I’m an obsessive about notebooks.

As well as obsessing about suitable devices for taking notes, I use notebooks extensively, and I’m picky, very picky. Moleskine or Rhodia for bound notebooks for use as travel journals, and Clairefontaine, Rhodia or Moleskine for working notebooks.

It might seem a bit excessive picking upmarket brands, but they last (I’m still using the Moleskine notebook I bought as a travel journal before going to Laos in 2005) and the paper is usually such good quality that one can write on them with a liquid gel pen or a fountain pen even when the humidity has reached some tropical level of ridiculousness.

I’m prepared to try some of the cheaper own label versions available from the big box stationery stores, but I keep coming back to those three brands.

But there’s one exception – an Aurora Bur-o-class notebook that I bought from somewhere in York in 1998 …


I bought this incredibly tough fabric covered A6 notebook made by Aurora, a Belgian manufacturer shortly before going to Turkey in 1998.

I’ve never seen them for sale anywhere else, but a Google search confirms they’re still around and available in Belgium and possibly elsewhere.

Along with a small hardback notebook that lives in my daily use backpack, I’ve used it as a daybook ever since, and I’m reaching the point where I need to get myself a replacement, preferably equally hard wearing. and yet equally compact and equally good quality.

What’s a day book?

It’s that incredibly useful thing you carry round with you to write down useful things, like the phone numbers of taxi drivers and tuktuk men – they might have a hazy grasp of English, but they can write their mobile number in your book and you can text them to come and pick you up from a restaurant to take you back to you hotel, or the names and partnumbers of something you’ve seen you want to check the online price of, or someone’s email address and so on, or indeed somewhere to stick the postit someone’s just given you with meeting details.

In other words a book for the ephemera of life, yet incredibly useful for the few days you need the info, or before the note gets transcribed or the meeting date ends up in your calendar …

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Supermoon over Woragee from Factory Lane

Ok, most definitely not the best photograph, taken on a Samsung Galaxy at about 2010 AEDT last night, but we had fun driving round the back roads to get a decent view of the moon as it rose over the paddocks round Beechworth. Surprising just how obscured the moon was by trees when it was low in the sky.

Our major problem was that in Beechworth the sun was still setting as the moon came up washing out the effect slightly – it was definitely more dramatic this morning when I let the cat out for his morning foray …

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The V/line train to Melbourne

Last Tuesday, we needed to go to the city (actually St Kilda, but never mind) and instead of driving we caught the train to celebrate our becoming eligible for Seniors’ travel cards.

In a lot of places, a 500 km round trip in a day on a train would not be remarkable, and certainly we’ve travelled longer on more ambitious journeys in Europe, or indeed even on the night train from Bangkok to the Lao border, but trust me, longer train journeys is just not an Australian thing. With the exception of our single trip on the Sunlander, our use of trains has been confined to suburban services in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Even all the years we lived in Canberra, we never once took the train to Sydney. It was simply easier, quicker and cheaper to drive or fly.

However, our wrinklycards made the train an option, avoided the pleasure of paying to sit in a traffic jam on the Melbourne tollway, not to mention donating several body parts to park anywhere sensible.

However the train is not a totally straightforward option. First of all there’s only three each way in a day, and secondly it takes three hours to cover the 250km at a fairly bucolic 85km/h.

However it does work – the 0730 train gets you to Southern Cross for 1030, giving us time to hop on a tram to Pelligrini’s for an excellent coffee and strudel before making our way St Kilda to do what we needed to do, and leaving time for a little bit of shopping on the way back to catch the 6pm train home. A long day, especially as you need to add on the drive to Wangaratta train station and back, but eminently doable.

The train was reasonably comfortable, even if the coaches were a bit old and battered and had clearly seen better days, and the on board cafe could produce a reasonable coffee and sported a range of reasonable looking sandwiches at a reasonable price. As it was we only tried the coffee, we took breakfast bars and bananas for the journey down and bought a couple of upmarket focaccias in the station for the journey back.

There’s no wifi on the trains, but the seats all had fold down tables meaning that you could work if you wanted. However not that many of our fellow passengers seemed to, though those that did seemed to either be reading documents on tablets, or else working offline.

(Interestingly there wasn’t a Mac to be seen the day we did it, it was small Dell ultrabooks all the way)

So, comfortable enough, but the first question to ask is why so slow? (The Melbourne/Sydney train, which is operated by the NSW train operator, does the same journey in two and a half hours, using one of their superannuated XPT trains, which are based on the British Rail Intercity 125).

Well, despite V/Line having invested in some pretty spiffy high speed trains, they are broad gauge (1600mm) only and the line from Melbourne to the border with NSW is now standard gauge (1485 mm) meaning we have to make do with some converted carriages and a freight locomotive, and V/Line simply don’t have the capacity to provide more trains or indeed have the trains to run a faster service, even though you could have thought they could have sourced some reasonable refurbished trains from Europe.

We’re also not alone in still having the rattly old country trains, some of the less busy longer broad gauge country services still have locomotive hauled services.

It’s galling though that in 1897 Mark Twain commented on the lunacy of Australia’s disastrous rail gauge muddle, and nearly 120 years later we’re still living with the consequences …

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Bulgaria and the end of world war 1

It was pouring with rain today, too wet to do anything outsider or much inside, so I treated myself to some downtime researching how Australian newspapers reported the abdication of Nicholas II.

Of course, Nicholas II was not the only ruler of a Slav state to be styled tsar, and not the only one to abdicate, Ferdinand of Bulgaria was also styled ‘Tsar’ and also abdicated, although in October 1918, after an Entente breakthrough on the Macedonian front.

Most anglophone histories of the First World War ignore the conflict with Bulgaria, despite the involvement of troops from the British and French colonial empires, not to mention Greek and Serb soldiers.

Yet, at the time this was seen as a crucial breakthrough, isolating the Ottoman Empire from Germany and causing financial panic in Berlin. (It’s also interesting how newspapers reported what was happening by relying on correspondents in neutral countries who had access to newspapers published in Germany and AustriaHungary).

Clearly it was felt in Germany and AustriaHungary that the collapse of Bulgaria had certainly brought about the endgame in the middle east and that the war was increasingly unsustainable, and that the loans made to their Balkan allies and Turkey had little if any chance of ever being paid back …

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J A Rochlitz

In Beechworth, we have a park known as Queen Victoria Park. As some of the streets round about have Crimean war names  I always sort of just assumed that it was laid out in the 1850’s just as Beechworth was turning from a mining camp to somewhere altogether more respectable.

Not a bit of it, the park and its ornamental ex navy cannons date from 1901, and was established on the site of what had been the Botanical Gardens, which date from 1861. It was renamed Queen Victoria park in memory of Queen Victoria, who of course died in 1901.

The original botanical gardens had been laid out according to a design by a Hungarian gentleman J A Rochlitz.

Rochlitz is quite an interesting individual – as well as the botanic gardens, and later obtaining plant material for them, Rochlitz was one of the first to plant vines in Beechworth, in Havelock road in 1856, and also worked in a daguerrotype studio in Ford street in the 1850’s.

This is quite interesting – firstly it suggests that Rochlitz was a man of some education in the sciences, which is not terribly surprising as any gold mining town would have attracted people with scientific knowledge to work in assay offices. What’s more interesting is the suggestion that by the late 1850’s the town was changing, with winemaking, and possibly other agricultural activities beginning to compete with gold mining.

Equally, it tells us that there was money about and that people were prepared to pay to have their photographs taken either as mementos or to send to relatives to show they were doing well …

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Lenin and the ‘Rathmines Accent’

Way back in 2012 I wrote about the story that Lenin spoke English with a Dublin accent. At the time I was mildly incredulous, but in a comment Dara O’Rourke suggested that I follow up the story of Roddy Connolly, son of the Irish revolutionary James Connolly, who actually met with Lenin in Petrograd in 1920 and is the source of the ‘Dublin accent’ story.

which is to say the least interesting, as when one thinks about revolutionary socialism, Ireland is not the first country that comes to mind, but that is of course to forget the impact that the October 1917  revolution made on the organised trade union movements around the world, and seemed to offer a better world among the chaos and collapse that accompanied the end of the first world war in Europe.

One story that my mother, who was born in 1918, used to tell was of being held up at their apartment window by her father when she was very small to see a parade of men in work clothes with red flags, and being told ‘that is the future’.

Her father, my grandfather – who I never knew – was a manager with the Co-operative society, so it’s fair guess that he too was enamoured of the changes that socialism might have brought.

I’ve also now found some partial corroboration of the Dublin accent story – while Arthur Ransome may not have recorded how Lenin spoke English, H.G. Wells did, and said that he spoke with an Irish accent …

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The lacunae of copyright and digitisation

Ever since I first visited Turkey twenty years ago I’ve been aware that the Ottoman empire’s role in the first world war is something, with the exception of Gallipoli, we tend to ignore in the English speaking world, tending, understandably, to concentrate on the meat grinder of the western front. Even in Australia, where despite Australian forces having a significant role in the conquest of the middle East, we tend to focus on Gallipoli and the western front.

Yet, the history of the end of the Ottoman empire and the attempted partition of Turkey under the treaty of Sevres after world war one are important for understanding why we’ve ended up where we are in that troubled region.

Histories written in English about the conflict tend to concentrate on the victors rather than the vanquished, but I recently came across the amazing Rafael de Nogales Mendez, a Venezuelan soldier of fortune who fought in the Spanish American war, was a double agent in the Russo Japanese war, and eventually ended up as an officer in the Ottoman army, where he witnessed but did not participate in the Armenian genocide and who fought in the middle east including the siege of Kut.

He also apparently encountered T.E Lawrence on one occasion.

De Nogales wrote a book about his experiences with the Ottoman army which I thought might be interesting to track down and read, thinking naively that there was bound to be scanned version online somewhere, and that at worst, one of the Indian print on demand houses would be able to make me copy, much as I did with Ernesta Drinker Bullitt’s diary.

Not a bit of it. The Spanish language edition of de Nogales book was published in 1925 and the English language edition by Charles Scribner and sons in 1926, three years after the public domain cut off date of 1923, so despite Nogales dying in the late 1930’s, the work is still in copyright until 2021, on the assumption that the publisher renewed copyright as required.

Now that in itself isn’t a problem. If I was prepared to pay for a print on demand copy, I was prepared to pay for a second hand copy, except that there aren’t any available via Abe (I tend to use Abe due to their global coverage, I guess that there might be a copy lurking on one of the militaria sites that I missed.)

There are reprints available via the Armenian Genocide documentation centre, but they are not particularly cheap.

Living in a rural area means that I no longer have easy access to a large public library, and anyway, a worldcat search suggests no large library in Australia holds a copy.

So, what we have is this – digitisation makes access to original source material incredibly easy, but the 1923 public domain horizon essentially means that anything published after that date won’t be available 2019 at the earliest.

Equally,  old books are difficult to track down and purchase, in part because of the economics of the industry where the global book barns that mainly sell recent second hand paperbacks have come to dominate the industry, and have taken that lucrative section of the market away from second hand bookshops, making the specialist second hand bookshops less profitable, and hence either more expensive or non existent …

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