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 along 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 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).


The more you know about your region, the more you become part of it [1]. On the last morning of July, in pyjamas and dressing gown, I shuffled out to bring in the garbage bin. On the front lawn was a surprise: there it was, 56 pages of printed news, waiting to be unrolled and read. Gympie’s new weekly, Gympie Today, had landed only a month after the demise of the daily Gympie Times.

Here, the editor wrote, for those who work online all week and do not need to spend their free time on screen as well, or those who simply prefer a print publication, is your newspaper.

Here was a newspaper informing readers of the fears of a Gympie bayside fishing company hit hard by the Melbourne lockdown;  of the story of a cattle breeder attracted to the Mary Valley by the district’s regular rainfall, quality of soil and sense of community. Here also was the commemoration of an aboriginal horseman riding Gympie’s hills over a century ago; improvement to water supply at Gympie’s western border; the thirtieth anniversary of a plane crash; and news that the scene may be set for privatisation of council services.

Among other articles and news was a history of Spanish Influenza in Queensland a century ago. An account of Gympie’s news publications since 1868 included the local  newspaper started in 1896 by Andrew Fisher and some friends. Fisher was a Gympie resident and mine worker who became the fifth Prime Minister of Australia.

The local government region of Gympie has 60000 residents. Stretching from the Pacific Ocean it takes in Rainbow Beach in the east and the Mary Valley in the west. Covering an area of about 7000 square kilometers, the region’s boundaries are close to Noosa in the South, Fraser Island/ Maryborough/ Hervey Bay in the north and Kingaroy in the west. 

If its first edition is any indication, the newspaper is encompassing Gympie’s regional diversity.

 [1] letter from Gympie July 2017 Number Seven


Winter has departed from Gympie, but the chilly winds of economic recession and prolonged border restrictions remain. My mother and father were both aged four during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919/1920. Mum’s mother was pregnant during 1919. Dad’s mother was pregnant around that time also. My grandparents never mentioned the epidemic, although it killed perhaps 15,000 Australians. (1) 

Throughout the years 1920 – 1929 my maternal grandfather’s business as a house painter in Sydney’s eastern suburbs flourished. Raising their two boys and a girl, he and grandmother purchased a modest house, built an even more modest weekender, acquired a car and yes, a good piano. But during peak years of the 1930’s economic depression, they depended on a weekly load of vegetables from my great aunt. 

Also throughout the same years, my paternal grandparents raised their four sons comfortably on the family pastoral property. But at the end of the decade everything changed. The family came to Sydney, grandfather started a butcher shop which failed, and dad found work in a pharmaceutical factory. On pay day grandfather would stand outside the factory waiting to collect his son’s wages. 

A total 48,128 new business names registered by ASIC in July this year were 12,104 more than July 2019. (2) It would be interesting to know how many of these registrations are only ideas. Some, if not most, may yet have to commence. Others might be individuals transferring into self employment. If nothing else, the potential of such an increase could boost confidence and hope.

(1) Blainey, Geoffrey.Complacency lulled all of us into delusion. Weekend Australian 21/22 March 2020.(2) ABC News 29 08 2020 Shine, Rhiannon.New business registrations have skyrocketed in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Using music to decide how to vote might not be the way to go, but sometimes it works. Australia’s referendum for a republic was on Saturday 6th November 1991. The day is one I remember because I could not make up my mind which way to vote. So before going to the polling place, I put on a CD of English composer Henry Purcell’s music. It was enough. When the music finished I strode out to support retaining the monarchy by voting no to a constitutional change.  

Almost a generation later, the possible future King George the seventh has already undergone work experience. His uncle Harry and aunt Meghan are absorbing the uniqueness of American creativity. 

The American colony went republic during the reign of George the third. And William Makepeace Thackeray's essays have given readers a glimpse of the world of the first four Georges. Those essays, Thackeray claimed, were not so much a history as sketches,  portraying people and their monarchs, manners and life in an older society, the older world, of an earlier century (1).

Dvorak’s Ninth, the New World Symphony, enables listeners to think of America. This Bohemian born Czech composer's music might inspire Americans not intending to vote to do so at the Presidential election.

(1)The Works of W.M.Thackeray: The Four Georges (1899)


The earliest memory of my life is dad in army rig. Seen from my mother’s shoulder carrier, he stands outside the old wall of Darlinghurst military barracks. Later recollections include being carried, amid searchlights and muffled explosive sounds, into our basement. Crouched under a low ceiling, my mother and grandparents talk softly while (it later became known) Japanese midget submarines enter Sydney Harbour.    

Barbed wire fringed Sydney’s beaches, we counted each reinforced pillar in the school building and our elderly school principal joyously danced a jig when peace was declared. But a magazine, The Home [1] shows war-time Australia in different ways. Replete with short stories, illustrations and photographs, its articles range in  topics from armaments, architecture, fashion and gardening to social events.

Australia breaks an international monopoly by finding the secret formula for making optical glass; Evelyn Owen, a young soldier from Wollongong, invents a sub machine gun; chemical alternatives to rubber emerge; Feltex Floor Covering transforms itself to make defence products such as parachute back-pads, army blankets, hospital  dressings and cloth for uniforms.    

The kerb outside Sydney’s Minerva Theatre is painted for blackout by the décor designer of the Minerva’s ballet. Donald Friend illustrates his whimsical account of a play reading at an afternoon tea gathering. Marjorie Barnard writes satirically a short story of an Important Man. And The Home not only enables today’s readers to imaginatively re-live this earlier era; its articles shore up manufacturing’s value.     

 [1] Gellert, Leon, editor. The Home (1942) Volume 23 Number One to Number Six inclusive. 


You do not need to be Dr Who to travel back in time.

It was a big day when construction of the red cabinet was completed. Reverently carrying each finished piece into the bookshop, carpenters slid compartment after compartment seamlessly into place. Softly tinged redness, bevelled glass, framed gilt borders, gilt door handles and decorative tassels perfected the joinery’s design. The result was a cabinet that brought to mind regency style but hinted at something modern.

Among the first books to go into the cabinet were those written by authors close to the Regency period. Onto its shelves went the humanity of Samuel Johnson, the experiences of Frances Burney, the village life of Mary Russell Mitford and the sensitivity of Jane Austen.      

From the outset, sales on line exceeded sales off line and eventually, transition from bricks and mortar retailing became inevitable. When the time came to move out, the red cabinet had to be dismantled, transported and reconstructed twice. Now relocated in the living room, it stands there in all its glory, in pride of place. Thanks to quality of craftsmanship, wounds of removal and reconstruction seem only superficial. The time trouble and expense of the cabinet’s movements have proved worthwhile.

In the eyes of some, shelves of books are only shelves of books. In the eyes of others, to whom books beckon, a cabinet’s attractiveness can be amplified by the books it contains. With or without a cabinet, days should not be dull when you meet up with old friends on your bookshelves. 

 © Barry Long 2020