Saturday, February 28, 2009

Childhood Memories - For my Sisters

Terri wrote a marvellous post recently about her childhood so please check it out if you haven't already done so.  She had been tagged by Trisha from Rolling who responded to my comment by tagging me as well.  At least I think she did.

So I thought I'd respond by telling you a little more about where and, almost as importantly, when I grew up.  I was a child of the 60's but relate more with the 70's.  Australia was the lucky country and in 1958 when I was 18 months old and my new sister only a few weeks, Mum and Dad took the big step of moving from the northern suburbs of Melbourne with their bluestone gutters and crowded houses out to the new orchard subdivisions in the east.

It was a major decision because their brothers and sisters had tended to stay close to home, but land was cheap out in the sticks and the estates were sprining up with new strip shopping centres and schools.   We lived at 10 Richardson Street, Box Hill South and I can still remember our first phone number, 283928, and that old black bakelite phone copped a hammering because that was how Mum kept in touch with her family all those miles away.

 There were no made roads or footpaths and in spring the grass grew high in the open drains that ran alongside the roads.    Dad used to poor a few gallons of petrol into the drains each weekend then throw in a match and we'd watch the fire run along the water surface.  He used to tell me it was to get rid of the rats, and they certainly did run as the flames burnt the grass, but I think the real reason was because he was a bit of a pyromaniac.

The first photo is of me and my oldest sister Karen with our dog Noddy.   She died when she was around 8 or 9 years old after being poisoned.  In those days dogs were allowed to roam free in the neighbourhood and she lived most of her life under our house,  I still remember how she used to do laps of the house when we got home after being out because she was so excited to see us.

We had an outside toilet and the nightcart man would come once a week to take the full pan away and leave an empty one.  It stunk of crap and phenyl but was normal across the estate until the sewerage was connected in the early 60's .   The pile of dirt we are standing on was from the ditch that the sewerage pipes were laid in and it was a wonderful day when the potty no longer needed to be used at night time and when the blowflies didn't muster around your bum when you sat down for a crap.  It also meant an end to worrying about red back spiders which were known to nest under toilet seats.

It was a modest house but it was home and I had my own bedroom complete with vintage car wallpaper and a map of the world on the wall.  My bed lay beneath the window and I used to lie in there in the morning and watch the dust motes dance on air.

We had a hills hoist in the backyard that we hung from and swung each other around in circles.   One Christmas we got a pool and Dad never quite found the right spot for it, at various times it lived in the front and back yards and summers were spent making whirlpools and floating on our backs around in circles.  That was when we weren't sunbaking on the footpaths when they were made and the roads sealed in the mid 60's.   Summers seemed longer and hotter back then and they were marked by Dad's barbecues in the back yard with charcoaled snags [sausages] and the best chips you've ever tasted covered in salt.

That backyard had visits from cowboys and indians and superheroes, Robin Hood and his merry men, and the small bushes in the front yard became an obstacle course for make believe horses and a parade of bikes and other wheeled toys like the go-kart my Godfather gave me one year.

And there were the smells - the fermenting apples that fell from the trees in the front yard in summer, Mum's Sunday roast dinners and Dad's BBQ's, my Nana's scones, the petrichor of summer rain, and the smell of fresh cut grass, all evoke wonderful memories for me.

At night time I could hear the trains on the Box Hill line in the distance and the steam from the Bowater Scott paper factory not far away.  In the early hours of the morning I often heard the clip clop of the milkmans horse as it trotted down the road, the milkman grabbing pint bottles from the cart and collecting the emptys left out in the milk boxes in the front of each yard.   The postman came twice each day and blew his whistle when he put something in the letterbox.   There were the songs of crickets in summer and the laughter of kookaburras and warbles of Magpies. 

I will write more because there  is way too much to put in this simple snapshot.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Not sweating the small stuff

Richard Carlson wrote Don't sweat the small stuff in 1997 and it was one of the books that I read to help me through the dark days that have now passed.  Richard passed away in December 1997 but the lessons from his books will continue to point the way for those of us who need some guidance.

As with many self help books it is worth re-visiting from time to time so that you can remind yourself of some of the lessons and I thought that I'd pick out a few and talk about the lessons I've learnt in applying them to my journey.

"Learn to Live in the present moment."

I spent a lot of time pondering the past and worrying about what the future held.    The problem with that was that time passed without anything meaningful happening for me.  More than a year went by in my separation without any decisions being made - should I go back, should I move on - I carried a lot of guilt and spent a lot of time wondering what if.   Will I find forgiveness, how will any of us survive financally, is that a reason to go back?   Why did these things happen to me?  Will my relationships with my kids improve?

I was unable to find joy in the every day - if I saw my kids I walked on egg shells, I put on a front of false bravado, I avoided friends, which wasn't hard because they avoided me too.  But it made withdrawal easy.  I was never depressed, but looking back I don't think I was functioning as a fully emotional human being.  Maybe I never had been one because I'd spent a lot of my life hiding emotion and running from confrontation.

As each and every question was asked over and over again, the fear built and I withdrew more and more from making any decisions that would allow me to move forward.  And in that unknown selfishness also made it difficult for other people to move forward to.

Carlson says that if we learn to live for the moment the fear goes away.  But often that can only be done after the situation is analysed and pondered, at least that was the case for me.  When I finally felt I had come to know myself better than I ever had before, I was able to let the worry go and just start to exist again.  In that chapter Carlson quotes Mark Twain - "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Octomom receives porn offer

Don't you love the way people get labelled.  I'm sure most of you who haven't been hibernating for the past few months have heard the story of Nadya Suleman who recently gave birth to octuplets despite the fact that she is a single Mum who already had six children.    I won't get into ethics here, of the doctor who implanted the embryos, or of the woman who had them, because it somehow doesn't seem fair to the kids.   It's not their fault their mother seems a few sheep short in the top paddock.

Now we have reports that Vivid Entertainment have made an offer to her to star in a series of porn films.  This of course has lead to a wealth of amusing comments around the world.

Perez Hilton said that "we already know that the Octopussy's vagina doubles as a clown car with room to spare".

On the Huffington Post we are told that OctoMom is used to having multiple people inside her.

Now these may all be cheap shots but I guess that can happen when the world learns the truth.  It's a very quick fall from grace as the mother of octuplets to a lady who is living on welfare and who in lots of ways has come to epitomise the 15 minute of fame celebrity.   I'm not sure whether she deserves to be reviled, pitied, giggled at, loathed or just plain forgotten.  What I do know is that kids don't chose their parents and I hope they can escape their mothers stigma.

And what about their father.   There seems to me to be something ethically wrong with not giving him a choice about what happened to those embryos.   Now a bloke has come out saying that he used to date her and that he donated sperm at the time because she told him she had ovarian cancer.  

And apparently the other six kids were also produced through IVF.  Now I would have thought that IVF should be reserved for women who have genuine problems conceiving and again you have to question the ethics of a doctor who would implant eight embryos into someone who already had six kids.  Bloody Hell, I'd question the ethics of the previous four doctors as well.  What were they thinking?

No word yet on whether Nadya will take up the offer of the million dollars but it reminds me of the story about the boy who asks his dad to explain the difference between Hypothetically and Realistically .

One day a boy comes home from school and says, "Dad I need to know the meaning of hypothetically and realistically for school."

So the father replies, "Go ask your mother if she would sleep with a man for 1 million dollars."

Off the little boy goes and asks and sure enough she says yes.

His dad says "Ok now go ask your sister if she would sleep with a man for a million dollars". So he does and like her mother she says yes."

Now his the father says, "Go and ask your brother."

When he comes back saying that his brother said that he too would take the million dollars the Dad says  "You see son hypothetically we three millionaires in this house,  realistically we have two whores and a poofta."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lost Generation

This has been garnering a lot of attention and I will let it speak for itself.



All I can tell you about the author is that there nic on youtube is metroamv and that they are a 27 year old student from Chicago.   As of this date the video has been viewed Views: 3,354,504 times and had 2,755 left.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comet Lulin

How many of you have ever heard of Comet Lulin.  Apparently it was discovered by Chinese and Taiwanese astronomers in 2007 and today is at it's closest approach to Earth.
There have been some amazing photos published of this green comet.  This one from Phillip Jones on Spaceweather
It got me wondering whether we could see it in Australia and I found this photo on Saint Peter's Gate Observatory by David S Thomasson.
Then there is this one from a Telescope in New Mexico from the Fox News Story.
According to a story posted on Yahoo the comet will be visible to the naked eye as a green haze and best seen near midnight when it will be highest in the sky.  I'm not sure if those viewing conditions relate to Australia or not.  We're certainly not likely to see it in Melbourne with all of the smoke around, but given it has been photographed from Tasmania and is visible in the norhtern hemisphere it should be visible across the rest of the continent.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Hills are burning again

Around 3 O'clock today my sister called to tell me the Hills near home were on fire. Ironically this one started close to where the last disaster fires of Ash Wednesday in 1983 also started. At that stage it was burning south around 300 metres from my ex-wifes house and 500 metres south of the old family home.

My boss who lives up the road from me decided that it was better to be safe than sorryso we left work to head home in case we came under ember attack.

I'm home now, the wind has swung from northly to westerly and it is now being pushed east towards Belgrave Heights and Belrave South. Once again the CFA is on the scene but so far this one is still out of control.

My daughter is bringing their cats around here later on because at the moment we are safe. I'll keep everyone posted again.

It seems that the messages of two weeks ago have been heeded with many callers to the radio stations saying they have decided to be evacuate early.

The CFA have just confirmed that one house has just been lost in Belgrave South. Now this is true bush living not unlike Kinglake and Marysville which were both wiped off the map two weeks ago. Houses are thich through that area so I fear we should brace for more losses.

********************************************
Update 5:25pm. Just heard that two firefighters have been injured and a fire truck damaged.

********************************************
Update 25th February.
Here is a link to an interview with Upper Gully CFA Captain Pete "Mudguts" Smith aired on 3 AW this morning. These three blokes were very lucky.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Father Part 2

On the 18th June 2007 I wrote a post titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Father which I had written after visiting a friend. Now, another year and a half down the track I can speak with a little more personal experience about my own situation and how things have unfolded.

When I separated from my wife in February 2006 it is true that I withdrew from the world to a large degree.  I spoke to no one about how I felt, I worried constantly about what the future held and spent much of my time away from work alone.  I didn't see a lot of my kids that first year and that hurt.  When I look back now I find that much of the year is foggy.   No friends called, part of the family isolated me and the kids were being exposed to things about the situaton that they probably shouldn't have.

There was an assumption by a lot of people that I was in a relationship with the lady who was the catalyst for the marriage break up.  The truth was for much of the first 15 months of that separation we were friends, in some ways we were our only friends.  And whilst that was continuing I was being told that the kids would never forgive her and never accept her.   So I struggled big time with what I should do, I didn't wish to pursue a full blown relationship because I was frightened of the consequences.  Hence there were no discussions with my kids about my feelings or my perspective on the marriage break up.  In fact I regard that as probably my biggest mistake because everyone I knew had a perspective on what they thought was going on because of the story they were hearing.  And it was a story in which my voice was silent.

Don't get me wrong, there is no blame here.  I was simply acting as blokes are expected to act.  We aren't supposed to show our feelings, or talk about them with anyone.  Keep a stiff upper lip, shoulder the burden but, if like me, you shoulder all the blame as well, then maybe expect to lose friends as a result of that.

It took a while but I can remember the exact moment when my kids did start to come around.   In August 2007 my lady moved in with me and on Fathers Day that year my daughters visited my home whilst my lady was there for the first time.  I wrote about that on Sunday 2 September2007 in a post called Red Letter Day.

Now I see them at least once a fortnight, maybe not as much as I would like, but the initial awkwardness has gone.  If they hate her, as I was told they would, or if they have not forgiven her, there is no evidence of that.  Last night my oldest son brought his new girlfriend around to meet us and they and my youngest daughter had dinner with us.   Yesterday my oldest daughter was here with her boyfriend and today my second son dropped in for an hour.   I am a lucky person.

If you've been reading this blog over the past week you may have noticed that I've been looking at the stats and where the visitors come from and there are a couple of search terms that people use which bring them to this blog.  One of the most common is a combination of the words father, loneliness and long distance, so I am guessing that there are a lot of men out there who do look for answers when their marriages fail.

I thought, therefore, that it might be worth showing those people that there is hope, that children can come around, despite what they may be told, in the end it will be their reality and experience which is important, not that which may be imposed upon them by others.    I am still looking at improving my relationship with my kids.  I am far from the perfect father, but if I can give some advice it is this, maintain contact with your kids, even if it's only a phone call.  Tell them you love them, if they are prepared to listen teach them that there are different realities, that no one is 100% right all the time.   Let them know that it is OK to have an opinion but respect that of other people as well, but never, take those opinions as gospel.

Life is way too short to hold grudges and to be bitter about things forever.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wonderful Life and the Eye of God

There are times when I gaze at the skies at night and I have this overwhelming sense of insignificance. Who am I to presume my existence is important? What possible difference can I make in the universe? Is there any purpose to existence?  As we gaze outward and further back in time can we see the Eye of God?


And then I remember that we once were microbes and before that dust born deep in the heart of stars and that in this coalescence of molecules this wondrous thing of self awareness occurred. We think therefore we are. And if the purpose is simply the desire and drive to perpetuate our genes so that over time they continue to split and change and re-combine then who knows where it will end and what truly lies at the end of the journey.

And that is both our blessing and our curse. Our very substance is anchored in the distant past to that creation point and I don’t really care whether your catalyst is God or simply the Big Bang. It is what gives us constancy and means that on a molecular level we are immortal. On a genetic level each and every one of us shares a common ancestor that if we could go back far enough would take us back to the very beginnings of life on earth. We breath the same air now that those ancestors breathed, we drink the same water, we share the same molecules, and through those we are connected to everyone who has ever lived. That air has touched the minds of Jesus, of Newton and Copernicus, of Plato and Socrates, its cringed in the lungs of Hitler and Pol Pot, it has stood guard over billions of births and fled from the lungs of as many of the dying.  It has filled the sails of Eric the Red, Columbus, Magellan, Drake and Cook, lifted the the wings of eagles and fed the flames of fires that warmed our caves.

Are we lucky to be alive or what!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Borneo Monster

It's a week for weird creatures this time with the release of photographs of a giant serpent like creature called the Borneo Monster.

Supposedly 100 feet long it looks far larger in this picture although it is difficult to get a proper sense of scale. This is supposed to be the River Baleh which is the longest river in Sarawak. Local legend calls the creature the Nabau which has a dragons head and seven nostrils.

Maybe this thing is the mummy of the Mongolian Death Worm.

This picture was supposed to have been taken by a member of a disaster recovery team who was monitoring floods. But whilst it is starting to proliferate on line I can't find any real pointer to where it originated. There is mention of it in the Kuala Lumpur Newspaper New Straits Time but the link to the article is broken so I can't verify whether that is the original source of the story.
This second photo is also unattributed to anyone and whilst I am prepared to say it might be a bloody big snake. It could also be the floats on a fishing net or something photoshopped into the background.

So for any budding cryptozoologists, let me know whether you think it's real or not.

LM over at Life's Moments has commented that it reminds her of this bloke from her past and mine -

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A tale of three women - Harding, Wade & Lewis

Here's a round up of some of the people making hits on google trends today.

In the news today is Tonya Harding who came to infamy a number of years ago in the field of figure skating when she assaulted rival Nancy Kerrigan.   Harding who has recently released a book about her life is yet another celebrity celebrated for all the wrong reasons.  What is sad is that she has found it necessary to begin a career as a celebrity boxer and is now reduced to selling autographs for $10 a pop.

Mark Silva from The Tribune's Washington Bureau reported that Harding appeared on  HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and stated that she "owes President Barack Obama a certain debt for his campaign-trail remark that he wasn't about to "do a Tonya Harding'' on his primary opponents. She maintains it helped her find work, paid appearances - "because people forget who Tonya Harding is.''



Why doesn't someone make a study of everyone who turn out to be good people despite coming from broken and abusive homes, instead of telling us about the failures.

Still she must inspire some people because if you vist her website you'll find a section with over 1400 fantasy stories written by people featuring her.

***********************************************
Another sports related lady in the news is Siohvaughn Wade the estranged wife of Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade who had accused her husband of passing on an STD to her.  Siovaughn has since dropped her claim but it makes me wonder if Dwayne didn't give it to her, how the hell did she get it?    Now AP report that Dwayne is suing her for defamation.  

My comment here is that Dwayne is only asking for $50,000 damages which seems small bickies compared to the millions he earns both for playing and endorsements.

***********************************************
I have to say I have never heard of polyamory and I suspect most of you readers haven't either but it's sort of multiple polygamy.   A situation where more than one male and one female are living in a multiple relationship.

A lady called Kathleen Lewis is in the news because she has proudly declared that she has two husbands and apparently their non-traditional living arrangements now also include another wife, and some combination of children from each of the mixed up relationships.

I won't judge her.  Some might but not me.   Reading the article she seems to be pretty happy and it obviously works for her.

************************************************
So what can we learn from todays post?    Maybe that being able to excel at something doesn't necessarily mean that you are smart, or that you won't be greedy and that some people have very weird fantasies and other people live them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cryptozoology and the Mongolian Death Worm

Well the sex sells post yesterday turned out not to be as popular as the previous days entry on Habba Syndrome.   I have been wondering whether that was due to the fact that there are far more searches done on sex than on Habba Syndrome and far more information available on the former than the latter so that any hits are diluted.  And let's be honest, anyone visiting this blog for titillation would be sadly disappointed.   What then creates hits on a blog from people who would never normally visit that blog?

So today I have decided to pick another obscure item that for some reason is featuring heavily in the Google trends list for today and that is the Mongolian Death Worm.   It is number 5 on the list as I write this but will change as the day goes on.  If you do read this post please check the link and leave a comment telling me where it ranks on google trends at the time you look at it.
No one has ever seen one of these, but they are described as being around five feet long, capable of spitting caustic or acidic saliva and sending electric shocks into their prey.  Shocks which apprently are strong enough to kill a camel.   You can read more details on wikipedia.
Why does this creature all of a sudden appear as a popular search on google today.  Searching the news items turns up the tale of Richard Freeman who is tagged as "The Man who hunts monsters for a living."
Freeman is a Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology a group of cryptozoologists who have dedicated their lives to finding evidence of creatures from fable, myth and legend.  The article appeared in "The Shields Gazette" on the 29th of January this year.  So can anyone tell me why the sudden interest in the Mongolian Death Worm today.  Am I missing something?

Here's a plea to any of you visitors who hit this blog as a result of that search.  Please leave a comment about why you were searching for this creature in the first place.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Proof that Sex Sells - Vermont Country Store Catalogue

Following on from my Habba Syndrome post yesterday which saw a little more traffic come to this site simply because of what I would have thought was a relatively rare medical complaint, I thought I'd try another experiment today.
As I sit here now one of the Top 10 searches on google is for "Vermont Country Stores". Being all the way over here in Australia I have to say that I have never previously heard of them before either. But they have a long tradition of mail order business stretching back 64 years.
AP has reported that the catalogue has made a recent addition by offering sex aids for sale.
AP says that "Lyman Orton, whose father started the 12-page mailer in 1945 that has turned into a $100 million a year business, says some of the irate letters "makes me a little ill, really,"

Orton, 67, says no one asked him to include the new items, he just thought it might help older folks keep sexually active.

But don't try looking for "Sex Aids" in the online version. To find the right page you need to search for "Intimate Solutions".

According to Cabot Orton a member of the family run business, the items are big sellers.

Image is from here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Habba Syndrome

Now if you read the heading of this post you may be wondering what the hell Habba Syndrome is and why I would be talking about it.  But bear with me and I'll try and explain.

When I posted the stories about David Tree and Sam the Koala last week I suddenly started to receive a lot more visits than what I normally got from you, my small but loyal readership and I decided that it may be worth trying an experiment.   Most of the hits on those stories came from people doing google searches on a combination of those words.

So today I looked up Google Trends for 15th February and found that the top search as I write this is for "Habba Syndrome".    So I thought, even though this won't be actually posted till late today, that I would place this post on here and see how many hits I receive from people searching Habba Syndrome.

And if you do happen to visit here as a result, so that your visit isn't all to no avail, may I point you to some places that will give you the information I hope you seek.

This is straight from the website of Dr Habba who I am sure is very pleased to have the syndrome named after him, although you may wonder why.

"It is an association between a dysfunctional, intact gallbladder and chronic diarrhea. Patients with the syndrome present with varying degrees of chronic diarrhea (three or more bowel movements per day for at least three months). Diarrhea is classically described as frequent, loose bowel movements and may be watery in nature. They could be explosive at times and may even be associated with great urgency and even incontinence. Diarrhea is mostly after meals (post prandial diarrhea). Because of this urgency, patients usually look for a bathroom wherever they go, also known as "bathroom mapping"."

And for me that is quite enough information especially given that it seems to manifest itself mainly during the day.  If you do have it, may I wish you a speedy recovery.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fires Still Threaten

The photo was taken near sundown on Friday night from my back yard and as you can see the smoke hanging over Melbourne was still thick.

At around 4 pm this afternoon a fire was deliberately lit in Tecoma [where I lived until July last year] which is around 4km as the crow flies from where we are now.  The Country Fire Authority again reacted quickly and as far as I know they managed to confine it the the forest without loss of property or life.

The person who did this ought to face attempted murder charges despite the fact that no one died.  No person here in Melbourne could fail to be aware of the danger of that act given the events of the past week.

******************************
Postscript
And now it's the morning after and as I did last Saturday I count my blessings and thank the CFA again. Spot fires are a huge risk from any fire at the moment. The grass in my front yard breaks when I walk on it, so brittle and dry it is. And the bush it drier still. Tomorrow the winds are due to get up again and we face more anxious moments, particularly with a firebug walking aorund my hills.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Interview with David Tree about Sam the Koala

As I said in the last post, I heard David Tree interviewed on the Neil Mitchell program on radio station 3AW here in Melbourne yesterday, and I was hoping they would post it on their website.   For those who are interested in hearing the story you can listen to the audio here.

Once again 3AW have done a fantastic job covering the fires. On Saturday as we were sitting at home listening to the sirens from the firetrucks and the helicopters flying overhead as a fire started half a kilometer south of where we live, it was 3AW that was providing the regular updates that gave me the confidence to stay at home.

Please leave a comment if you read this - there is amazing interest in this story from around the world and even this blog is getting hits from all over the place - so if you drop in let me know where you are from.

**************************************************
Photo from AAP - Caption - Cheyenne Tree treats a Koala nicknamed Sam, saved from the bushfires in Gippsland, at the Mountain Ash Wildlife Center in Rawson, 100 miles (170 kilometers) east of Melbourne, Australia, where workers were scrambling to salve the wounds of possums, kangaroos and lizards Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009. More than 180 people were killed in the weekend's fires, and on Wednesday, the scope of the devastation to Australia's wildlife began to emerge, with officials estimating that millions of animals also perished in the inferno. (AP Photo)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

David Tree and Sam the Koala

For those who haven't seen this footage yet please have a look at one of the things that has provided a bright spot in the darkness. To David Tree and the other firefighters and animal rescuers - well done and thank you.



To TMZ who mocked the story - Sorry guys, this is neither humorous nor satirical just poor taste. David Tree is an ordinary bloke doing extraordinary things in a horrific situation. I've just heard him interviewed on the Neil Mitchell program on 3AW and if it gets posted onto their website I'll provide a link for people to have a listen.

*****************************************
Update after the comment from Emma Halden.

You can purchase a photo of Sam here and all proceeds go to the Country Fire Authority with which our volunteer firefighters serve.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Less than 6 degrees of separation

The death toll now stands at 173 and reports now suggest that it may climb as high as 300. As the hours go on many people I know are telling tales of friends and or family who are missing. One of my nephews has a mate missing and that same mates brother confirmed dead. Other friends who we holiday with every year have not heard from friends for a few days.

So I think that most of the State may well be way less than 6 degrees of separation away from this personal tragedy.

It will be months whilst the police unravel the stories of each death. Firstly identifying the bodies will be an issue, then trying to piece together how people died will be a major exercise. And that is so necessary to provide some answers to the families left behind.

The generosity of people has been amazing. Everyone feels affected and everyone wants to try and contribute - clothes, groceries, money are all pouring in. For anyone who wants to donate you can do so on the Red Cross Website.

Wesfarmers have also announced that all profits from grocery sales in their Coles supermarkets this Friday will go to the appeal, so if you can hold off shopping until then, do so.

***************************************************
And from the best of human nature and generosity of spirit we come across this media release from Catch the Fire Ministries where a so called Man of God claims that God visited the fires on Victoria because of new abortion laws.

This straight from that offensive media release -

CTFM leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah said he would spearhead an effort to provide every assistance to devastated communities, although he was not surprised by the bush fires due to a dream he had last October relating to consequences of the abortion laws passed in Victoria.

He said these bushfires have come as a result of the incendiary abortion laws which decimate life in the womb.

My God is one of compassion and not this sort of vengeance. I thought long and hard about whether I should promote this sort of tripe but it is offensive and does not belong in my country. How dare these people try and point score from this tragedy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sheltered Life

I lived a sheltered life as a policeman. I saw no major gruesome scenes, some, but generally I seemed to constantly draw the long straw. When a consulate was bombed in Melbourne I drew roadblock duty rather than having to scrape the terrorists remains off the walls with an egg lifter.

During Ash Wednesday, living in the area affected by the fires, I was given permission to go home on the night the fires were burning rather than join my colleagues working through the night. That seems a little cowardly now when I hear tales of CFA workers fighting fires at stranger's places when their own homes are burning down. But at the time, it seemed a reasonable request.

I did spend the next week working in the fire affected areas, at various times manning road blocks, driving through the fire areas along roads where trees still burnt, looking for survivors. And like my colleagues who today are doing the same things, we worked long hours, 36 of them in one stretch, then 8 hours off and back on duty again. But I saw no bodies then and I will be forever grateful for that.

Given that the fires have been potentially deliberately lit each location where a body is found is a potential crime scene and must be treated as such. In 1983 the coroner had to visit every scene and I assume that it will be the same now. With so many dead that is a monumental task before the bodies can be released from the scene and taken to the morgue for identification.

What people may not realise is that once the bodies are found someone has to stay with them. In 1983 my colleagues in some cases spent more than a day watching over the dead until they could be removed to the morgue. Some of them never recovered from those scenes and many actually left the job within the next 12 - 24 months. Man power was spread so thinly that these young men and women were left alone without radio contact or vehicles for hours at a time.

Again I had it easy, I spent 12 hours on a country road in the middle of nowhere at one stage, manning a road block no one drove through, with no radio contact, not knowing where the fires were burning or whether they were heading towards us. Eventually a Sergeant came out and apologised saying they'd forgotten myself and a colleague were out there.

So I am feeling for the Emergency Services Workers who are working in the Disaster Victim Identification role at the moment. I know that many of them will never recover from this - that they will have sleepless nights and flashbacks, some of them forever. At least trauma counselling is better now. Even in 1983 whilst it was available, it wasn't manly to request it. You kept the stiff upper lip and didn't show what was considered by some at the time to be a sign of weakness.

But there are times when I am grateful for that sheltered life.

****************************************************
The latest death toll is 131.

Hellfire Saturday - Death toll now 108

And unfortunately it will rise as the rubble of houses is searched and cleared.   These are now the worst fires in our history - beyond Black Friday in 1939 and Ash Wednesday in 1983 and what is worse is that many of them seem to have been deliberately lit.

There are tales of absolute horror emerging - one man with skin hanging off him carrying his daughter into a relief station and saying that his wife and other child were dead.   Scenes of car crashes on roads and bodies trapped inside.  There are people who haven't heard from loved ones since midday Saturday - dozens of them.   Hopefully some are simply out of contact but it does not bode well.

I worked the Ash Wednesday fires and as horrific as they were, they seem to pale compared to these.  On Ash Wednesday, as a policeman driving throught the fire areas and checking homes that were burnt for survivors, what struck me then was the fickleness of the fire, places left untouched were next to others razed to the ground.  But these ones were far more fierce, the towns that took the brunt just don't seem to exist anymore.  Those who stayed have likely perished.

And though the weather is cooler the fires still burn and are likely to for the rest of the week because the days of 40 degree heat have sucked whatever moisture was left out of the ground.

Share a prayer for those who have lost their lives, their families and friends, the more than 750 families who have lost their homes, and finally the men and women of the Emergency Services who now have the grim task of finding and recovering the victims.

Once again, as in 1983, Radio Station 3AW gave fantastic coverage, and are still doing so.  For a gallery of the disaster visit here.

We have no tag name for this disaster yet - maybe Hellfire Saturday is appropriate.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

26 Dead and rising

Towns of Marysville, Kinglake, Bunyip and Kilmore devastated and the death toll rising. I remember during Ash Wednesday in 1983 bodies were still being discovered days after the main fire fronts moved through. It also took days for the coroner to visit the scenes of each death. I had police colleages who had to mind the bodies in situ for days, many of whom never recovered and left the police force within a year.

We are safe and were never really under threat but it is a stark reminder of the harshness and that despite the cooler temperatures, ten major fires are still burning in the state. We have had 15 years of drought and the bush is tinder dry and we are only at the start of what is our hottest month. More 40 degree days will come and with them probably more firestorms.

Thanks to everyone who has commented. If you are interested in reading the news then visit the Herald Sun website.

****************************************************
Almost 8 pm now and the death toll rises - 65 and climbing. I watched the news and entire streets of houses are gone in places as far apart as Bendigo, Kinglake and Marysville. Narbethong, near Marysville is now under threat and the fire up that way is burning on an 80 kilometer front. Yesterday when the day was at its hottest and the fire near home was being blown away from us I had intended to stay at home and fight if I could. But the firestorm this time around has destroyed everythin in its path. Any people who have stayed must surely have presihed. I guess as the week unfolds we'll find out the full extent of the horror.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

46.4

That is the temperature it got to in Melbourne today and it's still 46.  The state is on fire like it was on what came to be known as Ash Wednesday in 1983 when around 70 people died.   The north winds are gale force and a fire burning 500 meters south of my home is being pushed away from us at the moment but that means it is getting into the foothills where there are hundreds of houses and mayb into the Ferntree Gully National Park.

We have packed a couple of changes of clothes and have our photos in boxes, ready to throw into the cars if we need to get out.  The plan is that Raels, Meg and the dogs will go to a frends place.  I'll stay and watch for ember attack if I need to.  I will do that because I am on the edge of suburbia and whilst we back onto the national park, to the west and just across our road is a heavily built up area.  So if the fire gets to us it will be a major disaster of unprecedented dimensions.

Here are some photos taken from my front veranda and as I write tehe sky is getting darker with smoke.

The first one is looking towards the city and normally we can see the skyscrapers in the city centre 40 kilometers away.  Now the visibility is down to around 5k.

The next two show the smoke in the skies above our house.

The wind is still strong and as hot as any I have ever felt and this is the hottest day of my life in a year where we have already had one stretch with four days in a row over 40C. 

In the city the Plane Trees are dropping their leaves from water stress and if this contnues many of them may well die before the Autumn.  Even in my own back yard in which agapanthus grow as weeds, they too are brown and dying.

I think we'll be OK but having worked in fire areas as a cop years ago I know how fickle they can be.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another Bewildered Father

I was down at the local shopping centre last night where I meet my daughters most Thursday nights for a meal of KFC.  Yeah I know, I'm over 50 with a slight paunch and shouldn't be eating that stuff, but I've liked it ever since Dad brought it home one night way back in the late 60's when the first store opened in Box Hill.  But I digress.

As I was walking towards the food court I ran into a bloke I've known for a lot of years, in fact we used to be members of the same organisation.  I see him occasionally and we always stop for a chat.  He's lost a lot of weight recently and when I commented he told me that he'd separated from his wife of 30 odd years in the past two months.

It is a story that repeats itself every day somewhere on Earth.  He had had enough and left.   I didn't ask what the marriage was like but I did say that I knew how he felt.   He had been doing his own thing for a few years, pursuing other interests his wife had no time for, he explained how that lack of communication and enjoyment of each others company began to build barriers, and how the molehills became mountains that he couldn't see a way over.

His children refuse to talk to him at the moment and he asked me what to do.  Given I've often felt like a failure in that area myself I could only tell him to hang in there, that he needed to keep calling and showing interest in their lives and that if he did that then they would come around.  He was their father after all.

We exchanged cards and left with a promise to catch up.  But like most blokes, he will probably also suffer in silence, accept the entire burden for the break up himself and not reach out for help when he most needs it.    I know how he feels.  This is not necessarily an episode of depression, it may be, but it is more likely to be a grieving process.  An examination of what went wrong and how things may have been different.  At the end of the day we all find our own answers to those questions and when we do, it is possible to move on.  

It is a sad fact of gender that men do not have the support networks that women do, that we almost always put on the brave face, and that any crying we do is in private and when we are alone.  When all of the blame seems to lie on the one set of shoulders that self imposed isolation becomes even more of a burden as friends take sides, so that the people we may have felt we could talk to are no longer there.  So we withdraw into self imposed isolation for a period of time.   Self esteem can suffer, judgement can become clouded, we can throw ourselves into work to the detriment of everything else.  I have come to believe that the only way out of that miasma is to find an interest, be obsessed for a while if you need to be, but allow passion for a part of your life to creep back in, until the grief receeds, and you are ready to live again.

I will call him in the next week or so to see how he is getting on and to offer a little support if that is what he wants.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vale Ray

My ex-stepfather-in-law passed away after a long illness on Wednesday morning.   With their maternal grandfather having died too young at the age of 56, twenty years ago this year, this man was my kids grandfather on their mother's side.  And despite being a cranky old bugger at times he did look after my ex-mother-in-law and did play the part of Gramps to all of the grandkids.

I only saw him once in the last few years, Christmas Day 2007, where he shook my hand as I wished him Merry Christmas, in stark contrast to the other people present at the time.

He was a good guy thankfully now out of pain.  RIP Ray.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fatherhood, loneliness and what happens after the cliffhanger ending.

Of all the posts I have ever written "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Father" is the one that consistently gets hit through google.  And I am sure that is because it is usually the father who gives up parts of his contact with his children when a marriage fails.   Maybe fathers are searching for those of us who experience the same pangs.

Whilst my relationship with my kids is a good one now, there were times when I was gripped with despair about what may eventuate.   But even now, there are times when I wish I saw them more often.  It is that daily contact, or lack of it, that makes things hard at times.  

Sometimes I just wish for a phone call from one or the other of them, just to ask how things are, what happened at work or school today, how are their relationships with friends going.  I miss the fact that they don't just drop in.  That it sometimes feels like it has to be a formal invite or an occasion for them to turn up.  And the standing Thursday night date is sometimes overlooked if other offers come along.

I miss not having the regular interactions with their friends and finding out what they are doing, or just sitting and watching as my kids interact with them.

The football season is coming up soon and I know that will provide opportunities for me to just hang out with my kids.  It's something to look forward to.

I think part of the melancholy is that when you no longer live in that original family unit, that your kids grow up and grow older in episodes.  It's like watching a soap opera rather than being part of it.   And sometimes you miss how the cliffhanger ending turns out, the drama and laughter happen in places where you don't exist.  And when you are able to catch up with things it is often passed off as not important anymore, so it seems that you only get the echo from distant mountains rather than the full on quadraphonic experience of the origin.

But there is also the knowledge that sometimes these things were going to happen anyway, because they did with me.  

I left far too much unsaid to my Dad, didn't take the time to know him, or give him the chance to know me.    I've learnt that fathers don't complain, that we accept it when our kids cancel on us, that we hide the hurt more often than not.    It's easier that way.   And I've learnt that kids don't see that, that fathers are often too good at hiding things.    And with that I've learnt that a father can be lonely even if he's surrounded by crowds.  

Loneliness is a fickle beast.  It hides in circumstance, in ritual and in occasion.   And if you find your self experiencing this lonely father syndrome, it doesn't necessarily mean that every aspect of your life is lonely.  Just sometimes, when you miss your kids, it can grab you and squeeze you till it hurts.

So instead of waiting for them to contact you, pick up the phone, say hello, tell them you love them and that you're looking forward to seeing them whenever that may be.  And when you do see them, listen to what they say, engage with them while you can, because that loneliness is only a short time away again.

So I leave you with this song.