Poetry Sunday 30 November 2014

Forgiven by A.A. Milne

I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day …
And Nanny let my beetle out –
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out –
She went and let my beetle out –
And Beetle ran away.

She said she didn’t mean it, and I never said she did,
She said she wanted matches and she just took off the lid,
She said that she was sorry, but it’s difficult to catch
An excited sort of beetle you’ve mistaken for a match.

She said that she was sorry, and I really mustn’t mind,
As there’s lots and lots of beetles which she’s certain we could find,
If we looked about the garden for the holes where beetles hid –
And we’d get another match-box and write BEETLE on the lid.

We went to all the places which a beetle might be near,
And we made the sort of noises which a beetle likes to hear,
And I saw a kind of something, and I gave a sort of shout:
“A beetle-house and Alexander Beetle coming out!”

It was Alexander Beetle I’m as certain as can be,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought it must be Me,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought he ought to say:
“I’m very very sorry that I tried to run away.”

And Nanny’s very sorry too for you-know-what-she-did,
And she’s writing ALEXANDER very blackly on the lid,
So Nan and Me are friends, because it’s difficult to catch
An excited Alexander you’ve mistaken for a match.

 

MDFF 29 November 2014

Our Dispatch today was first published on 12 August 2011.  The Intervention: Not just racist, but with fascist overtones.

Buenos dias compañeros,

My mother was a “the glass is half full” person. As she stood doing the dishes, looking out her kitchen window, contemplating her garden, she’d exclaim: Is het niet prachtig, wat zijn we toch gelukkig! (Isn’t it wonderful, aren’t we lucky!).

http://youtu.be/SzJY96m3lkg

Douglas Adams said: “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

Mum didn’t need the fairies.

My mother  also said that Australia was the best country in the world, but that there were some people based in Canberra that were doing their utmost to spoil it.

Fortunately I’ve inherited her joie de vivre. I don’t need fairies either, but I don’t begrudge others their fairies.

Had she lived until I ‘discovered’ Violeta Parra’s most famous song on You Tube, she would have shared my enthusiasm for it.

http://youtu.be/UW3IgDs-NnA

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto…. (Thanks to Life, that has given me so much…)

A tragic irony that Violeta took her own life.

My father on the other hand was a “the glass is half empty” person. At times he could delegate those ‘Grumpy Old Men’ of the British television series to mere amateur status.

From my dad’s anecdotes:

“ There is much in Australia to get angry about. Peter Reith and Chris Corrigan’s actions on the waterfront some years ago were a particular cause for anger and loathing. At present we have that lying bastard John Howard, that smirking Peter Costello and his mate that sneaky Tony Abbott (more Catholic than the Pope) (OK, yes, anti-Catholicism as well), that evil Phillip Ruddock and last but not least ‘Lippy’ as dad calls him (Alexander Downer). The whole gang being cause for almost apoplectic revulsion.”

“ SEP.’07- Not all that long ago dad was having one of his sessions and kept coming up with his now habitual rather negative opinions. This caused his daughter in law (of whom he is rather fond) to remark that: “Well, you know Mark: every silver lining has its dark cloud”. Touché!”

http://youtu.be/kcDaAr3EPqI shining till the walls come tumbling down….

In 1957 ‘The Black Cloud’, a science fiction novel by astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle, was published. A black cloud enveloped earth causing what later became known as a ‘nuclear winter’. All life on earth was threatened, until eventually the black cloud drifted away. Much damage was done but eventually life on earth recovered.

Fifty years later (2007) a black cloud enveloped remote Aboriginal Australia. It became known as ‘The Intervention’

Fred Hoyle’s black cloud was intelligent, the one we are living under isn’t.

I once again quote Martin Flanagan : “To visit Yuendumu is to have the glass tower of your preconceptions shattered into countless brilliant fragments”

To see the brilliant glass fragments, the sun needs to shine on them. The black cloud prevents this from happening.

The sun is gonna shine… someday…

http://youtu.be/_Cos9l_ME2M

Hasta pronto

Franklin

La yapa:

http://youtu.be/Eto2urJTKno

Derring-Do Pt 4 “Sink the Tirpitz!”

Rear Admirable Quentin Cockburn continues his remarkable story of courage and invention.

By chance the idea of how to get the relative height and distance right for launching the Austral Mk V torpedoes came to me one night when I was watching the two new acts at Ashtons’.  I was sitting in row G, as ‘Hockey and Bill’, the fill-ins for the depleted dwarf troupe were performing a comic routine, exchanging mock insults and trying to knock each other off their respective perches.  The act finished with a mock chase in which they both boarded a car, named uproariously “Team Australia” and launched themselves down a ramp with a jump at the end.  The crowd ‘Ooohed’ in anticipation, believing the car about to smash, when just at the last moment, a small rocket launched the car across the void and into a net.  That was when, at the precise moment of impact, Bill, shortened the trajectory by attaching a coat hanger to a guy rope and brought the car, Hockey the fat dwarf and the entire routine to an abrupt stop.  In an instant I had a solution.  A ramp to be fitted to the escort submarine, and within range the midget would be launched, and with rocket assisted takeoff use the force of momentum to cut through the nets and at precisely the time the rockets were expended, the coat hanger would grip the edge of the torpedo net, flick the firing mechanism, the torpedoes would be released and the Tirpitz would be no more.  A coat hanger!!   ‘G20’!! I cried exultantly, and returning to the lab, we had the prototype tested and it worked.

Collins Class Mini Sub (Note the secret, but deadly, Coat Hanger)

Collins Class Mini Sub (Note the secret, but deadly, Coat Hanger)

The time for the attack came, we went in under cover of night and launched the sub as practised, and rehearsed hundreds of times.  It left the ramp, hit the water, the rockets ignited as planned, and in a sheet of flame and a spume of froth it rocketed across the fjord, descending at the last moment to drop its lethal cargo upon the German battleship. But then… just as we braced for the impact, nothing happened.  We waited, still nothing, and then from the other side of the fjord a terrific explosion.  It seems the sub and torpedo had committed itself to a singular and irredeemable course and unswayed by tide, external communications and any other external factor had gone though the nets, under the target and exploded on the far side, and why?  It seems the commander equipped with those necessary traits of aggression, single mindedness and resoluteness was without imagination.  He could go straight, but not deviate a millimetre from a predetermined course.  It was only one way for him, straight through, not a crash dive but crash through and crash.  Eventually we did succeed, but that is another story when Lieutenant Palmer, and his vessel the ‘Bombast’ stuck tight to the battleship and held the entire crew to ransom, not the way we intended, but the desired effect in the long run…

Next, on Monday, we look at the myriad benefits Australia has reaped from Cockburn’s experience and expertise. But first tomorrow bring a Musical Dispatch, and then we are blessed with Poetry Sunday.

Derring-Do Pt 3 – The Allies Prepare

By Quentin Cockburn

RN Official Image

RN Official Image


As you can see this is much smaller than the Japanese submarine.  There are only two crew members, Commander Tony and his mate Peta.  The internal workings were a refinement upon the Japanese. You can see we have the commanders cupola, and engineers radio operator position.  This was a first being of plywood construction to save on precious resources, and the auxillary Austral Villiers engine for surface-cruising was augmented by this schnorkel device we adapted in our workshops.  Bicycle parts were used for ease of maintenance and the pressure hull, reinforced to contain explosive gasses.  We also trialled a unique communications system the Electro Impulse activator, or commonly known as the ‘Electorate’.  Commander Tony and Peta, though in spite of repeated attempts to influence their viewpoints on direction, delegation and imagination, (commanders need imagination,) were impervious to external influences and that is perhaps why it was stranded when it inadvertently travelled up the main sewer outfall at Frankston.  Both the commander and his lieutenant survived and upon rescue it was claimed: ‘Still Alive!’, though ‘no other visible signs of life detected in Frankston’!

We had originally envisaged a crew of seven. As that was the complement at Ashtons.

And we soon discovered that five; Dopey, Sneezey, Grumpy, Droopey, and ‘Hockey’ were unsuited to confinement.

As you can see the access hatch and access through the main control tower is very small.  After considerable training in the art of climbing in and out of suitably arranged agricultural piping, the largest dwarf “Hockey” became incapacitated.  He led a revolt of sorts amongst the troupe and only the most hard of hearing were unnaffected, little Tony and his sidekick Peta.  We had great confidence in the encounter but unfortunately due to an inadvertent translation error the control mechanism was not operable until we had replaced the forward control mechanism directive, ‘Hari Kiri’, with ‘Surface’, though the engineers did inadvertently install the rotating swords mechanism.  Tragically this error killed all but Hockey.  Eventually then the two outstanding candidates, Little Tony, and his offsider Peta, were selected, as they combined aggression with stubbornness and single mindedness.  This next photograph take in late 43 shows their sizes relative to myself, there are no other official photographs.

Self with Little Tony and Peta.  Note relative size.

Self with Little Tony and Peta. Note relative size.

We had a crew but an untried submarine.  This posed a significant problem for our engineering staff,  How to get a submarine small enough, but potent enough through the Norwegian Fjord past the submarine nets, the minefield and auxillaries, and with minor course correction and influenced by the prevailing currents close enough to get at Tirpitz? I could not work out what instrument would do the trick.  Clearly we were in uncharted territory and I had to develop something, as the window of opportunity was fast approaching.

Continued Tomorrow (And I, for one, can hardly wait!)

Derring-Do Pt 2 Midget Subs

by Quentin Cockburn

Midget submarines

I was the research scientist who came up with the idea of a midget submarine attack upon the German Battleship Tirpitz.  I first came upon the concept in the company of Lady Cockburn when we were playing “torpedoes”, a parlour game we devised for the bathroom to while away the idle hours of winter at Cockburn House.  I hit upon the idea after the unsuccessful Submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.  What surprised me and I think the Prime Minister made mentioned upon the ‘heroic and noble’ Japanese officers who perished there, our own little Scapa Flow could’ve been much more serious if they’d succeeded.  But shortsightedness on behalf of the Japanese High Command was their undoing.  Though brilliantly executed they had no capacity to identify a preferred target from the mass of general shipping, and had no back up plan.  As an attack it was symbolic, but offensively of no consequence

It seemed to me to be too single minded and consequently if any one thing went wrong the audacious plan would come to nought.

What surprised me at the time was the height of the Japanese submariners. From the body parts gathered from the scene it was calculated that Commander Ito measured three feet four inches, his colleague Lieutenant Iwaki, Commander of Suey 1, (for that is the naval code to describe the class of submarine) deduced from the femur and fragments of verterbrae was measured at three feet two inches.  But what we didn’t know then, and subsequently postwar we discovered, there were in actual fact fifteen crewmen assigned to the midget sub operation.  What we thought was an elongated crankshaft was in actual fact the main propulsion mechanism.  It seems that upon depth charging  the impact of force exerted upon the “grinders’ manning the propellor shaft as we should call them was such that it exerted massive force upon the propellor which rotated the mechanism, and macerated if you like the crewmen to smithereens.  The Japanese have a term for this which though difficult to translate is nonetheless epithetic, number 14 or more colloquially  given the identification  of the class of submarine, as “chop suey” .

Artist's impression.  Cutaway Mini Sub

Artist’s impression. Cutaway Mini Sub

Description 1
These are the salient features of the Japanese Midget Submarine, Suey 1.
As you can see the crew consist of the officers, Commander Ito, Lieutenant Iwaki. The internal guidance system; a Shinto Priest.  A primitive but effective asdic echo chamber, these two crewmen with coconuts.  The propulsion unit’ as you see here the eight crewmen working the propellor.  And the ballast and weight distribution system here; the two sumo wrestlers Honda and Suzuki.  Notice the underslung type 21 torpedo and the auxillary 12 horsepower Hitachi electric engine, colloquially known as the ‘Sawawy worker.’  Primitive but effective.

A Tale of Derring-Do Pt 1.

By Quentin Cockburn

Dear readers, it is an honour to be asked to give you an insight into the enormous impact I have had in Australian public life.  Assuming you haven’t read my war memoirs, Two Steps Forward, (Faber and Faber 1954), I could talk to you about some of the more interesting things I did during those years of turmoil.  I could offer an anecdote or two about my time behind enemy lines in May 1940, my work in the cipher department at Bletchley Park, and my role in unlocking the Enigma Code.  Though each supremely noteworthy I think it is now time for me to divulge some hitherto unrecorded episodes.

Perhaps I should describe my unpublished analysis of magnetic mines, acoustic torpedoes and de gaussing?  Though I’m inclined to give a little recitation related to my practical research and development of the ‘Pinkelwasser bomb sight‘ for height challenged midget submarine operators, or a practical demonstration of Ju jitsu in defence of the Johore causeway.  I have already mentioned this debacle in my memoir, ‘Dire Straits’. (Cheshire 1961).  I could recall the time I was aide de camp to Sir Basil Embury, Witless Victory (Readers Club. 1953) in drawing up an escape plan whilst I was billeted at Buckingham Palace to protect the Windsors Operation Sovereign Borders (Dent. 1957), or the time I thwarted the marine invasion of Crete in 1941, Send the Boats Back. (Collins 1956), or the time I played medium pace left arm orthodox and secured the Schneider trophy against the Cameroons in the Stalag luft XV111 test series, Bowled Team Australia.

But perhaps I should leave the best till last in my description of the negotiations and deception I employed to hoodwink the Russians, just as the evil iron curtain descended upon Europe to establish a new front and thus herald the onset of the Cold War.  It was my role during ‘Operation Paperclip’ and my dalliance with the evil mastermind, Vladimir Shird and his henchman Ras-putin Willankoff ‘Shird-front Putin (Harper 1982.) that doesn’t get the full recognition I’m sure it deserves.

I think, (quite rightfully) any of these will make excellent material for a short talk, and I am loathe to mention the decorations bestowed upon me for being a leader, soldier, spy, inspiration to countless generations of Australians, but suffice to say in my modesty I had recently bestowed upon me the Croix de Guerre and the ‘Knight Chevalier of the Order of France, (2nd class).  Though it is timely for the French to recognise my contribution, I have it mounted at the very bottom drawer of my collection of honours as being French one is never quite sure.  I’ll recite them briefly… M.C and Bar, DSO. DFC, M.M, M.B.E. Pour le Merite, Iron Cross, ( 2nd class), Order of the Chrysanthenum, Star of Turkey, Knights Cross with Diamonds, Oak Leaves and Swords, Order of Lenin, and hero of the Soviet Union, and others too numerous to mention…Tidy Towns, Tarax Show merit certificate, Herald Swim certificate, order of the Leaping Wolf, The Happy Club, and Joffa Boy and Uncle Norman signed Carlton Football jumper.

Perhaps upon reflection I may just give a brief recitation about recruitment requirements for operators of midget Submarines… this was quite challenging, and I may provide some fascinating documents to illustrate the challenges we faced and how my work in Midget submarines led to my stewardship of the post war motor industry in both this country and abroad.

NEXT  Midget Submarines

Democracy is Good

Warwick MacFadyen gives seven reasons for loving democracy, two of which took my fancy.

1. (Democracy) turns self-delusion into self-parody, which is always good for a laugh. Recently a candidate for the seat in which I live was pictured in a local paper. She was attending the announcement that her party would build speed humps on a road in the town centre. How good is that? Not only would there be said humps, there’d be more kerb and guttering and more road signs. Her opponent has also attended many announcements.

Announcements have involved large and small animals, large and small children, netball courts, soccer grounds, kindergartens, schools, community groups and flagpoles. I confess I’m not too sure about the flagpoles, but if there hasn’t been an announcement involving flagpoles, there should be. Of course, attendance at announcements has been happening across the state.

These events are undertaken in the mistaken belief that showing your face where it’s never been shown before is a plus to the electorate. Laugh? We almost cried.

2.  The second is a series of quotes from H.L.Mencken:

“I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing.”
“The mob man, functioning as citizen, gets a feeling that he is really important to the world – that he is genuinely running things.”
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
“Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

Enjoy the last week of Victoria’s election campaigning, get ready for that ‘advance auction sale of stolen goods’.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/seven-reasons-to-love-democracy-20141120-11qjix.html#ixzz3JsqIZA4Y

 

Poetry Sunday 23 November 2014

LEOPOLD ALCOCKS
by
Jake Thackray

Leopold Alcocks, my distant relation,
Came to my flat for a brief visitation.
He’s been here since February, damn and blast him
My nerves and my furniture may not outlast him.

Leopold Alcocks is accident prone.
He’s lost my bath plug, he’s ruptured my telephone.
My antirrhinums, my motor bike, my sofa
There isn’t anything he can’t trip over.

As he roams through my rooms, all my pussycats scatter.
My statuettes tremble, then plummet, then shatter.
My table lamps tumble with grim regularity.
My cut glass has crumbled and so has my charity.

Leopold Alcocks, an uncanny creature
He can’t take tea without some misadventure:
He looks up from his tea cup with a smirk on his features
And a slice of my porcelain between his dentures.

He’s upset my goldfish, he’s jinxed my wisteria
My budgie’s gone broody, my tortoise has hysteria.
He cleans my tea pots, my saucepans, with Brasso
And leaves chocolate fingerprints on my Picasso.

Leopold Alcocks never known to fail
Working his way through my frail Chippendale.
One blow from his thighs (which are fearsomely strong)
Would easily fracture the wing of a swan.

I brought home my bird for some turkish moussaka
Up looms old Leopold I know when I’m knackered.
He spills the vino, the great eager beaver,
Drenching her jump suit and my joie de vivre.

Leopold Alcocks stirring my spleen
You are the grit in my life’s vaseline.
A pox on you Alcocks! You’ve been here since Feb’ry
Go home and leave me alone with my debris.

So Leopold Alcocks, my distant relation,
Has gone away home after his visitation.
I glimpsed him waving bye bye this last minute
Waving his hand with my door knob still in it.

Notes by our celebrated Poetry Editor, Ira Maine

This chap was a singer in the French style around English clubs in the seventies. I went to see him on more than one occasion. His songs were not to everybody’s taste so he never commanded a huge audience. Sadly, later on as tastes changed his audiences dwindled even more. The poor chap became increasingly depressed and eventually took his own life.

His style is based on that of Georges Bresson, famous in France where the habit of singing in clubs, cafes and bars is well established and has produced people like Piaf, Yves Montand, Petula Clark, Charles Aznavour and countless others..A similar culture does not exist in the UK, largely because of the draconian licensing laws which denied cafes and coffee shops, until very recently, the right to sell alcohol. This suited the pub owners very well. If people wanted a drink outside of their own home they had no choice but to go to the pub.This was a very effective way of utterly warping the average persons attitude to alcohol. Cafes are for mixed company socializing; pubs are places where men go to get drunk.. 

I find this poem/song very amusing and typical of Jake.
I’m beginning to feel that perhaps we’ve done this poem sometime ago…and I’m repeating myself… to hell with it…

MDFF 22 November 2014

Γεια σας και πάλι φίλοι μου,

That 21st Century Oracle ‘Wikipedia’ tells me that ‘Oxymoron’ is derived from the 5th century Latin oxymoron, which is derived from the Ancient Greek: ὀξύςoxus “sharp, keen” and μωρός mōros “dull, stupid”, making the word itself an oxymoron. The Oracle also tells me that “modern usage has brought a common misunderstanding that ’oxymoron’ is nearly synonymous with ‘contradiction’.”

Of this I plead guilty. It is the ‘moron’ bit that makes my sense of irony find ‘oxymoron’ a useful and appealing word even if laboring under a common misunderstanding.

For over a decade the Howard Government undermined Land Rights and Reconciliation. Around 2006 then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough made claims that paedophile rings were operating on Aboriginal communities as part of, in hindsight, an orchestrated campaign of stereotyping and stigmatizing Aboriginal communities (and Aboriginal men in particular). In 2007 in a desperate bid for re-election the campaign climaxed in the announcement of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER or Intervention)

The NTER included a significant effort by the Federal Police (from memory several years with an expenditure exceeding $30Million) acting with extraordinary powers under the Crimes Act 1914. The Act inter alia forbids people questioned to reveal that they have been or will be questioned and to mention what they have been questioned about and should they so reveal, they risk years of incarceration. Despite this massive effort no more paedophile rings were discovered than there were WMDs found in Iraq. A straw giant.

When John Howard lost the election and when Kevin Rudd made that famous Sorry speech
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKWfiFp24rA
we all thought that we’d arrived at a Bran Nu Dae…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiShXMojKfY

The speech in hindsight was a political stunt. Its main purpose, it now seems, was to show up John Howard who had wedged himself into refusing to say sorry.

Mal Brough’s baton was handed to Jenny Macklin who proceeded to take ownership of the Intervention and to further tighten its grip on Remote Aboriginal Australia.

Her chutzpah knew no bounds and is epitomized by her using the Aboriginal Benefits Account (a money tree nurtured by royalty equivalents derived from mining on Aboriginal land) as a personal slush fund to further her agenda, such as building a community stores empire (Government owned Outback Stores) and (wait for it!) paying rents to Traditional Owners for compulsory acquired leases.

During the campaign for the election that saw the end of Jenny Macklin’s Protectorate of Aborigines, Tony Abbott pledged that if he won he would become the Prime Minister  for Indigenous Affairs.

The first Abbott/Hockey Budget saw half a billion dollars cut from the funding of Aboriginal Affairs. Most of the cuts will have very little effect on places like Yuendumu.

The Warlpiri word Waralypa means rain that doesn’t reach the earth. Consulting the oracle I find:

“In meteorology, virga is an observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates or sublimes before reaching the ground.”

Thus is funding and that capitalist myth the “trickledown effect” (which is right up there with  “level playing field”)
rain

I want to know…Have you ever seen the rain?…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEY8clFcm2E

Yesterday we had our first decent shower of rain in Yuendumu for quite a while.
Tu pelo tiene el aroma de la lluvia sobre la tierra…(your hair has the aroma of rain on the earth)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E3gvCTC2EQ

It isn’t  all doom and gloom in Yuendumu. The much maligned (by me) Centrelink at Yuendumu (you know, the $2M plus building that arrived on the back of 5 trucks all the way from Bendigo?) is now run and fully staffed by Yuendumu locals. The little flame of self-determination flickers on.

….Long as I can see the light….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1809vqz3zA

Last July, our self styled Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs delivered a speech at The Australian/Melbourne Institute. The speech included the unsettling premise that:

“I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land,”

The Adam Giles (Northern Territory) Government is very keen on empowering itself. The $7.6M police complex being built at Yuendumu (not to mention the half a billion dollars  third prison , which in fairness to Adam Giles precedes his tenure) being but one facet of this.

The Abbott Government is very keen on empowering Aboriginal communities. How do I know this? I’ve been made aware that despite the budget cuts, $5M has been made available to ‘Empowered Communities’(EC) through ‘Closing the Gap’ (CtG).

An EC is defined as one “committed to enforcing individual rights and responsibilities including:

  • Children attend school every day, are on time, and are school ready.
  • Children and those who are vulnerable are cared for and safe.
  • Capable adults participate in training or work.
  • People abide by the conditions related to their tenancy in public housing – they maintain their homes.
  • People do not commit domestic violence, alcohol and drug offences, or petty crimes and pay their rent. “

Sounds alright, but can you hear the dog whistle?  Am I being a bit too cynical when I suspect “enforced rights” to be an oxymoron?
coercive

Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia
A bit like “coercive reconciliation” (The 2007 Intervention).

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights…..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F69PBQ4ZyNw

Δύναμη στο λαό …Power to the people…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wos-dDxpJlQ

Μέχρι την επόμενη φορά

Frank

A New Halloween

By Tarquin O’Flaherty

Halloween and the Ancient Celtic ‘Samhain’.

Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on the Bald Mountain’ is the composer’s attempt to recreate the terror, mystery and magic associated with the European night of October the 31st, a date we all know as Halloween.  There are spirits and ghosts, goblins and witches abroad at this time, both in this music and out there in the bleak and howling night.  It is the night when the old harvest year ends and a new one begins.  Between these two there is a split, a crack, a moment in the order of things when the unthinkable might occur and that gap allow demons, pookahs and banshees to come and do dreadful harm to us all.  These are real malignant spirits and all necessary precautions must be taken.  We must disguise ourselves to hide from these bad spirits in the hope that we won’t be recognised as we go abroad.  We must create horrible masks for ourselves to frighten ghosts and goblins who might approach us, intending us harm.  We must build vast fires to drive away the dark, a darkness which harbours  treacherous fiends who await the slightest opportunity to create havoc by sowing famine, disease and death amongst us.  Eternal vigilance…lest all be lost…

Long before ‘Druids’, Christianity, and the Romans, Western Europe was Celtic, a civilisation with its own distinct culture and language.  As part of this culture, four principal festivals were observed:

Samhain (phonetically; Sough-Win) at the end of October, marked the end of harvest, the beginning of winter, and a time to bring animals down from summer pastures to more protected, closer to home paddocks and yards.

Imbolc (sixty years ago I was taught to pronounce this as Im Bullug) marked the First of February, the beginning of Spring lambing time.

Beltane (phon. Bee-yowl- tinneh) meaning yellow or bright fire was celebrated on the first of May, when all of Shakespeare’s ‘darling buds’ burst into life and was roughly halfway between the Spring equinox and the Summer solstice.

Lughna sadh (pronounced nowadays as Lu-Nasa) the first of August festival denoting the beginning of the harvest season.

Beltane and Samhain, Imbolc and Lunasa are dates which scholars tell us have more in common with a herding and animal owning culture rather than the settled farming system we are familiar with today.  This suggests a respectable antiquity for these festivals.  A great deal of Celtic mythology deals with the getting and keeping of herds of cattle and the rivalry, rustling and skullduggery that went on between various factions to have the best animals, and particularly the best bull.  Mythological queens and kings went to war over prize animals, and dirty deeds were done.

So, long before Christianity, practically the whole of western Europe was Celtic and the festivals I have outlined were of supreme importance.  Then came the Romans, heavily influenced by the Greeks, but lacking their imagination.  Four hundred years before Christ, Gaulish Celts sacked Rome and wiped out the Roman army.  From this humiliation, the Romans learnt much.  They learnt about two-man chariots, the one to drive, the other free to engage the enemy.  They discovered that their swords were not short enough, their shields inadequate against slings and arrows.  Modern historians have it that the success of the Roman fighting machine in later years was largely due to their adopting the weapons and techniques of those Celts who had trounced them in 397BC.  The full length curved shield and short stabbing sword, which, when used in a group, shield to shield, provided a wall, an impenetrable barrier, against which it was difficult to do battle.  The two-man chariot, a devastating weapon en masse, was easily capable of cutting an army of foot soldiers to ribbons.  The Romans had adopted the hugely successful phalanx from the Greeks but the Celts, with their speed and manoueverability, very quickly rendered the phalanx obsolete.

The Romans, as we know, came back, noticeably better prepared this time, and took over most of Western Europe.  When they departed, in the 5th century AD, they left behind a well established church, governed from Rome.

As the power of this new church grew, anything that threatened its ascendancy was stamped out.  If old custom or habit persisted, as a great deal did, then the church attempted to absorb this persistence into the new ‘christian’ way of thinking.  As an example of this, when Christianity was first trying to establish itself, the goddess Isis was worshipped throughout the Empire.  Isis was always represented with a baby in her arms and represented motherhood, security, warmth and the power of sex and sensuality.  The church ‘absorbed’ the goddess Isis, changed her name to Mary, but, being aware of the power of Nature and the family as a potential threat, eventually dispensed with the ‘sex and sensuality’ side of her nature in favour of ludicrous virgin births, miraculous babies and a male dominated monotheism.  Women were driven to the sidelines, their absolute importance in the scheme of things reviled and their proper function in society mocked by the deadly weapons of guilt and shame.  Sex, in absolute corruption of what had gone before, was now no longer something to be celebrated.  The sexual act was now, officially, a sin.

All of the Easters and Christmas’s we now know were idiot, meaningless overlays by the church to gain power over the ancient rituals, festivals and ceremonies of pre-christian Europe.

Christmas, Yule, call it what you like, didn’t involve just one day.  Samhain, the end of November, marked the beginning of Winter, a period which ran right through to Imbolc, to lambing time on the first of February.

The church absorbed and truncated this Winter period, rendering it meaningless, but then had the gall to declare the old Germanic Yule, Jesus’ birthday!

Easter, the first of May, was something the church couldn’t alter, or indeed control.  Eggs, fertility, impregnation, the glorious sensual rush saturated everybody.  New beginnings burst forth everywhere and there was nothing the church could do to stop it.  So they went along with it, absorbing the Lenten fasts, the processions, the ritual and ceremony that helped recreate the world, and over the years, gradually calling these ceremonies their own.

Along the way the church destroyed the rites and rituals of Samhain (the Winter period) and turned it into the infantile Halloween.  They took Imbolc (end of Winter lambing time) and, apart from the Agnus Dei (lamb of God) reference, almost completely obliterated its significance.

Lunasa (the beginning of the harvest season at the first of August) with its own rites and rituals means nothing now and tractors roll into paddocks without a suggestion of deference to the gods.

It is my contention that, without any reference to Europe whatsoever, we should reinstate, at their proper place in our Southern Hemisphere seasons, one or two of these old feast days, particularly Beltane (or Easter) in its proper first day of Spring slot.  We should celebrate the new year, this new beginning, accord it its proper deference and respect and give thanks to the gods for this new beginning.

To Hell with old England and their upside down calendar.  This is Australia.  Let us create, and begin to believe in, our own customs and ceremonies, our own Samhain and Beltane. Lets have fireworks and laughter, bonfires and dancing at the close of the year without reference to any other country’s wants or habits.  And yes, let’s have sensuality and even a little gentle abandon at our own Springtime festivities.  We need to stop deferring and begin instead to stand up for ourselves.  Australia is a great place to live in, but I reckon it could do with a bit, a touch, a scintilla, a bootful of extra excitement.

I think my master plan would provide a bit of this excitement, and, along the way, do us all the world of good.