Posted by: jkirkby8712 | February 21, 2011

Saturday, 19th February 2011 – a day/night in the ‘country’

Last night, I had another great night at the radio station  – three hours of jazz music this week, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Don’t know if anyone else did, because I had no phone calls again this week. Perhaps now that the football season is almost back, everyone is in front of the TV on a Friday night!! Nevertheless, there is a substantial gap of no presenters on air at the moment on Friday nights, so whenever I feel I can spare the time, I like to try and fill part of that gap!!

As for today, a slow morning, with a departure just before noon, for the drive to Ballarat and beyond – a little place called Enfield [about 15 kilometres south west of Ballarat on the way to Colac and the distant coast], where my youngest sister and her family have their home.  Celebrations were to be had tonight for my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday! To make it more difficult for everyone, it was to be a ‘surprise’ party, and knowing Ross and his inquisitive active mind, one had to wonder whether the surprise element would eventuate.

I eventually reached the budget priced Arch Motel in Ballarat, about 2 kilometres further west beyond the Arch of Victory at what used to be the extreme western extreme of Ballarat, but development over the years has extended well beyond that landmark into the suburb of Alfredton, etc.  It was a fairly basic, but clean and comfortable motel, and apart from James who would arrive a few hours later [it was now about 1.15pm] I had no-one other than myself to impress – it suited my purposes, a place to sleep overnight. Obviously, Jean & Ross would have found room for us out at their place, but these days, I tended to prefer the independence of the motel, and the freedom of the next morning to arise, breakfast, etc, at my own pace. James and I had a room each, as apart from the time spent at the evening party, his energy and constant ‘on the go’ I was also happy to do without beyond a certain limit. I think it probably suited him also.

The Arch of Victory referred to is the starting point of the Avenue of Honour, and was opened in 1920 by the then Prince of Wales. From there, in the western suburb of Afredton to Lake Burrumbeet [another of the district lakes now replenished with water after being completely dry] we have 23 kilometres of trees erected in memory of local residents who enlisted and served overseas in War between 1914-1918. Their names are listed on plagues at the foot of some 3,700 trees including Ash, Poplar, Elm, Maple, Oak and Plane trees. Mind your this picturesque drive has always provided a dangerous two way highway for motorists with the trees so close to the road – I have a feeling that this was one of the incentives to create the bypass freeway [referred to below] which I think rejoins the old highway near the end of the Avenue of Honour – I might be wrong about that, as I’ve never actually travelled beyond Ballarat on the new road that I can recall!

Upon arrival at the motel,  I unloaded the car, and changed immediately into some ‘walking clothes’. It was a coolish afternoon, plenty of both sun and clouds about, both seemingly competing with the other, for sky space,  but also the threat of a coming storm and some heavy rainfall. I drove around to Lake Wendouree via the Gillies Street area, the site of my first taste of full time employment back in 1965/1966 – as a ‘Ward Assistant’ at the then Ballarat Mental Hospital, where Dad was also working as a senior nurse. I guess he was the reason I was there in the interim period from completing secondary school and trying to decide which career direction I wanted to get into after failing to gain entry to the University social work course – the interview panel [of up to 10 women from memory ??] didn’t think I was ‘mature’ enough to undertake that course. I guess I was still a shy young fellow [still am of course J]. Anyway, I would end up working as a ward assistant/nurse for about 18 months, and while I didn’t commence the psychiatric nurse training program [assume I still had hopes of doing someone else, this was just a ‘fillin’ role] I often wonder where life would have taken me had I stayed and done so.  That whole complex now was a reasonably luxurious housing complex following the closure of most of Victoria’s psychiatric & mental institutions during the Kennett era. I guess that a lot of careers went ‘down the drain’ when that occurred, and that no doubt would have affected Dad, had he still being alive at that time, although he would have been close to retirement at that stage.

Anyway, onwards to Lake Wendouree, and as I set off on my planned walk, my intention was to walk only a part of the way around the lake perimeter, and then retrace my steps – a few reasons for that, the threatening weather as already noted, but principally the fact that unlike at this time last year, I’d slipped up on the walking regime a little since Christmas, for various reasons had not been so regular over the past couple of months, and so really didn’t feel that I was fit enough to attempt the full lap of the lake today – [or the Steve Monegetti track as it was officially named in honour of our Olyumpic marathon runner]. However, unlike all of the potential walking sites around home at Sunbury, this was a basically flat course and actually, apart from any consideration of the distance, quite an easy walk.   Anyway, the outcome, was that I simply kept going, and obviously once I got to a certain point, it would basically be the same distance to keep going or turn back.  Of course there was no question of not finishing the course, I had to get back to my car, and short of catching the ‘tourist’ tram’ over the last kilometer, there was no other option. Actually, even at the end, I think I was walking faster than that tram!!!  Was glad I made that choice! Last year, I was down here in March, and had been walking for two months, and managed to get around the lake perimeter in 69 minutes. In my current ‘condition’ I didn’t expect to be much better than 10 minutes beyond that time, so I was more than satisfied to get back to the car, and find the time was exactly 70 minutes!!!  No doubt, ages slower than the average walker, but at  least this time, I didn’t have any sprite young sexy things striding past me as though I was crawling  – actually, most people were walking [or riding bikes, or running, or pushing prams or walking dogs] in the opposite direction to myself. The regular ‘track’ was sign posted as an anti-clockwise walk – I was walking clock wise today [I do like to be different, hate sticking to the same routine!!!]

Apart from all that, Lake Wendouree was a beautiful sight today – not much more than 12 months ago, a certain brother-in-law insisted that we would never see the then dry lake bed filled with water again, in our lifetime!!!  How wrong he was!  It was a sight for sore eyes –  while there were lots of lake weeds on the northern side, the lake in total pretty well appeared to be at capacity levels, glorious to see, as was also the yachts out on the water – I think there would have been a lot more out there than there was today, were it not for the powerful blustery wind that was really throwing the waves around, and roaring through any sails that were up.  The other ‘thing’ that was back on the lake  –  the black swans, in fact the normal multitude of water birds,  that had disappeared for a few years during the period of the drought.  I wonder where they all went to, and it was equally amazing to note how quickly they knew that there was water to come back to. I think today, whilst walking, I noticed at least three groups of the black swans  with a little tribe of cygnets, safely under the watchful eyes, and ‘occasionally’ vicious beaks of the parent birds. At one location, a curious magpie strayed a little close to half a dozen young ones, and was very quickly sent on it’s way by ‘mother’ swan!!  All in all, the lake today, and all the activity associated with it, created a truly beautiful painting scene, with the waters, yachts and bird life back, and the affect of today’s windy conditions, creating that extra element to the scene upon the waters.

Actually, in thinking of the lake, I noticed a small article in today’s ‘Ballarat Courier’ which advised that the Ballarat City Council had won an ward for its work in securing a sustainable water supply for Lake Wendouree – the Local Government Professionals Award for Excellence. More than 1800 million litres of water have been provided through supplementary water supplies since mid 2010. The projects utilized class A recycled water from the North Ballarat wastewater Treatment Plant as a year-round supplementary supply and a series of storm water diversions from a number of urban catchments. I notice signs at different points of the lake warning people not to swim in the water, but that warning has been in existence ever since I was a child – there is only one small area where a limited amount of swimming was ever allowed, on the south eastern corner of the lake, at a spot named View Point, and I remember going there as a family on a few occasions when very young, usually with Mum and her sister Jean on the odd occasions she was visiting from Sydney.

On trip back to the motel, I stopped to purchase that copy of the ‘Courier’  –  always keen to do that, particularly if here on a Saturday, in order to study the property section. I’ve had it in mind for a few years, that I would like to return to Ballarat to live, after I retire, and the ‘kids’ are even more independent of me than they are already. This trip was no exception, and later in the motel, I would spend quite a bit of time studying the current list of houses for sale!!Well, by 4pm, I was sitting at a little table beside a window that looked out towards the main street which runs through the length of Ballarat – Sturt Street, although by here, it is officially the Western Highway, the main route of travel between Melbourne and Adelaide. There is probably not as much traffic on this part of the highway as in past years, since a bypass freeway was built to the north of Ballarat, and joins the original highway some kilometers further to the west. So it was relatively quiet out in the street, a pleasant scene of greenery and trees, and nature strips dividing up he various lanes of the road.  The sky outside is now quite overcast, in fact there was a bit of a light drizzle a few minutes ago, but it appears to have cleared itself again. One thing I did notice from today’s walk  –  not having walked any great distances over the past few weeks, nothing much beyond 30 minutes,  today’s effort seems to have created a touch of blisters on the bottom of my feet – must be the shoes I was wearing! However, that was not particularly noticeable through the evening and there didn’t appear to be any after affects of my little bit of extra exercise!!!

One thing I noticed from the local paper was that two of the city’s bookstores went into voluntary liquidation during the past week.  Two of my favorite stores in the Melbourne area [and I assume they are similarly affected] are Angus & Robertson, and the Borders franchise, and their ‘collapse’ sent shockwaves through Australia’s book retail and publishing world. It’s sadly a known fact, that book retailers across the globe have been hit in recent years due to the popularity of online shopping and electronic [perhaps the former being the more crucial factor at present]. Not just in Ballarat, but nationwide, and in New Zealand, about 2,500 jobs are threatened with this event. However, Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy has taken a philosophical approach [easy for him to do so of course] by, while noting that the collapse of Australia’s largest booksellers is a tragedy, new jobs would be created. He said ‘Technology marches on and there will be a transformation, there will be new jobs’ adding that companies needed to be ‘multiple platform’ now that consumers were online. Although the two groups are not linked, the Border’s announcement came a day after the Borders bookstore chain in the USA filed for bankruptcy. Rather sad news from the view of someone who loves the ‘physical’ presence of books, and fears the soothsayers who tells us that in a decade or two, all reading will be done through screens!!! What an unpleasant thought!

As for the surprise birthday party  – well, James and I [he arrived about 4.30pm, after working for part of the day] reached Enfield just after 6pm, and Ross was expected to arrive ‘blindfolded’ some time after 7pm. He was at a Country Fire Authority [CFA] exercise through most of the afternoon. Younger son, Alwyn, who has just joined the CFA was with the team, and apparently this blind folding activity was a normal part of training – they would be driven around for a period of time ‘blind’ and then expected to find their way to a certain spot –  an exercise to counter the problem of being lost in thick smoke during a fire, etc. Anyway,  the driver was going to bring Ross and Alwyn back to Enfield from Buninyong where today’s exercise was taking place in a somewhat circuitry trip to make it difficult for him to guess where they had been taken. By the time they arrived at my sister’s property, there must have been close to 60 people waiting for Ross’s arrival including a lot of children – nephews, nieces, grandkids, etc – and as the vehicle drove into the driveway, a deathly silence fell over everyone. Jean met him at the car as he took the blindfold off his face, and that on it’s own was not unusual, and he realized immediately where he was, and were it not for the excited reaction of some of the kids running out to meet him also, Ross probably wouldn’t have realized something special was going on until he walked up the ramp to the patio platform. Anyway, Jean’s little surprise plans had worked – it had actually being Ross’s birthday last weekend, and he had thought that a small celebration had at that time, had been his birthday ‘treat’. So he was literally ‘taken by surprise’, a great way for these things to happen!!

The evening’s activities as they usually do at ‘parties’ at Enfield – most of those present are of the Ross extended family, and his and Jean’s wide range of friends – they are a very social couple and there are always [despite the distance of their home from Ballarat itself] people ‘dropping in’. Unfortunately not many of the family on Jean’s side are generally able to be present at these things [most of her siblings live interstate now] and I find it difficult to organize many of my family to get down here – always working, playing cricket, etc. As a consequence, I generally feel a bit of an outsider – difficult to get much opportunity to converse with Jean and/or her three ‘kids’ as they have so many others around demanding her attention in one form or another. At least tonight, eldest son James was present – he has come to functions on a few occasions here, and generally seems able to mix well with people he is not familiar with [a legacy of his poker and casino activities I guess], and while most of those present – a lot of oldies, young children, and teens of the age of his two cousins, Vincent and Alwyn [Jean’s two boys] – were probably not of his normal crowd, it didn’t seem to worry him. He has always been good with children –  which is a reason why his decision to go back to university to obtain a Primary School teaching qualification is a good move – and it was not long tonight before he joined a large crowd of the ‘kids’ with a kick of the football in the extensive grassed area adjacent to the house  – he still remains a kid at heart whenever there is a football around!!

The surprise for me tonight was the presence of one of my Mum’s old friends, and former helper with the athletic club activities that both of my parents were involved with for many years up until Dad’s death, and beyond for some years for the ladies. A couple of Jean Blomely’s kids used to run in the athletics club with two of my brothers in those days, and she and my mother had been close friends for a long time. Now 82, and in not the best of health, she remained still pretty active in mind and body, having lost her husband ‘Ned’ some years ago, as well as the ‘running’ daughter, Marilyn, to cancer about 6 years ago.  Anyway, her presence tonight, at least afforded yours truly the opportunity to converse consistently with someone through the evening, and relive some of the past. I had left Ballarat by the time she became more actively involved with assisting my parents in the operation of the athletics club – a sporting group which arose out of my high school at the time at the initiative of probably my favourite teacher at the school in my later years – Dennis Bowers, a successful local long distance runner himself formed the Ballarat East Athletic Club, initially from students at the school, and in fact appointed myself as the initial club secretary – my first voluntary role in  community organization, a kind of role I’ve never been able to avoid since. Not sure whether I should thank or otherwise that little push by Dennis to get me involved – obviously, it was an asset, and a part of my life I’ve never looked back on. In the two or three years that followed, as Dennis relinguished his ‘roles’ in the club, both of my parents became heavily involved over the next 5/6 years.  Perhaps another origin of my radio days  –  for some years, Dad would give a weekly radio report of  local station 3BA, covering athletics and basketball, the two sports that he became heavily involved at the management level in his last years.

As with my own family, I notice an important aspect of many of these kind of celebrations is the photo montages – large displays of photographs, obviously tonight involving the 50 years of Ross’s life. And of course, a little beyond my technical expertise, the usual ongoing computer displays of all of those photos, was available inside the house for those seeking a bit of relief from the crowd and noise of guests on the patio area.

I seemed to have ‘wandered’ off track again!  Yes, the party!  Went along as all  such parties do, Because of the large number of young children present, the numbers dwindled considerably as the evening became late [and a little cooler]. I had just two drinks, right after our arrival, then nothing else before driving back to the motel – had insisted on James joining me, and leaving his car behind, as he as usual came ‘well prepared’ for a night of drinking!! These days, two at a time is enough for me, and I naturally find that the sugar content in beer is a particularly strong disincentive to have more than two of those beverages – the system is warned quite quickly, and I’m not unhappy to get those warnings.  Anyway, by the time we left, about 11.30 I think, there were still a crowd of ‘teens’ and a few of the older ‘steady drinkers’ still going strong.

As the night was still young as far as James was concerned, and with no internet connection in this particular motel [told you it was a budget motel] for James to utilize the various pieces of communication equipment he had with him, he purchased a DVD on the way home, although I think he was to find that his room didn’t have a DVD player either!!!  So he probably had more sleep than usual for a change.

Incidentally, today saw the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup for 2011, with host countries India and Bangladesh – in fact, those two nations provided the opening match: An exciting occasion for Bangladesh in particular to be able to host this tournament.  I doubt I will see much of this tournament – most of the coverage seems to be on Pay TV again, although I do notice that Australia’s first game, on Monday night against Zimbabwe is on the local Channel 9 [after midnight!!!]

Sat 19 February:  Match 1: India 4-370 defeated Bangladesh 9-283 by 87 runs at Mirpur in Bangladesh.

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