Modest Expectations – Doug Taught Hereabouts

I don’t often start my blog with a straight lift from another paper – this by the distinguished journalist and author, Joan Wickersham.

This is a story about a library in Vyborg.

Given the status of Vyborg, essentially a Finnish city absorbed by a gluttonous Soviet Union at the end of WWII, it provides an insight into how the Russians with Putinic tendencies conceive their view of the world – in this case neglect. However, underlying this neglect was its fortuitous survival of the scorched earth way in which Russia wages war. This normally results in a wrecked landscape which the Russians have neither the intent nor the money to rebuild. This will be the result of his current intent to ensure that the western littoral rim of the Black Sea is in Russian hands, despite the destruction meted out to the Eastern Ukrainian cities.

In the story below it was, until the fall of the Soviet Union and its release from the sullen adversarial conformity in which Russia had been plunged by Stalin that  co-operative work to restore the Aalto masterpiece occurred. It was a time when the deep xenophobia that characterises the mindset of Russians was temporarily dormant.

The Amber Room in the Summer Palace, two hours’ drive South of Vyborg in St Petersburg, is testimony to Russian skills when they want to use them. After all, the Germans dismantled the Amber Room, and it was not until 1979, that the reconstruction of the room commenced, guided by two remaining original items: a single box of relics from the room and 86 black-and-white photos of the space, taken just before World War Two. It took 23 years, but it showed a determined creativity to restore, when Hitler had decided to destroy the best of Russian heritage.

In the article below, the co-operative effort between the Russians and the Finns led to the restoration of the building depicted. After all, for many years if you looked at any hospital built in the interwar period, they had the stamp of Aalto; worldwide he changed the design of hospitals from gloomy buildings where the Florence Nightingale wards were Queen in hospitals where the light could only shine fitfully. Aalto’s creations were far more appealing and, moreover, airy and far more hygienic than their predecessors.

I disagree with Ms Wickersham’s passive neglect ending to her article. Humans create and humans destroy. There is an equilibrium, which provides the opportunity for the world to recognise the need to preserve it for the next generations – knowing in the distant future the Sun will burn itself out and with it, this dependent planet.

However as for Putin, like all megalomaniacs, it is not in his or our remit to deliberately hasten the process.

Viipuri Library

The Viipuri Library, one of the great early masterpieces by architect Alvar Aalto, used to be in Finland. Since 1940, it has been in Russia. The library didn’t move; the border did.

The library was a fluid creature almost from its inception. Aalto’s initial scheme for the building won a design competition in 1927. At the time, he was a promising 29-year-old architect who entered a lot of competitions and rarely won. Finland was a young country, having declared its independence from Russia only 10 years earlier.

After Aalto won the competition, the construction of the library was postponed when the great worldwide economic depression halted new projects. By the time the library client came back to him several years later, the site of the prospective building had been changed. Aalto had also matured and changed as an architect, rejecting the classicism of his earlier design in favour of a more modern Functionalist style, which displayed an airy lightness and asymmetry.

Working together with Aino Aalto, his wife and design partner, Alvar Aalto came up with a new design introducing elements that would become characteristic of his work: a grid of round skylights that let natural light pour into the building; and, in the lecture hall, an undulating natural-wood ceiling. The library was finally built and opened in 1935.

Then, in the winter of 1939, Russia invaded Finland. The Finnish army fought them to a standstill but, as a condition of the peace treaty, Finland had to cede to the USSR the eastern territory, which included the town of Viipuri, now renamed Vyborg. Seventy thousand Finnish citizens were permanently displaced from this border region and moved westward across the new border into Finland.

In 1941, war broke out again between Finland and Russia. Control of Viipuri/Vyborg went back and forth between the two armies; in the fighting, most of the town’s buildings were destroyed. After the war, Finland was forced to accept the 1940 boundary that made Vyborg part of the Soviet Union.

For many years, with communication and travel all but impossible, people in the West knew nothing about the fate of Aalto’s library. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Finnish architects were able to learn that the building had survived. It had been abandoned for 10 years after the war, an empty shell stripped of its contents and left to deteriorate. In the late 1950s, a limited renovation had allowed it to reopen as a municipal library, but it was only a shadow of what it had been.

Starting in 1991, Finnish and Russian architects got together to advocate for the restoration of the library. Drawing heavily on the expertise of Aalto’s widow and design partner — his second wife, Elissa — they gathered the resources to painstakingly restore every detail of the original design, down to the furniture and door handles. It took them 20 years. After the restoration project’s completion, in 2013, the library was hailed by the World Monuments Fund as “a stellar example of international cooperation.”

I learned about the Viipuri Library in 2019, when I visited Aalto’s studio in Helsinki. There was a small exhibit of photographs and drawings that included a timeline of the library’s history. How amazing, I thought, that this building could be lost and then found again, could be built and then neglected and then restored.

Now the library near the border seems like a testament to both durability and fragility. It doesn’t move, but the world keeps shifting around it. Things fall apart and get rebuilt. Things get built and fall apart.

Ron Castan

But while I wish I could say I knew Ron Castan, I don’t think that would be entirely honest. I feel deeply connected to the idea of him, as much as to the man himself. It seems that the true memories I retain of him are like a single grain of sand, sitting in the centre of an oyster. Alone, they are almost invisible – tribute from grandson Samuel Blashki

I was discussing my youngest grandchild’s future with him. He is a very bright youth in his penultimate year of school. Life is, I said to him, a mixture of experience and tribal links, coupled with intellectual, rather than just academic, achievement plus the accumulation of social capital as well as wealth or not. All form the basis of networks, which grow and then peter out as inevitably people move away or die.  Some of these links are more resilient than others.

There is a need to actively cultivate these networks even if, in the course of existence, you rarely see some of those in the network, but when you do, the link is restored as if only a day has passed since you last had contact.

Ron Castan

One such person was Ron Castan, and how relevant it is to remember him on the day when Australia celebrated the contribution of Eddie Mabo and the challenge to the concept of terra nullius. One of the major people behind Mabo was Ron Castan, and when the Aboriginal people are discussing land rights, I hope they will remember Ron Castan. There are a number of memorials to this remarkable man, who tragically died when still having so much to give. In particular it was a travesty that Ron was never made a High Court judge, but it was at a time that the Meanness virus was beginning to infect a Coalition which then bought to the nation one Dyson Heydon, hardly the cynosure of legal practice.

Ron Castan was a member of the University of Melbourne Students Representative Council, he a representative of the law students and myself one of the medical student representatives in 1959/60. A year was enough for Ron, but one distinguishing feature of Ron then was that he drove an American “tank”; it may have been a Cadillac, it was one of those cars that you would expect had the backseat crammed with Hollywood starlets.

Otherwise, there was nothing startling about our relationship, but some of my friends, erstwhile or not, thought I was red but turned out working for the blue – there was a tendency to look askance.  Whitlam was leading an intellectual powerhouse to government. Unfortunately, that was a myth, but for a time a well-concealed myth.

I assumed Ron was a Labor supporter, but never asked. It was not important.

Ron agreed to propose my own son’s admittance to the Victorian Bar. I had not realised what a privilege it was to be proposed by a Queen’s Counsel no less. Ron was very matter-of-fact when I asked him that, yet as I ever delved into questions of legal importance, he became very much a stickler for actual meaning.

Even though I saw him rarely, it was my initial impression which stayed – that of the thoughtful man with the dry sense of humour – and the deep set eyes, which gave him the expression of a raccoon.  But the eyes laughed even when I had made such an outlandish statement.

I remember him inviting my wife and my son and his then girlfriend for a family Friday night Shabbat meal. Ron wanted to pick my brains on the medical course, which apparently his son-in-law was contemplating at the time.  Not that I have been invited to many Shabbat, but I have found such meals, so quintessentially family oriented, always a privilege.

There are two portraits of Ron Castan among the National Portraits collection. One was of him relaxing apparently reading a brief; the ability to exude a sense of physical rest while in a brown study of mental studiousness. That is the Ron I remember.

The other portrait depicts him as if he were in a French film noir, complete with trench coat, beret and dark glasses. Totally convincing, if you did not know the man.

Having reflected on the future with my youngest grandchild, I read the paean of Ron written by this grandson, who hardly knew him, but exudes a sense of admiration as the amanuensis for his long list of achievement.

He certainly merited a black heart, the highest award a whitefella can achieve in the eyes of the Aboriginal people, and if a bar is given for such an award, Ron would have merited it also.

And his grandson certainly thought so; if only my grandchildren would remember me so eloquently.

Benvenuto nel mio incubo

I was going to ignore Dutton this week, given how irrelevant he is to the Normal Australian. However, his comments about the electorate of Hume I could not let pass. This electorate was retained by that other “pin-up boy”, Angus Taylor, in an electorate which is mostly rural but centres on Goulburn, which to me is at the pinnacle of Irish-Roman Catholicism of conservative persuasion.

The city is located in a very wealthy area, grown that way on the back of sheep. I remember one afternoon flying into one of the landed gentry homes near Crookwell, which is in the Hume electorate. I doubt even among the vassals and serfs on the estate, there would have been a Labor vote in the grand house where we were literally served tea and cucumber sandwiches. Yes, here was the country seat for New South Wales Pioneers and members of the Australian Club.

Hence, I was not sure what point Dutton was making when he said that Hansen’s One Nation Party had obtained seven per cent of the vote in Hume, which was much the same as the Informal Party; and the $100 million man Clyde Palmer, whose projected Prime Minister held the adjoining seat of Hughes until election day, received about half that number. Dutton should take one lesson to heart – if you are poison, stay away from the electorate. It obviously served Hansen well.

Now let us have a look at the figures, since Dutton has used the example to justify, as reported, an electoral “pissed off factor” in an election which he so vividly concluded as “a pox on both your houses election”.

The Greens did not do well in this electorate but there was an independent, Penny Ackery, who received 15.5 per cent of the vote. She showed herself as a bit of a petrolhead, but was retired teacher, in the age range of the successful “teals”, had lived in her community for 30 years, personable well-dressed reflecting muted affluence. In her manifesto she rejected all outside funding, stressing she was the “community candidate”. One wonders that if she had been Teal, would she have shaken the Taylor complacency by finishing ahead of the Labor Party.

After all, in the allocation of first preferences, the Labor Party received just less than 20 per cent of first preferences which represented a fall of six per cent. Taylor experienced a drop of ten per cent; and after distribution of preferences Taylor moved to 57 per cent of the vote while the Labor Party candidate moved to 43 per cent. Taylor picked up about 15,000 of the preferences and his Labor Party opponent picked up 23,000; overall a swing to the Labor Party of 5.4 per cent.

Therefore, Dutton should not be too chuffed – whether it be “Hume-bris” or not.

Blowing in the Wind

Storm approaching Melbourne

In the last week, a huge burst of pollen swept across Massachusetts as reported in the Boston Globe. The photographs are graphic, outlining a yellow pollen fog discolouring the landscape.  It reminded me of a similar phenomenon which occurred in Victoria in November 2016. Commencing in the Mallee and spreading quickly across Victoria the strong wind gusts reached Geelong and moved quickly over Melbourne’s metropolitan area, as many commuters were travelling home. The pollen count was high due to the combination of hot, dry northerly winds and rye grass to Melbourne’s north and west. The moisture from the storm is thought to have caused the pollen to break into smaller particles, more able to penetrate a person’s lower airways and cause an asthmatic reaction

This incident in which nine people died from respiratory failure augured a future which, because of these extremes in weather consequential on climate change, are liable to become more common in Spring.

The advice to combat the sudden alteration in climate is simple. You know, stay up to date with pollen counts and weather forecasts during Spring and early Summer so you know if a storm is coming. Then just before and during storms with wind gusts, get inside a building or car with the windows shut and the air conditioner switched on to recirculate/recycled.

In 2016, in addition to the nine deaths, there was a serious level of morbidity which kept the ambulance service busy (and that was before the Virus!) Respiratory arrest in the victims had occurred as soon as 15 minutes after the first signs of asthma or wheezing.

“The average time from complaint to respiratory arrest was very short,” she told the court.

“Fifteen minutes does not really leave anyone time to do much, ” one respiratory physician commented at the time.

She added “All the victims suffered asthma and nearly all got hay fever, but only three had official asthma “action plans.”  And to have a reliever puffer, such as Ventolin, on hand and use it generously. Sixteen puffs in four minutes is appropriate.  There is no health danger to using a high dose in emergencies.” In fact, 4,000 people were treated and 30 were admitted to ICU.

In the following article, there is no comment made of the mortality and morbidity of the Massachusetts cloudburst, but highlighting this report should awaken our Health system, already overburdened, to another potentially deadly public threat awaiting at the end of the year – in fact every year.

For allergy sufferers this time of year is always a bit of a headache (mixed with lots of sneezing and coughing).

The yellow cloud in Massachusetts

But a quick-moving cold front that kicked up winds and pushed pollen off trees in great bursts on Tuesday, turning the skyline a strange yellowish-green, was like nothing he had ever seen.

“There was this yellow glow off in the horizon,” said a Marlborough resident. “It looked like a cloud of dust, and it was just yellow. I knew exactly what it was because I’m always worried about the pollen, but I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.” Residents were left covering their faces Tuesday morning after the sudden weather shift created a pollen-heavy scene that resembled smog or “wildfire smoke” or in the air. Parts of the region became so hazy that people described it as a “wall of pollen” that descended on neighbourhoods.

For a Hingham resident, it was like winter with a strange twist. “It literally looked like snow flurries were coming down,” he said of the thick globs of pollen swirling around in his backyard. “It was hazy everywhere. It made everything look kind of golden — it was wild.”

Dave Epstein, a long time Boston meteorologist and horticulturist who writes a weather column for the Globe, said the haze happened after a backdoor cold front with a dramatic change in air mass moved through the region, shaking pollen from the trees.

“As warm tropical air was replaced by cool ocean air, the gusty winds helped release billions of pine pollen grains which were mature and ready for dispersal,” he emailed. “It was just pure coincidence we had a horticultural and meteorological intersection, resulting in a dramatic pollen front.”

“Just a tremendous amount of pollen as the back door cold front is pushing through. I don’t recall ever seeing it so dramatic,” he said.

Others agreed that it seemed unusual.

“Was outside and saw/felt it a few minutes ago too,” one person replied to Epstein’s tweet. “Have never seen anything like it.”

One other meteorologist said the cold front was “so powerful” that it showed up on weather radars and picked up “bugs and pollen and dust in the air” as it moved inland.

The chief meteorologist for WHDH-TV, posted two images of a parking lot surrounded by trees, pictures he said were sent to him from a friend in Concord. Hanging in the air was a thick cloud of yellow dust that looked more like a sepia-toned fog.

“Got pollen?!” he wrote.

The region certainly did.

Mouse Whisper

The story of two Vice-Presidents – two Hoosiers in fact. There was that story of Mike Pence begging Dan Quayle to come up with a way to not certify the votes. Pence sounded scared, as if was he was going to be killed. He is reported to have said to Quayle: “You don’t know the position I’m in”. A quail to a Quayle.

Thanks be, I live in a mouse house, which is not located at No 1 Observatory Circle.

Modest Expectations – Grand Final Action

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

Dargo

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

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

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

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

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

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

The silt jetties

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

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

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

What can I say about the Member for Longman!

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

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

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

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

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

Billy Snedden

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

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

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

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

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

Morrison, Abbott, Dutton – mocking climate change

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me what is a pharmacist?

From the days of gentlemanly pharmacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… everything you could want, and then some

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

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

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

COVID Bare Foot

Guest sufferer: Janine Sargeant

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

Nice to wear … just not for too long

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

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

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

Requiem for a Light Welterweight

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

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

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

John Howard

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

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

The Yarralumla Hunting Lodge – rabbit stew anyone?