Modest Expectations – A Player at Kooyonga

I am from Baltimore, born and bred. Grew up at the inner harbor, Patapsco River…oh yeah Hon, ain’t the beer cold and let’s get some Natty Bohs and jumbos! I now live in Southern California. I was in the desert two days ago and a young woman, who happens to be a car salesperson (I was shopping for cars) got to talking to me about the bridge collapse. Lawd have mercy…may I repeat, she’s a car salesperson…she starts in with how the Bay Pilot did it on purpose. Steered directly for the main support pillars and took out the FSK Bridge. I said, but the freighter lost power and is more or less the size of Nimitz Aircraft Carrier going eight knots and you think he can just turn it on a dime…? Her eyes glazed over…Social media has done far more harm than good is all I’m saying. You should watch this guy on YouTube. He debunks conspiracy theories-this one pertaining to FSK Bridge. – A person responding in Boston Globe.

The above comment is from a despairing person with real knowledge, epitomised in his response to a “no nothing” conditioned by social media conspiracy misinformation, rather than looking around how much the World and seeing how vulnerable the infrastructure of the United States, both urban and rural, is at present. It is in desperate need of renewal. Above is the Tobin Bridge, the largest in New England, spanning the Mystic River connecting Boston with Chelsea, 3.2 km in length. It is a cantilever truss bridge and its structure is such that it has been considered likely to survive a hit by a 95,000 tonne container ship, unlike the FSK bridge. Yet a heavy gravel truck hit one of the pylons on the bridge in 1973 collapsing the upper deck and killing the driver of the truck. Bridges are vulnerable, especially as many are old and need updated defence mechanisms.

The collapse of the FSK Bridge is not first incident due to a ship losing power. For instance, the NYT reminded us that in 2015, a 600-foot freighter lost propulsion as it travelled along the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Seconds before the vessel reached the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, it crashed into the bank of the river instead, averting disaster.

As the NYT reported this week “In the days after last month’s disaster in Baltimore, officials in Massachusetts began taking a fresh look at Boston’s Tobin Bridge, a truss span that carries more than 40,000 vehicles each day across the Mystic River but does not have a protection system for its piers.”

The authorities have relied on navigation protocols including twinning of pilot vessels to take the ships down the Mystic River, but in the light of the FSK bridge disaster, everything is up for evaluation. The problem is that there is a need to renovate America and Trump controls sufficient politicians in Congress to stop anything worthwhile occurring all in the name of his narcissistic misanthropy. He wants to block everything if it enables him to become President and then he can blame Biden for not doing anything. That may give him undue credit.

Behind Trump lurks Steve Bannon. Trump was never very intelligent even before the dementia settled in, had no sense of morality and lived in a cocoon of deceit governed by infant tantrums. Nevertheless, he was enabled to become President of the United States, by unexpectedly beating an overconfident, unloved candidate.

Underlying much of the current community angst, alienation and ethnic hatred triptych was the perceived government complacency which enabled the 9/11 attack by “vile foreign immigrants” to occur. This tragedy has had this deep psychological effect on America which has never been healed, unlike Pearl Harbour which was avenged not only by Japanese surrender but also by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Bannon is the person to rip open the unhealed scar.  He is a nihilist – somebody who would create a Killing Fields in America under the mantra of MAGA inciting the destruction of all that he hates. By November, unless he is stopped, even Murdoch should be afraid if a demented Trump is re-elected as President. And just to remind those who are supporting Biden, Hindenburg was 85 years old, feeble but still able to pass Germany over Herr Hitler, then 43 years. Bannon is 70 – “the new 50”.

Revenge is the most primitive response of the person slighted. In contrast, take South Africa, where the atrocities of the white regime were forgiven by Nelson Mandela, reinforced by his reconciliation commission led by Archbishop Tutu. Enough was then done to sustain the integrity of the country, despite having to live with people like Zuma, a kleptomaniac as President.

Thus, a major bridge collapse is a metaphor for America. A rogue uncontrolled destructive event. Bridge protection has relied on timber palisades which have rotted and were never built to withstand being hit by the modern colossal container ship or cruise boats. Nationwide, little has been done to address the problem, although the technology exists with the pylons able to be protected.


Those structures — known as dolphins — are circular concrete constructions located near a bridge’s central supports. Vessels are meant to crash into them if they veer off track in the shipping channel, diverting them from collision with the bridge. In fact, in 1980 a cargo ship crashed into one of the dolphins protecting the FSK bridge, demolishing the dolphin but sparing the bridge. Bridges need to be more strongly protected. Dolphins, if they are the solution, need to be appropriately strengthened. Apparently, the container ship which demolished the FSK Bridge avoided striking any of the dolphins already in place. The challenge that remains is to protect these essential structures, which carry a huge amount of traffic each day remain, as does my metaphor.

The latter-day conspiratorial theorists also remain.

Brain Fog 

One of my co-morbidities is characterised by blood hyperviscosity. In other words, the blood flow is sluggish, and therefore the brain gets its nutrients just as sluggishly.  Well, that is the theory. In any event, the cause was the level of my macroglobulins which had risen to the edge of the precipice of no return, despite me being regularly reviewed by a consultant physician. The highest level my replacement consultant specialist, an oncologist, had ever seen in a patient not hospitalised. I received an urgent call when he reviewed my blood biochemistry informing me to be emergency admitted to hospital. However, to me, his preferred destination, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is not somewhere I wish to go.

I successfully argued against hospitalisation and fortunately, demonstrated that as I was still writing my blog, which an independent source said made sense, I sustained my contention that I did not have brain fog. Nobody had bothered to define brain fog, and if you read the narrative about the condition, you realise after the fact how unhelpful the description is. The sensation is unlike fog over the Canberra airport, the brain circling waiting the fog to clear. There the simile ends because the cerebral affliction is not fog in the meteorological sense.

I must confess I had one small episode. I looked at my watch, and I could not connect with it telling the time. I do not know how long this episode lasted, but it was so strange, and I did not realise what it was until it cleared. It was a very strange sensation – not fog – just non-recognition of what I started out to do, read the time.

There was another sensation, which I did not immediately equate to so-called “brain fog”. When I woke up in the morning, it was as though the dream had not ended even though I felt I was awake. I am a very visual person, invoking my knowledge of neurolinguistics, which explains that I need visual clues as entry to my sense of touch and all actions derived from this sense. In other words, I am very much guided by what I see before what I do; but in this case because the visual effects were so incongruous, I moved invoking the sense of touch without reference to the visual distortion. By moving, it broke me away from that bizarre visual sensation, which I have described below. It recurred every morning, until one morning it was no longer there, presumably because the therapy started to work.

Anyway, I had this vision of a wall, always red and composed of jigsaw pieces – shapes without any order – scattered across my visual fields. Then as I moved to get up out of bed, it vanished. I tended not to think further, but then after it cleared, I wondered whether this was so-called “brain fog”.

I hope theses observations may be useful in clearing any haziness that may exist surrounding the definition of “brain fog”.

Searching for Mr Lehrmann

It was on March 2, 1836, that a delegation of 59 men gathered at Washington on the Brazos River to draft a Declaration of Independence and establish a constitution for a new nation. They declared Texas a “free, sovereign and independent republic.” Washington County, the “Birthplace of Texas,” is etched in the history books forever.

Brenham is the county seat for this historic and scenic region.

         Brenham, Tx

Brenham is 113km northwest of Houston and 145 km southeast of the State Capital Austin. Brenham is where Kirby Lehrmann was born in 1927. During his long life he became a successful cotton farmer in the area and a well-respected member of that Texan community. His 2020 obituary mentions as a grandson “Bruce Lehrmann of Australia”. His wife died two years before, and her obituary mentions both grandchildren “Bruce and Bobby Jane Lehrmann of Australia”.

Bruce Lehrmann was born in 1995 in Texas. His father Robert Wayne “Bob” Lehrmann was born in 1949 and married Annie Laurie Lusk (possibly cousins) in 1970. His father in 1990 subsequently married Lynden Jane Tapscott from the NSW town of Moree. He died of a heart attack in 1997, two years after Bruce had been born in the city of College Station. The Tapscotts are a well-established family in Moree; there is even a road named after the family.

While it is not clear when it occurred, after their father’s death Bruce and his sister went back to Australia with their mother.

Bobby Jane went to the Glennie school in Toowoomba, then between 2016 and 2018 attended both Queensland University of Technology (Bachelor of Journalism) and Griffith University (Diploma of Italian Language and Literature). She then had short-term jobs, before returning to Texas in 2019.

Currently she is Assistant Director of Communication for the City of College Station in Texas, incidentally the city where her brother was born. If you look at her curriculum vitae from 2016 to 2018, she was a busy person as the Bachelor degree was three years full-time and the Diploma two years part-time; but at the same time she had a number of jobs. She left Australia in 2019 and has been employed in a variety of positions in Texas since.

Her brother’s early life is more opaque than that of his sister. He attended Toowoomba Grammar School and he lived with his mother in an exclusive suburb in Toowoomba with a guy, who apparently won The Golden Casket and turned the lottery winnings into being a successful property developer in and around Toowoomba. Bruce after he left school moved to Canberra and commenced an Arts degree at the ANU.

Once you lay out the known circumstances, how can the trajectory of Bruce Lehrmann through the lounge suites of Liberal ministers be explained? Without any apparent expertise, an 18-year-old has ended up as a close adviser to the Minister of Defence. However, his private life is speckled and his fateful encounter with Miss Higgins after an alcohol-fuelled night in Canberra in 2019 tossed him into the spotlight.

He was subsequently employed by British Tobacco, who sacked him when the Higgins allegation came to light.

Having survived his 2022 ACT trial for allegedly raping Miss Higgins in 2019, Lehrmann must now face charges of rape committed allegedly in 2021. Lehrmann was first charged with rape in Toowoomba in January 2023. The matter has been the subject of numerous hearings due to prosecutors challenging the scope of medical and phone data evidence requested by his defence team. He faces court in June this year – a drawn out process.

For Lehrmann, with so many issues that must involve inter alia engagement of lawyers, here is a man who in the cold light of asking why this outsider had suddenly become a person whom the Liberal Party – backed by the right-wing media (and, as it turns out, allegedly with some of his bills being paid by Channel 7) – seems able to afford the type of legal representation that would bankrupt most people.

However, the more important question is why was this Texan-born, undistinguished man, while still a teenager, become the centrepiece of the conservative side of politics. What don’t we know?

The overlying question is why is there so much protection being afforded to Bruce Lehrmann. There is nothing in his early life to suggest anything out of the ordinary.

I wondered initially whether he was indeed Bruce Lehrman, but someone else had assumed that identity. However, I have followed the family connection, (which incidentally has just taken time but on the face of it was not particularly difficult – it is all on the public record). Thus, it would be a very elaborate stratagem to seed all the clues in order to convince us to believe that there is this different man masquerading as Bruce Lehrmann.

Ministerial Entrance

Nevertheless, the unexplained is the most intriguing. Why was this young American catapulted into the Ministerial suite, with access apparently to sensitive documentation, including the French proposal to build nuclear submarines, later aborted.

I presume he has dual nationality, and although he would qualify for employment by the CIA for instance, it would be highly unusual. But there is a kernel of an idea, especially if this innocuous character had access to the French nuclear submarine arrangements. In other words what vital information does Mr Lehrmann have to merit such almost hysterical protection.

Obviously the attention he has attracted has not been helpful to whoever is his boss, he conforming to the adage of independence of action being inversely proportional to the controversy generated. The play acting around all of Mr Lehrmann’s behaviour may be a smokescreen, drawing attention away from the real reason for Mr Lehrmann being here and not decamping back to Texas as his sister has done.

I must not be on my Pat Malone in these thoughts. There must have been some investigative journalists who have been trawling through the real reason for Mr Lehrmann being able to afford an opulent lifestyle, and whether money is being funnelled from American sources to sustain him. But then that would implicate too many people to sustain the secrecy, or would it?

The Head Tradie 

Crikey’s Bernard Keane epitomises what has been lost in the modern journalists – an intelligent perspicacious grasp of what a journalist needs to do beyond vomiting up public relations written media releases.

Keane alluded to Dutton’s alleged strategy of trying to credibly claim to be “a party of the worker” while not being in favour of actual workers. In favour of workers, as Keane writes, means supporting an industrial relations system that delivers pay rises, rather than wage stagnation; one that enables workers to share the benefits of productivity growth and shifts some of the profit share of national income back to workers, reversing the trend of most of the past decade.

All of this goes against the traditional conservative constituency of the Liberal Party, the employers whether as described as “big business” or the small business employers, the shop keepers and other modest employers, people who nevertheless are employers of labour. Once, the Liberal Party could rely on the professions as part of its constituency, but not anymore.

Thus Dutton, in the end, cannot carry out his slogan if he were serious without alienating his traditional base. He may do so by using the Trump playbook of stimulating community anxiety and alienation coupled with demonising immigrants. I suspect that may get some purchase in this country, especially with right wing media backing. This is unlikely in the general population, but Albanese has such a “tin ear” that anything could happen by the next election.

The opportunity for Dutton to modify his slogan is glaringly obvious. His constituency is among the “tradies”. These are a growing important constituency of wealthy small business owners, who control much of the nation’s economy by providing vital services. This constituency does not arise from the leafy middle class but from the traditional working class. These mostly men are the electricians, the plumbers, the painters, the carpenters, the earth movers, the gas fitters, the builders. All these tradies I have used – notice how much they cost and yet how essential they are in a society where the provision of housing is approaching crisis point and where there is a scarcity of these skilled tradies.

This is a constituency that can afford large petrol or diesel powered vehicles, enjoy hunting and fishing, can afford to take the family on holidays inter alia to Queensland, and in the main live in a male world, in the traditional heterosexual society which does not write the opinion pieces of tomorrow’s sublimation in the media ether.

Yes, I know this is a generalisation, but analysis of the recent Dunkley election would give my hypothesis credence. Therefore, Dutton need not announce that he leads “a Party of the worker”, when tradies have separated themselves from a Labor party whose policies are now being fashioned by the cognoscenti of the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. See Sam Mostyn, yon Dutton, and see hope of your resurrection – if that is the word for a man with the mien of an undertaker if not his more aspirational worker, the grave digger.

I would be interested in Bernard Keane’s views. 

Remembrance Day

Just a reminder of what I wrote on the eve of Remembrance Day last year. I think the Australian Government should be ashamed, especially those former Prime Ministers who signed that disgraceful grovelling letter – in flowing serif, of course.

Wong, who affects this air of  concern, and Albanese who is increasingly becoming a hapless jester performing in the “Opening of an Envelope” should think deeply about whether they should resign. But needless to say, they won’t. After all, Wong was the first to achieve a life-time Platinum membership of the Captains Club, a place where concern for the masses is well tranquillised.

Netanyahu seems to be emulating a version of what the Romans did to Carthage, sowing the land with salt; Netanyahu is creating mountains of rubble. How is Netanyahu going to delight his far-right constituency enshrouded in black and hatred as they do their ritual prancing. I for one was not particularly enchanted by the sight of these people spitting at Christians. What a good idea, kill every Palestinian Christian as well.

I do not condone war. I do not condone brutality. I do not condone torture. I am ashamed of former Australian Prime Ministers being seduced by the Zionists to sign a Netanyahu panegyric. At least Gillard should have known better.  Paul Keating to his credit refused.

In many ways the USA has led the modern world, including Australia into a morass where any moral compass has been lost. In any comments, nobody would condone what Hamas did, any more than actions depicted in those confronting images provided by ISIS showing what they did to their prisoners during the Iraq conflict would be condoned.

Much of this criminal behaviour is done in the name of religion. My fellow Australians condone what is happening in Gaza by a group of adherents who constitute 0.4 per cent of our population, who seem collectively to be cheering one of the monstrous perpetrators in this morass, Bibi Netanyahu. We with connivance of the media have allowed a range of stunted sociopaths to glimmer in this morass trickling towards Armageddon.

Mouse Whisper 

As they were driving up the ramp off the freeway, they saw a Bonza 737-MAX coming in to land at Albury airport.

She commented on its purple livery, with BONZA prominently displayed on the sides of the plane.

He said: “Like seeing a night parrot.”

For those who need an explanation, the night parrot was thought to be extinct, but rediscovered, but remains highly endangered. Mouse Esq.

Modest Expectations – Leicester City

This disturbing commentary is taken from a media release from the Lincoln Project, a virulent anti-Trump Republican-leaning group. In their own write:

Our job at The Lincoln Project – and the task for all of us in the pro-democracy movement – is to give President Biden air cover. Not split the vote. We know exactly who we have to target to reinforce the pro-democracy message. We did it in 2020 and we won 17 races with it in 2022.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Below is a sample of the media releases with which the Lincoln Project is bombarding the potentially “swing” voters. To me, it is reality wrapped up in a scare campaign. Not sure that Biden can go the distance; he needs a better Vice-President. I’m a big fan of Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan. She has withstood threats to her life by the Trump riff-raff and has both the intellectual capacity and toughness to be President. And she would come with the tag of being “under-rated”. Huge plus, especially when you are dealing with such an exploitive narcissist as Trump. By the way, where is Melania – and for that matter young Barron?

Fascinating and completely disturbing media release from the Lincoln Project:

Putin just listed 500 new targets for Russian sanctions. In short, it’s his enemies list, a collection of people who Putin wants the world to know he personally despises. 

But here’s where it gets scary. Some of the names listed are at the top of Trump’s enemies list too.

  1. Letitia James, the New York state attorney general who is suing Trump for fraud. 
  2. Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State and recipient of Trump’s “perfect call.”
  3. Michael Myrd, the Capitol Police officer who shot MAGA martyr Ashli Babbitt. 

What do those people have to do with Russian foreign policy? They haven’t been vocal commentators on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They have no expertise or role in US-Russian relations. 

The only conceivable explanation is that Putin is sending a loud and clear message to Trump: Your enemies are mine and I want to see you back in The White House in 2024.

Putin’s clear message got me thinking about the ad campaign we ran last year. It was a hard- hitting and critical message that reminded voters that the party of Reagan is now the party of Putin. That’s why MAGA Republicans are so desperate to cut off aid to Ukraine. It’s why Trump has openly praised the murderous dictator in the past. And that reason is why Putin and Trump share the same exact enemies list.

There is a dangerous connection between MAGA and Putin’s authoritarian regime. It truly can’t be overstated, and I can assure you that we’ll continue to work to remind voters of this fact. 


Ceviche is one of my favourite fish dishes. I have always associated it with Brazil, but it is actually Peruvian.

I had my best ceviche one morning in Manaus, under what turned out to be strained circumstances for which I was to blame – ultimately. We had flown into Manaus from Sao Paulo late the night before. Manaus, located on the Amazon River approximately the same distance to the Peru border as it is to the mouth of the Amazon River, is the only place where there is bridge over the Amazon, linking it to Iranduba on the other side. In 2010, Brazil built a two-mile-long cable-stayed bridge connecting the two cities. Except that technically it does not cross the main course of the Amazon; it crosses the Rio Negro, the Amazon’s largest tributary.

Manaus is so isolated that there is only one viable road link, as told to us in 2019 – and that was to Venezuela about 3,000 kms away. There had been a road to Rhodonia, but that road was now impassable.

Just a “small” pirarucu

The fish which was used in the ceviche that morning was a white fish. I wasn’t familiar with the fish, but the marinade was very well balanced, subtle, yet where lime juice predominated. The fish was the pirarucu, the biggest freshwater fish in the world, a carnivorous lover of catfish and known to leap out of the water to take an unsuspecting small bird. The flesh is somewhat like cod to taste and, in each carcass, there is a great amount of flesh, given the fish is three metres long and 220 kilograms in weight.  There was a stuffed specimen strung up in the market in Manaus – very impressive, just to press the point.

My memorable meetings with fish have always been associated with another matter completely extraneous to consumption. For instance, my most well remembered Dover sole meal, where the fish covered the whole plate, was served to me in a Cambridge hotel overlooking the Backs. While we were having this meal, Stephen Hawking was wheeled by.

In this case in Manaus, it was as I reached into my pocket searching for my wallet, to discover it was not there. Here in mid-morning having had this brunch of fish, I immediately froze. My room was not far away. I went back and searched – no sign. My companion then did her own search. The staff were notified; they came and turned the room upside down. Still no wallet. At this point I was staring down a difficult path, given we had to board the riverboat mid-afternoon.

I had brought a raft of papers to look over while I had the time. I turned over the pages and there, in the middle of the pages was the wallet. My companion and the hotel staff on the surface were very forgiving; underneath their collective mood would have been different.

The fish meal was very good, and I turned my face to the tropical garden. The tropical plants are not judgemental, good when one is totally embarrassed.

Narendra Modi

Ship breaking in Gujurat, home of Mr Modi
Not Gujurat …

In 1978, Modi received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the School of Open Learning (SOL) at the University of Delhi, graduating with a third class honour. Five years later, in 1983, he received a Master of Arts degree in political science from Gujarat University, graduating with a first class as an external distance learning student. There is a controversy surrounding his educational qualification. SOL said it did not have any data of students who received a BA degree in 1978. Jayantibhai Patel, a former political science professor of Gujarat University, claimed that the subjects listed in Modi’s MA degree were not offered by the university when Modi was studying there.Wikipedia

Probably even a couple of years ago, most Australians would not be able to name the Indian Prime Minister, but no more. Our Prime Minister has been complicit in raising Modi’s profile by accompanying him on the Modi vahana on that strange trip around the ground on the opening day of the fourth cricket Test in Ahmedabad. One could be bemused by the two countries entering into a defence pact. I cannot imagine Australian forces patrolling the India-Chinese border or assisting in the suppression of Kashmiri’s democratic right to vote with the potential of confrontation with Pakistan.

Albanese realises that although Indian prosperity is continually rising, creating potential markets for Australian trade, there are two areas where India has a visual effect on the everyday Australian. One is obviously cricket, where the Indian premier League (IPL) provides Australian cricketers and, by association, international cricket a financial lifeline. Cricket without India would have difficulty surviving in its current form. Secondly, more importantly for Albanese, is the Indian diaspora in Australia. There are about 750,000 Indians born in India who are living overwhelmingly (70 per cent) in Victoria and New South Wales. Over 17 per cent of those living in the seat of Parramatta, where Harris Park has become the signature suburb for the diaspora, are Indian born.

While Modi was travelling overseas, culminating in the visit to Australia, his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was roundly beaten in the Karnataka State elections. As reported by The Economist, Modi addressed 19 public rallies and six road shows in Karnataka, which has had an average annual growth rate of eight per cent over the decade. In the end, this State of 68 million people was the only southern state under BJP control, and now it has lost heavily, retaining only 66 seats in an Assembly of 225 seats. The National Party had won an absolute majority; the Gandhis were back in power.

Modi had come up through Gujarat politics, a person born into one of the lower castes (the oil-burners), whereas the Congress Party Gandhis are brahmins, not necessarily popular among their fellow brahmins, but with that ultimate illusion of a “born-to-rule” caste.

Modi is a tiny figure, but his big head gives the impression of a bigger man. To govern such a sprawling diverse country for nearly a decade is remarkable. Many of his moves reflect an authoritarian personality, like so many of our leaders. Why do so many of them have to embellish their academic performance, as Modi has done. Perhaps, it just validates the thesis of social scientist Harold Lasswell that most politicians proceed from a basis of insecurity and low self-esteem. Therefore, without getting too much into the land of psycho-politics, tiny men in politics with an underlying inferiority complex can be a dangerous package.

Nevertheless, the smart money is transferring its interest from China to India. China is being left to the politicians and the public servants to salvage what they can from the selective bans on certain Australian produce. How that turns out will be carefully watched by those who have maintained a “watching brief” on mainland China. The Chinese fixation about Taiwan and the unpredictable gaoling of overseas nationals makes even the experienced China hands very wary.


Although India is notoriously protectionist, with its potential market of over one billion, it is attractive. Try buying an imported bottle of wine – or spirits for that matter – in India and marvel at the cost.  Currently, somewhat at odds with the calls to reduce fossil fuel exports, coal is the major Australian export, and the controversial entry of India into mining in Australia has been its response. At present with the flush of Modi-Albanese interactions, who knows where it will ultimately lead. One outcome for certain is that there will be more Indians migrating to Australia. The reverse? Well, I could live happily in Kerala for most of the year.

The Economist, having reported the loss of Karnataka by the BJP, says it may be a fillip for the once all-conquering Congress Party; yet the gains were stated as being at the expense of a third party, the Janata Dal (Secular). At the end of its report, The Economist stated: “there is nothing here to augur defeat for Mr Modi and his party in next year’s election.” In other words, Australia will have to live with Modi, who is 72 – young in this modern world of geriatric leaders.

As indicated above and elsewhere, I love India, especially the South. I first went to India when it was barely on the radar, with the prejudices and misconception of India on show. It was a time when there were fewer than 50,000 individuals born in India living in Australia. After the initial culture shock on arrival, India just continues to confound a Westerner like myself with its sheer beauty. You need not mention anything more than the Taj Mahal, but of course there is much more and there is enormous diversity. India imposes on the uninitiated not only by having so many people always in one’s personal space but also by the distinctive smell. This reflects not only the human factor but also inter alia the number of wandering cattle and the number of aromatic spices floating around in the urban atmosphere.

I have written about my fascination with India in my blog two years ago. It remains. It is just there is always a price in getting too close to a dictator, real and would be. It is the dilemma Australia faces, given the difficult relationship we will always have with China. Still, our country must build its resilience and no matter the country, we should be wary of alliances, which need to be thought through, especially when positioning ourselves in a bilateral Pact, a Triad (rhyming with raucous), a Quad or even rowing a Quinquereme in troubled South Pacific seas. It is not just an album of photo opportunities.

Hero of the Western World?

“I think the Liberals did unprecedented things in vilifying me, on things that were baseless, which they knew. First, we had that lowbrow Staley for years wandering around attacking me, saying I was one of the richest men in public life, that I was only in public life to enrich myself. I can only say of him: twisted in body, twisted in mind. And he was aided and abetted by Howard, who should have known better, who does know better …” Paul Keating in 2000 as reported in SMH.

There is this photograph of the Melbourne Scotch College crew of 1957. No. 3 is Andrew Peacock; no. 6 is Anthony Staley and the Stroke was Neil Courtney. All are now dead. Peacock and Staley were rivals, even at school, vying to be the Captain of School. In the end it was Neil Courtney, also a gifted musician, who was chosen. This I knew because my father worked with his father, although I cannot recollect whether we ever met. I am not sure what he did later, apart from the fact that he died about six years ago and he rowed while at the University of Melbourne. Otherwise, the records readily available to me about him are silent.

In my generation Scotch College in Melbourne produced a great number of prominent politicians, culminating in what the Italian call un uomo di sbalzi d’umore, Jeffrey Kennett as the Victorian Premier. Returning to the crew, which came second in the Head-of-the-River that year, Andrew Peacock went on to graduate in law, and never hid his political aspirations. Part of his inheritance (the born-to-rule complex) was gaining Menzies’ seat of Kooyong, having made a splash at the previous election by challenging the high-profile, left wing Jim Cairns.

Peacock lost. But his profile as the next generation leader was cemented. Peacock never received the opprobrium of being a young Australian, just too old to be included in the Vietnam draft lottery, not to serve despite his schoolboy militarism. The 1966 election cemented the Liberal Party, with Andrew Peacock having been elected in a byelection seven months before, his foot firmly planted on the political accelerator. He was well liked but, in the end, he just tired of the relentless back-stabbing antics and went elsewhere.

His rival, Anthony Staley, first came to my notice through some of my religious friends, when they mentioned this guy whose mission was to dedicate his life to being a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. He undertook a law degree at the University of Melbourne and followed me as the President of the Student Representative Council in 1961. Whereas Peacock’s first wife was the daughter of a Liberal Party politician, Staley’s first wife was the daughter of the University’s Vice-Chancellor – the first of five.

I saw Staley from time to time in the 1960s, especially when I started a Master of Arts in political science part-time at the University when he was lecturer there. I remember one day we were talking on a street in Melbourne when there was an anti-Vietnam demonstration being held. We were on the fringes and the crowd started moving towards us.  I looked around. Staley was gone. I stayed. I was a bit surprised as I thought Staley had expressed great reservations about our involvement in the War.

The aim of becoming a pastor was soon tossed out of his career pathway. He was elected to Parliament at the 1970 Chisholm by-election, following the death of Wilfrid Kent Hughes. He was the Member for this electorate from 1970 to 1980 and was a low level Minister for the Capital Territory and then Minister for Post and Telecommunications until his retirement from Parliament. Thus, the two rowers of 1957 may have been reunited in the same Liberal Party boat but Staley never reached the Ministerial heights that Peacock achieved.

Staley clung to the leader, whoever that person was – but had an air of treachery, which was admired by his fellow fixers. It is a pity that being shady and duplicitous is so admired by some in the media claque. He switched from Snedden to Fraser in the period when the 1974 election intervened, and the robust Liberal Party stability of 1973 was replaced by the rise of the Party “bottom-feeders”.

Staley became the National President of the Liberal Party long after I had lost contact with him, but he apparently used his position to undermine Hewson, create the straw man Downer, before culminating his life’s work in the election of Howard who had been written off at the start of the decade. The Liberal Party Gepetto had triumphed no less!

There was one occasion in the 1990s when he and I were at some dinner where he was seated next to my wife, who had never met him before. She found his frank comments to her about his sexual exploits somewhat unusual – but then she just dismissed them as the pathetic ramblings of an ageing man with five wives on his curriculum vitae.

The problem with all these shenanigans, the stage for the ultimate progression of the Liberal Party was within the “ecology” of the Melbourne Club, where the ultimate strength of the Party lay and where they forgot about the branches. These provided the foot soldiers, ignored until they were mustered to help at election time. The cigar chomping Staley showed his contempt at one party conference by railroading a motion through to shore up the then Downer leadership. The problem is the branches in the face of a Party, whose seigneurs ignored them, enabled the rise of a different mob. This noblesse oblige just turned some party branch members into a rebellious mob, who still had the power to preselect candidates. This shift occurred during the Staley years, and how much was due to his actions others may wish to comment. The legacy of Staley with his expertise in palace intrigue may be his posthumous gift to the current leader, the hapless John Pessuto.

Mouse Whisper

I dislike the connotations of a plague of mice. This just goes against the grain.

John Wheats, our Poet Laureate, has written an ode. Wheats can never resist making rye comments.

Oats to a Threshing Churn

Now Barley Charlie

Spooning deepest darkest Congee

So to forage in the Porridge

makes one cruel eating the Gruel

where one hits the hominy Grits

or ends up with teeth and sorghums
Barley Charlie 1964

Modest Expectation – Malopolskie

Arresting Mr Teixeira

A young American national guardsman was apprehended as the person alleged to have leaked “State Secrets”, not apparently for any reward apart from seemingly to “big note’ himself. He apparently is big on Guns and God; not an anarchic nihilist, but one who is a dab hand at getting into the holy of holiness – “the State Secrets”, and what’s more, converting it into a video game. The force sent to arrest him magnified the view of the Government being a Puffer Toad, so many Federal agents were deployed to arrest this one guy. The melodrama was almost comical and shows how difficult some elements of the US government have in maintaining perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, two female Federal police officers arrested some guy who had allegedly been flogging Australia’s State Secrets, presumably to some Chinese agents. The vision of this duo bundling the guy into the back seat of an unmarked police vehicle contrasted so markedly from that beamed from the United States showing the arrest; thus showing very clearly the matter-of-fact way these two women had gone about their task. Oh my God, two women in mufti, without flak jacket, and not armed to the teeth in arresting a “Suspect of One”. This scenario would not do for the American media, with their “Law and Order” knee jerk response.

The question arising from the American experience is that if a lowly national guard could gain access to such sensitive material, it would be inconceivable that all the expert hackers all over the globe would not also have been able to access all this “secret information”. Then there is presumably a battle to determine whether the information is false, which in turn sets the scenario for a gigantic maze of false clues and games not too different from that devised allegedly by the hapless young man with a love of Guns and God.

Five Bells

Olsen’s Five Bells at Sydney Opera House

John Olsen died last week. His bird’s eye view of the Australian landscape has been praised by figures more authoritative than me. He painted at least two spectacular tributes to the greatest elegy ever written by an Australian. I have borrowed this succinct description of Olsen’s contribution:  John Olsen’s 1963 painting, Five Bells, on permanent display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and his 1973 mural, Salute to Five Bells, installed in the northern foyer of the main concert hall at the Sydney Opera House. In the Royal Botanic Gardens near the Opera House gate, Guy Lynch’s Satyr, modelled on Joe, looks out to sea to where his brother drowned and where the Manly Ferry passes on its daily route.

Just let me say, I love these representations of the variety and vastness of Australia. Fred Williams was one such painter of this genre. We have a painting which very closely mimics a Fred Williams. I like it, although the purists would say it lacks the magic of Williams’ aerial views.

However, we do have a Hissing Swan’s view of the Western District of Victoria. Hissing Swan is the whitefella name for the Aboriginal artist, Karun Warun, whose vision of his land is very striking, with the overlay of an Aboriginal warrior imprinted on a fiery background of his tribal land spear in hand looking down on the fallen one.

Kuran Warun grew up in Framlingham, an Anglican mission originally on the Hopkins River north of Warrnambool. In 1971 the Aboriginal people were finally granted ownership of 237 hectares there and the land is now managed by the local Aboriginal Trust.  Karun Warun is a Gunditjmara man. Originally his mob were from north of Portland, around Lake Condah, but they were also forcibly moved to Framlingham, and this was inter alia the depiction of his lands.

But the the actual painting subject is the snake tribe and goanna tribe in conflict.

But what of Five Bells?

Some years ago, I acquired the original 1939 edition of Five Bells by Kenneth Slessor. This elegy to Joe Lynch, his artist friend who drowned in the Sydney Harbour in 1927, took him several years to complete. It is a remarkable poem because his wording for me has a certain narrative to which I can relate. There is an intimate revelation, interrupted by the “Five bells” amen.

The Sydney ferry Kiandra, from which Joe Lynch dived into Sydney Harbour, and drowned

Five Bells occurs at 10.30 pm (and at 10.30 am) on a ship’s watch, and it suggests that was the time at night when Joe Lynch dived from the Harbour ferry, drunkenly saying he could swim faster than the ferry. (The other explanation was that he just fell overboard with his overcoat full of bottles of beer weighing him down.) This poem was written between 1935 and 1937 and it is obvious reading it that the death of Joe Lynch had a traumatic effect on Slessor.

It finishes thus:

And tried to hear your voice, but all I heard

Was a boat’s whistle, and the scraping squeal

Of seabirds’ voices far away, and bells,

Five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out.

Five Bells

There are other poems in this slim volume with the accompanying “six decorations” by Norman Lindsay and dedicated not to Lynch, but to the memory of another Australian poet, who died at the age of 28 in 1932, John Alexander Ross McKellar. Five Bells dominates as it does Australian Poetry.

Where Am I?

Not quite 13 year olds

I was first concussed badly during an intra-school football match of Australian football. I was knocked out and remember nothing about it. I woke up in the school sick bay with no memory of the event. I must have been 13 at the time. I had a headache and my father picked me up, took me home and after a weekend in and out of bed, I went back to school on the Monday. After some time, I learnt that one of the opposition players had just run through me when I was gathering the ball. Although we went through another four years of school, it was never discussed, and he certainly never apologised. It was considered not that serious, just one of the risks of playing a contact sport.

Life was much more physically confronting when I was first at school. Everybody was expected, unless excused, to participate in the annual boxing tournament. The finals were held on a wintry oval, and I still remember losing the fight with a broken nose.

These exercises in inciting concussion paled into insignificance when I had a major car accident now nearly 42 years ago. Among my multiple injuries, I had significant head injuries which, in reprocessing the incident, I must have been initially knocked out before I remembered releasing my seat belt and opening the car door. I do not actually remember getting out of the car but remember maniacally laughing as I watched the car burn – with the ambulance bells ringing in my ears approaching in the distance. The next memory was waking up on the operating table at the Goulburn Valley Base Hospital.

My injuries were moderately severe, but in relation to my head, my sub-galeal space, that potential space between my skull and the fibromuscular tissue which covers the cranium, was full of blood. It was in such a quantity that if you poked one side of my head the vibration was transmitted through the pool of blood to the other side of my head. I had a cut over my right eye, and a cruciate wound where my jaw struck the steering wheel ( and which required several plastic surgery interventions).

Yet I had no bleed in the brain, but I did notice over the years that I had a change in personality – something only a person with the introspection of an only child could detect.

The other observation of relevance is that once when I was having some orthodontic work, the dentist kept breaking his drill bit on my bone which he likened to marble. It has also been noted that repeated concussions are associated with thickening of the skull, but what of the benefits if you are born with dense bone? I make no further comment, but we Australians do wear helmets, presumably to minimise brain injury – although that benefit is to some experts problematical.

I do add that I am suffering from long term problems elsewhere throughout my body from that accident so long ago.

Still, should I say I am perhaps a case of dementia-in-waiting?

Julian the Lesser?

Leeser, whose stance will help him keep his once-safe northern Sydney seat of Berowra from the teals, is likely to join other high-profile backbench colleagues such as Andrew Bragg and Bridget Archer when the official “Liberals for Yes” campaign begins.

This summary of the survival instincts of Julian Leeser received attention by Philip Coorey’s article in the AFR about the defection of Leeser from the Party line over the Referendum. A lawyer, Leeser’s route to accession to a safe seat in the leafy Liberal Party stronghold illustrates wending his way through the NSW Liberal Party organisation into the moderate faction where, under John Howard’s influence, members have suffered ritual humiliation in the broad church of “Oxymoronic Liberal Intolerance”. This was the price one paid for being a voice of moderation in such a Church – just ask Petro Georgiou.

Leeser worked for McMahon when he was Prime Minister. On his defeat in 1972, the Liberal party was not that far away from that apocryphal perception of the Country Party’s Aboriginal party policy as “poison the waterholes”. Snedden was very conscious that his office make contact with the young mainstream Aboriginal activists, even though Neville Bonner had been elected a Coalition Senator for Queensland in 1971. Bonner was awarded all the recognition one would expect for the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the Federal Parliament. Nevertheless, he made a revealing comment once: I was treated like an equal on the floor of the chamber, neither giving nor asking quarter, but there were hours sitting in my office and I went home alone to my unit at night. There was never one night when anyone said “Hey, let’s go out tonight”.

Paradoxically in 1967 it had been Harold Holt and his Government which initiated giving recognition to the Aboriginal People by repealing section 127 of the Constitution and deleting the reference to ‘the Aboriginal race’ as it was deemed discriminatory and denied the Commonwealth Parliament the opportunity to make special laws for Aboriginal people even if they were of an affirmative nature.

The amendment proposed repealing section 127 of the Constitution, “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a state or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”

It had been claimed that section 127 had been included in the Constitution because Aboriginal people, at the time the Constitution had been written in the last decade of the nineteenth century, were looked down upon with the epithet bestowed of them as “Stone Age people”, being used as a term of denigration.  Prime Minister Menzies is quoted in 1965 as saying Aboriginal people “being a mainly tribal and nomadic lifestyle creating ‘practical difficulties … in satisfactorily enumerating the Aboriginal population’.”

In introducing the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Bill 1967, Menzies’ successor as Prime Minister, Harold Holt, said, “The simple truth is that section 127 is completely out of harmony with our national attitudes and modern thinking. It has no place in our Constitution in this age.”

When put to the Australian electorate the usual practice of presenting a “Yes” case and a “No” case for these two amendments was not followed as no Member of Parliament could be found to authorise a case against the proposed amendments. This was reflected in the overwhelming support for the Referendum, remembering it was still a time when you had to be 21 years of age to vote.

These proposed amendments received 5,183,113 votes or 91 per cent in favour, the biggest majority ever given to a referendum question in Australia, and it passed in all six States. It should be noted that it was not until 1977 when the referendum approved an amendment to the Australian constitution to allow electors in the Australian territories to vote at referendums, Territorians could not vote in referendums. Their votes are only included in the national total, but in the 1967 referendum, the area of Australia with the most visible Aboriginal people, the whitefellas could not vote in that referendum (nor for that matter those living in the ACT, Cocos Islands, or Christmas Island).

The advent of the Aboriginal Tent Assembly populated by young Aboriginal activists sprang up in 1972, as an accompaniment to Black activism in the United States. Vietnam protests were another source of youth discontent. After all, one could be conscripted at 18 years but not entitled to vote. The sight of a tent assembly with campfires being lit in front of the then Parliament House assaulted the sensibilities of a conservative parliament.

I went out and talked to Charlie Perkins, and after an initial wariness, we hit it off well in that year, so much so that once I was sitting around the campfire yarning with Charlie Perkins and others such that it prompted one National member of Parliament to ask “who was that Communist working for Snedden?”

Dutton, from my observation, has not a clue how to approach Aboriginal people. He seems to rely on the one voice of Jacinta Price, and otherwise naturally gravitates to whitefellas, who share his basic lack of sympathy. He is not only an authoritarian personality reinforced by his time as a Queensland policeman but also by not being particularly bright.

He has taken time to achieve leadership of the Liberal Party, and the Labor Party are “playing” him well. After all, the Labor Party had a foretaste of the authoritarian personality when Mark Latham was its leader. The other seeming benefit that Dutton enjoyed was the support of Murdoch. The timidity of the Australian politicians – the fear of Murdoch’s relentless assaults. The Murdoch Empire now is showing early signs of disintegration – as Murdoch himself concealing his obvious frailty, not unexpected once one reaches ninety, coupled with a shaky succession riven with conflict.

Dutton is thus a product of a time which clouded Australian politics, but the number of reverses he has experienced demonstrates that the same way he addresses every matter – the blunderbuss of negativity – is not working. He may have a point in referencing the Aboriginal Voice as the province of Canberra based Aboriginal bureaucrats, a shorthand for a Canberra group with a grip on the Larynx, but who is listening?

The really disturbing point coming from the Dutton’s recent visit to Alice Springs is the report that some Arrernte people, whose land includes Alice Springs, were taking umbrage about Senator Price’s voice because she is seen as a Walpiri woman, and therefore not entitled to speak for Alice Springs residents. If that division is so, then that is not a good sign for a unified Voice.

Sketch of Vincent Lingiari, by Frank Hardy

Nevertheless, the late Vincent Lingiari said it all. “Let us live happily together as mates, let us not make it hard for each other… We want to live in a better way together, Aboriginals and white men, let us not fight over anything, let us be mates…” 

Amen – sotto voce.

Once a Romantic Friendship

Rose Cleveland

Trump is wanting to emulate Grover Cleveland by having two non-consecutive terms as President of the United States. Despite his corpulence, Cleveland was a louche, but even though he had a previous relationship which yielded a child, he entered the White House as a bachelor at the age of 50 years. His sister filled in as the First Lady for a time; and according to an article in the Washington Post, one of which appears below, she was the First Gay Lady. 

In the summer of 1910, Evangeline Simpson Whipple told the caretaker of her home not to move anything in her absence. The wealthy widow was going on a trip, but would be back soon, she said.

She never returned. When she died in 1930, she was buried at her request in Italy next to the love of her life — a woman with whom she had a relationship that spanned nearly 30 years. That woman, Rose Cleveland, had served as first lady.

The letters, preserved by the caretaker at Evangeline’s Minnesota home, are collected in, “Precious and Adored: The Love Letters of Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple, 1890-1918,” and make clear that they were more than just friends, according to its editors.

When Grover Cleveland took office in 1885, he was a nearly 50-year-old bachelor, a fact that almost derailed his campaign when rumours spread that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. (He had.) Protocol for unmarried or widowed presidents called for a female relative to fill the role of first lady. In stepped his sister, Rose.

She was seen as an important counterbalance to her brother’s scandalous baggage: She was respectable, well-educated, a former teacher at a women’s seminary and the author of serious books.

Her term as first lady, however, was a mixed bag, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. Her book of essays, “George Eliot’s Poetry,” became a bestseller based on her fame, but she was frustrated with public scrutiny of her necklines and a ban on her going to private dinners or public markets.

Fourteen months in, Rose was relieved of her duties when the president married his 21-year-old ward, Frances Folsom. Rose returned to her family estate, nicknamed “The Weeds,” in Upstate New York.

Evangeline Simpson

Rose met Evangeline Simpson in the winter of 1889-1890, less than a year after her brother left office for the first time. (Cleveland is the only two-term president not to have served his terms consecutively.) They probably met in Florida, where both spent the season making the rounds among the nation’s wealthier families. Rose was 43 and never married. Evangeline was probably 33 and had inherited a fortune from a late husband nearly five decades her senior. The love letters begin in April 1890, once the two returned to their respective homes. (Evangeline lived in Massachusetts.) 

There was no word for what were termed “romantic friendships” for relationships between two women, especially when the relationship was sexual as revealed in the letters.

Between 1896 and 1901, the time when Evangeline was married to Bishop Henry Whipple, the first Anglican Bishop of Minnesota, the friendship was disrupted. He died in 1901, and his is another story of an extraordinary man. The relationship between the two women endured until Rose died in the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. The evidence of this relationship is contained in a trove of letters and memorabilia contributed by the Whipple Family in 1969 to the Minnesota Historical Society, even then with some inkling that it contained Rose’s love letters which Evangeline had kept.

Mouse Whisper


The TV drama “Succession” has left its audience in a lather because Il Padrino, Logan Roy, is put to death by the producers at the start of the new series. As has been stated, Logan was a bully who maintained his power by belittling, demoting, and arbitrarily firing his employees and relatives. I understand despite public denial, Rupert Murdoch is an avid watcher. Always looking to the future is our Rupert, at least that was what his pet rat, Tucker, always says.

Modest Expectations – Dead Poets Society

King Charles inherited 45,667 acres of land across England & Wales, worth around £650m, generating income of £24m pa. He didn’t pay a single penny in inheritance tax & will only pay income tax if he volunteers. On the 6th May you will pay to put a crown on his head. These stark comments were relayed on a Twitter feed and, given the opaqueness of the Royal finances in many areas, the numbers are probably as reliable as any others.

It will be interesting to note which Australians will be part of the Forelock Shuffle to Westminster Abbey. How many avowed Republicans will be following the Prime Minister who, given his dainty ambivalence, will go and try to dampen criticism by offering to have a Regal Party on his plane, a modified KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, which in itself is a modified Airbus A330 jet, which can accommodate 100 passengers.

The Coronation

But then, at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, 250 seats were reserved for Australians headed by the then Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. There were 8,000 invitations issued.  There was an Australian military contingent which participated in the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Two Australian warships participated in a Spithead Review of 300 ships. Notably, the commentator on British Pathe reported that the crews of British and foreign ships all cheered. Foreign? It should be noted our Australian nationality on our passports only occurred in 1949; the words “British Passport” was retained on our passports until 1967.

The coronation of Charles III provides an opportunity to dispense with all the seductive pomp at which the British are very good – it appeals to all of the Cringe in Australians, afflicted by an inferiority complex which also guides the bunyip aristocracy.

We have a High Commissioner in London – let him be Australia’s representative. That’s sufficient.

But no, no, no – maybe Albanese will still be Prime Minister when William V ascends the British throne. By that time Australia should be a republic.

But then that is Australia Dreaming.

The Flag

One of the most difficult changes in Australia would be to change the flag. My first response years ago would have been dismissive; namely “who cares?”

We are used to it, and then all our history is mixed with histrionics associated with preservation of the hoar frost for those who still yearn for the Mother Country and have never forgiven the Labor Party for doing away with Imperial Honours. The preservation of the Union Jack in the Flag would preserve the hoar on the railing post.

But I suspect most people couldn’t care less. There is not a strong sense of wrapping ourselves in the Australian flag and crying “patriotism”. Yet the process to change the Australian Flag is formidable. The current Australian flag was officially raised for the first time on 3rd September 1901 at the Royal Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne, unveiled by Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton. The design was the product of a competition held to find a national flag for the newly federated Australian nation. The competition attracted 32,832 entries from Australia and overseas; five individuals shared the honour of submitting the winning design. Apart from a few minor differences in the magnitude and number of points on the stars these people had designed what we now know as the Australian Flag.

The Australian flag was called the Australian or Commonwealth Blue Ensign until the Flags Act of 1953 gave it the title of Australian National Flag, confirming it as the chief national symbol by law, custom and tradition. This fact was recognised in 1996 when the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, proclaimed 3 September “Australian National Flag Day”.

New Zealand in the past decade spent NZ$23m in attempting to change the flag, a matter dear to the then Prime Minister, John Keys. He persuasively said that the similarity in the Australian and New Zealand flags was one reason to change. It should be noted that Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and Fiji are the only nations to retain the symbol of British colonialism. Moreover, Fiji is a republic.

Strangely, the State of Hawaii retains the Union Jack embroidered in its flag. Curiously the stripes on the Hawaiian flag are similar to those on the Russian flag. The construction of Hawaii’s flag occurred when the indigenous Hawaiian rulers were ingratiating themselves with the perceived powerful European powers in the Pacific.

In the end, changing our flag is indeed formidable, but not insurmountable. How did the Canadians do it? After all, Canada has always been the favourite place for the Royals to visit, in particular the late Queen.  The Canadians eschewed a referendum. They concentrated on the emblem of the maple leaf, set up a Parliamentary Committee, and then a process that involved progressive simplification of the design to the single red leaf.

On 22 October 1964, the committee voted in favour of the single-leaf concept. Two months later the House of Commons approved the design, followed shortly after by the Senate. The Liberal Ontario politician, John Matheson, one of the flag committee’s members, is often credited with achieving consensus within the committee and helping to end the Great Flag Debate in Parliament. The lesson is: keep it simple, use a universally recognised symbol, exert leadership and take nothing for granted.

I wonder if Keys had insisted on the silver fern and an “all black” background with or without the Southern Cross – and stuck to it – would the New Zealanders not have retained their current flag.

Gough Whitlam, in an interview in 1994, insisted that arguments about servicemen and women serving under the existing Flag in all of Australia’s wars were untrue. He said he had been the last Prime Minister to have served under the flag, (he was in the air force in World War II), but that Flag had been a red, not a blue, one and at RAAF funerals the casket had been draped in the Union Jack, not the Australian flag. The current flag had not been formally adopted until the enactment of the Flags Act of 1953, and had only been used in one war, Vietnam, and then only on land. The navy and air force continued to use their own flags.

We got this blue one because Menzies did not like red,” said Whitlam, adding that his Liberal predecessor had once used the New Zealand flag while on a visit to Canada. Trust Billy McMahon to get it wrong.

Whitlam went on to say, “We need an Australian as head of state who will be accepted by other heads of state in the world and we need a flag which is identified as Australian and accepted by all — the original Australians and those who have come here from overseas.” 

Whitlam said he favoured retaining that part of the flag that was distinctively Australian — the Southern Cross. 

Keys made the mistake of trying to establish a consensus, probably impossible when you need to obtain change when it is a matter of taste and to convince those who believe the flag is a sacred relic.

First, I would remove the Union Jack, and re-position the Southern Cross in the night sky.  I would prefer wattle as emblematic given that the Australian colours are not dark blue, but green and gold. To me, wattle provides the gold and the blue green of the eucalyptus as the background. In spring, in the southern states, the land is a tapestry of green and gold. Why do our representatives dress in a grass green colour given that this is a country of blue mountains, which essentially are the eucalyptus colour from a distance – and a suitable colour acknowledging this green merging into the blue should not be a great challenge to mix?

Then maybe Australia should have “a jury” to determine how to match the elements and then, as with Canada, the most suitable arrangement would evolve.

I must say, I have form. When I was a senior staffer, I was asked what would be discussed at the next parliamentary party meeting, the last meeting having been consumed with discussion of the Flag. I replied I supposed it would be the Party’s policy on heraldic symbols. It was reported in the media. There were some in the Party who were not amused. It gave some insight into the importance that I, as a young man, ascribed to the Flag, to which I alluded at the start of this piece. Maybe age has modified my flippancy.

Jackals and Hyenas Abroad

Rumore” in Italian is the word for “noise”. Recently, someone commented that I (née big Johnnie) had been kicked out of the Liberal Party. One person close to me said I should wear that as a badge of honour.

Others said to me, why bother?  Still a lie is a lie and needs to be corrected. Now the political process, as with any combative arrangement, attracts the jackals and hyenas to feed on the carrion of this process. By this I refer to the detritus of innuendo and lies served up in the clubs, and board rooms of Australia amid the sly chortles wreathed in cigar smoke and the glittering whisky decanters on the pour.

I was a member of the Liberal Party for about a decade in the seventies and early eighties. In that time, I was a political staffer; organised a centrist discussion group called “Grapple” with assistance from other like-minded so-called “small L liberals”, an unfortunate moniker; was a branch president for a few years and failed in three tilts to gain pre-selection for outer Melbourne parliament seats.

When I moved to Sydney in 1979, I cut my ties with “Grapple” and joined the then Australian Institute of Political Science. The Institute received funding then from some of the big Australian companies, but the money spinner was the Summer School, where aspiring politicians, and those interested in political science could debate a particular theme over the long weekend in January. The Institute produced the Australian Quarterly.

The Institute owed its existence to members of the Sydney establishment led by Norman Cowper who, in 1932, set it up as a reaction to a growth of the Fascist New Guard led by Eric Campbell on the extreme right. On the left was Jack Lang, the NSW Premier with his defiant populism, which threatened the established order in a far different way from Campbell.  Nevertheless, both were authoritarian as most extreme politicians are whether they are left or right.

In the early years of the Depression revolution was in the air. How serious in retrospect who knows, but one of the results was the Australian Institute of Political Science was formed. Cowper was shrewd in that in the construction of the Sydney-based Board he invited Labor Party members to join the Board – and thus for many years this bipartisan governance persisted. There were also Melbourne directors, who would be present at the Summer School. It was all very civilised; the only problem was that the Institute was running out of money by the time I joined.

There was enough money to celebrate the 50th anniversary, which I organised and invited David Owen, who was one of the leaders of Social Democrats and at that time considered as a future British Prime Minister. Unlike most politicians these days, he charged nothing for his appearance fee, but we engineered a first class airfare return to London plus accommodation.

The celebration was centred around the first Cowper Oration. Norman Cowper, then 87 years old, attended.  The celebration was a success, which surprised some on the Board which had become a comfortable place for mates to meet when money was not a problem. I was an outsider, a Melburnian. The Institute leaned towards the Labor party.  Despite the 50th anniversary, which was just a temporary fillip, the financial situation was increasingly dire and, not for the first time in such a situation, a Board turned to me to become the Chair and solve the resultant problem of potential insolvency.

In the mid 1980s, certainly the mood for change coincided if not clashed within the Institute. The Summer school became non-viable. Where once the Summer School was “the only game in town”, now the growth of forums, symposia, workshops and all sorts of scientific meetings were competing for the space the Institute once had to itself. Politics was becoming more partisan and trying to define the political centre became impossible with the bipartisan adoption of elements of neoliberalism, banging the drum of individual freedom and the contempt for government. In other words, there was a certain pessimism about the future of the AIPS with funds drying up.

At this time, there was a move by some of the Melbourne directors who were members of the Liberal Party headed by Richard Alston to take the Institute to Melbourne and convert it into a right wing think tank. There was no plan just an assertion to trust him while his cabal appropriated the name of the Institute. Nevertheless, the unseen hand of John Elliot, then at the height of his “Fosterisation” hubris, was probably behind funding an Alston-led organisation.

By this time I had let my Liberal Party membership lapse; but the action in resisting this move of the Institute and having the Sydney directors support me in resisting this move, did not win me any friends in the Victorian Branch of the Liberal Party of which I once was a member. Then I took the secretariat of the Institute into my office and it survived, as it does today. I was fortunate to have Gay Davidson, a senior political journalist in Canberra, as my Vice-President for much of the following decade. We retained Government funding. Australian Quarterly survived with people such as Ross Garnaut editing it for a time.

No, I was not kicked out of the Liberal Party. I left it with the minimum of fuss.

I resigned as Chair of the Australian Institute of Politics and Science (the name was changed during my stewardship to better reflect its change in function) after 18 years in 2002 and was succeeded by Rick McLean. The Institute and Australian Quarterly remain to this day.

Dauber or just Dabbler

When I was searching for a site for University of Melbourne Family Club Child Care Centre in the late 60s, I had a strange encounter when I met a Miss Dauber who was, if not the only surviving descendent of Horatio Larcher, certainly a major beneficiary of his estate. Larcher, according in his brief 1942 obituary, had been born in London in 1854, and migrated to Victoria in 1871. He built up one of the largest retail distribution businesses of milk in Melbourne. To illustrate this, by 1907 he was advertising his  Farm Dairy at 45 Moor St Fitzroy. At about that time, pasteurisation was introduced, and his dairy continued to increase its output from 50 to 100 quarts daily in 1896 to 10,000 quarts a day in 1922.

Larcher’s milk cart

Returning from the UK on a visit in 1936, Larcher had brought samples of sterilised and “homogenised” milk, very popular in England. The cream was pressed into the milk and the heat sterilised. Kept in a cool place, if the bottle was not opened, Larcher was quoted as saying the milk would last indefinitely. He brought back samples. “Such milk, which could be sold for about a penny a pint more than ordinary milk, would be invaluable in Australia for transportation over any distance.” He seemed to be describing ultra-pasteurisation.

In Victoria, the Milk Pasteurization Act 1958 specified that “no one should sell or deliver milk except milk pasteurised at licensed pasteurising premises and bottled and sealed as prescribed.” At that time, only about half the milk sold in Victoria was pasteurised. I was in Trinity College at the University of Melbourne then and we had cows grazing on the College grounds; we consumed the milk from the College cows – unpasteurised. No-one to my knowledge contracted bovine tuberculosis nor brucellosis.

Therefore, Larchers had distributed milk through major generational change when at first milk needed to be purchased almost daily from the milkman, unless the family had an ice chest or Coolgardie safe or the new-fangled refrigerator.

The Larcher method of distribution was the horse drawn cart and the horses were stabled on the Moor Street premises, where Larcher himself lived. While there is a photograph of a Larcher horse and cart outside the Southern Cross in 1966, it was not long after that when Larchers closed.

The times had now changed irrevocably. The whole method of distribution was now through the corner store or the supermarket where milk could be refrigerated. The road traffic had increased such that the horse and cart with streets covered with horse excrement was no longer the best method of retaining or distributing milk. This freed up the stables, with their extensive courtyard, in a place not too far from the University of Melbourne.

Miss Dauber was interested in the conversion of the stables into a child-minding centre, and thus I entered into negotiation and I found out I was drawn into a gossamer web. Miss Dauber was a delicate woman whose age was difficult to define by just looking at her finely lined face. She seemed somewhat detached but at the same time she affected coquettish behaviour. There was another young man competing for the property to provide the child-minding centre, but he had no overt experience; even then his strange persona concealed a dark side which ultimately led to him being “sectioned” and held securely in a mental health facility for a period.

With my then young family I visited Miss Dauber on several occasions at her extensive country property at Healesville. What I remember clearly was the magnificent cork tree. I had never seen a fully grown cork tree with its distinctive bark. Funny what you remember, but after a while I realised that, despite her elegant afternoon tea hospitality, I was being strung along, as if courting for Miss Dauber’s hand, much to her enjoyment.

In the words of a nineteenth century novel, I withdrew, thanked her with a flourish of effusiveness. and sought more successfully another premises, this one in Carlton. It was a complete break. I never knew what ultimately happened to Miss Dauber. In a later architectural history of Inner Melbourne, I note reference to a Dauber Child Minding Centre in 1971 located in the Moor Street premises.

Today, it is an undistinguished block of flats. But the Larcher chimney still exists as a remnant of its glory days.

The Melbourne University Family Club with its premises in Carlton has remained, a pioneer in early childhood development.

Mouse Whisper

Jeff Tiedrich is a 65 year old New York graphic designer known since 2000 for his acerbic blogs. He has played guitar in the band Alligator and looks uncannily like Eric Clapton.

After the recent Michigan massacre, he tweeted: Well-regulated militia opens fire on Michigan State University in East Lansing. Cheap thoughts and useless prayers now being rushed to the scene … more on this soon-to-be-forgotten-and-then-repeated story-as-it develops.

Jeff Tiedrich