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Old 3rd August 2021, 09:28 PM   #1
Bjorn
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Default Pawakan

The forum has been a bit quiet lately, so I thought we might do a small experiment on pawakan - the feeling evoked by a blade. To provide some more background:

Tangguh is evaluated according to a a blade's features, most of which - according to my understanding - cannot be appraised from a photo.

Pamor and pawakan, I feel, are most easily identified from photos, and it is pawakan in particular that this thread seeks to explore.

The descriptions on the definition and categories here are taken from Jean's book "The Keris - Legendary Weapon from Indonesia". The section on pawakan refers to the Ensiklopedi Keris as the main source. (Please correct me if I inadvertently got this wrong, Jean.)

Pawakan is defined as "the evaluation of the style and rhythm of the blade shape and the impression about its characterization". The following categories are listed:
  • kaku: clumsy, not harmonious
  • wingit: eerie, giving a terrifying impression
  • prigel: giving a deft and skilled impression
  • sedeng: average
  • demes: giving a neat impression and nice-looking
  • wagu: not harmonious
  • odol: coarse, sloppy
  • kemba: tasteless
  • tampa semu: not giving any impression
  • sereng: strong, fierce
  • bagus/ayu: handsome, pleasing

Now this is quite a list already and I get the impression there is some overlap between some of these terms.

How to play
Once someone has posted a photo (from profile, tip of the blade pointing up, kembang kacang pointing to the left) we can weigh in on how each of us perceives the pawakan and why it evokes such a feeling in us.

It'll be interesting to see if there are large differences in our perceptions of whether we will all end up at or near the same one.

Hopefully this will provide some entertainment and education!
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Old 3rd August 2021, 09:59 PM   #2
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To start with a blade from Jean's book.

My impression is kaku (clumsy, not harmonious).
The weak undulations make the blade appear wonky and somewhat unbalanced. Other features are more difficult to evaluate due to erosion, but for the gandhik I find it unharmonious that the angle seems to change quite abruptly (viewing it going up from the gonjo), though this might be due to lighting.
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Old 4th August 2021, 09:48 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bjorn View Post

The descriptions on the definition and categories here are taken from Jean's book "The Keris - Legendary Weapon from Indonesia". The section on pawakan refers to the Ensiklopedi Keris as the main source. (Please correct me if I inadvertently got this wrong, Jean.)
Hello Bjorn,
You are correct about my source and your impression about the overlapping categories and my ex-blade, I will let others comment on the subject...
Regards
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Old 4th August 2021, 10:50 AM   #4
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Bjorn, you have opened a subject that I had hoped would never be opened.

If I write what really should be written it would make me very unpopular and put me in conflict with (I believe) every modern writer, & perhaps a few writers from previous times. So I'm not going to get too deeply into this discussion, at least, that is my intention right now. I intend to try to skirt around any direct contradictions and just do my best to explain the meanings of the concepts involved.

I'll start with the word "pawakan". The root of this word is "awak":- this is a Ngoko word & it means "body", as in the human body; this word has come into BI and in this language it also means "body" as well as being able to be used without the suffix "ku" to refer to oneself.

When "awak" gains a prefix & suffix :- " pa-wak-an" , ie "pawakan", it means the shape of the human body.

This word "pawakan" can only be used for humans and other living beings, it cannot be used to refer to inanimate objects.

This tells us something about the keris:- in the Javanese mind the keris is not an inanimate object, it is a living object.

So, when we look at a keris and attempt to classify the pawakan of that keris, we must apply similar standards to classification as we would apply to a human being. The most common use of "pawakan" by a native speaker of Javanese is to refer to the overall physical appearance of a man or woman. When we refer to the pawakan of a keris, we are again referring to the overall physical appearance of the keris, the entire keris, from the tip of the pesi to the point of the blade.

The feeling that is generated in somebody by a keris is not pawakan, this feeling is "wanda". The dictionary meaning of "wanda" is "body"; "wanda" is literary usage, which means it is Kawi, the direct translation from Kawi to Ngoko is "awak", which, as above, is the root of "pawakan", so if we use "wanda" to refer to a feeling, this usage of the word draws upon the Wayang usage of "wanda" where it means the outwards appearance of the wayang puppets that is used to express emotion. Different people can interpret a man's outward appearance as expressing different moods or emotions. It is the same with a keris, different people can have a different feeling generated by the wanda (the outward appearance of the keris).

But that feeling is not the same as the feeling that can be generated by a keris when it is held. For somebody with an advanced level of keris understanding, the spirit, or personality of the keris, its "batin" can be felt and assessed without the necessity of seeing the keris.

It is not uncommon for some people to confuse these aspects of "pawakan", "wanda" & "batin".

With "batin" we are referring to the inner feeling of the keris, that which is hidden, but might be able to be felt, with "pawakan" we are referring only to what we can see, with "wanda" we are referring to the impression formed from what we can see.

I have not heard the word "pasikutan" used in Solo as a substitute for "pawakan", in fact, I do not believe I have ever heard it used at all. I have run this word past several native speakers --- ordinary people, well educated, but not academics who study literature --- and none of these people recognise the word, however, I have seen this word in print, and Harsrinuksmo uses it repeatedly to refer to both physically observed characteristics (pawakan) and to the impression that these physically observed characteristics might generate (wanda).

Although I do not know the word "pasikutan", there is a Kawi word "pasikepan", which translated to Javanese has the meaning of "awak", once again the root for "pawakan". Since I cannot find a native speaker of Javanese who knows this word, and since I needed to search some rather obscure sources to find any word even remotely like "pasikutan", I rather feel that this word "pasikupan" might be a recent corruption of the Kawi "pasikepan" that has been adopted by the current community of keris enthusiasts. I could be totally wrong about this, and I would welcome correction.

So, to recap:-

pawakan:- overall physical appearance

wanda (pron. "wondo"):- the impression generated by what we can see

batin:- the inner feeling generated by what we cannot see.

pasikutan:- perhaps this word is a corruption of the Kawi pasikupan and is used to refer to both physical appearance & impression created by that physical appearance.
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Old 4th August 2021, 11:00 AM   #5
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In order to assess the blade angle the line between gonjo & blade base should be horizontal.
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Old 5th August 2021, 03:02 AM   #6
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Thank you Alan, for what you are willing to say.
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Old 5th August 2021, 07:37 PM   #7
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Thanks for the informative post, Alan.
I love languages so I thoroughly enjoyed reading through it.
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Old 6th August 2021, 12:01 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey View Post
In order to assess the blade angle the line between gonjo & blade base should be horizontal.
This considerably changes my visual perception of the keris
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Old 28th September 2021, 01:57 PM   #9
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Alan - thanks for clarifying the meaning of pawakan and other adjacent terms. You raise a very insightful point regarding the word "pawakan" and how it suggests that the keris is not perceived as inanimate in the Javanese mind.

If it is not perceived as inanimate, then pawakan (not to mention wanda) seems to me to be a very important concept when it comes to describing things about the keris that we can see with our eyes. We might then be going some levels deeper with wanda and batin, where batin seems to be approaching a perception of a keris' essence.

~

Bjorn has provided us with a list of categories for pawakan. According to Alan's definition perhaps these categories and words are better described as words related to wanda. But they were helpful for me to at least think of a question about categories and classifications when it comes to the keris and what purpose they serve.

The tangguh system uses the names of historical, sometimes mythical, polities or (pseudo)geographical places. The tangguh system may have served the purpose of making a judgment on a kerises value based on whether there is honour associated with that keris' classification.

So, off the back of that, some questions that I'd like to ask about pawakan.

* Is it a system like tangguh, where it has a finite list of categories that might be represented by Javanese words referring to physical features?

* Would a student learn this by way of referring to kerisses considered to be archetypes or standards, and sighting or handling many over a learning lifetime?

* Does it serve a social or practical purpose other than to have a specific lexicon by which to describe kerises, in the same way that tangguh has a purpose and lexicon?

* Does understanding and knowing how to classify pawakan (or tangguh, or wanda, or batin) mean that one understands the keris? (what even does it mean to understand the keris?)
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Old 29th September 2021, 10:08 AM   #10
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Novan, this is a solid presentation.

Keep this sort of thinking up and you might even get to learn something worthwhile about the keris.

Well done.


Alan - thanks for clarifying the meaning of pawakan and other adjacent terms. You raise a very insightful point regarding the word "pawakan" and how it suggests that the keris is not perceived as inanimate in the Javanese mind.

If it is not perceived as inanimate, then pawakan (not to mention wanda) seems to me to be a very important concept when it comes to describing things about the keris that we can see with our eyes. We might then be going some levels deeper with wanda and batin, where batin seems to be approaching a perception of a keris' essence.

Yes Novan, it is important, and I think that for many people, Javanese collectors, dealers & etc included, the concept of "pawakan" might be as far as classification of a keris goes, in the sense that "if it looks like a Majapahit keris, it is a Majapahit keris" . Overall visual impression.

However, that visual impression also is supposed to generate a judgement of "good" or "not so good>bad". What I actually wrote in my notebook in about 1983 or 84 was:-
"pawakan which is good will give a harmonious impression when viewed at arms length. Not leaning forward over the gandhik too much, not standing too straight"
So we have all these other terms that Harsrinuksmo has thrown into the ring, but honestly, in terms of keris pawakan, I have never heard most of them.

Its not just that either, to understand what a word really means in a different language you must be able to speak and understand the language. You must be able to understand how native speakers express their ideas, the parameters that apply. Somebody who is judged as handsome or beautiful by an Australian, might be judged as quite the opposite by a person of Pacific Island heritage. Even where a translation from one language to another language is reasonably accurate, does that word in a different language conjure up the same, or even similar mental image as it does in the original language?

So to begin to be able to use the pawakan concept as it might be used in, say, Solo by a Javanese keris literate person, you really should not only be able to speak the language, but also you should at least understand how to apply cultural & societal mores.

~


Bjorn has provided us with a list of categories for pawakan. According to Alan's definition perhaps these categories and words are better described as words related to wanda. But they were helpful for me to at least think of a question about categories and classifications when it comes to the keris and what purpose they serve.

Bjorn's list of words was apparently lifted from Jean, who lifted from Harsrinuksmo.

Lets look at the list:-
• kaku: clumsy, not harmonious --- stiff, rigid, ALSO clumsy, awkward, ungainly (BI), in Basa Jawa(BJ) stiff, awkward

• wingit: eerie, giving a terrifying impression --- does not exist in BI, in BJ haunted, spooky, dangerous (also singit)

• prigel: giving a deft and skilled impression --- skilful (BI), ditto + dexterous (BJ)

• sedeng: average --- in BI "sedeng" with the first "e" accented means "with a part in the hair", or with both "e"'s accented in Jakarta dialect it means "crazy", however, and this is where things get interesting, what Harsrinuksmo really means is "sedang", "sedeng" being an alternate colloquial pronunciation for "sedang", and one of the meanings in BI for "sedang" is "average, moderate, medium". In BJ neither sedang nor sedeng exist, but we do have "sedhang", first "e" accented which means "folded diagonally" and we have "sedheng" which means "enough, just right"
I have no problems with BI and I'm OK with BJ ngoko, I also know a little bit about keris, I know immediately what Harsrinuksmo means by "sedeng". But unless you can in fact use the language how confusing might all this be?

• demes: giving a neat impression and nice-looking --- in BI "demes" first "e" accented means a flat nose, "demes", no accents, does not exist, in BJ "dhemes" first "e" accented means "with a refined or distinguished manner", "demes" does not exist in BJ

• wagu: not harmonious --- "wagu" in BI does not exist, "wagu" in BJ means "ungainly, poorly proportioned, unpleasing, tasteless"

• odol: coarse, sloppy --- in BI this is the colloquial name of toothpaste, in BJ it does not exist, but "odhol" does exist , being just a slightly different pronunciation, and one of its meanings is toothpaste, but another meaning (amongst several) is "rough, crude"

• kemba: tasteless --- this word is not found in BI, in BJ it means "insipid, without spirit" , it appears not to be a common word.

• tampa semu: not giving any impression --- in BI "tampa" should be "tanpa"> "without", & "semu" has several meanings, the applicable one here would be, I think, "appearance", in BJ "tanpa" is also "without", "semu" can also be appearance, but again, this is interesting, because use of this word extends to meanings like "what can be read on the face", "what is outwardly visible of something inside", "to seem to be something", "to have the appearance of something"

• sereng: strong, fierce --- in BI, "sereng", first "e" accented means a firecracker, specifically a skyrocket, without an accent the word does not exist, in BJ "sereng" means "stern, harsh, angry"

• bagus/ayu: handsome, pleasing --- in BI "bagus" means "fine, good, exemplary"; "ayu" means "pretty, beautiful"; in BJ the word "bagus" is not found, in BJ "ayu"means "pretty, beautiful"

I have not given my understandings in the above, I have given dictionary meanings, for BI : Echols & Shadily, for BJ: Robson & Wibisono.
Have a close look at the dictionary meanings, and then consider if you believe that you can accurately use any of Harsrinuksmo's pawakan terms to accurately classify pawakan.


The tangguh system uses the names of historical, sometimes mythical, polities or (pseudo)geographical places. The tangguh system may have served the purpose of making a judgment on a kerises value based on whether there is honour associated with that keris' classification.

So, off the back of that, some questions that I'd like to ask about pawakan.

* Is it a system like tangguh, where it has a finite list of categories that might be represented by Javanese words referring to physical features?

pawakan is a part of the system of tangguh, and if we consider the overall visual impression of a keris in a similar way to the way in which we consider the overall visual impression of a man it does have some use, but some of the words in the Harsrinuksmo list I would find extremely difficult to apply to either a man or a keris if it was just there in front of me doing nothing


* Would a student learn this by way of referring to kerisses considered to be archetypes or standards, and sighting or handling many over a learning lifetime?

in the 1970's and 1980's, in Solo, it was a pretty general standard that no recognised ahli keris (keris expert/authority) would accept as pupil any man who was not a married & with family, a settled member of the community, in age terms this meant that most prospective students under about 40 years of age were rejected. Now, if one has reached 40 and had the more or less varied life experience of a married 40 year old with responsibilities then one is going to have a degree of experience in judging men simply by the way they look. Think of a keris as a man, and this experience becomes transferable. However, as with all experience knowledge and ability usually increases with age, so yes we are looking at a lifetime of learning.

* Does it serve a social or practical purpose other than to have a specific lexicon by which to describe kerises, in the same way that tangguh has a purpose and lexicon?

as above, pawakan is one of the tells used in providing a tangguh, it gives us a peg to hang an opinion as to the excellence or otherwise of the keris, just that. If somebody wishes to try to tell us why he thinks that the pawakan of any particular keris is either suggestive of excellence or suggestive of something else, well, he can use any words in his own language to do so, he need not stick with Harsrinuksmo's list, which frankly I find just a little less than definitive

* Does understanding and knowing how to classify pawakan (or tangguh, or wanda, or batin) mean that one understands the keris? (what even does it mean to understand the keris?)

of course not, it is just one tell, or indicator, amongst many, but understanding of keris is a different ball game. Empu Suparman considered that the "understanding" of keris began with three basic levels:-

1) to learn the features, two ways of looking at this:- sepuh(age), wutuh(degree of preservation), tangguh(opinion of factors indicating origin), this way is the old way; a more recent way is "morjasirapngun" = pamor, waja(steel),wesi(iron), garap(workmanship), wangun(design, shape, appearance), using this more recent standard one appraises each of the things mentioned separately

understand:- this is kindergarten, this is the first level of understanding, and this first level includes a thorough understanding of tangguh. According to Empu Suparman , to learn everything included in level one will take a number of years.

2) to learn an appreciation of form; the first part of this is to understand "guwaya", this means "complexion". and it refers to an understanding of when the colour of a keris is well presented and does in fact agree with the tangguh that the keris appears to have, this of course means that we need to know what colour, or "complexion" a keris of , say, Majapahit tangguh should have when it has been correctly stained.
The second part of understanding form is to understand wanda, this means that we need to be able to gauge the personality or feeling of a keris. The same keris can generate different feeling in different people, in the same way that a man can be judged differently by different people. Examples of how one might express the wanda of a keris would be: wild, brave, angry, proud, friendly, quiet, bad, afraid --- I'm using English so I do not need to go into writing a dictionary again. It is only possible to proceed to this second level after the first level is perfect. Most people do not make it to the second level.

3) the third level is to understand the feeling of a keris. In the opinion of Empu Suparman it is a total impossibility to understand feeling until a complete understanding of level one and two have been achieved. A person who is skilled at level three can form a judgement from vibration alone, he does not need to see the keris, he only needs to hold it and he will receive a clear impression of the esoteric qualities of the keris. At this third level the physical appearance of the keris is totally irrelevant.

What I've given here is a very shortened summary of Empu Suparman's opinions and beliefs, and these would reflect the opinions and beliefs of most Central Javanese ahli keris during the period I was gaining my keris education, roughly 1970's to around 2010.

However, my own opinion of what understanding of the keris involves goes along a slightly different path. I believe that it is absolutely necessary to have an understanding of Javanese and Balinese beliefs, and to be able to understand these beliefs in a way that is as close as possible to the way in which a keris literate Javanese or Balinese person would understand the beliefs.
However, my idea of "understanding" includes several other levels of understanding that incorporate socio-cultural understandings, and spiritual understandings that move away from the fairly restricted belief systems of the keris experts. I also include the purely technical aspects of manufacture.

In any case, the understanding of the keris is something that does require reasonably dedicated learning over a lengthy period. I've been at it for around 66 years, and I'm still a very long way from actually knowing very much at all.
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Old 30th September 2021, 07:55 PM   #11
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Dear Alan; My teacher, the incomparable Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, considered by many to be the greatest Indian musician of the 20th century, said, towards the end of his life that he "Was just beginning to achieve an understanding of music." You may "Not know much at all", but if I need information on a keris, as I have before, I'll gladly ask you. There's a difference between 'not knowing much at all', which is quite legitimate for you to say, and being the kind of authority that I know you to be. As for me, I'm at the level of "I like that" or "I dislike that".
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Old 30th September 2021, 10:48 PM   #12
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Actually Montino, I feel that "like" and "not like" is a pretty OK place to start, in fact, maybe this is a good criterion for most people.
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Old 22nd October 2021, 04:40 AM   #13
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Thank you for the encouragement, and for such a detailed and thoughtful response.

I've been digesting it since, and I should have expressed my thanks sooner.

I'd hate for this discussion to collect dust and start to adopt the scent of kretek, coals from sate bbqs and keresone here in the annals of the great archive that is Keris Warung Kopi. So I intend to pick it up again as soon as I can clear the many cognitive cobwebs that are the result of trying to do too many things at once
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Old 22nd October 2021, 06:03 AM   #14
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Jaga, when you asked your big question, you really hit right at the heart of understanding at least one of the aspects of keris knowledge. My response to your question does, I think, give more about the idea of pawakan than we might be able to find elsewhere. It does surprise me just a little that what I have written has not generated comment, so maybe this means that everybody who has read it now has a perfect understanding of my words and the ideas that those words represent. I did not realise that my writing was so clear and precise.
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Old 27th October 2021, 09:44 PM   #15
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Alan,

As a casual reader about the keris on these pages I think your frank and insightful comments have taken people somewhat by surprise. Like jaga, I'm absorbing your analysis of language and the meaning of the terms used to describe the keris. The German word gestalt comes to mind, in that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. By distilling these classifications into "like" or "dislike" as a starting point for the novice or casual reader, you have done a great favor for the uninitiated who may wish to think more abut why they like or dislike a certain item.

I don't know if this was your intention.

Regards,

Ian.
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Old 28th October 2021, 01:47 AM   #16
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Ian, when I set out to respond to the original question, my intention was to put into simple, plain English language the central essence of my own understanding of pawakan & the elements surrounding it. I have had the benefit of learning from a man who was recognised during his lifetime as a great master of traditional Javanese beliefs. I have learnt other things from other people & other sources.

All this has helped to form my own perspective, which does vary a little from the perspectives of most of the people who gave me their knowledge & understanding.

To my mind the single most important thing that we must learn before we can even begin to have a small understanding of the keris is the World View of the people to whom it is a cultural icon:- the traditional Javanese and traditional Balinese people. In the absence of this understanding I believe it is impossible to understand much at all about the keris.

Regrettably I have found that it is really quite difficult to find people in Jawa & Bali today who have a similar World View, and similar values to those held by the people I knew in Jawa & Bali forty or fifty years ago.

I guess this is true of many places in the world today.

You, Ian are, I believe ridgydidge Oz. True Blue Australian.

How long is it since you encountered a real fair dinkum Man of the Land?

Even fairly humble cattle & sheep men send their kids to Sydney Grammar or Kings, and then sometimes on to Oxford. How many of this generation of Men of the Land would understand their grandfathers or the values of their Grandfathers?

What I tried to do with what I wrote was to present a starting point for people who cannot do what I have done.
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Old 28th October 2021, 02:28 AM   #17
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Alan,

Yes, I am a fair dinkum Aussie! My mother's family were dairy farmers from remote NE Victoria and the Man From Snowy River is buried in her home town. As a kid in 1950, I saw one of the last bullock trains still operating. The traditional ways are long gone now, of course, and everything is mechanised and computerised. There are still "old characters" around in their nineties, but they are getting fewer every year. I have not seen a drover on a horse in the last fifty years.

So yes, the traditional methods and knowledge have disappeared with time and progress.

Ian.
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Old 28th October 2021, 05:17 AM   #18
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I'm up a bit south of Nowra Ian, near a little town called Tomerong, used to be a big timber town up until about 1950 or so. Saw mills all over the place.

There was still a bullock team operating here into the 1990's.

Nowra itself was a cowtown into the 1960's, but its pretty much a suburb of Sydney now. 100 miles from Sydney, a lot of the dairy farms have become Pitt Street farmers weekend get aways with pretty little horses and Galloway cows.

Bit hard to find any genuine country people here these days, most have opted for an easier life, shuffling papers or acting the part of baristers in Balmain coffee shops.

Old Oz is on the way down the tubes.

Ever tried to buy a decent axe recently?

Cheap garbage. You want a decent axe you need to order from a custom maker. In the 1990's you could still buy 5 pound and 5 1/2 pound axes in the hardware store in Nowra. Hytests. But no Plumbs or Keesteels.

No decent hardware stores left either. Bunnings killed them.

Been a lot of change in only the last 20 or so years.
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