Classic Outback #12

I saw a fair number of these when crossing the Outback in hot weather — but I never got a photo. Pleased to have the opportunity to share what a willy-willy looks like with those who may not have seen one before.

Bobby Dazzler's Blog

willy willy

The willy-willy is not an uncommon site in the Outback in hot dry weather in fairly flat areas without much ground cover.

Hot air near the ground rises quickly through a pocket of cooler, low-pressure air, and sucks up dust with it, forming a swirling column maybe a couple of metres wide and ten to 50 metres tall. Often it is moving across country at the same time. Willy-willies occur in many parts of the world, and in the US are known as “dust devils”.

Space probes have even photographed willy-willies on the surface of Mars!

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The Sentimental Bloke

Australia is a land that loves its poets. Among the country’s best-known bards is an Irish-born fellow named Clarence Michael James Dennis, better known as C. J. Dennis. He worked as a journalist but is remembered for his generally humourous verse, and most particularly the charming book-length poem The Sentimental Bloke, which relates the life and love of a simple but solid working-class chap. It’s written in the working-class language of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so one occasionally need to turn to the glossary, which happily recent versions include. The spelling is as if the not particularly well educated hero was writing the poem–for example, cruel fortune is rendered “crool forchin,” but reading the poem aloud often helps.

This may not seem like much of a recommendation, but it actually is. It’s a delightful look at the heart and heartaches of a quite decent fellow. I love the whole poem, but particularly cherish the conclusion.

An’ I am rich, because me eyes ‘ave seen
The lovelight in the eyes of my Doreen;
An’ I am blest, becos me feet ‘ave trod
A land ‘oo’s fields reflect the smile of God.

So for those who might be interested in Australian classics, this is definitely one of them. And if you’d like to know a bit more about C. J. Dennis, you can find his biography here, at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


Filed under Australia, Literature, Poetry, Thoughts

Lance Corporal Bacon

I always like to remind people that, despite what most of us saw in textbooks long ago, history is not a line; it is a web. Everything is connected to myriad other things. I was reminded of that today, when I ran across an item about Lance Corporal Bacon. I’m working on a book on the history of pigs, which will be something of a companion volume to my book on the history of corn (Midwest Maize), since, at least in the U.S., pigs and corn are close to inseparable.

Reading a book on bacon, I ran across this bit of information: that the ANZACs, during World War I, gave a nickname to bacon that was almost all fat but with just a single, thin stripe of meat across the otherwise white slab. Because a lance corporal had only one stripe on his sleeve, the long streak of meat in the bacon became identified with that lone stripe of rank, thus making the fatty slab Lance Corporal Bacon.

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The Royal Flying Doctor Service

If you’ve read my book, Waltzing Australia, you’ll know that I visited a Royal Flying Doctor Service office on my first trip to Australia, and also toured the Adelaide House Museum in Alice Springs, which relates a bit of the early history of John Flynn and the RFDS. This post adds some additional information, plus it has a photo of the pedal-operated generator for radio communication that I mention in the book. (It also includes a story that would probably scare most doctors, of how numbering the bottles in the emergency chest can be misinterpreted.)

Bobby Dazzler's Blog

Pedal wireless

This is the 200th post to this blog, and it seems appropriate that such a milestone should be marked by talking about a development which has made life in the Outback a practical proposition for the majority of the people who live and work there. Its importance to Outback life cannot be overestimated.

On the 17th May, 1928, a single-engine, fabric-covered biplane took off from Cloncurry in western Queensland to answer a call for medical help – sent by hand-cranked wireless – from the remote town of Julia Creek. What subsequently became the Royal Flying Doctor Service has now been providing a “mantle of safety” for people living and travelling in remote areas of Australia for more than 87 years.

The RFDS currently operates over 60 aircraft, which fly a total of more than 27 million kilometers a year. RFDS medical staff see an average of 800 patients…

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Happy New Year

I am in Chicago at present, which means it’s well below freezing. Quite different from the New Year’s Eve I enjoy several years ago in Sydney, Australia: sitting on the grass, glass of wine in hand, summer dress and sandals on, enjoying the parade of boats covered with lights, the bands on the moving stage provided by passing barges, and the astonishing fireworks show that concluded the evening.

So while I’m not there now, I’m still thinking of that warm, sparkly night–so wanted to share what it looked like this year with everyone. This is just a brief excerpt of the fabulous fireworks display, but it will give you a feel for the event.

Happy New Year, everyone, everywhere.


Filed under Australia, Travel, Video

Merry Aussie Christmas

If you’ve read my book Waltzing Australia, you’ll know that I have celebrated Christmas in Australia, and it was indeed a “scorching summer’s day,” as is celebrated in this fun, Aussie version of “Jingle Bells.” As for some of the terms in the song, if you’re an Aussie, you’ll know them, and if you’re not, check the glossary in my book. That said, it’s fun, regardless of whether or not you understand every word.

Merry Christmas, wherever you are.


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First Woman to Win Melbourne Cup

On my first trip to Australia, I was fortunate enough to witness the remarkable response to the annual running of the Melbourne Cup. It is called the race that stops a nation–and it really does. Businesses close on the day of the race. Traffic stops during the running of the race, which takes place at 3pm on the first Tuesday of November, and has done so for more than a century and a half. It is hard to imagine how far from civilization one would have to be to not hear the reportage of the race.

This year’s race was remarkable for two things: the horse that won, Prince of Penzance, was a 101-1 outsider, and the jockey was a woman–Michelle Payne–the first woman to win the prestigious race. Remarkable day.

And if you’d like to see the “surprise ending,” here’s the race.

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