Modest Expectations – Leyland Sprinter

Near the end of last year, we decided to decamp to Tasmania for February because we reckoned then that February was the worst time to be in Sydney – always so humid and oppressive. Hopefully we would be climate-wise. Little did we think what would eventuate.

I have jokingly said that having a place in Tasmania is an insurance against climate change. Macquarie Harbour is on the West Coast and is six times the size of Sydney Harbour. Unlike Sydney Harbour, the number of people living in the rim of the Harbour is minuscular – there being one permanent settlement, that of Strahan, which is home to both a fishing and a tourist industry. Salmon farms dot the Harbour.

Strahan

In my blog I have written twice about my view as a lover of Tasmania. In a blog I wrote about a year ago, inter alia, I mocked the pitiful amount being allocated to bushfire control. The West Coast of Tasmania has been thought immunised against bushfires, because it rains on average every second day of even the driest month, February, and thus having about 160cm rain annually has been some insurance. Bushfires have ravaged the area, but mostly in the mining area around Zeehan to the north where fire erupts from the Savage River iron ore mines.

This was the case in 1982 when a fire was sufficiently worrying for there to be some evacuation of Strahan. The fire had apparently been started by some mutton birders trying to smoke the bird nests in the Ocean Beach dunes, as a preventative measure against any tiger snakes that might be in the burrows. Somewhat exciting if you put your hand into a burrow and you grasp a tiger snake rather than a mutton bird. Anyway, the resultant fire spread through the scrub and nearly burnt the township down.

Nevertheless, while we have been here, there has been a small bushfire near Tullah, which I mentioned earlier in my blog – and another in a more remote area, threatening the Truchanas Huon Pine Forest reserve; a fire in that area would have been equally as devastating as if the bushfire in NSW in the summer of 2019-20 had not been halted before it reached the Wollemi Pine habitat in the Blue Mountains.

The latest news on this bushfire in the south-west is that as a result of concentrated ground works and co-ordinated water bombing, the fire had downgraded from Going to Under Control with aerial firefighting resources and remote area fire crews continuing to work their way around the boundary edge identifying and extinguishing hotspots with continued aerial support.” That report was a week ago, and there is no evidence that local circumstances have changed.

But worldwide, circumstances have changed. Climate change is now an entity which governments are freely blaming for the conditions which have caused the extreme flooding events that have occurred in both New South Wales and Queensland recently. Terms like “one in a thousand years” calamity is meaningless when it is clear that there has been a change in the environment in which we are living.

The solution to repeated fire and flood is to provide the defence, especially when in this neoliberal world designed to value exploitation rather than conservation, building on flood plains or in the areas liable to engulfed in by bushfire seems to have been acceptable.

Clearing our own property is one thing, but when your land is hemmed in by plots of land that are neglected, with local government unwilling or unable to enforce the clearance presents a problem, as we do, then we do have a problem. The owners of the neglected plots are lost in the fog of the titles office; so we have cleared most of an adjacent plot, taking out eucalypts which threatened to fall or were already leaning over our house, which the previous owners had built close to the boundary of the property. To complicate matters two of the blocks of land now don’t have any access to a road, since the road which exists on the town plan has not nor will ever be built.

We have probably dodged the bullet as we go into autumn, but in fire prevention there is still much to do, irrespective of how complicated the situation is.

Governments have spent money to ensure that most parts of urban Australia have clean water – this is already a matter which we take for granted, but it spares a flooded community from cholera or other waterborne diseases which are endemic in less fortunate communities.

I remember those stories, apocryphal or not, of unscrupulous developers who used to subdivide land which only was visible at low tide; but in regard to flood plains, the lack of scruples is only a matter of degree. The cry of “caveat emptor” applies even when the information is symmetric, which is not the case in this world of hustlers and grifters, some of whom graduate into government, as we have seen.  Australia has yet another big clean up job ahead of us, because the stinking mud is not only on the streets of Atlantis, which used to be called Brisbane, but all across this land so strikingly described by Dorothea Mackellar.

Vera Putina’s little boy

The Winter War – Finland v Russia

Greetings to Ukraine. Once upon a time Finland too fought the Russian Army with everything we had and was able to hold on to our freedom and independence. That’s what we wish for you as well. The whole Europe stands with you.” – A message from a Finn who fought against the Soviet Union in  the 1939-41 War who is still alive at 98.

In one way, the number of options for the outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian War are diminishing. They all revolve around Putin’s mental state, now that it has been determined that the Ukrainians are not a pushover. Even in those areas where it would be expected that the people would be little different from the Crimeans, there seems to be vicious fighting. The Ukrainians are not rolling over.”Those Neville Chamberlains” in the US State Department who offered Zelensky asylum did not appreciate his strength. If Zelensky had accepted, that would have been the end; but Zelensky has ditched appeasement in the face of the appeasers.

For Putin, this is very inconvenient. Everybody talks about his unpredictability; but I believe he has the predictability of the tyrant. Thus, it was not long before he sent in his thugs to assassinate Zelensky. How many times he will try to repeat it, who knows! Yet when people become unhinged, as he apparently has, then do we observers put everything down to unpredictability?

While he is using the usual modern warfare device of bombarding the civilians by missiles and bombing, he must break Ukrainian morale to have any chance of winning. The Russians must husband their very finite resources. They are not endless, a very important variable now that the Ukrainians are putting up such resistance.  The cost of Putin’s war should be soon, if not already, affecting the Russian population, given the sanctions and the strength of the opposition. The Russians have tried to compensate with mastery of the cyberworld, which did not have a major “combatant role” in their attempted conquest of Afghanistan. I suggest that with NATO and others supplying both military hardware and essential food and other commodities, the war will be won once the USA can reliably control cyberspace. It would be interesting to know what is the cyber surrender equivalent of the white flag.

If Putin did not have a nuclear arsenal, then life for NATO would be less complicated. NATO will just continue to use Ukraine as a surrogate to do the fighting – and eventually exhaust Russia. Obviously, a mad Putin could make good on turning his nuclear preparedness into an all or nothing nuclear winter – at least in the Northern Hemisphere. What the Chinese decide to do will ultimately decide the length of the War.

Destruction caused by Putin’s war

The fact that the world is experiencing climate change is one good reason why the Russians should dispose of Putin, but he has learnt the tactics of previous Russian despots, where Russia has not only survived but thrived. The only hiccough occurred in the late 1980s when Russia had a rational leader in Gorbachev.

One clue to future action is how the Russians deal with the Ukrainian nuclear reactors. They could continue the boneheaded initial bombardment or think that by doing so the World will watch a new phenomenon, namely the deliberate destruction of  nuclear reactors with all the consequences that will entail. Maybe there is a playbook for such an occurrence, learnt from the Chernobyl disaster (when there was once peaceful co-operation). If the nuclear reactors were to be seriously damaged that would be an excuse for any sane person to seek an armistice, I would think.

Anyway, it would give the Orators of Davos something to think about as, having hurriedly packed their Louis Vuitton luggage and checked the time on their diamond encrusted Rolexes, they headed out into the nuclear cloud in their luxury Gulfstreams.

“A stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve.”

I first became acquainted with George Will through the New York Review of Books as a very astute and perceptive critic. I have never met him, but he is of the same vintage as myself. An Oakeshott conservative, but with an insight not dulled by ideology. He has been a Republican, but now writes regularly for the more Democratically aligned Washington Post.

In many ways Will serves as a policy digestif, enabling the unpalatable to be analysed rather than immediately disposed of.

Presuming that as a senior member of the media and as also a student of history, he can make links that may not be immediately apparent. He has depth of experience able to fathom what have the been the quotient of all his senses over his 80 years. Thus, George Will has both literary subtlety and savagery.

This piece below should help you assess whether this veteran has more than a fine use of words or a sentence that Trump should indeed experience at some stage, when his “sin taxes” become too much to accommodate and a “prigioni lifestyle” threatens.

Floundering in his attempts to wield political power while lacking a political office, Donald Trump looks increasingly like a stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve. His residual power, which he must use or lose, is to influence his party’s selection of candidates for state and federal offices. This is, however, perilous because he has the power of influence only if he is perceived to have it. That perception will dissipate if his interventions in Republican primaries continue to be unimpressive.

So, Trump must try to emulate the protagonist of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. In Mark Twain’s novel, a 19th-century American is transported back in time to Britain in the year 528. He gets in trouble, is condemned to death, but remembers that a solar eclipse occurred on the date of his scheduled execution. He saves himself by vowing to extinguish the sun but promising to let it shine again if his demands are met.

Trump is faltering at the business of commanding outcomes that are, like Twain’s eclipse, independent of his interventions. Consider the dilemma of David Perdue. He is a former Republican senator because Trump, harping on the cosmic injustice of his November loss in 2020, confused and demoralized Georgia Republicans enough to cause Perdue’s defeat by 1.2 percentage points in the January 2021 runoff. Nevertheless, Trump talked Perdue into running in this year’s gubernatorial primary against Georgia’s Republican incumbent, Brian Kemp, whom Trump loathes. 

In a February poll, Kemp led Perdue by 10 points. Trump failed in his attempt to boost his preferred Senate candidate in North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, by pressuring a rival out of the race. As of mid-January, Budd was trailing in the polls. Trump reportedly might endorse a second Senate candidate in Alabama, his first endorsement, of Rep. Mo Brooks, having been less than earthshaking. Trump has endorsed Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in the gubernatorial primary against Gov. Brad Little. A poll published in January: Little 59 percent, McGeachin 18 percent. During Trump’s presidency, a majority of Republicans said they were more supporters of Trump than of the GOP. That has now reversed.

Trump is an open book who has been reading himself to the nation for 40 years. In that time, he has changed just one important word in his torrent of talk: He has replaced “Japan” with “China” in assigning blame for our nation’s supposed anaemia. He is an entertainer whose repertoire is stale. 

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.

From Capitol Hill to city halls, Democrats have presided over surges of debt, inflation, crime, pandemic authoritarianism and educational intolerance. Public schools, a point of friction between citizens and government, are hostages of Democratic-aligned teachers unions that have positioned K-12 education in an increasingly adversarial relationship with parents. The most lethal threat to Democrats, however, is the message Americans are hearing from the party’s media-magnified progressive minority: You should be ashamed of your country.

Trump’s message is similar. He says this country is saturated with corruption, from the top, where dimwits represent the evidently dimwitted voters who elected them, down to municipalities that conduct rigged elections. Progressives say the nation’s past is squalid and not really past; Trump says the nation’s present is a disgrace.

Speaking of embarrassments: We are the sum of our choices, and Vladimir Putin has provoked some Trump poodles to make illuminating ones. Their limitless capacity for canine loyalty now encompasses the Kremlin war criminal. For example, the vaudevillian-as-journalist Tucker Carlson, who never lapses into logic, speaks like an arrested-development adolescent: Putin has never called me a racist, so there.

Forgotten Ohio Ukrainians rallying against Putin’s war

One Ohio aspirant, grovelling for Trump’s benediction two weeks ago said: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” Apparently upon discovering that Ohio has 43,000 Ukrainian Americans, this man Vance underwent a conviction transplant, saying, “Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unquestionably a tragedy,” and emitting clouds of idolatry for Trump’s supposedly Metternichian diplomacy regarding Putin.

For Trump, the suppurating wound on American life, and for those who share his curdled venom, war is a hellacious distraction from their self-absorption. Fortunately, their ability to be major distractions is waning.

Albored Part IV – No Longer Unready?

I have admitted that Albanese is probably not unready, but he is unsteady. He strikes me as a guy who has grown up in the kindergarten of factional politics, but really does not communicate well outside that factional circle.

He is fortunate to have some bloody good women who have shown the guts to stand the incompetents up, and hopefully, on a change of government if that occurs, they will team with some of the aspirants running for ostensibly safe Liberal seats as successful candidates.

I was worried by the absence of Penny Wong and the short statement that she has been ill has been left at that after she turned up on the Insiders program.  The problem with putting the Albanese foreign affairs approach is to work out what it is. Wong’s comment on Insiders:

Working with partners in the region to build our collective security, to diversify our export markets, secure supply chains, provide renewable energy and climate solutions, avert coercion, and respond to natural disasters. By investing financially and intellectually in the security and stability of our region – because defence capability on its own won’t achieve this. We share with ASEAN states an abiding interest in averting hegemony by any single power – so this is where our energy must be applied.

In responsibility terms does the distribution of Ministerial Portfolios need to be reviewed – Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Defence, Environment Protection? In Government, the responsibility for legislation, both future and existing, needs to be clearly defined; and yet the intrinsic danger of having exclusive enclaves centred around such legislative responsibility makes talk of co-operative government nothing more than meaningless waffle. The question is whether Albanese will have the innate skills, intelligence and authority to assure his Ministers work together.

The obvious question is if you, Albanese, get into office, what do you do on day one, because if you dissect this paragraph above, it is an overwhelming agenda – so large it leads to policy paralysis. The policy drought is evident with so much discussion on nuclear submarines, which are of no immediate relevance – and given the lead time, how relevant ever, except to continue to create for the huge hole in the Budget. If Albanese stepped back and thought that nuclear submarines are the panacea, then he is as blinkered as our supremely unintelligent Prime Minister.

I believe that the defence of Australia, as is the case everywhere, is yet to move from a traditional discussion of muskets and cannon balls. As Putin is demonstrating, it is all about killing more civilians of the “Away Team” than the “Home Team”.  The Russian armed forces are seeing the people as the real target. Just look at the Ukraine. It is the war which confirms that the most vulnerable are this target. Children and mothers are the prime target, with the latest atrocity being the bombing of a children’s hospital, irrespective of what the propaganda says to the contrary. Putin may claim that everyone has been evacuated; but tell that to the mothers in labour inside the hospital as the bombs fell.

Unlike the countries which have constituted the battlefield over the past 20 years, Ukraine does have a network of underground bunkers, formerly called train stations (which were an important bulwark in the bombing of Britain 80 years ago). The lessons of the Ukraine War are and will continue to be relevant, rather than government solely succumbing to the blandishments of the armaments manufacturers for more and more lethal toys, which if used will destroy us all.

In one way, just the vastness of a very dry continent with a dispersed population, yet with areas that are intensely populated, provides a defence for Australia, the strength of which needs to be exploited in any future conflict. Albanese seems to have succumbed to the one scenario of invasion, given how much sinophobia has framed the foreign and defence policy of the current government.

Just one simple question? How quickly could our underground accommodate our population, how many of them and how strong would our underground need to be to withstand a missile assault?

The other critical area is cybersecurity – far more important than a few pieces of military or naval hardware. Is the arrangement of the current capacity, in all its diverse acronyms, the right way to conduct our national security? I well remember the Hope Inquiry which Whitlam instituted in 1974. It did not help prevent his dismissal the next year.

While much has changed, Hope’s biographer, Peter Edwards, has written that the principles Hope outlined then remain fundamentally important today: effectiveness must be matched by accountability; intelligence assessment must be separated from policymaking.  Intelligence and law enforcement should also be kept separate.  Most importantly, both intelligence assessment and national security policymaking must be whole-of-government processes, based in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, with no single department or minister to have undue influence.

The first decision on day one is more pragmatic. What do they do with Mr Pezzullo, given the number of strings that he has pulled under the Coalition? Presumably Albanese believes it is essential that he is removed and neutralised in his ability to have any influence.

The next decision on day one of a new Government is to review the head of the Australian Federal Police, Reece Kershaw. The danger of authoritarian governments is that they crave a secret police to enact their vengeance; and unfortunately signs are that that is occurring in a complacent Australia.

The problem is this drive towards a police state, whether it is called plutocracy, oligarchy or just plain dictatorship, is muddied with cyber security. I have not seen this matter explicitly addressed by Albanese. As someone who studied Georges Sorel, I am well aware that a secret police is the result of the authoritarian mind, whether extreme right  or left wing. Australia should not underestimate this scenario, given the example of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, who were not allowed to release information about our underhand dealings over oil with Timor-Leste. The Guardian did not hold back in a report of the matter where Howard and Downer were described as “shills for the corporations”. Albanese has not disclosed his position, because the whole conduct of the Australian Government in this case reeks of secret police.

Maeslant storm surge barrier near Rotterdam

Climate change is the other enemy, against which it has been shown that Australia has almost no defence.  Flood mitigation by the Dutch has been going on since the 13th century. The Netherlands, built on a series of sandy outcrops primarily that of the Rhine, had suffered from the ravages of the North Sea well before “climate change” came into the lexicon. The flooding of the Netherlands in 1953 was the biggest wake-up call. As one writer put it:

The greatest lesson to be learned from the Dutch is perhaps less about engineering and more about mindset and culture. “It’s easy just to talk about technological and engineering solutions, but a lot of the problems surrounding sea-level rise are legal and political. The Dutch have a legal and political system that is united around dealing with water issues; they’ve been doing it for a thousand years.”

As a result, their technology provides an avenue for combating floods, which has been used in attempting to waterproof New Orleans. Yet here, the only discussion about flood mitigation seems to be around raising walls of dams.

Bushfires present the problem of occurring in isolated forested areas under a hot sun and strong north winds, lit by a lightning strikes.  In this country, the approach to bushfires should be inculcated from childhood; bushfire prevention and the community response to fire should be part of the school curriculum. As we age, so increases our responsibility and skill at dealing with probably the greatest enemy of all – fire – particularly when lightning is man made such as by a missile attack. Not sure how this has been discussed by Albanese in his quest to be Number One.

It is a curse that when war flares, conservation of the planet in the long term is replaced by survival in the short term. All the fossil fuel villains of peace time are now life savers. That is the Putin legacy, trying to maintain an order different from that which only exists in the mind of a madman.

That is one lesson of history at this time, for Albanese – John Curtin.

I may not have said that several weeks ago, but just how much times change has been shown by the events of the past two weeks.  Remember the instability of the previous United Australia Party leadership in the events leading up to the entry of Japan in WWII; the touching of the forelock to a useless ally before Curtin won Prime Ministership. Would any of our current leaders have stood up to Churchill and brought our troops back from North Africa as Curtin did in 1942? (Remember Menzies had previously committed Australian troops to the ill-fated Crete campaign under the thrall of Churchill.)

Since Curtin, there is no Australian Prime Minister except Whitlam who has put Australian policy in the world first and refused to send our young men and women as cannon fodder as an excuse to defend freedom. Will Albanese be the next?

Rupert’s Quote of the Geek

The alleged comment of the Australian General, explaining the delayed deployment of the Army to the NSW floods because it was initially too dangerous.

Try Ukraine, Buster!

The Armed Forces are said to spend $40 million annually on advertising, which seems to suggest the war preparation is a succession of jolly japes, with imagery reminiscent of Coke ads in camouflage.  Even Sportsbet has joined in trivialising military imagery to sell gambling. Often in such imagery there is a grain of truth.

Mouse Whisper

There is a photograph under spotlight of eight Russian soldiers in an elevator – all looking as they were escapees from a KAL cartoon – well allegedly these heroes of the Putin special operations decided to take an elevator up to the roof of a Ukrainian building, and the Ukrainians just turned off the power to the lift.

Could the Russian soldiers be that stupid? But whether true or not, the lift occupants do look a little bewildered apart from the one with his balaclava drawn over his head where only the eyes can be seen – it has that black humour which accompanies tragedy.

Modest Expectations – Jeffrey O’Brien

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

Tullah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ubertas et Fidelitas

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

A Dulcie Greeno maireener shell necklace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I said above, food for thought! 

Reflection in the Pool of the Land of the Anziani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a solution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

Dorothy, the heroine in the Wizard of Oz.

Barbie doll.

Simple really.

Modest Expectations – Tomas Machac

In 1994, I bought the April edition of the Atlantic Monthly because it had an article entitled “What is Political Leadership?” The author was Garry Wills, a conservative Catholic historian, with whom I had become acquainted through reading his book reviews in the New York Review of Books. Increasingly he has taken positions in relation to civil rights and then Vietnam which, in conventional terms, would seem to belie his conservative Catholic stance, especially given William Buckley was an early mentor. However, to be socially progressive is not incompatible with conservatism.

When this article was published he was 60 years old and had been in the History Department at North Western University since 1980.

Eventually, now that I have read the piece, I believe he was probably recycling long held views given his concentration on Lincoln, Roosevelt and to a lesser degree Washington.  Interspersed are anecdotes about his relationship with his father, whom he resented when he left his mother to marry a much younger Hollywood model. The disdain drips, but nevertheless he worked for his father. As he says: “That is the way leadership works – reciprocally engaging two wills…”

He makes the obvious comment. A leader must have followers, but he describes the patriarchal society concept personified by Pericles in Athens as described by Thucydides, “enabled by the respect others had for him and his own wise policy, to hold the multitude in a voluntary restraint”.

There is no doubt that Pericles was a great orator and a competent general, initially prevailing over the Spartans. Yet Wills tends to dismiss Pericles as an applicable role model. As he does also with Dale Carnegie – with his “win friends and influence people” dicta as though the leadership is customer dependent.

Wills makes the simple fact that to be a leader, one must have followers. As such, it is not a quality that is proportional to the cleverness of any advertising campaign.

I have always wondered what constitutes leadership, as though there are rules. My own observations about leadership have relied on the tripartite Weberian definition, where there are “traditional leaders” who have been afforded this role by their inherited position. Many of this class have followers only as long as the dynasty survives, because of the many “grace and favour” positions which accompany such leadership. The various Arab desert States epitomise such leadership in the modern world where once it was European royalty or Asian emperors. Often there were religious tags built into such leadership.

Pericles

I have witnessed the second type, charismatic leadership as epitomised by Pericles. In my life I have followed one charismatic leader – someone whom I never met and who, since his death, has been revealed as a very flawed character. However, a leader elicits an emotional response from the followers wanting to aspire to a goal (or goals), irrespective of the actual nature of the man (or woman).

Wills makes a very insightful observation when he said that a leader needs to understand his followers more than they need to understand him. John F. Kennedy used rhetoric in a way that drew people like myself to ideals of service – to a better world. The idea of a Peace Corps appealed because it provided evidence of a shared goal, irrespective of whether or how obtainable it actually was. The concept implied concern and actual commitment to both communities or individuals in need.

Wills makes the point that Lincoln based his belief around the Declaration of Independence as a vital aspect of his leadership. Yet he fails to acknowledge that assorted charlatans, who have not only used the Declaration of Independence but also the Bible, to further their image. To my mind, invoking such texts provides no indication of the quality of leadership; it just suggests that the person has read a desk calendar or some such.

Lincoln was assassinated, as was Kennedy. Therefore, there will also be an expectancy in leadership unfulfilled. Roosevelt was a different person, a model of leadership that Wills attempts to define. Roosevelt went from a comparatively young man of privilege to the older man who faced and battled the legacy of poliomyelitis for the rest of his life.

Battling personal infirmity and that of the country (and the World for that matter) merged. He would not give up, and that resilience was translated into his leadership style. He was able to disguise his paralysis and yet develop an intimacy with his followers with his regular “Fireside Chats”; he gave hope to his followers with the provision of civic works such as the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Yet he did nothing about civil rights: the lynching of Southern blacks; the Ku Klux Klan, the Tuskegee experiments; as well as the isolationist foreign policy and early support for the anti-Semitic, pro-fascist Father Coughlin.

Roosevelt, who is so often used as a model of successful leadership, was flawed, got things wrong and eventually stayed too long, succumbing to a mixture of diseases associated with his long term disability. The whole product made him very vulnerable to the machinations of Stalin, whose home ground advantage at Yalta was never so evident as in the 1945 determination of spheres of influence.

In the end, Wills extensively explores these charismatic leaders yet has no more solution to the nature of ideal leadership beyond reference back to Pericles. It is as though he searched and found no better model.  Wills classified Roosevelt as Periclean, (and incidentally to reinforce the point Wills compared Roosevelt’s leadership with that of the fluffy failed Adlai Stevenson).

There is no exploration of where charismatic leadership continues through the third model, an incorruptible bureaucratic leadership even after the charismatic leader has moved on. Democracy depends on bureaucrats who have to be incorruptible; thus, if you outsource the work of bureaucracy without any apparent goal other than feathering the nest of the private consulting companies, then the leadership which competent bureaucrats could provide is compromised. I remember when bureaucratic leadership was very important, as when Sabine vaccine for polio was introduced and the country had to be transferred from believing that the initial spruiked Salk vaccine was not as good.

Wills did not analyse the qualities of bureaucratic leadership in effectively carrying out the government policy. Maybe series such as “Yes Minister”, caricaturing bureaucracy leadership, while immediately very funny, nevertheless have had an insidious effect on the credibility of bureaucratic leadership. This variability in the effects of bureaucratic leadership has been shown at various stages during the current pandemic.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear

As I was exploring this topic, I tuned into the Kentucky disaster, and noted immediately the decisive compassionate leadership being shown by the Governor, Andy Beshear. He so clearly demonstrates the qualities of the charismatic leader. It is hoped that he has the moral compass to keep going with it. His demonstration of charismatic leadership and his deft and rapid transfer of the reconstruction of his State to his relevant authorities will serve as a model.

My bias is that of a person who lived through the 60s, I believe Beshear will take a national leadership role at some point. He reminds me of Robert Kennedy. I hope his life is not cut short and he does not become a fallen idol, as a number of people of promise who have not been able to define a successful leadership style.

Always Disputin’

Putin often speaks of a “One Russia,” meaning Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — or “Big Russia” and “Little Russia,” Russia being the “big” and Ukraine the “little.” He argued in 2009 that “no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us. They have always been the business of Russia itself.”

A few years ago, before the pandemic, I took a boat trip down to the mouth of the Danube – the enormous Danube delta, the point where the river enters the Black Sea which, for the sake of completeness, the boat nosed into before retreating back into the Delta.

Pelicans in the Danube Delta

On the Northern aspect of the delta, Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine villagers live on the sandy sediment which form islands amid the reeds and sedges above the waterline.

We stopped at one of these villages called St George, where port facilities had been constructed. Here the people in this tiny village tucked within the Romanian border are mostly Ukrainian speakers. All very quaint, with all the hallmarks of the community where time has rested, except to make itself accessible to a scant tourist trade but probably more importantly to help the villagers to get supplies from a post-feudal world which has invented vodka in bottles, tinned food and frozen fish fingers.

We pass Tulcea on our way into the Delta. This township serves as the gateway to the Delta, it is firmly in Romania but as the captain said for those who have a nose for countries, we had actually been in Moldova for a brief time – at least the bow of the boat had been.

So here we were at the intersection of three countries, with Russia not that far away looking over the shoulder of Ukraine. Russia has shown no interest in annexing Romania, although one may adduce there has been Russian mischief in the creation of the Romanian-speaking Moldova. The Russians want to keep Moldova apart from the EU, but even with a breakaway province, Transnistria, along its Ukrainian border, and even with its small population, Moldova maintains a separate identity from Romania.

It demonstrates what a jigsaw the whole area is. Both Moldova and Ukraine following the dissolution of the USSR have initially had pro-Russian governments, but that has changed. Both governments now are solidly pro-western.

Putin holds the levers of Soviet power internally through his labyrinthine security services. Having been a middle level operative at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, he has shown his genius in assembling it again. The fact that he has done so demonstrates the skill of the person, given that it is essential that he maintain internal discipline over Russia itself. After all, he is intoxicated with the glories of Russia, and therefore the old capital of the Russian diaspora, Kiev, is the capital of the modern Ukraine but to him a crucial part of Russian heritage.

Russia is not the power it once was and the only way to invade Ukraine successfully, in his eyes, would be to ensure that potential adversaries are confused. Therefore, chaos is always his solution and fomenting chaos is one mixture of feinting, lunging, retreating and infiltrating. After all, he has worked out that America is war-wearied, and Biden has said as much. So that leaves the other members of NATO, weakened by the Brexit machinations, to come to the aid of the Ukraine. Their preferred weapon is not military but economic. The Russian economy must stagnate and then contract, which in turn starves the money trail of the Putin kleptocracy, another arm of Putin’s power. That economic rationing is the theory.

Putin relies on State sanctioned mercenaries in companies like Wagner to keep up a diet of chaos by interfering in the politics of smaller counties. At the same time he uses the Orthodox Church to spread the message of Ukrainian oneness with Mother Russia, and it worked while there was a pro-Soviet government there. After all, he repossessed Crimea with pathetic protests emanating from the West, but his incursion into eastern Ukraine seems at least to have accelerated the modernisation of the Ukrainian armed forces.

There may have been excuses for those who knew the history of the Crimean annexation. Those who knew the background of the Ukrainian hold on Crimea would have known it was a move by Khrushchev to obtain the support of the then UkSSR in his battle to oust Malenkov in 1954, even though Crimea was predominantly Russian. Hence it did not evoke the same response from the West.

Thus, the assumption is that the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine would be attracted to Putin. In Ukraine these speakers constitute 30 per cent of the population and, as would be expected, the area where Russian is least spoken lies along the western border area, with its history of Hapsburg rule. Nevertheless, the linguistic division is not sharp, and often Ukrainians use both Russian and Ukrainian in conversation, even within the one sentence. In contrast there has been a marked change in national sentiment with the pro-Soviet President, Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies being ousted in 2014.

As one commentary has said: “The prominent role played by Russian-speaking Ukrainians in repelling Putin’s hybrid invasion has done much to alter perceptions of language and identity in today’s Ukraine, leading to the rise of a civic national identity that goes beyond the narrow confines of language and ethnicity. Many saw the election of Jewish Russian-speaker Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Ukraine’s sixth president in 2019 as further confirmation of the country’s evolving linguistic politics.”

The Ukrainians would also be less than impressed by the support of the tyrannical regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus. Belarusian is one of two languages spoken in that country, together with Russian. Since 1917, there has been an attempt by the Russians to smother the Belarusian language and merge the cultural identity. The fact that Lukashenka is totally dependent on Putin is not lost on the Ukrainians, especially his use of Belarus bastardry to create chaos along the Polish border.

Yet Putin will continue to create brinkmanship as his weapon of chaos. If he invades, then as one knows from chess, order prevails, unless the players on the other side do not know who will make the next move. If they hesitate then Putin leans across the board and makes the move himself. More chaos as he has usurped the rules.

Wait a minute, where does Putin stop his incursion? Are the Russian people prepared to pursue the Putinic folly? If he sweeps across the country, then he has to garrison the land conquered.

His adversaries watch as Putin experiments his weaponisation of chaos in Belarus. Those familiar with chess know he will start the game with fewer pieces than his adversaries, and they soon stop him reaching over the Board to manipulate their pieces. Instead, they will line their surplus pieces along the border of his exclave, Kaliningrad, along the Baltic Sea.  Perhaps the NATO countries would be tempted to annex it, given that one can hypothesise that many of the weapons of chaos have been hatched there, designed to cause the maximum amount of “cyberpiracy” with the resultant “cyberpain”. I wonder why Kaliningrad has been tolerated for so long, given its strategic vulnerability.

I wonder what I have missed within Putin’s thinking. Conventional risk analysis would say no way, but how disjointed and craven are the members of NATO?

Kaliningrad, Russia

Tread warily

I had negotiated the same set of stairs hundreds of times. I have always made sure that I grabbed the rail when both climbing up and descending. Where there was originally no rail on the short rise, one was installed. However, that still left a metre of open landing between the two staircases where a rail was perhaps thought not necessary or at least problematic. Thus, there was no rail in this “no-man’s land.

So, the inevitable happened. Tired, I tripped on the last tread of the first set of stairs and reached out to grasp the railing along the side of the second set of stairs. I missed. I fell heavily, cracking my head where the tread meets the riser. My right side bore the brunt. I did not lose consciousness, but after the fall I was prone. My head was awkwardly placed on the tread with my legs sticking out over the landing edge.

At my age, there was no way I could move myself. As the ambulance took an hour arriving, the only solution to get a more tolerable position was to slide down the stairs on my stomach. Bumping one tread at a time, legs being pulled by my wife, my arms pushing against the stair rail. At last, I was laid prone at the bottom of the stair.

My head, which now revealed a transverse cut partially covered with hair matted with blood. My forehead was bruised; yet I had not lost consciousness.

There I lay on the floor, still unable to roll over. After an hour and half two ambulance officers turned up, despite repeated calls. The initial exchange was not the stuff of the milk of human kindness. Having reviewed two ambulance services professionally 30 years ago, I had been responsible in part for the establishment of paramedic courses in universities, leading to professional reciprocity between States. One can excuse the characteristics of the emergency workers. Ambulance officers must adjust to all kinds of situations – many very adversarial. Nevertheless, there is often a fine line between the assertive and the aggressive – an appropriate response to a situation is a function of a person’s adaptability to each situation.

First, the ambulance’s lifting device was found to have a flat battery, ergo useless. The tasks were now related to the officers’ and my wife’s strength. Rolling me on my side; then stacking cushions behind my back, then the sheet its two ends under my armpits being pulled up with my feet firmly planted, I am off the floor, standing. However, on my feet, I have to be convinced that there is a now a chair behind me. It takes more reassurance than would be expected to convince me that there was a seat behind me – it is now nearly two hours since I first fell.

It is a considerable time since I last fell, that time in the garden without damaging myself, and was able to be assisted to my feet. I am now older, and my balance more delicate.

The problem of being a doctor is that you can misdiagnose anything; but once sitting in the chair I made the decision not to go to hospital, and thus go through the gamut of the emergency department – I had had enough of waiting around, and then being tested, with all the associated pain.

I found I could limp, but ensured that it was not due to hip or pelvis fracture – it was somewhere in the gluteal and quadriceps muscles – maybe even the psoas – but what would they do at the hospital, besides giving me a range of precautionary tests, perhaps a shot of morphine – and then I would inevitably vomit.  And the pain would be still there. The papers associated with my admission to discharge would be a cascade of endless questions.

Besides, even though fully vaccinated, there is always the possibility of the Virus lurking in the hospital’s corridors.

I look at my badly bruised hand. I hope I’ve made the right decision. But it is too late now. I signed a disclaimer clearing the ambulance officers from any responsibility in the decision. A very insistent request; I noted they did not ask to examine my hips or pelvis. But then I was a know-it-all old doctor, wasn’t I?

I wonder how many elderly or disabled people who fall require assistance to get off the ground or floor. Over two hours of smelling the carpet is not the best fragrance. The NSW Ambulance service averages about 25 minutes for an inner suburban urgent call. But not mine; the ambulance was based in Paddington (7.8 kilometres or 14 minutes) from my home.

I know of a private outfit which provides a pendant to be worn with an alarm system that can be activated in the event of an emergency. The reviews have not been good; and anyway, given the prevalence of falls in the elderly, why should the government not be responsible for such a service linked to the other emergency services. Like so much of aged care, government has sloughed it off to the private sector.

Ten days later, I am still bruised; my head is clear, yet my proprioception is worse, but I am improving.

Nevertheless, I have had to reflect on the ambulance response. Maybe I shall write a letter.

Was the Hunchback Saved?

Notre-Dame Cathedral was never a favourite of mine, a gloomy edifice stuck in the middle of Paris. This article by a celebrated art historian, Elizabeth Lev, is beautifully written, and in her own words a lovely example of how to extract everything from a nuanced approach. However, unlike Old St Paul’s which was demolished after it was badly damaged by the Great Fire of 1666 and replaced by the Christopher Wren ‘s masterpiece, compared with the Basilica in the Vatican, this Cathedral is being restored to modern gothic glory.

What is it about a church renovation that convinces everyone that society is fast-bound for hell in a handbasket?

I’ve been asking myself this question in recent days because of the hubbub surrounding the proposed rebuilding of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. On Thursday, plans for the renovation of its interior spaces will be presented to the commission nationale du patrimoine et de l’architecture for approval. In advance of the review, press coverage has sought to whip decisions over Notre Dame’s “wreckovation” into an epic battle between the sacred and profane. But as with most controversies surrounding Notre Dame — and historical sanctuaries more broadly — the performative outrage obscures a more benign reality.

A recent article electrified the otherwise tranquil proceedings of clearing wreckage and stabilizing support structures in the 858-year-old church. Parisian architect Maurice Culot sounded the alarm that the plan for the interior decoration would be as if “Disney were entering Notre Dame.” Other critics accused the church of bowing before the altar of “political correctness.” Panic buttons lit up throughout the Anglosphere, recalling previous fears that the church’s roof would become a swimming pool or a car park.

But what is the hair-pulling about, really? People wept as they watched the cathedral burn, but did they know what was inside? Was it the loss of the stained glass, the statues, or the paintings that they mourned? Not until Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris fire brigade, rushed out with the relic of Christ’s crown of thorns was there general awareness of what treasures the cathedral contained.

Now critics dread the potential introduction of “modern art objects” in the two dozen-plus side chapels. But how many people remember that, pre-fire, they were an ill-kept hodgepodge generally passed over by tourists in search of an Instagram-worthy shot of the windows?

Fewer hot takes and more studied responses would serve the ancient church better. Most reactions are based on the plan for the new interior presented in May by the Rev. Gille Drouin, installed last year as a canon of the cathedral to oversee the renovation. The design calls for a “catechetical path,” in which the church’s new point of entry would be the central portal confronting the viewer with the full majesty of the space. The reconfiguration would also make better use of the side chapels, each adapted to recount salvation history from Genesis to Christ’s resurrection to the life of the church today.

Celebrated monuments that miraculously escaped the fire — the bronze crucifix given by Napoleon III, the marble Notre Dame de Paris, the 14th-century carved choir stalls, and the crown of thorns entombed in the apse — would all feature in a single coherent itinerary.

Cathedral restorers hope to collaborate with the Louvre for the restoration of “the Mays,” 76 large paintings of the Acts of the Apostles donated between 1630 and 1707 by Parisian goldsmiths. Today, some are randomly placed in the side chapels and others are in museums. The plan would return them to the nave, so that visitors would see the witness of the apostles lining the main axis of the church.

Drouin hopes to transform the cathedral, which welcomed 12 million people annually pre-pandemic, into a space that is truly “catholic,” or universal. The plan proposes five chapels for five continents, in which Bible verses would be projected in local languages. Perhaps this is what spawned the Disney comparison, a kind of Catholic Epcot Center.

But for an international icon in a city where 20 percent of residents are immigrants, what’s the problem with spreading a message of hope to every person who crosses that venerable threshold? And while some have dubbed it “Christianity for Dummies,” in a world where many Catholics are shaky on scripture and many young people are raised without religion, some back-to-basics catechetics might be in order.

While the new designs might not be to everyone’s taste, it is helpful to recall the true horrors that this cathedral has survived: French revolutionaries who beheaded its facade statues and repurposed the high altar to host a scantily clad “goddess of reason,” Napoleon’s gutting of the interior for his self-coronation as emperor, the collective neglect that spurred Victor Hugo to write “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as a cri du coeur to preserve the building.

It is also worth remembering that St. Peter’s Basilica was knocked down and rebuilt by Pope Julius II in 1506 to similar outcry, and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the world, has been rebuilt half a dozen times, each reconstruction adding a piece of “contemporary” art. In these cases, novelty in the name of catechesis has proved its worth. Indeed, the opportunity to commission new art could even revitalize long-stagnant Catholic patronage.

Regardless of attempts to turn Notre Dame’s renovators into cartoon villains, the reality is more nuanced. But nuance, unfortunately, attracts little limelight. Thus topics as seemingly tame as repairing a church after a fire become cultural flash points: Whether praising or panning, everyone gets a thrill. 

Mouse Whisper

Did you know I have an Irish cousin? The Olive-backed Pocket Mouse (Wyoming Pocket Mouse a.k.a Caic Tarbh Mouse) has a silky fur olive-grey colour, with a top band of black and olive. A yellowish-buff line marks its sides and the patches of fur behind its ears are light yellow. It is buff to pure white below, but it has a tail in the shape of a shamrock with a curious phosphorescence useful for directions to the nearest mouse hostelry. The biological name for such a tail is lanteen trefoilias.

 

Olive-backed Pocket Mouse

Modest Expectations – Vile Bodies

If you are writing a sermon, it is good to have a text, in this case from The Gospel of The Boston Globe.

At a time when climate change and those who fight it demand that coal be treated like tobacco, as a danger everywhere it is burned, Australia is increasingly seen as the guy at the end of the bar selling cheap cigarettes and promising to bring more tomorrow.

Along with koalas, kangaroos, and beaches, the country — the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels — is becoming known for refusing to clean up its act.

With just days to go before a major UN climate conference in Scotland, Australia is one of the last holdouts among developed nations in committing to net-zero emissions by 2050, and it has refused to strengthen its 2030 target or make plans for transitioning away from its deep commitment.

Coal-o-phile Dundee

The country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, only recently agreed to attend the climate summit after criticism from Queen Elizabeth II and a crowdfunded billboard in Times Square that mocked his reluctance to address climate change, calling him “Coal-o-phile Dundee.”

Australia’s inertia points to a pressing challenge for the world: how to get places that profit from a dangerous product to transition before it becomes too late. With the threat of even more damaging storms and fires looming if temperatures keep rising, a combine-and-conquer approach is required — fossil fuel users and producers both need to kick the habit.

The kings of carbon are not in a rush. A UN report recently released found that coal, oil, and gas production will keep growing at least until 2040, reaching levels more than double what is needed to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.

Australia is a major contributor to the problem. In energy terms, the continent is essentially a bigger version of West Virginia: Coal is still king, natural gas is celebrated, and the conservative government has a lot in common with Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who has blocked President Biden’s sweeping plan to shift the country toward renewable energy.

In May, the International Energy Agency released a detailed overview of what it would take to cut carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050 and keep the average global temperature from increasing by 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels — the threshold beyond which the Earth faces irreversible damage.

Near the top of the list: end investment in new sources of fossil fuels.

Australia’s response? Yeah, nah.

The federal government still revels in Australia’s role as the world’s largest coal exporter. A report from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources last month used a medal icon in denoting the country’s status as the world’s coal leader, expected to ship out 439 million tons this year, up from 400 million tons last year.

In the last month alone, three new coal mining projects have been approved. In New South Wales, a production hub for the thermal coal burned in power plants — some of the biggest contributors to global emissions — proposals for 20 new coal mines are under review. And that does not include a giant project in the state of Queensland, where the Indian industrial giant Adani is trying to build the largest coal mine in the world.

Nor does it include Australia’s expansion of natural gas. The government plans to open at least five new gas fields, including the giant Beetaloo Basin project in the Northern Territory, which has been granted subsidies of around $170 million. The tax breaks given to the fossil fuel industry last year alone were worth more than what Australia spends on its army — and the federal resources minister, Keith Pitt, said this month that the government should spend even more to protect coal and gas.

Critics argue that it is all the product of a warped political and media culture that has spent decades doing the industry’s bidding while deceiving the public, exaggerating coal employment, and understating the need to reverse course. Federal elections are often won or lost in the coal areas of Queensland, and with another contest due next year, the coalition government’s junior partner, the National Party, which represents regional areas, is playing a familiar hand.

“For at least 10 years, they’ve been telling people that climate change is rubbish, that it doesn’t exist, that we can continue digging up and burning coal forever and a day,” said Zali Steggall, an independent member of Parliament who unseated a former prime minister, Tony Abbott, in 2019 with a campaign focused on climate. “They have a difficult job now in turning around to those communities and saying we were wrong or misleading you and we need to do this.”

Until the devastating bush fires of two years ago, Australians might not have blinked at their government’s continued support for fossil fuels. The country is responsible for less than 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

But the Australian public has become increasingly concerned. Polls show that a strong majority of Australians want climate action even if the costs are significant and want the government to stop approving new coal mines.

There is some momentum at the local level. Several states, including New South Wales, have committed to net-zero by 2050 and more immediate emission reductions that go beyond the 26%-28% cut that Australia promised with the Paris climate agreement.

Thanks also to changes in farming practices and solar panels on people’s homes, Australia’s emissions are now projected to fall by around 34% by the end of this decade compared to 2005 levels. But that decline is still weak by international standards, with the United States promising cuts of 50%-52% by 2030, Britain agreeing to a 78% decline by 2035, and Japan pledging a reduction of 46% by 2030.

I remember the first weeks of Whitlam’s reign. I also remember the treachery and traducery of McMahon’s last year where the Government refused to confront the obvious reforms needed. And with the decay, the government leaked continually rather than made a splash, with McMahon himself the master of the watering can.

When Whitlam won the 1972 election, there was no leisurely transfer of power. He brushed the inept McMahon aside and, with Lance Barnard, with the blessing of the then Governor General Paul Hasluck, set up a temporary duumvirate.

This enabled Whitlam to immediately abolish conscription, end Australian military participation in South Vietnam and release Vietnam draft resisters from prison. He recognised Communist China and warned the United States against renewed bombing in North Vietnam.

Whitlam had a degree of courage, which I have found in only one other major politician in my experience.

I only hope that when the next Government comes to power, the person who becomes the Prime Minister acknowledges the matters relating to climate, as so clearly set out above, and sets about a clear remedy.

It should be possible through those who have paid the Porter legal bills to identify the biggest polluters in this country, not only in terms of climate change but also of the social fabric of the nation …

… and stop this disgraceful persecution of people, who are universally of colour as the modern version of non-white is now called, by releasing them from the various concentration camps, if you want to be brutally frank, imprisoning these persecuted refugees who have come by sea.

And finally, let us judge those who would loot the Treasury, and release their names. Strip away the black tape of redaction and coverup.

The overriding lesson for Australia at this very difficult time for the future of not only ourselves but also the planet – those determining the nation’s policy are just not up to the challenge. Brown nosing is no substitute for policy.

An Eloquent Statement on leaving Kinross Wolaroi School, Orange

… I believe that each and every one of us in the graduating class of 2020 has something special to offer to our friends, our family and to our community so long as we persevere. After 13 years of schooling, we will finally enter into the wider world and go our separate ways. They say that smooth seas do not make skilful sailors. This year has been anything but smooth sailing and I know that wherever we end up, we will all be well equipped to face and overcome the challenges that life throws at us. I hope that you find happiness wherever you may go in life and I wish you all the best for the future. – Edward Taylor Year 12.

In explanation, I was looking for something else and came across the magazine of this hybrid Presbyterian/Methodist co-educational boarding school located in Orange New South Wales. I don’t know whether I had ever heard of the school, but casually reading it, I came upon the valedictory address given by this young man. I wished I had been able to articulate my future at his age as well he did at the end of a difficult year. He will need all that resilience while the present clowns of climate change control his generation’s destiny and will be headstones by the time this young man will fulfill his own expectations.

George Repin

George died a week ago at 3.30pm. He was 93, and thus he had a life well lived. He was a Russian émigré from Shanghai, whose family started Repin’s coffee inns in Sydney in 1930. These were very successful, and the name Repin became a household name for a place to have a cup of tea as well as coffee. During the Depression, hard-up businessmen used the coffee shops to run their ailing businesses. American servicemen during WWII, unused to tea, found access to coffee through Repin’s – a boon. Repin’s in the fifties were the places the Push literati frequented in the afternoon to discuss how many angels were on certain pinheads.

George Repin’s father died suddenly in 1949 and George, recently graduated doctor, was midway through his residency at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He abandoned his medical career for the moment and took control of the family business.

Despite being a household name in Sydney, the name Repin meant nothing to me because I was born in Melbourne, and there was a large social gulf between the two cities. I cannot remember any Sydneysider who holidayed in Melbourne. We had family in Sydney, but although we were frequent visitors, my father loving Manly and my mother having a close friend who lived in Point Piper, I can never remember Repin being mentioned. It would have been easier if I had known this when I moved to Sydney in 1979.

After the family coffee business closed in 1966, George joined the AMA and after a period became Secretary General, just in time for the negotiations to commence on the shape of the health care system following the report of the Nimmo Inquiry in 1969. The Ludecke Inquiry was where George became blooded in dealing with the Federal Government. Then the Whitlam government came to power in 1972, with its stated intent of introducing a universal health scheme.

George was an avowed opponent of governmental control of medical practice. He was also very skilled in preserving the interests of doctors, including medical incomes, while ensuring that he never confused the Federal government’s constitutional power to provide a range of health patient benefits – but not doctor’s fees. The word  “fee for medical benefit” was the mantra one used when discussing medical benefits and beware the glittering eye if you strayed into saying that the Commonwealth government had the power to set doctors’ fees.

It was not riveting stuff, but the meticulous way that George controlled such syntax meant the AMA countered the Commonwealth Health Department from implying it determined doctors’ fees. Yet I believe it was a deliberate ploy to imply, falsely, that if doctors did not charge a fee equivalent to the patient benefit, they were flouting the law.

Doctors could charge what they considered to be fair and reasonable. Incomes and prices were the responsibility of the States and I was closely associated with the referendum that Whitlam initiated late in 1973 where the intent of a “yes” vote was to transfer these State powers over incomes and prices to the Commonwealth. The referendum was soundly defeated, but it meant I was well acquainted with this division in Commonwealth powers.

The disciplined Repin approach meant that, for a long period until the destructive Shepherd influence, the power of the AMA over medical incomes was due to this one man, paradoxically through the way he handled the periodic government-initiated reviews of the patient fees for medical benefits.

As such he had a major stabilising influence on the profession at a time when there was a diffusion of medical specialties into subspecialist groups. Much of this could be attributed to the adherence to the relativities which had been built into the medical benefits system but owed somewhat to the way the various existing specialties in 1970 valued themselves. This resulted in distortions of the actual value, but it was the genius of Repin that maintained acceptance of relativities – in one word some of the profession were more knowledgeable and skilled than others in the initial phase. This self-valuation created distortions.  Yet George always maintained that a doctor could do anything, given circumstances, and somehow he was able to assure the relativities in the fees for medical benefit – no mean feat.

His resilience was tested by a severe bout of Guillain-Barre syndrome, but in true Repin style he overcame this disease, which almost paralysed him for a time, and went back to full-time work..

For most of the time during the Repin stewardship, government accepted the AMA as the sole legitimate representative of the profession. George had to juggle  differences, such as between the NSW Branch, which was essentially an employer’s organisation, and the Victorian branch with very much an industrial approach negotiating terms and conditions with the Victorian State in a number of landmark cases.

For five years from 1979 I was his Deputy at the Australian Medical Association. We were two very different individuals; he did not support my appointment, but just after I commenced, George went overseas and on return he seemed satisfied with the way I handled the preparation of the AMA submission to government, where I had the opportunity to work with one of the most highly respected and able Sydney lawyers of the time, Bob Stephens.

This gave me an early insight into how organised and meticulous George Repin was. Despite his distaste for government control, his strength in negotiation and ability to coalesce the profession around the importance of medical benefits (whether Medibank or Medicare) paradoxically ensured that his legacy was woven into both schemes. In turn, this has assured the ongoing system Australia has today, despite it having become somewhat tattered over the past decades.

Not long after I started, in early 1980, he agreed that I should take the lead secretariat role in the preparation of the AMA submission to the Jamison Inquiry (the Commission of Inquiry into the Efficiency and Administration of Hospitals). This enabled me to travel around the AMA branches and receive an early valuable lesson on how organised medicine worked around Australia. The AMA agreed to the appointment of Robert Wilson, an excellent economist and cost accountant, to assist me.

The submission was highly regarded by the bulk of the AMA grandees and more importantly for myself was that I achieved an independence within the organisation, which forged the basis of our ongoing relationship.

My relationship with George was totally professional. I do not remember having any social interaction with him. I was never invited to his home; I never even had a social drink in his office or elsewhere. He only told me one thing about his boyhood. It has stuck with me. On one occasion when at Scot’s College, after being bullied, he hid behind a fence and threw rocks at his tormentors. I bet he was accurate, but I didn’t quiz him.

Always combative though our relationship was, he imposed a way of handling circumstances which proved very valuable. I wish I had had him as a tutor as a young man as he would have imposed an intellectual discipline, foreign to my instincts but I suspect very Russian. Our politics were so far apart, but only rarely did they disturb our relationship, and as someone commented if we happened to be on the one side, which occasionally happened, nobody could stop us.

At the outset I said I would work there for at least five years, as the superannuation arrangements were second best only to Qantas then. In five years and one month after beginning the job, I left to set up a consultancy business. I remember George firmly shaking my hand as his last gesture. George was to work for another three years before relinquishing the post. Having negotiated the move, understandably he himself did not want to move to Canberra.

The one thing I did wonder about was why, after 1984, the periodic reviews between the Government and the AMA were abandoned with his say-so; that was George’s source of power and authority. It may be that, after supporting their abandonment, he missed them. Maybe he just got tired of Bruce Shepherd.

As for me, I had experienced one of the most productive five year periods of my life; George taught me a lot; yet I never asked his advice.  After I left the AMA I never talked more than a dozen words to him.

It was a pity because reading his regular column in the “Pittwater News” only after his death, I realised what an underlying affinity I had for George. As with everything he did, he did not waste a word.

When I heard he was terminally ill, I sent a short message thanking him. I hope he read it. I meant what I wrote.

Monterey

The challenge came. What about canneries? You’ve spent enough time in northern Victoria to know all about them. Mentioning canneries reminded me of what has been one of my favourite places to visit in the world. Previously, in one of my earlier blogs, I had mentioned the junction of the Darling and Murray Rivers as my favourite place in Australia.

After my blog, last week, on tanneries and stannaries, she had said “What about canneries and for that matter granaries!” Monterey, an easy choice!

Lying south of San Francisco, Monterey was written about by John Steinbeck. The canneries that line the waterfront are now stylish reminders of an era long gone when the run of sardines was such down the Pacific coast that catching and canning sardines became the sustenance living of many, especially during the Depression. But like so many profitable fishing industries, it died when the fish were no more – overfished in an era where the notion of conservation did not exist.

Cannery Row

We amble down Cannery Row, made famous by Steinbeck. It retains some of the old atmosphere, if not the smells of what it was. Monterey has its own “rialto”, structures bridging the road now announcing that this is Monterey Canning Row, but yet prosaically this “rialto” was only a place for offices rather than being vibrant walkways above the street.

This was one of Steinbeck’s haunts and he was very friendly with Ed Ricketts, the pioneering marine biologist whose work, particularly on tidal flows, established his reputation. Ricketts was not unlike Steinbeck in appearance, politics and living a full life, whatever that means. He was killed on the edge of Cannery Row in 1948 when hit by a train. He was only 50.

The cannery façade thus still exists, punctuated by hotels and stores selling memorabilia, but what is the most memorable at the end of the Row is the three-storied Hewlett Packard Aquarium, with the three-storied kelp forest as the first sight of this structure.

The one area where the child in me emerged was the interactive pond where one could handle the various sea creatures, the starfish and the gooey sea anemones. I don’t remember any sea urchins, but given their spikes and the care taken to ensure kids like me still had a hand after removing my arm from the water, there probably weren’t any; yet it was a tactile experience so important in tuning the senses.

Sea otters

Staying at the Monterey Plaza Hotel enabled us to see the sea otters, frolicking in the sea in the lee of the hotel, with its deck acting as a viewing platform. The sea otter’s fur, unlike that of the seals is not waterproof. Therefore, the otters have to eat a large amount of fish and shellfish daily. One’s sleep can be disturbed by the sound of those animals cracking open the shellfish as they float on their backs in the sea. One of the reasons for them becoming an endangered series was that their voracious appetites provided competition for the fishermen – and the otter pelts could also command a good price.

Like many of the places I have visited, I suspect Monterey has become one of those tourist destinations, and therefore I probably will never go back, if only to retain memories of a less tourist-infested age.

The Age of Confusion

The advent of vaccination has shown a course of action where there have been both positive and negative aspects, but moreover it has provided a window on what works and what does not.

One of the prime movers in vaccination, when the national levels of vaccination had started lagging in the mid 1990s, was Michael Wooldridge when he became the Federal Minister of Health in 1996. One of the most vocal advocates of the campaign was the late Gay Davidson, whose daughter, Kiri, had died of a complication of measles. Gay was both an influential Canberra journalist and a mother who had first hand experience of the horrific decline of her daughter from a beautiful vibrant child to a helpless vegetative state because of this rare late complication of measles.

The message was clear. Vaccinate! Now another campaign.  What has been encouraging, after a very hesitant start, is how vaccination against COVID-19 has progressed. The problem is that the early ambivalence, aided by the social media, allowed all the misinformation to gather momentum.  Fortunately, the momentum for universal vaccination that may have been slower at the outset has at last been far greater recently. The rare complications from the vaccine administration, which fuelled the initial hesitancy seem now to have been mostly cast aside as witness the successful introduction of vaccination in school children above the age of 11.

The other complication of the early hesitancy was the failure of the Commonwealth government to effectively lead the response, because it had not ordered enough of the mRNA vaccines , banking on both the Queensland version and the licensed AZ vaccine to do the job. The Queensland vaccine was a flop, and those academics who promoted it so vigorously should have been more roundly condemned than they were for their flagrant self-publicity. As for the AZ vaccine, once the production line was sorted it has been effective, if less popular than Pfizer and now Moderna.

What has been done in NSW and Victoria emphasises the desire of people to get out of prison – to be paroled – except each Premier has a huge number on parole, including a substantial number who should continue to be locked up because of their flagrant disregard of the rules. Separating this unvaccinated group for re-incarceration would be a challenge, and currently the appetite for any such action is not strong.

It is time to change reporting the number vaccinated to a more correct number by incorporating the 12 years plus age group. Presumably this is not being done because of the lesser level of vaccination of this age group. This number has been increasing rapidly and will soon not be different from the adult population.

This will be further complicated by the extension of vaccination to children aged five to 11. The White House announced (and since confirmed by the FDA) that they will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot from paediatricians, the local pharmacy and potentially even from their schools. The detailed plans for the expected authorisation of the Pfizer shot for these younger children are expected shortly, after lengthy studies to test vaccine safety. The recommended dose will be about one-third of the adult dose. It will be interesting to see whether the TGA delays approval in Australia until just before the school year starts next year.

United States regulators have also signed off on extending COVID-19 boosters to Americans who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines and anyone eligible for an extra dose can now receive a brand different from the one they received initially.

From our point of view, there is a need to assure the same level of vaccination in every State (and that includes Western Australia); and the challenge of assuring the first double dose vaccination, monitoring the teenage vaccination, introduction into children and assuring an ordered booster regime needs to be answered – as does the need to factor in additional variants, such as the emerging new Delta AY.4.2 variant identified in the UK and USA. It would be useful to obtain details of the vaccination program – the assumption being we have enough vaccines and identification of recipients nationally is assured, and I mean assured, not waved away into some contract deal among mates.

May I suggest somebody think of Jeroen Weimar for the task, even if he doesn’t bob up in a general’s uniform (but look out for the coffee cups).

Congratulations, Minister Hunt, you seem to be adopting aphorisms from The Prince, in particular when the news is good: release it unto the multitude in small amounts deliberately and progressively. Apparently this ploy helps maintain the applause.

Mouse Whisper

I was talking the other day to my one of bandicoot cousins, Bullum, and the topic turned to this Virus, the one we are hopping to avoid.  I thought it was a good test of the efficacy for each of the Commonwealth funded Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS) to see how well they vaccinated their particular mob. Bandicoot Bullum said he was a bit nonplussed by those who seemed to speak for the various AMS complaining about the Government not vaccinating their mob.

He thought that it would be one of the key jobs for each AMS to get to as close to 100 per cent vaccination as possible, and only complain if they were not supplied with enough vaccine. He thought there was no shortage of supply; yet doses have been reported as going to waste. But maybe the bush telegraph would tell him something else.

He seemed to have a good point. This is now a time when the strength of the AMS can be tested, rather just being at the mercy of our brother rhetorical advocates.

Modest Expectations – Powder River

Ukhaa Khudag mine, one of at least 15 coal mines in Mongolia

Friedland chairs Toronto stock exchange-listed miner Ivanhoe Mines which owns 79% of South Gobi Energy Resources which currently achieves the most export sales out of the Mongolian coal producers.

The tax on mining profits in Mongolia was 25% compared to Australia’s proposed 30% mining tax, Friedland said.

Mongolia had a clear advantage in that it neighboured (sic) its Chinese customers. 

“They’re closer to China than your lucky island.” Friedland told the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum last week.

Australia-listed Hunnu Coal is busy advancing several promising Mongolian thermal and coking coal projects with minimal start-up costs.

Wood can see some shocks ahead for Australia’s leading export industry.

“I think Australia is going to find it hard to compete with coal 600 kilometres from Beijing with labour at tenth of the price. Mongolia has a highly supportive government and has abolished the stupid taxes Australia is now contemplating. Australia has got some problems.” 

He noted some other advantages of mining coal in Mongolia. “Australian mines are getting deeper and older. The easy, cheaper coal is gone. These deposits in Mongolia are open cut from surface – they haven’t even been developed yet, the best years are still coming.”

The Mongolian government is working hard to expand the coal industry and announced major railway investment plans last month.

Wood said one of the plans was a link from the giant Tavan Tolgoi coking coal field in the South Gobi province, where Hunnu Coal has projects, all the way up to northern Mongolia where it can link up to Russia’s Tran Siberian railway line. 

From there, the coal is railed out for export through Vladivostok port on the east coast of Russia. 

“That’s a very short boat ride to Korea and Japan,” Wood said.

He said the Koreans, Japanese and Russians were keen to invest in Mongolian rail.

Wood said the Japanese and Koreans were extremely keen to get access to Mongolian coal “so it’s not just about China; Mongolian coal will be seaborne and that is a real threat to Australia.” 

“That’s why Friedland is saying these things. 

“These things aren’t going to happen next month, they are not going to happen next year but people are making investment decisions in Queensland based upon five to ten years.

“In five to ten years they will be competing against Mongolian coal well and truly.” 

In the light of the recent announcements about Mongolia supplying coal to China, perhaps it would be useful to refresh the Australian Government’s recall of this article that appeared in Mining of 9 August 2010 when the coking and thermal coal deposits were being opened up in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

While there is Australian investment in mining in that country, this assessment was given by the Canadian/American billionaire, Robert Friedland. He had then invested heavily in Mongolian coal, as now he is investing in gold and nickel in Australia. His parents were Holocaust survivors and Friedland from a young man has moved with shakers. For instance, as a student he managed an apple orchard in Oregon, where Steve Jobs, a friend would come to work at weekends – that “small enterprise’s” name came from that Jobs’ experience. Friedland himself is undoubtedly smart and well-connected.

Matthew Wood is Australian and was trained as a geologist with qualifications in mineral economics. At the time of this 2010 article he owned Hunnu Coal, but sold it two years later to Hong Kong interests. He has kept up his mining interests in Mongolia so much so that he was recently awarded the Order of the Polar Star, the highest award which the Mongolian government gives to non-Mongolians.

Hey, Prime Minister, when you held up that lump of coal in Parliament, were you sure it was Australian?

Peterborough, Coorey and the Goyder Line

Phillip Coorey has a very spare entry about his early life in his published biography. However, on radio recently he revealed that he was bought up in Peterborough in South Australia. He rattled off a few not very convincing reminiscences to the effect that, as a lad, he may have been committed to a life on the header there.

What he did mention was Goyder’s Line. Surprisingly, the radio interviewer seemed not to have heard of Goyder’s Line. This is a line drawn across a map of South Australia by George Goyder, the then state surveyor, who meticulously drew this imaginary line from just north of Ceduna to just north of Pinnaroo on the border with Victoria in the early 1860s.

Above the line, the land was unsuitable for long term cropping; below the line it was suitable for cropping. His findings were greeted with the normal sceptical response, even when recognition of the line was drafted into legislation. A few good rainfall years turned scepticism into scorn and the Act was soon repealed. Then the normal series of drought years followed, validating Goyder’s observations, and the Act reinstated.

If you drive north of Goyder’s line, there are the results of the scorn on view, ruined sandstone houses of those who knew better.  The land along the Flinders Range is littered with evidence of how correct Goyder was.

Ruins of a farmhouse, near the Flinders Ranges

An interesting observation when driving south is that fords across the many water courses are replaced by bridges, starting just north of Goyder’s Line; a significant reminder of the more reliable rainfall south of the Goyder?

Peterborough almost straddles the line – so cropping occurs for now. In any event Peterborough has another claim to fame besides Mr Coorey. It is where there is one of the two horse abattoirs in Australia. A horse abattoir differs from a knackery in that it produces horse meat suitable for export, mostly to Europe.

Goyder’s Line is the drought line. No other State has such a meticulously worked out differentiation of this arid land into its cropping and grazing potential.

As was reported:  “George got on his horse and rode 3200 km east to west across the colony. Finally, in 1865, Goyder submitted his report and map to the state government.

Goyder used old rainfall guides and changes in vegetation to produce his report. He noted that mallee scrub, which needs a higher rainfall, dominated in the south while saltbush which can exist on far less moisture was the main vegetation in the north. With his report showing that north of the line was drier and the south wetter, he discouraged farmers from planting crops north of his line, as he considered this land only suitable for grazing.”

Goyder’s Line thus remains. Thirty kilometres north of Peterborough is a ghost town called Dawson. It was set up in defiance of Goyder’s finding. It remains as a testimony to those who gambled their livelihood against the empirical evidence; and lost.

Peterborough survives as an outwardly prosperous town for now, but there is the ever-present threat of a shift of Goyder’s Line away from Peterborough because of climatic change.

Irrigation has enabled the Riverland to prosper above Goyder’s Line; and technology has been used to crop above Goyder’s Line, but it remains as a concrete reminder of scientific integrity.

Australia has produced an array of substantial scientists, whose renown does not rely on being puffed up by that bane of civilisation – the public relations spinning arachnoids. Goyder was one such scientist.

The night I danced with Nikki Savva

1970s Darwin

It was a time before Cyclone Tracey, and the Travelodge was the most prominent feature of Darwin. We were there campaigning for the LCP in the Northern Territory election, which resulted in the LCP winning 17 out of the 19 seats. The remaining two went to independents; Labor’s strategy left them with no seats. How much our visit to Darwin influenced the result is not clear. After all, there were no Aboriginal candidates in any of the electorates. All the candidates were Territorians, aka “whitefellas”.

In this bubble at the Travelodge that evening, there was much jollification, and I remember at one stage dancing with a young reporter from The Australian, Nikki Savva. It is a funny thing that memory of this brief encounter has stuck in my mind when other memories of that night have dissolved.

Eventually, I drifted off to my room staggering along with my colleague. He had the room opposite. It was a different image when I awoke next morning.  The door of the room opposite was wide open. The room was empty. The room was now a wreck – it looked as it had been trashed, but when I walked across the corridor, I smelt the aftermath of a fire. The walls were covered with soot – there had been some water damage.

Blearily I went back to my room. It never occurred to me until later that I had not been evacuated. I had slept through the ruckus and nobody had thought to wake me. Such considerations came later when I learnt that my colleague had lit his mattress and was found in a smoke-filled bathroom, completely disorientated. His rescuer was a journalist travelling with the team. The fire brigade had been called, but I slept on. This was not the last time I slept though an awkward situation, nor that I escaped being burnt to death. Sometimes as the memory grew distant, in one of my rational moments, I believe that there is a force which determined that my time was not up – not then.

What was so different from today? There was no report in the media, although everyone knew but nobody talked about it – nobody wrote it.

I never knew who paid for the damage. It did not come across my desk.

Somehow I doubt whether that would be allowed to go unnoticed today.

However, so much has changed, but old habits die hard for me not acknowledging by name those who were in that burning room that night.

But I do remember Nikki Savva – a brief encounter and I doubt whether we have ever spoken since, such were our different career pathways. However, I enjoy her insights – and sometimes I agree with her, for what it is worth.

The charred Letter

In a slightly different mode, after the 1974 election I went to Snedden and said that the Liberal Party should have a Tasmanian strategy, since all the five House of Representatives seats were held by Labor, but were very winnable given that the number of electors is relatively small and local issues dominate. Labor was vulnerable if Whitlam’s lack of empathy for Tasmania could be countered. In fact, Lance Barnard being Whitlam’s deputy and a Tasmanian gave a certain sheen to Whitlam in the eyes of Tasmanians.

When Barnard retired from the seat of Bass not long after Fraser replaced Snedden, little or no credence was given to Snedden’s campaign to highlight that being distinct from the Whitlam haughtiness, Snedden cared for Tasmanian problems. There was even a shadow ministerial portfolio which Snedden gave to Bob Ellicott. It was pure populist politics.

As history showed, a retired army officer called Kevin Newman, well connected by marrying into a northern Tasmanian establishment family, won in a landslide. Many of the sage journalists identified it as a turning point in the eventual electoral demolition of Whitlam.

That is the background to this response the office received after letters seeking their priorities were sent to each of the Councils in Tasmania, which in those days numbered 79. This meant that some of the municipalities were formed when the populations of some was far greater than now.

Ruins of hotel, Linda Valley, Gormanston

I was reminded of one response when driving through Gormanston on the shoulder between Mount Lyell and Mount Owen before the Murchison highway plunges down to Queenstown. Where once copper miners lived near the mine the municipality no longer exists. Now almost a ghost town, but back in 1974, it was a separate municipality. Many replies to the letters were received, but about six months after, a reply was received from the Warden of Gormanston apologising for the lateness, but the Council offices had been burnt down. The letter was written on decent note paper, but it confirmed the Warden’s excuse. The edges of the letter were severely charred.

Snow Gums

Some years ago, we were driving around Tierra del Fuego and on a bare hill there were these blanched fallen tree trunks, resembling the bones of long lost creatures. When I asked about them, my guide said that there had been a great fire about 50 years before, and in the harsh conditions of the island, trees had never grown back.

Snow gums after bushfire

I remember a few years after a bushfire at Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps, had destroyed a great number of snow gums. They were whitened reminders among a blackened landscape slowly recovering. However, snow gums take 50 years to grow again, and before the fire there had been a huge stand of these beautiful trees. Now there are bleached reminders of nature’s revenge.

Near Mt Arrowsmith on the Tasmanian West Coast snow gums abound. They have one of most beautiful trunks of any of the eucalypts, along with leopard gums and salmon gums, not to mention the ghost gums of Central Australia. The trunks have dove grey and fawn markings against an essentially creamy white trunk. Bark is added decoration, lightly suspended from some the trunks, for snow gums are the contortionists of the eucalypt world, tossing themselves into bizarre shapes, but always maintaining their delicate beauty.

The road near Mount Arrowsmith is where the Murchison Highway is liable to be closed by snowfalls in winter, and it is here that a bushfire has left its signature. The bush has been reduced to a picket of black sticks where the only regeneration is blackberry bushes and bracken. It showed how long it had been since we had travelled the road from Hobart. Normally, we come down to the West Coast from Devonport – at least before COVID-19 closed off Tasmania. It showed how long it had been since we had driven from the south, because Hobart is further away than the northern Tasmanian cities.

I always believed that the West Coast of Tasmania was immune from bushfires because of its high rainfall, but in January 2016 there were multiple storms without much rain, but with a large number of lightning strikes which resulted in the West Coast burning in patches. Most the fires were concentrated in the northwest corner, but 1.2 per cent of the wilderness area was burnt. My belief that rainforest and moss lands would contain such a fire was disabused by the findings of an Inquiry. When the weather was dry, and today as I write this the temperature is 32oC in Strahan, then “all bets are off”. The West Coast of Tasmania will burn.

It is a wake-up call, especially as trading off an irreplaceable flora against a lean-to shed built by someone secretly growing marijuana and which can – and probably will – be easily rebuilt seems to be a no brainer.  Those entrusted with fire control need to make decisions based on the greater good – saving endangered irreplaceable flora makes a lot more sense than sacrificing it to save a couple of sheds.

Here in the south-west of Tasmania preservation of the environment is paramount. The human population is small, but if the wilderness was destroyed in a bushfire, it does not have the ability to regenerate quickly – if at all. The indigenous pines grow slowly – that is why when you look at a fully grown Huon Pine, or King Billy Pine you are looking back at a thousand years; some romantics say that the forests are little changed from when dinosaurs walked.

Gorse invades the West Coast of Tasmania

There are different priorities, because it is not only lightning strikes and man-made hazard reduction that can destroy the irreplaceable but also the disgraceful lack of attention that the Tasmanian government pays to the invasion of blackberry, bracken and particularly gorse, all together already creating a monument to West Coast neglect. A northern hemisphere native, gorse is a noxious weed here and a major fire hazard.

Look at the scene in the South-West four years after the fire. Just forgotten. It could be the harbinger of things to come.

Reflections on Matthias

Matthias Cormann is on the road again, metaphorically speaking. One of the pursuits which engages those trivia-centred people is to name five famous Belgians; and then for the master class five famous Walloons and five famous Flems. Matthias is neither of these. He was born of working class parents in the sliver of the country bordering Germany, which is naturally German speaking. Here the border has moved between the two countries depending on the political situation. He lived very close to the German border and his obvious affinity for Germany rather than the country of his birth is shown by his middle order award in 2018 from the German government for advancement of relations between Australia and Germany.

Cormann studied law and learnt Flemish at the first and French at the second university. He then went on an exchange Erasmus scholarship to Norwich, in the course of which he learnt English – all before he was 24 years of age. All that is on public record, together with his pursuit of a young woman to Perth.

Rejected, he went back to Belgium, but the second coming was very soon after. It seems an impetuous action, but then he was only 25. His quick eye obviously saw better opportunities in Western Australia rather than the country of his birth. Whether, as a member of small minority in a country riven by tribal strife where, in the job market, these tribal allegiances are translated into patronage, from which he was excluded, one can only speculate. However, if he is a serious contender for the OECD job, you can be assured there will be a rake going through the reasons for his flight from Belgium.

His adeptness at negotiating the political shoals in Australian politics were probably helped by a deferential mien which, as he rose up through the ranks, was retained as a courteous demeanour of appearing to listen. Perhaps having a very good grasp of where he was going and where he resides on the ladder of political influence was equally important.

He has no ideology; and that helps when some of your colleagues show moronic shrillness. However, his accent has been a useful weapon, when in others it could have been scorned. The accent is like a blade of steel – it gives him authority, even when he has blathered on and on, not answering questions as is his irritating wont.

Now he is trying his array of tricks on the world stage. Whether he survives the first cull is problematical given the Prime Ministerial aroma on this stage. Being a political chimney sweep covered in coal dust is not the image for selection for the OECD position. If Cormann presents a green visage to the members of the OECD, he needs to measure that against his welcome back into Australia, where his backers essentially have been the mining business community. Even a modern-day Metternich has limits to dissemblage.

However, what he may be angling for is the Australian ambassadorship to the OECD. The current incumbent could easily be recalled and there would be Matthias, like Banquo’s ghost, to haunt the new boss of the OECD – and incidentally polish his credentials on the world stage. Just a possibility. 

Mouse Whisper

Kristi Noem sounds like the name of a Christmas elf or a doughnut; but she is in fact the Governor of South Dakota.

She was recently in Casa Blanca, where she was surprised by her bruised hero, Heel Spur. She did not have time to express her adoration before he looked at her contemptously and turning to the pianist snarled: “You played it for her. You can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can. Play it, Uncle Sam!”

Uncle Sam commenced playing, wistfully singing “You must dismember this…”

Tears formed in her eyes, “Oh, Heel, you know we’ll always have Pierre.”

Pierre, capital of South Dakota

 

Modest Expectations – Telephone Pole on Ardmona

Fillet of a fenny snake;
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

I must be living in a parallel universe.  Nobody has commented how much like Wonderland it all is. Illness with Trump becomes a circus act.

Two lines of people in white coats troop down the stairs of the Walter Reed Hospital. In my many years I have never seen doctors emerge from a hospital as if they are members of a marching band who have forgotten their high stepping band major twirling a baton.

At that stage, I wondered who was looking after the President – he was conducting a photo-op to convince everybody he was working; yet he looked ill. So, I presume the crew of that little masterpiece he was filming were physicians who doubled as camera crew.

Then he is out on the streets, denying every protocol relating to the Virus, bar one, he appeared to have his lower face covered. But he is a bag of contagion, for God’s sake.  He is being driven by men in masks and white coats, but the strait jacket is nowhere to be seen.

Back in the hospital, he has a tantrum. “I wanna go home” is the insistent refrain. Back at the White House, it is plain that he is short of breath, struggling to maintain his posture. Next frame in this farce: Trump has seized the narrative from his medical staff and is now reporting his own condition. The cameras do not switch to the White House lawns to show his staff playing croquet with flamingos as mallets with Virus balls.

The head of Trump’s medical retinue is an osteopath. Sure he was titled an emergency physician, but what does that mean in the term of this guy’s experience? He demonstrated a level of inexperience, which could be attributed to nervousness or incompetence.  As has been observed, “There are innumerable examples of sycophants rising to a level of incompetence where they are finally ‘revealed’. When that happens, the kissing up no longer matters – now reality demands competence.”

The question remains: what does his osteopath know about infectious diseases? Not much.

The President is being given a weird concoction of drugs, and one of the ironies is that if this unpredictable infant negotiates the illness, then the cult worship will intensify.

Is Trump taking a calculated risk in leaving hospital and returning to the White Burrow, whilst ensuring a screen of twitters? Or have the hinges completely come away from the door?

Zigzagging all across the landscape, he knows that the media are fascinated by his serpentine movements. The media is the helpless rodent in front of the snake, mesmerised by these movements.  Perhaps more the Komodo dragon rather than snake, given that saliva is the medium for contagion, and that saliva is an ooze coating his White Burrow. So beware the Kiss of the Komodo, Ivanka.

But then young Komodos climb trees to get away from the cannibalistic adult Komodo – they, like Donald, are too heavy to climb trees.

And as a postscript question to the hapless Dr Conley, can the King Komodo still smell the hamburger and chips he is gobbling?  Or would that be too much like being a clinician to answer that? 

A future President of the USA writes to the incumbent…

It is ostensibly January 31, 1829. Martin Van Buren picks up his quill in New York and writes to President Jackson. He is alarmed. 

“The canal system of this country is being threatened by the spread of a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’. The federal government must preserve the canals for the following reasons:

One. If canal boats are supplanted by ‘railroads’, serious unemployment will result. Captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen and lock tenders will be left without means of livelihood, not to mention the numerous farmers now employed in growing hay for the horses.

Two. Boat builders would suffer, and towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.

Three. Canal boats are absolutely essential to the defense of the United States. In the event of the expected trouble with England, the Erie Canal would be the only means by which we could ever move the supplies so vital to waging modern war.

As you may well know, Mr. President,’railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour by ‘engines’ which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”

The problem with the letter was that it was a (in Trumpian Capitals) HOAX. Jackson had yet to be sworn in when the letter was purportedly written and no original of this letter has ever been found. Yet this example of absurdly protectionist fears, written in such a manner that it would be greeted by outrage and derision, is still given currency.  I remember hearing about the supposed letter when I was a teenager. It had been shown to me in all seriousness. I was duped. This hoax letter is still doing the rounds. How many are still duped?

I wonder whether any of the Trump sputacchiere will have currency in 200 years from now. But then, as those reading about the climate hoax on the parchment of the Murdoch past, it just may be a remnant of civilisation living in a world resembling the remains of a Texan barbecue in an ocean of blue-green algae learning to love aloes, hemlock and bitter melon by then.

An Australian Centre for Disease Control Thought Bubble

A mate of mine received this ALP splurge from the Shadow Minister of Health Bowen.

Australia went into COVID-19 unprepared. We are the only OECD country without a Centre for Disease Control. Our nation went into the coronavirus pandemic with less than one mask for every Australian in the National Medical Stockpile, an overreliance on global supply chains, and badly stretched aged and health care systems.

Future pandemics are a certainty and we can’t be left playing catch-up again. We can’t afford another Ruby Princess, or another tragic disaster in aged care. Our health, our lives and our economy depend on us getting our response to future pandemics right.

That’s why this morning, Anthony Albanese and I announced that, if elected, a future Labor Government will strengthen Australia’s response to future pandemics by establishing an Australian Centre for Disease Control.

Establishing an Australian Centre for Disease Control would mean that Australia will be better prepared to avoid the mistakes we’ve seen from this government so far.

This is one of the most contestable announcements that has emerged from the Opposition. I always remember one Government staffer deriding Opposition policies as “Policy by Penguin Book”. In other words, somebody thinks he has a bright idea, and then reads stuff which supports his claim without discussing it with anyone with experience for confirmation of the assertions.

What the ALP are advocating is that Australia centralise the public health to one centre, as the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA which, over the years because of good leadership up until Trump interfered with its succession planning, enabled its high academic reputation to be maintained. Now the CDC lies wounded, maybe mortally. There is no back up.

The media release says Australia went into the COVID-19 pandemic unprepared. Yet theoretically perched on a board of an international organisation dedicated to epidemic preparedness was a former head of the Federal Department of Health. This person watched while a number of abortive epidemics denoted by colourful acronyms rolled across our country.

What did she do not only heading Health but also then Finance? Emulated Sir Humphrey, if her performance on the “4 Corners” program was any guide. The “4 Corners” program seemingly was supposed to remind everybody of her grasp of the subject but instead showed how content-free she actually is.

There was no significant increase in the funding for public health under her stewardship and, at the end of her reign as the Government might have said, “we were shovel-ready to cop the Virus”.

However not to be diverted, back to the ALP announcement. Nothing wrong with that first sentence! This writer plunges on.

However, how are the OECD countries travelling? The media release says that Australia is the only OECD country out of 36 members without a Centre for Disease Control. That is a stretch. I am unaware of New Zealand having such a centre. USA with its CDC has 7.3 million COVID-19 cases, whereas the Australian total without a CDC is 27,200 and New Zealand 1,858. How does the author regard the use of the particular statistic to bolster his case for an Australian CDC?

Then the non-sequiter in the release – “few masks, an over-reliance of supply chains and a vulnerable aged care sector”. So? That is not a responsibility of a CDC.

The success of the Australian health system, despite being starved of funds for public health over the past 20 years, coinciding as it did with the Halton stewardship, was that NSW had set up a decentralised contact tracing system in the early 1990s as part of a generalised devolution of public health responsibility regionally. Hence in NSW, disasters in nursing homes and the Ruby Princess were resolved, messily but nevertheless resolved without huge numbers of cases and deaths compared to the later Victorian experience.

Even though I advocated that in NSW heads should roll because of these disasters, the basic strength of the public health system saved them. The Premier has never fully acknowledged the authors of that program – and it was certainly not Dr Chant, as she has herself acknowledged.

The Parkville Precinct

Victoria on the other hand never had an organised public health system, and the reason was that public health funding, beyond the training programs, was sacrificed on the altar of Parkville aggrandisement.

The result was that Victoria was completely ill-prepared to be able to handle the contact tracing requirements of this epidemic. What has saved Victoria is not some esoteric centre in Canberra, but a realisation by Andrews and some of the public health specialists that something had to be done to save the situation. Let’s face it – he closed down Victoria to allow the public health system to be upgraded and a de facto regional approach created.

By shutting Victoria down he enabled the street fighting with the virus to be undertaken with minimum street casualties, and the hand-to-hand combat in nursing homes where the Virus had sheltered to be contained and then has been steadily rooting it out, even though innocent people unfortunately have been caught in the “crossfire” without any protection.

A regionalised public health system has many heads and, unlike in America where CDC relevance and responsibility has been decapitated, thus is harder to destroy.

Ergo, mark for Master Bowen: D-…  A poorly thought-out essay.  Please resubmit after getting advice from somebody who knows.

Appointment with a Telegraph Pole

I was badly injured. Yet as the car which I had been driving a few minutes previously was being incinerated, I found myself laughing. I had got out of the car. I remember releasing my seatbelt and opening the door. Now I was watching the car – a rented Holden Calais burning. In the distance but coming closer I could hear bells ringing.

Charon and the River Styx

Then blank. The next picture imprinted on my memory was of opening my eyes and looking upwards into a hairy face. I did not care, if this was introduction to a hirsute Hell then so be it.

Then I heard my name being called – distant but distinct. Since I was not wearing glasses as I usually did, I had to focus. No, it was not the representative from Hades customs seeing if I was bringing anything illegal to burn, but my cousin’s son Owen.

My cousin, Margaret, and her husband Bill, lived in Shepparton at the time, and that evening I had intended to go to her 50th birthday party there. Bill was the city engineer at the time. Owen had a sister, Jill, who I do not remember playing any role in the drama.

It had been an ordinary Saturday, and I had had an uproarious lunch, with a few drinks. I assessed myself able to drive the three hours to Shepparton. The problem being June, the weather was foul, but I arrived in Shepparton at about five o’clock in the evening. Given that the party was not going to start until after eight, instead of going to the motel, I decided to go and see another mate who had a parish in a nearby town. No matter that this was the eve of the shortest day of the year and the sun had set. The rain had come again.

I did not get far, and fleetingly remembered the car aquaplaning and sliding off the road up a narrow muddy pathway.

So much for any more festivities.

Then blackness before the image of fumbling for the door handle.

Having got out of the car, I could not walk for two weeks. While I had considerable soft tissue damage, the only fracture was a rib broken by the seatbelt as I went from 100 kph to zero in a second or so.

It took me a long time to recover so I could return to work. I needed plastic surgery on my face, where my chin had imploded on the steering wheel. Fortunately, that was skilfully done, but then if you need plastic surgery for disfigurement rather than vanity, Melbourne has traditionally been the best place in Australia. So I was fortunate in more ways than one.

Now 40 years later I have extensive osteoarthritis in spine, knees and shoulders. That is the price of the impact. It is unsurprising that until I developed an autoimmune disease related to the arthritis, I coped. In the years after the accident I competed in many misnamed “fun runs”, and while finishing in the ruck, it convinced me that I had enough mobility to do so.

That I have described elsewhere.

There was one major change that I noticed about six months after the accident, but have I never talked much about it.  Probably because it is so subjective. As background, I had extensive head injuries, and the area between skull surface and the thin muscle layer, the galeal aponeurosis, was a lake of blood. This fluctuant spongy mass stayed for several weeks, but I did not have any intracranial bleeding.

I went back to work. The Italians call it garbo – it is an untranslatable Italian word, but it is the way I was treated – trying to suggest I had come back prematurely but not telling me directly; garbo. Courteous pitying, you might translate it.

My insight was such that I was oblivious to hints for a longer time in convalescence. I was never sat down by my peers and specifically challenged – and even if I had been there is always someone prepared to make allowances, and in split decisions, the benefit of the doubt generally prevails. I presume that occurred in my case, and I solved the problem by being perceived as eventually returning to “normal”.

Yet there was one  change in my personality that, unless you had followed me as a boy, adolescent and young man, you may have missed.  Before the accident, I had been prone to periods of dark depression; yet not despairing enough to be suicidal.

After that head injury, I have never again had these episodes of deep depression. At that time, there was not the same attention being paid to head injury – particularly on the sporting field.

Yet there is now an increasing reportage of traumatic injury of combat, although it has been around since Cain punched Abel.

Having mental infirmity was just a hidden phenomenon, and in an era of “stiff upper lips” as the shorthand for not showing any weakness, you did not talk about mental frailty. If you were laid out, you shook your head, got back on your feet and went back into the fray. There was never any talk about head injury, unless there was obvious loss of function.

In my case, whatever happened to my brain circuits in the crash, I emerged with a change of which I gradually became aware. I was able to cope better with setbacks. The dark moods were largely gone. Had the accident changed my circuitry? The obvious answer subjectively was “yes”. However, there was no one able to judge whether I had changed.

I am not advocating for people to improve their lot by banging their heads against walls, but what I am saying is traumatic injury is very much a lottery, and never should be ignored. Concussion is one thing, but is important in having someone who is able to detect any long-term change from head trauma, especially repeated. The problem is it takes time (and in this world who has the time or the level of care) to stop the episode ending up as a death against a telephone pole on a country road in the middle of a tempest. Some survive; some do not.

Putting Meaning into ExHume

Conditions not complied with or enforced (currently under review). State government approval conditions require 80% of ‘reservoir gas’ emissions (3.4-4 million tonnes each year) from the Gorgon facility to be captured and pumped underground (geosequestration or CCS) delivering a 40% reduction in the project’s total emissions.

Chevron received $60m in federal funding for the geosequestration project. It announced geosequestration had begun on August 8th, 2019, more than two years after production commenced. Delays were due to ‘ongoing technical problems’ and Chevron has also been accused of deliberately mismanaging the geosequestration project. No penalties were imposed by the WA government for emissions not sequestered over this period, and alternative offsets were not provided by Chevron despite State conditions requiring them in the event the geosequestration is not successful.

A review is currently underway by the WA Environmental Protection Authority to examine and clarify the intended start-date for the geosequestration condition at the request of the WA Minister for the Environment. There is no federal requirement for sequestration ….

Chevron geosequestration project

Australia has had a Carbon Capture and Storage Development Fund since 2009. These carbon technologies are supposed to trap the carbon dioxide produced by factories or fossil fuel power plants before they are emitted into the atmosphere where they contribute to global heating.

Once trapped, the greenhouse gas can then be piped into permanent underground storage facilities or sold to buyers who can use the carbon to manufacture plastics, boost greenhouse crops and as one boosting media release said even “help make fizzy drinks”.

As one insider has written, when the Australian fund was established for carbon capture in 2009, crude oil prices were just recovering from a sharp but very brief decline. Then Chevron decided on the final investment decision (FID) for Gorgon. The world was awash in natural gas then as it is now. Chevron made a decision on a projected $30bn LNG facility with a cost model in which high hydrocarbon prices would bail them out.

The cost overruns made Gorgon the most expensive LNG facility per unit cost ever of more than $50bn and the raw gas stream from the field already contains 15% CO2.

Today, carbon capture (CCUS) facilities around the world are capturing more than 35 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Apparently that is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of Ireland, whatever relevance that may be. Recent announcements and commitments have the potential to more than double current global CO2 capture capacity. But the International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which charts a path towards achieving the world’s stated climate ambitions, calls for a 20-fold increase in annual CO2 capture rates from power and industrial facilities in the next decade.

Most activity seems to be taking place in Norway and the adjoining fields in the North Sea. Norway built the first large scale carbon-capture project at the Sleipner gas field in 1996, and since has been storing nearly 1 million metric tons of CO2 each year.

Against the above estimated optimal requirements, that seems small, and Norway is where carbon capture is reckoned to be the most advanced. The current situation is a long way away from the ideal, and despite government investment in the technology,

For someone trying to find out what is going on, the area is full of obfuscation. The quote from the WA Conservation Council at the head of this blog segment has not been denied. The problem is that Government uses “carbon capture” in its recent policy announcement as though it is being shown to be a settled solution. There is one facility in Australia where carbon capture is supposed to work. It is a long way away from scrutiny – the Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island in the middle of a nature reserve.

At least one matter is to be settled and that is that this natural gas field contributes more carbon pollution than any other facility in Australia.  In addition, the fate of the Gorgon CCUS plant has been racked with problems and even now it is not fully operational while the parent Chevron facility spews out pollution.

So there is a price. Now if the technology is going somewhere, fine, but if it is just a disguised handout to help a business mate or mates, then it should classify as assisting new technologies

It is difficult to work out how much has been wasted as distinct from being spent wisely. The Morrison government has indicated it will contribute another $50 million into carbon capture and storage technology, following more than $1 billion in taxpayer subsidies and investment from the fossil fuel sector since the early 2000s. Teasing out how much has been contributed by either sector may provide a different figure but in the end, we mug punters foot the bill. For what?

Back in Canberra, there is a major structural problem in policy direction, and that is the country is run by a public relations man. He is spin, not substance. It has been an unfortunate trait in Australia in recent times that major political roles have been filled by people of his ilk – journalists – more interested in feeding the news cycle than doing anything to improve the lives of Australians and more generally the world.

NSW suffered from Carr; South Austalia from Rann and Australia, Abbott – although the Abbott is more an aberration and thus harder to classify as a giornalista. Wistfully we may look back when journalists who became Prime Ministers were men of substance – John Curtin and Alfred Deakin.

Added to this mix is Minister Angus Taylor who leaves a dubious trail of politics mixed with self-interest rather than any real commitment to what is one of the greatest challenges – climate change. Frankly, he is not up to the challenge. That is why I suggest that the Minister, the member of Hume should exit, lending himself to a slogan – Taylor to ExHume. In fact, he should be dismissed – no longer be in any equation.

If carbon capture was the only energy boondoggle, perhaps I would be less vehement…but it is not!

I worry about a country where policy is predicated on being generous to your mates. Still, there is always a day of reckoning.

Finally, a pertinent comment from an insider made in relation to those executives in the oil and gas industry, who form a Praetorian Guard of Mates around the Prime Minister:

“They are stuck in their ways, which worked for the past decades and made them and their shareholders very rich. Now they can’t do anything else.

According to API the average age of an employee in the oil and gas industry is 51 years, only surpassed by the average age of employees in funeral homes. The average age of the managers and decision makers in the industry is even higher. 

Right there lies the problem, in plain sight for everyone to see. The decision makers in O&G are all solid, hard-working and amply educated individuals. Sternly conservative due to a lifelong paradigm of analogous thinking such as ‘proven design’ in this once wonderful adventurous industry.”

In ten years, the current lot will mostly be dead, dripping with honours and never having to pay the price they may have inflicted. So shall I be, but is not going to deter me from encouraging Australia to sleep only when the moon is no longer red with pollution.

Mouse Whisper

The Lewis chessmen are about my size. I sat in the back stalls watching a program on this extraordinary cache of figurines, which was a Viking hoard found in the sand dunes of the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis in 1831. Most of the 93 artifacts are in the British or Scottish National Museums. When the hoard was deposited, the Outer Hebrides were colonised by Norwegian Vikings.

The figurine which attracted my attention was one of a Bishop, with his right hand administering benediction. With the thumb opened, in the early church, the three open digits came to represent the Trinity (The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), while the two closed digits represented the dual nature of Christ as both man and God.

However, the Bishop’s hand in one of the figurines resembled Duputyrens contracture, which is a disease predominantly of the palmar fascia, the connective tissue beneath the skin which, as it thickens, pulls the fingers into a flexed position. The disease generally affects the little and ring fingers first.

Further, it is a disease which originated in the Vikings, it is a disease which affects males and is associated – among other things – with a love of alcoholic beverages.

Just an observation, but an interesting one?

Modest Expectations – Time Passages

I was given the latest biography of Governor Macquarie last year for my birthday. Of the cast of so-called British invaders, Arthur Philip and Lachlan Macquarie have stood out for their positive effect on the early colonial settlement.

Both men stood above the graft and corruption of a community of rogues that sat round the rum barrel and who had already destroyed one Governor in Bligh.

I named the Oration that the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM) holds annually after William Redfern, who Macquarie recognised for his skills in health, although he had arrived in Sydney as a convict. Again, Macquarie promoted Francis Greenway, the convict architect – one of his early assignments was to supervise the renovation of the dilapidated Sydney Hospital.

Governor Macquarie, especially in his early years, was both energetic and innovative. Unsurprisingly the then Sydney establishment, having destroyed his predecessor, progressively undermined him using tactics that have persisted until the present day.

Remember, the Tall Poppy syndrome had its genesis in the early NSW colony.

Macquarie was not particularly well in 1820 near the end of his Governorship when he entertained the Russian mariners, who turned up in Sydney for repairs and replenishment after sailing in the Antarctic.

Von Bellinghausen’s Vostok

The two Russian ships, the Vostok and Mirinyi were under the command of Captain Thaddeus von Bellinghausen, one the greatest Russian explorers. He had served in both the Russian and British Navy, which suggests that he was at least competent in English. He had circumnavigated the world between 1803 and 1806. When he berthed his ships in Sydney in mid-1820 he and his crew were then partially through circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent. His expedition has been described as “one of the greatest Antarctic expeditions on record, well worthy of being placed beside that of Cook.

There is no record of the consumption of vodka, rum and Scotch but Macquarie’s hospitality was not mirrored when a Russian ship, Amerika visited in both 1832 and 1835. The press reports reflected the fear of a Russian invasion, which was heightened later during the Crimean War.

And in the latter part of the century when the Russians visited again in 1882, the Melbourne Age editor, David Syme, was duped into believing that Britain and Russia were about to go to war when there were three Russian warships in Port Philip Bay, and their commander Admiral Aslangegoff was ensconced in the Menzies Hotel.

It is reported that the Admiral rebuffed all invitations, even though in Melbourne there was an honorary Russian consul, James Damyon who, judging by his mansion in Glenferrie, probably could have accommodated the Admiral. Melbourne, then extremely wealthy, certainly had its moments. The suggestion of an imminent war was refuted from London and the whole episode was found to be a hoax.

Australia escaped what occurred in Africa, where the European nations subdivided the Continent during the nineteenth century – at great cost to the indigenous people. This had been happening earlier with Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British colonial invasions, but in the nineteenth century they were joined by French, German, Belgian and finally Italian interests. Even the Danish had briefly ventured into Africa and hence there was a land grab of massive proportions with subjugation and dispossession of the indigenous people.

Our continent remained a British settlement even though there were many European nations plus the Americans and later the Japanese roaming around the Pacific looking for plots of land on which to plant a flag.

Broome Cemetery

Yet around Broome, there are Aboriginal people with Japanese names; in Darwin Chinese names, but most Aboriginal people have a white fella name indicating some European ancestry. I have West Coast Irish ancestry, but my name is that of the British invaders into Ireland. I suppose we could go about rejecting these names, and I don’t know whether any of the Premier of Queensland’s ancestors were on any of the Russian ships. At some time, we are all invaders with different reasons – it is what makes up that mess which is Us.

The point is that Australia escaped being hacked about by European countries. It is not inconceivable that the Dutch could have colonised the West; the French Tasmania, and, given the evidence of the stranded Mahogany ship, the Portuguese in Western Victoria.

Therefore, Australia was left to the British, and those crucial years in the late 18th century were lost to other potential colonisers. That homogeneous colonisation assisted us becoming a nation.

Yet in 2020 this minuscular coronavirus has enabled those populist chancers who control some of their States, who seem to view their fellow Australians from other States as contagion, full rein to destroy the integrity of the country.

I have lived in the majority of States. I accept what Daniel Andrews has done with Victoria; I understand why the NSW Premier has acted as she has done with the NSW Border with Victoria – both Andrews and Berejiklian are reasonable people – however reasonable is not perfection. But the others – what a bunch of chancers, so far out their depth that they think that they are walking on water when they are in fact drowning.

The most depressing sight is that of Morrison changing the pillowslips when the whole structure of Australia is quaking from the foundations upward and threatening to disintegrate.

A Hundred Kilometres South of Louth

This happened when we were driving a clapped-out rental car back from Adelaide to Sydney and somehow we had strayed onto the road along the Darling River from Wilcannia to Bourke. It was a beautiful day, and we decided to go a different way home.

There are a couple of watering spots on the way to Bourke. Tilpa (population three) with a war memorial to Breaker Morant is one. The pub at Tilpa is a corrugated iron shed with a veranda. When we arrived that day, it was rocking and rolling with pig shooters. The noise could be heard from across the road, where we parked the car.

Tilpa Pub

We were thirsty – so I walked into the bar. As soon as I put my foot on the bar floor, all eyes turned towards me and everybody stopped talking. Eyes and silence followed me to the bar. I resisted asking for two chardonnays, and asked for two schooners of light beer.

“Cans do?” the barman broke the silence.

“Yep.”

I put a ten dollar note on the bar, and said “Keep the change.’

“Not enough.”

I added another ten dollar note, picked up the cans, and weaved my way out of the bar. The ripple of disdain was noticeable from some of those who looked me up and down. There was barely any movement to make a path for me. Once I was out of the bar, the noise resumed. I had given them a butt for their collective feeling of superiority. Cans of light. “Girlie” beer! What would you expect from a joker like that!

This silence is also found in Ireland. Walk into a bar in a rural pub there, and you learn the sound of silence. Make sure that there are enough distracted locals in the bar- otherwise you may find yourself in a conversation.

Xenophobia can only go so far, but as you’ll find out it does need a throng to flourish.

However, there was a rock at Tilpa, which seemed to mark the junction of two tracks. It was a bit heavy, but we wrestled it into the car boot. It now lies in the front garden at home, a reminder of Tilpa, a large sandstone not alone but surrounded in the garden by rocks from around the world. These rocks remind us of where we have travelled. Tilpa, the rock, seems happy here. No xenophobia between the rocks and not forgetting the neighbourly Russian sage growing in the crevices.

Spotlight on the Gig Economy

The gig economy gets its name from each piece of work being akin to an individual ‘gig’ – well so they say.

I remember a gig as a little seat between two very large wheels being drawn by Dobbin. The gig is also has been quoted as a deprecatory term for a “flighty girl” and subsequently indicated anything, which whirls, or is dangerous or unpredictable. The horse-drawn gig always suggests instability, but one got a good view.

Therefore, when I was whirling around in part-time work to keep myself financially alive, I participated in what was the gig economy without it being named as such. As I mentioned once before, I rode the back of a security van with a loaded pistol in my pocket and no idea how to use it. Up front were a couple of firemen earning a few quid on their days off. They were the blokes who actually carried the payroll. For my part, squashed among the payroll tins, I never worked out whether my employment was recorded – probably not but I did use my real name.

However, that was not my most interesting gig. I was asked whether I would like to run one of the spotlights at the Water Follies, an American outfit, which came to Australia in the summer over a number of years. They performed on the Kooyong Tennis Centre Court.

First, I had to learn to operate the spotlights. The spotlight was formed by the carbon cathode and anode sparking and burning at some extraordinary temperature inside a metal box into which a window was inserted so you see the two carbon electrodes. This was important because the worst thing possible was for the anode to burn out before intermission. So there was an optimal distance between the two carbon electrodes, a knack that had to be learned, as was making sure that the spotlight was a circle. Also, I could not compromise the integrity of the circle of light by allowing the electrode shadows to intrude into it. That was also a knack, and if that was not mastered then I would not be given more work.

The divers

The spotlight had various coloured filters and a shutter to block out the light. This was used when the spotlights had to be doused when the Water Follies’ divers were doing their routines and when they mucked up, the spotlight workers were blamed by the announcer for dazzling the divers. For the first time I learnt that truth can be alternative reality. Our spotlights were always shuttered during the diving segment.

Everything was manual, and during the intermission I had to replace the anode and given the heat being generated I needed gloves and a tool to remove and replace the anode. My employer did not provide any. Thus, I used heavy gardening gloves and long nosed pliers from the family toolbox.

The other thing I learnt on my first night was how far I had to trudge up the stands and how far the drop was behind my seat next to the spotlight. In those days, thank God, heights did not worry me.

How did I learn the trade? On the job. I worked around the spotlights in the Princess Theatre and I estimate that, as a side benefit, if you call it that, I saw “Kismet” 32 times. Yet I never tired of hearing Hayes Gordon singing “A fool sat beneath an Olive Tree…” Later I could have added or “perched above the Centre Court at Kooyong when the wind was blowing and I had forgotten my sweater”.

Hayes Gordon, the “Kismet” lead, was of that genre of baritones who always appear larger than life. Even though he had been proscribed and hence virtually exiled from his home USA by McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) he never lost his genial front and the twinkle in his eye – great memories of him. He would have been 100 this year.

There was definitely one benefit of the job. The Kooyong railway station near the Courts was on my train line – eight stations from home. That was very useful because in those days very few of us had cars. 

If it has e- before the technology, it must be e-good?

Sooner or later, the trials of e-scooters will end and a decision will be made. Not all hyped technologies succeed: the much-vaunted Segway is ceasing production.

The same fate probably awaits some of the many electric personal transport devices on sale.

In the meantime, it may well be battles over policy that matter most. Pavements, cycle lanes and roads are ‘all up for grabs’ as streets are reshaped in the post-lockdown world.

Whether e-scooters and other small electric vehicles are allowed to share this planned cycling infrastructure could be pivotal. Scooter companies want it. Others aren’t so sure.

When I read this, I was incredulous. Weren’t these vehicles toys? But then I do remember when Segways were being spruiked from 2002 onwards as an answer to negotiating the traffic. Now production ceasing, the company has switched to making electric scooters.

What I find interesting about the rise in electric car manufacture is a concomitant rise in concern for the waste produced by this technology and how to remove it safely without further polluting the environment.

After all, previous transport technology never factored in the pollution and waste. Even with the horse, the streets were covered in excrement. In addition to its look and smell, it was one the major sources for tetanus bacteria. The best example of what it must have been like is around Central Park in New York where the horse-drawn carriages congregate.

The other technologies – whether it be the steam engine of the locomotive or the internal combustion engines of cars and trucks or the jet engines scarring the troposphere where most of the carbon dioxide is lodged – have waste products that have belatedly not only been recognised but also been the subject of investigation into its removal.

For instance, it took 80 years before lead was removed from petrol in Australia, even though the toxicity of lead was well-known.

I do not pretend to know much about the technology that is driving the cost and efficiency improvements in electric car manufacture. However, it seems clear that electric cars are set to replace the older technologies. The time scale will be driven by concerns over climate change and the need to travel – and the economics

Somewhat encouraging is that unlike previous technologies, concern is being shown over what you do with the pollution and waste left until well after the actual technology was developed.

The metallurgical aspects of battery technology are driven by the availability of the vital metals. In this case all roads lead to China, with its near monopoly on rare-earth production.

The commonly-mentioned elements are cobalt, lithium and nickel. Most of the cobalt comes from the laughingly described Democratic Republic of Congo under hideous artisanal conditions employing child labour. Costs of extraction are low but pollution high. Most of the big cobalt mines are owned by the Chinese and the biggest refiner of cobalt is China. The car manufacturers realise this and with an eye to the consumer, other more ethical sources of cobalt are being investigated. For instance, BMW has been negotiating with Australian producers. While Australia’s supplies of cobalt are dwarfed by the Congo’s reserves, they are nevertheless substantial.

Lithium is mentioned as an essential metal in electric vehicle batteries but the use and improvement in the use of lithium is dependent on consistent supplies of cobalt. Other metals, palladium and nickel, are mentioned in the production of these batteries, but always there is the mention of the rare earths – 17 elements which are classified as lanthanides. Here China clearly dominates, and which of the rare earths is preferred in electric car batteries is kept as secret as KFC’s “secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices”.

Coal and petroleum were single substances – easily identified and subject to sub-classification. Uncomplicated; even our future Prime Minister was able to identify coal for all his Parliamentary colleagues. However, he might struggle to distinguish an ingot of samarium from one of terbium, if these are relevant. He could be excused because the battery producers do not publicly identify any particular rare earth.

The production of the electric car battery which will enable the electric car to travel from Sydney to Perth, averaging a little below the speed limit and yet not weighing the equivalent of a Leopard tank, with perhaps only a need to charge the battery every 1,000 kilometres (the newest batteries guarantee 800 kilometres), is very tempting – even for Mr Musk. The distribution of charging stations is vital, and their placement will require much tactical thought.

Since the nature of the battery and the interdependence between metals means that the cost and pollutant side-effects need to be factored in, the question of what to do with waste, not only of the metal ore production but also of waste disposal, looms large. It is being suggested that, given the scarcity of some of these metals, there will be a strong incentive for recycling – pyrometallurgy being one such means, good for cobalt but not for lithium. There is no one technology that suits all.

However, what is heartening is the level of debate about minimising pollution and finding the best way to deal with waste, starting now when the electric-powered car is emerging from its infancy.

It will be interesting to see how Australia’s policy makers cope, given the rash of sustainability policies being announced, none of which encompass electric vehicles, and given the activity around this area, I would have thought should be a worthy investment.

My friend is not so sure. He constantly is assailed by a trail of spruiking, detailing how quickly the electric battery grail is advancing. To him, it reinforces his belief that the technology is far from settled. I would have thought that it is an incentive for Australian investment. I cannot understand why Australia wants to invest in areas that have been shown to have no future – like carbon capture – or have a limited future like gas; and yet ignore the electric battery, which does have a future. Yet the technology is far from settled. Getting it right would presumably provide a return on the investment. Just give it a timeline.

Death of an Orchid

We had a bumper year growing orchids this year. As the orchids wilt and die, one was left on my desk. The three sepals have already shriveled into umber, the veins once green have changed to brown lines. One leaf remains defiantly that soft green still with veins of green, but death is coming as the very tip of the leaf has that telltale umber shade.

The central column remains strong and the colour of the labellum still has its flamboyant attractiveness, which invited many suitors to pollinate. It still has that glorious magenta lip with the colour dissolving into a flecked trail for the suitor to follow into its interior. The anther cap is dying faster, but then it has always been an accessory. Her companion orchid on the stem stills survives in the vase with its bodyguard of lavender spears, young and attractive but soon themselves to die, keeling over, not retaining the regal exit of the orchid flower.

The orchid flower will be allowed to die gradually on a comfortable place on my desk – not trampled on a garden path or left to rot in a garden pot. Dear orchid, I shall watch over you – your nobility in dying will be respected, that I guarantee.

Mouse Whisper

I was combing my whiskers when I detected him talking, perhaps to me. He had just pushed himself away from the screen. He was not happy. However I worry myself when in this world so many of my brothers and sisters exist in camps labelled “medical research”. 

I thought this is one thing the Virus would have killed, if the “Me too” movement had not got in first. But, no. The next James Bond movie is due for release in November. It still stars Daniel Craig. “No time to Die” is the title. I would have thought it is the time for these films to die. The idea of having James Bond converted to a colored woman heroine is both illogical and laughable. It was bad enough to see the Queen of England complicit. Judi Dench should be ashamed of her appearances and in so doing condoning the primal underpinnings of those films in which she appeared.

James Bond, the figment of a decaying order on the cusp of irrelevance, even when the first Bond film was released, with its campy Sean Connery and its good ol’ sexist escapism and overlay of technological gimmickry. Over the decades the films have gradually transformed into a series of sado-masochism panegyrics.

Torture in our democratic society is not escapism. Yet the Bond films seem to wallow in it and in so doing assist in deadening society to the atrocities being committed all over the world, often in the name of democracy. The problem is that the torturers seem never to be bought to justice. They just fade away into the background knowing there will be no retribution.

We thus are helpless enough without filmed torture being exploited to pay for somebody’s yacht on the Mediterranean.

Ian Fleming

 

 

 

 

Modest Expectations – Biblical Trivia

The Orange Toddler she calls him. She, our American friend, agrees that the vaccine should be tested, but the chosen vaccine should first be provided to the Great Leader. He has spruiked it – he must be made invincible. To mark the occasion in the Oval Office he must be surrounded by adoring people wearing white coats, but definitely without masks, unless made by his beloved daughter. There will be commemorative syringes for all.

That will give the American people confidence; he to bare his arm for America; the test as no other test has been seen by anybody; and then to cap it off, perhaps a couple of days, maybe a week later, who knows – the flock of white coats will be reassembled while COVID-19 is directly injected into the OT. Then he will turn, give the syringe with the Presidential seal to an adoring fan, saying that there has not been anybody ever, perhaps with the exception of Jesus Christ himself, who has done so much for America, to make it great.

No, you’re dreaming. That won’t happen because he says he has a deformity of his body, which precludes injection – too much Ancient Orange.

Maybe Sarah Cooper will be a suitable surrogate.

Hunted? Not quite

How predictable, the sanctimonious Hunt, the Minister for Health egged on by the Prime Minister, trying to blame Premier Andrews for the ills of Victoria, including the failed nursing home system. Nevertheless, a small history lesson is probably useful to dispel some of  the information about Daniel Andrews.

The problem with Victoria is that for years now it has not had a Department of Health but a “Department of Social Reform”, reflecting a social service bias at the expense of public health. Health is hospitals – full stop. That was the conventional wisdom.

The Heads of the Department have traditionally not been medically qualified. The structure of the Health Department was separated into Health, Hospitals and Mental Health, then unified for a time under a doctor, Gad Trevaks, when he chaired the then Health Commission.

That was the last time, and the real source of the decline in public health was due to Premier Kennett and his agent John Paterson, who effectively destroyed any remnant of public health considerations in the State. At the same time regulations have been loosened and, as one insider has said, food regulation and the lack of public health surveillance of food safety will be another problem that Premier Andrews will have to confront at some time.

Thus public health was in a woeful state even before the minions in the Victorian Treasury insisted on so-called “efficiency gains”, which is just a way of reducing public funding.

Then there was the case of a former chief health officer who was largely invisible during the time of his appointment and nobody seemed to care. Raina McIntyre, an outspoken epidemiologist, has commented wryly: “… such a minimalist system can get by during the good times but will be exposed in the pandemic”.

As Andrews has emphasised, this is an area where political point scoring is pernicious. It is more laughable than pernicious to hear the NSW Premier saying that she has a public health department, which “was second to none”, when the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, who is responsible for public health, was lucky to keep her job after the Ruby Princess and Newmarch House debacles.

After all, she has been in the job for 12 years, and was an inheritor, as were her public health colleagues, of the work done by Dr Sue Morey when she was Chief Health Officer. Dr Morey not only supervised the introduction of the contact tracing system but also enabled the public health medical officers to be recognised as medical specialists. As a result, in relationship to Victoria the public health doctors in NSW are far better remunerated. Many of those NSW public health doctors were trained by Dr Morey, who had gained formal public health training, resulting in a Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1980. She set in place the public health system that is now being described as the Australian “gold standard”; it did not appear overnight. It is after all only a tool and it demands competence in its usage.

Strangled by a Thread of Cotton

Birdlife in the marshes

To me the Macquarie Marshes have always been one of the important bellwethers as to the health of the Murray Darling region. I have read much about them, but until this week had never visited. The marshes are located on the Macquarie River and lie some two hundred kilometres north-west of Dubbo, between Warren and Carinda.

To put them into context, the Marshes are an extensive wetland system covering more than 150,000 hectares, and the nature reserve covers 18,500 hectares of it. It is recognised as a Wetland of International Importance (but not by the NSW government). Most of the Marshes are in fact on private land.

The Marshes are arbitrarily subdivided into the northern and southern segment. There is more water in the latter. Importantly at present there is water in the marshes and there is abundant bird life. Black and white magpie geese swoop low as coots, ducks and a swan glide across one of the many lakes. The signs of the Marshes having periodically dried up are evident in the dead reeds where fires have wrought irreparable damage when there was no water. Across the water cormorants perch on the dead trunk, silent witnesses to the dying marshes.

Yet another sign of the degradation of the Marshes is the yellow rape mustard weed growing wild throughout the marsh areas that still are more or less dry.

The ultimate sustainability of these Marshes, even now after heavy rains have returned water there, is dictated by the cotton industry. The huge broad acres of black soil being prepared for planting near Warren attest to the nature of the enemy.

Originally it was the building of the Burrendong and Windamere Dams in the 1960s and 1880s respectively, which had diverted the wetland water to irrigation, and in so doing challenged the future of the Marshes.

That sets the picture for this almost lost resource.

We stop where the water is running across the track – 100 metres wide and from the flood post at a level of about 0.4 metres. A large 4WD lurching into a hole and then struggling out only to sink again in the running water before blundering through set the tone for the crossing. We did not attempt to cross, but had lunch at the edge of the stream. Another 4WD stopped on the other side had released a bunch of kids who set out their beach towels on the track and took advantage of a swimming opportunity.

A couple of ATVs containing a number of boisterous teenagers went by, charging into the water. They knew where to go, they clung to the right side next to the fence line. There were no holes on that side – no problems – across and gone with all round waves to those of us left behind. “Local kids”, the weathered face who appeared at the car window said.

He was a seasoned farmer who had stopped with his family, and came across to see who “these foreigners” were. He ran shorthorn Hereford cattle on a property north of Carinda – a place where he said the best cotton in the world could be grown. He was on an afternoon drive with his daughter who had brought visitors from Norway to see the Marshes.

However, the problem is that Warren always took the bulk of the water, and thus Carinda – 140kms further north – hardly received enough water to sow a crop – maybe once in ten years, despite its capacity to produce premium cotton.

His attitude is a microcosm of the problem of Murray Darling River planning. Nobody agrees. It is a free for all, with each person, each municipality, having no consideration for the people of the catchment as a whole. Why should they? Their role model – their various governments seem hell bent on fracturing the Federation. Why not add compromising the nation’s water to a deteriorating concern for country?

The Pub in the Scrub

It is but a speck on the map between Condobolin and Tullamore. Here there is a typical two-storied, corrugated iron roofed country hotel, with a bright orange tiled façade. It luxuriates in the soubriquet of The Pub in the Scrub. Its name, which also is the name of this hamlet, is Fifield. The hamlet is empty, apart from a murder of crows having a convention in the main street and a ute parked against the kerb in front of the pub.

Near the geographic centre of NSW, Fifield is surrounded by blazing yellow broad acres of canola. It was once the site for alluvial exploration for platinum and there is a sign nearby pointing to a place called Platina.

Fifield’s car graveyards

However, Fifield is a graveyard for car bodies. They are everywhere. There is an old barn, unusually with a chimney but now ramshackle, despite the incongruous new solar panels on the roof. Acres of car bodies behind the building are spread on the other side of the main road, the whole extent of which is hidden by trees. The fact there was a newish bright yellow Ford in front of the barn seems to confirm that the building was occupied.

The oval was covered in cape weed; there was once a tennis court, now overgrown, but with its net still in place and the rusted gate still visible. A disused wooden church on the corner with a handwritten sign which says “St Dymphna”, who can identified as the Lily of Ireland, the patron saint of mental illness.

However, on the road as you enter town there is a bright black and yellow sign exhorting the passing motorist not to dump rubbish – or else. Unless of course, it’s your car.

Ah, the wonderful irony of Australia.

Yuranigh

When I used to walk close to my old home among the trees which dotted the sloping land that had been preserved around the Melbourne Cricket Ground, I would come across a canoe tree where, before whitefella settlement, the Wurrundjeri people had carved a canoe from the bark.

Canoe trees were probably more common than have been found, but civilisation has a way of destroying heritage. Maybe many trees so used for canoes, shields, coolamons and other artefacts just did not survive. After all, before the whitefella came with his tree-felling prowess, there would have been open forest where the city now stands. Not surprisingly the river red gum with its stout trunk was a favourite source of bark. Bark was plentiful. Bark was the only resource they had for their canoes as there is no evidence that the dugout canoe of their Northern Australian brothers ever percolated south.

Yet the bark canoe was obviously important given the number of rivers and watercourses that flowed around and through the land which whitefellas labelled Melbourne. It is surprising so many of the trees survived so close to the centre of Melbourne

Aboriginal carved tree trunk

This reflection on tree carving was at the forefront of my mind when we visited the grave of Yuranigh. His grave lies a few kilometres east of Molong, a central west NSW town just off the highway to Orange.

The directions are well marked, the track is stony clay, there is a gate and a cattle grid, and then a short drive where old gnarled yellow box gums hold sway over a weed infested paddock. This is where Yuranigh is buried. Little is known about this Wiradjeri man except that he accompanied Thomas Mitchell to the Gulf of Carpentaria on one of Mitchell’s explorations.

Mitchell thought so much of this man that when Yuranigh died when still a young man, Mitchell paid for his grave and a marble headstone commemorating Yuranigh. It is apparently recognised as the one site in Australia where European and Aboriginal burial traditions coincide.

Around the area where Yuranigh is buried are carved trees, sinuous dendroglyphs etched into the heart of the trees – complex cuts given the tools that would have been used. The most prominent one of these is a stump protected from the weather, an extraordinary example of Wiradjeri art. It had lain for years on the ground, before being raised and now supported in a concrete base

There is another tree close by where the artwork can be viewed through a slit in the tree – the carving lying within the tree. There are four trees that define the corners of the gravesite, but some have defiantly repaired themselves and in so doing smothered the artwork.

We were alone at the site. Despite the complexity of what we were witnessing – an intertwined image where we could see original Wiradjeri work in all its complexity but only guessing as to meaning not only of the carving but also its placement in relation to Yuranigh’s burial place, I realise I know so very little.

Yuranigh grave site

Yes, I understand Mitchell’s tribute. That’s how we whitefellas celebrate dying in a world of grey – the compromise between white and black in our monuments and headstones. But the trees are not confected – they are real. In blackfella eyes Yuranigh obviously was a great Aboriginal man; the carvings denote respect. Otherwise who would take such care? “Sorry business” is such an important part of Aboriginal life.

John is not the Name

When I go to a bank or any other place where the interaction is usually with a younger generation, far younger than my “silent generation”, I find being addressed by my Christian name jarring to say the least. I quickly correct them on most occasions.

After all we have a surname for a reason, whether derived by being the “son of “, colour (white, black, brown), profession (fletcher, butcher, smith), location (London, Birmingham, Kent).

I come from a generation when every male at least addressed each other by “surname”. However, within the family and friends circle, we were called by our Christian names.

I find calling elderly people by their first name, as if they are children, unsettling. I would object to a stray carer that I have never seen before, calling me by first name. Using “John” jars just because they have seen that on some of my documentation, because those who know me call me “Jack”. Address me by my surname please.

Having thus aggressively put my point of view, my cousin told me a salutary story about his uncle. His uncle Jack went to get a job on the wharves.

He was asked his name.

“Jack,” his uncle replied.

“Look, feller, on these wharves we deal in surnames. What’s your surname?”

“Honey.”

“Well, Jack, it is …!” came the immediate reply.

One against me.

Mudgee Mud

It is about 40 years since we were in Mudgee. We came to the inaugural Mudgee Wine Festival. It was a spur of the moment decision. I asked her. She said yes. Now years later, the trip was not so romantic; you know, she said as we were driving there, “We came here in 1980. Have you been to Mudgee since?” I had travelled widely around this part of NSW and for a time I often visited Dubbo, spent time at Bathurst, found some delightful antiques at Molong and had been to Glen Davis on more than one occasion – but Mudgee?

Forty years ago, Mudgee wines were dismissed with the label “Mudgee Mud.” Give something a bad name and I doubt whether even after exposure of the wine at the Festival was sufficient for me to ever buy some. It was still very indifferent wine.

Ulan coal mine

The dinner was an uproarious affair, as one of the guys who was a geologist had mapped the coal deposits around Ulan and was making or had made a financial bonanza out of his assiduous tracking of the coal deposits around those areas. At the time of the dinner he had secured the lease over the tail of the deposit. Forty years ago, coal as they said was king, and who had heard of climate change effects!

At the end of the night, we blokes had all got along so well, and there was so much bonhomie, that everybody was shickered. Out in the car park all the blokes got into the driver’s seats and the wives, who were by and large sober, were consigned to the passenger seats. There was one exception – the young lady whom I eventually was to marry years later – insisted on driving. Just as well.

The next morning I awoke, nursing a damaged head. We had stayed down the road at Kandos, famous for its limestone quarrying. Mudgee had been booked out. As we were leaving the motel owner noted that I was a doctor.

“Oh”, she cooed, “ We would love to have a young white doctor here in Kandos.”

Different times then, different times.

Mouse whisper

On the menu at the Italian restaurant in Griffith, it was stated that one could dine “al fresco”. Sounds authentic – just as the names of any the pastas or “il cotoletta Milanese” were authentic italiano.

The term al fresco is unknown in Italy. If you want to dine outside (fuori) or in the open (all’aperto”), you will be directed to that leafy courtyard.

Thus, il cameriere will scratch il sua testa if you say “al fresco”. He may misunderstand and instead bring you acqua fresca – cold water.

all’aperto!

Modest expectations – The Forty-Niners

They come in their work clothes and their steel-capped boots, climbing on board the QantasLink plane at Devonport; or disembarking at the same airport. They are the FIFO miners who work on the ore rich West Coast of Tasmania. They have living quarters on the edge of Zeehan and in Rosebery while they are on work down the mine, since 50 per cent of the miners choose not to live permanently on site. Interestingly one per cent of Tasmanian miners are listed as working in the East Pilbara in Western Australia.

Paradoxically, the Mt Lyell mine at Queenstown, the largest settlement on the West Coast, has been closed down for nearly five years. Its Indian parent company in the same period closed its copper smelter in India, but claims there is no connection between the two decisions. However, Queenstown exists as the local government centre amid denuded hills, a settlement desperately clinging to its existence. The beautiful King River, polluted for over 70 years by the mine tailings from Mount Lyell, is said will take 200 years to restore, but at least a start has been made to cover the riverside that was yellow with sulphur with sedge and other littoral plants. Over the last 20 years you can see that change.

King River gorge and Abt Railway track

It’s a bit sad to see that the old anti-climate change warrior from Tasmania, Eric Abetz remains solidly behind the coal lobby given how little coal mining contributes to the Tasmanian economy – less than 100 jobs. Eric moreover was outed for spending $3,000 on a trip to go to an Australian Mines and Metals Association conference in 2018 in Melbourne. He is reported as saying his travel was appropriate “given the undisputed importance of the sector to Tasmanians. Tasmania’s Mt Lyell mine has been the sole continuous AMMA member”, Abetz said. As the report noted as a postscript, as Eric should have known, “it was no mean feat, considering the mine had been mothballed four years before the gala dinner.”

But then Eric comes from Hobart and I wonder how often he has visited the West Coast – if ever. There is much mining – zinc, iron ore, gold, tin – but no longer from Mount Lyell. There are mines near Zeehan, Rosebery, Tullah and up on the Savage and Henty Rivers. However, if you live in Hobart, the Tasmanian West Coast may as well be on the moon.

I have been going regularly to the West Coast for more than 20 years and yet those towns look the same as they were then, except for the increase in hostel-like accommodation for the FIFO. In other words, these towns have not boomed in population as Queenstown did after the discovery of copper and silver in the late nineteenth century. The need to transport the ore resulted in Strahan on the Macquarie Harbor becoming the conduit port (again the population reached 2,000 then) and the revolutionary Abt railway was the means to transport the ore over the mountains and through the rain forest along the King River from Mount Lyell.

Strahan is now a tourist resort and the Abt Railway, which was closed in 1963, has been rebuilt as a tourist attraction. Strahan also still functions as a fishing port – crayfish and abalone – and in the harbour, salmon farming. There are the leatherwoods, the flowers of which provide the nectar for the distinctive honey found here. Even with the mining, there is still this extraordinary temperate rainforest of myrtle, native beech, sassafras, blackwood and the remnant clumps of pine unique to Tasmania – huon, king billy and celery top pine.

Because the changes in the mining industry from the stereotype beloved by those who never go to a mining town, it is difficult to imagine a settlement to have a life once mined out. But people like Abetz would throw money at Mount Lyell in the mistaken belief that it would result in more jobs, irrespective of the return. In most part the company would probably just pocket the subsidy.

As I said, there is still a healthy mining industry – the whole of the West Coast is a mineralised area, and taking just one mining industry, that of zinc mining at Rosebery (population 713) and Zeehan (population 708), it yields about a third of Australia’s output in zinc; and Australia produces about 30 per cent of the world’s zinc. Unlike coal, zinc is unlikely to be replaced because of its recognized use not only in sunscreen but more importantly in galvanizing iron and in the development of electric batteries for cars.

However even with such important mining activity, the resident population of these two mining towns on a rough calculation is equal to the number of FIFO. It should be added that 30 per cent of the zinc is recycled and here, in employment terms, the Swiss-owned smelter near Hobart at Risdon has played an integral role. The problem with mining in Tasmania is that the West Coast is the last area of untouched temperate rain forest in Australia, brought into stark relief – literally – by the bushfires along the east coast from Queensland to the Victorian border. So mining is a case of treading carefully, having learnt from Mount Lyell as an example of what not to do to the environment.

Wind turbines being placed at Granville Harbour are providing 200 jobs during construction, but for maintenance only 10. That, together with the FIFO, means that in the end it is not the technology nor the resources which provide the essence of life anywhere.

Tourism brings 300,000 to the North-West and West – people are the life blood, especially as the Macquarie Harbour boat trip and the reconstructed Abt Railway are the prime attractions, with Strahan the prime place to stay.

Oh, by the way, dear Eric, you should witness the huge wind turbines being moved down the Murchison Highway, round the corner through Zeehan and on up the road to eventually reach Granville Harbour. Wind and rain are the West Coast’s resources to be exploited, and soon the mighty wind resource of the Forties gales will be added to the Tasmanian power grid.

However, given how irrelevant coal is to the economy of Tasmania, I presume your time as a “coal war warrior” will soon be over, your task completed, but as you drive your Tonka tip truck off into a smoked filled sunset, remember your West Coast and its wonderful diversity.

The Martini

I enjoy a gin martini. My wife makes a very good martini and this blog was prompted by an article on the (alleged) best martini maker in the world opining on how to make the best martini. However the Best Martini was somewhat different from that of the expert.

First of all keep the gin in the freezer. This ensures that you’ll know if the gin has been watered down, because if it partially freezes you know there is dilution. Also if you keep the gin in the freezer, it makes the question of shaken or stirred irrelevant.

Next, “vermouth” the glass with green Noilly Prat; here there is no disagreement with yon expert, but it is a question of the amount. The Best formula calls for one in eight and then the gin from the freezer is poured into a chilled martini glass. And again in agreement, the lemon twist is the best addition to this opulent drink, but if you want to fiddle then if you must use three olives on a gold stick. Gold is important as it gives the olives a certain je ne sais pas quoi dire.

However, the problem is the cost of such a drink and the level of sobriety after two if you forsake the ice. There is no dilution if you pour straight from the freezer.

Which reminds me of that hoary old joke beloved by Latin teachers: Cassius Brutus clanks into the Vinum Bar in Rome and asks for a Martinus. The bartender responds: “surely you mean a martini?” to which Cassius Brutus said: “if I wanted two I would have ordered so”.

The best martini apart the uxorious one described above I ever had was a cucumber infused martini in New York. It was not the faintly cucumberish Hendricks, but a more full flavoured version. The nearest I could find was the Gordon’s cucumber infused gin in the green bottle, but I think I must have bought the last bottles in Australia. You garnish with a partially peeled piece of cucumber.

Have not seen any sign of the Gordon’s Green; only its seeming replacement of pink gin…only in Raffles in Singapore please, as I slightly shudder. 

Bernie Sanders Heartland

A 78 year old who has had a heart attack, who now won’t release his medical notes – bad sign, Bernie. In the information vacuum, the obvious first thought is that he has irreversibly damaged cardiac muscle and therefore a heart at risk.

Then we have a President who mysteriously disappeared into and out of the Walter Reed Hospital. Nobody knows what incantations were said while he was in the hospital. However, Trump’s cupboard is probably the most comprehensive collection of skeletons known to man or woman such that another one as the grim reaper would feel at home.

These old crocks are the marvels of modern American medicine – particularly cardiac care where investigative procedures, stenting and improvement in medication are first rate. American health care (as distinct from the system in which it exists) at its best is probably as good as you would get in the world, if you can afford it and go to wise doctors.

You see modern medicine has enabled an obese, insomniac narcissist with a poor diet and the other who looks madly stressed as if he going to blow a fuse every time he speaks, to be President of the USA.

Just as Nixon thrashed McGovern in the 1972 election, if they survive until November, Trump should win the battle, even though Sanders may appear to be a better bloke.

The other man Joe Biden is just a broad grin, which hides a mediocrity clearly demonstrated by his propensity for plagiarism. His major advantage is he seems physically fit, but old age is not a fair hand in the card game of life.

They said how poor Bloomberg was in the recent debate and how politically incorrect he had been in the past. He does not have the populist orator skills that the others have, with their confected outrage. He is old but he wears his age well without panda eyes or comb overs.

His responses where he was allowed to answer were sensible given that the moderators were appalling. He brings a sense of surety, that on the major policies he will see them through. Like many quiet men he carries a big stick, and Trump just will be no match for him, the longer the campaign goes. He knows how to deal with serial grifters like Trump, and if he secured the nomination he will drive Trump mad with his quiet probing, and as he may say if he was as vulgar to Trump – the fact is that, Trump ol’ boy, I have a bigger one than you have – war chest I mean.

But Bloomberg also is no spring chicken, although he has the gravitas that even in four years he may be able to resurrect America from its policy shambles. It is all very well to have a world economy built on gambling , even if there are fancy names for it, such as stock markets, hedge funds plus all those indices, which may as well be on a bookmaker’s chart. Of course, Bloomberg has built his empire as the steward of these goings-on.

If the Democrats come to their senses, and if Bloomberg is selected, then Pete Buttigieg should be considered for his Vice-President running mate, to test whether an openly gay married man will be acceptable to the majority of Americans. Buttigieg is smart and personable, but not this time, brother.

They who read the blog may say I’m a “typical male who has ignored the two women”. Simply put, America needs a different woman prototype to appeal to the whole electorate. Warren, with her artificial outrage would gain votes, but she suffers from a lack of sense of humour and her candidature is now on life support. The problem with the plethora of women who thought of doing a “Hilary” and have progressively dropped out is that their presence has obscured how impressive Governor Klobuchar is, but she too is in danger of disappearing.

To me on the stump if Trump and Sanders are the 2020 presidential combatants they are equally repellent, but then I do not have a vote, only an opinion. That doesn’t get you anywhere; but the prospect of candidates dying on the campaign trail is too macabre – and frankly, just a bit too close to reality. Moreover, it is not the time for old men.

They will not be around to be cheered or booed at the end of 2050 if the world is still belching the same level of pollution and progressively destroying the world that we have known, but will not live to see. The same can be said for all those old men, as well as Elizabeth Warren.

The Price of Never Being Wrong

The problem with epidemics is they thrive on ignorant national leaders, who have no idea of public health, suppressing inconvenient information. This increasing government secrecy is coupled with the modern version of the courtier castrati, people without ideas but with perfumed phrases whispering into the ear of national leaders who have lost the ability to apologise.

I once wrote a small monograph entitled “The Dilemma of the Public Health Physician” in which I attempted, as I said, “to help public health physicians to work through the situation which confronts many professionals when they are in possession of information which others perceive as ‘sensitive’ or valuable in any respect.

I went on to argue that all public health information should be freely available. The problem is that many public health physicians exist for the collection of data and not for the best way to make it available to the community. But communication skills have never been emphasised as they should be, because even over 20 years ago I wrote; “there is an increasing tendency for the political walls to be daubed with the graffiti of misinformation”.

This current epidemic will test those countries, especially China and Russia, whose leaders’ powers lie in secrecy and misinformation, to become more open. This epidemic will not be the last, given that the world with rising temperatures throughout, is increasingly becoming an incubator for exotic diseases.

Added to this viruses jumping from one species to another, mutating, being always ahead of the game … so no more pangolin penis eating in the restaurants of Asia, please. I assure you it doesn’t help virility only the possibility of a new virus – that is if the pangolin revenge is not already been enacted across the world.

On reflection am I just succumbing to daubing those political walls? Well, that is the point – public health expertise is being allowed not only to languish but to be ignored as an inconvenience. But as many politicians have found out in the past, “wishing an inconvenience would go away” is not a solution.

Having said that it seems we are fortunate in Australia not only to have the calming influence of Brendan Murphy, but also his unheralded deputy Paul Kelly who, unlike his boss, is a public health physician. Their influence on the government where there is a high level of ignorance is, and will continue to be, important. After all, as I wrote they have an imminent dilemma, which I have previously canvassed, which is when is Australia going to lift the ban on unrestricted entry into this country?

That is why the public health physician is as important as members of the police in enforcement of the basic requirements of public health, even down to all Australians washing hands as a matter of course.

Mouse whisper

I am sorry but I cannot let this recent comment by Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister, go by without applauding:

“We Finns have our sauna. And traditionally, it is where we make decisions. So now we have five women in charge, we can all go into the sauna together and make the decisions there.”

“Ei vain miehet vapauttavat kuumaa ilmaa”, says my old Finnish great-grand father mouse Aarvo.

That is the last comment he will ever make. They will be after him with birch branches.

Mickey Finn

Modest expectations – The Invincibles

Ah, the delightful Matthew James Canavan saying that Malcolm Bligh Turnbull should come to Collinsville and face the people there, with or without a caravan. It is one of those “what are you?” moments that are part of the Australian psyche when you know you have the mob behind you, especially if the mob is composed of guys you would expect to be unionists with eureka flags on their working clothes.

What a statement. I may as well respond and issue a similar invitation, “Mr Canavan, please come to the electorate of Kooyong, where I have a property and talk to my fellow constituents about the need for more coal-fired power stations. I am sure Minister Frydenberg would be overjoyed to see you and then direct you to the electorate of Higgins and then perhaps on to Chisholm and Goldstein. Don’t forget to bring a lump of coal to remind us what it looks like.”

Ever been to Victoria, Mr Canavan – you know Northern and Eastern Victoria to shore up the seats of Mallee, Nicholls and Gippsland. I am sure your fellow Nationals there would be anxious to pass around your lump of coal with the media in attendance, and your Queensland persona rampant?

Lozzo di Cadore

Now, Mr Canavan, I note your ancestors come from a place called Lozzo di Cadore – a beautiful area in the Italian Alps near to the Austrian border. Ever been asked to be on the show who do you think you are?” But perhaps you already know that Lozzo di Cadore translates as the Stench of Cadore. There are 28 commune, as you probably know, in the province of Belluno, and for whatever reason your ancestors came from that one named Lozzo di Cadore. Perhaps a coal-fired power station there would enhance its meaning.

In fact, there are a few of us who are thinking of targeting some of these Victorian seats with an anti-coal message and you wouldn’t mind us using pictures of you and Mr Joyce – you know big overpowering photos of you beside a cart load of coal personally handled by you or Mr Joyce – alongside the photo of the local member. We shall make sure your photos will show you both grinning just to show the sunny if somewhat smoky side of your nature. After all, it would give full meaning to the term “Coalition”.

Tom Reeve

Collinsville is in the Bowen Basin. Even though I have been to many coal mining towns in Outback Queensland, I don’t remember ever going to Collinsville. But the name has stuck in my memory. Why? Because one of Australia’s greatest thyroid and parathyroid surgeons, Tom Reeve, did a stint at Collinsville 18 months after graduation. It would have been around 1949. After that he moved to surgery and never looked back, as they say in the classics.

However, his reminiscence of his stint on Collinsville below in an article he wrote in 2004 for the Medical Journal of Australia showed the value of career development in rural Australia. Tom was a University of Sydney graduate and I remember him saying to me that it was somewhat of an experience getting off the train in Collinsville unknown to the locals and yet knowing you were there for at least a year. In fact, he stayed for 18 months. I have always used his experience to illustrate that time as a rural doctor can lead anywhere.

As the only doctor in town, I enjoyed 18 months of rich clinical experience. Post-term obstetric deliveries, head injuries, critically ill children, motor vehicle accidents and accidents involving horses all hastened my clinical maturity. I remember a young jackeroo with a perinephric abscess after a nasty horse-related accident. As we were stranded by floods at the time, a surgeon in Mackay took me through the operative steps by phone. All ended well.

The community was full of reliable, loyal Aussies with enormous hearts. They were openly friendly and had a great bank of skills, and gave their local doctor the comfort often absent today.

An outbreak of croup in some young children was the most formidable of my experiences. They desperately needed steam inhalation, but I was a little nonplussed as to how to supply it. One father spoke with his boss at the mine workshop, who rapidly produced a large galvanised watering can with four arms, each capped with a watering-can rose. Placed on a primus stove, this device effectively dispensed steam to four mosquito-netted cots simultaneously. Problem solved!

Tom Reeve AC CBE became a giant in surgery. I once asked him to review surgery at Broken Hill Hospital when the late Ross Webster, himself the Foundation Professor of Community Medicine at the University of Melbourne, was Medical Superintendent of the Hospital. There are days indelibly remembered, and one of these days was when we three lunched at the old Menindee hotel, south of Broken Hill. This was the actual building that Burke and Wills stayed in on their way North. The hotel has since burnt down, but the one unusual and unexpected thing I remember was the solitary red hibiscus flowering in the corner of courtyard.

 

No symbolism – just a dash of colour on a courtyard to be remembered.

Parasite is not only a Korean film

Should the people working in a minister’s office hidden from public scrutiny given their integral public purpose? Public records note the cost and number of ministerial office staff, but the government guidelines don’t require publication of appointments, as has to occur with the public service. With the Prime Minister’s 58 staff averaging $233,000 in 2017 and the Opposition Leader’s 39 staff averaging $193,000, is there a need for more scrutiny?

Silly question. When I was Principal Private Secretary to the Leader of Opposition, his advisers numbered six. Add three assistant secretaries, who could write shorthand at 120 words a minute and type at least 80 word perfect a minute and put up with us males; and that was the office, plus of course the electorate secretary. Ten all up.

We worked very hard, but then it was by choice. The long hours and the need to become an essential part of the policy process rather than just political games were complemented by the fact we all lived cheek by jowl.

Why has the Leader of the Opposition’s office grown to 39? In the old Parliament House there would not have been enough room for that many in the cramped quarters. I have always thought the new Parliament House was an example of Mussolini brutalism. Compared to old Parliament House, there is so much space. Whereas in the old Parliament House, King’s Hall was accessible to the public and politicians and the people mixed together. However, with this mania for security and the extravagant amount of space so that you could run a Formula one around the corridors means that the public gets excluded from consideration except at election time; and the party branch structure for politicians is a “tiresome” token of connectivity with the electorate.

Added to this is the claque of advisers without any experience except in the brutality of factional politics and a taste for authority – if not authoritarianism. Some advisers are very good, and there was no doubt that Arthur Sinodinos as adviser to Howard was one who was essential dampening down the negative side of the Prime Minister’s personality.

However, having had to deal with advisers and having seen how others deal with them, the environment which they inhabit gives them a sense that in the name of their boss they can imitate the same bad behavior – the obscenities, the verbal assaults, documents thrown, the demeaning treatment of experienced experts, the endless bad temper, the sexual harassment, the cynical misuse of entitlements, all in various degrees of toxicity depending on the office. Worst of all is the time waiting, because there is a cohort of politicians who are perennially late. This is a topic for a separate blog.

The extent as with the number of advisers has grown – let us not say “exponentially” because though I may hypothesise that the contents of the Trough are increasing in this manner, there needs to be someone to present the evidence. In all, Parliaments are rubbish cultures, not the least because they are divorced from the world in which their electors live.

Parliamentary Courtiers

The problem is when there is an explosion of entitlements, then Opposition is nowhere in the Parliament – nobody is going to blow the whistle and not take the money. All the politicians on this issue are on the one side of the House.

The problem of course is that the amount and nature of expenses come out, and then there may be an outcry if someone has been too greedy, but the lid snaps shut on the Trough. Feeding time is over, and we mug punters do not have any further knowledge – it is asymmetric information par excellence further obscured by the piety of politicians invoking confidentiality measures and security reasons not to be frank with the people who elected them.

The current unfolding behaviour of some elements of the National Party and the Prime Minister’s office in relation to the grants may have vented some aroma from a hole in the Trough, but the government has Gaetjens and Associates, expert Lid Repairers by Appointment on the job, brought in to seal the leak.

In the past I have identified the three elements of this political toxicity, but no-one takes any notice because it is inconvenient: sleep deprivation, isolation and boredom. However, it is probably time to revise what I wrote an age ago from personal observation.

Boredom is still an important factor. Let me quote from a definition of the Mafia consigliere – 95 per cent hanging out and five per cent ultimate brutality.

Here in Parliamentary Australia the brutality may be just factional brutality – consigliere credentials honed sharp by the advisers from their student politics days. Never had a real job, just hanging around the particular Party of their persuasion slicing their way to the top.

Boredom? I always remember the implication at the heart of beauty was evil. Baudelaire may have said something like that because he was a master at pitting unlikely scenarios together: “As a small child, I felt in my heart two contradictory feelings, the horror of life and the ecstasy of life.”

Hence, although Parliament House may give the impression of a hive of activity, at the heart of this inactivity is boredom – doing the same thing over and over again, leaking, evening up all scores and new ones also, pettiness cloaked as activity.

As I asked rhetorically earlier: why does the leader of the Opposition need 39 advisers. Perhaps someone could volunteer to tell us publicly what they all do. How do they evade boredom for instance?

The problem is when courtier expansion has no brake, and when each incumbent has his or her own idiosyncrasy translated as a need for a new specific post such that when the incumbent changes the post is not necessarily abolished. Why? There is nobody to ask what that position was doing there in the first place.

It is the same with any dynastic institution – it’s called tradition. Not that it is all expansion. For instance, until the coronation of Queen Victoria at each Coronation there was apparently a Royal Gruel carrier, presumably because one of her predecessors became peckish during the ceremony and needed a bowl of porridge.

I once floated the idea that there should be cohort of ministerial advisers who would go out and live with the community and learn what were the pressing problems on the job. I had learnt from experience that living close to a problem helped to solve that problem. For instance when we wanted child care for our infant children we started a co-operative (still running today) where the parents ran the show employing the staff and making sure it was properly resourced. Problem alleviated. I came to being a ministerial adviser with a large amount of outside work experience.

Put another way, how many of the Ministerial Advisers were seen helping out during the bushfires in the early part of the year – on deck or there in the aftermath? It would have been useful for an adviser to suggest to their boss, the Prime Minister to take hampers of “loaves and fishes” to Cobargo, for instance. I heard though that they were allegedly too busy undermining the Premier of NSW, while the State burned. Sorry, that does not count. 

The Patron Saint of Blackbirds

I always remember the headmaster announcing to the school that several lads in dark blue suits had been seen trashing a theatrette in the city.

Now Melbourne Grammar School boys in those days wore blue suits, but there was also another school, where the students also wore dark suits. The words “St Kevin’s” rippled through the audience. The headmaster droned on telling us that he told the owners of the theatrette and perhaps the police that it could not possibly be Melbourne Grammar School boys. They always wore their caps. Such was our headmaster’s presence that they went away and did not bother us again.

The point of the story was that essential identifying component of our uniform was the school cap, which we kept on everywhere we went in public. OK, pull the other leg, but that was uttered as school dogma in those halycon days.

At the time, St Kevin’s was firmly ensconced on the second rung of Melbourne private schools, but because it existed in the nether end of Toorak, we Grammar boys used to run into them from time to time emerging from their Gardiner Creek base.

Private schools in my time reflected the sectarian divide of Melbourne, and Roman Catholic schools in heart of Protestant Melbourne breached this divide. Thus running into them did not mean co-habitation, especially because of their status we never played sport against them. However, how unfair it may have been, St Kevin’s already had a stigma as so tellingly portrayed on Monday night.

What I noted in the Four Corners program was the almost subliminal reference to Scotch College and Xavier College, two of original Melbourne private schools, which are still single sex. Each of these schools has had its problems, but not to the same extent as St Kevin’s. Hmmm?

Thus, if the Victorian premier is ordering the review of one, why stop there with St Kevin’s and not have a review of all these supposed premier schools. It would be interesting to see how the culture compares between the single-sex and co-educational schools.

As is becoming clear, it is not a question of boy versus girl and the interaction between the two, which was how the debate was set in my years of school for co-education denial. The debate is now about whether single sex schools act as a magnet for paedophiles.

There was a degree of prescience in the chant we Melburnians had to endure when I was at school: “if you can’t get a girl, get a Grammar boy”. That is Melbourne Grammar – I’d hate to implicate Geelong Grammar as a butt for such mockery.

Mouse whisper

My mausmeister told me of a couple of his supposed bon mots. He said them first in an interview he did when he had his brief period of Warhol glow.

One he said was that once 50 years ago what was accepted as God’s will is now described as medical negligence.

The second: when two or more doctors are gathered together you have a new medical specialty.

Damien Hirst’s M. Mouse