Tag Archives: fire

Sunset Through the Wires…the Aussie Fires.

Last night, I took a series of photos of the sunset through the overhead wires from our driveway. We don’t have any local fires blazing and yet the smoke is very thick and ominous.

Naturally, I was annoyed these wires were in the way. Wanted a clear view of the blazing sun glowing like melting cheese just above the horizon. However, as I peered through the lens, I thought the wires told a suburban story. I also remember how my childhood piano teacher who went on to get her PhD in Creative Writing told me how she used to see the five parallel wires of the overhead wires resembling the musical staff and the birds were the notes and she used to try and work out what tune they were playing.

So, there you have it. My blazing sun seemingly shooting across the musical staff playing a tune of its own.

Sunset Through the Wires 3

Meanwhile, I am contained in the lounge room with the air-conditioning on which is filtering the air. I went out into the kitchen and made a couple of pancakes and was almost a hospital job. Our son arrived home from school and said the smoke was so bad that you couldn’t smell people smoking outside. That’s a pretty good indication of how bad it is.

DSC_7085.JPG

A broader perspective of the sunset  through the wires and over the roof top. 

Please keep us in your prayers. We have the television updates running and it’s just terrible hearing about the destruction and loss of bush land and homes. I am equally conscious that the burning of our bush is killing animals and their habitat and not something to be glossed over either.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Inside Skin…Ahn Do Paints Professor Fiona Wood.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”

― Aldous Huxley

So often, language is hopelessly inadequate. Last night, I found myself profoundly moved and yet despite all my years as a wordsmith and a thinker, I was left stammering unable to communicate.I guess that’s what happens when your doors of perception suddenly swing open, and you have a eureka moment.

I’d been watching a past episode of  Ahn’s Brush With Fame where he’d painted and interviewed Professor Fiona Wood, Australian plastic surgeon and burns specialist.  Professor Wood and scientist Marie Stoner developed a revolutionary spray-on skin to help burns survivors. This technology was a world-first and has been used on more than 1000 patients around the world. In 2005 they won the Clunies Ross Award (Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering) for their contribution to medical science in Australia. In 2005, Professor Wood was named Australian of the Year.

So, let me bring you into the studio now where Fiona is sitting on Ahn’s distinctive yellow chair. While Ahn’s secretly painting away behind the canvas, Ahn and Fiona’s conversation criss-crossed through her professional and private lives, and there were so many pearls of wisdom. Fiona is such an amazing thinker, and Ahn has a way of drawing people out, although I also understand that painting someone’s portrait tends to do that. Ahn is also deep and profound himself.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

Leonardo Da Vinci.

However, as much as I was touched by much of the interview, there was a particular part of their conversation which stopped me dead in my tracks. Indeed, today I’ve paused and rewound this section many, many times trying to capture the exact wording. With these two kindred’s swept away into their own little skin paradise, pinning down their words wasn’t easy.

The conversation began when Fiona was admiring the other portraits in the studio, particularly their eyes,  and it flowed on from there and they started discussing skin, almost as an entity in its own right:

“When I’m trying to teach surgery, it’s like teaching shades of white (Yes) and some people just get white. That it’s a 3D  or 2D surface. It’s layered isn’t it? It’s the layers of the system.(Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s not just skin colour) It’s not skin colour. What colour is it? Skin Colour? I mean give me a break.

(As a kid, you get a packet of coloured pencils and there’s one skin colour.) Like nuh (It never works. No. That’s not how people look.)

“Round face, skin colour…Hmm probably not going to fly really.”

(Ahn’s comments are in brackets here. Please forgive my dodgy transcribing.)

As you could imagine, as a burns specialist, Dr Fiona Wood has an exceptionally intimate knowledge and understanding of skin, which flies right over the heads of us mere mortals, including myself. However, her appreciation was not lost on Ahn who has appreciated similar complexities of tone through the lens of an artist…a painter of portraits.

“All our knowledge has its origin in our preceptions.”

Leonardo Da Vinci.

Unfortunately, as much as I love the written word, these black and white words on the screen fail to convey the animated intensity of their conversation. That sense of not only seeing eye-to-eye but soul-to-soul. That rare synergy where you become lovers of the soul and that fusion is just as intense. As Dr Fiona Wood said at the conclusion of the show:

“My highlight today was actually talking about how images go from 2D to 3D and how the light reflects off the skin and how amazing skin is  and talking to someone who gets that. Cause skin is amazing.”

Professor Fiona Wood

As a writer or creative person, I’m naturally interested in how other people see and perceive the world, particularly when they re-frame something ordinary and present it   through a different lens. I’ve tried with all my might to try and walk in someone else’s shoes. Moreover, I’ve left my own shoes out, hoping someone else would try them on and gain more than just an inkling of the inner me. So, seeing how two people could get so animated and excited about skin and perceive it as more of a complex and detailed landscape than a continuous monotone, intrigued me. I also found it unusual to hear two people discussing skin tone, because it can be a real taboo.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

HARPER LEE, To Kill a Mockingbird

Not unsurprisingly, I’d never stopped and appreciated what an artist and plastic surgeon might have in common… a shared fascination with the human body and in this instance skin. Indeed, I’ve never even thought of skin in this way. That’s also interesting to me on a personal level as one of my uncles is a plastic surgeon and another is a dermatologist and this would be familiar territory for them. I also have my own take on skin because my autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis, also affects my skin. However, I’ve never had to think about reconstructing a severely burned body and all that entails. Moreover, when it comes to paint, abstract is my friend. Indeed, I’ve never even considered what goes through the mind of a surgeon who is wanting to reconstruct a severely burned or injured body and trying to get it as close as possible to its “before”. It’s a form of art and yet so much more because the patient’s life and contentment are in their hands. The more you can reduce the scarring, the better the outcome for the patient and Fiona has clearly devoted herself to that end.

So, now I’d like to encourage you to watch this episode for yourself. Even if their discussion on skin doesn’t appeal to you, the are plenty of other pearls to treasure.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

Fire North Sydney… Grandma & the Mosman Bombing.

Recently, I’ve posted a few stories I’ve come across while researching my family history. This story concerns my third Great Grandmother Maria Bridget Johnston who was living in

On the 12th January, 1907 vagrant Charles McCallum set fire to the home of my third Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Johnston, while they were asleep. This serious crime was said to be inspired by the recent Mosman Bombing Case, and was taken rather seriously by Police. Moreover, it also appeared in newspapers at the time providing all sorts of details not only about the case, but also a snapshot of her life at the time. Naturally, my interest was sparked, and I had to follow the story through from its fledgling beginnings, right through to its combustible finale.

Willoughby Fire Station

Of course, you’d expect such a dramatic story to have been passed down through the family. However, the first I heard of it, was more than one hundred years later, while trawling through old newspapers online. So, now I’m now finding myself reassembling the pieces of what was, dare I say, an explosive story.

Maria Bridget Johnston

Maria Bridget Johnston (Docherty?) was my third Great Great Grandmother, and she was living in The Boulevard, North Sydney near the Cammeray Suspension Bridge at the time. Theoretically, she was born around 1841 in County Clare, Ireland and arrived in Victoria around 1858 where she allegedly married Quintin Flanagan, who passed away. Next, she turns up in Invercargill on New Zealand’s South Island, where she married John Johnston a Publican originally from Islay in the Hebrides, the son of a Whiskey Distiller. The Johnstons and their five children moved to Australia around 1879, and turned up next in Queanbeyan where John Johnston was the Publican of the Union Hotel while his brother, Alexander built the Goulburn to Queanbeyan Railway Station. John, along with numerous other relatives, also had a hand in that. Alexander Johnston then went on to become the Contractor for the construction of the Cammeray Suspension Bridge, which is colloquially known as “Northbridge”. However, by the time the bridge was completed in 1892, the North Shore Land and Investment Company which had hired Alexander, went bust, leaving him unpaid and in possession of the bridge to nowhere. Northbridge was hardly populated at the time.

1910 circa Suspension Bridge German postcard

The Cammeray Suspension Bridge in the early days.

By the way, the Suspension Bridge is a story in its own right. However, as beautiful and as riveting she might be, she’s only getting a fleeting mention here. Family stories have it that John Johnston was also involved in constructing the bridge, and the Sands Directory shows that he did go on to be a Contractor in his own right, although I haven’t come across any of his works.

As I mentioned, Alexander Johnston wasn’t paid for the Bridge, and to recoup some of the costs, they charged a toll for people to walk across it. While it can be difficult to pull apart the difference between family myth and what really happened, there has been talk that Maria collected the toll to walk across the bridge. There’s also been talk, that my Great Grandmother, Ruby McNamara used to collect the toll during the school holidays. There are also others who have been acknowledged in this role. So, it is hard to peel back fact from fiction.

Atlas Suburbs of Sydney 1893-94

Map of North Sydney taken from the Atlas of Sydney Suburbs Published 1893-94. The Suspension Bridge is marked on the map with a red dotted line which is just under the H of Willoughby. Maria Bridget Johnston lived in The Boulevard, just to the right of the bridge. You can also see that the land on the other side of the bridge was completely undeveloped at the time. 

Before we go too much further into the details of the case itself, we need to jump into our time machine and wind the clock back to 1907, when Sydney was a very different place. While at the time of the 2016 census, the suburb of Northbridge recorded a population of 6,347, back in 1907 it was still largely bush. Indeed, at the start of 1913, it only had 25 houses and 112 residents[1]. So, we really are talking about a very small, isolated settlement which was barely a village, let alone a town. Moreover, this Northbridge was far removed from the omnipresent snarls of traffic snaking their way through the modern, urban landscape.

Charles McCallum Sets Fire to Maria Johnston’s Dwelling House.

On the 12th January, 1907 Charles McCallum (77) set fire to the dwelling house of Maria Johnston at Boulevard Street, North Sydney. McCallum, who came from Glasgow, had been living in a nearby camp for about 11 years and worked for several local residents as a gardener. He also used to visit locals, reading the paper to them and discussing current affairs. While he was described as living in a cave, he is also described as living in a tent where he had a table where four kerosene tins were used to make the legs, and also provided storage. The kerosene tins were important in the case, as McCallum pleaded not guilty and Police had to build their case, which was reported in detail in the paper.

While trying to set fire to a house with three people sleeping inside was a serious offence in itself, the gravity of the situation was intensified by a recent bombing in nearby Mosman and there were initial concerns that something sinister was afoot.

The evidence against McCallum went that Police went to Mrs Johnston’s house near the Suspension Bridge:

“The building was a wooden one, and under the floor of the front part of it he found a piece of bagging, a piece of wood, pieces of a pyjama coat, portion of a white shirt, and some handkerchiefs, oil partly burnt, and saturated with kerosene. The weatherboards and lining-boards near the window were burnt, also the blind and curtain. He examined the articles found, and on the piece of white shirt, he saw the name “H. Irving-near the neck. Witness then went to M’Callum’s camp, which was under a rock about 266ds. from the house. He saw accused in bed, and asked him if H. Irving was camped there. He said, “No: he never camped here. He used to live at Redfern, and has been dead four or five mouths.” Witness said, “Did he ever give you any clothing?” and accused replied, “All he ever gave me was two white shirts.” Witness asked accused how did he know the shirts were Irving’s. Accused said, “They had his name on them.” Accused also said that the shirts had been worn out and destroyed long ago. Witness picked up a billy-can and a bag in the camp, and both smelt of kerosene. Accused said they were his, but did not understand how the kerosene got on them, as he never used it. Witness also found a white shirt with “H. Irving” marked on the neck of it, and a handkerchief, both corresponding with the articles found under the house. He picked up a pair of pyjama trousers in a corner, which accused said were his, and had been given to him by Mr. Ricardi. He said the coat had been worn out and destroyed. The pattern and material of these were the same as in the coat. When charged at the police station, accused said he knew nothing at all about the matter, and it was a mystery to him. When witness got to the camp there was another man there, named Henry Rowley. Accused answered ail questions freely. Maria Johnston deposed that she had known accused for nine or 10 years. He had been in the habit of coming to her house every evening, unless it was wet. One night, they had been talking about the bomb sensation at Mosman, and accused said, “There are three or four I would like to do the same to!” He was at her house on the night of the fire, and left about twenty minutes to 10. Since the election he had been talking queerly. Witness went to bed on the night of the fire at 11 o’clock. She woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning, and noticed a lot of smoke. Her daughter pulled her out of bed, and witness saw the fire going up the front window. Afterwards she saw the articles produced lying under the house. She did not see them there before. Witness had trouble with accused about eight years ago. Accused reserved his defence, and was committed for trial[2].”

Ultimately, McCallum was found not guilty and released.

This brings me to the Mosman Bombing Case.

The Mosman Bombing Case.

On January 3, 1907 William Bingham placed explosives under the house belonging to Mrs Mary Rich. Bingham had packed the explosives in a paint tin, which he’d left it in a bag under their house. He had been working for the Rich’s for about five years, but had been fired just before Christmas for misbehaviour. It was noted during his trial, that his actions had led to a similar case in North Sydney (the fire at Maria Johnston’s house). Consequently, he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with hard labor, in Goulburn Gaol.

A report in the Daily Telegraph dated Friday 15 March, 1907, provides additional details:

“Mr. Pollock, Crown Prosecutor, in opening the case to the Jury, said the charge against Bingham was that he placed explosives in a dwelling-house, with intent to injure the occupants. If the tin containing them had been knocked there would have been a terrific explosion. Certainly great destruction of property would have resulted, if not loss of life. Bingham had worked for Mr. Rich, of Mosman Bay, for a number of years, but five weeks before Christmas he was discharged for misbehaviour. Previously he had been abusive to Mrs. Rich, who was threatened by him, and she complained to the Police. On January 4 last Mr. Rich, on leaving his premises, saw a bag under the house. He took no further notice of it, but on returning at night his daughter drew his attention to the bag again, and he found it contained a paint tin, which contained several detonators. He removed the tin from the bag to a safe distance from the house, and then with a pair of pincers removed the lid. The tin contained a pound of blasting powder, some sticks of dynamite, and a quantity of gelignite. On January 9, the police arrested Bingham at Neutral Bay, where he was working. Bingham wanted to go into his room, and made a rush to get there. He was forcibly prevented from doing so, and an examination of the room disclosed a revolver, some cartridges, and a length of fuse. Bingham denied all knowledge of the fuse. He complained that Mrs. Rich had threatened to shoot him, and was a dead shot with the rifle. When dismissed, Bingham told an acquaintance that Mrs. Rich had behaved shamefully, and he would do for her. In his defence, Bingham made a statement. He said that he had been persecuted by the police, he admitted that he had been abusive to Mrs. Rich, because he had been drinking. He apologised, and with regard to a threat be only said. “This is my last appeal.” He did not place the dynamite under the house. He had an enemy somewhere. He would like to know who he was. He knew that he made noises when drunk, but he did not put that thing under the house. He was not made of that kind of stuff. The jury, after a retirement of some hours, found Bingham guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy on the ground that at the time of the offence he was not responsible for his action. Asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon him. Bingham said, “I’m innocent. I never put it there. I never saw a stick of dynamite in my life.” Only one offence, a minor one, under the Vagrancy Act, was recorded against the prisoner. His Honor said the crime was a stupid one. The term of imprisonment might be a very long one, and he would have imposed it if the prisoner’s character had not been such as it was, and if he had not been assisted by the jury’s recommendation. In the circumstances, he would not pass a heavy sentence, but be hoped the one he would impose would prevent him from attempting to revenge himself for some fancied wrong. He hoped, too, it would act as deterrent to others. After the outrage someone had attempted a somewhat similar one at North Sydney by setting fire to a house. Bingham was then sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with hard labor, in Goulburn Gaol. The prisoner, as he was removed, said, “You have sentenced an innocent man.[3]

…..

Reflecting on these happenings just over 110 years into the future, I’m very grateful, indeed, ecstatic to find these details about my Grandmother’s Great Grandmother. They were an absolute surprise, and in so many ways a gift and yet also a reward for many, many years of searching, without knowing what I might find at the end of the proverbial rainbow.  While I don’t believe I have a photo of her and have no idea what she looked like, finding these snippets in the paper has, at least, composed something of a sketch of the world around her, and taken me back to where she lived. Still, I only know where she was at a particular moment in time, and little more. The rest I’ve teased out from the whereabouts of her husband and the births of her children. However, in this scene, she stands alone. After all, it is her house. She owns it. It is a beautiful thing, at least for me, to be able to paint a kind of story portrait of an unknown, almost anonymous woman one hundred and eleven years into the future, and almost give her the breath of life.  It is something that I will cherish, not only as an echo from the past, but also because she is a part of me, and my children will be taking her journey forward. She is in us.

 

[1] http://www.willoughbydhs.org.au/History/Suburbs/Suburbs-Northbridge.html

2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1923), Tuesday 22 January 1907, page 10

[3] Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1923), Friday 15 March 1907, page 10

After the Flames…Friday Fictioneers

Her studio guttered, Pixie peeled the charcoaled canvas off the concrete.

She’d been burned to death.

That painting was the culmination of every single heartbeat, every flicker of shadow and light. Her soul pulled inside out, spurted in thick acrylic, bleeding and raw.

Art was her voice. Her only exit from the labyrinth.

Pixie covered her ears and started to scream…a scream without end.

Axel wrapped a blanket around the shattered nymph. He’d seen her waft in and out of the warehouse before, lost like a leaf in the wind.

That,” he beamed, “Is how I met your Grandmother.”

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

 

 

The Only One Out- Flash Fiction.

The historic terrace house was gone. Firemen unable to extinguish the blaze, the neighbours were all out in the street in their undies, nighties and nothing at all. Desperate to help, a naked man was using his garden hose. Absolutely impotent, it needed more than a strong dose of Viagra. Another was screaming, his hands and feet burnt. They all knew the family. Their kids all went to the local school.

“Anyone get out?” Reporters asked.

“Just one. Wife and kids didn’t make it. Poor bugger.”

“I’d rather be dead, mate.”

“Yeah but sometimes, you don’t get a choice.”

 Rowena Newton

March 16, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.” If all it takes is just one, what is the story? Explore what comes to mind and go where the prompt takes you. Bonus challenge: eat cake while you write, or include cake in your flash.

……..

While this flash is fiction, it is was inspired by a true story.

On Boxing Day 2011, Australian Celebrity Chef Matt Golinski lost his wife and three daughters in a devastating house fire. I doubt there was anyone who heard about his plight who didn’t feel incredible compassion and horror for what he had been through. Love poured out to this man we may or may not have seen on TV but that didn’t matter. We cared. We loved him. It was truly hard to imagine how someone could go through anything much worse. We just didn’t know how anyone could survive the loss of his family plus his own horrific burns…or even if he should. As a teenager, I thought breaking up with someone I’d dated for 6 weeks was anguish. This was off the Richter Scale. I followed his progress for several weeks as he fought against the odds to survive, supported by his medical team.

Here’s a newspaper excerpt about when he woke up:

Speaking at a charity breakfast, Golinski has revealed he struggled to understand why doctors kept him alive.

Seven News reports he had lost 22kg, had 17 operations and survived lung infections and kidney and liver failure before he came to.

“I clearly remember the very first thing when I was able to communicate with my dad… I asked if he wouldn’t mind giving me a mobile phone so I could ring my wife, Rachael,” Golinski said.

“(Dad) didn’t hesitate to tell me that Rachael and my girls had passed away.

“From that moment, I found it pretty impossible to comprehend why those doctors and all the medical staff had bothered to keep me alive…

“I wanted to ask them ‘why on earth would you think that I would want to live now?’

“Before too long, I started to feel more sorry for (dad) than I did for myself because I realised I wasn’t the only one suffering.”

Seven News reports that during his 13-minute speech, Golinski acknowledged the community support he received after the tragedy which he believes kept him alive.

“As I said, I had hit a point where I really didn’t want to live but it was hearing (stories of public support) from my dad, and there was that outpouring of generosity and love that actually got me through that time and made me want to survive,” he said.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/17594254/chef-matt-golinski-tells-of-learning-of-familys-death-in-fire/

Matt Golinski is making a heroic recovery.