Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Grey Nomads - it's a phenomenon!

You can find them in all the farflung corners of Australia.

Outback Queensland

They gather at rest stops, have a cuppa, have a chat.

Their accommodation varies, from battered buses to luxurious motor-homes, 
(though the majority seem to have a nice caravan of around 22', pulled by a 4WD.)
I think those two on the left  - tents on top of cars - are maybe for when they camp in crocodile country.
Imagine needing to descend a ladder if you want to go to the toilet in the night!
They wander tiny towns, go on tours, spend their money.  They sit in the shade and read books.  No town too small to be visited, no road too remote to be travelled.
Their numbers are increasing every year.  That has been obvious from observation, just now confirmed with something in a newspaper - that in NSW, Australia, there was an increase of 11%  in domestic visitors to commercial caravan parks and camping grounds. That was in just one year, the financial year ending June 2013.
I suspect that Queensland would show an even bigger increase, as so many in the southern states go north for the winter months.
What sort of people are they?  Well, grey-haired to begin with (though a minority might dye their hair)  aged usually from around 60 to 75.  They are retired, after a productive life of work. They are respectable, middle-class people, as these are the ones who have made enough money to indulge themselves somewhat in retirement.  They are not the super-rich, who are probably  more apt to go overseas for their holidays, but the ones who are comfortable. They are price-sensitive, alert and resentful when they are over-charged. They are law-abiding, as crooks either spend most of their life in and out of prison, or do well enough to make themselves really wealthy.
For caravan park owners, they are the best clients,  quiet and trouble-free.  They don't leave a mess, they do not disturb other clients, and they are generally cheerful and sociable.  
For many a small town, they are life-savers. Provide a decent caravan park, maybe a nice pub or club to have a meal, and they will come.  They do talk though, and towns that have been wrecked by crime problems are by-passed. So keep the town's kids under control if you want to share in the hundred dollars or so each pair of nomads (they mostly come in pairs)  will leave in your town each day. (Fuel, caravan park fees, maybe an entry fee, a meal, a book, occasionally a souvenir or even a haircut.)   
They are a cheerful bunch, not dwelling on the inevitability of failing health and fitness (and death, of course)  but saying to each other things like:  'Every day above ground is a good one,' and 'Do what you can while you can.'
On their vans, quite often, they have added slogans -
Hippy Happy Shake,
Adventure Before Dementia, 
On the Road Again,
A Wheely Good Suitcase,
2 Wherever,
Self 'n' Dull Gent,
Dun Workin' 
and the one I liked best:  'Don't tell the kids you saw us.'
These are the Grey Nomads, their numbers being swelled every day as Baby Boomers retire and use their nest eggs to set themselves up and take to the road. I suspect it is not just an Australian phenomenon, but few other countries have the wide open spaces best for this sort of a life-style.

Early morning in a bush caravan park

And crafts.  The men don't seem to indulge in crafts, (unless you count fishing)  but most of the women have something, from embroidery to quilt-making. 
For myself, I write books.  
These are my newest releases:




I'm always very pleased when people enjoy my books.  The Shuki series has garnered some excellent reviews, but the Penwinnard Stories are lighter and more popular with those who prefer a less intense read.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

THE most impressive monument.

There are monuments all over the world, to this and that, statues, buildings, 'installations.'  And yet the one that has impressed me most is in a small town in Outback Queensland -  Barcaldine.
It is rather pompously called 'The Tree of Knowledge.  It is built around a dead tree, a particularly significant tree.


It is when you are underneath and looking up that this creation takes your breath away.  The contrasts of the projecting pieces of wood,  the sunlight shining through, and above all, the gentle and musical clinking of the pieces of timber as they move in the breeze.  It is like being in the middle of an enormous set of wind chimes.

The history it commemorates: 

In 1891, Queensland's shearers fought the pastoralists for better working conditions and for the right to exclude non-unionised shearers from the sheds. The pastoralists preferred to hire whom they chose. There was a strike that became widespread and was influential in the beginnings of the Australian Labor Party.  (The ALP is now one of the two main political parties in Australia.)

 Meetings were held under a large Ghost Gum, and this tree came to symbolise the significance of this beginning.  In 2006, the tree died. The monument was built around what remained. Funding was from several sources, including rate-payers, some of whom still complain.  But the 'Tree of Knowledge' brings visitors, and it really is very impressive.  It was opened in 2009.

Some of the strikers served prison sentences,  though there was probably more involved than just a refusal to work in a shearing shed.

I didn't see the monument at night.  It is supposed to be even better.
The memorial won a National Commendation for Public Architecture at the 2010 National Architecture Awards.  (from Wikipaedia)


The newest of my books is called 'Trevanian's Leap.' Release date was 14th September, 2013. 

In many cultures and throughout history, there have been manhood rituals. For the boys of Penwinnard Boys' Home, it is 'Trevanian's Leap' - the jump off a high point on the cliff into a deep rock pool below. Taking the Leap is foolish, dangerous, and strictly forbidden. But sixteen-year-old Frank Ryan wants to do it anyway. He is facing changes - a new home, a new school, and he will lose the friends he'd made at Penwinnard. He needs to be brave, and proving he can do this dangerous thing - maybe that will help him be brave.

Buy from Amazon or from Smashwords. 
It will soon be available for other online booksellers as well. 

Penwinnard 3 is now available.

Trevanian's Leap is the third Penwinnard story.  It is now available as a paperback or as an ebook. 

Paperback from Amazon:
   or ebook from Amazon:
            or from Smashwords.

Frank Ryan was coming to the end of his time at Penwinnard. He felt himself so much more grown up now than the scared kid he’d been when his mother had been sentenced to a prison term. But now there was more change coming – a new place to live, a new school, and he’d lose the friends he’d made at Penwinnard - Bob and Dallas, but especially Greg. He’d never really had friends before.

He shouldn’t be frightened. He was so much more grown up now...

Here is the first chapter as a preview. 
You will enjoy Frank.  He is very human.  Not a hero, just a boy growing up.   

Copyright 2013 by M. A. McRae.

 Chapter 1

Frank Ryan stood at the top of a cliff and regarded a still pool below. Around it, the waves swirled and beat against the rocks, but that particular pool showed only slight ripples from the strong wind that plucked at the surface of the water. His best friend went cautiously closer to the cliff edge and said, “Don’t be so bloody silly. You’d be a fool to jump into that from here!”

Frank said, “I’ll be going to live with my mother just as soon as she has a place fixed up. If I’m going to do it, I’ll have to do it soon.”

“Well, there’s no way I’d be doing it!”

“Pete says everyone does it. Otherwise they’re just chicken.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to be chicken,” Greg said, and he turned and walked off.

Greg was small for his age, fourteen, but Frank had just turned sixteen and was much taller and more solid. He’d been quite fat when he first arrived at the Boys’ Home, but while he hadn’t lost weight, he’d grown nearly three inches since then, and no longer appeared fat. He was also far fitter. In his other life, before his mum had gone to prison, he’d fancied himself as a ‘Gamer.’ But here, there were only a few computer games, all as old as the hills, and besides, the boss was apt to chase boys outside if he thought they’d been there too long. These days, he tried to copy his room-mate, Bob, who liked to take long runs in the mornings whenever it wasn’t too cold or too wet.

Frank seldom ran, but his walks had been getting longer and more brisk, and he no longer thought of the three miles from the boys’ home  to the village of Ryalston as a tedious trudge. Boys fifteen and over were allowed to go alone into Ryalston when they chose, though not the younger ones. Not that it stopped Bob, who was only in fourth year and went there quite often, even after dark. He couldn’t tell on him, of course. Winnards never tattled, and he was a winnard – a falcon. They lived at Penwinnard which meant place of the falcons, and so they were winnards.

It had been a very wet winter, but now it was May, the sun shone more often than not, and the sea sparkled blue instead of a leaden grey that had sometimes appeared ominous, especially when he’d first arrived, scared to death and fully expecting to be beaten up every day.

He stayed staring at the pool a while longer, before suddenly shivering and turning for home.

That evening, once he and his room-mate were in bed, he said, “Bob, you know Trevanian’s Point?”

Bob glanced over at him, “You’re not thinking of jumping, are you?”

“Why not? I’m big enough and I’m strong enough.”

Bob was up on an elbow, staring at him, before shaking his head. “It’s dangerous. Why would you want to?”

Frank lay on his back, hands behind his head. Why did he want to?

After five minutes silence, Bob asked, “You taking anyone with you to see your mum?”

“It’s just me and Mrs. Dawes. Two nights, and I stay with an aunt, and Mrs. Dawes somewhere else, she didn’t say.”

“I guess no-one else would be allowed the time off school anyway.”

“I’ll be going straight into an ordinary class at the new school. And no-one will ever know I was in Special Ed.”

“It’s helped, though, hasn’t it?”

“A lot. And I overheard Mrs. Bettison talking to another teacher – she said that some teachers just didn’t know how to teach reading and it was inevitable that some would miss out.”

“Was that what happened?

“Dunno. I sort of gave up. The rest of them seemed to catch on okay.”

“You told me that Mrs. Bettison taught it differently.”

“Sounding a word out, stuff like that. The other one, she just put words all over the room, gave us lots of books and writing to look at, and we were supposed to work it out for ourselves.”

“Maybe with some of the other ones, their mothers helped them or something like that. It’s a bit tough to have to crack the code all by yourself.”

Frank laughed, “Crack the code! It is a bit like that. So anyway, she says my reading age is exactly what it should be, and that I’m perfectly bright, and these last several weeks, she’s been checking the Year 5 curriculum and trying to make sure I get what all the others get.”

“Rosie still being a problem?”

Frank made a face. “I know it’s not her fault that she’s like that, but being backed into a corner so she can show me her boobs... I don’t want to – not with her.”

Bob sat up, “She that bad?”

“Yeah. She’s going to get herself in trouble, I reckon.”

“I wonder if we should tell someone. I reckon there are plenty of bastards who’d take advantage of her.”

“You think? Looking the way she does?” Rosalie had Downs Syndrome, her looks typical of those with the defective gene.

“A lot of men are bastards. We’ll go and see the boss tomorrow. Maybe he can check she’s on birth control or something.”

Frank said vehemently, “No way. And anyway, what could the boss do? He has nothing to do with it.”

“We could be blamed if she does get pregnant. And anyway, she’s a nice girl. She was nice to me when I first came.”

After school the following day, Frank was again at Trevanian’s Point, looking down into the centre of stillness in the midst of swirling waves. He was not alone, Greg was with him as usual, plus a couple of others of similar age, Leon and Dallas. Leon said suddenly, “Well, if you do it, I will as well.”

Dallas said, “I always thought it a silly thing to do. It’s what Bob says as well.” Bob had a high status among the boys – what he said, mattered.

Frank said, “The water’s still too cold for swimming. And Pete told me we should check the depth first in case it’s not as deep as it used to be.”

“It looks deep enough,” Leon said. “It’s quite still today.”

“I reckon I’ll check it first. I’m not stupid.”

“Nor me. We’ll both check it.”

“Tomorrow maybe. It’s Saturday tomorrow. Better to have a look at low tide.”

The sea was a part of life at Penwinnard Boys’ Home. The sound of the sea was a background to their comings and goings, the obvious place to take the dogs for a romp, and in summer, the place to swim. The manager, Ian MacKender, didn’t try to limit their access to the beach, only tried to ensure that new boys were warned of the dangers, and kept his fingers crossed that they’d be sensible. He had not yet lost a boy to drowning and hoped he never would.

He was in his office as he always was at this time. Every weekday, half past four in the afternoon. It was the nominated time when the boys could come and see him if they wanted, and it was the time when he went through some of the paperwork. He had a file open on his desk. There was to be a new boy, James Hancock, just turned fourteen. He could share with Greg. At one time, he would have asked Dallas to go in with him – Dallas was always nice to the new boys, but Dallas and Leon had struck up such a friendship that he was reluctant to separate them. So Room No. 5, Greg Wayne and James Hancock. And that would be twenty-four boys and he had a full house again.

There was a quiet knock on the open door, and Bob asked, “Mr. MacKender?”

Ian put the file away in the drawer before he invited the boy to enter. Bob Kelly. Bob was a bright boy, but not only did he have a history of abuse, but his life would be at risk if certain people knew he was alive. He was not allowed on excursions, not even to Falmouth, which was quite close. His looks were too distinctive, very black hair, dark blue eyes, and undeniably good-looking. He was in the custom of wearing a hoodie. He liked to pull the hood close around his face.

Bob asked, “Still no photos of me on the net?”

“Gerard would have told me if he’d found any. He says that Lachlan hasn’t touched his facebook account since he left here.” Gerard worked for Witness Protection.

“They still looking for him?” Lachlan had attacked Bob some weeks before. It was why Bob had been given a dog, now waiting obediently in the outer room. It had been a particularly nasty attack.

Ian said, “They say they’re looking for him. Is that what you came to ask?”

“Something different. You know Rosalie Simpkins? In the Special Ed class? I had to try and tactfully tell her that I couldn’t be her boyfriend. That was months ago, but now she fancies Frank.”

“Well, Frank will be leaving soon, so that should solve itself.”

“She’s become very pressing, embarrassingly so. If she pushes herself at some man and he takes advantage, she’ll wind up pregnant. I thought you should tell her mum and maybe she could fix it.”

Ian sat back. “I should tell her mum? Did you think just how embarrassing that would be for me? I’d be thrown out on my ear.”

Bob grinned, “I thought you might be quite accustomed to doing embarrassing things. And she’d probably take you as a professional who’s allowed to pry.”

Ian laughed, “Well, this job has had its awkward moments on occasion.”

“If she gets pregnant, they’ll blame it on one of us. Like that car that was stolen and the police were straightaway around here.”

“That was one of you.”

Bob laughed, “Maybe. But they couldn’t have known that.”

Ian scratched his head, wondering what he should do. He didn’t know girls as he did boys, and it was none of his business. He asked, “Just how pressing is she?”

“Showing off boobs, that sort of thing. And even if she’s not exactly pretty, it won’t stop some bastards.”


Bob stood up, “Well, I’ll leave it to you.”

Ian’s ‘Thank you’ had a distinctly ironic tone, but Bob just grinned and left him.

Ian was quite relieved when there was no-one else bringing any problems to him. He suspected that if Rosalie did fall pregnant, then certainly the finger was likely to be pointed at his boys. He felt there should be more allowances made for them. That car – that had been Sean Swan. Like many of his boys, he was from a home where crime was a way of life. But all the same, he hadn’t been in any real trouble for years. He suspected that this latest stupidity was because he was so annoyed that Bob had thrashed him in a fight. Not that he’d seen it, but there had been hints enough.

He spoke to his wife about it that evening. He was not one to stand aside and watch as events played out badly, not when it could be avoided.

Helen said, “So she’s retarded, wanting sex, and probably without the intelligence to look after herself as she needs to.”

“But it’s none of my business, not really.”

“At one time, they would have given girls like Rosalie a hysterectomy as a matter of routine – it solves the problem of possible pregnancies and stops the problems of menstruation. But they’re not allowed to do it these days.”

“I suppose I could have a word with Mrs. Bettison. I have to talk to her about the new boy anyway.”

“The new boy – has he missed much school?”

“About six months, but I gather that attendance was erratic before that. With any luck, he can go back into ordinary classes next school year. He still has his leg in a light cast, but only for a couple of weeks, I’m told. Dr. Tan will be getting his medical records.”

James Hancock, the prospective new boy, had had an operation to re-break and reposition a badly broken leg. There had been no treatment at the time of the break – his stepfather might have had to answer a few questions. It was a sad story, but Ian had seen worse. Dallas, for instance, had been nearly dead from starvation when he’d been rescued from his parents. Most of the Penwinnard boys had poor backgrounds, though a few were simply ordinary kids who’d lost their parents. Greg Wayne was like that, and Sidney Sneddon, who’d just turned twelve. It was time to get in touch with Ruth again. Ruth Grierson was the OFC, and it was she who referred enquiries from adoption agencies. There were always people wanting to adopt a baby or young child, but only a very few who were willing to think about a teenage boy. And for no reason at all that Ian could see, there never seemed to be anyone at all thinking about it when the weather was cold.


Saturday. It was low tide, and the usual restless swirl of the waters was subdued. Four boys picked their way across the rocks below Trevanian’s Point - Frank and Leon, Dallas, who was thoroughly disapproving, and Greg, who’d given up telling the others they were being stupid and was wondering if he should do it too.

The tradition of ‘Trevanian’s Leap’ had started about fifteen years before. It was like a declaration of manhood, but it was not nearly as universal as Frank had been told by Peter Powell. No-one had done it the previous summer, and only one the summer before that. And naturally, it was strictly forbidden. The staff wanted the dangerous tradition forgotten.

They arrived at the edge of the pool and Frank studied it. Leon said, “It’s deep all right.”

“Holy shit!” Greg said, “Look at the crab.”

“Christ, it’s got some pincers!”

The crab sidled itself under a ledge.

Frank took a breath. He wasn’t stupid and he didn’t plan on hurting himself. Gingerly, he edged down an incline, and then stepped down into the pool, stumbling when he misjudged the depth. It was so clear, and yet distances were deceptive. Cold though, and he shivered. It was too early in the season for swimming. Yet he continued, finding the deepest place and taking note. Quite a large area, and when he stretched as much as he could, he couldn’t feel the bottom.

Leon was beside him, but shivering violently. And then Dallas, and it was Dallas who took a deep breath and dived, pulling himself along the bottom, checking it. Dallas had been at Penwinnard since he was eleven. He was an excellent swimmer and knew the shoreline. He popped up again, and pointed, “It’s safe all around here, but see the rock where it sticks out? It’s much more shallow there.”

“I thought you didn’t want us to do it.”

“I don’t, but if you have to be so goddamned stupid, just take care not to jump into the wrong place.”

Frank looked around a while longer, and then returned to the shelving part, and stepped up and out. Leon asked, “Well?”

“I don’t know. It’s like Dallas says – stupid.”

“I guess.”

Stupid, but Frank was back again the following day, this time alone. He explored the deep pool thoroughly, looked at the rough rocks around, and decided if he did it, he’d go fully clothed. It would be some protection against rocks – it was not all nice sand on the bottom of that pool. And shoes, those old runners that were worn out anyway. They’d still be some protection. He’d jump clothed and wearing shoes.

Would he do it? He didn’t know.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Outback pics

Having recently done some travelling around the Australian Outback, I thought I'd share some pictures.


This is Kris, a model of the largest crocodile ever shot dead, over 28 feet long.  Though the model appears unbelievably big, it is made from actual measurements.  Kris is in Normanton, Northern Queensland.  I would like to know how many photos have been taken that show someone standing beside those enormous jaws.  

Near Cloncurry

This picnic shelter is near a rock formation near Cunnamurra.  There are some Aboriginal carvings in the rocks, so the Aboriginal Lands Claim was granted along with a generous grant to make a picnic shelter. 

Nearby were some Aboriginal rock carvings and paintings that really and truly appear genuine.
Note the colours.  This is the Outback.

Termite mounds


Monsters of the Outback:

Road-trains, some over 50 metres long.  The rule is that they have priority, so if you meet one on single-lane bitumen, you move right over into the dirt, slow right down or stop. The monster gets to keep the tar.

But the Outback is hot and dry and always, always, there is red dust.  It was nice to get back into more populated areas, and especially, to the beach.  Below is shown a picture of the beach at Yeppoon.  It is dawn. 

The Australian elections - democratic?

In Australia, we have preference voting. For the local member of the Lower House, it's quite straightforward - if your first preference doesn't win, the full value of your vote goes to your second preference.  If that one doesn't win, it goes to the next.  And so on.   I tend to feel that it would be better if votes passed on had a lesser value than first preference, and it would be definitely far better if voters would only think for themselves instead of slavishly following the 'how to vote' papers issued by each candidate as you head towards the voting booths.

In the Upper House, The Senate, the same principle applies, except that some time ago, there was a change.  Instead of voting for the candidates you wanted, usually up to around 20, (by imperfect memory,)  now you have a choice.  You can vote 'above the line',  which means just putting a '1' above the party of your choice, and nothing else. Then, when counted, the preferences are allocated as the party dictates. 

Or you can vote 'below the line.' If you vote below the line, you have to fill in every single number - 83 in the election just gone. The voting paper was over a metre long.  If you make a mistake, your vote is invalid.  Not surprisingly, nearly everyone votes above the line - 97% in this election. And very likely, quite a few of the remaining 3%  will be invalid, as numbering 1 to 83, while neither duplicating nor missing a number, takes some concentration.

My supposition is that this system is designed by the two major parties in order to discourage people from exercising their democratic right to vote for just exactly who they want.  I think it came in around the time of a new party that was enjoying a real groundswell of support - One Nation. It also makes voting for independent candidates difficult.

If this was what the major parties wanted, then the results of this Senate Election will make them think again. All sorts of oddball 'Parties'  sprang up, did preference deals with each other as well as the major parties, with the result that the new government will have to deal with a Senate that includes some who are totally unsuited for power.  One of our new Senators is likely to be a fun-loving chap who thinks it is funny to throw kangaroo dung and to pull down his mate's pants.  (If you're thinking of going into politics, do not share your juvenile behaviour on You Tube.) 

So what do we do to prevent oddities with hardly any first-preference votes coming into power?  It is simple.  Ban every candidate or party from issuing 'how-to-vote'  instructions, and drop this nonsense of  'above the line' or  'below the line' voting.  Simply number 1 - 20,  not every single candidate of a metre-long paper.

I would also like to see votes lose value as they are passed along from unsuccessful candidates.

And meantime, I hope the new government has fun dealing with their new Senators and the new 'Micro-Parties.' 

Now available


 Find my books on Smashwords,  on Amazon, or on other online retailers: