Circuses and hard-won wars – Soundtrails in Bingara

Pat Brown and daughter Judy and Judy's husband, Rick

Pat Brown, her
daughter Judy and Judy’s husband, Rick

Two times today I’ve braved the Bingara heat and been to Patricia Brown’s on the western side of town. The first time was to talk to about the war. The second time to talk about the circus.

Born in Bingara in 1930, Patricia grew up on the banks of Halls Creek, as one of 10 kids. Her dad sewed up feed bags and her mum worked in the local hotel while the kids ran free and easy. When the second world war came, five of her bother’s enlisted. So keen were they for adventure and to see the world, two brothers, faked their age. 

Only three brothers made it back to Australia. One was just out of a POW camp. While the word sacrifice often seems overused when it comes to war, the full weight of its significance hit home when I listened to Patricia talk about what it meant for her family to live through this time, the price they all paid. Two medals were  issued to the Brown family in recognition of this sacrifice; one with five stars hanging – the number of sons who enlisted; the other with two stars  - the sons who died. Patricia says these medals mean a lot to her, but she doesn’t know where they are today. All she has is a picture. 

The second time I went to Patricia’s place today was to talk about the circus and while it was even hotter outside, it was cool inside and the conversation was more lighthearted. From my stool with Patricia, her daughter, Judy, and son in law, Rick, before me, I waved my microphone around madly as the conversation flew. It was all about the circus and Patricia’s favourite brother, Alec, or  ’uncle Alec’ as Judy referred to him. He joined Ashton’s circus on a whim shortly before the war ended and worked with Ashtons for the next thirty years. Alec became the clown and married Lorna the glamorous trapeze artist cum showgirl. Judy spoke about how each year when the Aston’s cavalcade drove up, it would all start up again: the setting up, a monkey one step behind Alec, the dancing dogs, the bearded man, the fat man and fat woman, the free tickets, the supping with the Astons after show time. For the Brown’s the circus was family. 

I hope to make both recordings available to the local library for this is a rich assortment of memories for these people, for this town.  For Soundtrails, I’d like to explore these two recordings in a much shorter form. Two to four minutes. So short is people’s attention when they do soundtrails, I’m told they tend to move on after two minutes – though I’ll go to four minutes because I can’t resist telling a good story. What form these stories will take will depend on the quality of my recording. What supporting material I find in the process, and how things travel while editing, remains to be seen. 

Patricia’s recount of the war – I’d like to position this story somewhere amidst the side of memorial orange tree that symbolise the fallen soldiers. This will be amidst a range of other stories connected with the war. Where exactly it is in relation to the other stories, I don’t know. With uncle Alec and the circus, I will place this story behind the IGA supermarket where Ashton’s used to erect their tent before they moved down to the showgrounds at the other end of town.  

One town, one map, so many landmarks, so many stories, so many voices.   

First week of Bingara Soundtrail

June from the local Museum with a cache of old war letters they've just discovered

June from the local museum holds up a cache of 1916 war letters between a local boy and his mother that has literally just been discovered

In searing heatwave conditions I drove down to Bingara last weekend. An interesting road and after working on Soundtrails here last year, it’s a bit of a coming home to be in this part of the world: the cyprus pine covered hills, the electric dry air, the wide roads of town.
For three days I’ve now been in Bingara and the weather has thankfully cooled down. We’ve begun compiling material for the Bingara soundtrail. Jan and Tony Miller are putting me up  (thank you) and I even have my own little recording spot in the upstairs part of the illustrious Roxy Theatre.
This is the first of three trips and I am working with Carmen Southwell and Georgia Standerwick from the Bingara Shire Council. With Carmen I’m working on a suite of stories that connect up with the memorial grove of orange trees in the centre of town. As with many of these regional towns, Bingara saw a high percentage of its young men head off to both wars and the orange trees, which were planted in the fifties as a tribute to the fallen soldiers, are now as close as it gets to hallowed status here. First they were Valencia – no good for eating I’m told – and now they’re Washington Navels. Each year there’s an orange festival where a bugle call announces picking time and the kids are unleashed. Alan Mitchell, told us this morning how as a teenager he once kicked the oranges down the street and threw them on the roofs – so poorly were the oranges regarded. Then as a school teacher things turned around and he started to see the symbolic importance of the orange trees and he found himself teaching the kids to guard over the fruit lest anyone steal them. Hence the orange police today. That’s right all you visitors to town. The orange police. Don’t even think about it!

Meanwhile Georgia and I, who have now two sound trials under our belt, are scoping out a range of other stories and sounds for town and where they might fit into a GPS map: the movie picture wars, the vision of the Greeks who built the Roxy theatre, the story behind the cumbersome rocks along the river. On and on. Am attending meetings with heritage group, the local theatre troop, the ex mayor and kids at school. Fun, challenging and much to get my head around.