50 to 50 #9: The Space Age

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, started last year to mark my 50th birthday. One post per year, y’see. The series ground to a halt due to a combination of work and personal pressures, as well as finding that such intense reminiscences of my own past were emotionally draining. The series has now been resumed.]

The 1960s were the Space Age. And since I was a bright male child of that decade, my thoughts were dominated by the events, images and themes of space exploration.

It doesn’t look much now, but this photo was the very pinnacle of all that. Or perhaps the apogee. Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the Moon. One small step etc, taken from the original TV footage.

I was mesmerised — even though half the time my nine-year-old self couldn’t figure out what was going on. I’d been following the story as it unfolded in the newspapers, reading every word and memorising every diagram. It was front page news every day. But the TV images were just crap.

Of course the reason they were crap was the circuitous journey they took from the Apollo mission’s slow-scan TV cameras. The signal was compressed from arsehole to breakfast time and bounced from the Moon to the Parkes Radiothermal Telescope in rural New South Wales, then somehow to NASA Mission Control in Houston where the audio was mixed in, then back to Australia to the TV stations, and finally out through the normal broadcast chain.

It’s a miracle they arrived at all, as the film The Dish portrayed — along with its historical inaccuracies.

But historians and popular culture tell us that the world stopped to watch these blurry images, and we all remember where we were. And it’s true.

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50 to 50 #6: Myponga Primary School

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, fifty posts in the lead-up to my 50th birthday next weekend. Originally intended to be one per day, with the final one on the birthday itself, it’s been disrupted by my work schedule. There will still be fifty posts, eventually, just not one per day.]

One day in early 1966, when I was still five years old, I caught the school bus from the front gate of our dairy farm near Mount Compass and enrolled myself at Myponga Primary School.

Yes, I enrolled myself. My parents were too busy running the farm that day. I can just remember being taken to the principal’s office to answer the questions he needed to complete the enrolment form. Name, date of birth, address, telephone number, parents’ names and so on. I daresay my parents had phoned in advance with most of that stuff, but at the time I felt so very grown up and clever.

I knew my alphabet and could count and do basic arithmetic before I went to school. These days there are kindergartens and pre-schools in the cities and towns, and plenty of kids’ TV programs wherever you live. But who taught me back then? I’m guessing my grandmother — my mother’s mother — who lived with us on the farm. Alas, I have almost no memory of her.

School bored me. All these kids seemed so stupid! They had to be taught their letters and numbers and I already knew all that. Apparently I was disruptive in class. Who knew?

The photo [embiggen] is actually from 1969, when I was in Grade 5 and nine years old. Which kid is me? I’ll tell you at the bottom of this post.

The guy on the top row, sixth from the left with a cheesy grin, is Mark Lorenzetti. Our families were friends. Mark was the same age as me, his youngest brother the same age as mine, and he had a brother in the middle. Like us, they had a dairy farm, though theirs had plenty of irrigated land and was clearly far more productive through those droughts of the 1960s. I reckon our dogs were smarter than theirs though.

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