Day 101 Taking Stock of my blog, of my life … 2

Playing my favorite ukulele, c. 2008

Posting 100 was my attempt to take stock, to make sense for myself of where matters stand – in my blog IN THIS MY 70th YEAR, and in my life.

It remains to draw conclusions. What are the main features of this human condition of ours? What is the nature of this loneliness we experience in the face our the unavoidable end, the onset of stagnation, the end of consciousness and the return to oblivion?

1.  The decline in physical intimacy

Barry Dicken’s book Unremitting Sadness is a moving account of depression and its treatment in Australia. There is a moment at the every end of the book that will speak to every aging man, and perhaps every aging woman. He writes:

‘One of the aspects of aloneness that is unbearable in never to be touched. The intimacy of being touched is almost beyond my remembrance these days as I go to bed alone and always sleep alone, dream and nightmare alone, never being kissed by anyone else and listening to one’s breath … To be willingly kissed and caressed and kidded and made love to without ever tiring is what I am after each day without success.’

This is one aspect of aging that I dread.

2.  The sharp reminders of physical decline

I have been lucky till now. The only real pain I suffer comes from arthritis in my wrists, but as time passes … With this awareness at the forefront of my mind I have, in the past couple of weeks, resumed walking every day and eating more sensibly.

3.   How little we truly know …

Events of the past three years have reinforced my sense of how little I truly know and understand.  This applies in every aspect of life, from how electricity works to  how things occur in the quantum world,  to the stories of my life.  In his book Religion for Athiests Alain de Bouton makes much of human forgetfulness. We can ‘know’ things but then later completely forget what we knew.

Part of the problem is the doutfulness of many of our sources. I can testify – passionately – to the unreliable nature of the stories we are told. IN my family – and perhaps in all families – there are hidden agenda, secrets, half truths, matters that can never be discussed …

This universe, this Earth, these people who from my social network … their complexities mock my small wisdom with their vast design.

4.   There are two things we can be certain about, two things that are unavoidable:  Death and taxes…

Life is so resilient and yet so fragile. We do know, howefver, that – in time – the Great Earth, with neither grief nor malice will receive the tiny burden of our deaths.

5.   Anonymity

Few of my fellow creatures will know – or care – that I once walked this earth.

Erik Eriksen saw our lives as passing through a total of eight phases. Each phase of what he called psychosocial development was charaterised by a particular ‘task’ that the person must effectively navigate:

i.   Trust V Mistrust

ii.   Autonomy V Shame and Doubt

iii.   Initiative V Guilt

iv.   Competency  V Inferiority

v.    Identity V Role Diffusion

vi.    Intimacy V Isolation

vii.    Generativity  V  Stagnation

viii.    Ego Integrity  V  Despair

At nearly 70, I have coped well, I think, with Stage 7. I continue to be a highly productive, creative person. Stagnation has not been very evident in my life from 50 till now…

I leave a legacy of stories and other writings.

What does this legacy show?

That I am whistling in the dark.

That I am kept busy putting little holes in the tops of toothbrushes.

That I am seek ego integrity in an effort to avoid/avert despair …

I am sitting in my cave (it was, you will see at once, also Plato’s cave). There are shadows are dancing on the cave wall in front of me. I know them to be shadows; they are not reality, they merely point to what might be… And I am scribbling away, trying to make sense of dancing shadows, with the voices whispering in my ears that this is all folly.

And what if nobody reads these words? What if the product of these hours I have spent are never read?

In the end, what will it matter?

Well, when I am dead and gone – one minute, five minutes, a week, a month, years, three decades from now – what will I care anyway? I will have nothing with which to care.  No consciousness, no awareness, no vital signs. I will be dust. The atoms and molecules that chanced to come together to create just these hands, just this hair, these legs, this brain will have dispersed across this amazing universe.

Perhaps they may have even travelled into another, very different universe …

So, my rules for living are:

1.     Always look on the bright side of life …  You came from nothing, you going back to nothing – so, what have you got to  lose? Nothing!

2.    To remember that we’re standing on a planet that’s eveolving and revolving at 900 miles an hour …

3.    To pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space, cos there’s bugger-all down here on the Earth.

What better way to end this blog than with the full lyrics of the song that ends The Life of Brian:

Always look on the bright side of life

words and music by Eric Idle
The Grim Reaper scene from The Meaning of Life

Some things in life are bad

They can really make you mad

Other things just make you swear and curse.

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle

Don’t grumble, give a whistle

And this’ll help things turn out for the best…



And…always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the light side of life…



If life seems jolly rotten

There’s something you’ve forgotten

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

When you’re feeling in the dumps

Don’t be silly chumps

Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.



And…always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the light side of life…


For life is quite absurd

And death’s the final word

You must always face the curtain with a bow.

Forget about your sin – give the audience a grin

Enjoy it – it’s your last chance anyhow.



So always look on the bright side of death

Just before you draw your terminal breath


Life’s a piece of shit

When you look at it

Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true.

You’ll see it’s all a show

Keep ’em laughing as you go

Just remember that the last laugh is on you.


And always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the right side of life… (Come on guys, cheer up!)

Always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the bright side of life… (Worse things happen at sea, you know.)

Always look on the bright side of life… (I mean – what have you got to lose?)

(You know, you come from nothing – you’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!)

Always look on the right side of life…

Always look on the right side of life…

Day 103 Memorabilia: Birth Certificate, Barry William Carozzi

I was scrabbling through a folder of ‘old stuff’ today, and rediscovered a copy of my birth certifcate.  It is produced on bright pink/red paper.

Had I known more when I first saw this document, many years ago, I might have noticed two tell-tale details. Firstly, the certificate is headed SCHEDULE  Section 7. I discovered that the birth certficates of adopted children were headed differently from ‘normal’ birth certficates; they bore the heading Section 7.

But there is another hint, too. The certificate indicates that I was born on June 8, 1943. However the document is dated “20th October, 1943”. My adoption was given court approval on October 12, 1943.

Oh well, such is life. Naturally I wish that I had known the true circumstances of my birth much earlier than was the case. But there is nothing I can do to change that.

Day 1 June 9, 2012

According to the Christian Bible, our alloted time is three score years and ten. On that reckoning, my time is almost up. We live our lives in moments, in small ‘packets’ of time, and in the greater scheme of things, each moment is of equal value, of equal worth.

According to Socrates, the “unexamined life is not worth living”. It’s a harsh judgement. It implies that those creatures – probably dogs, cats, mice, giraffes, dolphins, humans, slugs and the like who either lack consciousness, or who/which lack the courage or the inclination to examine and reflect – are condemned to meaningless existence, and might as well never have been born. Indeed, might as well never evolved.

Well, be that as it may… I had my 69th birthday on June 8, 2012. And I started thinking: what do I want to achieve by the time I turn 70.  This blog is my answer. My goal is to use my time – the time that is left to me – well. This will be my year of living reflectively, and this blog will be the record of my reflections, a storehouse of memory, speculation, record, memorabilia, images, poetry, story, song, celebration,  …

Welcome to In this my 70th year.

Joseph Bertram was my great grandfather. He was the son of Lewis BARTRAM, who was convicted of stealing ducks, and who was transported to Van Diemans Land in 1833. Joseph, grew up in Launceston, and in his early twenties migrated to Gippsland in Victoria, in the town of Stratford. There he married Sarah Light, believed to be the grand daughter of Sir William Light, one of the founders of Adelaide. Family lore has it that his change of name – from BARTRAM to BERTRAM – was a clerical error on his marriage certificate. An equally plausible explanation is that he wanted to distance himself from his links with convict origins. Whatever the reason, he became Joseph BERTRAM. He died in 1932 in Stratford, and was survived by many of his 15 children, one of whom was Nigal Arthur BERTRAM, my grandfather.

Day 4 Tuesday, June 12, 2012 The SCOPE of the BLOG


Over a century ago, William James, the ‘father of American psychology’, wrote  of we humans as being tenements of clay that house a variety of potential persons. We are at one and the same time dutiful son and rebellious risk taker, nurturing carer and aggressively competitive achiever, fool and wise person. James speaks of the need we sometimes face to ‘choose’ between these potential selves and the ‘empirical self’ that lives out its life in the world.

So what is this self? What is a self?  Or, to ask James’ question: Who are these selves? From whence did they arise? How ‘stable’ are they within the flux of time and experience? Are they, to use Laurel Richardson’s provocative image, crystallisations that are formed for a brief time through acts of will, or contemplation, or through interactions with others. Is a self ‘something’ that is ‘made’ in the course of the steady flow of human activity.

So, the first position I take in this blog is an acceptance of the multiplicity of selves who dwell withing this tenement of clay. This blog is built on this premise of multiplicity. The autobiographer has conventionally sought to tell the story of a life. Biographers, too, have sought  the consistency of a single account.

The second premise has to do with the notion of moments.

In the novel Archimedes and the Seagle, David Ireland’s protagonist is a gifted dog who can both read and write. In the opening chapter, Dwellers in the cracks, Archimedes observes:

Since I began to think it seems to me more and more the case that an indefinite quantity of time can be spent exploring even a few moments of existence. For the more thoroughly you track down the contents of a moment, the more you find in it; and the more you think about it, the more you find that we live in moments, in little crevices in time …               [Archimedes and the Seagle, David Ireland, Penguin, 1984]

Our lives – to this way of thinking – are experienced in a multiplicity of moments, by a multiplicity of selves. The danger of this multiplicity notion is that the person becomes utterly fragmented, so that there is no continuity, and life is simply a finite series of unrelated moments, experienced by a large, though finite, number of possible selves.


And so the scope of this PROJECT“IN THIS MY 70th YEAR” is:


So: this is the territory this blog will traverse. And, no doubt, it will grow and change


A.    Poet

B.    Short Story writer

C.    Novelist

D.    Publications

E.    JOURNAL Writer

F.    BLOG writer

F.    Publishing







III.      My TEACHING lives

A.    Educational WRITER











IV.      My READING selves

A.    My life in Poetry


V.        My MUSICAL selves

A.    Composer

B.    Song Writer

C.    Performer

D.    Recording

VI.      A CUCKOO in the NEST

VII.     The FABRIC of my LIVES









X.        TIMELINE






Day 13 Thursday, June 21, 2012 A Cuckoo in the Nest …1

I have long toyed with the idea of writing an autobiography. I’ve kept a Journal since 1976, and in it I have written numberless reflective pieces about my life. I decided that in this, my 70th year, I would set the goal of completing my memoir.


A Cuckoo in the Nest

A Memoir




The writing of this memoir had its beginning, in earnest, in a conversation with an old friend over coffee, in Volumes restaurant, in Eltham where I live.

‘You must write your story,’ she said, as many friends have said.

‘I have been writing … lots.  Autobiographical fragments mainly … But I can’t seem to find a central idea, something that will hold all the pieces together,’ I replied.

‘I have a title for it,’ she said. ‘It came to me when I was thinking about you the other day … ‘A Cuckoo in the Nest’. I think that’s the metaphor – that’s the centre of gravity for your story.’

I felt, instantly, that she was right.

She went on: ‘You’ve often talked about feeling like you never really fitted in. You were the odd one out. Like the cuckoo in the nest.’


And when I look back over my life, that’s how has seemed – that I have never really felt grounded. What might it feel like – to feel grounded, to feel like you really belong somewhere?  In his memoir, ‘A Simpler Time’ Peter Fitzsimons describes a chance meeting …

I met a woman who was an orphaned only child of parents who had, themselves, been only children.
‘You mean,’ I asked her incredulously, ‘that you have no family at all?!?!?! No aunts, no uncles, no siblings, no cousins, no nothing?!’
‘Yes,’ she replied, bemused at my amazement, but I was really stunned. Until I met her I seriously hadn’t even conceived the possibility. Fancy a life with no fixed reference points in the universe to steer by! For I always knew exactly who I was, still am and forever will be – a Fitzsimons of Peats Ridge, from the Wahroonga tribe of FitzSimonses on my father’ side and Grandpa and Pollie Booth on my mother’s side. Having a defined position, sitting on a strong limb of the family tree with deep roots in the one spot makes me feel secure, full stop. Not that I ever analysed it as a child – I must have just felt it….
…this woman … had sort of drifted, shifted and rifted around from spot to spot in Australia, as the winds and her whims took her – and she never even had anyone to tell where she was going or what she was doing…
Familiarity with my family tree starts early and, piece by piece, as I grow I come to understand just here my myriad aunts and uncles fit on it, and which of my cousins belongs to whom … This is no small undertaking …
 For I always knew exactly who I was, still am and forever will be.

This sense of rootedness, of having fixed reference points, of truly belonging, is something that I have searched for throughout my whole life.  It is universal, I’m sure, this need to know exactly who we are, still are, and always will be. James Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, evokes a similar sense of rootedness:  Joyce describes how the young Stephen Daedelus …

… opened the geography to study the lesson; but he could not learn the names of places in America. Still they were all different places that had different names. They were all in different countries and the countries were in continents and the continents were in the world and the world was in the universe. He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.
Stephen Dedalus

Class of Elements

Clongowes Wood College


County Kildare



The World

The Universe

That was in his writing: and Fleming one night for a cod had written on the opposite page:
Stephen Dedalus is my name,

Ireland is my nation.

Clongowes is my dwelling place

And heaven my expectation.


There were three ‘only children’ on the Kipping side (my mum’s side) of the family: my cousins Lynette and Faye, and me. We were, each of us, the ‘apple of our parents’ eyes’. Lynette was a bit of a tomboy. She played in the streets with the Worcester boys, back in the late 40s when Pascoe Vale was just being settled, when Dorset Road – where Uncle Ivan and Aunty Iris lived – was an unmade street with an earthen gutter, and when there was a tip at the end of the street where you could catch tadpoles and find all manner of treasure.

Faye and I were shy and timid; we were much less social and much more solitary; our parents were more protective.
My oldest cousin, Thelma, who is now into her 70s, was one of three children. ‘Your parents always doted on you,’ she tells me. ‘They gave you everything.’ And that may have been true. But as Fitzsimons notes, they were simpler times. Teenagers hadn’t been invented; they weren’t a market to be exploited. Most kids left school and were out in the world of work by the time they were 15 years old, earning a wage, contributing to the family, establishing their financial independence.
It may be true that I had things that my cousins didn’t have. Over a number of years my Christmas and birthday presents were pieces for my Hornsby train set; each year I’d add some rails or some new carriages to that most valued possession. One year I received a second engine.
And when I was 9 my mother carried the huge metal box that contained my other great treasure – a No. 2 Meccano set, the second largest set you could buy. And when I was 11 Mum and dad bought me a banjo mandolin, and I had lessons at the Victorian Banjo Club. [I had wanted a guitar, but guitars were too dear. More than 20 years would pass before I bought myself a guitar and learned to play.]

Thelma also remembers how I would often stay in my room when they visited our place.
‘You were always studying,’ is her recollection.


My own recollection is that my childhood was a time of unremitting loneliness. I used to play in the backyard with my Dinky toys; I’d sit in the chook house and cuddle my pet chook, the one I called ‘Mumma’; I’d spend hours poring over my collections – of fossils and of bottle tops.

I think I was a very shy child. I had few friends my own age, as I recall, until late primary school and early secondary school. At least none to play with around Reynard Street and the local neighbourhood.
In the late 1970s/early 1980s I wrote a story about the first story I ever wrote. I was 6 or 7 at the time, and I wrote it at a family Christmas party. In part it reads:

I wrote my first story when I was very young. I can see the scene vividly still, even though it was 60 years ago. I am sitting on the sofa at Aunty Vonny’s house. It is Christmas, I think. All of my cousins are there, and my aunts and uncles – my father’s side of the family. The adults are sitting around Aunty Vonny’s lounge room; my cousins are outside playing. I’m on the sofa, in the lounge room, the only child among the grown ups. I have a duplicate book, with white and yellow pages, and I am writing my story on the back side of the sheet. The duplicate book is one my father has brought home from work; he is a labourer with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works.
It is the Christmas of 1949. I’ve finished grade one. I’m six and a half.


The telling detail in this story is that I am inside with the adults while all of my older cousins were outside, playing Chasey and Hide and Seek among the fruit trees. Did I stay inside, close to my parents, because of my timidity? Or was it that I felt subtly excluded?

Ronnie Fitzpatrick, who lived next door, was the closest thing I had to a surrogate brother; he was 6 or 7 years older than me. My cousins Frank and Lawrence Carozzi – who lived just around the corner in Loch Street – were 20 and 17 years older than me. So I had very little to do with them.

For the most part I spent my childhood in the company of my parents, or playing by myself. Thelma is right; they doted on me. I grew up believing that my mother had had three full term pregnancies, but my older brother and younger sister had both been still born, or died soon after birth. I was special because I was the sole survivor, and my ‘sole survivor’ status explained why Linda and Garrie were so protective of me. Linda had lost two children; the thought of losing her sole surviving child was too dreadful to contemplate.

There were family picnics, occasional trips to the beach, visits to Ballarat and to Hamilton to visit aunts and uncles and cousins on the Kipping side. But in my memory these were not all that common, and so all the mere memorable because of this.

Our lives were simple then. There was school all week. In winter I’d go to the football with my dad – he followed Coburg in the VFA – the Victorian Football Association. On Sundays we’d go for a Sunday drive – to Wildwood or Konagadeera or Bulla. Sometimes Dad would take me rabbitting with him; we’d drive up to the open paddocks near Barry’s Lane – now the built up suburb of Campbellfield. Or sometimes

During the long Christmas break we’d sometimes go on camping trips: to Bairnsdale and Buchan caves, or to Warrnambool, or to Adelaide. Or we’d visit Uncle Gordon and Aunty Phoebe in Ballarat, or Uncle Arthur and Aunty Doreen in Hamilton. Or we’d visit Mum and Dad’s friends, the Kynochs. Once we went camping, up near Murchison with the Craigheads.


The little boy who sat on the couch writing The Farmer and the Crow while his cousins played Chasey and Hide and Seek out among the fruit trees in Aunty Vonne’s back yard, and who stayed in his room, studying’ when his Kipping cousins came to call, who was doted on and spoilt by his parents, who was kept from children who were rough, and who – in the eyes of his cousins – was a bit of a show-off, a bit of a sissy, a bit of a mummy’s boy – perhaps always felt himself to be an outsider.

I think I’ve always felt like an outsider, and I have always yearned for that easy sense of belonging that comes so easy to Peter Fitzsimons: ‘having a defined position, sitting on a strong limb of the family tree with deep roots.’

As he writes: ‘It’s not that I ever analysed that as a child – I must have just felt it.’
I, on the other hand, never really felt it.

I was not like the orphaned woman that Fitzsimons met. It’s not that I had ‘no family at all!?!? No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, so siblings, no nothing.’

But I had no siblings – and I longed and yearned and begged for a brother or sister. [I recall desperately pleading with my mother to have another child so that I could have a brother or sister.]

I had aunts and uncles and cousins – but I felt like an outsider, felt that I didn’t quite fit in, didn’t quite belong. At the time I thought this feeling of difference, this outsider status, was because I was an only child. I sensed a kind of resentment. It seemed that my status as an ‘only child’ was a stain, a cause for my cousins to reject me, or more accurately, simply not include me. I certainly felt different: I was bookish, solitary, shy, lonely, and had few ‘social skills’. I don’t think I quite knew how to play with other kids, or how to relate to them.


An event that stands out in my memory is an incident with my cousin Thelma. I was maybe 7, which means she was around 12 or 13. We were walking in Loch Street, just around the corner from my house – more than 60 years later I can still picture the scene. I was probably annoying her with my attention-seeking behaviour.

Do you know what you are?’ she said. ‘You’re a show off!’

In my recollection of the scene, I flushed with embarrassment and shame. I’d been caught out, and I knew it; I was a show off. I think ‘showing off’ was my way of making contact, my way of seeking attention and recognition and acceptance among people who were largely indifferent to me. I took for granted the love and attention of my parents; in a strange way it didn’t really count; they had to love me (or so I thought). What I desperately needed was the recognition of others beyond the small band of people who lived at 82 Reynard Street, Coburg.

Day 21 Friday, June 29, 2012 Christmas at Chelsea, 1954

Lillian Smith and William Kipping on their wedding day in 1954

Chelsea – Christmas, 1954

We drove down in the morning from our home in Coburg. The Christmas pudding that my mother had made traveled with us, along with a cardboard box full of presents: Christmas gifts for Pop – my grandfather – and his new wife , Lil.

I would have been around 11. Gran had died when I was in Miss Dyke’s class. Pop moved to the city where he met Lillian Smith at an Elderly Citizens club. Pop was around 70, Lill was 2 years older. She was English, and had a daughter named Ida, who was married to Alec Miller.

Lil had cooked roast lamb, smothered in dripping – as was the custom in those days – and surrounded by vegetables: parsnips, carrots, pumpkin (which my father always mispronounced pungkin), and potatoes – the traditional Christmas dinner. There were peas, too, and beans.

Dad’s chin was covered in grease; Lil was prim and proper and very English;  Pop was his jovial self; Mum fussed, as always; and I couldn’t wait for the pudding. Perhaps it was because we were poor, but Christmas dinner was the highlight of the year – at no other time did we eat so well! And it was all topped off by the pudding – a rich, fruity pudding, smothered in custard.

My mother was always very careful to count up the exact amount of money that was embedded in the pudding. It was always threepences and sixpences. Other families – rich families – might have had shillings, even florins, in their puddings, but we were not well off, so it was thruppences and sixpences – or trays and zacs as they were called.

My mother’s careful counting stemmed from the fact that the coins in those times were very small, and it would be a simple matter to swallow a thrupence before you even knew you had one in your mouth.

Lil had made a beautiful, rich custard, and mum had brought cream which she and dad whipped to just the right consistency. I was allowed to lick the cream from the beaters.

I had two helpings. I always had two helpings of Christmas pud. That way, I got extra pocket money. Besides, it tasted fantastic!

A sixpence – or zac – was the equuivalent of five cents

At the end of the meal, we tallied our treasure. Mum was distressed to find we were threepence short! I was considered the most likely to have swallowed the missing thrupence.

“Are you sure you didn’t swallow it, Barry? You ate very quickly.”

“Yes, mum. I’m positive I didn’t.”

Luckily, the thruppence showed up in the end. Two days later, Pop discovered that HE was the one who’d swallowed the threepence. He’d been very watchful, and had discovered the threepence during a trip to the outhouse. A pity he hadn’t been more watchful during the meal.

Day 23 Sunday, July 1, 2012 Dictionaries, the Ten Commandments and Learning about Adultery in 1954

It was 1954. I was in Grade 6.

When I called Mr Pitfield , one of our boarders, a “poofter”, my mother washed my mouth out with soap and water. I had no idea why, exactly. Poofter was a word in common use in the playground at school; it was a term of disapproval.

If there was someone you didn’t like, you called him a dill, or a dope. If they were people who were always asking you for stuff, you called them a bot. Or, you could call him a poofter, like the older boys did.

The taste of the Velvet soap made me feel sick, and the bubbling, frothing sensation was something I decided there and then was  to be avoided at all costs. The only thing worse was cod liver oil, which my parents insisted I drink whenever I felt nauseous. So I dropped the word poofter from my vocabulary – or to be more exact, I stopped using it at home.

During grade 6 – in 1954 – I began to visit the local library. The Coburg Library had just opened. The books I liked best were the thick histories if Greece and Rome and the Ancient world. I especially liked the photographs of nude statues – women with bosoms and men with fig leaves. Laurie Ferguson and I would steal quietly to the area where these books were housed, and sneak one from the shelves. We took turns: one of us would look at the pictures while the other kept an eye out for the librarian, or other adults who might catch us in the act.

We also examined the dictionaries in the Library in the hope of finding some naughty words, but the dictionary there didn’t include the naughty words which we were banned from using:  poofter, shit or anything worse. But it did contain ‘fart’. My dictionary explorations were as furtive as my interest in nude statues.

But fart was there and I committed its definition to memory, so that I could share my amazing discovery with friends. At school the next day, under the peppercorn tree, away from the steely, judgmental eyes of teachers, I shared my knowledge.

Fart: a small explosion of gas between the legs.”

I thought it was just about the funniest thing I’d ever seen in a book.

Words, I had discovered, could be a source of embarrassment. When I was 13, I began to regularly attend church services at the West Coburg Methodist church. Up until that stage I’d spent my Sundays with the Salvos  The Salvos were into joyful music,  and shouts of “Hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lord” and “Amen”  from the pews. The Salvos had colourful pictures of Jesus on the walls, and women in bonnet shook  tambourines and men played  trumpets and trombones and euphoniums.

The Methodists were austere by comparison. The Salvos sang choruses, the Methodists sang hymns; the Salvos were on talking terms with God, chatting away about this and that, while the Methodists’ prayers  were solemn and measured; the Salvos laid fruit and vegetables on a table at harvest thanksgiving, and people came forward and placed  their offerings there; the altar at the front of the Methodist church was less approachable; when someone spoke at the Salvos, they spoke from down on the floor, but the Methodist ministers and lay preachers spoke from the pulpit.

I was attracted to the austerity and serious atmosphere of Methodism. Its harsh constraints in relation to alcohol and other pleasures of the flesh meshed well with the narrow attitudes of my mother and with my dad’s teetotallism. I liked the solemn sermons performed with such controlled passion from the pulpit.

But back to words. I remember well the day I came home from church eager for clarification. The sermon that morning had been an exegesis of the ten commandments. The minister had examined each one in detail: we were to have only one god, and were  not to worship graven images, we should not  covet the oxen of others; we should not commit murder. Nor should we commit adultery. The minister went on about this commandment  for quite a long time, but did so without making clear just what sort of sin it was.

“What’s adultery?” I asked mum.

“Where did you hear that word?” she asked. I could see that I was back in Naughty Word territory; yet how could it be naughty, when  the minister had used it.

I explained about the sermon on the ten commandments…

“Your father will talk to you.”

I knew then that this was a taboo area. My mother had always emphasised what was for her the basic rule of social behaviour: “There are three things you DON’T talk about in public, son: politics, religion and sex.”

A few nights later dad was driving me to an information night down in Brunswick. As we drove down Station street, he broached the topic.

“Son – you know how you asked your mother about that word … adu… ” and he mumbled the word so quietly that I knew this would be no easy conversation – for either of us.


“Now, you know what sexule … intermumblemumble…  is, don’t you?” The words were almost inaudible.

The truth was, I didn’t. I had no idea. I’d been to a Fathers and Sons Night with my dad, where we had both sat through an explanation of the plumbing systems of men and women, and the way that small tadpoles burst through the outer shell of large eggs to make baby chooks and horses and things. We also learned that we should be very nice to girls, especially when something special happened to them, because they become very sensitive and can cry a lot when it happens. So we should behave like gentlemen.  I’d heard, too – in that traditional place where such secret business is transacted: behind the shelter shed – that men and women had sexual intercourse. But as to how that complicatedly-named thing happened, I really had no idea. One thing I was certain of – mum and dad wouldn’t do sexual intercourse.

“Now, you know what  sex–you-all innercause  is, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“Well ….” He seemed stumped for a moment, at a loss to know how to explain this most embarrassing of things. Then, suddenly, the way opened, and the words flowed with ease.

“You know Mrs Fitz next door …. Well, if I was to have sex … intermumble  with Mrs Fitz, that would be adultery.”

The ordeal was nearly over.

“You need to be careful too, son. Sometimes girls around this age – they’ll want you to do it with them. You gotta be careful, cos you can catch a disease.”

And it was over. I was none the wiser about adultery, sex, or the risks of venereal disease, though I think dad thought he’d explained stuff pretty well.

“So – you understand all that?”

“Yes, dad.”

The topic was never raised again.

Day 25 Tuesday, July 3, 2012 My Early Reading Life

My father could neither read nor write, and I have no recollection of my mother reading to me. My earliest memories are of the Bible stories told at Sunday School, but even those are vague: Jonah being swallowed by the whale, Jesus walking on the water, Peter sinking because he lacked faith, Jesus saying: “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”  Suffering, I knew even then, was something painful; why would the children be suffered to go to him, I wondered. It didn’t make sense.


I recall a book called Brave Brian, about a boy lost in a wood at night, where the trees and vines would grab hold of him. I think it was a fox that rescued him.


My favorite childhood stories came from radio: Little Toot, the tug boat who was laughed at by the other bigger tugboats but who saved the day; The Happy Prince, read – I think – by Bing Crosby – brought me to tears each time I heard it. There were others. One concerned a Christmas tree; another was Peter and the Wolf, with its stirring background music; and of course Peter Rabbit, who went into Farmer McGregor’s garden without permission.


My mother played ‘This little piggie went to market’ with me. There was always that mix of anticipation when the smallest toe was about to be tickled. There were jokes, too, told by my father. His favorite was about the little boy in school, asked to put the words depotdelight and defender into a sentence: “De light was out, de pot was full, so I did it in de fender.”


Family events were also times for stories. I remember being taken by the stories  and riddles my Uncle Ivan would tell: “A man rode up the hill on Friday, stayed for a week and rode down the hill on the same Friday. How is that possible?”


I had a few books as a young child. Little Golden books were available in the shops, but we owned only a very few. I did have a book which featured little boys and girls with very chubby faces, but I recall little of the stories.


By the time I was 10 my aunts and uncles and neighbours were giving me books for my birthday – either a book from the Biggles series, by Captain W/E Johns, or one of the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce. I had virtually the full set of each series, but I didn’t read them. I was a painfully slow reader. Indeed, by the age of 16 I had read only one book cover to cover, independently. At 12, I had persisted with Biggles Flies North for  a month, by which stage I had read 70 pages – so I gave up. When I first went to University, my reading was still painfully slow. I used to time myself; I averaged 4 to 5 minutes per page with a normal paperback, and I sub-vocalised all the time.


I loved listening to stories. I recall in grade 6 Miss Corrie read us the Australian classic, The Little Black Princess. I enjoyed being read to, or hearing tales told round the fire. And, ironically perhaps, I always loved writing stories.


It was Steinbeck who first fired my enthusiasm for reading. Of Mice and Men was my first book – the first book I read cover-to-cover I was so taken by Steinbeck’s style that I tried to copy it when I wrote. I loved the story, and afterwards tried to read Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s great saga of the lives of the Okies during the Great Depression. It moved me enormously. It took me two years, but I completed it.


I struggled through the reading demands of University, slowly increasing my reading speed, but when I left university I had read fewer than thirty books in my entire lifetime. Over the Christmas break between completing Matriculation and going to University, I began a program of self improvement. I set out to broaden my reading, beginning with Nevil Shute’s On the beach.


The experience of Literature as she is taught at University all but destroyed my embryonic love of books that Steinbeck had brought to life. In English 1 and 2, we lay the cadavers on the examination room table, and dissected them. All around me were knowledgeable specialists and brilliant young men and women who spoke about literature in a language I could not understand. It was lifeless, and I spent virtually the whole time feeling incompetent. When I left university, I didn’t want to read any more.


There is a system for helping poor readers to read; it is called the Delecarto method, and involves retracing the course of the child’s development of perceptual and motor skills, to rebuild the brain’s links. I went through a similar process. I didn’t get down on the floor and learn to crawl again; I simply started again, with children’s books.


I had arrived at Glenroy Technical School, a 22 year old teacher, with a BA and Dip.Ed, there to teach English and Social Studies, and a list of ‘Books Read’ that barely filled a page. As a teacher of junior English, I had to read books to the students. Someone introduced me to the C S Lewis Narnia series. I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I was hooked. I read all seven in the series, and moved on to Lloyd Alexander’s Prrydian series : The High King, Taran Wanderer, and so on, tales with a strong base in Celtic mythology. Next came The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings – which was still my favorite book well into the 1980s, I think – followed by Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series. By my mid twenties, I was finally an avid  reader; by my late twenties I was an avid reader and a published writer.

Day 24 Monday, July 2, 2012 Childhood friends: The Scarlett twins

The Scarlett twins arrived at Coburg 484 when I was in grade 3.  That was 1952. They’d moved to Coburg from somwhere across town, or maybe up in the country, and had settled into their house in Ryan Street, up past the Coburg Scout Hall.

I was very impressed by the fact that they were twins. I had heard of twins, but had never known any until that day. Twins, I knew, were supposed to look the same: same size, same coloured hair, same coloured eyes…

The Scarlett twins were nothing alike. Graeme was tall and slim; his hair was a brownish colour, and his skin was waxt and bumpy. His nose was pointed and thin. Peter was totally different. To begin with, he was quite short; he was also podgier. His face was more rounded and his hair was thick and black.

As an only child, I was very lonely. My parents kept me from children who were rough; they kept me indoors, away from the rough streets and the rough boys, and away from the gutters and drains which were believed to carry diseases – especially polio. My mother lived with the fear that I would catch polio myelitis.

I longed for the company of other children. I was probably too used to getting my own way at that time of my life. My mother called me the ‘apple of her eye”  and although she often  pointed out to me that I was “not the only pebble on the beach”, the truth of the matter is that, as far as she was concerned, I was.

My mother’s doting was balanced by the worldly wisdom of my older cousins. To them I was a spoiled brat who needed to be brought down a peg or two. And they were just the people to do it.

The day the Scarletts arrived I welcomed hem by picking them up – grabbing them in a bear-hug of sorts, and then dropping them. I put my arms about Graeme’s waist from behind, picked him each up off the ground in turn, then dropped him. Then it was Peter’s turn. He immediately burst into tears. I was terrified that I would get into trouble from the teacher for making the new boys cry. Peter was bawling his eyes out, and I was afraid that he would tell on me.

He didn’t, and we became friends, the Scarletts and I.

The Scarletts had strange parents. Their father’s name was Olaf, and that was also Peter’s middle name. Their mother was a heavy smoker – a thing almost unheard of in those days – and she had a very husky voice.

One of the things that sticks in my head about the Scarletts was the fact that, for as long as I knew them, they had the same lunch every day.  With Graeme, this continued throughout his University years. Peter went into Accountancy, and didn’t go to Uni, but Graeme and I ended up at Melbourne University together – he studied Chemistry, I did Arts. And every day, from grade three to third year Uni – something like 12 years – he brought jam sandwiched for lunch.

Early on I envied them. I wasn’t allowed jam sandwiches. I had to have vegemite and cheese, or jusr vegemite, or just cheese. But sometimes I was given lunch money – a couple of shillings – and could go to the local fish and chip shop at lunch time to buty a piece of fish and six of chips, or go to Fergusons in Sydney Road, near Bell Street, for a pie and perhaps a Boston bun.

I used to love buying fish and chips on cold days.  They came wrapped in newspaper, and with an inner wrapper of grease paper. I’d burrow in from one end, ripping a hole in the top so that I could get at the chips and the piece of battered fish. The chips were so hot, they’d burn my fingers at first. I’d hug the packet to my chest and warm my hands.

I loved the Boston buns you could buy at Fergusons. For 10 pence you could buy the bun and  have it buttered. I loved the white coconut icing – the taste of it, the texture, the colour, the sweetness.

At the end of grade 6 we were allocated to secondary schools. The top 12 students from the two grade six classes at Coburg High School were chosen for Coburg High School. Coburg High was one of the small number of secondary schools which provided the basis for University entrance: six years of secondary schooling, culminating in a Matriculation year, and teaching Latin. (In those days, Latin was a prerequisite for University entrance of any kind; it was considered to be essential mind training.) Those on the next rung down the intellectual ladder went to the B grade High Schools, of which Moreland was one. Moreland High went to Form 4 – or Intermediate year – when I began there. Boys who were good with their hands went to the Technical School to become apprenticed to a trade; girls who were not academic went to the Girls school to be taught the domestic sciences – needlecraft, cookery and the like. The really dumb kids stayed on to complete their compulsory years of schooling – to age 15 – in grades 7 and 8.

When we went to Moreland High we palled up with Ian Watson and Ian Powell. Ian Watson had gone to Moreland Primary School. He was short, cheeky faced, and self contained and I felt strongly attracted to him. Like me, he was an only child.

I saw Ian Watson as the central figure in the group. He was self contained, followed his own lights, was a natural leader. Everyone liked him, wanted him to be their closest friend. Over the years, there were inevitable shifts of allegiance within the group, and occasional minor rifts. Often these occurred when new people joined our group. But we remained close friends for the years of our adolescence.

Ian Watson, the Scarletts and me – that was the core of the group. Ian Powell and Kenny Thompson joined us later. Wally Buhaj and John Costigan were friends through the baseball team, as was Michael Beech, who was a year behind us, but who joined us later.

Looking back, I can see that the interrelationships were very complex. Graeme and I formed one of the strong allegiances. We were both school smart, and we both enjoyed athletics. Peter generally didn’t get on well with Graeme all that well, but tolerated him. In later years, he came to call his brother Claude; it was a derisive name, and certainly not a term of endearment. It denoted Graeme’s social ineptitude, his nerdishness, his peculiarity.

Graeme was highly intelligent, in the traditional schoolish sense. His skin condition made him unattractive physically. Old Ma Tannock – our name for her – was our Science teacher; she was small, skinny and bent, and she had a withered arm. She caught Graeme mucking around one day with a string of elastic on his underpants. He was stretching it, pulling the string as far from his waist as he could, then allowing it to slowly contract. That was the dopey sort of stuff he did. He went on to complete a Ph D in Chemistry. He became obsessive about Squash, and built a squash court onto his home.

Three things drew Grame and me together: sport, intellect and the Goons. Indeed, that was something that Peter, Graeme and I shared. We would listen to The Goon Show on radio, and the next morning, we sit in the shelter shed reliving it – reproducing lines and whole segments of the show, and impersonating the voices of characters like Bluebottle and Eccles and Neddy Seagoon.

Peter and Ian formed the other axis of the group. They were both short. Peter was serious, Ian was a free spirit. He was the first person I knew who called his mother by her first name: Floss – her name was Florence. She was a small, sharp featured woman. Ian had a mind of his own, and was the unelected leader of the group.

The strong attraction to Ian – I would have preferred to be his favoured friend –  probably helped keep the group as a whole together. The fact that I befriended Graeme helped provide the balance the group needed.

Baseball held us together too. We began playing baseball at school. Our Form 2 English teacher, Russell Williams, coached the school baseball team. None of us we much good as footballers, so baseball became our game. John Costigan – the only other kid as tall as me – was first base, Peter was second, Ian was shortstop, Graeme was third. Wally Buhaj was catcher, and Kenny Thompson, Ian Powell and I were the outfielders, other than when I was pitching. Michael Beech also joined the school team.

That group also formed the nucleus of the junior team at Carlton Baseball Club for several years, and at one stage we became the Carlton Seconds. As juniors, we won grand finals. We would play on Saturdays. Our home ground was at Princes Park, over near the zoo. On Sundays we would go to training. We trained in the parkland outside the Carlton Football club.

Of that group, three have already died. Ian Powell went on to become a wild man, a drinker who drank himself into an early grave; he died of a heart attack  before he turned 40. John Costigan died at the age of 52 or so, as did Wally Buhaj – both of heart attacks. Wally’s death made the national news – he died at a teachers’ strike meeting.

Ian Watson lives in Sydney. I last spoke to him in the early 1980s. Peter Scarlett married, and lives in Templestowe. Graeme Scarlett briefly attended a Coburg High School Reunion in the early 2000s. Kenny Thompson and I recently made contact with each other. Michael Beech and I were very close friends for a time – in our late teens – but I haven’t seen him since 1960.  Russell Williams, our Year 7 and 8 English teacher, the man who introduced us to baseball, and who once demanded that I write the Tennyson poem Morte D’Arthur SIX TIMES as a punishment for talking in class – died in 2010.

DAY 236 VERSE NOVEL 8 Long Way from Home

Long way from home

Gwen, aged 4, circa 1926

Sometimes I feel like

My mother is a figment of my imagination.

She is a ghostly figure and she lies

Withered and disappearing into nothingness

The rats and worms, bacteria and time

Have done their work for more than fifty years

No flesh remains. As for her bones

Who knows? Powder and dust, perhaps

Fifty years is a long time

In her mid 30s she had a last fling. She loved men, it seems.

Always on the look out for the right one.

Perhaps Abe was the one.

Then she found herself with child,

for the fourth time.

With child, and she was already with two children, two girls

Her two sons were adopted out by then

Abe didn’t want any children

No – he wasn’t ready to settle down

They’d had some fun

But Abe wanted nothing to do with a baby

And she couldn’t afford yet another mouth to feed

Best be rid of it, he told her.

He knew a bloke, who knew a bloke

Who knew someone who could help her out

Of her little


Common enough in those days

The back yard job

A bit of pain and it was done and over with

She started getting crook soon after that

Went to the quack

The diagnosis wasn’t good

It had a name: cancer of the cervix

Six months. That’s all it took.

Her sister, Nesta, nursed her to her grave.

I wonder what that botched abortion cost?

Apart from her life.

Oh may her soul of my imaginary mother

rest in peace

I found her fifty years too late

All withered, all but disappeared.

I would have been 18 or so when she died, and she just 38

Oh may the soul of my imaginary mother

Rest in peace

I discovered her in September 2009

Forty eight years after Johnny Dancer claimed her for his own

Sixty six years after she carried me round

In her womb

Sixty years after The Haven and the court

And the old Negro spiritual suddenly comes

unbidden and unexpected

into my mind

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child