WAGGA LAUNCH – Monday, 9 November
Success! (See previous post.)
REMEMBRANCE VILLAGE – Wagga Wagga – Thursday, 12 November, 10.00 am:
RV is a retirement home run by the RSL and situated behind The Haven in Bourke Street. Ros Brown gathered up ten or so residents to hear me talk about the book. This was wildly different to the launch, and to every other reading on the trip. Some couldn’t hear well, others couldn’t see well, and couldn’t remember too well. But we enjoyed ourselves all the same. Without exception they could recall events from WWII. There was much nodding and the occasional question.
One chap, Steve Little, used to drive taxis part-time around Wagga in the 1940s, and recalled Colin Kendall who was injured in the blast. He had a few other stories that I will post in the book’s ‘New Information’ tab once he has vetted my wording.
From there, it was a quick trip up the mountains to Batlow.
BATLOW – Thursday, 12 November, 3.30pm:
We visited Mary Ann’s parents’ graves in Batlow’s wonderful cemetery, which features in ‘The Bracelet’, on our way to the library. It is another coming home.
Robert had prepared food, drink and a space in his domain of books and computers. We felt welcomed. Batlow life moved about us quietly as people came and went about their business.
About seven folk turned out including Mary Ann’s aunt Gay, Cynthia Price of the Riverina Library network, Stan Wood who served in Korea, and Sulari Gentill. I must confess to missing my stride when Sulari walked in!
Marie Matton I had not met before. She was first cousin and four years younger than Ted Robson. More about her stories of Ted will appear in the New Information tab also.
It was a fairly intense session, partly because of the smaller size of the audience and partly because of the experiences of the group.
Over in Canberra, I met Sue Ducker at the Australian War Memorial and left her with a copy of the book. Hopefully, someone from their magazine staff will pick it up and find it sufficiently interesting to write a review of it.
TEMORA – Wednesday 18 November, 6.00pm
Temora is a country town of about 5,000 folk an hour to the north of Wagga. The town was gearing up for Warbirds Down Under, a gathering of vintage and not-so-vintage planes and enthusiasts. Last year, the visitors numbered about 15,000!
A dozen or so souls gathered for the feast – home cooked savouries, wine, juice and more. This time, no-one had a connection with either the military or the accident, but the flow of questions and surmising made it a highly interactive session. It was an intense 90 minutes.
COOLAMON – Thursday 19 November, 10.30 am
I managed to leave my computer with my cousin (she thought it hilarious!) and donated myself an extra 5 hours driving. A dozen men from the Men’s Group and a couple of ladies filled the space. No photos this time – they were on the computer – but it made little difference to most. There were a couple of chaps with experience of explosives who contributed with authority to the discussion of what might have happened.
My presentation was loosely bedded own: narrate the events of 21 and 23 May 1945, explain the twofold tragedy, outline some of the research and especially the conversations with families and friends, describe how I came to write the story and what my purpose was. Depending on who was in the audience and what the questions were, this was subject to continual and wanton change.
GRIFFITH – Friday 20 November, 2.00pm
Hot. 40+ degrees and a dry wind that felt like an oven blast.
The library was a cool, colourful, delightful oasis. Rina had everything ready, including iced water and fruit cake. Maybe she was optimistic with the number of chairs she had set out, but no, they filled up. Another eclectic gathering. A Korean vet and I passed the time while the clock ticked down and another dozen folk took up seats. Grahame and Bev Young (Bev was young Hurst’s niece) and Stan Emery’s carer knew about the accident. There was a Navy veteran for whom the Voyager disaster was still a sensitive subject. The young fellow with the camera around his neck turned out to be a reporter for the ‘Area News’, the elderly Sikh gentleman made no comment, and nor did the young lass in the second row.
The Navy veteran spoke passionately about the effect on his neighbours of the Voyager tragedy which killed 80 men, one of whom had lived next door, and what he saw as the cover-up. His anger was echoed by some elderly women. Passions were on display. Bev and Grahame spoke about Kevin and his mother’s dealing with the trauma.
As usual, I finished up with sales and signings of the book and, again, a number of people wanted a copy.
Afterwards, Rina and I were talking about the enormous and largely invisible effect of war service which rippled out through families and communities, when the young lass interrupted her reading to join us. A Brit, her husband had served three tours o/s, and after the second in Iraq, came home a completely altered person. She had come in to print and sign divorce papers, had seen the flier for the talk and decided to join us. She was charged with pain and more when speaking of the toll on her husband and herself, and of how hard it was to talk about the nitty-gritty of his war experiences. She mentioned other stories of friends, none of them uplifting.
It seemed a fitting way to end.
PS The ‘young lass’ was 30!
ALBURY – Monday 23 November, 2.00pm
Out of Canberra in rush hour – not so bad – to pick up boxes of books from a friend, then on to Albury Library. Arrived in the nick of time by skipping lunch. Michelle organised a plug-in which allowed me to show photos on a big screen – wonderful!
We each got a shock to see my face staring back from posters in the loos. I don’t think I will ever get used to that.
Mick Heydon, veteran and advocate, greeted me jovially and Cheryl Sly alerted me to her close relationship with Sheila Sly/Oehm. Noel Hunter’s granddaughter, Ashley, was also present. Nine people altogether and much to-and-froing during the presentation. Ashley and Mick talked about the effect on Noel and his struggle to have his experience acknowledged. Cheryl gave us a glimpse of the impact on Sheila.
Another interested, interactive gathering, more happy librarians, fewer books in the box.
Then back in the ute to drive to Melbourne and the Spirit Tuesday night. Draw breath and start again. At least I will get to sleep in my own bed.