War and peace
It was 15-year-old Igor Labzin’s first day at high school and he was in trouble for walking on the neatly mown lawn.
‘Stay off the grass,’ the principal said.
‘Thank you,’ Igor said.
The principal frowned. ‘I said, “Stay off the grass”.’
‘Thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.
The principal’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t speak English, do you?’
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.*
The principal was right. It was March 1962, and Igor and his family had just arrived in Brisbane from Indonesia. He could speak Indonesian, Dutch, Russian and a bit of French, but had no English.
Four years later, Igor graduated from the top class at high school, did an engineering degree, and then embarked on a successful career as a structural engineer in London, Montreal, and Canberra, and he continues to work in that profession.
The other evening my wife and I went to a launch of Igor Labzin’s book, Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.
Igor’s father graduated from the St Petersburg Naval Academy in 1918, just months after the start of the Russian Revolution. He had the wonderfully Russian name of Boris Martemianovich Labzin.
The young officer decided to support the White Army rather than the Communists, and Igor’s book traces his father’s life through the ensuing turmoil of civil war and escape to Manila and Shanghai in the 1930s, Indonesia in the 1940s and 50s and finally to Australia.
We knew about the book launch because Igor and my wife Cheryl were in the same class at senior high school and we met him recently at a school reunion. He still lives in Brisbane.
Igor was off the next day to launch his book in St Petersburg, at the invitation of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. How’s that for an immediate international audience (although the book has still to be translated into Russian)?
The Australian launch was at the wonderful independent Avid Bookshop at West End, Brisbane, which is a great supporter of new and existing writers. Digital publishing may be gaining ground (and I’ve published online myself), but there’s a lot to say for the smell and feel of a bookshop like Avid, with ‘real’ books.
Igor’s introduction to his father’s life was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.
The Hinkler cake
Regular readers of this blog will know of my book, Hustling Hinkler, a biography of the pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.
At the abovementioned school reunion, one of my wife’s other former classmates, Narelle McTaggart, told me about a ‘Hinkler Cake’ which had apparently been devised especially for Bert Hinkler’s triumphant return to Bundaberg, Queensland, his home town, in February 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia in a single-engined biplane.
The recipe came from members of the Bundaberg Branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, an enduring community organisation that has branches in every Australian state and parallel organisations in other countries, including the Women’s Institute in Britain.
Narelle subsequently sent me the recipe, which is reproduced below. I am hoping to have a go at making a Hinkler cake, but haven’t yet got around to it.
1/4 pound self-raising flour 2oz butter
2 teaspoons sugar Pinch salt
Mix with a little milk. Roll out paste very thin, put in flat buttered tin and spread with raisins, dates and currants
2oz butter 2 well-beaten eggs (or 1 egg & a little milk)
½ cup sugar (beaten to a cream) 4 tablespoons of milk
1 cup self-raising flour
Beat and spread on paste and fruit. Bake in a hot oven. When cool, spread with lemon icing.
I don’t know if Bert himself ever got to sample a slice of the Hinkler Cake. If any reader wants to be the first to try out the recipe, I’d be delighted to hear about it on this site, crumbs and all…
Until next time
* The ‘facts’ of this story are as I heard them, so this retelling may be a version of the truth.
What writers say
The true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me. Even the person who has set down the so-called facts will still get it essentially wrong. ~ Sebastian Barry