The recent death of Prince Philip prompted Sarah Buchanan (nee Wilson) to fossick through old family photo albums and dig up a candid snap of the late Duke of Edinburgh on a top-secret bird watching expedition at Lake George.
Well-known for his interest in bird watching, the Duke, who had several bird hides built in the expansive grounds of Sandringham Palace, jumped at an opportunity for a twitching field trip during his visit to Canberra in March 1963.
Sarah's grandparents, Canberra ornithologists Steve and Nonie Wilson, and three of their sons, including Sarah's late father, Kevin, were appointed the Duke's expert guides on an early morning (445am start!) bird watching-cum-bird banding expedition at the southern end of Lake George.
"My mum has always been miffed that she wasn't allowed to go along too - but as she was engaged to and not yet married to my dad, some sort of royal protocol meant she wasn't allowed to go," explains Sarah.
"While the Duke's visits were full of formal engagements, there were also occasional informal events, and this was very much one of those," explains Sarah. "But the family had to keep it very hush hush."
A handwritten note scrawled by Kevin in the family album reveals the tight-lipped nature of the royal field trip. "An informal outing with the Wilsons, kept secret from the rest of the world until the event was over," it simply states.
"Although it was supposedly informal, Nonie still wore high heels," laughs Sarah. "I guess it was royalty after all."
While Sarah is unsure who snapped the prized photo, it must have been taken by either Sir David Checketts, equerry to the Duke, or Ray Whitrod, the Commissioner for the Commonwealth Police Force, who were the only other attendees of the field trip.
Apparently the Lake George adventure wasn't the Wilsons' only field trip with royalty. "When Prince Charles visited three years later, they took him bird banding at the botanic gardens," explains Sarah.
I wonder if Prince Charles had the same 4.45am start that Prince Philip did?
Sailing regatta on Lake George
Meanwhile, another photo taken at this column's favourite lake, one that features the Huckleberry Finn-esque raft at the inaugural Canberra Yacht Club Opening of Season Regatta at Lake George in 1961, has taken pride of place on my office wall for many years.
Like the Prince Philip photo, it screams of another era - the simplicity of the raft's structure complete with flag pole and race officials resplendent in suits with trousers rolled up. Not to mention the fact the lake is full ... what a sight to behold.
Oh, and I'm not the only one smitten with the photo. It also features on the back cover of From Lake George to Lake Burley Griffin: Canberra's Pioneers Sailors (Canberra Yacht Club, 2008) in which prolific Canberra author Alan Foskett and local sailing historian Peter Forster chronicle the colourful history of the yacht club.
Given my love for the historic image, you can only imagine how thrilled I was to recently meet one of the men seated on that very raft, life-long sailor Peter Russell of Farrer. On the day of the regatta, Peter was assistant starter and responsible for race flag signals.
Peter, now 92, just happened to be in the audience at the National Film and Sound Archive last weekend, where, as part of a Canberra & Region Heritage Festival event, 16mm film footage of the Lake George Regatta was screened.
"That raft was made by fellow club member Ron Tuckwell, using 44-gallon drums and rough wooden planks that he'd sourced from HMAS Harman," Peter told a full-house.
When asked why he was the only one not posing in the photo (he is at the back in the shadow), to raucous laughter Peter deadpanned, "That's because I was the only one doing any work."
The regatta, at the time the largest of its kind on any inland Australian waterway, was opened by then governor-general Lord De L'Isle at the club's former clubhouse at the bottom of Geary's Gap, just beneath the current Weereewaa Lookout where a thicket of poplar trees now grow. Sadly the clubhouse has since been demolished and all that remains are a few bricks.
While the first day of the regatta was a roaring success, gale-force westerlies wreaked havoc on the second day. "Rescue launches were so busy that several yachtsmen waited nearly an hour after capsizing before they could be picked up," recalls Peter Forster, the club's archivist and historian.
Of course, sailing wasn't the only water sport undertaken on the lake when it was near full in the early 1960s, with windsurfers, kayakers, and powerboaters flocking to the aquatic playground.
The Canberra Yacht Club held only a handful of regattas on the lake, for in 1964 they moved to the newly created Lake Burley Griffin which, for most members, was much closer to home. Oh, and unlike at Lake George, where there was also the certainty of water to sail on.
The new lake also didn't harbour any of those partially submerged fences which stretch across Lake George, a fact not lost on water skiers who, when after Lake George did one of its disappearing acts and all but evaporated in the mid-1960s, discovered that their slalom course had inadvertently been set directly above a barbed wire fence. Ouch!
Outback graveyard for bespoke slides
Readers continue to reminisce about the multi-level metal rocket slides that were installed in 37 public playgrounds around Australia in the 1960s and early 1970s.
On a recent trip to Broken Hill, Ian Thompson of Curtin stumbled upon a yellow-coloured specimen squirreled away in someone's backyard.
"There were three of them in Broken Hill," reports Ian, a self-confessed space buff who grew up in Broken Hill. "One in Duke of Cornwall Park (named in honour of a pub), one in Queen Elizabeth Park (named in honour of her visit in the 1950s), and one at Railway Town Park."
However, a bit of sleuthing by Ian reveals that the trio of slides in his home town weren't actually part of the 37 originals. "Apparently the rocket slides were bespoke and made locally at the mines," he explains.
Fourth-generation Broken Hill resident Amanda Johnson of Willy Nilly Art who features the slides in her popular paintings, also believes this to be the case. "Yes, I've always been told they made them in the workshops at the mines," she says.
After the slides were removed from parks in 1999 because of safety concerns, Amanda saw all three lying on their side at the local council yard and asked if she could buy one. "I was told they couldn't be sold and that they'd be cut up for scrap metal," recalls Amanda. "But soon after one appeared in someone's backyard."
Amanda uses photographs taken when she used to hang out in the slides as a kid as reference photos for her artwork. "People love the nostalgia of seeing the slides in my paintings," she says. "They were a much loved part of the Broken Hill urban landscape."
Unlike some readers of this column, Amanda claims she "never got stuck in one of the slides" but does recall having her first cigarette at the top of one. "That's where many of my friends learned to smoke because we could all hide from our parents," she confesses.
Oh dear, maybe it's a good idea they've been removed after all.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: It's been moved several times, but where is it now?
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Dan Leslie of Curtin who was the first of many readers to correctly identify last week's photo as the Big Apple at Tallong, a small village about 30 minutes' drive north-east of Goulburn which is known for its... wait for it... apples! Well at least it was in the early to mid-1900s when it was home to a thriving fruit industry, especially its apples and pears. In fact, between the two world wars there were 35 productive orchards in the area. Unfortunately a bushfire in 1965 destroyed almost all of them, and only one family, the Watlings, chose to replant. Today the village is just as well known for the Midge Café, a top spot for a cuppa, and named after an orchid which grows in Tallong and nowhere else in the world. Dan just beat Chris Ryan of Kirrawee, Ross Hiew of Red Hill and Roger Shelton of Spence to the prize.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday May 1, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
If you've noticed many eucalypts, especially Red box (Eucalyptus Polyanthemos) around the region sporting brown leaves and appearing to be dead, do not fear.
"The wet spring and summer weather has been very suited to the mass production of lerps (psyllids) which haven't killed the trees, rather only damaged the leaves," explains Ken Helm of Murrumbateman.
According to Ken, "a number of parasites and predators will soon start to control the lerps and new autumn growth will appear." Phew!
Although renowned for his wine-making prowess, this latest advice, along with Ken's recent explanation that a pathogen fungus known as poplar rust was responsible for leaves on many poplar trees appearing browner than normal this autumn, may result in this column forthwith referring to him as 'Ken the Tree Man'.
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick