xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Friday, 22 February 2019

A bumpy ride to Paradise.

Recently, Tom Zaunmayer, a journalist in the Pilbara, wrote a very  entertaining story of his bumpy four-wheel drive rides  to secluded, scenic beauty spots (Weekend West Australian), Feb. 9-10, 2019).
It reminded me of many  bumpy summer holiday trips to the shacks at Whitfords Beach in the late 1940s. Of course there were very few four-wheel drive vehicles around in those days. We ventured everywhere, intrepidly, in two-wheel drive vehicles.

My younger sisters and I would sit in the back of Dad’s bull nosed Morris utility. Leaving civilisation at Dog’s Swamp (no shops, no houses, no dogs, just swamp) we travelled along a narrow bitumen road that ran north through virgin bush to Yanchep.  About forty minutes later we would turn left at a crude, handwritten sign nailed to a banksia tree indicating, “Whitfords.”

Two-wheel drive cars and utes travelled along this very rough, bumpy, boggy track to reach the forty or so weatherboard shacks at Whitfords beach. The track, now the busy Whitfords Avenue, was littered with branches, hessian bags, corrugated iron and sheets of plasterboard that were used to get bogged vehicles free. On one occasion my Dad was forced to almost completely deflate the tyres in order to get us out of one very sandy bog. Luckily, we carried a large, hand operated pump to get us mobile again. It was a very bumpy ride. My main job in the back of the ute was to hold a sugar bag under the mouth of my red cloud kelpie dog, Prince. Prince was a magnificent dog, but the lumpy, bumpy ride into Whitfords caused him to get seasick.

Each August, from 1957 to 1961, I enjoyed similar rough rides to Kalbarri in my mate Tony Jones’ Volkswagen Beetle. It was a red dirt road from Northampton to Binnu, then a left turn along a rough, rocky, boggy and sometimes soggy route that would be flattered if you called it a track. I was overseas in the early sixties and did not return to Kalbarri until 1967. It was bitumen all the way and, as Tom Zaunmayer would have predicted, Kalbarri had quickly turned into a mini Mandurah.                 

By far the longest and bumpiest road trip I ever endured was a car trip across the Nullarbor that started on Boxing Day, 1961. I was driving  a most luxurious leather upholstered, Austin A 95 Westminster sedan. Even in 1961 it featured a radio control system for passengers in the rear. I bought in when I was teaching in Bunbury. The previous owner was the local bank manager, who had maintained the stylish vehicle in tip-top condition. I am sure he would have been mortified if he knew what rough treatment I was going to inflict on it travelling  across Australia on a dirt road which was euphemistically designated as The Eyre Highway.

I had not done a lot of research for the Nullarbor adventure. I knew the road was  not sealed and that I needed to take some spare parts and a canvas water bag. I proudly hung that water bag on the front bumper. It was sign to all other drivers that I was an adventurer. That I, too, had traversed the Eyre Highway, Australia’s longest and the worst highway anywhere.

I was travelling with my good friend, Murray Paddick, and another young fellow who, at the time, was a cameraman for the recently opened Channel 7 in Perth. I think his name was Steve. Anyhow, Steve boarded at my Aunty Millie’s house in North Perth. When he heard Murray and I were travelling across the Nullarbor to Sydney on Boxing Day, he asked to share the expenses and come along in order to visit his family in Sydney. Murray and Steve had about as much, or even less, knowledge than me of the rugged road we were about travel on.

On the first day we reached Norseman in late afternoon. After a counter meal at the Norseman Hotel, we set off again about 6-00pm. The idea was that we would drive into the gathering gloom until it became dark. Then we would pitch camp for the night. Camping would consist of parking the car on the side of the road, throwing a tarpaulin down and sleeping on it. We had sleeping bags if needed, but the weather was quite hot.

After we had travelled for about an hour out of Norseman, I turned on the headlights to help us find a reasonably safe spot to pull over. Suddenly the car stopped. The lights went out. This is not a good way to start a four-day journey across rugged country, I thought. We all jumped out of the car. On lifting the bonnet we discovered that the bumpy road had caused the battery to fall out of its mountings. It was hanging by one lead down the side of the engine. No power. No lights. No ignition. No go!

We quickly reconnected the battery. Having secured it in its housing, we decided that this was as good a spot as any to pitch camp. We threw the tarp down and went to sleep. Well, Murray and Steve may have gone to sleep but I spent an hour or two worrying about why I had ever decided to travel on this very long, very rough and very  bumpy road and whether my beautiful, luxuriously appointed car, would survive the journey. More to the point, would the three of us survive the journey?

I am glad to say that my car performed magnificently after that battery mishap. I travelled on happy in the knowledge that when we reached the South Australian border we would once more be on beautiful, black, flat bitumen.

The next afternoon we reached Eucla, an historic place where the international telegraph first came ashore. After 58 years my memory of Eucla is hazy. The main settlement was set some distance back from the coast, so, we drove to have a look at the original, and now unused, telegraph station, which I remember as being heavily invaded by sand drifts. It was right next to the ocean. We parked in the deserted car park. The three of us decided to freshen up with a swim in the Great Australian Bight. As there was nobody around, we decided there was no need to rummage through our luggage for our bathers. We just stripped of and ran into the water.

We ran and we ran and we ran . It was very shallow. We were fifty yards from the shore and we were only shin deep. And naked!  We ventured out over100 metres. The water was nearly waist deep. Deep enough for a plunge and  a refreshing swim. We were actually swimming naked in The Great Australian Bight! What adventurers we  were?

We quickly returned to the car and were quickly dried off   by the beating sun and fresh sea breeze. Just as we had dressed, a young English fellow pulled up and parked near us.

“Where are the changerooms?” he enquired.

“No changerooms, Mate. But don’t worry. There’s nobody for miles. Just jump in. That’s what we just did.”

Well, no doubt the young Englishman was also feeling in need of a swim after a day or so on a hot, dusty and very bumpy track. He stripped off and ploughed into the water. We told him he would need to go out a long way to get into the deeper water.Then we piled back into the car and headed off. Just as we left the parking area, a vehicle came over the hill, obviously heading for the beach at the telegraph station. The wagon had a red, dusty water bag on the front bumper. Fellow travellers!

In the car were mum, dad the driver, and their  three daughters. Ages ranging from about 10 to 17years. They would have arrived at the car park just as our young English friend reached the deep water. To this day I still wonder how long he had to remain modestly submerged, over 100 metres from shore while mum, dad and the three girls had a good look at the old historic telegraph station at Eucla. Maybe the family, or the girls at least, stripped off for a swim too. Surely, not! 

Eucla is right on the WA/SA border.When we eventually arrived in South Australian I was dumbfounded to discover that the road was just as rugged as it was in Western Australia. In fact it was worse.

Steve said that the South Australian government did not spend much money on the Eyre Highway, as it only led to Western Australia. Well, Hello! That explains why it took about seventy years after federation before there was a sealed road across our great nation. (In August,1964, Murray and I drove from Toronto to Vancouver on Canada's Highway 401. The 401 is a magnificent sealed two lane highway from coast to coast. In contrast, in 1964, the Eyre Highway across the Nullabor was still basically over 1000kms of dirt track. A national disgrace, really, but evidence of how unimportant Western Australia was in national thinking. So, what's new?)

On day three we woke at sun-up somewhere in South Australia and drove in to Penong. We arrived at about 7-00am and parked in front of the  general store, waiting for it to open so that we could buy some bread and milk. When it did open, I asked the lady serving us how far it was till the bitumen started.

“Not till Port Augusta,” she said as my jaw hit the ground.

Port Augusta! We had endured about 1600 kms of rough and dusty road from Norseman to Penong, the last 420 kms of it over lumpy South Australian roads Now, this lady was telling me that we had another 540 kms of rough South Australian limestone, holes and red dirt roads still to travel. Almost ten more hours of bumps and dust.

We arrived in Port August about  4-30 pm and I pulled into a very modern garage which had beautiful hot shower for weary travellers like us. Paradise!

Well, a lot more happened on that trip to Sydney and on the return journey, via Melboure five weeks later, but as we have now reached the blessed bitumen, I will move on. Smoothly, I hope.
One of the thousands of wreath Flowers near Pindar.

Last September, my wife, Lesley, and I travelled about 5000 kms in a two-wheel drive, 2 litre, Kia Cerato, from Ocean Reef to Point Samson and back. We explored Karijini National Park and parts of Millstream- Chichester National Park. It was a long, but very comfortable journey in our small sedan. I told friends who were interested, and even those who weren’t, that it was akin to flying across the Pacific Ocean in a Tiger Moth. Well, maybe not quite, but Lesley and I did have excited feelings about the adventures awaiting us as we set off in our small car in search of fabulous Western Australian wildflowers and wonderful scenery.

The main roads, apart from a stretch under repair at Bindoon, were very good. The dirt roads east of Pindar, near Mullewa, where the fabled Wreath Flowers grow, were smooth and comfortable. The dirt roads in Karijini were driveable. However, the same could not be said for those in the Millstream-Chichester National Park.
Lesley and the Cerato in the Pilbara,
I drove around Millstream in 2008 in a two-wheel drive Holden station wagon with no trouble at all. However, this year, when we reached Python Pool, we were warned by two four-wheel vehicle drivers from Karratha, that the roads further on to the Millstream Homestead and surrounding beauty spots were not suitable for two-wheel cars. They told us the roads were so corrugated that they were not even suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles that were towing caravans. Sadly, we returned to Karratha.

Tom Zaunmayer says that for four-wheel vehicle drivers “the rough and tumble journey is the destination.”  Well, good luck with that, Tom and I know how you feel. On the other hand, Millstream-Chichester National Park is one of Nature’s great destinations. After all, this is not the 1940s or 1950s. It is not even the 1960s. It is 2019, almost one fifth of the way into the Twenty First Century. All of our national parks should be sealed or at least very well graded on a regular basis.
It is a great shame that the roads in the Millstream-Chichester National Park  are not maintained well enough, or regularly enough, to enable two-wheel vehicle access for the great majority of Western Australian drivers.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

We need education reform, not teacher bashing.

Teachers officially start work in their schools tomorrow.
Next Monday and Tuesday the students will turn up.
Good luck to teachers, principals and other administrative staff, especially those in needy schools who will all hope and pray that this year they will see adequate resources and funding provided to them to appropriately address the needs of the children.

It seems a long while ago since Gonski identified the great divide between high and low achieving schools in Australia. Besides identifying this worrying gap, Gonski, more importantly, provided funding to be allocated to schools needing additional staffing and resources. Unfortunately, politicians inserted themselves into the equation and Gonski funding was cut severely and large dollops of it given to schools without any real needs at all.It was argued that spreading money around all schools was equitable and fair. It was manifestly unfair!

It was Aristotle who said "The greatest form of inequality was to make unequal things equal." This could be restated in our day as "The greatest discrimination is the equal treatment of unequals."  
Schools with well appointed gymasiums, olympic swimming pools and huge libraries and resource centres did not warrant any Gonski money.The politicians thought differently. As a result Gonski has not been properly implemented, needy schools are still in need and there students still suffer and the achievement gap is wider.

Teachers in these needy schools are like soldiers in the frontline whose Generals have given them inferior weapons and scant supplies of ammunition and then berate them for not winning the battle.

As these teachers face up to another year they must be dismayed that teacher bashing is still the sport of choice for many of our politicians. For instance, there was a general undertone of teacher bashing in the recent focus by politicians on the ATAR levels of some students entering teacher education. They appears to be saying  that:-
 *Our teachers are not really up to scratch.                                
 *Our student teachers are not really up to scratch.

No evidence has been given to support these two assertions. It sounds like teacher bashing. It is putting down teachers by suggesting that if they worked harder and became even more highly qualified than having four or five year teaching degrees, then Australia would be sitting on top of the education rankings.

So, does this mean that our Australian teachers are below standard? Hardly. Despite the problems inherent with indigenous and non-English speaking ethnic groups, Australia is ranked in the top ten countries in the world, according to PISA. We are invariably ranked above The United Kingdom and The United States, two countries with whom we are often compared and encouraged to copy. Whatever for?

We certainly can do better. The main problem in Australia, as identified by Gonski, is the widening gap between high achievers and low achievers. This can only be addressed by allocating additional resources to schools in need, as the original Gonski suggested.

Any teacher will tell you that if you constantly criticise someone as inadequate, their work will tend to fall away. Attention has recently focused on the low academic achievement levels of trainee teachers. References were made to the low Year 12 pass mark that some student teachers have in comparison for the pass mark required for doctors, engineers and lawyers.

Firstly, the pass mark is not low. Most trainee teachers have adequate to very good ATAR marks. Graduate Diploma students, of course, have already completed a university degree before entering their education studies. And not all student teachers pass the course!  Around 30% of them fail to graduate or have their courses terminated because they are not performing satisfactorily.

We should not focus on who goes into the education course but on the quality of those who graduate and how well prepared they are for their teaching role.

We definitely should investigate any universities enrolling students that they know will fail. Why would they do this? Could it be that each enrolled student attracts healthy funding from the government? Perhaps, a question of academic ethics.

Some people say it is too easy to get into teaching. Maybe so, but it is definitely not too easy to graduate as a teacher. It requires a great deal of intellectual and physical effort as well as a very strong commitment to teaching. From 2003 to 2014 I worked for a Western Australian university, mentoring education students in schools on their teaching practice. The most common remark made to me by these student after just a few days in the classroom was, “I just didn't realise how hard it would be” or “I just did not realise how much time I needed to spend on planning my lessons.” All teachers know that feeling.

Naturally, we should encourage our best and brightest into the teaching profession, if they have the passion and a commitment to teaching. We should also recognize and applaud the great effort that education students put in to successfully graduating from what is a very onerous, nerve wracking and energy sapping course of study.

Let us also hope that both political parties will cease political point scoring and, in the interests of Australian children, begin properly resourcing teachers and school administrators to do their jobs more effectively by giving real financial muscle to the Gonski proposals.

We need education reform, not teacher bashing.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Bourke Christmas Chronicle: 2018

Bourke Christmas Newsletter
Last Christmas Eve I celebrated my 80th birthday. They say that as you age your memory goes. It must be true, because I cannot remember a year going by so fast as this year, 2018. In fact, I can hardly remember the year at all. I’ll have to refer to my notes.

What is  happening? It seems like only a few months ago that we celebrated Christmas and here it is again, whizzing by once more. Fortunately, as you start to think about things, memories start creeping back into the old memory bank  I must first give thanks for good health. Not just for me, but for Lesley, our three daughters, Jane, Sarah and Emily and their delightful families. Apart from a few colds and incidental aches and pains, Lesley and I are luckily free from more serious ailments and we thank God for that. During the year we lost some good friends.

Well, you can't everybody looking beautiful at the same time.
My 80th birthday had Christmas getting off to a great start. Many thanks to family and friends for making it such a great day. I mean, turning 80 is not an occasion that fills one with the joy of living. My family and friends made it a wonderful, happy day for me. 

Early in January, Lesley and I attended the first ever One Day International cricket match at our brand-new Perth Stadium. It is a magnificent venue but, unfortunately, our cricketers were well beaten by South Africa. In fact, they made a habit of getting beaten for most of the year and disgraced themselves, and us , by blatantly cheating by ball tampering in South Africa. It was a sad episode in Australian cricket, but at least the players involved were severely punished. In every other cricketing country ball tamperers get a one or two match penalty. Ours were rubbed out for nine months and one year.

In March, Lesley and enjoyed a couple of days at the Burswood Resort. On the first day we chose to walk across to the new stadium. It is actually about a kilometre more than a pleasant stroll and we did it on what was the hottest day of the summer (OK, March is in Autumn, but it was the hottest day in 12 months). As we slowly strolled and sweated our way around the perimeter of this marvellous coliseum, we were greeted by a stadium employee who told us the Riverview Café was open for business on Level One. We quickly moved up to Level One and entered The Riverview Café on its Opening Day. Another first! We enjoyed some cold fruit drinks as we gazed on workmen finishing of the Matagarup Bridge, across the Swan River to East Perth. Of course, we made many visits to the stadium in the football season to watch our Mighty Eagles play mighty football in their mighty premiership year.

Lesley's 80th. We are all looking good.
Two major, major landmark celebrations took place in August. Lesley celebrated her 80th birthday on August 11 and we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on August 26. Lesley convinced everyone that she was 80, though she looks like a fifty-year-old and carries on like a teenager. Once again, this was a warm and wonderful occasion made special by our family and friends.

We celebrated our wedding anniversary with our family at the Crown Metropol. The next day we took the opportunity to visit Perth Stadium. Local knowledge came into play and this time we drove to and from this mighty venue. We explored the Camfield Arms Hotel, reported to have the longest bar in Australia. We also made a return trip to the Riverview Café. To our great surprise, the young and bubbly staff had no recollection of our previous visit on their auspicious opening day in March. Obviously, failing memory is not just a fault of the old…er, the elderly.

New Norcia Hotel.
In September we embarked on our BIG adventure for the year. Though both in our 80s, Lesley and I thought it would be nice to travel up along the Great Northern Highway looking at wildflowers and marvelling at the splendour of Karijini and Millstream.  On September 4th set off in our two-wheel drive, 2 litre Cerato sedan. We had a great sense of adventure. We felt like eighty-year-old teenagers. After all it was a bit like trying to fly across the Pacific Ocean in a Tiger Moth.

We intended to be away about ten nights, I had suggested to Lesley that, as we did back in the 1960s, we could just throw a tarpaulin down at night and sleep under the stars. She said that was OK when she was in her twenties and thirties but, now that she was in her eighties, she insisted on motel accommodation.                             I am so glad that she did.
Lesley at the Point Samson lookout.
We drove as far as Point Samson (yes, we enjoyed the fish and chips and the view from the Bistro) and covered 4750 trouble free kilometres altogether. We had a wonderful time. Saw some amazing gorges and rugged ranges scenery. We also saw a lot of Western Australia’s famous wildflowers, including the wreath flowers near Pindar, outside Mullewa. It is the only place in the world  that they grow. Best of all, when we drove home, we were still friends and speaking to each other. Now that really is True Love after  4750 kms in a small sedan.

 Apart from Eagles football matches, we were regular concert goers to the Morning Symphonies at The Concert Hall and Morning Melodies at His Majesty’s Theatre. Plus, we  enjoyed many happy social occasions in our new home at Ocean Reef Country Club where Lesley is the voluntary Librarian and Noel produces a  newsletter.

Our girls and their families are all thriving. Our grandchildren are growing up far too fast. They all received very pleasing reports. Sophie will be in Year 11 next year and now has her Learner’s Driving Permit. Luc has graduated to year 7 High School at Prendiville College. Jack is moving into Year 9 at Sacred Heart. Sari will be in her final year at primary school in 2019 and Kai will move into the top end of the lower primary, Year 3. Cisco will also be in his final year of primary school at Marmion PS and Havana will be in Year Five.  Havana has many interests but has recently proved a dab hand in the cooking department. Chocolate chip cookies  and butterscotch puddings are her specialities. Yum!
During the winter months Lesley and I enjoyed watch playing netball.

Just to finish the year off in style, Lesley and I went to the first day of the very first Test Match ever played at Perth Stadium. Another first! And we won! Yoo hoo.

So, it was a very happy and eventful year. We look forward to enjoying Christmas and the beautiful  summer days with our family and friends.

Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New year to you and your family
Noel and Lesley

Our first sleepover. Old Convent Motel, Dalwallinu.

Beautiful bushes like these lined the roadways in the mid west.

The beautiful Dale's Gorge, Karijini National Park.

The beautiful Lesley at Joffre's Gorge, Karijini.

It's not The Rockies, but Mount Bruce, near Karijini, is our second tallest landmark.

Lesley at The Python Pool, Millstream National Park.

Lesley at the Point Samson lookout.

Garden cafe at Cossack, a quaint historical townsite near Point Samson.

Luxury at the splendid Point Samson Resort. Highly recommended.

A wreath flower near the ghost town of Pindar, 30 kms east of Mullewa.

For about a kilometre along either side of the road are wreath flowers.