Modest Expectations – Sestini & Ditta

The Budget has come and what has been delivered into the health budget reflects some of the long-held saws that political parties remember in the fog of their prejudices. Take the Pharmacy Guild and the pharmacy profession in general. There is a group of pharmacists who are academics and, by extension, work in hospitals far away from Mammon. But they are not the Pharmacy Guild.

The Pharmacy Guild represents the community pharmacists and in turn the maintenance of their extensive privileges. One of the interesting occurrences in my lifetime has been the evolution of pharmacy from its apothecary status – shop keepers on the high street, an apprentice system, changed to university-based pharmacy courses, with an academic program far more than what is still needed as being the community “purveyors of medicines … and much more”.

The Pharmacy Guild has been very successful over the years in getting what it wants in terms of remuneration for the provision of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The Labor Party operatives could be forgiven for believing that each community pharmacy is a small business, the number and the wealth of same providing a base for Coalition support. The Pharmacy Guild Dinner in Canberra has been the public indicator of the power of the Guild to attract the influential. When the big retailers tried to break into the monopoly of the community pharmacist by attempting to place pharmacies in their supermarkets they failed, despite enlisting a pharmacist-turned-politician to lobby their cause.

This minor reduction in their privileged status – that of providing two months’ supply of drugs instead of one – saw the Pharmacy Guild President in tears being completely “over the top”; but then I remembered he lives close to where crocodiles are prevalent. The whole charade has been too much for Lloyd Sansom, a distinguished Adelaide pharmacy academic who was chair of the Australian Pharmaceutical Advisory Council from 1991 until 2000, and chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee from 2001 until 2012. This week he rebuked the Pharmacy Guild for its behaviour. Lloyd Sansom is not one for chasing publicity and, as I have found in my dealings with him, he is completely ethical.

I worked with the Pharmacy Guild for a period when it was trying to burnish its image. At that time there were still pharmacies that sold cigarettes; and the aim was to emphasise that the community pharmacist was a health professional and not a shopkeeper who had an incidental function to dispense medicines with profits underwritten by Government.  Some were saying “Why set up the University courses when the major function of the community pharmacist is to sell cosmetics and soft toys?”

The proponents of an academic course had a basis in all the elements of pharmacology, which had also been added to the medical course curriculum in the early 1960s replacing materia medica teaching. After all, the traditional role of the pharmacist making ointments and creams, tablets and capsules was being replaced by pre-packaged medicines, so these traditional skills were rapidly becoming obsolete – hence pharmacy at the time was facing a crisis in its profile.

While there were colleges of pharmacy, they were outside the universities. In 1960, the University of Sydney instituted an undergraduate degree, but it was not until the late 80s that the movement to set up another university course in association with the Victorian College of Pharmacy set the scene for academic pharmacy.

Initially the plan was for the degree course to be set up under the auspice of the University of Melbourne since it was nearby the existing College of Pharmacy. The University of Melbourne, perhaps under the influence of the then Vice Chancellor, aborted the agreement which was then picked up by Monash University. This action by the University of Melbourne reflected the belief held by some members of academia who viewed the pharmacist as being little more than a technician. To counter this view, the establishment of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia in 1976 had followed their acceptance by the Australian Society of Professions (the Pharmacy Guild had been formed in 1927 and the Hospital Pharmacists had formed a society in 1941); the Society promoted the idea that pharmacy should be rated a legitimate profession alongside medicine.

Since the Victorian College of Pharmacy transition, there are 18 universities offering at least one course in pharmacy, which in itself has gone a long way towards enhancing pharmacy’s professional status and that of the Pharmacy Guild. John Menadue, writing after the 2019 Federal Budget, bemoans the fact that a minor change like the one which was included in the current Budget was blocked, because the then Coalition Minister Hunt reneged on the minor alteration under pressure from the Pharmacy Guild. Menadue, in his article which clearly sets up the privileged position of the Pharmacy Guild members, relates the incident of when, having been invited to speak to pharmacists in Brisbane, found the invitation was withdrawn because of pressure from the Pharmacy Guild.

Two areas which have emerged over the past 20 years or so which I find disturbing are:

  • the promotion of medicines with little proven value or promotion of medicines which do not need to be prescribed to the normal persons and even turning medicines into confectionery; and
  • the growth of the Pharmacy entrepôts.

The community is constantly being assailed by medicines that just do not have any effect on the normal person. The images in so many advertisements is of young healthy people, seemingly without a care in the world, carrying shopping baskets full of “stuff”. Particularly objectionable are the advertisements which seem to promote medicine as confectionery – for instance “gummies” which just look like sweets. At least the makers of “Smarties” have had the good sense not to make white Smarties, which would undoubtedly lead to more overdoses. I am not sure that I approve of pharmacies selling confectionery in the manner that the retail stores do to pander to impulse purchase by placing these near the checkout.

It is particularly worrisome that a pharmacy curriculum, where scientific evidence is a central point of the training, is essentially linked to these community pharmacists in practice who surround themselves with an array of “medicines” which have no therapeutic effects or are vastly over-rated. The apothecary of yesteryear selling the placebo indicates a reversion of community pharmacy to the apothecary rather than maintaining the image of a profession seeking evidence of the medicines it dispenses.

Nevertheless, we have seen the growth of the business model whereby the warehouse doors open onto a population inundated with advertisements which a vigilant government authority should have long since curbed. But there is gold in them thar walls of the pharmacy shelf – and consequently in what some purveyors call herbal or natural or homeopathic medicines – or just plain old quackery. This is the business model that the government is sustaining; and drowning out the advantages of the community’s access to the knowledgeable pharmacist, whose business model is aimed at ripping off the gullible for the benefit of some distant hedge fund in Singapore or New York, part of the industry of exporting the Australian health dollar overseas.

Therefore, there is a way to go yet for the government to prune the privileges exacted by the Pharmacy Guild. A cautious start has been started, but it will be highly dependent as he progresses along his portfolio, on what the Butler saw.

There is finally a postscript, called personal experience. It involves the ethical community pharmacist, as I have, who is in danger of being lost in this political scrum.  After all, our family has been spending more than $200 a month on medications, and the most valued attribute after the friendly atmosphere is the accessibility and continuity of this pharmacy practice.

One anecdote is worth repeating – I needed an influenza jab. I booked into a general practitioner, was given an appointment time at which time I presented and after over one hour without any communication from the general practitioner, other than the information that there were still nine people ahead of us, we left. This occurred in rural Tasmania with a locum general practitioner. Contrast this with the appointment I made subsequently with my family pharmacist to give me the jab. I presented myself at the right time. No problem. No delay.

As I said above, it is important how broadly the Butler sees. Something about bath water.

Anita Hill

The 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by Joe Biden) ducked its responsibility to the public by reverting to theories spun out of nothing… woman accusers were cast as spurned, prigs with vendettas, incompetent dupes manipulated by others, martyrs for some political cause, or gold diggers seeking attention. (p43)

“Given his condescending tone, Specter (then Republican Senator for Pennsylvania) was also mansplaining – trying to convince us all that he knows better than me how a woman experiences sexual harassment. Mansplaining was the technique, and gaslighting was the goal. Both are forms of denial employed to discount claims of abuse, and they deserve to be called out because they prevent women from being heard and believed when they testify about abuse. Both tactics foster self-doubt, coaxing victims into thinking that coming forward is pointless, that no one will care.” (p39)

Anita Hill at Senate hearings

I prepared myself to purchase and then read Anita Hill’s recent Book entitled “Believing”, an excerpt from which appears above. This woman was disgustingly treated in the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment, by a gang of legislators led by the then Senator from Delaware, Joseph Robinette Biden.

Thomas had engaged in discussing explicit pornography with Hill as she responded to questioning from Biden.

I told him that what was most embarrassing was Thomas’s discussion of pornography involving “women with large breasts and engaged in a variety of sex with different people, or animals.” But in truth, I had no real idea how to determine what was the most embarrassing of the crude and obscene comments I had to put up with. Nor did I fully realize how my answer would be used against me. (p35)

She could not be much clearer than that.

Dr Christine Blasey Ford

Little did she realise that her complaint would be used against her; the premise by the Committee members was such that his action was just normal behaviour. She comments on the parallel hostile questioning of Dr Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 as Supreme Court Justice. His proclivity towards extreme sexual harassment of Ford was the issue; the response of the senators during the confirmation hearing was no different from 1991, despite 27 years having elapsed.

Anita Hill’s book is depressing in one way, in terms of the ability of her countrymen, in particular, to look away or fumble when presented with the prevalence of gender violence. Hers is a book of examples – of clinical dissection. As a male who has lived in this era of male dominance, I feel uncomfortable. The fact that even if most of us were not participants, we as men through the various stages of our lives have been bystanders.

We have tolerated the hypocrisy of people like Bill Clinton, who publicly advocated protective legislation but in private was a sexual harasser using the power of his office to dazzle and distract. In the end, Hillary Clinton, if not a partner in crime, certainly tolerated it. As Hill says, she had a conflicted role, on one hand declaiming at 1995 Conference in Beijing “Women’s rights are Human rights”, while failing “to step up and denounce Bill’s behaviour.”

When Trump announced his proclivity to grab women’s genitals, the Democrats’ response was strangely muted. Hill barely mentions Obama, but goes into some detail about Biden, who had himself been accused of sexual misbehaviour by one Tara Reade. Biden’s response is not recorded.

Eventually Biden apologised in 2019 to Hill after making a comment to a journalist two years before that he would apologise to Hill. As Hill disclosed, the rapprochement was in a 30-minute phone call from Biden, who mostly spoke “His words were carefully couched, though seemingly sincere.” He recounted his massive success in the passage of the Violence Against Woman Act, knowing that the Supreme Court had effectively gutted it subsequently. Yet Biden has continued to do penance by trying to provide legislative protection to women where Federal laws apply.

The whole theme throughout Anita Hill’s book is how endemic gender violence is in America, and the four years of the Trump presidency was an obstruction as Trump attempted to remove all protections against such violence. As Hill says when Kamala Harris was announced as the running mate for Biden, Trump’s son, Eric, called her “a whorendous pick”. Such crudity is repeated by other men who, if not role models, exert considerable influence.

Despite her book having the capacity to make the reader squirm, to be outraged, Hill does not come up with any real solutions. Her predator still sits, amid allegations of corruption, on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is still racked with misogyny even if apologists try to reframe it as “just old-fashioned ideas”. Anita Hill’s book provides the information, but the provision of information does not alter attitudes, without behavioural changes in the community to make gender violence totally taboo. Anita Hill entitles her book “Believing”. After what she has experienced, the title is succinct testimony to an eventual optimistic outcome. Yet her book suggests unfortunately there is a long way to go, but it should be required reading for those who – like former Supreme Clark, Arthur Kennedy, who employed Kavanaugh as a law clerk – is reported as saying “boys will be boys.”


Tonight, CNN gave a massive platform to a man who incited an insurrection on the Capitol, attempted a coup on American democracy, and was just found by a civil court to have committed sexual assault. Make no mistake: this wasn’t a town hall. It was a campaign kickoff celebration, and Chris Licht sold out CNN — and our democracy — to chase Tucker Carlson’s viewers.

All you really need to know about the event is that CNN’s hand-picked audience laughed at Trump’s depiction of his sexual assault case (which he lost)!

We cannot normalize Donald Trump by giving him 90 minutes of uninterrupted airtime to rewrite history. Tonight is a firm reminder about the fight we are in: If our democracy is to survive, then we can’t allow CNN and the media to follow Trump down his rabbit hole for ratings.

The media is making the same mistakes as they did in 2016 and 2020. They’re legitimizing Trump in the eyes of the voters instead of calling him out for the lawless serial liar that he is. As he storms his way to the nomination, it’s only going to get worse. He’ll get more air time and more credibility as he continues to spew the same dangerous nonsense he did tonight. 

CNN’s malpractice gave the most anti-democratic force our country has seen in ages a microphone and an evening of airtime. We can’t let this keep happening.

This release from the Lincoln Project says it all. Trump is not a conventional figure. He is a projected evil avatar from a comic strip which has been released into a world where normal behaviour does not apply.

As I have written in my novel “Marigold”, which has been written with licence of the novelist to plumb the supernatural.

“Those adversaries are trying it on again. They have cast us into a comic strip. It just can’t be real.”

The man had raised his shotgun and pointed it at us. Like a comic strip villain, he cackled. Like the comic strip villain, he fired. Red flashes of “Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam” before our eyes. Egrets rose around the cabin.  A duck with a brown-feathered breast fell dead on the roof of our car. This was not my kind of comic strip. We scurried back in the car.  The duck had slipped to the side of the road. The man with the shotgun was laughing – a huge hole of mouth and crinkled eyes. There was the last comic cartouche, as my character at the wheel of the car let out a frustrated maledicta of quimps, jarns, nittles and grawlixes as the car was slow to start.

Maledicta raining down without constraint accompanied by the canned laughter from his selected audience has proved a toxic mixture which Trump ladles out to an American audience. His immediate butt in New Hampshire recently was the CNN anchor, Kaitlan Collins. She is the duck, overwhelmed by the volume of lies and maledicta. She is constrained by the mores of civilisation, and thus not allowed by modern convention to rise up like the avenging woman warrior of the Old Testament, Deborah, and smite him dead.

Unfortunately, modern society does not know how to deal with this character, a simulacrum who has stepped out of a comic strip, where the morality is simple and binary – good and bad, black and white. Unlike the comic strip, Trump is less easily discarded.

The aim is thus to ensure that America laughs at him, not with him – to use the same artifices which he has used to fashion his cut out persona – look at all the ridiculous golden aura in which he has encased himself. Start the laughter – oh, for a Chaplinesque character to parody him; then pursue him back into the comic strip.

His other avatar, which may then emerge, is Trump the Messiah, where he has honed himself into being a religious figure of destiny. After all, 76 million people voted for him in 2020; certainly a large congregation. The apostles he put forward two years later were not much good at promoting the Gospel of Trump – but then religion has been caught up in the comic strip. It takes a real believer to seek redemption in a comic book character. That is essentially what Trump is becoming – the malevolent comic strip character full of vile maledicta with a grease paint golden aura re-imagining himself as the glossy Messiah, freed from his comic strip representation. One does not ridicule a Messiah without paying a stern price for doing so.

I have raised the question of Trump’s mental health before, but whether he is on the cusp of dementia or has some other pathology associated with unbridled narcissism, it should become increasingly obvious that in a rational world his support will inevitably evaporate. But how much will it evaporate? In his warped mind it is important to maintain irrationality by lying in such a manner that it blitzes truth.  But such an approach must eschew ridicule among his erstwhile supporters.  Once they start laughing at him not with him, he is finished.

But not quite!

When I look at Trump, unfortunately I think of the Jonestown massacre in 1978, instigated by Jim Jones. Murder-suicide maintained Jones’ notoriety – in his own dead eyes.

Trump’s tormentors – as the Lincoln Group are – in pushing him to more and more irrational acts, have to remember that his actions in relation to 6 January 2021 could only be a forerunner of a more extremist performance, catastrophic to the future of America. It is very easy to say he is mad; to make him a figure of ridicule. However, he is so full of hatred that he could try and bring the whole country crashing down in the name of himself, Trump Messiah.  Instead he is the revengeful cutout villain of the comic strip or its modern successor, the video game. Except in Trump’s case, it is not a game.

Peter Byrne

You cannot find any mention of Peter Byrne, when people talk about those influential Melbourne cooks of the seventies, when people like Stephanie Alexander and the late Mietta O’Donnell were emerging as culinary heroines, in a field where to get a good meal, there were the fine dining establishments, the growth of the bistros and then there was Peter Byrne.

Peter Byrne was the quintessential Australian with an Irish heritage and a strong Labor Party affiliation. He had worked for the leader of the Victorian Labor Party, Clyde Holding. Holding was the silent partner in Waldron’s restaurant. Waldron’s was a restaurant in Bridge Road Richmond, and close to where I then lived.  This night a party of four of us for some reason went to dine there. It was the late seventies and it was a BYO restaurant. There was only one other couple in an otherwise empty converted shopfront restaurant. The other couple I recognised as being Claude Forell and his wife.  Claude Forell was the food writer for The Age newspaper (and later foundation editor of The Good Food Guide). He was there as the anonymous food writer. We recognised each other, and in short, the night was hilarious, the wine flowed, the food was excellent. Byrne joined in with his wife after he finished cooking. Rhonda was as cool as Peter was pugnacious. The end result was that Forell lavished the evening with praise, particularly the food, in his Age column, and the restaurant took off – from being empty it became full every night.

Peter was like many people of Irish heritage, complex and contradictory. He affected a brusque exterior, but was a very kind and generous man with a sense of humour which the Irish have and the non-Irish parody – mostly unsuccessfully. We would have political arguments, because like many of his persuasion they treated me as a member of the extreme right wing of a mythical Reactionary Party who still believed in the Divine Right of the Monarch.  It was often the starting point but somewhere in the midpoint of a very long night when the alcohol was seeping through the soles of our feet, we would reach some denouement.

I was going through a bad period of my life in the following year and he accepted my voluntary offer to help out in the evenings at the restaurant, which gave it an aura of the eclectic while pursuing the dialectic in the kitchen.

Byrne and I became friends without ever prying into the circumstances of the other’s life. He liked my sons, whom he called the louts (because, as one son put it, he couldn’t always remember which was which). The elder son, Paul,  at 14 years then worked there as a kitchen help during the holidays. It is somewhat ironic, that Paul himself has become a food writer. Eventually I went to Sydney to pursue my career. I lost contact with Peter for a while and during that period Waldron’s ran into financial difficulty as Peter succumbed to excessive drinking and mental stress.

As Forell put it in a subsequent piece in The Age writing in 1982, years after Waldron’s had closed, “Waldron’s has been a culinary oasis”. He was writing about Peter after he had moved to the London Tavern just around the corner in Lennox Street. Forell described the food at this new place as “Restaurant food at pub prices”. Forell went on “With entrees at around $2.50 and main courses from $4 to $5, it is remarkably good value”. He himself had tucked into a meal of Byrne’s own country terrine followed by venison sausages “with a sauce rich in fresh mushrooms.”

I saw Peter from time to time, including on one memorable occasion at an airport in India, but he was one of those guys who for a brief period in your life was an important anchor, even though he had similar frailties. I remember his famous Mao Pie – it was one of my favourites. Peter is long since dead, but retrieving this newspaper cutting kindled my regard; he certainly never sought the plaudits, but he was a very fine chef.

Claude Forell

As for Claude, I don’t remember when I last saw him or whether he is still alive, but I think this anecdote about him told by the late Age Associate Editor, Peter Cole Adams is, well, priceless. “History recalls Claude’s celebrated 1988 exchange with Stephen Downes, a rival food critic and former Age colleague. Downes unkindly described The Age Guide as the ‘Turin Shroud of Gastronomy’. Claude’s riposte was to dismiss Downes as ‘the Reverend Ian Paisley of Gastronomy’. He was not a man to be trifled with”.

Mouse Whisper

You must have heard of the definitive proof that the world is not flat. If it was, the cats would have pushed everything over the edge.

Modest Expectations – Grand Final Action

What do you do the day after an election when there has been a realignment of the Australian electorate? Suddenly a majority of Australians are voting to address climate change, for integrity and for now, time is being called on the Paul Hogan vision of the normal Australian – the end of The Australian Sheila – a dutiful object of the male frustration, where sexual violence masquerades as consensual behaviour.


We went to Dargo. Dargo is a bush town, where the legend of the mountain is evident. As with so much of settlement in Victoria, it was the pursuit of gold which drove settlement at the foot of the Great Dividing Range where the Dargo River and Crooked Creek flow into the Mitchell River. Here there was alluvial gold and also deeper lead (lode) mining, which is so much the history of Victoria. However the gold did not last long around Dargo; it petered out to the extent that at one point Dargo verged on being a ghost town.

After you leave Dargo, you wind your way into the forested Great Dividing Range and the road eventually ends near the ski resort of Mount Hotham. It is a tortuous trip, a challenge to those prone to car sickness, through that other great resource of Eastern Victoria – timber. Cutting down old forest, which covers much of the land, has become as unfashionable as would tipping all the tailings from mineral mining down the Dargo River, and yet we are told that VicForests continues to actively log right through this area.

Dargo therefore embodies the myth of the rugged hard-riding horsemen of the bush ballad, but in reality these are the stuff of pub myths. The general laidback attitudes of the people belie the scrabble existence.

The day is beautiful; the air is clear. There is neither wind nor cloud. The deciduous trees are all vivid in a mixture of crimson, scarlet, bronze and yellow along the roads and in the Dargo township as it is basking in the late autumn sunshine. Yet much of the background for the mountain man myths are the hills covered in eucalypts. There are none of the variegated colours of the deciduous exotics on the mountainsides. There are these forests of messmate, with its stringy bark, the lofty mountain and alpine ash with their paler trunks. In the end, what is a deep green mountainside as it drifts away through the gorges and takes on the steely blue-green appearance so characteristic of the eucalypt forests. We wonder how much of these mountains has been traversed by white man; and then one of the group pointed out the electric power lines. The area is riddled with deer, which attracts the hunter.  The rivers attract the angler in search of wild trout.

This area has not been burnt for a long time, although to the east there have been devastating bush fires, which razed the settlements of Genoa and Mallacoota two years ago. Today, bush fire season is so far away – and yet Dargo has been threatened and will be again. As we drive through it, the endless expanse of blackened trunks is wreathed with new growth and mingle with white forest skeletons that will never to regenerate.

But today with a bottle of beer I am contemplating a beautiful landscape, where the fire did not come; where there is not a ballot box nor hoarding spruiking some far-off candidate who may never have stepped in the town. This is bliss. We do not see the tears of the vanquished nor the victory speeches nauseating in the myriad of fleeting acknowledgements – only Australian beauty, where only recently in a major coup, back down the valley towards Bairnsdale, a sand mining proposal on the Mitchell River, which would have ripped the guts out of this area has been refused by the local people.

The silt jetties

When we come down from Dargo to the Coast, before we return to where we are staying, we are driven down this long spit of land – the Mitchell River Silt Jetties, which divide the Mitchell River from Lake King.  This narrow tongue of land, which has been built up over thousands of years, is the longest of its type in the world. The river flows into Lake King at the end of this long tongue of silt and sand.

The river shimmers in the twilight, protected from the lake where its waters are now ruffled by the wind coming in from the south-west. Yet despite the buffeting, black swans glide past. What a day to spend; what sights to be seen – and yet another place on the bucket list to be crossed off – or more properly committed to my bank of memories – of places seen, places experienced; a pity I can no longer tramp around as I used to do.

But a memorable election day. Australia has been voted in.

What can I say about the Member for Longman!

They say bad generals always fight the last war, and the Liberal campaign fell into the same trap. Morrison won a surprise victory in 2019 through a negative campaign in which he depicted then-Labor leader Bill Shorten as a dangerous radical. Labor, wary of giving Morrison a second victory, changed its strategy. It matched many of Morrison’s policies and was cautious in its own offerings. Labor was like an echidna, the spiky Australian animal that rolls into a ball when attacked. Morrison kept attacking, as if he knew no other mode, even though Labor’s small-target strategy gave him so few opportunities.

Our own Richard Glover in The Washington Post ascribed ten reasons why Morrison lost government. You cannot disagree with his list, but the reason printed above is the one which went to the heart of Morrison’s failure.

Morrison was the classic flim-flam man who perfected his techniques through his association with Pentecostalism. It enabled him to surf his waves of personal impotence right to the end. His problem was that the spotlight became so intense that the greasepaint melted and he was exposed as an aggressive peddler of untruths. Morrison’s entrails will be barbecued on the fires of Hybris ignited by the fire-starter of “hubris”.

When Whitlam ended 23 years of Coalition rule, the Liberal Party voted for a new leader on the resignation of McMahon, himself a very divisive unpleasant character. The choice made was for Bill Snedden, who had been McMahon’s Treasurer; considered to be a nice guy, but lightweight. He beat Nigel Bowen on the fifth ballot by one vote.

Bowen, who was a distinguished jurist, had replaced Garfield Barwick as the member for Parramatta in 1964, (which indicates that the seat does not have to be held by a local). The current high-flying wealthy young banker, Andrew Charlton, lived in Bellevue Hill at the time of his parachute pre-selection; he not only won, but achieved a one per cent swing towards him. This is by way of a parenthetic comment about what has been occurring for some time, namely that any electorate increasingly cannot be taken for granted – a theme in Australian politics which will cause traditional shifts in alignments. Now back to the main narrative.

Billy Snedden

Malcolm Fraser did badly in this ballot, because he was seen as disruptive and had at that stage an enemy/friend ratio well in the positive. So Snedden, who had grown up in Perth but represented the outer Melbourne suburban seat of Bruce, became Opposition leader and Philip Lynch, the member for Flinders, his deputy. He inherited a divided party and over the course of his two-year stewardship, he was able to reconcile the differences to such an extent that Fraser, pictured as the tough guy, became viable. Nevertheless, bringing the Opposition together as Snedden had done, paradoxically projected him as not being tough enough, namely, in the long term, unfit – and of course the lightweight tag became featherweight if not flyweight among the Fraser acolytes. A member of these acolytes was the newly-minted John Howard.

Thus, the tough guy persona, despite the rants from the “Murdochrinaires”, is not the way to heal a party divided. These people are screaming for the anointment of Peter Dutton. Dutton is an ex-Queensland copper made good. The Queensland police force has been shown on many occasions to be wanting, and to stigmatise Peter Dutton is as much to stigmatise me for being a product of a school that had produced its fair share of “shonks”.

The second reservation is that Queensland has never produced a Liberal Party Prime Minister. Arthur Fadden was the nearest, a Country party stalwart, who was Prime Minister in his own right for 40 days in 1941. However ne’er a Liberal; only fleetingly the Country Party member for Darling Downs, who later was to be Menzies’ Deputy Prime Minister.

One of the results of a major loss is that the Senate representation remains and contains many of the most dysfunctional members of the Party. They remind one of the Calwell stewardship of the Labor Party – as totally unelectable on the left as these jokers are on the right. If one is familiar with the writings of Georges Sorel, one can recognise the similarity in the authoritarian attitudes and behaviour of these people, who live on the extremes. If you viewed the post-election rant of Rowan Dean, it gives a terrifying view of the world of the extreme authoritarian hatred. These people are backing Dutton.

The West Australian Premier dismisses Dutton as a dullard, and his form of strident form of dogmatism and fear mongering will not run well in the southern states, if reliance can be placed on the current voting patterns

Morrison, Abbott, Dutton – mocking climate change

Anybody who said, as he did in 2015: (sic) Noting that today’s meeting on Syrian refugees was running a bit late, Mr Dutton remarked that it was running to “Cape York time”, to which Mr Abbott replied, “we had a bit of that up in Port Moresby”.

Mr Dutton then added, “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”.

That exchange alone should disqualify him from the leadership at this time; it was outrageous then, but now, has he demonstrated any change for the better?

The Liberal Party needs to purge itself, not play to a diminishing gallery of misfits. I well remember one of my contemporaries describing the Young Liberals as “five per cent of lawyers leading ninety-five per cent misfits.” This assessment may remain partially true now. These days the misfits are just absorbed in a politician’s office to develop their consigliere profiles. Thankfully, at last the true results of such a generation of these types are being brutally exposed.

The Liberal party needs a healer and one who can reach across Australia, including regional Australia – and that includes humouring the Queenslanders. Snedden had the guts to do so almost 50 years ago. I severely doubt that Dutton has that ability to do that – reach across Australia.

Tell me what is a pharmacist?

From the days of gentlemanly pharmacy

In 1961 I sat down to undertake the last Materia Medica examination for medical students. It was then part of the medical course that we learnt to make pills, lotions and ointment – and the last memory of this immersion in the world of the apothecary was a brush with male extract of fern. That herbalism epitomises “the alchemist” struggling to be accepted. It exemplified the quaintness of the village chemist, with carboys in the windows and the apprenticeship system of pestle and mortar. Our teacher, an old gentleman with a medical degree and a nineteenth century demeanour, passed into folklore that year with the change of the medical course to substitute pharmacology, and the advance of science into the education of the apothecary.

I remember The University of Melbourne rejecting the idea of having a faculty of pharmacy, even though the Pharmacy College was just up the road. Instead, Monash University took on the education of pharmacists. I think The University of Melbourne hierarchy at the time thought that Pharmacy should use the tradesman’s entrance. In fact, the Monash Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is now labelled number one in world

In a recent statement, the Dean, Professor Arthur Christopoulos, said: “The pandemic has certainly reinforced the crucial and frontline role that pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists play in society. Over and above their normal services, we’ve seen the whole sector step up and play a huge role in vaccine rollout.”

The Faculty, known for its high profile research through Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), is responsible for the development of Australia’s first mRNA vaccine candidate for COVID-19 and in 2021 launched the Neuromedicines Discovery Centre. The NDC is an end-to-end academic enterprise for the discovery, development, evaluation, manufacture, and clinical rollout of 21st-century medicines to treat mental health disorders, as well as the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which supports Victorian biotech and pharma companies to develop a competitive edge and retain jobs within the state.

The Australian Pharmacy Research Centre was one of the first steps in trying to develop a research program in community pharmacy, and illustrated the dichotomy of the academic pursuit between laboratory and community pharmacy, of which the hospital pharmacist is a subset of the latter.

The problem with community pharmacy, because it is dependent on reimbursement of drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, has meant the merchant pharmacist, through the Pharmacy Guild, has become a powerful lobby, with the merchant aspect well to the front. Pharmacists have been very strong on restrictive trade practices, and because they have been seen by a succession of Coalition governments as political “blue” outposts, they have done very well out of government largesse. Even the big retailers have been unable to establish pharmacies within their walls, despite having a prominent Liberal Party politician to lobby for them.

The residual problem is that these large chain pharmacies have arisen presumably through a loophole of benefit to the entrepreneurial pharmacist. This is a licence to promote quackery, and not unsurprisingly the Government has done nothing despite having the regulatory power. But then the Pharmacy Guild has been a major donor.

… everything you could want, and then some

Personally, I have a very good local pharmacist, and her pharmacy is not a sterile dispensary but a place where the pharmacist is a source of good advice. Nevertheless, it sticks in the craw to be confronted by television images, usually of young healthy people with children, with shopping baskets overflowing with bottles of vitamins and potions; the implicit message is that it is good, even compulsory, to take all this crap in order “to keep well”.

Further, when these co-called pharmacies move into the cosmetic industry it challenges the definition of what is a pharmacy? What are the professional priorities?

It is one area which must be a priority in any review – whether a health review or as a matter for an Integrity Commission – and I have yet to address the role of the pharmaceutical industry in listing drugs for government subsidy without the need to say “bingo”.

COVID Bare Foot

Guest sufferer: Janine Sargeant

COVID has been blamed for many things, including COVID toe, but COVID ankle? While the “dress shirt above the waist Zoom dressing” and styling your Zoom background may have been entertaining for a while, the accompanying tracksuit pants and bare feet or slippers have resulted in a raft of unexpected injuries. As many of us have spent time working from home in lockdown or avoiding the busy office environment, it has also meant not wearing supportive footwear. For the barefooted and be-slippered, this has delivered up a nasty surprise (particularly for those who normally do wear orthotics).

Nice to wear … just not for too long

Essentially, extended periods in bare feet or slippers plus a lack of regular “normal” exercise have left many with posterior tibial tendonitis (inflamed or stretched tendon that supports the arch of the foot) which can lead to arch collapse and permanent foot problems.

Similarly, the Achilles tendons of the working-from-home brigade have also taken a beating, again with what one expert described as “neglectful footwear”, a few extra COVID kilos, a lack of exercise, the change to treadmill running, prolonged closure of gyms and loss of exercise programs – in other words, the complete change in physical routine brought about by COVID lockdowns.

As one podiatrist commented: he couldn’t believe the number of people who have come to see him with Achilles problems or posterior tibial tendonitis. Such people now need orthotics to help them restore function to their feet; no doubt the physios are seeing the same unintended consequence of working at home. For this author’s painful ankle, the road to resolution is paved with new orthotics and months of exercises designed to strengthen the offending tendon – and a long break from “neglectful footwear”.

Requiem for a Light Welterweight

Really Schadenfreude is not a nice word. I am sure that one Andrew Peacock (or perhaps the ghost of the colt galloping the streets of Hawthorn) would have appreciated finally the final exit of John Howard, a person who started the fashion of a Liberal Prime Minister losing or abruptly vacating their seat.

From the time Howard entered politics in 1974, behind that mild-mannered courteous exterior has dwelt a wellspring of relentless hatred. Do not get me wrong; in his early years as Prime Minister, he made a reasonable fist of it, and he had members of his staff who provided a counterbalance to his instincts which helped preserve his public persona – no more so than Arthur Sinodinos, the long-term moderate who ran his office. For a short period in the early noughties, I was privy to the workings of him as the Prime Minister.

He achieved the shift of the Liberal Party power base to New South Wales, and left the Hamer Liberals in his wake, while detesting Kennett in this latter’s brief flame of power. I remember being at the Adelaide Airport on one occasion when Howard and I were retrieving our luggage. It was the time that Howard was out in the long grass in the early 90s. The initial exchange was inconsequential, when something I said triggered a vituperative response that he would get “them”. Apart from not being one of “them”, before I could ask him who the “them” was, he had rushed off. He disliked Costello, and there was something visceral about his approach to Victoria. I have always wondered whether the “them” were the Victorian Liberals. Paul Keating also was surely one of “them”; Howard was always expansive in his hatreds.  Whether or not it can be attributed to him, Victoria had become more and more toxic for the Liberal Party.

John Howard

But all this is a long time ago, and rather than just advise from the background, Howard still allowed himself to be pushed around in this election campaign. Why? It seems that even 15 years later he still cannot perceive the tsunami coming.

In a way, as a contemporary old buffer, I feel sorry for him. However, the imagery of an old age person with antiquated views campaigning provided a view of the Liberal Party where men wore morning suits and badges, and women made pumpkin scones. The image was painful and did not win any votes.

Bit of gratuitous advice John, write a blog about improving the treatment of the aged and then imagine anybody is reading it. It helps endure life in the gloaming – it is certainly better than just being plonked in front of TV set or wheeled around in a metaphorical Zimmer frame watching your legacy trampled.

Mouse Whisper

If I hear the new Prime Minister mention his rags to riches commentary once again, I doubt if I will be able to hold down my Emmenthaler.

However, I loved the comment which said that the Prime Minister must be happy to be back in public housing again after so many years. Maybe though he could flog off Kirribilli and take over Admiralty House.  Then build public housing on site, except even a mouse could imagine the potential homo sapiens rorts with such a project.

In any event, Governors-General don’t need summer palaces at the cost to the taxpayer. The hunting lodge at Yarralumla should more than do.

The Yarralumla Hunting Lodge – rabbit stew anyone?

Modest Expectations – Calling the Cayman Islands

There are certain misuses of words, some of which make me shudder. I once wrote an essay abut the misuse of “disinterest”, frequently used wrongly to express “uninterest”, rather than used in its true meaning of being unbiassed. “Uninterest” admittedly is an ugly word.  “Disinterest” has bounced around in the English lexicon, at various stages indeed meaning lack of interest and, given the way the word is now being used, we are destined for another period of change in the meaning of disinterest back to a lack of interest. The transition of such a change in meaning may only generate uninterest if any disinterested observer can be bothered.

My word of the moment is “visitation”. I was reminded of the dubious use of the word by Dom, the new NSW Premier. From behind his glittering glasses, he announced that he would be making visitations. Now you and I are mere mortals and thus make visits. “Visitations” are somewhat different. I have never made a visitation. Why?

A visitation: The Embrace of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary

“Visitation” was first defined in about 1300 (sic), “a visit by an ecclesiastical representative to examine the condition of a parish or abbey” It was derived from Anglo-French visitacioun, based on the Latin visitatio. The supernatural sense of “a sight, apparition, a coming of God to a mortal” arises the middle of the 14th century.

On second thoughts, given his proclivities, maybe it did mean “visitation”. The ghosts (or spirits) must conform to social distancing even though they’ve all been wearing masks for years.

Avoca Hotel

Now who would have thought it?

Avoca Hotel has been included in a pilot scheme on “opening up” Victoria for the fully vaccinated in the wake of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

My association with the pub started when I was rung up by my cousin and informed that Uncle Frank had died. It was the summer of ‘72. Frank, one of my mother’s seven brothers, had died and the funeral service would be at Redbank in Central Victoria. Would I like to join him and go to the funeral?

Redbank Cemetery

The service and burial would be at Redbank, near Avoca near the graveyard. Avoca was the main township in the then Pyrenees Shire, which was the only local government area in Victoria to have a mountain range to itself. That was not quite true because this line of hills was only a spur of the Great Dividing Range.

Frank lived in Avoca and on his small property in the township he kept a flock of sheep.  Since he needed to feed them, he used the Long Paddock which, in this context, was all the roadside vegetation across the Shire and beyond. As a consequence it was affectionately known – through gritted teeth – as Egan’s Paddock. So, we went first to Avoca to pay our respects to his widow, who was too frail to attend the service.

After his funeral, everybody stood around, every now and again peering into the grave, as if they wanted to make sure there was nobody knocking to get out. My cousin’s black humour; not mine. Someone said that it was good to see how many people had turned up for Frank’s funeral, because there wouldn’t be a funeral for 60 miles around that Frank would not have attended.

I remember his youngest brother, Charlie, turned up, with braces over his collarless shirt, looking as if he had just come from shearing sheep on the family property. Charlie said he had problems with his eyes. I did not connect that with why he hadn’t donned normal funeral clobber.

The yarning would have gone on endlessly if the fire bell hadn’t sounded. There was smoke over the hill, and anyway we close relatives wanted to get down to the Avoca pub for a drink. I had never met Uncle Frank, but his son-in-law, known as “Webbie” still touched me for a tenner so he could buy a slab of beer.

When I reflect on that, we were drinking at the pub, so why the extra booze?

There was a great deal of merriment remembering the Frankish eccentricities. Uncle Gordon, who was the eldest brother, a great bloke and a WW1 digger, distinguished himself by drinking one too many and slipping off the bar stool. Fortunately he was caught by us before he hit the floor.

That was my memory of the Avoca pub – the wake for Frank; and of course I never saw my tenner again.

Since that time the area has become well-known for its wines. I remember the first vintages including the brilliant Warrenmang red, with the peppermint taste.

As for the Avoca pub, it has gone a bit upmarket since that summer day so long ago when we buried Frank Egan and drank to his memory.

The Two-Edged Chief Health Officer Role

Continuing on a theme that I have maintained, but undoubtedly one that is difficult to put in place now that two States have been exhausted by the lockdowns – namely selected segregation … quarantine is another word for segregation; imprisonment is another.

It is noteworthy that of all the States, Queensland is building a custom-made quarantine facility at Toowoomba. Queensland has survived by imposing a series of mini-lockdowns, yet neither NSW nor Victoria has dedicated quarantine facilities. Victoria is ostensibly building one, but it has not got much media attention. Of course, NSW has done nothing.

The problem is that politicians are consumed by the short term, and their advisers only reinforce the views of their political masters. Increasingly health policy should be concerned with the preventative aspects of the burden of disease but as I have mentioned many times before, health language is a barrier for most, as is fluency in any language the older one gets. This virus pandemic is not the only public health problem – if not pandemic – that the community will be confronted with in the future.

One of the keystones of inhibiting the spread of disease is to enhance social distancing, and somebody ought to tell the world if there is a better way than segregation. Segregation demands disciplined structuring; hence adequate funding and staffing.

Like many services, where prevention is geared to an anticipated emergency such as police, ambulance and fire brigade, there is potentially substantial downtime. When I reviewed ambulance services some years ago, there was substantial (and, at that time, unproductive) downtime.  As a side but important issue, it is the duty of those responsible for downtime from attending emergencies to assure useful engagement of staff.

However, when downtime is translated as being in an hour long queue to discharge a patient for admission to hospital, that is only as profitable as the use of ambulance officers working as supernumerary carers can be construed. Deficiencies in the hospital admission process being covered up by using the ambulance as a ward on wheels is not the most profitable use of the ambulance service.

Staff in new dedicated quarantine facilities will face the same problem of integration into a wider public health service. Once there were infectious diseases hospitals, but with the rise of economic rationalist vandalism in the eighties and nineties, infectious disease hospitals were one casualty, even despite there being a concurrent AIDS pandemic.   Now the need for dedicated facilities indicates the rebirth of a public health service where care becomes an integral part of the health care system, rather than being reflected as a Greek chorus of epidemiologists where the patient is a scrap of data.

Unfortunately in Australia, for everybody with the merest public health experience and even – or especially – those without any formal training, commentary has become a free-for-all. It is just another of the consequences of the news cycle. People have shifted their position, and as the public health bureaucracy has been sucked into advocacy and prophecy, then it is not surprising that politicians have become irritated.

There is resentment in political circles towards the power accorded to chief health officers – not all, but where the chief health officers have garnered too much attention, albeit becoming cult figures. Generally, they have stuck around for too long – in the spotlight. As a model for balancing the science and the spotlight, Dr Paul Kelly appears to have demonstrated an appropriate mixture, where he chooses his appearance adroitly and leaves the less important public utterances to others. He makes sure that he is conservative in the true sense – of having to be convinced that the course advocated is well-founded to make the change. He stays away from daily pontification.

The Americans consider public health to be a uniformed service; and it is not uncommon to see the US Surgeon-General kitted out thus.

If I were Premier, having made a statement interpreting health policy and the opening up of the State, and a journalist then asked me, as occurred the other day: “What does Dr Chant think…”, I know what I would do. Not immediately, but don’t look now Dr Chant.

Queensland has sent its Chief Health Officer to be Governor, where she can be important without being important. It should be recognised inter alia that a whole Queensland strawberry crop was trashed in 2018 at the cost of $160m, where Dr Young’s advice played a prominent role. As one commentator noted recently on this situation, where needles were found in in strawberries at three sites: “However, in a way, it’s actually kind of quaint to be reminded that a public health scare with three reported instances led to a major national response while the largest COVID outbreak and death toll in the country is followed with talk of how soon we can get the pubs back open.”

There is talk of the Chief Health Officer’s power being curtailed in Victoria, being downgraded; and as for Dr Chant, I would be sure that a promotion awaits her – or her being absorbed as a consultant somewhere.

If the senior positions are downgraded the problem I see is that public health may suffer. Politicians very quickly forget the lessons of the past because in this world the uncertainty of the word “pandemic” has yet to be incorporated into personal ambition and the uncontrollable search for post-political recognition. Another dangerous pandemic.

Nevertheless, whether the power of the senior health officials is downgraded or not, the need for dedicated quarantine facilities or some other effective means of segregating the ill or potentially ill should not be allowed to slip off the policy agenda into a limbo of uninterest.

A Randomised Controlled Trial of One

Voltaran Osteo-Gel is the alias for diclofenac diethylamine – to be rubbed on affected joints 12 hourly. It is one of those potions that bobs up on the television screen where there she is, one moment limping in pain, then next soothingly rubbing the gel on her knee and then nossa running the City to Surf or part thereof. No longer the grimace, now wreathed in smiles with the obligatory male handbag running alongside her, a trail of blue and saffron gossamer dust in her wake.

I have osteoarthritis badly, and also polymyalgia rheumatica – and as such I am a randomised controlled trial of one – it doesn’t work for me this way. For years I have been in pain, sometimes agonising, and I assure the punters topical gels don’t work for my big joints.

However, small joints, particularly finger joints are a different matter. I have found when I get arthritic pain in these small joints, application of Voltaran works. The reason I have written this piece now is that I developed acute pain in my right little finger the other day, the hand with which I use the mouse.  So, I started to apply the Voltaran and the finger has improved, at least the pain has lessened and the functionality has improved.

I found a review of the efficacy of these gels in the BMJ which in part concluded:

… after excluding industry-funded/sponsored trials, only diclofenac patch was statistically superior to placebo for pain relief and none of the topical NSAIDs was better than placebo for functional improvement. This suggests that the efficacy of topical NSAIDs may be inflated by industry involvement. However, the limited number of remaining non-industry-funded/sponsored trials (only 12 trials for pain relief and 11 trials for functional improvement) may be too small to detect the difference, as these trials were small (ranging from 31 to 179 participants, median size 100). Further non-industry-funded/sponsored trials for topical NSAIDs are still needed, as this is a group of drugs with greater contextual effect than their oral counterparts and it is more difficult to blind participants in trials and hence very easy to inflate their treatment benefits over placebo.

Concentrating on my little finger, what objective evidence have I got for this gel helping. It may be just a self-limiting acute arthritis, part of the joys of having a chronic autoimmune disease. I have not had any trauma, because although I struck my hand on the balustrade which caused an ugly bruise on the back of my hand, my adjacent finger is not bruised.

My other fingers are fine, although at the outset of my encounter with PMR, I did develop a swollen middle finger on the same hand, which improved with application of the gel.

I suppose it could be gout, but no family history, and none of the drugs that I am taking predisposes to gout – well, not in the fine print paper that comes in the drug package.

This conceals a far bigger problem –

Namely the privileged place pharmacists have in our society. Having been for a time closely associated with the pharmacists for part of my professional life, I consider they are a very much the curate’s egg.

Pharmacists are, in the main, shopkeepers. Yet as result of a concerted effort to strengthen an academic basis for pharmacy from just a cohort of those working in hospitals and who believed that pharmacy had moved from apothecary status, learning in a university environment replaced the apprentice structure of the profession.

My year of medicine was the last year where we were taught materia medica – the fancy name for compounding pills, potions, unguenta and tonics. I always remember “extract of male fern” as the quaint talisman for this ancient art of sorcery. The next year, materia medica was replaced by “pharmacology”. This change encapsulated the change in the teaching of pharmacy students towards a firm evidential basis.

Yet while this expanded the academic profile of pharmacy, the cornerstone of pharmacy remained the shopfront. Pharmacists have been a protected species; I remember when Ipana toothpaste was only sold by pharmacists. Yet in those days pharmacies still sold cigarettes.

The advent of modern pharmacology, heralded by the development of antibiotics – a major influence – changed the whole face of therapy. Not that certain plant-derived substances, like digitalis, did not work; many of the other medicaments in the pharmacy operated on their placebo effect. This still holds true in so much of the goods being peddled these days, often with outrageous and erroneous claims. The vitamin industry is one such area where the legitimate role of these substances has been subverted into some magical beneficence, to say nothing of serious profits. What I find particularly objectionable is the advertisements depicting whole families, their shopping carts laden with an array of placebo, gaily trotting off to a world of drug habituation and advertisements promoting “chewy vitamins” for children, as if pill popping – or gummy chewing – should be a normal part of growing up.

The pernicious influence extends to the growth of addictive drugs, as witness the use of OxyContin and other similar drugs, another disgrace shared across the whole of the health professions. I believe the excesses of some of the community pharmacies should be trimmed, especially among the warehouse chains where professional ethics can seem very threadbare. Any claims about these arrays of so-called natural remedies should be evidence-based and not some exercise of necromancy, dressed up as beautiful young women.

The Pharmacy Guild has lobbied hard and successfully for the maintenance of their position in the community. The periodic Pharmacy Agreements between the Federal Government and the Guild in relation to reimbursement under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) have always been generous.

At the same time, community pharmacies have continued to sell all these peripheral placebos, as well as cosmetics, toys, sweets – in fact almost anything that can vaguely be associated with perceived wellbeing. Inevitably this has led to the growth of the pharmacy warehouse; and I wonder why the advertisements peddled by some of these outlets have not been curtailed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). But then organised pharmacy has strong buying power – particularly of political parties where the industry has been and remains a significant donor.

The community pharmacy, despite its lobbying power and probably over-privileged and over-subsidised place in the community, should not be underestimated as being perceived as the true community health centre for much of the community. The fact that there have been those in the Liberal Party who see them as outpost of the Party because of the innate business conservatism of many of the pharmacists should not be used to deny its important role in community health.

Another conservative force, the medical profession, is always paranoid when they perceive pharmacists creeping onto what the profession considers its territory. I always took a lead from my father who, even more than 60 years ago, had the pharmacy next door where he could pop in and get advice, where “out the back” he could discuss the appropriate course of action for patients with complex or difficult conditions. As my father and the pharmacist, Jim Beovich, demonstrated over many years, it was such a rich symbiotic relationship.

The community pharmacy’s involvement with the national vaccination program has been a success. Hence the apparent success of this public health intervention should be written up as evidence of what succeeds and what does not, so it can be incorporated into a policy framework which is not lost. So much corporate memory has been lost, as I can well attest, with the unnecessary need to re-invent the process because of the lack of corporate memory, a common and disastrous fault of modern bureaucracy.

Individual pharmacists are influential in their community. The community pays a price for the Pharmacy Guild’s easy access to that. What is important is to ensure that the methodology for setting prices being paid for prescription pharmaceuticals is transparent and not obfuscated so the community pays more than is reasonable.  Influence through lobbying for political gain is always an essential part of the curate’s egg’s yolk, no matter the standing of the profession, even at a time of beatification of the profession, which inevitably will occur with the success of the vaccination program. Just because the Gorgon, Big Pharma is standing behind you with an outrageous price schedule is no excuse for just passing it in without protest to us punters.

The musical instrument called “hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica”

I could not resist heading a piece with the longest name for any musical instrument currently being played somewhere in the world.

Playing the Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica

I am no muso. I remember someone mentioned that I could have made a bass if I had not been totally tone deaf. I tried playing the recorder as we all did; and even moved to the clarinet. Mercifully, this was a very small affliction on Australian ears.

Knowledge of this headline word had come from my being apprised of the town of Castelfidardo in Le Marche, one of the lesser known regions of Italy south of Emilio-Romagna on the Adriatic Coast.  Castelfildardo is a town where piano accordions are made and have been made since the beginning of the 19th century, whether in mahogany or maple. They also have dabbled in the manufacture of “armonice” of which the above longest word for a musical instrument – the glass harmonica – is a subset.

Now this is apparently the only reliable place in the world to get this instrument repaired, and it takes three months. Added to this the creatori di fisarmoniche are a dying breed because it is an Italian trait to take your skill to your grave without telling anybody. It does have an effect!

Years ago, I can remember the accordion was a common instrument and, in my youth, Lou Toppano was both its virtuoso and its public face within Australia with his TV appearances. Piano accordions were associated with various ethnic groups. Toppano tried to project the sophisticated sleekness of the Latin amante.  But the invariable characteristic was the smile, the smile when you had this lump of wood and metal weighing between 5 and 14 kilograms on your chest – and you were expected to play it! The accordion fell out of favour with rock n roll; it is said that the bass electric guitar was the instrument that often replaced the accordion in the band.

Somebody who I hold dear admitted she played it when she was young but said that if I wanted to shame her, I would not further identify her. Such a reaction shows how the accordion player has become somewhat of a caricature.

Thus, I was intrigued by an article in the Boston Globe by a young professional accordionist. By and large optimistic in tone, she nevertheless commented on how difficult it was to maintain the accordion in working condition, but she had been lucky to find a repairer in New Jersey.

She indicated in her article how specialised was repair of accordions, which would probably be a disincentive for those who found their grandparents’ accordion as a dusty relic. It is one of the most difficult instruments to play.

But if you think that playing the instrument is difficult, don’t step on it or throw it against the wall or fall over and be pinned by it. Here is an annotated repair requirement, according to the author of the article, with that unsurprising name of Madonna.

A job for Castelfidardo …

First is the know-how; second is spare parts such as keys, reed valves (usually leather strips), and metal rods; and third is tools, though most of these can’t be found at your average hardware store. Tools like a set of bellows to test reeds without having to put the whole instrument back together again; a setup to melt wax at a low enough temperature to set reeds without burning them; maintenance and tuning tools that look like what a dentist might use to scrape plaque off someone’s teeth; even a tray that indexes bass buttons (so there is no confusion of removal order). 

So, there you are – a trip through the Accordion Keys; intriguing when you realise that there had been the demise of an instrument that you never really missed – except that when the strolling accordion player, with the risus sardonicus, is headed for your restaurant table, you knew it was time for a toilet break.

Blue on Blue

Giuliano Cecchinelli is busy these days, as is everyone at Buttura & Gherardi Granite Artisans in Barre, Vt., one of about 20 manufacturers of headstones and other memorials in and near this city of 9,000, which styles itself the “granite center of the world.” 

The pandemic’s staggering death toll, now approaching 700,000 nationwide, is only part of the reason for the rising demand. It’s also driven by baby boomers who are looking ahead, ordering monuments, and deciding how they and their families will be commemorated after death, Gherardi said

The Boston Globe often has these little vignettes. What is it with the Italians and cemeteries? When I read this, I remember the bluestone quarry which, like all bluestone quarries, is memorable for just that – the blueness, especially when the first of these quarries that I ever saw was in Vermont, a closed quarry, the stone left there in all its sombre yet striking solitude, water slowly filling it up.

When I decided that my late parents should have some recognition and a High Celtic Cross was beyond my means and a tad over-the-top anyway – apart from which, I found those traditional grey monumental slabs so cold and depressing – I decided that I would place a bluestone rock as the headstone.

After all, if Victoria ever decided to have a State rock, it would surely be bluestone. My school was a bluestone pile, but it was only one of many buildings built in the latter part of the 19th century.  Other buildings used it for the foundations and for the many cobbled streets, lanes and alleyways were laid out in bluestone. This rock allows for water drainage and prevents the growth of weeds.

So, we went out to one of Italian stone masons whose sites dot the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne. The headstone we chose was a lump of bluestone rock, neither sculpted nor moulded in any way. Just a simple recognition of this stone which forms much of olivine basalt rock which covers the ancient volcanic Victorian plains, one of the biggest in the World. The prevalence of bluestone gives Victoria that image of a conservative sobriety with architecture distinguished by its blue-black stone buildings.

From the beginning of Melbourne, bluestone quarries were opened throughout what is now Melbourne suburbia. Most of these had closed well before I was born. Out of curiosity I eventually went to see one remaining bluestone quarry near Tylden in Central Victoria, I was impressed by the majestic slabs of blue rock, I suppose because it was so much a part of my life for 12 years from first grade.  Recent pictures are disappointing because the quarry no longer has that air of a familiar majesty, but now resembles just any open cut mine.

Nevertheless, what’s in a name? Victorian bluestone is completely different geologically from that of Vermont or indeed that of Eastern USA, which is basically a residue of glaciers namely schist, but not the basalt from an ancient volcanic origin. My eye being attracted to the article of Giuliano Cecchinelli only goes to show what a little vignette can do.

I’m still learning; and that is the real vignette.

Mouse Whisper

O trava-linguas


Não Quero

O Queijo

No meu Queixo                  … Que, zero?