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.”