Several weekends back we finally got to visit the New South Wales Railway museum at Thirlmere.
Previous attempts to visit the rail museum were thwarted by… you know what… Finally the place is taking paying tourists once again. We went for the ‘museum plus train ride’ option.
The train was an old diesel locomotive with carriages from the 1950s. We only travelled about 20 minutes – a couple of stops on this old line – then the engine shunted to the front of the train to go back. All good fun for the kids to watch. And quite a few interested parents. The line was a former part of the rail network that had been closed down over the years. Most of it has recently been reactivated which is great news for the small villages along its route. Eventually it should form a loop that joins the main line.
In May they have five days of fun with Thomas & Friends. That would be funny. I still remember Dani’s encounter with Thomas, Diesel and the Fat Controller way back when he was still a toddler. For some reason that trip never made this blog and I really can’t think why… Anyway, I suggested a return visit to Thirlmere for one of those ‘Thomas days’.
“No way” he said. “I don’t like Thomas any more.” Funny how kids not only grow out of things, but also come to think that they dislike them. I am sure he would love it but I won’t be pushing it….
As you would expect there are quite a few steam trains on display. One was used by Queen Elizabeth when she visited Australia back in 1954. She was the first (and still only) reigning monarch to visit Australia. Alongside that train was an example of a prison transport carriage. Two completely different modes of train transport.
And here’s my favourite…
This next one was an odd looking part of the collection. This was basically a mini-bus on rails. Six were built by the Waddington Body Company in 1937 initially to carry passengers but that only lasted about a year. Powered by a Ford V8 petrol driven engine this funny little rail mobile was then given a very important job.
All six would travel more or less the full rail network every two weeks to deliver rail staff wages. It as effectively a wages van on the railway lines. They were fitted with cash safes bolted directly to the chassis and the vehicle became known as the “Rail Pay Bus”.
I bet I know what you are thinking. Yes, sure enough, one was blown up by thieves in 1941, while war with the Japanese was distracting most people. But they were unable to open the safe.
Almost two years ago I wrote about a real Second World War story. That story puts most of what has been deemed newsworthy over those past months into perspective. It involved my grandmother’s brother; my great-uncle. You can read that article here. I found a copy of the book about those events and read it a while ago. The book is called “Return from the River Kwai” and finally, I decided to review it…
Note: Check the lists of British and Australian survivors below. You, or someone you know, may be related to one of them.
It was written by an American husband and wife, Joan and Clay Blair and published in 1979. It is based on interviews with the survivors and those who rescued them.
The book can be considered in several parts. Firstly it covers the decision by the Japanese to select 2,000 of the strongest prisoners working on the infamous Burmese railway, to be shipped to Japan where they would be used as slaves for the Japanese war effort. Most prisoners had already been worked to death or close to it. It covers the journey by road and train to a suitable port for transportation.
The second part of the book covers the journey by sea where the convoy is struck by American submarine torpedoes. Two of the ships carrying prisoners sink and the men fight for survival against the sea, the weather, lack of food and water and the perils of the deep. The survivor’s stories of bravery, desperation and often horrific attempts to remain alive are both shocking and sad. Many went delirious through dehydration. Others making life and death decisions based on who could manage with least help. The badly injured, that constantly needed tending to, were allowed to slip into the sea so that others could be saved. Even as men clung to small lifeboats they were rammed by other Japanese navy ships in the convoy.
The book then covers the American submarines (and their crews) that were in the area to disrupt any Japanese convoys. We get to read the submarine captain’s stories leading up to the attacks on the Japanese convoys. Later we read about how those same submarines searched desperately for survivors once they had learned the truth behind the terrible events. They destroyed the prisoner carrying vessels and ultimately rescued the last survivors, pulling their pitiful bodies from the sea.
Only 152 lived to tell their stories.
Not all were rescued by friendly sailors. Some prisoners were picked up by Japanese ships. They thought they were the lucky ones at that moment. However, they ended up completing their journey to Japan to be freed after the war. Once there they were paraded before the locals. In the words of one of those men; “We were so degraded and humiliated that I did not know whether the locals looked at us with pity or disgust…”
Finally there is the return home. For the British this included a spell of rest and recuperation in Honolulu before a trip across America to the east coast. The final leg, a six day crossing of the Atlantic on the Queen Mary. For the Australians it meant a return home directly by sea.
The Mental Scars…
I always wondered and sometimes asked my dad why he never told me more of this brutal real life story. Why hadn’t his uncle told him more? I wanted to know more and my curiosity, I believe, was fair. Why had nobody ever really mentioned it? After reading the book I can see why. It is all too clear now. Those men were truly tortured. Physically, during their incarceration. And mentally, for many years after – if not for the rest of their natural lives. Most people just do not want to talk about such things. Many cannot bring themselves to do so. It is clear from the book that some of those interviewed spoke freely while many struggled to recollect the whole episode.
During their escape – if that is even the correct word – adrift at sea, some went mad. Others drank the blood of the dead on their makeshift rafts. Still others just gave up and flung themselves into the unforgiving sea. Seemingly taking their own lives – or letting the ocean do it for them. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that they believed that they were finally freeing themselves after such a nightmare. In captivity treated worse than animals, and now left to die slowly of thirst and sunstroke.
The book does not only relate the journeys and personal battles of the British and Australian prisoners. There are whole sections detailing how the American submariners tracked and sank the Japanese ships carrying the forlorn servicemen. They were not aware that these ships were carrying allied prisoners of war. As far as they knew they were carrying the plundering loot of occupied countries back to Japan. For they knew that the ships were cargo vessels and what’s more those ships were being escorted by the Japanese navy. Without knowing the true identity of the ships’ cargoes they were all fair game.
The chapters that follow the rescues are intense and deeply moving. The American naval personnel had not seen such horrors during their time at sea. They were deeply shocked at the sight of what remained of the British and Australian men. It clearly left a huge and lasting impression on the Americans.
These final sections are also uplifting as the men are nursed back to health. So many simple things we take for granted, like ice cream, brought such joy to the battered survivors. Even though, at that time, such seemingly trivial treats were quite common on the US submarines. The Americans were only too happy to give these semi-corpses anything they could.
This book is very well researched and serves as a warning of what can happen during times of war. Some of the first hand accounts from the survivors are incredible. Almost unbelievable. But you can see that they happened. As you read it all, it is easy to see how some men can take such brutality and misfortune better than others. We are all different but every man has his limits. How these men managed is something I will probably never understand. And there cannot be many who can or ever will. There is often talk of ‘the horrors of war’ and most of us are fortunate enough to have escaped such events. But what these men endured was something more than that. It was constant abuse and mistreatment, again and again over a long period and in various forms. Some of it was man’s own inhumanity to other men. It was also everything the brutal forces of nature could throw at them; the extreme weather, the terrifying sea and the predators that lurked within its depths.
I am glad I read this book and I can recommend it. Even though it is a difficult subject to read at times it is also an emotional and joyous ending for those who were tough enough – lucky enough – to make it.
Two main things struck me while I read this book. One was how the survivors dealt with it all later in life. The other is the comparison of those heroes and how people are today.
The men recuperated before being returning home. At least physically. Back then there was no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Back then such men just got on with their lives. Even if they avoided talking about their wartime activities they would never have been able to erase the memories of the horrors. Many would have had trouble sleeping.
I understood why my family never spoke of it all those years ago. Some of the survivors just did not want to. Very few felt comfortable (if that is even the right word) talking about it. That was very evident when reading the book. The vast majority just wanted to forget about it or at least try. And who can blame them?
I also read this book during what was the initial coronavirus/Covid “pandemic” lockdown. At that time it was not as bad here in Australia as in other countries such as the UK, but it was still all over the news – wall to wall, 24/7. In more recent months of course the lockdown mania spread to this part of the world too. It was impossible to read the book without thinking how pathetic people now are in the 21st century. Comparing the way some people have behaved (and still are behaving), terrified of catching a bad common cold/flu-like virus, just makes the story of these brave men even more heroic.
And what about the liberty these men fought and died for? Freedoms that have been so eroded this past two years? What would the heroes of this true story have made of it all?
Here are the lists of survivors taken from the book. Maybe you have a family member is in these lists. Or maybe you know someone that may have a relative in the lists. If so, they will have been interviewed and contributed to this book…
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has a relative on these lists. Please feel free to get in touch.
And The Movie?
Finally I need to mention the movie. The (1989) movie that was based on the true events of this book and does cover the overall events fairly well. However it is still a movie and as such it has nowhere near the same impact as the book. Although as recent as 1989 the film seems very dated and I believe that this true story should be remade by Hollywood. In more recent times film-making has improved considerably and a good, gritty remake would do this book justice. Note: For its time the movie is not nearly as good as ‘The Bridge Over The River Kwai’ – which while based on the very real and infamous Thai-Burma railway, is in fact purely fictional.
In a few weeks it will be Easter. Of course the supermarkets and the shops have been full of chocolate eggs and other chocolate Easter treats for some time. (Probably right after Christmas but I wouldn’t notice.) Sitting on the shelves among the chocolates is the traditional Easter Bunny. But here in Australia the Easter Bunny has a local rival. The chocolate Bilby. (See also the post on the Rabbit Plagues in Australia – here.)
The bilby is an indigenous animal and, like most such creatures, that means it is unique to Australia. Its habitat has been greatly affected by the introduction of the rabbit to this continent. Those cute and cuddly bloody rabbits have a lot to answer for.
A bilby looks like an odd mixture of several animals – a bit like the platypus. Ironically the bilby has rabbit-like ears. The body looks mostly like a mouse or rat and the nose is an elongated snout. If that isn’t crazy enough for you, its hind legs are similar to those of a kangaroo. They don’t hop like kangaroos however, but tend to lope along (again, ironically) like a rabbit walking.
Males are about twice the size of the females. On average males measure 55 cm (22 in) long, excluding the tail, which is usually around 29 cm (11 in) long. There used to be two types of bilby. The lesser bilby became extinct in the 1950s. The greater bilby survives but is endangered and is currently listed as a vulnerable species.
Why the Chocolate Bilby?
So, back to the Easter chocolate bilby. We know why there are Eater bunnies. They came here with Europeans as a traditional part of Easter. But due to the rabbit plagues in Australia over the years, the bilby is one of the native animals that has suffered.
Part of the idea for the chocolate Easter Bilby is to raise awareness and money to help protect the bilby. The Easter Bilby is now gaining popularity, with some chocolate bilbies raising money for conservation efforts.
Bilbies not Bunnies
A group called Rabbit Free Australia (RFA). The RFA has adopted the bilby as its mascot to highlight how rabbits have forced the native creature closer to extinction.
Also helping to solve the problem is Haighs Chocolates, which helps fund the RFA through its Easter Bilby sales. Haighs chief executive Alister Haigh has said the Easter Bilby was its number one selling Easter line, with sales 10 times greater than sales of its Easter rabbits ever were.
Haigh’s produce chocolate chickens, eggs and bilbies. But no bunny. they have been rabbit-free for over 15 years.
So here’s the dilemma folks…
So the poor bunny rabbit is public enemy number one. Something to think about when you are buying Easter chocolates in Australia. Surely buying a chocolate bilby is great as it helps the native species survive. Another way to look at it could be that if buy a chocolate bilby that is helping to kill real rabbits. All a bit too traumatic for kids eh? Adults need to make the right choice. But don’t be too concerned about the bunnies. Let’s just say that the rabbit is not even close to being an endangered species. Here in Australia or anywhere else. Personally I am going full on Bilby!
And if you think killing the rabbits is cruel just check out the history of how the Bunny came to be such a symbol of the Easter festival…
Plenty of bizarre things that have happened this past couple of years. But this one beats them all – for me at least. I first heard about it when a friend sent me a youtube video of someone in the UK making fun of something in Australia. Namely NSW State Emergency Services (SES).
With all the floods going on at the moment people all over the place are being evacuated. You would expect that the SES were prepared to accept any volunteers that were fit and capable of lending a hand. Right?
It seemed that volunteers to help the SES were being turned away if they have not been “fully vaccinated” with the covid vaccine(s). I couldn’t believe it. Well, what can you believe these days? On the mainstream media, never mind “social” media eh? So in the true spirit of investigative journalism I decided to ask the question on one of those forms on the NSW SES website. Oh, and because my son may not believe this when he is older, so here it is on the record….
Strap Yourself In…
I will let you make your own minds up but I do have some thoughts below… But first, here is their response.
Thank you for your correspondence regarding mandatory vaccination for NSW SES members.
The NSW SES is unwaveringly committed to the safety of its citizens, and the protection of our emergency services personnel from COVID-19. The current storms and floods demonstrate how important it is to keep our emergency services personnel healthy, so they in turn can provide vital support to our communities.
As an employer, NSW State Emergency Service (NSW SES) also have a responsibility to ensure the safety of its staff and volunteers. NSW SES implemented a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccination for its members in November 2021 requiring all members be double-vaccinated by 17 December 2021.
Before any decision was made on mandatory vaccination, NSW SES undertook a COVID Safe Risk Assessment and consulted Members, the NSW SES Volunteer Association, and the NSW Public Service Association.
NSW SES Members were extensively consulted about the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. More than 80% of respondents indicated they would feel safer if vaccination was mandated for NSW SES Members.
NSW SES continues to consider applications for medical contraindications of staff and volunteers if submitted via the NSW Heath COVID-19 contraindications form available at health.nsw.gov.au. Special waiver arrangements for staff are considered on a case by case basis.
Please be assured that the ability of the NSW SES to continue to meet the needs of the community which we serve has not been impacted by the mandatory vaccination requirements for its members.
I hope that this advice has helped address the issues that you raised.
Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to the NSW SES’s attention.
I deliberately highlighted part of that reply in red: “NSW SES Members were extensively consulted about the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations. More than 80% of respondents indicated they would feel safer if vaccination was mandated for NSW SES Members.”
There is an old saying that goes something like this: ‘That is the right answer to the wrong question’. In this case that saying is very true.
I am quite sure at the height of the panic and fear-mongering that 80% of people might ‘feel safer’ if everyone around them was vaccinated for a (supposedly) deadly & highly contagious disease. And they only “indicated” that they would feel safer. They may well have also thought/said that they are not really bothered.
When everyone knows that being vaccinated makes virtually no difference: The incidence of covid “cases” has been way higher since there has been 95% (we are told) of the population vaccinated, than before. Those figures are out there. The “official” NSW Health data, not mine…
When we all now that it is not the deadly disease we were told.
Why don’t they take that question back to the same people again? After all, things like this in work unions regularly get taken back to their members. Better still, perhaps they should ask a different question. Like, ‘Do you care if anyone else working to save lives and fight fires/floods (or any other disaster) has been vaccinated against covid – or any other disease come to think of it?’ Yeah. That would be better question.
As a rider they could ask a second question: ‘Are you ok in shops, pubs, supermarkets and generally walking around the streets knowing there are unvaccinated people out there?’ Because, of course, that is exactly what is going on.
Even more amazing is this. The people that the emergency services volunteers will now be rescuing from flooded houses may not be vaccinated. Or are the stupid f*#kers asking them before attempting to save them? Maybe they are and maybe they are leaving them to fend for themselves. Best of all, are the people being rescued asking the SES team if they are “fully vaccinated”? Imagine the scenario…
“What? You are not? Then get that f*#cking helicopter hoist off me and f*#k off. Send me a fully vaccinated volunteer or I’ll just stay here and drown. And by the way; make sure the helicopter has been fully deep cleaned.”
And why not? After that email, I now think anything is possible. Really!
Don’t get burnt…
So unvaccinated cannot help to fight deadly fires either. It all falls under the same banner. But you can presumably have herpes, AIDS, maybe good old fashioned TB or any other disease, and they are not at all interested. As long as you have taken the covid jab(s).
Next summer if you are caught in a bushfire with flames leaping up your clothes, and someone from the SES comes to hose you down, please be sure to check that they are “fully vaccinated” before they put out the fire.
I’m not even going to go into any of the rest of that email response… Make your own minds up. In fact, feel free to go onto the NSW SES website and file your own online question…
Walking the streets of the village of Eugowra is like strolling around an open-air art gallery. Everywhere you look there are works of art painted (mostly) on the walls. The whole place is like a living art gallery.
I think I am going to start a new page in this blog. Called “Places Dani’s Nana Would Like”. This post will definitely be filed under that page.
The small town is about 340 km west of Sydney and about 36 km east of Forbes. It has a population of less than 1,000 (around 800).
As you are probably aware there is a fairly recent trend in Australia for (mostly) small rural towns to use the big old silos and water towers as giant canvasses for artwork. We have seen several of them and I have posted about the new art craze here...
There is none of that in Eugowra, but they have made a real effort to paint a multitude of murals all over town. Many are related to the buildings they are pained on others depict historical events or characters from the region.
Aside from the noticeable artwork, Eugowra is one of those lovely small towns that it would be hard not to like. Even though it was raining hard while I passed through my immediate thoughts were ‘what a nice little place’ (or words to that effect). I challenge anyone to think differently.
The town takes pride in being a place where bushrangers once hung out. A kind of ‘badge of honour’ like those worn by anywhere related to that most famous bushranger of all Ned Kelly.
Anyway enough of the talk here are some rain-soaked photos of most of the town’s murals. Plus a few other shots. Enjoy…
Exactly two years ago, 5th of March, 2020, when the coronavirus (as it was then called) “pandemic” was just getting up to speed, I wrote a post called “Things to do in Sydney When it Rains“. (Click on title to read that one.) The following day I went on a self guided tour of the Rocks when the Queen Mary ocean liner was in dock. Ah, remember cruise ships? Within a few days the great toilet roll panic took hold. Take a look back at some of those posts. I also wrote a fair bit about the coming lock-downs etc… I think I can say with some confidence that I saw through the bullshit very early in the game.
That rainy period came not long after we arrived in Australia. Just before that, everything in the country was on fire. Well, if that is, you believed the media reports in the northern hemisphere.
Fast forward to today. It has rained almost non-stop for over two weeks. The news media has recently taken a distinct turn however…
Right now you could be forgiven for thinking that the “pandemic” is long gone. For a few days running there was almost nothing about covid in the newspapers that I have flipped through. For a couple of days earlier in the week – Nothing! Not a thing.
For the second year running floods are a big concern. It has rained a lot here for two whole weeks or more. More than I remember in the previous two months of March. Seriously! And often when it has rained it has been torrential. Quite a few people have died as a result of flooding. There is talk of increasing dam walls but that is not a real answer. It’s a typical knee-jerk reaction.
Then of course there’s a new story for the media to play with. Unfortunately it is only sad news. It’s war! And could of course it will probably get much worse before it gets better. Such things tend to.
The Bradfield Scheme
The flooding news made me think of a scheme I only heard about some months back. It is called the Bradfield scheme and was first mooted in 1938 just before the outbreak of the 2nd World War. (Irony anyone?.) The idea was abandoned in 1947 – just after World War 2, at a time when all kinds of other infrastructure and rebuilding programmes were being started all over the world. Again, kind of interesting eh?
The scheme was basically to divert water from flood prone areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales, to drought ridden areas of inland Queensland and South Australia. The (seemingly) obvious benefits are two-fold. The risk of flooding (the likes of which we are now seeing) is greatly reduced or even eliminated in one area, while another region is almost made drought-proof.
Recently however, the scheme (or some modified versions thereof) have started to gain momentum again especially in Queensland. From what little I have looked into it I would say that it looks like it should be done – but I need to study it a lot more. I have been planning to do a specific post on the Bradfield scheme for a while now. So, now that I have brought it up, that will need writing in the very near future… For now, in a nutshell: It basically puts the excess rainfall into drought areas, rather than people’s houses on the flood-prone areas.
In other News…
There only seem to be two other main news items. Really! One is about corruption in large construction projects. Nothing new there, so let’s not dwell… And of course that war. Right now the floods and the war are about level pegging for media airtime and page space. But that will all change of course as the flood waters recede…
The sudden and convenient disappearance (media-wise) of that bloody covid virus just happened to coincide with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amazing that eh?
Borders that have been closed for two years are suddenly wide open. On one side, to tanks and armoured vehicles. On the other, to fleeing migrants/refugees – another human crisis in the making…
Still the biggest laugh for me in all of this (and you do have to laugh) is the sudden and deliberate vanishing virus act. Like a magician waving his magic wand. Covid is a bit like that Kaiser Soze character in the great movie The Usual Suspects. (One of my top ten of all time by the way – probably.) And just like that. It’s gone!
The Covid miracle. Hmm…
It really is like a bloody miracle isn’t it? There are still reports of case numbers and even deaths blamed on covid if you delve in to the state twitter feeds. Technically at least it is still there. But clearly it is not a sexy enough subject for the media… Don’t you think it’s a little odd how abruptly the media has dropped the virus?
But don’t be surprised, if that war ends suddenly, to see the media become covid fanatics once again. I’d like to say “you can’t make this stuff up”. But they do. Don’t they ?
Blacklight stars Liam Neeson (playing Liam Neeson) in a recap of several of his recent movies. It’s a typical action movie where those we think are there to protect us turn out to be the bad guys.
Actually Neeson’s character’s name in the movie is Travis Block. Where the hell do they get these names from? Anyway…
Block is some kind of shady Government agent who specializes in removing operatives who’s covers have been exposed.
One operative he is asked to bring in is on the verge of going to the media with his story. He had been so deep under cover that he now regretted what he was part of. His name is Dusty Crane – I kid you not – and when he gets killed, having only spilt half of the beans to a media reporter, Travis Block gets suspicious.
Well, what do you know? He uncovers a conspiracy within his own ranks that reaches all the way to the top of the FBI. It seems that the FBI has a top secret operation called Project Unity, which kills innocent civilians. That leave Block as a loose end so you can pretty much guess the rest. Right?
Predictable? Not exactly. But definitely much like most of Neeson’s films over the past decade. Nothing special in terms of having to think too hard to follow the story. Plus there’s enough fighting/shooting scenes to keep you awake.
Travis’ daughter is estranged – aren’t they always in his films? This is one of my main problems. She is really not in a good relationship with her father, doesn’t want him spending time with her daughter (his grand-child) yet in the end… see below. Travis’ granddaughter is the main reason why he is trying to retire. Of course his boss does not want him to retire and things become difficult between the two of them. Just as well with what’s to follow….
Considering he came out with that supposedly race tinted rant almost exactly 3 years ago, in today’s ‘cancel culture’, Neeson has done incredibly well. Can there be any actor who has appeared in more movies since then? (Neeson has made 9 movies since then – three per year!)
As it is, Neeson is about to turn 70 years old so it is hard to see how much longer he can be involved in stories like this one. That said he has been playing a retired, or about to retire, guy in most of his recent movies so it’s not like they are pretending he is young. He clearly can’t do any of the scenes where his character is required to run – as in, chase people. But a crafty bit of editing almost sorts that out.
Spoiler Alerts: His boss is the real bad guy. The ending is all too quick and clean. Not only does his boss give himself up and confess (we are told) but his daughter suddenly accepts her dad and acts as if there was never a problem. It’s a quick, corny, almost cringe-worthy finale.
Just about bearable as an easy watch action flick that requires little or no thinking. But it will be hard to go and see another Neeson film that looks anything like this one. And let’s face it they all do. It’s just not worth it…
Score: 1 out of 5 stars. Don’t bother.
Wait for it to come on TV and fall asleep on your sofa watching it.