Sir Robert Menzies is in the news and this gives us an excuse to publish this picture of Menzies' driver and friend Alf Stafford posed with Menzies' splendid limousine. It has the iconic number plate C-1 because it is the No.1 car in the Commonwealth fleet. It is a 1941 Cadillac.
Menzies is newsworthy because John Howard's riveting book The Menzies Era is just published and because David Horner's just-published history of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) discusses Menzies' relationship with that shadowy organisation.
But Menzies is especially on the minds of folk at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) now because they've recently received the gift of the Stafford Papers. The papers, which include our picture, detail the life and extraordinary career of Gamilaroi and Darug man Alf Stafford. We don't have room to do that career justice but report that in donating the papers (that she's had under her bed for yonks) Michelle Flynn has explained that "My grandfather Alfred George Stafford was born 1906 in Binnaway, and he was a Canberra pioneer arriving in Canberra in 1928."
"He served 11 prime ministers. His association with his country's leaders began in 1937 when he worked with the transport office, driving prime ministers. He was then appointed the personal driver to prime ministers. Alf had an especially close relationship with Sir Robert Menzies."
Yes, he did, and AIATSIS has made available exclusively to us (we confess that with the photograph we've been a little bit scooped by the local ABC) some affectionate letters from Menzies to Alf Stafford. In one exchange the two cricket buffs (Alf had been a player of distinction) discuss their sadness at the retirement of that great character, fast bowler Freddie Trueman. Alf had sent Menzies a press cutting about it. In a reply dated 17 October 1974 Menzies, now frail and in his life's twilight, muses to Alf that "I think we [he and Alf] saw the best times, both in cricket, in politics, and in living. Everything seems to be in turmoil at present ... the cricketers seem to be without any sparkle."
He tells Alf that he (Menzies) and Dame Pattie often think of Alf and his wife and of the happy Canberra years, those best of times.
Magpie elects to go to Parliament
Humans struggle to find anywhere to park in the Parliamentary Triangle but the Triangle's magpies can park wherever they feel like alighting and here is a magpie on the worm-rich, manicured meadows near Parliament House.
This column is the hub of the Australian Magpie Appreciation Society (we are pushing for them to be given the vote) and so we leap to bring you this recent painting by Frank Knight. It is one of 12 of Knight's paintings in his forthcoming Magpies of Canberra exhibition at the ever-stimulating Belconnen Arts Centre.
All discerning people love magpies and Knight testifies that "I like magpies for the beautifully efficient flyers and strong personalities that they are. I like their 'attitude' - the way they get on with magpie business right under our noses.
"And I've long been fascinated by the flying skills of our magpies - their judgment in the skills of projecting their rather heavy bodies to an exact spot on a tree branch or a power pole."
Frank Knight worked for the CSIRO as a field and laboratory assistant and was the illustrator for the CSIRO's Division of Wildlife Research. His exhibition doesn't open until October 24 but we will run another of his Magpies of Canberra paintings closer to then to remind you to swoop down on it.
Of course magpies boycott Floriade but those of us taking part in this Saturday's Floriade-defying Black Mountain Wildflower Ramble expect to share some of our morning with the mountain's magpies.
The current Floriade is only the 27th, and the festival may be only a passing fad (is there going to be one next year?) like the hula-hoop. But as previously reported this Saturday's Ramble will be the 43rd of these annual excursions. It is an ancient Canberra tradition, begun in the olden days by legendary ACT botanists Nancy Burbidge and George Chippendale to help increase our appreciation of the native wildflowers that bedeck ACT bushland at this season. With us in spirit on Saturday will be Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, discerning Americans who were utterly enchanted by Australia's flora. They, too, would have boycotted Floriade or might even have gone to it to jeer at it and to distribute pamphlets against it.
Saturday's ramble will be a social occasion with a morning tea break, relatively easy bush tracks and good company. Bring your morning tea, a hat, sunblock, water, stout shoes and high-strength bunyip-repellent. Native plant geeks will be there to help identify the galaxy of flowering species with which God the Gardener has blessed the mountain .
The Ramble is this Saturday, from 9.30am (sharp) until noon or later. Congregate, (look for the gay balloons) at the Belconnen Way entry to the mountain, just before the Caswell Drive turnoff.