March Reading Update

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March has come and gone and I cannot believe that it is April already. Where has the time gone? March turned out to be a very busy month. Since late February I have been back into the study mode and that puts a big dent in my reading progress. This semester I am studying Ethics and Australian History, so there is a fair bit of heavy reading.

Last time I talked about how I like to read different types of books at different times of the day. I study during the day while Dan is at Yellow Bridge. It’s a bit hard to study when he is around – he gets rather vocal and it’s difficult to concentrate. So during the day, when I feel fresher and more alert (supposedly!) I have been reading about Utilitarianism, Deontology, Consequentialism, Human Rights, Indigenous History and the Frontier wars. Yeah, some really big words there! By the time evening comes around I’m feeling rather brain dead. I’m looking for some fun, laughter and escapism. Hence, there’s been a lot of Rick Riordan this month.

I knew this would happen once study rolled around again but that’s the rhythm of life. Reading for fun, like other things, has to fit around the ebb and flow of life. Luckily semester break is just around the corner so April may look a little better. But here’s what I managed to read during March…

  • The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
  • Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
  • The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
  • Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee
  • The Secret War: A true history of Queensland’s Native Police by Jonathan Richards

The Secret War is a non-fiction book I read for an Australian History tutorial presentation. It’s about the Frontier Wars in Queensland and particularly the role that the Queensland Native Police had in the dispossession of Aboriginal people.

“In Queensland, the Native Police played a major role in the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land, the almost complete destruction of Aboriginal law, and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.” (Richards, 2008, p. 5)

I thought it was an excellent read. It is certainly a shocking and shameful part of Australia’s history. It’s uncomfortable facing the dark side of our human nature. Our capacity for cruelty, violence and inhumanity often seem to know no bounds. But we are also capable of so much more – honesty, compassion, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. True reconciliation requires us to acknowledge the past so that we can create a better future – a future that is based on equity, understanding, inclusion and belonging.  

Book Bingo for March

I only ticked off one book for this month – oh well. January and February were pretty good months so I guess it’s okay to have a slow month now and then.

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Book with a Red Cover: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Hopefully it won’t be another whole month before I see you here again. In the mean time…

Happy Reading

 

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Toowoomba – Garden City

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On most mornings of the week, after I take Dan to Yellow Bridge, I like to take a walk along the West Creek walkway. Passing walkers with dogs straining at the leash and children on bikes, enjoying their last days of freedom before the end of the school holidays, I realise how spoilt we are for parks in Toowoomba. Throughout the city there are over 240 parks and gardens. Most are just little parks or playgrounds, usually within walking distance, dotted around the suburbs, like this one that was just a few steps down the road from our last house….

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Then there are the more formal gardens of Toowoomba, such as the Japanese Gardens, Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge, where Dan goes every week, Picnic Point  with scenic views of the Darling Downs, and Queens Park right in the CBD. Every September these gardens attract thousands of visitors as Toowoomba hosts the Carnival of Flowers. Even in the midst of drought, the parks and gardens provide a little oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life. Despite its city status, the open spaces of Toowoomba’s gardens and parklands help to foster a friendly country atmosphere. It is one of the things that I like most about Toowoomba and it reminds me of my hometown, Adelaide in South Australia.

But it wasn’t always this way. 

Travelling back in history, I discovered that Toowoomba once provided a very different view. Back in 1878, the streets of Toowoomba were littered with…

overflowing cesspits, filthy pigsties, dirty poultry houses, offensive middens … putrefying accumulations of fruit and vegetables, ill kept drains and stagnating slop-water and slime’

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it. Hardly the picture of a garden city, but probably no different to any other city in the world during the nineteenth century. It is quite shameful to think how quickly European settlers were able to turn a pristine location into a cesspit of filth and slime. I am reminded of the story of King Midas, except that instead of turning things to gold, we have a tendency for turning things to filth.

But we can turn it around.

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As I wander along the walkways and around the gardens today, past the artificial lake where enthusiasts sail their remote controlled boats, past the floating water lilies or the waterfall gushing down the quarry cliff-face, it is hard to imagine the overflowing cesspits and stagnating slime. In a city known for its gardens and clean mountain air, it’s difficult to imagine typhoid epidemics and schools without proper sanitation. We may not always be able to return locations to their original condition, but we can always do something to turn a cesspit into an oasis.

I think the Toowoomba Regional Council should be commended for their efforts to create a healthy, attractive and sustainable environment for the city’s residents and visitors. All through the year, and especially in the lead up to the Carnival, you can see them hard at work, planting, pruning, irrigating and mowing all the parks and gardens. With around  1000 hectares of parkland to maintain, it’s certainly a massive job.

But wherever we live in the world, we can all play our part. It’s always a shame to see our environment littered with refuse – especially just a few steps from a bin. It’s not hard to…

  • Put your rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you.
  • Recycle your containers and rubbish
  • Keep the waterways clean for the fish, turtles and birdlife

Do you have some favourite parks or gardens in your hometown? I’d love to hear about them and if you’re ever in Queensland in September, please come on down to the Carnival.

 

Reference

Enid Barclay, “Fevers and Stinks: Some problems of Public Health in the 1870s and 1880s”, Qld Heritage, Vol 2, no. 4 1971 pp 3-13.  

 

 

Big Red Bash #7: Signs for the Times

I know. It’s been a long time between drinks. I had intended for this post to be out some time ago. Then life happened. A bunch of assignments, a sudden death in the family, a sick kid…

But here we are finally at the end of our outback adventure and as I promised last time, this final instalment is about a special project I had going during our trip. Travelling through the Australian outback necessitates long stretches of driving. Sometimes the scenery doesn’t change all that much. Occasionally we spot some livestock or pass another vehicle. We also have to keep a look out for kangaroos who decide the grass is greener on the other side of the highway. But there is one thing that often catches our attention – town signs.

Not so long ago, the town signs around Australia were pretty standard – a simple white sign with black lettering. But this is not the case any more. I have noticed a  change in recent years to utilise a wide variety of designs which reflect something about the town’s location, industry or history. I think it’s a good idea. Not only are there some really interesting and beautiful designs, but the signs give little clues to the history that might be discovered and inspire travellers to stop a while to explore.

As we set off on our trip, I thought it would be interesting to get a photo of every town sign on our route, after all it might be quite a while before we were back that way. I managed to do this for almost all of the towns we passed through, stopped for a cuppa or stayed for a while. Here are some of the interesting things we noticed on route or have discovered since coming home.

 

Australian towns have some very interesting names and sometimes you wonder where they came from. Towns like Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Wallumbilla are believed to originate from the indigenous names for the area. Others, like Condamine, Mitchell and Roma are named after Colonial figures and explorers.

 

It became quite apparent that towns within the same shire often shared similar designs, shapes and backgrounds, yet included a feature specific to their own area. I really liked the signs for Bollon and St George, which I thought were not only beautifully designed but also quite original.

 

I also liked some of the signs in the Maranoa shire which had a very pretty purple, pink and red sunset background with a striking black silhouette.

 

Four of the towns on our route – Condamine, Cunnamulla, Birdsville and Wallumbilla – are all featured in the Australian version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Even Toowoomba gets a mention too.

 

As rural towns decline and the population migrates to the big cities or the coast, tourism becomes an essential industry throughout the interior. Much as we always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a town by its sign – the truth is that we do. So anything that might encourage people to stop for a while in towns they would usually drive straight through, is a really great tourism initiative. The signs remind us that every town is unique, and despite the dwindling population, that these little places have been home to many people over the years and have their own place in our history.

Big Red Bash #5: Lining Up in Birdsville

Birdsville Hotel – Version 2So far, on our Big Red Bash adventure, we have followed The Adventure Way, been sobered by the tragic tale of Burke and Wills and the Dig Tree, and been quietly impressed by the revival of the Betoota Pub. After four days of travelling the outback roads of Queensland, we rolled into Birdsville – two days ahead of schedule! This turned out to be a good thing.

As we drove in past the town sign, we couldn’t help but see 4WDs and caravans pulled up and camped – everywhere! Birdsville is a small outback town – a very small outback town. The population only numbers a little over 100. Except for two events in the year, when it explodes to about … 7,000 (+/-). The Big Red Bash is the first event and the Birdsville Races, held in September, is the second.

With such an influx of visitors the town’s resources are stretched to the max and beyond. You quickly get used to lining up – for fuel, for bread, for pies and just about everything else. When we arrived in Birdsville on Friday, we had very little trouble fuelling up and booking into the Caravan Park. But by Sunday afternoon – it was a different story. The line of incoming vehicles stretched out along the main road, out past the bridge and out of sight. This was the line up for the fuel station. Only thing was – the town had run out of fuel. People just had to wait in the line for the fuel tanker. I think the whole town heard the cheer go up when it finally arrived.

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As the Big Red Bash only started on Tuesday afternoon, we had a few days to explore Birdsville and socialise with the other Bashers camped in the Caravan Park. One of the good things about a town as small as Birdsville is that you can walk everywhere. In fact, with so many vehicles everywhere, it was probably quicker to walk anyway.

The Bash organisers had set up a registration and merchandise centre in the middle of town. So on Saturday morning we strolled down and joined the line to register, get our wrist bands and entry sticker for the car. Then we lined up to get some merchandise. After coming all this way, we wanted some proof of our adventure, and who knows if we would get the chance to come again. I was impressed at how well it was organised. A display area had been set up where you could look at everything, check sizes and so on, and once you had made your choice, one of the attendants would check things off on a list. Then you lined up with your list to collect the merchandise. Then you joined the line to pay for the merchandise. It was actually pretty streamlined.

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Then we took a walk around town and joined the line streaming out of the Birdsville Bakery. Every morning there was a long line of people queueing up for freshly baked bread. This time we were lining up for camel pies.  Yes, I did say “camel” pies.  The Birdsville Bakery has a reputation for their camel pies. Are they really made from camel? Apparently so, and they tasted pretty good.

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Of course, you can’t go past the Birdsville Pub. You need to at least step through the doors into the bar and look up. See the hat collection attached to the ceiling! With so many visitors in town, patrons needed to eat in shifts for the evening meal.

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Another building well worth seeing is the Australian Inland Mission Hospital Museum which has a good display of medical equipment and photos of Birdsville’s history. The hospital was once housed in the Royal Hotel which was built in 1883. The hotel is now heritage-listed and its ruins are pictured below.

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Despite the pressure that a population explosion places on a town like Birdsville, events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville Races are critical for the survival of outback towns. Okay, so the town ran out of fuel, and out of bread, and out of pies, but as tourists, we didn’t mind having to line up. It’s all part of the Bash experience and it gives us plenty of time to chat with each other as we wait. Besides, we’ll have to do plenty of lining up out at the Bash. That’s we’re headed next.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Study History?

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Photo by Darran Shen on Unsplash

Studying history often gets a bad rap. It is seen just as a long dull list of dates and dead people. However, I find history really interesting. It can also be sobering, tragic and sometimes, downright horrific. But I believe that if you want to know where we are going in the future, you need to know where we have been

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey

When we delve into the past, we can trace the movement of people, ideas and changes in cultures and societies. History provides a fascinating revelation of how our forebears thought, lived and died. It highlights achievements in medicine and science, as well as the devastating consequences of war, famine and disease.

Ancient history often seems quite remote to us here in the 21st century, but it is surprising how we can join the dots from then to here and now, one thought leading to another, one event leading to another, one era evolving into another. History is not just the story of some ancient people, in a far away land, in a time forgotten. History is the story of us.

“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough

We can go back hundreds or even thousands of years, to medieval Europe or to ancient Greece, or we can just go back to a time that is still in living memory. Even though we are now living in the 21st century, the events of the 20th century are still clear as bell for many of us. Some of us might still remember where we were when JFK was shot, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon or when the twin towers came down. However, it still feels somewhat startling to discover that the time of your childhood is now considered history, even if it only feels like yesterday.

Photos by Cristina Gottardi, Tom Parkes & Holger Link on Unsplash

When we wander back through history, we can find stories of ordinary people, just like us, living, working, breeding and dying, and events that changed the world, like fire, sea navigation, the printing press. For many of us, the 20th century has been a period of rapid change, of great achievements and of unspeakable horror. If you were to make a list of the top ten events of the 20th century that changed the world, what would you choose?

While everybody’s list might look a little different, I think there would be some events that would make it onto every list. Here’s a list that I came across recently.

Top 10 Most Important Events of the 20th Century

  1. World War I and World War II
  2. Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)
  3. Holocaust (1933-1945)
  4. Rise of Hitler (1919-1933)
  5. Great Depression (1929-1939)
  6. Discovery of Penicillin (1928)
  7. Fall of Berlin Wall (1989)
  8. Landing on the Moon (1969)
  9. Bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941)
  10. Assassination of JFK (1963)

How does it compare with your list? For me, the two World Wars and the Holocaust always rank highly in my mind. And it doesn’t seem to matter how much we think we already know about these events, there is always more for us to learn. We can read about the facts of WWI and the Holocaust, but we can only imagine how it must have actually felt for those who went through it and for those who survived. With Europe in ruins and the horror of the Holocaust revealed, the question both then and now is – how did we come to this?

And this is where the study of history comes in. We can look back years, even decades before, and trace the ideas, the events, the people. But – we need to be careful.

“historians always know how the story ended; vision in hindsight is always perfect.” (Findley & Rothney, 2011, p77)

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the full knowledge of what we know now, we can look back and see what could or should have happened, what world leaders should have or should not have done. It’s so easy to point the finger and cast judgement. Would we have chosen any differently?

Perhaps we might wish we could turn back time and change the course of history, but then we would not be where we are today. It could be better or it could be worse – we will never know. Whether tragic or horrific, amazing or marvellous, the events of the past have made us who we are today. The things we do today will be the history of the future. Let’s do all we can to make it a good one.

 

Findley, CV & Rothney, JAM 2011, Twentieth-Century World, 7th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont CA.

A Night Out at the Theatre

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I really love old buildings. I love the detail in the architecture, the arched windows and the sense of character that I often find missing in contemporary buildings. Toowoomba is blessed to still have many of its historic buildings and I love wandering around the city streets, bemused at the way they sit juxtaposed to contemporary buildings, wondering about the people who helped build them or who used to work in them.

One of our favourite historic buildings is the Empire Theatre. It was opened on the 29th June 1911 and had the latest technology of that time to show the most exiting advent in entertainment – big screen movies! Sadly, much of the original theatre was destroyed by fire on 22 Feb 1933. Despite this devastating setback, the theatre was rebuilt and the two walls that were left standing after the fire were incorporated into the new design. Amazingly, the theatre was able to reopen at the end of the year on 27 Nov 1933. 

The Empire Theatre continued to be at the centre of Toowoomba’s cultural life for many years. Unfortunately, the lure of the television set and other entertainment led to the theatre’s closure in 1971. For a while it was used as a warehouse and then as a TAFE college and then sadly, it just fell into disrepair. Fortunately, this was not the end of the story.

Eventually the need for a performing arts centre resurfaced and the Empire Theatre was restored and reopened its doors on 28 June 1997. Today, the theatre blends contemporary technology with the architectural grandeur of its past, still retaining some of the features from both 1911 and 1933. One of the most outstanding features is the grand proscenium arch, which is possibly one of the last of its kind left in the southern hemisphere. The arch is back lit with a rainbow of colours and provides a stunning frame for centre stage.

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It still is the largest performing arts centre in regional Australia and hosts a variety of world class performers. You can read more about the Empire Theatre, it’s history and its cultural program here.

We have enjoyed seeing a number of ballet performances and musicals at the Empire Theatre. Last year we went to see a local production of Wicked and earlier this year we went to see the Pirates of Penzance. It was Bec’s first Gilbert and Sullivan musical, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Not long ago the Empire Theatre was one of a number of locations around Australia that screened sessions from the Sydney Writer’s Festival free to members of the public and just recently Dan, Bec and I enjoyed the Queensland Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake.

There is something about the story of Swan Lake that fills our hearts with a blend of joy and sadness. If you only ever see one ballet in your life, it should be Swan Lake. The beauty and grace of the swans and the tragic ending of the doomed lovers always moves me to tears. Bec learned ballet for a few years when she was younger, so we have seen a few different ones – The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Dream and La Fille, Mal Gardée – but Swan Lake is always our favourite.

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