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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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“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.