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Monthly Archives: July 2009

Ancient history

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(I was considering making an up-front apology for those who might judge the following to be lengthy self indulgent twaddle, but I hope it has a sufficient veneer of objectivity to make that apology unnecessary)



Reflecting upon ones own life from the vantage point of older age is sometimes rather like reading a tattered autobiographical account of someone elses life.     Mine contains many examples of gross stupidity and incompetence, but it also, in an early chapter documents one single decision which would continue to shape my life to this day.

At age 19, partly to avoid being conscripted to go and kill other humans in Vietnam, I found employment with the Department of Agriculture in New Guinea.

My "office" was mostly a mobile one.  Transported along jungle trails, up and down mountains, across vine structures bridging rivers, into remote villages, and through subsistence gardens, on my own two skinny legs with large feet. 
Vehicle roads were almost non existent, but light aircraft landing strips were conveniently scattered like aeronautical confetti around the country.  A lot of them amateur engineering masterpieces excavated from incredibly steep mountainsides by pick and shovel.

One minute of light aircraft flying time roughly equates to one hour of walking distance on the ground. Trust me, I did all the research.

After eight years of walking apprenticeship, (and with lots of encouragement from my employer)  in a moment of staggering naivete, I decided to learn to fly, and sell everything I owned to buy a very old Cessna 182A in order to more effectively and efficiently travel around to work on our village development projects.
These included introducing and marketing cash crops like coffee, cardamom and rice, improving drinking water supplies and human nutrition, and building micro-hydo power installations to provide light in village houses.

Naive firstly, because the 6 weeks of full time theoretical and practical pilots training remains to this day the most intense learning experience of my life.

Naive also because I had no idea that some other commercial light aircraft operators would view my addition to "their" skies unfavourably.
Some pilots made that abundantly clear to me.
Many years later I discovered that a couple of these sensitive souls were, at the time, betting on just precisely which month and year the inexperienced young GOF would kill himself either flying into a cloud with a solid centre, or trying to land at one of the slippery and steeply sloping landing fields in his area.

My continuing survival, which eventually included almost 1000 hours of PNG flying time, must have been a huge financial disappointment for them.

I was naive yet again, for failing to predict the undermining forces of jealousy which were to emanate from office-bound public servants in other Government Departments based in the administrative town of Lae.

Life, however, is not a popularity contest. 
Had it been so then I would have been dismissed in a very early elimination round.

So, judged from a distance of thirty years, what lasting benefits were gained by my Papua New Guinean friends from all my young enthusiasm to improve their lot in the world?

Probably none.

Perhaps a small handful of people will remember the convenience of having an aircraft based in their village 7 days a week, and the day when it was needed to medically evacuate them to hospital.
Most projects eventually fell into a state of dilapidation, as did the whole country of Papua New Guinea.

However, in a world where the inequality between peoples is a hot topic for discussion in the United Nations, and huge chunks of money allocated for its alleviation are squandered on conferences held in luxury resorts, or stolen by corrupt politicians, at least, for one brief moment of my life, I actually got off my arse and tried to do something about it.

I know that it was the best I could have done at the time, given the natural restraints of youthful ignorance and inexperience, and today, looking back, that provides me with just a modicum of satisfaction.

Footnote:  Tragically the person to whom I eventually sold
P2-WKD along with his young son, died when the aircraft crashed in the Markham valley. 

I still think a lot about that.

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Smile for the camera

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Ow2

1.  It is hard to avoid noticing the huge steps forward that mankind has made in state-of-the-art teeth whitening.

A varied assortment of middle aged and beyond celebrities are sporting mouths full of almost luminescent fangs with such gleaming intensity that I need to adjust the contrast controls on my television.

I become distracted and entranced by the behaviour and the magnificence of the teeth, rather than paying attention to whatever important message is being imparted by the owner.

Am I the only one who finds a certain incongruity when such shininess and brand spanking newness appears on someone who is not only just over the brow of the hill, but has almost reached Life Everlasting Creek way down on the other side?

It is almost equivalent to having a grandiose and ostentatious stainless steel picket fence constructed out the front of a vacant allotment which has been seriously eroded by time and weather, and overgrown by gorse and weeds.

I have an almost insatiable urge to grab hold of some miniature spray paint cans, get into my television, and do some serious tagging.

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Things I eventually learned # 12

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Gates and Fences.

Build a little fence out of first impressions and gut instinct,
with a gate that opens in both directions, to help regulate your circle of friends.

Inside it, construct a brick wall to protect your emotions.
Entry is restricted and by invitation only.

Then, finally, build a fortress to contain your inner sanctum.
Complete with guards on 24 hour duty ready to forcibly remove anyone you might have,
during a momentary lapse of judgement, allowed inside.

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Here today, gone tomorrow?

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In a very amateur way I am fascinated by the history and evolution of man's attempts to build permanent civilisations on Earth.
Great empires like those in Central America, Asia and Europe from a bygone millenium.
I admire the educated scholars who are able to decipher ancient scripts, and the archaeologists who can postulate explanatory theories for the rise and demise of cities as they excavate and examine buried ruins.

Apparently we still do not understand why some of these flourishing cities of stone suddenly ceased to function.
The answers may still be lying buried in the rubble. 
Copan and the Maya civilisation which declined in the 8th century. 
Angkor Wat abandoned by the Khmer in the 14th.
Information which might just prove to be valuable to the architects and urban planners of the 21st century.

It is a monument to human ingenuity that cities like New York or London continue to operate as smoothly as they do.
I am awestruck by the technology, and the dynamics, and the sheer wonder of it all.  Not only the skyscrapers, cathedrals and buildings of Government above ground, but the astonishing array of supportive engineering underground which provides the lifeblood for the living organism above.

Concrete foundations of enormous proportions, water and sewerage tunnels, pipes and pumps, electrical cable, telephone lines all constantly being repaired and renewed, rail and road tunnels.
All of the invisible infrastructure without which the city would die.

It is quite an extraordinary human achievement.

But I still occasionally worry about the Khmer and the Maya.

 

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Off to the market….

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The largest country market in North Queensland is located in the little tablelands
village of Yungaburra.
It is operated once a month as a fund raiser by the primary school parents and citizens committee..

This final picture is of possibly Australia's last swagman.  We have observed him for the last 20 years as he carries all his worldly possessions on his back, following the country show circuit making a buskers living reciting and acting Australian bush stories and poetry.  The "swag" is all his bedding material rolled up in the canvas grounsheet. (You will probably need to click on the picture to view it full size)

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Little scraps # 4

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27

1. Apparently Thomas Edison at age 40 (ish) proposed to his 16 year old second wife by tapping the request out on her hand in Morse Code.

(No comment, I will only get into trouble.)

2. The retail price of one litre of milk is currently $1.85.
My supermarket is just around the corner from the milk factory so freight should not be a contributor to pricing.
The dairy farmer gets paid 45 cents per litre.

3. F
amous last words;

    "When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experiences in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say, uneventful.
Of course there have been winter gales and storms and fog and the like.  But in all my experience I have never been in any accident……or any sort worth speaking about.
I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea.
I never saw a wreck, and never have been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort".
(E.J.Smith, 1907, Captain of the RMS Titanic)

4. Sex on TV is fine.
    Just so long as you don't fall off.

5. "Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It is used as a filtration aid, as a mild abrasive, as a mechanical insecticide, as an absorbent for liquids, as cat litter, as an activator in blood clotting studies, and as a component of dynamite. As it is also heat-resistant, it can be used as a thermal insulator."

(Gimme, gimme, gimme…..Where is the Diatomaceous Earth Shop?  I want to keep warm this winter, filter my brewed coffee, kill some insects, and explode a few cats.)

6. "And down came a spider,
     And sat down beside her"

    And, blow me down if Little Miss Muffett did not immediately recognise a business opportunity producing food a little more enticing and nutritionally sustaining than curds and whey, then bugger off to Okinawa and open a Pizzeria.

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A gem amongst the trash

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Commercial television in Australia lost my regular viewing presence quite a long time ago, (after Mary Murphy had broken my eardrums), with one final act of unforgivable bastardry.

It compressed the rolling credits at the end of The Simpsons down to quarter screen size where I was unable to read them, in order to fill the remaining space with one more inane advertisement.

At my age, the path of life ahead looks too short to waste it listening to MM screaming, and watching television violence and advertising, so I prefer to read books, write blogs, learn how to play the piano, or understand how the Flight Management Computer is programmed on a Boeing 767.

Once a week however, I have been coaxed back to the flickering little screen by a heartwarming and emotionally charged little program called "Random Acts of Kindness".

Ordinary struggling Aussies leading extraordinary lives of sacrifice and service to others are being recognised and given a helping hand by the television station and generous sponsors.
Recent beneficiaries of "kindness" include a Mum who has, during her life, fostered more than 300 otherwise unwanted children, a struggling animal refuge operator, and a wonderful lady who organises free surgery for seriously deformed children from third world countries, and looks after them all while they are in Australia.   

The foster Mum modestly accepted the tributes with "I'm just doing what Mums do".  
Our formal Australia Day honours and Queen's birthday honours are, every year, overloaded with politicians, businessmen and sportsmen.  Not enough recognition is given in this country to women "doing what Mums do".

Congratulations Channel Nine.  It is a superb concept, and I also compliment you on your choice of sensitive and likeable presenters.  Who would have thought the "big fella" Scott Cam would be so perfectly suited for the job.

We are told that violence in the visual media engenders replication in real life.  Now wouldn't it be delightful if television was able to spawn a wave of kindness throughout the community.

The program has certainly caused me to reflect upon my own selfishness, and know that I should be making greater contributions to those less fortunate.

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