JANUARY  2021 NUMBER 50

 The postie's dream became a national monument.

Christmas seemed to be accompanied by televised news of more than the usual number of decorated homes. Displaying flashing coloured lights and moving arrangements, traditional and imaginative themes of Santa Clause, sleighs and reindeers embellished houses.     

The more elaborate projects might have been competitively motivated. Others perhaps were simply something to do during health crisis restrictions. Some may have been the result of a driven urge to create, others undertaken with children in mind, by chance the product of a visionary idea, or for any number of other reasons - even dreams.      

Screened over Christmas by SBS, the film titled “ The Ideal Palace” showed a dream brought to fulfillment through perseverance. Sleeping one night in nineteenth century France, a postie in the village of Hauterives dreamt he was building an unusual, if not strange, structure. His name was Joseph Ferdinand Cheval and his dream was vivid. So brilliant was its detail, he was driven to build what he dreamt.     

Over several decades throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Cheval worked at translating his dream into reality. His masterstroke of endeavour was achieved with his own hands, using pebbles and other materials he collected locally. The finally completed mysterious creation was in his words “…a confusion of the senses at first sight...” (1). 

Cheval named the building “The Ideal Palace”. It was proclaimed an historical monument of France in 1969.   

(1) Cook,Olive, photographs by Edwin Smith. The Postman’s Palace, published in The Saturday Book (1967) edited by John Hadfield.    

FEBRUARY 2021 NUMBER 51

A youthful Jane Austen may have been about to emigrate. 

An emphasis on manners and refinement prevailed among middle class gentry in England’s wider Regency period. Dinner parties, dancing, sewing, music and singing, visits and cultivated conversation were features of a society familiar to novelist Jane Austen. Her life as a clergyman’s daughter was comfortable. (1) 

There was nothing comfortable about the ship Neptune.  Transporting 502 convicts, this East India Company carrier was a vessel of unrest and violence before it left for Sydney.  On 17 January 1790 it set sail in the Second Fleet, labelled  “The Death Fleet ” on arrival. (2) 

On board as a paying passenger was D’Arcy Wentworth, aspiring colonial surgeon, tried in London for highway robbery. He and Jane Austen are believed to have planned to travel together on the Neptune. Presumably thwarted by Jane’s parents at the last minute, they went on to lead separate lives in opposite parts of the world. (3) 

D’Arcy died aged 65 in 1827, his place in Australia’s colonial history distinguished by accumulated wealth and public service. Jane died aged 41 in 1817, her place in England’s social history distinguished by her writing. Her published accounts of English society and romance endure in films and serialised television of Pride and Prejudice and some of her other novels.  It is left to the imagination to speculate what her life would have been like had she gone to Australia. 

(1)  Bryant, Arthur. The Age of Elegance 1812- 1822 (1950). Le Faye, Deidre, Editor.Jane Austen’s Letters (1995). Cecil, David. A Portrait of Jane Austen ( 1978 ).  (2) Ritchie, John. The Wentworths Father and Son (1997).  (3) Walker, Wal. Jane & D’Arcy Jane Austen & D’Arcy Wentworth Volume 1 Folly is not always folly Volume 11 Such talent and such success  (2017).  

MARCH 2021 NUMBER 52

Cellar dreams, home brew, and cinemas. 

Dad must have known I had a good imagination. His idea of a river caves in his cellar under our house appealed to me as a six year old. Crouching beneath a low ceiling in this dimly lit cob-webbed space, we fantasized an underground river flowing alongside scenic backdrops. Confines of space, height and impracticality had no role in our vision.  

In the cellar were stored dad’s bottles of beer, brewed in the washing tub of my mother’s laundry. Beneath the tub’s wooden lid, a cauldron brimming of malt and yeast would regularly froth and bubble. Whenever it stretched mum’s tolerance, as it often did, you could hear her bawling dad out. Finally, after bottles of the brew exploded nightly under the house, mum evicted dad from the cellar. The plan for a river caves was shelved. 

In a basement beneath his apartment, dad’s brother built a small cinema. Complete in every detail, it screened home movies for our families and friends in a décor unbelievably beautiful and realistic. When the cinema had to be demolished because my uncle had no tenancy of the basement, dad tried an alternative. He converted our dog Smithy’s shed into a tiny cinema, the Dandy Lion Theatrette, screening 9mm films. Smithy was allocated a bed under the laundry tub. 

In his late eighties, dad expanded home brewing on an unprecedented scale after mum died. Installing a small keg of beer inside the kitchen fridge, he drilled a hole through the fridge door. The keg was connected to a tube passing through the hole to a tap fastened onto the front of the fridge door. 

Most of the family gracefully declined dad’s offers of hospitality. One grandson who took to the beverage with relish fully appreciated dad’s conviviality. He was pleased to accept the equipment when dad died in his nineties.

 APRIL 2021 NUMBER 53

In Gympie it is easy to miss the beginning of a change of seasons.

Early in March, despite mid-day heat, autumn light became faintly detectable; late afternoon shadows signified a hint of change. Rainfall on 20th March, the day of equinox, proclaimed autumn’s official start. Fish attracted anglers to Gympie’s coastal bay and beach; Gympie’s Mary Valley became richly green. And the temperature dropped during the first week in April as rain continued.  

Celebration of Easter was accompanied amongst other things by the weekend newspaper. Reading two articles reminded me how strongly changes in language are linked to changes in society. They brought to my mind the significance of word growth and changes in the meaning and use of words. (1)

 “…Words, words, words…!” Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously replied when Polonius asked what he was reading. (2) There are enough lines of Shakespeare about words to make you wonder whether words were more important then rather than now. They were certainly important centuries later when the Oxford English Dictionary was being made.  

 One of the most enthusiastic volunteer researchers mailing his work to the Oxford English Dictionary editor was named William Minor. A wealthy former American Civil War surgeon, Minor did his research while imprisoned for murder.  Dedicated to words, the incarcerated correspondent wrote from an English lunatic asylum for the criminally insane. An enduring friendship with James Murray the Dictionary editor developed after Murray visited him. (3)

 Words, even in an emerging visual age, just might be as important now as they ever were. 

 (1) Andrew Billen. Are You Woke? Stuart Heritage.The Woke Handbook For Boomers.  The Weekend Australian Magazine April 3-4 2021

(2)Act 2 scene 2 lines 185 -225

(3) Winchester, Simon. The Surgeon of Crowthorne A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words ( 1998 ). Screened as the film The Professor and the Madman (2019).

MAY 2021 NUMBER 54

The date for Mothers Day in Australia is the same in Italy. 

And the Italian coastal location of Ostia is a place I recall from a gap year 55 years ago. It is near Ostia Antica, where ruins indicate something of what the region may have been like in ancient times. 

A scene once enacted in Ostia was later recorded by one of its two participants. Notably fitting on Mothers Day, it takes place inside a house in the year 387. Where there might be a bay window, a 56 year old mother is talking to her 33 year old son. They are sitting together at the window overlooking the garden. The mother’s health is fading. 

The mother’s name is Monica and her son’s name is Augustine. Monica is confiding to the once wayward Augustine how his conversion to her faith now made her life complete. The one thing she longed for has eventuated and she dies some weeks later. 

In the evening following her funeral, Augustine tries having a bath, but the burden of grieving remains. Later that night he sleeps off some of his remorse, recalling a poetical prayer written by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. He is comforted by its words of softness of slumber subduing sorrow and reinvigorating mind and body.  

Augustine acknowledged his mother frequently reminding him of their bishop’s advice to her. It was, in effect, advice that any son who caused his mother such tearfulness could not be all that bad. (1)

(1) Including: O’Donnel, James tr. Augustine ‘ Confessions ’( 1992) Chadwick, Henry tr. Saint Augustine Confessions (1998) Wills, Garry tr. Augustine, Confessions (2006). An abbreviated text of an unidentified translator, The Confessions of St. Augustine Modern English Version, was published by Revell as New Spire Edition (2008).

 Best wishes 03 05 2021 © Barry Long 2021