Modest Expectations – Anno Quattuor


There’s a difference between psyching yourself up and misrepresenting yourself, and the latter is where “fake it” has gone too far. We need a reset, and to find a way to once again prioritize and reward diligent, honest effort over faux success. Government needs to return to enforcing meaningful financial regulation; politicians and entrepreneurs who deceive their supporters need to face consequences. And we need to be less credulous and stop falling for the next shiny thing. – Helaine Olen, Washington Post

So here we are the end of my fourth year writing a blog each week.

Sometimes I feel like the Beatles’ Father MacKenzie – writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear; no one comes near; look at him working, but then it goes on to something about darning socks in the night when apparently everybody has deserted him, but he yet retains a priestly insouciance. From this chiaroscuro cell of mine, may I thank Frank Meany for his encouragement in ‘mousing’ my first one in 2019. My socks remain undarned.

Nevertheless, Ms Olen’s observation remains very pertinent to me every time I pick up my mouse. I publish one blog a week; they have grown to over 3,000 words, but it has meant I read widely, and republish with acknowledgement information I find interesting. I write a blog as now I have the time to write.  Now I have time to reflect I can leave a legacy for what it is worth. So here goes into my no. 208.

I was talking to a friend of mine who had returned from a very comfortable dinner. I mentioned to him the breakdown of the refrigerated truck bringing food, in particular meat, to our village. It is a 45 minute drive to the next towns – one was over the range; the other over more undulating territory. We were expecting friends for dinner, and my wife happened to be at the only supermarket in town to hear the news that explained the empty fridge shelves. She was able to snaffle some chicken legs, but there was not much more to be had.

The weather was unexpectedly bad for this time of the year. Low weather fronts coming through, rapidly dragging thunderstorm, rain and gusts up to 100 km/hour. At about two am, the power went off. There was a pole fire nearby. This day was cold; there was no heat. Despite the house being built as a wilderness pole house, there is no chimney. A gas fire better heats the house; you do not have to cluster around an open fire trying to keep warm. But it needs electricity to create the spark to light the gas and run the fan.

Fortunately, we have a gas stove and could cook; and with battery and candle, we survived 18 hours without electricity. Having listened to what my friend said that he feared that there would be more outages, his prediction seemed self-fulfilling. True to his prediction, next morning, another outage shut down the Sydney rail system; the day after it was the turn of two large public hospitals in Melbourne. In neither case was it thought to be due to a malignant cyberattack.

Meanwhile, the flooded Kimberley region is running out of food – not just one lorry broken down as happened to us. All the roads are now cut off; and then next day, it was the turn of Mount Isa and all the rivers that flow north of the Selwyn ranges are now in flood.

We went for 18 hours without heating, and it was very cold. But think of the deprivation that so many people across Australia have suffered alongside COVID-19. Sure, I have had a bout of long COVID, but we’ve not been flooded or burnt out – yet! Our deprivation this time was really a nothing compared what else is happening and has happened over the past few years to so many people.

Thus, our deprivation was just an irritation and perhaps a harbinger of things to come; but look at the government priorities! Nuclear submarines for God’s sake! Moreover, the sabre-rattling group assembled by the SMH was predicting a war with China in three years.

As reported in the SMH: “Former Defence Department deputy secretary Peter Jennings estimates the eight boats will eventually cost taxpayers the equivalent of 1 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product or some $20 billion each year.

That’s roughly the combined annual revenues of Australia’s wheat and beef industries, or more than the cost of the NDIS last year. The problem is, the submarines are not expected to arrive for 15 to 20 years, which could be on the other side of a war with China.

“On the other side of a war with China.” What does that mean?

Admiral Chester W Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, United States Navy, former leading US Navy authority on submarines

As part of the agreement, the United States and Britain will rotate nuclear-powered submarines into port in Perth by 2027. One such submarine, the U.S.S. Asheville, is already there now on a port visit, before the formal schedule of rotations.

At that time, I must have dropped off to sleep because I dreamed a dream. Somebody nudges the March Hare to wake him up.  Meanwhile, the dormouse strewn with marigold flowers has arrived at the table and pipes up being asked to defend the purchase of these expensive toys, said: “This is about jobs … and Adelaide in particular will be a big beneficiary of this announcement, as well as Western Australia in particular”.  Just before being shoved into the AUKUS teapot, somebody watching asks aren’t the nuclear submarines about the defence force capability. The answer is lost in the gurgles, but the word “capacity” does get a mention before the dormouse goes down for the third time. I shake myself awake; was that a dream?

Call me the HMAUKUS Pinafore

Before contemplating further let us consider whether we have combatted our internal challenges. Our ability to cope with floods has come up short. Too much of our domestic and commercial infrastructure is built on flood plains and, with climate change heralding more extreme weather, there are large infrastructural costs awaiting Australia. Promises are easy, but nothing much seems to be done, given it is estimated that one million homes are at risk from flooding by 2030. Brisbane and the Gold Coast local government areas are the most vulnerable in numbers, but the Greater Shepparton area in Victoria has the greatest percentage of such homes (56%) with nearby Wangaratta not far behind (43%) – a total of nearly 3,000 homes. Increasingly such places are uninsurable, which leaves only we, the mug taxpayers, as the reconstruction funder.

Australia does not have the equivalent of the US Army Corps of Engineers, which, among its many functions, is flood mitigation, and although there were criticisms for the levee construction in New Orleans, there is consolidated expertise. A recent report in 2022 noted that “Seventeen years after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers has completed an extensive system of floodgates, strengthened levees and other protections. The 130-mile (210-kilometre) ring is designed to hold out storm surge of about 30 feet (9 meters) around New Orleans and suburbs in three parishes.”

Even so, Nicholas Lemann, writing in The New Yorker, was not so sanguine.

After Katrina, as after Betsy, such plans were drawn up, but nobody wanted to pay for them. New Orleans had to settle for levee enhancements that fell far short of providing invulnerability to a Category 5 hurricane, and wound up returning to something not too different from its pre-Katrina state. The city is an irresistibly alluring place that does far better by its white citizens than its Black ones. Life is sweet when it isn’t tragic. Lodged somewhere in everyone’s consciousness is the knowledge that what happened in 2005 is going to happen again.

Eleven months after the Lismore floods, a Northern Rivers Reconstruction Authority has been set up and $800 million promised, but nothing much seems to have been done, which is visible to the community. Somebody might echo Lemann and say it will happen again because no government is prepared to spend the money to 100% guarantee waterproofing the current Lismore, but as with Lismore residents nobody wants to move away.

Cockatoo Island Sydney, once a ship builder, then a submarine repair yard, now an art precinct and “glamping” site

Now as the sabre-rattling group would insist Australia faces war with China. Do we wish to contemplate that? An old doctor in conversation with me years ago told of when World War I was declared, there were celebrations in the streets – he remembered hats being thrown in the air – excitement was everywhere. War was a jolly adventure in exotic places. Then, Australia was not threatened directly.

The last time Australia was directly threatened was 1942 – the population was mobilised – the dread when the postman came with news that your father, son, close relative had been killed. Food and clothing were rationed. But bombing of urban areas of Australia was restricted to Darwin and Broome – northern Australia. The Japanese onslaught was halted, they suffered mortal wounds as the War was washed north.

Volodymyr Zelensky has proved an unexpected obstacle. Given that we were fed a diet of Ukraine being corrupt, essentially a Russian satrap, and the line of least resistance was taken in relation to Crimea. Putin anticipated; NATO anticipated that Ukraine would just fall into the Russian sphere of influence.  Conventional early wisdom was that Ukraine would be partitioned with the Russians ceded the eastern fertile black plains, while the truncated Ukraine would retain Kyiv and the Polish border areas – at least pro tem.

But Zelensky had different ideas, and he inconveniently precipitated NATO leaders out of the cocktail circuit into a world bereft of Louis Vuitton and Dom Perignon. Zelensky has created the nightmare; he stood up to Putin. It was not expected that a comedian had transformed himself into a resilient warrior.

Nevertheless, the Americans always seem to have a war on the go, dragging us with them. However, none of the recent Wars have the European backdrop Ukraine has provided. So, destroying a country where the infrastructure is notably European is thus enough to put the fear of God into the Europeans. It is they which, even with the diminishing number that directly experienced the horrors of WWII, see it now being re-run in the Ukraine.

Forget the power of the people; unless they inconveniently have the power that Zelensky has. Looking around our leaders there is no-one who reminds one of this man. There seems nobody else who can lead a popular revolution.

And what of China? They assumed control of Hong Kong, breaking the terms of agreement with the United Kingdom.  There were street protests. There have been draconian measures put in place. There has been no urban warfare from those who opposed this take over. The sun still shines. The horses still race at Happy Valley and Sha Tin.

Power means control of the security forces. The street protests of the sort seen 40 years ago have been studied by those in authority and measures implemented to contain the people; these measures are increasingly perfected with more and more sophisticated brutality and repression.

The Chinese have not participated overtly in any war, apart from border skirmishes and the annexation of Tibet about 70 years ago, while in that same period the Americans have been in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan – for what reward? I forgot Grenada, which the USA invaded in October 1983, a conflict which lasted four days before the Americans declared victory over a country of 113,000 people.

In fact on March 9 it was reported: that Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) announced on Thursday that air routes between Taiwan and 10 Chinese cities will be reinstated on Friday, with 13 other Chinese cities selected for cross-strait charter flights. Starting on Friday, flight routes will be re-established between the Taiwanese cities of Taoyuan, Taipei and Kaohsiung, and the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Fuzhou, Qingdao, Wuhan, Ningbo and Zhengzhou.

Ok … but that statement does not suggest war footing. The Americans were not part of this decision, I note.

So, what is the point of all this purchase of extraordinarily expensive toys of war? Can anybody in words of one syllable tell me how the current expenditure will help defend this country? The Taiwan response – a video of a young woman running with rifle, stumbling, with her helmet falling over her face, and then giggling. War footing? More like slippage.

Yet Taiwan has the perfect terrain for guerrilla warfare, but has anybody got the stomach for a war? What is Taiwan’s appetite for war? The Chinese would prefer a compliant Taiwan commercially strong, but avoiding a potentially destructive conflict with China. Where does Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines in the mid 2030s fit that scenario?

There is thus a possibility that China and Taiwan will reach an accommodation that avoids outright war. Nevertheless, some Chinese with assets are moving them to Singapore and elsewhere including Australia. Yet let us not be under any illusions that the Chinese diaspora is anti-China; some estimated that the pro-Chinese element in Australia would be about 80 per cent.

At the 2021 census, 1,390,637 Australian residents identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry, accounting for 5.5% of the total population. How is the Australian Government planning to deal with them in case of direct conflict with China. Internment? I think not. Think of the expense… but then again, those advocating building more and more sports venues, maybe they will have a secondary use. After all, the Melbourne Cricket Ground was requisitioned by the Americans and Australian defence forces between 1942 and 1945 with up to 200,000 troops using the ground facilities as barracks. Would we need it again – but now for an internment camp?

In any event, the last sentence in Helaine Olen’s opinion piece quoted at the beginning of this blog is particularly germane.

Billy Graham with a Pole

Bob Richards has recently died in Waco Texas aged 97.

Bob Richards

His would not be a familiar name today to anybody in Australia unless you, like myself, were a spectator at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. He had been the Olympic champion in the pole vault in 1952 in Helsinki and had come to Melbourne in the USA team to defend his title. Pole vaulting was an unfamiliar sport in Australia, and I remember being seated close to the action. Australia had two competitors, but they had been knocked out in the preliminary round, finishing last and second last respectively.

Richards had not vaulted very well in the preliminary round, but in the final, he won with an Olympic record. As he freely acknowledged, even though he was able to surpass his Olympic record by pole vaulting over 15 feet many times, he was never able to surpass another American, Cornelius Warmerdam, a Californian who had set the World record in the early 1940s, but whose exploits were overshadowed by WWII. Warmerdam used a bamboo pole, which replaced the early solid ash poles; but by the time Richards was at his peak, the technology of the pole had moved to poles made of tubular aluminium.

Today’s top male vaulters, with refined techniques and springy fiberglass or carbon fibre poles that bow almost to U shapes, routinely soar over crossbars set above 19 feet (5.8metres). The world record is held by Armand Duplantis, an American-born Swedish athlete known as Mondo, who recently vaulted 20 feet 4-3/4 inches (6.22 metres). That height surpassed his own previous five world records, all over 20 feet (6.1 metres) and all set since 2020. From the Australian point, from the dismal performance of 1956, our standards have risen markedly.  An Australian, Steve Hooker won the Olympic pole vault at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

It is the one event, where it seems that there has been no brake put on the technology; and how far will such technology take man and woman into the ether. Hooker eventually jumped a height (6.06m), which remains the fourth highest height ever attained; in the end he lost his head for heights, who wouldn’t but anyway what a career!

As it was with Richards. With his etched looks he reminded me of Billy Graham and was, to some extent, much the same evangelical as he was ordained into a Brethren when he was only 20. He was given the nickname of the “Vaulting Vicar” by some, but all I  knew was that he was a pastor for one of those evangelical Christian churches, which find the Southern American States such fertile ground. Sagebush piety, cowboy strong face enabled him to be, between 1958 and 1970, the face on the General Mills “Wheaties” packet, the  cereal known as the “Breakfast of Champions.” He became director of the Wheaties Sports Federation, founded in 1958 after President Eisenhower called for a national physical fitness campaign.

So he was, his pole vaulting seemed to be a symbol of his form of Christianity where an aluminium pole and a bar being raised set against the sky were his basic Assumption.

An Added Thought from the Vault

Women’s pole vaulting does not easily fit into the Bob Richard narrative. Currently Australia has the number two rated woman pole vaulter in the world – Nina Kennedy. Last year she won the Diamond League title with a vault of 15ft 1.5in (4.61 metres) slightly less than her best, but would Australia ever know.

The first recorded woman’s world record holder was a Ruth Spencer, an American who vaulted 4ft 9in (1.44 metres) in 1910.  The height is testimony to the change in times, when modern female athletes would high jump way higher than that. The current world pole vault record was set in 2009 by Russian Yelena Isinbayeva with a vault of 16ft 7in (5.06 metres). She held sway in the first decade of the 21st century, and with arched eyebrows, one can say that her record has not been challenged in the last thirteen years – but she was Russian.

Women’s pole vaulting attained prominence when first introduced as an event in the Sydney Olympic Games, when Tatiana Grigorieva, a Russian-born Australian, unexpectedly won the silver medal. During the 1990’s repeatedly breaking the then world record, Emma George was dominant.

Emma George

I remember for many years driving into Beechworth, her name was emblazoned on her hometown signage. But her dominance ended in tears, as the stress induced by pole vaulting caught up with her.  She vanished even before the 2000 Olympic Games with a mess of chronic injury without any comment on her mental health.

In fact, she has become the mother of three boys, seemingly happy, still greatly attracted to the outdoors as judged by her profile in the media, where she acts as a free-lance journalist – a world which I once knew as that of a stringer.

A Sense of Theatre

Col Hodges

My eye caught the following on Twitter. “Race caller Col Hodges lives in flood ravaged Forbes. After having a cold shower this morning Col hitched a ride on a fire truck to get to a boat which took him to within 50 yards of the other side where he waded in knee deep water to get to a borrowed car to travel to Bathurst {to call the races}.”

Race callers are so much part of the heritage of the country.  They all have their individual ways of learning. No University course here. Col Hodges started shooting marbles around the backyard pretending that they were racehorses. I knew one other bloke who started calling matches floating down a gutter.

When you note how many race meetings there are, it means that while the race callers in the city seem to form a kind of Establishment, there are many other meetings that need to be called. On this periphery are race callers like Col Hodges. I note that he called his first race meeting in a tiny place called Fifield, which lies between Trundle and Tullamore in the Central West of NSW with its hotel known as the Pub in the Shrub. We stopped there once just up the road from what looked like an old boarded up mill; yet as I noted in an earlier blog, there was a late model yellow Ford parked out the front and an array of expensive solar panels on the roof.

Col Hodges called a race meeting there in 1971. As he recalled “It was a picnic meeting at Fifield on Easter Saturday. It was a dirt track, there were fields of between six and 10 to describe and around 500 people were in attendance. In those days a lot of tracks didn’t have photo finish cameras. A lady in the crowd called out after a close finish that I was trying to influence the judges. I went to a lot of meetings that didn’t have photo finish cameras so that’s where I learned to be pretty diplomatic in photo finishes. If I’m sure I’ll call it but there’s that many different angles, I call at about 30-35 race tracks, and some tracks you’re right on the line but unless I’m pretty sure I’ll just say it’s between this horse and that horse. I’ll have a go if I know the angle of the track and I’m confident but I don’t like letting people down by taking a guess when I’m at a bad angle just for my own glory.

Yet Col Hodges was the last to call a triple dead heat in Cowra in 1997, and even ventured at the time that it might be the result. This was rather adventurous given that there have only been four in the whole history of Australian horse racing since the introduction of the photo finish camera. It took the stewards 30 minutes to declare the placings.

As is said, race callers need to have a sense of theatre.

Such sadness

Last week I recalled our time in southern Malawi.  To quote local sources this past week: Heavy rains that triggered floods and mudslides have killed at least 199 people in Malawi, authorities. President Lazarus Chakwera declared a “state of disaster” in the country’s southern region and the now-ravaged commercial capital, Blantyre. Some 19,000 people in the south of the nation have been displaced, according to Malawi’s disaster management directorate.

This suggests that the Satemwa tea estate, a source of employment for many Malawians, which is only 43 kilometres South of Blantyre could not conceivably have been unaffected by Cyclone Freddy, to say nothing of the thousands of Malawian subsistence farmers whose farm plots crowded the river floodplains. Another country needing our help.

Mt Mulanje in southern Malawi in calmer times, now with floodwaters to the north and south

Mouse Whisper

He was complaining about the comment that bushfires had been reported as having decimated the ozone layer by five per cent. Five per cent is one twentieth. So, it is hardly “decimate”. Well, add this word to vocabulary to kill only five per cent – vicesimumate. In other words, we are going to be merciful – we are going to vicesimumate you lot.  Instead of two for the chop, you lot will only lose one.



35 Poems by Jack Best

An illustrated collection of poems

Order your copy of 35 Poems now – $30 plus postage.
Email to for your copies. Any profits will go to the Ukrainian cause and Malawi relief.

Jack’s poetic side finally gets an airing in this, his first book of poems. Described in the foreword by John Bevins as:

“… a joy … indeed, hoped-for gifts beat surprises. In one of Jack’s deeply personal poems (some are jolly folly), we learn his Father urged him to read Xenophon. ‘The sweetest of all sounds’, Xenophon said, ‘is praise’. Well, this body of work — with its own sweet sounds, ‘sounds sizzling in the wires’ — gets my praise. All the more so because of Jack Best’s courage to say what he feels in a way that allows us to feel what he says”.


Modest Expectations – We’ll drink champagne in Udine

Look, I’m not one for a Grudge …

To him, been just given the Nudge

I shall not, I will not, deliberately Fudge

Nor will I Budge

Yes, he said I did robotically Bludge

Then pushed me back into the poverty Sludge

Who? You guessed it, he was known as Alan Pakenham Tudge

Yes, some say he has left quite a Smudge

But whom am I to constructively Judge

As broken, defeated I onwardly Trudge

The Little Red Citroen

This is one prime example of the unexpected consequence. For years, when we have come to Tasmania, we hired a car. But with COVID and even before that, hiring cars was becoming prohibitively expensive in Tasmania, and at busy times of the years, the car hire companies introduced limits on the free kilometres.

Thus because of both this and increasingly wanting to stay longer in Tasmania at any one time, we made the decision to take the car ferry, the Spirit of Tasmania. Let’s say, that its disabled passenger cabin is excellent, even though it is a long corridor away from the lift, but the crew are solicitous, and one seems always at hand. On this occasion, travelling across from Melbourne to Devonport was uneventful, and we went down the West Coast to our property at Strahan.

When we decided to return, the rain had come to Northern Tasmania – flooding rains but some of the major roads remained open, even though much of the countryside was completely under water. However, the major unexpected consequence was that the level of the Mersey River at Devonport rose, floating the Spirit of Tasmania upwards, such that it was impossible to load cars and trucks. Therefore, with several cancelled ferries, and no confirmation of a new departure date for at least 48 hours, and a departure date delayed for effectively at least four days, we saw the uncertainty that bad weather introduces.

As we were due to go to Vietnam at the end of the week, we had no choice but to leave the car in Tasmania. Fortunately, we have good friends south of Hobart with space in their yard for a car. So we drove the car down from the North to their place, where we left the car and flew back to Sydney.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. Back in Sydney, preparing to travel to Tasmania to pick up the car. Then we were both laid low by a very nasty respiratory virus, not COVID, but may as well have been – how sick we both were. The upshot was that the car was marooned in Tasmania for another month.

Then “the cavalry” came to our rescue. Number two son said he was prepared to go and pick it up and bring it back to Melbourne – flight to Hobart, pick up the car our friends had conveniently left at the Hobart airport, then drive it to Devonport, overnight to the new Victorian Spirit of Tasmania destination, Geelong; thence up the Princes Highway and home.

By this time we were fit to travel, and as we had business in Albury, another friend offered to bring our car to Albury and meet us there. Number one son picked up the car, re-fuelled it and dropped it to our friend’s place. One-way hire of a modest sedan from Sydney to Albury cost about $1,000. Our friend having dropped our car returned to Melbourne by train, a trip which enabled him to read a book and which cost $20.

The exercise would have not been possible without this chain of friends and family. It makes us realise we are not alone on this planet – and we thank you all.

Medicare and the Constitution

Australia is consumed to a greater or lesser degree by the prospect of incorporating recognition of the Aboriginal people into the Constitution in a nebulous concept known as the Voice. 

Meanwhile, the Government is flailing around wondering how to make Medicare work.

Medicare is made possible, because it is based on providing a range of patient benefits for a number of defined responsibilities.

1946 – Prime Minister Chifley – action

In 1946 the following was passed in a referendum of the Australian people, an amendment to Section 51, namely:

(xxiiiA.)  The provision of maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances:

The Commonwealth does not have any constitutional power to regulate prices and incomes; and that is the greatest misunderstanding of how Medicare works. Hence doctors can charge what they believe is fair and reasonable; and only individual States can determine otherwise. Thus, of all health professionals, only doctors and dentists are able to receive Commonwealth funded patient benefits for their professional services. When the amendment was passed in 1946, the explosion of other health profession numbers had yet to occur, plus these professions being deemed to be in private practice. Patient benefits can only accrue to doctors working in private practice, although this has been systematically undermined by public hospitals “privatising” some of their clinics – in essence promoting double-dipping. Here the Commonwealth has been weak in its response.

In 1974, optometrists were given access to a limited patient benefits scheme where the profession accepted the benefit in effect as full payment; and they were deemed “medical” – a sleight of hand because at that time there was an unusually large number of optometrists as members of parliament. The other means of providing patient benefits is to provide a medically supervised patient benefit for a health professional group. In areas such as diagnostic imaging, radiotherapy and pathology, there has been a long term recognition that the benefit contains not only a professional component for the medical service but also the payment for technicians and scientists essential for the delivery of the services which are incorporated in the technical component of the medical benefit.  The other component is the capital component, which acknowledges the level of capital expenditure to deliver the medical service. This last is a vexed question because it has not been universally agreed, and for instance, there is a separate list, from which prostheses are costed.

Recently, there is a clamour by various health professional groups for direct access to patient benefits, but despite the above stratagem, it should be ruled to be unconstitutional.  As reported in the Persons with Disability and the Australian Constitution monograph, that:

In 1944, The {Pharmaceutical Benefits} Act was challenged by members of the Medical Society of Victoria with the support of the Attorney-General of that state. Publicly, the society objected to its members being co-opted into the scheme and having their professional judgment limited to only prescribing the free drugs from the Commonwealth scheme. The challenge before the High Court rested on two points. The first was whether the scheme that required doctors and chemists to act in accordance with the regulation was authorised by a legislative head of power in the Constitution. In short, did the Commonwealth have the power to regulate medical services? The second point was whether the Commonwealth scheme was in fact merely the appropriation and spending of funds authorised by the Parliament, and thus supported by the incidental powers under the Constitution.

The challenge was upheld by the High Court, but indirectly led to the future constitutional amendment in 1946. Effectively by adjudging the distribution of £30 million for the provision by the Commonwealth of free drugs to be unlawful constitutionally, it provided ammunition for that future constitutional amendment.

As a parenthetic comment, pharmaceutical benefits are directed towards providing a benefit to pay for medicines, and these are contained in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule, not for pharmacists to provide independent professional services, however defined. This is a major pressure point, but it effectively confuses two roles. The pharmacist often knows more about the drug; the doctor, the reasons behind the prescription. Currently a pharmacist may provide health advice, for which there is no patient benefit. The doctor provides health advice for which there is patient benefit.

The pharmacists receive a patient benefit for dispensing medicines, their administration and the potential side-effects but not for dispensing health advice.

2023 – Prime Minister Albanese – who knows …

The Commonwealth Government has different means of handling this. Already it is strangling Medicare and effectively passing the funding as sickness benefits under the NDIS system. The Constitutional amendment by including “sickness benefits” codified Commonwealth funding in the disability sector. It is unfortunate but the AMA has been asleep at the wheel for decades, as the value of Medicare benefits to the patient has been eroded. In response, specialists have just raised their fees, devaluing in effect the value of the medical benefit. Increasingly, GPs have abandoned bulk billing and are charging fees that leave patients with significant co-payments over and above the patient Medicare benefit.

This solution is not that easy for general practitioners. They have been fooled because every time the Commonwealth initiates a review into Medicare, it just puts the whole question of increasing patient benefits on hold. Stratagems such as reducing time with patients, so the doctors time spent is little more than a greeting, a cursory look and then dismissal has been one response. As one wag jokingly said, in some practices, one doctor spent so little time with the patients that they had to be fit because they were required to jog through the surgery to sign the benefit form at the exit.

The central agencies shudder when they hear suggestions that all health professional services should attract a patient benefit – essentially an unlimited payment scheme only constrained by the Commonwealth’s willingness to ascribe a benefit. Currently, the Constitution stands in the way, but if judged by the legal challenge against pharmaceutical subsidy back in 1944, a referendum to change all that would surely be in the gunny sack of every populist Australian politician.

Ironically, amid this agitation, under the Constitution a dental benefits scheme could have been set up long ago. None has ever occurred, despite the concern over the dental health of the nation. Why? The dentists traditionally have not wanted it. This says something about the “influencer”.

Dental influencer

Parramatta 1973

Back in September of that year there was a byelection. This was the first under the Whitlam Government and was caused by the resignation of the local member. This local member was Nigel Bowen who, after the 1972 election, had lost the leadership election of the parliamentary Liberal Party to Billy Snedden by one vote. In 1973, Bowen was appointed as Chief Judge in Equity in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. This meant his resignation from Parliament, thus precipitating a byelection. Nigel Bowen in 1964 was elected to Parliament to succeed Garfield Barwick, then on his way to be Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. The Parramatta electorate at that time was “the Menzies gift”, as though he was propelling distinguished jurists into Federal parliament to emulate himself. It did not work out, although as Attorney General, Bowen produced some enlightened proposals, but not enough to be drafted in as Opposition leader.

The Hon Nigel Bowen

As a distinguished jurist, facing years in Opposition, he decided to resume his career, not unexpectedly, especially as he was 61 years of age at the time. Snedden was fifteen years younger. For the Parramatta byelection, the Liberal Party preselected a young Liberal, direct from conservative casting, his father was a State MP, Philip Ruddock.  Philip always danced from one end of the Party to other, but he had a certain resilience. He trounced his Labor Party challenger with a swing of nearly seven per cent.  Ten other candidates, mostly independents, contested the seat.

This was the first Federal election in which eighteen-year-olds were eligible to vote, the voting age having been lowered from twenty-one earlier in the year.

As was expected Bowen did not involve himself in the campaign. Snedden did, and although he was a poor public speaker, he was a good grass roots politician. Whitlam on the other hand made a declamatory speech which canvassed the forthcoming prices and income referendum to be held later in the year. As with the by-election, this referendum was soundly defeated. It had been a triumph for Snedden and helped to consolidate his shaky hold on the Party, especially in NSW at that time.

Peter Dutton, the acclaimed Leader of the Liberal Party, is now faced with a by-election in the first year of a Labor Party government, as was Snedden. The recently retired member, Alan Tudge has been a conspicuously poor performer involved deeply in the Robodebt imbroglio. Let us say, he is hardly the person Nigel Bowen was. In 1973, Snedden was campaigning in NSW whereas his natural base was Victoria. Likewise, Dutton will be campaigning in Victoria, where his normal habitat is Queensland.

Nominally both Parramatta in 1973 and Aston in 2023 were and are safe Liberal seats. The expectation would be that the Opposition Party would achieve a swing as this is the expected outcome after the election, thus strengthening the hold on such electorates. In Parramatta in 1973, Ruddock achieved this swing, and had no need to go to preferences.

Dutton wants a female candidate. He’d better choose wisely, because I hate to see a dead bird floating among sheets of unread Murdoch papers – lose the byelection and you are a dead duck paddling, mate! It will be interesting to see if a wild duck, disguised as a teal is pre-selected. And what of the Labor Party? Can’t lose many feathers contesting; and as a bonus gives an idea of whether it has made inroads into the teal vote.

Thus, what of Aston, where, despite a swing against him at the 2022 election, Tudge held the seat comfortably.  Can Dutton emulate Snedden?

ChatGPT – So you want to Cheat; go right ahead

Lawrence Shapiro is a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is coy about his age, but he received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, so he must be cognitively still vital.

He writes very calmly in the Washington Post about this artificial intelligence tool which has been heralded as a means of writing essays and assignments without even thinking about it – albeit a means of cheating.

This opinion piece is a very clear appraisal of the tool. He seems very relaxed. After all, he has recently published a second edition of his book Embodied Cognition which a reviewer has hailed as an outstanding introduction for those unfamiliar with but who would like to explore this movement. As the reviewer continues: It clarifies the very idea of embodiment, elaborates the central themes of embodied cognition, and evaluates theories of embodied cognition against standard cognitive science. 

I think I will stick with this general appraisal. 


ChatGPT has many of my university colleagues shaking in their Birkenstocks. This artificial-intelligence tool excels at producing grammatical and even insightful essays — just what we’re hoping to see from our undergraduates. How good is it, really? A friend asked ChatGPT to write an essay about “multiple realization.” This is an important topic in the course I teach on the philosophy of mind, having to do with the possibility that minds might be constructed in ways other than our own brains. The essay ran shorter than the assigned word count, but I would have given it an A grade. Apparently ChatGPT is good enough to create an A-level paper on a topic that’s hardly mainstream.

Universities are treating the threat as more dire than an epidemic or even a budget reduction. The most obvious response, and one that I suspect many professors will pursue, involves replacing the standard five-page paper assignment with an in-class exam. Others expect to continue with the papers but have suggested that the assigned topics should be revised to focus on lesser-known works or ideas about which a chatbot might not “know” too much. 

Good luck with that. If ChatGPT can pen a solid essay on multiple realization, an issue on which I happen to be a world authority in good part thanks to lack of company, I doubt it would have difficulty constructing essays about lesser-known Shakespearean sonnets or unremarkable soldiers who fought for the Union Army. Besides, if we’re going to demand deep thought from our students, shouldn’t it be about the more important stuff? 

Here’s what I plan to do about chatbots in my classes: pretty much nothing. Let me say first that as much as I value the substance of what I teach, realistically my students will not spend more than a semester thinking about it. It’s unlikely that Goldman Sachs or Leakey’s Plumbing or wherever my students end up will expect their employees to have a solid background in philosophy of mind. Far more likely is that the employees will be required to write a letter or an analysis or a white paper, and to do this they will need to know how to write effectively in the first place. This is the skill that I most hope to cultivate in my students, and I spend a lot of time reading their essays and providing them with comments that really do lead to improvements on subsequent assignments. In-class exams — the ChatGPT-induced alternative to writing assignments — are worthless when it comes to learning how to write, because no professor expects to see polished prose in such time-limited contexts. 

I should emphasize just how desperately my students need formal instruction in writing. My wife confirms that I’m noticeably crankier than when I first started teaching 30 years ago. Everything today seems worse than it was back then: traffic, TV news, macaroni and cheese. But I don’t believe that the deterioration in writing quality that I see is a consequence of age-tinted glasses. I read too many papers from upperclassmen, from students who have taken other writing-intensive courses, in which only one sentence out of five is not grammatically or stylistically defective. I would be failing these students if I let ChatGPT discourage me from teaching them what might be the most essential competence they can gain from me.

But what about the cheaters, the students who let a chatbot do their writing for them? I say, who cares? In my normal class of about 28 students, I encounter one every few semesters whom I suspect of plagiarism. Let’s now say that the temptation to use chatbots for nefarious ends increases the number of cheaters to an (unrealistic) 20 percent. It makes no sense to me that I should deprive 22 students who can richly benefit from having to write papers only to prevent the other six from cheating (some of whom might have cheated even without the help of a chatbot).

Here’s an idea for extracting something positive from the inevitable prominence that chatbots will achieve in coming years. My students and I can spend some class time critically appraising a chatbot-generated essay, revealing its shortcomings and deconstructing its strengths. This exercise would bring a couple of rewards. First, analytical writing, like any skill, benefits from seeing examples of what works and what does not. While students might reasonably object to having their own essays made a target of public inspection, chatbots couldn’t possibly care. Second, given that chatbots are not going to fade away, my students might as well learn how to refine their products for whatever uses the future holds.

I urge my colleagues not to abandon writing assignments for fear that some students will let artificial intelligence do their work for them. Instead, let’s devise ways to make chatbots work for all of us. Truly, the cheaters are only hurting themselves — unless we respond to them by removing writing assignments from the syllabus.

Mouse Whisper

He has been reading this book The Amur River which relates to Colin Thubron’s recent travel from Mongolia, reaching towards and eventually along the Amur River which divides Russia from China to its mouth. Fascinating book, he announced to all and sundry, and me. He could not refrain from telling us about Kim-Jong-Il, the original poisonous North Korean puffball. Kim-Jong-Il was not born in some celestial nursery but in a tiny Russian village near the Amur River and was swept up in fighting the Japanese. But Thubron recounted this description of this high born North Korean dictator – his tastes I doubt were developed along the Amur. How, I ask you do such nutters get these gigs – no mouse would ever be allowed to indulge in such a display?  {Sic}

Despite his propaganda, he was mundanely earthbound, and frightened of flying. He travelled only in a luxury carriage of his own armoured train. On a secret journey to Moscow, his Soviet escort described him eating fresh lobsters airlifted in every day, with roast donkey and champagne, while his people starved.

Amur River

Modest Expectations – The Beer Flows Again

Tulips, Table Cape

Floods are inconvenient. It has meant that our car is marooned in Tasmania, contradicting my statement that we are physically confined to this island: before the extreme weather, it has been a beautiful Spring. In Wynyard, there were beds of tulips along its streets and on Table Cape nearby, there was a proliferation of tulips set out in long multicoloured rows. We purchased a pot with a ruby red tulip in full flower which was added to the cut rhododendrons and camellias already dotted around the house. The azaleas were coming into bloom at the back door. The silver wattle is in full bloom, a blaze of colour from the dining table.

The native waratahs are also in full flower. So is the pink heath; and the intersection of the native and exotic just reminded us of how beautiful October can be in Tasmania – even if one turns a blind eye to the uncontrolled spread of the yellow gorse curse on the road out of Zeehan. Beautiful at a distance; an evil thorny infiltrate close up.

Then the rain, as predicted, came and flooded among many other places in that part of the State, the Meander Valley, as it did six years ago. At that time the Huon valley in the south was also severely affected. Now in October 2022, the flooding has been concentrated in the Meander Valley to the west of Launceston, and the alongside coastal Latrobe area.

It had rained in Strahan where we were, but then it always rains there. The last week, it had been sunshine and barely any rain. But the rain was tossing down as much as 30 cm every 24 hours into Meander Valley settlements and other nearby townships. Flood mitigation works which had been promised after the last flood had not been commenced in the Meander Valley. Despite the Report following the last flood, which recommended inter aliaWhile it ‘may be’ that State and Local Government under-invests in flood mitigation, a lot more work is required to understand whether measures such as additional flood levees are appropriate.” – a very curious circumlocutory way of saying that nothing had been done. Such word calisthenics should never be part of a Report seeking urgent improvement on what had been shown to be the dire situation in 2016, only six years ago.

The word surreal is overused and often incorrectly used to describe extraordinary situations. After we were informed that the car ferry sailings had been cancelled indefinitely from Devonport to Melbourne, first because  the flooded Mersey river has caused the ferry to float higher than the wharf which made  it impossible for vehicles to board, not only cars, but trucks up to the size of B-doubles; and second because of the dangers posed by sunken boats as Devonport lies at the mouth of the Mersey River, which has been one of larger contributors to the flood.

Yet one piece of foresight has been the placement of the Bass Highway between Burnie and Launceston. At times, close to the pavement, we passed torrents of water, not just passive sheets of water, but swiftly flowing rivers broken up by wavelets which had broken their banks and the countryside, almost has far as the eye could see, was water engulfing fences and trees. On the edge of these areas, cattle had been unloaded to what was considered higher ground, and only in very small areas was there evidence of the flood ebbing – exposing the mud which will coat the landscape, whether field or town, for weeks.

And yet here was the Bass Highway, at no stage covered with water nor even any warning signs – all the way to Launceston and out to the airport, where we dropped our guest from America. Given she had committed herself to a nationwide tour the following week, it would have been very inconvenient if she had been unable to fly back to Sydney – hence the introductory sentence.

As for ourselves, the car ferry has resumed this week. We found satisfactory accommodation; we have friends in Hobart to leave the car with until we are able return sometime in mid-November. We are privileged because the privileged always have options. But those without have a forced sojourn in Devonport, and an unpleasant addition to the costs. That is the real problem of these new phenomena of extreme weather – little emergency accommodation – a worthy matter to be considered when considering regional grant programs and of more value to the community than subsidising, for instance, a  paper mill in Tumut, which the billionaire owner was well able to afford, even without scattering a few canapés around a troop of generous politicians.

Meandering towards a Government Font

We have driven through the floods in northern Tasmania albeit along the Bass Highway as related above.

The following comment was written prior to the floods, but it illustrates a phenomenon not just restricted to this Council.

Sometimes one gets insights by casually reading an item in the local newspaper. A complaint has surfaced about money which had been allocated by the previous Federal Government through its regional grants program, namely $3.35 million allocated to the Meander Valley community “to contribute to the redevelopment of this area (Deloraine Racecourse)”.

This grant, allocated by the previous government, should be honoured by the Federal Government according to Senator Colbeck, who himself was once the Federal Minister for Sport. Senator Colbeck is reported as having said that “this is a commitment that has some standing over a matter of time and is not from before the last election, it goes back to 2019, and frankly the community doesn’t care who it comes from” and “we don’t want any mean and nasty politics where they could say ‘due to it being made by the opposition we’ll reconsider it or take it away’ and that the community has been planning on the basis of the commitment”.

Senator Colbeck has, in recent consultations with the Meander Valley mayor, discussed the impact of the potential cut in funding. He has called on the Labor Member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell, to “stand up” to the Government because the community is deserving of the funding.

The Deloraine racecourse has been closed since 2005 because it did not meet occupational health and safety requirements. The time-honoured Deloraine Cup was moved to various other racetracks. The Deloraine racecourse is located on the edge of Deloraine. The mayor has said “the funding would help the Council bring new life to one of Australia’s oldest existing racecourses by turning it into a regional-scale community space. I haven’t heard of anyone against these upgrades and there’s no real limit to what we can do here, we just need some dollars to get some facilities up”.

It so epitomises how much of the money was splashed around by the last Federal Government under vague generic titles. There is nothing in this report to say that they have any pressing need for it and in fact, being so close to town, presumably the land could have been subdivided to provide space for housing – even desperately needed social housing. However there is no mention of what the local council was prepared to use the money for, including in terms of any major development such as the words “community facilities” foreshadows.

Meander Valley

Meander Valley Council extends from the edge of Launceston to The Grand Tiers, the wilderness area where the Walls of Jerusalem are located. The population of the whole area is about 20,000 and that of the township of Deloraine is 3,000. There are already ten recreation grounds in the Council area, but why worry about the odd $3m. May I suggest that giving $1,000 to each of the inhabitants would probably be just as valuable as funding a number of well-catered planning meetings coupled with interstate and overseas fact-finding missions determining what to do; and handing over to a “consultant” to provide the ultimate “pie in the sky” report for the Council. That would just about cover the $3.2m.

But my wife looked at me and said that I’m complicating the rationale and putting on my own devious spin on what was a few worthies wandering into the nearest political ATM with their request – they would like to renew the Deloraine racecourse and return the Deloraine Cup to its rightful place for the one day of the year, with numerous plaques acknowledging the works of these worthies place everywhere. However, for the sake of appearances better to have the application state “community facilities”

If the objective is achieved and the Cup returned for the one day of the year, where is the money to maintain this putative achievement – maintaining racecourses where the eponymous cup is the only reason to keep them going.  By the way, why do those writ large on plaques need to confront the local populace with the cost to maintain such a little used facility?

Yet it is all a bit superfluous given what has happened in the past week. Anyway, that grant may be axed in the forthcoming budget, along with a number of other pending grants. I would have thought that any funding asked from a regional grants program would have been better used as part of flood mitigation, and viewed as same. But this is just using hindsight to criticise a worthy objective, my critics would say. The social, environmental and economic impacts of the 2016 floods in Tasmania were significant, affecting 20 local government areas with an estimated damages bill of $180 million. One bizarre comment from a mayor of another municipality was that one of the real problems was that the 2016 floods had come in darkness. Really, it should not matter of the time of the day in a well warned, well prepared community.

The Tasmanian Recovery Plan published in 2017 was strong on what had to be done to respond to flood rather than prevention of same. Mention was made of the Meander Dam opened in 2007, but that clearly has been insufficient to halt flooding.

The Tasmanian Ports Corporation has responsibility for the eleven Tasmanian ports (as well as the Devonport airport). After the 2016 flood, it has made progress in levelling the seabed at Devonport, and the ferry departure from Devonport now is scheduled three and a half days after its cancellation. In 2016, it took six days then, and people were reported as sleeping in their cars. I understand this is not the case this time.

The communities in the Mersey River catchment do not have that luxury for such an improved response. Maybe I am missing something, but a grants program at any level should have a utilitarian aim, while protecting the rights of the minority.

After this flood has ebbed and the communities have removed the mud and calculated the water damage, perhaps the next plan, in a timely response to this disaster, should include prevention in its title.

It is somewhat ironic to realise that the Latrobe Council next door to the Meander Valley Council has been working on its flood mitigation for six years, whereas Meander Valley has just commenced its flood mitigation works. A projected cost of $14m equally shared by the three tiers of government. As stated: This project will see the construction of levees around Latrobe’s southwestern and southern perimeter as well as a flood gate structure (lower Kings Creek) and a peakflow flood diverter on Kings Creek at Kings Park.  The levee system is designed to prevent Mersey River and Kings Creek floodwaters from entering the town’s central business district and nearby residential areas during a significant flood event and provides a temporary water storage area for local runoff behind the walls until flood levels outside the walls reduce.

It sounds impressive, but it is still far away from completion. The cause of the delay? Determining the habitat of the central north burrowing crayfish. Here is certainly a case of protecting the rights of the minority.

Flooding – a personal reflection

My first experience of a flooded living area was in the 1960s where the top floor of the house in Parkville we were partially renting, suddenly showed the ravages of having a frugal owner. The roof began leaking during a particularly violent storm and the staircase became a waterfall. We left immediately in our sodden state. Fortunately it was in an early impecunious period and we had few belongings, but we did have a young child. “Negotiating Niagara holding onto a banister holding a baby with the other was no fun.” Her comments were an exercise in understatement.

The second occurred in the early 1980s in the cottage which we had purchased in Balmain. The cottage was on the side of a steep hill, as many of the suburbs surrounding the Harbour are. In the space of two years, there were two episodes of storms dumping in excess of 20 centimetres of rain over Sydney. Each time the house was flooded to somewhere close to a third of a metre. The major problem was that the water was not seeping under the doors, but coming up the drain in the bathroom like a fountain.

Sandbagging the back bedroom did not work, and we tried to move as much stuff as we could off the floor. Fortunately the bed was raised on a platform and was barely affected. The carpets were ruined as were some smaller items, which could not be recovered. On the second occasion we gave up and retired upstairs with a bottle of bourbon. Added to this, we had episodes of the office being flooded, due to its being the lowest lying office in a building built at the bottom of the conjunction of a number of streets and again, lacking any effective flood mitigation. Thus when I see people whose houses have been fully submerged – if not washed away – I just cannot understand how these people cope, especially when it has occurred on multiple occasions.

In one way my experience verges on the insignificant; but unless you have experienced the helplessness of not being able to prevent water coming into your existence, it is hard to comprehend. Whether Australia will wake up and insulate itself against natural catastrophe in the uniform way that our Federation has generally found itself able to do is yet to be seen. A national approach where the common good prevails would be a novelty, especially if not labelled “socialism” – a sure way to kill any community approach.

There are always going to be the foolhardy. Do we need to work out an index for the expected number of foolhardy people who will need scarce resources for their rescue or do you warn them that nothing can be done– that over a certain level personal responsibility allowed for “dickheads”, in that imagined World of “personal responsibility”, these people would be left to their own resources.

However, that does not occur, because the majority of the community are prepared respond to the foolhardy predicaments – to accept responsibility on behalf of the community in which we all have a place.

… Spare the Horses

Floodplain management is coordinated by Council’s Infrastructure Planning team within the Footpaths, Roads, Traffic and Stormwater Group. Inner West Council, and its predecessors, has been undertaking flood risk studies across the 9 primary catchments within its LGA since 2009 in accordance with the NSW Flood Prone Land Policy. The policy specifies a staged approach to the floodplain management process.

This is how my local Council is avoiding its obligations. How many Councils are guilty of such reassuring puffery telling its rate payers that it has done nothing of  significance beyond endless planning?

Much has been made of the flood wall built by the Victorian Racing Club in 2007, when the then responsible planning Victorian State Minister overturned the bid by the City of Melbourne, and Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley councils, to block it.

The Maribyrnong River commences on Mount Macedon and wends its way 160 kms down to its mouth in Port Phillip Bay near Yarraville. The Flemington Racecourse, where 26 race meetings are held each year and which is home for 600 horses in the stables of 30 trainers was constructed on the Maribyrnong River flood plain.

The basic facts set out in Wikipedia about the racecourse itself are: … comprises 1.27 square kms of Crown Land. The course was originally leased to the Victoria Turf Club in 1848, which merged with the Victoria Jockey Club in 1864 to form the Victoria Racing Club. The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861. In 1871 the Victoria Racing Club Act was passed, giving the VRC legal control over Flemington Racecourse.

Flemington Racecourse flood wall

In Melbourne, interfering with the Melbourne Cup is tantamount to interfering with Christmas. Nevertheless, this is not any solace to the 260 residents who were flooded by water allegedly banked up by the flood wall. Some insensitive comments from a former executive of the VRC did not help. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the wall went up in 2007, and government has not done anything about a flood mitigation program in the past fifteen years since the wall was built.

Australia’s problem is its addiction to gambling which is beyond going into any rehabilitation program while government needs the revenue to bolster its bottom line – a tax on those who can least afford it. Here the needs of flood mitigation collided with the gambling behemoth – one of the major contaminants within its “Victorian Catchment”.

This space will be interesting to follow since the recent disaster aggravated by the Racing Wall lies in Bill Shorten’s electorate, and his constituency not being in the champagne tents on the first Tuesday in November, may result in rectifying a situation which has been threatening ever since the VRC divorced itself by The Wall construction from its community.

So in the end, climate change makes so much of the “one in 50 years occurrences” predictions  so much malarkey.  Governments should hold their breath, forget  Australia will have periods of apparent drought, but what is required is identification of places like Lismore which will flood repeatably  and accept that the town is in the wrong place, and not depend on  Sisyphus to determine our national policy.

Pounamu (Greenstone) – to a Full Memory

One of my most prized possessions in a mere made of pounamu. Pounamu is the Maori word for greenstone. Greenstone is nephrite jade. Jadeite, more common in Chinese ornamentation is a lighter green. The most basic difference between jadeite and nephrite, the two forms of jade, is that despite both being silicates, the minerals found in each are different. Jadeite is composed of silicates of aluminium and sodium, whereas nephrites are silicates of calcium and magnesium.

Pounamu is found in the South Island in deposits known to the indigenous people. On the wild spume-laden windy beach at Hokitika, I remember the pieces of pounamu in all its shades of deep green mingled with so much magnificent driftwood. The pounamu comes down the Hokitika river which rises in the Southern Alps and gets its turquoise colour from its glacial origin and the flakes of stone called “rock flour”. By the time it flows into the Tasman Sea, it is a muddy jade in colour. Pounamu is deep emerald, with slashes of green so dark, a casual observer would say it is black.

When I became President of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, one of my tasks was to convince the New Zealanders that I was serious about the New Zealand contribution; and recognise that New Zealanders were not Australians. The New Zealanders and Australians have superficial similarities with Australians in language and Anglo-Celtic colonisation.

Cape Reinga

The problem is that the similarities create the illusion of delusion unless confronted, which I did by actually asking to be educated rather than socialised into a different society. During my three years, I visited New Zealand at least twice a year, generally in February and August. I add I am not a skier, so the time in the wintry New Zealand was certainly not spent on the slopes. Early on, I had met John McLeod. He had been a public health physician with not inconsiderable presence. He was a Ngä Puhi, his iwi or Maori community being located in the very North of the North Island embracing Cape Reinga, the most northerly point where the deep blue Pacific Ocean meets the aquamarine Southern Ocean.

So, I was a pakeha, so what! Our friendship grew from there.

I asked whether he could get me a very good mere, which he did.  The mere is a Maori weapon – a hand club, and he provided me with an elegant amokura  made from the kawakawa (dark) variety of pounamu characterised by “black” flecks, which to me still have a green basis. To me it symbolises one person’s acceptance of an Australian trying to understand New Zealanders aspirations. It cemented the succession planning of John to succeed as President. Unfortunately, in 1994 John was killed in a head on collision in the North Island returning home from his bach. A terrible, terrible loss given that my successor undid much of what we had crafted in the first six years with Sue Morey being the inspirational first President.

At least having the mere, I have never forgotten John McLeod, and what could have been.

Mouse Whisper

Given all this flood talk, I could not help myself from joining in with a comment about the Noah malarkey. It does not take a genius to realise how scientifically impossible was an Ark containing a brace of every item of fauna. And as for the flood, some person who had too much time on his hands calculated the following:

There had to be 813,875,076 miles³ of rain for the biblical flood. To put that in perspective, the oceans have about 321,000,000 miles³ of water. All the water on earth only adds up to about 332,500,000 miles³. So for the biblical flood to have happened, the water on earth had to miraculously multiply by about 250%.

The people who believe literally in Noah and his Ark are the same people who believe in the Trump election win.


Modest Expectations – The Alamo

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

“A Little Flu”

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

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

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

Prof Paul Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brendan Crabb

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

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

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

Getting Stoned

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dual in the Sun

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

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

Marie Curie

I already knew about Marie Curie and Linus Pauling.

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

Linus Pauling

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

With a bit of prompting I did remember John Bardeen.

John Bardeen

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

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

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

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

Frederick Sanger

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

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

Barry Sharpless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An * from Prince Lachlan

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

Like a Nail Drawn Across a Blackboard

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

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

Rodin’s The Thinker

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

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

A tufted titmouse

Modest Expectation – Irma is Not My sister

There has been flooding of the Murrumbidgee River this week, and Wagga Wagga has been one city where there has been some flooding. I know the city well, and where the flood seems to have its greatest impact, as reported, seems to be in North Wagga Wagga and particularly the caravan area adjoining the Wagga Beach. It has always been somewhat anomalous to see a sign to the Wagga Beach, which is inland and not on the coast. However, the major rivers – both the Murray and the Murrumbidgee – have areas of sea-mimicking beaches in spots along their respective river courses. One of these is in Wagga Wagga, and after a major flood there is always the chance that one will find pieces of jasper on the beach, as I did once.

My find was a substantial piece about the size of a hand. Jasper is a microcrystalline form of quartz, usually a deep red due to the iron impurities. Further up the River is the village of Wee Jasper, close to the Brindabella ranges south of Canberra and near where the Burrinjuck Dam is located. Wee Jasper was named unsurprisingly by an old Scot who found small pieces of jasper at the site. So, Jasper and Murrumbidgee are linked … as is flooding.

The flooding is not catastrophic, as we crossed the river further north of Wagga Wagga at Gundagai, where the river splits the town of 2,000 people into North and South Gundagai.  Here there is a large flood plain. There was evidence of flooding, in fact massive flooding in parts, whereas in other parts there were cattle and sheep grazing on soggy ground. I did not see any houses underwater but then we were on the highway, where the bridgework is high above any flood line. I well remember the old wooden bridge and the old railway bridge – all were constructed high above the Murrumbidgee River and its adjoining flood plain.

Gundagai learnt its lesson early, as in 1852, the whole township was swept away by floods, with a loss of 89 lives, then a third of the population. The death toll, the highest ever in an Australian flood, would have been even more if some of the local Aboriginals had not paddled their canoes out and saved upwards of 40 people. There was a re-allocation of lands so that residences were built above the flood line, but not before the settlement was hit with another flood in the following year.

Yarri and Jacky Jacky – flood rescuers

I have travelled the Hume Highway, the major four lane artery between Melbourne and Sydney, countless times but rarely if ever have I crossed such a flooded Murrumbidgee River. The road builders have got it right.

As the Daily Advertiser reported: Gundagai escaped significant damage over the weekend despite major flooding along the Murrumbidgee River, which peaked at just over 9.02 metres on Saturday afternoon.

Moderate flooding conditions continued on Sunday and State Emergency Service Gundagai unit commander Ross Tout said volunteer crews had responded to one car crash and two livestock rescues.

“We have pretty much finished here as the river is dropping down. We have done a lot of running around with the council to organise the clearing of bridges,” he said. “The river is going to stay reasonably high for a while as they’re going to keep on getting water out of Burrinjuck Dam.

“We were pretty safe here in Gundagai, there were no evacuations, no houses in the water … Gundagai is designed well for floods.”

Run, Oliver Hoare, Run

To my chagrin, I had never heard of Oliver Hoare before this week. This is because if you are a gun track and field athlete, there is no point hanging around Australia. Hoare won the Commonwealth Games 1500 metres against a world class field, in record time. There have been a number of pretenders to the class of 50’s, culminating in that extraordinary win by Herb Elliott in the 1500 metres at the 1960 Rome Olympic games, when nobody came near him. After all, he had heralded this success at the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth games, when Australia filled all three places in the mile – Merv Lincoln and Albie Thomas finishing behind Elliot.

Elliot inherited the mantle from John Landy, who always seemed to be beaten, because he  was the one who ran from the front and therefore he was the sitting target as he was in the Vancouver Games when he looked back over the wrong shoulder and the Englishman Roger Bannister burst through on the outside to beat him; and uncharacteristically in the Olympics Games 1500 metres final in Melbourne in 1956, Landy got caught in the ruck but still finished a valiant third.

I had no idea about Hoare, as I watched him line up for the final of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 1500 metres. I saw him get passed in the last lap and thought, here was another creditable fourth or fifth coming up. I remembered the career of Craig Mottram, who promised and promised…

Not to be this time. I witnessed one of the great athletic feats by an Australian track athlete, rivalling Ralph Doubell’s win in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games 800 metres, when he overpowered the Kenyan, Wilson Kiprugut, in the last 100 metres, as Hoare did this week to his fellow competitors, including two Kenyans.

Landy, Elliot and Doubell all trained in Australia in an era when athletics was a prelude to a professional career elsewhere, and before the Iron Curtain countries, America and certain of the European countries instigated virtual professionalism and moreover systematic cheating through the various cocktails of drugs, including “blood doping”.

Yet here was Oliver Hoare who, early in the year, had won the Wanamaker Mile at the Armory in New York, where it has been held since 2012.  The Prize money for winning is modest: $3,000, then 2nd place $1,500; 3rd place $1,000; 4th place $759; 5th place $500; 6th place $300. Still the event attracts the best middle distance runners in the world.

The indoors Armory track is rubber and the mile requires eight laps of the surface. It makes for a fast race with the speed on from the start by having one of the runners being the designated pacemaker, running the first four circuits before dropping out.

Given that Channel 7 had overlooked him in their pre-game publicity, it was difficult to watch as the following day, the Channel tried to retrieve the fact that their know-all commentator, Bruce McAvaney, had missed this guy. Moreover, they had the cheek to try and push McAvaney to front and centre with Hoare rolled out as an appendage to try and retrieve the Omission by the Oracle. But to be fair, most of us did also.

The Salon of 1846


I have just finished picking my way through The Salon of 1846 by Charles Baudelaire, who is remembered as the poet author of Fleurs de Mal. Baudelaire led a dissolute life, but when he wrote his review of the pictures in the exhibition, he was still only 25 years old. As has been written, it was not a particularly good exhibition. There were several major painters of the period who had bypassed the salon.

It was an unstable time in Paris (and France as a whole), as the government of Louis Phillipe was under fire because of the very limited voting franchise – France was shuttling between Empire and Republic, but the great mass of the French people was shut out of government – after all élite is not an English word.

In fact, Baudelaire is writing his review of painting two years before 1848, when Europe was eventually convulsed by revolution provoked initially in France; and against a backdrop of famine across Europe and consequently migration of the oppressed to a “Newer World”, where they might savour freedom.

Michael Fried is the name of a prominent art critic rather than the title of a Salvador Dali picture, and in a foreword to the most recent publication of these Baudelaire’s essays he writes: “Structurally, the Salon of 1846 comprises a dedication (“To the Bourgeois”) followed by eighteen short sections, each bearing a title. Not all the sections are equally crucial to his overall argument, but taken together they are remarkably consistent; the task of someone like myself who seeks to introduce this deceptively simple-seeming text is to do justice to that consistency as well as to the particular vision of painting and criticism it attempts to convey.”

Baudelaire has mastered the skill of every chapter being an island but fitting into a coherent archipelago. Therefore, I find that I can read one chapter, and it makes sense without it being in some continuity. Yet it is not a book of aphorisms – sprinkled with self-conscious wisdom.

It is difficult to excerpt the text itself because much of the criticisms relate to painters who have been long forgotten. Baudelaire admired Delacroix and his interpretation of “la héroïsme de la vie moderne” Baudelaire methodically takes us through not only Delacroix but also another painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, illuminating his belief that “the pursuit of the ideal must be paramount in artistic expression”. With Baudelaire, there is mixture of admiration and disdain, given that the salon audience was predominantly the bourgeoisie, itself in a state of flux as France lurched from monarchy to republic.

I must say that I found the selection of subject matter and paintings hung at that 1846 Salon as all very much painted in shades of umber and russet with splashes of more optimistic colours. They are an incredibly gloomy set that made me feel you are wandering around a poorly lit cathedral. There is a Corot, and I have always liked these almost silhouette countryside paintings. Here exhibited it was Vue prise dans le Forêt de Fontainebleu, which conformed very much to the Corot formula.

But perhaps the pictures of the Red Indians would not be found next to the Biblical Mary or Rebecca. The more you look at the array of neoclassical paintings the more I understood the mood of Baudelaire – the rebel in the style of Stendhal and Balzac; but I am sure Baudelaire had a tricky mind.


Among the satirical questions, one asked, is “Name five famous Belgians?”

Well, Rene Magritte was one.

I had always admired Magritte’s paintings. I had a print of Dominion of Light (L’empire des Lumières) in my Melbourne office in 4 Treasury place, then the Old Customs Office. I do not remember which one it was of the 17 versions that Magritte painted, but I loved the juxtaposition of the darkened buildings against the backdrop of blue sky dotted with white cumulus. Surreal; paradox … to me it represented the confusion of life dependent on senses.

To me, surrealism is irony in painting.

L’empire des lumieres, 1961

I am not on my own in admiration of this work. A 1961 version of Dominion of Light, one of the largest from these paintings of the same name, was offered at Sotheby’s earlier this year. It came from the collection of Anne-Marie Gillion Crowet, the daughter of Magritte’s patron Pierre Crowet. The painting had remained unsold with the Crowet family and was on long-term loan to the Musée Magritte in Brussels from 2009 to 2020.

The price paid was almost £59.4m.

In 1998, a major exhibition to celebrate Magritte’s birth in 1898 was held in Brussels at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. It was scheduled to run between 6 March and 28 June, and we belatedly decided in June to go. The problem was we grossly underestimated the availability of tickets and didn’t book ahead. Thus, this intrepid pair set off to Brussels with the belief that tickets would easier to procure on site; only to be proved wrong, so wrong.

We thought Martin Walker, then the European correspondent of The Guardian, whom I had invited to Australia to give the Cowper Oration might be able to help. Despite the fact that he and his wife, Julia Watson, a noted food writer, over dinner at their home in Brussels agreed to help, they also both drew blanks when they tried to get tickets.

As a last resort we went to the Exhibition, hoping that there may have been tickets returned. Again, shaking of heads. Then the clouds opened. A woman who had been listening to our pleas…. that we had come all the way from Australia… that we so loved Magritte… and so on, motioned to us. She was apparently a supervisor and it turned out she had the discretionary power to admit people, if they fitted within certain categories. Thus, we became representatives of an Australian Art Gallery of our name. She whispered you better agree on the name if you are challenged.

Then the deal was done. Courteously escorted through the barriers without ticket, without payment. We had made it. Magritte in all his magnificence lay before us. The exhibition did not disappoint. We were not challenged.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe!  It certainly was – in fact “deux pipes”.

Archie Roach – The Balladeer

Recognition of Archie in the American media, The Washington Post is reprinted below.

On 31 July, the day after Archie died, another magnificent singer, Judith Durham also died. The Washington Post too has acknowledged her contribution in her obituary.

Whose contribution to Australia culture was the more important.

Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, offered a State Funeral to the Durham family. He obviously thought her contribution should be recognised. Was Archie Roach’s family afforded the same recognition?

This American recognition of the life of Archie was republished in The Boston Globe.

When Archie Roach was 3 or 4, welfare officers came to take him away from his family in southeastern Australia. His aunt tried to scare them off with a gun, and his cousins tried to hide him under a pile of leaves. His mother wept; his father came running in from the fields. His memories of that moment were scattered, he said, but eventually he was carried away on a police officer’s shoulder, told that he was leaving for a picnic.

Mr. Roach was part of the “Stolen Generations,” the tens of thousands of Indigenous Australian children who were forcibly removed from their homes under government assimilation policies that lasted into the 1970s. As an adult, he struggled with alcoholism and homelessness, sleeping on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne while trying to reconnect with members of his family. He spent time in prison and in hospitals, suffering seizures that doctors linked to his alcohol abuse, and he attempted suicide while trying to dry out.

Music helped ease his pain. “It gave me something to fill the gap left by drinking,” he told People magazine. With his husky baritone, gentle guitar playing, and poignant lyrics about family, love and politics, he became one of Australia’s most renowned singer-songwriters, raising awareness of the Stolen Generations through his debut single, the 1990 ballad “Took the Children Away.”

“This story’s right, this story’s true; I would not tell lies to you,” he sang. “Like the promises they did not keep, and how they fenced us in like sheep. They said to us, ‘Come take our hand,’ set us up on mission land. They taught us to read, to write and pray.

“Then they took the children away.”

Mr. Roach was 66 when he died July 30 at a hospital in Warrnambool, Victoria, on Australia’s southeastern coast. His death was announced in a statement by his sons, Amos and Eban, who gave permission to use his name and image. (For cultural reasons, many Australian Indigenous people do not use a person’s name and image after death.) They said Roach had a “long illness” – he acknowledged struggling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – but did not cite a specific cause.

A senior elder of the Gunditjmara and Bundjalung people, Mr. Roach was a leading advocate for Aboriginal communities, working with Indigenous children in juvenile detention centers and developing educational resources to help students learn about the Stolen Generations. The mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was “as much a part of Australia’s history as Captain Cook and Burke and Wills,” he told the Guardian in 2020, referring to British explorers who helped map the continent.

“We still need to own the whole history of this country and be honest and courageous,” he said. “It’s the only way we’re going to move on.”

Mr. Roach drew on American country, soul, and gospel in his music, releasing 10 studio albums and opening for artists including Billy Bragg, Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Paul Simon. But he remained best-known for “Took the Children Away,” which he wrote in the late 1980s, a few years after historian Peter Read started using the term “Stolen Generations” to describe the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes.

“It is a landmark,” the Melbourne Age wrote in 1990, shortly before the release of Mr. Roach’s debut album, “Charcoal Lane.” “Quite apart from its place in Aboriginal history, it is a great Australian folk song, perhaps the greatest since ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.’ “

When Mr. Roach first started playing the song, audiences were dumbfounded. “I had goose bumps and the hairs went up on the back of my neck as he sang it, to dead silence from the audience,” singer-songwriter Paul Kelly told the Guardian, recalling a 1989 performance by Mr. Roach in Melbourne. “He finished the song and there was still dead silence. He just stood there for a minute, and there was still silence.

“Archie thought he’d bombed, that everybody hated it, so he just turned and started to walk offstage. And as he walked off, this applause started to build and build and build. … I’d never seen it before – people were so stunned at the end of the song that it took them a while just to gather themselves to applaud.”

Five years after Mr. Roach recorded the song, the Australian government launched a national inquiry into the Stolen Generations. It found that from 1910 to 1970, as many as one in three Indigenous children – many of mixed white and Aboriginal descent – were removed from their communities and taken to churches and foster homes, under the premise that a Western upbringing was more humane. Many of the children faced physical and sexual abuse, according to the inquiry, which likened the forced-removal policies to genocide.

After more than a decade of campaigning by Mr. Roach and other activists, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an official government apology in 2008, acknowledging what he described as “a great stain on the nation’s soul.” Last year, Australia’s government agreed to pay about $280 million in reparations to survivors taken from their families.

“For years I’d walked around with this burden, not just of being removed, but of who I was removed from: my mother and father,” Mr. Roach told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in 2018. “It was like I was carrying them around with me for years, on my back. When the apology came it was like the weight shifted and I felt light. To me it was like they were set free – Dad to return as a red-bellied black snake, and Mum to fly away as the wedge-tailed eagle,” a central figure in Aboriginal mythology.

Archibald William Roach was born in the rural town of Mooroopna, Victoria, on Jan. 8, 1956. One of seven children, he was living in Framlingham, not far from where he died, when he and some of his siblings were taken to a foster home. Officials tried to westernize him, including by attempting to comb his hair flat, and falsely told him his parents had died in a house fire.

Mr. Roach was adopted by Scottish immigrants in Melbourne, whom he described as kind and loving. But “there was always a restlessness in me, like a fault line waiting to rupture,” he recalled. Around age 14, he got a letter from a little-known sister, Myrtle, telling him their mother had died the previous week. He left home and spent the next 14 years searching for information about his past, eventually reuniting with two sisters and other relatives.

As a homeless teenager in Sydney, he met Ruby Hunter, a fellow Aboriginal musician who had also been taken from her family. They became musical partners, got married and referred to each other as “Dad” and “Mum,” terms of affection that they used in the absence of their birthparents.

By the late 1980s they had formed a band, the Altogethers, and moved to Melbourne, where Mr. Roach’s performance on a local television show attracted the attention of guitarist Steve Connolly, who played with Kelly’s band the Messengers. Together, Kelly and Connolly produced Mr. Roach’s debut album, which won two ARIA Awards, the equivalent of an Australian Grammy.

Mr. Roach said he was initially uncomfortable with the spotlight, and for a time he considered quitting music. He continued after receiving encouragement from Hunter, who told him, “It’s not all about you, Archie Roach. How many Blackfellas you reckon get to record an album?”

His later records included “Jamu Dreaming” (1993), “Looking for Butter Boy” (1997), and “Tell Me Why” (2019), which accompanied his memoir of the same name. When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel what was supposed to be his last concert tour, he sat down at his kitchen table and rerecorded the songs from his first album, releasing the new version as “The Songs of Charcoal Lane” (2020).

Information on survivors was not immediately available. Hunter died of a heart attack in 2010 at age 54, and Mr. Roach was still grieving her loss when he suffered a stroke that left him temporarily paralyzed on his right side. The next year, he was diagnosed with cancer, which caused him to lose half a lung. Still, he continued to perform, aided by supplemental oxygen.

He often said that each time he played “Took the Children Away,” he let go of a little pain. “I still feel the pain, every day,” he told Time magazine. “Sometimes it threatens to engulf me. But I’m not going to let it destroy me.”

Eventually, he said, that pain would be gone for good.

To complete the week of black crepe, now there is also Olivia Newton-John dead on 8 August. All in a week gone! The offer of a State Service was dwarfed by the public grieving in America fuelled by the various media reminiscences and her protean interests beyond the entertainment world. The memories and obituaries for her easily surpassed the other two. Yet each of them represented a facet of a Victorian childhood, albeit briefly, and as such in the death a reminder for me of the ballad rendering of:

When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.”

I know this Twitter did not emanate from Prince Rupert

Republicans now want to abolish the FBI, CIA, IRS, Dept of Ed, impeach the President, VP, DHS Sect and AG, put the NIH Director in prison, and it’s only Tuesday.

Mouse Whisper

Reflecting on The Salon of 1846, I mentioned that I wanted to see France before I die. My friend, Rosemary, looked at me sagely and said I must have thyme on my paws. Next morning, pinned to my mousehole door, was the following:

“Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork.

According to the “Larousse Gastronomique”, rats still are eaten in some parts of France. This recipe appears in that famous tome. “Alcoholic rats inhabiting wine cellars are skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels.”

Fortunately, I am very abstemious when I go to France.

Modest Expectations – SXM

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

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

But first, the scene should be set for both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the road to Balranald

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

Why? Mining means improved access.

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

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

The Prequel

David Lyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Postscript – What’s in a Name!

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

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

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

Lascelles silo art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Jane Halton and her Stomach Knot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excuse me for gagging on “independent”.

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

Climate Change

Ravenserodd – site of sunken Medieval town

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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

Penarie pub


Modest Expectations – Lionel Messi

The recent visit of the Prime Minister to Makassar in the Sulawesi, reminded us of the links of the Makassan traders with the northern Aboriginal people well before European discovery. It is a neglected area in the study of the cultural influence of these people.  Thus, I thought it interesting to reproduce below a bark painting which I bought some years ago on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. You be the judge of the cultural influences at play in this painting. 

In a tortuous vein

I had a pleasant surprise the other day. This is a lesson in clinging onto a view of what you think you know, and what is in fact reality. You may be dying, but you think tomorrow you will be better. I was reminded of the time leading up to the diagnosis of my underlying disease nine years ago. There was a delay in instituting therapy, and I was largely to blame – but not totally.

This time, my legs have been beset by increasing peripheral oedema, two swollen angry red calves and feet, compounded by the sub-fascial swelling on the soles of my feet.

Overnight, the swelling has always decreased, but the level of that reduction in oedema has slowed since the start of the pandemic because of weight increase and closure of hydrotherapy facilities. I dislike exercise especially if it is painful. Hydrotherapy provided a relief from the pain. My legs began to become more and more oedematous. Nobody offered the panacea I was looking for.

Over this period, there had been mention of vascular specialists and compression stockings but, as I now realise, I need for those who advise me to be assertive and not be ambivalent. The latter gives me an excuse for inaction.

I visit a plastic surgeon, who regularly checks me for skin lesions. I mentioned my legs; and once he saw how bad my legs apparently were, he said he had a vascular surgeon colleague whom I should see urgently.

Nearly ten years ago, it was an orthopaedic surgeon who looked at me, ordered tests, and by the next Monday, due to a fortuitous cancellation, I was able to see a consultant rheumatologist, who immediately confirmed the diagnosis the orthopaedic surgeon had considered, but which had been missed by a variety of other doctors. I might add I had seen another orthopaedic surgeon a week or so before and he offered to replace my knee joint almost immediately without any tests. That is the danger of being referred to a specialist, who may be technically brilliant but would have most certainly have ensured a very stormy post-operative passage for myself.

On this second occasion, it was a Thursday afternoon, and by Monday morning first thing, I had an appointment to see the vascular surgeon.

Now this vascular surgeon is young. He shares a clinic with three others. To the best of my knowledge he is not owned by an American hedge fund. He is actually into the business of helping people, not trading a commodity for financial gain.

Vascular ultrasound image

Under one roof, I had an ultrasound of my lower limbs’ vascular system, a consultation where the specialist did not expect to sit across a desk in a consulting room – inspected, interacted with the allied health professionals, recommended compression stockings. These and the applicator were on hand and my wife was taught the optimal way the stockings should be applied. As she said, looking at me meaningfully, she did read the instructions and watched the video in addition to the initial demonstration.

All in less than two hours – a one-stop shop. We had the compression stockings and the applicator.

Here was a local product where any Medicare benefits paid remained onshore, able to be reinvested. How different to those diagnostic imaging and pathology companies allegedly repatriating Medicare payments overseas.

Over 20 years ago, the Australia Institute in a discussion paper analysed the growth of corporate medicine foreshadowing the decline in standards as the profit motive became the prime driver in health care.

As the growth of corporate medicine grew so did Medicare become the ATM, not only for private entrepreneurs but also for the States, which were up to their filing cabinets in cost-shifting. As many of the purchasers were underwritten by overseas investors, the consequence increasingly will be that Medicare funding, which should remain in Australia, ends up in overseas tax havens.

The problem is that the medical profession has ceded control and hence independence to its corporate masters. As somebody who was involved in the various Inquiries in the regulation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, I have always regretted that the AMA gave up this privilege, which meant that there was not any regular mechanism to alter the Medicare benefit, which was constantly misrepresented as a fee rather than a financial patient benefit the government provided for payment to the doctor.

During my time at the AMA, the discrepancy between the Medibank (then Medicare) benefit and the fee charged was symbolised by the AMA annual recommended list of medical fees. This was a guide, not an instruction by the AMA. Nevertheless, it maintained a relevance, which has only persisted after the introduction of gap insurance when the private health funds, initially prohibited, were able to re-enter the medical insurance market.

John Deeble, Medicare pioneer

After 1984, when the AMA abandoned the regular fee for Medicare benefit Inquiries, it became a matter for every medical specialty to negotiate for themselves. The problem for some of the medical specialties was a function of what happened following the Nimmo Inquiry in 1969 into health insurance which was that benefit relativities were based on what were the fees charged by each specialty; and these relativities naturally created distortions in the market as technology made a number of items of service much cheaper to perform. In 1977 it was clear that technology advances with automaton replacing manual testing was enabling pathologists to make a bonanza from Medicare payments. This Inquiry into the Pathology Medibank Benefits was the first instance of government intervention into these relativities.

The AMA, through the Inquiries, had effectively maintained control over relativities. It provided a form of “flawed order” even though some of the Medicare benefits were well in excess of the underlying cost of the service while some other areas of the profession had done badly.

Thus, from an exercise where the AMA and the Government were in an edgy if not directly confrontational relationship, then there was none.

As I found out henceforth from the AMA relinquishing its position, it became a matter of having a good cost accountant to negotiate with government. With the growth of technology, while the value of the professional component of the medical service remained important, in some areas of the service there were both a substantial technical and a capital component. The “technical” component includes the cost of the scientists, the technicians, the allied health professionals including nurses required to provide services which were not medical, and “capital”, such as the cost of linear accelerators, MRI facilities and so forth.

Not all capital costs are covered. For instance, disposables were inherent in the delivery of the professional component, and not differentiated into any of the other Medicare benefit components. In fact, most of the cost of these has been borne by the hospital. Even now re-usable devices and prostheses lie outside the cost of the service.

Enter the world of the entrepreneurs, more interested in cash flows and profit rather than patient care. Some of the first were medical graduates, like the criminal, the late Geoffrey Edelsten, who gave the whole area a bad name; but it is the multinational companies that have moved behind a wall of cost accounting to dissect the Medicare schedule to exact the greatest profits, and in so doing, to enable Medicare funding to be sent to tax havens overseas.

Some may say how outrageous such a comment is; but the easiest way to deal with Medicare funding is to prohibit any profits that those companies who benefit in any way from exporting those profits.

This vascular surgeon, whose expertise spreads far wider that just advising on varicosities, demonstrated the one-stop shop advantages, which I frankly did not expect, and another fact – you don’t need to run late if you are a doctor.  And you do not need to be a multinational corporation; his rooms were modern and located within a religious hospital.  Good God, on second thoughts, located in a multinational corporation!

Such a thought in no way diminished my satisfaction with the service.

I, the Cryptosexton

I read about this complicated thing called Cryptocurrency. After riding the Algorithm Hobbyhorse around in my Virtual Nursery, I realised that cryptocurrency must be like a bit of barter behind the tog room at school. Hidden from the authority, a packet of Senior Service for two packets of brown Capstan; but not requiring the electrical power requirements of a small city to accompany the transaction.

But this cryptocurrency surely must be more complicated than that, and thus have more benefits.

Apart from plugging cryptocurrency into the cyptocharger, I decided to call it Tulipcoin. I was tempted to use “Lillionarcissus-coin”, which was the name for “tulip” before this Turkish corruption of a Persian word for “turban” was adopted. But that name was too long, would use too much power.

I thought by calling my cryptocurrency after such a famous flower, irrespective of the corruption implicit in the name, I would honour a previous occasion which may have arisen in a crypt.

Jan Breughel the Younger’s view of tulipomania

The whole saga of the tulip bubble was well expressed years ago in the 1999 book “Tulipomania”. The basic cause of the exorbitant prices which the tulip bulb reached in sixteenth century Netherlands was somewhat eccentric. A Flemish merchant found tulip bulbs in a cargo of cloth from Istanbul, thought they were onions, ate most of them and planted the rest.

The resultant blooms were overwhelmingly beautiful and attracted the eye of wealthy Dutch burghers.

The tulip is thus the most captivating of flowers, and like so many products of the Levant, this was the favourite flower of Süleyman the Great, who not only cultivated the wild variety but also initiated the science of breeding hybrids.

Thus when the tulips bloomed, the Dutch, who had the time and were a very wealthy nation due to their trade in the East (the Dutch had a monopoly on nutmeg for instance), were intoxicated by the flower; and the tulip became the signature of these prosperous people.

As was written in Tulipomania: “In 1633, the flowers served no economic purpose other than relieve the cold wet spring with petals that promised a change from the grey mist”.

Initially they were not only desirable but scarce. They attracted gardeners and the few connoisseurs, where scarcity was compounded by the search for perfection. At one stage when a skilled worker could expect 250 guilders in a year, a single tulip bulb was traded for over 5,000 guilders. A small basket was worth more than an Amsterdam mansion. It took three years for the bubble to burst, which it did in a spectacular fashion in 1637.

One of the reasons for this was that many of the tulips had been infected with a virus, which did not necessarily diminish the spectacular colours but certainly lessened the life of each infected bulb. What’s more by that time trading in bulbs had spread throughout the community into every tavern across the country. One of the supposed benefits of cryptocurrency is to be able to bypass “stodgy banks”. Just like being able to buy a cheap TV at the local pub.  But here it was the tulip bulb.

The value of the bulb during this hectic three period provided a way to extricate oneself from, if not poverty, at least to being able to afford a decent house -only if you sold early.  However, given where many of the transactions took place as the author of Tulipomania wrote: “The trade was conducted for the most part in a haze of inebriation.

How appropriate! My Tulipcoin placed into such a market – drunk with power but where the mist has yet to lift?


I wrote the following italicised in my blog on 15 January 2021 in a vain attempt to promote Craig Reucassel to stand against Falinski. My sentiments yet have been reflected in the deserved dumping of this Morrison sycophant, despite all the protestations.  Subtly, my choice reveals my deep-seated prejudice, born of over 80 years in a male-dominant world. I suggested that a high-profile male with a formidable record in climate change and waste management should mount the challenge. I discounted the fact that he lived far away in the Sydney inner west.

Dr Sophie Scamps MP

I congratulate Dr Scamps (pronounced Scomps), who has been a high-achieving, very well qualified general practitioner who both lived and practised in the electorate, before successfully challenging Mr Falinski in the recent Federal election. My sense of his vulnerability was correct, but I got the gender of the new Member for MacKellar wrong.

I would suggest one of the New South Wales’ seats held by one of the Trump neophytes would be perfect for him, given that upending Abbott showed the way to do it. Maybe Falinski, whose seat is MacKellar, would be the way to go. Falinski is the typical Liberal Party hack toeing the party line.

As Falinski said in his maiden speech full of the pieties expected:

And so a politician is accountable to their community – I am accountable to you.

Mr Jason Falinski

Wrong, he is beholden to his masters, never voted against any government.  He has a voting record which would please Donald Trump – he should be vulnerable to somebody with the Reucassel values. I would love to see them debate why, for instance, Falinski has inter alia disagreed recently with the proposition:

“The Prime Minister to attend the House by 2 pm Tuesday 8 December to make a statement to advise the House whether Australia is speaking at the Climate Ambition Summit and table any correspondence with the summit organisers relating to whether Australia is speaking at the summit.”

This is but one example, but Falinski’s voting record is reprehensible to any person who is genuinely Liberal.

Reucassel is genuinely concerned with climate change and the world becoming a rubbish dump. He should be elected to Parliament to pursue this goal and hold the government to account.  Falinski seems unwilling to do so. Is it Mitch* Falinski, or is that your second name?

*Mitch stands for that annoying Kentucky Senator, who pleads propriety but unquestionably has supported Trump. Dr Scamps reminded the electorate of the false nature of the so-called moderate Falinski’s voting record.

Janus was an EU Politician with the head of Boris Johnson

As an impotent observer of world affairs, I fret over the ambivalent attitudes of politicians over the fate of Ukraine. Angela Merkel defends her legacy in stalling the entry of Ukraine into NATO by saying that, at the time in 2008, the Ukraine was controlled by a pro-Soviet Government.

The root problem was that most governments wanted Zelensky to disappear into some hedonist exile, and he has proved to be very inconvenient.  He wanted to defend the sovereignty of his nation. Suddenly, the Ukrainians had a leader, an uncompromising charismatic leader who, in a matter of 100 days, has differentiated a country from the neighbouring Russians. The ferocity with which the Ukrainians have responded to the Russian invasion contrasts with the bloodless coup where Russia took Crimea back from the Ukraine eight years ago, and have defined a country, which no matter the outcome will never again be just a “Little Russia”.

Zelensky has thus created that which most Ukrainians have always believed; and that is Ukraine as an independent nation. He has ensured this affirmation occurred in the full glare of the World spotlight.

Putin has been revealed as a primitive hominid intent on destroying the world’s energy and food supply as he dresses up as Peter the Great, an absurd travesty of the human condition.

The New York Review of Books provide a comparison of sorts in critiquing yet another book about Anne Frank. The contention is that if only the same courage epitomised by Zelensky had been on display during the time leading up to Anne Frank’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, she may have survived. As has been pointed out, because of the lack of any ongoing focus on Dutch Jews in particular, she was always in peril.

Anne and her Diary

As part of the analysis, a harsh judgement was made about Queen Wilhelmina in that she failed to stand up to the Nazis and fled to Great Britain. She had maintained Dutch neutrality during WW1; but the only indication of her attitude to the plight of Jews was she insisted a Jewish refugee camp prior to WWII be moved further away from her summer palace than it was originally planned.

The American Government declined to give the Frank family a visa to travel to New York via Cuba in 1941. It provides an unsettling view of a country, with a quick trigger for invading non-European countries, and yet basically ambivalent against European aggressors. President Biden’s halting support of Ukraine could be the USA in early 1941. The Allies did not bomb the railway lines to Auschwitz. A matter of unimportance in the scheme of things!

Russia seemed to have infiltrated the top levels of government, politically, socially, financially, corruptly – a passage facilitated by Trump and scattered within the Conservative Party, those that worship the Infantis Johnson. However, there would not be a country in Europe where the malign Putin influence has not infiltrated.

As a result, maybe NATO could imprint the head of Janus as an emblem in acknowledgement of this influence given the way they have responded to the Russo-Ukrainian War.

Mouse Whisper

I was on a field visit when I heard a regional ABC reporter talking to a local farmer about the cost of a box of cauliflowers. He was selling them for $80 a box.

“What was the usual cost?” she asked.

“About $20 a box.”

“Oh, they’re double the cost then.”

Good to see the ABC is maintaining its standards.

Great value at twice the price, or is that four times?

Modest Expectation – There is Much Binary in the Math But Not With This Base.

There are a select few who try to work out the association of the Modest Expectations number with the accompanying narrative. The title of 158 is a take from an old BBC comedy show. “There is Much Binding in the Marsh”. The association is so old that only those who lived in the early post-wars would remember, but the series was very well-liked in Australia.

The series was originally set on a mythical RAF base modelled on the real-life Moreton-in-the Marsh RAF base. It featured a number of English comedians, such as Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne. Their audience thought them funny as their binding – that is grumbling – was undertaken with a comic air. As was said about Horne, “a master of the scandalous double-meaning delivered with shining innocence” – the basis of much English humour.

However, this is one of three puzzles based successively on the numbers 158 (as in this case), through to 159, to ultimately 160, all produced by guest numbers man, Rick McLean.

One clue: the answer to 158 has nothing to do with the BBC series, just a convenient pun – really a double pun if that exists.

The Political Leak

I have never been a member of Parliament, but as the Principal Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition as I once was, I was one who was privy to confidential information.

It was also 1973, when much was happening in Canberra. Let’s say it was not a boring year in politics. Given that I lived in this different era in Canberra, on several occasions Gough Whitlam’s speech writer, Graham Freudenberg, invited me around for a drink in the Prime Minister’s office after stumps were drawn, and on at least one occasion we were joined by the journalist, Laurie Oakes.

Graham Freudenberg could approximate Gough’s cadences; and I could do an adequate Freudenberg imitation. It was not that we were bosom pals, but in the Parliament House environment, we got on well. Freudenberg enjoyed berating me for my political affiliation in his best Gough voice and I returned serve in my best imitation of him mimicking Gough.

However, among the jollities there were rules; one was to keep the discussions general and I would never go near Gough’s desk. On one of these occasions, Freudenberg left me alone. Nevertheless, the Leader of the Opposition’s Principal Private Secretary apparently alone in Gough’s office late at night was not a good look if Security came by.  In those days, it was more relaxed admittedly. Nevertheless, there were some sensitivities because in the previous year a journalist, Barry Everingham, had been found lurking in Whitlam’s office.

In my situation, Freudenberg was in the toilet; something had disagreed with him and he needed to hurriedly decamp there.

When I reflect on this exchange, I must have engendered enough trust that I could be invited for a drink in foreign territory. Even to this day, I have no idea whether Opposition apparatchiks were regularly invited to have a drink with Freudenberg under such circumstances, and although I did not talk about it with my colleagues, I doubt it was a regular occurrence.

In a Parliamentary system which is constructed as adversarial, there are many friendships which cross political borders. These friendships are ephemeral, but if you want to maintain even such ephemera, you needed to be trusted.  Leaking the other’s confidential material is a sport. There appear to be two major ways to leak – one is to leak to inherently lazy journalists, a process which Bjelke Petersen called “feeding the chooks”; the other is to leak against members of your own side, mostly to try and destroy them.

I had one experience of being accused of leaking to Laurie Oakes the contents of a sensitive meeting between Bill Snedden, Jim Carlton, then the general secretary of the NSW branch of the Liberal Party, and then Premier of the NSW, Bob Askin. I was taken to lunch – I remember by Tim Pascoe, then a Liberal Party operative – and he passed on Jim Carlton’s concern that I had leaked the details to Laurie Oakes. Why? Because I was seen as close to Oakes at that time. I did not know what he was talking about, as Snedden had not mentioned the matter to me. When I confronted Oakes, he admitted it was Askin. Carlton would not have believed that such a luminary as Askin would leak – after all, he was the Premier. It was just one accusation used in undermining my position. I informed Snedden of my conversation but otherwise kept quiet. Now, so many years on, who cares about revealing the leaker – but remember the lesson, never pick the obvious.

Many of those who leak are very skilled, but not all! Morrison has more than a touch of McMahon, but more a watering can than a simple leaker.

Remembering Albright

Madeleine Albright died last week. She was the first woman US Secretary of State. I reckon she was worthy of noting. I don’t know whether her contribution to diplomacy will necessarily be more than a historical footnote, but she epitomised one thing to me – when you viewed her performance, you never thought about gender. She was a top diplomat, full stop.

She was born a Czech and as a Slav was looked down on as an inferior race by the Germans, who partitioned her country in 1938. Her early years were thus against the background of a War not far away. Her family escaped from Czechoslovakia after the War. I was once married to someone, younger than Albright but who endured similar traumatic childhood years in Europe. She grew up with a strong sense of morality – what was right or wrong, rather than just whether something was acceptable and something not.  I suspect that Madeleine Albright was not that much different.

Below are random quotes mostly garnered from the Boston Globe.

When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked her in January 2007 whether she approved of Bush’s proposed “surge” in U.S. troops in bloodied Iraq, she responded: “I think we need a surge in diplomacy. We are viewed in the Middle East as a colonial power and our motives are suspect.”

Albright was an internationalist whose point of view was shaped in part by her background. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 as the Nazis took over their country, and she spent the war years in London.

As Secretary of State, she played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovar Albanians in 1999. “My mindset is Munich,” she said frequently, referring to the German city where the Western allies abandoned her homeland to the Nazis.

She helped win Senate ratification of NATO’s expansion and a treaty imposing international restrictions on chemical weapons. She led a successful fight to keep Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term as secretary-general of the United Nations. He accused her of deception and posing as a friend.

In her U.N. post, she advocated a tough U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the case of Milosevic’s treatment of Bosnia. And she once exclaimed to Colin Powell, then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Powell, who died last year, recalled in a memoir that Albright’s comments almost made him have an “aneurysm”.

An aneurysm? Really, I have never thought of somebody inducing an aneurysm. An aneurysm of Generals? I would have thought more appropriate “an aneurysm of politicians”, you know, prone to leaking.

The Floods – The Clarence River

I am fascinated by the lack of national funding for flood mitigation works, but then the levers of power are firmly in the hands of the climate change deniers. Whether that changes if the current Government is defeated is not known, because of the intrinsic influence of the fossil fuel industry and the nostalgic attachment to coal that the Labor Party has, is strong. The Russo-Ukrainian War has provided the climate change deniers, albeit sceptics, with a reason to stick to the old fossil formulae.

Just for the record, there are three major river catchments broadly labelled the Northern Rivers, which lie between the Great Dividing Range and the Coral Sea. The Tweed near the Queensland border, the Richmond River tributary where Lismore is situated and the Clarence River Catchment, south of the Queensland border, the biggest catchment area apart from the Murray River. Apart from the Clarence River itself, it has 24 tributaries and creeks – including the substantial Nymboida and Mann Rivers.

Lismore floods

The ongoing Northern Rivers flooding has left us with images of devastation with particularly Lismore almost completely submerged by the Wilson River, a tributary of the Richmond River.

Yet Grafton on the Clarence River was barely affected. It was not that there was not the same huge volume of water, but Grafton has a 17 km long levee running through the city; the levee is 8.13 metres in height. The flood reached 7.66 metres, and therefore if there were any breaches, they could have been sandbagged relatively easily. Where there was flooding in Grafton it was just the direct amount of rainwater falling within the levee, and the pumps unable to remove it quickly enough. It was suggested to me that those living here are acutely aware of the town being prone to flooding, and the cost of pumps to prevent such limited flooding are prohibitively expensive. That is the key word to describe the level of risks that a community should bear for a particularly flood prone area.  In blunt terms, with the climate in flux should we encourage re-construction on water?

I was informed by a hydrologist that there is a finite capacity of clouds to hold rain, and if this was calculated out in terms of how high the levee level in Grafton should be, it would be 9.17 metres. Thus, Grafton is still not completely flood proof. Therefore, the question arises as to whether raising the height of the levee another metre is worth the expense.

By contrast, South Grafton mostly escaped flooding because it was built on a hill.

Lismore, Grafton and Maclean were originally built as ports when there was no other feasible way of getting produce in and out of the region. Ships could be loaded and unloaded and it was in the interest of the populace to keep the rivers dredged – but that did not stop floods occurring. The population was smaller and the memories of past floods were sufficiently fresh for the building floors to be kept as clear as possible.

In a previous blog I talked about the expertise the Dutch have developed in dealing with floods since the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953. I wondered whether we had ever tapped into such expertise. In response to this question, I was directed to the 2017 Report entitled: Flood Safety in the Clarence Valley Feasibility study into flood mitigation measures to make ‘Room for the River’”, prepared for the Clarence Valley Council.

In this study, six post-graduate students from Delft University of Technology (Delft TU), one of the top universities in the world across a wide range of technologies, were part of the collaboration. Part of the Dutch solution is to maximise the ability of the floodplain to absorb the excess water – hence the name “Room for the River”. It is not a universal panacea but minimising the number of trees, not to mention housing, on the flood plain does help in a flood where the detritus such as tree logs can cause immense destruction, especially if there are barrages across the river that may be vulnerable to fast flowing detritus ramming into them. Also, if there is a lot of such detritus, houses on stilts – the typical Queenslander – are not immune but also may be knocked over by the combined force of the water and uprooted vegetation.

The Report concluded by saying that the impact of flooding in urban areas of the Clarence Valley can be reduced by making use of the storage capacity of floodplains. Currently, no urban flooding occurs for the 5 year average recurrence interval (ARI) flood events. The urban flooding during a 20 year ARI flood event, can be mitigated by using only the storage capacity of the Southampton Floodplain.

To prevent urban areas from flooding during the 50 year ARI flood event (and higher order flood events), more extensive measures need to be taken. The combination of heightening the levees around Grafton and making use of the Southampton Floodplain, Baker’s Swamp and the Clarenza Floodplain should be investigated. Around Maclean, no scenarios were modelled but some upstream measures showed a reduction in the impact of flooding of Maclean as well.  

For the Swan Creek Floodgate, more research into the cause for the occurring stability problems is required. In order to maintain the floodgate’s function in the future, one could apply one of the proposed solutions. For the Maclean Levee Walls, piping problems are identified, which could lead to stability problems. This report shows the possibility of using floodplains as flood mitigation strategy in the Clarence Valley. Agricultural areas can be inundated in case of high discharges.

The most common strategy nowadays is increasing levee heights, which only solves the problem locally. By using the storage capacity of floodplains, one could solve flooding regionally as the storage of water influences downstream areas too. An example is the upstream measures taken near Grafton, which also reduce flooding in Maclean. However, to implement the strategy of creating more ‘Room for the River’, a shift in mitigation strategies is needed. This shift in mitigation strategy could be a long-term solution to reduce flood impact in urban areas in the Clarence Valley, and possibly other flooding-vulnerable areas in Australia.

Having said that the Report was open about its limitations in saying “The financial aspects have not been taken into account for any proposed simulation or solution in this chapter. For example, information on execution costs, material costs and project costs is unknown. If a budget-objective would have been taken into account for the multi-criteria analysis, possibly other scenarios would have been assessed in more detail. Due to the limit time of this study and lack of knowledge no financial assessment has been made.

The reason I concentrated on this Report was because of the Dutch contribution and how Grafton has been relatively unscathed, unlike Lismore. On reading another 2017 report on Lismore about the prospect of flooding, there seemed to be an attitude more of defiance rather than admitting a need to do anything radical, apart from saying that the town centre was historically placed right on the river, no longer important. There were many photographs of houses on stilts in this Report, which said that 13 metres was the height limit, as if to say, such housing provided immunity. Lismore, with its topography of hills and valleys, presents its own problems, but perhaps the solution is to move the whole city centre, especially as it becomes uninsurable.

For Governments with grand designs and recognising the Northern area catchments are combined into a crucially productive areas of the State, perhaps it is worthy of expenditure rather than the umpteenth sporting stadium or having an inland railway stretching from Boondoggle 1 to Boondoggle 2.

There have been many Reports. Given that climate change is altering the narrative to a need for urgent action, why is the whole area of flood mitigation not a prime expenditure item foreshadowed in the Federal Budget just handed down?

The Island Part II

The view of the Gut from Five Rivers Lookout

This follows on the first part of Bill’s Kimberley adventure from Kununurra and Wyndham to pick up a hire care including his introduction to the Wandjina and describes waiting for the car to be fixed; fittingly the intermission in the most northernmost town in Western Australia, the prime port for the export of livestock.

It was near dusk. They had reached the town. They had found the car and Bill confirmed quickly that it had two flat tyres.

At last, Bill had reached the opening paragraph of his travelogue. There was the vehicle…

They dropped him off at the garage. They’d said: “Why not wait until morning?” But Bill wanted the car fixed.  The guys in the workshops were still working on other vehicles but the boss looked Bill up and down and said “OK, we’ll fix the car. “

They’d seen the car — it had been there for days. And they had the requisite tyres in stock. Bill was somewhat surprised — they had the tyres, and they were prepared and come and change them. Bill was only to learn later that the Avis people had telephoned, and the garage was expecting him. They were only slightly grumpy with him turning up as late as he did, but they were not prepared to do anything until he arrived.

The other doctors had hovered and continued to press him to stay in the Port. Bill again refused. He wanted to get back — no reason except he had no gear with him; and he was a creature of habit. He wanted to wake up in in his motel bed with his own familiar comforts, including his particular non-allergic shaving cream.

The senior specialist’s manner had a slight edge as if he wanted to get to his motel. He had done enough for Bill.

A minor concession: “We’ll drop you off up at the hospital where you can get something to eat, someone will surely be able to drop you off back at the car.” — The garage owner said he would bring the car up to the hospital, because they’d also need to do a quick wheel alignment — and that would give him time to eat.

The hospital was on the edge of town. Once they had dropped him off, he went up the steps and found what passed for a doctor’s lounge.

He sat down and it was not long before a guy whom he recognised from his student days walked in. This doctor had been a few years behind him at medical school. Bill remembered this guy’s name was Graham. It’s funny that people who have a regard for one another, but haven’t seen one another for years can quickly pick up the threads of their intervening careers. Graham had come to the Port soon after his first year residency and liked the area. He offered a Bill a drink. Dinner had been early. There were biscuits and some cheese in the fridge — perhaps a very few pieces of fruit. Bill said no worries — he would eat when he got back to Town.

Graham himself opened a can of beer and sat at the edge of the lounge. He lived at the hospital. A few others moved into the room and went for the fridge. It was very low-key. They talked briefly to Graham about a patient; Graham said he would go and see him later.

Graham was a contemplative man. He seemed relaxed in his body, yet his face bore a serious gaze.

Graham sat quietly looking at Bill in the deepening shadows of the room, still sipping his beer. He worried that Bill would not eat, but Bill said he was more alert on an empty stomach — and he had only a little of his beer.

Graham said, “Watch the night. The cattle come out on the road when you least expect it.” Bill asked about kangaroos. Graham responded by saying, “Watch the cattle; they are complete bastards. Anyway, there are few kangaroos in this area. But the cattle just come out of nowhere. The first couple of kilometres are not too bad. But after the Intersection, the country is alive with the stupid bastards.”

At that point, the garage owner appeared. Everything was ok. As for the tyres that he’d replaced, he said: “Bald as buggery. Rat shit, both of them, but I put them in the boot for you.” Bill said thanks, and took the keys. He thanked Graham for the warning, put down his half empty can, said goodbye and walked down the steps to the car.

The hill behind the hospital had almost disappeared into the night. The town itself was now consumed in its shadows. The garage owner had left with the parting shot: “Hire cars dragged up from the Big Smoke — good for city driving, but shit here! Anyway, if you drive carefully, you should miss everything, as long as it doesn’t move. Thank God, there are no emus in this part of the world.” He departed with a faint laugh.

Bill on the move now. The moon cast a faint light — headlights full on, passing the derestriction sign, he was headed back to base. Still, he felt uncomfortable against the hard vinyl seat back. The white lines of the road streamed under the yellow stare of the car lights. No other light anywhere. The scenery had become amorphous; no longer the sweeping watercolour vistas which had absorbed him during the afternoon. Now he was concentrated on the road and the accompanying distance signs. (To be completed)

Rupert could not have said it better

Ketanji Brown Jackson

One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principled as Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someone as unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.

Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish is proved a marathon of high drama and low farce.

Just a comment in the Washington Post, saying it all about the puerile performances led by the Number One Disliked Senator, “the Saurian Cruz Slip”, at the confirmation of Justice Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Mouse Whisper

Invasion of Poland (1939)
Casualties and losses
Germany: 16,343 killed, 3,500 missing, 30,300 wounded Slovakia: 37 killed, 11 missing, 114 wounded USSR: 1,475 killed or missing, 2,383 wounded Poland: 66,000 dead, 133,700 wounded, 694,000 captured

As this blog mentioned some time ago, this campaign lasted 38 days. The Russo-Ukranian War reaches this day on April 3. A month has passed, as the media has noted, but a month is a short time when February is factored into any comparison. Above are figures from Google but even if there may be certain caveats, it is a not bad estimate. At that time, Poland had a population of 35 million; then over 5 million were killed in World War II, including 90 per cent of the Jewish population.

Looking at the above figures, with it coming in late to share the spoils, Russia should not have the emblem of Bear, but more Hyaena.

Final Question

Is Mariupol the Russian’s equivalent of the German’s Stalingrad?

Before the Russo-Ukrainian war, Mariupol’s population was 446,103

Before World War II, Stalingrad’s population was 445,476.

Modest Expectations – Leyland Sprinter

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Putina’s little boy

The Winter War – Finland v Russia

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

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

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

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

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

Destruction caused by Putin’s war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgotten Ohio Ukrainians rallying against Putin’s war

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

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

Albored Part IV – No Longer Unready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maeslant storm surge barrier near Rotterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert’s Quote of the Geek

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

Try Ukraine, Buster!

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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