“Do you hear me boy?” shouted the rather rotund Mr Dorian, Harvey’s least favourite year 7 teacher of 1975.
“What, were you thinking Harvey Stewart? For the last time, will you stop staring at your pen and concentrate? If you spent more time learning to write properly and less time day-dreaming, you might one day be half as useful as your well respected father, Charlie!”
The class laughed at Harvey, who seldom paid attention to his teachers, especially not the mean Mr Dorian. Harvey’s inquisitive mind often wandered off in different directions, being much too busy to stop and listen to a rambling rotund teacher.
Harvey, a scruffy brown haired boy, with dark hazel eyes, looked at the world quite differently to most children. To him, a simple pen was not just a writing instrument but also an adventure, an unfolding story. His meandering mind went on a journey of discovery, examining the materials and the makeup of the pen and its alternative purpose. He endeavoured to find the secrets behind this simple yet powerful instrument. To Harvey it was a combination of five different interesting materials, each with a story to tell. He examined much of his environment in a similar fashion; his major childhood frustration was his inability to communicate effectively and express his creative feelings in written form. He feared ridicule from other students and like most children, he just wanted to be accepted.
“Did you hear me Harvey!” yelled a very impatient Mr Dorian.
“Err . . . Yes Sir, Mr Dorian Sir! . . . I wasn’t thinking at all Sir!” he sheepishly replied, as the classroom again erupted in laughter.
As he looked up he suddenly saw the big bulging eyes of Mr Dorian, but again Harvey’s thoughts began to wander. This embarrassment again reminded Harvey of his family and his father’s ever encouraging words. His family had arrived in Australia 12 years earlier; they settled at Illawonga, a mixed farming district in the southeast of South Australia, full of innovative farmers but no engineers to fabricate their ideas. Harvey’s father, Charlie, was a wise and resourceful Scotsman, from a long line of Blacksmith Farriers. He started his own workshop designing and manufacturing farm machinery. Charlie Stewart was a tall, well-respected man of solid build, with fine posture and muscled hands that had created hundreds of items. Mr Charlie Stewart often encouraged Harvey to take on a challenge and try turning it into an opportunity. He would always allow Harvey to explore, tinker and analyse for himself.
Charlie often reminded Harvey to,
Seek the truth for yourself
The best way to learn is to experience first hand;
a great way to gain knowledge, is to explore.
Next, use your best endeavours to understand,
then curiously explore some more!
You can ask, and you may be answered;
listen, and you just might hear.
Can you truly believe the words of others,
unless you sought truth for your own ear?
for if you close your eyes to the truth,
you will ultimately become oblivious;
but with an open mind you will reveal,
the mysteries behind the obvious.
These words were so profound to Harvey. In his childhood, he feared to ask anyone anything, as he did not trust the answer. He searched behind every meaning to find the truth for himself.
Harvey always found truth in nature. Nature never lied, misled or deceived; it was always true to form.
Following a detention from Mr Dorian on that Friday, Harvey spent the weekend exploring the Cancanara Scrubland with his faithful friend Hamish, the Scottish cross / Australian terrier. Together they explored and dug holes, always examining their findings from trinkets to beehives. Harvey often spoke to Hamish as if he were his best friend. Early that Sunday morning in the scrubland near their home, both were digging furiously like Pirates discovering a long lost treasure chest in the sand. Harvey became very excited as he started examining their discovery and treasures. He spoke to Hamish in verse as if he were reciting a poem from a book.
Hamish! We have struck it rich
Eureka, we may have struck it rich,
precious treasure beneath a shallow ditch.
Joy it brings, gives me much delight,
weird reflection, in this morning light.
Many hours of hard work, toil and struggle;
a bronze relic perhaps, lies within this puddle.
A man’s best friend, through thick and thin,
Hamish! . . . It seems, we found a rusty tin!
Inside thy walls of iron, what secrets lay within?
Imagine a new adventure is just about to begin.
But wait! What’s that? A whistle, from very far away;
a father’s call for breakfast! We must be on our way.
Two years later, while Harvey was working with particular pride on a technical studies project for the Illawonga year nine exams, a tall, young and well-groomed teacher curiously watched Harvey's work from a distance. Tech studies became Harvey’s favourite lesson by far and this new enthusiastic teacher enjoyed watching him create complex pieces of furniture and functional art. Over the next few months, Mr Rodney Mardell, his new teacher, recognised Harvey’s creative ability. Rodney wrote in his end of term brief to the principle Dan Bevans and Harvey’s parents:
‘Harvey’s work is well advanced compared to that of the other students; his projects are of very high standard, often displaying an offbeat or unusual flair in his composition.’
Rodney knew if it were not for Harvey’s high practical results in Tech studies class, he may well have been encouraged to leave school. Mr Mardell began to consider how he could nurture his student’s abilities. He recognised Harvey’s struggle to convert his creative thoughts and ideas into written work with any degree of confidence. The school realised Harvey had excellent hand/eye co-ordination, even though many previous teachers thought he would probably end up on a factory production line. Mr Mardell watched on enthusiastically as he compared his protégé’s project to that of all the others in the class. Some of the children were building basic coffee tables or boring cassette tape cabinets for end of year exams. Harvey’s project was most dissimilar. It was an Entomology display cabinet with glass topped display drawers and polished brass trims. The hardwood cabinet was complex in structure yet delicate, with soft green padded silk inlaid into the front of each drawer and highlighted by crimson upholstery studs, which lined the shimmering silk trim. Brass shell-like handles adorned the drawers with finely hand crafted stipple marks, making the handles reflect an array of light. Everyone who saw the cabinet sighed in admiration. Most of the other students used pine for ease of machining, whilst Harvey preferred the beautiful hardwood timber from an old red gum sleeper he found whilst exploring an old pioneers campsite, far into the remote parts of the Cancanara scrubland.
“This Australian red gum timber is machined to perfection,” Rodney muttered and then continued,
“I would be proud of these precision crafted dove tail joints on your drawers, or the precise Mortise and Tenon joints around the perimeter.” Harvey’s smile beamed.
The timber exquisitely polished to a sheen and equivalent to that of a fine French polished table. Harvey’s material list was non-existent but he often spoke passionately to Mr Mardell about the challenge that confronted him when collecting materials like the hardwood sleeper from the scrub. Rodney Mardell grew fascinated by his adventures. He spent many evenings that term after school working on his project with Rodney, who happily supervised; giving encouraging advice. Harvey thought to himself,
“Rodney Mardell needs to get a life or a wife” as his mind began wandering off into another daydream.
Meanwhile Rodney, who was examining Harvey’s project, regathered Harvey’s attention when he asked,
“Harvey, you must tell me how you got a hardwood railway sleeper more than twice your weight, back home through that dense Cancanara scrubland but firstly, why did you go to so much trouble to use this sleeper in your school project?”
Rodney’s anticipation of an explanation addicted his attention.
The Red gum sleeper awakes
“Well it’s simple; there are some carpenters who use lifeless timber from the mill, I call it lazy man’s timber, it’s the easiest to machine, it’s forced grown, it has no durability or character in its straight broadly spread grains. My father explained and showed me how to sharpen cutting tools, tungsten tips and chisels to a razor edge so that the toughest of timbers could be machined with ease. The old crafty Scotsman would carefully work the chisel’s knife-edge in a figure eight motion upon our oilstone at 32 degrees tilt using a special cocktail of the finest of oils.
My father always said, choose your material carefully! It is a reflection of who you are. Do not cheat on yourself.
Perfection is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the heart of the creator. I chose this timber, not only for its intense structure and imperfections, but also for my connection with it and our brave Pioneers, deep inside the Cancanara scrubland. I have enjoyed many a campfire with my terrier by my side, sitting on this much worn depression in the timber sleeper. Often I have thought of the ultimate sacrifice this red gum tree made for humanity. It was hand sawn into shape and designed to carry the broad gauge railway lines between Adelaide and Melbourne. Can you imagine the thousands of railway carriages it bore? Imagine the millions of stories from passengers, filtering down through the carriages like whispers over its every single timber grain, just as passengers ignored its very presence! Imagine the load it carried for a cause to help the early Pioneers open up this unforgiving country. This railway log we call a sleeper was once a proud red gum tree before it became the backbone of thousands of travellers, millions of tonnes of wheat or barley and thousands of carriages bearing produce; all of which were the very life blood of our Pioneers’ district.”
To Harvey it was like a trophy, a life long reminder of adventures in the Cancanara scrubland and long nights with a canine friend by the campfire. This carefully picked and well-sawn timber plank from his personal collection showed his teacher that a lot of thought had gone into choosing and selecting the most appropriate sections of timber for his project. He continued…
“It’s like there are stories trapped within the timber’s fibre!”
His eyes looked up at Rodney, paused, then quietly asked,
“Mr Mardell, do you also choose your timber carefully?”
Rodney shook his head whilst holding back an embarrassing grin.
“Not with as much thought and care as you do, but I will definitely give more consideration to the selection process from now on.” Just then, the bell sounded for the end of the school day.
“Thank you Harvey, you have taught me what no lecturer has before; that we must never take for granted the obvious and I must learn to appreciate in depth the simple things that nature often supplies. However, for now I think it is time that you got home, my young friend. I hope to hear your story tomorrow on how you retrieved the red gum sleeper from the scrub.”
“It would be my pleasure, Mr Mardell.” Harvey had found a new friend. He believed Mr Mardell was a sincere Gentleman, but felt he may be lonely. So as Harvey began walking home that night, he thought of who Rodney’s female partner could or should be.
“Yes of course! Miss Spencer would be a great match!” he thought to himself. She was a particularly attractive English teacher in the Senior School at Illawonga and felt that by the power of desire and suggestion, he had just begun the match making process.
The following day as other students were finishing projects, Mr Mardell again inspected Harvey’s Entomology cabinet for the end of term assessment. He took care to examine the workmanship as Harvey had finished with plenty of time to spare.
Rodney glanced at Harvey whilst his pointer finger slid over the polished Red gum of the entomology cabinet, and then he asked,
“Now would be a good time for you to tell me how you retrieved the heavy timber railway sleeper from the Cancanara scrubland.”
“Easy! I did it with my Honda P50 Moped Scooter, of course!”
The old motorised scooter was Harvey’s pride and joy, a faded red coloured, pedal powered motorcycle that once pedalling, you release the clutch and the 50 cubic centimetre petrol engine would start up, turning it into a motorcycle. Harvey parked his Moped in the bicycle rack next to the old Repco and Malvern star bicycles of the other students. It had white enamel coated metal mudguards, a large headlight and a cane woven basket on the front.
Rodney shook his head with disbelief.
“It seems impossible for a Moped to drag a 120 kilogram red gum sleeper 1 kilometre through dense bushland and sand drifts.”
An excited Harvey began his rambling response,
“Yes of course! The friction would have been far too great to consider dragging the sleeper; therefore I fabricated a dual tandem wheeled, twin swinging sling. At either end of the log, I straddled a pair of bicycle wheels connected with a main axle. The wheels were 350 mm apart, with a pair of slings suspending the timber sleeper off the ground and straddled between two pairs of wheels at either end. I then attached a 16mm poly stretchy rope to one end and to the rear of my Moped and with a shunting action; I was able to get the sleeper swinging, like a cradle in the wind. I would pedal forward, and then release the clutch to engage the motor on the forward momentum; then brake on the return swing. This was slow and I calculated I could only move two metres per minute. The camp was exactly one kilometre in from the driveway or 1000 metres to my home therefore I needed 500 minutes to retrieve it. That is exactly 8.3 hours, or about a whole day. However, it was worth it! Don’t you think so Mr Mardell?”
“Err, yes Harvey. . . It was definitely worth it, I think! Especially if you think so, then it is absolutely was.” Rodney just shook his head, smiled, and then offered his hand out to shake Harvey’s. . .
“And yes Harvey, it was worth the perfect A+ I have given you for your extraordinary entomology cabinet.”
Harvey struggled to contain his excitement at his first ever A+.
Continued: Find chapter 3