There's nothing this column likes more than to solve a local mystery.
So, when your akubra-clad columnist asked if anyone had seen the exotic murals painted in the late 1950s by Rosaleen Norton, the so-called 'Witch of Kings Cross', on the walls of the historic Bushranger Hotel in Collector, I was hopeful an old-timer or two might come forward.
What I didn't expect was to hear from someone who was at the pub on the very day Rosaleen painted her trademark occult-themed murals.
Enter Kevin Betts, previously of Goulburn and now of Orange.
The 76-year-old vividly remembers being "mesmerised by Rosaleen" during weekend trips to the pub which at the time was owned by Rosaleen's friend, Sydney hotelier Don Deaton.
While his family friends who drove him to Collector enjoyed a beer or two at the bar, Kevin, just a young teenager, would sit "quietly watching Rosaleen while drinking a lemon squash".
"I was simply gobsmacked, I couldn't believe this woman just with a stick and some paint was doing all this - she was so very talented.
"A lot of people were frightened of her, but I thought she was absolutely fascinating".
''She outlined the drawing one weekend we were there, and then on subsequent visits I saw her finish painting the scenes."
As to the exact details of the murals, well he's a little hazier on that.
"I remember them being very 'out-there' - devils and all that sort of stuff, but it didn't worry me," he says.
"Sure, she smoked, looked a bit spooky and also like she needed a good bath, but she was always kind to me," recalls Kevin. "But what really struck me were these weird bells that hung off on the side of her dress and would clank and ring as she moved around.
"I remember when we'd get home and tell mum where we'd been, she'd say, 'you haven't been near that woman, I hope'," he laughs.
As Kevin grew up, he maintained a soft spot for the murals. "When I left school and got my first car in the early 1960s, I used to drive to the Collector dances with a friend and I'd always stop briefly at the pub to show my mates the murals."
Then, in the mid-1960s while visiting a friend who lived in Sydney, Kevin unexpectedly bumped into Rosaleen at a party in Kings Cross.
"In those days The Cross was very bohemian and this was a party I'll never forget," he muses.
"It was full-on with skulls, bones, alcohol and nudity, as a young innocent country boy it was a bloody eye opener." I bet.
What's more, Rosaleen remembered Kevin from the Bushranger Pub. '''Oh, you were that funny little boy who sat on the floor cross-legged watching me paint', she said while floating around, that row of bells down side of her dress still ringing," recalls Kevin.
"I remember people chasing me around the room as I was trying to get out," he recalls. "I was lucky to get out of that party in one piece."
So what became of the murals at the Bushranger Pub? Well that's still a mystery. Kevin's recollections that "they were still there in the early 1970s" is consistent with general consensus amongst the readers of this column that the murals were destroyed in the mid-1970s during renovations at the pub.
On the big screen: Last weekend the National Film and Screen Archive screened Sonia Bible's tell-all documentary about the tumultuous life of Rosaleen Norton. Drawing on rare archival footage, private art collections and memories of former acquaintances of Rosaleen, the film, which retrospectively positions Rosaleen as a founder of the esoteric art movement in Australia, received a raucous ovation from a full- ouse. While The Witch of Kings Cross is only available on streaming services (see www.witchofkingscross.com for links), I suspect it's only a matter of time before a national TV network picks it up. Compelling, albeit confronting for some, viewing.
Beer vending machine: When Kevin visited Collector for dances in the 1960s he remembers buying his beer out of a machine. "You'd put your money in a slot and your glass under the tap and your beer would come out," he recalls. Does anyone else remember these vending machines in and around Canberra?
MARKER MYSTERY SOLVED
This column's long-standing mystery as to the origins of the milepost in the grounds of the Hall School Museum & Heritage Centre has also finally been solved.
"About 30 years ago our son was a carpet layer and was working on a property near Boorowa; the owner had a couple of mileposts and gave our son one," reports Kingsley Southwell of Wallaroo.
"I took the milepost and painted it and used it in an exhibition the museum was putting on," explains Kingsley, who believes it's original location was somewhere on the Yass-Boorowa Road [Lachlan Valley Way]."
As to the distance between the two towns along the road measured at 51km (or 31 miles) not exactly lining up with the 33 miles (9 + 24 as per the post), Kingsley reports "we must remember that the road has been realigned since the milepost was erected many years ago."
On a recent bushwalk in the Megalong Valley, Chris Slotemaker de Bruine of Melba claims he found the footprint of the Australian Bigfoot, better known as 'yowie'.
"Tim, you should be more careful not to leave your footprints in the bush like this," muses Chris. Okay, I'll pay that one, but I'm not too sure about that yellow fungus on 'my' toes. Eek!
Ring trees a dying breed
On a recent trip to the southern shores of Lake George with Ngambri elder Shane Mortimer, this column was saddened to find that one of the grand old ring trees of the area had collapsed. What a sad sight. Used as markers for ceremonial and navigational purposes, ring trees - with branches that have been purposefully trained to grown into a circle - are living reminders of the First Nation people that lived on and cared for our region for tens of thousands of years.
Thankfully, there are several other grand old significant specimens still standing around the ACT, (some whose locations are kept hush-hush) but it's only a matter of time before they all eventually succumb to natural attrition. I just hope someone is keeping a record of them all, they are too much of a treasure to be lost forever, even in photographic form.
As another example in point, during a recent walk along a section of the Canberra Centenary Trail, Jan Pryor noticed a senescent tree, believed to be a ring tree on the Kambah Pool Road near the golf course. "I hope someone is documenting it, as it won't be there for much longer," reports Jan.
Gold balls baffle driver
The column's recent exposé on mysterious flying objects over Canberra continues to flush out more historical UFO reports, especially over Lake George.
"In the 1970s while driving to Sydney we noticed 'a gold ball hovering above the road','' writes Gale Cologna of Narrabundah. According to Gale, "It was metallic, had no windows or openings."
Baffled by what she'd seen, Gale immediately stopped to show her mother, brother and sister who were passengers in the car, what she'd seen.
Even the car radio went a bit haywire, but just as soon as they stopped, "it disappeared into the sky".
Years later Gale watched a TV show about a hill in Britain that had been visited by gold balls for hundreds of years.
"Go figure," she says. I wonder if it's because they had the same mysterious gold lights visiting them as well.
WHERE IN THE SNOWIES?
Clue: Taken on the 50th anniversary of an historic ski tour.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Ann Smith of Curtin who was first to correctly identify the location of last week's photo as The Lodge, the primary official residence of the prime minister of Australia, located on Adelaide Avenue in Deakin. "When I arrived in Canberra in October 1958, The Lodge still had sheep grazing on the National Circuit side," reports Richard England of Rivett who submitted the photo, and who believes the photo is taken from near where State Circuit now is. Ann just beat Lyn Shelton of Spence, Sue Neimanis of Narrabundah and Marie-Anne Robinson of Monash to the prize. There were lots of incorrect answers with many readers thinking the building was either Government House in Yarralumla, Gungahlin Homestead in Crace or Old Canberra House in Acton.
Did You Know? Stanley Bruce was our first PM to live at The Lodge, moving in with his wife Ethel on May 4, 1927, just five days before the opening of the Provisional (Old) Parliament House. Meanwhile, PM John Curtin died while at The Lodge on July 5, 1945, just six weeks before the end of the war in the Pacific. He was one of only three Australian PMs to die in office. The other two being Joseph Lyons (1939) and Harold Holt (1967).
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday June 19, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
Len Bowen, who first alerted this column to the eye-catching photo of a Sunderland float plane on Lake Eucumbene, reveals his late father Bill 'Taffy' Bowen served as an Air Gunner on 210 Sqn RAF Sunderlands early in World War II, then based at Pembroke Dock, South Wales". "They operated with their sister squadron 10 Sqn RAAF, also flying Sunderlands," explains Len, who "to give an idea of the scale of the aircraft" sent in this photo of his dad "on a Sunderland wing, probably at Iceland in late 1940".
"Must have been an impressive sight, seeing an aircraft of that size flying into and out of Eucumbene," he says. Indeed.
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick