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The camel’s kiss

PETE’S jaw dropped mid-sentence as the inquisitive creature’s foul-smelling breath intruded on the deliciously rich, earthy outback air.

“Quickly!” he said, breathing as I scrambled in the passenger seat to grab my camera from the dusty red floor of the Land Cruiser. “Zac” had decided to participate in the cheerful human banter, projecting his huge rubbery mouth through the car window to give Pete a fetid, sloppy kiss.

I am on a secluded four-day trek with renowned landscape photographer Pete Dobré, run by Camel Treks Australia, deep in the varied landscape of the South Australian Flinders Ranges. Venturing on a spectacular journey from the perspective of an outback pioneer aboard a single humped camel, 
I was keen to capture the iconic ranges, a photographer’s utopia with a showcase of abundant wild- life and astonishing landscapes.

From Adelaide airport, we drive north through the Clare Valley wine and gourmet food district, established in the 1850s by Jesuit priests fleeing Silesia (Poland) and religious persecution (definitely worth a stop for lunch and perhaps a sample of the local vintage if you are a passenger!). Six hours and 400km later we arrive at the edge of Wilpena Pound—a natural mountain amphitheatre home to the small township of Hawker, 12km from our final destination.

The road to Wonoka Station basecamp is a hard compact dirt road, meaning there is no need for a 4WD, although the driveway is over 10km long. The alternative is travel via coach from Adelaide, with Genesis Tour and Charter to Hawker, where staff will collect and shuttle you to Wonoka Station.

We are greeted by husband and wife team Karen and Paul Ellis and their two children. The couple operates Camel Trek Australia tours over 20,000 acres. Following the obligatory safety drill, the gentle giants seeming to mildly protest their chewing being disturbed, groaned and then (not so graciously) lay down while the excited, impatient riders climbed aboard.

We were off!

Travelling in string formation, with each camel tied to the one in front Indiana Jones-style and led by a “cameleer”, we ventured 5km to our first base camp for the next two days. The honey-coloured sand- stone blocks of Mayo’s Hut are well over 100 years old, but renovated to house weary travellers on the Heysen Trail as well as those on camel treks. Camp was already set up and from the delicious aromas wafting by, it was obvious dinner was underway. Treated to nibblies, wine and a three-course meal prepared in mouth-watering, rustic outback style (all dietary needs catered), we kick back around a roaring campfire to exchange lively banter until it is time to hit the (rather luxurious) swags.

We awake each day to a huge hearty breakfast, and with lunches packed in camel saddlebags, we hit the trail each day for a new adventure.

For four days our surrounding scenery is an enticing smorgasbord for the eyes. The constantly evolving landscapes alternate from ruggedly mountainous ranges and spectacularly harsh, golden rocky gorges to delightfully cool and relaxing bubbling creeks (after the rain), sheltered by ancient river red gums and then onto the deep, rich sandy red plains stretching across the horizon as far as the eye can see.

Camel Treks Australia presents a fantastic opportunity to experience the organic breathtaking landscape of the Flinders Ranges, with many tour options to discover. It caters for school groups, families, photographers and adventurers—there is a trek for everyone.

More cameltreksaustralia.com.au

 

Life of drama and dance

YVONNE Reid is a woman of considerable presence. Dressed in black she welcomes the Diary into her rather spectacular stone-built residence in Banning Rd, North Warrandyte. Yvonne’s warmth and intelligence shines through as she talks about her life as a dancer, actor, teacher, choreographer, psychologist and Jungian analyst.

Her contribution to our arts community is immeasurable through her role as drama and dance teacher with the Warrandyte Arts Association’s Theatrekids. For more than 25 years she encouraged freedom of expression with hundreds of young Warrandyte children through her creative dance and drama classes.

Yvonne came to live in Warrandyte in 1942 when she was only two, along with her mother Hilda Mitchell and sister Bev (then seven) and moved into a little cottage in Albert Rd. Little brother David was yet to be born.

“We had no electricity and no telephone,” Yvonne says. “Little lamps at night, possums, howling winds and all that stuff.”

Their father Lynton (Lyn) was away serving in the army during WWII. The girls naturally missed their Dad. “But we didn’t forget him,” Yvonne says. “Mum had a picture of Dad that we used to kiss every night before going to bed.”

The cottage was next to a huge cliff that dropped 300 feet to the river at Pound Bend.

“I used to climb down and spend time in a little cave hall way down the cliff,” she says. “Mum didn’t mind me climbing up and down the cliff because she said I was sure-footed.”

Perhaps time spent in that little cave sparked the imagination of the little girl who would later express her creative side with writing, dance and choreography.

Yvonne was interested in dance and theatre from an early age be- cause of her friendship with neighbour Yvonne Day.

“She was a dancer and I idolised her,” she explains. “Yvonne Day and her sister June had numerous scrapbooks full of pictures and stories about the Hollywood stars of the day.

“I was totally captivated and I knew the names and faces of the actors and dancers before I had ever seen them on film.”

Inspired, Yvonne began creative dance classes held by émigré dancers Hanny Kolm and Daisy Pernitzer from Vienna. It was a determined effort for an eight-year-old girl to make the journey into the city once a week and an absolute testament to her mother Hilda’s devotion to make this happen. It involved a series of bus and train rides and an overnight stay with her Nana in Box Hill.

Two years later, Yvonne was persuaded to move away from cre- ative dance and into the classical discipline by her friend Barbara McIntyre.

“I studied classical ballet at The Royal Academy of Dance in Exhibition St,” Yvonne says. “But in the end I wasn’t convinced that classical ballet was sufficient for really creative expression.”

Yvonne first had the idea of teaching creative dance when she was 15 when she suggested to the WAA that she could teach ballet and creative dance and offered to do it without payment.

“But Joan Golding from the committee thought that lessons too cheap might not be appreciated and it was decided that I would charge 2/6 per lesson,” she says.

“There was no television and no extra curricular activities in our little town in those days and the local lasses turned up in droves,” she adds, smiling.

“Over 30 little girls arrived at the hall for the first lesson. We had our first recital Children Love to Dance at the end of that year.”

One ex-student Suzanne Dour (nee McAuley) spoke to the Diary about attending Yvonne’s dance classes over 50 years ago.

“It was all very modern and we were very privileged to learn with Yvonne,” Suzanne says.

“During one concert we had cardboard boxes over our heads and were marching about all over the stage. It was a lot of fun and we were able to really express ourselves. I still dance around the place to this day.”

There were no boys in the first years as it was considered to be “too sissy”. A few years later, Yvonne began to incorporate drama into her classes and advertised the classes under the WAA Theatrekids name.

Many boys came and started doing exactly what the girls had been doing before them. Theatrekids workshopped plays and used the work as a “sociodrama” to engage with issues common to the kids such as bullying.

In 1976 success came with one of Theatrekids productions entitled Gliders and Spirits when the one- act play won the Victorian State Schools Drama Competition.

“It was about a group of kids on a picnic in the Warrandyte bush,” Yvonne says. “It was a play with a magical touch and in one scene the kids are flying their gliders from a cliff very much like the one I climbed down as a child at Pound Bend. There is a transformation in the scene and suddenly the Wur- rundji children are dancing.”

Another highlight for Theatrekids was The Wizard of Warrandyte, a play that was instigated by the kids after some of them saw a bulldozer crushing some young trees. The hero of the day was The Wizard, an androgynous spirit figure who fought The Glink, a metallic monster symbolizing the earthmovers and bulldozers.

In 1959 Yvonne sailed to Italy on The Fairsky. After landing in Naples she took a train journey across Europe that she describes as stunning. She arrived in London to try her luck as an actress in repertory theatre.

Australian painters Yvonne and Arthur Boyd invited her to live with them in return for being a mother’s helper and she travelled through Europe with the Boyds.

“Seeing galleries in Europe with Arthur Boyd was quite something,” Yvonne says.

Yvonne was offered a season with Oldham Rep but homesickness was starting to bite. Another cold dark English winter was setting in and she was broke. Yvonne rang her father Lyn and he sent her the money for the trip home.

Back in Melbourne, Yvonne was reacquainted with Irving Reid.

“He was a dashing young man with a love of literature and art,” she says. “Once together it became an absurd notion that we would ever part and we never did.”

They were married in 1962, the same year as the bushfires burnt down Yvonne’s childhood home on top of the cliff in Albert Rd. They had four children: Lynton, Sacha, Duc and Than.

Unfortunately Irving passed away three years ago.

“It’s been an extremely difficult time, especially since his illness was misdiagnosed and wrongly treated,” Yvonne says.

Her wonderfully strong and determined face softens as she talks about Irving, the love of her life: “He was a painter, writer, mathematician and a great actor too! I miss him terribly, he was my best friend.”

Gough Whitlam’s initiatives in tertiary education made it possible for Yvonne to return to study and in 1982 she achieved registration as a psychologist. In 2005 she graduated as a Jungian analyst, 13 years study in all.

Yvonne believes her work as a psychologist and Jungian analyst is not far removed from the arts and she agrees with Jung’s notion that the value of imagination is a creative force.

Although Yvonne has achieved many accolades for both her creative and academic work, she is still passionate about her ten-year association with the Warrandyte Environment League.

“It is still profoundly important to me,” she says.

“One of the highlights of being involved with the league was being able to save Koornong from housing development.”

Today aged 74 Yvonne still works three days a week as a Jungian analyst. She is forever interested in the human psyche and the wonder of the universe.

Speaking as a practicing christian, Yvonne’s final comment is practical as much as being philosophical.

“I think the world needs some fresh approaches to solving the worsening problems of our planet.”

Gran’s on the money

A few years ago I went to one of those free seminars they advertise on 3AW. It was supposed to be a PowerPoint presentation but the cord didn’t even reach the powerpoint, that’s how hopeless they were.

Eventually they found an extension cord and showed us all these graphs and pie charts about how to fund your retirement until life expectancy. Too bad if you happen to live longer than expected but what do you expect from a free seminar?

The bloke said if you want to save for a rainy day you’ve got two options. The first was about investing in property but my hearing aid battery packed it in at that point and I couldn’t make head nor tale of it all. Some stuff about negative earrings and real estate Asians, and when they got on to sex and thirty-twos I tuned out altogether.

The second option was to invest in the stock market and I’m thinking what do I want with a herd of farty cud-chewers when he says if you really want a comfortable future the best thing to do is put your money in chairs and sit on them.

Well I thought you’re the expert so I went out and bought a whole stack of chairs and I put them in the garage and every now and then I go out and sit on them.

But you can’t just buy any old chairs. Not on your Nelly! You have to have a diversified portfolio of blue chipped chairs and speculative chairs but your blue chipped chairs are the key to your whole investment strategy. So I went to Ikea and they had plenty of blue chairs though none of them were chipped but I bought 150 anyway. They all had keys that were way too fiddly for me but I got Jasper to put them together and by the time he’d stacked them all in the garage most of them were chipped in fact some of them were completely stuffed.

But like I said, I still needed some speculative chairs because they’re the ones that go up and down all the time. Anyway, I found some little humdingers at Officeworks with a little lever under the seat that makes them go up and down so I thought that’ll do this little black duck and I bought a hundred.

So I had all my chairs stacked in the garage and it felt really comfortable, financially speaking. I’d go out and sit on my chairs while they appreciated and you can appreciate how I appreciated my chairs appreciating.

But like I always say, you should never count your chickens till they’re hatched. And sure enough along comes a rainy day and it turns out the garage roof leaks and I have to sell some of my chairs. So I put a stack of them on eBay, the speculative ones that go up and down but it turned out they hadn’t gone up they’d only gone down. The chairs I bought at Officeworks for $69 each were still $69 each at Officeworks and nobody wanted to pay more than $69 for mine, in fact, no one would even give me what I paid for them so I had to try selling some of my blue chipped chairs. So I tried selling my blue Plonkadonka chairs that cost me $239 each and the best I could get was fifty bucks on Gumtree and when the lady found out they were chipped she wouldn’t take them anyway.

So I sent an email to the bloke from the seminar saying your chair strategy stinks, rude letter following. And he wrote back and said if my earnings per chair ratio was underperforming I should turn them over. I said it will take us hours to turn them all over but he said you can’t sit on them any longer so I got Jasper to turn them all over and the bloke was right.

“You can’t sit on them any longer.”

When strange things happen

PLOTTING my original ABC-TV four-part drama Marion, I was determined to cover my tracks. I set the story amongst the tall timber of East Gippsland, far from my first one-teacher experience in the Mallee.

I made the beginner teacher a woman. I placed it in the time of my own childhood – 1942.

But hidden forces were at work.

As I wandered through the wonderful, accurate and evocative studio sets, prior to the commencement of the first day of studio filming in the ABC studios in Ripponlea, I found one period element that jarred.

In the apparently faultless set representing the interior of the school committee president’s farmhouse there was a telephone. But it didn’t look right; too exotic. It had been hired from a noted collector, an Ericsson model from the 1920s. Then I looked closer at the telephone number. It was Rainbow 192D. The phone number of our first school residence was Rainbow 192U, the other instrument on a two-party line. Inauthentic indeed!

A few of the actors had wandered on set by this time and when I pointed out this remarkable ‘coincidence’ they looked askance: actors are a superstitious lot. But I was assured that the telephone was exactly right.

Some years later, Judy and I spent a few nights as guests of the farming couple who were secretary of the Mothers’ Club and School Committee president during the years when I was their teacher. The school had closed and been demolished by this time.

I told the story of the strange phone. Saying nothing, our host left us for a few minutes, returning with the records of the school committee during 1942 – there was the name of the president – and his telephone number: Rainbow 192U!

Several years later, colleague and good friend Howard Griffiths and I were commissioned by the ABC to adapt the epic novel Power Without Glory. We broke the book into 26 parts, shaped each into a separate episode and wrote the first episode together, then assembled a team of four or five writers to script the series.

The morning after the first episode went to air nationally, two doctors – a pediatrician and a gynaecologist – were opening their joint practice in far-off suburban Perth. They were discussing the previous night’s TV viewing.

“That Power Without Glory” looks like a good show,” one commented. “Yes, my brother-in-law wrote the script,” one of them said proudly. “No, my brother-inlaw wrote the script,” countered the other.

They were both right. The gynaecologist was married to my wife Judy’s sister, the pediatrician was married to Howard’s wife’s sister!

A year or two later again, a niece of mine was working as a nurse at an HIV clinic in Sydney. She and the social worker in the clinic had become close friends. They were discussing Picnic at Hanging Rock, which they had seen separately. “My uncle wrote the screenplay, one of them proclaimed. “No, my uncle wrote it,” the other argued.

They were both right. The nurse was my sister’s daughter, the social worker was my wife’s brother’s daughter! They had become firm friends not knowing they were related by marriage. Forty years later they are still firm friends.

I secured the job on Picnic because of where I live. Author Joan Lindsay had right of approval of producer, director and screenwriter. Pat Lovell and Peter Weir had passed muster, now it was my turn. We met for lunch at the ABC canteen in Ripponlea.

“Where do you live?” was Joan’s first question. “Warrandyte,” I replied. “Then that will be all right,” she said. “Someone from Warrandyte will understand what that book’s all about!”

It turned out that of all plac- es, Warrandyte was special to Joan. She had been especially close to Penleigh Boyd, the renowned Warrandyte artist who was her cousin. She had often visited his family when she was an art student, I even heard that she met her future husband Daryl Lindsay here in Warrandyte.

“How did you get to Warrandyte in those days?” I asked. “Why, by train to Ringwood,” she answered. “Then on to Warrandyte in a horse-drawn drag.”

“That drag was operated by a Mr Bill Hussey?” I said.

“I don’t remember his name,” she answered “Well, he’s in the book, except he’s Ben Hussey.” (Ben drove the girls on their fateful journey to Hanging Rock.) “Bill Hussey was our son-in-law’s grandfather!”

“Well,” Joan countered with a twinkle, “strange things happen, don’t they?”

Tale of three rivers

IN late November and early December 1934, the Yarra River at Warrandyte rose to its highest recorded level, lifting to beyond a metre above the decking of the old wooden bridge. Homes, orchards and shops were inundated.

I was born in December 1934 at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne. The Yarra River did not touch my life until several decades later.

My first river was the Maribyrnong. Not the polluted, sluggish stream that then flowed through Footscray, but the near-pristine river that twisted its way across the Keilor plain, its passage marked by the River Redgums and Yellow Box trees that lined its banks, emerging into the edge of suburbia beyond the open paddocks, outback from North Sunshine.

Unbeknown to our parents we walked there. I was a small boy at the time, battling to keep up with the big kids. It seemed a very long way. Finally we reached our destination: a high, elevated railway bridge that crossed the river as it cut through its gorge, away down below.

Beneath the bridge hung a narrow pedestrian walkway, perilously close to the dual railway tracks above. This was our ultimate objective, to cross the walkway while a train thundered above. I was terrified. But no-one “squibbed”.

Goods trains were frequent, as the bridge was on a direct line to the north. Occasionally one of these interminably long trains was hauled by “Heavy Harry”, one of the world’s largest railway engines, built at the Newport Railway Workshops. Some were loaded with tanks, Bren gun carriers, field artillery, wingless fighter planes; all the hardware of conflict, for World War II was its height and Australia was under dire threat.

We crouched on the walkway as trains thundered overhead, deafened by the noise, scalded by steam, singed by flying cinders, longing for – and dreading – the moment when the engine would sound its whistle. And it always did.

My first introduction to the Murray River came via a railway train, the overnight sleeper to Mildura. I awoke at dawn, and from my upper bunk watched entranced as the sun arose, through the silhouette of a row of spindly gum trees, etched black against the early morning sky. We crossed the Murray later that morning and I marveled as the wide brown river rolled majestically through the Mallee towards South Australia on its way to the sea.

We travelled up and down the river on several occasions during that holiday, smelling the smoke and the oil-soaked steam, marveling at the great paddle-wheels churning the green water, admiring the deckhand as he leapt with the coil of rope from deck to wharf, envying the captain as he swung the big wheel in the wheelhouse, identifying with the oil-soaked engineer as he threw logs into the leaping flames in the firebox, pulling levers and twisting valves, following directions telegraphed from the wheelhouse above.

So impressed was I with life on the Murray, that when we reached home I spent the next weeks turning the woodpile beside our house into a full-blown paddle-steamer. An old bicycle wheel became the steering wheel and planks and logs became decks, a steep ladder stood in as a companionway and two more bike wheels were transformed into paddlewheels. I recruited a crew from the neighbourhood kids and we steamed the mighty river from the mountains to the sea, battling floods and fires and bushrangers.

My taste for Murray River water was far from sated, so when, decades later, the one-teacher primary school at Torrumbarry on the Murray, some 15 miles downstream from Echuca was declared vacant, I applied and gained the position.

My years on the Murray were among my happiest, and out of them grew a 40-minute children’s film, an educational documentary and my Riverboat Bill series of children’s books.

A new career now required a move closer to Melbourne. We crossed the bridge and headed off down Yarra Street for our exploratory look at Warrandyte: the Mechanics Institute, the picturesque shops, the tree-lined street, and above all, tantalising glimpses of the Yarra River. We were home.