Author Archives: Greta

The trouble with labels

Pile of Books

You’ve heard the old cliché ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? We all have. And sometimes we judge books based on preconceived notions of what we’ll find when we open the covers.

I suppose everybody agrees that books need to be categorised so that people can find fiction that’s of interest to them. I like SF and crime, so they are the labels I look for in the bookstore, and on line. But many books fit more than one category. For instance, Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey series is always found in science fiction. But Elijah Bailey is a working detective solving crimes. The setting is SF, and because of that solving the crime is a little bit different. But I think most crime readers would enjoy the three Elijah Bailey books – if they could get past the SF preconceptions.

That’s the issue with the book I’m going to talk about – Roman.

The main character is a teenage girl, so the immediate assumption is that the book is aimed at YA (Young Adult, ie older teens). It’s not. Older teens would probably enjoy it, but it’s an adult book with supernatural elements. There is no conceivable reason why adults would not enjoy this book. I certainly did, and I was in my late teens half a century ago. (Wow) Indeed, I can cite a few examples where YA supernatural crosses over to adult readers. Have you read Harry Potter? Yep, so have I, several times. And the first couple of stories were children’s books. What about the Twilight series? Not my cup of tea but lots of women loved it. Then there’s Anne McCaffrey’s Pern stories, Dragondrums,  Dragonsong, Dragon Singer. All YA with dragons. Or the incomparable Terry Pratchett, with his Tiffany Aching series, the Bromeliad trilogy, Johnny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb etc. I’ve read them all. (Except Twilight. I have standards.)

So please consider this book, if not for yourself, for somebody who has an interest. There are no vampires or dragons.

Here’s the blurb

With the death of her cold-hearted mother, TJ faces life in a decaying town with a father she barely knows. From a future bright with promise to one stripped of everything she’s worked so hard to achieve, TJ needs more than luck in her corner.

Roman is trouble, pure and simple—at least that’s what everyone keeps telling her. He’s a juvenile delinquent with sealed records and a suspicious link to the town’s tragic past, but despite all warnings, TJ can’t ignore his dark pull.

In a coal mining town where lives were once shattered beyond repair, a new evil surfaces, forging strange alliances as both believers and skeptics alike face the inexplicable to save their livelihood, their families and even their faith.

Some secrets are worth keeping, some secrets must find the light of day, but in the end…
some secrets you take to the grave, no matter what the cost.

Here’s my review.

This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.

It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.

And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen-year-old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.

In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.

The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.

The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.

I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.

The book’s available at Amazon Kobo iBooks B&N (coming soon) – and in print.

As Molly would say, “Do yourself a favour…”

Lazy summer days

While my friends in the Northern hemisphere complain about the short grey days and the long cold nights, we in the South are either enjoying long summer days, or complaining about soaring temperatures. Many of us are also enjoying the summer holidays. For us, Christmas signals the beginning of the big break before work resumes around February. That includes the media and the TV stations. It’s the time of yet another re-run of shows like The Big Bang Theory, Thirty Minute Dinners with Jamie, or Nigella’s cooking show. Ho hum.

But Wait. There’s cricket. You can’t beat a few days on the couch watching an international test match, or a one-dayer, on TV. The boxing day test is a highlight of the sporting calendar. I recall one year, Pete and I both caught a flu while on holiday, so we holed up in a motel room and watched the boxing day test from bed.

While a lot of people think cricket is slow – and it can be – I think test cricket is an absorbing game of strategy and tactics. Played over five days, six hours a day, in any weather except rain, it can be physically and mentally draining. The one-day form (50 overs a side) is more exciting, but less challenging for the players, and the 20 overs a side version (T20) is called the Big Bash League for a reason.

I watched a one -day game yesterday, between England and Australia. Oz batted first and only managed 261 runs, which is pretty ordinary. Seemed the Poms were going to have our lot for dinner. As our batsmen and the fielding team trailed off for the lunch break, I remembered a famous one-day match played many years ago between Western Australia and Queensland.

It was in the 1976-77 season. My then-partner and I had been visiting family. They also enjoyed the cricket so we listened to the match on the radio. Because it was played in Perth, Perth viewers couldn’t watch the match on TV. (The idea was to get crowds to the ground, but at over 30,000 there already, it was pretty much at capacity.) WA was all out for 77 in 23 overs. (Back in those days an innings was 40 overs, with 8 balls per over. Today it’s 50 overs with 6 balls per over) Our team was going to be creamed. So my partner and I went home.

He turned the radio back on after the lunch break. I confess I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m not a masochist, and the Queensland team was undoubtedly going to win. After all, their line up included Greg Chappell, who became Australian captain, and Vivian Richards, who became West Indies captain. Both of them are amongst the top ranked batters in the history of the game.

But nobody had figured on D.K. Lillee, one of the greatest fast bowlers the game has ever produced, and then at the top of his considerable powers. In the rooms during lunch WA’s team captain, Rod Marsh (one of Australia’s legendary wicket keepers), tried to gee up the side – “There’s a big crowd here. Let’s not let them down. Let’s make them fight for it.” To which Lillee responded, “Make ’em fight for it be buggered. We’re going to beat these bastards.”

Dennis reckoned WA could win. He blasted Viv Richards with four bouncers in the first over. In those days batters didn’t wear helmets and those balls are whizzing through at 130km (about 80mph+). Then he bowled him with a good length ball. One down. David Ogilvie hit a couple of fours before he, too was given his marching orders. But now the Qld score was 2 for 23, and they only had to get 78. Should be a doddle. Next batter was Greg Chappell, who had made a century on debut on the WACA ground not so long ago.

Remember I said cricket is about tactics? Rod Marsh (wicket keeper, standing behind the batter) signaled to Dennis Lillee to bowl a bouncer down leg side, expecting that Chappell would try to hook the ball. Rod was moving into the expected trajectory of the ball before it was bowled. Chappell tried to glide it down to the boundary and watched it land safely in Rod’s gloves. Dennis had 3 wickets for 11 runs, and the rest of the WA players knew they were in with a chance.

The rest, as they say, is cricketing history. Queensland was bowled out for 62. It was only fitting that Our Dennis took the final wicket of the day.

The late seventies and eighties was a great time for watching cricket.  Reading through a list of the men who played that match was almost a who’s who of Australian cricket, not to mention the great Viv Richards who was spearhead of the all-conquering West Indies team for many years. Such a shame the Windies is now a spent force, although individuals do make their mark (and a lot more money) playing in the Big Bash and India’s T20 league.

But that was then. The match I was watching that jogged my memory ended up predictably with England easily defeating Australia. But we still won the Ashes in the test cricket series!

Here’s a little video about the Miracle Match which will give you some idea of what it was like. It’s just over 7 minutes long. Ah, the memories.

There’s a book based around that match, with biographies of all the players. Here’s the link on Australian Amazon.

Did somebody mention tennis? Summer, Australian open? Oh, that. Two people grunting at each other as a ball whizzes from one side of the court to the other. For me tennis is right up there with formula one, just below grass-growing as a spectator sport.

But to each their own.

A few more Norfolk Island bits

I’ve been persuaded to write one more Norfolk article, on account of having forgotten a few things I’m told I should have mentioned <sigh>.

I mentioned the little trip in the horse-drawn cart, but said no more since I didn’t go. I love horses, but they have a very nasty effect on me which has become worse over the years. So I have to avoid being in their proximity. Pete went, though, and had a thoroughly nice time meandering slowly though the Norfolk Island countryside. Culla (that’s his nickname – you’ll find his number in the telephone directory nickname section) picked up his passengers from the hotel in a bus and took them to the stables where everybody watched him harness Sammy 2 and Buddy, ready for the Big Trip.

Culla bringing the boys out

They’re Clydesdales, imported at great expense from Australia. I read a wonderful article about Norfolk and horses in the local (free) colour magazine. It described how horses used to wander around in much the same way as the cows. If you couldn’t find your own horse you just used one of the others. Naturally, they bred, and created their own Norfolk variant – if I remember rightly, a pretty plain horse, great at negotiating Norfolk’s steep valleys, tough and resourceful. They’ve been replaced by motor vehicles these days, so Culla’s tour is a lovely reminder of how things used to be.

Culla clearly loves his horses. Although they thrive on work, he gives them a helping hand going up hill, with his brother in a ute taking the strain for the two horses.

After a picnic on a cliff overlooking the sea (what else is new – this is Norfolk Island) the horses went off home.

Picnic on the cliff

Before he drove his guests back to the hotel, Culla looked after his horses first. As it should be.

I also mentioned in passing that we’d gone to the St Barnabas Chapel, where John Christian told us about the building. Christianity came to Norfolk with the Pitcairn Islanders, who became a Christian flock under the guidance of Bounty mutineer, John Adams. The light was… confronting for photography, with parts too bright and parts too dark. But we could certainly admire the exquisite workmanship.

The ceiling is shaped like a ship’s keel, all built by the young people from the Melanesian mission set up not long after the Pitcairners settled on Norfolk. There’s not a nail in the building, all done with joinery. The decoration is a mix of Christian and Melanesian, done with mother of pearl. The stained-glass windows above the altar are priceless, arguably the only ones in the world where Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are shown beardless. John Christian told us the bishop hated them, but it was too late to change them. The outside of the windows have been covered with plain glass to protect them from the crimson rosellas, who have apparently taken to picking at the material holding the panels in place. This website will provide you with good pictures.

I also mentioned that we attended a progressive dinner. All of the hosts had interesting stories to tell. When the Pitcairners arrived on Norfolk they received fifty acres of land which was divided up over the generations. One of our hosts was given, by his mother, one acre of her thirteen acres, and three Norfolk Island pines. One of the local saw mills cut up the trees for him, retaining one as payment. The other two he used to build his house. Barter system, see?

Another host told us she came from Queensland and had no idea she had a relationship to anyone on Norfolk until she traced her family history. She made the point that if you’ve got convicts in the family, it’s all there in the trial records. Name, place of birth, crime, punishment, where they were sent, when… Whereas law abiding citizens just faded away into the mists of time. She came to Norfolk to follow her roots and met (and married) somebody else from Victoria doing the same thing. Norfolk seems to gather up its own.

So there you are. If you want anymore, better go and visit. Planes travel to Norfolk from Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland.

 

‘Refurbished’ HP computers – a cautionary tale

I haven’t had the very best run of luck with my desktop computers lately.  I chronicled the death throes of my Dell Alienware tower in MORE unfortunate events. By the end of that saga I’d had a gutfull. What’s hard about buying a reliable computer that lasts longer than two minutes after the end of the warranty period? My needs aren’t too difficult. I use Microsoft office, I run Lightroom and Photoshop to process my photos, and that’s about it. I don’t need a gaming machine, but I’d like a pretty good video card for processing graphics, and a big hard disk. (Raw image files are big.) Reliability is the thing. Even if you have a good backup routine, reloading ALL the software onto a machine is a pain in the bum. I’d also reverted back to the concept of the all-in-one (AIO) – no tower, no speakers, just a screen on your desk. It reduces clutter.

Pete does the research for new gadgets. He’s patient, and he does it well. Needless to say, he stuck to the well-known brands – with Dell off the list. We’d had too many dramas with their customer service when we bought my previous machine, and the disk failure was the final straw.

After some research, Pete came up with the Hewlett Packard Envy. It’s a smarter AIO, with the USB ports and so on in the base the screen sits on. I’d had a Mac, and Pete has an AIO, and having to fool around behind the screen to put in cables and SD cards is fiddly, and often requires a torch. The Envy had a 27″ screen, 2TB hard disk with 256GB SSD, NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 950M graphics, 16GB SDRAM, and an i7-7700T processor. It’s the box in the middle.

The trouble is, you can’t buy that machine in Australia.

You CAN buy the same machine with a 34″ curved screen in Australia. Here it is. I didn’t really need a curved screen; sexy as it is it’s surplus to requirements, but I could live with it. The price tag was a bit off-putting, though. But the HP website lists refurbished machines at a reduced price. Pete found a refurbished Envy with a 34″ screen. It seemed safe enough, especially since HP was willing to sell an extended three-year pick up and return service on the machine.

We had the common understanding of ‘refurbished’ – a machine that had been returned to the manufacturer for whatever reason. It would have been tested for functionality, and defects repaired before being resold. HP is a giant, reputable company. It sounded just fine. The deal said the machine would be delivered in around three weeks, which would mean in the New Year, which suited us because we would be overseas during the Christmas period. So we paid our money.

To our surprise the machine arrived two days before we were due to leave on our holiday. I shrugged and set the device up. I’m an old IT pro – these things should be easy.

But it wasn’t.

The machine hung during the setup process, so I rebooted it by holding down the I/O button. I managed to finish the initial setup but I knew I’d have to update Windows, so I tried to get into the Settings screen, but it flashed up for a nanosecond, then disappeared. This turned out to be a known Windows problem, so I tried the work-arounds in the Microsoft support system, but they didn’t work. I figured it shouldn’t be that hard. Surely. Maybe all I really had to do was update Windows. I got into the Microsoft site and updated Windows from there. I also loaded Office. It was looking good, but it’s always wise to check.

I restarted the machine and tried to log in. I got a blue screen with a message that there was no profile.

This machine had been out of the box for no more than a few hours. I shouldn’t have to do this. Not.Happy.Jan.

I rang HP’s support number 131047. The voice-activated system asked me to say which of a list of products I wanted help with and I said, “Desktop”. That got me through to a call centre in India.  After explaining events several times, I got the distinct impression the operator knew less about computers than I did. Eventually she asked me to hold while she spoke to her supervisor. When she returned she told me that her group only supported notebooks.

I tried to explain to her that HP’s voice-activated telephone system had sent me to the wrong place and her manager might want to look into that, but without much success. She’d given me a number for what she said was the Singapore help centre that dealt with AIOs, so I moved on to address my own problems.

The number she gave me turned out to be the Philippines help centre. I spoke to Marvin, a pleasant gentleman I’m sure I’d worked with before, resolving some problems with Pete’s AIO. We reset the machine to factory settings and he suggested I run the setup with a local account, not my Microsoft account. Marvin and I agreed he’d ring me back next day to check on what had happened. The setup worked, everything looking good – but I couldn’t connect to the internet. The system said the security code for the router was wrong. It wasn’t, I’d connected to the internet just fine before. So I rebooted and it came up with the Windows “We have a problem” page. Error message was clock_watchdog_timeout.

 

When Marvin rang back the following day I’d had a good night’s sleep. We’d bought a lemon, no doubt about it. Pete and I do not believe the machine had been refurbished at all, just reset to factory settings, taped up and sent on to the next mug (us). I remembered Marvin’s hesitation when I mentioned the machine was refurbished, and in this later conversation he confirmed that he would never recommend a refurbished machine.

We’re still negotiating with HP on a resolution to this situation – but at least they have agreed to accept the return of the machine since it’s not fit for purpose. That was a real issue for us, since according to the paperwork we had 14 days from receipt to return the machine – but we were going overseas, and the period would have expired before we got back home.

So take care out there, folks. The term ‘refurbished’ doesn’t seem to mean the same to giant corporations that it does to little people like you and me.

How humans changed Norfolk Island

Emily Bay used to be called Turtle Bay

Norfolk Island is a stunningly beautiful place but it doesn’t take long before you realise what an enormous impact humans have made on its ecology. It’s a lesson to us all, I suppose. These days, importation of any animal or vegetable material to Norfolk is strictly controlled. We watched the cute little beagle sniffing everyone’s bags at the airport. But that wasn’t always the case.

When Captain Cook saw Norfolk in 1774 the massive Norfolk Island pines would have covered the entire island. There were no meadows or grasslands. There were no land animals. There are still no snakes. But there were birds which were specially adapted to the heavily-wooded conditions.

Then humans arrived.

They cut down the trees and planted grass, cane sugar, fruit trees, corn, rice, and other food crops. They brought in horses, cows, goats, pigs, and rabbits. And less popular creatures, like rats and no doubt mice, as well as cats and dogs that went feral. Beautiful Emily Bay was originally called Turtle Bay because of all the turtles there. In the usual thoughtless human manner, the population was soon wiped out by the hungry settlers.

Phillip Island, at back, is 6km from Norfolk. The other island is Nepean, where the convicts cut stone for building material

Pigs, goats and rabbits had been released on Phillip Island, and continued to thrive when the people left. Pigs and goats were removed by the early 20th century but the rabbits remained. Our guides told us that until relatively recently Phillip Island looked like Uluru, devoid of any green. An eradication program has been successful with the last rabbits removed in 1988, and Phillip Island is recovering. [1]

One of Norfolk’s more successful imports was the kentia palm, which is native to Lord Howe Island. Kentias are the parlour palms you see in hotel lobbies and the like, and during the nineteen nineties they would all have been grown from seed collected on Norfolk. For a while the seeds were worth a lot of money. But humans weren’t the only ones who valued them. Rats found them good to eat, so farmers had to fit rat guards on their palms to stop predation. The value of kentia seed dropped as soon as the buyers had enough to grow their own in hot houses.

Norfolk Island has two bird species endemic to the island – the green parrot and the morepork, a form of boobook owl. Both had thrived in those thick, dark forests. But as the trees were felled, their habitat shrank. At last, one sole female morepork was the only owl calling in the darkness, the last of her kind. The bird’s closest relative was a species living in New Zealand and scientists on Norfolk obtained two males from there, hoping she would mate with one of them. She did, and now there is a small colony of moreporks in Norfolk’s national park. But it is not quite the same as the original species, and it is severely inbred, so even this hybrid is threatened. It’s a sad tale. Read more about it here.

Feral crimson rosells. It’s not quite the same as the ones we saw in Victoria

The green parrot has been rescued from the brink. Scientists in the national park set up nesting boxes for them. Apart from the reduction in habitat, the birds have also had to endure competition for the remaining nesting hollows from introduced crimson rosellas, no doubt brought in from Australia by some bird collector, who allowed them to escape, or let them go. They’re no longer exactly the same as their Australian cousins. The green parrot population is still relatively small and endangered. Read the whole story here.

We didn’t see, or hear, either the green parrot or the morepork, but then, we didn’t spend any time in their habitat.

A Tern chick in a Norfolk Island pine

We did see young terns, though. These birds don’t build nests. They lay their eggs directly on the branch of a Norfolk pine, selecting the same site every year. Someone told us the birds use an adhesive of some sort to keep the eggs in place, but the general consensus with the guides was that’s just one of those stories tour guides tell when they don’t know the answer [2]. Humans (of course) collected the eggs, with a subsequent impact on the population , but at least the birds used trees in some pretty inaccessible locations. These days the islanders are allowed to collect tern eggs on Phillip Island for just a few weeks every year. Tern parents will lay a second egg if the first one falls or disappears, so the loss of eggs doesn’t have a major impact. After the chick hatches it is a small ball of grey fluff hanging on to its branch. The parents keep an eye on it and come in with sprats caught in the sea to feed it until it can fly.

Norfolk is a haven for sea birds, with populations of several tern species, gannets, and mutton birds. There are also small wrens and kingfishers.

This is my last Norfolk Island post. I can’t help feeling there’s so much more – a telephone directory listing people by nickname, more about the food, and the language. So here are some websites for you to look at.

Norfolk Island Travel Centre Covers accommodation, tours and the like

Ten things you might not know about Norfolk Island This one is particularly interesting

Discover Norfolk Island This site covers the island’s history as well as other aspects

Since July 2016 Norfolk Island has reverted to Australian control. There are reasons, as explained in this article, and there is no denying the island’s council asked for Australian help. But as usual, the Powers That Be in Canberra and Sydney (NI comes under NSW state control) have no idea how people live their lives outside the big cities. Poor little Norfolk Island has been swamped with rules and regulations, and decisions made for them without consultation. For example, since July 2016 all milk has to be pasteurised. Never mind the fact that the locals have managed to survive for 150 years on raw milk. So no more milking cows along the verges – it would cost far to much to set up a pasteurising plant. Milk is imported from New Zealand. If you want to buy the fresh stuff it was $9.20 per litre in the local supermarket. The long-life stuff is $2.30 a litre. So now the cows you see grazing by the roadside are all beef cattle.

Remember the feral chooks? Somebody in Australia decided they needed to be culled, so someone came over to NI to shoot them. Nobody discussed the issue with the locals. Some of them told us the chooks help keep down the insect population. Others collect eggs, and I suspect there’s a bit of local culling for the table. But never mind. A Decision had been made somewhere. Orders were dispatched. I wonder what they’ll do about the feral rosellas?

These are just two examples of how the New Order has impacted the lives of Norfolk Islanders. There are others. The locals have created their own political group to fight for their rights. As far as they’re concerned, Queen Victoria gave them Norfolk Island for their own. I don’t believe that’s entirely true, but I assure you, if I lived on Norfolk I’d join that group in a heartbeat.

The sign says ‘Hands up for democracy’. NI’s flag is at half mast.

If you get a chance to visit Norfolk Island, do. It was honestly one of the best, most jam-packed holidays I’ve ever had.

And as a last hurrah, another sunset.

Peter’s sunset shot. Used with permission.

 

 

 

The settlers from Pitcairn

Cows have right of way on Norfolk. There used to be free-roaming horses, too

The third wave of immigrants to Norfolk Island were the people from Pitcairn Island, and they form the basis of most of the permanent population. The mutiny on the Bounty is part of their family history. It’s how their ancestors came to Pitcairn Island, a remote 2 square miles in the South Pacific. I suppose everybody has heard of the mutiny, if only because of the movie starring Marlon Brando. But we Australians maybe know a little more. Bligh was forced into the ship’s longboat with eighteen companions – more would have gone with the captain had there been room. In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the overloaded long boat across to Timor, then on to Batavia. Bligh became one of Australia’s early governors. [1]

For the people of Norfolk Island what happened to Fletcher Christian and the ‘mutineers’ is much more important. Christian eventually took those men who had not supported the mutiny to Tahiti, then, knowing the Admiralty would come looking for them if the mutiny was discovered, he set sail for a safe haven, taking with him eight mutineers, six Polynesian men, twelve women, and a baby. [2]

Pitcairn was safe enough, but very small; there was increasing tension between the white men and the Polynesians, and eventually all but one of the men was killed. John Adams had turned to religion and led his remaining flock well. But the island was soon overpopulated. In due course the islanders wrote a letter to Queen Victoria, begging her for a new home. Now I’m something of a cynic: I think that request happily coincided with the decision to close the penal settlement on Norfolk. There were good economic reasons for closure – but it did offer an opportunity to those pesky French if the island was abandoned. I imagined a scene from “Yes Prime Minister”, with Sir Humphrey explaining the value of handing over the island to the Pitcairn folk, who could be left to it with very little further impact on the English purse. And they’d keep the dreadful Froggies out. Win win win.

Ahem. Back to Norfolk. Two local artists have created a cyclorama that illustrates the history of the Pitcairn islanders from the Bounty’s departure from Portsmouth through to the mutiny, settlement on Pitcairn and then the first landing on Norfolk in 1856. The cyclorama is a series of stunning, realistic paintings set in a circle. As you walk from one scene to the next, you listen to music and sounds to accompany what you’re looking at. Documents explaining the history are on the opposite wall. It’s a spectacular historical experience. No photos are allowed, but here’s the website. Click through the header to get some idea of this very special place.

The Pitcairn Islanders were confronted with a very different environment to the one they’d left. I can’t do any better than their own description, so pop over here and read it. It’s not very long, and I’ll wait for you to catch up.

Welcome back. The Norfolk Island people are proud of their heritage and are very happy to share. We visited the Pitcairn settlers’ village to learn a little about the lifestyle of the earliest settlers. In fact, much of what we were shown was the result of the industry of George Bailey, who joined the community from outside. He was a blacksmith, a skill the earlier settlers would definitely need.

The still-working forge

The boys leaning over the engine of the 1929 Ford

Norfolk has a sub-tropical climate, so many different varieties of plants can be grown. The exceptions are anything that needs a cold winter, like berries and apples. The Pitcairners grew the plants they knew – many types of bananas, guavas, arrowroot, corn, and kumara. Pretty much everybody has a vegetable garden to this day. We went for a short drive in a 1929 Ford which had been the island’s very first tourist ‘bus’. It’s fun, but my back was not impressed. Once again, the locals have done a better job of describing the Pitcairn Settlers’ Village than I can, with details I’d forgotten, so here’s the link. We spent some time in Jane Evans’s shed in Music Valley. Jane is the descendant of a whaler, and proudly displayed his telescope. She grew up here in this little piece of paradise. If she wanted a fishing rod she cut a length of golden cane bamboo, tied a short line to the end so that it hung down to her waist level, slung her catch bag over her shoulder, and strolled the short walk to the sea. When she caught a fish it hung at waist level when she raised the pole, and she could easily slip the fish into her catch bag. She showed us two uses for bananas – which she called plun. The first, from overripe bananas, was a delicious banana bread. The second was made from green plun almost ready to ripen. She skinned the plun using a knife, then grated it. The grated plun is formed into little dumplings and fried in oil. She served it with a sauce made of cream mixed with a little bit of golden syrup. She demonstrated a wonderful contraption that removes the kernels from dried corn, then returns the core to the operator. And she showed us a number of hand woven Norfolk Island hats, with a brief demo of the techniques used.

Jane showing the corn-kernel-remover. The cores are used as fire lighters. Waste not, want not.

Later in the day we were treated to a detailed demonstration of the art of hat-weaving using several different local materials, each requiring different preparation. These were all techniques the Islanders had learnt from their Polynesian forebears.

That fusion of cultures is so important. Early in our visit we heard one example of how the British got it very, very wrong. I mentioned in a previous post that Cook had noticed a plant he’d identified as flax, which was used to make sailcloth. It was actually a lilium, so techniques used in Europe to process flax didn’t work. However, it was known that the Maoris in New Zealand used a similar plant to weave cloth, so the enterprising Europeans with their incorrigible feeling of entitlement kidnapped two Maoris so they could explain how to process the plant. But white entitlement actually meant white male entitlement. The women did the cloth making so the Maori warrior and his cleric mate the English had kidnapped couldn’t help them. (Haha) The two men were taken back to New Zealand after their kidnappers explained they just wanted to know how to make flax. [3]

We had an opportunity to sample Norfolk Island food at the fish fry – a fun outdoor gathering involving deep fried fish nuggets Norfolk Island style, salads, a number of local dishes, alcohol, and an entertainer, all while the sun sank into the Western sea.

The Norfolk Islanders have developed their own spoken language, which is a kind of pidgin mixed with Tahitian words. On one of our tours Kath taught us a little song in Norfolkese (the chorus, anyway), accompanying the singing with her home made ukulele.

Kath’s little song

There was so much to see and do on this little island. I’ve barely scratched the surface. So much to follow up on, and read about. And to think about. It’s interesting to look at human impact on this tiny piece of nature. I’ll do that next time. I’ll finish with a few more nature pics. Because I can.

The view from Mt Pitt

Sunset into the sea

 

Norfolk Island’s convict past

The cemetery from the lookout

Norfolk Island’s early European history is entwined with the British penal system and the colonisation of Australia, so part of any visit to the island has to include the convict ruins, and the graveyard. There’s not much to show for the island’s first settlement in 1788. Here’s a short piece about those first colonists. When the colony finally closed down in 1814 all the buildings and livestock were destroyed before the settlers were returned to the Australian mainland. Although convicts were included amongst the first colonists, it was never a penal colony. That came later.

The original settlers who landed in 1788

In 1824 the government in NSW decided to send the worst of its prisoners to Norfolk Island, never to return. The prisoners were put to work quarrying stone and constructing the beautiful Georgian buildings gracing the area around Kingston. The stone was cut on nearby Nepean Island, and more than one man died in the treacherous channel there. The worst job the convicts could have was cutting the finer stone from below the high tide line. It meant they had to work waist-deep in water. The difference in quality is obvious, and the better stone was used for verandas to this day.

On our first introductory tour of Norfolk our driver took us across the bloody bridge. While the true reason for the name isn’t altogether settled, the story’s a good one. Seems the convicts working on the bridge didn’t much like the brutal overseer, so they killed him. To hide the crime, they put the body into the bridgework.  Next day the replacement overseer noticed blood seeping out in the mortar between the stones. The name (of course) has stuck.

John Christian with a headstone

John Christian took us on a tour of the convict ruins. The man is a mine of information, rattling off names, dates, and facts like a machine gun. There’s not much left of the interior of the jail – the stones were used by the new arrivals to construct new buildings. But the outlines are still there. John described the living conditions, with several men crammed into tiny cells. Prisoners worked in chains and flogging was a common punishment. John told us about one fellow who was flogged to death. When he fainted after 100 blows he was placed in a cell for three days then wheeled out for a second round, which killed him.

There are plenty of sources of information about the conditions in the prison. I’ve had a look and I do wonder about some of the stories we heard. Read a more balanced account of the penal system here. But the whole tour is about stories and family history. I’m sure the ghost tour would be well worth attending – maybe next time.

You can see the size of the cells from the ruins

There is no doubt that Norfolk Island prison was a hell on earth, but the prisoners sometimes put up a fight. In 1846 William Westwood, known as Jacky-Jacky, led a revolt, killing four prison officials. This was a man who couldn’t be contained. He escaped in Sydney, was sent to van Diemen’s land (Tasmania) where he escaped more than once, then finally ended up on Norfolk. His story is worth reading. He and several others were hanged for their part in the revolt, and their remains placed in unconsecrated ground. The commandant at the time, a man named Childs, was replaced by John Price, who had a fearsome reputation. Our guide told us about a particularly awful punishment, being confined in the dark cell. The prisoner was lowered into a tiny cell without doors and windows. Then the cell was sealed at the top (although it must have been opened to provide food and water). One man was kept in these conditions for a year and when he was removed, he was insane. All these stories reminded me very much of Auschwitz and even more of the prison on Rottnest Island. We haven’t learnt too much over the centuries.

Of course, some of the stories had happy endings. John told us about a seamstress sentenced to transportation, accused of stealing a scrap of fabric. This woman had a very useful skill and soon started making clothes for the officers’ wives. John said she started dress shops in Sydney and Paramatta, and went back to Blighty a wealthy woman who bought the shop where she had been employed. I couldn’t find the story on the web, but I hope it’s true.

Women in those days were treated like breeding stock. When it was recognised that there were not enough women in Australia, all the women who had incurred the death penalty in England had their sentences commuted to transportation. The Lady Juliana sailed for Port Jackson and arrived in 1790 with more than two hundred women aboard. She carried only women – an interesting point in its own right, and well worth a look at this article. One hundred and twenty of the women were sent to Norfolk. One was just 11 years old, sentenced to death for highway robbery (stealing another child’s clothes). Mary Wade ended up being the mother of twenty-one children. Read her story here.

The cemetery is divided into two halves with the older remains from convict times closer to the sea, marked off by a line of pillars. The rest of the area is still used, and we noticed locals tending family graves. One famous writer is buried here – Colleen McCollough called this island home and her memory is much-loved. Her husband still lives here, and her house is open to the public.

There are quite a few stones marking the graves in the old cemetery, but there are a lot more graves than the stones suggest. Convict graves were usually marked with wooden crosses, which have disappeared over the years. Female convicts, and some who had been executed, were given a headstone. Of course, soldiers and freemen automatically qualified.

When the British finally realised the folly of transporting ‘criminals’ to the colonies, they closed the prison at Norfolk in 1855. When the British left I get the idea the place wasn’t completely abandoned, though, because the people from Pitcairn arrived in 1856, and were confronted with huge four-legged beasts they’d never seen before – cows and horses. [1]

The Commandant

Anyway, enough of this morbid stuff. The enterprising Norfolk Islanders also use their convict past to entertain. Our group attended a “night as a convict”, all of us dressed in glamorous convict clothes. It wasn’t just our group of twenty – there must have been around one hundred seated at bench tables. Our overseers were the (smartly dressed) Commandant, and the red-robed Private Arty Parts. Both men possessed large dongers. The Commandant’s can be seen on the table beside him. It was an absolutely hilarious evening, with some off-colour humour, games and dances, and so forth. We convicts provided the entertainment. One example was a version of pass the parcel. The women were asked to form a circle, and three hats were passed around clockwise. When the music stopped, if you had a hat, you were out. Simple enough. But the Commandant and Private Parts introduced a complication – they added a Very Large rolling pin which was to go counter-clockwise, and which was to be passed with the knees, not the hands. Remember, the hats are also being passed. Nobody was obliged to take part, and naturally some people didn’t. Yes, of course I did. I haven’t laughed so much in a long while, and I’d recommend the evening. Dinner was involved, a simple meal served buffet-style with staff putting the food on the plate for you, just as would have happened in the convict mess halls. I can assure you we ate far better than the real convicts did.

The costumes are provided, but you have to give them back – although you can purchase them for $30. I couldn’t quite imagine where I’d be wearing it again, so I passed. One more point – the Commandant and Private Parts are not professional actors, they’re just members of the community doing their part. Sometimes things don’t work out. The week before, several of the guys scheduled for the roles were sick, so the convicts didn’t get a show. I know they were disappointed, and I would have been, too. But that’s life, I guess.

Next time we’ll get on to the people from Pitcairn.

Quality row – beautifully restored Georgian cottages, some of which are lived in.

A tiny speck of an island

We just spent a week on Norfolk Island, a tiny speck of an island (~35 square kilometres) in the South Pacific a little over 1,600km North East of Sydney. What a fascinating place. The island is one of Australia’s territories, but even so, it had a high level of autonomy until July 2016, when it was brought much more tightly under Australian administration. You might say that Norfolk’s relationship with Australia is… complicated.

Let’s start at the beginning. In 1774 personnel from Captain Cook’s HMS Resolution were the first Europeans to land on Norfolk. Cook charted the island and made special note of both the towering Norfolk Island pines which grow in profusion there, and a plant that resembled the flax used in Britain to make sailcloth. The precipitous cliffs were daunting, but Cook sent out a party in a long boat which was able to make land and establish the island was uninhabited. Location and description duly noted, Cook sailed away. After that there were three waves of ‘immigrants’, each of which left their mark on the island and its present population.

In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, commanding a fleet of eleven ships carrying around 1300 marines, sailors, settlers, and convicts, established a colony on the shores of Port Jackson which was to become Sydney. [1] He also received Admiralty orders to send a party to Norfolk Island to claim the territory for the Crown. The group of twenty-three hand-picked convicts and soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Gidley King arrived in March 1788, just 6 weeks after the colony was established in New South Wales, and started up a settlement at what is now Kingston. There were two reasons why the island was important – those magnificent trees that Cook had believed could be used for ship’s masts, and associated with that, the need to keep them out of the hands of the French, who had an expedition in the Pacific at the time. As it happens, La Perouse encountered Norfolk Island on 13 January 1788, but high seas prevented a landing, and he moved on [2].

A log of the Norfolk Island pine. The way the branches fit into the trunk is clearly visible

One of the new Norfolk Islanders was a carpenter who soon established that Norfolk Island pine was not suitable for masts. Despite its appearance – and name, the tree is a hardwood. Those lateral branches go deep into the tree’s core, which means there is a point of weakness with every branch. That said, it’s magnificent timber and the islanders still use it extensively as a building material. Norfolk was a rich and fertile land, and many people were transferred there during the early days of the New South Wales colony, when the settlers on the Big Island faced starvation.

But Norfolk is remote and does not have a real harbour. Having decided it was too expensive to maintain the colony, the Governor of NSW ended the first settlement in 1815, when the last of the settlers were moved back to Australia (many reluctantly). All their buildings and livestock were destroyed so that they would not fall into the hands of any other foreign power (aka France, although the French were busy in Europe at the time). The Island returned to nature for the next nine years until, in 1824, the Governor of NSW decided to open a new penal colony for the worst of the convicts. It was at this time that the beautiful stone buildings were constructed around the harbour at Kingston, using, of course, convict labour.

Military barracks, beautifully restored. Note the barracks wall.

This was the second wave of settlers. The penal colony had a reputation for being exceptionally harsh. We were told some stories when we visited the ruins, but I’ll refer to some of those later.  The prison was finally closed in 1855 when the last of the convicts were transferred to van Diemen’s land (Tasmania). Once again, Norfolk was uninhabited by humans.

On an even tinier speck of land in the South Pacific, 5 square kilometre Pitcairn Island, the descendants of Fletcher Christian and the mutineers who set Captain Bligh adrift in HMAV Bounty’s long boat were running out of room. They wrote a letter to Queen Victoria, asking for a place of refuge and she granted them the now-abandoned Norfolk Island. [3] The third wave of settlers – the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives – arrived at Kingston in 1856.

Today’s Islanders are proud of their heritage. All of them can tell you their ancestry, citing ‘seventh generation Pitcairn’, or an association through a convict from the first settlement, or the much harsher second settlement. The surname Christian is common, along with Quintal and Young. There are many Baileys, descendants of a blacksmith who joined the community from outside. The Pitcairn descendants tend to be tall and obviously of mixed race, with darker skin than Europeans and high Polynesian cheekbones. Other new blood came to the island. Whales migrate nearby and American whaling ships used Norfolk as a base. Some of the sailors didn’t leave. Some people returned to Norfolk from Australia.

These days tourism is Norfolk’s main industry and everybody takes part. John Christian, who seems to be something of an oral historian, told us the history of St Barnabas’s chapel. He also took us through the remains of the prison at Kingston, telling us tales of convicts, and over the graveyard where he showed us the graves of some of the convicts he’d talked about – and the less disreputable people, too.

Sunset at the fish fry

One of the Buffets showed us George Bailey’s farm and his workshop. A descendant of a whaling sailor named Evans proudly displayed her forebear’s telescope before showing us what the islanders could do with bananas (they call them ‘plun’). Several Christians drove the buses we travelled on. Norfolk has its own language, a fusion between eighteenth century English and Polynesian, and we were taught some of it. They showed us how they used the local palms to weave hats, shared their food, and generally made us feel at home. One evening we attended a progressive dinner, where each course was served at an island home and the hosts talked about their lives on Norfolk. Another evening we attended a fish fry on a cliff facing west so we could admire the sunset while we ate morsels of trumpeter coated in a batter made with coconut milk and deep fried. Another day, Culla took our group on a cart drawn by a couple of Clydesdales.

Buddy and Sammy

Jane Evans described herself as growing up poor – but she didn’t know it. It’s a rich life, but it doesn’t involve money. Importing anything is wildly expensive, so there’s a philosophy of making do, of working with your neighbour, of barter. They don’t grow wheat, so they use arrowroot and maize, and other Polynesian foodstuffs. Chooks are feral on the island and domestic cattle roam around the roads (they have right of way). Each person on Norfolk can have up to ten cows roaming freely, at a cost of $145 pa. They all wear eartags so the owner can be identified.

There’s so much more to tell you, but this is getting long, so I’ll just share a few pictures of the gosh-wow, ooh-ahh scenery.

Next time we’ll get into a bit more history, and that complicated relationship with Australia.

Nepean Isl on the left, Phillip Isl on the right

Emily Bay where he locals swim

A view of Kingston and Emily Bay from up on the hill

Rugged coastline

Going down is easier than coming up

View across the golf course to Nepean Island and Phillip Island

The Pacific keeps on rolling in

MORE unfortunate events

Isn’t it interesting how things go wrong at the most inconvenient time? When I wrote the blogs for our latest trip to Europe I entitled it ‘A series of unfortunate events‘, because so many things went wrong. Well, it seems the trip demons hadn’t finished with me. Not all that long before we left on that European trip I’d had to restore my computer to factory settings – which means reformatting the hard disk, which means losing all your data and all your apps. And the version of Windows is the one that came on the machine, minus the hundreds of updates Microsoft made after that. It’s a bitch of a job and Microsoft hasn’t made it any easier by changing the procedure to repair a damaged system. In the old days, you tapped the F8 key as the machine was booting, which stopped Windows from loading and gave the operator a chance to run some diagnostics and repairs.

Not any more. At least a little bit of Windows loads and offers suggestions. None of the repair options worked and I couldn’t get the system to reboot from a USB stick, or from an SD card, so I had to run the factory restore. Then I had to find and download the various apps (Lightroom, Photoshop, Firefox, Thunderbird, Microsoft Office, Adobe Digital Reader… etc etc), and restore from backup.

All good.

For a while.

Then a month or so ago, not long after I got home from my week in Perth the disk failed again, and none of Windows repair options worked. But at least I managed to get into the file system and copy my latest trip photos to my external hard drive where I had the rest of my backups before (once again) restoring to factory settings and reloading apps and data.

All good. Surely.

The disk failed again a week or so ago. Once again, I had to restore to factory settings, muttering obscenities as I worked. This time, though, the machine wouldn’t even boot. To quote Doctor Macoy, “It’s worse than that, it’s dead, Jim.” Fortunately, I have a reliable laptop, so I loaded my files from backup onto that.

Then the biggest blow of all. I restored from backup – but I’d changed where I kept my photos, and deleted some files from the backup disk because I wouldn’t need them. I had my reasons which made perfect sense at the time. The end result, though, was I lost all the photos from the European trip, and from the Perth trip. Just as well I’d written those blogs. We had Pete’s Europe photos. Not as good as mine, but still… 🙂

But wait a minute…

As it happens, I hadn’t been quite as stupid as I thought I’d been. Yes, I’d deleted files from the backup disk because I didn’t need them anymore, and their existence would only confuse. But I’d deleted them AFTER I’d put the photos in those files in the right place. I’m restoring them to the PC as I write this post.

And the upshot of all of this? My hair is even greyer. I’ll be putting a new hard drive in the Dell desktop and disposing of it. A shiny new HP is due to arrive in the new year.

This will be my Last Post for this year. I wish both of my readers (okay, all three) a wonderful solstice,  however you choose to celebrate.

Apart from finding I hadn’t been as STUPID as I thought I’d been, comments from people whose opinion I respect suggest that The Last Jedi does not suck, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing it in a store near me next year.

Here’s a collection of scenes from 2017 – I promise there will be more in 2018.

Crocodile at Cairns

Stoney Creek Falls

Galahs at dawn

Cobbold Gorge

Undara Lava Tube. Note the little stream at the side. These tunnels fill with water when it really rains. Greg said he’d been swimming in some of them. What’s more, the roof rpovides no protection from the rain. It just drips on through.

I can snort a rainbow

Windmills near Amsterdam

Golden trees and the cathedral at Wurzburg

Sunset reflections with ducks – the Danube River

Auschwitz – Birkenau

Meeting a golden eagle

Australia from 35,000 feet

A peacock’s bum is almost as pretty as the front

Back into life as we know it

After all the travel dramas, life has fizzled out to its pretty boring routine. Except for the rain. 2017 will go down as a ‘feast or famine’ result in the rain gauge. Was it only this year that we bolted back home from Northern Queensland with tropical cyclone Debbie on our tail? After receiving only 26mm in January and February, which are supposed to be our wetter months, Debbie dumped 390mm in March. But after she’d emptied herself, the skies dried up. Winter is always the ‘dry’ here in Hervey Bay, but this was a drought. The grass (I couldn’t possibly call it a lawn) went brown, and even my large rosemary bush turned up its toes.

After the rain there’s a rainbow – and that’s the TV aerial

The rain was waiting for us when we got home from Europe. In the space of 3 weeks in October we had 561mm, and in November we had another 235mm. That’s about 32 inches in the old measure – Perth doesn’t get much more than that in a year. La Nina has arrived and we’re looking ahead at a long wet season. We’re not really complaining – that’s life in the sub-tropics. But I’ll have a little complain. The weeds, of course, burst out of dormancy long before the grass, and mowing was out of the question – the ride-on would have sunk down to its axles in the mud in a few minutes. As soon as the ground had dried a little the mower decided it was time for a refit. New blades and new bearings were (eventually) obtained. This is Queensland, after all. And the jungle was kind of tamed.

That’s not a permanent water feature

That long drought meant we had a large contingent of birds arriving at the pool fence for evening apple juice and a turn in the bird bath, and the predator birds were grateful for some uncooked bacon rind. When the rains came, everybody dispersed to their natural food sources, although we’d always get a few locals popping in. It’s been a while since we’ve had a four o’clock line-up, though.

The possum in his house

Not long after we came home we noticed a commotion from the local birds, who don’t like seeing the possum during the day. There he was, peering out of his house while all the birds screeched at him. He lives in a large hollow log which Pete had fitted with a roof and a base, and then tied to a palm tree. I suspect he was trying to tell us something, because that was when we noticed the base of the house lying under the tree. So that had to be fixed so he could move back in.

We have a pair of pee wees (magpie larks) in our yard. They decided that the TV aerial on top of the house would be a great place to build their beautiful mud nest. (See top picture) While they’re great builders, they’re sloppy and the roof under the construction site was a mess of twigs and mud. It’s also a lousy place to build a nest – no protection from sun and rain, and the eggs would be easy pickings for a crow or kookaburra. Pete hosed the nest down several times, but the birds persevered. So he rigged up fishing line to deter them. It worked – for two days, by which time they moved the construction up the aerial. But Pete is persistent, too. The aerial is now devoid of nest and festooned with fishing line, which appears to have had the added advantage of deterring the crows.

Lorikeets and their natural food

Our lovely local kookaburra

I’m glad to say after the health dramas plaguing us in Europe we’re all better. I’m thinking about starting a new book, but we’ll see. In the meantime I’ve been amusing myself playing Solitaire, and messing about with Photoshop. I’ll leave you with my latest creation. See you next week.