Modest Expectations – Shot to Pieces

A union hack, part time actor and superannuation call taker beat a Brunswick barrister for a federal seat. 

Mary Doyle, Member for Aston

This nasty tweet about the new member for Aston, Mary Doyle, hides an inconvenient truth. One can postulate that when Mary Doyle was pre-selected in 2022 to stand against the then incumbent, Alan Tudge, the seat of Aston would have been considered a safe Liberal seat. In 2019, after preferences, Tudge had won 60 per cent of the vote. In 2022, with Mary Doyle now the Labor candidate, a swing of 7.3 per cent was achieved. Then, with Mary Doyle again as the Labor candidate in this 2023 byelection following the resignation of Tudge, she increased her vote not only winning the byelection but also winning the first byelection for the incumbent government since 1920. In the person-in-the-street parlance: “Mary, you’re a legend!”

Nevertheless, the unpleasant Twitter comment has a grain of truth given that nastiness and arrogance occurs on both sides of the political spectrum. When she was first pre-selected, she was probably awarded the pre-selection on the basis that it was an unwinnable seat. Mary Doyle has become the accidental winner, an ordinary person, a loyal servant of the Labor party who had left school early and whose life epitomises the battle for the vast bulk of Australians wanting to survive. “Ordinary” is not to disparage, but she seems to be a true representative of the people, not an apparatchik coddled through the processes which seem to determine the current batch of successful political aspirants. She seems to be a well-balanced, optimistic person despite her various travails. I hope she does well and retains the “ordinariness” that so often is lacking in the rarefied Canberra atmosphere.

Borough or Burrow?

It was a cold morning when we entered the PikNik café on the Queenscliff Road. It had once been a service station; franchised Golden Fleece, which had fallen on hard times. The Golden Fleece brand in addition no longer exists.

It had been converted into a place where rugged-up local tradies and dog walkers came for their morning shot of caffeine. We had just come off the car ferry, which berthed at Geelong at a time which coincided with the middle of peak road traffic to Melbourne.  We had thus arranged to meet a friend, who now lived in Queenscliff, for breakfast.  Queenscliff lies almost at the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula, which forms one of the land masses enclosing Port Philip Bay. The Borough of Queenscliffe is a quaint hangover of the times when Victoria had over 200 cities, towns, shires and boroughs. In mediaeval parlance, the borough was a fortified town, and as a description of a local government area, it still remains elsewhere, notably in New York.

Bellarine Peninsula

Queenscliff in the Borough of Queenscliffe (note the additional “e”) is a burrow for the conservative elderly retirees, and when the reductions in Victorian local council numbers occurred in the 1990s, the local burghers exhibited their isolationist muscle and persuaded the conservative State Government that they should not be absorbed into the Greater Geelong Council, thus saving the requirement to rub shoulders with those Greater Geelong hoi polloi.

One of Victorian politicians made a very perceptive comment: “The Borough of Queenscliffe has not been included in the proposed amalgamation probably because of the number of elderly retired people in the area. The residents of Portarlington, Drysdale and St Leonards have expressed concern about their rates and the retention of the services that have been provided by the local council, such as nursing, podiatry and other services. Those people are used to the availability of face-to-face services and feel comfortable in a rural setting.”

It reminded me of several decades earlier when I was finishing my Doctorate of Philosophy on some aspects of angiotensin I and angiotensin II in the Monash Department of Medicine. I had a fabulous but challenging time, being supervised by Professor Bryan Hudson whose explosive charisma and glittering eye tended to scare the bejesus out of one; but I ended up on very good terms with him. Nevertheless, I could not see myself as a long-time researcher. Frankly, I was not good enough, and being a mediocre researcher was not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.

While I was undertaking this PhD, I undertook a Master of Arts (prelim) at the University of Melbourne, where I needed to obtain six subjects at honours level before proceeding to writing a short thesis in order to graduate. It was in those days when university education was free, and I completed the coursework over three years. I had always been keen on the social contribution of health care since I had become “the accidental medical student” before graduating as a doctor. My social and student political agenda, marrying before graduation and my involvement in early childhood education with a working wife and two young children made my twenties a busy time. If I had wanted to undertake public health it would meant decamping to Sydney for a year to gain the appropriate qualification from The University of Sydney through its School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. In my then situation, impossible.

Nevertheless, my career was never destined to be mentored in any conventional way, and when I searched for a job that would provide the transition into social medicine, there was nothing. Then for some reason, John Lindell, took an interest in me. He had headed the Hospitals and Charities Commission since 1953 and had been an innovative force in the development of Victorian health services. He showed some interest in my desire to change from the laboratory to the community health area.

He raised with me the possibility of setting up what he described as a community health service in Queenscliff. As he said to me, he already had representation from the Borough to set up a health service for the community. There were no specifications, but from my then experience, which included undertaking a multitude of part-time jobs to augment my meagre research fellowship, plus the sociological theory absorbed by my MA prelim, I believed I had the grounding if I had suitable support. Youthful enthusiasm is not enough when confronting a conservative community that wants the resources without any outside interference. John Lindell never pursued my appointment to what was a pilot program, even though I had popped up, seemingly at the right time, willing to set up a pilot program. However, once there was pushback compounded by the negativity of his Deputy, Manny Wilder, he just let the project drop.

This all occurred several years before the development of the community health service concept under the Whitlam government. By that time John Lindell had retired and died. I had moved on, and seemingly the Borough got the services it wanted without having to deal with a pesky neophyte.  The above quote from the parliamentary member 20 years later seems to suggest that it had.

I visited John Lindell in hospital when he was dying of cancer. I think he would have liked me to come along earlier, because our resultant association would have been strong enough to assure his vision of the community health centre.  One unfortunately can’t alter the calendar of birth and death to assure the right mix of people at the right time to assure change. That conjunction had to wait for later in my career.


Breakfast at PikNik lasted two hours of warm friendly chat and reminiscence, and the bread bought just before we left was likewise still warm, being freshly baked. I wondered how many times more I would visit the Fortress of Queenscliffe, especially as some eccentric just down the road was promulgating setting up the Republic of “Jimland”. Its sovereignty would be defended presumedly by armoured lawn mowers. Not too far away from the sentiments among some of the burghers of Queenscliffe, I suspect. 

Watcher from A Cast Iron Mind

I watched this TV program called Q&A, which I have mostly ignored in the past because it is the megaphone of the self-opinionated who have little to say, aptly described as if “they are reading your own watch”.

In this episode of Q&A, the discussion between the Aboriginal people exhibited a rising crescendo as they attempted to talk over one another – one stridently anti-Voice, the other pro-Voice.  In fact, as the anti-Voice proponent pointed out, the Uluru Statement from the Heart had positioned itself as being that of all Aboriginal people, whereas Uluru was a totem of Walpiri people, who had incidentally not been involved in the development of the statement. This anti-Voice, Jacinta Price, the National Party Senator from the Northern Territory is Walpiri on her mother’s side, giving her a firm base from which to launch her salvoes. Having derided the Uluru Statement, her position was clear, whereas her fellow Senator from the Northern Territory (her land is in the Gulf Country), Malarndirri McCarthy, who represents the ALP, is very pro-Voice; hence the dispute between the two.

Listening to the competing voices reminded one of the disputes within Aboriginal medical services. At one moment one family would be in charge of the finances of a particular service and then that family was displaced by another family, both members of the same mob, the downside of that rivalry providing a lack of continuity with each family having different priorities. This does not help in maintaining staff. Aboriginal medical services do not generally have after hours service nor are open on weekends and public holidays. Disputation among Aboriginal people means that any Voice may not be a unitary force once it goes beyond this pre-referendum oratory.

A recent report among the authors of which were Aboriginal professionals, concluded in relation to the health of Aboriginal people thus: Unfortunately, the Government’s 2020 report card on Closing the Gap progress showed that life expectancy for Indigenous people, and the Indigenous life expectancy gap, have improved only slightly, and outcomes lag behind targets. Strong Indigenous voices are concerned that increased research funding and volume alone will not address this disparity without a corresponding broadening of intellectual investment in Indigenous health. This intellectual investment involves a shift in focus to self-determination, Indigenous-led research, community consultation, and research into the actual causes of ill-health, including racism and other social determinants of health.

Unravelling the learned article speak – nothing much has happened. This financial year, the Federal Government is committing $284.3m with the Ministerial anodyne: The Albanese Labor Government is continuing to work in partnership with the Coalition of Peaks, other First Nations partners and all levels of government to ensure sustained progress over the life of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The dissonance in full writ is very clear between the two quotes. Obviously quotes can be cherry-picked, but these Aboriginal paradoxes have always worried me from the time I first became involved sitting around the campfire outside old Parliament House yarning with Charlie Perkins in 1973.

Another matter which troubles me is where the tribal elders fit within the Voice. The elders are of paramount importance in a people where there is only an oral tradition to assure passage of tradition.  I have witnessed on many occasions the difficulty of passing on the lore with all its complexity so distinctive for any particular mob, to the younger generation.

My experience itself was a generation ago, but I would like to know  how the “Voice”  takes into account the differentiated men’s and women’s business. I remember being in the mid-west of Western Australia in the late 1970s, in a one-on-one meeting, an elder of a mob spontaneously asked if I would like to see a couple of things that he had at hand. He said very little as he showed them, his voice monosyllabic. When I saw them, I must say that I have never seen the like again. This was men’s business; I was very privileged, the extent of which took me years to realise. I may have talked about what I had seen, but not in print. I continue to respect that insight; but where does that fit within the Voice.  In what appears to be a secular Voice where does the spiritual Voice fit, given that here there is not “One Nation” if the map is to be believed. There is just too much jargon to cover the unexplained; or unexplainable.

A further matter, which again raises questions, is that in traditional settings there is so much non-verbal communication. As I once said, communicating with Aboriginal people means being able to talk through the silences. The experience I’ll never forget was talking to a group of traditional Aboriginal people, and the sense of the non-verbal response I experienced from the audience, none of them announced who was who, but I detected who was “the elder among elders” and at the end of my talk, he said “bloody good meeting, let’s go and have a cuppa”. That was that. I had experienced the Aboriginal Voice.

My trouble with many of the proponents of the Voice is that they are “stateless”. The spiritual heritage of their tribes has been exterminated, and therefore they are faced with having to trying to concoct a lost oral tradition. It makes the symbolism of the Voice difficult to not only explain but also to justify.

It is over 20 years since I undertook the Rural Stocktake. It exposed me to various aspects of Aboriginal culture, including as it related to who is Aboriginal.  I was able to cut through some of the cultural blocks between myself, the “whitefella” and the “blackfella”, such that I had two who called me “brother”.

Therefore, given my exposure to Aboriginal bureaucracy which belies the oral tradition, I am concerned the Voice will continue to be just a flurry of words, full of fine oral argot but meaning nothing in improving the overall condition of the Aboriginal people. I have seen too much of the failure to improve the condition of Aboriginal people despite the accompanying rhetoric to be sanguine.

Finally, Noel Pearson has somewhat bombastically declaimed saying that if the referendum fails, he will fall silent. We whitefellas have a word for that – “sulking”! There is enough juvenile behaviour from the reactionary forces without having a proclamation like that, Mr Pearson.

Lunch on the Oregon Coast

The Oregon Pacific Coast is rugged, varied and, in parts, has quite beautiful beaches, so for an Australian used to living near the sea, one could be forgiven for being blasé. We stayed at Cannon Beach, and one beautiful autumn day, we drove down the coast, and when the lunch stomach rumbles intervened, we sought out a place to eat along the ocean road. We stumbled upon a small settlement called Netarts. We had no idea of the importance of this little place as we plonked ourselves down inside the Schooner café, there being no room outside on the terrace. We accustomed ourselves of the view over the estuarine Netarts Bay. Little did we know at the time that the bay was one of the major breeding nurseries for Pacific oysters.

The Schooner at Netarts Bay

The native Olympia oysters had long been fished to near extinction, and although tentative work was being done, they were not commercially available; but the Pacific oysters which I ordered were the plumpest I have ever eaten without losing a scintilla of taste. Those oysters remain my yardstick for Pacific oysters. Following the oysters, I ordered the Columbia River Steelhead trout, which was cooked in a cast iron skillet. This whole trout had both crispness and an underlining delicious flavour of wild white flesh. Both courses joined my gustatory memory bank. My wife had very small octopus with an admixture of capers, garlic, rosemary and char-grilled lemon. It was a memorable lunch, made even more so because it was so unplanned.

Definition of Obscenity – Washington Post Nuanced

As background to the newspaper report below, the Tennessee 5th Congressional District was one of the most closely watched of the election season because the Republican-dominated state legislature redrew the seat in 2022 during the redistricting cycle, “flipping it” from a Democratic-held seat to Republican, so that it was unwinnable for the Democrats. The District is now shaped like a person on the run. Nashville had been traditionally totally Democratic until this redistribution. There is now only one Democrat representative from Tennessee from an electoral district around Memphis.

Representative Andrew Ogles, a Republican who represents this Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the shooting there that left six people dead, including three children.

Gun-control advocates and Democrats highlighted another post from Ogles — a 2021 Christmas photo of his family posing with firearms.

After news of the Nashville shooting broke, Ogles said in a statement that he and his family “are devastated by the tragedy that took place at The Covenant School in Nashville this morning.”

“We are sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost,” he said. “As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence. I am closely monitoring the situation and working with local officials.”

Merry Christmas from the Ogles Family

The 2021 photo, which Ogles shared on Facebook, showed him, his wife, and two of his three children holding weapons and smiling in front of a Christmas tree.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Ogles wrote, adding a line that is often — and dubiously — credited to George Washington: “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”

Ogles is a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and gun ownership. On his campaign website, he said: “Disarming the people is the most effective way to enslave them, and we must remain vigilant when anyone seeks to erode our civil liberties. The rights of the people to keep and bear arms, protect themselves and their families, and prevent tyrannical rule is a fundamental liberty of our constitutional republic.”

Ogles is really a disgusting piece of work, so beware reading his Wikipedia entry. Sewage is everywhere in this entry.

Mouse Whisper

You learn stuff sometimes by not being satisfied with just accepting the name in this case of a racehorse. Many of the names are stupid concoctions, meaningless jumbles of letters, but since my Italian cousin Garibaldi was staying with me and we were sharing an excellent pecorino, the racing guide had slipped on the floor, and my eye alighted on a horse named “Bianco Vilano”. Garibaldi scratched his ear. “Vilano? Vilano – no. there is an Italian word, villano meaning “lout” or “oaf”. But vilano with one “l”? “Bianco” is white. I looked the name up on Mickipedia. For “bianco vilano” read the whorl of sepals of a flower collectively forming the outer floral envelope or layer of the perianth enclosing and supporting the developing bud; I must say I was none the wiser. Then the meaning paraglided in on the breeze – you mean Thistledown.

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.