Modest Expectations – Once upon a Time from Drummoyne

On June 19th, 1865, African Americans slaves in Texas were told they were free. Juneteenth, 19th June, has been a Federal Holiday since 2021 when President Biden gazetted this day as one to celebrate the emancipation of black slaves, and one step towards the “freedom” upon which Americans pride themselves. This recognition was a response to several high profile murders, notably that of George Floyd.

Above is a scene from a recent play, Toni Stone, written by the playwright Lydia Diamond, (a drama structured about the first woman to play baseball for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues). As Stone, the actress Jennifer Mogbock’s characterisation is that of a determined woman with the prowess to smack the ball and play hard. The scene depicts stylised “game time moments” when the team performs vaudeville acts with a tincture of the minstrel. It is playing in Boston as part of extensive Juneteenth celebrations and illustrates one example of how important the celebration of this day is regarded, despite its being so recently recognised.

It made me think about the modern meaning of holidays, originally “holy days”. That meaning has been well and truly lost, but American holidays are generally about veneration of the past, with both its upsides and downsides. Apart from New Year’s Day, holidays in the USA celebrate the past – the heritage as etched into the mythology of the United States as a Christian country.

I have celebrated Thanksgiving in Chicago with an American family which was a memorable experience as I was an “intruder”. I barely knew the family and was touched by their generosity and felt honoured by them asking me.

One year, we marched to the Tenderloin District of San Francisco in celebration of Martin Luther Day, January 15th. It was the first time I had walked with black people, not just Afro-Americans. Again, I felt like an intruder, but we walked on the outside of the march as a symbol of solidarity but outsiders.

In Australia, I am not an outsider and in my own way, I acknowledge Anzac Day. It is not sacred to me; but it is a day where mostly young men were sacrificed to combat unhinged narcissistic villainy. Akin to the American Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday in May, on which that Nation honours the men and women who died while serving in the military, whereas its Veterans Day, observed every November 11th, recognises all who have served in the Armed Forces (and is not a Federal holiday).

In contrast, some of our national holidays may celebrate our past, although the actual reason often belies the name. Australia Day is really the end of summer holidays, and the King’s Birthday, the opening of the ski season aka the recognition of the start of winter. Australia Day is a misnomer; January 1st should be the National day if it was the intention to recognise the date of the birth of Australia. Clearly this would cause a commotion because it would mean the loss of one holiday, apart from which, there is not the fervour of honouring a group of colony politicians bickering for over a decade whether they should come together as a nation – unlike the 4th of July when the Americans unequivocally come together to celebrate their independence as a nation.

January 26th is really when NSW people can celebrate the shiploads of convicts and British military low life that were dumped on our shores, to the annoyance of the local Aboriginal people. Nevertheless, it has that element of the Australian cultural personality – always looking for a fight.

As for the King’s Birthday, it celebrates the entrails of the British monarchy, not the actual birthday of Charles III, which is November 14th. God knows why we are celebrating the Restoration of the British monarchy following the Cromwellian regime, sometime in the 17th century. Really worth celebrating!

At least Australia celebrates Labour Day, even if on four different days, in March (three states), May (two states), October (three states). There are two different dates in March – an earlier one for Western Australia and later two for Victoria and Tasmania. However, none of the dates coincides with the actual date when the Eight-Hour Day was inaugurated on April 21st, 1856.

University of Melbourne Law School

This was the outcome triggered by stonemasons working on the building of the University of Melbourne Law School who struck for better working conditions. May 1st being International Workers Day, the two were conveniently placed close together for a celebration of “the Worker”. In 1889 an international federation of socialist groups and trade unions designated May 1st as a day in support of workers, a day chosen because it coincided with the violent Haymarket Riot in Chicago three years earlier. However, the two dates above were inconveniently juxtaposed for Australia with the date of Anzac Day.

Anzac Day is probably the only holiday, apart from Christmas and Easter, which is celebrated across all Australia on the same day, where the holidays have significance. One celebrates those who lost their lives in War, picking a day which commemorated a disaster engineered by British military incompetence. Probably if we want to celebrate our miliary heritage, we should celebrate Monash Day, for the architect in bringing WWI to a close, despite the enduring incompetence of the British.

Monash being knighted on the battlefield by King George V, France, 12 August 1918

Discounting the universality of Christmas and Easter in Christian countries, which are still celebrated as holy days by an albeit diminishing number, these holidays have become more and more secular recreation. In Australia, mimicking the role of Thanksgiving in the USA, Christmas is our family holiday.

Our other holidays celebrate a horse race, various sporting events, and a variety of Show Days, which is urban Australia’s acknowledgement of its agricultural legacy. That is Australia! We even have a public holiday to celebrate a Sherrin of footballers being driven down the streets of Melbourne.

Now where is our Juneteenth? Maybe emancipation of Aborigines has yet to be fully realised to be able to celebrate. There is the ending of the White Australia, which we should celebrate, but don’t.  There is no specific date, but 1973 is the year generally accepted, although an increase in the number and percentage of migrants from non-European countries did not take place until after the Fraser government came into office. Sorry, any date would need to be pinpointed and given the way we make decisions in Australia, it would be anybody’s guess.

Perhaps we should also celebrate the day the first Jew was allowed to join the Melbourne Club. Maybe not a public holiday but probably more worthy than a football final holiday.

But then Laura, really Australia is not a racist country, with its pavlova coating of multi-culturalism. How dare you, Laura for telling the truth.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

What a cockup. But predictable. Albanese handed Shorten the consumption of The NDIS Sandwich and he is trying to not display his “inchurnment”.

In Australia there are many ways of wrangling money from the government, although the NDIS seems to have required minimal wrangling from applicants. Shonks and criminals, please line up here!


In my experience, not common in Australia, but for expertise in this matter ask Bob Katter.

The Mates Culture

Just give the grant out without any interference, meaning – stay within the amount for which the person making the grant has authority, having the sole delegation.

Have panels of mates who allocate the grant money under the laughable rubric of “peer review” – the majority of research grants are determined this way. The caveat – make sure they are mates. Stifles the outsider – ask Marshall and Warren, Nobel Laureates who were refused research grants by the research establishment.

The revolving door between the public service and consultancy firms whither ex-public servants work at higher rates of pay, doing the same job that they should have done while employed by the government.

Greedy ex-politicians in the Golden Trough together, “the Captain’s Club” mentality.

Inadequate supervision

Non-criminal – just use fraudulent qualifications/experience – the pink bats disaster is one recent example of this

The entry of organised crime, which seems to be the NDIS unfortunate situation, where the vulnerable – and ultimately the taxpayers who fund the NDIS – are exploited and successive government fails to act.

Why does it occur?

First, there is this urgency of Federal bureaucrats shovelling out the money willy-nilly. This removes any responsibility from the Department and the individual particularly.

Then there’s the custom of moving bureaucrats around so that there is no corporate memory and responsibility is diffused so it is nigh impossible to determine the actual person responsible. This enables organised crime to infiltrate the Department – the criminal insider. The Government is geared to destroy the whistleblower but not this criminal insider?

Now it’s the media (not the public service itself) which has shown up the problem because of some of the providers displaying the wealth garnered from this corrupted scheme.

The normal government response is to “take it seriously”; then do nothing. Shorten always affects small man aggression, but if he wanted to be effective, he would institute a group of “incorruptibles”, (not relying on the Federal Police solely) and examine the Department staff systematically. Criminals may be smart, but not that smart. The trail starts with the providers with signs of affluence and the people they are charged to protect. Treat them as though they are importing illegal drugs with the same vigour and publicity. The Nation cannot sustain organised criminals taking over social welfare – the NDIS, aged care and childcare – given the amount of money involved.

Get off your backside, Shorten, stop the smart comments and channel that aggression into effective ministerial action. First of all, I would do police checks on all those involved in shovelling out the money, including their family connections. Then it can all unravel, and undoubtedly Shorten, you have tools to assist that process. I have no up-to-date knowledge of these tools, but they are only adjuncts to a determination to get it corrected without resorting to an interminable Committee of Inquiry – or save me, yet another Royal Commission!

Remember the adage, Elliot Ness or Pointless Ness.

Thus Spake Mitchell McConnell

Below is an opinion piece from the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, appearing in the NYT of June 6th. This is a damning criticism of those on the far-right fringe of his Party, which is destroying the traditional Republican Party with its malignancy that is Trump. Mitchell McConnell has been one of the Senators from Kentucky since 1985. He was two years old when D-Day occurred. He has taken this time, on the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, to rebuke his own Party for repeating the isolationism advocated by his Party not to enter WWII, until after the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941 (more than two years after the outbreak of the war on September 4th, 1939) changed the American perception.

God knows what would have happened to Europe if Germany had not declared War on America and left the Americans only with the Pacific War theatre. But the Germans did not think it through. Nevertheless, the isolationists, with figures like Charles Lindbergh, the populist Roman Catholic priest, Father Coughlin and the Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg from Michigan, were a formidable force until that date. After Pearl Harbour, their advocacy was vanquished. Vandenberg later came round to support the American intervention.

Even in this opinion piece confronting the Trumpians, McConnell can’t shed all his partisan biases, (after all, it was Roosevelt, a Democratic President who steered the USA through WWII). Nevertheless, despite his faults, he has claims to be considered a true Republican with a legitimate lineage back to Abraham Lincoln.

But this, almost his last hurrah, the old man suffering from petit mal epilepsy, who in retirement wishes to remain on the right side of history, in more ways than one. Thus, I believe it’s worth noting.

On this day in 1944, the liberation of Western Europe began with immense sacrifice. In a tribute delivered 40 years later from a Normandy cliff, President Ronald Reagan reminded us that “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” were “heroes who helped end a war.” That last detail is worth some reflection because we are in danger of forgetting why it matters.

American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines joined allies and took the fight to the Axis powers not as a first instinct, but as a last resort. They ended a war that the free world’s inaction had left them no choice but to fight.

Generations have taken pride in the triumph of the West’s wartime bravery and ingenuity, from the assembly lines to the front lines. We reflect less often on the fact that the world was plunged into war, and millions of innocents died because European powers and the United States met the rise of a militant authoritarian with appeasement or naïve neglect in the first place.

We forget how influential isolationists persuaded millions of Americans that the fate of allies and partners mattered little to our own security and prosperity. We gloss over the powerful political forces that downplayed growing danger, resisted providing assistance to allies and partners, and tried to limit America’s ability to defend its national interests.

Of course, Americans heard much less from our disgraced isolationists after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, America and our allies face some of the gravest threats to our security since Axis forces marched across Europe and the Pacific. And as these threats grow, some of the same forces that hampered our response in the 1930s have re-emerged.

Germany is now a close ally and trading partner. But it was caught flat-footed by the rise of a new axis of authoritarians made up of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. So, too, were the advanced European powers who once united to defeat the Nazis.

Like the United States, they responded to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014 with wishful thinking. The disrepair of their militaries and defence industrial bases, and their overreliance on foreign energy and technology, were further exposed by Russia’s dramatic escalation in 2022.

By contrast, Japan needed fewer reminders about threats from aggressive neighbours or about the growing links between Russia and China. Increasingly, America’s allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific are taking seriously the urgent requirements of self-defence. Fortunately, in the past two years, some of our European allies have taken overdue steps in the same direction. 

Here at home, we face problems of our own. Some vocal corners of the American right are trying to resurrect the discredited brand of prewar isolationism and deny the basic value of the alliance system that has kept the postwar peace. This dangerous proposition rivals the American left’s longstanding allergy to military spending in its potential to make America less safe.

It should not take another catastrophic attack like Pearl Harbor to wake today’s isolationists from the delusion that regional conflicts have no consequences for the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation. With global power comes global interests and global responsibilities.

Nor should President Biden or congressional Democrats require another major conflict to start investing seriously in American hard power.

The President began this year’s State of the Union with a reference to President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 effort to prepare the nation to meet the Axis threat. But until the commander in chief is willing to meaningfully invest in America’s deterrent power, this talk carries little weight.

In 1941, President Roosevelt justified a belated increase in military spending to 5.5 percent of gross domestic product. On the road to victory, that figure would reach 37 percent. Deterring conflict today costs less than fighting it tomorrow.

I was encouraged by the plan laid out last week by my friend, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) which detailed specific actions the president and colleagues in Congress should take to prepare America for long-term strategic competition.

I hope my colleague’s work prompts overdue action to address shortcomings in shipbuilding and the production of long-range munitions and missile defences. Rebuilding the arsenal of democracy would demonstrate to America’s allies and adversaries alike that our commitment to the stable order of international peace and prosperity is rock-solid.

Nothing else will suffice. Not a desperate pursuit of nuclear diplomacy with Iran, the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism. Not cabinet junkets to Beijing in pursuit of common ground on climate policy. The way to prove that America means what it says is to show what we’re willing to fight for.

Eighty years ago, America and our allies fought because we had to. The forces assembled on the English Channel on June 6, 1944, represented the fruits of many months of feverish planning. And once victory was secure, the United States led the formation of the alliances that have underpinned Western peace and security ever since.

Today, the better part of valour is to build credible defences before they are necessary and demonstrate American leadership before it is doubted any further.

True in the First Part

The little girl was standing on a street in a village in Yugoslavia. The American plane came in on a strafing run towards her. The little girl caught a glimpse of the pilot. He was an Afro-American. The pilot did not fire and aborted the strafing run.

Eighty years later, a little girl stood on a street in Gaza. The Israeli plane came on a strafing run towards her …

The first is a true story.

Which brings me to David Crowe

In an opinion piece last Friday in the SMH, David Crowe described how two men in balaclavas defaced the office of a Labor MP and they left the Hamas “calling card”. They and the confederate who filmed the incident and loaded it onto social media were “vandals in the night using the same claims that the Greens made during the day”.

Crowe jumped to a conclusion, gratuitously besmirching Adam Bandt in the process, but he does not explicitly name the men in the balaclavas. Nevertheless, his assumption is plain.  Crowe may be right. However …

His piece was on page 28. In a spread on pages 24 and 25 of the same issue of the SMH there is an article on “Israeli War of Influence”. It details how deeply the Israeli government is into misinformation dissemination. So, be careful, Mr Crowe, of your assumptions unless you have removed the balaclavas and actually identified the vandals in person.

Judging from the conflict in the university campuses, thuggery is not confined to one side.

Perhaps you, Mr Crowe, have not met any of the Mossad agents in this country. I have – somewhat accidentally, as I have written in a previous blog.

It was not an easily forgotten experience.

Mouse Whisper

A person good at computers. A person skilled in doing anything quickly and comfortably on a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone, usually using a mouse or not.

As one instance, my extremely competent wife got on the computer and fixed a payment issue with the bank in 10 minutes with just some clicks of the mouse. She’s a mouse whisperer.

There you are. Immortality in my 273rd whisper.

Modest Expectations – Virat Kohli

True happiness, according to Epicurus, was not found in indulgence or excess but in the state of ataraxia – the untroubled mind, the freedom to focus and think with clarity. Ed Smith (former professional English cricketer & journalist) remembers being taught this principle at 18, when a cricket coach told him what makes great players distinct is that they are capable of “the absence of irrelevant thought”.

The smartphone is a machine for introducing it as often as possible. The business model that underpins it is that human attention must be broken, again and again. Silicon Valley has conducted a 15-year, unregulated experiment on the brains of most of the world’s children; Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind, wants to call time on it. 

Haidt cites Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron”, which envisages an American dystopia in which being excellent at anything (and therefore un-egalitarian) has been made illegal. The preferred weapon of “handicapping” exceptionally bright people is to make them wear an earpiece which buzzes roughly every 20 seconds to sabotage sustained concentration. Stopping attention is the lever by which intelligence can be flattened.

The realisation that the use of smartphones has the dark side of being the vehicle for not only  pathological distraction, but also cyber bullying, has been well documented. It has been shown that confiscation of these phones when arriving at school and then returning them after school has had a positive effect. However, if you just ask the students to turn their phones off, but allow them to keep them whilst in school, then nothing much changes.

The importance of there being no exceptions means that the school must have a protocol for emergencies which much be continually reinforced. As for contacting parents via phone, the haven for manipulative bullies’ whining, then there is no reason why “little Johnny” cannot be filtered through a designated cohort of teachers.

As one source has said, “the stages of panic, grief and ultimately some level of acceptance” are the student reactions to such a ban.

Yet the dependence on a well-balanced teaching staff is paramount for successful implementation..

I have two anecdotes which exemplify the problem of teacher dysfunctionality.

The first was when I was in junior school, either ten or eleven years old. Our teacher, who was very emotionally labile, sent the whole class of about 25 boys to the Principal to be caned. I remember us boys, all clustered in front of the Principal’s study in a dark corridor. The Principal came out, took one look and sent us all back to the classroom. He then asked the teacher, who by now was a blubbering mess, to come to his study. The Principal was a very calm, authoritative man; he always showed understanding. The teacher left the school soon after.

The other time was when one of my sons, aged seven, was refused permission to go to the toilet on more than one occasion. My then wife and I confronted the teacher, whose truculence disappeared under some very tough talking, but still did not admit any fault. The then Principal, unlike my junior school Principal preferred to look away. That was the only time we ever intervened in our children’s progress through school. We did not have confront the teacher again despite the weak Principal.

Later when I ran a community health program, I remember the rationale given for having a school nurse.  One could monitor the pupils seeking school nurse support.  If, in the extreme example, large numbers from one class presented at the sick bay, it is an indication that such a class may be dysfunctional; on the other hand, if no children came to the sick bay, then was that undue denial by the teacher to seek the school nurse care, rather than believing it was a very healthy class?

One may question raising these extremes in teacher behaviour, but banning smartphones requires an acceptance across the community, despite differing attitudes and behaviour of school staff – until it becomes the community norm. In turn, this requires a very narrow “behavioural corridor” on how this ban is administered.

Otherwise, as I try to write, I can hear that intermittent Vonnegut-generated buzzing in my ear, but I refuse to be distracted. So should all children be afflicted by this seductive but essentially dystopian device in school. You know talking face-to-face is a way of confronting life and forcing the bullies out in the open.

I was bullied on my first day at school by a child who later became a respected member of the clergy. My father who came across this interchange, made an on-the-spot decision. He had me taught to box – never had to use that skill. Knowledge was enough. But what if I had grown up in this era?

Albanese – 2015

We’re used to seeing a few slip-ups and gotchas in Question Time, but yesterday Anthony Albanese shocked us with a particularly poor choice of words.

The Labor MP has copped some criticism over apparently urging one of his colleagues to “smash her!”, when rising to grill health minister Sussan Ley.
As member for Ballarat Catherine King rises to question the coalition MP, Albanese can be heard to casually call out the aggressive phrase from the front bench, with laughter from colleagues following.
The choice of words is at odds with the opposition’s current focus on addressing domestic violence.

Hot Copper may have reported this 2015 incident, but I have seen the video, which now seems to have disappeared from the Web. It is very unappetising spectacle of a snarling Albanese.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese again calling the troops to action?

From my simple point of view, this man who has publicly advocated a violent act against a woman is totally unacceptable to be Prime Minister of this country; neither he, nor those who laughed along with his unappetising snarler should be allowed to remain in Parliament by their electorates.

Thus, I do not buy the argument why single Albanese out when other Parliamentarians have an appalling record in this area as well. I agree one cannot ignore that. However, Albanese is the Prime Minister, and he is constantly saying that men should be respectful towards women. He has demonstrated in the incident quoted above to be anything but that. A Prime Minister should be called to a higher standard.

It is a challenge for the Labor women to have as their leader a man who advocated violence against Sussan Ley. I’ve been around long enough to hold the view that an outburst is unlikely to be a single episode, and was there any apology?

The Tragedy of Sydney

After consideration of all the material, I declared that it was a terrorist incident – NSW Commissioner of Police Karen Webb.

I penned this just after these two incidents and then put it away to see what happened after the acute reaction had subsided, and whether I would change much. The answer: not much. Shortened it and modified the invective.

I have witnessed the emergency responses to the horror which dogs every community when faced with the lone mad person, invariably male, who goes on a rampage killing multiple people senselessly.  In the case of the Bondi incident, he may have been a paranoid schizophrenic completely delusional, but he was killing people willy-nilly, until a senior policewoman in shirt sleeves shot him dead.

However, what struck me was these men resembling at a distance Michelin Men in black with very large guns rolling across the ground apparently after the fact. As the camera zoomed in, these guys were wearing black balaclavas, as if they were about to rob the Centre; and since they appeared to be made to look anonymous, I wonder how you distinguish them from terrorists or just well-organised thieves? Just a question of seeking information.

Then, on top of that, a 16 year old teenager stabbed an Assyrian Church priest. Subdued by the congregation, the teenager lost a finger in the melee. Belatedly, police turned up implying that they were there to sort out the situation when it was mostly over. All that needed to be done was to quieten the crowd which had gathered and ensure the safety of the injured assailant. Instead, it was reported that the police used tear gas.

The violence on that Monday night was as disgusting as it was perplexing, given the police were there to help Bishop Emmanuel and to investigate his stabbing.

The reason for this deployment was the responsibility of the accidental Commissioner, the former traffic cop, Webb. She declared this stabbing an act of terrorism whatever the logic, an over-reaction ensured.  Even the Premier seemed initially to admit her order was an over-reaction. The teenager was known to police and had convictions, Once the teenager was found out to be Muslim, then the story of this teenager being a part of a terrorist cell grew and in turn justified Webb’s order.

The Assyrian response

The Assyrian community, irrespective of which Assyrian church they followed, had gathered and suddenly the government had sent the police to presumably arrest the “terrorists”.  The reaction of the community was not one of submission but one of fury.

What happens when people in uniform arrive, for no apparent reason, to confront the crowd; unless there is demonstrable leadership it is not long before a crowd becomes a mob. In this case, there were injuries to people. People were taken to hospital including two police. The mob jumped all over the police cars, rendering half of them unusable. Why were there so many police cars (the actual number seems to vary); what was the reason, given it was supposed to be one lone teenager terrorist attack?

It seems some of the police were not dressed as black Michelin Men but still with their Perspex face shields and weaponry presented an ominous sight. Yet they appeared to be overwhelmed by the mob despite their use of tear gas, if the reports were true.

Over the following month, they hunted down the protesters displaying to the media that it takes at least five heavily armed officers to arrest one of these rioters.

I was faced with a potentially nasty situation in 1960. The annual end-of-term engineer-commerce students’ marbles match – an excuse for a sort of Eton wall game that was held on the Commerce lawns outside the University Union.

The Commerce lawns in a wet May were, to say the least, very soggy. The ground was once a lake and soon degenerated into a muddy confrontation. It was tolerated as a way for students to let off steam (remembering the University was then a predominantly male institution). The police kept away. However, on this occasion, some idiot smashed the fire alarm, and before long with bells ringing two fire engines arrived, bowling into the students spilling onto the roadway. This minor show of aggression turned ugly when one of the students tipped a bucket of mud through the window of the one of the fire trucks.

Then the confrontation threatened to escalate as these burly firemen got out the vehicle, some looking as if they were spoiling for a fight. I remember very well three of the student leaders, one of whom was myself, wading into the crowd to try and calm the situation down. I remember that the firemen were persuaded to climb back into their vehicles, and they left without having to call in the police.

Yes, we then had to go down and face a choleric fire chief, who dismissed our apologies. We all left, were interviewed by the media on the footpath outside and it was front page news the next day.  Then we all went on first term holidays and the furore died down. I don’t think these university students were considered terrorists. I was helped by my two fellow students in calming down the situation – one became a Supreme Court Judge and the other a Federal Court judge. That episode taught me a great deal. By the way, the University administration did not intervene; they left us to sort it out.

Thus, the local Federal Member for Fowler, Dai Le, seemed initially the most sensible in seeking to calm down the situation.  The local community has followed this course advocating reconciliation and peace. Yet the media persisted with the allegation that this was a terrorist attack.

The Assyrian priest forgave his attacker, the epitome of Christian behaviour.

Reading between the lines, the response of Burgess, the spy chief, seems to be ambiguous about this incident being a terrorist threat, but once someone in authority “cries wolf”, especially when she had been under serious criticism on other matters related to her lack of leadership, it probably does not help to directly criticise another senior public servant.

Invoking an incident as an act of terrorism can stigmatise a community and sow unnecessary anxiety and alienation from the instruments of government – the police being one example.

The Premier talks not about conciliation, unless it is his meaningless term “people of faith” but says he will confront the community with “the full force of the Law”. Well, if 50 police cars and the anti-riot squad are not the “full force of the Law”, what is? To my mind, it is the lone policewoman, who brought to an end the ghastly events in Bondi Westfield by confronting and shooting the murderer. That is the full force of the law, not all the other macho trimmings that seem to obsess governments. The policewoman exhibited two qualities – courage and an ability to assess the situation correctly; little information but with impeccable induction-deduction that led her to come to the right conclusion quickly.

Terrorists presumably are not banshees.  The terrorist groups must be known. In this instance, where was intelligence from ASIO, whose mouthpiece tells us they know everything, and should have a clear idea of the potential danger of what we may name ‘Teenage Terrorist Group”.

Otherwise, what value are Australia’s security services providing? Australia pays a high price for its security services. For me, we do not pay this money for scaremongering or “cloak and dagger” farce, but for a service which provides reassurance to the community without complacency. The question arises of why these terrorists are allowed to roam freely in the community, once identified? I can conjure up reasons, related the cost of incarceration. Yet Australia has had successive governments prepared to spend astronomical amounts of money on dodgy contractors to guard people who come here in boats and are then imprisoned. Are they all terrorists? How do these people contaminate Australia?

Another beached lugger

In 1979, when I was staying in Broome, there was a recently-beached Vietnamese lugger in the mangroves in front of the motel where I was staying. The Fraser government welcomed the Vietnamese refugees, and by doing so enriched our Australian community. Would Dutton have done the same, but of course he was only nine years old at the time?

I have tried not to make too many value judgements but ask questions. The paradox is of media alive with misinformation and not challenging what appears to me to be gaps in the logic of government, the gaps being filled with cliches, often repeated in this opaque shroud of not knowing what to do, but afraid to let the community in on that secret! Secrecy appears to be a cover for our leaders for inaction and hoping the whole matter will go away – or worse result in a cover up?

Boondoggle Stadium Hobart

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Boy Scouts at summer camps participated in the latest scouting craze in which boys braided and knotted colourful strands of plastic and leather to fashion lanyards, neckerchief slides and bracelets. Eagle Scout Robert Link of Rochester, New York, coined the term for this new handicraft, “boondoggling”. Chris Klein 2018

Arguably, the AFL should be first in line to fund the construction of an AFL stadium, rather than kicking in less than 2% of the proposed $800 million total. However, it can also be argued that the project will bring thousands of jobs, urban renewal, a massive tourism boost, a visible pathway for young athletes, and lots of footy for the fans.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a sitcom. Australia is facing a housing affordability crisis, and a cost of living crisis, both of which are compounded by rising inflation. As such, many Tasmanians aren’t over the moon about the announcement, and they’ve voiced their disapproval about the project publicly. Chris Sheedy June 2023

You can guarantee the sun will rise in the East. Unbackable odds.

Equally, once the Labor Opposition elected a bloke to replace a sheila as its Leader, it was London to a brick that the Tasmanian government would agree to build a new stadium at some exorbitant cost – any current estimate is just a number which will be exceeded.  No worries you blokes, see on the plans, the luxury lounge where we can watch the games in comfort, popping the corks and tasting the best of Tasmanian fare. Better than any Chairman’s Lounge.

In 2023 Albanese, in stumping up $240m of taxpayer money, tried to sweeten the sandwich by saying that the project would “include social housing and commercial and recreational spaces, but there was no extra information on how many houses would be built, or how a business centre would fit on the site and in the budget.

Crown land at Regatta Point will be developed through a private-public partnership, including affordable housing, housing for essential health workers so close to the hospital facilities here.” It is a wonder he did not promise a multi-purpose religious centre as well.

I would never say that the AFL is trying to blackmail Tasmania, nor that a “business centre” mentioned by Albanese be a casino. After all, all this extravagance must be underwritten by some source of revenue (aka gambling), unless they can induce one of the oil states or some hedge fund Croesus to sponsor the team.

After all, the intention is to play seven games a year in Hobart and four in Launceston. There is a time-honoured Tasmanian government bankrupting strategy, that if Hobart has one, Launceston must have one also. Seven games a year! What was the cost again for such a projected use? The cost the length of a piece of string is at the mercy of the builders and the construction unions.

The team, rather than being called the Tasmanian Devils, would be better called the Tasmanian Boondoggles, when the team enters the League in 2028, then for a decade to be the chopping block for all the other teams, while the country burns under the burden of climate change. And by the way, just check the projected sea levels at the construction site.

Mouse Whisper

Along a certain English road, there was a sign which read “Cat’s Eyes Removed”. An official sign apparently. The informal sign down the road read “Mice Very Happy”.

The Boss roared with laughter. What was funny about blinding cats even if they have benefited by English cousins? And why would they publicly announce such terrible things? But then, it is the same nation that made fun of three blind mice.

Modest Expectations – Flying in the Faroe Islands

Together, Omar Abudayyeh, 33, and Jonathan Gootenberg, 32, have probed the mysteries of genomic editing and COVID detection. They co-published 10 scientific papers, helped launch two medical-diagnostic companies, and cofounded a Watertown startup, Tome Biosciences, that reengineers genes and cells to cure diseases. They also run the Abudayyeh-Gootenberg laboratory.

Gootenberg and Abudayyeh are an unusual pair, two scientists — a Jewish American and a Palestinian American — who prefer working together in a field that often draws solitary researchers and rewards individual achievement.

As depicted above, this Amoeba proteus is among a range of snails, algae and amoebas that make programmable DNA-cutting enzymes called Fanzors. Fanzors are RNA-guided enzymes that can be programmed to cut DNA at specific sites, much like the bacterial enzymes that power the widely used gene-editing system known as CRISPR. The reported research in this area comes from the team headed by Gootenberg and Abudayyeh.

I thus could not bypass the report of such a collaboration, which has this air of exceptionalism about it. The two seem to be highly regarded in cellular engineering, given they have raised enough funding to set up their eponymously named laboratory at MIT. The sunny publicity photograph of their team shows them flanking eleven researchers (four women and seven men). One of the women is wearing a hijab. The others show a variety of heritage; but why comment?

This is how research should be conducted, free from political and religious manipulation, and the depressing detritus of misinformation strewn by evil men. Oh, that this collaboration between Jew and Palestinian could be generalised into wider behaviour between the two peoples.

The Barnaby Grudge

The man of many self-inflicted memes

Barnaby Joyce, lying flat on his back on a Canberra street, swearing into his mobile phone, obviously pissed out of his mind – allegedly – was such unbelievable fodder for the media. The response has been predictable. Joyce is a serial roisterer; he is lazy, whether intellectually lazy beggars the question of whether he has the intellect. He collects money for doing nothing; he is completely ill-disciplined.

He is the sort of character who probably refined his skills at school, where he would have been expert in forming gangs. Where there are gangs, then there are bullies. Bullies with a smile; who have size and, in Barnaby’s case, a ruddiness and exophthalmos giving him the expression of a grinning toad, seems to some of either gender to be compelling. After all, he has a reputation of being a high-profile philanderer as well as a bar-breasting “jock”.

Joyce was once said to be the best retail politician in the country. But what did that mean? Being able to wear an Akubra without looking like a dill or effortlessly downing a schooner in a country pub? Barnaby, the engaging.

As they used to say about Bill Clinton, when you met him for 30 seconds you felt that you were the most important person on Earth. Has Barnaby emulated that?

The previous leaders of the National Party that I have met would have dismissed Joyce as a buffoon, but Joyce survived because paradoxically he had this level of “jock” charm, which none of these immediate predecessors have had.

I have not been blameless, but the only time that I emulated Barnaby’s exploit was one time when I was about 20 and stupidly lay down on a quiet piece of bitumen on the Gold Coast. Why?  Because it appeared a place of rest for this “tired and emotional” young bloke. I was fortunately rescued by a young lady who shielded me from curious police, who were inquiring about why this young man wanted to sleep on the macadam. The helpful police assisted me to my feet, suggested that a bed would be the best place to sleep it off, and spared me from the accommodation, which they could have provided.

Now Barnaby was reputedly swearing into his phone; and it would have presented a problem for any potential “good Samaritan”. After all, don’t we have the police and ambulance officers to assist such a person resting on his back in a public space, spitting invective?

Anyway, there is not much information following the photograph of the laid back Joyce. What happened? Oh, well according to unofficial authoritative connections with the National Party, Barnaby just got to his feet, dusted himself off and went into one of his favourite retail Barnaby outlets to have a hamburger and then went home, presumably to read his children a bedtime story. This last has not been confirmed.

Next day, there are reports of Littleproud and Dutton warming some lettuce leaves before meeting Joyce for a friendly chat about the dangers of the slippery surfaces of Canberra streets, not to mention plantar boxes which throw innocents from their “sovereign borders”, particularly after imbibing a mixture of prescription pharmaceuticals and alcohol, despite a warning not to do so – Joyce’s explanation for his dilemma. However, this simply highlights his irresponsibility and echoes the excuses of others for their own bad behaviour – if you are warned not to mix drugs and drink, then don’t. It’s an indictment not an excuse if you do.

Now getting serious, mate. Barnaby, take a hike. Australia has enough parasites already, even if they are good at retailing themselves.

Yet some urban parliamentarians may disagree with me. They found out that having photos of Joyce and his exploits posted around an electorate just reminded potential voters how good he is in retailing women candidates who despise his vulgarity – as a considerable proportion of urban Australia do.


Feeding on the Corpse – Living the Nightmare 

A regular feeding frenzy

The entry of Morrison into the feeding frenzy over the AUKUS boondoggle has generated a thought bubble. He joins a whole group of former politicians who are clustering around the huge mound of money labelled AUKUS, which has no sensible conclusion. Spending money on potentially obsolete technology while saying they are tip-toeing along the edge of major technological advancements is meaningless. Fancy language like “pillars one” and “pillars two” just increases the arcane shroud covering the Aquatic Boondoggle.

A giant scam perpetuated by politicians who have bought us Australians sports rorts, money laundering through casinos, a gambling industry out of control, acquisition of land for the Badgerys Creek airport, handouts favouring a shady boyfriend, car park rorts, the building better regional National Party slush fund,  the PwC tax leak scandal, Dutton and offshore detention corruption within his portfolio responsibility, Morrison’s secret ministries … and it goes on and on.

The thread is that politicians, especially Ministers, can be as corrupt as they like and their retribution is placed on the equivalent of the Slow Boat to China

The actions remind me of two films.

The first is the Italian film La Grande Bouffe.

This is the story of four men who wish to gorge themselves to death, which they do in the most degenerate way. All die; the film is a disgusting exercise in gourmandising. But where the story line diverges from the Australian gourmandising on taxpayer sweetmeats is that in the film there are only three prostitutes.

Preparing to move to the Front Bench …

The second is yet to be released, but has the tentative title, The Vultures. But the images are so horrible, so depraved that a prequel called Nemesis has been released to condition the Australian nation. The spectacle of vultures alternatively preening and clawing over the carcass which was once Australia is bad enough, but the scene where the vultures are transformed into human form is particularly disturbing. Discussions are continuing, but some say, the transmogrification of the Lammergeiers to the Front Bench is just so horror-full that nobody living outside our borders could believe the debauchery through which this country has lived.

However, as part of this film in the making the Consultants, a shadowy group of vultures have been filmed stripping this aquatic Boondoggle of its monetary flesh. Most Australians will be so revolted by the blizzard of banknotes being gourmandised by this band of slavering Vultures, that they will call for it to be immediately banned.

Yuk…but unfortunately it has been bought as a training film for each member of Parliament. 

In Our Times

In Our Times is one of Hemingway’s earliest works, a series of short stories, for the want of any other words. He wrote it in around 1924 or 1925, a time when he had recently arrived in Paris and was under the thrall of Ezra Pound. His alter hero-ego, Nick Adams, appears in a large proportion of the stories, which vary from a few pages to the accepted length of short stories, in the region of 5,000 words. Before reading this book, it was helpful to know of Hemingway’s wartime experiences and his passion for bullfighting, which he consolidated into two of his best books, both written not long after “In Our Times”.  They were “The Sun also Rises” and “Farewell to Arms”. The first is structured around bullfighting in Spain and the second, his experiences of WWI in the Alps where the Italian and the Austro-Hungarian armies are locked in combat.  This Hemingway story for me is one of the greatest twentieth century novels.

Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma

The name “Nick Adams” resonated with me for another reason. Nick Adams was an actor who, in the early 60’s, featured in a western television series, The Rebel where he played Johnny Yuma, an ex-Confederate soldier now paladin. Late at night when we were doing our women’s hospital stint, we used to go across the road to the Italian trattoria and watch Johnny Yuma while having a veal parmigiana. For a group of us it became a reason to escape briefly from the stifling atmosphere we were forced to experience for ten weeks while we learnt the obstetrics trade, delivered the requisite numbers of required babies, and were rostered on the episiotomy schedule to sew up the perineal cuts. Ah, the joys of being called at 3am.

In any event, Nick Adams was a name that loomed large. He was a handsome bloke of pure Ukrainian heritage and his stage name was a contraction of his actual name. He was friendly with both Presley and James Dean. A troubled character, he died of a drug overdose in 1968. There has been some controversy over his death, but to some accident and murder seem more palatable as a cause of death than the eventual verdict of suicide. Controversy thus occurred. He was an image of his times.

What I found somewhat spooky, when I started reading In Our Times, was Hemingway’s adoption of the alias of Nick Adams. Hemingway blew his brains out in 1961.

What’s in her Name!

(The Passionate Years is a) mad, amusing, and revealing look at Paris in the twenties and at the people Caresse Crosby knew—Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, James Joyce, Picasso, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Lawrence of Arabia, and a host of others. In a single day, a visitor to the Crosby home outside of Paris might have found Salvador Dali at work in one room, Douglas Fairbanks Senior playfully swinging from the rafters, and D. H. Lawrence sunning himself by the pool. 

Caresse Crosby and her whippet, possibly named Clytoris

The edition of In Our Times that I picked up in some shop somewhere which took euros as payment was published in Paris as one the books in the Crosby Continental Editions series in 1932. It was an ambitious project by this woman who had adopted the name Caresse, (she had toyed with the name Clytoris but eventually gave that name to one of her pet whippets) when she married Harry Crosby in 1920. He was her second husband and, given their massive wealth, they lived a completely luxuriant hedonistic life, with Caresse and Harry as the centrepiece against the Bohemian backdrop in Paris as languidly described above.

She was born Mary Phelps Jacob into a well-to-do New York family. She early demonstrated her eclectic talents. For example, she invented the backless bra, when she decided to ditch the whalebone corset. The bra started off as two pink handkerchiefs stitched together, was refined and it proved very comfortable and was adopted by her friends. She sold the patent for $1500; the buyer went on to make millions.

She is even credited with having held the 220 yards record, but given that women’s athletics were hardly recognised then, why should her feat be singled out?

She was first married in 1915 to Richard Peabody, a Boston businessman, called herself Polly, had two children, and after tiring of him struck up the relationship with Crosby as noted above. As token of their love they sealed a suicide pact. Harry Crosby stuck to his side of the bargain and committed suicide in 1929 after murdering his lover at the time – not Caresse who lived on until 1978.

Among Caresse’s venture was establishing these Crosby Continental Edition books – ten of them- and yet as reported in a short biography of herself, it was a total failure.  As has been pointed out, it … may partly have been the choice of titles.   Although Hemingway, Faulkner and Saint-Exupery sound an impressive selection of authors, it was competing with Albatross, whose first ten books included titles by James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Virginia Woolf, A.A. Milne and Edgar Wallace.  Caresse had been keen to launch her series with a best-seller and was delighted to get Hemingway on board, but ‘The Torrents of Spring’ is probably not his finest work.  Albatross, which later published ‘The Sun Also Rises’, then got the better deal (Tauchnitz, had earlier published ‘A Farewell to Arms’).

Overall the Crosby list contains 6 works by American authors and 4 by French writers in translation.  Was it insufficiently cosmopolitan, or even insufficiently British, to appeal to the readers of English language books in continental Europe, many of whom would have been British expatriates or tourists?

The question is totally rhetorical, but Caresse did underestimate the experience and strength of the opposition.

Albatross Books, founded in 1932 by John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch was a German publishing house based in Hamburg that produced the first modern mass-market paperback books.

The name was chosen because albatross is the same word in many European languages.

Based on the example of Tauchnitz, a Leipzig publishing firm that had been producing inexpensive and paper-bound English-language reprints for the continental market, Albatross set out to streamline and modernise the paperback format. Tauchnitz was established in the eighteenth century, and in 1841 started publishing English editions, including inexpensive English-language reprints of American and British authors, and then sold them in all parts of the world except the British Empire.

However, the Albatross Modern Continental Library stood out in the marketplace “with an eye for design and colour”, which included the introduction of colour-coding for different categories of books” in the form of fully saturated covers: red for crime, blue for romance, yellow for literary novels and essays, purple for biography and history, green for travel, orange for short stories, and improved typography and modern editorial policies. These modern looking volumes sold in huge numbers, and were the template for The Penguin Books, which Alan Lane started publishing in 1936. Kurt Enoch later went to work for him, after he escaped from Nazi Germany via France, as his American director.

So successful was Albatross Books that it absorbed Tauchnitz, but it was caught up in WWII and ceased publication in 1940.

By that time Crosby Editions had long gone, but fortunately I have one of the surviving copies, in moderate condition complete with its nondescript cover with the Crosby monogram.

Mouse Whisper

The Boss was President of the Student Representative Council at the University of Melbourne at a time when there were delicate negotiations to re-admit the Council back into the National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS). He sent what he thought was a reasonable letter to his counterpart at the University of Sydney. In one sentence, he meant to use “imprudent”, but he failed to pick up the missing “r”, and the word read as “impudent”. Talk about the “War of the Missing R”. In the end, the explanation of the typo was accepted, but not before The Boss had a severe case of burning ears.

He was reminded of this when we all read in The Boston Globe of what happens when one does not pay enough attention to what in isolation would appear to be trivial. However, in context…

Lyft took investors on a brief but wild ride when it announced earnings this week. In a press release issued after the end of regular trading on Tuesday, the ride-hailing company said it expected its profit margin to increase by 5 percentage points this year, a huge jump. Investors sent the stock up by as much as 67 percent in after-hours trading, according to Bloomberg. Later, on a conference call, the company copped to making a big typo: Margins would increase by just 0.5 of a percentage point. Its shares retreated.

Lyft isn’t the only company that’s had problems with typos.

·       In 2010, JPMorgan Chase signed a trader to a contract with a salary of 24 million rand ($3.1 million), instead of 2.4 million rand. The trader sued to enforce the deal, but a judge let the bank off the hook.

·       A Maine dairy settled a case for $5 million after a judge ruled in 2018 that a misplaced comma in a state law meant that its drivers were entitled to overtime pay.

·       Last month, Boston real estate agency Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty sued the developer of the St. Regis Residences, alleging it was short changed by nearly $400,000 in commissions because of a misplaced decimal point in a contract. The developer, Jon Cronin, called the lawsuit frivolous.

It is always a case of not getting things write.

The case of the missing R

Modest Expectations – Abraham Lincoln

BA Santamaria

I remember when the Victorian Labor Party made Labor unelectable at a Federal level, because in the Split in the early 1950s it had spawned the Democratic Labor Party, the Bob Santamaria neo-Falangist spin off. This laic outpost of Roman Catholicism, masquerading as an anti-Communist movement was very much a simulacrum of Franco and his Falangist Party but with an Irish twist. After all, De Valera then the Taoiseach of Republic of Ireland expressed condolence on the death of “the Fuehrer and Chancellor of the German Reich” to the German ambassador, Herr Eduard Hempelt.

The then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, was very much cut of the same cloth as De Valera. Santamaria and Mannix played interference against the Victorian Labor party over several decades. I grew up in a very anti-Santa household; but I never worked out where my father cast his first preference. However, I was pleased to be part of the 1974 Federal election, which effectively destroyed the DLP in Federal Parliament. This has never been recorded as one of Billy Snedden’s achievements.

Given Whitlam, in one of his impetuous moods, had precipitated the 1974 election with the appointment of Vince Gair, the DLP Queensland Senator, to the Australian Ambassadorship to Ireland, the DLP influence did persist. For instance the DLP was, for years afterwards, influential in the Victorian public service and in some of the health funds, among conservative sections of the medical workforce.

Nevertheless, like wisteria the DLP proved difficult to totally exterminate. Brian Harradine, expelled from the Tasmanian Labor Party, became a serial pest as Tasmanian Senator. As recorded in Wikipedia, he opposed abortion, embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and pornography. He secured a ministerial veto on importation of the abortifacient RU486 and a prohibition on Australian overseas aid financing family planning that included abortion advice. I was an observer when he blocked John Funder’s appointment to head the National Health & Medical Council because of Funder’s liberal views as a practising Roman Catholic.

After Harradine’s passing it could be said the DLP mantle was passed on to Tony Abbot, who was found out in the top job and then rejected by the electorate, a significant reaction. Notwithstanding its religious association, the DLP has persisted longer than most other parties.

In the post electoral defeat discussions, the fixation more on young people and gender balance as the cause for the Liberal Party’s defeat hides the problem of attracting people of ability. This dearth of ability is compounded when there is a claque of people who had been egged on by a nonagenarian New York dweller.

It is notable that in the wash up of the Victorian Election, the National Party has increased its representation, admittedly from a low base. Of those elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2022, four are women.

But governments are won in the metropolitan areas.

Guy Rundle, writing in Crikey has not minced his words: “When the party was a collection of social castes, a mutual legitimacy was recognised. That’s in Menzies’ “Forgotten People” speech, if Liberals bothered to read it rather than just namecheck it. Menzies is not stirring up the “forgotten people” to represent themselves — God forbid — but offering that his upper social class will represent them. The whole act of naming someone as “forgotten” is an act of othering. People don’t forget themselves. Someone forgets them. And offers to remember them.

That’s the place the Credlins, Krogers, etc, are all trapped in, private school graduates all. They simply assume that the “forgotten” will consent to be represented by a class whose fortunes, manners and basic comportment in life they do not share. But the secular social frameworks that once created a Liberal world — progress associations, church congregations — are gone, and in their place are churches called things like Rock Breakers or Awesome Love Ministry or whatever.

A former Premier, Ted Baillieu, a scion of that Menzies’ upper social class, the day after the election was blunt “We need young people, we need change. We’ve got upper house members who could resign this week and be replaced. We had people representing us on the television last night who are all of the past. I’m of the past. Get rid of us!”

The reminder of those times is Jeffrey Kennett who, as Liberal Premier, turned incivility into an art form while bouncing around the mental health of the community. The problem with Kennett is that he is very much of the “macho past”, and most people are sick of his rudeness and lack of sensitivity. “Get rid of us” could not aptly apply to anyone but him.

Then there is that description of the Young Liberals from years ago by Patrick Morgan, who defined them as “ninety-five per cent misfits led by five per cent of lawyers”.  The difference is that they are no longer young.

Having identified the unelectable, then it is a question of what to do beyond a purge.

I had just become involved when, for a short period, the Liberal party showed an interest in policy, and there was a push backed by some of the most prominent business leaders at the time to set up a policy unit. It was a fortunate time when Whitlam came to power for such an initiative. Ideas were bubbling over everywhere. It was a very proactive period, and the advisers on both sides were men and a few women in their thirties, more interested in policy development than just playing games of “gotcha.” Thus, the students of a decade earlier were a prominent component in this policy surge.

I came from that generation of the politically active at university where the various student unions around the nation were at the centre of policy activity, and while there were clubs with affiliations to political parties, they had no direct influence in running student union elections. The medical students voted me in, not my political affiliation.

What happened was that the various faculties produced students with political aspirations; and the views reflected their socialisation through their disciplines – I, the President, was a medical student; the Vice President, law; the Secretary, architecture; the Treasurer, engineering; and the member of the executive responsible for club and societies a social studies student. She was the sole female.  Decisions were not influenced by ideology or grifting. I suppose we just wanted to do what was best for our constituency.

As I found out, in the real life of politics if you want to challenge the duopoly of Capital and Labour which fits so neatly into the adversarial nature of our political setup, you need infrastructure and money – and singlemindedness. In other words, the greatest difficulty to establish a third force is to convince sufficient people to provide the party infrastructure or, more importantly, the associated funding – and not to give up.

Splinter parties on the right have a guaranteed stream from the far reaches of capitalist freebooters; splinter parties in the far left do not. Where the Greens fit is interesting. I believe they have a shifting base now that climate change is being taken seriously, and they have lost their anarchic and syndicalist core. Thus, on the political spectrum it is hard to place them – one moment beads and sandals; the next, serious climate change warriors. Nevertheless, they represent an important political force that could be better harnessed.

Generally, donor whim determines the eventual fate of small parties, and the level of commitment can be titrated against hatred of the political establishment, dependent on individual interests which eventually wane or die – or are absorbed by one or other of the two major Parties.

The major complicating factor has been the entry into politics of groups professing to be religious. The Roman Catholic Church has been a dab hand at it – after all, the Bishop of Rome had a temporal role in ruling the Papal States over many centuries.

The religious groups thrive because for one they are untaxed, and in moving into politics they are being indirectly subsidised by the taxpayers. It was something Santamaria realised decades before when taking part in the intra-party brawl to gain control of the Labor Party.

Santamaria may have shown the way for interweaving religion into temporal power, as the current infiltration into the ossified Liberal party branch system by the so-called “religious right” has done. The rise of the Pentecostals and all their fellow glossolalia mates as a political force attest to this. Policy is not high on the Pentecostal agenda; it is there pre-ordained in Scripture; the way they interpret the Bible. We, the taxpayers subsidise them, whether we like it or not.

From the Liberal Party’s point of view there has been the emergence of a number of successful women whose concerns mimic much of what should be a liberal social agenda which, to me, was a no brainer. After all, Keating as Federal Treasurer adopted most of the neoliberal economic agenda, but Australia is now in the grip of cartels and government corruption which defeats the free market concept every time. Nevertheless, most of these so-called Teals would be economically conservative.

What is left is the unalloyed hatred of those who oppose you, the centrist, the very forms of power madness. Andrews is far from centrist (to me his level of hatreds do mimic those of Keating) and is accused of being dictatorial, but by whom? Among his opposition, there are others who appear equally power mad, but unlike Andrews, they also appear mentally unhinged. That is the problem of the Liberal Party. They have megaphones, which spew out the same unbelievable propaganda, and in so doing tip this megaphony into figures of ridicule. The characters have got nothing else; their notoriety is so self-addictive.

Once you challenge this thesis, then eventually it will crumble. You just must have the staying power, and my view is that by broadening your appeal you move to that mythical centre of politics at the same time realising that this centre is like the magnetic pole, it moves around.

Being centrist means being attacked from both sides, and therefore it is useful to have supporters with money and influence gained from a competent, intelligent, honest pool – and not prone to drinking too much or/and boorish behaviour.

Inevitably Andrews will stumble over his own hubris, his “castles in the sky” will prove unattainable, the thinness of talent in long term government will become palpable as the sycophantic rise to the top in those in swaddling clothes of ministerial privilege. However, in the next few years his Opposition must be Credible not Credlin.  And remember getting rid of wisteria means constant pruning once you deem it a weed and not just a seductive drooping bloom.

I tried nearly 50 years ago. I admitted failure when I moved out of Melbourne at the end of 1979 and moreover failed to get pre-selection. If I had my time again, I believe I know what to adjust in the Victorian Liberal Party, and I am not one to believe that History is bunk.

Amelia and Amy

Even flying feels all too 20th century, though millions of us take to the air as casually as we board a bus or train. We wait in nondescript boarding lounges, walk down metal tunnels and lever ourselves into the narrow seats of a small cinema, where we watch Hollywood films on a low-definition screen while unsmiling staff push trays on to our laps bearing an assortment of inedible foods that we are not expected to eat.

Before take-off the cabin crew perform a strange folkloric rite that involves synchronised arm movements and warnings of fire and our possible immersion in water, all presumably part of an appeasement ritual whose origins lie back in the pre-history of the propeller age. The ceremony, like the transubstantiation of the host, has no meaning for us but is kept alive by the airlines to foster a sense of tradition.

After a few hours we leave the cinema and make our way through another steel tunnel into an identical airport in the suburb of a more or less identical city. We may have flown thousands of miles but none of us has seen the outside of the aircraft, and could not even say it if had two, three or four engines. All this is called air travel.

What a beautifully encapsulated description, even though the folkloric is now increasingly presented as a travel log with the same repeated instructions woven on film rather than demonstrated by bored flight attendants in the repeated cabin safety cavort.

This was written in 2005 as part of a book review by J. G Ballard, the prolific writer, in The Guardian four years before he died. The book in question was “The Spectacle of Flight: Aviation and the Western imagination 1920-1950”. The thesis of this book was WWII took the magic out of aviation, converting it from an art form into an industry. Maybe so, and the book review was very well written, but not sufficiently enticing for me to buy this book, a two-part series by Robert Wohl, an American historian.

As good as the view was, this is not the reason I kept the cutting of this book review.

Amelia Earhart & Amy Johnson in 1933

What focussed my attention was a photograph of two women determinedly striding towards the camera. The woman on the right in belted bell bottom trousers was Amelia Earhart. The woman on the left in a striped jumpsuit is Amy Johnson. Both of them were household names as women pilots whose exploits were part of the expansion of flight with all its inherent dangers. This photo was taken in 1933 at the height of their fame. Amy Johnson had flown to Australia solo in 1930; Amelia Earhart across the Atlantic solo two years later.

Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on 5 January 1939. Amy Johnson’s plane crashed into the Thames estuary on 5 January 1941, exactly two years later, possibly a victim of “friendly fire”. Neither body was ever recovered. Films were made of their respective lives – Amelia with Hilary Swank in the leading role as Earhart; Amy Johnson has been the subject of documentaries.

But sometimes the photo tells it all, it just radiates their respective presences.

Jotting from the Cathedral

I have written during my life a number of fragments – an immediate urge to pen an observation after seeing something that interested me; and then being distracted and moving on before writing anything more. Therefore, the description was often a couple of paragraphs. Yet if I had not jotted it down, I doubt whether I would have remembered any of the detail. Would it have mattered? Probably not.

Yet you can judge my jotting which begins, “September in San Francisco”.  I had not written down the year, but it was probably 1982. For a time between the seventies and nineties I used to visit a friend who lived in Berkeley. She had a spare bed, and I periodically stayed there. In the wake of its notoriety San Francisco, and Berkeley in particular, presented a mixed picture. It was not just a refuge for flower people, it was a university town, but it was also a place where there was a strong industrial presence.

Grace Cathedral

The sun had shone, but in the late afternoon, the wind had sprung up. The wedding party emerging from Grace Cathedral emerged at this time, the ceremony having started sometime in the afternoon.  Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal Cathedral was spectacular because it was large and was close to Nob Hill, the salubrious part of San Francisco. I remembered this as the only time I went there. Earlier in the day I had gone to the Chapel of the Nativity and it was at the time the Eucharist service.

The deacon, intoning the names for whom prayers were being said, included two Terrys, one Kent, and several Peters. I could recognise only two women in the long list of names of men. Only Christian names; not like the Anzac Day services at School when only surnames were read out in alphabetical order of those who “had fallen” in the World Wars. Only when there were two with the same surname were initials added to the surnames being read out. The Snowball family lost more than one of their sons; it also signified that this recitation was nearing its end. The name has ever since stuck in my memory.

But now in San Francisco, we had clasped one another’s hands and stood around the altar while the priest, whose sermon was short, intense and delivered without interruption, handed out the white wafers and the deacon the wine. The wine was white and sweet. Then I went back to holding hands with a young man on one side and an older man on the other side until all the Sacrament had been dispensed and the benediction given.

Then, it was over. Some genuflected. My acknowledgement to God was a stiff nod of the head as I stepped backwards; and I realised that nobody had instructed me whether it was the right time to cross myself.

I wondered why I had written “delivered without interruption”, and why I had hung around the Cathedral. It was not something I normally did. In any event, I never went back to the Cathedral.

Here my fragment finished. September 1982 was the first time the term AIDS was used, rather than the “gay plague”.

Travelling South

I found another those unfinished operas on a piece of  The Atlanta Colony Square Hotel writing paper.  I had started to write about the previous couple of days in California. I had written this note in 1987, just after I had been to Monterey.

I first saw “Monterey Pop” a decade earlier in 1968. “Monterey Pop” was the filmed recollection of that 1967 Pop Festival, where, among others, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendricks burst into view. There was “Pearl” as Janis Joplin was known, belting out songs with that raw emotion. As I write, I still feel sorry about Pearl, even though she had been dead for 17 years.

I still had a grainy video of those magical three days. My generation, with its long hair, beads, quasi-Indian clobber (or none at all) with protestations of free love smiled at the camera and played and adored and had an experience which transcended all at the concert, while Vietnam played on. The acid in my pen was hardly concealed as a different form of acid was likewise at the Festival.

I visited Monterey 20 years later. I never went looking for the paddock where the Festival was held. As I wrote, Monterey itself had been fascinating. On this occasion, I wrote that we headed for Cannery Row. We had left early to beat the rush. It was a Saturday in April, and a clear beautiful day. Even so to clear Oakland travelling south it took time to drive through the industrial development which lined the Bay. We avoided many of the bridges and eventually reached the hills and the redwoods.  Once we passed through these, we found we were driving through fields of artichokes, the globe fruit poking through the barbed leaves. After all, it is a relative of the thistle fields without fences. Castroville – it was peak artichoke season.  I bought a T-shirt featuring a globe artichoke.

The last sentence of this excerpt was my comment that we were in strawberry country – the strawberries in the basket were the size…that was the end. The size of what? Here I ended – not even a definition of size. It is a pity because I was cataloguing a trip through the countryside, not then affected by drought. Few talked about climate change in the 1980s. California was then the limitless American Cornucopia.

I never reached writing about Monterey itself in this fragment, but Monterey has always been a favourite destination of mine. I had written about it previously. It had kept its heritage in the streetscape; it has paid tribute to being, if not the birthplace of marine biology, a significant contributor through the work of Ed Ricketts, a close friend of John Steinbeck.  The Hewlett-Packard three-storied aquarium at the end of Cannery Row attests to the richness of the heritage stimulated by this relationship.

Cannery Row was lined by sardine factories, and when I was a regular visitor there in the eighties and nineties, they were closed because there was a ban on fishing. That ban was lifted for a short period in this century but was reimposed in 2015 and never again lifted.

Sea otters

The other reason to come to Monterey is the sea otters that are the vaudeville artists of the sea. However, the sea otters are the bellwether for the health of the environment of The Bay with its kelp forest and the crustacea which are so important in their sea diet.

There was a Monterey Pop Festival on the fiftieth anniversary in 2017.  The goal of this celebration is to memorialize Monterey Pop’s importance, legacy and lasting impact on contemporary culture with live music performances, unique experiential activations, historic memorabilia and art installations. What pompous claptrap, but the Pop festival went ahead as a well-sanitised three-day tribute to the 1967 version – but a buttoned down, mannered version. Monterey has a regular jazz festival that exists in a cerebrally cultural outpost. Monterey 1967 was unique, even though Woodstock two years later may be better remembered, Monterey set the scene. Nothing will diminish its importance.

As for the fertile Monterey valley, what had happened to Castroville since that trip. Horror stories began emerging in the ‘90s. One grower in Castroville recognised that if the aquifers dipped below sea level, ocean water would continue to creep into their wells and eventually destroy them.

But extensive improvements to the local wastewater treatment plant have made highly treated effluent safe to use on crops. The saltwater intrusion slowed, and the crops recovered. Since using reclaimed water on crops in the northern stretch of the Salinas Valley two decades ago, the movement to raise the water levels of aquifers has spread throughout the county.

In the local media, Sean Pezzini, a fourth-generation artichoke farmer in Castroville, said growers in North Monterey County remain vigilant about the saltwater invasion. But, he said, artichoke farmers have little to complain about these days when it comes to water, despite drought and forest fires. Yet in the past decade the amount of acreage devoted to artichokes has almost halved and the value of the crops diminished by almost 20 per cent. It is unclear whether the nationwide popularity of the artichoke has changed.

This area supplies all artichokes in USA; the major growers of artichokes are within Italy and retain considerable popularity. In the context of the Monterey Valley, artichoke is also a minor crop. By contrast, strawberry crops are valued at close to one billion dollars and have increased in value without much increase in acreage from about 700 million dollars. Obviously, a realisation that the climate was changing without explicitly acknowledging it.

As I finish writing this piece, I realise how long it has been since I spent any substantial time in this part of California. But writing made me realise how much I saw, how little I have written, but how much I loved this area and how much I would like to visit Monterey and the Valley once more time.

Mouse Whisper

“If nothing else I am a technologist and I can make technology go fast. If we do not try bold moves, how will we make great improvements?” I always recognise the smell of Musk. It can be very unpleasant.

Modest expectations: Then off to Sydney

What would happen if we ended up as the only country, apart from the United Kingdom, to remain a constitutional monarchy owing fealty to William V with a potential George VII as the Prince of Wales next in line? Maybe it will not be that long to wait. Maybe climate will beat us all.

We can keep kicking this prospect down the road because every potential solution depends on a level of trust but within the parliaments of Australia festered by the Murdoch Press, there is too much venom for there to be cross-party agreement at present.

Albanese is tainted by being on the left; a nominal Republican, not a member of the Establishment yet trying to compensate with his apparent obsequies; but Prime Ministers do not seem to last for that long a time. In any event, Albanese has chosen to become immersed in the web of Aboriginal politics, which has the very uncertain hand of Linda Burney to guide it.

The danger for Australia is that we become an anachronism – a legislative curiosity. A country which once prided itself on its youth, until the Aboriginal agenda kept banging on about being the oldest civilisation on Earth, with the least material evidence of its longevity, but with the dangerous heresy of consigning Cook and us Anglo-Celtics to some monarchist Hell. The anachronism being the last constitutional monarchy owing fealty to a sovereign who never comes, who never barracks for Australia and ours being the last country to have the Union Jack incorporated into its flag.

Thus, for the purpose of this thesis let’s create our own Head of State called a President, with a fixed term of five years with no extension. Precedents for a casual vacancy abound in every relevant legislation.

I suspect that one of the biggest hurdles in appointing a Head of State called a President, apart from timing, is to determine the people who would choose such a Head of State. One suggestion; not that original – since Australia is a Federation – we would either choose 12 or 16, assuming the panel to be gender neutral and thus two selected from each State and Territory.

I believe that a jury system would be the best, and thus no more than 16 electors chosen at random from among those entitled to vote would be an appropriate Committee; the jury system has stood the test since mediaeval times.  The Committee lottery would be run by the Electoral Commission. The only conditions I would recommend are that:

(a)      everyone chosen has the opportunity to refuse,

(b)      only expenses would be paid,

(c)      those chosen must be both literate and fluent in English, and

(d)      the process takes one month from closure of applications (if they are allowed).

For instance, there are always moneyed someones intent on manipulating campaigns for potential applicants. It then becomes a popularity contest; or just a quasi-Presidential campaign with political overtones.

The above sentence encapsulates the impossibility of the task, unless rules are made such as there is limited time to agree a course of action.

The KIS principle can be quickly compromised; think how simple nominating the next Governor-General is: one person makes the recommendation for the next incumbent. However, that recommendation – in the context of a transition to a Republic – is made to the very person who Australia is trying to remove. So how do you remove that person from the process?

I’m glad that I won’t be asked to devise the process; thankless, thankless task, as inevitably you are always wrong in making any such decisions.

Nevertheless, there must someone courageous enough to make the decision. After all, the Governor-General is recommended by the Prime Minister. In my lifetime, since we gave away titled British men in the role, there have only been two complete duds, and one of those lasted barely a year. Geoffrey Robertson, in this opinion on the future of a transition from Governor-General to President, questions whether we need one anyway – and he cites the stumbling General Hurley, whose recent actions, on the surface, seem completely reprehensible.

One final thing. I hope Australia will not be the last to abandon the Union Jack, and in so doing change Australia Day from January 26. However, given the cultural cringe from which this country has never divested itself, I would not bet on it.

When you are Young 

I thought this reflection appropriate for this time when I was one of a group who met the then Philippines President, Ramon Magsaysay. At nearly six feet tall, Magsaysay was tall for a Filipino; I remember him as a person who embodied the concept of “charisma”.

President Ramon Magsaysay

It was a few days after my seventeenth birthday, and the invitation came as somewhat of a surprise. It was the first time I had met someone who had been a genuine war hero. He had stayed behind in the Philippines to fight the Japanese, whereas McArthur was evacuated to Australia. Yet for our visit there were no photographs, no autograph, no memorabilia. It had been an impromptu visit, but where some business was obviously transacted under cover of a cup of coffee.

Magsaysay’s life was cut short; he was killed in a plane crash in March 1957 near Cebu. Sabotage was suspected. The Communist insurgents, the Huks, were high on the list of suspects. Nothing was ever proved. President Eisenhower expressed his condolences. Magsaysay was to be his guest in Washington.

This following excerpt is contained in my memoir about that momentous year 1956, titled “Scars of ‘56”.

A couple of days before we were to leave, there was a sudden invitation to meet the President. There was some unexplained link between the Da Silvas and the new President, Ramon Magsaysay. His name meant little to me, except that I knew he was supposed to be charismatic.  

Charisma – what a great word? Charisma has no greyness. It could inspire you to be either good or evil, depending on which path the charismatic leader took you down. Later, in the Presidential Palace staring at Magsaysay, I knew I had found the meaning of the word and, for a time, he was my model of charisma.

This time, cars came to pick us up. There were enough vehicles for Gay and me to sit together in the back seat. My father seemed to make that decision and assured her family that he would ride with us, but in the end he took a lift with the Da Silvas and Gay and I had the car to ourselves. We were all dressed up. I noticed that Gay was wearing gloves. We sat apart – her gloved hands on her lap. I sat on my hands. 

The Presidential Palace was really only a fine house; it was not palatial. Magsaysay had been careful not to be extravagant. He was very much a man for his people! He had been a war hero, staying behind in the Philippines and then continuing to fight the Japanese. It was a point emphasised by the Da Silvas.

The President was a man with keen smiling eyes who strode down the line of those being introduced, looking intently at each face. What do you say to someone who makes you feel good for a fleeting moment but then before you can say anything he has passed to the next person?

Nothing of moment as it turned out, but as I waited to be introduced it prompted me to wonder about what important people said to their subjects. 

I had once seen our Queen talk to one of the soldiers in the line. What did she say? It intrigued me. I pondered whether the soldier was asked about what he was interested in, and whether the response could be so interesting that the whole itinerary would stop while he explained the complexities of how unique he was in his pursuit of collecting football cards and that he had only number 54 to get.  

Normally the Queen would be ushered up and down the line of soldiers standing at attention, with the normal pomp and circumstance. But what would happen to the pomp and circumstance if she suddenly engaged in an animated conversation with one soldier?

My mind flashed back again to that bloody awful experience on Anzac Day the previous year, when I was standing either “at attention” or “at ease” for hours. No Queen here; just the butt of a lot of comments from the passing parade of men in ill-fitting suits. At least the Queen would be courteous. I assumed that was the same as being regal. 

Then, at last, it was my turn to be face to face with the President. It was my first experience of being noticed by somebody important.

However, all the great man did say when he met me was; “you look like a fine Australian young man, pleased you could come. Hope you enjoy your stay.” And that was all! At least he avoided “boy”.  

There was no condescension. His gestures were all so fluent, and the smile was one of momentary engagement that made the recipient feel good; and then he had moved on.

My response was thus lost on the shoulder of the next person, whose hand was clasped, and for whom he had the same sort of a greeting, although in this instance it was Gay.

He did spend a few more moments with her than he had done with me, and on reflection the handshake was more raising her hand towards his lips, and then dropping it softly. I continued to watch him – the first politician I had seen at close range. He seemed to know the Da Silva family quite well, and he drew the father off through a door that led into the garden. He had such an easy way of moving between people, of communicating.

My observation was interrupted. “Coffee or tea, sir?” I said “Coffee, please”. After all, black coffee was always the drink you had in smart company after a meal, with a slice of lemon.

All the time, while I sipped my coffee, I kept staring at the President. The only person remotely as engaging – as charismatic (that word would be over-used in my vocabulary for a time) – was my headmaster, who used his large build to reinforce the power he wielded. Ramon Magsaysay was a man who did not use power as a blunt instrument. This man had finesse. You knew that you were in the presence of a man (and it was that kind of world then, when “man” was synonymous with “person”) who knew he had power. It was just the difference in the ease with which they responded.

We finished our afternoon visit and were driven back to the ship. It was all done with white gloves and gaiters; there was that tinge of the military, all politeness and efficiency in moving the guests across a city where the traffic was chaotic and the world less than polite. The Presidential car just sliced through. I thought it impressive; any kid would. However, that was the prize for power I thought. To do what you liked. But in this man, authority was not the same as arrogance.

The Ngarrindjeri

The Naturalization Act 1903 explicitly prohibited naturalisation of anyone with ancestry from Africa, Asia, or Oceania (except New Zealand). Indigenous Australians who did not already have their names placed on a state electoral roll on the date of federation in 1901 were prohibited from enrolling to vote until 1962. 

Being an Aboriginal person in South Australia at the time of Federation meant you were entitled to Australian citizenship. As the then Governor of South Australia, Sir Eric Neal, proudly informed a group of us once, the South Australian Aboriginal had the advantage over others of being able to vote in Federal elections as a result of universal suffrage legislation passed in 1858, which stated that all born South Australians including Aboriginals were granted citizenship.

The Ngarrindjeri were the Aboriginal nation at the mouth of the Murray River, extending down the Coorong and yet with links with Port Pearce, a tiny settlement on the Yorke Peninsula, on the fringe of the copper towns.

Their settlement on the Murray River, Raukkan, or its Anglicised name of Point McLeay, had begun as a mission for the Ngarrindjeri.

I mentioned Raukkan in a previous blog about bark canoes, which is indicative of how resourceful these people are.

They built more or less permanent shelters. Some say they used logs, evoking the concept of the log cabin. On the contrary, the early illustrations still emphasise the structural bower nature, just a more complex gunyah. There are illustrations of some of these shelters, which included whale bones as struts. Despite living in a fertile part of Australia, as described by the early white settlers (to which I referred in an earlier blog), there was always enough food without having to cultivate crops.

When we visited Raukkan, there were a number of stone buildings one of which, the Church, is illustrated on the Australian $50 note. In the forefront from a late 19th century photograph are shown two Aboriginal elders, Milerum “Clarence” Long and Polly Beck, dressed in whitefella (grinkari) clothes.

Yet the Ngarrindjeri had their own clothes – an Aboriginal clothed neck to ankles in a toga of possum skins, a woven dilly bag slung over his shoulder, carrying a nulla in one hand and a shield in the other cuts an impressive figure. Other early illustrations show people with woven seaweed cloaks. These were skilful sophisticated hunter/gatherers.

Of course, the man on the $50 note is David Unaipon, a Ngarrindgeri man, who has been characterised as being the Aboriginal “Leonardo Da Vinci”. I visited his grave overlooking Lake Alexandrina with Henty Rankin, one of the elders. The fact that images of Unaipon are freely available is unremarkable since lining the walls of the Ngarrindjeri offices are portraits of past elders as one would find in grinkari boardrooms.

George Taplin is the most prominent whitefella or grinkari associated with the development of Raukkan as a mission. He came there as a zealous teacher in 1853, became ordained as a Congregationalist Minister and immersed himself in the culture and became fluent in the language which he transcribed. He lived the rest of his life among the Ngarrindjeri.

Uncle Henry Rankin gave us a copy of the book “Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri” during a visit just before Christmas in 2000. He had been significant in maintaining the integrity of the community – a community whose members are spread far and wide and who are prominent members of the South Australian community. This edition was an update of the original work written by a University of South Australia academic, Graham Jenkin. Originally published in 1979, it won the Wilke Literary Award for non-fiction; the second edition was published by Raukkan itself in 1995.

There is no doubt that the Ngarrindjeri were nearly destroyed by the mission system, despite people like Taplin. That mixture of disdain and paternalism, the removal of children, the dispossession of land, were encouraged by the mission system. The introduction of measles, TB and smallpox, amid a litany of diseases, increased the destruction.

Yet despite all this, the Ngarrindjeri nation have not only survived but been significant contributors to the whole Australian nation.

The Angel Falls if it ever existed outside Venezuela.

This action indicates that Trump has spawned a legion of nasty smart-arses, soul-destroyed individuals who enjoy the sadism of the initiation rites abundant wherever there are male tribal gangs; among other processes, the time-honoured desensitising process inter alia spawned the Leaders of The Universe – that is, until Women have said “enough”. But not all and not quite enough. 

Below is a distillation of the Boston Globe and Washington Post reports – get angry! 

Venezuelan migrants filtered in and out of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Martha’s Vineyard Thursday morning (last week) after arriving Wednesday on planes dispatched by Florida Governor, DeSantis.

The migrants believed they were headed for Boston.

Eduardo, a 25-year-old undocumented migrant from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, said he set out almost three months ago and eventually reached San Antonio. He stayed in a shelter for a week and a half, but authorities were going to expel them, until, he said, he received word that he could go to Boston.

“At first they said it was to Boston,” he said. But “during the trip, the captain of the plane said the name [of] here — of the island. And well, most of us, we were all surprised because, as they had said Boston, and they threw us here on the island.”

What kind of guy would put a bunch of vulnerable people on a plane under false pretences and dump them on some island off the coast of Massachusetts?

The next Republican nominee for President, that’s who.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who’s been itching to supplant Donald Trump as the GOP’s standard-bearer, made Trump’s border wall stunt look like child’s play by putting about 50 undocumented Venezuelan migrants on charter flights and depositing them on Martha’s Vineyard, summer playground of the liberal elite.

The migrants were told by the flight’s organizers they were going to Boston. They were told they would receive work papers.

It’s an outrageous ploy, an episode of “House of Cards” written for Fox News. Instead of Kevin Spacey pushing someone in front of a train on a fictional TV show, DeSantis lured a bunch of poor people onto a plane in real life.

To right-wingers, the Vineyard is Sodom and Gomorrah with lobster rolls and soft serve.

Hell, the Obamas own a mansion there. What could be better?

Maybe Nantucket, but then there’s a lot of Republicans who own second, third, and fourth homes on that island, and DeSantis held a fund-raiser there last month, so maybe not.

The Vineyard, where the Birkenstock-wearing lefties have shunned Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz because even though he’s a liberal he’s defended Trump, checked every box.

You’ve got to give DeSantis credit. The only way his fellow immigration huckster Governor Greg Abbott of Texas can one-up him at this point would be to parachute a bunch of undocumented Hondurans onto Harvard Yard.

As right-wing political theatre, the DeSantis move is a hit, a blockbuster, pure conservative gold. As his spokesman told state media, aka Fox News, Florida gladly picked up the tab to fly the migrants to the Vineyard because Massachusetts is a sanctuary state.

Fox ran a story crowing about dumping the migrants on “ritzy” Martha’s Vineyard.

Oak Bluffs is ritzy? Who knew?

According to DeSantis, liberals in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts talk a good game, sticking up for undocumented immigrants with virtue-signalling rhetoric, while red states like his bear the cost and burden of taking care of them. Kind of like how every state, including Massachusetts, regularly picks up the tab to repair Florida when it gets wrecked by a hurricane.

Cynical? You bet. And it plays well with the crowd. At least to those who get their information from right-wing outlets that scare the hell out of their viewers by claiming the southern border is a free-for-all that has gotten out of control since Joe Biden was elected.

This was literally political theatre: a videographer who just happened to be there when the migrants arrived on the Vineyard shot video that appeared almost immediately on Fox News. 

If you think it’s in poor taste, or even morally reprehensible, to use desperate people to score political points and make a propaganda film, then you haven’t been paying attention.

This is all about owning the libs. Scoring points is the point. Using vulnerable people is, for craven politicians like DeSantis, just a case of the ends justifying the means. While most people will see this as shameless and shameful, the DeSantis crowd considers it a justifiable exercise that showcases liberal hypocrisy.

Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard

Unfortunately for DeSantis, the good people on the Vineyard messed up his script. They pulled out all the stops to welcome, feed, and accommodate their unexpected visitors. Their compassion was as spontaneous and generous as DeSantis’ act was calculated and cruel.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes and State Senator Julian Cyr, who represent the Vineyard, were as proud of their constituents as they were disgusted by the political game that forced them into humanitarian mode.

“What better rebuke to this shameless political stunt than a community actually rallying to help people and recognizing and appreciating their humanity and dignity,” Cyr said.

Dignity? You won’t find any in the corner office of the shady state of sunny Florida.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s humane response forms a “work-in-progress” epilogue for the DeSantis “dog” act. The Florida Governor may have committed a felony by this act.

Note: Governor Charlie Baker is Republican. There are thus humane Republicans

The roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants flown unannounced to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday in what critics derided as a cruel political stunt by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are now being offered temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod, the Baker administration announced Friday.

The state will offer the migrants transportation to a temporary shelter on the base, which is located in Bourne. The move will be voluntary, the administration said in a statement. Governor Charlie Baker is prepared to mobilize up to 125 members of the Massachusetts National Guard as part of the relief effort.

Mouse Whisper

I thought it appropriate to reprint the final paragraph of a eulogy to one Arnold Mouse of Brooklyn from the New Yorker.

Though he favoured family-size bags of chips, Mousey leaves behind no rodent relatives, as he was the only mouse that’s ever lived in my apartment. Rest in peace, Mousey. You won’t be missed, but whenever I hear a scratching sound in my wall like the one I’m hearing right now, I’ll think of you.

Modest Expectations – Marcus Aurelius

How depressing to see the Prime Minster spending “quality time” with Lachlan Murdoch, at a time when Murdoch is trying to bully the newsletter publisher, Crikey into submission. The description of Crikey as a minnow is to underestimate its clout and the intention of Eric Beecher to confront what he perceives as the malign influence of the Murdochs.

Eric Beecher

It is important to place Beecher in context, and while his own bio is scant, this quote from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative provides a summary of his early achievements. Beecher started in newspapers as a journalist on The Age in Melbourne and later worked at The Sunday Times and The Observer in London and The Washington Post in the US. In 1984, at age 33, he became the youngest-ever editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and in 1987 was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Herald and Weekly Times newspaper group.

He has spent a large part of his later life as the pamphleteer, railing against the privileged plutocracy, which has grown under cover of globalisation and the so-called information revolution. He has explored alliances with other writers with a like attitude.

Lachlan Murdoch is targeting him in the defamation jurisdiction on Earth most sympathetic to the complainant – namely NSW.  Nevertheless, Beecher has taken the decision after initially retracting the offending comment to challenge the Murdoch Empire of “alternative facts”. As Beecher has commented, any morality in journalism has been sacrificed in the pursuit of financial profit, and Murdoch, once the supporter of Whitlam and the Republic, has given over to a son without any connection to Australia, apart from a father who has long deserted his citizenship, again in the pursuit of profit.

Thus, it is tedious to see the Prime Minister giving the Murdochs the normal vassal symbolism of going cap in hand to them. When will they learn? Remember, Rudd was entrapped by a Murdoch operative in a New York strip club. Prime Minister, have you forgotten the disgusting behaviour of Murdoch in Great Britain, where yon Rupert almost apologised by closing down the “News of the World”? But then it was the other son James in the firing line, rather than Lachlan.

I’m not surprised that Marles joined in the pilgrimage to Compostela de St Rupert, given his common Geelong Grammar School heritage with Rupert. Marles, as with Murdoch, had an elderly father, and both his parents were high achievers.  So, both “slumming” in a working class electorate and rubbing shoulder with the establishment is a recurrent behavioural pattern among some of the Victorian Labor party private school elite.

But really, Penny Wong!  Or were you just practising dealing with some of the unsavoury types lurking around the world in some of the foreign affairs portfolios?

Presumably to demonstrate neutrality in the ongoing stoush, the Prime Minister should visit Crikey and break bread with Eric Beecher and his crew in a less plush setting but in keeping with his electorate’s wish.

Finally, yes, we have contributed to Crikey’s defence.

St Kilda

I have been reading about St Kilda.

Not the beach suburb of Melbourne, although I must admit that I was surprised of an association; I’ll come back to this later.

St Kilda was a few rocks stranded in the Northern Atlantic Ocean about 60 km from the Outer Hebrides and where, for centuries, a small group of hardy settlers subsisted. Until the nineteenth century, they lived a very isolated existence with the occasional ship calling carrying salt, iron and timber for which they traded cows, sheep, feathers and grain.

It was a hard life, living in such a state without money, where the whole population gathered as their local council, with strict observance of the Sabbath with Christianity interwoven with pagan practices, where the infant death rate was greater than 50 per cent because of neonatal tetanus, which is terrifyingly described.

The islanders raised sheep and cattle and grew some crops, barley and potatoes. They did not fish, but rather raided the bird nests which were clustered in the steep cliffs which ringed the islands.

Abandoned houses, Hirta

The largest and inhabited island was Hirta and thus the inhabitants were more commonly called Hirtans rather than Kildans. The link with Melbourne is that some of the islanders apparently found their way to Melbourne.  St Kilda beach in Melbourne may have sea birds on its sands, but that was the only similarity. The immigrants would have missed their roasted puffin, but surely cooking a puffin reminds one of the old recipes about cooking a galah with a stone.

Collecting eggs and birds from the cliff face was a Hirtan skill, which even to today’s rock climbers would have presented a challenge, as the ropes they used were very rudimentary, with much jollification while this hazardous operation was happening.

In the nineteenth century, St Kilda became a tourist spot, even though landing on the island presented problems, especially when the weather was bad. There was a post office where postcards could be stamped. Photographs of the islanders became popular. Paradoxically, the standard of living rose, as shown in contemporary photographs of the improvement in the housing, but the attrition of a population, now exposed to the mainland “delights” increasingly losing their previous self-sufficiency, accelerated.

The final paragraph of the description of the Hirtans in Shadowlands is evocative. By 1930, the population was reduced to 36.

…in the dying days of August 1930, the final postcard was sent. Its message, from a tourist called Freda, said, just “Last Greetings from St Kilda.” Then the post office was shut forever. The final service was held in the church and bowed by sorrow, the islanders rounded up their dogs, those indomitable hunters and guardians, tied weights around their necks, placed them in sacks, and dropped them from the pier, looking sorrowfully on as the yelping bundles sank beneath the waves. They returned to their houses and waited for HMS Harebell.

And up on the stacks of Boreray, from their nests in the cliffs, the birds rejoiced.” 

It is an example of the problem of civilisation intruding on a community which has achieved a fragile ecological balance and then, over time, from being endangered they are rendered extinct. Our forefathers characterised the Australian Aboriginal people as remnants of the Stone Age whereas they had developed a very complex hunter/gatherer society, but unlike the Hirtans they had a far bigger canvas upon which to work. Nevertheless, what have we learnt from the Hirtans, especially as with the Australian Aboriginals, there was no written language – not even an ogham?

Same Old Rubbish?

I have been a supporter of the Essendon Football Club for most of my life. It was because of the Doust family, who lived on the corner; and then after WWII they went back to Britain, leaving me with a black and red scarf. We lived nowhere near Essendon, and so it was quite a trip across the city to watch them play. The Victorian Football League (VFL) then was essentially composed of inner suburbs extending west and north. The only team in the eastern suburbs was Hawthorn, and when I was small, its team was a “basket case”.

Essendon did not conform to the original teams when in 1897 the VFL was formed. Essendon was not an inner working class suburb.  Yet Australian Rules was essentially a working person’s game, despite having a posh beginning as a game between an Anglican and a Presbyterian private school.

Many of the clubs were both Irish and Roman Catholic, none more so than Collingwood in the era when John Wren virtually owned the club. Essendon was not Roman Catholic – far from it.  But the nuances of this history were lost on one small boy, even the fact that Essendon once played their games in East Melbourne where the railway yards now stand and they were nicknamed “the Same Old”.

By the time I became a supporter, the team was located at Windy Hill, high on the hill in Essendon where the gales blew. In winter it was a place for the frozen spectator, even rugged up and with the obligatory Thermos in hand; and because the suburb Essendon had become the location of Melbourne’s airport, the football club adopted the nickname of the “Bombers” in 1940.

It was a different time with the VFL progenitor, Victorian Football Association (VFA), having many of its teams in the eastern, south-eastern and southern Clubs still active. Oakleigh, nicknamed the Devils even though they wore gold and purple colours, just down the road was my club, but I was never as addicted to Oakleigh in the same way as I was to Essendon.

This long introduction is to say that most of my life has been consumed in my support of Essendon, even at one time being a paid-up Essendonian. However, that changed when the game became an exercise in keepings-off and Essendon relinquished its Windy Hill home.

Windy Hill, 1980s

Sport at the top level is now a moneyed game driven by TV rights. There is also a stadium fetish, to ensure that the pampered few are spared the rigours of winter with access to glass boxes awash with alcohol. The players from teenage years are moved around as well-paid commodities without, in most cases, any deep-seated loyalties. After all, being doled out in a draft means that these players are separated from their hearth and home. And that gnaws away at the special nature of the Game loyalties.

Curiously, the game is reverting to the original game where there seemed to be limitless players, running on and off in a blur, to maintain the momentum of the game, keepings off, scragging; little men in yellow running around making arbitrary decisions so they can keep up with a game, which is driven by the manic desire of those who run the game to make it faster and faster. The only difference between the original game in 1958, which perhaps should be introduced, is running among the gum trees in Yarra Park and the length of the playing arena when rules as today were arbitrary or non-existent – and of course the little yellow officials.

However, there is a veneer of corporate civilisation. As somebody wrote about the Essendon worship of bright and shiny baubles “Walking up the concrete steps, Essendon’s headquarters feels like a corporation. The generic nature of the massive building continues inside where it becomes immediately clear the home of this historically great football club – which has not been anywhere near great since it moved to Tullamarine – has no heart.

That is my problem – once a fanatical supporter who imparted the same spirit to my sons and then they to most of the grandchildren. But then only one of these six was alive – just – when Essendon won its last premiership in 2000. My heart has gone – I no longer care.

Maybe a flicker of nostalgia when I read about Michael Hurley’s complete loyalty to the club. (pictured)

A picture of loyalty

The AFL has a heritage round, but what is meant by heritage? True heritage would be playing twenty a side – eighteen on the field with two emergencies, which came on as replacements and were not interchangeable. Yet that rule only operated from 1946 until 1978 when the interchange rule was introduced. The longest time the rules of the game have not been changed was nine years between 1877 and 1886. Now, there is more year-to-year fiddling with the rules than in a Bullamakanka bush band.

Then see how the spectators would enjoy it. The grounds are more uniform than in the past. When playing at Hawthorn, you were on a compressed ground wedged against the railway lines – and with the right conditions the full back kicking out, if accurate enough, could kick a goal at the other. I repeat “if the conditions were right”. Oh, for the suburban grounds that had character.

Now, what an exercise in sterility, but the AFL is now politically correct. Gillon McLachlan, scion of the South Australian Establishment, you have left your legacy – you have pasteurised the game behind pay walls. Well done.

What the Butler saw

The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce is bringing together Australia’s health policy leaders. The diverse membership has been drawn from across the health professions, and includes consumer, rural and regional and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives.

The Taskforce will work to deliver concrete results through its recommendations, including:

  • Improved patient access to general practice, including after-hours.
  • Improved patient access to GP-led multidisciplinary team care, including nursing and allied health.
  • Greater patient affordability.
  • Better management of ongoing health conditions including chronic conditions.
  • Decreased pressure on hospitals.

Here we go again. The Same Old!

The Hon. Mark Butler MP

Mark Butler, a lawyer and union official prior to being elected to Parliament, under Rudd had an exposure to matters relating to Health, in various parliamentary secretary and ministerial positions between 2009 and 2013. He had been Shadow Minister for Health since January 2021

Unlike another South Australian, Neil Blewett, who maintained continuity in the portfolio whether in Opposition or Government to became one of the best Ministers of Health, when the Labor Party went into Opposition, Butler was handed the shadow environmental portfolio by the then Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. The Health shadow portfolio was passed to Catherine King. After the 2019 election, the shadow Health Ministry was held by Chris Bowen, until it was passed back to Mark Butler. The Health portfolio seems to have been in the “pass the parcel” category among the Labor gentry.

The Hon. Neal Blewett

One of the prerequisites for the Health portfolio incumbent is that unless one learns the language of Health, it condemns you to being at the whim of translators. Blewett as a linguist was fluent in Health, and he also had a bunch of public servants who had served in health matters for a considerable period, and while they were not necessarily health professionals, they were more or less fluent in Health. Guys like Alan Bansemer and Bernie MacKay.

A 17 member committee is doomed to failure as anything but a megaphone, given that allows every member an average of 3.5 minutes an hour to speak. Also the bigger the Committee the more unwieldly, although technology allows for everybody not to be in same room for a meeting; however, that introduces the trickiness of the membership being in isolated cells, without any meaningful interaction. But maybe that is a deliberate ploy. I have faced public service running interference and have dealt with it mostly – without winning any popularity polls.

Scanning the list of Butler’s Committee, the only one with any decent corporate memory is Stephen Duckett; like all of us who have been in the health sector for as long or, in my case, longer than him we have our own set of biases. Duckett sure has his, and his bias against private practice is well-known. He is sure to raise salaried practice and capitation as alternatives; but Medicare has served Australia well, even under conservative governments where it is always allowed to decay. Added to this the central agencies hate uncapped programs as Medicare has been.

My problem with the medical representation is that each is there because they have been elected as distinguished members of one of the many tribes of medical graduates, not as experts in health economics and policy. To them, reforming the health system is not a full time pursuit, but a task force gives them all the opportunity to whinge, and in a couple of years these office holders are gone.

The only medical graduate on the committee, a former President of the AMA with some experience of the vicissitudes of Medicare, is Hambleton. He does not fill me with any confidence because once when I asked why the AMA had ceased being deeply involved in establishing doctor’s incomes, he seemed confused about the value of the bilateral Medicare Enquiries between the AMA and the Federal Government last held in 1984.

Looking down the list it seems that the aim is to include every player in the provision of primary care and a wish list of aims without any means of achieving it. Thus presumably, the Department will prepare a series of working papers – a variation on the Jenny Macklin National Health Strategy Initiative where she was asked to review Australia’s existing system, which produced a series of discussion papers of varying quality. That task force was disbanded in 1993, without any discernible effect on the health system. My involvement goes back to listening to Gough Whitlam expounding on health reform in 1969 at the time of the Nimmo inquiry, when the genius of John Deeble and, to a lesser extent, Dick Scotton provided the intellectual capital for both Medibank and Medicare.

The crux of the primary care problem is that despite all the talk about professions working together, it just does not happen spontaneously. I am a patient in a very good general practice, with very competent medical and nursing staff.  They have their tasks and they don’t spend their time in formal training in how to get along. As a patient, I want to be able to converse with my general practitioner and yet realise I have a limited time to do so.  Yet despite its caring profile, this long term traditional suburban general practice has been absorbed into the corporate world, and if it were not profitable, you could bet your bottom dollar that this world would not be there.  This presents a bit of a paradox. Substantial investment on the one hand; crying poor on the other.

The other variable is general practices now closing off appointments for new patients, which effectively caps throughput. Given that Medicare is uncapped – and the rule of thumb is to maximum daily limits for doctor – namely seeing 80 patients a day for 20 days a year or 30 telehealth consultations for the same period a year, otherwise any more will attract a reference to the Professional Services Review Committee. That is the only comment on optimal throughput – two extreme positions.  The Committee should address optimal throughput.

Given that the public has been used to bulk billing in general practice, I can now ask a question: “What is general practice?” and then ask, “what is the most cost-effective way to deliver general practice?”

My premise is that general practice is heterogeneous. Yet it conforms to certain rules. For instance, at least three doctors are required if the practice provides a 24-hour service. Yet how many practices exist as standalone services providing such a service? In rural areas in the small towns such a service is problematic, but general practitioners there do have a local hospital to back them up. I have no idea what the “urgent centre” proposed by NSW and Victoria is; and where does the staff come from – Mongolia?

In any question of general practice, one must ask the question of what level of coverage by general practice yields the most effective return. The fact that the so-called 24 hours clinic or general practice attached to urban hospitals has not become standard suggests this is a work pattern unacceptable to the majority of the general practice workforce, notwithstanding that its income is underwritten by government.

From a question of what is general practice, and the most cost effective organisation of same, then it becomes a cost accounting exercise. The best cost accounting depends on ensuring that all the assumptions underpinning the process are clear. There are times when approximations will be made; and it is the test of any good cost accountant to know when to approximate. After all, if one waits for a complete census of any population when 90 per cent will provide a useful approximation and if the information can be obtained in a reasonable time, then delays are avoided that otherwise can render the data of limited use.

The problem is that the advice provided by cost accounting is ignored by government, because it is often inconvenient. We once showed that the most effective radiation oncology practice was one based on three linear accelerators at any one site. What happened was the States bent to political pressure and scattered one machine facilities across its jurisdiction; as well as being uneconomic, these facilities had difficulty maintaining staff.

In the end, once the true costs are known, then it can be discussed what should be the professional cost of the practice, the expected income of the general practitioner, which is subsidised through fee for Medicare benefit and what can be gained by additional charges that the patient has to find. This  figure is complicated by the corporatisation of general practice. After all, general practitioners can charge what they believe is fair and reasonable. What does their corporate boss want to charge?

The Federal government provides a patient benefit not a doctor’s fee. The patient benefit is constitutionally valid; but setting fees is not. The Australian voters in the 1973 referendum rejected Federal control on prices and income.

And there you are. Answers are gained, and the 17 member committee can deal in facts adorned by assumption rather than opinion warped by bias and, I hesitate to say, “enlightened self interest”.

Where fantasy meets reality 

In the Boston Globe, Stephanie Ebert runs a regular opinion piece chronicling what is happening due to the Supreme Court ruling, overturning Roe v Wade. This is her latest update I’ve edited hopefully without affecting the original content.

The consequences of withholding reproductive choice were expressed in stark and varied terms, by a Republican state legislator in South Carolina, by voters in New York, by political pundits balling up their midterm predictions, and by HBO viewers shocked by the premiere of the “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon.”

But before we get to Westeros, let’s stop in the Palmetto State (South Carolina), where a Republican state lawmaker’s abortion regret clearly struck a chord.

Rep. Neal Collins 

Rep. Neal Collins told an emotional story about the real-life fallout of the “Foetal Heartbeat Bill” he had supported, which prevented a 19-year-old whose water broke at 15 weeks from terminating a pregnancy that was not viable. She was sent home from the hospital with a greater than 50 percent chance of losing her uterus, he said, and a 10 percent chance of developing sepsis and dying.

“That weighs on me. I voted for that bill,” Collins said in a video clip that circulated on social media. “These are affecting people.”

The clip was picked up by CNN Politics, where commentator and former Trump aide Alyssa Farah Griffin said that in some states, the GOP was going too far with abortion restrictions.

“This very extreme position will backfire on Republicans — not having exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother — and I absolutely think we need to course-correct,” she said.

That’s the view of many political observers who are rewriting their predicted narratives for the midterm elections since voters began having their say at actual ballot boxes. A special election victory by Congressional candidate Pat Ryan — a New York Democrat who campaigned on abortion rights after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade — is a sign that Democrats are now more competitive in the midterms than anticipated.

Anger over the abortion ruling is translating into new voter registration and could fuel a pushback at the ballot box, several new analyses suggested.

Tom Bonier, CEO of the political data firm TargetSmart, dug deep into Ohio voter registration and reported that women out-registered men by an 11 percentage-point margin since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision on June 24 — a huge change from the 2018 midterms.

Bonier documented the surge of women who registered to vote in Kansas after the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft ruling in early May before Kansans voted overwhelmingly to preserve abortion rights in the state’s first-in-the-nation referendum on the issue.

Not to be outdone, the New York Times’ The Upshot examined new voter registration in 10 states and found the number of women registering to vote rose by about 35 percent after the decision was leaked, while men had an uptick of 9 percent.

Meanwhile, abortion bans have taken effect in 12 states. But in one of those, Idaho, the Justice Department prevailed in a legal challenge that partially blocked criminal prosecution of doctors who perform abortions. A federal judge agreed with the Justice Department that Idaho’s abortion ban conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires hospitals that receive federal funding to provide treatment in medical emergencies.

In Texas, the decision was the exact opposite. A federal judge agreed with Attorney General Ken Paxton that the state can’t be compelled by the federal government to save a pregnant woman’s life with an abortion.

In other news

Once vulnerable, N.H. Senator Maggie Hassan is suddenly benefiting from abortion ruling, other Democratic breaks – The Boston Globe.

Google, criticized for steering those search for abortion to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centres, takes steps toward clarity – Bloomberg

The aforementioned HBO series “House of the Dragon,” which requires both trigger and spoiler alerts for a brutal childbirth scene that was upsetting to many women.

Still, one of the showrunners told the L.A. Times that the women consulted during production offered positive feedback.  “Some felt it wasn’t violent enough,” he said.

Was it gratuitous – as was often said about its patriarchal forebear “Game of Thrones?” Was it transparent in its intentions, like a latter-season “Handmaid’s Tale”? I was surprised to discover it was written and filmed well before the Supreme Court ruling.

Mouse whisper

Appalling taste. According to The Economist, there are those Brits who are promoting Larry the Cat as the next British Prime Minister. Extraordinary how the Brits have embraced this serial murine killer. But then Larry has had to deal with Boris Knotgudonov, who has tried to portray himself as a cool cat, but turned out to be an appalling mouser.

Meanwhile, back in Hammersmith …




Modest Expectations – Sciacca

What a crazy world we live in. The former Prime Minister, for no valid reason whatsoever, sequestered all the major portfolios to himself except, it seems, Defence. He presented himself as the Dad of Australia, or thought he did, to propel him to an unlikely win in the 2019 elections over one of the most unelectable men the Labor Party had ever produced. And boy, have the Labor Party produced a number to be bestowed with such a title.

The problem with the Pentecostals is that their religion casts them into an alternative world, and while they may project a façade of easy charm, underneath is their use of the Bible as a weapon – to be accepted literally, or else.

When the dust of the miracle election settled, then the rapture settled in – Morrison, the Instrument of God emerged. Having mingled in my youth with some of these characters, I know their affable countenance quickly changes when you question the validity of their beliefs. My mother was a creationist, and I found out that it was unwise to broach this subject with an otherwise gentle and caring mother.

Hence, I stop pondering on the Morrison condition, because I believe pursuit of its roots will lead me into some dark recesses of the human condition, where to go is only to entangle oneself in a pointless dialectic.

What is clear is that Morrison should leave Parliament as soon as possible. The Elder Howard worries that it will damage the Liberal Party. I would suggest that it is already damaged by the number of fellow religious travellers linked into the party branches and by keeping Morrison there, he will still be able to try and assert influence, the evangelical knee-jerk. Already these antics in social media just emphasise the powerlessness of the Liberal Party leadership and/or its total enmeshment in a form of theological fascism more associated with the European Roman Catholic Church previously.

Morrison in many ways could become the Liberal Party equivalent of the Vicar of Stiffkey (pronounced Stewkey) whose bizarre behaviour, quite different may I add from that of Morrison, ended his life as a fairground exhibit who met his Maker while being mauled by a circus tiger. An unfortunate exit for a figure of fun.

While he is in Parliament, the Labor Party would be loath to go after the current Governor-General, whose behaviour in apparently using his position to solicit funding, presumably by Prime Ministerial fiat, would appear completely beyond acceptable. Those who say that the Governor-General should by necessity be a judge or senior lawyer have short memories. Remember that inglorious tosspot, John Kerr.

While Ninian Stephen and William Deane, both eminent jurists, on the other hand were two superb Governors-General, one should not forget one of the most effective was Bill Hayden, once a Queensland copper and no dullard.

No trunk Route to the top of Mount Elephant

There is one advertisement shown on television which intrigues me.  A young girl is seen driving a motorised billy cart up a grassy track towards a hill with a conical crown.  To me it looks very much like Mount Elephant, which guards the small township of Derrinallum.

Caprine power

The vehicle stalls and there are two other images which remind me very much of the township, which I passed through countless times when we owned a property at Port Fairy in the Western District. The familiar image of the gravel road leading around the conical summit, which hides the old scoria quarry from the highway with the “mother” gesticulating to her “daughter” who by then has teamed up with another billy carter with a more technically advanced cart. The road looks suspiciously like one near Derrinallum, where the highway both runs uphill in a westerly direction and through the township divided by a treed median strip.

It is characteristic that around all these extinct volcanoes in the Victorian Western District there is always a settlement at the base. Some of these volcanos have been disfigured by quarrying for red scoria. Some, like Mount Shadwell which overlooks Mortlake, has yielded semi-precious green stone called olivine which, together with very good meat pies, was always on sale at Mortlake.

The Hamilton Highway is mostly very straight and lined by small townships and hamlets.  It has always been a speedway, because police patrols were rare when I would drive the highway sometimes several times weekly. A former Premier of Victoria, Jeffrey Kennett, was pinged for speeding at a petrol pump called Berribank, so small is this hamlet. Then there was the horrendous crash when “the footie legend” Ron Barassi drove his Mercedes into a tree on the Western outskirts of another township, Lismore. His passenger was another famous Australian Rules footballer who was seriously injured. That accident occurred in the 1970s and the damaged tree stood for years as a survivor of excessive speed and the fact that trees don’t move out of the way.

But this is only background to what is the most significant reminder that Victoria has a convict heritage in that these stone walls at Derrinallum, made from volcanic basalt, were the product of convict labour. They are very observable being along the highway, half hidden in the grass, although there are places where the casual observer may stop and walk unimpeded to see and touch them. Apart from these honeycomb basalt walls just out of Derrinallum, there are 3,000 kilometres of these walls in the Western District, because the ancient lava flows left otherwise arable and grazing land strewn with rocks.

Mount Elephant

Making a drystone wall was a convenient way of using the stone when labour was cheap. The walls incidentally proved a barrier to the rabbits which one of the colonial squires, Tom Austin, helpfully introduced when releasing 13 wild rabbits onto his estate in 1859. Oh, what a legacy these stalwarts of Victorian Victoria unleashed upon our Land. Rabbits reminded him of the Old Country and he introduced foxes also, so he could have a bit of redcoat and jolly tally-ho-ing – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable, as Oscar Wilde termed fox hunting.

Convict transportation to Victoria ended in 1848 before the Gold Rush, and therefore convicts were not the only source of labour.  The unsuccessful. prospector was another. Given that the Western District abutted the Goldfield area, it is not unsurprising that skilled Celtic wallers who moved South built more of the walls and also taught the landowners how to make them.

Australia’s stone walls are taller, thicker and deeper than elsewhere in the world. Local bluestone and scoria in addition to the honeycomb basalt were used and the walls reflect the desires of the owner, the purpose (varying sizes depending on whether controlling sheep or cattle with not unsurprisingly the tallest for personal glorification), the preferences of the wallers and the availability of rocks littering the paddocks.

Dry stone walls rely on selection and placement of stones, together with a combination of gravity and friction. “There is a place for every stone” – stones are not broken or chipped, although each is tapped with a hammer to make it “settle”.

Walls are best constructed with two men working on opposite sides. Typical freestanding drystone walls are built with “throughstones” crowned with copestones, the centre being filled with smaller stones and rubble, so-called “hearting”.

Much of the walls visible along the Hamilton Highway have fallen, a result of pulling out stones on the chase after rabbits, rubbing by cattle, or pressure from trees. But enough remain for the girls in their “turbo-charged billycart” to drive along – perhaps.

Memories of a Pastoralist

Thomas Alexander Browne (Rolf Boldrewood) on the front steps of ‘Raby’ in Olive St, his Albury home.

One of the most intriguing books I have ever read is “Old Melbourne Memories” written in 1884 by Rolf Boldrewood, the pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne, whose initial venture as a pastoralist is described in this book. This was in The Western District in what is now Victoria near Portland. It should be appreciated that although he started from Melbourne, the Portland area whither he was going had already been settled by Edward Henty a year earlier than that of the establishment Melbourne on Port Philip Bay.

Browne settled on Squattlesea Mere, as he described it “about 50,000 acres of ‘wood and wold,’ mere and marshland, hill and dale. It was all my own – after a fashion – that is, I had but to receive my squatting license, under the hand of the Governor of the Australias, for which I paid ten pounds, and no white man could in any way disturb, harass, or dispossess me.

Westward were marshes; northward were what we know as “stony rises” where the cooled remains of lava flow “now matted with sward of kangaroo grass”, but the piles of scoria and rocks were too sharp to ride horses over them. South were green “luxuriant” plains able to sustain two or three thousand head of cattle. Against this mixed picture, he reported on the disputes between whitefella and blackfella. Most of this centred on the indigenous propensity for rustling, both cattle and sheep. After all, the blackfella had no concept of titles. It was not property in the English sense but their ancestral land, and any thing on blackfella land should be shared – simple communism.

This led to what Browne describes as the Eumeralla War, which was essentially a sporadic battle between spear and carbine.  Browne initially built with his “men” a sod hut, and then a three-room split slab hut, probably plastered with mortar into which chopped grass or horse hair was packed. The roof was of stringy bark. A rude chimney enabled a fire to be set in the general living room which also served as the sleeping quarters for his stockmen.

A stockyard was built, enclosed by seven foot high walls, so tightly constructed that “a rat could not get through” – and robust enough that “a stampede of elephants” would be needed to level it.  Browne mentions a number of  property owners, without specific indication that they had built anything resembling his palisade.

As Browne wrote: “among the Rocks there were innumerable caves, depressions, and hiding-places of all kinds, in which the natives had been used to find secure retreat and safe hiding in days gone by. Whether they could not bear to surrender to the white man these cherished solitudes, or whether it was the shortsighted, childish anxiety to possess our goods and chattels, can hardly ever be told. Whatever the motive, it was sufficient, as on all sides at once came tales of wrong-doing and violence, of maimed and slaughtered stock, of homicide or murder.”

Thus, there was mayhem, with nightly incursions of the blackfellas in hit and run, taking stock if they could. The walled stockyards attested to defence in such a hostile environment.

One solution for the white settlers to quell the indigenous people was to use native mounted troopers armed with carbines; they proved a major determinant in the defeat and subjugation of the local blackfellas.

I was reminded of this by a recent episode of ABC’s Backroads, where they wheeled out in Tumut what seems to be the essence of modern Aboriginal elder, with a homely elderly face encircled by grey hair and beard which seamlessly seem to intersect. This vision of the peaceful Aboriginal jars against history which tells that the above troopers were recruited from the NSW border area in the early part of the 19th century, far away from the Aboriginals of the Western district.

So zealous were these troopers that they effectively subjugated the locals. Browne recalls being shown a bullet scar in the chest of an Aboriginal man who asserted that: “Police-blackfella ‘plenty kill him’” during that period, and on recovery immediately offered himself as a shepherd to one of the white landowners. “… being convinced that lawless proceedings were likely to bring him to a bad end.”

The concept of employing native troopers originated in Victoria but was quickly adopted in both NSW and  Queensland; in Queensland in particular it seems an Aboriginal legacy about which there is selective amnesia. It is pity because much Aboriginal heritage implies a warrior class; and it seems that Aboriginals without cultural links to the locals were used as effective enforcement for subjugation of their fellow blackfellas.

I would like to know where this fits in the modern narrative, but are Aboriginal people prepared to discuss this part of blackfella history?

As a footnote, Browne wrote:

“The Aboriginal blacks on and near the western coast of Victoria – near Belfast, Warrnambool and Portland – had always been noted as a breed of savages by no means to be despised. They had been for untold generations accustomed to a dietary scale of exceptional liberality. The climate was temperate; the forest abounded in game; wild fowl at certain seasons were plentiful; while the sea supplied them with fish of all sorts and sizes, from a whale (stranded) to whitebait. No wonder that they were a fine race, physically and otherwise – the men tall and muscular, the women well-shaped and fairly good-looking.”

He respected the local Aboriginals as he went on to write – “grandly-formed specimens of humanity, dignified in manner, and possessing an intelligence by no means to be despised, comprehending a quick sense of humour, as well as a keenness of perception”.

But not a mention of cropping or organised horticulture. Browne was a perspicacious man. I’m sure he would have mentioned them if there had been any.

I believe that if there is an Aboriginal Voice, it should recognise its history, and not place it in some monochromatic rose-tinted light, selectively ignoring that Aboriginals may have been the first inhabitants, but one with many cultural differences, which led to some good and some bad consequences, Otherwise the Voice becomes one of Delusion.

Pooch, Have I got some Chocolate Fudge for You!

In the USA, National Dog Day is coming up Aug. 26, and The Boston Globe has identified some places for cool, sweet treats in Boston for both you, the dog owner(s) and your dog(s) to celebrate.

If you are into dark chocolate studded with macadamia nuts, you may initially allay the sweet tooth of the dog, but you have fed the dog a double whammy in terms of a death warrant. Muscle weakness in the hind legs is a sure sign of the pooch has been nibbling macadamia nuts. But chocolate, particularly cooking and dark chocolate, contains theobromine, which unlike us humans, dogs cannot metabolise and hence it builds to toxic levels.

Read further at your own risk! (Blog master)

“While it may be hard to resist your pet’s sweet, pleading face when he or she stares at your cone”, it is best to avoid lactose. However, here are the further American recommendations your dog (I refuse to use the words “four-legged friend”) can enjoy a cold treat, including specially made doggie ice creams.

That said, we found a few tail-waggers (God, more abhorrence!).

I am indebted to the Boston Globe for this further insight.


Ben & Jerry’s Doggie Dessert Pop Culture Tour winding its way up the East Coast, hitting Gloucester Aug. 20-21. Find the treat truck at the dog-friendly Gloucester Waterfront Festival on Aug. 20 and 21.


You can also snag a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s at some of their brick-and-mortar area shops (Newbury Street, for example, has Doggie Desserts listed on their online menu) or pet stores for home freezing. Doggie Desserts come in two flavours: Rosie’s Batch made with pumpkin and mini cookies and Pontch’s Mix made with peanut butter and pretzel swirls.

  1. JB’S DOGGIE DELIGHTS (No, not me subtly advertising)
No need to walk the dog …

There’s also a local doggie ice cream truck: JB’s Doggie Delights serves Boston area pups. The hand-made treats are made with minimal ingredients, such as peanut butter and honey, and are safe for dogs’ sensitive stomachs. Track truck stops on Facebook or Instagram (sic).


A favourite Boston ice cream shop for humans also offers dairy-free pup-friendly treats. Next time you hit up one of JP Licks’ area locations for a cone of your own, order your dog a dairy-free Cow Paw, “a lightly flavoured peanut butter sorbet with a touch of honey served with a kosher dog bone.”

It sounds like a kids’ book, but The Bear & The Rat is actually a dog ice cream, made from frozen yogurt with prebiotics and digestive enzymes for doggy tummies. Your pet can enjoy flavours like bacon and peanut butter; banana and peanut butter, or pumpkin and cinnamon. In Boston, according to their site, you’ll find them at various Polkadog shops and Whole Foods among other spots.


Lactose-free Puppy Scoops, formulated for doggy digestion, comes in flavours like vanilla, peanut butter, and maple bacon. It’s in powdered form, so you can order online. Just add water, freeze, and let the tail-wagging begin. Ditto with Hoggin’ Dogs in flavours like cheese and banana. Both are made by Puppy Cake, as are Smart Scoops, “created for dogs that have sensitive tummies.” You might pair a scoop with cake to celebrate very good boys and girls on Aug. 26.

Can you imagine such treats being sold at The Annual Kelpie Muster at Casterton. Oh, I forgot, the Muster is in June – weather is a bit cold for JP Licks.

Therefore, one recommendation could be to move the Kelpie Muster to later in the year, so the burghers of The Western District can invest in Puppy Scoops or JP licks. After all, Australia did embrace KFC and McDonald’s, those toxic American invaders. So why deprive the dogs of American delights?

Yet you cry; “Surely Casterton, that centre of the Australian tradition would be immune from McDonald’s or KFC.”

Wrong – on both accounts! “Puppy Scoops” await.

You must have heard this from Prince Rupert

Golf has a predilection if you better par by one is to call it a birdie, two under par eagle, three under par albatross and four under par a condor. That is holing out in one on a par five hole, I understand has only been recorded five times.

Four under par …

However, as the golf courses are stretching to par seven, a new bird as been introduced, an ostrich equivalent to five under par. Nobody has been recorded yet in achieving this unlikely target.

The longest drive? In 1974, 64 year old Mike Austin drove a 515 yard on a 450 yard par-4 using a steel-shafted, 43.5-inch persimmon driver and balata ball while competing in the U.S. National Seniors Open Championship at the Desert Rose Resort, Las Vegas. Both club and ball have been replaced by more technologically advanced equipment, but that day there was a hot following wind of 27 mph, and the golf course was at an altitude of 2,000 feet, which all helps.

But wait, there is more.

Carl Cooper had a disastrous start to the third hole of the 1992 Texas Open when he earned the unofficial longest drive ever. His blast towards the green bounced past the green, beyond the sixth tee, and eventually came to a stop behind the twelfth green. After the ball finally came to a halt, it had travelled 787 yards, but not on the one hole.

So given the right conditions anything can happen in golf – even an ostrich from the sand.

Mouse Whisper

Australia’s official war historian, C.E.W. Bean, who wrote of Monash as a “pushy Jew”, and Rupert Murdoch’s father, Keith Murdoch, conspired during the war to try to prevent Monash winning the active command of Australian forces on the Western Front. Murdoch later opposed Monash’s efforts to build the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne – Tony Wright.

Over to you yon Keith Murdoch hagiographer Eric Beecher!  Oh, from the mouse that whispered.

John Monash and Shrine of Remembrance

Modest Expectations – Brentwood

I am bemused to see Peter Dutton setting a confrontational course against China. He is charting a no-win situation. Whether the Chinese mainland invades Taiwan or not is an exercise in the pointless for our foreign policy. If we were to send any troops, which seems to be our knee-jerk reflex whenever the Americans call their allies to arms, you would just wonder why.

One of the many Chinese artefacts in Taiwan

Are the Chinese prepared to destroy a sophisticated industrial machine and repository of a large part of Chinese heritage in order to prove a point? Maybe they will, because if you take the long view, the Chinese may believe it to be a cleansing tonic. I always wondered whether they would be prepared to destroy all the priceless artefacts that were taken from China after the defeat of the Nationalists in 1949. My Chinese expert shrugged – he said he doubted whether they would care. The main game is to suppress a democratic Taiwan.

Chinese expansionism not for first time was into Tibet. Its system of repressive feudal theocracy which the Chinese overwhelmed has been sugar-coated by the long-lived effervescent Dalai Lama, who however has moved down from a Nobel prize winner eminence to a lamasery relic that nobody influential cares about. The price of living too long – “if you aspire to holiness, die young” is an aphorism which the Nazarene Christ showed.

It was easy for the Chinese to supplant Portuguese rule in Macau, which was coming to an end in the Far East as Macau had become a decadent gambling joint, sheltering criminals. Then there has been Hong Kong. I suspect the Chinese had never forgotten their humiliation by the British and the French in sacking the Imperial Palace.

The Chinese are there for the long haul. They have long memories. So they abided all the British pageantry, and then when they were ready, they tossed the 50 year agreement into the diplomatic rubbish bin, and took over Hong Kong lock, stock and barrel with the customary charmless brutality.

But I remember the fuss in the 1950s over Quemoy (or more commonly called Kinman now) and the Matsu Islands, which are within spitting distance of the Chinese mainland. Now 70 years later they still remain in the hands of Taiwan, despite in the intervening period the Chinese having taken over a number of disputed islands in the South China Sea and extended its commonweal to include both the Paracel and the Spratley islands between China and the Philippines. Having said this, after the  savage confrontation in the 1950s, the intervening cordial relations between these islands and the Mainland have soured with the advent of Xi Jinping. For instance, the ferry service between Quemoy and the mainland no longer runs.

The Chinese have constructed missile arsenals, aircraft hangars, radar systems and other military facilities in the Spratley Islands on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross. It remains to be seen if China will pursue the construction of military infrastructure on other coral atolls in the South China Sea.

America has no claims itself but has deployed navy ships and aircraft for decades to patrol and promote free navigation in international waterway and airspace. Other countries – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei – claim all or part of the sea, through which approximately $5 trillion worth of goods are shipped every year.

China routinely objects.

Hainan is almost the same size as Taiwan, but is a specific Chinese Economic Zone famed for its coconuts and tourism. It lies about 1,000 kilometres to the south of Taiwan, hugging the coast. There is no question of it not being part of China.

But this irritant Taiwan! Thousands of years before ethnic Chinese settled on Taiwan, aboriginal tribes were hunting and farming the land. They probably came from the Philippines and today constitute two per cent of the population. China held the Island until the Japanese acquired it as a result of the First Sino-Japanese War.  From 1895 it was a very model of a community where the native Chinese and Japanese lived and worked together harmoniously.

Then, after the fall of Japan in 1945, the status of Taiwan became ambiguous, paralleling the ambiguity of the continued recognition of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China (R.O.C.) as the True China, despite the fact that he had been roundly defeated in 1948/49. He and the remnants of his army, together with a considerable amount of looted treasure, fled to Taiwan. In fact, he was just leading yet another invading force of Taiwan. He then set up a virtual dictatorship which, at the time being the Cold War, the Americans supported. Called the White Terror period, even though Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, the military rule extended to 1987.

I peripherally experienced this conflict in 1956 when I was on the crew manifest of the S.S. Taiping; well, for a time I occupied the assistant wireless officer’s cabin at least. I remember it well, the ship being “buzzed” by American Starfighters on the South China Sea, with the Matsu islands providing a background on the horizon. Let me say, they came in twice at funnel height – quite a performance.

Over the years, Mainland China took the permanent seat on the United Nations and reduced the number of countries maintaining diplomatic relations to 14 plus the Vatican State. Most of countries are in Central and South America plus the Caribbean; also a few of the Pacific microstates and in Africa, Eswatini.

Now all that remains is the independence of Taiwan – an enclave within the Chinese diaspora. If Taiwan had been maintained strictly as a Fortress for the R.O.C, with its own Potala Palace to remind the world of its oligarchic past – in one case theocracy, in the other a military junta – then Taiwan would be solely dependent on being propped up by the Americans as an anachronism.  Taiwan is far from that – being a modern democratic industrialised country – anathema to China and yet lodged in an artificial enclave constructed by China.

The Chinese nightmare is for Taiwan to declare independence, and call the Chinese bluff. That is an important card in its hand. The only matter of importance is that war does not extend to Australia, with the Chinese community taking up cudgels for one or other of the sides.

The mountains of Taiwan

The Chinese must look at the terrain of Taiwan and shudder, but as the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, in his speech implied, they have 1.4 billion people to lose (assuming that his assumption is that all 1.4 billion Chinese think as he does about Master Xi Jinping and his infallibility) and the Taiwanese only 22 million in any conflict, which could yet just go on year after year; and in the meantime the planet burns. Nature does not take sides. We all die.

John Knight

I started off with a mention of Dutton, elected as Leader of the Opposition, who has continued to behave as if he was still a Queensland copper. Yet he had been elected unopposed as Leader of the Liberal Party.

Whereas when Billy Snedden was elected by a margin of one vote to the position of the Leader of the Opposition after five ballots in 1972, it indicated that there was a solid group who voted against him. Among them, it was generally believed that he was a nice enough fellow but a policy boofhead.

After all he had been the Treasurer in the failed McMahon government, and McMahon had become an embarrassment propped up by the NSW Division of the Liberal Party. A familiar theme?

However, if you looked overall at the standard of Snedden’s office, the concept of “boofhead” did not quite gel, as he was considered to have recruited some smart individuals. At one time just after his first group of advisers had assembled, an office straw poll was held of those who voted for the McMahon Government in 1972 election, and the answer was no-one.

One of those recruited was John Knight, who was working in the Department of Foreign Affairs before Snedden appointed him as his senior Private Secretary. When John Knight had been originally recruited to the Department of Foreign Affairs there had been 400 applicants for 15 jobs. From the start he was potentially a high calibre diplomat and already had had one posting as a third secretary in the High Commission in New Delhi.

John Knight

As he showed many times, his certain adroitness, his ability to grasp and magnify the positive elements of the conversation showed he had learnt well. Snedden asked him to see if he could organise a trip to China for Snedden.  Since Whitlam was going later that year, it provided the opportunity to develop a bipartisan approach to China.

The initial spokesman for Foreign Affairs was Nigel Bowen, whose head was now in another space after his defeat as Leader given the exhausting exhaustive ballot. In 1973, Bowen retired from politics and was appointed as Chief Judge in Equity in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He was appointed first Chief Judge (later Chief Justice) of the Federal Court of Australia in 1976 and held this until his retirement in 1990.

This in effect meant John Knight had very much free rein, which he exerted with discretion, but secured an invitation for Snedden to visit Beijing. John got on very well with Andrew Peacock, their progressive views matched. By the time Snedden went to China, Peacock had replaced the outgoing Bowen as Foreign Affairs spokesman.

There have been mixed reports about his visit, because it was not the play sheet that Whitlam wanted, given that he had already appointed his former adviser, Stephen Fitzgerald as the Australian Ambassador to China. Snedden visited, and while he did not meet Mao Tse-Tung, whom Whitlam did, his approach was in marked contrast from the previous Coalition government. When we were there, Fitzgerald could not have been more helpful, and in fact let us in on some interesting snippets he overheard pass between our Chinese hosts. After all, it was not the most stable time in China with the Gang of Four rampant.

However, a report of the visit is another story. As I wrote earlier, Snedden was convinced that the Liberal Party should recognise the P.R.C.  governing China rather than the R.O.C. holed up in Taiwan, as Whitlam had formally done on behalf of Australia at the end of 1972 with ambassadors being exchanged between Australia and China in 1973.

John Knight provided the advice in relation to China. Watching Dutton stridently asserting an aggressive policy makes one wonder where he is getting his advice. Despite being still under thirty, John Knight provided shrewd progressive advice, as he did in facilitating Snedden’s visit to China. I still have a diary of that visit.

By August 1973, Snedden had been to China, met senior government figures and returned. It is agreeable to have a friendly ally, as I found out when the Taiwan Government sponsored my visit some years ago when I was involved with an international society concerned with the quality of health care. But in the end, the Taiwan trip was a junket. But does Dutton only want to be left with a bowl of whey as his China policy as I write this blog in August 2022?

Visiting China made me feel that I was a participant in a major change and, as a result of Snedden’s visit, the Opposition reversed its position and reconciled itself to a new order – a new order which had been precipitated in 1971 by the Government of China assuming its rightful place in the United Nations.

John Knight Memorial Park

John Knight later went on to become the first Liberal Party Senator for the ACT in 1975; he was re-elected in 1977 but died of a heart attack while water skiing in 1981 at the age of 37. His memorial is a park in Belconnen, a 12 hectare area located on the eastern foreshores of Lake Ginninderra. He died way too young.

Malevich – a Ukrainian pathfinder

The effect of Malevich’s exposure to the new art was electrifying. In the three years between 1909 and1912 he went from being an unremarkable provincial painter to producing some of the major works of art of this century. In that time he assimilated the modern corpus, mastering it entirely, and he began to take his own direction in full consciousness of his powers. – Charlotte Douglas

Last week I related our pilgrimage to the Magritte Centennial Exhibition.

About eight years ago, there was an exhibition of Malevich’s work at the Tate Gallery in London. I well remember the trip down the Thames to the Tate Modern.

I came away with a memento.

I look at this figurine – a wooden model drawn from the quartet of multi-coloured figures in the Malevich painting entitled The Athletes, probably painted in 1931 and hanging in The Russian Museum.

The rendering of the human form as faceless, multi-coloured athletes was supposed to evoke how Russian saints are depicted in iconography. In particular, the shape and placement of the feet along a solid black line imitates the stance in the icons.

Kazimir Malevich was born in 1879 and died at the age of 56 in 1935. He was Ukrainian born in Kiev of ethnic Polish parents. He has become one of the most influential abstract artists whose work confronts the concrete concept of objectivity – the tools of the natural world.

Malevich went through an early phase of experimentation, often using peasants as subject matter, the yeoman stock of his Mother country. Then he entered a phase of cubism painting, before his signature Supremacist phase. Here he reduced his depiction of the human condition to geometric forms, one being a black square on a white background which seems to have mesmerised a whole generation of art critics.  This time coincided with the Russian Revolution.

He is remembered through his painting conceptualising Suprematism “to access the supremacy of pure feeling” as he put it. His Supremacist painting is what makes Malevich standout. Essentially an exercise in decomposition he reduces the natural world into multicoloured images arranged in weightless space. Once you thus attempt to explain Suprematicism, you invoke visions of space where images are precisely organised into geometric forms; in many case it seems more reductionist than entering so supreme form – personally I do not understand why these paintings are associated with the Fourth dimension, which I always think about as the image of a man, holding an image of himself, infinitely repeated (see old Weeties packets).

Suprematist Composition 1916

Yet trying to intellectualise Supremacism does not detract from the brilliance of his painted work, without having to get into his mind and all its entanglements for an explanation.

Following the death of Lenin with the rise of Stalin, Malevich modified his paintings to show identifiable figures, while maintaining his basic supremacist analysis. The Athletes is part of this period. After his death, much of his work was destroyed by Stalin’s regime, but enough has survived, notably in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Perversely much of Malevich works are also held now in Russia; enough said.


When will it end? Below is an opinion piece by Alyssa Rosenberg in The Washington Post. Alyssa Rosenberg writes about the intersection of culture and politics for The Post’s Opinions section. Rosenberg holds an Arts degree in humanities from Yale University. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times and many other publications.

This is one of an increasing number of articles where Trump is no longer perceived as a politician, but as the leader of a quasi-religious cult. Whether Trump is inciting a Jonestown scenario or not, you can be sure that he would not be present if Trumpland faced a Jonestown type Apocalypse.

Last week, a man whom authorities have identified as Ricky Shiffer was shot and killed in a stand-off with police officers after he allegedly tried to break into a FBI office in Cincinnati. Reports suggest that he may have been motivated by a strong devotion to former president Donald Trump and by anger at the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

On Thursday evening, The Post reported that according to sources, the search at Mar-a-Lago was aimed in part at recovering “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons.” Trump’s response? A post on Truth Social, the platform he founded, declaring, “Nuclear weapons issue is a Hoax,” and a false suggestion that “Barack Hussein Obama” had done something similar.

But whatever we may learn about Shiffer’s motivations and the results of the FBI search, one thing is clear: The number of people who have died seemingly in service of an idol as unworthy as Donald Trump is tragic.

It’s one thing for Trump to relieve his followers of their money for dubious causes. The former president has raked in millions of dollars ostensibly dedicated to political work, when in reality what money has been spent has gone to Trump’s personal expenses.

But it’s different when people start dying.

Four of Trump’s supporters died at the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol: Ashli Babbit, who was shot while trying to climb through a broken window; Kevin Greeson, who suffered a fatal heart attack; Benjamin Philips, who succumbed to a stroke; and Rosanne Boyland, whose official cause of death was “acute amphetamine intoxication,” but who was caught up in a crush of bodies on the Capitol grounds. Christopher Stanton Georgia died by suicide later that month after he was arrested on unlawful entry charges stemming from Jan. 6; he pleaded not guilty before his death.

Now comes the death of Shiffer, who was also apparently at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Some might be tempted to create distance from these tragedies through mockery, or by treating Trump’s devotees as oddities.

That impulse — to disparage or dismiss the weird and extreme — seems to undergird a 2020 New York Times profile of a widowed farmer in India who adopted Trump as a personal deity, then collapsed and died after taking to his room and refusing to eat when Trump tested positive for covid-19. It’s also the sentiment behind so much snide social-media chatter. For instance: “some dude woke up today and decided to commit suicide by cop because the former host of celebrity apprentice wasn’t allowed to keep the top secret documents he stole from the White House.”

It’s easy to scoff. But this sort of commentary ignores the sadness running through so many of these stories.

Ashli Babbitt was looking for meaning because her military career had stalled out, and her pool company was failing. The QAnon conspiracy theory — which presents Trump as a bulwark against a secret cabal of powerful paedophiles — gave Rosanne Boyland purpose and a framework for understanding the world as she struggled with addiction.

The absurdity and maliciousness (sic) of the cause for which these people have died only compounds the horror of their deaths. How is it that no one, no institution, could offer something more substantive than the manifest hollowness of Trump and Trumpism?

An essential part of Trump’s malign magic is its impermeability. Suggest that his followers deserve better — whether that is an actual infrastructure package or a leader who appeals to their best qualities rather than their basest — and you’re accused of exhibiting the very contempt that made Trump attractive in the first place. Suggest Trump is scamming his followers, and you’re a tool of the deep state. According to Trump and his many enablers, there is no evidence that isn’t planted or manufactured, no moral act that is disqualifying, no act for which Trump himself can be held responsible.

Even the people who seek to martyr themselves in Trump’s defence can be redefined and reinterpreted through this corrupt logic: On social media, Trump fans aren’t celebrating Shiffer as a Trumpist patriot. They’re dismissing him as a false flag planted to paint the FBI in a flattering light.

Those of us who live outside the boundaries of this mad realm may be tempted to count ourselves lucky. Still, we should be concerned for the residents of Trumpland for their own safety. And if that’s not enough, we should care because the people who die for Donald Trump may someday take others with them.

Mouse Whisper

As I sat under the breakfast table, I heard him ask, “what had Brendan Murphy as Head of the Department of Health known about the Morrisonian hi-jinks. It would appear inconceivable that he did not know about the arrangements, if his Minister Hunt knew. He should be asked as to what he knew, because this serious breach of conventions at the very least affects ministerial responsibility and that of the Head of Department. I shudder to think what would have happened if Morrison had been re-elected, given his recent statements. Would he have sought the Governor-General to also appoint God to the Ministry?”

He also wondered about the mental acuity of the Governor-General. “This guy after all headed the Australian Defence Forces. Did he show the same level of judgement when he was boss there as he showed with this secret collaboration?”

Well, I think that is what he said, reporting from my mouse pad.

The Health Minister with the Minister for Health

Modest Expectations – Building a B-B-Q

I am somewhat bemused that John Howard keeps being rolled out by the Liberal Party. I suspect that knowing Johnnie, he would be quietly – with that telltale lip quiver– badgering his colleagues to remain in the limelight. After all, he did not have the elixir of political life, being the second Prime Minister to be ejected by the voters from his electorate. Hardly, what you would call success.

John Howard 2000

Sure, Howard won a landslide election in 1996 from a smart guy who was too smart for his own good. Then he survived – just, against Beazley, one of the most over-rated political party leaders ever; and then won against the authoritarian Latham. The authoritarian personality is that dangerous individual who is happy to be on the political extremes, as far away from democracy as you can find. The syndrome is often combined with extensive gazing at one’s reflection in the pool among the other Narcissi. But Latham was just plain nasty, with a zest for appropriating other people’s ideas.

But come on, ye Howardophiles, he gets rubbed out by another strange character, whose basic insecurities were concealed under a filo of flaky puffery. The puffery was soon dissipated into an unelectable cloud of irritant, but remember Rudd did knock off Howard comprehensively.

The problem with the cohort of those of us who have passed the age of 80, such as Howard, is that those who are used to own the limelight now struggle for relevance. Most of us do not care. Some have hobbies or indulge in what they have aways wanted to do but did not have the time. Some write blogs. They have done what they had to do, and now separate themselves from their previous careers.

From my own perspective one notices subtle changes in personality of one’s peers – the lack of sharpness and increasingly where experience and the biases hang off like fairy lights and overpower  any residual original thought.

Regard for Howard’s legacy will diminish with time, but if I were he, I would not accelerate that process. Him flogging a major resource, our natural gas, to overseas interests for a pittance is one item. One problem with his Party is, I suspect, that there are a number of people of similar age to Howard still wielding undue influence.

John Howard 2022

What do you do with a group of octogenarians and beyond who are unable to give up power. There is only so much biography the world can digest. And there is only so much plastic surgery that can conceal the temporal ravages of the skin, but not that of the brain.

Halibut and Homer

I must say I quite enjoy travelling Alaskan Airlines. They are a friendly mob, unlike the hard faces that welcome you on the average American airline. Still, Alaska is a long way from Los Angeles, and a near six hours in a Boeing 737, even at the front of the plane, tests the friendship.

Anchorage was the destination and we were booked into the Captain Cook Hotel. Captain Cook visited Alaska on his final voyage looking for the North-West passage. On 29th August 1779, Cook reached the Siberian coast, but then abandoned his plan to look further as he deemed it too dangerous. He set sail for the southeast to escape the rapidly approaching ice to Norton sound in Alaska, remembering that at the time Alaska was Russian territory.

It is an odd experience staying in a Captain Cook Hotel so far from home. However, it gave us the opportunity to review our acquaintance with the Alaskan king crab. This crab is harvested from the cold Northern Pacific, particularly Bering Strait. Red king crabs can reach a width of 28 cm, a leg span of two metres and a weight of about 13 kg.

To catch them is apparently one of the most dangerous occupations. Hauling up lobster pots, which may weigh up to a tonne, from a stormy sea results in a high death and injury rate. But the season is short; the returns are attractive; the show must go on.

As far as I know of there are three types of halibut – red, blue and brown. I have only seen them cooked, and to state the obvious, all lobsters are red in the pot. I had eaten them in a seafood restaurant, which once was located across 57th Avenue from where we used to stay in New York. It was a rite of passage after arriving to book into the Buckingham Hotel, with its dark art deco reminder of a New York from the 1920s. Up and across the street was Carnegie Hall; next door was the Steinway Building, with the grand pianos in the window.  A historic block, the seafood restaurant was just so convenient to the tired traveller.

There, I always seem to order oysters, which reflected the diversity of the various beds along the Atlantic Coast mainly and then the spectacular king crab with those gigantic claws. To tell the truth, I always found the crab as a gustatory as distinct from the visual experience to be disappointing. I suppose I expected a distinct taste, such as the one found in our mud crab. Nevertheless, whatever its diet, the crab flesh reflected bland feeding habits – “nice” would be a correct word for the taste. It was no different that day in the restaurant in the Captain Cook Hotel.

Tonight’s dinner

As part of recollections of memorable fish meals this one occurred in Homer. As with much of my travels, there was always a sense of the serendipity hanging around. I had an interest in the Russian settlements of Alaska, and one of these Russian groups were the Old Believers who sought religious asylum in Alaska. There was an Old Believers township of Nikolaesvk on the Kenai Peninsula near Homer, which itself is about 350 kilometres from Anchorage. Their story is a separate one, but along the way has yielded to the discovery of halibut.

Nevertheless, we needed a place to stay and there was no accommodation in the Old Believers’ village. In addition, my wife reminded me that this was an area where we could see bald eagles, which she wanted to photograph – so the trip had many objectives, but a meal of halibut was initially not one of these.

Coming upon a fish meal of halibut was accidental. Halibut is a large fish, which resembles flounder, but can grow to over 200 kg. As I found out later, the name halibut was derived from the Old English for “holy flatfish”, as it was a favourite with the mediaeval clergy for Friday repasts. It must have been the original monkfish.

When we arrived in Homer, we were told at the motel we must have a meal of halibut. For some reason, I had always associated halibut with English fish and chip shops and hence of little consequence. How wrong I was!

Homer is located on Kachemak Bay and has breathtaking views of the volcanic snow-covered Kenai Mountain Range. Homer itself is located on an old moraine jutting out into the Bay. There are still seven glaciers which actively drain into the Bay.

Homer itself was flattened by an earthquake in 1964, an earthquake separated by a large chunk of the Kenai peninsula jutting out into the Northern Pacific Ocean, but since it was 9.2 on the Richter scale, its effect on Homer and the surrounding countryside was that of massive subsidence accompanied by a tsunami – and the gravel spit of land upon which Homer was perched had to be re-constructed.

Now near the end of this spit are located a clutch of restaurants where we went for a meal. I think it was called the Harbour Grill, all brown timber and cosiness. Homer faces Halibut Bay. From a fisher’s point of view this is where the large halibut are abundant. It was a simple meal as I remember, with chips.

Fresh halibut fillet –with its glistening white flesh. That is enough. It was a meal to remember, but unlike wine, there is no surrounding gustatory and olfactory nonsense about a hint of vanilla or a whiff of honeysuckle as one finds with some wine connoisseur musings.

Just luscious but simple – or do I sound too much like Rick Stein?

Homer and Kenai Mountain Range

Add the twilight view across to the mountains with its celestial feeling. Does God eat halibut on Fridays?

Borders are Edgy

Sometimes when you drive the back roads of the nation, you come upon settlements where rural poverty is pronounced; houses at the dilapidated end of town where the casual passersby wonder just where the line of unliveable lies.  Often it is the shops that are closed, with cobwebs coating the edges of a dirty window where the For Sale sign has faded.

It is somewhat surprising when you drive past what appears to be an empty shop next to an unprepossessing house to see it surrounded by a high metal fence and bristling with a substantial array of power lines and CCTV cameras. There are other buildings on the property, including a large shed at the rear, and any windows seem to have the blinds down. There are limbs of animals hanging from trees dotting the property. A warning?

Parked outside this well fortified property were two modern SUVs and two motor scooters. It all seemed strange in such dilapidated surroundings.

Nevertheless, there is a pattern of small hamlets off main roads where there are multiple exit roads, where one can find such  “improvements”. I remember another small town near the South Australian border where there were the same such “improvements”.

Maybe this observation is a one off. However, a Victorian police officer commenting on the activity of bikie gangs, of which there are at least a dozen across Australia, some years ago made this classic understatement: “If there’s not been a presence in a regional town and all of a sudden there are (bikie) clubs expressing an interest, we need to look into why. They’re not setting up babysitting centres.”

The Overlanders

Last week, in the afternoon, I watched a screening of The Overlanders, an Anglo-Australian film released in 1946 which was based on the cattle drive from Wyndham to Brisbane, when 1,000 cattle were moved south to escape any Japanese invasion in 1942.

The film was in black and white, and the camerawork reflected the period, but it was still compelling. Filmed in the Northern Territory, it borrowed from the American Western themes of cattle drives, somewhat drily called a “Meat Pie Western” – that is the Australian version.

The film introduced Chips Rafferty, who received £25 a month for five months, but the film launched his career. You can see in some of Chips’ the facial expressions that Paul Hogan “inherited”.

Helen Grieve

What attracted my attention was the juvenile lead in the film, a fresh-faced teenager called Helen Grieve, who had been born in 1931 in Sydney. She was to appear in one further film, “Bush Christmas”, made in 1947. This was a bush adventure story about nasty men who steal the children’s horses. They are eventually caught; the children win out. I saw it; like many children of my age.  It was a great film. I well remember the Aboriginal boy introducing the white children to the witchetty grub, which he ate with relish, to the horror of the white children.

After “Bush Christmas” Helen Grieve gave acting away to do science. The proposed sequels to that film never eventuated, and film work in Australia had dried up.

My curiosity was tweaked.  There was little further information about her. She had died when she was rather young, at 49 years, in 1981. Then I discovered a note in the society pages of The Bulletin that she had married a David Joseland in 1955 at All Saints Woollahra.

The wedding report disclosed that her father was Herbert Ronald Robinson Grieve. He was a prominent medical practitioner with a general practice in Eastwood (but who lived with his family in Vaucluse). Dr Grieve was an influential meddler in the politics of health care, so much so that he was ultimately knighted, being a mate of Earle Page. Conservative in politics he may have been, but he still had enough energy to marry thrice.

David’s mother was a member of a pioneering pastoralist family near Canberra, and her husband, John Joseland had been absorbed into the Crace family when they married. She died in 1933; he too died in 1937.  David Joseland was thus orphaned and at the age of six he was consigned as a boarder at Cranbrook School.

As his daughter later said: After seeing The Overlanders, Dad’s dream was to meet my mother, work on the land and have that rural life.” And he did all of that.

How they got together is for someone else to fill in. Sydney was far smaller then, and if it is assumed that the two of them were products of the privileged eastern suburbs, it would not have been that hard for young Joseland to fulfill his quest to find his Helen.

He was well connected despite his tragedy. His grandfather was a well-known Sydney architect with incidentally a deep love of fishing. His father had been a pastoralist near Canberra. David spent his vacations at Belltrees, the famous property of the White family in the Hunter Valley, still then a very large fragment of a huge landholding selected by one James White who had come to the colony in 1826, and was given a free hand it seemed to put together a half million acre holding extending from the Hunter Valley to the Manning River, and which was subdivided among his seven sons and daughter when died in 1842.

Helen Grieve was a science student at The University of Sydney while David  had left school to be a jackaroo on the Everard Park Station near the South Australian Pitjantjatjara lands. Theirs were not exactly overlapping careers, and hence ardour of David Joseland must have been the overriding factor.  When you see a photograph of him in his later years, he had the face of a very determined man, not unlike that of Reginald Williams of leather fame.

Their marriage was followed by the couple moving to the Mittiebah Station,  a pastoral lease operating as a cattle station in the Northern Territory of Australia.

To give some perspective, the station occupies an area of about 7,000 square kilometres on the Barkly Tableland, about 320 kilometres east of Tennant Creek and 285 kilometres north west of Camooweal.  The Joselands raised a family there. Helen died prematurely and her grave in Alice Springs is inscribed with a minimalist: “Her life was devoted to the outback and its people.”

Seven years after her death, David relinquished the lease and moved to Tumut in 1988. He died there in 2015.

It was a story worthy of Luhrmann’s “Australia”, rather than his faux-view of the Outback. I doubt if Nicole Kidman would have made a suitable Helen Grieve. But you never know, the name Kidman is also associated with cattle.

An Unexpected Consequence

Helen Grieve’s second film “Bush Christmas” was a resounding success in Great Britain in 1948, when rationing was still very much in force there.

The unexpected consequence of portrayal of the Aboriginal boy, Neza Saunders eating a witchety grub, in front of famished white children seems to have resonated with a hungry British upper class wondering whether grubs and snakes could alleviate food shortage.

Putting the Queue on the Rack

I hate queueing, but then it is an orderly way of accessing scarce resources, whether the scarcity is absolute or relative – or contrived.

Gripped for decades by neoliberalism Australia has developed, for those with the key to the executive toilet, a taste for monopoly and/or cartels. The aim is to eliminate risk in accumulating the dividend. The area of transport has not escaped the wondrous fingering of these people with the key.

Toll roads are one area where the gouge is well and truly cemented as part of the culture. Toll road owners seem immune from political vicissitudes; if the tolls get to “extreme outrageous”, then the politicians ante up with a subsidy for the drivers, while money keeps jingling into the toll road shareholders’ bank accounts.

But we have benefited by the Irish export of the flying leprechaun, Alan Joyce. An aggressive homunculus, his history with budget airlines should have forecast his contribution to Australian aviation. Drive down the costs and maximise the subsidies from government. With the pandemic, Qantas has mopped up a total of $856 million from Jobseeker and Jobkeeper and showing it had also taken substantial sums from other government support programs. Qantas has been supported through seven separate government programs so far, including refunded charges under the Australian Aviation Financial Relief Package, and subsidised flights to repatriate overseas Australians and maintain critical routes.

In future, the airline will benefit from a $200 million international aviation support program, which will outlay wage subsidies for its international crews, as well the Domestic Aviation Network Support (DANS) and Regional Airline Network Support (RANS) programs. And so it goes on…

In return, Joyce pampers those who fly up the front of the plane, with Captain’s Club and all the associated frills. The irony is that most of these beneficiaries are flying on Qantas on our taxes – namely the politicians of all hues.

What has Australia received? An industry dogged by contrived scarcities driven by shareholder greed and Irish blarney and caic tabh.

I hope that Qantas, reputed to be the safest airline in the World, does not have to be shaken from its price cutting frenzy by Australian lives.

And this above provides a foreword to a Washington Post analysis of what is happening in America currently, with a few eucalypt driven asides.

In the past two months, 2.2 percent of flights by U.S. carriers have been canceled and 22 percent — or 260,000 flights — have been delayed. The pattern is by no means limited to the United States: 52.9 per cent of flights departing from Toronto Pearson International Airport were delayed between June 1 and July 12; London’s Heathrow Airport, where 40 percent of flights were delayed, announced it would restrict the number of departing passengers to 100,000 daily.  (Sydney Airport came in at number six in the top 10 worse airports for cancellations, after it clocked a 5.9 per cent cancellation rate over the last two months. Australia’s largest gateway was also named number nine in the list of worst airports for flight delays, with 34.2 per cent of all flights delayed in the last two months)

Much of the problem stems from an industrywide labour shortage. After the aviation industry was decimated in 2020 by covid-19, U.S. airlines received $54 billion in pandemic aid (Qantas received an estimated AU$2bn and Virgin AU$1.2bn). Overestimating how long it would take for travel to scale back up, they offered older employees retirement packages and gave many workers temporary leaves of absence. Now they are struggling to train and certify new pilots quickly enough. Federal data suggest (more than suggests!) (The US Transportation Department data shows air carriers were directly responsible for about 41 percent of delays through May, a figure on par with last year but higher than before the pandemic. Late-arriving aircraft — another problem mostly attributable to airlines — accounted for an additional 37 percent of delays.) that the airlines were the biggest reason for flight delays in the United States from January to May, and are responsible for a significant number of cancellations. 

Most organizations working in air travel had to cut back on staffing or pause hiring in 2020. That has led to shortages in airport staff, baggage handlers, security and more. Employers are trying to rapidly hire and train workers, but many airport positions require security clearances. The air traffic control system has also experienced staffing challenges in certain high-volume areas, caused in part by covid-19 outbreaks and a halt in training before vaccines were available. Because air travel is deeply interconnected, issues in one airport can lead to delays and cancellations downstream, overwhelming the system.

The Transportation Department have been urged to use its powers on consumer protection to crack down on air carriers. In fact, the department has opened 20 investigations into airlines for failing to pay refunds efficiently. Authorities should enforce rules if any have been violated, but investigations take time and might not always produce the desired results. (The Australian Competition & Complaints Commission is not a complaints handling body, but we can choose to take action where there are systemic breaches of the ACL. The warm lettuce leaf response.)

In a June meeting, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pushed airline executives to ensure summer flight schedules were operable. Airlines, to their credit, have cut their schedules by 16 per cent since the spring, and flight cancellations have decreased since mid-June. Yet that does not address the longer-term questions of capacity. 

Airlines, airports and authorities must work together to fix the structural issues exposed by this summer’s disorder. The pilot shortage was a concern even before the pandemic. Carriers and the federal government should find ways to lower the barriers to entry to training programs and certification, which are time-consuming and costly.

It’s also time to look closely at recruitment and retention in airport and ground services, jobs that are often low-paying and labor-intensive with unattractive schedules. 

The air travel industry, like much of our economy, was unprepared for the disruption from COVID-19. By acting now, it could be more resilient in the face of future crises. (Difficult to know unless it is a direct assault on patient safety, whether the Australian Government has the appetite to challenge the powers of the airlines and airport management.)

Mouse Whisper

I understand that for the Gay Pride round of the National Rugby League next year, Manly will not change the name of its side to Binary.

Ian Roberts

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?