Modest Expectations – In the blowing snow was that a gun report I heard?

I am not a very good gardener. I once killed the grass on the terrace with what I thought was loving care when I overused the fertiliser. The aim when we moved into our house over 30 years ago was to remove the weeds which dominated the garden, and it took about 20 years for the last of the wisteria to go, but asthma weed has defiantly resisted all efforts. There was the vain aim to install a Port Jackson garden, which would have only plants which may have been there at the time Arthur Philip landed at Farm Cove in 1788. The pittosporum, the blueberry ash and the lilli pilli, together with some of  the native grasses survive.  Anyway there was never a true Port Jackson Garden because of resistance by one party to remove the gracefully gnarled exotic frangipani – the survival of which in the end negated that proposal.

I do not have the patience nor the leisured and measured existence to enjoy one anyway. In many ways I envy the apparently sybaritic existence of the author’s “Elizabeth and her German Garden”. Elizabeth Von Antrim, a cousin of Katherine Mansfield, was born in Sydney in 1866. Both were Beauchamps, and Elizabeth only lived in Australia for her first three years before leaving, never to return.

This book recounts her life married to a Prussian aristocrat 15 years her senior, whom she describes throughout as the Man of Wrath. They lived on a vast Pomeranian property in what is now Poland. There she bred  five children and found satisfaction with organising the garden in this vast property.  Her tussle with the gardeners reflects her observation that women were considered inferior, particularly among the workers, and where the women were also often subject to violence. These observations counterpoint the description of her careful design of her plantings and the descriptions of her results. One of these was a bed where plants in every shade of yellow from the fieriest orange to the palest yellow were represented. The book was a spectacular success on publication, having 21 reprints in the first year.

A yellow garden

Her insight is that interest in gardening makes for a satisfied society. The promotion of gardening has, at times, been subject to controversy, but the very best of presenters induce a hard-to-explain serenity; and yet so much of the content is repetition – the vegetable garden, the horizontal wall, the internal garden, the obsessional manicured country garden, build your own hen house, and so on.

Yet as you drive through the newer suburbs of our cities today, the houses consume the whole block with a few pebbles strewn around with a few forlorn plants, labelled drought tolerant. I have named these suburbs “testudines”. In Latin, this means “tortoises”. The word was also used to describe the layered way the Roman legion infantry went into battles with the shields interlocked above their heads. Our modern suburban rooflines seem to be aligned in a manner reminiscent, swathes of grey seen from above.  Barely is there any green in these suburbs except thin green verges with the despondent saplings left to their own devices to shrivel in the summer heat with minimal attention. The sunburnt country… need I recite more.

And as for Elizabeth and her German Garden, gardening is a such a telling metaphor – a brilliant insight.

“Nature has Given me Love”

Adriana Elisabeth Hoffmann Jacoby has died.

Who? You may ask.

She was somebody special – a Chilean cog in the wheel of climate activists.

As the Boston Globe noted:  The presence of two Chilean Cabinet ministers at her funeral made clear the importance of her legacy to the country, where scientists-turned-politicians are helping to make a new constitution shaped by the climate crisis.

Above in the title are her last words recorded.

The Boston Globe went onto say that: “she was born in Santiago on Jan. 29, 1940, the daughter of a renowned Chilean doctor and scientist, Franz Hoffmann, and pioneering psychiatrist and spiritual guide Lola Hoffmann (born Helena Jacoby). Ms. Hoffmann went on to study agronomy at the University of Chile before dropping out. She later switched to studying botany when she spent some time in Germany with her mother.

She credited her parents with nurturing her love for nature. “I have pictures of myself, very little, always with flowers and plants,” she said.

In the early 1990s, she met Douglas Tompkins, a conservationist and the founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing brands, and his wife, Kristine Tompkins, who together bought about 1 million acres of Chile’s forests to protect them.

Yendegaia National Park

Ms. Hoffmann advised and supported the Tompkins’ conservation efforts, Kristine Tompkins said in a phone interview, and once joined other conservationists in obtaining the couple’s help in preserving a vast stretch of precious but threatened land on the border of Chile and Argentina. In 2014, the area became the mountainous Yendegaia National Park.”

This National Park lies in the very southern end of the country on Tierra del Fuego, but Chile is a ribbon which winds its way along the Pacific Coast of South America from ice to desert; it was a perfect site for this determined botanist to work.

In 1992, two years after the fall of Pinochet, she headed a non-profit organisation, Defensores del Bosque Chileno, dedicated to protecting Chile’s native forests documenting how Chile’s extractive industries were destroying the country’s forests.

Her activism was seen by many as an attack on economic development, especially in a country whose economy heavily depended on exporting commodities.

In 1993 Chile created the Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente (Conama) an agency that would later profoundly change her life and legacy.

In a way, in the reflections on this great activist botanist, I find it ironic that Chile inherited Easter Island where religion, manifest in the construction of the moai, led to extreme deforestation with the destruction of three species of trees which grew to 15 metres or more, including the Chilean tree palm, often thought to be the largest palm tree at the time. It is difficult now to conceive of Easter Island in 1022 as an island as thickly forested as Lord Howe Island is today with, in both cases, their distinctive palms and accompanying fauna and flora.

Easter Island Moai

Fast forward 300 years and Lord Howe lies deforested because climate change and now, cut off by rising seas, the population are searching for deities, imploring them to reverse the calamity. The Lord Howe islanders have cut down all their palms and replaced them with basalt figures of Malcom Fraser and Shane Warne to attempt to appease the Gods.

As my companion said, even such a great botanist as Jacoby was unable to recreate the old Easter Island. Maybe nobody would want to do it anyway. The man made figures are such an attraction, more so than any palm trees, however tall they grow – whether we like it or not.

Finland

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning,
the threat of night has now been driven away.
The skylark calls across the light of morning,
the blue of heaven lets it have its way,
and now the day the powers of night is scorning: thy daylight dawns,

O Finland of ours!

Finland, arise, and raise towards the highest
thy head now crowned with mighty memory.
Finland, arise, for to the world thou criest
that thou hast thrown off thy slavery,
beneath oppression´s yoke thou never liest.
Thy mornings come,

O Finland of ours!

Jean Sibelius is one of my favourite composers. Finlandia, composed by him while Finland was under Russian rule as the Grand Duchy of Finland, has become a hymn to Finland independence. A group of Finns in the early part of the Russo-Ukraine War sang it in front of the Russian embassy, changing “Finland” to “Ukraine.”

The Finns have lived in the shadow of Russians. The country survived the 1939-44 conflict with Russia, having put up strong resistance, but diminished in size while forced to pay reparations. Thus it was very  wary of offending the Russians in the years following. Yet Finland recovered sufficiently to successfully hold the 1952 Olympic games and its 72 metre tower stands as memorial to the superb architectural design of Yrjö Lorenzo Lindegren, who had worked closely within this Finnish functionalist school which included Alvar Aalto, who inter alia defined the architecture of the modern hospital.

The Finns are impatient with fripperies; yet they are creative and hardy – especially important when you live next to Russia and the beautiful summer is lost in harsh winters.

I remember the Finnish lecturer in Semitic Studies who met his smaller professor coming up a narrow set of stairs. There was no standing aside. The Finnish lecturer picked the professor up, swivelled and placed him on a higher stair tread. Efficient, unorthodox, and without a word the Finnish lecturer proceeded down the stairs into the street.

I have been to Finland several times and recently mentioned in my blog my pilgrimage to Turku where John Landy broke the world mile record in 1954.

We have taken the Finnish train to Saint Petersburg, as it was suggested not to take the Russian version. The Finnish train was cleaner and more comfortable

Communal garden / meadow

We were once invited to lunch with a public health specialist in one of the Helsinki suburbs some years ago. There was this deep sense of communal living here.  There was a simple order about the way the houses were built and how clean the streets were. The houses backed onto a communal field, alive with vast swathes of summer flowers. Everybody could participate in picking flowers. Communal sharing was encouraged.

As an epidemiologist, she was interested in population health studies. As such she was able to freely go across the border into Russian East Karelia where the ethnicity of the people are essentially Finnish.  This region was once part of the Swedish-Finnish Kingdom from 1323 to 1617 and again between 1721 and 1743, then part of the Grand Duchy of Finland between 1809 and 1918 and of independent Finland between 1918 and 1939 and finally from 1941 to 1944. Not exactly a serene existence.

The Finns, with some support from Germany, with a population of about 5.5 million were able at times to more than match it with the Russians. The Finns knew their country. It helped as the troops used the cover of pine forests and snow which covers the terrain along a long border as far north as Lapland far better than the Russians until the inevitable power of the Allied Forces prevailed.

The Finns paid the price of alliance with the Germans during this period both in reparations and loss of territory.  Following World War II, most of what Finnish people define as Karelia was incorporated into Soviet Russia. The Finns were forced into a pro-Soviet neutrality.

After the fall of Soviet Russia, the social movement of both Russians and Finns across the borders has progressively increased. In 2011 for instance, around the time we were in the Helsinki suburbs, Russian tourists constituted 31 per cent of the total.

However, life has changed significantly recently and Finland has thus far not been caught up in Putin’s web; that of attacking smaller neighbouring States searching for his Peter the Greatness.

Sweden has been neutral throughout the 20th and, thus far, the 21st centuries. As people know, Finland has a cohort of Finn-speaking Swedes in the population. Both countries have been members of the EU since 1995; in fact Finland was one of the first countries to adopt the euro, replacing the markka. For the Russians, who had controlled Finnish neutrality, the Finns joining the EU was one blow, but until the onset of the Russo-Ukrainian War, there was no incentive for either Finland or Sweden to join NATO. This has all changed. The Finns  want to join NATO.  Once implacably opposed, the Swedish government is softening its approach, although there is still opposition from the Left.

Does Russia want a repeat of the intermittent war which occurred between 1939 and 1944 on a vastly different field? Does Putin really want a re-run of this conflict to stop the incorporation of these two technologically advanced countries into NATO? St Petersburg is 250 kms from the Finnish border but Helsinki is over 1,000 km from the Russian border. I doubt it; and yet the Russians have engaged in another war with a far more populated opponent and the outcome of this conflict will ultimately determine whether Putin turns his attention to Scandinavia.

Exercise – the Bane of Existence

At one stage, I used to go for a run every day around the suburb, which contained many hills. Given that I instinctively loathed exercise, the surge of endorphins countered so effectively this loathing, that many times during a year I would engage what were laughingly caused “Fun Runs”. As I aged, the runs became long early morning walks; and then disease caught up and exercise became biweekly hydrotherapy sessions; and then with COVID causing the closure of the pools, desultory infrequent rambles – the walking restricted to climbing stairs, back stretches.  This article in the NYT gave me some hope. I have edited the original article, but have noted the contribution from a University of Sydney expert.

For years, exercise scientists tried to quantify the ideal “dose” of exercise for most people. They finally reached a broad consensus in 2008 with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which were updated in 2018. In both versions, the guidelines advised anyone who was physically able to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, and half as much if it is intense.

But what’s the best way to space out those weekly minutes? And what does “moderate” mean? Here’s what some of the leading researchers in exercise science had to say about step counts, stairwells, weekend warriors, greater longevity and why the healthiest step we can take is the one that gets us off the couch.

For practical purposes, exercise scientists often recommend breaking that 150 minutes into 30-minute sessions of speedy walking or a similar activity five times a week. “

Moderate exercise means “activities that increase your breathing and heart rate, so the exertion feels like a five or six on a scale between one and 10.” In other words, pick up the pace a bit if your inclination is to stroll, but do not feel compelled to sprint, according to Emmanuel Stamatakis, an exercise scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia who studies physical activity and health.

We can accumulate our 150 weekly minutes of moderate exercise in whatever way works best for us. “Many people may find it easier and more sustainable to squeeze in a few dozen one-minute or two-minute walks between work tasks” or other commitments. “There is no special magic to a sustained 30-minute session of exercise” for most health benefits.

Think of these bite-size workouts as exercise snacks, he said. “Activities like bursts of very fast walking, stair climbing and carrying shopping bags provide excellent opportunities for movement snacks.” To concentrate the health benefits of these workout nuggets, he added, keep the intensity relatively high, so you feel somewhat winded.

Conceivably, you also could cram all of your exercise into long Saturday and Sunday workouts. In a 2017 study by Dr Stamatakis and colleagues, people who reported exercising almost entirely on weekends were less likely to die prematurely than those who said they rarely exercised at all. But being a weekend warrior has drawbacks. “It is certainly not ideal to spend the workweek totally sedentary and then try to compensate” over the weekend, Dr. Stamatakis said. You miss many of the health benefits of regular exercise, such as improved blood-sugar control and better moods, on the days you do not work out, he said. You also increase your risk of exercise-related injuries.

For most people, “150 minutes of exercise a week would translate into about 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day,”

The recommended 150 minutes a week also may be too little to stave off weight gain with age. In a 2010 study of almost 35,000 women only those who walked or otherwise exercised moderately for about an hour a day during middle age maintained their weight as they became older.

But any activity is better than none. “Every single minute counts “Walking up the stairs has health benefits, even if it only lasts for one or two minutes, if you repeat it regularly.”

Tell me it is not so

I always watched Sam Waterston and his off sider played by Angie Harmon in Law and Order in the 1990s. There was something taut about their relationship, giving a certain authenticity, if you accept the underlying morality of “Crime does not pay”. Angie Harmon left and reappeared in the crime series Rizzoli and Isles, which I admit I watched very infrequently.

When I heard Sam Waterston was returning to the series even though, after so many years on, he may appear somewhat hoary. However, this comment from The Boston Globe is suddenly a blow to progress. It is a bit like the “auto-correct” when you use an unusual word or one that has been made up to create a sense of the original. Watching a program created by a computer program, maybe the nightmare of the future.

Law and Order in the ’90s

Well-oiled machines are great, except when they’re TV shows. The best of scripted TV has a human touch, a sense of the risks and variations and flourishes that come with inspiration. This season, the “Law & Order” scripts seem like they’ve been auto-written by a computer program, the same program that was writing them back when the show had already hit a creative wall back in 2010 after 450 something episodes.

I don’t think it’s the cast, including newcomers Camryn Manheim and Jeffrey Donovan and returnees Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston. They’re given very little character development. They’re also given story lines, some of them feebly ripped from the headlines, that are half-baked at best. Watching this new season, I keep finishing episodes and wondering, “Is that it?” There is very little there, when the denouement rolls around; the writers aren’t sneaking in any of the twists that left you thinking a bit about the justice system, or human nature. There’s almost none of the wit from the show’s prime, too, when the cops’ and lawyers’ little sharp asides added both irony — something many of the spinoffs, notably “SVU,” do not have — and bits of character.

Mouse Whisper

“Oh, my dear, relations are like drugs, – useful sometimes, and even pleasant, if taken in small quantities and seldom, but dreadfully pernicious on the whole, and the truly wise avoid them.”

From Elizabeth and her German Garden. Never thought about relatives that way, they always seemed so “mice”.

Modest expectations – A Gas station in Rain Man

There is a small group of people trying to unravel the connection between the number and the title of each week’s Modest Expectations. Last week was almost impossible, as I strive not to repeat myself.  Some have been obvious which, for me, maintains the diversity, although the search for titles which do not repeat the same theme presents an ongoing challenge. For instance, there have been 266 Popes, but I have tapped this source only once.

The gas station

On several occasions, I have counted wrongly, which explains why I was not a good “numbers” man. I am pleased with this week’s puzzle. Not that it is very hard but demands a modicum of powers of observation.

Albored the Unready.   Part 111

People want a prime minister to just do their job.

That’s my commitment. To do that job properly. To each and every day do my best. And make sure we have a government that actually plans properly and looks after the interests of the Australian people. Anthony Albanese this week 

As I predicted, the Murdoch press has started the attempted demolition of Albanese. However, in a week in politics with the ineptness of the current Government firmly on show and growing, manifested in disastrous polling in NSW in four State by-elections, maybe it does not matter if there is a demonstrable unreadiness. Even so, I just hope Albanese does not try to play “Blue Moon” on a triangle.

Directing the dance floor

If Labor wins the forthcoming election, addressing the absence of a Commission to root out corruption at the Federal level – which seems as bad as the worst of any of the States at any time – will be a massive job for Albanese. The establishment of this Commission should already be in draft legislative form ready to be placed before Parliament immediately on a change of Government.

Unless it swiftly isolates the major players in the corruption, the Commission will be entangled in legal brambles and then eventually lost from sight as these “bramble bushes” cover it.

Openly responsible to the Parliament, the manner of selection of the Commission members must be an open process also.

The problem is that Albanese has grown up in a factional NSW environment where the hotel industry lobby in all its forms is a highly-protected species.  Therefore, Albanese, who is one of the longest serving members of the Commonwealth parliament, must reflect on his manner of conducting his business to maximise objectivity in government – a far from easy task.

In his progress towards a clean government, he should examine the amount of money consulting firms shovel into their pockets through “sweet deals” with government. I know exactly what goes on. Much of the work, which should be undertaken by bureaucrats with assigned responsibility and expertise, is done by recent MBAs full of theory but devoid of knowledge, which they then pick up at no cost to themselves as they flounder on in a consultancy, which does not need these “content free” consultants. “Reading my own watch” is the term used to describe this flagrant practice.

This is the great disaster of public administration and goes hand in hand with the corruption of parliament. I have been employed as consultant many times where the recommendations have had an impact; but in others where the recommendations have been ignored and ended as a “dust shelf file”.

Albanese needs a strong independent bureaucracy so that when the consultant firm Piranhas come calling, they have to earn the meat hanging from the bureaucratic fishing lines. The problem is that while the TV series “Yes Minister” was very funny, (Margaret Thatcher is reputed to have loved it), its long term effect has been to corrode the politicians’ trust in public administration as witnessed by the growth in ministerial staff and reliance on mates in the consulting firms, some of whom were colleagues before politics and before the politicians take their lucrative pensions and flee Parliament  to become outside “consigliere” – sorry “consultants”.

Big challenge to rein in this practice – and not one for the election trail.  However, it will be symptomatic of an inability to govern if Albanese fails to follow the Machiavellian dictum and does not tackle it hard and early.

Now for Part IV – if you are still awake. Climate Change and Albored under the Bed. 

Cisgender

I have observed the machinations about the Religious Discrimination Bill with an air of disbelief. I doubt whether I am the only one, given how many far more important challenges are facing Australia.

For most of my life I have watched as technical surgical skills have improved such that personal identification can be aided by physical operative change to the appropriate gender

I remember one of my medical tutors put us males in our place by saying that every human is destined to be female until a few vectors appear which direct embryonic to foetal to post-natal existence towards being male.

After all, there are a number of chromosome and sex hormone disorders, which are often rare or beyond the then scope of knowledge, and which may be reflected in extraordinary prowess, particularly of women in sporting competition.

Babe Didrickson

One of the most remarkable athletes of all time was the American, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson. She was able to beat top athletes, both male and female, at sports ranging from bowling to diving. She earned Olympic gold medals in the hurdles and javelin in the 1932 Olympic Games, all-American status in basketball, dozens of golf championships, and is on ESPN’s list of top ten North American athletes of the century.

She lived at a time when there was not the will or the science to determine whether she was a woman or had a chromosomal abnormality where she might look like woman but was in fact a male. She was not the only one to raise questions. There were two Olympic gold medal winning female sprinters in the 1930s who also looked masculine and one, Stella Walsh, an American who when shot dead many years later, was revealed by autopsy to indeed be male.

When the Russians came back on the Olympic Trail, they brought forth a number of oddities, even before the systematic doping with androgens began.

There have been “female” athletes discovered to have Kleinfelter’s syndrome. The first to be publicly accused was Ewa Klobukowska, a Polish sprinter who received a gold medal in the 1964 Olympic Games. People with this syndrome have an extra “X” chromosome but have the “Y” chromosome as well – which defines them as male.

Thus, when a South African female athlete Caster Semanya looks a bit masculine and then is shown to have a hormonal abnormality, discrimination is attested loudly when she was either excluded from competition or forced to take androgen suppression. There was no suggestion of religious discrimination in any of the discussion here.

Yet here is a nationwide imbroglio which grew from Israel Folau’s intemperate behaviour, which became a kernel for every bigot in the community to swarm around his profile as an extraordinary sportsman, and then  try to parlay this prowess into some sort of seer of faith.

In my early blogs, I wrote about Israel Folau but I underestimated how his bigotry has gradually graduated to this religious discrimination bill, which a Pentecostal Prime Minister has tried to foist on a nation which, on matters religious, kept on the “cis” side of not mixing belief with the political wedge.

The problem with Morrison and his mates is that they have tried to impose their “transwedge” as it flew across the Alps of Intolerance.

It almost ended up a discriminatory Transgender Discrimination Bill, and fortunately there have been enough politicians prepared to scuttle this ridiculous pandering to fringe groups, with social hang ups on show amidst the happy clapping and forced jollity.

Hence, if people insist on a stigma of transgender on a number of seriously conflicted young people, then since I do not identify myself as one of these, I shall stigmatise myself thus – as cisgender. In the end, you must have a gender, whichever way you describe yourself. However, it is your own private decision not to be paraded in a travesty – called parliamentary debate.

Questions of toilet and bathing facilities are a matter of societal convention, not a matter for government legislation. When my university college became co-educational, the college’s change of facilities was hardly a major topic of conversation in the pubs of Carlton.

Given that “cis” is the antonym of “trans”, it took the serious students in this area until 1994 to coin the term. But there is more.

What about the Infrasexual?  This refers to someone “who is not parsex, meaning someone who is strictly dyadic and protosex. They are not intersex nor altersex.” Succinct, if nothing else.

What a dilemma. Do we ban the infrasexual but allow the altersexual?

Meanwhile the World in burning.

Wasabi

The wasabi that comes in tubes and packets and is familiar to many diners is actually a blend of wasabi and horseradish dyed green — or contains no wasabi at all. In Japan, chefs at higher-end sushi, soba or grilled beef restaurants grate fresh wasabi at the counter, so customers can experience the acute assault on their nostrils and the unique flavour that lingers for just a moment on the tongue.

For hundreds of years, wasabi grew wild in mountains across Japan, blooming near forests and huddling alongside streams. About four centuries ago, growers in Shizuoka started to cultivate wasabi as a crop.

Wasabi plants sprout in spring water that flows down from the mountains, helping to foster gradations of pungency and hints of sweetness. The most well-known Shizuoka variety, called mazuma, tends to sell for 50 per cent more than wasabi from other parts of Japan.

Over time, local growers say, the spring water has deteriorated in quality, compromised by an abundance of cedar and cypress trees.

Recently, in a substantial article, the New York Times highlighted the parlous condition of the wasabi grower.

From childhood, I remember that horseradish was an accompaniment to the Sunday roast beef at my grandmother’s place, complete with roast vegetables and the obligatory Yorkshire pudding.

Now, as that wizard green fingered jardineira, Vicki Sheedy, says dismissively, horseradish is a weed. You have to grow it in a pot and not let it get control of the vegetable patch.

However wasabi, its Japanese cousin is, as Vicki says, very picky. One Tasmania grower put it this way: “Wasabi is like a 15-year-old. When conditions are perfect and everything is how they like it, they thrive, if something starts to go wrong though they will just sit there and sulk.”

In fact, commercial growing can ideally occur in Australia only in Tasmania, where there is plenty of water and the climate is temperate-on the cool side. The plant is harvested between one to two years. As Vicki further points out, this little plant is a cousin to horseradish and mustard, hence why its heat hits you in the nose rather than setting your mouth on fire like chillies do. It’s also known as Japanese horseradish and she has assured the conditions for its growth.

Currently Vicki’s plants are about 15 months old and she says that on a beautiful property overlooking the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in Southern Tasmania she will soon be able to harvest it. Already she has been using the stems and leaves, but they are much “tamer” in regard to heat compared to the root. At present she grows it in small quantities in a raised garden in the shade near the kitchen so she remembers to water it. Keeping a watchful eye on it, she knows the plant doesn’t like humidity, direct sun or in relation to water – the Goldilocks effect – not too much or too little.

With the production being increasingly compromised by the urban spread, the contamination of water and the decline of the cedar forest and its resultant shade, production in Japan is under stress as the NYT article says

The price of wasabi is rising.  It is not a quick return, but as they say, big things from kitchen door plots grow.

The heat is on, Vicki.

Iris Hoffman as she was then, remembers 

Janine Sargeant, guest facilitator

We are encouraging my mother to write down her memories of her youth, as she approaches her 96th birthday. She and Queen Elizabeth were born close together in that year – 1926.

Sixteen years old at the time, Iris Hoffman reminds the reader of a time when the Japanese were coming. It was 1942.

Tocumwal Airfield – previously known as “McIntyre Field” by the USAAF

The war was getting worse and town councils were ordered to send some employees to go to Tocumwal to help build an aerodrome there as American air troops needed it. Dad was sent! At home in Culcairn and other towns we were trying to get accustomed to being swooped over by American Kittyhawks. They would come in low and scare the hell out of us; they buzzed every town and homestead in the area we were told. At last the airfield was finished, Dad came home and resumed his job with the Culcairn council.

Then Dad decided to move to Gippsland. We would be primary producers on a dairy farm near Maffra with 80-90 cows to milk, twice a day. We did it. Our war effort. My eldest brother, Percy was already in the army, and the youngest, Trevor, was in the airforce, so there we were, Dad and my brother and sister, Keith and Lorna and myself, in the land army – and Mum at home to look after us all. 

“McIntyre Field” was established by the USAAF on the NSW/Victoria border, near the Newell Highway. It originally covered an area of about 25 miles square. Named after Captain Patrick W McIntyre who was killed in a crash of a US bomber on 5 June 1943, the field was home to 54 Liberators, 11 Vultee Vengeance, five Kittyhawks and an Airspeed Oxford. Four thousand five hundred RAAF men  and 400 WAAF  women were based at Tocumwal. It was also a storage and repair depot for aircraft including Boeing, Lancaster, Mosquito and Spitfire. After the RAAF left Tocumwal in 1960, over 700 aircraft were scrapped.

It should be recognised that having a German-sounding name when, in two World Wars, the enemy was Germany, had a negative effect in the community at large, spurred on by the jingoists.

The Lutheran diaspora had settled in the rural areas around Albury. These were people who fled Silesia, from the Prussian Calvinists who persecuted their Lutheran community. Many came to Australia and are concentrated in certain parts of Australia, including areas around Albury. The township of Holbrook, north of Albury, once was called Germantown. The name of the township was changed in that flurry of jingoism which accompanied Australian participation in both World Wars, but particularly in the early stages of the First World War.

In the 1840s my mother’s family came to Australia from Katowice, which is a major Polish town today but was then Prussia. They settled first in the Barossa Valley but with a shortage of land available there, they walked with their wagons, from South Australia to settle in southern NSW. My maternal mother was a Schröeter. My mother would have been a wonderful subject for “Who do you think you are?”

Now she still has a store of memories of being part of Australia, including beating Margaret Court once at tennis. No matter that Margaret Court was a teenage prodigy. But still, a win is a win.

But is A Win a Win?

The Russians are completely and utterly over the fence. There they are, continuing their gold medal dominance in sports cheating. The Washington Post teed off this week and below is part of that article from its ferocious correspondent, Barry Svrluga.

As of Monday afternoon here, the Russian Olympic Committee team had won 18 medals, the second-highest total behind Norway. But maybe there should be a new category for its medals? “Provisionally won?”, “Won … for now?” “Won, pending further info?”

Even in the exceedingly unlikely event that these Games aren’t tainted, it was impossible to watch Russian cross-country skier Sergey Ustiugov grab an Olympic flag as he skated the final meters of the men’s 4×10-kilometer relay on Sunday, winning by a huge margin, watch him celebrate with his teammates, without wondering, “Who’s finishing second — and how long before they’re awarded gold?”

That’s not damning of Ustiugov and his teammates specifically. It’s how the IOC and its cronies have forced us to think. When the iron was at its most scorching, the IOC failed to execute the kind of forceful ban that might have effected actual change in the Russian system. Instead, it demanded what amounts to a change of laundry for Russian athletes (their uniforms cannot bear their nation’s flag here) and swapped out the CD for their celebrations (no Russian national anthem, either). But the show goes on, so the mind wonders whether any of it is legitimate.

That has been true for more than a decade now, and the shame of all this is that when the flame is extinguished here Sunday night, the results from so many competitions still should be sketched lightly in pencil.

Athletes who depart China with suspicions about the fairness of their competitions can’t be offered much encouragement, either. American high jumper Eric Kynard, for instance, won silver at the London Olympics in 2012. He was 21 and beaten only by Russian Ivan Uhkov. CAS later determined that Uhkov and 11 other Russian track and field athletes had been doping. The IOC rejected Uhkov’s final appeal — in November 2021. By then, Kynard was 31. Maybe he stepped onto a chair in his backyard and played “The Star-Spangled Banner” to celebrate.

Spread the blame for such a mess around, but good luck sorting out precisely how to divvy it up. There’s so much inbreeding among governing bodies here that it’s difficult to differentiate one organization from the other. CAS claims on its website that it is “an institution independent of any sports organization.”

The President of its board is John Coates, an Australian lawyer who has been an IOC member for more than 20 years, a period of time in which he has been on the IOC’s executive board and served as a vice president. That’s independent? The World Anti-Doping Agency was founded by Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, a former Olympic swimmer who was first elected to the IOC in 1978. WADA’s 14-member executive committee includes four current IOC members.

How to tell any of them apart? As American skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender told my colleague Adam Kilgore last week, “How do we really know what’s going on behind the scenes?”

Uhlaender has the right to ask. In 2014, she finished fourth in her event, all of four-hundredths of a second behind Elena Nikitina of — you guessed it — Russia. When Russia’s Sochi scheme was exposed, Nikitina was among more than two dozen Russian athletes banned from the Olympics for life — and Uhlaender appeared to have her medal. On the eve of the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Nikitina was reinstated.

That there has been no significant punishment to the entire Russian delegation in the eight years since both boggles the mind and tugs at the heart.

Uhlaender is clear-eyed about it. “It’s not independent,” she said. “None of this is independent. It’s all run by the IOC. It’s really hard to have faith in a system that failed so hard in 2014.”

Particularly because it’s continuing to fail. According to long time Olympic historian Bill Mallon, the Russians have been stripped of 31 medals in the five Games dating from 2012. That doesn’t count winning Russian teams on which more than one athlete was disqualified, nor does it account for disqualified Russian athletes who didn’t medal. The evidence suggests there will be more here. This isn’t a witch hunt. The witch has been identified.

(Those who can be bothered can watch the 15 year Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva compete despite having been clearly doped, the court has ruled.)

Kamila Valieva

Whether it will eventually have consequences for Valieva is impossible to say. What’s certain: The women’s short program will be held Tuesday, and she will skate in it.

In explaining the reasons CAS will allow Valieva to compete here going forward, Matthieu Reeb, the panel’s director general, cited, among other things, “serious issues of untimely notification of the results” from a test that was reportedly taken on Christmas Day — but that wasn’t reported as positive until after Valieva had competed in the team event here.

Whose fault is that? Well, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement: The reason for the delays in the analysis and reporting by the laboratory was another wave of covid-19.” [When in doubt, blame the pandemic.]

What a mess. It’s a mess that, at the moment, falls at the feet of a 15-year-old athlete who is demonstrably the best in the world at her craft. If there’s ever a medal ceremony in the women’s figure skating event, her presence on the podium will be questioned. That’s not her fault. It’s the IOC’s, for creating and sustaining a system in which every Russian medal must be met with suspicion — looking both back, now and into the future. 

Mouse Whisper

I could not have said it better, referring to a tweet on the Super Bowl result last Sunday:

Imagine if the Bengals didn’t accept the final score, stormed the field, sued the NFL, and protested the 2022 NFL season calling it fraudulent.

Bengals, Bengals, burning bright …

 

Modest Expectations – Blood-nut Hollow

One side of my family, the Horwills, were wool combers from Devon. The industrial revolution came later to wool processing than for cotton, but by the mid 19th century, the technology had been ironed out and manual wool combing was surplus to need. Anyway, many of the family had already gone to sea, literally. There were hard times in that year; food shortages and the upheavals in Europe may have also played a part because in the mid 19th century the Horwills scattered across the New World – to America, Canada and Australia.

Another set of ancestors, the Egans, came out from Ireland about the same time. Their father had been a flour miller in Crossard, a small township in Co. Clare. They seem to have been tenant farmers. The potato famine changed their life and drove the whole family to Australia. My great-grand father went first to Kapunda on the Yorke Peninsula, where the first commercial mine to extract copper from a rich deposit happened earlier in the decade. Unsuccessful, he was attracted by the newly-found gold in Victoria and made a considerable fortune by providing timber for the mine shafts.

1848 was a time when the working classes and the nascent middle class rose up across Europe. It cannot be blamed on the industrial revolution but it was a time that the disparity between rich and poor was accentuated.

The revolution started in Sicily where the Bourbon King’s rule was challenged. There had been a savage cholera epidemic in Sicily and it seems that arbitrary arrests of a few people sparked riots in the streets of Palermo. As the rioters gained support even from the wealthy, it became a fully-fledged rebellion with the locals seizing power from the Bourbon king, who reigned from Naples.

The rebellion spread across Continental Europe and it followed a pattern of the revolutionaries seizing power and then having it taken away from them in violent conflict, with the old order in the end re-established. However revolution did not affect Great Britain, except that the Irish Question became an even greater problem with the failure of the potato crop in a country still reliant on agrarian subsistence.

The problem is that the dynasties were re-established, refurbished and restored. However, there was now an intellectual basis for the foment among the community against the ruling dynasties traditional right to power.

But after a major upheaval, whether it be famine, epidemic or war, nothing is the same. Communication and education opportunities then were improving – if unevenly. That was the nature of society: industrial progress, the urban growth, democratic advocacy, education and with improved literacy and numeracy in the working class, all were shifting unevenly.

America and the British colonies and places like Argentina had spurts of migration – no more so than America. Here in Australia it was the Celts – Irish, Scots and Welsh – looking for a better life. There were also people from the Prussian diaspora – Lutheran Germans and Wends. Jews were forced to flee Europe – universal scapegoats.

Descendents of the immigrants

The 1848 revolution was never a major source of our migration. It was the fascination with gold a few years later. The Chinese came and their immigration is entangled in these gold discoveries. It was just a coincidence that this was around 1848.

The gulf between rich and poor was growing and all 1848 had done was to seed in the enlightened of the day that industrialisation meant that workers would eventually want their share, and have a voice.

2020 is in the middle of another revolution, a communication revolution where, rather than Rothschild, Carnegie, Mellon Rockefeller, Astors of yore, it is now the Gates, Bezos, the Google Twins, Zuckerberg and the Jobs Legacy that command the riches.

Instead of workers obediently tipping their forelocks to the pageantry of the wealthy this generation is hooked into a technology that is increasingly manipulating the masses into not paying attention to this wealth and power disparity, with this communication revolution aiding and abetting this disparity.

That is until the Virus came calling.

Like the famine and the urban cesspool of exploitation, the disparity in wealth was allowed to progress until the First World War, despite some tentative gestures to improvement. That was a critical tipping point; the misnamed Spanish flu epidemic without cure, the Great Depression and then the Second World War were sequels. To trace the causal effects of each on each other is beyond the scope of one simple blog.

However, the rich now, through what their agents laughingly called government, have peddled globalisation and the free market as a means to erode the power of the people. To me that “power of the people” has always been shorthand for democracy. Rather than the information revolution devolving power to the people, the opposite has occurred and as the algorithms of control become more and more sophisticated then so will democracy become only a façade.

However, the Virus has provided an opportunity to change the system. The rage against “lockdown” confused with oppression is reflected in the race protests, people against police brutality and a superficial correction in toppling or defacing statues. But these acts are peripheral.

As post-1848 showed, the middle class eventually sided with the rich and their politician tools, frightened of the unknown and guessing they had less to lose. Outbursts were suppressed and bribes cloaked as “commitment” seduced the others. Whenever, the word “change agent” is used, it identifies the person who has made his or her life’s work to sit on committees and do nothing.

In the end, because they suffer from the same afflictions, politicians close ranks – ask them to reduce their remuneration and perks and that is the definition of the great god, Unanimity.

However, control is in the end vested in the masters of communication. Once it was the newspaper magnates, but they are being consigned to the irrelevant.

Those who want to maintain power do it through philanthropy, such as Bill Gates who is just following the game plan of the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, and in this country Ian Potter – but in a way that the means of amassment is well separated from the art of giving. Philanthropy is thus a powerful force – it is a form of tithe for ongoing respectability and to have a shelter in a metaphorical Nottingham Wood (to avoid the pun as you read on).

To quote the Guardian when discussing one Andrew Forrest: “This is not to say philanthropy has no real to play in a democracy. It does. But democracies cannot allow wealthy individuals and successful organisations to use philanthropy as a substitute for paying tax. That’s no longer democracy: it is oligarchy.”

Or plutocracy.

Thus the Virus gives society the opportunity to have a levelling influence on the elite. Given that the middle class is almost as afflicted as the poor, then the chance is a return to a democratic tradition, where government stops abrogating its role to care for the people.

This pandemic has made abundantly clear that investment in public health worldwide has been woeful. When governments start privatising water, as has been done, then this compounds the risk of food security, and a stagnant pool is then a cesspool. It is thus only a matter of time before waste disposal and sewage is privatised. All the gains which were made post-1848 when there was a modicum of enlightenment and there were enough statesmen to listen may be lost to a mass of politicians grubbing around for personal gain – the primordial rent seekers of today. In fact it is time to thin the rent seekers out – some are more cancerous than others, metastasising their cells all through the governing bodies.

Rocinante and his old boss

How do we bring more balance to a Post-viral World? Where government has shown leadership, the Virus has been suppressed, incarcerated if not eliminated. To maintain such a defence force against disease, then there must be consideration of government spending and thus it becomes a search for income. Since in the flurry of neoliberalism, governments have given away most of their assets, and decreased taxation, it is not easy. Tax reform can be portrayed as Rocinante tied to a post waiting for his new boss to appear. Governments of all sides have made those who genuinely believe in overall betterment quixotic.

Increasing taxation is an obvious solution whether by simplifying the tax and removing concessions, instituting a turnover tax, raising GST in a progressive way, abolishing the poll taxes which have resulted from privatisation, reintroduction of inheritance taxes, closing tax havens and generally establishing a means by which everybody pays their fair share, rather than sheltering behind the mumbo-jumbo of the “free market’’. There are plenty of options to achieve equity.

When the threat to wellbeing is greatest and where the politicians recognise their need for expert advice, this pandemic has provided a harsh lesson. Globalisation now has an altered definition.

Rather than revert to the failures of neo-liberalism, it is time for government intervention. Social housing is an immediate target – a worthy show of government’s role. It is hard to brush aside what government has done for the homeless during the pandemic, and as such reduced the burden on the street.

However, long term assistance for these poor does not fit in with aspirational greed – yet it is where there are poor housing and working conditions that the Virus will continue to flourish. As with all crises, the rich will flee to the country. Manhattan this summer has become more of a ghost town in the wealthy areas, but come winter it may be different – and ski resorts have been shown as one place the Virus strikes the rich.

Deserted Manhattan streets

It is a pity I will not live long enough to see what this post 2020 environment brings to a world, but at least when the world locked down this year – for oh so short a time – we could see the horizon. 

Remember Quemoy and Matsu

They are called Quemoy and Matsu. Quemoy is an island in the lee of the China mainland. Matsu is a group of islands to the north scattered across the South China Sea. They are administered from Taiwan and remain an oddity from the Chiang Kai-shek retreat to Taiwan after his defeat by the Communist forces in 1949. When they are discussed they are always mentioned in the same breath. However they are very separated but not more so than from Taiwan.

Matsu

The Nationalist forces were able to repel the Communist forces when they tried to invade Quemoy in 1949. Yet given that Quemoy is just six kilometres from the mainland and yet 280 kilometres across the Strait to Taiwan, it is remarkable that China has not just absorbed it and the Matsu archipelago. They are just the kind of islands that the Chinese want to convert into bases. China seems to prefer to annoy other countries by taking over disputed rocks in the South China Seas and building military bases.

Yet in the 1950s Quemoy and Matsu were flashpoints in the conflict between the Americans and the Chinese, where the remnant Chiang Kai-shek “China” forces lodged on the island of Formosa.

There were two critical periods, and in one of the years when the two Chinas were not fighting – bombarding the islands and having aerial dogfights over the South China Sea, I was on a ship. The United States imposed a blockade on Chinese Ports. For any shipping in the South China Sea it was a tense situation for those who ventured there, in our case in a cargo ship called the S.S. Taiping. It was a ship of about 4,000 tonnes, transporting mainly wheat and wool, but also catering for a number of passengers. My recently widowered father was the ship’s doctor (and I was lodged in the second wireless officer cabin).

Thus the ship had to thread its way across the South China Sea to Hong Kong. One morning when I had just come up on deck I heard this screaming noise, which came with a rush, and suddenly there they were two American Star fighters swooping low just above the funnel and then as quickly disappearing as specks into the clouds. Now we were ready to watch if they came again, which they did. I could imagine that these planes had positioned themselves for a strafing run. They were over the ship and then were gone – hardly enough time to disturb those taking breakfast below.

S.S. Taiping

However, the noise of the planes – an ear-blistering scream – gave me a feeling of exhilaration. To my father and the chief officer, both of whom had experienced Japanese strafing and bombing, just shrugged their shoulders. However, it brought home to me the fact that we living in perilous times in a perilous sea.

Yet despite the posturing Taiwan seems safer now than it was when China was considerably weaker as it was in 1956. Quemoy and Matsu seemed to have dropped out of the lexicon of threats. I think that the Chinese government know the Taiwanese today are not the same force it considered invading 70 years ago. Nevertheless the rhetoric remains. It always does.

The Taiwanese have a very substantial military force of 165,000 active soldiers with another 1.2 million in reserve, compared to Australia with a similar population of 30,000 active soldiers with 13,000 in reserve. When I went there I thought their approach was very much like that of the Israelis. Survival had moved to consolidation and having a big stick helps – and the nation is not in the mood to relinquish any hard-earned gains.

The other reason I believe China would be loath to invade is for fear that the fine collection of artefacts dating back to Neolithic times now housed in the National Palace Museum could be destroyed. The Chinese have never forgotten the looting that occurred in 1860 when the Anglo-French forces entered Beijing and burnt the Summer Palaces. Many of the looted treasures ended up in France and the United Kingdom, but a substantial collection remains in Taiwan. The Chinese government would not want this Taiwan collection destroyed, even though it was stolen by Chiang Kai-shek at the time he fled the Mainland.

I was told the collection was so large that those items on display could be totally replaced for seven years before there would be any need to repeat the items on display. Some of these items are said to be among the finest Chinese artefacts and heritage is a very important consideration. Can China invade without damaging the collection? It answers its own question – no.

However, why do it? To have a war over an island to expunge some hubric stain begs that very question. Nevertheless, there are no bounds to laundering one’s own hubris if the gale is blowing in the right direction, whatever that direction is considered to be.

Picnic on Quemoy

In any case, I understand now that tourists can come across from the Mainland to picnic on Quemoy among the visitors from Taiwan. But then perhaps that is bad optics – ordinary people mingling.

There is a lesson for Australia in the Taiwan approach. While I was initially sceptical of their COVID-19 numbers, when you remember the discipline into which Taiwan has had to accustom itself to assure its survival, it is unsurprising that it should early on recognise a foreign invader, even if they cannot see it except under a microscope. 

Dreamer, sleep deep | Toiler, sleep long | Fighter, be rested now | Commander, sweet goodnight 

After my father died, my stepmother with these words headed her replies to those who had sent letters to her expressing sympathy and many reflecting on my father’s legacy. I found this reference in my personal file, and remembered that the words were the final ones of Carl Sandberg’s poem on the death of President Roosevelt.

It prompted me to purchase a copy of Sandberg’s complete works, and his elegiac words from “When Death Came April Twelve 1945”:

and there will be roses and spring blossoms

flung on the moving oblong box, emblems endless

flung from nearby, from faraway earth corners,

from frontline tanks nearing Berlin

unseen flowers of regard to the Commander,

from battle stations in the South Pacific

silent tokens saluting The Commander

Such is the contrast so clearly set out in the poem with Trump to perceive how far leadership has slipped in the United States. Would the passing of the current incumbent evoke such a response?

Yet Roosevelt presided over a country where segregation of black people and denial of civil rights was the order of the day in the then Democrat voting South – a country where in 1938 the Ku Klux Klan rallied in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Yet a year later, because of the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt, before 75,000 people Marion Anderson, the great American contralto sang at the Lincoln Memorial, a performance that is said to have inspired the young Martin Luther King to enter the struggle for real emancipation, a conflict still being played out on the streets of the American City.

For my part, I now have this copy of Carl Sandberg’s poems on my desk. Every morning I read a poem. His love of country is so evident that I realise how much I love my own country and how inadequate I am in expressing this love compared to Sandberg’s of America.

I am saddened by those who want to deface statues, which was the way of previous generations to honour mostly men of their time.

James Cook was not perfect; he trod the line between assertion and aggression. Discipline and loyalty yet are essential attributes when you are sailing in the unknown. Choice is not a discussion on the niceties of democracy when choice is between survival and death.

Graffiti is one vehicle of the ignorant. Cook does not deserve that. His images don’t deserve that. Before these furbo children of the millennium pick up their spray cans again, they should think: will you ever have the same level of curiosity, bravery and endeavour that that Yorkshire explorer had, rather than being the furtive snigger of the dark night coward wielding spray cans?

The Man from Blood-nut Hollow

I met Reg Hickey when I tutored his daughter in biochemistry. She was studying to be a health professional. The details are foggy, but I know it was not nursing. It was the year I had a job in Geelong at the Hospital, and I got on well with Reg. He was the closest to beatification in that city at the time, which also was known as Blood-nut Hollow because of Hickey having a propensity to recruit red-headed players.

Reg Hickey had coached Geelong at Australian Rules for three periods beginning in 1932 until he finally retired in 1959. I remembered him well because he coached Geelong the year they beat my team, Essendon in 1951 – a surprise victory. This victory was one of three premierships Hickey won with Geelong.

Reg then was very influential in the world of football. He secured two tickets for the 1965 Grand Final when Essendon played St Kilda. My then wife was an exquisite blonde, a doctor who had come to Australia as a refugee with her sister and parents. Born in what is now Slovenia, she could be a somewhat fiery individual.

We were shown to our seats. They were very good seats, given there were 104,000 other people at the Melbourne Cricket ground that day. The seats were three rows back from the fence.

On this occasion, I had not realised that her passion extended to the football field. At one point, the play came very close to us. There was a scuffle. One involved in this altercation was Carl Ditterich, a very tall burly St Kilda ruckman who had made a sensational debut two seasons before when he 18, With his shock of blond hair and youthful enthusiasm, you could not miss him in any crowd.

Well, my then wife did that day. Ditterich who was increasingly known for translating that enthusiasm in aggression was roughing up Essendon player Ted Fordham just in front of us. Enraged at this bullying of a smaller player, she stood up and flung an open can of “Palato”, a fizzy orange cordial drink, in Ditterich’s direction.

Palato went everywhere, but we were sitting among Essendon fans who, despite being splattered with the orange drink in accordance with Newton’s Third law of Motion, gave her a big cheer. She sat down regally as ever without acknowledging the applause. The can missed Ditterich. I cannot recall whether I wanted to stay or flee. But nothing happened. No retribution – we did not have men labelled Security in those days and police only appeared near the game to stop the crowds running onto the field of play.

Essendon went on to win the game. Fordham kicked seven goals and was named Man of the Match. I don’t know whether Carl had much of a match – how could you with visions of that young avenging doctor in the third row of the Southern Stand!

As for Mr Hickey, my life was better for knowing him, however briefly, as I moved back to Melbourne the next year.

Mouse whisper

Mice are used to long winding passages but there is always a nest in among the passages where I can always watch Nestflix.

However, I was enjoying one of G.K Chesterton’s short stories, a bit dry but still meaty, when I came across this quote:

What we all dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre.

The priest was Father Brown. The story was The Head of Caesar.

I chewed on it for a moment. I thought how relevant the quote is today in the world outside my mouse hole.

Modest expectation – Hourglass

The member for Dickson, that doyen of child care ownership, is showing all the compassion that we have come to expect, and for which the good burghers of Dickson rewarded him with an increased majority at the last election. However, it was not all high fives out at Mount Nebo, where 75 per cent of the votes cast there were for the Labor candidate.

Overlooking the promised land, from Mount Nebo

It is not that the member for Dickson is not without compassion. He has a daughter born out of wedlock, whom he seems proud to have as part of his family with his second wife. Therefore I find it difficult to know why he is rejecting these two Australian children who are part of the growing multicultural nation family, because they happen to have Tamil parents.

Perhaps some of that affection he has extended to his daughter should rub off in a decision to enable these two little Australian citizens to remain.

But he won’t. He was trained as a Queensland copper to be tough, unrelenting, a man very much into leather. After all, any criticism in his home state is strangled by the Murdoch Press. He cannot stand loss of face. He has had so much of that over the past year. Yet his electorate apparently love him – the May election would have been a good ego stroke for his basic insecurities.

Why can’t these politicians stand loss of face? They are pitiable, but as I said, 53,000 of Dicksers love him.

However, I pity the children far more – and if they want to come back to Australia, they should be given passports like anybody else born in this country, including the Member for Dickson – notwithstanding any change in the Australian Citizenship Act 33 years ago. 

Rhiannan Iffland. Who?

I always think I know generally what goes on the sports pages. So it was somewhat surprising when television surfing in a non-English speaking country far from Australia, to come upon Red Bull-sponsored cliff diving. There are seven events this year where the contestants dive off cliffs mostly with temporary platforms jutting out over the sea. I have always associated this daredevil idiocy with the young Mexican divers at Acapulco.

However, now it is an organised sport which allegedly attracts 60,000 to 80,000 spectators, and the Australian, Rhiannan Iffland, who has combined her diving and trampolining into an extraordinary skill, is far and away the best female cliff diver in the world. At her last appearance – diving from the famous restored bridge at Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina – she achieved straight tens.

Rhiannan Iffland

The last competition for 2019 is at Bilbao on 14th September where the competitors dive from the La Salve Bridge, 24 metres down into the River Nervion, in full sight of the Guggenheim museum. Majestic daredevilry. The sight of this young woman twisting and somersaulting, slicing into the water feet first is indeed breath-taking. The danger of this diving is underscored by the number of frogmen swimming around in the water waiting for the mishap.

I do not know if anybody can be bothered showing it to an Australian audience, but we are strangely unknowing about this woman’s extraordinary talent, given the fact that women’s sport overall is attracting more and more interest. Perhaps it is because she is so good, that even we Australians get bored with those who win all the time. We just expect it. Do we remember Heather Mackay who won the British open squash title for 16 years in a row before winning the inaugural world championship and then retiring? We certainly remember Winx, quite a female performer.

Rural Health

One of the repeated catchcries is the lack of rural health services in Australia. My response has always been that one has to actively transfer intellectual capital to the “regional, rural and remote areas” to encourage a positive outcome. In this blog, “rural” will be used to encompass all.

One of the most important developments in the medical system, amid all the jeremiads over the past two decades, has been the new medical schools with a rural emphasis, the rural clinical schools and the university departments of rural health.

These teaching institutions have facilitated transfer of intellectual capital to rural areas. Medical teaching has been shown to occur more than adequately outside the metropolitan teaching hospitals; and significant intellectual capital exists already in both the larger and the smaller rural hospitals.

Without this innovation, the health education system would have had great difficulty in handling the increase in medical students that occurred in the decade following the introduction of these new rural facilities.

However, this rural dispersal needs good medical management, and especially with the Government’s obsession with Regional Training Hubs, as though the basic structure does not already exist.

One inspiration underpinning the recommendations of my Rural Stocktake in 1999, which led to Government funding for the establishment of rural clinical schools and university departments of rural health, was the story of the Mayo Clinic and visits made to both to the Rochester Minnesota and Scottsdale Arizona campuses some years before I did the Stocktake.

The Mayo Clinic was formed by the Mayos – father and sons – in Rochester in the 19th century and to me has always exemplified that excellence is not confined to the largest conurbations. The Mayos proved to be very good managers and developed intellectual capital involving a wide range of skills, in the “wilds of Minnesota”.

Then one also remembers the story of a gifted doctor named Samuel Fitzpatrick, who was based in Hamilton in Western Victoria. He was a world authority on the surgery of hydatid disease, then a major affliction – particularly in Western Victoria where sheep farming was a major component of the local economy. The disease was of such importance that the then Royal Australian College of Surgeons established a national hydatid registry in 1926 that, until its cessation in 1950, identified over 2,000 cases. Such attention helped in the campaigns to reduce the incidence of hydatid infection in humans – the intersection of Fitzpatrick the surgeon and Fitzpatrick the public health doctor.

At the height of his practice Dr Fitzpatrick dreamt that this niche disease could propel Hamilton into having its own Australian version of the Mayo Clinic. However hydatid disease lessened as a major disease and, unlike that of his Mayo exemplar, Fitzpatrick’s dream faded. While Hamilton doctors have maintained a high reputation for medical care and procedural competence, this remained a country practice in Victoria.

The surgical virtuosos of the bush, like Fitzpatrick – the doctor who was that generalist with an equal ability to treat any disease or condition – increasingly disappeared. The intellectual capital that they possessed was not translated into major teaching and research facilities in rural Australia, let alone centres for public health as had occurred with the Mayos and their stake in rural America.

The rise of specialist medicine and then sub-specialist medicine, together with their resultant perceived skills and knowledge, concentrated teaching and learning in metropolitan teaching hospitals, and in so doing emphasised the importance of the individual at the expense of the total population denominator.

Public health was dismissed in some quarters as surveillance of “tips and drains” Yet public health training for many years was concentrated in the School of Public Health in the University of Sydney. Public health education as a medical specialty was invigorated by a consultant physician, Sue Morey, and a number of like-minded people following the Kerr White report. Dr Morey headed the resultant Faculty of Public Health Medicine, which ended up within the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

One of the important outcomes of the growth of rural medical education has been the opportunity to be both director of medical service and director of clinical training. I was able test this association personally and found it fruitful, being involved in the establishment of a medical intern program that requires the interns to undertake 20 weeks in rural general practice, plus the mandatory hospital terms. Health education (rather than medical education per se) has been attached to a group of academics primarily in traditional teaching hospitals. I was lucky with having forward thinking CEOs in a number of rural health care services.

They realised that what I called small teaching services, where the general practitioners have provided a variety of services, are rich teaching environments. I term these health services as “teaching services”. My argument is that by having a series of interns each year, you give the local doctors the opportunity to teach without the layered bureaucracy of the medical colleges telling you what to do.

Hence the 20 weeks in general practice as an intern and the concept of rotating interns ‘in’ to the regional or teaching hospital, not “out “ from those same hospitals. In other words, the small teaching service are allocated the interns; not having to depend on the big hospitals.

That was the core of the M2M program which has been rolled out in across Victoria and, to conform to the commonwealth funding provisions rather than the intent of the program, then called “Rural Medical Generalist Program”. The Rural medical Generalist program is an Queensland concoction of the ACRRM.

It aims to provide a training program for that College and really a reason for that College to exist. Simply put it aims to skill general practitioners to work in the country. A very good thing, but for it to work well it has to have a defined connection with the rural clinical schools – and that was the aim of the intern training program.

Nevertheless, there is this major barrier to this program – the attitude of some senior members of the university hierarchy and their teaching hospitals – not all I would emphasis – who could not care a jot about rural Australia – the major universities are there to perpetuate elitism. You measure that by research dollars not by the benefit you may provide to rural Australia.

Medical education is one of those areas that, in the undergraduate field, have been attached to universities and the post-graduate qualifications left to the various Colleges. As I found out this leaves a gap in the first two post-graduate hospital years as intern and resident medical officer when there is often a high level of angst. There is a need for expertise and experience to assist the doctor in those first two years.

I realised this need for pastoral help with the interns – surely an accompaniment of an empathetic educational environment . Taken seriously medical education without forgetting the importance of public health should be a major concern of any university, which considers itself to have a pastoral role rather than a treasury for the fees of international students. If the university adopt that pastoral challenge just as the Mayos and Samuel Fitzpatrick did, then this whole exercise of having rural clinical schools, defined educational programs in the first two years of post-graduate life as a doctor is still relevant despite being in a different era

As one famous person once said: “Before you capture the citadels, secure the fields first!” Therefore, for the young doctor think of gaining experience in a rural post before tackling, rather than being absorbed into, the “citadel culture” of the urban teaching hospitals.

The Brethren

Back in the 1970s while fresh from his exploits in hastening the departure of Richard Nixon, Woodward wrote a book with Scott Armstrong about the United States Supreme Court from the 1969 term to 1975 term. This was the time when the Court was moving from the liberal court of Earl Warren to the more conservative court of Warren Burger. Earl Warren had resigned in the belief that he would be succeeded by somebody cut from his legislative cloth.

This did not occur, and instead the court became the plaything for Nixon appointees. Not only did Nixon appoint the new Chief Justice in Burger but also three other justices, only one of which – William Rehnquist – fitted what Nixon hoped the court would become – a bastion of conservatism. As with the current Chief Justice French, Burger was elevated directly to Chief Justice with all the administrative load that entailed, without any experience as a Justice of the Supreme Court.

What is fascinating about the book when read against the churning turmoil of the Trump presidency is how complicated are the politics of the Supreme Court. Not for nothing is the book named The Brethren for all the religious overtones that the name implies.

It deals with all the machinations of Roe vs Wade, which is where Trump supporters and the Roman Catholic Church want repealed. It should be realised that seven out of the nine judges concurred with the proposition that including three of the Nixon appointees including Chief Justice Burger voted for the proposition that the United States Constitution protects the rights of a pregnant woman to have an abortion.

Only the newly appointed William Rehnquist, later to become Chief Justice and Byron White, the only Kennedy nominee dissented. So despite the howls of the anti-abortioners, this decision represented a very diverse cross-section of men of different political persuasion.

However, the most chilling aspect of the book was its conclusion when it summarises four cases which hinged on the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In each case the decided that day in July 1975, the court ruled in favour of government rather then for the individual citizen. The final line says: “the center had won”, which can be roughly translated into “the right were gaining ascendency”.

It had been a short time between 1973 when the Roe vs Wade decision and July 1975 – the so-called Black Tuesday. When The Brethren was published in 1979, the composition of the court remained the same as it was in 1975.

However, changes were afoot with the very intelligent but ideologically driven Rhenquist in the wings awaiting his ascension into the Chief Justice role. In 1981, with the retirement of Burger the die was cast; the die which contains the court ruling in favour of Bush over Gore; the deviousness of McConnell in denying an Obama nominee, and the sad sight of Ruth Bader Ginsberg hoping her pancreatic cancer does not kill her before the next Presidential election -in other words outlasting Trump. Such is the state of American democracy. 

Mouse Whisper

An interesting comment overheard in the back streets of Whroo.

Every year, there is a change in the education curriculum in Hong Kong, so eventually the education program between the children of China and Hong Kong will be indistinguishable. The level of information manipulation will be the same.

By the time, the total absorption of Hong Kong into China occurs in 2047, who among those of the “one country, two systems” will have heard of the riots of 2019.

Talk about the long game …

The umbrella protest

Modest Expectations – Whistling Dixie

I have just been looking at the election results again, and remembering very clearly the backslapping which occurred with the landslide that Bjelke-Petersen effected in the 1974 election in Queensland when the ALP was reduced to 11 seats. At the same time the Queensland Labor Party, the Santamaria-Vince Gair offshoot, was wiped out completely.

The only safe Labor seat left then was Port Curtis or, as it is now named, Gladstone. True to form, in the 2019 swing to the Coalition in the electorate of Flynn, which is a pendulum electorate at the best of times, Gladstone remained Labor as did much of Rockhampton.

Queensland has this history over the past 50 years of being electorally volatile.

However, what intrigued me recently was Blackwater, which is touted as the coal mining capital of Queensland; the coal is exported via rail to Gladstone. The two booths there voted strongly Labor, as did the electors of Bluff down the road where the coal trains interchange in 2019.

The story of Blackwater is instructive – named because of the colour of the water passing across the coal seam. It had a population of 77 in 1966. Then the open cut coalmines came and the population swelled to 10,000 in the 1970s to decline to a current figure of about 4,000. There were about 1,000 voters at the two booths. The majority voted Labor (57 per cent at one booth and 64 per cent at the other). It is also true that other coal towns across the Bowen Basin of Collinsville, Moranbah, Dysart and Tieri all voted for Labor.

Small figures but instructive as a pointer. Given how unreliable the polls are, you might as well attribute the swing in Flynn to the State Government with the duumvirate (or more correctly duamfeminate) of Palaszczuk and Trad, as to the substitution of Morrison for Turnbull. However, quite rightly there was the Longman by-election and subsequently the swing back on May 18, which would point more to the second as the major cause for that phenomenon Nevertheless, change is not always due to one factor.

Flynn has a great many people on the land doing it tough because of the drought, and as you cannot directly blame God, well the State Government may as well cop the blame through its surrogate, Shorten, despite him being the son-in-law of the Queensland Dame, surely a person of renown in her own State.

Blackwater is just one of 40 odd mining centres in the Bowen Basin, which is South of the Galilee Basin.

Admittedly one of difficulties in defining voting patterns in the Bowen Basin is the number of “fly-in-fly-out” (FIFO) mining employees, estimated at 18 per cent of the population. It would be interesting to know the home postcodes of these FIFO miners but the assumption that they are locals, who earn the money that sustains the local economy, needs to be tested if we wish to clearly define the miners’ voting patterns. 

Strathmore Furore 

I came to Australia as a 14-pound “Pom” on the S.S. Strathmore, a P&O liner. The 14 pounds is an estimate. I might have weighed a pound more or less at four months old, in 1946, when I arrived with my Mum. The ship berthed first at Fremantle.

Somehow the Sydney Daily Telegraph had got wind of stench from our ship. Was the Fremantle Doctor that stiff a breeze to reach Sydney?

The story the paper ran the day after the Strathmore arrived was headlined: alien passengers filthy, ship’s passengers allege. Unbeknown to me for sixty-odd years, around 200 refugees had boarded the ship in Port Said—distressing many of those who, like us, had embarked in Southampton.

A Mr Pugh (“ex-R.A.A.F”) said to the Telegraph: “They are mostly women over 50. “Some,” he added for good measure, “are aged 70”.

That sexism and ageism was just lustre dust to the real thrust of the tabloid’s story: These filthy Germans, Austrians, Czechs, Palestine Jews, Cypriots, Greeks and Maltese were covered in sores and so dirty that the real passengers dare not dip their toes into the same pool.

A Mr Spencer of Regent Motors in Melbourne described the refugees as verminous, pointing out that they refused to be deloused. He demanded, “Why don’t we select our migrants from the magnificent types offering in England, and in Norway, where there are 10,000 ready to come here?”

The Sydney Morning Herald also made news of passengers’ complaints. “They’d turned the ship into a floating ‘Tower of Babel’ (and) wore peasant-type shawls draped about their heads (or) jackets gaily bedecked with patterns worked in silver wire.”

The Herald too handed Messrs Spencer and Pugh a megaphone. Each said in turn:

“The immigrants spat on the decks, threw their fruit peelings everywhere, and hung their washing across the deck promenades. It staggers me that Australia should have to rely for its population on the type of people that this ship brought.”

Sydney’s broadsheet listed just some of the languages spoken in the seagoing Migdal Babel: Hebrew was the first mentioned … then Egyptian, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Austrian, Hungarian, Yugoslavian (sic) and Czechoslovakian (sic).

The furore ran for several days in newspapers around Australia.

Then the following Friday, The Sydney Morning Herald published a letter from a man called David Hand. He was a passenger on the ship, an Australian, who was also an Anglican priest. His five-paragraph letter was written “purely in the interests of truth and justice”.

The fourth paragraph reads: “As a priest on board, I had occasion to learn a good deal about the moral or immoral behaviour of the passengers; and I know that the highest officers of the ship would support my contention that the morals of the British people were no better – perhaps worse – than those of the ‘aliens’.”

He added in the final paragraph, “Those who were privileged to get to know any of them usually found them friendly, keen to learn Australian ways and language, and full of admiration and gratitude of the British people.”

I must have had my foot tickled by one or two of them because I have always sensed what he means by “privilege”.

ME & my mouse are indebted to John Bevins for this recollection. John was responsible for some of the most potent and innovative social marketing and advertising campaigns from the 1980s to end of the century. 

Flynn Addendum – A Message for Albo

This is a tiny parable about the town, which perceived unfairness and bullying.

There was this Tamil couple with their two Australian-born daughters, who were taken from a Queensland town called Biloela in the electorate of Flynn (the majority of which voted 58 per cent for the Coalition). They have been in detention in Melbourne since 2018 under the Dutton aegis, to be deported back to a country where 48,000 Tamils have been killed.

Biloela liked this couple. In fact a petition was raised for them to stay – many people are signing it. The flag over Biloela is not blue. Fifty four per cent of the Biloela citizens voted Labor on May 18. Biloela North admittedly voted 51 per cent Coalition. However, Thangool, 12 kilometres down the road voted 71 per cent Coalition. “Small numbers. Means nothing.” Or perhaps just an example of small town fair play disliking the Big Government the Coalition says it despises and keeps banging on about.

The parable of this story is taken from the Book of Morrison paraphrased: “There is no fair go for those who are forced to go.” 

Coal and the Pro-Adani Canavan

Matthew lives in Yeppoon. He has a wife and four children. Yeppoon is a coastal community that is renowned for its beaches, tropical climate, and the islands out on the bay. So says Wikipedia. It is where people who can afford not to live in Rockhampton go. Rockhampton is on the Fitzroy River far from the coast. It is not the place in which to spend summer. Yeppoon is better.

Yeppoon does not have a coalmine. Matthew has a younger brother called John. John likes coalmines. In fact he has been reported as keen to acquire the Rolleston mines, which were surplus to need for Glencore. John and Matthew seem to regularly communicate about their love for coal.

In a cuddly meal at the “Brekky Creek” Hotel in 2017 with the AFR, Matthew’s position was described thus: “The senator has become an avid reader of mining history and uses it to justify his position to use taxpayer funding to back Adani’s controversial mine, saying a leg-up from taxpayers helped get all new mining regions off the ground, evoking the “if you build it they will come” attitude of the Bjelke-Petersen era.”

Now I live around the corner from where there was once a coal mine, next to the primary school. The two mineshafts, Birthday and Jubilee, were sunk in 1897, and named for the 60th year of the Victorian reign. In fact my late neighbour as a boy used to dart round the corner to get lumps of coal from the dump for the family fire. He would brandish them triumphantly as he scooted home. Lots of soot in the air but it was only where the working class lived.

Matthew would be proud of how the then NSW Government offered to assist the viability of the coal mine when eventually after 30 years it was shown to be uneconomic, but in his terms needing “a leg-up.”

Oh, it was so picturesque, Matthew. Undercapitalised, the mine was never mechanised; so there were pit ponies lowered every morning to work in the mine’s narrow shafts. There were 159 men on the day shift, and the atmosphere was dusty with the temperature reaching 38 degrees C. Miners had a short life.

It is impossible to reconcile why any Australian government would tolerate such a situation, but during this time it was mostly a Labor seat with the then H.V. Evatt being one of the members for the Balmain seat when the miners were working under such appalling conditions. So much for his occupational health credentials!

But I digress. Even as late as the mid-eighties there were discussions about using the mine for gas supplies, and I remember that the opening to the mineshaft was still visible at that time.

Incidentally the remediation process for the mine took decades, including the death of three workers in an explosion of methane gas. To make the mine safe after that tragedy needed four million gallons of water – not sea water, fresh water – to get rid of the coal gas. Note water usage, Matthew.

As a student of mining history, I am sure Matthew would like to know the original stakeholders for the Balmain mine lived nowhere near Balmain. A bit like Adani, but more Old World. London to be exact.

And Matthew, somebody always has to pay the Piper … maybe your children and our grandchildren.

Hawke in the Willow

When I was seriously involved in politics, I met Bob Hawke once when he was Prime Minister and was very impressed and flattered that he knew who I was. He was one of those politicians who knew both faces and reputations. He was on a different rail line to me.

However, one night years later my wife and I with a few friends were celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary. Now the ninth wedding anniversary is willow for all of those who are not obsessed in knowing what to give on a particular anniversary. Needless to say, I had just presented my wife with a cricket bat at the celebratory festivity in the Flower Drum restaurant in Melbourne, when in walks Bob and Blanche with a few friends, including the late Martin Crowe, then recently retired after captaining the New Zealand cricket team.

Given that the last time Hawke had greeted me like a mate, and with a reasonably high sherbet level I took the cricket bat over to them after they had settled in but before any of that elegant Flower Drum Chinese tucker had started to flow. I asked Bob as a mate to sign the bat for my wife giving him a potted history of why I had a cricket bat in a posh Chinese restaurant. He obliged. Blanche signed too. Hawke however looked at me quizzically given that it was a unique experience to be asked to autograph a cricket bat in such an environment. However, that was the personal touch of the man.

Then as I thanked them and was walking back to our table, the owner of the restaurant insisted on signing it too.

As we were walking down Little Bourke Street after dinner, my wife had the cricket bat over her shoulder, and somebody in the street yelled out, “Melbourne is not that dangerous, luv.”

Mouse Whisper

Heard in the Manolo Blahnik industrial boot store in Paraburdoo.

“So if blue is Liberal and red is Labor, when they come together in the political centre do they mix to form purple? The Political centre must be called the Purple Patch then.”

By the way, just back from Mousehole where the last Cornish speaker, Dolly Penteath died in 1777. Her last words were defiant. “Me ne vidn cewswel Sowsnek” – “I don’t want to speak to English”.