Our Anzac Day Swim Set

On Anzac Day (or thereabouts) I usually use an Anzac theme and tell some stories between the sets. This year I used a selection of those who served as patrons of each set, so here it is, mind the step:

5*600s on Anzac Day

1. PO Ron Middleton, VC RAAF: 150fs /10R + 3*50 as fs, bk, fs /5R + 150 drill-DPS-bk /2:45 + 3*50 as fs, bk, build /60

2. Lt Col Vivian Statham (nee Bullwinkel), AO MBE AANS: 4*(2*50 (25fly+25fs)/60 + 50bk/70)

3. Ord Seaman Teddy Sheean, VC RAN: 3*(100IM/2:00 + 2*50 as Build & FE /60)

4. Capt Reg Saunders, MBE 3RAR: 4*(50 sprint/70 + 100 aerobic fs/1:45)

5. Cpl Cameron Baird, VC MG 2 Cdo Regt: 4*100s/2:00 as 75fs+25bk; 4*50s/50, 55, 60, n/t 

You may not understand the swimming short-hand, but it is more important to understand the service of the patrons, so here are my notes foreach of them:

Ron Middleton, VC (AWM 100641)

PO Ron Middleton, VC RAAF.  He was awarded the VC while piloting a Stirling bomber over Turin, Italy in 1942. His aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over the target and he lost consciousness briefly with numerous serious wounds to his limbs, body and face. After dropping their bombs he was determined to return his crew home to England but they suffered more flak damage over France. He ordered his crew to bail out on reaching the English coast and five did so successfully. He turned back over the Channel and ordered his front gunner and flight engineer to bail out, but they did not survive in the water overnight. He soon crashed into the Channel and his body was washed ashore in Feb 1943.

Vivian Bullwinkel (AWM P03960.001)

Lt Col Vivian Bullwinkel, AO MBE AANS. Served as a nurse with the 2/13th AGH, Singapore, until defence of the island ended and she escaped on the SS Vyner Brooke. The ship was sunk by Japanese aircraft on 14 Feb 1941 and she made it ashore to Bangka Island with 21 other nurses, soon surrendering with others to the Japanese who killed the men and ordered the nurses to wade into the sea (probably after being sexually assaulted) before machine gunning them from behind. She was hit and feigned death until the Japanese soldiers left. She hid for 12 days with a British soldier who was also wounded (and later died of his wounds), before being captured and then spending 3.5 years in captivity as a PoW of the Japanese.

Teddy Sheean, VC (AWM ART28160)

Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean, VC RAN. He served on the corvette HMAS Armidale, carrying out escort duties off the Australian and PNG coasts. On 1 December 1942 in waters off Timor the Armidale came under severe attack from Japanese aircraft with torpedoes hitting its port side and engineering spaces. After a bomb hit aft, the order was given to abandon ship. Survivors leapt into the sea and were machine gunned  by Japanese aircraft. 18 year old Teddy helped to free a life raft then scrambled back to his Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun on the sinking ship. Although wounded in the chest and back he strapped himself to his gun and shot down one bomber and kept others away from his comrades, still firing as the Armidale sank. Only 49 of 149in the ship’s crew survived the sinking. He was awarded only a MID and had a Collins Class sub named for him in 1999, but in 2020 after a sustained campaign to have his bravery and sacrifice recognised, an expert panel recommended he be considered for a VC, which was posthumously awarded in December. This was a first for the RAN.

Lt Reg Saunders congratulates Lt Tom Derrick, VC DCM following their graduation as officers in 1944 (AWM 083166)

Capt Reg Saunders, MBE 3RAR. Reg was the first Aboriginal Australian to be made a commissioned officer in the Army. He enlisted in 1940 and served in North Africa and then the ill-fated Greek and Crete campaigns, eventually evading capture on Crete for 11 months. He was evacuated to Australia in 1942 and re-joined his battalion, fighting in the 6th Division in New Guinea as a Sergeant until recommended for officer training in mid-1944. He served in NG as a platoon commander in the Aitape-Weiwak campaign. He left the Army in October 1945, but when the Korean War started he returned to the Army serving initially as a Lt with 3RAR and later as a Captain Company Commander in the ferocious Kapyong battle (in which 3 RAR was awarded a US Presidential Citation). Reg was recommended for a decoration but turned it down. He was a much-respected soldier and leader and awarded the MBE for his community work in 1971.

Cameron Baird, VC MG (ADF)

Cpl Cameron Baird, VC MG 2 CDO. Originally from Tasmania, Cameron joined the Army in January 2000, serving with 4 Battalion (Commando), later 2 CDO Regt in Timor-Leste and Iraq (twice) until 2004. He re-enlisted in 2006, also with 4 Bn (Cdo). From 2007 he had four deployments to Afghanistan until 2013. He was awarded the Medal of Gallantry (MG) for a search and clearance operation on a Taliban stronghold under heavy fire and with close quarter fighting in 2007 as a LCPL. He was KIA in operations in 2013 and awarded a VC in 2014 for his bravery and self-sacrifice. After a helicopter insertion, Cameron Baird led the silencing of a number of enemy positions under heavy fire. He then assisted another team whose commander had been seriously wounded. With selfless disregard for his own safety, he drew fire from an enemy machine-gun position and his team regained the initiative. Inside the enemy compound he charged their positions three times, drawing fire away from his team, again under heavy fire. His third attempt cost him his life.

Victory over Geelong

Yes, I know, this is from the Hawks-Swans game at the SCG in 2021, but I live in Sydney.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this W meant a lot to we Hawks fans and I was thinking about how Winston Churchill might have described this tremendous victory. So with apologies to WSC, here are a few [mis]quotes:

As long as we have faith in our own Sam Mitchell and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us.

Victory at all costs, victory in spite of Dangerfield, Selwood, Hawkins, Stewart and Cameron, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no laughing at Isaac Smith.

History is written by Jai Newcombe & Jack Scrimshaw.

Sam Mitchell never promised anything but blood, tears, toil and sweat. Now, however we have Josh Ward and Connor MacDonald. We have a victory over Geelong at the MCG – a remarkable and definite victory.

Better to dare mighty things (with a Frost-ball) and fail than to live in a grey twilight like the Cattery where there is neither victory nor defeat.

Victory is not final. Defeat is not failure. It’s all about courage … or Ned Reeves.

The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of Glenferrie Oval, and a portent of the fate awaiting the Geelong tyranny.

Frosty, Dimma and Jars can lose us the game, but only the forwards can win it. Mitch Lewis and Gunners are our salvation, but Titch, Dylan Moore and Luke Breust provide the means of victory.

Before James Sicily and CJ we never had a victory. After James Sicily and CJ we never had a defeat.

(And this victory comes without our leader Big Boy McEvoy and the brilliance of Will Day and Lachie Bramble.)

My Reading in 2021

Recently, Goodreads told me that I’d read 31 books in the last year. So I decided to check that for double counting as if anyone had asked me I suppose I would have said, “I don’t know, 12-15?”. I read most books these days on my Kindle and sometimes I purchase multiple editions by one author, e.g. Steve Parker’s ‘The Complete Paterson & Clocks Box Set (1-5)’. Goodreads registers all five books when completed, but sometimes I purchase another single edition or two before finding the cheaper box set. My audit confirmed that I had completed the reading for 32 books. I reckon I have Kindle to thank for all that reading because pre-Kindle me used to buy heaps of paper books and start many of them, but rarely finish any in recent years.

What follows is my quick review of what I read in 2021. That Goodreads link above gives you a quick summary if you don’t want to TL;DR edition …

I’ll use two codes: eB for ebook and pB for paper book.

First, a confession of sorts: two books were not actual ‘reads’ Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways (pB, 4/5) and Bruce Weber’s Bear Pond (pB, 5/5). Both are beautiful books, but I would not classify them as reads. I recorded them as ‘read’ this year as I’ve looked through TAoLS many times over the last decade trying to find various quotes or inspiration and I just felt that I should record it as complete on Goodreads. Similarly, I’ve looked at all the beautiful photos in Bear Pond quite a lot. It is a First Edition, published in 1990 to benefit the AIDS Resource Centre in NYC. I literally lusted after this book for many years before purchasing a pre-loved edition online. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

The other 30 books were actual reads and all but one were read on my Kindle. I guess I should start with the the only other book that I rated 5/5: Holden Sheppard’s Invisible Boys (eB). I actually wrote a review for this book on Goodreads, so I won’t repeat all that here. I guess it was the one book I could really identify with and it made me feel something.

Only three of the remaining books were non-fiction. Of these, I think Mark Johnston’s An Australian Band of Brothers: Don Company, Second 43rd Battalion, 9th Division (eB) was my favourite. I would’ve given it 4.5/5 if possible. I loved Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and the mini-series from about 20 years ago. Mark Johnston’s Australian history compares very well and is just as horrific. It is very well researched and even after working at the Australian War Memorial for many years, I was amazed at what these men and their families endured during and after the Second World War. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: love and terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin (eB, 4/5) is a frightening story of the coming war in the years immediately before 1939 in Berlin itself. I’m obsessed with Berlin and have read a few historical and many spy novels as well as histories of this fantastic city, so I really enjoyed this book and at times you almost cannot believe what you are reading. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Secret Organisation that Changed the Course of the Second World War by Giles Milton (eB, 4/5) is another wonderful history, but I think it tries to put too many extraordinary stories into one volume and some deserved more details.

We are now down to 26 books, but for these there are only six authors. We should probably start with one of my favourite authors of all time, John le Carré. His second last book was Agent Running in the Field (eB, 4/5). I think I’ve read all the books he published before this one, but I’m yet to buy his last book Silverview. ARitF isn’t his best book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless as he was a truly gifted story-teller. le Carré also points you to the genre(s?) of fiction stories that I enjoy most: espionage/mystery/thrillers.

Like le Carré, I’ve read multiple books by each of the remaining five authors. In 2021 I only read the one novel by Karin Slaughter: The Silent Wife (eB, 4/5), but this is #10 in the ‘Will Trent’ series and I’ve read all of the others. Similarly, this year I read #5 & #6 in Gregg Hurwitz‘s ‘Orphan X’ series: Into the Fire and Prodigal Son (both eB and 4/5). I do love getting to know characters like le Carré’s George Smiley, Slaughter’s Will Trent and Hurwitz’s Orphan X. I was also a huge fan of Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson back in the day. See also Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole and Camilla Läckberg’s Patrik Hedström, but now we are way off the 2021 track.

A new author for me in 2021 was Steve Parker of ‘Paterson & Clocks‘ fame. I read #1-5 in the box set and then #6: Child Behind the Wall as soon as I saw it because I really like his use of the English language, particularly the many laugh-out-loud sayings of Detective Clocks. All were eB and 4/5.

Mark Dawson is another author who has given me some new favourite heroes: John Milton and Beatrix Rose. I was surprised to learn that this year I read #16-20 in the ‘John Milton’ series (yes, I’m addicted) and #1-3 in the Beatrix Rose series. Once again, all were eB and 4/5. I’ll eagerly read more when they’re available. I also read and enjoyed Mark Dawson’s The Vault, a stand alone espionage novel, early in 2021 (eB, 4/5).

I read seven books by the final author, Peter May. The first six were the ‘China Thrillers’ #1-6 featuring Beijing Detective Li Yan and his partner and lover, the US forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell (all eB, 4/5). These were good, but I think I enjoyed his ‘The Lewis Trilogy’ more some years ago. In early December I finished reading Peter May’s Extraordinary People (pB, 4/5), a book that I purchased some years ago. It is the first of his ‘Enzo [Macleod] Files’ and I’m already committed to continuing with that series.

That’s all for 2021. I hope I can live up to this standard in 2022!

Photographing Fireworks with a Leica SL2

NYE Fireworks, Sydney 2021

I have a relatively new camera and lens and set out last night to photograph the NYE fireworks in Sydney, from a distance. I have changed from the Canon DSLR system to a Leica mirrorless camera, the SL2. The approach is quite different. So for those as inexperienced as I am with the SL2 and fireworks, I provide the following notes for future reference. Please feel free to jump in and correct anything I’ve done wrong!

I used a newly purchased Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90-280 f/2.8-4 lens and prefer to give fireworks a 4-8 second exposure so it was all done on a tripod. The Peak Design carbon travel tripod was perfect for me as I lugged all this up the hill to the lawn in front of Sydney Uni. I set up the SL2 camera before leaving home, based mostly on the advice from more experienced Leica users in the Leica Forum.  

So here we go then:

  • switch to Manual Focus (my photos were all framed at about 170-200mm focal length and I believe I used the fine focus ring on the lens plus the little joystick on the back of the camera to lock my focal in before the fireworks started using a nearby building – I wasn’t too concerned because I was using f/8.0 aperture); 
  • set exposure mode to Manual and then roll the rear dial through the shutter time settings to ‘B’ (for Bulb); 
  • turn long exposure noise reduction off (or you cannot keep shooting);
  • use mechanical (not electronic) shutter type; and 
  • switch off image stabilisation (because tripod), however I forgot to do this on the night as usual (doh!). 

I also used a Leica cable release to control my exposure time manually without touching the camera. And below are a couple more examples from last night. More can be seen here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzwTBM

NYE Fireworks, Sydney 2021 (1)
NYE Fireworks, Sydney 2021 (2)

Swimming in Sydney during COVID Lockdowns Part 4: Birchgrove

Beautiful Birchgrove

Yes, although it seemed insane at first, when the 5km radius restriction was imposed in mid-August 2021 our best option for a swim proved to be Birchgrove, between the Balmain Sailing Club and Dawn Fraser Baths. The stories about the presence of bull sharks in the harbour had us hunting down research about them online and it seems as though they don’t really enjoy cold water, so with water temperature around 14 degrees Celsius at one stage and rarely getting to 17 C, we felt relatively safe.

We swam on the inside of this marina
Our regular course during the 5km radius phase of Sydney’s 2021 COVID lockdown

It seems to be about 400m from the Sailing Club to Dawn Fraser Baths and we were happy to stay there. The regular distance allowed us to structure the sessions like our pool sets and everyone seemed content with that too. The water temperature proved shocking at first, but you do get used to it and once again, most of us had wetsuits. There was no cafe nearby, but lockdown rules prevented us congregating at cafes, so there was no point in having one anyway.

A long exposure shot of the course because I like doing long exposures. This was six seconds at f/8 on a tripod with a ND filter.
And another long exposure. This was 20 seconds at f/14, with the tripod and ND filter.

We usually swam three to four 800m loops, including some medleys, drills, build-ups, drafting practice in pairs (or threes), distance-per-stroke and some changing pace work.

One of our swimmer’s partner (Helen) loves to bake and she brought us BAKED GOODSTM on a couple of occasions, including the best frosted cinnamon scrolls I’ve ever had.

Apart from some razor sharp oyster shells on ladders and pylons the only hazard we encountered were jelly fish that seemed to stay about an arms length under the water. On a couple of days they were all over our course, but they proved pretty harmless. One swimmer did see a big scary stinger, but I didn’t. Maybe I am blessed with an ability to not notice things?

I missed the last two weeks of swimming due to my wetsuit being sent to Caringbah for repair. I could have driven or even walked down to Caringbah pick it up several days ago, but I wasn’t allowed to and it still has not arrived in the post.

By the last week of September we were led to believe that outdoor pools would reopen on the 27th, so hopefully this will be the last time I need to post about swimming during lockdowns. I live alone and my relations are all outside both my 5km and 10km radius during lockdown, so this was basically the only way I could regularly catch up with friends. Swimming is very important to me in a way that is hard to express, but I don’t much like swimming alone, so I am really grateful to a range of people who kept me company over these lockdown periods: Howard, Henry, Rob, Anita, Justine, Kirk, Axel, Carl, Paul Simon and Richard (hope I’ve not forgotten anyone else who swam with us at any of our locations).

Swimming in Sydney during COVID Lockdowns Part 3b: Clovelly & beyond

Looking South from Clovelly. Sydney has such a beautiful coastline.

We swam at Clovelly for a month from mid-July to mid-August and in the last couple of weeks when conditions and time permitted we ventured out of Clovelly, at first into Gordons Bay and finally to Coogee and back.

Clovelly to Gordons Bay & return map
Clovelly to Gordons Bay variation
Swimming at Gordons Bay when Clovelly was too rough

Once we were comfortable swimming to and within Gordons Bay we did it whenever sea conditions getting out of Clovelly and around the headland were favourable and once when swimming within Clovelly was just about impossible (and dangerous). I was shredded on the rocks when getting out at Gordons, but the swim itself was fantastic.

You can get a bit of a swell within the bay at Clovelly

At Clovelly we really noticed a fair bit of sea life in the clear waters. There are a few different types of fish in Clovelly itself, including quite a few Blue Gropers and in Gordons Bay we saw a few generally harmless Port Jackson Sharks and probably a couple of small Grey Nurse Sharks too. They did not seem that interested in us. Nevertheless, I usually wore a Sharkbanz anklet.

The view from the Clovelly car park looking North. We’d swim out wide to avoid being washed into these rocks.
I can make it look a bit calmer with some slow shutter work on the camera.
At Clovelly, there is always something to see!
There’s always a chance of a freak wave.

It is pretty open going around the headland and heading south towards Gordons Bay, so there was some risk involved. I think the cold waters probably kept one of our big fears away (the nastier Noahs).

Gordons Bay
Looking across Coogee Bay to South Coogee and on the left you can see Wedding Cake Island and Mahon Point above it.

As COVID cases started to rise we started to wonder whether a tighter restriction would be imposed thus limiting our access to Clovelly and other open water swimming areas. So in our fourth week we began squeezing in more swims and we wondered whether we should push a swim to Coogee Beach and back. On what was to be our final Sunday swim at Clovelly conditions looked great and so off we went. It was truly memorable and really enjoyable.

Looking across Gordons Bay towards Coogee Bay (long exposure)
Coogee
Our route to Coogee and return. Not bad open water navigation!

Sadly, this did prove to be our final Clovelly swim and the last swim of the 10km from home period. On the way to Coogee we encountered a couple of surfers and also a couple of other swimmers doing a similar route. As we approached Coogee Beach we almost ran into a small group coming out. We all stopped and as I had a light blue swim cap on I asked them for their identity documents in my best authoritarian voice. They said they were only swimming in pairs, so I said I would let them off this one time and we swam away laughing our heads off.

Next up: where to swim after the 5km from home restrictions kicked in. Any guesses?

Swimming in Sydney during COVID Lockdowns Part 3a: Clovelly 2021

Ah, Clovelly, gorgeous, no?

In mid-July 2021, after the horro of the freezing waters at Murray Rose Pool, we moved our swimming to Clovelly. I had been hesitant to go there as I thought it would be too crowded. Usually, however, it was only croded early morning and around lunchtime. Most people seemed to just come down for a quick dip then warmed up on the concrete and left.

Sometimes it was rough

Conditions varied but we usually completed 50-60 minutes with most of us wearing wetsuits. When we started the water temperature was usually 17-18 degrees Celsius, but it was very cold in the shallows

More slow shutter work at Clovelly
Across the bay

Initially we stayed within the confines of the long bay at Clovelly, doing what was basically a triangular circuit of the swimmable area a number of times (see map below). I had been describing Malabar as “Big Clovelly” because they’re pretty similar in form. They’re both ideal locations for swim training and there’s the added benefit of varying conditions. We all found it very enjoyable.

Map of a typical swim within Clovelly
Swimmers came and went

After a while we started to notice a few swimmers coming into the bay from Tom Caddy Point which is to the far right of the image above. They looked to have swum around the car park on the headland, from Gordons Bay or perhaps even from Coogee to the south. Then we saw some people swimming around in front of the car park so that seeded the thought for us …

Looking across the bay from Tom Caddy Point to Shark Point

On some days it looked a bit rough to get out beyond the rock wall at Clovelly so we stayed put for a few more days. We did, however, eventually venture out towards Gordons Bay one day when conditions looked ideal.

Another show shutter image, but ideal conditions to venture out of the bay

To find out what happened when we did venture out, you’ll have to wait until my next post.