Saturday, May 27


My wife is a writer and I have managed to persuad her to allow me to publish one of her short stories, about our adventure holiday.

Its Entitled Odyssey

It’s midday in late July and I’m huddled in a large fishing dinghy on the Pacific Ocean. The equatorial sun attempts to penetrate the swaddling of this mummy-like figure clinging to the wooden rim of the boat. What am I doing here, I wonder, as I drink greedily from my water bottle? I could be lounging lazily in Melbourne beside a cosy fire, sipping hot chocolate.

My friend, Barbara, sitting up on the side of this craft, soaking up the experience, knows why she is here. My husband, Lindsay, perched further forward on the opposite side, unconcerned about the sun’s perforating rays, knows what he is doing here. They are responding to an invitation to visit Abaiang, a small coral island, part of Kiribati (KIR-UH-BAHS) (formerly the Gilbert Islands).

“Come and visit my island; you will see the most amazing sunsets,” Judy, a 27 year old Canadian missionary, offered to Barbara some months earlier.

Barbara has come because she has visited Kiribati before, and feels the need to return, perhaps to commit to some volunteer work later. Lindsay wished to accompany a friend, to experience something new, and I am, somewhat reluctantly, accompanying partner and friend.

“Look, dolphins,” calls Lindsay over the whirr of the outboard motor.

I struggle to make myself a little more comfortable on my luggage seat, at the same time following Lindsay’s gaze. Two grey forms leap gracefully from the cobalt sea ahead then disappear, like children playing hide and seek, into the inky depths. I’m mesmerised, waiting enthusiastically for their next display.

The ocean is relatively calm, dispelling my fear of huge swells, sea sickness, and most of all, the possibility of capsizing. I did read in Arthur Grimble’s, “A Pattern of Islands,” that the south-east trades breathe steadily at 25 miles an hour for months on end, but can slam round to the north and blow a 40 mile gale. I wonder if our two boatmen are expecting heavy weather? They’re wearing hard hats for some reason, and we can’t ask them why as their English is limited. We can but speculate! Perhaps there are large flying fish in the waters. Maybe they were a gift, or left over from a building site job some time. The latter seems unlikely, though, as there was little evidence of large building works at Basio, the port of Tarawa, from where we had cast off only an hour ago. There were, however, remains of industrious activity from the Second World War. The Japanese invaded Tarawa, building a landing strip, road and later cement bunkers to defend the island from the American rescuers. The beach, where once one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Pacific was fought, is now covered with cramped village housing and the bunkers have become the children’s climbing equipment. Oh, there is really nothing to worry about, as we are still in sight of land: Tarawa, a slate silhouette on the horizon behind us, and Abaiang appearing ahead like a mirage, through the sun’s metallic rays.
I hope my water lasts. Of course it will. Only an hour to go and the temperature is unlikely to change much. The internet printout states that the temperature here varies little between 26 and 32 degrees Celsius all year round and I’m sure it’s reached the maximum. Wouldn’t it be pleasant if we could slip over the side to cool off. On second thought I don’t think I would like to risk the wrath of the tiger sharks (Tababa) said to hunt for trevally in these waters. Legend has it that if you stay still in the sea the Tababa will charge you. If you swim away from them in fear they will smell your fear and chase you. If you swim without fear towards them they will be afraid and leave you in peace. Still, this is not the time or place to prove myth or fact.

“Coming, ready or not.”

Where are those cheeky dolphins? I want to take a photo. Oh, good, there they are, so sleek and graceful. I wonder if they are marine guardian angels guiding us from island to island. That is a comforting thought. Is the sun addling my brain?

“What an amazing sight,” Barbara comments, wrenching me from my reverie.
“Yes, that is incredible. It looks like a house boat.”
“ Fam-ly fish,” responds one of our smiling boatmen.
The family doesn’t appear to be doing much fishing at the moment. I wouldn’t mind changing places with them. They seem very comfortable sitting cross-legged on that flat wooden roof beneath the shade of a tarpaulin, which, like a misplaced sail is tied loosely between the side of the vessel and two poles fastened to the deck. I imagine they are enjoying the gentle breeze generated by the propulsion of the craft through the sultry salty air.

Still, like us, they have little room to move around. Two thirds of the roof is covered with rolls of hand woven pandanus leaf mats which the native women weave to sell in the Tarawa market places. All their worldly possessions are stacked haphazardly on the lower deck. I wonder if those splashed of colour filtering through the open sided structure are sarongs drying in the heat.

Heat! Was it only two days ago I stepped from the plane to a burst of hot air which momentarily stopped me in my tracks? I should have expected it, as we are, after all, two degrees above the equator. The stifling, corrugated iron airport building was a far cry from the modern Tullamarine air terminal. Our luggage had been piled in the far corner, on a cement floor, among dozens of those striped plastic carry-all bags which the I-Kirabiti passengers used as luggage. Various packages and boxes full of purchases from Australia littered the unloading bay entrance, slowing our customs clearance. It was 10:00am and 28 degrees in the shade, and I was anxious for a cold shower and a change of clothes.

A pale hand beckoned like a beacon above a sea of dark faces, guiding us through the crowd. A handsome young man, hair tied loosely behind his neck, moved leisurely towards us , smiling lazily. Gently he placed a brightly-coloured, delicately-woven garland of tiny blossoms on our heads, evoking memories of frangipani, daisy chains and a carefree childhood. Introductions followed this unexpected moving gesture. Then John, Barbara’s Australian Volunteers Abroad friend, announced,
“Your plane to Abaiang is grounded due to mechanical problems. But, I have managed to get some local fishermen to run you over.”

So here I am , slowly cooking to a lobster red but fascinated by the changing colours of the waters beneath. Azure, like the cloudless sky above, and now aqua marine as we glide closer to our island destination. Not far to go now. That line of palm trees, rising sentry-like from the horizon, must be concealing the mission buildings and our expectant host. Can’t see a wharf anywhere. Neither can our fishermen apparently, as one has been scouring the shore line with binoculars for the past half hour. Hope we are not lost. Can’t see any sign-posts or markers. Those natives snorkelling over there might point us in the right direction as there seems to be a great deal of calling and gesticulating.

Is that a cross ahead on the beach? Yes! We’re here at last. But where’s the wharf? I should have realised this is not your everyday tropical paradise but an equatorial outpost. Beautiful, peaceful and pristine, yes, but remote, nonetheless. If my friends could only see me now, stumbling knee deep through the lagoon shallows, water-bottle and camera held high. The fine coral bed gripping my ankles like shallow quick-sand is making progress extremely difficult. Barbara’s suggestion to wear water resistant shoes was sound advice. Our fishermen, now loaded down with backpacks and boxes of groceries, seem quite at home with this aquatic landing.

What a strange sight we must seem to those striking-looking students observing our sluggish arrival. Their smiles radiating from cocoa coloured features are beacons to this broiled flotsam.

“How did you get here?” called a pretty,freckled-faced red head joyously. “The plane was cancelled!”

“John arranged a lift with some local fishermen. We couldn’t miss your promised sunset,” Barbara replied.

“Come in, freshen up,and meet my house mates, then we will walk down to the lagoon and watch the show.”

At last we’re here, rested and expectant, beneath the lanky coconut trees clustered along the foreshore. The offshore breeze, caressing our faces and playing tag with the palms, heralds the reposing sun. Magenta, crimson, orange and lavender downy clouds fashion its bedding. I am not disappointed. My reluctance fades with the sunset. The journey to this land of endless summer is worth the taking. Once in a lifetime one should step out of life’s rut and experience something different. This is my season.

Sunday, May 21

Birthday Blooms

My wife will be 60 soon in June, so I composed this poem.

I thought of a poem for my dear wife
A trusted companion, for 40 years of my life
Rather not sing to her, a usual birthday line
Prefer short verse, best keep it in rhyme

Anne celebrates 60 years of her life
She cares for her family, has cared all her life
Her emotions like oceans, her writings so deep
Stories of childhood, day dreams for sweet sleep

Opinions are sought, children’s ask every day
Answers from Anne, you can trust her to say
What she thinks, in her own logical way
Emotion gives notions emotional sway

Anne celebrates 60 years of her life
She cares for her family, has cared all her life
Her emotions like oceans, her writings so deep
Stories of childhood, day dreams for sweet sleep

Happy birthday my wife, my dearest best friend
Lifetimes together, are the blooms every spring
Life branches grow to one limb to one life
Sweet birthday wishes, one family to dear wife

Monday, May 15

Pritchard’s Power for the World

The advent of steam power ushered in a period of great expansion in the industrialised world, as ships substituted steam for sail opening up the waterways to become our first highways. People and cargo were linked to other communities over our vast continent. But it was to be the motor car that most revolutionised the world of the 20th century, creating a freedom of mobility that only could have been dreamed by our forebears.

It seems as if by accident those first motor vehicles were petrol driven rather than by steam. Perhaps it was assumed inefficient and slow start up steam engines could not be improved by clever design and hence the internal combustion petrol engine was seen as superior. An enormous infrastructure quickly built up around that investment, to the exclusion of alternatives.
Estates and cities could now be created away from the waterways, as motor vehicles gave us unpanelled new freedom spurred on by abundant cheap oil. A populace oblivious to the polluting force about to be unleased upon it.

The oil spike in the mid seventies gave the westernised world an oil shock and a small stimulus to consider alternatives. About that time Ted Pritchard produced a steam powered engine for an Australian Falcon which covered thousands of kilometres both in Australia and the USA.

However once oil stabilised and the initial concern diminished, interest in his engine subsided.

But as the price of oil rises and its polluting nature becomes unsustainable a renewed interest led Pritchard Power to set up in 2003 a company to develop and license their unique steam drive power systems.

I am very interested in sustainability and hence when I first read about Pritchard Power Systems, it was exciting to realise such systems with low emissions are also quiet, light weight and have miserly fuel consumption.

Their power systems have many different stationary and mobile applications. The have particular relevance and advantage to developing countries and agricultural communities.

Key advantages of the Pritchard technology from their Information Memorandum of January 2006 are:

  • Very high fuel efficiency and high thermal efficiency:
  • Existing multi –fuel capability _eg (sawdust, rice husks, nut shells and other agricultural wastes etc) and relative simple development step to liquid fields (ethanol: kerosene: reclyed oil) and potentially solar.
  • Multi services –electricity generation: sterilising or process steam; Hot water "distilled water”: direct shaft power take off:
  • Very low emissions on any fuel type and very quiet running:
  • Simple and safe, with low maintenance, no pressure vessels (and in automotive application no gears or clutch)

    If you would like to learn more about the Pritchard Power systems visit their website at

Sunday, May 7

Future Greener Cities

In the country we have the green nature corridors but already there is evidence of a new green landscape emerging in our cities towards a more sustainable model.

In many cities cars are unwelcome or banned from the centre, water is recycled many times and buildings are much more environmentally friendly. In the future its likely city rooftops and city squares will house gardens and community vegetables plots.

Buildings themselves from top to bottom are becoming green. Click here to visit a website dedicated to this objective

In Melbourne the recently completed Councils Towers incorporates:

1. A basement water tank for chilled pumped water to cool the building in summer.
2. Shower Towers to provide cool water for building reticulation and cool air.
3.Fresh air is fed at low speed though floor vents
4. Concrete slab ceilings to absorb excess heat.
5. 100 % outside air via vertical ducts.
6. Chilled ceiling panels absorb internally generated heat
7. Ceiling exhausts empty warm air
8. Shelf and balcony floors provide horizontal shading from a Northern Sun 9. Vertical planting of greenery for shade, glare, air quality and staff interaction with nature.
10.Rooftop wind turbines powered by motors from converted washing machines.

Food into the Cities
In Australia we are blessed with self sufficiency in food production and are a major world exporter of agriculture. Many crops can be grown all year round with the “ripening” season spread (as one regions harvest finishes another begins). Fresh fruit and vegetables are a feature of daily life but the main problem involves transportation from vast land areas. Each year a staggering 167 million tonnes of food transported 2.5 billion kilometres.

The means of transport primarily is currently by road transport which accounts for 13.5% of Australia green house emissions. It is expected that the total transport task will grow with economic and population trends.
Rail-based transportation uses far less in resources than road and air, yet rail manages to attract far less of the Australian task than it could.

It follows that we are using far more resources for transportation than we need to. There is an urgent need to revert to rail by insuring future investments in infrastructure to support rail services.