Friday, February 27, 2009

Uncle David's First Birthday Party at Raeshaw

Some photographs capture far more than a group of people, a place, an event or happening. Such is the case with this marvelous snapshot which my grandfather, William Borthwick, took at his eldest son’s first birthday party in 1922 at the family property, Raeshaw, which is at Fulham, a few miles west of Sale, on the northern side of the Princes’ Highway in East Gippsland.

dramatis personae are friends, relations, and neighbors, evidently engaging in a friendly tug-of-war between two teams of women and children apparently of roughly equal strength—the kind of happy social exercise in which by all accounts my grandfather specialized.

Ably assisted by my mother, whose memory is good, I have decyphered the highly abbreviated key on the reverse, which consists only of surnames. From left to right, therefore, beginning with the little boy, Cousin Norman “Torch” Gooch (so named for his glowing red hair), the son of Uncle Arch and Aunt Norn (Norma), the rest of the group may be identified as follows.

After Torch comes Airlie Harrison, a friend of Granny’s. The
Harrisons were an old Gippsland family. Then comes one of the three little Bowman cousins, the grandchildren of my grandfather’s Aunt Gwladys Bowman (Bell), of The Ridge, a portion of the original Snake’s Ridge station. Note the rather fetching headbands à la mode, and matching outfits. Reenie Crooke (Irene), or perhaps another of the Crookes of Holey Plain, who shared a long boundary with Kilmany Park, comes next. Then another of the Bowman girls, then Miss James, who was apparently something to do with the Crookes, maybe a governess. The little boy giggling immoderately next to her is Dale Crooke, then comes Aunt Kit (Gooch), then another Bowman child, and an older Bowman girl, evidently in her teens, and finally, leading the team on the left, Iris Thompson of Clydebank, another friend and neighbor.

Leading the opposing side is Alison Reid, a friend from
Sale, dangling sprightly toggles from the waist of her cardigan; then Edward Crooke of Holey Plain, Dale’s elder brother, holding on with some determination. Then comes their sister Marie Crooke (pronounced like starry); then Granny (Helen Borthwick); then Rose, whom Mum describes as “a funny old factotum who lived with Uncle Arch and Aunt Norn” (Gooch); then Granny’s loyal school friend from Hermitage days Eily Madden; then little Gwen Foster (who eventually married Dale Crooke); then Rosemary Thompson; then her grandmother, Mrs. Thompson, Iris Thompson’s mother-in-law; and, finally, bringing up the rear, Ruby, the wife of Ormond Foster, of Boisdale near Maffra.

The three infants in the foreground are (left to right) Master Macdonald, Miss Macdonald (of Armadale—the property, not the suburb of
Melbourne), and Uncle David Borthwick, aged one, who sits cheerfully on the rug.

The Bowman girls’ party dresses, the hats and coats worn by most of the grown-ups—where on earth are all the men?—the neat lawn, those plucky shrubs newly planted by Granny, and the wide gravel drive in the foreground stand in surprising contrast with the flat bleakness of the distant paddocks that descend into the background and the numerous dead trees dotted over them, although these are actually remnants of the aggressive process of land clearing, and not really any indication of severe drought or blight. (The whole of
East Gippsland was once densely forested.) The locality is not far from the site of the present Sale aerodrome.

The Fosters, the Crookes, the Thompsons, Harrisons, Gooches and Pearsons (Granny’s family) could justly lay claim to being the closest thing to a landed gentry that ever existed in
East Gippsland, but the mood here is hardly formal. They were pretty tough farming people, who educated and kept their small children fully occupied at home with the aid of governesses, or middle-aged spinster relations whose marital prospects were completely wrecked by the industrialized slaughter of the Great War. All were yet to be cast into the abyss of the Great Depression, though most of them survived it more or less intact, not without years of self-sacrifice and the mind-bogglingly ascetic money management strategies of the dessicated clerks of the Trustees Executors Company in Melbourne. Most of their living descendants, including me, remain powerfully connected to the rough and not especially hospitable sheep country that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents opened up in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Unfortunately we do not know which of the two teams won the tug-of-war, but I rather fancy that Alison Reid, who was formidable, made sure it was hers.

The Qantas Airbus A380

The Qantas Airbus A380, the only one currently in service, was not nearly as horrible as I thought it might be. First, it is surprisingly quiet. They have sound-proofed it very effectively. Second, they make you feel as if you are only wedged into a normal jumbo, and not something with almost as many people crammed in upstairs. Psychologically, this is achieved by preventing any contact between the two decks. First and Business are upstairs; Bergen Belsen is down.

Whether or not this is because it is so immensely big, or some technical trick, the aircraft does seem very stable, and it gives you a nice soft landing. It is somewhat irritating that even brand new airport terminals are ill-equipped to handle it, so it takes nearly a quarter of an hour to get the bridges into position, and an eternity to disembark. I rather wish they would just use regular stairs as in the old days, and Air Force One (come to think of it), and not the sagging old aluminium concertina arrangement on wheels. Who are those indolent hobbits who stand about on the land-side when you disembark? The airlines refer to some of them as "agents," but more often they have that sullen Guantanamo flavor.

One of the mystifying aspects of air travel is the enormous gulf that separates the entirely fictitious picture the airlines peddle in their publicity of caring, compassionate, and incidentally attractive young flight attendants fluffing pillows, adjusting blankets, etc. - whose aim is to secure your comfort and safety - and the elderly, bad-tempered recovering alcoholics (at best) for whom the passengers are there either to be ignored, or given a harsh dressing down. The bizarre navy-blue apron and officious change from high heels to dominatrix flats is the only forlorn remnant of any concept of service, feebly shored up by the unctuousness of the scripted public address announcements. They hope we have enjoyed this flight. They must be joking, or else they are laboring under the influence of mind-altering drugs. These announcements might make a difference if the purser, a person evidently chosen through decades of jeal0usly accumulated seniority, actually learned to read aloud. Functional illiteracy appears to be a severe problem for Qantas.

More usually, back in the trenches, the flight attendants bark orders, read magazines, go upstairs to lie down (there's a little hutch, just for them, up a secret staircase beside the starboard bog), trade gossip about their slapper co-workers, and toss out plastic trays of inedible reconstituted lumps of mutant hen languishing in goo. No beef, sorry. They deliberately aim to hit your elbow with their ancient, germ-laden trolleys. You really could not satirize it, because whatever you wrote the truth would still be worse.

One can only assume that the reason that economy cabins function as they do is that no self-respecting airline executive has set foot in one for at least thirty years.

Reg Ansett was right when he called his unionized hosties "old boilers."

Now they really are old, hardened by decades of drunk rugby teams and stress-induced bad behavior. But I do wonder how much of the bad behavior is the product of treating us like subnormal children on an institutional picnic. To make matters worse, at the other end they get fast tracked through immigration, and expect their passengers to stand aside to make way for their bags on wheels - bags which, incidentally, take up quite a lot of room in overhead lockers that is more properly intended for passengers' belongings. Woe to he who dares to shift even an inch these groaning panniers of tax-free contraband. When was the last time a flight attendant's bags were thoroughly searched?

At Los Angeles I saw a flight "crew" bustling about getting ready to abuse yet another plane load of hapless travelers. Honestly, they had chopsticks in their hair. Are we supposed to be impressed by that?