Steampunk meets Napoleon – on a World War 2 Battlefield…

The sound of a shell fired from the World War 2 tank rang out across the field, the boom and compression of the explosion sending a shiver down the spine of all in proximity…

 Men in khaki and camouflage fatigues were hitting the ground to avoid the inevitable fall-out from the shrapnel, weapons at the ready as they lay silently waiting for the order to advance on the German line.

The rattle of machine gun fire ringing out from the bunkers and motorcycle side-cars was deafening as the Germans fought to protect their ground, shrouded for a time behind the white plume of smoke that was by now drifting across the battlefield.

Mind you, some of the soldiers ambushed on “patrol” were a about a quarter-of-a-century too late for the encounter given it was a mock battle between American and German World War 2 forces; the advance party were dressed and kitted out for the jungles of Vietnam…!

But hang-on, what are those Vikings doing on the battlefield?

Didn’t they have their run a few centuries ago marauding and pillaging their way across England?

And aren’t those fancy looking blokes dressed to the “nines” with the feather plumes on their headgear “Frenchies” from the days when Napoleon was barking out orders as he roamed the countryside looking for trouble?

The scene was unfolding at Ironfest 2017 in the Central Tablelands township of Lithgow.

Ironfest is an arts festival that explores the relationship between humans, metal and identity and is held annually at the Lithgow Showground. It brings together artists, designer-makers, blacksmiths, and performers of all kind, musicians, Steampunkers, as well as historical re-enactors and steam-machine enthusiasts from all over Australia…

TomO, the Crown Prince, is a member of Ausreenact, a non-political World War 2 living history organisation made up of members who share a common interest in history and militaria, with a particular focus on the uniforms, equipment and vehicles of the Allied and Axis forces in the period 1939-1945. He re-enacts as a member of the US Forces 2nd Armoured Division and has quite a collection of gear and equipment he has assembled from the era and which he proudly had on display in his “bunker” during the weekend.

Each year Ausreenact, along with a number of other military groups, including those dedicated to Napoleonic re-enactment and Knights from medieval times, are invited to attend and take part in the festival.

No wonder the “battle-ground” was chaotic…

Medieval swords flashed and clashed to the boom of Napoleonic guns that were challenging the armoured vehicles from more modern times.

When the Knights were not swinging their swords in battle they were charging at each other in a medieval jousting match.

And here I was thinking how macho I must look wielding the whipper-snipper with menacing precision each time I trim the moraya hedge at home. Strewth, talk about starting to feel just a tad inadequate.

So I’ll just move on…

Away from the “battlefields” there was the sound of iron striking iron on anvils as blacksmiths demonstrated their craft, beads of sweat rolling down their faces as they forged metal into works of art.

And hey, what about all those Steampunk people…?

Steampunk I hear you ask? I too had to look up the definition of a “Steampunker” and I am still not sure I have it right.

One of the best definitions for a Steampunker I have come across is from Jess Nevins, author of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (it hasn’t come up on my book club read list yet) who said…

“Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown.”

The costumes were as varied as the people that dressed in this fashion genre inspired by the Victorian era of steam and industrial machinery. I think it was the default costume for many who attended the festival.

But the Steampunkers seemed a happy bunch even if the women’s corsets appeared three sizes to small and their mode of transport was from another age if not simply strange…

Without doubt this weekend is possibly the two days of the year the various groups can safely come out from behind closed doors and still look normal; safety in numbers, so they say.

The activity was as diverse as it was frenzied, but somehow it all worked and integrated in a way that you would not think possible and I even got to take Janet-Planet on the cruise she has always wanted to do…

On the infamous “Love Boat”…

Photos: Baz – The Landy & Janet-Planet, Lithgow, Australia…

 

Advertisements

Life Outside the Comfort Zone – A week on Army Cadet Camp

An opportunity to spend a week in the bush was the call-out to parents from the school our son attends…

A beautiful spot nestled on the fringes of the Hunter Valley wine region and not too far from Pokolbin Village.

Visitors to the Hunter Valley, which is situated two-hours drive from Sydney’s CBD, will know that Pokolbin is the epicentre of this spectacularly beautiful area.

I am never backward in coming forward when presented with the opportunity to get Out and About in the Australian Bush so I jumped at the chance!

Of course, as with most things, there was a hitch…

The week was to be spent in support of our sons and daughter’s annual Military Cadet Camp.

This entailed cooking and washing up duties and general support around the camp. Filling jerry cans with water to slack the thirst of the cadets as they went about various exercises.

Mind you, it wasn’t really a hitch, after all who would not want to do that for the cadets, their son or daughter?

But with circa 330 cadets on camp, this was no small task – it was cooking on a grand scale and certainly nothing akin to “rustling up” the family breakfast on a lazy Sunday morning!

Impressively, the camp is run entirely by the cadets under the supervision of the cadet unit’s Commanding Officer and his support team. This includes logistics co-ordination and scheduling of exercises, all within a set chain-of-command.

During my week on Singleton Army base I had the opportunity to observe our son, TomO the Crown Prince, on manoeuvres in the mountains on Broken Back Ridge, a ridge that forms a natural boundary to the region.

For anyone who has been up on Broken Back and along many of its fire-trails will attest to the spectacular views it commands over the surrounding countryside.

I spent a couple of chilly nights up there, one of them quite wet, but I was doing it in the relative comfort of my trusty and dry swag. The cadets had to build survival shelters to sleep in…!

Whilst on Broken Back myself and a couple of the other parents were part of an exercise where the cadets came across a vehicle that had been involved in an accident. They were not aware of the exercise in advance, but they quickly employed learnt skills rendering medical assistance to the injured, whilst securing the area from possible “enemy attacks”.

Red colour dye, a tin of spaghetti and a couple of skeletal bones provided the props for authenticity…!

They excelled and we lived to recount the tale.

The Cadet unit at Barker College has a great history that spans the decades from the First World War and has seen many of its cadets go on to a military career, something that TomO is intending to do.

But it wasn’t all hard work for the cadets or the parents.

The last night was marked with a parade, a bush Chapel lead by the school’s Chaplain, the Reverend Ware, who was honoured at the service for his contribution to the Cadet unit over the past 25 years.

And after a meal that would satisfy any soldier just “in from the field” there was light-hearted entertainment when the cadets and parents alike performed a variety of skits.  Let’s say, some were rehearsed more than others, but that was the fun of it all…

The parent’s skit won the night, apparently the first-time ever, with an exhibition of a drill march.

Perfect?  No-way…

But that is what made it all the more entertaining for “the troops”.

This was truly a great experience for me and I am sure I am not alone in that sentiment…

Forged by the adverse conditions they faced it was a highlight to witness the camaraderie amongst the cadets as they were taken outside of their comfort zones. Young men and women from Barker College, our sons and daughters taking leadership roles, following orders, working together towards a common goal and ideal.

Along the Kokoda Track at Isaravu in Papua New Guinea there are four stone monuments inscripted with the following…

“Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice”

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice – Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea

For those who have had the opportunity to stand there and reflect it is a moving experience…

During my week at camp I observed examples of all four of these qualities amongst the cadets and any parent who had a son or daughter on parade should be extremely proud of them.

I certainly was,

Bravo, Corporal Tom O’Malley

Photos: Baz – The Landy

Hangman’s Rock…

Devine's Hill

On the rural outskirts of suburban Sydney, a little more than an hour’s drive from Sydney’s CBD, stands the small village of Wiseman’s Ferry.

Wiseman’s has a history steeped in early European settlement in New South Wales and at the heart of this historic village is the Wiseman’s Ferry Pub – a haunt that is popular with the weekend motorcycle crowd and families alike.

And I use the word haunt literally, as it is rumoured the upstairs guest rooms are haunted.

The pub is now owned by former Wallaby Bill Young and if you are visiting on a weekend be sure to take a look upstairs as it has a small museum and the accommodation rooms do look inviting, even if you might be sharing with a ghost from the past…

And if you ever stay there, let me know how you get on!

The village stands alongside the Hawkesbury River, which travels further upstream towards Windsor and downstream to an opening at the sea near Barenjoey. A car ferry transports you to the other side where you can travel towards either Spencer or the small Hamlet of St Alban’s, either of which are a very pleasant drive.

We are frequent visitor’s to the area and have spent many hours wiling away time in the park next to the river.

On a recent visit we took the ferry to the other side and walked up Devine’s Hill to a place called “Hangman’s Rock”.

It sounds ominous and folklore suggests that in the early days of settlement and at the time the Great North Road was being built, that convicts were hanged at this rock. But history does not point to this ever occurring.

But it isn’t hard to see why the folklore surrounding the rock evolved…

Devine's Hill

What makes the walk worthwhile, apart from being Out and About in the Australian bush, is the opportunity to view the magnificent work done by convicts on the road that was built northwards towards the Hunter Valley. In fact, it is along this walk that you can best observe the Great North Road as this part is now closed to vehicle traffic and has been preserved.

So if a bit of a hike up a small mountain, some history and a magnificent steak washed down with a cold beer is your thing, then head out to Wiseman’s Ferry for a day – I guarantee your first visit won’t be your last

Photo’s: Baz – The Landy & Janet-Planet

So Many Tears…

Art has a wonderful ability to transport us to a place in our mind’s eye…

A place where we can explore the meaning the artist is endeavouring to convey and perhaps even challenging our own bias or prejudice.

Currently, there is an exhibition of wonderful sculptures, hand-crafted by talented artist’s of all backgrounds, in a picturesque harbourside park with sweeping views of the city and the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. We spent a morning wandering around Clarke Reserve at Woolwich, an old historic harbour suburb where the exhibition is being held, viewing and photographing the many artworks on display.

For us, one stood out…

 “So Many Tears” by Keith Chidzey”

In creating this work, Keith used two old wharf timbers and embedded glass tears into the wood.

It was simple, poignant, and a very moving tribute to the artist’s great-uncle, Private Ryles, who perished in the mud of Passchendaele, Belgium, over 100-years ago.

The choice of the wharf timbers is to recognise they most likely witnessed the embarkation of Australian Troops onto ships from the many wharfs dotted around the harbour. Loved ones waving, wiping away their tears as they strained to catch one more glimpse as the troop ship pulled away from the wooden dock.

 “We shall remember them…”

Each of the timbers has a carved relief, one of a slouch hat; the other with the inscription on Private Ryle’s headstone where he lays in the cemetery at Tyne Cot.

And, sensitively, one of the timbers is facing the sunset, the other the sunrise.

We reflected on this wonderful piece of artwork, its simplicity amplifying the ultimate sacrifice that too many of our fellow countrymen and women made so we can enjoy the freedoms that we have today; to be able to sit in a quiet reserve on Sydney Harbour’s foreshore in relative safety and free from the anxiety that conflict and war brings.

Bravo Keith, you have created far more than a wonderful sculpture to be admired, it is a wonderful tribute to your great-uncle, to all those who served, and to those who currently serve.

“We shall remember them…”

 Photos: Baz – The Landy, & Janet-Planet, Sydney Harbour, Australia