Modest Expectations 272 – Only 35.36 Parsecs Away

Last week, we received a circular from our local Council congratulating us on our performance in putting all our organic waste into the green bins provided. As a reward the Council delivered each household 75 compostable kitchen caddy liners free and told us that the emissions saved by our collective efforts were equivalent of taking 9,000 cars off the road for a year. The waste is commercially composted and not dumped in landfill, where it’s liable to emit methane and, according to the circular, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The compost produced is sent to “Aussie farmers” apparently.

It is ironic that this is occurring in the electorate of a Prime Minister who is providing a huge subsidy to the fossil fuel industry so they can export all our national resources, under the American flag, predominantly to Japan and in so doing pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It would be ironic for him to save Western Australian seats only to lose his own to the Greens. Fanciful, but some must be thinking about it given his flagging popularity and the raw deal NSW is getting with the GST carve-up.

The prospect of climate change at times excites people and the accompanying evangelism for reducing the emissions rises in the community.  As reported above, the activism continues at the community level, but in the various Parliaments the well-moneyed lobbyists are constantly interfering in the process of Planet survival.

Even though the images of climate excesses are thrust in front of our eyes, replete with data the community, unless prompted by exercises as described above, seems to accept increased global warming, its causes and solution are too complicated to contemplate. As a result, the populace stops listening to the bombardment of doomsday data.

Nevertheless, there will be a tipping point. The actual point is a matter for speculation. Western eyes tend to discount the extreme consequences occurring in areas of the Planet where the skin of the people is not predominantly white.

Yet one consequence of climate change is rising sea levels and storms of greater intensity, so that previously valuable real estate is being eroded, as shown in the image above where houses are being washed away along the New England Coast into the Atlantic Ocean. The number of trophy houses built with ocean views that now lie as flotsam and jetsam is increasing. Whether the receding beachlines will galvanise the wealthy influential is doubtful, hoping that short term solutions of setting up rock or cement walls are built to delay the inevitable. More likely, those who want water views will seek sites which are the most resistant to the changes in the ocean storm intensity, and high enough to be above water levels to survive if the Antarctic totally melts away. Whaddya talking about, you climatic change Jeremiah?

We humans contribute to all this disaster by draining wetlands, building on floodplains, destroying mangroves and coral reefs and imposing ineffective solutions. Yet some defences have been effective if monitored closely.. Well before climate change was on the agenda, the Netherlands was considered vulnerable as much of the country is below sea level. After the disastrous flood in 1953, the Netherlands government built a highly sophisticated system of dykes to protect this seafaring nation constructed on the sandy knolls of the Rhine delta.

As one commentator has written: “Many point to the Dutch as an example of how cities can survive well below sea level and this would work with New Orleans except they suffer from large hurricanes while the Netherlands does not. With hurricane intensity increasing due to climate change and the natural swamp barrier eroding away, New Orleans will eventually have no protection outside the levees.  That comment will hold for all the settlements along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Once, there was a “highway” on which we travelled between the township of Sabine Pass and Galveston in the early 1990s. This road now no longer exists, having been washed away years ago.

To me the problem is very clear, the Planet is warming with a rise in the level of oceans inevitable but unpredictable given the increased prevalence of extreme weather. Flood, fire, pestilence and drought are all companions to the destruction of us humans, who will increasingly huddle in a World which we can no longer afford to repair – at least without any sense of equity. It will be impossible to insure properties – and not just those in the immediate path of the impact of climate change, but all properties will see massive increases in insurance cost as reinsurers spread the pain. This may become one driver in this increasingly dystopian world to do something. Maybe though, in this new reality we will just retreat into isolated fortified communities, an ultimate resultant of Trump’s mantra of “Make America Great.”

The problem is that denial still rages through certain sections of society. There is the semantic difference of whether climate change has been caused by humans or whether it is normal part of an intrinsic weather cycle of a planet naturally warming and cooling. Whatever the cause, our Planet is warming, and I prefer that the explanation is our fault and therefore potentially correctable by a collective change in human behaviour.

Therein lies the problem. Humans are divided into tribes, and it seems that the closer the tribes are, the more they tend to end up in conflict. One of the ways civilisation provides the chimera of change is to have forums – talk-fests every few years – where promises are cheap and the problem is just rolled down the road.

Now the world is in conflict in Ukraine, Israel and the Sudan as major focal points, these are inimitable to a response which requires a global co-ordinated effort. Conflict waged by old men who will never see the results of their handiwork makes it impossible. Added to that is we live in a world seduced by the quick solutions with the least interruption to our lifestyle. All renewable energy sources, once widely praised, are now being sowed with seeds of discontent as proponents of fossil fuel, led by the natural gas industry which seek to maintain their position. When the debate just becomes noise, then confusion reigns at home.

We maintain the status quo. It is not just inertia; it is the sense of knowing what you have been accustomed to in keeping warm, keeping cool, being able to determine how you travel, what food to consume – all defining comfort and shutting out uncertainty, which is really the definition of the future.

I grew up with wood fires, gas cooking and inefficient electrical appliances. We had fires in winter, because we still had fireplaces, but our chimney has been capped, and we have not had an open fire for over 20 years. We toyed with replacing that with gas heating, which we never did, but now we are about to install air conditioning.  We still cook with gas, as we cooked with when I was a child. What is the incentive to change, given that a switch will entail a significant cost in installing the required connection in an old terrace house. We have not placed solar panels on our roof, even though we have discussed doing it. It is not only cost but also priority.

Without government wholehearted intervention, it rests solely with the household, and in the case mentioned above local council support for positive change.  However, at the same time, being in a heritage area limits the utility of solar panel output. But what then when electoral survival is more important than planetary survival? Yes, it a matter of priorities. In the end to the detriment of The Planet, we have suffered from a malignant form of inertia, which we should correct before it will not matter – our house having been consumed by some unusual weather event.

As an epilogue to what I have written above, I must acknowledge after I had completed this blog item, a speech by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres. In his speech in New York he added his dire foreboding in the face of May 2024 being the hottest on record for that month plus other data forecasting of the future destination of Earth. He urged that there be a global ban on fossil fuel advertising. He did not completely abandon that the rise in the planetary temperature by 1.5oc can be met.

In response, a representative of the fossil fuel industry said blandly, “Our industry is focused on continuing to produce affordable, reliable energy while tackling the climate challenge, and any allegations to the contrary are false.”

There you are. Nothing to see here. Now what is that wall of water coming towards my plush office across the New York skyline. As you said, nothing to see.

A Powerhouse Food

I like tapioca. I remember it was called “frogs eggs” when I was a kid and also remember that it was not the most popular dessert.

However, reading the Washington Post, I came across a fascinating backstory of the plant from which tapioca was one product. Australians never think about cassava (also known as manioc or yuca); most Australians have never heard of it, but the article in the Washington Post is worth airing across the widest audience possible.

From Amazonia came cassava at the time when the hunter gatherer society was giving way to the agricultural revolution – as paraphrased from the Washington Post.  (It was a) trade off between calories used up for hunting against staying at home and growing edible products, gradually improving the productivity of them.  

Sometimes the most obvious truism has missed me. Once humans were able to form settlements, then that was beginning of having periods of rest instead of all the waking hours being spent hunting for food. Once humans started growing crops then the quality and quantity of edible plants improved as well as enhancing the concept of us humans working but also having downtime together.

Cassava was one such plant which spread from Amazonia to as far away as Panama within a few thousand years. It reduced the load of searching the forests in search of food. Today it is the staple diet of 600 million people, but what happens when it’s eaten raw?

Even though it became a staple food, when raw, it is toxic. This toxicity gave the plant pest resistance and herbivorous animals shied away from eating it. In technical terms, when cassava’s cells are damaged, by chewing or crushing, for instance, the linamarin and linamarase react, releasing a burst of noxious chemicals. One of them is cyanide gas. The burst contains other nasty substances as well, including nitriles and cyanohydrins. Large doses of them are lethal. 

There are also two longer term diseases. One is konzo, first described in the Congo in 1938, which affects  motor neurons, and leads to abrupt onset over hours or days of permanent but non-progressive spastic paralysis of the legs.

The second, tropical ataxic neuropathy, first described in Jamaica in 1897 is a syndrome of bilateral optic atrophy, bilateral sensory neural deafness, predominant posterior column involvement and pyramidal tract myelopathy, with ataxic polyneuropathy. It is cassava-associated through its toxic nitrile component.

Undoubtedly, these diseases were there when cassava was first grown, harvested and eaten. It was human endeavour, which resulted in a toxic plant being converted into a staple of the Amazonian diet. This would have been done by trial and error and is part of the capacity that we, as homo sapiens, have in being able to experiment and come to an understanding about how to use a plant so that the cropping, in this instance, was not abandoned.

Today, almost every rural family across the Amazon has a garden where one will find cassava roasting on the fire, being toasted into a flatbread called casabe, fermenting into the beer called masato, and made into soups and stews.

The ancient Amazonians devised a complex, multistep process of detoxification that transforms cassava from inedible to edible.

The process begins with grinding cassava’s starchy roots and shredding so that the toxic cyanide gases drift into the air, not into the lungs and stomach if they are eaten.

Next, the shredded cassava is rinsed, squeezed by hand and drained repeatedly, the action of the water releases more cyanide, nitriles and cyanohydrins, and the squeezing rinses them away.

Finally, the detoxification is completed with the resulting pulp being dried or cooked. These steps are so effective that they are still used throughout the Amazon today.

The Amazonians pushed their efforts even further, inventing new methods for processing cassava, keeping track and selectively growing varieties with desirable characteristics, gradually producing a constellation of types used for different purposes.

When this process is not followed as has occurred elsewhere over the thousands of years it has spread to the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, where the pathology has been described and the association made with cassava toxins.

Nevertheless, The Washington Post article reminded me that there are crops below my Western horizon, which should be promoted given that the climate is changing and the more resistant the plant is to the vagaries of such changes the better. The only caveat is when uninformed farmers try to avoid the purification, the consequences as outlined occur to their families. The challenge is clear, to provide worldwide the crop where the toxins have been bred out, leaving a crop to counter starvation in an unstable planet.

Shut the Gait

Jean-Martin Charcot

It’s all in the gait. Biden because of his apparent incipient Parkinsonism walks with that cog wheel rigidity. If the Democrats had consulted any neurologists, I’m sure that many of them would say he has next to no chance of lasting another four years. It is just ludicrous. The reason for his gait is attributed to peripheral neuritis. I have severe peripheral neuritis and he does not conform to my gait or that described by the French neurologist and ‘father’ of neurology, Charcot, when he was disturbed stamping feet of the patients in the ward above his office. That was the gait of the syphilitic tabetic where peripheral neuritis was a major symptom (which incidentally is not my cause).

Whereas Trump has a seemingly more normal gait, in that he does not shuffle, but it’s slower than it was. His problem is his fronto-temporal dementia, and the key word is “dementia”. At his age, the aggression caused by the dementia is misinterpreted by his supporters as hilarious and a sign that The Icon is still in full control. Forget the slurred jumbled syntax and the periods where he does not speak while the brain tries to get back in gear. As I have mentioned before, much would be resolved if they would both take independently and publicly a test of their cognitive ability. Except, Trump would inevitably bleat that it was “rigged”.

The Presidential race

These are old men, and while Trump is two years short of 80, he acts as one. One only has to look at him in 2016 and now to see the decay. The peau d’orange skin is far more pitted with age. It is easy to say that neither will go the distance for another four years, but neither side is willing to say this.

There is the Ratzinger solution – that is, to prop up a clearly vegetative person in all the robes of office and wheel him around denying what’s obvious. This Cardinal Ratzinger, his eventual successor, did propping Pope John Paul II up and making all the decisions until the Pope’s demise in 2005 at the age 84. Then he had the votes and became the next Pope, Benedict XVI. He was then 78 years old, Trump’s age now, but in a far better scheming mental condition.

This lesson has obviously not been lost on a group of Trump’s consigliere, but the consequences of his conviction for a felony in New York has yet to be played out. However, his only response has been his perpetual ranting against the rule of law and some delusion of himself as a dictator ensconced in his cocoon of irrationality, with images of Putin drifting through his cerebral decay.

But like all old men where illusion and delusion collide, Trump strides ponderously, a golden mane of baldness, a well-tailored corpulence and built-up shoes. After all, it is all in the gait.

A further thought bubble

As a footnote to the above, with two old men lurching towards their final curtain, the choice of Vice-President becomes crucial. Biden, like one of his predecessors, Lyndon Johnson, is a creature of the US Senate, deal makers where consensus and compromise was the “bread and butter” but two men unused to conflict where leadership is paramount. Winston Churchill was a failure in the polite gentlemanly etiquette in the world of consensus, but he perceived the retention of democracy under extreme threat against unbridled dictatorship and this was the essence of his great leadership. Churchill needed a Hitler to demonstrate his greatness. Biden by contrast seems wanting in the face of Trump, but here’s hoping.

Biden has Trump, a dictator in the wings who has revealed what he wants to do by his January 6 attempted “putsch”. The trouble that Trump projects is that of inchoate civil disorder to propel him into being President. Yet he has no planning skills, only the skills of a small town grifter cushioned by the original substantial inheritance from “daddy” to hide his deficiencies.

Ernst Röhm

Hitler had Ernst Röhm, who organised the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazi Party’s original paramilitary strike force, to spread fear and brutality with persecution of selected minorities, Jews, Romany, homosexuals and the disabled. Hitler, after falling out with Röhm, called him back from his advisor role to the Bolivian Army. Later Hitler had him executed in the Night of the Long Knives.

Sounds familiar (perhaps except for the last sentence) in  the context of the Trump choice for Vice-President. The Trump dilemma is to choose a Vice-Presidential running mate with a clear differentiation from Trump, a person who will not frighten the electorate and yet a person to organise his militia (an essential ingredient for the dictatorship which he craves).

Vice-President Kamala Harris

Biden has as his Vice-President, Kamala Harris, a woman of colour, who had a distinguished legal career and then was US Senator for California. She has been significantly underwhelming as Vice-President, having a very low rating with the electorate. The reasons for this are attributed to a misogynistic electorate and the fact that she is a woman – and of colour.

Nevertheless, reading the comments, she has a personality which in Australian terms is that of a “bucket of gravel”; and whether Biden’s level of popularity has dragged her down or vice versa is a moot point. The cruellest point made against her is that she is more show pony rather than work horse. She would not be the first to be called that – and that is true irrespective of gender.

Still, she is next in line as Vice-President in the event of Biden being re-elected and then not lasting the four years. She has already served as Acting President for an hour while the President was having a colonoscopy.

Mouse Whisper

She was reflecting looking out on a rainy day. “You know”, she said “AI could never have written the Gettysburg address.” Just as succinct to show brevity has a certain force, whereas AI would reflect the loquacious, bland self-importance so prevalent in our Society. But if AI advances, perhaps as a positive response, the public relations industry will gradually fade away. We mice can only hope.

Modest Expectations – Place of Caves

Two of Trump’s committees, Save America leadership PAC and the Make America Great Again PAC, spent $55.6 million on legal bills in 2023, including $29.9 million in the second half of the year, according to the new reports released Wednesday. Washington Post.

Robert Hur

The calculated insult that Biden is a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory, apparently appears in the report commissioned to assess the extent and reasons for Biden retaining classified files after leaving the White House. Robert Hur was the author of the comments. Attorney General Merrick Garland had appointed Hur, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland, as Special Counsel in January 2023 after Biden’s aides discovered classified files when they searched his home and office. The problem was that Biden reacted to the Report’s comments like an affronted old man, and his anger caused him to do himself no good; and then to confound his protest about his mental ability, he referred to the Egyptian President as the Mexican. Not a good look!

So as someone has said, the American people are potentially faced with the choice of two old men, neither of which they particularly want.

I would suggest that the first debate be constructed to test the cognitive ability of these old men. After all, it is the talking point. It should be scientifically put together by independent experts. Even floating this possibility and suggesting your use of two younger aspirants as “controls”, would result in the Trump bluster. This would be predictable in terms of his trying to distract and yet in the end it would focus on the dilemma he has, and which he may not comprehend, which is the progressive impact of his failing mental state. And couple that with how he is spending so much of  the money raised  to save his carotene-stained skin by his employment of lawyers. What a look!

Biden would, I predict, be more nuanced; but in the attempt to justify his cognitive abilities, he has shown a lack of insight and judgement by appearing in front of a braying media pack. He is prone to lose his temper and with that he loses the plot. He will be 86 years old at the end of another putative presidency; and I’m afraid another demonstration of a lack of insight, this time driven by his innate vanity will only magnify his flaws as the mental cracks widen. No solace that Trump already lives in such a mental abyss.

But there is one other matter in relation to Biden which some of my colleagues suspect, judging by his stilted demeanour and gait. They all reckon he has Parkinsonism. Presumably he has been checked out, but if he does not have Parkinsonism then Trump does not have dementia.

But nobody is frank. Neither of these guys will see out a four-year period when the potential for the world to catch alight has never been more so for decades.

What a terrible choice for the USA – and ourselves.

How much will you sell me the Harbour Bridge for?

What a great theme for this Year – the Year of Making My Lying Great. But there are other themes in this year when the Olympic Games in Paris will be epitomised by a crew of emaciated dwarfs running the streets of Paris in an increasingly gross spectacle called the Marathon. Look for rhabdomyolysis in the extreme summer heat, where these vulnerable paradoxically highly trained athletes may well become “plats de jour.”

This year then serves to remind us that Brisbane will be the host of the Olympic Games. It is a year when we should not forget John Coates will be 82. He, the Hidden Hand in the award of the 2032 Games to Brisbane, having successfully engineered a change in the rules in awarding the Games, so a small cabal now decides which city would be awarded. Then he recused himself from the actual awarding. Of course he did, being a person within the inner circle for years and being close to the President. He was the Bite for Bach. All those “Coatsian” machinations; and then alas, nobody else wanted it. All in vain?

Six months ago, the Brisbane Times reported: With Brisbane 2032 already having experienced massive cost blowouts – the Gabba rebuild went from $1 billion to $2.7 billion – questions were naturally asked about Queensland’s commitment to host the Olympics. But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state was “100 per cent committed” to hosting the Olympics.

The Gabba

Palaszchuk has now gone, but is Coates’ manipulative input diminished? Redevelopment of the “Gabba” has been pronounced dead. Coates, trying to remain in the loop, has agreed. Six months ago, no such judgement; but the new Premier, Stephen Miles, has put the kibosh on the expenditure, and especially rebuilding the Gabba.

My initial pessimism about Brisbane being awarded the Games is rapidly being confirmed. As a teenager I well remember the Melbourne Olympic games with all the bickering and the threats from the then appalling long-term IOC president, Avery Brundage, the American Hitler admirer. In the end, it went ahead, but had some other associated problems. In the latter part of 1956, the northern hemisphere was aflame with the Suez crisis and the Hungarian rebellion. In the end, Melbourne hosted one of the smallest Olympic Games in modern times.

In addition, because of the tough Australian quarantine laws at the time, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm. But let us say, the management of the whole Games, from its award in 1948 almost to the opening by Prince Phillip, was questionable. It had elements of farce mixed with administrative bungling. The Games were held with some stumbles; but there are fond memories and Australia did well. I believe having the Melbourne Cricket Ground and other readymade venues helped a great deal.

There are two important factors between success and failure that I have observed. The first is the profitability. The total cost of staging the Sydney Olympic Games was $6.5 bn. The Federal Government contributed $194 million, and the private sector $1.3 bn, while the NSW State Government contributed $2.3 bn. The profit is always more than a touch fanciful.

In the past three decades, two Olympic Games stand out for their overall net positive results.

Los Angeles was the only city to express interest for the 1984 Olympics. After Munich’s terrorism, Montreal’s cost overruns (it took Montreal 30 years to pay its Olympic Games debt) and the Moscow Games, most countries shied away. It was also the time that Samaranch, a Catalan by birth yet a Spanish Falangist by political affiliation, became IOC President following the hapless Irish peer, Lord Killanin. Samaranch was a very smart operator.

The US city exploited its unique negotiating position: it would host only if it could use existing facilities from 1932’s previous LA Games and house athletes in university dormitories. The city ended the Games with a US$250 million surplus.

Despite exceeding its budget by more than 400 per cent in 1992, Barcelona reaped long-term benefits from the Games. The city wanted to re-invent itself and improve its harbour facilities. Having been to Barcelona when the Olympic stadium was being built in the late 1980s, I remember having a meal on one of the old wharf restaurants, and so the changes wrought obviously due largely to Samaranch’s shrewdness, have been remarkable.

I remember that there was no work being undertaken on La Sagrada Familia, it being fenced off at that time. That neglect changed as Barcelona changed.  The tempo of construction accelerated markedly, and it was partially opened to the public in 2010. The final huge steeple is now under construction, and the finishing date is estimated to be 2026.

It was also a time when the Barcelona football team (“Barca”) started on its winning ways, attracting a huge degree of worldwide support. I have visited Barcelona several times since.  On one of these occasions, the city was out in force when the Barca football team crowded on the top of an open-aired double decker bus being driven through streets after winning the European Cup. Messi was very recognisable at the front of the team holding onto the bus rail.

But these Games were a long time ago, and the Brisbane Games appear to be a hollow tribute to one man’s ego. This current situation reminds me of the Melbourne troubles. The bickering has started, and there are so many sports now crowded into the games, each demanding their own venue, and cost is beginning to become a major issue. The other major issue is the management.

The strength of management is critical. Sandy Holloway is widely credited with successful management of the Sydney Games and, having experienced the Games first-hand, given the crowds and the logistic problem of clearing venues of people, he did a good job – if that was the major criterion of success. He keeps bouncing around with his views on display. He welcomed the appointment of Cindy Hook as the Brisbane Olympic Games CEO. She headed Deloitte in Australia previously, but Holloway was critical of her accompanying “megaboard” as he termed it.

The Chair, an expatriate Australian chemical engineer who headed Dow was appointed President of the Games Committee, as reported to be one of the last actions agreed by the Morrison Government. Andrew Liveris has an illustrious, if speckled, career. One of his contributions was floating the use of nuclear power. Last year, he was reported in the AFR as saying the Games were forecast to cost taxpayers $7.1 billion over the next decade.

Liveris said that the share of the broadcast rights, sponsorship opportunities, attendance (in person and virtual) and the better utilisation of existing venues provides a different model and that 84 per cent of our venues are already in place.

Moreover, the major new projects – $2.7 billion to redevelop the Gabba as the main Olympic stadium and the building of the Brisbane Arena at a cost of $2.5 billion – will create an “urban spine for Brisbane which will bring it into the 21st century in terms of entertainment, restaurants, museums and art galleries to make the city vibrant with the two big sports arenas… If we do see cost escalations, here’s what we will do, we’ll find more revenue”.

That was last year, said at the time Melbourne withdrew its sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games which created a “one-day” furore and now has been forgotten except by those who know it was just an expensive cynical exercise to shore up Labor-held seats outside Melbourne.

The Liveris solution – improve the revenue stream in the face of the inevitable cost blow-out – is not the way the Queensland authorities operate. Cut costs is more the flavour.

More ominously, recent reports suggest Coates is throwing his weight around. Probably fears a case of sudden infant games death syndrome. But the last thing the organisation needs is an interfering old man trying to call the shots without any formal responsibility.

But let us see. It is only a matter of time before all will be revealed. Cities will jack up against the increasing burdens imposed by the IOC, who skim their take, without doing anything but pick the “sucker” city. Gone is the canniness of Samaranch – all that is left is residual rapacity.

The thought of having to assume management and financial responsibility must send shudders through the plush halls of Lausanne. But then to paraphrase those famous words uttered by Humphrey Bogart: “We’ll always have Saudi Arabia.”

But wait, don’t forget Qatar. Who would  have thought it … favourite for the 2036 Games already.

Bird of Paradise

Whatever industry the Chinese have attacked they have captured; whatever they have attempted they have mastered; whenever there has been an encounter between them and our own people they have come off victorious. And these are said to be the very offscouring of the Chinese ports. – San Francisco Chronicle 1875

I have only been to Papua New Guinea once, in 1973, when Papua was in the throes of transitioning from an Australian protectorate / colony to eventual independence in 1975. I remember dinner with a number of up-and-coming politicians and bureaucrats in Port Moresby. It was a boozy affair. John Knight, later Senator for the ACT, was with me that night and provided a degree of DFAT dignity to the proceedings. But it was not a time when there was much vision of the future emerging from the bottom of wine and beer glasses. The world would take care of itself. Michael Somare was their hero; and his friendship with Andrew Peacock was a symptom of how attitudes were changing between our two countries. John Knight got on well with Peacock.

I remember flying up to Lae, a distance of 325 km to the north-east of Port Moresby, to see a friend of mine with whom I had worked in the research laboratory. I had not seen her for a few years, and in that time she had married and had a child.

However, the lasting memory of Lae, and probably my strongest recollection as I have lost my notes of that visit, was visiting the war cemetery there, carved from the jungle, with its neat array of white crosses.  So many Australians are interred there. There was nobody else in the cemetery, but I skirted the graves making sure I did not walk on any of them. I stayed there for a long time until I realised that I had to catch the plane back to Port Moresby. When I got there to check in, even though I had been allocated a seat, there was no seat. I had my first lesson in Melanesian bureaucracy but somehow, through both cajoling and “pulling rank”, I got on the flight. The rest of the return home was uneventful. It was the last day TAA flew into Papua New Guinea.

I have known many doctors who have done stints in New Guinea back in the 60’s and much later. They have always been pessimistic about the quality of the care, even in the larger centres. When I organised a meeting of the South Pacific public health physicians as part of the anti-Mururoa nuclear testing project, with the support of the Australian Government, many of these nations sent representatives, but not PNG.

At the end of school in the 50s, PNG offered careers as patrol officers. One of the Cadet Under Officers at school went off to become one, and I never heard of him again. Well, that is not true. Mick was a very good hockey player and it was reported in the 1958 Pacific Island Monthly that he was best and fairest playing for Rabaul, although beaten by Port Moresby in the final. Ah, the days of patrol officers sipping Pimms No. I after the game. But thereafter?

Fuzzy-wuzzy angel

It was just New Guinea then, with the wartime stories of the brave fuzzy-wuzzy angels and the march down the Kokoda trail and the victory over the Japanese at Milne Bay, Australia triumphant. WWII thrust this second biggest island in the world into one of great relevance to Australia.

PNG was shown to be a buffer, in addition to its underlying mineral wealth and its varied cultures. Like so much of the world in the nineteenth century, New Guinea was subject to being sliced up by European powers. New Guinea was notionally Dutch, until the British prised the Eastern part of the Island away in 1824. The British hold on this part of the island was flimsy and the Germans, in consolidating their place in the Pacific, had originally centred on Samoa. However, in 1884 they established German New Guinea, incorporating the Bismarck archipelago, and the next year, the northern Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Buka. The British government annexed the remaining Papua in 1888, and then in formal terms:

The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act of 1905, British of New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, and formal Australian administration began in 1906.

This suggests that the British government was only too happy to have their fledging dominion look after “British New Guinea”. With the outbreak of WWI, it did not take the Australians long to defeat the Germans and take over German New Guinea. In December 1920, Australia was granted the mandate of all German possessions South of the equator except Samoa and Nauru by the League of Nations. It was not the happiest time, with continuing conflict with the League of Nations. Billy Hughes, Prime Minister at the time of the Treaty of Versailles, set the scene for our relationship with his truculence and the attempts to apply the White Australia policy to New Guinea. Hughes loathed the League of Nations, but then he did not like much anyway – miserable little man. In all, Australia did not handle the Mandate well; starved it for funding and did very little in providing education and social support in New Guinea, leaving that to the Christian missions.

Geography didn’t help. The Owen Stanley Mountain Range was a significant barrier to travel, and the people lived in tribes, often at war with their neighbours in the next valley. So, granting independence was always going to be problematical.

Michael Somare in East Sepik tribal ceremony

Fortunately, Michael Somare, the classical charismatic leader, was there at the right time. Born in 1936 in Rabaul, he grew up in the East Sepik district, where his father, Ludwig, was a policeman. His early schooling was provided in a Japanese-run school during wartime. He eventually became a teacher, having reached the equivalent of Year 11 education. He formed a close relationship with Andrew Peacock when the latter was Minister for Territories in the Coalition Government. What Peacock did with his relationship with Somare was to break down colonial patronising attitudes. Somare promised so much at the time.  Such a relationship has never been repeated, more’s the pity.

Japan ostensibly had little interest pre-war in New Guinea, Japanese sampans zipping around the Pacific more a pest than a threat. Japanese pearl divers were located throughout the area, where there were significant amounts of mother-of-pearl. However, as a demonstration of the White Australia policy, Australia removed all Japanese from New Guinea.

Japan in 1914 had occupied the Caroline Islands, the southernmost islands of Micronesia, and built a naval base on the island of Truk. Japan achieved a sort of revenge by occupying the old New Guinea Mandate area during WWII, so much so that in the Allied battle to regain its lost Pacific, the Americans bypassed Rabaul because it had been so fortified by the Japanese. They a feared that a hostile base there could be a springboard for bombing Truk by the then new Flying Fortresses. Papua was never occupied by the Japanese, although they inflicted significant damage on Port Moresby.

This demonstrated so clearly the importance of the island as this buffer to the North, without bothering to demonise “the yellow peril” as pre-war Australia labelled the Chinese and Japanese. The problem which, even now, Australia must deal with is the level of corruption in PNG, as instanced by the administration of offshore detention centres – the spectacle of private consulting firms ripping off the Australian Government, with obvious internal corruption here and among people in the PNG administration. And for what?

Australia has provided direct assistance when asked — handing over more than a billion dollars in low-interest loans to support PNG’s budget since 2019. Australia tolerated the PNG Government when it pegged the kina to the Australian dollar so the “elite” could afford to buy property in Australia and educate their children in private schools; and then expected us to bail them out.

The Dutch annexed the island as a single entity. Then from 1824 the disaster started, as the Europeans “sliced and diced” the Island. In 1962, as the Indonesians inherited the Dutch East Indies territory, as eventually the Dutch, who were awful colonists anyway just gave in and the Javanese dominated Indonesians swarmed into a Melanesian culture with their normal cultural sensitivity. Thus, West Irian is a festering sore, which the World conveniently ignores. PNG does not have the power to affect what is happening in West Irian to their Melanesian cousins.

The Chinese have offered to bring in a so-called team to train police and the military. The level of lawlessness is out of control if one can believe the media reports, and the spectacle of buildings burning in Port Moresby. I remember the “rascals” – Chimbu tribesmen who had descended on Port Moresby, and found it was far from El Dorado formed criminal gangs. If the PNG accepts the Chinese “law and order offer” it will be a Faustian bargain.

As for the future of PNG, there is talk about a Free Trade Agreement as there also is with China. PNG depends heavily on agriculture for export income. If nothing else the biosecurity measures imposed by Australia makes this difficult; and the major export to Australia is minerals, most of which have significant Australian ownership of the mines.

China is now a factor in funding PNG; the Americans are issuing warnings to us about this, but what have they done for the Island? And what of our legacy, a bodgie exercise to maintain asylum seekers from entering Australia because they had the temerity to come to Australia by boat.

That is the story of the last 50 years. Just provide annual funding – has that been a good investment? Especially now that the Chinese have appeared on the scene (just wait for them wanting to build a harbour). Our investment has gone sour; and what with Bougainville to be sorted through, not to mention the other countries of the South Pacific, Australia may pay a price which we were not expecting. Australia had funded PNG as a security buffer.  The buffer is in danger of disintegrating, as the Solomon Islands government have shown recently despite our involvement through RAMS (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) of restoring the country after a period of civilian anarchy in the early 2000s.

Just because the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea travels to Canberra and gives a talk to Parliament, did anything material occur? Was there any free trade agreement finalised? The answer of course is no.

There may be smiles all round, soaring rhetoric, promises litter the Statement by Albanese and Marape released on February 8. But the failed State to our North just rumbles on, and now with China well and truly in the mix.

Prime Minister James Marape

The visit of Prime Minister Marape has made me think.  Here, we have a country, which I remember coming towards independence nearly 50 years ago. A brief association: I never returned. I’ve been to many Islands in the Pacific, but never have been back to PNG. Why? I think I did not want to be disappointed.

Yet how different the actuality of the present from the optimism of 1973. Nevertheless, as part of the 50th celebration next year, a memorial to our patrol officers will be built. My schoolmate of so long ago, Mick, would be pleased.

Mouse whisper

Talking of additional sports being added to the Olympic Games. Gliding was a demonstration sport at the Berlin Games. It was so popular, that it was included among the scheduled 1940 Games events for Tokyo. The Games were cancelled, and therefore gliding was the Olympic sport which never was.

Modest Expectations – My God, not Des Clarke’s Son

There is one thing about the configuration of hotel/motel rooms. Much is made of the fact that “accessible” rooms are routinely part of a hotel’s room complement – but what does this really mean? When people think of disabled, they recognise that the signage for disability is the wheelchair. However, there is another level of disability which, on occasions, may require a wheelchair – it now tends to be described as “ambulant”, although that seems to only apply to bathroom doors.  When I need a wheelchair, I use one that can be borrowed. This is sufficient. I can manage on two sticks, even with my balance problems.

But back to those accessible rooms. Bathroom/toilet facilities need to be user friendly. Wheelchair friendly facilities must have sufficient space and most disabled facilities recognise the need to eliminate steps.  Nevertheless, many of these are not appropriately designed for the disabled who use sticks or crutches unless there are sufficient railings to assist navigating a wet floor, where sticks are liable to slip as one tries to walk on the cracks between the tiles to avoid sliding The criteria for accessible rooms definitely need to include non-slip-when-wet tiles.

What is also not factored in are the beds, which need to provide a safe place to site and reasonable ability to get out the bed. I use carer help, or else a chair located next to the bed to wrestle myself up. The mechanics are deceptively simple to assist sitting up and swinging legs over. The height of the bed should be related to the height of the person so ideally the height should be adjustable, particularly as modern beds seem designed for an accompanying ladder. The modern hospital may be the template. Hospital beds have a feature that makes them more appropriate, high-low functionality. The user can raise and lower the bed vertically, making a hospital bed ideal for people like myself, who need more assistance when getting in or out of bed.

The other issue is the inappropriateness of the chairs provided in most hotel/motel rooms – often rickety hard backed chairs or ludicrously low armchairs. Even rooms that purport to have a work desk rarely have a suitable chair on wheels. From my point of view, a decent office chair makes life much easier and I suspect for others, avoiding having to push a normal chair back and forth from a desk would be welcome.

It may be said that I am speaking from the viewpoint of a rara avis, but does anyone know? An ideal disabled room should incorporate some of the suggestions discussed above, and it would be useful to convene a working party to set the standard.

Considerations of Some Matters

Some years ago, we visited the first ghetto in the world which is located in Venice. When it was constructed to house the city’s Jews, the gates were locked at night, emphasising its quasi-prison conditions. The ghetto is far from the centre of Venice. Apart from a gaggle of Chinese tourists, the ghetto square was empty save for a Jewish family enjoying the balmy sunny day, sitting under a tree. The only jarring note was the bulletproof door to The Holocaust Museum. We did not go in. I had seen the gruesome museum in the old Gestapo headquarters in Berlin. One Holocaust Museum is enough. Pity, the Israeli government seems not to have seen it lately.

In any event we had eaten a delightful kosher lunch marred by the officious surliness of the staff. Quite obviously, non-Jews were not particularly welcome, even if we did have an inkling of the food taboos.

Reflecting on that I wonder when the world will be able to bask on the shores of the Gaza Riviera. Maybe without gates to lock the Israelis out.

The above were just a few introductory thoughts if you wish to read on.

Avraham Stern – who split from the Irgun to form the Lehi (also known as Stern Gang) in 1940 – had suggested securing support from the Third Reich.

Haaretz adds that Lehi representatives met with an official from the German Foreign Ministry in Beirut at the end of 1940.

“The establishment of the historical Jewish state on a totalitarian national basis, in an alliance relationship with the German Reich, is compatible with the preservation of German power,” the newspaper cites the Israeli document as saying. The Cradle, June 2023 (a journalist-driven American publication founded in 2021 covering “West Asia voices not heard in the world’s English-language media. That’s not the only differentiator. Not owned by any donors, and so they have no say over what is written or not.”)

Q: True or False? 

On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. About 700 young Jewish fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. 

The SS and police captured approximately 42,000 Warsaw ghetto survivors during the uprising. They sent these people to forced labor camps and the Majdanek concentration camps. The SS and police sent another 7,000 people to the Treblinka killing center. At least 7,000 Jews died while fighting or in hiding in the ghetto. Only a few of the resistance fighters succeeded in escaping from the ghetto. – Holocaust Encyclopaedia.

Q: Tell me why the current Gaza situation is different from Warsaw?

The attendees hadn’t expected a policy shift from the meeting, according to the accounts, but felt confident that their concerns would be conveyed to Biden, to be taken into consideration in his public remarks about Palestinians. Two days later, the President made the comments questioning the accuracy of Palestinian casualties at a time when Arabic-language TV channels were showing nonstop footage of lifeless, dust-covered children being pulled from the rubble after Israeli strikes. –Washington Post

Could someone tell me why Israelis are viewed as more truthful than the Palestinians?

The Venetian Ghetto was the first ghetto instituted in 1516 by decree of the then Doge Leonardo Loredan and the Venetian Senate. It would be ironic if, by his actions in Gaza, Netanyahu emulates the Doge, albeit for a different reason, reviving the ghetto so that every Jew, whether Zionist or not, is worldwide forced to live in armed enclaves for their own protection.

When the Gunman Comes to Town

The following is from the Boston Globe response to an edited account of the mass shooting in Maine. I have spent some glorious times in Maine, although I have never been to Lewiston as far as I can remember.

Mass shootings are a rarity in Australia although I well remember the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 when 35 people were killed. I was one of the few who saw the police film of the horrific aftermath, a coloured grainy film. It was a time when I had just stepped down as President of the Australasian Faculty of Public Medicine, and my successor strongly supported our Prime Minister’s response, which inter alia resulted in banning semi-automatic and pump action shotguns, without good reason. While there were concessions to the rural lobby, there were restrictions which, despite some high-profile shootings since, have seen deaths due to firearms decrease.

Nevertheless, what is interesting about this Boston Globe article is the description of the emergency medical response, given most of the shooting victims were dead. Those injured are not as newsworthy, given the concentration on the event and the number dead. How much of the response of Maine health professionals is applicable to the Australian situation?

Dr. Sheldon Stevenson was at home hosting 10 fellow emergency physicians when the call came in Wednesday night around 7:30. Colleagues at his hospital, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, were resuscitating a gunshot victim. More were on the way.

Stevenson, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine, had been expecting this call to come one day; mass shootings had grown far too common.

With scarcely a word, the doctors stood up and decided who would stay behind and take over for the others the next morning. The rest sped the roughly 35 miles from his Portland home to the hospital.

Meanwhile, chief executive Steven G. Littleson and chief nursing officer Kris Chaisson had already fielded similar calls. There was an active shooter, and the local emergency dispatch center had activated “code triage,” alerting everyone at the medical center that a disaster was unfolding.

As the hospital braced for what would prove to be its worst disaster ever, the staff knew what they had to do, but knew little of what they might face. Ambulance crews were reporting possibly 15 to 20 victims from two shooting sites. But the gunman was at large, and there was talk of as many as five or six additional sites, possibly waves of patients streaming in all night.

Alerted by the code triage, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, support personnel, about 20 to 30 people in all, assembled in the ER within minutes. As word spread throughout the medical community, the emergency room filled with 100 people ready to help. Blood supplies arrived from other hospitals. Five helicopters were parked outside, ready to transport victims across the region.

The first gunshot patient arrived at 7:24 p.m. Thirteen more would stream in over the next 45 minutes — many more severely injured patients than the hospital had ever seen at once.

By the time Chaisson, the nursing chief, got to the emergency department, four shooting victims were being assessed in the trauma bays and the ER was filled with “a sea of people.”

“It was an organized chaos,” she said. “There were so many people but they knew exactly what they needed to get done … It was like a work of magic.”

Littleson, the CEO role would coordinate everything that happened next. The hospital was full Wednesday night, its 170 beds occupied, and the emergency room was already busy with the usual crush of 25 to 30 sick patients, including some who were waiting for beds. The staff would have to somehow make room for an untold number of casualties. Patients were moved into holding areas and other available spaces.

“We knew that the patients coming out of the operating room would need critical care. We had to mobilize some of our less critical care patients to other floors, to free up the ICU to take care of these patients,” Chaisson said.

Nine gunshot victims went swiftly to operating rooms — their awful wounds an urgent and obvious diagnosis. Privacy rules prevent a discussion of individual injuries, but Dr. John Alexander, the chief medical officer, named the types of surgeons who worked on them to give an idea: four trauma surgeons, four orthopedic surgeons, a vascular surgeon, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and a urologist.

Stevenson, the emergency chief, said the hospital treats gunshot wounds at least every month. But typically they are from handguns and hunting rifles, involving a single bullet wound.

The wounds he saw this time were an order of magnitude more severe, because the automatic weapon the shooter used sprays people with multiple bullets and shrapnel that rips the flesh. “They’re devastating wounds. Lots of soft tissue injuries, vascular injuries,” he said.

Because patients had been rushed to the hospital, and then into surgery, some were still unidentified two hours later. “That was a very difficult time for the families and for us as well,” he said, but eventually family members were brought inside and the patients identified.

In all, 15 gunshot casualties were taken to hospitals: 14 to Central Maine, and one to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, also in Lewiston.

Central Maine discharged two less severely injured patients after treatment on Wednesday night. Another patient was transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland because the Lewiston hospital didn’t have enough operating rooms. Two died in the emergency department, and one died after surgery at Central Maine.

On Thursday, one surgical patient was discharged to home and another was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital because of the nature of his injuries. The patients cared for at St. Mary’s and Maine Medical Center were also discharged. Late Friday two more patients were discharged from Central Maine.

That means that, of the 12 injured survivors, five remained hospitalized on Saturday — four at Central Maine (three of them in critical condition) and one in stable condition at Mass General. Staff members had prepared for such an emergency many times, in drills and exercises. Just a month earlier, they’d done a tabletop simulation involving mass casualties.

“People have assigned roles,” said Alexander, who is an emergency physician. “They understood what their roles were. They stepped into those roles and they acted accordingly. They are just incredibly heroic.”

Once it became clear there were no more gunshot patients, the challenge was convincing day-shift nurses to go home, because they would be needed the next day. They took comfort huddling with their teams, and feared leaving the hospital.

“We had to almost push them: ‘You’re still safe. … Let’s get a security escort to your car and let’s try and get you home. You’re safe at home.’”

The next day the hospital was eerily quiet. With the shelter-in-place order in effect, the hospital cancelled surgeries and the emergency room saw just 35 patients all day, compared with 120 on a typical day. By Friday, as the hospital resumed normal operation, clinicians and workers who had been stunned and shocked started processing what had happened. Counsellors were made available throughout the hospital.

“Their training and their skills take over during the event. Emotions and feelings take over afterward,” Littleson said. “The grieving process will now unfold over the next couple of weeks. In some respects, the hard part has just begun.”

Littleson, who used to work at a hospital in New Jersey not far from Manhattan, recalls preparing to receive an influx of patients on 9/11. None arrived because there were so few survivors.

He thought of that when he realized that in Wednesday’s mass shooting, the 18 dead outnumbered the 12 injured survivors.

“The tragedy of this event,” Littleson said, “is that there weren’t more patients to care for.”

I think I know what he meant, but it could have been better said.

It’s Just Dust

When you actually successfully regulate something, so that nobody sees it anymore, your very success is the thing that causes it to emerge again. Because it’s just lost in people’s minds.” Dr Frances Kinnear 

Bernie Banton

Who remembers Bernie Banton? Do you remember David Martin? What did they have in common. They both died of asbestos-induced disease. One, Bernie Banton worked for the industry villain in asbestos – James Hardie – in the 1960s and 1970s.

David Martin

The other was a naval officer who was Governor of NSW until a couple of days before his death from mesothelioma in 1990. He had been exposed to asbestos in the ships on which he served in his long career. The navy was his life, commencing as a midshipman and rising to the rank of rear admiral.

Asbestosis was a vertically integrated disease. By this I mean from the workers in the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) blue asbestos Wittenoom mine, which operated between 1943 and 1965. Here in the Hamersley Ranges, Lang Hancock started his career, in an environment where asbestos fibres are carried by wind and water everywhere, and disturbed by human activities such as walking or driving around the area. 7,000 workers and their wives and children succumbed.

This was the same story with asbestos with its cottonlike appearance, easily pulled apart or packed as insulation throughout buildings until 1984, when the dangers of the material became apparent, and the community gradually come to realise a deadly material lay in the walls of so many buildings built post-war. James Hardie was the major distributor where Banton and his two brothers worked for 20 years.

Then there were the people who worked in an asbestos-riddled environment, as the rear admiral did.

The problem is many employers, in response to public health problems, have sought to obfuscate, refuse to accept responsibility, lobby parliamentarians about loss of jobs and social catastrophe if the use of material is curtailed. Just muddy the waters, bugger the toxicity, until the community pressure through legal redress catches up with the employer’s venality. As was written a decade ago: “The banning of asbestos in 2003 was the culmination of a three-decades long process that got underway in the 1970s through the efforts of workers and their families, health professionals, and researchers” – note the absence of the employers, the big mining companies seemingly doing nothing to improve the situation.

The current furore about the silica-based material, which has become fashionable for kitchen countertops, but in the process of cutting the material to size, creates a silica-laden atmosphere. When I was entering my career as a doctor, silicosis was a major occupational health disease, contracted then by miners and quarry workers. It received so much attention and publicity as a cause of respiratory disease there was no controversy within the health profession as to this association. A major associated problem was that most of workers then were also cigarette smokers; the danger of cigarette smoking was comprehensively exposed by the work of Doll in the 1970s.

In this current scenario, where the culprit is a fashionable kitchen countertop product that is silica held together by resin, one would think that it was a no brainer to ban the product.

As the SMH editorialised this week, The (Safe Work Australia) report (recommending a ban on this stone) was handed to the governments on August 16 but not released until last Friday. Despite the delay, the Minister for Workplace Relations Tony Burke then skirted the issue of a national blanket ban saying it was not reasonable to make a final decision without the public knowing the Safe Work Australian’s recommendations. Burke said a meeting of federal and state work, health and safety ministers would be convened by year’s end to consider the next step.

Mr Burke, who have you been talking to, when the dangers of silica are so well known even before you were a boy? Your response in the media is laughable. Why the delay? Who has been in your ear?

A Fashion Plate at the White House 

At a dinner at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden presented the Prime Minister with an antique writing desk, designed by an American company in Michigan, the White House said. The first lady gave (Jodie) Haydon a hand-crafted green enamel and diamond necklace.

The NYT covered the Albanese visit by sending its fashion editor.

In amongst all the plaudits, the visit fulfilled all the expectations outlined in my last blog. The Americans laid on the treacly flattery, and characteristically Albanese responded to his swain in the audience while talking at the dinner, by saying it will be all downhill from now on. He may be right, but not for the reason stated.

Biden treated Albanese as anybody would treat a fawning vassal. Let me indicate, as I have before, I am not a great fan of Biden, but watching him in government he gets it right most of the time. Hooded eyes, which mean it is difficult to assess his mood, a flawed man who has spent most of his life in Washington, a man who has grieved far more than most of us, Biden has a residual advantage – that “Pepsodent” smile. I would imagine that if I were in the Albanese shoes, how seductive that would be, especially if I needed a father figure.

The treatment: “Don’t be a naughty boy and play with that kid across the road without telling us. Otherwise, I’ll send you to bed without your banquet.”

Thus, Albanese is lucky – slap on the back, not on the wrist – yet. Depends now on how he navigates China. The removal of tariffs is probably more important than some hypothecated underwater war toy (if ever launched at a time when “AUKUS” has replaced “obsolete” in the Australian vocabulary.)

Albanese is lucky. I surmise this US administration cannot countenance Dutton, especially following the Morrison debacle. However, Trump would be another matter. Yes, it is Halloween this week.

Mouse Whisper

Ever heard about my Andean cousin, the leaf eared mouse. They have been called “extremophiles” Why? Well let the current issue of Science set the scene:

Few places are as inhospitable as the top of Llullaillaco, a 6700-meter volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina.Winds howl nonstop and no plants live there; daytime temperatures never get above freezing and plummet even more come nightfall. Oxygen levels are just 40% of those at sea level, too low for mammals to live there —or so biologists thought until 3 years ago when a research team captured a live leaf-eared mouse at its summit.  

That has proved not to be a fluke as climbers in the high Andes have seen the mouse scurrying across the snow searching for lichens to feed upon.

There you are!  Mice on top of the world.

Modest Expectations – Green on the Outside

I used to run with Dick Pratt and some other people, mainly blokes, around the Tan, which is the circular track alongside the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Well, some ran and others perambulated – but it was a pleasant Saturday morning ending up at The Victoria Market for coffee and croissant. Dick was a very personable and generous guy who built up a packaging empire. He sponsored many community activities. I never asked him for money, except that his wife got us tickets for a production of “Carmen” and he bought me a T-Shirt at the Market when the one I was using was rendered unusable. I can’t remember why, but the T-shirt I bought there was inexecrable, but that was all that was available.

I remember his son, young Anthony, then a somewhat naïve person in his late twenties, distinguished by his red hair and very pale complexion. He was as diffident as his father was charismatically outgoing.  For a period, I used to enjoy the Saturday morning meetings. Young Anthony never came, but I had listened to him at an informal seminar, which Dick Pratt had organised with Robert Manne as the speaker. Dick’s professional life ended in disgrace, but his business continued after his untimely death.

The conviction of Richard for price fixing with some of his supposed competitors destroyed his career, but not the company which Anthony inherited. As one of his former teachers said of Anthony, who finished near the bottom of the course at the Melbourne Business School, he inherited a shrewdly competent staff who had worked for his father.

It seems that some very wealthy people collect art work; Anthony has collected people on the simple logic that everybody has a price. When you think of Paul Keating, who prided himself on his independence – a flawless visage of isolated supremacy, one could be surprised with his reported Pratt retainer of $25,000 smackers a month for his view from his Eastern suburban eyrie – $300,000 a year. For what? But then what does Mona Lisa do for you? The fact that Anthony perceives Keating as part of his collection.  Some of his reported purchases, like Rudy Giuliani, have been shown to be duds, but he uses his milestones such as birthdays to parade his collection.

What I find surprising is that Charles III for a time took Pratt’s money, because he would be “useful” to Pratt. This raises the question of whether, to put it rather crudely, this Royal has shaken other wealthy people down, because of some mutual usefulness.

I would have assumed that Charles does not need what amounts to a retainer, to be on the payroll of a cardboard king. At least this seems to be the basis of the Palace public relations strategy of praising Pratt the philanthropist while emphasising any money would go to the appropriate charity with the royal seal of approval. And please, old boy, send no more.

Mr Pratt, there is an old axiom; one’s independence of action is inversely proportional to the controversy generated.

Yet he still has beneficence as a hobby; and the recent tapes may soon be forgotten. After all, Trump calls him “genius” one moment then “weird-do” the next. But Mr Trump, he does have great wealth, which you increasingly may not have. Is he really a weird-do?

The Matter of the Black Tulip

Yes, sir,” answered Rosa; “I come at least to speak of it.”

“Is it doing well, then?” asked Van Systens, with a smile of tender veneration.

“Alas! sir, I don’t know,” said Rosa.

“How is that? could any misfortune have happened to it?”

“A very great one, sir; yet not to it, but to me.”

“What?”

“It has been stolen from me.”

“Stolen! the black tulip?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know the thief?”

“I have my suspicions, but I must not yet accuse any one.”

“But the matter may very easily be ascertained.”

“How is that?”

“As it has been stolen from you, the thief cannot be far off.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have seen the black tulip only two hours ago.”

Alexandre Dumas wrote “The Black Tulip” at a time when The Netherlands was being engulfed by Tulipmania. This was a time, according to the myths, when the Dutch were consumed by possessing tulips, as a sign of wealth and position.

It has been characterised as a time of frenzy with one occasion when a worker mistook a bulb for an onion, and then being subject to all forms of punishment. Recent research suggests that these stories were misinformation peddled by Dutch Calvinists who disproved of this secular society, which flew in the face of their frugal lifestyle.

The boom in prices lasted until about 1630, when buyers started to default on their purchases, and the boom petered out. The newer assessment of the period is the Dutch took it with resignation and moved on. It was not the frenzy as traditionally reported. Concurrently, the nascent Netherlands was by various means separating itself from the Spanish who had inherited the Low Countries with the split in the Habsburg – Holy Roman Empire after Charles V death in 1565. (The two Habsburg dynasties remained allied until the extinction of the Spanish line in 1700, which in turn led to the War of Spanish Succession and the British decisive victory over the French at the Battle of Blenheim).

The Dutch took it all in their stride as the first merchant nation, which did not obtain their independence through military victories. Understanding the Netherlands is to realise that it was built on sandy outcrops in the Rhine Delta, while the culture was built by their success as traders, across the known World. Hence, the tulip craze may have been a lesson, but it was not a financial disaster. Not good but not fatal.

Moving along the long rows of tulips at the Table Cape Tulip Farm this past week and coming across a row of very dark purple tulips reminded me of the story above concerning the “adventures” of the black tulip – still the pinnacle of the tulip world because of its rarity; but then it is a very dark purple not actually black. The only colour that tulips do not manifest is a truly blue tulip.

As for colour, the tulips seem to range over every other colour and white and the way they have been arranged across the Farm’s undulating landscape is spectacular in the number and distribution of the flowers. There are variegated varieties which were the most prized by the Dutch; but to achieve the variegation the tulips were infected by the tulip virus, which in fact weakened the flower. These days, modern variegated tulips are the result of deliberate hybridisation where genetic manipulation has replaced the role of the virus.

Table Cape, which lies outside the township of Wynyard, which is itself ablaze with tulips in boxes along the main street during October, is a beautiful place. The farm provides a belvedere for viewing the tulip fields over the residual forest in the far corner, and the lighthouse overlooking the Bass Strait which, on the day we visited, was an azure ribbon on the horizon underneath a cloudless sky. This view will last to the end of the month, when the farm closes, the tulips are exhausted for another year, and the owners, the Roberts-Thomsons continue to sell their bulbs across the year as they have done for close on 40 years. 

Footman to the Rich and Famous?

It is interesting the something in plain sight had not been reported by the Fourth Estate until Peter Hartcher’s comment said all. Albanese had been underestimated his whole life. Then he overestimated himself.

Albanese is just not up to the job. He is always chasing the coattails of meetings, ostensibly with important people, but given he is a prisoner of his own perceived lack of self-esteem, he has shown all his flaws in relation to The Voice’s campaign failure.

Not that I believe it was a win for Dutton. I’ve made clear in a previous blog how unfitted Dutton is for public office. His record glows with his lack of intellect and policy acumen. Can I assure him that Donald Trump would be as unelectable in Australia as Dutton will be whether he apes the Golden Toddler or not. Unfortunately, Dutton is not a great listener. The stupidity of him urging the Prime Minister to visit Israel shows that he does not have a clue.

The visits of the British, French and German leaders are probably as much related to the weaponry contracts, as to some ephemeral solidarity with Israel. Moreover, what a great suggestion on the brink of invasion of Gaza, to encourage our Prime Minister to visit. It would just make Australians travelling the world somewhat of a target, and what would it achieve, other than perhaps to show Australian solidarity with the Palestinian Christians.

New Australian Embassy in Washington

Why Albanese is visiting the USA this week also eludes me. Announcing a deal with Microsoft could just as easily have been done in Australia. And visiting Arlington? Obviously had nothing else to do that day, and trying to make it up by visiting where two Australians are laid to rest is hardly justification. However, he opened the new Australian Embassy with its distinctive Australian outward appearance of a glorified Meriton unit and demonstrating that other major Australian quality – a massive cost over-run of $100m. Gosh, and the Government cannot lessen the fuel excise.

Biden is consumed not only with the Middle East, but also with a Congress  verging on anarchy until apparently just selecting a Speaker, Mike Johnson, from the Trumpian stable. This Congressional squabbling self-interest has compounded the loss of any moral compass. Thus, which one will Albanese choose to see and for what purpose?

Meanwhile, Trump is seeking to exploit this challenge to order as the law is closing in on him – inciting insurrection might well still be consuming his thoughts. After all, those opposing Jim Jordan, Trump’s once preferred candidate for Speaker, are said to have received death threats.

Against that background, I doubt whether discussing AUKUS with Albanese would be high on Biden’s agenda. Biden is wily, and even in old age more than a match for our Prime Minister pumped up by his over-weaning self-importance.  Beware Mr Prime Minister not to return with a great level of American “tar baby” diplomacy. Albanese committing us to another American folly; the price for annoying the President wanting to talk also about climate change – for God’s sake – as Gaza City is being levelled, children massacred.

Yes, the price Australia will wear for appearing in Washington at this time for his showboating will be used later as a chip in cementing US control of our foreign policy. The cement is made from rare earths, lithium, cobalt, nickel and the other Australian minerals that the Americans want from their South Pacific quarry (take whichever meaning you like as they both have an element of truth).

Meanwhile back with Dutton, when you compare him with that other Queensland copper, Bill Hayden who died at the end of last week, in fact there is none. Bill Hayden would have been Prime Minister if the delightful Graham Richardson and his cronies had not decided that the immaculate Hawke would be a better candidate against Fraser seeking a fourth term. I accept the drover’s dog hypothesis put forward by Hayden, that Fraser was that much on the nose by 1983 that he was unelectable. After all, Hawke stumbled in the face of Peacock at the next election, confirming that electoral antipathy towards Fraser.  However, whether compared with Hayden, Hawke, Keating or many of that first Cabinet, I’m afraid Albanese would lag well behind in any comparison. And that is the Australian dilemma – where has all our political genius gone?

Accidental Beekeepers

Verroa mite

We are accidental beekeepers. Much honey is produced in Tasmania. European bees were first successfully introduced into Tasmania in 1831 and the first Italian bees were introduced in 1884. Beekeepers whose hives are not accidental, that is they are devoted apiarists, number about 320. There are five who have over one thousand hives, given that about 13,000 hives exist. So that give the dimensions of the industry in Tasmania – and its vulnerability, especially to the cost of compliance with regulations to handle a hypothetical verroa mite infestation, bees are a precious commodity in Tasmania.

Our bees colonised a wall cavity, and this recent infestation is the fifth. Previously, beekeepers have not been interested in removing the bees. To get to bees in this particular wall cavity requires a long ladder and removing one of the side boards. It is somewhat perilous, so there needed to be a degree of wanting the bees to induce beekeepers to climb up to get them – previously the local beekeepers weren’t abuzz with interest.

However, the beekeepers now have an interest because of verroa mite and the looming shortage of bees, so bees from verroa-free states (Tasmania and Western Australia) are like flying black and gold. However, as our hobbyist local beekeeper says, the problem now is that even in isolated areas like the south-west of Tasmania, whence 65 per cent of Tasmanian honey comes, increasing Government regulation, as denoted above, is making small scale beekeeping expensive and burdensome. This suggests a need for some sensible consideration of different environments.

Leatherwood

The south-west Tasmanian domination of the industry is because of the leatherwood, which grows in the temperate rainforest. The leatherwood grows wild on our property, but we must keep it in check as it can grow to ten metres in height. The leatherwood flowers in spring and summer, and the white bee boxes appear all through the forests, with harvesting of the honey in late summer. Needless to say, Leatherwood honey with its deep amber colour and its robust taste is the family favourite.

We await the beekeeper to come and rescue the bees in the next few weeks, very much alive after their winter sleep.

I’m a Palestinian Christian born in Bethlehem as was my brother Andrew”, said Peter confronted by the Israeli Centurion. 

Historic church sheltering civilians struck in deadly Gaza City blast was a recent headline in an article by Washington Post correspondents Miriam Berger, Evan Hill and Kelsey Ables. I just imagine the furore if a synagogue was bombed in a similar way. I cannot even remember this atrocity being reported in the Australian press. Perhaps it was written up in an Israeli Government media release. The media may have probably seen the Israel Defence Forces emailed statement that a strike targeting a Hamas control centre “damaged the wall of a church in the area” and that it was “aware of reports on casualties” and was reviewing the incident. They declined to provide further information and reiterated, “It is important to clarify that the Church was not the target of the strike.” Therefore, nothing to see. No Jews killed- let’s move on. Just some Christian Church,

St Porphyrius Church

The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, Gaza’s oldest active church, was struck Thursday by Israel as it sheltered hundreds of Palestinians displaced by the war, according to religious officials. The brave Israelis pilots killed 18 people and injured at least 20. About 100 people were in the bombed building at the time of the strike and about 400 displaced civilians, mainly Christians, were taking shelter in the entire complex.

The Washington Post report goes on:

There are about 1,000 Palestinian Christians remaining in Gaza, and the loss was “huge” for the community … about 500 Christians … have relocated to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate School in Gaza City. The Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry said Friday that at least 16 Christians were killed in the strike.

Rescuers were still digging through the rubble early Friday. Later in the day, services were held to mourn the dead.

The Order of St. George, an associated order of the church, issued a statement confirming Thursday’s strike. “Archbishop Alexios appears to have been located and is alive, but we don’t know if he is injured,” the Order of St. George stated. The blast hit “two church halls where the refugees, including children and babies, were sleeping.”

The Church of St. Porphyrius’s original structure dated from the 5th century, and the current structure, in a historic quarter of the city, was built in the 12th century. It is named for a former bishop of Gaza, Saint Porphyrius, and placed where he is believed to have died in A.D. 420. The church, characterized by thick walls and a richly decorated interior, has long been a place of refuge and community for its members, who are a religious minority in the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian American woman who moved from Gaza to the United States in the early 2000s said in an interview that she had relatives and friends sheltering in the church at the time of the strike, some of whom were injured.

“They’re terrified. They’re shaken. They don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where else to go,” said one woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her family’s safety. She expressed outrage at the idea that more than 1 million civilians could evacuate from a place as densely populated and heavily bombed as Gaza City — a mass movement called for by Israel last week. “It’s impossible,” she said.

She said that she grew up going to the Church of St. Porphyrius and that her family has deep ties to the church, dating to when they became refugees during the 1948 founding of Israel and mass displacement of Palestinians.

Describing the congregation as close-knit and family-like, she said she’s not only worried about her relatives, “I’m concerned for everyone because we’re a small community.”

Christians make up about one per cent of Gaza’s population and have faced restrictions and discrimination by the Hamas government, according to human rights groups. During the 2014 Gaza war, about 1,000 Palestinian Muslims fled Israeli shelling for the Church of St. Porphyrius, where graves were damaged by shrapnel from a nearby strike, Reuters reported. In a statement early Friday, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem said the targeting of churches sheltering innocent citizens “cannot be ignored.”

The Patriarchate stresses that it will not abandon its religious and humanitarian duty, rooted in its Christian values, to provide all that is necessary in times of war and peace alike.”

Are Australian Christians prepared to grieve, as Chris Brook did when he heard his Bethlehem Palestinian friend has been killed? After all, Palestinian Christians have been victims of both Hamas and Israelis, remember that Albanese and Dutton. Just because they do not vote for either of you does not mean they should be ignored. After all, I believed as a Country we have abhorred genocide – in this case Christians living in Gaza.

Church of St. Porphyrius – now

Mouse Whisper

We were fighting the beastly Hun – a race of bloodthirsty bullying, sub-human barbarians who habitually punched below the belt and bayoneted babies.

This was British WWI propaganda.

The latest Israeli version substitute “beheaded”.

Babies beheaded, bayoneted, butchered – pick one off the misinformation shelf. Alliteration does not confer truth.

Modest Expectations – McKay Patten Tomkins 

Driving down the Hume Highway in the second week in September, it was a reminder to me that September the First is Wattle Day. Little recognised, it has been my preference for celebrating our nation as Australia Day. It is a symbol of renewal, as the wattle flowers, emerging from their nondescript greenery, in which their yellow flamboyance overpowers the landscape. Egg yellow, canary yellow, saffron, burnt yellow – the whole range of this primary colour dominates, and is with green our recognised country’s colours.

Yet there is the other colour that dominates the landscape but for a few weeks when it is overcome by the wattle efflorescence and that is the blue-green of the eucalyptus, that of the ubiquitous colour of the Blue Mountains seen from a distance.

Our flag, not midnight blue, yet represents the night sky where all other colour is lost in the darkness. The problem with the flag is the blot of the Union Jack – a symbol of how our country has been ripped off by the United Kingdom who sent what they thought as human effluent into a land which they soon viewed as locked into the Stone Age, under the name of New Holland.

Wattle Day converted to Australia Day would be just that stimulus to drive away the negativity in which, whether white fella or blackfella, we have been caught. Sure, celebrate 1 January as Federation Day, with all the mustiness that is projected on that day from the painting of the Duke of York opening Parliament, surrounded by a phalanx of triple-breasted elderly men, frozen in time, in the painting by Tom Roberts.

Consign the current Australia day to being a NSW Welcome to Whitefella Day. When you analyse 26 January, it is really New South Wales Foundation Day. When I was a child, Australia Day barely registered apart from signifying the end of the summer holidays and back to work, after a long weekend. January 26 may or may not have been incorporated in those long weekend dates. Australia Day itself was a very low key celebration.

But I am a revolutionary in regard to celebration. What with giving Chuck the boot, and substituting Matilda Day for that bizarre King’s Birthday celebration, when it is not his birthday. I have advocated that previously, but who is listening?

Overall, a better fit, but let’s face it, a holiday is a holiday – and for most Australians they wouldn’t care if the government established a holiday to celebrate The Drover’s Dog. Content would not matter. The business community would pluck a figure out of the air and say how much Australia would be losing in production, and for most Australians it would be just another day, while the media would beat it up showing dignitaries laying wreaths for the Unknown Dog or every bloody dog known being paraded as part of the endless media cycle to win the National Canine Cup. 

Biden – Why?

Trump’s probable path to actual victory is via a slender electoral vote majority, with less than a majority of the popular vote, quite possibly aided by a third-party drain on Biden’s votes. Trump might indeed arrive at his swearing-in on Jan. 20, 2025, having been convicted, still facing trial in other cases — or both. And he would owe his political survival to religious fundamentalists and right-wing nationalists, who would staff key positions in his government. 

When I read the above, the fact is that if the Democrats could produce a candidate rather than an octogenarian, who is a known plagiarist and hence a person so bereft of ideas but duplicitous enough to hijack other people’s ideas without attribution, then it is not surprising that Trump is still in the race. I do not believe that America is a land with a sizeable minority of fundamentalists and right wing nationalists enough to give Trump a second term if his opponent was not Biden.

Biden may still have his marbles, but it is the presentation.  His face is a mask. An engaging smile is offset by a pale face under a wispy white thatch and hooded eyes where, as he walks, he dodders. He tries hard to appear younger, but he is 80 and it is inconceivable that he could withstand the decapitation of America, the climate tempest which is intensifying and the madness of Vladimir Putin. And then there is his son, unfair as the accusations may be, Hunter Biden is being weaponised.

So, to Biden, I think you should look at yourself and in the mirror there is a selfish old man. You the man, who catapulted Clarence Thomas into the Supreme Court by a sexist demolition of Anita Hill. Judgement appalling.  Has it improved?

Go, gracefully.

The problem is finding a Biden replacement at short notice. For all her good intentions, the Vice-president has not set world alight. But as I wrote in 2020, Amy Klobucher, Senator from Minnesota, was my personal choice. To which I now add Gretchen Widmer, the Governor of Michigan. Both would withstand the bluster of Trump, but I wonder whether America is ready for a woman President.

If they are, either of these women would make very good Presidents, but then I am a long way away – and perhaps too prejudiced, unable to abide Biden, but objective enough to believe this current President is just too old. That is the overwhelming problem given that it will soon be impossible to change. Thus, the choice of the Vice-Presidential candidate will be crucial, even if unfair perception of senility propagated by Trump does not render Biden prematurely dead.

Once upon a Time along the Dawson

Records of the Yiman mainly concern the Hornet Bank massacre which took place on 27 October 1857. The incident took at a site known as “Goongarry” which had been squatted by the Scottish immigrant Andrew Scott who had applied for a tender over this area of Yiman traditional land in late 1853. It has been assumed, on the basis of settler practice, that Scott had occupied this stretch of territory at least a year before that date.

Though Scott’s tender was approved four years later, he leased the property to a shipwright John Fraser in March 1854. Fraser died later that year of pneumonia, and the lease was continued by his wife, 5 sons and 4 daughters, who, disregarding Scott’s advice not to allow blacks anywhere near the holding, befriended the local Yiman, since they had experience earlier of friendly Aboriginal workers on various stations on the Darling Downs. The family also employed a tutor Mr. Neagle. According to the account of the sole survivor Sylvester Fraser who managed to hide after being skulled by a nulla nulla, they had been attacked either at dawn or according to other accounts just as the full moon rose, by roughly 100 tribesmen. The three oldest girls were raped before being killed – Wikipedia 

The Dawson River, confluent with the Upper Dawson River, is a waterway that runs through Jiman Country, where the infamous Hornet Bank Massacre took place in 1857. The marking of this historical event, the Hornet Bank Massacre, does not memorialise the deaths of hundreds of Jiman people but rather refers to the deaths of eleven settlers and one displaced Indigenous man who were occupying Jiman Country at that time without local permission. The word massacre in the title of this historicised event, all its capitalisation, attempts to silence the other story of murdered men, raped women, stolen children, poisoned dogs, and all the pain of the white violence that preceded and followed this inevitable confrontation.

Marcia Langton, one of this country’s most revered and respected scholars and activists, has Yiman sovereignty. She has spoken of the ‘horror stories’ carved into the recent generations of her ancestry and has taken her family to Yiman Country to see the graves of her executed ancestors. Her grandfather ‘belonged to the Yiman people’ and was born ‘on the banks of the Upper Dawson River. This is far too close for comfort.Sue Pike University of Melbourne (Pike uses both Jiman and Yiman to describe the one mob)

The first excerpt above is easily accessed. It is the Wikipedia account.  The second is less public. Pike seems to epitomise some Aboriginal academics brushing over the Fraser family massacre. Other murders had taken place earlier by the Yiman; for instance, one Mr. McLaren of Isla and Waterton, as reported was “waddied” to death on Kinnoul, a property near Taroom on the Dawson River, in the winter of 1854.  Shepherds were often attacked, but no details were appended.

“Native Troopers”

Now Marcia Langton, the truth teller, is part Yiman, according to her often-stated affirmation of heritage. She has been saying her ancestors were massacred, but she does not identify the role of the native troopers in these massacres, which occurred over the next twenty-three years, until the Yiman culture was wiped out. The numbers are immaterial, the Yiman culture was destroyed.  But not without a fight, in the end unequal that it may have been.

Remnants of the Yiman did survive and in 1998, they filed an application with the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) for recognition of native title to an area of approximately 14,020 km2 about 75 kilometres north-east of Roma.

The case was concluded in 2016 when Mr Justice John Reeves of the Federal Court, sitting in Taroom, approved a consent decree. The judge said that the court order did not grant the Iman native title; instead, it recognised their pre-existing title; and their continuing connection to the land, despite its being 150 years since they were forced into hiding.

The Dawson River arises in the Carnarvon Range in Central Queensland, where there is a wall of images. Frankly, I felt uncomfortable walking along beside the wall, because I felt I was intruding on women’s business. I interpreted the images as a birth register of the local people whose land abutted that of the Yiman.

There were no custodians there when we visited some twenty years ago. The Dawson River flows into the Fitzroy River, containing a wide variety of fish, including barramundi and the occasional crocodile. The Dawson River is lined by Dawson palms which are found nowhere else. We passed through Taroom, but we could not remember seeing the memorial on the Leichhardt Highway to the Yiman. This is a rock where there are cuts to represent spear cuts and on the top of which is a replica of a grindstone for seeds.

And lest we forget, there is a small memorial to the Fraser Family alongside the Hornet Bank Rd near Taroom.

The next episode in this Aboriginal saga is the entry of David Marr, whose latest book is due to be published in early October, The Killing for Country. Apparently, David is horrified that his ancestors were involved in the killing of Aboriginals, but from the blurb, I’m not sure to which of the culprits he is referring. It will be interesting to see whether he ascribes to the Yiman as being a warrior tribe feared by other Aboriginals.

Looking over the sites where David Marr is visiting to promote his book, Taroom is not one of these. However, Forest Lodge, Bowral, and Eltham figure strongly – and of course, Maleny in Queensland. Says something about the constituency.

Remembering Theodore

When one mentions places like Taroom and the Dawson River, you need to also mention they are tucked away in Central Queensland, and for those living south of the Queensland border, they are in a virtually unknown but beautiful part of Australia when not beset by drought or flooding rain.

Theodore and Dawson River

There is Theodore downstream from Taroom. Theodore is described as a special place because with Dawson palms in the main street, the township is said to have the appearance of a tropical town even though it is well south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Theodore is named after Ted Theodore, variously Queensland Premier and Federal Treasurer in the Scullin Government. He was involved in a number of murky dealings, in which his association with Jack Wren was a prominent feature.

Theodore was also linked with an irrigation project in the Dawson Valley which failed in the early 1920’s, nevertheless the reason for the existence of the township.

Bruce Chater

I have been to Theodore, the former redoubt of Dr Bruce Chater, when I visited him twenty years ago. Since that time the Dawson River had flooded Theodore in 2010, but the township seems to have recovered, albeit with a few scars.  Watching a documentary made ten years later that seemed to be the feeling.

The township of about 500 people had been totally evacuated, the first Queensland township for this ever to occur. The natural constriction of the river, coupled with Theodore being located where Castle Creek drains into the Dawson, means that there is a one per cent chance of the 2010 experience re-occurring each year.

It is unusual to have a doctor in a town that small, but Bruce was one of those traditional doctors who sustain the myth that a doctor can do anything, from emergency treatment, delivering babies and then looking after the child as he or she progresses through all the ages, so eloquently characterised by Shakespeare.

Bruce maintained his practice by judicious use of general practice registrars, and when I was there, two female medical students had just arrived. Bruce and his wife, Anne, ran a very efficient country practice and Bruce sold himself very well as the archetypical rural medical practitioner.

Queensland is the spiritual home of the rural doctors, and the impetus for a separate rural doctors’ association came from there and, coupled with the establishment of a medical school at Townsville located within James Cook University, gave rural medicine a substantial amount of intellectual capital, which inter alia led to the recognition of the rural medical generalist program.

While the main driver of this whole field of rural medicine can be attributed to the genius of Ian Wronski, it was important that there were exemplars of “country medical practice”; and undoubtedly Bruce Chater was one of these.

The problem Bruce Chater seems to have conquered is succession planning, having recruited his successor, Elizabeth Clarkson, who incidentally was born in the nearby town of Moura, and commenced as Bruce Chater’s replacement in 2021. Even so, Bruce stills seems to have a presence in the town.

I’m not sure whether this doctor who succeeds him will be prepared to sink thirty to forty years of her life into one small township, no matter how congenial the lifestyle. Bruce made an interesting comment that his practice was well served by having 2.5 full time equivalent (FTE) doctors; his ideal being three. Now that is what I call “congenial”.

Bruce has been always the optimist; he never bewailed the problems of rural practice. Being optimistic, talking up the value of his practice is a far better recruitment strategy than his peers, who always emphasised the inability of recruiting anyone – the “we’ll all be rooned” syndrome.

That is the bugbear of rural practice – maintaining continuity, avoiding the locum trap (in that the practice becomes so fragile as being only staffed by the “fly-in-fly-out” doctors); only countered with long term succession planning.

Thus, following the fate of the Theodore practice over the next decade will be fascinating.

Hoping it Pans Out

When you live with a debilitating bowel condition, you must cope with chronic pain and bouts of diarrhea among a plethora of physical symptoms. Then there’s the emotional afflictions, chief among them is what I call toilet anxiety.

I’ve had it since I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis a few years ago. Whenever I go to a new place, I must know right away where the nearest restroom is. Or worse, I avoid going out entirely for fear that a flare-up will surprise me on the road.

This above was cri de coeur of a correspondent in The Washington Post.

In the United States, public toilets are hard to find with only eight public toilets for every 100,000 people. But it varies widely from Wyoming which has 44 toilet facilities to Louisiana and Mississippi only one for 100,000. By contrast, Australia has 37 toilets for 100,000 people but, as I found out one day, that statistic means nothing when the public toilet is difficult to find, or below ground or up steep stairs – for a disabled person it may as well not be there. That is a perennial problem of old buildings, pre-dating the days before sewered toilets, when the toilet was an add-on in many of these buildings, and hence awkward to use for the disabled.

There have been innovations in making public toilets more user friendly, but setting time limits on their use is not conducive. Unfortunately, in our world of privileged Captain’s Clubs and the like, the requirement for public manifestations of these private facilities has received minimal attention, particularly in the urban setting. Try finding an accessible public toilet that does not require stairs in any city.

I remember needing to find a public toilet in a rural Alabama town. I eventually found one, but it was locked. I made it to McDonald’s who kindly allowed me to use their rest room but let me say it seemed not have been recently cleaned – like a year. The graffiti on the walls and door were as depressingly similar, as that found I suspect everywhere in this forgotten land of public responsibility around the world.

Time for this simple requirement for accessible toilets to be incorporated in national policy, and I’m serious.

Mouse Whisper

They were travelling along the Carnarvon Highway and said to be near the small township of Injune. The Highway was clear; night was approaching and they needed to get to Carnarvon Gorge where they staying. So she uncharacteristically accelerated beyond the 110 speed limit. Quite considerably as she recalled; and horror of horrors, up ahead was a policeman flagging her down. She feared the worst because the speed she was doing could attract harsh penalties. Slowing down, working through the excuses, she stopped.

The policeman appeared at the window. Not the slightest bit interested in her speed. Instead of the suspected speeding infringement notice, he just wanted to do an alcohol “breath test”. He was behind in fulfilling his monthly quota and was trying to catch up.

The policeman thanked her after the reading was recorded as negative. She drove off after thanking him too.

They reached Carnarvon Gorge just after dark, the signs of relief still on her face.

Carnarvon Gorge

Modest Expectations – Daniel Boone

This week the blog registers three years – every week for the past 156 weeks, including this one – not missing one. All my life, I have more or less written stuff, some published, mostly not.

Much of the blog has wandered  through my stock of memories, within which are those of my life misspent; the goals I attained and most that I did not – but gave it a good shot. I am not “a shed person”, but fortunately my wife is. I have never been particularly good at any sport. I do not have any hobbies – but I write and advise – and have been very much an observer these past few years.

That has not always been so.

I have attempted many things I have not been much good at, but I have survived. I hope I have the courage to leave a clear documentary visit around myself. The reason? We all have a story. The headstones on graves each conceal a unique story.

Unlike most people, who may have had a worthwhile tale to be told and yet did not, I increasingly write mine as a chronicle, as idiosyncratic yet shamelessly manipulating my biases.

I have always wondered how else one’s legacy can be recorded. If your genes hold your heritage, is it possible for your senses to unravel the heritage locked up in your genes?

Here your life lies recorded, and that of my ancestors upto the conception of my next round of forefathers (and five mothers). It is a huge reservoir – however it can be stored. That is a real question lying inside my hypothesis, for which I cannot even conjecture at this time, but does not, by itself, invalidate my thesis.

The Burren

Once I was walking on that extraordinary wasteland – the Burren – in County Clare, on the west coast of Ireland, whence my ancestors came. In fact, the Burren is not a wasteland, it is just that from afar the limestone pavement resembles concrete. However, as you get close you see its uniqueness, because wedged in the limestone is both temperate and arctic flora. It is in the pavement cracks where life endures.

Suddenly, as I was walking along, I was seeing the land through the eyes of a young boy. From the change in the surroundings, I must have been of that age. My ancestor, as I presumed myself to be, was running, which I started to do also. In that instant of a previous time on the Burren and in this example of déjà vu when I reflect upon it, my sensation was of gliding into a landscape where my perspective was not that of a grown adult but that of a young boy. Then I glided out of this, with no sensation that any time had passed, except it had started to rain. Running to find shelter. Was not this a déjà vu phenomenon – I was trying to find a dry place, which I did in one of those Neolithic shelters that dot the Burren. This has been the only time where the sense of being in a place in a previous life was strong, even though I had never been there. In this case, the feeling passes quickly as though I have scratched an itch.

To me, if there is a so-called paranormal, it resides deep in my genes and therefore the further back in my genetic store, the less likely it is to flare as a fully formed sensation. Maybe it only occurs when the genes are aligned in a particular way and resonate in such a way that the stored memory can be tapped.

Thus, in chronicling my life I have provided a limited legacy. Unfortunately, with death dies what I call my genetic delusion. I can only have inherited the legacy of my mother and father up to the day of when my genetic trail was formed. However, the same resides in my offspring and all along the “Begat Trail” – a transferable library until your line is no more.

I suppose I should have returned to the scene, but let me reiterate, it is not a vision; nor a hallucination. It was nevertheless so very curious.

Albored Part V

As a friend of myself has said, Albanese is the most impressively unimpressive person who he can recall as striving to head this nation. He is not the only doubter. Crikey has said the same in more words, with an added apparent Freudian slip for spice.

If the old Albanese wasn’t good enough for the job of prime minister, why would the new version be suddenly suitable?

The election will put a possibly unprecedented focus on the character, competence and deportment of the leaders of the major parties. This in part is a consequence of the absence of a detailed policy competition — it threatens to be a policy-free electron (sic).

I remember working for a politician who was considered unfairly a lightweight, and no amount of media grooming could change that view, other than in the short term. Therefore, I have experience with such characters and seriously considered, when young, going to Yale to study psychopolitics.

Albanese is not the leader that Australia needs; from my perspective it is as simple as that.

There is a need to jolt the system and then re-assure them that you are the person for the times. In government, you must determine what you do on every day of the first week – and rehearse it with your closest advisers who should have expertise rather than personal ambition. That is what Albanese needs – not someone like his shadow minister at the weekend who said something about accomplishing electoral promises in the first four months. This a variation of the catchcry – of the first 100 days. Apart from the American jargon overtones, it is a cop-out.  Hit the ground running; remember God got it right – he rested on the seventh day – not the first.

The agenda – forget about vanity projects – fireproof and flood proof the country; put corrupt politicians behind bars; and remember Ukraine is a prime example for defending our country – be an inspiration to the population.

The country burns, the country floods, the aged are treated like excrement, the education system is starved and yet the country wants to pander to a corrupt body in Lausanne for a couple of weeks of pole tasselling in 2032, because a small group of people with an overweening sense of entitlement, who identify themselves with the Davos crowd and can be seen sprouting from the recent AFR luncheon (we being told that in times of suffering, greed is good) think it is a good idea. Fine, just as long as you are part of the select few.

Albanese, you addressed them, but see how the Murdoch Press tried to mangle you? As the Robot’s catchcry in Lost in Space goes: “Warning, warning, warning!” Rather apt, I would think – on many fronts!

Portrait of a Ukrainian

This article about President Zelensky comes from The Atlantic. It would have been much more convenient for the USA’s “Craven A” team if he had fled the country, and become the noble leader in exile. Then the media, after initial applause, would have moved on. The Western leaders could retreat to the vapid exercise of Davos and its ilk to make sage comments about the Goddess, Inertia or Entropy, the God of Pinhead Rearrangement.

After all, the World has been treated to the spectacle of the odious ruler of Belarus committing atrocities on his own people. The woman who actually won the election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is now in Lithuania, her husband in a Belarus gaol for the next 18 years. Brave couple – while the leaders of the free world bluster.

“Who?” “You know, the good-looking woman – what’s her name?” and so she vanishes off the front pages very quickly. Name too difficult for the media to pronounce. The leaders of the Free World breathed a sigh of relief, “an invasion not confronted”.  Belarus remained as a satrap of Putin’s and Putin emboldened, used it as another springboard for the attack on Ukraine. Never underestimate the ability of the West to bully when they believe they gain an advantage in the continuation of their colonial past, cloaked as the Coalition of the Willing or some such bombast. But a War in Europe is a different matter.

Now to the edited article. Nothing of any consequence to the truth of this narrative has been removed.

President Zelensky

The World War II leader whom Zelensky reminds me of is the one who chose honour over surrender and who fought for an idea of his country even when the reality was impossibly bleak. Today, Volodymyr Zelensky exhibits some of the traits that made Charles de Gaulle great and saved France.

In May 1940, France was lost, its armies overrun, its chances of victory hopeless. De Gaulle escaped and made it the mission of his life to erase the shame of his country’s capitulation and collaboration—to the point of making absurd and often offensive falsehoods about France having won its freedom alone. Zelensky’s conduct, and that of his compatriots, during the opening days of this conflict means Ukraine has no shame to erase. Still, Zelensky, like de Gaulle, is fighting for the idea of his homeland as well as its liberty, for its right to be free and dignified.

Analogizing a contemporary figure such as Zelensky by looking for parallels in World War II is necessarily limiting, and, as a rule, WWII analogies can be overused and should be avoided. But Zelensky’s defiant spirit, whether Gaullist or Churchillian or something else entirely, does not only reveal his own character—it teaches us about the character of the West too.

There can be something a little distasteful about Western onlookers (myself included) cheering on Ukrainians for a cause that our countries are not willing to join, a stance that risks raising the price of a peace that will be paid only with Ukrainian blood. Nevertheless, it is possible to recognize this, to be inspired by what Zelensky represents, and then to be shamed by his example.

Here is a nation and a leader willing to sacrifice so much for the principle of independence and the right to join the Western world. And yet, much of the West is jaded and cynical, apparently devoid of any such mission, cause, or sense of idealism anymore.

What is it that the West believes in now? When you think of the great liberal heroes of our age, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, say, they are actually deeply pragmatic conservatives, constantly hedging, calculating, and balancing interests with little grand vision or cause to pull their policies together. There is much to be said for this type of governance: As Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of West Germany, once quipped, “Whoever has visions should go to the doctor.” Visions led to the Iraq War, for example. Yet conservative pragmatism is also deeply limited, allowing adversaries like Vladimir Putin to take advantage, exploiting caution and shortsighted selfishness.

De Gaulle was not unique in articulating and fighting for an idea of his country. Many Western leaders during the Cold War had a certain idea of the West: Margaret Thatcher believed in a Europe whole and free; Ronald Reagan in a struggle between tyranny and freedom. You don’t have to agree with their worldview to understand that such ideas are powerful, inspiring people to do things that no “rational” person would dream of.

A senior European defense official told me recently that the West needed to find a way to reimagine itself and its role in the world, to avoid slipping into the trap of either pretending that nothing has changed or concluding that nothing can be done about it—that, Merkel- or Obama-style, leaders must simply manage the fallout and avoid becoming entangled in it.

This official said he was struck by how this sense of resignation was reflected in our culture as well. Movies and TV shows now rarely depict a heroic, grand visionary, “only a never-ending struggle for supremacy,” in the words of the official I spoke with. Instead of Cold War heroes such as Rocky, we have the cynical characters in Game of Thrones, Billions, and Succession, channeling our new cynical reality. Our imaginative understanding of the world has changed. The West has killed off the idea of itself as good. Does it still even recognize a baddie, this official asked, or has it concluded that countries such as Russia or China are no worse or better? This, in fact, is the Trump view of the world, largely shared on the far left too.

Perhaps this is why Zelensky is so inspiring. Western countries don’t have this type of leadership anymore: unembarrassed, defiant belief in a cause. So many people in the West have given up on the fairy tale of their own superiority because they understand how badly the West has behaved over the decades, from wars for colonial control to the War on Terror.

Yet perhaps the other reason Zelensky is so inspiring is that suddenly we can see that he is right. Vladimir Putin is a monster whose cause is unjust and immoral. In standing up to him, Ukraine is articulating a certain idea of itself that is righteous and dignified and heroic: virtues we long ago dismissed as old-fashioned. How tragic it is that Zelensky’s idea has to be attacked for us to be reminded of ours.

Wayne Gretzky has his Say

Ice hockey is the favourite sport of Vladimir Putin. In fact, according to Putin himself, he is one of the greatest ice hockey players never to have mastered the sport. In exhibition games in his own beloved Sochi, he has scored eight goals, some without the help of the goalkeeper. In a triumphal lap of honour video, images have been shown of his tell-tale celebratory sign of stumbling and falling onto the ice – a manoeuvre that he is intent in perfecting to a full frontal sprawl.

Alex Orechkin

Outside himself his favourite player is Alex Orechkin, who is the captain of the Washington Capitals. There are a number of Russians playing professional ice hockey in North America. Orechkin is thought to be close to and a favourite of Putin. He has tried to distance himself from the Ukrainian invasion, but the tentacles are strong and crossing Putin may mean a stint captaining the Siberian Tundras.

In the most recent outing, the Washington Capitals were playing the Edmonton Oilers. As you would expect, Orechkin received a hostile reception. The Edmonton Oilers won. This team was Wayne Gretsky’s old team.

Gretsky led them to four Stanley Cups in his 20 year career. Now 61 years old, he is still revered, particularly in Edmonton where it is said that there are 135,000 of Ukrainian heritage. He was the greatest player ever – a comparison with Shane Warne would seem appropriate – on the rink, but he was never had that nuance of being a drongo off the playing arena.

Gretsky has always identified himself to be of Ukrainian heritage after his mother’s side, but the Gretsky family had large landholdings in Tsarist Russia, which include estates in modern-day Belarus. The Gretsky family was forced to flee Russia at the time of the 1917 Revolution. Gretsky’s father nevertheless became a very wealthy man in Canada.

Gretsky may just have the moral suasion to be sent back to help centre  Putin perfect his full face sprawl. But who is listening?

It’s not about punishing the Russian kids. What about the Ukrainian kids that are being killed daily? The Ukrainian kids that are 12 or 14 years old, going to war. I don’t want anybody to be punished. I just think it makes common sense that we shouldn’t compete against this country right now, while they’re at war against an innocent country.” 

Pen Nibs No More

Pieman River, west coast of Tasmania

My school class was asked to research a topic. It must have been geography and for some reason I decided to undertake a project on osmiridium, which led me to dusty volumes of mining of the metal alloy in the Western area of Tasmania. My interest was probably sparked by the fact that osmiridium was the preferred metal used in the manufacture of pen nibs.  Anyway, as I dug into the project I found out that the West Coast was a lode of minerals.

As background for my interest in the alloy, the following is reprinted here – namely, osmiridium is a popular name for a naturally occurring alloy of the metals iridium and osmium. Corrosion-resistant, it is used in the manufacture of a variety of articles from pen nibs to munitions. First recognised in the 1880s as an undesirable impurity associated with alluvial gold in western Tasmania, it was discarded by the miners. A penalty was imposed by the Mint for its removal from gold.

In 1909 a dramatic increase in price created a boom for the metal, with a rush of miners moving into a number of western Tasmanian mining fields. The collapse of the Russian industry as a result of war and revolution saw prices continue to rise. By 1920 the price reached £38 per ounce and that year the Pieman fields produced 2009 ounces with a value of £77,104. Tasmania had now become the world’s largest producer.

A second osmiridium rush followed in 1925. In that year £105,570 was paid to miners, but by 1930 the boom had passed with only £16,235 paid to all the miners in the state. Production of osmiridium continued until 1954, by which time more than 881 kg had been mined.

A few nights ago, we raised the question of whether there was still osmiridium mining in the area. One of my dinner companions knew exactly what I was talking about. It is not a topic that I expected anybody to know much about. Not this guy, he knew exactly what I was talking about. He had grown up knowing that there were mines behind a tiny settlement called Lowana near Macquarie Harbour and was fossicking for it, while I was probably still only reading about it in the library.

There was even a settlement deeper into the bush now almost completely disappeared called Adamsfield, where the osmiridium was alluvial. Here was the site of that second rush in 1925. A 4WD will take you now, but nothing much is left of a mining settlement which once housed 1,000 people at its peak in the second decade of the last century – for a short time, osmiridium was more valuable than gold.

The Osmium nib

Osmium is the densest metal known, being twice as dense as lead. If you have held a sphere of osmium the size of a table tennis ball, you will immediately know what dense means! Iridium on the other hand is the most corrosion resistant metal known. it is used in various important alloys, unlike osmium which, with the demise of the pen nib, has few other uses. Together with platinum, iridium is included in the standard metre bar which is housed in Paris.

So, there you are. Project complete, sir, but 70 years too late.

Daylight Come and He Want to go Home

In my historical novel, The Sheep of Erromanga, I mention a ship which left the then New Hebrides with a shipment of bananas bound for New Zealand. By the time they reached New Zealand all the bananas were rotten. I thought nothing of it – just poor stevedoring. I dismissed it as nothing more than that.

I had known that if you place an unripe avocado in a brown paper bag with a banana, the ripening of the avocado is accelerated because of the ethylene emitted by the banana.

Bananas are also said to emit methane and, in an enclosed cargo hold, that could be lethal. The other unpleasant fact is that spiders love being among the bananas – a tarantula being among such stowaways.

I read an article this week where the captain, finding that his passengers had bought bananas on board, threw all of them into the sea (the bananas that is). The fear of bananas on boats is also associated with the knowledge that with bananas, other fruit which could ripen could also over-ripen, and eventually would rot. This was a major concern when fresh fruit on board was essential as a preventative health agent against scurvy.

Banana boat

As Harry Belafonte sang, there were banana boats. His song was that of the dock workers loading bananas in Jamaica. They were very fast boats because they had to get bananas from Central America and the Caribbean to Europe very quickly – until refrigerated ships were commissioned in the early part of the twentieth century. Modern banana boats tend to be reefer ships or other refrigerated ships that carry cooled bananas on one leg of a voyage, then general cargo on the return leg.

Mouse Whisper

Heard on TV just after half time … BREAKING NEWS: “SR was taken to hospital with suspected fractured ribs.”

OK, but small things do amuse small minds.

Modest expectation – Border on the Fly

When I was around politics, our office had a regular visitor called Emil Delins. He was a Latvian-born journalist who was a strong supporter of the exiled Baltic countries – Estonia and Lithuania – being joined to Latvia in his advocacy mix. He was very polite, always articulate and fiercely anti-communist (and certainly anti-Russian).

Delins had graduated from a French Lycée in Riga one week before the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940. The Russians then went on a selective elimination of Latvians, concentrating on the armed forces.

A year later it was the Germans’ turn to occupy the country, and a section of the Latvian people welcomed these new invaders; in fact they were numerous enough to create of division in the German army. Latvian Auxiliary Police battalions were raised from volunteers, the first sent to the front was involved in heavy fighting in June 1942 and acquitted itself well. Latvia however wanted to raise a Latvian Legion, under the command of Latvian officers, offering to raise an army of 100,000. In January 1943, Hitler agreed to the creation of the 15th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Latvian). These Latvian police units were deeply implicated in the massacre of 90,000 Latvian Jews and 2,000 Roma people.

It was in the confused situation during the War, but Delins was able to spend time in university studies. Meanwhile, Latvia was occupied by the Germans, but then nearing 1945, the Russians were back, first occupying Estonia before moving towards Latvia. Along the coastline the German resistance, with Latvians involved, was successful in that it remained intact even on the day Germany surrendered, May 8th, 1945.

As such this battleground provided a conduit for Latvians fleeing the advancing Russians by enabling them to cross the Baltic to either Sweden or Germany. Presumably this was the route taken by the Delins family because he bobs up in Germany where there was a note that he undertook further graduate studies in politics. They were lucky in their choice; those who chose Sweden were deported back to the Russian or their Latvian communist allies.

The Delins family reached Australia in 1947.

Even though the number was relatively small, the impact of the Latvian immigrants on our country was vast. There was always the suspicion of migrants, especially the educated, that they were German sympathisers escaping the wrath of their now Russian-occupied country. As I had found out through personal contact, in any country which had been a battleground there was always a group of true believers in a free democratic country, but their problem was that they were the targets for both the committed communist and the committed national socialist.

I knew Delins was anti-Russian and passionately anti-communist. His advocacy did not convince Whitlam, whose government recognised that the three Baltic countries were legitimately part of Russia. Emil Delins’ advocacy outlasted the Whitlam decree, and the following year the new Fraser government reversed the decision of the then status quo.

One could detect the hidden hand of Emil Delins.

A further reflection

Despite his courtesy and surface good-naturedness, I always felt uncomfortable with anyone who was part of advocacy anti-communist groups. Delins detected that uneasiness in me, and on occasions he asked me questions designed to see how strong my sympathy was for his cause.

My problem with all these refugee groups, including those where the members had come from countries where there had been a strong collaboration with the Nazis, and especially those who were well spoken and articulate, was knowing to whom I was talking.

Mill Road, Corofin

Not that Delins gave any suggestion of that, but in one conversation I did mention the similarity with Ireland and the centuries of oppression we had to endure at the hands of the British. But then what would he have made of one schooled in the best public school tradition? In a way my Irish ancestors collaborated as they worked for the British landowners. I always remember the disdain of the lady in the Clare Heritage & Genealogy centre in Corofin, when told that my ancestors were Egans from Clare but of the Church of Ireland. Egans from Clare not Catholics? Not possible. Nevertheless, that was the end of the conversation as I slunk off. I still can’t go back on the Egan side beyond the late 18th century.  My great-great grandfather, John Egan, was a flour miller.

I have written about some of this Irish heritage before; the flour mill still stands on the river Inch. The Irish have been long oppressed; it has how I rationalised the advocacy of the Balts for their freedom.

The problem is that oppression is a very ambiguous word. 

Tolarno’s – where we used “to get Shot” on Fridays.

Mentioning Latvians. I have known quite a few. One was Andris Saltups, who was then cardiology registrar at Prince Henry’s Hospital.  He and myself, together with Jan Stockigt, who was a young doctor researching diabetes, regularly lunched together. Of these three blokes who went to lunch on Friday at the then recently-opened French restaurant Tolarno, I was the only one born in Australia – Jan/Jim in Germany with an Australian mother.  Both Jim and his mother were caught in the crossfire fleeing from the Russian advance to escape from Germany.

We were all three mates in those days, in those far-off days of conformity we had ties with cannons on them to acknowledge the guys who got “shot” on Fridays. Andris, who had become Andy, was correct in a suit, Jan now transformed to Jim with a blazer; and Jack, once known as John, in an ageing stained sports jacket. Probably a bit formal by today’s standards.

Tolarno had a whiff of the exotic, even if our semi-jock doctor image did not quite fit the bill. The plat de jour and the red wine did.

Mirka Mora murals at Tolarno, St Kilda

The walls were covered with distinctive murals – distinctive faces – bit spooky I thought.

The documentary on Mirka Mora reminded me of those days in the 60s when both the Moras were in full flight. There was something exotic about a French restaurant. Drinking wine for me had become a relatively recent habit, for I grew up in a world of sherry and whisky; with perhaps a touch of Drambuie, crème de menthe or chartreuse after dinner. What is so everyday was new, and the Moras were in the forefront.  Not that we fitted into the arty-crafty school. Georges would acknowledge us because we regulars were often engulfed in hilarity, but his loquacious wife Mirka had difficulty finding an opening to talk to us, but perhaps we were not interesting enough. Understandable.

Prince Henry’s hospital is no more. Georges and Mirka split. Tolarno survived under Leon Massoni, whose family had owned Florentino’s, then the posh signature restaurant in the City.

Eventually, Jim Stockigt went off to California to work with Ed Biglieri, a research scientist /clinician. I remember just before Jim went that he made sure that he had a very short haircut, because haircuts were reputed to be expensive in America. Jim came from a musical family and was a highly skilled bassoonist.

Andy Saltups was friendly with my wife, as both were refugees, and I think the parents knew one another somehow. We saw him socially quite often as he was, for a time, very close with one of my then wife’s friends.

The lunches at Tolarno were a tiny wedge in one’s life. After lunch we would occasionally go down the hall to the Gallery, but there was only so much to see, and it seemed an extension of the murals which adorned the restaurant.

Over the years, I saw Jim twice more after he came back from America, the last just before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The promise to catch up was there, but in this case Fate intervened.

As for Andy, when I left Prince Henry’s the link was broken – too little remained common.  He stayed there as a specialist cardiologist. I have not seen him in 50 years. Prince Henry’s closed in 1991 and is now the “Melburnian”, a high-priced apartment building.

As I watched the Mirka Mora documentary, Tolarno was mentioned more in the context of the gallery and her paintings rather than the Moras’ influence on Melbourne’s dining habits. Understandable, given the bias of the documentary.

When we lunched at Tolarno, Mirka was always there. She had a dark uncommon beauty then, suggestive of Leslie Caron. I was disturbed by the documentary. What was presented in the documentary were people remembering their link with an elderly Mirka.  There is a fine line between description of idiosyncrasy and that of pathology.

What I found most disturbing was the story of this woman seeing Mirka in what was probably 2005, sitting at the far end of the Georges’ tearoom. Georges was a department store which epitomised the Melbourne couture, a magnet for the well-connected or those who wished to be. However, even such a beacon of detached privilege was on its last pegs at that time.

This woman, who knew Mirka, recounted staring at the solitary figure who had a giant éclair in front of her. Once Mirka knew she had an audience, she promptly stuffed the whole éclair into her mouth, so that cream smeared her cheeks and chin. One enormous ingestion.  The watcher thought it was a supreme example of Mirka’s humour; whereas I felt a sense of sadness. Had she come to this!  The documentary was riddled with stories of her artistic attainments, her generosity, her sense of the ridiculous, her love of children as she aged.  Yet that image of stuffing her mouth  with an éclair stuck.

Sometimes I wonder whether the sense of the ridiculous, playing the fool, should not be translated into self-loathing. I have no right in one way to make a judgement on Mirka Mora, but then the documentary watchers did not see her in a newly-opened Tolarno in 1967. The documentary brushed over that time, and once you document a person then there should be nowhere to hide such crucial subject matter.

But for good or ill, it provided me with an opportunity to remember an uncommon time, which would become all too common as Australia emerged from its wartime monochrome and we talked endlessly about “multi-cultural”.

The woman who should have been awarded two Nobel Prizes

Janine Sargeant.  Guest  Contributor

In the week when Kate Jenkins, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, released her report on the “frat house” culture (as described in The New York Times) of Australia’s Parliament House and the generally bad behaviour there, a revealing book on work culture and the treatment of women in another era has been reviewed in The Guardian Weekly.

For those of us who know Rosalind Franklin’s story, the book just serves to further highlight the appalling behaviour of her fellow researchers.  For those who don’t, we are talking about the discovery of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a graduate of Cambridge University, a chemist and X-ray crystallographer. She discovered the key properties of DNA, which led to the correct description of its double helix. Specifically, it was her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA, particularly “Photo 51”, that led to the discovery of the double helix.

Her colleagues, Francis Crick and James Watson not only appropriated her research findings as their own but hogged the limelight without any attribution to Franklin.

The reason? Franklin’s “Photo 51” was handed to Watson by a colleague, which led Watson to redo his 3D modelling and it was another piece of Franklin’s work that similarly led Crick towards “their” scientific discovery of a lifetime.

The book, The Secret of Life, by Howard Markel, condemns all the men involved, but singled out Crick and Watson whose “lack of a formal citation (in their historic paper for Nature) of Franklin’s contribution … is the most egregious example of their negligence”. Negligence? No, that word implies omission; this was a sin of commission – they deliberately excluded Franklin. Watson has been described as having many strong prejudices, but perhaps Franklin’s greatest sin was simply to be a woman in a man’s laboratory.

In his book, Markel went on to paint a picture of a culture of misogyny and egotism that punished Franklin for personality flaws that in her male colleagues were tolerated.

Photo 51

Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins – who had given Franklin’s “Photograph 51” to Watson – shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for “their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which helped solve one of the most important of all biological riddles”.

Nobel rules now prohibit posthumous nominations (although this statute was not formally in effect until 1974) or splitting of the Prizes more than three ways, which perhaps makes the omission of Franklin all the more egregious. Easier to just ignore Franklin’s contribution.  Apparently in 2018, Watson still remained outraged at the suggestion that Franklin might have shared the Nobel Prize, although he acknowledged that his actions with regard to Franklin were “not exactly honourable”. Too little, too late.

But there’s more:  after a disagreement with colleague Watson and the Research Director, John Randall, in 1953 Franklin had moved to Birbeck College at the University of London, a public research institution and much of her work done on DNA, including her crystallographic calculations was then just handed over to Wilkins.

At Birbeck, again using X-ray crystallography, Franklin led pioneering work on the molecular structures of viruses. At that time her findings were in direct contradiction to the ideas of the then eminent virologist Norman Pirie – it was her observations that ultimately proved correct.

In 1958, on the day before Franklin was to unveil what would now be excitedly announced as “a significant research finding” on the structure of tobacco mosaic virus, an RNA virus, at an international fair in Brussels, she died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37. Her team member, Aaron Klug, continued her research and he went on to become the sole winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982 “for his development of crystallographic electron microscopy and his structural elucidation of biologically important nucleic acid-protein complexes”. This work was exactly what Franklin had started and which she introduced to Klug; she should have shared that Nobel Prize too.

Rosalind Franklin was never nominated for a Nobel Prize. Her early death meant awkward decisions about including a woman as one of the nominees didn’t have to be made.

An interesting endnote: on 28 February 1953, Watson and Crick felt they had solved the problem of DNA enough for Crick to proclaim at The Eagle, a local pub in Cambridge, that they had “found the secret of life”.

Watson and Crick did not cite the X-ray diffraction work of Wilkins and Franklin in their original paper, although they apparently admitted having “been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr MHF Wilkins, Dr RE Franklin and their co-workers at King’s College London”. In fact, Watson and Crick cited no experimental data at all in support of their DNA model. Franklin and Gosling’s publication of the DNA X-ray image, in the same issue of Nature, served as the principal evidence. So just whose “secret of life” was it that Watson and Crick were announcing?

(In the past 25 years there has been a catch up, with a plethora of recognition and awards, including a TV movie, two documentaries and three plays; the Boat Club of Franklin’s alma mater Newnham College Cambridge launched a new racing VIII, naming it the Rosalind Franklin, and in 2005, the DNA sculpture (which was donated by James Watson) outside Clare College Cambridge, incorporates the words “The double helix model was supported by the work of Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins” – elementary Dr Watson). James Watson is now 93 but it is not too late for him to acknowledge the actual role of Rosalind Franklin; he was absorbed into the same British research establishment mores that also distorted Alexander Fleming’s actual minimal contribution to penicillin research. This still did not impede Fleming sharing the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, whereas it should have gone to another.

Happy Hannukah

Latkes are deep-fried potato pancakes and are a traditional food of Hanukkah, but reporter Tamara Keith couldn’t figure out how to make them, even with the help of her mother-in-law’s recipe. After spending some time in the kitchen with her mother-in-law, she learned that the recipe was to blame

TAMARA: When I was converting to Judaism, my rabbi strongly recommended that I buy some cookbooks. It seems part of learning to be Jewish was learning to cook Jewish foods. Growing up Methodist in a small town, my first introduction to latkes was in college after I met my boyfriend, Ira. The potato pancakes Ira’s mom Andrea and sister Shannon made were terrific. Crispy and warm, dunked in apple sauce for that perfect balance of grease and fruit.

I asked for the recipe and Andrea photocopied a page from a paperback cookbook. The next year at Hanukkah, I followed the recipe exactly but the latkes came out all wrong, like over-crisp hash browns. Failure after failure led me to Manishevitz instant latkes. Just add eggs. It’s like defeat in a box. Ira and I are married now, so it finally seemed okay to go back to my now my mother-in-law and ask her what I had been doing wrong. The first step is easy, peeling the potatoes.

And then what comes next?

ANDREA, her Jewish Mother-in-Law: Next we have to grate the potatoes the proper amount of smoothness and roughness. They have to be smoother than hash browns, but we don’t want them to be completely mushy.

TAMARA: Which none of this is actually in the recipe.

ANDREA: No.

TAMARA: The whole consistency thing.

ANDREA: This is the magic of Jewish tradition and family tradition.

Hannukah occurs in December. In the second century BCE, against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly-armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated their Syrian-Greek rulers, drove them from the Holy land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of Jehovah.

When they wanted to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single pot of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and this single pot of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared with ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicise these miracles, the festival of Hannukah was begat.

There is thus no possible connection with the Christian Christmas apart from the timing, and in a season of presents, one tradition of Hannukah is giving money to children.  But once it arrives, the insidious euphoria of commercialism can overwhelm any religious significance.

Christians undertake an annual ritual engorgement around Christmas Day, presumably to counterpoint the meagre circumstances of the Bethlehem birth. Hannukah, because of the oil association, is a festival of the deep fried, as the description of Jewish potato cakes above attests.

Hannukah does not make the same impression on our community as it does in the United States. My attention nevertheless was directed to an article lamenting how Hannukah had been polluted by some of the impedimenta of Christmas.

This article in the Washington Post bemoaned the creeping tendency of Hannukah to be converted into a Jewish Christmas, where it is in fact one of the lesser Jewish holiday periods, and in the eyes of the author of this piece, acknowledging Hannukah could be as simple as lighting the menorah and let its light shine for eight days.

He describes a recent trip to a large retailer where he spotted the following abominations: a festive tray featuring four minuscule bearded dudes, their hats decorated with dreidels, above the phrase “Rollin’ With My Gnomies”; a throw pillow, in the blue-and-white color scheme of the Israeli flag, stitched with the phrase “Oy to the World”; an assortment of elves, sporting Jewish stars and looking like they belonged more in a Brooklyn yeshiva than anywhere near the North Pole; and a set of three kitchen towels with the truly baffling wording, “Peace Love & Latkes”. 

There is not much more to add, except for you, the reader to contemplate the Mouse’s Whisper this week. It is not only Hannukah, that Mammon defiles.

A Card from Our Seychellois Friends

This week we received a Christmas card from Michael and Heather Adams. Isn’t it so quaint to receive Christmas cards, especially from a family in the Seychelles.

The 2021 Christmas Card

We visited the Seychelles over 30 years ago, and it was the last leg of our African tour, which in that Apartheid period excluded South Africa. Qantas then flew to Harare in Zimbabwe, where we disembarked and roamed through a number of countries, including climbing Kilimanjaro and succumbing to malaria in Madagascar. Seychelles was the place to recuperate. We flew to the main island Mahé and stayed in the capital Victoria.

The Seychelles was once uninhabited and the first Europeans to sight the main island was Vasco da Gama. It later became a matter of disputed acquisition, between the United Kingdom and France. In this case, the UK were the winners, but there has remained a strong French influence. Once the Seychelles was settled, there inevitably were slaves, emancipated in 1835, from whom the Creole culture has emerged.

It should be recognised that Seychelles has a huge footprint across the Indian Ocean – 115 islands, of which only eight are inhabited, but it had to wait until 1903 to gain a separate existence from Mauritius.

At one stage during this stay, we ended up driving down this gravel roadway and coming up to a picture book wooden house set in this tropical backdrop, which spilt across the house itself. This was the home of Heather and Michael Adams. The home was on Anse des Poules Bleues and, it is said, true to the name of the Bay, the family had bluish hens which laid blue eggs.

Michael seems to have recently acquired a knighthood, which is not surprising given the high regard for his skill in silk screening, its composition and his depiction of his Idyll. He has been in Seychelles since 1972 and recently has said that he intended staying there. He had grown up in England and is said to have been inspired by the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, at a time when the garden was a wild unkempt neglected “lost garden”.

Heather had been in Kenya when they met after he left Uganda to get away from Idi Amin, and they married. They have two talented children, both artists, both having learnt the silk screening skills according to the latest Christmas card, all still in the Seychelles. Their names are Tristan and Alyssa.

When we stumbled upon his gallery, we were absolutely blown away by the complexity, yet a compelling simplicity of the lines of colours; colour which overwhelmed us when we entered his studio.

We bought some of Michael’s works, including a large screen print which adorns the wall, and required more than 20 screens. His works are so reflective of his perspective, of a person awash in the joy and yet serenity of his Seychellois life. No wonder that he has been likened to Paul Gauguin. One in French Polynesia; one in the French diaspora of the Indian Ocean.

I recently purchased one of his silk screens for one of our sons for his half-century, which has pride of place in his home in Melbourne.

Otherwise, the intention has always been to go back to the Seychelles, but we haven’t. For Australians it is off the beaten track. The Seychelles may be the playground of the wealthy Europeans; it may sit uneasily off the African coast where Somali pirates have recently roamed the archipelago. To see the giant Aldabra tortoises, reputedly the oldest one being about 190 years old, but apparently exiled to St Helena – a testudineous Bonaparte.

Yet every time the Adams family Christmas card arrives, it stirred the intention to return. But with the intervening years since 1990 when we were there, the intention has burned lower as age entangled us.

This year, the watercolour painting of copra workers of the Botanical Gardens reflects the time he and Heather had just arrived in the Seychelles – 1973.

But to emphasise how determined the continuation of this exchange has been with us and others, whether for such a period of time, on the bottom of the card is printed:

Apologies if you did not receive Christmas cards last year from us but due to Covid, our Post Office was closed for most of the year and no post was accepted to most countries.”

Our card to them this year will be emailed.

James Pindell has a few questions to answer

James Pindell is a bespectacled unremarkable looking graduate of the School of Journalism at Columbia University. He could be anybody’s journo at that Press Conference. Yet he is a political reporter for the Boston Globe, which lifts his ranking. He posed these questions on November 26.

He sets out three questions about Biden and provides commentary rather than answers.

Question 1: But why wouldn’t Biden run?

Very few American presidents have openly taken re-election off the table: One of them, James K. Polk, announced it the moment he received his party’s presidential nomination in 1844. His decision was part ideological — as a believer in limited government power — and practical: agreeing to only serve one term was likely the only way he could build a coalition of party power brokers to back him for the nomination.

Biden has different issues. The reason people talk about him serving only one term is largely due to his age. At 78, he was the oldest person ever elected to serve as president in 2020. He could break that record if he ran again in 2024 at age 82.

Mental and physical capacity to serve as the leader of the free world is something that voters must determine for themselves. While plenty of data is available from Biden’s doctors, it is still a subjective decision by every voter in how to read the data.

But lately, there is a second reason that people, including Democrats, are asking whether Biden will run: his poor poll numbers.

Now 10 months into his presidency, Biden’s approval ratings have never been this low. A Marist poll out on Wednesday showed him at just 42 percent, in line with other recent polls. This means Biden is the most unpopular president at this point in his presidency, other than Donald Trump.

Question 2: Can anyone other than Biden win?

Aides have already signalled in anonymous quotes to the press that if Biden does run it might be out of a sense of duty. The 2020 election turned out to be much closer than Democrats thought it would be. It is possible that among all the Democrats who ran in the 2020 primary — the most diverse field in history and one of the largest — only Biden could have defeated Trump for re-election.

With Trump looking more likely than not to run again, the Trump factor is not off the table. And the field of potential candidates is basically the same crew that ran in 2020.

And, yes, if Biden doesn’t run it likely would be a crew. The most obvious heir apparent to Biden, his vice president Kamala Harris, had a 28 percent approval rating in one recent poll.

This has led to open speculation, even this week, that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could run. Buttigieg would not only be among the youngest people to be elected president, but also the first openly gay person.

Let’s be clear here: Even after winning the Iowa Caucuses and coming in a close second in the New Hampshire primary, the Democratic electorate didn’t think Buttigieg could win (or that he sufficiently understood the Black vote). It is unclear whether a stint as transportation secretary would change that.

Question 3: If Biden doesn’t run how badly will tensions within the party explode?

As anyone could see during the Democratic presidential primary season or witness this year during negotiations over infrastructure and “Build Back Better” legislation, there is a lot of tension within the party.

The party’s base has moved left and wants leaders who are not old white men. There is also an establishment, led by Biden and South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, who feel like they are more in tune with Democrats and the electorate as a whole.

That next year the Republicans could win big because of Biden, prompting Biden and his allies to say that only proves that Biden has to run, is the conundrum.

Amy Klobuchar

Having read the questions, let me answer them in my normal ‘umble way.

  1. When you get to 80, it is not the new 60.
  2. I doubt whether Kamala Harris has the firepower. I have always been a fan of Amy Klobucher, but the question is, will Biden survive 2022 (and for that matter will Trump)?
  3. Chissà!

The Pindell article could now be subject to the “Omicron-scope”. A great deal can happen in a day or two while the Virus stalks, changes its clothes and attacks again. After all, he did write this opinion piece in the Pre-Omicron Age.

Mouse Whisper

Black Friday 1939

Fire sale. Damaged goods at a generous discount.