Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 18 August 2017

Fun, Fear & Frivolity

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Long Tan, so it's fitting to post something relevant.

In this case, gentle reader, I've opted to review an eBook released recently by a Vietnam veteran called Ian Cavanough who served in 2 RAR in 1970-71.

The book is called "Fun, Fear, Frivolity", and it is well worth a read, whether you're a veteran or not.

Ian (better known as "Cav") has put together a memoir tracing his training, service in SVN, and return to Australia. His descriptions of recruit training are alternatively hilarious, accurate and bizarre.

Looking back on it, that is exactly how rookie training was. I doubt it made much difference whether that was at Singleton, Kapooka or Puckapunyal, the three recruit training bases. Cav captures the atmosphere, the development of confidence and camaraderie, and the daily experience of training very accurately.

His recount of his Vietnam experience is fascinating. Although he states on a few occasions that he can't write about his emotions, the force of the narrative actually captures the feelings of the young diggers very well. Nothing is stated, but the descriptions are so vivid and stark, that most readers would be captured by the his account and feel for those involved.

Although Cav is very self-deprecating about his writing, his capacity for accurate recall, vivid description and gentle humour make his work very engaging. His use of maps and photos taken during operations add to the immediacy of the narrative. 

His experience as an infantry soldier on operational service during the latter stages of Australia's involvement in the conflict is shared by thousands of diggers, but given the nature of counter insurgency warfare it is unique to Cav as an individual. 

For most Australians at the sharp end in Vietnam at the time, jungle warfare was very much a small patrol operation, and no two soldiers saw the same situation from exactly the same perspective. Cav captures his experience and that of his section and platoon with riveting detail and wry observation.

An unexpected bonus for me was his description of the operating environment, particularly the flora and fauna. For me, old experiences and images were dragged out of the recesses of memory and relived. Most of the accounts of the experience I've read down though the years (and I've read most of them) lack this wealth of detail.

There are many cliches, myths and misunderstandings about this most divisive of conflicts. Through it all, the stubborn valour of the diggers, whether national servicemen or regular soldiers, renders all this background as irrelevant - as white noise.

This memoir is an important contribution to the body of work still being produced by those who actually lived the experience of the war. It is authentic, immediate and engaging.

Get yourself a copy - whether you're a veteran or not.

Go here to find out how you can do that.



Saturday, 12 August 2017

Two of a Kind

Trumpkim - origin unknown


























I know I’d promised, gentle reader, to avoid matters political (national and international), but right now there’s a very large elephant (actually two elephants) in the room.

Given that our PM has said that we are “joined at the hip” with the US, we are involved in the current standoff whether we like it or not.

Turnbull’s statement brings back memories of Holt’s “all the way with LBJ”, and shortly after it was made, along with thousands of other young Australians I found myself beating around the bush in South Vietnam whilst a number of young men from another dispensation tried very hard to kill me.

You will understand then, gentle reader, why I don’t greet the PM’s words with any enthusiasm.

But back to the title of this post.

It’s fascinating to compare the two individuals at the epicentre of the current dispute.

In the first place, they both inherited unbridled wealth and power through no merit of their own.
In Trump’s case, from his father, and likewise for Kim Jong-un. The Kim dynasty is in many ways similar to a royal family. Australians know all about that.

The Trump dynasty began with his paternal grandfather, Friedrich Drumpf who emigrated to the United States in 1885 at the age of 16. He amassed a fortune operating boom-town restaurants and boarding houses in the Seattle area and the Klondike region of Canada, during the gold rush.

Trump inherited the family company and all its wealth (the Trump Organization) in 1971. It fell into his lap.

Kim Jong-un assumed power in North Korea in December 2011 upon the death of his father Kim Jong-il. Both the Trump dynasty and the Kim dynasty are characterised by serial “marriages”, although in different generations. Kim Jong-il had four, Trump three, so the Korean wins that one….

Trump has five children by three marriages, and has eight grandchildren. His first two marriages ended in widely publicized divorces.

Nether Trump nor Kim Jong-un saw military service. Trump was at college during much of the war in Vietnam and was deferred five times, and Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland,  a long way from conflict both in time and place. This probably helps to explain why both demonstrate a proclivity for bellicose rhetoric. This has always come easily to politicians who have not experienced the reality of operational service.

Then there is their physical appearance. Both are chubby, and have unusual hairstyles. Both look as if they need to be aware of issues such as diabetes and hypertension. Kim Jong-un is much younger, so his viability into the future is probably stronger.

But most of, their public behaviour (excuse me whilst I quote my PM) really joins them at the hip.

Both have cultivated the cult of personality to the utmost. Trump has used the media, going to the extreme of setting himself up as a soap star. Kim Jong-un has used the media he controls in North Korea equally as effectively. It’s easy to note the eerie similarity between a Trump rally and a Kim Jong-un parade.

The main difference is the standard of choreography. Kim Jong-un comes out on top here.

Both claim to lead democracies. Kim Jong-un’s state is called the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, so it must be so. We keep hearing, after all how Hitler was a left winger because the word “socialist” appears in the term NAZI.

Trump was elected by 27% of eligible voters (subtracting those who voted for Clinton – 2.8 million more, and those who did not vote at all). Put another way, 74% of eligible American voters did not support him. That is not “democracy”.

So there it is. We can only cross our fingers in the hope that those surrounding this pair of lunatics can restrain them so that the Korean peninsula (and probably Japan) don’t become piles of radioactive ash.

And we are “joined at the hip” to one of them. Aren’t we lucky?


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Of Cats and Frogs



Appearance is good.

























Sustaining my current distaste for issues political, once again I’m blogging about issues mechanical.
My bride is one of eleven, and six of her siblings are female. This means I have lots of sisters-in-law.
One of them has a fondness for Jaguars (the motor car – not the animal). She is also fond of frogs, but that’s another story.
2.1 litre V6




























Her hubby (my brother-in-law) has been for some time, searching for a Jaguar as a surprise gift. He found one (a 2002 manual X-Type) and it was in Toowoomba. These things are not all that common, and manuals are like hen’s teeth. His bride (said sister-in-law) also has a fondness for manual transmissions.

So the plot was hatched. I was to look at the car, and if it seemed OK, serious negotiations would be entered into. It was very OK, well-priced, and the deal was done.

Brother-in-law and bride are flying from their home base (Cairns) today, and I am meeting them at the airport with the surprise – the Jag.

Fake wood - real leather

























Not everything went smoothly. Turns out the air conditioning was non-functional, although it was working when I first inspected the car. Now air blowing warm is not a good thing in humid Cairns, so parts had to be found, and repairs done. As this is written, the parts have been dispatched but not delivered to Toowoomba, so here’s hoping they get here in time to be fitted before I have to drive down to meet the midday plane.

I’ll keep you posted.
Snarly cat on wheel!

As to the car – it’s in top nick and has covered about 120000 kms. These were the first Jags produced after Ford bought Jaguar in or around 2000. Ford used the Mondeo frame, which upset many Jaguar traditionalists, but the cars are more reliable than pre-Ford Jags as a consequence, and well-sorted.

The Jaguar ambiance is still there, with lots of leather and wood, and it’s a very pleasant drive. It’s powered b a small (2.1lit) six, and has a Getrag gearbox. It actually feels a little bit like our Focus to drive, and has idiosyncrasies like the bonnet opening handle on the passenger’s side which it shares with the small Fords.

It was the first (and only, I think), front wheel drive Jaguar.

It’s much more refined than the Focus, but handles much the same – no bad thing. You won’t find a better set of driver’s cars than the small Fords, even if Ford fitted them for a time with that weird and troublesome Powershift transmission.
Frogs are a thing.




































As mentioned above, my SIL likes frogs, so I found a frog themed key ring (pictured) to go with the car. I hope she is impressed.


Update -
The parts for the A/C didn't arrive in time to meet the plane, but a rendezvous was organised later in the day.
Sister-in-law was surprised (very pleasantly) and liked the frog......


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Details .....Details....

Tarting up the engine bay.




























Politics is beyond depressing right now, so I'll stick to posts about my MX5 for a while.

Restoring cars is less boring, and there is actually a result at the end of it. Can't same the same for political commentary.

Whilst the bodywork has a reasonable appearance, there's a lot of external detail stuff which needed doing. I started with the engine bay, the wheels, and other external bits like the wipers. I painted them, and made a bit of a hash of it.

More successful improvements included a new gear lever knob, leather binding on the steering wheel, and painting various visible bits such as the heat shield on the exhaust manifold and the brake calipers. The leather on the original steering wheel rim and gear lever knob were beyond restoration.

Not genuine, but pretty close in appearance.
This is the original well-worn gear lever knob.





























































I also replaced a missing bolt on the folding top, which actually meant replacing two, to get a matching pair.
Replacement bolts (6mm x 12mm)



























 The pics are self-explanatory.
The bolt on the left is the original, the one in the middle the replacement, and the one on the right was temporary.
Steering wheel cover laced on. This was first attempt at replacing the worn gear knob. It had a 5 speed label, so I ditched it.


















































The other thing I tackled was the mag wheels, all of them having been fairly comprehensively kerbed by previous owners. That was entirely unsuccessful, as the product I bought to cover the kerb damage (and to prevent further damage) refused to stay in place.

Tyres are Toyo A Drive R1 - excellent grip & feedback.




























They detached and flailed around on each wheel at different intervals - entertaining, but not useful. the problem is that already damaged rims don't provide a stable mount for the self-glued strip. They would probably work well on new rims.

Wheel refurbishment may be in order.

A good result - but much more to do.




 









Thursday, 6 July 2017

One Unhappy Chappie

I think he's trying to tell us something.






















































If you live in Toowoomba, you will have seen this ute.

For quite a few years, now, it's been parked in prominent spots around town. The owner is obviously very unhappy with ANZ bank, and is letting everybody know about it. I don't know the details of his beef with the bank. Maybe some day I will catch him in the vehicle and can ask.

He must live somewhere on the Eastern side of the escarpment, because that's most often where you will see his mobile billboard.

The other side.
Generally, he picks places that are well-frequented, and constantly re-positions it. It certainly gets noticed. I'm unclear as to how ANZ feels about it, or if they have any legal recourse.

They probably don't because, as far as I know, it's legal top drive around with messages on your vehicle, as long as it's roadworthy and registered.

I'm sure they wish he would go away.

Monday, 26 June 2017

On the Road Again

Appearance is good.
I've succumbed again.

After suffering from severe MX5 deprivation for the last four years, I've found the cure.

In this case it's a well-used 2000 NB. When I say "well-used", I'm talking 240000 km.

That's a lot, I hear you say. Isn't that a recipe for disaster - I hear you say.

Perhaps not. The previous owner was meticulous when it came to servicing, and the receipts were  there to prove it.

Soft top's in good nick.
It looks very much like my first one, but has a roll bar fitted. This seems to add a bit to chassis rigidity, and doesn't, to my mind, spoil the originality or appearance. It just means you have to get out of the car to raise or lower the soft top. 

Amongst other things, the timing belt, the soft top, the clutch, the brakes, the shockers and the air conditioning compressor have been replaced or overhauled. It's a bit like grandfather's axe.

It has a good set of Yokohamas, and a $800 Alpine stereo fitted.  Everything works with the exception of the heater, which has been blanked off because the previous owner saw this as a better option than removing the dashboard to fix it.
Interior needs cosmetic repairs..

It's a hoot to drive, feels as tight as a drum, and cosmetically looks pretty good. I see it as a project car, because it didn't cost much, and I'll enjoy restoring it slowly and carefully.

The wear is there, but it results from use rather than misuse. It also has an interesting patina. Because it's well-used, I don't have to worry about getting too many kms up.
Alloys need work.

When you've done a quarter of a million, why worry about a few hundred thousand more?

I'll start some restoration jobs when I finish work, and will post about it here.

Update:

Taken after a bit of detailing.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Denim and Diamonds

Entrance to the conference dinner.


























Last week I attended what will probably be my last ever professional conference.

It was a good one to go out on, being the annual conference of the ICPA*, held in St George.

During the last ten years, I've been working with bush kids with disabilities. This conference was attended by the parents of isolated kids, and the people, mostly from schools of distance education, who help their parents school them.

My conference accommodation



























For all the guff that's spoken about home schooling of late, the process has a long and successful history in outback Australia.

Times have changed, of course, and the lessons are no longer delivered by radio. It's all done using the internet, and most of the issues canvassed at the conference were about connectivity.

Telstra seems to be attempting to wriggle out from under, when it comes to their universal service obligations. There was a motion at the conference protesting the notion that once either satellite of wifi connections were established through the NBN, all hard lines would be removed.

This is OK in an urban environment, but when your nearest neighbour is 50 kms away, and the nearest medical assistance hours away, a reliable hard line is essential.

Wifi and satellite don't work all that well when it's coming down with cats and dogs during (for example) a rain depression, which is precisely the time when the road in is likely to be cut for weeks or months.

This is my stamping ground - not for much longer.


Another issue relates to the amount of data that needs to be sent when the students are in the later years of secondary. To put it crudely, in many cases it ain't up to the job.

There were resolutions passed on the conference floor related to this issue, and many others. These people have enormous political clout, and know how to use it. Present were a full range of federal and state pollies, including Pauline Hanson who looked very uncomfortable most of the time.

Chilly sunrise.

People from the bush know how to enjoy themselves, and the conference was a hoot on the social side, as well as being a great expression of the energy and loyalty found out west.

Dinner in the pavilion.


























I've resolved to continue my association and advocacy for bush kids post retirement. They're inspiring people.

*Isolated Children's Parents Association

 





Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Maggie

Happy pup at Horseshoe Bay. Lots of dogs on Maggie.


























I turned 70 yesterday, so to celebrate, my bride and I flew up to Townsville and caught the Sealink Cat across to Magnetic Island.

This place has a special place in my heart. We lived in Townsville on and off for years in the eighties, and two of our kids were born there.

We holidayed there when the kids were small, and I sent groups of school children across on camps from time to time. I remember setting up an emergency evacuation procedure for some of the kids with dodgy health conditions. Helicopter evacuation was the only option.

Fortunately we never needed to use it.

The Sea Cat that got us there - taken through glass.





 


























We stayed at Peppers Blue on Blue. It was a very pleasant place, but I have no idea who named it. The inventor of a sobriquet like that should forever remain anonymous. The resort is built on the littoral on Nelly Bay, and there is a very swish marina attached. There were some interesting pieces of maritime kit moored there.
Lots of expensive hardware.


























 I found myself wondering what was the point of keeping all this expensive hardware moored. Surely it should have been cruising. But then, there are people who keep beautiful classic cars in museums and look at them, rather than drive them. Strange.

We hired a strange little jigger with the title "Rebel". It was actually a cut down Daihatsu Cuore with a Targa top (without the top, if you get my drift). It was a lot of fun, but the seatbelts were decorative rather than functional.

Once we removed ourselves from the posh accommodation, the charm of Magnetic Island emerged. It remains a unique environment, a combination of laid back charm and millennium chic. There were lots of dogs, all well-behaved and content. Their owners were the same.

Maggie dog. Her name is Tuesday.
The place has an interesting history.

Long before Magnetic Island had its current name, it was known as Yunbenun. It was called that by the Wulgarukaba people who lived on the island for thousands of years before European settlement. One of their popular camping spots was Cockle Bay near the island's southern tip.

Maggie from the air.



























It was named Magnetic Island by Cook in 1770 when he believed the magnetic compass on his ship the Endeavour was affected by the island. 

During the 1800s the island became a popular picnic area and by the late 1890s the first resort was established in Picnic Bay.

Magnetic Island became an important defensive position during World War 2, because it was close to Townsville, which was an important military base.  Its views over Cleveland Bay were valuable, as the bay was a significant anchorage and assembly point for large fleets and convoys operating in the south Pacific.
Horseshoe bay mooring.

During the war, Magnetic Battery, an artillery battery and observation post, was built in the hinterland of Florence, Horseshoe and Arthur Bays. Picnic Bay also became a popular defence force rest and relaxation camp following the commandeering of a resort in the bay in 1939.

The remains of this battery are fascinating. The whole Eastern side of the island reminded me of the Long Hais in South Vietnam. The rocks, the heights, and the proximity of sparkling water are all present.
Our trusty steed.


























It's a great place for a short break. Unless you simply want to do the beachcomber thing and chill out for a long time, you can see everything on the island in a day or two.

There is an amazing variety of accommodation, from basic to posh.

Check it out, gentle reader - preferably during winter.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Motoring - Gangnam Style

When it comes to meeting the needs of Oz drivers, the Koreans have pretty much aced it. Hyundai  sales in Australia across the market tell the story.

After three days and 1000kms in a Hyundai Tucson ActiveX this week, it's easy to understand this market success.

The car was brand new, and I was the first hire. It was head and shoulders above what they usually give me - the stodgy but comfy Outlander.

The ActiveX is actually a bit of a curate's egg. the good parts are the interior fit-out, the standard kit, and the user friendly nature of most of the equipment (except the Bluetooth - but more about that later). It is also a very refined vehicle in terms of ride, noise control and driver comfort.

These last features put it a cut above the Outlander and X Trail. I can't compare it with a Mazda CX-5, as I've never driven one.

 It also drives and handles very competently.

The not-so good bits are the engine, which needs to be revved to get the most out of it, and a wheel tyre combination included for appearance rather than practicality.

The ActiveX spec comes with front-wheel drive, six-speed auto and is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 121Kw of power and 203Nm of torque.

The front wheel drive bit is funny, as AVIS contracts to provide four wheel drive vehicles for the routes I travel. Maybe this one just slipped through.....

You can buy a diesel with four wheel drive, but that moves well into thirty grand plus territory. There's also a turbo charged 1.6 litre available. Maybe that version has the torque lacting in the ActiveX.

Don't get me wrong. The 2 litre does get up and boogie on demand, but it is a long way from effortless. I saw 5500rpm overtaking a road train.


Sometimes it's the little things that count. The extension on the sun visor is just the thing when heading west with a northern sun belting on your face.

The Hyundai Santa Fe has the same feature. I've driven plenty of these in the past, and the road feel was similar. The Santa Fes have a grunty diesel. Based on my experiences with Santa Fes and this Tucson, I'd go for the diesel if I was buying one.

As for the Bluetooth - it worked fine except that the phone had to be paired every time I started the car - a nuisance, to say the least.

And the low profile rubber might look great, but it is out of place on a vehicle that has pretensions to handle gravel roads. Don't even think about off-road...

In summary, this is a very competent, comfortable and user friendly vehicle. Expect to see lots of them on the road.

 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Dust of Uruzgan





Reviewing music performance is a novelty for this humble blogger, but I'll  give it a crack.

You, gentle reader, can give me some indication of whether I should do it again. 

A little while ago, my bride and I went to a local concert by Fred Smith, of "Dust of Uruzgan" fame. This bloke has led an interesting life, and he was interviewed on Richard's Fidler's Conversation programme, which piqued my bride's interest.

I had heard and enjoyed his music, so off we went.

He delivers a pared back, low key performance. He is a competent musician, and a great story teller, rendered both through his lyrics and on-stage patter.

He also has an eye for irony and the bitter contradictions of modern anti-insurgency warfare. Much of what he covered had eerie echos of Vietnam.

The stories are stark and the metaphors vibrant. Whilst the delivery was laid back, the content wasn't. 

I'd recommend both his live performance, and the CD of the same name.

If there is no other reason for buying it, remember that a proportion of the proceeds are directed to Mates4Mates, a very worthy cause.

Below are the lyrics.

Dust of Oruzgan

In the ring they called me “Warlord”, my mother calls me Paul
You can call me Private Warren when your filing your report
As to how I came to be here, this is what I understand
In this hospital in Germany from the Dust of Uruzgan

I had just turned 28, just bought a new car
When I joined the first Battalion of the Big 1 RAR
We were next up for deployment into south Afghanistan
To combat the insurgence in the Dust of Uruzgan

It took seven months of training just to get into the joint
There were pushups and procedures there was death by Powerpoint
Then the RSOI course in Ali Al Salaam
But nothing can prepare you for the Dust of Uruzgan

Me and Benny sat together flying into Kandahar
Sucked back on our near beers in the Camp Baker Bar
Then up at 0530 we were on the Herc and out
In twenty flying minutes we were in to Tarin Kowt

We shook hands as the boys RIPped out from MRTF 1
And pretty soon were out patrolling in the Afghan summer sun
Walking through the green zones with a Styer in my hand
Body armor chafing through the dust of Uruzgan

We started up near Chora working 14 hours a day
Mentoring a Kandak from the Afghan 4th brigade
Down through the Baluchi into eastern Dorafshan
Working under open skies in the dust of Uruzgan

It’s a long way from Townsville not like any place you’ll see
Like suddenly you’re walking through from the 14th century
Women under burkhas, tribal warlords rule a land
Full of goats, and huts and jingle trucks is the Dust of Uruzgan

And the Education minister can neither read nor write
And the Minister for Women runs the knock shop there at night
They’ve been fighting there for ever over water, food and land
Murdering each other in the Dust of Uruzgan

There’s nothing about this province that’s remotely fair or just
But worse than the corruption is the endless fucking dust
It’s as fine as talcum powder on the ground and in the air
And it gets in to your eyes and it gets in to your hair

And it gets in to your weapon and it gets in to your boots
When bureaucrats all show up here it gets in to their suits
It gets in the machinery and foils every plan
There’s something quite symbolic ‘bout the Dust of Uruzgan

Still the people can be gracious and they’re funny and their smart
And When the children look into your eyes they walk into your heart
They face each day with courage and each year without a plan
Beyond scratching for survival in the Dust of Uruzgan

But the Taliban are ruthless, keep the people terrorized
With roadside bombs and hangings and leaving letters in the night
And they have no useful vision for the children of this land
But to keep them praying on their knees in the Dust of Uruzgan

It was a quiet Saturday morning when the 2 Shop made a call
On a compound of interest to the east of COP Mashal
We had some information they were building IED’s
So we cordoned and we searched it in accord with SOPs

I was on the west flank picket, propped there with Ben
There to keep a watchful eye out while the other blokes went in
We looked for signs of danger from the TTPs we’d learned
But the Nationals were moving back and forth without concern

We’d been standing still for hours when I took a quick step back
Kicked a small AP mine and everything went black
Woke up on a gurney flat out on my back
Had to ask them seven times just to get the facts

That I lived to tell the story through a simple twist of fate
The main charge lay ten feet away from the pressure plate
You see the mine was linked by det chord to a big charge laid by hand
Hidden there under Benny by the Dust of Uruzgan

I was a Queensland champ Thai Boxer now I look south of my knee
And all I see is bed sheets were my right foot used to be
Benny’s dead and buried underneath Australian sand
But his spirit’s out their wandering through the Dust, the Dust of Uruzgan

Now I’m going back to Townsville it’s the city of my birth
Some go back to Ballarat and some go back to Perth
I’ll be living with my mother who’s still trying to understand
Why we’re spending blood and treasure in the Dust of Uruzgan

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Follow the Finns


This is worth a look, gentle reader, although it is obviously a gross over simplification.

The bottom line, when it comes to the success of the Finnish system, is that it is child/student centred.

The other feature of the Finnish system, is that education belongs to the teachers, not the politicians.

Oh, and there is no system mandated standardized testing (NAPALM NAPLAN).

We could learn a great deal from the Fins.....

Sunday, 7 May 2017

2017 David Hack Meet





This year's David Hack meet was up to the usual standard.

There was the usual variety of classic machinery, both automotive and aircraft, and I took a few shots. They're presented here, gentle reader, for your edification.

1942 Buick


Hudson Terraplane Ambulance













Jag XK 150
  

Yep - it's a Caddy - 63 I think.
Lovely little Datto (Fairlady)
ND Mazda MX-5 Cockpit
Ford Galaxie - just for Cav
Lancia Monte Carlo
63 Valiant. My high school chemistry teacher drove one of these.
Beautiful interior in this Model A Ford.
WW 2 GM Blitz (RAF livery)
Blitz again. Note Holden badge above and left of instrument cluster.
There were lots of planes - Victa Airtourer.
Apparently this thing flew - I don't know how well - 1932 Stipa-Caproni.
And there's always Mustangs.

Studebaker Admiral




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