An entertaining interlude

A country girl from South Australia, Norma Murdock moved to Melbourne to follow her dream of becoming a singing sensation. When she tired of the spotlight she returned to SA, but found herself following her heart to the big city once more. Now she’s Norma Spalding and a member of the Probus Club of Langwarrin. 

Norma was a very protected 19-year-old country girl, who in 1944 was happily working in the Customs Department Office in Port Pirie, South Australia.

Norma’s mother was a pianist. Friends would often gather around the piano to hear Norma’s heavenly voice and, despite her shyness, Norma eventually came out of her shell and, with encouragement from her friends, would often sing at the local dances.

The war was on.

It was important to keep spirits up so a Concert Party was formed to raise money and entertain the locals and more importantly the Air Force boys stationed in Pirie.

Norma was a soloist, singing bluesy numbers and along with other artists delighted the packed Town Hall audiences night after night.

Eventually, Norma was noticed by a producer, who encouraged her to audition for J. C. Williamson’s, hoping that she would be good enough to join the Musical Comedy chorus in Melbourne.

After a successful first audition in Adelaide, Norma’s parents gave her permission to travel
to Melbourne where accommodation in a private boarding house in Burnley was arranged. “Moving to Melbourne was scary,” Norma says. “But because the accommodation was pre-arranged and the landlady was an aunt of a friend, I always felt welcomed.”

After another audition at the theatre in Melbourne, Norma was in.

She went immediately into rehearsals for the chorus of Rio Rita with Gladys Moncrieff, John McCallum and other principals.

Norma soon found that her newfound employment was exhausting. She worked six nights a week plus two matinees.

Homesickness didn’t help but Norma loved every moment of every show in which she performed, including Rio Rita, The Merry Widow, Maid of the Mountains, Victoria and her Hussar and Rose Marie.

Performing the totem dance from Rose Marie in the heat of summer, right over the footlights and with several encores, took its toll.

Following the end of the war when peace was declared, artists were asked to perform extra matinees. “My weight was down to barely over a stone and I was utterly exhausted,” Norma explains. “It eventually forced my retirement.”

By Norma’s 21st birthday, she was home and back into office work.

Of course, she missed the wonderful company of the girls she had befriended but realised that there was one person she missed more than anyone else.

“I met Harold on his return from New Guinea where he’d been fighting,” says Norma. “He was my landlady’s son.”

Harold and Norma kept in contact upon her return to South Australia. But before long, Norma was back in Melbourne and back with Harold.

In 1947 Norma Murdock became Norma Spalding.

After spending a number of years in Colac, the couple settled back in Melbourne.

As their golfing days came to an end a few years ago, a friend recommended Probus to fill the void. Harold and Norma missed the social interactivity that golf had always provided. So, five years ago, they joined the Probus Club of Langwarrin.

Harold and Norma are now in their 66th year of married bliss.

Although Norma didn’t sing professionally again, if you’re lucky, you may just catch a tune.

Download An entertaining interlude

Worth its weight in trout

Eighteen months since their first excursion, members of the Bait Wasters are totally hooked on their little group, ‘Skipper John’ tells Jessica Goulburn. 

“Good fishermen fish in any weather” says Skipper John, so come rain, hail or shine, the Bait Wasters Fishing Club heads out every month for a relaxing spot of fishing.

The Bait Wasters of the Probus Club of Ballarat South started some 18 months ago, and now around a dozen members on average attend each fishing trip. “We reached 28 at one outing,” John says. “It depends where we go.” Some outings are mornings, some are an all day adventure, but members agree, no matter where the fishing group meets, it’s sure to be great fun.

With females averaging at least half of the attendees, John recalls watching some of the less experienced ladies struggle to put bait on their hooks. The women actually catch the fish though. “I’m stoked, really happy about it,” says John. “I don’t get to fish with a lot of ladies and there are a lot of keen ones. And they enjoy it!”

John has approximately 60 years of fishing experience under his belt and relishes the opportunity to guide fellow Probus members. “A lot of these people haven’t fished before. They just need a little bit of guidance and I’ve been lucky enough to give them some,” John explains.

Lucky too with the weather. John equates a fisherman to a golfer – able to continue in any form of weather. He, however, has arranged excellent weather for all outings thus far.

After the catch (when they catch) the group fires up the hot smoker and prepares a feed. With the ladies joining in on the fun, John says the men often request sweets for morning or afternoon tea to finish off their meal. “One of the chaps gives one of the ladies orders,” he says. “He tells her: ‘If you’re coming fishing with us, don’t forget to bring a slice’.”

The end of the long drought has brought the fishing opportunities closer to members, with water filling the local lake and clearing the weeds. The Probus Club of Ballarat South was one of the first groups to take advantage of the large fish population now established in Lake Wendouree, and Bait Wasters’ very own ‘Gilligan’, otherwise known as Kelvin, was the first to catch a fish in the newly filled lake. It means that fishing adventures are a lot closer to home, and much easier to come by, right in the heart of Ballarat.

While John initially campaigned for the fishing group to be named Fish Feeders, he now claims that Bait Wasters is far more fitting. The theory is that if there’s no catch, the bait has been wasted and, according to the Skipper, this happens often.

It has been said that fishing is not a matter of life or death, it is much more serious than that. For the enthusiastic Bait Wasters, a day feeding fish is a relaxing adventure with humour, good company and some good grub to wrap up the day.

Download Worth its weight in trout

Keep on trucking

One of NBN Co’s five demonstrators, Graham Soawyer travels the country with the Discovery Truck, helping Australians understand the National Broadband Network. He told Jessica Goulburn about the truck, the NBN and his adventures.

“As a National Broadband Network (NBN) demonstrator, I travel around Australia in the Discovery Truck showing people what the NBN will eventually allow them to do online.

The NBN is the biggest infrastructure project the nation has ever undertaken. It will replace the copper telecommunications networks, which were started over 60 years ago, over a ten-year period and will give everyone, no matter where you are located, the opportunity to have an online presence.

The Discovery Truck, with expanders on each side, is close to double the size of the inside of a semi-trailer. We have a large screen wall and three additional screens on the inside. We’ve had more than 6000 people through the truck. Overwhelmingly, the feedback is positive, although some are perplexed when it comes to the technological side of things.

We show people what high definition videoconferencing is like and I’m finding a lot of mature-aged people now are using Skype. It’s the old story: you wonder what your kids or grandkids are doing in New York or London. The ability to see them and talk to them in real time, that’s the tip of the iceberg. With the NBN, no matter where you are in Australia, you will have that capability.

We also run a range of videos in areas of health, business and education. We have games such as fruit ninja and the new dance mat, which actually has a medical application. The NBN will also allow you to communicate with your doctor online.

My role is talking to people on a one-on-one basis. I find that if people come into the truck a little confused, by the time they leave, they have a pretty good understanding of how the network will make their lives easier.

There are three questions we get everyday: when, how much and what technology? The mature age groups are mostly concerned about cost. I’m from rural Victoria and it’s really nice to be able to go out and talk to people and say: “Look, it doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll have access to the same service at the same price as someone in the middle of Sydney or Melbourne.” That’s a pretty special message to be able to deliver.

Being able to talk to people and educate people on how the NBN works, and its benefits, is a very valuable opportunity.”

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Claiming government benefits

Chances are, by now you know how you are going to handle your superannuation throughout retirement. What you may not know is that, even if you do have super, assets and savings, you may be eligible for government benefits.  

The main benefit available to retirees is the Age Pension – the taxpayer funded retirement income stream for those who cannot fully support themselves financially.

In order to be eligible for the Age Pension, certain criteria must be satisfied, including:

  • An age test. Eligibility kicks in at 65 for males and for females it currently sits between 64.5 and 65. From 2017, the age will increase to 65.5 and will continue to increase by six months every two years so that by 2023, it will be 67.
  • An income and assets test.
  • Residence requirements, which include being an Australian resident and being in Australia when an application is lodged. There is also the 10-year qualifying condition, which requires being a resident for a continuous period of 10 years or for a number of periods totalling 10 years, one being at least five years.

The Age Pension rate depends on whether you are single or have a partner, and is determined by assessing income and assets. This includes superannuation. “The Age Pension is means tested to ensure it goes to those most in need,” explains Pauline Vamos, CEO of The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia. “The government will look at your income and assets, which includes your superannuation balance, to determine your eligibility and how much you’ll receive.”

The primary home where you live, prepaid funeral expenses and any accommodation bonds are not included in the assets calculation.
The income and assets limits vary according to whether you own a home, you are single or part of a couple, or claiming a full or part pension.

Centrelink conducts both an assets and an income test to determine the rate of payment. The assets test compares your assessable assets to the assets test threshold. The income test determines whether your income is within the allowable income amount. The test that results in the lower rate will determine your overall pension qualification.

The final amount of Age Pension paid includes a pharmaceutical allowance, utilities allowance, GST supplement and a telephone allowance. It is reviewed and adjusted according to circumstantial change and is adjusted twice a year with increases in the cost of living.

What about super?

Benefits such as the Age Pension are designed as a ‘safety net’ for individuals who do not have enough superannuation or financial resources to provide adequately for retired life. While superannuation may impact your eligibility for Age Pension, most people will continue to be eligible for a full or part- pension, supplemented by the superannuation benefits.

You can access your super when you reach preservation age (55 for most people) and retire, when you turn 65, or under the ‘transition to retirement’ rules.

‘Transition to retirement’ means that once you have reached preservation age, you will be able to reduce your working hours and use your superannuation to top up your regular income. This allows you to gradually reduce your working hours to move into retirement.

Once you decide to retire and use your superannuation to provide an income, you can choose to withdraw the amount as a lump sum or you can take your super as a pension – a regular income payment.

AustralianSuper recommends most people choose a pension to access superannuation. “Superannuation can often be structured in a manner that can maximise your entitlement to Centrelink, even after retirement,” says AustralianSuper’s head of Advice Frank Ceravolo. This will depend on your overall assets.

No matter which way you choose to take your super, it’s important to save. “Having a proper budget in place can generally help to extend your pool of savings,” Pauline Vamos explains. “And applying for even a part-Age Pension if you’re eligible will reduce the drain on your super.”

Your superannuation regular payments, together with the Government Age Pension can make a significant difference to your weekly income in retirement, securing your financial future.

Download Claiming government benefits.

Land below the wind

Formerly known as British North Borneo, Sabah, meaning ‘the land below the wind’ is an eclectic mix of history, charming tradition and fascinating wildlife. 

Whispers of war

During World War II, North Borneo was used heavily by the Japanese as a port. It was also where they held many of their prisoners of war. There were more than 2400 POWs held in the Sandakan

camp, mostly Australian. Only six survived. As the Allies neared, the Japanese forced the prisoners to walk to Ranau, approximately 250 kilometres away. These are known as the death marches.

As we’re driving to the Dawn Service at the memorial park, our guide tells us the story of the ring lady. Near the POW camp there was a young lady who would secretly feed the prisoners. One morning, she returned to give them their food and found seven rings in a tin, presumably wedding rings. The soldiers were gone but they’d left their thanks.

The memorial park sits on the site of the former POW camp and provides an insight into what happened to the prisoners in Sandakan.

When you’re in Kota Kinabalu, it’s definitely worth heading to the Kundasang War Memorial and Gardens. Here, the caretaker Mr Sevee Chararuks, who has been credited with bringing the gardens back to life, helps us plant yellow daisies in the Australian garden to commemorate the lives lost. The memorial also pays tribute to the British soldiers and the people of North Borneo who risked their lives to help soldiers during the war.

Mount Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is hugged by the South China Sea and the all-imposing Mount Kinabalu, part of the Crocker ranges and one of the highest mountain peaks in south east Asia. As you climb the mountain, the air gets thinner and the clouds thicker. When we arrived, a few of us entered the rainforest for a one-kilometre trail walk through the lush flora. If you don’t want to do too much walking, you can explore the mountain garden, home to the rare Rothschild’s Slipper Orchard.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can trek to the peak. According to our guide, there are three types of trekkers. The normal climbers who take two days and one night to reach the peak. The sub-normal climbers who do it in a day-trip. And the abnormal climbers. Every October, climbers from around the world travel to Sabah to compete in the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon. It’s the hardest mountain race in the world. At present, the record stands at just under two hours and 30 minutes.

There are a few stories about the history of the mountain’s name. The main tribe on the mountain, the Kadazan Dusun say that the mountain was home to a local woman, deserted by her Chinese prince. Every day she would climb to the peak in search of her prince’s ship which she believed was coming back to get her. Eventually she fell ill, dying at the top of the cold mountain.

The mountain, touched by her loyalty to her husband, turned the woman into stone, facing her towards the South China Sea so she can always watch for her husband’s return.

See the Kinabalu sites

When you’re in Kota Kinabalu, there’s plenty to do other than climbing mountains. If you missed out on seeing the animals in the wild, Lok Kawi Wildlife Sanctuary is a worthy excursion. The animals are in enclosures across the 280 acres and there’s also a botanical garden with flowers native to Borneo. The park was mostly created to educate the public about the wildlife of Borneo and the importance of conservation. The animals are changed every few weeks so they never feel cooped up.

If you’ve always fancied taking a steam train like in the old days, hop on board the North Borneo Railway. The British Vulcan Steam Train runs gently through several villages and your passport is stamped as you pass through each one. Along the way, enjoy a delicious Colonial-style tiffin lunch as the paddy fields, trees and villages pass you by.

Mari Mari Cultural Village, meaning come come, showcases what village life was like for the tribes of Sabah. Each show home has been created by descendants of the tribe and as you enter each house, guides show you how the villagers lived and what each tribe was most known for, whether it was rice wine, tattoo-making or even headhunting warriors.


Sabah is known for its wildlife, whether it’s cheeky orangutans swinging through the trees or pigmy elephants prancing through the jungle. The Sepilok orang Utan Rehabilitation centre and the Bornean Sun Bear conservation centre are both sanctuaries dedicated to helping orangutans and sun bears back into the wild. Visit Sepilok during feeding hour and wait as the ropes jingle before the orangutans appear. Sometimes they’ll play up to their audience, teasing their fellow orangutans and chasing each other around.

If you want to see more animals, head to the Kinabatangan River and head up to the village of Sukau. along the way, you’ll hopefully see monkeys climbing the trees, birds soaring through the sky and loads of fish in the river. if you’re lucky, you’ll spot the elephants. you can also stop on the way at abai Village for some high tea and mingle with the locals.

Land below the wind is also available for download.