Saturday, August 30, 2008

This week's Australian story - THE GREAT ELEPHANT RACE by Dave Brown

When I was a young police constable I was stationed at Jerry's Plains, a one-man station in the Hunter Valley. It was usual for some of the bigger stations to call on me to perform certain duties for them. Constable Graham Noble at Bulga, also a one-man station, was often called in with me. We didn't mind as our stations at most times were very quiet.

On one occasion we were both assigned to Singleton for a week as the town was holding a number of large festivals and various events to celebrate the centenary of the railway from Newcastle to Singleton (1864 - 1964). Wirth's Circus was also set up on the outskirts of town for the festivities. Our main duty would be to patrol the streets on foot and check out the hotels to see nothing out of the ordinary happened.

The main attraction for the town that week was to be the "Elephant Race". This would be held on Saturday afternoon. There were four elephants from Wirth's Circus and four of the town dignitaries were to be their jockeys: the Lord Mayor; the Manager of the local R.S.L.; the Shire Engineer and Senior Constable Max Tippet who would represent the police force as the Officer in Command. The event received a lot of publicity from television, radio and the newspapers. The local S.P. bookmakers were running a book on the race - five to two the field.

Senior Constable Max Tippet was a stubby bloke, he liked a beer now and then, had a very good nature and was a real dinkie-di Aussie. Each day when Graham and I came into work we asked Max how he thought his elephant would go, but he always replied: "How would I know?"

On the day of the big race the town was packed - hundreds of jostling people lined the main street to watch. All the riders wearing their brightly-coloured jockey outfits were to ride their huge animals from the starting post at one end of John Street and race down to the other end to finish at the Railway Station. Our job was to keep the crowd back off the road.

Max looked brilliant in his racing colours. We drove him out to the circus where he prepared to mount his elephant. Everyone was so excited. I thought Max and the other jockeys looked nervous, and when he called Graham and me over, Max gathered us close and whispered to us: "Dave, I couldn't tell you before, but get down to McPhee's Hotel and put this ten-pound note on my elephant. And put something on for yourselves - it can't get beat."

We hoisted Max up onto the elephant's back and raced down to McPhee's. We asked the publican to put the bet on for us as we didn't want to scare the bookie, and Graham and I both had two pounds each on it for ourselves, as Max had advised us.

When we got back to the starting point all the elephants were lined up ready to go, with Max and his steed on the outside. The local football referee blew his whistle and off they lumbered. Max's elephant came over from the outside and took the lead and all the others took a single line behind Max's. As they moved further down the street they kept the same positions. No elephant ever tried to pass another and they stayed in their positions right to the winning post with Max out in front all the way.

Max told us later that his elephant was the lead elephant in their circus act and the others were trained to follow it. It was a wellkept secret which only a few knew. I don't think the bookies lost much - well, except maybe the one down at McPhee's Hotel !

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Writing your Memoirs may turn out to be one of the most important achievements of your life. Each person’s life is unique, every one of us has our own stories to tell. When we look back on our life’s history and begin to put it all into order we see that despite hardships, and trials and tribulations, WE HAVE SURVIVED.

Sometimes outside influences shaped our lives. Certain events and other people over-ruled our lives, often with outcomes quite beyond our control and for which we cannot possibly take responsibility. Yet we took on the challenges of life, and with courage, pride and determination we are here now. This really does put quite a high value on your life. In my workshops I see people grow and glow with these revelations.

Any time now a younger member of your family will ask you for stories about your life and details of their ancestors. You may be the only person able to tell them stories and facts they want to know. There are many reasons for their inquisitiveness – they want to find their “roots”; they could be seeking ancestral achievements; family likenesses or medical problems; artistic talents; emotional and temperamental traits, and so on. You can help them find their heritage and the meaning of your own life, too.

In future posts let me guide you through your journey and help smooth the way towards writing your memoirs. It is important to understand that we are not writing an autobiography which meticulously records every event of our lives in a set order. We are writing our memoirs -our memories, our own recollections. A movie maker shoots one scene at a time, in random order, then puts them all together in the editing room to make one complete story. So we will write one story at a time, just as they come to mind, and put them into order later.

* Make a commitment to yourself to write one story a week – at the end of a year you will have fifty stories about the people and events of your life. Remember – one story a week. That’s all. Decide on a place where you will write and set aside a regular day and time to do this.
* Make yourself a Memory Bank. A filing system to store your memorabilia – photos, birth/marriage/death certificates, school awards, diplomas, diaries, etc. Keep them all in a large plastic box in separate folders or large envelopes, which you can label in decades. Include written notes to remind you about stories dealing with larger items of clothing, jewellery, furniture – anything that triggers your memory. Look in this Memory Bank every time you want to write a story. Add to it every time you remember an idea for a story.

* Now we’ll write your first memoir. For now, choose to write a story about an event so familiar to you that you can remember it backward. Take a few moments first to formulate the ideas in your head, then begin to write. Don’t worry about correct spelling or grammar, just get the details from your memory onto paper as quickly as you can. Once you start to write, the ideas will flow and the memory will kick in. This memory, or memoir, needs to be attractive to your reader and it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Don’t fill in all the surrounding information yet, just zoom straight into the action as though you were a cameraman. READY….STEADY…..WRITE!

My Mother's stories ........

My mother, Alice Mabel Coates, was born in 1908 in Walthamstow, London, one of ten children. I loved to hear her stories. Her father, Arthur Edward Bowes, was a large imposing man who forged his own destiny. Ran away to sea at the age of 13. Married Louisa, from Lyons, France. They started a baker's shop which failed when soft-hearted Louisa gave away bread to poor people. Later Arthur Bowes became manager of a large pickle factory near Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, with about fifty staff. I never knew my grandfather, nor any other grandparent. Mum told me over and over about her life in her young days. She sadly missed her mother who died of consumption (T.B.) Alice was only 7 years old and she was brought up by her elder sisters, Rose and Jessie. Rose never married; she was left a cripple with a humped back after a road accident. They had a younger sister who died when she was very young; six older brothers completed the family. Jessie got Alice a job with her in a laundry, a large warehouse where women washed, boiled, scrubbed, starched, dried and ironed all kinds of cotton clothing and household linen sent in by people who could afford to pay for this service in the days before washing-machines. Household linen, shirts, dresses, aprons and underwear, all were returned within days hand-washed, starched and immaculately ironed. Large coppers full of suds, tubs for rinsing and starching, big wooden mangles turned by hand, clothes pegged on lines to dry, long folding tables, ironing tables, irons heated on fires, all in a constantly steamy atmosphere made the girls prone to rheumatism, colds and neuralgia. Work was not too plentiful then, and they were grateful. Mum had always dreamed of becoming a shorthand typist, but the cost of a Pitman's course was out of reach. She never lost the art of folding sheets, nor the habit of ironing every fold of every item. Pawn shops enjoyed a brisk trade, particularly midweek. It was quite common for women to pawn their wedding rings at "Uncle's" on Tuesday to buy food for the family's dinner, then redeem it on pay-day. Mum told me how, on one occasion her mother pawned her son John's best suit on a weekday, planning to put it back in the wardrobe for the weekend when he would need it. He found out and was very angry. He hit his mother, knocking her down the stairs. Years later, when Uncle John was working in the "Daily Express" newspaper printing works in Fleet Street an accident with the guillotine cut off his right arm just below the elbow. Mum felt justice had been done. It was the arm he had raised in anger to his mother.

The Bowes Descendants 1964

My mother, Alice Coates, is in the centre of this photo holding my daughter Belinda.
It was just before we sailed for Australia - leaving these people forever.

The Bowes Family c. 1925. My mother, Alice Bowes, is front left, her father Arthur Bowes is centre.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Christine's Story

What a glorious feeling it was to read the almost completed "Under the Frangipanni Tree" by Christine Lucas. It is a gripping story of siblings trapped in the confines of a family of dysfunctional adults and their struggle to retain some normalcy of childhood despite constant physical and sexual abuse by both parents. Christine describes the children's pain and torment in a discreet and dignified manner and retains this outer composure to the end without slipping into the abyss of blame and bitterness. Her story conveys in the most spiritual way the realisation of hope and recovery for sufferers of sexual degradation and hurt.

Abandoned by her deranged mother at birth, who reclaimed her from foster parents at the age of four, Christine retained the will to survive the depravity into which she was thrust as she was taken into her "new" family home. This strength of purpose extends now in her attempt to tell her story in order to help others. To this end she includes a comprehensive glossary of agencies and resources.

I was with Christine when she embarked on her book as a student of the Redcliffe University of the Third Age, and now, some four years later I wept tears of joy and mixed emotions when her book arrived in my mail-box ready for the final edit and publication. There is still a way to go before "Under the Frangipanni Tree" appears on the bookshelves, but I know Christine's determination will make sure it reaches its target.