The Paekakareke Express

After a hope-to-return-one-day visit to South Island, NZ, Kevin O’Connell, Nic Jaspers and I left the hired car in Picton and boarded the Interislander ferry Aratere to Wellington and picked up another there. The ever-changing views during the crossing were stunning. This was back in 2004; and I so wished I could persuade my wife Sheila to share it with me one day!

Once again, with time restraints, we deprived ourselves of all that Wellington has to offer and headed to the village of Paekakareke. Which rugby fan has never heard of the Paekakareke Express? That worthy hotel pub’s walls might collapse if they removed all the Christian Cullen pictures plastered there! We had plenty of time to browse the progress of their favourite son’s exploits from school to international fame in the All Blacks.

Thanks, Wiki P! Christian Mathias Cullen (born 12 February 1976) is a former New Zealand rugby union footballer. He played most of his rugby at fullback for New Zealand (the All Blacks), for the Hurricanes in the Super 12, and for ManawatuWellington and later Munster at provincial level. He was nicknamed the Paekakariki Express and was considered to be one of the most potent running fullbacks rugby has ever seen. With 46 tries scored in 58 Tests, Cullen is the 9th-highesttry-scorer in international rugby.

Nic PJE Kev Kees

Nic Jaspers, PJE, Kevin O’Connell, Kees Korndorffer

We were awaiting the arrival of Kees Korndorffer at 17h00 from his work at Wellington Uni. I recognised him the moment he got out of his car. His once-orange-red hair had fled to leave a white horseshoe fringe, but the nose, the sudden fleeting smile and the slight stooped figure were unmistakeable. I had last seen him in about 1966; an old school friend, met in 1962, he and his family had taken me for so many delicious Sunday lunches at their home in Pretoria when I was in boarding school at Pretoria Boys’ High, and his father had been attached to the Dutch Embassy for a five-year stint in South Africa. I even went on a caravan holiday with them to the Cape Peninsular one Christmas.

The first cigarettes I ever smoked – and the first cigar I unsuccessfully tried and coughed myself silly – were pilfered from his dad’s duty-free supply.

Kees was not normally a pub-crawler, but he admitted to enjoying the camaraderie of it all. Kevin allowed us to adjust our schedule so that I could see more of my old friend and we spent two nights at the beachfront home of Kees and his partner, Waveney. Supper was absolutely delicious tarakaihi fish (Nemadactylus macropterus) at the pub.

The most memorable event of the next day (Melbourne Cup Day, where Down Under comes to a stand-still. Rugby, Racing and Beer!) for me was a visit to the huge vintage vehicle museum at Paraparaumu – pronounced Parapram! I have always been a sucker for old cars, and this was neverending antique orgasm.

Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Godzone – South Island.

Three Old Farts wafted into Christchurch, South Island, Godzone. God’s Own Country. I was the last to arrive. Kevin O’Connell from Hamilton, North Island, and Nic Jaspers from Orange, NSW, Oz, were waiting for my Pacific Blue flight in from Melbourne, Victoria. A very Spartan flight; no included grub or liquid, and Security was pretty tight for 2004 – to the point where I had to remove my boots. But my first views of this stunning country through the clouds were the snow-covered peaks of the Southern Alps and the chequerboard pattern of the Canterbury Plains below. Little did I know, then, that my paternal grandmother had been born here.

Bush Inn Ch'ch

The Bush, Christchurch, 2004

They had hired a car to explore with, and Kevin had planned our route. We spent our first evening, and night, at The Bush pub, reminiscing the times the three of us had shared in London 1969 – see earlier posts of this blog.

PJE Kev & NJ Ch'ch

PJE, Kevin O’Connell, & Nic Jaspers, Christchurch 2004.

Not that there was not a lot to see in the city of Christchurch, but we had to prioritise, so headed to Queenstown via Waimate and the inland valleys with the lakes of Waitaki, Aviemore and Benmore, where Kevin had worked 40 years before as a labourer. Amongst breathless mountain scenery that words are inadequate to describe, our route took us via Cromwell on Lake Dunstan where we hesitated for a beer and the chance to book our bus trip from Queenstown for the morrow. Kawarau riverAs we crossed and followed the Kawarau River, we could see the crazy river rafters in the rock-lined rapids below. We curled along the shore of the longest lake in New Zealand, Wakatipu, until we reached Queenstown in its mountain cradle. Q'town hanggliderHang gliders were catching the currents and drifting down from the surrounding heights. As an ex-skydiver, I was so envious.

We had to be up at 05h30 to catch our tour bus to Milford. Through Five Rivers and Mosburn; the tour guide, Tracy, was very informative about the elk and deer we saw on the farms we passed. Yellow flowered gorse and broom, with flax invading. A brief stop in Te Anau for snacks where there was a statue of a takahe, a flightless bird on the endangered list, of which there were only about 250 pairs left in the Murchison Ranges.

Mt Cook 2If anything, the scenery got even more breath-robbing as the bus twisted through the passes of Fiordland National Park, Lake Gunn, the Divides (500m above sea-level) and Lake Fergus. Then through the tunnel, at the exit of which we got out for a stroll over roped walkways and waterfalls among ferny dripping forests. Cabbage trees, whose leaves could be used for rope and whose roots taste like cabbage, according to Tracy, were abundant. Then Cleddae Valley where we saw droves of kea parrots, to Milford where we boarded the Milford Mariner and chugged into the unbelievable rock towers, oozing waterfalls, to Milford Sound under Mitre Peak. Words fail.

Milford 1

To Milford Sound

We happily retraced our steps to Queenstown; Tracy kindly overlooking the no-alcohol rule on the bus as we dealt with a few errant beers. By 09h00, we set off to Wanaka via the Crown Ranges with a view over Arrowtown. Over the top and down to Cardrona Hotel & Ski Resort where we saw a collection of bigfoot-type vehicles, presumably for traversing the snowy winter landscape with tourists and skiers. In Wanaka, beside the stunning lake, we briefly met up with Michael and Jill O’Connell, Kevin’s nephew and his wife, who were spending a brief holiday there.

Warbirds 2Near Wanaka is the Warbirds Musem with superbly restored old fighter planes of yesteryear. We had to tear ourselves away. We passed Lake Hawea and the Haast Pass through beech- and rainforests until we parked at the Fox Glacier.

Fox Glas 1

To the Fox Glacier, 2004

It was well worth the walk across the rocky valley floor to the base of the receding glacier. Our night stop was the Station Hotel, Hokitika.

After brekka, we walked to a little zoo which housed lizard-type beasties, tuatara, and some kiwis, of which there are six species in NZ. On to a jade factory to look at carvings and jewellery. Sitting in a corner, painting kiwis on the round river-rolled stones found here, was one William (Willem?) Steyn, ex-South African, and making a living from the sales to visitors!

Heading north again through heavily wooded, ferny country, we stopped to walk among curious limestone pancake rock formations on the sea edge, cleft with blow-holes through which the sea blasted, squirting spume high into the sky. A tame flightless chicken-sized weka bird followed us around fearlessly.

Weka bird


Shantitown longdrop

Kevin O’Connell & PJE 2004, Shantitown S.I.

Kevin had to drag us away from our delightful visit to Shantitown near Greymouth. It’s a +/-1860 period village with gold mine, stamping battery, and a host of shops: post office, hairdresser, jail, school, hospital, bank, jewellers, butchery, printers, saloon, railway station with a real train and workshop with another train being worked on. Shantitown trainI had a long chat to the sign-writer who was adding the delicate decorations to its trim. There were also stables, carts and carriages, and a Chinatown.

We headed up the Buller Gorge and the Wairau Valley to Blenheim and the Criterion Hotel for beer and our last night on South Island. Sadly… Pure beauty.


Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

VICTORIA: Buchan, Erica and Walhalla.

Heather Livingstone.jpg

Heather Livingstone, artist, with Kate Earle

October 2004: During the couple of days back with my brother Richard and his wife, Kate, I went with Kate to visit the Gippsland town of Buchan where she attended a Women-in-Business meeting to set up an Art & Craft Gallery. Buchan is in beautiful hilly country; famous for its more than 300 caves. Cavers come from all over the country; they even have a clubhouse.

Heather Livingstone's studio.jpg

Art by Heather Livingstone


The Backpackers’ Hostel is owned by a guy, a keen caver, who retired there and built the place himself. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with him and a 6-pack of VB. On the way home with Kate, we called in at the studio of her friend, artist Heather Livingstone (80) A great character.

Walhalla - Brian

Brian Bright 2004, Walhalla

The following Tuesday, I took Kate to the town of Moe for a meeting after which she would stay with friends, then turned up into the hills to find the village of Erica where old friend Brian Bright was running the caravan park. He hadn’t changed much since I’d last seen him in London on my return visit there in 1971; but, like me, he had added bald, belly and beard.

Thompson Dam

Thompson Dam, Gippsland, Australia

He had me booked into the hotel across the road from the caravan park. We got into the beer and reminiscences and only hit the sack at 03h15. Wonderful company. I was up at 06h00 and wandered around Erica until Brian surfaced then we took a drive through the mountains to Thompson Dam.

Walhalle mineshaft PJE

Peter J. Earle at a Walhalla mineshaft 

Then to the 1860s mining village of Walhalla which was situated down a long narrow snaking steep-sided valley which shared the old rail line. I do so enjoy historical sites but not the tourist prices. Luckily we were the only tourists there just then. Such an intriguing visit into spectacular country. Thanks to Brian Bright for the tour and the company.

Walhalla steam engineWalhalla railbridgeWhen we got back, there was a message from Kate to say she had fallen and broken her arm; that I should pick her up at the regional hospital. Cheers and thanks to Brian, then I went off to collect her, but another message there sent me on to Traralgon where I found her with a friend in the Big Mac carpark from whence we headed home to Marlo and the farm.

Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Appealing the Orange, NSW.

Sunday, 10th October 2004: Torn between leaving the Steam Festival in Echuca behind, and seeing my old friend Nic Jaspers again at his home in Orange, NSW, I headed via Deniliquin across the flat farming plains all the way to West Wyalong.

My new Bike

Nic’s Honda

A text message from Nic told me to take the Forbes route where he would meet me. I described the car I was driving and kept a lookout for Nic but didn’t see him. Some bugger on a big red motorbike dogged me for quite a way and if there had been more than one bikey, I might have been nervous. My route was now rising into hill attractive country. Then the bike rider stopped me in Eugowra with his helmet off. My old mate!

Nco's wife Sue & daughter

Sue Jaspers, proud mum.

At a nice house in Crinoline Street, Orange, I met Nic’s wife, Sue, and their son, Alex, for the first time. Alex was much the same age as Nic had been when I first met him in Swakopmund, South-West Africa, all those years ago. He was a keen drummer and spent a lot of time in his room practicing; thankfully with the ability to apply silent mode! His two elder sisters, Elizabeth and Anneke, were already out of the house.

Nic was a conscientious guide. The view from Mt. Canabolas is panoramic and the countryside attractive. From there we went to Canowindra, the “balloon capital of Australia”, but there were none flying that day. However a visit to the Museum of Fish & Fossils was fascinating. On to Wyangala Dam; tragically only 7% full because of the drought but reputedly 72m deep when full. Hilly country with frequent rock outcrops. We had a peek at the historic villages of Carcour (1830) and Millthorpe (1850) on our way home. Back in Orange, Nic showed me some of the buildings he has designed over the years. As an amateur designer and builder myself, I appreciate the pride one can’t help feeling in being a part of edifices, large and small.

Nico washing dishes!

Nic Jaspers 2004, domestic

Later on the Monday morning, I joined Nic at his architect office in Orange. After a chat to Kevin O’Connell in New Zealand by phone, Nic and I went to a travel agent to book flights to South Island on 27th October, two weeks away. I had been trying to trace an old schoolfriend, Kees Korndorffer, in New Zealand, and thanks to his unusual surname, I finally tracked down Mineke Wells, his sister in Auckland, who gave me his home number, but said I’d have to delay a call until he got back from a week’s holiday in Fiji. I do so love the tracing game. If I got to finding him, it would be 35 years since I’d seen him last.

I hit the road the following day, through Millthorpe, Blaney, to the little village of Trunkey Creek, a goldrush village, +/- 1860, where I saw a plaque: Thomas Arkell-Smith was appointed Police Magistrate & Gold Commissioner in 1871. Arkell, being a family name of mine, made that of interest. Nearby, I turned off to see the Abercrombie Caves in limestone country where the river falls into a sinkhole and runs through a grotto. However, after a long walk, it was to find they were closed off, but I did see my first live wallaby and two goannas.

On roads that alternated between gravel and tar I got to the old gold mining village of Tuena with its three little churches and a beautiful rusty old truck. Through Binda (1825), an agricultural settlement with interesting stone buildings and a population of about 30, then Crookwell, over the Great Dividing Range to Goulburn, a small city. Next came Braidwood, across a plateau, then down a series of zigzag passes through eucalypt forests to the coast at Bateman Bay. I decided to push on to Tilba, another  hour away. Refuelled at Narooma for $40-00 then turned off at Central Tilba to look for accommodation. $95-00 scared me off a B&B there, but the Dromedary Hotel was a good find at $45-00.

Obviously the pub was known as The Drom. An Australian, Jim Tom, I had known in Maun Botswana had said he came from Tilba, so naturally he would have inhabited the Drom. I asked around and found his old buddy, Bunna, who hadn’t seen Jim for years, but thought he was crop-spraying in Deniliquin, which I had passed a few days back. Ah, well. Built a fair hangover at the Drom with Bunna, anyway.

I spent the next morning, after a leisurely brekka, exploring the pretty area, then headed south. Biga, Merimbula, Pambula, and Eden when I had another brekka for lunch. It is lovely panoramic country with forested hills, lakes and rivers and tantalising glimpses of the sea. At Nullica River mouth I turned off to park and watch the lovely bay for awhile. I got to my brother’s farm near Marlo, Victoria, just before dark.

Next day, I looked up crop-sprayers operating out of Deniliquin and ran down Jim Tom, one of the pilots there, after the second try. I couldn’t persuade him who I was, even though he’d been living in the same yard for a year. He’d drunk with us, had meals with us. But he kept getting me mixed up with Peter Thorneycroft, his old employer in Maun whom he had run out on. Guilty conscience, I suppose. Sad. Them’s the breaks, as they say Down Under.

Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tracing Brian Bright

“While you are in Oz, Mate, why don’t you see if you can find Brian Bright?” I was now in touch with Kevin O’Connell in New Zealand and the plan was to spend a couple of weeks with him there before heading back to South Africa. We had both known Brian from London, 1969; a loyal friend – someone to ride the river with, as Louis Lamour used to say. There were not many clues, though.


Kevin O’Connell, left – Brian Bright, right.

His name.

He was about the same age as us. Therefore high school +/- 1960-1964?

He went to school in Echuca.


So, as soon as I had booked into The Nomads Oasis Backpackers in Echuca on 8th October 2004, I went to the Echuca High School. The headmaster, Paul Hon, 37, was most kind and helpful to look back in the school year-books. A Cheryl Bright had attended the school in the early ‘60s, who might be a sister to Brian, but no Brian. He suggested I try the Echuca Technical School, as St. Joseph’s Catholic School didn’t seem promising.

Nomads Oasis BP.jpgWeirdly, the Tech had once been housed in the very same building that now had The Nomads Oasis Backpackers in which I was going to spend the night. I had not even noticed the old bas relief sign over the door. The school had moved to a bigger site a few blocks away. However, the vice-head, Steve Doxey, was unable to find the attendance records of the relevant years. He, and other teachers, were hurriedly trying to set the school up as a voting station for the following day’s elections, so were not able to pursue the matter.

Just as I was thinking that I had hit a dead end, Paul Hon phoned to say that he had contacted a local citizen who was also our age and could confirm that Brian had indeed attended the Echuca Technical School. He suggested that I try The Riverine Herald.

At The Riv, as it was popularly known, Christine Chudley, the Editor/Journalist, was enthusiastic to help. She suggested that I contact a Joan Mitchell of the Historical Society. From The Riv offices, I phoned Joan who was able to tell me that there had been a Bright family living at Mathoura, a community about 25km north of Echuca in New South Wales. The words “had been” were a letdown, until she said that one of the sisters, also Joan, had married locally and was now Joan White, now living in Hare Street. It did sound a bit like a washing soap advert; and Joan laughed when I was so bold, or rude, as to say so.

Christine Chudley was startled. She too lived in Hare Street, just a little way from Joan White, and knew her. I spoke to Joan on the phone and she then gave me Brian’s number! He was then managing a caravan park in the village of Erica, near Moe in Victoria. Naturally, he was very cagey to start with. When I gave him my name and mentioned London, 1969, he was quiet for a moment then said:

“You and Barrett wrote The Big Dry. I’ve still got a copy, somewhere.”


Joan White - Echuca 2004.jpg



Christine arranged for me to meet Joan at her house the next day at 09h00. She would bring a photographer and write a little story about my quest to find Brian.

Joy Dettman

Joy Dettman – author

And so we did. What a delightful person was Joan White! We had a picture taken in her colourful garden – I’m sorry that it is in monochrome. I was to be told that another of their sisters was the popular Australian novelist, Joy Dettman. I have since read and thoroughly enjoyed Henry’s Daughter, a wonderful tale about a family of kids who wall up their mum to get her to lose weight!

Brian at Erica 2004

Brian Bright 2004.

I caught up with Brian in Erica later, a special visit, and we are still in touch by mobile text, usually when the Springboks play the Wallabies…

Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steaming in Echuca

On Friday 8th October 2004 I set off from Melbourne, with Orange NSW as my target to visit my friend and ex-brother-in-law, Nic Jaspers. However, my route was governed by a trace mission: find the present whereabouts of a man who went to school in the town of Echuca on the Murray River.

I took the West Ring to the Calder Highway, heading for Gisborne and Mt. Macedon, turning off through gum forests to visit the War Memorial Cross. The view all the way back to Melbourne was awesome, but the weather was very cold so I didn’t tarry. I gave Hanging Rock a miss as it was fenced off. Lancefield, Toobarac, through green fields and rolling hills with bouldery outcrops to the Northern Highway. To Heathcote, with alpacas, sheep and canola fields, arriving at Elmore at 10h30.


Museum, Elmore, Vic.

There is nothing like a museum to stall my plans. Elmore, a little town on the Campaspe River, is home to a little agricultural museum celebrating the surrounding area’s wheat farms and farm life of the 1800s. More specifically, it is a tribute to a local son, Hugh Victor MacKay, the inventor of the Sunshine Harvester. I had even seen Sunshine Harvesters at home in South Africa on the Springbok Flats! The fifth child of Irish immigrants who had settled to farm nearby, he was born in 1865. He attended a primary school, but by 13 he was back on the farm. By the time he was 20, he had patented the Sunshine Harvester which was to revolutionise wheat harvesting and would eventually be sold throughout the world.

Echuca log wagon

Log wagon

With great reluctance, I tore myself away to head for Echuca. And, would you believe my good luck?! One of my passions is steam engines; oh yes, trains of course, but more especially, all the other steam driven machines from rollers to tractors, pumps and mills.

Echuca warf 2

Echuca wharf

Not only was the Murray riverbank a wharf glutted with paddle steamers, the Annual Steam Festival was on that


Of course, because of the Festival, accommodation was scarce, but that was not a problem as I needed the experience of staying a night in a backpackers to further my education in that direction for my own planned hostel back in Uniondale, South Africa. I booked into The Nomads Oasis Backpackers – top bunk in a dormitory for ten! Surviving, and contributing to, all the snores, grunts, moans and farts, I was up at 05h00 the next morning.

Echuca st engI hightailed it to the wharf to look at the paddle-steamers. The wharf itself is built of huge gum trunks, of course, and exploring where I was not actually supposed to, I found myself on walkways under the wharf leading right down to these beautiful river relics. Their crews were beginning to stir; coming on deck half dressed, with mugs and tooth-brushes, to spit into the mighty Murray. Smoke began to appear at some of the stacks, but whether this was for breakfast or to get up steam, I couldn’t tell. I dared not ask to come aboard.

Heading upward to get on top of the wharf, I found myself trapped inside the museum of steam and river life of 1850 that had yet to open for the day. So there was nobody around to see me climb over the fence. Beautifully restored engines were now being unloaded for the festival, and a steam tractor came chuffing down the road. Echuca - ps Mary-AnnLogging had obviously been – and still was – a huge industry in Australia, and steam tractors had played an essential part in every aspect, from loading, hauling, to running the sawmills themselves. The whole street behind the warf is 1800s; wagons, threshing machines, a blacksmith’s shop with steam engines being repaired, timber joinery for ship repairs.

It was with huge reluctance that I had to tear myself away for an interview with the Riverine Herald newspaper at 09h00 and then hit the road north to Orange, NSW.

Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


GORoad.jpgAmbling down Kororoit Street, Melbourne, I met up with Prince’s Highway – or Freeway – then passed through Geelong for the second time since coming to Australia and on to Torquay, home to the famous Bell’s Beach and so-called Surf Capital of Oz – equated to our own South Africa’s J-Bay (Jeffrey’s Bay), I suppose. It is also the start of the Great Ocean Road.
Of particular interest, though, was a visit to the local Bell’s Beach Backpackers Hostel, as it was my intention to start up something similar in Uniondale, and was keen to pick their brains. The timing was good. Now October, Marcia, the manager, had only been there since May and was willing to share the teething problems with me. They had yet to experience a full surfer season, however, and their full house was about 40 beds. Mine would be about half that.
Onward down the Great Ocean Road with splendid views of the sea and beaches –

Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles – Victoria

Anglesea, Airey’s Inlet with its lighthouse, to Lorne where I had a full breakfast for lunch with a glorious view. I fired up my mobile with an Oz number for the first time and sent it off to relevant folk around the world.
Off to Apollo Bay; the sea was an amazing turquoise, then veered inland around Cape Otway through forests to Lavers Hill then south-west again via Lower Gellibrand. By Princeton I was getting glimpses of the famed sandstone cliffs and crags that, further on, became the Twelve Apostles. I did the tourist thing and parked at the display building; read the geological stuff and joined the procession that walked through an underpass to the cliffs on the far side of the highway to view the fingers of sandstone jutting up out of the roaring waves like a series of up-yours fingers. Columns of harder sandstone were once part of the cliffs, but have resisted the erosion and weathering by the waves over the millennia.
Well worth the visit! I retraced my route back to Melbourne and after a few wrong turns in the dark with poor lights, I got back to my nephew’s home in Newport.

Posted in Shaping a writer, Travels | Tagged , , | Leave a comment