Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Belshaw's World - tubing on the Mekong

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  10 February 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

When I was a kid going out to the Blue Hole, two things were required to make the perfect expedition. One was a rope to swing from, the second a car or truck tube.

The tube was great for just lying in the water, although you always had to watch the valve when the inevitable spills occurred. Do kids still do this, or have tubes just vanished?

I mention this because a whole gang of my daughters’ friends are presently in South East Asia. According to Helen (eldest), this has become something of a right of passage.

This is one of those sprawling modern trips not possible when I was their age. They are all going in different groups, but linked by Facebook, mobiles and travel blogs, they meet at particular points along the way.

Jenny, one of the less inhibited girls in the group and a long standing family friend, has been writing a travel blog. I won't give the link because, while it's a public blog, it’s really being written for the benefit of the group.

I have really enjoyed her trip so far. Jenny writes well and frankly, so its fun even if as a parent I do grit my teeth sometimes!

I was really struck by the way in which places once strange to Australians have become so familiar to the young in the forty or so years since brother David and I went for the first time. The popularity of tubing - I had to look tubing up - in the little Laotian town of Vang Vieng had completely passed me by!

This is the Blue Hole writ large. You get onto a truck tube and just float down the river.

Every so often there are things to see or do, including multiple bars, so you steer the tube ashore. The only constraint in all this appears to be that you must get to the other end of the journey by a certain time or lose your deposit on the tube.

Jen commented in one of her posts "this would not be allowed in Australia!". By this she simply meant that the activity in question would either not be allowed or at least rigidly controlled because it involved some risk.

She is right, of course, and to my mind it points to something of a problem. Australia has become a less relaxed society, with ever growing controls intended to control risk. This doesn’t stop the young taking risks. They simply do it in different ways and in different places.

On Friday, 19 March, I will be presenting a paper in Armidale as part of the University of New England's Classics & History Seminar Series. The topic: “Unrecognised and now almost unknown: explorations through the history of the broader New England”.

Those who read this column will know that I write a fair bit about local and regional history.

I do so because it interests me. However, a few years back when I returned to New England history, I had no idea that my research would become the historical equivalent of an archaeological rescue dig.

To the historians among you, please don’t take this the wrong way.

Local and narrower regional history such as that of the Tablelands is being written. But, to my knowledge, there are few if any looking at the history of the broader North/New England.

When I get a current Australian history book and look at the index, I find that whole slabs of history relevant to our area have gone over the last thirty years.

Of course historical fashions change. But the loss has not been replaced by alternative relevant material. Total visibility has declined.

I think that the desire to know our own past is still strong.

A few weeks back there were calls in the Upper Hunter for the reformation of the New England New State Movement. This led to a request to me for information about the Movement’s history.

Then, a few days ago, I had a request from someone writing a novel set in part in Armidale and Coffs Harbour in the period 1890-1920.

I guess that all this means that you can expect more history in this column!

I don’t want history to dominate. After all, Belshaw’s World is as much about the present as the past.

Yet there is just so much wonderful stuff about our past that I would like to share with you that I don’t think that I will be able to help myself!


Le Loup said...

I would like to take this opportunity to reoly to the "risk taking" part of your post. It has always been my belief that much of our problems with youth getting into trouble stems from the fact that they simply do not have the opportunities for adventure these days as we did in the past.
When I was a kid in England, the Hudson Bay Company were still hiring youths from the north coast and Scotland to work in Canada. Had I been a little older I would have jumped at the chance.
What is there for youths today to do for a little excitment, for something different. Well as a retired security manager and officer I could tell you what some of them get up to, but let us leave that aside!
No doubt you have heard of "the last wagon train project"? One in the USA, and I think there was one over here. The idea is that youths that have been in trouble with the law, are given a chance to change there habits and lifestyle. They are taken out bush on a trek and taught a variety of pioneer skills, taught how to survive in a wilderness situation and shown what it is like to exist outside of the city limits.
I thought this was a great idea, but my idea was to start something similar for youths BEFORE they got into too much trouble! I contacted several community groups with my ideas and offered my services as a primitive skills instructor and advisor if needed. This included Aboriginal groups. I did not even get any replies.
I still think it is a good idea, and I try to encourage families to join our non profit living history group so that we can put some of this instruction to use and show youths and parents that there is still some adventure out there where you can do some healthy risk taking and experience a past lifestyle.
My offer is still open if any group/s want to take up the challenge.
Regards, Le Loup.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Ll and sorry for the delay. I will do a separate post on this.