Remembering 31 July 1902 — Mount Kembla

On Facebook I posted in relation to this, the worst industrial disaster in Australian history, and was surprised that one of my Aussie friends had never heard of it before — and he is a real history buff too!

I had posted about it back in 2010 when my friend Sirdan (now in NZ) and I visited the Mount Kembla pub — in the building/repair of which my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield had a hand in the late 19th century.

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Sirdan looking at the Kembla Mine memorial

An explosion at 2pm on July 31, 1902, at Mt. Kembla colliery killed 96 men and boys. The sound of the explosion could be heard in Wollongong, some 7 miles away. At the end of the day 33 women were widows and 120 children were fatherless.

The hundreds of rescuers were headed by former Keira Mine manager and ex-mayor of Wollongong, Major Henry MacCabe who had played a vital part in rescue efforts at the Bulli Mine disaster in 1887 which killed 81 miners.

MacCabe and Nightshift Deputy, William McMurray were to lose their own lives during the rescue effort to the effect of “overpowering fumes”, adding 2 more deaths to the 94 miners…

Mount Kembla Coal Mine disaster 1902
Moving tribute through music video/song about the loss of 96 lives at the Mt Kembla Mine disaster in Illawarra Australia. the song reflects the events and photos and video portray the story of that fateful day in 1902 — Jessica Grainger
THEY LEFT IN THE MORNING…Ballad of Mt Kembla Words & Music South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris – Vocals Stuart Alexander
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Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 15 — some follow-ups

And followings, you could say. But this series is looking like it could go on forever here in The Gong, and Greater Sydney of course. And I have had toothache and am contemplating what to do about it, given the circumstances. Meanwhile parts of Sydney are to see the ADF (our military) on the streets, as indeed happened during last year’s lockdown. A rare event in our country — well, since convict days anyway… Oh, and the Eureka Stockade…

The military will join NSW police in the areas worst hit by Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak to ensure two million residents are complying with tough NSW government lockdown restrictions.

But people shouldn’t be intimidated by the presence of 300 Australian Defence Force personnel in the streets of western and southwest Sydney, Defence Minister Peter Dutton says.

“I want it to be a message of reassurance that they are helping NSW Police,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Friday.

“We can get ourselves through COVID even more quickly if we’ve got the defence force personnel there helping.”

As NSW braces for new case numbers to top Thursday’s high-water mark of 239, police will begin knocking on doors looking for people in homes other than their own in eight local government areas in the west.

Meanwhile, let’s pause for some fun, thanks to two things I have shared lately here and on Facebook. First that amazing Marsh family in England and their COVID lockdown song parodies. This one I just saw for the first time. I love it!

Then there is that pianist, who happens to be younger than my blogging habit — being born in 2001! He is also on Facebook and Instagram of course. Michael Andreas Haeringer was born on September 26, 2001 in Barcelona. From an early age he developed a great in interest in music. So not yet 20. His parents are German originally, and he is indeed descended from the great Franz Liszt.

In June 2014 he won the first prize of the music competition in Braunschweig, Jugendmusiziert Bundeswettbewerb. He also won the special prize; Europa prize!! and the first prize of piano competition of the Conservatory of Barcelona with receiving the honorary prize on June 27. Michael managed to finish the six year Conservatory course in only four years. In 2016 he received the “Young Virtuoso Award” at the Manhattan Music Competition. In 2018 Michael was the finalist of Got Talent Spain, with his own compositions of soundtracks. Michael has won the Silver Medal at the Berliner International Music Competition 2018, being the youngest pianist of this edition “at the Manhattan Music Competition”. In 2018 Michael was the finalist of Got Talent Spain, with his own movie soundtracks. Michael has won the Silver Medal at the Berliner International Music Competition 2018, being the youngest pianist of this edition.

He’s on OK pianist too!

Franz Liszt’s transcription of Saint Saens Dance Macabre.

And here something completely different!

He also posts his own compositions under the name DJ MAH. This one is from January 2021: “I made Not Really Livin ‘ in lockdown. I dedicate my new song to everyone affected by the Coronavirus.”

It would, finally, be remiss of me not to share this one which he posted on Facebook.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 13 — what can I say?

Changed the masthead on Facebook this morning.

Gladys will be announcing the details at 11am. Will The Gong still be under lockdown, or separated from Greater Sydney? I think yes to the first, no to the second… UPDATE: Which turned out to be spot on!

Meanwhile on Facebook recently…

If indeed The Gong is also under a further 4 weeks of lockdown, then, given there are 25 rounds, it is fair to say the Collegians/Illawarra Leagues Tipping Comp is cactus…

And something completely different, and beautiful — as memories, but also present comfort. I happened on this from 2016, having been unaware until now that it had happened. But first just one past blog entry among many I might have chosen:

Trinity Sunday in South Sydney Uniting Church — 3 June 2007

Dorothy McRae-McMahon’s blessing for Malcolm came back home today and sat on the communion table throughout the service. Dorothy had, as you may remember, visited Malcolm on a number of occasions and the visits and the blessing were much appreciated. Today his own life summary was read at the start of the service. While Malcolm was not himself especially religious, he knew of and welcomed the interest from the people of South Sydney, which also had its practical side. For example, the South Sydney Herald, the church paper, stood ready to go into bat if necessary when Housing were being problematic, though that did not have to come to pass thanks to this blog, Clover Moore, and Jim Belshaw and, of course, others in the NSW Housing Department.

Malcolm enjoyed Dorothy’s profile of Bob Gould in the May 2007 edition too.

I was given a card and a plant today, which I very much appreciate. It has helped to have the church folk behind me in the past year.

I added: Privileged to have known Dorothy! See the comment for just one instance, but a powerful one, from 2007. It is very likely one of the most beautiful things you will ever read, and full of the spirit of Dorothy. See this item from the 21 July 2021 Launceston Examiner. This is what I referenced in the comment section, the service Dorothy wrote and conducted for Malcolm’s Memorial Service at St Vincent’s Hospital 29 June 2007. An extract, showing the spirit of both:

Dorothy McRae-McMahon

I only met Malcolm Gleeson three times in the days towards the end of his life. It says something about him that those three visits are ones which I will never forget. It was not that we talked much, although we did have some conversation on living and dying and how I perceived that.

There was something about this man which told me that I was in the presence of a special human being. I can’t even describe what it was. I loved his beautiful face and told him that – even when it had lost its normal fullness which I saw later in an early photograph, it was still beautiful. I like his quirky sense of humour and his directness – an extraordinary mixture of unusual strength and yet vulnerability.

As I tried to get some insight into what had formed his life, I could see that to soar into the skies or spread your life across the oceans was part of him. Still I puzzled about sensing something much more in this person – an indefinable depth of being.

Last Sunday, his friend Neil gave me a loan of a little notebook in which there were a few pages of quotations which were precious to Malcolm. He had written them in tiny handwriting, some of them in other languages. He noted that the black pen quotes were about love “following Williams’ precedent”.

There were quotes from Dante, Hegel, Kant, Karl Marx, Kierkegaard, Wordsworth, Nietzsche, Foucault, Freud and others whom I didn’t even recognise. Many of the quotes were so profound that it took me some time to reflect on what they might mean. I have photocopied them all so that I can go more deeply into them with my philosopher daughter.

A couple I liked and understood were both by Kierkegaard:

“At first sight, I perceived that he was a poet – if for no other reason I saw it in the fact that a situation that would have been taken easily in stride by a lesser mortal expanded into a world event for him”

“I know that what I have hitherto understood is very little, so there will always be enough left behind, hiding in the shadows of the soul’s vaguer intimations”

His last entry was by John Barth:

“Things must be wept for.”

Yes, they must, Malcolm and we weep for you.

The quotes which I read helped me to understand the instinct which I had about Malcolm – that the fragile body I saw before me was holding a deep and complex person. It also explains why I immediately wanted to write a blessing for him, which he framed and kept beside him.

Taken 29 April 2007 in Sacred Heart Hospice Darlinghurst: Malcolm, Neil W, Danny Nel.

As beautiful now as it was at the time — and let it be noted that Malcolm was taken by the late stage of another pandemic, one that motivates the pronouncements on the present one by one of the heroes of that struggle, Bill Bowtell.

But back to Dorothy: I commented further:

Dorothy! And South Sydney Uniting Church… Such a positive, amazing person, and so humble in the right way. What you see is what you get with Dorothy. I knew her late partner too, though not as well. She was a photographer, and once accompanied me on one of my junior reporter gigs for the South Sydney Herald.

Now a recent example of fandom, innocent of course. I do find myself rather attracted by the talents of that young pianist I introduced you to the day before yesterday. Now why should that be? Let is look into it further:

I like the informality, don’t you? It turns out he is possibly the great-great-grandson of Franz Liszt! I think great-great-great grandson is more likely.

I commented: I do like a grand piano — and someone who looks — sorry! — plays like this!

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 12 — poetry and song

But first a nod to a great Olympic Games result for us here in Oz. Brought back memories of Thorpie in 2000, and Beverley in 1972!

Now to poetry. Here in The Gong, apart from more bad news about the Delta Variant and the lockdown going on, we have had some wintry and very windy days and nights. That there were relevant poems came to mind naturally, the first being noted on my Facebook a couple of days back.

By A E Housman:

XXXI

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

’Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon* the city stood:
’Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

*Viroconium or Uriconium, formally Viroconium Cornoviorum, was a Roman city, one corner of which is now occupied by Wroxeter, a small village in Shropshire, England, about 5 miles east-south-east of Shrewsbury. 

On Facebook I wrote: The wind howled through Dharawal Country last night — and has for millennia long before there even was a Rome! Love this poem though — also the source of Patrick White’s novel title, “The Tree of Man.”

Fascinating creative things have been done with this poem. Here is one:

Filmmaker and puppeteer Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood collaborates with Daniel Norman (Tenor), Sholto Kynoch (Piano) and Brodsky Quartet on a new visual interpretation of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s song cycle, ‘On Wenlock Edge’. The poetry is by A. E. Housman from his collection ‘A Shropshire Lad’

In his cramped London flat an elderly Edward remembers his youth in Shropshire and his friend Albert. The two companions battle the elements as they climb Wenlock Edge looking for shelter from the storm…

Enjoy!

To come right up to the present. Through my WordPress Reader I have long been following poet Robert Okaji. His post this very morning is apt.

I Live in My Winter

Removed from the junipers’
fragrance, separated from
prickly pears gracing
the hill, limestone slabs
jutting from thin soil,
and smoke drifting from
a well laid fire on a cold
night. Old, today, I
call the clouds my
birthright, want only
to merge with them
and rain through
another black coffee
in this unfamiliar place,
this new home,
this welcome peace.

Then an Australian song, though written in the USA some years ago — Doug Ashdown’s Winter in America, long a favourite of mine.

Finally, a brilliant image from Blue Mountains photographer Gary P Hayes.

The photographer says: “This image to me particularly represents Australia, along with a few other notables I have taken.”

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 11 — well, not exactly…

I will get back to the Olympics in time. Great things in swimming for Oz so far.

But about yesterday. There are those who point out, quite rightly, that the mob in Sydney on Saturday was a tiny fraction of the people of Sydney, a few thousand out of FIVE MILLION!

True. And as The Illawarra Mercury said:

At the weekend there were 102,233 heroes.

This was the number of people who turned up for COVID-19 testing on Saturday.

These are the people we should be putting on a pedestal, not the clowns who took it upon themselves to break public health orders on Saturday.

Look back at the previous post though — I stand by what I posted. I would also draw attention to Tikno’s thoughtful comments. Tikno lives in Kalimantan in Indonesia. In comparison, we don’t have much to moan about, eh!

From Indonesia, just looking at recent news stories I encountered an image that will stay with you.

Workers wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) take a break while burying the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 23, 2021. Reuters

Here in Wollongong there is thank God nothing to compare with that, as in comparison all we have to complain about is inconvenience, never forgetting that the stakes in reality are those we see in that image!

So to my own immediate issue:

That is of course the Illawarra Leagues Club, my principal club these days, and really the centre of my social life as well as of good cheap meals and free internet! I am after all just a 78-year-old pensioner living alone in lockdown in Wollongong, so I am affected. However, there is still little to moan about. My groceries now are, in the main, ordered online and delivered, contact-free and covid safe. I have thanks to that social security system we must fiercely strive to maintain — watch out for the white ants on that one, you know who they are! — I have enough. My rent and food are well and truly covered, and I am far from alone in that.

But I do miss the club.

Today I am about to live dangerously and catch a bus to Wollongong, as I have to get a prescription filled at the chemist, There and back, masked up of course. I may indeed have the bus all to myself! It happened more than once in the lockdown last year.

Meanwhile, enjoy 1) some fun on the lockdown theme.

2) Beautiful music from a rather beautiful pianist! A recent discovery for me.