A Power Nap (Ontario)

It is official we are 11.5 hours behind schedule. I’ve missed my connecting trains from Toronto to Montréal (scheduled for 1630 today Saturday 19th) so it is anyone’s guess where I will have my head on a pillow tonight. I may need to slip in a few power naps during the day.

Overnight I sensed that we stopped a few times, but my sleep was restful. At breakfast I sat with a woman from south China who is reuniting with her 13-year-old son in Toronto where he has been on a two-week summer camp–his first time away from home. The other couple were French. Well he was French, she is Greek and they live in Paris and are both computer experts. Her accent is almost Australian. It was an interesting international exchange of culture, food, language and laughter. The French couple like the big Canadian breakfasts, while the Chinese mother and I are more comfortable with a small continental type meal. However, we all soaked up the coffee.

We passed through little communities of Algoma and Sudbury. Just a few houses scatted around the railway line on the shores of yet another lake. While we are in this summer period of lush greenery it beguiles the harsh environment of the desolate winters here. There are no gutters on the roofs of homes or outbuildings, so the snow can slide off. The gardens are left to the natural elements and the roads are hard packed gravel that apparently turn to frozen mud for six-months of the year. It must be such a different trip in winter, everything covered in snow, lakes frozen, blankets of white everywhere.

The day has turned cool, heavily overcast, changing the colours of the vegetation to a more muted hue and the lakes have lost their lustre of bright blue. The long straight stretches of rail have given way to gentle curves, as the tracks meander around the edges of one lake before encountering the next one. Even the atmosphere on the trains seems to belie that of the outside. People are quieter today. Possibly over the flush of meeting new people and are comfortable sitting, dozing and reading. There are twenty of us in the upper lounge and no one is talking. A few are reading, one playing a computer game, there is the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, which is making my nose twitch, a teenage boy is undertaking a biology project and two of us are drafting Blogs. Drafting, as there is no Internet connection. We have just been advised that the first sitting for lunch is at 1130–an hour away and I haven’t got over breakfast yet.

‘Wild fires’ have ravaged this area in the recent past. However, the rejuvenation shows just how resilient Mother Nature is. Then it is as if the fires suddenly stopped and the train enters a lush cave-like tunnel of green with the branches of some of the trees almost touching above us. The birch and fur trees are older, bigger and have thicker trunks that I have seen during the past two days. The terrain is changing as well. There are small hills and we seem to be climbing a little, the curves in the track are more frequent and there are frequent level crossings. Ah time to pull over on to a siding … no doubt a freight train has priority.

This Blog was written on Saturday August 19. Similar to yesterday, there is no Internet access where I am currently. As with yesterday’s Blog, it may be a day or so before this gets out to the world.

PS–I made it to Toronto, almost twelve hours late. Canada Rail was a little better organised on the ground. I had vouchers for the York Hotel, across the road from the station, and a $15 for a meal or a drink, or two. I opted for the drink. The barman lived in Adelaide and worked at Pembroke School for a year or so. My train to Montréal departs at twenty past nine Sunday morning.

 

Four days in Winnipeg

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Snow indicator with a fire hydrant

Winnipeg is a relaxing and enjoyable city. It is slightly bigger than my hometown of Adelaide (Australia), friendly, and warm in August. Well it is summer here and in winter they measure the snow-fall in metres and the temperature in minus degrees. The fire hydrants in the street have orange coloured indicator poles attached to them so the firies can find them in winter. Not a place I’d enjoy with that level of cold. The Canadians I have met here have been surprised that I have never seen it snow. I have seen and been in snow, but never falling from the sky.

For the tourist there are interesting things to see and do. I mentioned the Walking Trail, called the Loop in an earlier post. It took me a few hours over two days to complete the walk as there are so many interesting stop-offs on the way. The walk along the banks of the Red River and a stroll around The Forks historic site were relaxing and I got a feel for the history of the place, going back to the First Nations. If you are the more adventurous type of traveller there are canoeing, horse riding and bike riding options as well. Remember they drive on the right hand side of the road here.

Along many of the avenues there are pop-up food and drink outlets. These mobile cafes seem to work without any conflict with the bricks and mortar establishments. The range of food is interesting, from the typical hot dog and hamburger to Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek and Italian fare. Tasty too. I guess these are not businesses that flourish in winter though.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a must for any visitor here. I spent about four hours there and I still haven’t been able to Blog about it how I want. I certainly will not do it justice. May be some contemplation on the train east over the next two days will help.

The PhD journey – life over 3,399 days

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On March 29th, 2017 I was awarded my Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of South

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Dr David Sweet with my ‘mate’ and special associate supervisor, Dr Nigel Starck.

Australia at the Graduating Ceremony.  The official conferral was in October 2016.  This higher degree research journey had numerous twists and turns, became frustrating, a joy (often in a few hours of each other), was challenging and above all I learnt so much.  I completed the PhD part-time, which prolonged the agony and the pleasure.  Probably the biggest learning curve has been accepting how little I know.  However, that understanding only opens up the options for further challenges in the realm of research.  Following are some of the (edited) highlights and challenges of my epic journey.

The journey

  • 3,399 days from start to completion
  • Started as a two volume Professional Doctorate
  • 83+ versions written
  • Wrote 230,000 words
  • Final version as a PhD is 109,728 words (inc footnotes and Reference List)
  • 52 people interviewed
  • 57 photographs used
  • 798 references
  • 230 other books devoured
  • Thesis examined by one Australian and one Canadian academic

Allied activities

  • 47 sessions with a PhD reading group
  • 6 papers accepted and published
  • 28 presentations delivered
  • 5 international conferences attended and papers presented
  • 182 books added to my own library
  • 2 bureaucratic challenges with the University
  • only spat the dummy a few times

Teaching

  • 11 undergraduate Courses/Subjects taught
  • 5 Post Grad subjects taught
  • 1 honours supervised student to completion
  • 1 honours student advised to reconsider
  • 7 years teaching off-shore
  • 11 teaching trips to Hong Kong and Singapore
  • Mentored 7 students (2 international)

The Family

  • 2 more grandchildren – 5 in total
  • 4 weddings (3 as the photographer)
  • 2 – 90th birthdays celebrated
  • 1 Golden wedding anniversary celebrated (not mine)
  • 4 deaths, my 2 sisters, 1 brother-in-law, 1 19 year-old nephew
  • 5 hospital admissions for me
  • 10 days in ICU at Modbury hospital
  • 2010 – 7.5 hours of micro-surgery for cancer on my face
  • many other highs and lows of life as well
  • Produced 5 photo-books
  • Completed 10.5 hours of oral history interviews in addition to my PhD interviews

There is life after a PhD

  • Traded a caravan, purchased a Motor Home
  • Reduced teaching to 2-3 subjects
  • Working on 5 research projects
  • Research-Study tour to Berkeley (California), Concordia and Western Universities (Canada) is set for August 2017.

Pearl Denton’s 21st

I visited my mother’s 21st birthday celebrations last night, or in the vernacular of the 1920s, ‘her coming of age party’. While researching something quite different I stumbled across two newspaper reports of Miss Pearl Denton’s – my mother’s maiden name – celebrations.

Such were the cultural formalities in Adelaide in 1925 that the celebration could not be held before her actual birthday and since her birthday (September 20th) fell on a Sunday that year, it was improper to celebrate on the day of worship. So the party was held on Monday September 21st at the Parkside Masonic Hall.

Over the years and some four decades later my mother would occasionally talk of her twenty-first birthday party. According to the short newspaper reports, in the Adelaide Register and the Mail, games were played amongst the guests. This confirms my mother’s stories of playing: pass the balloon, musical chairs, mystery package, and surprisingly (for me) indoor bowls, played on coconut matting. While the newspaper reports mentioned dancing, apparently this scandalous activity was condoned however there were strict guidelines on what was permitted between any non-married couples.

The Mail (newspaper) listed the names of sixty-one guests, the hosts, Mr and Mrs R. L. Pearce (my mother’s older sister and her husband) and my future father, H. R. Sweet was one of those present. Reading through the list of attendees, I can recognise a few names of aunties and uncles, and quite a number of family friends, or those whose names were part of the dinner-table conversations over the years.

The supper tables were laden with food and decorated with Iceland Poppies, according to the newspaper reports. Fifty-years after this event my mother was still growing poppies. I remember, as a child, our home being decorated with these flowers each spring. My mother would lightly burn the base of the stems and blanched them with boiling water so that the displays lasted longer.

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Undated, possibly 1926 and may have been at the Oakbank Easter Races.  My mother is at the front looking back at the camera.  Her elder sister, Myrtle and her husband, Bob Pearce, are seated at the rear left of the photograph.  Their daughter is on the right of her father.  It is also possible my father, Harold Sweet took the photograph.

Whether my parents were betrothed (engaged) for my mother’s 21st, I have no record of that. They were married eighteen months later in April 1927. Similarly, I have little in the way of stories from either of my parents about how they met, what they did for entertainment, or their ‘courting’ days. Both my elder sisters are also dead so I cannot chat with them as to what they may have been told either.  If there are any photographs of the 21st celebrations, or of my mother from that era,  I have yet to discover them.  The photograph (above) is one of the few showing my mother with her elder sister and brother-in-law, who were the hosts of her ‘coming of age party’.

This is a continuing regret, for me, and a gap in my history of the family.  Each of us should look too these narratives and photographs as an important legacy for future generations.  I found it serendipitous that this inadvertent discovery of two small newspaper articles published ninty-one years ago caused me to reflect and remember a little more of my mother.  Our way of life, our means of enjoying, our family celebrations and our entertainment are different now.  I have not written this to compare and claim one period of time is better than another.  They are unique.  Yet each should be celebrated, remembered and passed on as an important legacy of our family history.

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I wish I had the photograph

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Just over 95 years ago [March 23, 1920] Kingsford-Smith, later to become Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith landed his Vickers Vimy (a World War 1 bomber bi-plane) at the culmination of the first plane flight from England to Australia at the Northfield aerodrome on the outskirts of Adelaide.  It is now an inner suburb.

As a young boy, during our car trips through this area, my father would often tell, and retell, the story of his moment of being part of this historic event. Now lost over time, there had been a photograph of my father as an eighteen-year old taken on that March day in 1920. P1000498  My father [eighteen at the time] had walked and hitched rides from his mother’s home at Parkside to watch the Vickers Vimy land at Northfield.

The press of the crowd, reported to be in the thousands, was too great for him to catch any more than a glimpse of the Australian heroes, but he was there.  He saw the plane and his stories made that historic moment mine as well.  Dad had a photograph of his moment, amongst the crowd, at the landing.

From the old photograph that was buried in the bottom drawer of the sideboard in our dining room at home, I can remember my father in his suit and tie, white shirt, and bowler hat, jauntily smiling at the camera. Why is this important to me, and today?

Wearing my father's 'restored'  bowler hat.

Wearing my father’s ‘restored’ bowler hat.

The old, black, bowler hat had been one of the heirlooms that somehow has been in my possession for thirty or more years.  Over time it had been severely damaged and I had often contemplated tossing it out.  However, I kept it.  Today I collected this special piece of history from ‘Adelaide Hatters’ in the Adelaide Arcade, where it had been beautifully restored.

I have my father’s bowler hat, but I wish I still had the photograph.

A Brief Explanation

During the past 66 years, the Baby Boomers and their families have become the most photographed body of people in history.  They have grown up with the advent of mass produced cameras, cost effective film and photographic production techniques, and now, digital photomedia technology.  The celebration, drama, loves, desires, and evolution of their lives have been photographically recorded, but often lies forgotten and ‘unloved’ in dusty boxes, unopened albums and cluttered drawers in homes throughout Australia. Conrad in ‘At Home in Australia’ (2003, p. 85) talks of, ‘…a treasure chest…where his parents kept their photos.’  My research opens up these containers of photographs, to investigate and record each participant’s engagement with the ‘still’ photographic mediums and its influence on them, the recording of the lives of their families, their interpretations of nostalgia and their recollections through reconstructed memory.

Australia appears to be evolving a culture, “throw it away, make room for the new, it costs too much to store, we don’t need that old stuff”. The concepts of dumping and the use of landfill sites fills me with dread.  I am scared that my life, my memories, my records will be processed in to recycled packaging for a new, must have, piece of technology for the next generation.  Yet this does not make me a Luddite one who is against advancement and development.  I love new technology and the evolution of our culture; but in this research I argue that our history, our past, is the solid foundation on which we build our future. The old does not have to be tossed aside to make way for the new.  In a poignant article in the Sydney Morning Herald about burning, selling or denying our past, journalist Bob Ellis comments: ‘…how little we do in Australia to keep hold of the past.’ (Ellis 1999)