All posts by gavinhamiltoncrawford

Retired from paid work but not from living. Actively engaged in writing cultural, social and family histories, reflecting on a meaningful life and volunteering.

Dürnstein, Austria Dec 17, 2018


Dürnstein, Austria

Dec 17, 2018

Ah! Durnstein. A return to the site of my cycling misadventure. This time, no bike, and when Alan suggested a hike up to the castle, I made the proviso that that there be people to accompany me prepared to carry me back down the mountain. As far as I know, it was only a Californian couple who made the climb.

My decision not to climb had something to do with alcohol. All will become clear.

It was another -2c day with snow on the ground but non imminent and in fact we did see patches of blue during the day.

Durnstein is in the Wachau Valley and wine and tourism are the main sources of income that supports just a couple of hundred. It probably means they are quite wealthy because by my reckoning, they produce a lot of fantastic wine and they have boatloads of tourists almost every day, summer and winter.

The Gruner Vetliner wine is fantastic. Most of the vines are grown on steep slopes that retain little soil, so the wine is very minerally. They say that they are wines that can be aged for many years, and in blind tastings have beaten the worlds best Chardonays. I’ll never know because what I drank here was young and fresh and I’m unlikely to find any to buy back in Aus. I’m going to have to drink a bucket over the next day or so. The vines on the flat land near the gated to the town are all tended by the primary school children. They have their photograph posted on a pole at the end of the row.

Durnstein is also famous for it’s Apricot Liqueur and in time will become renowned for its Saffron products.

Durnstein’s first claim to fame is that Richard the Lionheart was returning to England from Jerusalem after the 3rd crusade in 1192, when he was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. They had had a dispute in Jerusalem, so Leopold held him for ransom. Legend has it that his minstrel Blondel went from castle to castle singing a song that only Richard would known and when he heard him singing it back, he knew where he was imprisoned. The castle was destroyed by the Swiss in 1645, and the ruins are more of a vantage point for looking out on the Wachau Valley than a feature in itself.

Anyway, the Durnsteiners make the most of it, so there are references to Richard and Blondel throughout the town. Also capitalizing on the many Australian tourists who travel on the river cruises, a number of shops sell road signs with Kangaroos on them and “There are no Kangaroos in Austria”. If nothing else, they also educate American tourists.

We stopped at the same shop as last time and once again sampled a little too much Apricot Liqueur. We then walked the town which is particularly attractive running along the hillside with the ruined castle hovering overhead and the river below. We then attended an organ recital in the local church which was o.t.t. and would have kept the peasants in poverty for hundreds of years. We then went to the railway station, which while still in use during summer months is now owned by Bernhard Kaar. Bernard speaks with an accent that sounds very English. When questioned, he said that he deliberately spoke with an Austrian accent because he never wanted to be confused with a German.

Bernard had searched the library at Melk Abbey nearby, some nine years ago, and found numerous references to the growing of Crocus and production of Saffron from around 1200. He then purchase land and began growing Crocus and producing saffron honey, vinegar, chocolate and a rum, orange juice and saffron hot punch. We sampled liberally … again.

Ches and I then had the town to ourselves as most people had returned to the ship for lunch. We went in search of Christmas tree decorations etc. and discovered amazing rhodium and copper plated wire balls. Every Christmas market and town we visit seems to have something different. Not the same old same old tourist trinkets everywhere.

We enjoyed lunch looking out on the river and small villages as we cruised into the twilight, had a nap, returned to the lounge for pre-dinner drinks, had dinner and ………..

Walking, Falling and Soothing Vienna, Austria Dec 16, 2018

Walking, Falling and Soothing

Vienna, Austria

Dec 16, 2018

more from Vienna, Austria

Taste of Christmas Walking Tour (am) , Schonbrunn Palace(pm) and Klosterneuburg Abbey Concert (evening)

Today was going to be a massive day. We had decided to go on a morning walk (3 hours) of the center of Vienna and take in some 4 of the Christmas markets with samples of food and gluvein at three of them. Back to the boat for a quick 1 hour lunch before a coach to Schonbrunn Palace then back for a light dinner and 1.5 hour break before another coach to the concert than back by 10.30 for supper. That’s from 8.45 till 10.30. That meant I was going to have to wait till Monday to complete my Saturday’s blog and find the time for this one as well: It’s now 5.00 am Monday and we are about to dock in Durnstein.

As we traveled into town yesterday, the guide explained that the they have a strange concept of law / regulations in Austria. For example, we passed “Grow Shop”. It’s a retailer of marijuana plants. The entire street front windows were unshuttered and on display was around 30 meters of plants under heat lamps. The laws regarding the entire operation are in her words “a little bit yes, a little bit no”. You can buy plants, but not let them flower. In the privacy of your home, you can use them. The staff can sell them to you, but not advise on how to grow and use them to get high. The staff can however sell you books that do tell you!

Other interesting information. Austria has a population of 8.5 million, 1.8 of whom live in Vienna. They have the second highest GDP in Europe, provide several hundred thousand public housing apartments, provide public transport for 365Euro per annum (Yup, a euro a day for use of train, tram and bus) and have a very clean city with little evidence of homelessness.

Uniworld guides always seem to give you information you don’t get from guide books. In the course of the morning, she was regularly pointing out buildings and apartments in which Mozart had lived or written a certain piece of music. It was all contributing to the final conclusion that Mozart was always broke and moved repeatedly. It wasn’t that he was poorly paid, it was because he had extravagant taste in clothing (a dandy like me???) and he was an inveterate gambler. Even his eventual demise wasn’t a result of a major disease and through the neglect of the Viennese, it was because blood letting was the common treatment for fevers and he succumbed to his infection in his weakened state.

The highlight of the markets was the “Fruit Cake”. Well, the culinary highlight. We were amazed at the cost of the decorations on sale. Wonderful glass baubles to hang on your tree for 20 euro plus. Seriously, you’d want to attach very carefully out of the way of wagging dogs tails and kids hands, and it would cost close to $1,000 to decorate a tree.

Footsore, we returned to the boat for lunch and a quick turnaround to Schonbrunn Palace. 1,200 rooms in the palace, however we visited only the Imperial rooms. A dozen or so rooms, some public others private. Marquetry flooring like no other flooring I’ve ever seen. Not timber in geographic patterns but artwork in timber. Rooms with walls made of lacquered artwork. A bed the size of a double king size with elaborate embroidered canopies and covers that was only used to introduce mother and child to the nobles for one night. That’s a ceremonial bed, that among others, Maria Theresia used on 16 occasions over 20 years to introduce her newborn children. We lost track of the Hapsburgs inbred lineage, but apparently another of the women gave birth to 23 children.

Despite the fact that the Austro-Hungarian empire was created through the marriage of Hapsburgs to princes and princesses, kings and queens all over Europe, they inter bred to maintain the familial loyalty to such a degree that eventually the male line died out.

While inside the palace wasn’t as crowded as most we have visited over the years, at 59 euros a head, we weren’t surprised. Outside however it was heaving. Possibly the largest of the Christmas Markets occupied half the courtyard which is possibly 100 m x 100 m. Ches decided she’d rather have a chocolate and apple strudel at the café while I ventured around to the back of the palace to photograph the gardens.

As I worked my way through the crowds returning from the gardens, there was more and more snow and ice among the gravel paths. I identified a spot in the gardens which would give me the best vantage point to photograph the palace and gardens, and headed in that direction. The next minute I hit the ground as if poleaxed. I went down face forward, ripped a hole in my sleeve and my right arm through three layers of clothing, jarred my right shoulder and bruised my hip. I struggled to crawl to more firm ground before someone ran across to help me back on my feet. I still took some photos before returning to the café, only to find that Ches couldn’t be bothered queueing to get in.

Outside on the street, we looked down the lines of buses and the 40 or so palace apartments that are now rented as housing (nice if you can get it). No sign of the bus, so we waited patiently for the others to join us for the trip back to the boat.

A hasty light dinner and then back on the bus for a trip out of town to a monastery where we would get to see the most ancient of enameled alter pieces (kinda like a triptych ). In the original dining room, we also had a private concert. 7 musicians and two singers from the Vienna Opera company provided a concert of works by all the famous composers of Vienna. So much better than the many concerts being performed for tourists throughout Vienna, these were fine musicians and they were worth standing ovations.

After a 20 minute run back to the ship, they had a supper set up for us. As the guide explained, a famous sausage was invented in the region, however the butchers name was unknown, so they called it a “Frankfurter”. In Frankfurt they faced the same problem, so called it a “Weiner” (Vienna is called Wein in Austria). The Americans just called it a “Hot Dog”

At 10.30 we retired to our room, me with a snifter of Grand Marnier.

Klimt and Torts Vienna, Austria Dec 15, 2018

Klimt and Torts

Vienna, Austria

Dec 15, 2018

more from Vienna, Austria

Friday night Ches struggled to stay awake again but finally surrendered at 10.00pm and slept till 5.00am. I made it from midnight till 5.00 am. Adding on the 2.5 hour nap from yesterday afternoon, I figured we would do OK. I pottered till around 6.00 when I became desperate for a coffee. Peering out into the gloom, I realized it was snowing. I checked on line for a coffee shop open near by and discovered it was at the central railway station a couple of hundred meters down the street. I rugged up and ventured out into the snow, returning 15 minutes later with coffee and breakfast filled bread rolls.

We repacked our cases and dressed for a day out in the snow. I ended up wearing four layers of tops, a beanie that Dave & Sue gave me, two scarves and two pairs of gloves (inner ones fingerless). Ann knitted me a tube scarf some years ago. It fitted beneath the third layer of clothing. Because three of the layers were Icebreaker merino, it wasn’t at all bulky. Just time consuming putting on and taking off every time we entered a building.

The plan was to put our bags in storage at the hotel, spend the morning at the Upper Belvedere Palace, walk into town to Café Sacher for lunch and then return to hotel and then taxi to the SS Beatrice moored on the Danube by 3.00pm. The plan was executed with military precision.

The Upper Summer Palace is certainly grand with its marble staircase and marble hall (where the documents were signed to return Austria to nation status in 1955) however it is largely an art gallery. The highlights are the extensive collection of Klimt paintings and that’s where we spent most of our time. They were wonderful. By mid-day, the place was packed with northern and eastern Europeans. Talk about anarchy. We had already experienced the German’s reluctance to queue when in Italy, however we didn’t realize the entire geopolitical region was largely anarchic. Just one experience was when a lift arrived and we stood back to let the passengers off, those behind us just pushed through and we were left to climb the stairs. Then there was the chap who when I opened the door to leave the bathroom, just pushed inside, brushing me aside.

Outside we decided to walk down through the gardens to the Lower Palace. Families were playing in the snow; forming snow angels and there I discovered how to make snowballs. One young girl ran at quite a pace, bent over and rolling a handful of snow ahead of her. After about 15 meters it had grown in size and she scooped it up and flung it at her father.

It was snowing quite heavily as we made our way through one of the Christmas markets and up into town where Café Sacher is opposite the Opera House. There we queued in the snow for around 20 minutes for a table. Once inside, we discovered that the majority were just having Sacher Torte and Coffee or Chocolate. We had decided to have lunch, so to distinguish us from the hoi polloi, our table was reset with a table cloth and a smaller serving table placed beside our table. Ches had Goulash Soup and I the sausages (Wieners) with horseradish and mustard. The Goulash was sensational and my sausages best eaten alone as the horseradish cleared my sinuses through to the back of my skull and my eyes ran instantly. Shaved fresh horseradish is much like wasabi, and I had eaten about a table spoon of it. My sinuses just shuddered thinking about it.

We then had a Sacher Torte which was so much better than our previous experience in Vienna and therefore confirms that Café Sacher can rightfully claim to be the upholder of the tradition. To accompany the torte, Ches had hot chocolate with Sacher Liqueur while I had espresso with orange liqueur and brandy topped with whipped cream. Oh my!!!!

Being serious clients, there was no giving us the bums rush. In fact, after trying to get the account for around 10 minutes, we re-dressed (it takes some time when you’re wearing so many layers) and went to the front desk to pay.

Outside it was snowing quite heavily and I estimated that it was around 4cm for the day. We decided to walk down to, and through, the State Park on our way back to the hotel. This took us past the University Music and Concert building. It also took us past the theater we had attended for a concert some years ago. It had been packed with people in sweltering heat and the performance was period over the top Strauss. I prefer my Strauss heard but not seen. I only mention this because tomorrow night we will be attending another concert at a different venue.

Back at the hotel, we retrieved our luggage and had them call us a taxi. We rolled our luggage to the front door and it opened to reveal the taxi driver. He had been parked out front. It was an uneventful 15 min drive to the ship. It was an eventful arrival. We had forgotten about Uniworld customer service. The wouldn’t let us touch a bag as they unloaded and took them straight to our room while we checked in.

We unpacked and stowed everything in the amazingly well designed storage spaces in our cabin then it was up to the bar for a G&T, cruise briefing, meet other travelers and then dinner and more drinks.

We were joined for dinner by Robyn and Alan, a couple from Perth. Both retired, he was a lawyer, ex Airforce and after early retirement at 55, went off to work for one of the big PNG miners in the highlands. Now in late 60’s he still surfs, rides bikes etc. Also into genealogy, we discovered his family had been on the Kalgoorlie/Bolder fields at the same time as my family from the late 1800’s. Still to find out more about Robyn.

On our last cruise, I had adopted the affectation of taking a Cognac back to the room to finish the evening. Ches decided to join me. She argues that she asked me to get a double Baileys because she was basing the portion on the thimble sized one she had on our flight over. She’d forgotten that Uniworld’s singles are anyone else’s doubles. She said she would finish it off for breakfast. It’s becoming a habit. Actually, she guiltily poured the remainder out.

Beef Goulash Soup

½ pound salt pork or uncured bacon, diced small

2 pounds chuck, cut into ½ inch pieces

4 cups onion, large dice

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (regular paprika if this is not available)

½ bottle dark beer such as Guinness (3/4 cup)

1 ½ cups pureed tomatoes (Cento canned kitchen ready is what we used)

6 cups beef stock

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

2 teaspoons marjoram

2 teaspoons dry thyme

8 parsley stems

4 medium peeled garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

2 pounds yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Sour cream, for serving

Chopped scallion greens, for garnish

Russian rye or pumpernickel bread, for serving


In a 5 ½ quart Dutch oven over medium high heat, cook salt pork until crisp then remove to a large bowl, leaving fat in the pot.

Sear the beef in three batches for about 3-4 minutes per batch. Remove each batch to the same bowl as the salt pork.

Add the onions, lower the heat to medium and stir to combine. Then add the beef and salt pork over the top of the onions. After about five minutes stir and cook for another three minutes.

Add the vinegar and cook to evaporate, about two minutes.

Add the flour and paprika and cook for three minutes, using a wooden spoon to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Add the beer and mix to combine, scraping any brown bits from the pan bottom.

Add the tomatoes and the stock and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil.

While the pot heats, place caraway, marjoram, thyme, parsley stems, garlic and bay leaves in a piece of cheese cloth and secure with twine and add to the pot.

Once heated, reduce to a simmer and cook 45 minutes being careful not to let it stick to the bottom. For the last 15 minutes, we put a heat diffuser under the pot.

After the beef cooks for 45 minutes, add the potatoes and cook 20-25 minutes longer or until the potatoes are cooked through. Make sure to use the heat diffuser and stir to keep it from sticking. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Remove and discard spice bag.

Serve with sour cream and scallions on top, and Russian rye or pumpernickel bread on the side.


Sydney to Vienna and Vienna, Germany Dec 13, 2018

Sydney to Vienna and Vienna, Germany

Dec 13, 2018


What you get when you travel from east to west is a day that’s around 36 hours long. That can provide justification for all sorts of odd behavior.

The flight from Sydney to Doha was the longest leg of any journey we have ever made …. 15 hours. As we departed the aircraft in Doha, I suggested to Ches that I expected to get an excellent cup of coffee, being that the middle east is the origin of coffee. Barely into the terminal and I came across Starbucks, and then near our next departure lounge, Jamocca. Actually the Jamocca wasn’t bad but what possessed them to allow a Starbucks.

At 7.30 am we took off again for Vienna. Ches had donuts and Baileys Irish Cream for breakfast. She argued that it was really 5.30 pm. I considered the Cognac but couldn’t even justify that if it was 5.30.

We arrived in Vienna at 11.30 am local time to an overcast day and -1c. I’d chosen the Novotel beside the main railway station in Vienna, because there is a train that runs from the airport to the city. At -1c and after 24 hours in transit, we opted for a taxi instead. Probably not the best option as the traffic entering the city choked on 10,000 Glaswegian Rangers fans arriving for a game against Vienna.

By the time Ches had had a shower and changed, it was 2.00 pm and given that the sun sets at 4.00ish, we decided we wouldn’t venture to the center of town. We definitely needed a walk however. Who’d of though it, leave the hotel, take a left turn, another left turn a right turn and another left turn and what do we find? The Belvedere Palace. Vast gardens and the upper and lower palaces were quite a surprise and even more so, a “Christmas market”.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that both the Belvedere Palaces and Blenheim Palace in England were built by their military chiefs at around the same time and designed to celebrate great victories. Prince Eugene had several major victories against the Ottoman Empire and the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill) defeated the French and Bavarians and thwarted their attempt to control the old Spanish possessions in Northern Europe. Both Palaces aimed to match Versailles and were built in the early 1700’s.

By the time we walked through the gardens to the upper palace, our hands were frozen … even with gloves on. The Christmas Markets are set up along the front of the Upper Palace. Even though our river cruise is to take in the Christmas markets along the Danube and Main-Danube Canal, I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, there are stalls selling Christmas decorations and clothing but also lots of stalls selling food and crafts, just like markets everywhere in the world. It’s just with a Christmas theme.

We did a circuit of the market to get the lay of the land. As almost all stands only took cash, we then had to find an auto teller and withdraw euros. By this stage, I’d removed my gloves to take some 50 photos with my phone. I’d left my camera at the hotel in the belief that there wasn’t going to be any photo ops. My fingers were freezing, so I bought a Teufelsgriller Hot Dog. A spicy sausage inserted into a hollowed out bread roll with tomato and mustard sauces. Ches went to another stand and bought a hot alcoholic apple drink and an Orange/Rum drink for me. All the stalls selling hot drinks serve them in mini steins. We paid a 4euro deposit each of the steins which was refunded when we finished our drinks. We also shared a massive shortbread (much more cakey than Ches’s shortbread). Finally we bought some pastries to have for dinner and a cone of fried shaved potato. Like crisps, the potatoes are shaved with a fine peeler and fried in long strips, that curl up into clumps.

With frost bight imminent, we headed for home as the gloom descended. This is our first experience of all the lights on at 3.00 pm and the light fading. On the way home, we were passed by a woman on a motorized scooter with a small headlight on the handle bar. We noticed these e-scooters on footpaths all the way home. They were introduced in Vienna in September. Instead of racks of e-bikes like we have trialed in Australia, they have these scooters.

I’m writing this blog as we attempt to stay awake till around 8.00 pm, when we expect to sleep through the night.

Horses and Schnitzel Wien, Austria Dec 14, 2018

Horses and Schnitzel

Wien, Austria

Dec 14, 2018

We couldn’t stay awake past 7.30 pm on Thursday evening. Struggled but collapsed in a heap. While we woke numerous times during the night, we managed to stay in bed until 4.00 am, so 8 or so hours of a kinda sleep. It was worth waking up early as we came in on the end of WhatsApp threads announcing that Malia had been guaranteed a place at UNSW in the B Science Data Analytics and Decisions degree. Wonderful news and a just reward for all her dedication.

We decided that breakfast would be a left over apricot filled “bun” and that I would go down stairs for coffee and tea. I struggled back in the lift with two trays. Café late consists of a tall glass filled with frothed milk and an espresso cup of coffee poured over the top. “Over the top” did I say … $AUD7.12. At this point I fess up to having had a cup of Nestle instant coffee at 4.00 am. Out of the darkness I heard Ches say “You’ve gotta be desperate”

The “Apricot filled bun” turns out to be Krapfen. “The recipe for Krapfen was published in a 1485 German cookbook that was printed on the Gutenberg press. Though these delicious sugary treats have been around for a while, they only achieved widespread popularity in Vienna during the 19th century, when the cost of sugar became significantly less expensive.

Today’s Krapfen resemble the old recipe but modern Vienna has created a set of standards that must be met to be deemed worthy of the name. They must contain apricot jam – in fact at least 15% of the doughnut must be filling. And bakers must use six fresh egg yolks for every kilogram of flour used.

The penalty for not adhering to the regulations: a visit and a fine from the MA 59 Inspectorate. This group of magistrates is responsible for ensuring the quality of food and food safety standards in the city, and this means the Krapfen as well.”

35 g (1.2oz) fresh yeast

85 ml (6 tbsp) room temperature milk

100 g (3.5 oz) flour for pre-dough (all purpose or gluten free)

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg

45 g (1.6oz) white sugar

2 tbsp dark rum or whiskey

1 vanilla bean, scraped (sub for 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1 lemon, zested

290 g (10.2oz) flour for Krapfen dough (all purpose or gluten free)

80 g (2.8oz) room temperature butter

8 g (1.5 tsp) salt

canola oil for frying

apricot jam, passed through sieve, flavored with rum

confectioner sugar (with scraped vanilla)

For the pre-dough, mix yeast, milk and all purpose flour together, wrap with plastic
Proof for about 1-2 hours at room temperature
Cream yolks, eggs, sugar, rum, vanilla bean, and lemon zest
Mix pre dough with egg mixture and the remaining flour
Start mixing at medium speed with hook attachment
Half way through the mixing process, add butter and salt, mix to a smooth dough for 4-5 minutes
Measure to 50 g (1.8 oz) pieces, shape into balls, press flat, place on with flour dusted towel and proof
Cover with flour dusted towels and proof for about 1-2 hours. They should almost double the size
Fry in hot canola oil for 3 minutes in a covered pan, flip them and fry for 3 more minutes
Once golden brown, cool them down on a rack, squeeze apricot jam inside, and dust with confectioner sugar

Rapid Vienna defeated Glasgow Rangers 1 nil. Could be 10,000 unhappy Glaswegans in town for the weekend.

We decided that after such a long flight, we needed a long walk. As to where to and to what purpose, not so sure, so the information office probably the best bet. The hotel map we had was good enough to identify that the Belvedere Palace stretched down the hill toward the edge of the city center and from there I thought I could find the i. With the assistance of a chap who we thought had a South African accent, but turned out to be a local who worked as a translator, we weaved through the labyrinth that is at the core of Vienna and found a warm refuge. It was around zero, and taking gloves off to read the map meant that my memory improved significantly.

We had looked at an online guide book before leaving the hotel, so did in fact have an idea about our options and something indoors was looking appealing. I guess we didn’t spend any more than 2 min in the information center. Just long enough to pick up another map (which included 2 walking tours of Vienna) and loose directions to the Spanish Riding School.

The queues at the Winter Riding School arena were chaotic. No supervision, just figure it out for yourself. We figured that the queue out the door and 50m back up the portico was for people who already had tickets. Ours was the shorter, slower moving one to the left. Inside, the pre purchaced ticket holders had occupied all the seats on both levels of the arena. We decided on the top level and lucked it to two standing positions and eventually two seats (after about an hour). Most people only stayed for two of the four 30 minute training sessions. We stayed for 3 and a half.

The Lipizzaner stallions are bred around 3 hours south of Vienna. They are born black or dark grey and only turn white after around 15 years. Kind of like me. Obviously we had greater expectations in the white horses, being older. Again, much like me.

Magnificent horses and riders and amazing relationships established between them. Perhaps the highlight were two horses who took all their weight on their back legs and just lifted their forelegs off the ground with their bodies still parallel with the ground. Not raised up on their hind legs with their center of gravity shifted back, but just forelegs lifted. The older of the two could even achieve it while mounted, while the younger with the rider standing beside him.

Back out in the freezing cold, Ches took over the navigating and after we spent 30 minutes, lost, returned to the riding school and retraced our steps to the information center, from where I guided us across town to Purstner at Riemergasse 10. 2,859 reviewers on TripAdvisor give it a 4.5 ranking. I was on a mission. Before visiting Vienna some years ago, I researched Schnitzel extensively and left disappointed. This time, I was determined to find a schnitzel that I could sit on without any oil staining my pants. Apparently the secret of the best schnitzel is that they be fried in oil with little oil remaining on the crumb. Purstner may not serve the best schnitzel in Vienna, and I don’t have time to try all the contenders, but it was excellent. My serviette didn’t come away greasy after patting the schnitzel. I only have three pairs of jeans and wasn’t going to risk them. We also ordered Pork Ribs.

We made it through the schnitzel but only half the ribs. Our host, in Lederhosen and checked short sleeved shirt (It’s mid-winter … really) wrapped our ribs in foil. They sufficed for dinner. We barely ate any of the potato however couldn’t resist the sauerkraut. No room for desert but just enough for 2 500ml glasses of Pils. One dark the other light.

We needed another long walk. We therefore headed down to the State Park before heading across to the Summer Palace and back up the hill to our hotel. At some point I made the observation that I was warming to Vienna. It was 1 degree. Ches and my father would have ganged up on me at that point, so in defense I argued that us right brain people just come out with lines like that. We are the creative people. Vienna had left me cold in mid-summer those many years ago. Sorry, couldn’t help it.

Back in the hotel, by 3.00, with the light fading, we decided on a 60 min nap. My timer didn’t work and we woke up 2.5 hours later.

Now it’s 11.00 and time to try for a full nights sleep.

Pasimata or Bundjalung Anise Myrtle Cake


I’ve been sitting on a bundle of Easter bread and cake recipes for many years.  Some years I’ve baked Panettone and Cheryl has been baking Hot Cross Buns, so I’ve never made the time to experiment with any of my recipes.  This year might be the beginning of regular adaptations of European breads and cakes.

Pasimata Cake: a recipe from the Garfagnana   ….   or    Bundjalung Anise Myrtle Cake

Pasimata is an Easter cake from the Garfagnana area of Italy.  The Gafagnana is mountainous country north of Lucca in Tuscany.  An ancient cake, it was probably originally made with spelt flour.

Aniseed Myrtle is a tree native to northern New South Wales, the Bundjalung peoples country.  The Arakwal, Banbai, Birbai, Galiabal, Gidabal, Gumbainggeri, Jigara, Jugambal, Jugumbir, Jungai, Minjungbal, Ngacu, Ngamba, Nyangbal and Widjabal, Arakwal, Banbai, Birbai, Galiabal, Gidabal, Gumbainggeri, Jigara, Jugambal, Jugumbir, Jungai, Minjungbal, Ngacu, Ngamba, Nyangbal and Widjabal peoples have lived in this country for some 30,000+ years.  There is evidence that indigenous peoples ground native seeds to make bread 30,000 years ago.

I decided to use an ancient Italian recipe to bake an ancient Australian cake.

My original recipe is Aurelio Barattini’s recipe for a cake baked at Antica Locanda di Sesto restaurant in Sesto di Moriano (Lucca). The ingredients in brackets are those I used to replace/substitute.


500 g wheat flour (40 g coconut flour, 20 g bread improver, 240 g white spelt flour & 200 g white bread flour)

3 eggs  (5 eggs)

200 g butter or lard (butter)

200 g sugar (caster sugar)

50 g yeast (3/4 cup sourdough starter)

150 g raisins (50 g dried sour cherries 100 g Outback Prides’s Australian Wild Fruit- Muntries, Quandong, Native Currants, Illawarra Plums and Desert Limes)

1 tablespoon anise seeds (Anise Myrtle powder)


Pasmata Method

  • Dissolve the yeast in warm water with two spoons of flour. Let stand overnight.
  • Divide the ingredients in three parts (except the butter, the anise and raisins)
  • Incorporate to the mixture the first part of the ingredients (one egg, the first part of the flour and sugar. Knead well and let it rest for 2 hours.
  • Add the second part of the ingredients, knead and let rise for another 2 hours.
  • Finally add the third part of the ingredients and combine everything with the melted butter, the anise and the raisins.
  • Knead well, place on a 30cm diameter baking pan (on baking paper) and let it rise for 2 hours. Bake at 180c for about 1 hour.
  • Let it cool and serve with a glass of Tuscan Vin Santo.


Bundjalung Method

  • Use sourdough starter that has been fed and expanded … that is, very active.
  • Mix all the flours and caster sugar in a bowl.
  • Add one third of the flour/sugar mixture and two eggs to the sourdough starter. Knead well and let rest for 2 hours.
  • Add the second third of the flour/sugar and 1 egg. Knead well and let rest for two hours.
  • Add the anise myrtle and fruits to the last third of flour and mix to coat, then add to the mixture with last 2 eggs and butter and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Line a 25cm spring form pan with baking paper, pour in batter and let it rise for 2 hours or longer to rise.
  • Bake at 180c for about 1 hour.
  • Let it cool and serve with a glass of Rutherglen Fortified (Port style) or Muscat

This is a cross between a bread and a cake.  Despite the butter content, it isn’t like a brioche or a panettone.  It has a very fine crumb.  Delicious with very subtle flavours, and it can be lightly toasted. Even the crumbs when picked up with a licked finger taste amazing.


Anise Myrtle

Traditionally Aboriginal people used it medicinally as a tonic which had a vitalising effect.

Mature leaves. The leaves are typically dried and milled used as a tea or flavour ingredient or steam destilled to obtain anise myrtle essential oil.

Anise myrtle leaves are harvested all year.

There is little known about traditional uses of anise myrtle, although it has been reported that the trees were harvested during World War 2, when aniseed flavouring was in short supply. The leaves are believed to have been made into a tonic with a vitalising effect.

Aroma of aniseed, menthol and herbal. Flavour of aniseed, some sweetness and slightly cooling on the palate.

Anise myrtle leaves milled for anise liquorice flavour in sweet and savoury products. The milled leaves are used to impart a distinctively sweet anise flavour in teas, drinks, syrups, glazes, cakes, biscuits, dressings, sauces and icecreams. Anise myrtle essential oil is used as a flavouring ingredient. It has the ability to mask unpleasant odors form other foods and is also used in the cosmetic industry.


A study by Zhao et. al. (2007) showed strong activity of anise myrtle in both methanol and water extract against the common food spoilage bacteria Bacillus subtilis. Anise myrtle methanol extract also demonstrated activity against the Cholera causing human pathogen Vibrio cholerae. Antioxidant activity using ß-carotene bleaching in this study showed 40.6% of inhibition and free radical scavenging activity using DPPH measured 55.6 %. The total phenolic content using Folin-Ciocalteu procedure measured 55.9 ± 4.7**(mg GA Eq/gDW)


A Moderately Indulgent Life

This is a draft of a memoir.  Originally imagined to be a reflection on my life through the senses of smell, touch, hear, taste and seeing it kinda morphed into:

1 Running, Jumping, Standing Still, 2 Hunting and Gathering, 3 Aural Gluttony, 4 Silence is Golden, 5 Touchy Feeley, 6 Smelly, 7 Vistas, 8 Songlines, 9 Work and Leisure, 10 Politics and Philosophy

Running, Jumping, Standing Still


At best I would describe myself as an enthusiastic sportsman.  From a very early age I loved sport and physical activity, but I was never more than mediocre at anything.  In fact, I perversely took pride in my mediocrity.


For years I kept the newspaper clipping from the state swimming carnival held at the North Sydney Baths.  Appropriately, the baths are no more than a good cricket ball throw away from the grinning face at the entrance to Luna Park.  Well, not my throw.  My sister could probably have thrown that far, but not I.  Anyway, mine was a stunning performance in the final heat of the 100 yard butterfly (pre metric in those days of the late 1950’s.).  Most people would have thought that it was a typographical error which recorded that my time in winning that heat was twice the time of the winners of every other of the seven heats.  No, no error.   Fortunately there was no report on the degree to which I struggled to stay afloat and flail my way for the two lengths of the pool.


Then there was the regional athletics carnival held at the Sports Ground (what has since been replaced by the Sydney Football Stadium) and the Sydney Cricket Ground.  My cousin Dianne Coggan was a genuine athlete.  A runner, coached by Betty Cuthbert, the recently retired Commonwealth Games and Olympic champion, Dianne was serious.  I discovered tobacco around the age of 15, so was never going to have the “wind” to seriously compete.


At our school athletic carnival when in year 11, I had surprised everyone except myself when I finished in the top three in both the 110 yards and 220 yards sprints.  I had always fancied myself as a sprinter.  At Vaucluse Primary School, there was just one class per year and therefore this big fish in a very small pond was the fastest boy in the class.  I was also a very big boy.  At primary school there were 5 stone 7 lb and a 6 stone 7 lb rugby league teams.  By the time I reached year 6, I was already over 6 stone 7 lb and could only play when there were no weight scales at the ground and they could “ring” me in.  I was big, fast and strong.  I could sprint when in clear space, I could also drag two or three tacklers many meters and I could hand off the ball to team mates when under pressure.  I drove all the coaches mad because I preferred to play rugby union.


More of rugby later.   Back to athletics.


Being big, it took me around 80 yards to get to full speed.  In the final of the 110 yards race, I reached top speed 30 yards from the finishing tape and flashed into 2nd place behind the school champion Hal Hermann.   I know it’s hard to believer but there was a time when two people held a tape stretched at chest height across the finish line and the winner was determined by judging who’s body touched the tape first.   In the final of the 220 yard race, I powered on at 80 yards, took the lead at the 200 yard mark and died over the last 20 yards.  Nicotine constituted 50% of my sweat and my lungs were in danger of exploding.  I finished third; again to Hal Hermann.  I crossed the line, did a right hand turn and continued running into the toilet where I threw up.


When it came time to select representatives for the school in the regional championships, it was decided that as I had done so well in the sprints but only the first place runners could compete, I would represent the school in the discus and javelin.  Neither Doody Wiggins or myself had ever thrown either a discus or javelin.  We were both big strong kids, approaching 17 years old.  Neither of us was particularly bright.  Neither of us considered that two weeks training in “field” events was insufficient to compete at an elite level.  Doody finished last in the discus and second last in the javelin.  I finished last in the javelin and second last in the discus.  Actually, Doody was a bright kid, but more of that later.


When it came to a decision between rugby league or rugby union, there really was no contest.  I ended up playing both; but only one with any real enjoyment.  My uncle Kevin was a great rugby union player.  He played 148 1st Grade games for Eastern Suburbs in the 50’s and 60’s.  He was a Waratah playing 2 games in 1952 and 1953 scoring a try in one game.  He played for Sydney in one of the first games against the Fijians, and was selected to tour South Africa with the 1953 Wallabies.  In those days when Rugby Union was amateur, he had to decide between going on an unpaid tour or marrying Aunty June.  When he withdrew from the Wallabies, his arch rival Peter Johnson was chosen instead.  In those days, the contest for the ball in the scrum was furious.  Peter Johnson and Ken Catchpole were the Randwick and Australian combination of Hooker and Halfback.  Uncle Kevin was never selected again.  He played out his career at Easts in bloody confrontations with his brother Don (Sydney University and Eastwood), Peter Johnson and anyone who played for Gordon.  As a country sales representative he was on the road most weeks and eventually had to retire just two games short of the major 150 game milestone.


My father Bruce was from Melbourne and while his sports had been tennis, golf, sailing, lacrosse and Aussie rules football (the Demons were his team), exposure to Uncle Kevin had made him a passionate convert to Rugby.  So was I. At a very early age I was taken to the Saturday fixtures at Woollahra Oval.  I even have an early memory of Uncle Kevin taking me to Sydney University Oval for one of his games.  All I really remember is driving through the Carillon Ave gates in his car with a blanket over the front bench seat (cars rarely had bucket seats in those days).  On the seat between us was a radio made of brown bakelite with two hinged doors that when opened switched the radio on.  It was about the size of a champagne bottle box, so must have been an early version of the transistor radio.  I also remember that the ground, like all rugby grounds was surrounded by a hessian fence.  The hessian was strung on wire, stored  in boxes every 50 meters or so and on game day strung out around the ground.  Being amateur, money was scarce and the game was screened off from the public.  At Sydney University, there were brick ticket boxes and turnstiles.  As sophisticated as the Cricket Ground.  The ticket boxes are still there today, stacked with corner posts and goal post pads, reduced to storage facilities.


It was also an era when women played very little organised team sport.  They were to be found spectating.  The absolute best looking women were at the rugby.  All dressed up and made up.  Sydney University versus Easts was a smorgasboard.


It wasn’t just that I came from a Rugby family that drew me to Union over League.  The main factor was that Rugby was a weight based game while rugby was aged based.  By the time I started at Vaucluse Boys High School, I was as big as boys two years older than I and only eligible for the 8 stone 7 lb teams.  I remember the sports master Mr Gill setting up the antipodean version of a sauna in the storeroom adjoining his office on the main assembly quadrangle.  Here he had heaters to raise the temperature into the high 30’s and we boys who were within a pound or so of making the correct weight would don army greatcoats and sweat off the weight on game day (Wednesdays).


For two or three years in high school, I always had to play with boys who were my size but so much older and emotionally and physically tougher.  In the front row, there were head clashes.  Deliberate head clashes as we testosterone driven deer fought with our antlers.  I had heavily padded head gear to survive.  We also played against the toughest kids from the all the other eastern, southern and inner west schools of Sydney, and many regarded it as an opportunity to beat-up the soft eastern suburbs boys.  Petersham were only on the field for the fighting and football was secondary.


Most of the Watson’s Bay boys were league players.  Mr Wolfe and his son Peter were fanatical leaguies, and provided coaching for all the weekend teams in the Watsons Bay and Vaucluse area.  They always had their eye on me.  They figured I would always attract two or three defenders because of my size and speed and coupled with my ability to pass the ball even when in the grasp of the tackle, I was a natural.  The only thing I lacked was ticker.  If truth be told, I wasn’t particularly fond of pain.  I didn’t have a problem with catching, passing, running and kicking, but front on tackling was never a skill that came naturally.  It invariable involved pain.  In those days, front on tackling was never a skill taught in Rugby Union.  It’s a strange thing that I had no problem in being tackled.  I could brace myself and allow two or three players to hit me and still maintain my feet and drive forward, but having to put myself into the position of being run over or having to dive and make a tackle that would remove all the skin from my hip to my knee was a real problem.  I spent weeks every season with a weeping scabby graze that would generate so much pain when I took the top off in making another tackle, that I became expert in avoiding any field position that would necessitate me having to tackle.


What I lacked in substance I made up for in style.  From a very early age, I adopted a number of rituals.  I was always the last player to run on the field (David Campese adopted this affectation many years after I ceased playing).  When challenged by any other player who wanted to run on last I always responded’ “last on first off”.  I always had polished boots and I laced on my boots with 2 meter long linen tape that was always freshly washed and ironed.  I would wrap the tape around under the boot and then loop around the heel and back to loop through the horizontal to then pull down back under the foot and back to the top to tie, which would lock the boot onto my foot so tight that it could never come off in a tackle.


So, it was rugby league every Wednesday at school and rugby union every Saturday.  Dad and Uncle Norm (Wilson) assembled a team to play every Saturday.  I don’t remember anyone coaching us, but I do remember Dad and Norm scrounging together 15 players every Saturday and organising transport.  I remember playing in Eastern Suburbs/Randwick rep. teams at state carnivals; getting walloped by Manly by 50 points in the days when a try was only worth 3 points.  We lost a lot.  Amazingly, I was at a loss at the end of every season and couldn’t wait for the next one to start.


In between two competition games per week, we played touch football on the lawnie every day after school and for hours on Sunday afternoon.  We couldn’t get enough football.


The lawnie was the park in Cove St., just 20 meters down from our house.  Two giant Moreton Bay Fig Trees and a set of swings took up a third of the space on the left hand side and a row of shrubs surrounded by mesh cages down the right hand side.  In summer, the mesh cage around one of the shrubs served as a wicket and we played cricket.  I couldn’t bowl or bat, got bored easily in the field after around 3 minutes, and consequently have few memories of any summer fun at the lawnie.  Dave Gibson went on to play grade cricket and it became such a passion that when he won the lottery in his fifties, and never having married he spent much of it on his beloved Waverly Cricket Club.


I had many fond memories of playing touch at the lawnie.  A crowd of us boys would spend hours playing a strategic game of touch, working the ball backwards and forwards and manipulating a gap between the defence and the nail and charcoal strewn patch in the centre of the lawnie.  This was the hearth of our annual bonfire.  On the Empire Day weekend in May, we would have a massive bonfire.  For months before hand, we would collect branches in the forest between Cliff St. and the army barracks on South Head.  We also collected driftwood and anything else flammable and stored them in backyards around the neighbourhood.  As the week before bonfire night approached, we would add to the bonfire till on the eve it was the biggest in Sydney.  The core was always the heavy timber and the bulk eventually made up of the fronds from the palm trees that lined the path down the middle of MacRobertson Park.


Eventually the bonfires became so big that the fire brigade would arrive late afternoon and hose it down before we could even light it.  Our response was to dress one of the boys up as Guy Faulkes, and pull him around the street in a billy cart to collect money.  Then it was off to the service station to buy petrol to pour on the bonfire and counteract the water.  We had no idea who Guy Faulkes was, he was just a dress up character synonymous with cracker night.  Later we learnt that he was a man who had tried to blow up the British House of Parliament.  Australian’s being on the side of the underdog or anti-establishment, had adopted him.


Dinner was so hard to endure as we just wanted to be off down to the park for the lighting of the ‘bonnie’.  I don’t think I ever made it.  Someone always had it lit before mum and dad allowed us out to the front of the house with our boxes and bags of fireworks.  While it seemed that every other kid in the neighbourhood was allowed to run riot all night, throwing bungers at each other and generally terrorising the neighbourhood, I was firmly under my parents control.  Restricted to the street in front of the house, dad would set up the skyrockets and various roman candles.  Minimal explosives and lots of pretty show.  A bunger was about the largest explosive I was allowed; certainly not the double bungers or black and red monsters that it seemed every other kid had.  There wasn’t a lot of them either, so we would unpick sheets of ‘tom thumbs’, to set them off individually rather than as they were designed.  A sheet of tom thumbs would jump around the street as the wicks burnt down and each tom thumb went off individually.  A single tom thumb could even be held by the tips of two fingers to let off, with minimal damage to the fingers and only the occasional burn.  Little did we know that across the city boys were blinding themselves and damaging their fingers as they fired rockets at each other, threw bungers indiscriminately and generally took risks with what were basically explosives.  Eventually the government banned the bonfires because of the week of pollution that followed, and then the fireworks themselves.


What it meant to the lawnie was that the bonfire took two to three weeks to finally burn itself out.  The council probably took a few more weeks before they came to clear away the remnants of charcoal and bits of nails and metal that had fallen out of the timber.  Touch was played around and occasionally through this smouldering ash strewn circle in the middle of the lawnie.  We never wore shoes in the 50’s and 60’s, unless we were at school.  Touch was played in bare feet that became tougher and tougher.  A side step and two long strides could carry you through the middle of the rubble and off to score at the other end of the park.


I had a great side step from either foot, and I was fast.  I loved playing touch.  I could have played it all year. When I revisited the lawnie in my 50’s I was surprised at how much the park had shrunk.  The Moreton Bay Figs had always been big, but now they are so massive that the council has had to install posts under the main branches to keep them from collapsing.  The two trees must have always taken up a third of the park, but now it seems like half the park.  As the park is only around 50 meters square, we must have been playing touch on a field that was only 20m wide by 50m long.  How in the hell had we ever managed to score a try playing on such a small field?  Who was it that had played?  There was Robbie (Basha) McGann, Robert Newton, Greg and Peter Blake, Dave Gibson and myself.  Occasionally there might be Peter or Dave Abbott, but being Waverly College boys, they weren’t home from school till late in the day.  So, those titanic struggles were often just three on three. No wonder we developed great ball handling and support skills; we were always either carrying the ball, passing it or receiving it.


Those Moreton Bay Fig trees also had a big role to play in our lives.  By the time I moved to the Bay at 6 years of age, there was already a rope tied onto a branch way up high and an old car tyre attached to the end around two meters up from the ground, with a rope tail that reached the ground.  The older boys, and there was a wild group around five years older than us, would climb out along the branch that is parallel with the ground.  That’s the branch that today is supported by a post.  It is around three meters from the ground (to the top of the branch) and extends around 20 meters out from the trunk.  Once in position, someone on the ground would grab the tail and walk it across to the boy on the branch.  He would stand and climb into the tyre and then let go, swinging wide across the ground.  We graduated to this swing by the time that the older boys had moved on to brawling and daring each other to jump the blowhole at the Gap. We never made a similar transition when we reached our late teens.   We also used to cut notches in the bark of the tree trunks to milk the sap for chewing gum.  It tasted nothing like Wrigleys, but the gum if left to set for a week or so at least had the consistency of chewing gum.  The taste was quite bitter; but that’s for another chapter.


We’ve already established that I wasn’t much of a swimmer.  In fact, butterfly would have been my worst stroke.  I had been taught to swim by an ex Olympic coach Alf Vokler at the Watson’s Bay baths.  They’re still there today. Weed and shellfish encrusted bars formed a rectangular  swimming pool.  A timber deck above the bars provided a walkway around the pool and at low tide this was probable (and still is) 2 to 3 meters above the water.  Alf would strap a harness around my waist.  This was attached to a rope.  I would climb down a ladder into the water, feel the kelp brushing my feet and descend into the depths of fear and terror.  Meanwhile Alf would instruct me to let go of the ladder and swim the 15 meters or so to the next ladder.  I’d ignore him.  He’d insist.  I’d cling to the ladder.  With the rope, he’d drag me off the ladder.  In shear terror I’d attempt to flail to the next ladder.  In time Alf decided I was a waste of his time and Mum that it was a waste of her money.  She bought me a set of fins instead, and with the added buoyancy that came from kicking and actually moving across the surface of the water, I learnt to swim.


My sister Lesley was an asthmatic, and at some point toward the end of primary school, mum and dad decided that swimming would help Lesley and we should therefore swim competitively.  I can’t remember how many years we swam at the Bondi pool.  All I really remember were the memorable days when the surf was so big that it broke over the wall of the pool and made every race like a competition in a washing machine.


I loved being in the water, but just to muck around.  I spent hours every afternoon and all weekends in the water at Camp Cove.  Just mucking around.


Come summer at school, I’d spent years playing house cricket.  Basically everyone who couldn’t play cricket, would form teams to represent their “house”.  I believe mine was Phillip (after Captain Arthur Phillip).  For someone who was easily bored playing cricket, wicket keeping seemed like a position where you were at least always handling the ball and part of the action.  I couldn’t bowl or bat, had no sort of throwing arm, but how hard could it be to catch a ball when wearing gloves?  I had difficulty sitting behind the nets at lunchtime while my mates practiced their bowling.  I flinched at every ball, unable to convince my brain that there was a net between me and the ball.


I only had one memorable experience playing cricket.  Playing house cricket on what’s now the Colleagues Rugby Ground beside Woollahra Oval, some idiot actually hooked the ball.  Now that sort of stroke in House Cricket was unheard of.  I was only fielding 15 meters or so from the batsman.  The ball came like a rocket; so fast that in my attempt at self defence, I caught the ball with a combination of hands and stomach.  I asked if I could field at Long Stop in future.


Thank god I was finally saved from having to play cricket by the introduction of Water Polo to school sport.  Now this was serious mucking about in the water.  All my mates were in the team, we got to travel to schools all around the harbour and training also involved mucking around in the water.  The only down side was that a large part of training involved kicking my legs and attempting to keep my upper body out of the water up to my waist.


Most of the players for us and all the other schools we played were competition swimmers, but hey, water polo wasn’t about being the fastest.  It was about ball control and teamwork.  It was also about stamina and staying on the surface.  I had little stamina and spent most of the time being dunked and struggling to avoid drowning.   I was only used off the bench when we were either getting well and truly beaten or so far in front that we could afford to play virtually one short.  Nevertheless, I still loved being part of the action.


Slightly more serious mucking about in the water was how I experienced sailing.  Actually it began with just mucking around in the water.  The path that runs diagonally across Robertson Park used to be lined with palm trees.  As the outer fronds died and dried out, they would droop and hang down the trunk.  A strong wind would bring dozens of them down on the ground.  We would take them down to McGann’s  boatshed where we used a saw to cut off the fronds from the stump.  They always looked like the old sailing ships with a very high stern and a long pointy bow.  We would slip a piece of wood into the bottom to act as a keel, a piece of straight driftwood for a mast and then some stiff cardboard with a slot top and bottom to slide down over the mast, like an old square sail.  We would sail these across the bay in front of Doyles, and on occasions if the wind shifted, they would set sail up the harbour.  Never to be seen again.


Toward the end of primary school, dad built us a sabot.  There are still a few sabots sailing in Sydney today, but back in the early 60’s, there were large fleets of these training skiffs.  The Vaucluse 12ft Sailing Club was one of the first to introduce these boats to Australia.  They were only about 8ft long, had just the one main sail and a blunt bow.   No buoyancy tanks as this was really controversial.  When you capsized, that was it.  The time taken for a club launch to come along side, turn the boat vertical and drag it bow first out of the water to drain the water over the stern and refloat was such that you would never get back in the race.  Buoyancy tanks were seen to be not really skiff sailing and it was well into the sixties before they even allowed them in the evolving 12’, 16’ and 18’ skiffs.


Dad had to wait some time for the “mold” to become available.  This was a timber model of the boat that the frame of the boat was built around.  At that time, our home at 23 Cove St. Watsons Bay consisted of the original cottage and workshop built by my great grandfather Tom Coggan.  Tom was born in Bristol in 1865.  He learnt his trade with his father and uncles.  They were painters who specialised in painting timber to look like marble and all sorts of decorative and advertising painting.  He married a catholic girl (Mary Josephine Calli) in 1888 and was ostracised by his family and therefore moved to Cardiff.  When she died, he emigrated to Australia in the 1890’s and married Minnie Weeks.


Eventually they built the cottage and workshop at Watsons Bay.  His son, my grandfather Tom “Coge” Coggan eventually became a food chemist and worked for Sweetacres, the makers of Minties, Fantales and Jaffas.  We’ll come back to him later.  I guess through his connection with Sweetacres, his father was contracted to paint the Minties advertising signage on shops all over Sydney.  He also made the dials for AWA Radios.  These were glass with a hole drilled in the centre for the tuning arm and the stations lettered in gold leaf.   Unbeknown to Sweetacres, “Coge” was making biscuits on the side.  He had a bakery in City Rd close to Sydney University and was making the greaseproof  paper to wrap “Dad’s Cookies” in the Cove St. workshop.  Two large timber, metal lined vats were used to melt the wax through which the paper was rolled to coat it.  I assume the paper was then hung to drip dry.  What I do remember was that the floor had a centimetre deep coating of wax even when we moved there in 1954.


When great grandmother and great grandfather died, Uncle Donald, Aunty Vi and cousin Dianne moved there.  Dinie and I attended kindergaten and 1st class at Vaucluse Public School together, before they moved to Beecroft and we followed them in to Cove St.


When we arrived, the workshop was just as it always had been; a large unlined corrugated iron and fibro room with the corner walled off to enclose a claw footed bath tub (the bathroom).  The ceiling was simply a frame to hold timber offcuts.  The laundry was built In the side passage and consisted of a set of concrete tubs, a copper (gas heated) to boil and wash the clothes, a wringer to squeeze the water out of the clothes after rinsing in the tubs and a large timber cabinet for putting the dirty clothes waiting for the weekly wash day.


This was going to kill two birds with the one stone.  The workshop was ideal for building the boat and the laundry cabinet would provide much of the timber.  This was a project that would take months as dad could only work on it on weekends and of an evening after work.  If memory serves me correctly, the frame had to be built fairly quickly so it could be taken off the mold and passed on to the next family waiting to build their boat.  The bow and stern were made of thick marine ply, the ribs from the same marine ply shaped to be curved and rounded with no sharp edges on the inside but flat and square on the outside, to attach the sheets of thin marine ply to form the skin.  Once the frame was built, it could be removed from the mould and all the rest attached while it sat on three saw horses.  Dad was a perfectionist.  The final boat named “Gull” was a masterpiece.  The timber used to make the centreboard and rudder and various other bits and pieces came from the old laundry cabinet.  Black with layers of lacquer and old age when dad broke it up, it turned out to be a deep red cedar, absolutely glorious when coated with marine varnish.  Gull was the prettiest boat in the fleet of 30 or so.


What a shame we never did it justice in our sailing of it.  My sister Lesley crewed while I skippered.  We had always been  argumentative siblings.  Putting us in a confined space at sea was a recipe for disaster.  We were given the maximum handicap and never improved upon it.  Our only chance was on days with a really strong wind.  Starting 25 minutes ahead of the back markers and being heavy enough to keep our boat stable in a strong wind, we finished in the first three occasionally.  Often we found ourselves either becalmed in light breezes or being dragged out of the water after capsizing.  The boats were light enough that the club launch that shepherded us around the course could pull alongside us in the water, turn the boat upright and drag it up on the side of the launch as the water drained over the stern.  They would then slip it back into the water, we would re-board and continue on sailing.


That all came to an end when I graduated to sailing 12ft skiffs and VS’s.  A friend of mum’s, Geoff Batchelor, had bought a VS and wanted to race it at the Vaucluse Yacht Club.  Back in the 1930’s someone designed the Vaucluse Junior “VJ” and the Vaucluse Senior “VS”.  Both were beautiful, fast, unique and probably years ahead of their time.  I never got to sail the VJ but always wanted to.  They were around 10 foot long with a short bow sprit.  They had a fixed size main sail, jib and spinnaker.  They were fully enclosed and you sat on the deck.  Kind of like a floating coffin, but only around 9” deep.  In even a light breeze they skimmed across the water and to keep them flat you sat out on a plank that extended out over the water.  They had been designed to teach boys to sail at a time when boys were still pretty small.  Post WW2 our diets were much healthier and I suspect boys were much bigger than they had been in the 30’s.  Whatever, I was too heavy to make up a crew on a VJ and they couldn’t be sailed single handed.


The VS on the other hand was 15’ long with buoyancy tanks fore and aft and again fixed size sails.  To keep these on an even keel, there was a trapeze; a wire from near the top of the mast clipped on to a harness worn around the hips with straps through the legs.  This was for me.  Now my weight could be of use.  I controlled the jib and spinnaker at the same time as swinging out on the trapeze with my toes gripping the gunwale, feet several feet apart and knees slightly bent to ride the bucking boat as we flew across the waves.


Unfortunately there were always more lighter wind days than big blows.  We were competitive in a small fleet of 5 or so boats that raced at the Vaucluse Yacht Club, but really came into our own in strong winds.  There came the day when every other sailing club in Sydney decided that the storm was just too severe for racing.  All the other classes of boat at our club also decided to give it a miss.  No O.K. dingies, VJ’s or the Bluebird yachts that my father sailed.


We sailed a course that started from a line set up between Green Point and the wharf.  Looking back, I don’t remember ever having started from this point any other race.  We thought we would be smart and save our energy by just letting our sails off and just drifting behind the line waiting for the start.  Well it wasn’t exactly drifting, as the seas were high and the wind was buffeting us severely.  We were just too clever, and a gust of wind capsized us.  By the time Jeff, his son Michael and I had righted the boat and bailed it out, the rest of the fleet were almost down to the marker in Parsley Bay.  We set out in pursuit.  By the time we rounded in Parsley Bay, the rest of the fleet were scattered in the water between there and the marker back in Watsons Bay.  We rounded in the lead and set off on a shy run out past the Sow and Pigs across the harbour to the marker off Obelisk Beach.  As we flew past the pigs, I was out on trapeze with my head turned back toward the stern.  The water coming off the bow was blinding me, so I had to turn my head away.  As I looked back at Geoff, I heard an almighty “bang” and watched the rudder break away from the stern and slam down on the back deck.  The bottom bracket had broken and the 300mm long and 15mm thick stainless steel pin that held the rudder in place was twisted like it was made of liquorice.  The boat was careering out of control so I dropped my feet off the gunnel and swung down into the water, grabbed a stay and swung the boat into the wind while Geoff and Mick dropped the sails.


I had to stay in the water, holding the bow.  As usual, I was terrified of sharks so I kept my legs wrapped around the bottom of the boat as we drifted across the heads.  Actually it was the wind driving us across the heads and into Quarantine Beach.  Once we had dragged the boat up onto the sand, Geoff set off to find a public telephone.  He called back to the yacht club.  “it’s Geoff Batchelor” he said.  “Sorry, he’s not here, he’s out sailing” was the reply.  “No he’s not” said Geoff, “he’s over at Quarantine, can you send the club launch to tow us back.”


That’s how I had fun on Saturdays in summer.  On Sundays I now sailed in a 12’ skiff.  Like 16’ and 18’ skiffs, each boat had an emblem on their sale to identify them.  Almost all boats and yachts had numbers to identify them, but skiffs had emblems.  The most famous at the time were the oval in red and blue on each side of the diagonal for Yandoo sailed by Choco Winning, and a Blue Exclamation mark for Trivial sailed by his brother.  Skiffs had evolved from the 20’s or even earlier.  Hanging on the walls of the 12’ Sailing Club were photographs of these old boats, built out of timber planks, with bow sprits 6’ or longer and massive sails.  Often it took 6 or 7 men to crew them.  By the time I started sailing, first in an old “clinker” built boat with a crew of 4, the boat was evolving rapidly from light weigh ply to fibreglass hulls with a crew of 2.


Dennis Dignan was a builder and also the Interdominion Champion.  Every 2 years or so, Australian 12’ skiffs would compete with N.Z. 12’ Cherubs.  Dennis began building lighter and lighter boats.  When fully evolved, the skin consisted of just two layers of very thin ply cut into strips and bent into shape from gunwale to keel.  I always thought that if I slipped off the gunwale while coming in off the trapeze that I would put my foot through the bottom.


We would sand and varnish the bottom of the boat, coat after coat till it had the gloss of glass and could slip through the water.  Gone were the old venturi’s on the bottom of the boat.  These metal tubes were designed so that when moving at speed through the water the vacuum created in the tube would suck the water out of the bottom of the boat.  Now there were sleek plastic venturi’s that you could pop down when needed.  Also gone were the 6’ bow sprits, now just 3’.  But we still had the 18’ spinnaker poll; now three aluminium poles joined together when needed.


I spent my final year of 12’ racing on a brand new Dennis Dignan built boat “Action” owned by a mate Ian Sparrow.  Ian’s grandfather or uncle was Charles Sparrow a marine architect  who designed the VJ (Vaucluse Junior).  Ian had to have the absolute biggest and best of everything.  At the same time as the boats were getting lighter, so were the sails.  Ian had a new spinnaker made that consisted of little squares, designed so that if a hole was punched in the sail it wouldn’t rip.  It was light in weight and absolutely massive in size.  For weeks we would spend every race day folding it into a long tube tied with wool.  The idea is that when all folded into a long thin tube we could hoist it up the mast and push it out on the end of the spinnaker  pole, set the lines to hold the pole in place and then pull on the sheet.  The wool would snap at the bottom, the wind enter the sail and then all the other woollen ties would snap as the sail filled with wind.  For weeks we never got to use it; it was always a little too windy for the size.  Finally the day came when we were in a drifting race.  Ian called for the big spinnaker.  I hoisted it, set the lines, pulled on the sheet and the spinnaker opened, spread out and around the boat and completely enveloped us.  Everywhere we looked, 360 degrees there was just that massive big blue spinnaker.  I don’t think we ever tried to use it again.


The other memorable race was again in a big blow.  As we raced back down the harbour from Rose Bay, passing Neilsen Park, someone on the club launch photographed us.  Both Ian and I were as far back in the stern as we could fit.  The boat was flying and in the seconds after the photograph was taken, they say we were air-born and they could actually see under the boat.  The trouble was that in landing we hit a wave and just buried the bow.  Ian and I were pitched forward and landed out in front of the capsized boat.  It was the equivalent of going over the handlebars on a bike.


Two other “big blow” races were memorable, but I wasn’t involved in either.  Both involved “Southerly Busters”.  These massive blows occurred late in the day after a very hot and humid day.  With great speed, these southerly wind changes roared up the coast and caught the fleet by surprise.   I witnessed the first event when standing on the end of the Watson’s Bay jetty.  The 12’ fleet was down in Parsley Bay and heading back to the clubhouse to finish the race when the storm hit.  Every boat flew back across the bay and as they came, masts exploded and sails ripped to shreds.  The smarter ones deliberately capsized.  The masts were still made of laminated wood in those days and the pressure as they bent became so great they just exploded and bits and pieces flew in all directions.


The other big blow involved the 18’ Skiff fleet.  It hit them near the “wedding cake”, the harbours southern channel marker just out from Green Point.  All boats flew down the harbour and smashed into either the “Sow and Pigs” or the rocks off Green Point.  The photographs in the paper the next morning showed just how much damage had been done to the skiffs.  The story was all about the cost of the boats and the likely repair bill.  The 18footers were the only professional racing skiffs.  Sponsored by companies just as they are today, they used to attract a large fleet of ferries carrying spectators.  All packed on to one side of the ferry to watch the race, they were in danger of capsizing.  The attraction was that there was gambling on the results and there were many stories told by the 12footer sailors about the illegal tactics used by the 18footers.  Like deliberately throwing a bailing bucket over the stern to drag and slow the boat down (if they had to throw the race), or throwing crew overboard to lighten the boat on the final leg or if the winds had dropped and they didn’t need as many crew to sail the boat.


I never really got into board surfing.  It first became really big in the early 60’s.  Half of the school were into board surfing by 1963.  I bought all the surf magazines and read about surfing the exotic new surfing spots all around Australia.  The closest I came was to make myself a “hand board”.  About 25cm long and 15cm wide, rounded on the corners with fins glued on the bottom and a leather strap to slip my hand through.  We didn’t use swim fins or what we called “flippers” in those days but had to kick like fury to get into the wave and then do a push up off the hand board to get the upper body out of the water and then cut across the wave with just the hips and legs in the water.  As the wave finally broke over us, we would roll forward and let the wave pass us by and swim out for the next wave.


I also was among the first to ride a skateboard.  Using a piece of red cedar off-cut, left over from building the sabot, I shaped a surfboard about 60cm long and 15cm wide.  I then stole one of my sisters roller skates, separated the front and back wheels and attached them to the bottom of the board.   We rode our skateboards down many  of the rough roads around the “Bay”; trying to do big looping turns from one side of the road to the other.  Potholes made it a risky ride.  The footpaths were smoother, but they made for a straight line high speed run that could end in severe grazing if you came off at the bottom of the hill.  The best rides were to be had on the smoothly tarred roads up into the Army barracks.  We would sneak up in the bush beside the road, as close as we could get to the security gates before being seen by the guards, then out onto the road and take off down the hill.  Here we could do the big sweeping turns from side to side and if we came unstuck on the turn could dive off into the grass and bush beside the road.  No helmets or elbow and knee guards.  Just lots of bruises and grazes.


That reminds me that we had also gone through a “billy cart” phase in the late 50’s.  Originally they were timber frames with a vegetable or fruit crate attached to sit in, and the wheels and axles were from old family prams.  No wonder few of the antique prams from the first 50 years of the 20th century survived.  By the 60’s, the best were very light weight frames with just a flat board big enough to fit your bum on, rope tied through the front axle to steer and wheels made from Ball Bearings.  God they were noisy, but so much faster than our old billy carts.  In those days, ball bearings were hard to come by and they greatest envy was a mate who managed to get a set that were new rather than those that were worn from use in some factory or whatever.


Toward the end of my last year at Vaucluse Boy’s High School, a sportsmaster who was involved with the Watson’s Bay Church of England youth group invited me to join them in a spring trip to Smiggins Hole.  The church had a chalet and the plan was for us to do hiking trips around the snowy and to canoe the upper reaches of the Murray River.  So, In September/October  1964 (at the height of the Beatles tour of Australia) I set off to the Snowy.  We had a fantastic experience in canoeing through rapids in the higher reaches of the Murray and eventually a near disaster when one of the canoes was sucked under on one of the bends in the river and wedged in among all the driftwood caught some 2 meters down.  Standing on the bank, we could see the canoe.   The water was so clear, even though moving so fast on the bend.  It took us hours to free the canoe and resume a much more cautious paddle down the river.


On one of the early hikes, we discovered that there were still some patches of snow and that there was quite a lot on the top of Mt Kosciusko.  Back at the chalet, I found a piece of timber around 50 cm long and 15 cm wide.  I shaped it like a surfboard, chiselled the front to that it sloped up to the point and drilled holes along both sides to insert boot laces to strap one foot onto the board.  Someone told me that skis had a groove down the middle to help steer, so I used a chisel to cut a groove into the bottom of my board.  Off we went to Mount Kosciusko.  There I strapped my left foot to the board, pushed off with my right foot and then put it on the back of the board.  I snow boarded slowly down the snow into the rubble at the snowline.  It was probably only a 50 metre run, but I’m still claiming it as the first snow board run in Australia.  I know that there are two records of snowboards in America.  The first was made in 1939, and the second in 1963.  I was right up there with the inventors.


Somewhere in amongst all this, I found time to take Tennis lessons on a Saturday morning.  Initially on a backyard clay court in Dover Heights and later at Rose Bay near the Flying Boat base, next to the Wintergarden picture theatre; also on clay courts.  These were the days when tennis racquets where made of wood and the head of the racket was around half the size of the modern racket.  Like all my sporting endeavours, I was a mediocre tennis player, but at least it was a sport that I could go back to for the rest of my life and play “socially” and for a period in my 40’s use as an excuse to drink beer with mates on a Saturday afternoon.


Golf was another incidental sporting activity from when I was around 15.  The thing with golf is that it is such a “mind” game, that at 15 I could step up and drive the ball a fair way down the fairway and reasonably consistently.  Putting wasn’t much more than aim at the hole and hit the ball, with no allowance for slope or speed of the green; but hell, three puts didn’t seem so bad.  The older I got and the more I thought about my game the worse my distance and accuracy.  It was even beginning to desert me before I turned 17 with one memorable drive at the Bondi course slicing across Military Rd and off down a side street for around half a kilometre.  Today I play a consistently mediocre game.  If I have one par 3 hole that I can par, I’m happy, one par 5 hole I can bogey I’m ecstatic, and the rest I except double and triple bogies as the norm.  I leave all my best shots at the driving range.


In my final year at Vaucluse Boys High, they introduced Rugby Union.  A rather pretentious principal, Mr Harris had always styled the school on the private school model.  He was the founding principal when I started 1st year in 1960. In 1965 the NSW Rugby Union began a schools competition and this suited Mr Harris’s pretensions. It also suited me because this was my game.  What a disappointment to find myself  on the reserves bench while all these leaguies like Basha McGann and Aussie Rules converts like Ken Robertson were selected ahead of me.  Both took to the game like ducks to water, went on to play 1st Grade for Easts,  and to this day Basha is a stalwart of the Eastern Suburbs club.  As to why I couldn’t get a starting run?  Well I guess that brings me back to nicotine and the athletics carnival.  With no history of playing Rugby Union, the school simply selected their League team and Hal Hermann took my wing spot.  Too late, the athletics carnival had demonstrated my speed, but by then smoking had destroyed my fitness.  An early childhood bout of three simultaneous infectious diseases had probably already damaged my lungs, but a smoking habit that escalated to 60 cigarettes a day over the next twenty years meant I never really had the stamina to play a solid and fast 80 minutes of football.


The highlight that year however was playing in the Wallaroos Under 18’s.  Colts rugby in the 1960’s consisted of Under 18’s and Under 21’s.  Easts had three Under 21 teams and the one Under 18’s, playing as the Wallaroos.  One of the oldest rugby clubs in Australia wearing the traditional strip of black shorts, black socks with gold tops and a black jumper with two gold V’s on the chest, rather than the East Tricolour. Even then, Randwick was our main rival.


I played in the centres and on the wing, and we won the championship.  If only my school had given me a chance.  What might have been.  Still, winning the championship was something special.  Dad took me off to buy a navy blazer.  That’s the traditional sports blazer with the brass buttons and the embroidered  championship badge attached to the breast pocket.  Very smart.  When they saw me off to attend University in Melbourne, many said they expected to see me back in Sydney playing for Victoria at national championships.


In 1966 I joined the Monash University Rugby Club.  The club colours are almost identical to Argentina.  Here I was playing Outside Centre and occasionally Wing.  I was known as “The Big Fella” in the weekly newsletters and revelled in being an experienced rugby player in a city where Aussie Rules was the only football.


I have three wonderful memories from my two years at Monash.  Surprisingly, one of the best games I ever played was in a match we lost to Geelong.  Both teams played a hard and fast game and at the end we had lost narrowly.  Neither team could have played another five minutes.  It was one of those rare games where neither team deserved to lose.


When a Japanese Navy team visited Melbourne in August 1966 they decided to play a combined Universities team.  To ensure there was continuity, they decided to play the Melbourne Uni. pack with the Monash back line.  I had a fantastic Fijian team mate Konrad Ismell (reportedly a tribal prince!!!) at inside centre.  Late in the second half the game was well and truly won.  We were ahead by some 50 points.  Konrad made a break and only had the fullback to beat.  I had trailed him through the gap and loomed up alongside him and called for the ball as he drew the fullback.  Konrad looked across at me, then tucked the ball back under his arm as he approached the fullback who leapt into the air and delivered a karate chop to drop him in his tracks.  Later I asked Konrad why he hadn’t passed the ball to me.  He replied that as I already had seven tries and he only six, it was his turn to score.  It was the funniest thing I had ever seen on a football field.  Oh, and tries were only worth 3 points back then.


I travelled to Brisbane to play in the Intervarsity Rugby carnival.  This was in the days when it was a serious competition rather than an undergraduate party.  I was carrying an injury; my knee swollen and held in place by an elastic knee guard.  In those days there were no doctors and physiotherapists.  Elastic tubes over elbows and knees and elasticised bandages to hold loose joints or sprained muscles together was about it.  Also lots of liniment and Vaseline petroleum jelly.  The liniment to heat sore muscles and the petroleum jelly to protect thighs from grass burn.  There I was playing for Monash University against Queensland University; my knee encased in an elastic tube and restricted in movement and speed.  I’d been moved in to inside centre.  I took the ball, and was flattened by a 10 ton truck.  I had never been hit so hard in a tackle.  I had no idea that Wallaby Jules Guerisimof was in the Queensland University team.  One of the smallest flankers in world rugby, he was a punishing tackler.  My teeth are still loose 42 years later.


Rupert Rosenblum was a Waratah and Sydney University 5/8.  To this day, he still coaches kicking at Sydney Uni.  In 1965, his father bought our home in Cove St. Watsons Bay for him.  Now here he was in 1966 playing for Sydney University at the intervarsity rugby carnival.  He had already well and truly established his reputation as a “Kicking” 5/8.  In the big game between Sydney Uni and Queensland Uni, with the sidelines packed with every other player at the carnival, every time the ball was passed to him by the halfback they would all kick in unison with him.  It was the worlds biggest chorus line.


Other memories of playing rugby in Melbourne are of playing in rain so cold that all feeling in my hands was lost and catching and passing almost impossible and a memorable game in which one of our team mates, a Frenchman kicked an opponent while he was on the ground.  In those days of fairly frequent all in brawls, not one of our players ran in to help.  We were absolutely disgusted that anyone would kick and opponent.  While it was fairly common in any game involving the French back in the 60’s, we were staggered to see it first hand.


I only ever played Australian Rules once, and that was a cameo 5 minute appearance for Monash Teachers College against Bendigo Teachers College.  I have only two memories.  One is off burning lungs from the continuous running and the other of my only touch of the ball.  I secured the ball and turned, only to confront two defenders closing on me at pace.  I ran at the gap between them and when they closed the gap, bounced the ball at their feet and attempted to bust between them and regain the ball.  Now I thought that to be a reasonable strategy, but the umpire disagreed; I was penalised for throwing the ball.  As we drove back to Melbourne late that afternoon, the news came over the car radio that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated.


By 1968, my cigarette consumption was up around 40 a day and my weight had ballooned to 17 stone 7lb  (112 kilos).  I was so unfit that I retired from rugby and pretty much all physical activity.  For the two years we lived back in Sydney from 1971 to 1972, my sole sport was squash.  Not the athletic form of squash where you fight for possession of the centre of the court and manoeuvre your opponent around but the blast and destroy form.  Again, racquets were made of wood with small heads.  If I didn’t win the point after two hits of the ball I never did win the point and within five hits my opponent would have run me ragged and finished me off.  It was fun, social and at least rigorous exercise.


It was only when we moved to Redcliffe, Queensland in 1973 that I returned to Rugby.  Redcliffe played in the 2nd Division Brisbane competition and fielded just two teams.  I decided to turn out for the trials in late February.  It must have been a 30 degree day and humidity around 90%.  By half time, I was sun and heat struck.  Apparently the field had been built on the site of an old rubbish tip and there was so much charcoal just a foot below the surface, that it was just soaking up the heat and radiating it back up.  I almost retired again.


We used to travel long distances for games; down to the Gold Coast and out to Ipswich in the days when there were no motorways and it was 2 hours or more each way.  The grounds were still very hard with sparse grass and very uneven playing surfaces.  By my second season I was captain/coach of the second grade side and in a very selfish decision moved to 5/8.  I figured I wouldn’t have to run as far or as fast, and when buggered, could simply move the ball along the backline, or kick it aimlessly down field.  No finesse to my game.


The memorable moments in my five seasons at Redcliffe:


In my second season, I spent half of it on the sidelines.  I only ever threw one punch in all my years as a player, and was only once on the receiving end of a punch.  In a game against Queensland Institute of Technology, I came up against the manager of the QIT Bookshop. He was a client of mine and someone I had come to know reasonably well.  At some point during the game, I was trailing in support of one of our young players (18 y.o.).  As he ran through the QIT backline,  Bob threw an elbow at his head which barely missed.  Following a metre behind, I grabbed Bob’s collar and took a swing at him.  I was so unbalance that I fell back on my leg and you could hear the sound as it broke.


I lay in the middle of the field while they drove a station wagon out to me.  The removed the hinges on the clubhouse door and used it as a stretcher and loaded the door and me into the back of the wagon.  Off we drove to Redcliffe Hospital on an Easter Saturday with me hanging on to the tailgates struts to avoiding sliding out onto the road.


At the hospital I was moved to a gurney  and parked in a dead end corridor near the emergency department.  For four hours I lay on the gurney staring at the blank wall and ceiling.  It was four hours because the radiographer was entertaining guests at home and said he would rather finish his meal before coming in.  So, hours later after the x-ray confirmed the break, the real fun began.  The doctor was an American recently arrived in Australia.  He revealed that it was years since he had set a broken limb.  Now, the idea is that you soak plaster of paris impregnated bandages in water and then starting with the foot, unroll and wrap steadily progressing from the toes to just below the knee.  The first roll stopped around my ankle and the second half way up my leg.  At this point the doctor realised that he was the victim of a practical joke; the nurses had soaked wrist plasters.   Actually, I was the victim as I ended up with a cast with bumps and lumps that eventually  broke around the ankle several weeks later and required additional plasters to keep it together.


In 1975, Dick Marks, an ex-Wallaby, headed up a team to develop a national coaching scheme and ran the first Level 11  Coaching Course at Enogera Army Barracks.   In those days tobacco company advertising was still dominant in sport and therefore I was awarded the Rothmans Coaching Badge    Clive Rowland, the Welsh coach made a guest appearance.  He had standardised coaching in Wales and in five years coached the worlds dominant international team.  I remember three main things from his session; a coach should dress like a coach and set the highest standards in everything, that with low body height a small player could dominate a larger opponent and that hands on hips or clasped behind the head sent a message to the opposition that you were buggered, so don’t allow it.  He contributed a hell of a lot more to Australian rugby.  He had played for Wales, became a school teacher, coached Wales and eventually became President of the Welsh Rugby Union.  He provided the framework for the Australian coaching programme  and Queensland even more than NSW took it to heart and over the next five years or so they beat most New Zealand provincial teams by big scores and probably became the dominant provincial team in the southern hemisphere.


At Enogera we spent three days of intensive instruction in how to coach almost all elements of the game.  We packed scrums against the Queensland pack and held our own, we worked from sun up to sun down and really earned  our coaching badges.  I  still have my badge today, proudly  sewed to a training jacket.


In 1976, we decided to push fror promotion to 1st division.  We raised money through “pig in a barrow” raffles, pub meat trays and many social functions at the club.  The “Pig in a Barrow”  was the most amazing thing I have ever been involved with.  We would buy a pig from the butcher and a wheel barrow from the local hardware store.  We then loaded the pig into the barrow and set off down the two streets of the Redcliffe shopping centre selling raffle tickets.  We raised hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  When all sold, we would draw the winner, return the pig to the butcher for butchering and packaging and then deliver the wheel barrow and meat to the lucky winner.


With the money, we recruited Fijian players.  We were probably the first to recruit players from Fiji.  There were a few Fijians who had moved to Australia toward the end of their careers and who joined Sydney and Brisbane clubs, but not many.  The only one in Brisbane was the ex-Fijian half back Taito Rauluni who was playing for QIT (now QUT).  One of the members of our club was married to a Fijian, so he and Taito put together a list of potential recruits.  Our first three recruits were Fijian internationals Peni Nasolo (Flanker), Kini Nolatu (5/8 or inside centre) and the never to be forgotten 2nd rower, Petero Civoniceva.  He arrived on an early evening flight from Fiji and we arranged for someone to collect him from the airport and bring him back to the club to meet the players.  We were packed into our small club like sardines, all drinking and talking.  You couldn’t hear yourself think.  And then silence spread from the front door across the room as we all turned to witness Petero’s arrival.  He had to turn his head on its side to fit below the door frame, his shoulders brushed either side of the door frame and his body filled the entire space.


I have a slightly different memory of Petero to Wayne Smith.  Petero was an erratic player; at times so docile as to be almost a passenger in the team.  On those occasions, someone from our own team would eventually give him a belt in the head in the middle of a maul or ruck.  That would stir him up and he’d get stuck into the opposition.



Petero Civoniceva has one fan swelling with pride. Wayne Smith reports

| September 30, 2006

Article from:  The Australian


PETERO CIVONICEVA paused the television replay just after that tackle on Sonny Bill Williams and, shaking his head, stood up.

The perfect host, he offered a coffee but said he wouldn’t be having one himself. What he felt like was a beer and so beer it was. It was grand final week, Wayne Bennett was nowhere in sight and some things are best discussed over a cold glass.


“That tackle wasn’t so bad,” Civoniceva said at last, having sunk his powerful frame into an understandably complaining bar stool. “I’ve put in worse tackles. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I thought it was maybe worth a penalty but Sonny Bill got up straight away.”


Thankfully, the NRL had assessed it pretty much the same way, rating it only a grade one offence, not enough to necessitate any late, unwanted changes to the Broncos’ front row for tomorrow’s premiership decider against Melbourne. He was going to be there, he said, even if he had to drive to Sydney. No way was he going to miss Shane Webcke’s final match.


To his right, on the circular bar that dominates his garage, sit two framed photos: one of Muhammad Ali unleashing that incomparable left jab, the other of Civoniceva in full cry, Broncos jersey straining to accommodate rippling muscles, tacklers being shed left and right.


Vanity? No. Paternal pride. For this is not the home of Petero Civoniceva, the Broncos’ grand final prop, but of his father, also Petero, the former Fijian rugby international. This interview had been hastily arranged. He really was driving to Sydney for the grand final and there was not much time to waste. Time enough to reminisce, however.


It was 29 years ago that Civoniceva Snr had first come to Australia, first come to the Redcliffe peninsula, just north of Brisbane, his then wife Tima and their seven-month-old son following a few months later. He should have made the journey to the Big Island one year earlier, with the Fijian team, but injury cost him his place in the touring party and so he had missed one of the most controversial incidents in Australian rugby history, the walk-off of the Fijian side in the third Test at the SCG after its captain had been sent off.


Still, Civoniceva Snr was to experience more than his fair share of controversy during his turbulent decade as the star Fijian recruit in a Redcliffe side promoted to first grade the year after he arrived. Without question, he became the most feared player in the Brisbane premiership, this in an age when such hard men as Tony Shaw, Stan Pilecki, Chris Handy and Mark Loane regularly turned out for their clubs when not playing for Queensland or the Wallabies.


Mostly, Civoniceva Snr was feared for his ferocious play. A 115kg Test second-rower at a time when 100kg was considered huge – his son now plays at 106kg – he revelled in the hand-to-hand combat of the forwards’ battle and, ball-in-hand, was an almost unstoppable runner, 200cm of towering, gym-toned aggression. But there was also another reason opposing players were extremely wary of him.


“I had a short fuse,” he admitted, drawing on his beer. “It was the main weakness in my game. Young Petero is totally different to me. He’s very disciplined. You have to have that tough mental approach to survive at the level he has. He has had to have that strength.”


The years have helped him to assess his flaws. Back in the 1980s, however, Civoniceva’s lack of discipline was something every opposing side was keenly aware of. Brothers in particular, Shaw, the Brothers and Australia captain, most especially so.


“Shawry was one of the most intelligent footballers I ever played against and the toughest,” he recalled. “He was so cunning. He’d bait me and bait me until I cracked. I’d get my marching orders and then he’d stand there laughing at me.”


Still, it was generally a serious business, winding-up Civoniceva Snr. Yes, it was quite possible it would end with him being sent-off but more than once he was accompanied to the sideline by his stretcher-borne baiter, knocked unconscious. Like the other proud black man in the picture frame, Civoniceva Snr had fists of steel.


Rod McCall was to play 40 Tests for Australia, partnering John Eales in the second row when Australia beat England in the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham, all the while revelling in the intimidating nickname of ‘Sergeant Slaughter’. Yet when he was 24 and the next big thing in Australian rugby, he happened to fall foul of Civoniceva’s finely-attuned sense of justice while playing for Brothers in a 1988 pre-season trial.


One punch was all it took. McCall was out cold by the time he hit the ground, landing so hard he dislocated a bone in his leg and spending 10 weeks on the sidelines, delaying by a year his Test debut. Civoniceva, who recalls the “unfortunate incident” as being triggered by “an adrenalin rush”, was suspended for seven weeks.


McCall’s lip was split so badly he required plastic surgery and for a time even considered taking legal action against his assailant. Ultimately he didn’t but he understandably still was a very wary man when Brothers met Redcliffe later that same season, a match that fortunately passed without incident.


“Afterwards Petero came over to me and said, ‘I think I owe you a beer’,” McCall remembered. “So we had one – or two. He was actually a gentle giant. You just didn’t want to be within arm’s length of him when he snapped. There are no ill-feelings. I probably did the same thing to other people in my career. I just didn’t have the same punch.”



In those days, the Tongans and Fijians didn’t get on particularly well.  In fact the rivalry between each of the island nations was such that they didn’t make good team mates.  We had just the one Tongan in the club, and with three or more Fijian in 1st’s, I took him into the 2nds.  On one of the outside grounds at Ballymore we were within 10 minutes of the end of the game when two opposition players sandwiched me with the ball.  With my arms pinned, a third player approached and I watched as time slowed to slow motion as he clenched his fist and swung a punch into the middle of my face.


I was immediately taken to the doctor under the main stand and he began taping up my broken nose.  All of a sudden one of my team mates rushed in and told me I would have to return to the field because all hell had broken loose.  When the referee whistled full time, the players approached each other to shake hands, as was the done thing.  Tony the Tongan approached the player who had broken my nose and instead of a shake, he belted him in the head.  As Tony explained, a cheap shot by the opposition player in breaking my nose, wasn’t the sort of act you just forgot about because the ref. had blown full time.




Eventually in 1978 we were promoted to the 1st division of the Brisbane competition.  For several years, we had been running the Redcliffe 7’s as a preseason carnival and fund raiser.  The 7’s was the baby of Les Fry a Welshman and our 1st grade coach.  With promotion to 1st division, we decided to really kick the 7’s up a gear and invited the Ella Brothers and Wally Lewis to form a schoolboys team and compete.  The QRU pressured to have the event moved to Ballymore, however we had a strong committee and retained control.


The schoolboys attracted a massive amount of publicity and they lined up against Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland 1st grade teams.  In their first game, they were very cautious and lost.  Having lost and appreciating that a large crowd had come to watch them, they threw caution to the wind and played spectacular football for the rest of the carnival.  No one will ever forget the three Ella brothers backing each other up and playing a mesmerising style of football.  There seemed to be six brothers on the field, as they would each handle the ball three or four times in a single phase of play and score under the posts.


I had decided to get serious for our promotion to 1st division.  I spent the entire off season working out at a Gym four times a week and joined Cheryl on the Weight Watchers programme.  By pre-season, I was amazingly fit and muscled up.  I had shed all my fat, had strength and speed.  Unfortunately  I still smoked.

Then again, I was shifting from the backs to Prop, so maybe I didn’t need as much “wind”.


In my 1st game and 1st competitive scrum (a trial match) as prop, I packed down, the ball came in, my neck bent, my bum went skyward, my feet lifted 20cm off the ground and I thought I was going to die.  Chris “Buddha” Handy, the retired Wallaby prop was delivering my first lesson in scrummaging.  For the rest of the game, I kept my feet well back, my head up and locked, my back and legs in a straight line and locked and my right arm out straight gripping Buddha’s jumper and turned to lock my elbow.  I just locked up in every scrum and survived.  It was the longest game I ever played and I cursed every back how knocked on or dropped the ball.  In fact I even cursed them if they juggled the ball when catching it because in those days that constituted a knock on.  You had to catch the ball cleanly.


When you stop to think about it, what would the Ellas have been like in an era when you could actually juggle the ball when catching it.  I remember one of the rare occasions when Mark Ella dropped a pass.  It made the headlines


At training the following week, one of the flankers forgot his boots and trained in his runners.  Being early autumn, there was a heavy dew and his feet slipped on the wet grass.  The whole scrum pivoted on my back and I dropped to the ground with disc damage.  It was so bad that despite several weeks of physiotherapy and treatment, it remained a chronic problem for the next five years or so.  It also meant that I was out of the 1st grade team.


Our 1st game in  the 1st grade competition was against GPS (I think).  What I do remember is that the team spent all day psyching up for the game and the last hour in the clubhouse with the theme from Rocky playing continuously.  They burst from the club onto the ground all fired up.  The game was very physical and became even more physical as the Fijians responded to racial taunts.  These taunts were unrelenting and so provocative that eventually all hell broke loose.  At least three GPS players were knocked out in separate incidents and the most memorable was by our 5/8 Penni Vola Vola.  When provoked, he threw a punch no further than 20cm.  It was the most devastating punch I have ever seen.  Just a short jab to the jaw and the GPS player was out cold and off to hospital with another team mate almost as concussed where they spent the night under observation.  Word spread around the other clubs.  The next week against Souths, I overheard their pre-match talk in the dressing shed and it was all about concentrating on the game and not saying a word to the Fijians that might provoke a response.









Mucking Around (Vaucluse and Watsons Bay)


Apart from organised and semi-organised sport, there was also “mucking around”.  Watsons Bay and Vaucluse were great for mucking around in the 1950’s and 60’S.


Until I was in 2nd class (1955) we lived with my grandmother Claire Coggan at Clarke St., Vaucluse.  Tucked in between the cemetery, Christison Park and Rosa Gully, it provided great opportunities for mucking about.


At the northern end of Christison park there was swampy ground and ponds among the sandstone rocks which was a great breeding ground for frogs.  Like most kids, it wasn’t enough to leave them where they were.  I would take home jars of tadpoles and watch them grow legs and shed tails as they evolved into  frogs before releasing them back into the swamp.


At the southern end of the park was the “tip”.  This was the Woollahra answer to disposing of their tree loppings.  As far as I remember, it was never designed for disposing of either household rubbish or junk.  Locals obviously used it because I remember some of my most cherished possessions came from digging through the tip.  There was the stack of manuscripts for a radio drama about a newspaper reporter working the “Night Beat”.  This was either an adaptation of the American radio drama or something similar.  An actor who lived at the end of Clarke St. closest to the cliffs, dumped his manuscript at the tip and I cherished them … for a while.  Then there was the box of exotic feathers.  They were probably used to decorate hats, or to make fishing flies.  Just little colourful feathers.


The main purpose of the tip however was to dispose of the tree loppings.  For much of the year they would lop the branches around the telegraph wires and dump them at the tip.  They would sit there to dry out and then be burnt and bulldozed off the cliff.  While I wouldn’t say that there were plague proportions of rats, there were certainly enough to keep you on your toes as you dug around.


There was certainly one too many however.  Colin Suttle was a local kid a few years older than I.  I remember him most for his fanaticism for the game of “Test Match”.  He lived in a pokey dirty little cottage near the bus terminal.  One day, while being chased along the cliff outside the fence just down from the tip, he stood in the stomach of a dead “drunk”  This man had passed out while drinking and rats had started eating at his stomach.  As David Addison chased Colin , he stepped in the guy, looked down and took off for home.  I seem to remember he couldn’t speak for some time.   Now, I didn’t witness the event, so I can’t swear for certain that it happened, but I’m pretty certain it did.


Over the years I spent a fair amount of time at my grandmothers.  I can’t remember why.  Initially it was because we lived with her.  Later I lived with her while my mother was in a hospital at Picton recovering from Tuberculosis, and later still when my parents moved to Melbourne and I was doing my Leaving Certificate at Sydney Tech.  At other times I must have stayed overnight when I was at Vaucluse Boy’s High just around the corner.  However long I did live with her or how often I stayed at her place, I have far too many memories of playing with the kids around that part of Vaucluse.


There was the Lewis kid who was memorable for two things. His family holidayed at Surfers Paradise when it was “THE” place to holiday in the late 50’s early 60’s and he had a dog who was run over by a tram.  The dogs hind legs were so badly damaged he couldn’t walk and in time learnt to walk on its front legs occasionally but most of the time just dragged it’s hind legs around.  I also seem to remember watching the Rocky and Bullwinkle show on TV  at their house.


Then there was Jimmy Elfick who’s father was a bank manager.  He was “shell shocked” from WW1 and therefore when at home we had to keep quiet.  That was O.K. because most of the time at Jimmies was spent in his bedroom building model airplanes out of balsa.  We would buy kits which contained blocks and sheets of balsa wood with a set of plans and “decals’ to stick on when finished.  The main tools were razor blades and sandpaper.  We would cut out the plan for the fuselage.  First the  side on view.  We would stick it onto the top of the balsa block and then carefully carve the shape with the razor blade.  Next was the side view.  Then we would use the sandpaper to round it off and complete the shaping.  Then the wings and tail were shaped and attached with “Tarzans Grip”.  I’ve got to wonder if the appeal of making balsa models was purely  the excitement of recreating war time plane models or the smell of the “Tarzans Grip”.  Once assembled, we then painted the planes and attached the decals which were the insignia of the aircraft; the red, white and blue circles of the air force or the swastika of the Germans.  Finally, fishing line was used to hang the planes from the ceiling.  At the Addisons next door, with the three boys sharing a bedroom, the ceiling was a crowded war zone with every make and model aircraft from WW2 involved in a mass dogfight.


Warwick and John Addison were considerable older so I don’t remember much more than John taking apart clocks and things and trying to reassemble them and Warwick returning from a years long round Australia holiday with tales of exotic beers such as Swan Larger and XXXX and the party lifestyle of Coolangatta.  David was a year  ahead at school, and we knocked around together more than any one lese in the area.


David was the one who dared me to cross the garage roof when it was being built; and I fell through the canvas onto the garage floor.  He was the one who lost his temper and chased me mercilessly until he took a shot at me with a big wooden scrubbing brush as I rounded the corner in their backyard.  The brush cracked me on the ankle and I limped for days.  It was at a party in their garage where we danced to the music of Buddy Holly when he was killed.  It was where we had the best BBQ’s.  His father, Uncle Doug was the butcher who home delivered throughout Vaucluse and Watsons Bay, and made the absolute best big fat beef sausages.


When Uncle Doug wasn’t working, he was leaning on the bench in their kitchen with form guides spread around him and listening to every race on the radio.  I suspect his bets were placed with the local SP bookie.  This was a little “foreign” guy who had a hole in the wall shop at the bus terminus.  For the life of me I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget my naiveté.  I must have been well and truly into my teens before I found out.  I couldn’t understand what this guy was about.  His shop was maybe 10 meters long and 2 meters wide.  It consisted of a bank of shelves with fruit and veg., a couple of shelves of jars of lollies and a big ice chest stocked with soft drink.  Here I developed a passion for “Passiona”.  God that was an exotic drink for a kid.  At the end of the shop was a door that opened into a wardrobe where he had a desk, chair and telephone.  He spent so much time in there that as kids we occasionally helped ourselves in the shop.  We were thieves.  He was a “starting price” bookie.  What business he didn’t do on the phone, he did with the constant stream of bus drivers.


Uncle Doug really wanted to be a firemen.  Any time there was a fire engine siren in the area he was off to his car and chased them to the fire.  Mum and Dad played Canasta with Uncle Doug and Aunty Merle on Saturday nights, and on occasions it would come to an end when Uncle Doug took off to chase a fire engine.


I don’t know for how many years they played Canaster on Saturday nights.  It must have been long enough for me to grow from an age where I would be carried to the car in the middle of the night  to return home to my own bed, to being old enough to lie on the floor of the boys bedroom listening to the Saturday night serials and dramas on the radio till late at night and then walking to the car for the drive home.  The only other memories I retain from those Canasta nights is that the women drank  “Pims” , they played at a card table and Aunty Merle was a stunner.  She had a large dressing table in their bedroom and was often still putting on her makeup when we arrived.  It had a massive mirror and was well lit, almost like a theatre make up mirror.


Aunty Merle died of cancer when I was in my mid teens.  Uncle Doug was never the same again.  He just seemed to go through the motions for the rest of his life.


The cliffs never held much appeal to me.   I loved to sit and look out on the ocean or even along the rugged coast, but as for climbing or walking close to the edge, no way.  Colin Suttle’s experience probably started the slide, seeing bodies being retrieved from the base of “The Gap” continued the slide and when one of our school mates was killed while climbing down the cliff at Rosa Gully finished me off.  He was climbing down a rope when another boy dislodged a rock which hit him and knocked him off the cliff face.


“The Gap” was infamous in the 1950’s and 60’s as the main suicide jump in Sydney.  For us kids, the attraction was the famous police cliff rescue squad.  They would erect a tripod on the edge of the cliff and with a block and tackle, lower a policeman on a stretcher to the base of the cliff.  This was all manual work with a team of police lowering and pulling the stretcher back up the cliff.  They wore white overalls with the traditional navy blue police cap.  Often, the body would be so badly broken that they would put some body parts in a sack and cover it and the body with a blanket before bringing it back up.  Only once did I accidentally see a body,  when I walked past the back of the ambulance as I headed back home.  I haven’t been able to stand the sight of blood since.













We learnt how to do it in primary school at Vaucluse Public School and on the way home.  In those pre T.V. days, we only had books and movies to feed our imagination and provide the theme for play.  The movie Rob Roy sparked a long period of lunch time play  in which we would act out the fighting between the Scots and English by running around the playground sword fighting and either hiding or trying to ambush each other.  The Sunday Newspaper comics provided the inspiration for making swords and shields.  Prince Valliant was the model for a great shield with the horses head emblazoned in red paint.


Robin Hood inspired bows and arrows made of bamboo which was in plentiful supply , and I suspect that one episode lead to the addition of the shanghai (sling shot) to our armoury.  What with fire works, bows and arrows, shanghais and BB Guns, it was a wonder non of us lost an eye or suffered a major wound.


In those innocent days, we used to walk home from school without parents.  They would only  have got in the way of our fun.  If we had walked straight home, we would have been there in 15 minutes.  Unless we had an urgent  game of touch to play on the lawnie, we usually took an hour to get home.  There were distractions every 50 yards or so.  In those days, there were still a number of bushy areas to play in, there was the beach to walk along, hail storms to shelter from, pinball to play in Tommy Marinados




















The most primal sense: Smell


Have you ever wondered why food loses its flavor when you have a cold? It’s not your taste buds’ fault. Blame your stuffed-up nose. Seventy to seventy-five percent of what we perceive as taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Taste buds allow us to perceive only bitter, salty, sweet, and sour flavors. It’s the odor molecules from food that give us most of our taste sensation.


When you put food in your mouth, odor molecules from that food travel through the passage between your nose and mouth to olfactory receptor cells at the top of your nasal cavity, just beneath the brain and behind the bridge of the nose. If mucus in your nasal passages becomes too thick, air and odor molecules can’t reach your olfactory receptor cells. Thus, your brain receives no signal identifying the odor, and everything you eat tastes much the same. You can feel the texture and temperature of the food, but no messengers can tell your brain, “This cool, milky substance is chocolate ice cream.” The odor molecules remain trapped in your mouth. The pathway has been blocked off to those powerful perceivers of smell–the olfactory bulbs.


Of all our senses, smell is our most primal. Animals need the sense of smell to survive. Although a blind rat might survive, a rat without its sense of smell can’t mate or find food. For humans, the sense of smell communicates many of the pleasures in life–the aroma of a pot roast in the oven, fresh-cut hay, a rose garden. Smells can also signal danger, fear, or dread.


Although our sense of smell is our most primal, it is also very complex. To identify the smell of a rose, the brain analyzes over 300 odor molecules. The average person can discriminate between 4,000 to 10,000 different odor molecules. Much is unknown about exactly how we detect and discriminate between various odors. But researchers have discovered that an odor can only be detected in liquid form. We breathe in airborne molecules that travel to and combine with receptors in nasal cells. The cilia, hairlike receptors that extend from cells inside the nose, are covered with a thin, clear mucus that dissolves odor molecules not already in vapor form. When the mucus becomes too thick, it can no longer dissolve the molecules.


Animals depend on odors secreted from their bodies to communicate. For humans, odors communicate a variety of messages, depending on the odor and the person receiving it. The aroma of a baking apple pie sends one message when someone is hungry and quite another when that person has just finished a six-course meal!


I also remember reading that in the Amazon, Indians have dozens of words to describe smells, whereas in the western world, most of the words we use are derived from the other senses.  Our sense of smell has become so subliminal, that we don’t rate it as highly as sight or sound, or even touch and taste.  I also recollect Proust writing the the smell of a bakery took him back to his youth and a visit to a cake shop with his grandmother.




Shigeyuki Ito


“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust “The Remembrance of Things Past”(1)


Last week when I was in New York there was this good smell coming out of this restaurant and right when I smelled it, the smell brought back memories of this one festival I went to in Japan almost 3 years ago. On another occasion this perfume a girl was wearing brought back memories of a girlfriend in high school. Of all the senses I would say that smell is the sense that is best at bringing back memories. When you smell a certain scent it feels as though you slipped back in time and that you are actually at that scene again. If it was not for the other senses of your body, you might really feel as though you are back there again. But why is it that smell has this ability to instantaneously trigger memories of events, places or people that you usually would not “think” of?


Despite the tendency of humans to underestimate the role of smell in our every day lives, for most mammals, smell is the most important sense. Dogs are probably the most obvious example of this, it is through the use of the olfactory system that animals are able to find food, reproduce, and even communicate. While being one of the oldest and important parts of the brain, our failure to fully realize the importance of the olfactory system resulted in it being surrounded by numerous questions (2). How does it work? How do we identify smells? While these are only a few questions out of a whole list, research has progressed in recent years that we know much more about the olfactory system than before, but the fact remains that much remains to be found.


Through research conducted on mice, it is approximated that humans have 1000 different sensors in their nose (3). While this might seem like a large amount of sensors, it is not enough considering mice and humans can identify about 10,000 odors. The mystery surrounding this ratio can be explained through the unique features of the olfactory system. Odors are molecular so the method used is different from light or sound that come in waves (4).


Inside your nose about the level of your eyes, is a small patch of tissue containing millions of nerve cells. The odor receptors (sensors) lie on these nerve cells. Each of the receptors recognizes several odors, and likewise a single odor could be recognized by several receptors. Thus similar to codes, what happens is that different combinations of the 1,000 receptors result in our ability to identify 10,000 different odors. Linda Buck, an associate professor at Harvard, makes an analogy of this quite efficient system to letters being used in different combinations to make individual words. She goes on to say that this system ‘greatly reduces the number of sensors needed to code for the smells” (3).


The process that takes place is quite complex. After an odor molecule enters the nose and are recognized by the olfactory sensors, the signals are eventually sent to the olfactory bulb that is located right above the eyes (3). The signals only go to two areas in the olfactory bulb, and signals from different sensors are targeted to different spots that then form a sensory map. From there the signals reach the olfactory area of the cortex (smell sensory cortex) (5).


An important quality of the olfactory system is that information travels both to the limbic system and cortex. The limbic system is the primitive part of the brain that include areas that control emotions, memory and behavior. In comparison the cortex is the outer part of the brain that has to do with conscious thought. In addition to these two areas, information also travels to the taste sensory cortex to create the sense of flavor (2). Because olfactory information goes to both the primitive and complex part of the brain it effects our actions in more ways than we think.


Many wonder how certain smells able to trigger memories of events taking place several years ago despite the fact that sensory neurons in the epithelium survive for about only 60 days (1). The answer is that the neurons in the epithelium actually have successors. As the olfactory neurons die, new olfactory neurons generated by the layer of stem cells beneath them, which eventually takes the role of the old neuron as it dies. Linda Buck points out that the key point to the answer is that “memories survive because the axons of neurons that express the same receptor always go to the same place” (1). The memories are stored in the hippocampus, and through relational memory certain smells trigger memories.


Another popular question is the reason behind smell having such a strong role in instantaneously recalling memory. Despite our belief that sight and hearing are the two most important senses to our survival, from an evolutionary perspective smell is one of the most important senses. To recognize food or to detect poison, smell is the sense that almost all other mammals use. Because of this basic feature yet vital role, smell is one of the oldest parts of our brain. Trygg Engen, a psychology professor at Brown University notes that smells serve as “index keys” to quickly retrieve certain memories in our brain. This primitive yet essential role is probably why smells trigger memory more than does seeing or hearing.


Professor Engen goes on in attempting to further explain the relation of odor and memory. His controversial views basically states that the way we sense odors are all results of “nurture” and not “nature” (6). He says that initially all smells are neutral, and that whether a odor is pleasant or unpleasant has to do with the initial condition in which the smell is perceived. It follows from this that when we smell odors, it triggers a certain memory that has to do with that particular odor and thus is decided whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. Engen’s views are controversial because of the lack of convincing data to back his views up. Although certain points about Engen seem to make sense, such as how odor serve to trigger memories like index keys, his views about the “nurture” vs “nature” are a little harder to understand. If odors are decided by “nurture”, it leaves the question of how so many people have a similar view towards many odors. There is probably nobody who would say that the smell of rotten food is good. Yet Engen’s views are definitely worth considering because for some odors like gasoline, some people say it is good while others detest it.


It is said that people can identify about 10,000 different smells, but have many smells can you name off the top of your head (3)? In comparison, look at how many colors there are in a crayon box, or the many varieties of music existing. This lack of understanding and appreciation of odors is a result of our over reliance on our eyes and ears, even to the extent that we suppress our awareness of what our nose tells us. Our underestimation of the role of smell results in our lack of extensive knowledge concerning many aspects of the olfactory system. But as Proust stated, smell has such a strong power to vividly bring back memories, it is definitely more important than we realize. To a large extent smell is more personal than other senses so it brings back memories of people, not just places, or things.



I labour the point because smell has always been the sense I was most aware of, because I’ve only had it occasionally.  In my late 20’s a broken nose (playing rugby) compounded a propensity to grow polyps






Vaucluse Tip

Tempe Tip


Chicken poo Redcliffe

Broom in Italy