Autobiography, Personal Story, Photography Story

Transitioning to adult life

The 3rd National Christian Youth Convention (NCYC) was held in Brisbane in January 1960. A large contingent of Methodist youth from Canberra, including me and some other members of the Reid Methodist Youth Fellowship, went to the convention. Others were from Wattle Park, National Memorial and Queanbeyan Methodist youth groups. The very large majority of the contingent were girls. That was also true of the study group that some of our contingent, including me, were allocated to at the convention. I recognise some of the folk in these photos.

Canberra contingent at 3rd NCYC in Brisbane. Me at far left.
The study group I was in at 3rd NCYC in Brisbane. Me with a hat.

We travelled by train, commencing our journey in Queanbeyan with just a few carriages behind one engine. As we travelled north, additional carriages were added and somewhere an additional engine until the train was very long. Each time we stopped to pick up more delegates, regardless of whether it was a large number in large cities or just one person at a small country town – and regardless of the time of day or night – we opened the windows and welcomed the additional passengers by singing the official Convention hymn.

On arrival at Brisbane South Railway Stations around 26 hours later our carriage being at the rear of the train was a long distance from the platform and we were told to be patient whilst they unloaded the front carriages, then backed the train out to remove the empty cars then return to the station to unload the next lot and so on. We soon decided that would take forever so we clambered down with our luggage and walked alongside the train until we reached the platform!

Arrangements had been made for each of us to be billeted in the homes of local delegates. My host family, including one son John and two daughters were very nice people and looked after me extremely well. I had a great time and discovered the city of Brisbane. Virtually every day whilst in Brisbane brief storms would pour rain on me for as I made my way back to their suburban Norman Park home late in the afternoons and the summer heat always soon dried me out.

Every time another table filled in the dining area for lunch, those sitting at it would sing the grace – trying to use a tune that no other group had used for it. The one that sticks in my mind is “Hernando’s Hideaway”.

My host family’s daughters at 3rd NCYC, Brisbane

During the convention I became friends with a girl called Ethel, who was from Winton. After returning home, I sent her two photos I had taken of her, but she didn’t like them and sent me two others that she thought I might prefer to have. Our plans to stay in touch didn’t come to fruition. I wonder what happened to her.

One of my photos of Ethel
One of the photos Ethel sent me

I also had an opportunity to visit Lone Pine Reserve, with its collection of animals, including a carpet snake that I had my photo taken with.

Me with live carpet snake at Lone Pine Reserve
Animals at Lone Pine Reserve

The return journey was also by train, and I recall us filling the floor space between the two bench seats in our compartment with luggage and covering it with blankets, effectively making one large bedspace where a group of us lay close together trying to sleep.

Mum and dad, Alan and Jill all moved to Canberra in early 1960, as dad’s employer relocated operations from Goulburn to the growing city of Canberra. They purchased a home in Duffy Street, Ainslie at the foot of Mount Ainslie and I moved back home with them. It was the first, and only, home they actually owned.

The Duffy Street home

Everything was different in 1960. Whilst I was, technically, repeating the three failed subjects from the previous year, in reality the content was very different. Canberra University College was no longer associated with the University of Melbourne but, instead, was now the undergraduate school of the Australian National University. What I had studied in first year Economics was now the second-year syllabus, and vice-versa. The same was true of Statistics. So, rather than repeating the material studied in 1959 I had to study new material altogether. I failed all three “repeated” subjects, and my Cadetship was cancelled completely.

A girl whom I had met came to Canberra one weekend to go with me to the University Ball in the Childers Street Hall. She stayed with her brother in a flat behind one of the car yards in Braddon. After the ball ended around 2AM, we walked back to the flat and she changed out of her ball gown. We then walked to mum and dad’s house in Ainslie arriving around 4AM and settled down in the living room. Mum came out of her bedroom and admonished me for keeping the girl up all night and for disturbing the household at that time.

Yvonne Mills from the Reid MYF was my girlfriend for some months, until she dumped me. I was most upset and poured my hurt feelings out to mum, who simply said “there are many more fish in the sea”.

After losing my Cadetship, I remained employed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a Base Grade Clerk working in the Mechanical Tabulation Division. We used machines to process statistical information. Punched paper tape was processed through a so-called computer – a Hollerith 1201 – and punched cards were put through various machines. I learned to sort the cards into order by gently inserting a small metal strip into holes until it was blocked by a card without a hole – push too hard and you made a hole where there wasn’t meant to be one!

I well recall Fridays when, at knock-off time of 4.51PM, we would all rush from work in West Block to the back bar at the nearby historic Hotel Canberra to have a drink before 6 o’clock closing. The idea was to consume as many beers as possible in the available time. As a youngster (turning 18 in early March), I wasn’t up for the challenge. After one beer, I would quietly slip away and ride my bike home.

I also recall one very wet day being lent an MGA sports car by a work colleague to drive to university lectures not all that long after gaining my driver’s licence and before buying my own car. I was both terrified and exhilarated at once. I felt like I was practically lying down in the car and, so, not really in control of it, but also felt very special being at the wheel of such a vehicle. Sadly, the owner of that MGA was killed in it later when he ran into the back of a lorry with pipes overhanging its rear end which penetrated the MGA’s windscreen and its driver.

Once I turned 18 in March 1960, Dad taught me to drive in his car but, after failing the test twice, I had a few lessons with a driving school. That was seemingly enough to satisfy the police as I was successful in gaining my licence at my third attempt. The test included reverse parallel parking in between two movable signs near a short piece of gutter that had been constructed in a parking area outside the then police station.

At first, I could only drive dad’s car when he let me borrow it. Alan was usually beside me in the front and, so, experienced my “accidents”. On one occasion I did not notice a cyclist on my right until very late, slamming on the brakes in the nick of time and coming to a stop with the car’s front bumper immediately behind the cyclist’s left foot on his pedal. When we told dad, his response was “you won’t be a good driver until you’ve had a couple of accidents”.

It wasn’t long before I had more passengers – girls from the MYF group were keen to travel with us. One night when three of them were in the back seat going with us to a church dance, I spun the car 360 degrees as I turned left too fast at a corner where there was loose gravel on the bitumen surface. Fortunately, we missed hitting anything else. Further on we broke down because of a blocked fuel line. We were rescued by friends, including Kevin and Noel Wise – brothers who had some mechanical knowledge. Returning the girls to their homes later I managed to “paint” a pinstripe of paint along one side of the car by backing into a driveway too close to a large painted timber mail/bread box whilst showing off to the girls. I had to confess to dad again when we got home. Waking briefly to receive the news, dad gave the same response.

The first car I owned myself was a second-hand white Ford Consul, baby brother to dad’s white Ford Zephyr.

Around this time I had a penfriend, Elaine, who lived in South Africa. She sent me photos of the area around where she lived as well as one of herself. I don’t recall how the penfriend-ship came about and it didn’t last for very long. The photos remain in one of my photo albums. I wonder what ever happened to Elaine.

The photo sent to me by Elaine from South Africa
and her message on the back of the photo

On 20 October 1960, 16-year-old Denise Hawes, arrived in Canberra from Melbourne with her parents. Denise has told me I was the first boy she saw on the church steps when her parents brought her to Reid Methodist church. Her younger sister Rosemary was still in Melbourne staying with Nanna to finish her school year and their even younger sister Lynne was staying with Gran in Tasmania. The family were reunited in Canberra just before Christmas. Denise, and her whole family, was destined to become a large part of my future.

Despite failing my studies and losing my Cadetship, I was enjoying my life. The MYF group was strong and provided many great friends. We went to district gatherings, attended Crusader camps in various places, took day trips to the snow, went regularly to the movies on Saturday evenings, and attended dances/socials at other churches. We played snooker, tennis, table tennis, badminton and other games at the church. We went to church twice on Sundays – to the traditional service with the whole congregation in the mornings and the more informal evening worship preceded by the singing of our favourite hymns. MYF meetings themselves were a great time of socialising. Another group, Christian Endeavour was more focussed on spiritual things than we in the MYF. Its members were generally a little older than us, but I still know people who were involved with one or the other group.

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Reviews, Exhibition Review

WE BLEED THE SAME

Photography, Documentary & Installations Review

WE BLEED THE SAME | TIM BAUER & LIZ DEEP-JONES

Research School of Social Sciences, ANU | Until September/October 2022

Whilst reporting on conflicts, acclaimed journalist Liz Deep-Jones, was deeply disturbed that they unfolded in the name of religion or racism.  Inspired by a community-led, grassroots initiative ‘Racism Not Welcome’, Deep-Jones joined forces with portrait photographer, Tim Bauer, to present this exhibition ‘We Bleed The Same’.

Deep-Jones grew up in a Lebanese, Arabic-speaking household trying to figure out how she belonged in Australian society where she experienced bigotry. She says the exhibition is “about you, me, humanity!” Bauer is the child of a refugee European father and an Australian mother who taught him to love and respect all human beings.

Thirty-nine women and men from varied backgrounds, religion and race feature in Bauer’s images. And in an accompanying documentary produced by Deep-Jones, they share personal and emotional stories about their diverse cultures and experiences with dangerous and demoralising racism. Like them, we should all be seeking to defeat racism.

As he is a pre-eminent Australian portrait photographer, it is no surprise that Bauer’s diverse images here are simply superb. The people he has wonderfully portrayed include former Race Commissioner Tim Soutphommassane, First Nations Elder Leetona Dungay (whose son David died in custody) and refugee Marcella Kaspar.

Tim Soutphommasane © Tim Bauer
Leetona Dungay © Tim Bauer
Marcella Kaspar © Tim Bauer

Lovemore N’dou, one of the other incredible people featured, had a successful early career in boxing but, due to South Africa’s apartheid policies, was not allowed to compete internationally. He migrated to Australia and continued his boxing career before becoming a lawyer.

Lovemore Ndou © Tim Bauer

There is Australian-born Uyghur woman Subhi Bora, indigenous Torres Strait Islander author and union official Thomas Mayor, and Filipino migrant Brenda Gaddi. Also South Sudanese refugee Deng Adut, proud Australian Muslim woman Maryam El-Kiki, and human rights advocate and refugee activist Thanush Selvarasa.

Maryam El-Kiki © Tim Bauer
Thanush Selvarasa © Tim Bauer

Accompanying each wonderful Bauer portrait are the subjects’ deeply personal stories in words assembled by Deep-Jones – explaining who they are, what their personal racism experiences have been, and how they are involved with seeking to combat bigotry. Those words take the already powerful images even further – they are profoundly moving. It is highly probable that studying the images and reading the words will make most viewers quite emotional.

From Mayor, we learn “Indigenous people experience racism in this country every day. Racism makes me feel less than human, insignificant, like I’m not even there but we need to stand up and be proud of who we are. We are on our country and that can’t be ignored.”

The exhibition also features various installations – including the interactive Kizuna (Japanese  – meaning ties or bonds) in which family photographs submitted by the local community are being hung from a red Hills Hoist using red strings. The threads of photos represent the connectedness between Australians whilst reflecting our diversity. Deep-Jones hopes this exhibition that she has produced will convey that message and spark visitors into ongoing conversations about racism in Australia.

Another installation comprises vials of fake red blood, each labelled with a name of a portrait subject and, so, symbolising them and shouting, ‘We Bleed The Same.’

There are opportunities for visitors to share their personal experiences of, and views about, racism by writing in red alongside images of a “blood-soaked arm.” And a Cedar Tree of Lebanon installation, inspired by Deep-Jones’ family roots, seeks to touch our souls and ignite our hearts to inspire positive action for humanity.

Deep-Jones expects the exhibition will continue until at least October 2022. It is in the foyer and also the first floor of the RSSS building at the ANU. I urge everyone who can to see this important presentation.

For a great interview with Deep-Jones check here.

This review was published by the Canberra Times on 28/05/22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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