Igniting the Adventurious Spirit
I’m going to start this blog with a reminisce of my first brush with death, because as a little boy it created an adventurous spirit deep within me. I’m thinking of these things at this moment because I am facing another birthday in a few days and so I’m immersing myself in a large pool of memories and wondering how it began, as one does when getting older.
It was a Friday, the end of the school term with the seniors in the auditorium practicing their graduation. I remember being in my street clothes instead of gym shorts. Details remembered because of my brush with death, and because I’d just put my prized Levi jacket on my line-up number, a white painted 33 on black bitumen, then ran off to play Four Square with my pals.
I heard no warning noise. Just someone close pointing and calling excitedly, “Hey look at the hotshot pilot.” And remember turning to see a mighty four engine, propeller driven passenger aircraft gliding over the school garden before passing close over our gymnasium with a stream of smoke trailing behind. The tail section falling off in flames sent the kids running like a pack of frightened animals.
Maybe the kids of today, with all their virtual reality gaming, would have calmly found shelter, but my prized Levi Jacket lay on the ground between me and the plane. So I made a dash for it. Kids were everywhere, running from the plane towards a tall cyclone fence separating my junior high from the primary school next door.
Racing towards the Plane ~
I’m watching it in slow motion, seeing its nose hit our playing fields pretty much in the middle of the three of them. Then, frame by frame, the silver aluminium airliner crumpled and burst into a ball of flames. That turned me around, running for my life. My prized jacket forgotten.
You know how in life-threatening moments; they seem to pass one frame at a time. Running away like a frightened gazelle, I have in my head an image of a school friend leaping that fence. Admittedly, he was an outstanding athlete, but the fence must have been eight feet tall. Right after that, I remember feeling tiny tingles on my ears and for the longest time wondered what they were, then nothing.
Next, came so much noise; wailing, screaming, and sirens. Then columns of black smoke as I picked myself up from the flattened fence and stood agog at the war scene around me.
Three of my fellow students died, including my best friend Evan, but he didn’t die straightaway. A piece of propeller ripped open his torso. I saw him when they marshalled us off the field with the sirens getting nearer. They had propped Evan up against the brick gym office, and being a kid of twelve raised on a steady stream of action movies, I went to share the moment with my friend. Evan looked comfortable and was lucid. Remarking when he saw me how spectacular it was to see a real plane crash. Not knowing what to make of that, I gushed “yeah.” Then my body started trembling when I saw the blood next to the areas of black. When I last saw Evan, his freckled face atop a soiled checked shirt appeared at peace. Two days later, his young life ended.
You know, there was so much pandemonium rushing towards us as I walked past the gymnasium and into the school that I don’t remember police or firemen. And not knowing what to do, I made my way back to the school bike racks. I always rode my bike to school. Bikes are freedom to a twelve-year-old.
Riding out the school grounds against the flow of near hysterical people, lines of cars and flashing lights that went on for blocks, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe I just wanted some space to put the pieces together and reach peace.
Anyway, in her car, my mom found me. She, of course, was hysterical; crying, hugging, and kissing me. And not knowing anything about any deaths, I thought, this is nice, what an adventure.
Looking Back ~
I’m now looking back over my life, wondering why I made a few of those heroic life-changing decisions, and I’ve come upon that moment when I turned and ran from danger instead of retrieving my cherished Levi jacket with its bold brass buttons and brand insignia on the pocket. As my young life settled, I came to believe my jacket became toast in that disaster, and that if I’d kept running for it, so would have I. A powerful survival lesson learnt in technicolour.
Born in Hollywood, I liked happy endings. Don’t we all. Mine came several weeks later with an announcement that they had collected personal belongings from the sports area, which, of course, had to be rebuilt. The next school term was well on its way when I entered the schoolroom set aside for our lost goods, all laid out neatly in piles on the floor along the walls. Lunch boxes, sweaters and jumpers mostly. But, quite surprising me, among them I spotted that familiar Levi material and pulled out my much loved prized jacket that made me look so much like Paul Newman. Only there was a massive black stain up one side, which didn’t feel greasy or dirty. Maybe it had been washed. But Paul Newman wouldn’t wear it, and nor would I ever again. But I learnt my second great lesson in life. Good health is far more important than transient goods.
Chain of Events ~
On January 31, 1957, the DC-7B, earmarked for delivery to Continental Airlines, took off from the Santa Monica Airport at 10:15 AM on its first functional test flight with a crew of four Douglas personnel aboard. Meanwhile, in Palmdale to the north, a pair of two-man F-89J Scorpion fighter jets took off at 10:50 AM on test flights that involved a check of their on-board radar equipment. Both jets and the DC-7B were performing their individual tests at an altitude of 25,000 feet in clear skies over the San Fernando Valley when, at about 11:18 AM, a high-speed, near-head-on midair collision occurred.
Following the collision of the planes, Curtiss Adams, the radarman aboard the eastbound twin-engine F-89J Scorpion, was able to bail out of the stricken fighter jet and, despite incurring serious burns, parachuted to a landing onto a garage roof in Burbank, breaking his leg when he fell to the ground. The fighter jet’s pilot, Roland E. Owen, died when the aircraft plummeted in flames into La Tuna Canyon in the Verdugo Mountains.
The DC-7B, with a portion of its left wing sheared off, raining debris onto the neighborhoods below, remained airborne for a few minutes, then rolled to the left and began an uncontrolled high-velocity dive earthward over Pacoima. Seconds later, the hurtling wreckage slammed into the grounds of the Pacoima Congregational Church and the adjacent playground of Pacoima Junior High School, killing all four Douglas crewmen. On the school playground, where some 220 boys were just ending their outdoor athletics activities, two students, Ronnie Brann, 13, and Robert Zallan, 12, were struck and killed by wreckage from the crashing airliner. A third gravely injured student, Evan Elsner, 12, died two days later in a local hospital. An estimated 74 more students on the school playground suffered injuries ranging from minor to critical.
The three young lives that perished –
The public’s increasing concern with Climate Change had me digging through my archives for warnings from those living intimately with Nature. This nearly ten-year-old story of adventure illustrates our warnings of impending disasters.
Flinders Island Walkabout
Written March 2013
As we stood around the BBQ plate overlooking Killicrankie Bay to the wider Bass Strait, one of the four who had just kayaked across Bass Strait posed the question of why we do it.
I looked up at the lanky tall fellow and offered, “Friendship Is Why We Travel.” Then with a wink and a nod, “It’s a chapter in a book I wrote called, Where Wild Winds Blow. Which is now in electronic format, so I can send you a copy for nix.”
Just those few words started a lively discussion within the group camping on Killiecrankie Bay; the kayakers who’d just paddled across Bass Strait, a father and son bicycling around Flinders Island and Jack and Jude, lugging sacks and hitchhiking or walking.
One person in the group suggested we travel for the magnificent scenery seen. Another said, the freedom of an amazingly clear sky punctuated by a single golden orb. Or is it the people? Or the whole enchilada – the montage that is Earth; providing wonder and adventure, and entertainment while revealing mysteries beyond our wisdom.
We all agreed that by engaging with Earth, we gain knowledge by simply observing life, and that the pleasures of being close to Mother Earth let us endure the downside of being explorers; the uncertainty and discomfort, the dedication and hard work it requires.
Jude and I had been to Flinders Island once before with experiences quite different that time. Stormy weather, sleepless nights, dragging anchor with rocks astern.
This time, we had lashed Banyandah to a stout mooring provided by Garth, Lady Barron’s helpful Harbour Master. Then under a quiet azure sky we chucked our loaded rucksacks into Little Red and rowed ashore, seeking a new adventure.
Slogging along Lady Barron’s Esplanade under the burden of weighty sacks, our heavy breathing soon got bushwhacked by the beautiful blue of Franklin Sound serenely dotted by blanched granite islands splashed with red lichen. All was silent. Not a soul in sight. No life at all until reaching the four corners, where we found the road out of town encumbered with sedans and 4WDs haphazardly parked next to the Lady Barron Memorial Hall.
We knew what was up. The previous day we’d encountered the Flinders Island community setting up a display of maritime memorabilia to commemorate the centenary of the Farsund shipwreck and we had promised them a DVD of our Australian Circumnavigation to play on their small screen.
Our floating home was now gone from sight – and gone from our thoughts. We had secured our lady as best we could, closed every seacock, shut down the electrical systems, packed the fridge with containers of water before running it down to near freezing with the dead space filled with towels. This routine saves our veggies and dairy products for several days; we keep nothing frozen so can go away anytime we please.
Dumping our sacks against the grey concrete venue, a hearty, “Could you give us a hand,” greeted our arrival. A rotund fellow was attempting to sizzle sausages besieged by the morning breeze. So, in no time at all, we shifted his BBQ and tables, all the time chatting six a minute.
Inside the hall, a major transformation had taken place since being empty the day before when we’d helped shift the central showpiece into position. It took three of us to lift The Caradog – the figurehead taken off the Norwegian Barque Farsund that had run aground on Vansittart Shoals in 1912.
This morning the walls were adorned with 240 years of maritime history. This is a locally produced display of memorabilia that has been passed on through generations like the ships and tenders that had served several generations of the community. Although the vessels are now mostly gone, the families still gather to talk about the ‘good old days.’ Down the centre of the hall, lines of tables displayed more articles from the past; logbooks, family albums, certificates, a few portholes and other bits. Gathered in groups, locals were reminiscing. “When my dad first got Eloise, she had a temperamental Petter Diesel…” I heard this just as a burly fellow with runny eyes tugged my sleeve over to a wall mounted black-and-white photograph.
“See that clinker,” he said reverently pointing to what looked a squat open tub. “She’d carry two tons through any sea.” Then Jude and I heard how his grandfather had felled the trees that planked her at Sawyers Bay in 1883.
Jude loves to Digi-document everything, calling it her visual diary, gathered here and there, and everywhere. And I surely don’t mind buying her another hard drive as all that data helps fuel our memories as our grey matter ages.
Strands of strong rope
But, what our eyes told us that morning was the harsh, demanding pioneering life found in this remote location had bound the Straitsmen tightly together like strands of strong rope. They enjoy a joke to ease their load, love a laugh, a slap on the back, and can knock back a few cold ones because life is hard living on the edge of Bass Strait.
Our time that first day was to be divided between two displays. Up island lay the Furneaux Museum, reported to be extremely comprehensive. Run by volunteers it was open afternoons only, so at 11 am we bid adieu to our new friends, lifted our loads, and headed for the road.
Jude and I have hitched rides since we first met back in the 60s. In fact, the day we met we set a challenge; who could reach Paris first by thumbing lifts. Why bother, you might wonder? Renting a car has to be easier. That may be, but we like to meet the locals, one on one, in their environment. Doesn’t matter if it’s inside a dusty old ute, or inside the plush interior of a Fairmont carrying a father and son, like our very first ride that morning.
Robin, a fifth generation Flinders Islander, had retired a couple of years back after serving the community as Works Manager. His son Peter now lives in Brisbane and misses the island. His father misses his son, so together they got a boat, and once a year during Peter’s holidays, they go out fishing every day they can. Would we like to see the boat? How about a sandwich for lunch?
Robin and Peter made sure we arrived at the museum just as Kat, volunteer that day, opened the door at 1 pm sharp. $4 entry – what a bargain. Being her first customers, we stood at the counter a good half hour discussing island history – a very rich history indeed.
Uninhabited in 1773 when Tobias Furneaux first spied the islands after losing his way from the esteemed Captain Cook; these many islands abounded with resources much in demand. Seals lazed on their shores, whales cruised nearby, and literally millions of mutton-birds nested in burrows year after year. Hungry men arrived soon after Matthew Flinders told the world that riches lay waiting. That was in 1797. Sealers were the first to come. In fact, Kent Bay on Cape Barren Island was the second settlement in Australia. The sealers took dark women from the Tasmanian mainland to do their bidding. After taking all the seals, mutton birding became the next target of greedy men. We decimated them too, and then turned to the seas for fish, crays, and of course the harmless, slow-moving abalone that commands such a high price. Men built boats from Flinders Island forests. They chopped down more to keep the winter chill out of their bones. Cleared even more for farming and livestock. There’s hardly any endemic trees left on the island. They planted a pine plantation in the north, but it’s struggling financially. Transportation costs eat up the profit. And so, between the two mountain ranges are mostly weeds and yellow grass, interspersed with scratchy, impenetrable tea-tree. Hardly good for nothing in the current drought.
Spending all afternoon witnessing Furneaux memorabilia was another life experience. We learned heaps. Several times we left the buildings. There are five of them, each an original from an bygone era transported to that site. We’d sit in the shade of casuarina, sip water and digest what we had seen, which included the anchor from the Sydney Cove. That made our recent visit to Rum Island even more complete.
At 5 pm closing, Kat suggested we wander down to Emita Beach. “There’s a pretty spot with a picnic table and perfect campsite.”
So after refilling our water containers, we took her advice and found heaven. On a point overlooking the blue expanse of Marshall Bay we pitched our tent, and then with tin mugs full of port, wandered the sand, sometimes casting a squid jig to try our luck. We had it all to ourselves until five Victorians arrived to fish off the beach.
Black Man’s Houses
Next morning we meandered down a dusty road to Wybalenna, past plenty of road kill, white bones and death, to another tragic site at Black Man’s Houses. There in 1834, on an expansive open plain, the British had tried to halt the annihilation of Tasmania’s Aborigines by shifting the last 135 off mainland Tasmania, resettling them on Flinders Island. Under George Augustus Robinson, Conciliator of Aborigines who said they would be ‘civilised and Christianised.’
Forbidden to practise their old ways, they were homesick for their lost country and many died from white man’s diet and his diseases. Others died from despair.
In thirteen short years, in October 1847, they transferred the last 47 survivors to Oyster Cove, near Hobart. It was springtime, but even the warmer weather did not hide the fact that their new houses were little better than slab huts in poor repair, built in a cold, damp, depressing place.
Hitching a ride from Wybalenna, a young rancher stopped and admitted he only lived a minute up the track, but took us all the way to the scenically magnificent Killiecrankie, where we met our group of modern day explorers and swapped stories while celebrating life.
On our fourth day, a tiny grit of granite getting in Jude’s eye and rather larger ones under our tent were the only distraction from the world’s most perfect campsite, found after walking around the bay to be directly under Mount Killiecrankie.
Behind us rose smooth rock monoliths that seemed to exude great power while before us spread a blue so tranquil our bodies went limp as our eyes feasted on the parade of buff granite, dazzling white sand, vibrant scrub greens mixed by Nature’s deft hand to form a perfect setting for an ashram. You may think this hyperbole, but come to Killiecrankie on a fine autumn day and judge for yourself. So still and warm was the day, we stripped naked and floated free in transparent water, then giggling like children, raced the other back to our tent. Surrounded by unaltered Nature, we lay with views on both sides and let our minds wander over our walkabout, wondering how Earth life had become so mucked up. Man’s greed and ineptitude have always walked alongside our brilliance and determination. And we have always nibbled around the edges of Nature like a cancer. But like a cancer, it is our rapidly increasing numbers that are creating enormous problems.
Adapt, Migrate, or Die
THE GLOBAL OCEAN is warming, that’s a fact. And the Tasman Sea, east of Australia, has been identified as one of five global ocean hotspots.
“Warming in the Tasman Sea has been particularly rapid,” says Professor Matthew England, director of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre.
Temperatures there have risen by 2º C over the past 60 years – three times the average rate of warming in the world’s oceans. The warming triggered by strengthening wind systems – a result of climate change – which have driven warm ocean currents toward the poles, beyond their known boundaries.
“We are seeing a lot of sea urchins migrating south from NSW to Tasmanian water,” says Dr Wenju Cai, a marine and atmospheric scientist with the CSIRO in Melbourne. “There they eat out all the Tasmanian kelp. Because kelp forests provide food and shelter to an enormous variety of marine species, their destruction is having severe knock-on effects.”
On this 2013 voyage, Jack and Jude saw no kelp forests in Fortescue Bay, or in any other bay where previously there had been thick growth. Changes are happening rapidly. So let’s remind ourselves that we do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors – we borrow it from our Children. And understand that the Australian government’s carbon tax is mostly feel good window dressing. Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter. Here we dig up and sell coal to China and India, who are commissioning a new coal fired power plant every week. Coal plants are the most polluting of all power stations and the World Resources Institute (WRI) identified 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India. Go figure.
“Where Wild Winds Blow” is now available in electronic format. Immediate Download, cost of a coffee. Paypal.