Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Being a teacher you very quickly decide that there are certain names you will never call your own children. My wife and I very early in our teaching careers knew we would never have a Darren nor a Skye. We picked out James as a boy's name and possibly Rebecca as a girl's name. Four daughters later we have neither a James nor a Rebecca. Four daughters means eight different girl's names, so we have Amanda Clare, Kathryn Amy, Elizabeth Kelly and Jennifer Laura. All safe traditional names, but there were moments. In particular I wanted Sandy. However my wife would just not come at Sandy Shore. We also tried to avoid C. Shore, although I am a Robert C. Shore. It was some sort of oversight that Amanda ended up A. C. Shore. We also tried to avoid names which had to be spelt as we knew from experience that they would have to go through life spelling "Shore". Kathryn missed out here, but we liked Kate and always thought it would be shortened.

As you can see we put a fair bit of thought into naming our children. Other parents also do this. A recent article in Psychology Today (April 2010) by sociologist, Dalton Conley, explains why he called his daughter E and his son Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles. You need to read the whole article to understand why but Conley does sum up with "at the time we thought we were bequeathing to them our values of individuality, free choice, and the questioning of social norms. Perhaps it was also an unconscious social experiment..." (Note to self: ask daughters if they wish I had studied sociology)

Of course when it comes to naming children parents will find inspiration in all sorts of places. We have all heard of parents who have named their child after the nurse on duty at the time of birth, or the ambulance driver, or taxi driver, who delivered the baby on the way to hospital. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their book Freakonomics (2005) write about the parents who named their son Amcher after the first thing they saw when they arrived at the hospital: Albany Medical Center Hospital Emergency Room.

Do names matter?
Maybe Issur Danielovitch once thought so. He changed his name to Kirk Douglas. Frances Gumm changed her name to Judy Garland, and Norma Jean Baker to Marilyn Monroe. There are many more: Jennifer Anastassakis is now Jennifer Aniston, Frederick Austerlitz now Fred Astaire, Thomas Marpother IV is better known as Tom Cruise, Caryn Johnson is Whoopi Goldberg, Demetria Gene Guynes is Demi Moore, Annie May Bullock is Tina Turner, Walter Williamson is Bruce Willis and Marion Michael Morrison is John Wayne.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner Freakonomics 2005 devote a chapter to discussing whether names matter. They begin with the case of Robert Lane who, with his wife, had seven children. The sixth child they named Winner, while the seventh and last child they named Loser. An interesting case study because if names make a difference surely it would be reflected in this family. However as they grew up Loser won a scholarship to a prep school, graduated from college and joined the police force where he became, first, a detective and then a sergeant. What of his brother? Levitt and Dubner tell us "The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane.... is the sheer length of his criminal record".

Sunday, March 20, 2011


An Elvis family from Melbourne.

The town of Parkes is located in the central west of NSW. It has a population of approximately 15,000 people. It is well known as the home of the Dish, that is, the telescope which tracked the Apollo landing on the moon. It is not so well known for holding the World Marble Championships. However each year in early January the population of the town swells dramatically, this year to almost double, for the annual Elvis Festival.

Some fans just couldn't help themselves.

The Elvis Festival was conceived by a small group of Elvis fan who thought that it might be a good way to celebrate Elvis' birthday each year. It began humbly as a one night event for about a hundred people. By the year 2000 it had grown to a day-long festival. Gradually more events were added and in 2005 over three and a half thousand people attended.

No effort was spared.

This year the festival was held over five days from the 5 to 9 January. It involved over 140 events and attracted a record crowd, doubling the town's population. Fans came from every state in Australia and as far away as New Zealand, Italy and the USA. Besides a street parade, other events included an Elvis Gospel service, the 'Back to the Altar with Elvis-Renewal of Wedding vows', dinner with Miss Priscilla and an Elvis Poet's breakfast.

Some Elvises were very young.

At this year's festival there was an attempt to regain the Guinness Book of Records' title for the most Elvis impersonators gathered together. In 2007 147 impersonators gathered in Parkes to break the previous record of 78. Recently a new record was set at 645 in Las Vegas. Unfortunately the Parkes attempt fell just short with 610 impersonators, but this gives organisers something to promote for next years festival.

Some Elvises were very good. This was the winner of the Elvis impersonators competition.

The town of Parkes has its own Elvis fanatics. One local has changed their name to Elvis by deed poll. There is a Gracelands restaurant, an Elvis memorial and an Elvis museum. For the festival there is also a special Elvis Train which brings fans from Sydney to the event.

Nearly fifty couples took the chance to renew their wedding vows. This couple had been married for 50 years.

Many fans enjoyed the chance to dress in costumes from days gone by.

There was lots of dancing.

....and lots of cars.

.....but just one Indian. (When I asked him why, he said "well everyone else was dressed as Elvis!" )

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The emu, which features on the Australian coat of arms, is Australia's largest bird. It can grow up to two metres tall and an adult bird can weigh over 50 kgs. It can't fly but can run at speeds of nearly 50 kilometres an hour. The emu can also swim. The eggs are incubated by the male, who also rears the young. Emus were hunted and eaten by the Aborigines and feature in many rock paintings and later bark paintings. The emu appears in many Aboriginal dreamtime stories and more recently in children's story-books, art works and even songs. It's feathers have been used to decorate the hats of some Australian soldiers, although those serving overseas used to describe them as 'kangaroo feathers'. The emu is not on any endangered species list and in some areas is considered a pest. In the picture below the emu is the emblem for the Orange Emus Rugby Club.

Although hunting and eating emus is not a new thing in Australia the commercial farming of emus is. In the 1970s an Aboriginal group were allowed to capture 400 emus from the wild and experiment with farming them for for their skins. In 1987 the offspring of these initial birds were used to establish other farms and hence the current emu farming industry has grown. However the bird is not only bred for its leathery skin but also for its meat, eggs, feathers and emu oil.

Emus are suitable to most climatic conditions found in Australia and being soft footed they do little damage to the soil. There is a strict code of practice as to how the birds should be treated and the farms managed. No birds are allowed to be taken from the wild and there are strict fencing requirements to prevent the escape of birds as well as to stop wild birds getting onto the farms.

On the farms the birds lay around forty eggs a year. Once they are hatched the young are kept in a shed at night until the stage where they lose their stripes, around 3 months. At the age of about fourteen months the birds become large enough to be slaughtered and used for a number of products.

Emu leather is soft and because the area around the feather follicles is raised, when tanned it gives a neat dot pattern. This is used for hand bags, boots, wallets and clothing. It is also sort after by craft workers. The leather around the emu's leg is similar to snake or crocodile leather in appearance and so is used for belts and watch bands.

Emu meat is gamey in flavour (no not like chicken) and contains less than 0.05% cholesterol. However it seems to have found more acceptance in Europe rather than Australia. Emu steaks and emu pies still seem to fall into the novelty category here.

While the eggs can and have been eaten the birds do not lay regularly enough to make the farming of them viable(If I was trying to pass something that size out of my rear end I would not want to be doing it often or regularly either). Of course not a lot of households need the equivalent of a dozen hen eggs every morning. The eggs are sort after for carving and for jewellery.

One product which has gained in acceptance and popularity is emu oil. Australian Aborigines have used the oil for thousands of years to treat aches and pains. Now the oil has become mainstream as science supports the claims being made about it. The oil is able to penetrate deeply and is naturally anti inflammatory. It is particularly useful in the treatment of pain associated with arthritis. Emu oil can also be used to treat eczema and other skin conditions. The oil can be rubbed on externally or taken internally as capsules. The oil has also been used in cosmetic and skin care products.

The Try-It Emu Farm at Marburg in Queensland (where most of these photographs were taken) also sells a unique product in the form of 'cartilage powder' called Osteo Be Gone. After studying the benefits of shark cartilage the farm at Marburg came up with a world first Emu cartilage powder which helps in treating arthritis and cartilage degeneration. The powder contain all of the essential 18 amino acid,chondroitin sulphate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and copper.

The farm at Marburg has been in operation for the past 17 years. They now have over 2,000 birds and have spent the last four years building up stock and developing new products. They are processing birds again now. Beside oil and cartilage powder they sell emu meat, feathers (for decoration and craft, and to the Australian army) and blown emu eggs. Only blown eggs are sold so that the fertile eggs can not be incubated and hatched. To breed emus a person requires a license.

Monday, March 14, 2011


On New Year's Day I attended the rodeo at Tumbarumba. Two of my uncles were there, both probably in their sixties, and not only riding horses but working as catchers in the rodeo ring. I had moved from Tumbarumba to Sydney when I was about seven years old. If I had stayed and been raised in the bush this is possibly where I would have ended up also. My grandfather, on my mother's side, had told me stories of when he was a teenager and how they had often taken pack horses and gone off into the mountains for several days. My grandmother, on my father's side was still driving her sulky into town well into her seventies. I can recall being put on a horse, a big clydesdale, when I was only a toddler; and then about fifteen years ago when I took students on a camp for several days we went for a trail ride on horses. This time the horse was in control and knew where to go, and made sure I knew that too. So I thought it was about time I 'had a go' at horse riding.

(The different terrain in the Megalong Valley)

I chose a place, via the internet, in the Megalong Valley. The Megalong Valley gets its name from an Aboriginal word believed to mean 'valley under the rock'. The first recorded European here was Thomas Jones in 1818. He was collecting bug and plant specimens and followed the Cox's River into the valley. Land was taken up here in 1838 by settlers traveling up from Camden. A shale mine was also opened here and operated by J. B. North. Today the valley is predominantly used for farming, however with its beautiful scenery, including rainforrests and rugged escarpments, it has become a popular tourist destination. The restoration of the historic Six Foot Track, which passes through the valley, has helped this popularity. The Six Foot Track was a bridle trail winding from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. It had to be at least six foot wide to cater for two or three horses a breast, hence its name.

(Above: the early morning mist still leaving the valley; Below: horses are being saddled up ready for the day's riding)

I drove up to Blackheath the afternoon before and spent the afternoon taking photographs of the Valley. I had thought to book a day ride, but on the advice of the lady who ran the Werriberri Trail Rides I changed this to a three hour ride. On Sunday morning, after taking pictures of the mist coming up through the valley, I turned up at at the horse yards. This is a business run by Kathy Tucker and her four children on the Megalong Road. Already teenage girls were brushing the horses and getting them ready for the trail. As I had been asked on the phone how tall and how heavy I was I knew that the big horse was mine. They told me his name was 'Clydy', but I knew this was a name they made up for my benefit and he was really called "death by lightning' or 'stampede of thunder'.

(Above: my horse Clydy, alias nightmare; Below: me, ready for him)

I was decked out in a helmet and spats. Then as other people began to arrive a work experience fellow from Iceland helped me into the saddle, well I walked up the ramp and climbed on, he just held the horse still. We sat and waited while more people arrived, so far so good, but I wasn't sure Clydy hadn't fallen asleep. (I wondered whether they even had horses in Iceland, but he assured me that he was very experienced.)

(Photos above show us heading off on the track)

Finally we were all mounted up and heading off on the trail. A teenage girl led us at the front, and then we were arranged in order of 'inexperience'. In front of me was a seven year old girl and a woman who hadn't ridden before. I wasn't sure who the people behind me were as I couldn't turn around to see them. I knew there was the girl's father because he kept telling us how he had ridden all his life and mustered cattle in rough scrub. There was the fellow from Iceland, on his third day on the job; a woman who had ridden regularly up until a couple of years ago; and I was to find out later a young lady from Finland, who was a very experienced rider.

(Above: our instructor from Iceland; the expert, who spent most of the ride texting; and the girl from Finland who enjoyed 'sending the flint stones flying')

The 3 hour ride took us through some beautiful country. It also took us up and down just enough trails and mountain tracks to make it exciting. At one point we had to wait while a red-bellied black snake slide off the path. It did tend to worry the horses a little. We also managed to trot in a few places. Once I got used to this it was actually very good. The more experienced riders, that is everyone behind me, were able to hang back for a while and then canter up to join us.

(Views of the track and scenery where we were riding)

Although my horse obviously knew where it was going there were times where I would steer it this way or that, and when it tried to show me it was time to put its head down I was able to assert myself a little, probably just enough to convince myself I had some control. Still at times I could have both of my hands free to take photographs, so I wonder who was really in control. All in all it was an enjoyable experience and one I would try again. Sore. That's what they kept saying I would be the next day. No, not a bit. Towards the end of the ride my back began to rub a little against the saddle but the next day no aches or pains at maybe I was a natural, or maybe I was just doing it wrong.

(Back at the OK corral....or at least back at the corral OK)

(Me, looking like a nineteen century postman)

(The seven year old girl, who was only put in the group to show me up)

(Footnote: to contact the Werriberri Trail Rides ring (02) 4787 9171 and ask for Kathy)