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Monday, January 23, 2017

Age of Consent


There are few good viceo clips on YouTube of the 1969 Australian movie "Age of Consent" other than the above opening sequence featuring Peter Sculthorpe's music score.

The location for Norman Lindsay's semi-autobiographical book is somewhere around Bermagui on New South Wales' South Coast which may not been been 'sexy' enough for the movie which, other than that, follows the book quite closely.

The movie's location is the Great Barrier Reef's pin-up island Dunk. Now well known for its luxurious holiday resorts, it was already made famous in the early 1900s when Australia's own Robert Louis Stevenson - he once took the pen-name 'Rob Krusoe'! - E.J. Banfield left Towns-ville in 1897 to pursue a simpler existence on Dunk Island.

Banfield was one of the early seekers of an alternative lifestyle when, accompanied by his wife, he settled 'far from the haunts of men' on this then uninhabited island off the coast of northern Queensland.

His legacy are two Australian classics, The Confessions of a Beachcomber, and his posthumous book, Last Leaves from Dunk Island, which starts with the following introduction:

"On the 5th of June, 1923, the small steamer Innisfail was passing between Dunk Island and the coast of northern Queensland, when the captain noticed a figure waving from the island beach. Interpreting the signal as a greeting, he merely waved a response. Then, as the vessel proceeded, the figure on the beach collapsed. At once the Innisfail was stopped and a party went to investigate.

It was in this manner that the world learned of the death of E. J. Banfield, self-styled "Beachcomber" of Dunk Island, the most renowned literary man of his kind in Australian history, and, perhaps, the most striking naturalist-recluse of modern times. The signaller on the beach was Mrs. Banfield, who had been alone with her dead for three days. So ended a tropic idyll of twenty-five years' duration."

"An odd little book that appears out of nowhere ... and once you have read it, you will never go completely back to where you were before. The kind of book you may hesitate to lend for fear you might miss its company."

Which is how I feel about Norman Lindsay's whimsical Age of Consent and, in a more profound way, Edmund J. Banfield's The Confessions of a Beachcomber and Last Leaves from Dunk Island, so don't even ask me to lend them to you.

They've become my own 'age of consent', the life I would've consented to, had I been born into a different world at a different time. All I can do now is read "the kind of book that echoes from the heart of some ancient knowing, and whispers from time's forgotten cave that life may be more than it seems, and less".


Sunday, January 22, 2017

The blessedness of being little


The childhood years are the best years of your life ..." Whoever said that didn't grow up in post-war Germany where the war had humpty-dumptied all our childhoods, never to be put back together again.

I never had a childhood. For me it was nothing more than a starting point from which I have never stopped running. Of course, I went through the usual stages: imp, rascal, scalawag, whippersnapper, but despite having had what would now be called a deprived childhood, I stopped well short of becoming a full-blown sociopath as I never felt the urge to smash windows or bash up old ladies to steal their hand-bags. Simply growing up fast seemed to be the best revenge.

Mind you, I wonder if any childhood is ever really happy. Just as well, perhaps. To be blissfully happy so young would leave one seeking to recapture the unobtainable. To my mind, people who don't live at least a little bit in fear, have nothing left to live for.

Good or bad, we can't leave the past in the past because the past is who we are. Anyway, what else is there to talk about while standing in line at the liquor store? Childhood trauma seems the natural choice since it’s the reason why most of us stand in line there to begin with.

Until we have nothing left to remember, nothing left to regret, with our whole life laid out in front of us, and our whole life left behind.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Good news for all my readers


Retirement is such a busy time: in between taking out the garbage and my afternoon nap, there are hardly enough hours left for a bite to eat if I also want to keep my blog readers informed of all that's not happening in my life.

So I bought this adjustable neck-mounted, mouth-ready device which allows me to keep typing while eating my cheese-and-onion sandwich.

Mind you, timing has never been my strong suite: I rushed from job to job and place to place, always in a hurry and always afraid of missing out on something. I even rushed into retirement without knowing what it would be like. That was sixteen years ago; long enough to find out.

Now that I have, I wonder why I was in such a hurry. Instead of sitting here, I could've spent another year in Greece, or Papua New Guinea, or Burma. Even another year in Saudi would've been more stimulating.

Life has no REWIND button, only a PAUSE button, and mine is stuck.


Friday, January 20, 2017

Third time lucky

Aerial view of Kuranda


Some years ago, when we seemed to have a serious buyer for "Riverbend", I emailed a real estate agent in Kuranda about a property in this "air-conditioned suburb of Cairns". I emailed once; I emailed twice; only my third email got me a reply.

When I finally caught up with her in Kuranda several months later, I asked her why she was so tardy in replying to emails. "Oh", she said, "I always let them email me three times to make sure they're serious."

Our local agents could learn from this because it's the same every holiday season: as tourists run out of things to do or encounter a rainy day, they call on one of the eight (!!!) real estate agents, pretend to be interested in some property, and ask for a guided tour.

The agent rings me, "Hello, we have a family from Melbourne here who are interested in your property. Could we come out in ten minutes?"

"Rather short notice", I reply. "Could they come tomorrow?"

"Oh no, they can't. They won't be here tomorrow." Exactly!

So much for their claim to "Qualify all Buyers Before Showing Them Your Property!" What rubbish! A guy could have "I'm an undischarged bankrupt" tattooed across his forehead, and they'd still bring him out!

Which is why I'm no longer with local agents. I do my own internet advertising through PropertyNow which brings in a couple of inquiries every month, in addition to the usual gawkers leaning on the gate.

I deal with them in my own way: if I see even a glint of a gold ROLEX watch or the LEXUS batch on their car, I know they've already spent all their (or other people's) money and can't afford to buy "Riverbend".

Time-wasters the whole lot of them! It's the chap in the not-so-late-model car which he probably bought at a government auction and who greets me with a calloussed handshake who will eventually become the new owner of "Riverbend".

In this way we've had two serious offers already! Third time lucky!


Thereby hangs another tale

Click here for a GOOGLE-view of Pigeon Island


I first heard about Pigeon Island and the Hepworth family when I tried to find work in the islands back in 1969. Tom Hepworth had written a very enticing letter in response to my classified advertisement in the backpage of the PACIFIC ISLANDS MONTHLY, offering me a job as 'book-keeper' in his growing enterprise, Pigeon Island Traders. He described to me in vivid colours the sort of life I would lead if I were to join him and his family on Pigeon Island. He wouldn't be able to pay me much but, as he put it, neither would I need much money and I would have plenty of time to pursue my own interests and continue my accountancy studies.

I was sorely tempted but I was also concerned about my professional career and what "career" would there be with something called "Pigeon Island Traders" located on one of the remotest islands in the South Pacific? Instead, I accepted another offer from a firm of chartered accountants in the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea - and I have never looked back!

It was only in retirement that I began to recall my many wanderings throughout the South Pacific and around the world which led me to ponder what might have happened had I opted for one and not another of the many choices that had come my way. And so I also thought again about Pigeon Island and on the spur of the moment wrote a letter to "Tom Hepworth, care of Pigeon Island Traders, Pigeon Island, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands."

Some months went by and I thought no more of it until one day I received an envelope covered in a lot of colourful Solomon Islands stamps. In it was a letter from Ben Hepworth, the now grown-up son of Tom Hepworth, who told me that his father had passed away some years ago but that he and his twin brother Ross and his mother Diana were still living on the island. He had enclosed some photographs and told me a good deal about the island and invited me to visit them.

Ben, who was some five years old when I had been offered a job on the island by his father, is now in his early 50s and, apart from his secondary schooling in New Zeland and a short-lived attempt at a career with the Mendana Hotel in Honiara, had never lived away from the island. I was amazed at how this family had clung to their dream of living on a small South Pacific island for so long!

From the time they set sail from England in November 1947 - see here, times had not been easy: their daughter Tasha, born 1958, was mentally retarded and is living in an institution in New Zealand; they have had several fall-outs with their two sons, Ross and Ben; there has been continued trouble with traditional land-owners over their 2-pound-a-year lease of the island (signed Christmas 1958) which officially runs out in 2052; then there was the destruction caused by Cyclone Nina 1993 and again by Cyclon Danny in 1999 ... the list goes on and the words 'CAN'T GO ON MUCH LONGER' and 'SEEM TO HAVE RUN OUT OF STEAM' appear in Tom's diary more than once.

They tried to attract caretakers to the island but failed repeatedly (the Austrian Wien family in 1964 was a particularly dismal failure; the Pearce family family ran off at the beginning of 1980 leaving the message 'JUST COULDN'T GO ON' hung in a bag on the cargo-shed door); they tried to sell the island in the mid-80s for five hundred thousand US dollars but 'the chains of Pigeon' kept Tom until his death in 1994 at the age of 84. 'Blue skies, fair winds, hot sun and beaches by the miles,' Tom once wrote about Pigeon, but 36 years was a long time for a man with cultural leanings to spend on an isolated island. We all have our fantasies but for most of us reality intervenes - but not so for the Hepworths!

Imagine living on a South Sea Island,
far from civilisation's worries,
and MAKING MONEY from it!

Ngarando-Faraway is For Sale!

This small resort on beautiful Pigeon Island only needs capital to become a money spinner. Uniquely, Pigeon is leased until 2052; Tourism will take off when an airfield only 3 miles away is completed in 1988, and NOW is the time to invest.

US$500,000 will purchase everything on the island, including a profitable store, bar one acre to be used in their retirement by Tom and Diana Hepworth.

Tom's advertisement in the mid-1980s

Thankfully, they were then already in contact with the world through the Internet and we began to send each other emails. Ben's mother, Diana, emailed me to suggest that I should come and 'house-sit' the island while she and Ben would go on what she felt may be her last chance of a 'round-the-world trip, planned for the year 2003. Again, reality intervened for me but I did offer to put up a simple webpage (which has since been replaced by this one) for them to try to attract some other suitable 'house-sitters'. She mentioned that in early 1998 a Lucy Irvine had come to Pigeon Island and during her year-long stay on Pigeon Island written the book "FARAWAY".

Had I heard of Lucy Irvine? I had indeed! I myself had spent ten months on tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait to the north of Australia in 1977. Lucy had 'marooned' herself and her 'husband' on even tinier Tuin Island just north of Thursday Island, for over a year from May 1981 to June 1982 and written a book about it. I had read the book, "CASTAWAY", and also seen the movie. Now I rushed out to get her book "FARAWAY" to read about Pigeon Island. After having read the book, I was somewhat relieved that I hadn't gone to Pigeon all those many years ago because far from living in a 'tropical paradise', the Hepworth family seems to have had more than their fair share of troubles.

Since I heard from Ben in late 2001, I have been in regular contact with Pigeon Island. Diana was able to find some suitable 'house-sitters' and in June 2003, she and Ben and his daughter went on their overseas trip during which they contacted me from the U.K. and the US. While Padma and I were holidaying in Bundaberg in August 2003, Ben called us from a motel in Brisbane before leaving on the next day's flight to Honiara. It came therefore as a complete shock to us when a few days later we received the following email:

Dear All,

My mother passed away at about 2.30pm on the 27th of August 2003. We were in a canoe, having left Lata about 15 minutes earlier, heading back to Pigeon Island after a 3 month around-the-world trip. We were still within the sheltered waters of Graciosa Bay when her spirit was taken. Mum and I had been talking 5 minutes earlier, but she left in a manner she had always wished for, suddenly. To me she appeared asleep, so it took a minute or so to realise what had happened. I felt her presence close by me as the others in the boat and myself tried to find her pulse.

She was buried next to Dad on Pigeon Island, according to her wish, in a funeral which reflected her long standing in the Reef Island community, with an overflowing of grief. Ross took quite a lot of video tape of the event.

Many of us have known the death of a loved one, like a hole that cannot quite be filled, a loss that cannot quite be redeemed, a reminder of man's mortality and God's omnipotence. Those of us who have a hope in eternal life can nonetheless put our trust in that some day, these tears will be wiped away forever.

It has been several days since Mum passed away, but I have not been able to inform anyone but our closest relatives until now.

To end on a bright note, Mum was able to see many of her friends, and her sisters, on the three month trip before departing this earth. It is a pity she did not get back to Pigeon Island before leaving this world, but our choice to leave is rarely left up to us.

God bless,
Ben Hepworth