I’m a cool, cute, cream-colored Citroen

Graham and Ruth with their new “fun car”.

It’s a good thing these builders are sociable blokes.  Not only are they doing an excellent job restoring our ‘white room’ and building a French-style fireplace for us, but they have invited me to join them for their short lunch breaks because I work from home.  During one such break, we got talking about the popularity of all things French  (even though Rolf and Bill are of German heritage), and the conversation revealed that Bill owned a Citroen 2CV.


My wife Ruth has always had a soft spot for these iconic “people’s cars’’ so Bill made arrangements to drive the 2CV to our place on Ruth’s day off work.  It was a secret and she knew nothing in advance.  Her shriek of surprise when she saw it parked in the driveway that Tuesday morning was no surprise to me, but it amused Bill and Rolf.  Soon she was swooning on a drive around the back roads of Oakbank, and when she returned, she made Bill promise to give us first option if he ever decided to sell it. His classic car was beautifully restored – the result of a 12-year love affair during which Bill had lavished many hours on returning the car to its former glory.


Fast forward three months and guess what?  We are now the owners of that, cute, cream coloured, 600cc air-cooled engined ‘fun car’, an early retirement present. These iconic cars rarely come up for sale, and we knew if we wanted one it was now or never.


In the two months since we’ve owned it, Ruth hasn’t had time to master the unusual gears (the gear stick protrudes from the dashboard), so I’m the unofficial chauffeur, a role I relish. I had forgotten how much fun it used to be ‘going for a drive’. Unlike our other, boring, modern cars, when we take ‘Lily’ out for a run it’s a special occasion. People wave at us as we rattle past, enjoying the ride, floating over the bumps.


The car was originally designed in the 1930s to encourage French farmers to switch from horse transport to mechanised transport, and one of the design requirements was that it could be driven over a ploughed field with a basket of eggs in the back, without breaking any eggs! Consequently, the ride is delightfully ‘floaty’.


The car never made it into production before the war. The prototypes were destroyed or hidden so that the occupying Germans couldn’t discover and use the advanced technology (surprising but true. The design pioneered many automotive innovations later adopted by other manufacturers). Production got under way in 1948 and continued until 1990, by which time 8,830,679 2CVs and variants such as the Dyane has been built. And during all those years, the body style hardly changed – when you’re on a good thing stick with it.


There aren’t many of these little beauties in Australia, so if you see a cream one on the road, give it a wave and a beep – it’s probably us smiling away behind the flat windscreen!



Graham and Ruth Bettany, Oakbank



Baroness Margaret Thatcher

In this laissez faire society of ours, it is hard to understand the hatred which spews forth in Britain upon the death of Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The poor woman is dead, but the knives are out and none more vicious than from the mouth of former actress turned MP, Glenda Jackson.

The closest we have come to such bitterness would have been Gough Whitlam’s dismissal in 1972 when he famously said “Maintain the Rage’’, which of course, Australians didn’t do.  He has long been forgiven for his sins and in his dotage is admired by all for his good deeds, his mistakes and messes long forgotten.

Not so in Britain where Maggie’s death has divided the nation.

Yet, there is certainly more praise because Baroness Margaret Thatcher was probably the greatest female political leader of the 20th century. She transformed a nation and inspired a renewed sense of  greatness in a jaded people. She was an incredible, inspiring leader who, using Frank Sinatra’s catchcry,  did it her way, ploughing like a steamroller through her many opponents to achieve her goals.

Political commentators such as The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan heaped accolades on Thatcher stating that she had transformed a languishing British economy to lay the foundation for contemporary British society.

“She crushed inflation, balanced the books, sold off state-owned industries (involving 900,000 jobs) so that they would be more efficient and less prone to public sector union vandalism; she brought unions back under the control of the law…’’ he begins.

“She sold public housing (a million of them) to spread property owning economic independence from the state, and she greatly reduced income tax’’. This was an amazing feat with Sheridan reporting that the top tax rate came down from 83 per cent to 40 per cent’’.

It is interesting to note that she once said “feminism did nothing for me’’. This ruffled many female feathers because she was the epitome of what feminists strive to prove that women are as good as men at anything they turn their experienced hands to.

Hers were humble roots, the daughter of a Methodist shopkeeper, who was neither born with a silver spoon in her mouth, nor carrying  that upper-class born-to-rule mentality. Yet, she most certainly was not a working-class heroine either.  Yet, the doting wife of Dennis and mother of two held firm to kitchen table financial wisdom – You cannot spend money you haven’t got.

She had the political will to reform  industrial relations, but made a generation of enemies, who threw street parties when she died, 30 years after the miners’ strike of 1984-85 when feisty Arthur Scargill became leader of the miners.

Her other famous statement “This lady is not for turning’’ reflected her greatest triumph – revitalising the British economy and reforming a nation in its image of itself.

Anyone who has watched the film Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep may, like me, question whether Thatcher made the right decision to mount the Falklands War. Yet, according to Sheridan, “the whole operation, which Britain swiftly won, changed the understanding of Western military resolve”.

There is no doubt that Thatcher was a role model for my generation.  She had a fortitude which inspired Boomer women to adopt the same stoic resolve, to seek their own possibilities.

Former Prime Minister John Howard credits Baroness Thatcher as being one of the three forces , along with US president Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, with the defeat of communism, the end of the Cold War with Russia and the fall of the Berlin Wall. What a joyous victory for the Western world.

So why all this hatred when her legacy nationally in Britain and internationally is so spectacular?

Well, she did do a lot of things which caused people enormous loss and emotional pain. She did shut 146 unprofitable coalmines catapulting 173,000 people out of work onto the dole queues. That’s a hellavu lot of personal misery and angst. Thatcher stopped propping up markets and deregulated them heralding more efficiency and accountability.   She rid the country of union “vandalism’’ dismantling the once all-powerful union system which often held the country to ransom  – and she went to war and won!

However, perhaps her most amazing achievement was to win over the working classes and introduce the capitalist mindset to millions of Brits. Thatcher shook British upstairs-downstairs society to its core. The would-bes if they could-bes were now becoming “affluent workers’’ able to acquire things their parents never even dreamt of. They became materialistic and they voted Margaret Thatcher into power from May 1979 until November 1990 when she resigned rather than be deposed from within her own party.

How interesting it was to have two all-powerful women –  Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher together – one on the anachronistic throne of England “reigning’’ the Commonwealth, the other ruling Brittania with an all-powerful iron fist. Rumour has it that the Queen did not like her, but in a break with tradition, she will attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. That’s the ultimate statement of respect.



When a grandchild is born

Scarlett Rose Williams

There is no point in wishing to be young again. I ponder this profound fact in the hairdresser today while having another colour to cover my rapidly increasing grey hairs.  I am impatient to finish because I am meeting my daughter-in-law Vanessa for lunch with my eight-month-old grand-daughter Scarlett . This is to be the highlight of my day.

It occurs to me that grand-children are the best part of growing “older’’  if you are blessed enough to have offspring who are busy breeding.  There is no doubt that these children of our children keep us young at heart with a spring in our step and a silly smile on our dial.

My dear mother had 13 grandchildren and I have four little darlings, although the two eldest, Samuel, 11 and Angus, 9, are known to have a feisty relationship at times.
Tomorrow Angus begins his AFL footy season for under nines and I know he will be a champion one day.  I am trying to convince him that Port Power should be his team of choice, but he is a faithful Bulldogs supporter.  Samuel is a genius at the computer and is my personal internet advisor.

Speaking of Angus, I grin remembering when I visited them in London on the occasion of Angus’s fifth birthday and he introduced me thus: “This is my grandma from Australia. I love her, but she can be tough sometimes.’’  Out of the mouths of babes!

When  my latest grandchild, Scarlett arrived I was given a delightful booklet Grandparents and Grandchildren subtitled , The delights of being a grandparent by Camille Liscinsky.

Every page holds a gem of wisdom on why being “older’’ is such a blessing – as long as your only son does not call you “elderly’’ as mine loves to do.

One of the many amazing things about grandparenting when you begin to collect multiple grand-children is to witness how they are so different, yet have the same parents.    So, it comes naturally to treat them differently, to note their idiosyncrasies, their capacity for humour,  and what reactions become familiar.  Or as one statement in Camille’s book so aptly states:

Dark-haired, dark-eyed grandson Angus Richards

“I think of our four young grandchildren as embryonic personalities emerging from tiny newborn strangers.’’

And then, if you are are blessed as I am, one little angel arrives who looks remarkably familiar – and to quote Thomas Hardy, who once said : “I am the family face’’. Scarlett, unlike her older cousin, Josephine,  bears the strong visual traits of the women in our family.

Another of Camille’s contributors offers:  “My granddaughter is so amazingly like me: I actually see myself as a child when I look at her. There I am, before my eyes, reincarnated.’’

Scarlett, like her great, great grandmother, has the deepest dark brown eyes like her father,  Serena and me and the three generations before me.

My mother had these blackish velvet eyes and when my father was wooing her he wrote “My darling, your eyes are like limpid pools of velvet darkness’’.  How could she resist such poetry?


Josephine creates a floral centrepiece

And just in case you think this is a flight of fancy, grand-daughter number one – six-year-old Josephine whose blonde hair is like spun gold– tells me, her blue eyes sparkling like the sky:  “Well actually, grandma, Scarlett looks exactly like you .’’

Family likenesses give such joy and when they bear little resemblance, they hold our fascination for their difference. Josephine is enchanting for the simple reason that she is unlike any of my maternal forebears or me.

One grandparent captures this kind of pleasure:  “When I look at my grandson, I see my father’s same sparkling eyes, dotted with a brown fleck.’’

When a grandchild is born we have the wonderful chance of welcoming a new generation to love – and that is such bounty for living 50 or 60 or more years.

Because grandchildren are the link to our family’s past and a bridge to our family’s future.  And if you are like me you are having the time of your life with them.

I am sure you would like to meet my grandchildren – each one a glorious individual.

“Suffer the little children”

My heart weeps for the victims of the Boston bombings. Particularly, I cannot throw off my sadness for the Richard parents of that little eight-year-old boy, Martin, who died and their daughter, Jane, whose leg was blown off.  Does their unspeakable grief break your heart, too? My sympathy pours out for Bill, the father as he grapples with losing his son and his desperate fear for his wife, Denise who is struggling to survive.  His despair as he grapples with the reality of his daughter’s terrible injuries must be profound.

There have been many bombings around the world and huge tolls in Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. And it is true that we may become blaze watching so much suffering and chaos after each and every bombing whether an exploding car bomb or aircraft bombings. Always there are dead children gathered up from the debris.

Nor must be forget the excrutiating pain of Krystie Campbell’s mother as she tried to speak to the media about the death of her daughter.

However, this little boy’s death brings home the  horror, because he carried  the same surname as my grandsons and was the same age.  My eldest daughter Serena and her husband Jon, have two beautiful boys – my grandsons Samuel Richards is 11 years old and his younger brother, Angus Richards is 9 years old.  They are so full of life and mischief and if Jon was a marathon runner, I know they would both be at the finish line fighting about which of them would hug their dad first. My grand-daughter, their youngest sister, Josephine would have been there too vying for dad’s attention. And right there in the midst of them would have been my own daughter, the wife and mother.

This deadly act has driven home my understanding that if we look over the past 10 years, thousands of children like Martin, have died through the American invasion of Iraq, the civil war in Syria and the conflict in Afghanistan.

Oh, what a mess the world is in today. Everywhere you look or whatever channel on television you watch, there is slaughter in the name of this or that political or religious “cause’’.  One little boy lost  symbolises the futility of terrorist acts, whether home-grown or operating for overseas-based groups.

However, do we stop the slaughter of children?  How do we bring peace to our suffering planet?   The present legislation to tighten gun laws in the United States could have been one small step towards a more peaceful place yet that government failed to protection its people through gun restrictions and police checks on people who buy firearms. How shameful is that in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school tragedy?

Those little ones were all aged six – and my grand-daughter will turn six years old next month.

So, we should pray for comfort for the grieving parents as they try to comprehend what has happened to their lives.



How Does Your Garden Grow Dearest?

One of many named irises in the garden

To my darling Frenchman, Olivier,

If only you were still here dear to see how the garden is continuing to bloom and bring me pleasure. Remember the discussions we had about how we would choose irises and roses to colour the exotic plantings which the landscape designer chose for foliage?

Some of the roses have struggled to survive in our hot summer and as I have already written they were all chosen by name to reflect our life together. Therefore, I watched like a worried parent as “Dearest’’ languished throughout summer, a stunted specimen clinging to life with no growth.spurts.

Its very name meant it could not die. Slowly the roots of  “Dearest’’ seemed to take hold in the hard earth and the odd new leaf appeared, but it remained dwarfed against the spectacular growth of “Amazing Grace’’ and “”French Lace’’. These two bushes have provided a summertime of beautiful flowers for my floral arrangements.

Imagine my joy this morning when I noticed that “Dearest’’ had flowered – a delicate single pink rose which may not be perfectly formed. My heart jumped for joy and I cut it for the house.  One last white bloom from Amazing Grace keeps it company in a delicate vase.

The lavender border plants have been clipped into little balls and the lush green semi-circular hedge has had its honeysuckle flowers cut back. Daffodil, hyacinth and tulip bulbs have been scattered around the garden. All of this activity has had me feeling like mother earth herself. I sense that I am a gardener and I love tending your memorial garden.

There is much left to do before winter takes hold. The native grasses, which have flowered in fluffy purple fronds need to be cut back and the sour sobs, that scourge weed of the Hills are springing up like mushrooms through the mulch and must be poisoned.

Daughter-in-law Vanessa’s father , John, has had a circular support made for the wisteria which is now wound around the pole and nudging towards the ring. By Spring it should have hitched itself onto the ring to prepare for a splendid flowering in September.

Dwarf Nandinas form a spectacular red border in autumn, the named irises given by Gwen Alexandrou still flower and the salvias are still spread their floral lavender skirts.

You will be pleased to know that I have not moved the strelitzia from the pond’s edge as I threatened to do and I have added two more to the garden for dramatic effect.  The hillside garden is dotted now with carpet roses, cannas, seaside daisies, geraniums and the odd agapanthus. I am happy to report that the three red geraniums that you potted as your last gardening act, are surviving, but I cannot say thriving. It’s tough terrain up there on the hill. That said, I am happy to tell you that of all those 11 bougainvilleas that “died’;’ three resurrected themselves. The pretty pink and white species that we loved so much at Hindmarsh Island is beginning to fall over the rear wall.  I think of you every time I look at it.




French luxury label LV marries Aussie RM


Iconic R>M> Williams, bushman who became millionnaire

Australian bush outfitter R.M. Williams has pulled off a dream deal. French fashion house Louis Vuitton has bought just under 50 per cent of its iconic designs tailored for stylish “colts and fillies”.
Rather than rue the French buy-up of a famous national label R.M. Williams chef    Ken Cowley says he hopes his new French partners will be able to help the high profile local label to increase its market share overseas, particularly Asia.

There is every chance this will happen when one considers the fortunes of luxury goods label LV.

Louis Vuitton, which accounts for half of luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton operating profit, generates €7.4 billion ($9.69 billion) in annual sales, estimates Bernstein Research. That is almost as much as Prada , Hermès International and Burberry Group combined.

Against such a remarkable luxury-brand giant, Australian bushman Reginald Murray Williams, was a humble home-grown hero who founded his famous clothing and footwear manufacturing company to capture Australia’s outback spirit. This was a far cry from the fashion labels under the LVMH label including Christian Dior, Tag heuer, Bulgari, Moet & Chandon and Hennessy. Its chairman and chief executive is none other than Europe’s richest man, Bernard Arnault.

Reg was born at Belalie North near Jamestown, in South Australia and rose from swagman, to a millionaire entrepeneur. Widely known as just ‘R.M.’, he was bred in a pioneering settler family working and training horses.  R.M. had many adventures in Australia’s rugged outback as a bushman. He became an outback icon for creating an Australian style of bushwear recognised world wide and left an enduring contribution to the Australian identity when he died in 2003. The company he founded enjoys annual sales of around $100 million.

On announcing the purchase of a 49.9 per cent share by an affiliate of global luxury goods brand Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH),  R.M. Williams chairman Ken Cowley, whose family owns the remaining 50.1 per cent controlling stake, says the new part-owner has agreed that the company will continue to manufacture its products.

The Cowley family – headed by the former News Ltd CEO – took over full ownership of the brand when Reginald (R.M.) Williams died in 2003. Cowley bought out fellow shareholder Kerry Stokes and privatised the company.

R.M. Williams already exports to 15 countries, has stores in London and New York and is carried by 900 retailers around the world, but Cowley says he hopes LVMH will help take the brand to the next level.