My Secret Australian Uncle

A long time ago, when I was a little girl, my Father used to tell me stories of a hidden Uncle, whom only I could hear but not see. His name was Uncle Willie, and he had a broad Australian accent.

Uncle Willie was a special kind of man who lived in the outback, farmed vast swathes of land and piloted a private light aircraft. Each evening, at my Dad’s request, he would fly halfway around the world and fill my imagination with stories of Australia. Stories like traveling to see the skipping kangaroos or cuddly koalas or snapping crocodiles.

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You see I slept in the lower bunk in the bedroom I shared with my elder sister. Our metal framed bunk bed filling a room with an old, dirty purple carpet full of toys and clothes. While my sister had ‘muzzy,’ her white muslin sheet to sniff, I had my Lilly lamb to cuddle and hold to accompany me while I sucked my thumb listening to the pretense of affections from a sweet old-aged man from down under who whisked me away into endless dreams.

Like the time, Uncle Willie endured six days lost in remote bushland after chasing a camel into the outback, with no water and only ants for food, before being found by specialist police trackers. He was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and underpants when he became lost. The ants were horrible, but the police were lovely!

Or the time when he roasted the perfect marshmallow on the fire, peeling off the golden skin to repeatedly cook for ongoing deliciousness, only for a dingo to raid the camp for food, causing Uncle Willie to drop all the marshmallows into the fire and incinerate.

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And then, finally, when first meeting his wife he wore a cork hat and swimming trunks at a pool party. She thought him to be a Swagman or ‘Swagy” as they use to call them for carrying a bedding roll on their back because they couldn’t afford a horse in the old days. It took a long time for Uncle Willie to convince her that he was an ordinary, loyal and decent bloke worthy of her love and trust. But he did win her over in the end, even though the nickname stuck.

Accordingly the next time you think of Australia, don’t think of the Sydney Opera House or The Great Barrier Reef or Melbourne Cricket Ground, think space and freedom and miles and miles of endless possibilities. I do.


The Monkeys of Coggeshall

Children have always been fascinated with monkeys. In fact, the world has many stories of them from the first animals painted on cave walls many thousands of years ago to wild, fascinating creatures that wander the plains of Africa. This story is rather different, though.

Colchester Zoo wanted to add some new monkeys to their zoo. Their zoo is home to many animals near to extinction and to help them survive and have new babies, they arranged a new collection of adult monkeys. Accordingly, the zoo sent a truck overland through many of the countries of Europe to visit Africa and bring some back with them.

Now, ordinarily, monkeys don’t travel very well. They prefer to stay outside and hang around on trees. And, this particular group, weren’t too happy either. Nearing their new home, they decided to escape. And what an escape it was!

At the village of Coggeshall, there is one of the finest church towers in the county of Essex. The church is over five hundred years old and the bells, well they ring, extraordinarily loudly. In fact, so loud that they monkeys could hear them all the way from Africa. Can you imagine how loud that might be? Supersonic loud!

The monkeys were smart enough to find their way into the bell tower. There they had a wail of a time swinging from the bell ropes of the tower making an enormous racket. Father David, the tall priest at the church with a booming voice, couldn’t stop them. All villagers couldn’t stop them. In fact, the police couldn’t even stop them. Oh, what a sound.

Suddenly Father David had a plan. What about bananas he said to himself. While the monkeys played, swung and swayed, Father David walked down to the greengrocers. There he bought all the bananas in the village and took them back to his church.

At the church porch, he opened the big wooden doors, threw in the bananas and waited for the monkeys to become hungry. Slowly the animals began to tire of creating a havoc and, one by one, came down from the bell tower to be caught in the villagers’ nets.

The zoo was very grateful for the people who helped them recapture their monkeys and the police who escorted them onto Colchester. Everybody was treated to a free ticket to the zoo with cake and biscuits in the cafeteria.

The news of the Coggeshall monkeys made it on to the TV and all their pictures were in the newspapers. Naughty monkeys that they were!