Tag Archives: WWII

The Eye Beside the Sea, France.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

“Behind the most beautiful eyes, lay secrets deeper and darker than the mysterious sea..”

-yld

Last night, I was trawling through Facebook, when I stumbled across this fantastic image of a big blue eye staring out to sea with a sense of the ocean being swept up inside and the waves crashing within.

Of course, I had to investigate it further. Investigate it via the only means at my disposal…Google. Sadly, there was no spontaneous trip to France for this little black duck. Yet, coincidently, I’m watching a travel doco set in Paris at this very moment. Well, I was until the ads started up.

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French artist Cece painted “The Eye” on a WWII blockhaus on the beach of Siouville-Hague, Normandy, France. The village of Siouville-Hague is located in North-West France, in the department of Manche in Basse-Normandie.

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These days, it’s hard to imagine the scenes this blockhaus witnessed during WWII. I have no sense of direction at the best of times and it is difficult for me to get a real sense of the geography and the action it actually witnessed. However, I  gather this blockhaus witnessed The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune), which led to the liberation of France from the Nazis.

Getting back to the artwork, Cece explained:

“The basic idea was to revitalize an abandoned place full of history: a world war 2 blockhaus, collapsed, almost lying on its side. At first it was about to humanize this place with some poetry : before, the eye of the soldiers were watching the dead coming from the sea, and now there is this big blue eye, looking at the life and moves coming from waves movements, talks and answers , interactions of two creations coming from man and nature .. and then also I’ve wanted to point out the damage that may make human at some sites (into the pupil, the silhouette of the nuclear power plant from la hague).”

Yet, clearly “The Eye” also stands alone, divorced from the past. The eyes are the window to the soul and with this eye staring out and being washed by the sea, it’s redolent with meaning. I would love to stand there on the sand in front of it, peering deeply almost through the eye, and see what comes back to me. What mysteries would be revealed? Would “The Eye” reveal hidden, inner parts of myself? Or, perhaps even lead me into some kind of dance with its creator? Either way, I have no doubt,  that there’d be magic.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– Paramahansa Yogananda

Coincidently, a new TV series is about to start up here in Australia. Seasoned journalist, Ray Martin, will be hosting: Look Me In the Eye in which two estranged people sit in silence for five minutes, looking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Although we know eye contact is very powerful, is it enough?

By the way, if you have seen this magnificent artwork in the flesh, I’d love to hear what it was like. 

xx Rowena

Musical Reflections 1941…

In March 1941, while London was in the throws of “The Blitz”, my grandmother was performing in Newcastle, a regional city North of Sydney. She was a concert pianist and after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she returned to Australia in 1940 to tour with famed conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham…and no doubt to escape the bombs!

Fast forwarding to 2017, and I’m meticulously going through old newspapers online, transcribing text and pasting articles about her into word documents by year. It’s taken me years to come up with this approach for compiling all these bits and pieces, especially as filing isn’t exactly my forte.

An interesting aspect of my grandmother’s career, at least from the perspective of a storyteller, is that she lived through an extremely turbulent, yet fascinating, period of history. That included: the Great Depression, WWII, “women’s lib”  and also the Cold War when she actually performed behind the “Iron Curtain” in East Germany and Soviet Russia (the latter being quite an “interesting” thing for Grannie to do and she even brought back some Russian coins which was not allowed!!)

So, when I stumbled across this little discussion in the Newcastle paper about the conflict between classical music and Jazz, I thought of a few bloggers who’d find this interesting and I’ll be popping round to “your place” and dropping off a link. You never know when little historical snippets like this could come in handy:

So, here goes:

“WORDS CONTINUE, like pebbles, to be thrown into the stream of controversy that races between followers of jazz and the classics. One writer, who attempts an impartial summing up of the question suggests: “The highbrow’s error is to suppose himself a different creature from the low brow. He loathes himself if he is betrayed into humming a tune that all the world is singing or into tapping his feet in time with the band. And failing to recognise or contemptuously rejecting these instincts in himself he has nothing but scorn for their manifestation in other people. To him the lowbrow is the person who likes ‘that kind of music.’ How much better if we realised that there are occasions when we all like ‘that kind of music” when our superior faculties are enjoying a rest. “This problem must be giving the B.B.C. a headache in compiling its feature programme. ‘Music while you work,’ since obviously there must be some who would prefer to make a bullet or put an engine together to the accompaniment of a Beethoven sonata than to ‘Roll Out the Barrel.’ “Germany, if reports are true, is producing special music to aid the war effort. Soldiers now march to tunes which automatically control their breathing to enable them to go longer distances without becoming exhausted.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) , Friday 21 March 1941, page 18

This tension between classical and contemporary music, rings bells for me back at school, even in the 1980’s.

As if being a teenager wasn’t confusing enough, while the rest of the teenage universe was into  pop/rock/punk etc, my best friend was into classical and drew me under her spell. In retrospect, she was one of “those kids”. Their family only watched the ABC and she never ate junk food. Indeed, she didn’t even know what a Mars Bar was. That should have been a warning in itself, but your best friend is your best friend. Sink or swim, you do it together…even if you do die a social death.

So, if I could speak to my 13 year old self, I’d tell her that she should stand on her own two feet. That before you publicly declare you love classical music, remember you played Grease at your slumber party, which was anything but. Anyone who is your true friend, can accept a difference of opinion and give you the space and freedom to be yourself. You don’t have to be clones. Also, if you decide to go against the flow, make sure it’s for something you strongly believe in and that you’re prepared to cop the fallout. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

These are life lessons I’m now trying to pass onto my kids. Navigating your way through high school is a veritable minefield and hopefully they can learn from my mistakes and make different ones of their own.

Meanwhile, getting back to the tension between different styles of music, I’m sensing that this has eased up over the years and we enjoy much more of a smorgasbord of styles these days. That we can be wonderfully eclectic. Is that your take as well? I’d love to read your reflections.

xx Rowena

 

All for Love…Friday Fictioneers.

Watching the horses outside in the snow, Joan tried to be thankful. “Every day write down three things you’re thankful for.”

It wasn’t working.

All she could think about was shifting gears and driving her life in reverse.

What was she thinking marrying a Yankee sailor she hardly knew?

It was Sydney, 1942 and he’d swept her right off her feet.

They were still in love but Silverton, Colorado could never be home. There wasn’t a beach in sight and she hated the snow.

Now, mother had passed and she couldn’t get back.

Why did love always demand it all?

Rowena Curtin

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers. This week’s photo prompt was taken by  Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. You can click through to the linky here.

Beyond Anne Frank…Her Father’s Gift to the World.

Yesterday, I visited the Sydney Jewish Museum to see two overlapping exhibitions: Anne Frank- A History for Today and Otto Frank’s Lost Letters. This was naturally a deeply moving experience and it was wonderful to recapture the intimacy I shared with Anne Frank as a 13 year old and revisit it now as Mum to my  13.5 year old son and almost 10.5 daughter, who are about to step into her shoes.

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As a writer, it always interests me how we hear a story from a certain perspective and then we rediscover the story completely when we see it through someone else’s eyes. After all, when you read The Diary of Anne Frank, you are drawn completely into her world, her perspective, her heartbeats. We know nothing about how the rest of the people in the annexe saw her.

Otto Frank is the only survivor and the best one  to provide that outside insight into Anne . He said:

“For me, it was a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost. I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”

Otto Frank

As much as we revere Anne Frank through her diary, her father is has a different, but equally important. After all, he had it published and gave it to the world when he could have locked it away in a drawer. This was all her had left of his precious daughter…along with his wife and older daughter, Margot. However, he shared it with the world and gave millions, upon millions a precious soul mate who knew them intimately in ways we couldn’t even express to ourselves. She is the voice of the misunderstood teenager, the Jewish people, the oppressed, the writer and much more.

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Anyway, following the publication and subsequent translation of Anne Frank’s Diary, young people wrote letters to Otto Frank  and he replied. Although copies of the letters he received have been retained by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, he didn’t keep copies of his own letters. So, in 2015, a world-wide search began and the Australian Jewish Museum located two Australian women who had written to Otto and had kept his treasured replies…Diana Munro and Anne Finlayson. Indeed, Otto Frank became quite close to Anne and called her the “Other Anne” and they met several times, becoming good friends.

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So after getting off the train and slowly walking along Darlinghurst Road taking photos, I arrived at the Jewish Museum. I have never been there before. I’m immediately struck by how this isn’t like your average museum. It’s more like a home, a definite Community Centre and no doubt a sacred place for Jewish people. It is cared for, loved and polished. As I said, I felt like I was being invited into someone’s home and made very, very welcome.

The exhibitions are upstairs and I’m conscious of time pressures because Mum is minding my kids and I wasn’t supposed to be detouring after my medical appointment. So, I’m trying to make sure I see and absorb Otto Frank’s letters and return to see rest. Yet, the exhibition of letters from the Holocaust attracts my attention and I had a quick look.

Back to Otto Frank…

There is correspondence between Otto Frank and a young New Zealander, Diana Munro and Australian, Anne Finlayson. The letters on both sides are incredibly deep and philosophical and you get to know just a bit of who Otto Frank was as a person, Anne Frank’s father and also someone determined to make the world a better place for the future, fight against the sins of the past.

While I could’ve typed these quotes up and prettied them up a bit, these are photos I took at the exhibition. I particularly wanted to share these with Merril Smith from Merril’s Historical Musings to thank her for telling me about the exhibition and I felt very much like we were there together and had a coffee and chat afterwards.

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What I noticed first about Otto Frank’s letters was that they were typed. His typewritten letters instantly reminded me of my grandfather’s typed Christmas newsletters and their different circumstances. The type also places his letters in the past, in a different era and they feel special.

In addition to reading the letters, there was an excellent exhibition about Anne Frank’s life, the Holocaust and the secret annexe. This was a great refresher for me as it’s been 25 years since I visited her house in Amsterdam.

Since I visiting the exhibition, I’ve found that if you speak to ten different people about how The Diary of Anne Frank has touched their hearts, you could easily get ten different answers… all valid.

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A replica of Anne Frank’s Diary on display.

That’s because in this complex diary commenced on her 13th Birthday, we each find something that relates to us in such a personal, intimate way. It’s like she’s peering deep into the inner-most secret passages of our soul, speaking out the cryptic writing on the wall and somehow made sense of it all. She has a clarity of vision which is astounding in anyone and I’m not going to put down young people by saying they can’t see more clearly than adults because so often they can.

Australian author, Jackie French said in conversation with Yotam Weiner, Education Manager, Sydney Jewish Museum:

“It is so easy to think of people who suffer, or have suffered, as other than ourselves. The very magnitude of the Holocaust means that single voices can be lost. Anne’s words make it personal. It is so very easy to lose track of major events in history. There are many to remember. It is much harder to forget the voice of Anne. Anne has been my companion, perhaps, for the forty six years since I read her book.”

So, if you’re interested in seeing these  exhibitions, you will need to hurry into the Sydney Jewish Museum. The exhibition closes mid-November.

 

xx Rowena

You might also enjoy reading about our vigil commemorating the 70th Anniversary of Anne Frank’s death last year: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/anne-frank-70-years-on-our-vigil/

Hawkesbury River Ferry Cruise.

Last Sunday, our family went on a history cruise along Sydney’s Hawkesbury River (Deerubbun) with the kids’ Scout troop.

However, before our journey proceeds any further, I thought I’d better provide you with a map of the Hawkesbury River. Not that I’m any good at reading maps, but I thought you might like to know where we are…especially if you’re not from around here. (By the way,as we live North of the Hawkesbury River, I really should be posting the map “upside down”…I mean, the right way up.

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Our Hawkesbury River Cruise set out from Brooklyn, which is just above the M1 sign on the map. While I’ve previously posted about  the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge and its role in defending Sydney during WWII, this is more of a pictorial overview of the trip.

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Geoff as we left Brooklyn.

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Fishing Boats, Brooklyn.

From Brooklyn, we headed east towards Broken Bay and Palm Beach, which some of you might know as “Summer Bay” from  Australian drama Home & Away.

As I said, I don’t have a great sense of direction.  Yet, I do remember us chugging past the Sport & Recreation Camp at Milson Bay and round to Juno Point, where I photographed this very statuesque gum tree leaning out over the river.

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Like so many of its kind, this gum tree is growing in very harsh conditions, seemingly straight out of the rocks.  Gum trees are so tenacious holding in all sort of conditions but then they can sudden fall over, easily becoming “widow-makers”.

Then, we made our way into Broken Bay via checking out the defenses at West Head, which is really known more as a scenic lookout than an army base.

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WWII Gun emplacement at West Head, along the Hawkesbury River.

We returned to Brooklyn, heading upstream towards Wiseman’s Ferry and Windsor. This meant going past what remains of the original Hawkesbury River Bridge, a hauntingly beautiful row of sandstone piers, an epitaph to engineering doom.

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We also  travelled underneath the replacement Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge, which seemed reminiscent of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and was also an engineering marvel back in its day.

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A close-up of the New Hawkesbury River Bridge. These girders remind me of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Bridge provided some outstanding photo opportunities, particularly as I love seeing the familiar through an unfamiliar lens or perspective. The local train from Woy Woy to Sydney passes over this bridge so we know it well from the train window. You also see the bridge in the  distance driving to Sydney. So, the Hawkesbury River Bridge is a very familiar sight…just not looking up at it from the river. That was a buzz.

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Quite a change from the old steam trains. This is a  modern OSCAR train (Outer Suburban Carriage)

However, there’s much more to cruising along the Hawkesbury River than engineering structures.

There were clouds.

At least, there were clouds as we were cruising along last Saturday. Not just any ordinary clouds either.There was a sky full of photogenic clouds…fluffy tufts of pure white cotton wool pasted on a bright blue sky with perfect cloud outlines. I couldn’t have done a better job myself…not that I’m in the cloud-making business.

Do you like watching clouds?

While cloud gazing might be considered a little “fluffy”, I find it quite mesmerising and have gone to great lengths to photograph  clouds in what could be described as suicidal weather conditions. Yet, in better weather, appreciating clouds reflects a joie de vivre...a soul committed to carpe diem seize the day. After all, the phrase is “seize the day” and NOT “seize the mobile phone”!!

Hey, you tell me? What isn’t there to love about this sky full of clouds?

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Cloud River.

Another highlight of the cruise was checking out the wreckage of the HMAS Parramatta.

Named after the Parramatta River, HMAS Parramatta, was a River-class torpedo-boat destroyer of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Ordered in 1909 for the Commonwealth Naval Forces (the predecessor of the RAN), Parramatta was the first ship launched for the Australian navy.

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From 1914 to 1917, HMAS Parramatta was involved in wartime patrols in the Pacific and South East Asian regions, before she and her sister ships were transferred to the Mediterranean for anti-submarine operations. She returned to Australia in 1919, and was placed in reserve. Apart from a brief period of full commission during the visit of the Prince of Wales, Parramatta remained in reserve commission until 1928. She was fully decommissioned in 1928, stripped of parts, and sold for use as prisoner accommodation on the Hawkesbury River. After changing hands several times, the hull ran aground during gale conditions in 1933, and was left to rust. In 1973, the bow and stern sections were salvaged, and converted into memorials and the remainder can be seen here. Further information HMAS Parramatta.

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Our son enjoying a bit of speed.

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Creating Waves.

Wow! As you can see, we had a wonderful time…although it really just felt like an entree and I really want to see more…especially the sunset. Sunsets viewed as the train crosses over the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge are a knockout but it would be even better viewed from the water.  I can definitely feel a sunset trip along the Hawkesbury River coming up.

Bring it on!

Meanwhile, if you’d like to follow in our wake, you can reach Central Coast Ferries: here.

xx Rowena

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What a fabulous day!

An Unsung Wartime Hero.

Last weekend, while on our history tour of the Hawkesbury River, we had a crash course on Australia’s WWII military defenses along the Hawkesbury River, which  were set up to protect Australia from an imminent Japanese invasion. Aside, from protecting Sydney, these defences also aimed to protect the strategic Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge, which provided an essential transport link between North and South.

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Strangely, I had no idea that this bridge, which is now nothing but a row of sandstone pylons protruding out of the Hawkesbury River, played such an important role in our war time defense. Nor did I know that a series of defenses had been set up to defend the bridge and to per-empt an attack on Sydney from the North.  All of this was seemingly dumped in the bottom drawer, that infamous file of no return. However, fortunately, those files are being salvaged before living memory was lost and efforts are now being made to capture and pass on this piece of Australia’s history.

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Characteristic scenery along the Hawkesbury. It hardly looks strategic.

Through hindsight, it’s hard to appreciate the role this sleepy river winding through the bush, played in our National defense. After all, there was no Japanese invasion of Australia.  A couple of midget subs might have entered Sydney Harbour, but they were blown up. Darwin was bombed, but this has been minimalised over time.  Indeed, most Australians would have no idea of the full extent of Japanese attacks on Australian soil.

Yet, when you read newspapers of the day, there wasn’t so much a perceived risk of Japanese invasion, but an expectation…especially after the Fall of Singapore.

My grandparents were courting during 1942. My grandmother was living in Brisbane and my grandfather was living in Dalby, in Western Queensland. Their fears felt very real and it seemed like the Japanese would invade any day. Queenslanders  were definitely living on the edge and bomb shelters had been built throughout Queensland schools.So, we’re not just talking about irrational fears.

Returning to the Hawkesbury River and this sleepy expanse of National Park, this region was actually critical to the war effort. If the Japanese had bombed the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge, there would have been no direct North-South rail link. The alternate route would have entailed travelling an additional 400 miles— via: Lithgow—Dubbo—Werris Creek.This would have seriously affected troop movements and the transport of war supplies. This threat wasn’t too far fetched either. When the Japanese submarines were sunk in Sydney Harbour, the captain of one actually had a map of the Hawkesbury River.

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Defenses were constructed along the Hawkesbury River, including a gun battery at West Head. From the West Head Lookout, you can see where a fleet of five Japanese submarines surfaced in the darkness of night at the mouth of Broken Bay in 1942. Three of the vessels were carrying a trio of midget submarines, which were later launched to attack Sydney.

In addition to the threat of a Japanese attack on the Hawkesbury River Bridge, it’s precarious state of crumbling decay was also a critical strategic concern.As I mentioned  in my previous post, one of the pylons had cracked and the bridge was highly unstable. Speed restrictions of 15 miles an hour were placed on trains going over the old bridge, posing a great handicap to the movement of large wartime traffic on the northern line. In 1945, a further speed reduction to 4 miles an hour and the prohibition of the application of brakes resulted in a 7 minute crossing time for all trains. The replacement bridge wasn’t opened until 1946, after the war was over so all this time, trains were creeping over the bridge one at a time limping along.

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Trains pressure testing the new bridge in 1946.

So, it really is quite amazing that the bridge survived the war but, of course, bridges don’t win any medals…especially when they’re so far from the front line. But when you realise this was the rusty safety pin holding so much of the Australian war effort together, it deserves a bit of respect…as does whoever it was who kept it going behind the scenes. No medals for them either.

By the way, those cracked and crumbling piers from the original Hawkesbury River Bridge are still standing, although the steel trusses are long gone.

Meanwhile, there have been reports that the piers on the new bridge are unsafe. When divers inspected the bridge in 2013, they found major problems with one of the piers. “The downstream pile has a LARGE amount of concrete missing with LOTS of exposed rio bar [reinforcing bar] … concrete continues to flake off and crumble,” said the report, obtained by the state opposition using freedom of information laws (source: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/sydney-to-central-coast-rail-bridge-at-hawkesbury-river-crumbling-at-base-20150913-gjlftk.html)

Let’s hope the government can get its act together faster this time. I can’t see hundreds and thousands of commuters into Sydney being thrilled when they can walk faster across the bridge than the train.

Do you have any similar stories you would like to share? I am seriously amazed by how little I really know about my own neck of the woods and how much I have to explore here without needing to travel overseas. Given the budget, that’s naturally quite a relief!

xx Rowena

 

 

Anzac Biscuits- An ANZAC Day Tradition

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. For the fallen by Laur…

Source: Anzac Biscuits- An ANZAC Day Tradition