A Yellow Submarine in New South Wales

June 12th, 2014 | Family holidays, Festivals, Poems for adults

Many times in recent years, travelling with friends and family, I have pulled over in Holbrook for food, petrol, and a stretch of the legs. It’s a pretty town, with the added attraction, of course, of the mighty submarine in the park, H. M. A. S. Otway. Most recently, I visited Holbrook on the way to the Man From Snowy River Festival in Corryong. (Why didn’t I leave the Hume at Wodonga, you might ask? Please don’t. That’s another story.)

Anyway, Holbrook has not long ago been bypassed by the highway, and the little hamlet is threatened with Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. In an attempt to combat this, and cashing in also on the recent 50th anniversary of the Beatles tour of Australia (1964), the town has ‘yarn bombed’ the submarine with knitted yellow squares.

Further information can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/holbrookyellowsubmarine

I couldn’t resist the temptation to write my own little tribute to the town that has become a small but important part of my life over the years.

There’s a Yellow Submarine in New South Wales

There’s a yellow submarine in New South Wales
Against which any other surely pales.
It’s a long way from the sea,
Yet it’s riding handsomely.
No, you needn’t think I’ve drunk too many ales.

It’s fifty years since we heard the thunder
Of the Beatles as they sang their songs ‘down under’.
They filled a lot of halls,
Both the balconies and stalls,
Though maybe not the Holbrook band rotunda.

Holbrook’s fear of drifting off the map
Has caused the town to waken from its nap.
The Highway’s passed them by,
But there ain’t no use to cry,
And now they’re working hard to close the gap.

So they’ve knitted lots of gleaming yellow squares,
In efforts to precipitate wild stares.
HMAS Otway
Is standing out a hot way
In a plan to soothe all local business cares.

So, if you plan on racing up the Hume,
Don’t feel that you must plant your foot and zoom
All the way to Sydney town.
At the halfway point get down,
And spy this monster shining through the gloom.

© Stephen Whiteside 12.06.2014

The Launch!

May 19th, 2014 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Camping, Family holidays, Photos, Poems for children, Sailing, Snow, Songs

Well, the launch of “‘The Billy Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse” was held on Sunday, and I’ve had time to come down to earth and reflect upon it all.

Without doubt, it was a great success. Walker Books, the publisher, and Readings bookshop, the venue, had done a great job to together put on a fine display. It was absolutely magical to see multiple copies of the book – a wall of “Billys” – in a grand crescent at the back counter.

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I was thrilled that so many people turned up to support me. Members of my family were there (of course), old friends, new friends, friends from sailing, skiing and bushwalking, friends from work, children’s writers, bush poets and reciters, and others.

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Geoffrey Graham did a fine job launching the book and acting as master of ceremonies, as I knew he would. He also said some very kind things about me, for which I am truly grateful.

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Edel Wignell had been inspired to write a poem about the book, which she read. Edel has been a tremendous support to me in recent years, and it was wonderful to have her contributing to the launch in this way.

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Another friend, songwriter and musician Maggie Somerville, had been inspired to write a melody to accompany “The Sash” (the poem that tells the story of Ned Kelly’s rescue of the drowning Richard Shelton from Hughes Creek in Avenel) which she sang to round off proceedings, accompanied by yet another friend, Marie Butler, on accordion. It was a wonderful way to finish the afternoon.

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What was particularly gratifying, of course, was the number of people who wished to buy a copy of the book afterwards. No, I didn’t develop writer’s cramp but, yet, I was certainly at risk of doing so!

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Thank you again to everybody involved in making the afternoon such a memorable success. This book really is the distillation of a lifetime of writing. There were many times when I doubted if it would ever happen. Dreams do come true!

National Folk Festival 2014

April 24th, 2014 | 'Banjo' Paterson, Camping, Family holidays, Festivals, Photos, Snow

I had a great time at the National Folk Festival in Canberra this Easter, as I always do.

My mission this year, of course, was to promote and sell my new book, “‘The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”. I can safely report that the book was very well received indeed!

Laurie McDonald has done a great job in recent years, as Director of the Spoken Word Programme, in getting poetry and yarn spinning back on a firm footing at the festival, after it was all beginning to look a bit dicey a few years ago.

The National is, of course, primarily a music festival, but what with the Poets’ Breakfasts every morning, “Poetry in the Park” at 3.30 in the afternoon, and “Poetry in the Round” in the evenings, plus the occasional workshop (writing and performing workshops were both on offer this year), it can be pretty hard for us poets to find time to sample much of the music!


The highlight for me this year, apart from the reception of my book, was having the opportunity to introduce Geoffrey Graham, who resurrected his one man “Banjo” Paterson show, to celebrate the 150th birthday of Australia’s most popular bard.

Here is Geoffrey holding a large audience in thrall.

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I also got some great shots of Geoffrey (in the red shirt) and three time Australian Champion Bush Poet Gregory North acting out Paterson’s “The Man from Ironbark” in impromptu fashion. (The reciter is Ralph Scrivens.)

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The festival is a great chance to deepen old friendships, and make new ones. There are a number of people I only ever see at the National in Canberra.

I was pleased also that I had a chance to mention at one of the Breakfasts the terribly sad and utterly unexpected passing of Bob Markwell. I know that Bob had touched the lives of many, and we shared our shock and grief in conversation afterwards.

The weather was fine and still, though very cold at night. I find it pays to think of the National as a snow trip. I take plenty of extra clothing and bedding.

My son, Thomas, and his mate, Gus, excelled themselves, building an elaborate square-rigged pirate ship for the parade!

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We elected to come home via the scenic route this year – south through Cooma and Bombala to Cann River. It’s a beautiful drive, but it’s a long one!

Bogong High Plains – Huts, Huts and more Huts!

February 18th, 2014 | Camping, Family holidays, Photos, Poems for adults

I’ve just returned from a wonderful three day sojourn in the Bogong High Plains – near Falls Creek – with my daughter, Lenore.

My principal purpose in going was to visit Cope Hut. I’ve never got to Cope Hut before because it is so close to the road, and I’ve always planned much more ambitious walks. I didn’t mind if the holiday was a little less strenuous this time around, though.

The following information is taken from the Falls Creek web-site:

“Proposed by the Ski Club of Victoria as a ski refuge and funded by the State Tourist Committee, Cope Hut was built in 1929.”

In its time, Cope Hut was regarded as the peak of luxury by ski tourers. It earned the nickname “The Menzies of the Plains”, after the Hotel Menzies, Melbourne’s premier luxury hotel of the day.

My interest in Cope Hut stems from my research into the life of Mt. Hotham-based gold prospector, Bill Spargo (discoverer of the Red Robin Reef), a project that has now been running for many years.

Some time ago I had the good fortune to interview retired mountain cattleman Charlie McNamara. Charlie told me about a brief conversation he had had with Bill Spargo about Cope Hut a long time earlier, when he had encountered him on the road one day.

I asked him to recount it for me.

“Well, I asked him about the hut. I said “Who picked the site for it?” He says, “I did.” And I said, “It’s a wonder, Bill, as you never picked a decent place.” He said, “What’s wrong with it?” He said, “It’s a nice scene, nice view.” I said, “Yes, the view is beautiful.” He says,”There’s a spring there, running water.” I says, “Yes, that’s good, too.” “Well,” he said, “what’s wrong?” “Well,” I said, “Why didn’t you build it down where the wood is?” I said, “No wood. It’s the main thing, the wood.” I says, “Christ,” I says, “It’s a wonder you didn’t wake up to (the) wood.” “Well,” he said, “I won’t pick any more spots.” I was a bit sorry after that, you know.”

Here is Cope Hut today.

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As you can see, there is plenty of wood around the hut now. If what Charlie McNamara says is true, all of these trees must have grown since 1929.

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The walk to Cope Hut from the car took about 45 seconds. We weren’t looking for a long walk, but we did want something longer than that!

So we decided to head for Wallace’s Hut, past the Rover Scouts’ Hut. All of these huts were new to me.

The Rovers’ Hut, I must admit, took me quite by surprise. I had no idea it was so large. What it reminded me of more than anything was Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “The Shining”.

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Wallace’s Hut is very picturesque, as you would expect from the oldest hut on the High Plains. The hut itself is very dark inside, and rather inhospitable, but the surrounding camping area is very comfortable and pretty.

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It rained on and off during the night, but we were quite cosy in our little tent.

A thick mist came through the following morning, transforming the scene.

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The mist vanished as quickly as it arrived, and we followed the snow poles of the Alpine Walking Track back to the car.

I decided it would be fun to spend the next night at Edmondson’s Hut, another hut I had not visited before, so we moved the car from the Cope Hut parking area to Watchbed Creek.

This is a considerably more demanding hike, and takes you well up above the tree-line.

The hut itself, again originally a cattleman’s hut, is not as attractive as Wallace’s, but it is much more inviting. It is better lit, more modern, and generally much better equipped. Again, the surrounding camp-site is quite beautiful.

The hut stands in a small area of unburnt snow gums, surrounded by trees that were well and truly burnt in the 2003 fires that swept through the area. I can only assume that a timely dump of water from a passing helicopter saved both the hut and the adjacent trees.

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The snow gums only regenerate from their bases.

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The night spent at Edmondson’s was dry, but a little colder nonetheless. I was cursing myself for not having brought my long johns! Still, we got through OK. The following day was clear and warm, with a blue sky, and it was lovely walking back across the High Plains to the car. From there it was down to the Mount Beauty Bakery for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before returning to Melbourne.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable few days up in the Bogong High Plains – as indeed it always is.

Before finishing, I want to make special mention of the modern composting toilets, which were in absolutely fabulous condition at both huts. I counted eight toilet rolls at Edmondson’s Hut! It’s a far cry from the 70s, let me tell you.

I will finish with a little poem I wrote at Wallace’s Hut. It has nothing to do with the High Plains, but I had developed the idea for it the previous week, and Wallace’s Hut was a lovely peaceful place to write it. I had not heard of Pyalong until hearing it mentioned as one of a number of towns threatened by the recent fires north of Melbourne. I hope I am right in saying I believe it was not badly burnt.

A Pie Along To Pyalong

As I was walking down the road
I met a chap I hardly knowed.
“To Pyalong,” he said, “I’m bound,
And you can join me. How’s that sound?
I’ve fruit and cheese and fresh baked rolls,
And Boston buns, and coffee scrolls,
But you can bring a pie along to Pyalong.”

I said I thought perhaps I might
Walk down the road and out of sight
To go and meet this fellow’s mates,
And feast on apples, figs and dates;
To talk of sport and share the news
And hear a range of diverse views,
And also take a pie along to Pyalong.

This bloke and me are now good friends.
It’s funny how this story ends.
There’s many twists and turns in life.
His lovely daughter is my wife.
All because I said I’d go
And meet some blokes I didn’t know,
And take a little pie along to Pyalong.

© Stephen Whiteside 16.02.2014

Sailing/Camping – Gippsland Lakes

February 5th, 2014 | Camping, Family holidays, Photos, Sailing

Last night I returned from a fabulous holiday sailing and camping in the Gippsland Lakes with my son, Thomas, and two of his mates, Alex and Daniel.

We established a base camp at Emu Bight in The Lakes National Park, east of Lochsport, on Sperm Whale Head.

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The plan was to head off to the Mitchell River silt jetties. These are an amazing geographical phenomenon, whereby the Mitchell River, over countless years, has carried silt into deep out into Lake King, creating so-called ‘jetties’ that create the effect of river banks in the middle of the lank. (If you go to Google Images and search for “Mitchell River silt jetties” you will see some great aerial views.) I had visited them very briefly many years ago, and thought they would be a great place to camp. (Little did I know…)

The day got off to a wonderful start. It was hot and still, and a pod – perhaps eight – of the local dolphins swam past the calm waters of Emu Bight. They were a fair way off – perhaps a couple of hundred yards – yet because of the quietness of the bay, and no doubt due in some way to how sound travels over water – we could hear their blows as they surfaced. Then they put on a stunning aerial display for us, leaping repeatedly out of the water. It was utter magic.

Eventually they moved on, and we got down to the serious business of rigging and packing the boat, and setting sail. We set off with a light breeze, which soon dropped, leaving us becalmed in the middle of Lake Victoria. It didn’t take long for the gang to realise this was a golden opportunity for a swim. Eventually Thomas returned to the boat, and I decided to have a dip myself. There is nothing like having a whole lake to yourself – especially when it is about 10km long!

Eventually the wind picked up a little, and we continued on our travels. The only real navigational decision to make was whether to go the long way around Raymond Island, or take the short cut through the very narrow McMillan Strait that separates the island from Paynesville. There was no particularly strong argument one way or another, so I made the executive the decision that we would take the long way round. I think I just liked the idea of sailing in open water.

It was indeed a long way, but eventually we rounded Point King, at the north of Raymond Island, and could just sight the silt jetties on the horizon. As we approached them, we heard thunder and saw rain clouds behind them. It was a little unnerving, and we briefly toyed with the idea of heading west to the mainland. The situation seemed to improve a little, though, so we plugged on when, suddenly (“out of the blue”, so to speak), we were hit by a massive northwester that we really didn’t see coming.

It was one of the strongest winds I have ever sailed in. There was no way we could beat into it. The best I could manage was a broad reach, with all four of us hiking out hard. We were literally being driven before the gale! I quickly realised we had no hope of making the silt jetties, and would eventually have to make a landfall in Tambo Bay, to the east. Unfortunately, this was not close, which meant a long and nail-biting ride trying to make sure the mast kept pointing towards the sky as we rode the tempest.

The next cheerful little discovery was that most of the coast seemed to be lined with rocks, but eventually I spotted a small stretch of sand, and made for that. Finally, with a huge sense of relief, we made landfall.

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Tambo Bay, just to the south of the mouth of the Tambo River, is a particularly cheerless stretch of coastline. It has a very wild, abandoned, unloved feel to it. It looks like a dumping ground of sorts, as though we are by no means the first to have been washed up on its shores. It also looks very flood prone, and as though it might have once been cleared for farming, but ultimately abandoned.

We couldn’t resist this opportunity for a shot of the boys watching ‘local tele’ (Thomas left, Alex middle, Daniel right).

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We had a bite to eat while the wind died down, and then decided to make the final push for the silt jetties. We reached them without great difficulty, but they turned out to be a huge disappointment. The main problem was that rocks had been placed all around their shores to stabilise them. This made it very difficult to find a place to launch our boat. Eventually I found a muddy bank inside the mouth of the Mitchell River itself, but by this time the boys had decided the whole area looked thoroughly uninviting. We eventually resolved, therefore, to try to make a dash for Duck Arm before daylight failed us. We had spent a lovely day beside this beautiful patch of water at the end of the Banksia Peninsula in Lake Victoria the previous year, and it seemed to make perfect sense to spend the night there again. But did we have time?

Duck Arm is south west of Paynesville and Raymond Island, so the island needed to be negotiated once more. This time, however, there was no real option other than facing the shorter route through McMillan Strait.

Unfortunately, we reached it to find the wind was pretty much on the nose, so we would have to tack all the way up it. It was hard work in a brisk breeze and narrow water, but we very nearly made it. Alas, however, another huge gust of wind towards the end forced us to make for shore once more. This time, the shore was very close but again, it was mostly rocks. Once more, I spotted a patch of sand, and we made another safe landfall.

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As you can see, the environment was essentially suburban, with no obvious camping options on offer.
Fortunately, a very kind local gentleman gave us permission to camp on the nature strip beside his back gate. Here we are, tucked in cosily out of the wind.

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The wind continued to rage throughout the night, and we wondered if we would have to spend the next day holed up on Raymond Island. Fortunately the next morning, though cold and grey, brought a much more gentle breeze, and we woke early, packed and headed off as soon as possible, before the wind had a chance to build once more.

Here we are packing once more.

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We passed through the remainder of McMillan Strait without incident, then struck out across Lake Victoria to the passage of water that runs between Banksia Peninsula and Sperm Whale Head. Once through here we were becalmed once more for an hour or so – which allowed for another swim in the lake – before at last returning to Emu Bight at about midday.

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It had been a fabulous twenty four hours – dolphins, swimming in calm waters, running before gales, and simply enjoying sailing the lovely waterways of the Gippsland Lakes. Next year, though, we might make life a bit easier, and simply head for Duck Arm in the first place!