Letter From Gympie 2020


Moving to Gympie and writing newsletters has revitalized friendships.The enjoyment of my Christmas in Sydney was extended by the euphoria of getting together with two friends a few days afterwards. The friendship goes back 53 years.

As elsewhere in Australia during December and January, Gympie had more than its usual number of very hot days. Televised 24 hour news showed bush fire fighters throughout the nation treading unbelievably in paths of danger. So many people so badly affected by bush fires were in need of practical kindness. 

Dorothea Mackellar’s poetically expressed love of a sunburnt country included droughts and flooding rains, beauty and terror. Her pitiless blue sky turned grey and hazy; she described being sick at heart on seeing the cattle die. (1) Written at age nineteen, her poem was first published in London four years later in 1908. The second verse has been described as “probably the best known stanza in Australian Poetry” (2).  

Shattered regions, towns and communities will hopefully be restored with visionary planning, innovation and imagination. But above all else, the opportunity to bring to bear world inspiring national achievement through political bipartisanship is evident (3). 

 (1) Mackellar, Dorothea, My Country.With Decorations & Illustrations by J.J.Hilder (1985).    {2}Wilde, W.H. Hooton, Joy, Andrews, Barry, editors The Oxford Companion to Australian literature (1994).    (3) Jackson, Steve Weekend Australian. (18 -19 January 2020) p2 quoting Peter Holmes a Court: “We have the world’s attention: it’s now up to us ”.


Wednesday 25 02 2020 was a landmark in the history of my car ownership. Because a faulty air bag was irreplaceable, it was the day Honda collected my ageing car for a buy-back. Standing forlornly on the footpath, I watched this 22 year old vehicle being strapped and hoisted up onto a trailer. Towed away, the car that long ago caught my eye, shining on the showroom floor, disappeared forever. 

Gone was the first Honda Accord made in the United States for export to Australia. Gone was the super six cylinder motor of 400 000 kilometres, its performance praised so admiringly by servicing mechanics. Remaining were memories of so many years’ driving through eastern Australia. Emerging also were flashbacks of my great grandfather, my grandfather and my father in their cars. 

Great grandfather was ninety when I was dispatched at the age of five to report to his nearby house one Sunday morning. As he cranked his car engine by hand there was a flurry of chicken feathers and the noise of squawking fowls. Climbing up onto the front passenger seat, I sat alongside him as he drove his chugging Chevrolet Tourer. He was fully outfitted in suit, waistcoat and watch chain and we were off to visit relatives. 

About the same time, grandfather owned an Essex Tourer. I would be in the front seat on Sunday afternoon excursions, squeezed in beside my grandmother. Some 13 years later, by then owning an Austin sedan, grandfather would rescue me whenever my first car broke down. Aged in his late sixties, he would gracefully respond . Together we spent many weekends on the footpath repairing a decrepit old bomb of a car. 

After his 85th birthday, escorting my father to his compulsory annual driving test called for a calming presence.  Driving his 20 year old Holden Commodore, dad was tense with his teeth gritted in steely mood. As he aged, his behaviour at each test challenged the patience of driving examiners. The final straw came when he turned ninety and an examiner restricted him to driving within a 12 kilometre radius. At that point dad meekly handed over his licence and retired from driving. 

My son and his wife have a Volvo. My grandson, who  has a Mazda 3, might one day own a driverless car. Their recollection of motoring will  be different to mine.


Saturday and Sunday no longer share the same page in my diary for 2020. Sunday’s newly enlarged space is, at long last, now sufficient for keeping a hand written weekend journal. The diary is designed for business. Its printed hourly times - spaced for appointments – hinted at Sunday’s diminished role as a day of leisure to replenish and refresh. But as health and economic crises emerged, Sunday’s role became less relevant.

 Many people waiting at home for the virus to pass felt they had experienced enough leisure. Growing anxious, they longed to get back to work or restore their business, whatever the day of the week. Those unable to volunteer or be recruited into essential services were left with unexpected spare time on their hands. Questions arose of how to put unlooked for leisure to good use.

Leisure’s value was acclaimed by Henry David Thoreau, the American existentialist. Thoreau loved to live his life to what he called a broad margin.( 1 ) The poet William Henry Davies believed it was a poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. (2) Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, familiar with Thoreau, named a house he designed “Broad Margin”(3 ).

 Pure enjoyment of reading remains for many of us the leisure activity of choice. There is neither stigma nor guilt in stocking up with books. So why not go ahead and surround yourself with them? Books can remain with you forever, ready and waiting to be dipped into and enjoyed any time. And given the future’s uncertainty, you never know when you might need them.

 (1) Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1854) Letter from Gympie Number six. (2) Davies, W.H. The Albatross Book of Living Verse (undated). Letter from Gympie Number 23. (3) Public domain; Thomson, Iain.Frank. Lloyd Wright Year by Year (2003) lists the Charlcey Austin House Greenville South Carolina designed in 1951. Letter from Gympie Number 36.

MAY 2020 NUMBER 42

Overcome by neglect, my orange tree did not live to benefit from such fine Easter weather. Neither did the fig tree. Consigned to the rubbish tip, their removal has lightened the burden of garden maintenance. Three trees – lemon, mango and aspirational avocado, remain in a secure position. Hopefully, any sense of tenure they may have acquired will not lead them into complacency.

Gympie’s autumnal weather made it easy to be lulled into living room comfort; easy to simply gaze at the softness of greenery against a backdrop of clear blue skies. But an order for a book to which I remained especially attached shook me out of easiness. 

It was a book of ordinary appearance. A companion of my High School days, its pages were browned, title faded and spine frayed. The Australian Novel, A Historical Anthology arranged by Colin Roderick (1945) was now sold, parcelled up and mailed. 

Analysing the work of 19 authors, Colin Roderick starts with The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859) by Henry Kingsley. He concludes with The Pea Pickers (1942) by Eve Langley. In Geoffrey Hamlyn, Roderick identified the voice of nature in this land. In The Pea Pickers  he identified the narrator's recorded emotional experience as an outstanding piece of literature. You do not need backpacking or fruit picking experience to enjoy it. 

Those 19 authors may no longer be fashionable. But as Roderick recognised, the romance of early pastoral settlement has gone out of sight, but not out of mind. Each author has endowed today’s readers with legacies of their novels’ content. Aspects of human kindness, city and bush society, living and struggling within an Australian landscape are some of that content .   

Thankfully I never collected first editions of those 19 authors in Roderick’s anthology. It would have been impossible to part with them.

 JUNE 2020 NUMBER 43

 Climates almost everywhere in every season have perfect days; and Gympie, some 70 metres above sea level, is no exception. The second last Saturday in May was Queensland’s coldest May day on record and it hinted at winter’s approach. But after getting off to a misty, chilly start, last Tuesday emerged as one of Gympie’s perfect autumn days.

 They were days accompanied by the ABC’s celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. There were Beethoven concertos of serenity. And there were his other compositions of drama and comfort. Just as Gympie’s autumn slid  unobtrusively into winter, some compositions of Beethoven moved from one mood to another. At the same time, freedom of interstate travel seemed to be moving closer to reality.

 Autumn was concluding in 1878 when Robert Louis Stevenson travelled 193 kilometres on foot in the French countryside for 12 days. Traversing the Cevennes mountain ridges and accompanied by a donkey bearing the luggage, he“…jogged along with our six legs by many a rocky and many a boggy by-road ”. (1)

The lung troubled Stevenson camped out overnight in a sleeping bag. He also slept in rooms, small inns and a monastery. His journal narrated exhaustively an adventure enriched by a mountainous region’s scenery, villages, hamlets and people. 

 Stevenson’s emotions peaked after he sold the donkey on the final day.  And his extensively detailed writing sharpened the account of his 12 day trek. For almost 150 years it has enabled readers to mentally immerse themselves in his travel experience.

 (1) Stevenson, R. L. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879).

 JULY 2020 NUMBER 44

A blue sky on the day of the winter solstice brought mid- day warmth to Gympie. And walking alongside Queensland’s Mary River, it brought to mind some rivers in New South Wales.

First was the Clarence, a river dredged by my great grandfather. Neighbours in Sydney once took me there aged 11 on a fishing trip. On arriving we travelled on the river's steam barge. It was driven by a logger who remembered by their names my schoolgirl grandmother and her three sisters. Steamboat, as he was known, single- handedly felled trees and transported the logs on his barge. Such an achievement seemed mighty, certainly to a young boy. 

Second was the Woronora, a river once dredged by a friend who is a reader of this newsletter. So many enjoyable childhood holidays and weekends were comfortably spent at my grandparent’s corrugated iron weekender close to the river. Recollections of reading, swimming, night prawning and family rowing boat excursions remain etched in my mind.

Third was the Nepean, a river I was to live alongside for 30 years. Early in my  first morning there, this river's scenery unfolded unforgettably. Water glistened in the sunrise after a mist lifted, rising to reveal a solitary rower hastening upstream.

Queensland’s Mary River flows under Normanby Bridge, no more than a few hundred metres from where I live. From a Gympie viewpoint Normanby Bridge marks the northern entrance to the Mary River Valley (1). Arriving here four and a half years ago was an especially memorable moment (2).

Today, the first Sunday in July, two weeks after the winter solstice, Gympie's blue sky is again cloudless; July's winds have not yet arrived. Memorable moments are heartening, as are days such as this. 

 (1) Holthouse,Hector. Gympie Gold (1973). (2) Draaisma, Dowe. Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older. How Memory Shapes Our Past (2006).