Monthly Archives: October 2013

Secret Men’s Business

A fortnight ago, as part of Brisbane’s Open House weekend, I visited the Masonic Memorial Temple in central Brisbane, which was open to the public that day.  When I visited early on Saturday, the place was packed with visitors, and the freemasons had gone to a lot of trouble, with dozens of men available to answer questions, direct traffic, hand out sample bags, do a bit of discreet recruiting, and generally be accessible to the public gaze. They did a good job, and I thank them for it.

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Yet despite their obvious respectability, all of them smartly dressed in suits on a very hot day, they probably know in their heart of hearts that most of the people were there because they’ve read Dan Brown. Continue reading

From Cover to Cover

A few weeks ago, Melbourne University Press released Jonathan Green’s new book.  The Australian’s Strewth column saw a Gotcha moment, because The Year My Politics Broke (2013) has a surprisingly similar cover to David Malouf, Ransom (2009).

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The return of the childhood killers: measles, mumps and the rest

Measles is coming back.  According to the Courier Mail, since August 16 people have contracted it in southeast Queensland, and the Chief Health Officer is writing to families of unvaccinated children urging them to get their children vaccinated.  A boy came back from overseas recently with measles, and yesterday there were radio warnings for people who had been at Movieworld – Movieworld! – on 2 October to go to their doctors if they felt ill.

I had measles when I was 6 or so, and trust me, you will feel ill.  For nearly 2 weeks, I lay in a darkened room because my eyes hurt so – measles causes blindness – and the rash, the high temperature and general disability made me utterly dependent on my very non-non-working mother to nurse me through it. I also remember going back to school, and having trouble catching up – in geography they had ‘done’ Continents and Peninsulas while I was away, and I gave up geography soon afterwards.

I wasn’t here for the polio epidemic that hit southeast Queensland in the early 1950s, but I had a friend with a withered arm from the disease they still called ‘infantile paralysis’.  Another friend remembered how she had a friend for a sleepover, who was diagnosed a few days later with polio.  Her mother stripped her room of everything – sheets, bedding, clothes, rugs, toys – and burnt them in the backyard.  She doesn’t remember what happened to her friend.  What she remembers was her toys piled on the bonfire, and the terror in her mother’s eyes.

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Two Pioneers of Aviation and the accidents of history

Powered flight has transformed our lives during the last century.  Like many technological breakthroughs, the history of flight is usually written in terms of great men, the heroes of invention like Orville and Wilbur Wright, who were the first men to build and fly an aeroplane successfully at Kitty Hawk.  But heroic individuals explain only so much.  Context, circumstances, contingency, all play a role as well.

Which brings me to the story of Igor and Vladimir, and the curious connection between my suburb of Sandgate, on the shores of Moreton Bay, and the helicopter.

Around the early years of the 20th century, many people were experimenting with the idea of a heavier-than-air flying machine. In France and Germany, England and America, amateur aviators tinkered with kites, gliders and balloons. Even in Australia, on the remote edge of the British Empire, Lawrence Hargrave played a part with his experiments with box kites.

Russia had its enthusiasts too.  Continue reading

Open House Day

Next weekend (12-13 October) is Open House, Brisbane when a wide variety of otherwise private buildings are thrown open to the public.

The concept began in England, where there has been an Open House London since 1992, but in the last few years the idea has spread more widely.  Melbourne has been involved since 2008, and Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth now have open days as well, though sadly, our 2 oldest capital cities, Sydney and Hobart, do not.

The aim is to open up interesting buildings that are not normally accessible to the general public.  Private institutions such as clubs and societies, government offices, commercial buildings that are old, or beautiful, or interesting – or all three – are open for us, the curious public, to have an annual snoop around. Continue reading

Dismissals and True Believers

In one of those weird moments when the whole universe seems to come into alignment, I spent the afternoon of 11 November 1975 marking undergraduate essays on the dismissal of Jack Lang.

I was a very junior tutor at the University of Queensland, with a phone-less office in an overflow building on the outskirts of campus.  There were neither mobile phones nor the Internet, so it wasn’t until I carried my pile of marked papers back to the History Department that I heard radios blaring from offices, and realised something extraordinary had happened. Continue reading