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G4 MacMini network boot of install media failing at system clock set

Hi folks, 
I have been trying to resurrect my MacMini. 
I haven't used it for some years, and I don't recall what the situation was when it was last working, nor at what stage it stopped working.   I did install a linux distrubtion on it at one point. 
The current state though is: 
1) it won't boot off the hdd
2) it won't boot debian install from a CD (it flings the CD across the room in disgust) 
3) it won't boot debian install from a USB drive (perhaps it doesn't like the partioning scheme?) 
4) after a bit of fiddling, it starts booting across the network, but fails when it sets the system clock. 
The last message displayed during boot of the installation media is: 
[ 1.731730] rtc-generic rtc-generic : settng system clock to 2016-04-22 21:43:04 UTC
Or something like that. 
It's a bit exciting to get this far and see it boot across the network,  but frustrating to now be stymied! 
I've tried to dissect the initrd to see what's going on, but this is unknown territory for me.  grep doesn't find much for rtc-generic in the ramdisk fs. At any rate, I couldn't find this particular message.... maybe this is happening as a result of loading the kernel module? 
It seems to me unlikely that setting the system clock is the real problem, as apparently it's accessing the hardware clock fine to print the message, and I would imagine that's the only hardware dependency for the system clock? 
So I suppose it's probably failing on whatever comes next, but I'm not sure what that would be. 
The only files I've got served up over TFTP are: 
*) boot.msg
*) initrd.gz
*) vmlinux
*) yaboot 
*) yaboot.conf
*) tftpboot.img (symlink to yaboot)
So currently there's no access to any further installation media (the netinstall iso, for example).  Is this needed?  It seemed to be when I performed a slightly tricky install on an i386 machine recently,  so it wouldn't surprise me, but it did tell me explicitly that it needed it.
The fact the other methods don't work at all might suggest that the machine is not in a great state, but the fact that I get this far suggests to me that there might not be much wrong with it.  I mean, the following must be working: 
*) USB
*) Ethernet
*) graphics (at least to some extent) 
*) processor, RAM, motherboard
and as far as i can tell, OpenFirmware can see there's a hard drive there, and can see the USB drive.  
I don't really know how to drive OpenFirmware, though, so if anyone's got some suggestons as to how to test what state the hardware is in, i'm all ears. 
(I'm quite intrigued by OpenFirmware in general, although I haven't managed to find a good resource for the version on the G4 MacMini. Many of the resources are for the OLPC or some other version, so I've found several interesting command that aren't recognised) 
Just for the record, i found I had to do
i.e. specify the explicit IP address and required file 
to convice it to boot. 
thanks in advance for your help, 

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