Monday, May 31, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part XIV -- Cultural sensitivities

To Newfie or not to Newfie, that is the question and one whose answer is far from being simple and straightforward.

Australians suffer a rare genetic disposition that propels them to shrink everything to its lowest common diction denominator ; the term reductio ad absurdum was originally penciled onto Australia’s coat of arms but it was shortened to just Australia – true story.

Incidentally does anyone else find it strange the phrase on the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom is in French? I would have surely just gone with God and my right, rather than the French translation, Dieu et mon droit.

Their sensitivity to pre-Revolution aristocracy means the French haven’t bothered with a heraldic coat of arms, however if one existed I am almost certain it wouldn’t be in English, unless it was a jibe directed squarely at the English, something simple like “nick off” or “your rugby team is rubbish”.

Back on point, the Newfie argument is one that hasn’t been resolved since our re-settlement from Vancouver to St Anthony.

Before we left the message was clear – calling a Newfoundlander a Newfie is the greatest disrespect imaginable

Since our arrival the overwhelming message has been that Newfoundlanders don’t find Newfie derogatory unless the recipient is from St John’s in which case they will berate you endlessly.

I am always very concerned when it comes to nicknames for a country’s inhabitants.

As an Australian, I am comfortable with the term Aussie a simple contraction of our country. In fact I don’t know of anyone who finds Aussie offensive, I don’t mind it when I’m called a convict in reference to our prison colony past. Sticks and stones and all that I guess but Newfie, now that is an interesting one.

According to The Dictionary of Newfoundland English, the term was first used by the province natives well before transiting US soldiers started using it as a pejorative and disrespectful term in 1945.

It could be argued that Australian soldiers solved a similar issue in 1942 when they rumbled with US soldiers who they deemed to be disrespectful of Australian culture and in the words of one author, "the Yanks were overpaid, oversexed and over here."

The term Newfie was abolished in Alberta of all places in the 1970s; the government of the day deemed the term a racial slur and banned its use on number plates until 2006 when, according to CBC, the government changed their mind and described the word “as a term of endearment”.

I don’t know if that makes it any better, “a term of endearment” makes it sound patronizing, in itself could be considered far worse in some circles.

I guess the thing is any term used to describe a group of people can be used with negative undertones and let’s be honest, some names are better used by their owners.

Looks like I may to have to suppress the innate compulsion to shorten the tongue-twisting term Newfoundlander until I can fully justify its legitimacy. The last thing I want to do is pick the scab off a freshly healed sore or come across as someone culturally insensitive.

Having lived in London, I know what it’s like to be thought of as a cultural barbarian.

Whenever I overheard the word “Australian” it was generally prefaced by the term ‘bloody’ and not by someone exclaiming, “oh those bloody Australians are such a lovely jovial lot who can handle their alcohol and are delightfully quiet and pleasant on the Tube”.

No, it was more, “when we shipped those bloody Australians down there the first time, did someone leave a map because how the hell else did they all find their way back up here to take all our jobs?”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part XIII -- Agnostic God? I'll believe in that

My alter-ego, Dirk Daring from Dragon's Lair
I’m an apathetic agnostic so when talk turns to religion, I tune out and let my mind jump behind the wheel of a 1971 Austrian-built Steyr Pinzgauer and head on a Hunter S. Thompson inspired road from Spain to the Romanian capital of Bucharest via Croatia.

In this phantasmal scenario, my brain takes the physical form of Dirk Daring (from the computer game Dragon’s Lair) and along with David Bowie’s Goblin King from The Labyrinth; Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan; and Terry Gilliam (circa 1975 Monty Python and the Holy Grail) we carve a path of self illumination and hilarity across mainland Europe. 

For the love of god, put it away Bowie.
(NOTE: David Bowie is wearing fishing waders to cover up his tackle box shame that the producers of The Labyrinth failed to notice in the movie or conversely wanted to highlight so as to scare little children even more.)
The Steyr Pinzgauer makes road trips rad.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is the other day I had one the shortest yet funniest conversation about religion that went something like this:

“What religion are you?”
“Well I’m not, I’m an atheist.”
“Aren’t you in for a surprise then?”

At that point the conversation about religion gently rolled to a stop, the hand brake was applied and all participants got out safely. No proselytizing, no conversion attempts, just a few hardy laughs and a few beers.

But that question lingered in my mind.

Now look, you are going to need some pretty impressive empirical evidence and hard scientific fact to even begin to convince me that a God or gods exist but the rub is that even if you did prove it, you would have to also prove that God or gods cared about the fate of us earthbound hominids.

Now don’t get all up tight and don’t take it to heart; it’s not your fault. I was once blackmailed into going to church or face losing my job so as you can see I have very little trust in religion but please, you can be as religious as you like, in fact I applaud you for having the Faith and the dedication.

The reason I bring this up is that when a recent discussion with some friends turned to religion I had to laugh.

For most of my life no-one has ever asked my religion but in the space of two short years, I have been asked many times whether I wanted to go to church, implored that I should go to church, asked repeatedly what religion I followed, as if it was kind of a football team, and more importantly what my beliefs are.

It seems the older I get the more people want to know my religion. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come? As we get older and closer to death do people start packing their parachute just in case?

When I arrived in St Anthony, one of the first questions I was asked was, “are you Jewish? You look Jewish.”

My reply: “Nope, not Jewish. But they do have awesome food, except that whole bacon thing.”

I’ve since come to realise that the communities up in these parts are fairly religious, the Church of England was the first recognized church in Newfoundland (source: DW Prowse, QC) and in St Anthony alone; there’s the Bethel Pentecostal, Salvation Army and Anglican churches and even a Jehovah’s Witness hall on the way into town.

I think it’s a good thing, I truly do and reading all the different histories of the region, I can see why religion has played such a huge role in people’s lives up this way.

When you live at the mercy of the sea as the Atlantic fishermen did battling squalls and icebergs, I too would probably hold onto my Faith in a higher being rather than my hope that your faithful boat builder didn’t skimp on timber or had too many afternoon sherbets at the shed.

Same goes for all the winter souls who felt their appendix rumbling or the women in childbirth who were forced to rely on the Godspeed of dedicated nurses and doctors and their flying machines or dog sleds.

But there is just one thing that I can’t fathom and it’s why there are different cemeteries for the different churches – I mean, aren’t you all going to the same God?

“Religion and politics,” my dad once told me, “are two things you never speak about on a Friday afternoon in the pub.”

I tend to agree.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part XII -- Nurse Rhodes, you are one hard arse woman

Not sure why, but here's a fire hydrant.
I bet you never heard of Nurse Rhodes?

Neither had I until I read about her in a publication I found at the local library called Among the Deep Sea Fishers, a now defunct but very readable publication of the International Grenfell Association.

In it the hospital superintendent in April 1950, Charles S Curtis MD, recounts a story of the English nurse who came to the area in 1947 living in the town of Roddickton, at the time the population was "1500 people including 500 children under 16, half the population of Labrador in this one area".

The story goes that Nurse Rhodes serviced settlements between Harbour Deep and Conche, between 50 to 70 miles away and in one year, 1949, she treated alone 4000 out-patients.

It gets better though, in the winter of 1948 she was forced to walk from Roddickton to Harbour Deep and back to treat a patient, a round trip of 100 miles.

Read that sentence again.

See what I am getting at, she walked 100 miles with dogs dragging her medicine chest over the trail and as Curtis points out, "an undertaking that the most hardy man would hesitate to make."

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Great Newfoundland Cookbook UPDATE

I have added some lovely new photos to The Great Newfoundland Cookbook. Just click on the link below the banner.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part XI -- Bad panoramas and thoughts of the dead

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It was a massive hike but worth it in the end. Beat that Bear Grylls.
Today I stood among proof that bad days happen and, if like me, you are having a day in which the world weighs heavy on your shoulders, do yourself a favour and head to your nearest cemetery.
At the dead end of a no-name road, buried beneath a sheltering mossy cliff face, Great Brehat cemetery is a history book slowly sinking into the bog.

Hidden from the crashing ocean and the prevailing gales is a parcel of land in which the dead have almost equaled the living.

About 60 undulating plots face the town of almost 100 residents, the names of those admirably eking a living on the Northern Peninsular mirrored by those buried at the foot of a tourist walk, who helped found a proud Newfoundland.

Connecting the dots wasn’t hard; 17 members of the Penney clan rest with 25 of the Cull family, the Patey, Noble, Dean and Pilgrim names make up the rest, for but a few exceptions.

Following the roots of genealogic shrub isn’t difficult – he’s the son of him, his brother was her husband, she was the daughter of him and her mother was the sister of them, their lives intersect with not only Newfoundland history but world events.

Joshua Patey, married to Emily, was born the same year as Jesse James in 1847 but survived the American outlaw by half a century and when he died on May 26, 1940 at age 93 he had already survived World War I and was neck deep in the midst of WWII.

Conversely, born November 22 in 1912, Harold H Penney lived just 17 short months
missing the worst atrocities of mankind.

The headstone messages revealed part of each story but what wasn’t said was more poignant.

Plastic flowers, no matter how faded remained as proof of kin still above ground, the broken headstones and sunken epitaphs evidence of families who followed a similar subterranean pathway or relatives forced to weigh up spending money on memories of the dead or keeping their own heads above the felt-lined casket.

I don't have it that bad after all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part X -- Are you Trippin'?

We finally have a car.

After more than a month of wrangling our modus transportus has been upgraded from Shank's Pony to a 1999 Mazda Protege, which can mean only one thing -- ROAD TRIP.

I see you, caribou.
A gaggle/swarm/hive of caribou
For most people registering a car is a fairly simple task and involves the following steps:

1) Roadworthy; 2) Purchase; 3) Insure; and 4) Register.

With the first three under our belts and our hip pocket decidedly lighter for it, we headed for a motor registry office able to fulfill the transfer and registration.

Six hours and close to 450km later we arrived at the cavernous lair doubling as the motor registry. 

Having averted car sickness up until that point as soon as we entered I felt I had been swallowed by a wormhole that spat me out into the hull of a Vietnamese fishing junk used to traffic humans.

I was not however a people smuggler but more a smuglee.

The looks on my fellow sallow-faced inmates at the fore confirmed we were all on the same boat, their joyless eyes conveyed that feeling of being sixth in line to twirl the revolver's cylinder in a game of Russian roulette when all five people are crowding around you all very much alive and all very much wearing grins.

Without the need for guns we escaped triumphantly with registration papers held aloft and to prove we were still strong of spirit and mind we decided to test our resolve and headed for that other pit of human depravity – Walmart.

People in stressful situations talk about the ‘breaking point’ as if it is something you can see coming however I would argue the opposite, that you never see it coming, it just turns up and you are left stunned sifting through the emotional shards scattered on the well-lit and overcrowded aisle sandwiched between the dairy section and its 500 gram blocks of mild cheese on special for $4.59 and despair.

To put the adventure into context, St Anthony has admirable shopping options but there are just some things you can’t get here, items such as couscous or cloves draw looks of confusion, so when you reach a major centre like Corner Brook you have to make sacrifices and head to places like Walmart.

Our bid to extract ourselves from harm’s way worked against us and in no time we were being bashed from all angles by crazed shopping-trolley wielding housewives and teenagers who follow the “more is better” approach to make-up and their clearly uninterested boyfriends.

We had stumbled into the one place you do not want to get caught in Walmart – the clearance aisle.

Much like getting in between a bear cub on its mother, the clearance aisle brings with it a sense of rabidity, so with the coast clear we rushed to the neighboring pet aisle, which apparently is also where two Australians can get in the world’s way.

We escaped Walmart and discovered with glee that our B&B was just around the corner – so after meeting the owner, an interesting story in itself, we plonked our belongings in the room, had a quick shower and headed for a bar that had beer on tap – another thing that St Anthony lacks.

You forget just how nice a beer from a chilled tap tastes.

All dolled up we headed for a lovely tapas bar with live music and a wine list and the rest is history.

Our first road trip was a huge success – 1000km in 12 hours of driving. A registered car, Em now has a Newfoundland licence for the next six years (the minimum amount of time you can get a licence here apparently), we had beer on tap, bought cloves, met some lovely people and avoided all the moose the Northern Peninsular could throw at us.

Tales from St Anthony Part IX -- History 101 and the fishing admirals

The following extracts are from A History of Newfoundland by DW Prowse QC and describes how the fishing admirals, selected each week went about their business and how the Naval rulers eventually took over leading to Town Hall meetings and the birth of democracy in Newfoundland.

Remember this book was written back in 1895 providing gorgeous prose for all and again, some history lessons.

"I will try and describe the fishing admiral, as he appeared to our ancestors, clothed, not in the dignity of the office, not in the flowing judicial robes, not in the simple and sober black of police magistrate, but in the ordinary blue flushing jacket and trousers; economically besmeared with pitch, tar and fish slime, his head adorned with an old sealskin cap, robbed from an Indian, or bartered for a glass of rum and a stick of tobacco.

The sacred temple of law and equity was a fish store, the judicial seat an inverted butter firkin. Justice was freely dispensed to the suitor who paid the most for it. In the absence of a higher bribe, his worship’s decision was often favorably affected by the judicious presentation of a few New England apples.

The litigant who commenced his case, with the production of a flowing bowl of calabogus (composed of rum, molasses and spruce beer and joined with the toast: “The Pope and ten dollars” meaning ten dollars a quintal for fish) captivated the judicial mind most effectually.

Sometimes alas the dignity of the Bench was diminished by the sudden fall of the Court prostate on the floor, overcome by the too potent effects of new rum and spruce beer.

The fishing admirals were not satisfied with the powers conferred upon them. The Western adventurers petitioned to allow them to appoint "deputies" to exercise their duties; this was sternly refused.

Time would fail to recount all the enormities and barbarities of these ignorant vulgar tyrants.

They displaced and rightful owners of room, seizing them either for themselves or their friends; they fined, triangled (tied by the outstretched arms and whipped by order of a fishing admiral) and whipped at their pleasure every unfortunate wretch who earned their displeasure, and against whom some trumped-up charge could be made out.

The most celebrated of the fishing admirals, Commander-in-chief and generalissimo of the West Country adventuruers in the 1700 was Captain Arthur Holdsworth, Admiral of the Harbour of St John’s.

The old Devonshire family of the Holdsworths of Dartmouth are closely connected with Newfoundland’s history.

From there it was handed over to Naval rulers, whose underlying goal was to “repress settlement” and guided by quarter-deck law.

No doubt they were often severe, sometimes narrow in their views. In order to protect the settlers, they encroached on the prerogatives of the fishing admirals and after a few years superceded them.

As the Colony became more populous and civilized, naval government became simply intolerable; it was however, decidedly a great improvement on the fishing admirals’ law.

In 1711 several unstated laws and orders were made at St John’s, a local legislature “which the people seem in this instance to have created for themselves might not be legally lodged somewhere for making bye-laws and regulations as occasion should require.”

The commander at the time, Captain Crowe, presided over the voluntary assembly and his successor followed the example and held a meeting of the same sort. These assemblies were somewhat anomalous, a kind of legislative, judicial and executive all blended together.

It is very easy to discover from whence Captain Crowe and Sir Nicholas Trevanion’s voluntary assemblies were taken.

These gatherings were literal copies of the New England town meetings.

All the citizens of the township assemble in general meeting once a year or oftener, levy taxes, decide on improvements and appoint the necessary executive officers to carry out their arrangements during the ensuing 12 months. All men meet on an equality, every citizen is entitled to free speech and free vote.

As the New England towns become more populous they pass out of the stage of town meetings into representative government.

Unfortunately for the development of home rule in this Colony, we stopped short at the callow stage of town meeting.

The great principle of politics is compromise, what one admires most in this assembly is the political ability of the New Englander who engineered the proceedings; we have had clever wire pullers in the Colony, but we doubt if any of our party managers were ever skilful enough to blend together into one harmonious meeting such antagonistic element as the fishing admirals, the Devonshire adventurers and the planters.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part VIII -- Going bush

The weather turned nice this week so, I packed a thermos of tea and headed bush. This is what my camera saw...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part VII -- Lessons (not)learnt from history

If you have a spare couple of days...
It's not very often I deserve a standing ovation but for this momentous occasion please stand and cheer like no-one is watching or listening (if they are watching or listening just explain it is a avant-garde yoga technique learnt on a sabbatical in Dublin/Dubbo).

I have just completed the 1895 tome, A History of Newfoundland by DW Prowse QC and before you switch off, the reason I bring this to your attention is but for a few mere paragraphs from history that, over a century later, have yet to be ... well you'll get the idea:

"It should always be remembered that a fishery business like ours is a most precarious enterprise; it is exposed to a thousand accidents, from the dangers and perils of the seas, from the chances and changes of a variable climate, quite apart from the risks of markets abroad. Whatever great fortunes were made in the old days, they are not gained now; occasional large profits are a necessity in such an exceedingly risky business. The men who stir up strike between capital and labor in the colony are no true friends of Newfoundland; what we require is more money introduced into the colony, more patriotism and less politics."

Furthermore QC Prowse states
"May we not, therefore, reasonably hope that Newfoundland and her bold and adventurous sons will once again emerge from the present unhappy condition? Populations that live by the sea and earn their bread upon its treacherous water are always liable to dire disaster; but the same spirit that leads them to face the dangers of the troubled waves, nerves them also with a spirit to rise again from calamities that would forever daunt the courage of a landsman."

In reference to the current climate I draw your attention to this ...

"On December 10, 1894 – known as Black Monday – where upon Newfoundland credit stood high. Our principal monetary institution, the Union Bank, had for forty years maintained the highest reputation, at home and abroad; suddenly credit, financial reputation, confidence in both mercantile houses and banks, fell like a house of cards. For several days we were the most distracted country in the world – a community without currency; the notes of the banks had been the universal money of the Colony, circulating as freely as gold on Saturday, on Monday degraded to worthless paper.

It would be too painful a task to enumerate all the causes that led to this terrible financial crisis … the only excuse that can possibly be alleged for the directors of the banks, their large borrowings and crass mismanagement was that they were waiting for “something to turn up”, some lucky chance that would lift them out of the mire of insolvency.

Terrible misery will be caused before the change can be effectually carried but, but in the end it will be beneficial.

If commercial gambling finally ceases, trade and finance will rest on a firmer and safer foundation."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tales from St Anthony Part VI -- Rock eating dogs and lumberjack babies (ADDENDUM)

Proof that there is a rock eating dog, I took a quick photo as I strolled past the other day. Nice puppy, nice puppy, don't eat me.