Why barrygoanna?

Why barrygoanna?

How and why  I came to take on my official middle name Goanna in place of the middle name John on my Birth Certificate is a long story and one I have not previously told in full. Half of the story is about Bill Jones, a mine caretaker at Coopers Creek , and a play on the surname of William Baragwanath, a famous Victorian geologist. The other half of the story is about me taking a ‘stage name’ in Mulga Bill’s Bicycle Band. The whole story helps explain why barrygoanna is deliberately embedded in the name of my website.

The ‘geology’ part of the story

It was the early 1970s. I was studying for an Honours Degree in Geology that involved carefully mapping the rocks in the wild and beautiful area around the tiny and isolated former gold mining township of Walhalla in Gippsland with Clive Willman (several years later to become the Sound Technician for Mulga Bill’s Bicycle Band). We rented the cottage above the Walhalla Band Rotunda that year and spend a memorable year exploring the rugged and beautiful area looking for rock outcrops: by car, on foot and wading up creeks and rivers. Sometimes we would drive all the way back to the Geology School at Melbourne University at night and cut our thin sections, and head back, sort of like in the Elves and the Shoemaker. This was the era well before GPS and computers. Rock outcrops were located by tape and compass survey, our theses were typed manually on a typewriter and the maps they contained were coloured by hand.

One of the important outcrops we mapped that year was near Coopers Creek, an isolated bush township on the Thompson River. The only large building left in Coopers Creek was the former Coopers Creek Copper Mine Hotel, with the recently reopened Coopers Creek platinum and copper mine on the opposite bank, accessible either by ‘flying fox’ or by a long, steep and winding back road from Walhalla via the former mining settlement of ‘Happy go Lucky’.

Bill Jones, something of a weather beaten, rough local diamond, was then the caretaker at the Coopers Creek mine. He spent a lot of his time patrolling the area with his rifle, occasionally shooting goannas that were commonly found sunning themselves on the rocks along the Thompson River. The Thomson at that stage had not been tamed by the now huge Thompson Dam upstream. Bill also played a mean accordion, including when we played some evenings at the Walhalla Hotel.

Bill Jones had been in the area a long time and enjoyed telling us, as budding young geologists, all of the famous geologists he knew of or had met who previously mapped the area, including [David] Thomas [1902-1978], (Dr Don) Spencer Jones, [Hyman] Herman [1875-1962] and [William] Baragwanath (1878-1966]. Bill’s likely quite accurate pronunciation of ‘Baragwanath’ sounded to us like ‘barra -gwanna’ hence barry goanna. We fantasised that in years to come Bill would add Willman and Golding to his small list of geological heroes. Clive has indeed gone on the become a well-known geologist, and recipient of the prestigious Selwyn Medal. I enjoy (and make up stories about) rocks that I see as I ride my bicycle but they are no longer my academic forte.

The back story of the amazing William Baragwanath

William Baragwanath (1878-1966) had died only around five years before we met Bill, but he was still was something of a geological ‘legend ‘in Victoria, for good reason as summarised below. He was born at Durham Lead near Ballarat and learnt his craft as a field and mining geologist and surveyor at Ballarat School of Mines. Fellow geologist John Talent wrote in 1979 in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Volume 7) that:

In 1897 Baragwanath was assistant surveyor and draftsman in the department’s survey of the Walhalla goldfield, and was in charge from 1898 until 1900. Successive geologic, topographic and mine surveys of the Castlemaine-Chewton, Aberfeldy, Berringa and Ballarat goldfields earned him an enviable reputation for precision, perseverance and attention to detail, qualities he was to require of his juniors. Late in 1916 he began investigating the La Trobe Valley brown-coal region, selecting bore sites, carrying out topographic surveys and assisting in management of the coal-winning operations; he accumulated much of the data used later by the State Electricity Commission to establish the Yallourn open-cut mine and power-house.

Baragwanath developed an unrivalled and encyclopaedic knowledge of the mining geology of Victoria. His memory for mine, bore and old assay data, the modifications of mine names (even of obscure ‘scratchings’), and the chronology of discoveries, incidents and personalities became legendary; it was primarily for this reason ‘Mr Barry’ was retained as departmental consultant. His advice was highly valued by the mining industry because his opinions were invariably judicious and his optimism guarded. It was his pleasure to provide anyone with detailed information on geology and mining in Victoria, for geology and mining were his life; his favourite hobby was building model ships.

Baragwanath had argued from analogy with oil-bearing sequences elsewhere in the world that the Tertiary rocks of east Gippsland could be petroliferous. In 1922 the Department of Mines tested his theory by drilling a line of bores west of the Gippsland lakes; it was an unsuccessful experiment, but he lived to see his theory vindicated when off-shore drilling of the same sequence from 1964 led to the discovery of the Bass Strait oil and gas reservoirs.

Quite a man.

The ‘Mulga Bills Bicycle Band’ part of the story

The same year that Clive Willman and I were mapping the rocks around Walhalla, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle Band that I was one of the foundation members of was beginning its transition from being a very ‘part time’ Melbourne University Folk Club-inspired ‘Australian folk band’, to becoming a full time professional touring band well into the mid 1970s. (Co-incidentally several members of the Bushwhackers Band, also mostly university students, but from La Trobe University were well known in Australia in that same era, regularly visited the Walhalla area).

The tradition in Australian country music circles had been for some touring artists to take one or more stage names, for example David Kirkpatrick became Slim Dusty and Roger Hogan became Dusty Rankin. The Baragwanath / Barry-Goanna name gave me a ready-made stage name. A good friend, Liz Cox, screen printed barry goanna on the front of a black sleeveless top which I later took to wearing whilst on stage and while riding the band’s penny farthing bicycle into the many towns we played at all around Australia.

I should declare before I proceed that do really like goannas, and was very concerned that Bill Jones claimed to regularly shot them for no obvious reason, though they are predators. For those not from Australia, goannas (the word derives from an Australian alteration of iguana found in South America) are a family of rather large monitor lizards (with 25 species ranging from 20cm to 2m) with sharp teeth and long claws. The goannas at Coopers Creek we’re very big.

At first Barry Goanna was just a catchy stage name, but a year or so later I came round to the idea that I was more comfortable having ‘Goanna’ than ‘John’ as my middle name, and proceeded to change it formally to Barry Goanna Golding by Statutory Declaration. I do enjoy having the endemic Australian name, Goanna on my Australian passport and drivers licence. There was a lot of tittering in Melbourne University’s Wilson Hall in 1999 at my PhD graduation ceremony when my full name was read out. It also makes for some interesting exchanges in formal ‘name checking situations’ such as when voting.

I figured that exercising agency and changing my name was a simple but powerful way of defining who I was and had become. John had biblical associations I was really uncomfortable with. It was only after I had formally changed it to Goanna that I realised that my father, commonly known as ‘Jack’ (=John) might have been disappointed his eldest son had dropped his birth name. I should note here that I have never really liked my first name, Barry, and the name has progressively fallen out of favour across Australia and most other countries for a range of reasons, in part because of the less likable personalities lived and created by Barry Humphries, Barry Crocker and Barry McKenzie. Most ‘Barry’s are like me, mostly over 60.

In part for reasons alluded to above we decided as parents to give our first two children, Dajarra (named after a small and remote town near Mt Isa) and Karri (the beautiful Western Australian eucalypt) only first names, providing the opportunity to later add a name that they liked, in the middle or instead. We partly softened our stance by 1985. While our daughter Tanja also got an Australian place name (Tanja is a tiny, bucolic hamlet in the NSW south coast near Bega), she also got ‘Rose’.

A November 2019 update on Bill Jones from Bill Power

The early part of my post prompted Bill Power to contact me about his recollections of Bill Jones at the Coopers  Creek mine in the early 1970s and comment that he loved reading this post. I have pasted his email note to me in full in italics,  below, with Bill’s generous permission.

“In the 1970s, my partner, her two sons, I and my daughter used to frequently camp at the Coopers Creek  copper mine and got to know Bill Jones quite well. My partner was an art teacher at Syndal Tech at the time and got to know Bruce Cozens who, although a geologist by profession, was a science teacher at Syndal Tech. He and his partner Liz Loder lived close by. Bruce had done some work for the Copper Mine at some stage and Liz thought the clay in the area could be used to make things. Liz and Bruce had camped at the copper mine before in a tent. Bruce and I had many a long philosophical discussion.

We were introduced to Bill Jones who lived in a filthy shack at the mine-site. By filthy, I mean it was absolutely black inside – soot from his fire. Not considering ourselves such hardy types, my family opted to live in the miner’s quarters that were in pretty good condition and provided us with somewhere to sleep and somewhere to eat. We soon had the gas bottles connected, the stove lit and the hot water service for the showers working. Liz and Bruce always preferred their tent. To preserve the gas, we always cooked outside in camp-ovens. Bill usually had something he wanted to contribute to the camp oven and ate quite a few meals with us – probably the only solid food he ever had.

I gather that Bill’s drinking was legendary: if he felt the need for some protein – then what else but Advocaat could provide it?  Green Chartreuse fulfilled his occasional need for greens and there were any number of drinks made from fruit for desert. I think his favourite was Cherry Brandy. Despite his drinking habits, he used to tear down the track to the mine [via the back road to Walhalla] at break-neck speed in his old ute, worrying everyone who knew him. He seemed to have no shortage of friends who often braved the track to drop in and see him.  I gather Coopers Creek mine paid him in shares for his work as caretaker. He once showed me his share certificate and asked me how much he was worth. He had quite a few shares worth a few cents each – typical ‘penny dreadfuls’. He may have had some other source of income because he was forever buying books for the libraries of local schools. I never saw Bill with a gun and if he had one, he never mentioned it.

He was a great raconteur and during meal-times would tell us stories of times past: of the battery cam shaft that was being delivered from somewhere in NSW to a mine in Victoria when it fell off the truck and got a bit bent – the locals figured if it was built up a bit here and ground down a bit there it would be usable in a few days. But and old mine-worker knew the answer. He built a fire, threw on the shaft and covered it with dirt.  Next morning it was fixed! [Reminded me of a friend who worked for a company that made compressors: they had to ship shafts out from England and my friend had the job of nursing them in the hold giving them a quarter turn every day (like champagne) so they wouldn’t develop a permanent bend]. Another time, Bill told us how to make (in an emergency) the end for a Furphy water tank. You dig a circular hole in the ground; cover it with a sheet of iron; put sandbags on top of the iron and throw a stick of dynamite in the hole. The iron develops a nicely rounded shape.

He told us a story when during the depression he and a mate were desperately hungry when they came across a cow. The killed the cow, ate what they could of it and buried the rest. Several weeks  months, (who cares?) they were so hungry they decided to dig it up again. After cutting off the blue rind that had formed, it was still quite tasty!

Once we built a camp fire and sat around it. Old Bill astonished us with his ability on a blues harp (a small harmonica). I didn’t know it could be played like this – it sounded like 3 people playing it.

There was a diesel-driven pump that Bill used to fill his water tank which was nearly empty. It had become buried in sand  during recent flooding of the Thompson River. Bruce and I dug it out and, much to our amazement, were able to start it and fill Bill’s tank again.

One day Liz decided to build a Raku kiln from the fire-bricks used to line the on-site cupola furnace. We left peep-holes so she could observe the pyrometric cones she’d brought along to ensure the right temperature. Bruce and I chopped wood madly for hours  and Liz, looking at the cones through to peep-holes kept calling for more. When at last we retrieved the bits and pieces of pottery from the kiln, it was all burnt. So much for pyrometric cones!

Once, when the river was very low, we waded across it to investigate the Coopers Creek hotel. It had no-one living it; but was still in pretty good nick and wouldn’t have required much effort to make it able to accommodate a few people.

Another day we had another geologist friend who stayed with us: John Raivars. He was working on Thompson River dam which  was being built at the time. The kids thought he was wonderful because of his ability to name rocks and were constantly picking up rocks for him to identify. “That, my boy”, he would say solemnly, “Is what we geologists call Rock Stone“. The kids would run off – happy with their new-found knowledge. Another time, he showed us a photograph of man’s first attempt to fly a 200 tonne truck. Apparently one of these trucks ran over the edge of the dam wall. The driver managed to jump out in time; but it ended up landing fair and square on a Foreman’s ute reducing it to a white line about an inch thick. The workers were delighted.”




Author: barrygoanna

Honorary Professor, Federation University Australia: researcher in men's learning through community contexts, author of 'Men learning through life' 2014) book (NIACE, UK), 'The Men's Shed Movement: The Company of Men' (2015) & 'Shoulder to Shoulder: Broadening the Men's Shed Movement' (2021) books, both published Common Ground Publishing, US.

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