Modest Expectations – Er? Deommodore Lenoir this year

Charles Shaw

Charles Shaw died on December 12. Charles (never Charlie, Chas or Chuck) had a special place among my friends, even though I scarcely saw him after the early 90s when we worked together. Charles was a doctor; he was Treasurer of the International Society of Quality Assurance in Health Care when I was the accidental President. I was not part of the original cabal who gathered in Udine in 1985 to set up The Society, with a journal initially published by Pergamon Press. The problem was that when I inherited the Presidency, the Society was broke and there were a number of ongoing skirmishes within the organisation. The Americans, in particular, had been alienated by the instability of the organisation.

To cut this story short, with Charles as Treasurer, the Society became solvent. Initially in Sydney then Melbourne a permanent secretariat was set up that was not the contents of the secretary’s briefcase, as it had been when I took over. The fact that the organisation still remains healthy 30 years later was due to this period where Charles was a crucial figure guarding the finances.

In his LinkedIn description, he opened thus:

Trained in the UK to be a proper doctor, I spent six years as medical director of the general hospital in Bermuda. This exposed me to many New World ideas, like hospital standards, medical bylaws, credentialing, clinical audit, and the Canadian Council on Hospital Accreditation. Over the next 20 years I tried, and largely failed, to introduce these ideas to UK and Europe.

That was Charles. He did not have to be that frank, but he was a true Quality Assurance warrior. Quality Assurance has its own technology and hence vocabulary. There has been a large army of practitioners, but many seem to work in parallel with the actual health system, developing their own jargon. On the contrary, Charles, with his enormous knowledge, was able to cover the whole area – both practical and theoretical.

He developed an international reputation, mainly in the developing countries, in places like Moldova. When we were last staying at his home in rural West Sussex he was preparing for a visit to Kyrgyzstan. I was always amazed that Charles travelled so light, toothbrush, smalls and two shirts – and not much else. It was just part of his self-effacing persona.

Our stay was in 2018 and it was the last time we saw him and his wife, Carolyn, a former head of Roedean School, of which its equivalent was Eton College – described as  “Roedean for Boys”.

Theirs was a pleasant rural life and our stay was enjoyable. The best test of friendship is being able to arrive and converse as though it was only yesterday you last saw each other and not several years.

I’m sorry we will not be able to be at their local St Nicholas Church – a very suitable venue to farewell Charles.

Charles was a good bloke. We’ll plant a couple of pomegranates in the garden to remember him.


Over the past week I have been reading the Dashiell Hammett Story Omnibus first published in 1966 with an introduction by his long-time partner Lillian Hellman. My favourite film is Julia, which is a harrowing film based on an incident described by Lillian Hellman in her book Pentimento (reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist).

Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda in Julia

Julia is murdered by the Nazis in pre-war Vienna. There is no definitive statement that she was Jewish rather than a left wing socialist, but the film made an immense impression on me. Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Julia reminded me so much of what I read about Rosa Luxemburg, who was Jewish and was brutally murdered by a far-right German organisation in 1919 foreshadowing the later German atrocities. She was killed because of her Spartacist links, for which those of the far right may use the label “terrorist” now. After all, the word “communist” was anathema to the White Anglo-Saxon Establishment, whereas Fascism transmogrified into Nazism was accepted by a swathe of the Establishment pre-WWII.

I am old enough to remember men and women with numbers tattooed on their wrists, people who had survived the concentration camps. It was a time before “Holocaust” was used to describe this extermination of six million Jews and others considered to pollute the purity of the Aryan race.

As for Israel, we children were not told of how the country came into being. The only memory I do have was of Count Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat, being assassinated in1948. Then I only knew that he, the United Nations Peace mediator, was murdered by the underground Zionist organisation, the Stern Gang.

At my Anglican school, we had Jews, and one even was a confederate of Barry Humphries as they undertook their zany pranks around Melbourne. He later became the Chief Rabbi.

The selflessness of the Kibbutzim, the provision of farms run by collectives, was one way Israel was portrayed, and to young people like me, it was an inspirational endeavour. There was no doubt even then that the Israeli publicity machine was developing a high degree of sophistication in its messaging.

Remembering Behaviour

There were two matters, which the recent behaviour of the Israelis has triggered. Both have been recorded unemotionally in various media. This narrative is independent of any views I might have had prior to October 7.

The late Alan Rickman wrote a play about a young woman, Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003.

Rachel Corrie

Rickman compiled the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” and directed the premiere production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, which opened in April 2005. He won the Theatre Goers’ Choice Awards for Best Director. Rickman befriended the Corrie family and earned their trust, and the show was warmly received.  But the next year, its original New York production was “postponed” over the possibility of boycotts and protests from those who saw it as “anti-Israeli agit-prop“. Rickman denounced “censorship born out of fear”. Tony Kushner, Harold Pinter and Vanessa Redgrave, among others, criticised the decision to indefinitely delay the show. The one-woman play was put on later that year at another theatre to mixed review and has since been staged at venues around the world. Despite the adverse reaction from pro-Israel groups, overall, the play was very popular, especially in London. “I never imagined that the play would create such acute controversy,” Rickman said. He added, “Many Jews supported it. The New York producer was Jewish and we held a discussion after every performance. Both Israelis and Palestinians participated in the discussions and there was no shouting in the theatre. People simply listened to each other.

The fear of boycott is an insidious way of achieving one’s aims, especially if one controls the philanthropy channel. As mentioned above, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American, trying to stop the demolition of Palestinian residences, stood in front of an armoured bulldozer. She was crushed to death by it. The Israeli immediate response that it was an accident; and it was finally decided in 2015 that it was an accident – nothing to see here.

It seems to be a tradition carried on by Israeli army snipers of accidently killing a raft of UN Aid Workers, journalists, hostages with white flags, and any others they thought were Hamas vermin, even those hiding in prams and swaddling clothes. As the Israeli Courts have reported, nothing to see here.

The next reference, I found disturbing when I re-read the AFR report of 12 March 2021 article entitled “Behold the Vaccine King” by three Bloomsberg journalists, one of whom, Cynthia Koons, was an expert in the pharmaceutical industry.

Albert Bourla

The Vaccine King referred to in the article was Albert Bourla, the Chairman and CEO of Pfizer. Bourla is of Greek Sephardic stock, part of the 50,000 Thessalonica Jewish population before WWII, which was reduced to 2,000 by the end of WWII, the rest being exterminated by the Nazis. Bourla’s family survived.

Let me directly quote the authors.

Bourla had thrown Netanyahu a political lifeline. Faced with surging COVID-19 cases and an election (in a) month, the Prime Minister latched on to Pfizer’s vaccine as his best hope to stay in office. At the airport, he bragged that 72 per cent of Israelis over the age of 60 had already been vaccinated, thanks to shipments that began in early December (2020), and that more doses would come soon. That was he’d struck a deal with Bourla to use his country as a test case for Pfizer vaccine.

Italy was cut out of the deal, even though the need was just as great, but Pfizer cut its shipments to Italy by 30 per cent, while at the same time Pfizer shipped millions of doses to Israel. Awash with vaccine, Israel was able to extend vaccination to all those of 16 to 18 years.

To add more pain five days after the Israeli shipment, Pfizer told other non-US clients that it was closing its Belgian facility for an upgrade.

As reported, Netanyahu and Bourla spoke at least 17 times, a significant number of times given that most of the other countries were clamouring for vaccines, and one would think communication would be limited. Netanyahu apparently did a deal; he would pay more – and would provide Pfizer with data relating the vaccine’s effectiveness – in itself an apparently very useful initiative.

It was significant that Palestinians and Gaza residents received none of the Pfizer vaccine, only being provided with Russian vaccine in limited quantity. This vaccine did not need refrigeration but was of doubtful effectiveness.

As the article went on: “By February 22 (2021), Israel had given 47 per cent of its 9 million people, making it the world leader. Italy, meantime, had administered first shots to 3.6 per cent of its citizens.” Some may argue t3.6 per cent is still two million Italians, but everybody’s favourite word these days seems to be “proportionate”.

This transaction can be seen from various viewpoints, but it showed at this window of time, one man’s decision during the height of the pandemic should be analysed especially with what has happened in the following two years.

As the article concluded: There was a vacuum in global leadership he and his Company filled. The world needs better solutions before the next public-health crisis comes around.

There is no doubt that Bourla is very smart, able to clearly see opportunity and he took a risk in releasing a vaccine before exhaustive checking. However, the article does not examine how Netanyahu distributed the vaccine. There are other sources which show he discriminated against Israeli citizens who were non-Jews as well as Palestinians.

Extermination and Holocaust run together. The Nazis ran extermination camps. The problem is the Holocaust is kept alive by the Jewish diaspora. It is the right of Jews to do so, but as surveys are showing the younger goy generation do not feel the same. When I was a young man, it was all too real, but now it is 80 years on, and what is the reason to remember by the younger generation for which it is now ancient history.

I do not believe that the actions of Netanyahu and his cronies are helping. The problem is that the world is in the thrall of old men who were caught by the horror of WWII. This is a generation whose fathers pre-war prevented Jews from joining the Establishment clubs and tolerated them, so long as they knew their place.

Some Jews attempt to defend the current Gazan Extermination by likening to what the Allies did to Germany. But these apologists miss one thing. The US initiated the Marshall Plan. There is now no one of the stature of George Marshall – that giant of the humane who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. 

Quinton McMarles’ Navy

We are not sending a warship to the Red Sea. Given the knee-jerk reflex of Australian Governments to send our military, naval and air forces toys to maintain our ANZAC image, it is very surprising. There are rumours abroad that our navy does not have the technology to avoid being destroyed by Yemeni Drones.

Unfortunately, our backup Collin class triremes are out of service due to a lack of qualified oarsmen and the fact that the last batch of Mesopotamian oars were too short, being made for biremes, and the drum used to regulate the oarsmen rowing rate needed a new cover only made in the Gobi Desert out of the hides of these special yanks – sorry, typo – yaks.

Collins Class Trireme?

I was rummaging around in some Australian Defence Contracts and came across the multi-billion contracts for nuclear ILCA-7 whereby our navy would be able to provide a strike force as far away from Australia as possible – a nuanced strategy to fool the Chinese into believing that we were ignoring the defence of our own country, but these will be stealth sea vehicles because of their size. These were soon to come into service before the end of the century. And literally Australia has nothing to sea.

Anyway, I came across this blog which related to how long it would take a trireme to traverse the Mediterranean, starting from the Pillars of Hercules. This blog obviously thought a trireme starting from there was too hypothetical by being a delightful travelogue for a helmsman ruminating in 300BC, yet probably of relevance to our current naval strategists.

Would trans-Mediterranean voyages trading vessels need to stop and resupply (or conduct trade) at various ports along the route, or would they just make the journey all in one go, without stopping?

300 BC is an interesting date to choose because there were so many different kingdoms and empires vying for dominance in the region. A voyage would have begun in the Carthaginian port of Corthon and proceeded eastward past the port of Carthage itself. Then, as you entered the Tyrrhenian Sea, your journey would take you past Sardinia (also under Carthage’s control) and Sicily (divided between Carthaginians and Greeks who have a tentative and tense peace within a series of wars). If you’d stopped at a port like Brindisi or Taranto, you’d meet people of Greek and Spartan heritage, only a few years away from losing control of their cities to the Roman Republic. Continue east into the Ionian Sea and you are subject to the various warring successors to Alexander the Great. Continue past Crete and dodge the various pirates who take refuge there. Once you get to Alexandria, you’ll find it under new management (Ptolemy came to power in 305 BCE) and a city very much Under Construction — no lighthouse, not much of a library, its greatness mostly in the planning and building stages at that point.

Pehr Edman

We have had friends from Sweden visiting Sydney this past month. They have since returned for a traditional Christmas, having their last meal with us of Caesar salad and mini-pavlova a few days before they left to go home.

It was thus apposite that I found this reference to the late Pehr Edman.

Dr Pehr Edman

While in Cambridge for a biological and medical science editors’ conference in the mid-eighties, I sat next to Dr Lars Bottiger, the Editor of Acta Medica Scandinavica as well as Professor and Head of the Department of Medicine at the Karolinska Hospital and Institute in Stockholm. Being a discussion between a Swedish and an Australian doctor, our conversation turned to Pehr Edman who, as a Swedish expatriate, spent many years in Australia heading up the School of Medical Research at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. Edman was a remarkable man – being a medical graduate and, moreover, a top protein chemist. It was rumoured that Edman was experiencing domestic problems, which was making life less than tolerable in his home country.

It was about that time that a colourful racing identity had died and left a substantial amount for scientific research at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne. One of the Medical Professors, John Hayden got wind of the potential availability of Edman, knew of his already distinguished research career and recruited him to Melbourne in 1957, where he stayed until 1972.

Edman will be remembered for one achievement – and he did it so well. He devised the method by which proteins could be sequenced from the N-terminal end – one amino acid at a time – without denaturing the protein. Then, it was one amino acid sequence a day; by the time of the Conference, with sophisticated automatic equipment, it is one amino acid an hour. Without loss of substance, the original method could sequence 10 amino acids from the N-terminal end; now the score is more of the order of 80 at one time. In fact, there is rarely a need for such a long sequence, and so sensitive the equipment was even then that the sequencing could take place in the picomole range.

Edman would have shared, at the very least, the Nobel Prize (he died of a brain tumour in Munich in 1977) in 1984 when the Nobel Prize for Chemistry went to R. Bruce Merrifield, who was the obverse of Edman in that he built up proteins while Edman knocked them down, albeit with great style. Edman was mentioned in the announcement of Merrifield’s Nobel Prize.

Australia was well served by Pehr Edman. He worked with Geoff Begg to develop an automatic amino acid sequenator. He trained Hugh Niall and Frank Morgan, both distinguished medical graduate scientists. Hugh Niall fashioned a very distinguished career in San Francisco as the divisional head of protein chemistry in a then-emerging company, Genentech Inc.

To me, Edman himself appeared to be a very self-effacing man for, even though I worked two floors below his Laboratory for one year in 1966 as a morbid anatomist, I can remember seeing him only once or twice in that year. But then, maybe he came in early.

Mouse Whisper

A Boston relative sent this extract from the local paper.

It sounds like a prank engineered by climate change activists, or a vengeful ex-lover. But the situation was all too real: At the last minute, because of adverse weather, thousands of passengers who thought they were about to cruise from New York to Florida and a private island in the Bahamas were informed that they would instead be sailing to Boston, Portland and Canada. Dreaming of sunshine and piña coladas, they were now facing clam chowder and Bruins fans. And rain, lots of rain.

A case of Cruise Missed Isle?

Bottle of Screech anyone?

Modest Expectations – Irène Joliot-Curie

Christmas is well and truly over and today is Epiphany. The remains of that day in December have been long eaten. The last mince pie signalled the end of what has increasingly become a secular holiday, given over to gift giving and delays in getting anywhere.  Our Christmas tree will remain until Candlemas. The hymns of 2nd February lack the gentleness of the Yuletide but have the robustness of the Presentation of Christ, the Circumcised, in the Temple.

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” replace “Away in the Manger”.

Then at Christmas there was the excruciating King’s speech; it is interesting how we accepted the starchy nothingness of his mother for so many years, but then nobody bothered with her ratings. The intrusion of such speeches is like making sure you clean your teeth. It’s wholesome, takes little time, but of what relevance? It is certainly not in placing the holy liniment on the aristocratic brow sometime at a costly Coronation this year. The Carolingian speech, if not to be considered high-falutin’ dribble, should be followed by funding to the needy, rather than having an unnecessarily tawdry, increasingly irrelevant ritual such as crowning Charles.

We give the grandchildren cash for Christmas and for that matter their birthdays. Equal recognition for all, age notwithstanding. Only one variation is when they reach 21 years, each gets an extra 21 dollars.

After all, in regard to Christmas, as reported in The Economist, one Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota identified a “deadweight loss” when he studied the difference between the cost of seasonal gifts and how much their recipients valued them after they had accounted for exchanges and put sentimental value aside. Today he says that on average cash spent on another person yields around 85% of the benefit of cash they spend on themselves. Although gift-giving may make some people happy, it’s “a lousy way to allocate resources.”

No reason for not being economically rational at Christmas; nobody is trying to pass through the eye of a needle, especially after Christmas.

Statues of Women

Sofia senza Prof Wright

There she was, in her Emma Peel black ensemble striking her Avenger pose. Professor Clare Wright, her booted foot on the plinth of the statue of ‘Sofia’ by Herman Hohaus at LaTrobe University Bundoora Campus, which apparently typifies the allegorical depiction of women in statues.  The garden is empty; no students in sight playing homage to this carving.

This Professor of History’s comments have excited a great number of responses since she made the observation that there were far more statues of males than females in Victoria. The figure of nine to about 500 was quoted. She wanted redress, and predictably the Melbourne City Council responded by scrounging three worthy women from the archives to have statues made of them and plonked who knows where.

Now a brass life size figure costs $40,000 upwards, and if the ultimate aim of Professor Wright is to have an equal number of female statues scattered around the city and suburbia, it would be at a cost rivalling the Coronation of Charles Rex. Rather, let us reduce the number of statues of men to nine. Would that satisfy Professor Wright? After all, statues after unveiling stand mute, unnoticed, hidden, defaced.

There is one statue, which was once placed prominently at the corner of Point Nepean Road and Bay Street Brighton. The subject of the statue, Tommy Bent, was a crook. The statue has now been moved to what is described as an inauspicious location just off Bay Road. Next to the statue a beautifully crafted public fountain, of Italian marble, provides a re-hydration station for the many cyclists that make their daily commute to and from the city for work. It might be said that this fountain dedicated to his wife Elizabeth Bent may ultimately come to be most cherished by locals, because it at least has a useful function.

Take Field Marshall Blamey and his prostitute trail. He is commemorated by a statue standing erect in a jeep at the corner of Birdwood Drive and the Governor’s Drive. Perhaps it would be appropriate to have the Madame Brussels condom dispenser next to his statue to commemorate in addition, the long line of distinguished parliamentarians who used her services and that of her successors, maybe carved in the form of the parliamentary mace which ended up one eventful night in her brothel.

Professor Wright has started me thinking. Between 1837 and 2022, there have been only 51 years when our monarch was a king. Do you know how many statues there are of Queen Victoria in Australia? Nine, plus a monument in Geelong – the same number as in London alone. Pray, what did those worthy queens do for women’s rights, and for that matter for the progress of civilisation.  There are only seven of George V, four of which are in Victoria; two of Edward VII, and George VI gets a consolation prize of a couple of gates. Elizabeth II has four, including one in Adelaide which is a real real tribute to longevity.  The number of statues across the globe of Queen Victoria may just reflect a time that is passing, in that government – particularly local councils – do not have the spare cash to build a folly to a worthy. If it is functional like gates or barbed wire, it doesn’t cost much to label it such as the King Charles III Stretch of Barbed Wire in the Kimberley.

Statue construction these days tends to be of sporting heroes and it seems fitting when the fans embellish his statue with their own dedication. Sporting bodies as the prototype of the new religion are just going through an iconophile phase, a sign of their prosperity. It is a pity that the statue of Warne when periodically venerated by his fans resembles a rubbish heap in the alleyway behind an inner city café.

The Little Mermaid

Personally I have only sought out two statues – one was the Little Mermaid overlooking the Baltic Sea in Oslo; the second, the evocative sculpture of John Betjeman at the Paddington train station, peering upwards towards the roof of the monumental station that he in life strove successfully to save.

In the end I suspect Professor Wright has a very traditional view of sculpture. In another age she probably may have promoted statues of Queen Victoria in every town in Australia – maybe not – if only to ensure gender equality.

We at home have our own sculpture of one of the Pleiades carved by a Yorta Yorta man and painted by a Yorta Yorta woman. The Pleiades are the seven daughters of the Titan god Atlas and the ocean nymph Pleione. They look down upon us from their celestial home. The representation we have is made from mallee wood. It is superb.

Thus, every day when we are home, the statuesque woman presides – part of the household lares et penates – protecting us. It has a special meaning of an Australia where our female heritage can only be sculpted if there is an empathetic receptiveness, not because of silly notions of political correctness.

A Box of Mystery

The box appeared as my wife was clearing the family house. She had never seen it before. An empty box of mystery indeed!

It is varnished, stained chestnut, very light to pick up, and on the inner side of the lid is an elliptical monogram of curlicues around which is the inscription “Queen of The Orient – Made of the Finest Manila Leaf.”

It seems that manila leaf is tea, and that would stand to reason given the size of the container. It is a box, not a caddy. Wooden caddies, a word derived from the Chinese catty, normally are compartmentalised, originally to separate green and black tea but when that division was abandoned, the wooden tea chest or caddy, with a lid and a lock, was still made with two and often three divisions. In the actual caddies, the central portion became reserved for sugar. In the late 18th and early 19th century, caddies made from mahogany and rosewood were popular, but this box was made very much later, and while it was light, it was certainly not balsa nor one of the afore mentioned fancy woods. Probably just pine or poplar, my expert brother-in-law thought, rapping its lid.

The family has a history of timber working as my late father-in-law made nearly three hundred boxes, showcasing different timbers. I remember scrounging pieces of English elm for him from one of the trees in Melbourne which had been toppled in a storm, and which had been sawn up ready for disposal. Since the advent of Dutch elm disease there are very few places in the world where English elms still thrive. Melbourne was one of these, for a now protected timber, almost impossible to obtain unless nature intervenes as this was the case,

This box may have been made by him and been forgotten. What gave the individuality to this box however was the intricate carving.

On the box lid was an emu and a kangaroo on either side of a crown and around the edge was a border of triangles, both upright and inverted, separated by a thin line creating a cartouche. The body of each of the emu and kangaroo was faceted so that when you turn them to the light the facets have a silvery glow.

On the front of the box is the Australian flag on a hoist.  It is encased in a similar cartouche, in each corner of which are stylised flowers. The other sides of the box have no decoration. The figures are primitive, but the woodworking is that of a skilled craftsman. As a boy, my father-in-law lived on a farm and was one of a large family of sons. He was taught by his mother to sew, knit and crochet – and his fine movement co-ordination was an important attribute. But since he is no longer alive, there is no firm confirmation of provenance.

When I had looked at the box first, originally I thought it was pokerwork. However it is not two-dimensional; the more I turned it over the more I admired it, very fine carving

As has been written attempting to place it in our art heritage: Pokerworking (or pyrography), especially of functional items, reflects early 20th century domestic life and “almost everyone who lived in Australia before World War II seemed to have at least one pokerwork ornament or decorated utilitarian object” Yet it is also an art form which is under appreciated today, despite its significance to social history and the arts and crafts movement. Remember, the next time you see a piece of pokerwork, appreciate the craft involved and don’t discard it so easily!

The Aboriginal people employed pokerworking as a form of decorating, not only of their everyday utensils such the coolamon, but also in the creation of figures, notably the goanna. We have a number of examples of these collected mostly from the desert tribes, which we have scattered around our home. 

XBB sounds like a High Speed Train 

Americans can “maximize” their protection against XBB and the other variants by staying up to date with their vaccine. What does that mean? Yes, what does that mean, Dr Kelly? 

I listened to the Health Minister this week talking about the requirement for testing on travellers coming into Australia from China. Apart from using the terminology of “abundance of caution” at least five times, he then went on to give a curious state of play which suggests that there is some conflict aboard in the Halls of Albanese. Minister Butler was careful to refer to the public health advice of the various chief medical officers, which appeared to give the green light to travellers from China coming into the country, but by the end of his press conference, he was outlining a series of restrictions to reduce the impact of a COVID invasion through Chinese vectors. The amber light is flashing brightly.

Hence, I am surprised that Paul Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer, is opposed to the step-by-step approach to ensure that Australia has some data to work with from these incoming travellers from China (and in fact worldwide), in unknown numbers, vectors seeding the COVID variants around the country. Probably my opposing view may be too harsh – and smacks of the yellow peril fallacy. However, Australia cannot run a public health system blindfolded, even if contact tracing is apparently unworkable and Australia has to rely on testing the water supply, where there is still no nationwide consistency.

The white flag is being waved by the academic experts. As one is reported as saying:

“The virus continues to circulate globally. We do need to monitor for variants carefully, but screening everyone coming from China won’t make any material difference to the state of the transmission in Australia.”

As one suffering from long COVID, who has followed instructions when they have some meaning, why do we keep paying guys like this one proffering such meaningless maunderings?

I am not sure if these two articles below (combined from The Boston Globe and The Washington Post) help much, apart from providing in one sense improved information, raising the level of uncertainty, and wondering whether instead of watching, a course of action could be set out. They do indicate it is not only China where the variants are spreading. The cruise ships one must say are convenient worldwide vectors. Apart from which, both the US and UK have significant outbreaks of a new variant – there are no test requirements

A new coronavirus variant dubbed XBB has swiftly become the dominant form of COVID-19 spreading in the Northeast (of the USA), jumping from about 35 percent of cases during the week ending Dec. 17 to just over half of cases last week, according to CDC data.

Here’s a quick primer on what we know about the variant from The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

Is XBB more transmissible? Experts say the rapid spread of the XBB variant suggests it’s more adept than its predecessors at evading the immunity that comes from vaccines and infections.

“The most likely explanation is that it’s more transmissible,” said Dr. Jeremy Luban, professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biotechnology at UMass Medical School, in a recent interview.

Who is at greatest risk? As with other recent variants, people who are immunocompromised face greater risk, and the monoclonal antibodies used to treat them do not work against the latest variants, including XBB. That has eliminated an important tool for treating some of the most vulnerable patients.

What can I do to protect myself? As always, experts urge people to get booster shots. The bivalent booster vaccine, which works against the Omicron variant as well as the original form of the virus, appears to be especially effective against XBB, according to a recent small study.

If I test positive for XBB, could I be looking at severe illness? While XBB does not seem to cause more severe illness or death, little is known about the effects of its subvariants, XBB.1 and XBB.1.5, which have turned up in the Northeast, said  the assistant dean of research at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Jonesboro, Ark., campus, in a recent interview.

What are experts saying about XBB? In a Dec. 23 online column, Dr. Eric Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., noted that the arrival of XBB.1.5 in New York coincided with a marked rise in hospitalizations in that State. He predicted on Tuesday that “XBB will soon be the dominant variant nationwide. A functional @CDCgov would alert the public about the XBB.1.5 variant — which has already established dominance throughout the Northeast — and, with its big growth advantage over BQ.1.1, soon country-wide.”

“Of course, other factors are likely contributing such as waning of immunity, indoor/holiday gatherings, cold weather, lack of mitigation. But it is noteworthy that New York’s [COVID-19] hospital admission rate is the highest since late January,” he wrote. “So we don’t know for sure how much of this is being driven by XBB.1.5, but it doesn’t look favourable.”

Dr. Cyrus Shaphar, the White House’s COVID-19 data director, tweeted on 23rd Dec, that Americans can “maximize” their protection against XBB and the other variants by staying up to date with their vaccines. He also noted that the highest concentration of XBB can currently be found in the north-eastern part of the country.

The University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy notes on its website that the CDC’s variant projections for the week ending Dec. 24 show “that the Omicron XBB variant, a recombinant of two BA.2 viruses, now makes up 18.3 percent of sequenced samples, up sharply from the week before. Much of the rise appears to be from two northeastern regions where XBB is now the dominant subtype. XBB has fuelled outbreaks in parts of Asia, including Singapore.”

Regarding XBB, the Centre says, “experts are watching a subvariant called XBB.1.5 that was detected in New York and has a mutation that has been linked to immune escape. Scientists suspect that XBB.1.5 has a growth advantage over BQ.1.1.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday it is tracking a new variant of concern dubbed XBB.1.5. According to new figures published Friday, it estimates XBB.1.5 makes up 40.5% of new infections across the country. 

XBB.1.5’s ascent is overtaking other Omicron variant cousins BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which had dominated a wave of over the fall. Scientists believe its recent growth could be driven by key mutations on top of what was already one of the more immune evasive strains of Omicron to date.

“We’re projecting that it’s going to be the dominant variant in the Northeast region of the country and that it’s going to increase in all regions of the country,” said Dr. Barbara Mahon, director of the CDC’s proposed Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, in an interview with CBS News.

Mahon said the agency had not listed XBB.1.5 separately in its earlier projections because the strain had not cleared a minimum threshold in the underlying sequences collected by the agency.

The agency’s 40.5% figure is only a projection, Mahon stressed, with a probability interval ranging right now from 22.7% to 61.0%.

XBB.1.5’s prevalence is largest in the Northeast, the agency estimates. Most of the earliest cases from XBB.1.5 recorded in global databases through early November were sequenced around New York and Massachusetts.

More than 70% of infections in the regions spanning New Jersey through New England are now from XBB.1.5, the agency is projecting.

The ascent of XBB.1.5 comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations have accelerated across the U.S. in recent weeks. The pace of new admissions is now worse than this past summer’s peak in several regions, but still lower than at this time last winter.

“There’s no suggestion at this point that XBB.1.5 is more severe. But I think it is a really good time for people to do the things that we have been saying for quite a while are the best ways to protect themselves,” said Mahon.

This month, the Northeast has recorded some of the worst COVID-19 hospital admission rates out of any region in the country. In New England, the CDC says new hospitalizations among Americans 70 and older have climbed to the highest levels seen since early February.

Around 13% of Americans are currently living in areas of “high” COVID-19 Community Levels, where the agency currently urges masking. Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City rank among the biggest counties now at these levels.

Mahon said XBB.1.5’s mutations could be part of driving the increase where XBB had failed to gain a foothold. But she added that other factors, like the higher risk posed by respiratory viruses during the winter holiday season, could also be playing a factor.

Mahon cited the agency’s recommendations to seek out updated COVID booster shots, as well as taking other precautions like improving ventilation, testing before gathering, or masking in high COVID areas.

“So that advice doesn’t change at all. And this time of year is a really good time to be following that advice,” said Mahon.

The XBB.1.5 strain is a spinoff of the XBB variant, itself a “recombinant” blend of two prior Omicron strains, which drove a wave of infections overseas earlier this year. 

Earlier this year, the Biden administration had voiced optimism that XBB was unlikely to dominate infections in the country. South Asian nations like Singapore reported that strain appeared to pose a lower risk of hospitalization relative to earlier Omicron variants. Now, the CDC says that increase was driven largely by XBB.1.5. After ungrouping XBB.1.5, the agency estimates all other XBB infections currently make up just 3% of cases nationwide.

Beyond its parent, XBB.1.5 has an additional change called S486P. Chinese scientists have reported the mutation appears to offer a “greatly enhanced” ability to bind to cells, which could be helping drive its spread.

“We’ve been tracking XBB for weeks as I said, and it was XBB and XBB.1, and they really weren’t taking off. They weren’t increasing rapidly in proportion,” said Mahon. Before evolving into XBB.1.5, XBB had already ranked among the strains with the largest immune-evasion relative to earlier major Omicron strains. Scientists in Japan reported this week that XBB appeared to be “the most profoundly resistant variant” to antibodies from breakthrough infections of any lineage they had tested.

Like BQ.1, XBB is resistant to a roster of monoclonal antibody drugs that doctors had relied on earlier in the pandemic before they were sidelined by new variants. Data from a team of federally-backed researchers earlier this year found the current batch of updated bivalent boosters appear to offer better “neutralizing activity” against Omicron variants, including XBB, when testing antibodies in the blood of people who got the updated booster compared to after only the original vaccines. 

When is the 3rd booster coming here?

“We expect that the bivalent booster will provide protection against XBB.1.5 as it has against other Omicron subvariants. And if people haven’t gotten it yet, this is a great time to do it,” Mahon said.

However, antibody responses in that study were also worse for XBB compared to the other strains they studied. 

“The XBB.1.5 variant would look similar to the XBB we tested in our study. The R346T/I mutation within the spike increases the ability of the virus to evade antibodies more efficiently,” Emory University’s Mehul Suthar told CBS News in an email.

For antiviral drugs like Pfizer’s Paxlovid, data from another team of scientists in Japan suggest they will retain efficacy against XBB. “With what we know so far, XBB.1.5 has not acquired any new mutations in the viral protein targeted by Paxlovid. The susceptibility of XBB.1.5 against Paxlovid should not change, given the current data,” emailed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Peter Halfmann.

Everyone seems to be watching XBB.1.5 and hopefully the advice about the effectiveness of current vaccines and antivirals is borne out – in Australia we just need wider access to the new bivalent booster and the antivirals.

Mouse Whisper

Do you know what the Health Minister Butler said to his pet kangaroo at the side of the Southern Expressway?

“A Bound with Caution!”

Modest Expectations – An Atlanta Fruit Tree?

Reflecting on our experience on a ship where there were around 300 crew and passengers, before we boarded, we all had a supervised RAT (Rapid Antigen Test) in Vietnam, as I previously reported. Everyone initially needed a negative test to be cleared to board, although that requirement has now been abandoned. When one of the crew was detected positive, he or she was isolated and the rest of the crew were masked for the whole time. It was interesting that the only member of the crew who had difficulty maintaining his mask was the maître d’, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Peter Dutton, even down to the abruptness in manner and the stoop. He was Belgian, quite an uncanny resemblance!

Majestic Princess

But the large “plague boats” are back, with all the protestations that all has changed – or has it? Now, this is the Majestic Princess not the Ruby Princess.  Same problem? The Majestic Princess, which berthed recently in Sydney, was carrying 4,000 passengers and crew and about one in seven contracted COVID.  Very similar number of infected compared with the Ruby Princess. The cruise information states:

If you opt for the former {RAT}, all you have to do is take a photo of the negative RAT result displayed next to a government-issued photo ID, such as your driver’s licence or passport, as well as a clock showing the time the test was completed. This could be a wall clock, mobile phone screen or a wrist watch. Once you have the photo, make sure you have it stored and ready to show upon request at the terminal.

Prefer a pre-departure PCR test? You’ll receive a text message from the relevant laboratory or health authority and all you have to do is show it on request before you board the ship. Spot checks will be carried out in all cruise terminals across the country. Fail to produce proof of a negative Covid-19 test result and you will have to undertake a RAT before entering the terminal. Test positive and you will be denied boarding.

This “advice” in its laissez-faire form suggests that chances are that probably nobody will bother you, and we accept with a straight face that everyone will be uniform in taking appropriate personal responsibility to have the test. When the Ruby Princess passengers in 2020 were disembarked so surprisingly quickly, my blogs at the time expressed my disbelief at what I believed was an unforgivable breach of public health requirements that had been facilitated by Government, with components of both Federal and NSW State shirking responsibility. It was a time when social isolation, contact tracing and hand hygiene were the only weapons against the pandemic. At that time there was neither vaccine nor test, let alone anti-viral drugs and there was no offical support for mask wearing.

Then, the rules were based around lockdown to facilitate social isolation, hotel quarantine and international and state border closures. These no longer apply since the Premier highjacked the public health agenda for advocacy of personal responsibility. It is no longer mandatory for NSW residents who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate. However, NSW Health strongly recommends those who are sick or who have tested positive to stay home until their symptoms end and do not visit people in aged care, disability care or hospital for at least seven days. The Chief Health Officer appears occasionally to exhort, but effectively she is muzzled.

Quarantine is unequivocally a Federal responsibility but the then Prime Minister Morrison, in his normal response to anything difficult, took the route of “divide and rule”, which meant that a chance to have a uniform national policy was lost.

Now the cruise liners are back, and despite the community having better tools to combat the Virus, these Carnival Cruises seem not to have learnt anything much.  There they were, the ambulances today lined up to take away the sickest (two identified), and the others were packed off home with masks and a recommendation that they isolate themselves and avoid public transport. There seemed no consideration as to how these persons were actually going to get home. In fact, it is reported that the infected mingled with the non-infected as they disembarked. As someone commented, good time to avoid the trains north. Now where were the public health and quarantine officers to supervise the disembarkation. Once one goes down the gangplank most cruise companies divest themselves of all responsibility. The terminology is somewhat cloying as “passengers” have become ship “guests”.

Putting this disaster into perspective, NSW reported 19,800 new COVID-19 cases last week. Question is, at what order of magnitude would we find the real number since positive RATs are no longer reported – 10, 20, 50, 100, 500?

The unofficial Government apologist, Deakin University Epidemiology Chair, Professor Catherine Bennett, said it was likely that only a fraction of the 800 cruise cases would have been detected had they been onshore, dismissing any notion the outbreak will have an impact on the State’s case numbers. In other words, she was saying that 19,800 was an underestimate, as contact tracing and positive case reporting have long gone. But fearlessly she did place an estimate: “We are probably only counting 10 per cent of cases at the moment,” Bennett said. “Not only that, but the ones we are really unlikely to be testing are those asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases”. An immediate comment. How does she come to a figure of 10 per cent, which suggests that there were 200,000 cases last week in NSW? Further, mild and asymptomatic cases can lead to long COVID; no infection is trivial!

These cases [on the ship] have been detected through mandatory testing, and now they are being masked up and told to be careful. This is a known, small risk in a sea of the largely unknown.” If you read the conditions, it is difficult to claim it is mandatory if you do not police it. Were they sure that nobody was harbouring the Virus when they boarded – the Virus does need a vector – and it seems no attempt is made to try and work out that problem. The ship was going to be deep cleaned, whatever that means in terms of its effect on numbers. Presumably the ship was “deep cleaned” before the recent trip – problem is, are the passengers and crew deep cleaned as well?

Then another expert weighed in. Associate Professor James Trauer, a respiratory consultant physician who is the Head of Epidemiological Modelling in Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, agreed with her.

“I don’t think it’s anything to panic about for the rest of Sydney … it will be a drop in the ocean, really,” he said.

He then goes on to counter the “ocean drop” argument by saying “the main concern would be if those on the cruise, who are generally older, go on to visit vulnerable people, such as aged care residents, while infectious.” But mate, they should be at home until they are COVID-negative, and by the way was everyone on the cruise given COVID testing kits when they left the ship?

These comments were drawn by the SMH from two academic bystanders – from interstate. Why them? Where was the NSW government response? Where are you, Dr Chant?

Who is Reprehensible, Gentlemen?

The Cipher Bureau was shuttered in 1929, shortly after the arrival of Henry Stimson as the new (US) Secretary of State. Apparently, Stimson thought this type of surveillance was unethical, and he issued what is perhaps one of the best foreign policy statements ever:

“Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

I thought of the above when Australia was recently consumed with indignation with the Optus followed by Medibank hacks. How dare they?

Russia has shown that it can invade Australia without putting a foot in the country. We constantly expose ourselves to retaliation from those who see us as a small bellicose nation that will go to war now at the drop of an American Flag – where once waving the Union Jack elicited a similar knee jerk response.

Sure, Putin is an evil bastard, but he knows what he knows and that is fighting dirty. He poisons his opponents; he has strangled the opposition, but he has developed a cyber apparatus which has shown Australia to be full of hicks. Just as the Japanese, with their sophisticated Zeros, that shot down the aged Australian Wirraways over Darwin in 1942 had emphasised our technological lag. How dare they have superior technology without telling us, protested the Colonel Blimps over their Scotch and water.

Again, we find Australia has been flailing around. I would suggest respectfully that it is equally reprehensible that the management of these companies is not investing in the appropriate defences to combat an attack from these Russian legions. The Russians are doing what is their job, however distasteful. The idea that we are going to expose them, pursue them and bring them to justice is certainly a challenge for a Federal Police Force, which has never shown itself to have the capacity in so many fields, in so many instances. What are they going to do now in response? Bomb the Kremlin. Shirtfront Putin. What does “we shall hack the hackers” actually mean?

The hackers may systematically try to hack each health fund in turn; perhaps also Medicare. This obsessive Government needs to keep identified information from being vulnerable and raises the question of whether we need such a vast amount of identified information.

What is more dangerous is if de-identified information is thrown away in this affronted panic. Such information is vital for understanding the health of the population – if anybody cared for such evidence-based facts over their opinionated biases and conspiracy theories, which have characterised the Plague Years, if not before.

But then our governments always have difficultly distinguishing between baby and bath water.

Where is the John?

  • An alert from The Washington Post:

 A new powerhouse is emerging in the U.S. Senate — but this one has nothing to do with politics.

John Fetterman

In January, exactly 10 percent of all U.S. senators — ahem, 10 out of 100 — will be named John or Jon. Sen-elect John Fetterman (D-Pa.) will be the latest addition to the John/Jon phenomenon, which was noted on Wednesday by Grace Segers, who covers Congress and politics for the New Republic journal.

It doesn’t help that 11 members of the House are also named John. The Senate’s John/Jon ranks include members of both parties. Even though it is a common name for American men, it is still overrepresented among the senators. 

Come January, the number of Johns and Jons in the Senate will surpass the current number of Hispanic and Black senators. In the last century, fewer than 5 per cent of babies have been named John, according to the Social Security Administration. Census data from 2020 shows that Latinos make up nearly 19 percent of the population and Black people about 12 percent.

The Social Security Administration tracked the most popular names for births in the last 100 years. John was ranked No. 3 with more than 4.4 million babies given the name, behind James and Robert.

Ian Hamilton. Who?

Ian Hamilton

Ian Hamilton died on October 3 this year. I read about his death in The Economist. He was 97.  He was a different hacker from those above, but his hacking of the Stone of Scone prompted outrage in the British Press at the time causing even the English border with Scotland to be closed. Hamilton was the ringleader in a band of young Scottish Nationalists who hacked the Stone of Scone from its place in Westminster Abbey – and took it back to Scotland. I remember reading about it in 1950 as a ten year old. In the affronted accounts of the robbery, the stone hackers were accused of treason.

The Economist obituarian sets the scene (sic): As treasures went, this one was no beauty. It was an oblong block of red sandstone, 26 inches long by 16.7 wide by 10.5 deep, rough-hewn and chisel-pocked. One face was incised with a crude cross, and two iron rings on chains were set into the ends. By young Ian Hamilton’s estimate—for he had borrowed book after book on it from the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where he was studying law at the university—it weighed four hundredweight: in fact it weighed 336lb, or 152 kilos. It was also crammed tightly under the ancient wooden coronation chair of the kings and queens of England in Westminster Abbey. All this made it difficult to abscond with. But that was what he meant to do.

It took a number of attempts to hack the stone from its resting place during which time the Stone broke in two. The Stone had been ripped from its place in Scone Abbey in 1296 by Edward 1 and although there was a promise to return it, nothing was done and the Stone remained under the Coronation Chair. According to Scottish Nationalists like Hamilton the stone should have long since been returned.

Led by Ian Hamilton, then a young Scottish law student at the University of Glasgow, with three other fellow law students he took the Stone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve 1950. The Stone broke in two, and they hid the pieces before taking them to the ruined Abbey of Arbroath, where they lifted them onto the altar, covered the pieces with the Scottish flag and left them there.

After four months, the Stone was discovered and the two pieces were joined together and then returned to Westminster Abbey. Hamilton and his crew were prosecuted but then withdrawn. Eventually the Stone was returned to Scotland in 1996, with the proviso that it be returned for any coronation of a British monarch.

In many ways, this act – symbolic of his Scottish nationalism – was what he was always associated with in life; and now remembered in his obituary. His career as a lawyer brought a certain further notoriety. What he did, in the words of the obituary writer: [In] 1953 he was already famous as a second petitioner in a landmark case, MacCormick v Lord Advocate, over whether Queen Elizabeth II should be plain “Queen Elizabeth” in Scotland. The first Elizabeth, after all, had never ruled there”. He lost the case but nevertheless exposed deficiencies in the Act of Union of 1707.

The Stone of Scone

A film was made of the exploit; he was known as “the Stone Man”; he was revered by the Scottish Nationalist Party although he was never elected to parliamentary office. The Economist rarely if ever publishes an obituary about insubstantial figures even if, in the vast majority of cases, nobody outside has heard of the Stone of Scone – “no it’s ‘scoon’ you heathen!”

The Economist did not get it wrong this time either. Ian was quite a hacker!

Mouse Whisper

Monaco has three national animals – wood mouse being one of them. The other are the hedgehog and the rabbit. I suppose that they are the appropriate size to fit into such a micro-country. But where is the wood in Monaco? There are ten parks and gardens in Monaco, although I doubt whether these omnivore relatives of mine would be welcome in some of them, even though they do wear the national insignia – red and white. Beware, the Monaco and Indonesian flags are very much the same, although some would say, the Indonesian flag is more a scarlet red than that of Monaco.

As a piece of associated trivia did you know that at the 1936 Olympic Games, Haiti and Liechtenstein paraded with same flag? These have since been modified to create what is now a marked difference. Incidentally, Haiti’s only athlete in 1936 pulled out with injury, and the Liechtenstein team came nowhere in athletics, road racing and shooting.

Liechtenstein has in fact won 10 Olympic medals in Alpine skiing; none in the summer Olympics; whereas Haiti has won two – a bronze in 1924 for shooting and a silver in 1928 in the men’s long jump. During this time, Haiti coincidentally was occupied by the American military.

Chubby, my Haitian twisted tooth mouse, once told me all about the mix up with the flags, confirmed by my other Liechtenstein relative, Saffron, the yellow necked mouse – and you know when we mice get together, we do talk about the “miceties” of life.

Monegasque’s National Wood Mouse

Modest Expectations – The Alamo

As I finish my blog we are marooned by devastating floods which have inundated north-west Tasmania as part of a rain bomb, which has been particularly acute over Victoria and Tasmania. We have our car, but the car ferry is indefinitely cancelled and we have to find our way back to Sydney before the end of next week. In my blog, I had a piece critical of the way a particular amount of money was proposed to be allocated to the local council. While the premise is unchanged, it would have been in poor taste to publish it, given the damage being done to countless settlements in the Meander Valley, making the grant in question seem a paltry sum. Now there is a very good reason to provide funding in the wake of the severest flooding the area has suffered.

“A Little Flu”

Today is the day that most of the final restrictions relating to COVID have been removed. The question remains as to how effective our reaction to the virus has been.

There seems to be only one person who is still listened to by those children of the business community – the politicians – on public health. He was present when the politicians did not know what to do in early 2020. His intervention at a time when the Federal Cabinet was consumed by an extreme anxiety, when one of their number, Dutton, returned from America with the Virus. It was a time before vaccines, and the hysteria was fomented by comparisons with the Spanish flu outbreak, when millions died worldwide.

The one thing which frightens politicians is a feeling of helplessness. One stratagem is to diminish the threat – “the little flu” of Brazil’s Bolsonaro; another is to wish it will go away – “the Munich response”. Another is to ignore it until it is too late – and believe that once there are signs of improvement, you no longer need expert advice.

Prof Paul Kelly

The then new Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, had three important advantages. First, he was expert in public health; second, he had a calming influence while being shrewd enough to balance the plethora of opinion swirling around him to support the most politically acceptable course, while not abandoning all his principles.

Now, almost three years later, Kelly is still in his job and is now the expert face of a basically similar group of politicians, who are now advocating the populace take personal responsibility for its actions at a time when the pandemic is far from over. Such a course of action has enabled the various governments to abrogate their responsibility. The Pauline nuance has changed but he has maintained relevance – albeit by a thin thread.

When the Virus emerged, it was a time when social isolation and personal hygiene were the only strategies; even masks were not generally recommended. It soon became clear that this pandemic would be more than the false alarm generated by other exotic viral infections earlier in the 21st century, which ended up self-contained. Then COVID came along.

When you reflect on the closure of borders and the situations then and now, there are marked changes in the decision makers. No longer is Brendan Murphy paraded as the face of a successful response; Minister Hunt is gone; and one of the major disruptive forces, Gladys Berejiklian, also. She presided over the most egregious breach of the COVID rules when the passengers were hastily disembarked from the Ruby Princess while 600 on board were infected and given the shenanigans which occurred with its sister ship, the Diamond Princess in Japan. It all foreshadowed the final outcome two years later – business eventually dismantling the safeguards and the elderly in particular bearing the brunt of the mantra of “personal responsibility”

I copped a great deal of criticism about the Ruby Princess fiasco by identifying the wrong target, and in particular being excessively critical of the Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant.  The problem in this world of modern bureaucracy, the minions take the blame. I prefer to look higher up the ladder to attribute blame. Moreover, Berejiklian with her “goodie two shoes” role, rather than accepting some of the blame, appeared in a front page article in the AFR coquettishly posing in virginal white suit, accompanying an article describing her as the saviour of Australia. No wonder that the other Premiers did not warm to her. The Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, aided by her eccentric chief medical officer who now has been buried away from the media as Governor, certainly came in conflict with Berijiklian.

Yet in a pre-vaccine era, with its program of severe lockdowns, with border closures, Australia (together with New Zealand) was seen as the best place in the World to be in controlling the Virus.  It was draconian, and only a short term solution, although it was not seen in that light then.

But then, the success story began to fray. The seeds for this had been planted. From the onset, public health became the plaything of the media. The more public health experts could be seen as having different opinions, the more the media harvested spice. The problem is that organised health, and here I include The Australian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, were not proactive in the early days when rules promoting certainty could have been set down.

A further problem, beside the antics of Berejiklian which alienated the other Premiers, was the reflex behaviour of a Prime Minister whose first reaction was to divide, seed doubts and, as became increasingly clear, substitute fiction for facts. Despite the cover of a National Cabinet, no long-term strategy was developed. At the heart of their thinking was that the pandemic would be self-limiting and that eventually it would die down. Then the government could declare success, which it did anyway, if somewhat prematurely.

The second mistake was the government’s choice of vaccines, one was a complete dud; the other adequate, but old technology. Then the deficiencies of a government which had heavily invested in social distancing, enforced by the police, became less and less enforceable.

At the same time there was a series of administrative blunders – delaying investment in the vaccines and then in the rapid tests. The development of mRNA vaccines seemed to blindside the government experts. The Premier of Victoria showed stratagems that worked – the first was that he fronted up every day to report and the second was the implicit transaction which traded level of vaccination with privileges. This could have formed the basis of a long term strategy, but the Virus inconveniently mutated.

Lockdowns had become very unpopular as they became synonymous with high-handed police crackdowns and infringement notices. Then the street protests started by a gaggle of trumpists, liberationists, anti-vaxxers, who recognised the increasing restlessness of the population, was fodder for street revolution.

The vaccines have come with boosters – and now the anti-virals. Influenza, having been absent during the lock-downs, re-emerged

However, the most difficult aspect of maintaining the message was the loss of interest – the daily reports, the interviews with the public experts, the sudden decline in concern which had been initially  shown in the plight of nursing home residents; their upset relatives clustered outside the nursing homes being interviewed gradually lessened. Reporting daily became reporting weekly and monthly – and without media commentary, the community has drifted into convenient acceptance.

Restrictions have been removed, although the government has not dared to encourage people not to wear masks in health facilities or nursing homes, and popularity before public safety is found to lead to an easier life for a Premier. Probably this change of attitude was first exemplified by Perrotet when he became Premier. He gradually removed Kerry Chant from centre stage, and while some protested about this, she has become increasingly invisible. Brett Sutton in Victoria did not go as quietly, but now he has a Minister who refuses to release a report on public health until after the forthcoming elections. It is as though the Virus will agree to a truce until after the election. It is as ridiculous a decision as were those of one of her predecessors who unwisely waded into the Virus quagmire early and was politically extinguished. The Premier has not changed. He knows Popularity when he sees it, especially close to elections.

When Perrotet  replaced Berejiklian as Premier, he quickly shifted the agenda to “personal responsibility” and the community applauded, as the restrictions were peeled away. Perrotet was popular with the other Premiers, unlike Berejiklian, and then Morrison was also gone. The Premiers have found the new Prime Minister a pliant ally in dismantling public health.

Yet those who say the pandemic is not over no longer have a platform in the conventional media. The AMA may reflexly protest about any lessening of restrictions, but there is no follow up. Even as distinguished a scientist as Brendan Crabb is forced to vent his concern on Twitter:

Brendan Crabb

Like many, I often get labelled a fearmonger. As we approach our fourth wave for 2022, shortly after our most lethal wave of the pandemic – on track for 25,000 deaths for the year and with a likely Long Covid toll of 500,000+ – what we’re seeing is actually worse that I thought.”

The Premier of Victoria allows his Health Minister to suppress an expert Report on the Virus until after the State election on November 26. If you think about this decision, it is outrageous – somebody with no health expertise rejecting advice for political gain. It is tantamount to same person in a different portfolio advocating doing nothing about a fire out of control until a political event has passed.

The stark message from Brendan Crabb is the pandemic is still out of control. Yet has Australia an adequate mechanism to reimpose restrictions should we need it? I shall continue to explore it in my next blog.

Getting Stoned

There are rocks; and then there are rocks. The “Rock” in Australia was associated before 1993 with Ayers Rock named after a colonial South Australian functionary, Henry Ayers; named now Uluru meaning “great pebble” in the local Anangu language for the sacred site. Uluru epitomises the Red Centre, especially at sunset. Even during the day, Uluru is red and walking around the perimeter one is faced with trabeculated inglenooks, where you can imagine that the local indigenous people would have found shelter. Walking around the periphery one gets the sense of sheer size of the rock which is magnified by the fact that it rises from a basically flat landscape. It is unsurprising that has spiritual significance

But there are other geological formations – I have visited a number of these “rocks” throughout Australia, like the nearby domed rocks once Mount Olga now renamed Kata Tjuta; the Devil’s Marbles or Karlu Karlu, near Tennant Creek; Hanging Rock, a mamelon perhaps with the Aboriginal name of Ngannelong near Melbourne; Mount Wudinna outside the town of the same name in South Australia; but most of all Mount Augustus in Western Australia.


Mount Augustus or Burringurrah is approximately 300 km east of Carnarvon. Its size dwarfs that of Uluru.  Named after Augustus Charles Gregory, in an outburst of fraternal generosity by his brother Francis Gregory who, on 3 June 1858, during his exploratory journey through the Gascoyne Region, became the first European to climb it. It is difficult to reach.

Whereas Uluru is approximately nine kms around the base, it is about 43 kms to circumnavigate Mount Augustus. You need a vehicle to drive around it. Because of the landscape being more treed than that around Uluru it does not at first appear to have the same significance, yet when you get up close you realise how impressive it is.

When we were there, the local nurse volunteered to drive us around the rock – a hair raising trip as he obviously thought he was engaged in a single man rally. Eventually all things must come to an end. The car hit a large pothole, fortunately near the camp, which resulted in a burst tyre. The drive made such an impression on our pilot that he said: “I’ve flown in some pretty terrible conditions, but frankly your driving terrifies me more than any I’ve experienced as a pilot! The fact that this nurse’s tenure was able to be maintained at the remote site exemplifies the problem of finding sane, let alone suitably-trained health professionals in remote areas.

Unlike other places in the Review, the male elder greeted us with suspicion and a taciturnity that I interpreted as him wishing we would just go away and leave his settlement in peace. One of the women showed us her artworks, one of which we purchased. Visiting Mount Augustus was just  part of the Rural Stocktake visits, which included visiting a number of remote settlements across the Nation.

I had already been involved in setting up a rural clinical school at Geraldton in Western Australia, which meant I had already travelled extensively in this region – north to Exmouth Gulf, east to Meekatharra and south to the small wheat belt communities, so the excursion to Mount Augustus, which I had heard about through my association with rural Western Australia was a deliberate inclusion.

However, it was very much fly-in-fly-out’, and thus one of the less satisfactory yet eye-opening visits I made during the six months of that Review. Nevertheless, people may talk about Uluru and its majesty, but Mount Augustus itself is something else.

For the record Uluru is a rock monolith consisting of a single rock (and sometimes called a land iceberg given most of its mass is below ground) while Mount Augustus is a monocline formed by a geological linear, strata dip in one direction between horizontal layers on each side; but to me, they are both just humongous, impressive rocks.

Dual in the Sun

I was intrigued by the following newspaper report recognising that the newly minted Nobel Laureate joined a select group.

In winning the award on Wednesday, Dr. Sharpless became only the fifth person to win two Nobels, having received the chemistry prize in 2001 for his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions. The other two-time winners were Marie Curie, John Bardeen, Linus Pauling and Frederick Sanger.

Marie Curie

I already knew about Marie Curie and Linus Pauling.

Together with Pierre, her husband, Madame Curie shared half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, for their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Henri Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of the Prize. In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in recognition of her work in purifying radium.

Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling in my younger years always stood out as the bloke who flogged large doses of Vitamin C for the common cold. He was so wrong in relation to Vitamin C compared with his sure-footedness in his journey through the then new world of quantum mechanics for which he was awarded his first Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His second Nobel Prize was for Peace, awarded nine years later in 1963 for his unremitting opposition to nuclear war, in fact it was the same year the USA, Soviet Union and the United Kingdom signed the Limited Nuclear Test Treaty.

With a bit of prompting I did remember John Bardeen.

John Bardeen

John Bardeen was a physicist and engineer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics twice, both collaboratively. The first  was in 1956 for the invention of the transistor; and the second in 1972 for the fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity.

His discoveries, albeit inventions, were probably as influential in the day to day life of the average citizen as any Nobel Prize winner in that field.

The transistor revolutionised the electronics industry, making possible the development of almost every modern electronic device from telephones to computers, and ushering in the Information Age.

Bardeen’s work in superconductivity eventuated in its application to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and the more esoteric  superconducting quantum circuits.

Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger sequenced insulin for the first Nobel Prize, and then he came back for his second award for his developing methodology to sequence DNA. His first technique was soon replaced by technology developed by Pehr Edman which led to the development of the sequenator. Nevertheless, his technological discoveries in relation to DNA paved the way for the elucidation of the genome. I note that a number of his post graduate students have won Nobel Prizes, which suggest that he understood well the politics of the Nobel Prize, a consideration increasingly important in the quest for scientific recognition – and he lived a long life which sometimes helps.

Now the plaudits are there for Barry Sharpless for works in two fields of chemistry. With the exception of Pauling, these men and one woman won their prizes because of their supreme ability to navigate the laboratory. For many of us, the heroics of the discoverers – the navigators are on land and sea – were the achievements which are easy to understand. In the world of the unseen, it is more difficult to recognise these laboratory explorers.

Barry Sharpless

To understand Sharpless’s first shared Nobel Prize, one must understand that molecules appear in two forms that mirror each other – just as our hands mirror each other, but are not  superimposable.  Such molecules are called chiral. In nature one of these forms is often dominant, so in our cells one of these mirror images of a molecule fits “like a glove”, in contrast to the other one which may even be harmful. Pharmaceutical products often consist of chiral molecules, and the difference between the two forms can be a matter of life and death, just to quote one source.

Sharpless developed molecules that can catalyse important reactions by oxidation techniques, while the other two scientists who shared the prize used hydrogenation – the end point being that only one of the two mirror image forms is produced. L-Dopamine used in the treatment of Parkinsonism is one example.

Now Sharpless has bobbed up with a share of the 2022 Nobel Prize for “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry”. I shudder – “click chemistry”? What next? Molecular shears? *

Then I searched around and read that “Click Chemistry” is a term that was introduced by Sharpless in 2001 to describe reactions that are high yielding, wide in scope, create only byproducts that can be removed without chromatography, are stereospecific, simple to perform, and can be conducted in easily removable or benign solvents. He has been one busy scientist; get one Nobel Prize and 21 years later, the second – and all due to judicious use of copper catalysts.

I would suggest that it would be difficult to win two prizes in Clinical Physiology and Medicine; and well nigh impossible in Literature.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross has won the Peace Prize three times (1917, 1944 and 1963), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two times (1954 and 1981).

And as for the Economics Prize, a second award?  Probably not, unless it is extended to soothsayers and bookmakers as is widely tipped in the hedges of New York and Zurich.

But jesting aside, the more you read about these five individuals especially if one has been an observer of the field of research, the more these people interest, because they all have extensive biographies, which tell the reader all but paradoxically also nothing at all.

An * from Prince Lachlan

Yes, I do know about molecular shears or scissors. They are useful in ensuring a good “heir-cut”, aren’t they?

Like a Nail Drawn Across a Blackboard

There are two responses, which are more punctuation marks akin to the full stop.

We are taking the matter seriously” reminds me of the judge putting on the black cap before pronouncing the death sentence. Once you hear the words or read them, you know nothing will be done to rectify the particular mess being contemplated by those who have uttered the words. The finality of a death sentence. How few times have the utterers of such words been held to account and asked after a few months to wax lyrical on how they have taken the matter.  Seriously?

Rodin’s The Thinker

The other response is the exhortation “to take personal responsibility”. It is the mantra for governments to shed responsibility. To use this as a substitute for government intervention, there is almost an element of reproach in people to fail to reach some hypothetical level, where abide the gods of Macquarie Street.

It is all very well to take personal responsibility if one has all the information to make the appropriate choice. Yet distribution of information is not symmetrical throughout the community; and has been made worse by the accession of the Trumps of the world who are unconcerned with evidence to base decision making on, but deliberately contaminate the Information Well with falsehoods.

Mark Humphries, whose comedic talents often exposes politician foibles, wrote inter alia at a time when Morrison was the Prime Minister. It says it all.

After nearly two years of the Prime Minister informing us that various issues were “a matter for the states”, is it any wonder that our Premier (NSW) would embrace this spirit of buck-passing in determining that the issue of mask-wearing should be a matter for the individual? What a thrill to be able to tell our grandchildren that we were there to witness the birth of the next big thing in political theory: trickle-down responsibility. It went about as well as trickle-down economics.”

There are many more public relations mediated responses, but these two will do for the moment. They are bad enough.

Mouse Whisper

Due to sensibilities … I have been asked to relate the following comment directed towards the current United Kingdom Government.

“Now that the ringmaster has left the circus in England, the lions are eating the clowns”.

Can I make the point, that “titmus” derives from a bird not one of ours?

A tufted titmouse

Modest Expectations – Stan McCabe

As I am putting this blog together, it is Sunday, and I am reminded that it is September 11.  On the morning of September 12 in 2001, for some reason I woke up. I was in a hotel room in Adelaide. I had left the television on, which was something I often did. For me television or radio provides company. As I looked at the screen, I saw a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. My first reaction was that I had stumbled upon a disaster film, of which I was unfamiliar. Then I realised that I was witnessing what passes as reality – and in real time.

Nobody wore black in the morning.

The aftermath continues.

Bookended by a couple of Charles 

King Charles III comes to the British throne with low expectations.

I was reflecting on the Restoration, the time the last Charles – Charles II ascended the throne in 1660 and realised that this was a period of British history in terms of which I had scant knowledge. On reflection, it was somewhat strange as British history was very much on the school curriculum when I was a boy; and before I transferred my interest to Roman history to complement my fondness for Latin, we were inflicted with the English kings and queens. Maybe, the school kept us away from the flagrant excesses of this king, whose personal life was not the exemplar for impressionable youths.

He allegedly had 14 children out of wedlock, but none by his Portuguese born queen, Catherine of Braganza.  When the marriage contract was signed in 1662, England secured Tangier and Bombay, trading privileges in both Brazil and the Portuguese East Indies, religious and commercial freedom for English residents in Portugal, and two million Portuguese crowns (about £300,000). In return, Portugal obtained decisive English military and naval support in fighting Spain and liberty of worship for Catherine.

The last concession enabled Catherine to maintain her Roman Catholicism. The hatred for Roman Catholicism was visceral in the English Parliament; but Charles II himself was a closet Roman Catholic – for most of his reign in a very deep closest.

Balancing his conflicted religious belief was just one of his problems.

After his restoration to the throne at the age of 30, Charles’ reign started inauspiciously with the Great Plague in 1665 and then the next year the Great Fire of London. Then in 1667, the Dutch sailed up the Thames and destroyed the English navy, save for the flagship, Royal Charles, which the Dutch took back to the Netherlands. The Anglo-Dutch Wars initially did not go well for the English – in the East Indies, the Dutch even won the monopoly for nutmeg.

However, as I kept reading about England kicking the Dutch out of New Amsterdam and renaming it New York, it was made clear that Charles II was seeding an empire. New Jersey, Virginia and the Carolinas were settled at the same time when Barbados was an English outpost of slavery and sugar, the colonisation of which spilt over to the American mainland. It is fitting that in the first year of Charles III reign (or the last of his mother) Barbados has led the way in the Caribbean in becoming a republic; others will follow.

This Carolingian reign was the dawn of the British Empire and Charles II cultivated its rise, however tawdry that cultivation was. I am reminded  of a Guardian reference to King Charles II granting royal approval to the Company of Adventurers of London Trading to the Ports of Africa, marking the moment at which transatlantic slavery officially began. Tawdry indeed.

Charles III is very much presiding over its embers, being briefly illuminated by all the British exquisite use of pomp and the regal vanities to turn these embers into a bonfire. But after the bonfire, night will continue to fall over that Empire which Charles 11 initiated.

The Great Fire

The Great Fire in 1666 acted as a slum clearance agent and at the same time aborted the bubonic plague by incinerating the vectors. As a result, some of London was rebuilt in a manner that was testimony to Charles’ choice of Christopher Wren as the architect. His Baroque design owed more to St Peter’s in Rome rather than reconstructing the Gothic Old St Paul’s. The construction of St Paul’s overshadowed the 50 other churches Wren designed in the wake of the Fire.

Charles II

Charles II, as well as being portrayed as a “party boy”, is associated with an efflorescence of science in England; he certainly presided over the formation of the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory was constructed during his reign. It is not known whether he ever attended any meetings of the Royal Society, but it was a time of discovery and intellectual argument.

Royal Observatory at Greenwich

Charles II did intervene; such as the time when he decreed that Isaac Newton need not be ordained in order to remain at Trinity College. Scientists apart from Newton included Boyle and Hooke, but one of the most unexpected friendships was that of Charles II’s with Thomas Hobbes whose Leviathan was anything but pro-monarch. But then Charles 11 had moved away from his father’s adherence to the divine right of kings.

In a world, where Oliver Cromwell’s body was exhumed and subjected to a traitor’s death, Charles II, while sometimes personally tolerant, exacted severe retribution on anybody implicated in his father’s execution, even if that association was distant. While London was the stage for the bawdy Restoration plays, both the Puritan poet and authors, John Milton and John Bunyan survived to produce some of their greatest work, despite the harsh way they were treated.

The latter benefited from the 1672 Declaration of Indulgence.  Short lived, it was an initiative in religious tolerance Charles II introduced, ultimately failing to get parliamentary approval.

Charles II was important, imperfect although he may have been. Through his illegitimate children, he is an ancestor of the present Prince of Wales via his mother, Diana. She was able to trace her heredity to one of the at least four dukedoms which enshrine the genes of this prolific monarch.  Thus, both Prince William and Harry – have in their genetic closet both those of Charles II as well as those of Charles III. Quite a variety of cloth. Quite a legacy.

Charles III does not have to address the religious conflict as Charles II did, resisting a parliament in trying to quash his Roman Catholic preference, and yet able to survive as the Head of the Church of England as his predecessor did. It was quite a feat, given his personal life.

Now Charles III is faced with a different challenge – a conservative parliament littered with climate deniers, and yet working through the options of promoting his “saviour of the environment” agenda.

Charles 11 ascended the throne when he was 30 years and died 24 years later. I wonder if Charles III will have that same time to achieve his agenda. One can reasonably doubt whether he will live to 98, but then the climate deniers may have won by then and the world will be no more!

One hopes that Charles III does not end his reign watching not only the extinction of empire but also that of the world.

Royal Company of Archers

The Brits do pomp. However, the number of vestments and the frequency of their usage must ensure that there must be a number of extensive spectacular wardrobes scattered along the royal routes. The amount of fancy dress which has accompanied the late Queen’s coffin was excellent theatre, but it emphasises how much the Brits spend to maintain the illusion of power through pomp concealing circumstance.

The Royal Company of Archers

One particular set of well-suited, well-connected men, paying homage to their late Queen and carrying long bows sparked my interest. For God’s sake, it turned out to be the Royal Company of Archers. Complete with unstrung long bows and goose feathers in their flat caps, they are the sovereign’s bodyguard in Scotland.

The Company dates back to the seventeenth century, following a Scottish tradition of having gentlemen’s sporting clubs. In the eighteenth century, they were paradoxically a cover for Jacobite naughtiness.  Ergo, I suppose if you did not fancy tossing the caber, archery was an alternative… and if you did not like the English royals then a bit of quivering was in order as well.

The Rules and Regulations of the Royal Company of Archers have never been printed, and, in fact, were never completed. The society may, therefore, be considered as “lawless” when within the precincts of their shooting ground. How so typical of those born to rule!

I thought its Wikipedia entry needed no embellishment in setting its relevance (or lack of same) to anything.

The main duties of the company are now ceremonial, and since the 1822 appointment as the Sovereign’s ‘Body Guard in Scotland’ for George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, include attending the Sovereign at various functions during the annual Royal Visit to Scotland when he or she approach within five miles of Edinburgh, including the Order of the Thistle investitures at The High Kirk of Edinburgh (St Giles Cathedral), the Royal Garden Party and the Ceremony of the Keys at the Palace of Holyrood-house and the presentation of new colours to Scottish regiments. At the Holyrood-house they provide the corridor guard of honour.

In this time, this band of the Establishment provided a background quirk to the main Act – that of the sovereign’s death, and the ceremonial transfer of her body from Scotland to England. The rehearsal of all this must have been going on for some time – years in all probability. The panoply is magnificent – we all get sucked into what could have been concentrated into a much shorter time frame.

The Captain General of this Company is the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, his title the result of Charles II injecting his genes in a member of the Scott family, a seriously old and wealthy Scottish family of whom Sir Walter was a prominent member of the clan. The dukedom was the reward.  Charles II would be immensely pleased that another actual descendent was able to be present on such a solemn occasion, in addition to William and Harry.


This is the stuff of fairy tales. Some years ago, a young American girl arrived in Australia on an exchange program. She became sick. She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with leukaemia. My cousin looked after her and took her round to all the doctors and through the labyrinth of tests and medical jargon. All the while she had a potential death sentence. It was an exhausting time for a young girl, and my cousin was always there to comfort and maintain optimism

After some time, she got better. She did not have leukaemia. She went back to America. She never forgot my cousin. My cousin died. The young girl was one of the employees of a start-up company, called Zoom. Yes, Zoom. She’s now a very wealthy woman, despite the Zoom stocks taking a hit recently.

She is getting married. Our family will be at the wedding.

Never Judge a Computer by its Screen

The report came to me that the Chinese doctor was accessing porn on the hospital computers. Certain nurses had seen this young doctor at night roaming the hospital and accessing multiple hospital computers, and on casually looking over the young man’s shoulder there were images of young women scantily clothed.  Let me say, that doctors moving around the hospital computers at night was not specifically forbidden, but I confronted “the moonlight flit” and asked him what he was doing.

Yes, he had been accessing computers, and he had not wanted to bother us.

He was searching for a computer where he could link into Chinese search engines, and he had found one. He was using it to communicate with his sister, who was a nurse and wanted to find out whether her Chinese qualifications would enable her to be registered in Australia.

The scantily clad images were “pop-ups”, which were just – to him – incidental irritations, but had attracted the nursing staff’s attention.

We interviewed the doctor and before responding we sent our IT expert with him so he could explain exactly what he had done. Our IT expert came back and announced  through one of our computers he could in fact access  his sister in China.

After that, I made it clear to our Chinese doctor that his behaviour was unacceptable; if he wanted to access computers in the hospital, he must get permission. He nodded. Cultural differences did not provide any excuse.

Jedburgh Abbey – home of justice

I thought here was a case not to get trigger happy, because I do have the instincts of a “hanging judge”. The trouble with too many of us is we exact “Jedburgh justice”, in other words hang them first and try them later.

On the other hand, never ignore the “whistle-blower”; and investigate the allegations as quickly as possible, before rumours fester. Otherwise, the next moment, one is accused of a “cover-up”. All so predictable.

Wilbur Scoville

I have always been interested in the arcane , especially when it come to measurement scales.

I tend to retain articles which interest me because recall of previous reading is often flawed, and although we have Google, it does not always keep all information I want handy, especially when more and more information is behind pay walls. One of the articles I kept was about the Scoville Scale, which measures the pungency or “heat” of chillies.

Chillies were not much part of the Australian diet until the 80s. I actually remember being introduced to chilli much earlier, in the 60’s, at Jamaica House in Carlton, which was run by a Jamaican, whom we all knew as Monty but as Rupert Montague had married Stephanie Alexander. Jamaica House was one of the first restaurants on the Lygon Street strip which bought us exotic food, including chilli. I liked the sensation of heat in the mouth. Jamaica House was where Stephanie started her culinary career.

I had to wait until on a visit to a hotel in Madras in 1983, where I ordered a vindaloo curry for really memorable “heat”. The menu warned that it would be hot. And hot it was, to the extent of inflicting pain, so hot it was. Yet at the end of a meal characterised by the ingestions of large amounts of lassi, there was a certain satisfaction, despite the incendiary nature of the vindaloo.

Oh, and I learnt very early to keep chillies away from my eyes, even when I did not think my fingers had been contaminated with them.

Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist, came up with this way of measuring “pepper pungency” back in 1912, the Scoville Health Unit (SHU), when working for Parke-Davis.

A recent Washington Post article reads like a “eureka” moment.

Here’s how it works: Take a pepper, dry it, and dissolve it in alcohol. Then, start diluting it with sugar water. Keep diluting it until three of a panel of five humans — yes, humans — can no longer taste the heat. If you have to dilute one unit of capsaicin-infused alcohol with 10,000 units of sugar water for the pepper’s flavour to be undetectable, that pepper rates 10,000 on the Scoville scale.

It was a great system, because humans turn out to be very good at detecting capsaicin. 

But they’re not nearly as good as high-performance liquid chromatographs.

Capsaicinoids can be measured without diluting them in gallons of sugar water; without assembling a panel of humans who have different perceptions of their heat and also palates that get fatigued easily.

Detecting capsaicin positively has been a job for high-performance liquid chromatography for many years. Yes, there is a centre for chilli research in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University where the doyen of chilli research Paul Bosland, was Director of the Chilli Pepper Institute and a Regents Professor of Horticulture; he has a department saturated with these high performance machines.

Bosland is now retired after 33 years maintaining chilli research, which had a 137-year history at New Mexico State University.  His name is so closely tied to capsaicin that, when the school raised $1m to endow a professorship devoted to chilli research, officials named it after him – the interest on the money, they said, would pay the professor’s salary and ensure that “we will have chilli research eternally.” I would have thought that was an optimistic assessment of what one million dollars can garner by way of interest.

He uttered the hardly memorable words printed in the Washington Post: “Humans differ. We vary in our taste buds and receptors, but with a machine, we can measure very accurately.

But all the information in this Washington Post article was hardly new, regurgitating information, which had been clearly available at least 16 years ago. The excuse then for the New Scientist 2006 article was highlighting the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show, which is held in Albuquerque annually, and this year attracted 170 contributors and where one can be exposed to a weekend of chilli eating.

Carolina Reaper

Striving to get hotter and hotter peppers seems to be the obsession of a small variety of growers. In 2006, when the New Scientist article was written, it was claimed that the Naga Jolokia, an Indian chilli was the hottest. Then the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper (1.4m SHU) succeeded as the hottest pepper in the world back in 2011. The Carolina Reaper (1.5m SHU) took the mantle two years later and has retained that position.

Whether there is any worth in creating hotter and hotter peppers, it seems not to have disturbed the “nutters”, not just wanting to eat one, but even a guy who tried to eat 123 and could go no further than 44. Time to eat them seems irrelevant; but what of the chilli challenge.

The name of benign masochism is given to these people who challenge their taste receptors with such an amount of chilli. If you are healthy, the agony generally subsides in 20 minutes, and taking milk and like products can alleviate the pain more speedily.

The next Fiery Foods and Barbecue show is in March next year. I do like New Mexico, but not that much.

Lest we Forget

As my shortness of breath progresses with my long COVID, I am both frustrated and disappointed by the lack of leadership from my erstwhile colleagues.

Below, from an opinion piece in the Washington Post, a more eloquent expression about lessons unlearned.

Today, a similar scenario is playing out in our covid-ravaged communities, and for similar reasons. As in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our obsession with “getting back to normal” underpins much of the conversation about the pandemic. This fall we’ll be sending our children back to schools that have no covid mitigations in place and repeating the same careless mistakes we made with students after 9/11, potentially imposing a lifetime of illness in service of our desire to believe that our problems are over — or, more troublingly, that we’ve “vanquished” them.

Mouse Whisper

The term exacerbation has very little meaning to patients, we recommend to clinicians a phrase such as when your symptoms get worse instead – so writes one Ann Hutchinson, a nursing academic, writes.

Come on, Ann, When your symptoms get worse has little meaning either to many.

Rather use Are you feeling worse? is plain mouse English devoid of fancy Ancient Greek derivatives.

Modest Expectations – Nadia von Leiningen

I have learnt a great deal over the past fortnight about this infernal virus.

This whole incident started after we had driven from Sydney for a dinner in Broken Hill. On our way home we intended to stay with my wife’s mother, who at 96 still lives at home in Albury. As I reported in my blog two weeks ago, we all contracted COVID and we all took anti-viral drugs, despite some difficulty in accessing them. In all cases, the disease was mild, although mine has lingered with a post-viral cough.

On reflection, given how successful the antiviral treatment seemed to be especially with my 96 year old mother-in-law, I wonder why there appear to be limitations on access to these drugs.

For instance, President Biden, who is 79, received the antiviral drug, Paxlovid. In clinical trials, Paxlovid is said to reduce the risk of severe illness by 90 per cent. He has experienced a mild infection that he attributes to vaccination.

By contrast, when Trump contracted COVID in 202I, eight drugs, from aspirin to the antiviral Remdesivir, were given to Trump in what observers at the time called a “kitchen-sink” approach. Most of those drugs were probably ineffective. Trump’s infection was certainly not mild. He was lucky. Biden’s outcome is predictable, uneventful recovery. One problem is that Biden seems to have undervalued the effect of the antivirals.

When the two cases are compared there is no comment about whether there should be any restrictions on access.

Thus, why can’t the whole Australian community have access? Or is it the same case as it was with the vaccine availability, incompetent supply chain decisions covered up by a military uniform?  Not enough being ordered by government is a familiar refrain. Is it another Department of Health stuff-up? Open government, Minister Butler.

We certainly had difficulty in obtaining the drug in Albury, where there were limited supplies. But this appears to be a common problem, even in capital cities. In the discussions, there seems to be a surprising degree of passivity in the community about the restriction in access without any objective clinical explanation, although that may reflect actual knowledge in the community of the existence of antiviral drugs.

Now, seeing both how our whole family benefited and how his doctors did not muck about with President Biden, who was immediately prescribed anti-viral drugs, why the restrictions on usage? On form, incompetence by the bureaucracy would appear to be the number one reason.  But maybe I am too bleak. So please, what the hell is going on?

The second comment was that when the whole family has the virus, and you are away from home, how do you actually get the anti-viral drugs. You need a doctor’s prescription, and because of the current conditions for that prescription, you need to get your own doctor to prescribe. In both our cases, the practice was contacted, the doctor was busy but rang back and sent the prescription immediately by email or text. The difficulty then is getting the prescription not only filled but in our case, to also locate a pharmacy that had the drugs.

Nevertheless, the key response was that of our doctors – suburban Sydney and Albury. They promptly rang back. I have heard of the contrary situation occurring.  In this case, the general practitioner did not return the call, not that day, not the next, when the prescription of an antiviral drug was essential. How often does that occur – a general practitioner forgetting the Hippocratic Oath? And nothing is done about it.  How many people have died because the doctor did not ring back? One is enough!

On the Cheapside

It was a slow Saturday afternoon, and my wife was looking over a series of ship manifests seeking information about some of her relatives’ arrival in South Australia. She came across a series of ship manifests including one from the 621 ton barque Cheapside which left Plymouth Hoe on sixth July 1849 and berthed at Port Adelaide three months later on the tenth October 1849. The Cheapside was the nineteenth emigrant ship from England to arrive in the South Australian colony in 1849; it was reported in the three months voyage six babies were born and ten persons died.

On board was my grandfather John Egan, then aged five years, together with his younger brother Michael, then three and sister Mary aged one.  My great grandparents were Michael and Bridget, specified as such on the manifest.  Michael is described as a labourer originally from Co Clare. Bridget – nothing added – just the spouse of Michael. I knew she had been born Bridget Corcoran in Cappoquin in Co Waterford.

Strangely, I remember once standing on Plymouth Hoe and looking out to sea and trying to feel what it must have been like sailing from these shores, knowing that you would never to see them again. But then again, they had already trekked across Ireland to Plymouth. Their embarkation had been from Plymouth not from Ireland, where Queenstown (now Cobh) in Cork was the common embarkation point for emigrants.  But to America not Australia!

The Egan family was numbered among the 242 emigrants in steerage. To give a flavour to the “passengers” on the other hand there were a Mr. Clisby and his daughter, Mr. Farmer, Mr, Hodgkin, Revd. Mr. Wood, his wife and five children and Mr. J. Ayre, late surgeon-superintendent of the Tasman are described as being “in the cabin”, 12 in all.

As has been described, for the “emigrants”, they were lodged below the main deck in steerage quarters converted from cargo spaces. This area would have been dark, crowded and close to the water line – when seas were rough passengers were often shut in with poor ventilation.

Added to this were probably the captain and 20 crew; so life was crowded.

On disembarkation, the Egans made their way to Kapunda, where the first commercial mine had been opened in 1842. It’s copper ore was some of the highest quality.

The township of Kapunda lies 80 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, just beyond the furthest reaches of the Barossa Valley, where a landscape of grassland and peppermint scrub here is gently undulating. That was the scene that confronted Michael Egan and his family – wife and two children – when they alighted from the bullock dray. It was early summer.

Michael had been attracted to Kapunda because he knew there were Claremen working in this newly-opened open cut mine.

Michael had always been restless. He had worked as a steward on an estate in Clare owned by the Blood family. He was still in his twenties when he left Clare and obtained work near Ross in Co Wexford, but 20 miles from Co Waterford. Here he met Bridget who was the daughter of a local farmer from Cappoquin, who had been forced into service.

They had married in the years before potato blight took hold and devastated the potato harvest across Ireland. Potatoes were an essential nutrient. As a result, the famine devastated Ireland, the first wave commencing in 1845 and by 1849 those who survived were fleeing The Emerald Isle.

And in the South Australian heat, here he was with his wife and children in November 1849.

But this was a mining community, unfamiliar territory where extraction and smelting of the ore was a task Michael had never encountered. He was rubbing shoulders with seasoned Cornish miners.

Kapunda’s copper mine 1850s

Yes, I have been to Kapunda and walked the perimeter of the overgrown mine which has been fenced off. Strewn around the site there remains clear evidence that this was once a copper mine. The tell-tale pale green cupric ore with tawny iron stains abound in the rock fragments. I souvenir a few pieces and turn away and go back to the car. The first chapter of Michael and Bridget Egan’s Adventures had begun.

For Michael was 35 at the time; he was to die 53 years later, a distinguished and wealthy Melburnian. 

Taking a Taxi to Bethlehem

This is a story about my good friend, Chris Brook, who died suddenly in May. Chris was a complex person, where many facets of his personality flashed, often the light from one cancelling the other out. Yet nestling under the carapace of arch comments and disdain was a compassionate person.

He and I had gone to Jerusalem in 1995 to attend a conference where Chris was then the President-elect of the International Society of Quality Assurance (ISQua). The Conference organiser was a courtly Israeli, a long term member of the Society executive going back to when I had been President of the same institution six years before. He said very little, but I found out that he had been a veteran of the 1948 war. The veterans of this War split in two Israeli factions – Likud and Labour.

Yitzhak Rabin had been a brilliant soldier and strategist, and even though he was a hard man, he was a reasonable man. A member of the Labour Party, in 1995 he was in his second term as Prime Minister.  Just over a year before he had negotiated the Oslo accords with Yasser Arafat, which introduced a period of comparative tranquility into the relationship between Israel and Palestine. For this he and Arafat had jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

We were lucky to go to Jerusalem during this period of peace. One morning, Chris and a colleague, Heather Buchan, decided to go with me to Bethlehem. It was a ten minute drive by taxi; negotiating the border was quick, unlike the time it had taken to enter Israel, being quizzed endlessly by unsmiling Junior Mossadista.

Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem by and large is a nondescript town of little shade and rows of ugly yellow stucco buildings. Yet the taxi was weaving its way unerringly to the Church of the Nativity said to have been situated on the site of Christ’s birthplace. There is a photograph of us all in the Manger Square in front of the Church. On the edge of the photograph of us was a smiling lean young Palestinian, a rifle slung over his shoulder.

Like many Palestinians living in Bethlehem he was a Christian, but unbeknown to me at the time Chris struck up a conversation with him. Chris said very little about him, but after we returned home Chris corresponded with him, and whether he sent money or whether he was prepared to help him migrate to Australia I am not sure.  They continued to correspond. Then one day, he mentioned to me he had not heard from this young man. The silence persisted; Chris tried to find out what had happened. As far as he knew the young man had been killed in some street altercation with Israeli troops; but where, when or how, Chris never disclosed that information. Although he must have been affected, Chris never showed grief.

At the Wailing Wall

We had gone to Jerusalem when a calmness prevailed. We were freely able to visit Jewish, Christian and Muslim shrines.  I particularly remember walking along the Wailing Wall amid the black robes and nodding heads. There was a cave at the end of the wall, where many of these Orthodox Jews were clustered. I had entered it, even though I was obviously a tourist. Nobody seemed to mind. One of these Orthodox Jews I clearly remember was one who lifted his beard to reveal a tracheostomy hole. It did not stop him launching into a crazy tirade. I listened to the invective – vicious invective primarily directed at Yitzhak Rabin for what he had done. I excused myself.  When I walked out into the sun I felt I needed a shower.

Four months later, Rabin was assassinated by a right wing extremist, Yigal Amir, on 4 November 1995 in the Kings of Israel Square.

The Accidental Nobel Laureate

Due to their recent discovery and relative inertness, there have not been many clear establishments for the applications of fullerenes. However, there are predicted applications that are presently being tested – May 22, 2022

Dr Robert Curl died last week. Dr Curl shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

As recalled in his obituary in the NYT, in 1985, Dr Curl, a Texan, along with Richard E. Smalley, a Rice colleague, and Harold W. Kroto, a scientist visiting from the University of Sussex in England, showed a new configuration: 60 carbon atoms bonded into a molecule that resembled a soccer ball. They also found a larger version made of 70 carbons.

A buckyball

The finding was serendipitous because the scientists had been looking for something else. The chemists named the molecules buckminsterfullerenes after the architect Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes. The name was later shortened to fullerenes or buckyballs.

What a great name to enliven an esoteric area – the concept of kicking buckyballs around the molecular framework. The problem is that no matter how enticing the name and how cute the carbon atomic configuration; they were unable to find a commercial use.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo in 1996, Dr Curl said inter alia

At the outset, none of us had ever imagined these carbon cage molecules. When we looked at carbon, the single astounding carbon sixty peak in the mass spectrum and the circumstances under which it came to prominence admitted no other explanation than the totally symmetric spherical structure, and suddenly a door opened into a new world.

The fullerenes have caused chemists to realize the amazing variety of structures elemental carbon can form from the well-known three-dimensional network that is diamond and the equally well-known flat sheets of hexagonal rings that are graphite to the newer discoveries of the three-dimensional cages that are fullerenes. We have learned that the cages can be extended into perfect nanoscale tubules which offer the promise of electrically conducting cables many times stronger than steel. Or the cages can nestle one inside the other like Russian dolls. Now that we have become more aware of the marvellous flexibility of carbon as a building block chemists may ultimately learn how to place five- and seven-membered rings precisely into a network of hexagonal rings so as to create nano structures of ordered three-dimensional complexity like the interconnecting girders in a steel-frame building.

The statement at the head of the blog was published in March this year.

Ergo, a Nobel Prize awarded for a discovery they were not looking for with a cute name but still in search of a function in the nanoworld of the molecules, let alone the ongoing search for their commercial application.

No Place for the Shamus?

I receive a great amount of stuff from the Lincoln Project, an extreme group of former republicans dedicated to destroying Trump and his acolytes. I receive regular communication because I purchased a print from them of a portrait of Abraham Lincoln with a tear in his eye. It is a powerful image. Those behind the Project are no saints; they are men who have been at the heart of the US government, insiders well versed in the “dirty trick campaign” and seemingly unafraid of using the same tactics.

The critical decision for the reader to make is to whether, if you read on, are you reading fact or “alternative facts”. It is important to factor in your own bias, if you have no idea of what is actually occurring. Yet the last sentence limply reinforces a paean which unexpectedly appears four paragraphs before about the Secret service being essential and valiant; a tincture of an apologia methinks! Rick Wilson the author of this below is what, in the terms of Cain and Chandler, may have been described as “hard bitten and cynical”. But then that is my bias!

Here’s why it matters that tens of thousands of you raised your hands and demanded answers about those deleted January 6th Secret Service texts:

If reports are to be believed, the Secret Service handed over exactly one – ONE! – message. That’s like writing “FU” on a blank cover sheet, crumpling it up, and throwing it in the general direction of Capitol Hill.

To get this straight: the Secret Service let the dog eat all their text messages during, wait for it, and this coincidence will SHOCK you, the two days surrounding the most calamitous threat to our democracy. Literally every possible agency with investigatory power has a duty to figure out just what the hell happened.

It matters that a Federal agency given sweeping powers of action and discretion has quite clearly engaged in a coverup to protect Trump and his coup plot. Stay with me here, because my mind is wandering…

1) The long-rumoured and discussed cadre of Trump Praetorians in the USSS needs to get aired the hell out. This just reeks.

2) The leadership and every single person on the detail and Uniformed Division that day needs to have their personal and work devices of every kind subpoenaed and examined. They must also be deposed.

3) I hope you’ll let the 1/6 Committee know you’ll tune in for “The Long Hot Summer” series. They absolutely should add this to the docket and make it so hot even the DOJ can’t ignore it. They can skip vacation “juuust” this once and crack some skulls. 

4) I’ve noticed many Republicans get very livid lately when this whole scandal gumbo is compared to Watergate.

The Secret Service is a vital agency. Their unchallenged bravery at being the last line of defense between violence and assassination of U.S. Presidents and protectees is storied and written at times in blood. It is a brave and honorable duty. The core of their reputation wasn’t just a fearsome readiness to defend the President. It was also a cool, detached professionalism that served the office, not simply the political whims of the man who held it. 

For months, Mike Pence’s refusal to enter the VP limo has pinged the edges of my radar. I couldn’t quite sort out his reluctance. He’s not a physically brave man, to my knowledge, so what was it? What else did he know or sense? If you ask me, I think Pence knew parts of the Service were compromised and put Trump’s politics over duty.

To go deeper down the rabbit hole: I’m no Presidential staff historian, but Trump’s elevation of hyper-loyalist Tony Ornato from the Secret Service into a political role at the White House (who later planned the photo op with the Bible, and the tear gas attack on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square…) might have been a tell. I suspect he’s rather a key element here. We also know that when President Biden took office, he felt compelled to change out pro-Trump detail members. Putting all that together leads us to some unpleasant potential conclusions, to say the least.

This is not a matter where all of us – not the Committee, not the DOJ, not every American who cares about the rule of law and the vital role of the Secret Service – can sit back and be satisfied with one lousy text message. We have to pull at these threads and connect these dots.

The danger the Secret Service faces every day in the line of duty is real. Their sworn duty is an honourable one. But it’s starting to look like the MAGA rot runs deep here. Who knows how big of a role all of this played in the January 6th insurrection?

Yes, who knows. Jason Bourne is across it, and he was supposed to be flight from reality.

Mouse Whisper

If that human crowd have not had enough pandemic, Splendour in the Mud in Byron Bay may just be a catalyst for another, especially as it is not an uncommon event as exemplified in this British report:

Unusual transmissions of gastrointestinal diseases have also occurred during large scale open air festivals. An outbreak of Escherichia coli was reported during the Glastonbury music festival in England and was linked to mud contaminated by infected cattle. Heavy rain had turned the site into a quagmire, and attendees had high levels of contaminated mud on their hands and faces.


Also, those coming back from Splendour in the Mud last weekend should become acquainted with the one word “leptospira”. These nasty bacteria, the bane of sewage workers, are associated with my dirty cousin rats – in their urine which they sprinkle over sugar cane and banana plantations and which is washed away when the rains come and into the mud that forms around these bacteria.

Welcome to the disease world of the unprotected youth, acquiring a disease to remember where splendour is in the eye of the beholder as they cavort to the sounds of those masters of the music world. So, as you raise your glass with the muddy hand, do I hear you cry “Here’s Mud in Your Eye”?

No, that is a toast from another era well before Woodstock, in fact it’s biblical.

Hosting a leptospirosis party?


Modest Expectations – SXM

Here we are in Mungo National Park. The power is off. My computer needs re-charging. Thus, after this sentence, there will be a lull. Transmission will resume after we get to Balranald.

When you write something as disconnected as that, there must be what they call in the trade a prequel, and there must be a postscript as well.

But first, the scene should be set for both.

Mungo National Park was the site of an ancient lake, Lake Willandra, dry saltbush expanse disappearing into the horizon.  On one side of this lake is a long stretch of dunes caused by the winds blowing the sand and grit into have termed “The Walls of China”. There has been differential erosion across these dunes leaving a series of obelisks in the sand. They are a small version of the famous Pinnacles in Western Australia.

I first drove around Mungo National Park 30 years ago. The Park had been given WHO Heritage status in 1981, the remains of the modern Indigenous Australian man, at least 40,000 years old, were discovered in the Willandra Lakes in 1974, with the remains of a perhaps equally ancient female having been discovered in 1968. They were labelled Mungo Man and Mungo Lady.

The bones have languished in Canberra, until Mungo Lady was returned “to country”, and is kept under lock and key in the Visitor Centre while a suitable burial site could be designated. Thirty years have passed. The then Minister of the Environment in May this year gave permission for reburial. Having been given the gravedigger role, the NSW Government has baulked.

Meanwhile Mungo Man’s remains await, to be interred in an ancient river red gum box.

The Paakantji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa share the land, saying their people have effectively been there forever – well for at least 40,000 years, but when I first went to Mungo, there was not much evidence of their occupation. One could freely drive around the Walls of China; you could walk around the ancient site without the benefit of an Aboriginal guide. Sensitivity towards these lands did not require a boardwalk. The country was full of kangaroos; this time there was not one to be seen.

Then there was a seasonal Lodge at the entry to the Park, where you could stay, except during the summer months, and water was at a premium. Today, there is a renovated Lodge, well set up with cabins clustered around the administrative and dining facilities. The highlight of the evening meal was the rack of lamb; after all, in the land of sheep in the saltbush, how glorious was the taste of a very generous serving. We agreed that it was the best lamb we had eaten since one memorable meal at Wanaka in the altoplano area of the South Island of New Zealand, where Canterbury lamb is raised, and until this Mungo experience was the most succulent lamb meal.

Strange, in search of an Aboriginal masterpiece, it was the product of imported fauna which provided the most memorable experience, apart from the cold which, although not unexpected, when combined with a wind chill factor pushed the thermometer well below zero.

As the reader may discern, I was disappointed being locked out of the self-drive tour, and there were suggestions that a sunset tour with two adults and two children at $200 was expensive, but then life is not cheap when you stay in the Park.

On the road to Balranald

Although it is stated that there is no need for a four-wheel drive, some parts of the road to Balranald were, as they say, challenging, especially as it seemed not to have been graded after the floods, and deep dried ruts dotted the roads and in the sandy areas, the bull dust concealed potholes in the road. On the other side of the coin, the asphalt roads are creeping outwards, especially where mining interests are concerned. On reaching the junction with the Balranald-Ivanhoe road, I was surprised by this newly sealed road.

Why? Mining means improved access.

Mineral sands mines had been opened 175km south–west of Ivanhoe. The heavy mineral concentrate (HMC) from the mine is trucked to a new rail siding just outside of Ivanhoe, then transported to Broken Hill for further processing. Unsealed roads used to go in all directions from Ivanhoe, which existed as a place where the rail fettlers lived and where once the Indian Pacific stopped at 3am to let me get off. If you want to emulate that feat just remember the station is approximately a mile from town – and there are no taxis.

There you are, the future of the NSW Far West, tourism and mining, not forgetting the traditional overlay of cattle and sheep. Just setting the scene.

The Prequel

David Lyle

We had been invited to a farewell of Professor David Lyle who, for the past 27 years, has headed the first University Department of Rural Health (URDH) created in Broken Hill. The concept was bitterly opposed at first by some elements of the Federal Department of Health and certain then influential general practitioners. The brainchild of these university departments of rural health was Dr Sue Morey, then the NSW Chief Health Officer, who believed that teaching of medical students should be available in a structured rural facility and should have a strong public health component with equally robust community involvement. Sue delegated me to sort out the structural barriers and importantly secure local involvement. As it turned out, Clyde Thomson, the remarkable CEO of the local Royal Flying Doctor Service, was that person. I have written extensively about Clyde elsewhere and it is about time that his status of being a “national treasure” is fully recognised.

Clyde trained as a pilot, but he grasped very clearly what we were about and how an air transport facility, an almost untouchable icon delivering emergency medical care to the outback, could be further broadened to be an integral part of the clinical life of the community, including most tellingly of the Aboriginal people. Clyde embraced the ideas and demonstrated very clearly the essential need for a “local champion” to work in the planning and implementation.

Although Clyde was Chair of the Hospital Board at the time and a university department of rural health being attached to the local hospital seemed an attractive option – in this case we avoided the danger of parochialism in that even if it were considered successful, there would always be a number of reasons advanced that a “Broken Hill Department of Rural Health”  would not be a generalisable model.

Also, medical education at an undergraduate level is the preserve of universities in Australia. We decided that despite a locational problem, the University of Sydney should be invited to participate in the project. At the time university medical school thinking about having a rural component was to have it located on a campus on the outskirts of Sydney, not 1,200 kilometres away in a mining town which was closer to Adelaide.

Crucially, Broken Hill was located in NSW. As time went by, the rural involvement of the University of Sydney moved towards Sydney to Dubbo, then to Orange, over a number of years. This would have been impossible if Broken Hill had been linked to one of South Australian Medical schools, which initially appeared to be the easy option given Broken Hill’s medical relationship with Adelaide, but would have assured failure. There was some academic resistance in University of Sydney Medical School; it was overcome. The Dean, Steve Leeder, helped – a crucial ally.

I was asked to do a Rural Stocktake across Australia by the Department of Health in 1999, and I reported early in 2000.

There is no doubt that Minister Michael Wooldridge’s dedication to rural health improvement drove implementation, in particular securing funding for the program in the 2000  Federal Budget, which was distributed to universities with medical schools, with the proviso that the Universities could not skim any of the funding for “administrative expenses”. All the funding went to the various programs.

The final keystone for this Broken Hill project was David Lyle. He is a public health physician who had been involved, even before his appointment, in determining the extent of lead poisoning in the children of Broken Hill. He has always had a reputation as a great teacher, and ensured that his URDH was expanded to embrace other health professionals, including Aboriginal Health workers.

He oversaw the conversion of disused wards at the back of the hospital into a tangible Department and attracted a significant amount of research funding. There are now 19 UDRHs across the country, and the fact that David, until now, has been the unmovable champion and therefore crucial in the growth of rural training of health professionals, including public health.

His replacement has yet to be named and the University of Sydney advertisement suggested that the office would be based in Camden, where apparently the university has some agricultural facility, such is the systemic idiocy in the university bureaucracy. There is a problem among medical deans where there is an obsession about ranking, largely determined by research citations. Most of the medical deans have had professional careers within academic cloisters where the sun of rural Australia doesn’t shine. It is alleged that rural health money is taken and strewn around the city campuses.

This response by the University of Sydney indicates the bane on any program – lack of corporate memory without a record of the genesis of the program.

David Lyle must leave a written legacy or podcasts to ensure that 27 years of experience is not lost, given he is the last of the original heads of the URDHs.

The Postscript – What’s in a Name!

Years ago, I was asked to review an alleged problem in the delivery of medical care at Hopetoun. Hopetoun is a small township just South of Wyperfield National Park – an area of mallee desert country which lies in the far north-west of Victoria. During my time there, a case of a pregnant woman with no access to ante-natal care, was raised with me.

It was an anecdote raised in passing as an example of the general lack of access to medical care.  Strangely over the years the name of this tiny place, Lascelles, has stuck in my mind.

This week we were returning from Broken Hill and decided to go across to Victorian border to visit the pink lake, Lake Tyrrell. Because of its colour, it has become a destination for Chinese tourists because of their association of pink with luck. When we visited the wind was blowing and sun was reflected from the water against a cloudless sky. You could pick out fragmentary pink colours in the shaded areas of the lake, but there is a far better pink lake in the South Australian Coorong. Anyway, Lake Tyrrell has put the Mallee town of Sea Lake on the map, but also on the map has been inserted the Silo Art Trail. Many of the silos in the district have murals painted on them. One of these silos was at Lascelles and at Sea Lake there was a signpost to Lascelles.

Lascelles silo art

The signpost evoked my memory of the name. I thought that it was a speck even further into the bush than Hopetoun, but for the first time I could put a face on this hamlet, where the major medical centres of Mildura and Bendigo were about two hours away. Lascelles is a pub and a few homes and on the silo wall there were beautifully painted, in sepia tones, portraits of a farming couple, the Hormans.

That is the endemic problem of small settlements, so small they do not merit any shops, but most do have a pub, a hangover from the time the trains stopped there and now a place for the locals to come and have a drink. The pub is often the only community resource and would be a perfect place for regular clinic by a visiting medical team.  As a model, the flying doctor provides  the excitement in community by arriving by air.  I remember in the 90s flying with the RFDS when they provided medical care at the Noccundra rodeo; and boy is Noccundra remote! Yet a plane on a gibber plain air strip indicates that the doctors and flight nurses have arrived.

Noccundra in Far West Queensland had a permanent population of four, but there was a pub made of stone. The RFDS provides a model for a visiting service, with provision of a regular clinical schedule and being available for outback events such as the rodeos where inevitably there will be injuries, some of which may require evacuation, either to Broken Hill or Adelaide.

There is much discussion about the lack of doctors in the bush. I believe the root cause is that there is no coherent succession planning, but for such planning there needs to be a facility which can appropriately both monitor and supply a regular flow of doctors.

To me all programs of clinical care must have a teaching component to assure the flow, as occurs in teaching hospitals.

Therefore a university facility, whether it be a university department of rural health, rural clinical school or a rural medical school, could provide a regular means of servicing the small communities with clinicians and providing two elements – one: clinical experience and two: continuity.

Much of these ideas have sprung from my own personal experience of providing a visiting medical service. For a number of years when I was newly graduated I would do evening consultations by visiting patients who, for one reason or another, could not present at the rooms for ongoing care. I did it twice a week, and if I encountered any deterioration, I would let the general practitioner know. Here the General practitioner was my educational resource and I went out on my visits -five or six patients generally had to be seen each evening.

The principle is simple – a travelling medical team connected to a teaching centre, where public health is an essential ingredient. As I have found out, if you provide a mixture of collegiality, teaching, recognition and succession planning, then you can build a coherent team of health workers.

Such a concept where you use colourful cars in lieu of aircraft to attract attention as the means of providing a regular service to remote settlements need to have a David Lyle to implement such a simple but obvious concept. But make sure that the travelling band arrives in each township with panache and always come when they said they would -punctually.

Incidentally, there was no problem with the medical care in Hopetoun, but that is another story, but instructive in trusting your on-site observations to strip away the hearsay and gossip. 

Sarah Jane Halton and her Stomach Knot

Jane Halton has bobbed up again. The incoming Health Minister, Mark Butler, has asked her to review the existing vaccine contracts and whether the country had a regular source of vaccine supply – a guaranteed pipeline.

The background is the dilemma being posed by the surge in the number of cases of the virus and the fact that the new variants seem to be more contagious. The fact that the level of vaccination including boosters has declined and there seems to be a growing complacency in the community with the removal of public health safeguards presumably is driving the review.

His action follows on from a national surge in case numbers, with health department estimates showing around 200,000 people are actively infected. He also confirmed that COVID-19 vaccines for children aged between six months and five years, which have already been approved in the United States, are progressing towards approval in Australia. Pfizer has been granted provisional approval to put in an application to provide a paediatric COVID-19 vaccine.

At the same time the impact of the transmissibility of the new variants BA.4 and BA.5 has introduced another variable, because of the unknown factor around the virulence and the effectiveness of current mRNA vaccines against these variants. That is the problem with mRNA viruses – they are fickle, mutating regularly.

Reading between the lines, Butler wants a “quick and dirty”. Despite what has been provided in the media release, and a comment that he was only interested in the future, the lessons come from the past.

Butler’s appointment of Halton is a shrewd one. She is a Howard-Abbott warrior. Therefore, her appointment has a “Teflon” quality. As a Deputy Secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Halton was convener of the People Smuggling Taskforce in the Children Overboard Affair. This was a convenient vehicle for Howard’s scare tactics in relation to the “Boat People”. She was the dummy in believing false claims, but she was rewarded with the post of Department of Health Secretary, where the then Minister, Abbott obviously saw her as a person in his own image and when he became Prime Minister Halton moved upwards into a central agency – that of Finance.

She became a member of the ill-fated Executive Board of the Australian National COVID-19 Coordination Commission in March 2020. That would suggest that she was engaged in the whole sorry process from the start, the entrails of which she has been asked to examine. Maybe she will be able to airbrush any involvement of Sarah Jane Halton from her report to Minister Butler.

After all, the Chair of the Commission, Neville Powers was convicted of breaches of COVID-19 rules. Maybe the activities of this Commission will figure in her solution. So far, the only public contribution by Halton as a result of this association was an indifferent report on hotel quarantine.

However, there is no doubt that Halton is an expert on integrity having been a member of the Board of the Crown Casino which presided over a raft of corrupt practices, the criminality of which has not been tested in the Courts.  Nevertheless, the former judge Patricia “Paddy” Bergin, who ran the Inquiry  on Crown, noted that despite her involvement in some of the deceptive practices, her integrity emerged intact.

James Packer had a business model which relied on an ongoing river of Chinese money replete with all the attendant malfeasance connected with the movement of large amounts of money, including junket tours and money laundering. It seems that ASIC is not prepared to take the matter further – “too big to fail” is the mantra.

Halton is a beneficiary in that the level of her involvement in the shenanigans will not be tested in court. Nor unsurprisingly, this involvement was not mentioned in the Butler media release, where she is described as “a vaccine expert” and Chair of an international organisation – the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) based in Oslo, which is the brainchild of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of India. Given the generous description of her as a vaccine expert by the Minister, the published description of the CEPI Board, acknowledges her starkly by a single word “Chair”, a position to which she was re-appointed last year for a further five years. Yet others on the Board are clearly defined as vaccine experts. It is as though the authors of the CEPI Report were unsure why she was there.

I therefore was surprised with the Ministerial comment: “I make no judgment about the existing arrangements. I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to have some independent advice about incredibly important arrangements that we have inherited.”

Excuse me for gagging on “independent”.

Now that ex-Minister Hunt has retired, also excuse me by speculating if there is now one remaining person with a target on his chest. Also let’s hope that she does not get that knot in her stomach – her own shorthand for the times she has stuffed up.

Climate Change

Ravenserodd – site of sunken Medieval town

The worst manifestation of this deteriorating climate was the Grote Mandrenke (Great Drowning of Men) of 1362, the greatest North Sea disaster in history which saw up to thirty thousand dead and almost half the population of the marshland districts along the Jutland coast drowned, not to mention the inundation of substantial chunks of the city of Dunwich and the port of Ravenserodd on the North Sea coast of England.

This above excerpt from a newly-published examination of ancient Britain settlement, Shadowlands by Matthew Green describes the changes in the British coastline because of climate change in the early part of the last Millennium. There is the description of Old Winchelsea where, over a period of a hundred years, this settlement – an important port on the Kent coast – was washed away. The intervention of King Edward 1 in acquiring land in the hills above Winchelsea was not without controversy because it meant a shift of Winchelsea being superimposed on existing settlements on this higher land.

These were turbulent times as the Northern Hemisphere moved from a calm Mediaeval Warm Period (c. 900-1200) into the turbulent Little Ice Age (c.1300-1900).  During this time, hundreds of settlements on both sides of the Channel were inundated with extensive loss of life.

As Green says, this period  was instructive for our time, when climate change is very much in the hands of manmade intervention, which as he says, it is probably much worse than the thirteenth or fourteenth  century “ever dreamed up.”

May I suggest that the inhabitants of Lismore and other places that were once ports and which are now being repeatedly flooded, read what happened to this mediaeval port of Winchelsea. It took time but, in the end,  the once thriving port of Winchelsea was no more, death from repeated flooding.

Mouse Whisper

My Bushrat relative, Rafferty, turned up the other day. He had hitched a ride on a number of trucks around the southern part of the Far West of NSW with a mate, Jack Kerourat. Anyway, he said that the Hay Plain was so flat you could see the curvature of the Earth’s surface.

The other thing he mentioned was in the bar of the Penarie pub where he heard one of locals say, “Look mate, you know what a remote place is in Australia. It’s where there’s no TAB betting agency.”

Penarie pub


Modest Expectations – Stereo on the Mountain

I have written this story before, but the proposal to increase the travel allowances of patients living in country areas of NSW reminds me of a story which appeared in my 1988 book “Portraits in Australian Health” released in the Bicentenary year, to my knowledge the only book which the Federal Department of Community Services and Health sponsored to honour this occasion.

It related to a long time general practitioner in a northern country town in NSW who, among his diverse interests and skills, was an expert in diseases of the eyes. On one occasion, one of his patients came to see him for advice. Apparently, the advice did not suit this person, and so he sought a second opinion. This meant travelling to Sydney by train, which took about eight hours, in order to consult the eye specialist.  This meant no mean effort.

Days later, he arrives at the specialist’s rooms in Macquarie Street only to find, as he entered the consulting room, there was his own country doctor who, at the time, was undertaking a locum for the specialist.

This is highly unlikely to happen today, but emphasised that just because one may prefer to practise medicine in a rural setting it is in any way different from practising in the city, apart from the technology. It just means getting the skill sets and the incentives right. But I admit that technology has in some areas supplanted a need for the same level of clinical skills, but that generality hides a much deeper discussion on its truth.

The doctor in the anecdote never lost his links with the city. When a doctor practises in a country town, he or she does so as an everyday member of the community and as the repository of the knowledge of the community’s health status, each person by person.  In attracting a doctor to country practice, the community must realise that the doctor must have his or her own space, his or her own privacy – the interaction between the doctor and community, which I once termed “tolerance” – a recognition of the importance of both sides of this interaction played out beyond the doctor’s rooms.

In so doing, another element of potential dysfunction is broached – that of professional isolation. Post graduate education is offered but availability is not the same as uptake. What worried me when I served as Director of Clinical Training was to get the professionals to interact with one another, even within the one practice. I have found collegiality helps in diminishing isolation, because sometimes I think many of my colleagues would prefer a sub-specialty of one.

Over years working in rural areas, it is tragic that I have seen the same mistakes being repeated over and over again. The classic conundrum is that of the doctor who complains about his workload, but when offered another doctor, recoils because of an unsubstantiated threat to income and as a threat to the power structure these long term doctors have created in their town. As a result there is a dearth of succession planning.

The other cultural problem, for which doctors are not to blame, is that the closer one town is to another the greater the rivalry and animosity, often demonstrated in the regional sporting rivalries

Awareness of the dysfunctions of rural life is papered over by the vision of an Acadian life, but despite the attempts at regionalisation, it is always the major regional city which collects the spoils and the rest of the region is left to its own devices. There are success stories; but always it seems there is a time when former patterns of dysfunctional behaviour re-emerge.

Having the will of successive generations of administration to maintain an open co-operative system requires the steely resolve of people like the Mayo Brothers, and how they achieved their success should be studied in every institution where health administration is taught.

“Tasting the winds, that are footless,
Waist-deep in history.”

I love trees as obviously does Sylvia Plath from this above quote.

One of my most enjoyable times was driving between Bourke and Goodooga in Northern NSW with Stuart Gordon and Nick Mersiades. Stuart Gordon then was moving from growing cotton into the community services sector. He asked whether he could cadge a lift to Brewarrina, as Nick and I were going onto Goodooga to stay the night before proceeding to Hebel just over the NSW border in Queensland the next day.

Brigalow trees

What was unforgettable about this drive was the level of knowledge of the countryside those two blokes had. The bush was varied. At one point we would be driving through predominantly brigalow scrub but at other times gidgee scrub.

Gidgee trees are stockier than brigalow and have dark trunks, which, when they are cut, yield a yellow sapwood corona surrounding an umber core. Brigalow trees are taller. In the dry area, the green brigalow foliage becomes increasingly silvery, and in a breeze I thought it to be almost feathery like giant dowager boas.

Gidgee trees
Leopard gum

Interspersed among these stands of acacia were mallee eucalypts, and the incredibly beautiful leopard and salmon gum trees. The trunks of the latter were smooth salmon in colour and the leopard gum mimicked the spotted hide of the eponymous carnivore.

To me, crushing a gum leaf and smelling the eucalyptus oil is the most tangible reminder of who I am. Although I have been eligible for both British and Irish citizenship, however tempted, I can only be loyal to one country – Australia. Sometimes over the past decade it has been very difficult to assert such loyalty, but the sun always rises.

Some years ago, Thomas Pakenham, who is incidentally the 8th Earl of Longford, a disestablished Irish peerage, authored a number of books, among them extravagant pictorials highlighting the trees of greatest significance to the author. In the first of these, “Remarkable Trees” was an impressive arboreal array, including the oldest tree in the world, a bristlecone pine about 4,600 years old growing at an altitude of 3,000 metres in the White Mountains in California among other aged trunks in the aptly named Methuselah Grove.

Apparently there was an even older tree in which an enthusiastic geography student inserted and then broke a tree corer in trying to ascertain the age of a similar tree. The corer was valuable enough for the tree to be cut down to rescue the corer. The tree turned out to be 4,900 years old at the time of its axing.  It could be said that these trees have been dying for two thousand years, but none had been beheaded in search of an instrument. Two thousand dollars for the oldest tree – a question of priorities.

Yet there were Australian trees among his remarkable trees. One was the famous prison baobab near Derby in the Kimberley.  Another was the bunya pine next to a grand castle in Northern Portugal.  The height of this pine is comparable to the castle’s campanile tower. In our garden here in Sydney we have had a number of bunya pines which we once bought in the Bunya Mountains south-west of the Queensland town of Kingaroy.

Fortunately the remaining one still grows in a pot, saving us from worrying about a putative 45 metre tree overshadowing the whole of our front garden. Australia is thought of as being gum and wattle trees, but Australia is also home to many of the Araucaria relatives of the bunya pine, the most recent member of this genus being the Wollemi pine, named for the wilderness area in the Blue Mountains where it was first discovered.

This book was followed by “Australia’s Remarkable Trees” – another impressive pictorial. I once wrote to its authors Richard Allen and Kimbal Baker, pointing out that there was this remarkable tree at the corner of Punt Road and Alexandra Avenue in Melbourne. It is a huge golden elm at the intersection of these two very busy roads on the banks of the Yarra River.

The amazing element which I found as I entered the dense canopy, seeking an unmarked specimen of leaf, at a time when I was collecting the various glabrous leaves of these trees, was that when you were under the canopy your vision was only of the foliage. The outside world was blotted out. Branches nearly touch the ground, and others are propped up. Here, there was a tranquillity, and even though close by, the traffic noise was muted, although the smell of the dusty, dirty city does penetrate through the foliage.

Most of the foliage bore the scars of insects – it was mid-summer and cool under the foliage. Close up the imperfections in the leaves were very evident. But that is life. The tree appears in the book, and the authors suggest the best time to view the tree is in spring when the foliage is unmarked, a lighter shade of green than its companion elms. Given in Europe that the English elm has been almost wiped out by Dutch elm disease, Melbourne and also other places like Ballarat are major remaining strongholds on Earth of this remarkable tree.

All such books as I describe are based on informed subjectivity. However there is one thing binding all these trees and that is of a deep appreciation, if not awe, of the permanent diverse planet upon which we move about. Thus, when one hears of destruction, it is often a time when I mourn for this lost heritage, as if one has lost a member of the family.

Fire is an ever-present risk to our forests. For some slow growing trees like snow gums it is a ghastly fate, but for others such as banksia it is important for the generation of new stock. The greater danger is overlogging, which has dogged Australia throughout our history. It seems that if you are born Tasmanian, you are born an instinctive forester. A forester is OK; but an indiscriminate logger is a vandal. The stories abound of such destruction in Tasmania, which continually change the undoubted resilience of trees such as the trio of its indigenous pines – the Huon, king billy and celery.

Trees deserve our attention. They are part of us. The introduction of the deciduous exotica, which provide Australia with all the autumnal colour, is probably one of the positive contributions from the colonial Heritage.

Thus, many of us take trees for granted, and when we talk about trees, the appreciation of diversity is unfortunately limited to whether the tree is obstructing my view or not.

 A Virus in the Sand

At a time when the rise in the number of cases of Covid in Australia has been dramatic, the following article from the NYR shows a thoughtful perspective as it describes what the new medical graduate must expect. Much of the clinical experience of all these young health professional graduates would have been in a period when the COVID-19 pandemic dominated health care and the resultant priorities arising. I have read these thoughts, and the stark manner in which ICU practice has been affected in modern medical practice with the advent of a contagious disease dominating the acute patient load.

At the same time, there are the challenges presented by its persistence as the chronic disease in all its manifestations; such as the phenomena of active long COVID or dormant COVID reappearing decades later.

This is a virus which is both deadly and seemingly innocuous, depending on the particular individual response. Whether it creates a deep ravine in medical practice, between infectious and non-infectious disease will ultimately depend on how the organisation of the health care system changes both now and after the pandemic has waned– the resurrection of infectious disease hospitals for instance.

An illustration of the growth in COVID cases

Paradoxically, Australia has spent a considerable amount of money on health institutions, often driven by clever marketing of sub-specialities, with an advocacy group of those affected by the particular condition and their relatives, especially if the affected person has a strong public profile.

The level of sub-specialisation and the disproportionate incentives for this to occur only serves to magnify the cost of health care. Children are an irresistible magnet for funding; and beware any attempt to interfere. Try a review of funding for childhood cancer – impossible to review objectively as to cost effectiveness because of the emotional halo.

A subspecialty exists because, through skill or advocacy, it has carved itself away from a perceived drudgery of general practice. This view has been increasingly encouraged by the various deans of health sciences in universities, where excellence is determined by the amount of research funding and by the number of citations, notoriously subject to gaming.

This obsession with rankings based on the alleged quality of research has been increasingly dissociated from the prime reason for universities to exist – and that is to teach each generation of students in the best available environment. Plus, may I add, not to have half the Faculty away on overseas conferences, on sabbaticals and/or time spent in private practice and outside consultancy work. This state of affairs is hardly conducive to healthy pedagogy.

The doctors who are finishing residency now have completed most of their training in a world without robust family presence. They learned to become doctors to patients who are intubated and under deep sedation, behind closed doors, in a world of masks and alongside the fear that if they are not careful, their patients could make them sick.

Back in my own training, we used deep sedation and paralysing medications infrequently, as we knew that these decisions came with a cost: delirium, long-term brain dysfunction, profound weakness. But today’s doctors in training have learned on Covid patients. When we were uncertain what to do, particularly early on, we reflexively jumped to deep sedation as the answer for them. These are patterns that are hard to unlearn.

And beneath it all is the continued spectre of the virus. Though I did not have a single patient with Covid-19 during my recent weeks in the unit, from time to time, we would receive a message alerting us that one of our patients had a Covid exposure from a staff member who had tested positive and would have to be on precautions as a result. Patients and families were once terrified by this news, but now they are largely used to it and seem reassured that the staff are masked and so any meaningful exposure is unlikely. This is another aspect of our new reality.

To think that a possible Covid exposure would not cause panic is itself a sign of great progress. But at the same time, we are so far from where we thought we might be by now. When I walked through the halls of the Covid intensive care unit back in the spring of 2020, I told myself, as did so many of us in health care, that we would improve care for those who were disproportionately impacted by this virus. The systems to which we had become accustomed would be dismantled, and we would find ourselves somewhere better.

But those sorts of promises are naïve and empty without a plan for how to make and sustain real change to protect the vulnerable among us. So here I am, back in the unit, caring for a patient with severe cerebral palsy, who had aspirated his own secretions and developed a life-threatening pneumonia. His aging parents had done the best they could despite limited resources, making sure to turn their adult son on his side multiple times a day to help him cough, but his muscles were too weak. And now he would require a tracheotomy tube for the rest of his life. I know, talking to his parents, that it is possible that their adult son will not go home, that they will not be able to afford the kinds of services he needs. When and if another virus comes, the son they cared for at home for three decades might be living in precisely the kind of nursing facility that will be decimated by it. It’s easy to feel that the tragedy only repeats.

But then again, in just a few weeks, a group of newly minted doctors begin their internships. Medicine is strange like that, a new generation every three years, and with it a chance for reinvention. They will find themselves in a hospital in transition, in a country that has suffered more than a million deaths. We will teach them about all of it, about how to manage sepsis and heart failure and trauma, about the pandemic and how it was before. And for a moment, maybe, we can step back and see it all through their eyes — the nervousness and the excitement and, more than anything, the hope for what is to come.

Oolong or Earl Grey?

In a previous blog, I worried about the many deficiencies in our approach to the other nations of the South Pacific.

The Chinese might have the money, but Australia has the advantage of Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong, who has turned disdain to genuine respect for our South Pacific community. This has been coupled with a change in the Government’s attitude to climate change, to make it easier for the Australian government to adopt a primus inter pares role in the South Pacific area.

Every nation in the South Pacific has been victim of colonisation. China in its entry into the South Pacific is just another coloniser, although the gunboat may be muted, the offered funding comes clutched in a mailed fist.

Therefore, the European countries have been a major factor in the sometimes idiotic distribution of their colonies. Does it make sense that the Western part of New Guinea has been hived off into Indonesia just because it was once the furthest outpost of Dutch colonisation.

One remnant of Portugal’s worldwide speckled colonisation is the Republic of Timor-Leste, whose isolation in a region of muted hostility makes it not unexpectedly seek a powerful ally, such as China. Previously East Timor, as it was before Independence, has always presented an anomaly. Whitlam was worried that East Timor, if it received such independence, would present a risk of an Arafura Cuba.

However any hidden intervention then has been well and truly trumped by the disgraceful behaviour of the Australian Government, as described in the Crikey newsletter namely the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet, the motives of the Howard government in its tactics towards the fledgling state, the subsequent decisions of the then foreign minister and then DFAT secretary to take jobs with the biggest beneficiary, the abuse of intelligence agencies for corporate espionage, the attempts to cover up the truth of the bugging and the vexatious attempts to punish those who exposed that truth, amount to the greatest scandal of recent decades.

Cristo Rei, Dili, Timor-Leste

Successive Australian governments have concealed such chicanery that will make any long term relationship between the Republic and ourselves very shaky. Australia has a substantial Timorese population in Darwin, and having been there just before the pandemic, it was to me clear how much the Chinese were investing in the Timor-Leste infrastructure. While the Republic shares the island with Indonesia, it is also a short boat ride from Dili across to the Indonesian island of Alor, part of the extended archipelago of the Southern Sunda islands, one of which Bali is 1,600 kilometres to the west of Alor.

Setting Timor-Leste aside for a moment is not to ignore its importance in a cohesive Australian South Pacific strategy lacking up to now.

Apart from a perception of the Chinese being a new colonial power, one of the points of differentiation is for Australian government ministers to cease to act as colonial masters. The Chinese have difficulty in hiding their sense of superiority, which grates, and in the end makes their presence in the South Pacific unpalatable. Nevertheless, mate, money takes away any distaste.

As I wrote about Andrew Peacock’s actions when he inherited the Ministry of External Territories, he immediately treated the New Guineans as equals, so evident in his relationship with Michael Somare. His predecessor was an old school Country Party politician, who viewed coloured people as inferior. After all, we’ve lived through a long term White Australia policy, and it is testimony to countervailing factors which have assured our role among out neighbours – not the least of which was our generation in speaking out against such a policy.

One of these factors binding us together undoubtedly is rugby; and with that New Zealand and its indigenous Maori population provide a vital bridge to Polynesia. This the Chinese do not have,

Our mutual Anglo-Celtic background provides a deceptive similarity of Australia with New Zealand. Yet it is in part mirage. As one who has headed a hybrid Australian and New Zealand organisation, I found the countries to be very different; the two nations respond differently to external stimuli. As with all neighbours, there is an accumulation of negative factors, which will intrude into all the positive aspects, unless we both recognise and deal with the differences immediately. Recently in her new role, Penny Wong has ably demonstrated with her embrace of the NZ Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, with her facial moko, her ability to confront the cultural differences. Whatever may be unstated, facial tattoos are confrontational for a country not steeped in Polynesian culture as New Zealand is.

Melanesia, as shown by the Solomon Islands treaty with China, exhibits our vulnerability; this is intertwined in our relationship with Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is a nation borne out of strong colonial links with Australia, both direct with Papua and by the acquisition of a mandate of the German colony of New Guinea after WW1.

Our indigenous Aboriginal people are represented in some of the Southern Sunda islands but more as an anthropological curiosity than as any cohesive force.

There are the Torres Strait People and here the Australian border with PNG provides a problematic divide. Then there is the collection of South Seas islanders – the descendants from the nineteenth century kanaka trade. Predominantly men from Vanuatu, they were press-ganged to work the cane fields of Northern Queensland, and Mackay is where many of the descendants remain. They have their identity, their flag but are not recognised in the same way Torres Strait Islanders are recognised. Only a small fraction of white Australia has ever met a Torres Strait islander. Yet some of the greatest rugby league players have come from both Torres Strait and South Seas Islanders.

On the other hand, the Solomon Islands were always a British colony before independence in 1978; and the Republic of Vanuatu was born from the New Hebrides condominium arrangement between Britain and France in 1980.

France remains the only European power left in the South Pacific and there is no indication that it will leave soon. One of the lessons was our ability to mobilise against the common enemy – this was the French when they were conducting nuclear testing in the South Pacific. We ran a meticulous campaign against the French and, given its modest funding, was very successful if judged by its impact among some of the South Pacific nations, remembering I was fronting an Australian and New Zealand organisation.

One area of which both our nations are guilty is still the magnetism  of Great Britain, even though despite some Whitehall protestations, Britain has long since vacated the South Pacific. The AUKUS arrangement  is redolent of a backward looking, nostalgic stream of thought.

Hopefully  as an early priority Wong will not rush over to the “old Country” to tug the forelock or have tea at Windsor. Fortunately, she seems to have left that to the emissary of the old huntin’ and shootin’ brigade, garbed as an Edwardian remnant of Albion humankind, a man whose name conveniently rhymes with dandy. Leave the UK to these people and let’s get on with dealing with the actual challenges of our region.

We marshalled the forces against one form of climate change 25 years ago. The challenge presented by climate change is far more serious and instead of AUKUS, how about a South Pacific alliance against the great polluter, China. Unfair characterisation? Fairness is not a major constituent in Chinese foreign policy. I am sure that matter is foremost in the Penny Wong mind.

Some are advocating Australia enact a form of the Monroe Doctrine. Next blog I shall discuss this proposal, given it seems to have some currency.

Mouse Whisper

Have you noted those advertisements, where the dentist has his back to the viewer, brandishing what is ostensibly a tooth brush. If you look in the mirror, there is no reflection of the dentist.

Now what a subtle advertisement. Toothbrushes and garlic toothpaste?

As some other rodent has said: “Real vampires do exist – they are life sucking people that are narcissistic, greedy, selfish and vain. They take from you as much as they can. They “seem” to be friends and offer you pleasure and beauty but they take your life. They cannot see their reflections because they portray someone other than their true self.”

In the end, as they say, this is no reflection on anybody.

Modest Expectations – Grand Final Action

What do you do the day after an election when there has been a realignment of the Australian electorate? Suddenly a majority of Australians are voting to address climate change, for integrity and for now, time is being called on the Paul Hogan vision of the normal Australian – the end of The Australian Sheila – a dutiful object of the male frustration, where sexual violence masquerades as consensual behaviour.


We went to Dargo. Dargo is a bush town, where the legend of the mountain is evident. As with so much of settlement in Victoria, it was the pursuit of gold which drove settlement at the foot of the Great Dividing Range where the Dargo River and Crooked Creek flow into the Mitchell River. Here there was alluvial gold and also deeper lead (lode) mining, which is so much the history of Victoria. However the gold did not last long around Dargo; it petered out to the extent that at one point Dargo verged on being a ghost town.

After you leave Dargo, you wind your way into the forested Great Dividing Range and the road eventually ends near the ski resort of Mount Hotham. It is a tortuous trip, a challenge to those prone to car sickness, through that other great resource of Eastern Victoria – timber. Cutting down old forest, which covers much of the land, has become as unfashionable as would tipping all the tailings from mineral mining down the Dargo River, and yet we are told that VicForests continues to actively log right through this area.

Dargo therefore embodies the myth of the rugged hard-riding horsemen of the bush ballad, but in reality these are the stuff of pub myths. The general laidback attitudes of the people belie the scrabble existence.

The day is beautiful; the air is clear. There is neither wind nor cloud. The deciduous trees are all vivid in a mixture of crimson, scarlet, bronze and yellow along the roads and in the Dargo township as it is basking in the late autumn sunshine. Yet much of the background for the mountain man myths are the hills covered in eucalypts. There are none of the variegated colours of the deciduous exotics on the mountainsides. There are these forests of messmate, with its stringy bark, the lofty mountain and alpine ash with their paler trunks. In the end, what is a deep green mountainside as it drifts away through the gorges and takes on the steely blue-green appearance so characteristic of the eucalypt forests. We wonder how much of these mountains has been traversed by white man; and then one of the group pointed out the electric power lines. The area is riddled with deer, which attracts the hunter.  The rivers attract the angler in search of wild trout.

This area has not been burnt for a long time, although to the east there have been devastating bush fires, which razed the settlements of Genoa and Mallacoota two years ago. Today, bush fire season is so far away – and yet Dargo has been threatened and will be again. As we drive through it, the endless expanse of blackened trunks is wreathed with new growth and mingle with white forest skeletons that will never to regenerate.

But today with a bottle of beer I am contemplating a beautiful landscape, where the fire did not come; where there is not a ballot box nor hoarding spruiking some far-off candidate who may never have stepped in the town. This is bliss. We do not see the tears of the vanquished nor the victory speeches nauseating in the myriad of fleeting acknowledgements – only Australian beauty, where only recently in a major coup, back down the valley towards Bairnsdale, a sand mining proposal on the Mitchell River, which would have ripped the guts out of this area has been refused by the local people.

The silt jetties

When we come down from Dargo to the Coast, before we return to where we are staying, we are driven down this long spit of land – the Mitchell River Silt Jetties, which divide the Mitchell River from Lake King.  This narrow tongue of land, which has been built up over thousands of years, is the longest of its type in the world. The river flows into Lake King at the end of this long tongue of silt and sand.

The river shimmers in the twilight, protected from the lake where its waters are now ruffled by the wind coming in from the south-west. Yet despite the buffeting, black swans glide past. What a day to spend; what sights to be seen – and yet another place on the bucket list to be crossed off – or more properly committed to my bank of memories – of places seen, places experienced; a pity I can no longer tramp around as I used to do.

But a memorable election day. Australia has been voted in.

What can I say about the Member for Longman!

They say bad generals always fight the last war, and the Liberal campaign fell into the same trap. Morrison won a surprise victory in 2019 through a negative campaign in which he depicted then-Labor leader Bill Shorten as a dangerous radical. Labor, wary of giving Morrison a second victory, changed its strategy. It matched many of Morrison’s policies and was cautious in its own offerings. Labor was like an echidna, the spiky Australian animal that rolls into a ball when attacked. Morrison kept attacking, as if he knew no other mode, even though Labor’s small-target strategy gave him so few opportunities.

Our own Richard Glover in The Washington Post ascribed ten reasons why Morrison lost government. You cannot disagree with his list, but the reason printed above is the one which went to the heart of Morrison’s failure.

Morrison was the classic flim-flam man who perfected his techniques through his association with Pentecostalism. It enabled him to surf his waves of personal impotence right to the end. His problem was that the spotlight became so intense that the greasepaint melted and he was exposed as an aggressive peddler of untruths. Morrison’s entrails will be barbecued on the fires of Hybris ignited by the fire-starter of “hubris”.

When Whitlam ended 23 years of Coalition rule, the Liberal Party voted for a new leader on the resignation of McMahon, himself a very divisive unpleasant character. The choice made was for Bill Snedden, who had been McMahon’s Treasurer; considered to be a nice guy, but lightweight. He beat Nigel Bowen on the fifth ballot by one vote.

Bowen, who was a distinguished jurist, had replaced Garfield Barwick as the member for Parramatta in 1964, (which indicates that the seat does not have to be held by a local). The current high-flying wealthy young banker, Andrew Charlton, lived in Bellevue Hill at the time of his parachute pre-selection; he not only won, but achieved a one per cent swing towards him. This is by way of a parenthetic comment about what has been occurring for some time, namely that any electorate increasingly cannot be taken for granted – a theme in Australian politics which will cause traditional shifts in alignments. Now back to the main narrative.

Billy Snedden

Malcolm Fraser did badly in this ballot, because he was seen as disruptive and had at that stage an enemy/friend ratio well in the positive. So Snedden, who had grown up in Perth but represented the outer Melbourne suburban seat of Bruce, became Opposition leader and Philip Lynch, the member for Flinders, his deputy. He inherited a divided party and over the course of his two-year stewardship, he was able to reconcile the differences to such an extent that Fraser, pictured as the tough guy, became viable. Nevertheless, bringing the Opposition together as Snedden had done, paradoxically projected him as not being tough enough, namely, in the long term, unfit – and of course the lightweight tag became featherweight if not flyweight among the Fraser acolytes. A member of these acolytes was the newly-minted John Howard.

Thus, the tough guy persona, despite the rants from the “Murdochrinaires”, is not the way to heal a party divided. These people are screaming for the anointment of Peter Dutton. Dutton is an ex-Queensland copper made good. The Queensland police force has been shown on many occasions to be wanting, and to stigmatise Peter Dutton is as much to stigmatise me for being a product of a school that had produced its fair share of “shonks”.

The second reservation is that Queensland has never produced a Liberal Party Prime Minister. Arthur Fadden was the nearest, a Country party stalwart, who was Prime Minister in his own right for 40 days in 1941. However ne’er a Liberal; only fleetingly the Country Party member for Darling Downs, who later was to be Menzies’ Deputy Prime Minister.

One of the results of a major loss is that the Senate representation remains and contains many of the most dysfunctional members of the Party. They remind one of the Calwell stewardship of the Labor Party – as totally unelectable on the left as these jokers are on the right. If one is familiar with the writings of Georges Sorel, one can recognise the similarity in the authoritarian attitudes and behaviour of these people, who live on the extremes. If you viewed the post-election rant of Rowan Dean, it gives a terrifying view of the world of the extreme authoritarian hatred. These people are backing Dutton.

The West Australian Premier dismisses Dutton as a dullard, and his form of strident form of dogmatism and fear mongering will not run well in the southern states, if reliance can be placed on the current voting patterns

Morrison, Abbott, Dutton – mocking climate change

Anybody who said, as he did in 2015: (sic) Noting that today’s meeting on Syrian refugees was running a bit late, Mr Dutton remarked that it was running to “Cape York time”, to which Mr Abbott replied, “we had a bit of that up in Port Moresby”.

Mr Dutton then added, “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”.

That exchange alone should disqualify him from the leadership at this time; it was outrageous then, but now, has he demonstrated any change for the better?

The Liberal Party needs to purge itself, not play to a diminishing gallery of misfits. I well remember one of my contemporaries describing the Young Liberals as “five per cent of lawyers leading ninety-five per cent misfits.” This assessment may remain partially true now. These days the misfits are just absorbed in a politician’s office to develop their consigliere profiles. Thankfully, at last the true results of such a generation of these types are being brutally exposed.

The Liberal party needs a healer and one who can reach across Australia, including regional Australia – and that includes humouring the Queenslanders. Snedden had the guts to do so almost 50 years ago. I severely doubt that Dutton has that ability to do that – reach across Australia.

Tell me what is a pharmacist?

From the days of gentlemanly pharmacy

In 1961 I sat down to undertake the last Materia Medica examination for medical students. It was then part of the medical course that we learnt to make pills, lotions and ointment – and the last memory of this immersion in the world of the apothecary was a brush with male extract of fern. That herbalism epitomises “the alchemist” struggling to be accepted. It exemplified the quaintness of the village chemist, with carboys in the windows and the apprenticeship system of pestle and mortar. Our teacher, an old gentleman with a medical degree and a nineteenth century demeanour, passed into folklore that year with the change of the medical course to substitute pharmacology, and the advance of science into the education of the apothecary.

I remember The University of Melbourne rejecting the idea of having a faculty of pharmacy, even though the Pharmacy College was just up the road. Instead, Monash University took on the education of pharmacists. I think The University of Melbourne hierarchy at the time thought that Pharmacy should use the tradesman’s entrance. In fact, the Monash Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is now labelled number one in world

In a recent statement, the Dean, Professor Arthur Christopoulos, said: “The pandemic has certainly reinforced the crucial and frontline role that pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists play in society. Over and above their normal services, we’ve seen the whole sector step up and play a huge role in vaccine rollout.”

The Faculty, known for its high profile research through Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), is responsible for the development of Australia’s first mRNA vaccine candidate for COVID-19 and in 2021 launched the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre. The NDC is an end-to-end academic enterprise for the discovery, development, evaluation, manufacture, and clinical rollout of 21st-century medicines to treat mental health disorders, as well as the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which supports Victorian biotech and pharma companies to develop a competitive edge and retain jobs within the state.

The Australian Pharmacy Research Centre was one of the first steps in trying to develop a research program in community pharmacy, and illustrated the dichotomy of the academic pursuit between laboratory and community pharmacy, of which the hospital pharmacist is a subset of the latter.

The problem with community pharmacy, because it is dependent on reimbursement of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, has meant the merchant pharmacist, through the Pharmacy Guild, has become a powerful lobby, with the merchant aspect well to the front. Pharmacists have been very strong on restrictive trade practices, and because they have been seen by a succession of Coalition governments as political “blue” outposts, they have done very well out of government largesse. Even the big retailers have been unable to establish pharmacies within their walls, despite having a prominent Liberal Party politician to lobby for them.

The residual problem is that these large chain pharmacies have arisen presumably through a loophole of benefit to the entrepreneurial pharmacist. This is a licence to promote quackery, and not unsurprisingly the Government has done nothing despite having the regulatory power. But then the Pharmacy Guild has been a major donor.

… everything you could want, and then some

Personally, I have a very good local pharmacist, and her pharmacy is not a sterile dispensary but a place where the pharmacist is a source of good advice. Nevertheless, it sticks in the craw to be confronted by television images, usually of young healthy people with children, with shopping baskets overflowing with bottles of vitamins and potions; the implicit message is that it is good, even compulsory, to take all this crap in order “to keep well”.

Further, when these co-called pharmacies move into the cosmetic industry it challenges the definition of what is a pharmacy? What are the professional priorities?

It is one area which must be a priority in any review – whether a health review or as a matter for an Integrity Commission – and I have yet to address the role of the pharmaceutical industry in listing drugs for government subsidy without the need to say “bingo”.

COVID Bare Foot

Guest sufferer: Janine Sargeant

COVID has been blamed for many things, including COVID toe, but COVID ankle? While the “dress shirt above the waist Zoom dressing” and styling your Zoom background may have been entertaining for a while, the accompanying tracksuit pants and bare feet or slippers have resulted in a raft of unexpected injuries. As many of us have spent time working from home in lockdown or avoiding the busy office environment, it has also meant not wearing supportive footwear. For the barefooted and be-slippered, this has delivered up a nasty surprise (particularly for those who normally do wear orthotics).

Nice to wear … just not for too long

Essentially, extended periods in bare feet or slippers plus a lack of regular “normal” exercise have left many with posterior tibial tendonitis (inflamed or stretched tendon that supports the arch of the foot) which can lead to arch collapse and permanent foot problems.

Similarly, the Achilles tendons of the working-from-home brigade have also taken a beating, again with what one expert described as “neglectful footwear”, a few extra COVID kilos, a lack of exercise, the change to treadmill running, prolonged closure of gyms and loss of exercise programs – in other words, the complete change in physical routine brought about by COVID lockdowns.

As one podiatrist commented: he couldn’t believe the number of people who have come to see him with Achilles problems or posterior tibial tendonitis. Such people now need orthotics to help them restore function to their feet; no doubt the physios are seeing the same unintended consequence of working at home. For this author’s painful ankle, the road to resolution is paved with new orthotics and months of exercises designed to strengthen the offending tendon – and a long break from “neglectful footwear”.

Requiem for a Light Welterweight

Really Schadenfreude is not a nice word. I am sure that one Andrew Peacock (or perhaps the ghost of the colt galloping the streets of Hawthorn) would have appreciated finally the final exit of John Howard, a person who started the fashion of a Liberal Prime Minister losing or abruptly vacating their seat.

From the time Howard entered politics in 1974, behind that mild-mannered courteous exterior has dwelt a wellspring of relentless hatred. Do not get me wrong; in his early years as Prime Minister, he made a reasonable fist of it, and he had members of his staff who provided a counterbalance to his instincts which helped preserve his public persona – no more so than Arthur Sinodinos, the long-term moderate who ran his office. For a short period in the early noughties, I was privy to the workings of him as the Prime Minister.

He achieved the shift of the Liberal Party power base to New South Wales, and left the Hamer Liberals in his wake, while detesting Kennett in this latter’s brief flame of power. I remember being at the Adelaide Airport on one occasion when Howard and I were retrieving our luggage. It was the time that Howard was out in the long grass in the early 90s. The initial exchange was inconsequential, when something I said triggered a vituperative response that he would get “them”. Apart from not being one of “them”, before I could ask him who the “them” was, he had rushed off. He disliked Costello, and there was something visceral about his approach to Victoria. I have always wondered whether the “them” were the Victorian Liberals. Paul Keating also was surely one of “them”; Howard was always expansive in his hatreds.  Whether or not it can be attributed to him, Victoria had become more and more toxic for the Liberal Party.

John Howard

But all this is a long time ago, and rather than just advise from the background, Howard still allowed himself to be pushed around in this election campaign. Why? It seems that even 15 years later he still cannot perceive the tsunami coming.

In a way, as a contemporary old buffer, I feel sorry for him. However, the imagery of an old age person with antiquated views campaigning provided a view of the Liberal Party where men wore morning suits and badges, and women made pumpkin scones. The image was painful and did not win any votes.

Bit of gratuitous advice John, write a blog about improving the treatment of the aged and then imagine anybody is reading it. It helps endure life in the gloaming – it is certainly better than just being plonked in front of TV set or wheeled around in a metaphorical Zimmer frame watching your legacy trampled.

Mouse Whisper

If I hear the new Prime Minister mention his rags to riches commentary once again, I doubt if I will be able to hold down my Emmenthaler.

However, I loved the comment which said that the Prime Minister must be happy to be back in public housing again after so many years. Maybe though he could flog off Kirribilli and take over Admiralty House.  Then build public housing on site, except even a mouse could imagine the potential homo sapiens rorts with such a project.

In any event, Governors-General don’t need summer palaces at the cost to the taxpayer. The hunting lodge at Yarralumla should more than do.

The Yarralumla Hunting Lodge – rabbit stew anyone?

Modest Expectations – Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?

Overlooking wild surf beaches, through rolling forested areas, past marae on the road between Russell and Whangerei was the sign in Ukrainian colours “Stop Putin – Stop War”.

Yes, this week we are in New Zealand. The only readily available news is sport, and the Sky sport channels provide one with the luxury of tuning into any of the popular football codes. However, in regard to news there is BBC, Al-Jazeera and CNN, together with the Murdoch propaganda channels – and Ukraine is there with all the Putrid reminders.

The wonderful feature of New Zealand is how varied yet peaceful is the countryside. Nevertheless, New Zealand lives on the edge, and its nickname of “The Shaky Isles” is well-earned. New Zealand lies on fault line; here the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates meet in a complicated manner. The edges of these plates, which meet under New Zealand, are not straight lines so the collision zone does not behave the same way along its whole length. Also, the convergence is not perpendicular to the plate boundary and there is rotation of the plates, hence an addition to this complex boundary.

New Zealand’s volcanoes and earthquakes happen because it is in this collision zone where the edges of two plates converge and moreover to the east of the North Island the heavy, oceanic Pacific Plate is sinking below the lighter, continental Australian Plate. This is called subduction.

When major earthquakes and volcanoes are plotted worldwide they reveal that New Zealand is part of a huge “ring” of volcanic and earthquake activity. The plate boundaries around the Pacific Ocean are the most active in the world and this area is often referred to as the “Ring of Fire”. Although the Pacific Plate is the world’s largest tectonic plate, the South Island is the only significant area of New Zealand on the whole plate, thus making it a truly oceanic plate.

The upshot of this long description is that the further north one travels, the less likely there will be a major earthquake. To me, if I were to migrate to New Zealand as I have been sorely tempted to do, given the state of Australian turpitude, I would thus prefer to live in these upper reaches of the North Island. As I remarked before, when staying a little further north, there were bananas ripening and the flowers are distinctly tropically flamboyant. In this motel outside our door is a rhododendron with delicate tangerine flowers. Opening the local newspaper there is a double page spread about coffee growing up here in the Northland.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Hawkes Bay area, but the beautiful Art Deco architecture is a reminder of the massive 1931 earthquake, which effectively levelled both Napier and Hastings; hence the characteristic architecture of the rebuilt towns. I remember the story of the earth movement raising the floor of the lagoon to such an extent during that earthquake that the water drained away leaving a huge number of fish literally out of water. The image of people scurrying across the floor of the lagoon grabbing as many fish as they could, while all round was trembling and 256 people have just died is somewhat Brueghelesque.

That is enough incentive to move to Northland.

Bay of Islands

However, enough of this rhapsodising, for in this new world of COVID-19 before you leave Australia and enter New Zealand, you need to have a COVID test – either a PCR or a supervised RAT (Rapid Antigen Test). Now we all know that you can test yourself; but not if you are going to New Zealand, you have to go to a “certified testing site” for this supervised test.

Ah, Australia – the land of neoliberal gouging! We got off lightly – $110 for two. However, elsewhere the gouge was on – over $100 for one. Try one of the multi-national pathology companies which repatriate our Medicare money overseas. The unintended consequences of government indifference to what was once an excellent scheme called Medicare – now MediCarruptus!

However, I digress.

Get to New Zealand where neoliberalism lingers in the ghost of Rogernomics. Concern for the Virus is sustained more than in Australia. On entry to the country the New Zealand authorities gave us three RATs each, for free, for self-testing on day one and day five/six. An extra test was provided in the event of the test needing to be repeated. Self-administered; self-reported – at no cost. Day one RATs went without a hitch, as did RATs on Day 5.

Higgins 2019 as writ by The Guardian

“The people of Higgins — a compassionate community that wants to see a transition to a renewable economy to tackle climate change — see that the Liberals don’t represent their values anymore.”

Ms O’Dwyer joins a string of Liberal women who are departing at this year’s election. (describing in other media she wanted to be with her family and wistfully wanting a third child even though she was already over 40)

Queensland MP Jane Prentice was dumped by preselectors, South Australian Lucy Gichuhi was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the party’s Senate ticket, and Ann Sudmalis blamed “branch-stacking, undermining and leaks” for her decision not to recontest the New South Wales seat of Gilmore.

Julia Banks also abandoned the Liberal Party late last year and moved to the crossbench, describing the treatment of women in Parliament as “years behind” the business world.

The usual suspects?

Less than one quarter of Government MPs are women, while nearly half of all federal ALP MPs are women.

The Liberal Party has a goal for women to make up half of its party room by 2025

Higgins 2022 as writ by Katie

Kelly O’Dwyer having resigned, the Liberal Party preselected a woman, a paediatrician with impeccable credentials in allergy – particularly peanuts.

Katie Allen – wow Katie – not Katherine or even Kate but Katie. She must be a radical.

Alas no; if the opinion piece she recently ventilated is any guide.

After all, what was such an educated person doing in a party where misogyny is rife, where its ministers allegedly bash their partners, where funding for universities, health and research is routinely sacrificed to satisfy the coal fetishists lurking in the denizens.

Perhaps Higgins is perceived as a safe seat. Harold Holt held it for decades.

After the former leader of the Greens, Dr Di Natale, boasted before the 2019 election that Higgins was up for grabs, it was retained by the Coalition.  Thus, in the end he was wrong. Katie Allen sneaked over the line with a six per cent swing against her.

Given she is a woman, with substantial credibility from her career achievements, her electorate stretches from South Yarra and Toorak, (her comfortable stamping ground) to Murrumbeena and Carnegie – less so. She is a classical Liberal lady in the Margaret Guilfoyle tradition – very self-contained – only showing her real hand rarely.

Yet here we have an opinion piece which is just arrant nonsense.

I suspect if she were not a female she would have a Teal candidate added to the Rouge et Verde already confronting her.

I read her piece and thought here we go again. I was working for the Liberal Party leader when little Katie was a six year old and the only difference is that it is a woman allegedly saying the same old “broad church” crap – the apologia of a conservative person, who has been caught up in the brutish rural socialism and plutocracy of the National Party; wedged among the kleptomaniac remnant of the Liberal Party. Whether she authored the piece would be the subject of a statutory declaration saying that she had actually written it.

Dr Allen as reflected in her pronouncements is deeply embedded in the Liberal Party, and once stood for the seat of Prahran. Her electorate at one end represents the environment in which she has lived for her 40 years. Her electorate encompasses the dilemma of once being safe, now redistributed to include areas which traditionally are more Labor in orientation.

Over the years Higgins has stretched out to include areas that somebody inured to living in Higgins for 40 years would find unfamiliar. The image she projects in her advertisements is that of wholesome privilege; many photos of her with children from private schools, but then they have traditionally been the backbone of the future voters in Higgins. After all, she herself was a student at Merton Hall, which is now just outside her electorate – a matter of a few streets.

So here is the member of Higgins defending a party that is deeply misogynistic, deeply embedded in financial miscreance, opposed to an anti-corruption commission with real power, and moreover a former paediatrician who should be voicing opposition to the internment of refugee children including the “Biloela Four”. She bleats that she has actually crossed the floor once – and is that the face of the moderate Liberals?  Once, surely not!

Then she has the temerity to rhetorically ask: “But what does he (Fred Chaney) think will happen after the election if any of my moderate colleagues, who sit inside the party room, have been replaced by teal independents who aren’t inside the tent?”

What indeed.

I hesitate to say it but if she survives this election, she should use her expertise in peanut allergy to reform the Coalition. Otherwise she had better leave the tent flap open.

The Big Question

What does a breakout company like Moderna do for an encore? More than a decade after its founding, the Cambridge biotech rolled out its first commercial product last year. And what a debut it was: a cutting-edge COVID-19 vaccine that helped to save thousands ― if not millions ― of lives around the world.

It was also a massive money maker for Moderna, which up until then had been unprofitable. With more than $38 billion in total COVID-19 vaccine sales expected by the end of this year ― many of the doses paid for by governments ― investors are wondering what the company plans to do with that windfall. Despite Moderna’s spectacular success, the question of what’s next looms large, and the pressure is on to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.

The same profit is expected for Pfizer and their vaccine. While there are accusations of excessive profits floating about, it is noted that Moderna is not seeking any payment for its vaccine being copied in South Africa.

Teal – the added colour of Port Adelaide

When Port Adelaide were admitted to the AFL the colour card was held at their head. Collingwood were the true Magpies – and their colours (even though neither is technically a colour) would remain black and white. The interlopers with their Prison Bar black and white jersey would henceforth have teal added to their colours and be forever “Power” not “Magpies.”

After all, this was a proud group of Croweaters, who at various times have been Cockledivers, Seaside Men, Seasiders, Magentas, Portonians, Ports. So switching onto the Power should have not been too much of a “big Teal”.

The colour “teal” comes from the green flash on the side of the teal duck’s head (teal comes the old Dutch word for this bird). Well, the colour is not actually green but a shade of blue admixed. To me the colour of the bird’s head is more a metallic green sometimes seen as the colour of souped up Holdens. However, those who have appropriated the colour for political purposes as was attempted in New Zealand in an aborted attempt to form  an alliance between the Greens and the conservative blue Nationals left the colour as its legacy.

Interestingly it was in the Italian town of Comaccio in the Po Delta where I encountered a cooked teal. We had arrived at this restaurant famous for its eels, as was the whole area, located as it was so close to the sea – in an environment of both fresh and salt water. I naturally ordered the eel, and immediately met resistance from mine host because the time that would be taken to cook it.  It was after four. They wanted to close by five pm – and we were offered an alternative.

“Alzavole” was the offer, and that was how I had a meal of roast teal. It was excellent – a fitting replacement.  The Italian word for “teal” in Italian literally means “get up and fly.”

How fitting for this group of Independents seeking election.

Success is always the result of timing.  A group of women provoked by the appalling record of the government on climate change and the failure of  placement of women on the same societal level as men, should enter the political arena. Some years ago at a lunch with a journalist of about my vintage I said that this country needed a group of candidates, independents of the three major parties to get together to prosecute a centrist role. My luncheon companion was sceptical because it was 2019 before the pandemic, and he was right. The time was not yet right although the saffron cauldron was bubbling. Then enter Simon Holmes a’Court.

My experience of student politics came before the student electorate became factionalised. You were voted for as an individual not on a party slate. Mistakenly I believed that one could weave a path through politics where issues were the subject of debate not of maximising self indulgence and corruption, in all its forms. Ideals burnt with the books.

These women are all articulate and counterpoint the shallow ugliness of some of their opponents, where lurk allegations, which if true, reveal a disgusting degeneracy in those who purport to be our leaders. What currently exists in the Coalition is akin to a cancer, which keeps metastasising. On the sidelines there are, among others, Fred Chaney, a former Coalition Minister, who represented the Liberal Party I once knew, where there was a balance within the conservative ranks, but where radicals were generally on the left of the conservative element, not on the right.

The whiff of the fascist has always been there, but with the demise of the Democratic Labor Party, the Falangist element drifted into the Liberal Party. This has been coupled to this heretical mob of creationists that used to be confined to Sunday morning ranting but unfortunately given a legitimacy by one Billy Graham, has now become a suffocating legacy of humbug in the Liberal Party.

If the Teal women can exert their influence by getting elected and restoring some secular order, then Australia can look forward to moving from the current situation with some hope. What is also very important is David Pocock winning a Senate seat in the ACT under its banner. An all woman faux-Party does have a certain political vulnerability, as Maxine McKew found out when she drifted far too close to the Sun (and probably the Daily Telegraph). Some say the cause was more a defective Rudder.

Nevertheless, the accession of the Teals will mean one positive effect – the gradual removal of the Murdoch influence to another place – the sporting pages. Then they can remember that Collingwood are still the black and white; and well, Teal was a compromise.    

To Chris Brook – with considerable help from W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead 
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, 
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, 
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

W.H. Auden’s beautiful poem is so eloquent in setting  aside that time to mourn but Chris was not for me

… my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest,  My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.

Instead, in my own words without Auden’s genius to guide my hand,

He was my irritant
My collaborator
That solitary polymath thinker
That unleashed gregarious drinker
He was stoical
He was not
He was rude
He was generous
He was Quixote
But also Voltaire
Above all he was my mate Christopher, flaws and all. 
And I shall miss him dearly

The last time we had an exchange of emails was on the morning of his death. It was about Aspen Medical. Just a normal day. Then we went to New Zealand. And Chris went to God knows where.

Então meu amigo não Adeus; apenas Até logo.

Tilting at Windmills … God knows where

It is always Caos in Italy

Prince Rupert is always “banging on” about correctness of language, syntax, constantly worrying about splitting his infinity and when to appropriately use the colon and the semicolon when expressing opinion. Journalism is notably attracting the barely literate, he moans. Take the example of the football writer for an Opposition Roundhead publication who talked about “zealousness”. The word is “zeal” or perhaps “zealotry”, but not “zealousness”.

It is a small sign of where journalism is headed – to the bottom.

Yes, my dear journalist who confuses “tortuous” with “tortured” and struggles with “disinterest” and “uninterest”. And spells “chaos” with either a “K” or without the “h”.

What does make sense if these bottom feeding journalists want to play “Gotcha”, then journalists themselves are fair game. After all they rank just above politicians in community ranking. Prince Rupert did not say that!  The community did.

The smart arse journalist is always trying to find the electoral tipping point so that it is sufficient for an intrinsically lazy pack to pile in and attribute failure to this one tipping point.

The 1993 election is always mentioned in the context of the birthday cake episode in which Mike Willesee in interviewing John Hewson asked him the effect of GST on the price of a birthday cake. Hewson gave a qualified reply, as any honest politician should give, but his answer was transposed into a triumphant fourth estate “gotcha”.

As John Hewson said later, after his defeat in the 1993 election and subsequent ousting from leadership and retirement from Parliament, he should have told Willesee to get stuffed. Increasingly, the smart arse journalist should receive what should be known as this “Hewson Solution”. Adam Bandt recently demonstrated its application in one of his Press Conferences.

Finally, that hesitant young journalist recently reading a very stupid irrelevant question from her phone, obviously planted by some other journalist higher up in the Albanesegotcha phylum, will live long in the annals of rank idiotic desperation. As for the young journalist, my advice is: “Get a brain and not to rely on another person’s Offal.”

Mouse Whisper

This is an Iranian puzzle – not that difficult.

What is blue in the field, red in the market, yellow on the table?

Answer in above text.