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In 2003, I did a flight around the world. When I was in Beunos Aires I phoned my niece to let her know I would be arriving home on the following Friday. She asked what time and I said it would be about 8 pm. She then said, "Oh, that's bad luck. I'm flying out on Friday morning bound for Europe. I won't see you for a couple of months."

My flight was via Santiago, in Chile, where I was to have a 24 hour stop-over. When I arrived at Santiago airport, I made a sudden change of plans. Instead of staying overnight in Santiago, I changed my flight arrangements and was able to fly out that same day after a 10-hr wait at the airport. Everything went ok and I got into Hobart about 8 pm Thursday.

I immediately went to my niece's home. When I got to her front door I didn't knock but instead used my cellphone to call her. We chatted for a few minutes about missing each other and when we were likely to see each other again. Then I knocked on the door.

"Oh! There's a knock at the door," she said. "What a nuisance calling at this time of night."

"That's ok," I said, "I don't mind waiting. Go and see who's there. You never can tell who it might be. You might get a big surprise."

She opened the door and she got a big surprise.

Tonight, the frost lies on the lawn like snow,
So bright and white within the full moon's glow.

The frozen fountains still as statues stand
And not a leaf stirs o'er the ice-bound land.

The stars above shine from a cloudless sky,
Each twinkling brightly like a friendly eye.

The beauty of the scene enthralls my sight;
My heart, indeed, is warmed this chilly night.

My name is Flavia Holmes, the local police officer. You reported a theft and I'm here to investigate it. What happened?

I am John Smith and I live in Sydney. To escape the madness of that city I've come to Richmond and this B&B. Early today, I went to explore a hidden cave on Brown Mountain. As I didn't need money on that hike I left a $100 note and three or four coins on the dressing-table. I forgot to put them away but it didn't matter because I had the room key. When I returned, I found that the money had vanished. That cash was vital as I have only one small travellers cheque and still a month before I return home. I told the proprietor of the theft. I never expected him to get angry but perhaps he thought I was implying someone on the staff, using a master-key, had entered my room and pinched the money.

Thank you, Mr Smith. I see that the window is open a few centimeters.

Yes, but I found that it can't be opened more than that. My money was too far from the window for the thief to get it.

I don't know about that. The thief got my money.

What do you mean, the thief got your money?

When I got here, I walked around the house to your window. I found no footprints. As the window was cracked open, I threw a coin onto your dressing-table. That coin has disappeared.

So, the thief is someone on the staff!

I don't know about that. As I already have a suspect, I will take you to where I think he has hidden his stash. By the way, if you have a rope for your caving, bring it - it might come in handy.


Uncle Bertie was the patriarch of the family and once again Christmas was to be celebrated at his farm in Dorset. He had been born in 1900 and so had not only lived at the time of the 1917 communist revolu­tion in Russia but had, in fact, become a communist. He never once admitted to being red but his incessant praise of Russian exploits made it obvious that he was a 'closet' communist. Everything Russia did was bigger and better than anything in the West. Vast canals had been dug and rivers diverted, mountains tunnelled or demolished. Everything on a grand scale. Whenever he told me a Russian story, that is, whenever he spoke to me, I always responded in a deliberately dumb way. 'Wow' or 'Gee Whiz' or 'How wonderful.' But it made no difference, it only lead him to relate another Ruskie triumph.

It looked as though this Christmas we would all have to suffer Uncle Bertie's Russian rubbish, but I had an idea. On Christmas Eve, in the midst of one of his stories from Russian folk legends, I interrupted him. I asked if it were true that the peasants declared that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the cows could talk. He said it was a myth from North-Eastern Russia. I said I believed it to be true. Everyone laughed. I then said that Uncle Bertie's stories over the years had so convinced me of the wonders of Russia that even this story, despite its incredible nature, very likely had a grain of truth. I suggested we all go down to Uncle Bertie's cowshed at midnight and listen to his cows.

With a lot of laughter, it was agreed that we would go to the cowshed at 11.45. Until that time we celebrated the season singing carols and imbibing some rather pleasant wine, although the champagne was being reserved for Christmas Day.

Just before midnight we headed out for the cowshed with Uncle still praising Russia. I opened the cowshed door by swinging the latch out of its slot. Everyone entered the shed. I remarked 'Better not have any lights on as it might upset the cows.' and 'Don't smoke or strike a match, the hay in here is so dry it would make a giant bonfire.' The cows Daisy, Clover and Tinkerbell were undisturbed and continued chewing their cud and munching hay. I began to sing 'Away in a manger' and everyone joined in. In the almost total blackness I could see the stars shining through the open doorway of the shed. I sidled my way to the doorway, slipped outside, closed the door and tapped the latch down into its slot. Everyone was now locked inside. They could stay there for an hour before I would return to release them. Meanwhile, I went back to the house and sampled Uncle Bertie's champagne and ate a slice of his Christmas pudding.

When I returned to the cowshed I listened to the despondent talk, 'It's no use; we'll have to wait 'til morning when the milk-maid comes in.' and 'No! You will certainly not strike a match to look for something to get us out of here. You'll just have to wait.'

All attempts to force open the door soon ceased. The joviality of the party had also ceased with everyone resigned to waiting for the milk-maid. Quietly, I unlatched the door, opened it a little and slipped inside leaving the door ajar. I edged through the crowd and headed to the back of the barn where I knew there was a heap of soft hay. I curled up in this warm nest and, thanks to Uncle's champagne, was soon sleeping like a baby.

Hours later, I was shaken awake. 'Oh, I went to sleep and missed everything. Did the cows talk?'

'What? You don't know what's been happening? We were unable to get out of the shed until this morning when the milk-maid opened the door. But there's the mystery of it; the door wasn't latched. And another mystery, while we've been trapped in the cowshed someone has been drinking Uncle's champagne and eating his plum pudding.'

'It sounds as though Father Christmas stopped by. But did the cows say anything?'

'No!' and 'Of course not.' and 'Don't be stupid.' were spoken by the disgruntled, tired gathering. After the most uncomfortable start ever to a Christmas, apparently none of the party, including Uncle Bertie, was interested in cows talking.

I seized the moment, 'Ah! Uncle Bertie, I've worked out why the cows didn't talk. Cows use the Eastern Orthodox calendar and it has a later Christmas Eve than ours. We are all going to have to come back down to the cowshed on the 6th of January.'

A low groaning sound filled the shed. Where did it come from? It may have been Daisy, Clover and Tinkerbell mooing but I couldn't say for certain.

The slouch hat is the immortal symbol of the Aussie Digger! Perhaps when soldiers are seen marching on the parade ground or through city streets it might be regarded as ornamental or decorative with most people liking the look of it. What I am doing, though, is looking at it in an entirely different way.

The slouch hat has existed around the world for a couple of hundred years but my interest is from the time it really became the iconic emblem of the Australian soldier; the Second World War. A soldier at war has a weapon, and the Australian infantry soldiers' weapon was the 303; the Lee Enfield point 303 rifle. In battle, the 303 was the most important bit of equipment the soldier had. A wonderful weapon, no question about it. His second most important bit of equipment was his slouch hat! And these two bits of equipment worked as a unit!

To explain why that was so, I mention some personal things that first got me thinking. Only six years after the Second World War, I was called up for National Service. The Korean War was in progress and army training was the first step preparatory to going to that war. I was handy with the 303, at 440 yards and beyond, a first class shot, only one rung below a marksman. Despite this success, I had a problem. The bolt action of the 303 was on its right-hand side and was designed for right-handed, right-eyed shooters. Because I was left-handed and left-eyed, this meant I could only manipulate the bolt action by an awkward procedure of reaching across the weapon. I had a big think about how that might function in the duress of battle. I concluded that it was too cumbersome to handle but worse still, reduced the weapon's rate of fire to less than half. That was unacceptable and likely to result in a bad, if not fatal, outcome for me. It was vital that I learn to use the 303 right-handed and right-eyed. So, out to the butts with a few magazines of bullets for some right-handed, right-eyed practice. After a few days and a shoulder swollen and in agony from the 303's violent recoil, I achieved my goal, a first class shot once again.

These sessions at the butts were in mid-summer and while there I made an important discovery about the slouch hat. As a left-eyed shooter and because the slouch hat has its left side turned up, I had been looking through my gun-sights with my eyes unshaded and sometimes dazzled by sunlight. I had hardly noticed any detriment as my eyesight was excellent but when I switched to right-eyed, I aimed from the shade under the hat brim and my targets were much clearer and easier to see.

I began to think further about the slouch hat in a battle situation. I assumed I was behind a parapet or in a trench. If I were a left-eyed shooter my sighting of the 303 meant that the right brim of my hat would be the first thing to project above the parapet, not much, but enough to matter. The enemy would know where my head was about to appear and would aim there ready to shoot me. As a right-eyed shooter, the reverse did not apply because the slouch hat had its left side turned up and pinned snugly to its crown. The enemy would not know from where my head would appear above the parapet and I could fire my shot and be quickly out of sight.

It was at this stage I began to think of the parade ground and the wearing of the slouch hat. Its left side was turned up, supposedly to enable the rifle to be carried on the shoulder without knocking one's hat off one's head, but I believe, because of what I have just explained, that the origin of the side turned up was likely to have been on the battlefield not the parade ground.

Also, on the parade ground the regimental sergeant-major required the slouch hat be worn in an exact position; the left brim to be four finger-widths above the left ear; the front brim to be two finger-widths above the right eye-brow. Although these are parade ground requirements, I maintain their origin, including the measurements, were not the parade ground but the battlefield, the first to minimise being seen by the enemy, the second to maximise accurate aiming of the 303.

One may state the obvious, that left-handed shooters ought simply reverse the wearing of the slouch hat. This, though, fails on two grounds; firstly: too slow a rate of fire, and secondly: soldiers were never instructed that for safety in battle the slouch hat needed to be worn in a precise manner. These points were not contemplated by anyone other than myself. Had they been known and adopted, many soldiers who died in the war would have survived. I cannot say that categorically; I just believe it to be so.

I recall that my mother used to iron everything! I managed to dis­suade her from ironing bath and tea towels by explaining that iron­ing flat their fluffiness (hey! fluffiness! that's a nice word) caused a dimi­nution of capillary action and therefore ironed towels had a reduced capacity to soak up water.

I used a somewhat similar argument to stop her ironing bed linen, explaining that air is a very efficient insulator against loss or heat and that when she ironed the air out of the fluffiness (there's that word again) meant that the bed remained colder for longer. I have to say, though, that my REAL reason for getting her to stop ironing was that in wintertime I hated jumping into ironed jocks that were ice-cold because her ironing had de-aerated their fluffiness!

According to the proverb, fire is a good servant but a bad master. However, fire employed by a bad man, can be a bad servant.

Despite the often brilliant forensic analyses into the criminal use of fire, called arson, such cases are probably involved in the highest percentage of all unsolved crimes. It needs to be understood, though, that arson is not always the primary crime but may be used to conceal or camouflage another crime, such as robbery or murder.

At times when the national economy is experiencing a downturn, and businesses are in danger of bankruptcy, there tends to be a rash of suspicious insurance claims made after fires have damaged or destroyed property. Destruction of business records, to avoid audits or evade taxation, or even to eliminate a competitor by torching his business increase at such times. However, detective work into the financial status of affected businesses is given first priority and has a good rate of success in solving criminal cases.

Another category of criminal has a mental or emotional basis for committing arson and it has three branches. The first is revenge, and may be a disgruntled employee, or customer, or a spurned lover. Then there are the thrill seekers, usually a group of youths under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The third of these emotionally-motivated types is the pyromaniac, and is a particular danger to everyone in Tasmania.

There is, however, a potential firebug who is not considered to be a criminal, yet may prove just as disastrous. This is the ordinary person who thoughtlessly throws his lighted cigarette butt from the window of his car instead of using its ashtray. That ought to be treated as a crime and incur a substantial penalty!

Smouldering cigarette butts can unnecessarily disrupt services by triggering fire alarms and warning systems but have also been blamed for bushfires resulting in major property damage and deaths.

Gunns' pulp mill proposed for Northern Tasmania is a political football.
The Greenies have Gunns in their sights and say they can't seize the wood for the trees. Their global warning is that Gunns' assault of the Earth is typical of the effluent society.
Meanwhile, Gunns have made alternative suggestions on how to discharge effluent and waste products far out into Bass Strait. Their suggestions has fallen on dead ears.
"There are two no ways about it," argue the Greens. "Not much credibility, lots of gap."
"Bilge over troubled waters," say Gunns. "Though they see Bass Strait as a narrow divide, deep waters still run, so there is no problem, no problem. We should be left to our own vices."
"Gunns are as slippery as an oil," complain the Greens.
"To the whinger go the spoils," respond Gunns, "but every crowd has a silver lining." Apparently so, for the company's share price shot up 7.22%.
"This Government," says the Premier, "supports the development of value adding and environmentally sustainable projects."
At the end of the day, it will come down to the survival of the fattest, but at this point in time, it's all too close to call.

When the weather is wet and wild and wintry, it's winds we worry about. Cyclones and hurricanes have caused such terrible tragedies that we can never be sure whether or not the next wild, lashing storm will uproot a tree, unroof the house, or defeather our chickens.

Winds have such a bad reputation that the second circle of Hell is a violent storm; a whirlwind, where the souls of those who yielded to lust are blown endlessly to and fro, without hope of rest, for all eternity.

But winds also have much kinder moods. Who, on a roasting summer day, has not blessed seeing a leaf stir or a flower nod and then felt the soothing pleasure of that first breeze brushing one's skin?

Winds can also be beautiful. Flute and horn sound melodious as does that finest of all musical instruments to control the air of the wind, the human voice.

And when we see a cotton thread quiver near the mouth of a sleeping babe we realise that this, too, is a wind but the very gentlest it can ever possibly be.

I never throw anything away!
What? Never?
Well, hardly ever!

Kitchen cupboards hoard jars of jams and jelly and ginger and the pantry stores packets of palatable pleasures, and baked beans, bully beef and Bovril.

It sounds wonderful, except that these items are all beyond their "use by" date, way beyond, way way beyond, like 10 years or more. Why didn't I eat them? Well, I always intended eating them, of course, sometime, like tomorrow, or in a day or two, whenever; but one of those days, in the not-too-distant future, after I had finished off the leftovers in the fridge.

Somehow, though, I just never got around to dishing up those delightful delicacies. Time caught up and left them and me behind. Now, when I read the names on some of those long-abandoned or superseded products they bring back memories. I never had the heart to throw them out.

But that is all going to change. At last, I am going to get rid of them. In fact, I intend doing so as soon as I can find a spare moment, like tomorrow, or in a day or two, whenever; but one of these days, in the not-too-distant future, they're gonna go!