BORN IN 1944? WHAT ELSE HAPPENED? 74th Birthday

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On Saturday August 5th, military authorities announced that a number of Japanese prisoners had escaped from the Cowra camp, in central-southern NSW, at about 2am. They warned local residents that the men were on the loose, and urged them not to give any form of assistance to them. The number of escapees was not specified.

By Monday morning, these authorities proclaimed via the radio, that everyone had been re-captured, and assured people that the menace had gone away. 

To almost all Australians, including those in Cowra, this activity seemed like a minor incident, one that was to be expected near a camp of 4,000 Axis prisoners of war. The truth of the matter, though, was that on that Saturday morning, 545 Japanese escaped from the camp, and flooded out into the surrounding country-side. Though they were armed with makeshift weapons, but no guns, they were under instructions not to harass civilians in any way, and indeed they did not.  They were chased by the soldiers from the camp, and it took ten days to capture them all.

Over this time, 231 of them were either killed or committed suicide, and 108 wounded. Those still living were shipped back to camp.

During the initial break-out, two Aussie soldiers manning a  Vickers machine-gun fired into the approaching body of escapes. They were overcome and killed, but not before Private Jones hid the bolt from the gun. This stopped the Japs from turning the gun onto Australian troops. The two heroes, Privates Jones and Hardy, were awarded the George Cross posthumously as a result of their actions. A total of four Australians were killed during the incident....

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I am a hamburger eater.  Over the years, I have eaten all sorts of food, in many different restaurants and dives.  Some of it has been too sophisticated for words, and some of it the almost-barbarous dingo stew. So, you might expect that when I say the good old fashioned hamburger is about my favourite foods, then I am not speaking from complete ignorance.

Of course, it has to be the old-fashioned hamburger. It cannot be a fast-food burger. It cannot be a plastic bun, with its hunk of still-frozen meat paste, dill pickle, and a scrape of mayonnaise, pushed out in under a minute. With shredded lettuce, would you believe.  Let me elaborate.

My ideal hamburger, a la 1955, has to be made in a small shop, probably a milk-bar, run by an Italian or Greek family, with the mum and children often sitting on stools out of the way.  The dad has to be sweaty, standing over a hotplate, taking orders over his shoulder, while a son or daughter chops the beetroot, tomato, and onion, and wraps up the end product. The meat has to be proper minced meat, with real blood dribbling off the wooden cutting-board. The beetroot is essential, and it has to be so fresh that its juice will dribble down onto your shirt at the first bite. No hamburger is complete without burnt onion rings.

Other essentials include a wait of at least 15 minutes, so that you have the time to drink a small Coca Cola, in its classic shaped bottle.  The burger must be eventually wrapped in newspaper, and it must be eaten quickly so that the grease will not soften it till the burger sticks to the paper.  A juke box is important, with “Rock Around the Clock” played at least once each visit.  

Alas, though, it is getting difficult to find anywhere that sells such delicacies. In the City of Newcastle, 50 years ago a mecca  for good burgers, I can count current vendors on the fingers of one hand.  It seems that the need for speed, and the not unnatural desire for cleanliness, has allowed US chains to out-sell the local Italian and Greek boys.

Well, so much for good food.  What about good drinks?  Here I am not talking about alcohol, or fizzy sweet stuff. Rather I mean beverages, hot beverages, the drinks that everyone sips throughout the day, and without which the world would stop spinning. 

In 1955, I can only be talking about tea.

Not instant tea, in a little satchel, that you steeped directly in your cup. That came later.  No, I mean real tea, the tea that you bought in a quarter-pound packet at the grocers.


 ABOUT THIS SERIES   …  But after that, I realized that I really knew very little about these parents  of mine They had been born about the start of the Twentieth Century, and they died in 1970 and 1980. For their last 50 years, I was old enough to speak with a bit of sense.  I could have talked to them a lot about their lives. I could have found out about the times they lived in.  But I did not.  I know almost nothing about them really. Their courtship? Working in the pits? The Lock-out in the Depression? Losing their second child? Being dusted as a miner? The shootings at Rothbury? My uncles killed in the War? Love on the dole? There were hundreds, thousands of questions that I would now like to ask them.  But, alas, I can’t. It’s too late.


Thus, prompted by my guilt, I resolved to write these books. They describe happenings that affected people, real people.  The whole series is, to coin a modern phrase, designed to push the reader’s buttons, to make you remember and wonder at things  forgotten. The books might just let nostalgia see the light of day, so that oldies and youngies will talk about the past and re-discover a heritage otherwise forgotten. 

Hopefully, they will spark discussions between generations, and foster the asking and answering of questions that should not remain unanswered.