Pioneer trip into the heart of the Great Dividing Range.


………….10 whiskery and wiry men saddled into 5, four-wheel drive vehicles, 80 series Toyota, Land Rover, Ford dual cab, Prado Toyota and a 100 series Toyota. With photos taken they left the Kangaroo Tower at 9.10am and headed through the green hills and valleys of Christmas Hills and turned left up the Melba Highway at Yarra Glen.It was a lovely sunny morning, low wind, farmers were baling hay and cows were being milked. Onward past Yea through the road works to Molesworth, a one pub country town, then on again stopping in Yarch a lovely little pit stop town. It was now 10.45am with no time to waste as the mountains were beckoning.

By 11.25am we were in Mansfield having passed through Merton and Bonnie Doon on the banks of Eildon Reservoir.

Early lunch and coffee was sought at Mansfield. With the excitement of the challenge in front we soon turned towards Mt.Stirling. The mountains had a blue aura about them backed by an inviting blue sky, this reminded me of the “story of the spider and the fly”. Reaching the foot hills we turned left at the fork in the road towards Telephone Box Junction. 3The snow field shop and change area was closed for the summer season.
In single file we headed into the forest of tall timbers now on a gravel road, lots of the trees had died having been burnt during the 2006 fires which burnt over a million hectares. Nature was re afforesting the lower stages of the mountain with wattle now in yellow bloom, but the floor was littered with thousands of fallen trees. Life and death hand in hand.

Down Western link track twisting and turning heading for a camp site by the river, when a warning came via the UHF grader on the track. These tracks are very narrow and graders are wide and big but with patience and skill we all passed unharmed.No one tooted their horn we simply waved thanks to the grader driver.

4Down, down we went and were then faced with a river crossing and a steep gouged bank to negotiate on the out ward side. Harry called “Quick Daryl, jump in with me and take some photos” as the others crossed. All crossed okay and we found a beautiful base camp to set up ready for the next few days of 4 wheel drive exploration.

This site is known as Pineapple Flat and is on the banks of the King River the home of the King Parrot with its crimson  chest and very friendly nature.In much haste these five vehicles spun around and around seeking out the best Real Estate sites for their tents encircling the camp fire, like a modern John Wayne western movie. With great speed and skill tents erected, camp fire started (poor wood), tables erected and chairs circled around the would be fire, men sat waiting for Lou to serve up our first meal. A small dead limb fell on to Marks 80 series and dented the mud guard, a warning of the danger of limbs falling. After a lot of chat, Marks homemade beer and some reds, we settled down for a very welcome snooze.


6th Tuesday (2nd day)
Up at 5.30 am (some of us) stirred the fire, wash, weeties, corn flakes and raisins and a cuppa. Half the crew packed and ready set out for Craig’s Hut used and built for The Man From Snowy River film. 12It was a grueling climb along Burnt top track from the camp, more evidence of the forces of nature and the devastation of fires. The ridges have dead trees standing after ten years and the thousands of fallen trees and many more leaning against those still able to stand. Still new beauty can be seen everywhere. We found Craig’s hut high in the mountain on a plateau. 8The weather was perfect and with clarity the view extended as far as the eye could see. The rest of the sleepy team caught up with us here. There was 1 bar of telephone reception to be had here. We had a nature walk of approx 1 kilometer.

We headed down the southern side of the mountain and climbed the Bindaree Water Falls and we were able to go behind the water fall itself which was like a see through sheer curtain. 9Some great photos were taken. After a count of 10 heads we headed to Bindaree Hut and had to do another river crossing of the Howqua river in the Alpine National Park.We had lunch there from our car fridges Greg brought all his bush fly friends along but they only seemed to like Mark’s and my sandwich – back across the river and headed back to Pineapple Flats Lodge.

We collected much better fire wood and were able to create great coals for cooking, much to Lou’s delight. Camp ovens came out from every tent, every would be cook gave advice, every man had a poke at the fire even when it was perfect. Lou cooked with Harry’s help (camp oven bread) a great roast beef and roast vegies all washed down with Marks beer and some fine reds. As we sat ringed around the warm campfire, Him Plurry Fine Fella Mark Dellar, started reciting the poem written by Thomas E Spencer – The Day McDougall Topped the Score. With animated enthusiasm and a captivated audience nearing exhaustion at the second last verse he swung quickly to his left and standing behind him were four travellers. He started to ask can I help you? And the good-looking blonde said please don’t stop now we were so much enjoying your reading, and without further ado Mark completed his poem to a hearty applause. The travellers were from Germany, USA and? 4 in total they wanted help to cross the river to set up camp and yes they had 10 helpers – Aussies are good.

Another great day was discussed around the fire and a good night’s sleep was had by all except at about 3 am as Jim was sitting on the throne, a long hearty bellow was heard, was this relief or an animal warning.

Wednesday 7th Dec (3rd day )
Up about 6.30am, nearly a full house for brekky when a King parrot 17sat on Harry’s car near our tables H slowly walked over with a cracker in hand and fed the parrot. It stood on one leg and held the food and fed itself with the other, many photos taken. Sunny skies and low wind favored us as we had wood fire toast and peanut butter with Billy tea. We were all off again across the King River up the mountain twisting and grinding away and onto Speculation Road down to the river where a herd of Angus beef were crossing the bridge. We stopped as they drank and ambled across toward us. I got to talking to the owner, a Mr Bruce McCormack 11and his dog Tully, he spoke of the 2006 fires, the permits needed to graze cattle and the bond of generations of cattle families some who ride the horses to muster the cattle when needed. I was sad to have to leave Bruce and Tully and the many stories I would have enjoyed.

We went on to King hut and the camping grounds then headed up the Stair Case Rd to Cobblers Lake. This road would have broken a black snakes back as it zig zagged back and forth climbing all the way over bare rocks. So steep with fallen timber left like discarded pole vaulting poles, the sideways thrusting tested the seat belts all the way it was with relief when we reached the top but still bumped heavily till we reached the heavily lake Cobbler and Cobblers hut. The water was mirror like very large and edges protected by bulrushes. We had a car boot lunch here and by now getting rather hot, we then headed back past some large water falls cascading down the cliff face from Cobblers Lake overflow. The road back was much smoother and we passed Rose River back to Pineapple Flats Lodge.

With lots more good wood the camp fire was creating very good coals for Lou to cook up his lamb stew and vegies and H’s bread. Phil said to try this drink, whisky and water, good for a woodsman. That was okay, later with our team bonding by then I had little feeling as I drank and laughing at the same time the straight whisky fumes stopped my breathing, I think I will stick to water for a while. Jim showing how much he respects cleanliness jumped into the river. On return and shivering he returned to our camp only to observe the two lady travellers in bikinis heading to the river for a tidy up, his remark “I landed to early.”
This Plurry Good Fella Mark Dellar came back into camp again and started raving about Mulga Bill’s Bicycle by Andrew B Patterson, again it captured everyone’s attention to the last line. Then a good night’s sleep, but again Jim at 3.00 am –  yes on the throne again, heard this loud chesty noise in his haste to seek the protection of his tent his torch battery went flat, he was a trembling wreck by the time he found his tent again. By morning the travellers had packed and gone onwards trekking around Australia.

8th Dec our last day
Up at 6.30am and looking around the camping circle with no one to be seen only Peter the Great’s Akubra hat hanging head high on the tent pole, waiting patiently for Pete to arise. Then slowly each pioneer emerged from their warm beds to welcome the dawn to the music of several Kookaburras and the smoke of the camp fire and a face wash in cold water.
A hearty breakfast was devoured expanding our ribs for the energy needed for the days challenge ahead. 4 from the team of 10 were heading home today, tents being folded. Mark gave his demonstration saying it only takes 5 minutes or 20 if being watched – yes it took 20 minutes. Cars were packed securely and a quick check around to make sure everything was picked up and including our rubbish so leaving the bush in pristine condition as we had found it on arrival. Those staying decided to escort us out to Telephone Box Junction and then explore more of this wonderful region.

At 10.00am, with motors warming up, we were heading out when the rain started plus the temp dropped. In single file we crossed the King River climbing upwards toward Circuit Road when the lead car radioed back tree across road. Well, Whisky Phil with white flashing eyes unraveled a chain saw just ahead of Miss Daisy Greg with his chainsaw. It was raining heavily by now and Peter stood with camera in hand. Under the shelter of his Akubra hat he recorded this event with helping hands clearing the logs off the track.
After that we soon passed Fork Creek with Mark D and O Wise One following. As tail end Charlie’s we followed on and by 11.05am we all arrived at Mt Stirling café (closed for summer season) being 1230 meters above sea level. It was very cold now, raining with possible snow predicted by Jane Bunn 5 days ago. We left 6 tough guys all waiving to us and wishing us a safe trip over their UHF’s as we headed past Mt Stirling café to Mansfield where we stopped for a pie and coffee before heading towards home. Before Bonnie Doon the rain was so heavy that driving became difficult but it cleared away and the rest of the trip home was very pleasant.

A hot welcome shower and first shave for 4 days and a couple of hours sleep and ready for a home cooked meal  to reminisce with Lady Florence over this great adventure. All of the remaining 6 made it safely home the next day; they went to Mt Bulla but were clouded in.

………………They should have listened to O Wise One.

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Cast:-
Jim G……….Swimmer
Harry M… …Team leader
Gordon B… B and B
Leon H…… Swag Man
Greg M…… Miss Daisy
Phil D. …….Whisky
Peter T. …..Akubra
Mark D. ….Plurry Nice Fella
Lou F. …….M.K.R (cook)
Daryl M…..O’ Wise One

*** Written and reported as experienced by Daryl Morrow  – circa 2016

Benalla Trip 2nd November 2016

Sharing three learned days with Mark Dellar

 The V8 Toyota Cruiser backed into my drive way, the sun was shining with the promise of a great day ahead, Mark stepped down with a beaming smile c’mon Daryl get your gear ready, stash in the back but be careful of Chloe she is asleep on the back seat, with gear secured and the good byes and a hug for Lady Florence who had baked us an apple pie, we were on our way, out through Research then Kangaroo Ground, through the farmlands to Christmas Hills descending down into Yarra Glen, which has a horse racing track.This reminded us of the Melbourne cup ran yesterday where Almandin owned by Lloyd Williams and ridden by jockey Kerrin McEvoy, won the coveted Melbourne Cup. Here we turned left onto the Melba Highway through the grape and wine making farmlands heading north towards Yea. We marveled at the high hills that had been cleared mostly by hand and horses to grow pasture for grazing sheep and cattle.

Farmers were starting to cut grass for bailing hay, everything was green, dams and streams were full of clean water. Road works were excavating the embankments and cutting down red gums to straighten the busy northern road. We entered Molesworth, a small town of a dozen homes and one pub. We travelled further north and saw a sign saying where the F**K is Yark and shortly after that we came to the 50 km township sign saying this is F**king Yark, toilets turn left near footy grounds.Well, this location was busier than the  main street. Mark explained as we pulled up that I have to give Chloe a chance to have a drink and a pee. Some other travellers stopped and pulled out there picnic basket and a thermos of tea and chattered to us about what they were planning to do, by this stage Chloe has settled herself back on the rear seat and had dozed off again.

Onwards through the rich farming valleys past Merton to Bonnie Doon over the bridge that spans the southern arm of lake Eildon past the empty pub to Lima South. It was getting warmer and it was noted by Mark again time for Chloe to have a drink and another pee so we crossed our legs and raced onwards to Swanpool toilets on arrival we marveled at the picnic shelter with it laser cut design of swans in sheets of rusty steel. It’s obvious that this little town was very proud and was  making visitors very welcome and comfortable, sorry we could not stay to investigate more but you guessed it Chloe was anxious to get to the farm.

Onward through Tatong with it classic white pub and well-spaced tree-lined street a quick right hand turn and we were on the red gum lined country road heading for the Dellar Ranch in Upper Lurg.

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Tatong Pub

Chloe sat upright as if to say we are here and I want another pee quick. We stopped at the front cyclone gate and were welcomed by a swarm large black mozzies that filled the car, Mark yelled quick Daryl make a run for it I jumped and we sped up the drive over the angry sugar ants nests to the safety of the long tin weekender making a run inside leaving Chloe behind to bring in her own swag and aeroguard. It was about mid afternoon when we arrived and after scratching and spraying we settled in to unpack and start the job at hand, slash all the long grass before the fire season starts, with the hand slasher brought out of retirement, oil checked belts tightened and blades sharpened, time to start the willing 11 horsepower Honda, Mark hanging on for dear life let out the clutch and away he went grass flying everywhere propelled stones banging against the tin walls Chloe and I hid in the shelter of the shed and peered through the cracks around the door to see if Mark was okay whilst we were under attacks from those persistent B51 mossy bombers. With the front area mowed like the botanical gardens and Mark out of sight over the embankment Chloe and my self-ventured out and found the famous Fire Pit, a large dug out area to contain a big fire, after collecting a stack of dry firewood we lit a big fire and stacked on some freshly cut grass to smoke out those mossies, this worked a treat.

After a couple of hours with the mower at rest we settled down with some beer and stout, dry bikkies and cheese in our deck chairs in the smoke trail watching the sun setting listening to the farmers kids extracting the last out of the day laughing and playing. We even heard the birds saying their prayers and giving thanks as they settled down for the coming cold night.

Mark heated up some stir fry and chicken and we had a couple of bowls full each as the flies went to bed and before the mossies renewed their night attack. We had a few beers and those mossies that bit us were then too pissed to find us or to tell their mates. We even managed a few yarns and rearranged the world as we sat around the open fire and stared at the star covered sky.

That was the end of the first day. Chloe slept with Mark he claimed it was for the warmth.

Day Two
7-30 am

Mark beat the birds up had the Honda humming away and more grass was being laid level, in and out of the trees, he been for a walk, lit  the fire pit and fired up the slow combustion stove and had the kettle singing ready for brekky. Upon seeing me greeting the day he bounced up to make toast, a bowl of weeties, corn and raisins.We sat in the sun sipping tea as Mark told me that Chloe had slipped down the side of the mattress during the night against the iron shed wall and was wedged there. Never a complaint from her. He called, no answer. Panic set in. No torch, no power, no Chloe. He was starting to panic big time. What would Daryl say? Then as day broke and as he was making his bed he discovered her stuck between the mattress and the tin wall. I suggested that from now on maybe I should look after Chloe.

Mark got back into slashing again, the day was heating up. I went around collecting fire wood and tidying up, doing dishes and keeping an eye on Mark to see if he was okay. Come lunch time and we had a reverse lunch. Lady Flo’s apple pie and cream then salad buns and tea after which we had a siesta for an hour or so. Then you guessed it, Mark was back into the mowing, he is a joy to watch like poetry in sweet motion. Poor Chloe after a freezing night she was still curled up in front of the wood stove sound asleep and even missed lunch.

The vivid blue sky allowed the late spring warmth to heat the ground and start drying the mown grass. It also allowed us to see the vapor trails of the big passenger jets high above us as they headed for Sydney and beyond.They were almost noiseless and barely visible except for that white vapor trail.There seemed to be one every 10 minutes, all travelling in the same direction.

At the end of the slashing day with the oven heated up, Mark the Melbourne Che,f put some Lasagna in the oven whilst we sat down by the fire pit in our deck chairs with dry bikkies, cheese and chips. Mark said “beer and stout” –  there is still some left I will get it out of the caravan fridge.There was cries of “no, no bloody NO! – it’s all frozen” – so we sat in front of the fire trying to thaw out enough beer and stout to wash down our bikkies. To no avail, beer and stout does not make good tasting ice blocks either.

At least the slightly singed lasagna went down very well followed by Lady Flo’s apple pie and beer flavored ice blocks. Chloe chose not to partake with us but stayed in warmer quarters with a large plate of canned stuff. Chloe refused to sleep with me, indicating she thought she should give Mark a second chance to make up and do the honorable thing?

It was getting late when we decided to go to bed. We were all tired but very happy. No phones, no tele, no traffic. But we had achieved our goal and cleaned up most of the grass to improve the fire safety aspect.

Day Three

Up at 7 am the sun was already up and shining as we prepared to tidy up ready for the return trip. But first a great breakfast and toast from the wood fire, weeties and corn and coffee. A quick tidy of the kitchen wash the dishes pack up our gear make sure the fires are safe. Wait, we have to empty the doorless dunny, out with the spade and electric drill, down on the hands and knees and unscrew the front panel so we can extract the can, quickly run over to the soft soil dig a hole and bury the Treasure, back to the dunny put the can in again and screw the front panel on ready for the next trip up here.

9am and off we go heading for home, down to the road and shut the cyclone gate. I asked Chloe if she would like the front seat on the way back but she seemed happy to stay stretched out on the back bench seat. A couple of k’s and a right hand turn towards Benalla Township, but before that Mark pointed out the turn to Winton where they have a motor rally car track an event worth seeing so they say. Before long we were heading towards Melbourne on the Hume highway, by-passing Benalla, we were making very good time then Mark suggested we take a scenic detour from Euroa to Merton. As we headed down the Merton road it said ‘road closed’ car rally ahead.Could not be, it was Friday, must have been left there from last week. We travelled on for some more k’s and guess what the road was closed so back we went to Euroa, looped around found the highway again. It was pisso time again but nowhere to stop but, as Mark observed, there are toilet stops for people with weak bladders along the highway. Alright for men, we can cross our legs but we had to give Chloe a plastic bag just in case. We both rang home to tell the ladies of our lives we were safe and should be home around 11-30 am. We passed a couple of highway toilet stops. They come and go quickly at 100km/per hour. Now things were getting serious. Just then we saw a sign one kilometer to toilet stop Mark pulled out to pass the longest semi-trailer ever built. We just passed the truck and realized that we were half way past the pit stop, a quick left turn, no smoke from the tyres but brown skid marks on the our undies! Mark calmly stated it’s okay as we backed up the exit lane from the Hume highway to the toilet. Time for Chloe’s pitt stop. After looking around seeing how noisy and busy a highway is we headed to Wallan. Another scenic detour was decided upon towards Whittlesea but more disaster at the railway line. A hold up as they were erecting two concrete poles. Yes, time is being eroded. Thru Whittlesea and the traffic just got thicker. Another detour to Doreen and YanYen road which was blocked for some unknown reason. Time was ticking away fast and Mark had to be home by 11.30am. A quick look at my watch said we would just make it but as we turned into Dudley St Eltham signs up, road closed all day another detour into various street and into Bible st at 12 bells. Unloaded the swag and gear. I gave Chloe a hug as she and Mark headed off home like frustrated rabbits.

Later, after all that it was revealed, Mark went home, fell asleep on the couch and missed taking his grandchild to his new school orientation day in Doreen. The very reason we had to be home by 11.30am.

Daryl Morrow – November 2016

**Editors note – just to allay any possible confusion, Chloe is a dog.

Another Day’s Aventure on the Streets of Melboune

*A story by Daryl Morrow.

The Silver Train speeds from Diamond Creek and Eltham to the Flinders Street Station at 8.30am carrying part of the human race to many of the days diverse activities. They sit back placing wire leads into their ears as if to charge their batteries for whatever the day’s activities may bestow upon them. Only the oldies talk now it seems.

But we older blokes travelled to attend the COTA (council of the aging) meeting in Elizabeth St.

COTA is the umbrella for OM:NI (Older men new ideas) this is a discussion group for men over 50 years of age who are seeking new friends who respect them after retirement or are disconnected and lonely.


This COTA meeting finished at 12.30pm. After our lunch most of the group dispersed in many directions, some shopping others catching the trains back to their home. But not Ken and myself (Daryl) we teamed up to enjoy walking through the laneways and narrow streets observing the building facades of the 18 and 19 centuries. The bluestone foundations of the high rises the size of the stones and how level they are even today, even the plumbing. Ken being a retired plumber would explain to me about the tunnels under these high rises the various plumbing techniques and materials used, cast iron, copper, plastic and open drains. We found  narrow cobblestoned laneways where now people sat eating their lunch and drinking coffee where 60 years ago horses pulled their delivery carts to the back of shops to stock their shelving. We saw arcades with lead light panels and boutique shops that catered to the eccentric. Some with orange hair, loads of beads and the clothing must have come from their grand parents wardrobes, but they are an essential part of the city’s colour and culture, we love them, they treated us with respect.

thumbnail_P1000518 We met Louise she said standing beside us as we looked skyward I have walked this street for many years and I have never looked up until I saw you two looking up. She is 61 years old and a volunteer and a brighter more loving soul you would never wish to meet she worked as a volunteer in a genealogy shop in the very same street, she is a walking encyclopedia.

Tearing ourselves away from Louise (after taking her photo with Ken), we headed through the arcade of the Nicholas Building we headed down Swanston st onward towards the Flinders St station passing two street beggars asking for help and food but people walked on past almost standing on them as if they did not exist. Close by was a horse and carriage taking visitors for rides around our icons.

thumbnail_FullSizeRenderTwo more volunteers Laurie and Michael dressed in red stood on the corner opposite the historic façade of Flinders St Station. We decided to put them to a test, and they came up A1 with knowledge and mannerisms. They even knew that St Paul’s Cathedral now faces north south the previous church faced east west and previous to that was a weather board shack.

We also meet an Indonesian family here on holidays and we tried to converse with them but had no hope, so more photos were taken as they wanted to show their village what true Aussies look like.

thumbnail_FullSizeRender1Onwards to Federation Square looking at children’s art especially the bubble wrap art and photography Ken showed me the glass concert room overlooking the Yarra River. We inspected the structure of sandstone tiles and pressed tin that looked like bluestone tiles. In the open air area with its large screen that shows you walking and looking around, a big circular sand pit with rock edging housed an open fire with red gum blocks emitting a welcome spread of warm air.

Back across Swanston St and into Flinders St station, our plastic cards opened the gates and we headed to the moving staircase to our arriving transport, we hurried in hoping to find a seat to rest our weary legs. As happens many times with public transport you have to sit beside a total stranger Ken and I were conversing and our fellow traveller was playing with his smart phone. He was waving his fingers in front of the screen …. he then explained he was waving to his children overseas. He was very open to us telling he was part Aboriginal and part Irish he also offered he was managing two farms up north growing coffee and coco and manufactured chocolate. I immediately recalled the advice and words of our COTA facilitator who said “whatever you do, never underestimate anyone when you first meet them.”

The train seemed to get us back home quickly and as I walked up the hill home I reflected on what was one of my best days on this planet.

Oh yes the roast dinner was equally as good. Thanks Lady Florence.

Daryl Morrow
4th July 2016

The opposite of handy

I will be the first to admit that I am not what you would call a handyman. Quite the opposite, in fact.

My lack of handyman skills was apparent from an early age. The only test that I ever failed at school was in woodwork, when we were given pictures of a variety of tools. We had to name these tools and write down what each one is used for. I couldn’t even tell the difference between a screwdriver and a chisel and any tool more complicated than those two baffled me completely.

Two years into high school every boy in our class had to do a woodwork project. I attempted to make a very basic small folding seat. It was a disaster. I just couldn’t do it. I was saved by the fact that our woodwork classroom had to be relocated near the end of the school year to another part of the school premises, around the time when our projects were due to be completed. Such was my desperation that I smuggled my attempt at the folding seat out in my school bag and dumped it into the bushes on the way home.

After we had moved into the new classroom, the teacher asked to see my project.

“I can’t find it, Sir. It must have been lost when they moved our stuff to the new classroom.”

In my first year at university I struggled to find my feet. I kept changing courses and was unable to find direction. Eventually one of my lecturers arranged for me to have an aptitude test.

A few days after completing the test I had to go and discuss the results with the person who had administered the test.

“Your aptitude test results are very mixed,” he told me. “I would recommend studies that would lead to a career in the diplomatic service.”

I was still digesting this, thinking how I could never become a diplomat in the service of the Apartheid regime, when he elaborated on the test results.

“Now, when it comes to mechanical skills, I have to tell you that you have achieved the lowest score of anyone that I have tested over the years. I suggest that you never try working with your hands. You’re an intelligent kid. Just stick to using your brains, but not your hands.”

Over the years my lack of handyman skills has become the stuff of legend, as becomes someone with as spectacular an aptitude test result as mine.

A few months ago I was standing outside a shop in Diamond Creek, talking to my mate Ken, when Digby from the local Mitre 10 hardware store came by.

“Hi Ken, How’re you going?” Digby said.

“I’m good,” said Ken. “This is my mate Tim.”

“Oh, I know Tim,” said Digby.

Ken was astounded. “Where do you know Tim from? Surely he’s never set foot in Mitre 10?”

“Oh yes, he does, sometimes. He comes in with his wife, that is. She buys the bits and pieces that she needs and if need be she asks me for advice. Tim just comes along for the company and to help her to carry stuff.”

Gill, my wife, contends that my inability to fix or make things is a matter of attitude, whereas I insist that it is a matter of aptitude. I have tried really hard, once or twice, like the time when we bought the wheelbarrow at KMart. It came in a cardboard box and we had to put it together ourselves.

“That’ll be simple,” Gill said. “Can you do it please?”

I asked her to find me the necessary tools and then I laboured for more than an hour, before realising that there were some components missing. “Bloody Kmart!” I raged. “You’d think that they would check that all the pieces are there before they sell the thing.”

Gill cocked her head to one side, inspected my handiwork and picked up the screwdriver and spanner. Within less than five minutes she had disassembled my construction completely and had reassembled it into a working wheelbarrow.

*        *        *

Sharing a house with someone else is challenging at the best of times, and so it is with us. I cannot stand background noise, but Gill likes to listen to John Pain (Faine) on talkback radio every morning and to that irritating Macka on a Sunday morning. She also likes the noise of the television in the background at times, whereas I love it when the house is dead quiet.

As if this is not challenging enough, Gill is a collector and a hoarder. I am a minimalist, but our house is full of stuff, small and big. Although I detest clutter, I cannot escape it in our house.

“If you cark it before me,” I told her grumpily one morning, raising my voice over John Faine’s, “I’m going to conduct proper interviews and have selection criteria for choosing my next wife. I’ll ask them if they like talkback radio, and whether they have ever collected anything.”

“Good idea!” she replied. Without missing a beat, she added “And while you’re at it, ask them whether they can fix things.”

The hyena’s breath

Most of my friends’ eyes begin to glaze over as soon as I mention the Kruger National Park. This is because it’s such a wonderful place that I enthuse about it far more than I should. I first went to the Kruger, as it is affectionately called in South Africa, when I was a primary school child. The first day there we spent peering into the bush to spot animals through the window of my dad’s 1949 Pontiac Silver Streak. I became so over-excited that I vomited ceaselessly the entire next day and I had to stay behind in the campsite with my mum. I remember little of my next visit to the Kruger, because on that occasion I floated about the place in a romantic haze. We were only there for two or three days, when I took my fiancée Gill to South Africa to introduce her to my family en route to England, where we were due to get married. My parents, my brother Charel and his wife Marlien took us there to showcase the beauty and variety of their country to the English bride-to-be. I can only remember a single animal-spotting incident during that visit. We came across a white lion, the rarest of rare beasts in the Kruger. Although a small group of white lions had lived in the Timbavati area for decades, there are so few of them in the Kruger that they are seldom seen. The others were breathless with surprise and excitement. Then Gill, unaware of the momentous significance of the occasion, asked my brother, “Do you think we’ll get to see any normal lions too?” Many years later, when our children were small, I ran into our orthodontist friend Paul at a social occasion. “I’ve visited your old country earlier this year,” he told me. “We went to this place called the Kruger National Park.” “How did you like it?” I enquired. “You know, Tim, I’ve done a lot of travelling in my time, but I haven’t been that excited over any place since I was a child.” I recalled my own excitement in the Kruger as a child. There and then I decided to visit the Kruger Park with my family. A few months afterwards we flew to South Africa for a visit to the relatives and to visit the Kruger. I left the traveling arrangements in South Africa to Charel, who picked us up at the Johannesburg airport and took us to his house in Pretoria. He told us to have a quick shower before we set off for the Kruger. “Today?” I asked in disbelief, having just spent twenty plus hours in an aeroplane. “Yes,” he said, “and get a move on. The camp gates close at 6 pm”. We arrived at the camp in time. Charel pitched two tents right next to the perimeter fence, one for him and Marlien and one for our family. Darkness descended in the blink of an eye. He set about barbecuing meat and boerewors (the traditional South African farmer’s sausages) on a grill over the glowing coals. After we had eaten, looking somewhat furtive, he told us quietly: “We’re not allowed to feed any wild animals here, but I brought along an old T-bone so that we can attract a hyena for your Aussie kids to see.” He took out a huge bone and threw it over the fence. Hardly a minuted had passed when our son Neil whispered to me, “I think the hyena is here, Dad.” “Rubbish.” I said dismissively. “He won’t just appear that quickly.” But Charel passed his torch to Neil and told him to have a look. Neil pointed the torch at the fence, switched it on, and there, not two metres away from us on the other side of the fence, stood a large hyena who proceeded to crush the bone in its mouth as if it were a mere rice cracker. I could see why the hyena is so renowned for its strong bite, proportional to its size. I rather like hyenas, despite their loping gate and ill-proportioned bodies. They have lovely dog-like eyes, in stark contrast to the icy cold and merciless yellow eyes of lions, which send a shiver down your spine when you see them close to your car. 219 KNP Hyena But my brother is less fond of them. When he told me that a hyena’s breath is one of the foulest-smelling in the animal kingdom he spoke from experience. Hyenas are consummate scavengers that will feast on putrid meat with as little ill effect on its constitution as if you and I were to eat a piece of toast with marmalade. When I went back to South Africa last year, Marlien told me about their recent visit to the Kruger. Accompanied by Marlien’s friend Willana, they erected their two tents next to the perimeter fence as usual. After dark they had a braai (barbecue) and drank a fair quantity of wine. When Marlien and Willana decided to call it a day and go bed, Charel, who was quite merry by this stage, decided to stay behind at the fire and have another glass or two of wine. Close to midnight Marlien and Willana were woken by a series of unearthly howls. As they emerged from their tents in bewilderment they saw Charel lurching about, wildly wiping his shoulder-long hair with his hands, and screaming incoherently. It transpired that he had kept on drinking until he had passed out right next to the fence. He had been brought back to consciousness by the awful smell of rotten flesh and by something tugging at the hair at the back of his head. It was a hyena that had tried to bite his head through the fence. Marlien ended her account by asking Charel, hands on her hips, as is often her stance when she has a point of importance to make to him: “Now tell us, Charel, what lesson have you learnt from that episode?” Without missing a beat he responded, “Well, in the Kruger you should never pass out right beside the fence.”

BLACK MAMBA

The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) is a highly venomous snake that is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa

My heart sank when I spotted Black Mamba, a man in his forties, waiting at the bus stop as my bus was approaching it. With his nasty, thin moustache and round face, and wearing his black bus inspector’s uniform complete with cap, he could easily have passed for Heinrich Himmler’s twin brother. His nickname amongst my fellow Cape Town City Tramways bus conductors was “Black Mamba”, which befitted his reputation.

The inspectors would board our buses without prior warning to check that all the fares that we had issued had been charged correctly and that everyone on board had a valid ticket.

The bus conducting job was the only one that I had been able to secure for the three months’ university holidays. As an immature nineteen year old I was not coping well with the stresses of the job. I lacked the skills to deal effectively with the challenging behaviours of some of the passengers, who would from time to time spit on me, swear at me, refuse to pay their fares and physically threaten me. I also had to enforce the white government’s Apartheid laws, which I loathed, on the buses. I cringed every time I had to ask a black or coloured passenger to move because they were sitting in the area of the bus that was reserved for white persons only.

The so-called pickpockets who robbed passengers with impunity and would draw a knife if anyone, including the conductor, tried to take them to task, terrified me. One of my fellow conductors had already had a knife stuck through his hand, through the meaty bit between his fingers. Nevertheless one couldn’t help but be impressed with the way that the pickpockets could jump off a double-decker bus as it was still slowing down, pirouetting gracefully like ballet dancers in the process to show off.

I had come to the job with a lot of mental baggage from my year in the army; I had been conscripted on finishing my final year at school. For the duration of that whole year I had been subjected to a daily barrage of abuse and punishment from the psychopaths whose role it was to mould us into mindlessly obedient soldiers. Instead of succumbing to the brutally enforced discipline, I had developed a rock hard core of rebelliousness. Long after I had returned to civilian life I would still react with an immediate flash of anger if anyone so much as raised their voice at me.

I was close to a breakdown on the day that Black Mamba boarded my bus. I had seen him around the bus depot and had been told how mercilessly he persecuted any conductor who had made a mistake. I knew that if he found an incorrectly issued fare or someone without a valid ticket on my bus he would report me and I would have to appear in front of the bus company’s disciplinary panel, where I would be given a fine or be temporarily suspended from work. Mamba was known to consistently urge the panel to hand down the severest of penalties.

On that day I had issued a ticket to a boy who had told me that he was 13 years old. A higher fare applied to boys of 14 years and older. When the inspector checked his ticket the boy panicked and confessed that he was 14. Mamba took out his notebook. He was going to report me.

I was outraged at this injustice. “You can’t report me for that,” I told him. “When I asked him how old he was he told me that he was 13.”

“You’ve under-charged him. You gave him the wrong ticket,” he snapped, dismissing my objection out of hand.

Something instantly snapped in me. “That’s bullshit!” I snarled, advancing towards him. “You get off this f**king bus before I throw you off!”

He backed off, stomped towards the exit door and got off at the next stop.

I was beside myself, knowing full well that I would be dismissed for my outburst. I would not find another job before university resumed. How was I going to pay for my cigarette addiction and other vices for the duration of the academic year?

After a sleepless night and feeling sick with stress I fronted up at the bus depot as usual the next morning, expecting to be pulled off the job for which I had been rostered. Nothing happened, so I did my rostered shift. Perhaps Mamba was away sick, I thought.

Nothing happened the next day either, or the day after that.

Nothing ever happened.

Gradually it dawned on me that Mamba had not reported me.

At the time I was so relieved to discover that I had gotten away with such an unforgivable misdemeanour that I never wondered about Mamba’s behaviour. Now, many decades later, it is clear to me that he must have realised that I was just a kid who had lost the plot due to stress.

And that he had felt sorry for me.

At the time none of us conductors would ever have suspected that Black Mamba was not all snake.

HMS Hecla and U-515

I thought it appropriate to post this from my Grayspace blog in commemeration of the 100th ANZAC anniversary. NG

Grayspace

Destroyer Depot Ship HMS Hecla Destroyer Depot Ship HMS Hecla

RLGnav My Father told this story a few times during my younger years but never with so much emotion as the last time he recounted it a couple of weeks before he passed away in 1991. On previous occasions it was always just a vague account of how, in the course of his service with the Royal Navy during the 2nd WW, his ship had been torpedoed whilst on convoy duties and he was brought up with the dead only to be revived. He went on to complete a successful teaching career, live a full life and raise a family of three sons – I was the second.

He was a good father but with a very strict sense of duty and a somewhat mischievous sense of humour that would break through from time to time. He gave us a good upbringing but, in hindsight, often…

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