Friday, September 21, 2007

Waiting for planes

I had to go to Launceston at short notice recently. The flight leaving that evening was booked out and I had to wait till next day and travel by the rival carrier. Which was good for I later heard that the previous evening's flight was delayed for six hours. Six hours! How can a domestic flight be delayed for six hours?

All lined up but going nowhere

Now I am not a world traveller, always in the air, millions of frequent flier points. I was practically middle-aged when I first flew in an aeroplane and since then have been in the air only infrequently. Hardly a frequent flier. But even so, it hasn't always been smooth flying. And delays? Yes!!
Was booked on Air India to fly out of Sydney to London some years back. I was scheduled to land in London in the morning in time for an appointment later that day. It was important that I be there on time. I arrived in Sydney to be told there would be a delay. “A delay!! How long a delay?” “That's hard to say'” was the reply, “the plane's still in Bombay!” I was able to transfer to a Qantas flight and got there just in time.
Once while waiting in Dublin, Ireland, I noticed the man next to me continually looking at his watch and seeming disturbed. “Worried about waiting?” I asked him. “Not really,” he replied, “I'm waiting for my brother to come from Sydney. He's been out of the country for thirty years and I mightn't recognize him.” “He probably won't recognize you either,” I suggested. “No worries there,” he assured me, “I've not been out of the country at all.”
More recently son Peter and I had completed a 10 day holiday in China and were waiting at the hotel for the bus to take the group to Beijing airport for the flight home. Our tour leader appeared with the message, “There's been a delay!” Our plane was still in Sydney. It had missed the curfew the night before and it (and its passengers ) had to wait till next morning before being allowed to take off. At least we had an extra day in Beijing.

There was movement at Frankfurt – teutonic punctuality?

Maybe when we have fully automatic, computerized planes, waiting will be a thing of the past. Passengers will be automatically called to board – on time. The plane will taxi automatically to its start point and then take off on time at the say-so of a computer somewhere. When in the air a voice will come over the PA system: “Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome on board this fully automatic flight where everything is controlled by computer. Sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong....go wrong....go wrong....go wrong.....

Monday, September 17, 2007


I am sitting here with one eye blacked out as a result of a cataract operation performed yesterday by the ophthalmologist. (Now there's a tongue-twister of an occupation. Not easy to know what he might do for a living. Not like, take for example, candle-stick-maker. One knows straight away what he does.) This present situation brought to mind my recent visit to Launceston and its premier tourist attraction – the Cataract Gorge. I also have in the back of my mind that someone once told me I had gorgeous eyes. I think gorgeous was the word used!
Isn't it one of those strange quirks of language that a word (here: cataract) should have two widely different meanings with no apparent connection? Why should the medical condition of my eyes where the lenses become clouded over be called the same as water rushing over some impediment?
It seems that the etymologists (they don't make candles either!) can't answer this question satisfactorily either. One online etymology dictionary (www. gives: “1430, from L. cataracta “waterfall”, from Gk. Katarhaktes “swooping, rushing down,” from kata “down” + arhattein “to strike hard.” Its alternate sense in L. of “portcullis” was probably passed through M.Fr. to form the E. meaning “eye disease” (1547), on the notion of “obstruction.” “ These etymologist people seem to write in a special sort of language.
My theory is simply that the crystal clear stream becomes opaque when it tumbles through a cataract. Maybe all will become clear to me when my eye recovers. I probably first came across cataracts in my early geography lessons where one learned about the cataracts on the Nile river. There was the first cataract, the second, and so on. I can't quite remember exactly how many there were. Which is purely academic for they made a DAM mess of them years ago.
My photo below shows some quiet water in Launceston's Cataract Gorge and the one above some opaque water at the foot of the Krimmel waterfall, Austria's highest. And no, I don't think anyone has ever told me I have (or even HAD) gorgeous eyes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Season of Creation

Ah, spring-time!
“The spring has sprung,
The grass is riss
I wonder where the birdies iss.
They say the bird is on the wing,
But that's absurd.
I know the wing is on the bird.”

There is no doubt that spring can bring out the beauty of nature – especially in those areas where the seasons are visually marked. I've just arrived back from two weeks in Launceston where spring is very obviously bursting in. This visual excitement of springtime is probably one reason why an increasing number of Christian churches has designated September as the Season of Creation.

Season of Creation? Well, the Christian church year has had various “seasons” - Advent, Christmas, Lent, Pentecost – and this new addition serves to focus on God the Creator and humankind's relationship with their home planet. The idea was first mooted back in 2000 by a Lutheran theologian, Dr Norman Habel, and since then has been meeting with more and more acceptance. (www.

In a three-year cycle each Sunday in September will focus on one aspect of our planet. My photos below depict the four themes in the first cycle.

Forest Sunday
Mature buttress roots keeping aloft a giant in the rain-forest behind the Gold Coast.
“O sing unto the Lord a new song.[....] Let the field be joyful and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord”. (Ps. 96: 1, 12-13.)

Land Sunday
“Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps: fire and hail; snow and vapour; stormy winds fulfilling his word; mountains, and all hills;” ( Ps. 148: 7-9) Mt Warning in northern New South Wales stands as a silent sentinel above the surrounding farmland.

Outback/wilderness Sunday
Of outback, Australia has plenty. Barren rock, and persistent shrubs are seen here in south-west Queensland near Quilpie.
“Be still and know that I am God”. (Ps. 46,10)

River Sunday
The chattering course of Cedar Creek as it leaves Mt Tambourine in the Gold Coast hinterland.
“He watereth the hills from his chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruits of thy works”. (Ps. 104, 13)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Do I want a yacht?

Maybe it's our politicians bragging about extra billions of budget surplus, Australia's strong economic position, the present government's commendable fiscal policy, or the fact that my bank card is due, but recently I seem to be noticing various comments relating to possessions and wealth, to money or the lack of it. Maybe it's simply the ruminations of a poor man.
One is continually told that wealth and riches do not necessarily bring happiness – rather the opposite. Stories are trotted out illustrating how wealth (especially windfalls) has resulted in ruined lives. None of which seem to deter people from wanting to win Gold Lotto, or convince CEOs with obscene salaries to take less.
We are certainly in an age of want.
The story is told of this businessman who went for a week-end retreat at a monastery. When shown to his rather bare room (cell) he commented to the monk, “This is it then?” “Yes,” the monk replied, “but if there's anything you want let us know and we will show you how to live without it!”
Which brings to mind old King Solomon. (I say old deliberately) He had riches (richest man in his day apparently) and also wisdom. He regretted that his wealth did not bring him happiness and contentment and so later in life advocated moderation. (This is the wisdom kicking in) “I ask you, God, to let me have two things before I die: keep me from lying, and let me be neither rich nor poor. So give me only as much food as I need. If I have more, I might say that I do not need you. But if I am poor, I might steal and bring disgrace on my God (Proverbs 30: 7-9).”
How unfortunate that politicians seek to buy our votes by giving instead of progressing our lives by doing. So maybe it was the politicians who got me thinking about money. Or was it Solomon who got me thinking about politicians? What was the other thing Solomon wanted?

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I remember in primary school having to recite a poem to the rest of the class. Never had trouble learning the words of poems (still remember many after 60 odd years) but as for recitation – not really my thing! But I suppose it really wasn't so bad as there were only five in my class.
“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer
“I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree. Etc. etc. “
Funny way to begin. A damning indictment of her own effort. And her poem has'n really made the all-time greats list.
But she's right, trees are lovely, and thinking about her poem reminded me of Weinhein – a smallish town near Heidelberg in Germany. Gert worked in the town at that time and wanted me to visit it. Sounds a good idea I thought, knowing that “Weinheim” meant “home of wine”. “No,” he disappointed me “the town was originally called Winenheim after a local chieftain named Wino. But that was back in 500AD and by 1000 the name had changed to Weinheim.”

But it does have the largest cedar tree in all of Germany. Wow! Now that is a draw-card! But in spite of that I did visit Weinheim and was not disappointed. I saw the 250 year old giant cedar (my photo is looking up into its branches). More interesting however was the 50ha. “exotic forest” which bordered the castle park in which the cedar grew. This is a forest of hundreds of different trees from all parts of the world. A local chap, Baron Christian von Berckheim, had the idea back in 1860 and planted this forest collection for future generations (he died in 1876). Today one can admire this collection of mature trees, like the Ginkgo (photo) which was just shedding its leaves when I was there.
A walk in a world forest. What a wonderful idea the Baron had!

And there were lots of other things in Weinheim – old castle, new castle, churches, cute old streets, old houses (renovated), old houses (not renovated) and ample places to sit and enjoy a glass or two of wine.


I've just been reading Soren Kierkegaard in the original (I think you have to cross out the 'o' in Soren). No, I joke. I know very little about Danish. Apple or blueberry danish – yes! Princess Mary of Tasmania – yes! I wasn't even reading Kierkegaard in translation. What I was reading was some statements attributed to him. This one struck a chord with me, probably expressing what lots of people throughout the centuries have thought:
“It is so heartbreaking that Christ, who is the teacher of love, is betrayed – with a kiss.”
Got me thinking about love and naturally that Corinthian passage came to mind. (Check it for yourself in 1 Cor. 13). But love is not that sloppy, sentimental stuff often dished up at weddings in response to Paul's words here. Paul wasn't into sloppy, sentimental. No, love is a complex, difficult thing. It is not 'the noisy gong' who says he loves and then does nothing about it. Love is activity and not simply a passive emotion. Love is care for others. It is accepting responsibility where others might fail. It is respect for others. It is understanding. Unconditional.
The hard part in all of this is putting others before self.(After all, isn't “sin” placing self as the centre of all one's actions?) It can mean giving up self-indulgences, playing the pokies, smoking, to provide the essentials for one's children. In love we must show discipline, but also courage, humility and faith.
The twist in that Judas, Jesus and the kiss episode is that Christ's love had the last say. Love is sacrifice. “For God so loved the world......”.

Photo shows one of numerous exhibits in the ivory museum in the German town of Erbach, which built a reputation for ivory carving two centuries ago. Interesting place, Erbach.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Creek

The bed is dry, untidy, knee-deep in weeds. There is a rattling in the dead bushes to the left and a crow's mournful caw comes from a far distance. Next to this barren bed are leaves, dull olive, struggling to remember greener, less thirsty times. The stones and pebbles are hot and dusty.
Many decades have passed since Clem and I would cross the creek here going to school. We had different ways of going to the school which was about eight kilometres up the creek from where we lived. We could choose between horse, push-bike or foot. And we could go up the right hand road, the left hand road or through the paddocks in the middle. We usually chose to ride our bikes up the left hand road. We would leave our bikes at Uncle Frank's place and walk the last few hundred metres across the creek to the school.
But not always directly. Each morning would bring new water to the crossing and new adventures. We could paddle through the knee-deep water of the crossing, throwing stones, making ripples, getting wet. We could walk across the log Frank's boys had put across the creek just down from the crossing, adzed slightly level, but slippery on frosty mornings. Or explore. The creek bank varied; each section different, but with the same attraction. Johnny had his set-lines in that gloomy hole with the turtles,platypus and water goannas. He wanted to catch the big eels – and he often did. Albert pumped out of the big hole a few hundred metres down but you couldn't walk along the bank to get there. The lushness with its birds and insect life hung far out over the water. Even the accessible parts involved stinging nettles, tall sticky paspalum, burrs and thistles (because lazy old ........ up the creek further didn't keep his paddocks chipped clean and the seeds would wash down) castor-oil bushes, bottle brushes, willow trees and numerous other species which will probably never be classified by botanists.

There was a period (short) when we would go fishing before school. Until Old Jack (our teacher) nabbed us. The hole just above the crossing, probably two metres deep, had a convenient willow overhanging the deep spot. From its branches, which attracted small boys, one could see the catfish idly swimming about in the crystal-clear water below. A short length of line, (cut off father's) a bated hook (no lack of worms in the creek bank) and we could position the fishes' breakfast right in front of their fins. Tempting one would think but mostly we saw how our juicy, hook-shaped offerings were ignored. But occasionally not, and this would mean a quick run back to have Aunty Annie put our fish in her fridge till afternoon. But Old Jack wondered why we were barely making it to school on time after having seen us riding on the left hand road an hour and a half previously. And we didn't catch many fish!
I am standing where those fish were swimming those decades ago. Yes, two roads led up the valley – one on each side of the creek. The school road joined these two. Past Uncle Frank's place, down the hill to the creek, across the creek and then up the other side to Old Jack's house and the school, then further along the road to the T-junction in front of Uncle Harry's gate.

The roads are still there!

Thursday, August 2, 2007


Eromanga you say. What's that? A town? Never heard of it. Where on earth is it? Check it out on Google Earth and you will get a good, clear image of the town and its vital statistics: 26degrees, 40mins, 06.04secs south latitude and 143degrees, 16mins, 01.15secs east longitude with an elevation of 526 feet (160.3248 metres) above sea level.
Yes, that's perhaps interesting but not very exciting. Exciting? Well, that depends on one's point of view. Jill and I visited Eromanga a few years back and we were excited to be there. You bet! After travelling 1100 kilometres westward from Brisbane and finally seeing the roadside signs counting down E60 .....E40 .....E20 ....., believe me, it was great to be in Eromanga.

The town sign welcomed us: “Eromanga Furtherest Town from the Sea”. Geologists and the local discovery of fossilized marine animals tell us that had Eromanga existed some 100 million years ago it could well have been beside the seaside. Beside the Eromanga Sea, a sea which occupied vast areas of what is now inland Australia. It still has plenty of sand and sun but what with climate change, peak oil, 9/11 etc. its boast now is that it is “the town furtherest from the sea”.
Our travel-weary bodies would accept that it was a long way from the sea; but the furthest? Later in the friendly bar of The Royal Hotel, with tired limbs somewhat lubricated, doubt set in. Picturing a map of Australia one thought: What about Birdsville? Alice Springs?
John Walker who was running The Royal at the time of our visit said that he was used to Doubting Thomases. (Johnny Walker. Now that's a great name for a hotel licensee!) He showed us a cutting from The Courier-Mail, November 1985, headed: “Eromanga's Boast doesn't hold Water”. I've checked it up since and here is what the reporter Ken Blanch had to say back then.
“If the 24 permanent residents of Eromanga, in Queensland's dusty south-west, had one claim to fame, it was that they lived in a town farther from the sea in any direction than any other in Australia. (...) Sadly, not even that claim to fame holds water. A check with surveyors at the Queensland Department of Mapping and Survey has disclosed that Eromanga is not even the farthest town from any coast in Queensland, let alone Australia. The mappers could not say without exhaustive research what town would qualify for the dubious honour.”

Shame on him for wanting to dampen Eromanga's claim to a little bit of Australian fame! But that didn't faze Mine Host for he stated that no other town had challenged their claim and until one did, this would be it. And The Royal proudly displayed the 'fact' over its front entrance. No one can dispute The Royal's right to speak for Eromanga for it has stood since shortly after the town was gazetted.
The settlement began in to 1870s, just a short decade after the Bourke and Wills expedition came to grief in these parts. It grew up around a shanty pub and was called “opal-opalis”. It provided a service to the numerous opal miners of the area. At the same time large sheep and cattle runs were being established by graziers moving up from the south in the wake of the explorers. At the turn of the twentieth century there were three hotels in this thriving settlement. Today The Royal alone stands as a monument to those early pioneers who would patronize it – the miners and drovers, the fencers and doggers, the station hands, well and dam diggers, shearers – to all those who opened up this harsh land so far from the sea.

The town thrived in the early days and changed its name to Eromanga, apparently from a local aboriginal word meaning “windy plain”. “Nope. Can't argue with that,” one local told me. “Not in summer when the blistering hot red dust is blowing through the town. In winter neither, when the cold south-westerlies bring in the dust”.
Let's get in out of the wind and listen to how a local, Stuart Mackenzie, concluded his poetic tribute to “The Furtherest Town from the Sea.”

“Then you'll arrive at the Royal Hotel
And if you ask for a Johnnie Walker
You won't get a glass of whiskey
But a smiling slow-moving talker.
This seems like a good place to stop
Because it's not a bad place to be
Drinking beer in a friendly little pub
In the furtherest town from the sea.”

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Recently during one of those peacefully romantic moments of marital contentedness, while enjoying a glass of Old Tawny Port/Late Harvest Riesling before dinner, a romantic song from the old musical Show Boat captured my mind. You know the one?

"Why do I love you
Why do you love me?
Why should there be two
Happy as we?
Can you see
The why or wherefore
I should be
The one you care for?"

Yes indeed. Why?
Young children plague their parents with the word, and as we with children have found out, an impatient "Y's a crooked letter and Z's no better!" does little to satisfy their curiosity. This stiffling of curiosity, this dampening of inquiry and the discouragement of the search for knowledge and answers is surely anathema to humankind's use of God's gift of rational thinking. And why should this happen?
Recently my lifelong friend, Jock, and I were talking over a single malt after twenty holes of indifferent golf. No, not why the out-of-bounds creek accentuated my slice on one hole but my hook on the next. Nor why his approach shots did the exact opposite. No, our topic was religion and we were discussing why Christianity can claim to be the one and only true interpretation of God's relationship with humankind. We, as Christians, see Christianity as something special, unique, the Truth. We are, as Peter writes to those early Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor, a chosen people.
"But you are a chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
Why us? Why me?
Isn't it just a little bit arrogant, somewhat inconsiderate of others, bafflng, that we should reject the beliefs of others who are just as passionate about the correctness of their beliefs as we are? It is no wonder that this self-claimed superiority of Christianity has been rejected by others - individuals as well as other major religions.

As Christians we reject the others' claim of divine revelation. Why do we do this? The main reason seems to be that we are told to do so by our Pastors, Priests, religious leaders and theologians. We are told to accept our Bible as divine truth and reject all other holy books as contrary to the Word of God (our Bible). When looking around the world and seeing the sincere spiritual life of untold millions of members of other religions one has to ask "Why?" Why only us?

The Font at the Front

A frustrated photo opportunity in front of the Orvieto Duomo probably did more to cement this great medieval cathedral in my mind than a whole roll of my own film. But let's move on! Pull up your socks and get on with life. Consider what may be around the corner from the Duomo.
There's the evidence of millennia of human occupation interestingly displayed in various museums. This dates back to the Etruscans who lived here from 800 - 300 BC. A modern reminder of these people is the modern ceramic indusrty which colourfully reproduces many of the Etruscan designs which were discovered on unearthed shards.

Then there's the network of tunnels and rooms underlying the town, which have been dug out of the relatively soft volcanic tufa during the past centuries - water reservoirs, food cellars, secluded refuges, oil and grain factories. One on the most interesting underground structure is a series of rooms facing the open country-side, called columbaria, with thousands of recesses carved into the walls. These provided nesting places for myriads of doves which provided a source of food during sieges on the town. Fecund little beggers if the ones around my home are anything to go by. Five nests in my wisteria alone. No sooner has one set of little ones flown the nest than the oldies are coo-cooing and gathering straw for the repository of the next two fertile eggs.
And let's not forget to go inside the catherdral which does indeed contain masterpieces of medieval art and sculpture. Just inside the front entrance is a baptismal font designed in 1390 by Luca di Giovanni. What an appropriate position for this piece of church furnishing. Here it symbolizes a person's transition and entry into the Christian community (Family of God), depicted here by the congregation gathered in a place of worship. This location inside the front entrance brought to mind a font episode I had recently experienced. In my church the baptismal font was located in front of the worshipping congregation. This position can act as a reminder of one's baptism and a prompt for the renewal of one's baptismal vows. Martin Luther does maintain that one should daily renew these vows to serve the Triune God.
Our Church Council agreed that for a short trial period the font be placed near the entrance of the church to highlight the role that baptism plays. On hearing that the font was to be moved one member of the congregation stated that he would not set foot in that church again if the font was moved from its 'rightful' position.
Isn't it a fact that most disputes within a church congregation ( and between) arise out of peripheral matters? And isn't it also unfortunately a fact that bullies with intransigent attitudes on peripheral matters often get their own way?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Great Cover-up

Perhaps it's because I have just been reading an interesting book entitled Towers of Deception which suggests an official cover-up surrounding the 9/11 demise of the Trade Centre Towers or maybe because of the unusually cold weather we have been having, but for whatever reason, my mind has been going back to a great cover-up I experienced in Europe a few years ago. We were looking around Europe and with my Box Brownie polished and loaded I had planned to take some great photos.
We flew into Rome; not that we particularly wanted to see Rome again, but that's where our flight landed. As you know, all roads lead to Rome! We couldn't get an international flight to Orvieto. To where? ORVIETO. Orvieto is a hill-top village in Umbria where we planned to stay while exploring the surrounding vineyards. Actually, I don't believe any plane could purposely land in Orvieto for it is perched on top of what appears to be a volcanic plug.
I wanted to visit the cathedral there, a "glittering enchanted vision rising up skywards". The facade of this building was said to be particularly noteworthy with an especially beautiful arrangement of mosaics, bas-reliefs, marble and bronze statues and magnificent bronze doors at the centralportal. Yes one of the most beautiful facades....
But that was the next day. First a spare day in Rome. And hey! who can resist a day strolling through old Roma? Ah, the marvels of modern travel - Brisbane one day and on the next, one can alight from an international flight, stretch, struggle into an underground system, stop at an appropriate station, stumble up a few steps to be transported back to the time of the gladiators and the Colosseu... Oops! A colossal construction site!! But this was Rome and Rome wasn't built in a day.

Vino bianco, una pizza and then on to Orvieto. Up the steep tufa cliff face onto the plateau, through the narrow medieval streets following the Duomo signs, into the Piazza Duomo and .... Oh no! A facade of scaffolding and sheeting covering up what I had come to photograph. There was no doubt. This was a deliberate cover-up. The photos in the brochures never had scaffolding. OK, I suppose upkeep and restoration are necessary. And to give them credit the authorities are mindful of the inconvenience and always ask for patience and consideration; or at least that's what I believe the signs said.
A business hint: Get into scaffolding in Italy

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Hello! Or as our friend on the above photo would say,"Ciao!"
He was a permanent resident at our rural accommodation in Umbria, Italy, a few years ago. He, together with his partner, aimed to give an appropriate welcome to the visitors.
This is Grace Hill. Remember in Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asked, "What's in a name?" I'll tell you.
"Now that we've organized our Blog," said my wife, "What shall we call it?"
I was born in a location called Tent Hill (Upper Tent Hill, actually. Lower Tent Hill was further down the creek) so I suggested New Tent Hill.
"But this is our Blog and that's where you came from. I came from Graceville, so why not call it New Graceville?"
Our sensitive son was looking on and quickly interrupted and suggested, "Why not combine them?"
And so the two became one flesh - Grace Hill was conceived to the sounds of mutual endorsement.
"Grace" has a religious ring about it. That's fine.
"Hill" sounds very landscapey and will allow me to legitimately reminisce about here and there.
So Welcome to Grace Hill; Willkommen in Grace Hill; Benvenuto a Grace Hill. Or whatever.