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There is a 10 by 8 black and white photo of me on the wall of the headquarters of the local emergency unit. It shows me hauling on a heavy electric cable hanging from a power pole. It is a night time shot and the road is wet. In the background you can see a couple of men struggling with long lengths of roofing iron while holding hand lanterns. We are all dressed in dark overalls, boots and wide brimmed safety helmets, the uniform of Civil Defence volunteers. Our predecessors, my boyhood heroes, the ARP, had worn exactly the same dress in World War II, except their helmets were steel and ours were plastic. This was about the main difference apart from the fact that nobody was dropping explosives on us, or likely to. The situation was naturally not as serious as an air raid, but there was an urgency in our work. A three figure wind had come howling down over the mountain and hit South Hobart a smashing blow a couple of hours earlier. Trees and power lines were down, rooves damaged, and all the services were in action. My unit had been requested to go to the Cascades and put tarpaulins over a house that had lost its roof. We had been heading up Macquarie Street cautiously in our truck as the wind was still gusting strongly and there was a lot of debris either on the road or in the air. A small blue flashing light appeared a hundred metres or more in front, and then a police car became visible. The car was parked across the road, providing a temporary block to prevent traffic driving into a bunch of drooping electric cables, only a metre or so above the tarmac. Dimly visible up in the rest of the wires were long lengths of bent and twisted roof cladding, flapping in an awesome display in the gale.
The constable showed me the house that had lost its entire roof, the source of the fantastic roadside decorations. There was nothing that we could do for that place as all the beams and supports had gone with the wind. That left the wires across the road. We needed to move them so we could proceed to our designated task, and to let the constable get to his next assignment. Among our issued equipment was the "Utility" saw. This was designed to be used on soft woods, not Aussie hardwoods, but its super toughened teeth would cut through nails without being unduly blunted. It was obvious that the power was definitely out. No lights were visible apart from the vehicles and torches and the mess of wires and steel cladding were emitting no sparks or flashes. Nonetheless, I approached the cables with just a little trepidation. The chance of being electrocuted was, I thought, slight, but I was dimly aware of the weird nature of high tension electricity. Then there was the action of cutting the wire. Would that leave me liable to be charged with vandalism, or would it make the restoration of power more difficult and time consuming. The nearby hospital was running on its emergency generators, and may have had only have a few hours latitude. One o'clock in the morning, in the middle of a gale is not the best time for this sort of analysis. I grabbed the cable. The lowly rated saw actually did an excellent job, or maybe it was fear that drove my efforts, but I was though in quick time. Then I grabbed the cable and hauled it back to the road side to wrap it round the power pole. I returned to do the same to the second cable. After cutting this one, I commence hauling when suddenly there was a brilliant, blinding flash. Naturally I thought the worst, said a few appropriate words and then realised I was still standing. Blind, but standing. A photographer from the Mercury had come up unseen and unheard in the storm and snapped an action shot for his rag. I had found out what it really meant to have the "wind up".

F Brown

God gazed down on Earth at crops in the ground,
Vast fields with one species, no birds, beasts around:
"Mankind is meddling with my creation,
Blending genes from seeds with no relation
To wheat, corn or rye grains that I gave
To the world, to make bread, with seeds to save."

GM seeds they are called, a bit of this,
Bit of that, mixing plant genes to miss
The disease, the insects and the birds,
Round-up resistance in wheat, eaten by herds,
Then to the next juicy slice of red meat
From our Sunday roast, the circle complete.

God knew of Monsanto's sweet "golden rice":
"Add the daffodil gene, it tastes quite nice,
Adds vitamin A to your diet, you see,
You must buy new seed every year at our fee,
Plus your Round-up, special tractor, sign here:
Break your contract we'll sue you, the cost's dear."

God thought of the food he provided for us,
Full of flavour and goodness, planted, grown without fuss,
Each house with tomatoes, peas, beans and corn,
Faithfully tended and watered each morn.
No need to add vitamins, insects squashed with a thumb,
All seemed quite well, then, we all were made numb,
Blurred by science, by mis-information -
Seed companies now are running our nation.

©fmc Frances Coll 15-11-07

Night closes in
robbing the trees of their names,
becoming a mass of grey-green shapes,
clusters and clumps of them,
irregularly shaped like clouds,
but darker than the clouds
which still reflect the sun's watery setting.

Five minutes later,
both trees and clouds have gone
blacked out by this night's wet darkness.
All that remains is the dim glow of a lamp post,
and a reflecting glimmer in the shiny bitumen.

The lights of a lone car approach and
through the invisible trees,
sees the light in the window
and knows that it is -

©fmc Frances Coll 15-11-07

Ian was a nondescript sort of bloke. Medium height, medium build, medium colouring, mediocre. At school he never won a prize, a race, a second glance. He lived in a small country town with small horizons and smaller potential. He had a job at the local concrete block factory which made concrete blocks. He was the storeman clerk for the factory. He had to make sure there were enough materials to make the concrete blocks, and enough other materials so that the factory could continue to make concrete blocks. He had been at the same place for 36 years. On Saturday morning he and his wife did the weeks shopping. On Saturday afternoon he mowed the lawn and washed the car. On Sunday they went to church in the morning and visited her mother in the afternoon. For the annual fortnight's leave they went to the same caravan park in the same sea side town. His life was regular. His life was comfortable. His life was predictable. In the main Ian was content. But sometimes, at the odd moment, he would raise his head from his desk, or newspaper and look out of the window or at the wall, as if looking to see if there was more to life. Quietly wo©ndering. A buried, indefinable itch. The mood seldom lasted long. There was always another stock check to do, another order form to fill in, another shipment of cement to check in, another Saturday, another Sunday.
He had made a couple of attempts to enliven his secure but mundane life. Bowls with some workmates proved to be less than satisfactory. Most of his launches had ended in the ditch and the session in the bar afterwards was not encouraging. An invitation to go fly fishing required departure before daybreak, a long ride in the back of a 4WD with eskies and camping gear, long hours on the banks of a mountain stream while being tasted by mozzies and midges and no bloody fish. He tried tennis. Too much effort. He tried golf. Too much frustration. The Bridge club. Too damned hard. He always returned to the dull and dreary but comfortable lifestyle. But the small itch remained.
One Friday afternoon a new bloke came into his small, windowless office at the back of the store. Joe something or other. The fitter mechanic in charge of maintenance. Joined the company a few weeks back. "What can I do for you? Said Ian, ever courteous, ever cautious.
"Got a bit of a problem" said Joe. "Thought you might be able to help".
"What's the problem?" And it all poured out.
"I have just taken over the bush fire brigade. The last bloke has let things run down a bit. The stores are a mess, the files are a mess, and the whole flamin' place is a mess. I need somebody to tell me how to get the whole damn office into some sort of order. I thought maybe you could give me some clues. I haven't got the foggiest bloomin' idea of where to start. I know how to fight fires, and that's about all. Now they have landed me with this rotten job but I just don't know how to do it."
"Well" said Ian "I don't know much about how you run a fire brigade, but I could have a look at your stores."
"Good enough" replied Joe' "How about Sunday Afternoon? Two o'clock"
That meant a change to the time honoured visit to his ancient mother-in-law. Would his lady wife object? But it was in a good cause. Ian was not a bad sort. Just dull. But a dull man with an itch.
"I'll be there."
Come Sunday and Ian turned up at the station. Joe greeted him at the door. "Come on in, mate. I'll show you round the place first. Then we'll look at the office."
It was a concrete block building comprising of a garage, a store , an office that doubled as an op's room, a shower and a toilet and an all purpose lounge, bar, lecture room, bunk room,. A tall radio mast tower pointed skywards from the roof. At the back was a shed that housed a generator and fuel. It all looked pretty functional to Ian's untrained eye. The office was a different story. One vinyl topped desk with sundry cigarette burns and stains, one battered swivel chair, one ancient, wooden filing cabinet, two battle scarred card files and a collection of dried out biros in a beer glass. Two filing baskets contained a dozen or more dog-eared grimy manila folders. A two year old calendar advertising a local hard ware merchant hung lopsided on the wall beneath a 24 hour clock that was 20 minutes slow. A quick shuffle through the files in the cabinet showed the vestiges of a system that was probably capable of being resuscitated. There were a dozen letters requiring response. The roster list had two members who had died last year. Looked like a couple of days work to sort Ian told Joe, but not much more.
Then they went to the store. Joe had called it a mess. That was a polite term. Ian may have been a dull man, not given to strong emotion, but this place was everything a storeman loathed. It was untidy, it was messy, it was mucky, it was unorganised, it was chaotic, it was indescribable. Old hose, drip torches, pump spares, buckets, beaters, overalls, batteries, fuel drums, helmets, sparkplugs, rope, more hose, light globes, wire, cable, chain, saws, axes, boxes were piled atop each other on shelf and floor. And everywhere was dust and dirt.
"What do you reckon?' said Joe.
"Somebody needs a kick up the backside. It needs a complete and total clean out, sort the garbage from the useful, draw up an inventory and restore. It'll take days. How could anybody function with a crap heap like that?"
"Well they didn't function real well as it happens. That's why I got the job. Care to do what is necessary? I can organise a work party if you show them what they have to do"
"Sure, glad to, and I sure would need a lot of help" replied Ian "And what about keeping everything up to scratch once we get this pig sty straightened out."
"Why don't you just keep it goin'?" said Joe. "Train up somebody as a deputy. Of course there would be a load of other jobs around, like running the radio when the boys are out, organising drinks and tucker, answering the bloody phone, that sort of thing."
All his life, without realising it, Ian had been searching for some deeper purpose to his life. This was the itch that had sometimes surfaced. It was not a big step. Just another job as storeman, but a storeman with a bit of glamour, a bit macho.  Ian scratched his head a moment, and then said …."I'll think about it."

F Brown

The rain falls relentlessly.
The rain has no say in its falling,
and it has no feelings -
it is people who give it emotions.

It is said to be black rain,
or muddy, moist or mouldy;
it can be the pattering of prosperity,
of growth, renewal and plenty.

It can be the dark cloak of despair
making invisible cruel deeds, clouding violence;
it can pelt onto dry dust and on the heads
of joyful sun-dried folk who wait
ten months for the start of the Wet.

It makes:
the farmer joyful or jaded,
the gardener thankful
the washerwoman angry
the wedding party anxious
the teacher confined and
the garden party rush for cover.

On the Beach, the dark nuclear rain
was the symbol of Death.
No, the rain has no feelings,
It falls on emotions already in place.

©fmc Frances Coll 15-11-07

One of the reasons for our trip to England last May was to attend the 25th anniversary meeting of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. It was to be held in Fareham, an old town in Hampshire, halfway between Portsmouth and Southampton. On the way, we had a stopover in Hong Kong for a couple of days where I had arranged to meet a local member of the guild, Glory Ling. He turned up at our hotel bang on time and we immediately started to talk about knots and ropes, exchanging little articles made from string. We did do other things that day, like visit and ancient walled village and brand new temple way out in the hills behind Kowloon and have lunch of fish balls and noodles in a café at a table with ten other customers. But there was a lot of chat about knots.

Then it was on to London and the mandatory visits to museums and galleries and pubs. Somehow I regularly found examples of good and bad ropework wherever we went. Then there were the bookshops, particularly Foyles in Charing Cross Road. I fossicked among the stacks looking for knot texts, but found none I did not already possess. Funnily enough, while wandering around Hampton Court we came across the Knot Garden. All the time Lynn patiently endured my small obsession. She just smiled when I pointed out some peculiarity in the rope rigging of a boat in an oil painting by some Dutch or Italian master. She has known me for quite a few years now, so it was not unexpected behavior.

Come the morning of the day for the trip south, we hauled our cases to the station and boarded the train. In a few hours we were in Fareham, booked into our hotel, and heading down the narrow road to The Red Lion, one of the forty pubs in the town. This was the knotter's conference centre and principle watering hole. We crossed the threshold and were confronted by a score of knotters chatting in a dozen accents. Cockney, Brum, Scouse, Taffy, Geordie, Yank, Swede, Gerry, Jap, Frog, and Clog. Each was grasping a length of string or cord or twine or braid or marlin and even some rope. Turk's Heads, Monkey Fists, Fobs, lanyards in various stages of completion dangled from fist and fingers. I was in heaven.

The next couple of days literally flew by at a rate of knots. I tied knots, talked knots, inspected knots, and learned knots. Lynn was kept busy drawing on an A5 sheet each member's pet knotted construction. The builder proudly signed beside the finished drawing, and the completed document was copied and presented to all as a memento. By the time the conference was over, my lady was super saturated with knots and knotters. But it was not the end of her exposure. Next stop after leaving Fareham was Bath, and a couple of days in the company of Richard. That's right, another knotter. He took us to the marvelous Black Country Museum in Dudley. This place is a collection of buildings and structures and articles from the start of the Industrial Revolution to mid 20th century. Naturally canal barges were well represented, with all their hawsers, lines, fenders, springs, and even some rope decoration. Fantastic!

Leaving Richard and Bath we headed for Cornwall where we had been invited to stay with a lady member of the guild. At least Janet was more involved with the gentle arts, so Lynn was actually quite happy to visit with a kindred spirit, albeit another bloody knotter.

Unfortunately, the totally reliable British weather caused a cancellation of the plan. Rain, fog and a forecast of more to come, forced a turnaround and we regretfully headed east.

So we drove through town and village and moor, stopping at Honiton on the one day the lace museum was closed. No knotting that day. Eventually we arrived at Chichester, swung north and headed for the Down and Weald Museum. This was truly a delightful place. A collection of houses and farm buildings from all over southeast England set up in a tree lined valley. A fully functioning mill was grinding wheat and selling bags of genuine stone ground flour, complete I would guess with ground stone. A bodger was turning a piece of beech wood on a pole lathe, not stopping as he answered questions and described his craft. I was slightly amused by his use of nylon line to drive his medieval machine.

A lady dressed in 17th century attire turned a great wheel and spun hand-carded wool, all the time chatting to the onlookers. Yes, she did know of Bothwell, and yes, she would love to go to the next spin-in there.

We wandered from house to barn to stable and then to a paddock, sorry, field, where an event involving draught horses was being staged. Feather-footed Clydesdales, bulky Pecherons and short-legged Suffolk Punches dragged and drew wagons and carts and drays across the green, green grass. A row of tents stood at the head of the field. Tea and scones in one, horse accoutrements in another. In the last tent a familiar figure stood weaving a length of cotton rope into a halter. It was one of the knotters from Fareham and of course we chatted. Lynn looked at me suspiciously. Pure chance I told her.

Leaving the site we headed further east into the wilds of West Sussex. Time to start looking for a cot for the night. I am not sure precisely where it was, but a pub with a sign advertising rooms with en-suite appeared. I parked and went in to see if they had room for us. Sorry, full up, I was told. Can you suggest anywhere else I asked? Try the Coach and Horses at Cowfold was the reply. A few miles along the road stood the hostelry, and yes they had a room for us. The landlady came from behind the bar and handed me a key. It was attached to a magnificent piece of knotwork. 2 mm nylon braid, three strand flat plait round the thimble, Diamond knot doubled, six part crown sinnet to a tripled wall and crown knob knot. "Someone knows what they were doing" I commented. "Oh we have a heap of these made by a bunch of daft blokes who meet here every month. They belong to some sort of club that does stuff with rope or something". In a country with more pubs than the whole of Australia, we had stumbled on the local of the Sussex Branch of the Guild. Pure coincidence I assured Lynn. I don't think she believed me.

The modern bushwalkers, with their dinky little stoves, miss all the atavistic pleasures of the campfire. Sure they can crawl into their space age tents, ignite the meth or gas or hexamine and have a brew within minutes and a hot meal in just a few more. But what then? What do they do for the rest of the evening before curling up in their rainbow hued sleeping bags? Read by the light of a 9 L E D head lamp? Listen to music on their I-pod? They certainly can't sit around the dying embers of a camp fire, chatting about past events and future trips. Sure they can sit and chat, but without the warm glow and smell of wood smoke, there is no focus point to stare into and dream as you discourse. Not like in my day.
I vividly remember my first walking trip to Cooks Beach on Freycinet Peninsular. We had only the most basic gear, but with a frypan, dehydes, bully beef, rice and a fire, we cooked up a meal that I can still taste 50 years later. The smoke got in eyes and up noses, but kept the mozzies at bay. Then there was my first trip with the caverneers. I knew a lot of them were Rover Scouts, so anticipated the obligatory camp fire, and geared up accordingly. Come the evening in a bush hut, and as I fronted up to the fireplace with tucker bag, billy and frypan I found they were all fiddling round trying to get their infamous "chuffers" going. So I had to go out and gather twigs, fern, bark and logs, and get a fire going. Either that or have a cold dinner. As soon as I had the wood burning nicely and a good bed of embers, the scouts all decided to abandon their smelly, noisy, and potentially lethal heat sources and take advantage of my creation. To this day, I believe that they only used the stoves in a spirit of keeping up with the latest trends. Fashion victims!
One truly memorable trip, four of us trooped across the Ben Lomond plateau for a whole day in fog. Late in the afternoon the fog turned to drizzle, gradually increasing in intensity. We located an overhanging cliff which provided sufficient shelter to set up a campfire. There was plenty of dry wood and soon a cheerful crackling blaze was going hard up against the rock face. Bad move. The rock was full of minute water filled cracks. The water turned rapidly into steam, and the rock started to disintegrate. Explosively! Bits of hot, sharp-edged rock came zooming out of the immediate vicinity of the fire, and we were rapidly forced to take cover. And what was the cover? Boulders big enough to shield us, but out in the downpour.
Then there was the time in the South West when we were woken at piccaninny daylight by a typical Cox Bight shower. Forced out of my fart sack by hydraulic pressure, I decided to stay up and do everybody a favour and make up a brew. I put my acquired skills to work and collected dry twigs from branches of standing trees, split a few with the indispensible sheath knife and made a small pile over a candle stub. Lit the candle, got the kindling going, removed the candle, added more and bigger sticks, blew into the core of the fire using my drinking tube, a length of PVC piping with copper tubing nozzle. Hung the billy and had it boiling in minutes, Handful of tea and a couple of swings, and then called "Tea's up". "Bugger off Brownie" was the mildest suggestion.
Once I was forced to ignore fire regulations and light a campfire in a National Park. It was at the end of a hard, cold, wet day. I was experiencing the first symptoms of exposure. I needed food and warmth. When I tried to get my meth stove working I found my fuel had been contaminated with water. Shaking and shivering I gathered kindling and sticks, and managed to get a fire going. Two big cups of soup and a pan of dehyde stew later, in my bag with a cup of sweet coffee; I was well on the recovery trail.
Somewhere under my house is a battered frypan with a hollow handle. This is my campfire pan. I would shove a suitable stick into the handle and sit a couple of feet away from the fire. No burned knuckles, no balancing the pan on unstable foundations. Modern methods are great when you need to do your cooking in a tent, but I treasure my evenings spent beside a campfire.

I have lived through bra-less days,
Burning the Berlei, feeding a babe
From an unsupported breast,
All of this egged on by a female eunuch,
One embittered woman with her own agenda
To free woman, or was it to destroy man;
Men, to whom she could not relate,
Or know there can be an equality, in difference.

Thirty years later, the refrain of the Free,
"We've been duped they say, we are tired;
We have worked long and hard, with material gains,
We have 'rushed-up' a family, now they have gone,
Gone before our hopes of relaxing with them,
Of enjoying their zest, their humour,
Of knowing their dreams."

Gone also the crafts passed down from our mothers,
The sewing, the quilting, the yarning,
The telling of tales over the back fence,
The sense of community, the strongly knit family.
Was it so bad, is it gone forever?

Our daughters did not learn these crafts,
We were too busy fitting in a career,
Their ballet, their extra physics,
A sense of family - what is that for them?
When an occasional partner or a sperm bank will do.

But forget about them, what about us,
With our sagging breasts a`la Germaine.
Are we happier, more fulfilled than
Our corset-clad mothers?

There is still time left to indulge ourselves,
To read, to paint, to internet,
To enjoy our family and our families family,
To ignore the demon golf, or the 4WD
Taking us into another round of frenetic activity,
(Though for some this is a form of escape.)

I'm pleased I didn't burn my bra!

Cammeray March 2000

©fmc Frances Coll 15-11-07

It's a long time since I saw Dandy Lion. We were friends. Once. But we were young then, carefree and in love. As much as teenagers ever are.

She was Danielle Lion, but a nickname like Dandy was too delicious for lively friends to miss. Her ancestors were French; there was the aristocratic Daniel de Lyonne (L-Y-O-N-N-E) in medieval times. She was proud of that.

You could feel and smell the Frenchness about her, the way she carried her tall slim-waisted body, the tilt of the head, and there was an arrogant jaunty air as she flicked long dark tresses over well-shaped shoulders and those gorgeous brown eyes dared you to come nearer.

I think we were in love. Well, I was.

She always had answers, and questions, lots of questions. The teachers loved her. They asked her first: "What do you think Danielle?" They never called her Dandy. "Wouldn't it be more accurate to say Shakespeare was telling a story of family differences when he wrote Romeo and Juliet? I mean it's not just a love story is it?" The words rolled softly like peaches, as fruit to be savoured.

But for an intelligent girl she had, it seemed to me, some quirky beliefs. There was a fairyland there, an ethereal unreal world, straight out of Tolkien: a belief in witches and fairies. "My room's full of elves and pixies and broomsticks," she said. "I've had them since I was small. There's a real spirit world out there you know. I've got wings too." And I imagined how beautiful she would look, fluttering above my head in a pink fairy dress, waving a wand and casting her enchanted spell over me.

Perhaps she did.

She'd seen some sixty summers and now sat waiting - for the doctor. Across the room, a good-looking confident young man, hardly 20 she guessed. He was flicking through a motor magazine.
"You're into fast cars?" She chanced he'd respond.
"Oh yeh," he said, looking up. "The faster the better. You can get there quicker if it's fast. My Ford's really good. Lonnie in about an hour and 45. It'll overtake just about anything and there's plenty of good straights on the Midland Highway. I usually take my girlfriend. We love the speed."
"And you're not worried about driving too fast? Getting caught? Accidents, you know?"
"Oh no. Not if you're careful. I know what I can do. I can always cut in and find a space. It's the real slow drivers who're the biggest problems on the road. You know, the ones who insist in pootling along at 20K in an 80 zone and you can't overtake. I usually give 'em a toot when I get past."
"You been driving long?" she said.
"Nearly two years. How about you?"
She took a breath and said: "Well I passed my test in 1962. In those days you only had to drive down the main street, it was in the country, and if you could turn round at the end and signal before you did the local policeman passed you. But, of course, I did a lot more driving after that before I thought I was good enough. My father taught me a lot. He said it was important to show respect to other drivers and always obey the law and to expect that other people would sometimes make mistakes and so would I but to try not to make too many. Did they teach you some of those things?"
"I guess. You ever had an accident?" he asked.
"No," she said. "Perhaps I've been lucky or just careful. How about you?"
"Well, this is my second car. I pranged the first one. Maybe I need to be more careful."
The receptionist called her name. She stood up. "Take two hours to Launceston," she said.