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The pursuit of Marilyn

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Memories of Dookie Agricultural College 1965-67

Times have changed.  Australia no longer values agricultural education and many of it’s colleges and research stations have been closed.  I retain fond memories of my alma mater and there remains a strong bond between my classmates to this day.
We share something very special.  Australians call it mateship.

The residential college on 6000 acres of land was located 20 miles from the nearest town of Shepparton.  As 16 – 22 year-olds most students possessed drivers licences and a few even owned cars.  (Indeed the college provided driving lessons and licence testing as part of the curriculum.)

However, possession of any of the following items on campus could result in immediate expulsion.

1. A car
2. Alcohol
3. A girl, having been, or in the throes of being, or even in the vague hope of being, biblically known.

You might think that 200 young men confined in such circumstances would revolt against the system, but the 1960’s in rural Australia were much simpler times.  There were no recreational drugs.  I was not even aware that such things existed.  The only electronic devices were a communal black and white television in the dormitory common room, and our own transistor radios.
There was just one telephone for student’s incoming calls and a couple of public payphones.

Hitchhiking was our primary means of travel, to Shepparton or Benalla on weekends, or longer trips home during holidays.

Dookie College blazer…after 47 years the blazer is in far better condition than the model. Made by “Ashmans of Bendigo, The home of better suits. This garment is the work of skilled hand-craftsman”

The distinctive Dookie College blazer was recognised by motorists throughout Northern Victoria, and although it was a long walk to get to the Midland Highway, once there we were guaranteed rides to almost anywhere in the State.

There were six agricultural colleges in Australia’s eastern States
(Roseworthy, Longerenong, Dookie, Wagga, Hawkesbury and Gatton) separated by a distance of 1500 miles, and an intense rivalry existed between them in two fields of human endeavour;

A.  Inter-collegiate sports held annually.
B. The pursuit of Marilyn.

I have no idea how these Marilyn shenanigans commenced, but by 1965 they were well established.

When I arrived at Dookie there was a framed print of the famous Marilyn Monroe 1953 Playboy Magazine photograph hanging in the dormitory common room.  Junior students were instructed to guard the picture against theft because it had become traditional for other colleges to mount expeditions at unexpected times to steal the picture as a mark of collegiate superiority.

The picture vanished from Dookie soon afterwards and students at Wagga Agricultural College in New South Wales advised that they now had possession.  The only rule was that the picture had to be hung in the publicly accessible common room of each college, so a car (illegal expulsion-threatening) load of Dookie boys then drove many hours through the night, stole the picture back, and were rewarded with hero status upon their return.  We all once again basked under the warm glow of Marilyn’s magnificence until some other little bastards came and stole it once more.

During my three years at Dookie, Marilyn traveled thousands of miles around Australia in the grasp of some of the finest specimens of young Aussie manhood imaginable.

These were times of simple pleasures, many of which will come to light and be magnified tenfold at our 50th anniversary reunion in 2015.

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Dookie College staff 1965

Dookie College float being prepared for Melbourne’s Moomba Parade circa 1966.

Dookie cricketing legends….or NOT, as the case may be.

One life. Five watches.

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Anchored securely in No 1 position on Mrs GOF’s “One hundred things GOF does which annoy the crap out of me” list must surely be my obsession with forward planning, timeliness and punctuality.
She was raised in a culture which does not give a rat’s arse about any of these things, which probably explains why she is such a perennially happy soul, while I am condemned to eternal (but nevertheless well planned) Grumpy Old Farthood.

Anyhow, be that as it may, here is my story.

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The older one grows the more difficult it becomes to precisely remember life events in their correct chronological order.

The old faithful milestones are still useful; school graduations, geographical relocations, births, deaths, and marriages.
I also have 44 diaries covering the period 1968-2012, but alas they are seriously lacking in useful personal information.

This year I had to buy a new watch, the 5th which I have owned and the purchase dates of each have divided my life into convenient compartments which aid my memory.

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Watch No. 1. Longines 1958 (Google pic)

1.  This first watch was my tenth birthday present. I remember the day as though it were only yesterday. My parents took me down to the jewellers shop in Barker Street, Castlemaine, where I chose this boys Longines watch.  I never tired of the magic of this timepiece and used to lie in bed at night wondering how it was possible for the hands and numbers to glow in the dark….a new innovation in the 1950’s.

This watch accompanied one boy’s very awkward and inept transition through adolescence into young manhood.

Watch No. 2. Seiko 1968 (Google pic)

2. This was my first major purchase after beginning work in Papua New Guinea at the age of nineteen.  At the time, I thought this Seiko Chronograph was the most beautiful and functional man-made object I had ever seen. (These days I would nominate the Cessna Citation aircraft for that award.)   Even today I remain in awe of Seiko’s precision, durability and self-winding technology.

I stumbled upon it entirely by accident. The manager of the Christian Missions in Many Lands at Anguganak in PNG’s remote West Sepik District occasionally imported Seiko watches from Japan for missionary staff, and he had this duck’s nuts of all watches sitting on his desk when I dropped in on him one day.

As my original ‘kid’s watch’ was not water resistant and died a horrible corrosive death soon after my arrival in PNG I could not resist this beautiful piece of machinery.
It cost $80 at a time when my weekly salary was $60.

This watch accompanied me on all the PNG adventures described previously on this blog,  then returned with me to Australia where we did a little outback flying together and discovered on two separate occasions how time could actually stand still when the only engine in a Cessna 206 aircraft fails in midflight.

Watch No. 3 Seiko 1985

3.  This one got up early with me in the mornings to go and milk cows for other farmers and hump backpack sprayers full of Agent Orange over hills and dales to kill their pasture weeds….all just to keep food on our table.
It also kept watch over establishing a partially self-sufficient lifestyle in the Australian bush by planting and harvesting by hand acres of sweet potato, taro, cassava and yams.

Looking at this battered deceased old watch today reminds me that life was not always easy.

Watch No. 4 Seiko 2001

4. This watch continued farming in the mud and occasionally dust, then built shade houses for tree ferns and bromeliads.
It propagated tree-fern spores, nurturing them until they were 70 kilogram monsters dug out of the ground with a spade, then lifted them by hand for transport to landscapers in town.

It also witnessed much of these good works being demolished twice in 5 years by major cyclones and rebuilt them on both occasions.

Watch No. 5 Seiko 2012

5. Bought online from Hong Kong for less than the cost of having watch #4 professionally cleaned in Australia.
This Seiko has a transparent case back which enables me to peer at all it’s intricate inner workings….all the springs and cogs and spinning wheels which makes me appreciate what a privilege it has been to live my life at this time in history and own these beautifully crafted instruments.

I like the idea of this watch and I growing old together, as it is entirely possible that we’ll both run out of tick at around the same time.

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The girls of Korbau

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The most enjoyable and productive times I spent working with village people in Papua New Guinea occurred when I was based at Pindiu Patrol Post between 1972 and 1979.

The climate was close to perfect all year round. The people were industrious and hospitable, and unlike some other tribal cultures within PNG, women were involved equally with the men in most of our development projects.

The hamlet of Korbau was nestled in a mountainous saddle between the Masaweng and Mongi River catchments at 4000′ altitude. With a population of just one hundred plus a few, it was a hard three-hour walk from Pindiu.

I spent a lot of time working with the Korbau people constructing earthworks and developing and modifying our prototype micro hydroelectricity unit to provide village lighting.

(Story with pictures of the Korbau Hydroelectricity Project here)

Everybody participated. Old men and women, boys and girls and even the little kids. It was a wonderful working atmosphere. Despite being some of the poorest people on earth, the days were always full of laughter, frivolity, banter and even occasional innocent flirting.

Australians working in PNG at this time in history were mostly treated like minor dignitaries and rarely invited to join mundane day to day village activities.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise when, late one day after work, the girls of Korbau invited me to join them in a game of basketball.

I had never played basketball in my life although I knew the object of the game was apparently to throw the ball through the hoop.

No worries.

Even though these girls were strong beyond belief from carrying heavy loads of food, firewood and babies up and down mountains,
I was over 6 feet tall, and they were all only knee-high to grasshoppers.

So……….How difficult could this be?

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Korbau basketball court circa 1977. Add one more ingredient…..slippery.

So……How difficult could this be? 

The Korbau girls invited
Master GOF to play a game
Of basketball, local rules,
A big chance for sporting fame.  
They’re tired from a hard day’s work.
And I’m twice their height I see.
Bring it on, you little chicks.
How difficult could this be?

The ‘court’ was something diff’rent.
So I uttered words profane
Mudholes where pigs did wallow
Their complexions to maintain.
And big boulders two feet high
To trip me arse right over tee.
Then suddenly it registered
How difficult this might be.

But I ain’t seen nuthin’ yet
‘Till the girls brought out the ball.
At the top end of the slope
They all looked eight foot tall.
The Amazons then threw the orb
To me, then they charged with glee
And slammed me into the goal post.
Shit!  Difficult this will be.

I eventually got back vertical
To gasp and wheeze and stagger.
Then ‘Sister’ Barbara elbowed me.
Rib pain just like a dagger.
They accidentally flattened me.
Despite my attempts to flee.
It seemed that saving my life
Would my priority be.

Thank God they’re at the other end
Shooting goals at my expense
And giggling uncontrollably
At my sporting incompetence.
Oh Christ no! here they come again
One tonne of femininity
To trample me in the mudhole.
How embarrassing this will be.

I hit the ground six more times,
Which caused lumps upon my rump.
But every time they helped me up
And none said White Men Can’t Jump.
They didn’t keep the score that day.
Which needed no apology.
‘Cos everyone was a winner.
‘Specially me, I now can see.

Memory looks back all these years.
What a privilege it was
To be accepted as an equal,
But much more than that because
They showed me joy and happiness
Depends not upon degree
Of wealth, and to forget them
Is impossible for me.

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Please forgive this self-indulgence

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Holy cow!  Some memories just never fade.

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Apart from walking for a full day from the nearest roadhead, there  was only one way to arrive at Pindiu, Papua New Guinea, in 1972.

That was by light aircraft, a 25 minute flight from the old, now abandoned, Lae city airport.
The direct fine-weather track was via the 7000′ Landslide Gap in the Rawlinson Range. In poor weather it was safer to follow the coastline then head inland for the final 15 miles following the Mongi River.
This is the sector when most of the aeronautical fun began.

The interior of the Huon Peninsula is deeply dissected by a maze of valleys heading in all directions, and mountains up to 13,000′ high. Pindiu, at 3000′ elevation, could be extraordinarily difficult to find by visual navigation in deteriorating weather conditions.

Thanks to someone elses recent flying experience and camera work (below) I am now able to relive the final approach to the airstrip which is so indelibly etched into my memory. On more than one occasion the sudden appearance of this tiny strip of dirt through a hole in the clouds was the most beautiful sight I could have wished for.

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When enthusiastic young GOF was delivered by a Macair single-engined Pilatus Porter aircraft exactly 40 years ago onto Pindiu soil he had no idea that he would fall in love with the place and it’s people and spend most of the following 8 years living and working there.

He also had no inkling that three years later he would learn to fly and, according to his Log Book, eventually go on to repeat that landing approach himself more than one thousand times as he came back home after working in nearby villages which had even shorter and more interesting landing strips.

As I watch this clip today I get goosebumps. Serious goosebumps.

I see my old home, the highset house 50 metres off to the left, halfway up the ‘strip. I hear the various sounds of flight and my heart beats faster. My palms begin to feel a little sweaty. I still have an urge to make final-approach landing checks whilst peering through the windscreen trying to get a fix on the exact location of the ‘strip through all the murk. I get butterflies in my stomach knowing that on short-final approach it is too late to abort the landing on this one-way uphill strip.

But most of all, as the aircraft rolls up the hill and turns into the parking bay, I am left with the warm feeling that I have just come back home again.

Pindiu got into my heart in 1972 ………..and never left.

Dammit!  Do you have a box of tissues handy? If I watch this one more time I might just need one.

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Edit December 2012…..due to internet gremlins please copy and paste the following URL…….landing approach to Pindiu airstrip.


The fate of Mr Pye

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Twenty six years ago Mrs GOF and I bought our first colour television set.

Being located off the electricity grid meant that we needed to find one which could be powered by a 12 volt battery.

The shops had a choice of one.

It was a trusted Pye brand, with an 8″ inch screen.
By today’s standards it was very heavy and bulky. And expensive!
It cost $650 in 1985, and at a time when I was earning around $100 per week it represented a major investment.

On December 6 this year, analogue television signals will be switched off in my neck of the woods.  For ever.

Mr Pye cannot be revived with a set-top box to receive digital TV because he possesses no auxuliary orifices into which I might shove some life-saving twenty-first century colour-coded cables.

Logic tells me I should throw Mr Pye out at the town dump.

No hesitation.  Just dump it GOF.

Sometimes logic can be a totally irrelevant and inappropriate commodity.  

This little television set has been a conduit for information, and a connection to the rest of my world for more than a quarter of a century.

It has entertained me, kept me company throughout the night during those times when I have been unwell and contributed to the person I have become and the things in which I believe.

It provided early literacy and numeracy skills for our little girl through the educational magic of Sesame Street.

David Suzuki spoke to me quite regularly from inside Mr Pye,
as did Peter Ustinov, Alan Alda and David Attenborough.
These people, and many others who were also much wiser and more highly educated than I taught me many things about life, our planet and the universe.

I watched the careers of Indian Sachin Tendulkar and Australian Adam Gilchrist adorn my beloved game of International cricket with the unique combination of exquisite skill, good sportsmanship, dignity and modesty that is now such a rarity amongst sportsmen of any code.

Sometimes I used to find John Denver inside my television.
He passionately and convincingly sang about the majestic beauty of  “Colorado, Rocky Mountain high…..I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.”  
Less convincingly perhaps, Madonna nevertheless gyrated in a quite pleasing manner to announce that she was  “Like a vir-ir-ir-ir-gin, touched for the very first time.”

Then tragically, on days which I will never forget, John Denver died inside my little TV, as did my favourite Beatle George Harrison, and after briefly illuminating the world with a gentle ray of love and human kindness, Lady Diana also passed away in front of my moist eyes.

Nelson Mandela emerged from the darkness of racial prejudice and incarceration after 28 years, and through Mr Pye, conveyed his messages of forgiveness, equality and compassion and in doing so gave me a little glimmer of hope for the long-term future of mankind.

Unforgettably during the early years, Elle MacPherson was inside my television many times each day doing THIS!  and THIS!  In my present condition of advanced decrepitude and cardiac fragility watching these documents might prove to be life-threatening so I will therefore leave the viewing of this short historical footage for your eyeballs only.

Occasionally others would emerge from the depths of human ignorance and somehow get inside Mr Pye to begin preaching political or religious hatred and divisiveness.
Mr Pye’s “OFF” button never failed me once in 26 years.

I will not be taking Mr Pye to the dump today.

Or tomorrow.

Or ever.

Mr Pye

From the album of life

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Snapshots of inspirational people in chronological order.

Posted with gratitude.

Mum and Dad circa 1946

1. Mum and Dad; For life itself, and for showing me their sound moral and ethical raft upon which to float through life.  It was not their fault that I kept falling off it.

Walt Disney

2. Walt Disney; For inspiring a life-long interest in geography and nature, and a fascination with foreign cultures and customs.

Enid Blyton

3.  Enid Blyton; The Famous Five series of books encouraged my childhood love of reading.  Her books transported me from the dry, harsh, Central Victorian goldfields to magical places in the countryside with mountains, fog, mist, springs and babbling brooks.
The man then went on to live his boyhood imagination.

Patty Duke

4. Patty Duke; My first teenage unrequited love. She fired the starter’s gun to begin my marathon race to discover the mystery and wonders of the opposite wotsit. Has anyone seen the finishing line?

The Beatles

5.  The Beatles; Who energised, motivated and redirected an entire generation, and remembering especially the quiet and talented George Harrison (centre at back) who always remained grounded in reality.
Oh yes, and they showed me a radical new hairstyle that I retained for 30 years until all my hair started falling out.

Peter Cook (L) with Dudley Moore

6.  Peter Cook; Gifted British comic genius. I will continue to laugh at his short sketch “One leg too few” (here) until the day I die.

Sidney Poitier

7. Sidney Poitier; The former dishwasher and janitor who succeeded in life despite all the overwhelming obstacles that were placed in his path. Poitier’s character in the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” forced me to seriously consider racism and segregation, for the first time in my life, from the recipient’s point of view.
Now in his Autumn years, Poitier exudes with Mandela-esque gentility the qualities of dignity, wisdom, forgiveness and compassion.
If the good Fairy of Fate could arrange for me to spend a day with just one celebrity in this world, I would select Poitier.

John Denver

8.  John Denver; For his music, and contagious enthusiasm for life, the environment and the universe.

Sadly only four people from this list of twelve are still alive.

I hope all twelve found peace and contentment in their lives,
for their contributions enabled me early in life to find my own.

Some random lines from this musical meditation.

The days they pass so quickly now
Nights are seldom long
And time around me whispers when it’s cold
The changes somehow frighten me
Still I have to smile
It turns me on to think of growing old
For though my life’s been good to me
There’s still so much to do.

And talk of poems and prayers and promises
And things that we believe in
How sweet it is to love someone
How right it is to care
How long it’s been since yesterday
And what about tomorrow
And what about our dreams
And all the memories we share.

(John Denver 1943-1997)

So, disregarding lust as a driver, which celebrity would you most like to spend a day with?