Mount Arthur: Moonscape of the Future


K J Gordon

Growing up back in the 1960’s was different. Parents did not show love and certainly no affection. Behaviour modification was a leather strap or a backhander. Woof!

You know, I have never been cuddled by my mother. ‘It was not the done thing’. Certainly not that I can remember. And now some of the background in generational behaviour is making sense of my life in terms of those who came before. And of my father, he was a very intelligent drunk and womaniser. And that is the nicest comments I can make looking back at the reality and fear of then.

But fortunately things have changed, I think. And very much as a result of those unemotional days. Generational change is both a good and bad thing. I find it interesting, if not a little confounding, that there are so many subtle changes in language and attitude in the younger generation. Possibly the stupid sheeple nature of political correctness has rendered the younger Australia as emotionally impotent in a world of instant pornography, designer drugs, drinking only to get shitfaced and random hook-ups. Hopefully the follow-on generation will swing back a little to the conservative in an attempt at emotive balance.

Anyway, as a family man, I hugged my own two boys daily until one day they came home from school and said such affection was a bad thing. Ha! How the pendulum swings between generations. And now,,,, well my nieces would not survive a day without their hair dryers. The thought of such domesticated sheepish behaviour really scares me for the future. Sheep were bred for their fleece and not their intelligence. Indeed they were dumbed down.

These days I do not see my two boys at all. In fact I have only seen them for about 6 weeks total since 1999. Such is the law against men and probably the saddest thing that can happen to a man. I remain the victim in a staged divorce where I was made out to be less than nice. Hang me for I am a man and that be guilt enough!

My kids followed her and after 13 years of buffering innuendo and insult I said I had had enough. It’s not that I don’t care but more that I cannot change the past and it seems, I cannot influence the future. It’s been a strange and funny, odd, life in some ways and yet I still gaze in awe at all that there is in natural beauty. So what is it that allows me to function after such pain? Such depth of emotional pain. Is that why my parents were so lacking? Is this survival?

My mum's family owned Mount Arthur up near Muswellbrook which as a kid was just such a natural beauty. I would gather my pack and swag and rifle, at age 13, and catch the train from Broadmeadow and hitch out to the farm known as Airedale which was about 20 K outside of town. It was a huge property which use to be a small part of the famous Edinglassie Cattle Property. Imagine turning up at a train station today with a rifle....Hahahahahah....My nieces would do a number two in utter fright. Take a steaming selfie and post immediately.

My Uncle Fred lived at Airedale (mums uncle really) and had a horse that I had been riding since the age of 5. So he was my horse as far as I was concerned. He was a huge thoroughbred named Rocky Ned. I think he was 19 hands which is a long way when you are 5 and still, when you are 13.

I would saddle him up and off we would go on our adventures. Sometimes coming back after dark. It was an awesome time exploring Mount Arthur and its caves (bushranger caves) and remains of native paintings. The homestead house was a rundown version of a massive sandstone and cedar jobbee with huge grandiose verandas, Italian marble fire places and cute alcove double doors off all four major bedrooms. I remember one enlarged photo on the wall of an actual kangaroo muster. Not that the outcome was OK for the kangaroos. The house was huge but it never had any power. How ironic is that for Mount Arthur? Now the largest coal mine in the country. However, I believe the phone was connected in 1918. Just imagine that.

Sometimes I would ride Rocky down to the creek flats and we would trot or just walk along one side usually where the grass was lush and green. And if old Rocky was in the mood we would explode into a full gallop racing like the wind. He was an uncomfortable horse in a trot but in full gallop he was as smooth as silk, smoother even, and lightning fast as my heart pumped and pounded well up over 200 BPM and we flew across the soft green grass in the most intense exhilaration and fear all bound together across those few life and death moments. Arrhoooo waahh.

We would pull up after a few hundred meters to catch some breath and then attack again... only if he was keen. And I'm not sure who enjoyed the thrill more. Rocky Ned loved to run. Perhaps reliving his glory days?

You could tell when Rocky had had enough and we would casually head for home and old Uncle Fred saying, 'You been bloody racing that horse again! I told you not to do that! Bloody kid." Hahahahaha. He had a saying for me and I just can’t remember what it was. Bugger.... He didn’t mind really but had to say something. I think,,,, at age 13, I may have been hard work for an old man living by himself??? The Wood family were fare dinkem, dink di horse and cattle folk. It was my step grandmother slash “Aunty Ollie” who did the stunt riding for

Rocky Ned was a great horse and together we mustered many cattle down to the market yards, over the years. Sometimes my Uncle Boy would help out. But mainly me and Rocky just went riding. And we had a few thousand acres to explore.

You might know this place, called Mount Arthur, better as the biggest open cut coal mine in Australia. Not sure that it still is? Back in the day it was an underground mine shaft where I use to play at about age 6. It was about one kilometer from the homestead and down the hill through the casuarina forest. On our adventures me and Rocky Ned found several spots where coal came to the surface. It was no secret and a mate told me years later, that there was enough coal there (Hunter Valley) for about 300 years...

I think the underground mine originally supplied Muswellbrook with coal for power. Might have been the first in Australia? Then one day it was a huge hole in the ground and then it grew and literally exploded out to be the huge moonscape it is today. And yet smack in the middle is the untouched Mount Authur.

Today, commercial jets use Mt Arthur as a turning point on their inbound track into Sydney. On one such journey I woke up in my window seat as the jet banked only to look down on the place I had loved so much. How spooky was that? The mountain remains but the rest is literally a moonscape on all four points of the compass. And now, the house is buried under 300 meters of overburden. Burdon indeed. Those were defining days but I still find myself searching in fondness for the mountain top if ever I wonder up the New England Highway. Hell, I can remember when the New England Highway went through the middle of Lake Liddell. And the farmhouses are still there under the water and the lake was not called Liddell “ La-Dell” it was pronounced Liddle as in middle and it was a town of sorts, not a lake.

When I was about 18 I got word Rocky Ned had died. Some of the miners had shot him for sport. It seemed only weeks later the old uncle died as well. I went to the funeral with mum and she was so inwardly shocked to find she got nothing left to her in his will. But I knew. (I know she should have got one of the houses in Muswellbrook town and was fully going to leave my father, the arsehole, in a heart beat). Funny my sister and father did not give a damn about any of that side of the family. Life is such a fucking irony. In those days a woman had no real place to go, and so we stayed.

So life changed with the flip of a coin....As it were.

Somehow and very suddenly the property was now owned by the Electricity Commission of NSW.

Some months later I ventured up the highway to have one last look. I remembered how the old uncle could see me coming for miles down the dusty track and would be at the house gate waving with his old Akubra high above his head and a ruby red roll-your-own hanging lazily from the corner of his gummy smile. The house yard was a little bigger than a football field which housed a run for albino kangaroos along the side that looked down the hill toward the mine site.

My mind wandered back to my pet sheep Bumpy who was boss of the house yard. He was a shit-of-a-cocky-de-nutted lawn mower was what he was, and I was about 8 at the time of our best encounters.

Bumpy would wait until my back was turned and then charge me down, knocking me arse over head with such great delight that he would move his lips and sort of kiss himself with pleasure. So I would hide in the garden until he was busy chewing on the grass and race up, jump on his back, and ride him around like a bucking bronco. I would hold on to his thick fleece as he tried inventing new ways to kick me off. And around the house yard we went. And then the old uncle would call in disgust. “You bloody kid, leave that sheep alone. How many times am I …..” Those were awesome days.

But now the track was a road and in my saddest moment found the eight bedroom house, the stable’s, the blacksmith shed, outhouses, saddlery sheds and the many sulkies and cars of a golden era gone-by had all been ransacked and the remains dozed into the ground.

There can be no future without a modicum of respect in this greedy world…

Some years later I learnt that the movie, ‘The Sundowner’ (I think), was filmed on Airedale Property and that my Aunty Olly had been the stunt horseback rider, replacing the men, for the entire shoot. Aunty Olly was apparently the best horse rider in the valley. How cool and yet unspoken about. When my half aboringinal gradmother died in childbirth her sister moved in and took over the marital duties. I guess that was just the way of the bush. Life being life in the lesson. So much was just spoken in passing and almost passé even before the act. Uncle Boy was the same.

About 18 months ago my favourite uncle, Uncle Boy died at age 87. He was still working with cattle 6 to 7 days a week. Every week. What an amazing man. I attended his funeral with my sister as we two were his only remaining heirs.

At the service some locals were poignantly blunt in telling us our mother was one quarter aboriginal. Ha! I was literally part of this land. To their surprise I was excited and impressed, openly pushing back into their faces with adulation in a politically correct fashion. How dare they do this nastiness on such a day! And yet a few foolishly pushed on with their vailed sling shots. Perhaps at not being included in the will? I don’t care.

And so I learnt the truth in front of a lusty gathering. Not only was I one eighth indigenous, but my grandmother’s father was half Chinese crossed with an Irish woman and that our well stirred bloodline run back through to Ned Kelly’s father’s sister. How absolutely awesome. My rebellious streak had pedigree, I laughed with honour and ordered that goanna be served up immediately in celebration of these wondrous findings. But no one liked my inbred-outbred sense of humour? Go figure. Perhaps the bitterness of being left out of the will prompted their subtle narky-ness? Designed to be public and hurtful.

I am quite rightly honoured with a traditional Scottish first name and sir name as my “Gordon’ ancestry is highlander in origin. But suddenly I am part Irish and Chinese with a goodly dose of indigenous Australia. And how bloody cool is that! No wonder I love the bush! And then there is this surfer/walkabout/wave mission life style….

And then it struck me. Uncle Boy, so loved by my mum, had been removed from his family and placed in the care of his grandparents at Eden Lassie’s Airedale Homestead because he was blackish in colour.

He was isolated at age 5 and they worked him hard from that first day. Partly because they, his grandparents, were cruel bastards and partly because the government would have taken him into the care of the stolen ones. Hard to imagine such cruelty all round. But there it is. ‘When the dreams die and fate unfolds, the stuff that makes the moulds’.
A young lad, never given the chance to attend school, so he taught himself to read and write. Simply amazing stuff. But then such treatment was the generational norm back in 1935 and yet absolutely shocking by current generational standards. How that pendulum of life doth swing.

Now, Uncle Boy always had a great suntan and I had always assumed that was because he worked out in the sun all his life. But then, wait a minute, so did my mum and,,, so do I,,,! Im Black! ?

While my sister and father were pasty Scottish wimps who went red and blistered at the thought of a summer’s day at the beach. Here was a truth, a serious truth. A shock, an understanding,,, and at age 58 a damned fine enlightenment.

But yes, now I also understood why he had been refused a beer in the Muswellbrook pub, and literally kicked out. I understood his love of the bush or more to the point his respect of the bush and I feel it also. And not to mention his unmistakable skills with animals.

And then his boss, of some 57 years, stands up at the wake and tells the story of Harald who in his first Muswellbrook Rodeo event ever, whipped all comers even the professionals and, then having won, retired. Yes, I had heard of this as a kid but now I really understood. That statement was a great, ‘Get Fucked You C__ts’, expressed so politely. Uncle Boy to a Tee…

The man had such a bushie essence of un-phased sensibility and a killer dry sense of humour. Here was a man worthy of considerable respect. How does one do that and overcome the years of sadness, betrayal and anger that amounted to his childhood? How would I ever come to terms with this knowledge?

Here was a man destined to prove himself over and over, never knowing the warmth of a simple parental recognition or indeed the completeness of parental kindness that begets confidence. His name was Harald but his father only ever degradingly called him boy. My grandfather was a lot like my father.

I had always called him Uncle Boy but with great admiration and affection and sadly never understood the cruel implication that branded him an outcast at age 5. Generational change indeed.

And to top it all off, my favourite uncle, my mums brother, a man I admired, respected and loved, left my sister $1.9 million. He left me the same amount he gave to the guide dogs, and that was $10,000. Woof! So then my sister tells me I am an arsehole and to fuck off after consoling her through marriage failure and helping get life back on track… Fucking money!

Go figure that. Two things are now certain. Sudden wealth is a festering darkness and my sister and I will never talk again. When you bow down to greed you start digging your own hole to hell. The cruel thing remains that she had known of his will since 2010. And never said a word.

How bitter is the sweet? And how cruel is the kind? Here was the end of the line of all that had been so sacred, for one so open, and yet the closing was so cruel. And the question will forever remain unanswered. Why? It’s not about the money for me. It’s very much about the why. Is this a generational thing? Or could it be an easing of some dark shadowy pain? But why me?

I had sat by his hospital bed for weeks reading and passing on the adventures of Les Norton to a somewhat shocked pair of eyes at the use of such language. Inwardly I laughed and laughed. And in the words of Robert G Barrett’s big Queenslander, “Oh lord above to be so misunderstood reaches to depths I cannot swim.”

I loved this man, my Uncle Boy, and yet he had chosen to mount a planned show of utter disapproval, in his passing. I so admired that man and even in his last subjective financial act that so reminded me of his Rodeo Defiance, I find that if this be his wish then so be it. I had never asked him for a zack but had offered up all that I. It is not in my heart to disrespect something so elusive and beautiful as to be only found in the meaning, for the term of his natural life. Yes Uncle Boy was definitely wrongly sentenced. His decisions in death will always trouble my fondness.

And I by chance and through accidental rites of passage, keep on as the saying goes, trudging down this life’s journey. And silently keep the fond memories and live with change as it buffets like a kite on the wind. One of those changes is Prostate Cancer, cold and efficient.

Change is inevitable and uncontrollable. I see that design in my children as I look toward the future. I see it also as I look back up that tunnel of time and that soup of DNA that surrounds me and echoes emotive hardship and cruelty in the shaping. I see it clearly as it wisps through dreams. Generational change is emotive and pings its way across a young and open sensitivity before slamming shut an open mind at the reality that accompanies time.

You won’t bend me to road chosen. For I am that kite just out of your reach. I soar high and look about, forever, dusting off the shards and sling shots fired from the pit of caustic bitterness and failure. Yes, this was my own family’s down-the-time-tunnel-generational failure and it remains a wrenching sadness, all be it, far below.

Generational change is a foible, a transient fashion of ego, driving home the needs of life summed up as the newness of random sex in the darkness. The joke is that generational change is nothing more than the camouflage of that that never changes. And yet its pendulum swings with such emotional vigour as to create misery at every turn. Indeed look at whey we stand today!

I talk of the pursuit of money as a cure for life. It is not. I think of the acceleration of life and the false necessity. Don’t be fooled by a falseness disguised as fashion. Life is an endless progression of moments. So don’t miss out on your portion of the journey.

And in the distance of half-forgotten thoughts, ‘Such is life Neddy boy,’ echoes down through a shadowy half consciousness and perhaps some lingering ancestral Irish DNA? I’d like to think so. Life is for the journey but use a moral compass irrespective of the pitfalls. Please.

Life: An old thylacine sits on the leeward side of a hill. He is no longer allowed access to his pride. A generational change has taken control, right or wrong, this is life. His eyesight has dimmed and yet he can hear the playful cries of his offspring from far below somewhere in the valley. Life goes on and the old thylacine enjoys the warmth of the sun quietly, safe, guarding his family from the hunters. He knows the future. The hunters are always there.

He instinctively understands the journey’s inevitability, the future is cruel. And yet he remains aloof and out of range, proudly searching for all that is new and crisp with the world and on the wind. He retains the notion of wisdom and participates in the wonder of all that is as the wind blows scenting glimpses of all that he cannot see. And deep within they mix with the scent of all that has come before and all that surrounds him, sweetly confirming his place in the, all of simply being.

Today I snipped herbs from my new garden and chewed in fascination at the various flavours now emerging in lush greenery. My first herb garden at age 60. How cool is life.