Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Signs of Life: Part 23

© 2013, 2017, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from trips to French-speaking Geneva, Switzerland; Washington State, US; and several other places.


I've seen this sign a number of times in French-speaking countries. Who knew that the rules forbad urinating outside the circle!


Some interesting names for musical groups.


Hmm; Hairdresser Antidote. Having a bad-hair day? Perhaps you need a hair antidote!


French for Between us, which made me think of the popular saying, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."


A snows sports equipment store; obviousy!

According to Wikipedia, doodah "is a placeholder name for an object, also doodad and doohickey." I know it as thingamajig.


An authentic Italian restaurant and wine bar in the heart of Geneva. The French translates to "a mouth a throat" while the Italian translates to "a bite a sip."

Perhaps the wine bar was where da Vinci got his inspiration for the Mona Lisa!

The M, that is almost inside a circle, hints at da Vinci's drawing, Vitruvian Man.


The "Red Flamingo" is just the place to buy women's handbags and shoes.


Switzerland has three main languages. This sign is from the side of a train, and contains the abbreviations for the Swiss National Railways: SBB (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen) in German, CFF (Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses) in French, and FFS (Ferrovie federali svizzere) in Italian.


There I was thinking about having a salad, until I saw the price; Holy Toledo!

When I mentioned it to the waitress, she said that it was a misprint ($10.95 instead), but they liked it so much, they left it there to see who was actually reading the menu. And if anyone was willing to pay that much, well, that was OK too!


Toilet signs at a botanic garden.     

The stamen and carpel are the male and female "naughty bits," respectively, involved in flower reproduction.


This advice sounds all well and good in theory, but how would YOU react when faced with a mountain lion?


Come on now; admit it. You actually kissed a dog, didn't you?


"Pizza, panini, salads & breakfast items dispensed in an informal setting."

Personally, I'm leaning towards the pepperoni pizza!

And, YES, the letter i does look a bit like the leaning tower.


What caught my eye was the foundation date, 33 AD, one possible year of the crucification of Jesus of Nazareth.


The father sure seems to be holding the baby at arm's length! Can you say "stinky diaper?"


A sign on the outside wall of my hotel room block in Oxford, England. "A fitting place for Rex," you might be thinking.

In the heart of Oxford sit the remains of Oxford Castle next door to which is a veddy up-scale hotel, Malmaison Oxford, located in what was once "Her Majesty's Prison Oxford." In the main building, groups of four or five adjacent prison cells were combined to form each room/suite. The old stairwells and guard walkways have been preserved.


My Formative Years: Part 2

© 2015, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

This is the second part of a series of essays about my life on a 4,000-acre wheat and sheep farm in Australia and in several other places from 1961–1970, from age 7–16.

In Part 1, we covered the farm and its annual cereal-growing cycle; domestic animals and pets; wildlife, game, and hunting; personal vehicles; the fuel supply; utilities, appliances, and services; and radio, TV, and newspapers.

Thursday was Market Day

Back then, Loxton was served by three Stock and Station Agencies (US: farmers' cooperatives): Bennett and Fishers, Elders/Goldsborough Mort (later Elders GM, and now Elders), and Farmers Union (later Southern Farmers). From these, farmers could buy all their farm-related supplies for fencing, shearing, spraying, and so on. These three companies took it in turns to manage the regional livestock sale, which was held every Thursday.

When I was a kid, the sale yards were right in the town on the main road, next to the railway station. [In the late 1960's, new sale yards were built on the southeastern edge of town, right next to the railway line. There was plenty of space and things were quite organized. However, the new place never quite had the charisma of the old one. Sadly, that is all gone now, and the weekly market is no more.]

Although animals probably were shipped in/out by train in previous years, in my time, they were all transported by trucks and semitrailers (US: tractor-trailers), most of which came complete with at least one working sheep or cattle dog (usually kelpies or blue heelers, respectively). There were beef cattle yards and a circular auction place with tiered seats for the bidders. There were many sheep yards with flat planks along the top of some of the fences for the auctioneers to walk along from one pen to the next. There was also a shed with pigsties. Most weeks there were chickens and, sometimes, other birds in cages. Sundries included grain and bits of machinery. A group of women ran the "tuck shop," a small tin shed with a dirt floor and a front that opened up as a serving area. From there, they sold hot meat pies, pasties, and sausage rolls with and without tomato sauce (US: ketchup), cold drinks, and probably buns and tarts.

The weekly market in Loxton was one of the biggest in the region and attracted people from far and wide. Many farmers living more than 20 miles out of town came to town that day for the market, to buy groceries, and to have business and medical appointments. For a kid it was a huge event to witness the sights, sounds, and smells of the old sale yards.

[In 2005, I visited Australia and I spent a great afternoon with one of my oldest cousins, Gordon. Until that time, I probably hadn't seen him more than a few times in my life, and certainly none that I remembered. When Gordon and his older brother Headley lived in Adelaide, during the school holidays, their parents would send them up to our maternal grandparents in New Residence. (They were only about five and seven years old, respectively, and they rode on their own on the tram to the main train station in Adelaide, and then rode a train some three or more hours where they were put off at an unmanned station in the middle of nowhere, to be picked up.) Gordon told me a great story, which I'll pass along here. By that time, our Uncle Gary ran the farm on which Grandpa (and Grandma) lived, and each Thursday, they'd drive into Loxton for the market. On this particular occasion, they took a truckload of sheep to sell, and Headley and Gordon rode on the back with the sheep. Now apparently Grandpa could be quite animated when he talked, and he waved his hands around a lot. When it was time to auction off his and Uncle Gary's sheep, he was off to the side talking with some friends, waving his hands around, as usual. Well, the auctioneer took his gestures as bids, and, Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, Grandpa ended up buying his own sheep! And even worse, he had to pay commission to the auctioneers for the privilege! On the way back home, with said sheep loaded back on the truck, the window at the back of the truck cab was open, and the boys could hear clearly Uncle Gary yelling and swearing at Grandpa for being so "bloody stupid."]

Unrelated to Market Day was a special kind of sale, called a clearing sale. This happened when a farmer or share farmer retired or quit farming. This sale was held on the farm and usually involved the sale of farm machinery, supplies, and, sometimes, household goods and vehicles. It could even involve an auction of the land itself. The seller commissioned one of the Stock and Station Agencies to manage the whole thing for a percentage of the sale price. The seller usually provided an 18-gallon keg of beer, from which glasses were made available free of charge to the patrons. Often, some women's auxiliary group catered the food to raise money for their programs. [When Mum was retired, she and her sister Vera visited numerous clearing sales, not to buy anything, but just to have a look around at so-and-so's house and outbuildings, and to have a free beer and lunch.] These days, sales are much more formal with intending bidders having to register and get some sort of bidding card. And it's been a long while since a beer keg was provided.

The House

The house was large, built of local stone, and faced north. However, we never used the front entrance. Instead, the track coming in from the road ran behind the house to the garage and on to the outbuildings. So, we entered through a backdoor into a short passage. To the left was a narrow passage that led to the small bathroom, which had a wood-fired chip heater for making hot water. Before the bathroom was a doorway to the right that led to the large pantry where all the store-bought (an American term) and homemade things were stored.

To the right of the entrance passage was the doorway into the long, narrow kitchen. First came the kitchen table (we had no separate dining room). And as well as having regular chairs to sit on, on the long side back against the wall was a 3-person wooden bench that we called a form. The sink and some low cupboards were midway down on the right. Opposite the sink was a wood stove with hot-water storage tank on the right side. Once liquid gas in tanks became available, we had a gas stove mounted on a table to the left of the sink. This had two burners and a small oven and was connected to a large gas cylinder by a pipe that ran through a hole in the outside wall. The other door of the kitchen led to the verandah outside.

Going straight ahead in the back entrance, led one to the large lounge room, which contained a fireplace that we used each autumn (US: fall) and winter. On the left wall was a large, high sideboard, a nice piece of furniture in which Mum kept her good china and cutlery, and fine linen. On top on the left sat a set of Arthur Mee encyclopedias in a wooden stand that brother Ken had made in woodworking class at school. On the right top sat a Kreisler Radiogram (combined AM radio and record player). It was powered by a huge, rectangular 9-volt battery, and played records at a number of different speeds. We had some 45-rpm singles and 33-rpm albums. I don't recall we ever had any 78-rpm records or a player for such. Under the window stood Mum's Singer treadle sewing machine. In the left corner was a door that led to the bathroom.

Along the right wall of the lounge room was the door to the girls' bedroom. Sister Pat slept there and Dawn too when she visited us. For a term or so, soon after we arrived at Nadda, the Nadda schoolteacher boarded with us and shared Pat's room.

Running towards the front of the house from the lounge was a passage on the left of which was Mum and Dad's bedroom. My bedroom was on the right. Each of the three main bedrooms had a fireplace although we never used them as such. Each fireplace had a long mantelpiece. The one over the lounge room fire held Mum's chiming clock.

The ceilings were quite high, which helped keep the inside cool in summer. A verandah ran almost around three sides of the house and on its edge was the toilet, which had a flush system out to a septic tank. The toilet was a popular place for me to sit and read while Mum was waiting for me to come and dry the dishes. If I waited long enough, she'd either run out of room or patience, and she'd start drying them herself.

The roof was made of corrugated, galvanized-iron sheets. [When I've mentioned this to my American friends, they've often asked, "Isn't it noisy when it rains?" To which I reply, "We didn't get much of that in a 10-inch rainfall area, and when it did come, we were more than happy to hear it!"]

Facing the back entrance, two rooms had been added on to the right. Adjoining the kitchen, but only reachable from its own two outside doors was the laundry. This housed the washing machine, wash troughs, and hand-operated wringer. I remember a later-model washer had a kick-start motor like a small motorcycle. Hot water was boiled in a copper—a big copper tub that hung over a wood fire inside a cast-iron frame—in the back yard. Against one wall stood a very large, old clothes closet whose side panels had large rectangular holes cut in them. These were covered over with fly wire (US: wire screening), which allowed air to circulate freely in and out of the cupboard. This is where fresh and cured meat was hung; we called it a meat safe. Next to it, was a large, wooden table on which we cured hams and bacons for smoking, put meat through a grinder, and filled sausage into casings (made from cleaned animal intestines). On another table sat the separator, used to separate the cream from milk.

The final room was the older boys' bedroom where Brother Terry lived the five years I was there, and where Ken stayed when he came home. It had one door, to the backside of the house and I'm sure the room was quite a bit smaller than the one I had all to myself. I remember being in there with Terry when he had a crystal radio set. Then later, he had a small portable radio and eventually a small reel-to-reel tape recorder.

Whenever we had a house with a verandah, we always had a single bed out there where one could lie and read or sleep on a hot summer's night. I also slept out there some winter nights, wrapped up "as snug as a bug in a rug" with dog Ringa lying down near my feet. I recall that he was not at all fond of lightening or thunder, and when they occurred, he wanted to get in bed with me. I remember that some of our heavy blankets were really 180-pound wheat bags sewn inside cloth covers.

One fine day, I got it in my head to paint my name on the outside windowsill of my bedroom. [It must have seemed like a good idea at the time!] 30 years later, when I visited the farm on a trip back from the US, there it still was, "Rex J" in large, white letters!

The Outbuildings

A private dirt track came from the public dirt road, on the south side of the farmhouse. To the left was the back of the house, which we used as our main entrance. To the right was the stand-alone garage. Right next to that was the doghouse, and behind were the remains of an old mallee stump wood heap. Next up on the left was an overhead diesel tank and a ground-level petrol tank. Opposite and a bit further down was a long, stone implement shed with several walled bays and a galvanized-iron extension on the eastern end that covered the header (US: combine harvester).

Opposite the implement shed was a shed that housed bags and bins of grain for feeding domestic animals. On the south end of that was an open-fronted blacksmith shop. Although we didn't use it as such—there was no forge or bellows—that's where Dad kept most of his tools. It had a dirt floor. Beyond the grain shed was the duck pond and chook house (US: chicken coop) and large, fenced-in run. Opposite was a large stone water tank with surrounding horse trough. Another small shed was next to that, and that held stuff for the pigs, which were in large sties behind the tank.

After the implement shed, the road through the home yard forked with the left branch going to the shearing shed, and the right one going out towards an area of the farm called "Hollywood" for some unknown reason. (Located there was another wood-and-iron shed, set off the ground and insulated to keep mice out.) On the south end of the shearing shed was the cow barn with feed stalls.


We had limited refrigerator space and no freezer.

Back then, farmers were self-sufficient in every way. And being descended from German stock, the men in my family all learned how to kill and butcher animals and poultry. And as we always ran sheep, there was no shortage of lamb, or more probably, mutton. [I ate so much of it that, to this day, I am not fond of lamb or even the smell of it cooking!] Many times, I helped Dad kill and butcher a sheep; however, I never did get to do it myself. On the other hand, Ken started out butchering quite young and got very good at it. Terry learned too but didn't get too much practice before he left the farm.

We had a smokehouse, made from an old, galvanized rainwater tank. A door was cut into the side to allow one to climb inside, and a small hole was cut into one side next to the bottom. That hole was connected to an upside-down metal, sheep water trough that formed a sort-of tunnel that looked a bit like the entrance to an igloo. Near the open end of this tunnel, we built a fire and fed it with sawdust, so it would smolder and generate a lot of smoke over a number of days. The smoke went along the tunnel and into the tank where hams, bacons, and sausage links were hanging on wooden racks. Prior to smoking, the hams and bacon had to be "cured" with a brine solution, and I often operated the hand pump used to inject that solution into the meat.

Mum often used an axe (US: ax) to cut the head off a chicken and scolded the chicken in boiling water to pluck it then dress it. When we needed a large number prepared, there was a production line: someone killed them, the next person dunked them in the open copper of boiling water just long enough but no longer, the next person plucked, the next one took out the innards keeping the choice bits, and finally, I singed off the pin feathers over a flame burning in a metal lid containing methylated spirits.

We had a large vegetable garden and quite a few fruit trees and grape vines. I remember helping Mum preserve (US: can) fruit and vegetables. As my hand was quite small, I could get it completely inside the tall glass jars. Later, when I got bigger, we both slid fruit halves down a ruler to put them in place. Mum made up a large supply of sugar water, which we used to top-up each jar before applying a thick rubber ring, metal lid, and metal clip. A dozen or so were then put into the Vacola preserving unit, which stood on the wood stove in the kitchen. We also made lots of jam, especially apricot.

In the case of vegetables, I recall helping Mum fill jars with sliced tomatoes. Oftentimes, she added in some sort of pasta tubes and pieces.

Like most good German stock, my family was right into dilled cucumbers and cauliflower pickles, neither of which I cared for. For that, we needed a supply of dill (which we got from somebody who grew it) and fresh grapevine leaves.

Whenever we had dairy cows, there was fresh milk twice a day. When we didn't, we made milk from powder that came in large tins. We only had cream when we were milking.

I vaguely recall turning the handle of a butter churn, but that was early on. We always had chicken eggs, and Mum kept the excess for up to six months in a cool, dry place by putting a layer of Keep-Egg preservative on each one. These eggs were only good for cooking/baking, not for frying and such.

As explained above, Thursday was Market Day, and that's when farmers went to town to do their shopping. We bought the following: salt, spices, sugar, flour (back then, Loxton had a big flour mill), tea, and coffee. Regarding coffee, unlike the US, Australia did not use ground coffee. Instead, until instant coffee was invented, we poured boiling water onto a teaspoon of coffee-and-chicory essence, which came from Bickford's and was in a tall, dark bottle. Tea was in 1-pound packets and was usually Red-Signal or Green-Signal, with an Indian brand name of Amgoorie. [A 100 or more of these packets were packed into a tea chest, a thin plywood cube that was much sought after for all sorts of uses, including storing clothes away from silverfish.]

Our bread came on the train several times a week; I don't recall Mum ever making any at home, although she made plenty of cakes and biscuits (US: cookies).

Like all rural residents, we shopped at our local store, where we kept an account that was paid at the end of each month. [There are almost none of those country stores left now in the Riverland area.]

The Town of Nadda

Calling Nadda a town is being generous. Although a township had been surveyed, when I lived in the area Nadda consisted of a combination general store and post office with a house attached, some outbuildings, the public Institute (hall, that is), in which school was held, two tennis courts, and a railway siding. [In much earlier times, there was an Australian Rules Football oval.]

The store-cum-post office was owned by the Zimmermann family, and the wife ran the manual telephone exchange.

Nadda had a tennis team in the Browns Well competition.

Although the railway siding was unmanned, a train with freight wagons, one or two passenger carriages, and guard's van (US: caboose), came through several times a week. Machinery and fertilizer were shipped in, and bags of grain were shipped out. A locked box was used to hold the mailbag that the postmistress put there for collection and recovery. Bread also came several times a week with unsliced "sandwich" and "hi-top" loaves roughly sewn into one or more 180-pound wheat bags. At one end of the rail yard stood a locked phone booth that train staff could use. The school was just across the road, and we boys hid our fags (Aussie slang for cigarettes) around the back of this booth. One year, the grain trains were so long and heavy that we put pennies (large coins Australia used before decimal currency came along in 1966) on the rail to see how thin and spread-out they'd get when 100–200 trucks of wheat had run over them.

The Town of Taplan

Before bulk handling of grain and silos (US: grain elevators) were introduced, Taplan had huge wheat stacks where many thousands of 180-lb (82 kg) bags were piled high. In the railway yard, there were several "ganger's" houses, which were occupied by railway workers from time to time.

Mr. and Mrs. Hammond owned the post office with a small shop. In 1965, I was in First Year at Loxton High School, but unlike the other local kids, and like Terry and Pat before me, I boarded in Loxton during the week and rode the bus in from Taplan on Monday mornings and back home on Friday nights. Sometime in that year, the main street in Taplan was paved and there was a lot of large gravel left lying along its edges, including right in front of the post office. Local identity, Gus Vogelsang, a friendly chap, was "deaf in one ear and couldn't hear out of the other." He drove an original Model T Ford, and he wore an old felt hat. As kids, we were dropped off the bus at the Post Office and we waited there to be picked up to go home. As Gus climbed up the steep steps to the Post Office front, one of us boys put some pieces of gravel on the top of his hat without his knowing. When he went inside, he always took off his hat for Mrs. Hammond, and the stones went flying on the floor. She'd get cross, but he always laughed it off.

Just east of the railway crossing, on Hampel's farm, there was a sheaf-tossing rig where competitors used to try and out-do each other by tossing a sheaf of wheat over a bar. Although I never saw it in action, I understood that much fun was had by all competing.

Bob and Dot Lindsay ran the rabbit-buying business and had a refrigerated chiller out back. In the later few years I lived at Nadda, I trapped rabbits on a regular basis, and Bob would come by before I went to school to buy what I'd caught. For a young boy, there was serious money to be made from rabbits. And from time-to-time, we'd go spotlighting, catching up to 100 pair a night. Bob's chiller was also the place to store an 18-gallon keg of beer until the evening of an after-football or 21st-birthday party.

[Taplan has its 100th anniversary in 2013.]

Church and Sunday School

My family attended St. John's Lutheran Church in Taplan, usually at 10 am on Sunday mornings. It was a nice stone building with pine trees shading the west-side parking area. At that time, each service saw 20–30 adults and children. Most weeks we had a lay reader; oftentimes it was Gus Zimmermann. [Gus was one of four bachelor-and-spinster siblings who lived together their whole lives. The two sisters taught Sunday School.] Sometimes, the lay reader was my brother Ken. Mum sometimes played the organ. Once a month, a Lutheran pastor conducted the service, usually with Holy Communion.

Back then, the Australian Lutheran Church was divided into two distinct groups: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA) and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (UELCA). Taplan was UELCA, and I well remember that each Sunday, the Nitschke family—who lived near the church—drove past it on their way to the ELCA church in the neighboring town of Nangari.

Early on, Sunday School was held in the church vestry. However, during my time there, the church bought a small, transportable building for use as Sunday-School rooms.

Each year, we had a Sunday-School picnic, and the ones I remember were held in the mallee scrub on Sunset Station through the border in the state of Victoria. We had footraces, egg-and-spoon races, three-legged races, sack races, a potato race, and other events. Winners, second place, and third place got a silver coin, probably a shilling, sixpence, and three pence, respectively.

Every Christmas, we performed in a Nativity Play, and all Sunday-School students received a book of fiction. [I still have several of mine.]

The Graue family went to that church, and the father, Elmore, drove what I recall being a Ford Customline car. In any event, what I remember about him is that he was the only person I ever saw that wore a car coat, a holdover from the days of early autos when the doors and windows didn't seal particularly well, and the dust came inside.

Taplan also has a cemetery. I don't recall ever having attended a burial there, but a number of my relatives are interred there, including my paternal grandparents.

[The Taplan church closed in late 2000, and was offered for sale.]

Sports and Social Activities

One of the places I went to often was the Taplan football oval. Ken was secretary for some years until he moved away. He and Terry both played.

A retired couple, Jack and Nita Hamdorf, lived opposite the entrance to the football oval, and on home-game days, Jack was the man in the suit at the entrance with his leather cash bag collecting the entrance fees. When I was 10 or 11, I served as boundary umpire, for which I received 5 shillings (50 cents), a game.

Taplan won the Browns Well League competition two consecutive years during which I lived in the area.

About once a month, after a home game, the club hosted a pasty supper and dance in the Taplan Institute. Kids were invited too, and it was in that era that at about age 10, I learned the Military Two-Step, the Evening Three-Step, the Progressive Barn Dance, and various waltzes. After every three or so dances, Floor-Speed (a commercially packaged kind of sawdust) was sprinkled on the dance floor and us kids pulled around a heavy sack to re-polish the surface. Ken was often the Master-of-Ceremonies (MC) and he even had a set of fancy dancing shoes, called pumps. I seem to recall that no alcohol was allowed within 100 yards of the hall, and that there was no shortage of beer bottles being passed around outside. At the end of the evening, there was a late-night supper (US: desert and hot drinks), the highlight of which I recall being cream puffs.

While the men played football on Saturday afternoons in winter, the women and girls played netball right next door.

Although Taplan had a tennis team in earlier days, it no longer existed in 1961.

Each year, the Taplan Strawberry Fete was held in the institute.

From time to time, a traveling show came to town. The one I remember was the Harold Raymond Concert. Harold was blind and played violin, and he sure could make that fiddle "talk."


Even though I was one of five children, I was five years younger than the next oldest, and for the most part, three of my siblings lived there not at all or only on occasion. As such, I really was like an only child. The nearest neighbors with a kid of my age lived about two miles away.

So, what did I do for fun? A popular activity for rural boys was bird nesting, which involved the climbing of trees and the taking and blowing of their eggs (removing the contents through a small hole by blowing) from bird's nests to make an egg collection. Sparrows were rife, and Dad encouraged me to destroy their nests at every opportunity. Many nests were at the top of stone walls of various implement sheds just beneath the corrugated-iron roofs. One summer's day, I put my hand in such a nest to remove any eggs when something strange touched me. Then out popped the head of a rather large snake that had somehow gotten up to there to eat the eggs. After that, it took me a while to get up the courage to put my hand back into that kind of nest. Magpies didn't take kindly to having their nests robbed, and they would often swoop down on the heads of anyone climbing up a tree to their nest. And their beaks were sharp. Other birds that had nests were crows, tomtits, and pigeons.

We had a large stone tank, which was surrounded by a wide, stone horse trough. In the summer, we could sort-of swim in the tank. One summer, I took swimming lessons in Loxton.

Terry had outgrown his Meccano construction set, so I inherited that, and I loved it. [I would have absolutely loved Lego if it had have existed back then!] As well as the usual metal struts and plates, it had a clockwork "engine." I also collected stamps and coins and listened to several kids' programs on the radio. I loved to read comics, mostly WWII Commando, The Phantom, and stuff from Disney. From time to time, I built a fort or a treehouse.

To earn some serious pocket money, I trapped rabbits, although I seemed to have a problem remembering exactly where I'd set all of them, so sometimes I came home one or two short. When I had traps set, I had to get up early and go around them, especially in summer, to make sure the rabbits didn't die of heat. On school days, this meant a very early start.

I also shot a .22 rifle at birds. At that time, we had an 11-shot Browning automatic that one loaded from the back of the stock up a long cavity.

One summer, before Ken was married, I stayed with him in his old caravan in Peebinga, burning brush and porcupine bushes on newly cleared ground where he share-farmed.

The Big Car Crash

It was 1962, and it was a Thursday, Market Day, and when I got home from school, I was on my own. No doubt, I had chores to do, but then it got dark, and still no one came. Quite some time later, a neighbor came to tell me that my parents had been in a car accident, and that I should go with him to his family's place nearby to stay the night. I did.

As it happened, Dad had driven the Ford Zephyr right up the back of someone's truck on the dirt road not far from the turn off to Nadda, a bit more than three miles from home. One corner of the truck's tray top came through the passenger-side of the windscreen and went into Mum's neck. The accident occurred more than 25 miles from the nearest town and ambulance service (in Loxton), and by the time someone got to a telephone and notified the police and ambulance, and they arrived on-site, Mum had lost a lot of blood.

Mum spent quite some weeks in Loxton hospital. A hole was bored through her wrist bone, and that arm was hung up via a metal piece through that hole, attached to a rail over her bed. She never was able to lift that arm very high again and was permanently disabled in other ways. It certainly was a tragic event. Many years later, she told me that Dad was driving drunk!

One or other young women lived with us to help Mum after she came home from the hospital.

At that time, we had an old pickup truck, which we used to drive to Loxton to visit Mum in hospital. One night as Dad and I were driving in, a wheel came off the truck and rolled off into the dark along the side of the road. Some of the bolts had sheared off the hub. I found the very-hot wheel off in the bushes. Somehow, we must have repaired things to limp into town, but I have no recollection of how.


While living at Nadda, I attended Primary School at Nadda then at Taplan. (See my essay from July 2020, "School Days: Part 1" for the details.) In my final year on the farm, I attended Loxton High School. (See my essay from July 2020, "School Days: Part 2" for the details.)


Stay tuned for Part 3, which covers my life in the village of Pata, and then on the outskirts of Loxton.

My Formative Years: Part 1

© 2015, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

After having worked in various laboring jobs, my father, Wally, decided to try his hand at dry-land farming. As such, he signed a 5-year agreement with a Dr. Lyons to share farm (US: share crop) Dr. Lyons' 4,000-acre farm at Nadda, on the southeast edge of the Riverland district of South Australia. We moved there around April/May 1961, when I was seven years old. My dad was 37, my mum (US: Mom), Esther, was 44, my oldest brother Ken (18) and sister Dawn (17) had long ago left home, my brother Terry was 14, and my sister Pat was 12.

Today, whenever I hear a local farmer here in Northern Virginia say their farm is 50, 75, or 100 acres, for example, I smile and say, "You call that a farm! Down Under, my dog was kept in a pen bigger than that!"

This is the first part of a series of essays about my life on that Australian farm and in several other places from 1961–1970, from age 7–16.

The Farm

The official name of the property was Border Park, and its eastern boundary was the state border (US: state line) between our state, South Australia, and Victoria. Across the border lay a very large (as in tens of thousands of acres) sheep property called Sunset Station. Between the two was a substantial fence that stood about six feet high, which was originally intended to be kangaroo- and emu-proof. [Today, that station is Murray-Sunset National Park.] Running from the west through the farm to the state border was the dog-proof fence (not to be confused with the Dingo Fence, which was much further north).

The farm was three miles from Nadda, eight miles from Taplan, and 30 miles from the county seat, Loxton, in the heart of the Murray Mallee. Most of the farm was in the southeastern corner of the local government area then known as the Loxton District Council. The rest was on the other side of the dog-proof fence, in Browns Well District Council. [Today, the former Councils (US: counties) of Loxton, Browns Well, and Waikerie have combined to become the Loxton and Waikerie District Council.]

Like all the other farms in the area, the business of the farm was to grow wheat and barley, and to raise sheep for wool and meat. The average annual rainfall was 10 inches (250 mm), which made it marginal country for cereal growing, and a lot of fertilizer was used. (See Goyder's Line.) On average, two out of each five years were droughts. There was no irrigation. However, we did have a public water supply (from Loxton's pumping station on the Murray River), so pipes ran to each paddock (US: field) to provide water to sheep troughs. [Significant parts of neighboring Browns Well Council relied on (sometimes salty) water pumped from the extensive artesian basin via windmills.]

Much of the farmland in the Council area had been cleared of mallee trees many years earlier, so was easily tilled by farm implements. [This was in contrast to parts of the neighboring Browns Well Council area, which were still being cleared by bulldozer and chain, and fire. Brother Ken's first-time share farming took place in Peebinga some 30 miles to the south in that Council area on land that was known as new ground, having just been cleared of mallee scrub.]

Most farms were about the same size as ours, and the distance between the houses on neighboring properties was usually one or two miles. In our case, we had two neighbors: a cousin, Margareta, and her husband Cliff and their young children, and the Cockshell family, who's youngest, Gary, was a year older than me.

The Annual Cereal-Growing Cycle

Each year, approximately 2,000 acres were planted in wheat and barley. To raise a crop, a farmer had to make multiple passes over the same land: till the soil at least once, sow the seed, spray with chemicals, and harvest. For 2,000 acres, that requires a lot of time and diesel fuel.

As mentioned earlier, the low rainfall and poor soil were not especially conducive to the growing of cereal crops. As a result, a significant amount of superphosphate fertilizer (or more simply, super) had to be applied. Prior to the availability of bulk handling equipment, this was all done by the manual handling of 187-pound bags that were delivered to Nadda by train from the state capital, 160 miles away.

Farmers kept seed from each harvest to use to plant the following year's crops. A South Australian entrepreneur, Alf Hannaford, developed a machine that pickled this seed grain in order to prepare it for seeding. This was done by machines mounted on trucks that moved from farm to farm around the state. The plant operator generally stayed overnight with the farmer.

Many kinds of weeds grew, especially turnip and saffron thistles, and if they weren't dealt with during the growing stage, they flowered and were mixed in with the grain during harvest. [If grain containing black saffron seeds was milled, the resulting flour would be substandard, thus reducing the grain's value.] Of course, weeds stole moisture from the crops.

More than a little crop was lost through pests, such as rabbits, birds, and in some years, mice. In some areas, farmers laid poisoned carrots to kill the rabbits. An extreme measure was the introduction of myxomatosis to the rabbit population, which resulted in their going blind and starving. Another source of damage was herds of emus wading through a crop, knocking it down.

Grain was harvested by a header (US: combine harvester) pulled behind a tractor, and, until the introduction of bulk handling, the grain was offloaded into 180-pound bags. The process of carrying such a bag on one's shoulder was known as lumping. Bags had to be sown shut by hand, and that was an art in itself, especially as each bag had to be rammed as full as possible. This was done with a bag needle, bag-sewing twine, and a tall, metal funnel rammer. [I remember Grandpa Jaeschke sewing bags for us one year.] To keep bags off the ground (where they might get damp) they were stood on top of logs, called dunnage. These bags were loaded into a truck using an elevator and were taken to the train station where they were offloaded for transportation to the state capital, Adelaide. Bags not loaded immediately on a train car were arranged into stacks inside mouse-proof walls and were often stacked 50 feet high! With the advent of bulk handling, each farmer had a bulk bin on the back of a truck, which was filled directly from the header using a belt-driven auger. When full, the truck was driven to the nearest silo (US: grain elevator) where it was dumped. Our nearest silo was at Meribah, some 7–8 miles away. Some farmers had field bins, large bulk bins on wheels that could be used for temporary storage in the field while another person drove the truck bulk bin to the silo.

It's important to know that there could be at least two droughts in each five-year period. This means that after spending all that money on fuel, fertilizer, and chemicals, the harvest might be less than the seed used to begin with, or even none at all. And unlike Europe and the US, Australia has no history of farm subsidies.

Back then, state and/or federal government agencies had a monopoly on the purchase of cereal grain. So much so, that it was illegal to sell most wheat and barley privately. Under this system, growers were paid a big part of the selling price at the time of sale and then smaller, partial payments over the following four years. This helped with planning and cash management across the drought years. [For better or worse, that system is long gone.]

Domestic Animals and Pets

At any time, we probably had 500–1,500 sheep, and these needed regular attention, especially in summer when blowflies would strike them by laying eggs in wet and manure-stained skin around their rear end. For this reason, lambs had their tails cut off quite short within days of birth. And apart from annual shearing for the wool, sheep were crutched, which involved clipping the wool from around their hindquarters. I remember helping with the shearing, sweeping up the fleeces from the floor, packing them into large bales, and filling and emptying yards of sheep using our sheep dog Ringa, a male Border Collie. The shearing stand was driven by a petrol (US: gasoline) engine that powered two stations, one per shearer. The farmer's wife delivered morning and afternoon tea to the shed, and everyone drank hot tea even in the hot weather! It was backbreaking work with a good shearer shearing 200 sheep per day at a rate of £10 (AU$20) per 100 sheep. The wool was sorted on a large table and then pressed in a bale using a mechanical ratchet with long metal handles. Finally, each bale had "Border Park" stenciled on one end. Each worker in the shed had access to one or more water bags, canvas bags with ceramic spouts, which kept the water cool. Unlike cereal grain, the sale of wool was not controlled by a government agency. Instead, it was handled by a number of Stock and Station Agents, of which the area had offices for three companies at that time.

Another sheep-related activity was treatment with chemicals to get rid of lice on their skin. Traditionally, this was done by running them through and down into a sheep dip, a deep channel filled with chemical-laced water through which they had to swim. This was known as dipping, and the sheep dogs were thrown in as well. Later, the same affect was achieved using spray guns mounted over, under, and around a pen of sheep.

At times, we had 4–8 cows that we milked by hand each morning and night. I only milked in the afternoons and, as my cow, Peggy, stood still anywhere without having to be tethered, I milked her out in the yard. I recall our having an engine-powered milking machine at some stage. Now after the morning milking, the cows were let out to graze all day in pasture, so each afternoon I had to fetch them with the dog. That often involved walking a couple of miles. Once the cows were milked, the cream had to be removed by a separator, a hand-turned machine made by Alfa-Laval that was very intricate. After each use it had to be completely broken down and sterilized, and that task took as least as long as the separating itself. We used the milk in the house and any excess was fed to the pigs. One way of earning money was to sell cream, and one could buy a stainless-steel cream can for that purposes. However, without refrigeration, this had to be kept in a cool place until the can was full and then taken to the railway station for shipment to an agent some 60 miles away.

We raised pigs, and as I got older, I got more involved in feeding them and cleaning their water troughs. I found them to be very intelligent animals and I enjoyed working with them.

Another chore I recall having was feeding the chooks (Aussie slang for hens) and collecting their eggs. From time to time, we raised new broods of chickens—which arrived on the train as day-olds in a cardboard box with air holes—under a heated device called a brooder. Like cream, eggs could be sent by train, for sale, and they were packed in large wooden crates with 30 to a layer. I also remember Mum delivering eggs to clients each time she went to Loxton. Hens that got behind in their laying duties finished up in the cooking pot.

Near the henhouse, there was a pen with a small cement-lined pond in which we sometimes kept ducks.

At various times, we had one or more farm cats, which lived in the outbuildings where they had to fend for themselves. Occasionally, we gave them a saucer of milk.

As I mentioned earlier, we had a sheep dog, Ringa, and he was my good friend.

Many people kept caged birds and we often had a budgie, short for budgerigar (US: parakeet).

Each time I've seen an episode of the popular TV series All Creatures Great and Small, I've been amused as how the farmers call in a vet for all kinds of domestic-animal situations. As best as I can recall, in all the years we had animals and birds, not once was calling in a vet or taking an animal to a vet ever considered an option. Farmers simply expected to care of their livestock themselves. In fact, I doubt there was even a vet in the whole county!

Wildlife, Game, and Hunting

The neighboring Sunset Station provided a great habitat for wildlife, and whenever these animals could get through or over the fence separating that property from ours, they did. After all, we had juicy cereal crops to eat! The two large kinds of animals that did this were kangaroos and emus.

As emus are diurnal, they are rarely seen out at night. Often, they moved in large groups and with their large size and very strong legs, they could knock down a large swath of cereal crop as they waded through a paddock. Of course, chasing them through a crop made the damage even worse. When we could get up close to them by chasing them in an open paddock in a ute, short for utility vehicle (US: coupe utility, such as the Chevrolet El Camino), we killed them with a 12-guage shotgun. Back home, we cut them up with an axe and fed them raw to the pigs, which loved them. However, due to the presence of parasites in and on the meat, we had to remove the bones and feathers from the pigsties within a few days.

While kangaroos were sometimes seen during the day, they seemed to be more common at night. Most years, rabbits were also plentiful, and I earned non-trivial pocket money by trapping them. Bob Lindsay ran the local rabbit chiller (a refrigerated room), and he'd come by early each morning I had traps set, to buy my rabbits. Occasionally, we saw a hare or a fox.

Hunting was done at night, from the back of a ute, with a spotlight powered from the ute's 12-volt battery. This was known as spotlighting. It was best done on nights without a moon. The idea was to drive around looking for kangaroos, hares, foxes, or rabbits. If a kangaroo was spotted and it sat still and it was no more than a hundred yards or so away, the ute was stopped and the shooter used a high-powered rifle. Oftentimes it was a .303 army-surplus gun that could be bought quite cheaply (for less cost than a box of bullets, actually). [In previous times, people used to have one of a number of breeds of hunting dogs, which chased down kangaroos.] Foxes were chased and shot with a shotgun, which required us to get quite close; likewise, for hares. In the case of rabbits, when they stopped, using a .22 rifle a shooter shot into the ground very near the rabbit's head, which deafened temporarily the rabbit while a runner ran in the dark and came in from the side to grab the rabbit and to wring its neck. By not shooting the rabbit directly there was no damage to the carcass, which was essential if it was to be eaten or sold. The rule was that once a shooter had shot, they never shot again unless the runner called them to do so. That way, the runner was not in danger of being shot (which could easily happen when a trigger-happy guest was invited to join the hunting party). I very much appreciated this rule, as I was most often the runner.

Chasing a fox or hare involved very quick changes of direction and driving fast in loops and circles. My Dad, who drove the ute, had the uncanny ability to know exactly where he was in the paddock even on the darkest night, as it was important to know where the fast-moving ute was in relation to fences and rabbit burrows.

When we killed kangaroos, we took them home and after cutting them up roughly with an axe, we cooked them in one or more oil drums around which was burned a fire of mallee-tree stumps. The pigs loved the resulting kangaroo soup/stew. Occasionally, we ate a kangaroo steak, which was fried in a pan along with bay leaves. [At that time, kangaroo meat was declared unfit for human consumption, and when hunted for sale, was used in pet food. Many years later, it was offered for sale to humans in butcher shops.]

Occasionally, we'd see a wedge-tail eagle, and even one of their nests. They had a huge wingspan and were capable of carrying off a newborn lamb, as were foxes. As such, the farmers in the local region formed the Border Fox Club to which they could each pay a certain amount for each 100 sheep they owned. Then when they killed an eagle or a fox, they presented the eagle's head and legs or the fox's scalp to the club's secretary/treasurer, who paid them a bounty.

From time to time, feral goats passed through the area, especially in the dense bush of Sunset Station.

There was no shortage of birds, the most common being crows, magpies, and galahs, the latter being a large pink and grey parrot. [Apparently, at one time, someone considered them rather stupid, and the term galah entered the vernacular in that context, as in, "He's a bloody galah!"] Because they could be taught to talk, it was not uncommon to find galahs as pets. Another, more beautiful, cockatoo was the Major Mitchell. Except in certain years (possibly wet ones), these were far less common.

I remember one year that we had a budgie plague. And although budgies sold in pet shops came in a variety of colors, these wild ones were always green and yellow.

Birds in the area nested in open or closed nests made in trees, or in the hollows of tree brunches and trunks. The Murray Magpie made an open mud nest on a tree branch, and it was not unusual to see emu feathers embedded in the mud. Birds from the kingfisher family lived in burrows, usually near bodies of water. One particular member of that family is the kookaburra, also known as the laughing jackass. [If you watch old movies set in the jungle, you will often hear kookaburra calls despite the fact that those birds don't live in such places. It just makes for an impressive noise.]

A rare bird was the Malleefowl, which made a nest on the ground and buried its eggs. I don't believe I ever saw such a bird in the wild, but I did see several nests, which had grown very large over many years of use.

Personal Vehicles

When we moved to the farm, we had a Ford Zephyr. However, that was destroyed in a car crash (as will be described later). I also remember a large pickup truck (perhaps a Dodge or Chevrolet).

As best as I can recall, after that we had a sedan, possibly a Holden FB. The reason I remember that car is one day Dad, Mum, and I drove it to Adelaide, where we were involved in an accident. I must have been sitting in the front either in the passenger seat or between Dad and Mum. I was taken by ambulance to the Adelaide Children's Hospital where I was treated for an obvious injury, a gashed mouth caused by glass from the broken windscreen (US: windshield). When the Doctor asked me if I hurt anywhere else, I just happened to mention that my right shoulder was a bit sore. Once they got my jumper (US: sweater) and shirt off they found a good-sized gash there where the rear-vision mirror stem had penetrated. So, they stitched up both wounds.

After one especially good harvest, one day, Dad came home with this enormous, light-blue, 4-door Chevrolet Bel Air, direct from America. It was one of only two in that area. I expect that he really couldn't afford it, but that was Dad being Dad. Immediately, that car had an unexpected impact. At the front of the garage sat the 32-volt home-generating plant, but as the new car was so long, it wouldn't fit into the shed. As a result, the generator was moved to the front garden into a shed that was erected for that purpose. [In recent years, my sister and I found that we both remembered the night we thought we were going to die in that car. It was the days of 6 o'clock closing for drinking at bars and clubs, with the wife and kids sitting outside in the car waiting for the husband to come out at 6 pm and go home. This night, Dad had met up with a former neighbor who asked Dad to bring his family home for the evening meal. As that was on our way home, Dad agreed. However, some hours later, the two men had a major disagreement (about what, I have no idea), and we left with Dad in a vile temper (which, unfortunately, was one of his trademarks). Of course, sensible people know not to drive when they are very angry and/or have been drinking, but drive we did. And not only did we go fast on the dirt roads all the way home, but once when I looked over the front seat, I saw the speedometer read 100 mph; I kid you not!]

After a year or so, my guess is that Dad couldn't keep up the payments, and he traded the Chevy in for a new, smaller, cheaper, maroon Holden HD hydromatic. It was one of the first models to have an automatic transmission. [In the early 1900s, Mr. Holden had a coach-building business, and when General Motors (GM) opened up operations in Australia, they bought out Mr. Holden's business, becoming General Motors Holden (GMH). They developed their first Australian model, the Holden FX, in 1948.]

When we moved to Nadda, brother Ken owned a Ford Prefect. That was his first car, and it was light brown. Then he bought one of the most popular cars GMH ever made, a 1964 Holden EH 179 sedan. A unique feature he purchased with it was that in the center of and on top of the dash, there was a (rather large) transistor radio that could be removed and used as a standalone portable that ran off its own batteries when disconnected from the car. It was in this car that I had my first driving lesson, and I remember well sitting on a pillow looking through the steering wheel over the dashboard as we drove on the main dirt road near the farm. It had a column-mounted, manual, 3-speed gearshift (US: stick shift) and I used only first and second gears. I must have been 11, which is about the age when big boys started operating equipment around the farm.

Brother Terry got his first car, a used, bluish Holden FB. He mostly drove into Loxton to work and to football practice. Then he bought a new 1965 Holden HD sedan. It was light green and had what we called wheel spats, semi-circular covers over the back wheels, which were "all the rage" back then.

The Fuel Supply

The farm tractors ran on diesel, which was stored in an overhead tank near the house and filled into tractors by gravity. We could also take 44-gallon drums (US: 55-gallon, as the US gallon is only 80% of an Imperial gallon) of it on the back of the ute out to where tractors were working and pump it by hand.

We also had a ground-level petrol tank with a hand pump. All car, truck, grain elevator, and shearing engines ran on that.

We used kerosene to run refrigerators and to help light wood fires.

The use of propane gas in cylinders was new, and, eventually, we used it for a small kitchen stove.

Although a great deal of land had been cleared many years earlier, there were still large heaps of mallee-tree stumps in the area, and these were cut by hand axe and used in wood stoves and lounge room fireplaces. [In the late 1990's, during a houseboat trip with my Mum and all my siblings, Mum told us that when Terry was young, he told her, "You only had me to chop wood!"] I put in my time chopping stumps.

Utilities, Appliances, and Services

As I mentioned earlier, we had mains water, which we referred to as river water. Most buildings in the state had, and still have, gutters and rainwater tanks. In my day, tanks were circular and made of galvanized iron. [These days, they are often green, plastic, and cube shaped.] It was common to have a leak or overflow at some point near the top of such tanks, and we had a passionfruit vine growing to take advantage of the drips. Some older farms (including my maternal grandparents') had cement-lined underground water tanks and an old-fashioned hand pump.

Rural electricity was produced on-site by a petrol engine that charged a series of batteries to provide 32-volt DC power. This was really only good enough for lighting although a few 32-volt appliances could be found. We got our first TV while at Nadda, and that was 240-volt AC. As such, we needed an inverter. While the batteries stored enough power for several days of lighting, the generator engine had to be running to watch TV. Instead of using a petrol motor, some people had what we called a free-light system, a 3-bladed propeller high up on a tower that was driven by the wind.

Rural electrification came to the area in the early 1960's, but property owners had to pay a significant amount per pole to have it routed across their property to the house and outbuildings. It did not come to our house. In any event, it magically worked on a single-wire system, and was 240 volts, 50HZ (unlike the US, which is 110 volts, 60HZ).

Each room in the house had a light bulb set in or hanging from the ceiling, and these were switched on and off via a pull-cord that hung just inside the entrance. As this was often not near the bed, enterprising lads like my brothers and me tied one or more old neckties to the end of the cord and over to our bedhead, so we could switch the light off and on while we were in bed.

For heat, we burned mallee-tree stumps in fireplaces or the kitchen stove. Stumps were also used to heat water for bathing. I remember one near disaster when Mum pumped fuel from a drum labeled "kerosene" into a glass bottle for use in the bathroom to start the chip heater fire. Unfortunately, the drum actually contained petrol, which is highly inflammable. Of course, when Mum poured some over the fire it exploded. She raised the alarm, and Dad, who just so happened to be nearby, came and knocked out the bathroom window and dragged through it a garden hose to put out the fire. One whole prefabricated wall of the bathroom was singed black.

I've already mentioned using kerosene-powered refrigerators.

We had telephone service via a large, walled-mounted, hand-cranked phone with hand-held earpiece and fixed mouthpiece. This connected us with the Nadda Post Office. It was a so-called manual exchange, whose hours of operation were weekday business hours. Outside those hours, you could try to place a call, and if the operator was there and you agreed to pay an opening fee, you could do so. The phone was powered by a pair of huge non-rechargeable batteries. Unlike some areas, we were not on a party line; that is, one on which other subscribers shared a single line and anyone on that line could listen in.

We collected our mail at the Nadda Post Office. I remember the introduction of Decimal Currency (1966-02-14). In preparation for that, the Post Mistress took delivery of some new decimal coins, and I got to look at them before they went into circulation.

Radio, TV, and Newspapers

Back then, a radio was actually called a wireless, because it was, well, wireless! We had several in the house, and one in the car. At that time, Australia only transmitted on the AM band. [FM was introduced around 1976.] Because of the remoteness of many of the country's people, the Federal Government provided rural coverage through a series of radio and television stations run by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The local ABC radio station was 5MV. The local, independent station was 5RM, which Mum couldn't stand (and incorrectly called it "Renmark" even though it was transmitted from Berri, not Renmark), as it played that modern stuff that really wasn't music, at least not in her humble opinion.

There was a small radio on the top of the kerosene refrigerator in the kitchen, and around lunchtime each weekday, Mum sat with a cuppa (cup of tea, that is) and listened to a 15-minute episode of "Blue Hills, by Gwen Meredith". There was also a radio play, "Pepper Young's Family" broadcast around the time of the evening meal. Late afternoon, 5MV had a radio show for kids that involved games, puzzles, and serialized stories one of which I recall was called "The Country of the Skull." There was also an early-morning program featuring "Curtis the Cat and Marmaduke the Mouse." One time, I entered a competition by sending in a letter, and lo and behold, I got a letter back—signed with cat and mouse paws—with some sort of a prize. I kept that letter for years! I recall that some nights, I'd lie in the dark in Terry's bedroom and we'd listen to an episode of the American radio play, "Randy Stone's Night Beat."

When TV first came to the area, it was in black and white, and there were three channels: 2, 7, and 9, and they were often quite snowy. After all, we were 150-odd miles from the transmission towers up on Mt. Lofty. Some years later, Channel 10 was added. For some odd reason, all TVs came with a channel 5A on their dial. [Some 20 years later, the ABC built a relay antenna just outside Loxton, and it transmitted on that very channel. Color television didn't start in Australia until the early 1970s, and it used the PAL system.]

Loxton was the only Riverland town to have its own newspaper, the Loxton News, and that came out weekly. The regional weekly was the Murray Pioneer, which is still operating and based out of Renmark. These came to us via the mail along with two agricultural publications, the Chronicle and the Stock and Station Journal.

[Unlike the US, Citizens Band (CB) radio came much later and was nowhere near as popular as in the US. In the 1980s, some people used VHF for on/near-farm communications.]


Stay tuned for Part 2, which covers market day, the farmhouse, the outbuildings, the food we ate, the local towns, church and Sunday school, sports and social activities, and the Big Car Crash.

Travel: Memories of Finland

© 1992, 2018 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[This diary was written by hand in a spiral notebook during the trip in 1992. Now, I've transcribed and edited it.]

I was on my way to St. Petersburg, Russia, to give a series of lectures, and my wife, Jenny, and my 8-year-old son, Scott, were with me. We spent time in Finland at the start of the trip and then again at the end. This was our first trip to either country.

[Diary] Neighbor Joe, drove us to Washington National Airport (DCA). We stood in line quite some time at a counter at the new Delta Airlines terminal, waiting for an international check-in agent. Two young Italians were behind us, and they had just completed a vacation out in the Wild West. They had purchased a brand new anvil and were taking it home to Milan as excess baggage! [When was the last time you saw anyone traveling with their own anvil?] We also met an American couple who had recently visited Australia.

We rode a Boeing 727 to the JFK airport in the greater New York City area. It was an uneventful flight, and on landing we went straight to the gate of our international flight, where we had an hour's wait. During that time, I watched all the planes coming and going. They included the following carriers: Aeroflot, Pakistan International, Swissair, Lufthansa, Air Lingus, El Al, Tower Air, Varig, British Airways, Iberia, KLM, Alitalia, Air France (including a Concorde), Lan Chile, Egypt Air, LTU International, LOT, Garuda, Ladeco, Austrian, Dominicana, Air India, Turkish, Mexicana, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, plus seven US-based airlines. It was quite a collection, and that's just the ones I could see in one hour. Many planes were Boeing 747s, with some Airbus and Boeing 767s as well. It was a colorful and impressive display. To demonstrate how JFK is at a major international crossroad, the airport map/guide stations were presented in nine languages, including Russian.

It was a hazy day, but from the terminal, way off in the distance we got a glimpse of Manhattan Island. Scott could just see the Statue of Liberty, and he quickly identified the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and the Empire State Building. We boarded Delta Airlines Flight DL042, an Airbus going non-stop to Helsinki, Finland. However, once we were all seated, a 1-hour delay was announced, as there was bad weather out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Once we were airborne, we flew northeast over Boston; the coast of Maine; Nova Scotia, Canada; just south of Iceland; and across Norway and Sweden. Not long after we boarded, dinner was served, and we had a choice of Filet Mignon or Coq au Vin. Scott and Jenny had the beef, while I had the chicken. I enjoyed the meal, except for the part where I got icing from my dessert all over my jacket! The menu was printed in English, Swedish, and Finnish. [Officially, Finland is bilingual with both Swedish and Finnish being taught. In Finnish, Finland is called "Suomi," and in Swedish, it's "Finland."]

At 7 pm, EDT, we were informed that as Finland's time-zone was seven hours ahead, perhaps we'd like to advance our clocks. We did, jumping to 2 am, Monday. How time flies when you are having fun! We all tried to sleep, but I got only an hour or so. C'est la vie!

[Diary] Out the window, I watched the sun come up not too long after it set, but, of course, it was summer, and we were flying at a northern latitude. Scott finally fell asleep and lay across my lap for a couple of hours. I studied my Finnish-language phrase book, but only a few words looked vaguely familiar given my exposure to German and Spanish. It was hard work, and I came away remembering only one word, Kiitos, which means "Thank you," a good phrase to know in any language. Then I got sidetracked in German—the book covered 14 different European languages—where I felt much more comfortable.

We landed at Helsinki Airport (HEL) about 9 am, local time, a little ahead of schedule. It was overcast with low clouds, and the countryside was damp from early-morning rain. My first sight of the country from the air was of forest. [Paper and lumber are big industries in Scandinavia.]

Soon after, the sun came out, and once we cashed a US$100 traveler's check, we headed for downtown Helsinki—Helsingfors in Swedish—in an airport bus. (Like everything else in Finland, the commission on that check was expensive, at 25 Markka (FIM), about $5!) The bus tickets for Jenny and me cost FIM19 each, while Scott rode for free. We got off at the main train station. A young Russian woman, originally from Moscow, but now living in New York, needed some help with her luggage, and being a Good Samaritan, I gave her a hand. I phoned several youth hostels until I found one that had a family room for two nights. Then, rather than trying to figure out the tram system, we took a taxi.

The Eurohostel was very nice. Our room on the 6th floor had three long, single beds, a table with chairs, shelves, and lots of lockable storage. Best of all, there was no curfew, so we could come and go at whatever hours we liked. Also, we got a room right away, for FIM210/night, about $50. Sheets and down covers were provided. Each floor had a kitchen area with hotplates, sink, microwave oven, and refrigerator. The fridge contained small, lockable compartments, one per room, which was a great idea. [Don't you just hate it when strangers steal your food!]

At 11:15 am, we all climbed into bed having set the alarm for 3 pm. However, it took a long time to get Scott awake when the alarm sounded. The hostel was only a kilometer from the house of a woman, Leena, who we'd be hosting a month later. [The American Host Program allowed English-speaking teachers and librarians from numerous countries in Europe to visit the US during the summer holidays and to stay 10 days with each of three host families. From 1988–2000, we hosted 12 times.] We'd corresponded some time earlier, and she was due to meet us later that evening.

Late afternoon, we strolled around the neighborhood, which had newly renovated apartment buildings. We were located right next to the cruise-ship terminal that serves the major Baltic Sea ports. We found a small supermarket and were surprised at how expensive many things were. For example, a not-too-large bag of potato chips (my essential food) cost $4! Back in our kitchen, we made chicken-and-vegetable soup, which we ate with bread rolls. We shared the kitchen with a large group of Latvians, who'd brought a lot of supplies with them on the ferry (probably because of the high local prices). They all seemed to have US$ bills, which apparently was the "real" currency in the emerging Baltic nations.

At 8:30 pm, the sun was still streaming in our room window at an angle of 30 degrees! All of a sudden, a hot-air balloon soared above the rooftops nearby, and Scott followed it with his binoculars.

At 9 o'clock, Leena arrived. She was a delightful woman who described herself as bohemian. [She spoke six or seven languages, including Latin!] Basically, she does what she wants, when she wants! I could see right away that she and I would get along just fine. We walked around downtown Helsinki for two hours, stopping at Café Engel for cups of hot chocolate and dessert. At 11 pm, it was still quite light out although the sun had set. We were back home and in bed soon after.

[Diary] I woke at 3:15 am, and couldn't get back to sleep, so I went to the bathroom where I could read without waking anyone else. Outside, it was already daylight. Scott woke around 5 o'clock, and Jenny at 5:30. So, we decided to have an early breakfast of sardines on rolls, yogurt, juice, and hot tea. Other guests started surfacing soon after. In the kitchen, I met a woman from Estonia (a ferry ride to the south); she spoke a little English. She was making some very strong coffee that looked more like mud! To stop water wastage, the showers automatically switched off after only 15 seconds, so one had to keep pressing a button. However, there was plenty of hot water.

We left the hostel around 7 am and walked along the waterfront. All the ferries were out at sea. We came across a large open-air market that had lots of flowers, vegetables, and fish. One booth also sold furs and reindeer pelts. As it was overcast and cold, and my ears were quite exposed, I bought a multi-colored "Made in Finland by local craftsman" hat. The women working at the stalls were very pleasant and happy to talk to us. We bought some sweet pastries, as well as some containing potatoes and onions. We sat down to have a snack and saw that it was only 8 am! The city was waking up and traffic was increasing, but the main shops were still closed. Nearby, we saw an enclosed yard for people to let their dogs run free.

At 8:30, we headed to the main railway station to exchange our travel vouchers for tickets on the new Finnish train to Russia. [Although Russian trains ran regularly and were much cheaper, we had it on good authority that they were not at all comfortable.] We also bought an 8-day Finn Rail pass that would start upon our return from Russia. As the cost of the pass was less than one round-trip ticket up north, it was very good value. By mid-morning, we were starting to fade, so we headed back to the hostel and slept soundly for 5½ hours!

Early evening, we walked to Leena's house where we met her mother, a delightful lady who was a retired English teacher. We had coffee and blueberry pie. When we left at 8 o'clock, the sun was still streaming inside the windows although it was quite cool outside. We walked around the neighborhood with Leena and came across a public rug-cleaning place. There were large wooden frames on which to drape rugs for beating out the dirt. There was also a large deck floating in the water with wooden tables for washing rugs. We watched several people hard at work. As we have wall-to-wall carpet back home, the idea of cleaning rugs was quite novel to us.

We ate a late supper at a German restaurant. We shared a Weiner schnitzel, veal cordon bleu, and vegetables, while Scott had a bowl of Hungarian goulash. We ate and talked for 90-odd minutes. Leena walked home with us and came up to see our room. We said "Good night" at 11:30 and were in bed by 11:45. The alarm was set for 4:45 am!

[We spent two weeks in Russia. See the September 2020 posting, "Travel: Memories of Russia."]

[Diary] Back in Finland, we got off the train at Riihimäki, the final station before Helsinki, where we waited for the 22:17 train that ran to Rovaniemi, at the end of the line, just south of the Arctic Circle. Except for a few short stops and one long one, it was straight through, arriving at 9 am the next morning.

After a night with little sleep, we were sitting up by 8 am. The countryside rolled past, but we couldn't see much for the dense forest on each side of the track. There were only a few low hills, and it was rather monotonous; flat, with trees, trees, and more trees, with an occasional lake and some houses.

We arrived in Rovaniemi at 9:20 am, about 15 minutes late. Rain clouds threatened. We left our big/heavy case at the station luggage office, and set off for the youth hostel a km away. Light rain fell as we walked. We got to the hostel at 10:05 to find it closed at 10 o'clock. (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) Fortunately, there was a bell, and a staff member let us in, got us registered, and gave us a key to the room and front door, so we could come and go at all hours. Once inside, we rested a while, unpacked, and headed out in light drizzle to explore the town.

On the first corner we found a bank, so we changed US$500 in travelers checks to Finnish markka. By this time, Scott was dreaming of a home-style breakfast, and we found a nice little restaurant nearby. As it was close to noon, we had brunch. Scott had a double-decker hamburger with extra ketchup; Jenny had lasagna, and I had strips of reindeer, mashed potato, and some kind of berry sauce. We finished off with tall glasses of milk.

We toured a supermarket and checked out the prices. Most things were quite expensive, but unlike in Russia, at least they were available! We finally found the tourist office and got a map and information from a nice young woman whose English was excellent.

The town is at the confluence of two large rivers, and we went to the bank of the main one. The water was flowing very fast and was very cold. The skies cleared a bit and the sun tried to shine through. Every so often, a delta-winged fighter jet flew over. Presumably there was an air force base nearby. We crossed the river on a very interesting, new bridge. Scott and I climbed on some rocks, and visited a nice, sandy beach. We also came across an 18-hole mini-golf course.

Afterwards, we sat in the sunshine at an outdoor mall eating pastries and drinking a liter of milk. We watched the locals until the dark clouds returned, at which time, we moved indoors. Right then, a folkdance presentation began, so we sat down to watch. There were singers, and players of violins, bass, cello, and clarinet. Almost all musicians were no older than 15, and the dancers probably around 9–11. They were of Czech descent and that was their theme. After 45 minutes, a Malaysian dance troupe performed. At a supermarket, we bought hot food as well as supplies for breakfast the next day.

We managed to stay awake until 8 pm. Unfortunately, the drapes didn't block much of the daylight!

[Diary] We all slept soundly until 8 am, and then ate cereal with peaches and milk. We then prepared to catch the 10:05 bus to Santa Claus Village. The trip was only 10 km, and took us right to the Arctic Circle. The bus left from the railway station. We were joined en-route by two elderly Australian women.

The weather alternated between sunshine and dark clouds, and was quite cold. Scott spent much of the day on the inside and outside playgrounds. We browsed in tourist shops for several hours, and saw lots of interesting things made from reindeer hide. There were also many knives of all shapes and sizes. One could even buy reindeer paté! Scott visited Santa in his house, and bought some Christmas tree ornaments. Santa said he received 500,00 letters each year from children in 150 countries! At a table, I made a picnic of bread, cheese, ham, and salami. We washed that down with cups of hot tea. Everything on sale was quite expensive with sweaters running US$100–400! And the beautiful leather coats were outrageously expensive. The best part of the leather store was the log cabin in which it was housed.

We rode the 4:30 bus back to town, and toured a bit. Then we bought hot food at the supermarket for supper: spaghetti for Scott, and ground beef with cabbage for Jenny and me. We finished off with a bottle of Pepsi we'd brought from Russia. [Click here to read about the rivalry between Coke and Pepsi, especially in the Soviet Union.]

[Diary] We were woken at 5:30 am by guests in the next room making noise. After I knocked loudly on their wall, things quietened down, and we slept some more. At 6:20, we checked out and walked to the train station. I managed to check the large case through to Helsinki where it would be stored until we got there some days later—at least we hoped so—as the luggage attendant spoke little English. Anyway, he sent it off somewhere, but the claim check he gave me said "Helsinki Station," which was encouraging. We boarded the 7-am train and spread out over four seats, two lots of two facing each other. We had brought our own breakfast, so I set up my kitchen. There was cereal with milk and peaches, ham, cheese, salami, and bread. Morning tea followed later with sandwiches and a banana.

At 9:30, we changed trains at Oulu, from where we raced south down the center of Finland through the lake district. While Jenny napped, Scott and I played the UNO card game in the café car. He and I shared a Finnish-made Texas-style pizza and a bottle of Coke, and talked about all the food from back home that we were missing!

The day passed rather quickly, and it rained a lot. Finally, the thick forests gave way to more open country and lakes, more people, and buildings. At 3:30, we transferred to a bus for the 2-hour ride to Savonlinna. In the process, we discovered that the train ticket did not include the bus portion! Although the bus was a luxury coach, we started out in the back row and got a little queasy from the motion, so we moved nearer to the front. We arrived in Savonlinna in light drizzle. Our guidebook said there was a tourist office at the train station, so we went there to find it had been closed; bugger!

Although the town had a population of 20,000 people, it was quite compact and walkable. Once we found the new location of the tourist office, we booked a room at a hotel/youth hostel a short walk away and right next to the town's main claim to fame, Olavinlinna Castle, built 500 years earlier for Sweden by a Danish knight. [We had no idea that we'd arrived in the middle of the town's busiest time of the year, so getting a room at all was surprising, let along one so central!] I located a supermarket and stocked up on supplies. The prices were very expensive!

The hostel had men's and women's dormitories with eight single beds in each. Scott and I shared with two young Frenchmen from Paris and two others from Dresden in the former East Germany. I got a little German workout. The kitchen was small, but adequate. All the staff and guests were very friendly. Our dorm had 15-foot ceilings with large windows and no drapes, so the room never ever got dark at night! In any event, our fellow guests were very considerate, and it was quiet during the night. After a walk around some islands and the castle, we went to bed around 10:30 pm.

[Diary] We were up at 8:30 am and joined other guests for breakfast. At 11:15, we left the hotel to find it was raining. We joined a 12-o'clock castle tour in English, and had the guide to ourselves. He had been to Adelaide, Australia. The castle courtyard had a permanent framework on which is suspended a roof that is removed in winter. Now, the annual opera festival was in full swing. (In August, there would be a big beer festival.) The castle was impressive, and was warmer now there was built-in heating. We ate our picnic lunch in an indoor café, and accompanied that with hot tea and pastries. The rain continued.

From the castle, we set off on a walking tour of several small islands with bridges, that led to some casinos. At a supermarket, we bought a few things for supper. Back home, we ate minestrone soup with potatoes, a jam roll, and tea. As I started food preparation, other guests arrived at the hostel. Troy was from Calgary, Canada; Gabriel was from Vienna, Austria; Margaret was from Townsville, Australia; Pam was from San Francisco, USA; and Mary Anne, an older Finnish woman (who according to her roommates, "snored something fierce"). There were two other young Finnish girls who kept to themselves. We all joined forces in meal preparation and sat together eating and talking from 6–10 pm. Everyone swapped travel stories and gave suggestions for what to do and where to go next. It was a great evening, just what hosteling is all about!

Scott made friends with two elderly Finnish women. And as there was a piano in the hotel dining room, and he told them he could play, they asked him for some entertainment. He obliged.

[Diary] I started getting breakfast at 8:30 am, and other guests joined me in the kitchen. Most of them were leaving that day. We paid for another night. Scott played piano for some guests, and generally entertained them with stories, games, and a puzzle.

At 10 am, we left for the marketplace, where we strolled among the stalls. We bought several small pizzas and a large pastry before boarding an old steam boat for a 1-hour cruise of the castle islands and around the town. As it was cold outside, we sat in a lounge cabin and I worked on this diary. Scott went off to explore the decks and to chat with anybody and everybody. The cruise was pleasant, and the rain had stopped. We sat in large cane chairs hanging on the aft deck, and chatted with a very nice lady from Antwerp, Belgium, who lived in Paris.

We went back to the hostel for afternoon tea, and found a playground on the waterfront. I left the others there and went back to the hostel to fetch the makings of a tea party, which we had while sitting on the edge of a large sand box in which Scott was building a castle, complete with moat.

In the evening, our Austrian friend returned, two nurses from Stuttgart, Germany, checked in, as did three English girls, and an American guy from Honolulu, Hawaii. We all got along well. As we planned to take a 7:50-am train next morning, we packed our gear before going to bed.

[Diary] We were up early and out the door at 7:20 am, and thanked the young woman at the front desk for all her help and kindness during our stay. She was married to a Bulgarian, and they spoke English at home. Besides Finnish, she spoke German, Swedish, and French.

The train was right on-time, and the weather was really nice, but, unfortunately, we were leaving the area, bugger! After an hour, we changed trains to an inter-city express. Although we had no reservations, there were plenty of spare seats. At our seat tables, we ate cereal and fruit after which Scott and I played cards and read. A nice Finnish lady who spoke German sat next to Scott, and joined us for some cheese. The train trip was interesting now that we could actually see something other than forest. There were fields of yellow mustard, and lakes, lakes, and more lakes.

At Helsinki central station, I managed to locate the case we'd sent along for storage some days earlier, but I left it there. I called the hotel we'd stayed at on arrival, and we got one of the last rooms for the night. We rode a tram there, and unpacked, and had a lunch of sardines with bread and cheese, hot tea, and chocolate.

Late afternoon, we sat at the waterfront near the main produce market. Nearby were four huge cruise ships tied up, along with smaller passenger and car ferries that serve the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The hydrofoil from Tallinn had just docked. Tourist passengers were all around us.

I wrote three postcards, including one in Spanish to a friend in Chile. Then two men walked by, and I recognized them from the hotel. They were from Czechoslovakia. One spoke Russian and Greek as well as Czech and English. As we sat there, seagulls flew around us when suddenly one dove down and stole a large hamburger from a patron's hands just as he was about to take his first bite! However, as the food was too large to hold, the bird dropped it. The guy was furious, as he'd paid quite a sum for the meal, and now it was all over the ground!

We headed off for the narrow park that runs through the town, looking for a place to eat. We came across a group playing steel drums for a large audience. At a McDonalds, we had our first "real" French fries in three whole weeks! We walked back home via the cruise-ship terminal stopping at a playground for Scott. Back home, it was lights out at 10:30 pm.

[Diary] I woke at 8:30 am, and read until 10, when the others woke. After a breakfast of cereal, tea, and cheese omelet, we packed for the day's adventure. It was raining quite hard, and was overcast; a rather dreary day, in fact!

As our rail-pass ended at midnight, we decided to take a train to the port city of Turku to the west. We rode the tram into the city, then walked through a mall to the railway station. We caught the noon train, and the ride lasted 2½ hours. We found a carriage dedicated to kids, which had a playroom with Lego and toys. There was also a change room for babies. We read while Scott played. As we left Helsinki, the weather improved, and soon was quite warm although threatening clouds stayed around.

We arrived at Turku at 2:30, and walked to the tourist office to get a map and some brochures. We bought drinks and pastries, and sat on the banks of the small river that ran through the town, feeding our faces and some birds. Then Scott and I went to a large playground while Jenny went to a craft market to watch craftsmen at work. Next up was the large cathedral, for the Lutheran Church of Finland. Then it was on to the main plaza where a large market was in full swing. It had fruit, vegetables, coffee, pastries, and many flea-market-type stalls. Oddly, one was selling sew-on patches for Northern Territory and Ayers Rock, Australia!

We found a large supermarket that sold hot food, and we settled in for a good feed of spaghetti, rice, and pork. We worked our way back to the train station to catch the 7:35-pm train back to Helsinki. Scott got hungry, so we stopped at a Pizza Hut where he had an expensive slice of pepperoni pizza (costing around $6). We rode the tram home, and after a late drink and snack, we hit the hay at 11 o'clock. The hostel was full of many noisy students.

By the way, the Turku Cathedral clock tower had only an hour hand on each face. Curiously, it was designed that way.

[Diary] We were up at 8 am, then showered and packed. We finished off most of our food and gave our leftover groceries to other guests. We caught a tram for the railway station where we'd catch the airport bus. I retrieved the case we'd put in storage the week before. On the way to the airport, we saw many police near several buildings. A big international conference had begun the day before about the future security of Europe, and many heads of state, including President George H.W. Bush, would arrive the next day.

At the security place, we were subjected to the most thorough and long check ever! The stated problem was that we'd left our case in storage for a week and only that morning had retrieved it. Plus, we'd been in Russia. In any event, I had to empty the large case and it was X-rayed empty. The security guy checked our hand luggage, and X-rayed the cassette-tape player and camera, after taking out the batteries. It was quite an ordeal, all conducted in a space way too small for all of us. Disorder continued at the gate where we were supposed to be kept separate from the incoming flight's passengers, supposedly for fear that we'd exchange something illicit with them.

As a result, we took off an hour late, but the trip was uneventful. I slept a bit and sat behind Jenny and Scott. The man next to me didn't seem to have ever flown before, as he had no idea how things worked, including his seatbelt, and he spoke no English. The food was very good and the service outstanding. By the time we got to New York City, we had made up most of the lost time, and customs and immigration was a formality, especially as they allowed Green-Card holders like us to go through the citizens' line. However, we waited a good while for our luggage.

By the time we got to the gate for our domestic flight, we had an hour to spare, during which time Scott and I played UNO with another young passenger. The flight to Washington National Airport (DCA) was on-time, and we landed at 7 pm, local time. The temperature and humidity were high! Unfortunately, our luggage was delayed 30 minutes by the fact that a checked luggage carrier got jammed in the carousel.

Neighbor Joe was there to meet us and to drive us back to Reston. It felt good to be home. Of course, we were all dog-tired, but Scott was determined to stay up and watch TV, having had none for more than three weeks.

[Diary] I was wide awake at 4 am, and soon after I got up and went to the local supermarket to shop. Surprise, I was the only customer at that hour, but there were a number of workers stocking the shelves and baking pastries. I gleefully bought all the things I'd been missing, including potato chips, cream soda, and sugar-coated peanuts. And best of all, the prices were much cheaper than in Finland!

Signs of Life: Part 22

© 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Geneva, Switzerland.


A coffee shop: Perhaps the experience is religious!


Read it carefully!


A mobile phone store; obviously!


Horlogerie is the French word for the business of watchmaking.


As Switzerland has three main official languages—French, German, and Italian—signs are often written in all three, plus English, just like this sign on my hotel's toilet seat.


It's nice to know you can still "get service with a smile" at some places.


At this construction site, I never could figure out just what the guy at the bottom right was doing.

[Reviewer John suggests, "Given that the visible part of the bottom instructions means "other protective equipment according to work in progress," I suggest that the guy in the bottom right is wearing a life line – a rope used when working at heights to prevent a fall (e.g., as used by window washers)."]


When you are out walking your doggy and it needs to "go potty," then just take one of these "pooper scooper" bags.

The speech bubble is something about "A great dog and his great master."

Below is "Thank you and congratulations!"


At a gallery in a university, I came across a display of art made from trash found floating in the ocean. It was part of a traveling protest about polluting the oceans.


A colorful street-side utility cabinet.

It occurred to me that this might be what Sponge Bob SquarePants might look like when he's VERY angry!


A concept store.


A café.

According to Wikipedia, "The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95 to 99% depending on what is included …." That's all well and good, but do they make good baristas?


A clothing store, where the women on Sundays go out buying undies!

From their website, "We make underwear that we love. … At BLUE LEMON we strive to offer the owner of our underwear the greatest possible comfort."


A store that sells soap. Perhaps the owner's life is a bit of a soap opera!


A retailer of fine watches. From their website, "A Franck Muller complicated movement ranges from between 200 and 1,483 components for the most complicated one, which takes years from its conception until completion."


Genetic engineering gone wrong!

Some days you just don't know if you are coming or going!

From a playground.


School Days: Part 2

© 2013, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From February 1959 to December 1969, I attended 12 grades of school in 11 years. In Part 1, I reported my recollections of my time in Primary School (US: Elementary School). In this Part, I'll cover my high school years as well as my years as a part-time university student.

[Thanks much for feedback from Roger M., who taught me in Year-10 in 1967. Roger taught high-school Mathematics and Chemistry, was a State Science Advisor, and a Deputy Principal and Principal. He also served as a Coordinator and Chemistry teacher in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.]

An Introduction to Loxton High School

[Situated on the River Murray, Loxton was the center of the then Loxton District Council (US: county) local government area. It was surrounded by irrigated fruit properties, and the greater area probably had a population of 2,000–3,000 people at the time. Much of the council area was occupied by wheat/sheep farms of 3,000–5,000 acres. The average rainfall was 10 inches (25 cms).]

Motto: Scientia Crescat; Latin for "let knowledge grow"

I started there in February 1965, and was there for five years. On average, we had about 510 students each year, in five grades, 8–12, with the vast majority of students in Grades 8–10.

As was pretty much the case in all state schools, uniforms were compulsory. In winter, boys wore long, grey trousers, grey socks, black shoes, grey shirts, a grey V-neck jumper (US: sweater) with the school colors—maroon, grey, and yellow—around the cuffs and neck, and, optionally, a maroon blazer, which had the school crest and motto on the breast pocket. Girls wore grey, pleated tunics and white blouses. Although I recall girls having a hat, I don't recall boys having one. In warmer weather, boys wore shorts with the British Commonwealth-style knee-length socks. Girls had lightweight grey and maroon dresses.

Each year, we had about 20 prefects, 10 boys and 10 girls. They were the student leaders who kept an eye on us mere mortals, liaised with the staff and faculty, and organized the end-of-term socials (dances). They got to wear stripes on their blazers as well as an official-looking prefect badge. They patrolled the grounds during recess and lunchtime. Each year, all students from Year 11–12 nominated a slate of candidates for prefect, and then students from Years 10–12 voted for up to 10 of them. (I have no doubt that the faculty removed so-called undesirables from the final slate.) I was not a prefect, which suited me just fine. There were Head and Deputy-Head Boy's and Girl's Prefects, who were elected by the prefects themselves.

Unlike the school systems with which I am experienced here in the US, back then, we had no such thing as school counselors. Each student simply had to figure out for himself or herself (hopefully, along with help from their parents, which I did not get) what he or she wanted to do post-high school. I see now on the inside cover of my report card book from those years a half-page titled, "Choosing a Career." Yep, that was all the advice we got!

There were rules about any number of things. For example, couples could only sit (optionally holding hands) in the quadrangle, a large paved rectangle bounded on three sides by classrooms right in the heart of the school where staff and prefects could "keep an eye on them." Makeup was forbidden, as was most jewelry except for religious crosses on chains, and studs in pierced ears. Students were not permitted to leave the school grounds during class time without a signed note from a parent explaining the reason. In any event, the school was well away from the downtown area, so there were really wasn't any place to go.

Each student belonged to one of four Houses: Alpha (yellow), Beta (blue), Gamma (green), and Delta (red). Houses competed against each other in intraschool sports and other activities. When I attended, younger siblings were assigned to the same house as their older predecessors. As such, I was in house Alpha.

The school hymn was "These Things Shall Be" by J.A Symonds. The two versus I recall singing are as follows:


These things shall be, a loftier race
Than ere the world hath known shall rise
With flame of freedom in their souls,
And light of knowledge in their eyes.

Nation with nation, land with land,
Un-armed shall live as comrades free;
In ev'ry heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.

We also had a war cry—which I only partially remember—that we yelled during sporting events against other schools. I seem to recall that it contained numerous Aboriginal words.

The canteen was run by a paid manager and assisted by parent volunteers and upper-level students. (I sold drinks and ice creams there in Year 11.) Although quite a few students brought lunch from home, the rest of us bought it. Each morning, we did that by buying plastic coupons at the administration building before school started. Then orders were placed with the local bakery along with some spares, and we lined up at lunchtime to get our food. I usually had a beef pie or pasty with tomato sauce and some kind of a bun or pastry, along with a carton of plain or coffee-flavored milk. Once all the orders were served, kids who had failed to order in the morning or wanted seconds could line up for any extras. I remember a pie or pasty costing one shilling (10 cents) and an extra penny for tomato sauce (US: ketchup). I don't recall if the canteen was open at morning recess time. At lunchtime, everyone had to have at least a short lunch break before heading out to the playing fields.

Very few students drove cars to school, probably no more than four or five. In any event, one had to be 16 to get a driving license, and I didn't turn 16 until the week after I finished Year 12. Almost everyone rode a bus or bicycle.

When I started, the school was only six years old, so everything was still new. The core buildings were made of brick, but already, many prefabricated, wooden buildings had been added. The playing fields ran to 15–20 acres and were nicely grassed for field hockey, Australian Rules Football, cricket, and athletics. [For several years while I was there, my Dad was the groundskeeper.]

There was a very strong Parent and Friends Association (US: PTA) and it raised a lot of money for facilities, equipment, and the library, as well as prizes and scholarships.

In interschool athletics and team-game sports, Loxton competed once each year against three other schools, all in the Riverland: Renmark, Waikerie, and Glossop (the latter serving the towns of Berri and Barmera). [Loxton has dominated that competition for many years, and I believe is still on a roll of 30+ winning years in a row.]

Unlike many school systems in the US, in my hometown area, there were no inter-school sports leagues. However, Loxton High School did field teams in various leagues in which the townsfolk participated. These include field hockey, tennis, cricket, and netball. Students played basketball for the six teams in the Loxton competition.

First Year, Class 1A: 1965, age 11

In February 1965, at the grand age of 11 years 2 months, I started First Year (now called Year 8). We lived 30 miles from Loxton, and like older brother Terry and older sister Pat before me, I too boarded in/near Loxton, and only rode the bus to Loxton on Monday mornings and back home Friday nights. Over the weekends, I kept my bike at an uncle's house near the high school. I picked it up from there Monday night and rode three miles to a family where I stayed Monday through Friday for that year, from February to December. I shared a room with the owner's son, who ran her fruit property. Her daughter was three years ahead of me, and she also rode a bike to school. Each week, I was given an allowance of £1 ($2) and that had to pay for lunch each day as well as spending money at the school canteen. My constant problem was having all that money with me each Monday, resulting in my spending a disproportionate share that day. On subsequent days, I took the bare minimum needed for that day, barely making it to Friday.

In the first week of school, all First-Year students took an aptitude test to see where they would be placed. My year, there were four classes (US: home rooms)—1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D—with A being for the ones who tested best, down to D for those with the lowest test scores. I was in 1A. [Some years, if there were more than about 110 new students, there was a fifth First-Year class, 1E.] The A stream was the academic one in the sense that those students (along with some from the B stream) likely were bound for tertiary education. Only the A students were allowed to take a foreign language, and the only one offered was Latin. Farm boys like me who could not imagine the point of taking Latin took the alternative, Agricultural Science. Girls who declined to take Latin had to take Drawing. Boys could not take Drawing and girls could not take Agricultural Science! The A students also took one more subject than the others. And supposedly, being nerds, after the first year, they couldn't do any "practical" stuff like shop (boys) or domestic science (girls), or typing/commerce. The four of us coming from Taplan Primary School went into one each of the First-Year classes. My eight year-long subjects that year were: English, History, Geography, Mathematics I, Mathematics II, Science, Agricultural Science, and Woodwork, plus Physical Education (PE).

My homeroom teacher was Miss Law, who also taught me English. She was also the school's headmistress. The headmaster was Mr. W.E. Falkenberg. [He was bald, and the students referred to him as "Desert-Head."] For the latter part of my five years, Mr. Treagus was deputy headmaster. We sat two students to a desk, but I don't remember with whom I shared that year.

Classes 1A, 1B, and 1C shared a long set of prefabricated classrooms called the Stage Block. At the back of 1C's room was the school's theatre (US: theater) stage, and the walls between 1C and 1B, and 1B and 1A folded up to make a large audience space once student desks were removed. As the theater was only used once a year, for the annual play, we only had to move out all our stuff that one time. The homeroom teacher for 1C was somewhat cross-eyed, poor woman, and she didn't see too well. One of that class's troublemakers was playing with matches in his seat up the back, when he flicked a lighted one up onto the stage behind him. Well, the stage curtain caught fire and the volunteer Fire Brigade (US: Fire Department) came and saved the building, but the curtain was destroyed. It was replaced by the Parents and Friends Association at great cost.

Second Year, Class 2A: 1966, age 12

There were three other Second-Year classes, 2B, 2C, and 2D. My homeroom teacher was Mrs. Pedler, and our classroom was in another prefabricated block. Again, the headmaster was Mr. Falkenberg. And, once again, I had eight year-long subjects, but woodwork was replaced with a second science class. We sat two students to a desk, but I don't remember with whom I shared that year. By then, we'd moved from Nadda to Pata (only nine miles from Loxton), from where I rode my Uncle Paul Jaeschke's school bus each day.

The school play that year was the Hitchcock thriller "Dial M for Murder."

Third Year (Intermediate), Class 3A: 1967, age 13

There were three other Third-Year classes, 3B, 3C, and 3D. My homeroom teacher was Mr. Magor, who also taught me mathematics and chemistry. Our classroom was in the main building right next to the administration and headmaster's office. The headmaster was Mr. Anderson—who lasted only a year—with Miss Law still headmistress. Once again, I had eight year-long subjects, essentially the same as the previous year, except that Science I and Science II became Physics and Chemistry. Again, I rode a school bus to/from Pata each day.

[After I moved to the state capital, Adelaide, I played Australian Rules Football (see my essay from January 2020: "Football, Aussie Style"). Mr. Magor was a football umpire, and he umpired a few games in which I played in 1971–1972. He went on to umpire at the top state level and then to oversee all the other umpires in the state's top semi-pro league. I reconnected with him by email in 2011, and had a great lunch/reunion with him in 2015, 48 years after he started teaching me. We met again in 2019.]


As mentioned in Part 1, starting in Third Year (Intermediate) all so-called "academic" students took state-set Public Education Board (PEB) exams at the end of each year with the results being published for all to see in the state's daily newspaper. Grades 1–4 were passes. I passed seven of my eight subjects. As I was a farm boy and I liked Agricultural Science, I have no idea how I failed that so miserably [I got a 6!] Back then, English was still not only a compulsory subject, but one had to pass it to be promoted to the next year. Note that 100% of one's grade came from that PEB exam; there was absolutely no credit given for interim tests, homework, attendance, or projects during the year!

The school play that year was the musical "Salad Days."

Fourth Year (Leaving), Class 4B: 1968, age 14

There were two other Fourth-Year classes, 4A and 4C although 4C was very small. My homeroom teacher was Mr.  Eckermann, who also taught me Physical Education and Modern History. Our classroom was in the main building not far from the administration and headmaster's office. The headmaster was Mr. Haden—who lasted only a year—with his wife, Mrs. Haden, as headmistress. The number of subjects I took dropped back to only six, which were mostly hard-core math/science. My academic slackness (and no doubt young age and corresponding lack of maturity) in previous years finally caught up with me. I was put into 4B instead of 4A, which actually didn't upset me at all. Once again, I rode Uncle Paul Jaeschke's school bus to/from Pata each day.

I failed English and Modern History, but having passed four of the six subjects, I was allowed to go forward even though my homeroom teacher advised me to repeat the year. [Perhaps he felt bad for having me fail one of his subjects!]

The school play that year was the musical "West Side Story".

That year, I played football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team and we made it to the Grand Final, played in Barmera. In the dying stages of the game, I was running in to pick the ball off the ground when a player from the opposing team ran in to kick the ball off the ground. He missed the ball and got me right in the shin of my right leg, and down I went. After a brief lie on the ground, with the help of the trainers (the guys who run out onto the field with water, towels, and to help with minor medical problems) I managed to walk off the field. Not long after, the final siren sounded, and we'd won the game and the championship.

As was always the case, at each local sporting event involving bodily contact or other chances for injury, the non-profit St. Johns' Ambulance Brigade always provided an ambulance and several (usually volunteer) first-aid people. They looked me over, put my leg in an inflatable splint, and figured I'd need to go to the hospital to have the leg X-rayed. However, rather than go to the local hospital and possibly stay overnight in a town away from home, they agreed to drive me back to Loxton, and my Dad rode in the ambulance with me. At the Loxton hospital, the X-ray showed a multiple fracture (without any sideways displacement, which was why I was able to walk off the playing field), so the doctor and nurses put a plaster cast on the lower leg leaving the front open to accommodate the swelling. Several days later, they wrapped plaster around to provide a somewhat thin cover over the front.

I stayed in hospital for a couple of nights. I was in a bed right up in the far corner in the large men's ward. Through a door nearby was a room where male patients were put if they were unlikely to survive. I believe it was referred to as the "Death Ward!" Anyway, while I was in hospital, old Charlie Nicolai was wheeled in there, and his family came to say "goodbye" along with the Lutheran minister. Charlie was on some sort of breathing device that made quite a sound. In the middle of the night, I woke up and heard that sound stop, and I figured Charlie had gone to that great farm in the sky. So, I buzzed the nurse to let her know. The next morning, nurses were wheeling equipment out of that room and generally cleaning it up, but no one would say that Charlie had died; they had to keep up the morale of the other patients, I guess, lest we thought it was a result of the hospital food.

For some reason, the doctor did not put a heel on my cast, which made it difficult to walk. I'm guessing that was the point, to keep me off that foot. Of course, I had crutches, but I still put weight on the foot. Once I was out of hospital, I had checkups at the doctor's office every two weeks. Given the temporary nature of the first cast with the front closed after the swelling went down, and my general abuse of it, that cast lasted only a few weeks, and the doctor replaced it with a new one. But when I broke that—because I was driving a stick shift vehicle and getting around without my crutches to feed the pigs—the doctor put on a full cast, right up to my thigh. That made it impossible to sit on the front seat of a car, let alone drive, so it had the desired intent, to slow me down. Bugger!

I soon got into the swing of using crutches, but it made it awkward to use them and to carry a school satchel the half mile to/from the bus stop from the house, and to get around school with books and such.

To use the ambulance service, one generally became a member for an annual fee, and that entitled one to unlimited usage, as needed. As such, whenever I had to go to the doctor's office, I scheduled a pickup by an ambulance. And some days, the driver would be a bit bored, and he'd use the siren as we drove the couple of miles from the high school through the town. At the beginning, I rode in a special passenger seat. However, once I had a full cast, I could no longer fit there, so they had to open the back, lay me on the bed, and strap me in. It was quite a production when kids saw me being loaded in at the school. I know I enjoyed it. One nice day, when I was done at the doctor's office the driver said something like, "Where to Sir?" and I said, "It's such a nice afternoon, why don't I skip school for the rest of the day and have you drive me home?" He thought that was a fine idea, and as he nothing better to do, we drove the nine miles to Pata where he came into the house and had a cup of tea with Mum (US: Mom).

Fifth Year (Matriculation; formerly Leaving Honours), Class 5A: 1969, age 15

This was the only Fifth-Year class, and you couldn't get there without taking the "academic-stream" subjects. Our homeroom teacher was Mr. Bird, who also taught English. Our classroom was in the most remote prefabricated building, all on its own. The headmaster was Mr. Laslett, our fourth in five years! The number of subjects I took dropped back to five, which were mostly hard-core math/science. That was the first year the state declared that it was no longer necessary to pass English to pass the year, and they even made English optional. Those few students my year who chose not to take English still did an hour each week of English-appreciation. (As I'd failed English that year, and didn't enjoy it anyway, I should not have taken it either.)

That year, our annual inter-school trip with Kadina High School was hosted by Kadina. I represented my school on the basketball team.

Later that year, the whole class took a day trip to the state capital, Adelaide, where we visited a career fair at Flinders University. [This was the new, very liberal school that was at the forefront of opposition to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War with one Brian Medlin, professor of Philosophy, leading the charge.]

For some reason, grades went from being numeric to alphabetic, with A–D being passes, and E–F failures. I got an E for Physics and an F for English, so I did not matriculate, per se. However, having gotten "Four E's or better" I was eligible to attend the South Australia Institute of Technology. Although a couple of my classmates did repeat that year in 1970, I was in too much of a hurry to move on. Besides, a spot was waiting for me on a junior team at a semi-professional football club in Adelaide.

[Having failed English in both fourth and fifth year makes it surprising that 15 years later, I started writing for publication, and over the following 10+ years made a nice secondary income from writing technical features, columns, books, and a newspaper column. And then once I started to learn foreign languages, I was forced to go back and actually learn the English parts of speech. Coming to high school from a 1-teacher country school, I was assumed to have a solid grounding in English, which I did not. For some of my thoughts on "English and Writing" see here.]

The school play that year was the musical "Bye Bye Birdie. Ironically, the lead actor dropped out of school that year, and our class teacher, Mr. Bird, took over his role.

My Time as a School Athlete

Each week, we had a PE lesson, separated by gender. Depending on the season, we played a number of things, from football, cricket, tennis, field hockey, and athletics. Each year, we had a Sports Day between the four houses. During my five years there, my house, Alpha, did very well in athletics, and I contributed significantly. Individual events were classified by age, as follows:

  • Sub-Junior – Under 13 years-old
  • Junior – Under 14 years-old
  • Intermediate – Under 15 years-old
  • Senior – 15 years-old and over

As I was 11 years and 2 months old when I started Year 8, I spent two years in the sub-junior ranks, and in Year 9, I won the Boy's Sub-Junior trophy. In Year 10, I placed second in the Boy's Junior competition, and in Year 11, I placed third in the Boy's Intermediate competition. [Do you see the pattern?] In Year 12, I was up against all those guys who were 16, 17, and even some 18-year-olds! I do remember that in Year 12, my Dad bought me a set of spiked running shoes, and although I actually used them on race day, I hadn't had them long enough to really get used to them. My biggest event was high jump with triple jump and long jump not far behind. I was pretty good at flat races of 100 and 220 yards, but not very good at hurdles or longer distances. In later years, I threw the discus and javelin as well. We did have a 1-mile race, and that was held the day before the main Sports Day. I only competed in that once, in my final year, and I dropped out at the end of the third of four 440-yard laps.

In the last few years of my time in high school, cross-country running was introduced, and I competed once, in Year 12. The best I can say in retrospect is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time!" The school was located on a main highway near high cliffs overlooking the river flats below, and to make it interesting, competitors walked down a dirt road to the bottom of the 500-foot cliffs, and we started the race there. Yes, we ran back up that damned hill, then for some three miles on a flat, packed dirt track, then down a cliff track, across several miles of muddy river flat/swamp land and then back up that damned hill again, to finish at the school. As the old saying goes, "Nothing is a complete waste; it can always serve as a bad example!"


More than 50 years later, I still have all the yearbooks from my time in High School, my report cards, class photos from Years 10–12, my sub-junior athletics trophy, my school tie, my trusty fountain pen complete with school crest, my slide rule, my Year 12 Differential Calculus textbook, and the character references several local businessmen wrote for me when I headed off to work and study in the state capital.

My most recent visit to Loxton High School was in January 2019, during their summer holidays. While the original brick buildings from 1959 are still there, all the prefabricated ones from my time have been replaced with very nice permanent structures. The old asphalt quadrangle has long since been turned into a garden with many large trees and shrubs. The original prefabricated canteen has been replaced with a nice facility, and a very large hall with stage has been added to service both the school and the town. [Some years ago, I addressed the then student population there at a general assembly, as a "local boy who'd done well!"]

The sporting facilities are still some of the very best at any high school in the state, and the school continues to produce sportsmen and women who go on to compete at the state, national, and international level, including medalists at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

Parents in the region now have the option of sending their kids to any high school in that region, with buses provided, and for some years now, Loxton has regularly attracted students from other towns.

Having traveled extensively around the world, and seen more than a few school systems, I have to say that Loxton High—and the Loxton area, in general—was a pretty good place for a teenager to be from 1965–1969, and likely still is.

[I edited this essay in July 2019 on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which begs the question, "What was I doing at that time?" Although TV was broadcast to Loxton at that time, as far as I can remember, the High School did not have a set. In any event, our TV signals had to travel 150 miles to reach us; they were black-and-white, with a lot of "snow."]

South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT)

SAIT grew out of the old South Australian School of Mines, which was founded in 1889. [In 1991, SAIT and most of the teachers' colleges combined to form the University of South Australia.]

After high school, at the grand age of 16 years and 2 months, I began as a part-time student taking classes in chemistry and related fields, including scientific photography and glassblowing. In December 1972, right around my 19th birthday, I was awarded my Science Technicians Certificate. However, when I joined the state civil service in 1973, this caused a problem regarding pay scales, as no one under 21 had received this award before. [Of course, I never have been considered normal!] During most of my time in this program, I was working at a vegetable oil factory where I ran the quality control lab. I also attended a "Summer School in Microbiology."

In 1974, a new subject was offered to science students, Computer Programming, as by then, minicomputers were affordable, and an increasing number of science labs were buying them. Without a doubt, that class changed my life! After about 15 minutes of the first lecture, I knew what I was meant to do, and that was to program computers. We learned to program in BASIC-PLUS, a very powerful and heavily extended version of BASIC for Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP-11 computers. And everything was interactive; none of this batch crap—submitting a job overnight only to find some silly syntax error the next day! Not only did I spend time in the computer lab writing and testing programs, but I also bought the manuals for the operating system (RSTS/E) and BASIC-PLUS language. I also bought reels of special 10-track magnetic tape on which to store my programs and data. We used interactive VT105B video terminals and ASR33 teletypes that printed, and punched and read paper tapes. I quickly developed a rapport with the American lecturer (who actually programmed the same computer for the business office of the school), and he allowed me access to the computer room to mount and use my magnetic tapes.

The computer lab opened each weekday morning at 6 am, and closed at midnight. As the state Chemistry Department where I worked at that time was only a half-mile walk away, for many days of the term in which I took that course, I was in the computer lab when it opened, then went to work. Then after work, I went back to the lab until it closed. I simply could not get enough of it! For the first time in my life, I was passionate about something!

I was so affected by the exposure to computer programming that I set out to move to that field, which I finally did in January 1976. However, I still had the final year of my second 3-year Chemistry course to complete. However, my heart just wasn't in it. As such, I withdrew from the final class, half a year short of completing the course. And I have to say that I've never regretted doing so for one instant!

In the mid 1970's, the South Australian state Government had an acute shortage of computer programmers, so they had SAIT develop and teach a 3month training program to be run in the summer when the campus was otherwise empty. I was one of the 25 applicants chosen from a field of 500, and starting in January 1976, we all spent 12 weeks as full-time students—on full pay and benefits—to learn COBOL on CDC mainframes. Along the way, we also did a bit of Fortran. I was just 22 years old, and I got married one weekend early on.

Each student in the program was assigned to a state government department, which for me was Highways. My contact there happened to be a former high school teacher, who just loved teaching. And in that respect, he did a great job in helping me program in the real world. He also came to visit me on campus on a regular basis to see how things were going, and to bring pens, paper, and coding pads.

After the course ended, we went to our respective departments for six months of on-the-job training, at the completion of which I became a Computer Systems Officer I. [For those of us—like me—already on a salary and benefits packages more valuable than that, we kept our old pay grade.]

In February 1977, I started a 3-year "Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Studies." I was a part-time student with paid time-off from work to attended classes. However, none of the credits I'd earned from my 6+ years of science studies transferred; I was starting from scratch! [In that respect, I very much prefer the US 4-year liberal-arts university model.]

The aim of the course was, "to provide the basis for a professional career in Computing and Data Processing. Students may specialize in one of three areas: management and commercial applications of computers in private or government administration; scientific, industrial and engineering applications of computers; management applications of computers with a supporting sequence in political aspects of government administration". I chose the first option. [By then, I'd had enough of advanced mathematics and physics, and lab science, in general.]

By the time I left Australia in mid-1979, I'd completed one full-time year of that program, and I never did finish.

Travel: Memories of Russia

© 1992, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[This diary was written by hand in a spiral notebook during the trip. Now, I've transcribed and edited it.]

For some years, I'd been writing a monthly column for a US-based computer magazine, and my byline included my email address. One fine day in 1991, I got an email from a computer science professor, Vitaly, at a university in St. Petersburg, Russia, who was an avid reader of my articles. He invited me to come to his city and give a series of lectures over a two-week period, provided I could pay my own way there. After some dialog via email, I accepted his offer and decided to combine it with a holiday and to take my wife, Jenny, and son, Scott, the following summer. We'd also spend time in neighboring Finland before and afterwards.

I contacted the Russian embassy in Washington DC to see how to go about getting visas. They said I needed a letter of invitation on letterhead from the sponsoring organization. Less than a week after I conveyed that information to the university by email, I received a letter in the post from New York (where it had been hand-carried by someone on a flight from Russia) written in both Russian and English. [Apparently, they didn't want to rely on the Russian postal service, as it was slow, and things were often stolen!] I went to the embassy with my filled-out application form, photo, and letter. There were quite a few counters, but only one was open, so I got in the long line. When it was my turn, the officer took my papers and told me to sit and wait while the papers were examined. Sometime later, I was informed that everything regarding my application was okay, but where were the invitations for my wife and son? I explained that while I wanted a business visa, my wife and son would be going as tourists, but the officer insisted they still needed invitations. Two weeks later, I returned with said invitations, and was promptly issued three business visas. Yes, my 8-year-old son was apparently going there on business!

Like the then just-passed Soviet days, we were issued loose-leaf visas that were handed in when we left the country, which meant that we have no permanent record of having been there. [I was in-country a day or two when I noticed on the visa, text that said I had to report to my local area authorities to let them know my movements; however, I decided that was just a Soviet-era holdover, and I ignored it.]

When it came time to book the trip, there was one thing of which I was absolutely sure; I was not going to fly over Russian airspace at the mercy of Russian air-traffic controllers, even in a non-Russian airline plane! Instead, we flew to Helsinki, Finland, and took a brand-new Finnish train from there, reversing the process on return.

[Diary] At the Helsinki train station we hauled our luggage to Platform 8 where we boarded Car 35. A young Russian mother and her 1-year-old son sat in our carriage, and I helped her with her luggage. Her English was excellent. The public-address system announced our departure in Finnish, Swedish, English, and Russian. The restaurant car was right next door to ours. Two young German girls joined as we pulled out of the station. The new train was very comfortable.

When we approached the border with Russia, the Russian border guards and customs inspectors boarded to process us. They looked us over but didn't search any luggage. Then they took our passports returning them a while later just before they disembarked. It was a formality, which it would not have been not too long ago. (We were traveling on Australian passports.) As we crossed into Russia, we saw an armed soldier in a guard tower.

We arrived in St. Petersburg on time at 2 pm, where Vitaly met us with a bunch of red roses. All three of us were feeling quite tired, so he drove us to our apartment, where we slept for three hours. (As we were feeling rather low, the roads were full of large potholes, and the apartment building and neighborhood were rather run-down, I decided to delay my "first-hand" impressions until later.)

The apartment was spartan, but adequate. It was clean and comfortable and had all we needed for our stay. It belonged to Sonja (a nickname for Sofia), a mathematics Professor at Vitaly's university. The building primarily housed retired military officers and their families. Vitaly and Sonja's friend Slava was there to meet us. [Sonja vacated the place for us for the two weeks and took her 12-year-old son to stay at her Mother's.]

At 7:30 pm, Vitaly drove us to a circus. It was superb and ran for two hours. The acts included the following: dogs wearing shorts with suspenders, sitting at desks in school; jugglers; a woman twirling hoops; a strong man who lifted weights, laid on nails and broken glass, and walked on fire; some great clowns; several lots of acrobats, some swinging on a trapeze out over the crowd; three elephants; and a man doing tricks with soccer balls. The cost of admission was 13 rubles (about US$1.30).

[Diary] Around 8 am, Scott and I went out to the neighborhood playground. We found some young boys nearby, and joined them. One of them had travelled to East Germany on vacation, and spoke a little German. Using that he and I introduced everyone to each other. They were fascinated with my Swiss Army knife and all its gadgets. Beyond a few pleasantries, my Russian phrase book wasn't much help.

Later, a 13-year-old girl joined us. She'd been learning English for six years, but Scott and I were the first native speakers she had ever met, so she was a bit excited. We talked with her for quite some time, and when I gave her some lifesavers, she responded by giving us some Russian candy. Our first excursion was a success!

At noon, Vitaly arrived in his car, and he and I went shopping. Some staples—sugar, bread, and milk—were only available at government stores, so we went there first. The waiting line wound way out into the street with an hour's wait time, so we went off to a "peasant" market instead where stalls were privately run.

The stalls were inside a large building in which the stall owners had to rent space. (Remember, the free market was well under way in Russia by that time.) Most sold fruit and vegetables, but some had meat and fish. None had refrigeration! However, everything looked clean, and I had no reservations about buying anything. The carrots were "fresh-out-of-the-ground" that morning, and at 20 rubles a bunch, I bought four, for stews and soups, and to eat raw. I also bought a lettuce, some apples, and a small pot of butter they'd bought at the government store and were reselling there, and a can of condensed milk. From a butcher, I bought a kilo of veal-on-bones. Eventually, I found my way down some very dark stairs into an even darker basement, where people were selling potatoes. I bought two kilos; however, my pack was full, and I had nothing in which to put my "spuds"! As I stood there thinking about how I'd carry them home, an elderly lady saw my predicament and offered me a spare, plastic carry-bag with handles. Now in the new free-market economy, everything had value, so I smiled and thanked her saying "Спасибо" (spa-ce-bo) and gave her three rubles in exchange. She smiled, appreciated my generosity, but kept only one ruble. In that little exchange, she and I had done our bit for international diplomacy! Back home, I unpacked my goodies along with the stuff we'd bought from home: salt, pepper, powdered milk, coffee, and tea, and a can of peaches I'd bought in Finland. (Interestingly, the peaches came from Shanghai, China.)

Late afternoon, Slava drove us around the inner city for an orientation along the Neva River. [During preparations for our trip, I remembered reading that foreigners should not drink water from it, as it contained parasites that would make them sick.] We finished up at the Peter and Paul Fortress, where we walked for an hour or so. There were many stalls selling things that were mostly Russian-made. Scott really wanted a set of five hand-painted wooden dolls that were stacked one inside the other, so we bought one. (Some sets contained up to 11 dolls.) I bought a 100% cotton T-shirt that had the Pepsi Cola symbol on the front, and their slogan in Russian (Пепси) on the back. [Pepsi was one of the first western companies to break into the Russian market, and exchanging Pepsi for vodka was one way to balance the trade. Google "pepsico russia deal" to read all about it.] I also bought a bunch of bananas, which came from Panama. All the stalls took US$ cash, and we'd brought plenty!

After all that activity, we went home for a nap. After we rested, we felt better, and the city took on a more positive shape. Given Peter the Great's involvement, the city looked very European and was well planned. Most buildings built before the 1917 Revolution were very solid. The newer ones were rather drab in the typical Soviet style. Everything was quite rundown down to a lack of maintenance. However, with a good steam-clean, most old buildings would look magnificent! There were quite a few orthodox cathedrals and churches, most of which had been, or were in the process of being, restored. As the economy improves, I expect the city's appearance will too. It was by no means dirty, just neglected. There were beautiful parks and tree-lined streets everywhere, and the people were friendly.

[Diary] Vitaly picked me up just be before 9 o'clock. The university was on the main street, Nevsky Prospect, in an old bank building. Given the "new economy," the entrance halls were rented out to private stall owners. I met Natalie, the organizer of my lectures. She was a very pleasant lady who spoke English.

My first lecture began about 10 minutes late with 80–100 people in the hall. Vitaly provided simultaneous translation, so I had to pause after each sentence while he spoke in Russian. I soon got the hang of that, but every so often, he would turn to me and start speaking in Russian, or to the audience in English, as he got himself confused. I used an overhead projector and a chalk board.

During the break, people gathered around me with lots of questions. [As you might imagine, after decades of living in a tightly closed system, with a lot of stolen technology from the West and pirated software, they were eager for information.] Natalie recognized that I needed a break from speaking, so she rescued me and took me into an office to drink hot tea and have a Russian-style chocolate-chip cookie.

During the second half, I got much more technical, and people started to ask more questions as I went, which I prefer. Now under the new system, nothing was free anymore, and attendees had paid 10% of their monthly salaries for the lecture series, so they were certainly taking it very seriously. And knowing that in advance, I even wore a tie, but only on the first day!

For lunch, I invited Vitaly and Natalie to join me for a meal at a nice restaurant near the university. It took only hard currency; that is, well-recognized foreign money (such as German Deutsch Marks, English Pounds, or American Dollars). It was German-run, and the prices were in Deutsch Marks. The menu was written in English, German, and Russian. We each had several glasses of juice and an open-faced sandwich with sausage and mustard. The total cost was US$26, which was 1–2 months' salary for my Russian guests! As you can imagine, they can't afford to eat at such places. On the one hand, it was good to be able to give them a taste of "the good life." However, I didn't want to overdo it as they had to return to their everyday lives afterwards. They were such frugal people, I had to work hard to convince them to order something other than the cheapest dish.

Around 4 pm, we headed out to the world-famous Hermitage Museum, right next to the Great Winter Palace of the Tsars. The museum's interior was unbelievable, even without the art treasures. However, I remember that many things were gilded, and I am not a fan of gold! We got a good orientation during our 90-minutes there. Now the price of admission for foreigners was about 10 times that for Russians, so Vitaly asked us to keep quiet as we approached the cashier, and he claimed we were all locals. There was an extra charge to use a still or video camera (which was not uncommon at major museums).

Across the street by the Neva River were some stalls, and I bought another 100%-cotton T-shirt. Written on its front in Russian was "I was an agent of the KGB." A year or so earlier, it would have been unthinkable to print such a shirt let alone sell and wear it in public.

[Diary] At noon, we left for the nearest Metro (subway) station, 1 km away. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we walked via a large park where people were out walking, picnicking, and sunbathing. Vitaly had given me a list of the stations we'd have to pass through, and how to change lines along the way. As I couldn't read the Russian letters he'd written, he'd provided a phonetic English spelling as well.

The escalator going down was v-e-r-y long, took at least two minutes to get to the bottom, and was moving quite fast. I thought we were journeying to the center of the earth! The station was very clean and well-organized. The train arrived almost immediately, and we boarded. It was quite crowded, and we had to go four stations before changing. A young man sitting next to me spoke some English and offered to help us get out at the correct stop. At the change, we simply crossed the platform and waited no more than a minute. This time, we sat next to a young woman who smiled a lot and knew a few English words. Five stations later, we get off.

Vitaly took us by car to the town of Pushkin. Afterwards, we headed back to Vitaly's house where, once again, Irina had prepared a meal. The appetizers consisted of salads, cheese, mixed vegetables, and calamari (squid). There was also smoked salmon and bread. Next, came a thin chicken soup with lots of parsley and fennel, and meat-filled pastries. The soup plates were very large and old-fashioned, and held a lot of soup. They reminded me of those my maternal Grandmother used when we visited for Sunday lunch. After that, we had veal rissoles, baked potatoes, more salads, and dilled pickles. Along the way, Vitaly served Hungarian champagne. Finally, sweet pastries and tea were served. When I commented how much I liked the dessert, when we went to leave, Irina gave me some to take home. Now, we figured they really couldn't afford all this food, but we had to be gracious, even though I was full after the first two courses! We tried not to think that we were "eating them out of house and home!"

[Diary] I managed to negotiate the electric trolley bus into town on my own. I left home early, so I'd have plenty of time and, subsequently, I arrived 45 minutes early! Jenny and Scott came with me and sat in the front row to listen to the first 10 minutes of my lecture. Scott particularly wanted to see how the English-to-Russian-to-English translation worked as I spoke. The second lecture went well, and although it was scheduled to end at 12:30, I didn't finish answering questions until 1:15!

Sonja arrived at 5 pm for supper, and we ate vegetable soup and veal stew. She took us to see the ballet Swan Lake, at a theater not far from our apartment. Scott had had a very busy day, and he dropped off to sleep halfway through. I too had 40 winks! The damned swan took so long to die, I thought we were never gonna get out of that place! We took a taxi home.

[Diary] Jenny and Scott slept quite late. Outside, it was cool and overcast, but calm. I walked to several government food stores before going to work. The stores had plenty of goods, and I wanted to buy some things, but that proved challenging. One must first pay at the cashier and then present the receipt at the appropriate counter for service. But as I couldn't speak Russian, I couldn't order to get a receipt! [Don't you just hate that when that happens!] (We'd had the same situation another day buying bread, but as Sonja was with us, she took care of the ordering.)

My third lecture went very well with question time running until 1:30. I then lunched with Vitaly and Natalie in the small, basic cafeteria in the basement. It was my first public Russian-style meal.

Now that business was free market, the university gave me an honorarium for my lecture series. It was 850 rubles (about US$8.50, a sizable amount based on local salaries). I thanked them profusely and donated it back to them; however, Natalie didn't know what to do with it, so I suggested she buy cake or chocolates for the office staff.

At 2:30, Vitaly and I rode the subway to his place of employment where the Director wished to meet me. We arrived late, as we'd gotten on the right train, but in the wrong direction! [Don't you just hate that when that happens!] To my surprise, I found the whole staff of 20 were present, and soon after, I delivered an impromptu 90-minute lecture with question-and-answer session. I then toured the teaching and computer facilities.

[Diary] About our apartment; it's in a 5-story building for retired junior military officers. It's rather rundown from the outside, and stairwells and the entrances are dark, musty, and shabby! However, it was not dirty, just neglected. We have three main rooms—kitchen, dining/lounge/family room, and another room that served as a study. There are no separate bedrooms. Instead, there are three divans in two rooms, that fold down into two single- and one double-bed. There is also a bathroom with a very old and deep tub, and a gas hot-water system that heats on-demand. Its pilot light is like an oxy-acetylene burner, and burns very strongly with the smell of gas ever present. Adjoining that is a small toilet, which, surprise, in Russian is called a WC!

There are lots of cupboards, bedding, books, three TVs, and a radio. A balcony leads off one room, and it has a clothes line. All the paint around the large windows was peeling, and woodwork was in poor shape. The stove was gas and there is hot water in the sink, fed from the gas heater. Overall, it's like a beach shack or mountain cabin; basic, but clean and comfortable.

Vitaly's apartment had a similar configuration, but is in better condition, as it is much newer and has been lived in continuously. By contrast, Slava's apartment has two separate bedrooms, so it is much larger. And as his family has always been well-off, they have a lot of nice furnishings, including a VCR and stereo music system.

By the way, all three apartments are owned outright by their occupants, and have been so for quite some years. This surprised me, as I was under the impression that no-one owned property here. In fact, quite a lot of people own cars and have done so for many years. However, now, gasoline is hard to come by and expensive, but people still manage to get enough. Of course, with public transport being so cheap, people prefer to use that.

[Diary] It was my 4th lecture day. The weather was back to summer with no coat or sweater needed. I browsed in a few shops and saw a Russian edition of the New York Times that was a few days old. The lecture went well, and questions took at extra 90 minutes at the end. Then I had a short meeting with two men who were trying to get a technical paper published along with some software.

I squeezed in time for a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich before being driven to a 3:30-pm appointment. Along the way, the driver picked my brain. He had a small company and apparently was a brilliant mathematician. The meeting was with two men running the brand-new office of Digital Equipment Corporation, the world's second largest computer company. (That company was a client of mine back in the US.) The meeting went well, and we talked about some ideas for joint ventures and seminars, translating my books and columns, and licensing some of my seminar materials. The meeting had only been proposed that morning!

I was dropped off at home about 5:15 pm, and Sonja arrived at 5:30 for dinner. Jenny had cooked pork chops and vegetables, and had made a dessert.

At 6:30, we caught a bus downtown where we had tickets to a classical music concert at 7 pm. The old theater was nicely restored, and until recently, was the headquarters of the Communist Party! The first part of the concert was "modern" classical, and it was absolutely woeful! The second was very enjoyable, and included a piano soloist. The third part was okay. We emerged at 9:15, and as the large canal was nearby, we jumped aboard a tour boat that circled the inner city for an hour. Most of the old residential buildings we saw were quite ornate. Scott spent the whole trip outside on the upper deck.

By 10:30 pm, we were back on dry land, the sun was still beaming, and we all went to a German-run hard-currency restaurant for dessert and coffee. Scott had pizza. By 11:30, our eyes were getting heavy, so we left Sonja at the subway, and we caught a bus home. At 11:45, it was still quite light out as we walked home from the stop. On the way we came across a man beating a large carpet as it hung over a swing in a playground.

[Diary] Mid-afternoon, Vitaly arrived and we headed out into the country to Slava's family dacha (country house). The roads greatly improved as we got further from the city limits. We drove along a narrow country road and passed through a number of small towns during the 80-km trip. There was lots of pine forest with moose and reindeer, and many small lakes. Most of the agriculture involved potatoes. All along the road people had small stalls; some just sat next to a bucket of potatoes. Many also had "country cheese," which we knew as cottage cheese.

On arrival at the dacha, we found Slava, his wife, son, daughter-in-law, grandson, and mother. The cottage was basic, but had all the necessary conveniences plus a color TV with antennae that received Finnish broadcasts. At 11:30 pm, an American show, B.L. Stryker, starring Burt Reynolds, was shown with Finnish subtitles. The dacha was the only house in the village to have running water. The other families got their water from a central well.

We went for a drive through a big pine forest to a large lake where Vitaly and Scott had a swim. A large group of children was camped there, and one girl spoke English and asked us if we were tourists. From all appearances, they could have come from any European country, right down to their T-shirts, hats, and bikinis.

Supper began with the usual fare: tomato, cheese, bread, fresh and dilled cucumbers, parsley, fennel, and spring onions. The main course was braised meat with mashed potato and more salad. That was followed by copious quantities of dessert and tea. We talked until late, finishing off with some Russian port wine. The weather had been calm and very sunny with no humidity to speak of. However, there were plenty of hungry mosquitos. It was still daylight at midnight!

[Diary] I was up around 9 am. It was a beautiful day. For breakfast, we ate some fried meat along with some tomato relish from Estonia that was a good approximation for ketchup. In fact, it tasted better than good! We also had bread, cheese, and tea.

Mid-morning, Slava, Vitaly, and I worked on Vitaly's car door to fix a rattling window. Afterwards, we visited another large lake nearby that was surrounded by tall pine trees. There were several sandy beaches, and the locals were out in force. No-one seemed concerned at how much of their bodies they couldn't fit into their swimsuits. Scott and Vitaly went swimming.

At 3 o'clock, we had a large meal involving salads, rissoles, and mashed potato. We followed that with stewed rhubarb (straight from the rather large garden) and tea. We rested for the afternoon pausing for "high tea" around 5 pm, to have cinnamon rolls and fruit slices. (Despite the generally poor economy, people managed to eat very well!)

Soon after 6 pm, we left for home driving back via a different route. Along the way, we passed a large military installation with numerous armored-personnel carriers parked out front. On the way out and back, we passed through a Police checkpoint, but both times they waved us through. Although officials still follow some of the old security procedures out of habit, things were much more open now. It is hard for people to start thinking for themselves after so many years of not being allowed to! In fact, we understood that many people missed the direction provided under the communist regimes of the past.

I spent some time studying the Russian alphabet, and the Greek alphabet from which it was (indirectly) derived. Having used many Greek letters in math and science back in high school and university, I had a head start, but to be sure I was rusty. However, by day's end, I managed to recognize most of the Russian letters and had a handle on their pronunciation. Now that we're about to leave Russia, I'm beginning to read a bit!

[Diary] I was up at 9:15 am, and made a breakfast of sausage, eggs, mashed potato, and gravy, plus the obligatory tea. The cupboard was getting bare as we were ending our stay. We set about packing and cleaning up the apartment. We'd planned on going into the city to stroll around some shops, but being lazy, we stayed home, sat in the sun, read, and played chess.

Mid-afternoon, we set off for the Metro station, and at our destination we spent an hour roaming around some stalls. We ate ice cream and watched a road construction crew put a new asphalt top on the main road nearby. At 5 o'clock, Vitaly picked us up and we went to his house. After some business discussions, I gave him US$1,000 cash, to buy a personal computer, so he could go into business for himself.

Slava and his wife arrived, and we had our "Last Supper," which included caviar! Of course, there were plenty of desserts including some Australian cookies, a recipe for which Irina had found in a magazine. She gave us a bag to take home. Slava drove us home and we said our "goodbyes." I gave him an envelope containing a farewell letter, for him to open later. Inside was cash enough to enable him to afford that trip to Germany he'd been dreaming about. Lights out at 11 pm, although the sun was still high in the sky. In fact, a workman was busy plastering the wall of a house next door.

[Diary] My 5th and final lecture began at 9:30 am, and was wrapped up by 1 pm. It went well, and the audience seemed pleased. Sonja attended, and we said our goodbyes shortly afterwards. We also gave her a farewell letter and (via an intermediary) some cash to help her through her difficult economic situation.

Jenny and Scott met me at the office, and we had lunch with Vitaly and Natalie at our "usual" German restaurant. The service was very slow, and apparently good supplies were hard to find, and no ham or salami was available for pizzas. We changed our orders several times as we discovered what wasn't available that day! Having the long-regimented history that they do, Russians will take a good while to get used to giving and receiving good service!

We were back at our flat by 2:30 pm, where we closed our luggage. Vitaly drove us to the train station to catch the 3:55-train to Helsinki. Natalie also came to say goodbye and to give Jenny several roses. (The night before, she gave Jenny a nice coffee cup and saucer, and me a book on Russian architecture.)

Our Finnish train pulled out on-time, and we had plenty of room in our carriage. We spoke with a Canadian, and a South African now living in Toronto. We bought two ham and cheese rolls which cost the equivalent of US$6 each, which after the local prices, seemed like a fortune. Pricewise, we definitely were headed back to the real world! The train menu and shopping list was comprehensive containing everything from food and drink to toothpaste and condoms. It had everything for the complete traveler! We played cards and read the time away.

There were a tense few moments at the Russian border when one guard found 150 rubles in my bag when I had declared I wasn't taking any Russian cash out of the country. Although it was only worth about US$1.50, and was for my foreign-money collection, the guard was a little upset. He politely warned me to declare such cash "the next time" and I apologized for the "oversight." Then he let me keep the money anyway!

Back in Finland, we got off at Riihimäki, the final station before Helsinki, where we waited for the 22:17 train that ran to Rovaniemi, at the end of the line, just south of the Arctic Circle. Except for a few short and one long stop, it was straight through, arriving there at 9 am the next morning to begin our vacation in Finland.

Fast-forward 28-years: Vitaly divorced his wife, remarried, and moved to California, but I lost touch with him. Sonja moved to Oslo, Norway, where she married Gunnar, a Norwegian. Jenny and I visited them in September 2003 when we spent a week at their cabin and drove across to Bergen and back with them. I visited them again several times, and Gunnar and I enjoyed playing Backgammon. Unfortunately, he passed away after an illness. I last visited Sonja in November 2016. While there, we visited Gunnar's grave.

Signs of Life: Part 21

© 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip around and near the Northern Neck of Virginia, USA.


From Reedville, Virginia. If the truth about someone isn't interesting, then make up some idle gossip!


Not to be outdone, nearby Colonial Beach, Virginia, also provides a place to gossip.

See Tattletale.


I'm all in favor of penalizing litterbugs, but this fine is rather steep!


This nautical-themed sign fixed to a bench at the bank of the Potomac River in Colonial Beach, Virginia.


A clothing place for mothers-to-be.


This in the window of a haberdashery store at Halloween.


This in the window of a liquor store at Halloween.


I completely agree!


While all this may well be true, I got to wondering if Grandpa actually chose the words!


"But Mom, it seemed like a good idea at the time!"


Using a map of the world, a ruler, and a calculator, can you figure out just where this sign is located?

I found it on the grounds of the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.


Being a BIG fan of biscuits and gravy, this sign is saying a LOT! BTW, in this American context, a biscuit is a savory English scone, and the gravy white, sausage gravy.


In this "Easy Guide to Southern Grammar", we learn some important pronouns.


Of course, this sign raises the question, "What's missing?"


Just which part of "closed" do you not understand?


And, finally, here's a lot of very good advice. Life, be in it!


School Days: Part 1

© 2013, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From February 1959 to December 1969, I attended 12 grades of school in 11 years. In this essay, I'll provide an overview of the education system in my home state, South Australia (SA), during those years, along with my recollections of my time in Primary School (US: Elementary School).

[Thanks very much to Kathy E. for providing input on the state's education system in the 40+ years since I left Australia. Kathy worked in the SA State Education system for 40 years as a high-school teacher, Counsellor, Subject Coordinator, Assistant Principal, and Deputy Principal. Her final school was the alma mater of the then Aussie Prime Minister, Julia Gilliard, who visited occasionally with her entourage. Thanks much also for feedback from Roger M., who taught me in Year-10 in 1967. Roger taught high-school Mathematics and Chemistry, was a State Science Advisor, and a Deputy Principal and Principal. He also served as a Coordinator and Chemistry teacher in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.]

Education in South Australia in the 1960's

Public education in Australia was, and still is, the responsibility of each state government. In South Australia, this came under the control of the Department of Education. Formal education started at age 5 or 6 and ran from Year 1 through Year 12. (In some years, when there was high unemployment for school leavers, a Year 13 was offered, at least on a temporary basis.) [In the US, while a few states run education at the state level, most do it at the county/city/town level. As such, there are thousands of different school systems, each hiring and firing its own teachers, and each providing a quality of service that often reflects its tax base. Wealthy counties, cities, and towns usually have far more computers and equipment and higher teacher pay than do the less wealthy, which may be struggling to pay for the essentials. There are 13 years of formal education, K–12. (See below for an explanation of K.)]

Although preschool is common now, when I was of that age it was in its early infancy in my region. In any event, it was called Kindergarten, or simply "Kindy." I never attended Kindy; we lived outside of town and there was no way for me to get there. [Preschool is also common in the US. The first official year of school, however, is called Kindergarten (K).]

School was broken into two main year groups: primary (Years 1–7) and secondary/high school (Years 8–12). [In the US we have elementary (usually Years K–6), middle/junior high (often Years 7–8, but sometimes Years 6–8 or 7–9), and high school (usually Years 9–12, but sometimes 10–12).]

I seem to recall that education was compulsory from ages 6–15. [Roger: In 1963, the minimum upper age for compulsory schooling changed from 14 to 15. In 2003, it moved to 16.] Back then, there was no concept of high school graduation. There certainly was no stigma to leaving school before completing Year 12. In fact, the high school in my town did not even offer a Year 12 until around 1960. And one could only attend that year if one were university-bound. It was only some years after I finished high school (in 1969), that Year 12 became an option for students not headed to university. One simply left school whenever! For example, my siblings left school during or at the end of Year 8, 9, or 10. I was the youngest of five siblings and I was the first to complete all 12 grades. My parents both ended their schooling after the 6th grade. [In contrast, in the US, failing to complete Year 12 is generally seen as a big disadvantage, and high school graduation really is a big deal. Separately, since the 1990's, the American high school concept of Senior prom (short for promenade) has become popular in Australia, complete with rented tuxedos and limousines!] [Kathy: The aim now is for every school leaver in the state to obtain a South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE). This credential is overseen by the SACE Board. The reality is that even though the 'certificate' is very flexible not everyone leaves school having attained this. Re the prom, students go to a formal; some schools allow Year 11 and 12 students to attend, so it is not really about graduation.]

In my day, for the first two years of high school, tests to determine progress were prepared by each school as it chose. For the third year and beyond, there were two kinds of tests and corresponding course loads, which I'll call internal and external. The tests for external work were devised by the state's Public Education Board (PEB). (Any student with the aptitude for going to university, teacher's college, or some profession was put in the PEB stream.) There was one big exam at the end of the school year, which counted for 100% of one's grade. No matter how well one did throughout the year, have a bad test day and one could fail and have to repeat the whole year! [This is a lot like the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate (IB) program being offered in many countries around the world, including the US and Australia.] I didn't like that testing model then, and I'm even more certain I don't like it now. It's hardly representative of a student's achievement through the year. Internal testing was done by each school. [Kathy: Final results at Year 12 are no longer totally based on the exam result, but are a combination of what the student has done during the year and a final exam; however not all subjects have final exams.]

The school year ran from early February through mid-December, and was broken into three equal-length terms. We had a week off for the May Holidays and another one off for the September Holidays. Then came the summer holidays. (Years later, the summer break was shortened, and the mid-term breaks were extended to two weeks each.) [In the US, the seasons are opposite. The school year typically runs from late August/early September through June, and is sometimes broken into four nine-week grading periods. Students have a 4-day long weekend in November for Thanksgiving, 7–14 days off over Christmas, and then another week off for Spring Break in March/April. Then comes the (usually 10-week) summer holidays during which time many summer (not necessarily academic) schools operate.] [Kathy: We now have four terms per year.]

Parochial schools (that is, church-run schools) were quite common. Most of the country's population was contained in no more than 10–15 cities, and in those cities, numerous religious denominations had their own schools. However, outside metropolitan areas in my home state, the vast majority of church-run schools were run by the Lutheran or Catholic churches. My hometown had one of each: Loxton Lutheran Day School and St. Albert's Catholic School (known locally as The Convent).

Some private schools that were not affiliated with a church (such as Montessori schools) existed. Historically, private church schools were known as colleges. [In contrast, in the US, the word college usually denotes a 4-year university, although community colleges offer 2-year programs.]

Regarding tertiary (that is, post-secondary) education, the classic British Commonwealth Bachelor's degree was three years, and for the most part one specialized starting on Day 1. [In contrast, the classic US liberal-arts model runs four years and allows for a lot of experimentation before deciding on a major. I absolutely love that model.] Exceptional students were invited to do a fourth year, Honors. Masters' and Doctoral degrees were available, but if I recall correctly, a master's degree was viewed as a Poor-Man's Doctorate. Unlike the US, the demand for higher degrees in Australia was quite low. [Roger: The demand for higher degrees is now quite common, with there also being a demand for double degrees.] As such, if one went beyond a Bachelors', one did a Doctorate, falling back to a Masters' if one didn't complete the thesis or the entire coursework.

At the time, South Australia had two universities: Adelaide and Flinders. Adelaide University was modeled on the British lines with nice architecture and grounds, lots of tradition, including a military regiment. On the other hand, Flinders was quite new and more like a modern American liberal-arts college. Flinders definitely was the state leader in anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam War. [Australia was one of the main allies of the US in that war, and we had a military draft for men at age 20. In contrast, the draft age in the US was 18, which, by no coincidence corresponds to the age of the average high school graduate.]

The third main tertiary school was the South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT). [Interestingly, the student newspaper was called SAITUN, although I never did see any pointed ears or tails on the paper's staff.]

My state of one million people had quite a few teachers' colleges, most of which were independent, and after three years of training produced a primary [US: elementary] teacher with a Diploma of Teaching. Students who wanted to teach high school completed instead a 3-year university degree and then afterwards attended an affiliated teachers' college for a year to learn how to teach. It is worth noting that all students attending a teachers' college in my state who were being trained for public education were considered employees of the state's Department of Education. As such, not only didn't they pay tuition fees, they got a paycheck each week, which was enough to live on without having a part-time job. So, by the time they graduated, they already had 3–4 years of service counting towards their long-service leave. [In Australia, my wife attended a 3-year teachers' college. She took the same three subjects each year: History, Education, and Physical Education. However, when she wanted to become certified to teach in Virginia in the US, she first had to take several English courses, a US History course, a Virginia History course, and some other general education courses to complete a Bachelor's degree, and then complete a Master's degree in Education.]

[In 1991, SAIT and most of the teachers' colleges combined to form the University of South Australia, and the teachers' colleges formerly affiliated with the initial two universities merged with those universities.]

In my day, almost all classes in tertiary schools lasted for the whole academic year. However, many have since moved to the 2-semester-per-year model used in the US.

By the way, the more formally organized tertiary student residences are called colleges. These are not part of any university, however, and are not on-campus.

How did one qualify for entrance to a tertiary school? Firstly, one had to be attending a version of Year 12 high school that used PEB exams. [Kathy: In 1970, some Teachers' Colleges allowed students into some courses after Year 11.] During my time, such students had to take five subjects, each for a full year. At the end of the year, they received a grade for each based on the final exam. A score of 1 was best with 4 being the lowest grade pass. Scores of 5 and 6 were failures. To gain admission to a university, one had to pass all five subjects; that is, get a score of 4 or better on each. However, for SAIT and the teachers' colleges, it was a bit more lenient, and a total overall score was needed. For example, two grade 5's could be offset by some grades 1 and/or 2. (This gets back to the lack of a concept of high-school graduation.) By the way, in the US, it is almost a rite-of-passage to attend a university in a state other than one's own. However, in Australia that was extremely rare in my time, especially given that all universities there had similar (and good) academic reputations.

In December 1972, Australia had a major change in Federal Government. Gough Whitlam became the new Prime Minister and he immediately implemented his two big campaign promises: make tertiary education free and get Australia out of the war in Vietnam. The former gave rise to the well-educated middle-class and really set in motion the idea that Aussies need no longer consider themselves second-class citizens. [Since about 1990, as budgets got tighter, tuition fees have been re-introduced and increased. However, they are nowhere near the levels of US colleges, except perhaps for foreign students.]

In the years that I attended primary and secondary school, one day each week a representative from The Savings Bank of South Australia came to school and allowed students to make deposits. The bankbooks were kept by the school or by the bank; I don't know which. In any event, each bank day, I'd head off to school with a one- or two-shilling coin (or, later, its decimal equivalent) tied into the corner of my handkerchief, so I wouldn't lose it.

Regarding apprenticeships and trade schools, if a student wanted to be a hairdresser or motor mechanic, for example, they left school as soon as they reached the minimum age, 15. They then were employed by a corresponding business as participants in a (usually) 3-year apprenticeship, during which time they received on-the-job training. They also attended several weeks per year of formal instruction at a trade school in the state capital. Later, trade schools became more prevalent and a vocational training program was set up in small towns all over the state. [In the US, many school systems have specialty schools that offer hairdressing, auto repair, and catering, among other things. Students attending those schools do so several days each week or every morning or afternoon, and attend their "base school" for all general academic work. That is, they do their apprenticeship as part of the high school system, which is why they are urged to stay in school and to complete Year 12.] [Kathy: Vocational Education still exists, and students can do some schooling and begin some work, which is counted towards their SACE certificate. This is what is described as the 'flexibility of the SACE.']

Historically, nursing was treated like an apprenticeship. Young women (since it was exclusive female back then) left school by about 16, and became attached to a local hospital as trainee nurses. They received on-the-job training as well as some weeks of formal classwork each year before graduating as nursing sisters after three years. Since the 1990's, nursing has been recognized as a profession requiring a 3-year Bachelor-of-Nursing degree.

Each summer, the Department of Education sponsored a state-wide "Learn to Swim" campaign, so that kids could earn certificates of many levels from beginners to lifesaving. Most instructors were schoolteachers, who like their swim students were on their long summer break.

Loxton Lutheran Day School: 1959–1961, age 5–7

Motto: Omnia in Christo (All things in Christ)

In February 1959, at the grand age of 5 years and 2 months, I started Grade 1. By all accounts, I was more than ready. My teacher that year was Miss Alsop. My Grade-2 teacher was Miss Garrett, and in Grade 3, it was Miss Dawn Lienert. (She married a local man and stayed in the area. Over the years, I've caught up with her and her husband at their place in Australia and at my place in the US. In August 2012, our paths crossed when we were on separate vacations to Split, on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. In 1961, Dawn was a 19-year-old, newly minted teacher at her first school, having had about two years of teacher training. I think she was a little bit intimidated, but then who wouldn't be with 25 or more little Rex's in their class!) At the end of the first term in 1961, we moved 25 miles and I changed schools.

The Headmaster (US: principal) of the school was a gregarious man, a cricket player, and the son a Lutheran pastor. His name was Theofpholous ("Ophie") Gerhard Daniel Renner. (In 2012, at age 82, Mr. Renner was honored as South Australian Citizen of the Year.) Now I got to know him rather quickly. Before the first week of Grade 1 was over, I'd seen the inside of his office and got the cuts; that is, a hard whack across each hand with his cane. [I am happy to report that more than 60 years later, I am no longer in therapy over that.] The incident for which I was punished involved me riding on a fast-moving, metal playground device called a "chair-o-plane," from which I fell, swearing in the process. Apparently, swearing was not the done thing in Lutheran school! Fortunately, for the young girl in question, I have long since forgotten who "dobbed me in" (US: ratted me out); that is, told on me.

I don't remember much about my 2+ years there, but one thing does stand out. At morning recess, we each got a 1/3-pint (180 ml) bottle of whole milk, as part of a statewide health and nutrition program. [Now, many years later, I'm still a whole milk fan, and every now and then when I buy a gallon here in the US, the taste is such that if I close my eyes, I'm transported back to that shelter shed at Loxton Lutheran!] Oh, and speaking of shelter sheds, they contained taps (US: faucets) for drinking water at deep troughs. Rumor has it that children—almost always boys, I'm sure—who said mildly or really bad things, were taken there to have their mouths washed out with soap. So, how do I know that? Let's just say that, "the Devil made me do it!"

I do recall that we wore a school uniform that had blue and white stripes. This included a regulation jumper (US: sweater) and blazer, and for the boys, a skullcap.

The sandy road that came in from the main road to our house out at Loxton East was about a mile (1.6 kms) long, and it wasn't easy to ride on. From the road gate, it was about another mile (1.6 kms) to the junction where we waited for the school bus. I do know that I got my own bicycle—a spanking new 22" Super Elliott—at the start of Grade 2. I don't recall how I got to and from the bus stop the previous year, but my guess is that the older siblings "donkeyed" me; that is, carried me on the back of one of their bikes.

Our nearest neighbors were the Arnold's, whose farm was only a mile (1.6 kms) from our main gate. Now they had six kids—three boys followed by three girls—and all were in school at that time, with the youngest being my age. So rather than have them all ride bikes to the bus stop, the family had a horse and a large 4-wheeled cart. Each morning, the six kids rode that to the bus stop where the horse was put in a large pen nearby with food and water. Then, each night, they'd drive home again. I recall that on a couple of occasions, I was too tired to ride my bike, so they put it on their cart and let me ride with them to our gate.

When I talked with brother Terry about this period, one of the very few things he could recall was the time we went to the bus stop and he played in some pools of water left from a recent rain. He fell over and got his clothes all muddy. Rather than get on the bus to go to school, he went back home and hid under his bed all day, so Mom wouldn't know. [It's not clear how he avoided her not finding the dirty clothes later.]

Regarding the bus, it was a small one, and the windows were pulled up from inside the body using a leather strap that had holes in it that went on a metal pin to control the size of the opening. Near the place we boarded the bus at the end of each school day, was Mr. Jordan's shop, and there we could buy an "icy pole on a stick;" that is, frozen flavored water (US: popsicle). For some reason, I recall that sticks on which these and ice-creams came were known as "fro-joy" sticks, presumably because they held a frozen joy. Anyway, if one had a pin and used that to put a hole about halfway along such a stick, and then twisted each end half in opposite directions, one could make a pretty good propeller that fairly well raced around when held in one's hand out the bus window.

Each morning, the bus took us to the Loxton Primary School, as that was the hub for many buses. From there, students were transferred to the Lutheran Day school and to the High School. (We dropped off the Catholic School students right near their school on the way into town.) Each afternoon, we did the reverse trip, except that the last kids on in the morning—such as my family—were the last ones off at night.

The total student enrolment at the school was about 160. Being five years younger than my next oldest sibling, I only overlapped school attendance for one year with one brother, and two years with one sister.

One of my school workbooks from that era survived, a writing book from Grade 2. I also have my Grade 1 school photo, in its original frame, on the back of which is a picture I drew.

Nadda Primary School: 1961–1962, age 7–8

At the end of Term 1 of 1961, we moved to Nadda, where I finished Grade 3 in the second and third terms. The 1-teacher school was held in the Nadda Institute, a large stone building with a huge room with open fireplace, a small room attached, and separate boys' and girls' dunnies (US: outhouses). (In South Australia, many small towns had an institute—sometimes called a hall—which served as the place for social events such as dances after football games in winter, annual Strawberry Fetes, end-of-year school plays, and 21st birthday parties.)

One of my school workbooks (arithmetic) from that era survived.

The total student population was no more than 10, and was spread over the seven grades. I recall that one teacher, a divorced woman, boarded with us for a term. I also recall a male teacher who boarded with a neighbor. The school closed in May of 1962—at the end of my first term in Grade 4—when we got down to only three students. [In 2014, when I visited that area, a friend presented me with a colored photo he'd taken on the day the school closed. It's one of only a handful of photos I have of myself during my primary school years.]

To get to school, I rode my bike three miles each way on a dirt road. [Unlike a popular saying in the US, it was not "uphill both ways!"]

One incident I recall involved my taking some empty 180-lb (82 kg) wheat bags to school, and we stitched them together to make a tent in which we played out in the yard. Some bright spark (pun intended) decided to make and light a campfire out front of said tent. However, while we were back in class the fire got out of control, resulting in us being rendered "tent-less."

During this time, I and other boys took up smoking, Aussie-bush style. This involved finding a mallee tree (a form of Eucalyptus tree native to the area), digging up some of its lateral roots, stripping off the bark, lighting up one end, and then sucking hard on the other. I recall it being hard work getting the smoke all the way up a 3-inch mallee root, and the taste wasn't so good either. But, hey, we were cool! We hid our matches along with some store-bought fags (Aussie slang for cigarettes) someone had "borrowed" from their parents, in an old, seldom-used structure across the road in the railway yards. [I note that store-bought is a US term. I recall that back then men referred to cigarettes one bought as tailor-mades, versus those that were hand-rolled with paper and tobacco.]

Calling Nadda a town is being generous. Although a township had been surveyed, when I lived in the area, Nadda consisted of a combination general store and post office with a house attached, some outbuildings, the public Institute, two tennis courts, and a railway siding. [In much earlier times, there was a football oval.]

Although the railway siding was unmanned, a train with freight wagons, one or two passenger carriages, and guard's van (US: caboose), came through several times a week. Machinery and fertilizer were shipped in, and bags of grain were shipped out. A locked box was used to hold the mailbag that the postmistress put there for collection and recovery. Bread also came several times a week with unsliced "sandwich" and "hi-top" loaves roughly sewn into one or more 180-pound wheat bags. At one end of the rail yard stood a locked phone booth that train staff could use.

Taplan Primary School: 1962–1964, age 8–11

After the Nadda School closed, I rode my bike a half mile to the corner near my house and then took a bus eight miles each way to the primary school in Taplan. This was another 1-teacher school with seven grades. Although I'd completed one term of Grade 4 at Nadda, not too long after I arrived at Taplan, the teacher put me in Grade 5 (so I went from being, on-average, six months younger than my classmates to 18 months younger). I completed Grade 6 in 1963, then Grade 7 in 1964. The most students we had at any time was 28. There were four of us in the same grade.

As was standard in South Australia, all Grade-7 students sat for their Progress Certificate (PC) at the end of that year. The results of this determined if one could go on to high school. [I still have that certificate.]

Two male teachers taught there during my time, and each lived in the house provided by the Education Department for married teachers.

Across the road from the school was the main store, which was run by Mrs. Harvey. I don't know if she had ever taught school formally, but on the rare occasion the teacher was absent, she took over.

All seven grades were taught in parallel by the same teacher, a feat I have trouble remembering how it worked, yet it did. We sat two-to-a-desk on one wide seat that tipped back on a hinge. The sloped desktops had holes on the right side of each student for the ceramic pot inkwells. [No lefties catered for, thank you very much!] I seem to recall that being inkwell (or chalkboard) monitor was a reward rather than a punishment.

Taplan had a large railway yard in which stood a number of wooden houses where railway gangers (workers, that is) sometimes lived. At one time, one of them was occupied by an Aboriginal family, a rare thing in my area. And although they had only small children, an older relative came to stay with them for an extended period. She was a big girl and a grade ahead of me, and she sat next to me, taking up a good piece of our shared seat.

The school grounds consisted of a large yard covered in crushed gravel, which was known locally as crusher dust. Most outdoor activities took place there. Down a back hill, we had a large vegetable garden, which we tended in season. At the bottom of that hill was a reasonably flat space for the boys to kick a football during recess and lunch breaks.

Next to the garden was a large patch of bamboo, and from that I carry a large and permanent reminder. From time to time, we'd cut down lengths of bamboo for use in a variety of activities, leaving behind jagged stumps about three inches (7.5cms) out of the ground. The Taplan football club oval (playing field) was nearby, and one Saturday during a game there, some other kids and I went over to the bamboo patch to "mess around." Somehow, I fell over and got one of those sharp, jagged stumps stuck in the front of my right, lower leg, right down to the bone. There was a lot of blood, yet I never did have it stitched.

As one went up the front steps of the school, to the left before the front door, there was a woodwork room. To the right was a large space enclosed on three sides by sheets of corrugated iron. That was where we sat to eat our lunch and played in inclement weather (a rare thing in that area).

At different times, different local people tendered for and won the contract to provide the school bus service that ran the 16 miles, going from Taplan to Nadda on the west road and then from Nadda to Taplan on the east road. One of those was my godfather, Albert Obst, who lived in Taplan and had a General Motors Holden panel van, a sort-of station wagon, but with the back having a higher roof and organized for commercial hauling rather than passengers. One night coming home, I caused some sort of problem, and as punishment, Albert put me off the bus about a mile from my stop, so I had to walk home. A second incident occurred with another driver—whose son I had teased—put me off some two miles from my stop. [Some 40 years later, I met that same man and the first thing he spoke of when he met me was how I'd teased his son. It was clear that he'd failed to "move on" with his life.]

Once a year, we competed in the Brown's Well district inter-school sports day. This involved schools from Taplan, Meribah, Paruna, Alawoona, and Peebinga, among others. We mostly competed in individual events, because with only 28 kids in seven grades, we never had enough of the same age/size to make up a boys or girls' team.

At the end of each year, we put on a school play, which was held on the stage of the Taplan Institute. We did it all: acting, singing, comedy sketches, and operating fund-raising stalls.

Back then, rural schools each had a Welfare Club, the forerunner of today's Parent-Teacher Associations, and they raised money via a number of means. In the case of Taplan, one very popular activity was the weekly Card Night, held at the school during winter. The game played was 500, a bidding game somewhat like Bridge and Euchre. There were four players to a table, and the head table had a bell. When one pair at the head table reached 500 points, they rang the bell and the current hand at the other tables was completed and the leading pair from each table moved to the next, but opposed each other there, while the losing pair stayed behind, but opposed each other. At the end of the night, prizes for the lowest (booby prize) and the highest score for men and woman were awarded, and hot drinks and snacks were consumed. Throughout, a roaring fire heated the cavernous room.

Another student and I were the only kids who attended and played. Now most people came to have some fun, but old Emil Schneck took it very seriously. He was a retired bachelor, and apart from attending St. John's Lutheran church on Sundays, this was his only other big weekly event! So, when I sat at his table, I had to "bid and play properly." Each person's score was recorded and at the end of the season, the top scorer got a folding card table. [In April of 2000, during a trip back to my hometown, I recreated a 500-night just as I'd remembered it from Taplan School. With 12 players, we made up three tables.]

I finished at Taplan School in December 1964. At the end of 1967, Taplan, along with all the small regional schools, closed with the students being bused to the Browns' Well Area School in Paruna, which supported Grades 1–10. [In 2007, 40 years later, that school also closed, with the students being bused to Loxton.]

Before bulk handling of grain and silos were introduced, Taplan had huge wheat stacks where many thousands of 180-lb (82 kg) bags were piled high, ready to be taken away by train. The town had a post office with a small store; a second, larger store; a church; a cemetery; a school; a teacher's house; a football oval; plus 20-odd houses.

In Part 2, I'll cover my time in high school and university.

Travel: Memories of Chile

© 1991, 2020 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Originally, this diary was written by hand in a spiral notebook during the trip; however, now I've transcribed and edited it. The diary cover reads, "Diario de Viaje a Chile y Argentina, Octubre y Noviembre 1991." To get in the spirit of the Spanish language, I wrote each day's name in Spanish, and I added "new Spanish word" lists to various days. I also glued all kinds of things into the paper version: postcards, bus tickets, receipts, and so forth. The Spanish content was not transcribed, and the add-ins have been omitted from this electronic version, as were the food and drink samples I'd spilled on several pages.]

This was my second big adventure trip, and involved two weeks with a group crossing southern Chile and Argentina, billed as a Patagonia Walking trip, preceded by some days on my own in Chile getting in a Spanish-speaking mood.

[Diary] We touched down in the capital, Santiago, at 7:30 am, local time, and my luggage arrived soon after. From there I went to change some money. The Chilean Peso wasn't worth a whole lot, and for US$150, I got 53,250! Coins were in dominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 pesos, and banknotes of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and higher. You certainly can't buy anything for 1 peso!

By 8 am, I had all my gear and was ready to depart. Unfortunately, the tourist office didn't open until 9 am, so I set out for the city anyway. After waiting at the place the signs appeared to indicate, I watched a number of buses pass me by. Finally, one stopped, and we set off on the 26-km run to the capital. The one-way trip cost 350 pesos, a little less than $1. It was a comfortable coach and the price was right. As we approached the city, the smog seemed to increase. While many places looked to be, and were, run-down, things were relatively clean with not much litter, which was a good sign. On the outskirts of town, an Italian circus was setting up its tents.

The main street of the city is called La Avenida de O'Higgins. Now while O'Higgins was a famous local general, his name doesn't sound very Hispanic. However, there are streets, hotels, and even a bank named after him. Traffic was hectic with small buses darting in and out constantly.

My first stop was the hotel from which my adventure tour group would depart several days later. It was quite up-scale with rooms running $100–200/night. There were doormen and staff everywhere. I walked into the foyer dressed in my sweat pants and green parka, carrying a daypack and duffle bag, and wearing hiking boots with bright red laces. They probably thought I was lost or just another of those eccentric, rich foreigners. I certainly got looks from lots of people as I came up the grand staircase to the front desk. I confirmed my reservation for several days later and left my duffle bag in their storage room. I had no desire to stay in such a place at all, and wanted to get the feel of the "real" Chile.

It was a short 6-block walk to the tourist office, or at least to where it used to be. On my arrival, a kindly gentleman informed me it had moved. (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) From what I gathered from his Spanish the new location wasn't too far away, but he suggested I take the subway. I decided to walk anyway, which turned out to be a mistake. It took me an hour and my feet got tired and sore. Along the way I spied an old pickup truck, so I stopped to chat with the proud owner. He informed me it was a 1938 Chevy. By that time, I wished I had waited the extra hour at the airport for that tourist office to open.

At the tourist office, a young woman helped me with maps and information regarding the subway system, so I rode that to the main bus station. The flat fare was 100 pesos. The system was very modern and efficient. At the bus station, I bought a one-way ticket to Valparaiso, the country's main port and second largest city. The fare was 650 pesos. The coach was very nice and had a driver and two staff all dressed in uniforms. On-board one could buy food and drink, and there was a toilet. The service was outstanding; in fact, I would have paid at least 675 pesos! A radio was broadcasting throughout the bus, and Tom Jones used that to serenade us in English en route. Driving time was 1:45 hours. I sat next to somebody's grandma, and we chatted a bit with me asking her lots of questions and she replying so fast I understood about two words per sentence, although when hearing rapid-spoken Spanish, it's hard to tell where one sentence ends and the next one starts. For all I know she may well have telling me about a boil on her butt!

While I was making progress on my Spanish reading and speaking, it was clear I was very deficient in comprehension. My most common responses were "no entiendo" (I don't understand) and "mas despacio" (speak more slowly).

Out the window, I saw green fields full of golden and orange flowers. En route, I ate leftover airline food for lunch. Soon we came to pine forests, which also contained many eucalypts, something that surprised me. (I thought they grew only in Australia; silly me!)

The good news was that there was a tourist office right at the Valparaiso bus station. The bad news was that it closed 30 minutes before I arrived, for a 2-hour lunch break. (I could see a pattern developing here with respect to tourist offices.) However, another office stayed open during lunch if I cared to walk the 15 minutes to get there. I took a while to get my bearings and a young woman from the bus station escorted me to a local bus stop, put me on a bus, and told the driver where to take me. Just as the bus started, I noticed that I'd left my daypack in her office, and I jumped off just in time, but lost my ticket in the process. They were just locking up the station, but I managed to retrieve my bag. Finally, another bus came along and, don't you know, it dropped me right at the street for which she had given me directions. The only problem was that it was in the adjoining town some 3–4 miles away and she had written down the wrong town. Don't you just hate that?

Perhaps it was fate that brought me there, but the town of Viña del Mar (literally, vineyard of the sea) was very much up-market, so much so that I didn't think I'd be able to find cheap accommodation. I got wind of a hostel, but after 45 minutes of walking, I discovered it had closed. After that long walk had tired me out what to do but stop at a supermarket and buy a bag of dried sultanas (US: golden raisins) and sit in the sun and eat them. They didn't help my feet any, but they sure tasted good.

Well, my travel motto is, "Always have a plan B, even for Plan B!" I finally found a place right downtown on Agua Santa. It was your typical hostel with mix-and-match furniture. The share-bathroom had a cold-water basin and shower in a tub. A large gas cylinder sat at the end of the tub, and one just switched on the gas, struck a match, and "let her rip!" The price was $5/night, which was just fine with me.

As it happened, my adventures for the day had not yet ended. Today was the day the staff had chosen to replace some of the furniture and bedding in my very room. So, when I say that I had to make my bed, I mean that I had to make my bed, literally. Being much taller than the guys assembling the double bunk beds, I offered to help them, and we become buddies even though we could barely understand each other. However, there was one bit of good news. One of the bolt holes in the bed was drilled incorrectly, and the bolt wouldn't fit properly. Just that very morning I had been learning some new Spanish verbs, one of which was the verb "to fit," and lo and behold I got a chance to use it in a real-life situation, "it won't fit," or as we'd say in Australian-Spanish, "No bloody fitto, Jose!"

We assembled three bunks and put on new mattresses, sheets, and blankets. My mattress was rock-hard, just as I like it. The old mattresses we replaced sagged almost to the floor. With them, I reckon I could have rocked myself to sleep trying to get out of bed.

My room had two big windows, one at the head of my bed and one on the side, and the cool breeze blew right on in. A rock band started practicing in the house next door, but it wasn't too loud.

At 7:15 pm, I ventured out to find some food. I spied a family bakery with deli, and the staff was just filling the bins with hot rolls as I arrived. I bought some fresh rolls along with liter containers of chocolate milk, orange juice, and apple juice, and ham and Gouda cheese. Hey, I'm a growing boy! In my haste to race home and devour my purchases I had forgotten to buy butter, so my rolls were a bit dry.

I checked out the gas shower and after coaxing the burner gently, I got a good wash. By 8:30, my personal lights were starting to dim. Apparently, I had two roommates, and I hoped they wouldn't be too noisy when they got in. In any event, with all the new furniture, they might think they've come to the wrong room.

So, how was my first full day? I confirmed that relatively speaking, I don't know much Spanish. The day could have been better, and it could have been worse. As I had no big expectations, there were no big disappointments. Besides, if everything had have gone smoothly, I wouldn't have anything interesting to write about. Both heels finished up with sizeable blisters on the bottom, and two toes were a little squashed. I guess they need more toughening before the real hiking starts in a few days.

[Diary] I got up at 11 am, to find that I was sharing a room with two guys from Columbia and one from Chile. As I had long missed breakfast, I made my own from leftover supper and some milk. I did learn one important lesson; if you are 6'4" (195 cms) tall and sleeping on the bottom bunk, don't sit straight up in bed as you'll hit your !@#$ing head!

The weather was nice with temperatures in the high 60s F, and I made my way outside around noon. I headed for the beach nearby where some babes were taking in the sun. Students from several universities nearby were out in force. I stopped in at a small museum dedicated to a well-known local writer and adventurer. It was housed in a small castle-like building built on the rocks overlooking the sea.

There really was no litter and the gardens were blooming. Date palms lined the beach road along with numerous other trees. Viña del Mar is where wealthy people had their summer homes. I came across a rather swank-looking casino. Numerous high-rise apartment buildings lined the beach.

I spent quite some time at a large supermarket comparing prices and trying to figure out what some things were. There was a lot of Chilean wine for about $2/bottle. As the potato chips looked inviting, I bought a packet. I wrote some postcards and discovered empanadas, which involved meat wrapped in pastry. I bought two and the vendor offered to heat them for me. They also contained egg and, to my unpleasant surprise when I bit one, a black olive, which I quickly spat into the gutter.

At 7:15 pm, I was seated in the city's grand theater awaiting a choral performance by a university choir. Although there was no charge, I was hoping to get more than my money's worth. Although I was not able to decipher the program, it seemed to have something to do with the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the Americas. Some women were wearing furs, and some men had on ties. As for me, I was in my hiking gear and carrying a daypack!

The choir warmed up and there was a lot of humming; perhaps they hadn't yet learned all the words. Patrons filled a number of private boxes on the main level and two upper balconies. The ceiling was a large dome. The program I'd been trying to decipher turned out to be details of the university's plan for education. The public-address system featured Lennon and McCartney songs played on an Andean flute, which was quite conducive to my absorbing some of the local culture. Although the performance started 15 minutes late, three choirs sang for 90 minutes total. At the end, the three groups (80-odd voices) sang together. According to my attempt at translation, the title of the program was "We Sing in Spring."

[Diary] I lay in bed a good while and joined the 10-am-breakfast shift. There I met a young Chilean woman who lived in Stockholm with her Swedish husband, and taught Spanish. To make it interesting her father was German, and her maiden name was Müller. We had a conversation in a mixture of Spanish and English.

I took my last look around my room and noticed that the "quaint" curtain rods really were strands of heavy-gauge wire. The dilapidated clothes closet had a door that wouldn't close, just like the door on the room itself. "Spartan" was probably the most appropriate description. However, at $10 for two nights with a continental breakfast included, it was a good deal.

Around noon, I caught a bus back to Valparaiso, the town in which I had intended to stay originally. That town was bustling, and I sat and watched the goings on in the fruit and vegetable market before finding a large park. The order of the day was to wander about, write postcards, buy some stamps, and find a place to stay. The weather was cloudy but not at all cold. A young university student sat next to me as I fed some sparrows and a pigeon. As he spoke no English, my Spanish was pushed to the limit. I gathered that his name was Louis and that he was studying Chemistry.

I found the main Post Office, bought stamps and more cards, and posted some cards. From there I went to the main square, Plaza Solomayor. And right across the street, I spied the Hotel Reina Victoria (The Queen Victoria), but I doubt she'd have been very proud of it, at least not in its current state. The front desk was up a flight of stairs and it was tended by a kindly grandmother. We got along famously and soon, I was ensconced in my own large private room on the 3rd floor. The room had a washbasin, two face washers, a mirror, and a power outlet. There was a large wardrobe and a bed that sagged quite badly. The bedside stand had a small reading lamp on it along with—yes Ladies and Gentlemen—a chamber pot! A small table, chair, and a rug completed the décor. The two windows opened out over the plaza. To my left was the Chilean Navy Port and to my right was the Naval Headquarters. A window seat was built into the wall, and as I sat, I could see sailors coming and going to/from the Armada de Chile building.

Now, I ask you Ladies and Gentlemen, how much would you expect to pay for such luxury and a view? Well I paid 2,000 pesos per night, a little less than $6. Continental breakfast was included and would be delivered to my room. A share bath was down the hall and ran on a gas-fired apparatus. I even had a view of the plaza from the toilet seat. But wait, there was even more; my room came with a living pot plant!

At 7:30 pm, I asked the woman at the desk to fire up the hot water, to lay out my silk pajamas, and to get some bearers to carry me down to "el tubbo." Well, the water was very hot and plentiful, and I had a good soak under the shower. It was good to be able to stand straight and still fit under the showerhead. I noticed that toilet paper was supplied, and was in strips of 2' laid atop the cistern. (Most cheap places did not supply it.) During my nap, I'd dreamed I was staying in a 5-star villa and when I awoke, viola, there it was! Perhaps it will all be turned back into a pumpkin at midnight.

Back in my room, I rubbed some secret-recipe liniment into my tired and aching calf muscles, after which the place smelled like a men's locker room. I guess they will have to change my sheets this week after all given the smell I'll leave behind. The ceiling was at least 12' high and the light hanging down was so bright I could almost see enough to find the switch on the wall to check if the light was actually on. By the way, the electricity supply was 220V (unlike the US) and with screw-in bulbs (just like the US). The power outlets were 2-pin European-style.

After lying in bed a while, it was clear that I wasn't going to get to sleep with my butt dragging near the floor in the saggy mattress. And my feet were higher than my head. So, I dragged the mattress and bedding onto the floor, which was an improvement. All night, there was traffic outside my window, but as the noise was constant, it was not at all annoying.

[Diary] The tea that I'd ordered for 9 am arrived at 8:30, and it was coffee! Don't you just hate that when that happens! It sure is hard to get good help nowadays! And just as I finished eating, my alarm sounded. Actually, the coffee was not so strong; in fact, the spoon needed some help before it could stand up on its own. The bread was fresh and came with lots of butter, and made a hearty start to the day.

[Diary] Back in the capital, I came across the Residencial Londres hotel next to the main cathedral, and I rented a room. The marble staircase was most impressive, and the place was built like a castle, with solid walls, wood paneling, and plaster moldings. As I glanced at the guest registry, I saw several Finns, a Dutchman, and two Argentines, among others. For 2,600 pesos ($8), I had a double room to myself. The beds looked decent, towels were provided, and there was a writing table and chair, armchair, robe, and a bed lamp that made electrical-short-type sounds when switched on. The window opened out onto the street and I was on the ground floor. There were heavy indoor shutters to make the room dark and quiet. The share-bathroom was next door, and it had hot water all the time, a huge shower alcove—perhaps the guests all shower together—and toilet paper. All room doors were huge and well-made with solid locks, and swung easily. There was a small courtyard with garden.

After resting in my room, around 5:30 pm, I headed out for a stroll. I took in the new movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner. It was in English with Spanish subtitles, and was preceded by a Disney cartoon along with a newsreel on Germany. At $2.50, it was good value.

From the theater, I walked down a long mall and ran smack-dead into a large student demonstration coming towards me. I could hear them chanting as I got closer. Then something set them off, and they started running towards me, and I guessed the police were breaking them up. I and numerous other pedestrians turned into a side street. That street had many people selling things on tables and blankets on the ground with small children playing. I tried not to step on anyone with my Seven-League boots. As I moved away from the intersection I turned to see an armored car with a water canon spraying high-pressure water all around. Then I heard a metallic sound as a tear gas canister started rolling towards me. Some smoke grenades exploded nearby.

As I moved further away, the crowd was very orderly, and two blocks further on, the shoppers were oblivious to what was happening behind me. When I reached the main street, the police were out in force in full riot gear, with shields and helmets. I decided that was as close as I wanted to get to a Chilean jail!

Back at the hotel, I told my tale to the front desk clerk, and he said that was a regular occurrence. The students got a permit to march, and they always went further than was permitted, leading to a confrontation with the police, so it was sort-of choreographed. While it was good to know that I wasn't in any real danger, my heart rate did race there for a bit.

[Diary] I sat down for breakfast at 9 o'clock, having apricot jam on bread with tea. I chatted with two American woman working with the Peace Corps in Paraguay, and another American traveling around the continent. While eating, we started to hear singing and speech-making outside, over a public-address system. Frankly, it sounded like a 1930s Nazi rally! It was indeed a political rally, for the Radical Party of Chile, and it was taking place right outside my hotel. We watched it from a balcony. After the previous evening's events, I had visions of a SWAT team landing on the roof and rappelling down the hotel walls to break things up.

The demonstrations were mostly about political prisoners. I found it impossible to relate to the local politics. One cannot hope to appreciate the loss of something until one has lost it. Somehow it always seems to happen to people "in other countries," but here I was in one of those other countries! Sadly, I expect the impact on me will wear off in a few days when I'll be off on another adventure. [See Human rights violations in Pinochet's Chile.]

[Diary] Back at the swank Hotel Carerra, I found that I was sharing a room with Thomas from Brooklyn, New York City, who was in my tour group. He told me we had a 5:30-am wake-up call the next morning. Say what, I'm on vacation!

[Diary] At 6 o'clock, I met the whole group downstairs, and we boarded a small bus for the airport for an 8-am flight to Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the continent, with a stop at Puerto Mott. I sat with Stan, our trip leader. His partner, Kate, was in charge of trip logistics. My other seatmate was a delightful Chilean businessman who owned boats that fished for bass and swordfish. He also had the biggest kelp-harvesting operation in the country. A breakfast omelet with fruit and coffee was served in-flight.

From my brief encounter, there seemed to be an interesting mix of people in my group. Thomas was a retired policeman from NYC, who carved wooden figures in his spare time, and was interested in opera and fine arts. There was a retired couple from Utah (Virgil and Jackie), he a doctor and she a dietician. He'd gotten bored, so went back to work becoming the medical director of the Mormon Missionary program. (During the trip, the four of us became friends.) There were also two women from Montana.

The sky was clear, and we followed the Andes all the way down to their end. Along the way, we saw more than a few volcanos, none of which was spewing ash that day. (There was a significant eruption several months earlier, from which ash was still settling.)

After collecting our baggage, we boarded a mini-bus for the 4-hour drive north to Puerta Natales, a fishing town located on Última Esperanza Sound (Last Hope Sound). Along the way, we were served empanadas for lunch. We saw quite a few rheas, a smaller version of emu/ostrich. The landscape reminded me of Iceland: windswept with rocks and small brush. Although there were lots of trees, none of them was large enough for lumber. All posts, poles, and houses were made of concrete, the houses having corrugated-iron roofs. After we arrived in town, I went for a walk and spoke to two young high school students who knew some English.

At out hotel, The Eberhardt, I sat in an upstairs lounge, and took in the view over the sound with snow-capped mountains straight ahead and all around to the right.

[Diary] We left town around 10:30, and had a long, slow drive over dirt roads. We stopped along the way for a picnic lunch. We saw a lot of large rabbits and several eagles. Later, we came across large numbers of guanacos near the road, and six Andean condors circling overhead. Further on, we saw more guanacos, condors, geese, ibis, and other birds. We stopped off at a magnificent, large waterfall, Salto Grande (Grand Falls). The wind blew something fierce although it wasn't cold. We finally reached our destination, Torres del Paine National Park, and arrived at the park's HQ, some 30 km away from the park entrance, where we had an orientation from a park ranger. The glaciers, snow-covered mountains, and windswept bushes were much like parts of Alaska, Scotland, and Iceland, all rolled together.

We had switched to camp-mode, and the campsite was set up by 7 pm. Each guest pair had to erect their own 2-person tent. They were dome-shaped and quite roomy with a small annex, although not tall enough to stand. I was pleasantly surprised that Nestlé Milo hot/cold-chocolate drink was very popular in Chile, and the camp kitchen had copious quantities. The camp table was set, complete with crockery, with places for 14 diners, which included the two American guides and the Chilean cook and bus driver. The camp fire was roaring, and pots were bubbling.

[Diary] I was awake at 6:30 am, and small birds were chirping outside my tent. Some 20 feet away some geese swam in a river. The crew brought us hot water and we did our ablutions before packing our gear. We broke our luggage into two parts: the main part would stay on the bus while the other would go on pack horses for an overnight hike. My new sleeping bag and self-inflating mattress had worked really well on their maiden outing. Tom went to sleep in 60 seconds and snored a lot. At 8 o'clock, we ate scrambled eggs, which I washed down with some strawberry milk. We'd each been assigned a plastic lunchbox, and into that we packed a lunch, from cheese, salami, chocolate bars, fruit, and trail mix. We loaded the bus, and rode it to the trailhead to start our hike at 10:30.

We met up with three cowboys and their six horses, which would carry our gear and food for two nights away. The first few hours of the hike were over flat, open grassland, between two separate mountain groups. We were surrounded by snow- and ice-covered peaks, glaciers, and very cold rivers with pieces of ice floating in them. There were lots of flowers and birds, and the sun was strong all day. The rivers were grey with glacial flour.

After a while, we started going up and down, and I raised a sweat. As I had a lot of clothes on, I started to shed some outer layers. If one were ever to get excited by a view, then this would a good place to do that. The big mountain lake before us was very blue, and the snow-covered peaks reflected were in it like a jigsaw puzzle picture. Although we saw an occasional tree, none was near the trail, so there was no shade in which to rest. The light wind combined with the sun to burn the skin, and my exposed hands got quite red. As we walked at different speeds, the group spread out, and after six hours, I reached camp with half of the people still behind me. The final hour was the most strenuous. When we arrived at our destination, another group was just departing. A solo hiker headed in the direction we'd come.

Supper was noodle soup, chicken, rice, peas, beans, corn, and mashed potato. Although cooked, the peas, beans, and corn were served cold, as is the Chilean custom. Those of us not accustomed to this, rectified the "problem" by loading them into the hot soup. We finished off with hot tea and pieces of chocolate. For this part of the trip, we had a large dining tent with folding seats.

[Diary] After a breakfast of oatmeal with hot milk, tea, and bread, we packed a picnic lunch, and we hit the trail about 9:15. It was overcast with a threat of rain. As we left, Virgil played his harmonica. The wind was quite fearsome, and come straight at us. Just before lunch, it rained a few drops. Grey Lake is fed by Grey Glacier, and ultimately runs into Grey River. We saw quite a few small ice floes, many of which had been blown to the end of the lake. As we neared the glacier, we saw several large icebergs that had run aground.

The glacier forked into two parts behind a hill, and the front of each head was about 200 yards across. Many bergs were waiting to calve off the heads. Where it was really packed down, the ice reflected only blue light. We sat on a huge rock outcrop from which the glacier had retreated. The boulders in front us were scoured with deep, regular furrows that looked man-made. There was forest around much of the lake, and we could see a number of waterfalls and swift-flowing streams.

[Diary] We packed up our tents and were on the trail around 9:15. After yesterday's "Death March," my big boots took over and propelled me well ahead of the others.

We stopped for lunch, and then after four hours, we arrived "home" before the pack horses. Hot showers were promised later, and I looked forward to that. The aches in my body had evaporated, although I hoped it hadn't gotten too used to exercise! The shower was great, and I celebrated with the rest of my carton of strawberry milk, and bought another at the camp store. With only one shower, it took a good while for the group to get through. Some of us watched a big, brown hawk in a tree nearby, and it was very interested in the garbage bin.

Around 4:15, we departed for Laguna Azul (Blue Lake). The ride was rough and took several hours. One of the cowboys, Jose, rode with us and we dropped him off at his home. Along the way he and I spoke at length. We saw geese, guanacos, rheas, and one condor.

The location of our new campground was fantastic; I immediately decided to move there, permanently! There was a large lake surrounded by mountains, which were more like grass-covered rolling hills. A herd of horses roamed the bottom meadow. There were some very colorful pintos and a young colt. A herd of guanacos grazed near the campground. By the time we erected our tents, it was 9 pm, but it was still quite light with the sun just having dropped below the hills. Some of us collected firewood. After the sun went down, I walked to the lake to see the snow-covered mountains with a ring of grey clouds, reflected in the water.

[Diary] We all did laundry, and the surrounding bushes were decorated with our clothes. The day's hike was optional, and I chose to stay in camp, to read, write, and to go off to watch the guanaco herd. During the morning, Eliacer (the cook), baked a large chocolate cake, and iced it with white and brown frosting. (Like I said earlier, this is not just any old camping trip!)

It was a lazy day, with the sun alternating with light drizzle, and the laundry got dry, mostly. Karen had decided to stay in camp as well, and we went off on an animal-finding expedition, but had no luck except for several hares, and some birds and flowers. The countryside reminded me of Scotland. Eventually, I saw some pink flamingos (now you know where they go south in the northern winter), some swallows, and a flock of parrots. I rigged up a place near the campfire to dry my socks.

For an evening appetizer, we ate Chilean camembert and edam cheese and drank local wine. Supper was lasagna with broccoli. The iced, chocolate cake followed. Then Virgil recited some poems, one of which he wrote. We kept the fire stoked even though it wasn't cold; after all, you can't camp without a fire! Lights out at 10:30.

The next day, we crossed the border into Argentina, where we spent five more days, eventually staying our final night in Buenos Aires.

[Diary] The trip was definitely worth the money. I practiced my Spanish a lot, met some interesting people with whom I planned to stay in touch, sampled some new cultures and food, and most importantly I slept very well most of the time. After having three weeks off following a hectic work schedule, it made me even more determined to work only half-time the following year!