It’s amazing what you stumble across when you’re looking for something else. There I was, sitting quietly in the legislative library, waiting for some newspaper files to be muscled up from the basement. Already on the table, left by an earlier researcher, was a bound copy of Daily Colonists for April 1965.
I flicked it open casually to the first front page. The major headline read: TAX OUTLOOK IN A WORD: BLEAK. The opening paragraph informed the citizens of Victoria that their city council had spent five hours the previous day “hacking and paring” their annual budget. Their target was to slash a million dollars. At the end of the first day, they had managed to trim a puny $17,300.
Mayor Dick Wilson said the outlook for taxpayers was “bleak.” It still is.
I’d like to say I didn’t have the heart or time to pursue the budget story to its failed or successful cutting conclusion, but my eye caught something far more fascinating. It was a news item from Australia, triumphantly proclaiming that an aircraft missing for eight days on the edge of the Outback had been found with two survivors out of seven passengers and crew.
What’s so fascinating about that? Hey, if Cleve Dheensaw had been the reporter covering that story, he would have had a bestseller book. You see, when the aircraft left Brisbane for Sydney nine days earlier, Australia was locked in a five-day mortal-combat cricket match with England. A fifth and final Test match — a game not to be dismissed with a casual shrug, especially in Australia.
When rescuers reached the crash scene, one of the survivors, “nine days without food and several without water,” stumbled from the wreckage to croak “from dry, trembling lips — ‘What’s the score? How many did Bradman make?’” Bradman was a cricket superstar, the breaker of a gazillion cricket records and the man who carried Australia on his bat every time they played “the pommies.”
And before legions of cricket fans hit their keyboards to inform me cricket hero Bradman retired in 1948 — was knighted to become Sir Donald a year later — and didn’t play in the 1965 Test, I know, I know. But deprive any cricket fan of food and water for nine days and hallucinations will take over. And if the fan’s an Aussie, his dreams would be of a Test-match final against arch-enemy England, with Bradman at bat and heading for yet another record.
By the time I’d skimmed the air crash, my own research volumes, organized with the always commendable efficiency of legislature librarians, had arrived and I was poking around in the entrails of 1937 newspapers for details on the northern tragedy I wrote about the past two weeks.
First thing to catch my eye was the byline on a Spanish Civil War story dated April 12 and filed from Madrid: “A high cold wind blew the dust raised by shells into your eyes and caked your nose and mouth as you flopped at a close one and heard the fragments sing to you on the rocky, dusty hillside.”
The writer who heard the shrapnel sing? A young chap named Ernest Hemingway, cutting his teeth as a master of descriptive prose and shaping the style that would lead him to literary fame.
Then there was a story from Quebec about four Jehovah’s Witnesses, two men and two women, being charged and convicted in Quebec of “seditious conspiracy.” Crown counsel claimed their preaching “might have resulted in revolution.” The evidence against them? The judge said “they wanted people to believe priests are liars, our financiers thieves and our governing classes hypocrites.”
Yes, well, personally I’ve always found JWs a doorstep nuisance, but a parade of headlines since 1937 featuring priests, financiers and our governing classes would indicate they were more aware of what was going on in the world than the judge.
There was some exciting news on the air-travel front. Pan American Airlines announced it was ready to launch its San Francisco-to-Auckland service. It would lop 12 days off the current 16-day ocean travel time. With refuelling stops at Honolulu, Christmas Island and Pago Pago, it would take only four days from San Fran to New Zealand.
It’s a 15-hour flight today — non-stop.
In Canada, daily flights between Vancouver and Montreal and Vancouver and Halifax were being promoted with fares at six cents a mile. And the ultimate dream of flying from the B.C. coast to London, England, was in final planning stages. The journey would take a mere 48 hours — and stay that way until what we call today the polar route, pioneered by Canadian Pacific Airlines, reduced it to the present eight or nine hours, depending on tailwinds.
And it was being forecast that ever-improving design of aircraft would soon see long-distance airliners capable of carrying 80 passengers, plus crew.
When you get to be as ancient as I am, it doesn’t seem so long ago that such dreams were outrageous. Tempus fugit, indeed.
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