the small ones as unrewarding. Carry a book on Becket with you wherever you go. Say you would rather read a play than see it acted. Have a successful audition with the A.B.C. and Tibor Rudas. Try to establish a Rep. Company but bow out to commercialism when you find it costs too much. Wear the hair longer than average and wear quite old clothes.

Deplore method acting and speak loudly about the corruption of the Independent Theatre. Go to lessons with Hayes Gordon even though you hate the Method but tell the set that the man is a great teacher. If you can play the piano, try to play for Revue. Compose modern jazz or perhaps a concerto for bassoon and bull-fiddle. If you are an actor have one speech that you really can do, even if it is only eight lines. Memorize the Henry VI speech (part III, act II scene 5) which goes:

For what is in this world but grief and woe,

O God! Methinks it were a happy life.

To be no better than a homely swain.

Say it very softly and sadly at any given opportunity.

5.The Intellectual or Crackpot.

Do something legendary, like in a final exam say that you disapprove of the question and answer one of your own brilliantly. Be friends with libertarians (on the way out, but still useful) or perhaps the Philosophy Department. Someone is sure to think you are brilliant. Give blood donations, steal books from Fisher, have only one set of clothes. Admit something that no one else would, like that you are illegitimate. Do bicycle presses on the Quadrangle lawns and learn the names of the Union waitresses. Shave seldom, but do NOT grow a beard (this is pretentious and only for the pseudos).

Read poetry, submit things to “honi” at a distance, Quad lounge, have many ideas and theories. Go out with the most beautiful girl around (she’ll go, don’t worry), do not shave for the occasion and wear odd socks. Change your course as often as you can. Don’t go to lectures explaining that “lecturers have nothing new or original to offer”.

So there you are. Just a few hints on how to really get down to the important issues of University life. Girls can adapt the above comments to suit themselves. Of course this has not been an exhaustive list but we really hope it may help you. Good luck! Oh, by the way, we have been asked how one tells when one has attained power. Here’s how you know . . .

  • Freshettes’ -freshers’ eyes sparkle with interest when you are introduced.
  • Jokes are made about you in student political circles.
  • People tell stories about your exploits in Manning,
  • You fail, or are sent down.

(Note: This article, though masquerading as an HONI SOIT original was actually adapted from an article in Esquire  our American counterpart. — GRAHAM SAWYER

…..

Before I head off, I just wanted to share one little anecdote from my four years at Sydney University. While I was in first year, my bag was stolen from the uni gym. Quite aside from losing my wallet, my glasses were in the bag and my clothes. So, I had to catch the train home in my gym gear and I couldn’t see. Clearly, this was one of those things which are dreadful thing at the time, but becomes funny in hindsight. Anyway, about 3 years later when I was doing my final Honours year, I received a phone call from the University’s security service. They’d found my bag. Indeed, I think it had been there the entire time.

Well, after all that time, my old bag had become quite the time capsule. There were notes in there from friends  and all sorts. What really stunned me though, was that there were two maybe three bottles of red nail polish in there. What on earth was I trying to achieve? I’ve never been particularly vain or into makeup but I felt this definitely came under the heading of “trying too hard!!!”

University Graduation

The Graduate…I must’ve succeeded at something.

So, then…I’d love to know what you thought about all of that. Do you have any advice of your own you could add? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS The sketches appeared in the original article. Artist unknown.

The Endless Explorations of an Overstimulated Mind…

Life is what happens to you while you‘re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon

To the untrained eye, my thinking’s seemed pretty random of late…a mush of pea and ham soup with a few recognizable objects thrown in. Indeed, even I’ve been starting to wonder if there are any threads of logic tying my ramblings together. After all, there’s been no sign of  a train of thought methodically stopping all stations on the way to its advertised destination. However, after much consideration, I was relieved to find a noticeable thread running through it all, even if I did have to search for it.

Yet, as much as I love darting from light bulb moment to light bulb moment, I’ve also been feeling overwhelmed and wondering whether a more focused approach would be more productive.  After all, I’ve almost blown a circuit when all my light bulbs switched on at once. As much as that sounds fantastic from a creative point of view, I do have practical responsibilities. Indeed, clearly driving a car with a blown circuit is a liability. Moreover, members of the family need to eat, go places and live their lives. Yet, I also want to fulfil my own destiny. Walk in my own shoes.

So, today I thought I’d share some of this journey with you. I’m not even going to try to put a heading on it. I’m just going to grab my keys and go. That said, you ought to know we’re in Australia. I don’t want you to get lost before the journey’s begun.

First Stop:  Henry Lawson.

Henry Lawson by Lionel Lindsay

This journey began almost a month ago when I bought Colin Roderick’s: Companion to Henry Lawson’s Fifteen Stories at a garage sale in Pearl Beach. Fortunately, thanks to good luck or fiendish book hoarding tendencies, I already had its other half: Henry Lawson Fifteen Stories. Keen to write more short stories myself, I decided to get stuck into them. They’re designed for a high school audience and seemed quite thought provoking. I also wanted to immerse myself in my Australian cultural heritage. I stridently believe that everyone needs to know their own culture and step beyond the one-size doesn’t fit anybody global culture. So, I started reading more about Henry Lawson’s bio and was struck to find out he had a Norwegian father, Nils Larsen. I sort of knew that but that meant a lot more to me now. That you can’t just change a few letters in your name, and change who you are.

Second Stop: Bridget Donovan, Irish Famine Orphan Girl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Charlotte Merritt, daughter of famine orphan, Bridget Donovan.

As it turned out, Henry Lawson and his family were living in Mudgee in Western NSW where my 4th Great Grandmother, Bridget Merritt (Donovan) and husband George were living for several years. Bridget was an Irish Famine Orphan who came out to Australia onboard the John Knox as part of the Earl Grey Scheme. These Irish Famine Orphan Girls have been commemorated at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks as well as through historic research. As much as I’ve always loved an related to Henry Lawson’s works as an Australian, they suddenly meant a whole lot more to me now that they provided gained insights into how my family lived and the sorts of challenges they faced. Indeed, George and Bridget and their children could well have resembled one of Lawson’s characters and lived his short stories.

Third Stop:  Bourke, NSW.

Bertha Davies (nee Bruhn) and Herb Bruhn

Uncle Herb right as I knew him, along with his sister Bertha.

However, the connections didn’t end there. I also found out that The Bulletin magazine had sent Henry Lawson out to Bourke in 1893 to write stories about life in the outback. As it turned out, my grandmother’s uncle did a stint out in Bourke back in the 1960s. Moreover, Mum’s always told me this story about she was desperately looking forward to going to the Peter, Paul and Mary Concert, but was forced to go on a family holiday to Bourke instead. Although Mum was twenty and a student living out of home, there was no way she could get out of it. Even then, she was expected to do what she was told. No questions asked. So, I start picturing the family squished into the FJ Holden heading from Wollongong up over the Blue Mountains, through Dubbo and onto Bourke not quite following in Henry Lawson’s footsteps but I could sense a story in there somewhere.

Before I pursued this story any further, it was time to hit the research trail and see what I could dig up about Bourke in the old newspapers. Wow! Was I in for a surprise! While I knew Uncle Herb was into singing and I’ve at least seen an old black & white photo of him working on a musical production, I had no idea Uncle Herb was the Producer of the Bourke Musical & Dramatic Society.  As a town with a population scratching to reach two thousand souls, this was hardly the big time. However, he approached these productions with such professionalism, gusto and passion that he truly belonged on Broadway. From what I gather, they put on numerous productions including: Oklahoma, Cleopatra and South Pacific. Yet, given Bourke’s remote location, it was a battle for the show to go on. There were numerous efforts to recruit new members in the newspapers and he even offered free voice training. However, the appeal which really struck home was his quest to find a pianist, which must’ve hurt because my mother was not only a piano student at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. At this time, she was learning from Linley Evans who’d accompanied the great Australian opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba. However, mum was in Sydney and almost a thousand kilometres away.  Of course, Uncle Herb did approach my grandparents, but they decided she was far too young (Phew!!)

By this stage, the whiff of another story was almost knocking me out. However, the excitement didn’t end there. While I was scouring the old newspapers online, I stumbled across something like twenty poems Uncle Herb had had published in the newspaper. I didn’t even know he wrote poetry and as a poet myself, that was important. I’d found someone like me, and that’s not to be overlooked lightly. Indeed, I immediately wanted to drop everything and compile his poems into an anthology. However, than idea had a quick demise when I remembered that my own poems need a lot of sorting out and I’d better get my own poems in order first

Fourth Stop:  Honi Soit, Sydney University’s Student Newspaper.

Antonymns Rowena

Here I am back in 1990 running for election to edit Honi Soit .

Last week, while I was down in Sydney for the Carer’s Day Out, I detoured home via my former stomping ground, the University of Sydney. Quite aside from photographing the old buildings and retracing my footsteps, I found out that past issues of the university’s newspaper, Honi Soit, were available online. Needless to say, that proved quite a distraction.

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The Main Quad, Sydney University, 2018.

Hoit Soit was first published in 1929. As it turned out, my grandfather was studying dentistry at the time. So, that’s where my investigations began and I soon got caught up in all sorts of tales about students struggling to meet people on campus, which were exacerbated by the ruling that women couldn’t attend a dance unaccompanied by a man. Naturally, this ruling affected those who needed to meet new people most…the freshers.

Student Theatre Type

Above: The Arty Theatre Type

In my father’s day, I also found a very entertaining article advising freshers on “How to succeed at University by Really Trying”. May favourite was Graham Sawyer’s advice to college residents:

“Although a book could be written on entry into college the following hints may be of assistance.

  1. Be gracious, even when yelled at to answer the phone.
  2. Be mysterious, never take anyone (at all) into confidence.
  3. Get long distance phone calls, exciting letters . . . arrange these yourself,
  4. Rent a good painting for your room, when you have to return it say the artist was having a show, Australian art only of course.
  5. Buy from a junkyard a smashed up TR3 grille and inscribe it “September 1961, Sandra”. Put it in an obvious position.
  6. Have an affair with a girl in Sydney, and one in the old home town. Talk about it with passion, let whole college advise. Break one of the girl’s hearts, and plead guilty to the whole college.[1]
Student Graffiti Artist

Above: The Newspaper or Literary Type.

After browsing through a few back issues from my own time, I headed to 1969 the year of my birth. I was due to be born on the 20th July the day man landed on the moon and I wanted to read student coverage of the event. After all, the moon landing has become part of my personal narrative.

That was two weeks ago. However, in typical Rowie fashion, I still haven’t reached the moon landing. Instead, I stumbled into the Vietnam protest movement and my journey veered off in an entirely new direction. You see, my Dad had been called up to go to Vietnam and I almost felt a sense of duty to delve into it further.

Stop Five: Conscription & the Vietnam War.

Image result for Save Our Sons No Conscription

In 1964, the Australian Government introduced conscription. On the 10th March, 1965 the first ballot or “death lottery” was held, which covered men who turned 20 from January 1st 1965 to the 30th June. That included my Dad who was in the third year of his economics degree. It was pure chance, but Dad’s birthday came up. It was like playing pin the tail on the donkey, and suddenly the thumb tack went straight through Dad’s nose. He was in. That was that.

However, Dad still had a bit of time up his sleeve. He could defer until he’d finished his degree, but that would only buy him a year.

By now, you’ve probably gathered Dad got off. That’s a story in itself, involving what Dad called: “An Act of God” and once again brought into question that delicate fusion of destiny and chance. Not being a lawyer myself, I’m not exactly sure how this loophole stands up in court. However, you might recall that Billy Connolly referred to it in: The Man Who Sued God. 

Anyway, Dad was driving home from a party in the rain when his car skidded and careered across from one side of the Pacific Highway to the other into the path of an oncoming Mercedes Benz.  Needless to say, Dad was lucky to survive. However, he ended up with multiple fractures in his pelvis and a few broken ribs. When the police came to interview him, he managed to gloss over the bald state of his tyres and claimed: “it was an act of God”. Naturally, the Police were sceptical. However, what really mattered, was that his injuries rendered him medically unfit to go to Vietnam. So, it appears that even the army couldn’t argue with an “Act of God”.  By the way, in case you’re doubting the legitimacy of of divine intervention, the couple in the Mercedes had been having an affair and the accident opened the lid on that too. So, even if you don’t believe in the man upstairs, perhaps you’ll now believe in miracles.

Researching conscription and the early days of the Vietnam War has been fascinating, especially given my father’s involvement. I’m particularly keen to find out how these young men handled the waiting game. Although the birthdays had been drawn on the 10th March, the dates had been kept secret. The chosen ones would be notified by mail within a month and asked to report for a medical. Of course, there was no email notification back then and I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for all those young men waiting to know their fate. Did they just get on with it and hope for the best? Or, was there an overarching sense of dread? I need to get my father relaxed and get him talking. He hasn’t said a lot. Although it’s over 50 years ago, it still feels relevant and must’ve been a significant stepping stone on his journey.

Last Stop:  Bien Hoa Airbase… Marigolds in Vietnam.

Bien Hoa

Although Dad didn’t go to Vietnam, all this research highlighted how little I knew about the Vietnam War and that I really ought to know more. In the past, I’ve found it rather intimidating with places names which weren’t familiar, and there’s always been a hostility to Australia’s involvement there. However, by starting to read about the war as it happened, it began to make more sense.

I’m not going to go into the battlefield side of things. However, I stumbled across an article by by  Dorothy Drain who’d visited Vietnam in 1965 as a war correspondent for Australian Women’s Weekly. There was one snippet within this story which really caught my eye. Indeed, my heart was glowing. Dorothy was near Bien Hoa Airbase, when she met up with B Company’s Sergeant Major, Eric Smith, “who was showing us with pride the marigolds blooming outside his tent”. He said:

“The wife sent the seeds. She sent me a Cootamundra Wattle, too, and someone swiped it with his big feet”[2].

Sergeant Major Eric Smith Australian War Memorial

I went on to find a photograph of the very same Sergeant Major, Eric Smith recording a tape to send back to his wife for Christmas. I don’t want to idealise this marriage of people I’ve never met. Yet, it warmed my heart.

Where To From Here…

red shoes

So, here I am at the end of another week wanting to consolidate all these fine beginnings. Write short stories galore. Yet, another week lies just around the corner with its own extraordinary moments. Indeed, on Wednesday, I’m planning a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW followed by a concert at the Conservatorium of Music where my grandmother Eunice Gardiner taught the piano and my mother was her pupil.

So, as much as I would like to slow life down for my pen to catch up, I still want to live. Keep my eyes open and absorb everything around me right down to the intimate, detailed minutae of things. I don’t want these light bulb moments to stop.

However, if you see me looking rather lost or woozy, could you please get me a chair or perhaps a glass of water. You could even give me a lift home.

After all, all this thinking, can wear you out. It’s surprisingly hard work.

I would love to hear any reflections you might have of any of the abiove. Clearly, it’s covered quite a lot of ground and it took quite a few days for me to gather my thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

References

[1] Honi Soit, March 5, 1963 Supplement.

[2] The Australian Women’s Weekly, December 8, 1965 p 7.

Graffifi Tunnel, Sydney University: Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors.

Antonymns Rowena

Me on the campaign trail outside the Holme Building in 1990.

This week we’ve entering in a time tunnel and heading back to 1990 when I was running for election to edit Sydney University’s student newspaper: Honi Soit. Our team was called the Antonymns and the ant as our logo. Indeed, our intrepid leader was a massive 6ft black papier mache ant, which was hoisted up on top of a car and driven around campus. In retrospect, although we didn’t win, our campaign was actually pretty good and devising slogans, posters, t-shirts, stickers, cars mascots and then trying to convince the masses to vote for us was a massive undertaking. While some more astute politicians ingratiate themselves with key interest groups and hope the mob of sheep follow the leader, I went round speaking personally to masses of students. This included  interviewing students about the New Age Sensitive Guy or SNAG around campus and producing my findings in the university magazine: The Union Recorder.

antonyms in tunnel

As you can see, Graffiti Tunnel is a brutal, temporal place a lot like building a sandcastle on the beach, which is washed away before you’ve even stuck a feather in the top. I gather the Newshounds were either short or didn’t bring a ladder and that black ant does seem to be peering down and poking out it’s tongue at its miraculous survival.

Although election day probably should’ve been the pinnacle of our campaign, for me it was actually painting the tunnel. A friend of mine picked me up in his Dad’s station wagon and we must’ve got in there about 4.00-5.00am. It was pitch black, Winter and freezing. That’s what I remember…the cold. Yet, strangely I have absolutely no memory of any safety concerns. Seriously, who was going to knock a pair of mad students over the head during the middle of the night and run off with their tin of brown paint? Well, you can’t be too careful because our rivals, the Newshounds, had started sticking their posters up at the other end of the tunnel and they certainly were out to get us (and the feeling was mutual. The campaign had become rather heated.)

Anyway, getting back to our mission, we’d decided to turn Graffiti Tunnel into an ant tunnel. The plan was to paint the tunnel brown for that authentic look and then we stenciled Antonymns and blank ants over the top. In hindsight, I’d probably go for something more stylised using lurid colours to make more of a shocking impact. However, you live and learn.

Anyway, as I mentioned, while we were risking frost bite painting down one end of the tunnel, our rivals the Newshounds were sticking posters up at the other end of the tunnel and sometime long before dark, we met up. I don’t think the Newshounds thought too highly of the poo brown paint and the Antonyms really weren’t too sure that their intensely bright orange chalk quite conformed to election guidelines. From memory, their compliance with budget restrictions also seemed questionable. Minor things like this can flare up like a gangrenous wound during an election campaign and I lost a few friends during the course of this campaign, which I’ve regretted.

Anyway, as you may be aware, I revisited Sydney University last week and thoroughly inspected and analyzed my old haunts through the lens. This included returning to Graffiti Tunnel and feeling quite a sense of accomplishment that I’d actually painted that thing in my youth. That I was really living life to the fullest and seizing the day.

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However, while I was photographing Graffiti Tunnel this time, I was surprised to find many doors inside. As I photographed them for Thursday Doors, it never crossed my mind that they might actually lead somewhere. That there could indeed be a secret world behind those doors. I’d only ever seen it as a tunnel and never delved any further. However, that all changed on this visit and some of the doors were open, revealing corridors, labs and lecture rooms. It all felt rather macabre.

I guess places are very much like people. You can think you know someone rather well but then you see them in a different light and figuratively speaking a door either opens or closes and they’re not who you thought they were.

By the way, there’s a very strong part of me which longs to return to Graffiti Tunnel and paint it again. Update it all. I’d like to paint something which really gets the students thinking about what they’re doing. Where they’re going and finding more connection and a more optimistic outlook. I have a few ideas but I fully intend to express them in paint before I confess. Intentions don’t count. This will be my Nike moment…Just do it!

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0. Why don’t you come and join us and share a few of your favourite doors. It’s a lot of fun and helps you see parts of the world you’ll never get to visit.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Flying Through The Eye…Friday Fictioneers.

As a five year old, Molly’s perspective of their European vacation was very different to her Mum and Dad’s.

While they were engrossed in the minutae of the architectural details, Molly’s gaze wandered upwards, drawn towards the huge eye peering down through the roof. The eye of a friendly giant.

“Molly! Molly!” he beckoned.

Sensing a miraculous adventure, Molly let go of her mother’s hand and started rising higher and higher. “OMG! Mummy! Daddy! I’m flying”

Then, she looked down.There was only blue sky, clouds and teeny weeny rooftops as small as Monopoly houses and the moon lay up ahead.

……

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot