Modest Expectations – Nancy Laurie

Above is a cross-section of a camphor laurel tree. The wood is considered to have an even texture but has moderate durability; the colour diversity is shown in the photo. It is used for furniture, especially veneer. Because of its grain and lightweight, it is used in decorative craft.

Yet the camphor laurel is classified as a noxious weed in NSW. Unfortunately, it was introduced in the 1820s, and was used as a shade tree in rural areas. The wood is popular for furniture because of its attractive grain and light weight. Camphor oil used to be produced commercially as a liniment for aches and pains, but its commercial production was banned after too many lethal ingestions.

Across the road from our home is a giant camphor laurel with its characteristic smell. We are constantly plucking the seedlings from the garden. It is an arboreal predator and if left unchecked, spreads across land where it was innocently planted as a wonderful shade tree, not as an arboreal predator.

This tree has been tolerated by our local Council, whereas the clumping bamboo, which was grown in the lane by the previous owners to protect the house from dust in the lane and the sound of traffic down this lane, which once served as a “rat-run”, was the subject some time ago of inspection and deemed as a noxious weed, although it is a clumping bamboo. Nothing happened. In fact, the Council policy, uncritical green, does nothing in the name of conservation. So, when the liquid amber (planted by previous owners) invaded the terracotta pipes, causing a blockage, we cleared the pipes, repaired the damage, and then cut down the tree which had become a hazard, and ground the stump into sawdust.

When trees grown by Councils are involved in damaging property, it seems to be their responsibility. However, there seem to be so many loopholes through which arrows of obfuscation can be fired on the crowd down below from the Council’s castle that we rate-paying peasants are easily confused by this flight of regulations raining down on us from these nouveaux feudal lords known as The Council.

Yet there was a recent report of a significant judgement against a local Council that planted a white cedar so close to the plaintiff’s home and caused such significant cracks in the brickwork, that the house had to be rebuilt.

One of my friends had a joust with a tree planted outside her house. Recently, she started having troubles with her plumbing. Blockages and flooding of her basement floor occurred. Eventually she employed a plumber with the skill to extract nature’s legacy. Shown here is the root extracted from the plumbing.

The only responsibility the Council seems to accept is that it planted the tree, but as for the vagaries of the tree with its extensive invasive properties, they just look the other way, although they have promised to cut down the tree. Obviously, Councils’ second line of defence is stonewalling to encourage the afflicted to use their own home insurance when the flight of regulations is repelled.

One of the problems is that a casualty in the urbanscape is the tree. If migrants come from countries, scarred by war or poverty, the tree is not a high priority. Couple it with the obsession to build the house over the whole land leaves almost no space for gardens. The developer, usually at the behest of the local Council, plants a desert ash or a similar tree on the nature strip. Left to the elements with nobody responsible for their maintenance, it is not surprising how many soon die or shrivel into a forlorn remnant.

The conventional garden with which I grew up, with avenues of trees in the suburbs, are disappearing. I was watched the TV program “Gardening Australia” on and off for years. European gardens are the featured topics, and the suburban gardens are steadily shrinking or going indoors, so the tree is less featured. Migrant gardens concentrate on food, and the trees grown are those which produce fruit.

We planted an olive tree on the verge outside our house some years ago after the nondescript previous tree had been knocked over by a car. The olive tree has yielded annual crops of up to 5kgs of olives. Passing school children have learnt the lessons of biting into a freshly harvested olive.

Passers by some years have swiped the crop before we could harvest it. That indicates our olives have “a market”. I have thought, what if the street were lined by olive trees with each household encouraged to look after them – the whole program being an initiative of the local council. Then the annual olive harvest street party would provide a useful product, while assisting the development of that elusive quality “community” – rather than the street trees being an object of resentment or neglect.

Aftermath

One of the laws of politics is never promote somebody more intelligent than you are; and moreover, having a more deft touch. Prime Minister Albanese is a case in point. The latest Budget which the Treasurer produced shows the empty cranium of Labor policy. Just because the leader of the Opposition has been described by a former West Australian Premier as a “dullard”, it does not excuse the Budget handed down last week.

Big deal – giving all Australians a small relief for their energy bills, when the government is piling high the subsidies for the fossil fuel industries, including the Gorgon carbon capture project, which does not work. Everybody, including the Gorgon owners, knows that – except apparently Albanese.

The disaster for Albanese was his choice of a West Australian to be Minister for Resources. She represents the inheritors of a once mendicant State, now with overflowing coffers, despite most of its resources being shipped overseas, from which Australia gets a pittance. West Australia with its budgetary surplus is hardly mendicant, but it still wants more.

Added to this, Australia is now using taxation revenue to give the fossil fuel industry literally a free handpass, providing it de facto  $566.1m courtesy of Geoscience Australia activity; “to map Australia’s endowments of critical minerals and national groundwater systems”, for which industry does not have to pay a cent. The industry pays nothing for having access to what I would have thought should remain a resource to be bought under licence. I would have thought there should be also security concerns. I cannot understand why, given the paranoia keeping secret every piece of Government trivia, especially if it is hiding corruption.

At this point it is noted that the Woodside boss is an American, a hired gun who has roamed the world as an Exxon paladin. No allegiance to Australia but to American Mammon.

Contrast this highly qualified carpetbagger who runs Woodside to another chief executive, for whom Australia was all important, where his work in building BHP underpinned Australian prosperity – Essington Lewis.

He assisted in the establishment of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and many munitions facilities meaning Australia was better prepared for industrialisation when the war started in 1939. During World War II, he was the Director-General of the Department of Munitions under John Curtin (incidentally elected from West Australia).

Different times. Different Prime Minister.

Today, the Labor Government flounders around in the wreck of neoliberalism, where philanthropy is bribery, the strings attached in a tight coil so that, to borrow a phrase, it becomes a “road to serfdom.”

Fortunes have been amassed, where cabals have substituted for the theoretical free markets, corrupted by political influence, as public servants, parliamentarians, lobbyists and consultancy firms feed from a golden trough labelled Taxation Revenue.

What has Woodside contributed to Australian prosperity?

Richard Goyder, one of the lesser druids of neoliberalism says it all in his latest Woodside Chairman’s annual report:

“… delivering strong operational and financial performance, laying the foundations for future growth, while continuing to return value to shareholders – speaks to the quality of our company’s current leadership and strategy.”

Shareholders, not Australia, note. His speech, a paean to neoliberalism. Globalisation means that capitalism is unbothered by national borders, but in reality the world economies are retreating into protectionism, in the face of this failure of globalisation.

Quantum computer

How the Government is handling the quantum computing handout is not a particularly good look, but it is a relic of providing without due diligence. One may ask where is the business plan? PsiQuantum is a quantum computing start-up that this month received one billion dollars from the Australian government in the Budget forward estimates.

By contrast, the British government, has granted PsiQuantum £9 million ($17.1 million) to assist the company set up an already functioning R&D facility at the Daresbury Laboratory (home to the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre [ASTeC] and the Cockcroft Institute), and it’s not the only company to have been given a grant. The British are wondering what is going on here in Australia – and they are not the only ones. Only another day in the mates’ quagmire government.

By the way, the Chinese and Americans are well ahead, while Australia awaits the facility to be built in Brisbane so Australia can stride to the front of the field rather it being the Big Squander.

The Labor Party is retreating towards protectionism, while Australia is drowning in mateship where corruption is ever present. There are many examples of “mates in cahoots with corruption”. The word is “rort”, an Australian slang derived from “rorty”, English Cockney rhyming slang. Yet there seems to be undue reluctance to pursue the players in each of the myriad examples of rorting scattered around the various parliaments. Bad look!

Watch for the advance of the “coloured parties” at the next Federal election. The lustre of the Aston electoral win has well and truly been lost. An obsession with retaining West Australian seats, while neglecting Victoria and NSW, is not very smart politics. 

Unbelievable

The political implications of the new Great Stink are about to become even more significant, however, because the finances of Britain’s privatised water industry, which has taken on debts of more than £60bn since it was privatised in 1989, are if anything more putrid than the rivers it pollutes. The largest of Britain’s water companies (the same company that is spilling sewage into Colwell Brook) is Thames Water, which supplies water and sewage services to 16 million people. It may be about to collapse.

A person with inside knowledge of Thames Water, who asked not to be identified, told me about the wide spread frustration within the company at failing equipment and a lack of money to fix problems that have been growing for years. They also said there is a sense among those working for Thames Water today that they are paying the price for the past, specifically the years 2006 to 2017, when the firm was owned by the Australian investment manager Macquarie. It loaded Thames Water with billions in debt while paying very large dividends. In that time, debt rose from £3.4bn to £10.8bn. New Statesman

Sydney Water is a statutory state-owned corporation. It is 100% owned by the people of New South Wales. Two shareholding ministers fully own the shares in Sydney Water, on behalf of the people of NSW. The shareholding ministers of Sydney Water are the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance.

The factual statement about our water supply here in Sydney is reassuring. Bloody Hell, what if I would have some hedge fund located in New York owning it; and that applies equally to our home-grown equivalents.

OUR water

The privatisation of water, one of our last major resources in government hands, so fundamental to our continent, so prone to drought, should not ever be even a footnote, even of the most corrupted politicians. Given the experience of selling the electrical infrastructure and toll road gouging, one could imagine the price of water during drought. The last sentence from New Statesman’s excerpt of the English experience says it all.

Currently we Australians are the shareholders in our water resources rather than gougers, for instance, in Cayman Islands!

The Last Kampong

In the 2021 December issue of The Economist there is a very perspicacious article about the last kampong (Malay village) in Singapore, owned by a Ms Sng, which is the Kampong Lorong Buangkok. When the article was written she was living there with 25 tenant-households that pay a small rent. It frequently floods and is earmarked for future development projects, because there is very little land left in this Island-State, which was once just a series of kampongs before it became a Chinese commercial republic.

I remember a vain search of the kampongs during a visit to Singapore in 1974, because I was told that I could find Kitchen Ming ware there, and at a good price. I was sold “a pup”, no Kitchen Ming anywhere. As a parenthetic comment, thirteen years later, I received Kitchen Ming as a present for my birthday. That was my kampong adventure, and it is a distant memory, now stimulated by reading the Last Kampong.

Singapore was a colonial outpost thought by the British to be perfectly fortified, with all the heavy artillery aimed out to sea, whereas the Japanese came in the back entrance invading down the Malay peninsula in 1942 and overwhelming the inadequate Allied forces stationed there.

Singapore then was a mosaic of kampongs dotted with the elements of British rule such as Raffles Hotel, symbols of a time when the red colour of Albion dominated the Globe. Raffles survives. I’ve stayed there where the signature Singapore sling can still be quaffed and having Tiffin – north Indian snacks directly from the maharajah table combined with elements   of the English breakfast.

But while I have experienced staying at this once jewel colonial hotel in Asia, in 1971 we stayed in a much lesser hostelry, The Goodwood Park Hotel. It was only ten years earlier that 70 per cent of Singaporeans lived in kampongs. By 1990, 87 per cent lived in government housing. The transition had taken 20 years, and showed what a central government can deliver with a strong leader, Lee Kuan Yew who, from the outset of his government in 1965, had a clear vision of the place of the new Republic of Singapore in Asia.

This housing change was achieved by a combination of factors with a workforce which would be impossible in Australia, where the ideals of a Federated Country have been reduced to endless bickering and point scoring.

While the Last Kampong has had chunks of its land removed, it still remains as a viable if shrinking reminder of Singapore’s heritage. One should be reminded that the Government has recently sacrificed the local racing industry to residential development. The economics of the racing industry were less important than housing; a logical lesson which Australian would find impossible to entertain. Think back to the NSW Government’s cowardice in its failed attempt to close down greyhound racing, one of the most distasteful manifestations of Australian culture, consuming as it does valuable real estate. Then contrast this with the Singaporean priorities.

Why does the Last Kampong survive? It does have its political defenders, not senior people in government, but sufficient to argue the case to preserve a time when it was the way of life. By doing so, it invites the young to enjoy a sliver of Singapore’s past. Maybe that is too romantic construction.

The Singapore Government has responded at times by saying it would not seize the village for several decades, whatever the reasons.

Lee Kuan Yew was a leader, with vision for his electorate. He was authoritarian and turned Singapore into a one-party state. He was not flawless, but he encouraged his people to accept his vision rather than repressing and plundering the State.

He had the touch, which few of our political leaders have ever had, but he lived in a country of 727 sq kms, but with a population which grew three-fold and a mean income from Sg$2,000 to Sg$ 70,000 today. Easier to control than Australia goes without saying.

The Last Kampong provided me with the impossibility of the current Australian housing policy. It has no link to anything but reduced migration at a time when there are an estimated 11m dwellings for 26m people of which 1m were unoccupied at the time of the last Census, and more intimately 13m empty bedrooms.  The relevance has been contested for many reasons, all of which are speculative, but on average the 2021 Census reported about 7 to 8 per cent empty houses were in the capital cities. That is not very much different from the Singapore figure.

But Singapore does not have the genius of Peter Dutton to also make sure the guns are still aimed out to sea.

I await the Last Victorian Lace.

Forbes Advocate

I have just taken out a Forbes Advocate subscription to see how the Forbes community are reacting to providing the protection the mayor announced after the murder of Molly Ticehurst for women in the community from future violence.

A walk in the park is hardly a permanent solution.

I’ll monitor the Forbes Advocate for the next month.

Inter alia, I note in the current issue reports of the arraignment of a 63 year old man living in Forbes for 71 historical sexual assault charges between the 1974 and 2023 regarding four then underage girls.

In a community traumatised by Molly Ticehurst’s death, what did the magistrate do? Bail as reported was refused, even though he was being treated for leukaemia and had been awarded Forbes’ Citizen of the Year in 2022.

Phyllis Miller OAM, Mayor of Forbes

The Mayoral response  to protect her community seems to have an effect perhaps. More direct action by the community to be shown?

So here goes, seeing what the community does over the next month.

Mouse Whisper

Last week, I was watching ABCR – ABC Rodent, when the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, was delivering his Budget Speech, setting out the financial prospects for the oncoming year in Australia.

On the companion channel, ABCR22 was sensitively screening the BBC program “Would I Lie to You?” This program is hosted by Rob Bryden, who has a surprising resemblance to Jim Chalmers.

“Would I lie to You?” was a bit more entertaining and not one use of the word “responsible”.

Jim Brydon
Rob Chalmers

Modest Expectations – Virat Kohli

True happiness, according to Epicurus, was not found in indulgence or excess but in the state of ataraxia – the untroubled mind, the freedom to focus and think with clarity. Ed Smith (former professional English cricketer & journalist) remembers being taught this principle at 18, when a cricket coach told him what makes great players distinct is that they are capable of “the absence of irrelevant thought”.

The smartphone is a machine for introducing it as often as possible. The business model that underpins it is that human attention must be broken, again and again. Silicon Valley has conducted a 15-year, unregulated experiment on the brains of most of the world’s children; Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind, wants to call time on it. 

Haidt cites Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, which envisages an American dystopia in which being excellent at anything (and therefore un-egalitarian) has been made illegal. The preferred weapon of “handicapping” exceptionally bright people is to make them wear an earpiece which buzzes roughly every 20 seconds to sabotage sustained concentration. Stopping attention is the lever by which intelligence can be flattened.

The realisation that the use of smartphones has the dark side of being the vehicle for not only  pathological distraction, but also cyber bullying, has been well documented. It has been shown that confiscation of these phones when arriving at school and then returning them after school has had a positive effect. However, if you just ask the students to turn their phones off, but allow them to keep them whilst in school, then nothing much changes.

The importance of there being no exceptions means that the school must have a protocol for emergencies which much be continually reinforced. As for contacting parents via phone, the haven for manipulative bullies’ whining, then there is no reason why “little Johnny” cannot be filtered through a designated cohort of teachers.

As one source has said, “the stages of panic, grief and ultimately some level of acceptance” are the student reactions to such a ban.

Yet the dependence on a well-balanced teaching staff is paramount for successful implementation..

I have two anecdotes which exemplify the problem of teacher dysfunctionality.

The first was when I was in junior school, either ten or eleven years old. Our teacher, who was very emotionally labile, sent the whole class of about 25 boys to the Principal to be caned. I remember us boys, all clustered in front of the Principal’s study in a dark corridor. The Principal came out, took one look and sent us all back to the classroom. He then asked the teacher, who by now was a blubbering mess, to come to his study. The Principal was a very calm, authoritative man; he always showed understanding. The teacher left the school soon after.

The other time was when one of my sons, aged seven, was refused permission to go to the toilet on more than one occasion. My then wife and I confronted the teacher, whose truculence disappeared under some very tough talking, but still did not admit any fault. The then Principal, unlike my junior school Principal preferred to look away. That was the only time we ever intervened in our children’s progress through school. We did not have confront the teacher again despite the weak Principal.

Later when I ran a community health program, I remember the rationale given for having a school nurse.  One could monitor the pupils seeking school nurse support.  If, in the extreme example, large numbers from one class presented at the sick bay, it is an indication that such a class may be dysfunctional; on the other hand, if no children came to the sick bay, then was that undue denial by the teacher to seek the school nurse care, rather than believing it was a very healthy class?

One may question raising these extremes in teacher behaviour, but banning smartphones requires an acceptance across the community, despite differing attitudes and behaviour of school staff – until it becomes the community norm. In turn, this requires a very narrow “behavioural corridor” on how this ban is administered.

Otherwise, as I try to write, I can hear that intermittent Vonnegut-generated buzzing in my ear, but I refuse to be distracted. So should all children be afflicted by this seductive but essentially dystopian device in school. You know talking face-to-face is a way of confronting life and forcing the bullies out in the open.

I was bullied on my first day at school by a child who later became a respected member of the clergy. My father who came across this interchange, made an on-the-spot decision. He had me taught to box – never had to use that skill. Knowledge was enough. But what if I had grown up in this era?

Albanese – 2015

We’re used to seeing a few slip-ups and gotchas in Question Time, but yesterday Anthony Albanese shocked us with a particularly poor choice of words.

The Labor MP has copped some criticism over apparently urging one of his colleagues to “smash her!”, when rising to grill health minister Sussan Ley.
As member for Ballarat Catherine King rises to question the coalition MP, Albanese can be heard to casually call out the aggressive phrase from the front bench, with laughter from colleagues following.
The choice of words is at odds with the opposition’s current focus on addressing domestic violence.

Hot Copper may have reported this 2015 incident, but I have seen the video, which now seems to have disappeared from the Web. It is very unappetising spectacle of a snarling Albanese.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese again calling the troops to action?

From my simple point of view, this man who has publicly advocated a violent act against a woman is totally unacceptable to be Prime Minister of this country; neither he, nor those who laughed along with his unappetising snarler should be allowed to remain in Parliament by their electorates.

Thus, I do not buy the argument why single Albanese out when other Parliamentarians have an appalling record in this area as well. I agree one cannot ignore that. However, Albanese is the Prime Minister, and he is constantly saying that men should be respectful towards women. He has demonstrated in the incident quoted above to be anything but that. A Prime Minister should be called to a higher standard.

It is a challenge for the Labor women to have as their leader a man who advocated violence against Sussan Ley. I’ve been around long enough to hold the view that an outburst is unlikely to be a single episode, and was there any apology?

The Tragedy of Sydney

After consideration of all the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident – NSW Commissioner of Police Karen Webb.

I penned this just after these two incidents and then put it away to see what happened after the acute reaction had subsided, and whether I would change much. The answer: not much. Shortened it and modified the invective.

I have witnessed the emergency responses to the horror which dogs every community when faced with the lone mad person, invariably male, who goes on a rampage killing multiple people senselessly.  In the case of the Bondi incident, he may have been a paranoid schizophrenic completely delusional, but he was killing people willy-nilly, until a senior policewoman in shirt sleeves shot him dead.

However, what struck me was these men resembling at a distance Michelin Men in black with very large guns rolling across the ground apparently after the fact. As the camera zoomed in, these guys were wearing black balaclavas, as if they were about to rob the Centre; and since they appeared to be made to look anonymous, I wonder how you distinguish them from terrorists or just well-organised thieves? Just a question of seeking information.

Then, on top of that, a 16 year old teenager stabbed an Assyrian Church priest. Subdued by the congregation, the teenager lost a finger in the melee. Belatedly, police turned up implying that they were there to sort out the situation when it was mostly over. All that needed to be done was to quieten the crowd which had gathered and ensure the safety of the injured assailant. Instead, it was reported that the police used tear gas.

The violence on that Monday night was as disgusting as it was perplexing, given the police were there to help Bishop Emmanuel and to investigate his stabbing.

The reason for this deployment was the responsibility of the accidental Commissioner, the former traffic cop, Webb. She declared this stabbing an act of terrorism whatever the logic, an over-reaction ensured.  Even the Premier seemed initially to admit her order was an over-reaction. The teenager was known to police and had convictions, Once the teenager was found out to be Muslim, then the story of this teenager being a part of a terrorist cell grew and in turn justified Webb’s order.

The Assyrian response

The Assyrian community, irrespective of which Assyrian church they followed, had gathered and suddenly the government had sent the police to presumably arrest the “terrorists”.  The reaction of the community was not one of submission but one of fury.

What happens when people in uniform arrive, for no apparent reason, to confront the crowd; unless there is demonstrable leadership it is not long before a crowd becomes a mob. In this case, there were injuries to people. People were taken to hospital including two police. The mob jumped all over the police cars, rendering half of them unusable. Why were there so many police cars (the actual number seems to vary); what was the reason, given it was supposed to be one lone teenager terrorist attack?

It seems some of the police were not dressed as black Michelin Men but still with their Perspex face shields and weaponry presented an ominous sight. Yet they appeared to be overwhelmed by the mob despite their use of tear gas, if the reports were true.

Over the following month, they hunted down the protesters displaying to the media that it takes at least five heavily armed officers to arrest one of these rioters.

I was faced with a potentially nasty situation in 1960. The annual end-of-term engineer-commerce students’ marbles match – an excuse for a sort of Eton wall game that was held on the Commerce lawns outside the University Union.

The Commerce lawns in a wet May were, to say the least, very soggy. The ground was once a lake and soon degenerated into a muddy confrontation. It was tolerated as a way for students to let off steam (remembering the University was then a predominantly male institution). The police kept away. However, on this occasion, some idiot smashed the fire alarm, and before long with bells ringing two fire engines arrived, bowling into the students spilling onto the roadway. This minor show of aggression turned ugly when one of the students tipped a bucket of mud through the window of the one of the fire trucks.

Then the confrontation threatened to escalate as these burly firemen got out the vehicle, some looking as if they were spoiling for a fight. I remember very well three of the student leaders, one of whom was myself, wading into the crowd to try and calm the situation down. I remember that the firemen were persuaded to climb back into their vehicles, and they left without having to call in the police.

Yes, we then had to go down and face a choleric fire chief, who dismissed our apologies. We all left, were interviewed by the media on the footpath outside and it was front page news the next day.  Then we all went on first term holidays and the furore died down. I don’t think these university students were considered terrorists. I was helped by my two fellow students in calming down the situation – one became a Supreme Court Judge and the other a Federal Court judge. That episode taught me a great deal. By the way, the University administration did not intervene; they left us to sort it out.

Thus, the local Federal Member for Fowler, Dai Le, seemed initially the most sensible in seeking to calm down the situation.  The local community has followed this course advocating reconciliation and peace. Yet the media persisted with the allegation that this was a terrorist attack.

The Assyrian priest forgave his attacker, the epitome of Christian behaviour.

Reading between the lines, the response of Burgess, the spy chief, seems to be ambiguous about this incident being a terrorist threat, but once someone in authority “cries wolf”, especially when she had been under serious criticism on other matters related to her lack of leadership, it probably does not help to directly criticise another senior public servant.

Invoking an incident as an act of terrorism can stigmatise a community and sow unnecessary anxiety and alienation from the instruments of government – the police being one example.

The Premier talks not about conciliation, unless it is his meaningless term “people of faith” but says he will confront the community with “the full force of the Law”. Well, if 50 police cars and the anti-riot squad are not the “full force of the Law”, what is? To my mind, it is the lone policewoman, who brought to an end the ghastly events in Bondi Westfield by confronting and shooting the murderer. That is the full force of the law, not all the other macho trimmings that seem to obsess governments. The policewoman exhibited two qualities – courage and an ability to assess the situation correctly; little information but with impeccable induction-deduction that led her to come to the right conclusion quickly.

Terrorists presumably are not banshees.  The terrorist groups must be known. In this instance, where was intelligence from ASIO, whose mouthpiece tells us they know everything, and should have a clear idea of the potential danger of what we may name ‘Teenage Terrorist Group”.

Otherwise, what value are Australia’s security services providing? Australia pays a high price for its security services. For me, we do not pay this money for scaremongering or “cloak and dagger” farce, but for a service which provides reassurance to the community without complacency. The question arises of why these terrorists are allowed to roam freely in the community, once identified? I can conjure up reasons, related the cost of incarceration. Yet Australia has had successive governments prepared to spend astronomical amounts of money on dodgy contractors to guard people who come here in boats and are then imprisoned. Are they all terrorists? How do these people contaminate Australia?

Another beached lugger

In 1979, when I was staying in Broome, there was a recently-beached Vietnamese lugger in the mangroves in front of the motel where I was staying. The Fraser government welcomed the Vietnamese refugees, and by doing so enriched our Australian community. Would Dutton have done the same, but of course he was only nine years old at the time?

I have tried not to make too many value judgements but ask questions. The paradox is of media alive with misinformation and not challenging what appears to me to be gaps in the logic of government, the gaps being filled with cliches, often repeated in this opaque shroud of not knowing what to do, but afraid to let the community in on that secret! Secrecy appears to be a cover for our leaders for inaction and hoping the whole matter will go away – or worse result in a cover up?

Boondoggle Stadium Hobart

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Boy Scouts at summer camps participated in the latest scouting craze in which boys braided and knotted colourful strands of plastic and leather to fashion lanyards, neckerchief slides and bracelets. Eagle Scout Robert Link of Rochester, New York, coined the term for this new handicraft, “boondoggling”. Chris Klein 2018

Arguably, the AFL should be first in line to fund the construction of an AFL stadium, rather than kicking in less than 2% of the proposed $800 million total. However, it can also be argued that the project will bring thousands of jobs, urban renewal, a massive tourism boost, a visible pathway for young athletes, and lots of footy for the fans.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a sitcom. Australia is facing a housing affordability crisis, and a cost of living crisis, both of which are compounded by rising inflation. As such, many Tasmanians aren’t over the moon about the announcement, and they’ve voiced their disapproval about the project publicly. Chris Sheedy June 2023

You can guarantee the sun will rise in the East. Unbackable odds.

Equally, once the Labor Opposition elected a bloke to replace a sheila as its Leader, it was London to a brick that the Tasmanian government would agree to build a new stadium at some exorbitant cost – any current estimate is just a number which will be exceeded.  No worries you blokes, see on the plans, the luxury lounge where we can watch the games in comfort, popping the corks and tasting the best of Tasmanian fare. Better than any Chairman’s Lounge.

In 2023 Albanese, in stumping up $240m of taxpayer money, tried to sweeten the sandwich by saying that the project would “include social housing and commercial and recreational spaces, but there was no extra information on how many houses would be built, or how a business centre would fit on the site and in the budget.

Crown land at Regatta Point will be developed through a private-public partnership, including affordable housing, housing for essential health workers so close to the hospital facilities here.” It is a wonder he did not promise a multi-purpose religious centre as well.

I would never say that the AFL is trying to blackmail Tasmania, nor that a “business centre” mentioned by Albanese be a casino. After all, all this extravagance must be underwritten by some source of revenue (aka gambling), unless they can induce one of the oil states or some hedge fund Croesus to sponsor the team.

After all, the intention is to play seven games a year in Hobart and four in Launceston. There is a time-honoured Tasmanian government bankrupting strategy, that if Hobart has one, Launceston must have one also. Seven games a year! What was the cost again for such a projected use? The cost the length of a piece of string is at the mercy of the builders and the construction unions.

The team, rather than being called the Tasmanian Devils, would be better called the Tasmanian Boondoggles, when the team enters the League in 2028, then for a decade to be the chopping block for all the other teams, while the country burns under the burden of climate change. And by the way, just check the projected sea levels at the construction site.

Mouse Whisper

Along a certain English road, there was a sign which read “Cat’s Eyes Removed”. An official sign apparently. The informal sign down the road read “Mice Very Happy”.

The Boss roared with laughter. What was funny about blinding cats even if they have benefited by English cousins? And why would they publicly announce such terrible things? But then, it is the same nation that made fun of three blind mice.

Modest Expectations – Sail Away

Black Bat flower

Not particularly original, I am writing about a task that I hope to see constructed as a legacy, which I want to leave. I have wanted to do it for over a decade, but as I can no longer garden, this is by way of stating what I would appreciate incorporated in my version of the “Gothic Garden”. Above is the Black Bat flower which grows in tropical areas, but also if nurtured in a sub-tropical climate such as Sydney’s.

We already have grown blue lady hellebores. Ours were that indigo blue. The hellebores are a beautiful flower and these shelter under the bromeliads, themselves in the shade of Japanese maple trees; the great virtue of hellebores is they do not drop their flowers. They stay on the stem until the end.

Among our plantings we have planted black basil – well at least deep purple, I think it was called black opel basil.  We have recently started growing black Tasmanian pepperberries naturally in Tasmania; yet they may not fit into the proposed garden, as may not black chili peppers- with confronting names such as Royal Black, Dracula Black, Cobra Black, or even Black Pearl, which may be better peering out from pots.

Discussing the plan, we were unsure whether we have ever had any black devil pansies in the garden, because we used to plant them and the parent violas once a upon a time, and we remember having dark pansies, but the black devil pansies or any of that ilk, we’re unsure. Add the black velvet petunias, which are in short supply, and they may be better planted in a hanging box.

Black bamboo – I have seen black bamboo in the Kandy botanical gardens, part of which is dedicated to different varieties of bamboo, the clumping rather than the running variety. Then there is black Mondo grass, which is a stalwart of the garden designers, and to a lesser extent the elephant ears and potato vine, but these are really background in this gothic orchestra of darkness.

At the other end are aeolian succulents in various shades of deep purple, not actually black, but probably can form dark dots across such a proposed garden.

Then there are black hollyhocks, black siberian iris, black dahlia, and other plants that could qualify for inclusion in such a garden. Paul Bonnie, an Oregon nursery owner, has written a booklet entitled “Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden” highlighting them.

Queen of the Night

The most famous flower associated with black is the black tulip. The novel by Alexandre Dumas (himself a quadroon in the lingo of the times), was written about a tulip grower, wrongly imprisoned, who grew the black tulip during that time, eventually exonerated with the love of his life waiting. The modern “Queen of the Night” black tulip has the colour of a bruised plum and was first grown in 1944, during the occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. Luckily the “Queen of Night” bulbs were not eaten by the starving Dutch, since tulip bulbs were a staple among the famished.

The other touch for such a garden is to have a sprinkle of white flowers which have dark foliage. Gardenias are mentioned as one choice. Maybe it‘s a good counterpoint, and there are certainly more of these.

I mentioned that I was not all that keen on all the gothic clichés, with their overtones of Hallowe’en, which has nothing to do with Australia, but my wife’s suggestion to just call it “black” was confounded by nature which wants her flowers to be able to manufacture chlorophyll and be pollinators. Notwithstanding, the black flower is the Holy Grail for the horticulturalist wishing to snatch this version of the Holy Grail, even though it would confound Nature. The closest to reaching this is apparently the black petunia.

And as for calling it the “Ultra-Violet Garden”, no it is not. Most of black flowers are a deep purple or red.

But perhaps the “Jerusalem” garden – those “dark satanic mills”. A tribute to those who still walk in a carbonised world writ large in Indian ink. But this garden will epitomise black beauty – an exercise in irony.

Blake himself wrote:

But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.   

So goes my vision.

Real Men Don’t Hit Women

RBT in NSW saw an immediate cut of 23% in the road toll, or nearly 300 lives. Its impact was maximised by a massive advertising campaign essentially telling motorists they were likely to be breathalysed if they drank and drove (older readers can probably still hum the jingles from the ads) and specifying the punishments that awaited them.

“There was no talk of intervention or education programs for drink drivers. Critically, motorists, and not just working-class motorists but every driver from the outer suburbs to Bellevue Hill and Mosman, believed that the chances of them being caught and punished had increased significantly, and began changing their behaviour.”  Crikey May 2024

In 1982, when I first met Jack, he was the Deputy Secretary General of the Australian Medical Association. He briefed me to write an experimental television campaign to discourage drinking and driving among young men. His idea was that it would run just in Wollongong and be scientifically assessed. It did, it was, and the success of Jack’s idea — published in the Medical Journal of Australia – led directly to my brand-new ad agency being awarded the campaign to launch a radical, controversial initiative. It was called Random Breath Testing.

So spectacularly successful was RBT in terms of its immediate reversal of the road toll, it put the fledgling agency on the map. Suddenly I was a champion of sorts, thanks to Jack who’d championed, just weeks before, an idea to cut the shocking road toll via television advertising.  – John Bevins Foreword to 35 Poems.

Crikey singling out the RBT campaign as one that worked brilliantly, then failed to follow through as to how it came about. Two words – John Bevins.

John Bevins was the genius behind the RBT program. He was very generous to me in his foreword. The history was that I had obtained $50,000 from Government to enable the AMA to run a pilot anti-drink driving campaign in Wollongong in 1982.  John and his crew ran the campaign. The advertisement run on the local television resembled the classic beer advertisement with all the cheery background. The tag line was “Real Men Don’t Drink and Drive.”

The evaluation of the program showed a marked drop in the incidence of drink driving over the screening of the advertisement. and following for the period of evaluation. The rest is history, but there is a lack of curiosity about the players in this highly successful campaign. Many of them are still alive, with cognitive ability unimpaired, who the Government would benefit by consulting.

Moldovan campaign

Think “Real Men don’t hit Women”. This was the theme of a campaign in Moldova in 2013, which is worth watching.

Murder is the extreme, but as I was looking through material which I had roughly archived for other reasons, I came upon a 2002 issue of the Warrnambool Standard describing the committal of one Graeme Slattery.

The judge in sentencing Graeme Slattery, then 42 and with a lifelong history of shaming and undertaking sadistic acts on women, said among other things: “You may not have taken the life of any of your victims but … you took part of the lives of some of them from them, particularly the two women you enslaved”. Slattery receive eleven and half year’s imprisonment, paroled after ten years.

What the headline of the Warrnambool Standard ran on his committal “Shock Reunion – Police surprised by alleged slave”.

What the heading ignored were the litany of disgusting acts this woman who was imprisoned in Slattery’s garage, was forced to do.  Instead, the newspaper highlighted the fact that the woman subsequently, being removed from Slattery’s clutches, met him again in Echuca in her own volition, as suggested by the headlines. The headline seemed to absolve Slattery of some of his sadism towards the woman. But here was a horrendous case. What did the Warrnambool community do about this to ensure it did not happen again?

Then, contributing to this denigration of women for many years, is the Bond of “Chesty Bond” fame highlighting a cheery muscle-bound male image, producing a “Wifebeater” singlet.

Therefore, the images of male violence are constantly being reinforced, and have been since I was a child. The furore this week over the boys at Yarra Valley Grammar School has been going on for ever. Adolescent boys under the stimulus of their changes into adulthood are in a vulnerable time as are girls. However, I can only speak as being a male teenager. A variation of the Yarra Valley ranking existed when I was at school over 60 years ago among some of the boys at the school. I am not excusing the behaviour but vilifying four boys will not solve the problem of being a teenager.

The problem is that society relies on the police force to intervene and the simple solution is put the problem out of sight or “handball” it to someone else.

Assuming that abuse of one’s partner occurs by allegedly sane men, then peer pressure is useful if it is sustainable. The problem is that the tokenism inherent in acts such as footballers clustering in circle and other self-limited expression is having little impact and are soon forgotten.

As I wrote earlier this year: Yet that conceals widespread conflict and violence in the community; and I, like most people, am reluctant to intervene, especially when fists are flying, and knives are flashing. Let’s be frank, nobody is properly trained to intervene. The socially concerned may preach to audiences, often inappropriate because the audience have the skills to deal with conflict or well-honed sophistry of denial of such involvement. In other words, the members of these audiences nod their heads sagely and issue “the tut-tut” of the judgemental. Therefore, mostly conflict is allowed for the parties to resolve themselves. This leaves a considerable body of people who do not have the skills to handle conflict.

The Federal Government has produced a report, long on analysis and process, but never ever addresses the question of “what shall we do tomorrow”. The problem also is that in this area we have residues of policies that do not work. The obvious one is that this unresolved matter is handballed to anonymous telephone numbers, such as Lifeline, 1800 Respect and the ilk. They are a convenient full stop for the media, to move on to the next topic or, as current breakfast show speak has it, “now for a change in pace”.  This has become a reflex.

What to do tomorrow, in addition to an advertisement campaign directed to changing attitudes and behaviour and not just pamphleteering? Ask the male and female guys who were involved in the successful campaigns for their advice.

The Elsie Refuge in Glebe, Sydney, set up in the early 1970s by the Women’s Liberation Movement

Secondly, following on what the Forbes Mayor had to say after the death of Molly Ticehurst, the challenge is to set up refuges in every small town such as Forbes. If the Forbes community is as supportive as the mayor says, then it should be able to use those underused community premises and provide security.  She says that she intends to protect her community, well manning such a refuge would be a fulfilment of her intention.  After all, the community expects the hospital to provide a 24-hour service; why not a refuge on 24/7 basis.

Furthermore, most of the uniformed services, whether the ambulance or fire services, exist with significant down time, but are rostered to serve in emergencies – and the community would not consider any suggestion not to have them serving the community on a 24 hour basis. When I hear politicians wanting to assign “trained” people such psychiatrists to a national program, the assumption is that such a demand is implementable.

In reality, there are just not the resources available and further, it suggests that parachuting health professionals who are increasingly differentiated into one specialty area and who will drop everything and become involved in what is a very complex and unappetising challenge is simply not a practical solution. Thus, like all volunteer emergency programs, such a challenge will find out who is willing to become trained, be given a distinctive set of gear and be rostered on for such a service on a 24 hour basis in the community … plus the actual denominator (in other words the volume of those presenting and finding out empirically what works).

This is the challenge for the Forbes local government, where the mayor announced that she is determined to protect the community, and interposes the community between the last resort, the police who, with all due respects, are associated with violence as the first response compounded by a perceived lack of empathy.  See what is the actual response to such a suggestion from a community who should be prepared to be positive about such commitment. The challenge could start today, and if successful could be spread across regional Australia.

As an example of an idea which started as a small project in Cloncurry with an indeterminate future became the nationwide Royal Flying Doctor Service.  Thus, the pilot (pardon the pun) can be implemented rather than “kicking the can down the road”, with an associated tangle of undergrowth of arbitrary regulation impeding equitable implementation, metaphorically growing over the road where the can has been kicked. Royal Commissions are a classic “can”, but at least they assure the increased sale of luxury cars to the lawyers as the most visible outcome.

The Queensland Government’s intention to provide a room as a refuge in police premises seems, on the surface, to be a good idea but needs to have a person on duty who is trained in dealing with such an emergency. It is more than just a room. Just imagine an emergency room in a hospital without appropriately trained staff.

I have dealt with a presumed “sane person” partner beater. One further area, which I have witnessed in a community has been the impact of the “mad man” and worse the “mad and bad man”, predominantly – but not to exclude a woman equally afflicted. These people need recognition in the community and exclusion from the community, easier said than done. The more you delve into research the more you see that mental health issues combined with drug use (include alcohol?) in a poor and “unsafe” community is the base profile.

As one source reported, the most frequent response to the partner’s violence is to get away from the perpetrator; and efforts to leave are often blocked, sometimes physically, but more often because of strong psychological and emotional ties, not to mention financial problems, to their partners and especially their children.

I am a reductionist and as such can be accused of over-simplification.

Shifting sand

Yet I have some success in my career of effecting innovation and change. Those who want “to shuffle the sand” and write reports as though unproven inputs are the solution are the bane of public administration. Throw money at the project, often with unrealistic conditions which would act against meaningful outcomes of benefit. But then how many programs are independently evaluated, rather than by “mates”.

I like to accumulate empirical evidence that a project works; and there was one example where I established a successful sustainable program, and then left the job. The program was dismantled by the ideologues because it did not conform to their theoretical model. That is the problem with social engineering how to ensure its sustainability when the creators are no longer there.

I have made two suggestions above and to battle the ideologues, who have never learnt from the old axiom, “if it doesn’t work don’t do it again”. Further, all successful change takes an average of 18 years to guarantee its longterm survival, even if in some areas it may be corrupted. So, guarantee the succession planning, because in this increasingly nomadic world, nobody sticks around for that long in the one job.

This is a continuing narrative because diminishing violence is at the heart of maintenance of a civilised community.

First answer the question, “What do we do tomorrow?’

A Sober Analysis

My first inclination is to consider that a dead rat is the only acceptable outcome. After all, the Norwegian rat was the vector for the Yersinia bacillus contained in the rat fleas – the causative factor in plague, the Black Death.

Added to my prejudice was that rats released from a ship, wrecked on Lord Howe Island in 1918, almost wiped out the unique native fauna and flora.

In the block of flats where we lived when in Melbourne, we were always concerned that the garbage bins were regularly emptied, and that remnant food was not left on the ground.

I was reading an American report on the rat’s redeeming features, if you call them that. The complaints voiced from the American source are very similar.

I cannot argue against the general comment of managing the rat population will require cities to change. Proper disposal of waste will not only bring the number of rats down but will also protect people from potentially dangerous contact with them. If there are fewer rats rooting around in our trash, then more people might be receptive to thinking of them less as pests, and more as urban wildlife, like squirrels.

Having said that, the American suburbia is afflicted by more intrusive animals than Australia. I remember staying in a friend’s home in Berkeley in California where she had a problem with raccoons. Raccoons are very clever and can open cupboards and unscrew jars containing food. Unfortunately, they have not been taught to clean up after feeding.

Then there are the black bears with their propensity to scavenge in human settlement, overturning garbage cans and providing the environment for rats to revel.

Given the plethora of animals considered not to be urban, I wonder about the contention directed at people like me who are “effusively anti-rat” that it is important to be realistic about what our end goals are. Rats are part of urban ecosystems.

The American apologist for the persistence of rats sounds like surrender, but he may have a point. His apologia ends by him writing the following:

The ideal is to get them to a level where they’re not disturbing people, and causing any sort of emotional or physical or health-related risks, but we’ll never be able to eradicate them.

If rat numbers are manageable, then I suspect more people (like me) will find the occasional rat appearance amusing, and not terrifying. Maybe. That would be ideal, because they aren’t going anywhere.

They’re really resilient. They can rebound really fast if you knock them down,” I think that they are going to out-survive us on this planet.

The same argument I have applied to cockroaches. Nevertheless, my natural instinct is to kill every one I see in the house. Likewise with rats but refreshing to have a contrary view … perhaps.

Modest Expectations

Just another example of the vanishing “r”. Remember the incident when the “imprudent” lost its “r” and the Boss had a lot of ground to make up with the letter recipient.

About to “send”, the letter began “My dear fiend” – just quickly “ectified”.

 

Modest Expectations – Quarter

Remembering Guernica. A Palestinian, Mohammed Saabinah updates Guernica; courtesy Washington Post.

The First Time Magazine was Published in 1923 also.

The New England Journal of Medicine has celebrated its Centennial Year in 2023.

As reported in the Boston Globe, among the strangest case studies (this one published in 2020) was the man who died from eating too much liquorice. The 54-year-old had a poor diet, ate mostly lollies, and had recently switched to consuming two to three bags of black liquorice a day. But the case pointed to the hazards of glycyrrhizic acid, a plant extract found in liquorice. If taken in large quantities, the substance can cause potassium levels to plummet, which in this case prompted a cardiac arrest.

Batemans Bay

My father and mother loved Batemans Bay, located as it is on the Clyde River on the South Coast of New South Wales. At that time there was no bridge across the Clyde River, and one was not constructed until 1956. Crossings thus were dependent on the car ferry and gave a sense of detachment from the settlements further north along the coast.

Batemans Bay 1940s

My parents discovered the town after the War, when they used to drive to Sydney at Christmas or during school holidays. They enjoyed being able to go to the Government wall there, with their special short blade knife, a pepper shaker and a lemon or two and feast on the rock oysters clinging to the wall. I watched, wondering why my parents wanted to eat these revolting looking slime in a shell. They looked resignedly at my screwed-up face, and I remember my father saying to my mother, “He’ll learn.” No truer word said as now I’ve been known to wolf down a dozen rock oysters barely taking breath.

My father and mother loved the views over the Pacific Ocean past the Toll Gates, the twin islands which were so much a marker of the Batemans Bay identity. Here among the gum trees, they would go for walks thinking about where they would buy a plot of land. It never eventuated, because first my mother had a duodenal ulcer and then breast cancer. Thus, retirement to the coast faded as an option; and my father would not chance his arm at rural practice, even though his medical practice in the outer suburbs of Melbourne had its moments -never boring.

What intrigued me was the string of black and white framed photographs which lined the corridor of the hotel, which were a testament to Zane Grey’s deep sea fishing exploits. Zane Grey was a very successful American author of Westerns, who also became a renowned deep-sea angler around the world. He had sufficient money to afford a camera boat in addition to the boat, Avalon, from which he did his fishing. The camera crew were also expert deep-sea anglers as well his photographer.

He wrote a book about his exploits in Australia in 1936, titled An American Angler in Australia, first published in 1937.

I know virtually nothing about this sport, but Zane Grey who has a deep love affair with Australia, describes his exploits off Bermagui and Batemans Bay. He is a very passionate adversary, but looked askance at the New Zealand habit of harpooning the deep-sea monsters and the Australian practice of shooting when the fish was hooked. He insisted on each catch being gaffed and the tail secured – no mean feat.

Grey had been fishing off New Zealand in the 1920s, and later “discovered”- Australia of which he wrote in An American Angler in Australia:

I was hardly prepared for this land of staggering contrasts, of unbelievable beasts, of the loveliest and strangest birds, of great modern English cities, of vast ranges that rivalled my beloved Arizona, and of endless forestland, or bus, as they call it, never yet adequately described, no doubt because of beauty and wildness beyond the power of any pen to delineate.

Many of the deep-sea fish, the sharks, that he caught are now protected, and the number of these creatures that he hooked would make any modern conservationist shudder, but he was very much of his time, where hooking a shark was to lessen the threat for surfers.

To quote him directly “Well, Mr Man-eater, you will never kill any boy or girl.”

The most memorable description is of his tussle with a huge tiger shark off Sydney Heads, with steamships emerging from the Heads avoiding him and the shark. Eventually he won the battle with the tiger shark, and with difficulty beached it at Watson’s Bay in front of a large crowd. It took twenty men to drag it on shore, avoiding the flailing tail and the jaws. Several of the men were knocked over by the tail, but the jaws claimed nobody. Eventually, the shark was secured. It was measured at thirteen feet ten inches; weight one thousand and thirty-six pounds.

Zane Grey and catch

Zane Grey died two years after this book was published in Catalina, at the age of 77. To think he was an old man fighting sea monsters long before Hemingway was to write of a gentler Cuban fisherman, his Old Man of the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. I wonder how many people remember Zane Grey and his exploits. I would not have, had it not been my parents’ love for Batemans Bay.

Reflections on Violence

Firstly, [attitudes] are influenced partly by the fact that growing ethnocentrism and increasing anomie and alienation are common among elderly and poorly-educated people. The second mechanism consist of finding that people who experience feelings of socio-political senselessness and helplessness have a tendency to look for compensation in authoritarian-paranoid world views. It would seem that authoritarian-paranoid beliefs can be seen as being a mediator between social anomie and political alienation, on the one hand, and ethnocentric attitudes on the other. Radkiewicz, P. (2007) Polish Psychological Bulletin, 38(1), 5–14.

When I was undertaking the course work on my way to a Master of Arts degree, I had one lecturer who was obsessed with the Triptych (anomie, alienation, ethnocentricity).

The text which the class was to study in conjunction with the lecture notes was Reflection on Violence. Georges Sorel was French polemicist, whose view of progress was linked to conflict, almost Trotskyist in the concept of permanent revolution. He recognised the importance of triptych in fulfilling his belief.

In fact, a clue to what Sorel basically argued was that he drew praise from both Lenin and Mussolini.

Georges Sorel

I was prompted to write about this academic term of my life with Georges Sorel when I read an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that tried to describe why some people who, in their early career, were labelled “Leftie” and then moved across the political spectrum to become warriors of the right.

The person to me who personified this shift was the journalist, the late Paddy McGuinness, who started off well to the Left, his black garb being recognition of an anarchic streak residing in his persona; and then later in life he became a champion of the right, where his constituency was the far right of political thought. I first met him in his leftist phase when he worked for Bill Hayden in the early 70s.

He was the classic authoritarian, humourless personality, and such people find there is little difference if they are speaking from either of the extremities of the political spectrum. They cannot be wrong; and thus truth is what they say it is to them; democracy nestling the so-called political centre was a symbol of spinelessness, with a haughty dismissal of the diversity of opinion as showing a lack of discipline and a refusal to accept without demur the primacy of the authoritarian belief.  Evidence is thus what one believes, and that’s it. You just had to converse with Paddy to recognise the rigidity of his thought process.  He was never wrong.

The article in the SMH by Michelle Goldberg, an American journalist who, six years ago as set out in her Wikipedia bio, was forced into retraction of a comment she made in reviewing a book, study of college rape, by another New York journalist, Vanessa Grigoriadis. Her retraction was described by Vanity Fair as a humiliating retreat.

In this recent article reprinted in SMH, she sets up the question of what’s driving lefties to the right? She mentions the “horseshoe theory” as though conversion is a parabola.  In fact, the authoritarian personality can exist equally on the left and the right. It is about power without dissent. Democracy is too difficult – having to resolve problems, not assuming one is automatically right without any evidence.

The problem which Goldberg barely touched in the triptych is her tangential comment that “the right has the advantage in appealing to dislocated and atomised people.” In the case of Trump, it is probably due to his opportunism that he has positioned his authoritarianism on the right; but in other situations, where the proletariat was seen to hold the power, then Trump could well have positioned himself there.

However, America has no history of a socialist government.  The American characteristic of espousing of the freedom of the individual to do anything he wants in the name of individualism is a cruel trick, where the product of the triptych is unmitigated tyranny in all its forms. Left and right become catchcries, but in the end meaningless. It is the preservation of democracy which is meaningful.

Is Anybody Listening?

I found the following book review of “Review of Family Violence in Australia”; Carol O’Donnell and Jan Craney were joint editors. The author of this book review was Dimity Reed, whom I knew in our teenage years; she later had become a distinguished architect. The year this review was written was 1982, in a then new magazine Australian Society.

The review began (sic):

Fool that I am, I recently flicked on the last two minutes of a TV talent quest. A man waltzed around the studio, clutching to his breast a partner, presumably a fellow seeker after fame.

Suddenly he knocked her to the ground and started kicking her and beating her with his fists. Then he picked her up and tossed her on to the judges’ table, where three respected leaders of showbiz sat laughing.

Not content with the beating given his partner on the dance floor, our ambitious hero threw himself upon her on the table and pummelled her into a heap. Not until he was totally exhausted and sure of some sort of victory did the man desist.

It was at that point that I realized that the man’s partner was a life-size doll.

That programme went to air in Melbourne a week after an intense public awareness campaign about violence between men and women inside families. The compere had done numerous radio interviews to promote the campaign and the TV station has been generous in their support.

What does this indicate? That comperes have short memories? That violence within families had been simply seen as good news items? Or, more ominous, that the right of men to beat women severely and remain unpunished is both the norm and a source of humour?

So long ago; yet so near. I too remember these antics, because much of the humour descended from vaudeville, its humour based on denigration of women.

My wife reminded me of the “wife beater” term. This was the Chesty Bond singlet, which apparently had been worn when a Detroit man in 1947 was arrested for beating his wife to death and was shown wearing a stained singlet.

… and still available today, the “wife beater” by the half dozen

I am no saint, but I’ve never hit my wife. Convenient objects have been thrown at me on a very few occasions, but in this short review by Dimity, blame for the marital disputes is considered a domestic dispute, unless there is murder.  It thus must be that extreme for police involvement. One set of data suggests that, on average, one woman every nine days and one man every month is killed by a current or former partner.

Yet that conceals widespread conflict and violence in the community; and I, like most people, am reluctant to intervene, especially when fists are flying, and knives are flashing. Let’s be frank, nobody is properly trained to intervene. The socially concerned may preach to audiences, often inappropriate because the audience have the skills to deal with conflict or well-honed sophistry of denial of such involvement. In other words, the members of these audiences nod their heads sagely and issue “the tut -tut” of the judgemental. Therefore, mostly conflict is allowed for the parties to resolve themselves. This leaves a considerable body of people who do not have the skills to handle conflict.

And even if the wife beaters were listening, they probably would not know what the jargon meant. The gap is just too great.

Whitewash is a Woman on the Green

In the SMH of Tuesday 20 October 2020, Cathy Wilcox drew a cartoon depicting two women sitting on a park bench. One was saying to the other:

Gladys is not to blame for Daryl Maguire’s dodgy dealings – she just fell for a dud boyfriend … “

The other responded:  “Judging by her record on stadiums, the Powerhouse, Crown Casino, heritage destruction, land clearing, loss of koala habitat and now council grants, she must’ve had a string of dud boyfriends …”

Sometime the cartoonist’s observation is too true to be funny. In this case Cathy Wilcox exhibits in her unerring drawing that mixture of anger and disdain for Gladys with the “Poor Me” look. To Gladys’ bill of stuff-ups can be added her involvement in cooking up the Rozelle Road Pasta.

The Commission (ICAC) reported on the relationship, nearly three years after the Wilcox cartoon of 40 words was published; and two years after the hearings completed, written up in a 700-page report.

However, the following embodies the findings against Gladys Berejiklian, once the Premier of NSW.

The Commission finds that Ms Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct by breaching public trust in 2016 and 2017 through exercising her official functions in relation to funding promised and/or awarded to ACTA, without disclosing her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire, when she was in a position of a conflict of interest between her public duty and her private interest, which could objectively have the potential to influence the performance of her public duty. The Commission also finds that in the same period, Ms Berejiklian partially exercised her official functions, in connection with funding promised to ACTA, influenced by the existence of her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire.

On the surface, she is in disgrace, but somehow with her “Miss Goodie-Two-Shoes” image and the Australian Financial Review’s eulogy of her dressed in vestal virginal white, admittedly with the “furred up” look of a good-time girl seems to have protected her from what should have been community contumely. Then she has the gall to appeal the ICAC findings, for what? Her right to do so?

The Conversation wondered about the secret life of this 50-year-old woman, who retains the air of the captain that she was at high school in North Ryde. She told no one about this relationship with Maguire, not even her own, very close family.

This is a litany of a clearly dysfunctional person. Instead of her history being treated with understandable caution given that she was hardly in need of money, Berejiklian was hired by Optus and made managing director of Optus’s business division, a position she has held since last year. She was close to the action thus when the disastrous outage occurred which cost an insensitive CEO her job, this ex-school captain survived. Given her form, why would we be surprised! Are there any missteps in store for us involving her involvement in anything.

But Berejiklian is only symptomatic of the malaise which has been inflicted upon Australia. Setting up Inquiries, culminating in the “majesty” of a Royal Commission was a serious endeavour to find the truth of the situation – not to be taken lightly. But now they are increasingly irrelevant for politicians and police, who just ignore the findings while mouthing the mantra “that they will take the matter seriously”. These inquiries have become a smokescreen designed to lengthen the process, so why it is being set up is lost in the voracious news cycle. Australia gives the impression of being governed by the public relations crew, who homogenise policy into trivial blah.

A bleak NSW Parliament House

Gladys Berejiklian had not been on her own, even if ever wronged in her own eyes, she exists in her version of “Bleak House”, even if she believes herself to be Esther Summerson.

The problem in writing about this Australian political cancer is that it is metastasising out of control because the therapeutic agents are not sufficient to contain it. These therapeutic processes are of another age, when the cancer was not as virulent and the processes were sufficient to contain and even heal. But no longer, and with climate changing, how many years will it be before this cachexia of misrule and greed kills the country fabric. Once malignant cachexia kicks in, it’s irreversible, just as it is with climate change.

Not an Afterthought

I have met some remarkable women in my life, but as I am getting towards the tail of my life, I thought I would list the six women I would have wished to have met, but for various reasons (mainly because they existed in another generation) I have not been able to do so.

Grace Cossington Smith’s “The Bridge in curve”
  • Vanessa Redgrave – UK actor
  • Katherine Mansfield – NZ-born author
  • Lena Horne – US singer
  • Rosa Luxemburg – Polish-born activist
  • Leni Riefenstahl – German filmmaker & photographer
  • Grace Cossington Smith – Australian painter

Mouse Whisper

I’m not sure this says much about anything including national characteristics.

A Swede and a Finn went into a bar. The Swede ordered a vodka, said “Skål” and downed the vodka. The Finn said nothing and also downed the vodka. The Swede repeated the toast three time and still the Finn said nothing although the Swede every time said “Skål” and downed the vodka. The Finn downed his vodka and continued to say nothing. On the fourth time, the Swede raised his glass and said “Skål”.

This apparently was too much for the Finn, because he burst out “Se on teidän ruotsalaisten ongelma, te puhutte liikaa.”

or in English parlance: “That’s the trouble with you Swedes, you talk too much.”

Eight or ten words! Take your pick.