Friday, December 23, 2011

Musings on photos past


As we enter the Christmas period, I feel very disinclined to be too serious. I can also see from the stats that the usual December traffic decline is already in effect.

Over the Christmas break I want to indulge myself here just on those things that interest me personally without serious intent of any type.

One thing that I want to do is to complete sorting and digitising photos.

Photos are funny things. A photo without a context is often just a piece of visual wall paper.

This is an official Departmental photo of me taken in 1984. Obviously it has meaning to me, but taken as a photo on it's own, it's just a bloke. If you think of it as one of a series of photos taken at the time of SES (Senior Executive Service) officers in the Department it has a little more meaning, but not much more unless you have some reason for being interesting.

This next photo is a shot from the 1970s of a bloke reading while leaning against a car in what appears to be a suburban backyard. In fact, this photo is full of stories, but again they have special meaning to me or to others connected with this period.

This is the backyard of the Ross Road house I was living in in Queanbeyan at the time the official photo was taken. Those who know Canberra will realise that this could not be a Canberra shot. You won't, or at least wouldn't, find that type of garage in Canberra.

The photo in A PhD student, 1983 was taken in the back room at Ross Road.  I mentioned Sue in that post.

I shared this house with Sue for the best part of fourteen years, the longest time I have lived in one spot outside the Marsh Street family hoIMG_0001me. This was also the first house I owned.

Later I sold my share in the house to Sue after I moved back to Armidale. 

I was heavily into gardening at this time. You can just see in the foreground the little low glass house that I used to grow early stage seedlings. It was very effective.

The red car is the Datsun 180B that I owned for a number of years. The previous car, a Datsun 1600 fell to bits when I was campaigning for Country Party pre-selection for Armidale.

On thirteen weekends in a row I drove from Canberra to Armidale, leaving straight after work on Friday and then driving through the night. Saturday and Sunday were spent driving around the electorate, driving back to Queanbeyan Sunday night to get there in time for Monday work. I added 56,000 miles to the speedo over the whole pre-selection campaign. The car collapsed as a consequence.

I have written on some of my pre-selection experiences. This photo brought them back. I wonder how I managed!

Richard Hield is the bloke in the photo.

I have been truly blessed, I think, in the people I have known. It's not just the friendship, but also the variety and indeed eccentricity that now provides fertile if often disguised material for my writing! Richard is one such.

I remember Richard and another friend, I think that it was Barry Hess, describing the firing characteristics of the US M16 rifle. I was curious, and asked where they had used one. As I remember the story, they were touring Vietnam during the Vietnam War and ended up at an ARVN (South Vietnamese) hill fort. The Vietcong attacked while they were there. The Vietnamese lieutenant gave them each an M16, pointed down the hill, and suggested they take action!

  Richard joined the Australian Foreign Service as a diplomatic cadet. I met him the following year when I became an administrative trainee. Richard's flat on Northbourne Avenue was a major hangout out. It was there at a party that we learned of Australian PM Holt's disappearance as some of our colleagues were called back to work.

I had already had significant exposure to Asia, something that was still a little unusual in the 1960s and 1970s, although not as unusual as people think today. In fact, I think we probably had more real exposure.

Richard's then girlfriend Louise was Vietnamese, while others in the group had Vietnamese linkages. We helped the girls prepare Vietnamese food, still my all time favourite Asian cuisine. As the South was falling, It was in that flat that people planned campaigns to try to get the Whitlam Government to admit those to whom Australia had obligations. As I have written before, my limited role was to use my Country Party linkages to enlist Ian Sinclair's support.

In many ways, Australia is a very small world especially for those of us drawn together in Canberra at the time from all parts of the country. Another in the immediate group was Stephen Grenville who later became Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank. I suspect that if you ask Steve you will get another linked but very different slice.

Time passes, but overlaps continue. Richard married Sarina who was in the same cohort as my wife at Sydney University's International House. Last year, Richard and Sarina's son was in the same UNSW mixed netball team as my eldest, although neither knew of the parental connection!

To a biographer, photos are the staff of life because they give physical appearance to the characters we are trying to understand. However, they do more because they hint at linkages, at texture, at personality.

Yes, most photos inevitably decline to visual wall paper, pieces frozen in time without personal context. Yet they retain a fascination as we try to understand them.  


Rummuser said...

That made fascinating reading for me and inspires me to dig up some old photographs and emulate. Let me see.

Jim Belshaw said...

Look forward to it, Ramana!

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