Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pigs will fry, but not this time

I'VE already described in an earlier blog my young days on my uncles' cattle stations in the central west out around Springsure and I can't emphasise what great days they were in the mid-40s to the mid-60s.
They might have been tough days on the stations with lots of work mustering cattle and sheep, drafting in the cattle yards, fencing, branding and cutting timber, but they were fantastic. Those holidays were mainly spent at my grandfather's property, Vandyke, outside Springsure, and a couple of other stations in Central Queensland.
There was always plenty of work on Vandyke (left), but there was also always time for shooting, mainly wild pigs and 'roos and the occasional dingo, and the local shire council bounties for those kills was always more than enough to cover the cost of the holiday.
Remember, those were the days when animals like those were considered pests.
I loved those country holidays and if my old man, Martin Kavanagh, hadn't met my mum after he returned from the First World War, I would have been a filthy rich cattle baron today.
He was the eldest of the Kavanagh kids on Vandyke when he went to war with the oldest of his younger brothers, and he was badly wounded by a mortar bomb blast on The Somme and spent almost two years in an English hospital recovering (Martin, pictured right, while recovering in England).
When he returned to Queensland he met mum, an Emerald publican's daughter, they got married and he decided to move into the hotel trade.
They were fantastic days with great people and plenty of cousins to play with. And those great days lasted until I was 30 ... at which age I discovered surfboards and gave up the Outback for surfing for the next 42 years. But that's another story.
Of course when I first went to Vandyke aged about 10, I was too young to be allowed to muck around with rifles and horses, so I used to spend a lot of my time helping my great old grandad with jobs around the homestead and nearby paddocks.
One of those jobs was cutting down bloody Noogoora burr, which was almost covering the beautiful black soil flats around the creeks on Vandyke. The burr was useless imported junk that grew wild out that way.
Right after early breakfast each day, Aunt Lyla would cut us some cornbeef sandwiches for lunch, we'd collect a couple of mattocks from the tool shed, and off we'd march along cattle pads into the Noogoora burr, which a lot of the time was as thick as a brick wall and grew well overhead. By that time grandad was too old for horse riding and mustering so he always made himself useful doing other jobs around the station and when he had some spare time it was off with his mattock to dig out Noogoora burr.
Looking back it was a pretty useless operation because the burr was growing much faster that the rate at which a couple of people could cut it. But it kept grandad busy and that was all that mattered.
Anyway, one day when we were cutting burr about two miles from the homestead, a bloody great big boar came screaming down the cattle pad we were cutting burr on. We heard it crushing through the burr and knew it was trouble, so my cousin and I climbed a small tree by the pad and looked down, only to see grandad straddling the cattle pad with his mattock held high over his head waiting for the pig to crash through the burr and charge him.
Out it came and grandad (left) let it have the mattock, which hit its outer rib cage and slid off. The pig kept on charging, hitting grandad's legs and knocked him over. Luckily its large tusks missed his upper leg and he was able to get back up almost immediately. The pig had swung around and came charging back, but this time wasn't so lucky because grandad's mattock came crashing down on its skull.
It staggered along the pad for a couple of yards and collapsed kicking and squealing.
Grandad whipped out his knife and cut its throat.
Boy! What an experience for a town boy that was. Grandad was a bit shaken but apart from a few cuts was OK. It was late morning so we decided to have dinner then and there. (By the way "lunch" was "dinner" in those days and "dinner" was "tea", back when I was a country kid.)
I cut the pig's snout and tail off, with grandad's permission, because I could get a 2/6 pest bounty from the local shire council for them.
As we were eating our sandwiches I started thinking what a great waste of food it would be to leave that pig lying there for the dingoes to eat when we could be eating it back at the homestead.
I said so to grandad. He thought about it for a while and then said with a smile:
"That's a great idea, young fella. Why don't you cut off a hind leg and take it back to Aunt Lyla?"
So I finished my sandwich, grabbed my rusty old pocket knife and walked over to the boar and started hacking away through the filthy thick skin. About 20 minutes later I had it off, looking like it had been hacked off with a stone axe and with blow flies attacking it like Spitfires in the Battle of Britain. I put it down on the black soil beside the cattle pad and grandad remarked with a genuine smile what a great prize it would be for Aunt Lyla.
So we got stuck into another four hours of cutting burr and started for home about sundown. By this time the leg was not only covered with blow flies but millions of ants were also chewing into it. I shook it heavily and got rid of some of them, then put it in a hessian bag and off we went on the way home, me with a great smile on my dial and a very happy heart.  
Getting back we sat on the bottom stairway under the high homestead taking off out boots with grandad telling me how proud Aunt Lyla (right) would be of me and that I should take the prize up to her by myself so I could get all the praise.
And that's what I did. Off came the bag and there was the leg still covered in flies and ants.
When I got to the kitchen door Aunt Lyla was mixing some food in a giant bowl over the old wood stove preparing tea for the homestead of about eight people. So I put the leg on the kitchen table among some other dishes of food, and said beaming: "Excuse me Aunty Lyla, but look what I've got you for tea."
She looked around at me pointing to the filthy pig's leg on the table, turned her eyes to the table and started screaming.
"Get that filthy thing out of here. Get it out of my kitchen. Get it out of the homestead." She was furious.
I was astounded. What was up with her?
But I picked it up and trudged, shocked, back down the stairs.
And down there I was in for another shock. Grandad had had a heart attack, or at least that's what I thought, because he was laying on the dirt at the bottom of the stairs. I dropped the leg and ran over to him.
"Grandad? Are you OK?" I cried.
He could hardly talk ... because he was wetting his pants laughing.
"Didn't she want it," he gulped. "Well! I'll be blowed and you went to so much trouble. Well, we'll just have to give it to the dogs.
And that's what I did.
And you know something? They enjoyed it just as much as grandad, and I would have too if Aunt Lyla hadn't been so bloody fussy.
Vandyke homestead in 2004

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Great moments and guffaws at the Games

HAVING covered a few Olympic and Commonwealth Games around the world in the 1970s and '80s, I'm not a great fan of them anymore.
Why is that, you wonder? That's simple! Covering those Games was bloody hard work for a journalist - that is if you take your job seriously.
If you're serious about your job you just never get time off to have a decent look at the foreign cities and countries you are in.
The last Olympics I covered was in Los Angeles in 1984, just when portable computers were starting to come in. Mine was a dirty big machine with a tiny screen. It was so big it wouldn't fit in an aeroplane overhead locker nor could you slide it under your seat. So you had to make sure you got a seat beside the plane's door so you could rest it against that.
How did it work? Well, when you'd finished typing your story, you had to be near a telephone, force the phone's big round ear-piece and mouth-piece into two big round rubber containers on the machine, dial your office computer number back in Australia, press a couple of more buttons, cross your fingers and hope to hell it was working.
Before computers came in you had to ring through the local switchboard of whatever country you were in, hoping they could speak English, and read your story to a copytaker sitting at a typewriter in the office back home.
Ah! Those were the days - I think - or maybe they weren't.
But as hard as it was under the pressure of covering major sporting events, there were always some very interesting events away from the sport itself ... and always a few laughs.
One of the most interesting things I saw off the track and out of the pool happened at the opening ceremony of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
As you know the Olympics opens with a local hero carrying the torch up to the Olympic flame and lighting it and someone saying:
"Let the Games begin."
Well, when the bloke carrying the torch ran into the packed Moscow stadium the first thought that crossed my mind, and the minds of the other 100,000 people in the stadium, was: How the bloody hell is that bloke going to get through the crowds of seated spectators right up there to light the Olympic flame about 100 metres up the packed stands to the highest point in the stadium?
The question became even more worrying as he ran around the track, holding the torch high, and everyone there looked for the way up to the main Olympic cauldron atop the stadium.
But about three-quarters of the way around the track he handed the torch to the final runner, who simply ran off the track and into the first row of spectators. It turned out they were special Russian spectators, who had many hours of training before the Games,  and they simply held stout boards above their heads and formed a beautifully steady and solid V-shaped path right up to the cauldron. Absolutely staggering!
The run up over the crowd was so steady you would swear the torch carrier had been running up a concrete staircase. It was amazing and sent the crowd into wild cheering. I don't often cheer, but I joined them.
Here is a Youtube clip of the famous run:


A couple of days before that amazing performance there was another very interesting off-track performance at a very angry press conference in a huge hall with about 1000 journalists packed in.
You probably recall that the Russians and the Yanks were at each others throats over a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the time and the Yanks had pulled out of the Moscow Olympics. US president Jimmy Carter simply told his Olympians they couldn't go and that was it because the government financed the whole Olympic trip.
Back home our prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, decided to follow Carter and announced Australia was also pulling out. Poor, silly, trouserless Mal didn't know that our Olympic movement was pretty rich and always provided the bulk of the Olympic money.
But Mal still announced that Australia would not be going because he was not going to give them any money ... about $40,000 of government funds. Of course Australia's Olympic costs would have been a lot, lot more than that. So our Olympians simply said "so long Mal" and took off for Moscow.
Anyway, as you can imagine, the Yanks sent a heap of journalists to cover the Games ... well, not only to cover the Games but to turn the heat up on the Kremlin.
So at that huge press conference, the Yank journos had found out that one of Russia's top women swimmers had simply disappeared off the face of the earth, and didn't they get stuck into the Russian Olympic organisers who were seated at a huge table on stage.
Things really heated up as the Yanks were standing up all over the hall yelling for a go at the four or five microphones that were being handed around by Russian staff. You had to get a mic to ask questions otherwise you couldn't be heard over the din. I hadn't seen a wild, wild press conference like it, and never have since.
They were mainly Yank reporters screaming for a microphone, then demanding what Russia had done to the poor, defenceless girl swimmer. Had they murdered her and where was her body?
But there was also a small Indian reporter on his feet, with arms waving and screaming for a mic. After about half an hour of mayhem, a microphone was finally handed to the screaming Indian.
He took it and with a tightly frowning face demanded:
"What has happened to our presents?"
The hall fell into deathly silence.
The MC on stage stood there blinking. "Vot do you mean ... presents?"
The Indian became more serious: "At all the Games I have covered the Olympic people always give visiting journalists presents to take home. But I have got nothing here. Where are our presents?"
The deadly serious, furious, screaming press conference started howling with laughter and that was the last we heard of the missing girl swimmer.
Actually, we finally did receive a present - a tiny stuffed Russian bear. I've still got it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Stuart Buchanan - the light of Bustard Head

G'DAY, once again, people. Sorry for the lack of blogs over the last couple of months, but I've been away a bit and pretty busy, including my annual month-long stint caretaking Bustard Head Light Station for my old sailing and drinking mate, author and former lighthouse keeper Stuart Buchanan.
And the following blog is about that old mate and I'll tell you why in a minute.
Stuart is one of the toughest, most uncompromising blokes I've ever known.
We're good mates, but if we are stuck together on his yacht, Pluto, for more than a couple of weeks, then things could turn nasty.
If he wasn't such a tough nut the 152-year-old Bustard Head Light Station, between Bundaberg and Gladstone, would be no more.
Oh! Sure! The grand old lighthouse would be still standing on the point, flashing out its warning to passing ships. But the two cottages which held the lightkeepers, their wives and kids and helpers, and the four work sheds, would have been demolished and the grounds once again covered with scrub, unfortunately a lot of it not natural to that beautiful Aussie area.
Stuart and his wife, Shirley, were lightkeepers there from 1974-1981 and grew to love the place. But when lighthouses became automatic in the 80s and stations were de-manned around Australia, something had to give. In the case of Bustard Head, it was theft and absolutely destructive vandalism that eventually destroyed the station.
The cottages and sheds were wrecked, with walls, roofs and floors smashed and anything of value, like the stainless steel guttering and beautiful rosewood doors, stolen. You see, it's not hard to act like an idiot in an isolated place like Bustard Head, which can only be reached by boat, helicopter or the LARCs of the excellent tourist trips of the 1770 Environmental Tours, which travel up from Town of 1770 several times a week.
Stuart and Shirley had seen the destruction growing as they sailed Pluto up the Queensland coast in the 90s, and by the late 1990s Stuart decided he was going to restore the station to its original condition even though authorities had decided to clear the station of the wreckage and leave it to nature to take over.
It took Stuart several years to fight bureaucrats and the system before he finally gained permission for restoration. When permission finally came it took him three years to rebuild the station to better than its former glory. He did it all for nothing, working daylight 'till dark seven days a week.
Shirley even put $130,000 of her own money into the restoration, which I believe she will never fully recover. Read Stuart's book, Light of Their Lives, if you want to see the full story of the trouble they had.
There was lots of volunteer help along the way, particularly by another former lightkeeper, Dudley Fulton (pictured wearing sunglass beside Stuart), who worked daylight to dark, seven days a week with Stuart for the last year of Stuart's three-year job.
But as I said Stuart is so tough and so uncompromising that many volunteers simply couldn't cop the discipline and took off after a couple of days.
I used to go up every couple of months for a week or two to help out. One time I got off the LARC only to find Stuart looking like a tired old man. He said he wasn't feeling well but was still working daylight to dark, seven days a week.
I made him get on the LARC and see a doctor back in Agnes Water. He returned with a packet of pills, said he had Ross River Fever, and kept on working.
How tough was he with the volunteers? One day, with just the two of us putting up fibro wall panels on opposite sides of the front cottage, I bent a nail on the fibro sheet which I was hammering on to a door frame. I swore, but it wouldn't matter because the bent nail would have been hidden forever once I put the architrave (the moulding board) over the fibro around the door frame. Hidden for-bloody-ever.
A few seconds later Stuart appeared.
"What were you swearing at?" he said.
"Nothing," said I. He looked around the fibro.
"You bent a nail," he said. "Get it out and straighten it."
"Like hell," said I. "It will be behind the architrave and hidden forever."
"Get it out," he demanded.
"Get stuffed," said I and stormed out into the front yard.
Stuart extracted the nail, straightened it out and hammered it back in.
I came back, hammered the architrave around the door frame and hid the formerly bent nail forever.
But if he wasn't like that Bustard Head would today have a lighthouse, but not a lighthouse station, which now attracts thousands of visitors a year via LARC.
He is a tough, tough bloke and no doubt that's what saved his life back in June this year.
I and my wife, Jan, had just arrived at the lightstation on June 2 to caretake the place for a month, as we do each year, when we got some very bad news from Brisbane.
The day before, Stuart had been working on Pluto in the Scarborough marina when he got a splitting headache, rang Shirley and said he could not drive home that night, but would sleep on the boat and be home in the morning. When he didn't call next day, Shirley rang the club and asked for someone to take a look for Stuart on Pluto.
They found him passed out in the cabin and very, very cold. He had had a stroke the night before. They thought he was dead.
He was rushed to Brisbane General Hospital where it was first thought there was no hope for his survival. But hours later there was a very slight improvement and it was decided to operate.
There followed many weeks of severe pain in intensive care and another operation, but he is making a slow - slow and painful - recovery, which I am sure would not be the case if Stuart Buchanan was not one very, very tough man.
His stroke left a big hole in the list of Bustard Head caretakers - mainly retired blokes like me and all volunteers - because Stuart and Shirley used to caretake for anything from three to four months a year.
It's not an easy job, particularly in summer when Stuart and Shirley used to caretake a lot of the time. There are a couple of hectares of lawn which need mowing, two cottages and four worksheds to maintain and a small cemetery to keep clean.
video
Part of the caretaker's job is to conduct tours through the great museum Stuart established in the front cottage (click on video above). 1770 Environmental Tours' LARCs usually bring tourists up three times a week, more in school holidays, and tourists pay $6 a head to be taken through the museum.
That's the only income the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association gets to maintain the whole station and under Stuart's astute - and tough - direction it just covers the annual costs.
As for Shirley's $130,000 loan to help the rebuilding program, after more than six years she's got a couple of thousand back. But I don't think any of us will be around to see the debt cleared.
In the meantime, Stuart continues to gradually improve. I take a bit of credit because, while he is totally off alcohol, I have a rum and beer for him every sundown, as we used to do on Pluto and at Bustard Head before he got crook.
But he frowns and still tells me to get stuffed whenever I mention my great generosity with the booze.
Anyway people, if you're ever up Town of 1770 way, you'd be mad to miss that Bustard Head trip.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Holidays at a cattle station

WHEN I see kids today with mobile phones and all that other crazy modern electronic stuff they can't seem to do without in this crazy modern world, I wonder how they would have coped back in the 1940s and 50s, a long, long time before those things were invented?
Could they be happy just playing in the back yard or in the bush on non-school days, and listening to the war news or one or two serials, like Dad and Dave, on the wireless of a night ... if they have been good kids, that is?
Probably not, but I look back on my growing years, during and not long after the Second World War, as some of the greatest times in my life, maybe because it had a lot to do with nature and the wildlife. As a kid I spent most of my spare time in the bush, firstly in Yeppoon and then Maryborough.
When I was in my very early teens after we moved from Yeppoon to Maryborough I used to trap, breed and sell finches like Double Bars, Red Heads and Bullies because that was the only way you got pocket money. We didn't get pocket money from our parents so most kids either did that or worked on milk trucks or delivered newspapers for pocket money.
I used to make six-door bird traps out of timber and wire my big brother, Marty, and I found out at the town dump. Dumps were pretty important places for kids like us and we used to scavenge through the dump regularly for material we needed.
All of the material I needed to build my main bird cage, about double the size of the backyard dunny but not as high, came from the dump. In fact, Marty and I took over a year to find enough discarded old bicycle parts to build our two bikes. They weren't that good to look at but they sure got us to school each day and into the Wallum trapping finches or chasing brumbies most weekends.
The town dump was a pretty special place for us. Not only could you get all the material you needed to build toys like planes and trucks and bird traps but the dump could be a very entertaining place as well. Whenever we got bored we'd take a trip to the dump, spend an hour or two collecting old bottles, line them up about 30 yards away, pull out our gings ... that's shanghais to you young fellas .... and blast hell out of them over the next hour. Broken glass bottles didn't bother anyone in the dump.
I was a lot more fortunate than most of my mates back in Yeppoon and Maryborough though, because my old man, Martin, was born a bushie and all his relatives were on cattle and sheep stations out in the central west.
Unfortunately for me, though, he married mum, who was a bush publican's daughter, and they moved into various pubs. Blast it! I could have been a filthy rich cattle baron by now.
But at least I was one of the few kids in my circle who could spend my holidays on cattle stations. So on school holidays I could jump on the old steam train and headed out to Springsure where my relatives would pick me up and take me out to Vandyke station on the road to Tambo.
What a life that was back then, before helicopters and motorbikes replaced the old stock horse. I'd spend the whole holidays mustering, branding, dipping, milking, fencing and when I had time off, shooting, which wasn't too good for the wildlife unfortunately, because I did a fair bit of shooting pigs and 'roos and trapping the occasional dingo.
It was the normal thing for bush kids to do back then because we got no pocket money, as I said, and there were pretty good pest bounties from shire councils back then.
We'd get 2/6 (25c) for pig snouts and tails, three pence ( 6c) for 'roos' ears and a guinea ($2.10) for dingo scalps, although dingoes were not that easy to skittle. Forget about the dingoes you see roaming around openly on Fraser Island today.
Back when I was a kid out west you very rarely saw a dingo because they were too cunning. You'd hear them howling at night but they remained well hidden of a daytime.
We'd catch them with heavy iron-jaw traps, which was not a real pleasant way for the dingo to part this wildlife.
You would open the trap jaws, which was very hard, and set the iron plate which would release the jaws once paw-pressure was put on the plate.
The trap would be set slightly below ground level, covered with a sheet of newspaper, with dust and grass sprinkled over it and the whole trap held tight by a chain which was spiked into the ground nearby. You would then sprinkle dog poo from the station cattle dogs around the surface to attract the dingoes.
Early next day, if you were lucky and the dingo unlucky, you would find a dingo trapped by either front leg. One good close shot to the head would end the dingo's misery and put at least one guinea in your pocket next time you visited the local shire council.
Of course you had to dip the scalps, pig snouts and roos' ears in poison once back at the station to preserve them until you could take the lot to the council.
Money from those more than covered the western train trip and holiday.
Those western holidays went on from my school days to when I turned 30 in the mid 1960s and was sitting on King's Beach, Caloundra, with my wife and kids and saw an old bloke striding our of the surf carrying a surfboard. I thought he'd make a good feature for The Courier-Mail and grabbed him as he walked past. His name was Ben "Pa" Bendall, the now famous grandad of Queensland surfing.
I got to know him and his wife, Marjory, very well over the years and right after the feature appeared I started surfing with Ma and Pa.
That led to 43 years of boardriding at every opportunity and an eventual move to the coast.
It also ended my cattle station holidays.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Off the rails

YOU sick of me telling you about all the beltings I got from the nuns and Christian Brothers at school during the forties and early fifties?
Righto! I'll move on to a few of the beltings I got away from school.
My old man, Martin, was a great bloke but pretty strict when it came to the kids misbehaving ... well what he thought was misbehaving, but it was just normal kids stuff to us.
We even got belted by my old man AND the nuns just for swimming. You see, we weren't supposed to go swimming in the surf or the fresh water creeks around Yeppoon when there were no adults around because they thought we might drown. Huh!
And to make sure we didn't go swimming by ourselves or with other kids without supervision, parents used to hide our prickly old woollen togs ... some of you might only know togs as swim suits, eh?
So there was nothing else for it but to swim in the raw ... the nuddy, that is. But we wouldn't swim that way on the beach because some stupid adult would see us and get the cops or something. So we used to swim in the small creeks on the outskirts of town.
There was a great creek pool, our favourite, not far from some houses in which we would swim going home from school every couple of days. Then one day some silly old woman saw us from her veranda and reported us to the nuns because she recognised one of my mates as one of her neighbour's kids and knew he went to the convent.
Well, next day at school we all got called out and each got six cuts across the hands. There was more waiting at home because the nuns told Dad we'd been swimming in the nuddy so I got about a dozen whacks across the bum with his belt, not so much for swimming in the nuddy, but because I had defied his instructions not to swim anywhere unless there was an adult watching over us.
Anyway it was enough to stop us swimming in the waterhole next to the old woman's place, so we moved out to a less attractive water hole in the bush where no one could see us. Out there you could swim in the nuddy with confidence, as long as you kept a sharp lookout for bloody snakes which were pretty thick in Yeppoon.
One time we had 13 cats and every now and then one would drag a squirming snake up into the house and drop it beside you to show how clever they were. That's how the lino got so many chop marks in it when we used a hoe to kill the snake.
So I stopped getting beltings for swimming in the nuddy, but it didn't stop Dad from belting me a couple of times for smoking cigarette butts I'd find around the Railway Hotel, which Mum and Dad leased.
Another time I got belted up by a couple of older kids just for being a convent kid walking home from school. I passed them as they were walking home from the state school. They also smashed my school bag and threw my school books all over the gravel road. I recognised one as a kid from the circus which was stationed permanently just outside Yeppoon during the war years.
That's about the only fight I ever got into in my school days. And it wasn't a fight, just a couple of older state school kids belting up a dumb little convent kid.
In fact I think I only saw one fight between school kids in my school days. And as far as seeing other kids carrying weapons such as pocket knives in those days, well forget about it.
But back to the beltings story. Did I ever tell you about the time I got three beltings for allegedly breaking the crane at Yeppoon Railway Station?
I was about 10 and was with a couple of mates playing in the railway goods yard across the road from Dad's pub after school. We started swinging on an old iron crane beside the rail track in the goods yard not that far from the station master's office.
We would stand on the rusty old iron hook and swing around under the crane shaft.
I was having a great time swinging out over the track when the bloody thing came loose, flinging me, the hook and the heavy chain out on to the railway line.
I was sitting on the track dazed when the station master started yelling and running down the platform. Of course my mates took off in all directions, but I was too dazed to move. Anyway the station master grabbed me by the ears, stood me up and marched me over the track and up on to the platform.
He tugged me by the left ear up to his office where, surprise, surprise, stood the local police chief. The pair had been yarning in the station master's office when they heard me yell out after the fall.
"This little bastard just broke the crane," the station master yelled to the cop, twisting my ear until it hurt like hell.
The cop looked down the track, saw the crane hook and chain lying on the lines, but still attached to the crane.
"You little bastard," he said, booting me a beauty up the bum and grabbing me by the right ear. "You'll bloody well pay for this. You're Martin's son, aren't you? Well, we'll see what your old man has to say about this."
So saying he dragged my by the ear across the road to the Railway Hotel and yelled out for my old man.
Dad had been bottling draught beer from a 10 gallon keg in a back room. He came out holding an uncapped bottle.
"What's up?" he said.
"This little bugger just broke the railway crane in the goods yard," he said, dragging me by the ear in front of Dad.
"Righto!" said Dad. "I'll fix it later but I'll fix him now. So get upstairs into your room," he said to me.
Up there off came his leather belt and Whack! Whack! Whack! went the belt around my bum for a minute or so.
It taught me an important lesson. If you want a swing, play on the swings at school, not on the crane in the railway yard.
That's one of life's most important messages and I've made it a golden rule.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Twisting the dial

RIGHT-HO! I think I've told you enough about the recently published crap quoted by a southern author about the 1861 Cullin-la-ringo massacre, so I'll go back to Yeppoon and those wonderful days as a brilliant student at St Ursula's Convent during the war.
Things went pretty well for the first couple of years at St Ursula's even though I was a very poor speller and a terrible reader. Well, things went reasonable well until about the age of about seven when I went into a class which had a young Irish nun in charge.
She seemed to hate all things Australian. I found out later she never wanted to come here and was sent out against her will by the church.
And even though I was a saint of a kid she took an instant dislike to me. That got even worse a couple of days after the new class opened when she discovered what a shocking spella and reader I was ... make than "I am".
The bad turn started when she called on Kavanagh to stand up and read a piece from our Reading Book, Grade 2 or 3, I think.
I stumbled along guessing at the bigger words and shaking with nerves and close to crying. But I was closer than I thought because pretty soon she threw the blackboard duster at me, hitting me on the forehead with the wooden section.
And you won't believe this but I dropped the reading book and started crying. Weak little bugger that I was. She ignored my crying and pointed to another kid to take up the reading where I left off.
Things went pretty well for the next couple of days until the next reading and spelling section and I was once again told to stand up and read. The same thing happened only this time she followed the flying duster down between the desks and belted me a couple of times across the knuckles with a wooden blackboard pointer stick.
And guess what? I started crying again so she grabbed me by the ear, dragged me across the multiple classroom and threw me out of the place.
The whole incident was seen by the six other nuns and classes in the huge school room. I sat on the steps outside the room crying. A minute or so later a nun from another class, who had witnessed the incident, came out and sat beside me, put her arm around my shoulder, said she was sorry for what my teacher had done, and started crying too.
Naturally I didn't say anything about it when I got home, but when mum saw the bruising and swelling on my knuckles she immediately took me back to school to complain to the head nun.
Things settled down for me and the Irish nun after that ... the bitch simply ignored me, which was excellent.
But there were still some rough times ahead for me in school days ... and mostly I deserved them, except for just one day in sub-junior at the Maryborough Christian Brothers College.
I was about 15. This particular day our regular maths Brother was sick and was replaced by a very old Irish Brother who was living in retirement in the school accommodation.
Years before he had taught in the Bronx, New York, which was appropriate because he was a tough nut and a mad boxing fan. He had actually boxed in the ring while he was teaching in the Bronx.
Anyway, during the algebra lesson he chalked up a problem on the blackboard, looked around the class of about 14 kids, pointed to me and said: "Get up here and work this out, Kavanagh. And the rest of you do it on your pads."
I didn't mind because I was OK at algebra.
So out I went to the board and breezed through it, and stood there smiling. Why not, I got it right, see?
The old bloke turned to the class and said: "Stand up those who got it wrong."
I got it right, so I sat down on the floor. The class started laughing.
He was surprised and turned around to see what they were laughing at.
"Get up Kavanagh," he said sternly. I got up still smiling. When I was fully upright he threw the most beautiful right cross to my chin, knocking me out as cold as a maggot.
They told me later I was out to it for about five minutes while he went on with the lessons. When I finally came to on the floor under the blackboard, he simply said:
"Get back to your desk, Kavanagh."
But as I said, back then sometimes I deserved to get the cuts, but not all the time. Well, you be the judge of what happened to me in my final year, Junior, back at St Brendan's by The Sea at Yeppoon in 1951. I was still living with my parents in Maryborough and before I left for Yeppoon one of my great mates, an apprentice electrician, which I wanted to be, asked me to take his self-built one valve wireless set back to Brendan's to see how many stations I could get from around Australia. You see, Maryborough is very flat and he couldn't get many radio stations there, yet Brendan's is in the hills overlooking Yeppoon and the ocean.
But it would need a very high aerial so we spent a lot of time looking around the dump and finally found a couple of hundred yards of ancient electrical wire which he said would do just fine.
I would have to get permission to have a wireless (no kids had wirelesses in those days) at Brendan's, so when I arrived there I went straight to the principal's office and asked permission to put my aerial up on the very, very high school water tower. He wasn't too happy but finally agreed as long as I didn't use it after 5pm when we had tea (that was dinner back then) and night study. I agreed.
So I risked my life climbing up the water tower, put up the aerial and plugged it into the wireless in my locker under an old army hut. The first afternoon I turned it on I could only just get Rockhampton ABC and the commercial station. I wrote and told my mate in Maryborough and he wrote back saying I was a bloody idiot because you can't get proper reception before dark.
I thought about it for a while, then one night decided to take a chance. So after "lights out" in the dormitory one night I crept out of bed, down the stairs, across the yard under the mango trees and into the locker room.
I put the powerful headphones on and switched it on and started twisting the dial. The noise just about sent me deaf, hearing voices and music like thunder. I twisted the dial for about half an hour and got 25 stations from all over Australia. It was great. But I better not overdo it first night, I thought, so I switched it off and crept back under the mango trees, up the stairs and into bed.
Next night I had another pile of new stations written down, so after half an hour I switched off and crept back under the mango trees to the main building.
Suddenly out of the darkness came a shout: "Kavanagh! Get over here." Two Brothers grabbed me and dragged me into the principal's office.
"You promised not to muck around with that wireless after 5pm," the principal said.
"Touch your toes."
I got six of the best on the bum, then three on each hand with his stitched four-ply leather strap. A couple of days later a young Brother told me what had happened. They were listening to their favourite radio programs in the principal's office when suddenly all hell broke loose on their set.
"The noise was terrible," he said. "It was like a cross between air raid sirens wailing, trumpets blasting and bulldozers roaring. We couldn't hear our program because of you mucking around with your wireless trying to get so many different stations and interfering with ours. When it happened two nights in a row, well we knew it was you mucking around with your set."
Next day the principal made me rip down the aerial and threw it and the wireless into the dump.
Ah! For the good old days.