Recovering Writing 1- Insight

Its been a while since my WP writing activity began. It was  provoked by a dating app exchange. Having started years ago on a manuscript, “Die Gum Sarn,” this seemed a way to organise it. Scattered in Word files, WP seemed a way ahead so I started to blog as

I tried, it wasn’t.

I’d been distracted by two new blogs I’d also . opened entitled;


the first drew from the rich vein of inanities and profundities I was daily subjected to in the public service, the second, though initially about folk I’d worked with in years of engineering, of late it included more current folk.

Then came post work, it seemed such a release. No more 0545 rising for 0630 bus, a chore made drearer with 0745 sunrises in 4 degree C. Woodwork and garden work filled summer days, but with winter the creeping unease of eventually doing life’s exam took hold.

“Yes” its in WP, I surmised, rueful that anyone might read some or any of it. Then there was the novel written in 30 days? Looking at the blog, fuck they were 8 years old. I read a few chapters. Though interesting to recall the times when they were penned, in truth they were crap. Neverthess I ploughed on and slowly 10 chapters in I could see some fluidity, even pr’haps a story line. Character names drawn from the era, flights of hairbrain eccentricity with characteristic sardonic social comment sprinkled throughout.

I then realised I’d remained constant to my beliefs.








An Unexamined Life and Podcast Choice.

Aww fuck it I thought. Taking the dog for a walk to clear my head I sometimes listen to podcasts.
This morning I decided to examine my life as per the Socratic dictum. I had used my interpretation of “an unexamined life is not worth living” to go over what I was doing with this listening. It seemed the crime and associated genre podcasts were simply rehashes of old newspaper reports of unresolved crimes of murders, rapes, child abductions, gang warfare and drug addiction other podcasts made from trolling through prosecutions and publicly available police files, the more sensational the better. Characters brought to light from the notes, conversations factionalised from investigator interviews. Suspect or witnesses are given flesh clothing from demeanour observations, locations dramatised from observations of crime scene minutiae.
I’ve been seeing through this for a while, but wondered what the fascination is. With this questioning in mind a recent listening was “Japanese Crime,” Essentially sounds like a Japanese native speaking American guy and gal, the guy reading from a translation of Japanese newspaper of the times jumbled together with speculation from fiction writers of the day about the suspected murder of a glamorous, though promiscuous BOAC trainee airhostess in strange circumstances. The gal chimed in with,
“Wow,””I don’t believe it!” and “but I’m Catholic too,” said with the emphasis on the final “ic”, and something in the podcast which was finally being bent into shape pronounced as, “bendeded.”Cute? Corny? Crap?
So why, with a case so old in Japan make a podcast in 2016 at all? Well, turns out a follow-up by the podcaster’s researchers fifty odd years later than this 1960’s murder with an exonerated suspect, a priest now domiciled in Canada, was …………. fruitless. My thoughts were, “how trite is this reporting, and worse why am I interested?”
But I digress. In examining my examination of Socrates’ dictum I realised that I’d failed the examination.
Socrates pre hemlock smoothie choice was to be exiled or remain silent. His method of examining and questioning was found by the good citizens of Athens to be corrupting their youth. To shush Socrates he was offered this choice. He could remain in Athens sworn to silence, thereby not disseminating his questioning ways, or accept banishment away from Athens, his home.
Socrates saw this binary choice as unacceptable. By today’s standard I’d say very Western. Choices always presented as a dichotomy, say twixt Black and White, Republican or Democrat, perhaps Rowe or Wade. Socrates though saw a third way and sculled the hemlock. Hhmm, um I thought, he wasn’t a hemlock drinker because he hadn’t examined his life, rather he was reacting against the forever restraint of demonstrating his Socratic method of discourse to others. He wasn’t offered the choice of hemlocking himself. For him, the binary option just didn’t exist.
The scales tumbled from my eyes. The lesson is about whether we should be prepared to create a third way for a principle to which we hold or make choices between alternatives presented by others, none of which are acceptable. In my life this has always been a guiding notion.
Having completed the mental gymnastics I thought I’d examine my pod cast library for dog walking listening. I unfollowed crime, mystery or unsolved genre, refilling with science and stuff that I have a genuine interest in; more to do with today’s world or the developments of yesteryear, which have created the world we live in.
Amongst the first of these new podcasts I came across Invisiblia and a podcast on “Fear.”
I thought you might enjoy this
I piked outta the Japanese Crime too early to tell you what, who, when, why, and ultimately who cares, happened to the BOAC lass.

Learnings of a Young Engineer

New to the factory there were things to prove. Someone had remarked that plaster which was ground in an humidified environment would produce superior setting properties than plaster ground at standard atmospheric conditions.
About this, I knew nothing.
This seemed a challenge that a newly minted chemical engineer could test out, away from the daily running of a production line and maybe somehow gain an appreciation of working in a factory. Years spent studying theory wasn’t gonna teach you half as much a getting your hands dirty n a real live productive project out in a plant. A weekly report to the plant manager was all that was required, the rest up to you.
In the bowels of the Melbourne Plaster Mill, was the Impax hammer mill. Through a series of high speed rotating blades plaster to be ground was feed into the mill from a series of overhead hoppers. The ground plaster output was carried away in the airstream with particles of the required fineness or finer being carried away for production, any coarse material being returned into the mill until sufficiently finely ground. After thinking about how to affect the quality of the processed material with an humidified airstream I concocted a flume on the air intake to the mill. Into the flume, I introduced a bank of heaters and water sprays. The aim was to play around with the heat and water settings and achieve varying humidifying atmospheres in which to grind the plaster.
I played around for weeks, climbing and down the various ladders and steps between the bins and cyclones. On the ground floor, the heaters and water flows were adjusted to maintain humidity conditions, and finally, the mill throughput was adjusted in the grinding circuit. A variable speed rotary valve shaped like a horizontal revolving door dropped feed into the variable-sized aperture of a valve in the bottom of the main feed bin. In typical fashion more locally known as “an arsehole valve.” This valve was made of overlapping rubber quarters which opened like a camera shutter. Ground product was transported in the airflow from the ground floor mill up three floors, the outflow controlled by this mechanism.
One evening I could hear a continuous rattle in the very top of the plant. Though it was clear nothing was being adversely affected the constant rotational rattling became annoying. Doing the last of a series of trials with the mill, everyone in the plaster mill had gone home. However, I wanted to complete this final production trial and seeing it through to its completion.
As I waited for the temperatures in the humidifier to stabilise the constant rattling echoed through the upper levels of the plaster mill. To my mind, they were getting louder and louder.
“There must be some welding slag or other metallic contaminant in the upper bins” I reasoned.
As I had a few minutes to wait I decided to climb the grated levels to identify which bin or cyclone was causing the rattles. The metal drumming against the hollow bin wall was easily identified; it was the main feed bin.
I knelt beside it and wondered how I might get the offending metal out. Firstly I opened the bypass leg of the system so the opening of the bin would dump the contents out of the reject system. As I turned off the airflow to the system the rattling grew less and less in intensity and the arsehole valve opened to its widest setting as the power went off. Then I isolated the power to the arsehole valve to keep it open. I was expecting to see a flow of plaster dropping through the opening and down the reject chute. But nothing came.
Mmhh “I thought” must be the metal slag from welding hanging in the bin … shit.”
I stuck my arm up into the aperture, somewhat like a rectal surgeon, thinking that I’d be able to feel the annoying piece of metal and remove it.
But I’d forgotten the rotary valve, slowly turning and forming an airtight seal above the rubber flow valve. As I reached up towards the cyclone my middle finger caught in the rotating quadrants and the tip of my right middle finger was sheared off.
The pain was excruciating. I pulled my arm out of the rubber aperture, bright crimson blood gushing from my severed fingertip. I didn’t look and as I was at the top of the gantries so I stuck my finger stub in my mouth to staunch the bleeding and one-handedly staggered down the ladders and stairways to the ground floor. From the darkened plaster mill despatch office I called the Gyprock foreman’s office.
The pale green and blueness of the plaster mill were fading to black and white as I started to blackout. When foreman Les Gibson arrived he said,
‘Oi laddie, we need to get you to the first aid room.”
He supported me to the liniment smelling room at the centre of the plant and looked around for some bandages.
“Ach oi! there’s naught here, we’ll wrap this tea towel around your finger and hand and get ye off to the hospital.”
We wove through the post-peak hour traffic the few kilometres to the Sunshine Hospital. The triage clerk needed a whole range of details none of which I had. I sat in the emergency waiting room while cardiac arrests, strokes, births, gunshot wounds, car accidents and more critical emergencies were dealt with. I swooned, the room spun and the straight lines on the lino floor began to wobble. Vivienne arrived with some of the details I didn’t have and by now was in no state to remember.
The totally soaked tea towel attracted the medical staff’s attention. The sight of the raw bone at the tip of my finger in its ragged sheath of dangling flesh was enough to have me whisked into the surgical ward. With my finger braced and a multitude of anaesthetic needles poked into its base I was told they’d try a graft.
“We’ll take a sliver of skin off of your forearm and stitch it over the top of your finger”.
Seemed ok to me as they sawed away with what for all the world looked like a jigsaw. The first cut wasn’t deep enough and only took the epidermis off.
“Whoops sorry ‘bout that,” the doctor said jauntily, “let’s do that again hey.”
So with a deeper sawing action back and forth, a larger swatch right into the dermis was taken. Blood oozed from the wound but the pain was dulled from the local anaesthetic and oral pain relief. The skin patch was applied to the top of my finger then bandaged.
“You’ll need to change the dressing daily and not get it wet,’ the nurse advised us as we left six hours after arriving.
The graft never took. The bandage was changed daily. The skin graft died and stunk. Eventually, the finger healed over and sealed itself. I still have the two scars on my forearm from the unsuccessful grafts as a reminder.
Years later, I’ve reflected what I learnt.

One should never stick your hand up an arsehole.

Air Supply – Fandom failure

The ageing seventies once chic now dated casino conference hall is buzzing with fans, mostly matured into their wrinkling sixties, though some females are younger and there’s more females than males. Most females glammed up in ways their minds tell them suits their age. Some have not listened to that voice or cared to think about it. The males wore mostly in tees and jeans. How many trans, lesbians gays bisexuals queers or intersex my indiscriminate eyes couldn’t tell, but there was definitely a buzz. They’re here to see Air Supply, Russell Hitchcock and Graeme Russell, on a whirlwind return to their homeland.
The conference hall has no incline to the stage, it’s perfectly flat, ballroom dancers and diners need to feel quite horizontal when gorging or waltzing. For the gig goers though, this means being closer to the front in the temporary seating is preferred to get the clearest view. However the neck strain’s excruciating.
No warm up act. The audience had come to be taken right back to their youth or their parent’s youth, maybe even the youth of their grandparents.
“I realize the best part of love
is the thinnest slice
and you don’t care for much
but I’m not letting go
i believe there’s still much to believe in
So lift your eyes if you feel you can
reach for a star and I’ll show you a plan
I’ve figured it out what I needed was someone to show me…………”

Nearly every opening riff is greeted with spontaneous applause. Russell appears, childlike, gnarled, in the way most rock stars of the seventies now look. Is it the drugs, the alcohol, the sex? If it’s any or one of these then Cliff Richard’s clearly the antidote.


Young Russell Old Russell………………………………………………………….Young Cliff…..Old Cliff

The voice stretches to capture the well known melodies and where the higher notes are a strain for current vocal limits, the audience is encouraged into a karaoke style sing-a-long. So who can critique the performance when you’re part of it!
“I know just how to whisper
And I know just how to cry
I know just where to find the answers
And I know just how to lie
I know just how to fake it
And I know just how to scheme
I know just when to face the truth
And then I know just when to dream……………”
Through a fantasy wonderland of past romances and memories, the crowd sways, shouts, rocks in the aisles, cries, and blabbers. Lyrics which have been the background themes to tragedies celebrations, intercourse, breakups weddings and first dates roll on. There’s a momentary lull in momentum when tracks off of a more recent unknown album are played to this nostalgic Aussie audience. These are their Aussie hero’s made good in the States where for these fans they’ve remained too long.
The chance of fame transported them to the stadia of the USA. Concerts in auditoria ten times the size of any in Australia were a far cry from suburban Melbourne‘s Festival Hall.
Russell’s stage life got an early start in high school when he and Angelo Angeli had bit roles in “Gift from a Stranger,’ directed by Chris Lofven starring his best friend David Poon and Frank Thring. Perhaps Frank’s appearance was a favour to Chris, or his sister Kirsten who moved in the same acting circles. Frank had starred in Hollywood block busters such as Ben Hur and King of Kings

Russell’s early marriage to Jean someone or other was a mysterious affair. Russell had asked me to drop by from my suburban Ringwood home to his fiancée Jean’s parents’ flat above an office block where they were caretakers in St Kilda Rd down by the west side of the Shrine of Remembrance. The train into the CBD was a red rattler, the connecting number 96 tram not much better but much draftier as they speed down the centre of the city avenues. After dinner we took a cigarette onto the courtyard surrounding the fading seventh floor flat. Above the tree canopy the tram ways electricity wires below spun spider weblike from pole to pole.
“I been unfaithful to Jean,” he blurted out after a while, drawing down deeply on his cigarette.
“Phheeww,” in a low tone of exhalation through pursed lips was all I could manage.
We stood there overlooking the darkening far horizon, wondering what any or all of this meant. I had no idea. Getting married so early, even having a girlfriend was beyond my experience, but here was my high school bestie of just a year or so ago telling me stuff I couldn’t comprehend. Looking back I can imagine now why he had called me to unload this. My guess now is that Jean was pregnant, hence the marriage of the shotgun variety and for this storeman, subsequently to become a singer, a wee bairn was not in the equation, not Jean’s not anyone’s. I was well outside his circle now. I was safe.
We’d not seen each other for a year or so after high school as I went to college and he pursued clerical work and acting. A role in Jesus Christ Superstar was where he met Graeme Russell the other half of the Air Supply duo. And from there it was off to the races.
We must have talked more piffle garnished with more small talk, stubbed out our cigarettes and parted. I went downstairs and caught the 96 tram back to Flinders street. It was the last I was to see of him until tonight.
Being my one somewhat cursory brush with imminent fame I clung on to this memory. That I can recall such a trifling detail after so many years fascinated me.
The years between had been uneventful. I’d once tried to go to a concert at Tweed Heads. My efforts were insignificant and I arrived at the venue a week late. I bought a “Best of “CD and nostalgically played it over the years. Fortuitously I’d made contact and was given two complimentary passes to this concert with a chance to meet after the show.
After multiple well worn encores the crowd dispersed. A line of folk were arranged much like a receiving line for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. They must have been FM ONE “O” something listeners who’d won a quiz, or super fans that had paid for the privilege. As the line inched forward, time passed. The bouncers and flunkies made sure the obligatory selfie was taken and the door shown to the recently touched.
Within moments of greeting we too were gone. Perfunctory politeness, but none of the nostalgia I had brought to the meeting were shared. Forty plus years of waiting to catch up swept away with his need to get a drink. His entourage whisked him away.
We wandered out into the cool car park, realising the cheery “Must catch up sometime, get in touch” were just words.
My brush with fandom and fascination evaporated in the Sandy Bay sea breeze.
At home the once frequently played CD “Air Supply- Greatest Hits” rests silently.
Life has moved on.
If I’d been smarter I’d have known it was already time to move on when I boarded that number 96 tram.

We have a Problem Bajool.

Did I really hear “we have a problem Bajool!”
Perhaps those words were never said.
In my mind they were.
The vast solar salt ponds of Bajool bordered 18 lonely miles either side of the bumpy sealed one and a half lane country road east to Port Alma, from the junction with the main north/south Bruce Highway.
T’was the middle of nowhere. Bajool was far enough away from civilisation for its 504 residents to host one of the four explosives magazines in Queensland. It was also ideally sheltered in the rain shadow of the Great Dividing Range to allow dry and ideal condition for the manufacture of salt by evaporation from sea water. Three of the extensive salt fields straddling the road were owned Cheetham, a fourth field was a smaller scale family operation right up against the crumbling infrastructure at Port Alma.
For much of the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of output each year the simplest quality was maintained, grain size. Control of grain size was sufficient for coarse stock feed, bakers’ salt or use in the tanning process. It was in the output to be used for table or cooking salt that was a problem. Here appearance mattered. All through the pondage dark contaminants of charcoal, mud rocks and ash lurked. Once harvested from the fields any poor mechanical handling by loader drivers added mud and some breakdown of the wooden surrounds of the fields and their weirs. Whilst some of this could be washed out in a wash plant, washing also dissolved the precious product. There was a limit to how much washing could be done especially if the salt had been harvested too early and was very fine or the contaminant had been crushed before detection. It was far better to not crush a single piece of contamination into a hundred parts, then try and remove all those pieces. Each time we did, I’d hear “we have a problem Bajool.”
In fact this was a problem in all salt fields especially the older ones where decaying infrastructure abounded. No amount of sifting through screens worked. Though for the majority of time this was not an issue, when food grade material was required the refinery went onto high alert.
Then it struck me. An optical scanning system could detect any dark particles amongst the white salt, especially if the salt was laid out flat on a white conveyor belt. Converting the optical image into an electrical output could control a series of solenoids connected to air jet nozzles. When the dark particle dropped over the end of the white conveyor for transfer to another conveyor, a delayed blast of air from an associated air nozzle could blow the dark particle out of the salt flow. Whilst it was an easy concept it took us some time to engineer the concept into a pilot plant.
After success in the pilot plant but with further adjustments for the higher speeds in the operating plant the Removal of Dark Specks in Salt was launched successfully.
The echo of “we have a problem Bajool” receded.

Reflecting on the Fourth of July 2019 – Tasmania


The news I’ve read tells me that the fourth of July celebrations in America are being subverted by their president for partisan purposes. The outrage is palpable. But there will be many who will feel and be comforted by the overt display of military might, faux pageantry and stirring words. The words will resonate in those hearts shrinking in fear from a world they no longer understand a world which does kowtow to the sacrifices of their country, a world which does not recognise how great they feel.
But I feel great; it’s my brother’s birthday.
He’s not here to celebrate his birthday with me. I can’t recall when we last did.
For this birthday I’d love to let him know how post work has been going since the start of this year. How I feel serene not having to rise for the bus each six thirty am, but can now watch the bus pass, propped up in bed. The wood work , the flowers, jams from the trees. No longer do I have to hear or imagine the voice of “the man” throughout the day. Jeff would love that, not being a guy who much listened to the man. His rhythm was that of a different drum.
It must have been ages ago when we last celebrated his birthday together, might it have been when he had returned from the Youth With A Mission in the Philippines? He’d gone there after, or was it before, that incident at the National Australia Bank where he had been a teller. Somehow, he got a job there, whether or not it was through Mr Clayton’s influence, the Ringwood branch manager of the NAB, domiciled down Wantirna Rd, I know not. Lewis and his sister whose name escapes me were the children of this elder of the Presbyterian Church down in Adelaide St. Adelaide St no longer exists, wiped off of the landscape by the Eastland shopping centre behemoth. As kids we all went to the Presbyterian Fellowship Association, and as we became young adults those of us not studying sought jobs.
Jeff’s teller job moved him the various branches and eventually into the city. There were few computers then, much of the work was manual and repetitive. Mistakes were frequent, requiring first time mental and computational accuracy or face long periods of time rectifying errors. The hours were punishing.
In the stockbroking end of the city where Jeff worked the high daily volumes of stock trades needed daily completion of financial transactions. The market need to be open promptly the next trading day with all the books balanced. Long hours into the night were needed especially at the financial institutions. In one trade for Potter’s Jeff made a crucial mistake. The stockbroker’s loss was made up for by the bank, or if the truth be known their insurer. Jeff paid with his job.
So according to this narrative Jeff went to Baguio City, in northern Luzon, Philippines’ summer capital. Amongst the mossy plants and orchids he sought to bring Christ to folk there through YAM, a worldwide organisation whose united purpose was to know God and to make Him known. It had started back in 1960, and engaged youth in missions. A counter cultural movement to the drop-in drop out culture of the swinging sixties. Whilst YAM in the 2000’s has expanded its target age for missionaries, the team theme of outreach remains.
After a number of years, or was it less, Jeff came home. Mum and I were away holidaying in New Zealand in a camper van. Jeff had no way to communicate with us, so without a key to get into the house he eased out the slated glass louvers of the dunny window and squeezed himself into the house through the toilet window.
It was quite a shock to find him there when we got home, as it was for Mum to find him deceased in the toilet years on.
We never found out why he had come home, but I don’t think it was because the Philippines had all been brought to Christ. Perhaps he’d run out of money. Perhaps YAM had repatriated him because of abnormal behaviour, unmissionary like if you will. Nevertheless over time we noted changes in his demeanour which at the time we gave no truck, but in retrospect maybe we should’ve.