Flop side of the coin

 Poring over some old holey dollars recently. Not the real thing, unfortunately. Rather, some slick website images of the real thing. At up to $500K apiece, you want something that looks pretty schmick.

Dripping with history, strange tangible aspect to them, intriguing artwork, high-end corporate nature to them. Hard not to love these things. Well beyond my modest stipend, sadly.

Nonetheless, I’ve secreted a modest 1800-year-old Roman coin on my person, which I like lugging around in my wallet. Weird, I know, but I’m still feeling that strange tangible aspect.

This coin has the sun god Sol on one side and the beak-nosed Emperor Gordian III on the obverse. Cost me $10 maybe 15 years back and it’s now worth around $150. Better return than my super, that’s for sure.

Maybe I should bung it on a nag, see if I can make some real lucci. Or better still, invest in some chump change. No, not that unregulated digital cash built on nothing, bitcoin, or any other dodgy cryptocurrencies. I’m talking about three-dollar notes.

Actually, I am talking coins – $3 coins. Nothing suspicious there, eh? You’d hope not, especially with Australia Post flogging them. Something has to finance all those Cartier watches they like throwing around, after all. Hold on, they’ve stopped doing that for the time being. I think.

Australia Post had been licking the competition with its parcel trade, so much so that Toll Global Express grabbed Christine Holgate with both hands when she ignominiously exited Auspost, with a nasty ScoMo boot up the clacker, for doing her job too well. Now it’s licking its wounds.

So it seems ironic that a three-buck brass razoo has assumed pride of place in its marketing catalogue, alongside the latest Great Aussie Coin Hunt. Mint stuff.

Actually, the $3 note holds a little-known place in Australian currency history. The $7 note, too, if you can believe that.

Back in 1966, when decimal currency was introduced, counterfeiters were quick to churn out high-grade forgeries. Lots of them. The Reserve Bank swiftly had the CSIRO research a new type of note to tackle the problem.

Author Nathan Lynch, in his new release, The Lucky Laundry, details the diffraction gratings, or holograms, moire interference patterns, photochromic compounds and polymer plastics they used to run out 1.25 million ‘optically variable device’ banknotes – as $3 and $7 notes, so they weren’t counterfeiting themselves. The tech was good but it wasn’t put to use until 1988.

Used to be a time when Australia Post’s stock in trade was stamps. Those sticky perforated squares people attached to things called letters. Spawned a creature called the philatelist. Kids collected them. I know I did. Still love them, too, great custodians of Aussie culture – everything from hairy-nosed wombats and sheepdogs to war heroes, natural wonders, lighthouses, explorers, scientists, Olympic medallists, you name it.

But I reckon Auspost kind of lost the plot when it started issuing entire footy and rugby teams at a time. All 34 teams. And then kids’ movies. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Goofy, Harry Potter. Place has been turning into Maccas. Bubble-gum card stuff. Chips Rafferty would be turning in his grave. On Holgate’s watch, to coin a phrase, from what I can see, too.

You can even make your own stamps. Auspost has MyStamps offering personalised stamps for businesses. On special at the moment, as a matter of fact. At $25, you’ll save yourself $10 on a $35 set of 20 x $1.10 stamps. Showcase your logo, ad campaign, brand name, your own ugly head …

But it’s getting a bit out of hand now. All sorts of Aussie icons, idioms and idiosyncracies – cockatoos, bushrangers, magpies, jumbucks, the vanilla slice, Tassie devil, kelpies – are depicted on these coins Auspost is flogging. And it’s suss.

The term hooroo gets a guernsey ahead of hoon, howzat and headless chook. I’ll cop that. But gday, galah and grog all dip out because G’s been grabbed by Great Ocean Road. Hmm, what’s going there? Why not the Great Barrier Reef?

Darrell Lea’s snagged D ahead of drongo, derro, dropkick and dunny. R.M. Williams has usurped redback, ratbags and underwear impresario Reg Grundys. Product placement’s delivering Oz a good kick in the vernaculars.

Commercialism is cashing in on patriotism, that ideal considered politically as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Makes you wonder how long before you can mint your own vanity coins? Mullet boofhead on one side, pimped-up hoon car on the other. Could be legal tender for bogans.

Done it with the stamps, coins can only be a matter of time. I can see them already. Car dealers, estate agents and influencers with their own silver dollar two-up specials.

Mind you, if we could get one with Franco Cozzo, Australian imperator, 20th century, Norta Melbun anda Footisgray on either side, I’m in. And I’d keep it in my Auspost coin collector’s folder which, incidentally, retails for, you guessed it … $7.

Oh, one more thing, farewell to two of Auspost’s finest, Myrna and Terry, who took retirement leave of the Bareena PO last week after many years of diligent, professional and convivial care and attention to their constituents. Very much Newtown’s and Auspost’s loss. Many thanks and all the best, guys.

This article appeared in the Geelong Advertiser 31 May 2022

A Nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse ….

The swaggie was out of sorts, no doubt about it. Just released from Geelong Goal, the old bluestone

gaol, where he’d been sequestered for a few days over unpaid fines, he came bellowing into the

office demanding a reporter. And roundly cursing the long arm of the law.

The plods had rejected his offer to have them drive him home to his bush hideaway in the Great

Otways National Park behind Apollo Bay. Told him to catch a bus.

“You’d think I was a criminal or something,” he groused. “You can’t just throw someone out of jail

on to the streets.”

But that wasn’t Noddy Hill’s only gripe. He was filthy on the food he’d been fed while behind

bars. Pure stodge, terrible for the bowels, and he was in pain as a result of the injustice, he moaned.

“It’s the constipation. You put that in your paper! The prison system is constipating innocent people.

It’s not right. It’s just not right!” he railed.

And, yes, there should be a law against it. And the cops should give you a lift home, in case you

didn’t get that the first time. And what’s the world coming to? Just not good enough …

You get the drift.

Old Noddy was about 45 back then, three decades ago. Looked for all the world like a latter-day

swaggy. Wild hair, wild eyes, wild demeanour. In fact, he was a hermit who lived deep in the forest

with a wild independence that rejected society and civilisation, and a head full of ideas that

reflected a powerful but eccentric intellect. An alternative lifestyle, if you like. Undiagnosed, by

other assessments. 

The Otways harbour all manner of unusual tales. Noddy’s hardly on his own. Panthers, carnivorous

snails, Tasmanian tigers, UFOs, German wartime submarines, shipwrecks, dinosaurs, quolls, giant

ferns and yowies are just scratching the surface.

Cut across the southwest hinterland and you’ll trip over rain-gauge crater lakes, megafauna trails,

volcanoes, large open maar craters, caves, scoria cones,  mystery ships, bunyip bones, early

Australian discoveries by Portugal and China, floating islands, exquisite waterfalls — all manner of

weird and wonderful, of believe it or not. Fascinating place. National Geographic would go silly for


But for all the area’s extraordinary otherness — and the fact a few of these have problems of their

own, too — Noddy’s tough to eclipse.

For years a local identity quietly celebrated for his differentness, he was considered a harmless,

amusing and, generally speaking, acceptable outsider. A hermit. A swaggie. An oddity, a bit out

there but okay.

However, beneath the innocuous eccentricity, a darker side to Noddy Hill was brooding. Scheming

and plotting nefarious plans no-one thought him capable of hatching. And his plans were rather


No one doubts his lot wasn’t helped by drugs — hallucinogens like LSD, mescaline and magic

mushrooms. Mix them with an evangelistic obsession, multiple internments in mental institutions —

and gaol — and an autodidact’s love for biochemistry, microbiology, endocrinology and toxicology

and, well, you’re on the road to somewhere.

But that road struck out into no-man’s land when Noddy decided to posted an image of a bomb on

the internet — what he called ‘bushfire bomb mark 3. Police were staggered by the detail he knows

of explosive devices and feared his mental health status might lead to terrorist attacks and

holocaust-type bushfires through the Otways.

Coming on top of emails comparing himself with mass murderers Julian Knight and Martin Bryant,

and with Jesus Christ, on top of suicide threats and references to Bali bombing, World War III,

holocausts, doomsday and nirvana, it’s fair to say they were a bit concerned. The swaggy seemed

pretty deranged.

Noddy had managed to email stalk some 600 people or agencies, including Premier Daniel

Andrews, in his mission and police saw his so-called ‘Placebo Park’ hideout with its dozen huts

and satellite dish as more terrorist bunker than bush retreat.

Eventually, after seven months in jail and a court case, and in a frail state of health, he was

transferred to a nursing home where the judge was happy to see him stay. 

So in the end, with his menace muted, his mental status noted, Noddy Hill found the care and

warmth he’d been missing since the 1970s when he went off the rails after two deckhands on his

abalone boat died near Portland.

Better late than never, I suppose. It’s funny but it makes me think of the old story of the

unexpected warmth nature has provided in another of the great southwest’s many anomalies, Mount

Leura near Camperdown.

Odd thing is that a holocaust might well have been in the wind there, too. For all we know, it could

still be so today. Vulcan mischief is commonplace across the southwest, as recent as maybe 4500

years ago. Hence the  Dead Sea-like salty crater lakes — great for a lazy Saturday afternoon’s beer-

drinking — the spooky Stony Rises, igneous outcrops, strange subterranean gurglings and more

you’ll find there.

Indigenous folk have it invested in their oral tradition. When volcanic bombs from the scoria of

Mount Leura’s cone were shown to one Aboriginal bloke, he said they were like stones his

forefathers claimed were thrown from the hill by the action of fire.

Back up a little to 1911 and you might get my Noddy-nature-nurture drift. That’s when

Geelong’s News of the Week paper reported “a strange occurrence’’ at the Curdies River:

“All the water became quite white, with froth upon it, which afterwards turned to green slime,’’ it

said. “Large numbers of fish in the stream died. The water gave out a peculiar odour and cattle

refused to drink it.’’

It wasn’t the first time the locals had witnessed such peculiarities. Same thing happened 20 years

earlier; all supposedly the result of a volcanic disturbance in Lake Purrumbete, not far from  Mount


“It is said that divers were sent down into the lake on the previous occasion to investigate, but the

water was so hot that they could not stay in it,’’ the News of the Week reported.


The paper also reports that blokes humping their waggas through the district took advantage of the

heat around Mount Leura, reporting: “Swagmen frequently camped in such places to obtain


No doubt our Noddy, with his liking for self-sufficiency, would appreciate the fact. But a bloke like

him would also appreciate the many other mysteries and curiosities of the Otways and the


In the early days of white invasion, it seemed a wild place. It landscape was bizarre, queer, crawling

with the unknown and the dangerous, with Aborigines and with unfamiliar wildlife. It drew only the

toughest of pioneers and even they battled to stave off the superstitions of bunyips and pookahs in

the region’s splendid isolation.

Yet artists such as Nicholas Chevalier were alert to that splendour early in the piece, capturing the

likes of Red Rock’s crater lakes in the 1860s with a dreamy pale green and blue vista. Similarly,

photographer Fred Kruger preserved Mount Leura to an 1880s moment in history with its lightly

timbered slopes high over the wide verandas of Camperdown. Artist Eugene von Guerard exercised

his draughting excellence to capture the flora and fauna of Koroit’s Tower Hill, outside

Warrnambool, presumably dodging its curious resident emus in the process.

A powerful sense of place and wonder lives on in the works of Otways laureate Gregory Day,

whose exquisite studies of life, love and environment along the Great Ocean Road are some of the

best documents we have.

Some time ago, Geelong Art Gallery exhibited the powerful work of several artists in a charming

essay on Lake Gnotuk.

Drawing on history, geology and indigenous stories, their combined opus was as exhilarating and

captivating as it was outworldly: bottles plugged with cork, stones, sand and water from the lake;

photos of tiny ostrocods; draughtsmen images from the 1850s; russet rock, soil, stone and granule

textures; sepia takes of the crater welded to ochre impressions; prehistoric fish bones; fossilised

shell necklaces, magnetic swirlings of rock and soil reflecting the lava tubs and underground

vortexes of the antediluvian landscapes.

Science meets art, environment meets art, palaeontology meets art; I don’t think it would have been

lost on someone like Noddy. I’m sure he’d wonder at the idea of clear hyper-saline water covering

the stumps of 2000-year-old trees. Maybe he’d think, too, that such volcanic dreaming of the

southwest is just an opening foray into a broader church of natural science, history, mystery and


Maybe, just maybe, had his mental health issues been identified and acted on earlier — had he been

closer to the society he shunned — he’d have contributed differently to that oeuvre than becoming

the rather sad piece of folklore he is now.

Pity, really, that we’re all still a bit constipated that way towards such people.


Rattling good yarns on the track to ’Rat

TRIPPED over an old map recently, showing Newtown’s Skene St as the road to Ballarat. You headed out Skene to Shannon, north to Autumn and up to what is now Hyland St, then down to Fyansford and onwards to the wild west goldfields.

Loads of yarns are attached to the old Fyansford, first watering hole on the road to the old Ballaarat — seabed fossils, sharks’ teeth, cement works, trains, Monash’s bridge, pubs, a re-routed river, Russell Rushton’s frenzied stabbing murder in the 1960s …

Geelong West pedalling oracle Rod Charles will tell you of cyclists coming off second best to bullocks driven up Hyland in days gone by.

All changing now, of course. New houses, estates, roads, drains. An arts and plonk precinct. The old Swan pub’s burned down. Even the Kombi graveyard has lost a lot of its tenants.

Co-travellers to the ’Rat bemoan the goat track highway, even with its recent upgrades. They fiddle with my radio, hook up their iTunes, pore over their phones … anything to avoid looking out the window at the landscape. Well, up to Meredith, anyways. After there, a bit of geographical mercy seems to ease their discomfort.

I get it. But at the same time, I don’t. To me, there’s a world of stories in each swale and saddle, each ridge and rise along that bone-rattling goat track.

There is the skillet-pan pub murder at Stonehaven, the Aboriginal massacre at Dog Rocks, the topless nymphs hanging out of cars on Black Saturday, Johnny Cash at Batesford’s Derwent pub, drag races along Friend-in-Hand Rd, the upside-down model TAA plane that had passers-by worried about a plane crash.

Keep moving west and you’ll be greeted by tiger snakes at farmhouse doors, by a sad memorial to the young actor Melanie Jewson killed in an awful head-on, by the rain shadow of the You Yangs, by rough dry stone fences.

There’s Anakie’s Three Sisters, willows weeping into farm dams, giant irrigation sprinklers, pretty bluestone cottages and abandoned concrete houses.

Stories resonate down the years. Victoria’s last Gallipoli veteran was Bannockburn’s Roy Longmore, a sapper drawing on intel the likes of which Monash learned building his reo-steel bridges to attack enemy positions. Still have a sprig of rosemary from his funeral. Keeps the witches away.

At the one-time Meredith Parachute Club, “kick the can” campfire hijinks were played with beer cans of burning avgas. All very funny until the flames started licking the knees of your jeans. I’m not sure if it’s where One-Legged Dave broke his good peg on a bad landing but wouldn’t be surprised.

Lethbridge Airport hosts a giant yellow Russian Antonov AN-2 biplane, the largest in the world and capable of flying backwards — if you consider it can fly as slow as 80km/h but remain aloft into a 120km/h headwind.

An infamous murder at the one-time Green Tent pub next door, once upon a time, saw walleyed Owen McQueeny hanged at Geelong’s Gallows Flat for killing pretty mother-of-two Elizabeth Lowe.

Across the road, World War I returned servicemen struggled to eke an existence from the Murrungurk soldier settler lots. These days, they’re weekend getaways.

Conman Harold Lasseter, of the Lasseter’s gold reef, gave up his first bleats as a baby at Bamganie, near Lethbridge. Ran away from home at eight, after his mother died. Coerced a government and the unions into funding his smoke-job. Died in the desert for his efforts, mind you.

Turf-smoking premier Henry Bolte was photographed beside his old refrigerator letterbox at Meredith. Cartoon in a Melbourne paper suggested readers look in the fridge, presumably to find the blood sample allegedly switched after a drink-driving incident where a woman sustained permanent brain damage.

Then there was the self-appointed Catholic bishop who powdered his bare buttocks on his porch, to the annoyance of neighbours. Someone spray-painted his sheep pink. Lucky that’s all that happened, I’d suggest.

It’s an odd neck of the woods. Rough as guts in parts but handsome in a scratchy, rocky, wiry way too.

Drop in at Russell’s Bridge and you’ll find alpacas splashing in the Moorabool — and one of the thickest thickets of peppercorns in Christendom.

The Coopers Bridge fishing hole on Sutherlands Creek is gorgeous. The Steiglitz Cemetery is bizarre.

Vignerons drawn to the Moorabool Valley’s dry, stony terroir have transformed the place with their cellar door diversions. Sharing panoramas like the one from Maude’s Bunjil’s Lookout, it’s no surprise. Fact you can see Bunjil and his six lieutenants on a clear night sky is pure magyk.

You want a real treat, though? I’d suggest the burgers at the Meredith Road House. On the right day, the girls will give you a dancing rendition of A-ha’s Take On Me. You might also trip over bikers chugging on lattes, a Good Friday highway re-enactment of the stations of the cross or a ragged crowd of music festival hangovers.

They’ll all have a yarn for you too.


GOOD to see Geelong’s tunnel addicts are as rusted-on as ever. A recent flurry of Facebook activity shows that belief in the purported female convict tunnel between the old Terminus Hotel and Cunningham Pier hasn’t waned despite nothing resembling evidence. Same goes for the supposed subterranean passage between the old Golden Age pub cellar on Gheringhap and the pier.

And if they’re not still there, well they must have been filled in, yeah? Hmmm … Sly grog, prostitutes, convicts, gold, contraband, guns, illegal immigrants … the tunnels were used for almost everything. Makes you wonder sometimes who was using the roads.

Peculiar thing about them, however, is they hark back to the dark days before streetlights. Given how black the nights were, except once a month at full moon, and with normal citizens holed up in their houses, you have to wonder why you’d need to hide from anyone in the first place.


Ned Kelly

LOVE the Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series on at the Geelong Gallery right now. Been a day or two since old Ned’s been in Geelong. Actually, he wasn’t very old at all, only 15, but he was well on the way to infamy, “apprenticed” to gentleman bushranger “Harry Power” at the time.

Ned and Harry stayed at the Rising Sun Hotel on Ryrie St, after Power earlier ventured into the Easter Volunteer Encampment at Little River. Power’s real name was Henry Johnstone and he escaped from Pentridge in 1869. He met Ned through a Kelly relative he met in jail.

Ned and Harry embarked on a wild 20-month expedition across Victoria. In April 1870, Power made his way to Little River and on to Geelong. “Harry’s mother had lived in Geelong,” says Gary Dean, co-author of the book Harry Power: Tutor of Ned Kelly with Kevin Passey.

“I don’t know if she was still alive, but he had a sister who also lived in Geelong and she was still living there in late 1880s. Harry was obviously visiting his sister, her name was Margaret Melanophy.”


GOOD to hear, too, that our big cat sightings continue — well, so long as you’re not part of their food chain. Freshwater Creek cockie Harry Cook says the area has hosted big cats, on and off, for years. His last sighting was a couple of weeks back, in the Dickens Rd area.

Harry says the animal was as sleek as all get out, well-muscled and a shiny jet black. Sizewise, it was somewhere between a domestic cat and some larger unknown cats he’s seen in the past. “Every year about this time he seems to show up,” Harry says.

“As far as I can tell, he’s visiting his girlfriend or something. I think he’s in a nearby dam full of reeds and stuff, but I’m not game enough to go have another look. He’s after fast food and I’m slow food!”

Portfolio Items