Day 66: 2 July 2017
Tuesday, 03 July 2018 09:56

We have on Solarus a drawer full of instruction manuals. It’s complicated operating a yacht. Yet the manuals rarely see the light of day. I learned something very important about instruction manuals when I was a student at agricultural college. It was after lunch one Friday when a guest speaker, a sales representative from Sunbeam, turned up to flog his product line to the sons and daughters of farmers and graziers, eager young ‘rurals’ who were present with me in the lecture room. The introduction was boring, but the salesman brought us all to life when he placed his box of goodies on the desk, and proceeded to rip the lid off. He took out the hundred-page instruction manual (in eleven languages), and declared, ‘The first thing you do is this…’ Whereupon, with one almighty heave, he flung the said manual over the heads of us students and out through an open window mid-way down the lecture room, which he must have opened while we were at lunch. Anyway, his was a perfect throw! Of course, if his aim had not been good, the hefty booklet would have decapitated at least one future grazier. The most radical student in our cohort, Warren (Wocca) Moore, led the slow handclap, which very quickly became full-on applause from the entire class. So it has been that, throughout my life, whenever I purchase a product that comes with an instruction manual – which I have no intention whatsoever of reading before trying the product – I think of the guy from Sunbeam heaving his manual out through the lecture room window. He made his point well. Men are not good at referring to instruction manuals. Shortly after graduation, Wocca, who had married but not long after separated, perished in a suspicious homestead fire, his kelpie sheepdog dutifully by his side. Many of our class attended the funeral, but few, if any, as I recall were moved to shed a tear.

Day 64: 30 June 2017
Saturday, 30 June 2018 13:13

When Penguin published Jackaroo, the publicity team organised as much media attention as they could. I was given a schedule of where to be, and when. I also arranged interviews and reviews, especially with the rural media. Yet, the place I visited most often were the ABC radio studios at Southbank, in Melbourne. And the topic most interviewers honed in on, was chapter seven, which I’d titled Bad Day. I’d deliberately kept the chapter short (seven pages) hoping it would make for an interview. Bad Day concerns the day I was made to castrate lambs, using my TEETH. It was the third consecutive day of what’s called lamb marking. I’d spent the preceding two mornings, along with the other two jackaroos, holding lambs on a rail for the farm manager to use his teeth to castrate boy lambs, and slice off the tails of lambs of both sexes. The whole thing was hideous, the manager’s mouth and face one big blotch of dried, crimson-coloured blood. Mid-morning on the third day, the manager had said, firmly, ‘Michael, you can hop over this side and have a shot with the knife’. WHAT? My mind had raced. What excuse could I make to avoid having to perform this horrific task? None! I will save you from having to read all of the gory details (this is a family book); you will need to borrow a copy of Jackaroo from a local library if you want to read about what happened on day three, safe to say I didn’t cry, quit or vomit. I should explain that the ‘normal’ way in which lambs are castrated (and all are castrated except a tiny number of high-quality offspring born to specially-selected stud ewes -- to be kept as rams), is to use rubber rings, which are placed over the scrotum. After a couple of weeks, the entire sack falls off. What I found amusing was that, after forty-four years, an event which at the time I found totally disgusting, came back to help me to earn a few dollars.

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Day 65: 1 July 2017
Sunday, 01 July 2018 08:44

To my mother, I was a huge disappointment. She'd been a champion golfer and tennis player, but I couldn’t kick, hit, throw or catch a ball. I tried rowing, but was declared not strong enough to work a decent oar. I couldn’t run to save myself. Yet, I was determined to prove to my mother that I was good at some sport before I left school. Upon arriving home from boarding school for my penultimate summer holidays, I found my bathers, put my towel around my neck, and cycled to the local, indoor swimming pool. After changing, I approached the lady behind the counter. She pointed to the coach, a middle-aged man dressed all in white, with a silver whistle hanging from his neck. ‘Mum will pay for the lessons,’ I told Mr Donnet, ‘if you will teach me breaststroke’. ‘Better get in the pool then, and show me what you can do,’ he replied. I dived in, got myself up on a plane, and swam with all the concentration I could muster. After four laps, Mr Donnet called me from the water. ‘Be here every day from seven-to-nine, and from one-to-three. Every day, do you hear? You can have Christmas Day off.’ I was in shock. It was the first time any adult associated with any sport had supported me. For eight weeks, all I did was swim-eat-sleep, swim-eat-sleep. I behaved like a machine, with the switch turned to fast. I loved every moment of it. More laps; more laps! Arriving back at school for my final year, I straight away nominated for the swimming trials. My problem, however, was that there were only two ‘open’ events – 50 and 100 yards – and already there were two breaststrokers sure to be selected for the team ahead of me. The day of the trials was hot, I was the only competitor not wearing school bathers (every other boy was already in the swimming team). All of the crowd, to a boy, was against me. Plus, the teacher-in-charge of Swimming hated me. We had history surrounding Phys Ed. Oh, how he hated having to announce the new school record for 100 yards breaststroke.

Day 63: 29 June 2017
Friday, 29 June 2018 08:31

I’m going cool on the idea of buying the motorhome. The dream of hitting the road and bumming around Australia in a fully self-contained, mobile house still appeals, but I’m not sure we need to spend $50,000 plus insurance and registration to live the dream. The trouble is, when you go to sell a motorhome, you lose a lot of money. Say you lose $10,000. It equates to 100 nights in cabin accommodation at $100 a night. Add in the lower fuel consumption travelling in a car as opposed to a fuel-guzzling truck – as well as the higher cost of insurance – and the overall cost of a motorhome becomes even less appealing. Plus, using cabin accommodation means we wouldn’t need to make the bed every day! My argument is, of course, based on the premise that we’d make only one big trip, and not head north each and every winter. Frequent use of the motorhome would make it more economical. Then, there’s the issue of learning to operate the myriad gadgets. There are so many confounding operational devices which need to be learned, that hire firms now give you a DVD to explain all of the workings, from emptying the poo tank, to changing the gas bottles and working the 12/240 volt power systems. Whereas, staying in a cabin means the hardest thing to fathom is the TV remote! What you’re paying for in a motorhome, I guess, is the flexibility of being able to go wherever and whenever you want. So, the flexibility of owning one's own travelling house remains appealing. But, where would we park the thing when we’re not using it? I’ve thought, too, about the family, and how it would be great to let the kids and grandkids take the motorhome away for a weekend. But, then, most motorhomes have only two sets of seat belts, certainly not enough for a family of five. I need time to ponder this extravagance a while longer. What do you think?


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