Modest Expectations – Melville has some Depth (+1)

Taffy Jones died at the end of last year. Taffy Jones was in my year of medicine. Moreover, he was in Trinity College at the same time as myself.

When we graduated near the bottom of the year, we found ourselves as first year resident doctors at Box Hill & District Hospital, then an outer suburban hospital where it was considered a training ground for general practice. It was in the days before intensive care or coronary care units, before emergency physicians existed, before all the accumulated rules policed by nurses bearing clipboards in the name of “Quality Control”.

We all shared Casualty duty – all six of us. One night when Taffy was on duty a man in his thirties presented with acute chest pain. Fortuitously, Taffy thought he may have a ruptured oesophagus, an uncommon condition where the pain mimics that of cardiac pain. Taffy was right. In those days, the operation to repair the oesophagus was undertaken locally. To-day, he would have been admitted to a major teaching hospital. The chances for survival were not good, but Taffy looked after him literally day and night. One day when Taffy was sleeping in the same room, obviously not the patient, some over-zealous nurse tried to do his four-hour observations. Knowing Taffy’s innate affability, I’m sure he took it with the good grace any exhausted doctor being woken up in the middle of night to have their blood pressure being taken would. The patient recovered.

I was reminded of this when I recently went the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH)with a 36-hour nosebleed, which had been imperfectly staunched. I was deposited in a wheelchair to wait six hours to be attended while subject to the torture of the clipboard mania laughably called “quality control”. I, the patient vanished under a pile of protocols, even being admonished at one interval for having the temerity to question the need for blood tests when I had had them done only two days prior

Eventually, I was seen by the emergency physician and her trainee sidekick. Well, what do you know! They did not have the instruments to stop the bleeding. So, I was transferred to the ear, nose and throat (ENT) clinic late in the afternoon, having been in the emergency department since mid-morning. I was the last patient in the clinic. All the ENT specialists had left. There was no-one else but the ENT registrar. Again, I waited – after about a further 20 minutes, the registrar emerged. She treated me; she was very competent. It took 20 minutes, if that. By the way, there are four ENT registrars all of whom could have seen me during the course of the day. She did a good job, and I have had only one small bleed since; it is part of my disease spectrum.

It happened to me this week again; I, an immunologically compromised person having to wait two hours to be seen, when this time I did have a designated appointment time. This time I was very angry; the oncologist apologised. He said that the hospital administration, whom they never see, just keep loading him up with patients. Predictably from being in this poorly ventilated hospital three days later I developed what I initially thought was an upper respiratory tract infection, but then tested positive for COVID.

I was once a senior medical manager in a health service the size of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, admittedly some years ago. I always made a point of being seen around the hospital, listening, encouraging efficiency and effectiveness and at time criticising when I thought it warranted. The only place I failed but still developed a mutual regard was with the head of the eye clinic, which we maintained until his death some years ago. He was an interesting case study.

The administrator who remains office bound, giving a semblance of business by always being at meetings, at conferences, on days off, is more the profile these days. It is even worse now since the pandemic; apparently, they work from home. It is about time the government woke up and see who is ostensibly running the hospitals, looking after or ensuring that health professionals can work in a way that the patient, such as myself, feels satisfied and safe. The RPA has always been near the bottom of the pack, at least since Dr Don Child retired in 1987.

My Tasmanian Response

Somewhat impetuously, I said that I would write a piece about my Tasmania, in response to the tourist blurb distortion which appeared recently in the NYT, and which I found projected a very limited view of Tasmania.

But when I calmed down, I realised over the nearly five years I have been writing a blog each week without a break – this week at blog 255 it’s just five away from my fifth anniversary. Mostly I write about 3,000 words, including the various quotes and outside opinion which is baked into the blog. Generally, my wife waves much of my writing through, with variable degrees of editing.

Here even with so many words clocked up on my blog, my wife pointed out that my first draft wasn’t up to scratch, particularly as there is such a great amount of material to be written about this island and which I had barely touched upon. She was right.

Now, I first came to Tasmania, to Hobart in 1950, when I stayed with my parents at the Wrest Point Hotel when it was an art deco creation at Sandy Bay, an upmarket part of Hobart. So, I have a long association, but only acquired a property here 20 years ago.

I learnt over the years that it is the land itself which makes the whole of Tasmania attractive not just one small segment on the north-east coast, however beautiful. Despite the action of us white people, there is enough remaining Tasmania upon which to marvel. Tasmania is not only one particular walk through a confected culture.

Opium poppies in flower

Strangely, I like this island because the blend of exotic flora seems to augment the attractiveness of the island in addition to the underlying uniqueness of the local fauna and flora.  There are the tulips in bloom in October; the month that the red Tasmanian waratahs are in bloom. The next month it is the fields of opium poppy with its distinctive, delicate mauve blooms; and then it is time for the clouds of lavender to take the stage. Also at this time in the early new year, the leatherwood are coming into flower, its pollen harvested by the bees ending up as the eponymous dark honey. Down south, there are the cherry orchards stretching across the hills to the west of Hobart; then in January, the berries are harvested. Raspberries, never better.

But let’s get rid of the dark side of the Island originally peopled by convicts and their guards in the south, Port Arthur as a grim symbol. Then as one of the monographs from the Launceston Historical society states in the north “Anglo-Indians (in its nineteenth-century sense of the British in India), leaving India and emigrating to Australia wished, it seems, to escape, not recreate, architecturally at least, the oppression of India. In Van Diemen’s Land they could build an English cottage, not a bungalow, although a verandah may be useful. To these immigrants the concept of ‘home’ was still English – not Indian – although they chose not to return to England.” They quickly outnumbered the Aboriginal population and the story of their elimination is one of the less savoury episodes in Australian history.

Thus, despite all the efforts to promote continuity in Aboriginal heritage, it is unfortunately largely confected, as I’ve written. After all, Milligan writing in 1890 estimated that there had been only 2,000 Indigenous people when colonisation commenced. Truganini, traditionally the last of the Tasmanian Aboriginals, had died in 1876.

As has been well-reported: When Truganini met George Robinson , the chief Protector of Aborigines in 1829, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber-cutters, who had then repeatedly sexually abused her.

Then there was the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, and the years of guilt-ridden search for them and then the hope one could rescue enough DNA from a formalinised specimen to somehow clone the animal. Arrant nonsense, the whole scenario.

Yet the Tasmanian Government never learns that there is more money in tourism, including ecotourism than the rapacious destruction of the forests and remote areas. Now it proposes allowing logging in the habitat of one of two rarest parrots – the swift parrot.

The other parrot, also migratory, the orange-bellied parrot is critically endangered. There are very few orange-bellied parrots left in the wild. Their last remaining breeding site is in the moorland and button grass around Birch’s inlet on the west coast of Tasmania. We once went searching for the parrot in this location; saw a great number of blue-winged parrots but sadly nothing with an orange belly – at least not a parrot.

Then there are well-recorded attempts of buggering up the Tasmanian environment by government’s insistence on damming every river in sight and cutting down all the old growth forests and a cavalier treatment of the Wilderness, including its refusal to stop the spread of invasive species – gorse being a case in point. Mining on the West Coast around the town of Queenstown still shows the scars in the surrounding hills, and the King River and the Macquarie Harbour contain a toxic cocktail of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other metals. Sulphur coats the King River banks and then along the Harbour foreshore; one should not disturb the delta of the river which is rich in cadmium. Two hundred years may rid these waterways of the pollution.

Having lost Lake Pedder with its unique pink quartzite beach to inundation for a dam, the battle to conserve Tasmania has been robust, heightened by the spectacular efforts of Bob Brown and his supporters in scuttling the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam project in 1982.

This is well-known but sometimes you need to retrace such a well known series of events, which ended up largely preserving the South-west temperate rain forest for now.

This win and the preservation of these rivers in their pristine state was brought home to me when we were flown by a friend over these rivers flowing through the Southwest National Park, the wilderness area. The Franklin and Gordon without a concrete abomination to dam them. At South-west Cape, we turned east and flew along the coast and then up the Derwent estuary, re-fuelling in Hobart. We then flew following the Derwent River until we turned to the west over the Walls of Jerusalem and across the range, over Queenstown before proceeding to land in Strahan – the airport located on a hill above Macquarie Harbour. That day, it was a perfect, cloudless day – no wind.

It is a flight to see the wilderness where the adventurous slog through or climb up or kayak down, taking days if not weeks to experience whereas we had seen it all from above. I’m afraid I did not feel guilty because there was no pain in our achievement even not being close to elemental nature; it was still a magnificent experience.

After all, living in Strahan there was the walk to Hogarth Falls, a trail carved through the rain forest where myrtle, sassafras, and celery pine grow. There is little or no Huon pine; it has long since been logged from along the rivers, but there remain a huge number of logs retrieved from the rivers and which lie in a woodyard in Strahan.

Reclaimed Huon pine

Our house is a timbered pole house – the poles are blackwood except for one  pole of King Billy pine; the floors and window frames are celery top pine; the kitchen Huon pine and the panelling mountain ash. The bathroom door is cedar, a somewhat anomalous Queensland intruder. The house which we bought is built with both new and recovered wood.

All very personal – so lucky to have this tribute to Tasmania – so lucky – surrounded as I am by Tasmanian artifacts as I write this blog.

Sexual Violence Tra-la-la

Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding

It is a strange sensation when you see revival of the mannered films in which actors such as Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding starred in the 1940s to realise you grew up when that era was ending. Pretending to be bright young man and woman in love was very much of a stretch in their very popular Maytime in Mayfair. Anna Neagle was 45 and Michael Wilding 37 years when the film was made.

They were impeccably dressed according to the times.  She wore a long flowing gown; they both smoked; she wore a corsage; he wore a dinner suit; they drank champagne from those shallow wide bottomed glasses introduced in the Prohibition era in America to disperse the bubbles so champagne was always drunk flat to fool “the fuzz”, they danced the dances of the age.  I remember learning at dancing class to the sound of a reedy voiced crooner. “Quick…quick…slow”.

Twenty-one was still the age of majority, and it was a time for a celebration. It was all Maytime in Melbourne, but on one night in 1961 I revealed the imp in me, an unfortunate trait that comes out when I’m bored and sober. The woman’s magazine reporter came up to us at this 21st shindig at the then exclusive location in Darling Street in South Yarra. My then fiancé was beautiful, which attracted “her gushiness,” and when asked my name, I gave the name of the Warden of the University College in which I was residing at the time. Where did I come from? I said Trawalla, which was a suitably upcountry location on the edge of the Western District.

I thought no more of it, but the photo of us appeared in the magazine complete with the alias. It was not long before the mother of the bloke whose 21st celebration it was wrote me a letter apologising for the error, which she had made clear in no uncertain terms to the magazine editor was unforgivable.

I heard nothing from the Warden; I was not the first to take his name for such an alias.

I have reflected on this piece of what I thought at the time was just me being clever and I used to regale people over the years with this anecdote. But really was I betraying an unfortunate attitude to women? Would I have done the same if the reporter was a male from a daily newspaper?

I had never thought about this until I was seeing this frothy comedy, with musical interludes. At one stage Michael Wilding bursts into the room and forcibly planted a kiss on Anna Neagle’s lips, at a time when the film storyline had them alienated. Then he departs gaily, and Anna Neagle instead of a normal reaction to being thus assaulted just simpered.

While it could be passed over in the entirety of the film, that action would be unacceptable these days in any script to picture a woman unaffected by this encounter. The arraignment of the former head of Spanish football for an uninvited kiss on one of Spanish woman footballers demonstrated at least universal distaste for such sexual violence.

Back when I made that gesture, what was sexual violence? Nothing to do with “me and my mates”?  Oh, really!

Getting it Right

Once when I was the medical administrator at a country hospital it was reported to me that an international medical graduate(IMG) from China, who had been assigned to the hospital as part of his registration process, was accessing pornography on hospital computers. Unlike the normal run of risk averse medical administrators, I neither did nothing nor did I “handball” the case to central office so they could organise the normal investigation.

Instead, I asked one of the staff very conversant with computer usage if he would accompany the doctor, who admitted that he had been accessing computers after hours. What he was doing was trying to find one where he could contact his sister in China. She wished to come to Australia to undertake a nursing course. He showed my colleague the computer which he had found enabled him to contact his sister in China, and the so-called porn glimpsed by the passing nursing staff was in fact pop-ups of Asian women in lingerie, incidental to his access. He had been successful in finding an appropriate computer, but I asked to see him.

I said in future not to do any further activities without asking permission, especially after hours. He was just not wanting to bother us, he explained. Nevertheless, he got the message. 

Some Like it Hot

Shamar Joseph has burst onto the cricketing scene from a shack in the back blocks of Guyana to win a test match for the West Indies, despite nursing a very bruised big toe. The amazing fact about this very fast bowler is that he is small for such a task. Standing alongside Steve Smith who is 176 cm, he seems to be slightly taller; and the source which says his height is 178cm seems to be the most plausible figure.

I thought the following recipe for Pepperpot would give the reader a touch of Guyana.

Now for the recipe, which appeared recently in the NYT, and has been modified. Cassareep, the essential ingredient is available in Australia.

Warm with sweet orange peel and spices like cloves and cinnamon, Pepperpot, a stewed meat dish popular in Guyana and the Caribbean, is traditionally served on Christmas morning. But one can make this version any time you want to celebrate. What gives it its distinct taste is cassareep, a sauce made from the cassava root. If you can’t find it, wiri wiri peppers or Scotch bonnets or a mixture of pomegranate molasses (1/3 cup), I tbsp of soy sauce and I tbsp Worcester sauce will work. Whatever you do, don’t forget to serve it with thick slices of white bread, or rice to sop up that delicious gravy.  Scotch bonnets, supposedly shaped like a tam o’shanter, are very hot chilis, ten times the Scoville unit measurement for jalapeño peppers. Apparently they are the go-to chilli of the Caribbean; but be warned!


4 pounds bone-in stew meat (oxtail, beef chuck, goat
or mutton), cut into 3-inch pieces
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, chopped, plus
more to taste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup cassareep (or substitute)
¼ (lightly packed) cup brown sugar (dark or light)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon whole cloves
3 medium cinnamon sticks
Peel from 1 medium orange
4 spring onions, cut into 4-inch lengths.

… now the process

Step 1
Prepare the green seasoning (onion, garlic, pepper, chives, coriander, thyme, basil): Add all ingredients to a food processor. Blend, adding water a few tablespoons at a time, until you get a thick purée. (Makes 3 cups; keep any extra in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.)

Step 2
Season the meat with 2 cups green seasoning, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Step 3
Heat the oven to 190 degrees. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and transfer the meat into the pot, leaving behind any excess marinade. Brown the meat in batches. Transfer to a plate.

Step 4
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, if necessary. Add Scotch bonnets and onion; sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds.

Step 5
Add in the cassareep, brown sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, spring onions and bay leaf. Add back the meat and the juices from the plate and add water to cover the meat. Let come to a boil over high heat.

Step 6
Cover the pot, transfer to the oven and cook, covered, for 2 to 2½ hours, until the meat is tender. Skim as much fat as possible from the top.

Mouse Whisper

When I got in my car at the Grand Marais Airport in rural northern Minnesota, where I’d left it, I noticed something peculiar: tiny footprints across my dust-covered dash.  Washington Post

How it all started.

The photos show what happens when a wildlife photographer finds that a white-footed mouse has decided to squat in his car. He named the mouse Morticia and she stayed there. She was more than just a subject; she was his resident model. Then she brought in a mate.

Symbiotic relationship – if that is the word.

There were rules. No food left in the car. No wires chewed in return. Mouse droppings cleaned away. Photos taken. Then the mice were gone sometime before his car had reached its time to be scrapped. Auto death at 250,000 miles.

But he still had his pictures.

Modest Expectations – Bungsberg

Bill Belichick

Doppelgänger? How Bill Shorten may look at 71 when, under the alias of Bill Belichick, he has come to the end of his tenure as one the most successful managers in American football.  He coached the New England Patriots to six Superbowl victories. Well done Bill whoever you are!

The Rise of the Lumpenproletariat

Rick Wilson’s recent experience is reminiscent of Germany just before 1933. Hindenburg, the President, was 87 years old and soft in the head. Hitler was 43 verging on madness. Biden is 81 years old verging on something, but watch this space grow; Trump is not twice Hitler’s age, but certainly as soft in the head, having substituted speech for spewage.

As a resulting of leaking spewage, Rick Wilson, one of the architects of the anti-Trump Republican Lincoln project, has been subject to gross harassment, even a trap being set for him to be destroyed by “friendly fire”.

The related worry is the growth of the sniper culture as epitomised by the Israeli Army, where the expert sniper can target the influential without the messiness of the bomb. The rogue sniper has always existed, but the systematic endorsement by government of a sniper whose role is simply to kill the person who disagrees with you, under the cover of a manufactured war, is yet another example of the hypocrisy of those who bleat about law and order while doing the reverse.

Journalists – beware of walking through canyons of ostensibly underused buildings, which now house the consulates of diplomatic immunity with panoramic views of the city, short-term leases, and persons who are very accurate with the telescopic sight.

Rick Wilson

Now here is what Rick Wilson has related: 

As I write this email, I’m tired. Why? Well, it’s not because I ran a marathon yesterday. It’s because I woke up to a SWAT team pounding on my door at 3:00 am. 

It was alarming to say the least, but it wasn’t my first rodeo. After slipping out of the classic jump-scare panic, I knew exactly what was going on. Some MAGA terrorists had placed a fake 911 call claiming there had been a murder at my home.

The goal? Besides scaring the hell out of my family at 3:00 AM, it was to get me killed.

The terrorists set up these calls hoping that I’ll think my house is under attack and run outside with a gun just to find a SWAT team ready to shoot me dead.

I’ve been dealing with stunts like this since 2015. It’s nothing new. I know better than to roll out the door with a weapon. Besides, I could see a caravan of 10+ SWAT vehicles on the street. 

So there I was, at 3:00 am, walking onto my porch in boxers and a t-shirt with my hands in the sky (it’s not as sexy as it sounds). Once it became clear to officers that this was a swatting call, they were courteous and helpful. 

This was also not their first time responding to a swatting call at the Wilson residence. So, to the MAGA terrorists who will seemingly never stop in their quest to kill me, I’m sorry to let you down. I’m still alive. And I’m still not going to hold back in my fight against Trump. 

A Strange View of Tasmania

An American travel writer, Nora Walsh, has written an article under the rubric of Tourism:

Venture outside and help protect vulnerable species in Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost state, with several new guided walks. Tasmanian Walking Company, in partnership with the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, offers a three-day trek across rugged Bruny Island to map flora and collect seeds for the garden’s seed bank.

To get a taste of the island’s Indigenous culture, join members of the local Palawa community on multiday treks through the powder white sands of Wukalina (Mount William National Park) and orange-lichen-covered rocks of Larapuna (Bay of Fires). Or to get an actual taste of the island, forage for ingredients like wattle seeds and pepperberries with guides from Palawa Kipli, a company that is Indigenous-owned and operated – the experience ends with a tasting menu that includes smoked payathanima (wallaby).

Locavore menus are the norm throughout Tasmania, and the chef Analiese Gregory, a wild-cooking expert, will be showcasing ingredients like hand-gathered abalone and sea urchin at her yet-to-be-named restaurant set to open early this year.

I was intrigued as everybody, with the inbuilt naivete that I have, when, the NYT listed Tasmania and Brisbane as preferred destinations to visit in 2024.

I am also very fortunate to have a facsimile edition of “The Aborigines of Tasmania” by H. Ling Roth, first printed in 1899.

I also know a bit about Tasmania, having a property there.

I turned to read this piece. First of all, the writer has obviously not visited Tasmania. This is becoming increasingly common where travel writers just rewrite public relations blurbs from afar. If that is what the American market wants, well this article gives it to them in spades.

Walking Bruny Island is just one of many rambles, and there is no doubt Bruny Island has its charms, but there are many others, because the Island is a walker’s paradise. Tasmania is an essence of where Nature has resuscitated itself from the 19th century European invasion.

In the course of the invasion, the Tasmanian Aborigines were exterminated. There was a European called George Robinson, who herded the remaining Aborigines onto Flinders Islands, an archipelago off the North-east coast of Tasmania on the edge of Bass Strait. Here there was a degree of miscegenation with passing American and European sealers and whalers. Hence the blue-eyed Palawa of today. The walk around the beaches of north-east Tasmania feeding on lemon myrtle, pepperberry and saltbush flavoured wallaby, of having a go at eating the oily mutton bird is just about this group trying to reconstruct what has been lost.

As for recommending a restaurant yet to open, just confirmed the pitfalls when an author writes from a distance- even if the proposed restaurant is locavore.

Palawa trail

Tanya Gentle, who actually walked the Palawa trail, and stayed in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters and drank Tasmanian wines, saw no artifacts except for what sounded like a very difficult to sustain description of a midden. Middens tend to be predominantly mussel shell dumps of Aboriginal detritus. They are not found on open beaches where the storms would have washed away any pile of detritus very quickly. Having seen middens where the predominant component is mussel shells, located beyond the highwater line, I would suggest if you wish to undertake such a confected walk, that’s fine as long as you take all the Aboriginal backgrounding with a grain of salt.

The interesting fact is that along this trail there is no mention of any Aboriginal artifacts – not even peckings which the Tasmanian aborigines carved to indicate some site with special significance.

Maireener shells

The maireener, commonly known as the rainbow kelp shell, was originally the only shell traditionally used to thread into necklaces. Yet there is no mention in the article of the unique marieener necklaces, the shells with their iridescence displayed by the laborious scaping of the shell covering.

The manufacture of these shell necklaces is unique to the Flinders Island, the seat of the Palawa people. Why no mention? The walk is probably a male interpretation of the Palawa culture. Women make the necklaces, of which my wife and I have two as treasured possessions.

And for food, I would suggest the Aboriginals rebuilding their culture turn to page reference 95ff of “The Aborigines of Tasmania”. Unfortunately there is not a mention of saltbush, pepperberry or lemon myrtle in the cooking in this history – but many other greens, tubers and seaweed are mentioned, as well as edible fungi as part of the food cooked or eaten raw.

Finally, the oysters. Were these wild oysters carved off the rocks by the Aboriginal guides, or purchased from a nearby commercial oyster farm? Tasmanian oysters, essentially Pacific oysters, are as good as found elsewhere. Australians in general are spoiled by the variety of oysters, so long as they can afford them. In the Ling book, crawfish, oysters, mussels and crabs are mentioned as part of the diet. The Tasmania Aborigines did not fish.

As for wallaby, it can be bought in the Tasmanian supermarkets.

This article is a distortion for any reason to visit Tasmania. Not that I have any quarrel with the description of the scenery, which like so much of Tasmania is amazing in its diversity. As for the restored Aboriginal culture, do a bit more work, Puganna or are you, Weiba.

In the next blog, I’ll write of why I love Tasmania, even though I am a Mainlander by birth.

By the way, I think I will miss the Brisbane piece extolling it as one of the other NYT most favoured destinations for 2024. I’m sure it is as persuasive as this one above is about trudging the beaches of remote Tasmania.

Moscow Nights

This intriguing article, which I have partially reprinted from The Economist was written by Kate de Pury, a journalist who lives in Moscow and who has reported on Russia for thirty years.

What I find interesting is her description of the playgrounds of the Russian rich that are not being disturbed by modern warfare. Russia is allowed to devastate Ukraine while those ostensibly NATO Ukrainian supporters have intervened; but not to the extent that would disturb the caviar and champagne set’s lifestyle.

There is thus no such entity as total war if you are the powerful invaders and can bomb and destroy with impunity. There may be food and utility shortages to be borne by the ordinary Russian citizens, but the wealthy and well-connected and those that service their needs remain largely unaffected. That is the message which emanates from the Pury article. War can be waged so long as it does not materially affect the ruling class. Yes, inconvenience can be borne, but these days can one not ski in Dubai?

After all, supporting Ukraine does have limits.  One cannot have any ripples in the eggnog.

“They know they won’t be allowed back to the French Alps for 25 years. Until then they can go to Dubai or party here – it’s pretty wild.”

Winter in Moscow is a time for parties. A friend told me recently about a particularly lavish one he went to in a nightclub. DJs played hypnotic psychedelic trance, champagne flowed and red lights strobed across the heaving dancefloor. Nearly two years into the war in Ukraine, Muscovites seem to be recovering their capacity for hedonism.

As Russia enters 2024, and the campaign for President Vladimir Putin’s inevitable re-election heats up, the regime is keen to tell a good story about the country’s ability to withstand the war. It can muster a surprising amount of evidence to support this case.

Through such elaborate manoeuvres, Moscow elites have succeeded in keeping life reasonably comfortable for themselves. Not long ago I went to a party in a penthouse. It was a picture-postcard Russian scene: a blizzard swirled outside huge windows and Prokofiev swelled through the speakers. The guests sipped French and Italian wine, filling their plates with Russian caviar from the buffet.

The atmosphere among this posh group could be characterised as patriotic-lite. Some of them were old enough to remember Soviet times and instinctively avoided any talk of politics. Those who didn’t used a tacit code. They wouldn’t criticise the government but, unlike some of the crowd in the nightclubs, they didn’t speak in jingoistic slogans either. No one mentioned the war, though it was implicit every time one of them referred to the arduous flight connections they have to make these days to visit grown-up children in Italy and Britain.

This is a constituency Putin has to keep on side for the long haul, and not all of the guests were happy with his vision of Russia’s future. “I am trying to decide if my kids will be educated in the UK or the US,” said one executive. “It definitely won’t be China or Russia.”


Australia has fifty-five species of parrot. My grandfather for a time had a farm at King Parrot Creek in Victoria until he was “eaten out by rabbits”. The King Parrot is nevertheless a very pensive parrot – green wings and red face and belly – not as common as it once was.

The rainbow lorikeet is a brightly coloured chatterer that has found city living very congenial, and they are where the trees provide suitable food. They are known to push other birds off the balconies where food for birds has been placed. Therefore, a glimpse of parrots is not uncommon for any Australian, living anywhere on the continent.  These lorikeets were introduced into New Zealand and have threatened to become an exotic species which has got out of control and thus has needed to be managed.


There are supposed to be eight species of native parrots in New Zealand, one of which is the grass parrot, the kakapo is my wife’s favourite parrot, and also once a favourite item on the rat menu. She is unlikely to see any of the 200 kakapos which are now nurtured on a rat-free island off New Zealand. The parrot that I have actually seen in NZ mountainous regions is the kea, more a raptor than a conventional parrot.

Back in Australia, in rural areas there are the grey wing, pink belly galahs, the sulphur crested cockatoos (parrots with a quiff) and the pink-eyed corellas all snacking on seeds of all varieties, the scourge of farmers who have just planted their crop.

Closing in on the deserts are the Major Mitchell cockatoos, crested red flecked argumentative additions on a land where saltbush dots the red and ochre landscape of Sturt’s Desert Varnish.

Then, going into the desert and especially after it has just rained, there are the flocks of budgerigars. As they exist in vast numbers in captivity, most people do not realise they are birds of the outback, beyond the proverbial Black Stump.

Then in the morning in the Tasmania forests, in the early morning, there are the distinctive cries of the yellow-tailed black cockatoos, and the sight of these large birds framed against the sky is a wonderful waking experience for me.

There are others, which I could describe, all magnificent in their own right.

Nevertheless, my favourite parrot is the macaw, a bird of the Americas. The experience of standing under palms in Costa Rica with a flock of scarlet macaws bombarding us with half eaten nuts is not forgotten.

Such was the level of falling missiles a discreet withdrawal was required to a place where one could observe these birds feeding without danger of being hit on the head. The birds hold the nut in their claw and break it open with their formidably curved beaks.

I have read that parrots have an upside-down sense of taste, which is one of their fascinating characteristics. Although they have taste glands at the back of their necks, the bulk of their taste buds are on the roof of their mouths.

Macaws are a bird too often kept in captivity. There is a picture of a blue-yellow macaw perched on my shoulder attacking my glasses. Such birds are used by an itinerant gypsy, in this case not unsurprisingly a guy dressed as a pirate complete with bandana and gold earring. This happened in Dubrovnik, and I forget how much was paid by my companion for me to be so immortalised.

But it was the flock of macaws high in the tropical canopy of Costa Rica that did it for me.

Need I say anything? Apart from Disgusting

Data collected by government contract analysts Tussell shows 197 public sector contracts have been awarded to Fujitsu since 2012, and it is hard to find an arm of the British state in which it is not involved: the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, HM Revenue & Customs, Transport for London, HS2, Scottish Water, Thames Valley Police, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Land Registry, NHS England, local authorities across the country – the list goes on and on. The Conservatives, for all their talk of a small state, have overseen a historic increase in spending on private companies, from £64bn in 2010 to £222bn last year.

From the New Statesman.

 It was Fujitsu which created the defective computer program that saw the prosecution of more than 900 workers falsely accused of stealing money from post offices. This disgraceful episode which has resulted in legislation being brought in by the UK Parliament to overturn the convictions, was brought to light by a TV program, not government investigation.

Simon Blagden, who is a prominent Tory donor and former director of Fujitsu was appointed chair of the Government agency for delivering the government’s broadband rollout in 2022.

His generous contributions to the Tory party included a £350 hamper to Boris Johnson. He was non-executive director at Fujitsu UK during the evolution of the scandal. He should exchange notes with our fiasco of Ministers Morrison, Payne, Turnbull, Robert and Tudge who concocted and implemented the robo-debt scheme to see how he has emerged seemingly in a pristine toga while these others skulk awaiting appropriate retribution.

Come to think of it, why is Blagden still a commoner? He has certainly contributed enough to be a peer.

Mouse Whisper

Giovani Botero, the 16th century Savoyard Savant, wrote:

The Prince not only lays his hands on the people and draws blood from them… having drawn their blood with taxes he destroys their spirit by taking from them every chance of profit which might enable them to pay their taxes.

This quote from Botero’s major work (The Reason for the State) in which he disputes the Machiavellian description of the Prince was on the white board in the Boss’s office for years. Sounds that he was a bit of a Bolshie. Botero that is.

Modest Expectation – Krakatoa

I have received my postal vote For the Vote. There, below the box, the form instructs:

“Write “Yes” or “No””

That is classic ambiguity. It’s so obvious – unless one takes it literally. Once there was a manual for a luxury car, the instructions for which included the following at one of the service stages:

Drain the sump.

It did not go on and instruct the owner to (sic)

Refill the sump.

Yes, there were damaged cars.

The Modern Version of the Old English Word – Dudda

Dutton could not raffle a duck in a country pub in any other State than Queensland – or a leg of mutton for that matter. He has been socialised as a Queensland copper, with all the baggage that entails. He and his wife have made money in harness with him being the Member for Dickson, including receiving Commonwealth money for his childcare holdings. This payment was contrary to the relevant Act.

A former Western Australian Premier labelled him a dullard. There is truth in this, because of the way he seemed to have been manipulated by his Department Secretary, a person who neglected his public administration responsibility while he slurped up to the Liberal Party grandees.

Dutton and Pezzullo

Nevertheless, he summed up the intellectual quality of Dutton, and played the “prejudice polka” every day to keep Dutton in check. This serenading will be an ongoing discussion point when the review of his erstwhile public servant “honcho”, Michael Pezzullo, is finalised and made public. Irrespective of what he does, Dutton will bear some of the brunt of any negative findings on Pezzullo’s antics while the latter was being paid nearly $1m annually.

The point has been made that John Howard opposed all the referendum proposals in 1988, and despite his successful opposition to the referenda, he was out of parliamentary Liberal Party leadership in six months, which started his walk in the wilderness.

This is not to say that Dutton will walk in the steps of Howard, but it reminded me that the default Howard position was always “NO”. It meant that he had to be persuaded to adopt a positive stance; and this stratagem was canny as it enabled him to test the community attitude on any particular proposal.

The fundamental difference between Howard and Dutton at the same stage of their professional life was basic intelligence; plus, Howard was not a Queenslander.  If you exclude Frank Forde and Arthur Fadden, whose respective tenures as Prime Minister were as “caretaker”, Kevin Rudd has been the only Queensland-elected Prime Minister. Kevin, whatever he may have been, could not have been cast as the traditional banana-bender. This fussy, self-opinionated, dainty man with a penchant for displaying how intelligent he was, seemed more a character of the inner suburbs of the big metropolises down South rather than coming from the land of surf and coral.

I have spent a great deal of my life in Queensland. These days, there is the tourist who would say the same as I have said, but when you probe deeper, you generally find that they have only gone to the Gold Coast or Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

Queensland has these exclaves of southerners, but if you happen to be a political aspirant, it is a good idea to spend time in other parts of Queensland. You must break down the natural suspicion at best or antipathy at worst towards the “invaders”. Malcolm Turnbull, the scion of Point Piper, found that out. Mate, in Queensland you need to be able to wear an Akubra without looking like a dill. Moreover, you need to feel comfortable in your own skin. In other words, Queenslanders have a very sensitive bull dust meter. The political parliamentary FIFO sends the needle off the scale.

Gaucho in Cassock

One week, if you eat meat on Friday, you’re going to go to hell. The following week, you can have meat on Friday. The church changed. – Thomas Reese (American Catholic Jesuit priest, author, and journalist.)

As a young man, I was inspired by the activities of Vatican II. I even briefly considered conversion to Roman Catholicism.

But that was then.

Pope Francis

Now, Pope Francis is liberalising the Roman Catholic Church, so they say. Oh yeah, pull the other leg. The evidence is that he has appointed 21 cardinals with similar “liberal views”. But there he is photographed recently surrounded by his fellow cardinals in cassocks, the only reminder that this was not a collection of mediaeval relics is the wheelchair the Pope has inaugurated as his particular sedia. In fact, it was not until 1978, that the papacy discovered the wheel with the “popemobile” replacing the sedia gestatoria, an uneasy papal sedan chair borne by twelve strapping men, with a couple of flabellata, large ostrich fans carried by two other muscular deacons on either side of the sedia gestatoria. These fans in their construction could have been a template for the Folies Bergère fans.

If you trace the vestments, as with the papacy, they have their genesis in Ancient Roman robes. Such is the modernity projected by Vatican fashions. Such is the formalin aspic of The Vatican State – the Holy See.

The isolation of the Papacy was reinforced by the loss of most of its temporal land holdings during the Risorgimento, which occurred during one of the longest papal reigns, that of Pius IX. Pius’s troops lost a couple of battles and with that the Papal States. Pius was more than a little miffed and withdrew into The Vatican, describing himself as being the Vatican’s Prisoner. He excommunicated the new Italian King, Emmanuel II along the way, which he subsequently revoked when both were dying.

Nevertheless, Pius IX was a busy Pope. His dogma of Immaculate Conception and also convening Vatican I, the Council where Papal Infallibility embedded in dogma were some of his most notable accomplishments. His efforts in punishing those that procured abortions at any time of gestation prevailed within the Catholic Church; excommunication for abortion became Canon Law in 1917, and later revised in 1983. Boy, has he got a lot to answer for!

For instance, take the matter of celibacy. During the first millennium of the Church, being married was apparently not rare among the priests and bishops, even though St Augustine railed against female blandishments. In the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII issued a decree requiring all priests to be celibate and he expected his bishops to enforce it. Despite the decree, some priests and high-ranking clergy, even popes, flouted the order and engaged in sexual relations with women. Homosexual activity was not regulated; and paedophilia, the bane of the modern church, was ever present. During the Counter-Reformation in the mid-15th century, the Council of Trent tightened the rules demanded that celibacy be subject to excommunication. It did not seem to worry the Borgias and their notorious activities.

The Pope on his own can revoke celibacy of Roman Catholic clergy. What’s stopping him if he is the progressive Pope he pretends he is. Female ordination is a different problem being embedded in Church dogma.  It is ironic that the most liturgically conservative Anglican and Episcopal priests, who left the Church for the Roman Catholic Church as a protest against women being ordained, were married. They could remain married and were exempt from celibacy. They were allowed to keep their wives in direct opposition to St Augustine’s doctrine.

Augustine of Hippo was a fourth century North African Bishop whose attitudes have survived, probably because he mirrored a convenient conservatism, which has served the Roman Catholic Church well.

Augustine trod a familiar hagiographic pathway from the Epicurean to the Ascetic. After a time in Milan, Augustine returned to his native town of Tagaste (now Algeria), a cultured man of property, raising the son, Adeodatus.  No mention of the mother (unsurprisingly her name is unknown) is recorded. Yet Augustine was a prolific writer. Misogyny has a long history.

Augustine joined the Church when he lost his son; and celibacy was his personal reaction to his loss, to which a whole raft of Church sophistry was added to justify it being compulsory among the clergy, monks – and of course nuns. Forget, ordination, girls.  Contemplative hand maidens, brides of Christ are sufficient recognition – but we will add celibacy to give you a feeling of collegiality.

I suppose I reserve my greatest contempt for those who pretend they are reformers, make resounding commentary, but in the end nothing happens. The Vatican II Council made some changes, including making the Mass available in the vernacular, and substituting that the priestly backside by him facing the congregation when saying the Mass. However, those two clerical misanthropes, the Pole and the Bavarian, did all they could to sabotage the Vatican II reforms, and the Church was particularly not well served during the years in which the John Paul II was demented with Parkinsonism.

Vatican II happened when I was a young man. The celebrant at my first wedding was a Bush Brother, who was celibate, and an Anglican priest, my friend who carried the cross in front of the bridal procession became a worker priest, anathema to conservative elements of the Roman Catholic Church. He was an ordained Anglican priest, never moved to Roman Catholicism, initially celibate, he later married. However, he spent much of his life working with immigrants and the poor. Back then, I believed I was optimistic about the future.  Secular truths complemented one’s religious beliefs and freedoms would naturally follow.

Max Charlesworth

A significant incident in my life was my introduction to Max Charlesworth. Late in life he too attributed much of the ultimate failure of Vatican II, to the Polish pope who, as Charlesworth wrote, used “modern communications media effectively to make himself bishop of the World”. Ironic because he was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Pope, Adrian VI, who had a short one-year papacy (1522-23). John Paul II thus effectively sidelined the doctrine of collegiality, reducing the bishops to ciphers, whose responsibility was to the Pope not to their diocese. Appointments, as Charlesworth opined, were opaque and the appointed bishops would be a gathering of “yes men”.  Charlesworth wrote it as he saw it.

In 1960, I was invited to Mass on University Sunday at Newman College. I remember I was placed at the end of a row of pews, and when the Newman College students went to take the Mass, the whispered “heathen” was one of the more complimentary epithets directed at me.

Max Charlesworth, then 35, had recently returned from Louvain University. He was the guest speaker at the lunch which followed the Mass. This was before Vatican II but his theme was very much about liberalising the Church’s attitudes. In Melbourne, it was the time of the Roman Catholic Archbishop Danial Mannix, the crucial supporter then of Bob Santamaria. His Catholic worker anti-communist views had precipitated the split in the Australian Labor Party in the 1950s. At that stage, the model that seemed to guide Santamaria was that of Franco’s Spain, a combination of temporal and spiritual authoritarianism.

While many of the Roman Catholic bishops were in attendance at the lunch Archbishop Mannix, who then was 96 years old, was not. Daniel Mannix had been a divisive figure in Melbourne. His views were fashioned by his Irish antipathy to anything British, rather than by any Falangist motivation.

Listening to Charlesworth’s conciliatory but challenging speech about the need to address the sectarian conflict by his call, I was inspired to live constructively.  I was optimistic then.  Much of what he said presaged Vatican II, which commenced two years later.

Sixty-three years later, seeing this Pope and his feeble attempts to try to reform, I have little time to complete my construct of a Roman Catholic Church where women were equal and some of the doctrine which seems based on the biases of elderly men shed. Unfortunately, my optimism is now a tattered banner barely able to flutter. But then, what have I really done, especially as I have clung to my Anglicanism rather as a security blanket than as a cloak of reform.

Road Rage in the Scottish Highlands

In 1980, a strange thing happened to us on the way to Glencoe.  We happened to be in a rented MGB. There was a line of summer traffic somewhere close to Fort William, on a narrow country road. There were road works ahead. We had come to a halt, when I heard a crack and our car lurched towards the edge of the road. We had been struck by the rear end of a swaying caravan, which was being driven far too fast on the wrong side of the road.


I surprised myself by the speed of my reaction. I pulled the MGB out onto the wrong side of the road and set off in pursuit. Completely crazy, she said later. The vehicle with its caravan was disappearing down this straight stretch of the Scottish tarmac.

I was after it, my hand pressed hard on the horn. I hoped there was nothing coming the other way. It was an uneven match. The MGB was too fast and its horn too insistent.  The game was up! The car and caravan had found a gap in the traffic and lurched to a stop.  Then a strange thing happened. A man got out of the car with his hands raised – a skinny middle-aged man with drawn emaciated features and a hunted expression from under an old Wehrmacht field cap.  The bugger had surrendered as though it was a conditioned reflex. He looked so wretched.

People were climbing out of their cars to come and have a look. Some were clapping. Some were muttering uncomplimentary words about Germans.

Our car had barely a scratch.

“Be careful, Jack. You’ll be a war hero if you don’t watch out.” I was still fuming. I saw a middle-aged lady peering out of the car, wondering what retribution I was going to enact.

I walked over to him. He was shivering. I noticed I was taller than he was. I felt that there was quite an audience at my back.

My voice was loud. “Don’t do it again. Get out of here.” That is all I said. I am not sure he understood. However, as I continued to stand in the middle of the road he scampered back into his car. Only then did I realise how shabby the car and caravan were. I could not understand why I had had such a stupid brain snap.

I walked slowly back to the car as the German couple drove away. She was perched up on the seat. I don’t know what she really thought. I gave her the car keys and asked her whether she wouldn’t mind driving for a bit. That was the signal for all those watching to climb back into their vehicles, and until the road widened, the MGB led this column of cars and assorted caravans. The Germans had long since gone. My companion had been very stately in her driving, then suddenly she accelerated our car and we sped away.

It turned out she was very sensible and not very reproachful apart from saying I was completely crazy in her Laura Ashley voice. “Let’s get some clear air. I think we were lucky, but that poor fellow. He was completely frightened and you blasting the horn really was quite dramatic. But it was an anti-climax; that poor man surrendering as though you were going to take him prisoner. Probably you needn’t have done it, but the people in the line seem to be appreciative. It seems to have made their day.”

I must say that there are various forms of road rage, and I was not immune. I was lucky not to cause an accident. The lesson learnt did not survive, and a year later I had a major accident, the sequelae of which emerged 42 years later. Fortunately, in one way, this time I had no passengers, but the car went up in flames.

On reflection, once an anecdote which I thought funny for years, I am now a bit ashamed about it. Too late to learn.

Come in, Spinner

The Mouse Whisper reminded me of Jack Iverson, the right arm unorthodox leg spin bowler, who had a brief test career in Australia versus England in the 1950-51 series. He had come from nowhere two seasons before, but he had developed his unique spinning technique with a table tennis ball. Using his middle finger to spin a cricket ball rather than a table tennis ball was something else. His grip involving this powerful middle finger and thumb meant he could bowl off spin, leg breaks and googlies without changing his grip.

After a couple of successful seasons, as described in Wisden,at the age of 35, he was chosen for his country against the England team captained by F. R. Brown. So perplexing did the visiting batsmen find the bowling of this tall man that in the Test series he obtained 21 wickets for 15.73 runs apiece, including six for 27 in the second innings of the third Test at Sydney. During the fourth Test at Adelaide he suffered an ankle injury when he trod on the ball. He played in only one game in each of the next two seasons and then gave up cricket altogether.

Iverson was an appalling batsman; he just had no idea. However, coincidently, in the Australian XI at the time, there was a left arm bowler called Bill Johnston, who played in 40 Tests for Australia. He was classed as a rabbit, the sobriquet for the batting inept. He played in these five Tests with Jack Iverson. He batted 10 and Iverson at 11.

Iverson was so bad that he had his own classification – Ferret. After all, don’t ferrets go in after the rabbits?

Mouse Whisper

They could have included this in the ABC series Bay of Fires. The wife was driving through Zeehan the other day, and I nearly fell off the dashboard. There was this young woman walking a ferret on a leash.

Ferrets don’t mind a bit of mouse tartare. Due to their short intestinal tract and high metabolic rate, ferrets must also eat raw meat, a little at a time but often. They can’t digest vegetables, especially those which have high fibre.

Lady, keep that animal on a leash, so I can stretch my paws and have a leisurely scamper while my chauffeuse goes into the hardware shop.

Modest Expectations – Additional Problem

In 2004, when owing to accidental bipartisanship between then Opposition Leader Mark Latham and Howard, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was abolished.

This was written by Jon Altman. I was somewhat bemused by the comment in Crikey when they were listing interventions in Aboriginal Affairs by government, it seemed to draw upon this comment. When such an assertion is made, it should be complete. The action should not be divorced from the antics of Geoff Clark, ATSIC’s last Chair, which provided that unsympathetic political duo of Latham and Howard, natural bedfellows separated by Party allegiance, the excuse to close ATSIC down. Mention of Howard and Latham immediately engenders a reaction from the instinctive “YES” to such a decision. ATSIC was a Hawke initiative enacted in 1990 and, despite Howard reducing its funding when he came to power, would have survived if the Man from Framlingham had not manoeuvred himself into the role of ATSIC boss.

As The Conversation has recently reminded its readers, ATSIC’s primary roles were to formulate and monitor programs, develop policy proposals, advise the minister and coordinate activities at all levels of government. It spent Commonwealth government funds on specific programs, measured in terms of achieving social justice.

Sound familiar? There has been some discussion about the difference between ATSIC and the Voice – none of which is particularly convincing. There is no guarantee that the Voice will not end up like ATSIC, except if the referendum is passed it will be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. However, just because it is so enshrined, it does not mean that Government needs to do anything about it. For instance, the provision of dental benefits for Australians is enshrined in the Constitution, but no Government has ever addressed this power.

Mr Clark

But back to the embers of another time when an Aboriginal organisation had been assigned considerable responsibility and funding. The sparks still fly from once was a vibrant organisation. Ironically in this coming October when we have ben asked to vote on the Voice, Clark and members of his immediate family have been arraigned on over 300 charges of fraud, with the case set down in the Victorian County Court. They were first charged in 2019, and the basis for the charges stretches back years before 2004 when ATSIC was being trashed. Now why has Geoff Clark not been asked about the Voice?

He is an inconvenience, but he would not be the first or the last to be what the media call a “colourful personality”.

Was Ronald Dale Barassi the Greatest Australian Rules Footballer Ever?

Ron Barassi died this week at the age of 87.

I grew up playing Australian Rules football. The twelve elite football teams were part of the Victorian Football League.  In 1957, my club Essendon played extremely well in the second quarter of the second semi-final and won the game. It was unexpected given that Melbourne was highly favoured, having won the premiership in each of the previous two years. Thus, I, the optimist, went to the Grand Final, where Essendon were again facing Melbourne two weeks later in the Grand Final. I found myself behind the goals to which Melbourne were kicking in the first quarter.

The ball was bounced and was kicked towards the Melbourne goal. Suddenly, out of the pack Ron Barassi exploded, grabbed the ball, kicked the goal. In less than a minute, the Grand Final was over. Barassi went on to be best on ground, kicking five goals. Melbourne won by 61 points.

That was Barassi, the fearless, the impetuous, a football genius in a very good team, such as Melbourne which won six premierships between 1955 and 1964. The only time Melbourne lost unexpectedly was in 1958 when Barassi was brutally taken out of the game.

Barassi’s style of play presaged the change in the game which occurred with the introduction of the interchange. Coaching Carlton in winning the 1970 premiership over Collingwood he told his team to move the ball forward at all costs. This use of handball was an example of a Barassi masterclass. Interchange was eventually introduced in 1978, and handball execution is one of the main areas which separates the champion team from the lesser teams.

My other reminder of Barassi was very different. I used to drive the Hamilton Highway every other week. It was far different from the Princes Highway which also connected Geelong with the Western District of Victoria. It was essentially a speed track as mostly it passed through small townships, and in parts was very straight. The joy then was traffic on the Hamilton Highway was sparse, there were few trucks and police patrols were rare.

Lismore is a small township on the Western Plains about 100 kms from Geelong, where I would sometimes stop for a pie and coffee. Approaching the township from the west is an innocuous line of trees. In October 1976, Barassi was driving his blue Mercedes when he wrapped it around one of these trees, seriously injuring himself and his passenger, Neil Roberts, also a former champion footballer. Both eventually recovered, but Barassi lost his spleen, which meant that he had to take prophylactic antibiotics for the rest of his life.

Every time afterwards when I drove through Lismore I saw the tree remnant which remained. It served as a reminder of an episode where both Barassi and Roberts dodged the Fell Sergeant.

Even more so when it occurs to yourself. A major car accident on country roads is a test of the will to live, as I found out almost five years later when I wrapped myself around an electricity pole near Shepparton.

It is strange what you remember, when others have a closer association with a man who had the presence that would suck up the power in any gathering he joined. This is a special quality, which in turn made it difficult for him to have ever been anonymous – even if he ever would have wanted to be. 

Plied with Privilege

This week, Delta Air Lines announced sweeping changes to frequent-flier perks that will start in 2024. While the airline says its revamped system has “simplified” the SkyMiles program for repeat customers, it’s actually dealing a significant blow to the middle class of travellers, inciting outrage on social media and promises from some to quit flying Delta altogether.

In a Tuesday announcement, the Atlanta-based airline detailed how it would make it much more difficult to earn coveted Medallion status. Simultaneously, it plans to take away unlimited access for American Express cardholders to its Sky Club lounges, some of the swankiest in the United States.  Washington Post 16 September.

Essendon Airport

If you take a plane from Essendon Airport in Melbourne, it is as though you are vaulted back into a time when it was the major airport. It is still a place used by some of the small regional airlines.

There was no problem parking. It is free.

You would mill around as you do now. There is a café where you can buy coffee and a snack. The call for your flight. Paper ticket checked. You stroll out to the plane. There is no security.

That was how it was once in simpler times. Of course, plane travel then was relatively uncommon and comparatively expensive.

When I first joined Bill Snedden as his principal private secretary in 1973, Snedden had access to the airport manager’s office. This enabled him to make private phone conversations and shielded him from the “glad-handers”.  Lounges did not exist back then in the early seventies.

No lounge, but fashionable 70’s purple seats

There was no security then to negotiate. This was fortunate, for Snedden was notorious for being late. There was one occasion when I had to wrangle delaying the plane to Canberra until he arrived. Oh, for the good ol’ days, when the media cut you slack and there were no barriers to boarding, bar the ticket.

Snedden always flew Ansett until its demise. I became inured to travelling almost exclusively on the airline. I was surprised when I was invited in a friendly letter from Ron Eddington to join the Ansett equivalent of the Captain’s Club. I always thought it a case of mistaken identity, and my membership was withdrawn a few months before the airline went “bottoms up”. It was certainly convenient, and it was a time before the iPhone changed the dynamics in relation to ease of communication.

Once frequent flyer points became available in the 1980s, they were awarded to individuals, this privilege did not differentiate the payer, and employers made rules on a case by case by case. Membership gave access to lounge facilities, but airlines set up further special privileged areas to shield the Chosen. It was just a variation of the ancient differentiation between patricians and plebeians, although with a difference. The Frequent Flyer lounges became themselves differentiated depending on the frequency of flying – bronze-silver-gold-platinum hierarchy.

The reason for privacy which provided once a legitimate excuse back before the lounge proliferation was rendered obsolete with the advent of mobile phones. The lounge land lines were no longer required, and when one reflects on the whole matter of privacy, in these Captain’s Clubs with their concentration of the important, there are only so many corners for the conspiratorial phone exchanges.

Takes all types

The Qantas’ Captain’s Club is essentially a concierge service for the politicians and their ilk to send off their accompanying staffers to ensure that they would be at the front of the queue when there are “stuff-ups”, which became the Joyce signature contribution to airline travel.

Thus, the Captain’s Club members have endured minimal pain. While ensconced in their Lounge they gossiped over their single malt, in the Departure areas, the ordinary passengers milled around with minimal service, minimal information.

I just stopped flying, even though once the wheelchair arrived, “going to gate” had been well organised, but even in this service there were cracks.

Joyce knew precisely that everybody loves a “freebie”, especially if it projects an aura of exclusivity. He was not the only one, and once the Joyce brand of toxic leadership becomes a distant memory, the privileged Captain’s Club will resume transmission, perhaps a slate of those eligible, with a limited number of Captain’s pick. It should be acknowledged, that the new CEO cut her gold implants on determining who was on and who was not on the List. The List of those inducted into these Halls of Name should be published. But the single malt will remain, as will the sophistry of the reasons for the continuing existence of this pool of privilege. Unless Qantas takes the route of the American airlines and make itself even more unpopular.

Nevertheless, there is an important administrative dimension to the top-end exclusivity. At least, they have herded those with a sense of entitlement into the one space, and thus when there is a “stuff-up”, you do not have these individuals and their retinue running free around airports crying out how important they are and why they should be number one in the queue and thus potentially causing even more chaos.

Finally, as illustrative of those days when there were no lounges but there were still persons of entitlement, one of my colleagues told me that he was at the Delhi Airport as a staffer for a very important Head of a very important Government Department awaiting to be called to their flight when a Douglas DC-8 crashed short of the airport, killing 10 of 11 crew members, and 72 of 76 passengers. The Very Important Bureaucrat’s response: Bugger the crash, I need to get back to Australia.

The chaos thus had not deterred the Very Important Bureaucrat from ordering my mate to get him on a flight. The airport was closed, but Sense of Entitlement trumps everything, even if my mate could not even find a phone. 

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)

Having worked with and for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), I was somewhat surprised by the latest advertisement seeking contributions from the public. Depressingly all the images are of whitefellas being treated in what are unconvincing imagery. To spend a great deal of money to provide an aerial medical service to the outback stations and small settlements without any acknowledgement that one of the major communities which require the service RFDS is the Aboriginal community.

To show a service which is all-white at a time when there is a community debate on the place of Aboriginals in the future of the nation is also somewhat insensitive.  Then when you look up the search engine, RFDS was certainly linked to the Voice – but only because there are two TV programs of those names being produced by Channel 7.  One the normal bodice-tearing dramas where (a) the RFDS provides an action-packed background for the activities of over-sexed screen doctors and nurses and (b) the Voice is an all-aged vocal contest to see who can scream the loudest and a set of judges who speak in exclamation marks.

Data on the impact of providing health care for Aboriginal communities is incomplete. Quoting one data set, it showed that between July 2013 and December 2015, the RFDS conducted 75,763 aeromedical retrievals, equivalent to 83 aeromedical retrievals per day. Indigenous status was recorded for 62,528 patients. Of the 62,528 retrievals, 17,606 (28.2%) aeromedical retrievals were Aboriginal Australians from remote Australia.

When I first worked with the RFDS, many of the key performance indicators (KPI) were based on aircraft performance rather than health care. Under Clyde Thomson, then CEO Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (SE Section) and for a crucial concurrent period Chair of the Broken Hill Hospital, the RFDS ran health care clinics at Wilcannia, a predominantly Aboriginal town on the Darling River 100 km to the east of Broken Hill. With the introduction of the Sydney University Department of Rural Health, Aboriginal health care became a very important component of RFDS health care.

Thus, 20 years later, here is an RFDS advertisement seeking donations, with ne’er a mention of its contribution to Aboriginal health care. As I said above, depressing.

Who would have thought it!

There are seven States which deliberately or inadvertently still have Confederate symbolism.  The most Confederate characteristic is the gaudily painted Cross of St Andrew. But there are others, such as the State of California, hardly a Southern Republican State, which have a different symbolism. Nevertheless, the symbolism is linked to the Confederacy. The challenge is whether anybody cares despite the exhortation at the end of this description.  Well, as long as the Cross of St Andrew is banished. In the case of California, it is that bear! Read on.

In June 1846, a couple dozen American men in what was then the Mexican region of Alta California took over an unarmed fort in Sonoma and raised a flag painted with a red star, a grizzly bear and the words “California Republic”. Some of them were maybe a bit drunk.

A few weeks later, a U.S. naval squadron showed up in Monterey, and its confused commanding officer raised the Stars and Stripes and claimed California for the United States. The “Bear Flaggers” lowered their banner, and four years and a war with Mexico later, California joined the Union as a free state, meaning slavery was banned. Decades later, in the early 20th century, a version of the Bear Flag became California’s state flag.

So what does all that have to do with the Confederacy? 

First, California might have been a free state on paper, but it wasn’t in practice. Many of its early American settlers were proslavery Southerners who brought enslaved people with them, and others enslaved the Indigenous people there, including most of the Bear Flaggers, according to historian Jean Pfaelzer in her recent book, “California, a Slave State”. Enslavers used slave labour in the gold mines, advertised slave auctions in newspapers and went to great lengths to conceal from their human chattel that they were actually legally free. Numerous records show California abolitionists purchasing enslaved people to grant them the freedom they were already supposed to have.

As the nation descended into civil war, Californians were fiercely split, and a number of communities flew the disused bear flag to express their support for secession and slavery. Some even proposed the Pacific states break off and form their own nation.

In 1911, the bear flag design became the official state flag, and once again the move was stained with racism, journalist Alex Abella wrote in a 2015 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. The flag had been revived again by the Native Sons of the Golden West, a Whites-only fraternal group that pushed anti-Asian immigration laws and whose president wrote in 1920, “California was given by God to a white people, and with God’s strength we want to keep it as He gave it to us.” The lawmaker who introduced the flag legislation in 1911 was a member of the group, according to Abella, and proposed anti-Asian legislation in the same legislative session.

“It’s time California dump that flag,” Abella wrote. “Like the Confederate cross of St. Andrew, the Bear Flag is a symbol whose time has come and gone.”

Mouse Whisper

I got a free ride – tucked away in my straw nest in the Car. We went to Queensland, and I was able to catch up with my banana-bender relatives.

Then I saw them.

What were those long poles doing lining the highway at intervals? There were about 20 metres high and near the top had cross bars, which gave the impression of a very elongated Cross of Lorraine and short pieces of white pipe. Enquiries found that they were gliders’ poles to enable the sugar and squirrel gliders to cross the highway, and even if they don’t make the top they often land down the pole and scramble to the top. If the distance is too far to glide – thirty metres is taken as a benchmark – a box rope ladder is strung between the two poles, and thus the glider can climb across the remaining distance “unglided”. Got to watch out for the circling hawks and eagles though.


Modest Expectations – McKay Patten Tomkins 

Driving down the Hume Highway in the second week in September, it was a reminder to me that September the First is Wattle Day. Little recognised, it has been my preference for celebrating our nation as Australia Day. It is a symbol of renewal, as the wattle flowers, emerging from their nondescript greenery, in which their yellow flamboyance overpowers the landscape. Egg yellow, canary yellow, saffron, burnt yellow – the whole range of this primary colour dominates, and is with green our recognised country’s colours.

Yet there is the other colour that dominates the landscape but for a few weeks when it is overcome by the wattle efflorescence and that is the blue-green of the eucalyptus, that of the ubiquitous colour of the Blue Mountains seen from a distance.

Our flag, not midnight blue, yet represents the night sky where all other colour is lost in the darkness. The problem with the flag is the blot of the Union Jack – a symbol of how our country has been ripped off by the United Kingdom who sent what they thought as human effluent into a land which they soon viewed as locked into the Stone Age, under the name of New Holland.

Wattle Day converted to Australia Day would be just that stimulus to drive away the negativity in which, whether white fella or blackfella, we have been caught. Sure, celebrate 1 January as Federation Day, with all the mustiness that is projected on that day from the painting of the Duke of York opening Parliament, surrounded by a phalanx of triple-breasted elderly men, frozen in time, in the painting by Tom Roberts.

Consign the current Australia day to being a NSW Welcome to Whitefella Day. When you analyse 26 January, it is really New South Wales Foundation Day. When I was a child, Australia Day barely registered apart from signifying the end of the summer holidays and back to work, after a long weekend. January 26 may or may not have been incorporated in those long weekend dates. Australia Day itself was a very low key celebration.

But I am a revolutionary in regard to celebration. What with giving Chuck the boot, and substituting Matilda Day for that bizarre King’s Birthday celebration, when it is not his birthday. I have advocated that previously, but who is listening?

Overall, a better fit, but let’s face it, a holiday is a holiday – and for most Australians they wouldn’t care if the government established a holiday to celebrate The Drover’s Dog. Content would not matter. The business community would pluck a figure out of the air and say how much Australia would be losing in production, and for most Australians it would be just another day, while the media would beat it up showing dignitaries laying wreaths for the Unknown Dog or every bloody dog known being paraded as part of the endless media cycle to win the National Canine Cup. 

Biden – Why?

Trump’s probable path to actual victory is via a slender electoral vote majority, with less than a majority of the popular vote, quite possibly aided by a third-party drain on Biden’s votes. Trump might indeed arrive at his swearing-in on Jan. 20, 2025, having been convicted, still facing trial in other cases — or both. And he would owe his political survival to religious fundamentalists and right-wing nationalists, who would staff key positions in his government. 

When I read the above, the fact is that if the Democrats could produce a candidate rather than an octogenarian, who is a known plagiarist and hence a person so bereft of ideas but duplicitous enough to hijack other people’s ideas without attribution, then it is not surprising that Trump is still in the race. I do not believe that America is a land with a sizeable minority of fundamentalists and right wing nationalists enough to give Trump a second term if his opponent was not Biden.

Biden may still have his marbles, but it is the presentation.  His face is a mask. An engaging smile is offset by a pale face under a wispy white thatch and hooded eyes where, as he walks, he dodders. He tries hard to appear younger, but he is 80 and it is inconceivable that he could withstand the decapitation of America, the climate tempest which is intensifying and the madness of Vladimir Putin. And then there is his son, unfair as the accusations may be, Hunter Biden is being weaponised.

So, to Biden, I think you should look at yourself and in the mirror there is a selfish old man. You the man, who catapulted Clarence Thomas into the Supreme Court by a sexist demolition of Anita Hill. Judgement appalling.  Has it improved?

Go, gracefully.

The problem is finding a Biden replacement at short notice. For all her good intentions, the Vice-president has not set world alight. But as I wrote in 2020, Amy Klobucher, Senator from Minnesota, was my personal choice. To which I now add Gretchen Widmer, the Governor of Michigan. Both would withstand the bluster of Trump, but I wonder whether America is ready for a woman President.

If they are, either of these women would make very good Presidents, but then I am a long way away – and perhaps too prejudiced, unable to abide Biden, but objective enough to believe this current President is just too old. That is the overwhelming problem given that it will soon be impossible to change. Thus, the choice of the Vice-Presidential candidate will be crucial, even if unfair perception of senility propagated by Trump does not render Biden prematurely dead.

Once upon a Time along the Dawson

Records of the Yiman mainly concern the Hornet Bank massacre which took place on 27 October 1857. The incident took at a site known as “Goongarry” which had been squatted by the Scottish immigrant Andrew Scott who had applied for a tender over this area of Yiman traditional land in late 1853. It has been assumed, on the basis of settler practice, that Scott had occupied this stretch of territory at least a year before that date.

Though Scott’s tender was approved four years later, he leased the property to a shipwright John Fraser in March 1854. Fraser died later that year of pneumonia, and the lease was continued by his wife, 5 sons and 4 daughters, who, disregarding Scott’s advice not to allow blacks anywhere near the holding, befriended the local Yiman, since they had experience earlier of friendly Aboriginal workers on various stations on the Darling Downs. The family also employed a tutor Mr. Neagle. According to the account of the sole survivor Sylvester Fraser who managed to hide after being skulled by a nulla nulla, they had been attacked either at dawn or according to other accounts just as the full moon rose, by roughly 100 tribesmen. The three oldest girls were raped before being killed – Wikipedia 

The Dawson River, confluent with the Upper Dawson River, is a waterway that runs through Jiman Country, where the infamous Hornet Bank Massacre took place in 1857. The marking of this historical event, the Hornet Bank Massacre, does not memorialise the deaths of hundreds of Jiman people but rather refers to the deaths of eleven settlers and one displaced Indigenous man who were occupying Jiman Country at that time without local permission. The word massacre in the title of this historicised event, all its capitalisation, attempts to silence the other story of murdered men, raped women, stolen children, poisoned dogs, and all the pain of the white violence that preceded and followed this inevitable confrontation.

Marcia Langton, one of this country’s most revered and respected scholars and activists, has Yiman sovereignty. She has spoken of the ‘horror stories’ carved into the recent generations of her ancestry and has taken her family to Yiman Country to see the graves of her executed ancestors. Her grandfather ‘belonged to the Yiman people’ and was born ‘on the banks of the Upper Dawson River. This is far too close for comfort.Sue Pike University of Melbourne (Pike uses both Jiman and Yiman to describe the one mob)

The first excerpt above is easily accessed. It is the Wikipedia account.  The second is less public. Pike seems to epitomise some Aboriginal academics brushing over the Fraser family massacre. Other murders had taken place earlier by the Yiman; for instance, one Mr. McLaren of Isla and Waterton, as reported was “waddied” to death on Kinnoul, a property near Taroom on the Dawson River, in the winter of 1854.  Shepherds were often attacked, but no details were appended.

“Native Troopers”

Now Marcia Langton, the truth teller, is part Yiman, according to her often-stated affirmation of heritage. She has been saying her ancestors were massacred, but she does not identify the role of the native troopers in these massacres, which occurred over the next twenty-three years, until the Yiman culture was wiped out. The numbers are immaterial, the Yiman culture was destroyed.  But not without a fight, in the end unequal that it may have been.

Remnants of the Yiman did survive and in 1998, they filed an application with the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) for recognition of native title to an area of approximately 14,020 km2 about 75 kilometres north-east of Roma.

The case was concluded in 2016 when Mr Justice John Reeves of the Federal Court, sitting in Taroom, approved a consent decree. The judge said that the court order did not grant the Iman native title; instead, it recognised their pre-existing title; and their continuing connection to the land, despite its being 150 years since they were forced into hiding.

The Dawson River arises in the Carnarvon Range in Central Queensland, where there is a wall of images. Frankly, I felt uncomfortable walking along beside the wall, because I felt I was intruding on women’s business. I interpreted the images as a birth register of the local people whose land abutted that of the Yiman.

There were no custodians there when we visited some twenty years ago. The Dawson River flows into the Fitzroy River, containing a wide variety of fish, including barramundi and the occasional crocodile. The Dawson River is lined by Dawson palms which are found nowhere else. We passed through Taroom, but we could not remember seeing the memorial on the Leichhardt Highway to the Yiman. This is a rock where there are cuts to represent spear cuts and on the top of which is a replica of a grindstone for seeds.

And lest we forget, there is a small memorial to the Fraser Family alongside the Hornet Bank Rd near Taroom.

The next episode in this Aboriginal saga is the entry of David Marr, whose latest book is due to be published in early October, The Killing for Country. Apparently, David is horrified that his ancestors were involved in the killing of Aboriginals, but from the blurb, I’m not sure to which of the culprits he is referring. It will be interesting to see whether he ascribes to the Yiman as being a warrior tribe feared by other Aboriginals.

Looking over the sites where David Marr is visiting to promote his book, Taroom is not one of these. However, Forest Lodge, Bowral, and Eltham figure strongly – and of course, Maleny in Queensland. Says something about the constituency.

Remembering Theodore

When one mentions places like Taroom and the Dawson River, you need to also mention they are tucked away in Central Queensland, and for those living south of the Queensland border, they are in a virtually unknown but beautiful part of Australia when not beset by drought or flooding rain.

Theodore and Dawson River

There is Theodore downstream from Taroom. Theodore is described as a special place because with Dawson palms in the main street, the township is said to have the appearance of a tropical town even though it is well south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Theodore is named after Ted Theodore, variously Queensland Premier and Federal Treasurer in the Scullin Government. He was involved in a number of murky dealings, in which his association with Jack Wren was a prominent feature.

Theodore was also linked with an irrigation project in the Dawson Valley which failed in the early 1920’s, nevertheless the reason for the existence of the township.

Bruce Chater

I have been to Theodore, the former redoubt of Dr Bruce Chater, when I visited him twenty years ago. Since that time the Dawson River had flooded Theodore in 2010, but the township seems to have recovered, albeit with a few scars.  Watching a documentary made ten years later that seemed to be the feeling.

The township of about 500 people had been totally evacuated, the first Queensland township for this ever to occur. The natural constriction of the river, coupled with Theodore being located where Castle Creek drains into the Dawson, means that there is a one per cent chance of the 2010 experience re-occurring each year.

It is unusual to have a doctor in a town that small, but Bruce was one of those traditional doctors who sustain the myth that a doctor can do anything, from emergency treatment, delivering babies and then looking after the child as he or she progresses through all the ages, so eloquently characterised by Shakespeare.

Bruce maintained his practice by judicious use of general practice registrars, and when I was there, two female medical students had just arrived. Bruce and his wife, Anne, ran a very efficient country practice and Bruce sold himself very well as the archetypical rural medical practitioner.

Queensland is the spiritual home of the rural doctors, and the impetus for a separate rural doctors’ association came from there and, coupled with the establishment of a medical school at Townsville located within James Cook University, gave rural medicine a substantial amount of intellectual capital, which inter alia led to the recognition of the rural medical generalist program.

While the main driver of this whole field of rural medicine can be attributed to the genius of Ian Wronski, it was important that there were exemplars of “country medical practice”; and undoubtedly Bruce Chater was one of these.

The problem Bruce Chater seems to have conquered is succession planning, having recruited his successor, Elizabeth Clarkson, who incidentally was born in the nearby town of Moura, and commenced as Bruce Chater’s replacement in 2021. Even so, Bruce stills seems to have a presence in the town.

I’m not sure whether this doctor who succeeds him will be prepared to sink thirty to forty years of her life into one small township, no matter how congenial the lifestyle. Bruce made an interesting comment that his practice was well served by having 2.5 full time equivalent (FTE) doctors; his ideal being three. Now that is what I call “congenial”.

Bruce has been always the optimist; he never bewailed the problems of rural practice. Being optimistic, talking up the value of his practice is a far better recruitment strategy than his peers, who always emphasised the inability of recruiting anyone – the “we’ll all be rooned” syndrome.

That is the bugbear of rural practice – maintaining continuity, avoiding the locum trap (in that the practice becomes so fragile as being only staffed by the “fly-in-fly-out” doctors); only countered with long term succession planning.

Thus, following the fate of the Theodore practice over the next decade will be fascinating.

Hoping it Pans Out

When you live with a debilitating bowel condition, you must cope with chronic pain and bouts of diarrhea among a plethora of physical symptoms. Then there’s the emotional afflictions, chief among them is what I call toilet anxiety.

I’ve had it since I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis a few years ago. Whenever I go to a new place, I must know right away where the nearest restroom is. Or worse, I avoid going out entirely for fear that a flare-up will surprise me on the road.

This above was cri de coeur of a correspondent in The Washington Post.

In the United States, public toilets are hard to find with only eight public toilets for every 100,000 people. But it varies widely from Wyoming which has 44 toilet facilities to Louisiana and Mississippi only one for 100,000. By contrast, Australia has 37 toilets for 100,000 people but, as I found out one day, that statistic means nothing when the public toilet is difficult to find, or below ground or up steep stairs – for a disabled person it may as well not be there. That is a perennial problem of old buildings, pre-dating the days before sewered toilets, when the toilet was an add-on in many of these buildings, and hence awkward to use for the disabled.

There have been innovations in making public toilets more user friendly, but setting time limits on their use is not conducive. Unfortunately, in our world of privileged Captain’s Clubs and the like, the requirement for public manifestations of these private facilities has received minimal attention, particularly in the urban setting. Try finding an accessible public toilet that does not require stairs in any city.

I remember needing to find a public toilet in a rural Alabama town. I eventually found one, but it was locked. I made it to McDonald’s who kindly allowed me to use their rest room but let me say it seemed not have been recently cleaned – like a year. The graffiti on the walls and door were as depressingly similar, as that found I suspect everywhere in this forgotten land of public responsibility around the world.

Time for this simple requirement for accessible toilets to be incorporated in national policy, and I’m serious.

Mouse Whisper

They were travelling along the Carnarvon Highway and said to be near the small township of Injune. The Highway was clear; night was approaching and they needed to get to Carnarvon Gorge where they staying. So she uncharacteristically accelerated beyond the 110 speed limit. Quite considerably as she recalled; and horror of horrors, up ahead was a policeman flagging her down. She feared the worst because the speed she was doing could attract harsh penalties. Slowing down, working through the excuses, she stopped.

The policeman appeared at the window. Not the slightest bit interested in her speed. Instead of the suspected speeding infringement notice, he just wanted to do an alcohol “breath test”. He was behind in fulfilling his monthly quota and was trying to catch up.

The policeman thanked her after the reading was recorded as negative. She drove off after thanking him too.

They reached Carnarvon Gorge just after dark, the signs of relief still on her face.

Carnarvon Gorge

Modest Expectations – Nandyal

My elder son is called Paul.

He was named after St Paul. It caused some consternation on one side of the family. Where did that name come from? “Bit Catholic” was one typical comment. Belying this comment, in Sydney there are 10 Anglican St Paul’s in addition to the Anglican St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney and only three Roman Catholic St Paul’s. In addition, there are two Lutheran Churches of that name, and shared names with St Anthony in the Coptic Church and with St Peter in the Russian Orthodox Church. Thus, recognition of St Paul is eclectic, but strongly Anglican in the Diocese of Sydney. I’m sure he would be bemused about the naming rights.

To me, St Paul was integral to the propagation of the Christian faith – the original missionary. But he is also the traditional convert who become far more wedded to the Christian cause as he did because of the fateful episode that the then Saul, a violent Anti-Christian, had that one day on the road to Damascus. I recognise that converts are often weird and fanatical but driven. In St Paul’s case, his conversion was so completely a positive event for the Church which his subsequent actions confirmed. Yet Paul did not work alone. He had supportive people by his side, for instance, Barnabas and Silas, when he made his three major tours through the Mediterranean countries. Even St Luke was present to witness his travels. St Paul attests to that in his second letter to Timothy, where Luke seems to be Paul’s only companion.

He was “a bloke” – so far from some of the modern Church ministers of religion, where raiment and the arcane trumps everything. No, he would have eschewed such frippery, despite him being painted as some balding bearded man in flowing robes. He was the archetype worker priest. He was plainspoken and yet some of his words have been so often repeated that their force is lost as a cliché.

How many times has “Through a glass darkly” been quoted; but what an image such words provoke!

St Paul was undoubtedly authoritarian – always telling the people to whom he wrote his letters what to do – probably inciting dread in the early Christian community. “Paul is coming next month. We better clean the house.

He was a misogynist, but in his defence, it reflected the mores current at the time. In other words, he was not some alien person, who floated round the Mediterranean as some ethereal figure without sin.

That was the great quality of this Man – a person driven by a desire to change the world by word not sword. He projected a powerful message; and as I have always said I define my own ideal companion as a person whom I can trust but not necessarily a person who will always agree with me. Those I suspect, because if one can be as disagreeable as St Paul was on occasion, one must generate animosity even if, as can be detected in the Pauline writing, there is compassion underpinning his interpersonal relationships.

My reaction to this restless man is not unique. Other authors have noted his missionary zeal. Essentially these words in his Letter to the Philippians reveal a man, who has a firm moral code, to which he can be called to account.

Finally, brethren whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there to be any praise, think on these things.

Preceding this call for meditation are those words which have become the conventional benediction for many Christians.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

And that about says it all, except to mention that recently I prayed to St Paul for his intervention, and my prayers were answered. I have always found comfort in the above words which I whispered to myself on this occasion.

I Must Report

My grandfather may have described himself as a mercer rather than working in schmutter aka “the rag trade”. Notwithstanding one must call it as it is – a man in a bowler hat, detachable wing collar, handmade shirts and suit, bow tie, waistcoat with fob watch and of course spats.  (Memoirs of a watcher over a Toorak stuccoed stone fence)

There are two meals that stick in my memory. Given that I have regularly devoted parts of my blog to personal observation, I thought it important for me for me to write up these two meals. They did not occur overlooking the sea or high on mountain tops; nor were these meals in elegant places with silver service and the light glinting on crystal glasses.

Strathmerton 1940s

The first was sometime in the 1940s when there was still rationing in place. As I have written about my father’s nomadic need to travel before, once he had a car, he would often try to get away for a weekend with my mother and myself. There were no motels and therefore we depended on the availability of local hotels to have a bed.  Towns had the Railway Hotel and the Commercial hotels to reflect where they were built and who inhabited them during the week. And Strathmerton did not disappoint – there was a low-slung Railway Hotel.  Strathmerton was a small dairying town just south of the Murray River on the edge of the Goulburn Valley.

Remember, this was a time before credit cards, and payment was restricted to cash or cheque.

Now why do I remember this place. In the morning, the breakfast was something I had never experienced: sausages, steak and eggs, and the bacon. I still can picture those rashers of bacon. The toast was thick, warm and buttery.

This was a time when rationing of some food items was still in place, meat and tea. Eggs, milk and particularly butter were in restricted supply – sugar was removed from rationing in 1947. I had only experienced brown sugar, so white sugar was a novelty. Chocolate was non-existent, except in Laxettes.

None of these restrictions meant much because, until I was six, I had never lived in a country not at war. When I stayed in the country then with my aunts there were eggs and milk. I did not like milk anyway. But eggs … and Marmite; that was something else.

This breakfast was so different – a full on delicious Australian breakfast. I have always enjoyed big breakfasts since, but unfortunately in growing older self-rationing becomes de rigeur. 

The second memorable meal came in the second year after graduation. It was the first time we had a car. I was married and our first child was on his way; yet we had no car. I had a job at Geelong Hospital, but my wife was working as a post-graduate research scholar at the University of Melbourne. My mate, Don Edgar had been recently ordained and he had a locum posting in Tallangatta in North-east Victoria.

We had not seen him for a while, and he invited us up to stay with him. But we could not have chosen a worse night to drive. It was a time when a car may have had a heater but was not air conditioned, where the car did not have the safety features of the modern cars, and the Hume Highway was still mostly two-lane. The weather was bitterly cold, it was winter, and at times we encountered sleet.

I remember bringing a bottle of Moyston claret to drink with Don if and when we got there. In a time before mobile phones, and a disinclination to venture out into the weather to ring him from a phone box, we pressed on.

Tallangatta is a village on the shores of the Hume Weir, which had been rebuilt once the original township was sacrificed to be swallowed when the Murray River was dammed.

Once we arrived in Tallangatta it took us time to find where Don was living. Eventually, we saw the light in the window, and there was Don at the door, appropriately rugged up.

He ushered us inside, where he had built a roaring fire. The residence was basic but coming in after such a stressful drive it was a palace. The claret was warmed; the soup was robust, and the bread rolls were fine. This was almost biblical, but fish was not on the menu.

A Forgotten Observer 


They were familiar not only with the grass seed they so laboriously gathered and ground into flour, but with many bulbs and herbs and underground nuts and tubers also, the native carrot and native onion, the edible yam, which is so like our floury potatoes and a much sought-after food all over the continent. The quandong, too, sometimes called the wild peach, which is good eating when raw and makes a tasty jam – how easily could a tribe have planted practically unlimited number of such fruit-trees! Yet these things they never once thought of growing and cultivating during all the thousands of years they have been struggling for life in this country. And yet they carefully explain to their baby daughters all about the yam-vine from its “beginning” to its “end”, the soils the different varieties grow in, and the conditions and seasons necessary for its growth. They even explain that a few must always be left, so that with the next rain others may grow up. Yet apparently, they have never thought of planting one. 

In the coastal and more favoured areas of the continent, if they had thought of such a thing they might have said, “Everything grows in plenty for us here, in a good season anyway, then why should we toil to grow it?” But over the far greater area of the continent, with its recurring harsh times, that they never thought to improve their food supply by growing edible seeds and plants and fruits is a puzzle in the progress of human life. 

Trooper Idriess

Ion Idriess was a prolific author, writing 50 novels about this country of ours. He has lost the popularity he once had, but for a man born in Sydney in 1889 and dying 90 years later in Sydney in the intervening years he was very busy. There was an extraordinary litany of achievements through various occupations – opal, tin, gold miner, buffalo and dingo shooter, shearer, boundary rider – in diverse parts of Northern Australia. He encountered many Indigenous people, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

His perspective in the above has, to my mind, never been introduced into the confused debate of whether the Aboriginal people ever embraced the agricultural revolution.

His writing at times makes one react as if he was scratching his fingernail across a blackboard. The use of “Stone Age” as a description is not acceptable, because clearly the Aboriginal people are not. The use of inappropriate language in one context does not destroy the validity of his interpretation of some of his observations. In the face of these observations what sophistry would Bruce Pascoe use to justify his thesis? What I have found irritating in all this debate, given all the literature available, is how much has been ignored, such as that of Idriess.

Idriess, because of his times and his language in relation to Aboriginal contact, might jar. Nevertheless he had a clear eye, and in days before the taboos were well articulated said he was able to “bribe a ‘witch doctor’ ” into showing his sacred objects. Again, the Aboriginal “witch doctor” may have double-crossed him about the nature of what he revealed, but the observation may have been just as valid.

It is just that I once was given the privilege of seeing sacred objects, which only men are allowed to see. His observations did not tally with mine. However, the diversity of these individual tribes should never be underestimated, and every time I look at my collection of paintings and other artefacts, it just reinforces the diversity among these Aboriginal mobs. Idriess travelled extensively and that is why his descriptions ring true. He was an observer, admittedly culturally insensitive, but nevertheless historically valuable in being able to describe situations that now are hidden by cultural taboos, whether confected or not.

One of Idriess’ strengths was that he effortlessly mingled with Aboriginal people, but never “went native”. Like me, he did not have the genes which had been coursing through Aboriginal people for thousands of years. I retain the ultimate regard for the heritage of Aboriginal people.

If there were to be an honest appraisal of the actual achievements not the constant blame as if it were totally one-sided; the persistent talk without action (so-called “conversations” in different exotically attractive venues across the continent, also a form of expensive, diversional therapy for whitefellas able to afford the entry and travel costs or paid courtesy of the government), then I would without question vote “Yes”.

There is so much humbug floating around.

The Tanami Track

Try a “conversation” in the Tanami desert in January, Prime Minister. 

Malevich – Remarkable Painter

The Athletes also concerns the artist’s own metaphysics, which are quite distinct from that of the stablished church. He has erased all particular detail in order to bring to the fore his vision of humanity’s connection to the cosmos …The removal of facial features and the lowering and flattening of the horizon graphically emphasise the figures’ tenuous connection with the earth. Their feet on the coloured ground, their heads in the infinite white heavens – their half-white heads – all express the dualistic nature of natural beings and their evolving destiny.

I was sorry that we were unable to visit the Vermeer exhibition this year in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Vermeer, together with Magritte and Malevich, are the three painters whose exhibitions, in normal circumstances, I would have made every effort to travel anywhere to see.

We did so in 1998 for the exhibition in Brussels to celebrate the centenary of Magritte’s birth. I have written about the hoops we had to jump through to gain entry into that exhibition. This escapade has stuck in my memory; it was a good story, especially as it ended up in the “happily ever after” box.

But what of Malevich, the third of “my must see” painters?

I stare hard at the figurine of one of the Athletes in the painting by Kazimir Malevich. I purchased the figurine as a memento of the Malevich exhibition. It was the one with half the head coloured red the other side white. The rest of the figurine is a mixture of red and black. It doesn’t look like an Athlete, but I read the explanation, with which I headed this piece. I also have a coffee table book which shows most of his paintings, as well as a set of Malevich postcards and a large poster titled The Carpenter, which was painted and reflects very much the style he used in The Athletes.

Kazimir Malevich, the man born near Kiev in 1878, spent most of his life in Russia. His professional career was counterpointed by the 1917 October Revolution and the growth of the Soviet Union. He died in the then Leningrad in 1935. Only on two occasions did he leave Russia, having been given permission to go to Poland and Germany in the 20s. Most of his works therefore are retained in Russian Galleries, but there was an exhibition of his paintings a decade ago at the Tate Gallery in London.

He was the central figure in the Supremacist movement and there is a great force in his paintings – notably in his originality in style. He is the one painter, whose work I could gaze at for hours. For most galleries I just breeze around absorbing image after image without stopping for long in front of each work. Yes, I admit Guernica, Picasso’s painting makes me want to sit and have a longer look. Otherwise, Picasso does not provoke the same level of interest as Malevich; Picasso had this great facility to dash off a figure with an almost impeccable facility, but they do not connect emotionally.

But Malevich, with his ability to break form down to component and colour, appropriately and deftly lays a beautiful tableau.  Even the definition of the principles of Suprematism to reject any form of realism and paint simple shapes such as the circle, square and triangles forces one to recast your view of the world. They also used these shapes as vessels to explain and communicate themselves to the public or the viewer without any use of words or typography. There was limited use of colour in the palette with only basic colours such as red, yellow, blue and green, in addition to white and black.

This colour minimalism is shown by a series of diagrammatic paintings, with anonymous numbering of most of them. What I find fascinating is they seem to be architectural drawings if viewed casually, perfectly outlined rectangles, circles, squares – the architect of the cosmos. The juxtaposition of the components seems to be in harmony; I frankly don’t know why and thus if I try to articulate what they mean I’ll end up in a tangle of words.  There is one of these Supremacist works which he links to an aeroplane taking off. The reference point to this are several red lines – he would deny that the red line was the horizon, just a guide to his black and yellow rectangles and oblongs, the plane about to fly off the page.

The solid black painting is the signature of the Supremacist movement – just a pure Black Square. As though in a dark place we are seeing a lunar eclipse at the time when the Moon is closest to the earth (perigee), but paradoxically The Black Square is boxed in by a frame, and it is always hung in a corner of the gallery where normally in the Russian household an icon is hung. I can see what Malevich is trying to do, but that painting is easily mocked by others, including the Australian painter who replicated the Black Square by inserting a combination lock into his version of the Black Square. It brought contemplation of this Malevich work back to Earth.

On Malevich’s gravestone there is a Black Square, with a generous white concrete border.

Malevich went through post-impressionist, cubism, fauvism phases. After his Supremacist period, he reverted to folk artist primitivism, which persisted up to his death. Given how uncertain life was under Stalin, in a period where purges had continued that Russian propensity for pogroms, Malevich may have gone back to folk art as a Survival phase, but he did not live to the Great Terror of 1937. Yet one of the enigmas surrounding Malevich is his sudden cessation of Supremacist painting and reversion to folk art. Why? Perhaps he could not progress his ideas any further.

In the end, if you asked why I so am attracted to Malevich that once I was prepared to travel across the world to see a retrospective, it is his unique representation of the level of affinity and appreciation of what are essentially spatial juxtapositions, so clinical and technical; yet so original … and so difficult to articulate.

Mouse Whisper

Wrestling with concept of Suprematism?

A plane of painted colour hung on a white sheet of canvas imparts a strong sensation of space directly to our consciousness. It transports me into an endless emptiness, where all around you sense the creative nodes of the Universe.” – Kazimir Malevich.

To be read in conjunction with “Untitled (Suprematist Painting) painted in 1915 now hanging in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Modest Expectations – James Phipps

So many of the antics around the Voice “yes” case are classic rent seeking. The more the whole argument proceeds, so the clarity of the rent seeking basis of the promoters’ “Yes” case become. I have hesitated to muse out loud, but there is still nothing substantive for those who are thinking about their vote to hold back on disclosing what this exercise has become.

I have read the news for the last week, and positive outcomes have occurred in one case specifically and in another generally without waiting for the Voice to happen.

During this last week, the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation in South Australia has the Federal Court ruling in its favour in relation to a nuclear waste dump. The Federal Education Minister has opened the universities to essentially positive affirmation for Indigenous people. Then Michael Mansell, whose playbook is that of protest, comes out with a reasoned argument to call off the referendum all together and start negotiating a treaty. At no stage has there been any impediment because Aboriginal rights have not been incorporated into the Constitution, and with all respects, what happened this past week epitomises policy development.

At the same time there is negative news. In the Northern Territory, as reported by the ABC, the Gove bauxite mine will close by 2030 and other major mines have either ceased or are set to finish up in Jabiru and Groote Eylandt. This will see millions of dollars in royalties evaporate from regional economies across the NT.  As further reported by the ABC, author Richard Trudgen, who has been living and working with Yolŋu in north-east Arnhem Land for half a century, many people aren’t even aware the royalty payments are coming to an end.

The aboriginal landowners have received $700 million in royalties over 42 years from the Rio Tinto Gove operation. As reported by the ABC, “flash cars and grog” have consumed much of these royalties, plus the cost of bickering by the landowners over the rightful division of the royalties. Enter at this spot, the lawyers and the anthropologists, and they have, as expected, carved a proportion of the royalties away.

The money has provided investment in a sawmill, and the ABC reported that it had been productive; yet on the day the ABC reporters visited, there was only one worker on site, the rest were on the local version of “sorry business”. So, what’s new? To think that these Aboriginal mobs having had the chance to invest the royalties are talking about going back on welfare mocks the very essence of the “Yes” case.

The problem is to define any objective except that of a few well-placed Aboriginals having a go at bluffing the Australian people into this rent seeking exercise, which is essentially a sophisticated form of “sit-down” money. The arguments on both sides are as crude and as ill-thought through as one another.

The “No” vote is being hijacked by the community racist element, which lies very close to the surface of Australian society. Given the flimsiness of the “Yes” case as presented to date, this has allowed the racist element to gain far more currency than it should have had. The “Yes” case should have been framed to support constructive evolution and admit the failure of the current funding model.

Unfortunately, the “Yes” campaign is bereft; it could have been built on what has been accomplished, given the amount of funding being sunk into Aboriginal affairs. Having seen waste, having seen success in Aboriginal policy, I would have recommended that the Voice should have recognised what works and used the Voice as a logical progression instead of the attempt to exacerbate guilt among whitefellas, most of whom with all due respect have never spent time with Aboriginals, and are in a quandary because much of Aboriginal policy has been confusing, if not frankly incoherent.

Still, no way can I align myself to the racists overtones of the “No” case. 

Death of the Boondoggle?

The value to Sydney after the Games has been minuscular – loaded with unusable infrastructure – stadia that are dismantled or provide a haven for weeds.  Cycle paths through a wasteland are not a big deal. Such disasters writ large in both Athens and Brazil. All the while the IOC provides the world with specimens such as John Coates, immersed in formalin jars of the past.

By 2032, an Australia Olympics may find itself drowned by a Viral debt, rising seas and irrelevance, through a lack of sponsors and tourist attractions dying from global warming. I believe this is not too much a dystopian view given what’s happening, looking around the world and seeing the ecological disaster being played out well beyond the horizons of this current euphoria.Modest Expectations, 30 July 2021

It’s a comprehensive let down for the athletes, the excited host communities, First Nations Australians who were at the heart of the Games, and the millions of fans that would have embraced a sixth home Games in Australia.”

The multi-city model for delivering Victoria 2026 was an approach proposed by the Victorian Government, in accordance with strategic roadmap of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) … beyond this, the Victorian Government wilfully ignored recommendations to move events to purpose-built stadia in Melbourne and in fact remained wedded to proceeding with expensive temporary venues in regional Victoria.

Craig Phillips AM, Commonwealth Games Australia Chief Executive Officer – 18 July 2023

Australia is fast becoming the dumping ground for unwanted sporting events. I identified the Brisbane Olympic Games as a potential boondoggle about two years ago but missed writing about the extravagant Andrews’ offer to fund the 2026 Commonwealth Games and in the proposed involvement of regional centres that were being showered with kudos for being – Drum roll – “inclusive”. Then it was all about Andrews getting votes in the Victorian regional areas to win the then forthcoming election, and indeed crush the hapless coalition.

Jeroen Weimar is a very smart man, and Premier Andrews fortuitously put him in charge of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. He would have done the sums, because one of his briefs would have been to predict the real cost and the real benefits. Then, enter the inevitable consultants and the rubbery cost accounting which these firms have allegedly used. They would have constructed a number of scenarios, and they all came up with a brick wall of massive debt. Andrews could then be criticised as being a “mug lair”, a show pony who on occasions has had to be rescued without representational scars, this time by Dr Weimar with one or other of his collections of metaphorical lifebuoys.

Nevertheless, the figure of $7 billion is about as fanciful as the other figures; it was a big enough “alternative fact” – allegedly – as all the other figures are, but enough for Premier Andrews to unequivocally justify the cancellation. If the figure had been, say $4 billion, then there would have been the quibbler brigade, but $7 billion slammed the door shut.  Not that it has any effect on my agreement with the decision to cancel. But to reassure the public, with a straight face, I would suggest all the cost accounting for this Games be released with accompanying assumptions.

On the other hand, Phillips AM is very much part of the Coates Hoodwink. He contradicts himself; and forgets that nobody wanted the Games after Durban was stripped from holding them, because it could not afford the extravagance. He conveniently forgets the proposed 2030 games, which are to celebrate 100 years since the first British Empire Games were held in the Canadian city of Hamilton. Hamilton has indicated that it does not want to hold the 2030 Games – nor does any other Canadian city.

We have come a long way from Premier Fahey jumping around like a dervish when Sydney was awarded the Olympic Games in 1994. Coates seems to have sniffed the winds of change in relation to the Commonwealth Games, because his reaction was that of dancing the Edging Away.

It is inevitable for someone to disclose the lack of policy raiment these jingoista in pursuit of fool’s gold have. During the games, the media obsesses with the progressive medal tally – have we more gold medals than England?  Has Australia won more gold medals than anybody else? Really, who cares when we wake up next morning, except the individual with the medal. The crowds are gone and facilities built for a two-week event lie empty.

Percy Bysshe Shelley put it perfectly:

My Name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Ozymandias – wrecked

Time for the Commonwealth Games Federation to face the inevitable. The Boondoggle has burst. 

What about the Olympic Games?

My original comments were directed towards the 2032 Games, which nobody wanted. As the time draws closer, the value of the commitment will become clearer. In the meantime, the 2030 Winter Olympics need to be sorted. Ostensibly there seem to be four applicants – Sweden (venue not yet revealed), Sapporo in Japan, Utah (presumably Salt Lake City, where the 2002 games were held and were the biggest to date) and a late entry from France.

The latest information this month: Utah taxpayers have spent nearly $92 million on the state’s Olympic facilities in recent years, a total that could exceed $140 million as they’re readied for another Winter Games as well as for continued community and athlete use.

Utah announces its bid

Salt Lake is thus the only unequivocal bidder, but would prefer 2034, so as not to overlap Los Angeles’ bid to raise the required funding for its Olympic Games. Sapporo seems to blow hot and cold, because of scandals surrounding the Tokyo games; plus, the Sapporo residents have not been particularly keen.

Sweden is in a similar situation of the Swedes blowing hot and cold, but at this stage of the cycle they are apparently positive. France has indicated an interest – late but the IOC obviously welcoming the fact that two Alpine districts are interested. Vancouver pulled out because of financial considerations. So, to say the situation is fluid at the present is to ignore the possibility that everything will be washed away. And, of course, will there be enough snow anyway?

It should be remembered that the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games were awarded in 2017, and the World has changed mightily since then. The Paris Games are scheduled to start on 26 July next year. Will Europe be as hot then as it is now?

Discovering Fire on the West Coast

I have spent a great deal of time in Broken Hill and it was a privilege to work there as I have said many times, especially when I had a bloke like Clyde Thompson working alongside of me. Clyde is a guy so different from me that once we knew how to communicate, he became one of my most admired persons to cross my path.

Mundi Mundi Plains

Just down the road is the settlement of Silverton, where life had centred around the pub. If I drove out further to the end of the macadam, below were the Mundi Mundi Plains stretching out West as far as the eye could see, a beautiful place to watch the sunset while drinking a flute of champagne.

Silverton has been the site of many Australian films, and the road out to the Mundi Mundi plains was where the early Mad Max films were made.

I have referred to the time my son was bumped off the then Eastern Airlines flight from Mildura to Broken Hill, by a film team shooting a Coke advertisement on the Plains.

It was the time when the desert loomed large in Australian films if, in that other scenario, stunt riders were in cars and not galloping horses at breakneck speed across the Alpine landscape.

So, when we saw the trailer for the new Marta Dusseldorp TV drama, Bay of Fires, we immediately recognised it as Zeehan, just down the road from Strahan.

The actual Bay of Fires is on the east coast of Tasmania, whereas Zeehan is not, which is mildly confusing.

Zeehan’s main street

Zeehan is an old West Coast mining town, and it had been not only wealthy once but also at that time the third biggest settlement in Tasmania after Hobart and Launceston. It was also known as Silverton and, lying as it does on the one of most mineralised areas on the Planet, was rich in ore. Both silver and gold were originally mined, but now just outside Zeehan there’s a nickel mine and in the area considerable zinc mining. It’s difficult to assess how much, but what we do know is that Australia has the largest deposits of this element, and is the third largest exporter. Then, to the north, there are the tin mines which extend around Rosebery, and then Queenstown down south, where the Mount Lyell mine has produced one million tonnes of copper ore as well as considerable amounts of silver and gold.

This mineral background has nothing to with the plot of this drama, but its establishment has provided the sets for the drama, in the faded yet still ornate Victorian and Federation buildings which line the very broad main street of Zeehan.

Very few people now live in the town permanently and during the filming, which occurred during the height of the COVID pandemic, the film crews were able to sequester the whole population indoors while providing them with food and the other essential needs.

If you get the angles right, Zeehan achieves what the producers wanted to project – foreboding. It rains on the West Coast on most days of the year. In winter, snow periodically blocks the Murchison Highway which bypasses Zeehan; however, from Zeehan there is another good road to Strahan, which is the only port on the West Coast.

Strahan, located on Macquarie Harbour which is bigger than Sydney Harbour, was where the ore was taken to be shipped. Railways preceded roads. The modern road to Strahan from Zeehan is an easy drive, whereas the Murchison Highway to Queenstown ducks and weaves through the undulating land where rainforest creates many blind corners.

Zeehan, from the right camera angles, epitomises the isolation of a faded township surrounded by this mass of deep green brooding forest which, in parts, has existed in a form not much different from when the dinosaurs roamed. Rivers flow dark because of the tannin washed into them from the button grass on the high meadows, which lie above the forests of blackwood, myrtle and sassafras, not forgetting the native pines. Man ferns abound, and the ground underfoot is marshy. The beaches are windswept, this being the land of the Roaring Forties – icy winds that sweep in from the west, and sou-west.   There are pine plantations, there are huge dunes, and there are stripped slashes of earth where pine plantations have been cleared. The eye of the camera sees that the overall atmosphere projects suspense – something in the dark gloom about to happen. Welcome to the world of an Australian Ingmar Bergman – perhaps not by this “Bay of Fires”.

The old hospital, Strahan

In relation to the “Bay of Fires” eight-part series, I hope to watch all of it to see how the film producers use these surroundings to develop the plot. The house where the characters played by Marta Dusseldorp and her two children live is the old hospital at Strahan, which lies not far from our property. Unfortunately, when you know a place as well as I do, I can’t help trying to spot the actual location, and see how much script licence has been taken. The problem is that you tend to lose the plot in more ways than one.

These refugees are kept awake by Tasmanian devils. I suppose this spices the plot up, but I’ve never heard them, let alone have them keep me awake.  They do not substitute for wolves.

Anyway, the plot seems to have a certain similarity to others of that ilk – good people being pursued by bad men into a community where there are dark secrets. I can visualise many of the places here on the West Coast, where dramatic cliches can be very well enacted. At the end of the first episode our heroine, having crashed through the house floor, sees something growing under the house … which the second episode confirms is a marijuana crop.

The second episode extends the sets to a Queenstown motel, distinguished by the characteristic bare peak of one of its mountains peeping over the roof of the motel. The location of the final scene seems to be at Nelson Falls on the other side of Queenstown, where the Dusseldorp character finds the body of the local real estate agent, who has been murdered. I’m now getting more and more involved in the story, rather than just analysing the background.

What you find on YouTube

Arturo Toscanini

In 1944, to honour the Allied victory in Italy, legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini–a refugee from Fascism in his home country–decided to conduct a performance of Verdi’s “Hymn of the Nations”. “Hymn” is a composition that Verdi originally built around the national anthems of Britain, France, and Italy. In order to honour all four of the major Allies, Toscanini decided to add “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the U.S. and “The Internationale” for the Soviet Union.  

The music was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with the Westminster Choir and the great tenor Jan Peerce as soloist; conducted by Toscanini. It was filmed as a featurette to be shown in movie theatres, and was narrated by Burgess Meredith. In the early 50’s, at the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, U.S. censors excised the portion of this performance that featured the “Internationale”. For years the sequence containing The Internationale was considered forever lost. But recently a copy of this missing piece of film was rediscovered in Alaska. So now this rousing rendition of the Internationale–together with chorale and orchestra under the direction of a great conductor–can be enjoyed again.

Mouse Whisper

North of Zeehan is the Pieman River. There is a car ferry to enable travellers to cross the river and the cost given that I could, on a good day, swim across was for years $10. (Recently increased to $20 for a three-minute crossing.) When you think about it, it’s an outrageous fee scale. In the $10 days, there was an additional hurdle to cross the river.  If you pressed the call button more than once, the ferryman at the time – as punishment – would not come out from his hut in Corinna, the tiny settlement on the northern side of the river. Thankfully he has gone.

In relation to the name, Pieman, the legend is that there was a convict who escaped from the penal colony at Macquarie Harbour with other convicts, and as they all starved, he killed them serially and turned them into meat pies.

Not true, but a good, if gory, story. This man, Alexander Pearce was in a fact a serial cannibal.  The actual pieman was another convict, who also escaped from the same penal colony at Macquarie Harbour. He was indeed a pastry cook, but not a cannibal. There is no record that the two ever met and exchanged recipes.

But awaiting us is the film, perhaps Pie are squared.

Pieman River

Modest Expectations – San Xavier del Bac

We spent three days talking about the language of the NATO communique. I couldn’t think of something less consequential to the result of the counteroffensive — and the most important goal: winning the war. Josh Rogin, Washington Post

The charade in Lithuania has come to an end.  NATO met and decided to let the Ukrainians continue to take the brunt of Putin’s madness.

The American playbook is that of before. Let the Russians exhaust themselves against an American surrogate foe that, once balanced and fed sufficient arms, will never surrender their homeland. An independent Ukrainian homeland was once a fiction, just as under the reign of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus is once again a satrap of Russia. But not Ukraine.

The inconvenient fact that the Ukrainians must face is that Crimea was handed over to the Ukrainian SSR in a fit of pique by Khrushchev.  Then it did not matter. Russia had absorbed the Ukraine in the early nineteenth century, and Crimea was very Russian, especially given what Stalin had done to the Crimean Tatars and other minorities.

The three Baltic states, even though they have been squeezed into NATO, continue to be nervous. In the case of the Estonian Boot, a road connecting two parts of Estonia goes through Russia, and there have been strict rules for Estonian usage, which could be revoked.

South is Latvia, where a significant part of the population is Russian speaking; when I visited four years ago, our driver was particularly stressed when I asked him to stop so we could photograph the Russian embassy.

The third Baltic country is Lithuania. As we were sitting out in the sun in Vilnius having coffee, the Lithuanian High Command cars parked in front of us and drifted into our hotel for a meeting. At that time coincidentally, Belarus had loosened requirements for flights into Minsk. The land border between Lithuania and Belarus was still a pain in the backside, restricting the crossings in true Russian bureaucratic tradition, but accessible. No longer.


One of the problems with this part of the world is the constant presence of socio-geographical anomalies. After the Treaty of Versailles, it was the Polish Corridor, and the free port of Danzig. Then there was the sliver of land called Memel, between Lithuania and East Prussia. All of these added to the combustible nature of the region between the two World Wars.

Kaliningrad, once the Eastern Prussian city of Königsberg, remains. It is an exclave of Russia, where it stores its Baltic fleet during winter and which bristles with all the hacking devices that Putin can stuff into this former part of East Prussia. NATO could occupy it tomorrow, but the nuclear threats from Putin inspire fear among all the NATO crowd not to do so.

It is fascinating to watch this assortment of European governments, always under the American flag, (or in the case of Korea the UN) willing to pick a fight with the brown and yellow – first Korea, then Vietnam and finally Iraq and Afghanistan. Australian governments like the faithful drover’s dog keeps running alongside the Americans wanting to be rewarded for our faithfulness. It’s a form of “look at me”, and then we participate in Wars that the Americans do not win.

With one exception, in which Australia did not participate, and that was the “shadow” war that drove the Russians from Afghanistan – at a cost. America provided sufficient weaponry and logistic advice for it to be used against them when the Taliban shifted from being ally to enemy.

Now it is clear that Zelensky was not expected to be the strong man that he has become, given his various predecessors’ weakness in being susceptible to Russian interference. The pathetic responses of some of the NATO members saying that the Ukranians should be more grateful. For what? Hissy fits do not help – just shows a whiny weakness.

I believe NATO should be thankful for Zelensky because it is the ultimate ceasefire, if not peace, which will need a strong and canny leader. Ukraine will be in ruins and much of its youth dead or maimed. Whether the outcome will advantage Ukraine and move the Russians back beyond the borders will be difficult, given the rules of the game, devised probably by “those smart ugly Americans”, whose simulacra lost the Vietnam War.

Zelensky will keep requesting the weapons to defeat the Russians or to forge a stalemate. There is no doubt as to that because he has not been given the aircraft he needs to challenge the air superiority afforded to the Russians. Drones are cheap, and increasingly sophisticated in avoiding detection and killing people. What must be most galling for Zelensky is the attempts to make him a puppet, to do what the ossified brains want, these bureaucracies like NATO, where the original intent had been lost in a whirl of paper and high living by “the braided bunch”.

War was the last thing NATO want or expected, because the threat of a nuclear holocaust was sufficient deterrent for the Cold War to be anything but a giant charade. So they thought.  Unfortunately, Putin came along, with all the mythology which seems to be entwined in Russian Orthodoxy with delusions of Peter the Great. This is Putin the Great – and greatness comes out of conquest.

The commentator in The Washington Post makes prophetic sense in attempting to define the end game

That line is going to have to be on Ukraine’s 1991 internationally recognized borders. I don’t think anything short of that is going to be sustainable in the long term. Although I would put an asterisk on Crimea. I think that there is a potential for a deal on Crimea if the Ukrainians can take back Donbas and the rest of the Russian-occupied territory. They could say, “We’re not going to recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea, but we’re going to live with it for now.”

A solution canvassed is the so-called armistice arrangement as pertains to North and South Korea with the line drawn at the 38th parallel. Given that it is almost seventy years since these arrangements were set in place, a line drawn across Crimea delineating Russia territory from Ukraine may provide a solution. The Dnipro River may have been such a line, but the Ukrainians have allegedly crossed it, even though the Kharkova dam destruction must have altered the geography to some extent, probably enough to encourage the generals to draw new lines.

Aftermath of the destruction of Kharkova Dam

Peace will inevitably come in some form or another, but for Zelensky this will pose problems. Here I assume he will be still in charge of the country, when that time comes, and assuming the Americans continue to provide enough resources to prevent any successful Russian counterattack. However, wartime leaders in democracies have a tendency to be voted out at the end of hostilities – and unless Zelensky is superhuman, the adrenalin will drain away – and he will be looking for a place to sleep. Yet I admit my comment is totally speculative, like backing a nag in a horse race. Even worse – not knowing the odds.

There will be at least two major challenges to win the peace before the bureaucracy proceeds quickly enough for Ukraine to be incorporated into NATO.

The first is to make the fertile plains, where the war has been waged in Eastern Ukraine, safe. Russia and Ukraine contribute over 25 per cent of the world wheat exports, the largest amount shipped by Russia. Ukraine contributes seven per cent, a greater amount than Australia exports. One notable fact is that in 2001, Russian export of wheat was one per cent of world exports. In the intervening period, Russian exports have risen to provide a critical amount of an essential part of food security. The Ukraine contribution is also significant.

Therefore, there awaits a huge potential cost of removal of mines and unexploded bombs, which will be made worse if cluster bombing is introduced. Talk about Killing Plains!

Another problem for Zelensky is to rid the country of the endemic corruption, which slinks just below the surface. As reported the Ukrainian oligarchs are sitting out the War in places like Monaco, plotting and planning how to exploit the chaos of a truce, armistice, surrender, whatever. Hopefully, Zelensky has their measure.

Overall, Ukraine will need a Marshall Plan assistance, not only to restore the damage, but also to ensure the Ukrainian identity and cultural independence, which the War has shown are so important. As one example, whether the Ukrainians dump the Cyrillic script, as some other Slavonic countries have done, would be one consideration for the Ukrainians to emphasise their difference from Russia. Then there is the whole debate about religious differences.

Also, there is a need to assure stability in the nuclear energy industry. The War has shown how vulnerable these facilities are, and how madmen try to insert them as pieces on the Wargame Board. Chernobyl lies within Ukraine, testimony to nuclear disaster turning the power station into a concrete bunker surrounded by a wasteland, a scenario in full sight. Thus, given the Chernobyl experience, it makes sense for nuclear facilities to be supervised by an international organisation especially in the case of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, currently under Russian control and ten times bigger than Chernobyl.

I am sure that Zelensky views the whole mess into which his country has been placed with the satirical edge of the comedian.  Maybe his insights into the frailties of the human condition will be just the quality needed to survive the peace.

Unless Trump is again unleashed on the World in 2025.

Does a Stone Skip or Bounce?

In an article in a 2002 issue of the New Scientist there is an analysis of stone skimming. Here, this pastime of stone skimming has been reduced to a mathematical formula. At that time the world record for stone skimming was 38 skips on the Texan Blanco River by one Jordane Coleman McGhee. Since then, in 2013, Kurt Steiner set the Guinness World Record for “most consecutive skips of a stone” with 88 skips. The record was achieved at Red Bridge, near Kane, Pennsylvania. For someone such as myself, who reckons five skips is not bad, what a difference!

A French physicist, Lydéric Bocquet, was intrigued with the physics of this phenomenon while watching his son. So as the article said, “he tinkered with some simple equations describing a stone bouncing on water in terms of radius, speed and spin and taking account of gravity and water drag.”

It was unsurprising that theoretically the faster the spinning stone, the more it will bounce. Maintaining the spin prevents the stone from tipping over into the water. He then took the current world record at that time and he predicted the stone would be travelling at 40 km/hr and spinning at 14 rotations per second.

The current world champion, Kurt Steiner, has relied on empiricism and, believe it or not, he has collected more than 10,000 “quality rocks” and has sorted each according to its type, to prepare for the best possible throw. He looks for stones “that weigh between 85 and 230 gm, are very smooth (they don’t have to be perfectly round), flat bottoms and are between 6-8 mms in thickness.” It sounds as if he does not have much of a life in Kane, which is a small township in northern Pennsylvania. But what wrist strength this guy must have as compensation.

Bocquet added that he was just re-discovering a piece of history. Barnes Wallis must have done the same sort of mathematics and experiments when designing the “bouncing bomb” for the Dambusters squadron during World War II. 

Culinary Dystopia

In the wonderful quest for new experiences, I have three where this initial experience, if not completely horrendous, verged on gustatory nightmare.

I was reminded of the first by this long article in The Guardian about borscht. I advisedly spell it the Yiddish way because it was presented to us one Friday night at Shabbat. As I understand it, heating the food for Shabbat is not done, so when we sat down we were presented with this blood red beetroot cold soup. For those of us not used to such soup, including myself, I felt as I sipped it, my stomach immediately rejecting it and that going down was met by that coming up. I was not alone. There is no etiquette for vomiting at the dinner table, especially when presented with a signature dish. There was a certain embarrassment, but the gefilte fish attracted more positive comments. I must say that I have eaten borscht since, but always warm – not that I have a phobia about cold soup. Iced gazpacho on a hot day is a magnificent culinary antidote on such a day.

The second disastrous introduction was to the avocado. One night, we had been invited to a dinner party. It was sometime in the early 1960s. The hostess produced this unfamiliar green fruit, which vaguely resembled a pebbled-skin pear. However, nobody had told her that they had to be ripe to eat. Hence, we struggled with the yellowish flesh surrounding the central seed. Unripe avocado flesh, as we found out, was like concrete, and after hacking pieces of this flesh, it proved completely inedible. Nobody had thought to read anything about the fact that avocados had to ripen – and as we were already well lubricated, the avocados were swiftly destined for the rubbish bin.

Several years passed before the avocado was revisited. The first avocados attacked were probably Haas, but the one I purchased from a barrow in central Sydney changed my whole notion of avocado. It was a smooth skinned variety, plump rather than lean like the Haas. Its flesh was ripe, closer to orange than yellow. It was the best avocado I have ever eaten, but I’ve never seen another one like it again, presumably because this variety ripens too quickly or lacks the commercial resilience of the Haas variety, which seems to dominate the avocados on sale.

With familiarity comes the elegance of shoving the unripe avocado into a brown paper bag with a banana, the ethylene emitted from it accelerating the avocado ripening.

The third disastrous introduction was to the persimmon. There are two varieties of persimmon – those that are astringent when not perfectly ripe and those which are not. This time the particular hostess proudly presented us with persimmons as a treat at the end of the meal. Unfortunately, they were the astringent types, and I referred to my mouth after eating a sliver as being like having an Axminster carpet lining my mouth, so great was the astringency.

Nothing since has created this buccal environment to such an extent. Since then, most persimmons on sale have been of the non-astringent variety, until last week when the Chinese greengrocer chuckled his warning that my wife had purchased the “old ones”. We immediately knew what he meant, and let the persimmon ripen until it was so ripe as to be soggy. Persimmons in this state are very pleasant, but best eaten over the sink.

In the end, it demonstrates the adage, you live and learn – so long as the offering is not poisonous rather than just inedible. One wonders with so much cooking material published across all forms of media, that the ignorance we showed then would occur to-day.

Just One Invasion Day 

It has become fashionable among some of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to classify us whitefellas as invaders. But we are an essentially homogeneous “mob” of colonisers – the only invaders who stayed. We are British with a Celtic spine.  Australia had just one single coloniser, despite being originally known as New Holland and the name of the Island to the South, Tasmania.

Explorers from other European countries came, saw the Australian coastline and did not remain. The colonisation of Australia was neither Africa nor Asia or for that matter the Americas. It was essentially monochromatic – British imperial red.  We Australians of Anglo-Celtic descent did not have to either fight other colonial powers or buy part of the Continent from another European coloniser.

Too hostile an environment …

It is ironic that Australia, now a popular tourist destination with magnificent beaches, was rejected by these early European explorers who saw it as too hostile an environment to colonise.

I would have said that the Aboriginals just invaded some time before when land bridges made movement easier. It is interesting that the original mob came without animals, in particular they lacked horses – and also the wheel.

The dingo was brought by the Macassar traders about 4,000 years ago. The trade between these Sulawesans and the local Aboriginals in sea cucumber existed until the early years of 20th century.  They came down to fish but not to stay, taking their catch back when the winds changed and blew them back home where they sold the dried sea cucumber product to the Chinese.

Yet the Torres Strait Islanders are a potpourri of Melanesians and Polynesians admixed with Aboriginal people. I have witnessed the discrimination of Horn Aboriginal islanders by their Torres Strait Islander neighbours even though they all have been recognised as part of the Australian indigenes. Yet the Torres Strait Islanders have never moved southwards to settle on Cape York Peninsula nor the islands in the Gulf.Luis Torres, himself was a Portuguese in command of a Spanish ship, sailed through the eponymous Strait in 1606, without stopping (that we know of), on his way to Espiritu Santo in what is now Vanuatu.

However, in all the Voice debate, it is to a heterogeneous world of multiple Aboriginal mobs who, in the long term, only needed to deal with one European power – us British with Celtic overlay, who have facilitated a debate about the Voice rather than a conglomerate of the Voix, Stem, Rолос or Voz. Imagine getting a world of multiple colonisers to agree on what it means – would the Aboriginals thus be so lucky as to have to deal with only one set of “invaders”.

Ourselves to Know

Then I won’t pursue the subject, but you believe that a painter is restricted by three dimensions? Those of his canvas and the third one, imaginary, his fear of his mediocrity?”

“I didn’t say mediocrity! A man can be first-rate and still have that fear. Oh, indeed! The great ones have it earlier and later than the fourth-raters, they always have it. Their greatness is in going on and on until they know they’ve gone as far as they can, then they still go on doing their best work, sometimes for a year, sometimes for ten years. Then, if they’re lucky, they die. If they’re easily frightened, they kill themselves while they’re still able to do their best work, with some left undone.”

“Would you ever commit suicide?”

“How could I? I don’t care that much about anything. And I’ve protected myself by engaging in a large assortment of activities, so that if one thing ceases to interest me, I have others that will.”

“I don’t believe you. I think you care very deeply about some things.” 

“Then that’s the most intelligent observation you’ve ever made about me,” said Chester Calthorp. “I care greatly about a great many things. Have you always known that?” 

“I guess so.” 

John O’Hara

John O’Hara is now not the most fashionable of American novelists. He wrote “Ourselves to Know” which was first published in 1960, to much acclaim. The dust jacket echoed this regard when there was written about this book: “… at the height of his powers John O’Hara has produced a masterly study of a man and his destiny.”

This above exchange is between two young men when they were in Paris – Robert Millhouser (later convicted of uxoricide as the book tells us) and Chester Calthorp (who is revealed as homosexual), both affluent. What seems weird to me is how much I understand what this exchange is about while not knowing whether my interpretation has coincided with the author’s intent.

Most of us are pedestrian but we struggle under the delusion we can do or become better. Some do claw their way to the top of whatever pile they have seen from the valley of ambition and want to scale. Then, wherever one is on the slope, there is always the doubt, the failure, the suicide of compensation. To guard against that we should diversify our ambition in order to combat obsession with just one goal, but only if one has the capacity to care, which O’Hara writes lifts one to a higher plane. Metaphorically, look around and see if you are alone. If so, then you will never have the capacity to care.

This is my interpretation, and I wish I could express it as well as O’Hara. But at least I recognised something which is embedded deeply in my psyche. After all, the novel is long, and I am not the type of person who reads every word. But this passage has stuck in my mind.

Mouse Whisper

John O’Hara wrote the book for the musical Pal Joey, which was set to music by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. The book came from a series of short stories in New Yorker about a con man and night club performer, Joey Evans.

The lead role in this 1940 musical first performed at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York was Gene Kelly, then little known.

To say it received “mixed” reviews would be somewhat kind. But probably one of the most famous quotes came from Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times: “Although it is expertly done, can you draw sweet water from a foul well?”

Modest Expectations – Karnataka

Nesting osprey

I was going through my memorabilia, and I came across my sand dollar, which I remember was given to me by friends who lived on the outer islands of South Carolina, to be precise where they had a house on Fripp Island. We stayed there a few times, and one of the memories which has stayed with me was seeing the osprey in the morning, the birds appearing to wake up with dawn.

I must say I do have fond memories of South Carolina because it was the place where I came to love scallops. The Gay Fish Company had their base on a nearby island in what is termed the low country, in other words a high class swamp. Their daily harvest of scallops was caught early, and these were notably large and sweet; one had to get down there early because when the catch was sold there were no more for the day. As I said, before staying there, I was not keen on scallops, but these Gay-harvested scallops changed my mind. I doubt if since I have ever had such large scallops with such flavour.

The sand dollar is also known as the Holy Ghost Shell, essentially the skeleton of a sea urchin. In South Carolina there are stiff penalties if one removes them live, but when they die, they are left as bleached calciferous discs. They are not uncommon, but as they tend to be fragile, by the time they get to the beach most are cracked or chipped. I have two – one the natural remnant and the other made from base metal which I was given as a present. The shells are full of Christian symbolism relating to Jesus Christ.

The following is a common description of this symbolism. It is said that Christ left the sand dollar as a symbol to help the evangelists teach the faith. The five holes commemorate the five wounds of Christ, while at the centre on one side blooms the Easter Lily, and at the lily’s heart is the Star of Bethlehem. The Christmas poinsettia is etched on the other side, a reminder of Christ’s birth. According to this legend, if you break the centre, five white doves will be released to spread goodwill and peace.

Biologically, sand dollars are small invertebrates with distinctive exoskeletons sporting a star shape at the centre of their disc-like bodies. The tube feet and keratinous spines covering their bodies make living sand dollars look and feel like velvet. Common colourations of sand dollars are grey, dark purple, pink, red and charcoal.  When you pick them up, they’ll exude a yellow staining substance not unlike their relation, the sea urchin. Even though I associate the sand dollar with South Carolina, they are distributed worldwide and can live for up to ten years. The sand dollar is edible, but it seems only the Japanese regularly include it in their cuisine.

Living in this low country is somewhat of a lottery because of regular hurricanes, and our friends lost a new Volvo parked under their house – the pedantic might call it an undercroft filled with water. However, that is the problem. The times we were there the sun sparkled, the unreal emerald colour shone from the fairways and the nearby picturesque Beaufort, pronounced “Bue-fort” not “Beau–fort”, had that Southern charm.  The islands – a string of privileged influence, which I doubt even the mystical sand dollar can save.

Fripp Island

Massacres of Aboriginals – The role of the Aboriginal Trooper

I always wonder how the descendants of the Indigenous troopers rationalise their ancestors’ role in the massacre of their Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Have they issued apologies – do they walk as penitents to atone for their ancestors’ action?

I have been to two of the sites where major massacres of Aboriginals occurred, and where there are monuments to those killed.

The first of these is approached on a hill above Bingara in northern New South Wales. It is a plain granite rock, and the path winds because it is supposed to represent the rainbow servant. In relation to the victims, it was a particularly savage attack by whitefellas. The victims were mainly women and children, decapitated, dismembered and burnt. Seven of the perpetrators were subsequently tried and hanged, which was itself controversial at the time. The problem was that the execution hardened colonial attitudes against the Aboriginal people, rather than creating any sympathy for them.

Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld

Previously, Major James Nunn, the Commandant of the New South Wales Mounted Police, had been sent from Sydney to lead a punitive expedition against the Aboriginal people who had killed stockmen in separate incidents. His response, however, was extreme. On 26 January 1838 Nunn and his men massacred Aboriginal people camped at Waterloo Creek. Contemporary reports were vague about the number massacred. Some suggested eight deaths, others put the figure at 40-50, while Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, the Congregational minister and chronicler suggested it may have been more like 500.

Nunn also encouraged nearby stockmen and settlers to murder any Aboriginal person they came across. It was the opening salvo in the Myall Creek murders. I cannot find any evidence, at least not in the Threlkeld papers, that there were any Aboriginal troopers involved although Aboriginal men were recruited to the NSW Mounted Police. Rolf Boldrewood, in his reflections on his time spent as an early squatter in the Western District of Victoria, mentions the recruitment of Aboriginal troopers from the tribes around Tumut, hundreds of kilometres away. Native Police were recruited from 1837, only two years after the foundation of Melbourne and the opening up of the Port Phillip District.

Queensland, by contrast, had a strong history of Aboriginal troopers. I remember coming back from Normanton in the Gulf Country via the back road to Cloncurry. Near the hamlet of Kajabbi, there is a cairn which was dedicated by Charlie Perkins and a Kalkadoon elder, George Thorpe, in 1984. The memorial commemorates one hundred years since the battle between Aboriginal tribes, in particular the Kalkadoon, and the native Mounted Police under Sub-Inspector Fred Urquhart.  For eight years he commanded a huge swathe of Far Northern Queensland including not only the Gulf but also the whole of Cape York and Thursday Island.

The Kalkadoon had been rustling the white settlers’ cattle, because the cattle had reduced the native wildlife. The Kalkadoon were used to hunting the native fauna and in its absence, the settlers’ cattle would do. The settlers called in the police and pitched battles were fought. On multiple occasions Urquhart was wounded, but this “heroism” was rewarded eventually by his becoming the head of this squad. The native police were recruited, far from where they were posted, and were known to be particularly brutal in these so-called “dispersals”.

In 1884, at least fifty Kalkadoon were killed in these so-called skirmishes.

I have been to these two places where Aboriginal people were murdered and memorials created. One was where the presence of native troopers was unproven; and probably not involved. The other there was definite involvement.

The fact is that Aboriginals in the employ of the whitefellas massacred their fellow Aboriginal people. Not the normal tribal warfare, which has pockmarked the concept of Australia of being some form of blackfella Shangri-la, if it were not for the Invaders.

The Aboriginal people love their myths. Uluru is a myth. Too much of what has happened has been airbrushed away, as the amount of meeting after meeting after meeting, with the same images – with people like Patrick Dodson trying to stir whitefella guilt by implying that Australia will lose moral authority if Australia does not vote “Yes”.

Where is the moral authority when your ancestors were murdering your fellow Aboriginal people. What do you say now about moral authority? Apologies for police actions have been undertaken by whitefellas; where is the blackfella apology?

Frederick Douglass Back on Stage

The following is a part of a text which was read out in Somerville on July 4. It comes from a speech made in 1852 by the slave emancipator, Frederick Douglass, born a slave in Maryland in 1817, but who escaped as a child.

It was on 5 July 1852 that Douglass delivered an address in the newly built Corinthian Hall in Rochester New York. This speech eventually became known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” One biographer called it “perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given”.

Like many abolitionists, Douglass believed that education would be crucial for African Americans to improve their lives; he was an early advocate for school desegregation. In the 1850s, Douglass observed that New York’s facilities and instruction for African American children were vastly inferior to those for European Americans. Douglass called for court action to open all schools to all children. He said that full inclusion within the educational system was a more pressing need for African Americans than political issues such as suffrage.

It is ironic that the Supreme Court has just struck down the affirmative action by tertiary education institutions.  In the view of the Chief Justice John Roberts, the relevant part of the 14th Amendment, its equal protection clause, was meant to help bring about a colourblind society, not to support racial preferences. What is the difference when a Society is so heavily skewed to white privilege?

Frederick Douglass

The Douglass speech is much longer than the speech made by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, over a decade later, but it has the same gravitas, the same call to reform while invoking the ideal of the fledging Republic. The fact that slavery persisted so long in the USA has always cast a shadow over all the “high-falutin” oratory that was spun around in those years before, during and after the Civil War, when so many Americans killed one another just epitomises the conundrum of the “killing fields” in the land of the free. Over what?  An enmity which persists to the present day linked to skin colour.

In the meantime, with the delivery of this speech originally made close to the 4th of July, for those in the audience in Somerville near Boston this week, this speech has been a reminder of the unhealed self-inflicted wounds that the Americans make on themselves.

Americans! Your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina.

You invite to your shores, fugitives of oppression from abroad, honour them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation—a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse!

You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labour; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not coloured like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

The Virgin Armenian

Gary Sturgess

Gary Sturgess has left his mark on NSW.

ICAC was his idea.

Gladys Berejiklian has left her mark on NSW with her version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, as revealed in the ICAC folio.

What else?

Well, I have kept my own diary-blog during the Plague years, in which Premier Berejiklian figures prominently – one misstep after another, her feet firmly placed in her goody-two shoes.

The culmination of the idolatry came with the AFR article in April 2021 with Phillip Coorey cooing about the Woman who Saved Australia. There she was photographed in all her understated sultriness, swathed in virginal white, incongruously perched on the green benches of the Legislative Assembly.

I never could get that “saviour” line, given that the Ruby Princess fiasco occurred under her watch. And then it went on and on – and everybody praised her handling of the epidemic.

She was the third NSW Premier to be touched by the ICAC, and none have been bought to court. In fact, Greiner and Farrell have survived handsomely. After all, New South Wales has a tradition from the earliest days of letting those convicted of misdemeanours, if not felonies, to strut free. There is a list of parliamentary dross who have been convicted, including two of murder. Notwithstanding, there had not been any convictions for forty years, until “Buckets” Rex Jackson was convicted in 1987. Since the arrival of ICAC there have been more convictions than in all the years from 1987 back to 1891 when the first misdemeanour by a parliamentarian was reported.

As reported, in July 1999 Carmen Lawrence stood in the dock in Perth District Court silently mouthing the words “thank you, thank you, thank you” across the floor to the jury. Six men and six women had spent just 45 minutes deliberating before acquitting her of perjury after a trial lasting three weeks.

Carmen Lawrence would have been the third former Western Australian Premier in less than three years to be gaoled if she had been found guilty of having given false or misleading information to the 1995 Marks Royal Commission; the charges laid under section 24 of the Royal Commission Act 1968 carried a penalty of five years imprisonment.

Former Premiers Brian Burke and Ray O’Connor and former Deputy Premier David Parker all served time behind bars in the aftermath of the WA Inc Royal Commission. Brian Burke, in addition, was sentenced to three years jail after being convicted of stealing $122,585 from the Australian Labor Party between 1984 and 1985 to fund purchases for his own private stamp collection. The former Labor leader was also gaoled in late 1994 for fraud offences, but he was released after serving only seven months of a two-year term. In keeping with the traditions of NSW, Burke survived and went onto a successful career as a pro-business lobbyist, working in partnership with former ministerial colleague Julian Grill, also investigated by the CCC of WA, charged, but subsequently found not guilty of all charges.

In February 1995 the then 69-year-old former Premier Ray O’Connor also received a prison term after being found guilty in the Perth District Court of stealing a $25,000 cheque from Bond Corporation, which had been intended for Liberal Party campaign funds. O’Connor was originally given an 18-month jail term, but he was released after serving only six months. In September 1994 David Parker was sentenced to 18 months jail after being convicted of stealing $38,000 from his campaign accounts between 1986 and 1989.

So Western Australian Premiers have been especially naughty; but in Victoria there is a certain purity, the only convictions of parliamentarians have been for drink driving. In Queensland, after the Fitzgerald Inquiry, in 1991 the former Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was lucky that he was not convicted of perjury, largely because of the actions of the trial foreman, Luke Shaw. This person was an avowed “friend” of Bjelke-Petersen and National Party activist. Bjelke-Petersen was not re-tried because of his age and subsequent development of a form of dementia.

Berejiklian seems to have a high degree of hubris and little shame about the findings of ICAC, but here was a situation where the Commissioner could not win. Ruth McColl is a stickler for process, but she is not a practitioner of the dark arts of NSW politics. Therefore, if she takes too long, essentially a value judgement of the current NSW Premier, then there must be legislative redress to assure “the quick and dirty”. This Premier really is a piece of work. If McColl had spent less time, that group surrounding Berejiklian would have launched an assault on the Commissioner that she had given insufficient time to consider the matters under referral.  Nevertheless, I doubt whether Berejiklian saying that she wanted to spend more time with her family would bring any more incredulity than the idolatrous clamour from her claque is bringing upon her already.

What will be interesting is how Optus handles the situation. Does she damage the brand so that Optus, itself with a speckled reputation, is forced to release her back to the arms of her family.

McGuire and Berijiklian

There is an obvious question of probity, not just of some sort of stained Pollyanna. There is more to come. Influential members of the media are opposed to the secretive Armenian princess, and in the forthcoming travails of Daryl McGuire, it is inconceivable that she would not be mentioned in dispatches; plus, if she challenges the ICAC finding and expects her objections to be received in secret, she is living in fairyland.

In the meantime, those who have extolled Berejiklian should look to Plan B, because she has been spared by the drawn-out process, which in fact has provided a shield. That shield has gone; the decision is in.

Teddy Bairstow’s picnic

Lordy, Lordy! I believe gin is the preferred spirit of the game, but Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is gaining rapidly.

Not the tie but the jacket and cap … checking phone for current MCC Laws of Cricket on stumping

By the way, did you note the colour of the Lord’s tie. In our youth, we used to drink advocaat and cherry brandy – known colloquially among us medical students as blood and pus. Not that I would be that revolting.

Mouse Whisper

This mouse-myth is narrated by Herodotus, an unreliable Greek historian who lived in 5th century BC, and is said to have happened in Egypt. Whatever the truth, for we mice, it is entertaining.  Sethôs was an Ethiopian priest who became the ruler of Egypt at a time when the state was under Ethiopian domination, somewhere in the early 7th century B.C. Apparently when Sethôs clambered up to the throne, he made a point of showing he couldn’t care less about the “warrior-class” of Egyptians. He thus found himself without an army when the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded his country. Sethos fell asleep in the temple, and the god Hephæstus, appearing to him in a vision, told him that divine succour would come to the Egyptians. In the night before the battle, field-mice gnawed the quivers, the spears and the leather shield-handles of the Assyrians, who fled on finding themselves thus disarmed. “And now,” says Herodotus, “there stands a stone image of this king in the temple of Hephæstus, and in his hand a mouse, and there is this inscription, “Let who so look on me and be pious.”

Modest Expectation – French Blue

There has been quite a deal of criticism levelled at the Prime Minister in attending the wedding of another Australian who has climbed out of an impoverished childhood to become a successful, charmless media personality, such that The Personality has developed a fan base, an armoury of sponsors and a wide variety of acquaintances, if not friends. If the Prime Minister feels comfortable among that mob, well does it matter?

As long as he feels comfortable amongst that crowd that should be all that matters; his bubbly happiness, cuddling a small child surrounded by colourful identities. After all, this scene will be balanced by his imminent exposure to the ermine and cope as he bows his head when his Monarch, Charles III, progresses past, he murmuring “I did but see him passing by and yet I’ll love him till I die”. Lovely to see Our Prime Minister so comfortable, in the presence of a monarchic inheritor of Colonial Exploitation. Once a Republican, always a Fawnling.

One may say that one is a centrist in that you have centralised fawning as a political objective; so that the “They” will say nice things about you in public; and ergo this will attract votes and assure that one has cemented the Party in government. John Howard, when he mentioned “relaxed and comfortable”, he meant he was just one of the mob, who just happened to live in the Prime Minister’s Lodge, but he governed from within the electorate rather than leading the country, as Keating tried to do.

The difficulty with those who lead and do it so publicly, as Keating did, is that the electorate has limited tolerance, manifested as the “tall poppy syndrome”. First used in the last century, it refers to the habit of one of the Kings of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, of hacking the heads off his subjects when they emerged too much above the Parapet of Achievement.

As one commentator said about the syndrome “What ends up happening for some is they stop sharing their milestones with those whom they should feel comfortable confiding in, due to a fear of being resented, attacked or ostracised.”

Says it all. Thus, will Our Prime Minister return from his irrelevant trip as the Happy Prince? Has the fibro Monarchist emerged from his chrysalis of Disadvantage, a story of courage amid tears, to become such a contented enriched Icon?

Meanwhile build stadia not accommodation; open coal mines and sup with Santos, while supporting climate change by changing from summer to winter clobber; support a defence lobbyist industry while the poverty line is drilled further into single mothers and other disadvantaged; dine with News Ltd not The Guardian; let the Health system devised by his own Party in all its forms just wither while allowing the level of quackery blot out the cries of the sick.

St Edward’s Crown

Yes mate, I am glad you are laughing and happy clutching the baubles of Mediocrity – but you’re not forgetting your role as Head Elecutionist for The Voice.

Dampener on the Damper

The ABC with the engaging Tony Armstrong is presenting a nostalgic series about Australian customs. I remember when Peter Luck did a similar examination in This Fabulous Century in the late 1970’s. This 36-part series was superior in that the nostalgia was crisply presented. Nostalgia can become very boring and tiresome, and although Armstrong in many ways is very gifted, his charisma can sustain such an exercise for only so long. One segment which grated was the suggestion that the Aboriginal people were adept in bread making.  The sooner Mr Pascoe’s Dark Emu is jettisoned the better; the photograph of him fondling a piece of native grass, as if it was the basis of the Aboriginal bakery industry, is patently wrong. The episode of Armstrong’s show sought to show Aboriginal people grinding native grasses; which they did in small amounts – hardly justifying this segment  about the Aboriginal akin to a traditional baker.

Real damper is wheat based – flour, salt and water – developed by stockmen over a campfire; being simple, the ingredients could be rolled up in a swag and carried for long distances – as I found out, it was excellent with “cockie’s joy” or, as that was known by the whitefella non-cognoscenti, golden syrup.

I remember in Moorhouse’s book about the Burke and Wills expedition, “Coopers Creek”, a reference made to nardoo – seeds from a fern which the local Aboriginal people ground to form a type of primitive paste. However, there are some who say that nardoo is in fact toxic if improperly prepared, causing beri-beri, because  it contains the enzyme  thiaminase which destroys vitamin B1. There was never a bread industry, which is exemplified by the images in this latest documentary, which shows the grinding of seeds in a coolamon but never any resultant bread.

The Dark Emu approach that the Aboriginals had all the wherewithal, not only the expertise but also the techniques before any other h. sapiens, belies the fact that the Aboriginal people did not need to ape the whitefella to remove any residual belief that they are inferior. Their culture evolved in a way which should not be destroyed by concocted stories. The Aboriginal people have had a unique place, and I’m afraid to see it lost in a litany of confected lore.

Phoenix Dutton?

When the Coalition lost the 1972 Federal election, some of the younger members of the business community who were linked by their employment in McKinsey’s decided that the Federal Liberal party should have a Policy Unit. Establishing a Policy Unit was more difficult and took more time than envisaged. Few people of any intellectual capacity who were establishing their careers were attracted to work for a political party which, although it had not lost by a landslide, was bereft of ideas and outdated in attitudes and behaviour embodied by their defeated Prime Minister, Billy McMahon. The other issue is that policy development is not pamphleteering and superficial slogans, but has to deal with the difficulty of tackling the slippery concept of equity, where the concepts of cost-efficiency, cost effectiveness and cost utility intersect.

Geoff Allen

Snedden’s office was thus thrust into being the Policy engine room during this first year of Opposition, where a Liberal Party Coalition inured to having a bureaucracy at its beck and call for 23 years no longer had that luxury. Yet the group of people Snedden almost accidentally brought together in his office, was a group of people which formed the nucleus of a de facto policy unit. Geoff Allen, his long-time Press Secretary, was the catalyst; he attracted good staff with the ability to think in terms of policy while understanding that policy has to be cast within the political framework of the “do-able”. Later, after a stint at the Business Council, Allen used his ability to set up a highly successful consultancy. He had an unerring eye for talent, and he was a great networker.

John Goodfellow

He and Snedden’s Private Secretary, Joan Thomson, were integral in my survival as the learning curve in such an office is almost vertical. My area of expertise was health and social policy. There is no doubt that there is value in working one’s way up the adviser chain, if the model is one of developing policy, preparing briefs and parliamentary questions/responses. In this function, John Goodfellow was the go-to-person in Snedden’s office – equated to being a Human Google. He was the epitome of that indispensable person that every parliamentary office should have. At this point it should be noted that our Office was spare in terms of staff numbers compared to the present.

Now I would advocate that every Opposition leader should hold governments to account; not by mindlessly harassing public servants nor living within a bubble of nastiness seeking to create dirt files as if the aim of politics is always one of anarchic destruction.

The policy development we accomplished in 1973, and the first months of 1974 before the Liberal Party policy unit swung into action, was crucial to the Liberal Party. For instance, as we neared the mid-year 1973, Snedden’s office through the work led by John Knight, later an ACT Senator, ensured that the Party had moved well away from McMahon’s railing mindlessly against China.

Snedden was welcomed to Beijing at a time when the Americans were making tentative steps towards full diplomatic recognition of China. It was prior to the Whitlam visit without there being any rancour from the Government. In fact, Stephen Fitzgerald, the first Australian ambassador to China could not have been more helpful. The Gang of Four was still in ascendency.

Unlike Whitlam, Snedden did not meet Mao Tse-Tung, but if we had stayed a day longer a meeting with Chou En-lai was in the offing. However, we needed to get to Tokyo to meet the then the Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka and travelling from Beijing to Tokyo at that time was not a simple matter. Instead of meeting Chou we were flying south to Guangzhou (then Canton) with the Chinese women’s volleyball team on board with us.

It had only taken six months for this major change in the Liberal Party attitude and policy to occur, remembering it was coupled with an acceptance of Australian troops being pulled out of Vietnam.

Richard Sheppard’s impact on policy directions also should not be underestimated, particularly on shaping the economic agenda, even though Snedden had been the Treasurer in the last Coalition Government. (Sheppard later became inter alia a senior executive at Macquarie Bank.)

For example, one writer identified a shift way from the protectionism, with which the National Country Party led by John McEwen had saddled the Coalition prior to 1973. Here the advice of Sheppard is discernible.

The Liberal Party agreed also that a more rational approach to policy making was essential. As Bill Snedden argued: 

The economy, of course, must be seen as a whole in a modern economy. The different sectors are so closely linked that we could not afford to concentrate on one sector to the exclusion of all else (Commonwealth of Australia, 1973a: 2429). 

Statements such as this represented a shift of emphasis away from agriculture as the key to Australia’s growth, towards a model of economy in which all industries were constructed as competing on a level playing field.

Compare the Liberal Party’s fortunes in the first year under Dutton running the Opposition agenda. Where is the policy agenda? In addition, to complete a disastrous year, Dutton lost the by-election for the former safe seat of Aston. By comparison, Snedden was successful in the retention of Parramatta, with Philip Ruddock’s election to the seat.

Perhaps, the lesson of that first year in 1973 is too far back in the ether for the current bunch of Liberal leaders to examine why that first year in Opposition under Snedden revived the Coalition and what could be learned by the current mob. Mistakes were subsequently made, including the election of the rurally-socialised Malcolm Fraser, but that is another chapter.

There is a Spook under the Mattress

I’m reading A Small Town in Germany – one of the many spy novels written by John Le Carré, first published in 1968 at the height of the Cold War. Le Carré was in himself a man who worked in the spy industry, and his writing reflects the details which is a perfect definition of the tedium of the job.  I have never been a devotee of Le Carré, although I recognise the perfect encapsulation of a group of mostly men, inured to deception and conspiracy.

In two previous blogs I have briefly mentioned my glancing involvement in the world described by Le Carré.

I shared a study at Trinity College for one year with Sam Spry, well actually he was christened Ian Charles Fowell Spry, but acquired his nickname from Blamey; I forget why. We had been at school together and had been a moderately successful debating team.  He did law while I undertook medicine. His father was Brigadier Charles Spry, who was the second Director-General of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation between 1950 and 1970. Spry was very much a Menzies man, a fervent anti-communist behind a bland genial exterior.

After I had been elected President of the University of Melbourne Student’s Representative Council, we were visited by three Russian students, who were doing a university circuit. It was a time when the Soviet Union supported the International Union of Students while the CIA funded other student organisations, including the World Assembly of Youth. I was thought to be radical within the student body because of the company I kept. Nevertheless, as I was not aligned with any political party I was seen to have the impeccable credentials of having been at both Melbourne Grammar and Trinity College, as well as consorting with the Brigadier’s son.

I suppose I should not have been surprised when I was approached by a fellow student, Peter Thwaites. He asked me whether I would like to meet his father, Michael Thwaites. In addition to his role as an intelligence officer and being a close confidant of Brigadier Spry, Thwaites was like many in intelligence, an intellectual, in his case an acclaimed poet. Like most intelligence officers, they could present an urbane front and after the usual preliminaries, he suggested that I meet with some of his operatives. I said OK.

The Theosophy building then was an unremarkable building in Collins Street, and it was arranged that we meet them there. I was greeted by a couple of men in grey and shown to a room on one of the upper levels. I remember how bare the room was – desk, chairs and nothing else. One of my companions opened a drawer and took out a newspaper cutting. The subject matter was the imminent visit of the Russian students, and would I like to report on their visit. Just an innocent request.

One of the problems I had with the Thwaites was their adherence to Moral Re-Armament with its overlay of the founder, Francis Buchman’s admiration for Hitler before WWII. From my point of view their association with Moral Re-Armament was enough. I always associated its outwardly clean cut image with that of the clean cut, cold shower camaraderie of Nazi Youth.

I thought about wandering into the world of espionage, and as I was to find out, Trinity College was a recruiting ground for ASIO. There was a particular night when a former senior student, who was “in his cups” gave a hilarious rendition of his life within ASIO, but we were all also in varying degrees of intoxication, and thus the next morning only the memory of this very engaging night remained.

I never reported back. Sam believed that the “study” was just that – a monastic cell where you worked in silence broken only by small talk about share prices, where he was very successful player. A study was thus not a place for recreation; Sam always expressed his disapproval of my eclecticism not by direct confrontation but by decamping to the Baillieu Library to work.

After that year we barely communicated. He passed with honours, I negotiated the supplementary exam swamp successfully, but without magna cum laude. Our pathways totally diverged.

Yet, his experience left me with an intuitive grasp of this underworld in A Small Bulpaddock in Parkville. I would never know when there was a spook under the bed, but I would recognise it. Metaphorically, of course.

Still arguing. What was it with the Helix? An excerpt from The Boston Globe

The discovery of DNA’s double helix structure 70 years ago opened up a world of new science — and also sparked disputes over who contributed what and who deserves credit.

Rosalind Franklin

Much of the controversy comes from a central idea: that James Watson and Francis Crick, the first to figure out DNA’s shape, stole data from scientist Rosalind Franklin.

Now, two historians are suggesting that while parts of that story are accurate — Watson and Crick did rely on research from Franklin and her lab without their permission — Franklin was more a collaborator than just a victim. In the journal Nature, the historians say the two research teams were working in parallel toward solving the DNA puzzle and knew more about what the other team was doing than is widely believed.

“It’s much less dramatic,” said article author Matthew Cobb, a zoologist at the University of Manchester who is working on a biography of Crick. “It’s not a heist movie.”

The story dates back to the 1950s, when scientists were still working out how DNA’s pieces fit together.

Watson and Crick were working on modelling DNA’s shape at Cambridge University. Meanwhile, Franklin — an expert in X-ray imaging — was studying the molecules at King’s College in London, along with scientist Maurice Wilkins.

It was there that Franklin captured Photograph 51, an X-ray image showing DNA’s crisscross shape.

Then, the story gets tricky. In the version that’s often told, Watson was able to look at Photograph 51 during a visit to Franklin’s lab. According to the story Franklin hadn’t solved the structure, even months after making the image. But when Watson saw it, “he suddenly, instantly knew that it was a helix,” said author Nathaniel Comfort, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who is writing a biography of Watson.

Around the same time, the story goes, Crick also obtained a lab report that included Franklin’s data and used it without her consent.

And according to this story, these two “eureka moments” — both based on Franklin’s work — Watson and Crick “were able to go and solve the double helix in a few days,” Comfort said.

This “lore” came in part from Watson himself in his book “The Double Helix,” the historians say. But the historians suggest this was a “literary device” to make the story more exciting and understandable to lay readers.

After digging in Franklin’s archives, the historians found details that they say challenge this simplistic narrative — and suggest that Franklin contributed more than just one photograph along the way.

A draft of a Time magazine story from the time written “in consultation with Franklin,” but never published, described the work on DNA’s structure as a joint effort between the two groups. And a letter from one of Franklin’s colleagues suggested Franklin knew her research was being shared with Crick, authors said.

Taken together, this material suggests the four researchers were equal collaborators in the work, Comfort said. While there may have been some tensions, the scientists were sharing their findings more openly — not snatching them in secret.

“She deserves to be remembered not as the victim of the double helix, but as an equal contributor to the solution of the structure,” the authors conclude.

Howard Markel, a historian of medicine at the University of Michigan, said he’s not convinced by the updated story.

Markel — who wrote a book about the double helix discovery — believes that Franklin got “ripped off” by the others and they cut her out in part because she was a Jewish woman in a male-dominated field.

In the end, Franklin left her DNA work behind and went on to make other important discoveries in virus research, before dying of cancer at the age of 37. Four years later, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins received a Nobel prize for their work on DNA’s structure.

Franklin wasn’t included in that honour. Posthumous Nobel prizes have always been extremely rare, and now aren’t allowed.

What exactly happened, and in what order, will likely never be known for sure. Crick and Wilkins both died in 2004. Watson, 95, could not be reached and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he served as director, declined to comment on the paper.

But researchers agree Franklin’s work was critical for helping unravel DNA’s double helix shape — no matter how the story unfolded.

“How should she be remembered? As a great scientist who was an equal contributor to the process,” Markel said. “It should be called the Watson-Crick-Franklin model.”

Maurice Wilkins

The first response to such a conclusion is whatever happened to Maurice Wilkins in the model above? After all, he shared the Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick meeting. As for James Watson on his visit to Australia, briefly meeting him I thought him insufferable. Of the above players, he alone remains alive at 96, now virtually ostracised by the scientific communities because of his racist views.

Whatever the controversy, I for my part will be  always a fan of Rosalind Franklin. Whatever the actual proportion of the discovery of the Double Helix, I’ll always believe that she was the victim of laboratory misogyny.

Mouse Whisper

Going against the grain? We mice are getting a bit edgy with those with whom we share this house. They are putting cinnamon on their cereal. What next? Cayenne pepper or peppermint. At least they will not use mothballs.