Modest Expectations – Jeffrey O’Brien

We had a bushfire the other day up the road at Tullah. It seems not to have been deliberately started, but a stray cigarette or a spark from an exhaust would suffice as explanation.

Tullah

Next minute, fire crews were working on the outskirt of the Tullah village through the night and had the blaze on the nearby Mackintosh Dam Road contained by Sunday morning. In the meantime it burnt down one vacant property and a number of sheds. It was contained, but the resources that were thrown at the fire early were spectacular, drawn from all over Tasmania. The fear was that it would get in the pine forests and then it would have rivalled the mainland fires of two years ago. The other danger was fire getting into the peat, which lies at the base of the button grass meadows that constitute so much of the West Coast. Then it could burn for a very long time.

Tullah, by way of explanation, describes itself as a village on Lake Rosebery. It was a settlement built by the Hydroelectric Commission when one of their schemes was to dam the Tasmanian West Coast (or was it damn?). It would have culminated in the Franklin River being dammed, which would have had a great impact on the region.

Returning to Tullah, the older part of this township lies directly on the Murchison Highway. An old silver lead mining area, it consists of a pub and a few houses and displays one of those famous locomotives now cast onto an Australian coin – Wee Georgie Wood. It was used to transport the ore before there were any roads and was in that part of the township threatened by the fire.

Having had experience some years ago of a fire initiated as a “burning-off” exercise by the Department of Parks and Wildlife (laughingly referred to then as that of Sparks and Wildfire) on the ridge behind our house in which we lost a shed containing most of our stored linen, it was great to read how much the fire fighting service has picked up its game.

One of the newer residents of Tullah, who runs a microscopically-sized café with excellent coffee (and a resident alpaca), was obviously relieved when the fire was halted on the outskirts.

Tullah is on the edge of the West Coast wilderness area, which has some of the most undefiled temperate rain forest in the world. Because of the high   rainfall, an average of 240cm a year, it has been thought of as somewhat protected from fires.  Ironically the wettest place is actually Tullah, with an average annual rainfall of 280cm. So this recent blaze serves as a warning. Climate change is coming – I’m not clever enough to calculate how quickly and how selective will be the change. Yet the forests of the West Coast and South-west are vulnerable. Whether one believes that the forested wilderness is little changed since the time when the dinosaurs walked the earth, it becomes all so academic if this part of Australia catches alight as has occurred periodically in NSW and Victoria.

Ubertas et Fidelitas

An interesting datum. The state which has the highest identification of its inhabitants as Aboriginal people is Tasmania (close to five per cent). As a person who grew up believing the last Tasmanian was Truganini, as I have grown older, I have been surprised by the number of Tasmanian Aborigines who emerged from “among the Huon pine”.

A Dulcie Greeno maireener shell necklace

We have purchased several traditional Aboriginal Maireener shell necklaces, with their characteristic iridescence. Much of this art form is concentrated on the Flinders Island in Bass Strait. We have other cleverly executed pieces of Aboriginal art with a Tasmanian tag – but seemingly made in the last 20 years. My problem is connecting them to a tradition that shows areas of petroglyphs and middens on the shore which have survived the often violent storms which characterised that part of Tasmania for millennia.

To celebrate Tasmania Day in 1986, a collection of papers from the early days of Tasmania was published, including that of Captain James Kelly’s voyage, which commenced on 27 December 1815.

Then James Kelly sailed out of Hobart in a five-oared whale boat, with four men, John Griffiths and George Briggs, who were described as native to the colony and two others described as “European” William Jones and Thomas Toombs, the last named’s previous occupation being listed as“bushranger”.  King’s aim was to circumnavigate Tasmania and, as part of this voyage, he discovered Macquarie Harbour. This harbour, the third largest in Australia, has a treacherous entrance, which was later christened Hell’s Gate. The weather was very compliant as they came into the Harbour under the smokescreen from the Aboriginal fires at the Heads. They reckoned that enabled them not to be seen initially.  They spent some time and made contact with a number of Aborigines, warriors with whom they developed an uneasy relationship.

However, when leaving the newly discovered Harbour, which Kelly named after the then Governor Lachlan Macquarie, (whose territory then incorporated both NSW and Tasmania), the fury of Hell’s Gate kicked in and they were lucky to survive.

The insights into Aboriginal life and the interaction with the whitefellas is expressly discussed under the heading of “female sealing”. Seeing how they went about harvesting the seals obviously astonished the diarist. The women showed a distinctive methodology, as though they had to commune before killing the seals. It shows how important the description of Aboriginal life, when the only chroniclers of the day-to-day activity came from these early reported interactions, at a time before extermination became government policy with the inevitable destruction of the social fabric.

The recent literature trying to show that the Aboriginal tradition progressed from the hunter-gatherer society to one of adopting the tenets of the agricultural revolution as its origin is promoted by a number of Australians who claim Aboriginal descent and are clustered around the University of Melbourne. From what I have read, I do not believe it to be so. Take this excerpt.

The description of female sealing in the Bass Strait islands is a prime example. No mention of herbs and spices in cooking the young seal. Having personally been one of those who have tasted seal, I would suggest it is not among my top ten gustatory phenomena.

“We gave, says the journal of the exploring party, the women each a club that we had used to kill the seals with. They went to the water’s edge and wet themselves all over their heads and bodies, which operation they said would keep the seals from smelling them as they walked along the rocks. They were very cautious not to go to windward of them, as they said “a seal would sooner believe his nose than his eyes when a man or woman came near him.” The women all were about nine or ten seals upon each rock. Lying apparently asleep. Two women went to each rock with their clubs in hand, crept closely up to a seal each, and lay down with their clubs alongside. Some of the seals lifted their heads up to inspect their new visitors and smell them. The seals scratched themselves and lay down again.

The women went through the same motions as the seal, holding up their left elbow and scratching themselves with their left hand, taking and keeping the club firm in their right ready for the attack. The seals seemed very cautious, now and then lifting up their heads and looking round, scratching themselves as before and lying down again; the women still imitating every movement as nearly as possible. After they had lain upon the rocks for nearly an hour, the sea occasionally washing over them (as they were quite naked, we could not tell the meaning of their remaining so long) all of a sudden the women rose up on their seats, their clubs lifted up at arms length, each struck a seal on the nose and killed him; in an instant they all jumped up as if by magic and killed one more each. After giving the seals several blows on the head, and securing them, they commenced laughing aloud and began dancing. They each dragged a seal into the water and swam with it to the rock upon which we were standing, and then went back and brought another each, making twelve seals, the skins of which were worth one pound each in Hobart Town. This was not a bad beginning for the black lakes (sic), who now ascended to the top of a small hill, and made smokes as signals to the natives on the main that they had taken some seals. The smokes were soon answered by smokes on the beach. We skinned the seals and pegged them out to dry. The women then commenced to cook their supper, each cutting a shoulder off the young seals weighing three or four pounds. They simply threw them on the fire to cook, and when about half done commenced devouring them, and rubbed the oil on their skins, remarking that they had a glorious meal.

As I said above, food for thought! 

Reflection in the Pool of the Land of the Anziani

I suspect that the aged care portfolio has caught up with the politicians because when it is part of the health portfolio, it tends to be cast into “the too hard basket”.  Yet with the increase in longevity and the growth of the private nursing home sector as a lucrative business for the owners, government responsibility should have increased not lessened in maintaining our aged through the time of life when a person becomes increasingly dependent on others. Once into the nursing home it is very much one way, but it should not be a nightmare.

When I had my 70th birthday, I half believed the axiom “that 70 was the new 50”. Three years later and that concept went into the rubbish bin.

For myself, the acute phase of the disease took a long time to settle into a chronic burn, and as the years have passed the co-morbidities have accumulated until now I can no longer live independently. In previous times, there may have been an array or servants, but in the modern world this not feasible without wealth.

I had two aunts who entered nursing homes in their nineties, wealthy women who were able to afford a nursing home where all the “creature comforts” were available and provided. What struck me was the number of Filipino and Nepalese nurses, both male and female, and feeling of optimism in this establishment. But it was at the high end. They were both dead before the Virus struck and surveying the conditions in that nursing home gave no reason for me to worry about their care, even as one increasingly succumbed to fronto-temporal dementia.

The Virus has taken a toll in other ways. I used to go to hydrotherapy twice a week. The hydrotherapy pools where there are supervised programs have vanished, as the pools have closed because of the Virus. This gets no coverage, but when one depends essentially on allied health professional services, the Virus has curtailed them, and with any such program, once they cease so too do the levels of personal fitness and social interaction decline.  Gyms get all the publicity, but circumstances for the aged are probably worse once you lock people in their rooms with staff barely having the requisite nursing skills let alone those of allied health professionals.

Some of the drugs required for my treatment, such as the corticosteroids are essential but impose complications. I had the rapid development of drug induced cataracts, both of which have resulted in new improved lens (no longer any astigmatism). Otherwise I have eschewed operative intervention. Some of the operations had the potential to make life worse, and I value the fact that I can still communicate.  The bottom line is that if I did not have my wife, who is a very caring individual, I would be facing institutionalisation and all the uncertainty that entails.

My sleeping arrangements have been modified, so I am close  to the toilets.  I still have been negotiating stairs.  My fall a few months ago emphasised the line between having my immediate daily care and then having to wait face down for someone to come after nearly two hours. I have learnt to curb my impetuosity, since change is now a one way trek, but the nursing home looms as a prison, with the likelihood of solitary confinement.

And a Minister in charge of this crisis who goes to the cricket for three days! He has either given up, or else needs a cognitive test to assess whether he needs the pity for a person with early dementia. Or is he just callously insensitive? I cannot believe that this man is functioning normally; but then the last people who are considered to have such pathology are those with the public relations machinery of denial. Morrison has demonstrated himself to be a Prime Minister with zero human relations skills but with a formidable expenditure on public relations.

Having experienced Bronwyn Bishop’s hair-raising approach to any portfolio in which she was put, I thought that disclosure of kerosene baths in nursing homes under her watch would have elicited a positive reaction for reform. There was the predictable furore and then nothing. Even Royal Commissions do not move the dial, because the people trapped in nursing homes have virtually no say.

The idea of little children mingling with the elderly as gleaned from the ABC TV program has long since been suspended because of the Virus, but it is ironic to see a photograph of myself at two years of age with the wide gait; and realise that I am not that much different now because of loss of proprioception.

I remember a child staring at me from a stroller; I was in a wheelchair.

“Don’t worry son, you’ll be here soon enough.” He was too young to understand, but it certainly brought home to me the irony of existence. His parents did hear me, and laughed. Vulnerability is the product of the child in the stroller and the guy in the wheelchair.

The role of government intervention in both areas has demonstrated the difficulty, because childcare and care of the aged have both been exploited, and over a long period. The failure of the religious institutions in these areas has been shown, and in many areas, disgraceful exploitation has emerged – yet these institutions keep their charitable status in regard to taxation

The whole failure of government intervention has been compounded by the laissez-faire approach to looking after the elderly – maximising profits by exploiting the elderly is a spreading stain on the Australian community.

I can only watch the stain come closer because I have no confidence in the area being afforded the priority it needs and which one only realises as 80 is the new 80.

Yet during my professional life I have sought solutions, but many of the schemes in which I have invested myself have reverted after I have gone. Some have survived.

Is there a solution?

Over my professional life, one way or another, I have had considerable contact with care for the aged in its various forms. The problem with being old as described above is that nevertheless it is not a homogeneous product. People age with different disabilities and hence needs.

The problem with age is that it comes at a point when nothing more can be done for you, but to ensure you are comfortable, pain free, not isolated, able to use the toilet facilities, and that your medications are regularly reviewed, and you have enough to eat and drink and to operate at the higher end of your residual competency.

To accomplish this properly requires both a high level of management skills and continuity of these skills; thus the competency of a clinical manager of each facility should be recognised and rewarded appropriately and succession planning encouraged.

I am a great believer that credentialing and privileging should be undertaken not only in health services but also in nursing homes. I am a purist as I have retained “credentialing and privileging”, whereas others have replaced “privileging” with “scope of practice”. In fact, the process has four stages –

(a)   Credentialing is self-evident as it is based around the qualification.

(b)   “The scope of practice” is what is requested by the health professional, but

(c)    privileging depends on the capability of the health service and confidence of the director of clinical services (or equivalent) that the requested scope of practice is appropriate and safe given the resources of the health service.

(d)   approval of the board on the recommendation of the credentialing and privileging Committee

All recommendations to the Board must involve the director of clinical services and if the terminology is correct, the nursing home manager who should be a nurse.

To me that is a very simple statement of intent, and I was able to successfully implement such a process among a number of small health services over a decade. To me, it satisfied the requirement of the clinician and the administrator and it made those involved take it seriously. In the private sector, that includes the owner (or representative).  In my health service experience the hospital board was very visible, but in the nursing home sector, who knows in the tangled web of business resulting in the lack of oversight in this sector. And with the obscenity of some of the owners with more concern with having the latest Lamborghini, it is a massive task to permanently change the culture when the government is basically uninterested.

When I suggested that the nursing homes be included in the regional credentialing and privileging scheme, the pushback from the Commonwealth Department of Health was fierce. The nursing home was the person’s home; it was not a quasi-health institution, it was said. The residents could have whomsoever they wanted as carers, without interference from government, and certainly by such a scheme which attempted to codify standards. God, no.

Yet there is an unfortunate strain of authoritarian behaviour which I have seen in the transition stage between hospital and nursing home. In the acute hospital, for some of the staff, an old person admitted is an old person to be get rid of, because of his or her occupancy of an expensive acute bed.

As the hospitals move from metropolitan teaching hospitals, the pressure on the bed is not as great. Nevertheless I once was faced with an officious nurse who was attempting to threaten me because I believed my father-in-law needed more time in the acute bed before being sent to a so-called “sub-acute care” environment. She attempted to stand over me by threatening to have him placed in a nursing home in a far-off town where he would have no-one able to visit him easily. After a strong word, that option was removed and he stayed in the hospital for some further period until he was well enough to be transferred. Nevertheless influence, like information, is asymmetric.

The fiction that a nursing home is a domestic situation is nonsense, because of the nature of the residents, who need personalised care but which is often left wanting because staff levels are squeezed for a number of reasons – profit margins, COVID-19 restrictions, poor pay and conditions.

Some nursing homes are attached to the public hospital. Therefore, I was in a position to influence the rules for visiting doctors. My initial approach was to look at the drug charts of each resident as this gives one an idea of how often the resident is reviewed by a doctor. The need for documentation is as essential as regular visits by the local general practitioner, and each nursing home should have access to a consultant geriatrician or specialist in rehabilitation medicine (and ensure one or the other visits regularly).

The requirement for allied health cascades from this overall need to ensure that in a world of specialisation and constantly improving technology, the aged are not deprived of the benefits of these advances.

In the health area where there is increasing specialisation, the pool of generalists in all fields becomes limited. The concept of nursing staff in rural areas acquiring some of the basic skills of allied health professionals has been regularly canvassed. Whatever the current state of this move to develop generalists should accommodate that some of the generalists will develop special area on interest and hence expertise.

The suggestion of “care finders” adds another layer without any improvement. To establish a new professional group is to establish a new bureaucracy, not necessarily improve care of the aged.

I well remember the country hospital which was converted from a general practice procedural hospital to one concentrating on geriatric treatment. The “driver” was a doctor who persuaded the staff to re-train from the theatre to treating the aged. He was successful and well-liked but did not want any limelight – and presumably this pilot program died with him.

However, successful models abound. The problem is each requires a certain discipline, dedication and time to implement and maintain. To change the culture is not just taking a pill. Governments, when pressed, can be reasonable at getting the input right through the multitude of ways enquiries can be organised.

Government falls down in the implementation. Many of the ministers and the bureaucrats think that fussing over the nature of enquiry is enough, and unfortunately too much of the intellectual capital is invested in the initial enquiry and its report. In fact, the report is only the start; but too often it is the end point, gathering dust with so many others.

In the end it is the clinical management standard that counts.

One question, what is the best private nursing home in Australia; and what is the best public nursing home?

In such a search, the common feature I postulate will be the ongoing standard of the clinical management team. Appropriate credentialling and privileging should be able to validate that approach.

In the end I want to know what works; and what has worked over a generation at least. Imprecise, but once you see success, you know what it is. To achieve this insight, experience helps.

Mouse Whisper

Just two items for Trivial Squeaksuit (obviously in a cat-free environment – pur is a palavra proibida).

  • Who is Dorothy Gale?
  • Who is Barbara Millicent Roberts?

Dorothy, the heroine in the Wizard of Oz.

Barbie doll.

Simple really.

Modest expectations – Man with a Tail

I have always liked writing. I was encouraged to write by Alister Brass. He was very much my mentor.  He died of AIDs in 1986. He was a great guy. I have kept writing. He had taught me a lot about myself, and how someone who was a little older than myself could have lived a fuller life than mine.  I miss him every day.

I always wonder where Murdoch fits in all this. Alister’s father, Douglas, was one of Murdoch’s first editors. I think he had a big effect on Murdoch, in the days when his world may have been that of the idealist.

 However, I worry about all this technology that has sprung up in an unregulated space and where the forces of good and evil are constantly doing battle. Can I, for whom my first written words required an inkwell – when even the biro did not exist – adapt.

I find myself living in a world in a space which is getting smaller because the demands for instant everything have become the norm – money and fame are generally high on the instant agenda. Words are airbrushed away.

So, why bother to write? Because I want to, and I have little time left. So here goes.

I wrote my first blog at the end of March 2019.

Now this is the sesquicentenary of that first blog, which has been written every week for 150 weeks. That means that in six blogs’ time I will have reached three years of essentially vanity press. Perhaps I have ten people who regularly read it, but unless you hover over your statistics, who really knows. But it soon occurred to me that I like writing – in fact these are my memoirs, one way or another. My attitudes are on show. As I started serious writing under the tutelage of Alister Brass, that relationship enabled me to enjoy the company of a polymath before his life tragically was cut short.

The first blog praised Jacinda Ardern, and I received the rounds of the contumely by a mate, who saw her as a fraud. Thinking about what has happened since that time, I was closer to the mark.

In the last blog I, who once was a tall poppy but tried to dance with the “wolverines”, gave some advice based on this experience. I once knew a person who, like Grace Tame, had a strong profile (at one stage being pictured on every evening edition of the Melbourne Herald depicting the successful beautiful young professional) and saw later at firsthand what she endured.

As for my advice to Grace Tame, another friend expressed with disdain from his Araratic heights why would I bother. Well, I did and hope she ends up more Eleanor de Aquitaine than Jean d’Arc, with that antagonistic segment of our population either repentant or neutered.

Opinion or opinionated. Well, a blog is a legacy. I notice over time I have altered the blog; by and large I have dispensed with guest writers, become more prolix and recognised how technology has enabled me to dip into the international media. The downside is that those magazines, the delivery of which depended on the US Postal Service, have virtually dried up in COVID times.  The Guardian Weekly and The Economist subscriptions fortunately have not been interrupted, although I also receive them online.

Exhaustion

The problem with the persistence of coronavirus in one form or another is that the Australian population is exhausted and, despite their bluster, governments have given up, except Western Australia which remains defiant.

Lockdown indicated that the governments of the Federation were prepared to fight the virus, the fear of which prompted a strong vaccination response in the adult community. In the first wave before vaccination was available, there was an appreciation across the community of the need to lock down, with a ban on almost every movement. At that time, there was a high rate of acceptance of this strategy by the community. Thus, when the Virus spread to nursing homes, the media swooped on the relatives waiting outside with their plaintive complaints.

How life has changed, with daily deaths mostly no longer getting even the perfunctory acknowledgement which they once got at the daily news conference. Borders were a weapon in illustrating how much one State was performing better than another. The only consistency through all this has been the complete ineptitude of the Commonwealth Government, which refused to accept that Constitutional responsibility for quarantine was its – and its alone. That is one reason there should not be any electoral forgiveness.

It allowed that stupid sophistry about personal responsibility to be let out of the Pirouette’s ideological kitbag. Underlying such a statement is a belief that information in the health sector is symmetric – time and time again this has been shown not to be so.

The various responses, whether to children’s vaccination, boosters, wearing of masks, social distancing and the use of hand sanitisers, show differences depending on demographics.

What is the present state of play?  Personal responsibility has degenerated into a fervent wish that Australia must have passed the peak – however that is defined – of the pandemic.  Booster and child vaccination are lagging because there is no spur.

Another variant …

Pity that another variant has appeared.

The Canoe Tree                         

Canoe tree

There are many canoe trees scattered throughout Victoria, South Australia and NSW and one wonders, given the revival of many old traditions, why more bark canoes are not being made and the craft celebrated. After all, the popular smoking ceremonies were adopted from the American Indians who were here during the Year of the Indigenous.

One area in Southern Australia where there do not seem to be canoe trees is Tasmania, although there has been publicity surrounding bark canoes recently being made with intention that they be part of the biennial wooden boat festival. It is one thing to mimic the past, but the construction should demonstrate the authenticity of being able to float an agreed distance, bearing a person using a spear as a paddle, especially down the D’Entrecasteux Channel.

In 2011 Major “Moogy” Sumner, a Ngarrindjeri and Kauma man, crafted a bark canoe on Ngarrindjeri land, the first recorded in over 100 years. These people live at Raukkan on Lake Alexandrina and move between there and Port Pierce on the Yorke Peninsula. Major Sumner has been photographed standing on the canoe with the spear/ paddle, and therefore the assumption was that the canoe was waterproof and navigable, at least on the lake. His people are river people and before “trouser time” they existed on a diet of littoral birds, eggs and vegetation such as samphire.

Moogy’s bark canoe

Sumner later said that creating his canoe reconnected his communities with the traditional art of canoe-building. There does not seem to be much evidence of modern bark canoe manufacture beyond this effort. In such a riverine culture a bark canoe was an essential item, and as such it is surprising that revival of the art has not received more attention.

It may be argued that stripping trees of bark would have severe consequences, particularly on the river red gum and stringybark population. The Aboriginal people live in harmony with their environment, as we all know and thus this would not be a problem.

In his book about Australian Aborigines, Thomas Worsnop describes the construction of the bark canoe in Southern Australia:

In constructing a bark canoe a suitable tree, generally a large red gum, is selected, and always one that was bent, or that had an outward bulge on one side. On that side the bark is marked out or cut by painted dots, or by notches in the shape of an elongated ellipse, approximating as nearly as possible to the shape of the canoe itself, after which by pressing the wooden handle of a tomahawk and a pole between the bark and the wood the sheet is carefully removed. The outside roughnesses of the bark then are pared off, leaving the thin, hard, and woody inside shell, and the sheet is placed over a fire of red hot ashes to cause the ends and sides to be gathered up and brought together.

These canoes are of very light draught. With one or even two blackfellows, the draught is seldom above 3in or 4 in. Some that I have seen on the River Murray will carry a considerable load; but, being quite round on the bottom and without any keel, they overturn with the greatest ease imaginable.

Later he describes the Montagu Island canoe:

Bark canoes were used by the coast natives of New South Wales; they were from 6ft. to 10ft. long, and 2ft wide. A sheet of bark of the desired length and breadth was stripped from a straight stem and the two ends scraped until they tapered to a very thin edge. These thin ends were then raised by being creased into ridges, and gradually pressed close together. A peg was then driven through the folds at each end, and the bark twisted round to keep the sheet from slipping back. The sides were kept apart by sticks sharpened at each end and placed across the canoe, and it was ready for use. It was propelled by sticks used like paddles, or by small sheets of bark held in the hand; the largest of these canoes would carry five or six natives safely across the strait, about two miles wide, which separated Montagu Island from the mainland.

Ironically, the best recent depiction of a bark canoe construction was shown in the 2006 film, appropriately named “Ten Canoes”.  “Ten Canoes” was inspired by a photograph shown to film director Rolf de Heer by David Gulpilil. The picture was of group of ten native men in their bark canoes on the Arafura swamp in East Arnhem Land. The photo was taken by anthropologist Dr Donald Thomson, who worked in central and north-eastern Arnhem Land 70 years earlier, during the mid-1930s.

Among the old men of the tribe, the film makers found some who remembered the craft and were able to make the canoes. There is no mention of whether the canoes were made with stone tools or with more modern equipment. Nevertheless, in the film they seem to be very functional. Again, this film seems an isolated tribute to the bark canoe.

Canoe in the Arafura Swamp

Yet the canoes made in the Northern Australia were generally dugouts, either in the manner of their Melanesian neighbours or were seen to have prows fashioned after the Macassar canoes. So, the bark canoes that were featured in the film negotiating the Arafura Swamp would seem unusual.

It seems difficult to work out why the Aboriginal people are loath to make bark canoes in the manner of their ancestors Thus there is one challenge in Tasmania – build a bark canoe that can reach Montagu Island as your forefathers did. Go to it. If a whitefella like Thomas Worsnop in 1897 has set down clear signposts, so should the tradition be still handed down among the Aboriginal people, rather than exist in a few isolated pockets.

Maus

A guy called Art Spiegelman has written a children’s book about the Holocaust called “Maus”.  My Swedish friend has pointed this piece of censorship out to me.

To ensure the book will be a best seller, the McMinns County Board in Eastern Tennessee, known as the Midge State after its Senator, has banned the book.

The Board said by way of explanation (sic):

“One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves. The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole, the Board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.  

We do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust. To the contrary, we have asked our administrators to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion. The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated. 

We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

I have published the whole piece, including the last paragraph written by the resident weasel. “Maus” is about the Holocaust – it depicts violence and suicide. Well, your forefathers were very fortunate in settling in the shadow of the beautiful Smoky Mountains. And as for profanity – eight words; and nudity – a naked mouse!

To be fair I have not read the book, but I have ordered it to see what the fuss is all about. I am not a fan of censorship, except in the case of demonstrated sedition.

By the way, the county seat is Athens, somewhat ironically named.

The Nickname

Michael Rowland from ABC Breakfast has done us all a service by refusing to refer to either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition by their nicknames. This is not to say that these names will not still have general usage in the bar at the Kembla Grange races. Even Menzies had a nickname – “Ming” – but it was not in common usage when discussing his everyday activities in the public media. His enemies dubbed him “Pig Iron Bob” because of his unfortunate advocacy of iron being exported to Japan before the Pacific War. But in the political commentary it was Menzies and successively Chifley, Evatt and Calwell – maybe first names were used – but not Mingo; Chifo, Evo or Caldie.

It’s all a matter of perspective. I find it confronting when a youngster calls me by my first name because for me the divide in how I’m addressed should reside within myself. A Christian name implies a degree of licence, not to be used by all and sundry.

Thoughts on a coaster …

However, if the Honourable Antony Norman Albanese or the Honourable Scott John Morrison want to dispense with any of their given names or titles and be known as Scomo and Albo, no wonder some may think that they write their policies on the back of a beer coaster or a tithe receipt.

As a postscript, I read the comments of a journalist attempting to devise a smart comment about “Albo”. Obviously, as a child, the journalist had done a couple of lessons in Latin and equated “alb” with white, since the Latin (and incidentally also the Romanian word) for white is “albus”. However, in Italian “bianco” is white, “alba” is dawn and Albanese “Albanian”; in Latin “aurora” and “Ilyrii” respectively.

There is a strong link between Albania and Italy which goes back to Roman times, but I seem to have drifted a long way from Michael Rowland’s timely comments. Still, the association between Albania and Italy is worthy of another blog.

The Virtuous Cycle

Over the next four years, the Morrison Government will invest more than $13 billion through the Education portfolio alone to support research in Australia, including $8 billion in research block grant funding. 

“This includes the Trailblazer Universities program recently announced by the Prime Minister. Trailblazer gives four universities access to more than $240 million to build world-class research commercialisation capability.”

So runs the media release from Minister Robert this week. It came at a time when the Boston Globe has produced a comprehensive article on the biotechnology research around Boston, which I have reproduced in an abridged version without distorting the content of the original article. It should be remembered that, in the context of the article, New England has a population of 15 million, so it provides a significant comparison with this country, where all the biotechnology expertise has also been concentrated in a select number of institutions.

I participated in the Wills Medical Research Strategic Review, which Michael Wooldridge commissioned in 1998 and which resulted in a report with the optimistic title of the Virtuous Cycle. One of the areas of recommendation was the commercialisation of research – and with a somewhat wry smile, I note the new jargon, the Trailblazer Program. Back in early 2002 it was the Flagship program launched by the CSIRO, as if in response to the Will’s Report. I’m not sure “what oceans the Flagships are now plying”, but perhaps the trailblazers will find out.

Now back to New England and what the Boston Globe has to say about the matter. No flagship has been reported off Cape Cod, but perhaps nobody was looking, except that “Flagship” is part of the title of Moderna’s venture capital offshoot.

An electronic billboard along Route 128 in Norwood advertised for jobs at Moderna in May 2021

It’s almost like Massachusetts has too many biotechs.

The industry is hotter than ever, with companies routinely raising millions of dollars in venture capital, startups blooming on a weekly basis, and developers planning more lab space seemingly by the day. But the pipeline of qualified workers to fill all of the added jobs can’t keep up with the burgeoning demand.

The market for biotech talent in Massachusetts has long been robust, but lately the crunch has turned critical. That’s causing some in the industry to worry that it will not only inhibit growth, but also affect the quality of work as key positions become harder to fill and lower-level workers jump from company to company in search of a better compensation package.

Hiring “is definitely more competitive than it was a few years ago, there’s just no question about it,” said Michael Gilman, chief executive of Waltham-based Arrakis Therapeutics, which more than doubled its staff during the pandemic.

The surplus of startups reflects investors’ desire to pour more money into the world’s leading biotech hub. But with every new company that comes out of stealth mode or a mega-funding round that comes with mega-hiring goals, the people problem has gotten worse.

According to the latest report from industry association MassBio, nearly 85,000 people work in the state’s life sciences sector, up 55 percent from 2008.

Most of the hiring is happening in Cambridge, where companies posted more than 2,630 biotech job listings

Large companies, such as Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Takeda Pharmaceutical, as well as Moderna Therapeutics and its venture capital backer Flagship Pioneering, were seeking the most workers during that period.

Turnover is on the rise, too. About 16.5 percent of life sciences employees in Massachusetts voluntarily quit their jobs last year, a recent survey from research firm Radford found, up from 13 percent in 2018. Both figures are high enough to affect a company’s effort to grow.

Naturally, one way to recruit and retain people is to keep paying them more.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary in Massachusetts for chemists and scientists was about $100,000 in May 2020. But biotechs are finding that historical data and closely watched benchmark surveys from Radford quickly become outdated.

“One of my companies realized they had fallen behind in some positions by more than 10 percent,” said Tony Mullin, a biotech human resources executive. “They offered $130,000 and were losing candidates because they were getting $145,000 or $150,000 from other companies.”

Executives said some firms seem to be aggressively outbidding each other for candidates, though most agreed it isn’t a sound strategy.

There’s also a sense that employees are easily swayed by “title inflation,” a phenomenon that occurs when people climb the corporate ladder faster by bouncing around.

There’s a short-term satisfaction with getting a bigger title, but then along with it comes expectations of success.

Beyond compensation, biotech firms are also paying close attention to perks and benefits. It’s not uncommon for companies to have ping-pong tables in their offices or to provide catered lunches Silicon Valley-style.

Dyno Therapeutics’ new office will have a rock climbing wall. Relay recently began offering employees free diapers for the first year of a child’s life. Pet insurance is becoming more common.

One option in expanding the talent pool beyond Massachusetts is an “easy way to kind of simplify the problem for yourself” in a tight labor market. But hiring too many remote employees to fill job openings could be a quick fix that forever changes what it means to work in the biotech epicenter of the world.

When it comes to culture and career development, it has been found that being local is really important, both for the company and the employee.”

Adam Koppel, managing director of Bain Capital Life Sciences, said he often gets asked about what could slow the momentum of the Cambridge-Boston biotech ecosystem.

“The proliferation of new companies has created somewhat of a supply and demand mismatch in the marketplace for skilled managers,” he said.

Koppel said the talent pool has not matured enough to fill key areas from the C-suite and clinical development, all the way through to the commercial launch of products. And, he said, there is increasingly competitive intensity in the industry due to many “copycats” that are “going after the same targets.”

“The ecosystem could benefit from a certain degree of consolidation,” he added.

At least for now, though, executives seem to believe that the biotechnology business in Massachusetts will keep expanding, regardless of its hiring and retention problems.

“It is conceivable that all the capital dries up in our industry, companies shut down, lay off scientists, and they have no place to go,”  Gilman said. “I don’t see that happening anytime soon, honest.”

Mouse Whisper

Welcome to the Year of the Tiger. Watching the Cincinnati Bengals reaching the Superbowl reminded me of a discussion I overheard while I was tucking into a piece of manchego that one of them had dropped on the floor.

It concerned a blind tiger, and apparently my Mäuseherrin has a T-shirt with a blind tiger featured on it. She acquired it in a downtown Cincinnati tavern from the owner, who had an Australian boyfriend and given they had wandered into her joint about midday when business was slow, she had time for a chat and told the Australians about the name of the tavern. “Blind tiger” is one of the nicknames for a speakeasy, during Prohibition. The joke was that you paid to get in to see the blind tiger – and the drinks were free.

I wonder how long that ruse lasted before the police moved in.

Modest Expectations – John F Kennedy

In this week of our National Day and following on my account of “give us our daily” Quinoa Day, I have taken this account from the Washington Post, which shows the dark shadows of the USA, which course across the Lone Star State. It is as though among the Ghost riders there is one; an unhappy emaciated soul called Mean Spirit. 

Texas’s Confederate Heroes Day is not some relic of the Civil War, or even Reconstruction. It came to life out of the backlash to Black Texas lawmakers daring to ask for a Black freedom fighter to be honoured by the state.

As recounted in a lengthy story in Texas Monthly, it all began in 1973, when eight Black representatives joined the Texas House, the highest number since Reconstruction.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

One of them, 34-year-old Senfronia Thompson, introduced a bill to urge the State to recognize the Jan. 15 birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as an honorary holiday, but without the full bells and whistles of a taxpayer-funded day off for public employees. White Republican lawmakers opposed the bill, some claiming that Texas didn’t need any more state holidays and memorials, and that King wasn’t deserving of state holiday recognition because he wasn’t from Texas. 

But state of birth did not stop Texas legislators from shortly after passing a bill to memorialize Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee on Lee’s birthday, Jan. 19, under the name Confederate Heroes Day. It was absurd enough that the House responded to Black lawmakers with an utterly un-American celebration of Confederate traitors, enslavers, racists and, above all, literal losers. But neither Davis nor Lee was even Texan! 

A Touch of the Acerbic 

Guy Fawkes

It seems to be lodged in the tangle of the Serbian helix that vaccination is in some ways a plot and conspiracy. We have the aptly-named Senator Antic, whose lineage extends back from Adelaide to village life along the Sava, and he is one of the anti-vaxxer pests. At some stage, the Australian senate will have to be expunged of this gaggle of Trumpians. These are people who believe their shadows are an invention of the CIA, designed to track them. Paul Keating was very right when he described the Senate as unrepresentative swill. Only it is worse, it is now the Chamber of the Fawkesian Trolls.

Djokovic went with a degree of dignity, but then he had been afforded the full Federal Court at short notice on a weekend to adjudicate. Not that the cost of the whole circus would make much of a dent in his estimated USD220m fortune. He does not live in Belgrade, but in Monte Carlo, so that in line with devotion to Serbia, he is minimising the amount of his wealth that goes into the Serbian Treasury to be dispensed at the whim of the Serbian government. All a matter of perspective.

Djokovic has defaulted from a Grand Slam before. In the 2020 US Open, in one of his “hissy fits” he swatted a ball carelessly – it struck the throat of a lineswoman. She needed treatment; and Djokovic was shown the door. Under COVID rules there was no crowd to view this unfortunate incident; and as far as I am aware there were no extravagant comments by his parents.

Ageing Novak now is learning the meaning of the axiom – autonomy of action is inversely proportional to the controversy generated. President Macron has jumped on the anti-vaxxer bandwagon, and after stating he will “piss off” French anti-vaxxers, he has now included a provisional ban on tennis players who are unvaccinated saying they will be barred from the French Open and indeed any tournament in France. Given that he lives in a French enclave, a ban such as this will constrict any of Novak’s activity in competitions

He has wealth to back up his sense of entitlement. Yet, who knows. The storm clouds are gathering over Europe; and Serbia is considered to be closer to Russia than its Balkan neighbours, apart from Montenegro.

Nevertheless, there has always been some ambivalence in the relationship. One anecdote sticks in my mind. After Tito split with Stalin, Stalin sent a number of assassins to kill Tito, but they failed, and Tito wrote back to Stalin saying he would send one in retaliation so Stalin would not need to send another. The attempts on Tito’s life stopped. It may say something about the tenuous balance between bully and bluff.

Currently, Putin is playing war games over Ukraine; and one area where sanctions could be inflicted is in the world of tennis. After all, in last year’s Australian Open three of the eight quarter finalists were Russian.

Nothing happened over the annexation of Crimea and Trump, in his Presidency, showed himself to be in Putin’s pocket, damping down any US reaction to Russian machinations, whether on terra firma or in cyberspace.

But life may just be getting a little different.

Thus, big things start in seemingly minor Serbian disputes. Just remember that this may be the year tennis lost its political innocence.

Aboriginal Circumcision

In the Jewish and more recently Muslim communities there are organised ritual circumcisers. The difficulties which one Muslim community had with circumcision were highlighted in my last blog.

Once, in Australian society, and certainly in my generation, most boys were circumcised. As one of my contemporaries said to me, “I did hundreds of them during my time in obstetrics.” However, circumcision has fallen out of favour among the paediatricians as unnecessary and even classified as mutilation. In several States circumcision, unless for specific medical reasons, is banned in public hospitals.

Ritual circumcision has been part of the initiation rites of Aboriginal males in Northern Australia and extends among the Desert tribes. As the ritual is shrouded in secrecy, there is no evidence that there is a dedicated ritual circumciser. Nevertheless, the procedure must demand a degree of skill, whether using sharpened stone or razor. Among these Northern tribes, there are other concomitant procedures such as the scarification of the chest and knocking out one of the front teeth.

As Thomas Worsnop observed in his 1897 book, “The Aborigines of Australia” concerning Aboriginal youth initiation, “He has to undergo a terrible formulary of days, even weeks where he must bear with unwavering fortitude, together with the lesser pains of hunger and sleeplessness, intended as a test of his endurance and aptitude to receive the special secrets of the tribe prior to his endowment with the privileges of manhood and of its subsequent duties and responsibilities.”

While much of the initiation was done out of sight of whitefellas, there was obviously a significance in these rites which I wonder how they have been reconciled in a modern society. After all, we still see Aboriginal people, both male and female, of all ages, daubed with ochre engaging in what are stated as traditional ceremonies. Thus, where does the retention of tradition cope with practices which, in modern day, may be thought of as mutilation by a large section of the population.

Circumcision being adopted from elsewhere does not explain the use of subincision where the urethra is slit open. This seems to be unique to Australian aboriginals; but its level of use in initiation is unclear. Nevertheless, such an operation demands a level of skill to be successful.

There is a morbidity associated with the operation, but it is rarely reported. A friend described one situation where the initiate had a severe infection, and how my friend used a succession of salt baths to tackle the problem, in the absence of antibiotics. The youth’s penis healed, but the more one delves into the issue, the more questions are raised. What is the level of debate because inevitably, if it has not already happened, death following such a practice must occur and therefore a major question is whether the benefits outweigh the risks?

In any event, circumcision was not practised in southern Australia and was completely unknown among Tasmanian aborigines. Although the mantra is that the practice goes back thousands of years, it is not universally undertaken across Australia by the various tribes.

These portraits are the only known images of Aboriginal voyagers to Makassar.

From the 13th through the 17th century, it should be recognised that Sunni Islam was chiefly spread widely by Arab and Indian merchants through the East Indies. One theory is that Aboriginal circumcision is a relatively recent practice adopted around four hundred years ago from the Malays, who came to harvest trepang or sea cucumber, the trochus shell and wild nutmeg. It is one explanation but does not seem to be the only one as circumcision was undertaken far from any Malay influence in the central deserts.

For each of us there is often a fine line between beautification and mutilation. One instance for me of this line between enhancement (if not beautification) or not is the facial tattoo. I find it confronting. But then I do not like tattoos. It is also said that much of religious belief rests on confronting this dilemma. A strange triangle emerges, depending on the eyes of the beholder.

The question always must arise as to whether the family or tribal customs prevail; or when is tribal ritual rendered void by society as a whole. At least in relation to ritual circumcision, there is a case for rules even if it continues to be undertaken.

As I’ve alluded to previously, I remember being taken by a male elder to an Aboriginal quarry, where there were hundreds upon hundreds of sharpened stones lying around on the earth. There was a white woman with us. I turned to him and said: “This is men’s business,” He looked hard back at me and said, “I don’t care. Ever since the young men moved the corroboree stones to do burnouts then the link was broken.” He did not need to say more; yet the Aboriginal women elders in the community still did not know about the quarry – and he had let a white woman accompany us.

Albored the Unready – Part 2

The Biloela Four

I would bet that the first act Whitlam would have done if he came to power this year would be to restore the Sri Lankan family to Biloela. There is similar advocacy by Kristina Keneally, but she is not the leader. However, one question which haunts me is whether, in the compassion and sensitivity stakes, Albanese is any different from Morrison. Albanese is too much a party flack, as was Morrison – hardly lived a life outside the carapace of nastiness that factional politics provides. At the same time, Albanese could release the other asylum detainees from the other sites, including the Lygon Guantánamo. The paranoia generated by the transit of ISIS should have subsided.

Instead of spending money on their incarceration, the government could encourage these men to join the depleted Australian workforce. And if anybody bleats that this will be an invitation to the people smugglers, the obvious response would be to ask what the hell has the Australian government being doing over the past 30 years to counter them being around. Albanese could identify this as an example of a literally petrified government and indicate that he will free all the detainees on provisional visas and set work conditions for them. Get transitional arrangements right – and do it swiftly, not after the event as has been the modus operandi of the current Government.

Albanese is so predictable. He promises money for education. It is either hospitals or schools – with creative edges. Like all of these promises the problem is that it has all been heard before. Remember the Gillard Historic Education Agreement of 2008, with all its segments promising a new education horizon. That is the problem – promises of a renewal without any implementation plan are one of the major causes of this country’s policy inaction. The Government is already pointing out the deficiency of the previous policy, instead of emphasising the positive.

Shorten, when leader proposed perfectly reasonable modest adjustments to taxes, but had both an appalling policy salesman in Chris Bowen and was assailed on all sides by the right-wing media. The problem with Albanese is shown in the nostalgia of his own brief tenure as Federal transport minister. He in his own mind was successful.  The question is whether others agree with that summation

Again, he needs a carefully crafted transport policy directed towards immediate structural needs. There are many uncosted dreams floating about, especially involving train lines and super-fast rail, which are notorious for creating “South Sea bubbles” coupled with speculation in the land along any proposed routes.

Albanese’s attack should be concentrated is on the corrupt behaviour of government. The list of rorts has wide currency and each one deserves a clear indication of what Albanese proposes to do to repair the damage, even if it is only to give probity to governmental intentions.

Morrison has had the opportunity of sacking the worst of his ministerial clowns.  One of Morrison’s weaknesses has been to keep the underperforming rather than sack them. It has thus reinforced the incompetency of the Government, overridden by the fear that if he sacked anybody there would automatically be a “sack” faction built to dispose of him. But then Morrison should know; he has been sacked more often than most people.

This time for Albanese the task is obvious – a government which has been corrupt at so many levels; a prime minister who both verges on the pathological in his ability to conjure up his own reality and who has overseen a totally inept bureaucracy full of political dullards. Whether that analysis is true, it has enough truth to drive him to promise to set up an Anti-Corruption Commission, with wide sweeping powers, but from its inception there must be a promise to ensure that all its findings are made public.

Learn the lesson from the Banking Royal Commission. Changing the underlying attitudes if you are to enforce behavioural changes is an ongoing business, otherwise it will end up being more of the same, despite threadbare assurances to the contrary, as has happened.

As important as anything on day one is to have the appointment of the Head decided, so they can be appointed immediately on winning the election. There is a huge menu of malfeasance to be examined, but out of each example a policy adjustment will be needed.

The menu for the cases to be considered should be carefully ordered, so that if there are recommendations, they have a logic in dealing with them, to eliminate personal bias as far as possible. For instance, the car park boondoggle. The immediate task is to obtain a list and put all the construction on hold and pinpoint the trail of decision making.

Of greater concern is what has occurred with the $443m set aside for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. What have they done, given the reservations voiced by National Audit Office; and as another example of  the failure of the private-public model.

In all, the instances of corruption of the Morrison Government provide lush pastures, and inter alia for Albanese they provide the opportunity to raise the matter of tax in the most brutal fashion, namely amid the corruption there is the disparity in wealth across the country such as to beg tax reform. The problem is that the Labor Party is the face of the hotel industry, particularly beholden to it in NSW. This means gambling has to be protected, areas of wealth, where the major casualties are the traditional Labor constituency. So, this area is left to the Greens and the rising bunch of independents, who may well break through in this election as the most formidable influence to advocate reform. Not a good look for the freshly coiffed Albanese.

I have far more concern with the image of Albanese the person than a superficial makeover.

Unfortunately, I have viewed the parliamentary footage of his scowl when he urges Catherine King, the then Shadow Minister  to “smash her” when referring to the then Minister of Health, Sussan Ley. It is a most disturbing image of the Man who wants to be Prime Minister.

Morrison has cultivated the image of the family man who consults his wife, and treasures his children, Albanese is a divorced man with a tearaway son, Nathan. He was married to a fellow politician.

I am put in mind of the entrapment of Kevin Rudd by a Murdoch operative in a drunken 2003 visit to Scores, a strip club in New York. There will be a hunt on for a similar indiscretions by Albanese. In this case, contrast with Morrison’s wholesome domesticity is important to his political enemies

On the other hand, Andrew Probyn’s seemingly innocent question at the National Press Club of who Albanese really is, was irresistible to Albanese, who loves recounting his “log cabin” story. It had better be correct, because you can bet that the Morrison camp will be looking for any Albanese lie, however minor, to neutralise the Prime Minister’s pathology in this regard.

Will there be a Part 3? I wonder if there is much more to say. 

A different Fox in the Political Farmyard

Prince Rupert was seen reflectively choking over his breakfast of caprine sweetbreads and roasted cervine gall bladders when he read advice to the Democrats from the Lincoln Project – the group of disaffected former Republican insiders:

  1. Drive the damn bus, don’t lay down in front of it. Frame your opponent early, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Drivin’ the damn bus
  2. Don’t bring a policy pen to a knife fight. All of us – particularly my friends in the Democratic Party – need to stop thinking that the road to glory is paved with policy. We are in a culture war. You win culture wars on emotion and spectacle. 
  3. Never catch the grenade. The Republican playbook is to lob some crazy attack on the Dems and then just sit back, watch, and enjoy. The Dems catch a grenade like Critical Race Theory as if it’s a bouquet, bobble it around giving it weeks of play, until boom, it blows off another limb. 
  4. Have some damn fun and stop worrying about everything. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a poor gopher trying to undig its own hole, seeing one of my Democratic friends tiptoe around making a point without offending anyone. 
  5. Sell your wins, and back your own. Today too many Democrats mumble their wins, bury their heads, and hash each other mercilessly rather than fall in line as allies against the true threat. My Democratic friends need to shout their victories from the mountaintops, bite their tongues when they don’t agree, and start having a good time again.

Muscular politics? Certainly! An antidote to what David Owen once said to me, before the rise of Prince Rupert, about the soggy centre of the political spectrum.

If I sat down with Grace Tame

Grace, what were you thinking?

Grace Tame, you are a remarkable young lady in that you have weaponised the response to the hypocrisy of government in preaching sexual equality and yet doing nothing about it. The problem with activism and especially when you are disturbing the status quo of a society run by representatives of the comfortable privately schooled, middle class. While you were the hunter, then you had many followers. Some of those will be so fickle that they will desert when you are perceived as having lost “the authority of Diana.”

This Prime Minister inflicted on Australia, if nothing more, knows how public relations worked. So when you have disdain and you publicly show it, Morrison has been waiting with the wedged response. Gushing all over you when it is so easy for you to be portrayed as churlish by those critics who emerge from the shadows – and surprise, surprise, they ride out from the Murdoch Press.

By your understandable but unnecessary action, you may well have diminished your ongoing effect as being characterised as an ALP stooge every time you open your mouth. The criticism will come at different cadences. Slights are a favourite ploy of the Establishment – for instance your successor as Australian of the Year concurrently received an AO: you, Grace Tame, zilch.

Time to regroup Grace. I disagree with those who say you do not need advice. Everyone needs advice; it is part of being a member of a community. Whether you take it is your choice. Make sure of your friends, and how far they are prepared to follow you into the murkiness of sexual exploitation and degradation of woman. What you had before the Morrison wedge was a persona where the nasty political types could not touch you.

You are tough; if you mix it in politics, a touch of the paranoias does not go astray either. You are likely to be engulfed in the Alcott story, with him exacting from government promises to advance the disadvantaged – a very admirable objective with presumably him having a prominent role.

Grace, you need to put yourself into the brain of the enemy. You need a cohort of Australians to stand with you to develop a series of local sanctuaries for those who flee from abusive arrangements. But maybe you have other strategies to augment your devastating rhetoric. But you are now a different person from the one who met the Prime Minister on the eve of Australia Day.

Over 40 years ago, I was faced with the distribution of Federal money provided for a number of community projects. One was for a women’s refuge, and at that time the Victorian Department of Health was headed by a very conservative Roman Catholic bureaucrat, one of the many Roman Catholics who found employment in the lowly denizens of the public service in the thirties and forties, but moved upwards until they together occupied powerful positions in the bureaucracy.

If the Departmental Head had known about the project at the time, when being an assertive woman and moreover a feminist meant a difficult passage given the ultimate funding decision was made by a conservative male-dominated bureaucracy – us two, it may well have gone nowhere. The appearance of two short-haired women wearing leather jackets in our office. So what? They put their case; it was a no brainer. They got their money and we got it out before any in the hierarchy could object. I’m afraid that is my only credential in a field where there are other instances of which, in hindsight, I am not that proud.

In the intervening years much has changed. Therefore, Grace, it is essential you continue to succeed.

Mouse Whisper

When my field mice relatives amble around the Coonawarra vineyards, their paws get soiled by the terroir rouge; and in the Italian vineyards it’s terra rossa in which miei parenti topi leave their tracks.

But in the Valley of Paraibo between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where a substantial amount of the world’s coffee is grown, the soil is known as “terra roxa”. However, in Portuguese, the word for red is “velmelha.” “Roxa” translate as purple. Nobody worries; sounds right, even if the soil is not the colour of aubergine.

Coffee growing in terra roxa

 

Modest Expectation – Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring

General Frewen

Ever since the mournful face of General Frewen first appeared in the media as the face of the person in charge of the logistics, rolling out the various weapons to curb the spread of the virus, I have had my doubts. He always seems to announce that there is plenty of something or other or announces it’s here or it’s imminent; and then there is an inevitable disconnect, some of which is salvageable at some point.

However, the impression is that of a man in khaki sitting on a pile of chaos.

The Prime Minister has found a new catchphase of “pushing through” to cover the lack of direction. Like so many of Morrison’s catchphrases, it lacks any objective meaning. The Prime Minister compares his nebulous phrase with “lockdown”. I know what Lockdown means, and I know what selective lockdown means. But “pushing through”?  I ask you. How is that measured?

For me, I have tolerated Frewen until, when asked about the lack of organisation of the children’s inoculations, he replied well, go and out and source a doctor or pharmacist.

I thought of the General in a conventional warfare situation telling his troops after the invasion has started to go and find a gunsmith or boomerang carver to source their weapons.

Now, the kids are going back to school, and they could be faced with an essay question.

“General Frewen is incompetent and should be replaced. Discuss.”

The Greater Novak

The Greater Serbian ideology epitomises the nexus between religion, mythology and political thought. The establishment of Messianic ideology (Third Rome ideology), disseminated from Imperial Russia all over the Orthodox world, found fruitful ground in Serbia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This ideology has been attributed to the rise of fanaticism and hostility toward others.

Serbia injected itself into WW1 when a member of one of its secret societies, The Black Hand, Gavrilo Princip by name, an 18 year old student, assassinated the Grand Duke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. This is generally regarded as one of the incidents which lit the flame of WWI. From Belgrade’s perspective, this War was the Third Balkan War. The First Balkan war in 1912 against the Ottoman Empire saw Serbia gain control of Kosovo, while the Second in 1913 saw Serbia defeat Bulgaria. These victories fed the aggressive aspects of a deep-rooted Greater Serbian ideology. The intertwined Orthodox church sense of superiority shared between the two major Slavic powers in Russia and Serbia emboldened the Serbians to take on the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Despite the collapse of the Russian Imperium, the Serbians came out the winners at the Conference at Versailles, with a Serbian king presiding over the new country of Yugoslavia, having also acquired both Croatia and Slovenia, plus, the predominantly Muslim Bosnia. This lasted until Germany invaded the Balkans in 1941.

Therefore, this new nation, sandwiched between the ruins of two empires in which they had been on the winning side, fulfilled the Serbian nationalist aims – at least to some degree.

In a demonstration of the underlying animosities in the World of the Racquet, at a time when Djokovic was probably acquiring his first racquet, the Croatian tennis player, Goran Ivanisevic had criticised Serbian-born Monica Seles, the top-seeded woman. Her “crime” was not disassociating herself from Yugoslavia and he said if they each won the Wimbledon titles, he would not dance with Seles at the traditional ball which follows. This was in 1992 at a time when the Serbs and Croatians were warring in the Balkans, in an ill-conceived venture by the Serbs, under Slobodan Milošević, to restore the Greater Serbian mystique, which Tito had destroyed by the end of WW11. The irony was that Seles was an ethnic Hungarian by accident born in Serbia.

Order of St Sava

Djokovic is the archetypical Serbian authoritarian nationalist with the beautiful Serbian wife, two kids – and even at 34, the parents, not him, are there for Novak, directing the media storm in Serbia. His parents were actually born in Kosovo, and he has donated US$100,000 to the Gracanica Orthodox monastery there, for which he has been awarded the Order of St Sava.

Kosovo is only 1.5% Serb, and the rest are mainly Albanian, and hence the religious divide which drives into the position that Kosovo should be part of Serbia. A bit like Australia where the Serbs number about 20,000 across Australia, but then they can cause commotion more than any other.

His tennis mastery and his standing in his own country is such that when he feels that his exalted status is violated, then it is a situation which not surprisingly has generated this response, especially as his courtiers in Tennis Australia had obviously reassured him that they had fixed up a deal.

The problem is that Serbian nationalism knows no bounds, it travels from generation to generation, through its Orthodox church reinforcing this view, and worse still it is the Orthodox Christmas when this Christ simulacrum has been imprisoned in a “Carlton mangy”.

Djokovic is a poster boy of the anti-vaxxers, which is one of the many faces of the wild conspiracy theorists, intent in turning the world into raging paranoia, where the legacy of mediaeval myths borne of ignorance are translated into a modern day framework. Djokovic fits into this milieu as Trump does in his, completely selfish. All Djokovic wants is to win more Grand Slams than anyone else, and Melbourne has been his favourite surface. Nothing else matters, but because of his stance on vaccination he finds that us Australians find his attitude offensive. Thus, he sought to confuse by not declaring his status until forced.

But then let me get a piece of this conspiracy belief.  Do not underestimate the existence of underground anti-vaxxers everywhere, including within Tennis Australia wishing to collaborate. Why do we have the panels of anonymous doctors delivering a secret judgement on Djokovic? As Margaret Thatcher would say: “Tell me their names.” Their qualifications? Doctors? Of Music?

Unanimous decision, was it? The questions are endless if you want to pursue a conspiracy. Why not invoke the Masons or any other secret society like the Melbourne Club? Once the community starts being secretive over something that, if revealed, only shows a level of poor judgement if nothing else where does it end? But wait a minute, two panels are supposed to be independent. So that cancels out bias?

Anyway, the level of paranoia is stoked in the community over a selfish, self-absorbed man who has a clear agenda, to win more Grands Slam tournaments than anyone else and it is in Melbourne, on a court surface where he reigns supreme.  Does anyone seriously consider that this is not a ploy to guarantee him entrance to Australia over the new two years or so; and in addition to remain the poster boy of the anti-vaxxers and their tribe of “the mad and the bad”?

What’s a few days building up the myth of martyrdom in that Carlton cesspit, where maggots and cockroaches reign supreme and asylum seekers approach a decade of imprisonment.

It seems he has achieved a Pyrrhic victory on a pile of “alternate facts” he supplied. The “porkies” seem to be growing into a full-blown sty.

Would you want to be at Rod Laver Arena with the stands stacked with the Greater Serbia brandishing the icon of the Christ figure, Novak when Mr Nadal is on the court? He may as well be a Croatian. Welcome to the Balkans on the Yarra with or without the Serbian Tennis Christ. I ask you!

But yesterday the Washington Post’s sober assessment may stick.

It’s too bad Australia didn’t stick to its rules and Victoria didn’t follow suit, given the success both realized from being sticklers to safeguards for much of the past two years. Those regulations should extend to everyone, athletes and those around them included.

Some Holiday reading. An Excerpt from my forthcoming novel – “The Scars of 56”

Eventually, a few days before Christmas, we set sail for Japan.

One bright sunlit day before Christmas, I was leaning on the rail watching the sea wash beneath the ship. My father had come up from his morning sick parade and found me. He said that I could probably make out the islands of Quemoy and Matsu on the horizon. I struggled to believe that those smudges on the horizon were islands and not clouds, and nobody had binoculars for us to confirm. I looked keenly towards where my father was pointing.

“It is strange how a couple of specks off the Chinese coast held by Chiang Kai-shek’s mob could cause so much trouble.” The Chief had materialised from the bridge. “Am I wrong or are those the islands?” The Chief nodded in response to my father’s query. “Aren’t we a bit close?” “No, we’re in the shipping lane.”

The last word was drowned out by the sound of two United States Air Force fighters passing just above mast height. They were past the ship before we could properly focus. These pieces of silver machinery with the star insignia had become specks in the distance, leaving behind a shard of noise. I thought it pretty exciting. They were Starfighters and they banked sharply and climbed upwards, then flattened out before turning, and then they were back on a strafing run again.

The Chief, having recovered from the initial surprise, had reached into his pocket in a studied way to produce his pipe and tobacco pouch. It was his reaction to what he saw as evidence of American bravado. By this time, the deck had filled with a few more passengers wondering what on earth was happening.

For a boy who had been brought up on comic book air force heroics and images of war where people scattered in the face of strafing, my father’s studied expression was designed to calm. He also affected more interest in packing his pipe than being impressed by this show of “Yank airpower”. His was the face of the British Dominion – a powerful image in an increasingly powerless environment. His growl of “Yank airpower” more cattle dog than bulldog.

He bit on his pipe stem with a face of disapproval.

Most of those on deck instinctively went for cover leaving my father, the Chief and me still against the ship railing, disinterested spectators in this show of American muscularity. This time we could see the outline of the masked pilots’ faces as they came low, parallel at mast height and then swerved away and were gone. I found myself waving; Gay just looked upwards.

“Useful training exercise. Getting their hours up. Terrorising the shipping. It is always good to know how defenceless guinea pigs really are,” murmured the Chief as those on deck broke into excited chatter.

“How exciting!” said Gay’s mother, which was about the sum of the passengers’ comments. Of course, it provoked a discussion at the dinner table that evening. Despite an unwritten protocol about not discussing religion or politics at the table, my father for once joined in the discussion.

It was impossible to ignore the buzzing of the ship by the American planes. However, somebody said that they were probably worried that we might be heading for a Chinese port, and just wanted to see who we were. This prompted talk of the future of China. Since nobody seemed to know much, the discussion about the exiled Chinese government on Formosa and, among the older of the gathering, the Chiang Kai-sheks, resurfaced. They were their type of Chinese, Madame Chiang being Western-educated, the ones that made them feel comfortable.

Weren’t they in the same category as all the other world leaders who had seen us through the war? Good people. But hang on, said one, Stalin had been a dreadful creature; and yet for a time he was spoken about as “Uncle Joe”. The Chief looked up and said wryly that was what the Americans called him when they wanted their people to think of him as benign and kind, like the Americans’ Uncle Sam. He tapped his pipe on the ashtray and went back to the bridge.

The conversation continued. The general consensus was that the Chiang-led government was still the upholder of Western democracy and thus worthy to be considered the legitimate Chinese government. The Communists were still usurpers, (really how could you abide them!) but nobody around the table really knew much about this Mao Tse Tung, although his Foreign Minister (or was it Prime Minister?) seemed to be a bit more personable.

“Chou-en-lai, that’s his name, isn’t it?” When asked, the voice that had said “he seemed personable enough” conceded that the judgement was made on seeing him smile on a newsreel. And one of the other passengers who obviously did not care much for “the chinks” said so. That seemed to stifle any further discussion.

As quickly as the topic had been raised, the discussion vanished into the cloud of cigar smoke. Nobody could think of anything more useful to say.

The status of the bridge games replaced the American plane incident. This was a conversation about something more familiar, and the passengers became rapidly engrossed in the finer details. At this stage my father excused himself. He did not like card games.

He looked around for someone with whom he could share a whisky. He would involve me when it meant saying how well I was doing at school – or had been doing at school. He had taken to announcing that there could be only one career for me and that was in medicine, or he might soften my potential fate by conceding I could at least have a career that involved the technological advances that he saw sweeping the world. My mentions of an interest in law and history were dismissed as a passing phase of youth.

Sailing on S.S. Taiping

My father’s conversation reflected his fascination not only with China but also with Japan, Russia and the United States. However, he brushed away any interest in the culture. Not for him any chinoiserie artefacts or fine arts. Just as Hong Kong represented cheap suits and shirts, the prospect of Japan was cheap cameras, watches, Super-8 cameras and any other gadget that took his fancy. On the previous voyage he had purchased a kimono for my mother. She took one look at it and put it away in the back of the cupboard where it stayed. As for Russia, he was always talking about going across Russia by train – he wanted to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway.

At a time when there were still US currency restrictions in Australia, he managed to subscribe to the Saturday Evening Post and my mother had received the Ladies’ Home Journal from the United States. The subscription to the Saturday Evening Post reflected the high regard that he had for Benjamin Franklin, whose bust constantly appeared in the journal and whose Pennsylvania Gazette was said to be its direct ancestor.

But here we had been treated to an American show of force in the way the American planes had appeared without warning; so different from the hokey images of Norman Rockwell’s cover illustrations for the Post.

The Summer of 42 

A musica da minha vida, a mais linda. Como e bom amar e ser amado.

I have written in a previous blog about the opening scenes in my favourite films, on the grounds that when I watch them they evoke situations in which I wish I had been “a player”. In the tapestry woven by each of the films, for instance I would have like to have been identified in the Tapestry as a 20 year old aspiring Truman Capote standing on the corner when Holly got out of the yellow taxi. As I look back, do I remember in real life my Holly Golightly? Well yes, I do.

But this is about the most memorable ending to another film, and for me, the young bloke, Herman Raucher, sitting for a moment on this seemingly unending New England beach among the tufts of littoral vegetation – amid the daub of daisies. Summer is just about spent.  The film was The Summer of 42. The background was Nantucket Island.

Nantucket Island

He had just seen the envelope with his name she had posted on the door of her summer rental. The beautiful cheerful young woman who was in her twenties and he a kid of perhaps sixteen or seventeen. She had dropped her guard the previous evening and they had made love. Why, is never clear – but he had continually watched and hung around her over the languid course of that summer. He had watched her farewell her soldier boyfriend, and thus alone she had drifted. Then there was the sexual encounter. When you dissect the film frame by frame it does not make sense. And yet in considering the entirety of the film, there was an inevitability of the autobiographical.

That morning after, he sits down on the porch seat and reads it.

Dear Hermie, I must go home now. I’m sure you’ll understand. There’s much I have to do. I won’t try and explain what happened last night, because I know that in time, you’ll find a proper way in which to remember it. What I will do is remember you. And I pray that you be spared all senseless tragedies. I wish you good things, Hermie. Only good things. Always, Dorothy.

The scene then switches to the boy on the beach, the boy walking away from the beach, narrating as he goes as the adult, counterpointing his awakening experience with Dorothy with the prosaic happenings to his friends.

I was never to see her again. Nor was I ever to learn what became of her. We were different then. Kids were different. It took us longer to understand the things we felt. Life is made up of small comings and goings. And for everything we take with us, there is something that we leave behind. In the Summer of ’42, we raided the Coast Guard station four times, we saw five movies, and had nine days of rain. Benji broke his watch, Oscy gave up the harmonica, and in a very special way, I lost Hermie. Forever…”  

As I sit in my study, gazing out over the wrought iron balcony across the frangipani in flower to the Parramatta River 65 years later, I remember my version – my experience of the older woman and the younger man. There are none of the accompanying lush sounds of Michel Le Grand. Just the fragrance of the flowers. But my experience, although at one point close, never crossed the line – strange as that may seem today.

Yet the end of that film, which I first saw not long after its release in 1971, has lived with me. I never saw the heroine other than through my eyes, but they were those of an experienced man in his early thirties, not of the youth of 1956.

The film provided a prop for my thoughts to stray, still with the young New Zealand woman on the ship, and the first words of Herman’s epilogue, which were so very true.

I never did see Gay again, but as I have written in my book, her parents did communicate with my father a couple of times in friendly terms. Yet I never did. I was not to go to New Zealand where she lived, until the end of 1984. Then I did not try and make contact. It was too long past.

In the 1950s, she may as well have lived on the moon so distant was New Zealand and as we did not play much rugby union in Victoria, and certainly not at an international level, maybe the moon was too close.

And moreover, she was a Roman Catholic and if my mother had still been alive, association with “a Papist” would have been very much a no-no. That fact had come as a surprise to me and I make no mention of this in my book. The assumption was that all New Zealanders were either Anglicans, or more likely Presbyterians. Nothing like growing up in a culture of stereotypes.

But even as some years on, I still remember the summer of 56, even with the scar tissue.

The Wrong Smoking Ceremony

I felt both angry and sad when I read about the fire on the portico of Old Parliament House. It was supposed to be a smoking ceremony. For God’s sake, what was this meant to be, apart from one of the meaningless acts on the fringe of Aboriginal culture. Like the didgeridoo, clap sticks, smearing ochre on one’s body, the welcome to country, it seems that Aboriginal culture has become a reflex rather than an appreciation of the diversity of the various tribes from one group to another as we whitefellas do when we invoke heritage.

One could argue the tent embassy outside Old Parliament House has outlived its time. I was there, sitting around the campfire with Charlie Perkins in 1973, outside Parliament House. Charlie was not short on being able to handle the media. Ever since he had been involved in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s in country NSW, Charles had been very much the face of Aboriginal activism. He was brilliant in his use of symbolism, and the simple campfire outside Parliament House emphasised very much the traditional myth of Australian egalitarianism – mateship.

There was an aboriginal Liberal Party Senator at time, Neville Bonner, a Queenslander whose preselection was protected from the ravages of the National party by Eric Robinson, a person whose contribution as a true liberal to the Coalition was cut short by his premature death. The problem with Neville was that he was a nice bloke, as they say he “had his heart in the right place. He was not very intelligent, and although he presented a “small-liberal” face he was isolated from the young Aboriginal activists. His criticism of the “Embassy” did not help his standing. Unfairly but still deadly, he was a tagged as “a coconut”, black on the outside; white on the inside. He is quoted later in life saying that he felt very lonely in Canberra.

I was asked to make contact with Charlie Perkins, which I did, and we got on very well. A young Liberal staffer sitting around the campfire of the nascent embassy with Charlie moved one National Party Senator to ask rhetorically, “Who was that Communist staffer of the Leader of the Opposition sitting out there with Perkins?”

And there was another reason for a campfire. It’s bloody cold in the Canberra winter.

Over the years, I have wondered what has been the point of maintaining what resembles an outstation, without there being a consolidation of it as a permanent symbol. After all, Canberra is full of monuments – while not one there to celebrate those years of the rise of the Urban Aboriginal Power. Sometimes, when in Canberra I would go over, and find it empty. Reminded me of a bedroom when I was in student in College.

Smoking ceremony gone wrong was one reason for there being the fire at the Parliament House entrance. My dilemma is that these so-called smoking ceremonies appear not to be recorded historically. I have looked through a number of early accounts of observations of Aboriginal life and cannot find any mention. Nevertheless, when I asked a friend about it, he said it is a modern invention, adapted from other indigenous cultures which would have been unknown to the ancestors of Australian Aborigines. He has promised a contribution to the blog to recall its origin at La Perouse, nearly 30 years ago.

Anyway, the vision of the doors of Old Parliament House going up in flames did not give any indication of the Aboriginal expertise in the cold burn; and it was the fire brigade which extinguished the flames.

The tent embassy crowd tried to distance themselves from any involvement. But what the Aboriginal community should do is to set out the appropriate traditional way the smoking ceremony should be used and not debased.

What does Prince Rupert think?

Morrison saying people who test positive by rapid test should contact their own GP is not meaningful for many twentysomethings. Like telling them to contact their regular blacksmith.

Prince Rupert has commented(sic): Well, with respect to madam twitterata, my serfs used to go to the blacksmith with medical problems, even when rats were miasmic.

The farrier at work

Well, in my bygone times, when general practitioners were thin on the ground in the country village, the farrier may have looked after the horses’ limbs but it was actually the blacksmith who set the fractured bones of the peasants when they were trampled by the farriers’ work.

Mouse Whisper

The Government, early in the New Year, sent rapid antigen tests to the Aboriginal Medical Services.  Unfortunately, they were closed for Christmas. That bloody virus has no respect for anything, not even General Frewen.

Modest Expectations – Lopez Nunes

Consider this summer’s Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago. All those attending were required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. Anyone unvaccinated was required to wear masks throughout, even though the festival was outdoors. And those attending were asked to accept a “Lollapalooza Fan Health Pledge” promising they had not tested positive or been exposed to covid within two weeks or experienced any covid symptoms within 48 hours. The result? Of the hundreds of thousands of fans who attended the festival, only a few hundred have subsequently tested positive — and it is unclear whether any of them were infected at Lollapalooza.

Eighteen months into the pandemic, we’ve learned that outdoor gatherings are reasonably safe — it’s the indoor activities that invariably follow that are deadly. At Sturgis, (the annual pilgrimage to this tiny town in South Dakota for motorcycle enthusiasts) it is unlikely that the outdoor bike rallies were a problem. Most of the spread likely happened in the evenings, when people crowded into bars and restaurants, most unvaccinated, all unmasked. Large gatherings that work on keeping indoor spaces safe through vaccinations, masking, ventilation and other techniques can keep the entire gathering safer. 

Over the past year, every time we have tried to defy the virus by scorning precautions, the virus has won, and people have suffered and died: significant outbreaks, a lot of hospitalizations, too many deaths. Large gatherings like rallies, festivals and fairs are the biggest test of what our society can do in a pandemic.

The simple interpretation of the large outbreak after Sturgis is that big gatherings are just not possible during a pandemic. But that is the wrong lesson. It’s important for Americans to find ways to come together. So we should ask how we can make gatherings safer. 

Here, the pandemic playbook is straightforward: Ensure you have a highly vaccinated population. Verify people’s vaccination status. Require rapid and frequent testing, especially for the unvaccinated. Improve indoor air quality, and use masking intermittently when needed.

None of these are difficult to achieve. And none of them should be particularly inconvenient. If we do all that, we can safely get back to the things we love and the events that bring us together, like music festivals, concerts and motorcycle rallies. From The Washington Post

On the way to Sturgis to catch a dose of COVID

The Sturgis motor bike rally attracts, over a 10-day period in August, about 500,000 people, all unvaccinated, all maskless, all completely ignoring any anti-viral precautions. I remember last year the forlorn image of the lone nurse at the empty COVID-19 testing station at Sturgis.

Sturgis is a small town in sparsely populated Mead County of that State; perhaps the nearest equivalent in Australia might be the annual gathering of ute owners and their vehicles in Deniliquin.

One difference is the Deni Ute Muster, as it is called, attracts only about 25,000 with up to one hundred utes, and it has been cancelled this year, as it was last year – out of respect for the lethal nature of the Virus.

Small town where, when the crowd arrives and leaves, in this case in Sturgis the number of COVID-19 cases shot up. There have been variable estimates of the extent of the spread engineered by the Sturgis participants and the numbers range up to 266,000. But given the reliability of the data, just use the word “substantial” – as good as any semi-quantitative measure.

While that irresponsible Governor of South Dakota rides around pillion at such a festival, herself vaccinated (not in evidence) but maskless (in evidence) what does one expect from a country one spit away from the sinkhole.

In 1788, Sydney was all we had

One matter is evident in the lead up to the election. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition come from the same state, and not only that, but also from suburban Sydney. There is resentment building against NSW; and that is unsurprising given what a target Berejiklian has made for herself, and which may intensify once the shadow cast by ICAC may challenge her “ermine saviour” image promoted by the AFR and subsequently universally lampooned. Again, she is a product of suburban Sydney schooling in North Ryde, and her deputy’s stronghold is in Queanbeyan, which may as well be a de facto suburb of Canberra; moreover, conventional suburbia.

I have lived half my life in Victoria and the other half in New South Wales.  I also have been lucky enough to travel widely around Australia during my working life. I remember having to work in Queensland, and that feeling of being labelled a “Mexican”, which I soon shed; but on the other hand if the Queenslanders don’t like you (which is the politician’s lot) it is hard to shed the sombrero.

I have seen images of Albanese in Queensland and he doesn’t exactly look in place there; whereas Morrison fits the bill (Queensland has a hearty dose of evangelical happy clappers like himself) at least in the country areas. The number of billboards in rural Queensland telling one that “Jesus saves”, would encourage anybody to open a bank account.

As if a prescient sign, a former Albanese sidekick has been booted from his position as Mayor of the Inner West Council, suffering the ignominy of not being able to finish his term in December, when a new council will be elected.

“The name’s Bill. Bill Shorten,” the kicker line began. “Remember it well. He’s a union supremo at the moment. He’s pals with both foxes and hounds. He’s the face of 21st century Labor. Heading for The Lodge? You better believe it.” 

I remember this quote about Bill Shorten. It doesn’t get much currency these days.

I am not a great fan of Shorten. From my sources in Melbourne flow streams of negativity. His rise to the leadership was not a pathway which personally I would have taken, but he got there, with all his “zinger” arrogance clearly demonstrating a complete lack of sense of humour in the process. A very unlovely image over seven years, and he lost the election.

Equally unlovely men have had a second chance, but in so doing, they regulated their outer coating – spots and stripes are changed accordingly. When he was young, Shorten’s essential meanness was hidden behind a youthful face and a shock of hair. I doubt whether he has changed that much, but he is intelligent, far more than the current Prime Minister and his essential meanness of spirit could carry the Labor Party to victory, given that image of NSW being the teacher’s pet and that totally inept performance of his fellow Victorian, Frydenberg, who has continually attacked his own State.

Shorten does not have to be Bob Hope with devastating one liners; he needs to convert his meanness into an image of resilience and show compassion. The baby kissing “aw-shucks” image is not Shorten; leave that to Morrison and his baseball cap.

These are hard times. Once, there was a hard time in Northern Tasmania. I was not close enough to the Beaconsfield mine disaster to know how Shorten was perceived locally at the time – whether a sincerely concerned union official or a silver-tailed blow-in – courtesy of Dick Pratt’s private plane. But he was there on the spot, not in Hawaii. Shorten’s intuitive response was one of being seen there.

Man of the people, Beaconsfield

Smart people always learn; and Shorten is smart. Howard learnt; he had the same propensity of shifting alliances – a polite way of putting it. After all, it was said Shorten was in his element in Beaconsfield given his expertise in undermining. This facet of his way up the pole of influence will always dog him; but being likened to a rodent ultimately did not impede Howard’s rise to Prime Ministership, where he did a reasonable job. He was fortunate to have Tim Fisher as his Deputy – both, may I add, New South Welshmen but at least Tim’s electorate bordered Victoria. This a luxury Morrison does not have.

The Australian government is not the plaything of New South Wales politics. Premier Andrews summed up the resentment “I signed up to a national plan to vaccinate the country, not a plan to vaccinate Sydney.” Note Andrews did not say NSW; he said Sydney.

The Lodge, Canberra

Andrews embodied a bitterness which is palpable around Australia. There is no better symbolism than Morrison going home to Sydney every weekend. He is a Sydneysider; he is not an Australian. The Lodge is where the Prime Minister of Australia resides. The problem is that, as Keating first demonstrated, it is too easy for a Sydney-based Prime Minister to use Kirribilli House as the main residence, not the Lodge. However, Canberra was constructed to symbolise the Australian Federation, not some form of extended Sydney papacy because of the accident of the first settlement, Port Jackson, where Arthur Phillip stuck the Union Jack.

The Prime Minister should test his popularity in Victoria for a start. Victoria gets a new seat at the next Federal election – a safe Labor seat named after Bob Hawke; and the recent redistribution makes the seat of Chisholm even more marginal for the Liberal Party. Especially if it is recommended as an electoral issue that Kirribilli House be opened up for the nation or sold, in order to dispense with the notion that the Federal Government is just an extension of NSW politics. After all, Kirribilli was acquired in 1919 by another NSW-based Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, to prevent the site being redeveloped.

Only since 1956 has it been the place where the Prime Minister could entertain, but not live. However, since the end of 1991 Australia has had NSW-based Prime Ministers except for the Rudd/Gillard six-year era – in other words, over a 30 year period we have had a NSW Prime Minister for 25 of those, and thus surreptitiously turning Kirribilli into the Prime Ministerial residence is outrageous. Canberra was created for that purpose, and the Lodge is the official residence of the Prime Minister, not an apartment when Parliament is sitting. Moreover, it has been recently renovated at a cost of $9m.

What a choice, with the wife and kids with a residence overlooking the Harbour, the Government being seen as not disrupting the children’s schooling.  One can see how that resonates in the community – Big Daddy.

Then no matter what, the lights will continue to burn brightly in Kirribilli, with comfy fireside chats with the NSW Premier, especially if the two share the same political affiliation – and the children are playing around at his feet.

Kiribilli-by-sea

Do we really want Albanese to continue this dubious NSW tradition?

You know, the rest of Australia can go hang but Daddy is always home for dinner – and close to Hillsong on Sundays.

Wilcannia on the Darling River

“Jack Best, you should know better.”

The woman, a Barkinji elder, had been looking at me strangely for a few minutes as I was talking. I stopped, sheepish as a naughty child.

I realised that what I was saying was trespassing into woman’s business.

That was the way.  I was openly admonished. I should have recognised her initial non-verbal scolding.  Aboriginal people are very good on non-verbal communication; the more you work with them, the more you learn how to respond appropriately.

Yet in this instance, it demonstrated that she recognised as a whitefella that I had been trusted by the local Aboriginal population, and my action was not ignorance borne of lack of knowledge; but it had been my unthinking chatter when I had wandered into women’s business by describing something I had seen.

As I said, she was a Barkinji elder, her people fine-boned Aboriginals whose land lies along the Darling River.

I spent a considerable amount of time in Wilcannia when I was working in the Far West of NSW. Whether I had any long term impact, perhaps but I doubt it. Nevertheless, I remember a time when the myth was abroad implying that Wilcannia was a dangerous place where you would not want to stop. I never had that feeling.  Yet it has always been very easy to criticise Wilcannia because the town depends on Government funding, one way or another. For a period, there was an attempt to introduce the building trades, complete with a bricklaying machine. Not a success.

Wilcannia is a very circumscribed community. Once a port on the Darling River, it now has a very important place in Australia’s heritage, both for Aboriginal people and whitefellas. Whitefellas still lived in the town – when I was there one white nun was still resident in the convent.

There was a very involved white family who had a substantial property on the Darling River, just north of Wilcannia – a beautiful property. When the Darling River is not a dry creek bed or a stream discoloured by algal blooms, it is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, and a property being on the river had a grandstand view, employing an apt sporting cliché, one of those that riddle our language.

Wilcannia is at a junction of roads going in all directions – the conventional access east-west  via the Barrier Highway; or north along the Darling to Bourke – a rough route through Tilpa and Louth. South, you turn off the Barrier highway and go down through the Manara Hills to Ivanhoe, where I once got off the Indian Pacific at 3am in order to be given a lift back to Wilcannia. Also, I once drove the 800 kilometres from Wilcannia to Melbourne on a Saturday in a Ford Laser without power steering.

Notwithstanding, Wilcannia is a self-contained Aboriginal community, with its buildings reflecting the whitefella heritage. The buildings were constructed of the distinctive cream sandstone from the now overgrown quarry  just out of town. Wilcannia stone has a distinctive cerise streak running through it.

Whitefella heritage

Now Wilcannia is in the middle of the pandemic and, given how circumscribed the community is, it is not surprising that once the Virus arrived there, most of the community were liable to become infected. The vaccination caravan arrived, and while there is a local hospital, there has been no local doctor, although there was someone in the past, who was a bit of a “Doc Holliday”.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) provided a clinic several times a week. The local nursing staff were hard-bitten but a generous lot; they had to be because there was a regular client group, who would turn up at all hours of the day or night. While the RFDS was there to pick up emergency cases; there also was always the chance of a woman unexpectedly turning up in labour at the hospital, well into the second stage, since ante-natal care for many of the Indigenous population is under-utilised.

What I find somewhat ironic with the pandemic and the resistance to a dedicated quarantine facility by the NSW Government is the provision of motor homes and tents in Wilcannia to isolate the infected. This is an expensive way of providing a dedicated facility; and it seems to have escaped the media’s attention to ask why hasn’t the Government been able to produce the same facilities for the infected burghers of the west and south-west of Sydney – early in the outbreak? The pundits would suggest the cost would be prohibitive and nobody would be prepared to dedicate the golf courses, for instance, for this use for the pandemic duration for such a facility.

But why should there be such a positive act of discrimination towards one community and not elsewhere in NSW?    All irony aside, what happens in Wilcannia will be instructive if NSW Health have the wit to engage in the community long term. Why? Because one way or another the whole Wilcannia community will either be vaccinated, be infected or a mixture of both.

Being an isolated community, it would be interesting to see how long the immunity lasts and whether there are differences between those vaccinated and those naturally infected. The problem is the level of trust that the Barkinji give to us whitefellas. I spent many years there on and off as I said, but always recognised how conditional trust is.

My closest contact is dead. He was one of several blackfellas with whom I developed that level of trust; but that was a long time ago. Nevertheless, we did develop a blueprint – an understanding. The lesson for me was that Wilcannia provided an insight into a community caught on the edge of whitefella civilisation. Yet that took years to obtain.

The Ghost of Al Grassby

I was going to give Albanese-bashing a break, but he cannot save himself. The topic was  Australian multi-culture and how his Party had been the centre of multi-cultural advocacy. He instanced Al Grassby as being a promotor of multi-culturism, when a member of Parliament. Al Grassby initially received a great deal of favourable coverage because of his colourful self-portrayal. This face of the Griffith Calabrian N’drangeta was hidden for many years, and it was a very unfavourable way of supporting the candidature of Kristina Keneally to the Lower House to mention Grassby in any way.

Kristina Keneally

I agree with Paul Keating that she is an acquisition in the Lower House, not the least for having a sharp mind and being articulate at the same time. She leaves some of the dummies who apparently are Ministers in her wake.

It is unsurprising in his enthusiasm for multi-culturism that Albanese failed to mention the exploits of those two multi-cultural warriors, Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, prominent bugbears that Keneally “cut off at the pass”.

I am sure Ms Keneally remembers those two examples of Australian multi-culturism during her nightmare Premiership, as she ploughs into her new electorate-in-waiting.

Nevertheless, if she inherits the Home Affairs portfolio under a Labor Government, her experience will be very useful in dealing with a guy called Pezzullo.

King Penguins on the bookshelf

King Penguins were a delightful series of books produced as one of the inspirations of Alan Lane, the founder of Penguin Books. He borrowed the concept from a small German publisher, Insel-Verlag.

Alan Lane started the publication of Penguin books in 1936, where he reprinted books in characteristic pocket editions.

In 1939, the first in this series of King Penguins – “British Birds” appeared.

As Lane said himself: “The aim of the King Penguin is different. These have not been planned to coincide with the public’s growing appreciation of art, but rather to appeal to the general liking for illustrated keepsakes of special projects.”  Unless you sample these books, that description is less than informative.

The first book had a pale green cover, with brown solid edges with white streaks between each brick, like ribbons of mortar. The full title British Birds on Lake, River and Stream lies over an inked cartoon of a kingfisher.  There were 16 colour plates taken from John Gould’s massive collection of Birds of Great Britain, which extended to seven volumes. In a one shilling crown octavo pocket size book, the King Penguin is an elegant sampler, beautifully presented, of often esoteric subjects. The introductory description of this first one acknowledged  how Gould spent several years in Australia and prepared a 600 plate Birds of Australia and is regarded as the Father of Australian ornithology.

Seventy-six King Penguins and 20 years later, the last King Penguin was published. The subject matter – the Sculpture of the Parthenon. While I enjoyed the British bird book, I’m not big on the Parthenon. But that is the quirky diversity of this set. As recounted in an earlier blog, I used the 1950 King Penguin, Romney Marsh, as a guide to find the various churches deep in this reclaimed Kent marshland.

I now have a complete King Penguin set, the collection of which was started by my father. My father bought Penguin books by the bookcase – adding to his collection every month. Not only Penguins but Pelicans, which were essentially the non-fiction counterpart.  Penguins typically had an orange colour (unless crime, which had a green cover; biography royal blue; travel/adventure crimson). The Pelicans were sky blue in colour and were published from 1937 to 1990. Along the way, when the Penguin Classics were issued, my father never missed one; King Penguins were different. He bought those when he was interested in the subject matter.

Having inherited these, I thought I must try and obtain the full set. The first and easiest option was to buy a full set, and now on eBay to buy a full set the buyer needs about US$1,000. For me, when such international trading entrepôt to tap did not exist, they were much harder to access; it was the thrill of the chase and over about five years, mostly in small secondhand bookshops in England, a complete set was achieved. Some are in better condition than others, but it was the joy of discovery – and inching towards the full set.

Magic Books of Mexico

When the last one was collected,  in my case Popular Art in Britain, my feeling of elation at having achieved the goal quickly became followed by a sense bordering on melancholia. What next? An achievement which will not materially change anything.

Yet recently I have found out about another one which I don’t have. That was the one reprinted for the Olympics Games in 1968, “Magic Books of Mexico”. My collector melancholy has lifted – if only temporarily.

The next venue?

The Pentagon has spent more than $14 trillion on the war in Afghanistan, with “one-third to one-half” of the total going to military contracts, according to a newly released report by the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

According to the report, which outlines the corporate beneficiaries of post-9/11 Pentagon spending, one-quarter to one-third of all contracts in recent years have been awarded to just five major corporations: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman – From The Boston Globe

After Afghanistan and Vietnam and Korea, coming to a venue near you – 1955, 1975, 2021; or another way 1951, 1965, 2001 – 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. To feed the above corporations, will the next conflict be the real Armageddon – or just 40 years devoted to an exercise in the Defence of Freedom as well as feeding the maw of the above named corporations?

The blood of Afghanistan is barely dry on the American escutcheon before there is more feeding of the maw, with the proposal to infect Australia with nuclear submarine technology. The beneficiary of this Thursday’s announcement? General Dynamics. Will anybody ever learn?

The Waste Land has never seemed more relevant.

This decayed hole among the mountains

In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing

Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel

There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.

It has no windows, and the door swings.

And for chapel, substitute mosque, synagogue, temple or whatever suits your prayer.

Mouse Whisper

How do you make an Armenian cross?

Mention the word accountability!

Or else hire yourself a good carver of khachkars (sounds like a guttural version of cash cow), an example below with the characteristic cross of the Armenian Apostolic Church. If you want to see the eclectic nature of the Christian Church, just wander into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church territory is carved up between six Christian sects so that the Chapel of Saint Helena is a 12th-century Armenian church contained on the lower level. All mine!

As a paw note, I acknowledge my uncle Charles Arnamousian, for this information.

A khachkar

Modest Expectations – The Sole of Bond Street

As the pandemic has ploughed on, there is a new collective noun for the experts clamouring for media exposure – an irritation of epidemiologists. After more than 15 months of COVID, the endless stream of epidemiologists called upon to express opinions on television have variously inspired and annoyed, but more often have provided a confusing opinion. For me, the soft-spoken Marie-Louise McLaws, whose family motto is “Spectemur agendo” meaning “we are judged by our actions”, is one such example. Marie-Louise is probably judged by her talking head television profile and she obviously has her fans.

Nevertheless, she has made a pertinent observation as to the vulnerability of Victoria, particularly Melbourne, to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is a matter of geography – the ease with which people can move around there as distinct from other major cities in Australia.  Others are chiming in with stochastic analysis, a fancy name to define randomness of these events. Perhaps she has been over-enthusiastic in emphasising some other differences, which probably don’t exist, but the geography argument is a strong one, and the outer suburbs of Melbourne do contain many migrant groups.

Take the Indian population, for instance; they are clustered on opposite sides of Melbourne, which is the favoured destination of Indian migrants over Sydney. If you believe the blurb, that is:

Indians living in Melbourne love:

  • living in Melbourne’s suburbs with safe, accessible transport
  • local supermarkets, Indian grocery stores and restaurants
  • Melbourne’s festivals, museums and cultural events 
  • Victoria’s world-class education system
  • dining out in Melbourne’s renowned restaurants.

All conducive to a very mobile lifestyle, and there are over 56,000 Indian-born Australians in Melbourne, thus about three per cent of Melbourne’s population. Sydney has a smaller population, and it is concentrated in Harris Park and surrounding suburbs in Sydney’s west.  In this century up to 2019, Indian migration was the largest in percentage terms. People should not be coy about country of origin, especially when so many still have strong family links to a country where the virus spread has been out of control. In the midst of a pandemic, such demographic information is important.

I always remember a description of Brisbane, “If Rome was built on seven hills, Brisbane was built on seventy-seven”. Sydney by its geography is also compartmented, and this was well shown in the COVID-19 outbreak on the northern beaches of that city in December last year. This outbreak was easily contained.

However, when the infected were allowed to move around in that well known stochastic process, Brownian movement, as they were from the disembarkation of the Ruby Princess in the middle of the city with access to multiple transport links, then one could call the process, the Berekjlian, after the presiding Premier of the time. But normally it is far more challenging to move around Brisbane and Sydney than Melbourne.

In regard to accessibility, take one suburb of Melbourne, Hawthorn. There are three tram lines running through it and a railway line with at least two stations serving Hawthorn. There are also buses, and the increasing use of private buses to ferry private school children to and from school, Hawthorn and the neighbouring suburbs are a large scholastic reservoir. Added to this Melbourne is very easy to move around inside the rapidly expanding perimeter. The only barrier is the Great Dividing Range which only provides a hurdle to travel in the Dandenongs component. Otherwise, all the other sectors have major highways radiating out from Melbourne, which mean travel is easy.

In Melbourne, some talk nostalgically about living in a “village” rather than a “suburb”. I would dispute that.

At last the Federal Government, a Federal Government dominated by one Sydneysider who lives in an enclave called the Shire, has buckled to the obvious need to have a custom-built quarantine centre in Victoria close to Melbourne. Hopefully more objectivity will be applied to the tendering than much of the scandalous way the Government has gone about business over the past three years. Whether Avalon is the right place or not, it is on pre-existing Commonwealth land and relatively close to Melbourne.

I wonder though if the invaders were not “micro-marauders”, not easily identifiable, would the Governments be adopting the seemingly leisurely pace to get this centre built. Maybe photo-opportunity trips will accelerate the process. In the Northern Territory or even South to Tocumwal in NSW, one can see how quickly facilities, hospitals, airstrips and even a highway were built when the Japanese were on the horizon.

Waleed Aly has waded into the conversation, questioning the validity of singling Melbourne out. As usual he writes persuasively, but I suggest that he reinforces the point that having hotel quarantine in the middle of city with the easiest means of spread of anything, be it people or viruses, is just asking for trouble.

Black Rock, near Melbourne, 1954

He singles out Black Rock as a Melbourne suburb where lockdown was not required. This suburb and the adjoining Beaumaris were developed later from bushland. They lie beyond the terminus of both tram and bus, and therefore have some the characteristics of the Sydney northern beaches suburbs. The distinguishing feature was its isolation. The way it was isolated had a distinct elite character and elitism discourages easy movement.

Despite the intervention of Waleed, as an epidemiologist, Professor McLaws, you made a good point, but in your enthusiasm to prove a point you probably went a wee bit too far.

Scars of 56

Since my Chinese exploits are receiving some interest, here is an excerpt of a book I hope to publish later this year subtitled, “When we were not too Young”. 

Over dinner my father continued to repeat that he wanted to “see China”, whatever that meant, and the only way to “see China” from his point of view was to take the train to the border at Lo Wu and stare across into the country. However, it became clear when he asked if that were possible that, although the train might go through to Lo Wu, all the passengers had to get off the train at Fan Ling, which was about four miles inside the border. Nevertheless, we bought tickets because my father said: “…you never know”. If nothing else, he was awake to serendipitous opportunity.

He had also thought of going across to Macau, which required an overnight boat trip. Macau was then a seedy remnant of the Portuguese empire. He wondered if it would be easier to get closer to China if he went there, but when he inquired about that feasibility, he was quickly disabused. There was a lawless element there and it would not be worth being exposed as a lone traveller. I thought I heard the word “triad” mentioned in the conversation.  

So here we were about to board the train to Lo Wu. The train with the steam-driven locomotive was regulation pre-war with cracked leather seats in the carriages and the views through the windows made even greyer by the grime on the windows. 

The carriage was empty apart from ourselves.

The city straggled away into the New Territories and into a quilt of paddy fields. There were distant mountains, which my father said were probably in China. He stood up and walked along the corridor hoping to get a better view. He came back and confirmed that the mountains were on the Chinese side of the border. I am not sure how he knew but, as always, he was authoritative.

Fanling Station

The train pulled into Fan Ling and the conductor came along telling us to get off. I could feel very clearly my father’s reluctance as he stood up, and slowly climbed down onto the station. At the end of the station, there were a number of Chinese soldiers in green jackets and trousers. They did not seem to be armed but symbolized a line of demarcation between themselves and the Hong Kong constabulary, who were fitted out like London policemen acting with the departing passengers as if they were directing traffic in The Strand.

The Forbidden Land lay beyond – the view entombed in the wintry sunlight.

However, there was one person standing on the station close to the train. He was wearing a hat, scarf and gabardine raincoat. The scarf was drawn up to partially conceal his face He looked across the station and, in an Australian accent, called my father’s name. My father looked up, startled at the recognition. He did not immediately recognize the figure, who lit a cigarette, for a brief moment illuminating his bespectacled face. My father strode up the platform. They shook hands and for five minutes they engaged in what appeared to be animated conversation, my father pointing toward the Chinese border. 

I was distracted by a middle-aged Chinese man, who sidled up to me with his bicycle. In broken English, he said he would take me to the border on his bicycle. It would not cost much; and I could see what China was really like. I hesitated. My father was still in deep conversation, and I looked at the bicycle. Was he going to “dink” me? There seemed to be no other way that I could get on the bicycle, unless I hired it from him. 

I looked out over the rice fields and through the line of houses, which clustered below the station. I could make out the road running north-south which presumably went towards the border.

 “Can I take your bicycle and bring it back?”

The man with the bicycle hesitated. Then he pushed it towards me especially as he saw that I had US dollars in my hand.

“What in God’s name are you doing, John?”

The border at Lo Wu, 1950s

“I thought you wanted to go to the border.”

“On that?” My father’s face split into one of his thin-lipped smiles, which you rarely saw unless he was about to launch into an invective against somebody.

The ferocity of the “On that” seemed to frighten the man with the bicycle, as he took a step back.

“So you are seen pedaling to God knows where wearing completely inadequate gear. If you don’t freeze to death, you are liable to be either shot or captured. John, I suppose you think that all that there will be is a bit of barbed wire and smiling soldiers. Does not work that way – and the last thing I want to happen is my son dead or interned. The last thing I need,” he repeated, “is for my son to be the centre of an international incident.” 

I thought my father was a bit over the top, but I suddenly felt very cold. After all, it was winter and the threadbare trees along the road towards China bent in the wind as if derisively waving me on in my fruitless endeavour.

My father gestured towards the retreating figure on the bicycle. There was no need to wave him away. He disappeared from sight off the edge of the platform.

My father turned and looked back to see the man with whom he had been talking climb onto the train. The Chinese troops did not move. 

My father gestured. “That John is a safer way of travel, but unfortunately you need to be credentialed, as Ted is. I believe he is off to Beijing. However mark my words, I shall get over the border in the next ten years – and more than once.”

We waited for the train to come back. My father was suitably vague about who Ted was, but he worked with a friend of my father who, like Ted, had been a lawyer and, if not a Communist, certainly was a definite shade of cardinal. 

My father was always very sure of himself, but I could never fathom his politics.

Postscript: My father did achieve his goal and did go to China – more than once. My father died in 1970 – so it was quite a feat in the 1960s to do just that.

Burning of the Books

Endless archives

Archives are people, and not the great people, but those who otherwise would leave no trace: the workers, the immigrants, the servicemen, the public servants, and, not least, the Indigenous. Of our collecting institutions, the NAA (National Archives of Australia) is the most truly democratic — of the people, by the people, for the people.

Record keeping, furthermore, is fundamental to the protection of citizens and the prevention of harm.

In a recent article in The Australian, a pertinent excerpt is reproduced above, Gideon Haigh has almost said it all about Assistant Treasurer Stoker and her disdain for retention of the archives – hence it follows who cares about the history of the nation? Should it be reduced to dust or why not to a bonfire?

I am reminded of the Futurist movement, which had its genesis in Italy before the First World War, with its disdain for the past and its concentration on the future with an emphasis on technology, bellicosity and patriotism. It is unsurprising given its behaviour that it was closely identified with the rise of Mussolini which they supported. When I say I am reminded of, I don’t mean to say that Assistant Minister Stoker is a simulacrum of the Futurists. Some of them had original ideas in the arts, a talent that the Minister hides under a bitcoin, having dispensed with that idiomatic past, the bushel.

After all, the Nazis refined this destruction of the past with the burning of 25,000 books in Berlin on May 10th 1933 including a significant amount of the Jewish heritage in Germany. Australia is in a delicate position where there are forces which are leading this country down an authoritarian pathway, where there is no collective memory. For years, elements of the Australian Public Service are to deny that any past existed, that corporate memory was a disease not to be confused with selective amnesia – and definitely to ensure the freedom of information was a joke that never existed. The Public Service treads the path of a Futurist movement in inked soaked quills of the Executive Porcupine – or in this country – the Executive Echidna.

David Tune, a former senior bureaucrat, was commissioned in 2019 to review the state of the national archives. He submitted his findings in early 2020; over a year later his review was released, in March this year. The report recommended the government fund a seven-year program to urgently digitise at-risk materials, for a total cost of $67.7 million. “Urgently” is hardly the word to describe Minister Stoker’s response.

Stoker’s attitude unwittingly has placed, even compounded, the Government into an untenable position.  The Treasurer, given his own heritage, should be more understanding of the destructive force Stoker is unleashing.  Frydenberg should reach into his cash box and find the money for the National Archives. Maybe such money would avoid this metaphorical burning of the Archives.

Stoker by name; stoker by profession? Surely not.

Backroad on the way from Normanton

It all started when I asked Dennis whether he could lend me the 4WD for the weekend. I wanted to check out the medical services in Normanton. There was a South African doctor who recently had arrived in the town, and there had been murmurings about the quality of the services.

To get there you needed to go down the main street of Mount Isa to the Barkly Highway and on to Cloncurry and then turn left onto the Burke Development Road. In the mythology of my family, it was said that my father recently graduated in Commerce from the University of Melbourne, had the opportunity to join a fledging Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, but it would involve leaving his girlfriend in Melbourne. Love won out; and the Great Depression tested that love as my father tried to find a path through genteel poverty and not on the wing so to speak. This day we did not stop to savour the nostalgia of the job that never was.

By way of explanation, Cloncurry was where the airline flew the inaugural flying doctor service in 1928 – the first commercial flight was generally considered to have been from Longreach to Cloncurry six years earlier.

However, this day we had a five-hour drive to reach Normanton. Normanton is not on the Gulf and there is a further 70 kilometres to Karumba on the Gulf, in those days a centre for the northern prawn industry. The prawns were caught, processed and despatched to Asian destinations direct from the Gulf. Her brother had worked on the prawning trawlers in the Gulf of Carpentaria twenty years before. Her brother in addition to working the trawlers always loved fishing, and barramundi were the prized catch in the Gulf.

Karumba

Karumba had its own link to the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services; in the late 1930s the town was a refuelling and maintenance stop for the flying boats of the Qantas Empire Airways.

Watching the sun go down sitting on the beach after 500 kilometres drive gazing out to sea evoked a feeling of thirst, and we were on the sand without beer. So we went back to the motel at Normanton, and watched the green tree frogs climb out of the umbrella holder in the middle of the table while we drank our XXXX. We were in the tropics!

The hospital was on the hill away from the township proper. We met the middle-aged doctor and his wife, immigrants from South Africa.  They were not in their comfort zone, and the wife was particularly fearful of the fact that there were “blacks” running wild in the town. They had grown up under Apartheid and I wondered why they had left South Africa. Perhaps it was to bring their children up in a predominantly “white” country. The majority of Normanton residents were Aboriginal.

Here they were, isolated from the town, with no intention to mix and looking for the earliest possible escape route. An irrational fear of dark people and an inability to identify – while courteous to us, the authoritarian attitude, albeit racist, can only be suppressed for so long. It was clearly evident in this case.

The trip enabled us to reach the Gulf in a far more pleasant way than Burke and Wills, who had slogged their way along the same route to get to the same destination but died on their way back.

There is another less comfortable route to Normanton from Mount Isa and that is via Lake Julius rather than via Cloncurry. Lake Julius is an important water supply and is a favourite picnic spot for those wanting to have some respite from the mining atmosphere of Mount Isa.

What was unexpected was coming across the small settlement of Kajabbi where, outside the Kajabbi pub, stands a cairn. This memorial in Queensland directly acknowledges the history of conflict, as one writer states, related to “the invasion of Australia by Europeans”.

Like many other plaques mounted on stone cairns, this one commemorates a centenary – 1984 was one hundred years since the slaughter of the Kalkadoon people at Battle Mountain, just southwest of this tiny speck off the beaten track. Charlie Perkins and George Thorpe, a Kalkadoon (Kalkatungka) elder, unveiled the plaque, which reads in part:

This obelisk is in memorial to the Kalkatunga tribe, who during September 1884 fought one of Australia’s historical battles of resistance against a para-military force of European settlers and the Queensland Native Mounted Police at a place known to-day as Battle Mountain 20 klms south west of Kajabbi.

The spirit of the Kalkatunga tribe never died at battle but remains intact and alive today within the Kalkadoon Tribal Council.

Kalkatunga heritage is not the name behind the person, but the person behind the name.”

The Kalkadoon or Kalkatunga were considered elite warriors, but a group of  early whitefella settlers, in particularly one Arthur Kennedy, took it upon themselves to kill as many of this warrior tribe as they could. Battle Mountain was the major skirmish; in all, about 900 Kalkadoon were killed in this protracted war.

The cairn is modest and I remember reading its inscription, and since I had known Charlie Perkins, whose people were from Central Australia, it was significant that he had journeyed to this remote place to unveil this plaque with a local elder. He obviously held the Kalkadoon in high regard and the timing was to celebrate the founding of the Kalkadoon Tribal Council.

It is sad to read that “native” mounted police were used to help quell the tribe. It was a common ploy to use Aboriginals from other areas to assist in helping the whitefellas. If you read accounts of skirmishes in Western Victoria in the 1840s, Aboriginal troopers were brought in from places like Tumut, hundreds of kilometres away. This usage of Aboriginal police for suppression of other Aboriginal people is a slice of Australian history which is not often ventilated.

After all it a small stone memorial in a remote hamlet on a dusty backroad, an uninviting series of dips and crests which heightened the remoteness of it all, and yet another reminder of a dark era in our history, a hundred years before when the cairn was unveiled.

Just like outside the township of Bingara in the Northern Tablelands of NSW, there is a memorial to another massacre – 50 Wirrayaraay people killed on the slopes overlooking the Myall Creek. I remember reading the last three words Ngiyani winangay genunga (we will remember them]. That atrocity more than one hundred years before. There have been more. Too many to mention here.

What prompted these memories, particularly of Kajabbi?

2021 was another centenary, that of the Tulsa massacre of black Americans in 1921. As if in response, the Washington Post printed a map of all the massacres of black Americans, which is reprinted. I wonder given I have been to other sites of aboriginal massacres, there is a similar map for this country, to remind us of some of the darker side of Australian history.

Maybe, Senator Stoker, it may be hidden in the archives.

Mouse Whisper

My cousin, Conte Topo has a piccolino aversion to us English speakers, who think that “simpatico” means sympathetic, a bit upper case pretentious, but unfortunately for those who like to dabble in using foreign words simpatico means “nice” not “sympathetic”. The Italian word for “sympathetic” is “comprensivo”.

In contrast, saying the obvious, the Italian word for empathetic is in fact empatico, if you wish to use such a flash word.

However, empathy and sympathy often are used interchangeably but empathy means experiencing someone else’s feelings.  It requires an emotional component of really feeling what the other person is feeling. Sympathy, on the other hand, means understanding someone else’s suffering without getting under the skin. In short supply among certain Australian politicians at this time when a little sick girl is the victim.

Conte Topo

Modest Expectations – William Temple

Queensland was the last Australian State I visited. It was not until I was 16 years old that I ever ventured into Queensland with my father after my mother died. I suppose we needed to get to know one another, as well as have a change of scenery.  My father devised some business there. I remember only two things about Queensland from that trip.

The first was the Toll Bar road which regulated the movement of traffic up and down the Toowoomba Range. Timing was everything as the road was one way up and then down the Range, depending on the time of the day; the toll bar allowed one set of vehicles up and down the road, and if one was in the wrong line, one would have to wait hours, as we did.

The other memory was how shabby Brisbane looked. It was supposed to be a city, but the houses looked a collection of rickets on stilts, with the weatherboard more often than not in need of paint. The lack of sewerage and the gravel verges reinforced that view that Brisbane was a country town. Brisbane reminded me of that nineteenth century wisecrack about Melbourne being – “a bit far from the city”.

1950s Brisbane

World War II was still a memory, recent enough for me to hear about the long lines of troops queueing outside the brothels in “the Valley” and that here in the middle of the city there had been the so-called “Battle of Brisbane” where Australian and American troops had fought a pitched street fight for two days in November 1942.

Even so, the people of Queensland seemed laid back. Queensland was a foreign drawl for a boy from the protected south. Queenslanders never had the airs of the Bunyip Aristocracy. Years later when we were introduced to the Queensland Club, I found that there was still an aristocratic stratum – but more Pineapple than Bunyip.

However, from then on I have travelled all over Queensland, absorbed Queensland. I particularly feel very much at home in south-west Queensland when I am allowed to go there, Premier permitting. I have spent substantial time on the Darling Downs, particularly Toowoomba. In contrast I have also spent substantial periods of time in Mount Isa and North Queensland.

When I scan a map of Queensland, I have never been to Winton or Blackall, Bedourie or Birdsville, or driven beyond Julia Creek in one direction and from Charters Towers in the other. I have never driven the road north from Cooktown, although I have been to Weipa and both Thursday and Horn Island on separate trips and been on a boat which followed Cook’s route up through the Great Barrier Reef into Torres Strait and then on through the Arafura Sea. I have never been south of Boulia; I’ve been to Normanton and Karumba and Kajabbi, but not to Burketown. I have been to many of the larger Queensland islands including Mornington but not Fraser. However, the islands do number 2,000.

Before I sound completely like the “I’ve been everywhere man” Lucky Starr, some of my most lasting memories are from Queensland experiences. Lasting memories tend to leave an educative residue. 

Mate, the future is not in Coal

I have worked in my time on the number of projects in Queensland, including for the Government. It has enabled me to see much of Queensland and even shed, for a time, the “Mexican” soubriquet.

The problem with Queensland is that the inhabitants seem to be constantly trying to despoil it by voting for the despoilers. Yet Mount Isa seems to fit into its environment as though the Selwyn Ranges were always expecting this guest. But Mt Isa ain’t coal.

Queensland is a bloody conundrum.

Australia is the third biggest coal miner, behind the USA and China, and just in front of Russia. Australian coal mines are less concentrated than in these other countries. Therefore, pollution is more diffuse, and that includes the political polluters who gather in their own slag heaps.

It is ironic that at times during the Nation’s existence Australia has imported black coal. Yet the first exports of 150 tonnes of black coal from Sydney occurred in 1799 to India, since the coal seam which stretched from the Hunter to the Illawarra region was discovered in 1791 by an escaped convict. The first coal was discovered in Queensland much later, at Blair Athol in 1864, but it was not until the 1950’s that the Bowen Basin was opened up and exploited; but how much has that been with a big “E”.

It is quite a sight as we were driving east from Moura in the Basin towards Banana to see the line of open cut mines. Coal mining in this area has involved degassing the coal and then mining.  At least that is the theory. There had been a terrible mining explosion in the underground coal mine at Moura in 1994 when eleven miners lost their lives. Last year there was another explosion in an underground coal mine near Moranbah in Queensland, owned by Anglo-American. Five men were seriously burned and mining was suspended.

I remember being in Moranbah, another town in the Bowen Basin, not long after the town had been established. It’s newness was characterised, as someone said to me, by the fact that there had yet to be anybody buried in the cemetery. Moranbah was one the last settlements to be constructed as a mining town with all the facilities expected of a town of about 2,000 people.

Thereafter mining has been populated by the fly-in-fly-out brigade, who can live anywhere. The current spate of border closures has clipped their wings in regard to how they can travel without being inflicted with the inconvenience of a 14 day quarantine.

Coal activities consume significant amounts of water, even in comparison to other large water users such as agriculture and domestic usage. The amount of water drawn by coal-related activities in NSW and Queensland is more than double domestic water use and about 30 per cent more than the water used for agriculture. Considering coal mine water use in regions such as the Hunter Valley and the Bowen Basin, the impact of its use is significant in these areas.

I do not get it. We live in a dry continent where water is at a premium. Yet the State governments, at a time when it is clear that coal is a massive pollutant and with a putative worldwide move to lessen the dependence on coal, keep on advocating new mines.  This represents the lazy approach to government, so infuriating in the country where policy is “She’ll be jake”, especially if there is a brown paper bag at the end of one’s political rainbow.

Nevertheless, as listed above, the most powerful nations, unlike Australia with our laughable sanctions, are the largest coal producers with Australia.

Coal loader

If these three countries decide as one to reduce their coal output, then Australia should at least match this action. As China is showing in its trade dealings, there is a certain contempt for us.

However, there are the coldly cynical who believe this will never happen. In Trump’s America that would be true, and under cover of this Me-first American Policy, why should Australia worry? However, there has been a change of the guard and John Kerry has re-emerged. The waiting game has started in the mind of the Prime Minister – the target dates are many electoral cycles away. That is unfortunately all that politicians think about – electoral cycles. And let’s face it, the Prime Minister may be canny, but measuring this policy by electoral cycles is not particularly intelligent.

Therefore, Australian policy is unlikely to respond to the external pressure in the short to medium term, especially while the National Party, which is essentially a Queensland protection racket for the mining industry, lives on. Ever since the liberal element in Queensland was snuffed out after Mike Ahern’s stewardship as Premier (the actual reasonable Liberal Party element was snuffed out even earlier by the premature death of Eric Robertson), the National party has drifted to its current position.  In Queensland, it has monstered the Liberal party into a joint arrangement.

With the loss of the leadership of Tim Fischer and John Anderson, the brakes on the rural nativism have been unleashed. Trump has provided them with a role model of unabashed bullying and assault of the weak. Weakness is often seen and confused with compromise and consensus-seeking.

Yet the mines in the Bowen Basin have been racked with problems with methane leaking everywhere, and the Moranbah mine has not yet re-opened. The owners, Anglo-American, are in dispute with their workers, although they have yet to re-open the mine. The whole matter of coal mining is racked with uncertainty – whether it be climate change, mine safety or the market.

It is not as though coal mining provides that many jobs, and with the propensity of flying workers in, it is no longer about the survival of regional towns. About a third of the workers are itinerant; and while the convention is one week on one week off, some workers work a continuous three-month shift. The whole argument about mining being the saviour of rural Australia is contestable, if not spurious.

Finally, it is the bottom line. At two metallurgical and thermal coal mines the Basin open-cut operations have been scaled back due to less demand for lower quality coking coal. Metallurgical coal, its requirement linked to steel production, in 2020 remained at 18-20 million tonnes, but the amount produced in the December quarter was 33 per cent less than the corresponding quarter of 2019.

Thermal coal output was 4.4 million tonnes during the December period, which represented a 35 per cent drop from the prior corresponding period, leading to an overall production decline of 22 per cent to 20.6 million tonnes last year. Thermal coal is linked to the production of electricity. The world is edging towards coal-free; but the problem is that it is not instant change.

Hence, instead of Queensland anticipating the inevitable, the black drums of coal are being beaten for the long-term degradation of the State. The ultimate saviour seems to be the bottom line, but coal is losing its profitability. Senator Canavan’s brother has seen his coal mine collapse, and yet the Senator continues to pursue his fantasies about coal. Having degraded the Bowen basin, his next endeavour is to degrade the Galilee Basin to the North, encircling as it does, Longreach. Longreach is not a mining town. The Longreach Club was the centre of the old rural graziers, when the enemy were the shearers. These days if you could find one who is not a New Zealander, would the sheep shearers still adhere to the tenets of what they fought and struck for – or would they fall for the blandishments of the Hanson or Palmer – let alone Canavan?

The proposed mines will remove as much as 3,000 billion litres of water from the Galilee aquifer, but far more worrying is the interconnectivity of the Galilee aquifers with the Great Artesian Basin. Now that would be the grand climax for Australian agricultural productivity – nation-wide contamination of the water supply. Who cares? Well, it’s not Canberra’s water supply.

That yet is a crucial question which needs an answer – and soon.

The spectre of no potable domestic water should be an accelerant to stop coal mining. However, it isn’t if you listen to what the politicians don’t say. The narrative is not helped when that eco-narcissist Bob Brown led a crusade up and down rural Queensland, as he did in the last election campaign. What did he achieve beyond aiding the handing over of Queensland to the barbarians? Evangelism for the protection of the environment must come from within, and therefore there must be Queenslanders who are prepared to confront the short-term pragmatism. Memory is short, especially when the Murdoch Press strangles dissent in Queensland.

As has been shown just a year after debilitating drought or bushfires, water is again plentiful. So, what is the worry? Can’t see the aquifers.

What suffers from this continuing love affair with coal is tourism. This is increasingly the life source of Queensland. However, if the attractions are ruined then does it matter? There seems to be a very laissez-faire approach to the Great Barrier Reef, and its gradual destruction. Maybe people will just want to laze around resorts and not be bothered that those resorts are alongside a dead coral relic.

… a dead coral relic

It is ironic that the Queensland Premier’s obsession with border closures has hurt tourism to the extent that the Premier is now seeking special consideration. This reversion to a “mendicant” cry from Queensland is not that unusual, because for its first 70 years it was always considered as such. Therefore when, as has happened, the Premier has been tripped up by her own hubris, the begging bowl comes out.

I don’t get it. Tourism employs far more people than the mining industries – despite the endless mantra about “mines creating jobs”. The problem is akin to fly-in-fly-out since, in most cases, tourists come for a time and leave no footprint. Therefore some the Federal Parliamentarians do not have to bear the contumely of their electorate when the Great Barrier Reef bleaches and dies. I get it now. Coral doesn’t vote and neither do tourists when they are in the reef side electorates of North Queensland.

The problem with border closures is that they severely affect tourism. Personally, in the property we own, the bookings have increased because the option of going interstate was longer an option due to border lockdowns. However, that has its limits, especially in Queensland where 135,000 workers owe their jobs to tourism. The influence of tourism is not reflected at the ballot box, since people relocating due to a perceived better climate are a different cohort. This cohort in Queensland are part of the reason the electorates around the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are increasingly conservative – it is the call of the concrete high rise. Over the border in NSW the call of the wild is where the vote is increasingly green and yellow. But tourism in terms of political influence is ephemeral.

The other variable, which must be factored in, is the diffuseness of tertiary educational institutions. Their influence on the electoral process, so prominent in the latter part of the twentieth century when Queensland was criminally despotic under Bjelke-Petersen, seems to be a neutral political influence now. However, this is an area where the Labor Party, despite all its so-called progressive approach to education, has been curiously ineffective at a Federal level in converting it into votes.

Therefore, what a mess the current Premier presides over. Coal is in trouble. Yet her seemingly cavalier attitude to water management forbodes a future dust bowl, and there are still some parts of Queensland gripped with drought. Prolonged border closure is the lazy public health response.

This public health performance has been characterised by the way the exemptions have been manipulated, and Queensland have been lucky – very lucky. The over-reliance on border closures, complete with a spat with the NSW Premier, may have ensured the Premier’s re-election. Yet what is the ultimate price? As they say, time will tell.

Bay State Roll-Out

I found this analysis of what is happening in Massachusetts in relation to the rollout of the vaccines revealing. It appeared in the Boston Globe earlier in the week. It has been slightly edited without altering the message. What it demonstrates is that it not just a matter of a jab.

People are more likely to accept a vaccine from their own trusted doctor, said Dr. George M. Abraham, a Worcester internist who is president-elect of the American College of Physicians, the national organization of internists.

But Abraham said that only a minority of primary care physicians — he guesses 20 to 30 percent — can manage the logistical challenges.

For example, each vial of the Moderna vaccine has 10 doses, and once the vial is open, the vaccine lasts only five hours.

“If I can’t have 10 people lined up simultaneously, I would have to discard the rest, which is a criminal waste of precious vaccine,” said Abraham, who is chief of medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Additionally, people must be monitored for 15 or 20 minutes after receiving the vaccine in case they have a rare allergic reaction, and doctors need space for them all to wait, at a safe distance from others. Not every office can store the vaccines; Moderna’s requires freezing, and the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in special ultra-cold freezers.

Forty per cent of doctors are up to the job, according to a recent survey done through several professional organizations of primary care doctors in Massachusetts. Doctors have already demonstrated they can respond creatively to the pandemic; they quickly adopted telemedicine, set up tents for testing, and opened respiratory clinics for patients with COVID-like symptoms.

“We can innovate in the same way to deliver vaccine,” one doctor said.

One family doctor put up heated tents in her parking lot in March and constructed a permanent drive-through canopy in the fall. This setup has been used for COVID-19 testing and flu vaccinations. It could be the site to administer 900 coronavirus vaccines a week, if only her practice could get some. The practice has freezers capable of storing both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and a list of patients eligible and eager to be vaccinated.

Another family doctor in Arlington and Chair of Family Medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, gave shots in his office’s parking lot after receiving 20 vaccine doses in January, preparing for a bigger effort later. To ensure patients stuck around for the mandatory 15-minute monitoring, he wrote the time they could leave in washable paint on their windshields and had them pull over and wait to receive the cards documenting the shot. Recently Altman acquired an additional 200 doses, and all 200 slots filled up within hours.

An Attleboro family physician is also among the few who have received vaccine. He’s designated a morning when eight of the 12 exam rooms in his practice will be set aside for vaccinations and monitoring. He has received 100 doses from the state and expects to receive another 100-dose batch every week or two, as needed.

In addition, he’ll finally get to use the 70 doses left over after his staff was vaccinated four weeks ago, now that vaccination eligibility has expanded. Much to his frustration, he said, state officials previously wouldn’t let him offer the extra doses to dentists and physical therapists working in his building, and told him to put them back in the freezer.

“I never got an answer why we couldn’t give it to them,” he said.

Meanwhile, large medical groups are gearing up and have posted on their websites that they plan to offer the shots but don’t yet have enough vaccine. These organizations plan to provide the vaccine, by invitation, at their own high-volume sites rather than in individual physician’s offices.

The group is poised to vaccinate because they have built and are preparing an infrastructure to offer a vaccine to our patients in whatever quantity it comes and whenever we get it.

There are a few worrying lessons for Australian doctors in the body of this analysis, and I hope the Government experts are taking the overseas experience into their calculation for the vaccine rollout, whenever it begins.  I am sure that they are.

Not Flash at All

It is a paradox. There are groups of Aborigines protesting in the streets of the capital cities about the fact that we whitefellas celebrate Australia day on January 26 when Arthur Phillip landed with a gaggle of convicts and British marines on that day in 1788. This is the day when our white ancestors invaded a place which was named Sydney on a vast continent, where the indigenous people had colonised it 40,000 years ago – the actual date varies but we “latecomers” are not allowed to forget we have joined the oldest civilisation on earth.

While one group of Aboriginal people is protesting against “Invasion Day”, another contingent of Aboriginal people covered in oche, with clapsticks and didgeridoos, are stomping around waving gum leaves as part of what is called a smoking ceremony and seem to be going along with the whitefella celebration. In fact, it is a day where some Aboriginal people show their wares and talk up merchandise to be flogged to the community, so we can all have a part of Tradition. In fact I do not know what the Aboriginal people would do if we transferred Australia to another day, whether there could be universal joy and optimism, which we could all celebrate without division and protest.

As the Aboriginal voices have grown, so has racism not gone away. Most white Australians have never had much of an attachment to Australia Day. After all, it relates to the founding of Sydney, nothing more nothing less as a penal colony for the detritus of England. Not much relevance to the other States.

Norm McDonald

I grew up in Victoria when Australia Day was a holiday. It was convenient because it marked the end of summer holidays. After Australia Day, everybody went back to work. We never much celebrated Australia Day, and because it was in the school holidays it had no impact as a group learning experience. It was also a time when the Aboriginal people were very much a fringe group. If you lived in the city, as most of us did, one never saw an Aboriginal – and if we did, we did not see an Aboriginal, we saw Norm McDonald as a talented Australian Rules footballer who seemed to have a dark complexion. In those days, there was a series of very good Aboriginal boxers, but Dave Sands, one of our greatest, never paraded his Aboriginality.

Australia Day now has a real meaning for the Aboriginal community. Without it where could all that resentment be directed and consequently attention paid to their often-justified complaints; but also it is an outlet for their culture, confected or not. The activity on this day plays on some whitefella guilt – not mine. Having been fortunate enough to work with Aboriginal people with all their diversity, I wish that the celebrations were more varied. I would like to see more of Torres Strait culture injected; and also that of the South Sea islanders, the heirs of the kanakas, an important cultural group within this country.

After all, the real Australia Day is January 1, the Day of Federation when we became a nation, but that is an inconvenient date because it is already a public holiday, and the general consensus would be that public holidays are scarce enough without combining them. But then, what is special about New Year’s Day, except it is probably the day we celebrate the Hangover.

I have suggested Wattle Day, September 1, because of its symbolic renewal and Australia then is when its country is at its most green and yellow. It is also a time of the year when there are no Public holidays. It is a serious alternative.  But realistically, the only day is the one when Australia becomes a republic.

Anyway, in the meantime let us abolish Australia Day and see who squeals. At least we would be spared the theatre of the Australia Day Honours.

Mouse Whisper

Are you sick and tired of politicians saying that the reason for border closures is to keep people safe? Does that mean that when the Premier opens the particular border that he or she is a safe cracker?

Maybe the States should agree to call their border closure The Crowbar.

Especially applicable when keeping South Australians out of your State.

Some would associate the spate of border closures with a form of idiocy.  But beware the use of “cretin”. The latest ruling by that Judge that calling someone by the short version of a “congenital hypothyroidism” is defamatory, makes one very careful in pronouncing “Credlin” or for that matter people from the island of Crete, as well as those who inhabit the Canberra wetlands and were born in the Cretaceous Period.

Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra

Modest Expectations – Arthur Phillip

This is my 88th blog. I have not missed a week – and the sequential naming of the Modest Expectations to reflect that number in some way. 1988 – the Bicentenary of this Nation was quite a year. I received funding from the Commonwealth Department of Health to write a book where I asked a number of health professionals how and why they were there in Australia in 1988, at the time of the Bicentenary. It was called “Portraits in Australian Health” – not a particularly riveting title.

However, what I wanted to see in their recounting of their lives was why at that point of Australia’s history, they were where they were. The backdrop to each of the lives of those interviewed was Australia.

This idea was expanded by the BBC in 2004 where they identified celebrities and took them through their genealogical paces with a predictable chorus of “gosh” and “unbelievable” and “who would know?” as each of the atavistic eggs was unscrambled. All beautifully orchestrated.  By and large the people chosen were performers, who could act the part of the stunned inheritors of their family helix.

I suspect that the budget for these TV shows is generous, because it showed that people are curious about other people. “Celebrity” gossip is the fare of the magazines which concentrate on a vague representation of the truth. The BBC, as did I, actually did research!

My concept was relatively simple: sit the person down and let him or her talk. Some I had known before; others only by reputation and I tried to achieve some sort of balance. A few I regret using; others were incredibly important in tracing the path of the reason for their being health professionals and providing “a tapestry” for the 200 years.

However, in retrospect there were at least two major omissions in people from certain categories. There is no dentist in the book; the person I had singled out, because of his long family association with the profession declined to be interviewed; he died not so long after of cancer. That was the only rejection that I remember.

The other omission which, if I could I would rectify, was an Aboriginal person with a health background. On reflection, I should have asked Naomi Mayers, who was the Chief Executive Officer of the Redfern Aboriginal Service. Much later I had lunch with her and a number of Aboriginal people in Redfern and even then I had no inkling of her link to the Aboriginal singing group, the Sapphires. But I didn’t identify her and I regret it.

However, as I found as I met more and more Aboriginals, there was a rich cultural heritage, much of which was hidden from whitefellas. I have always been sceptical of the historical importance of bush tucker, which has acquired a following among well-heeled whitefellas. Much of the tucker available would hardly merit a feed, so tiny are the individual berry, fruit and the other flavouring agents.

However, what I have found very interesting and have met on various occasions were ngangkeri, the medicine men. When I was often visiting Wilcannia in the early 90s, I heard about the kadaitcha men who were still around. However, that was all, and after all “the feathered foot” left no trace; so how would a whitefella find out more. It was all intriguing and the more I was accepted the less I knew.

The Aboriginal society is “many nations” – after all, look at the difference in the culture across the nation. The problem is that in the confected restoration of Aboriginal culture, the diverse nature of the culture has been increasingly homogenised. That cannot be criticised as it recognises that the Aboriginal culture is not static; and given the improvement in communication and educational opportunities it is unsurprising that the Aboriginal is becoming less and less regionally distinctive. Having said this there will always be nests of such traditional culture.

The conundrum for such communities is how to preserve culture against the predatory nature of a culture of booze, fast foods , “black milk” and all the churning of this faddish instant googled-eyed Facebook age – yet not denying progress.

It would be a challenge now to find the Aboriginal health professional who would fit easily into a portrait of Australian health. In 1988, it was only four years since the first Aboriginal doctor graduated.

Charlie Perkins

Charlie Perkins

I was thinking about the first time I met Charlie. It was obviously in 1973, and up until that time, all I had heard about him was that he participated in the Freedom Ride to confront rural NSW concerning Aboriginal rights. To the urban Australian living in comfortable suburbia, Aboriginals were invisible.

As I child I remember receiving Church Missionary Society pamphlets about all those nice little Aboriginal children running around in Roper River Mission – so happy to be one of God’s lambkins. It was all so foreign, and the first time I saw real, live Aboriginal children was years later when I went with my parents to Central Australia. Part of the tour was a visit to the then Lutheran Hermannsberg Mission. We white children eyed off the Aboriginal children, who did likewise and giggled at this awkward bunch of kids from down south.  Nobody encouraged us to mix and eventually we got back on the bus and left. There were also the blackfella children in the settlements along the old Ghan route which then wound through the floodplain country and terminated in Alice Springs.

I remember I insisted in Alice Springs that my parents buy me a black ten-gallon stockman’s hat, and even though I have a large “scone”, the hat came down over my ears. My other purchase caused all sorts of bother, and when it was brought home it had its own “cordon sanitaire” because the ochre covering this large bowl was very thick and had never been fixed, so if you touched it, the ochre always stained your hands. Eventually the bowl disappeared from the house – as did the hat.

Hermannsberg Mission

However, there were several episodes of the ABC lunchtime serial “Blue Hills”, which have remained with me. These concerned a storyline where Aboriginal Heritage would lead to “a throwback” situation which meant that apparently white parents with Aboriginal blood could be confronted with a “piccaninny” child. Then, as the serial progressed, what relief – Aboriginal heritage was diluted – absorbed – assimilated – and joy of joy – no return to the noble savage. Well, that was the gist of the serial story and reflected the attitude of Australian suburbia superficially encased by a white picket fence of normality.

There were three films that I remember in my early childhood leading into teenage years. All had a variable effect on the development of my attitudes towards Aboriginal people. After all, I grew up in a world dismissive of our landlords. The 1947 film Bush Christmas starred a 12 year old Aboriginal boy from Woorabinda in Queensland, Neza Saunders, who showed how to eat a witchetty grub. At that moment, I wanted one to eat. A gourmet meal of witchetty grubs sadly still remains on my to do list.

The film Pinky explored the plight of the light-coloured black American in a 1949 film of the same name. I remember in the context of a society which, despite the pious comments of my schoolteacher, remained at its base racist. We, as children because we grew up in a homogeneous culture, did not have the basic experience to question. However, for me, it instilled in me a sense of unease, the word “miscegenation” still unknown to me.

This unease was reinforced by Jedda, a film where the central tragedy of the Aboriginal was played out in a Charles Chauvel melodrama. Jedda was such a beautiful young image for myself, a teenage boy. Years later I went to Utopia, an Alyawarre settlement on the Sandover Highway. As an Alyawarre woman, she had grown up there and later had a troubled relationship with the community.  I did speak to her on the telephone but she was away when I stayed in Utopia.

It was still a long time from Jedda before I was to run across Charlie Perkins. I do not know why but we had an immediate empathy. One problem I had noted was that Aboriginal reticence meant that you had to learn to speak through the silences. As one of my Aboriginal brothers would say, the non-verbal conversations with the various vocal clicks was difficult for whitefellas so used to voice communications. The other manifestation that was clear from a growing association with Aboriginal people was if a particular government meeting was thought irrelevant, the Aboriginal representative just did not turn up, but as the Aboriginals have come in from the fringe that dynamic changed. Aboriginal people can recognise tokenism.

In 1973 in Parliament House it was demonstrated very clearly that here was a nation wrestling with the Menzies’ legacy and in particular the engagement in Vietnam. Whitlam terminated Australian involvement, and both he and the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Snedden visited China that year. Snedden was privately concerned with the lack of involvement with Aboriginal People, since even though the 1967 referendum was an overwhelming affirmation of Aboriginal rights that was not easily translated into a workable outcome for our society.

Aboriginal tent embassy

Charlie Perkins, when he was young, had this busy enthusiasm about him. Snedden suggested that I might try and talk to him. The easiest way to talk to him was around the campfire which the Aboriginals had started outside Parliament House. We got on well from the start and spent a lot of time yarning around the fire. To me it was symbolic of establishing an understanding, and Charlie was appreciative that somebody from the Opposition had bothered to brave the fireside. It did not take long for the message to come back from one of the Nats who had seen me with Charlie around the fire saying: “Who’s that Communist working for Snedden?” The other occasion that I well remember was walking with Charlie across King’s Hall one evening, when Mick Young with Eric Walsh came up and said to Charlie without acknowledging me, “You coming to dinner, Charlie?” Charlie shot back, “No, I’m going to have a meal with Jack Best.” These are in the order of things inconsequential. Both Charlie and I wanted a better world and we threw out ideas, most of which drifted off in the camp fire smoke.

So did we, drifted away from one another. Much later when I met him when he was a senior public servant, he seemed to have lost much of this zest for life, but then that happens when you become a fully-fledged bureaucrat.

However, he was also fighting renal failure.

I read Pat Turner’s Charlie Perkins Oration this year, and even though I am not sure I agree with everything she said, she was right in saying that Charlie – the Charlie I knew – never backed down. Yet he showed a willingness to engage in all sides of politics. Later I was to have quite a bit to do with Congress, the Aboriginal Health Service which grew out his early activity in Alice Springs. It is a pity Charlie died while still a relatively young man, succumbing to one of the sequelae of that most deadly infections to Aboriginal people – the streptococcal bacteria.

Conquering that scourge of Aboriginal people still remains. It is not the only one.

Charlie to my mind was the first person who taught me the etiquette of equality of the whitefella in the eyes of the Aboriginal person.  I never attained the level that we could have called each other “brother”, but he enriched my life. Aboriginals were not a cute fringe eating witchety grubs, playing in mission dirt or conforming to a stereotype imposed on them.

Thanks, Charlie for being around when you were – brief as it was. However, you opened up a new perspective for me, and in so doing enriched my life in so many ways.

John Kitzhaber Concludes – A New Model for the Nation

Dr John Kitzhaber

A financially sustainable system designed for value and health can take many forms, but it must include five core elements:

  1. Universal coverage;
  2. Defined benefits;
  3. Assumption of risk by providers and accountability for quality and outcomes;
  4. Capped total cost of care through a global budget indexed to a sustainable growth rate; and
  5. Cost prevention by addressing the social determinants of health.

Here is one example. Starting with our current public-private financing structure, modify the three large insurance pools that currently define the US healthcare system.

  • Pool 1: To achieve universal coverage (element 1), restore the ACA individual mandate but ensure that people have affordable health plans in which to enrol. Expand Medicaid eligibility to include the 28 million people who are currently uninsured or create a new, affordable, publicly subsidized option to offer them. At the same time, move Pool 1 to a CCO-like capitated model that encompasses elements 2 through 5. If coverage in the individual market is unaffordable, those below a certain income level (e.g. 450 percent of the federal poverty level) could buy into Pool 1 with income-based cost sharing, which would make universal coverage more feasible. This is particularly important today as millions of people are losing their employment-based coverage and moving to Medicaid or the individual market.
  • Pool 2: Because Original Medicare is still paid through fee-for-service, the program must be moved to a capitated model. One approach would be to create incentives to enrol in a Medicare Advantage Plan (most of which are already capitated) and change the Medicare Advantage Plans that are still fee-for-service to capitated models that meet elements 2 through 4. Because reimbursement would now be based on managing cost and improving health, Medicare Advantage Plans would better incentivize providers to view their patients as a whole through, for example, nutrition counselling or working with social services for safe housing, thereby meeting element 5.
  • Pool 3: Allow the remaining markets—employer-sponsored medium and large group and self-insured markets—to operate as they do today, negotiating prices with health plans and using their market power to insist on capitated risk contracts with provider networks. The public sector price negotiations outlined below would provide a benchmark, giving employers additional leverage in negotiating prices in the commercial market. This advantage should be amplified by forming new partnerships with Unions

Continue the transformation by using the consolidated purchasing power of Pools 1 and 2 to negotiate one set of prices for both pools. This would include not only what providers are paid per beneficiary (risk-adjusted according to each beneficiary’s expected care needs) but also prescription drugs, medical devices, laboratory services, imaging, and all the other niche business models that have been established under the fee-for-service model to maximize revenue. This kind of price negotiation is what most large private employers (making up the majority of Pool 3) do today. Public payers should follow suit by using the consolidated purchasing power of the public sector—which is footing an ever-larger part of the bill—to get the best price and value for the United States of America community. If the public sector were so inclined, it would also be possible to both negotiate limits on individuals’ out-of-pocket expenses and ensure there are no caps on annual or lifetime benefits.

The result would be a new system of universal coverage built on our current public-private financing structure. With the majority of Americans in some form of capitated risk model, this new system (1) reduces the total cost of care through price negotiations, a global budget indexed to a sustainable growth rate, and provider accountability for quality outcomes; (2) preserves consumer choice and allows current insurers to compete for Pools 1 and 2 in a restructured market; and (3) delivers more and more value and health because it requires strategic, long-term, effective investments in the social determinants of health.

This is merely one way to design a new, health-focused, financially sustainable system. There are others. My objective here is not to advocate for the example I have just outlined here, but rather to spark a new debate that will lead to a better system. Instead of being constrained by what currently exists, we need to start with our objective, agree on essential elements, and then let the contours of the new system emerge. Long-term, this will serve us better than starting with a plan that may not meet the criteria needed to achieve our goal. For example, while both Medicare for All and a public option are ways to achieve universal coverage (element 1), neither directly addresses the total cost of care (elements 3 and 4) or focuses on increasing investment in the social determinants of health (element 5). Surely, we can imagine linking the total cost of medical care to a sustainable growth rate within the next few years. Then we can work backward to create a health system that meets the objectives of Democrats by expanding coverage and improving health and meets the objectives of Republicans by reducing the rate of medical inflation through fiscal discipline and responsibility.

COVID-19 and the Urgency of Now  

As the healthcare system has become ever more dependent on public debt, its financial underpinnings have become inexorably linked to the capacity of the government to borrow. That capacity has been suddenly and dramatically diminished by COVID-19 and by the business closures and high unemployment resulting from efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

To prevent a complete collapse of the economy, there has been a massive federal intervention to keep credit flowing and to provide loan guarantees and direct payments to businesses and individuals. America will have to spend at least $5 trillion this year alone to sustain our economic infrastructure and to support its unemployed. This will leave us with an unprecedented budget deficit and a national debt approaching $28 trillion—with little or no capacity to absorb the 60 percent growth in health care spending that is projected by 2028 (from $3.7 to $6.2 trillion), especially when prices for medical goods and services are projected to account for 43 percent of that growth.

The pandemic is forcing us into an era of dramatic constraints on the public resources allocated to the healthcare system. Neither the government nor private-sector employers can afford the current system anymore, given the economic losses that both employers and individuals have experienced since February and the massive amount of public debt that has been accumulated just to hold our economy together. At the same time, those parts of the healthcare system that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 are those most dependent on fee-for-service reimbursement, which exposes the basic flaw in a business model that depends on volume, regardless of the value of the services rendered.

This economic crisis means that, for the first time, the economic interests of workers, employers, the government, and many parts of the healthcare sector are aligned. The time to transform the system is now. We have crossed the Rubicon, and there is no going back. We can either watch our current system unravel, with millions more losing coverage and ever-widening income inequality, or we can work together to design a system that helps stabilize our economy and better serves the needs of the American people.

The Role of Unions

This is the moment for more states, facing huge general fund shortfalls, to move to a CCO-like care model for Medicaid, and for Congress, facing staggering debt, to create incentives for Medicare beneficiaries to enrol in a Medicare Advantage Plan and to move that program to a fully capitated model in which providers assume risk for quality and outcomes. Health professionals should be vocal advocates for both of these changes—and that advocacy should be backed up by the strength of the union movement to bring this model to the commercial market. This will require forging new alliances at the bargaining table between Unions and payers—both public and private.

Coverage of the cost of healthcare is, of course, part of the total compensation package, which means that in collective bargaining, wages are often pitted against health benefits. For public employees, general fund appropriations for healthcare compete not only with general funds for wages but also for essentials like increasing nurse staffing ratios, reducing class sizes, and investing in housing and other social determinants of health. The traditional goal in bargaining over healthcare is to reduce, to the greatest extent possible, out-of-pocket costs for Union members (which is very important).

The problem is that focusing only on this aspect of the total compensation package—without questioning the cost structure, quality, or efficiency of the care being purchased—suppresses wage growth. Without aggressively challenging the cost structure and value of the healthcare being purchased, the dollars spent on rising premiums flow into a system that redistributes them upward, taking money from the pockets of working Americans to enrich the profits of large corporations and wealthy individuals (further exacerbating income inequality).

A CCO-like model would be better because it caps the total cost of care without sacrificing quality and it realizes savings to invest in the social determinants of health—including wages. Particularly for workers making minimum wage or close to it, income is a primary driver of health.

Employees and employers have a shared economic interest in reducing the rate of medical inflation and in focusing on value and health. Providers, for the first time, now have an economic interest in changing the payment model from fee-for-service to capitated because this is the only way they can survive in an era that no longer can sustain debt financing. From the standpoint of the Labour movement, CCO-like models could result in increased wages, better staffing ratios, and more funding for education and other services that are critical to making our society more just.

This need for greater social investment must  emphasized. Reducing the total cost of care will assist all working Americans (not just those with union representation) because it will make not only their wages go further but also relieve them of the anxiety of not knowing whether the next illness will push them into bankruptcy. And it will give us, at last, the ability to address the conditions of injustice that underlie disease.

Let’s Begin Now!

Creating a new system with the five core elements will take time. But there is much we must do quickly. Because the economic consequences of the pandemic—particularly the increase in unemployment, with its associated loss of workplace-based coverage—are driving us toward Pool 1 (Medicaid, the uninsured, and the ACA marketplace), this is the logical place to start.

The most urgent coverage problem is for those who are not offered or have lost workplace-based coverage and whose income is too high for Medicaid (above 138 percent of the federal poverty level) but too low to afford the individual market. These struggling individuals are joined by a growing number of underinsured Americans who are technically covered by employer-sponsored plans but face copayments and deductibles so high that for all practical purposes they are uninsured. People of color—particularly Black, Hispanic, and Native American people—make up disproportionate numbers of both of these groups.

The state of Oregon offers an illustration of both the problem and the opportunity. By the end of April, 266,600 Oregonians had lost their jobs (an unemployment rate of 14.2 percent). An estimated 215,800 of these people will be eligible for Medicaid, 20,500 will move to the ACA exchanges, and 30,300 will remain uninsured.20 Because Medicaid is entirely financed with public resources and the ACA exchanges are heavily subsidized with public dollars, this amounts to a dramatic increase in public sector financing of healthcare. In terms of the healthcare model proposed in this essay, Oregon’s Pool 1 is expected to increase from 34.9 percent to 41.3 percent of the state’s population over a few months.

Furthermore, if 80 percent of those who lack health coverage in Oregon made use of coverage for which they are currently eligible—Medicaid or the subsidies available through the ACA marketplace—the number of Oregonians who are uninsured would drop from almost 250,000 to 34,000 (from 6.2 percent to < 1 percent). The only obstacle is the total cost of care.

Since states are facing enormous budget deficits and the federal government is facing a looming debt crisis, it is imperative that shifts toward public financing be accompanied by effective mechanisms to reduce the total cost of care through global budgets (indexed to a sustainable growth rate, with providers at risk for quality and outcomes). At the same time, such global budgets are now more appealing to many hospitals and primary care practices because of the sharp loss of revenue among those with fee-for-service models.

Mouse Whisper

I know we were all keen on Amy Klobucher, when she seemed to be the most articulate candidate back in those days when the Democratic race was like the first at Rosehill. She dropped out, and although considered as Biden’s running mate, she missed out here also to Kamala Harris.

However, the most final reason for her not getting the nod was:

She’s from Minnesota!

In explanation, no Minnesotan has ever made President, and such a judgement tends to stick once voiced. At least Barcelona is not in Minnesota.

Modest Expectations – Windy Bears

Blinman is the highest settlement in South Australia at 610metres. It has a pub and one of the distinguishing features of this area is that it sells locally-made ice cream – well, not actually made in the Flinders Ranges but in a little town in this mid north area of the State – in Laura.

The Flinders Ranges were named after Matthew Flinders who, together with his cat Trim, were the first Europeans to see the Range when he anchored his boat in Spencer Gulf near present day Port Augusta, and his name was given to the Range by Governor Gawler in 1839.

Wilpena Pound is an ancient caldera in the Southern part of the Flinders Ranges. It is one of the few places which was still on my bucket list of places I hadn’t been in this vast country. The name had stuck in my mind since I read that the famous New Zealand soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa had performed here in an open-air concert – with the all kit and caboodle of an accompanying symphony orchestra.

Within the National Park now owned by the local indigenous people, the resort is surrounded by hills and the bush crowds in upon you. Ring throated green parrots are cavorting on the terrace as I am setting down my thoughts.

Six weeks earlier the area had been flooded and there is still evidence of water damaged roads. Most of the bush that had been washed along with the floodwaters had been cleared away, but the road signs still warned of flood damage and the unmade roads into the interior of the range had yet to be graded. There are plenty of hikes, which I could have done in the past, but there is still much to see.

 

The Flinders Ranges themselves are not that high, but they have a certain majesty. There is the huge Arkaroola Rock; there are the hills which are swirls of pink accentuated in the afternoon sun. A hill pokes out from the pink diorama as though it is a sand dune not rock. There is the Great Wall of China atop, in American usage, a butte. Nature had constructed what appears to be a dry-stone wall, which meanders up and across these flat-topped hills. Other peaks are jagged, saw toothed. This has been a playground for Mother Nature to experiment in form and texture. After all, to the local Aboriginal people this is the land of the Rainbow Serpent.

Throughout the ranges on the road north to Blinman, the dominant tree is the native cypress and, because of the recent rain, they are growing amid a greenery which has coalesced with the salt bush. There is also the mauve of Paterson’s Curse, which has been let loose by the rain and, as I have written before, it can look beautiful. However, as Baudelaire once wrote, at the heart of great beauty resides evil. I always think of those words when I see this imported weed coating the landscape.

Tiny Blinman has a general store, which was closed, but fortunately the pub offered the ice cream. There was once copper mining here, and the woman at the door informs us that the tour of the mine is full. She gives me some tiny pieces of malachite as compensation. I tell her my great-grandfather, when he first came to Australia, took his family south of the Flinders Range to Kapunda, where the first commercial mine in Australia had been opened in 1842. This mine also yielded copper but has long been closed. I had been there many years ago and already gathered pieces of souvenir ore from the mine tailings.

The view from Stoke’s Hill Lookout is of a red ochre expanse dotted with salt bush. Here the greenery has not penetrated and my whole vision was one that Fred Williams may have seen and painted. After all, the Flinders Ranges was inspiration for Hans Heysen also. He painted many a vibrant gum tree landscape. Although the native cypress are dominant, there are stands of several major eucalypts throughout the Ranges. There is the Southern Flinders Mallee, which grow on the rocky slopes, but along the river-beds are the imposing river red gums beloved of Heysen.

The Big Tree, Orrooroo

The largest of these eucalypts is celebrated in the small settlement of Orroroo, south of the Flinders Ranges, where the eponymously named tree is said to be over 500 years old. It has a trunk circumference of 10 metres and no fork in the trunk until six metres up.  It is a very healthy tree, but it is by no means the only tree of similar size and in the forecourt of our accommodation, there is a tree that is not much smaller. In the reception is a huge red gum counter made from a tree that had fallen over. Part of the massive trunk had been salvaged but the rest, despite protests, was cut up into firewood, the desecration often perpetuated by government-paid foresters.

Hawker is at the southern apex of the Flinders Range, a small settlement but with an enormous tyre service. This is an ominous warning of travel on the unmade roads that penetrate the Range. While we refuelled there, we were surrounded by an exhaust of leather clad motorcycle riders, most of whom were old enough to be directly inspired by Peter Fonda and Denis Hopper in Easy Rider. This is “easy riding” in the Outback, even though the sense of hair flowing the wind is now “kerbed” by a helmet.

The road to the west of the range proceeds north to Parachilna, with a pub and an official population of three. The pub is managed by a young couple who have fled there to escape the Virus, and here gained employment. This Prairie Hotel is a well-known watering spot to where once a railway ran, but no more.

The hotel is deceptive. From the outside it is a normal pub with the corrugated iron roof slung over the walls to provide protection from the sun. However, it is different from the normal desert hostelry in not being a reservoir for stubbie holders, fridge magnets, car stickers, and sexist T-shirts in a dungeon-like public bar. Inside it is tastefully decorated, light and airy.  There is a wide array of quality, mostly Aboriginal, art on display for sale. It is also the general store, sells other Aboriginal-designed artefacts, has good accommodation, the place for a good feed at breakfast and dinner; and being a pub, a wide range of grog. A bottle of my favourite Hendricks gin peeps out of a well-stocked spirits selection. Over the road from the hotel there is the budget accommodation in the form of dongas, ship containers with a portal of entry. Without air conditioning in the middle of summer, they would be like being in a microwave.

The paved road now goes a long way north and last year was extended to Marree (once the cattle railhead) to try and help those “grey nomads” dragging their caravans. Thus, Parachilna is now not a terminus but a welcome stop on the way north into the desert. For us, given how late in the day it is, this was our turning point from where we drove back, bathed in the late afternoon sun.

Adam Goodes mob – The Adnyamathanha

Terence and Josephine Coulthard, in the words of the front cover, compiled a Culture and Language Book on the Adnyamathanha people. These are local Indigenous Guardians of the Flinders Range – the long title means Rock (Adnya) People (Mathanha). The book runs to 450 pages and serves as a dictionary – the written form of the oral language – painstakingly described.

Adnyamathanha flag

These people have a flag (pictured) which combines the blue diagonal canton as representing sky and the Blue Rock people. The brown represents the land and the Red Rock people. The saucepan star formation is the men’s story line; the seven sisters the women’s story line. The circle with the radiating white lines is Ikara (Wilpena Pound) and the symbol for the whole Adnyamathanha community. Thinking about the complexity in the cultural attachments to the land we now recognise as Australia, such a flag should be looked at in a national context. It is a proud flag; this is not the flag of the downtrodden.

This strength was exemplified by us being invited to come to the launch of the book under the river red gums, where Terence sang and played the guitar, where the mob had come  and now sat under the trees and the children ran free the aboriginal kids weren’t running around, they sat with their parents. There was a lot of talk, everybody seemed to have a word to say, including the local member for Stuart with a long Dutch name.

We purchased both the book and the flag.

John Kitzhaber – His Thoughts

Below is a the first of a multipart series by Dr John Kitzhaber, former Democratic Governor of Oregon and the author of the Oregon Health Plan. I have known Dr Kitzhaber for a long time and he has agreed to his essay being reprinted in my blog. It provides an insight into the thinking of someone whom President-elect Biden may tap for ideas. Over to Governor Kitzhaber…

Dr John Kitzhaber

“I started practicing emergency medicine when I was 27 years old, and I still remember the vulnerability of the people who came to see me. They were sick or injured, frightened, and asking for help. They didn’t know me, and yet they put their trust in me. I did everything in my power to help them and yet, even then, I sometimes failed.

As an emergency doctor, being unable to save a life was devastating. The walk across the hall to the small room where family and friends waited always felt like a long hopeless journey. Yet while this poignant intersection of compassion and mortality is difficult, it is that very compassion, and the humility and caring involved, that drew many of us into healthcare in the first place.

Today, much of that compassion is being stripped away. Early in my career, in the 1970s, we had time to build the kind of personal relationships with our patients that often contributed as much to their health and well-being as the medical treatments we prescribed. Sadly, the space in which to cultivate these deeper relationships seems to be slipping away—lost to an electronic medical record that is as much about billing as about caring, and to an impersonal corporate structure that prioritizes revenue generation over a deeper understanding of the social and economic circumstances that contribute to illness.

I became a doctor to improve people’s health and well-being, not just to treat their medical conditions. I soon realized, however, that in many cases I was treating the medical complications of social problems. I was trained to treat the medical conditions, which I did to the best of my ability; but afterwards, my patients returned to the same social conditions that had brought them into the hospital in the first place. I eventually realized that our healthcare system is designed not to support wellness but rather to profit from illness. While most healthcare providers certainly don’t approach caring for people that way, the underlying business model does.

Serving in public office while still practicing medicine gave me another insight: the realization that the more money we spend on healthcare, the less is available for housing, nutrition, education, or other things that are critical to health and well-being. Since first running for the Oregon legislature in 1978, I have spent 26 years as a representative, as a senator, and as governor trying to develop a new model—one built on the recognition that health is the product of many factors, only one of which is medical care.

In 2012, in the depths of the Great Recession, Oregon established such a model: coordinated care organizations (CCOs) for our Medicaid recipients. The CCOs don’t just treat illness; they cultivate health by addressing not only physical, mental, and dental care but also related needs such as safe housing, transportation, and fresh, affordable food. CCOs have also demonstrated that it is possible to expand coverage and reduce the rate of medical inflation while improving quality and health outcomes. Now, with the deep recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, it is time to scale this kind of model up for the whole nation. My primary aim with this article is to offer one way in which we might achieve that goal.

From Cost and Coverage to Value and Health

For decades, the healthcare debate throughout the United States has focused almost entirely on coverage—on how to pay for access to the current system—rather than on health. What is missing is a consideration of value, which in this context means that the purpose of the system is not simply to finance and deliver medical care but rather to improve and maintain health. Indeed, the things that have the greatest impact on health across the lifespan are healthy pregnancies, decent housing, good nutrition, stable families, education, steady jobs with adequate wages, safe communities, and other “social determinants of health”; in contrast, the healthcare system itself plays a relatively minor part.

Ironically, since the cost of medical care consumes 18 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP), our current healthcare system actually undermines our ability to invest in children, families, housing, economic opportunity, and the many other key social factors important to health and well-being. This is a primary reason why the United States does not compare favourably in terms of health statistics with nations that choose to spend far more on the social determinants and far less on the healthcare system.

If we could reduce our healthcare spending from 18 to 12 percent of GDP (which is the average spent by most other industrialized nations), we would free up over one trillion dollars a year to invest in the things that contribute more to health. Such a reduction in spending might seem impossible, but successful examples of how to bring down the total cost of care do exist, including Oregon’s CCOs. Under these care models, providers receive a global budget to provide quality care with good outcomes for a defined population; if the global budget is exceeded in any given year, the providers are at financial risk for the difference. These care models change the system’s incentives from rewarding sickness to rewarding wellness—and they work. Because they focus on improving health, they prevent illnesses and thereby reduce costs without sacrificing quality.

Effectively addressing the access, value, and cost issues in our healthcare system is one of the most important domestic challenges we face as a nation. Doing so, however, requires both a clear-eyed assessment of what this system has become and the courage to challenge that system. The global pandemic, with its profound economic and social consequences, has brought into clear focus the urgent need for a new model more aligned with caring, compassion, and the goal of improving the health of our nation. And no one is more qualified to lead that effort than the people who have dedicated their lives to the healthcare profession.

COVID-19 and Our Legacy of Inequity

In 1882, the newly formed Populist Party wrote in its platform, “The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind.” Now, over 125 years later, these words aptly describe our current social and economic conditions and how little progress we have made in terms of social justice and equal opportunity. The novel coronavirus has exposed anew the inequities and the linked class and race divisions within our society, problems that have been with us since before our nation’s founding, almost always churning just below the surface, visible only indirectly when we examine disparities like disproportionately lagging health and education outcomes for chronically under-resourced— often racially or ethnically segregated—communities. Especially in the past few decades, these inequities have been masked by debt-financed economic growth that has prevented us from mustering the political will and societal solidarity necessary to address them.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the depth of these disparities, or the extent to which social justice has been eroded, than the US healthcare system. It is a massive corporate enterprise that now consumes nearly one-fifth of our GDP, a huge employer that is increasingly dependent on public debt for its financial stability, and a major driver of income inequality. The pandemic has cast these inequities and contradictions into stark relief.

We see the difficulty nonmedical essential workers have had in obtaining adequate health protections, often resulting in significantly higher rates of infection. These are people in low-wage positions—often with minimal or no sick leave or insurance—working in grocery stores, warehouses, factories, and food and agricultural production sites. We also see that Black Americans are dying from Covid-19 in dramatically disproportionate numbers—deaths attributable to the structural inequities in our society that make Black people and other people of colour more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, and to live near major sources of health-endangering pollutants and far from health facilities and grocery stores. These are issues we urgently need to address.

At the same time, the pandemic has for the first time brought the economic interests of those who pay for, consume, and provide healthcare into clear alignment. This gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the current system by demanding value as well as universal coverage and by constraining the total cost of care.”

To be continued next week.

 What a Village

After such an above sober analysis…

The votes for the US President have been counted and, as predicted, Trump is behaving as he always has, and in so doing disgracing all American democratic traditions.

Joe Biden has won. I have not thought much of him, but now that he is on the brink of Presidency, he needs his critics – of which I am not even a speck in importance of one of these – to give him a chance.

Trump is exhibiting the sure signs of dementia. People are now openly saying he is lying and the media is by and large turning him off. The pathetic lies are obvious, but is he confabulating? There are these long blanks in his mental processes which he fills with babble. This is associated with early dementia. Therefore, with his face the colour of a tomato, which even make up cannot hide suggests a visit to an independent medical panel would be wise.

Nancy Pelosi is 80; Joe Biden is on the cusp of 78; Mitch McConnell is 78 and unquestionably the most unhealthy seems to be Donald Trump, who is only is 74. He has had a dose of the Virus and refused to heed its danger.  Instead of convalescence he embarked on a frantic schedule in which he encouraged his adoring crowd to gather into a feed lot for the Virus. He demonstrated how the President’s power must be reviewed, as the Senate has done in the past, to clip presidential authority. Trump has shown how susceptible a nation can be to bullying, even when this is limited to four years.

There is an increasing adage that 70 years is the new 50, but believe me, 80 is the new 80. Something happens between 70 and 80 in many people, and that is why it is hard to detect how well they would handle the “next four years”. Retention of physical and mental health in individuals begins to become more of a lottery. Therefore, both Pelosi and McConnell should be watched for any slippage, but in politics that is an inconvenient comment.

I do not fear of being called ageist, because I am in the same age group. Biden still shows he can jog to the President-elect’s podium, but he called upon Obama to assist in maintaining a sense of mental resilience. I had made the comment earlier that Biden would give away to an Obama restoration. I made the comment that this may be stopped in its tracks by Michelle Obama. Obama’s oratory over the last few weeks helped solidify African-American voting intentions in these closing weeks.

Kamala Harris is 56 years old and Mike Pence is 61. Whether having endured years of Trump, Pence might retire in Indiana to try and cure the PTSD engendered by four years at “Don’s Party”, with any thoughts of a future Presidency probably snuffed out. However, the future of Kamala Harris will determine whether that divide in America painted red will ever accept under any circumstances a woman, especially if Biden should die or be incapacitated over the next four years.

In short, there is much that could be added without rehashing that which has already been said. What in the end were the most significant conclusions for me?

  • America elected a woman Vice-President.
  • Trump scored 72 million votes.
  • COVID-19 has affected three per cent of the population and O.8 per cent of the population have died up to this point. Does anybody out of that 72 million in the imitation of a self-obsessed narcissistic ex-President really care about such a small group of “losers”? Is America that callous?

Mouse Whisper

Not Anywhere

            Not Delaware

                          But Somewhere

                                     Wilmington South Australia

The Worshipful Company of South Australian Field Mouse Grain Handlers have asked me to invite you Sir to open the Wilmington Night Rodeo on January 23 next. I understand to perform this important role you will have re-schedule a minor ceremony in Washington to be with us. However how could you afford to miss having the finest tucker at Rusti Kate’s Feed Lot after a trip through the Puppet Museum, which I understand as a fine array of your predecessor’s marionettes.

Respectfully

Wilmington, South Australia

Modest Expectations – Round & Round

There was much hype surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Olympic Games with the spruiking by the ABC of their biopic, Freeman. Given the cloying, hagiographic way many of these biopics are constructed around sporting celebrities, one might have anticipated a certain predictability with a treacly voiceover. Therefore, I planned to give it a miss.

However, the television was tuned to the ABC during the Sunday night meal and it was just left on. I started watching with the eye of the sceptic prepared to switch it off. I did not. It was a fine depiction of an extraordinary woman.

I must say that at a time where the world is devoid of genuine heroes and heroines (if that word is still allowed) Cathy Freeman stands out. Running 400 metres faster than anybody else in the world was the centrepiece, but in relation to the woman herself it is, in the end, incidental.

Yet without this extraordinary talent, she would have been yet another unrecognised good person, one of those who form the spine that anchors this country. She is Indigenous. It marks her out. She provides that sense of grace that was so well emphasised by the beautiful unnamed Bangarra dancer, and as with Cathy Freeman, grace is so natural – more than just a physical attribute.

This artistic portrayal, far from complicating the vision of Freeman winning and thus being a source of distraction, made me realise that this was more than just an expression of the filmmaker’s sensitivity, it demonstrated something rare in the Australian psyche – a genuine unsentimental view of what grace under pressure is all about.

Freeman engendered on that night a sense of optimism in a country which wallows in its veneration of failure – Burke and Wills, Gallipoli and Fromelles immediately springing to mind.

Now, two decades on, she has remained the same determined person dedicated to doing good without constantly reminding us of it – that was one message that I took from this biopic.

Thick as a Plantain

Queensland is a different world, to a point. When I was first exposed to the public service in Queensland, I was amazed to see and feel how centralised the system is. It so closely approximated attitudes in the Victorian public service, which I experienced when I had worked there, that I felt quite at home.

The authoritarian personality dominates the centralised mentality of Queensland public servants. It was almost to a level that paper clip distribution in a Camooweal government office depends on the signature of the Departmental head in Brisbane.

When the authoritarian personality is combined with a healthy dose of xenophobia and lack of intellectual integrity it perfectly describes Pauline Hansen. Yet such a perception of her underpins a preparedness of Queenslanders to elect her – time and again.

Her tearful retreat whenever she is under political fire relies on a cynical appeal to an undercurrent of paternalism. If she were a man, she could not hide behind a veil of crocodile tears. The extraordinary performance of the Queensland Premier last week accusing the Prime Minister of bullying when he was making a perfectly reasonable request shows that in Queensland the Hansen playbook is very adaptable – in this case by the Premier herself.

Then there is her chief health officer, Dr Jeanette Young who, according to the Premier, apparently is running the State – at least in health and in border exemption. She does not have any public health qualifications despite having been in the job for 15 years.

This is the same Jeanette Young who, during the swine flu scare of 2009, advocated for Queenslanders to stock up on food – in essence stirring up panic buying. Well, Queenslanders, there has been another outbreak of swine flu in China, which has been kept quiet. China has just banned pork imports from Germany because also has been the emergence of swine flu there.

Dr Young is unyielding – to a point.

The Premier and her minions may want to blame Peter Dutton for everything, and the Hanks imbroglio allows the State government to spread some of the topsoil, but Dutton cannot be blamed for allowing the polo-playing McLachlan with his flock from descending on Queensland (and a variety of other well-shod Victorians) to serve out their quarantine in the comfort of a resort. If the Premier is to be believed, this is the handiwork of Jeanette Young, who makes the decisions to allow special access. However, in so allowing it, this seems to contravene everything the resolute Jeanette Young says she stands for.

Yet Jeanette Young is not averse to the quavering voice when under media scrutiny. After all the health plausibility of many of her decisions is inversely related to the political expediency. At least with Daniel Andrews, he has now learned that public health considerations must have a scientific basis; and is following a course. He is in for the long term. Sounds familiar. Perhaps he has observed the Chinese devotion to the long term solution at close quarters.

Dr Young has recently acquired a deputy, Dr Sonya Bennett, who has worked in the Royal Australian Navy before joining the Queensland Department of Health to oversee public health three years ago. Given the propensity of professionals in the armed forces to collect post-graduate certificates and diplomas, Dr Bennett has acquired appropriate public health qualifications. She has the credibility of sitting on a government committee to oversee communicable diseases, and presumably is assisting in the flow of exemptions.

However, in the end Queensland with in all its authoritarian rigidity has to find a way out of its completely illogical stance of border closure that demands a rate of community transmission that is absurdly low before the drawbridge is lowered. In a population of 8.129 million, NSW is reporting around five cases a day – that’s 1 per 1,625,800. Maybe the election will do the trick – one way or the other, if Australia can wait that long.

But, Jeanette, batten down the hatches, swine flu may be coming again and Australia needs a unified strategy to deal with a new swine flu outbreak – apart from advocacy of panic buying. Time to start behaving like a country.

But, you know, it is Queensland and do they know how to bend a banana!

The little sparrow 

Having discussed Cathy Freeman, this vignette of another inspiring woman may help ease reaction to the writings immediately above. Sarah L. was a young English doctor when she met me in the corridor of the hospital. She looked so small; even childlike and yet when I met her at Doomadgee, I soon found out her resilience belied her appearance.

Doomadgee is mainly an Aboriginal settlement in the Queensland Gulf country and has had its moments with a police station under siege and Aboriginal riots. The problem with this settlement is that it is the meeting place of various mobs, and in such clusters, there are always underlying tensions, even when there is no violence between rival mobs.

When she greeted me, she apologised for saying she was a little tired. The previous evening, she had been called out to triage a serious vehicle roll-over, and given that nobody wears seat belts, there was a variety of serious injuries. She had to work out the priority in treatment and who needed to be evacuated to Mount Isa or to the coast. They had all survived.

She also wanted to set up an evidence-based treatment for scabies, which was endemic in the community. Scabies is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei), which burrow into folds of skin, are found in children’s hair – and often, in the severest form, the scabies lesions are inter alia infected by streptococcus pyogenes. Scabies spread by contact and older people tend to be “super-spreaders”. There are a number of treatments that work, but they require compliance. She wanted to test ivermectin, which can be administered orally and used topically.

Scabies

Ivermectin’s parent drug was discovered in Japan in the 1970s and was first used in1981. It is the essential agent for two global disease elimination campaigns that will hopefully rid the world of both onchocerciasis and filariasis. These diseases affect the lives of many millions of poor and disadvantaged throughout the tropics. Ivermectin is also effective against mite (scabies) and lice (crabs or pubic lice) infestation. It has a very wide use against parasitic infestation, but for the use proposed by this young doctor there were still unknown elements.

The attack on scabies means ridding the home of the mites and, for instance, the habit of sleeping with dogs, which occurs in Aboriginal communities, can facilitate the spread. The young doctor, who had paediatric training, wanted to clear the children in the community of scabies.

I was impressed by her enthusiasm, and her approach reflected my ideal public health physician – able to have clinical expertise and yet wanting to set up a trial to see what would best suit her community.

This week, I tracked her down to see what happened. Yes, she successfully eradicated scabies, but that was so long ago.

She was pregnant at the time I met her in Doomadgee, and subsequently she had a second child. They all moved to the Coast. Her professional career was interrupted by a couple of major car accidents – one on Magnetic Island and one in Townsville – after she left Doomadgee. She took a long time to recover, and has been left with residual loss of vision in her left eye. She is now practising at Townsville Aboriginal Health Service.

To me, she was an exemplar of a doctor working in a remote community who was able to cope with emergencies but yet with the curiosity and determination of the public health physician. She epitomised the very best of medical practice, but her experience also demonstrated the lack of sustainability of a health system built on the individual worth without there being succession planning. That is a major problem that has bedevilled medical practice, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Before I made contact with her this week, while reflecting on Doomadgee, it reminded me of looking out of the train window and seeing two women tending a colourful beautiful garden alongside the train platform. Then the train moved on, and I did not have a return ticket.

However, on this occasion, I knew the name of the woman and when she rang me back, the voice was still so familiar. It was still the bright, breezy Sarah.

Letter from Victoria

I was talking to a friend of mine in Victoria. He is a consultant geriatrician, one of the best. He is also a member of a nursing home board.

In this State of unmitigated residential care disaster, in this nursing home there have been no cases of the coronavirus, in either residents or staff. He prefaces his comments by saying that luck is always a factor. Nevertheless, what they did from the outset was to ban visitors, allow only essential trades people into the facility and ensured that on arrival the staff had a temperature check and were quizzed on whether there was any sign of COVID-19 disease. Then, all staff appropriately attired themselves, and strict protocols were observed.

I asked how the residents coped with this degree of lock up – and he said they hated it, one saying she preferred to be dead rather than endure such conditions. So it is not just a case of expressions of pious statements about “loved ones” whenever a person in their nineties dies, but perhaps in the eyes of the departed, death was a joyous event. The problem is that it is one technology we have not mastered, that of polling the dead.

Apropos, I asked about Zoom and other means of distanced face-to-face communication. His view was that for the elderly it was no substitute for physical contact.

He made a further comment that it seems that in these institutionalised care environments, aerosol rather droplet spread is the major means of transmission. He cited a case where a particular residential facility was coronavirus free in the morning and by the evening two-thirds of the people were coronavirus positive.

After talking to him, I re-read the Newmarch Report, which shows that if you bring in a competent team that knows what it is doing then you get to the same situation that my friend describes. But it is far from a perfect situation.

I wonder whether the central agencies or the private operators have worked out how much it would cost to comply with the 20 recommendations of that Report.

The Commonwealth government, with an incompetent Minister, is still relying on the private sector, with its record of putting profit before care increasingly being shown to be scandalous. The fact that some Victorian aged care facilities delayed the release of dozens of deaths which were then added to the daily tallies has not been adequately explained, but hopefully the answer is not deceit .

My friend said that government-run and not-for-profit facilities were better in his view. Yet Newmarch is operated by Anglicare, an offshoot of the Anglican Church, and seems to have belied that generalisation as does the apparent gouging of the contaminated St Basil’s Home in Fawkner, a northern suburb of Melbourne, by the Greek Orthodox Diocese.

However, mimicking the home environment but being able to maintain infection control at a level where the coronavirus will be repelled at the door remains a challenge, organisationally and financially.

I know that if and when the time came for me to go into a nursing home, it will be a one-way street. Thus I want to go into a place where my family at least has the choice of visiting me. I do not want to go into an institution, which is kitted out as an intensive care unit, so that I become a delayed statistic dying in a labyrinth of tubes, with a card on my big toe labelled “a loved one”. “Loved One” is becoming the modern day substitute for the black rimmed Hallmark bereavement card.

Coronavirus is an accelerant, and if you are old and contract the Virus, but survive the buggery of being on a ventilator in an actual intensive care unit, you can then become a photo opportunity for the evening news, before dying unnoticed a few weeks later. Is that what I would want – is it anything anybody wants?

Federally-Operated Quarantine Facilities

The comment has been made to me that government building a series of quarantine facilities would very expensive. The problem is that there is no evidence of long term thinking beyond the immediate combat with the current coronavirus. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States denying climate change, a feeling echoed by members of the Australian Government. There is a suggestion that swine flu outbreaks are now reappearing in China and Germany complicating the world disease profile.

Coronavirus infections are out of control in many places throughout the world, where incidence and number of deaths are the indices to measure spread and severity. Yet, unexpressed is the level of morbidity, which at present can be classified at short to medium term. I have yet to see whether the impact of morbidity on the world economy and burden of disease has been assessed. Probably, it could be argued that we are only seeing six-month data.

Our ancestors recognised the need for quarantine facilities but often located them in harsh settings. However, being in a necessarily isolated environment need not be harsh.

It seems that both the Northern Territory and Kristina Keneally among an increasing number of others, myself included, are advocating for discrete quarantine facilities. However the Australian government, with its attachment to private enterprise, appears to prefer to maintain the fiction that hotel quarantine can work in the long term. Frankly as the economy improves and the hotels are required, planning for these facilities should occur now rather than in the usual ad hoc manner. More importantly, we need to get quarantine out of the major population centres, and we need to find an affordable quarantine solution if Australia is to re-enter the international community and not completely destroy tourism for the foreseeable future, particularly if a successful vaccine is not found in the next 12 months.

Howard Springs quarantine facility

In relation to a particular operational Northern Territory facility, the comment is that to get to it “…drive south-east from Darwin Airport for 30 minutes and you will arrive at an old mining camp – the Manigurr-ma Village for fly-in, fly-out natural gas workers. Until recently, this complex was abandoned. Today, it is perhaps the most popular travel destination for Melbourne escapees.”

In other words, facilities do already exist, and it seems a tolerable spot to spend 14 days, especially if the facility is airconditioned. In my last blog, I suggested the Northern Territory as the site for quarantine and singled out Katherine. Creating a so-called bubble around Katherine would allow the possibility of visits to Katherine Gorge, increasing the tolerance levels for incarceration. However, creativity is never a recognised expertise of public service.

Now the Northern Territory First Minister has been re-elected, he can act with more freedom, notwithstanding section 49 of the Northern Territory Self Government Act. This mirrors terms of Section 92 of the Constitution in protecting movement across border. As one constitutional expert has said: “It means the NT is in the same position as a state.” However, the Northern Territory exists under law enacted by the Australian parliament, and is not recognised in the Constitution as a State.

The experience with the repatriation of Australians from Wuhan should have given the few long term planners in government a clue of how to handle quarantine. The Northern Territory is an ideal place. Over time, flight schedules can accommodate the need for incoming quarantine.

The other destination for the Wuhan evacuees, Christmas Island, is to Australia what French Guiana is to France – a place to send people to be forgotten at a great cost, but inconvenient for large scale quarantine.

Kristina Keneally took a direct stance recently when she suggested that the Federal government could provide a set of quarantine resources if they are establish any form of international tourism. Repatriating the clamouring Australians provides a pool of people to test how best to allow people coming from COVID-19 endemic areas to return – or come to Australia.

The model exists in the successful evacuation from Wuhan.

Build or adapt facilities in Northern Australia to enable people to be quarantined for 14 days.

Gradually close down hotel quarantine, as international restrictions are eased but, in the light of the Government’s announcement this week that incoming passenger numbers will be increased, those states and territories that have taken a back seat in hosting quarantine can take some of the load – the ACT is a case in point, with its newly-constructed international airport; there are suitable sites in the ACT – much land around the Fairbairn RAAF base.

However, long term it is undesirable to use hotel facilities, which are not dedicated health facilities, for such a purpose. Thus there is a reason to establish a health-tourism forum so that people in each sector are brought together to develop a common language.

As with any facility designed to attract tourists to this country, each person presenting at a border should have the equivalent of the yellow card – when we needed to show evidence of smallpox vaccination, inoculation against typhoid, cholera – and still yellow fever.

Remember that yellow, even in this world of digital communication, remains the colour of the letter Q – hence quarantine. Data should provide evidence of the time of testing, a temperature check at departure and arrival and a checklist of symptomatology. As a parenthetic comment, the ability to test olfaction may become an important additional marker.

The longer there are no organised quarantine facilities the more policy will be at the mercy of ad hoc arrangements. Quarantine facilities that are recognised and organised with appropriate staff will provide a Security Blanket for the politicians, who are increasingly terrified of opening their borders – and in general Australia.

When we wanted to deal with those poor benighted asylum seekers, we were not at a loss for ingenious methods of inflicting as much misery on them without descending into actual torture. Also, can anybody realise how much hilarity and champagne cork popping there was in the Cambodian government when we wanted to “rehome” some of these asylum seekers.

However, the asylum seekers were at the end of a line of misery, and despite the compassionate cohort of advocates their plight means little to the vast majority of Australians.

By contrast, quarantine, well organised with a border force replete with replacement masks of compassion and a health work force working in conjunction with the tourist industry in all its manifestations would seem to be a simple concept to put an end to the ad hoc actions and the unmitigated xenophobia that some of our governments have developed.

Well, let’s see!

O Panda Alaranjado

I don’t see how we get through to the January 20, 2021 inauguration day without bloodshed.  Ever since James Adams succeeded George Washington in 1797, there has been a peaceful transition of power in this country from one president to the next. I fear that after 223 years we are about to tarnish that record.

So has been written to me by an American lawmaker.

Everybody has been setting out a scenario that this increasingly unhinged person with his band of acolytes could inflict on the USA if he loses.

The following is one is taken from the playbook of the Bavarian house painter, he could contrive to see the White House burnt down, and then invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. “In all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in all respect.”

Burning the White House, 1814

Not that it was an insurrection but British troops did burn down the White House in 1814. So there is a precedent, if not a president.

Mouse whisper

One Australian politician who answers to Julian the Lesser has made a statement that more Australian have seen Berlin than Bundaberg. Bundaberg has 93,000 people.

Is Julian the Lesser suggesting that:

  • people who live in Bundaberg are blind
  • there are more people than that to take our breath away.

All in all, a rum statement.

Out of breath