Letter From Gympie 2017

Gone to Gympie.

Reflective bookseller  Barry Long moved to Gympie Queensland late in the year 2015. The following year he wrote to some friends and relatives, describing his discoveries and experiences. A year later, he extended the correspondence to include customers. A monthly letter from Gympie went out to customers, friends and relatives of the reflective bookseller.

January 2017 Number One.

Inventory is the elephant in an online bookseller’s room.  On arrival at Gympie, a human assembly line unloaded box after box of books from two furniture vans. Not only was the relocation of so many books an unforgettable experience. It was a time when the full meaning of the word inventory emerged looming larger than ever before.  Calling for cataloguing, pricing, description, curating, imaging, cleaning and stocktaking, the inventory elephant may have saddled me with a job for life.

Thoughts of a lifetime looking after an inventory would be daunting without incentives to keep going. One incentive is when new information, an exciting discovery, arises.  Another is when an old and rare book becomes especially relevant in today's world.  And now there is the prospect of a newsletter to write. But when a customer experiences my own enjoyment reading the same book, bookselling seems the best job in the world.

FEBRUARY 2017 Number Two

Cane toads were as still as statues and silent as sentinels. One evening shortly after arriving in Gympie, my first cane toad appeared. Following what I was told was the required procedure, I removed the creature. An unexpected sight on returning then confronted me. About a dozen stiffly upright cane toads were spaced out, poised motionless to attention on the lawn. Glaring eyes cast disapproval of what had befallen their friend and relative. 

Months later, when winter came, after an overgrown lawn was mown, they appeared again, gathered outside the back door. Despite having lost their grass cover, they no longer seemed reproachful. Going towards the door, I saw them shaking. One youngster, hunched at the sliding door jamb, was shivering all over. Sensitive to cold, they were seeking the warmth of the house.

March 2017 Number Three

Sundays shine by clearing away the rust of the week. (1) But Saturday mornings sparkle with a sense of freedom as their prospect of something different emerges.  The Saturday Book’s editor, John Hadfield, claimed there was nothing like the Saturday Book. He was right, and it often seems there is nothing like Saturday itself. 

The Saturday Book was founded in 1941, the second year of the second world war.  Its editors attributed the book’s success to the same highest common factor – the pictorial partnership of Olive Cook and Edwin Smith – “ an art form all of their own”  of pictorial anthologies. Each Saturday Book ranges from works of art, articles, essays and fiction to social commentary, oddities and curiosities. John Hadfield identified three points to be made about the book. First, there is nothing like it. Second it defies description. Third, it was distinguished at the time by an arguably longer life than any other annual miscellany.  

Hadfield called it the Saturday Book after humming a song he heard in a London music hall. The song's title, Sweet Saturday Nights , had " the right air of week-end relaxation."(2)

(1) Lamb, Charles. The Essays of Elia  : The Superannuated Man (1833)  (2) Russell, Leonard, editor. The Saturday Book ( 1941 - 1951 ). Hadfield, John, editor.The Saturday Book ( 1952 - 1975 ). The Best of the Saturday Book ( 1981 ).

April 2017 Number Four

More birds crowd into a Bunya pine than you might think possible. My house is perched on filling tipped into a former rock quarry hillside. The house may be commonplace, but the view is not. A back deck overlooks Bruce Highway traffic winding and undulating towards Gympie’s Normanby Bridge. Colourful  hinterland hilltops form a peaceful backdrop, as does a large Bunya pine tree nearby.  Alongside a  railway viaduct over the notoriously flood prone Deep Creek, the Bunya pine proudly challenges the floodway. Accommodating seemingly unlimited bird life, the tree’s somewhat bare branches are distinctive. How so many birds disappear into it at night and manage to squeeze in is a mystery.

May 2017 Number Five

The ceremony for Gympie's  Anzac Day was at the Memorial Gates. Memorial Lane opposite Gympie's Memorial Park has ironwork gates, sandstone pillars, coloured murals and inscribed plaques. It commemorates local people in service from the Boer War to Afghanistan. Situated alongside the central business district, Memorial Park is embellished by a nineteen twenties band rotunda. Terracotta tiles, a gabled roof, skirting and balustrades have created a structure of classic style. The skirting fretwork features musical instruments.The park’s appearance is enriched by simplicity of design and seasonal plant changes. Its green buffalo grass defying  parching heat, the park offers calmness , especially when afternoon shadows are cast.

June 2017 Number Six

A gold rush boom town, Gympie was not ordinary but orderly. Named after a stinging tree, Gympie by most accounts accommodated its share of frontier hardships well. An article by nineteenth century travel writer Gilbert Parker reads: “ …Gympie is one of the prettiest places in Australia. When I was there the many hills were green, and quiet habitations dotted their sides…..At night the main street is paraded by the miners, the most orderly set of fellows that one could find…” Despite candidly also describing Gympie’s vices, trickery and behaviour of its people, Parker wrote :  "Gympie tries to be right. ….The place outwardly is one of the most orderly to be found…”. (1)

(1) Parker, Gilbert. Round the Compass in Australia ( not dated but c.1892 ).

Plan to fulfill your gap year carefully (if you can get one). Those  fortunate enough to achieve a gap year are often compelled to overcrowd it. Henry David Thoreau’s gap year communing with nature  from a log cabin lasted two years and two months from 1845 to 1847. Borrowing an axe to build the cabin, he carried most of the materials on his back. Thoreau’s counsel to those who do not keep pace with their companions has endured ever since. Recognising we might be hearing a different drummer, he suggested stepping to the music heard, no matter how far away it sounds. Observing lives frittered away by detail, Thoreau loved living to what he referred to so brilliantly as a broad margin. Why, he asked, should we live with such hurry and waste of life? (1)

(1) Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1980).

An author envisaged a great boomerang watering Australia's north. His biographer hoped Ion L Idriess would be acknowledged as the man who had the vision to dream of a way to water the desert. (1) Idriess lectured for ten years on his idea before his book was published. He proposed  turning the rivers of  Australia's north back into a system of tunnels. (2) Articles in the Sun newspaper also featured the plan during the year 1936. A somewhat similar official plan,  the Bradfield Scheme, has been mooted for over seven decades.

(1) Eley, Beverley. Idriess (1995) (2) Idriess, Ion. The Great Boomerang (1941).

July 2017 Number Seven

The more you know about your area, the more you become part of it. (1) Local histories remain relevant, no matter when they were written. Arguments at the town hall and rezoning disputes are only  some of the ingredients. Athletes who represented their district, state or nation in their sport,  communities in times of distress and disaster, so many other things of unusual interest in a particular locality, and the service of people to their neighbours and community all contribute to the mix. Reading about those who once lived in particular houses and streets makes a daily walk or jog knowledgeable. Enlivening readers' understanding of their communities, local histories invite you to keep returning to them to dip inside their content again and again. Kept prominently on the shelf, a local history makes a statement of commitment to a place. It can also become a topic of discussion.

(1) Holthouse, Hector. Gympie Gold (1973)

August 2017 Number Eight

This was the thirty sixth year of the Gympie Muster, a three day Australian music festival. The atmosphere was enjoyable as you threaded your way through the street party celebrating the three day event. 

Australia’s best architect designed Gympie’s Town Hall. Gympie’s Town Hall was designed by Australian colonial architect John James Clark, renowned for the Melbourne Treasury, Brisbane Treasury and many other fine public buildings in Australia and New Zealand.  Andrew Dodd, Clark’s biographer cites Florence Taylor, Australia’s first qualified female architect, describing Clark as “… the greatest Australian practitioner in the glorious profession of architecture.” in the journal Building 1917. Built in 1890, the building is distinguished by its clock tower and iron clad belfry.  University of Melbourne Archives have the original drawing of the building as it was proposed. (1)

(1) Dodd, Andrew. J J Clark Architect of the Australian Renaissance (2012).

Listen for the past and present sounds of Gympie. I am standing near the front steps of Gympie Post Office opposite the Town Hall. Within no more than a few minutes walking distance are two monuments to James Nash. One is alongside Memorial Park, once the gully where Nash first found gold. The second is opposite the Post Office and in front of the Town Hall. It is not far from where Nash worked his claim so successfully. October sixteen 1867, the day James Nash’s discovery of gold was announced, became Gympie’s birthday. Imagine the sounds of this hilly area 150 years ago: a virtual army of swagged tent dwelling prospectors arriving to set up camp, the sound resonating of thousands of diggers working, shovels scraping, picks chipping and winches creaking. 

By contrast, little imagination is needed to appreciate the Town Hall clock chimes. Here in the central business district, the chimes are at their distinctive best. Their clarity of sound dignifies your presence by reminding you where you are. Sometimes the chimes seem to smarten me up by sharpening my sense of place and widening awareness of my surroundings.The chimes are comforting, especially late at night in summer. When everything is sublimely quiet, their sound can be heard through an open window. It adds a dimension to a place renowned for its visually appealing setting.

September 2017 Number Nine

Read not only for knowledge and stimulation. The potential of books to influence individuals is infinite. As a senior school student, Arthur Conan Doyle was strongly influenced by Macaulay’s Literary and Historical Essays (1850). Arriving in London at the age of sixteen, the first thing he did after housing his luggage was to visit Macaulay’s grave in Westminster Abbey. Doyle described Macaulay’s grave as “ the one great object of interest” London held for him. “And so it might well be when I think of all I owe him.” he wrote many years later. What did Doyle,the creator of Sherlock Holmes, owe Thomas Macaulay? Knowledge and stimulation of fresh interests, character and personal qualities radiating from  Macaulay’s writing all raised Doyle’s debt of gratitude.(1)

(1) Doyle, Arthur Conan.Through the Magic Door (1907).

October fifteen 2017 number Ten

Gympie purple has burst forth. Walking to the shopping centre is refreshing and the temperature comfortable as the sun starts to set. The first week in October brought with it swathes of Jacaranda trees flowering purple.   October and November will be followed in December and January by flaming red Poincianas. Gympie has just celebrated its 150th anniversary.  Done and dusted, the 2017 Gympie Muster has come and gone, the haystacks, gear and street furniture stored away . In its place was the Gold Rush festival celebrating Gympie’s 150 years of age. A crowd thronged Mary Street to enjoy the procession and later watch Jimmy Barnes and other performers. 

Milkshakes on Saturdays seemed something special. Saturday mornings -  to a ten year old – were accompanied by the allure of milkshakes.  Following the morning’s tennis coaching, milkshakes at Calleo’s in Sydney’s Charing Cross precinct were a reward for achievement. Shining in its décor, the shop was at the intersection of Bronte Road, Carrington Road and Victoria Street.  Socialising occurred here as get- togethers of youthful spirits squeezed and jostled into the milk-bar’s booths. Plans were made for the afternoon as the prospect of movies loomed.

Cinema would be followed by rallies of Bondi Junction junior street gangs in the Coronet’s adjoining laneway. Re-enactments of The Iron Claw starring Victor Jory and other movie serials would be staged in nearby Queen’s Park Waverley.

October thirtieth 2017 Number 11

The illicit sale of chicken sandwiches was one of my first Saturday jobs.  Reporting early one Saturday morning to a house in an  inner suburb, I once sought early work placement in sales. A man at the door wearing trousers supported by braces over his singlet asked me my age. He waved me through after I nervously mumbled something indistinct in reply. The house was crammed full of people making chicken sandwiches, wrapping them in parcels and packing them into carrying baskets.

A van was waiting and we were soon crowded into it with our baskets and offloaded into city hotels. Some hotels providing counter lunches - I quickly learnt - disallowed selling sandwiches. Throughout the day I was warned off and dodged threats by hotel managers and publicans. But most of the sandwiches sold. By late afternoon after settlement I had money in my pocket.

November 2017 Number 12

Rising over Skyring Creek, the newly extended M1’s elevation and sweep are far reaching. Imprinted into Gympie’s history, the Skyring family’s pioneering settlement and leadership was exemplified by empathy with the aboriginal community. Impressed into rolling hills and open forest, the surrounding hinterland scenery is distinguished by greenness of vegetation. 

A paperback writer’s words were crafted inside a garrett.  During my final primary school vacation I worked with a school friend for his dad. We delivered ice to houses without fridges. Using grappling hooks we carried blocks of ice from his dad’s delivery truck to put inside household ice chests. The fourth storey of one terrace house was a roof top attic bed- sitter. To reach the entrance to this low ceiling studio I climbed to the top of a steep narrow staircase. Once inside, I had a bird’s eye view of Sydney harbour through a bay window. Nearby someone was typing away at a table. After pushing the ice into a chest, I peered excitedly over the typist’s shoulder. While the rattling keys clattered onwards, I asked what he was writing. “Westerns”, he replied tersely.

Longing to linger, I wanted desperately to watch a wild west story being created. But the delivery truck horn was beeping and my friend’s dad could not be kept waiting. Afterwards I browsed all the paperback westerns for sale on a newsagents’ shelves. Admiring their illustrated covers, I wondered whether they were written in the garrett.

For a very long time in history, people usually read aloud.No one seems to know precisely when things changed. But a recorded instance of silent reading is apparent in 6 : 3 of Confessions by Augustine of Hippo. Calling to visit Bishop Ambrose in the fourth century AD, Augustine is somewhat intrigued to find him reading silently. He speculates why Ambrose would be doing such a thing.

December 2017 Number 13

A few weeks ago I met a storyteller by the Noosa river at Tewantin. I was relaxing on the river bank when a stranger sat down next to me and started talking. As a tour operator on nearbyFraser Island, he told aboriginal legends to tourists. Shortly afterwards we were joined by a young couple from the Netherlands who were on his camping expedition. Under a clear blue sky we listened as he narrated myths and legends of animals and birds and sun and moon. Although he was not aboriginal, the wealth of imagination in aboriginal legends is something he seemed to have captured.

You should have your head read. My mother would sometimes tell my father he should have his head read. Mum seemed to be quite angry with dad whenever she admonished him with this advice. Too young to understand what mum was talking about, I was old enough to be puzzled. My imagination stretched to visualise people peering over the top of dad’s head. But how could someone read it? When mum said they looked for bumps and felt them, I became even more confused. Mum’s remedy for her perception of dad’s failings was once a common saying. It evolved from phrenology. Atlantic magazine ( January 2014) has a comprehensive article on the history and substance or otherwise of the science. 

December  2017 Number 14

What you read recently is more interesting than your small talk.  “I might run out of conversation”, someone said to me, “I’ll be at a loss to come up with something worthwhile to say.”

"Didn’t you just finish reading a biography?” I asked.  “ yes, but it was nothing special ” came the reply

“But you read it only recently, so it beats your small talk. One of my favourite authors would bet it does”, I said. (1)

(1) Doyle, Arthur Conan, Through the Magic Door (1907).    

©Barry Long 2017

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