Letter From Gympie 2018

January  2018 Number 15

A summer breeze brought a hint of promise. New Year’s day was underscored by sultriness, but Gympie got off to a flying start for 2018. Humidity was dispersed by an afternoon storm. A refreshing cool breeze followed, almost as if to confirm forecasts of a good year ahead. 

Variable states of human nature are disclosed at airports. Different emotions show in the faces of passengers seated in gate entry waiting areas. A few people are gazing vacantly. Most are chatting, reading, scrolling and texting. Many seem cheerful,mostly happy and contented. Some seem impatient, others anxious or somewhat agitated. Adventurous younger passengers are not only active: they appeared excited. The happiest faces belonged to the parents of a child about 15 months old. 

Life’s luggage might be the solution, not the problem. Held in my hand at the airport was an old fashioned note book, soft covered, with spiral bound spine. Micro perforation, its manufacturer claimed, made removing pages easier. Over time I have removed a third of its pages, leaving only a neat narrow margin. 

Struggling to remove items of excess weight at check- in, a passenger was forced to decide what to take out. By contrast, when living seems too complex, we consider removing something from life’s luggage. But it is not the same as pulling items out from travel baggage. Neither does it resemble removing a page from a perforated note book. Instead, reserves of inner strength may have to be called upon. Wider awareness might be needed to view life’s complexity in a different way  and rise above it.

February 2018 Number 16

Some patients of a Gympie dentist were born in rooms that are now his surgery. Prominent on a Gympie hill top, this building is crafted in traditional Queensland domestic style of the late nineteenth century. In restoring both landscape and building, dentist Dr Mark Cull has kept all the rooms as they were. Sitting inside, surrounded by the building’s history amidst so much woodwork and pressed metal ceilings is an interesting experience. As is strolling along the verandah and scrutinising the exterior.

Mary Cull’s research is displayed in the building, along with photographs and documents behind framed glass. Originally the residence of the manager and family of the Gympie Stock Exchange, it later became the home of a solicitor and his family. After the second world war, the building was a CWA waiting mothers’ hospital for 5000 women. Over 900 babies were born there. Some of those who were born in the building later became patients of Dr Mark.  According to Mark, people claim to have experienced ghosts in the building. But the warmth and humanity absorbed in this building’s history makes dental appointments comforting.

Despite a reluctance to let certain books go, bookselling is enjoyable. I would not go so far as booksellers who call their books their children. It is just that some books get you thinking. Other books suddenly become interesting while they are being packed for dispatch. Snatching a quick glance leads to paragraphs (sometimes, pages) being read before wrapping. Fifteen years ago, the thought of packaging and mailing almost deterred me from going on-line to sell books. But this activity soon became an appealing part of the whole process. 

After a book by Hemingway was ordered, I cut myself adrift and clung to a life-raft. It mattered little that The Old Man and the Sea (1953) was a first illustrated edition. Such highly polished writing needed no illustration anyway. What mattered was my dependence upon this book for studying the author’s acclaimed form.

Reluctantly I clicked sold. The order completed, there was no choice but to part with the book. And while the book was being wrapped  my mood improved. Addressing the package, I delivered it to the Post Office. Even though the book was dispatched, I was not dismayed. The sale had set me free. No longer would I try to imitate the great man’s style of writing. Instead, holding onto his concept of clarity should be sufficient to keep my writing afloat. It might become a life-raft for improvement.

March 2018 Number 17

Father Zossima blessed the rising sun each day and his heart sang to it. (1) But as much as he loved the sunrise, the fictional 19th century Russian monk came to love the sunset even more. The sun rising at Gympie above Mothar Mountain is capable of arousing similar sentiments in emotional minds.  And the sight of this landmark at sunset is appealing. 

On the second Sunday of the second month of this year, the last month of summer, the sunrise was bright. Mothar Mountain’s rock pool remained brilliant in its rainforest setting as the temperature increased. Tall trees surrounding the pool filtered the sun’s rays. By mid afternoon the temperature under a cloudless blue sky reached 37 degrees. By late afternoon the sky darkened, a gentle hillside breeze arrived and heat dropped out of the day. Towards evening, anyone in Gympie looking forward to viewing sunset was thwarted by a nevertheless welcome storm. 

During summer days, the windows are opened outwards in Gympie’s older houses. To the imaginative, such open windows signify life’s activity within. Many dwellings of Queensland’s earlier eras were built from quality hardwood. Mining proceeds funded genteel buildings, some with cedar doors and even cast iron lacework. Large verandahs were sheltered by wooden louvres and latticework. Ornamentation included scalloped fascias and detailed fretwork.  

Long timber for tall stumps made it possible to raise Queensland houses high. Identified as one of the few original building styles ever invented in Australia (2) raised houses abound throughout Queensland. Different forms of skirting provide screening. Many are left exposed, either from economy or owners’ pride in their house stumps.

(1) Dostoyesky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov ( 1880 ) (2) Boyd Robin.The Walls Around Us  (1962)

April 2018 Number 18

In mid March turbulent waves reached Rainbow Beach. Winds blew across the 45 kilometres to Gympie, but a possible cyclone never eventuated. A far distant storm dwindled into nothing. Balmy days followed, full of the remaining warmth of summer. Windy days returned and autumn rains settled in shortly afterwards. On the calendar it may be autumn, but the transition of seasons as seasons come and go in Gympie, is yet to be completed. 

When the Queensland Treasury was broken into, its start up money was stolen.   On arriving in Brisbane in 1859, the newly installed Governor, Sir George Bowen, found the State commencing with seven pence and a halfpenny. A few days later, a thief broke in and stole the money. Not quite ten cents, it was a paltry amount, even in the nineteenth century. Governor Bowen speculated the thief might have expected instead to find funds “…for the outfit, so to speak, of the new State.” 

The Governor borrowed money from the banks until the State’s revenue came in. Six months later, estimates showed ( after paying back the sums borrowed ) “ a considerable balance in excess of the proposed expenditure for the year.” *Within 30 years, the fledgling State completed one of the finest public buildings in Australia. Then accommodating the Queensland Treasury, it is now Brisbane’s landmark Hotel and Casino. (1)

A newspaper office was ransacked before the first issue. At the age of eight I planned to become a newspaper editor. My understanding teacher allocated a school desk for me as an office under the stairwell. But the project was thwarted from the start. Within 24 hours a school mate trashed the bureau in a fit of rage. The whole outfit was shut down by the school principal, the news desk removed and my hostile companion caned. The principal permitted a single page once only edition of the newspaper. Beneath a headline “ Newspaper Office Wrecked By Vandal ” was a single sentence : the punishment, it read, was inadequate. 

At High School I made the editorial team of the school magazine, but the English master advised me against journalism. Newspaper reporters, he said, were prone to red eyes, blotched faces and liver problems. I took his advice. 

(1) Queensland, The Government of. Our First Half Century. A Review of Queensland Progress. Jubilee Memorial Volume (1909)

May 2018 Number 19

The best event or the worst event is yet to come. On the first Saturday in April  I wished I was in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. I imagined I was enjoying the first of Blackheath Philosophy Forum’s 2018 program of talks. The speaker was Huw Price, Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University. Professor Price addressed the potential implications of the development of strong artificial intelligence. The Forum’s invitation quoted the late physicist Stephen Hawking saying this will be either the “best or worst event in the history of civilisation.”

For a single moment the Gympie Times of April 12, 2018 scared me. A page headlined “Tornado tears through” featured a photograph of Gympie’s historic Mount Pleasant hotel in a distressed state. Much of the building’s roof was missing and trees were uprooted. This republished photo of devastation illustrated a quoted report of a tornado ripping through the area on September 22, 1932. Six houses from where I live, the pub survived to become today the second oldest continuously licensed hotel in Queensland.

Perhaps you are saturated with escalating news, weary of traffic, frustrated by government, or your credit cards are maxed. If so, hold in your hands a book printed in a much earlier era, escape and travel back in time.  And there is nothing like a quiet day. Maybe it was because of the public holiday, but on Anzac Day there were no book orders to attend to. The sounds of Gympie had dissipated. The street was quiet because schools, supermarkets shopping centres and the Council works depot – all nearby - were closed. The perfectly clear blue sky was a backdrop to listen to Anzac Voices. An ABC 100 minute radio documentary, the program broadcast recorded interviews with Gallipoli veterans against a background of music.

June 2018 Number 20

Something delightful emerges at grass- roots cricket. Or at least it did when an English author wrote almost 200 years ago of her love of the game. An early nineteenth century village cricket ground was to Mary Mitford a highly cherished scene. Portraying villagers’ frailties and virtues recorded on the spot, her essay demonstrated country cricket’s attributes in the late Georgian era (1). 

Deliberating whether to accept their neighbouring village’s challenge, selecting players, recruiting, organizing the event and practising before the match kept the village in a state of excitement. An enjoyable but anxious process, it absorbed the villagers for several weeks.The event on the day was one of merriment, waxed and waning hope, reputations won and lost and finally, victory.  

On my first morning in Gympie I woke up to life as I once knew it. Readers aware of my previous occupation will understand why. Outside to my surprise was a small cavalcade of tractors and trucks. That was when I realised I would be living close to a Council works depot. Someone later said plant and equipment represented the sights and sounds of Gympie. Too glad to have arrived here to be concerned, I was comfortable with whatever the procession might symbolize.

Walking around nearby streets revealed a fascinating precinct. A graceful house diagonally opposite the historic Mount Pleasant Hotel was once an Anglican rectory. Now in private ownership, this gabled roof timber building was constructed in the late nineteenth century.

Mount Pleasant was once named Nashville after James Nash, who discovered gold in Gympie. The Nashville railway station was in the street next to mine. It is now the Council works depot, but the railway line remains. A refurbished steam engine is almost ready to resume work as a tourist attraction – shortly - we are told. Travelling through a tunnel under my street, the train will cross over flood prone Deep Creek on a lengthy viaduct. From there it is planned to continue on its way to Imbil in the Mary valley.

With a pub and a Council works depot nearby, my life seemed almost complete. All that was missing was the church on a corner opposite the hotel. The church was removed in the late nineteen sixties and a private residence now stands in its place. Bordering a poinciana tree, the original driveway remains. Strikingly red poincianas are among the sights of Gympie during mid-summer. And the sounds of Gympie include birds singing.

(1) Mitford, Mary Russell. Our Village ( 1824 – 1832): A Country Cricket Match.

July 2018 Number 21

Pondering life’s ups and downs, Cardinal Wolsey recalled his chilling experience: “ The third day there comes a frost, a killing frost” the unfortunate Wolsey disclosed after encountering King Henry VIII’s displeasure. (1) Nowhere near as threatening, Gympie’s first frost is said to arrive on the first day of the Gympie Show. Having come and gone during the third and fourth weeks of May, our popular festival is now done and dusted. And hearsay intelligence reported that in outlying areas where it was expected, the first frost was yet to arrive. There are little if any frosts in Gympie proper where it is hilly. Draped in early morning mists, our best days of May were dazzling bright and warm.

An op shop helper wondered why I bought a book about King Alfred the Great.“ He burnt the cakes” I replied, too sheepish to say I was buying the book to resell. Alfred, I added in afterthought, probably wore himself out holding down a job like that in the ninth century. The helper hated history at school anyway: it was the dates; and everything was stuffy and irrelevant. Had the cake legend not been taught to me so capably and early, I would probably have thought the same. 

The world’s most popular game continues to evolve mightily. Few sports if any have developed over such a long period - almost 1000 years possibly - to create such worldwide excitement. And Socceroos has become an enduringly unique brand for Australia. But this name, it was once suggested, was one the Australian Soccer team could surely do without (2).   

Although it was known mostly as foot-to-ball, Joseph Strutt identified football as being called camp-ball. He attributed this alternative name to a contraction of the word  “campaign” because the game was best played in open country. During the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries the sport incurred too many mishaps in confined spaces, injuring people and damaging property. Strutt quoted King James 1 banning all rough and violent exercises such as football in the seventeenth century. They were regarded as more likely to incapacitate than create able bodies. (3)

(1) Shakespeare, William. Henry VIII Act 3: Scene 2. (2) Sydney Morning Herald  reporting Australia’s victory over South Korea in 1973. (3) Strutt, Joseph.The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1838). The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996) describes “soccer” as formed irregularly from association football + er .

August 2018 Number 22

Gympie’s laneways are interesting to explore. And July has sustained winter’s opportunity for sunny walks without getting overheated. But unless you walk regularly in these secluded thoroughfares, you feel intrusive. Somewhat slimmer than our streets, mostly quiet and unpretentious, occasionally shaded by clusters of trees, their features are diverse. Vistas of distant hills appear at narrow lane entrances. Unlike inner city alleyways entirely of back fences and garages, most Gympie laneways have house frontages. Some have classic early twentieth century timber homes. 

As a redundant accounts clerk, Charles Lamb struggled with early retirement. Lamb was allocated a desk in the London head office of the East India Trading House in 1789 at age 14. He was made redundant 36 years later at age 50, in the year 1825. Although financially comfortable with a pension of two thirds of his salary, he found it hard to adjust. The experience was described in his essay The Superannuated Man. Whenever Lamb returned to visit former colleagues at the office, he was received pleasantly. But he missed their familiarity. Jokes failed to go over as well as they once did. He found himself standing and staring at his old desk occupied by someone else. Claiming the days were now all the same, he wrote about having time on his hands.(1) 

Lamb was well known for co-authoring Tales from Shakespeare with his sister Mary 20 years earlier. An accomplished essayist, his articles were published under the name of Elia (2). He continued in the companionship of his mentally fragile sister for the remaining ten years of his life. (3)

Two composers celebrated wine saved.  One Friday evening on ABC radio it was Haydn’s song  Juche! Juche! Der wein ist da.  An earlier Friday featured Handel's Chorus “Your voices tune, and raise them high. The wine is saved” . Only kept safe during most week days, my wine is saved mainly for Friday evenings.  Insufficient to tune and raise a voice, the quantity consumed is enough for a welcome hurrah! hurrah! to Friday evenings. 

(1) London Magazine (May 1825) (2) Essays of Elia  ( 1833 ) (3) Anthony, Katharine The Lambs ( 1948 ) 

September 2018 Number 23  

In its heyday, the wordautomation implied increased leisure. But leisure time has not expanded to the extent predicted; and many people believe they are working longer and harder. Almost everyone, it seems, claims to be time scarce.

The seven verse poem Leisure by William Henry Davies (1) was always easy for a child to understand. It was taught when playing marbles topped our school agenda. My primary school teacher thought Davies’ awareness might have sharpened after his loss of a leg from jumping the rattler. The poem’s opening couplet asks “What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”. It is followed by five couplets suggesting what would otherwise be missed. A seventh, final, couplet concludes : “A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”  His poetry may be commonplace, but the mindfulness identified by Davies remains something to consider.

(1) Untermeyer, Louis (editor) The Albatross Book of Living Verse (undated) p524

October 2018 Number 24

Central parks remain vital, even when their surrounding towns and cities change. Often taken for granted, central parks are passed by without stopping; and Gympie’s Memorial Park is no exception. But to anyone walking through it regularly, this park can become  a focal point of the day’s activity. Despite dry weather, the Council’s Spring- time spruce maintained the park’s somewhat green vibe. Pausing only briefly in the midst of such neatness is enough to make your day seem less complex. 

Spring livens you up. It got me out of idleness and into tidying the garden. My flowering mango tree is full of promise, but it is entangled with an old rotary clothes hoist. I would remove the hoist if it did not remind me of my father. Dad once walked the streets knocking on doors to sell these clothes drying devices. They were the latest thing to have in your back yard. 

An author of adventure stories died in unspeakable happiness.  Last month I sold The South Sea Whaler  by W.H.G.Kingston an author who used his knowledge of seafaring to write bestsellers for children. In this story, 14 year old Walter and his 12 year old sister Alice sail with their widower father, Captain Tredeagle. Their dad is in command of the Champion, a 400 ton 50 crew whaling ship. But his last sea voyage before retirement turns unexpectedly hazardous.Finally reaching Australia, the Captain takes up a land grant to settle with his two children in New South Wales. Walter and Alice later acquire properties and spouses in adulthood. Eventually they share with growing families recollections of the dangers they encountered at sea. In doing so, they delight in confiding to their children the guidance they received through all the darkness and trouble. (1)

Although he never travelled to Australia, Kingston lectured in Britain promoting emigration. Continuing to write until overtaken by illness, he published a farewell letter three days before he died (2). It informed his youthful readers he was leaving this life in unspeakable happiness. 

(1) First published 1859, this edition with full colour plates was published in about 1902. (2) Quayle, Eric.The Collector’s Book of Boys’ Stories (1973) reproducing the full text of Kingston’s acclaimed letter published in The Boy’s Own Paper on 02 08 1880.

November 2018 Number 25

October brought storms; one was quite violent. Mid - afternoon Thursday 11th October, an officially designated tornado ( the first in Gympie since 1932 ) arrived.Ten minutes beforehand it was a toss up to know who was the most frightened - the computer or the neighbours’ dog. Their canine sentinel is well known for barking incessantly throughout every storm. This time the creature sounded the alarm at the barest hint of approaching thunder. And after registering internet instability, the computer dropped out at the first rumble. A whirlwind then suddenly blew across the region, damaging properties and crops. The sound of hailstones the size of cricket balls dropping onto my metal roof and solar panels was explosive. But the panels, the roof and the house itself remained intact. An electrician is repairing the metering equipment and inverter.       

A wooden box landed on the door step while I was being scolded by my parents. Aged nine or ten at the time, I cannot recall what I had done wrong. But the tongue lashing stopped abruptly when the box was downloaded with a thump. The encyclopedias had arrived. Seizing the moment, my parents rounded off their reprimand by pronouncing punishment: I was to remain home alone for the afternoon with the box unopened. 

Sulking in solitude alongside the box, I sensed a long afternoon looming. Soon after my parents left, their warning still ringing in my ear, grandfather called in. Spotting the box, pop asked what was inside. “ Encyclopedias” I replied. “Let’s unpack it then” he said, getting a hammer out of dad’s shed. Pieces of timber cracked and fell away until the box was wide open with its 14 volumes exposed. Pop then departed, leaving me to glance through the contents uneasily. 

When mum and dad returned and discovered their embargo breached, they were unperturbed. Together we examined what would become a part of my life for the next four years or so. Today, my youngest brother remembers dad reading myths and legends from volume 14 to him and our other brothers. My son still has most of the well worn set. He recalls my father reading to him from the same volume. 

The set cost more than our parents could really afford. Not only did it show how to build a tree house, discover new games and stage a pageant. Its presentation, text and illustration also brightened up history, geography and science. By prompting thoughtfulness  and imagination, Richards Topical Encyclopedia offered a recipe for youthful creativity.

December 2018 Number 26

The story of the Endeavour sailing by was passed from generation to generation. On Sunday, May 20th 1770 the weather was clear along the south east Queensland coast. Captain James Cook’s log records southerly gentle breezes as the Endeavour sailed past the world’s largest sand island. Cook also recorded sighting aboriginal people assembled on the island headland. The ship’s proximity to a sandy shoal was described not only by Cook, but also botanist Banks and artist Parkinson (1).  Aboriginal recollection extends to shouts of warning when the Endeavour went dangerously close to the shoal. Their perception of what the ship might be doing was expressed in a verse sung in cooroboree (2).

Australian aborigines, Cook’s journal concludes, were far more happy than Europeans (3). Some 80 years later, influential thinker Henry David Thoreau was inspired by the simplicity of native American way of life. He believed there could be no very black melancholy if you lived in the midst of nature and retained your senses (4).  Thoreau was referring to our basic senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Only one or two of these senses are needed to enlighten even a short visit to Fraser Island. Say, for example, you sight and touch a short tube-like bulge on one of the island’s eucalypt tree trunks. The bulge has evolved to store nutriments the tree requires in sandy soil (5). 

The water absorbing sponge of sand that is Fraser Island is about two thirds the size of the Australian Capital Territory (6). Its southernmost tip almost adjoins Gympie Council’s eastern boundary. Freshwater filters slowly ( possibly over 100 hundred years or longer ) through the sand (7). Supporting freshwater lakes perched highly in sand dunes, the island sustains rainforests and varieties of fauna and plant species.A plaque on the island dedicating the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy of rainforests was unveiled by the Duke of Sussex on October 22nd 2018. 

 (1)  Parkin, Ray. H.M.Bark Endeavour ( 2003) pp231& 232.(2)  Wells, Robin. A. In the Tracks of a Rainbow ( 2003 ) p1(3) Parkin, RayH.M.Bark Endeavour ( 2003)  ppX & 453(4)  Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1854 ) chapters 1& 5 (5)  Baverstock, Felicity.  Fraser Island Sands of Time ( 1985 ) p93  (6)  Baverstock, Felicity.  Fraser Island Sands of Time ( 1985 ) pp8&126 (7)  Sinclair, John. Fraser Island and Cooloola (1990) p172 & 175


The year is now drawing to a close. Perhaps it was a year when new friendships expanded your interests; a year when reading uncovered hidden gems of information; or a year when work became more satisfying. Whatever it was, the year with its ups and downs is now almost spent.

 Seeming to speed up as we get older, time is said to turn over friendships; but some of the best friendships withstand the test. Time is also said to impede memory; but the years are enriched by personal effort, care and thought put into whatever we do.

 Best wishes for Christmas. May the coming year have much for you to look forward to. 

©Barry Long 2018