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Tuesday eve 26 July in the year of the Lord’s favour, 2016

It has been an usual week in some ways, although all weeks are different of course. This one was different in a couple of other ways, the happenings of which I will relate later.

First, we are well, I am pleased to relate, and which doubtless you are overjoyed to learn. (I can see you all in my mind’s eye, leaping about excitedly as you read that news). As I remarked at the beginning (was it only four lines ago?) that this past week has been an odd one on occasion, although I must admit that it frequently appears to be my lot that have odd incidents occurring; possibly the result of having my mother for a mother… well, partly that, I sometimes suspect – she was so gorgeous – just born a generation or so too early. Being given to clumsiness, you understand, is also partly to blame… not my fault at all!

Now – what has these past few days produced?

Saturday 16 July was not a happy one. Janet asked me to move the car out of the carport, for she said she wanted to wash the carport wall. I pointed out reasonably I thought, that the carport does not have a wall, so she had to change her story to say she meant the shed wall to which the carport is attached… I don’t think she was so pleased about that. (She can be difficult at times – claimed I was being pedantic!). As I pointed out however, imagine the captain of the Titanic berating the helmsman: “You fool! You should have known I meant ‘port!’ when I yelled ‘Hard to starboard – NOW look what you’ve done!”

By the way, on that topic, did you know that a Lang was a Titanic survivor? I didn’t until I checked on the list of passengers one day. All the same, I doubt whether he was ever a member of the Church of Scotland, although of course he could have been. is name was Fang – yes, Fang Lang! If you don’t believe me, check it for yourself!

Anyway, when I attempted to start the car, it refused to go.  The NRMA man was called but could not start it. His instruments told me it was the crankshaft sensor that was playing up. I had to wait until Monday to ring the Hyundai place where I bought the car seven years ago in November, but quickly learned they were not really interested. The workshop manager hummed and hahhed and said he was booked out until Thursday week – that will be NEXT Thursday 28 July. When I told him that we lived in a rather isolated little place and that I had a sick grandmother, and needed my car, he still was not helpful.

Then I remembered Pat Johnson, a certified mechanic who does many jobs around here including Terry our neighbour’s car. Terry is no fool and was a panel beater in his day. He and Pat go back a long way, so I rang him. Yes – he could do the job. I stood by and watched him. As soon as he lifted the engine cover off we both knew the problem… the bush rats had cheerfully chewed their way through the wires leading to the cam shaft sensor! Three hours and $390.00 later, we were back on the road. Pat had to solder the wires together but put in the new parts as well. I was told of one man whose new Jeep had all the wires eaten out. Cost? $8.000.  Terry told us later that a good preventative is Glen 20. There is a spray can full of the stuff which Janet uses and we squirted it everywhere. Janet also looked up other preventatives such as mothballs, peppermint oil etc.

The following day we drove to Bunnings at Morisset. We went to buy mothballs and Janet wanted a new broom. She’s been complaining of late that the old one has a fault in the landing gear…

As I waited, a quaint-looking fellow appeared in a clown’s hat and with a painted face beside a chocolate wheel.: “Gather around folks – this is a Bunnings promotion – join in the fun…!” etc. We all gathered about and he handed out two tickets to each of us. I had numbers 1 and 9. After much spruiking he wound ‘er up and let ‘er go…I watched the wheel trickle to a stop – and where should it stop but on 9!! I gave an excited shout and held up the ticket. The others clapped and looked happy for me. The clown handed me a Bunnings $20 gift voucher and spun the wheel again… As soon as it stopped I gave another excited shout and jumped forward, waving my next ticket. Now my fellow chocolatiers looked anything BUT pleased. The clown looked astonished and many of my former, short-lived friends wore faintly murderous expressions. I looked at the dropped jaws around me and grinned cheekily: “Only joking.” Much merriment. The other winner must have walked off before the wheel stopped for no one came forward, so they had another spin.

That’s THREE things I’ve won lately and didn’t spend a cent: an autographed copy of Stephen King’s The Shining; due to arrive from England in a few days; a powerful electric torch (delivered via my forehead, which it struck violently as it was thrown to me) and now this. It’s amazing. Normally I’d never get a kick in a stampede.

Janet appeared from some aisle where she had been testing the aerodynamics of brooms various, and I showed her the voucher. She too was amazed and commented on the lovely flowers she could buy with that, but I’m not quite ready to part with it. I want to look at it and gloat… (You have no idea just how patient and forgiving she is – or maybe you do!).

At the OAM morning teaThe rest of the week was not eventful in that we had no car, but on Wednesday our friend George drove us to Cardiff RSL for the annual OAM morning tea which is put on each year at this time for those locals newly awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. It was a very pleasant affair… all the cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches, cakes and goodies one could eat. We found ourselves sitting with two delightful couples; one formerly African, one formerly Chinese who have both served this country very well indeed and both the men wore OAM badges. They were very interesting to talk to so the time passed swiftly. Another friend drove us home.

Oh well, it is now 11.55pm so I’ll post this off.


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The Birds

Pose, Kids!
Pose, Kids!

I’m sure many are familiar with the music of Ottorino Respighi, a late 19th –early 20th century composer. One of my very favourite pieces of music is his The Birds and in fact I’m listening to it even now as I write, on this winter’s evening at ‘Puddleby Corner’ Wangi Wangi, in the year of grace, 2016.

I’ve always loved the music, and over the past five or so years, our little garden of Eden here at Puddleby Corner has brought special pleasure in the birds that frequent our garden. The rainbow lorikeets, Australian miners, kookaburras, magpies, topknot pigeons and galahs love Janet’s garden and the fountain where they drink, and I regularly feed them all, for they also feed on the many natives that Janet has planted. I keep birdseed for them in the shed, and every now and then the topknots organise a raiding party, looking for the birdseed, but they never find. Half the time they can’t find their way out and I have to capture them and take them out.  I love them all… the lorikeets and noisy miners are quarrelsome little creatures and squabble among themselves – and in fact so do the topknots, who chase one another around the lawn (on foot) if they think another topknot is getting more than his/her fair share. A couple of galahs, usually found en masse on the inland plains, in the wheat country, are here now, these gentle creatures, and waddle about, feeding among the rest.

Suddenly the two magpies swoop in to land – and everyone scatters! It is so funny, watching them. I am in hysterics sometimes at the antics of all these glorious creatures. The maggies rule the roost – no doubt about that. They are treated with great respect.They strut around, largely ignoring everybody else, and all give them a wide berth. Their propensity for sudden hissy fits is known to all. Every now and then, after staring at an innocently feeding topknot for a few moments, one will charge it, for reasons known only to itself. Pandemonium follows  – birds everywhere until everything settles down, and they all go back to feeding – until one of the magpies has yet another hissy fit! What is so marvellous is the fact that once it’s over, it’s over. There are no grudges held, all forgiven and forgotten… maggie is mollified and peace reigns…

This is a little Garden of Eden in which nothing is hurt or killed. Recently I had an unforgettable encounter of the third kind with a large hornet that came to drink at the fountain in our garden. I was alerted to its approach by what at first sounded like a small aircraft engine on final approach – the unmistakable, noisy hum of a large hornet. A short time later it joined me at the fountain, which I was filling at the time. The visitor was so close, we were practically cheek by jowl. It stood delicately at the water’s edge and thrust its fine head forward and down to drink, and I was reminded of the way a horse drinks.

At such close range I could observe every part of its superb, beautiful, streamlined body, all bright yellow and black, yet I felt no fear. As I watched it, it was watching me, but I sensed not even wariness on its part. It was a strangely companionable sort of feeling; as we, two strangers at the only coffee table left in the café, sat together in silence, enjoying a virtual cappuccino, each quite at home in the company of the other. My colourful companion slowly finished his virtual cappuccino (or maybe latte), gave me a friendly nod, then took to the air on beautifully crafted wings, making one brief little swoop towards me which I sensed as a farewell; certainly not a threat.

I still feel charmed by that remarkable encounter; also privileged to have had its trust. I’m reserving that story for a verse one day.

Speaking of birds, one day a few weeks ago I had occasion to visit the Wangi RSL, and on the way out, what should I behold but a gent at one of the outside tables, sipping a beer and looking for all the world like Long John Silver, with a parrot on his shoulder. I stopped to investigate and discovered the parrot was a lorikeet. We got into conversation and I learned that the visitor was the owner of one of the yachts curtseying in the bay. He pointed to a handsome craft which is his home. He told me he sails it up and down the coast with his wife and ‘Charlie’ the lorikeet. Charlie, he said, had been rescued by him when he saw her drowning in a river up north some years ago. She was very young and she has been with him ever since. He knows she’s a female because she once laid a couple of eggs.

Charlie was rescued some years after the yachty’s first wife died, and when he remarried, the bird saw the new wife as ‘the other woman’. For quite a while she gave her hell… biting her at every opportunity; doing everything she could to discourage her rival, but now all is well and they are a happy threesome.

He said that when he calls at places up and down the coast, people always want to see Charlie, who rewards their adulation by poohing on them… well, not always, but as Charlie was making her way up my nice, fairly new jacket which I’d had made in Thailand the previous year, her owner called her back. Sure enough a few minutes later she did it on his shirt.

I often think how blessed we are in this beautiful country of ours to be able to share our lives with the wild creatures. I am ‘minded of the lovely lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:

He prayeth best who loveth best
all things, both great and small;
For the dear God Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Let’s treasure every creature, great and small, and our Creator God, Who ‘made and loveth all’.

(16 July, 2016)



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The Good Old Days …

Sunday August 11 in the year of grace, 2013

If you were here last week, you may recall I mentioned my unfortunate experience with a vacuum cleaner, which caused a little embarrassment. Well, today I mentioned the incident to a chap at morning tea in Bowenfels Church Hall. He heard me out, then said, “I don’t like those sorts of vacuum cleaners. I prefer the ones that are pulled, not pushed. That’s the sort we have at home.” I was astonished, for it suddenly occurred to me that there are at least two sorts of vacuum cleaners (not counting the little ones that amble about the floor by themselves, bumping into things, reminding me of little old gentlemen  looking for a comfortable place to park their rumps). Anyway, today I learned that new fact which I have added to my store of knowledge: Vacuum cleaners come as ‘push-me’ and ‘pull-you’ types. I’d been out of my depths because I’d never been acquainted with ‘push-me’ vacuum cleaner. All, all is well.

Now that is settled, this (Sunday) morning I was up and about early (as was Janet – even earlier, for she prepared the porridge) and shortly afterwards was on the road to Portland for the first service (second at Bowenfels).

Portland is a pleasant little town of some two thousand burghers, set among the hills to the west of Lithgow, west of Wallerawang and almost exactly the same size as Finley, where I was the Presbyterian minister, more than a few years ago.                           Whereas there’s hardly a hill for miles and miles around Finley, down in the southern Riverina, Portland has a lot of hills around it.

As I headed out, I had a sudden, inexplicable urge to return to the west; back to the Riverina – and not for the first time… a yearning at times to return to that dear place where I first saw the light of day, which happened to be the Leeton RSL Club. No – my mother wasn’t pulling a poker machine handle at the time, or nursing a schooner of Tooheys. (She never did either). In those days it was known as Allendale (or maybe Allyndale) private hospital. A few of my friends were born there in those days, and in a place as small as Leeton was back then, possibly even in the same bed.

Maybe it’s the channel water. There’s an old saying down Leeton way, as we old Leetonians know, that once you drink the channel water from the Murrumbidgee River, you’ll always go back. We not only drank it; we swam in it too, (sometimes starkers) and in irrigation channels and canals. I can never forget the beautiful ‘bidgee: its slowly flowing green waters, its white sandy bends and steep banks, wending its placid way across sunny plains to link up finally with the mighty Murray on its way to South Australia and the sea.

In secret places in the bush, not far away from the river, there were dark, reed-fringed billabongs, hiding all sorts of tantalising mysteries. We boys knew where they were. Sometimes a sudden ripple would spread across the dark waters, or a little splash break the silence, with nothing to be seen for it, and our imaginative young minds turned to stories we’d heard of  Bunyips. Perhaps the Aboriginal people really did know of them…

Sweet Afton’s waters may flow gently, “amang thy green braes,” as Robbie Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet wrote of it so beautifully. There may be bowers of roses by Bendemeer’s stream, “where the nightingales sing ’round it, all the day long,” as the great Irish bard, Thomas Moore wrote so lovingly, but despite the dreamy loveliness of those fair streams, I’ll still take the good ol’ Murrumbidgee, where it flows under Euroley Bridge, not far from Yanco town.

I really have to smile at Tonkie and Jock. Tonkie is really mischievous, and it’s so deliberate, the way he walks over to the sleeping Jock to nip his toes, which starts a brawl. Tonkie would love to be a tiger, and goes for Jock’s jugular as they play, but Jock has too much hair and besides, it’s a game.

I’ve noticed that the rabbits these days don’t exactly rush off, terrified, upon Jock’s approach. In fact they return to their hiding places in the bramble bushes in an ordered and leisurely fashion, the way passengers on ships do to their stations when there is a simulated alarm. In fact this morning I noticed a very cheeky bunny who was right outside the door. None of them is really afraid of Jock, who doesn’t have a mean streak in his brave, loving little heart.

As I write, Janet is having a little more R&R from me, back at Puddleby, where there are a few things to attend to, and we boys are looking after ourselves. Janet left enough food for the three of us to feed an army, so Tonkie, Jock and I have no fear of starvation.

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In which there are arrivals and departures and Ness bungles again

The weeks are flying past and by this time next month we should be home again at Puddleby, about a day before our holidaying family departs, so we will see them.

The weekend has been special, for daughter Heather has been here with us, leaving her hubby to manage their ‘children’, Tiki (elderly Siamese) and Bert the dog (mixtures various).

The first Service last Sunday morning was at Wallerawang in the lovely traditional church there, but I nearly froze to death. Janet and Heather wisely decided to go to the later service at Bowenfels.

A view of St John's
A view of St John’s











The next Service was here at Bowenfels, and the three of us involved in the service did something wrong. The session clerk got up to read the announcements at the wrong place, the Kevin who read the NT lessons read them in the wrong order, and I offered the communion wine to the congregation before the bread. That caused a bit of amusement! (They are such a warm congregation). I have found over the years that when something starts to go wrong in  a service, it generally keeps going.

Old Bowenfels Historic Church
Old Bowenfels Historic Church

Heather was on the train to Sinney (Wangi dialect. Means Sydney) at 4.00pm, for there’s work tomorrow.

Wednesday Night 7 August:

I am so sorry that this entry, which I should have finished on Sunday night, is still in the making  – and it is now after 10.00pm. I am not long back from the weekly Men’s League get-together in the church hall.

We got back from Dubbo yesterday, where we’d been for a couple of days, seeing a couple there that we know who were keen for us to go to see them.

I won’t bother you with stories of this week, for there are a few, but this entry goes back to start to the previous week, on Monday 29 July… it seems ages ago. At the time Janet was still away, seeing to the work being done on the ceiling in the sunroom at ‘Puddleby’ after some storm damage, and I’m happy to say that when she rang me, the plasterer was still there and did a very satisfactory job. Janet is well pleased, and as she is fussier than I am, I am sure it is. (It was an insurance job).

Later I was at the Scots School where I was Rhonda’s “little helper” for the two scripture classes. They are good kids.

I sometimes wonder about proper retiring, but having put one’s hand to the plough, one cannot look back. I am sure God will tell me when time’s up, either by zapping me or by letting me have some quiet time before  journey’s end.

It was almost ‘journey’s end’ during the week, some time after Janet got back. I am very fortunate not to be a crippled widower.  Some moron went through a red light as I was about to turn right, so Janet would have caught the full brunt of it. I looked at him as he approached and had a sudden intuition that he wasn’t going to stop. In fact I think he accelerated. It’s a lesson for us all: never assume that some clown is going to stop at a red light or give way. (I remember officiating at a sad funeral of a young man, who made the fatal assumption that a truck driver had seen, and would obey, the red light. He hadn’t so didn’t).

Janet was home on Thursday. I collected her at the station. Earlier that morning I’d given Rommel the horse in the paddock next door an extra big carrot, which he ate while I sang “Happy Birthday” to him, for 1 August is traditionally the birthday of every horse.

Happy Birthday to me?
Happy Birthday to me?










I was up early that day, attempting to create the illusion that I had faithfully carried out my duties as a house husband before Janet came home. I had a lot of trouble with the vacuum cleaner. I don’t know who designed it, but I could not make it work properly. For some reason, the handle bit was in the vertical position, whereas I know the one at home at ‘Puddleby’ is at an angle, which makes it easy to push. Have you ever tried to get into motion something that has a handle that is completely vertical and about waist-high? In the end, I had to give up.  When Janet came home, the old nurse’s eye swept around the place and it all looked quite OK.

Foolishly, I confessed the trouble I’d had with the vacuum cleaner.

As I talked, I noted an incredulous expression gather upon her brow and then move  across her whole countenance, but I continued doggedly on, and she heard me out. Then she said,

“Please tell me you didn’t do that.” 

“Do what?”

“Attempt to push the vacuum cleaner when the handle was in the upright position.”

“I did try! I wanted to do the vacuuming, but couldn’t!” (said the bumbling Ness, in trouble again).

“Please tell me you really know where the lever is on the vacuum cleaner.”

“Lever? Wot lever?”

Without boring you further with this sad little story, the little woman led me into the lair of debbil debbil vacuum cleaner and by some means (which I first assumed was magical), lowered the handle.Then she showed me a little lever which she operated with her foot, somewhere near one of the wheels, and presto – the handle came down so that it could be pushed with relative ease (provided one ignores the fact that the suction makes it stick to the floor, so “with ease” is relative, ye understand). I said no more. I didn’t wish to make matters worse by telling her it took me fifteen minutes to find out where the switch is that makes  the horrible contraption work. It is cunningly hidden underneath the bit one pushes, if you ever use the thing.

On Friday morning I was amazed to see that great bursts of golden wattle had exploded through the bush, seemingly overnight. The wattle, keen to get winter over and spring begin, was leading the way as usual.

Wattle in the Manse grounds
Wattle in the Manse grounds











It’s the way with wattle each year… always the first to welcome joyous spring, and as I looked at the wattle, daughter Alison’s childish voice (she was a child at the time – about five, I think) came to mind, singing the song she’d learned that day at school, and was keen for us to hear: The bush was grey a week today…. But now the spring has come this way, with blossoms for the wattle… It was a lovely little song and I still remember Alison’s clear little voice, that warm spring afternoon in Coonamble NSW.

A view of wattle from the window
A view of wattle from the window











This Sunday past, I thought I would freeze to death out at Wallerawang Church, even although Janet had trotted out the thermals for me to wear. After I put them on,  I stood there, all resplendent in white from ankle to neck, admiring myself in the mirror, and had a mental picture of film producers lining up at the door, offering large amounts of money, urging me to sign on the  dotted line. After a  minute however, I desisted and put on the rest of the garments, feeling a little ashamed of my sinful pride. I mean, who am I, to do Moby out of a job? Anyway, he’s a better swimmer than I am.

It was later that very day that we took Heather to the station to return home. We felt quite sad about that, but of course duty calls.

I can’t let this entry pass without reporting that another contender for Moby’s crown was seen off the Qld coast yesterday – a genuine white whale, called Migaloo, and was seen on TV this morning.

We white whales are a bit unusual it seems…

Until next time.


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Some Happenings in the Hoose o’ Ness

Tuesday, 30 July in the year of grace, 2013

It is 10.30pm, and I am contemplating the events of the past few days since the last entry of this journal, none of which is likely to arouse undue excitement in you, dear friends; all the same, that is life, with its ups and downs and its quieter moments.

Janet is away for a few days, staying with family members who are holidaying at our house Puddleby on Sea and attending to some matters that will require her attention.

Tonkie, Jock and I are surviving, but Janet’s absence is always felt by us all. Everything runs so smoothly when she is here. On Sunday, for instance, I went off to the morning service in my dark suit but had absently put on brown shoes instead of black ones – something that would not have happened had Janet been here to check me out.

Before she gets back, I must remember to make the bed, and do some odd bits of housework: dishes and so on, and pretend that I’ve been a good boy… but am trying to remember where she said I’d find the vacuum cleaner. When she returns, that nurse’s eye will sweep automatically around the house with an experience born of years of practice, noting those areas where I have failed to reach even the low standards I have set myself. Oh well, no point in dwelling upon the likely consequences of one’s failures…

The nights and early mornings up here in the mountains have been freezing, with frosts in the mornings, but the night skies are glorious. It’s hard to imagine skies so crystal clear – frosty clear. The black of the night, unchallenged by any city lights,  accentuates the golden radiance of the sprinkled stars.

Last Saturday, friend George and I went to Sydney Opera House to see Donizetti’s opera, “Don Pasquale.” It is set in Rome and is a lovely, romantic little opera, with no stabbings, no dead bodies lying about as one often gets in other operas, such as ones by Verdi or Bizet. The music is glorious.

I’d love to see “Don Pasquale” again. The Australian performers were undoubtedly world class. It’s one of the best operas we’ve seen for some time. Donizetti wrote it in 1843, only a few short years before his death in 1848, at age 51.

To make it even better, George, who bought the tickets, went for really good seats. We were upstairs and in the front row, so I didn’t have someone’s head in front of me. It’s an amazing fact: almost invariably, whenever I sit in seats where there are people in front of me, the man (or woman) who happens to be the tallest, with the  biggest head in the whole building, will sit directly in front of me. If it’s a woman, she’ll be tall, with her hair in a high bun. I have to peer around them all the time, dodging either side, depending on what bit they lean left of right to see.

I’ve taken to feeding a carrot and/or apple daily to the horse in the paddock next to the manse paddock, whose name is Rommel, or Rommie for short. He’s a beautiful chestnut. I saw him galloping around the manse paddock the other day, (the gate was open) with the owner in hot pursuit. She must have bribed him somehow, for later I saw him back in his own paddock. I mean, he’s a retired racehorse, so she’d never have caught him simply by running after him. He’d be cropping grass in Mudgee before she got to the top gate.

Later, I walked to the bottom of the manse paddock, where in the next paddock I could see some cattle grazing. They were so beautiful, as they gazed at me curiously with their soft, liquid brown eyes. Looking into those eyes reminded me again of why I am a vegetarian.

Here's looking at you kid..
Here’s looking at you kid..

Tonkie is such a funny cat. He just walked over the keyboard (he’s fond of doing that), and as I mentioned in my latest book The Ness Fireside Book of God Ghosts Ghouls and other true stories, he frequently head-butts my hand, just when I have a screen-full of type. Almost invariably he knocks my hand up to ‘delete’ and before my very eyes, the lot vanishes. He has a gift, that cat. He is also very mischievous, and has an irritating habit of nipping Jock’s toes when Jock is lying, sleeping. It is so deliberately ‘naughty’ that I’m convulsed by laughter, watching it, for Jock gets annoyed, and it’s on for young and old – but never nastily. They spar about for a while until Tonkie stalks off, satisfied that he has caused more disruption to Jock’s normally peaceful life.

Jock really loves it here. He is popular with the congregation, and joins us for morning tea, where he is suitably spoiled with tidbits. He’s a wonderful manse dog, for he loves everyone. He also loves the freedom afforded by the acres of land around the manse. He loves to play with Beau, the dog next door, and they run and run. It is so funny, watching Jock’s interaction with the many rabbits. They see him, and run. Jock chases them. They stop and look at him. Jock stops and looks at them. They run. Jock follows, but never tries to catch them. They are getting quite cheeky, knowing that not far away is the safety of the ‘bramble bushes’ that once saved brer rabbit from brer fox.

Jock loves the country air
Jock loves the country air










Oh well, time is getting on, and I have a busy day tomorrow, with some visiting around the parish. It is now approaching ‘the witching hour’ as it was once called, of midnight.

Angels guard thee…” as the lovely old song by Benjamin Godard  has it. (“Ah! wake not yet from thy repose“).  Good night, good night.


View across the valley from the manse
View across the valley from the manse


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“Winter’s Hoary Breath”

Saturday, 20 July in the year of grace, 2013            

As  I write on this chilly morning, I am sitting in the study of the Presbyterian manse at Bowenfels, NSW, which is in the mountains west of Katoomba and on the edge of Lithgow. I think I read somewhere that it is about 900 metres above sea level, which must be close to 3000ft in the old scale of things, and the temperature to date reflects it.

Not far from my feet is the ever-faithful Jock, while in the sunniest part of the room is, of course, Tonkie. (Where else would any sensible cat be?). Janet popped in a short time ago, holding two shampoo bottles. I vaguely heard the words, ‘red’ and ‘blue’ so thought I’d better check on what she’d said. It’s too easy for us men to get into trouble by failing to remember what we’d been told a short time previously, so age and caution serve me well – when I remember to apply them. It turned out she’d held up the bottles for my inspection, explained what was in them and said, “The one with the red writing is the shampoo, and the one with the green writing is the conditioner.” Janet has amazing amounts of patience when dealing with her vague hubby, and of course rearing our five children helped develop it.

The domestic scene here is one that is probably being repeated in various ways right around the country at this time of the day, but it’s a bit unusual for us, because we are now some hundreds of kilometres from Puddleby on Sea, our home at Lake Macquarie. I’m up here for six weeks’ locum work, while some members of our family are holidaying at Puddleby. The Bowenfels minister has sensibly lit out for a few weeks’ holiday and is off to Queensland’s sunny warmth.  We’ve been coming up here each winter now for some years, and stay in the manse. The Presbyterian Church Bowenfels is on the register as an historic church. It was built in 1842 and is much the same now as it was then. You’ll see the sign on the Great Western Highway as you approach Bowenfels, advising you that it is there. Behind the church is a lovely, fairly modern hall. The church is so hard to keep warm in winter that the congregation holds its Sunday services in the hall, which is cosy, warm and well-heated, during the winter months.

Behind the hall is the manse – quite modern, and made for the winters. It’s a lovely home, and sits on three beautiful acres, with lots of trees. Beyond the bottom fence is the bush. Blackberry thickets are sprinkled through it, populated by cautious rabbits who have burrows tunnelled into the blackberry bushes’ prickly safety. Gloriously plumed mountain lorikeets, magpies and other bird species add to the beauty of this place. The air is fresh and keen.. sometimes TOO fresh, TOO keen in mid-winter, but it’s as pure as one could get. There’s not an ounce of anything in it but pure air.

Flowers surviving the Bowenfel frost
Flowers surviving the Bowenfel frost









We arrived a few days ago and were welcomed as old friends by the marvellous people who live up here. Their warmth and kindliness are beyond  measure. They’d thought of everything. That warm hospitality is not just for us – it’s for everyone whom they meet. The congregation is a congregation of friends. Each Friday evening a few members go to the Lithgow bowling club for dinner, and while here we always go with them, where there is always a great deal of chatter, laughter and tall tales. Norm the session clerk is so funny. He told us that a few days ago a visiting lady was looking at some large holes in one area of the church grounds that were dug by a post hole digger. Trees are to be planted in them eventually – some big ones, including at least one Wollemi pine. “What are those large holes for?” the lady asked. Norm’s reply: “They’re rabbit burrows. You wouldn’t believe the size of the rabbits around here!” “Really?” replied the lady, looking astonished, before noting the twinkle in Norm’s eye. Yes, the old bush yarns are alive and well around these parts. Norm spent the first few years of his life in Northern NSW, working on a banana farm, and told us that his job was to put the bends in the ends of the bananas, to make sure they’d fit into the boxes, which are always made a trifle short. Of course we believed him!

Jock searching for giant rabbits.
Jock searching for giant rabbits.


Much as we miss Puddleby, we also love being here among the people of Bowenfels and Lithgow; a district where people actually know one another and who belong in a definable community, with a strong community spirit. Most country towns are like that.

Oh well, I’d better leave now and start thinking about tomorrow, Sunday, and the two services; one at Wallerawang and the other here at Bowenfels. The weather forecast for tomorrow is a bit daunting, I’ve been told: 3 degrees maximum, snow at Orange and possibly around here. It’s snowed each year we’ve been here. As I was thinking of that a few minutes ago, a lovely little poem by Samuel Longfellow (1819-92), the great American poet, popped into my head. It’s been set to a hymn tune and is in the old Presbyterian hymn book.

The final verse goes:

O God! Who gives the winter’s cold                                                                               

As well as summer’s joyous rays,                                                                                  

 Us warmly in Thy love enfold,                                                                                         

And keep us  through life’s wintry days. 

PS:  Janet just asked to read what I’d written. She’s often good at picking up the odd typo etc before I submit it. As she read, I heard a giggle.

What? I asked.

She gave me “the look”:

“I said ‘red and blue’ writing, not ‘red and green writing’” she told me.

The historic Church of St. John the Evangelist is the home of the Wallerawang Presbyterian congregation.
The historic Church of St. John the Evangelist is the home of the Wallerawang Presbyterian congregation.