Monday, April 28, 2008

Wartime Memories

Marge and Harry and a little friend, 1942
I`m definitely becoming aware that my memory is shortening with the lengthening of my years....the Second World War years, 1939 - 1945 sure are a long way back and to me certainly seem so.......After conscription for 21 year-olds soon after the start I was drafted to Mt. Martha for a 3 month camp and duly medically examined and I can vividly remember a story going around  the tents at the time about a group of blokes who were a little illiterate and had two doctors examining them at once -  peering one in each earhole, and if they saw each other, they were drafted into the Military Police - having "nothing between the ears..."
Those three months were quite an emotive experience for me a true young "city-slicker" sleeping on a prim straw palliasse - close contact with 5 strangers in a tiny tent, being woken by a raucous blaring bugle before dawn, lining-up with a tin plate for meals, picking out khaki pants & tops and unmderwear from huge piles of dumped clothes, long monotonous marches, dreary drill etc,
We were issued with one leave-pass a fortnight (if my memory serves me correct) when I was able to catch up with my fiance Marge and my family. I really enjoyed my time in the Army and not very long afterwards, having given the idea much thought and family discussion I volunteered to go overseas with the AIF. However after another medical test my 90% blindness in my left eye soon stopped that idea.
I was working then as an audit clerk with Myer....price control had not been long introduced and stores & shops etc. were not allowed above a margin fixed by the government. It was my job to investigate all departments, interviewing staff etc. When, coincidentally I had to confront my old headmaster from Melbourne High School who, retired, was working there part-time. I remembered he had a face that looked as thought it had been carved out of granite with a manner to match.....I didn`t want to face him and soon changed places with another chap in my department.
Those were the food and clothing ration books and coupons as a result of government control of manufacturing and purchasing - the only way to deal with severe shortages of manpower and resources...Later on, in early December 1941, Marge and I, my Mum and Dad, Freda and Ken left Melbourne   to enter into a business partnership with my Uncle David Diamond, mum`s eldest brother who was operating a secondhand furniture shop in Lismore, northern New South Wales, after travelling against many folk escaping south from a possible invasion threat.........
We were holidaying in Ballina over Xmas when my father suddenly became ill and died in Lismore hospital just 46 years old of a brain tumour of and / or aneurismwhich prompted our immediate return to Melbourne and my eventual return to the Pay Corps of the Australian Army in Swanston St opposit  the Museum where I spent the rest of the war...........
The only battle in which I was engaged was "The Battle of Swanston St" in which I was daily engaged trying to get a seat on overcrowded keep fit, once a week we had to march around the  city streets with a break at Treasury Gardens for drill etc. They needed a Band to lead the troops and had great difficulty in getting a Drum Major to lead it. I volunteered, was immediately issued with a whistle and a long baton which I quickly learned to twist & turn in the proscribed manner....
Every now and then , when I considered it right,I would blow my whistle for the band to play and when I considered it right blow it again for them to stop, to give them a break.
When we reached the Gardens, the Band discreetly indulged in the practice of "spine-bashing" (lying on our backs etc.) while the troops indulged in various drills.My work was clerical because of my accountancy experience and I had the pleasure of talking with many famous Australians when collecting pay while on leave....
Once a week the Commanding Colonel carefully inspected long rows of desks with paper, pen & books all on the right corner in proper regimental order!(Typical Army.....)
VP day, August 15, when Japan surrendered, I was in a city Drill Hal having had drops in my eyes for a test and told to wait in a room till called. I was the only one there and I suddenly heard loud shouting, screaming and the honking of car horns....I came out of the room - the whole place was deserted and the doors were locked but after a while I found a wayout through a window and joined the mad mobs celebrating the end of the war and I had to ask someone to tell me what number tram to get as I couldn`t see prop-erly.....
                                 `till next time - in about 7 - 10 days

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


The dramatically devastating death of the majestic heritage-listed nearly 100 year old tree, 3-4 metres from residential buildings - madly murdered by wild winds on the edge of Ardoch`s Village Green was really remarkable because of no injury to human life and just one tiny window broken. It was memorably mourned by most of Ardoch`s 300 residents. After I related the news to ABC Radio`s Jon Faine for about 6 minutes, they immediately dispatched a camera crew from the newsroom........

Recently I came across some poems written by my marvellous Marge 22 years ago - wonderful words about a pine tree and perfect pine forest at at our previous "Prospect Hill Park " hone in Wandin North, just 10 minutes from lovely Lilydale. I`ve also added American author Joyce Kilmer`s well-known poem "Trees" often heard on radio sung by Richard Tauber and Paul Robeson.

The Pine Tree

I am but a small part of you. You are like me.
You too were transported from your environment to this new land.
You came, like me, to plant your seed in this new land.

We did not make the choice -it was made for us.
You were a seed in someone`s pocket - but more than that
You were a seed in a man`s heart and imagination.....

We came to this land as strangers - your seeds
are scattered by the winds.
You,in your mighty splendour give new depth of colour

to this ancient land. You, like me, am an intruder.
We came to this land not by choice - we were brought
here by necessity to survive.

My need of you is greater than life. You are life......
My me you are the old and the new
I too have given birth to new life and learned

to love this new land. Your vast branches and rough
crusty trunk deep[ with colourand smell, and your
tears of resin bring me back to size.....

I am nothing without you...

Mother Pine

You stand tall and proud - your peak soars to the sky.
Your arms spread wide to protect your root system.
You are shy,yes, you vevever shed your gown

You only drop your needles one by one.
You are always perfumed, always ready to dance
and sing in case the wind blows.

You only make music with your upper half -
You drop your groan, you creak - you
groan, you creak....

This is your way to ask me to look at you...
"Look at me -look at me you say" and I do
You spread your domain with a coloured mist

And with it you engulf you. If you would have me,
Mother Pine when I am no more
My ashes I would give to your bosom.

Marge Greenberg February 1986

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth`s flowing breast,

A tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair,
Uoun whose bosom snow has lain who intimately lives with rain

Poems are made by fools like me, but only god can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

`till next time - about 7 - 10 days.....

Monday, April 7, 2008


All my  long life I`ve been a fast walker - so much so that friends often asked my dear deceased wife Marge, "Is Harry a nervous person - he walks so quickly...?" She would tell me and we`d both enjoy a good laugh. I`v never been nervous or anxious, I rarely allowed anything to upset me, believing that response is negative and futile. I`ve believed for a long time that "Nothing matters it`s how you deal with it that`s important."  
Well, one day I`m an extremely fit "oldie" with every minute of every day satisfactorily invested, and the next morning when endeavouring to stand up out of bed I felt unduly unsteady and couldn`t walk without grabbing hold of cupboard door handles, furniture etc. thinking gosh I`m disabled!
As I`ve aged I`d adopted the habit of not hopping out of bed instantly when conscious but dangling my legs to avoid giddiness but this was something different and I spent quite a few minutes hobbling up to my study to find out from the dictionary the meaning of "disabled" which is "deprived of physical or intellectual power or pecuniary means" and immediately thought thank goodness I`m not deprived of pecuniary means!
I was fortunate to have remembered seeing a shop in High St Prahran that sold wheel-chairs and walking aids and soon took a taxi there, rapidly returning home with a 4-pronged stick to help me around the apartment and was soon acquiring the necessary skills to enable me to use the stick in my right hand and carefully carry and balance a cup of coffee, food or what ever in my left I need to carry anywhere.
I sure have slowed down, having to think whether whatever I wish to carry is too heavy or awkward before starting off automatically............I had a visit from a physiotherapist who checked my stick and my walking, and commenting on my obvious wobbling gait suggested I return it and get a normal adjustable stick and consider a 4-wheeled walker with brakes. He also considered I consult a neurologist feeling I`d possibly suffered a small stroke.
Since penning those thoughts above I`d suffered a very nasty fall. I`d opened my front door, just before 7am to pick up my Age usually on the mat or near to  it but it wasn`t there but when I looked up, there it was about12 metres away in the middle of the road, obviously carelessly chucked by the deliverer. I was momentarily a little annoyed and hobbled across to it without my stick, leaned over and crashed face down on the brutal bitumen. I did not pass out, suddenly becoming aware of blood streaming from my forehead, cheeks, nose elbows and knees...I just lay there...for how long I don`t know and I`ll never know how I eventually stood up ( not a soul in sight) with nothing to grasp but I did, getting on one knee by pushing down and hobbling inside through the apartment leaving a thick trail of blood through the long passage to the laundry where I kept my store of first-aid equipment. I quickly washed the wounds as best I could and sloshed Betadine all over them and covered them with some sticky plaster. I then contacted those of my family I could and after having the wounds properly dressed by a professional intensive care nurse, my dear friend Libby McLean, holidaying in her Ardoch town-house.  from her home in the Blue Mountains. I was soon admitted to caring Cabrini Hospital (see my blog 27.3.08) for a stay of 5 days..
It really was remarkable nothing at all was fractured. Since coming home from Cabrini, I`ve regained enough confidence, with my wonderful 4-wheel walker to visit Carlisle St, have a most necessary haircut, visit the bank & do a little necessary shopping. Although there`s a taxi-rank I waited about half an hour before using my mobile for the first time, getting a cab and then swiftly home.
I thought.... how much we take for granted like good health etc. and how rarely do we appreciate our many many blessings.........
Re disability, I came across an old Greek proverb................"In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king....."
                              `till next time, in about 7-10 days....