Modest Expectations – The meaning of Life

Stop Press: Premier Andrews will strive to lead Australia out of the charred wilderness at the next Federal election. He is a builder.

Anthony Norman Albanese will make a great Governor- General.

Yet it is reasonable to believe prophecy is just one step ahead of fake news.

Nevertheless, what is going is eerily reminiscent of the Liberal Party Coalition in 1972 when it entered a period of policy paralysis – Vietnam and China being two unresolvable problems. Despite the apparently huge wave of support generated for Whitlam, he did not win a huge majority in the 1972 election. Despite the narrow margin to Whitlam, the two unresolvable were immediately resolvable.

On the other hand Rudd did have a landslide, and in the process the man from which Morrison is seeking advice, John Howard, lost his seat. Australia was prosperous and yet the Prime Minister lost his seat. This had not occurred since 1929 when Australia was struggling economically; Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce was intent on confrontation. He lost his seat of Flinders.

Over the years the fickle nature of the electorate has come to resemble Queensland where there have been electoral landslides over the past 50 years. Queensland is unicameral and thus landslides are not complicated by a House of plush red seats. Rudd and Abbott both won large majorities, but the Senate – the house of the Red Plush – can muddy the policy waters and in between even in the lower house when there are slim margins and independents calling the shots, policy goes out the chamber in a gust of deals.

So bugger bushfire policy, sweetmeats for the privileged and the rent seekers is the go, with parliament a sandpit.

But underlying Dante’s Australia are the climate change denialists.

Young John Howard was a protégé of John Carrick and Bob Cotton, two guys out of Florentine casting, and he was their Chosen One, but it took from 1974 to 1996 for him to achieve his aim – Prime Minister Howard. To be so single-minded requires a certain sort of brain. But John you are 81 and I admire you for your tenacity. You actually made a much better Prime Minister than I thought possible, because you had principles. Many of my achievements were achieved under your watch, although I am not sure you would acknowledge that.

However climate change is reality, just like getting out of Vietnam and recognising China was a reality so long ago when we were both young. And I sure I know where you stood on these two issues, Young John, just like climate change.

Don’t get it wrong again otherwise Daniel Andrews is a real threat to your protégé, Scotty.

In the meantime, read on …

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun, Home again, home again, market is done.

Everybody is concentrating on Scott Morrison in these extraordinary times because politics Australia has never seen such a transparent calculating self-marketeer as its Prime Minister. In this season of the bushfire, his prime aim is that he must not let it consume his base – the Liberal Party of NSW.

He has been wrong-footed, and there is discontent within the ranks. Worse, the country is watching and listening to the ABC and not the Murdoch publications, and Alan Jones, the parrot on his shoulder, is also away. The belated announcement of the call up of reservists, the deployment of aircraft and ships are all good anchors on which to embed images of a forceful leader.

Undermining the NSW Premier is an essential strategy. She and her head of fire fighting have been criticised unsurprisingly with the Daily Telegraph implicated, especially in the plotting. Shane Fitzsimmons has the temerity to say nobody told him of the deployment of defence force staff. Then the blame is smudged in the need for all to come together. Nobody wins by personal spats at a time when the country is burning; but seeds are sowed for a time in the future when social media starts to be infected by stories about what could have been done better before the intervention of the Marketeer.

In marketing terms, the emphasis must be taken away from the States – the fire fighters, which are the Premier’s responsibility and thus the essential ingredient in halting the fires. The emphasis must be transferred to men and women in uniform, his responsibility. The fire fighters only have fire trucks and a few aerial helpers, but the real toys are held by the Defence forces. The Defence Forces can provide the imagery of might, even if they in the present circumstances providing a very public but, if analysed, marginal impact.

A good marketeer demands images and big ships and big aircraft with attendant servicemen and women helping the small child onto a helicopter conveys both concern and relevance. “Army heroes” – The Daily Telegraph shouts on the front page – is ferrying people away in helicopters heroic? Soldiers doing their job – but heroes? In these Telegraph front page images, there is not a firefighter in sight.

After all, the community wants good news stores of heroism and the Defence forces – a federal responsibility – coming to the rescue is the story.

Now the images are collected and the Murdoch Press assured, control of the ABC is the target. Reading the hostility towards Morrison on Twitter by prominent ABC employees will test how strong Ida Buttrose will be under the inevitable “ember attack” by the Murdoch claque. A strategy of inserting a number of friendly commentators repeating the Prime Ministerial mantra into the ABC reporting schedule is underway. I suggest one look at some of the commentators based in Canberra who show the first signs of this phenomenon – earnestly repeating without commentary the government’s media release. Once this is done to the ABC seen as untouchably “independent”, then media control is complete. The ABC becomes a loyal servant, and who cares about a journalist without an outlet.

Prince Valiant coming to save the damsels in distress with an audience of faithful knights and yeomen is a perfect marketing morality play. However, the Prime Minister has a long path to cement that role given the uncertainty of his out-of-town rehearsals, but there is always Jon Shier as producer.

However in deploying the defence Forces, Mr Fitzsimmons recognised the problems when a group untrained in fire fighting are dumped upon him, and he went public. I am sure if he had been informed he would have suggested an appropriate role, but normally outwardly calm, he was obviously irritated that he was not told prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement.

After all, the current Minister of Defence, Linda Reynolds should know. She has had an interesting career. She has had an astonishing rise to one of the major portfolios has this Senator from Western Australia. However, she had two parallel careers: one working as a employee of the Liberal Party and the other as a member of the Army reserve from the age of 19 years, rising to the rank of Brigadier and being awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross. This is a relatively recent award given for conspicuous “non-warlike activities”.

She was wrong footed in taking the Prime Minister’s lead by going to Bali with her family, while Australia burned over Christmas, and leaving her portfolio to Minister Littleproud.* Modest Expectations Joel 11/10/19

Having been in the Army Reserve for 29 years, she would know the capability of the reserve forces. Given the gravity of the present situation her first response was surprising in seeming to criticise Mr Fitzsimmons rather than indicating she wanted to cooperate.

However, she made a big deal of the deployment of reservists when the Prime Minister announced it as unprecedented. The obverse question is why the reservists have been left idle domestically for so many years; again, Minister Reynolds should know. Hence if she thought they could contribute why did she delay any recommendation given that she would be well aware that mobilisation of such resources takes time. Or did she recommend in a suitable time that they be deployed and her advice was initially rejected. I presume she is not a muppet, saying nothing when all these disasters were unfolding.

One of tasks foreshadowed for the reservists is burying dead stock; and I think it a bit harsh when my friend said when that is finished they may be asked to bury the Government.

Somebody who knows

Chris Brook PSM FRACP State Health and Medical Commander (Emergency Management) Victoria 2009

You don’t need an analysis of the response to the 2009 Victorian Fires or the 2010 Queensland Floods. It’s all on the public record and in people’s living memories. What you also already know is that the then PM Kevin Rudd was front and centre from the outset in both events and was praised for his initiative.

That’s not to say that his promises were prudent, nor even fulfilled in whole, but he was everywhere. 

In both cases there was a massive rebuilding and recovery effort, largely due to the important work of the States continuing long after Federal intervention had come and gone.

But this misses the real story of the here and now.

It looks to me as though Morrison is set to reinvent himself, as he must, to get through this. All of the anti-climate change rhetoric and anti-socialist left tirades do not change the fact that he has lost the respect of a good part of the community – although the hyper partisan Murdoch press remains staunchly supportive.

He must by now realise that his precious wafer-thin budget surplus is gone and that long term economic damage has been done.

For the fire affected coastal and alpine communities the damage to domestic tourism – their lifeblood – will last for years.

So he will pivot embarking on a huge rebuilding effort; a stimulus thus cunningly concealed. If he’s clever the cost will be described as a capital injection (from borrowings but no one will worry about that) and he can still claim that we are in surplus on the current account.

Gorse – an example of Government indifference

Janine Sargeant – Tasmanian ratepayer & regular blogger

Recently I wrote to the Premier of Tasmania because I was concerned about the rapid spread of gorse along the Zeehan to Strahan road on the west coast of Tasmania. Its spread is symptomatic of the disregard of the environment by all levels of Government, given that gorse as well as blackberry are two of the biggest invaders on the west coast.

If an example of where fuel reduction is needed, this is one hell of a big one.

Fuel reduction is but one element in what should be a comprehensive Statewide fire management plan; the lines of responsibility are clear, readily accessible and the expected results can be easily tallied against the actual achievement.

On Tasmania’s west coast, it rains – a lot. However, it is now clear from the NSW South Coast experience that temperate rain forest can burn. The only thing that prevents it occurring in Tasmania is the level of rainfall, which this year has been about two metres. By way of contrast, the NSW South Coast’s rainfall this year was about half the expected rainfall, between 40 and 60cm, as it was also last year. Much has been said about the desperate lack of rainfall across much of Australia in what is the driest and hottest year on record.

However, despite the rainfall, Tasmania is vulnerable and the gorse invasion is just one symptom of Government’s neglect of the fire risk.

I would hate to have to quote this next summer because nothing has been done and the West Coast has been burnt – with gorse being a prominent culprit.

DIPWE defines the spread of gorse on the west coast as “widespread infestation”. Gorse is a declared weed under the Tasmanian Weed Management Act 1999 and “a Weed of National Significance”. Government’s response is supposed to be to “prevent further spread”, a response in word only as there is not action. Gorse is a major issue in a region that is heavily dependent on “wilderness”, native forests, wild rivers, spectacular scenery and unique fauna – these define the reasons why tourists come to Tasmania.

However, apart from being a hugely damaging invasive weed environmentally, gorse is a major fire hazard, because of its oily content and tendency to shed its dead wood as it grows.

Some years ago there was a gorse eradication program in this area, which seemed to be keeping this weed in check, but there is no evidence of anything being done recently and as a result, the spread of the gorse has gone unchecked. There is no evidence that agricultural contractors, utility maintenance crews, road and earthmoving contractors and other people visiting the areas infested with gorse, are required to undertake basic hygiene measures to prevent spread of seed; this doesn’t happen. In fact it is reported that the roadside mowing that occurs from Zeehan south towards Strahan is actually spreading the infestation closer and closer to Strahan due to seed spread because the vehicles are not being cleaned.

There needs to be an integrated control approach with a combination of methods: herbicide, mechanical, burning and biological control, for maximum chances of long-term success.

Tasmania’s environment, wilderness and forests are an incredibly rich resource that must be protected and in the face of what has been happening across NSW and Victoria, the Tasmanian Government needs to sit up, take notice and act before Tasmania too is wiped out by fires. The gorse invasion is one element of a potential major fire problem that being ignored. My letter to the Premier is ‘being considered’; I hope the response is a little more enthusiastic.

Mouse Whisper

My marsupial relatives, the dunnarts on Kangaroo Island remember that during the 2007 fires there were over 800 people, seven fixed wing water bombers and an Elvis Skycrane Helitanker, all assisting in firefighting efforts.

Now dunnarts smell smoke; and run at the first whiff.

Thirteen years later I have asked on DunnartMail how are they and if the resources committed in 2007 are different from that committed today. The fire in 2007 was contained quickly and the Dunnarts replied to my query.

Unfortunately, this time I have had no response. Communication has been lost.

There may be 500 firefighters, with about 50 of the Reynolds reservists there as back up, and there is at least one 737 waterbomber. Maybe the response is comparable to the 2007 effort and has not slipped backwards. Probably not. Who would know. But what of my cousins?

Now they may be extinct – a terrible, terrible outcome.

I weep for them – they were such a close-knit community.

Modest expectations – The Roaring

As I’ve mentioned before (ME18 Pale Waves), we have friends in Lubec on the Maine-New Brunswick border, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. You can drive from the United States border to Campobello Island in Canada – an instructive exercise in itself. However, driving across to have a lunch of lobster is a good enough reason to go to the Island once one has tramped around the Roosevelt exclave. The house has beautiful views over the Bay of Fundy. Driving across the Canadian border is no problem, but coming back the other way across the United States border, even with your American friends you are liable to be greeted by an officious, albeit offensive, border official, who more often or not will want to look very closely at the boot of your car, if not to frisk you.

An old fish shed on the Bay of Fundy at Lubec

This is an aside to an observation that was made to me that a United President would not dare vacation outside the United States these days. Campobello island was where Franklin Roosevelt had the family holiday house; it was where he came to unwind as a young man; it is where he was stricken with poliomyelitis.

Later in his Presidency he used to relax at Warm Springs in Georgia and rarely went to Campobello after he became President.

The United States Presidents know that there are beautiful places to vacation in the United States and even Campobello island is only spitting distance away, but note: after he became President Roosevelt he went to Campobello only once a year until 1939 and then that was it! 

Now just why did Fran Bailey sack you?

Where do you start with Scott Morrison?

I always remember when Prime Ministers took their Christmas break they holidayed in Australia, even when the rich lent them a place in which to relax.

Look Prime Minister, I’ll come clean. I took a trip to the United States with Leader of the Opposition at the same time of the year you went to Hawai’i. Let me say, we did not tell the press gallery, but there was an important task to be sorted out. It was late 1974, just after Bill Snedden had survived the first challenge to his Leadership by Malcolm Fraser, and that and accompanying machinations had been kept away from the Press. Even Laurie Oakes did not get wind of it – nor Alan Reid. So not telling the press is legitimate, on the grounds of when it does not ask, why tell. The smart journalist will generally work it out.

Our visit to the United States was brief and Snedden was back and able to go to Darwin to view the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracey on Christmas day. The reason he went to the United States merited some degree of discretion, but for God’s sake a holiday with the wife and kids. Why the secrecy?

The only residual question is who paid for the holiday? The reason he did not disclose where he and the family went? Was it because it was somebody’s private luxurious pad? Now the reason for the secrecy has been cast against a backdrop of security.

The Prime Minister was reported to have returned via Hawaiian Airlines. I have flown Hawaiian Airlines as probably a number of you have too. Friendly environment, but hardly the most secure. When one of the pilots wants to go to the toilet, the cabin staff block the aisle with food trolleys. Also, unless the holiday was on Oahu, there would have been intermediate air travel, which would have accounted for the time lapse. The whole process shouts “Swiss-cheese” security.

I would have thought that the damage of being absent in an undisclosed location had been done. Finish the holiday and come home with the family. However, the whole episode has an element of panic, and given that the Prime Minister seemed to have difficulty with communicating anyway, he may have been on one of those beautiful resorts, perhaps on an outer island.

Now, Prime Minister, you are back in the country at a time when increasingly the whole nation knows you have ignored warnings, scoffed at global warming, sat on you hands in relation to water, and have no environmental plan to combat climate change. It seems that you remain defiant. The nation may view you as just stubborn to cover impotency, because you have done nothing but treadle the looms of the marketing flack that you once were.

One of the reasons you took the holidays is that you intend going to India and Japan in January to meet two of Australia’s pinups – Modi and Abe. The whole exercise shouts “Coal”.

I doubt if nature will call a truce for you while you go calling on them. But at least we shall know where you are when the fires are burning. I suppose if you will be doing your best to ask them to reduce their country’s contribution to World pollution and from Modi in particular tips on how to enact religious freedom, then it could be viewed as genuine contrition and be excused. But not if you are doing a coal deal and the flames are licking the edges of the Shire.

Let me say I am more concerned with how the volcano burns victims are getting along, especially when there is the potential for the health system to deal with more serious burns victims from these fires.

And one more thing, if you really looking for a really exotic location for “you, Jenny and the kids” go and keep the Biloela family company on Christmas Island; still part of Australia.

Everybody, Prime Minister, should have a road to Damascus moment.

Personally, I did not feel any anxiety about you being away. From reading the notes scattered on that road and the anger generated, you will be lucky to have Murdoch still supporting you – after all, he gave McMahon away as a bad job. The only thing you have on your side is time until the next election and the fickle nature of the attention span of the Australian to wash this incident away. 

The Boy from Wagga Wagga

I have met some impressive National Party leaders, but the current one I have not met. However, from a distance Michael McCormack is not impressive.

A self-combusting pile of manure?

In his fumbling response on climate change he mentioned three factors that he thought were important. McCormack is reported to have said that: “dry lightning strikes, arson and self-combusting piles of manure” were among the causes.

At least he peppered his invective with an attempt to diagnose the problem – somewhat thin, but a statement which raises the question of whether they are relevant elements to be pursued by government. Now that is the genesis of a policy.

In the background however, among his followers infected by the Hanson bacillus , bushfires are all about the Greens – it’s their fault not allowing for hazard reduction and allowing all those wicked national parks to stay in existence. Unfortunately, I was talking to a friend and he repeated the nonsense.

The mayors of five local councils in NSW, one of which is Randwick, are members of the Green Party, and there are 58 Green Party members scattered across 31 councils; hardly a coalition of obstruction. One can criticise the Greens for being conservative heritage protectors, but they are not the only people trying to retain “old growth”.

Yet the right wing columnists spread conspiracy theories about the Greens manipulation as reasons for the fires. For God’s sake we have conservative government both federally and in NSW and the lack of policy and planning in the face of climate change is not due to obstruction by the Greens.

It is our governing politicians doing nothing.

The problem with many politicians is that they do not have the capacity to read – they are functionally illiterate. They have to be told because they cannot read. If they could read then they would look over the science and see that although there are a few areas of scientific fact in contention, there are agreed facts.

Read what the science says: once fires get to a certain temperature then it doesn’t matter how much hazard reduction one does, the country still burns. The burnt vineyards in South Australia were manicured and easy to access, and yet the fire still ripped through the vines.

How you build a national bush fire policy is to mitigate risk. The first statement from McCormack in this interview was “put the fires out”. The unquestioning outcome, but a Hillsong prayer is not the only option.

Science says it is unwise to build on steep slopes, ridge hilltops and riverine bush, where access roads are minimal and where access are cute cul-de-sacs. The fires came eventually to a friend’s house sweeping off the ridge and engulfing this holiday home. Hazard reduction won’t change the vulnerability of gutters with overhanging eucalypts if the fire front is charging down the slopes and the tree crowns are exploding. Before the fire, the ocean views were extraordinary; there were koalas in the trees and the house nestled snugly on the slope had only one access road. New building regulations have seen the house yet to be rebuilt after four years.

After the fires

Turning to the matters McCormack raised. Evidence suggests that about five per cent of fires are started by lightning strikes. Here the Hillsong prayer may be the only option.

Arson is difficult to prevent. True pyromania is thought to be rare, and laying to one side insurance and criminal arson, the other arson profile that the fire brigades looks out for are the “hero” arsonist; a profile that in the United States is predominantly white males between 16-30 years of age. There is another potentially very dangerous group – the revenge arsonists where there is a fine line between revenge and terrorist.

I was in Valparaiso, Chile, in August. Driving by the quaint houses clinging to the steep slopes above the city proper where access roads are narrow and poor, I didn’t think about bushfires. However now these suburbs are burning, as this coastal city goes up in flames – as does the surrounding country side with its forests and picturesque vineyards. There are reports that these fires have been deliberately lit.

On the third matter, waste management is an increasing matter for national policy and not just how to dispose of paper and bottles. The mixture of bacteria and the oxidation process of substrate such as cellulose are an ever-present problem. Trying to develop a national policy on waste management, where incineration is one solution, means that fire control should be a priority. That does not factor in the development of illegal waste dumping of flammable toxic materials in remote unsupervised bush lands. Mr McCormack, waste management policy is not just about picking up cow pats on your property before they explode into fireballs.

A report from California that is instructive is saying that most human-caused fires are accidental and avoidable, such as a burning cigarette carelessly tossed out a car window. But Californian fires can also start from “fireworks (the odds of a California wildfire double on July 4), improperly extinguished campfires, out-of-control burn piles, hot vehicle parts making contact with dry grass, power lines rubbing and arcing in windy conditions, and a variety of other causes. A surprising number of fires start when trailer chains or wheel rims strike pavement and send sparks flying.” This last situation is the likely cause of one of the most deadly Californian wildfires. The Californian attitude is far more cavalier than that of the Australians, and universal bans on lighting of fires are harder to enforce. However, there is an increasing recognition that there will be longer and hotter periods as summer merges with spring and autumn. The end result means a drier and drier landscape.

Hazard reduction by all means – but have we a systematic nationwide policy on hazard reduction and one that will become increasingly narrowly focused when climate change has rapidly reduced the available days for hazard reduction, and the community will increasingly become layered in smoke from fires spreading over those remaining days. The nation will become very impatient with a government that blames the Greens.

The bushfire is a complex challenge; it demands coherent policy; it also demands the funds to efficiently and effectively manage the challenges and, given the way the water policy has been corrupted, to also deal with the other factors that affect how we as a nation can respond to widespread bushfires. What happens when there is no water to fight fires?

Perhaps the best form of hazard reduction would be to remove the rent seekers and the other parasites that bug our political system. The problem at present is they wield the levers of power not the hoses. Barnaby Joyce’s bizarrely berates the government and demands it get out of his life – well, yes, but first the government should give us back our water, then it should have to courage to develop some decent policy recognising that we are in a different climate ballgame now (yes, the Prime Minister can take his baseball cap off to that) and then everyone might get out of Barnaby’s life.

However, all revolutionaries by their nature are optimists. I am and always have been an optimist – even now one foot away from a minha cadiera de rodas

Christmas on the move

Christmas was never a good experience when I was young. We generally went to my grandmother’s place, and the day generally ended in unpleasantness, as one or other family argued among themselves – and when I was young I generally engaged in fighting one of more cousins at some stage during the afternoon. The item of consumption that sits uppermost in my memory was my grandmother’s obsession with making Yorkshire pudding to top off the roast bird. It was one of Cook’s lesser legacies to Australian cuisine.

Santa Fe farolitos

While I had my 1956 Christmas in the Sea of Japan on the S.S Taiping, my nomadic Christmases started in the 1980s – different year; different place. However, the only time that I remember snow in any quantity was Christmas in Santa Fe. Snow was a foreign experience to me, and so trudging through snow covered streets lighted by farolitos – candles stuck in sand in paper bags. In the freezing cold we were part of the congregation at an outdoor Navajo Mass. The mass was memorable with its Navajo interpretation that included the final benediction of a sort – the man close to us raising his rifle and firing a shot into the darkness.

All part of celebrating the miracle of Christmas wherever you may be.

And given it is Friday 27 December, may I wish you all the Best for the Feast of St Stephen – at least east of Rome.

Mouse Whisper

The ultimate put down.

Asked if he liked Melbourne, Augustus Woodley Bernal replied:

“Immensely. But don’t you think it’s a little too far from town.”

Bernal spent some time on the Bendigo Goldfields as a Commissioner in the early 1850s.

Chortle, but remember it was people like Bernal who came, saw and went back to Britain – just leaving the questionable imprint of the British gentry.

The Gentry

Modest Expectations – John Buchan footprints

I wonder as NSW is being swept by bushfires how the person inured to arm waving, hallelujah clapping and glossolalia would respond to Revelation 8.7.

The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

Of course it is not climate change; it’s the Bible, stupid.

I have always wondered whether this last book of the Bible was written by some guy on qat such is the imagery. I have never understood the fascination with this final book, as though Christianity needs to have fear as a motiving force for belief and intolerance.

However, these bushfires in Australia are no joke. We are not going to be consumed this year by the fires of Hell, but I do not want to live in an environment of smoke for half the year, where a hundred fires burn and where the population is worn down – and the important Samaritan element of a voluntary brigade of fire fighters become exhausted.

It provides a reason for the need to mobilise the population able to cope with the increased capriciousness of nature as the planet warms.

The Australian Defence Force bluntly states it is not trained to fight fires on the ground outside their installations. How long that dictum will hold is problematical.

However, that is not to underrate the current amount of assistance being provided by the Defence Forces, especially given the water bombing by fixed wing and helicopter has been such an important factor in limiting the spread.

However, eventually water runs out and fire retardants have unspecified long term toxic effects. In the end, the potential outcome just reframes the delusionary Revelation. No need for the angel; our Prime Minister will suffice in sounding the instrument – perhaps the whimper of a claypipe blowing bubbles. However there is still the one bubble of denial in which Morrison is encased. Not the best way I would have thought to fireproof the country, one way or another.

Bushfires in Australia

One of the images of Sydney I have always had is that of the frangipani. Normally, it is just too cold in Melbourne for frangipani to flower; it is the same in most parts of California. Frangipani is the flower of the tropics – Hawai’i being closely associated with it.

Sydney is thus typically sub-tropical. Therefore, it should have two seasons – hot but wet and humid in summer; dry in winter. The oppressive humidity and summer rain is the normal antidote for bushfires from the Illawarra northwards along the coast.

To me the frangipani is the totem of this climate; they may grow in Melbourne but not flower normally. The winter cold and frosts kill them.

Melbourne has a Mediterranean climate – very hot and dry in summer with a beautiful autumn, cold wet winters and a blustery spring. February has traditionally been the time of the catastrophic bushfires. Ever since Melbourne almost burned in the February bushfire of 1851, late summer is the perfect time for major bushfires not only in Victoria but also in Tasmania and South Australia.

I remember driving down the Hume Highway to Melbourne in February 2009 the day before the most deadly of all bushfires swept across the highway on its way to the incineration of nearly 200 people. When the wind comes from the north and the air is so dry then you know Victoria will burn at the slightest ember from a discarded cigarette or spark from an overloaded power line.

Yet as a child I can remember there being a huge bonfire to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day piled up in front of our house. It was November 5. Catherine wheels attached to letterbox, jumping jacks and tom thumbs exploding across the grass verge, rockets disappearing into the night sky. Fireworks everywhere. Fire everywhere.

Two months later there was always a fire along Gardiner Creek in the rye grass, and one year I remember it scorching the fences alongside the reserve. It was all very exciting to have the fire brigade coming with the bells ringing. Memories from one’s childhood stick and may become enlarged. However, it does take a shift in climate to make a bonfire in November very unwise.

The question thus which needs to be answered – is the shift in the fires in line with a change in the climate pattern?

I read today that: Bush fires raged on the outskirts of Sydney today as the heat wave continued. Metropolitan fire brigades received 40 calls before noon. The temperature rose to 98 degrees by midday – at 9 am it was 93 degrees, a record early morning mark for November. There are few towns that are not menaced on the Blue Mountains and grave anxiety exists throughout the tourist areas. Fires are also burning at Linden, Blaxland and Hazelbrook as well as at Springwood, Glenbrook, Leura and Katoomba. Shortly after noon a huge wall of flame advanced on Glenbrook…

The newspaper report was 6 November 1936. The Blue Mountains is the touchpaper for bushfires in New South wales.

Frangipani do not grow well in the Blue Mountains – the climate is too much like Victoria. Too dry; too cold in winter.

But I note the frangipani in the backyard this year is losing its flowers prematurely. Maybe when the frangipani stops blooming, the fires may come to the coast.

However, while the frangipani may be an intuitive bellwether, even more germane is the fact that: 1951-1952 could possibly be one of the worst on record for eastern Australia when more than 8 million ha were burnt.” This is a reliable quote from a CSIRO 1976 appraisal. This reported: “The season began in late October 1951 with a series of lightning fires in southern central Queensland around Charleville. About 2.8 million ha were burnt in these fires. These were followed by very large fires in northern N.S.W. in November and in late January and early February many fires were reported in southern N.S.W. and Victoria.”

The similarity is there with 2019, but hopefully the possible further outcome will be avoided.

The one obvious conclusion is that bushfires are part of the Australian character. The population has become used to them – but not every year as may be predicted by a continent running out of water and ill-prepared in people and machines for this to occur on an increasingly regular, perhaps annual basis.

Are we expected to cope with catastrophic bushfires every year, until there is nothing left except a charred remnant of what was a beautiful unique land we all have been given a variable amount of time to enjoy?

However, training the defence force to defend the nation against fire would be a good start, joining the career fire fighters in helping to alleviate a stressed volunteer fire fighting force. I would think it more useful for our army to do that rather than killing pushtuns in far off Hindu Kush.

Getting more aircraft able to bomb the fires seems a good idea, especially if we have a yearly bushfire season , but where do we get the water?

I would hope that if fire retardant is increasingly used, its toxicity, both short and long term, is tested and continued to be monitored.

Hazard reduction? Now what does that mean? I remember well when a hazard reduction exercise resulted in a shed containing many of our belongings was burnt down, due to the “Department of Sparks and Wildfire” as it was called through gritted teeth.

What is a community centre to provide a haven against fire – a nuclear fall-out shelter; underground refuges akin to those along “Tornado Alley” in the mid-western states of the United States; fireproof concrete bunkers; a clean room facility where children, the aged, the susceptible can seek shelter on days when the smoke is so heavy?

Then there are the questions of what we do with people who want to commune with nature, with or without growing a bit of “weed” living in uninsured wattle and daub houses surrounded by bellbird and bush. No phone reception. Romantic until it burns.

I love living surrounded by bush, but I have spent money to clear the bush around the house and create a firebreak with a wide drive separating the house from the tea tree. The local “firies” had prior to this work, designated it as a “red flag” house – in other words don’t bother trying to save it if there is a bushfire. And this house is on the West Coast of Tasmania, parts of which have not burnt for at least 500 years and where the annual rainfall exceeds 100 cms. However, temperate rain forest is now vulnerable.

As I have said many times before, Australia is a land that demands respect; ignore that dictum at your peril. After all, it is all about frequency – bush fire season piled upon bush fire season without remission.

I do not know what the solution is but in any event this Government with the Book of Revelation under its arm is not prepared to listen; and may I say that does not help.

Barton is the Name; I did quite make the Game

Gordon Barton is a name that would hardly resonate with anybody these days. However in his time in the 1960s and 1970s he cut a dashing figure as he strode across the business landscape. A libertarian, he parleyed transporting onions across State border into IPEC, then the largest express transport company with over a thousand trucks.

Very early on he had taken an anti-Vietnam War stance and a group formed around him, initially designated the Liberal Reform Group which eventually became the Australia Party. He was the epitome of the new force on the conservative side of the political spectrum, prepared to tackle the Whig element embedded in the Liberal party.

His party picked up almost 3 per cent of the national vote in 1972 which, when cast against the rise of Steele Hall in South Australia and Rupert Hamer in Victoria, suggested that the reform of the Party was high on the agenda of a cadre of Party members and Business.

After the Coalition debacle as portrayed in the media and self-appointed opinion leaders (the days before influencers), Barton further promoted the Australia party, which would occupy the centre of the political spectrum. He dabbled in setting up newspapers which represented his free-flowing views.

He believed that there was a place for a political force to occupy what he saw a defeated coalition team, which had seen debilitating stoush between Gorton (Victoria) and McMahon (NSW), with McMahon being the Prime Minister who lost the Coalition Government to Labor under Whitlam after 23 years.

There was however another force emerging, who did not just dabble in the media, he immersed himself in it. This was Rupert Murdoch. He supported Whitlam in the 1972 election, where he obviously developed a taste for power broking.

Billl Snedden (Victoria) then won the ballot for leader of the Opposition from Nigel Bowen (NSW) by one vote. Bowen had enough then having been in Parliament for less than a decade and soon departed to the judiciary.

Snedden had grown up in Western Australia, but after a stint in Europe he had settled in Melbourne and won the seat of Bruce, which he was to hold until he retired in 1983. The Victorian Branch of the Liberal party still had a significant cohort of people who thought the unquestioning fawning over royalty, domestication of females as a definition of animal husbandry and retention of capital punishment were viable policies. Snedden determined that he should take the party out of the aspic of the previous years in government.

Yet Snedden had never been seen as progressive. He had gone along with the Party line and at the time of the election defeat had been Treasurer. Nevertheless, despite the narrowness of his victory as Leader and the misgivings of some of the party, he was approached by a well-credentialled group from the business sector to set up a “think-tank”. It was early days in 1973, when much of these discussions were occurring that Gordon Barton in his role of maverick reformer came from the sidelines to chat with Snedden. Whitlam had taken a certain amount of energy from the Australia party with his withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam.

Barton not only owned trucks but he diversified into other areas including Angus & Robertson through his company, Tjuringa Securities, but his Australia party, fizzled, changed into other centrist groups trying to to accommodate the “wets”.

As David Owen, the British politician, who himself broke his links with the Labour party to become a founding member of the SDP in the UK, once said to me: “Beware the soggy centre of politics” by which I took it to mean that it was the dedicated authoritarians, whether of the left or right, who would drown you. In retrospect, “wet” was an only too true a name for the group.

Recently Owen was quoted as saying: “There was never any question that the SDP was going to be a left-of-centre party. The project, bluntly, was to replace the Labour party; to be a centre-left party shorn once and for all of the hard left.” So he has not shifted his suspicion of the centre but he still recognises that there should be a place for a political force away from the extremes.

Barton in the end became bored with Australia and decamped to the Netherlands to expand his business worldwide, which failed and he slowly faded away until he died in Marbella Spain in 2005.

For a while under Snedden the Liberal party toyed with a progressive agenda, but inter alia his failure to win the 1974 election snuffed that out.

Murdoch meanwhile has never got bored with the fragrance of power and the political chessboard.

A commentator in one of the Australian newspapers recently bemoaned the rise of Trump and Johnson, and the ingredient in their success has been Murdoch. From a young guy, who was both radical and republican, Murdoch had become the genius of the authoritarian right, where now lurk many who would have been equally at home as they would have been under Franco or Mussolini.

However, the particular Murdoch genius is to define an enemy. It may be a mythical enemy, but one nonetheless which had its seed in his treatment as a boy at Geelong Grammar School, as a young man tolerated by the English upper-classes as “Red Rupert” at Oxford, a man embittered by the treatment of his father by “the enemy.”

The Murdoch legacy is that those who believe the political process is about policy are hopelessly wrong. The political process is about coercion and power.

The commentator forgot Canada where the Murdoch infectivity is low. How the survival of Trudeau plays out may be a blueprint for how any political force handles an uncaring authoritarian elite. The current crop of independents in the Australian Parliament may represent a potential core, but it becomes too easy to become comfortable and acquiescent.

Australia is not Canada, but the two countries have the same sort of parliamentary system and the same question applies: why is anyone in parliament?

The political picture in Australia may be depicted as a division between Capital and Democracy and Labour and Socialism accentuated by the adversarial way the parliament had been arranged according to the rules, which govern the British parliament at Westminister. Nevertheless, there were certain traits which cross traditional party lines, in particular xenophobia expressed through the “White Australia Policy” and the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” where individual excellence is consumed by the destructive collectivism which is called “mateship”.

So the whole system is set up for brawling, now that the oratory powers of the politicians, so important for debate, have waned from what they once were – and now also parliament is about deals, increasingly hidden from public view.

Therefore, there have been periods when the time is right to set up a political force in the centre. Australia is restive, but what about the group of independents in the Parliament. Has the system of coercion, subtle often as it may be, sucked them in? Are they the genesis of this third force? We shall be looking at them individually as to whether they see themselves as a potential coherent force, or just another group of dealmakers absorbed into the Canberra culture.

Trudeau has been instructive, whether deliberately or not, but he has the conservative forces well defined on his right; and on his left a motley group of Greens, New Democrats and may I suggest Quebecois.  Why the left? This group is not going to vote for the Conservatives but do provide the illusion that the Liberal party is what it says it is – and in the slightly moist soggy centre.

Combine that structure with a Bartonesque figure with the pugnacity of Rupert and we may have a goer.

Ça donne à réfléchir peut-être.

Mouse Whisper

All is not lost, Jeremy, you won the Cambridge seat and the people have obviously heard about Boris in Oxford. You won one of the seats and the LibDems the other.

And the LibDems losing their leader got a bath – quite literally as well as retaining the seat of Bath.

Modest Expectations – Klinefelters

Robert Mugabe, that unpleasant man from Zimbabwe, died recently at 95. I remember one of those Rhodesian types, I could see him elegant in a safari suit sipping a Pimms in a Bulawayo club in the days when Cecil was a remembered name. This guy voiced what I had wondered about for some time. He said that it was an open secret that Mugabe suffered from tertiary syphilis – or in more specific terms that variation known as general paralysis of the insane.

For some years after he assumed power in the new Zimbabwe carved out of the old Southern Rhodesia, Mugabe was viewed as a being a reasonable ruler of an emerging country but slowly over the years he was transformed into a tyrannical paranoid despot prone to grandiose ideas – and it was also noticeable that he was increasingly having difficulty with his balance.

The problem is that dementia has many manifestations, as does syphilis, which in its clinical manifestations is the great chameleon. While primary syphilis is relatively easy to diagnose, as the causative spirochete agent then wanders away from its genital base through the body and across the blood-brain barrier, syphilis can manifest itself clinically in many ways.

In a post-graduate examination may years ago, I was presented with a specimen of a large aortic aneurysm, which fortunately in my discussion I said could be a tertiary manifestation of syphilis – not the paretic but the luetic form. My examiners then launched into a thorough menu to find out how much I knew about syphilis. The specimen was just the amuse-bouche.

Syphilis is very well treated by penicillin if diagnosed, as the spirochaete does not or cannot conjure up any defence against the drug. However, the disease can disguise itself well, once the primary focus is healed. One of my recollections is that of a guy bought into the emergency department comatose and with these strange lumps over his body. One was biopsied and showed masses of plasma cells and then when stained appropriately, there was coil upon coil of spirochete. Syphilis unmasked and I believe once penicillin was administered he lost his lumps and became alert. Syphilis cured. However, it showed how deceptive syphilis can be.

However, penicillin availability has not cured the disease. Syphilis still prowls the community often strand in strand with the HIV virus.

Once upon time in the 1950s and 1960s, if Australians wanted a US visa, they needed to have a Wasserman test to show they were free of the spirochete; and before World War 11 some of states of the US, at the urging of the then Surgeon General, instituted mandatory testing for syphilis before a marriage license could be issued. How that was enforced is an area of speculation, but data did show that those about to marry was not necessarily the area where the Surgeon General should have been looking.

Now the Amazon behemoth is moving into heath care data collection with Alexa chirruping from the Bezos hip pocket. So what happens now if the data find the deceptive spirochete coiled up the policy maker brain? What of this person? Increasingly irrational you say – maybe we should wait till the person in question starts to fall over – literally. Then Mr Bezos may have the answer for us.

Not on my Kisser

I have always preferred shaking hands when greeting anybody, but I was taught as a boy to shake hands with a person of the opposite sex only when she proffered her hand. Relatives were different. As a small boy they would come at one at different angles to kiss me. Apparently, that was an acceptable trespass.

I agree very strongly with Leigh Sales about the unwanted kiss, especially when it lands on the lips whether dry or oozing with saliva. However, it applies for both sexes. As presumably Leigh Sales does, I like to control my personal space – those that come into it are only licensed to do so. Personal space varies; you know roughly how much you have. For me, it varies with the mount of grog I have drunk; and thus when one drinks too much that space is more easily invaded and vice versa.

I not only dislike being kissed by someone where the feeling is not reciprocated, but I also avoid the hug as much as possible. The hug makes me feel very uncomfortable, and here again personal space is violated unless it is consensual. In one TV chat program I watched, someone proudly said she was a hugger as though that gave her a complete license to do so.

Personal space I found out long ago is variable. Having tested it, if someone comes up to me, and wants to shake my hand, I have no problem with distance of the outstretched hand. I have been known to grasp the arm to regulate the greeting distance. If someone comes up to me aggressively, I generally do not back away.

People coming up behind me whether putting their hand on my shoulder or not do not worry me, but this is one area of personal space where many people feel most vulnerable and hate the person coming up behind them and touching them.

And of course it depends on the venue – a back lane at 3.00 am or an office at 10.00 am are somewhat different. Therefore, context is always important.

Being male gives one an advantage in maintaining personal space integrity. You develop strategies, but I would imagine a high profile person as Leigh Sales is, has many, but the ambush is difficult to manage especially if the assailant is someone you believe should have known better.

Eye Gouging

The National Rugby League recently inflicted an eight-week penalty for eye gouging on a Canberra Raider, but the Australian Football League slapped the wrist of a GWS player with a fine. Irrespective of the history of this player on the field, I found the defence by his captain ironic. He is alleged to have said, in reference to his colleague: “sometimes that means people look at stuff that he’s involved in in a light that’s probably not neutral”.

I agree if the eye gouging had resulted in blindness his victim would be in a light that was probably not neutral. He would be blind.

I am not an ophthalmologist but perhaps such a specialist could more eloquently tell the community of eye gouging leading to retinal tears, dislocation of the lens, vitreous haemorrhage, globe rupture, traumatic optic neuropathy or fracture of the orbital floor – and of course blindness is always an option.

I have a simple remedy. Ban eye gougers for life from the sport and call in the police.

After all, look at the penalty meted out for sandpapering a cricket ball. A cricket ball versus an eye!

Caribbean storm

This time it is the Bahamas; last time Puerto Rico. These are high profile remnants of hurricane fury. Battered by hurricanes of increasing intensity, the Caribbean is increasing liable to become a tropical rubbish dump.

The funny thing is that these events seem to be increasing in intensity while the climate changer Canutes are clustered on the shores of their indoor swimming pools sipping their strawberry daiquiris and watching the clouds roll by.

This troubling development is not going away, as these micro-nations, which are exploited either as reservoirs for the black economy whether money laundering or drug trafficking or for the tourist playground. There is a huge discrepancy between the living standards of the tourists and the ordinary citizens with many living as little more than subsistence farmers.

Climate change is real, and in countries which are as vulnerable as most of those in the Caribbean, these events of Nature, whether they be hurricanes or volcanic eruption like the one which destroyed most of Montserrat, have not the financial capacity to do much.

Then Haiti is the classic failed State. Ruthlessly exploited by the Duvalier regime, classically described by Graham Greene in The Comedians, Haiti was subject to a massive earthquake in 2010 which killed 300,000; followed by a cholera epidemic; followed by two hurricanes. What chance has that country got to be anything but a pile of impoverished rubble. In my recent visit to Chile, I noted a number of black people roaming the streets obviously in low paid work. They were Haitian refugees. There are over 150,000 of them in Chile alone, about 10 per cent of the immigrant population.

However, only in one Caribbean country can you detect any systematic response to what will become a regular summer hazard – and unsurprisingly that is Cuba. In an article after hurricane Irma in 2017 devastated a 300 kilometres swathe across the island, affecting 90 per cent of the population, Jon Anderson noted in an article in the NYT:

Taking part in preparations for the defense of the island from the vicissitudes of hurricane season may have a practical imperative, but this, too, is framed as a revolutionary duty. For decades, beginning under Raúl’s late brother Fidel, Cubans have conducted annual drills to prepare for hurricanes, resulting in a national disaster-response system that has saved many lives during past storms. 

As another source noted about Cuba: These attributes are: (1) actively learning and incorporating lessons from past disaster events, (2) integrating healthcare and public health professionals on the frontlines of disaster response, (3) proactively engaging the public in disaster preparedness, (4) incorporating technology into disaster risk reduction, and (5) infusing science into risk planning.

None of the other countries have invested the way Cuba has in guarding against Nature’s invasion. There is no doubt that in disaster planning centralised control has its advantages as long as the people are part of that control. Cuba has had to live within constricted means because of the United States’ embargo. Although, like a growing number of people, I have visited Cuba, but for my part as a “working tourist” on an American delegation flying out of Miami in an unmarked Delta jet. I have sampled Cuban tourism, but it is not the mainstay as it is in the legitimate economy of other Caribbean nations.

Granted that Cuba is the biggest island but only 25 per cent more in land mass than Hispaniola which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. So size does not necessarily equate to economic stability.

Tourism is a fickle contributor to the economic health of the community. You can see the consequences of damaged resorts left to rot after experiencing a weather catastrophe. Nearer to home, just wander up the Queensland Coast. In the case of the Caribbean countries, which country of the G20, say, is prepared to go guarantor to rebuild after Nature has had her way? Certainly not the United States, the nearest and wealthiest neighbour. One just has to see the continuing plight of Puerto Rico, which has been left as a wreck by Trump – despite the fact that it is part of the United States, with even one non-voting resident commissioner in the US Congress.

In other words, the Caribbean is very much going to be the bellweather of climate as small nation after small nation is knocked over until even those of us reaching for a third daiquiri may be concerned that the increasing pile of rubble is blocking the view – and then there is that stench from a decayed economy!

But then it will be too late to do anything, and we, the generation who have caused it, have gone on our way out of earshot from the curses of the future generations for the legacy that we have left.

Mouse Whisper

The Modest Reflector loves conundra, and the title is Klinefelters – you know, the syndrome where people who can look a bit like women because they have XX sex chromosome, in fact have the attributes of men through their “Y” chromosome. And one Y trumps XX when it comes to sex.

Klinefelter’s syndrome has caused all sorts of problems in working out in which gender a sporting person with the XXY chromosome should compete. There is some suggestion before chromosomal testing was available, that a number may have competed as females in various Olympic Games, despite having the male sex chromosome.

Well, why is modest reflections Klinefelters? 25 is XXV in Roman numerals. Now take the stalk off the Y … not even original and he promises not to do it again.

“Babe” Didrikson Zaharias – “The Texas Tomboy”