Modest Expectations – The Spine

In an advertisement for the MD Anderson Cancer Center in a 2009 issue of Harper’s, a healthy triathlete smiles. His name is Bill Crews and under his name is the word “lymphoma” with a red line through the word. It is five years since he had been diagnosed and now following “an individual treatment plan”, he was in remission attested to which was completion of 14 triathlons at that point.

To celebrate his achievement a Bill Crews Remission Run was organised annually to provide funding for this Houston- based Cancer Center. Then there is a brief note in 2014 to say the website advertising the run is “inactive”. There is no record of Bill Crews dying – just that one word “inactive”.

It got me thinking, since my closest male friend also succumbed to lymphoma some years ago, although his course between diagnosis and death was far shorter. Once you get cancer, except for some skin cancers, you know your life will be limited. We all will die, but there is no need to face it until the doctor across the desk signals your mortality. You can of course avoid this confrontation by suiciding, being murdered, killed in an accident or sacrificed deliberately by those who would wage war.

What if I responded to the doctor after the sentencing: “I want you to tell me the exact day I am going to die.” What would be the response?

“Unfair question. Impossible to know.”

“OK, then will it be next week, week after… and this year, next year, sometime, never?”

We can be very precise with the input when we are provided with an individual treatment plan. Therefore, if you can give me such a plan, then it is reasonable to know the outcome, or what to expect. After all, infallibility is a power that some health professionals like to assume – well doctor, how long will I live? But then nobody writes on a funeral notice – he lasted x time longer than the doctors predicted or that the doctor got it so horribly wrong, he died well before the predicted date – perhaps in the middle of some surgical procedure, where the euphemism for “surgical vanity” is “heroic”.

The problem is that what I have written above is so foreign to how society is ordered. Most of us try and live in a predictable world. We expect that if we go to the gym in the morning it will be open at a certain hour. We know that lunch follows breakfast and we have a mid-morning coffee break.

Bill Crews probably had such a regimen. Cancer came; cancer went; but it never does. It marks time. How much of that time was consumed by unpleasant morbidity; how much did life become unbearable; and in the end, how much did he wish to live – all unanswerable now.

In fact, we live in a world of uncertainty. The flow of information from so many portals means that life is like traversing an Arabian souk. We never know what will happen next, but we always have the option of wanting or not wanting to know what we have bought – without it being varnished with fakery.

What does that all mean? Government, despite the various inputs, has to make the most cost effective allocation of resources in the face of all the individual treatment plans. There is no incentive for those manufacturing, distributing and prescribing the various medications to be less than optimistic. The cost of development of a drug is always stated as being so expensive so that the end product mirrors this expenditure. However, in the World of Optimism, who is going to undertake the rationing on behalf of community affordability. The plea, the crowd funding, the picture of the cancer sufferer, the hoped for remission mistaken for cure are all part of the emotional appeal. However, what price does one pay for a small addition to life of variable quality – what is an average of six months worth?

Policy should not be predicated on the outliers. Bill Crews had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Through all the obfuscation surrounding survival rates, maybe his ten-year survival rate was about average when the last mention of Bill Crews was made.

Therefore, assessing the cost of Bill Crews’ treatment may be a useful indication of the individual cost for the condition. That statistic is just as important as knowing the relative success of the individual management plan and generalising from that one example.

But my whole case is predicated on two assumptions: the first is that the lack of mention of the poster boy by MC Anderson Cancer Center (now also with a red slash through the word “Cancer”) public relations, and the inactivity of the Remission Run from 2013 onwards means that Bill Crews is now cycling on a higher plane. In line with MD Anderson Center publications, I have not mentioned the word “death”.

The second is what Bill Crews’ individual management plan cost when everything was tallied, its figure would be useful enough to be used as a guide to cost – assuming that those costs could be found and adjusted for current prices.

Hopefully the responses, outraged or not by such reductionism, would be a welter of data trying to disprove my assumption. However, that could lead to a good controversy if the policy makers were listening, and cost could be determined with all the accompanying arguments laid out. Then tell the taxpayers!

The Senile Trail

Listening to the Health Minister, he talks about “self stigma” and that we should reach out for help. Well, may I tell you, if you bother to listen, Minister, self-stigma is a meaningless term, when you are crying spontaneously for no reason, when your body is at a point where you cannot undertake the activities you were once able to do; and you are alone. You reach out for what? The phone lines are always busy in the daytime. Trying reaching out at 3am in the morning wherever you are for help. About all that is left is the late night / early morning radio programs that provide an outlet to the old, the sick, the lonely who can’t sleep and who communicate with fellow callers from across the state or the country, through the radio: “How is Beryl from Cooma, we haven’t heard her on the show for quite a while, does anyone know?”

There is a great deal of breast-beating going on, because despite all the expense spent on input, nobody has a solution to care of the aged. I have been associated with nursing homes that work well, because there is a continuity in management and the constant positive is that those in charge worry and care for their nursing home community.

Being dependent implies that I have a carer, which fortunately I have “in spades”. I can no longer live independently unable to have shower, cook, dress and generally manage any housework efficiently – without help. It is frustrating knowing that when you are dependent, you have to wait – you have to learn patience without surrendering yourself to outright submission.

However, being in a wheelchair and then suddenly left facing a blank wall in an airport adds another dimension. The person responsible who leaves you without saying anything just adds that element of being ignored. It is no longer just waiting, you are being ignored and that adds a new reality. It is a sign that you a bit of garbage to be swept when the mood takes the handler. In the end, you lose your self-respect unless dementia beats you to that realisation.

Such are elements of growing old – such are the elements of being in care, where the rules are such that you – the resident – are governed by regulations engineered by government bureaucrats far away from your bedside. They call it compliance or accreditation – a meaningless term to indicate everything is under control. Unless you have a family, whether natural or manufactured, to act as the antidote, then every day is one day nearer to death, and increasingly you wish that day will come. Those words like “accreditation” have a meaning to those who love making paperwork look like an illuminated manuscript.

Are there any solutions beyond having a caring carer not an impersonal person – a shift worker with an inadequate handover when they come on duty, their measly remuneration ultimately dependent on some distant hedge fund?

All solutions are just a variation on that fact of individual care without the negative embellishment.

For instance, I mentioned in a previous blog the series shown on the ABC where four year olds visited an aged care facility over a seven-week period. Then the series finished, with an elaborate farewell antic. I wrote in my blog* at the time:

However, if the attempt of mixing the groups is just voyeuristic – “been there; done that”; then I believe the makers of this series have probably done a disservice to all involved if nothing further eventuates.

Old age is an increasing societal challenge. It should not be just a case of waste management. Yet I fear that is happening – and David Attenborough-like explorations of human foibles and cuteness should not replace serious consideration of what can be done.

The clue is in the series – get the elderly to tell their stories, whether they have a four year old audience or not. After all, it gives you a sense of relevance, even when you may be the only one listening. However even one child listening and responding with questions is a bonus. After all, I believe we are all storytellers.

My argument was not against the idea; my concern was it being generalised – the implication being that infant schools be co-located with nursing homes, so there is ongoing integration of experience – not just a one-off “gooey-eyed” curiosity but as part of a conscious government policy.

After all, each group’s experiences are transitory – the children grow up hopefully socialised to understand what it is to be old; and one of the aged care participants died between filming and release of the documentary. Such is life, as Mr Kelly is reported to have said.

It was ironic when the aged care report was released recently there was no mention of the documentary as one remedy – even seemingly by the ABC.

* Modest Expectations – Duckworth 30/8/19

Mount Augustus

 Uluru has been closed at last. To me, there has never been any question. The traditional owners should have the right to invite strangers to climb this extraordinary monolith. I have walked around the base which is measured at 10.6 kilometres and to me it felt ‘right”. Being a “whitefella” does not exclude you from being in touch with this extraordinary country. One of the things I have learnt from my association with the Aboriginal people is to know when the Land is accepting your presence.

The idea that climbing the Rock is akin to climbing a cathedral may satisfy some people as an excuse. However, the analogy does not hold. Tourists are like ants on the roofs and spires of famous cathedrals and churches; and prohibition to climb churches is more related to safety or privacy rather than it being a spiritual taboo.

The bogan chant of why can’t I go anywhere because this is Australia and I am Australian is OK if you are a self-absorbed narcissist who does not believe that any restrictions apply to yourself. There is a high-falutin’ word for this – “libertarian” and a more macho term – “individual”, its anthem: “I am what I am”.

Well, Mount Augustus may be just what you are looking for, to express your feeling and being what you are. Mount Augustus is technically a monocline but then for you guys, it is a “humongous Rock”. It is not red and bald like Uluru – it is covered by bush and it is still called by the “whitefella” name rather than its Wadjari name of Burringurrah.

Burringurrah / Mount Augustus

However, it is the largest rock in the world and I went there 20 years ago; so it exists and has not shifted. It is a bit inconvenient being 500 kilometres inland from Carnarvon. Uluru is tiny compared to Burringurrah. There is an eponymous Aboriginal settlement close to the monocline.

Rather than walking around the base, we were carted around the 43 kilometres in a minivan at a hair-raising speed by a male nurse then living in the outstation. The trip ended back near the settlement, when the van hit a large pothole and lost its wheel. Fortunately the sand provided a cushion and we were all uninjured and trudged back to the settlement. It just emphasised how huge this Rock is.

Currently, the local Wadjari people allow visitors to climb Burringurrah but unlike Uluru, there is scrub and a trail, which takes around five hours to climb and return.

Watch this space! I remember when Uluru was Ayers Rock and was hard to get there.

Burringurrah speedway

Sydney Ferries Fiasco – A form of naval gazing

Guest Blogger: Neil Baird#

It could be said that the only thing keeping the New South Wales Liberal/National Coalition state government in power is the even greater incompetence of the State Opposition. If the latest controversy over the renewal of the Sydney Ferries fleet is any indication, the Gladys Berejiklian led coalition is certainly not an exponent of open government. The Opposition has only now awakened to an announcement that was made nine months ago in February.

Unusually, the announcement about Sydney’s ferry renewal was made from Liberal Party headquarters and not from the Minister for Transport’s office. Sure, the party was in election mode but what were they doing issuing a press release announcing a $1.3 billion project in such an underhand way? What was the government trying to conceal? Why will just 13 comparatively simple and small ferries cost $ 1.3 billion? That figure appears grossly excessive. Or does that include running and maintenance costs for nine years as mentioned in one report? Why would the government not be more transparent?

Given their other shenanigans with the Northern Beaches and Mona Vale hospital projects, for example, taxpayers have every right to be suspicious. For the record, the three larger ferries are to be built in Indonesia, presumably by Penguin Marine; the 10 smaller ones are being built by Jianglong in Zhuhai, China. The local firms mentioned below Ross Roberts/Harwood Marine were never invited to tender. Nor was anyone else apparently.

It has since been fully revealed, in an 23 October 2019 press release from Opposition Leader, Jodi McKay, that the fleet replacement was a “done deal” by 27 February 2019 when the Liberal Party announcement was made.

The story goes that in early February this year a couple of Australia’s leading ferry builders had been approached with a vague invitation to tender for the ferries. Apparently they didn’t respond to the approach. So did at least one leading firm of naval architects. None could be bothered to respond as they had such bad previous experience in dealing with Sydney Ferries, apart from being very busy anyway.

The subject went quiet for a few months and has only now been revived by Ms McKay who seems to have confused the facts.

Simply put, after endless problems, mainly with the maritime union, the operations, but not the ownership, of Sydney Ferries has not officially been privatised. It is a public-private arrangement, which avoids the need to go out to tender. The French-owned transport conglomerate, Transdev have contracted to operate the ferries, and seem to have eliminated most of the problems when it was run by the NSW Government.

Yet the curious way the ferries were ordered remains, with virtual concealment of the nature and cost of project from the taxpayers of NSW.

While Ms McKay has revealed some of facts, other parts of the story are off-beam. While the Trade Unions have been one of the major reasons for the problems at Sydney Ferries, the relative absence of shipbuilders in NSW has not helped.

However, she is partly correct. The ferries could have been built locally, as she advocates, but the only company in the NSW with experience in building ferries of the size ordered is Harwood Marine of Yamba in Northern NSW.

Strangely, Harwood was not even approached or invited to tender. Indeed, the managing director of Harwood was unaware of the government’s intentions until very recently. Harwood has been busy with a major expansion of its company’s facilities including, ironically, a 60 metre shed in which large aluminium ferries could be built. Equally ironically, those who could have benefitted – the local youth workforce in a town where unemployment stands at 23 per cent – didn’t get a look in.

Apart from Transdev, which is expected to correct Sydney Ferries’ inadequacies, one major local firm will benefit from the association with Transdev. That is the Port Macquarie-based company, Birdon, which moreover has been contracted to build ferries in China and Indonesia for Transdev.

Birdon is a highly reputable company, as is Transdev. This fiasco is no reflection on either. The government may well get a good deal in the end. However, the problem is the opaque process that the government followed. The State Opposition has been unaware of such a major project, until the belated statement from Ms McKay. It is also a major problem that Harwood, a significant employer and highly reputable local shipbuilder was not even asked to express interest in the project.

The taxpayers of New South Wales have not been well served by its politicians.

We have not heard the end of this.

# Neil Baird is non-executive Chairman of Baird Maritime, a global maritime trade publisher. Among his other positions, Neil is a long-serving director of the Australian Shipbuilders Association.

Mouse Whisper

Once I heard the confession of a poker-faced mouse whisperer despite it being difficult to squeeze into a murine confessional box.

In January 2004, I was in grade 12 of high school and about to graduate. I operated a profitable web design business as a part time job for some spending money. Seeing as my legal name is Mike Rowe, I created the domain MikeRoweSoft.com for my portfolio. The Canadian lawyers of Microsoft didn’t like this (I really don’t know how they found my site, I had 2 visitors a day. One was me (sic), one was my mom). They sent me a couple of emails and a large legal document telling me to give up my domain name. I asked for $10k. They said no. I went to the media. Hilarity ensued.

Since then I’ve been a full time professional poker player for the last 3 years. I’ve made enough to buy a condo and live very comfortably in that time. I have finished 5th in the PokerStars Sunday Million for $97,500 as well as 31st at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier this year for $40,000. So I guess you can ask about the poker stuff as well if anyone wants to.

And no, I didn’t sell out for an XBox.”

The site was still active in 2017, but not now.

Modest expectations – Westphalia

I understand le canard Trump was instrumental in securing the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. That statement is about as idiotic as his justification for welshing on the Kurds because they did not help in Operation Overlord.

It reminds me of the bon mots uttered by Marshall Green, the shadowy US Ambassador to Australia, who was implicated in the Whitlam dismissal.

“When he heard there may be Turkish troops posted to the Vietnam War, Green is reputed to have said: “I have always wanted to see Kurds in Hue.”

There is no mention of Miss Muffet or the tuffet upon which she was sitting.

Upon which Miss Muffet sat …

Diversion to Lithuania

I have been reading a book written by David Smiedt about being a Lithuanian Jew. I have always admired the Lithuanian Bund – a collective of Jewish socialists with their Polish and Russian brothers and sisters who provided a bulwark of social idealism and democratic spirit in an area that was rife with anti-semitism and authoritarian politics. They were a reservoir of Yiddish speaking Jews and were opposed to the Zionist element of Judaism, at the time when an independent Jewish state in Palestine was very much debated.

Many of the Bund came to Australia, and I remember a former Yiddish school in Carlton being rented by a group of young parents including myself as a day nursery. It was surplus to their needs, but we inherited an elderly Lithuanian, Joseph Giligich, who was very much the “hands-on landlord”, and even though his constituency had moved from Carlton south of the Yarra, he was always buzzing around.

He was not the only Lithuanian to attract my attention, for very many of the refugees from the Baltic countries after World War 11, whom I met, were Latvian. However there was one in my year of medicine, who introduced himself as “Casey”, which sounded Irish, and then uttered his surname that, like Icelandic surnames, tend to be long and trail away into the distance. The scribe politely asked how it was spelt and he started “Z…d…” The rest was lost in the mirth of the class. He was Lithuanian born.

It was some years before I had the opportunity with a friend to visit Lithuania – and yet it was not a Jewish Lithuania that I saw. It was very much a Roman Catholic Lithuania.

It is a long drive from Riga to the capital, Vilnius. So we have an intermission. We stop off at the Hill of Crosses near the town of Siauliai (pronounced “Sharlie”). As I mentioned earlier in my Jiminy blog, this Hill is an extraordinary sight to behold as we near it. “Behold” is the right word, as it is a religious experience – thousands of crosses and crucifixes of all dimensions piled together on this hill and around its base As they are mostly composed of untreated wood, they are grey and slowly rotting. Some are pasted with chips of golden amber but the sun has gone and they too merge into a cheerless greyness. It is a vision of Golgotha seen though the eyes of Mervyn Peake.

For Lithuanians this is a sacred spot, and despite it being pulled down during the Russian rule, the Lithuanians have ensured that it has sprung up again. The various notes in various languages strewn on and among the crosses indicate the Hill is not restricted to the locals. I gaze out on the adjacent lush meadow bordered by a clear stream. The forget-me-nots nestling among the crosses under the cypress trees provide a dash of nature to this oppression of crosses and crucifixes. I would have thought that this scene would provide a degree of tranquillity. But it does not. The Hill has a stench of death.

However, for most who come this is a sacred spot for pilgrimage. For them, placing a cross or crucifix among the many others may seem a fulfilment – an apologia for the journey. Lithuanians are Roman Catholics and as a country they have a natural affinity with Poles, who, like them, are Catholic. Small Polish flags are seen poking through the adornment of crosses testifying that it is a place of pilgrimage. For me, despite the gloomy appearance, the Hill is the second most arresting sight in Lithuania that I have seen until Vilnius.

The weather that has been threatening suddenly bursts open on my way back to the car park, which is about half a kilometre away. While our driver has been able to drop us near the Hill to let us out, he has to retreat to the car park. I get drenched.

It is still raining when we get to Vilnius. Our experience was somewhat different from the author of the Lithuanian odyssey, who explored the underbelly of the city.

The square outside our hotel has a number of intersecting lanes and streets lanes adding to its central importance. The square is lined by shops, amid which is the church of St Casimir. Nearby to the hotel is the National Philharmonic Hall, where we venture to hear the works of a Lithuanian composer, Osvaldas Balakauskas. The building reflects the Russian stucco socialist realism of the time. It was built in the 1940s. The music of a modern Lithuanian composer is challenging and we don’t have the energy to interpret all his nuances – we leave at the interval.

The weather has started to warm up on our second day, so we have the option of sitting out on the pavement or inside. We sit outside, quietly sipping a pre-lunch ale, when suddenly they descended. A line of cars and motor cyclists – men in red berets and army uniforms –men in dark suits with those radio earpieces dangling from their ears, seamlessly alighting in feathery concert from the cars – a fluid movement as though it had been a learnt art at bodyguard school.

Even the car doors are closed quietly. However, this is an exercise in hanging about until the centre of attention, who seems to have the rank of Lieutenant General arrives, has a brief kerbside conference with his staff and disappears inside. Amid all this activity we are not disturbed, not asked to leave, not frogmarched away.

The minders are all very relaxed but alert. They tell us who is coming, the name sounding like Gaubys. There is no self-importance in these men, apart from the number required to protect this dignitary. They chat to us. The Lithuanian army is supposed to be a reasonable fighting force. We are not very far from the Belarus border, and if we were allowed we could have had gone to Minsk and back for lunch -that is if you prefer Belorussian cuisine. However, the iron curtain still clanks at the border of these two countries.

Instead, being in the centre of town there are convenient cafés. One named California across the street takes its clue from its title and serves food with an American brio. I have the clam chowder and not the hamburgers. The café across the other lane is the Café Montmartre where the food has a very French flavour – the familiar eponymous onion soup, snails, even frogs’ legs are available. This shielded us from what is very endemic in all Baltic cookery. No matter how tricked up it is, it all comes down to meat and vegetables – with some fish. The grilled sea bream at the Café Montmartre is probably the best fish I had on this journey.

Lithuania is known for its glassblowing – stikliai – and there are many shops, which put this Lithuanian art on display. From one of these shops, I buy a simple small glass robin as a memento.

It is also known probably more widely for its amber, as is Latvia.

The Vilnius Cathedral has a neoclassical colonnaded façade and the building is topped by three statues, the central one – St Stanislaus, the patron saint of this country, carries a cross.

The cathedral has a high vaulted Gothic nave adorned by paintings and frescoes. They are again nothing remarkable. I light a candle for my close friend since it is nearing the tenth anniversary of his death. I stop for a moment before the basilicaform chancel and sanctuary. It is a strange place to remember him. I cross myself.

Close by there is the 13th century tiered tower, once part of the city defences but since the 19th century, the cathedral belltower. The bells ring out at 5pm but we are here in the morning.

Outside is a Dominican friar, who is speaking Russian animatedly to his companion. It is an example of the unexpected. I could see this as the opening scene in a John le Carré scripted film (or am I thinking of Dan Brown?) – a Russian-speaking “supposed” Dominican monk up to something. (This poor innocent man here in the portico becomes the subject of a vivid imagination).

Then an unforgettable moment occurs. My eye catches a small child being slowly rotated by his mother on a small patch of pavement. We wander over to see what the child is doing. They leave. This is the square within the Square where the last or first person stood when, as mentioned earlier, two million Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians held hands to celebrate the three countries released from Russian rule. It is just a single marker of a symbol of a solidarity, which is missing in all the other relationships between the three countries.

Stebuklas Miracle Tile, Cathedral Square, Vilnius

Standing on this marker because of its simplicity and yet its significance as a currency of communication is my trip highlight. Having duly rotated on the spot as a symbol of good fortune, I walk with my companion away across the square to the gardens where the trees shield us from the increasing warmth of the day.

I cannot forget the mother with her child standing on the marker – he looking down, she gently turning him around. I hope the child enters a world where “sekmes, veiksmi , edumay guide him on through this turbulent World – and each a word in a different language but meaning much the same – good luck.

But first don’t let Trump know of this country that has seen so much pain since its Grand Duchy days between the 13th and the end of the 18th centuries, and of the three Baltic countries has the smallest Russian population. Yet it borders the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and its neighbour Belarus may as well be Russian.

The last part of our walk through the University of Vilnius is somewhat of an anticlimax – up a hill, curving narrow street, no shade, weather now hot, little green space to rest. I buy a Lithuanian flag at the university bookshop. Now I have the three flags of the Baltic countries and, as with everything else, they could not be more different. But remember these people did once hold hands across all their borders in 1989, 30 years ago, on August 23 – and they have not forgotten.

As David Smiedt, who works as a comedian, concluded following his far more extensive exploration of Lithuania than mine, admitting that he views the world through a Jewish lens:

“I envy their self-assuredness, which I originally mistook for aloofness or suspicion. Lithuania, like its inhabitants will hold your gaze.”

Amen. 

The Case of Gladys Liu

Lodged in the Prime Minister’s unintentionally leaked “talking points” between Northern Syria and Infrastructure are three dot points about the member for Chisholm (sic):

  •  Ms Liu has spent a considerable amount of time over the last three weeks reviewing her association with all community organisations. With nearly 1,000 Chinese organisations in Victoria alone it has been a lengthy task.
  •  Ms Liu has very clearly stated that she does not wish to be a member of any organisation that has not received her explicit consent. She has asked that she be removed from all organisations that have not received her consent.
  •  Ms Liu is confident that she is not linked to any organisations that may have inappropriate associations.

“Now go away and stop bothering me” is the subtext.

However, the first talking point implies our member for Chisholm is so disconnected with what she has been doing that she had to go through 1000 Chinese organisational names. I don’t know about you Prime Minister, but I know which organisations that I am linked to – and I do not have to go through the telephone book.

Next point, the weasel is out of the burrow – explicit consent. What does that mean? Now she has asked that she be removed from all organisations that do not have her “explicit consent”. Now, Prime Minister, given she has combed through 1000 organisations, how many would that be?

Final point – she is confident – but are you? And then the weasel attacks again “inappropriate associations”.

The fact the Intelligence Community warned Malcolm Turnbull about Gladys Liu should not be ignored; what has changed that has now prompted your Assistant Minister to use the word ‘smear’ in relation to the questioning of Ms Liu? If logic is used, then does the Intelligence Community with their advice to your predecessor form part of the smear.

For my part, what if she believes in the Chinese system of government, I do not see that as a crime. However, if anybody is a member of a proscribed organisation or has committed offences under the broad brush of ‘espionage’ then it becomes a different matter. The Prime Minister has obviously made the assumption that this is not the case.

However, she is now a Member of Parliament and what she says will be carefully watched not only by the Opposition but also by her erstwhile colleagues. However, just as we will have American apologists there is no reason for there not to be Chinese apologists in Parliament.

Ultimately, the ballot box will tell whether the case of Mrs Liu results in her being re-elected or not.

She made a very eloquent maiden speech, which implies that she has a literary grasp of the English language. However, if she becomes a Chinese apologist manquée, then she will not only have the ballot box to deal with. I suspect Beijing will be watching also.

However, if the Prime Minister does wish to show his trust in Ms Liu, he should ensure for instance that she is made a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Ms Liu is not the first Chinese-born member of parliament to to be questioned over a Chinese-based organisation connection. Only last year, Mr Pierre Yang, an upper house Western Australian Labor member of parliament apologised for not disclosing membership of two associations allegedly linked to the Chinese communist party from which he has since resigned. Given the problems the NSW branch of  Labor Party are having with their association with Chinese benefactors, this is yet another challenge which our European exclave called Australia is facing, lying as we do geographically at the end of the Dragon’s tail.

Mouse Whisper

Topolino is indebted to David Smeidt for this sample of Yiddish humour:

One day Shlomo and Moshe are talking about holidays. Shlomo says, “I think I am just about ready to book my winter holidays again, but I’m going to do it differently this time. In the past, I have always taken your advice about where to go. Three years ago you said to go to Eilat. I went to Eilat and my wife Ruth got pregnant. Then two years ago, you told me to go to Bermuda and Ruth got pregnant again. Last year you suggested the Canary Isles and, as you know, Ruth got pregnant yet again.”

Moshe asks, “So what are you are going to do different this year, Shlomo?”

“This year,” replies Shlomo, “I’m taking Ruth with me.”

Eilat

Modest expectations – Joel

Given that our prime Minister loves to immerse himself in a biblical toga, this quote from the first book of Joel, which is incidentally the 29th book in the Old Testament and thus reflects the fact that this is my 29th blog that had its genesis 29 weeks ago, seems appropriate.

The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men. 

The problem is that the drought conditions have not affected Australia equally. In fact if you look at the agricultural forecast, the crops in Victoria, South Australia and West Australia seem to be doing nicely thank you very much. There is a small caveat on there being spring rains.

Darling River

Where Australia is in drought is in NSW and Queensland where the Murray-Darling basin has been wrecked and where the National Party holds most of the electorates lining the river.

The cotton industry has been particularly greedy when it comes to use of water, but the cowboys who have played around with the water rights have not helped, and there has been one disaster piled upon another as the rivers have dried up.

I, as an Australian, have been appalled by revelations about the Basin, but then what would I know? I am just a city dweller sitting on the coastline of Australia looking out on the Parramatta River. Nevertheless, like the rest of us I am inflicted with the fatuous comments of our politicians in relation to climate change.

One lesson, which does not seem to have penetrated the skulls of these politicians, is the lessons learnt from the past.

I have travelled extensively around Australia during a time when I was responsible for the rural stock take on health 20 years ago. Even then I was amazed by the extent of the open dams, which had been created to harvest water from the Darling and its tributaries. There were a few seasons when the rains came, the water flowed and everybody lost focus on the fact that this is a dry, dry land.

However, travel to South Australia and there is a line named after a very meticulous gentleman called Goyder who determined that below the line he had drawn, cropping could be undertaken with a degree of surety and above it not. Below the line the farmer can be assured of a mean of 240mm rain a year.

In fact testimony to the accuracy of his observations one can see the abandoned farm houses of those who did farm above the line. With climate change Goyder’s Line has been moving south and farming in South Australia has adjusted to the shift. South Australia produces 20 per cent of the country’s grain; most of it is grown without irrigation. In fact the Yorke Peninsula, where the best malting barley is grown, has no rivers at all. However, like its companion Eyre Peninsula, one can see the line metaphorically as it crosses these two areas. The farmers respect its scientific basis.

South Australia does not have any National party members elected to its bicameral legislature. South Australia is a desert state. I remember sitting on a verandah in Clare having a glass of that distinctive Clare riesling, when my host asked whether I knew I was 90 minutes from Adelaide and yet 90 minutes from Oororoo, which is above the Goyder line on the fringe of the desert. Increasingly Australia has to adjust to the degradation of the Murray-Darling Basin. Queensland and NSW will become desert states; however they await their George Goyder to show them how to cope.

David Littleproud

As the plane makes its descent, the local member scans the surrounding country, pointing enthusiastically to patches of water adjacent the many streams cutting across the verdant plain.

“It’s where the creeks have spread out,” he remarks. “It’s the best I’ve seen it in a long time.”

How things change! These words were uttered by Mr Littleproud in 2016 as he flew into his constituent town of Tambo.

Switch to last Sunday and there he was on television defending the allocation of one million dollars to the Moyne Shire for drought relief.

Now I know something about the Moyne Shire having once been a ratepayer in the Borough of Port Fairy before it was absorbed into the Moyne Shire. I also know quite a bit about the Moira Shire in Northern Victoria, having worked in Cobram, Yarrawonga , Numurkah and Nathalia for a decade.

That is where the departmental stuff up has occurred. The names have been confused. Moira Shire has been the centre of dairying in Northern Victoria along the Murray River. In this Shire Murray Goulburn dairying co-operative had a large factory complex, the travails of which I had a front row seat over a number of years.

Hence Moira Shire is a substantial dairying area together with a declining number of orchards, both industries requiring much water. Its rainfall this year is well below that of the mean rainfall.

So the simple solution for Littleproud was to admit the stuff up. But not this not very little proud “duck” – to coin a phrase. He stood on his dig and said that the northern part of the Moyne council was in drought. Consulting the map the most northerly part of the Shire is around Hexham and Woorndoo. The rainfall here is about the mean at this time of the year – 40 cm – hardly drought conditions. In any event the major dairying area is in the south of the Shire near the coast. I wonder whether the Minister has ever visited (or will visit) either Shire to assess the validity of his comment about the drought in the Moyne Shire, rather than making silly statements as he did this week.

For my part I have enjoyed a very pleasant sausage sizzle in the Minister’s town of his birth, Chinchilla, as I watched the coal train rumble by through the centre of town. We were on our way to Eromanga, so we had a view of the progressively dry microclimates along the way.

Littleproud has been a lucky man. His father was a National party Bjelke Peterson era minister and, as was the custom with the National Party, Littleproud has been the beneficiary of inheriting the increasingly arid electorate of Maranoa.

The rainfall in this part of Australia is half the average up to this point and a quarter of the rain was received on one day in March. However, how much relevance that has to a man of the country who now lives in Warwick, two hours closer to the coast than Chinchilla, I would not know.

I have read about the water scams, the gouging, the incompetence, bodgie water right transactions, the alleged criminality of stealing water from the McIntyre by Mr Cotton-Farmer-of -the-Year, John Norman, the sly allusion of his distant relationship to Littleproud’s wife, the subversion of the Culgoa River by the Sino-Japanese owned Cubbie station, not to mention the draining of the entire Darling River and its reduction to pools of algae infested toxin.

All that – but the water has gone. There is no more and of course the Coal Vandals are loose and want to pollute all the aquifers by mining sensitive areas throughout Queensland and NSW.

As I said, Littleproud has been a lucky man. He is also lucky because he followed Barnaby Joyce, who probably vies for the sash of the Champion incompetent bull politician ever.

So Littleproud could be lucky if he would be more proactive and seek remedies quickly and not be wedged by the climate change deniers.

However, Littleproud’s performance thus far does not augur well, and one may predict that Chinchilla, his hometown could soon be a mining town in a desert, as its water supply diminishes.

Thus, where is the National water policy; as usual caught up in the pass-the-parcel policy, which is translated into massive inaction.

Prayer and rain dancing is the substitute and if rain comes, then who wants the discipline of a water policy beyond “miracle wishes”?

Perhaps in the interim Mr Littleproud may like to move from Warwick to Roxby Downs to get a taste of what awaits his current policy unless rain dancing bears mean raindrops falling on his head.

As he knows, Roxby Downs in South Australia is a major mining area producing both copper and uranium. Like Chinchilla, profitable mining. Currently this year Roxby Downs has had 4 cm of rain against a yearly average up to October of 12 cm. It requires the water to be desalinated and the population depends on the aquifers.

Spaghetti Maranoa, anybody?

A tale of two athletes

Guest Blogger:  Janine Sargeant*

Wednesday the 9th was Peter Norman Day.

Dawn Fraser was suspended for 10 years (shortened to four years) for her alleged flag-stealing effort at the 1964 Olympic Games; Australia considered her a hero. Among her honours, she was Australian of the year in 1964 (the “flag” year), inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965, awarded an MBE in 1967, appointed an AO in 1998 and an AC in 2018; bearer of the Olympic Torch in the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony 2000. She has a swimming pool named after her – just down the road from where I am writing this.

But Dawn Fraser has lacked one thing – grace and nobility of spirit. She was rewarded for being a genuine woman larrikin, who could swim fast.

You know the true blue Aussie who is quoted as saying: “I used to do some terrible things in the marshaling area to upset my rivals.”

Compare this to Peter Norman. He ran the fastest 200 metres ever by an Australian to win a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 – his time of 20.06 seconds still stands as the Australian record – 51 years later. But because he supported two black athletes in their support of black rights (that Carlos and Smith defined as human rights) and, as a Christian stood up for human rights, he wore a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, he was shunned by the athletic establishment in Australia – that is a remarkably strong word “shunned” – it has so many overtones and undertones.

Remember the American Avery Brundage was then the Olympic head honcho – a man who had been lavish in his praise of Hitler before the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He threw the black Carlos and Smith out of the Games.

The pervasive authoritarian right wing culture permeated Australia. Wilfrid Kent Hughes, dripping knighthoods, was still alive in 1968. He not only had identified very clearly with fascism before the War but also had run the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. One can imagine in the denizens of the Melbourne Club, this “disgraceful” Norman being discussed.

Unsurprisingly, Norman was not selected for the 1972 Olympic team, despite running qualifying times. The Australian Olympic Committee to this day disputes all claims that he was ostracised – a claim made during the annual pig fly-past.

Unlike Dawn Fraser, Peter Norman had both grace and nobility of spirit. He was not a larrikin, but he ran fast.

The two black athletes he supported – John Carlos and Tommie Smith – have not forgotten him. They were pallbearers at Peter Norman’s funeral on 9 October 2006

Belatedly, long after he had receive the accolade from his black brothers, in 2012, the Australian House of Representatives passed an official apology motion recognising Peter Norman’s achievements and his bravery in wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. The House apologised for the treatment Peter Norman received on his return to Australia and, belatedly, recognised the powerful role that he had played in furthering racial equality.

Peter Norman was recognised with his induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame in 2010, awarded an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and an Order of Merit from the Australian Olympic Committee in 2018 – all of this, assuaging our collective guilt.

A bronze statue honouring Peter Norman at the Albert Park athletics track in Melbourne was unveiled this week on the 13th anniversary of his funeral.

As he said to Carlos and Smith “I will stand with you.”

Now Peter Norman stands with us all.

Janine Sargeant both swam and ran … but the Olympics never beckoned. She runs a medical association in the not-for-profit sector.

An affair of the heart

Senator Bernard Sanders has had a heart attack. He has been treated but it is unclear whether he suffered any permanent damage to his heart, or whether they thrombolysed him and stented him so the muscle was not deprived of oxygenated blood so the coronary arteries could be unblocked. Almost as good as new.

Bernie Sanders

Now Sanders is one sturdy post-vintage model in the automobile parlance, where running boards and crank handles are still provided. Yet would I be dependent on one such car? Perhaps on a quiet road without much traffic, and with a mechanic in the back seat.

When Bernie and I were young graduates on different continents, the treatment for a heart attack was to put you up on chocks in bed to rest, and if there were any squeaks to give you pain relief with morphine and if the engine was failing give you digoxin and if the engine was not running regularly try and correct the rhythm by drug or by electric shock.

Then came the specialised garages called coronary care units and things have become so sophisticated that the modern-day, post-vintage Bernie can leave hospital after a few days, re-bored for his next foray in winning over the American electorate.

There is a debate about “ageism” and whether it is wise to have a large number of the post-vintage vying for the most important post in the Western World. People can hark back to the fact that Eisenhower had a heart attack while President but that was near the end of his eight years and there was little resistance to Nixon taking over. The same may be said for Churchill, who was already 65 at the outbreak of World war 11 and was still puddling around as Prime Minister far beyond his use-by date in the 1950s.

So in the USA, the current situation is that all the leading contenders for the nomination are 70 years of age and above. When I reached 70 it was cited as the new 50. However, that does not mean that age has stalled – and I doubt 80 is the new 55 or 60. In any event, Trump is showing disturbing neurological signs and symptoms; Biden has been revealed as a serial plagiarist which never augurs well; Sanders has had his go last time; which leaves as a “newbie” of the 70 and over brigade, Elizabeth Warren.

I have never seen her in person, but on TV she is hard-working, articulate, intelligent, engaging, humorous – all the qualities which a misogynistic electorate will ignore at best and hate at worst.

Trump, even through the fog of impending dementia, knows he has Biden’s measure, because he will continue to bully and berate until Biden will have had enough of the abuse – this guy who frankly has little to him and certainly not the destructive firepower of Trump.

As for Bernie Sanders, he has to survive. Trump does not know how to deal with him. Crazy Bernie. Really? Pretty pathetic, Donald, you old canard.

If Sanders does survive then maybe, just maybe, we will be singing Moonlight in Vermont, but somehow given the 14 month grind ahead, the Democrats will probably end up with a younger candidate.

As for Warren, the Clinton burden is considerable.

This coming year will be long year for the President and his challengers as we may expect the stress and physical demands play out on the older contenders to the Presidential crown. Maybe, beggar the thought, it could all prove too much and we could have four funerals without a wedding.

Mouse whisper

In 1977 when one of the referendum questions put to the Australian electorate was whether it would agree to a retirement age placed on all Federal judges including High Court judges of 70 years, the “yes” vote was the highest recorded in any referendum with all states voting for and over 80 per cent of the electorate over all.

As one learned source stated: It appears that in Australia, age provokes a reaction of vacation rather than reverence, and the electorate saw no reason to make an exception of High Court judges.

I like that unusual use of “vacation” – the judges were encouraged to get on their bikes when they turned 70 and to have a “vacation vacation”.

On their bikes …

Modest expectations – Parrot

I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future, and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well. I don’t want our children to have anxieties about these issues.”  

The antidote for such anxieties?

 Religion is the opium of the People.

 You get good Marx for that solution. 

The safety valve

I never thought when I was challenged to write a blog, which I’m sure among the cacophonies of ideas and opinions may be read by one or two, looking for a murine apparatus and getting the spelling wrong. However, the blog is a safety valve. It allows one to shower cyberspace with words – and since cyberspace is self cleaning then you do not pollute but leave, in one’s own mind, priceless gems hanging like lanterns lighting humanity as they get swallowed by the uroboros.

However as the twilight glimmers, one of the only facilities left to me now is writing. Assuming that this is my skill, I am writing as if there is no tomorrow so that there is a legacy for what it is worth. I always listened to Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America every week when he was alive; there was always a reason for saying what he did. The book of his travel around America when he was a young man inspired me to see as much as I could, since that axiom that one is a long time dead rings so true – despite one’s affirmation of life everlasting in the Apostolic Creed. The problem is that these Creeds were hatched when 40 years was the life expectancy; thus before one realised the horror of old age and being cast into the Life Everlasting nursing home.

Rockchoppers revisited – A Weapon of Mass Destruction

I read Rockchoppers just after it was released in 1982. It was written by a Roman Catholic priest, Edmund Campion and in the wake of what I thought was the awakening of the Roman Catholic Church following Vatican II and with it the growth of the worker-priest movement. It was a brilliant book.

Chartres Cathedral Rose Window

His description of Chartres cathedral – there is none better. To stand, kneel whatever your stance in Chartres Cathedral the cathedral is, the nearest I myself have ever felt of being in a divine presence. Edmund Campion put my inchoate thoughts in print elegantly, compellingly. He quotes those stirring words of Fulbert, one of the Bishops of Chartres.

We are as dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. We can see more and farther than they, not because we have keener eyesight or because we are taller than they, but because we are raised up and held aloft by their grandeur. 

Yet as I clear my library of books accumulated over more than half a century, I wonder how Campion feels today about his Church beset by a tidal wave of child molestation, unacknowledged children of priests and the indefensible maintenance of the seal of confession in cases of child rape, the non recognition of woman as priests, the hurt and harm to so many of the flock over which these men in frocks and silly hats have presided. Shepherds they ain’t, although they do carry a crosier – representing the shape of a crook.

Corpus Christi College in Victoria, a seminary, has been revealed as a cesspool breeding pederasts. On re-reading his book, Campion is very chatty about his early life, except for the time he spent in the Manly seminary studying for the priesthood. He dismisses it in a few lines – “for years I would have nightmares that I was back inside those walls”. That is all, and his book then pursues the doctrinal-political pathway of a man whose beliefs are in line with those of the worker priest at a time when Santamaria was in ascendency. Yet he must have known about the increasing social dysfunctionality of the Church – he is too astute and sensitive not to have known.

However, this week watching these Roman Catholic apologists wheeled out for the courteous Lisa Millar and Geraldine Doogue to interview, there are the masks of geniality that are difficult to challenge, especially if you have been conditioned since childhood with a sense of guilt. You can never be rude to the Church. The Church would never send in the current Archbishop of Melbourne for interview as the public relations front – just get a good ol’ empathetic face of a Father Brown understudy with a purple vest to pour on the paternal charm.

This is the Roman Catholic Church in delay, delay and delay mode; the creed of Catholicism, as it is with many religions, is secrecy and rearguard. The description of church architecture to over the centuries as described by Campion designed to increasingly separate the congregation for the priest to enhance the impenetrable secrecy should be standard reading as should be his antidote in Chartres.

Personally I am pessimistic and the Campion book holds the clue of why that is. Within all religion there is a reactionary group fearful of change which intelligent unscrupulous populists like Santamaria can exploit, as he did through the DLP before it was effectively destroyed in the 1974 Federal election.

However, it is not only the conservative Roman Catholics, but also in Newt Gingrich’s cleverly exploitation in harnessing the political clout of the evangelical Christian movement in 1990s. There are two forces – fear and the authoritarian personality, which oppose the forces that Campion wanted unleashed to liberalise the Catholic church. Therefore, to protect the base the traditionalists are prepared – if not to condone the despicable behaviour outlined above – then to look the other way or throw a blanket of sophistry over it.

Richmond – A Reflected Glow

I am not a Richmond supporter. However, I easily could have been if the kids on the corner of the street where I lived when I was five had not been Essendon supporters. Deeply impressionable, I became a passionate Essendon supporter, a support that was transferred to my sons and their children.

Michael Egan, Major of Richmond

However, my great grandfather, Michael Egan was Mayor of Richmond in the early 1870s and there is even a street named after him in Richmond. He distinguished himself by biffing another councillor who dared to disagree with him, but many of his other achievements as a councillor have been lost when at some time later the Council records were incinerated – some say suspiciously.

Michael Egan made a fortune with a wood yard, initially at the end of Rowena Parade and then transferred to Punt Road, where the Yarra River was convenient for transporting the wood. Anyway most of the wood ended up in the goldfield diggings, and when the great Crash of the 1890s came, I was always told that he survived because his money was in the Bank of NSW.

During the 1970s I frequented the Vaucluse Hotel in Richmond where we had monthly meetings, and this was time when the licensee, Graeme Richmond, was one of the geniuses behind that golden period when Richmond was last a powerhouse football team; and mine wasn’t. However, despite the horror of the period I did not change my colour from red sash to yellow.

Then Kevin Sheedy came along, a Richmond champion footballer as coach of Essendon in 1981. I thought Sheedy a dirty player and remembered him breaking Des Tuddenham’s leg, another ferocious footballer of that era, who had gone to Essendon as playing coach from Collingwood.

Now this Sheedy had come to Essendon as coach, and there was a perverse satisfaction in him losing five out of the first six games as coach such that he contemplated putting on the boots and coming back as a playing coach.

Then the Sheedy era blossomed. Essendon won 15 games in succession until it lost the very last game of the season to Geelong to Geelong and subsequently the 1981 elimination final. In three years though, Sheedy achieved his first premiership with my team – the first since 1965 – and during this time it turned out that Sheedy had been an Essendon supporter as a kid.

The tide was turning. Sheedy in my eyes now had been a fearless, uncompromising player, who brought the best out of his players instilling that intense fearlessness, of which the current Richmond coach, Damien Hardwick, as one of his protégés was a beneficiary.

One day Sheedy had also stopped to play cricket with my sons who were practising on one of those malthoid wickets in Yarra Park close to the Richmond Cricket Ground. How good was that for two teenage boys forever devoted to the Essendon red and black! Richmond and Essendon were thus forever closely intertwined.

However, even before Sheedy was appointed, I did make amends in relation to the yellow and black when in 1979 I moved to Balmain – Richmond on the Parramatta River as I called it – and became a very strong rugby league supporter of the then Balmain Tigers.

Balmain colours were orange and black. But what is there in a different shade of colour?

But then that is another story. 

Trudeau or Scheer. Scheer who?

It’s colder; they play ice hockey more; their bacon is really ham; and their obsession with maple syrup products borders on unhealthy. So penned a BBC reporter in an introduction to an article about the Canadian versus American political system.

The Canadians go to the polls on 21 October with 338 ridings up for grabs. Next week, the leaders of the various parties face the media in a Quebec venue – one in English –the other in French before audiences presumably who can understand “pollyspeak” in two languages.

There seem to be six parties in the electoral campaign, although two of the parties have two and one member each – the Greens, two on the Vancouver islands and a one-man party led by a LePen-like character who holds a Quebec seat. This leaves the left-of-centre New Democratic Party under its leader, Jagmeet Singh, struggling to repeat its 2015 successes. The Bloc Québécois Leader, Yves-François Blanchet, seems more secure and concentrates on the francophone areas, and it is the loyalty of his constituency that will probably determine whether Trudeau can wrest seats and be re-elected.

Trudeau thus will have to win seats in Quebec, an aim helped by the fact that the Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who represents a riding in Saskatchewan, does not speak French well.

Saskatchewan

However, the end result of the election should be interesting. We Australians pay scant attention to Canadian politics, only mentioning briefly Justin Trudeau’s travails, when he had been embarrassed by his appearance in blackface on several occasions when young, well before politics beckoned. These antics have been portrayed by the right-wing media as though they were a mortal sin. However, given the rise of social media and the tendency apparently to trade intimate and potentially embarrassing images, maybe this minor transgression by Trudeau will be magnified in future elections for aspiring politicians as the “sins of the past” are paraded as “weapons of mass destruction”.

What is important about our future relations with Canada is that both countries for their size and GDP have substantial pension/superannuation funds, with the potential for investment. An example of this is the joint arrangement announced in August between Australian Super, Australia’s largest industry superannuation fund, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Canada’s largest single-profession pension plan, to invest $1 billion each in the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) of India’s Master Fund.

Then this week, Webster Ltd, Australia’s monopoly grower of walnuts, signed a deal for an AUD854 million takeover, yet to be ratified, by PSP Investments, Canada’s huge public service pension fund. The same fund has funded the Hewitt Cattle Company to expand its holdings in the Northern Territory. PSP Investments also owns 25 per cent of the NorthConnex tunnel, 25 per cent of the Westlink M7 toll road, 33 per cent of the rail freight company, Pacific National and a large slice of BAI Communications – in political terms all highly strategic.

The problem with the two countries is that in addition to being far away from one another, they traditionally excel in different sports (unlike other countries in the British Commonwealth). So the two countries exist in parallel. Any communication between Morrison and Trudeau one can guess has been minimal; perhaps if Scheer becomes Prime Minister there will be more evidence of shared vision in a common adulation of Trump, given the way their political careers have slid forward.

Politicians are great followers and perhaps the investment profiles of the large superannuation/pension funds of each country may guide them to pool their common interests so there is a potential third force in this increasingly polarised world.

And one great advantage Canada has over Australia is the lack of the Murdoch shadow. It should be noted that James Murdoch has purchased a property in a remote part of British Columbia, but then does he count? After all, he has been caught providing funding for democratic aspirants for the U.S. Presidency.

Mouse whisper

Mentioning “Boof”. It may have been 2010 … with apologies to A.A. Milne.

Scott Scott Morrison Morrison whether a matter for glee,

Took great care of his bear, though he was forty-three.

Scott Scott said to the Rupert: “Rupert, ” he said, said he.

“Don’t ever go up to the top of the town if you don’t go up with me …

and look what happened – Scott2 Morrison2 has another bear called Lachlan.

Modest Expectations – Julia

Looking at this young woman Greta Thunberg, her face contorted with rage, one has to ask what is the next step?

Rosa Luxemburg’s comment may be relevant and somewhat re-assuring:

The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening.

Yet what happened to Rosa Luxemburg, who is one of my admired people, as is Dietrich Bonhoffer? She was killed by the Freicorps in 1919, as was Bonhoeffer – hanged by the sons of the Friekorps at Flossenburg in 1945. They both spoke their mind. They challenged the equivalent to today’s violent alt-right. Both had a form of courage, I wonder whether I could ever emulate; probably not.

But back to Thunberg. What is her next step? She has confronted her Armageddon in a unique way. Yet her following may yet be ephemeral. How many of those who demonstrated last week believe that when the Sun rises tomorrow it will incinerate our Planet in a cloud of carbon dioxide.

Greta Thunberg, in her speech, was full of venom. She is confronting a world that is full of hatred stirred up by the newly-minted demagogues. She is no longer a schoolgirl; to these demagogues she is a revolutionary – a dangerous person. Sweden has a history of assassination. Remember Olof Palme. His killer has never been caught. I do hope Greta has good security.

The Man of Coal gets a Shiny Coating

The Prime Minister has come out of his visit to the United States with a new moniker – a Man of Titanium.

Titanium Man

Whether that sticks depends on whether the various spin doctors see any value in ridicule or defence emphasising the properties of titanium. Who knows? However, what else? Maybe some trivial contribution to Trump’s Mars Venture, a couple of speeches, opening a Pratt factory in Ohio in front of what looked liked a bikie convention. Wandering around the United States Morrison, despite all the flattery and pomp, presented a marginalised world figure.

Meanwhile, as well as the speech at the UN climate summit, Jacinda Ardern has given a headline speech at the UN Secretary General’s climate action summit private sector forum. She has been pushing her initiative, the Christchurch call to block extremism on the social media outlet; she has met with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube and Brad Smith, president of Microsoft.

Her aim was to cement the Christchurch Call, during a roundtable with the tech companies including Microsoft, Google/Youtube, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. Maybe the call will become an echo, but in our terms with the new crisis response protocol and the preparedness of Google to test it later this year, she’s giving it a red hot go – and what’s more, she is very relevant to what is occurring in the world.

She may not have been able to feast on Dover sole and apple charlotte with such luminaries as the Honorable Rudy Giuliani or the Honorable Katherine Henderson the other night, but Trump wanted to speak to her and it should be noted that Trump suddenly made time to drop by the Climate Summit – no show without Punch.

By contrast, our Prime Minister didn’t entrance everybody with his talk to the United Nations this week.

However, Morrison is not the tosser that some like to portray. I was thinking about what his next move with Ms Liu will be now that he has the Chinese well offside, and there seems to be some pushback by the Victorian Liberals.

Looking though the guest list for his dinner with Trump there was no Arthur Sinodinos – maybe a bit odd. But when the Niblick from North Shore who was at the dinner, comes home, he will be replaced by an envoy not tarnished by a Trump association; hopefully Sinodinos will be somebody who will be amenable to the Democrats. Just an errant thought chipped out of a cranial bunker.

Stop mucking about

One of the problems the health system faces is how to manage the aged person when their chronic condition develops into an impairment that requires varying levels of ongoing care, particularly institutional care. The health care system is faced with paying for custodial care – and preferably not in high-cost, state-managed acute hospital beds.

To the central Commonwealth agencies the imperative is to keep the aged brain and limbs working, for the forecast is that unless this is done there will not be enough people working to sustain the economy without extensive immigration.

This imperative to keep us working is an ironic outcome, given that the Commonwealth allowed the development of a superannuation scheme that required its own employees to retire on the eve of their 55th birthday. Under the terms of the scheme it was not worth working beyond that age. Moreover, there were financial penalties if you did.

That scheme has been retired, along with a lot of 55 year old public servants, but it illustrates a shift in thinking. It is not that long ago that the futurist chatter was about an increase in leisure time and the expectation of retiring to a recreational middle age. Given the imminent workforce problems, that is not an option for government planners. Therefore the workforce has to be healthy if it is to prolong its usefulness. After all, healthy life expectation starts from intra-uterine life.

The fact is that we have the technology to prolong existence. Whether that existence translates into the kind of life a person would care to be encased is a matter of personal value judgment. To many, though, the primacy of the individual is a societal norm.

So what about this question of an aged care health benefit under Medicare? The Commonwealth already has the power to legislate for a sickness benefit. Also, the Constitution picks out, in addition to the doctors and dentists, benefits for hospital care and pharmaceuticals.

In all the discussions of the Commonwealth’s powers, it was only the passage of the 1946 amendment that enabled the Commonwealth to intervene directly in health financing.

It then created successively the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (1950), the Pensioner Medical Service (1951), the Hospital Benefits Scheme (1952) and finally the Medical Benefits Scheme (1953).

It might be argued that the Pensioner Medical Service was an embryonic attempt at an Aged Health Benefits Scheme. But it was a very limited attempt, restricted to some services provided by general practitioners to eligible pensioners and their dependants.

The matter of Commonwealth powers is relation to health was one of the terms of reference in the first major review of the Constitution established in 1927.

In its report two years later the Royal Commission, which undertook the review, revealed a strong difference of opinion on where responsibility should lie. The majority view supported a “softly, softly” approach, which would have health as a Commonwealth power but well fettered by the states and even local government.

What emerged strongly in the report was a recognition of the strong sense of co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. But here the discussion was about quarantine and the promotion of public health. The fact that co-operation had failed under the “stress of epidemics” of smallpox in 1913, influenza in 1919, and plague in 1921, was seen by the Royal Commission as the reason for even more co-operation between the various governments, not less!

In fact, the Commonwealth Department of Health was created as a result of the influenza epidemic and problems arising from the return of large numbers of troops from the First World War. From the national approach to episodes, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Swine Flu epidemic are evidence that co-operation in this area has continued to the present.

But health financing is another matter. It is interesting to note that when the Constitution was next comprehensively reviewed in 1959, health was not mentioned in the deliberations. The Constitutional amendments of 1946 had resulted in the changes welcomed when the world was experiencing the advent of the “wonder drug” era. The cost of the health system was not a political issue.

So what has happened since?

John Deeble

As the late John Deeble, one of the architects of first the Medibank scheme of universal care (1974) and then Medicare (1983), identified over 30 years ago, from 1972 onwards the average wage level of public hospital employees started to rise far faster than both average weekly earnings and medical practitioner incomes. The impetus for this was, in his words, “a compulsory arbitration system which takes almost no account of the ability to pay and was completely unaffected by financing arrangements”.

A number of strategies have been employed to try to contain the cost of the health system since this trend became very apparent in the early 1980s. But in the end, when the smoke clears from any round of Commonwealth-State conversations on health, the problems foreshadowed in tailoring a health care system to projected demographic changes will persist. Yet near the end of the Howard era, there was an explosion of Medicare benefits, expansion of the Medicare Safety Net and the reintroduction of the private health insurance rebate.

One wonders, then, whether it would be best if there were some consolidation of the power of the Commonwealth, such that it assumed complete control of aged health care and, by implication, total control of health. Alternatively, should the Commonwealth simply retire from health care? This debate has achieved currency periodically, although with the number of reviews, which have been entered into from Rudd to Morrison, the debate has become rather muted waiting for the deliberations of these committees. The time that the Robinson Review has been allowed to meander needs to be curtailed as I mentioned before; and who knows where the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, constituted at the beginning of the year and due to release an interim report at the end of October, will end up.

There remains a need to stimulate discussion on how best to address the issue of providing for an aged health care benefit.

At first blush, advocacy of such a benefit would appear to be for “health care” after age 65. Any person, whether in the guise of “patient”, “client” or just plain “consumer”, would have the discretion to use that government-funded benefit how he or she thinks fit.

Such a libertarian solution is immediately hedged with all the provisos that abound in that “dark and pessimistic world we inhabit” – a state of affairs we might expect if we listen to those who try to ensure that any freedom of action is hung on a line of conditional discretion for our own protection.

This is the dilemma: the tug-of-war between freedom to do what you want and the imposition of the fiat of “what is good for you”.

And so the level of knowledge about the various courses of action that are available becomes crucial when determining the outcome of this tug-of-war in relation to the individual complaint.

It is the power of asymmetric knowledge. The provider has knowledge, which the consumer generally does not.

Constitutionally, the Commonwealth may have the power to establish an aged care benefit which could, for instance, be just a redefinition of the power to set “sickness benefits” (which is mentioned in the 1946 amendment).

The fact that so few referenda are passed is testament to the conservatism of the electorate. But it also indicates that the same electorate takes change seriously.

There have been four referenda since the one in 1946. The consequences? Aboriginal people have been given the right to vote; price and income control has not been conceded to the Commonwealth Government; and the Republic has been denied. A number of constitutional anomalies were clarified in the 1977 referendum.

The financing of aged health care is another major issue.

The prospect of a referendum will draw out the vested interests, to be tested in the glow of debate. And that is the point! It is the vested interest who may feel that such a debate would not be fruitful because it is too hard to change the system. But in the end it would be academic. Referenda are expensive, and in the current economic climate seen as a luxury; nor would the cession of powers attract much interest.

But if one level of government does not at least have the unequivocal power for health care of the aged then the proposition of a consolidated benefit for aged care will never be tested. The optometric scheme was introduced in 1974, and the sleight of hand used to assure Constitutionality was to deem the optometrist service as “medical”. In any event, the Commonwealth was providing a fixed benefit for a limited range of services. The optometrist had to accept the benefit amount.

This is very different from the medical benefit, where the benefit is the Government’s contribution to the overall medical fee, which remains at the discretion of the doctor. The Commonwealth has progressively tried to cap the Medicare expenditures and at the same time maintain the gap payments at an accepted level; hence the expanded Medicare safety net and bulk billing provisions, which are increasingly working less well and there is a rising concern between benefit and actual fee proceduralists, in particular, charge. Given his craving for publicity maybe it could be called the Teo effect after the cavalier neurosurgeon of the same name.

The language of the majority opinion in the 1929 Royal Commission report still resonates as a challenge to this nation to consolidate the health power in that sense of co-operation, which has been apparent in public health matters since Federation.

So let us play with the theme – directing the whole of our approach to health care, from conception onwards, towards conferring an aged care health benefit – but under a single power conferred by the Constitution. However, if the definition of “sickness benefit” is expanded then it may enable the benefit scheme to be extended to those health professionals that the current language of the Constitution excludes. There is for instance no provision for “a nursing fee for Medicare benefit”, unless you pursue the optometrist option – and I doubt whether either doctor or nurses would be happy that nursing services being deemed “medical” to attract a patient benefit

If that can be done without a referendum, there will be much saving of time and expense. But there is no doubt that referenda and the prospects thereof do focus the collective community mind.

Mouse Whisper

I love the story about an Australian bushranger called Charles Rutherford who was illiterate and lurked around the Lower Darling in the early nineteenth century. When he robbed a coach, he asked the passengers to read out the value of each cheque that he intended taking. Talk about honour among thieves. But there was more. He used to take his captives to a near-by hotel for drinks and lunch at which Rutherford, presided gun in hand.

Modest Expectations – Hole

In the blog two weeks ago, Neil Baird, and in this week’s Chris Brook have indirectly or directly alluded to self-sufficiency. With the advance of globalisation the need for self-sufficiency seemed not to be so important. The supply chains were efficient, and it may be argued that they remain so. However, the rise of nationalism and the belligerent rhetoric accompanying this surge have made a number of those multi-national corporations worried if you believe The Economist. Apparently, so it goes, most multi-national corporations found that they did not know who supplies the supplier to their supplier; and so it is conceivable that on distant shores there is a vendor who cannot or will not fulfill its obligations. When the supply chain works, as Brook as shown with blood, the tendency is to take it for granted – nothing will change – let’s move on.

However, this quote from The Economist is salutary: “In the wake of the Japanese tsunami in 2011 a global semiconductor giant tried to map its vulnerabilities to third and fourth tier vendors; it took a team of 100 executives more than a year to work out which firms were in its extended supplier networks.” Presumably this would not happen now if Silicon Valley were hit with a massive earthquake – or Seattle for that matter.

Apart from natural disaster, borders are going up everywhere yet we still depend on the integrity of the supply chains.

Meanwhile back at Parliamentary St Andrews, they chortle over their wonderful use of the wedge, the bluntness of the mashie and the judicious use of the constitutional niblick, while along the course the clouds are gathering. 

Blood

 Brook recounts his Success Story

I first got involved in the organisation and management of blood (and then blood products) in 1988 when I was appointed as Victoria’s youngest Chief Medical Officer.

Then every State has its own separate blood service which, although under the umbrella of the Red Cross, could and did have differences in approach, even donor deferral. This could create problems and these were not resolved until the early 2000s. 

Most of the big concerns at that time were about fresh cellular products, including adequacy of supply, in a system where only a tiny minority of the population are donors, predominantly white and “Anglo”. This has not changed. There are many cultural and even religious reasons for this, but it remains a big problem.

In my early stewardship, I was confronted by the HIV scourge and subsequently the rise of Hepatitis C infection in the blood supply.

Preventing their transmission through transfusion was urgently needed and for people with haemophilia the risks were multiplied due to pooling of plasma used to fractionate into products like haemostatic factors and fractionated plasma products like Immunoglobulin. The number of deaths of those with haemophilia due to contaminated products resulted in a drive to eliminate this spectre. 

It is difficult for people who were not there to understand the horrors of the HIV / AIDS era in the 1980s, before adequate testing and treatment. Australia’s response is regarded as a world leader, thanks to Neal Blewett, then Commonwealth Health Minister, whose government funding provided a systemic health response, community programs and research.

The Hepatitis C virus was not even identified at the time – it was suspected to be a new virus, but was known only as “Non A – Non B” hepatitis. Its subsequent devastating long-term effects were then unknown.

Universal testing for HIV was introduced and Hepatitis C antibody testing came later. There were also stringent rules for a person to be accepted as a blood donor thus assuring safety of the supply.

Problems in product supply and clinical usage became evident in the early 1990s. Australia’s blood and plasma product supply was considered to be largely self sufficient, in reality markedly sub-optimal plasma product use was masked, and overuse and wastage of red cells needed to be addressed.

The States and the Commonwealth jointly funded state-based Blood Transfusion Services on a 60:40 basis and the Commonwealth government at that time funded the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL). CSL did not fractionate some products from Australian plasma due to low volumes and large cost; and while there was funding for some imported products, like purified Factor VIII, the arrangements are best described as chaotic which led to perverse outcomes.

For example, haemophilia was treated only “on demand”, only at the time of a bleeding (often into a joint); and even then the treatment might comprise cryoprecipitate (a form of clotting factor soup)  or even fresh frozen plasma , as these products were “free” being available from CSL, whereas purified  Factor VIII was not and was thus a significant cost to the hospital.

So not only did a generation of young people with haemophilia suffer HIV and Hepatitis C, those who survived grew into adulthood with not only often severely damaged joints but also with repeated painful hospitalisations.

In 1994 CSL was privatised and as a successful case study in the benefits of privatisation when properly enacted CSL Pty Ltd has gone on to become the largest plasma fractionator in the world – a stunning achievement.

In the same year, with support of the then Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, I chaired a Working Party to look at Factor VIII in young people with haemophilia. Best practice meant prophylactic daily treatment with purified Factor VIII to prevent bleeding. 

This prophylactic treatment actually reduced hospitalisations, far better adult functional outcomes were achieved, and lives transformed from one of disability to one of approaching normality.

Then imported recombinant Factor VIII became widely available for the treatment for Haemophilia A and other bleeding disorders.

In 1996, I participated in the Red Cross amalgamation of all of the State blood transfusion services into a single national Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS).

In 1999, the then Commonwealth Minister for Health, Dr Michael Wooldridge, commissioned an enquiry into blood and blood product arrangements in Australia, chaired by Sir Ninian Stephen. Its 2001 report still reads well.

The most important recommendation was to create a National Blood Authority (NBA) to assume all supply planning and purchasing on behalf of all Jurisdictions (including the Commonwealth), using common pricing, and clear jurisdictional agreements.

The design of the NBA included the influential Jurisdictional Blood Committee (JBC), which reflected my belief that overcoming some of the problems of Federation can only be achieved by well functioning cross jurisdictional bodies, a lesson I learned as Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS when the initial HIV / AIDS Strategy was devised and which incidentally informed the structure of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality Health Care. 

During this time I was also the Chair of the AHMAC Blood and Blood Products Committee and remained so until the National Blood Authority creation in 2003.

In 2004 all recombinant clotting factors were funded by the Commonwealth government.

The NBA has performed to above expectations. It is a small agency with around 50 staff and I remain on its Advisory Board.

The NBA has contracts with CSL and with suppliers of imported haemostatic factors. ARCBS is funded by NBA on a product pricing basis for each State and reconciled annually. All products are funded jointly by the Commonwealth and States on an agreed 63:37 split with annual supply plan for each jurisdiction agreed by COAG Health Council.

There are excellent information systems allowing NBA to track fresh product issues and usage, plasma products, and haemostatic factors.

There are guidelines for usage of Immunoglobulin (Ig) and haemostatic factors, and a major blood usage (Blood Matters) program with all jurisdictions having vigilance programs to identify appropriate use and risk. 

In conclusion, Australia is well organised and managed in relation to the availability and supply of blood products.

Red cells are no longer the demand driver. Red cell use is declining as better education and usage monitoring occurs , along with reduction in waste.

Haemostatic products are now predominantly synthetic recombinants. This a great advance, given the tragedies with plasma-derived products in the past as occurred with both boys and men with haemophilia. 

Having said this, demand is now driven by the Ig requirement, which has ever-wider uses but is currently unable to be synthesised. This is not a insurmountable problem, but I also believe some of its uses will be replaced by specific antibody drugs in the future.  

Australia is one of the highest users of Ig, along with the US and Canada, but have long since needed to import Ig. Now imported, Ig is the majority source and costing much less than domestic supply.

Ig usage in Australia, whilst high, is not inappropriate and countries currently with lower usage rates will rapidly catch up – with all kinds of global consequences for its supply. 

Australia can boost domestic supply, but currently at relatively high cost, yet a cost-effective local supply should be pursued given the uncertainty of the global supply.

However, there are three matters that should form the basis of any ongoing review – just because, “it ain’t broke”, does not mean that it could still be improved. 

First, Australia is committed to at least try to achieve self-sufficiency, with minimal waste. We are self sufficient in cellular products, but arguably this should apply also to plasma products, which should this country aim to be?

Second, blood and domestic plasma collection is a totally conducted by ARCBS. The Blood Service is not a charity funded by the Red Cross, but a multi hundred million dollar government funded business, as it should be to assure the community of its efficacy. Should the community know this? 

Third, the ARCBS is trying to increase plasma-only donations but even so, our model has a higher cost structure. As a result Australia uses products from the USA and Germany, which generate the majority of global plasma products. These countries remunerate the donors. Australia is legally committed to a voluntary donation model, and the government would be loath to change. But should it at least be looked at?

Blood is too important a part of the health system not to always be in the forefront of policy considerations, especially when biosecurity and self-sufficiency are on the agenda.

Beware the unintended consequences, my friend

We returned to Australia through Darwin and as always, it is difficult to resist the two-bottle duty free concession. However bottles become heavier as we, not the bottles, age – or else seem to! I am disabled because of an intercurrent autoimmune disease, requiring a wheelchair at the airport. We had to board a flight to Sydney. My companion had recently had a heart attack, and though well enough to travel needs some assistance with luggage.

Thus we have the curious experience of the commissionaire, the name for the wheelchair pusher, being able to place my small bag and two of the four bottles in the overhead luggage compartment.

My companion had gone on ahead, and I was presented with the unedifying spectacle of a young female flight attendant standing by while my elderly companion, who had a recent heart attack, struggled to place her items in the overhead locker.

This spectacle was further compounded by the fact that we had been allocated business seats in row one. In the front row, all bags –including handbags and toiletry bags with necessary medication –must be off the floor. In other words at some time in the flight, bags must be taken down and in a full flight this means moving bags around in the overhead locker often, a strenuous manoeuvre if the passenger is disabled.

Apparently there is some recent ruling that prevents the flight attendant helping with placing luggage in a overhead container. We had not brought on portmanteaux, which for some reason the airline allows people to do. Rather the airline insists that the flight attendants stand back and not help. When I protested, I was put firmly back in my box, old man … them’s the rules.

The problem with rules is that there are those flight attendants with common sense and those without. A rule does not have a brain to distinguish one from another. I would suggest to the airline to stop people bringing on huge cases, and that when people are placed in bulkhead or exit rows, which require all baggage to be off the floor, to exert a bit of common sense. And if they cannot, defer to somebody who can.

Finally, I would say I have been disabled for six years and the problem with airport terminals is they are getting larger, and the demands on disabled services is not getting any less. I have been able to observe many cases where there has been no obvious reason for a wheelchair except it seems culturally important to have your mother when she gets to late middle-aged to be wheeled around the airport. So the task is not getting any easier when you also have to deal with a sense of entitlement as well as disability.

Mouse Whisper

What did you mean by “He met her in abasement” or should it have read “He met her in a basement”? Might be the same. Nevertheless, it put me in mind of the time when I was the MP (mouse parliamentarian) for Mousehole. I sent a stern letter to a PS (parliamentary skunk) where I meant to write that his action was “imprudent” but somewhere along the way, the “r” was dropped. Created quite a stink!

Mousehole

Modest expectations – Pale Waves

One thing I seem to have missed as I have aged is the music revolution. Last week in Melbourne there were all these people in red dancing around in a park – something to do with Kate Bush, in red, outside a window singing about “Wuthering Heights”. My appreciation of music is limited by the fact that in its creation, playing and singing I am completely talentless. However, I understand that there is a very popular band called Pale Waves, an Indie-band with a lead singer called Heather who has one of the voices that would divide a mosh pit like the Red Sea. They sing:

I was eighteen when I met you

Poured my heart out, spilt all my truth

I finally felt like I could feel for the first time

When I met you.

The video is dark and moody with more than a hint of sex but with all the “on the road” clichés pasted along its way.

Now my era danced to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet little Sixteen” – bit of poetic licence in the age difference, but it is all about being young, which is the root of nostalgia. The Beach Boys pinched the tune for “Surfin’ USA”.

Sweet Little Sixteen

She’s just got to have

About half a million

Framed autographs

Her wallet’s filled with pictures

She gets ’em one by one

She gets so excited

Watch her look at her run

Berry was a genius. The singer from Indie Pop group, Pale Waves may turn out to be one as well. I saw Chuck Berry perform in the twilight of his career in a basement in St Louis. We were the ageing mosh pit; it was one of our most memorable experiences.

Chuck Berry

I missed the Pale Waves when they were here in 2018, but perhaps they will roll in again.

Fanfare for the Common Man

I am not an American citizen, however for what it is worth, I have an alternative view of the USA to that of its President.

I have friends in Lubec, on the Canadian border in Maine. Across the water in Canada is Campobello Island, which is synonymous with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt smiled; he exuded optimism. He was also a cripple, struck down by the poliovirus one morning on this most beautiful of islands. Yet he strove for his own independence and courage.

I come from a country where to bare arms is to get down to work with my fellow citizens. I have never seen a gun except sleeping in a rack. Maybe I am careful, but the myths of the NRA are powerful, like those of Washington Irving. The story goes … it’s the guns that kill, not people. Guns must therefore awake, get off the rack, stretch their barrels, and discharge a thousand bullets before breakfast. People are killed but guns remain the same.

I live a country where there is no gun culture comparable to that of the United States and yet our major commemoration is a World War One disaster at Gallipoli and our national day is called by some “Invasion Day,” when Great Britain dumped a bunch of their unwanted – convicts and marines – in a desolate place called Botany Bay in 1788. Despite its apparent vigour, this is a country rooted in pessimism.

America’s national day celebrates something more than putting a British foot on a distant shore.

Australia has a dirge for a national anthem. America’s anthem was forged as the smoke from the British bombardment of Fort McHenry cleared in 1814 and the American flag was still flying. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Today Fort McHenry is one of only two places in the United States where the 1814 fifteen-star flag still flies. The other is at the end of the Oregon Trail.

I love my country. I have travelled all over my own country.

But then I have also been privileged to roam the United States too. I have sponsored musk oxen called Amethyst and Pixie Stix in that Folly, Alaska. I have sat in the San Franciscan courtyard and then written about the early days and aspirations of Genentech before Silicon Valley arrived to crush the city. I have eaten king salmon in Salem, Oregon, and crab in Sabine Pass, Texas – both sublime experiences. I have stood at the doors of that miracle of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic. I have gazed at Mount Rushmore and know now why those four presidents were carved. I have wept at Shiloh. I have stood in the wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail in Douglas, Wyoming. I have joined in a march to the Tenderloin on January 15. I have worshipped in the bitterly cold of the outdoor Navajo Mass in Santa Fe at Christmas. And so on … identifying something extraordinary in all the 50 States I have visited, not to mention Puerto Rico.

However, I am white and while there was a certain exhilaration of being part of a January 15 homage to the life of Martin Luther King, I have had another far different experience of turning a corner in the national capital from a gentrified brown stone street, to find that I seemed to be the only white person in the street. Not even an Officer Krupke. I did not turn; I walked briskly making no eye contact yet experienced the tension of being alone in a very foreign country, well outside my comfort zone. I walked the block, before turning into another zone of brownstone gentrification.

I have money; I do not have to panhandle; I have a bed to go to every night. I do not have a child in a cage on the Mexican border. I know where my children and, for that matter, my grand children are.

Now, my luggage did vanish forever at Los Angeles Airport. I still had money and passport, but trying to find a suit of clothes in downtown Washington was a challenge. In the end a modified “zoot suit” made me feel very foreign.

Only once have I had to use the American health system. I quarantine myself by taking out very expensive travel insurance. I am able to do so. My actual experience with the health system came one day after I had run in the Annual Bay to Breakers fun run in San Francisco, a novel way to see that city. I developed a dental abscess, but as I had to fly to Orlando taking a day to get there with only aspirin and bicillin which did nothing. Hence when I arrived late into Orlando, I experienced probably my worst night in pain. I sat up all night watching the wrestling on TV and in the morning the organiser of the conference, seeing that I had a face the shape of an angry balloon, took me to an endodontist who immediately drained the abscess without requiring me losing any teeth. I had immediate relief from the pain.

The United States in all its diversity, both good and bad, has been my energiser from the first time I went there. But I am and have been a privileged observer able to see the sights and yet travelling around its less well-known parts without a gun being poked in my face.

Even in adversity, America has always exuded optimism, and on my latest visit it was no different. But that was almost two years ago.

Make America great again!

What crap!

America remains Great despite all its warts. The only problem is that the USA has a President who wants to make America Hate.

He wants Americans to lose their Smile, to lose their Optimism; to lose the meaning of the fourth of July.

Such a pity!

Twenty years has passed

Let me start with a quote:

“… there is no substitute for a careful and painstaking history and a meticulous physical examination. This is the cornerstone of medical practice…”

This came from a 1977 article by Lou Ariotti – it is clear; it is not infested with jargon. It says it all. It is applicable across all health practice.

Lou Ariotti was the real deal in Charleville for many years and some of what he did with limited resources was remarkable. Initially, there were no beds in the hospital. So he taught the families how to look after the sick in the home, taught them simple procedures. There were inadequate facilities at the hospital; so he set up the forerunner of the day surgery in his premises.

However, very tellingly he stated that he got his inspiration from the Mayo Brothers who trekked out from Chicago as young medical graduates into the Minnesota wilderness – and today we have the Mayo Clinic.

Charles and William Mayo

What the Mayos demonstrated was that you can move intellectual capital to remote areas, but you have to have succession planning. As I have said many times, the doctor in the bush faces inter alia social dislocation and professional isolation.

Yet that world of the Mayo Brothers and Lou Ariotti was the world of the individual. The difference between the Mayos and Lou was that the Mayos left a legacy and Lou Ariotti a memory. Lou made sure the Queensland Premier provided him with a large hospital, but as you know monuments are just that. He may have admired the Mayo Brothers, and while he left an adequate health service – his legacy was the memory of himself, the man rather than memory of Charleville itself being a centre of medical excellence.

After all, we are still digging up parts of the ruins of ancient Roman monuments, but the Vatican on the same site as Ancient Rome has learned the trick about matching monument retention to succession planning.

This was written last year for the commemoration of the first 20 years of the Mount Isa University Department of Rural Health, part of the successful endeavour to move the education of medical and other allied professionals to universities of rural health and rural clinical schools. In my last blog, I questioned the glacial progress of the review of the MBS. Having been closely involved in the introduction of the rural clinical schools, it is disappointing to read that the Rural Health Commissioner, in a recent article, can only conclude by saying “a nationalist rural generalist pathway is good for rural communities” Appointed two years ago in 2017, it has taken him two years to say that! Oh, I forget, there are the inevitable diagrams. 

But at least he will have a huge number of happy snaps to remember where he went over the past two years as the rural Bill Peach. 

Seriously are these reviews going anywhere? Now there is talk of the Health Minister ordering a heath of private health insurance review. Hopefully, Minister, the deadline will be somewhat tighter than the ongoing ones. Show the community how they are influencing health policy or are they just an elaborate way of doing nothing while re-arranging the flowerpots on the window sill?

Mouse Whisper

I remember when the song “Diana” was released in 1957, and the sensational fact at the time was that Paul Anka was the 15 year old song writer as well as the singer.

The story goes that Diana was an older kid who used to look after Paul when he was a child. Paul had a kiddy-crush on her with less than enthusiastic response on her part. There was about a three-year difference. Years later, after the song went to Numero Uno on the charts and he was a star, she suddenly showed up saying, “Take me! I’m yours!” to which he gently replied, “Sorry, our time is past.”

But she still had Diana!

Modest expectations – Chlorine

I am indebted to Stephen Zifcak and the Menadue blog for this quote:

“If I were a journalist, these and other related developments cumulatively would be causing me very considerable alarm. Recently, in response, the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom has produced a report on the state of press freedom in Australia (Press Freedom in Australia, White Paper, May 2019). It describes the progressive erosion of that freedom. The report argues for the enactment of a Media Freedom Act. The purpose of the Act would be to enshrine the principle of press freedom in law.

 The Act would recognise the fundamental importance of national security and the protection of the Commonwealth’s intelligence and law enforcement activity while providing for the fundamental right of journalists to investigate and report on government corruption, surveillance and misconduct in public office. The report’s recommendations are not without legal difficulties. Nevertheless, it provides a sound starting point for a debate that goes to the heart of the Australian democracy.”

I would have thought that this is a call for the media in the jargon of today to weaponise itself. The head of this Alliance is Peter Greste, and as the face of the caring yet resolute person, there is none better.

The Alliance has a Chief Executive Officer who has been recently appointed. Olivia Pirie-Williams has a record as an activist and her poems reflect her deep affection for our planet. Her first target in January this year was the release of the two Burmese journalists employed by Reuters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were released from prison in May.

The Alliance seems to have powerful friends and as such should consider running candidates at the next federal elections, targeting electorates in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. They are the potential spine of a centrist party, where the various freedoms of speech and association are protected; and where the enemy is defined as the trump-sucking, authoritarian, rent-seeking mercantilist.

The problem with the Independent is that they have no future. They can stay around a long time like Andrew Wilkie, but unless the seat is turned into a dynastic satrap as the Katter family has made Kennedy, he will eventually become a footnote in history, a nameplate on a wall in the Royal Hobart hospital.

The way the seat of Indi has been “transferred” indicates that succession planning for Independents is possible and what has been done in Indi may be a blue print. Catherine McGowan may be the centrist required for setting up such a party.

In the end the problem is that Independents are generally rounded up. The least line of surrender coupled with seduction of the perks of office means joining the party most likely to retain the electorate, thus goes the independent back into the authoritarian fold. South Australia like Tasmania has a history of independent thought, but who remembers Steele Hall – and his legacy? Even NSW – but who remembers Ted Mack?

From my experience of journalists and politicians, their personalities are complementary – they like to tell people what to do. Press secretaries in politicians’ offices generally come from the fourth estate in a revolving door. Some go further, as Deakin, Curtin and maybe Abbott have done federally and Carr and Rann at State level.

Therefore the Alliance has the opportunity to form a centrist party, provide an umbrella for the current Independents and target vulnerable seats in the cities – and you never know. Greste has the personality honed by mental if not physical agony, where the right wing trolls would try and destroy, but I am sure he would have studied the Trumpian playbook on John McCain’s reputation.

A perfect time to review defence capital expenditure (Capex) 

Neil Baird comments …

With the elimination of Chris Pyne, Australia is presented with an excellent opportunity to make a comprehensive review of our defence priorities. Pyne’s apparently more realistic successor, Senator Linda Reynolds, should grasp that opportunity.

In real terms, all the major Navy and the Air Force Capex projects have barely started and, in many cases, are decades away from completion. They could sensibly and relatively economically be paused, if not cancelled, while Australia takes a breather and re-thinks our requirements, priorities and most importantly, what we can afford.

Many of the ship, submarine, aircraft and weapon system purchases are scheduled so far into the future to be almost certainly obsolete long before their delivery date. They will undoubtedly cost a not inconsiderable $200 billion or more and be delivered years later than the already ridiculous 30 years that have been signed off by then Minister Pyne, his generals, admirals, senior bureaucrats and their American advisers.

Too many of the projects were ill-conceived for reasons more related to South Australian than National warfare. Minister Pyne may well have been a great representative of South Australia but he was wasteful of national taxpayer funds during his parliamentary career. Now, since he abandoned Parliament, apparently thinking that the Coalition Government was “a sinking ship”, he is seeking a new career as a defence industry lobbyist. That will only add insult to severe fiscal and defence readiness injury. Thus, the current orders for submarines and F35 aircraft, among others, could well be stayed if not totally scrubbed.

The nature of modern warfare and its weapon systems is changing dramatically and rapidly. The Americans are spending vast sums of money on unmanned systems for land, sea and air warfare. What Australia could learn from the Americans is more about unmanned technology, as Israel is doing; Australia should be rapidly developing its own. For example, the Boeing Aircraft Corp is developing an unmanned submarine that could well be appropriate for the shallow seas to our north. The Americans are also very advanced with the development of unmanned aircraft, including helicopters.

China has openly declared that America and Japan are its biggest worry and is continuing to battle with them. China has examined American weaknesses and is developing comparatively economical weaponry to exploit them. Ironically, the platforms for some of their best fast assault boats capable of launching long-range hypersonic cruise missiles were designed in Sydney. The Chinese (PLA) Navy has more than 100 of these vessels each carrying eight missiles. Their role is to “take out” American nuclear aircraft carriers.

By contrast, the Royal Australian Navy has none.

The Australian “Defence establishment” suffers from a considerable cultural cringe. For instance, it seems to believe that Australian designs and innovation are generally worthless. Some unkindly suggest the acquisition of frequent flyer points influences Defence purchasing decisions – but surely not!

Nevertheless much of the Defence Capex is invariably purchased offshore. It is then, too often, married incompatibly to being constructed locally. It is no wonder that local shipbuilders, except for the inefficient government-owned ASC, shun dealing with the Australian government, despite the local connection with the abovementioned Chinese missile boats.

This point is worth reiteration, because it is usually forgotten by Government. Australia is a world leader in the design and construction of very effective and efficient fast craft, including large and small patrol assault boats and fast logistics support ships.

While they had little choice, China has taken a practical “clean sheet” approach to the choices of weaponry and doctrine. Australia should follow their example, as it has its own unique cultural and geographic advantages and disadvantages, rather than blindly be following the USA and other ostensible allies. In the end Australia may be very much on its own. After all, who would USA side with if Japan were to go mad again and attack us? Japan has done it before. As far as trade is concerned, it could be argued that Japan is far more important to America than Australia is. We should prepare for all contingencies.

We could learn a lot from a closer study of China’s defence plans and practices. Its Maritime Militia should inspire Australia to look at this inexpensive option for our fishing and offshore service fleets as well as state government owned patrol boats. Unlike China, Australia has virtually no Merchant Navy and the few domestic cargo vessels Australia does have could be much more effectively integrated. The CFMMEU, of which the Maritime Union of Australia is a small but important component, should be eliminated or drastically reformed. That is the only way that local shipowners might be encouraged to invest in coastal cargo shipping which is imperative for defence.

Australia should also be very carefully re-considering our aversion to nuclear power and weaponry, but nevertheless should be developing a substantial cadre of nuclear engineers and other experts.

Australia constructs no diesel engines. As most warships, submarines, tanks and other land vehicles are diesel powered, Australia should be developing the capacity to build a wide range of them here. There is an existing global system for building diesel engines under licence to leading manufacturers. Australia should involve itself in that system as soon as possible.

Similarly, Australia refines almost no diesel and jet fuel in Australia. Most of our diesel is imported from Singapore. Australia has tiny reserves and should be encouraging industry to develop at least one diesel and jet fuel refinery in each state plus a couple more in the north.

China is also constructing much longer-range fighter-bombers than their American equivalents. They are also being fitted with long-range hypersonic cruise missiles to further extend their effectiveness. The cost of all these is dramatically less than for their American counterparts.

The effectiveness of the Russian Buk missiles recently used to down the Malaysian Airlines aircraft over the Ukraine should be heeded, despite the tragic connotation to many. Such truck-mounted weapons could be spread all round our northern coastline. They would be much cheaper to position than using ships or aircraft.

There is so much that we could do better, more logically and more economically. We should remove the focus on welfare from defence planning. The favouritism for South Australia has to go. If something can be built better in that state than elsewhere, fine, but otherwise, it should be built where Australia can obtain the best deal, not to provide jobs for redundant car workers. A fundamental thus should be that the review be a truly national project and not one that favours any one geographic region.

With the re-election of the Scott Morrison government, now is the perfect time to re-think our defence priorities. However let us “leaven” the defence establishment “experts”, its generals, admirals, air marshals and bureaucrats seasoned by academics with some practical business people, among them ship builders, naval architects, aircraft manufacturers, electronics experts, petroleum refiners.

Otherwise, Australia is doomed to repeat past mistakes. The Defence Department decision-making will continue to be slow and an ineffective, expensive millstone around our national neck. Our current purchases will inevitably be delivered so late that much of the equipment will be obsolete before it sees service. Senator Reynolds, as a senior Army Reserve officer, should be aware of the many defects of the current Defence Capex arrangements. It is up to her to ring the changes.

Neil Baird PhD is non-executive Chairman of Baird Maritime, a leading global maritime trade publisher. Neil has expert knowledge on fatal ferry accidents, their causes and how to prevent them. He is a former chairman of the World Ocean Council and the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association; a director of the Australian Shipbuilders Association; a member of the Domestic Ferry Safety Committee of INTERFERRY, the international association of ferry owners; and co-convenor of that organisation’s FerrySafe programme, sponsored by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

The Christie syndrome

Some may think Winston Churchill was an undischarged maverick. However, he recognised one principle of politics, for whatever else he did, he could be forgiven.

He refused to appease the tyrant.

He refused to appease Hitler. He realised that you cannot appease tyrants – especially those so self-absorbed they believe in their own infallibility. The only outcome was unconditional surrender, which Hitler helped by committing suicide. Whatever Churchill had done before in his long public and chequered career could be forgiven, given his resoluteness to stand up to Hitler. I am sure that he had all the pressure to make peace with Hitler, especially when the other appeared to have the upper hand.

Chris Christie was the hapless Republican Governor of New Jersey, who urged his way into heading the Trump transitional team. As he admits “He felt he could stay on the sidelines or support Trump, gain a seat at the table, and improve Trump’s behaviour”. Wrong – under the chuck wagon!

This situation has been repeated: appeasement – effusive praise – abusive humiliation – under the chuck wagon.

Theresa May tried to appease – dismissed.

Sir Keith Darroch trying to smooth the Trump visit to meet the Queen – a very stupid guy.

The British government has quite a record of cuddling up to dictators. For instance, Mussolini was given the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1923 from King George V and, more recently, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu got a gong.

So much for appeasement. But the saving grace, which probably burns within the Trump brain was he was not accorded a peerage on his recent trip, or at least an Order of the Garter, given his self-confessed love of women.

Fast forward to Boris Johnson. He is already a Halifax rather than the Winston Churchill he blusters to be. He will be tossed aside unless he does exactly what Trump wants him to do – apparently destruction of the European Union with his peculiar enhancement of the Putin connection. My only parenthetic comment is that I hope to see this skein of history seared in our collective memory when all is revealed.

However, Boris first has to be crowned.

But irrespective of this outcome the British Isles are now held hostage to the Trump manipulations. Appease all you like, I fear that to get anywhere with the special relationship is to make him the Duke of Queens and betroth his son, Barron (the name says it all) to one of the junior royals in good ol’ mediaeval splendour in a new Trump Tower Cathedral opposite Buck House. Now that would be a deal.

However, seriously, just as with the Nobel Prize speculation which took off with help of Trumps’ publicity machine, wait for the quest for imperial decoration.

Meanwhile, Australia dangles on a thread of aluminum.

Mouse Whisper

Be careful if you approach a door in Portugal and someone says for you to push. That sound in Portuguese means that you actually should pull open the door. However, when you see the word, most of us would have difficulty recognising it as “push” – “puxe”.

On the other hand “quando empurra vem empurrar” – when “push comes to shove” – the Portuguese use the same word for each.

After all, the Portuguese very early gave us what should be our watchword: “Abre olhos!” Open your eyes!

The West Australians know it well as the Abrolhos.

 

Modest expectations – Tennessee Ernie Ford

We were having lunch at the weekend and were discussing the penalty of age and what happens when you grow old. “Yes”, he reflected. “You may have a point. Once, my phone calls were returned immediately; now it may take four days or longer.”

I immediately thought of a time I was at a function in Dubbo and a number of politicians mentioned my name in glowing terms. One guy came up to me and said he had not heard of me, but I must be influential because of the things being said about me. “No, I replied, “Influence is ephemeral – it can disappear as quickly as it appears.’’

Not that some people do not retain influence for a long time – but there is a price to pay. You have to mix with a crowd of the same types grasping at the ephemera until, like Citizen Kane, they have only “rosebud” to murmur; some don’t even have that.

The comment that summarises much of what occurs was from the defeated member of parliament who said what he noticed most was that the telephones stopped ringing. Obviously that image needs to be updated in social media terms, but it summarises the ephemeral nature of influence and the intellectual laziness that surrounds it and which is epitomised by the growth in each politician’s office of the number of consigliere.

Traditionally, the more senior the ex-pollie the more important the government sinecure away from Canberra; some ex-Ministers have became chancellors of universities all the way down the ephemeral rungs to that of teaching politics part-time. Using their retirement or ousting, some are able to undertake pro bono or voluntary work, underpinned by their generous pensions and their contacts.

The problem is that politicians over the past 40 years have become outrageously well paid, with generous perks that seem to be never-ending. However, the stories of excess are not met any more by community outrage when reported but by clamours for more of the gravy train tickets.

“Jobs for the boys” have been replaced by the scourge of “rent seeking” – essentially jobs for doing nothing while wrapped in the gossamer of influence.

The hoary excuse for such greed is “I have sacrificed so much.” To which is added the lachrymose sacrifice my family has made for my increased prancing around in the Ephemera.

To put it bluntly, a rent-seeker is just a metastasis. A cancerous excrescence away from the main tumour, but still reflecting the nature of the tumour as it destroys the framework of the body. Doing no good but draining the life from the body for a price.

Yes, a metaphor, but the metaphor is obvious. And the metastases, male and female, let’s mention no names but they know who they are.

Mr Unaipon – My modest acknowledgement of NAIDOC week

Of all the Aboriginal people, I would have most liked to have met David Unaipon.

He died when I was in my mid-twenties. I had never heard of him then.

But what had been my exposure at that time to Aboriginal people? Virtually none. I had been to the Hermansburg mission as a child and seen Albert Namatjira and Rex Batterbee, the white fella associated with encouraging Namatjira’s talent in watercolours and that of the Western Arrernte people.

I was a rabid Essendon supporter from a young age. Norm McDonald played on the half back flank for Essendon. I never thought of him being Aboriginal, a Dhauwurd Wurrung man from around Lake Condah; just a magical footballer – boy was he fast!

Then, if an Aboriginal person was mentioned with the word “footballer” it seemed always to be Doug Nicholls.

It was a world where I could have met David Unaipon but there was no $50 note to tell me he even existed.

David Unaipon died in 1967, and the closest I have got to him is his grave overlooking Lake Alexandrina, Victoria’s name before she became queen.

One of my fondest memories of when I used to go around the bush was seeing the Ngarrindjeri land near the mouth of the Murray river at Raukkan. Its Lutheran church is pictured on the $50 note. For some reason, it has some of my best memories.

One of my clearest memories of Raukkan was going into the Aboriginal office and seeing the number of portraits of their late elders lining the wall – mug shots as you would see in a whitefella boardroom. There was no concern about showing the faces or mention of the dead among the Ngarrindjeri, so I was told.

I happen to have a wonderfully annotated copy of David Unaipon’s slim volume “Native Legends” which he wrote in 1929. It is said to be the first volume actually written by an Aboriginal person. He is succinct.

For instance, Pah Kowie – The Creature cell of Life and Intelligence is just one page and concludes:

Thus many of the ideas formulated by my ancient fathers may seem absurd to an enlightened age fantastic and absurd, but to us these ideas are the foundation of a structure and edifice of knowledge under whose shadow we live today.”

I wonder what Mr Unaipon would have said today.

However, I am a bit surprised that this early work has not been reprinted, at least as far as I know, given that most of us are reminded of him everyday.

The Bruce Robinson New World Odyssey

I remember the Independent Enquiry into the Repatriation System under the wonderfully named Justice Paul Toose. It was set up in 1971 and did not report until February 1976 – three elections and three Prime Ministers later. As people in government joked, this “plodding” inquiry lasted longer than the First World War and ran to 800 pages and 300 recommendations, one of which seems to have been changing the name of the repatriation department to the department of veteran affairs.

Not that I would like to see the Review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule break the Toose record, but Professor Robinson is giving it a red hot go. The review has been going for four years – for what? Any review that takes that amount of time becomes problematical.

As a comparison, while this Robinson Review with its 30 committees has been meandering along, the Review into Australian banking practices under Mr Justice Haynes has been [2017-2019] and reported in 1,137 pages ; in the USA the Mueller investigation has also been [2017-2019], and reported in 472 pages.

They were somewhat significant inquiries.

Yet here we have Bruce Robinson and his crew backed by McKinsey just like the Mississippi River, “it just keeps rollin’ along”. I have heard the time 2023 mentioned as the new end point. Well, that would break the record – a formidable feat. Probably we could have a plaque to celebrate the finish of this Homeric epic.

Perhaps getting a sharper Shadow Minister for Health in Chris Bowen will see if we can dam the Robinson and his multiple tributaries.

The subsidiary question is how much has McKinsey cost the Government for no noticeable impact – you know McKinsey, the firm that is in a running feud with the NYT about its methods and clients. It is an unedifying backdrop.

It is interesting that the latest round of Ministerial adjustments to the Medicare Benefits Schedule by Minister Hunt did not seem to mention the Review. As one senior politician said to me once, governments use these inquiries as a means of maintaining a freeze on patient benefits. I wonder if the patients themselves know of this stratagem.

Unlike the original Nimmo Inquiry which reported in 1969, which had the knowledgeable advice and expertise of John Deeble and Bruce Scotton, subsequent reviews since the breakdown of the periodic Enquiries conducted by Government and the AMA have not achieved very much – but at a great cost in time and the employment of outside consultants.

I should know. Medibank and Medicare have been central to the life of most doctors, including myself and it should not be left to slowly decay, because of an interminable uncertainty, which is the other side effect of an unending wander through the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

Knock before Entering

My wife loves photographing doors. Front doors, that is. Front doors opening on streets; front doors not hidden by a pathway, a garden, a porch or verandah and a flyscreen.

In it simplest form she believes the front door defines the place, the thoroughfare, the relationship of one place to another, the people behind the door in the space, working and living there.

I am not so sure. I see the front door as an identifier of the place but not necessarily those behind the door. Many of us merely inherit our front doors. Many front doors do not identify anything. There may be nothing behind that door but an empty space.

The doorway is Ianua in Latin, named for the god with two faces and from where the word “January” is derived – and janitor as well. January is the doorway to the year. We cannot prevent anybody from passing through the doorway. February always comes.

We, however, may have a janitor to maintain the upkeep of door and passageways. That person may have many names and interpretations in many languages.

We invented the door and then locks to keep people away from the space behind the door, for whatever reason. The door becomes the vehicle for the lock and for maintaining permission to use that space. The door can become a massive contraption to secure that space or as occurs in rural areas in my country just a way of keeping the dust and the animals out. The houses meanwhile are left unlocked. The unlocked door can be a measure of trust, but also a measure of carelessness.

Once I could turn the handle on any church door in any out of the way place, and I could enter and stand in this church with all its furnishings and stained glass intact. This is not carelessness, but an act of trust by those who have the key to the door.

The front door as an inanimate piece of wood or metal is an obstruction to that passage, and so may be an identifier. My wife may be right. How we regard the front door in fact may define the civilisation in which we tread.

Mouse Whisper

I decided to try my hand at shrew taming. I sent for an application form and received the following questions. Well, not actually.

I have inserted the word “shrew taming” to protect the names of the drongos who manufactured these questions. My reflection is the same as it has always been, except my fur is bit greyer and the lines on my faces are deeper than when I was a pinkie.

But see if you can interpret this set of Parts into English. Good Luck!

Part 1: Tell us about yourself and your role 

Objective: Understand the individual’s overall role and interactions with shrew taming

Part 2: Tell me about your experience with shrew tamers

Objective: to understand individuals touch points with shrew tamers and their overall end to end experience

Part 3: What is your overall reflection based on these experiences? 

Objective: to understand shrew tamer’s strengths and pain points to identify future areas of focus for the end to end experience 

Part 4: What would you like to see more of in future? 

Objective: focus on the future experience and how we can orchestrate touch points in the future to ensure a seamless experience.”

Modest Expectations – Thaddeus Stevens

Shirley Shackleton is one of those inconvenient people whom governments just wish would go away – in her case she is a reminder of a government without compassion complicit to murder if not genocide. At the Balibo Fort Hotel, there were two books for sale – hers written a decade ago – and a volume of Xanana Gusmao’s speeches.

There were three copies of the Shackleton book – “The Circle of Silence”. One at the top had been multiply caressed. So we bought the one on the bottom, which seemed the least ravaged – the cost was immaterial. It was Balibo.

Shirley Shackleton will be 90 next year and unless there is somebody to take up her crusade, when inevitably she shuffles off the mortal coil, her inconvenient noise will cease. There is a son, a lawyer, a magistrate living in Perth. Maybe he will take up the crusade.

However as the personalities fade, it does not dim the enormity of what we have done as a nation to the Timorese – turned our collective head away. Yes, there have been other journalists, notably Peter Greste, imprisoned by authoritarian regimes, but he survives and to the best of my knowledge the Australian government was not complicit in his imprisonment.

The building in Balibo where the Balibo 5 were executed (Photo Sue Morey)

There is still the case of the bugging of the Timor-Leste government and this ongoing Orwellian campaign to eliminate whistle-blowers with the Press caught like the Balibo 5 in the cross-hairs of governmental suppression.

When I was President of the Students Representative Council at the University of Melbourne, ASIO came calling – that friendly invitation to come and join the party. I never crossed that threshold. It is another story. But I am sure I was not on my Pat then … and recruitment patterns now?

The only thing I can say is that presumably the same personality types are still being recruited as in my day, but now with many more toys; truly terrifying. As for me, I never looked good in a gabardine raincoat.

Balibo sunset (Photo Sue Morey)

Anti-Vaxer – Prosecute for Genocide

When I was born, it was dangerous to be a child. There were few defences against the ravages of infectious diseases. There was no penicillin. The only immunisation apart from small pox available as a young child was against diphtheria. Nobody in the wilds of anti-vaxer propaganda would ever had heard of or seen diphtheria – a paediatrician friend of mine has seen it once – it was a huge killer of children before the introduction of a vaccine. In the decade up to 1935, over 4,000 children died of the disease; mass immunisation had commenced in 1932. Between 1996 and 2005 there were no deaths, but three have been recorded since that time.

The vaccine was later combined into triple antigen, targeting whooping cough and tetanus as well.

I am an age as are my sons that we all had measles, chickenpox and mumps as children – and we were all very sick. However it was the late Gay Davidson, whose younger daughter developed a rare late complication of measles infection who brought into public view the importance of the vaccination against measles in particular. The brain goes to mush, and the beautiful vivacious child becomes a vegetable over time before dying – a horrible death. Gay Davidson was an important face in advocating immunisation against measles and in the late 1990s the immunisation rates rose in Australia, the Australian government then being a very strong proponent.

Finally, there was poliomyelitis. There was no vaccine when I was a child. I went through an epidemic when contact between schools was banned. Ice cream was banned. Children died and those who survived the disease were added to the wards of crippled children in every city of Australia; children in iron lungs; children with heavy calipers; children with all stages of disability. I was immunised first with Salk and then given Sabin. Poliomyelitis had nearly been eliminated before the antivax barbarians in their various guises have come calling.

The problem is that the community’s level of immunisation is a measure of civilisation. As the antivaxers – the health barbarians with their poisonous message – raise the level of uncertainty in the community, so will go civilisation as we know it. It is paradoxical that in a world where the diversity of safe vaccines is expanding, in so many places the level of immunisation is falling because of the uncertainty promoted by antivaxers.

I have detailed five diseases where the burden of disease has fallen dramatically because of immunisation. There were many other diseases that have yielded to vaccines. Some I faced growing up. As medical students we vaccinated one another against smallpox. This disease has been eliminated from the face of the earth. When I first went overseas, together with my passport I also had a yellow booklet showing that I had been vaccinated against smallpox and immunised against typhoid, cholera and later yellow fever.

This country has had a brilliant immunisation program since the 1990s and much of the early success of this program can be attributed to Michael Wooldridge, the then Minister for Health, as well as the indomitable Gay Davidson. Nobody has written her story. However, the program and the strategy is clearly and crisply stated up to 2024.

Yet I cannot remember it mentioned once in the recent election campaign as a signature of success.

However, in Australia the government is fixated on keeping our borders intact by keeping a few poor refugees out rather than drawing attention to the ongoing successful national immunisation plan.

The charlatan, former doctor Andrew Wakefield and his girlfriend, Elle MacPherson from their lodging in Austin Texas are demonstrating how destructive systematic antivax propaganda can be. If a government becomes timid in the face of community agitation as it has done on fluoridation, then this country should watch out, especially if these antivaxers start infiltrating the political grass roots.

I have lived in this other universe when there are few antivaxers –yes it was a universe where there was an antivax element who believed if you were vaccinated with cow pox you would grow horns, but why were there so few antivaxers? Vaccines apart from smallpox were new. Since there were no evidence-based preventative measures, the populace just accepted that it was God’s will that children should die a myriad of deaths from these diseases.

Today, in that universe antivaxers would be in their element, no vaccines – just watching children die. But of course according to the antivaxers, saving the children from autism. Today it would be what I would say is not God’s will but Genocide.

To Cook a Roo – Part 111

Charlie diversifies

Pintubi are practical. They cooked all creatures in their skin. The fat content of Australian native animals is too low for cooking on a spit. That would create a hard dry gristle and there were neither cooking containers to stew meat, nor any salt available. Furthermore getting about near naked makes retaining animal hides unnecessary.

As no salt or other flavouring was used in traditional Pintubi cooking, this was literally life lived in the raw in what they laughingly if not longingly called “before trouser time”.

Cooking in the skin must happen right away and before the blood congeals so no road kill gone stiff! Not once in six years eating the cooked-in-skin earth oven food did I crunch on any stones!  

The niftiest cooking trick I saw was that used for the delicious rumiya (sand goanna) a white meat that tastes much like chicken. Averaging about 40cm long they are abundant and easiest to catch in spring when they start new burrows in the sandy earth. They live mainly on ants and insects having neither the ghastly infectious bite of the large carrion eating goannas nor a gamey smell. By pushing the hind legs hard into the abdomen the contents of the sand goanna’s gut are forcefully excreted so they don’t need to be cut open. To cook, the skin is scorched to remove the outer layer, which would otherwise ruin the flavour, before it is placed under the ashes for about 10 minutes. The meat is mostly in the tail and there’s some fat attached to the skin and at the loins. The 10ml steel bore pump rod I always had was sought after by the goanna hunters who used it to probe sand goanna tunnels so that you follow the hole by probing from the surface instead of laboriously digging deep along a tunnel that can be seven metres long. 

Plant “tucker” was far less plentiful but some was so excellent that it could not be improved by any flavourings. In the spring, the pungana bean, which was shown to me, was my favourite. Growing like giant acacia pods on a three meter high shrub and similar in appearance to snake beans, the long pods are cooked in a minute on a burning clump of grass, the green soya sized beans with a flick of bright yellow tastes like corn.

Rumiya and plains bustard (about a turkey sized bird) were tasty cooked in the earth fire pit and much better than food from my tucker box a few weeks after the last trip to town. I only ate feral cat once, cooked by Minyina and the horrific look of that fore half of scorched cat passed to me dripping juices with the charred skin peeled back over canine teeth was unappetising. However, I was hungry enough and it all stayed down which is more than I can say for the last time I had ample helpings of kangaroo in 1984, three years on from the cooking lesson at Tjiterong. (To be continued)

Mouse Whisper

To cap off this blog of culinary delights, I was talking to this Pangolin at the international arrivals at the Wood’s Point airport who told me that one is permitted to bring a kilogram of civet coffee back into Australia without having to declare it. Apparently it makes the best “Catpoo-cino” and yes, that’s what they call it!