Modest Expectations – Jeppe Bruun

Blair Comley PSM

Here we go again. The Federal Government has appointed Blair Comley PSM, “an economist and former special advisor with PwC” as the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care.  As was reported in that announcement, the writer added “there is no escaping the spectre of that consultancy”.  

His five-year term commences on 17 July. My concern is that, at a time when the health sector is in turmoil, a person with no experience in health has been appointed. Not that the previous incumbent has left much of a legacy and he was medically qualified, but he did achieve acclaim for his “sure hands” in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.   At least he knew the language – Health. I am one of those who do not subscribe to the notion that once a manager, the language of management overrides everything – no matter the expertise or subject matter.

I have worked my entire career in the health sector and had a business partner who was originally a transport economist and cost accountant, but who gradually developed a fluency in “health”, albeit with an accent and a limited health vocabulary. But he could negotiate his way around in the language and knew when he was being deceived by fancy “med-speak”.

What I find somewhat interesting is that in his curriculum vitae, as published, Mr Comley is vague about his age. I know that some people are sensitive about their age, but it always has a reason. What is Mr Comley’s?

He is impeccably qualified. Comley holds a first-class Honours degree in Economics and is a Master of Economics from Monash University. He holds a Graduate Diploma in Legal Studies from the Australian National University.  He spent time in Treasury and three years in the OECD. Comley seems to have attracted the attention of the Labor Party and worked for the Rudd-Gillard Government, first as Secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency from 2011 and then for a short time at Resources, Energy and Tourism – appointed secretary in February 2013. He was thus well on his way to “Mandarin-hood” before, with two other Department Heads, he was sacked by Abbot on the first day Abbot took over as Prime Minister in September of that year.

It was at this time he moved to PricewaterhouseCoopers as a consultant in April 2014, a special advisor to the company’s Canberra economics and policy team. The then NSW State Premier, Mike Baird, later appointed him as the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in 1914, where he lasted for three years before he was off again onto the consultant carousel, this time with Ernst & Young as Director and Partner at EY Port Jackson Partners, a strategy-focused consultancy advising leaders of business and government – in other words – a lobbyist.

In January 2012 Mr Comley was awarded a Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service in the development of public policy, particularly in the areas of carbon pricing and emissions trading, tax policy design and debt management”.  But not Health!

“Mr Comley has a wealth of experience and a record of proven leadership navigating complex issues,” Mr Butler said. We’ll see. He still has potential spins on KPMG and Deloitte; to which he may say, “Come back in five years.” I prefer not, but on reflection the Australian Health system has survived the likes of Jane Halton.  The problem is that these top health bureaucrats know the streets of Geneva better than those of Alice Springs. So, Mr Comley you certainly have a challenge for someone who is 53 years old (verified from another source).

One obvious question. How would you handle a national public health emergency – say Ebola or some other haemorrhagic contagion, Mr Comley? Whom would you trust?

My Little Orange Lamborghini

One of my favourite film opening sequences is that featured in “The Italian Job”. This was the thriller-comedy featuring Michael Caine and Noel Coward as leaders of a band of robbers intending to steal a large amount of gold bullion in a Turin heist.

The opening sequence features an orange Lamborghini Miura being driven up the winding Great Bernard Pass. The pass links the Aosta Valley region of north-western Italy and the Canton of Valais in Switzerland. The opening scene features Rossano Brazzi at the wheel, fag in mouth and wearing fashionable sunglasses – Ford Mustang Renauld Spectaculars. The sunglasses were specifically designed for driving, with the curved sides to stop wind coming through.

Belying the wistful opening song “On a day like today” sung by Matt Monro, the opening scene ends with the Lamborghini crashing into a front end loader hidden in the tunnel and not only that, there is also a shot of the sun glasses lying on the road being ground under a Mafia heel. Such gratuitous destruction, but as the publicists of the film said, the Miura tipped over the mountainside had already been destroyed in a previous accident in the Middle East – where else?

Oh, what a relief. I must say the fuss surrounding this car, with its numbered chassis #3586, was surprisingly lost for 50 years after its appearance in the 1969 film. When the car reappeared, it needed restoration and now resides with its owner in Liechtenstein, with a value of about US$5m.

It was the first supercar with a rear mid-engine and two-seat layout, something which other supercars have followed as a mantra ever since. Introduced in 1966, the Miura remained in production until 1973. In different forms a total of 764 were manufactured. All came powered by the 3.9-liter V12 although Lamborghini could coax out different power from different versions of the car. It was also the fastest production car of its time.  While Fiat is synonymous with Turin; Lamborghini are manufactured in a small town near Bologna – Sant’Agata Bolognese – in Emilio-Romana.

I sound like a Top Gear presenter. I must stop this adulation. Yet I do remember staying in London next to a Lamborghini dealer, with these low-slung cars spilling out into the narrow street during the day seemingly immune from parking tickets. Watching them being driven hither and yon, it seemed by those driving these vehicles you needed training as a contortionist – all seemed to be athletic young men replete with what the French call “quincaillerie”.

Likewise, the signature sunglasses have been revived, available online for around AUD2,100.

Brazzi’s cameo appearance must be akin to the brief appearance of Janet Leigh in just surviving the opening credits of “Psycho”.

Yes, Turin is an impressive city, being the capital of Piedmont and once the seat of the Savoyard royalty.  Thus, it has the air of a city of typical oppressive majesty, with the long colonnaded shopping centres where you can drink coffee, quaff a white Piedmontese wine and eat agnolotti while watching the Torinese walk past. However, more spectacular was sipping Negronis on the roof of the gardens with an admittedly interrupted view of the Alps, clinging to the far horizon as a spectacular backdrop to the intervening city buildings.

Turin is a sedate city, not the frenetic scene in what was a very entertaining film, and there is no doubt that Turin is one of those Northern Italian cities which is known, at least for a long time, by the Mini Cooper car chase through its streets, the colonnades perfect for the car stunts. The classic pursuit through the sewers was not actually filmed in Turin but in England. Obviously in the traffic gridlock scenes, the Torinese seemed to be enjoying themselves; but even if you paid me, I would not have been one of that crowd. I totally unspool if caught in traffic jams, let alone that crazy gridlock with a crescendo of car horns as depicted in the film.

The most disappointing aspect of Turin is the acclaimed Shroud. We admittedly arrived late at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, and there it was, a piece of linen cloth with its head of a bearded bloke, very much the conventional depiction of Christ as an emaciated hollowed soul. We could not really get near it, and the fact that it is behind layers of bullet proof glass does not help either.  I consoled myself that at least I had seen it but then what had I seen?  The remains of a mediaeval hair shirt cut into the shape of a linen shroud – and why shroud? That is somewhat pejorative to say the least. Could just have been the forerunner of those T-shirts with Che Guevara’s image printed on the front.

Pyne for the Asking

Reading this hard-headed article about the French Defence forces, which appeared in a recent issue of The Economist, inter alia it made me compare the French determination with the apparent waywardness of our defence forces, the procurement of materials seemingly left to an array of consultants linked to US defence contractors, but without any apparent expertise in the field. Being Minister for Defence in Australia seems however to be a prerequisite for growing mushrooms; the experience of being one being invaluable in what will ever be known as your Pynestry. If one thinks about Pyne, that grinning visage profiting from just being an average politician, a guy who had never had a real job before entering Parliament at the age of 25. Now one must not be envious! After all, maybe Maurie Pyne will live long enough to receive his appropriate reward, once the AUKUS shill is properly exposed.

Meanwhile, the French have got on with the job. The lesson being very simple is to have a co-ordinated Defence Force with modern communications, just in time – not at a time decades hence when Planet Earth may be a charred remnant, with the Barrow-on-Furness submarine facility long since decommissioned without building any nuclear submarines for us.

Paradoxically, however, France has scaled back the acquisition of some extra kit. The air force will get 48 fewer new Rafale fighter jets than previously planned, and 15 fewer a400m transport aircraft; the army will get 497 fewer Griffon and Jaguar armoured vehicles. “Because we are trying to do everything at the same time, we are sprinkling rather than defining priorities,” said Hélène Conway-Mouret, a Socialist senator on the armed-forces committee.

Bastille Day

The new budget, retorts the general, “takes us in the right direction”, even if its full effects will not be felt until 2030. He argues that critics of the plan have failed to understand the importance of capable forces rather than sizeable ones. The number of tanks, ships and planes is not growing as fast as it might, he insists, precisely because of the priority given to “coherence”. “It’s important that if you buy a tank, you have men trained on it, who have ammunition to train and spare parts to go in the field with it.” There is no point, General Burkhard says, in having “an army that is ready to parade on Bastille Day, but is not ready to go to war.”


I note that Vancouver is listed as the sixth most liveable city and, given the subjective nature of such assessments, where both Sydney and Melbourne are listed above in The Economist tabulation, I nevertheless would not argue. In fact one afternoon in Vancouver I defined my experience as the closest I had ever had for ultimate “bliss” – sitting outside in the summer sun consuming a meal of Coho salmon.

Stanley Park totem pole

Vancouver has Stanley Park, the large parkland which abuts the harbour, and from where it is a jogger’s delight, running long the seawall, past a collection of the long totem poles characteristic of the Indian tribes of the Pacific North-west. One sight which remains is that of being there in April, when the cherry blossoms were in full flower, their generous pink blooms adding to the beauty that was then Canada.

There are always small moments that stick in one’s memory. I stopped after a wind sprint just outside a bower, where a young woman was sitting. I had turned away, when she asked me to take her photograph. As I turned around she had stood up and was offering me her camera. I thought what a strange request to ask a total stranger to take a photograph – just of herself. I complied; she thanked me and went back to her seat; I ran off and never saw her again. Given that the iPhone has made the “selfie” an integral part of normal social interchange, with the capacity to store any scrap of life seemingly almost unlimited, it is one of the examples of social mores trailing the technology. So different from when I had taken that photo perhaps forty years ago.

Now the picture of Canada (see below) is that of forest fires, of drought, waterways and dams dried up. Over the years, I have been to all the border provinces of Canada, except Saskatchewan. I once spent twelve hours at Calgary airport, waiting for a delayed plane and thus left to have a lot of time to become acquainted with the collection of artifacts hung on its walls at that time.

That was the time I took the train from Vancouver to Banff, thence to Calgary where I was to visit the Foothills Medical Centre. This was at a time when I was supposed to be an expert in quality assurance and had just started the first journal, The Australian Clinical Review, which gave me a brief period of international acknowledgement, including for the then CEO of this large hospital.

Of course, I stayed at the Railway Hotel in Banff, one of the faux-chateaux mixed with a touch of the Balmoral, which were built along the Canadian Pacific Railway, looking impressive against the background of snow covered mountains. Staying in hotels like this is very dependent on the room you can afford, but when young and the hotel is relatively affordable, one chases the experience. And I must say I have always gone for the experience – and North America has many of these Grand Hotels, some of which have been renovated or, as was the case when I was in Banff, in the process of renovation.

Now who was Vancouver, his name given to this sixth most liveable World city, and to the nearby Island where the Provincial capital, Victoria is located.

George Vancouver

George Vancouver is associated with exploration of the Pacific Nor-West. He was born nearly thirty years after Cook and served as midshipman and junior officer on some of Cook’s voyages. Vancouver was later asked to chart that coast and also drive the Spanish potential conquistadors from the area. He was successful enough to earn the acclaim and hence much being named after him. Ironically the sister city of Portland across the Columbia River in Washington state is named after him, but he failed to detect either the Columbia or Frasier River, something I doubt the meticulous Cook would have missed. As a piece of trivia, there is a freshwater lake near Albany in Western Australia named for him. In 1791, Captain George Vancouver, on his way to America, came to the southern shore of Western Australia, named King George Sound ensuring that all the Australian continent remained British. Where he landed, he saw nothing he thought of any consequence, and after a short stay sailed eastward intending to hug the coastline,  but was foiled by the wind shifts. He would not be the last sea salt to believe there was nothing here in Australia.

Cactus on Uluru?

As an Arrernte woman who watched the Labor party apologise for the policies which led to the stolen generations only to deny compensation, or who saw them continue the Northern Territory intervention under another name and demonise entire communities with their “rivers of grog” claims, my trust is gone. – Celeste Liddle in The Guardian

It is not often I change my mind in mid-blog to delay one of my blogs, but Monday this week provided a couple of blows to the campaign to achieve a “yes” vote. I would not say it was exactly cactus, but it certainly needs to be changed radically.

The first salvo came from George Brandis. Now George is one of those conservative Queensland lawyers, once perhaps a form of social liberal but who long since has blotted his copybook with the smudges of entitlement, such is his love of huge bookcases funded by the taxpayer and a comfortable residence in the middle of London, again at our expense. I was surprised to find myself mostly agreeing with his opinion piece in the SMH, setting out seven reasons that the referendum will fail. Apart from insulting the people telling them that they dumb red-necks if as individuals they do not vote yes, with the attendant “moral bullying”, the proponents of the “yes” vote as Brandis wrote: … need to remember it’s not about personalities … The public will see right through cute attempts to make this a popularity contest … They know it is a serious proposal for important constitutional change and expect it to be treated accordingly – not as a political Punch and Judy show.

Here I do question Brandis. Advocacy depends on personalities, but if you choose the wrong advocates then you will surely lose. As testimony to that, Megan Davis is wheeled out in Australian Story as one of the front line academics to prosecute the “Yes” case. Her mother is white; her father who has long since decamped, was an Aboriginal fettler. He is notably absent and it is clear that Megan grew up in a whitefella world, where her mother, a high school teacher, was her guiding spirit.

In her 2010 bio, Megan Davis spends time identifying her Aboriginal blood lines while admitting to South Sea Islander heritage. In the recognition of Aboriginality, it is ironic the heritage of the group descendent from the kanakas “press-ganged” predominantly from the then New Hebrides to work the Queensland sugar cane fields is largely ignored by the other indigenous groups. The biggest population live around Mackay and have their own identity including a flag.

But what is revealing is that despite her heritage, how little time she has spent as an Aboriginal woman. She has grown up as a white woman, who has used her Aboriginality as a means of developing her career, not as one who knows anything about the diversity which is both the strength and the curse of the Aboriginal race. In the Australian Story panegyric, her only link seems to be Uluru through the declaratory Statement, and the fiction that Uluru is the natural heart of the Nation. Why Uluru? Why not Mount Augustus or Mount Wudina or Carnarvon Gorge or the Mitchell Plateau?

After all, Uluru is not her Land. It is Anangu, but conveniently a tourist resort able to be isolated in beautiful photographic layouts. It is also where the Southern skies can be visualised with minimal light pollution.

In Australian Story, it was revealed that she since the age of 12 has walked around carrying a copy of The Australian Constitution. If she was not an Aboriginal person of importance, I would have thought how weird.

Then I read that early CV (sic) in her own write: We grew up mostly in Hervey Bay … I went to school at Star of the Sea, Hervey Bay and St Josephs Tobruk Memorial school in Beenleigh for primary school and then Trinity College, Beenleigh for secondary school. I studied a Bachelor of Arts and Law at the University of Queensland, where I majored in Australian History. For those three years, I lived on campus at Duchesne College, which was the women’s Catholic residential college in St Lucia. During my penultimate year of Law, I started research for the Principal Legal Officer at the Foundation for Aboriginal Islander Research Action (‘FAIRA’) in Brisbane. It was there that I started doing research into the international legal regime, looking specifically at the intellectual property rights of Indigenous peoples. Immediately after law school I was accepted into the United Nations Fellowship in Geneva. In fact, I sat my tax and evidence law exams in Geneva not long after I arrived.

As I watched her parading through Australian Story, this woman since 2010 the recipient of more academic kudos, it is clear that the strategy is to promote women with Aboriginal Heritage, women who have been loaded with academic gowning, part of an urban elite with a theoretical grasp of Aboriginal affairs. In the half an hour Australian Story journey with this strangely passive woman who loves an accusatory oratory platform, I thought why is she being given this platform. Why promote her?  She does not seem to connect with the wider Aboriginal diaspora. As Brandis has noted, the whole debate has lost transparency.

Thus, Uluru which seems to be the only Indigenous handle that Davis plus her apparently tight relationship with the genuine Aboriginal activist, Pat Anderson, makes me wonder who is driving the “Yes” case. I wish the motives of those are understandable – or as Brandis has called it a need for “transparency”.

Mouse Whisper

Overheard outside the Mouse residence. Our mouse had one of his friends over for cheese and crackers.

Resident mouse:   In English it is a bat, pure and simple, but for the Germanic and Nordic languages, the bat is translated as variations of “flying mouse”. In the Romantic languages, only the French choose to insult us further by calling a bat – “a bald mouse”. Really, even the Romanians, the natural home of the bat the Romanian word for bat is liliac which gave rise to that famous Dracula Song – “I’ll gather liliacs”.

Joking aside, it was the Romans who had the best word for “bat” – “vespertilio”, they having observed that bats come out in the evening, but we mice do not fly, I bet you have never heard of a saying – “like a mouse flying out of hell” or “having flying mice in the belfry”.

Visiting Mouse:  Sorry, mate, I know you are very clever, a polymouse indeed! Yet, there is another word in English for bat. It Is uncommon, but it is there – flittermouse. You can put it into your Whisper, my flying mouse mate. But you can’t silence it.

Modest Expectations – Voiture ancienne

The Defence force spends somewhere in the region of $40m a year in recruitment of men and women to the army, navy and air force. Nowhere in the advertisements is the message, join the defence force to be killed fighting for your country. Rather, learn skills, enjoy yourself.

So why would a young doctor go into general practice when there is so much moaning in the background about how terrible general practice is. When I was young, I remember “Country Practice”, a TV show which extolled the virtues of general practice. Since then there have been TV doctors featured as dysfunctional, exiled to the country, as for instance in “Doctor, Doctor”. The portrayal involved a great amount of sordid activity. The characters were hardly appropriate role models, but when you watch an optimistic sitcom such as “Call the Midwife”, one wonders how that would play out if moved from an inner London setting to the Australian outback.

I was involved in rural health until about five to six years ago. I have seen very clearly what works and what doesn’t; and it distresses me to see the same suggested solutions rolled out, knowing they have failed previously. One is this bleating about how difficult it all is; and their need for more doctors. Then when a doctor is suggested to join some of these doctors in apparent need, some back away worrying that their income will be impaired.

Then I wrote about the challenges, which I have observed over the years; I doubt whether they have changed. They seem not to have been taken into account in the platitudes in the latest 12 page report supervised by the Minister, who unfortunately seems to have been captured by these purveyors of stuff that does not work. The challenges to rural practice are:

  • social dislocation
  • professional isolation
  • community tolerance
  • succession planning

Social dislocation is encapsulated in the reluctance of one’s partner to relocate and where the doctor needs to send his/her children away to school. Professional isolation exists in a variety of ways – working on one’s own so that one is effectively rostered on duty 24/7, without locum relief or where one refuses to share on-call with doctors in other practices. I have worked in small communities with hospitals; and well managed they provide an essential resource in enabling work with other health professionals where there are not enough doctors.

Community tolerance is thus at the heart of the inter-relationship with other health professionals and the community. The idea that health professionals will automatically work together, by some magical wafting of a bureaucratic report, is fanciful. Strength of leadership and an ability of the doctor to work in the community needs someone who automatically is expected to join a community and its activity. When there is an immediate barrier of language and customs, not to mention personality traits, expectations may not be fulfilled. Some doctors are not joiners, they do not want to become involved in social activities. Added to this, some doctors need to adjust to the fact that unlike the city, there is no anonymity; one common reaction is to leave the community over a weekend “just to get away”.

Then there is the most important challenge and that is succession planning. Few practices do it, but the ones that do are successful because they promote continuity in service and hence corporate memory and trust among their patients. There should be a rule of thumb that if one survives the initial period, then one should guarantee (and be guaranteed) a certain length of time in one practice.  Five years seems to be reasonable in this modern age, where there is fluidity in employment among health professionals. That means that once the number of doctors needed to provide the best possible service is settled, then one works to maintain that level, remembering that what attracts doctors is a functional practice which, implicitly or explicitly, has paid attention to the top three challenges I have listed.

Income is always important, but it is not a specific condition for general practice and the whole matter of Medicare will be dealt with in my next blog.

I have written about rural medical practice endlessly, (my previous blogs attest to this) but the underlying problem is that the bureaucrat writes the report as if the work has been completed. In reality it is only the beginning, because implementation is always the difficult part.

Once they genuflected and cried: Go to Pell

Many shameful episodes in Australian politics in recent years, but hard to think of a lower moment than seeing two former Prime Ministers attend the funeral of a cardinal who covered up institutionalised sexual abuse of children and protected paedophile priests – Twitter comment 

My eye was attracted to this comment about Cardinal Pell’s funeral. I have a relative who played football with the young George Pell when he was a journeyman country Australian footballer, a big man (195cm) who shouldered some of the ruck load. My relative was adamant that Pell would never have been a child abuser.

The problem is that Pell did have “form” from his time as a young priest, was criticised by the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, was convicted and imprisoned, and the conviction overturned on technical grounds which did not clear Pell, but the decision indicated that High Court was not convinced that the matter of reasonable doubt had been addressed satisfactorily.  The evidence of a monsignor seemed to be believed above the evidence of others, without any real evidence of the veracity of his recall of the circumstances of the accusations made against Pell.

After Pell disappeared to Rome, the Sydney diocese must have started planning for his inevitable death. It was such a highly staged spectacle, seemingly having every Roman Catholic priest recruited for the ceremonial requiem mass. It also seems that the Sydney diocese has decided not to go with the shift in the political winds in Rome, even with the current ailing Argentinian pope, and to combat the progressives who are on the rise. Sydney may decide to become the home of such Roman Catholicism – refusing to consider contraception, abortion, celibacy, the ordination of women, vaccination against cervical cancer and even encouraging the re-introduction of the Tridentine mass (currently four churches in Sydney).

To airbrush Pell is a common trait in Australian culture – turning a scumbag like Ned Kelly into a national hero is another example. Tony Abbott ‘s extravagant comment does not do the situation justice. Abbott is not rabid, in that he has not presumably been bitten by a dog, squirrel or civet.  His statement that those outside the cathedral yelling “Pell go to Hell” meant they at least believed in the afterlife and thus this was the first verified Pell Miracle (gained him a few cheap tweets) but was just plain stupid.

The Church cannot be serious about canonisation of a man who has been shown to facilitate, indirectly or directly, sexual molestation of children by a collection of priest predators, some of whom were close to him at some point. Since Peter became the first Bishop of Rome, the Church has survived a great deal of malfeasance, and perhaps this will continue to persist.

The other perception of the Church is how ludicrous some of the regalia looks when placed alongside stated conservative attitudes. After all, look at the fancy dress of the church dignitaries and then fast forward to the forthcoming dress-ups for mardi gras by the queer dignitaries.

And the other intriguing question, will Abbott and his seminarian mates have to wait for a new Pope to get an Australian Cardinal – or will there be a progressive addition to the Curia gifted by Pope Francis? And could he reach beyond the current list of bishops to perhaps a priest of principle, a man with a progressive tinge. 

My Country, Ngangkari

It was one of those times when I was in Ernabella, and I was introduced to a young man, who I was told was a ngangkari. Ngangkari is a Western desert name for the medicine man. In every community I understood that there were these people, not necessarily men, who were responsible for the spiritual totems. I became aware of this fact when there was talk of a kadaitcha man when I was working in western NSW in the 90s. Although he was never identified, I was assured that he existed, right down to the feathered feet not leaving footprints. Before this can be dismissed as myth, I wonder if, in the construction of the Voice, whether these medicine men were consulted. Do they still exist, because it is important for the integrity of the Aboriginal traditions given the fragility of oral traditions; to assure the continuity of the spiritual values of each particular tribe.

As I said, at Ernabella I was introduced to a young man, who had been identified as a ngangkari. Like many Aboriginals, he was taciturn, especially confronted by a whitefella “blow-in”.  What attracted me to him were his luminous indigo eyes. I was looking into the 40,000 or whatever years of Aboriginal heritage. I tried many approaches to engage him, and the one that worked was when I said “Adelaide Crows”. He broke into a wide smile, and the indigo eyes glinted into the twentieth century. For me, it was important to know that the medicine man existed; it was not for me to interrogate him. He was non-committal in describing his role; but what I knew was how important the oral tradition was to the medicine man/woman and the secrets that had been passed onto this man. By responding to Adelaide Crows meant that this ngangkeri was not set apart from modern life.

Aboriginal healer and artist Betty Muffler, standing on Iwantja, Yankunytjatjara Land in front of her artwork, Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country), (2020)

The question arises as to where these medicine men and women have been included in defining such an ephemeral notion as the Voice, because so much of the tradition included in the Voice is embodied in oral tradition. This handed down from one generation of medicine man/woman to the next would seem to be more important than a bunch of Aboriginal academics with confected lines, none of which are incorporated in oral tradition that have been lost or remain as an imagined thread.

I just hope that Voice is not an exercise, a grab for power, by some clever Aboriginals without any real links to the oral discourse. It is as if in the same way I would invoke my Irish ancestors in justifying an Irish voice in how Australia is run. In the end so-called “recognition” could be extended to being an implicit right of veto over legislation, as interpreted by a sympathetic High Court so that the end result is a third chamber of parliament in Australia, with all the complications that would bring.

The ongoing judicial interpretation of something as broadly worded as seems to be proposed by the referendum is likely to cause headaches, since Aboriginality may become of one of judicial interpretation. The legal consequences of a successful referendum will move slowly. Without the involvement of those such as the medicine men or women who carry the Aboriginal lore, it is in danger of becoming the plaything of that band of academic Aboriginals, and of course Noel Pearson. I do not have to worry about the unexpected consequences of all this political malarkey which threatens to consume the country’s political life this year, but my grandchildren may.

Our Bicentenary 

I was amazed to see how the mangroves are flourishing around Iron Cove in inner west Sydney. The past three years have meant that I have spent little time in a place where, 30 years and more ago, I used to run to maintain fitness. The Iron Bay run is 7 km, and relatively flat. Nevertheless, the run includes a number of microclimates, which make it an interesting route. The problem with Iron Cove, which is one of the estuarine inlets of the Parramatta River, is that it has experienced two centuries of whitefella pollution. One of the major pollutants has been dioxan, and therefore I would never intentionally eat fish or crustacea from the Cove. But others do.

When I used to run the Iron Cove, the mangroves were there, but not to the height and extent as the mangrove forest now. It used to be stunted and did not exhibit its current lushness – rather it was a swamp bordering on the estuary, the water flowing tidally, and at ebbtide, it was a muddy swamp with just a thin cover of mangroves. Now it is different and given the mangrove so essential for water hygiene, maybe the underlying pollution will diminish.

After all, the Parramatta River which is estuarine for a considerable way contains numerous diverticular inlets to enhance its presence and importance. If there had not been such a river, the original settlement would not have survived because the soil around the harbour is poor and shallow on the underpinning sandstone. Gardening in suburban Balmain attests to the need to improve the soil and not dig too deep. The Parramatta River was a gateway to its upper reaches where cereal crops could be grown. In other words, here was the arable land,

In recognition of its importance, to celebrate the Bicentenary in 1988, we ran the Parramatta River from Long Nose Point as far as we could to Parramatta and to where the Toongabbie Creek flowed into it.

Like the mangroves, there has been a cleansing of the Parramatta River and its banks. This has been done without interfering with historic buildings built in the early years of the colony. Then many of the buildings were fenced off and left to rot because they were deemed too expensive to renovate. A large chunk of land with a 220 metre frontage on the Parramatta river was given over to the Department of Defence Naval Stores depot at Ermington, fenced off and like so much of the littoral lands unavailable to public access. In some parts, the other side of the river was available. But there was still a great deal of industrial land to be negotiated, for instance running through the coal dust and railway lines at Camilla. The skun dog carcase added to the sights as we padded along the riverside pathway nearing Parramatta one Sunday.

In 1988, it was an unloved waterway – the industrial sewer, yet with these marvellous sandstone Georgian buildings boarded up; fenced off – then too expensive to renovate. To us, just running it was our tribute to 200 years of European migrant population

Now 44 years later, the NSW Government has announced that it will put $60 million towards the pathway, which has been dubbed the Parramatta to Sydney Foreshore Link, a 91 kilometre path able to be used by both pedestrians and cyclists. It will start by the Harbour and end at Parramatta Park.  “In the process, it’ll become one of the city’s longest transport connections, spanning a whopping 18 suburbs,” boasts the media release. 

So, there you go, it took us several Sundays to run the distance. We had to make various compromises because the foreshore was unavailable; but what it said to us about 1788, there were many resourceful people who for better or for worse brought their civilisation to this huge continent.  While we have despoiled, we have avoided building a country torn apart by waves of invaders battling over territory, because the Australian continent was ignored until the end of the eighteenth century except by a few, who left alone for thousand of years developed a most intricate culture among a remarkably diverse “nation”, yet which needed only one group of invaders to almost destroy it. But then again, Australia could have been colonised like Africa, and then the Continent would have been properly shredded.

How to deal with a Pomegranate

Obviously, pomegranate seed mining presents a problem for Americans, as suggested by this article in the Washington Post.  An example of tough love?

Cut the pomegranate in half through the equator, hold a half cut side down in your hand over a dish or bowl and whack it — firmly, confidently — with a wooden spoon. 

That’s it. Just make sure you’re hitting the fruit with the underside of the bowl of the spoon, rather than the edge, which is more likely to crack it. If you want to be a little extra, you can roll the fruit around on your counter before cutting to help loosen the seeds, though I didn’t bother. If you’re worried about splatters, use the biggest, widest bowl you have. (don’t do this while wearing white.) 

It took me a less than two minutes per half to remove all the seeds, no prying required. Just periodically turn the halves over to see where you need to focus your efforts to ensure all the seeds come out. Very little of the membrane or white flesh ended up in the bowl, and whatever did was easily picked out. If I shook the bowl like I was tossing a salad, the extra bits rose to the top or spun to the edges, making it even simpler, no water needed. After that, it was easy to transfer the seeds to an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they should be good for at least five days, though I’ve pushed it longer. If you want to freeze the seeds for a few months, be sure to place them in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and then pack them in a bag or container once they’re froze. 

This simplicity of this method was in stark contrast to the more photogenic technique that infiltrated my Instagram feed, in which you carve out the top and then try to cut the pomegranates into its naturally occurring segments. It took me way longer to do this, as I still had to press and pry out the seeds. Plus, surprisingly, it sent more seeds onto the floor than the whack-it-over-a-bowl method.

As an added bonus, the wooden spoon strategy is incredibly therapeutic. Whack out your frustrations, and then enjoy the fruits of your labour. Win-win.

Mouse Whisper

As he says, his pronunciation leaves something to be desired. Thus, when he pronounced his Citroen as a “Citron”, he wondered why it did not sell, until he was placed in the front of a mirror and given an elocution lesson.