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The three of us moved cautiously past the ruins of the house and into the overgrown back garden. We were moving carefully as the long grass hid ankle-turning bricks, toe-stubbing baulks of timber and shin-barking pipes. We had learned of these obstacles the hard way in other similar sites, there being quite a few of them in our area. We knew the garden contained apple trees and we were checking on the ripeness of this season's crop. The garden was comparatively large which was unusual. Few were in this part of the country where land was at a premium. The house had been a single storey dwelling, commonly known as a bungalow, another rarity. This was in a street in an up-market part of town where the houses were all single storey and all of different design. We three lived in two storey, semi-detached structures differing only in internal decorations and colour schemes. Less affluent but at least they were still standing.

There along the remains of the back fence were the trees. The apples must have been ripe because they had all gone. Some other bunch of scrumpers had beaten up to the prize. We stared at the fruitless branches for a few moments and then turned to retreat. One of our group spotted something over in the corner beside the blackened remains of the burnt garden shed. "Spuds" he exclaimed. Carefully we moved towards the yellowed, grub eaten leafy tops of the tubers. There was a lone plant among the weeds. Scrapping away the top soil with bare hands we rapidly uncovered a handful of egg sized, thin skinned potatoes. Further digging with a piece of fence paling uncovered a couple more. Sorting them out fairly required a bit of bargaining, but all of us were quickly satisfied with our share. Then our leader spotted a pile of dried prunings. "Let's make a fire and roast them" he suggested. "I'll go home and get some matches while you two break up some of those sticks and get the fire ready". He was off and back in quick time. He must have run. We soon had a small fire crackling away and after the initial blaze had died down, tossed the salvaged vegetables onto the embers along with some more twigs. The potatoes were carefully watched and turned over periodically using two sticks. A smell of charred murphy's mixed with the odour of the burning apple wood and we sniffed appreciatively. A single blackened sphere was rolled out of the fire and a sliver of wood driven in to determine if it was cooked. The judgement was that sufficient heat had been absorbed and the rest were rolled out. Gingerly they were hefted onto the piece of paling previously used for excavating. With fingers and twigs the exterior carbonised shell was removed revealing steaming white, charcoal-spotted delicacies. Within minutes they were no more.

We weren't starving. On the contrary, it could be argued that we were the best fed generation of our century, meaning we received a balanced diet with adequate nutrition for growing boys. Yes, we were boys; six year old boys, living on the outskirts of London during World War Two. None of us were abnormally skinny but there was only one fat boy in our school and he was the local doctor's son. Doctors got well paid, often in kind by grateful patients who grew vegetables on allotments and reared rabbits in hutches, but had little cash. I said we were not starving, but we were always hungry, particularly for anything sweet. Many years later in my early twenties, I went on a camping holiday with three other lads. We had challenged ourselves to live off the land as much as possible. We had rifles, spear guns, fishing rods and our wits. We feasted on wallaby, native hen, abalone, crayfish, stingray, parrotfish and leather jacket. We fared well on this high protein diet and I periodically relive that most enjoyable week. But those potatoes and their contribution to my diet have been a particularly fond memory.

The History Police were doing their regular spot check on the records of They did random samples on any Family History that appeared to be unverified, unsubstantiated or plain unbelievable. "Here's one" said Arthur. This family had a series of John's over several generations in the 19th century, in the Snowy Mountains town of Tumut. All of the John's died by accident.

  1. John L. arrived in the Colony in 1824 and was drowned in the Tumut River on Nov. 1, 1872, aged 68 years. There was an Engagement family picnic on a hot day when John and 4 of his adult sons went in for a dip. Several of the sons were alluvial miners. They would not have survived in their work if they could not swim, but they were unable to save their father. Maybe he had a heart attack or stroke but the official Death Certificate said: Accidental death by drowning. Present also at this picnic was his daughter Catherine 19 years old.
  2. John H. was killed by a fall from a hose in 1882. He had been married to Catherine only 6 years and had 3 daughters Mary, Alice and Dora.
  3. In 1887 Catherine married John O'Regan, who died only 5 years later in 1892. Ancestry. com said that this John 3 was also thrown from a horse.

Now all these deaths sounded a bit suspicious. What part, if any, did Catherine play in these 3 deaths?

The History Police went straight to the official Death Certificate. John (2) was listed as being thrown from a horse. John H. was an experienced landowner with the horse as his daily means of working on his sheep station. Being "thrown from a horse" seemed unlikely, but maybe he had hit his head on a rock. John O'Regan (3) seemed too much of a coincidence. Who had given these details to Probably a well-intentioned but ill-informed descendant. The History Police found that the Death Certificate in fact listed "dysentery" as the cause of death. Another family myth busted. Catherine's name was no longer "the black widow" but a courageous daughter and wife. As a widow, she raised her 4 daughters, the youngest Ella being the only child of John O'Regan (3). Catherine went into the hotel business in Goulburn, Camden and Wollongong. It took over 100 years but the good name of Catherine was restored to her family. Another success for the History Police whose motto is: "The original documents tell the truth!"

Frances Coll © 18-4-12

You hear people talking about the Sydney Harbour Bridge "ad nauseum." I would like to tell you a personal story about the Bridge through the less than favourable eyes of a schoolgirl. You see, my school was on the southern approach to the Bridge, on Observatory Hill. There were only two lanes to the approach to the Bridge in the 1950's. You entered the school grounds through black wrought iron gates, walked up the steps through a fragrant rose garden, then passed two tennis courts and up again to the main building.

The first inkling we had that changes were afoot came at the School Assembly. Our headmistress announced that the Main Road Board had decided to widen the approaches to the Bridge from two lanes to four in each direction. They would resume our entrance gates, the rose garden and the two tennis courts. To compensate for this loss, they proposed to build a brand new gymnasium with all equipment supplies and including an indoor basketball court. The Assembly exploded with noisy comment, some sad, some excited. There was already a great lack of outdoor areas for a high school of over 500 girls. The headmistress returned us to silence when she said that we would have no say in the matter.

Strike One against the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Main Roads Board made no mention of the fact that the iron gates and the main school building had been constructed by Governor Lachlan Macquarie as a Military Hospital in 1815, commonly known as the Rum Hospital. It was merely a property in the way of highway expansion. The gymnasium was duly built and it was impressive. It was the first full gymnasium in any school in NSW. We had to walk across a short bridge to reach it. The MRB had neglected to mention that beneath the bridge were two roaring lanes of traffic curving underneath from the eastern direction – the new Cahill Expressway.

Strike Two against the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

We never did hear what happened to the 1815 black wrought iron gates.

Frances Coll © 5-8-12

Conservation: retaining Earth's assets as they are now - the forests, the sea, rivers, mountains and agricultural land.

People: preserving the rights of present and future generations to feed, clothe and shelter themselves.

These two "terms" have been on a collision course, traditionally since the Industrial Revolution, but going much further back in history to Anglo Saxon times, when the Celts were driven off their land by invading Germanic tribes seeking more farm land. Already in Germany and later in Scandinavia, there were more people wanting food and shelter than there was available land.

Today's world is much the same – agricultural land is being taken over by urbanisation or mining or natural gas interest. Forests are being cut down or locked up, yet people still require timber for building and home construction. People still burn wood in fires, although it is always said to be scrap wood. You do wonder when you see the wedges of firewood - it looks as if it has come from quite large trees, whether old forest or new. There is little new agricultural land left in the world, although some still try to create more by rapid deforestation as in Brazil and Malaysia. The petro-chemical industry has answered the need for clothing as the population grows but at what cost? Wool is a natural product but sheep have caused massive erosion in Australia alone. Cotton resulted in long term slavery in earlier times and over fertilisation has led to toxic run-off into the waterways.

Is there any hope that the conservation/people dichotomy will improve in the future? Certainly, now, there is more awareness and monitoring of agricultural practices that degrade rivers and the sea. But the fish stocks are in rapid decline all over the world from over fishing. Rampant consumerism seems to be on the decline and recycling becoming common place. There are a lot of other hopeful signs. Will it be enough and in time? Do we ever learn the lessons of history?

© Frances Coll   17-8-2012

The wind blew quite strongly but the sun shone red hot on his skin. The sky was its usual deep blue. He sat on the wooden seat in his garden, holding a mug of hot coffee and thinking of nothing. How had he come to be so alone? The wind strengthened and broke through to his consciousness. He had never liked wind, it always made him feel unsettled and a little anxious when it blew. He knew it was the memory of past cyclones which made him feel like this, but knowing this did not help, as it was not a logical fear, not every time there was a strong wind. It had become an instinctive reaction over which he had no control.

In a few moments he was back in his memories, lying under the bed in his small brick house in Townsville, with his two toddler sons beside him. Mary was away in Sydney on a business trip and he had been left in charge of the house and the boys. The wind blew hard, swirling around the house, then slamming against the walls and the windows. He hoped that the roof would hold, but it was a new house built to Cyclone 2 regulations. Still, he would need to take no chances. The boys had giggled sleepily when he had lifted them from their bunks and lay them under the wooden double bed on the side away from the window.

Now they were grown up and living on the other side of the continent. He was lucky if he saw them once a year. Mary had been seduced by the hard-edged glitter of Sydney and lived there now. His eyes started to water so he wiped them with a handkerchief and blew his nose. The memories and the loneliness got to him at times. He picked up his mug and walked back to his solid little brick house. I will have to get out of this blue mood he thought. Walking into the living room, he picked up his saxophone, his best friend, and blew out a harmonious tune.

(Homophone: blue and blew)

© Frances Coll   15-7-12

"We Will Fight Them on the Beaches………"
Winston Churchill
(British WWII PM)

This phrase conjures up survival strategies of a different, non-military nature in our family. It exists in the simple act of our two sons, aged 14 and 12, setting off to go prawning on the beach in front of our house at Saunders Beach, north of Townsville.
"Have you got your reef shoes on?" I ask.
"Yes, Mum, we are going to drag for prawns up near the little creek. I know that that is a favourite spot for stonefish," said Eamon the eldest.
"O.K., but keep an eye on Joe. He is always dropping things and losing things. He lost his new sunglasses the last time he went up the beach with his friend."
"Yes, he's hopeless, but he is just as scared of stonefish as I am. One of his other friends was in a coma for days and nearly died. I think he will keep his shoes on!"
"Speaking of sunglasses. Eamon, make sure that you keep yours on all the time. The doctor said you already have a pterygian, a sun spot, in your eye."
Yes Mum, even though you have always made us wear shady hats. Dr. Agnew said that that if you are spending a lot of time on the water, the reflected glare actually can affect the surface of the white of the eye."
"Well, the only alternative in this climate is to stay inside in the air-conditioning watching TV, which is not too good for your health either", I mused. "I would much rather that you were outside being active on the beach and sailing your catamaran. Neither of you have an ounce of fat on you."
"O.K. Mum. We'll get going now. Let's see - we've got our hats, sunglasses, white overalls for skin cancer and also for protection against marine stingers. We put on our sun block. Will you spray me all over with Aerogard as the sandflies are really biting at the moment."
"Yes, I will. Here's some iced water and do keep an eye on the time so that you won't get sunstroke. Now what else? Oh yes! Dad and I saw some sea snakes when we were out on the catamaran yesterday, so they are around now also. How far are you going?"
"Only about 100 metres up the beach, Mum, said Joe. "We should all have a feast of prawn scampi tonight!"
A normal morning's outing. These are some of the many creatures and elements that:
"We will fight (them) on the beaches……….

© FrancesColl 9 July 2011

She sat listening as the Curator from the Seed Bank at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens described the methods of drying, encasing seed packets in alfoil and then placing them in long term freezers for future generations. He spoke of back-up generators to be used in case of electrical power cuts, of underground vaults to further reduce the risk of too much temperature variations affecting the seeds viability and other general security measures. This was not going to be easy Ziona thought - all these arrangements just to preserve the seeds native to Tasmania. She was not really a botanist or garden enthusiast as most of the people around her seemed to be. She really was a rampant ecological, environmental warrior. Or so she saw herself. Her real interest was in the food crop seed banks. Her action team was opposed to the spread of genetically modified or GM seeds that were now being stored in grain and cereal food banks.

When GM seeds started being used in the early 90’s, they were engineered to be one crop only and seed death or suicide was built into the gene, so that farmers would need to buy fresh seeds each year. This was good for the large seed/chemical companies of those times like Monsanto. Weed resistance was also built into the seeds as this lowered the cost of production. However, weeds being what they are, pests, soon became resistant to this gene. So it was back to the drawing board. Some GM strains without the suicide gene had to be kept so that future, different lines could be developed with different weed and pest resistant qualities. These lines all had to be kept in seed collections too, so that the genetic engineers could keep track of their work.

The Action Team wanted to intervene in this process and remove the seeds. Ziona was gathering information about how and where this could be done. They had located at least 10 major seed banks worldwide and had local teams ready to act. They needed a method of striking at the same time to destroy all the GM seeds but not damage the traditional seeds.

Ziona thought they had bitten off more than they could chew this time. Their skills were in sit-ins, in pamphleteering and in disrupting meetings. This action needed scientific knowledge and expertise and, as we all know, most environmental warriors would find an agricultural degree far too specific. Their specialty was in being generalists who could switch from endangered animals to endangered fish, forests or food seeds quite easily.

Maybe there was another approach. Maybe they should target the laboratories of the major seed producing companies. Smiling sweetly, she left the native plant enthusiasts and returned to her Action Team with her findings.

© Frances Coll   22-9-2010

“The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion”
( Wordsworth, from lines composed above Tintern Abbey, 1798.)

Words are my passion, mainly English words, but I also love the suggestiveness of some French words and the guttural assurance of German.

I love the way a simple word can have such different colourings, as in saying:

I have a passion to know things. This can be taken to mean “on a need-to-know basis” which takes on a legal or workplace tone, or “seeking to know” as in the quest for knowledge, which takes on an academic or philosophical tone, and is more of an abstraction.

My passion for words comes when I am reading or watching a film. A town or an event will be mentioned and I need to know precisely where the place is located, the date of the period being covered, or the scientific truth of what is being discussed. It is an immediate itch that will scratch until I have looked it up in either an atlas, a gazetteer, an encyclopedia or google for more recent events. If I am reading, I can settle this matter quickly, then read on. In the case of a film, I will make a note and then look it up later.

This passion to know, so that I can fully understand, keeps me very busy. As an example, I recently watched a Chinese film on SBS. It was set in Shanghai in 1927-1945. It started with the Japanese encroachment further into Manchuria. It had fairly inadequate sub-titling. I had a personal interest in Shanghai because my step-mother had been imprisoned by the Japanese in the French Concession in Shanghai during the Japanese Occupation. As soon as the film finished, I drove to the Sorell Library and ordered the book “The Penguin History of Modern China”, which I am still ploughing through.

My passion for words led me to becoming a librarian, so I have spent my whole career helping others to share my passion about information and how to best obtain it. It was the best profession possible for me.

I am at present working on the topics of:
Early Australian history
Early Tasmanian history
The hype and the true science behind global warming
Russian history
Timber industry in Tasmania
Changes in the floor of the Tasman sea
Population in Australia……to name a few.

It is a great passion – and not expensive either!

©Frances Coll   22-9-2010

Come, let me arm you with a kiss
as you step into your business face
tighten the tie that gags your words
to fit the corporate image
adjust your rimless glasses to better see
legal and insurance tangles
tuck in your shirt to deny your gender
it has no place in the office
slip your feet into sensible shoes
the flash of an ankle does not help
pick up your mobile office and
walk through the door but first
come, let me arm you with a kiss.

©fmcFrances Coll 24-5-02

I am walking barefoot on the ceramic tiled floor of my house in the Tropics. The coolness of the surface is in pleasant contrast to the warmth given off by the other soft furnishings. It feels squeaky clean beneath my bare toes.

We had laid tiles in our apartment when we moved back to Sydney. We still loved the cleanliness under our feet. In winter, we needed mats. When trying to rent our apartment before our move to Tasmania, we were told that people found tiles to be cold. We lay down some Turkish rugs and left in disgust.

Here, we are blessed with the soft "giving" of Tasmanian oak beneath our feet. In an ordinary 50’s home, there are boards over 4 metres long, not a single knot to be seen. Warmed by central heating in winter, they are never cold underfoot. In some spots a slight creak is made by a soft footfall, a dead giveaway when my grandchildren play "hide and seek." In Japan, these "whispering" floors were especially built into wooden houses as a burglar alarm feature. We stayed in an ancient "ryokan", (Naraya at Hakone near Mt. Fuji), that had a number of these. There, the floors were of tatami (woven straw) which also gave a soft, more textured "givingness" beneath the bare feet.

While different climates lead to a number of solutions to the pleasure of walking on floor surfaces, I have been most fortunate to have been able to choose the most pleasing "barefoot" satisfaction wherever I have lived.

©fmcFrances Coll 8-11-09