Recalling the Shellharbour that was…

Last night I had a chat via Facebook Messenger with one of my Shellharbour cousins, who no longer lives there. I had not seen or spoken with this cousin for decades! I mentioned how different Shellharbour is today. She agreed, saying she couldn’t live there any more…

Here is how it was when my parents were young in the early to mid 1930s:

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And here Shellharbour township c 1948, in my own early childhood.

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And today, all suburbia…

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See also My 1947: ShellharbourShellharbour: very nostalgicMore “Neil’s Decades” –6: Heimat/Shellharbour.

Cascading memories

Here is a series from my archives: Reflections, mostly about a chequered teaching career: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and add mais où sont les neiges d’antan? and Life’s embarrassing moments. From the last one:

Probably my most embarrassing moment was at Dapto High when I was the age Mr R is now. I had proudly been appointed teacher-in-charge of Year 8, and hence had to sit on stage in Year 8 assemblies. Dapto had 1,400 students then, so a Year 8 assembly was quite big. It was also the way the school fulfilled its scripture quota for the week, a local clergyman saying a few words at the assembly. I somehow managed to walk up to the microphone, spotlighted, only to be greeted by considerable laughter. In best teacher mode I glared and asked what was so funny…

“Your fly’s undone, sir…”

Oh dear!

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I was wearing undies.

All this from two images that came my way via Facebook. The first I found on Dapto History in Pictures. It shows the English staff at Dapto in 1969, the year before I arrived.

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Jim Gordon was Head Teacher from 1970, Tom Dobinson having gone on to become an Inspector. He inspected me at Wollongong High in 1976. Some more memories of Dapto in 1970:

The elopement

One day a member of the English staff disappeared. This was just one of several bizarre events that year, which led to questions in parliament.

We later heard she had eloped with a reporter from the local newspaper.

Skinny dipping

One staff member was around 22 and rode a World War II Harley Davidson, dressing to match. Otherwise he taught English and History. He was on good terms with “Animal” and other noted members of the Kings Cross biker scene. He had a wonderful place on the river at Minnamurra, a short swim (almost a walk at low tide) to the sandspit and beach. Many a good staff party happened there, and one warm night swimming was definitely the go. It wasn’t low tide, though, so he rowed across with his assortment of English teachers. I recall one Brian being counselled about guarding his Catholic manhood as in the then state of undress he stumbled getting into the boat almost bringing the gunwale into firm collision with his private parts.

Fortunately no-one drowned.

It’s not a good idea, kiddies, to go surfing in the dark, especially when intoxicated and there are sharks about.

The teacher who threw things out of windows

He was in fact rather popular, but when a child especially annoyed him he would, after several warnings, grab everything off the child’s desk and throw said belongings (but not the child) out the second floor window. He would then send the child to collect them. I got quite a shock when I first witnessed this.

I am sure conservatives would see this as evidence that schools today have declined in comparison with 30-40 years ago.

Breaking records

A large batch of 78rpm records destined for the school fete was stored in the staff room. One day our biker friend crept up behind someone and smashed a record over his or her head. We discovered this was painless but dramatically noisy and left very satisfying shards of black shellac everywhere. So we spent the lunch hour working through the records, not excluding any students who were foolish enough to knock on the door.

The cleaner complained.

The suit of armour

I was given the task of taking a suit of armour, a prop for the school play, to the school hall. I decided the best way was to wear it. This did get talked about for a while…

The head

I was so naive, really.

I had a class of Year 9s who were variously, well, retarded, or should I say differently abled. One of them had also been dealt a bad hand when it came to personal appearance, but was actually rather nice though occasionally given to rages. On graduation he found a job in a sheltered workshop.

The door of their classroom had a small window to enable passers-by to check on the inmates, but the glass had long gone. My young friend used to stick his head through this window and smile in a rather alarming way at people in the corridor. One day going past I asked him to pull his head in. I went further than that. Seeing he reminded me of nothing more than a moose head mounted on a wall I said, “Peter, pull your head in or I’ll mount you on the wall.”

Pleased with my wit, I recounted the story to my colleagues. “You’re so athletic, Neil,” a female teacher who later went on to considerable fame remarked.

My embarrassed blush lit the room beautifully. Honestly, governor, I meant no double-entendre!

The second picture appeared on an Illawarra Grammar ex-student’s Facebook page. Thanks, Ralph! It shows me being  “kidnapped”. As Ralph notes, “A long, long time ago …..”

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What was I up to in February 2001?

These entries via the Web Archive (my old Angelfire site). Some names may be edited to conform with my later practice.

February 4 2001

Yum Cha–and Shanghai Bob’s story

Yum Cha today–very small, just the Dowager Empress, Clive, and a couple with a baby who are friends of the Empress. I decided after greeting them to do my Market shopping, as work awaited me at home, and staying would have cost an hour or two. Also, I was not terribly hungry! One job I had was to write an article for the school newsletter. Last week I had quoted Shanghai Bob, who sent me a nice letter of thanks outlining the progress he had made in English over the past two years, with the result that he achieved his goal, to study Medicine.

Here is the follow-up article which I have just written. (Find it on the school’s Communities Page)

February 8

Cuteness fest gives Ninglun a hard day

Very hard day at work today, as I had to stand out in the hot Australian sun all day surrounded by young gentlemen in speedos. Yes, board shorts are less the go now, and I have to report some of the sights I saw were far from unpleasant. My approach, of course, was purely professional, much of it spent holding a stop watch. Yes, the annual School Swimming Carnival.

I wonder if the origin of the word “Carnival” is somehow relevant…;-) Not that I would stoop to perve of course. Certainly not on the little ones–but some of the seniors–well, I was jealous, that’s all I’ll say. And occasionally forgot to stop the stop watch 😉 As I said, purely professional. But don’t you feel for me? I am rather tired after my hard day.

Apparently (thanks Dowager Empress) I had in an earlier entry accused Shanghai Bob of achieving his gaol (English for “jail”). Of course I meant “goal”. I have now corrected it; I am sure if Bob ever enters a gaol it will be in his capacity as a medical practitioner and not as an inmate.

February 10

Mardi Gras Reflections Part 1

Last night Mardi Gras was launched at the Sydney Opera House. I did not go myself, but many did. In Chinatown today I could not help noticing the tourist wave has begun to arrive: a young couple (male) very much in love hand in hand down Hay Street, for example. In past Mardi Gras seasons I have met interesting people from various parts of the world, especially the US.

Yet I have never been to a Mardi Gras Party (or a Sleaze Ball)–and don’t really want to; it is not my chosen mode of enjoyment, and I have always deplored (perhaps hypocritically as a smoker) the druggy/out-of-it side of the event. Nor have I ever participated in an orgy. (Some will think me terribly deprived!) Mind you the drugginess is also part of nightclubbing in general, to be fair. But delight for me is in the company of some loved and loving friend rather than in bacchanalia: but then maybe I am tight-arsed…

Thirteen years ago I was teaching at a private school north of Sydney. A little boy in my roll class (Year 8) came up to me and asked if I was going to the Mardi Gras Parade. Noncommittally I replied, “Yes–I live nearby so I will probably see it.” “Oh,” he said, “I would love to see that parade: they’re my kind of people!” A cute thing he was too, I might add, so somewhat taken aback I said “That’s nice.” For weeks after he used to give me a big cheesy grin and put the chairs up for me at the end of roll call. I have often wondered where he is now–he would be 26 years old now. On the other hand another young person (not a homophobe) recently told me how much he hated the whole thing–the Parade in particular.

About five years ago I was with a group in a Thai Restaurant overlooking Oxford Street. One of our number was a gay man who had only just arrived from Mainland China. As the parade passed beneath us–the Dykes on Bikes looking pretty scary, the marching boys just looking pretty, and the enormous crowd on the street–his eyes were glowing with happiness. So much freedom he could only have dreamed about before, and he was lapping it up. Interestingly he had seen footage of the event on the news in China, with appropriate commentary about Western depravity–an encouragement in fact for him to come to Australia.

There is more to Mardi Gras than the parade of course. It is a month of sports, art events and exhibitions, film, a fair that even straight families go to…the official program is quite impressive.

Over the next few entries I will continue my personal reflections (and that’s all they are). Some will agree with me, some won’t…

To be continued…

February 14

Ninglun’s great leap forward in education

I have set up a web site for my Year 10 English class, with a separate email for them to submit assignments on. The only catch is you will learn my real name if you go there; on the other hand there is no link back the other way–and since my pic is in the gallery, all you students and ex-students who visit Ninglun already know the secret.

I have also lifted your bullying essay, Gabe; but corrected the grammar–occasionally wanting as Mitchell pointed out. I have linked the boys to your site Gabe; I am sure you will assist their education. Not sure about Pathum though… And as to MM–well, a touch weird I’d say; but I am sure the boys will cope.

February 19

Ninglun gets aggressive

I went to school today wearing my pinkest shirt.

First off I visited the Principal, the Deputy Principal and the Year Advisor for Year 10, Mr S. I told them about the incidents on the Year 10 Web Page (see yesterday’s entry). The Principal said, “Oh well, there’s always a fool; don’t worry about it.” The Deputy and Year Advisor were interested in who it might be. All deplored the homophobia it showed.

When I went to Year 10 in Period 3 I began the lesson as normal. About five minutes in I asked if anyone had visited the class web page over the weekend. Most had. I asked who had visited it several times. A smaller number had. I asked who had noticed the battle on the guest book. Few had, as my counter-measures were fairly swift. Then I said, “Well, someone apparently finds my sexuality an absolutely fascinating topic. Personally I find it rather boring.”

Stunned silence!

“Yes, someone who calls himself Magic Mushroom–an interesting thing in itself, don’t you think? Well, if you want to think I have something in common with a High Court judge and quite a few of our troops who went to East Timor, that’s fine by me.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, he said it four times–but two of them never made it as I have put a filter on the book–but basically they all meant ‘Ninglun is a fag’. I don’t mind if you think I’m a fag–I would however be very upset if you thought I was a rotten English teacher. I should also remind Mr Mushroom that as an expert in linguistics I was able to eliminate about 80-90% of the class. Mr S and I had very interesting discussions about that.” I also reminded them of the old saying that mushrooms were things that were kept in the dark and fed on bullsh*t, and suggested this may be appropriate.

More stunned silence.

I then reminded them that homophobic remarks were just not on, both as far as I was concerned and in NSW law. I returned to the substance of the lesson. One boy became ill and had to leave the room–which may be a coincidence. I informed the Deputy and Mr S about what I had done and what happened, and we all agreed it was a valuable piece of social education.

Right on! My final words in the lesson were–apropos of nothing–“Well, I am looking forward to seeing what is on the guest book tonight, though you may not see it! So, Mr Mushroom, if you are in the room, it has been fun–but it’s over.”

NOTE: By June 2001 the whole incident has blown over.

February 22

Glittering prizes

The Year 10 were as good as gold today, and very curious to learn if I had more messages on the Guest Book. Indeed Mr Mushroomz (correcting his nick) had visited with a much less objectionable comment which I almost allowed through, but it didn’t add much–except to prove he was in the room yesterday! I told them today I wasn’t really interested in who Mushie might be–and hoped he soon added something I could put up. A student in the class did add something tonight…

And tonight was the school Speech Night, a kind of graduation ceremony*. The guest speaker was the Australian of the Year, Lt-General Peter Cosgrove, who so ably led the Australian forces in East Timor. He is deservedly much admired and spoke well and unpretentiously. He was one reason I went–I normally don’t. Another was to give my academic dress a run; I won’t be wearing it many more times after all. I have arranged for it to go to a very deserving home, which could lead to the main reason I went…:-)

I had my program autographed, hoping for something profound. Well it could be said I am still working on it…so perhaps it was.

* Ironically, the first person to greet me at the main door was “Magic Mushrooms” himself, as I now know. –June 2001

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February 26

Another dilemma, but less personal

In school I have recently been running a series of articles dealing with racism, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21. You will find the “Is it racist?” quiz on an earlier diary. Today I received the following anonymous letter from a senior student. I would be interested in your views. I have slightly abridged the letter, but kept true to the author’s views.

Enough of all the double standards on racism…. In the quiz you ask whether “Overtly or covertly demonstrating that one believes one’s own cultural or ethinic background is superior” is racist, the answer is yes. Yet about a month ago you printed an article entitled “Asian Pride”. There has never been an article on “White Pride” as whites are obviously meant to feel shame about the so-called “stolen generation” and other instances where whites have colonised a country or done something similar. I mean, obviously the only people capable of being racist are whites, or so the double standard of racism seen today would have you believe.

No, I’ll tell you what’s racist. Any white person that speaks out and tells about the pride they have in being white is instantly branded a “hick” or “KKK”. Yet any Asian or person from a minority ethnic background who feels pride in their race is some kind of hero or pioneer.

However, it is obvious why the school is willing to take this kind of action. As the school is majority Asian they must try to do everything in their favour and to make them feel special. As a majority they can speak freely about how great they are, whilst anyone that thinks otherwise is obviously from the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, or some redneck hick with an unbelievably small IQ. However, the huge influx of Asian students into the school is meant to bring multiculturalism into the school and this multiculturalism can only be achieved when the minorities of society (Asians) are a majority at the school, which is the case now.

But of course this letter will never make it into the school newsletter, as it is obviously and blatantly “racist”. However any Asian, Jew (sic) or any other non-white ethnic background who wants to write about the pride they feel for their race and the downfall of other races will be praised for standing up and having their letter published because they are “heroes”. I am therefore issuing you, Mr W, a challenge to print this letter inthe upcoming newsletter. You say you encourage everyone who has been victimised because of ethnic differences to speak out against the “racist bullying” they are being subjected to. Well, here’s my letter. It talks about the “racist bullying” I and other white students at the school receive every day. I dare you to print it so everyone can read about what really goes on at school. To do otherwise would just be totally and blatantly RACIST.

February 27

Cat among the pigeons?

If you want to know how (in consultation with the Principal) we resolved yesterday’s dilemma, go to my school’s Communities Page! Now we wait…

Not a Happy Camper?

In High Notes I have recently been running a series of articles dealing with racism, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21. Today I received the following anonymous letter from a senior student. I would be interested in your responses. I would not normally publish an anonymous letter, but behind the anger and some serious misconceptions, I feel there is an intelligence that deserves respect. I have slightly abridged the letter, but kept true to the author’s views.

Having subsequently (March 2) received another very polite letter enclosing an American White Supremacist article taken from the Web, I have appended a counter-article by sociologist Caleb Rosado. Please consider.

Enough of all the double standards on racism…. In the quiz you ask whether “Overtly or covertly demonstrating that one believes one’s own cultural or ethnic background is superior” is racist, the answer is yes. Yet about a month ago you printed an article entitled “Asian Pride”. There has never been an article on “White Pride” as whites are obviously meant to feel shame about the so-called “stolen generation” and other instances where whites have colonised a country or done something similar. I mean, obviously the only people capable of being racist are whites, or so the double standard of racism seen today would have you believe.

RESPONSE: First, the term “whites” is an interesting one. The emphasis on skin color misses the point; this is the most superficial of human differences. “Race” as defined by physical characteristics is a dead concept, unscientific and archaic. The Human Genome Project has merely underlined how spurious it is. I take it the writer refers to Anglo-Australian or European cultural heritage. These are still quite rightly celebrated in many areas of the curriculum. Indeed all Australians need to take pride in the concepts of individual freedom, representative government, the rule of law–and so on–that spring from that tradition. I know I do. I also know that many people who come to Australia come here because those traditions are better served here than in many other parts of the world. On the other hand the Christianity that still helps many shape their values derives ultimately not from Europe but from the Middle East; it is good to remember that.

To quote from Norman Davies, Europe, A History (1996): ” ‘White’, ‘Caucasian’, ‘Aryan’ and ‘Europoid’ all reflect the protracted search for an exclusive and therefore non-existent common denominator in the racial make-up of Europe’s population. They form part of a wider vocabulary of doubtful terms including ‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘Semitic’, and ‘Hispanic’, where physical, geographical, and cultural criteria are hopelessly confused.”

Second, pride is something we all deserve, so long as it is not at the expense of others. No-one need feel ashamed of who they are or what their heritage is. I am not ashamed of mine, and I extend the same courtesy to others. We do not need to be clones of each other to be good Australians. Just as we differ individually, so can we nurture our cultural heritage so far as it is part of who we are. At the same time we subsume all that in loyalty to the community as a whole, in all its diversity. We are free to differ; that is one of the good things about this country.

Third, racism is not something any one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on. Europeans have not been the only colonisers either–ask the Tibetans, or the Ainu of Japan, merely to name two. In Australia, in my view, we have developed a healthy interest in our past that corrects the silence I recall hearing when as a child I wondered–but what did happen to the Aborigines?

No, I’ll tell you what’s racist. Any white person that speaks out and tells about the pride they have in being white is instantly branded a “hick” or “KKK”. Yet any Asian or person from a minority ethnic background who feels pride in their race is some kind of hero or pioneer.

RESPONSE: Any person who exalts their race above the rest of the human race is probably a fool, whatever their background. I am all for Human Pride myself! I also enjoy finding out about other ways of looking at the world, and exploring what they have to offer. Often this makes for a much more interesting life. For many writers and artists in Australia the traditions of our neighbours have been most fruitful; the poet Robert Gray, for example, thoroughly Australian, has nonetheless found Chinese and Japanese Buddhism provide a way of looking at the world that makes sense to him and permeates and enriches his work.

However, it is obvious why the school is willing to take this kind of action. As the school is majority Asian they must try to do everything in their favour and to make them feel special. As a majority they can speak freely about how great they are, whilst anyone that thinks otherwise is obviously from the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, or some redneck hick with an unbelievably small IQ. However, the huge influx of Asian students into the school is meant to bring multiculturalism into the school and this multiculturalism can only be achieved when the minorities of society (Asians) are a majority at the school, which is the case now.

RESPONSE: The students in this school are the students in this school; everyone who pursues excellence academically, in sport, or in other activities will feel special. Hilbert Chiu has made this point rather well. Some may be more dedicated to the pursuit of excellence than others, but all have the opportunity to excel. “Multiculturalism”, as the word suggests, simply means that we have (and have had for years) people here from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. There is no barrier for anyone entering this school, except to achieve a certain academic standard. No-one asks what your socio-economic or ethnic background is; if you get selected you get in.

But of course this letter will never make it into the High Notes, as it is obviously and blatantly “racist”. However any Asian, or any other non-white ethnic background who wants to write about the pride they feel for their race and the downfall of other races will be praised for standing up and having their letter published because they are “heroes”. I am therefore issuing you, Mr Whitfield, a challenge to print this letter in the upcoming newsletter. You say you encourage everyone who has been victimised because of ethnic differences to speak out against the “racist bullying” they are being subjected to. Well, here’s my letter. It talks about the “racist bullying” I and other white students at the school receive every day. I dare you to print it so everyone can read about what really goes on at school. To do otherwise would just be totally and blatantly RACIST.

RESPONSE: Bullying, whatever its origin, is deplorable. Students are encouraged to report instances of it to teachers, their Year Adviser, the Deputy or the Principal. Instances of racism, whoever is responsible, should be drawn to the attention of Mr Codey, the Anti-Racism Contact Officer, who will investigate them. Feeling alienated or experiencing xenophobia may, however, be neither bullying nor racism. In that case the alienation and xenophobia would need to be addressed, in the interests of the individual and the harmony of the group. Perhaps education is the key to that.

As to the comments on Asian Pride and so on, I counsel you to read the original articles on this page. If you can find anything there exalting race, or about the “downfall of other races” I will walk backwards from here to Taylor Square! What I see is the story of a fine young Australian who has worked hard, overcome a few disadvantages, and is now happy with himself and where he is.

And in February 2017: Immigrants Do Not Increase Crime, Research Shows from Scientific American.

Took delivery of Junior HP; Como nostalgia

Still using the Wollongong Library computer right now though. I may spend tomorrow setting up the new notebook.

And now for nostalgia. Here is a post I wrote in 2009:

A five-finger exercise

12 September

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

And from May 12, 2008:

Quite a lot more bush occupied much of that space back in 1959-1961, and my father was in some small measure one of those responsible for its going, being a real estate agent in Jannali and then Sutherland for much of that time, while my mother had for a while a dress shop in Jannali. Long story; I won’t go there.

riley_rm_2.5 At 17 I did my first practice teaching session at Jannali West Primary, over the line and up the hill from Jannali shops. In Jannali we lived above the shops in a flat that at least gave a good view of closely watched trains; in 60-61 we rented a house in Oyster Bay Road, and very leafy it was too. Dad had a Riley in those days though ours was black. He could use his carpentry skills on it too… The cat, which came with the house, had a habit of curling up inside; one day when Dad set off for Jannali in the morning, the cat, disturbed, went in panic for the highest point, the top of my father’s head, and sat there with its claws dug in. Fortunately Dad did not crash into anything and disburdened himself rather quickly. I think after that he made sure the car windows were closed when the car was in the car port.

Last November Sally, whose photoblog I have referred to before, posted a really great entry on Como.

All this has been prompted by an image of the old gauntlet track railway bridge over the George’s River, now a pedestrian way. It was a bottleneck which is why it was replaced, but it fascinated me.

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And here is another:

nsw_suburban_como_bridge_1960s