Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Hambledown Dream Goes Aural - Part One.

Beginning this week, I will be making chapters of my novel "The Hambledown Dream" available in a high quality audio book, read by me, for you to listen to and enjoy. Readers from all over the world have discovered and fallen in love with the "Dream".

What I hope to achieve from this is to whet those undecided readers appetites for more and encourage them to purchase my novel either digital or printed format.

This week, Part One - the beginning of the story where one life, so full of promise, ends while another's - so far away - hangs in the balance.

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Dean Mayes, author of "The Hambledown Dream" reads his novel for an audio book preview series.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Come On Bro - It's The Wars!!

Nestled in the rolling green hills of the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Australia lies a great big hole in the ground.

It's an open cut mine that, for the better part of a century, has been the source of Australia's largest deposits of brown coal.

This brown coal has been dug up by massive dredges and fed into boilers at the nearby Yallourn Power Station. The electricity from this particular station powers a lot of homes in Victoria and eastern Australia.

It's a dirty job but somebody's gotta do it.

During the halcyon days of the Victorian power industry, a town was conceived and built near the Power Station. The Yallourn township was provided to the workers that toiled in the massive open cut mine and station. It was a fully realized town even before it was built and boasted facilities that were the envy of the district. Beautiful tree lined streets, comfortable housing, a fully functioning shopping precinct, a hospital, school, police station, pub. Yallourn had it all. And for decades it was a bustling hamlet. It truly was a beautiful town. However there was always this catch...

The town was built on the proviso that one day, the State Electricity Commission (SEC), might need to access the rich coal seam that lay underneath it. And that day did come. In the mid 1960's there was a revolt by the towns folk against the SEC and for years they protested against their town being dismantled at the whim of some faceless bureaucrats. Money was raised, campaigns were hatched, people joined in to fight for their township.

"Come on bro - It's the Wars!"

When I was born into this battle in the mid 1970's, it was already a given that the man had won against the workers. There was a hell of a lot of life in the old girl even though she was a dame in decline.  

 Yallourn township circa 1970's. My first home.

Yallourn's facilities were the gold standard. In particular, the cinema - or 'theater' as it was lovingly referred to - remains in my mind the grandest of Yallourn's architecture.

Built in the 1930's and overlooking the township's central gardens, the Theater was a vibrant social center. Featuring two screens, red leather seating, a plush foyer and concession stand, the theater put on some of the greatest movies of the 20th century beginning with "Gone With The Wind" in 1939 (and, as a nice bookend to it's life, it screened the same film in 1979).

I've shared memories with ex-Yallourn residents as to what films they saw over the years and they are recalled with affection.

The swords and sandals epics of the 1950's - "Ben Hur", "Spartacus". Classics from the 1960's such as "Dr. Zhivago" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".

I remember my Dad and his next door neighbor Rob Martin recalling how they ran home in the night after seeing the 1973 stunner "The Exorcist" - so shit scared were they.

Yallourn's cinema, 1975.

For me, I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing one movie there. It was only one but it was to have a profound effect on me.

I can still remember the very first time I saw Star Wars.

There are certain events in a father's life that fall into the category of things you must do. Taking your son to his first movie experience is one. Towards the end of 1977, my Dad took me to the Yallourn Theater to see the George Lucas blockbuster.

By the end of 1977, Star Wars had become a world wide phenomenon and on a balmy November evening Dad and I went along to see what all the fuss was about.

I'm sure I didn't actually grasp what a movie actually was. The whole thing was just one big WOW! moment - as in 'I don't know what I'm actually doing right now - but WOW! Just WOW!

The cinema, circa 1941.

Dad's cinematic tastes are quite varied, although in the years since Star Wars he hasn't totally connected with the space fantasy/sci-fi genre in the way that I have. Dad was schooled in the classic political thrillers like "Three Days of The Condor", "The Marathon Man", "The Conversation" - all films that I like very much. But Star Wars was different for him in that, even he could appreciate it was an 'event film'. Everyone was talking about it - even the rough and tough coal miners and power station workers. There was something about Star Wars that crossed boundaries. It was accessible to everyone.

My memories of that first viewing are clear but fractured, fleeting vignettes of movement, color and place, though there are three distinct memories that stand out. First and foremost was the foyer of the cinema. It's lighting was soft but I can remember the old school flashing Hollywood styled lights in the concession area. The carpet in that foyer was deep red, very plush, the kind you could sink up to your knees in. I'm going to take a punt here and say that I had my first taste of popcorn. And I think Dad was a choc top fan - spearmint - but I'll have to confirm that.

The cinema itself. Well - that was simply the most amazingly awesome room I had ever been in. Vast and cavernous and the screen - oh my god - that screen!! I was gobsmacked by it. The seats were dark red - very plush material, the kind that were really low set and you kinda disappeared into them.

Cinema interior.

A celluloid love affair begins, November 1977.

And then there was the film. What can a 35 year old man channeling a (nearly) 4 year old say 32 years after the fact?

Oh my freaking god!!!???

The ubiquitous Star Wars logo erupting onto the screen against the twinkling star field. That opening crawl - though I couldn't read it then. And of course, there is that Star Destroyer passing overhead. I can clearly remember that. I was jumping up and down in my seat - blown away at this brilliant piece of celluloid - one of the most kick arse cinema moments of all time!

Things that  make you go - WHOOOOOO!!!

The first appearance of Darth Vader when he boards the crippled blockade runner. The odd-bod Jawas and their towering Sandcrawler, the planet sized Death Star. All of these moments passed into my consciousness and have never left.

There are other significant memories. Scenes that I swear I saw in that original release that I haven't seen in any other since. One example is a scene just after Ben Kenobi appears, having scared the Sand People away from a subdued Luke Skywalker. Kenobi and Skywalker have a conversation about Artoo then Luke is reminded that C-3PO still lies at the bottom of the ravine - the "Where am I? I must have taken a bad step" scene.

Obi Wan and Luke are then seen helping 3PO to his feet. Now, I always remember seeing Obi Wan, Luke and 3PO standing and stepping down from where he has fallen in the film. However I have only ever seen that moment as a still since. I stand to be corrected but, I definitely remember a much longer scene of 3PO, Ben and Luke standing together just after they help the stricken droid to his feet.

In all versions I have seen since, there is a wipe transition that crawls up the screen as they lift 3PO to his feet - a transition used to hide the fact the the film makers were using just a torso of 3PO at that point - before the scene shifts to Ben Kenobi's dwelling.

The last scene that I can recall with clarity was the Millennium Falcon knifing through space, just after they escape from the Death Star. It was brief moment of visual pleasure just watching that beautiful "piece of junk" in full flight before the four TIE fighters rocket in after them while Luke and Han blast their pursuers away with the Falcon's quad canons.

For me, there was only one 'Falcon'.

Dad tells me often that I wouldn't shut up through large chunks of the movie. I was babbling away excitedly. I guess it was the excitement of my first movie experience. I went on to live and breathe Star Wars throughout most of my youth and adolescence - taking a break from it during those dark years between '86 and '95 - and now as a supposedly responsible adult, I can happily declare that I'm still the biggest kid on the block - with the coolest Star Wars collection going around.

Come on Bro - It's The Wars!

Yallourn's destruction was inevitable. By the early 1970's the SEC had begun the process of dismantling the town, moving houses out on trucks in pieces so that they could be rebuilt elsewhere. The lure of the rich brown coal seam underneath the town ship was just too overpowering. The irony of that is that today the State Electricity Commission itself is now extinct - having passed into private/foreign hands in the mid 90's by a government hell bent on privatizing anything it could get it's hands on.

You can still find many examples of Yallourn's architecture in existence today around the Latrobe Valley. By the mid 1970's Yallourn early spirit had been routed. Though many held out, continuing to live and work there, the writing was on the wall. My family had moved by late '77 to the nearby township of Yallourn North.

Today, though the vista of the township is gone, I have discovered that the land upon which my first house was situated is actually still there - it hasn't been swallowed by the Cut. In places evidence of the town's streets still exist, complete with lines of trees.

The screen that opened the door onto that galaxy far, far away is bulldozed.

Following the final film presentation  - Gone With The Wind - the cinema was demolished in 1979. A 40 year old cinematic era was ground to dust. The Yallourn Theater lives on in a comprehensive collection of stories, photographs and images that are shared by former residents of Yallourn among whom I count myself. I cherish that first movie experience with my father. Because in a small way it influenced the person who I am today. I love story telling, I love the escapism of cinema and I love the toys! I can't allow myself to give up on them, as much as my serioso would like me to I am sure. Fortunately, my love of all things Star Wars lives on...and my son is now getting in the action too.

My serioso doesn't really approve but - to quote the character of Chaz Bottler in Kyle Newman's 2008 love letter to Star Wars fans (aka Fanboys)...

Come On Bro - It's The Wars!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Politics Of A Circus

(I apologize in advance for this a bridge).

I'm going to take risk here and step outside of my comfort zone to talk about politics.

I know, I know - you're probably rolling your eyes and preparing to close off your browser window and look, I can't blame you. But if you'll just stick with me for a couple of paragraphs at least, I'll try to give you some insight into what is going on down here in Australia right now.

Quite frankly, it's an Alice in Wonderland styled tea party.

The contest for the Australian Federal Election 2010, essentially, is being fought by two sides. There is a third party and a couple of minor players but essentially what the Australian populace has got to choose between is two parties who both sit on the center right.

Let me try and illustrate this for you.

The Australian Labor Party is led by the incumbent Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Already I can hear you say - hang on! Wasn't there a man in there?? Well, the answer is yes - there was. Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister up until June 24th this year. However, in an act that has been roundly described as being akin to political lunacy - several machine men within the ALP panicked over some poll results that showed they were taking a beating and decided that they must move against him. In a coup that had outwardly, had the look of being beaten with a wet newspaper, Julia Gillard was installed as the Prime Minister and Kevin Rudd was dumped.

Newly installed Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard.

This was a man who won the 2007 Federal Election in a stunning land slide against the Conservative Liberal/National Coalition - lead by old war horse John Winston Howard. There is no denying that, in the lead up to this fairy floss coup, the ALP was in a fair bit of trouble poll wise. However in all of this confected nail biting one thing stood out plainly in the polling - Kevin Rudd was still polling strongly as preferred Prime Minister over the conservative candidate/opposition leader, Tony Abbott. Since June 24th and more recently since the announcement of the Federal Election campaign, the ALP has lurched from one embarrassing media gaffe to another in a breathless effort to try and raise the profile of it's newly installed leader, Julia Gillard. It has been difficult to do so, especially since Gillard has been viewed as the woman who knifed a perfectly adequate leader in the back.

Dumped Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd.

The Liberal/National Coalition were utterly decimated in the aftermath of the 2007 Federal Election. Their own Prime Minister, John Howard - a man considered unbeatable up until the early months of 2007 - lost his own seat and there was a massive swing against the Conservative Government. The carnage was palpable. Since that time, the Coalition has gone through three leaders, two of whom polled poorly right from the time they were elevated. Currently they are being lead by an avowed Catholic (and former aspirant to the priesthood) Tony Abbott - a man who wears his conservative heart on his sleeve and who has been roundly viewed as one of the most ruthless operators in Australian politics. Since the 2010 Federal Election campaign was announced the Abbott lead Coalition has gone on the attack, criticizing the incumbent ALP government for knifing their leader in the back, for wasting bucket loads of tax payers money, for being incapable of stopping the (refugee) boats and for imposing great big new taxes on the populace.

Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.

The Greens - well they are the "third force" and as their name implies they are a party of the Left. Lead by perhaps, the only honest sounding politician in Australia right now, Bob Brown - the Greens platform They have been given a kick or two for preferencing the ALP in this election (we have a preferential voting system in Australia - Compulsory! - but preferential), but they have preferenced the ALP in most elections in years gone by.

The only other party of any note in this upcoming election is perhaps the Family First Party, a party that has been bankrolled by cashed up evangelical churches here in Australia and outwardly portrays itself as being the party for "families" - nuclear, white bread, middle class families. They caused a minor shit storm this year when it was revealed just recently that they were negotiating a preference deal with the Australian Sex Party!!


So there you have it. A very brief overview of the Australian Political landscape in my country - from my point of view. Now, you may ask - why would I devote a post to talking about mind numbing, potentially divisive politics. Well, we have an election coming up on August 21st and at this point in the game some two weeks out from polling day...

I have no friggin' idea who to vote for.

The ALP, in my opinion have behaved atrociously since the dumping of Kevin Rudd as PM just a few short weeks ago. There was never any need to dump him, no matter how bad the whispers against him were. Sure, he was a rather bookish fellow, renowned as a micro-managing control freak but his team steered Australia through the worst crisis to hit global financial markets since the Great Depression and Australia's economy is doing relatively well. Most knowledgeable commentators out there believe that the Federal Budget will return to surplus inside three years or so and the ALP's strategy will have strong legitimacy into the future. What has happened however, is that a group of faceless, factional warlords in Sydney have experienced the mother of all brain farts and moved against him, replacing him with a woman who has made no secret of her ambition in the past. It is now becoming increasingly clear, however that Julia Gillard is manifestly inadequate as a Prime Minister. She rushed forth, claiming victory in negotiating a way out of a potentially disastrous spat with the mining industry here in Australia over a Resource Super Profits Tax that the Government wanted to impose on the big miners - never mind that it was revealed that former PM Kevin Rudd had pretty much sorted it all out at the eleventh hour before he was knifed in the back by his own people. Julia Gillard was also summarily trotted (one assumes by the same dickheads who installed her) into a studio of a major Australian womens magazine to doll herself up for a windswept and lippy photo shoot (which actually made her look dumb rather than dynamic). And, since the announcement of the campaign, she has made an art form out of saying a lot but saying nothing all at the same time. So much so that just a week ago, Julia Gillard fronted the media to declare that she was "throwing out the campaign rule book and from now on she would give Australia the real Julia".

Double U Tee Eff!?!?!??

The Abbott led Coalition are just an appalling parody of a wannabe neo-conservative mickey mouse club. I make no secret of the fact the traditionally, I have despised this side of politics and everything they stand for. However since I reached cynicism has caught up with me and dammit - I can actually find myself agreeing with certain aspects of conservative politics. I mean - shite - I find myself classing myself as a small L liberal at times rather than an old fashioned working class Labor/Union man. But Tony Abbott is fucking scary. Where does one start??

An avowed Catholic who is bitterly opposed to abortion for any reason whatsoever, anti-gay marriage, anti-refugees (If I hear "Stop the Boats" one more time I will reach through the television screen and rip his tongue out), let's all lick big business' arse as much as we can and screw everybody else, WORK CHOICES, chums in the H.R. Nicholls Society, "I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say, but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark.Which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks." That is a dead-set quote from the horses' mouth!!!

I mean - this was a man who launched his conservative party's formal election campaign in Queensland this past weekend and spent his entire speech ripping the shit out of the ALP - if there was any presentation of Coalition Policy for the next term of whatever Government, I didn't hear it. This is not to excuse the ALP mind you. I haven't been able to interpret anything remotely comprehensible from them either. But I'm just sayin'

We have witnessed a procession of former leaders, party hacks parading as personalities and a multitude of other dickheads from both sides of the political divide popping their heads up and having their two cents worth like media tarts desperately grabbing for that one last 15 minutes of fame and the Australian Media - which is overly represented by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited stable - has worked themselves into a lather over the personalities of Australian Politics. The debate about Australia's future has gotten severely lost in all of it. The media is as culpable as all sides of politics in it's neglect of comprehensive and detailed coverage in favor of headline grabbing shit storms that have absolutely no relevance at all to the task that all Australian citizens - by law - must acquit themselves to in a few short weeks.

A Selection of former political identities who really should learn the meaning of the word FORMER!

Many people who would traditionally vote on either side Labor or Liberal/National quite conscientiously are indicating that this time they will instead vote Australian Greens as a form of protest against the major parties. The Greens are considered the lesser of three evils. Many Australians have no idea who they will vote for at this late stage and are still making up their minds. They live with some flicker of hope that something, anything will happen in the next couple of weeks that will have them sway towards their party of choice, or either of the majors.

This election has been quite literally, the weirdest election campaign in living memory. A kind of Australian Idol styled personality contest where neither of the personalities on offer have remotely any appeal. From where I stand - both majors are utterly desolate when it comes to any sort of policy. Oh sure they have announced some...thing! But I haven't been able to grasp much of it at all...and I know I'm not stupid.

Like...neither party has offered up anything, ANYTHING to address the health and social problems of  indigenous Australians. I have heard nothing. And, just as my own home State Government here in South Australia is gearing up to slash something like $450million dollars from health in this state alone, the ALP is talking about some half arsed Federal take over of health across the nation while the Liberal/National's are off in fairy land. I think the best thing they have come up with is hospital boards...whatever the f*** that is???

All the grand gestures that Kevin Rudd tried to put forward about addressing climate change and the environment came to nothing basically because he got rolled by the same miserable hatchet men that tapped him on the shoulder sometime around June 24th. As for the Coalition...well...Tony Abbott has been quoted as saying that "climate change is crap" so any chance of the Coalition doing anything remotely responsible to address the environmental challenges we face as a nation are about as strong as...oh, I dunno, the Pope entering "Dancing With The Stars"...

The economy...

Well the economy is beyond me. I'm flat out trying to balance my own home budget much less try to grapple with a purported $1trillion dollar national economy. I mean, am I supposed to understand it???

At this point I am seriously considering not voting at all. Given that it's a compulsory voting system and I risk being fined for not voting - my inaction would be a significant one...But none of these idiots deserve my vote. None of them deserve to be in government - OR opposition. They have prostituted the Australian Parliamentary Process that is based in part on the Westminster System of Democracy and have turned it into a slutty side show. I actually turn the television off now whenever the news comes on or Julia or Tony pop up and I grimace and yelp like a frightened child. I no longer give any credence to anything the journalists say because they seem more intent to bang on about what some politician's latest gaff was rather than present the arguments presented by both sides so that I can carefully consider what is on offer. Journalism in Australia is lazy, intellectually bankrupt and asinine.

A Toad...and Federal Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop (She's the one on the left).

That democracy has degenerated into the sort of B-grade reality television spectacle shown on late night TV makes me feel actually a little desolate. Not so much because they have abandoned me and my future...

...It's because they have abandoned my children and their's...


Tuesday, August 3, 2010



Twice in the past 10 days, I have had two similar and disturbing dreams wherein, in both cases I miss a flight that is apparently an important one. 

The first dream has me racing through traffic - in my father's utility vehicle - in a desperate attempt to get to the airport and I am panicky the whole way because I am running late and I fear that I will miss the flight. There is a sense of dire inevitability about it. I get to the airport and I am running through the terminal searching desperately for my gate. It is then that I hear a scream. I turn around in time to see a small figure, a child, falling from a mezzanine level above me and hit the floor a few feet away. I rush to the child's aid and desperately try to lend aid to it. It is an Indian child, maybe two or three years old. 

As a crowd mills about I call out for someone to call an ambulance. A couple emerge from the crowd - I think it's the child's parents but I am not sure. I look into the eyes of the father and right away, a chill passes through me. I suspect right away that the child has not fallen from the mezzanine. Rather, he/she has been pitched or pushed. Paramedics arrive and I urge them to take over as the panic of my previous feelings of dread about missing my flight begin to take over once more. This time however an airline representative assists me by leading me to the departure gate. However the hallway is like a maze. We cannot find our way, my panic escalates. The corridor twists and turns on itself - it is so maddening. Then, finally we make it to a glass door that leads out onto the tarmac...

...just in time to see the plane taxi-ing away from the departure gate. I have missed my flight. I am beside myself and I scream No!! But there is nothing I can do. The airline staffer is gone and I am alone, watching the plane disappear from view. 

I wake up at that point and I was disturbed for a long time after-wards.

The second dream has me trying to catch a transit bus from some kind of hotel or lodge where there are a lot of athletes's some kind of tournament but I am not participating in it. I have to bluff my way onto a mini bus that is taking people to the airport. I am in a similar state of rising panic - I have to get to my flight and once again, the clock is against me. There is delay after delay as the bus stops to pick up more passengers on route but before too long, I can see the airport up ahead and, for a brief moment I feel a flicker of relief. 

However the bus eventually stops in a field some few kilometers from where I have to go and the driver declares that this is as far as he can take me. I have to walk the rest of the way. A series of foot bridges that weave and curve like spaghetti lay between me and the terminal in the distance. Panic returns and I grab my bag and run as fast as I can towards the terminal. I fight against an insane amount of human traffic that have seemingly flooded onto the foot bridge that I am on.

Suddenly, from behind me I hear the sounds of whistles being blown shrilly and I turn to see a group of security guards - again these people are Indian - running towards me, pointing at me. They bail me up and issue me with a fine for running on the foot bridge. They then demand to see the contents of my bag but I refuse, telling them that I am going to miss my flight. I lurch away from them and they begin to pursue me but then they disappear into the crowd and again I am hopelessly lost on the foot bridge, unsure of which way to go. 

The dream becomes fractured at this point and I can't remember specifically what happens next but I can remember being in a shopping precinct looking for a public phone. And I remember that same feeling of dread that lingered within me long after I shook myself from the dream and lay awake disturbed by the imagery. 

They were two separate dreams, dealing with identical states of mind and they both dealt with my struggle to get to a flight that I ultimately missed. I woke from both of them feeling disturbed for a long time afterward. I have spent the past few days trying to comprehend their meaning but until now I have drawn a blank.

My subconscious mind scares the shit out of me sometimes.