Modest Expectation – Djúpihellir Cave

This is my 260th Blog, and even though Rick McLean rightly accuses me of being a mathematical dunce, my blog does represent the culmination of five years of continuous bloggery. The blog has appeared without fail every Friday morning; it’s generally about 3000 words, but hopefully not prolix.

I thought I would take the opportunity to make a comment on influencers as distinct from commentators – one manifestation of which is the pure blogger as myself. I use the blog as a memoir both of my life, the lessons learnt and my autumn views as a drift towards my inevitable meeting with the Fell Sergeant.

The influencers used to be called con artists, grifters, snake oil salesmen, charlatans, flimflam men, mountebanks. The modern so-called influencer is more often a young woman – hence just to call out influencers as men is a bit of a misnomer.

Social media has abetted this phenomenon. The remedies spruiked by these so-called influencers are at best placebo, at worst toxic. There is generally no tested scientific evidence produced to back up the claims. That doesn’t then change by wheeling out a pliant health professional to further spruik the claim, given that these professionals may themselves have fake degrees, because who is going to check whether the spruiker is in fact a legitimate doctor, for instance?

This behaviour is abetted by commercial television running some of this material as news whereas it is an advertorial at best, or some of the advertisements being run, particularly by those warehouse dispensers of cosmetics, soft toys and rubbish remedies. These straight-faced owners refer to themselves as pharmacies, because in amongst the rivers of snake oil, they are also licensed to dispense medicines that are clearly therapeutic. This licence should be reviewed, as it is not because Australia has a dearth of pharmacies who deliver their major ostensible function – that of dispensing medicines not quackery.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration looks on, metaphorically chewing a blade of grass, and does nothing. What I find particularly objectionable is the image of a seemingly healthy person coming to the checkout with a basket of whatever, promoting the image of the pharmacy as being akin to a supermarket. Perhaps one can ask the question of whether this represents the payoff to the Pharmacy Guild as being one of the biggest donors to the political parties.

What I find in need of very positive action, and I blame my own body of public health physicians for not being warriors against the anti-fluoride mob but also against the more destructive anti-vaxxers.

The brouhaha over the COVID anti-vaxxers is perhaps understandable, but those who advocate against the measles vaccine are criminal and should be treated as such, if it were not for the timid approach by government. They should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, locked up for a long time so they can’t spread their vile message. The problem is some of those deserving of being locked up are probably parliamentarians.

Let me act as somebody who deals in personal observation and experience. When I was about seven, I contracted measles, as everybody else in the class and the junior school did and was very sick. Likewise, my sons. This was before the measles vaccine was available. Measles is very contagious, so measles epidemics sweep quickly through child populations.

Most of us recover, but I was witness to the daughter of the late Gay Davidson who contracted subacute sclerosing panencephalitis following measles. From a bright intelligent child, over a few months, she declined into a persistent vegetative state in terms of her cerebral function. Tragic hardly described her decline from this rare but devastating complication of measles until death mercifully intervened.

Gay contributed her wholehearted support to Michael Wooldridge, then the newly-appointed Minister of Health, who embarked on a wide-ranging successful vaccination campaign, his major achievement. This is in danger of unravelling in the face of these anti-vaxxers and Australia, through the agitation by these malignant influencers, will be plunged back to those days when there were no vaccines but plenty of useless herbal remedies. You anti-vaxxers should go and visit colonial graveyards and see the consequences to which you want Australia to revert.

By the way, you anti-vaxxers, do you also want to see children paralysed by poliomyelitis? I have lived through an epidemic. Boys died at my school in the last epidemic when I was about ten, when there was no vaccine. Most of you would not remember that probably you as a child were given Sabin vaccine, before you could make your malignant judgement to clamour for all vaccines to be banned. But what of your children, you influencers?

You collectively disgust me.

Calculus – a necessity for being employed by Chemist Warehouse?

Almost as a footnote to the above is the announcement that the University of Sydney is abandoning mathematics as a prerequisite for a number of courses at the University. The change will mean degrees including commerce, science, medicine, psychology, veterinary science and economics will no longer require students to have undertaken advanced maths in year 12.

Degrees in engineering, advanced computing and pharmacy will retain the mathematics prerequisite. Pharmacy? Why?  For a legion of predominantly glorified shopkeepers. Maybe someone can explain the logic of this to me.

The Boyo from Fermanagh

I was surprised that Barrie Cassidy posted the following fact. The Liberal Party has held Dunkley for 23 years between 1996 to 2019. Full stop. Yes, the statement is true. Not worth the tweet, underlying the comment was an underlying innuendo that Albanese has achieved some magnificent victory.

If that is so, then I’m very surprised as I believed Cassidy, despite his Labor bias, would not indulge in this form of shorthand bias, without supplying appropriate background information to justify his innuendo.

Easy to find another source to amplify the Cassidy statement. The following was written before the 2019 Federal election. Note there is no mention made of the late Peta Murphy’s electability, although in her eulogies she was a very good local member worth at least a few percentage points.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) 2018 redistribution shifted Dunkley’s boundaries, making the seat – Liberal since 1996 – a notional Labor one.

Centred on the city of Frankston, an outer-metropolitan hub for services, the electorate extends into the expanding suburban swath of the south-eastern sand belt.

The Redistribution Committee removed Liberal-leaning Mornington from the south of the electorate and added Labor-leaning Carrum Downs, Sandhurst and Skye in the north.

Liberal MP for Dunkley Chris Crewther has some advantage as an incumbent, but may struggle to keep the seat, Monash University political researcher Dr Nick Economou has told The Junction.

“People who are defending marginal seats whose boundaries have been altered so that’s now notionally a seat for the other side, they’ve got very little chance of defending that seat,” Economou said citing the 1994 redistribution that added Mornington, Langwarrin and Mount Eliza to Dunkley. Two years later, the Liberals won Dunkley from Labor and have held it ever since.

Yes, Barrie, respectfully given you are a child of ABC gravitas, it does seem to be a case of redistributing the sea urchins with more flounder.

Opinion of BARRETT, J.



Associate Justice Barrett

JUSTICE BARRETT, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. I join Parts I and II–B of the Court’s opinion. I agree that States lack the power to enforce Section 3 against Presidential candidates. That principle is sufficient to resolve this case, and I would decide no more than that. This suit was brought by Colorado voters under state law in state court. It does not require us to address the complicated question whether federal legislation is the exclusive vehicle through which Section 3 can be enforced.

The majority’s choice of a different path leaves the remaining Justices with a choice of how to respond. In my judgment, this is not the time to amplify disagreement with stridency. The Court has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a Presidential election. Particularly in this circumstance, writings on the Court should turn the national temperature down, not up. For present purposes, our differences are far less important than our unanimity: All nine Justices agree on the outcome of this case. That is the message Americans should take home.

This judgement is very brief and, while agreeing with her liberal-minded justices, she has a very measured approach in her views on the direction of the USA, quite the opposite to those of Trump. She may not be the lackey of Trump, given the manner of her appointment, after all.

It was galling for this obscure jurist, being catapulted first onto the Federal Court of Appeals and then onto the Supreme Court by a man known for his misogyny and belief that women are dirt. In fact, this New Orleans born graduate from Notre Dame summa cum laude came from a devout Roman Catholic family. She is married to another lawyer and has seven children, two of which are adopted Haitian orphans; the youngest biological child was born with Down’s Syndrome. Busy woman, she was first promoted to the Federal appeals court by Trump in 2017. (These appointments, like the Supreme Court, are lifetime).

She is a constitutional originalist, but a believer that she has a destiny to change the social fabric of the USA. Her views can be contrasted with some of the other conservative judges as described in The New Yorker (sic): A decade ago, Chief Justice John Roberts committed the unpardonable sin of providing a critical vote to keep the Affordable Care Act in place. In 2020, the seemingly stalwart Gorsuch delivered a blow, writing the majority opinion in a case which held that civil-rights legislation protected gay and transgender workers from discrimination.

Gorsuch is also a strong defendant of native American rights, shown in his judgements.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after a messy nomination process, has allegedly been a disappointment to Trump because he seems to hew to the more orthodox conservative line of the Chief Justice. In 2023, he and the Chief Justice joined the three liberal justices in striking down the Alabama racist gerrymander aimed to limit the number of black districts in Alabama.

Commentators have waxed lyrical about Barrett’s two paragraph judgement, as though its laconicity resembles that of the Gettysburg Address. Far from my optimistic first paragraph, it may be alternatively interpreted as just a shorthand for her avowed world domination belief, but in a more acceptable form than that of her sponsor, the orange buffoon. We await her next move.

Another model?

I have reprinted this Washington Post article about how the retail firm, Costco is run in USA.

There are 15 Costco outlets in Australia, and on the positive side, they are said to have inter alia a wide selection of quality meat and seafood at competitive prices, and an exceptional hassle-free returns policy for non-perishables. On the negative side there is very little in the way of in-store customer service, minimal brand selection, inconsistent product availability and bulk options only, as one source opines.

The warehouse stores need a lot of space, therefore there may not be one close to where you live. This may even mean paying tolls to get there, some Costco stores charge for parking and then there are the crowds – fighting them for parking, for getting a trolley, for space along unmarked aisles, getting onto the lift with your trolley, and the queueing! Overall, it is a lack of access and convenience.

If Coles and Woolworths were forced to release the land they are hoarding so there was a level ground for access, would Costco expand? Or what if access remains distorted? Will Costco leave Australia?

If measured against a competitor for fresh produce in the USA, Costco fared worse in five out of eight fruits and vegetable, but it was just a one-off limited sample. Unfortunately this type of sampling has a tendency to spread like wildfire.

However, back to “the Costco American Shangri-la”, which should give the industry food for thought (pardon the pun); but how applicable is it to Australia?

In the nearly 40 years that The Economist has served up its Big Mac Index, the price of the McDonald’s burger in America has more than tripled. In that same period the cost of another meaty treat—a hot-dog-and-drink combo at Costco—has remained steady at $1.50. Last year customers of the American big-box retailer devoured 200m of them. Richard Galanti, Costco’s longtime finance boss, once promised to keep the price frozen “for ever”.

Customers are not the only fans of Costco, as the outpouring of affection from Wall Street analysts made clear. In nearly 40 years, the firm’s share price is 430 times compared with 25 times for the S&P 500 index of large companies. It has continued to outperform the market in recent years.

What lies behind its enduring success?

Costco is the world’s third-biggest retailer, behind Walmart and Amazon. Though its sales are less than half of Walmart’s, its return on capital, at nearly 20%, is more than twice as high. Costco’s business model is guided by a simple idea—offer high-quality products at the lowest prices. It does this by keeping markups low while charging a fixed membership fee and stocking fewer distinct products, all while treating its employees generously.

Start with margins. Most retailers boost profits by marking up prices. Not Costco. Its gross margins hover around 12%, compared with Walmart’s 24%. The company makes up the shortfall through its membership fees: customers pay $60 or more a year to shop at its stores. In 2023 fees from its 129m members netted $4.6bn, more than half of Costco’s operating profits. The membership model creates a virtuous circle. The more members the company has, the greater its buying power, leading to better deals with suppliers, most of which are then passed on to its members. The fee also encourages customers to focus their spending at Costco, rather than shopping around. That seems to work; membership-renewal rates are upwards of 90%.

Next, consider the way the company manages its product line up. Costco stores stock a limited selection of about 3,800 distinct items. Sam’s Club, Walmart’s Costco-like competitor, carries about 7,000. A Walmart superstore has around 120,000. Buying more from fewer suppliers gives the company even greater bargaining power, lowering prices further, and better in maintaining quality. Less variety in stores helps it use space more efficiently: its sales per square foot are three times that of Walmart. And with fewer products, Costco turns over its wares almost twice as fast as usual for retailers, meaning less capital gets tied up in inventory. It has also expanded its own brand, Kirkland Signature, which now accounts for over a quarter of its sales,

Finally, Costco stands out among retailers for how it treats its employees. Some 60% of retail employees leave their jobs each year. Staff turnover at Costco is just 8%; over a third of workers have been there for more than ten years. One reason for low attrition is pay. Its wages are higher than the industry average and it offers generous medical and retirement benefits. Another is career prospects preferring to promote leaders from within.

A Brief Moment of Culinary Joy

There is no better breakfast delight than to have lamb’s fry with bacon and onions or grilled kidneys on toast. It used to be a regular on the menu of country pubs, and even down at my favourite watering hole in Balmain.

They, particularly liver, have now become almost impossible to obtain. The reason is that that these products are being exported, unless one buys in bulk. The local butchers shy away. It has become unfashionable because as it is unavailable then the younger audience miss the ecstasy of liver and kidneys properly cooked. Tomato and smashed avocado on toast have intervened.

But heaven came unexpectedly, when we picked up lamb’s liver – the “fry” from the local Strahan supermarket.  Monday night’s dinner was a return to gastronomic bliss.

But remember, add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce to enter a state of hyper-bliss.

Moladh le Clann MhicIlleathain

(Jack Best is) not only an occasional belletrist and litterateur, but also poet, policy expert and polemicist, and a curious researcher.

I have read many of his blogs although I must admit not all of them. They have all been wonderfully entertaining and I relish opening up a new one each Friday morning.

And with his blog, he has taken to linking words, in the form of titles, to numbers in the most challenging way.

Sometimes I can provide some feedback, primarily just to show that I have read it, rather than provide anything useful or insightful.

But then it takes much longer than the time required to read the blog to try to work out the link between the blog number and the blog title.

In the beginning, or for at least the first 10, it was mostly simple but it has now become increasingly difficult because he does not reuse the same link each time.

If the title is “T” and the number is “N” the link “L” could be, for example, that the city T is N kilometres from a particular place L on one occasion. But on another occasion, it could be that flying in the air of a particular island T there are N species of birds – L. Or that if a particular US football player T has his playing number L linked to the name of his team, you end up with N.

So, the victor in the Battle of Association is the person who can come up with the link L between title T and number N, which I suggest be known as the Tit-Li-Num to explain it a bit better. Probably sounds a bit better than the Num-Li-Tit which sounds like an endangered bird species.

I used to get a few right but most recently, it has been next to impossible. I must admit that if I do get one out, I feel quite pleased with myself and when I don’t, despite learning lots on the Internet about esoteric places or strange people, I need to ask for the link just to see what I missed. Very occasionally I have detected an error in the number, which is probably because he isn’t good at maths, but it could also be just to see who does their research properly!

I think he would say, to paraphrase Hilaire Belloc, ‘When I am dead, I hope it may be said: “His sins were scarlet, but his blogs were read.”

Bring on the next one!

Rick McLean’s alter ego

The author of the above, Cardinal Rick McLean is a friend, who has been consistent in attempting to solve the number of the blog and attempting to make the link with the title. For instance, the 260th blog is the name of a cave in Iceland which is 260 metres long. It enables those intrigued to indulge in a hunt for the association; and from my point of view it has been increasingly difficult in associating the name with the number without repeating myself. Some have become close, but I have not taken the easy course, by labelling each blog with, for instance, the first 260 ranked tennis players in the World. That would have been tedious, predictable and the curse for all bloggers – that of being boring.

By the way, 261 is A Failed Jackscrew, for those wishing to join in.

Mouse Whisper

Ms Dichlicka, the CEO of Doolittle Airlines has announced that small pets may be carried on board provided they can be crammed under the passenger seat in front. To enquiries as to whether Irish wolfhounds would qualify, she said yes provided that they fit under the seat in front of the owner. There would be no measurement, this being left to the owner’s discretion in order to speed up the boarding so that the Doolittle Express planes can take off on time. She added that the airlines’ guests, as she categorised the paying passengers, would be asked to tolerate the barking, mewing and other animal speech, as a concession to the airline’s fauna friendly policy.

If the trial was successful, expect perches to be discreetly arranged in the aircraft, in order that birds of appropriate lineage can be accommodated. First class would be fitted out with mews to house one’s hunting falcon.

Pardon, a shivering mouse used to the aircraft pantry when he flies. I now may be therefore construed as a small pet and as such I may travel at my boss’s feet. I hope that if consigned to the middle undercroft, I am not placed between two voracious felines.

Finally, there is hope.  Ms Dichlicka said that the changes would be instituted later in the century, long enough away for everybody to forget that this brilliantly ludicrous policy has well and truly been consigned to the public relations office wastepaper basket, especially if you look at the various policies the nine American airlines have confusingly introduced – namely United Coyote, Alaskan Mush and Delta Caiman.

Large enough for your cat to stand up and turn. Small enough to fit under the seat in front? Well … not so much.

Modest Expectations – Padraig Harrington

Memo to President Biden: One way to facilitate the end of the current Gaza Massacre is to sanction Netanyahu and his cronies while disrupting his Shekels to Switzerland mule train. In the same way the USA has sanctioned the Russian Oligarchs. Get him to prove you wrong, Mr President; meanwhile just pick his cronies off one by one – and see who screams. Then sanction them.

One of the many direct daily flights between the Channel Islands and Switzerland

The European Union is obviously getting sick and tired of Netanyahu’s posturing. The European Union has indicated it will release 50 million euros (USD54 million) to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees next week, after the United States and other countries paused their funding due to Israel’s allegations that a number of its staff were involved in the October 7 attacks. Yes, Senator Wong you can stop shielding your eyes from the Gaza famine, come out of your pose of timid pomposity and follow the humane lead of these other countries.

The long drawn out trial of Netanyahu has revealed a man who has walked for many years on the dark side of humanity – a man accused of secret accounts, accepting bribes, a propensity for pink champagne and cigars as he plans the importance of this trade in Palestinian lives for his freedom from conviction and custodial sentence.

Ask Arnan Michan, the Hollywood film producer, for starters without forgetting James Packer’s loveable contributions. Once reported in the AFR “… as a recent Israeli citizen (who) happens to live next door to Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. James, you are now the first non-Jewish Zionist in history.” This media statement was subsequently denied, but what does it matter in this world of misinformation of which this cute Bibi is a past master.

I was also drawn to this report from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation a decade ago, during a time when the world was not completely aflame with misinformation and the cynical destruction of human life to preserve the Bibi skin. In part, the Report read:

About one-fifth of the Israeli economy, or 200 billion shekels ($53 billion), is estimated to go unreported, more than twice the U.S. rate, according to a World Bank study. Israeli tax authorities say some of the unreported income is in accounts Israelis maintain abroad.

“There are media reports about ongoing tax investigations of Israeli citizens by the Israeli Tax Authorities,” UBS said in an e-mailed statement. “UBS is not subject to these investigations. We have no further comment on this.”

The UBS adviser was responsible for managing Israeli accounts. He was arrested in Tel Aviv in June and is suspected of intentionally helping clients evade taxes, the Tax Authority said.

According to investigators, the adviser would come to Israel to meet clients because they didn’t use telephones, e- mail, or faxes to communicate with the bank to avoid detection. He was arrested with a client after they met at a Tel Aviv hotel. His hotel room and UBS offices in Israel were searched, and a list of hundreds of Israelis with unreported accounts in Switzerland was found in his possession, according to the Tax Authority.

I doubt if anything has changed.

Further, there is a large cohort of rabbinical thought from the ultra-orthodox about the justification for not undertaking national service – another initiative by Netanyahu for humanity – his own. And I forgot. Arab Israelis are exempt from service as well. You see, well balanced, although there is some suggestion that the Netanyahu support from this ultra-orthodox exemption depends on him getting the requisite support in the Knesset to stay in power. Hey, Bibi, I’ve got an idea – exempt everybody from National Service – and then you should get everybody voting for you, using your impeccable logic. As someone opined recently, war has never solved anything in the Middle East.

In the meantime, now that the Israelis are gunning down the famished Palestinians by the lorry load, and Hamas has revealed that Israeli “friendly fire” has allegedly killed eight more hostages, the Israeli apologists too are being wedged into a space say, the size of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians have been herded. Well, metaphorically, at least. All in the end for the defence of Netanyahu.  Feeling comfortable, are we?

Hans Christian Burgess

There he was, on the stage, regaling us his updated version of the Ugly Duckling.

Right now, there is a particular team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a particular focus on Australia – we are its priority target. Many of the people here tonight are almost certainly high value targets. The team is aggressive and experienced; its tradecraft is good – but not good enough. ASIO and our partners have been able to map out its activities and identify its members.

The A Team

We call them ‘the A-team’ – the Australia team.

Several years ago, the A-team successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician. This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime. At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a Prime Minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.

One year ago, Mr Burgess was reported (sic):

On February 21(2023), Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General Mike Burgess delivered his annual threat assessment, stating that ‘more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than at any time in Australia’s history’. He referred to a recent removal of a ‘hive of spies’ in Australia by ASIO and described efforts to battle foreign interference as presently feeling like ‘hand-to-hand combat’.

The Director-General also made particular mention of ‘senior people in this country who appear to believe that espionage and foreign interference is no big deal; it’s something that can be tolerated or ignored or somehow safely managed.’ He said: Individuals in business, academia and the bureaucracy have told me ASIO should ease up its operational responses to avoid upsetting foreign regimes…in my opinion anyone saying these things should reflect on their commitment to Australian democracy, sovereignty and values.

Director-General Burgess

Now just who is this head spook, who seems to emerge as the budgetary processes are in full swing. Presumably these February utterances are designed to ensure he gets a bigger slice of the budgetary pavlova. At the same time, he sows uncertainty in the community, and about de facto traitorous activity and nobody seems to have done anything about it.

Who is the ludicrously described A-team. Who plays Mr T.?

The problem with spooks is that they have a tendency to fantasise, and while not accusing Burgess of being one such, it is important that the facts of the matter with names attached are disclosed. It is intolerable that the Government has been so seemingly inert in the face of treason.

One man, an English expatriate stands up and besmirches Australia without Prime Ministerial rebuke. Instead, the Government Ministers seem to condone this behaviour. Here is a man who in his speech characterises Brigadier Spry’s embarrassment, the then Head of ASIO, because some old codger, a relative of one of the ASIO men refused him entry to some function because he didn’t have his identity card. Really, is that worth reporting except to illustrate the ludicrous piddling nature of ASIO?

Well, what do I know? Not much since ASIO tried to actively recruit me in 1960 I can only hypothesise. The leopard has the same spots despite there being six inquiries in the security services since that time. The ASIO operatives in my day were fanatically anti-communist, and I suspect the dial has not shifted that much – if at all.

Whitlam was the only Australian Prime Minister who has called out ASIO. The tension between Whitlam and his then ASIO Chief, Peter Barbour, was demonstrated when Whitlam banned all contact with the CIA. Barbour conveniently ignored the directive and went underground. At least Whitlam tried to control his phantasm of spooks with a modicum of success followed by a bucket of failure. He was never able shake to off the CIA interference.

Now Barbour was a product of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, known then for recruiting College members to be operatives. Attempts were made to recruit me when it was suggested that I file a report about visiting Russian students. I was not sure why I was approached, apart from being a Trinity College student, the then  President of the Student Representative Council and having shared a study with Sam Spry, aka Ian Charles Folkes Spry, Brigadier Spry’s son, the previous year.

I was flattered given that the approach was initiated by Michael Thwaites, then Spry’s deputy, through his son Peter Thwaites. Michael Thwaites was also a highly regarded poet. Both father and eldest son were linked closely with Moral Rearmament, an anti-communist organisation headed by Frank Buchman who had, in an unguarded moment, once expressed admiration for Hitler before War II.

I met with ASIO operatives in the old Theosophy building in Collins Street, was shown a few news clips and other miscellany, and then went back to College. I did not accept the offer, if there was an offer – and as far as I was concerned, that was that. I was never aware that I was proscribed after that. Anyway, I’m not concerned at being frank, naming names and disclosing the facts as I experienced them.

Thus, I have some insight into the world of spooks and gabardine overcoats, albeit long ago. However, I would suggest a relevant observation, Mr Burgess, given your tale does not suggest you are talking about a cybersecurity breach, but one of interpersonal treasonous behaviour by not one person but an undisclosed number. Australians have a right to know why you have not seen fit to disclose such information. Your reasons may satisfy a pliant Minister, but not the Australian community.

Incidentally, I find objectionable the gratuitous comment by the smug Senator Paterson who says he has a good idea who the traitor is. Mate, this is treason. Everybody must stop being coy.

Now, Master Burgess, oh you spinner of tales, we know that you are not referring to yourself. You said the unnamed man was a former politician. 

Odysseus, the great spinner of tales

Here we go Again!

When I was undertaking the Rural Stocktake for the Department of Health in 1999, I wrote the following of what a successful Aboriginal health program had achieved. My reference to the Kempsey-based Aboriginal Health Service is mentioned together with the then Marlba Environmental Health Unit based at Port Hedland. At that time, the Aboriginal leadership in these two programs was strong and hands-on. One of the problems with most Aboriginal Health programs is the lack of tangible ongoing results. Succession planning in terms of Aboriginal workforce management adopted from us whitefellas as distinct from the whole business of culture preservation has been a difficult concept to perpetuate in rural and particularly remote Aboriginal Australia.

At the time I wrote:

A model of a good Aboriginal environmental health worker program is that at Marlba Environmental Health Unit at Port Hedland. Marlba provides a visiting service to each community three monthly for a one-week stay. The services provided are solid waste and land management, water and sewage management, managing the dog program, zoonotic disease control, and helping people with housing advice. Homeswest starter kits are provided for new home occupants, and Marlba encourages stores to stock the products. A nursery is being established for the land management program, using both exotic and native plants. 

Dog programs always needed

The training of Aboriginal environmental health workers is undertaken locally through the Pundulmurra College. While a certificate course is available at Pundulmurra and locally in the Kimberley and the Midwest/Gascoyne, other courses are provided elsewhere in Australia – at diploma level (Batchelor College in the Northern Territory), and at degree level (Cairns TAFE). On a budget of $363,0000, eight are employed in Port Hedland, (three being funded under CDEP). There are three field support officers – two in Marble Bar and one in Roebourne. All the current officers are Pundulmurra trained. While there are no entry educational standards, literacy and numeracy are highly desirable, although there are a number of surrogate measures. There was a meeting convened in Port Hedland proposed to investigate national standardisation of the environmental health worker courses.

The morale is high and there is evident pride in the Marlba Environmental Health Unit uniform. A display of the activity was prepared to show me the variety of skills. There is an emphasis on generalist skills. The equipment is appropriate – they have a Bobcat, a truck, and dog cage. They have embraced the appropriate technology – such as the insertion of microchips into dogs to monitor coverage.

Much of the success of the program can be ascribed to the leadership of the Senior Environmental Health Worker, and as with the example of the Durri Health Service, the common thread is leadership – an ability to garner respect from both the indigenous and non-indigenous communities.

I have searched around for some meaning of Marlba, and I’ve only found one reference in that country stretching between Kalgoorlie and the Kimberley including the Gascoyne Region and the Western Desert. The Kalaku location is described as (sic): Grass Patch to north of Widgemooltha; east to the red ochre deposit west of Fraser Range; west to Bremer Range; north of Norseman towards Cooigardie Both ‘Marlba’ and ‘Kallaargu’ are described as separate dialects of one language, Ngatjunrna. Morphy includes Ngatjunma as part of Karlaku.

This week, I could not find any reference to the Marlba environmental health unit (a Marlu Environmental unit is mentioned with scant details and seems to be headquartered in Perth with no mention of what it does). The Pundulmurra College TAFE still exists and offers some trade courses such as carpentry, but it is hard to judge the actual effectiveness of this TAFE apart from its obvious advocacy role.

I raise this because of the Federal government wanting to replace “sit down money” aka the Community Development Program (CDP) (a work-for-the-dole scheme, requiring unemployed people to work five hours a day, five days a week in supervised work or training).  A failure, an expensive failure.

Nevertheless, here we go again.

The Albanese Government has announced a new Remote Jobs and Economic Development Program (RJED) that will help close the gap in employment outcomes by creating 3,000 jobs in remote Australia. This $707 million investment is the first step in delivering on our commitment to replace the failed Community Development Program (CDP) with real jobs, proper wages, and decent conditions.

As usual, preparatory for this funding, there was a round table discussion with the usual wish list. No methodology, just handing out the money cloaked with a new acronym, but basically the same handout. The problem I have found with Canberra bureaucrats is that they want to shovel the money out as quickly as possible irrespective of its management and realistic outcome. Then the Audit Office tumbril rolls in a few years later and slammed the administration and the project waste. Then there is always fraud uncovered.

Geoff Clark

Geoff Clark, chair of ATSIC until it was disbanded in 2004, together with members of his family, had been set down for trial in the County Court last year on 476 fraud charges but the charge seems to have vanished from that Court’s schedule. Suppressed for some reason? Why? One can only speculate. Nevertheless, Aboriginal funding has not been a happy place.

It is one thing to have great ideas, and have a generous allocation of money, but it is another for Aboriginals to accept the rules of good management and not fritter the money away as one family’s income until that family is kicked out and another family takes over the money pot.

That was why I highlighted in a little detail that project while briefly mentioning the other in my Stocktake. Each project was run objectively without any evidence of malfeasance by an Aboriginal person. I saw the West Australian program on several occasions and travelled with the Director as far as Jigalong in the Western Desert.

In the Durri program, the manager had been able to ride the family disputes over ownership and hence retain control of the funding.

The problem with so many of the programs is that management is given over to whitefellas, who run the program without any idea of meaningful delegation, let alone succession planning so they can plan their own redundancy. Since some of these whitefellas are themselves marginal in the conventional workforce, retention of a person with appropriate skills in any remote Aboriginal community is essential for successful outcomes.

I don’t underestimate the difficulty. I can only reflect upon my long association, but I have not covered every community in Australia. The term “First Nation” is in many ways a misnomer, because there is a wide diversity in the Aboriginal population despite its modest size. I have never been to the Tiwi for instance (that was an oversight I regret); and from a distance the Tiwi seem to be well organised. But this is the problem with being a whitefella, one often only seen from afar – participating in Canberra round tables in an air-conditioned environment.

What does Australia Share with Monserrat?

A question was asked in the regular set of impossible questions in The Guardian Weekly. What do Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand and Tuvalu have in common? The answer is each retains the Union Jack in their flag. Here we have Australia and the New Zealand in amongst the tax haven minnows of the increasingly threadbare British Commonwealth.

Hawaiian flag

Apart from Hawaii that is. In 1816, King Kamehameha commissioned the Hawaiian flag, Though Hawaii’s independence was briefly challenged, Great Britain sent Admiral Thomas to officially restore and recognise Hawaii’s sovereignty and the official flag was instituted in 1843.

The British never colonised Hawaii, but the King did retain British advisers, and the King had a sense of international politics. The eight stripes, while ostensibly representing the number of islands constituting the Hawaiian archipelago, were the colours of the Tsarist Russian flag, now reintroduced after the fall of the Soviet Union. The King realised the pervasiveness of Russia then in the Pacific Ocean.

Australia needs a new flag even if Hawaii doesn’t; and for that matter so does New Zealand; but the Union Jack zealots remain in sufficient numbers to block any reform. Indifference is the other enemy for change.  About eight years ago when New Zealand was seriously considering a new flag, a poll of potential designs for a new Australian flag was done in Australia. There was a focus on replacing the Union flag with the Southern Cross – and recognising that navy blue is not the national colour, most of the designs emphasised the green and gold. Most of them were a mish-mash and not very good. The Eureka flag scored fifteen per cent in that poll. The Southern Cross does not belong to Australia, but to all nations south of the Equator. Yet we seem to have appropriated it.

Personally, I prefer the Aboriginal Flag as our national flag. It embodies more of what I love about my country. I do not see much chance of change. But you always can hope. 

Mouse Whisper

Emanating from the USA in the past week, a report of one of the worst blizzards ever in the Sierra Nevada.

At the same time, massive wildfires in the Texas panhandle extending into Oklahoma, yet amid snow flurries.

The Australian firm, Woodside, in 2023 had increased its total carbon emissions by over 70 per cent from its 2021 levels.

And the butterfly flapped its wings.

Modest Expectations – Additional Problem

In 2004, when owing to accidental bipartisanship between then Opposition Leader Mark Latham and Howard, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was abolished.

This was written by Jon Altman. I was somewhat bemused by the comment in Crikey when they were listing interventions in Aboriginal Affairs by government, it seemed to draw upon this comment. When such an assertion is made, it should be complete. The action should not be divorced from the antics of Geoff Clark, ATSIC’s last Chair, which provided that unsympathetic political duo of Latham and Howard, natural bedfellows separated by Party allegiance, the excuse to close ATSIC down. Mention of Howard and Latham immediately engenders a reaction from the instinctive “YES” to such a decision. ATSIC was a Hawke initiative enacted in 1990 and, despite Howard reducing its funding when he came to power, would have survived if the Man from Framlingham had not manoeuvred himself into the role of ATSIC boss.

As The Conversation has recently reminded its readers, ATSIC’s primary roles were to formulate and monitor programs, develop policy proposals, advise the minister and coordinate activities at all levels of government. It spent Commonwealth government funds on specific programs, measured in terms of achieving social justice.

Sound familiar? There has been some discussion about the difference between ATSIC and the Voice – none of which is particularly convincing. There is no guarantee that the Voice will not end up like ATSIC, except if the referendum is passed it will be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. However, just because it is so enshrined, it does not mean that Government needs to do anything about it. For instance, the provision of dental benefits for Australians is enshrined in the Constitution, but no Government has ever addressed this power.

Mr Clark

But back to the embers of another time when an Aboriginal organisation had been assigned considerable responsibility and funding. The sparks still fly from once was a vibrant organisation. Ironically in this coming October when we have ben asked to vote on the Voice, Clark and members of his immediate family have been arraigned on over 300 charges of fraud, with the case set down in the Victorian County Court. They were first charged in 2019, and the basis for the charges stretches back years before 2004 when ATSIC was being trashed. Now why has Geoff Clark not been asked about the Voice?

He is an inconvenience, but he would not be the first or the last to be what the media call a “colourful personality”.

Was Ronald Dale Barassi the Greatest Australian Rules Footballer Ever?

Ron Barassi died this week at the age of 87.

I grew up playing Australian Rules football. The twelve elite football teams were part of the Victorian Football League.  In 1957, my club Essendon played extremely well in the second quarter of the second semi-final and won the game. It was unexpected given that Melbourne was highly favoured, having won the premiership in each of the previous two years. Thus, I, the optimist, went to the Grand Final, where Essendon were again facing Melbourne two weeks later in the Grand Final. I found myself behind the goals to which Melbourne were kicking in the first quarter.

The ball was bounced and was kicked towards the Melbourne goal. Suddenly, out of the pack Ron Barassi exploded, grabbed the ball, kicked the goal. In less than a minute, the Grand Final was over. Barassi went on to be best on ground, kicking five goals. Melbourne won by 61 points.

That was Barassi, the fearless, the impetuous, a football genius in a very good team, such as Melbourne which won six premierships between 1955 and 1964. The only time Melbourne lost unexpectedly was in 1958 when Barassi was brutally taken out of the game.

Barassi’s style of play presaged the change in the game which occurred with the introduction of the interchange. Coaching Carlton in winning the 1970 premiership over Collingwood he told his team to move the ball forward at all costs. This use of handball was an example of a Barassi masterclass. Interchange was eventually introduced in 1978, and handball execution is one of the main areas which separates the champion team from the lesser teams.

My other reminder of Barassi was very different. I used to drive the Hamilton Highway every other week. It was far different from the Princes Highway which also connected Geelong with the Western District of Victoria. It was essentially a speed track as mostly it passed through small townships, and in parts was very straight. The joy then was traffic on the Hamilton Highway was sparse, there were few trucks and police patrols were rare.

Lismore is a small township on the Western Plains about 100 kms from Geelong, where I would sometimes stop for a pie and coffee. Approaching the township from the west is an innocuous line of trees. In October 1976, Barassi was driving his blue Mercedes when he wrapped it around one of these trees, seriously injuring himself and his passenger, Neil Roberts, also a former champion footballer. Both eventually recovered, but Barassi lost his spleen, which meant that he had to take prophylactic antibiotics for the rest of his life.

Every time afterwards when I drove through Lismore I saw the tree remnant which remained. It served as a reminder of an episode where both Barassi and Roberts dodged the Fell Sergeant.

Even more so when it occurs to yourself. A major car accident on country roads is a test of the will to live, as I found out almost five years later when I wrapped myself around an electricity pole near Shepparton.

It is strange what you remember, when others have a closer association with a man who had the presence that would suck up the power in any gathering he joined. This is a special quality, which in turn made it difficult for him to have ever been anonymous – even if he ever would have wanted to be. 

Plied with Privilege

This week, Delta Air Lines announced sweeping changes to frequent-flier perks that will start in 2024. While the airline says its revamped system has “simplified” the SkyMiles program for repeat customers, it’s actually dealing a significant blow to the middle class of travellers, inciting outrage on social media and promises from some to quit flying Delta altogether.

In a Tuesday announcement, the Atlanta-based airline detailed how it would make it much more difficult to earn coveted Medallion status. Simultaneously, it plans to take away unlimited access for American Express cardholders to its Sky Club lounges, some of the swankiest in the United States.  Washington Post 16 September.

Essendon Airport

If you take a plane from Essendon Airport in Melbourne, it is as though you are vaulted back into a time when it was the major airport. It is still a place used by some of the small regional airlines.

There was no problem parking. It is free.

You would mill around as you do now. There is a café where you can buy coffee and a snack. The call for your flight. Paper ticket checked. You stroll out to the plane. There is no security.

That was how it was once in simpler times. Of course, plane travel then was relatively uncommon and comparatively expensive.

When I first joined Bill Snedden as his principal private secretary in 1973, Snedden had access to the airport manager’s office. This enabled him to make private phone conversations and shielded him from the “glad-handers”.  Lounges did not exist back then in the early seventies.

No lounge, but fashionable 70’s purple seats

There was no security then to negotiate. This was fortunate, for Snedden was notorious for being late. There was one occasion when I had to wrangle delaying the plane to Canberra until he arrived. Oh, for the good ol’ days, when the media cut you slack and there were no barriers to boarding, bar the ticket.

Snedden always flew Ansett until its demise. I became inured to travelling almost exclusively on the airline. I was surprised when I was invited in a friendly letter from Ron Eddington to join the Ansett equivalent of the Captain’s Club. I always thought it a case of mistaken identity, and my membership was withdrawn a few months before the airline went “bottoms up”. It was certainly convenient, and it was a time before the iPhone changed the dynamics in relation to ease of communication.

Once frequent flyer points became available in the 1980s, they were awarded to individuals, this privilege did not differentiate the payer, and employers made rules on a case by case by case. Membership gave access to lounge facilities, but airlines set up further special privileged areas to shield the Chosen. It was just a variation of the ancient differentiation between patricians and plebeians, although with a difference. The Frequent Flyer lounges became themselves differentiated depending on the frequency of flying – bronze-silver-gold-platinum hierarchy.

The reason for privacy which provided once a legitimate excuse back before the lounge proliferation was rendered obsolete with the advent of mobile phones. The lounge land lines were no longer required, and when one reflects on the whole matter of privacy, in these Captain’s Clubs with their concentration of the important, there are only so many corners for the conspiratorial phone exchanges.

Takes all types

The Qantas’ Captain’s Club is essentially a concierge service for the politicians and their ilk to send off their accompanying staffers to ensure that they would be at the front of the queue when there are “stuff-ups”, which became the Joyce signature contribution to airline travel.

Thus, the Captain’s Club members have endured minimal pain. While ensconced in their Lounge they gossiped over their single malt, in the Departure areas, the ordinary passengers milled around with minimal service, minimal information.

I just stopped flying, even though once the wheelchair arrived, “going to gate” had been well organised, but even in this service there were cracks.

Joyce knew precisely that everybody loves a “freebie”, especially if it projects an aura of exclusivity. He was not the only one, and once the Joyce brand of toxic leadership becomes a distant memory, the privileged Captain’s Club will resume transmission, perhaps a slate of those eligible, with a limited number of Captain’s pick. It should be acknowledged, that the new CEO cut her gold implants on determining who was on and who was not on the List. The List of those inducted into these Halls of Name should be published. But the single malt will remain, as will the sophistry of the reasons for the continuing existence of this pool of privilege. Unless Qantas takes the route of the American airlines and make itself even more unpopular.

Nevertheless, there is an important administrative dimension to the top-end exclusivity. At least, they have herded those with a sense of entitlement into the one space, and thus when there is a “stuff-up”, you do not have these individuals and their retinue running free around airports crying out how important they are and why they should be number one in the queue and thus potentially causing even more chaos.

Finally, as illustrative of those days when there were no lounges but there were still persons of entitlement, one of my colleagues told me that he was at the Delhi Airport as a staffer for a very important Head of a very important Government Department awaiting to be called to their flight when a Douglas DC-8 crashed short of the airport, killing 10 of 11 crew members, and 72 of 76 passengers. The Very Important Bureaucrat’s response: Bugger the crash, I need to get back to Australia.

The chaos thus had not deterred the Very Important Bureaucrat from ordering my mate to get him on a flight. The airport was closed, but Sense of Entitlement trumps everything, even if my mate could not even find a phone. 

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)

Having worked with and for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), I was somewhat surprised by the latest advertisement seeking contributions from the public. Depressingly all the images are of whitefellas being treated in what are unconvincing imagery. To spend a great deal of money to provide an aerial medical service to the outback stations and small settlements without any acknowledgement that one of the major communities which require the service RFDS is the Aboriginal community.

To show a service which is all-white at a time when there is a community debate on the place of Aboriginals in the future of the nation is also somewhat insensitive.  Then when you look up the search engine, RFDS was certainly linked to the Voice – but only because there are two TV programs of those names being produced by Channel 7.  One the normal bodice-tearing dramas where (a) the RFDS provides an action-packed background for the activities of over-sexed screen doctors and nurses and (b) the Voice is an all-aged vocal contest to see who can scream the loudest and a set of judges who speak in exclamation marks.

Data on the impact of providing health care for Aboriginal communities is incomplete. Quoting one data set, it showed that between July 2013 and December 2015, the RFDS conducted 75,763 aeromedical retrievals, equivalent to 83 aeromedical retrievals per day. Indigenous status was recorded for 62,528 patients. Of the 62,528 retrievals, 17,606 (28.2%) aeromedical retrievals were Aboriginal Australians from remote Australia.

When I first worked with the RFDS, many of the key performance indicators (KPI) were based on aircraft performance rather than health care. Under Clyde Thomson, then CEO Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (SE Section) and for a crucial concurrent period Chair of the Broken Hill Hospital, the RFDS ran health care clinics at Wilcannia, a predominantly Aboriginal town on the Darling River 100 km to the east of Broken Hill. With the introduction of the Sydney University Department of Rural Health, Aboriginal health care became a very important component of RFDS health care.

Thus, 20 years later, here is an RFDS advertisement seeking donations, with ne’er a mention of its contribution to Aboriginal health care. As I said above, depressing.

Who would have thought it!

There are seven States which deliberately or inadvertently still have Confederate symbolism.  The most Confederate characteristic is the gaudily painted Cross of St Andrew. But there are others, such as the State of California, hardly a Southern Republican State, which have a different symbolism. Nevertheless, the symbolism is linked to the Confederacy. The challenge is whether anybody cares despite the exhortation at the end of this description.  Well, as long as the Cross of St Andrew is banished. In the case of California, it is that bear! Read on.

In June 1846, a couple dozen American men in what was then the Mexican region of Alta California took over an unarmed fort in Sonoma and raised a flag painted with a red star, a grizzly bear and the words “California Republic”. Some of them were maybe a bit drunk.

A few weeks later, a U.S. naval squadron showed up in Monterey, and its confused commanding officer raised the Stars and Stripes and claimed California for the United States. The “Bear Flaggers” lowered their banner, and four years and a war with Mexico later, California joined the Union as a free state, meaning slavery was banned. Decades later, in the early 20th century, a version of the Bear Flag became California’s state flag.

So what does all that have to do with the Confederacy? 

First, California might have been a free state on paper, but it wasn’t in practice. Many of its early American settlers were proslavery Southerners who brought enslaved people with them, and others enslaved the Indigenous people there, including most of the Bear Flaggers, according to historian Jean Pfaelzer in her recent book, “California, a Slave State”. Enslavers used slave labour in the gold mines, advertised slave auctions in newspapers and went to great lengths to conceal from their human chattel that they were actually legally free. Numerous records show California abolitionists purchasing enslaved people to grant them the freedom they were already supposed to have.

As the nation descended into civil war, Californians were fiercely split, and a number of communities flew the disused bear flag to express their support for secession and slavery. Some even proposed the Pacific states break off and form their own nation.

In 1911, the bear flag design became the official state flag, and once again the move was stained with racism, journalist Alex Abella wrote in a 2015 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. The flag had been revived again by the Native Sons of the Golden West, a Whites-only fraternal group that pushed anti-Asian immigration laws and whose president wrote in 1920, “California was given by God to a white people, and with God’s strength we want to keep it as He gave it to us.” The lawmaker who introduced the flag legislation in 1911 was a member of the group, according to Abella, and proposed anti-Asian legislation in the same legislative session.

“It’s time California dump that flag,” Abella wrote. “Like the Confederate cross of St. Andrew, the Bear Flag is a symbol whose time has come and gone.”

Mouse Whisper

I got a free ride – tucked away in my straw nest in the Car. We went to Queensland, and I was able to catch up with my banana-bender relatives.

Then I saw them.

What were those long poles doing lining the highway at intervals? There were about 20 metres high and near the top had cross bars, which gave the impression of a very elongated Cross of Lorraine and short pieces of white pipe. Enquiries found that they were gliders’ poles to enable the sugar and squirrel gliders to cross the highway, and even if they don’t make the top they often land down the pole and scramble to the top. If the distance is too far to glide – thirty metres is taken as a benchmark – a box rope ladder is strung between the two poles, and thus the glider can climb across the remaining distance “unglided”. Got to watch out for the circling hawks and eagles though.