My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

2022 APS PhotoWalk Day: Repair – Recover – Renew

In September 2021 the Australian Photographic Society held its first APS PhotoWalk Day with the theme Environmental Impact – What does it mean to you? I walked as an individual (not a photo club group), entered two images from the Walk and was placed 3rd. I wrote about it here.

On 14 May 2022, the Society held another PhotoWalk Day with the theme Repair – Recover – Renew. I suggested the club I belong to, the Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), participate and enter as a club and it did. But, unfortunately, at the last moment it pulled out because of illness affecting a number of Committee members. So, I quickly registered as an individual again and, on the scheduled day, set off with my camera to walk and find images.

The promotional material for the event said “In a world impacted by significant events through the impact Climate Change, COVID and Natural Disasters, nature and people show an incredible capacity to repair, recover or renew. Wherever you participate in the 2022 APS Photo Walk Day we want you to focus on the positive and capture the optimism of the future: show us how nature and/or people are moving forward so this a wonderful opportunity to capture and showcase the emotions that come with repair, recovery or renewal. Your images may reflect an emergence from the impact of COVID lockdowns and the joy of people rediscovering their lives and livelihoods. You may capture the beauty and strength of nature as it recovers from the ravages of fire or floods or other natural disasters or the efforts of communities to renew what once was. You are not limited by these examples; you are only limited by your imagination. The emotional impact of your image/s are the key to success.”

There were three judges and each of them were to score all entries, with their points being added together. And, again, the individual scoring most points was to receive a $150 MOMENTO Pro Photobook voucher and certificate.

As in 2021, an introductory session was held via Zoom the evening before the event. The surprise speaker was Len Metcalf, an artist, educator, environmentalist, writer and photographer based in Sydney. I very much enjoyed his presentation and he inspired me to create and submit Contemporary images.

Mostly in the Yarramundi Reach area of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, but also in the urban area of Braddon, I took a total of 118 photographs – most with a DSLR camera but some with a phone camera using software that enables it to be used in “professional” mode. My challenge then became to create four images from those 118 shots that were suitable to submit to the competition. And, to give them titles that provided clues as to how they fitted my concepts of the theme.

Firstly, I created a montage of six images showing people renewing and repairing themselves by exercising.

Exercising renews the body © Brian Rope

Then I used a completely different image to portray renewal in another way altogether.

New artworks renew rundown streetscape © Brian Rope

My third entry used a Hipstamatic App to create a pinhole style image of a couple of seats and a makeshift table that I came across by the lake. My guess is that a fisherman created this. I sat there resting and enjoying the view for a short time. This one is about recovery.

Pause here to recover © Brian Rope

And my final image was created by overlaying two shots taken from the same position but with the camera pointing in a slightly different direction. The technique I used involved using Photoshop’s feature that merges two or more images to create a High Dynamic Range result. This one is again about renewal – but of the mind rather than the body.

Visualising anew renews the mind © Brian Rope

On 24 June, a Zoom session was held to announce the results of the competition. It was convened by the APS President, Margaret O’Grady and attended by numerous entrants, two of the judges and Libby Jeffery, Marketing Manager of MomentoPro which was again the sponsor of the Photo Walk Day. Libby announced the results of the photo clubs’ section of the competition and then the results of the individual’s section.

To my great surprise and delight I was announced as the winner of the individual contestants’ section. During the opportunity for anyone who wished to speak to do so, I noted that I had only participated as an individual at the last moment and suggested I needed to thank CPS for its unfortunate late withdrawal from the Walk Day. If that had not happened, I would not have competed as an individual and, so, not won the $150 voucher from MomentoPro – received by email from Margaret O’Grady moments after the Zoom session wrapped up!

Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate as part of the CPS in the next PhotoWalk.

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AP Focus, My Photography, Photography Story

My Thematic Photobook

Roughly every four months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the July 2022 issue now in newsagencies.

At the time of writing, I’m participating in a free workshop spread over 6 two and a half hour long sessions. It’s a program designed to assist folk who are sixty-five or older to do something with their boxes of slides of past travels, their prints falling out of family albums, or even their smartphone snaps. Small groups of participants are learning how to creatively review their photo collections, how to scan slides and prints, and how to manage and process digital files.

With the assistance of experienced tutors, participants are curating selections of mages from their own archives and will use them to tell stories through printed 50-page photobooks. The project is being run by Photo Access in Canberra, the ACT and region’s centre for contemporary photography, film and video and media arts. Like the APS, it is an established non-profit body, and is a friendly creative community making, sharing and investigating photographic culture in the interests of artistic expression, cultural participation and positive social change. This particular project was made possible through private donors plus a Creative Partnerships Australia Plus One matched funding grant.

If you know that I’ve previously made quite a few photobooks and have been on my photographic journey for many years, you might wonder why I am participating in this workshop. Well, I am seeking to improve my curatorial skills, to develop my ability to combine words with images to tell a story, to motivate myself to find special images in my huge collection, to create a new photobook that is more than simply a collection of some of my photos, and to learn new things – because I firmly believe we can always learn more.

So, for the project, I have decided to create a book providing a glimpse of my life as an adult, all of which has seen me living in Canberra. It will look at who I am – my component parts if you like.

Our group’s tutor suggested that I select the images I will use, then place them in the book under various themes rather than in chronological order. She has also suggested I include scans of relevant objects acquired along the way and of newspaper and magazine articles that add to the overall story.

My chosen themes are my family and friends, my employment and volunteering, Canberra events (that I have organised, participated in or photographed), Canberra places (that I have photographed), well-known people (that I have met and/or photographed), and my extensive involvement with photography.

1988.08.12 – Prime Minister Bob Hawke launching Australopedia © Brian Rope

I currently have identified around one hundred images and scans for potential inclusion in the book. That’s probably too many for fifty pages, so I still need to be a little more ruthless in whittling the numbers down.

I very much hope my finished book will be good enough to enter in this year’s APS Photobook Awards? You should be reading this in July – by which time entries for that event will have opened. Entry is free and open to all APS members and camera club members. There is no limit to the size, format, or number of pages. And entries have to be submitted by 7 October 2022. Full details are on the APS website at www.a-p-s.org.au. So, why not participate?

As published in Australian Photography magazine

Footnote: All the photobooks created by participants in the project are to be launched at an event at PhotoAccess scheduled for 6 PM on 21 July 2022.

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My Photography, Photography Story

The Queen and Me

Princess Elizabeth was traveling to visit Australia in 1952 when her father King George VI died. She returned to England without visiting. However, Queen Elizabeth II has visited Australia 16 times, usually on important milestones, anniversaries, or celebrations of Australian culture. I favour Australia becoming a republic but, nevertheless, over the years I have seen the Queen on a few occasions during her numerous visits. And her 70 years of service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is certainly quite extraordinary.

On 25 April 1970, I was amongst the crowds when she officially inaugurated the Captain James Cook Memorial which was built to commemorate the Bicentenary of Cook’s first sighting of the east coast of Australia. The memorial includes a water jet located in the central basin and a skeleton globe sculpture at Regatta Point of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, showing the paths of Cook’s expeditions.

Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet Opening, 25 April 1970

I was there again the following day, 26 April 1970, when the Queen opened the National Carillon on Aspen Island in Canberra. The carillon has a symbolic value in the link between Britain and Australia. It also has some historic value for its association with the commemoration of the 50th jubilee of the founding of Canberra.

Queen at Carillon, 26 April 1970

When the Queen again visited in 1988, my job saw me responsible for many aspects of all the Bicentennial events in Canberra including the outdoor entertainment for the opening of the new Parliament House on 9 May. Royal “flags”, “designed” by me, were flown from numerous flagpoles during the visit, much to the chagrin of certain officials who objected to “pennants” being flown from flagpoles!

Royal “Flags” flying near new Parliament House, 9 May 1988

As a result of my job responsibilities, I was one of the people invited to attend the Royal race meeting with the Queen on Sunday 8 May. Of course, we were not actually with Her Majesty rather we were all seated several rows in front of her (with an empty space in between) and were instructed not to turn around and look at her.

Photojournalists at the Royal Race meeting, 8 May 1988

The Queen officially opened the new Queen Elizabeth II stand at the racecourse and presented the trophy to the winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Bicentennial Stakes, a weight-for-age event over 2000m carrying prize money of AUD$100,000.

Despite the instructions, various people (myself included) took opportunities to peek and some of us also captured some images albeit from a distance.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the Queen at the Royal Race Meeting, 8 May 1988
Queen Elizabeth II – escorted by Dugald Stuart (then Chairman of the ACT Racing Club) – presented trophies to the owner and trainer (Bart Cummings) of Beau Zam which won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, 8 May 1988

On the evening of the same day, I attended a “dress rehearsal” in the new Parliament House for the following day’s main event. Guests were able to roam through the new building and many took the opportunity to sit in the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Representatives chamber. We experienced the entertainment the Queen was to hear the following day and enjoyed refreshments. I have no photographs of the event – my memory suggests we were not allowed to take any.

I was, of course, outside for the official opening of the new Parliament building, so did not actually see the official party that day, but I was close by and able to photograph the protestors who hung large banners on the outside walls.

Prisoners Action Group protest banner at new Parliament House, 9 May 1988
Protest banners at new Parliament House, 9 May 1988
Indigenous activists’ protest banner at new Parliament House, 9 May 1988

On 20 October 2011, I was on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin when the Queen travelled along it from Government House and many folk waved flags and their hands. The boat was too far from the shore to make out Her Majesty (or anyone else) from where I was looking.

Queen passing by on Royal barge on Lake Burley Griffin, 20 October 2011

Earlier this year, the National Capital Authority put out a call for anyone who had met the Queen to submit photos and their stories for potential inclusion in a planned exhibition celebrating the Platinum Jubilee. The exhibition was to be included in the permanent National Capital Exhibition in the Regatta Point building where Her Majesty had stood to see where the Lake would be once rain fell and filled up the created expanse for it. I decided to submit one of my photos of the Queen from 1988 and the story associated with it.

On 23 May I received an invitation for myself and a guest to attend the opening of The Queen and Me.

So, I accepted for myself and my wife. And, at 4.30PM on 3 June 2022, we arrived at the event and very soon found my image and story had been included.

My image and story in The Queen and Me exhibition, 3 June 2022
The 1988 panel including my story in The Queen and Me exhibition, 3 June 2022

We perused the other parts of the exhibition, listened to some amusing stories told by the organisers, had some light refreshments, took some photos and chatted to one of the organisers and a few other guests.

Organisers of The Queen and Me exhibition sharing stories at the opening, 3 June 2022
The Queen and Me exhibition poster
Part of The Queen and Me exhibition, 3 June 2022

As we left the building around 5.15PM we saw that the nearby Water Jet, along with the Carillon and some other buildings on the lake shore were lit with a purple colour. So I grabbed another photo on my phone. We subsequently learned it was Royal Purple and was part of the celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee.

Water Jet in Lake Burley Griffin illuminated with Royal Purple, 3 June 2022

As part of Australia’s celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrating her 70 years on the throne, on 4 June 2022, there was a ceremony on the island where the National Carillon stands.

Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, renamed it from Aspen Island to Queen Elizabeth II Island. He described it as a “fitting salute” to the monarch. “Today we celebrate her long life and 70 years of service to Australia and the Commonwealth, including no less than 16 visits to our shores.”

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My Photography, Photography Story

A small piece of Canberra’s history

One little functional building in Canberra, the Manuka electricity substation (Chamber Substation 69), was built in 1936. It is thought to have been designed by Cuthbert Whitley. It may be the only one of its kind left. It is no longer used for its purpose and, right now in May 2022, Evo Energy wants to demolish it.

A Development Application (DA number 202240055) has been lodged for Block 5, Section 41, Griffith (zoned for community uses), where the building is located. The remainder of the block contains a small parking area and is, otherwise, undeveloped.

Image taken from the DA

There is now a temporary security fence around the building, which is covered with painted “street art”.

Chamber Substation 69 behind a temporary security fence © Brian Rope
Chamber Substation 69 behind a temporary security fence © Brian Rope

Who was Cuthbert Whitley and why is his involvement in any way relevant? An entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography by Roger Pegrum reveals much about  Whitley:

Whitley was an architect and public servant, who was born on 30 July 1886 at Rutherglen, Victoria.

He trained in design and building with the Victorian Public Works Department. In 1912 he joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a draughtsman in the public works branch of the Department of Home Affairs.

In 1920, Whitley was appointed architect in the Department of Works and Railways. Soon after, he was admitted as an associate of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Whitley was transferred in 1929 to Canberra, where he worked under the principal designing architect (later chief architect) E. H. Henderson. In 1935, he was promoted to senior architect in the Department of the Interior. His first major project was a new building for the Patent Office on Kings Avenue, for which he chose a formal axial composition with sandstone facings and restrained Art Deco embellishment.

Patent Office on Kings Avenue © Brian Rope

In 1936, Whitley designed Ainslie Public School. His plans were both functional and elegant, with carefully articulated facades and creative treatment of conventional materials internally and externally. Art Deco motifs such as chevrons and vertical flutes suggested a fresh and forward-looking view of education.

Ainslie Public School (now the Ainslie Arts Centre) © Brian Rope

He followed this building with a dramatic design for Canberra High School (1939) at Acton, with a lofty clock tower marking the high ground overlooking the city centre and long symmetrical wings of classrooms terminating in bold semicircular ends. He enlivened the formality of the composition with decorative elements integrated into the overall design. Featuring many technological innovations, it was described at the time as ‘the most modern school in Australia’.

The original Canberra High School (now the ANU School of Art & Design) © Brian Rope

Following Henderson’s death in 1939, Whitley was acting chief architect for some six months. His ambitions for a truly modern Canberra were also realised in smaller projects, including houses, and the city’s first fire station, at Forrest. The flat roofs, crisp steel-framed windows and unrelieved brick walls of these buildings were early expressions in Canberra of the Inter-War Functionalist style.

Whitley travelled only for work and, despite his appreciation of contemporary architectural movements, never went overseas. After suffering the first of several strokes in 1941, he retired on 19 September 1942. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 23 October that year in Canberra Community Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery.

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My Photography, Photography Story

A DAY ON THE FARM

Once upon a time  – in April 1979 actually – there was a farmer with the unlikely name of Shepherd. Mike Shepherd that is. A part-time weekend farmer when I met him. A public servant concerned with matters agricultural during the week. And also a man with a precious knack for entertaining young people. A man who took chances.

Have you ever taken a chance? I don’t mean buying a lottery ticket or betting on the horses. Although that is really how I first met Mike. He had brought a tiny piece of his farm to Canberra one fine and sunny afternoon, as part of a ‘City meets Country’ happening. And I was there with my young children. My nine-year-old son Darren entered a “Guess the Weight of the Black Sheep” contest and, you guessed it – he won! The prize? A visit to Mike Shepherd’s farm.

And so it was that we came to spend two days on Mike’s farm. Not a new experience for me I thought, having lived on farms for some years as a child. Even when Mike warned that the farm always hosted an assortment of people at weekends, I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. But even Mike didn’t always know who would turn up on any particular weekend. Always adventurous, we just set off into the unknown to take a chance on this Mike, his farm and his other unknown guests. As always, of course, my camera was on board!

Arriving early Saturday morning we found all the other guests had turned up the night before. One group was in the process of slaughtering a sheep in readiness for the evening meal. As promised – or, perhaps, threatened – the other guests were indeed a whole variety of people. Various ages. Various backgrounds.

A public servant about to opt out of his personal rat race and work the farm. A woman, her four daughters – aged from about six to thirteen – and her unemployed brother. And a caftan-wearing American, resident at the farm. Mike himself. Des, with his great hat. And a couple of teachers from Sydney. Oh, and their class of thirteen teenage children with a level of intellectual disability from Wairoa Public School in Sydney.

The teachers and children were, in fact, stopping over for a few days experiencing country life. With little previous experience of such children, and certainly not any previous opportunity to get to know a group of such children at first hand, the weekend was to prove an exciting opportunity for me. And for my camera!

Ask any farmer and you will be told there is always plenty of work to be done. This one was no exception. All the guests were welcome to get involved with whatever was in progress. My then wife settled down with her sketchbook. My children went exploring and found a pony to ride. One of the other children, Susie, looked longingly but could not be persuaded to join them.

I found myself helping Mike to bring in some sheep. One of the school children used his imaginary walkie-talkie to pass innumerable instructions to imaginary security guards, and to the rest of us as we gathered the sheep! As the rest of the children ran towards us when we brought the sheep in, I ran to get my cameras.

I was not disappointed. Teacher Sylvia, and Des in his hat, tried their hands at cutting toenails and treating footrot on the rams. An upside-down ram and an inquisitive bunch of children soon found Mike giving an impromptu biology and sex lesson. The farm visitors watched on whilst one held a sheep steady, and the nearby building silently observed.

Once the work was over, there was time for fun. The children were enticed to leave their safe viewing positions beyond the yard fence and join the sheep. Not an easy thing for some of them. They dug deep for courage to really get among the unfamiliar.

Darren seems interested in joining the sheep
Mike offers encouragement to the reticent ones
Will I, won’t I?
Maybe I’ll just stay here?
This is a good view from here
I’ll try this nail cutting lark
Some decide to get in there

Eventually, my camera followed Hatice, a mildly retarded girl, as she tentatively moved – in a few feet, back several, in again, back again!

Hatice
Hatice cautiously moves towards the sheep, following her teacher’s lead as two classmates look on
Hatice thinks better of it and heads for the protection of the railings
Hatice finds the courage to overcome her fear and grasp a sheep by its horns

Until eventually she took a firm hold on a sheep and grinned up at me in triumph!

Hatice smiles triumphantly for the camera as she realises she has achieved her goal of touching that sheep

(Those five images about Hatice were published under the heading “I was there” in the February 1980 issue of an Australian Photographic Society magazine, Image.)

Dean, an only child, adopted almost everyone as his temporary family. He really took a fancy to Sandy. She became his sister. Her mother became his mother. Others became his father, uncles and aunts! Around the evening campfire later this young boy delighted us all with his skills playing a guitar.

John also thrilled us with his musical ability. He lacked the co-ordination to peg clothes on a line, but he was able to produce tune after tune on a piano accordion keyboard – as Mike did the squeezing for him!

I will always remember the weekend for so many things. The way small hands slipped quietly into my arm. The way small arms slipped around my shoulder. The shy smiles. Susie – who eventually found the courage to ride the pony. The music and singing after we ravenously tore at the barbecued sheep. And, particularly, the hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied singing of the Lord’s Prayer by one of the young girls from the special school before we turned in for the night.

I became so engrossed in learning from, and getting to know, these special children that I forgot to keep taking photographs. I don’t make that mistake any more. But the images I did get have always served as a reminder of the day my son took a chance.

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AP Focus, My Photography, Photography Story

Keeping it Personal

Roughly every four months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the March 2022 issue now in newsagencies.

As published:

One of the things we all should do is set ourselves personal projects to work on. In recent years, I have identified various projects I thought might lead to the production of photobooks or even exhibitions.

Creating photobooks is quite straight forward really. The cost of a particular size book is known ahead of time, so you can decide what to make and be aware of exactly how much money you need before proceeding. And if you do make a good one, you could always enter it in the annual APS Photobook competition – either in the portfolio category or the storytelling category. And there are also other photobook competitions you might decide to enter.

The projects I have embarked on in recent times have been diverse, despite the pandemic restrictions. Walking, cycling or driving around your close neighbourhood is all you need to do when searching for shots. I found the roadside littered with many more than usual corflute signs when it was election time here. See. Stop. Photograph. Repeat. The end result was 54 images – plenty for a photobook.

Then I found Love. Well sort of. Someone was, and still is, painting graffiti all over the place and, most particularly, around the suburbs closest to where I live. Every artwork primarily consists of images of a dinosaur/worm/alien, often accompanied by a heart and messages. I’ve completed a book Expressing Love in Canberra featuring many of those artworks that I photographed. If nothing else, I have a documentary record of those since removed or painted over! And, I’m adding to my collection every time I see a new work. I’d actually like to acquire one work that is painted on an electrical box door so I could display it along with my photos and the photobook at an exhibition.

Love 041 – © Brian Rope

When I first saw some Say Less graffiti on buildings in two suburbs on opposite sides of a major entrance road to our city, I had no idea what it was about. However, I quickly thought about the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, and the concept for a book about saying less with words and more with images started to take shape in my mind. Again, I’ve made a photobook.

Cover of Say Less photobook © Brian Rope

Say Less is also about graffiti (or street art if you prefer) and explores various meanings of the term.

Lyneham Flats 004 © Brian Rope

My possible exhibition could explore Love, Say Less, Corflutes and, maybe, also E-Scooters – the method of transport that has made a relatively recent appearance here, welcomed by many but irritating others because of perceived misuse as the scooters litter our streets.

Having an exhibition is more difficult to achieve. Firstly, there is the difficulty of getting a timeslot in a gallery. Getting into most of our local galleries is a real challenge. You have to compete with many graduating students keen to emerge and establish their names, as well as numerous already established photo artists from other parts of the country and even overseas.

I ask myself if older folk like me who have been in numerous group exhibitions over the years but never had their own solo show, can now emerge and be lauded as photo artists? I don’t know, but I’ll keep pursuing a solo exhibition and, in the meantime, will make more photobooks. What was the closing date for that competition I read about?

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1959 – My first year in Canberra

I arrived in Canberra on 2 March 1959, along with others in the first ever group of Statistics Cadets selected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The Cadetship program was the first large-scale graduate recruitment scheme to run within the Australian Public Service. All participants signed up out of high school and sought to complete an economics degree with honours over four years. In 1959, we studied at the Canberra University College (CUC).

CUC was a tertiary education institution established in by the Australian government and the University of Melbourne in 1930. It operated until 1960 when it was incorporated into the Australian National University as the School of General Studies. Over the course of its operation it had two directors, including Bertram Thomas Dickson whilst I was a student there. It was staffed by many notable academics including economist Heinz Wolfgang Arndt whose lectures I attended. Other staff I recall included Professor Fin Crisp (Political Science) and Patrick Pentony (Psychology).

The salary and allowances paid to Cadets (Statistics) at the time is interesting. My income was a drop from what I had earned at Australian Iron and Steel over the 1958-59 Summer period.

The first group of Cadet (Statistics) March 1959, I’m standing on the far left. Official photo, photographer unknown to me

Names of 9 of the 11 Cadets: Douglas Paton Drummond, Anthony George Faunt, Edith Mary Guard, Derrick Grahame Low
Choy, Joan Helen Morgan, Stephen John Newman, Francis Bernard Riley, Kenneth Neal Robinson, Brian Charles Rope

We were there for orientation week at CUC, prior to commencing our studies the following week. We were unable to move into our rooms at the Narellan House hostel as they were in its new wing, which was not quite ready, so we were placed temporarily in the Hotel Kurrajong on the opposite side of the Molonglo River which flowed through the sheep paddocks between the northern and southern suburbs of Canberra.

Unfortunately, it chose that very time for the heavens to open and dump an enormous amount of rain, which soon flooded the paddocks, rising so close to the deck of the original Commonwealth Avenue bridge that it was closed for safety reasons. The only route from our new digs to the Canberra University College was via Queanbeyan. But none of us had cars or even bikes, so we could go no further than the swollen river and look across to the northern side.

Fortunately, the weather changed and our new rooms at Narellan House became available in time for us to attend our first tertiary education lectures as we embarked on our quest to gain Bachelor of Commerce degrees from the University of Melbourne.

One of the formalities I had to complete was to sign the matriculation roll. I provided evidence of my matriculation to the university college and received a letter inviting me to sign the roll.

Back on 11 March 1947, Federal Cabinet had approved a program to construct 3500 homes in Canberra over the next five to seven years, with an annual allocation of £1 million. Nevertheless, between 1946 and 1950 only 1147 houses were built. In the meantime, the government resorted to other measures. It built a series of guest houses and hotels to accommodate public servants and enlarged some existing facilities.

The government also recycled former defence facilities. Narellan House, located on Coranderrk Street in Reid and opened in 1949, was built using defence materials relocated from Narellan, south-west of Sydney. The Chifley Federal Government brought the huts, asbestos and all, on five semi-trailers for storage in Canberra. It became one of the Government Hostels in Canberra, housing forty-nine guests and a staff of eight. At Narellan it was ladies in the north wing and gents in the south. It survived all the other hostels and, with the addition of the new wing in 1959, became a residence for tertiary students, including me. The new wing housed both men and women students.

Front entrance of Narellan House showing the part of the original buildings, March 1959 © Brian Rope

One of the people I became closest to during my year at Narellan was another Cadet (Statistics), Derrick Low Choy. His room was directly opposite mine.

Derrick Low Choy in the grounds of Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Derrick and I spent much time in my room listening to my newly acquired pink mantel radio and devouring massive quantities of delicious potato crisps that his mother made and sent to him on a regular basis from her home in Queensland. We listened to the 2SM Sydney Top 30 hit parade broadcast weekly by 2XL Cooma trying to win a prize for accurately predicting which songs would fill which positions the next week.

My pink radio in my room at Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Another Cadet I became friends with was Ken, who was a member of the reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints – a spinoff from the Mormons. Ken worshipped at Reid Methodist Church just up the road from Narellan, because there was no branch of his church in Canberra.

Ken – original Canberra High School in background, March 1959 – © Brian Rope

Having stood in its tranquil setting in Reid, just across from Glebe Park, since 1949, Narellan was demolished in May 1992. The last historic link with Narellan Military Camp near Sydney was severed. The site was redeveloped as an apartment complex, now Monterey apartments.

In a communal lounge room at Narellan House, large groups of residents (as many as 30) regularly played Rickety Kate, a trick-taking card game – but only in reverse because the object is to avoid taking tricks. Some tricks are okay to take. They are safe, but you must be careful. If you take hearts, you get points. Points are no good. You do not want points. Most of all, you need to avoid old Rickety Kate, the Queen of Spades. She’s worth a lot of points. You do not want a lot of points. The first player to exceed one hundred points will end the game, but that only means she or he has come in last place. Our version of it involved using as many decks of cards as were necessary depending on the number of participants – but only using one Rickety Kate. Usually we played with so many decks that the number of cards each player was dealt was almost too many to hold in your hands.

There was some conflict between older residents (such as the future Solicitor General, Tony Blunn) and those of us who were new and younger arrivals. We tended to be noisy and having an enjoyable time, whilst the older residents were more focussed on their studies.

A Methodist Youth Group (MYF) happened to start up at the nearby Reid Methodist Church just when I moved into Narellan, so I was a founding member of what became a great social group. The Minister at the church at the time was Rev Harold Cox. There was a pool table inside the halls complex and two tennis courts were built out the back of the church and halls during 1959. The church was Canberra’s first urban church and had been opened on 8 October 1927 (as the South Ainslie church). A Sunday School Hall came a little later, opening on 24 July 1929 with future extensions in mind. They were not opened until 21 September 1957, with the complex being given the name Reid Methodist War Memorial Youth Centre. Badminton, table tennis, indoor bowls, darts and quoits were all amongst the games played there. Sadly, the MYF is not mentioned in The Red Bricks of Reid by R. T. Winch, a history of the church published on its fiftieth anniversary in 1977.

During 1959 there, I made many good friends, who included young women Lee, Angel, Judy, Margaret Bird, Meg Wicks, Margaret Bales, Bev, Edith Guard and Sue. Young men involved with the church included Bob Gray (whom I had met at Wollongong) and Kevin Veness. They all feature often in my photos from that year, including when most of us attended a Crusaders church camp at Gunning over Easter and later took a trip to the snow in Perisher Valley.

Reid Methodist Church, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Lee, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Angel & Judy at Canberra Show, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Kevin (in white singlet) at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Angel at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Judy, Meg and another girl at Easter Camp in Gunning, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Edith and Sue, architects and builders, construct a miniature igloo at Perisher Valley, 1959 – © Brian Rope

There were also trips home to Goulburn on some weekends. My dad’s work brought him to Canberra often, so I was able to get a lift one or both ways with him. When in Goulburn I would attend youth group gatherings there with Alan.

At CUC I explored things that I might get involved with on campus, I decided to get involved with the group that put on annual Revues at the Childers Street Hall/theatre. I’m not sure when it was but I recall being made up for a skit in which I wore little. The make-up involved applying something to all my bare skin areas. The dressing room where this happened was mixed genders and the people applying my make-up were females. This was an eye-opening experience for a young male who previously had lived a sheltered life.

I also visited the Woroni (student newspaper) office and expressed interest, but never really did much for it. The 13 May 1959 issue of Woroni ran stories about both Narellan House and the Revue.

At the Australian Bureau of Statistics, we Cadets were initially required to work part-time whilst undertaking a full-time study load. After a time, the authorities realised this was a mistake and allowed us to be full-time students.

So, what about actual study? Lectures and tutorials were held in various ageing weatherboard buildings with inferior quality heating in Winter. Most of my lectures were held late afternoon or early evenings, so were easy to get to even when working during the day.

The National Library of Australia, then located on Kings Avenue, was my preferred place to study and obtain study material, so I spent some time there.

Original National Library, 1959 – © Brian Rope

One of the four subjects we had to study was Pure Mathematics 1. The syllabus was effectively a duplicate of the Maths Honours I had studied, and done so well in, the previous year for Matriculation. I achieved a basic pass for it – and failed all three other subjects! My cadetship was suspended with a requirement that I repeat all failed subjects the following year, whilst working full time and being a part-time student. Clearly, my school studies had not prepared me for university studies. And being only seventeen also meant I was not mature enough to undertake university.

But, hey, I learned to play 500 and billiards. I made friends and enjoyed myself!

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1958-59 – Transitioning from school to the workplace

After completing secondary school, I needed to embark on the next stage of my life. The careers counsellor at school had suggested I pursue a career as a teacher, chartered accountant or actuary. None of those careers appealed to me, although I did make an (unsuccessful) application for a Teachers College Scholarship.

Of course, I also needed to obtain some references. As was the common practice in those days, these were obtained from people who knew me and said very little of any use to any prospective employer.

My referees included the owner of Charlton, Mr Hugh Hoskins, who had employed me on weekends to help out at his dairy farm during milking. My main task was to hose out the cow dung from the holding pens after they had been vacated. I have fond memories of drinking fresh creamy un-pasteurised milk from metal scoops dipped in the vats into which the milk flowed over chilled metal pipes.

Another referee was my Goulburn High School headmaster, Mr Lynch.

A third referee was the Methodist Superintendent Minister, Rev Colin Ritchie.

I headed off to work at Australian Iron and Steel (AIS) in Port Kembla, hoping to be awarded a prestigious BHP Scholarship. My Ballarat relatives were visiting us at the time and my cousin David drove me (and Alan) to Wollongong. The rest of the two families travelled in dad’s car.

L. to R. – Alan, David, Brian on way to Wollongong © Eileen Rope

I moved into a BHP staff residence, Weerona, midway between the Wollongong and North Wollongong Railway Stations. A photograph of me standing at the driveway entrance reveals a very small boy in short pants looking most sad! Unfortunately, I cannot locate that photo now.

Weerona, Wollongong, 1958 ©Brian Rope
Weerona, Wollongong, 2021

My initial placement at AIS was in the administration area where the hours were 9AM to 5PM. But I was soon transferred into a quality control position in the area where sheet metal was manufactured. My job was to get a piece of sheet metal from the conveyor belt (wearing strong safety gloves to shield my hands) and take it to a small room where I had to measure thickness and a couple of other things and record the results. Then I disposed of that sheet, went and collected another and so on for 8 hours. If any measurement was outside of the specified quality requirements, I had to alert the foreman so he could stop production whilst making necessary adjustments to the machinery to get quality back on track.

As soon as the administration staff had knocked off and left for the day the foreman spoke with me and made it clear that I was never to tell him to stop the production line. He cleared a space on the bench top and told me to lie down and sleep there until he woke me shortly before the end of my shift at which time I should then make up and record all the measurements that I had not done.

Sleeping would have been impossible because of the constant very loud noise of pile driving equipment driving tall metal beams into the ground to support the structures. We were not provided with ear protection equipment which, no doubt, caused many workers to suffer unnecessary hearing impairment later in life.

After I’d been at my task for a while, I became brave enough to do what others did – snatch a piece of sheet metal from the moving conveyor belt without wearing the protective gloves. Misjudging my timing resulted in a piece of sheet slicing a piece from my left wrist very close to an artery. I was carted off very quickly to the first aid room for treatment to stop the blood flow. That made me very unpopular as it was the first on-site accident in a long time and all workers lost their accrued safety entitlement points, which were redeemable for a range of household products.

After around ten weeks at AIS I was offered not the hoped for BHP scholarship but a much less attractive alternative –  to study for a Diploma in Metallurgy part-time at the Wollongong TAFE, under the auspices of the University of NSW. All the lectures were held in the afternoons, clashing with the work shift I most usually did, meaning I would have to do the study without attending classes.

Afternoon shift ran from 3.20PM until 11.20PM, night shift from 11.20PM until 7.20AM the following day, and morning shift from 7.20AM until 3.20PM. If your replacement failed to turn up you were required to stay for a second shift and, so, work 16 hours straight. You had to inform someone of their non-arrival so they could ensure the next shift-worker would arrive – working 24 hours straight was not allowed.

Afternoon shift was great as I could catch a train right outside my workplace and be back at the hostel very quickly, have a shower and be in bed just after midnight. The next morning I would have breakfast just after 7 AM, then spend the morning at North Wollongong beach or playing tennis on a court at a private home directly opposite the hostel. After lunch I could relax, read, or listen to music until it was time to get ready for the train journey back to do my next shift.

In any fortnight, we were rostered on for 10 out of the 14 days. Sometimes, I would have 4 single days off, other times it might be one 2-day break and two single days, or two 2-day breaks. On at least one occasion, when I had four successive days off, I took a train to Goulburn to visit the rest of the Rope family.

I enjoyed twelve weeks of life at Wollongong/Port Kembla over the summer of 1958/59. A typical day saw me breakfasting in the hostel dining room before cycling to North Beach for a swim or playing tennis on private courts opposite the hostel before returning for lunch. There was then time to read or listen to music before taking a train to work for the afternoon shift (3.20 to 11.20 pm). I would be home, showered and in bed by around midnight.

On occasions some of us rode bikes to the Mt Keira Lookout (or even to Mt Bulli lookout), mostly for the thrill of speeding back down again. Photos taken with my then 7-year-old Baby Brownie include views from those heights.

View of Wollongong, © Brian Rope
Looking south towards Port Kembla and Lake Macquarie, © Brian Rope

As Christmastime approached, the Presbyterians organised an end of year party and dance – and a girl who some of us had met at the library encouraged us to go to it. So we did. As the evening proceeded, I discovered that various young men were arranging to take young women home. I decided I needed to be in that and asked the library girl if I could escort her home and she agreed.

After everything was over, I learned that my librarian friend lived a long way from the venue and that a taxi would be required. As we travelled towards her home seated together in the back seat, I nervously watched the taxi meter clicking up – worrying that I would not have sufficient cash to pay the fare. Whilst I did have just enough, I certainly did not have sufficient for the return trip. So I paid the driver and sent him on his way wondering how I would even manage to find my way back to the hostel, leave alone walk the distance involved.

Fortunately the young lady’s very pleasant mother came out to see why a cab had turned up. She invited me in for supper and then, after that, insisted on driving me back to the hostel – with her daughter coming along for the ride. I was relieved, if a little embarrassed.

I didn’t get home for Christmas that year. Along with other AIS trainees, including Dita, Warren, Andy, Phil, and two Johns, I celebrated at Weerona in Wollongong. I have no idea what any of them went on to do with their lives.

Trainees gathered around the Christmas tree at Weerona 1958, © Brian Rope
L. to R.: Back – Dita, John, Warren
L.to R.: Front – ?, Andy, Phil, John, ?

When an offer of a Statistics Cadetship with the Australian Bureau of Statistics arrived, I quickly made the decision to take it up and study instead for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Melbourne, studying at the Canberra University College. It was the first year ever that such Cadetships had been offered and I was fortunate to receive one, because by the time they were offered many better qualified applicants had already accepted other offers.

I was one of three NSW students (one of two from Goulburn) to receive a cadetship. The other Goulburn boy was Francis Reilly whom I did not know, as he had attended a different school to me. The Goulburn Evening Post newspaper reported our selections as below.

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Autobiography, My Photography, Personal Story

1956-58 – Teenage Years in Goulburn

1956 was our first year in Goulburn in our new family home.

View from bedroom window at 32 Wyatt Street © Brian Rope

My personal photo albums cover some of the events I remember. It snowed one day, which would have been the first time I had seen snow since leaving England in late 1950. For our youngest family member Jill, who was born in Australia, it would have been a first experience ever of snow.

Snowmen at 32 Wyatt Street © Brian Rope

We went to Ballarat at Christmastime in 1956 to visit our aunt, uncle and cousins, seeing them for the first time since leaving Victoria in late 1953. I have photographic evidence that we visited Lake Wendouree, the shell house, and Brown Hill.

Cousins with Alan (rear) at Black Hill Lookout in Ballarat © Brian Rope

My school report for the first half of 1956 shows me getting excellent marks of 90 and 93 in Maths I and Maths II respectively. The Headmaster, M. T. Lynch commented “A very good result”. My position in a class of forty-four was 4th.

At the end of 1956 I sat for my Intermediate Certificate examinations and obtained an “A” pass. My certificate, received in March the following year, indicated that I had passed seven subjects – English, History, Mathematics I and II, French, Combined Physics & Chemistry, and Geography.

Towards the end of 1956, I recall an event when, dressed in our school uniforms hundreds stood in the blazing sun in Belmore Park waiting. Sadly, I suffered sunstroke and passed out, so was taken home before the event happened. Alan thinks it may have been 19 November 1956 when the Olympics torch relay passed through on its way to Canberra and, at the right time, the Olympics venue Melbourne.

My school report for the first half of 1957 shows me getting lower marks of 70 and 73 in Maths I and Maths II respectively. My best mark was for Chemistry (88), and I was in the 70s for all other subjects except Maths Honours where I only achieved 54.The Headmaster, M. T. Lynch commented “A most pleasing result. Have you in mind to take any Honours in Leaving Certificate?” My position in a class of forty-one was 2nd.

On 11 June 1957, Mr McKillop (who was also a Careers Advisor) arranged for me to be assessed to ascertain what future vocations might suit me.

The report indicated that I could consider professional training courses in the areas of economics, law or actuarial science. In particular, it suggested I apply for employment in the NSW or Federal Public Services or the Commonwealth Bank and enrol in one of the suggested courses part-time. It also suggested I might consider employment in an accountant’s office or a broker’s office and enrol in an accountancy course. None of those suggestions appealed to me at all.

In the second half of 1957 my marks were similar, but I had dropped to 3rd in a class of thirty-six. The headmaster asked me to see him regarding Honours.

Living in Goulburn, Alan and I got involved with the Cowper Street Methodist Church that was close to Wyatt Street. But I took confirmation classes at the much grander Goldsmith Street Church and was received into church membership there in 1957 by Rev. Eric G. Clancy, B.A., B.D., Superintendent Minister of the Goulburn Circuit. In 1958, Rev. Clancy authored a book Methodism in the lilac city: the story of the Methodist Church in Goulburn, N.S.W. and the surrounding district. That book refers to the Superintendent of the Cowper Street Sunday School, Mr Ron Butterworth, and to Mrs Triglone, Chief Ray of the Cowper Street Rays – both of whom we got to know well.

From the book by Rev Clancy: Methodism in the lilac city: the story of the Methodist Church in Goulburn, N.S.W. and the surrounding district

At some point during 1957 we had a family holiday at Batehaven on the NSW south coast. We picnicked on City Hill in Canberra during a day trip there in dad’s new Ford Prefect car. Marj Payne was with us – they had also relocated to Woodhouselee, just a short drive from Goulburn, and were living and working at the historic Pejar Park, which came to prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s under the ownership of Len and Beatrice Bligh, when its garden won regular awards in the Sydney Morning Herald’s garden competition. We also visited Sydney, going to Taronga Zoo and the Harbour Bridge, and having a ferry ride on the harbour.

Family holiday cabin at Batehaven © Brian Rope
Family Holiday, Batehaven – Alan, Jill, Brian © Eileen Rope
Picnic on City Hill – Jill, Mum, Marj Payne, Alan, Rob Payne © Brian Rope
Harbour Bridge deck viewed from its pylon lookout © Brian Rope
Harbour Bridge viewed from Taronga Zoo © Brian Rope
Harbour Bridge viewed from ferry © Brian Rope

Dad participated in the 1957 Lilac Time festival parade, driving a truck belonging to his then employer, Andersons Sausages, and towing a float displaying “The World’s Biggest Hot Dog”.

Andersons’ 1957 Lilac Time float “The World’s Biggest Hot Dog” © Brian Rope

My school report for the first half of 1958 shows my marks back up to 91 and 88 in Maths I and Maths II respectively. Headmaster Lynch commented “Your work is consistently good and pleasing”. My position in a class of thirty-two was 3rd.

During second term of year 11, we had the opportunity to learn golf as a school sport and I did so – pleased to avoid the team sport alternatives. Our golf teacher was Bob Russell, a Goulburn professional. On the final week of term we got to play our first full round of golf, in what was called a Canadian Foursome event. In this game, competitors play in pairs and take it turns playing a stroke using a shared ball. I was paired with Jennifer Hughes. It took us something like twenty-one shots to complete the first hole and 199 shots for the full thirty-six holes!

Top Left: Bob Russell (golf teacher) and Top Right Jennifer Hughes © Brian Rope, Bottom Brian (photographer unknown)

Also during 1958 I participated in school trip to the Snowy Scheme, still under construction at the time. We travelled initially by train before transferring to a coach that, I think, we shared with students from Queanbeyan. One of the accompanying teachers was Ian Mawby, who enjoyed the attention of all the girl students. My photographs reveal that we visited lookouts, the under-construction outlet for Guthega Dam, Old Adaminaby, Lake Eucumbene, Guthega Powerhouse including its underground generators, Adaminaby Dam, and the T1 and T2 power stations.

Teacher Ian Mawby and 5th Year girl students on Snowy Scheme tour © Brian Rope

1958 also saw a school social to which I wore a white sports coat and a pink carnation. I was still extremely shy and too terrified to ask any girl onto the dance floor so was just a wallflower for most of the night. Eventually, one of the more confident girls could not stand it any longer and gave me no choice but to join her dancing.

5th Year students at 1958 school social – Brian is in 3rd row, 4th boy from left. The girl who made Brian dance is in the back row at the far left.

Tests in the lead up to the Leaving Certificate and matriculation examinations at the end of 1958 seemed below par and I only placed 6th in the class of thirty-five, but Headmaster Lynch wrote in my report that “Your Leaving Certificate seems assured”.

I then sat the Leaving Certificate and passed. The certificate, received the following March, indicated that I had satisfied the examiners in six subjects: English, Mathematics I & II, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. In fact, I did extremely well in Mathematics I, achieving 1st Class Honours and placing sixth in the whole of New South Wales. My results overall were good enough for me to matriculate, meaning I was eligible to attend university.

On the day before starting intensive study for our Leaving Certificate exams, our class indulged in the usual end of year high jinks, dressing up and having fun on our final day of secondary school. The Goulburn Evening Post came to school to photograph us and posed me front and centre in the photo that accompanied an article about what we got up to.

5th Year on School Muck-up Day © Brian Rope
5th Year on School Muck-up Day – photographer unknown

At some point whilst living in Goulburn I purchased my very own Malvern Star bicycle – not sure how I saved the necessary money! It got a great deal of use and gave me immense pleasure. I rode it to the hockey fields at the old Kenmore Asylum, also known as Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital, where we took delight in watching the girls in short hockey skirts playing. In its prime, Kenmore Hospital was inextricably tied to Goulburn’s community – particularly in the sporting arena. A local who played cricket for decades at Kenmore Hospital described ‘the standard of the pitch as equal to any in Australia,’ and according to The History of Goulburn, (Ransome T. Wyatt, 1941), the community seriously embraced hockey when it was introduced as a recreational activity for Kenmore Hospital staff around 1909. Successive generations of Goulburn school children have had their first taste of this sport on the Kenmore Hospital playing fields – a handful even reaching Olympic standard.

We also rode our bikes to school and to the swimming pool. We sped past Victoria Park where nesting magpies swooped us in season. At the pool I finally learned to swim – not very well but I did earn a certificate for making it across the breadth of the pool without drowning. It was the first time we had lived anywhere to have regular access to a pool.

A less happy incident occurred when I crashed my bike into another one ridden by a younger boy. It was entirely my fault as I made a last-minute decision to turn left towards the main shopping area when I arrived at an intersection at the foot of a steep hill on Mundy Street. I was moving at a fast speed and went completely to the far side of the street into which I was turning whilst he was quite properly riding sedately along that side. Mea culpa. Whilst neither of us were injured, his bike was seriously damaged, and I’ve always wondered what his parents said when he arrived home carrying it.

I also rode my bike to a dairy farm, Charlton, where I got a casual job cleaning out the holding pens after the cows had been milked – a high pressure hose shifted lots of excreted cow manure! A perk of the job was being able to drink full cream, unpasteurised milk from the containers into which it flowed over chilled metal pipes after being extracted from the cows.

One day at Goulburn High another student brought in a match box containing something he’d made at home after learning how to do it during a chemistry lesson. A considerable number, myself included, gathered around to see what he had. He opened the box and touched its contents resulting in a loud bang and flames shooting upwards a considerable distance. My memory is that he and one or two of the closest others had to get medical treatment, across the road at the hospital.

Then there was the day I damaged my knee at Goulburn High. Running across the asphalt’s uneven surface I fell and gouged a significant hole out of my left knee. Over time, the scar has disappeared!

Two of the best students in my years at Goulburn High were Jennifer Hughes and Roger Lavers. The three of us were quite competitive, particularly in Maths. I recall Roger somewhat arrogantly predicting the high salary he would be earning by time he was twenty-one. We laughed at how preposterous the figure seemed; however, because of increases in salaries during the intervening years, many of us (myself included) were earning his predicted figure by the time we were twenty-one.

I admired Jenny. She was confident, intelligent, attractive, and good at sports, arts, music, writing, maths and more. At the end of one of our Maths Honours classes I started to pick her jacket up from the back of her chair to help her put it on. Our teacher, Vince Skinner, drew attention to my action, praising me for it. I was so embarrassed that I did not complete the task. Late in our final year I plucked up the courage to ride my bike to Jenny’s home and ask her if she would like to go out with me. She declined, unintentionally setting my self-confidence back significantly.

Mr Skinner and his wife, who taught me English, were two of my favourite teachers. So much so that if I got into trouble and they found out I was always embarrassed. One day my Economics teacher, Mr McKillop, made me stand outside the classroom door in the corridor as punishment for something. I was mortified when Mrs Skinner came along and saw me. On another occasion, I was sent to the headmaster’s office and Mr Skinner saw me waiting there to be reprimanded. Again I felt most embarrassed.

I am fairly sure Mr McKillop sent me out of the classroom because he could not successfully punish naughty students in the then traditional way of caning them. Whenever he tried, we bent our fingertips down at the last moment as his cane came down, on occasion almost causing him to fall face down.

Spiro Pandelakis was a student at St Josephs’ College and sat for the Leaving Certificate in 1957. Whilst earning the Certificate, his results were not good enough for him to Matriculate. So his disappointed parents (who, I think, operated Spiros Fish Café and Milk bar in Auburn Street) made him repeat Year 11 at Goulburn High in 1958 but, once again, he did not matriculate.

From time to time I babysat younger children who lived opposite us in Wyatt Street. If any problem arose, all that was necessary was to call across the street and mum would come and deal with the problem for me.

Hans Eisler, a Maths teacher who lived opposite us, taught me chess. The 1957 issue of the annual school magazine :”The Goulburnian” records that I was a Vice-President of the chess club. It also records “One of the keenest and best players is Brian Rope, who will represent the school at a Chess Tournament held in Sydney during the September holidays”. The magazine also records that I was a member of the magazine committee for that issue.

The chess tournament was the NSW Junior Schoolboys Championships. I was billeted with the family of an Eastern Suburbs private school student who was also competing. They had an ornate chess set permanently on a table in their lounge room and, whenever two family members were together in the room, they would each play a move or two of the game that was in progress. In the tournament, I failed to win a game other than one where my opponent defaulted. I learned that to be successful one had to know all the so-called standard openings and that, if you didn’t move in accordance with whatever standard opening your opponent had launched you were considered to be very strange. I finished in second-last place ahead of another country competitor who lost every match he played.

I became good friends with Robert McCawley, who lived in Crookwell and travelled to Goulburn by bus every day for school. He also played chess. I don’t recall why, but Robert and I travelled to Sydney together by train and stayed at the YMCA hostel near Central Railway Station. I have a photo of the two of us taken by a street photographer near to Central. I was still very short for my age, whilst Rob was quite tall.

With Rob McCawley in Sydney – by James Krakauer (licensed street photographer)

Rodney Milgate was a music and art teacher at Goulburn High whilst I was there, before he became one of Australia’s most influential painters, especially during the 60s and 70s. His work is represented in major collections around the world, and he had many solo exhibitions and awards for his work, including the Blake Prize for Religious Art three times. Milgate also became a successful actor and playwright, and a newsreader on Channel 7.

Dad worked in various jobs whilst we lived in Goulburn – postman, bread carter and sales representative for Andersons Meats. The bread deliveries were made using a horse and cart and dad’s employer was Mr Triglone (husband of the lady mentioned earlier). During holidays, Alan and I went with dad on the horse and cart helping to deliver bread to customers.

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My Photography, Personal Story, Photography Story

The Book Launch

I’d helped him move his stock of books in boxes to Canberra’s The Street Theatre earlier in the week, then we transported a final box of pre-sold copies ready signed for each purchaser arriving at his request around 2.30pm on the day of the book launch. He was already there set up at a small table underneath the permanent installation on the wall commemorating the man who the book is about. Nearby, a theatre staff member was ready to start selling copies for him to sign as purchasers brought them to his table.

Joel Swadling at the book signing table © Brian Rope

The book If This Is The Highway, I’ll Take The Dirt Road – the Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esq. was written by my stepson Joel Swadling, hence my involvement – although I also knew the late David Branson, and all his family are also my friends. I’ve written about Branson and Swadling on this blog previously here. My concluding sentence then was “I’m looking forward to the attending both the 20th Anniversary Concert and the book launch, reading/hearing the interviews, reading the reviews – and completing my own reading of the book.”

By the time the launch date arrived I had attended the Concert and read almost to the end of Act One in the book. Both had added to my “looking forward to” mood. My wife and I had been on tenterhooks after having been deemed casual contacts of a grandson who contracted the Covid virus earlier in the launch week’ forcing us to have tests – thankfully negative. A positive result would have prevented us attending both the concert and the launch.

A publicity shot I prepared was displayed on monitors in the foyer/bar area of The Canberra Theatre before, during and after the 20th Anniversary Concert by Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gentlemen, plus their guest Fred Smith.

My publicity shot on display © Brian Rope

Also displayed were numerous photos of David Branson taken by ‘pling.

From video of ‘pling’s images of David – as used in my publicity shot and on cover of the book © Brian Rope

But here we were at the appointed time on the appointed day, with many people gradually joining the crowd in the theatre foyer, purchasing drinks from the bar, purchasing books, getting them signed by the author and greeting numerous friends – some from other places than Canberra, and some not seen for years. What to do first was the challenge. For me, it was getting my camera out and starting to document the event – book selling, author signing, friends mingling. One of the first images shows Dominic Mico, whom I got to know personally when heading the (ACT) Arts and Recreation Branch way back in 1987. I went to many of Mico’s events at Canberra’s TAU (acronym for Through Arts Unity) Community Theatre. Later, Mico was founding director of the National Multicultural Festival. And here he was getting his copy signed.

Dominic Mico watches Joel sign his copy of the book © Brian Rope

There’s my wife Robyn Swadling speaking with our friend Pauline Everson, who has come along with her neighbour at Goodwin Ainslie Retirement Village.

The sales table – Pauline Everson in green, Robyn Swadling in multiple colours © Brian Rope

And there’s Paul Branson, who will be speaking during the launch – reading his own words about brother David from the book.

Michael Simic (aka Mikelangelo) is here too – ready to perform. He’s talking with Iain Campbell Smith – Australian diplomat, singer/songwriter and comedian. He performs under the stage name Fred Smith in Australia. Smith has been described as ‘Australia’s secret weapon’ in international diplomacy. As a career diplomat, he served for two years in southern Afghanistan. Working alongside Australian soldiers in Uruzgan Province, Fred’s second career as a musician came to the fore, his guitar serving as a bridge not only to the troops, but also to the people and tribal leaders of that war-torn region. His song, ‘Dust of Uruzgan’, captured the hearts of many serving in Afghanistan. And he authored a book with the same title.

Joel Swadling signing a book, Michael Simic, Fred Smith & friend in conversation © Brian Rope

A little after the scheduled time we began moving into the theatre for the launch. I headed in early to get a front row seat where photography would be easy. The woman beside me and I thought we knew each other. It was Kate McNamara – poet, playwright and critical theorist. For almost ten years she worked as a dramaturg with David Branson’s Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. But I probably had met her through her involvement with TAU, alongside Mico.

Seated on stage are David Branson’s sister Liz Bishop and brother Paul Branson, together with Louise Morris (Branson’s partner at the time of his death), and our author Joel Swadling. At one end of the front row are Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, including the other Branson, Pip (aka Rufino), waiting to perform.

Liz Bishop, Paul Branson, Louise Morris & Joel Swadling © Brian Rope

Elsewhere in the theatre are other members of the Swadling and Branson families. Joel’s father Paul and wife Janet Scott, brother Anthony and partner Sarah Powell, and brother Justin with partner Rache(l) Pettit and their children Jasmine and Riley. That damned pandemic has prevented brother Adam from being present. Margaret Hunt (previously Branson) and her husband David, Paul’s wife Jeanette Watts, Pip’s wife Megan and their children Denholm and Holiday. They are all here.

The doors close. Louise approaches the lectern. She speaks lovingly of David and praises Joel for his dedication and persistence in bringing the book to fruition. Joel replaces her at the lectern, welcomes us all, thanks key people and delivers a short speech, starting:

I’m not going to give a long speech, because the readings I’d like to give are self-explanatory. But I really must thank the management of the Street Theatre, particularly Dean and Carolyn, who’ve so graciously organized this event; as well as Cathy Winters, in helping me to plan the running order. I’d also like to thank my friends, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, for agreeing to play for us. I’ve had several compliments on my book’s title. But I can’t take full credit, as they’re cribbed from Michael’s song, “In Carnival Time”: “If this is the high life, I’ll take the dirt path”.

And concluding:

For this book couldn’t have been produced without the direct involvement and support of our entire community. Of course, I want to thank you all for being here today. But I know equally that there are many who wish they could be but aren’t able. I think in particular of Patrick Troy and Peter Wilkins. Also, some who have passed from our number in the time it’s taken me to finish the book: Phillip Crotty, David Unwin, Renald Navilli, and ’pling (whose photographs so graciously accompany my pages). This, of course, is a celebration of the magnetic force of David Branson. But it’s equally a celebration of the upward spiral of the community which he so richly engendered. As David would have said, “Love you, love your work!”. So please, raise your glasses and toast: “Creative Community!”

Louise Morris speaks © Brian Rope

Those in the audience who happened to have a glass of something in their hands raised them as directed. Joel then invited Mikelangelo and friends to sing us a song. They take the stage and perform below a projected poster for the book featuring the image of David Branson. In their inimitable style they entertain us and speak of David. They then take seats at the rear of the stage.

Mikelangelo introduces the Gentlemen © Brian Rope

Next Joel invites Liz, Paul and Louise, each in turn, to join him. He reads his own words from the book, whilst they read words spoken by them years ago when interviewed for the book. Words that Paul later tells me he didn’t remember saying. All of this is well received by the large audience.

Liz Bishop reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope
Paul Branson reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope
Louise Morris reads, Joel listens © Brian Rope

After that it is Fred Smith’s turn, accompanied by Pip. Fred sings his new song about David whilst a video of ‘pling’s images of David plays on the screen above him. Pip plays his violin beautifully to accompany Fred. This is a truly emotional moment for all who were closest to David, indeed for everyone. Then Pip speaks about David and what he meant to him. More emotion!

Pip Branson plays violin whilst Fred Smith sings © Brian Rope
Pip Branson speaks about David © Brian Rope

To bring the actual launch to a close we are treated to more Black Gentlemen, ending with Mikelangelo being unable to resist removing his jacket and throwing it (landing at my feet), waving his arse at us all, then climbing into, over and onto the audience.

Black Sea Gentlemen finale © Brian Rope
Applause as the Gentlemen depart the stage © Brian Rope

Joel thanked everyone and invited all to return to the foyer for refreshments. Later in the foyer a friend confided to me that he thought Mikelangelo took the focus off Joel. I replied – but it is exactly what David would have done when he had such an opportunity.

Thanks, from Joel © Brian Rope

Back in the foyer Joel signed more books, we ate provided food, drank more, laughed, cried and talked until the staff packed up around us and, eventually, closed the doors. All a bit of a blur really!

More book signings by Joel © Brian Rope

Gemma Clare, who plays cello with The Gadflys amongst other groups, is speaking with Louise Morris – and I do believe that is Marc Mowbray, the Piano Guy, with them. Nearby, there’s a smiling Helen Musa, OAM – art journalist and critic, Canberra City News Arts Editor, founder and Convenor of the Canberra Critics Circle, consultant at the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.

Louise Morris speaks with Marc Mowbray and Gemma Clare with cello – Helen Musa smiling on right edge of frame © Brian Rope

Rev. Dr. Bruce Stevens – founder of Canberra Clinical and Forensic Psychology, currently providing pastoral care to folk from St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Hackett which the Swadlings, Bransons, and Bishops all have connections with – says he enjoyed it immensely. Sue Wilson – who recognised Bruce Stevens and says he saved her life at a difficult time – also had a great time.

Megan – wife of Pip Branson – and their children are having fun. Simon Clarke – lay preacher at St Margaret’s – is in animated conversation with Margaret Hunt.

All a blur – Margaret Hunt speaks with Simon Clarke © Brian Rope

John Goss – chair of the church council at St Margaret’s and Mark Bishop – husband of Liz – are catching up with her and with Rev Paul Swadling who used to be the Minister at St Margaret’s.

John Goss, Mark & Liz Bishop, Paul Swadling © Brian Rope

There’s Fiona Edge – graphic designer (whom I first met when she did design work for the Deafness Forum of Australia when I was its CEO for 10 years) and with personal links to ‘pling (Kevin Prideaux, 1955-2018) who was deeply respected within the arts community for his continued passion, love and support. His photographic legacy is an immense record of the Canberra theatre/music scene from 1970s – 2010s. It is his photographs that feature in Joel’s book and on Fred Smith’s video of his song about David.

Ben Drysdale – actor, director, drama tutor, musician, events coordinator and Creative Producer at Canberra’s Rebus award-winning, mixed-ability Theatre Company in Canberra, which seeks to stimulate social change and healing and with which Joel performs – is enjoying a beer whilst chatting with Fiona Edge and Fred Smith.

Fiona Edge, Fred Smith and Ben Drysdale © Brian Rope

The book launch was over. Joel had much to be pleased about – not the least the large volume of book sales! His family and friends were proud of him. And the launch was a fine celebration of David in a place where he is permanently remembered.

David Branson memorial plaque © Brian Rope
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